Leader of Cardiff council Huw Thomas has supported the totally justified calls by the Black Lives Matter movement for the removal from City Hall of the statue of murderous slave owner Thomas Picton (1758-1815), one of 11 statues in the building’s 1917 ‘Hall of Welsh Heroes’. Now, as part of a welcome Welsh government audit of statues, street names and building names, Cardiffians are being asked to come forward with other examples around the city of offensive commemorations that should have no place in an enlightened, civilised, historically aware, 21st century capital. OK, will do Huw…the trouble is, I’m spoiled for choice…
At this juncture, I’ll restrict myself to a broad sweep of some of the earliest and most blatantly offensive examples. Incredibly, the homicidal, tyrannical Anglo-Norman thugs who waged a belligerent war against Wales with the express purpose of our complete eradication are celebrated and honoured all over Cardiff – which is like Paris having a Boulevard de Hitler or Prague a Goebbels Street. Since the Welsh Wars of Independence are a largely unknown, covered-up and censored secret, untaught even in Welsh schools, here I will just run through a few facts: approximately 100,000 people, a quarter of the population of Wales, were slaughtered in the initial invasion as the ferocious freebooters and brutal landgrabbers, specialising in castrating, raping, lynching, beheading and burning alive, drove westward throughout the 12th century; those who weren’t killed and didn’t flee to the mountains were enslaved as unpaid labourers, serfs and chattels; for the next 400 years the Welsh people were cruelly attacked, persecuted, repressed and ultimately crushed before the entire country was “extirpated” and illegally annexed by England in the 16th century; and the worst places during these long centuries of horror were the Marcher Lordships of the border zones, run by a sequence of ruthless despots who were a law unto themselves – and the lords of Glamorgan based in Cardiff Castle were the worst of the worst. Their wrongs have never been righted, there has been no apology let alone restitution for their countless crimes against humanity, and Cardiff has yet to acknowledge let alone come to terms with the unspeakable violence and atrocities – to the extent that the ‘Cardiff Story’ museum in the city centre contrives not to mention them at all by skipping straight from Roman Cardiff to early-modern Cardiff, thereby erasing an inconvenient thousand years because they tell a very different story from the official narrative of a thoroughly contented Wales in its natural place as part of one big happy Brit family. The lies and deliberate historical amnesia must stop – and presuming the council is sincere and serious and not just indulging in meaningless virtue-signalling gestures and pain-free symbolic box-ticking designed to change nothing, a start can be made straight away by renaming the many streets that valorise and endorse the vile criminals who lorded it in Cardiff Castle:
■Fitzhamon Embankment, Fitzhamon Lane (Riverside)
Robert Fitzhamon (c1050-1107) was the brutal leader of the terrorising troops that first seized Cardiff in 1090. He took no prisoners.
■Gloucester Street (Riverside)
Two Earls of Gloucester succeeded Fitzhamon. The first, Robert (c1090-1147), established Cardiff as a penal colony beyond the law and was fond of incarcerating his opponents in tiny, pitch-black dungeons until death. The second, William (1116-1183), killed thousands in repeated vicious attacks on the people of upland Glamorgan.
■Plantagenet Street (Riverside)
In the 13th century the Glamorgan lordship passed into the clutches of the perfidious Plantagenets, the notoriously violent, cruel, corrupt and power-mad monarchs of England and their monstrous offshoots.
■Clare Road (Grangetown), Clare Gardens, Clare Place, Clare Street (Riverside)
The de Clare family held the lordship for over a century, passing it from father to son through Gilbert (1180-1230), Richard (1222-1262), another Gilbert (1243-1295) and then yet another Gilbert (c1291-1314). All were rapacious, blood-soaked fiends who operated a genocidal, kill-on-sight policy against the Welsh.
■Despenser Gardens, Despenser Place, Despenser Street (Riverside)
The dreadful Despenser dynasty snatched the lordship in the 14th century, and managed to make the Clares seem almost benign by comparison. Hugh Despenser (1262-1326), a crazed psychopath even by the standards of the time, was followed by the fanatically anti-Welsh Edward Despenser (c1335-1375), Thomas Despenser (1373-1400) and Richard Despenser (1396-1414). They were so universally hated in Cardiff that the great Welsh uprising led by Owain Glyndŵr (c1354-c1416) had majority support even in the thoroughly Anglicised garrison town when the Welsh freedom fighters besieged the Castle in 1403. That support ensured Cardiff was back in Welsh hands for the first time in 300 years in 1404. Richard Despenser had to call on his Plantagenet kinsman, the future Henry V (1387-1422), to divert vast armies from wars against France and Scotland and throw the massed weight of English forces against Wales to obliterate the rebellion.
■Beauchamp Street, Neville Place, Neville Street (Riverside), Warwick Place, Warwick Street (Grangetown)
The Despensers having run out of male heirs, in the 15th century the lordship passed to the equally pitiless de Beauchamp gang, the Earls of Warwick – most infamously the treacherous serial-killer Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick (1428-1471). When they weren’t away fighting aggressive English wars in Europe they busied themselves eradicating every last shred of Welsh resistance across their Glamorgan fiefdom.
As the Welsh threat diminished in the 16th century, leading ultimately to the catastrophe of annexation in 1543, the lords of Glamorgan lost interest in Cardiff until it was awakened by the prospect of the incalculable bounty of Welsh coal 300 years later – but that’s another story, containing plenty more wicked bastards still being lionised in Cardiff (I’ve dealt with some from this later period already, see https://tinyurl.com/ybwmyca9). For now, the above list is surely enough for Huw Thomas and his team to be getting on with. There should be no problem finding replacement names – Huw’s minions need look no further than the pantheon of renowned Welsh heroes who kept the struggle going for century after century, such as Owain Gwynedd (c1100-1170), Ifor Bach (c1130-1169), Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132-1197), Llywelyn Fawr (1173-1240), Llywelyn II (1223-1282), Llywelyn Bren (c1265-1318), Owain Lawgoch (c1330-1378) and of course Glyndŵr himself.
Not one of these truly great men who kept Wales alive against impossible odds through all the appalling injustice, torment and death is commemorated by so much as a single street name in 21st century Cardiff – yet without them Cardiff today would be ‘capital’ of nothing at all. Here is a golden opportunity for Cardiff’s rulers to rectify this shocking omission and develop the moral courage to reject the knackered and discredited propaganda of the intrinsically imperialistic, militaristic, supremacist and racist British/English state. The time is long, long overdue for Cardiff to end the servile, masochistic and self-defeating habit of lauding the enemies and ignoring the defenders of Wales.