Amusements and Pastimes


The eighteenth century exudes an air of elegance as it conjures up visions of the music of Handel, the Grand Tour, the London coffee houses, or the splendour of Bath. Not far from Cardiff, families such as Morgan of Tredegar, Boothby of Fonmon, and Kemeys-Tynte of Cefn Mably, enjoyed the delight of country pursuits, travel and culture in the same manner as their English counterparts. These pleasures, however, were usually the privilege of the wealthy, and this graceful lifestyle did not lend itself to such a small market town as Cardiff.

The only two properties of distinction in the borough were in no state to give a social lead. The fine house, built by William Herbert on the Greyfriars site, was a crumbling ruin before 1750, while  Cardiff Castle was virtually deserted by its owners. A report of 1818 records that the castle "has been and still is without an occupant, its chambers untrod, its portals desolate'.

Both the gentry and the lower classes alike enjoyed pleasures of a coarse and brutal nature. This was scarcely surprising in a social environment which regarded public hanging and flogging as first-rate entertainment. Bull baiting, which took place at the Bullring where Kingsway and Queen Street now meet, was a particularly barbarous pastime. The bull was tied to a long rope, and two or three mastiffs at a time were unleashed upon the poor beast. The dogs were unlikely to escape injury but, if the bulldog fastened its teeth into the nose of the bull, nothing would shake it off. In 1773 a spectator made the mistake of taunting the bull from too close a range, and was gored when the enraged creature succeeded in freeing itself. A few days later the man died from his wounds. Bull baiting was sponsored by the Town Council, and accounts during the first half of the eighteenth century frequently show payments for washing the bull's collar, or for the purchase of a new rope.

Cock fighting was an equally bloodthirsty affair as fighting birds, armed with steel spurs, fought to the death. The sport attracted spectators from all walks of life, including the clergy. Howell Morgan of Pentyrch was a rat catcher, a Methodist preacher and a classical scholar, but so expert was his knowledge of cock fighting that the King of Denmark consulted him on the subject. The cockpit from Denbighshire, now at the Welsh Folk Museum, evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of these contests. When an important match was staged, the interest reached such an intensity that prisoners were allowed out of gaol on parole. Cock fighting led to gambling for high stakes and it was not unknown for contests to end in a riot. The sport was not prohibited until 1849 and meetings may have continued for some years after this ban.

Bare-knuckled prize fighting and wrestling had a natural appeal to a populace accustomed to the spilling of blood. The earliest account of a  prize fight in the Cardiff area was at Llandaff in 1811, when James of Ely Mill knocked out Stephen of the White Lion in the 27th  round. There may have been earlier bouts but, if so, no record  of them exists.

By the mid-eighteenth century crowds were assembling  for a more civilised kind of excitement, as horse racing was introduced  to Cardiff. The earliest races were held on the Great Heath and were  usually individual contests. On 2 September 1765 Captain Mathew from  Llandaff won £40 when his horse outpaced that of Lewis Morgan from  Whitchurch. A few years later the Cardiff Races were attracting prize  money from the Marquess of Bute and the Corporation.  The Cardiff  and Merthyr Guardian, reporting the event in 1836, noted that "the  assemblage on the course was most numerous and fashionable, and the  presence of some of the fairest flowers of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire  tended to heighten a scene both lovely and interesting'.

The  banning of all games on Sunday showed that the Puritan spirit of  Cromwell lingered on. The Constable of St. Andrews was presented at the  Cardiff Assizes in 1716, "for permitting and suffering several idle and  disorderly persons to play tennis upon the Lord's Day'. Four years  later, a group of labourers from Whitchurch were similarly presented for  playing bowls on the Sabbath.


The local inns were a  source of amusement for many folk, and most villages could boast of a  fiddler to entertain his peers. Skittles, bowls and billiards, all of  them involving gambling, were played in the taverns of Cardiff. Most of  the inns brewed their own beer but the introduction of porter,  originally brewed for porters and labourers, enabled breweries to  manufacture a good quality ale which kept its flavour. The oldest  brewery in Cardiff was Williams' Malthouse which first produced beer in  1713 on the site where Brains' Brewery once stood.

Eyebrows might well  be raised at the number of public houses in relation to the tiny  population. In 1790 there were 27 of them and drunkenness was a serious  problem. Fines, which were paid into a poor-box, could be imposed on any  innkeeper who allowed his customers to leave the premises in an  intoxicated  state. Despite the attempts of licensing magistrates to  restrict the numerous taverns of Cardiff, their number continued to rise  until the influence of the Temperance Movement forced a reduction in  1862. Similar pressure in 1881 led to the closure of public houses on  Sunday for the next eighty years.

The inns of the eighteenth century  have disappeared in central Cardiff, though other public houses have  often replaced them on the same location. The Owain Glyndwr in St.  John's Square was formerly the site of the Tennis Court Inn. This name  was derived from the tennis court located in the yard of the adjoining  brewery in Church Street. Elsewhere the Black Lion in St. Mary Street  has been replaced by the Sandringham Hotel, and the Ship on the Launch  in Quay Street has been superseded by the Model Inn.

Several taverns in Cardiff prospered as coaching inns. Passengers, awaiting their carriage, could enjoy the hospitality of the Rose and Crown near the North Gate or the Rummer Tavern in Duke Street. The coach to Merthyr began its journey from the Globe in Castle Street, but the most important coaching hotels in Cardiff were the Angel and the Cardiff Arms. The façade of the old Angel Inn can still be seen next to the Castle Arcade, and the Cardiff Arms Hotel was built on the site of the Red House Inn which had been destroyed in a fire of 1770.  The Marquess of Bute, who contributed towards its building costs, always stayed at the Cardiff Arms in preference to the castle. The hotel, which gave its name to the Cardiff Arms Park, survived until 1883, when it was demolished in the process of widening Castle Street.


Social events, to which most of the burgesses were invited, enlivened the monotony of everyday life. In June 1790, following the election of Lord Mountstuart to Parliament, John Bird tells us that a "great number of gentlemen and burgesses assembled on the occasion'. The success of His Lordship was celebrated at the Cardiff Arms and Angel Hotels, where no less than 430 dinners were served to his loyal supporters.

The arrival of the Crown Justice for the Great Sessions was eagerly anticipated for its colourful pageantry. Usually, the Judge arrived on horseback to be met by the Sheriff and the most distinguished citizens of the county. The people of Cardiff were then able to enjoy the ceremony of the cavalcade entering the town, accompanied by the Serjeants-at-Mace, the Constable and an escort of trumpeters. The Judge's procession and service at St. John's Church, which preceded the Sessions, was another social occasion when  Cardiff's leading gentry could be seen in all their finery.

During the war with France, there were many displays of patriotic fervour, some of which offered enjoyable amusement. In 1792 the Corporation spared no expense in proclaiming its anti-revolutionary sentiments, when an effigy of Tom Paine was burnt outside the County Gaol. The cost of providing a hat, shirt, cravat, hose and shoes for this advocate of revolution amounted to £2.10/.

A boost to morale was given by the band of the Glamorgan Militia which regularly played stirring music in front of the castle. At such a turbulent time, it was very important to maintain public confidence and remind everyone where his duty lay. George Hardinge, the "waggish Welsh judge' of Byron's Don Juan, regarded this task as one of his responsibilities at the Assizes. The Nore and Spithead Mutinies of 1797 were cause for lamentation, but two years later he was able to pay tribute to Nelson's victory at the Nile, while warning his audience, "We must not sleep but be on our guard against internal commotions'.

Everyday information on local matters was given by the Town Crier. He was paid 6d for each assignment, with a further 1/6d for crying out the market measures and the byelaws relating to nuisances. The Town Crier remained a familiar sight until newspapers replaced him as the source of information. It is doubtful if any newspaper ever put its message across more strongly than Phillips, whose powerful voice earned him a reputation as "the best ever among Cardiff criers'.