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Institutional Archives

Cardiff University: a patchwork of predecessors

29 January 2016

As described recently in the Cardiff University Alumni magazine (Autumn 2015), today’s Cardiff University is the product of a number of other educational institutions coming together over the last century or so.  The development of further and higher education in Cardiff is a complicated one, with institutional name changes and mergers making it hard to follow.  This post attempts to explain those developments – and there’s a handy timeline at the end for reference.

The story is told within the archives that we hold from these predecessor institutions, including minutes, prospectuses, Education Department inspection reports and a ground-breaking Legal Agreement of 1890.

From Cardiff Technical School to the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology

In January 1866 Cardiff Borough Council began to run classes in Science and Art aimed at working people.  Evening classes had been offered on and off from 1841 by the Mechanics’ Institute in Cardiff but they failed to put them on a stable footing.  The Borough Council’s classes took place at Cardiff Free Library under the headmastership of James Bush, who was to remain at the helm – through huge changes – for 50 years.  The Reports of the Free Library Committee give a fascinating account of the development of these night classes into what later came to be referred to as the School of Science and the School of Art.

During the 1880s there was a move by the Government to increase the provision of formal education beyond school, focussing on vocational “technical” education.  In 1889 The Technical Instruction Act was passed, which led to the setting up of a Technical Instruction Committee by Cardiff County Borough Council.  After discussions with University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire [UCSWM] it was agreed that technical education would be provided by the College on behalf of the Council.  Two of the aims of the founders of UCSWM (est. 1883) were 1) to offer education to a wider audience than full time students, and 2) to improve the standards of education in Wales generally, so this development was one they were keen to embrace.

A legal agreement transferring the staff and assets of the Schools of Science and Art to UCSWM was drawn up in 1890.  From this date the classes took place on UCSWM premises and the institution was known as the Technical School of the County Borough of Cardiff.  Viriamu Jones, the Principal of UCSWM, acted as Principal of the Technical School.  The novelist Howard Spring attended night classes here and in his autobiography he spoke warmly of the opportunities they offered.  In 1907, however, the Council took back direct management of the technical instruction classes in order to develop and expand them.  The classes became so popular that the Council built a new home for the “City of Cardiff Technical School”, as it was then known, near what is now Cardiff University’s Main Building in Cathays.  The Technical School building (now Bute Building) opened in 1916 and is today part of the Cardiff University estate.

The Technical School (later Cardiff Technical College, then Cardiff College of Technology) continued to thrive and develop after its relocation.  It offered day and evening classes for children over 14 and adults.  In 1945 a branch was opened in Crwys Road to house the Building and Catering Departments because of overcrowding in the main site.   Demand for vocational education grew in the post-War period and other Colleges (with confusingly similar names!) were opened by the Council – Cardiff Teacher Training College (later Cardiff College of Education) in 1945, and Llandaff Technical College, later Llandaff College of Technology, in 1954 (both now part of Cardiff Metropolitan University).

In 1957 there was a major change – Cardiff College of Technology was chosen to become one of a select number of Colleges of Advanced Technology in England and Wales.  The College stopped offering “lower level” qualifications and concentrated on diplomas and degrees instead.  The “lower level” qualifications, including the Catering Department, were transferred to Llandaff College of Technology.  In 1968 there was a further major development when the Welsh College of Advanced Technology became the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST).  The former City of Cardiff Technical School, which had developed from those Science and Art night classes begun in 1841 became a fully-fledged University.  UWIST and UCSWM (by then University College Cardiff) merged in 1988 to become University of Wales College Cardiff.  In 1998 there was another change of name, this time to Cardiff University.

University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire to Cardiff University

Education provision in Wales in the nineteenth century had been heavily criticised in a number of official reports, starting with the infamous “Blue Books” of 1847.  In the following decades it was recognised that the standard of teaching was restricted by the limited education of teachers and the consensus was that this needed to change.  Many of those who wished to see an improvement believed that Colleges or Universities based around Wales would help to achieve better teaching and improve the standard of education.

The aims of the founders of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire were, therefore, to encourage university attendance among the people of South Wales (although all were welcome – the first year’s intake included students from Italy and Brisbane) and to raise educational standards in general.  They were eager to offer the same courses with the same lecturers via the medium of evening classes in order to reach working people.  Indeed, during the first couple of decades there were far more students attending evening classes in Cardiff, Merthyr, Aberdare and other local towns than there were full-time “day students”.  Training teachers was seen as a vital part of the College’s role, supporting the hope that more highly qualified teachers would lead to better education for children in Wales.

Following the final decision in Spring 1883 that the College for South Wales should be based in Cardiff rather than Swansea, work began on finding a building, employing lecturers and running entrance exams.  It is remarkable that the first students entered the new College, based in the old Royal Infirmary Building on Newport Road, in October of that same year.  A full range of “traditional” subjects were offered and teaching led to University of London degrees (UCSWM did not have degree awarding powers).  The College became part of the newly formed University of Wales in 1894.

What is remarkable about UCSWM is their commitment to the wider community and to Wales as a whole.  They saw themselves not as an elite institution but a means to widen opportunities and improve the lives of Welsh communities.  Their determination to educate women on equal terms is also notable.

[More detail about these topics can be found elsewhere on our blog: Access for All part 1 and Access for All part 2]

UCSWM continued to develop and expand throughout the 20th century, becoming known as University College Cardiff, University of Wales College Cardiff and, finally, Cardiff University.

School of Medicine

The Welsh National School of Medicine began its life in 1893 as part of an ambitious attempt by UCSWM to establish an institution to train doctors within Wales.  Until the 1920s the School provided only the first two or three years of medical education: students had to attend another University to complete their degree.  After much argument throughout the 1920s the School of Medicine became a separate institution – until it re-merged with Cardiff University in 2004.

Llandaff College of Education (Home Economics)

(not to be confused with Cardiff College of Education!)

The Training School for Cookery and Domestic Arts was part of the expansion of technical and vocational education that took place in Cardiff in the 1890s.  Girls and women were trained in domestic arts to become housekeepers, cooks and teachers.  In 1912 the management was handed over to a joint committee of local Councils but the School (by then called the Llandaff College of Education) merged with University College Cardiff in 1977.

School of Art

One of the institutions “lost” along the way was the School of Art. In 1949 the Art Department, which had been part of Cardiff Technical School/College of Technology from its origins in 1890 (and which grew from those early night classes at the Free Library) became an independent institution – the Cardiff College of Art.  Interestingly, in 1976 the College of Art merged with Llandaff College of Technology and Cardiff College of Education to become the Cardiff Institute of Higher Education – now Cardiff Metropolitan University.  So the College of Art has the curious history of spending 59 years as part of one of Cardiff University’s predecessor institutions and 40 (so far) as part of Cardiff Met!

Records of the Institutions

Cardiff University Institutional Archive holds a variety of records from the constitutional institutions.  Coverage is by no means complete – the life of records for any organisation or individual is usually hazardous and fraught with risk and it is surprising that so many survive.  Often it is mere accident or forgetfulness that leaves records to be stored somewhere rather than thrown away.  Bearing that in mind, we have compiled a rough list of the records that we hold relating to students (see separate blog post).  There is much more in the University’s archives – please get in touch if you are interested in knowing more about what we have.  (Please note that not all of the more recent records will be accessible due to legal restrictions, for example, a student’s record would normally only be available to that student.)


Timeline for Cardiff University and its predecessor Institutions


In January 1866 Science and Art classes aimed at the working classes began at Cardiff Free Library under the Headmastership of James Bush.


University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire founded.


Agreement between UCSWM and the Technical Instruction Committee of the Cardiff Borough Council for UCSWM to provide technical instruction for at least 10 years.  The Schools of Science and Art (all equipment, apparatus, fixtures etc.) were transferred to UCSWM as part of this Agreement.  The staff of the Schools of Science and Art became staff of UCSWM.  The new school was referred to as “the Technical School of the County Borough of Cardiff established under provisions of the Technical Instruction Act in association with the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire”.


Training School of Cookery and Domestic Arts founded by UCSWM.


University of Wales established. UCSWM was a founding member and from the 1890s offered University of Wales degrees alongside University of London degrees.

A Professor was appointed to set up a medical faculty within UCSWM with the intention of offering the first 2-3 years of pre-clinical training.


Technical classes moved to the direct management of the Technical Instruction Committee under a Superintendent.  The classes were still held on UCSWM property on Newport Road.  The School was known as the Technical School of the City of Cardiff (and by 1914, the City of Cardiff Technical College).


Years of arguments over the management of the School of Medicine finally led to an independent Welsh National School of Medicine (later became University of Wales College of Medicine) in 1931.  After this time UWCM buildings were leased from UCSWM, which continued to offer the first three years training.


The School of Cookery and Domestic Arts moved to the control of a Joint Committee of several local authorities and UCSWM.  There was a greater emphasis within the School on training Domestic Science teachers (Domestic Science became a compulsory subject for girls in school at this time).


A new building (today known as the Bute Building) was constructed near UCSWM to house the City of Cardiff Technical College, along with the Junior Day Technical and Commercial School.  The Junior School took place during the day while the other classes were still held in the evenings.


Cardiff Technical College began to offer full time day classes, alongside their established evening and part time courses.


Complete medical degrees were offered by UCSWM for the first time, in conjunction with Cardiff Royal Infirmary.


An extension to the Cardiff Technical College building was opened.


Some departments (Building, Catering) moved from the main Technical College building to a disused elementary school on Crwys Road.


The Art Department of City of Cardiff Technical College became an independent institution – the College of Art.


City of Cardiff Technical College was now known as Cardiff College of Technology and Commerce.


Following the Robbins Report the College of Technology and Commerce became one of eight Further Education Colleges (and the only one in Wales) to specialise in “higher” technical qualifications only.  It was now known as the Welsh College of Advanced Technology.  “Lower level” qualifications, including “O” levels, “A” levels, Craft/Catering and Domestic Arts were no longer offered by the College.  These qualifications could be taken at another entirely separate local FE Institution, Llandaff Technical College.


The Redwood Building was completed by 1961 and the Building department in Crwys Road returned.


The Welsh College of Advanced Technology gained University College status.  Its name changed to University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology.


University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire changed its name to University College Cardiff.  This name had been used informally for several decades.


Llandaff College of Education (formerly the Training School/College of Cookery and Domestic Arts/Home Economics) and University College Cardiff merged.


University College Cardiff and University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology merged to form University of Wales College of Cardiff.


University of Wales College of Cardiff became known as Cardiff University.


University of Wales College of Medicine and Cardiff University merged.  The name was changed legally to Cardiff University and the College left the University of Wales to become a University in its own right.