Any city which began life as a Roman fort has a lot of history, but it’s not all kings, battles and building the longest canal you know. Over the centuries some unusual things have happened in Cardiff, and here are ten of the most interesting. We could have mentioned the cat café, but this is a little part of the internet without kittens.
1. The Captain came from Cardiff
A recent advertising campaign is trying to make you think there is only one ‘Captain’, and that is Captain Morgan. Once a privateer of the high seas, then Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, now a mascot to flog (admittedly very nice) rum, Captain Morgan has an image that veers between cartoon thigh slapping and pulse quickening history. Thing is, Henry Morgan was most probably born in Cardiff before he sailed away. Sadly there isn’t a Captain Morgan day in Cardiff where everyone drinks the stuff, although we shouldn’t give advertisers anymore ideas.
2. The last man to be hanged in Wales committed the crime in Cardiff… but he was probably innocent
September 3rd, 1952, and police find the body of Lily Volpert, a Bute Street pawnbroker who had been murdered with a razor. The investigation initially has problems, as evidence may have been damaged, but goes more smoothly once Harold Cover testifies that he witnesses sailor Mahmood Mattan leaving the shop on the fateful night. Mattan was tried, convicted and hanged in Cardiff prison… the last hanging in Wales. Unfortunately for all involved, there’s a good chance he was innocent and his conviction was thrown out by the Court of Appeal in 1998, not that it did him any good.
3. There’s a shrine to a man who didn’t exist
In the unlikely event you haven’t watched BBC sci-fi spin off Torchwood yet – maybe you’re saving it for your retirement – then spoiler warning. But otherwise, there’s a shrine in Cardiff to a man called Ianto Jones, who is notable for both saving the world and for only existing as a fictional character in said BBC show. This is a touching tribute to the power of film, and not weird at all. Oh, right, no it is - that’s why it’s on this list.
4. Someone once hid £10 notes around Cardiff
In early 2017, Matt Callanan decided to bring some good cheer to people by hiding envelopes with ten pound notes inside around the middle of Cardiff. The twist was, if you found one (guided by social media), then you had to spend it on someone else to cheer them up. The #Tenner4Good campaign was inspired by meeting actor Bill Murray, and winning on a scratch card right after…
5. Hannibal Lecter studied at Cardiff Castle… sort of
Obviously famed literary bad guy Hannibal Lecter doesn’t exist, but if you’ve got this far in the list you know reality isn’t required. But Anthony Hopkins, the actor who made the role world famous, does exist and he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and that was in the grounds of Cardiff Castle (and if you think the grounds don’t count, I have a few Norman lords who’d disagree.)
6. There’s a nightclub named after a rogue medieval lord
Clwb Ifor Bach is what would once have been called a ‘popular nightspot’, assuming the internet had been around in the 1950s (when it would still have been filled with cats and gambling.) But have you ever wondered who Ifor Bach was? Actually, he was a Lord of Senghenydd who attacked Cardiff Castle in 1158, and even carted away the Earl of Gloucester and his family, such was the argument over land which the Earl tried to take off Bach. Party in the club and stick two fingers up at medieval overlords.
7. Cardiff’s most notorious unsolved murder was almost solved by a modern ‘train’ spotter
The utter tragedy of the murder of Carol Stephens in 1959 has lived through the decades. A six year old girl, sent on a mission to a local shop, who never came home, the worst nightmare of every parent. No one was ever convicted, but the case was ever so nearly solved by chance, and then lost to the same. Carol’s friend Kevin Northcutt had, by pure fluke, been walking round the area she vanished writing down the number plates of all the cars, like a modern day train spotter. A crucial and bizarrely fortunate event but… by another pure chance he didn’t write down the plate of a green car with a mystery man parked near Carol’s home and never seen again.
8. Cardiff’s Billy the Seal was female
It can be difficult sexing an animal, especially one that can club you hard like a seal (and that should never, ever happen the other way round.) Billy the Seal was such a mascot of the Victoria Park Zoo, and of Cardiff, that the council owned him and fishermen fed him; there’s even a statue of him. Only problem was, when he died they discovered Billy was a lady. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little gender fluidity.
9. Cardiff residents can get a key to the castle
You’ve heard of keys to the city, and someone at Cardiff Castle’s ‘let’s get people visiting’ department has too, because they’ve started the Key to the Castle. The offer (correct according to their website as we write this, complain to them if it’s changed), is “if you live or work in Cardiff you can apply for a Castle Key which gives you free admission” for 3 years. Which is a substantially more awesome offer than a toy panda with your panda sponsorship when you want to cuddle a real panda. I’m not bitter.
10. Cardiff has a Time Rift
The well known documentary series Doctor Who has chronicled in great depth the Time Rift in the middle of the city centre, which has been used on… sorry, what’s that? Doctor Who isn’t real? Then how do the Daleks move? Oh, blokes in suits. Well, err, excuse me I need to rewrite this before anyone notices. Err… Cardiff is central to the modern Doctor Who mythos. Okay? And the man who invented (pah) Daleks, Terry Nation, came from Cardiff.
And a bonus number 11. Cardiff hosts a city-wide virtual murder-mystery...
If you’ve enjoyed these weird and wacky facts then you’ll enjoy Cardiff’s new city-wide Manhunt game. It’s happening on the 10th of June this year and players get to hunt around town, finding witnesses, eliminating suspects and generally trying to catch a killer. Sound good? Tickets are £39 per team of 6 (although you can play with as few as 2 detectives!) and can be grabbed by hitting the button below!