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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
Capital claims - A city's struggle
City Hall (picture courtesy of the South Wales Echo)
Crowds gathered outside City Hall to hear the announcement
If Cardiff is named European Capital of Culture for 2008, it will cap a remarkable century for a place that only became a city in 1905 - as BBC News Online discovers in the third of a four-part series.

Less than 50 years ago - just after 1530 GMT on Tuesday 20 December 1955 - Cardiff officially became the capital of Wales.

The announcement was made in a statement read in Parliament from the Minister for Welsh Affairs Gwilym Lloyd George, son of David Lloyd George.

The "great honour", as Cardiff's Lord Mayor called it, marked the end of a 30-year campaign in which towns and cities across Wales vied to become capital.

Caernarfon and Machynlleth both pressed historical claims, Aberystwyth played the cultural and geographical card, while Llandrindod Wells and Swansea were also involved in the fiercely-contested race.

The need for a capital, which Wales had lacked for four centuries following the Act of Union in 1536, was seen as an important focus for the growing feeling of Welsh nationhood.

Welsh flag in Cardiff (picture courtesy of freefoto.com)
Fears over the Welshness of Cardiff were expressed

However, the prize at stake - the glory of becoming capital - led to years of tension.

In 1924, a ballot of Welsh local authorities was carried out by the South Wales Daily News, asking if a capital was necessary and, if so, where it should be.

Out of 160 votes, Cardiff received 76, Caernarfon 42, Aberystwyth 14, Swansea eight and 20 votes went to other towns 20.

After nearly three decades of similar disagreement, Wales was, in effect, given permission to choose a capital by the Minister for Welsh Affairs Sir David Maxwell Fyfe in 1951.

As various towns dropped their campaigns, the two final contenders were Cardiff and Caernarfon.

As the largest city, and home to the majority of national institutions and administrative offices, the strength of Cardiff's bid was powerful.

Cardiff had grown rapidly since it became a key port for exporting iron during the early 19th century, then quickly established itself as the world's greatest coal port, handling most of the coal from the south Wales Valleys.

It also boasted a grand civic centre, created after the marquess of Bute sold 24 hectares of land to the city for the building of public buildings in 1897.

The government have been impressed by the volume of support in Wales for the view that Cardiff is the city which should most appropriately be regarded as the capital of Wales and, in deference to these views, the government are prepared to recognise Cardiff as capital of the Principality.
Official statement read out in 1955

However, the main fears from around Wales - and from Caernarfon in particular - centred on the city's ability to represent Welsh culture and Welsh life.

To decide the matter, an official ballot was organised between the members of the Welsh local authorities.

Its results, declared on July 2, 1954, showed that Cardiff won 136 votes, Caernarfon took 11 and Aberystwyth secured four - representatives for more than two million people had opted for Cardiff.

When Gwilym Lloyd-George's statement was finally read out in 1955, crowds were invited to meet outside City Hall for the official declaration and the Lord Mayor of Cardiff urged people to fly flags from all buildings in the city.

Congratulatory messages flooded into Cardiff from across Wales and the world and there was even talk of whether Cardiff Castle would be a suitable permanent residence for the Royal Family.

Caernarfon, meanwhile, remained a key centre in the north, and hosted the the royal investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July 1969.




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