15 August 2019

Bandstands : Cardiff

While researching this piece about Cardiff’s two remaining bandstands, I was amused to uncover this newspaper article, from the Cardiff Times 13 August 1904, in which local councillors were reported to be arguing over where the bands should play:

The Parks Committee's recommendations that for the next week bands should play only at the Roath Park, Victoria Park, and the Llandaff Fields was vigorously contested. Councillor Roberts urged the claims of Splott, and moved that one of the bands play there instead of at Llandaff Fields; whereas Councillor Kidd declared that if any were made Loudoun-square must be considered. Councillor Chappell said the bands were placed at points on the tramway line which had proved most profitable to the tramways. The sum available for bands was now wasted – exhausted rather, because they had been putting bands where they couldn't get audiences. Councillor Beavan thought that other parts of the town would pay the tramways equally well if they were equally treated. Alderman Mildon, having accused previous speakers of “wardism," proceeded to complain that Grangetown was not catered for in any way. He would not ask for a band for Grange, although they had a bandstand there rotting for want of use. Councillor Courtis: Or want of paint. (Laughter.) Alderman Carey proceeded to champion the claims of the people of Tyndall-street. (Renewed laughter.) Councillor Roberts’s amendment was rejected, and the committee’s recommendation adopted.

Sadly, only two of the locations mentioned in this report still have bandstands, Victoria Park and Grange Park, and, perhaps even more sadly, the Grange Park one is still/again ‘rotting for want of use’ and/or ‘want of paint’. So, let’s start with it ...

According to the Cardiff Parks website, the Grange Park bandstand was Cardiff’s first:

In February 1895 the Council accepted a tender of £100 from the Lion Foundry Co. of Glasgow, for construction of a bandstand. This, the first bandstand to be provided in any of Cardiff's parks, was completed by [the] beginning of June.

The park, then called Grange Gardens, was formally opened on 19 June 1895 and the bandstand hosted its first musical performance that evening. The South Wales Daily News of 20 June 1895 has the story:

The latest addition to the open spaces of Cardiff—that of Grangetown—was formally declared free and open to the public on Wednesday evening, the ceremony being performed by the Deputy-chairman of the Parks Committee of the Cardiff Corporation (Councillor Joseph Ramsdale, J.P.). The members of the committee with their friends assembled at the Town Hall, from whence they were conveyed in carriages to Grangetown ... The borough engineer presented Councillor Ramsdale with a key, with which he unlocked the gates. The party afterwards proceeded to the band stand, where congratulatory speeches were delivered. The Mayor proposed a vote of thanks to Lord Windsor and Lord Bute for the gift of the ground, and Alderman Jacobs having seconded, and support coming from Councillor Jenkins and Councillor Johnson, the vote was carried amidst much cheering ... [more speeches and cheering] and the party then returned to the Town Hall, leaving Mr D. A. Burn's Brass Band to render a popular programme of music.

Though you could be forgiven for thinking that the bandstand we see today is the original, it is, in fact, an exact replica (the original plans were uncovered in a library in Glasgow) that was installed in 2000. The Cardiff Parks website reports that

The original bandstand is thought to have been removed during the Second World War, though the Parks Committee received a report in 1937 on the condition of the Grange Gardens bandstand and the question of repair or demolition was left to the Chairman and the Chief Officer. Aerial photographs from 1942 appear to show an empty space where the bandstand stood.
From the summer of 1943 music for open air dancing was provided using gramophone records and loud speakers. Also in 1943 the Parks Committee decided that the Roath Park bandstand, which had fallen into disuse, should be removed and re-erected in Grange Gardens. There is no evidence that this was carried out.

Let’s hail a carriage and move on to Victoria Park's bandstand ...

It took Cardiff Council several years first to agree to and then to achieve the transformation of ‘the swampy ground known as Ely Common’ (Weekly Mail, 19 June 1897) to the 45-acre park initially referred to as Canton Park but later christened Victoria in honour of the queen’s jubilee. It was officially opened on 16 June 1897, with its magnificent bandstand already in place. The construction of a bandstand had been already been agreed by the Parks Committee, as reported by the Evening Express, 14 April 1897:

CANTON PARK. A BAND-STAND TO BE ERECTED AT ONCE. The Parks Committee showed on Wednesday [14 April] that they are not devoting their whole attention to the magnificent park at Roath. The claims of Canton, which have been persistently advocated by Messrs. Gerhold, Ward, and Illtyd Thomas, have been recognised, and the parks committee on Wednesday decided to erect a band-stand at Canton Park at a cost of £212.

Here’s an extract from the Weekly Mail’s report, of 19 June 1897, about the new park’s opening:

The Victoria Park ... is irregular in shape, and for this reason perhaps lends itself to a lay-out which is both ingenious and attractive. The main paths are 30ft. wide, and from these branch out others, of smaller width, to the band stand, the lake, and other portions of the park. Entering from Cowbridge-road, one becomes at once interested in a very fine series of flower beds, with paths intersecting in the form of a wheel. A little further on is an ornamental lake of about an acre in extent, which is supplied with water from the corporation mains by two very handsome fountains and is approached from about a dozen different directions. Further north is a band stand, surrounded by a gravel footpath 30 ft wide, from which other paths radiate and communicate with the main roads. There are also a couple of ornamental shelters and a drinking fountain. A large number of shrubs and flowers have been planted, and already give proof that they like their new situation. About two acres are set apart at the northern end of the park as a playground .... It is satisfactory to find that the work (except the iron railings and band-stand) has been carried out by corporation employees, under the borough engineer (Mr. W. Harpur) and Mr. Pettigrew (superintendent gardener).

The wonderful Cardiff Parks website says that

As in other Cardiff parks, there were regular band performances in Victoria Park on summer evenings. These were organised and paid for by the Council Parks Committee, which allocated £500 for musical entertainments in the City's parks. In January 1913 Pettigrew reported that the season for band performances was from May to August and the majority took place in Roath Park, with performances in other parks only during June and July, and on specific days of the week. In Victoria Park this was every Thursday evening. Pettigrew also stated that "at Roath Park only the very best class of (local) bands are engaged; whereas at Splott and Victoria Parks a few second rate bands are sandwiched in between those of a better class."

As time passed and fashions changed, the Victoria Park bandstand was less used and less well maintained, and it was eventually dismantled and removed some time in the 1950s. Fortunately, for the park’s centenary in 1997, the replica we see today was commissioned and installed. Let’s hope the city’s future councillors will value and treasure these wonderful nods to a bygone age of leisure and entertainment - both structures could certainly do with a little timely maintenance!

08 August 2019

Cardiff : Cambrian Buildings

I often forget that it always pays to look up!

I was meandering around the streets of Cardiff one day last week, gathering images for future blogs, and had almost reached Cardiff Bay station to catch the train home, when I felt the need to look skywards – and this is what I saw. 

This was only one of thirteen, each unique, that adorn a building of two names, the Cambrian Buildings which face on to Mount Stuart Square and, around the corner, the Cymric Buildings on West Bute Street. Built between 1907 and 1911 to the design of local architect Henry Budgen, this is a large imposing Grade II-listed structure of four main storeys, with a basement beneath and an attic level above. If you want to read a precise description of the architectural design, you can do so on the British Listed Buildings website, but for me it was all about the sculptural embellishments.

Running along the top of the fourth floor, they are a spectacular mix of the marine, with walruses, dolphin-type creatures, sea monsters and, rather incongruously, what looks like a lion, all underscored with nautical paraphernalia, like anchors, ropes, compasses, and chains. I’ve not uncovered any details of the sculptor, or sculptors, whose superb craftsmanship this is but they were obviously masters of their craft. The Cambrian Buildings have five of these Ionic-style capitals (shown above in order from the left of the building to the right, where it turns the corner into West Bute Street), and the Cymric Buildings have eight (shown below, again in order from left to right).

As well as these lavish sculptures at the top of the three-storey-high pilasters, there is a series of individual sea monsters on each side of the bases of the pilasters, between the windows of the first floor. These are described as dolphins in the official building description, though they’re not like any dolphins I’ve ever seen – perhaps the sculptors had only their imaginations to go on when carving these designs. The ‘dolphin’ closest to the neighbouring building has been rather squeezed into his position, but the others are more elegantly arranged. These are my particular favourites because of the amazing expressions on their faces.

On the ground floor, each of the two facades of these buildings has a central grand entrance, with the buildings’ names above.

And on each side of these entrances are more pilasters, these topped with sculptures of sailing ships and more nautical-themed details.

This area of Cardiff was immediately adjacent to the port, an extremely busy place in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and most of the commercial buildings in this area were built to house the major shipping and mining magnates, and the importing and exporting companies. The Cambrian Buildings were built to house the offices of the Cambrian Coal Combine, the most powerful mining group in south Wales’s Rhondda coal-mining valleys.

Now that I’ve realised what treasures there are amongst the historic buildings in the older parts of Cardiff, I’ll be looking up (and down and around) much more often.

03 August 2019

Cardiff : Billy the seal

Once upon a time (1912, to be more precise) there was a seal named Billy, who was accidentally caught in trawler nets off the Irish coast (though there is some doubt about that location) and brought to Cardiff to join the menagerie of a small zoo in Victoria Park (why they couldn’t just have let Billy go, I don’t know).

Billy had his own small lake and, because of his amusing antics, was a great favourite with all the children who visited the park. Stories are told of the many times Billy escaped the confines of the park: the River Ely used to flood, which in turn flooded Victoria Park and adjacent Cowbridge Road, and Billy took advantage of these artificial waterways to visit the Fish Market (of course!), to say hello to the Mayor in City Hall, to check out the waters of Roath Park Lake and the fountain in nearby Thompson’s Park. But, each time Billy made a break for freedom, he was found and captured and returned to the confines of Victoria Park.

Billy even survived being put on short rations for a time in 1917 (by a council trying to save money – nothing’s changed then) – it seems his many admirers came to his rescue by supplementing his rations with succulent titbits.

Billy finally died in 1939, not a bad innings for a grey seal. His body was sent to the National Museum of Wales (just a few miles down the road from Victoria Park) where a post-mortem showed that Billy was not a male at all. All those times she escaped, she might well have been looking for a mate. And Billy’s skeleton was put on display in the museum from time to time, to help educate the next generation of young kids.

And, because she had been so loved by the local Cardiffians, when the centenary of Victoria Park was being celebrated in 1997, Billy was also immortalised in stone (well, actually, painted galvanised steel). Almost sixty years after she had died, Billy the sculpture was created by Cardiff artist David Petersen and placed next to the paddling pond in Victoria Park, where she had lived all those years before. And, despite occasional plans to get rid of her sculpture (like during a recent redesign of the play area, when a splash pad was added to the park), Billy’s supporters and fans have spoken up for their beloved seal and stopped the council from trashing her.

And the physical Billy (or, at least, her skeleton) now lives in the Clore Discovery Gallery of the National Museum but, very occasionally (okay, just the once), Bill gets to see outside the thick walls of the museum. As you can read in Billy’s blog on the museum website, in 2012, one hundred years after being hauled in by that trawler, Billy was taken to the seaside. And, not only that, Billy got to star in the television programme Coast alongside presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff.

Sadly, Billy is now back at the museum, doomed (probably) to remain behind those thick walls for the rest of eternity. But perhaps (just perhaps) Billy knows about her statue in Victoria Park. And perhaps (okay, a bit fanciful) Billy can look through that statue’s eyes and see the fun the kids are having playing about in the water fountains of the park’s splash pad. And maybe (just maybe) Billy remembers the fun she used to have playing in the water there as well.