Heath Park - History

The modern Heath Park is a small remnant of the Great Heath, which was a large expanse of common land north of Cardiff, extending out to Llanishen and Rhiwbina. In the eighteenth century there was a racecourse on the part of the Great Heath approximately where Heath Park Avenue now is. A.A. Pettigrew wrote that the exact date of its establishment was not known, "but it was there at least as early as the year 1784, when the Cardiff Corporation contributed the sum of £10-10-2 to the funds of the Races."[1]

Early in the nineteenth century the Great Heath was enclosed. An Act of Parliament, the Heath Enclosure Act of 1802, came about because the Cardiff Corporation sought to raise revenue by the sale of common land. The Corporation retained part of the Great Heath, including the racecourse, but much of the land was acquired by freeholders, often wealthy individuals such as the Marquis of Bute. Subsequently three farms were created where originally there was rough pasture land: Heath Farm, Allensbank Farm and Ton-yr-Ywen Farm. Racing at the Heath came to an end in 1848 and the racecourse was sold to Wyndham Lewis, a member of another wealthy and influential family which was acquiring a substantial estate in the area.

The Lewis estate began the urban development of the Heath, starting with Allensbank Road and Whitchurch Road. Other landowners followed, such that by the middle of the twentieth century most of the area was built upon. The exception was the Lewis family mansion Heath House and its surrounding parkland. The Cardiff Council opened negotiations in the mid 1920s to acquire Heath House and its grounds for public recreation purposes[2] though it was not until 1937 that the purchase took place.[3] Part of the Heath Estate was allocated to the Parks Committee, and a proposed layout of the area to become a public open space was approved in September 1939.[4]

Prior to the Council's acquisition of the Heath Estate, Heath House was let to Mr George Tucker, who ran a haulage business from the premises.[5] The track leading to the house from Heathwood Road was known as Tucker's Drive.[6] In 1932 the area on the western side of the park known as Ty Prosser was also occupied by George Tucker.[7] This continued into the 1940s: although part of the park was requisitioned during the war for a military camp. The Council let Ty Prosser field to Mr Tucker, whose rent was reduced while the grazing of his sheep kept the ground in a suitable condition for use as a playing field.[8] During war time there were horse shows and gymkhanas as well as "Holidays at Home" events held in the northerly fields.[9] In June 1944 permission was granted for a local firm to use Ty Prosser field for a "field day and sports".[10] In December 1944 the Parks Committee decided to arrange a horse show at Heath Park for Whitsun Week 1945, and it was agreed that similar arrangements be made in future years.[11]

After the war, plans were again drawn up for the development of Heath Park as a recreational space. The Parks Committee approved a tentative layout costing £87,000,[12] but it could not be implemented until the requisitioned land was released, which in the event was not until 1950.[13] Meanwhile the former military camp was used for a teacher training college and for emergency housing (known as the squatters camp).[14] In the early 1950s it was also decided to allocate approximately 53 acres of the Heath Estate to a new teaching hospital & medical school[15] This loss of a substantial area of green space was not without controversy.[16]

Nonetheless the playing fields were returned to recreational use and were designated as a King George's Field in 1952, guaranteeing that they would be preserved in perpetuity for outdoor sports, games and pastimes. In 1953 the Parks Committee approved plans for a bowling green, 6 tennis courts and public conveniences,[17] though the proposed bowling green was later abandoned as too expensive.[18] It was intended that the public conveniences be placed "east of King George V Drive West, in the corner of Ty Prosser Wood, north of Nan-y-Wedal Brook."[19]

The present day Heath Park has extensive playing fields and woodland walks, and a pond that was shown on Ordnance Survey maps going back to the 1880s. In the 1940s this was a picturesque lily pond frequented by cormorants and surrounded by lawns.[20] It was fed from the house and was self levelling.[21] On the 1940s Ordnance Survey map a footpath was shown to lead from the house and around the pond, but this was not shown on later maps. Maps between 1950 and 1980 show that the pond reduced in size by up to 30 percent.

Looking north east across Heath Park, 12th November 1962

Looking north east across Heath Park 12th November 1962
By kind permission, © Tom & John Wiltshire Collection

The photograph above has a Maple tree in the foreground which probably still exists, and beyond that is the Nant-y-wedal stream. Beyond the stream is a pair of Oak trees which are still present. Today the banks of Nant-y-wedal have quite dense vegetation and this view from the far side of the stream is no longer available. In the distance is the Birch woodland, most of which was lost in the 1976 drought. In the woodland at the junction of paths was a small lavatory building with red roof tiles.[22] Its red colouring is just visible in the magnified view to the right of the Maple. The footprint of the building still exists today, 2019, as an area of ground with no undergrowth and is at grid reference ST 17537 79878.

In 1970 a pitch and putt golf course was constructed.[23] and in 1971 the University Hospital of Wales opened, having been built on the land on southern edge of the park allocated for the purpose in 1951.

In 1975 a sports centre was established in one of the wartime buildings vacated by the Cardiff Training College. In the same year another of the wartime buildings - on the north side of the access road between King George V Drive East and the former parade ground - was converted to offices for the Parks and Baths Department.[24] (The original accommodation in Wedal Road was vacated and later became a Youth Hostel.) In the early 1980s the converted accommodation was found to be unsuitable because it comprised many individual offices on split levels, and the building was generally in poor condition.[25] Beginning in 1984 new offices were built on the opposite side of the access road at a cost of £250,000.[26] These were probably extended around 1987.

The site of the former departmental headquarters was the subject of a land reclamation scheme which was estimated to cost £34,000 and was eligible for Welsh Development Agency grant aid. The Leisure and Amenities Committee agreed to implement this work during the 1986/7 financial year.[27] This land is now the southern end of the pitch and putt golf course.

The new offices were lost in a fire on July 11th 2002 and many important historic documents relating to the development of all Cardiff's parks were destroyed.[28] Staff were displaced to rented offices at Alexandra Gate, in Tremorfa, for nearly two years whilst rebuilding took place on the same plot. In 2014 the Parks Service vacated these offices and in 2015 they were occupied by Cardiff University.

In 1981 the Leisure and Amenities Committee approved the use by the National Vegetable Society of 600 square yards at the rear of the Leisure and Amenities Training Centre at Heath Park. This was to be free of charge as the organisers proposed open day weekends during the growing season and free admission to members of the public who would be given free advice.[29] Other developments in the 1980s included a model car track and a model railway. In November 1984 the Leisure and Amenities Committee agreed to grant the Cardiff Model Car Club an annual lease for a small area of the park to operate radio controlled model cars.[30] The Cardiff Model Engineering Society moved to Heath Park in 1987 and established the Heath Park Miniature Railway and Tramway with two model railways and refreshment facilities for visitors.[31] This remains a popular feature of the park but the model car track no longer exists.

In 2009 the Council renewed the 1952 dedication of the playing fields as a King George's Field[32] but did not include the most northerly field, which had been intended in the 1950s for a new school. The Council then dedicated this too in 2010, such that the whole of Heath Park, except the model railway, car parks, office buildings and roads, was dedicated as a King George's Field.[33]

The tennis courts were renovated in 2014/2015, which involved the removal of most of the conifers around the perimeter of the courts. The most northerly section of the pitch and putt golf course became a new woodland in late 2018, with the planting of a large number of small saplings representing a variety of tree species.

Sources of Information

  1. Cardiff Records, Volume 2, page 341, cited in A. A. Pettigrew. The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff. Volume 1
  2. New Cardiff recreation Ground. Western Mail 22nd April 1926, page 12
  3. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 22nd May 1951 (The Town Clerk reported that this land was purchased in 1937 for parks purposes at a cost of £106,636.)
  4. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 12th September 1939
  5. Nationalization Ends 35 Years of Effort in Haulage. Commercial Motor 7th January 1949, Page 31
  6. Personal communication (GM)
  7. Kelly's Directory 1932
  8. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 11 January 1944
  9. Personal communication (GM)
  10. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 13 June 1944
  11. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 8 December 1944
  12. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 27 November 1945
  13. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 13th February 1951
  14. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 8th November 1949
  15. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 22nd May 1951
  16. Western Mail & South Wales News 2nd March 1950 page 4
  17. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 16th September 1953
  18. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 8th July 1954
  19. Western Mail & South Wales News Friday April 9th 1954 page 4
  20. Personal communication (GM)
  21. Personal communication (RC)
  22. Personal communication (TD)
  23. Meeting of the Parks Committee 6th July 1970
  24. Meeting of the Libraries, Leisure and Amenities Committee 7th April 1975
  25. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 6th September 1982
  26. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 4th June 1984
  27. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 2nd June 1986
  28. South Wales Echo 12th July 2002, page 2
  29. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 30th March 1981
  30. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 26th November 1984
  31. Cardiff Model Engineering Society
  32. Wales Online 29th September 2009
  33. Deed of Dedication 8th October 2010
  • Gareth Williams, Life on the Heath: The making of a Cardiff Suburb, published 2001.
  • Dennis Morgan, The Illustrated History of Cardiff's Suburbs, published 2003, pages 73-78.