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Main Building Centenary Profile

The University’s Main Building, one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Cardiff, celebrated its centenary on 14th October 2009.

Beginnings

The magnificent grade 2 listed building remains a thriving focal point of the University. Yet its construction was a piecemeal affair, and even now it remains an incomplete version of the architect’s original design - there was to be a Great Hall across the Park Place side of the building, enclosing a courtyard of lawns.

The driving force behind the building was John Viriamu Jones, who became the first principal of Cardiff’s university college at the age of 27 in 1893, and whose marble statue continues to oversee the comings and goings in the entrance hall, now known as the Viriamu Jones Gallery.

Original designs for Main Building, courtesy of Caroe & Partners.

Original designs for Main Building, courtesy of Caroe & Partners.

The institution, which this young physicist led, was located in Newport Road, but he and his wife lived in 42 Park Place - a house which looked out across the 58 acres of Cathays Park.

The university college was rapidly outgrowing the Old Infirmary where it was based, and Viriamu Jones had helped raise a building fund of £42,000. When the Corporation announced plans for a civic centre in Cathays Park, to include Town Hall, law courts and a public garden, he saw this as an ideal location for the university college too.

In October 1900, although very ill, he argued the case for having a seat of learning at the heart of the town (as Cardiff still was until 1905), and persuaded dubious councillors, who agreed to grant a five-acre site for 999 years at a peppercorn rent.

The site, valued at £20,000, would become the location for the Main Building, but Viriamu Jones would never see it, for he died the following year at the age of 45.

The foundation stone was laid on 28th June 1905 by the Prince of Wales. In the ceremony, the architect, William Douglas Caroe, formally handed the trowel to Prince George, later King George V, who officially laid the Foundation Stone in his role as Chancellor.