This post was inspired by an article from John&Jane that explored the design of a modern flag for Cardiff. One image jumped out at me because I’d seen it before and not given it much thought.
The “Cardiff Arms”
The image is a coat of arms featuring a shield, mural crown and slogan, “Villa Cardiff”.
A mural crown represents city walls in heraldry with the number of towers often representing the size or importance of the town or city.
The “charge” on the shield features three chevrons and the slogan may represent Cardiff’s Roman origins. (The thinner chevrons are called chevronels in heraldry but I’ll keep referring to them as chevrons.)
I’ll refer to the coat of arms as the “Cardiff Arms” for the rest of this article.
I’m going to explore the use of these arms, show examples of different variations and try to determine when they were created. First of all I need to look back through history and investigate the county of Glamorgan.
Iestyn ap Gwrgant, the last ruler of Morgannwg (1014 – 1093) and Gilbert de Clare, the 1st Lord of Glamorgan (1180 – 1230) both had coats of arms that featured three chevrons.
The red chevrons on the Glamorgan coat of arms represent the House of Clare but the Glamorgan flag uses silver chevrons from the arms of Iestyn ap Gwrgant. The Cardiff Arms were clearly inspired by one or both of these designs.
My knowledge of Welsh history and heraldry is very poor so I’d love to hear from readers who know more about this area.
This is a brief history of Cardiff’s evolution from community to our capital city.
- 1324 – First Royal recognition of the community of Cardiff. (The Charter of 1324)
- 1542 – Cardiff became a borough.
- 1836 – The reformed Borough came into existence on 1st January 1836, the Council elected from the two Wards (North and South).
- 1889 – (1st April) Cardiff was officially recognised as a “County Borough”, which made it independent of the new Glamorgan County Council.
- 1905 – Cardiff became a city.
- 1955 – Cardiff was officially recognised as the capital city of Wales.
- 1974 – (1st April) Cardiff became part of the new county of South Glamorgan in local government reorganisation, losing the independent “County Borough” status it had gained in 1889. Cardiff’s boundaries were extended to include Lisvane, St Fagans and Tongwynlais.
- 1996 – After another local government reorganisation, Cardiff became a “Principal Area” known as the “City and County of Cardiff”.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Cardiff, head over to Cardiffians and check out their amazing timeline.
I have several postcards from the early 1910s that feature the Cardiff Arms but I suspected they must be older than that.
Cardiff City Hall opened in 1904 and the Cardiff Arms are rendered in beautiful stonework on its exterior. The slogan is also used on some of the stained glass.
The current logo uses the initials “VC” from “Villa Cardiff”.
“Algernon Frank Hill, an excellent forward, captained Cardiff in 1887/88 and 1894/95. He joined the club in 1883/84, playing 153 first team matches, and served the club for a total of nine seasons, the first seven commemorated with this cap.”Cardiff Rugby Museum
Cardiff Indoor Market opened in May 1891.
The market uses the Cardiff Arms as part of their brand so it can be seen online and on social media.
“The Cardiff Arms Hotel gave its name to Cardiff’s famous sports stadium, the Arms Park. This mail-coach house was known earlier as Red House, when it was constructed for Sir Thomas Morgan at the time of Charles I.”People’s Collection Wales
The exact date of this photo isn’t clear. One source I found suggested it’s from 1850 so this would be the earliest example so far. The hotel was demolished between 1878 and 1883. You can see the coat of arms in the centre of the building just above the top row of windows.
After hours of research, I’d almost given up finding an earlier example of the Cardiff Arms. And then I stumbled on a book called, “A topographical dictionary of Wales by Samuel Lewis” that was published in 1833.
This features an illustration of the Cardiff Arms decorated with leaves and floral elements.
There’s no information about the design or history of the arms.
As you can see, the shape of the shield has changed many times over the years but the core elements have remained the same.
I was beginning to think that the arms may have been created when Cardiff became a reformed borough in 1836. Perhaps the existence of the arms in Samuel Lewis’ book means they’re even older?
I have many more examples of the Cardiff Arms from my own collection to share. The modern coat of arms were granted in 1906 but the “Villa Cardiff” design continued to be used for many years.
But that’s to come in part 2.
If you have any information about the Cardiff Arms, I’d love to hear from you. Do you agree with Gareth Strange from John&Jane, would you like to see a modern flag for Cardiff?
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Cardiff Rugby Museum. Their collection is remarkable and well worth a look.