Visiting Cardiff, Wales and the statue of Aneurin Bevan: honouring the creator of the National Health Service
Capturing the essence of a fighter; and a recurring, distant voice from Uruguay
Queen Street is a central walkway in Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd), Wales's capital, and one of its most prominent landmarks is the striking statue, by Robert Thomas (1926-1999) of the Rt. Hon. Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960), creator of the National Health Service.
Robert Thomas has successfully captured Bevan in characteristic pose: he is leaning forward and slightly to his right. His demeanor suggests at once controlled vigour, defiance and optimism, and those who have studied his life will be able to identify readily with the sculptor in his execution of Bevan's likeness.
The simple caption on the plinth reads:
ANEURIN BEVAN 1897 - 1960 Founder of the National Health Service.
Bevan, a Member of the Westminster Parliament for the South Wales seat of Ebbw Vale from 1929 to 1960, led a most vigorous — even tumultuous — life. He served as Minister of Health when in 1948 the National Health Service was established, providing comprehensive health care coverage in the United Kingdom. This is often regarded as his, and the Labour Government's, greatest achievement. When one reflects that at the time of the founding of the National Health Service Great Britain was almost bankrupt and prominent and wealthy personalities and interests were vehemently opposed to his proposals, the sheer extent of this achievement is highlighted.
Aneurin Bevan, often known as 'Nye', was noted for his acerbic tongue. He once famously attributed to the United States 'technical brilliance and social blindness'. Some of Bevan's comments about his Conservative opponents were so strong as to be almost unprintable. Bevan was also prominent among campaigners for unilateral nuclear disarmament, a position which won him many critics both outside and inside the Labour Party.
Aneurin Bevan's crucial service as Minister of Health from 1945 to 1951 was in the Government led by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. It is fair that to Prime Minister Attlee, as the Head of Government who supported his minister when the far-reaching changes were made to the administration and funding of hospitals, be attributed the achievement of the National Health Service as much as to Bevan (1).
Bevan was succeeded in 1960 as Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale by his biographer Michael Foot (1913-2010), who later served as Leader of HM Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party. It is just to record that much of Michael Foot's prominence was derived from his close identification with the causes espoused by his mentor, Aneurin Bevan.
Part of Bevan's appeal, as interpreted by Michael Foot's incisive biography of him (2), was his perception of spiritual barrenness among those who advocated technical and economic efficiency at the expense of culture and human values. In this, Bevan's thinking was significantly influenced by the Uruguayan writer José Enrique Rodó Piñeyro (1872-1917), who also served as a Colorado deputy for Montevideo. Rodó's Ariel (1900) was a strong and widely read critique of what the writer saw as a utilitarianism, embodied by the United States, not compensated by a quest for higher, cultural and human values. (Canadians will recognize themes raised many years later by Pierre Elliott Trudeau and others.)(3) What makes Aneurin Bevan an interesting and compelling personality is that he combines a critique of unfettered, utilitarian capitalism — in itself, not so unusual — with an impressive record of practical achievement in an area of vital interest to people's daily lives.
Other sculptures by Robert Thomas stand at various locations on Cardiff's Queen Street. These are: Mother and Son ; The Family ; and The Miner . Robert Thomas was also known for sculpted work depicting other prominent Welsh personalities and other themes.
(1) By way of a broadly comparable example: journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the dogged reporters whose persistent articles showing corruption in the Nixon Administration brought down President Nixon in 1974; but it was the Washington Post 's executive editor, Ben Bradlee, who stood by his reporters and thus deserves much of the credit for allowing the publication of the at the time much criticized exposures of Nixon Administration wrongdoing. The rôle the journalists' professional sponsor was recognized by the fact that the Pulitzer Prize, to which Woodward and Bernstein's writings led, was awarded to the Washington Post collectively rather than to individuals.
(2) Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan , 2 vols., MacGibbon & Kee,, 1962 & 1973. Another widely read biography of Aneurin Bevan is Jennie Lee's My Life with Nye , 1980. Jennie Lee (later Baroness Lee of Asheridge), married to Aneurin Bevan from 1934 until his death in 1960, served in the 1960s as Minister of State for Education and Skills and was the creator of The Open University in 1969, regarded by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as his government's greatest achievement.
(3) Similarly, issues raised eloquently by Aneurin Bevan relating to perceptions of patronage and immobilism in the senior structures of the British armed forces anticipate closely comparable issues raised in Canada by Lester Pearson, Paul Hellyer and others.
Also worth seeing
In Cardiff itself, the many visitor attractions include: Cardiff Castle, a short distance from the statue of Aneurin Bevan in Queen Street; Cathays Park, with many, fine, public buildings and monuments; Llandaff Cathadral; and many others.
Castell Coch, Tongwynlais (distance: 7.7 kilometres) an imposing, 19th century hillside recreation of a Medieval castle.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is approximately 222 kilometres from Cardiff . There are fast railroad links between London and Cardiff. Some facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting the Welsh National War Memorial, Cardiff, Wales: a fine, Neo-Classical structure evoking so
- Visiting Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales: the grace of its historic Main Building in Cathays Park
- Visiting Castell Coch at Tongwynlais, Wales: an imposing Victorian, Gothic-Revival castle
- Visiting Caerphilly, Wales: its remarkably well-preserved castle
- Visiting Hay-on-Wye, Wales: books galore and a ruined castle