The first proposals for pleasure boating on the lake and for the building of a boat house were raised before the park officially opened in June 1894. It was agreed that there should be 50 pleasure boats for hire on the lake. Ten different contractors were approved, each with 5 boats, charged £2-2s-0d per year per boat. Charges to the public were fixed at 6d per half hour for one or two persons, and 3d per half hour for more than two persons. Sunday boating was not permitted.
In May 1894 a landing stage was constructed at the south western end of the lake, on much the same site as the present day. The boatmen's shelter was built during the winter of 1894-95.
In October 1906 the Superintendent proposed that boating be taken over by the Corporation so that profit derived from public recreation could be re-used for the public benefit. The following year in October the Council rejected this proposal and reached a three year agreement with a single contractor to put 60 boats on the lake for hire. A single motor launch was placed on the lake in April 1915 despite opposition from anglers.
After the (wooden) landing stage was found to be in a dangerous condition, the Council agreed in September 1911 to rebuild it with masonry walls and a macadam floor. This was completed in May 1912 and was followed by further work to add a flat roof and balcony to create a boathouse and a promenade on the top, opened officially in May 1913.
Sunday boating was proposed on a number of occasions. In June 1912 the Parks Superintendent reported, as previously instructed, on the costs that would be incurred if Sunday boating were permitted. He observed that although the extra expense was small compared to the benefit it would provide, it would undoubtedly lead to requests to open the bowling greens and sports grounds, and provide band performances on Sundays, the total cost of which would be considerable.
In 1919 there were 41 single boats, 24 doubles, 11 punts, and 1 motor boat based on the lake. Boating was so popular that it was again proposed that the operation be taken over by the Council. This time it was agreed and the Council reached an agreement with the contractor to purchase the boats and run the operation from from May 1920. The new arrangements were immediately successful: in the fine weather in May 1920 all the rowing boats were usually out on hire every evening and most afternoons. Charges were: rowing boats - one person 6d per half hour; two or more persons 3d each per half hour; motor launch - once up and down the lake - adults 3d, children 2d. Later 1d was charged for admission to the stage and balcony for those not using the boats. On the balcony in 1938 there were 100 folding chairs and 24 deck chairs.
From 1927 the lowering of the water level in the lake between October and March every year meant that winter rowing was no longer possible.
In the 1947 boating season receipts amounted to £3858-18s-6d, an increase over 1946 of £709-15s.
Sunday boating was permitted from 1953 onwards. Total receipts from boating in April to June of that year for weekdays were £1357-9s-3d (against £1185-19s-9d in 1952) and for Sundays £494-6s-5d.
The Parks Committee agreed to purchase a new motor launch in late 1954. This required an alteration to the landing stage, construction of a small dry dock to enable the motor launch to be brought ashore, which was approved in January 1955.
A newspaper article in April 1957 stated that there were 80 boats at the lake "of various descriptions, but mostly for rowing, and there will be 12 new paddle boats [for children] this year". The boats foreman was Harry Cook, who had been working at the lake for 12 years, and the shipwright was Jack Rood.
From the 1960s into the 1970s rowing boats for use on the lake were built on site by Sid Griffiths. The boats were made of mahogany and came in three types: singles, doubles and family boats. Singles had one pair of rowlocks and a seat at the back, while doubles had two pairs of rowlocks and the same seat, but they were a yard longer. Family boats were the same length as a double but were about 18 inches wider, and with a bigger seat at the back. There was a removable footboard for every set of rowlocks and a removable rudder which the passenger seated at the back operated with a rope in each hand. It is thought that there were 60 of these boats, comprising approximately 35 singles, 20 doubles and five family boats. Sid Griffiths also made the oars. The last boat he made was a double family boat which he completed just before he died. All his work was of exceptional craftsmanship, and unfortunately none of his boats survive. Following Sid's death the Council changed to fibreglass boats made to a similar design. The glass fibre boats were manufactured by Salters Bros who took a mold of an original wooden boat.The caption on the original of the photograph shown below suggests that delivery was due on 15th February 1989 and that the boats were 14 feet long.
In February 1985 it was reported that a structural inspection of the boathouse and balcony had revealed that the building was in "an advanced state of general deterioration" requiring extensive repairs. Subsequently the Leisure and Amenities Committee heard that repair works would not make the balcony roof safe for public use and it was agreed that the building be demolished at a cost of £9,200. In July the Committee approved plans for a new building that would be "sympathetic to the Victorian context in which Roath Park was developed, and would be constructed with cast-iron feature columns on new mass concrete foundations. The roof deck would be waterproof, constructed in concrete, and surfaced with brindled mellow coloured non-slip tiles. There would be a staircase at either end for access, and a new ramped bridge would provide easy access for disabled, elderly and mothers with pushchairs." This work was completed on the 28th April 1987 at a final cost of £148,598. The building subsequently received a Civic Trust Award (a Commendation) in 1988, and was described as follows: "This new structure fulfils two functions - it combines a viewing deck with boat storage beneath. Cast iron decorative features, such as dragon head gargoyles, have been incorporated to give 'a Welshness to the design'. While it is true that the broad plank concrete deck, which is seen from underneath, detracts from the quality of the whole, the structure nevertheless makes a positive contribution to the park, and is an attractive feature in its setting."
The Leisure and Amenities Committee decided that "the dilapidated buildings adjacent to the new boat house" should next be replaced. These buildings on the boatstage began approximately where the boathouse and balcony ended. The first was the mess room for the parks staff engaged in boating. It had a lean-to on its south side which was used to store the oars for the rowing boats. The bricked-up window suggests it originally may have been an early park keepers hut. Beyond the mess room was a concrete-faced toilet building and beyond that the boat repair workshop.
In the first photograph below, at the end of the boatstage, can be seen in the distance the original housing for the motor launch Britannia Ⅲ which was taken out of service in the mid 1980s and replaced by Roath's Pride.
In September 1989 the Leisure and Amenities Committee approved a scheme for demolition of the boatstage mess room, public toilets, workshops and boat hire ticket office, and the construction of a new building for these functions. This work was reported to be complete on 14th December 1990. The new building was formally opened on 24th May 1991. From south to north, the new building contains ticket office, staff mess room, public toilets and workshop and offices.
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 3.
Other sources are: