Cardiff Parks and the Nelmes Family

William Nelmes junior and senior

William Nelmes junior (left) William Nelmes senior (right) late 1960s
By kind permission of the Nelmes family


William Nelmes Senior was appointed Chief Parks Officer for Cardiff Parks in 1936 following the death of A.A. Pettigrew. Born near at Bevington, near Berkeley in Gloucestershire in 1902, he came, like the Pettigrews, from a horticultural family. His first position after leaving Berkeley school in 1916 was at the estate in Gloucestershire, Hill Court, near Thornbury, where his father, Reuben, was head gardener. His older brother Ernest had also worked at Hill Court and subsequently trained at Kew.[1]

Between 1923 and 1926 Nelmes worked at Syon Park, a branch of Russells Nurseries of Richmond, and then entered Kew as a student gardener in 1926. In 1925 he married Lilian Bloxall in Kensington, London. They had three children: Diana born 1927, William born 1932 and John born 1934.

Nelmes distinguished himself in his studies at Kew. In 1926 he was awarded the prize for the best collection of British wild plants, and in 1927 was appointed Secretary of the Gardens British Botany Club.[2] His interest in botany led to the offer in 1928 of a post in the Cardiff Parks Department to manage the botanical collection at Roath Park, where he worked under A.A. Pettigrew until 1934 when he was appointed Park Superintendent at Newport. Returning to Cardiff as Director of Parks in 1936,[3] he held this post until his retirement in 1967. His Deputy Director from July 1946 was T.W.Wiltshire.[4] When Wiltshire retired in December 1965, William Nelmes Junior was appointed as his father's Deputy.[5]

As Director during the 1939-45 war he faced the challenge of utilising the parks and open spaces for food production. His exceptional contribution was recognised by the award of the M.B.E. After the war came a wide-ranging expansion of parks and recreation, including the staging of the Empire Games in the city in 1958, for which the Maindy Stadium was created. Especially noteworthy among Nelmes' achievements was the development of Parc Cefn Onn. He not only instigated its acquisition in 1944, but was also responsible for the purchase of additional land, the design of the park and the sourcing of many exotic trees and shrubs.

He was held in the highest respect by park employees and reportedly on his last working day he toured the parks and shook hands with the gardening staff, thanking them for making his working life a pleasure.[6]

Nelmes served as President of the Institute of Parks Administration for 1953-54, and in December 1965 he received the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) highest accolade, the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH), awarded to British horticulturists meriting special honour by the Society.[7] The Parks Committee recorded its congratulations on this distinction and to mark the award, presented Nelmes with an album of coloured photographs of Cardiff's parks.[8]

Nelmes' national standing also led to his appointment in 1965 as a member of a government committee of inquiry to review policy on allotments. Following his retirement he served as President of the Kew Guild for 1977-78. He died in 1993.[9] In 1994 a Hungarian oak tree (Quercus frainetto) was planted in his memory in the Roath Park Pleasure Garden.


William Nelmes Junior was born in Cardiff in 1932. He married Betty Price in 1956 and they had three daughters. He was appointed Deputy Director of Cardiff Parks in December 1965, at which time he was working in Crawley, Sussex.[10] He had been awarded a National Diploma in Horticulture (N.D.H.) and was a Fellow of the Institute of Parks Administration (F.Inst.P.A).

William (Bill) Nelmes succeded his father as Parks Director in 1967.[11] He and his family then lived in Roath Park House.

During his time as Director he generally pursued the same policies and horticultural priorities as his father. In addition he presided over the development of some of the smaller open spaces, two of which, Bishop's Palace Gardens and St Mary's Gardens, received awards. In 1974 the Roath Park conservatory was built, replacing two glass houses dating from the early 1900s. It was Nelmes' decision that the new conservatory would be a tropical house.[12] Also, in 1974, the Terra Nova cafe was built in Roath Park on the west bank of the lake.

He retired in 1982 at the age of 50 from the post of Parks Director and was suceeded by Mr. I. L. Davies. Greatly respected for his horticultural expertise, he became Gardens Advisor for the Royal Horticultural Society. He died in 2005 and a Hungarian oak tree (Quercus frainetto 'Hungarian crown') was planted in his memory in the Roath Park Pleasure Garden near to Roath Park House.

Sources of Information

  1. Kew Guild Journal. In Memorium page 709. E. Nelmes
  2. Kew Guild Journal. W. Nelmes: President 1977-78
  3. Appointed Chief Parks Officer at Cardiff. Western Daily Press 6th October 1936, page 4
  4. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 8th May 1946
  5. Meetings of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 23rd September and 20th December 1965
  6. Personal communication (TD)
  7. The Times (London, England), Saturday, December 04, 1965; page 10
  8. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 20th December 1965
  9. Kew Guild Journal. Obituaries page 328. W. Nelmes M.B.E. 1902-1993
  10. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 20th December 1965
  11. Meeting of the Parks, Baths and Cemeteries Committee 17th March 1967
  12. Personal communication (JB)