Cardiff's Temple of Peace opens its doors to celebrate its 80th birthday

On the evening of Friday 23 November 2018, Cardiff’s Temple of Peace, on King Edward VII Avenue, a significant yet little-known landmark in the city centre, celebrated the 80th anniversary of its opening.

A celebratory event created by artist-led project Gentle/Radical was held at the Temple to mark its founding. Through excerpts and re-interpretations from the 1938 speeches, the audience discovered the story behind this extraordinary building. Alongside the history, the service featured contemporary responses to the Temple’s archive from artists, writers and performers, and a community choir singing sung works and sketches by composer Helen Chadwick.

Before the performance, guests had an opportunity to explore this stunning Art Deco building, including its Crypt and the Welsh Book of Remembrance. 

The event was part of the UK-wide Being Human Festival, which aims to showcase academic research for a general audience. It sits at the heart of a month-long series of #Temple80 activities organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA). It was conceived and curated by arts organisation Gentle/Radical, at the invitation of the WCIA and Dr Emma West of the University of Birmingham, who recently spoke to Huw Edwards about the building and its history on the BBC4/BBC1 Wales programme ‘We Will Remember Them’. 

Opened on the 23 November 1938, the Temple of Peace was designed as a place of pilgrimage, a shrine to peace and wellbeing that would shine as a beacon across the world. It was founded by Lord David Davies, a wealthy Welsh MP and philanthropist, who dedicated his life to peace-making after serving in the trenches during WWI.  

The Temple was opened by Minnie James, a 72-year old woman from Dowlais, Merthyr. Described in the press as ‘Wales’s Most Tragic Mother’, she was chosen to open the building on behalf of the women of Wales after losing three sons during the First World War. The Temple was to be the first of an international string of peace temples around the world, but this dream was shattered by the outbreak of the Second World War just months after its opening.

Dr West is a resident of Cardiff and was based at Cardiff University before moving to Birmingham. She has a special link to the Temple after getting married there in 2014. She is undertaking a research project, ‘Revolutionary Red Tape’, which examines how public servants and official committees helped to commission, disseminate and popularise British modernist art, design, literature and architecture, with the Temple being an example of the latter.

Gentle/Radical are a Cardiff-based arts organisation, led by artists Rabab Ghazoul and Owen Griffiths, with an interest in the intersections across contemporary art, culture, community and social change. Their projects are cross-disciplinary, and often speak to issues of power and coloniality which underpin so many of our readings of ‘history’ and ‘heritage.’

Over the past four years, the Heritage-Lottery-funded ‘Wales for Peace’ project, based at the Temple, has been gathering histories of women’s ‘fervent desire for peace’. These histories tell an extraordinary story of strength, determination and activism borne out of tragedy. For instance, in 1923, 390,296 women from across Wales – some 30% of the female population – signed a Peace Petition calling on the USA to join the League of Nations.

In 1926 2,000 women marched 150 miles from Caernarfonshire to Chester over five days as part of a Peace Pilgrimage and in 1932, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom delivered six million signatures to the world disarmament conference in Geneva. The following year, the Women’s Cooperative Guild introduced white poppies as ‘as a pledge to Peace that war must not happen again.’