Old Library, Cardiff

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The Old Library
Yr Hen Lyfrgell
Old Library.JPG
Former namesCardiff Free Library
Cardiff Central Library
Alternative namesCardiff Story
General information
Town or cityCardiff
Coordinates51°28′48″N 3°10′38″W / 51.4801°N 3.1773°W / 51.4801; -3.1773Coordinates: 51°28′48″N 3°10′38″W / 51.4801°N 3.1773°W / 51.4801; -3.1773
Opened31 May 1882; 137 years ago (1882-05-31)
Design and construction
Architecture firmJames, Seward and Thomas
DesignationsGrade II* listed

The Old Library (Welsh: Yr Hen Lyfrgell) is a Grade II* listed building in Cardiff, Wales. It is located in the centre of the city at the northern end of The Hayes. Originally the Cardiff Free Library, it was used as the city's Central Library until it was replaced in 1988. It has been used for other purposes since that time and it is currently the location of the Cardiff Story museum and the city centre's main Tourist Information point. It is noted for its fine colonnaded exterior and original tiled entrance corridor.[1]


The only sign of the "Free Library" on the building

Design, construction and opening[edit]

Plans for a new "grand and commanding" Cardiff Free Library and Museum were put before Cardiff Town Council in 1874. There were two options for the site, one being owned by Marquess of Bute at the corner of Wood Street and St Mary Street (though and attracting a hefty ground rent), the other owned by the Cardiff Council.[2] Because of the restrictions and costs imposed by the Bute Trustees, the St Mary Street site was rejected in October 1874.[3] In 1879 another option, to rebuild and extend the existing Free Library at the Cardiff Market, was rejected in favour of a Council-owned site on Working Street (which joins The Hayes), with rent-free incentives.[4]

East elevation on Working Street

A competition was held to choose a design for the new Cardiff Free Library. The winning design was by architects James, Seward and Thomas, and the building was erected between 1880 and 1882 for just over £9,000.[5] The Cardiff Free Library, Museum and Schools for Science and Art (including an art gallery) was opened on 31 May 1882 by the Mayor of Cardiff, Alfred Thomas. The day was declared a public holiday,[6] with the town's shops closed and a procession of over 5000 people making their way through the streets to the library, then dispersing at the Cardiff Arms Park.[7]

The building was further extended to the south fourteen years later, with a new south frontage designed by James, Seward & Thomas and constructed by local builders E Turner & Sons,[8] more than doubling the size of the building to 12,600 square feet at a cost of £45,000.[9] This was officially re-opened by the Prince of Wales on 27 July 1896[8] at a ceremony in front of almost 700 people assembled in the new reading room.[9] The Prince and Princess of Wales were the subject of the first ever news film shot in Britain during this visit.[10]

Library 1924–1988[edit]

The Schools of Science and Art were housed in the building until 1890 when it moved to buildings that were part of the University College.[6] The museum contents moved to the National Museum of Wales in 1923.[8] The building subsequently became simply Cardiff Library.

In December 1988 a new Cardiff Central Library opened in Frederick Street and the old library was closed.

Post-library history[edit]

Following its closure as a library, the Old Library was used for a number of years as artists' studios.

In 1992 a feasibility study was carried out with view to the building becoming an arts centre. After receiving £9 million in grants, a new 'glass box' entrance was created on the east side of the building and the original tiled corridor was closed. The building opened as Cardiff's Centre for Visual Arts (CVA) in 1999. With two galleries totalling 1300 square metres, it became the largest venue for temporary exhibitions in Wales. However, the CVA was heavily criticised by the national press[11] and was short-lived, closing in 2000.

The Old Library was subsequently used for a variety of temporary exhibitions during the 2000s.


The Tiled Corridor

The 1882 Free Library building was 55 feet north to south, by 108 feet in width, with the public library on the ground floor, the schools on the first floor and the museum on the second floor (partially within the roof space and supported by semi-circular arched iron ribs).[7]

The post-1896 building has two main storeys, plus a basement and the attic space. Built using Bath stone with Portland stone columns, the main south facade is symmetrical in a neoclassical style divided into three bays. The long east and west elevations are of similar materials and composition, but in a French classical style.[8]

The original entrance to the building featured a corridor lined with ornamental wall tiles, designed to depict the four seasons and night and morning. These tiles were impressed with coloured clay to give the impression of a mosaic.

The building's original heaters have been retained and are rare examples of vertical tubed heaters, made by William Graham of London.[5]

The building became Grade II* listed building in 1978, as one of the city's "finest public buildings".[8]

Yr Hen Lyfrgell (Welsh cultural centre)[edit]

In 2015 plans were announced to convert the first floor gallery into a Welsh language centre, with a cafe bar, run by Clwb Ifor Bach, book shop and classrooms.[12] The centre had planned to open in November 2015 but after some delays opened its doors in February 2016.[13]

The centre also hosts activities that are co-ordinated by the organisers of the Tafwyl festival. Courses for Welsh learners are run by Cardiff University during the daytime and evening and it also incorporates the Cardiff Story Museum.

Cardiff Story Museum[edit]

The entrance to the Cardiff Story Museum in January 2016

In 2011 The Cardiff Story, a permanent "people's museum" of submitted exhibits covering the history of Cardiff, opened on the upper floors and basement.[14]

Tourist Information Centre[edit]

A tourist information centre is currently located in the 'glass box' on Working Street.[15] In 2015, due to council budget cuts, this became an unstaffed self-help information station with telephone access to the Wales Millennium Centre's staffed visitor centre in Cardiff Bay.[16]

Pub and restaurant[edit]

The Exhibition pub

The northern end of the Old Library houses Locke & Remedy, which is a pub/restaurant.[17] There have been a number of pub/restaurants that have briefly occupied the building, from Bar 1876, Big Blue Bar, The Exhibition. These have all subsequently closed.


  1. ^ Le Nevez, Catherine; Whitfield, Paul (2012), The Rough Guide to Wales, Rough Guides, p. 79, ISBN 978-1405389815
  2. ^ "New Free Library for Cardiff". Cardiff Times. 3 January 1874. p. 7. Retrieved 2016-02-02 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  3. ^ "The Proposed Free Library for Cardiff". Western Mail. 15 October 1874. p. 6. Retrieved 2016-02-02 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  4. ^ "Free Library Building at Cardiff. Another Scheme". South Wales Daily News. 16 January 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 2016-02-02 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  5. ^ a b "The Old Library, Cardiff". HEVAC Heritage Group. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  6. ^ a b "The Cardiff Story (1882)". Cardiff Council. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012.
  7. ^ a b "The Free Library at Cardiff – The Opening Ceremony". South Wales Daily News. 1 June 1882. p. 3 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Former Central Library, Castle". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  9. ^ a b "The Visit to Cardiff – A Memorable Event – Opening of the Free Library". Cardiff Times. July 4, 1896. p. 3 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  10. ^ "Cardiff Timeline – Over 2000 Years of History". Cardiffians.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-02-08.
  11. ^ "Paint Job". Building Design. 1 December 1999. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  12. ^ Gareth Evans (28 May 2015). "Cardiff's Old Library building to house the city's new Welsh language centre". Wales Online. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  13. ^ "Pennod newydd i'r Hen Lyfrgell". BBC Cymru Fyw (in Welsh). 23 February 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-24.
  14. ^ "Museum exhibition to celebrate the Cardiff Story". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  15. ^ "Cardiff Museum". Cardiff County Council. 5 January 2009. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  16. ^ Ruth Mosalski (23 March 2015). "No more tourist information staff in Cardiff city centre, but businesses say they hope giving hotel staff city tour will help". Wales Online. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  17. ^ "Restaurant serving wood-fired pizzas and 'adventurous' burgers to open in Cardiff's former Old Library". WalesOnline. Retrieved 9 February 2016.

External links[edit]