29 August 2019

Bandstands : Penarth

Penarth is privileged to have two bandstands though one of them isn’t really a bandstand, more of a shelter from the rain or a covered place to sit. Let’s start with that one, which is in Penarth’s Alexandra Park.

This structure was installed in 1994 and actually replaced a wooden shelter that had previously stood in the same position but had been removed sometime in the 1950s.

The new construction is certainly elegant – I like the fine lines of its supporting posts but, unfortunately, it is no substitute for the original bandstand that once stood slightly further down the sloping site. You can see an old postcard of the original bandstand and wooden shelter on the Penarth Dock website here and a couple more old images on the same website here – note the amazing view at that time: it has since been obscured by growing trees and tall beach-side apartment buildings.   

The only real bandstand remaining in Penarth is the Victorian structure, shown above, in Windsor Gardens. Amazingly, it is the original bandstand, which probably explains why it is looking rather shabby these days.

The Penarth Parks website provides little information about this structure, except to quote an extract from the 1903 publication Mate’s Illustrated Penarth (W. Mate & Sons, Bournemouth):

There is a fine band stand, or shelter, and occasionally al fresco concerts are given, and sometimes of an evening the Gardens are gaily illuminated.

So, I looked back through the old Welsh newspapers to try to find more information. I found a reference to a Penarth Local Board meeting, held on 3 April 1894, at which a request for a band stand to be erected on the Promenade, made by the Cardiff Military Band, was considered and rejected. But, obviously, some people thought the idea had merit because I then came across the advertisement (shown at right), in the Barry Docks News of 20 July 1894, just 3½ months later.

The Windsor Gardens bandstand was duly opened on 25 July 1894. Here’s the following day’s rather brief report from the South Wales Daily News:

Through the courtesy of Col. H. 0. Fisher, the band of the 2nd Glamorgan Artillery Volunteers, under the able oonductorship of Mr Paul Draper, gave a first-class military concert Wednesday night, in the Penarth Gardens. The occasion was the opening of new band stand, which is octagonal in shape, 20ft. in diameter, copper roofed, and recently erected by Lord Windsor, at a cost of £200. There were quite 1,500 to 1,600 present to witness the fairy-like appearance of the grounds, which were magnificently illuminated by Richardson and Company, Cardiff, with thousands of coloured lamps and Japanese lanterns. It is intended to continue a weekly (Wednesday) series of promenade concerts.

It almost sounds like the illuminations were more newsworthy than the band music, and, indeed, the trend for romantic illuminations continued. This is from the Penarth Chronicle and District Advertiser of 10 August 1895:

It has been left to private enterprise, in which however, the Estate has made important concessions, to give a fillip to the town's attractions by the series of nightly concerts now taking place in these charmingly situated grounds. To get Penarth to take an interest in herself is almost a Gargantuan undertaking, and it is therefore but a verification of this fact that these concerts have hitherto been but sparsely attended. There is nevertheless a rare musical treat nightly provided, and one has only to go once, to wish to go again. The artistes are of undeniable distinction in the musical world, the proof whereof it is easy and withal pleasant to verify by going to hear them.
On Bank Holiday, the weather unfortunately precluded a large attendance, but on Wednesday the numbers were more gratifying. The Orchestra gave magnificent renditions ... interspersed by solo singing by Miss Kate Hullett, G.S.M., whose classic and soulful rendering of "Kathleen Marvour neen” (amongst others), evoked pleasing applause. This soprano, although unused to al fresco singing, is heard quite 150 yards away and has a beautifully timbred, resonant, rich and mellow voice. The instrumental executants, par excellence, are Master Wm. H. Holden, and Master Chas. Holden, whose unique performances on the violin and cornet, respectively, are worth going a long way to hear.
To heighten the attraction, portions of the gardens are illuminated with fairy lamps, and guaranteed propitious atmospherical conditions, promenaders cannot fail to be charmed by the sense of sound and sight. The former almost goes without saying, and the latter is assured by the marine panorama below of gliding lights and shimmering waters. Such was it on Wednesday at any rate ...
If, then, any sentimental lad or lassie wish to test the veracity of this picture, let them hie themselves thither; and if the staid paterfamilias and his spouse desire to conjure up the courting days of yore let them also thither go – but, remember, Luna must be shining. Failing this fickle luminary one will then be repaid by the stars in the bandstand. Knowing the exclusiveness, the cliqueism and the setism of Penarth, the promoters of these Concerts have wisely determined not to impinge upon these idiosyncrasies and so have charged threepence for admission.

These days the bandstand is rarely used for its original purpose – in fact, such events are so rare as to be newsworthy: here’s a link to an article in the Penarth News of 12 July 2014, reporting on a concert being held ‘after a gap of many years’. It seems such a shame to me that this wonderful old bandstand isn’t better maintained and used – I rather fancy the idea of promenading through gardens illuminated by fairy lamps while listening to magnificent musical renditions.

23 August 2019

East Sussex : Rottingdean Windmill

On Wednesday 15 August my friend Jill and I set off on a walk to Rottingdean Windmill – its silhouette can just be seen on the hill in the top left of my photo. We could actually have parked much closer but where’s the fun in that? Instead, we parked near Brighton Marina and walked along the undercliff path to the charming little town of Rottingdean.

After recharging our batteries with tea and cake, we enjoyed a stroll around the town (taking a turn in Rudyard Kipling’s walled garden, marvelling at the Burne-Jones stained glass windows in St Margaret’s Church). From the village green, we could see the windmill on the horizon – time to climb that hill!

We huffed and puffed up a very steep Rottingdean street, turned a corner and there across the meadow of the Beacon Hill Nature Reserve was the mill.

Built on Beacon Hill in 1802, this smock mill ground corn into flour until sometime in the 1880s but, as you can tell from the fact that its sweeps are now empty, it no longer functions. The sweeps are turned from time to time though, as part of the regular maintenance of the building. The old photo of the mill is taken from the signboard at the site - I like how the figure of the man in the doorway gives an idea of the mill's size.

Although this sign on the side of the mill says that William Nicholson’s drawing of this windmill became the colophon for the Heinemann publishing company, that may not necessarily be true. The Rottingdean Preservation Society now looks after this structure and on their website (which provides a detailed history of the mill), it states that the Heinemann logo actually shows a post mill, whereas this is a smock mill - the silhouette is different

A couple of closer shots of the mill structure. The mill is made of wood that has been covered with tar to protect it against the weather.

We continued our walk along the trails that run through the nature reserve. Looking back towards the mill, you can see how close to the sea it is, and how exposed the site is to wild winds and stormy weather. It’s a testament to the Preservation Society that ‘well over 100 years since it last ground corn for the village, this mill still remains a landmark for all to see and enjoy.’

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.