Llandaff Fields - History

The possibility of the purchase of Llandaff Fields by the Cardiff Corporation first arose in 1896. The Corporation proposed to extend its boundaries to include Llandaff, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who owned Llandaff Fields (also known as Court Farm) favoured this because it would improve drainage from houses recently built on Court Farm land. There was also a scheme to build a new road to provide better communications between Llandaff and Cardiff. The proposal for further building gave rise to protests concerning the loss of public access to rural walks. The South Wales Daily News of 22nd January 1896 published an article entitled "To Save Llandaff Fields" and maintained a campaign until it was able to announce five days later that a well-known local gentleman and others were willing to contribute £5,000 towards the purchase of Llandaff Fields to be kept in its natural state as a public recreation ground.

In February 1896 the Council agreed to this proposal[1] and in March opened negotiations with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who wished to charge £69,000 for the 71 acres of Llandaff Fields. This was viewed as an alarming sum to the Council but the Town Clerk suggested that it would be affordable if some of the land were let for building purposes and would thereby generate an income.[2] The purchase proceeded on this basis, with an area of approximately 14 acres reserved for building, an arrangement to which the donors of the £5,000 (who were Herbert and Charles Thompson) were content, provided that the remaining land remained an open space.

One complication arose from the presence of a sewage farm in one of the fields which was leased by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to the Llandaff Rural District Council. The Cardiff Council wished to end this arrangement because part of the plan was to connect Llandaff to the town's drainage and sewage system. In the event it was agreed that the sewage farm would have to remain at least until the expiry of the existing lease in 1910.[3]

The purchase was completed on 31st March 1898.[4] Attention then turned to the future use and management of Llandaff Fields, and the Parks Committee at its meeting on 25th November 1898 agreed to appoint a caretaker who would live at the Court Farm farmhouse. Improvements were agreed for the main footpath through the fields in the form of additional wicket gates and the removal of intermediate gates to give free access to all the fields. 12 seats with foot rests were also placed along the path. In January 1899 it was agreed that entrances to Llandaff Fields would be created "opposite Conway-road and Llanvair-street so as to prevent damage to the hedges and fences."[5]

A controversy soon arose because the Council agreed to a proposal that the Royal Agriculrural Society Show of 1901 be held using part of Llandaff Fields, as well as Pontcanna Farm which had been offered by Lord Bute. There was robust opposition from a group of ratepayers for whom Charles Thompson was spokesman. They contended that the terms of the purchase of Llandaff Fields would be breached in that public access would be restricted for a lengthy period and the rustic character of the fields would be permanently lost. There was strong public backing for the Thompson position and the Council came to recognise that legally it was in the wrong, but it felt unable to withdraw. A compromise was sought unsuccessfully and a public meeting, held in the Eisteddfod Pavilion in Cathays Park, voted emphatically against use of Llandaff Fields for the Show, which in the event was held in Pontcanna Farm and Sophia Gardens.

One of main reasons for acquiring Llandaff Fields was to provide "playing fields", and therefore permission for games to be played there was granted at the time of purchase. Tennis courts were subsequently provided, and pitches for football, cricket and hockey. There was also a proposal to provide a swimming bath.

As well as this focus on providing sports facilities, hedge and tree planting also took place. For example in February 1908 the Parks Superintendent reported that a tree avenue parallel with the main path at the Cathedral Road end of the Fields was being planted, along with small groups of trees, and "the trees being used for this purpose are Japanese Larch, Corsican Pines, Ash, & Flowering Chestnuts."[6] The cost of this, approved in November 1906, was estimated to be £160.[7] A new gateway at the Cathedral Road entrance was proposed in January 1910, and in October a tender was accepted from Messrs. Rowland Bros. of Bletchley for a set of gates to cost £15.[8]

By the terms of the acquisition, some parts of Llandaff Fields were reserved as open spaces for ever, but there were also areas totalling more than 13 acres, which the Corporation had the right to build upon or to let. In 1911 the City Council renounced this right as part of an agreement with Mr Charles Thompson, who in a letter dated November 7th 1911 offered Sir David's Field (Thompson's Park) to the City as a gift, provided that all of Llandaff Fields was secured as an open space for ever.

Plans were prepared during 1913 and 1914 to provide a bandstand, bowling green and tennis courts, as well as a fountain which was to be donated by Mr Isaac Samuel, and new paths. In September 1914, after the outbreak of war, this work was postponed.[9]

During the First World War many of the City's recreation grounds were converted to garden allotments. and this included Llandaff Fields, which was particularly suitable for such use.[10] The effect was to stop or severely limit organised sports for the duration of the War. In total, 36 acres at Llandaff Fields were allocated to 550 allotment holders. The Western Mail reported in April 1917 that hundreds of allotment holders were hard at work in Llandaff Fields over the Easter weekend.[11] Permission was also granted for the parks to be used for short recruitment meetings and drilling purposes. An occasion was reported in Llandaff Fields in September 1914 when "on the site of the cricket nets a battalion of foot underwent its drill."[12]

In October 1920 the Chief Parks Officer reported to the Parks Committee on the provision for children's play grounds in all the parks and in the case of Llandaff Fields he stated that "when these fields are restored from War allotments to recreation, there will be ample room outside the pitches for the use of small children."

Extensive development was planned for Llandaff Fields in the 1920s. In October 1921 the Parks Committee approved a layout for the east field that included a concert pavilion, tennis courts and bowling green, as well as a new location for the Memorial Fountain.[13] An open-air swimming bath was opened in June 1922. Dressing room accommodation and tea rooms were provided in 1923 by adaptation of the Court Farm buildings.[14] A tender was awarded for a three-year tenancy of the tea rooms starting September 1st 1923,[15] and Violet and William Marshall operated a popular cafe there from 1923 to 1937.[16] In October 1923 the Parks Committee approved a site on the western side of Llandaff Fields for a golf putting green.[17]

In 1937 the Parks Committee reaffirmed the commitment made in 1912, when Mr. Charles Thompson gave Sir David's Field to the Council, that no part of Llandaff Fields would be used for any purpose other than as a public pleasure ground.[18] Despite the developments carried out during the 1920s, the fields retained much of their original character - still divided by hedges and dry ditches - in the 1930s.[19]

During the 1939-45 war parts of Llandaff Fields, including the Concert Pavilion, were taken over by military authorities. There were decontamination, cleansing and rescue centres[20] and an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) first aid post,[21] as well as a shelter colony comprising 16 public air raid shelters.[22] The Glamorgan County Territorial Army and Air Force Association used the area between the pavilion and Fairleigh Road for search light training.[23] There was also an emergency water supply basin for fire fighting.[24] The area known as the Baths Field was allocated as wartime allotments - in December 1945 the Parks Committee requested the Small Holdings Committee to give tenants of the allotments six months notice to quit, expiring on 31st October 1946.[25]

By May 1946 the water supply basin had been removed: the Director of Parks reported to the Parks Committee that all emergency water supply basins had been removed and he had made a claim for restoration of the sites to their original condition.[26] Some wartime buildings were retained after the war ended. As early as April 1945 the rescue centre was in use as a dressing room for the sports fields.[27] The rescue service garages were acquired by the Parks Department[28] and were still present in 2016.

In 1963 a plan to create a zoo in Llandaff Fields was approved by the Council but subsequently abandoned following protests from residents and others, including the Member of Parliament for Cardiff West, Mr George Thomas.[29]

A miniature golf course was opened on 1st September 1964.[30] This was on the north west side of Llandaff Fields, near Mill Lane, where there were previously allotment gardens. The miniature golf course was shown on Ordnance Survey maps from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The former Court Farm buildings were used by Parks Service staff until 1994, when they were demolished.[31]

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 2

Other sources are:

  1. Meeting of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee 17th February 1896
  2. Special Meeting of the Parks, Open Spaces etc. Committee 16th March 1896
  3. Meeting of the Parks Committee 27th July 1903
  4. Meeting of the Parks, Open Spaces etc. Committee 27th May 1898
  5. Evening Express Friday January 27, 1899 page 3
  6. Cardiff Parks Superintendent's Report Bookpdf(pdf) A handwritten book covering the period January 1908 to October 1912 inclusive, currently in the care of the Cardiff Council's Parks Service.
  7. Meeting of the Parks, Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 26th November 1906
  8. Meetings of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 24th January & 24th October 1910
  9. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 30th September 1914
  10. Meetings of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 1st February, 8th March & 22nd March 1917
  11. Western Mail 9th April 1917 page 3
  12. Western Mail 22nd September 1914 page 4
  13. Meetings of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 11th & 18th October 1921
  14. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 27th February 1923
  15. Meeting for the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 18th September 1923
  16. South Wales Echo April 23rd 1998
  17. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 10th October 1923
  18. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 15th December 1937
  19. The City, Port and District of Cardiff: an illustrated handbook for visitors. Issued under the auspices of the Development Committee of the Cardiff City Council by the Western Mail Ltd, Cardiff, 1930. 5th edition, page 61
  20. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Emergency Committee 17th October 1939
  21. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 10th October 1941
  22. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 20th June 1941
  23. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 10th January 1939
  24. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 6th February 1942
  25. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 11th December 1945
  26. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 7th May 1946
  27. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 6th April 1945
  28. Meeting of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 23rd May 1947
  29. Western Mail 14th June 1963 page 7
  30. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 21st September 1964
  31. South Wales Echo April 23rd 1998