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Visiting the statue of the 1st Lord Aberdare in Cardiff, Wales: nuances, ambiguities and a pivotal, historic figure

Updated on June 24, 2014
Flag of Wales
Flag of Wales | Source
Statue of Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Lord Aberdare, overlooking Cardiff University
Statue of Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Lord Aberdare, overlooking Cardiff University | Source
Llewelyn the Last, Prince of Wales
Llewelyn the Last, Prince of Wales | Source
Map location of Cardiff, Wales
Map location of Cardiff, Wales | Source

Unveiled in 1899, a thought-provoking work with an academic subject

When Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare (1815-1895), former British Home Secretary and later Lord President of the Council, was elected first Chancellor of the University of Wales, he wrote these words to his daughter:

'As I could not reasonably expect to be chosen Archbishop to disestablished Wales, nor to succeed Prince Llewelyn [note: a Medieval Prince of Wales] in his temporarily suspended dignity, I feel that Wales could bestow on me no greater honour.' (1)

The statue of Lord Aberdare (Welsh: Yr Arglwydd Aberdâr ), situated in Alexandra Gardens , Cathays Park (Welsh: Parc Cathays ), is located opposite the entrance to the main university building in Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd ). Its sculptor was Herbert Hampton (1862-1929) who worked between 1895 and 1898, with its unveiling occurring in 1899.

Set in beautiful parkland, the statue depicts Lord Aberdare in his Chancellor's robes. Its setting and context all seems so appropriate and perfect.

Except that it isn't.

There is, in fact, no evidence that Lord Aberdare ever wore his Chancellor's robes. His election to the Chancellorship came in early 1895, and he himself died in February 1895: less than a month after this honour was bestowed on him.

In addition, the statue's actual location dates only from 1914. Furthermore, the statue is now indeed the opposite the main university building in Cardiff, but this institution has substantially left the University of Wales, of which Lord Aberdare was the first Chancellor. Indeed, in 2011, in the wisdom of its governors and administrators, and following a series of unedifying events (—as a University of Wales graduate myself, I think I am entitled to this comment—), the University of Wales was at least in practical terms disbanded.

However, whatever the future may hold, the historical connection between Lord Aberdare and Welsh university affairs is strong, As well as being elected Chancellor of the University, Lord Aberdare had also served as President of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, as Cardiff University (Welsh: Prifysgol Caerdydd ) was originally known, having previously presided over its sister college in Aberystwyth. Lord Aberdare had also chaired an important committee of enquiry on education in Wales, which, in what was known as the Aberdare Report, had made important recommendations on educational expansion, in 1881.

Interestingly, Lord Aberdare has been the only non-royal individual to be elected Chancellor of the University of Wales. After his death, the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, took on this rôle, and other members of the Royal Family have in some sense, if not 'inherited' the Chancellorship, then continued a tradition begun after Lord Aberdare's passing. (Here, Lord Aberdare's oblique allusion to Medieval Prince Llewelyn, quoted at the beginning of this short article, seems to assert itself tentatively, again... .)

Nearby Aberdare Hall, a fine building dating from 1895, pioneered university residences for women in Wales, and was named for Lady Aberdare.

Here also is an interesting piece of what I hesitate to call trivia: a great-granddaughter of Lord Aberdare was Pamela Churchill Harriman (1920-1997), US President Bill Clinton's Ambassador to France (1920-1997).


(1) 1st Lord Aberdare, qu. in: D. Emrys Evans, The University of Wales: A Historical Sketch, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1953, p. 50

Also worth seeing

In Cardiff itself, other noted visitor attractions include: the Welsh National War Memorial, Cardiff City Hall, Cardiff Castle, the statue of Aneurin Bevan in Queen Street, Llandaff Cathedral and many others.


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.

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