‘God Bless the Prince of Wales: The Closing Ceremony of the Empire and Commonwealth Games, 26 July 1958

Much of the material held at Glamorgan Archives tells a story well beyond initial impressions of the item in question.  Take catalogue reference D1045/7/2 – a card, 12cm by 8cm, with the words ‘Admit bearer to Band Enclosure Cardiff Arms Park’ and stamped 26 July 1958. Closer inspection reveals that ‘bearer’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘NCO and 10 Guardsmen’ and, in the top left hand corner, there is a heading ‘VIth British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff, 1958, Wales’.


A little investigation reveals that this was a ticket to the biggest event in town – the athletics finals and the closing ceremony of the Empire and Commonwealth Games. While a capacity crowd of 34,000 had crammed into Cardiff Arms Park for the opening ceremony earlier in the month, it was estimated that up to 43,000 had been shoe-horned into the ground on the last day. The guardsmen were members of the Welsh Guards and, along with their instruments, they would have been carrying the music scheduled for the ceremony including ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides’. In addition, they were due to play the national anthem, given that the Queen was the guest of honour.

There was disappointment during the afternoon when medal hopes for the Welsh women’s 4x100yd relay team were dashed after they were disqualified in the semi-final for a faulty baton change. However, by the end of the afternoon spirits were high as the crowd had witnessed a wonderful battle for the Gold medal in the mile, won eventually by the legendary Australian runner Herb Elliott.

Late afternoon, after the last medal presentation, it was time for the Band of the Welsh Guards to take centre stage as it led the teams into the Arms Park. In no time at all the stadium was a riot of colour and noise as the teams and their flag bearers filled the ground and aircraft from the RAF flew overhead. There was some disappointment when it was announced that the Queen was not well enough to attend and had, instead, sent a recorded message to be relayed over the stadium’s tannoy system. However, the speech contained a closely guarded secret with the Queen’s announcement that, to mark the success of the Games, her son, Charles, was to be made Prince of Wales. The papers the next day reported that the news was greeted with …a mighty roar of pleasure that lasted nearly two minutes. Although, no doubt, the bandsmen were prepared for most things they may well have been surprised by what happened next, as the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’.

In comparison to the formality of the opening ceremony, spirits were high and one team member Bill Young, an Australian coach, had broken ranks to shake hands with the Duke of Edinburgh as he moved through the competitors. The hero of the week for Wales in the athletics had been John Merriman who had won the silver medal in the 6 mile race. Now, as the teams left the stadium, many linking arms as they sang ‘Auld Land Syne’, it was John who ran to the north stand and threw his Panama hat into the crowd. This started a wave of hat throwing reciprocated by several brown trilbies travelling in the opposite direction. All too soon the ceremony was over and with it a week that had also seen Cardiff host a festival of music, song, drama and dance. It had not been golden week for the Welsh team, although a respectable haul of 11 medals had been won. Yet there was no doubt that the Games had been a major success, with the national papers referring to Cardiff as a ‘Mississippi of pleasant sound and colour’ and labelling the Games ‘a festival of sport and more – a community of good fellowship’.

For Cardiff Arms Park, the scene of much of the action, it was back to business with workmen moving in immediately after the closing ceremony to prepare the ground for the next set of rugby fixtures. Their target was the red ash running track on which so many records had been created during the course of the Games, and within 24 hours it had been ripped up and removed. In addition, soldiers from the Royal Engineers were busy dismantling the temporary bridge built across the Taff to the carry the thousands of visitors to the Arms Park. The Games, though, did leave an immediate legacy with the inauguration, the following year, of the Welsh Games designed to provide the platform for an annual festival of sport.

As for the Bandsmen of the Welsh Guards, they had acquitted themselves well amongst all of the excitement of the day. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were ready for the rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’. But how would you have fared? For future reference, here are the words.


Among our ancient mountains

And from our lovely vales

Oh, let the pray’r re-echo

God Bless the Prince of Wales


The ticket for the closing ceremony used by the NCO and the 10 bandsmen of the Welsh Guards can be found at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D1045/7/2), along with other material relating to the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Wales in July 1958.


Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer



Cardiff Plays Host to the World

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.


Tony Peters

Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Seventy Five Seventy Fives

Glamorgan Archives is 75 this year.  We share seniority in Wales with our neighbour, Gwent: they were the first to set up an archive service (1938) but we were the first to appoint an archivist (1939).  The county showed impeccable timing with the result that our anniversary year will also be shared with two world wars and one national strike to name but a few of the major commemorations we will also be marking in 2014.

Glamorgan Archives

The first County Archivist, Emyr Gwynne Jones, soon moved on, becoming Bangor University’s Librarian in 1946.  He has had only 4 successors and this continuity of senior staff is reflected in the continuity of the service’s core function, defined by Madeleine Elsas in 1959 as: the task of preserving records, restoring them, collecting additional material about the geographical county, and making these records freely available.”

To celebrate our 75 years of care for the documents of Glamorgan we have trawled the lists of accessions and extracted the 75th deposit received in each year.  Some of them have been transferred, some have been removed from the Collection.  Some years fewer than 75 accessions were received.  All illustrate something about the history and development of local authority archive services in general and Glamorgan Archives in particular.  Archive staff will be blogging about the 75s throughout the year, either as single items or as categories. 

We hope you’ll enjoy reading our blog and we look forward to receiving your comments.