The Promenade

The Promenade, originally known as the embankment, was built to act as a dam when the lake was created. A path was formed along the top, and seats were provided, along with trees planted in tubs: the Parks Committee agreed that twelve oak tubs be ordered for the purpose in 1898.[1] The path was originally formed of pebbles or gravel like all other paths in the park, but in 1904 it was decided to re-surface it with tarmacadam,[2] because the original surface was difficult to walk upon when wet. This was so successful that it was agreed to "lay down a length of asphalt path every season" in the park.[3]

In 1896 the Parks Committee decided that a drinking fountain would be placed at the western end of the lake embankment.[4] It was shown on Ordnance Survey maps from 1901 until the 1960s, approximately in the position now occupied by the wishing well. It has been described as a plain pedestal with a small bowl and a water spout. Pressing a valve activated the water flow.[5]

A wooden shelter for the use of the Park Keeper was placed on the embankment near the lake bywash in late 1900.[6]

In February 1905 a ship figurehead from H.M.S. Thisbe was presented to the Council by the Town Clerk, Mr J. L. Wheatley.[7] This was placed in Roath Park near the east entrance of the promenade. The Thisbe was a 46-gun Royal Navy frigate launched from Pembroke Dock in 1824. At the end of her service life, mostly spent in the Plymouth area, she was donated by the Admiralty to serve as a mission ship in the Cardiff docks.[8]

Two cannon from H.M.S. Havannah were presented to the Parks Committee in August 1905[9] and these were probably placed near the Thisbe figurehead. The cannon and figurehead can be seen in postcards originating around 1910 and showing views of the Promenade from the east. It is possible that one of the cannon was still in position in the early 1940s - a cannon can be seen in the background of a photograph of the Dancing Lawn from c.1945.

In January 1909 the embankment was widened,[10] owing to its popularity for promenading, and its proximity to the bandstand, which drew large crowds to listen to band performances. The South Wales Daily News reported on January 26th 1909 that "this popular walk has been extended on the lake side, and instead of being 15ft. 6in. as formerly it will be 26ft. wide." The extension work had been in progress for the previous fortnight and was expected to be completed in a further week. "Last week 50 of the unemployed were put on and the scene there was a busy one. Trams were running the length of the promenade carrying the stone and rough material used in the banking up, from the stone quarry at the west end of the walk, the Marquis of Bute having given permission for as much material as is required to be taken therefrom. About 200 to 300 tons of material will be required." The work was carried out by unemployed men supplied by the Public Works Department, "half a dozen of the regular staff of masons doing the wall-building part." The report concluded that "... there is now a sheer drop of five or six feet to the stones below, and to obviate any danger of children getting into the water the rails, or at least the lower part of them, will have to be covered in netting.".[11] (The above quotation may contain an error: On the eastern side or the promenade, the Ordnance Survey map from 1901 shows two quarries nearby and the 1919 edition shows one quarry. On the west side no quarries are shown and the presence of a railway line makes this less likely.) This postcard shows the promenade before widening, and with a gentle slope down to the lake.

The wooden figurehead from Captain Scott's ship, the Terra Nova, was formally presented to the City of Cardiff by Mr. F.C. Bowring of Liverpool at a ceremony which took place at the southern end of Roath Park Lake on 8th December 1913.[12] It was placed at the western end of the Promenade approximately opposite the Scott Memorial, when that was built in 1915.

Electric lighting was introduced in 1911. In May 1953, in advance of a water carnival held as part of the Coronation celebrations, new strip lighting was installed at a cost of £45.[13]


Photograph showing the west gates and promenade in c.1912

This photograph showing the western entrance to the promenade is undated but is believed to be c.1912 because there are lamp posts (electric lighting was installed in 1911) and there is no Terra Nova figurehead (it was placed on the promenade in 1913). Almost invisible at the eastern end of the promenade are two cannon which were placed there in 1905. The two small notices on the entrance gates read "NO DOGS ALLOWED" and "CYCLISTS ARE TO DISMOUNT BEFORE ENTERING THE PARK. BY ORDER".

After the 1914-18 war two captured German guns were placed in the park beside the promenade.[14] They were removed within weeks after objections were raised at a Council meeting, and they were placed out of sight in the workmen's yard. In 1937 the Parks Committee decided to dispose of these, and similar guns placed in other parks.[15]

By 1932 the Thisbe figurehead was in a poor condition through age and was considered beyond repair. The figurehead from the Terra Nova had been repaired and repainted, and the Parks Committee agreed that it be offered to the National Museum of Wales for its better preservation.[16] It was accepted by the Museum in 1932 and featured in an exhibition in 2010.[17] A photograph of the figurehead along with some details of the Antarctic expedition and can be found on the BBC website.

Proposals for improvement of the promenade were approved in September 1985. The scheme included resurfacing with asphalt over the crest of the dam, with block paving at each side, and Victorian style cast iron seats, fencing and lamp standards.[18]

The present-day gates at either end of the promenade were installed in June 1994 to mark Roath Park's centenary, commemorated by the plaques shown below. On the eastern side, the southerly pillar holds the Welsh text whilst on the western side the northerly pillar shows English text.

A plaque on a westerly promenade gate post

Plaque on a westerly promenade gate post

A plaque on an easterly promenade gate post

Plaque on an easterly promenade gate post

A small garden honouring Captain Scott was created on the south side of the Promenade and mentioned in a BBC report in October 2012. It occupies approximately the same position that the Terra Nova figurehead once did.

In late December 2019 the gates on the western side of the promenade were damaged by a car and repairs were made in November 2020.

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:

  1. Meeting of the Parks etc. Committee 24th September 1898
  2. Meeting of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee 22nd February 1904
  3. Meeting of the Parks Committee 27th June 1904
  4. Meeting of the Parks, Open Spaces etc. Sub-Committee 22nd May 1896
  5. Personal communication (TD)
  6. Meeting of the Parks Committee 22nd October 1900
  7. Meeting of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee 27th February 1905
  8. BBC Wales: Thisbe the Welsh Gospel Ship
  9. Meeting of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee 25th September 1905
  10. Meetings of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 30th November 1908 & 25th January 1909
  11. South Wales Daily News 26th January 1909 page 7 Improvements at Roath Park
  12. Western Mail 9th December 1913
  13. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 21st May 1953
  14. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 22nd November 1921
  15. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 8th June 1937
  16. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 22nd March 1932
  17. National Museum Wales Press Release 23rd July 2010
  18. Meeting of the Leisure and Amenities Committee 30th September 1985