Dec 202015


On this date in 1955 Cardiff was proclaimed the capital city of Wales. Surprised that it is so recent? Wales was subsumed under English hegemony from the 13th to 19th centuries, when its distinctive culture (which was always there) was finally acknowledged politically. Until 1955 London was the de facto capital. Cardiff was a small town of little importance until the early 19th century when its prominence as a major port for the transport of coal and manufactured goods developed following the arrival of mining and attendant industries in the region.

King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28 October 1905, and the city acquired a Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1916. In subsequent years an increasing number of national institutions were located in the city, including the National Museum of Wales, Welsh National War Memorial, and the University of Wales Registry Building—however, it was denied the National Library of Wales, partly because the library’s founder, Sir John Williams, considered Cardiff to have “a non-Welsh population.”


After a brief post-war boom, Cardiff docks entered a prolonged decline in the interwar period. By 1936, their trade was less than half its value in 1913, reflecting the slump in demand for Welsh coal. Bomb damage during the Cardiff Blitz in World War II included the devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, and in the immediate postwar years the city’s link with the Bute family (of major importance in the development of modern Cardiff in the 19th century) came to an end.

The city was proclaimed capital city of Wales on 20 December 1955, through a written statement by the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George. Caernarfon (rather more Welsh in culture than Cardiff), had also vied for this title. The Encyclopedia of Wales notes that the decision to recognize the city as the capital of Wales “had more to do with the fact that it contained marginal Conservative constituencies than any reasoned view of what functions a Welsh capital should have”. Although the city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958, Cardiff only became a center of national administration with the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964, which later prompted the creation of various other public bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, most of which were based in Cardiff.


Archaeological evidence from sites in and around Cardiff—the St Lythans burial chamber, near Wenvoe (about four miles (6.4 km) west, south west of Cardiff city centre), the Tinkinswood burial chamber, near St Nicholas (about six miles (10 km) west of Cardiff city centre), the Cae’rarfau Chambered Tomb, Creigiau (about six miles (10 km) north west of Cardiff city centre) and the Gwern y Cleppa Long Barrow, near Coedkernew, Newport (about eight and a quarter miles (13.5 km) north east of Cardiff city centre)—shows that people had settled in the area by at least around 6,000 BP during the early Neolithic; about 1,500 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed. A group of five Bronze Age tumuli is at the summit of The Garth (Welsh: Mynydd y Garth), within the county’s northern boundary. Four Iron Age hill fort and enclosure sites have been identified within Cardiff’s present-day county boundaries, including Caerau Hillfort, an enclosed area of 5.1 hectares (51,000 m2)


Until the Roman conquest of Britain, Cardiff was part of the territory of the Silures – a Celtic British people that flourished in the Iron Age – whose territory included the areas that would become known as Breconshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. The 3.2-hectare (8-acre) fort established by the Romans near the mouth of the River Taff in 75 AD, in what would become the north western boundary of the centre of Cardiff, was built over an extensive settlement that had been established by the Silures in the 50s CE. The fort was one of a series of military outposts associated with Isca Augusta (Caerleon) that acted as border defenses. The fort may have been abandoned in the early 2nd century as the area had been subdued. However, by this time a civilian settlement, or vicus, was established. It was likely made up of traders who made a living from the fort, ex-soldiers and their families. A Roman villa has been discovered at Ely. Contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, a stone fortress was established at Cardiff. Similar to the shore forts, the fortress was built to protect Britannia from raiders. Coins from the reign of Gratian indicate that Cardiff was inhabited until at least the 4th century; the fort was abandoned towards the end of the 4th century, as the last Roman legions left the province of Britannia with Magnus Maximus.

Little is known about the fort and civilian settlement in the period between the Roman departure from Britain and the Norman Conquest. The settlement probably shrank in size and may even have been abandoned. In the absence of Roman rule, Wales was divided into small kingdoms; early on, Meurig ap Tewdrig emerged as the local king in Glywysing (which later became Glamorgan). The area passed through his family until the advent of the Normans in the 11th century.


In 1081 king William I of England, began work on the castle keep within the walls of the old Roman fort. Cardiff Castle has been at the heart of the city ever since. The castle was substantially altered and extended during the Victorian period by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and the architect William Burges. Original Roman work can, however, still be distinguished in the wall facings.

A small town grew up in the shadow of the castle, made up primarily of settlers from England. Cardiff had a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 in the Middle Ages, a relatively normal size for a Welsh town in this period. By the end of the 13th century, Cardiff was the only town in Wales with a population exceeding 2,000, but it was relatively small compared with most notable towns in England. In the early 12th century a wooden palisade was erected around the city to protect it. Cardiff was a busy port in the Middle Ages, and was declared a Staple port (look it up) in 1327. Henry II travelled through Cardiff on his journey to Ireland and forbade the holding of Sunday markets at St Piran’s Chapel, which stood in the middle of the road between the castle entrance and Westgate.

In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff and took Cardiff Castle. As the town was still very small, most of the buildings were made of wood and the town was destroyed. However, the town was soon rebuilt and began to flourish once again.

In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales led to the creation of the shire of Glamorgan, and Cardiff was made the county town. It also became part of Kibbor hundred. Around this same time the Herbert family became the most powerful family in the area. In 1538, Henry VIII closed the Dominican and Franciscan friaries in Cardiff, the remains of which were used as building materials. A writer around this period described Cardiff: “The River Taff runs under the walls of his honours castle and from the north part of the town to the south part where there is a fair quay and a safe harbour for shipping.” Cardiff had become a Free Borough in 1542. In 1573, it was made a head port for collection of customs duties, and in 1581, Elizabeth I granted Cardiff its first royal charter. Pembrokeshire historian George Owen described Cardiff in 1602 as “the fayrest towne in Wales yett not the welthiest.”, and the town gained a second Royal Charter in 1608.

During the English Civil War, St Fagans just to the west of the town, played host to the Battle of St Fagans. The battle, between a Royalist rebellion and a New Model Army detachment, was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and allowed Oliver Cromwell to conquer Wales. It was the last major battle to occur in Wales, with about 200 (mostly Royalist) soldiers killed.


In the ensuing century Cardiff was at peace. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff, and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle. In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and Cardiff gained a stagecoach service to London. Despite these improvements, Cardiff’s position in the Welsh urban hierarchy had declined over the 18th century. Iolo Morgannwg called it “an obscure and inconsiderable place”, and the 1801 census found the population to be only 1,870, making Cardiff only the 25th largest town in Wales, well behind Merthyr and Swansea.

In 1793, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute was born. He would spend his life building the Cardiff docks and would later be called “the creator of modern Cardiff”. A twice-weekly boat service between Cardiff and Bristol was established in 1815, and in 1821, the Cardiff Gas Works was established. After the Napoleonic Wars Cardiff entered a period of social and industrial unrest, starting with the trial and hanging of Dic Penderyn in 1831.


The town grew rapidly from the 1830s onwards, when the Marquess of Bute built a dock, which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. Much of the growth was due to migration from within and outside Wales: in 1841, a quarter of Cardiff’s population were English-born and more than 10% had been born in Ireland. By the 1881 census, Cardiff had overtaken both Merthyr and Swansea to become the largest town in Wales. Cardiff’s new status as the premier town in South Wales was confirmed when it was chosen as the site of the University College South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893.

Cardiff faced a challenge in the 1880s when David Davies of Llandinam and the Barry Railway Company promoted the development of rival docks at Barry. Barry docks had the advantage of being accessible in all tides, and David Davies claimed that his venture would cause “grass to grow in the streets of Cardiff”. From 1901 coal exports from Barry surpassed those from Cardiff, but the administration of the coal trade remained centered on Cardiff, in particular its Coal Exchange, where the price of coal on the British market was determined and the first million-pound deal was struck in 1907. The city also strengthened its industrial base with the decision of the owners of the Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr (who would later form part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) to build a new steelworks close to the docks at East Moors, which Lord Bute opened on 4 February 1891.

Cardiff’s fortunes in the 20th century followed those of South Wales in general – growth through the 2 world wars followed by decline in the 1970s up to the turn of the century. The stereotypical 20th century image of Wales as a land of coalminers and male voice choirs is reflected in this clip from John Ford’s 1941 movie “How Green was my Valley.”

But when the BBC Dr Who spinoff, Torchwood, was first filmed in Cardiff in 2006, the city was represented as a highly modern urban center. “There’s not a male voice choir … or a miner in sight.” said BBC Wales Controller Menna Richards. Conservative MP Michael Gove described the debut of Torchwood as the moment confirming “Wales’ move from overlooked Celtic cousin to underwired erotic coquette.”


The national symbol of Wales is the leek, and I have covered this vegetable more than enough in posts here with cock-a-leekie, leek and potato soup, and buttered leeks, plus the myriad uses of leeks in soups and stews. Right now leeks are in season in Mantua, so, having lived without them (proper ones) in Argentina and China for close on 6 years, I now use them every chance I get, and always have a plenteous stock on hand. Instead, therefore, I will turn to another Welsh staple, laver.

Laver is an edible, littoral alga (seaweed). In Wales, laver is used commonly as a vegetable of for making laverbread. It is smooth in texture and forms delicate, sheet-like thalli, often clinging to rocks. The principal variety is purple laver (Porphyra umbilicalis). Purple laver is classified as a red alga, tends to be a brownish color, but boils down to a dark green pulp when prepared. It is unusual amongst seaweeds because the fronds are only one cell thick. Laver has a high content of dietary minerals, particularly iodine and iron. The high iodine content gives the seaweed a distinctive flavor in common with olives and oysters.


Laver cultivation as food is thought to be very ancient, though the first mention was in Camden’s in the early 17th century. It is plucked from the rocks and given a preliminary rinse in clear water. The collected laver is repeatedly washed to remove sand, and then boiled for hours until it becomes a stiff, green mush. In this state, the laver can be preserved for about a week. Typically during the 18th century, the mush was packed into a crock and sold. Nowadays you can get frozen laver mush online quite easily.


Laver can be eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton, or heated with butter and the juice of a lemon or Seville orange. Commonly now it is served heated with cockles and bacon as part of a Welsh breakfast. Or you can make laverbread. Simply coat a patty of laver mush in oats and fry it in lard or bacon fat. Richard Burton has been quoted as describing laverbread as “Welshman’s caviar”.

May 052014


Today is the birthday (1818) of Karl Heinrich Marx, German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. Marx’s work in economics laid the basis for the current understanding of labor and its relation to capital, and has influenced much of subsequent economic thought. He published numerous works during his lifetime, the most well known being The Communist Manifesto (with Friedrich Engels) and Das Kapital (Capital).

Marx was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Trier in the Prussian Rhineland and studied at the University of Bonn and the University of Berlin, where he became interested in the philosophical ideas of the Young Hegelians. After his studies, he wrote for a radical newspaper in Cologne, and began to work out his theory of dialectical materialism. He moved to Paris in 1843, where he began writing for other radical newspapers and met Friedrich Engels, who would become his lifelong friend and collaborator. In 1849 he was exiled, and moved to London together with his wife and children where he continued writing and formulating his theories about social and economic activity. He also campaigned for socialism and became a significant figure in the International Workingmen’s Association.

Marx's daughters

Marx’s daughters

Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics hold, famously, that human history is the history of class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed laboring class that provides the labor for production. He called capitalism the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism. He argued that class antagonisms under capitalism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat would eventuate in the working class’s conquest of political power in the form of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and eventually establish a classless society, socialism or communism, a society governed by a free association of producers. Along with believing in the inevitability of socialism and communism, Marx actively fought for their implementation, arguing that social theorists and underprivileged people alike should carry out organized revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic change.

Following the death of his wife, Jenny, in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on 14 March 1883. He died a stateless person; family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemetery in London, on 17 March 1883. There were between nine and eleven mourners at his funeral.

Several of his closest friends spoke at his funeral, including Wilhelm Liebknecht and Friedrich Engels. Engels’ speech included the passage:

On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep – but forever.


Marx is justifiably considered one of the most influential figures in human history. Revolutionary socialist governments espousing (their interpretation of) Marxist concepts, took power in a number of countries in the 20th century, leading to the formation of such socialist states as the Soviet Union in 1922 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many labor unions and workers’ parties worldwide are influenced by Marxism, while various theoretical variants, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and Dengism were developed from them. Marx is typically cited, along with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.

Rather than attempting to summarize Marx’s theoretical work here, I am going to give a short personal appraisal based on my own reading and teaching of his work. For years I taught Marx both in general education classes for freshmen and in advanced social theory classes for sociology and anthropology majors. Here I am going to summarize a few of my major themes.

I will begin by saying that there is a wide gulf between Marx and Marxism, the latter coming in a kaleidoscope of colors. There is a wide gulf between all profound thinkers and their followers: Freud was not a Freudian, Darwin was not a Darwinian, and Jesus Christ was not a Christian. Marx himself is reported to have said that he was not a Marxist. The problem with all original thinkers is that their works are voluminous and complex, and their ideas can sprawl all over the place. Frequently earlier thoughts are revised, and sometimes even contradicted by later ones. What happens, though, is that disciples narrow down a dense and complicated body of work into bumper stickers. What is, in reality, a nuanced and detailed set of reflections becomes distilled into a set of “core principles” which become identified with the original thinkers as the totality of their philosophy, whereas such principles are always simplistic, and sometimes outright mistaken.

As a social scientist myself, I’m given to believe that this distillation into “core principles” is inevitable. Anthropologists have written a great deal about the process of moving from the first generation (the original thinkers) to the second generation (the followers). The first generation is full of free flowing ideas that tumble out every which way; the second generation has to make sense of it all and put the ideas into practice. Quite commonly second generation thinkers are more rigid than the first generation, and do not always understand the message of the first generation. If you want to understand Marx, read what he wrote and not what Marxists have written.

The most damaging delusion concerning what Marx wrote is to equate his philosophy with the governing principles of communist states that emerged in the 20th century, such as the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Marx most emphatically did NOT advocate totalitarian, repressive regimes as a replacement of capitalism. This is a hideous distortion of what he wanted from social revolution. When he talked about “the dictatorship of the proletariat” he was not suggesting that one form of tyranny, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, should be replaced by another. He was suggesting just the opposite: his vision of communism was a state of affairs in which workers were free and happy. Because the word “communism” has taken on such a perverted meaning since the 20th century it might be better to find a different word to denote Marx’s vision of a new order.

My second summary point is that because most people do not read Marx, but think of him in terms of bumper stickers, they not only misunderstand what he wrote, but as often as not agree with him even though they think they don’t. When you feel as if you are oppressed by your job and that all you are doing is enriching others, you are thinking like Marx. When you decry the crass materialism of Christmas, you are thinking like Marx. When you lack a sense of self esteem because your worth as a person is dependent on your place in a system you do not control, you are thinking like Marx. What is more, the economic theories of the left AND the right use Marx in one way or another. A colleague of mine specializing in political economy once said “I don’t know of a Wall Street banker who is not a Marxist,” meaning not that Wall Street bankers believe in the redistribution of wealth, but that they use Marx’s principles – unknowingly – in their economic dealings.

I am not a Marxist (or any other kind of “-ist”), but there are many ideas he proposed or espoused that I am sympathetic to. Perhaps chief of these is his notion of “value,” more specifically the difference between “use value” and “exchange value.” The use value of an object is its value to YOU. A chef’s knife is a critical tool in the daily work of a professional chef; but may be an object that lies unused in the drawer of an indifferent home cook. Their use value is quite different to the two owners, but the two knives cost the same amount at the store. Their cost is their exchange value – or market value. Or take a different kind of example. You may own a piece of costume jewelry that means worlds to you because it was owned by your great grandmother, so its use value (emotional use) is extremely high, yet it is virtually worthless in the market place. A major social problem arises, according to Marx, when we confuse use value and exchange value – or, rather, when we believe that the ONLY value of an object is its exchange value. The deepest tragedy of all is when we come to believe that our personal worth is determined by what we can sell our labor for in the marketplace, and that what we can afford to buy is the measure of our worth as human beings.

I’m not in a position to teach you much about Marx in a few paragraphs. All I can hope to do is to motivate you to want to know more about his works. If you read Marx with a fresh eye, and not in the shadow of history, you will undoubtedly find words that inspire and engage you, words that make you think more deeply about the world in which we live, and about yourself.


My researches revealed that Marx was partial to fish, but his favorite dish was pickled beets with hollandaise sauce. You have to be a little skeptical of such pronouncements, but I’ll work with what I have and suggest a dish of poached salmon with pickled beets in hollandaise as a side dish. My photo shows pejerrey (Argentine smelts) as the fish because salmon is rather pricey nowadays in Argentina. I gave a recipe for hollandaise two days ago (3 May 2014), so I do not need to repeat it, and poaching salmon (or other fish) should not raise any issues. So here is the basic method for pickling beets if you don’t want to buy them. If you happen to be close to a good kosher deli, I’d get them there.


Pickled Beets


1 large red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
1 cup tarragon wine vinegar
1 ½ tsps kosher salt
½ cup sugar
1 cup water

For roasted beets:

6 medium beets
2 large shallots, peeled
2 sprigs rosemary
2 teaspoons olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Scrub the beets well and cut the tops off. Mix them with the rest of the roasting ingredients so that they are lightly coated with oil, and then place them in a tightly sealed foil pack and roast for 40 minutes in the oven.

Let the beets cool slightly and peel them. The skins should just rub off. Then slice them.

Layer the beets and sliced onion alternately in mason jars.

Bring the vinegar, salt, sugar, and water to a boil. Pour the mixture over the beets and seal the jars.

They can be eaten after 3 days, but 7 is better; and they will keep for up to 1 month.