Amongst the vast collection of photographs held at Glamorgan Archives there are three taken 60 years ago that provide a clue to a grand event that gripped the city and the rest of Wales in July 1958 and ensured that, for 8 days, Wales was the focus of attention not just in Britain but across the globe.
The first is a photograph taken from St Mary Street looking towards Cardiff Castle. From a first glance the scene looks very much as it would have done in recent years, up until the pedestrianisation of the thoroughfare. Admittedly the cars and the clothes worn by those passing are very much from the 1950s but there are still recognisable shop signs, including a sign for the Louis Restaurant in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph and the Howells building in the centre of the photograph. But look more closely at the Howells Department store. On the roof you will see a giant bronze statue of a figure holding a javelin and just about to launch it – arguably – in the direction of the Old Library.
The second is a photograph of Queen Street again taken looking towards the Castle. Possibly not as recognisable as St Mary Street and High Street but you will spot a number of current buildings, if you look above the shop fronts, including the old frontage for Marks and Spencer and the bank with its columned front on the left hand side of the street. However, 60 years ago there was clearly something happening for the street is packed with people. In addition, a giant dragon is processing down the centre of the street.
Finally, there is a photograph of a large group of students standing outside the entrance to Aberdare Hall in Cardiff. Notice the range of national costumes including Welsh, Scots, the Pacific islands and Canada. In addition, some are dressed in a mixture of sporting garb including the fencer on the right. The give-away, however, is the sign being held in front of the Group – The Empire Games comes to Wales.
In July 1958 Cardiff hosted the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was a significant occasion. At the first Games held in Canada in 1930 the entire Welsh team had amounted 2 competitors (both swimmers) – just enough to provide a bearer for the flag and the one person to carry the ‘Wales’ placard at the opening ceremony. Ironically a Welsh man, Reg Thomas, won an athletics gold medal at the 1930 games but competing for England in the absence of a Welsh athletics team. Now, only 28 years later, Wales was hosting the Games with 36 countries and 1400 athletes and officials.
Over the coming weeks through the records held at Glamorgan Archives we will feature memories of July 1958 when Wales played host to the rest of the world. For those interested in finding out more about the Games, details will be provided of where the photographs and memorabilia can be found at Glamorgan Archives. So, starting with this article, the photographs featured of St Mary Street and Queen Street can be found under ref. 1998/68 and that of Aberdare Hall under ref. DUCAH/43/30.
Glamorgan Archives Volunteer