South East Wales

Mansion House, Cardiff, celebrates 100 years with rare tour

Mansion House
Image caption Mansion House in Cardiff begins a year-long celebration to mark its centenary and visitors can take a tour of the official residence

Visitors have the chance for a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the home of Cardiff's Lord Mayor.

Mansion House in the Roath area of the city begins a year-long celebration to mark its centenary and is offering tours of the official residence.

Previously the home of department store owner James Howells, the property in Richmond Road was taken over by the then Cardiff Corporation in 1912.

The celebrations begin on Wednesday with a talk on the house's history.

Mansion House manager David Clay says the building has risen and fallen on the coat-tails of the capital's industrialists.

It was built in 1892 after being commissioned by Mr Howells.

"In James Howells' day, Mansion House was known as the Grove and would have been one of the grandest residences in Cardiff - reflecting the growing confidence and ambition of the town," Mr Clay said.

Royal guests

"When the Howells family moved in there, the Cardiff Corporation took up in his previous Victorian house just down the road, which is symbolic as the civic history of Cardiff is so closely interlinked with the fortunes of its industrialists.

"Because of the success of those industrialists, in 1905 Cardiff was given city status and granted a Lord Mayor, who needed an official residence.

"So following James Howells death in 1909, the city corporation also bought the Grove, renaming it Mansion House."

In its early years, Mansion House was a venue to rival any outside of London.

It has played host to former prime ministers David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, opera singer Adelina Patti and even King George V.

But during the inter-war years Cardiff suffered a slump as a result of global depression and a collapse in the price of its staple export, coal.

Image caption The grand staircase at Mansion House

In 1936 the output of Cardiff docks was half of that of 20 years previously and the population fell.

Faced with growing poverty, the corporation's focus moved away from glamorising the city to supporting its residents and Mansion House suffered as a consequence.

"It wasn't all bad as Mansion House had some notable highlights in the 1950s, playing a key role in the granting of Cardiff's capital status and the Empire Games in 1958," said Mr Clay.

"But the house did suffer some tougher times and a lack of investment from the 1920s onwards.

"James Howells, one of the richest men in Cardiff at the time, designed the building in two halves with a dividing wall in the cellar which could be built-up if times got tough, as two properties would have been worth more than one.

"And in the 1990s Mansion House took inspiration from that spirit of reinvention, transforming itself into a wedding venue and facility for the entire population."

Indeed, since 1999 you are more likely to find a newly married couple in the master bedroom than the Lord Mayor because the city's ceremonial leader is only in residence for official civic occasions.

During Mr Clay's time as Mansion House manager, guests have included former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela and The Queen Mother.

However, he says his personal favourite was oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

As well as Mr Clay's tour, Mansion House also hosts lectures this month on Cardiff's links to its gentry, and its rise during the 19th century.

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