Victoria Park was built on 20 acres of former marsh land in the Canton district of Cardiff. This land was formerly called Ely Common and was acquired by the Cardiff Corporation in 1889, specifically to provide space for public recreation. Only half of the 40 acres comprising Ely Common became Victoria Park, and the remainder was allocated for building, a controversial decision which was against the spirit of the original acquisition but was justified to recover some of the (unexpectedly high) purchase cost. The ground rents of the new houses built on the Common land were assigned to the Parks Committee, which continued to benefit from this income until at least the 1950s.
Plans were agreed in 1891 for the layout of the area that was to become Victoria Park, but work did not begin until 1894 when the boundary railings were erected by the contractors G Kyte and Co. In 1895 the Parks Committee approved a plan for a lake 250 feet long and 60 to 80 feet wide. This was the result of representations from the people of Canton, who wished to keep a pond in the area, which had been regularly used for skating. The lake was completed in early 1896, and in the same year the Parks Committee agreed to erect a drinking fountain and two ornamental shelters. By the following year all the turf had been laid and the planting of flowers, trees and shrubs was also complete. A bandstand was added, and space reserved for a children's playground.
The park was officially opened on 16th June 1897 and was named Victoria Park in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. A newspaper report of the opening ceremony included the following description of the park:
The land is irregular in shape, and for this reason perhaps lends itself to a lay-out which is both ingenious and attractive. The main paths are 30ft. wide and from these branch out others, of smaller width, to the bandstand, the lake, and other portions of the park. Entering from Cowbridge-road, one becomes at once interested in a very fine series of flower beds, with paths intersecting in the form of a wheel. A little further on is an ornamental lake of about an acre in extent, which is supplied with water from the corporation mains by two very handsome fountains, and is approached from about a dozen different directions. Further north is a bandstand surrounded by a gravel footpath 30ft. wide, from which other paths radiate and communicate with the main roads. There are also a couple of ornamental shelters and a drinking fountain. A large number of shrubs and flowers have been planted, and already give proof that they like their new situation. About two acres are set aside at the northern end of the park as a playground - a spot where people will not be requested to keep off the grass.
In December 1904, the Parks Superintendent reported that " the amount of capital (exclusive of purchase money) expended on Victoria Park is £12,004-12s, and includes the cost of forming the roads outside the Park, sewering them, and laying out the land for building purposes. The area of enclosed ground is 19 acres, 2 roods, 36 poles." Victoria Park having no room for football and cricket, another open space was provided which was known as Canton Park, Canton Recreation Ground or Jubilee Park where such games were allowed. The Western Mail reported in July 1906 that jointly these two parks cost the Corporation £36,000, exclusive of the road-making expenditure.
In 1898 a cannon from the Crimean War was placed on a bed near the south east entrance: it can be seen in a postcard dated 1904.
A collection of animals and birds which became the Victoria Park zoo was formed from 1901 onwards.
During the 1914-18 war there was a YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) tent in the park for wounded and convalescent soldiers, entertaining on average 100 men every day. Some flooding evidently occurred in the park in early 1918, as it was reported that a fox had been presented to the zoo but it had since been drowned in a recent flood. Also in 1918 the Parks Committee decided to establish a rabbitery at Victoria Park for wartime food production.
After the war a tank and two captured German guns were placed on display in the park, and remained there until the late 1930s.
This 1920s Ordnance Survey map shows the layout of hte park with its bowling green, tennis ground, bandstand, aviary and the lake which was signifificantly larger than it is today.
There were two public shelters, one just north of the lake (marked but unlabelled) and the other north east of the bandstand. There were also two drinking fountains (D.Fn). The area marked "Aviary" and the buildings immediately to the south east comprised the zoo.
The tram terminus was immediately south of the park on Cowbridge Road.
During the Second World War there were ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Wardens based in Victoria Park. They occupied the bowls pavilion in early 1940, causing the Parks Committee to take steps to restore access for the bowling season in May 1940 There was also a static water supply basin for the use of the Fire Service. By May 1946 this had been removed: the Director of Parks reported to the Parks Committee that all emergency water supply basins had been removed and he had made a claim for restoration of the sites to their original condition.
The shelter north west of the bandstand was destroyed by fire and removed in the 1950s. The shelter beside the lake was also destroyed by fire in 1978 and removed.
In 1996-97, to mark Victoria Park's centenary, a lottery-funded redevelopment took place, including new bandstand, gateways, paths and tree and shrub planting, as well as a statue of Billy the Seal beside the paddling pool.
In 2015 the bowling green was closed and replaced with a beach volleyball court. The present day park features a combination of paths, flower beds and lawns surrounded by trees and shrubs. There are also tennis and basketball courts, a 5-a-side football field and a play area for children. The paddling pool, created in the 1960s from the northerly part of the ornamental lake, was Victoria Park's most popular feature in the summer months. It was closed at the end of the 2015 season for the installation of a splash pad in its place. This opened on 24th June 2016.
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 2, Chapters on Ely & Canton Commons and Victoria Park
Other sources are: