Cemetery Park originated as Adamsdown Burial Ground on land donated by Lord Bute. The ground was consecrated on September 25th 1848 by the Bishop of Llandaff and was officially named the St John's and St Mary's Burial Ground. It was managed jointly by the parishes of St. John and St. Mary, and the ground was divided into two sections, one for each parish. A small chapel was included. The ground was closed in respect of new graves in 1877, and became known as the Old Cemetery, a new one having been opened at Cathays in 1859.
The Parks Committee became responsible for maintenance of the Old Cemetery in November 1905, following an order of the Local Government Board that transferred to the Council the duties of churchwardens for maintaining closed burial grounds. The Council's responsibility was to keep the ground and boundary walls in good order, but it had no powers to remove gravestones or lay them flat.
The ground was kept locked but access was possible via a key kept by the caretaker at Howard Gardens. A small number of burials continued in respect of the relatives of those already buried and the chapel was also still in use. A.A. Pettigrew wrote that "for years to come the [Parks Committee] expended annually upon the ground an amount sufficient for cutting the grass and keeping the paths free from weeds. In one year, 1921, they bore the expense (approx £140) of repairing the boundary walls."
In the early 1920s there were two proposals to convert the space to a public garden or children's playground, but these could not progress without consent from church authorities. This was not forthcoming and in 1924 the ground was transferred back to church control. The Town Clerk reported in September 1924 that "under the Welsh Church Act, 1914, all closed burial grounds are to be transferred to the Representative Body of the Church in Wales". The Parks Committee ceased maintaining the ground, believing it no longer had the responsibility, but in June 1926 the Town Clerk reported that the duty imposed by the Local Government Board in 1905 was not affected by the Welsh Church Acts and the Council was still responsible for maintaining the Old Cemetery.
The Chief Parks Officer reported in July 1926 that no maintenance appeared to have been carried out: "The pathways (except the short length leading to the church door) are all grass-grown and among the graves it would appear that the grass has remained uncut ever since your Committee's responsibilities ceased". He recommended that £140 be spent immediately restoring the paths, cutting grass and trimming trees, and £40 be allocated annually for maintenance. The key, which had been taken from the Howard Gardens caretaker by a church official, was returned and the restoration was carried out in the winter of 1926-7.
Information obtained in 1926 indicated that burials had continued over the previous five years, averaging four per year. In 1931 it was reported that there were two burials in 1926, one in 1927 and one in February 1928.
In September 1936 responsibility for the Old Cemetery was transferred to the Cemeteries Department and in February 1940 an Order in Council signed by the King discontinued burials there finally. A suggestion was again brought forward for conversion of the cemetery to a garden of rest, but it was decided that no action be taken during wartime, and routine maintenance would continue.
The Council returned to the proposal to convert the Old Cemetery to a public garden in 1945. At this time the Cemeteries Superintendent stated that the last burial was in November 1936, and since then the ground had been left unsupervised, such that children could climb the walls and damage the memorials. There were 591 memorials, of which 199 were in a damaged and dangerous condition. It was now proposed to move the memorials and re-erect them as shown on an associated plan (i.e. around the boundary walls). Illegible and flat memorials were to be buried and grassed over. There would be flower beds and seats, and the surrounding wall would be lowered to enable Adamsdown residents to enjoy a view of the interior. The scheme also included Poplar trees to be planted around the boundary and flowering trees to create avenues lining the paths.
Early in 1945 the City Engineer supplied an estimate for work to create the garden of rest, including: removing the original stone walling; installing iron railings and wrought iron gates, removing old trees and planting new ones, making flower beds and paths, and supplying wooden seats. The total estimated cost was £2400.
Approval from the Church authorities was still required to enable the Council to proceed with development of a garden of rest and this was obtained in the form of a faculty from the Bishop of Llandaff in February 1946. Expenditure of £2,500 for this purpose was approved and conversion work commenced in July 1946. In June 1947 the garden of rest was complete, with the 19th century tombstones preserved and re-erected against the boundary walls. The conversion work was supervised by the Cemeteries Superintendent but on completion responsibility for the garden passed to the Parks department. Opening to the public was delayed pending completion of the Adamsdown Branch Library on the same site. The garden was formally opened by the Lord Mayor on April 27th 1948, despite the library not being finished. While the library was not operational the garden was not supervised and there were several instances of damage to seats.
The Library was established in the former cemetery chapel, the necessary repairs and conversion work being completed early in 1950. The official opening ceremony performed by the Lord Mayor was arranged for Friday 28th April.
The chapel building can be seen in aerial photographs in 1956 and 1962. By the late 1960s it was reported to be in a poor condition and beyond economic repair. It was scheduled to be closed on March 31st 1968, and the Libraries Committee proposed that it be demolished as soon as possible after closure. In the event the building and contents were destroyed in a fire on March 29th. Owing to the close proximity of a children's playground to the burnt-out building, the Council approached the Church authorities for agreement to early demolition.
The children's playground was added in the late 1960s, the original faculty from the Bishop of Llandaff for the garden of rest scheme having been extended in 1965 to permit this. At some time afterwards, probably in the 1970s, the whole ground was cleared to make an open space, and there was an adventure playground, seen in the 1981 aerial photograph.
In later years the park fell into disrepair and in the early 1990s, following complaints from residents and a councillor, it was recognised that a "complete redesign, new path layout and a comprehensive landscape scheme" was required. This again involved discussion with the Church in Wales, in particular about the legal procedure for the disturbance of human remains. Nothing came of the proposed redesign for a further decade, when a proposal was brought forward to progress the scheme as a Neighbourhood Renewal development.
A major regeneration took place in 2006, to a design by the engineering consultants Wardell Armstrong. A memorial garden was created, incorporating the available cemetery-related masonry, including gravestones arranged around the perimeter and in a central feature. New tree planting was introduced, along with paths, a games area, and play and fitness equipment.
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 5, Chapter on the Old Cemetery, Adamsdown. Information relating to Adamsdown Library was obtained fom the Cardiff Libraries Local Studies Collection.
Other sources are: