For someone who loves local history so much, I’m embarrassed to say Friday was the first time I have ever been to The Cardiff Story, despite it opening in April 2011. I wish I’d visited sooner – we had a great time!
Housed in the Old Library on the Hayes in the city centre, this interactive exhibition documents how Cardiff grew from a tiny town with a population of 2,000 in 1801 to its current guise as Wales’s capital city and home to some 350,000 residents.
Our visit coincided with Dinky Dragons, a free family fun day for pre-schoolers that takes place on the second Friday of each month. As well as the usual exhibits, there were toys and fancy dress dotted around, a messy room with a sand pit and a giant painting area, plus story time and rhyme time sessions. One member of staff told me the Dinky Dragon days usually see around 40 children in through the doors. It’s a real shame more families have not yet discovered it– my 4.5 year old and almost three-year-old loved it, and even my nearly five-month-year old was entertained by what was going on around him.
One of Little E and Little O’s favourite exhibits on the first floor was the rotating model of a beautifully grand house from Cathedral Road. Each side showed a different era in its history, from the rich shipping merchants complete with servants living downstairs, to the house being divided up into flats owned by young professionals. They also loved the 3D map of Cardiff Bay explaining what buildings that still exist today were used for in the glory days of the docks. Elsewhere, they thought the large replicas of some of the statues from Cardiff Castle’s famous animal wall were fantastic, and the enjoyed opening drawers to reveal the answers to questions about life for Cardiff residents in days gone by.
Downstairs, youngsters have the chance to dress up as servants and house-keeping staff, and World War Two evacuees. My children are too young to properly understand the true devastation the war caused – but I was overcome with emotion when I thought about how difficult it must have been for mothers to send their children away and not know if they would ever see them again.
We spent about an hour looking at the regular exhibition and a further hour with rhyme time and messy play – we would have stayed longer if we didn’t have another engagement. It was an enjoyably informative experience for all of us. Cardiff Daddy and I particularly enjoyed discovering why the streets around the Albany Road area of Cardiff – such a familiar part of town for us – got their names.
In short, this is a fun, informative and important asset to the city, whether you are visiting Cardiff for the first time or have lived here for years.
The Cardiff Story is open Monday to Saturday, 10am-4pm. Dinky Dragons takes place every second Friday of the month. Every Wednesday during the school summer holidays sees family craft activities taking place at a cost of £1 per child. See the website for more information.
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