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The History of Cardiff

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Cardiff is located on the southern coast of Wales and is its capital. It lies at the heart of the largest and most heavily populated county in Wales and is the administrative centre for Wales. Cardiff began its life as a Roman fort following their invasion of Wales in 50AD. The fort was built by 55 AD but was soon reduced in size when Wales became peaceful later in the century. The fortifications needed to be improved again a couple of centuries later, when Irish raiders had to be repelled from the southern shores of Wales. Cardiff then declined along with Roman empire and from the fourth century onwards. The coast suffered occasional Viking raids in the 8th and 9th centuries, until the town of Cardiff was created by the Normans after they had conquered the Glamorgan area. William the Conqueror visited Cardiff in 1081, on his only personal expedition to Wales. The castle was built, at first in wood, within the walls of the original Roman fort. The stone version of the castle was built in the early 12th century. The town grew around the Norman castle, as was often the case, because the troops at the garrison would provide a market which would attract merchants and craftsmen to the to town. In the Middle Ages Cardiff had a population of around 2000, which was a large settlement compared to most Welsh Medieval towns. By the 13th century it was the only Welsh town to have a population of over 2000.

The port of Cardiff began to grow in importance during the early Middle Ages and the town was protected by the erection of a wooden palisade. In 1327 Cardiff was declared a Staple Port by the English Monarchy, giving it the rights to export and import particular goods. During the first 300 years of its existence, the castle of Cardiff saw plenty of action. It was attacked on a number of occasions by Welsh
Lords and Chieftains. In 1158 Ifor Bach attacked the castle and carried off William of Gloucester, then Lord of Glamorgan. His grandson Llywelyn Bren stormed the castle again in 1315 and was later executed at Cardiff Castle as a traitor, in 1318. At the beginning of the 15th century, the town was destroyed by fire during Owain Glyndwr ís capture of Cardiff Castle in 1404. The town was almost entirely constructed of wood, so it was razed to the ground by the burning. However, the advantage of wooden buildings is that they donít take too long to rebuild, so the town was back up and flourishing again within a very short space of time.

In 1536 Cardiff became the county town of the shire of Glamorgan, which was created following the legislative union of England and Wales that year. Cardiff was declared a Free Borough in 1542, in this same year Thomas Capper became the first Welsh religious martyr after being burnt at the stake for heresy. The Herbert family became the most powerful family in Cardiff after this, with William Herbert (already
Earl of Pembroke) becoming the first Baron Cardiff in 1551.

At the beginning of the 17th century Cardiff was described by historian George Owen as being "the fayrest towne in Wales yett not the welthiest." The century was a relatively peaceful one in the history of Cardiff, but in the middle of the century the battle of St. Fagans was fought. It was the last civil war battle to be fought in Wales, one in which the Royalists suffered heavy casualties despite heavily outnumbering the Parliamentarian forces.

During the 18th century Cardiff continued to grow. The lighthouse was built at Flat Holme in 1737 and towards the end of the century Cardiff Castle began to get a facelift. The castle was eventually restyled in an early Gothic Revival style by architect Henry Holland , who was commissioned for the work by John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute. This was only to be the beginning of the transformation however, in 1868 the 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned William Burges to turn the castle into a Victorian ís idea of a fantasy medieval castle. He created a range of simply fantastic rooms in what is considered by some to be one of the pinnacles of achievement of the later Victorian Gothic Revivalists. They also created a series of impressive towers for the castle, starting with the Clock Tower in 1869.

The 19th century was a busy time for Cardiff, with a new boat service running to Bristol , the beginnings of the Taff Vale Railway; which began its first services to the Rhondda Valley in 1855. During the 19th century the population of Cardiff boomed enormously. From under 2000 at the beginning of the century, it had reached 18000 by the middle of the century. This was just the beginning, however, by 1870 the population was up to 60000, but by the end of the century it had reached a phenomenal 160000; a more than 80-fold increase in the population in the space of 100 years!

The shipbuilding industry was strong in the 19th century and the docks of Cardiff were expanded and developed considerably during this time. Large amounts of coal were still being exported through Cardiff port and the iron and steel industries were also thriving.

During the 20th century, the population boom slowed, but Cardiff still grew by another 120000 people in this time. Cardiff was granted city status in 1905 by King Edward VII and acquired a Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1916. The port and the manufacturing industries declined; with the coal industry in Wales being largely shut down towards the end of the 20th century. Tourism and service industries have now become the mainstays of the Cardiff economy. In 1999 the Millennium stadium was opened. This showpiece stadium replaced Cardiff Arms Park and Ninian Park as the home of the Welsh national Rugby and Football sides respectively. It has been the site of a great many top sporting and musical events since it was opened.

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