Alexandra Gardens

Alexandra Gardens c.1950

Alexandra Gardens c.1950

Alexandra Gardens is a rectangular space comprising formal lawns with island flower beds and specimen trees, placed between Edward VII Avenue and Museum Avenue, and surrounded by the buildings of the Civic Centre. It was planned as a formal garden featuring a fountain at its centre but in the event the fountain was not built and a flower bed was substituted. One of the earliest parts of Cathays Park to be developed, it was known as both Geometrical Gardens and University Gardens before the Property Committee on 26th July 1910 adopted the name Queen Alexandra Gardens. It was formally opened by the Lord Mayor on 27th July 1910.[1][2]

Statue of Lord Aberdare

Statue of Lord Aberdare (January 2018)

There is a bronze statue of Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Lord Aberdare and first President of the University, which faces east towards the University. Created by Herbert Hampton in 1898, this statue was initially placed in Howard Gardens until the new University building in Cathays Park was complete.[3]

In 1917 the Parks Committee agreed that four stone pedestals from City Hall would be moved to Alexandra Gardens.[4] These were very probably placed at each end of the central path that now leads to the War Memorial and they are still present. They can be seen in some of the postcards on this website.

North end of Alexandra Gardens c.1960

North end of Alexandra Gardens and Welsh Office 6th May 1963
By kind permission, © Tom & John Wiltshire Collection

Welsh National War Memorial, Alexandra Gardens c.1960

Welsh National War Memorial, Alexandra Gardens c.1960
By kind permission, © Tom & John Wiltshire Collection

The Welsh National War Memorial, a circular structure of Portland stone, now occupies the position at the centre of the Gardens where originally there was to be a fountain. It was designed by Sir J Ninian Comper and when first discussed in 1919, it was to be placed in front of City Hall. The present position in Alexandra Gardens was not agreed until 1925,[5] and construction by E.Turner & Sons began in 1926.[6] It was unveiled in June 1928 by the Prince of Wales.

Following the unveiling of the memorial, the Parks Committee considered alterations to the planting around it to provide a fitting setting. The architect (Comper) recommended that the outer side of the broad path around the Memorial circle be planted with deep red roses. He also proposed the removal of the trees ("mop-headed acacias") that were flanking the central pathway and forming avenues leading to the memorial, in favour of columnar shaped trees such as cypresses, which would harmonise with the memorial and also be evergreen. There were eight standard cherry trees immediately encircling the monument which were to remain, but eight acacias in the same circle were to be replaced by cypresses. The Chief Parks Officer, A.A. Pettigrew, proposed that 40 acacias in total be removed, and that the Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) was a suitable tree to plant in their in place, "a tall green pillar of striking beauty". He stated that it would also be "necessary to remove from the two circular beds north and south of the memorial the Deodar cedars standing in the centre of each, as these would in time completely obstruct the view along the avenues in those directions." The Committee approved this work, estimated to cost £140 in all, and it was to be carried out during the following winter.[7] The following May the Western Mail reported that the planting of 32 columnar cypresses in Alexandra Gardens "has been put in hand".[8] Pettigrew confirmed eight years later that these were Incense cedars, stating that they were then no more than 12ft high.[9]

The 1938 Inventory of Parks Buildings and Equipment included only a Caretaker's Shelter for Alexandra Gardens.

Later memorials have been placed in Alexandra Gardens, including those for the Spanish Civil War and the Falklands campaign.

By the mid 1960s the main paths to the Welsh National War Memorial were lined by avenues of alternating Lawson's cypress 'Triomf van Boskoop' (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Triomf van Boskoop') and Cherry trees (Prunus 'Kanzan').[10] The Lawson's cypress were replaced c.1990 by Thujas planted by Malcolm Frazer, and these grew into various shapes which did not complement this formal site. In Spring 2023 the four most southerly and the four most northerly Thujas were removed. They were replaced by eight Hollies (Ilex x koehneana 'Chestnut Leaf').

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 5.

Other sources are:

  1. Special Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 27th July 1910
  2. Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News Saturday July 39th 1910 page 6
  3. Meeting of the Parks etc. Committee 18th October 1897
  4. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 6th June 1917
  5. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 8th September 1925
  6. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 9th March 1926
  7. Western Mail Wednesday 27th June 1928 page 11
  8. Western Mail & South Wales News Thursday 2nd May 1929 page 5
  9. Western Mail & South Wales News Thursday 28th May 1936 page 11
  10. Personal communication (TD)