Roath Park And Boating Lake In Old Postcards

Roath Park will be familiar with pretty much anyone who’s grown up and lived in Cardiff, its pleasant boating lake and gardens a draw for kids and grown-ups alike. It holds a dear place in my memories as my grandparents lived in Cathays, within easy walking distance of the park. As a child growing up, it was pretty much a weekly visit for me.

Anyone who was young in the 1970s and early 1980s will remember the super slide with its bump. If you listened to all of us kids that used it, you’d think it sent us into orbit if we hit it with enough speed. As well as the slides there were the swings and a funny plastic climbing frame, shaped from brightly coloured geometric shapes to keep us happy. Sometimes in the summer there was the open-air theatre on the green, and if all else failed, a roll down the bank below the promenade was a sure fire entertainment winner. That was until we got so dizzy we felt like throwing up and had to stop.




Of course, as a kid any trip to the park with parents meant you couldn’t have fun at the playground until you’d walked around the park first. As a small one, a torturous stroll around the boating lake or down the end with the Greenhouse and hidden pathways alongside the stream was always part of the trip. Really though, with its various areas of interest and environments, the park was a wonderland despite the long walks.

In later years the park had a significance as somewhere the wife and I would go as a young couple, and today as somewhere we take the kids occasionally when we’re down that way and they need to run off some steam, usually after a heavy lunch at their Great Grandma’s who incidentally, still lives in the same house in Cathays that I would visit the park from.

Beyond my own personal experiences of the park, my father worked on the boating lake for a short period, between jobs where his usual work as a carpenter. I often tell people (yourselves included) some of the stories he told me about the things that happened when he worked there. Here’s two of my favourites for your entertainment.

He told me about a large group of people who insisted on getting in the same boat despite being warned otherwise. With a hilarious sense of inevitability to the workers watching, it sunk right there on the lakeside. The group all stood in the boat which slowly submerged due to the excessive weight, leaving them all in the water up their waists. They were not amused, but had been warned.

The best one though is about the first time he was sent out to wind the clock on the Scott Memorial. Apparently it was wound by spinning or cranking a large drum in the mechanism, which he did. He locked the memorial up and rowed back to the boating house thinking his job was done. After a few minutes he was approached by his colleagues. They’d noticed the clock was now running backwards. He’d inadvertently gone and spun the drum in the wrong direction, reversing the mechanism and making time in the park run backwards. He had to row back and respin it in the correct direction to getting it running right again. I have always wondered if the story was a ‘wind-up’ but it sounds plausible to me, I’ll have to ask him one day if he was messing with us.

To me, Roath Park has always felt urban being just minutes away from the long sweeping terraces of Cathays off Crwys Road and Albany Road. I’ve always felt it’s an inner city park, despite the grand houses and the beginnings of suburbia from its further edges. That notion was challenged when I recently saw a postcard of the park when it first opened. It’s fair to say I was quite surprised to see how rural it was back at the turn of the 20th century. So surprised I had to show the wife there and then.

In fact, after recently reading a local history book I was further surprised to see that Roath and its surrounds were practically rural less than 80 years before my birth (1972). It always felt older and more historical to me growing up, but seeing some early photos of the area, there was a lot of farm land all around Cardiff, most of which has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl.

This rapid expansion and growth was fascinating to me, and seeing photos of Roath, Splott and Cathays in days gone by continues to be an insight into Cardiff’s growth and expansion. As you’ll see in the first of these postcards below, all around the Roath Park was fields, none of the housing we know today was evident. The same was true for most of what we today call Cardiff.

I was also surprised to read that prior to Roath Park’s opening in 1894, the area was a malaria infested bog which was donated to the people of Cardiff by the Marquis of Bute. Thankfully the malaria is long gone, as is the bog, but you can read more about its history here if you’re interested. In time some grand buildings with castle like towers were built by the side of the lake, then a few more, and before you know it the park was swallowed by Cardiff.

Alongside my Barry Island Postcards featured here on the site, I also collect other places of interest to me, one of which is naturally, Roath Park. Somewhere there’s lots of old family photos too, of me in me baby gear sat in the park with my folks. You’re not seeing them though, not yet at least. Instead here’s my Roath Park postcards, starting with ones that show the starkness of the area around the park at the turn of the 20th century.

1900s view of the fields around the park and lake

1900s view of the fields around the park and lake (Photographer Unknown)

1900s view of the of the landing area

1900s view of the of the landing area (Photographer Unknown)

From the postcards I’ve seen, the buildings in the cards below are amongst the oldest on Lakeside. Situated between Lakeside Drive and Cefn Coed Road, the grandest of these houses stand to this day and continue to be quite imposing. As a child I absolutely loved them as they reminded me of fairy tale castles and had an air of mystery and other-worldliness. I believe they were built as homes for various rich Coal merchants, and in these postcards where they stand alone in country fields, they certainly make a grand statement.

View across the lake to grand houses and surrounding fields - 1910s?

View across the lake to grand houses and surrounding fields – 1910s? (Photographer Unknown)

View across the lake to grand houses and surrounding fields - 1910s?

View across the lake to grand houses and surrounding fields – 1910s? (Photographer Unknown)

Early view of the grand lakeside houses circa 1905

Early view of the grand lakeside houses circa 1905 (Photographer – Freke)

The lake itself features in the next set of cards. Many younger people don’t realise that the lake was once used for swimming as well as the boating and fishing it’s used for today. There is still evidence of that history, with the stepped section on the end of the lake on the side of the children’s playground. I remember seeing photos of swimming competitions taking place in there in the old Cardiff Yesterday books. You can see the changing rooms in the first of these images. The other images are various views of the lake and aforementioned Scott Memorial. I would assume the clock was running clockwise in these photos.

1930s view of the swimming area and changing rooms on the lake

1930s view of the swimming area and changing rooms on the lake (Photographer Unknown)

View of the promenade and unpainted Scott Memorial - 1930s ?

View of the promenade and unpainted Scott Memorial – 1930s ? (Photographer Unknown)

1960s view of the Scott Memorial and Promenade, note the lack of Cafe

1960s view of the Scott Memorial and Promenade, note the lack of Cafe (Photographer Unknown)

1950s / 1960s view of the lakeside

1950s / 1960s view of the lakeside (Photographer Unknown)

Late 1960s view of the lake

Late 1960s view of the lake (Photographer Unknown)

1970s view of the promenade and memorial

1970s view of the promenade and memorial (Photographer Unknown)

The final set of cards feature various views from around the park, some of which are completely alien to me in that I can’t quite place where they were taken. The bandstand I think may have been at the end of the greenhouse, as was the rustic bridge and park building. The third card shows the refreshments hut and the waterfall, which is still there today but looks very different with its tall trees. I think the refreshment hut pictured was where the ice cream kiosk is now. Or it could be where the toilets are on that side of the park, I’m not certain. Finally, a generic flowerbed that would appear to be somewhere towards the end of the park nearest the greenhouse. That poor kid in the card is probably itching to get to the playground. I bet you.

The bandstand - 1910s?

The bandstand – 1910s? (Photographer Unknown)

Park building and rustic bridge in the area of the Greenhouse (at a guess)

Park building and rustic bridge in the area of the Greenhouse (at a guess) (Photographer Unknown)

Early view of the waterfall in the park - 1900s?

Early view of the waterfall in the park – 1900s? (Photographer Unknown)

1960s / 1970s view of the flower beds in the park

1960s / 1970s view of the flower beds in the park (Photographer Unknown)

Leave a Reply

Share This

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close