Bands played in the park before the bandstand existed, often using the Promenade (or Embankment as it was then known), with many spectators hiring boats to enjoy a good position for performances. The building of a temporary bandstand was approved in May 1899. In October 1902 the Parks Superintendent (W.W.Pettigrew) recommended that a permanent bandstand be provided in the Botanic Garden immediately below the Lake Embankment and this was approved by the Parks Committee. The bandstand was built in early 1903, and was 24 feet in diameter, with a new footpath around it 30 feet wide.
In the early 1900s the Council allocated £250 each year to provide bands to play in all Cardiff parks. This was later increased to £500, and in the case of Roath Park additional money came from the Tramways Committee, which wished to ensure that the new tram service to Roath Park was well used. The season for band performances in Roath Park was from May to August. Band performances were very popular and on one Wednesday in the summer of 1904 between 12,000 and14,000 people visited the Park during the time that the bands were playing. Flower beds were damaged by the visiting crowds and it became necessary to widen footpaths and lay additional grass areas for people to walk.
The Council provided folding iron chairs for visitors to hire at a charge of 1d per 2 hours. By 1904 four hundred such chairs were available for hire. A Western Mail reporter visiting Roath Park one evening in July 1906 observed that "there is chair accommodation for 500 people around the band-stand, and it must be doubled if demand is to be met." On this occasion the chief attraction was a performance by the Cardiff Military Band. As well as noting that all the chairs were occupied, the Western Mail's report stated "the promenade was thronged with gaily-dressed ladies and their friends. Overlooking them was a dense moving crowd on the lake embankment".
Choir concerts were introduced in 1906 alongside existing band performances. All performances were reported to be well attended, and for example, in three days during Whit week in May 1908, between 30,000 and 40,000 people visited the Park. The complete 1908 season was a very successful one, with over 20,000 persons hiring chairs during band performances, generating income of £83-6-10.
Electric lighting was introduced in this section of Roath Park in 1911, on the bandstand, on the Promenade and on the approach paths to the bandstand. As a result, the season for band performances could continue for an extra six weeks, and the lighted sections of the park remained open for two hours beyond the normal closing time. Another improvement carried out in the winter of 1910-11 was the widening by six feet of the footpath leading from the west side of the Lake Embankment down to the bandstand, giving it a total width of 15 feet, to alleviate congestion on band nights.
The photograph above (left) shows a crowded bandstand enclosure with several hundred chairs available for hire. Electric lighting can be seen on the bandstand. The oak tree on the right of the photograph pre-dates the park and is still present in 2016.
In 1911 it was decided to introduce more varied and popular entertainment in the form of Costume Concert Party performances (also known as Pierrot shows) in the Cardiff parks. The Parks Committee and City Council decided with respect to Roath Park "that a limited number of Pierrot performances be permitted during the ensuing summer". Such performances would not be possible from a bandstand, so on the 17th April 1911 the Chief Parks Officer (W.W.Pettigrew) submitted a rough sketch of a Pierrot stage and dressing room for Roath Park and the City Engineer prepared formal plans. In the event at its meeting on the 8th May the Committee decided that instead of a new structure, the bandstand would serve as a dressing-room, along with a temporary stage with canvas sides.
This was implemented for the opening of the 1912 season. The Chief Officer was authorised to engage Pierrot troupes as appropriate. Charges for seating were to be at least 2d, but 6d for chairs in the front rows, which could be booked in advance. Performances were on one evening per week only, and not necessarily every week - in the interests of variety there were also concerts given by local vocal parties and by bands.
At the end of the 1912 season the Chief Officer reported that the new venture had been a great success, both in popularity and financially - the cost of the Pierrot shows was 30% to 50% less than for the band performances, while the income from them was, on the average, 45% more. The 1915 season saw the real beginning of Pierrot concert party entertainments at Roath Park, with professional concert parties being engaged for complete weeks of performances. The financial results were so successful that for 1916 the number of parties was increased to eight. In July 1916 it was reported that "Roath Park is becoming a centre of social life in Cardiff. The entertainments there provided are drawing citizens together in a manner that was distributed more widely in pre-war days." For the 1918 season twelve concert parties were engaged, and such parties became the main entertainment at Roath Park in subsequent years. All performances continued to be from a temporary stage attached to the bandstand. The audience sat on chairs in the open air, which led to requests to provide protection against the weather. Proposals followed to erect a concert pavilion in which the audience could be seated under cover.
The Roath Park Concert Pavilion was finally built in 1921 and was used for all performances from then onwards. In February 1930 an area was provided to the east of the bandstand to enable open air dancing during musical performances. A plan of this part of the park dated 19/3/40 shows this as a "lawn for dancing", approximately where the present day children's playground is. Seating and refreshments were also available. For the 1940 season it was decided that music for dances would be provided using gramophone records and loud speakers, and this equipment was installed in the pavilion. The dances proved popular, and in September 1941 the Chief Parks Officer reported that 48,343 people had paid for admission to the enclosure since the season started in May.
The bandstand remained until 1943. The Parks Committee was told in December 1942 that it was seldom used and actually interfered with the layout of the concert enclosure. In May 1943 the Committee decided that the bandstand should be removed and re-erected in Grange Gardens. Aerial photographs confirm that the bandstand was present in 1942 but had been removed by 1946.
Sources of Information
In general, the information in this section is taken from A. A. Pettigrew, The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff, Volume 4.
Other sources are: