Creating Belle Vue Park

In December 1891 Lord Tredegar announced that he would present a public park to Newport, "the triangular piece of land between Belle Vue-lane and the Waterloo-road".[1] This gift comprised 23 acres and it became Belle Vue Park.[2]

On November 3rd 1892 Alderman H.J. Davis, the Mayor of Newport, performed the ceremony to cut the first sod for the new park, near the site where the pavilion was subsequently built. Lord Tredegar was present, and the Town Clerk announced that he had received that day "from the solicitors to the trustee of Lord Tredegar a deed formally investing that land in the Corporation." It was also announced that the park was to be named Belle Vue Park. The Mayor and Lord Tredegar both planted a memorial tree. The contractor, Mr J.H. Firbank, was also present, as was the architect, Thomas Mawson, who described the plan for the park, including a central terrace to accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 people.[3] The Council had invited competitive designs for the layout of the new park and Mawson was awarded first prize. It was one of his early successes in what became a distinguished career as a landscape architect.[4]

The plan also included four entrances, two of them with a lodge, a terrace garden with pavilion conservatories, fountains and a bandstand. Other features planned were a miniature ornamental lake, rockeries and a rose garden. Lawn tennis courts and a bowling green were to be provided, though not cricket or football pitches owing to the sloping nature of ground . The park was to be surrounded by a 3 foot 6 inch high stone wall surmounted by wrought iron railings.[5] Firbank's contract was to construct the boundary wall and main drive. Mawson estimated that the total cost of the park would be £12,372 and the Newport Corporation sought approval from the Local Government Board to borrow this amount.[6]

In November 1893 it was reported that planting had now commenced.[7] By March 1894 the two lodges - at the Cardiff Road and Friars Road entrances - were complete, as were the rockwork and streamway with cascades and pools. The terrace and pavilion were least advanced at this stage. Several "fine old elm and other trees" were preserved.[8][9] The Parks Committee now decided to appoint Mr Edward Whitty as Park Superintendent, at a salary of 30 shillings per week plus occupancy of the Cardiff Road lodge, Mr Whitty having been foreman of the labourers constructing the park. It was also agreed that on completion of the park, the upkeep would require three men to be appointed at 3/6d per day, and a boy at about sixteen shillings per week.[10] The following month Mr John Trowbridge was appointed as Assistant Superintendent, to be paid £1 per week and to occupy the Friars Road lodge.[11] Also in April orders were placed for 66 seats to be made for the park.[12]

Belle Vue Park was formally opened on Saturday September 8th 1894. A detailed description of the park appeared in the South Wales Daily News the previous day and it was reported that the original estimated cost of £12,000 was exceeded by 50%. As planned, the park had four entrances, the two principal guarded by lodges. The main entrance was on Cardiff Road, where the lodge was described as Elizabethan style, of local stone and with a red tiled roof. The two memorial trees planted in 1892 at the cutting of the sod ceremony were Red twigged limes (Tilia platyphyllos 'Rubra'), and were placed on either side of the drive leading from the Stow Park Road entrance to the front of the pavilion. There were terraces on four levels, capable of accommodating 3,000 to 4,000 people. The bandstand had not yet been installed but was to be placed on the lowest of the terraces "and will, when erected, form an ornate structure, ample for the largest band". The pavilion was of red brick and terracotta, capable of sheltering 500 to 600 people. It consisted of a central hall, 100 feet by 60 feet with 36 feet elevation, flanked on either side by conservatories about 30 feet square and 10 feet lower in height than the pavilion. The main approach to the pavilion was from Stow Park Road. The watercourse - a "series of dells, pools and cascades twist and wind for a length of 400 feet" - was crossed by two ornamental wooden bridges. The largest pool was at the south end near the Cardiff Road lodge. Over a thousand tons of rock and stone were said to have been used, and a "considerable number of hardy ferns, reeds, irises, and rock plants" planted. The ornamental fountain was the first thing seen from the Friars Road entrance, at the end of an avenue of lime trees.[13][14]

The opening ceremony was described in the following Monday's Western Mail[15] and was a combined event with Lifeboat Saturday, celebrated by the entire town:

"From an early hour the streets began to be made gay with bunting, straightened by the fresh breeze, and dancing in the bright sunshine. On every flag-staff of both public and private places flags were hoisted, and at many points rows of streamers spanned the thoroughfares. Visitors poured into the town during the forenoon, and though business premises were kept open, the congested traffic as the hours wore on, the gathering crowds, and the gay aspect of the streets, all conspired to proclaim that it was a gala day for the town."
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon a procession left the cattle market for the park, covering more than a mile and a half and estimated to comprise 6,000 to 8,000 persons. At the park the opening ceremony was preformed by the Mayor using a gold key preseented to him by Thomas Mawson, the architect, to unlock the gates. Once the gates were open the procession passed through the park toward the Old Dock for the Lifeboat part of the event, while the Mayor, Lord Tredegar and others proceeded to the pavilion for speeches.

Towards the end of September it was reported that the work of laying out the park was nearing completion and all the men with the exception of ten could be paid off. At the same meeting the Parks Committee also agreed to order 60 tons of yellow gravel and 60 tons of Chepstow gravel to complete the terrace and walks.[16] In October it was decided that the staff be reduced to its normal level, namely, three labourers and a youth in addition to the Superintendent and his assistant.[17] By November the Committee was able to approve final payments to contractors for completion of the conservatories and bandstand, as well as to Mr Philip H. Shaw of Abergavenny for the supply of trees, shrubs and other plants, totalling £897-13-1.[18]

In January 1895 the total capital expenditure on the park was estimated to be in the order of £19,500, obliging the Council to apply to the Local Government Board for permission to borrow a further £7,000 repayable in 25 years.[19]

Sources of Information

  1. Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News Saturday December 26 1891 page 4
  2. South Wales Daily News Tuesday May 3rd 1892 page 8
  3. South Wales Daily News Friday November 4th 1892 page 6
  4. Thomas H. Mawson, The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect. Glasgow, The Grimsay Press, 2012
  5. South Wales Daily News Thursday November 3rd 1892 page 4
  6. Newport County Borough Council Parks Committee 24th November 1892
  7. Newport County Borough Council Parks Committee 24th November 1893
  8. South Wales Daily News Wednesday March 7th 1894 page 6
  9. Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News Saturday March 10th 1894 page 6
  10. Newport County Borough Council Parks Sub-Committee 12th March 1894
  11. Newport County Borough Council Parks Sub-Committee 3rd April 1894
  12. Newport County Borough Council Parks Committee 20th April 1894
  13. South Wales Daily News Friday September 7th 1894 page 4
  14. South Wales Echo, Friday, September 7, 1894 page 4
  15. Western Mail September 10th 1894 page 6
  16. Newport County Borough Council Parks Committee 21st September 1894
  17. Newport County Borough Council Parks Sub-Committee 25th October 1894
  18. Newport County Borough Council Parks, Cemeteries and Allotments Committee 23rd November 1894
  19. Newport County Borough Council Parks, Cemeteries and Allotments Committee 18th January 1895