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Former Central Library

A Grade II* Listed Building in Castle (Castell), Cardiff

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Latitude: 51.4801 / 51°28'48"N

Longitude: -3.1773 / 3°10'38"W

OS Eastings: 318341

OS Northings: 176341

OS Grid: ST183763

Mapcode National: GBR KJM.JC

Mapcode Global: VH6FD.W255

Plus Code: 9C3RFRJF+23

Entry Name: Former Central Library

Listing Date: 12 June 1978

Last Amended: 30 April 1999

Grade: II*

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 14111

Building Class: Recreational

Location: Occupying a key city centre location with entrance front to Trinity Street, dominant south facade to the Hayes, flank elevation to Working Street and rear facing St John's Church.

County: Cardiff

Community: Castle (Castell)

Community: Castle

Built-Up Area: Cardiff

Traditional County: Glamorgan

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Constructed in two stages. Following competition of 1880, northern section designed as the Free Library, Museum and School of Arts building of 1880-2 by James, Seward and Thomas, architects of Cardiff; cost £9,180. Opened 31 May 1882. The larger south extension of 1894-6 designed by Edwin Seward (Seward and Thomas), architects of Cardiff, with Mr W Taylor, sculptor; cost £20,705. The contractors were E Turner & Sons (who went on to build virtually all the major buildings in Cardiff over the next 50 years). Opened 27 June 1896, by Prince of Wales. The Schools of Science and Arts tranferred to the university in 1890, and the museum contents transferred to the National Museum of Wales 1923. Building under conversion at time of inspection.


Symmetrical Neo-Classical 3 bay south facade of two principal storeys plus attics and basement. Bath stone with Ham Hill stone insets and Portland stone columns. Raised, pilastered centre bay with block tablet crowned by a bust of Pallas, Athena, Goddess of the arts, on a triglyph frieze with volute supports; terminal finials with owl supporters. Stepped and swagged outer ends with griffon supporters over main pilasters flanking deep lunette with high relief sculpture representing Literature, Calligraphy and Printing. Main entablature links with outer bays, swagged panels to attics, polygonal lion-mask finials over corners. 3 5 3 bay Tuscan colonades in antis to first floor, cartouches to main pilasters, tall sash windows with mezzanines over transom. Moulded sill band over entablature to pilastered ground floor, fluted treatment below transom level, inset carved panels (part of the series celebrating early European printers); rusticated basement with blocked arched openings.
Long side elevations in "modern French classical style" (see The Builder, 10 June 1882) are broadly similar in composition and step outward along the splayed site between Working and Trinity Streets. Individually complicated bay treatment all linked by parapets with occasional pediments, main entablature and the cornice over ground floor. Cantilevered bays (continued blind to attics) at first floor with curved angles, arched window heads over mullioned lights; thermal window treatment to arched heads breaking main cornice. Grids of windows to ground floor with fluting below transoms and inset carved printer's marks of early European printers. Wide arched entrance to Trinity Street with elaborately carved "Villa Cardiff" arms over recessed tympanum containing arabesque panels; giant figures personifying Study and Rhetoric flank the entrance with sidelights, 8-panel double doors. Older north section has hipped slate roofs (formerly with raised lanterns) and (differing) symmetrical elevations to Trinity and Working Streets, detailing largely as before incorporating bull's eye windows and fully modelled architraves. Former entrances from Working Street have bull's eye fanlights flanked by relief sculpture in panels. Simplified north front with twin advanced wings topped by small pediments and yellow brick facings; arched heads over giant pilasters to 4-bay lower storeys; glazing over one-storey centre.


Interiors to later part are constructed around an open lightwell, openwell stone staircase with balustered handrail amd torcheres to newels. Screened lobby with original Art Nouveaux handles and finger plates. Large-scale pilastered and coffered rooms with occasional arabesque panels, blind arcading and plaster cornices. Exceptional entrance corridor, lobby and spiral staircase to original N building and majolica tiles to piers and arches with decorative arabesque treatment and painted tiles portraying night, morning and the four seasons; mosaic floors, rib-vaulted ceilings etc. Tiled wall fountains to later building. All tiled work probably by Maw and Co of Shropshire.
Art Nouveux bronze relief to John Ballinger, Librarian 1884-1908, in entrance lobby.

Reasons for Listing

Graded II* as amongst finest public buildings in old town centre. Group value.

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