The Great War and Cardiff Parks

I went to a talk on this last night, and learnt a lot about how life went on when the war happened.

when war was declared, everyone thought it would be over in a short time. I knew that, but I didn’t realise the initial response was an expectation of local unemployment with the loss of contact with the continent. Cardiff was then still a huge exporter of coal, so this could have had a huge impact. But soon the men had to leave their jobs in the parks department, leaving the elderly in charge.

The various parks generated a lot of income for the council -rents for football and hockey pitches and entertainments. The military bands of course went abroad, so no more concerts at the bandstand. The ornamental lake at Roath Park is now full of overfed ducks and swans, but it was a popular swimming lake, so there was no able bodied man to supervise and possibly rescue anyone who got into trouble in the water.

Food shortages soon became a threat, with the German blockade, so public gardens began to substitute ornamental plants with vegetables, the greenhouse at Roath grew tomatoes, all of which were sold to the public at cost.

An unpopular move was the introduction of daylight saving to maximise the daylight for people to work, but it also increased the amount of time for outdoor recreation, so more people played sport, so more money for the council, an more food grown.

What surprised me most was what happened after the war. There was a desire to provide war memorials for the fallen, and one was proposed on top of a hill at Llandaff, above the cathedral. They demolished some old houses to make way for it, but found a medieaval bell tower there that nobody knew about.  It became the city’s first listed ancient monument. Surely the people who lived in the houses knew about it! Well, they left the ruin there, and built the memorial down the hill.

After the Crimean War, a lot of cannons were placed in parks and used as bollards and fencing, but in Cardiff at least, there was a lot of distress when they were placed in parks as people thought they were inappropriate. I have seen photos of kids playing on cannons in parks in Bristol, but that was decades later, when memories of the carnage had faded. I wonder how widespread this distress and opposition was.


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