The Animal Wall: One of the most favorite features of Cardiff Castle

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Milica Sterjova
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One of the most interesting structures in Cardiff, Wales, is the famous Animal Wall. The wall, located in the city center, was financed by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the Third Marquess of Bute. One of the richest men of his time, the Marquess was a well-known architectural patron who financed the construction of numerous buildings in Scotland and Wales. The Animal Wall is a part of the Grade I listed structures of the city.

Wanting to renovate Cardiff Castle, the Marquess met with William Burges, one of the most popular architects at the time. This partnership was responsible for another major structure in Cardiff being reconstructed in the Gothic Revival style – Castell Coch. The Third Marquess of Bute inherited Cardiff Castle in the 18th century. There is a story that he wanted to build a zoo, but after not succeeding in his intentions, he commissioned the Animal Wall.

Burges was commissioned to design and build the wall on the south side of Cardiff Castle. He designed the wall in 1866 but never saw it finished because he died in 1881. The project was reactivated after the architect’s death and completed in 1892 by William Frame, Burges’s former collaborator. According to the official site of Cardiff Castle, the animal sculptures had to be approved by the Marquess before they were put on the wall, so models of them were made and presented to him. Two of them, one being a sea horse, were rejected. The animal sculptures look as if they are trying to climb up the wall and get to the other side.

The Animal Wall in front of Cardiff Castle (c. 1890).

There are fifteen animals on the wall today, nine of which were built at the same time as the wall. These nine were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls, an English sculptor who was a longtime partner of Burges and had worked with him on several occasions. These included the wolf, seal, apes, bear, hyena, lynx, lioness and two lions.

One of the lions, holding the Bute family shield. Author: Seth Whales.

The lions are a part of the Bute family’s coat of arms as a symbol of bravery. Initially they were located on each side of the gate but they were moved and are next to each other today. The original nine animals were painted in lifelike colors and were given eyes made of glass in order to appear more realistic. The paint was removed later and never replaced.

The Animal Wall in 2015. Author: Tony Hisgett. CC BY 2.0

Because of the growing traffic in front of Cardiff Caste and the need to widen the street, the wall had to be moved in 1922 about 160 feet west from its original location. A vulture, a leopard, raccoons, an ant-eater, a beaver and a pelican, the work of Alexander Carrick, renowned Scottish sculptor were added in 1931. These are different in style compared to the original and they do not have the original glass eyes. It is quite curious that none of the animals depicted are in fact native to the United Kingdom.

One of the original animal sculptures – the lioness. Author: Haydn Blackey. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Animal Wall was an inspiration for several authors. In the 1930s, Dorothy Howard Rowlands wrote stories with the wall animals as the characters. The author loved the wall when she was a child and her stories became quite popular among children. There was a proposition for total demolition of the Animal Wall in the 1970s in order to expand the street again. Citizens of Cardiff revolted against it so the authorities never went through with the idea.

The bear. Author: Tony Hisgett. CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, the structure has been a victim to vandalism through the years. In the 1980s someone removed the bear from the wall, using a rope tied to a vehicle. The glass eyes were also stolen and they had to be replaced. The anteater lost its nose in the 1990s.

The anteater after its nose had been restored. Author: Mark Healey. CC BY-SA 2.0

Weather conditions and the closeness of the structure to the road led to the wall’s decay through the years. During a project for restoration of Bute Park in 2010, the wall was repaired, the glass eyes were replaced, the ant-eater got a new nose and the graffiti on the Animal Wall was removed.