Pontcanna Fields, on the western bank of the River Taff, adjoins Llandaff Fields to the west and Sophia Gardens to the south. Like Sophia Gardens it was originally part of the Bute Estate, and open to the public although privately owned. Following the presentation in 1947 of Sophia Gardens and Cardiff Castle to the City of Cardiff by the 5th Marquis of Bute, the Council sought to acquire the Pontcanna land - some 157 acres - for public recreational space. In October 1948 the Parks Committee approved the purchase at a cost of £97,000.
The present day Pontcanna Fields is largely a flat open grassed area. Its characteristic feature is an avenue of lime trees running north-south the length of the park. These trees were planted in the winter of 1879-80 by Andrew Pettigrew, Head Gardener to the Marquis of Bute, and father of W.W. and A.A. Pettigrew. Another lime avenue runs roughly east-west from the River Taff to Western Avenue and this used to continue to Llandaff Cathedral cemetery before the construction of Western Avenue.
The high stone wall separating Pontcanna Fields from Llandaff Fields is another historic feature. This wall was built in the late nineteenth century and starts at the south as the western boundary of Sophia Gardens.
Until the late nineteenth century this area was open farmland, with Pontcanna Farm occupying the space between Pontcanna Fields and Llandaff Fields. After the park was formed the farm buildings remained and in the 1950s some were converted for use as television studios. They have since been demolished and replaced with a housing estate.
In 1949 the Pontcanna land was still let to a tenant for agricultural use, but a plan was approved to develop the ground as playing fields over a period of three years, starting in March 1950. Subsequently the Parks Committee was informed that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries would not release this land to the Council until March 1951, and the creation of playing fields could start from that date.
In the early 1950s there was a proposal to establish a racecourse at Pontcanna Fields. The Parks Committee approved a layout submitted by a syndicate which was interested in leasing land at Pontcanna for this purpose. The plan provided for an area in the centre of the racecourse to be reserved for recreational use and events, and it also required removal of most of the trees. By July 1955 the private syndicate had withdrawn from the scheme and the Parks Committee wished to go ahead and establish a racecourse to be managed by the Council. This was vetoed at a Council meeting on October 10th and the racecourse scheme was abandoned, the Parks Director now being instructed to prepare another plan to use the land for recreation.
In 1958 the Parks Committee accepted a tender to convert former air raid shelters in Pontcanna Fields for use as changing rooms. Work to prepare the playing fields started with an area of some 14 acres to be levelled and seeded during the year 1959-60.
For the summer of 1959 a holiday caravan site was opened at the south end of Pontcanna Fields. It proved to be very popular and the Parks Committee decided that the site be made available in 1960 from April to September. By 1962 the holiday caravan site had become established as a regular facility.
In 1963 a plan to create a zoological garden on a site north-west of Pontcanna Farm was approved in principle and provision for the cost of fencing, access roads and car park was incuded in the 1964-65 budget. This idea was eventually abandoned after discussions with both Chipperfields and Billy Smart's Circus came to nothing. Early in 1966 it was agreed that the land which had been prepared for a car park for the zoo would be let for car parking purposes, along with part of the Pontcanna Farm site on which there were derelict buildings to be demolished. The following year the Parks Committee approved the leasing of the former zoo site as a golf driving range.
In 1969 the Parks Committee approved the establishment of a Council-operated equestrian centre at the northern end of Pontcanna Fields and the first phase of this opened in 1970. Subsequently the Parks Committee agreed to make provision in the financial estimates for 1972-73 for a covered indoor riding school, and a tender for £14,408 to carry out the work was accepted in June 1972.
In the early 1980s, the former air raid shelters on the western boundary adjacent to the caravan site were demolished following the award of a land reclamation grant. These shelters are shown on the 1956 aerial photograph.
On 2nd June 1982 Pontcanna Fields was the venue for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Wales.
Sources of Information