International Heat 5 - Cardiff, Great Britain
Venue: Cardiff Castle Grounds, Cardiff, Glamorgan

If you wanted a setting for Jeux Sans Frontieres whose history and appearance could raise as many eyebrows as the spectacle of the competition itself, then Cardiff Castle should really take its rightful place as a classic European venue. No wonder then, that three times it hosted JSFs, and once a (largely forgotten) 1969 BBC heat of It’s a Knockout.

It lies at the very heart of the Welsh Capital City – Cardiff. Cardiff (whose name derives from a curious amalgamation of Latin, Old English and Welsh, meaning “fort on the River Taff”) owes its existence to the Romans who, in their three hundred years of occupation, built four forts on the site of the present castle, on what was hitherto marshland. The square perimeter wall of Cardiff Castle today was once the outer stone wall of the Roman fort, outside of which a small settlement of traders and suppliers began to grow.

When the Romans suddenly left in 400 AD, the fort was abandoned and in the six centuries which followed, it gradually disappeared through decay and (no doubt) plunder. When the Norman conquerors arrived in Wales in 1089 AD, all they probably found was a large eight acre square plot surrounded by grass embankments, surrounded by a small trading settlement and port on the river. The remains of the actual Roman walls were not to be rediscovered for another eight hundred years. The Normans quickly built a classic motte and bailey keep recognising, like the Romans, that this was a good spot to guard the river and the sea (both of which were then much closer to the castle than they are today).

In the 12th century, the castle became the stronghold of Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester and 2nd Lord of Glamorgan: illegitimate son of King Henry I of England and grandson of William the Conqueror. Hailed as one of Europe’s greatest warriors and statesmen of his day, he played a huge role in English history, even minting his own coins. One of his most famous acts was imprisoning his uncle, Robert Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, in Cardiff Castle until he died, in order to stop him claiming the throne. The Duke died a prisoner in the stone keep you see in the opening shot of the 1970 Jeux Sans Frontières transmission.

For successive centuries Cardiff Castle, which slowly expanded along the western wall, came under the possession of leading nobles and statesmen, often as a Royal reward. It also passed through many generations of Kings in waiting, including King John, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII.

However, Cardiff Castle’s greatest moment came in the nineteenth century, when it was inherited by “the richest baby in the British Empire”. John Patrick Crichton Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, was only 6 months old when his father, Baron Cardiff, died suddenly after having amassed a fortune through his successful gamble of building the docks at Cardiff for exporting Welsh coal. That single act was to cause Cardiff to grow almost one hundred times in size in just one century to become the largest city in Wales and, in 1955, Capital City of Wales.

By the time the 3rd Marquess himself died in 1900, he was one of the richest men in the entire world. John devoted vast sums to creating in Cardiff Castle the perfect medieval fantasy castle, with no expense spared. The Bute family left in 1947 and sold the Castle to Cardiff City Council for just £1! Today, the castle and its four hundred acres of adjoining parkland belong to the city and are open to the public, giving Cardiff more parkland per head of population than any other city in Europe. To step inside the castle is not only a journey through two thousand years of Roman, Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian history, but a breathtaking fantasy journey through rooms decorated lavishly with gold, wood, stone and marble, lined with painstakingly detailed wall murals. Every room has a theme, concerning medieval history, time, space and astrology and, especially, religion. The perfect fantasy setting for JSF!

by James Cowan

JSFnetGB Venues researched by
Alan Hayes, Christos Moustakas, Neil Storer and JSFnet Websites