Cardiff's first home

Cardiff Arms Park was the ground where Glamorgan played their inaugural first-class game in 1921, and up until 1966, it was the county's base in the Welsh capital

Cardiff Arms Park was the ground where Glamorgan played their inaugural first-class game in 1921, and up until 1966, it was the county's base in the Welsh capital. In 1967 work began on the creation of a National Rugby Stadium, and no more first-class cricket was played at the Arms Park. As we approach the year 2000, yet another scheme is underway for further improvements to the stadium, so that the ground becomes the grand, and modern, base for Welsh rugby and a worthy venue for the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
The ground occupies the site of an impressive 17th century townhouse, close to the present day Westgate Street, which had been built for a wealthy family on the western edge of what was then the small town of Cardiff . Behind it lay a vast area on open moorland, running down to the east bank of the River Taff. The river had several large meanders, and the area around it, including some of the adjoining houses, were often flooded. As the town started to grow, little building took place on the moorland and the house therefore had a large garden running down to the Taff.
In 1787 the house was sold and converted into an inn known variously as the Cardiff Arms Hotel or Cardiff Arms Inn. The name 'Arms' being derived from a shield containing the red and yellow chevron crest of Cardiff which hung above the doorway. The garden behind the house therefore became known as the Cardiff Arms Park. The hotel itself gained in importance and patronage as transport eveloped during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular wwith the evolution of stage coach routes. The coaching inn became 'the place' to stay whilst stopping at the town and when King Edward, Prince of Wales, visited the town as a young boy, he stayed at the Cardiff Arms.
In 1803 the Cardiff Arms and the Park became the property of the Marquess of Bute, who owned Cardiff Castle, and vast tracts of land in the area. Indeed, it was the Bute family who developed the extensive docks at the mouth of the Taff, and helped to oversee the transformation of the market town into a coal metropolis. The Bute family also helped to prevent further flooding in the town of Cardiff by overseeing a scheme which straightened out the meanders so that the Taff flowed further away from the houses in Westgate Street. It meant that vessels using the Taff had an easier passage, but at the same time, it meant that the Park behind the Cardiff Arms became larger, and covered some 18 acres. In addition, it became considerably drier than in the past, and it soon became a popular place for recreation.
The Marquess of Bute was therefore the aristocratic patron of the town of Cardiff, but he was not concerned with solely making money and during the 19th century he acted as a wealthy benefactor to the residents of the flourishing settlement, ensuring that they had adequate facilities for leisure and recreation. He allowed them free access to the grounds of the castle, and to the Park, which was chosen in 1837 as the venue for Cardiff's celebrations on the accession of Queen Victoria.
A cricket club had been formed in Cardiff in 1819, and they initially played at a variety of sites, chiefly on the better drained meadows to the east of the town. As transport links improved, the club started to play proper fixtures and they moved to the Arms Park during the 1850's. They were very much a gentleman's club and by the middle of the century had a quite extensive fixture list with other quite prestigious teams in South Wales and the West of England.
Their membership rose as the town's population grew in the second half of the century, but many of the incomers were of quite modest means, and could not afford the annual subscriptions levied by the Cardiff club. The net result was the creation of many other teams in Cardiff - by the 1870's , there were over 20 clubs and by 1885 this figure had risen to 63 ! Some of these clubs were in the affluent and more spacious suburbs, where a field was available for the sole use of the club. But the majority of the clubs used the Castle Grounds or Arms Park, and by the 1860's a multitude of games and practice sessions were taking place on the Bute family's land.
The plethora of cricketing activity on the Arms Park was not however to everyone's advantage, and there were some complaints about the somewhat chaotic situation with boundaries overlapping, and quite serious games being played by Cardiff C.C. alongside more social ones by groups of working people on their free afternoons! The result was that in 1867 the Bute Estate made an agreement with Cardiff Cricket Club for them to use much of the eastern part of the Park at a peppercorn rate of one shilling per annum and helped to finance the construction of a pavilion. This solved one problem, but others arose, including reports of damage to the Park and Castle grounds, with local newspapers bemoaning "repeated acts of mischief and injury done to trees and fences." As a result, the Bute Estate decided to restrict access to recognised clubs, and in April 1875 the Bute Estate restricted access to the Arms Park and Castle grounds solely to Cardiff C.C. and bonafide clubs.
By this time, the Arms Park was also staging county matches. In 1869 a Glamorganshire C.C.C. had been formed, and they gained the support of the Bute Estate for the use of the Arms Park square used by Cardiff C.C. In the middle of June 1869 the Arms Park ground staged its first inter-county match as Glamorganshire played Monmouthshire, and over the next few years a series of quite prestigious county games and exhibition games were staged at the ground. One of these was a fixture against a West Gloucestershire XI which included both W.G. and G.F.Grace. The Doctor had a fine game, taking 6-5 and then hitting a towering six off the first ball he faced.
However, these matches also attracted the rather raucious element that had previously caused damage, and with the blessing of Cardiff C.C., an admission fee of sixpence was charged for these county games. As one newspaper report stated, "it was very effective in excluding the rabble, whose expressions of strong partizanship were tempered by the distance from which they witnessed the progress of the game and mingled their not very judicious comments and not over complimentary remarks."
Even though the Glamorganshire club folded during the 1870's, the Cardiff C.C. square on the Arms Park became established as the main, and somewhat exclusive, home of premier cricket in Cardiff. In 1876 Cardiff R.F.C. was formed and during the winter months rugby fixtures took place to the south of the cricket ground, with the cricket pavilion also being used as a changing room by the rugby players.
During the 1880's, the Arms park played host to further exhibition games as various people tried to resurrrect county fixtures. In 1880 a South of England XI took on a XXII of Cardiff and District whilst in July 1882 the All England XI took on the local cricketers. For their part, Cardiff C.C. also organised a cricket week, when many leading players from Somerset and Gloucestershire played at the Arms Park. The success of these games, together with the fixtures arranged by the South Wales Cricket Club, showed that there was enough public support and playing talent to sustain a county team. This had always been the dream of J.T.D.Llewelyn, who had been instrumental in organising the earlier Glamorganshire side. HE gained the support of J.P.Jones, the captain and secretary of Cardiff C.C., and eventually, Glamorgan C.C.C. was formed in 1888.
Jones persuaded the Bute Estate to make the Arms Park available for county matches and on June 21 and 22nd, 1889 Glamorgan played their inaugural game against Warwickshire. Although the visitors won by 8wkts, Glamorgan went from strength to strength over the next 30 years, and with several Cardiff C.C. personnel at the helm, the Arms Park continued to stage the bulk of the club's Minor County fixtures. There were many fine feats in these games, including in 1890 Herbie Morgan's 147 v Monmouthshire to become Glamorgan's first-ever centurion. In 1901 Glamorgan amassed 538 at the Arms Park as they beat Monmouthshire by an innings and 215 runs, whilst in 1912 Harry Creber returned figuress of 15-73 against the same opponents. However, Monmouthshire were not always the whipping boys as the Arms Park, as Dick Steeples returned figures of 9-45 against Glamorgan in their 1905 match.
After the Great War, Glamorgan made a successful bid for higher recognition, and became a first-class county in 1921. Their opening Championship fixture was staged at the Arms Park, and much to the delight of the Welsh supporters, Sussex were beaten. Two years later the West Indians were defeated at the Arms Park as Glamorgan recorded their first ever win over a touring team. These however were rare victories for Glamorgan, and many of these county games at Cardiff ended in heavy defeat for the Welsh side. By this time, the Bute Family were starting to dispose of some of their land in the Cardiff area, and in 1922 the rugby and cricket sections of Cardiff Athletic Club approached the Marquess and offered to purchase the Arms Park. They had the support of the Welsh Rugby Union and the Cardiff Greyhound Racing Company, and it was not long before an agreement was reached.
The new owners, known as The Cardiff Arms Park Company Limited, acquired the land for 30,000 GBP, but on the understanding that the Arms Park was used for recreational purposes and was not sold for building. The cricket section of the Athletic Club acquired a 99 lease from the company at a rental of 200 GBP per annum, with Glamorgan C.C.C. paying rent for the use of the Park for county cricket. The change in ownership also led to further improvements to the ground, and in 1934 a new double-decker stand was erected on the northern side of the rugby pitch. The old wooden cricket pavilion was dismantled, and new changing rooms were incorporated into the North Stand. The scoreboard which had been adjacent to the old pavilion was moved to the north east corner of the ground, and in 1937 a new cricket pavilion and tea room for the use of the cricket section of Cardiff Athletic Club was built in the south east corner of the ground.
Building work also took place along the eastern boundary of the ground, as a block of luxury flats and offices were built. The line of tennis courts flanking Westgate Street disappeared, and it put pay to cricket balls being hit out of the cricket ground, across Westgate Street and into the windows of the hotels on the far side of the Street. Indeed, several big hitting feats were recorded at the Arms Park ground, with Cyril Smart hitting Hampshire's Gerry Hill for 32 in one six ball over in 1935, whilst in 1939 jack Mercer hit 31 runs from an eight ball over by Reg Howarth of Worcestershire.
By the outbreak of War, Cardiff Arms Park had undergone many improvements, but it still lacked decent practice facilities, so when the county regrouped after the War, the club launched a "Seating and Nursury Fund" to raise enough cash for amongst others things the creation of an Indoor School at the Arms park. By 1948 enough cash had been raised, but a stumbling block was the absence of enough land to construct a separate building. The result was that a series of nets were laid out along the top floor of the North Stand. The money raised by the Fund also allowed further improvements to be made including new seating at the castle End, and along the western boundary, as well as new facilities for the scorers and the Press.
These improvements meant that the ground capacity had risen to around 15,000 by the mid 1950's, but the ground was still quite cramped, and there were several occasions when the gates had to be closed with people left outside in Westgate Street. Often there was not enough seating inside the ground, and for some games visiting teams agreed to the boundaries being shortened so that those without a place in the enclosures could sit on the grass. For their part, Cardiff Athletic Club were keen to develop the facilities for bowls and tennis, and were reluctant to allow new seating to be erected just for county games. The officials of Glamorgan C.C.C. had high aspirations and even believed that the Arms Park might one day stage Test cricket, but it was clear by the 1950's that these were only pipedreams, and the county were forced to use the limited amount of existing seating rather than build any more.
There were also worries about the state of the wicket, and it was often reported as being damp. It was clear that there were too many eggs being forced into one very small basket, and the diffulties of overcrowding were highlighted in 1958 as Cardiff played host to the Commonwealth Games. The athletics events were held on the rugby ground, with a running track being laid on top of the greyhound track. But the Arms Park turf never really recovered from the pounding it took and as Cardiff R.F.C., Cardiff Schools, the Barbarians and Wales played a plethore of games at the Arms Park, the ground frequently resembled a muddy quagmire.
This caused quite a lot of embarrassment to the Welsh Rugby Union who had long treasured the thought of a stadium of their own to match those at Twickenham and Murrayfield. After much discussion and debate, a scheme was put forward to develop the existing rugby ground into a National Stadium, and creating a smaller ground for Cardiff R.F.C. on the cricket ground, with the cricket section moving to Sophia Gardens. Glamorgan played their final game at the famous ground in mid August 1966, and after Cardiff C.C.'s match with Lydney C.C. on September 17th the pitch was ploughed up and work began on creating the new stadium. As a result, no more 'conventional' games of cricket took place at this famous ground, although in 1988 a special floodlit game was staged on the Cardiff R.F.C. ground between Glamorgan's Centenary side and the Championship winning team of 1969.