It was an unusually sunny spring day and perfect for my plans: a two and a half hour train journey from Oxford across the border into Wales with the journey ending in Cardiff, a city I knew precious little about. Not that that mattered. My mission was simple: to the find the statue of Wales’s most famous son. And everyone would know where that was, wouldn’t they? The Welsh are famous for being famous. After all, there’s Dylan Thomas, Tom Jones and Charlotte Church. There’s even the Prince of Wales himself.
There was no tourist office at the rail station so I asked at the first window: “ Could you tell me where I’ll find the statue of your most famous son, please.” When the woman shook her head I moved on quickly. No point in adding to her embarrassment. The next ticket clerk shook her head apologetically. “ Don’t know about a statue but there’s a lot about him at the hospital.” And rightly since Nye Bevan was the founder of the National Health Service, Britain’s greatest humanitarian achievement ever made and all the remarkable as it was introduced while Europe was still recovering from WW2.
As a champion of the poor and committed to nationalisation, Nye Bevan was disliked by the Conservative Party. During the war, he had pushed for support for the Soviet Union in its fight with Germany which is why Churchill called him “a squalid nuisance.”
The election following WW2 brought the Labour Party to power allowing Nye Bevan, on July 5 1948, to introduce the National Health Service.
It’s a short walk from the rail station to Cardiff Castle – an architectural confection built by the Bute family from Scotland who made their money from Welsh coal – and there I found a tour bus which took me round the city where we saw the new housing developments at the docks which consisted mainly of service companies now that there is no coal to export.
The tour guide had lots to say about the way in which the city had benefited from the Bute family. They donated various buildings and sums of money to Wales and in particular to the city of Cardiff, Not so much though about the way in which succeeding Bute family had prospered as coal magnates. Right now, in 2019, we are on the 7th Marques of Bute though the third one was the one most financially active, making him one of the richest men in Europe.
Strangely, although the Marques of Bute was mentioned three times, the guide never once referred to Nye Bevan and the institution that has made him famous.