The Third Marquess and His Legacy to Cardiff
Third Marquess was a shy, intense and rather solitary young man. The turning
point in his life arrived three months after his coming of age, when he
announced his conversion to Roman Catholicism. This proved to be a contentious
issue, both in his native Scotland and in Cardiff, but the decision pleased the
swelling Catholic community in the borough. Henceforth, religion was the
motivating force of Bute's life, a fact noted by Disraeli who made him the hero
of his successful novel, Lothair.
Politically, Bute remained a
Conservative but took little part in active campaigning. In the election of
1852, the Bute trustees made their last attempt to impose a candidate of their
choice on the voters of Cardiff. Their candidate, John Nicholl, was defeated by
Walter Coffin, a Nonconformist and a Liberal. For the rest of the century,
apart from a solitary Conservative triumph in 1895, the Liberals dominated the
political scene in Cardiff. In December 1910, ten years after the Marquess had
died, local Tories chose his son, Lord Ninian Stuart, to fight the seat. Though
successful, his victory owed nothing to the Bute connection which had long
since ceased to be politically important in Cardiff.
It was the wealth of the Marquess
which left a more lasting impression on the city. Probably the richest man in
Britain, he had the resources to satisfy his interests, his hobbies and his
talents. Bute was a scholarly man, reputed to have mastered more than twenty
languages, renowned for his expert knowledge of the scriptures, mediaeval
history and heraldry. He loved travel, especially to Italy, Greece and the Holy
Land, confessing on more than one occasion, "Athens and Assisi have spoilt
me for anything else'. The Marquess admitted to "a considerable taste for
art and archaeology and happily the means to indulge them'. He also had a
passion for building which steered him towards the restoration of Cardiff
Bute entrusted this task to William
Burges, an eccentric genius with a romantic love of the Middle Ages. His plans
were always drawn on yellow parchment, his own house was designed as a castle
complete with a drawbridge, and it was not unusual for him to arrive at a
banquet in mediaeval dress. From 1865 until his death in 1881, Billy Burges was
employed in a task most architects dream about: restoring a building in the
style he loved without any restrictions on expenditure. The result is an extravagance
of high Victorian fantasy which tends to overwhelm the first-time visitor.
Burges was a gregarious, humorous extrovert, whose insignia of parrots, mice,
and the roots of trees are visible in practically every room of the castle. The
Marchioness, Lady Gwendolen, loved him. "Ugly Burges who designs lovely
things', she said. "Isn't he a duck'!
While encouraging Burges to use his
riotous imagination, Bute examined his plans in detail and occasionally amended
them. Full scale models, from key plates to complete rooms, were submitted to
him for perusal. Ten designs of the Clock Tower were scrutinised before the
Marquess gave his approval. The lions on the Animal Wall were returned for
re-touching, as Bute deemed them, "to be too modest in demeanour, savouring
rather of pets than of roaring lions'. The Marquess made his own contribution
with pen-and-ink sketches and a study of the castle's history. At the specially
constructed Bute workshops, the finest craftsmen from Wales, London and abroad
produced the stained glass, marquetry and joinery, so admired by modern
visitors to Cardiff Castle.
Burges re-designed and modified the
existing buildings along the west wall to produce an outstanding skyline.
Inside the Herbert Tower, an authentic Arab Room was created. Its walls were
lined with cedarwood and the ceiling appears to be enveloped in golden
stalactites. While the Herbert Tower showed little change externally, the
appearance of the Beauchamp Tower was transformed. It was crowned with a wooden
Gothic spire coated in lead and, inside the tower, the Chaucer Room was
dedicated to the famous mediaeval poet. Its walls are decorated with scenes
from his works, while a statue of Chaucer bears a striking resemblance to
Of the three new towers, the most
outstanding is the Clock Tower, embellished with classical emblems and the
coats-of-arms of the Bute family. It was built on the site of a former Roman
bastion, and in 1867 houses were pulled down at the south-west angle of the
castle wall to pave the way for this impressive Gothic structure. Inside the
Clock Tower were the Bachelor's Apartments, presumably intended as a retreat
for the Marquess before his marriage in 1872 to Lady Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard,
the daughter of Baron Howard of Glossop.
The Marquess was fond of his roof
garden in the new Bute Tower. This pleasant setting offered quiet seclusion
amid the plants, the bronze fountain, and the delicately carved statue of the
Madonna. Around the walls, hand-painted tiles depicted scenes from the life of
The third of the new towers, the
Guest Tower, was intended to accommodate visitors, but it also housed the
servants' quarters, the kitchen, and even a skittle alley. Its loveliest room
is the children's nursery with a wall frieze of traditional fairy tales.
The lower level of the fifteenth
century domestic apartments was converted into a drawing room and a library for
Bute's magnificent collection of books. The upper storey became the Banqueting
Hall, a dazzling array of murals and stained glass, expressing Burges'
interpretation of the Middle Ages and the life of Robert the Consul. From the
superbly carved hammer beam ceiling, angels, bearing the Bute arms, look down
on this splendid hall, the scene of many notable occasions in its hundred years
The dressing room, where the Second
Marquess died in 1848, became a chapel to his memory. Its theme is the Passion
and the Resurrection. The altar represents the Garden Tomb at the first Easter,
but the most touching memorial is a carving on the door, showing the tree of
life cut down in its prime.
The castle grounds were not
neglected while these improvements were being carried out. Five farms were
amalgamated to enlarge Bute Park and new stables were erected near the North
Gate. When Cardiff Bridge was rebuilt in 1859, the land between the castle and
the river was enclosed. Likewise, when Castle Street was widened, a number of
buildings were removed and it was possible to reconstruct the Norman wall.
The restoration of Cardiff Castle
may have been extravagant, but the Marquess faithfully retained the memory of
the past by carefully preserving the Norman keep and the Roman wall. His
archaeological excavations of the Roman fort, the Blackfriars and the
Greyfriars all added to the historian's knowledge of early Cardiff.
The Marquess rehabilitated a number
of other castles and, near Cardiff, Burges restored the ruins of Castell Coch
in a French Gothic style, complete with conical round towers. Popular with
film-makers, the castle is a work of fantasy, majestically overlooking the Taff
and a picturesque, sloping forest. It was on these slopes that Bute
experimented with the cultivation of vines. For a time he was commercially
successful but the venture came to an end in 1923.
In the twentieth century the Bute
family were to make a gift of both Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch to the local
community. In his own lifetime, the Marquess was a generous benefactor to
worthy causes in Cardiff. He contributed to a wide range of charities and we
have seen how he provided land for public parks and recreation grounds.
Perhaps understandably, the squalor of a mid-Victorian town did not
appeal to the young Marquess and he was sometimes criticised for not spending
more of his time in Cardiff. However, in 1891 he served as its Mayor, the first
nobleman to hold that office in a major British town for more than 200 years.
He was content to be a figurehead, but his year in office may have influenced
his decision to sell the site at Cathays Park to the Corporation; his last and
most important intervention in the affairs of Cardiff.