Grange Gardens - the first 120 years

An Edwardian photo of Grange Gardens with the original bandstand.

Grange Gardens was a gift to Cardiff in 1894 by Lords Bute and Windsor, who owned the land on which it stands. Just over 9,000 square yards belonged to Bute and 5,764 square yards came from the Windsor estate. Cardiff's parks committee had three years earlier approached the two landowners, as they recognised the by now well developed suburb had no proper recreational area.

The laying out of the park cost £2,374 and a bandstand was constructed in February 1895 - the first in Cardiff at the time - for the additional cost of £100. However, it was complicated by the fact the wrong foundations were laid for the bandstand. "Grangetown Gardens" - designed by William Pettigrew, the Scottish head gardener to Cardiff Corporation and municipal engineer William Harpur - opened on June 19th 1895 by councillor Joseph Ramsdale, the chairman of the parks committee. "A very large number of the inhabitants of Grangetown" gathered for the ceremony and the mayor proposed a toast to Lord Bute and Lord Windsor. Mr D A Burn's Roath brass band entertained with a selection of tunes. There was also a celebratory dinner later.


The memorial was unveiled in July 1921 - listing 330 men who died.

The war memorial was added in 1921 at a cost of £1,000, paid for by subscriptions and the organising committee are named at the base of the stone. There are more than 330 names on the panels, researched as part of the Grangetown World War One project, which also uncovered another 130 additional names. Interestingly, a plaque was added in 2000 in memory of Private W Langstone, whose body was only found nine years after the end of the war and who was missing from the memorial. Surviving members of his family attended the ceremony, along with representatives of many service organisations. A further plaque to later Grangetown war dead has been added.

This shows the cast iron fountain being presented in 1909 by Mr I Samuel. in memory of his parents and brother, Louis Samuel MP in 1909. A recast replica was installed in 2000. Right is the opening of the Grangetown bowling green in June 1906.

Colin Gundersen writes: "The bandstand was removed during the war when the park also lost its ornate railings. During the war, events arranged around the 'Holiday at Home' campain running at that period, made large use of the park to include open-air dancing around the base of the old bandstand, the base itself being used for announcements by the "master of ceremonies" if that is not too grand a title, together with moral-boosting speeches by local councillors concerning such matters as the amount collected for the Spitfire Fund.

"Cecil Guy, Gwyneth Lewis and their team used to give demonstrations in Grange Gardens. After moving home from Clive Street, the Guy family settled in St Fagans Street opposite Grange Council School. The fountain sited midway along the eastern path to Corporation Road, remained until long after the war alongside which at that time was a large resevoir excavated and lined with shuttered concrete for emergency fire fighting use. It was bounded by wood-lath wired fencing which was to be seen all over the city, and in fact all over the UK in those days. It was cheap and quick to erect."

Grange Gardens and bowling green, c1900s.

The bowling green dates from June 1906 and was opened by Councillor Dixon who spoke of his pleasure to see the ancient game alienate young men from public houses. The green was "admirable for its smoothness." A timber shelter was built in 1913, a ladies shelter and urinals added before being dismantled. The bowling club building on the right housed the air raid warden during World War II.

A more modern pavilion was built in 1964 but sadly the club folded in 2013 due to lack of members. The building has been brought back into community use and now includes a cafe - while there are plans to completely rebuild it, with an extension and to create a purpose-built venue and community space.

There is a children's playground on the left (the first swings were not erected until 1961), while the trees are more mature. The gardens celebrated its centenary with new trees, fences, a relaid path and improved children's equipment. The bandstand is a replica of the original, which cost £100 and was the first to be built in a Cardiff park. It had been dismantled in the late 1950s - already in a poor condition by the late 1930s. The new one cost £324,000 and it was finally opened with a ceremony - and plenty of music - in 2000. A replacement to the drinking fountain, - erected in 1909 and taken away during the war, also returned to the park at the same time.

The gardens joined Cadw's register of parks of historic interest in Wales in September 2013. It was included because it represents a "well-preserved Victorian urban public park that retains much of its original layout" and became the first of Cardiff’s parks to include a bandstand and public tennis courts. Although not the same level of protection as a listed building, it does give the park some status in terms of any future planning application.

Just outside the park on Corporation Road is a wooden shelter, near the bus stop, which could date from Victorian or Edwardian times and is a listed structure and was refurbished in 2014. There is perhaps a clue to its origins in a short item in a 1905 chapel magazine on the electric cars along Corporation Road, which reads: "The eagerness of the [council] officials to expedite the journey has resulted in the Grange Gardens stopping place being converted into a 'stop - if required' station."

Serving up the past

Thanks to Jeff Barkley, who has given us a glimpse of Grange Gardens from more than 50 years ago. Grangetown Local History has been donated copies of photos of Jeff's grandfather Fred Lewis, who during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s worked as a gardener in Grange Gardens and for many years maintained and was in charge of the bowling green there. He lived in Clare Road where Jeff was also brought up. Mr Lewis died in 1972. Anyone who knows who the tennis players might be - let us know!

A short animated film made in 2004 by Jane Hubbard, with the history society and Grangetown Primary School, looks at the history of Grange Gardens.

The Marl

The Marl clay pits off Ferry Road - the source of material for bricks and also the location of the notorious "Hotel de Marl" Sunday drinking den of the mid 1890s - would by Edwardian times become the beginnings of the recreation grounds which surive to this day.

There were calls for a recreation ground from 1903, firstly with four acres off Avondale Road to be acquired from the Bute estate; another attempt was made to get land from the Plymouth estate. One letter from a mother to the Evening Express, said the children of the docks had "only the canal or mud" as their recreation ground. There is a lovely article in a baptist chapel magazine from 1905, The Grangetown Light of Home, entitled Is Grangetown Healthy?

"There are some people who assert that Grangetown is built on mud. For shame! If we wished to write a guide to Grangetown, it would be easy to draw attention to many attractions, including our model geometrical streets. From a balloon, there appears to be three long streets - Clive Street, Paget Street and Corporation Road, intersected by smaller streets, all more or less important according to the ideas of the occupiers.

"We have what Roath and Canton have not - a sea frontage. Down by the Marl Pits, which now ought to be called the Marl Recreation Grounds, we have a beautiful picture; and if residents of Cardiff who look down on this district, only came and took a peep on a fine day at the shipping and passenger steamers sailing to and from Penarth Head, they would appreciate Grangetown far more than some of the natives do who have lived here so many years.

"Grangetown as a health resort! There are some grey-haired people in Grange; long life and fresh air are not the sole possession of Roath Park. We can go from Grange to Penarth - the south Wales Brighton - for three pennies, return fare. But the conductors on the electric cars demand six or eight of the same coins to take us to and from the end of our own town.

"To add to our attraction there should be an institute for young people with opportunities for learning and recreation. There should be local swimming baths that every boy and girl may learn to swim."

The baths was never built, although 75 years later we got a leisure centre nearby- minus a pool.

As early as 1906, the Grangetown baseball team was playing the Cardiff team for the first Dewar Shield at the Marl Pits, as it was still called. There was also by 1905 a children's playground, credited to the work of local councillor Arthur Sessions.