Historically the Marl was a rough piece of land "ending in the west mud" and approached via Clive Street. In May 1893 there were newspaper reports of large groups of men gathering for beer drinking in the marl pits there, known as the "Hotel de Marl" or "Marl Pit Hotel". The pits were "irregular excavations averaging about 8ft in depth and extending over an acre or so.". They were formed during construction of the Penarth Dock, when marl was deposited, such that "the surface is dotted over with large mounds, and the deep holes in between are utilised by the clubbites."
By the early 1900s the Council was seeking a site for a recreation ground in Grangetown: Grange Gardens had been opened in 1895 but did not have enough space for cricket and football pitches. It was agreed that the Council would lease the Marl from the Windsor Estate. The ground was described as a 9½ acre plot of land then serving as a temporary but unauthorised recreation ground.
In Feburary 1905 the Council received a draft agreement from the agent for the Windsor Estate, Mr. H Snell, providing for an annual tenancy at a rent of £9-10-0. The terms included the filling of ditches and levelling. The Council took on the tenancy on the 25th March 1905 and the Marl became officially the Grange Recreation Ground. In September 1905 the Parks Superintendent reported that "the ditches in this ground have been filled up in the worst places, and four football pitches have now been set out for the use of clubs. On Saturday afternoons a caretaker has been put on duty to see that the pitches allotted are properly taken up, and to prevent disorder." Unclimable fencing was erected on three sides and on the fourth side, adjoining Avondale Road. a low wooden fence was put up by the Public Works Committee.
An article in the Western Mail in July 1906, stated that “ the Corporation are renting at £1 an acre, from the Windsor Estate, the plot called ‘the Marl’, which abuts Ferry Road. It is 9 acres in extent, but is not laid out in any way. This is due to the fact that the Corporation, as tenants, are subject to twelve months’ notice, and the Council do not feel justified in attempting any great outlay, seeing that there is a possibility of the land being utilised in the future for dock purposes.”
In the early 1930s this tenancy was still operating, but in October 1932 the ground was said to be "now in a deplorable condition." A Grangetown Reclamation Scheme was proposed for unemployed volunteers to make "a playground for public use out of the Marl, which is Ground belonged to the Earl of Plymouth and rented for the public by the Cardiff Corporation.".
The Council subsequently purchased a larger plot from the Plymouth Estate. After prolonged negotiations agreement was reached in late 1932 for the Council to purchase some 35 acres in the vicinity of Ferry Road. Filling to raise the level of the land started during 1933, and had not yet been completed in 1936, when the Parks Committee asked the Public Works Committee to expedite the filling in of The Marl to enable playing pitches to be formed. A further 16 acres of land adjoining Ferry Road was purchased in March 1937. Some of the land bordering Ferry Road was subsequently transferred to the Estates Committee and allocated for housing. The 1940s Ordnance Survey map showed Channel View Road and South Clive Street to have been built there. It also showed two buildings on the north west edge of The Marl.
In 1938-39 the Parks Committee intended to provide an open air swimming pool at The Marl, as well as a cycle and running track and children's playground, but the 1939-45 war intervened and none of these plans were carried out. By 1943 a substantial part of the ground at The Marl had been requisitioned. There was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens' post, a first aid post and decontamination, cleansing and rescue centres. The Parks Committee agreed in 1942 to allow a wartime nursery to be provided at The Marl for the duration of the war. An aerial photograph dated 8th April 1942 showed a barrage balloon anchored at the northerly end of The Marl.
New plans to develop recreational facilities at the end of the war were being formulated as early as mid 1944. A layout for The Marl estimated to cost £64,591 was provisionally approved towards the end of 1945, while the levelling of a portion of the ground was among the works to carried out during the current financial year. As was the case in several other Cardiff parks, a Recreation Centre was established in the former ARP wardens' post. Initially it was occupied by local clubs and groups, but in 1946 these were given notice to quit, as the Parks Committee wished to make the centre's facilities available more widely.
Extensive development was delayed until requisitioned land was released and compensation negotiated to pay for restoration. The Ministry of Supply site was not vacated until November 1947. The Council's claim for reinstatement of the site was approximately £6,500 and the Parks Committee decided that development work should go ahead while the claim was being negotiated. In April 1949 the development plan for The Marl was modified to include a bowling green.
Early in 1951 the Parks Committee agreed to the allocation of a site at the north east corner for a nursery school. At the same meeting it was decided that the Director of Parks would arrange for The Marl to be opened to the public as soon as possible. It was evidently operational later that year when a report was received of congestion occurring when baseball matches were being played at The Marl. The 1950s Ordnance Survey map indicated the two buildings on the north west side of the Marl to be a recreation room and a pavilion. There was a playground adjacent, a bowling green with its own pavilion, and to the south west of this, two tennis courts. The tennis courts were under construction in October 1951. All the remaining space was playing field. Public conveniences were planned to be placed "within the park bounrary on Channel View Road in front of existing ARP buildings."
In 1957 the Recreation Officer at the Marl was transferred from the Parks to the Education Department (as were Recreation Officers in other parks). The Recreation Centre was no longer used by clubs, and there were very few applications for its use for social functions, so the Parks Director recommended it be converted to living accommodation for the park keeper. The following year a tender was accepted to convert the Recreation Centre at a cost of £1,355, and in mid 1960 the new bungalow was ready for occupation.
At the end of 1959 the Parks Committee decided to close bowling green, as little use was being made of it and no bowling club used it as a home green.
On the 1970s Ordnance Survey map the recreation room had become "The Marl Bungalow" and a public convenience had been placed nearby.
In the early 1970s The Marl was the location for an adventure playground, one of several created in Cardiff open spaces. After a succssful experiment in 1970, the Parks Committee agreed to grant the Voluntary Community Service a site at The Marl for a children's adventure playground. In 1979 the Leisure and Amenities Committee decided to redevelop the derelict tennis courts at The Marl as a kick-about area for which urban aid funding via the Welsh Office was available.
It was agreed in April 1986 that the bungalow and an old changing building be demolished, there being no further use for them. A grant was obtained from the Welsh Development Agency for demolition of the buildings and re-instatement of the ground. This area, on the Channel View Road side, is now planted with trees.
Sources of Information
In general, the information in this section is taken from A. A. Pettigrew. The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff. Volumes 2 & 5.
Other sources are: