Foundation Stone and Portico
Directions: From reception, step outside through the great bronze entrance doors. The foundation stone is to your left as you exit (or to the RH when facing the entrance). View the whole portico from the pavement on King Edward VII Avenue.
To the RH side of the great bronze entrance doors to the Temple of Peace, is the Foundation Stone – laid on 8th April 1937 to great ceremony, by ex-Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. Deciphering the Art Deco lettering has daunted visitors to Cathays Park for 8o years since… Why not give it a try?
“THIS FOUNDATION STONE WAS LAID BY THE RT HON THE VISCOUNT HALIFAX, K. G., LORD PRIVY SEAL, ON THE EIGHTH DAY OF APRIL 1937.
PERCY THOMAS O.B.E., P.R.I.B.A. ARCHITECT; E. TURNER & SONS LTD. CONTRACTORS”
The Foundation Stone was laid to tremendous ceremony in 1937 by Viscount Halifax, then Leader of the House of Lords and soon Foreign Secretary of the British Government – at the time a leading advocate for the League of Nations through the difficult interwar years. History has been somewhat unkind to Lord Halifax, whose efforts to avert World War 2 have sometimes been characterised as ‘Appeasement’ of Germany – although he actually supported deterrence (despite a British public of the time extremely hostile to the threat of war). On the outbreak of hostilities, it was initially Halifax who was called to lead the country; he declined in favour of Winston Churchill, and the rest is (quite literally) history. But in 1937, when he laid the Temple’s Foundation Stone, he was regarded as perhaps Britain leading peace advocate. And in 1945, with the creation of the United Nations out of the ashes of World War 2, it is Halifax who is the signature represents the people of Great Britain on the UN Charter.
Construction of the Temple
It had taken 9 years to reach the point of laying the Temple’s Foundation Stone. Founder David Davies proposed the Temple of Peace in 1928, at the 10th Armistice after WW1, when Wales’ National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens (across the road) had been unveiled by the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII). In 1929, the City of Cardiff Corporation had gifted the land in the Cathays Park Civic Centre, and Davies commissioned Cardiff Architect Sir Percy Thomas to design his vision for a Temple of Peace and Health. But in 1930, the Great Depression plunged Britain and much of the world into austerity, and most building projects were put on hold or cancelled. However, in 1934, Lord Davies pledged a ‘sink fund’ to cover over 3/4 of the Temple’s construction costs, with the balance to met through public subscription. Despite the depression, the people of Wales contributed over £12,000 (about £881,000 today) to the WNMA and the Welsh League of Nations’ ‘Headquarters Fund’.
By 1937, Cardiff builders Turner & Sons Ltd had been commissioned to construct Wales’ Temple of Peace, and the Foundation Stone was laid to great ceremony in May 1937. The building was constructed in just 18 months.
The grand Portico, with its Greek Ionic columns in the square Art Deco style, was designed “to give external expression to the Temple within… and to the ideals of peace, health, and justice, and an effect of peace and dignity. The Greek Ionic style marked the summit of attainment in the Arts of Peace by the Ancient Greeks; most appropriate for a building of this character.” Architect Percy Thomas, 1928.
Fronting on to King Edward VII Avenue, the Portico – with its 31 feet high, great square Art Deco columns – is carried in Portland Stone, the scheme which ties together all buildings in the Cathays Park Civic Centre. The roofs of the 2 wings are covered in dark red Italian, patterned tiles. The office wings are kept low, simple and severe to contrast the high Temple profile. Three large windows with bronze grilles in antique malachite patina, are capped by 3 striking and symbolic reliefs:
- Health – the snake
- Justice – the scales
- Peace – the wheatsheaf
On the frieze above the columns, four discs bear the heraldic arms of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health was opened on 23rd November 1938 by Mrs Minnie James of Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil – representing the war bereaved mothers of Wales and the world. She had lost 3 sons in the Great War, and was accompanied by war mothers from across the UK and the British Empire. Minnie was presented by the Architect with an inscribed silver key with which to open the great Belgian Bronze entrance doors, saying:
“in the name of the women of Wales, it is my privilege to open this building. I dedicate it to the memory of those gallant men, of every nation, who fought in the war that was to end war. I pray that it may come to be regarded, by the people of my generation and those that are to follow, as a symbol of our determination to strive for justice and peace in the world.”
Minnie James, 23rd November 1938