Abertillery Recreational Grounds.
In the early days of Abertillery there wasn’t one specific recreational ground for any sport to be played, or for anyone to go and relax, to hold shows and fete’s etc. The population was rapidly growing, ground being sold off for substantial house building projects and the need for a Public Park was at the top of the Council’s agenda.
Apart from the recreational aspect sport was also a major factor. Blaenau Gwent Rugby played matches at the Old Barn Field (later to become the Abertillery Football/Rugby Pitch), Abertillery Town Club played on the Captains Field, named after Capt P. S. Phillips the proprietor of the Tin Works, the Abertillery Harlequins (reported to be one of the best junior teams in Wales) played on the Gas Works Field (below the Tin Works), later the field was taken up by the Vivian Tip. The majority of these sports/show grounds were being taken up for building.
The Council wanted to have a Public Recreational Ground, central and large enough to accommodate the many various entertainments, shows and sports that would be played there.
On Tuesday 3rd September 1889 The Abertillery Chamber of Trade held a meeting in which they discussed the possibility of approaching the Abertillery Local Board with the question of them providing a Public Recreation Ground and Bandstand. The following men from the Chamber of Trade were delegated to act upon and wait for the Local Board’s decision – Dr Muir; Mr A. Tilney; Mr Phillip Jones; Mr Preece and Mr Jordon (Booter from Cwm Street, Abertillery): It was at this meeting the Mr James McBean (Surveyor) proposed that if no landowner would agree to them aquiring land for a park he recommended to utilise the top of the Arael Mountain as a Recreational Grounds and have an Hydraulic Lift installed to carry the people up and down. Mr Hammond reminded him of the running and repair costs of such an installation would incur.
In Feb 1890 Webbs Bro were approached over the land purchase at the top end of Glandwr but declined to enter into discussions.
In May 1890 the Abertillery Local Board was asked to include a Cycle Track at their proposed Recreation Ground. The area had seen a lot of cyclists over the past few months with a great interest in the pastime but with a lack of proper road surfaces they really needed a place to ride.
In 1890 the Abertillery Tennis Club was set up and the arranged to have their playing courts situated in the Barn Field and they shared the grounds with the Football teams on a seasonal basis.
On Monday 7th July 1890 the Abertillery Local Board met and discussed the proposed Recreation Grounds, there was no objections to the scheme and the only difficulties raised was a suitable site to be obtained. Mr Vachell had asked about a field at Blaen-y-dwr though it was occupied by the present tenant and his Father for over eighty years and had no intention of moving. Mr Hanbury had also been approached with reference to a field near the “Spiders Castle” tenement block and his Agent Mr A. A. Williams wrote that a lease for seven or ten years might be arranged subject to agricultural grazing rights with an annual rental of £12. The field was six acres in extent. The opinion of the Board was divided and it was arranged to meet with the tenants of Blaen-y-dwr again and meet with both sides before the next meeting.
On Tuesday 14th June 1892 at a meeting of the Abertillery Chamber of Trade at the National Schools Abertillery, Mr Samuel Nathan Jones pushed for the need of a Recreation Ground and stated the grounds could be made to pay as people were paying now to watch Football and Cricket on the other fields and there were many children playing in the streets when they could be playing in a Public Park. He had been informed that the Local Boards preferred site was not available and requested the Rushy Field should be considered.
In June 1893 the ground for the Abertillery Recreational Park was trying to be obtained through different terms and the land needed lay between the river and the railway down to the old Spiders Castle (this would take in the old Barn Field) they also wanted the land between Blaina Road and the river which runs contiguous to the Captains Field Cricket Ground and down the the top end of Bridge Street.
On Tuesday 22nd January 1895 the Abertillery Chamber of Trade held a monthly meeting at their new home the Y.M.C.A. Mr S. N. Jones was informed by Mr A. A. Williams, Agent for Mr Hanbury Estates that Mr Hanbury had offered the the site to the Abertillery Local Board and they had not replied?
On Monday 4th March 1895 in a report titled the “The need of a Recreation Ground at Abertillery”, Mr S. N. Jones J.P stated “the Council had before them very many questions requiring consideration, though he did not think any was more urgent than that of a recreation ground. If they delayed there would be no more ground left to secure for the purpose, as ground was being taken up rapidly for building purposes and he understood that the present cricket field was to be leased for a like purpose!” Mr Jones said he believed that Mr A. A. Williams of the Hanbury Estate should meet with the council with reference to the Old Barn Field which could be formed into a good recreational, football and cricket ground. A lot of debating over the sites followed.
On Monday 2nd 1895 a District Council Meeting at their offices at King Street, Abertillery received a letter from Messrs Powell’s Steam Coal Co offering their “Rushy Field” at a rental of 25s per annum. The Council asked for them to keep their offer open for three years.
In August 1897 it was announced that the Hanbury Estates had gifted the Abertillery District Council their land to them the Barn Field area at Glandwr.
The Acquisition of Land for the Recreational Grounds and Park.
On Monday 31st January 1898 at an Abertillery District Coucil meeting the Council announced that they had acquired the land and that a Recreation Park scheme was now an accomplished fact and the Council would have immediate occupation of the land and the work on improving and landscaping will start as soon as possible.
The official area of land Acquired by the Council for the Recreation Ground and Park was from the entrance at the top end of Bridge Street, up Blaina Road to a point just below Reservoir No3, across to the Old Barn Field, South following the course of the River Ebbw, down to Harcourt Terrace, West of the River down past Glandwr Street/old Captains Field and to the main entrance at Bridge Street as seen in the image (left).
On Monday 18th April 1898 it was proposed to make walking paths into the Recreation Grounds, from the North and South close to the river with entrances into the Park at various places off the Blaina Road. The planting of trees and shrubberies will wait until October.
On Monday the 2nd May 1898 Mr C. W. Carpenter (Councillor) stated that the money put aside for the Alma Street and Castle Street improvements will be expended on the Recreation Grounds.
On Monday 12th September 1898 at a District Council meeting held at King Street Abertillery, the tender of Messrs Baylis Jones and Baylis of Wolverhampton was accepted to supply the Council with four wrought iron Seats, No141A at 6′ foot long, painted Green at a cost of £1. 17s each for the Recreation Ground. The question of a Drinking Fountain be deferred for a month. It was also recommended to plant trees up through Glandwr Street and into the Recreation Grounds, Messrs P. I. Shaw of the Old Nurseries, Abergavenny, supply the trees. Later Mr Tilney applied for Wicket-Gates be installed on entrances into the Grounds on as many paths as possible, it was to stop people climbing over fences.
On Monday 13th November 1899 at a District Council meeting held at King Street, Abertillery, the Council agreed to have a Bridge constructed at the top of Glandwr Street and for the Surveyor to get Swings erected in the Grounds consisting of 9′ foot posts and cross-bars to be easily approached by children. The levelling of the ground and sowing of Broomseed on the Football pitch with the hope that it can be completed for next seasons Cricket and Football matches. Mr Tilney also issued notices to builders in the area to bring their unwanted turf to the grounds to be laid re-laid there instead of letting it go to waste and a cycle track laid out.
On Wednesday 29th November 1899 at a District Council meeting held at King Street, Abertillery, the following Councillors – Mr W. Thomas (Chairman); Mr W. P. Thomas; Mr T. J. Buckley; Mr A. Tilney and Mr Daniel Lewis with Mr J. A. Shepard (Clerk); Mr W. Gait (Assistant Clerk); Mr F. Padfield (Inspector) and Mr James Mc Bean(Surveyor) suggested and voted on a new name for the Park grounds. The Local Government Board suggesting that it be called the Abertillery Recreation Grounds and Mr E. J. Williams moved that the Council adhere to this recommendation and Mr Daniel Lewis seconded. Mr W. P. Thomas moved an amendment that the place should be called The Abertillery Public Park and Mr A. Tilney seconded. The Chairman gave his casting vote to the movement and from then on it was to be officially called The Abertillery Recreation Grounds. It was also recommended to keep the Park entirely open as the varying times of sport and that there was a right-of-way running through it. No music or public speaking was to be allowed with permission and on no account any of the above allowed on the Sabbath. No games such as Football, Quoits, Bowls, Cricket or Hockey be played unless it was played on ground reserved for such, requested and paid for.
On 7th May 1900 The Council arranged for three double swings to be erected in the Park close to the Ornamental Pond. Also to meet various representatives of each of the various Band Clubs at the Park to discuss the possibility of erecting a Band Stand.
In 1901 Mr Tilney had informed the Council that he wanted trees planted up though Carlyle Street and that he had purchased Goldfish for the Park Pond.
In September 1902 the Abertillery Recreation Grounds hosted the Bedwelty Agricultural Show. The report stated the Park was ideal place, 2-3 fields separated by the River and adjoined by three temporary footbridges. In the Horse prize category there were 300 entries. In other sections were Cattle, Pigs, Birds and Dogs. Also Vegetables and Dairy produce with Shoeing and Timbering competitions in the grounds. After the show it was stated that 12,000 people had attended and that £500 was taken in gate-money equivalent to £55,000 in today’s money. (I have the full list of categories and prize winners etc available on request).
On Monday 14th December 1903 the Allotments and Pleasure Grounds Committee met and discussed the possibility of improving the Recreation Grounds with a view of purchasing land North of the Park owned by the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company to build an extension to the grounds the land in question was 2 and a quarter acres from the Old Barn Field up to the Glandwr Farm House. It was also resolved that a new ash Cycle Track be laid down on the grounds for the present.
On Monday 25th April 1904 the Allotments and Pleasure Grounds Committee consisting of – Mr G. Little (Chairman); Mr J. Tarrant; Mr E. J. Williams; Mr D. Smith and Mr T. H. Prichard and officers held a meeting. They agreed to have a May-Pole erected in the Park, the immediate cleaning of the Fish Pond, the piece of land by the weir must not be used for Football. On Saturday 30th April the Committee met with other officers at the Grounds and decided upon erecting a Post and Tube fence all the way around the Cycle Track.
On Saturday 3rd September 1904 a Cycle Race was held on the new ash/cinder track at the Park. The Champion record holders Mr A. W. Coles and Mr Jack Cook competed in a 10 Guinea race “the best of three” and an attempt to break the 5 mile record was planned by Mr H. G. Appleton of Bristol. The competition didn’t go smoothly one of the competitors Mr Jack Cook fell of his bike in a practice lap and badly cut his legs and arm. Mr A. W. Coles went on to win, the first event was a mile which he achieved in 3 min 30 sec, second race was three mile which he again won in 9 mins and the third and last race was a five mile race which he won with a time of 15 mins 52 secs. Mr Coles later tried to beat the Abertillery Track Record but retired exhausted after doing 3 miles.
In June 1905 the Council had laid down a new Asphalt Cycle Track to replace the old ash/cinder track and it was to be officially opened during the Annual Whitsun Sports Day on Tuesday June 13th 1905. The sporting events were also held on the Wednesday 14th June. It was a two-day event.
On Monday 12th November 1906 at a District Council meeting held at the Offices at King Street, Abertillery, it was proposed to have a Grand Stand erected. The work on its construction was to be paid for by the Abertillery Football Club. The Club had asked for permission to have one erected and Mr Harris and Mr Stewart passed their application. Work was to begin as soon as possible.
In 1907 the Council said they would remove the trees that was planted up through Glandwr Street and re-plant them in the Park. Mr Flowers said he had a quote on the constructing of 4 Tennis Courts and a Bowling Green for £30 (the Tennis Courts were later constructed in grounds of their own in an area where the Children’s Play Ground was later built). It was also stated the the new Asphalt Cycle Track had cost the Council £1,000 and they were not getting any money back off the project as the people wasn’t paying the new fee for the use.
In July 1908 the Grandstand (right) had been built, I cannot find an exact date though it was being used at this time.
In January 1909 the Council organised an Abertillery Marathon. The route was arranged as follows – From Abertillery Park – to Aberbeeg – Ebbw Vale – Beaufort – To Brynmawr – back to Abertillery and two laps of the park to finish.
On Monday 26th July 1909 the Allotments and Pleasure Grounds and Fire Brigade Committee consisting of – Mr Theo Jones (Chairman); Mr J. Carter; Mr H. Browne; Mr J. Phillips; Mr D. Smith J.P.; Mr J. T. Boots; Mr A. T. Jenkins and Mr G. J. Rogers with the Clerk; Captain Britton and Lieut Cook: The Committee laid out the terms and conditions, prices costs etc for the coming season as follows – Alternate Saturday’s for the Rugby Football Club at £12. 10s. 0d per season. Alternate Saturday’s for Association Football at £12. 10s. 0d per season. Wednesday’s for the Wednesday Club at £2. 0s. 0d per season. They also stated that they would help Blaenau Gwent Football team by securing the land for an extension from the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Company.
In March 1911 at a District Council meeting it was proposed to have two small Pavilion’s erected at the Park for the use of the Bowls and Tennis Club. The Surveyor was asked to make arrangements and obtain quotes on their costs etc.
On Thursday June 8th 1911 the Bowling Green was opened. The Bowling Green was 40 yards square and situated at the Southern end of the Football enclosure. Arrangements had been made for a team from Newport to come and open the new Green though they cancelled at the last moment. The official opening was presided over by Mr Theo Jones (Chairman of the Parks Committee), he bowled the first bowl and declared the Green open on behalf of the District Council and the inhabitants of the town.
In November 1911 it was stated that the Park-Keeper’s wages were to increase from 5s. 6d to 7s. Also it was proposed to have a Green House in the park grounds.
On Friday 22nd December 1911 the Allotments and Pleasure Grounds and Fire Brigade Committee consisting of the following members – Mr T. Jones (Chairman); Mr R. Downs and Mr J. T. Boots accepted the Tender of Messrs Foster and Pearson of Norwich to design, supply and fix the Green House at the park for the cost of £148. 10. 0d.
On Monday 12th February 1912 the Council instructed the Surveyor to draw up plans for a Band Stand.
On Thursday 9th May 1912 the Abertillery Bowling Club was formed.
In May 1912 the price list at the Recreation Grounds was published as follows – Cycling season tickets 5s for residents in the urban area (Outside the area 7s 6d) weekly tickets 1s and daily tickets 6d. Running season tickets 2s 6d for residents in the urban area (Outside the area 5s) weekly tickets 6d daily tickets 3d. Bowls 2d per hours play if the clubs own bowls are used or 3d per hour if the Council bowls are used, Goloshers to be hired at 1d per pair per hour. Swimming 1d for swimming only, towel and swimming 2d, costume and swimming 2d, swimming, towel and costume 3d.
On Friday June 14th 1912 the Tredegar Council gave as a gift to the Abertillery Council a Peacock and a Pea-Hen to be put into the Park as an attraction. Mr A. Parfitt also gave two prized Pigeons to be placed in the Aviary.
On Wednesday 17th June 1914 the Band Stand had been built and the Recreation Grounds were formally re-opened after extensive alterations and extensions added. The band of the 3rd Battalion Mon Regt was in attendance under the conductorship of Mr T. Valentine and members of the Orpheus Glee Society also contributed.
In June 1914 at a District Council meeting held at King Street, Abertillery, the Council accepted the quotation from Messrs Glenfield and Kennedy Ltd to erect a Drinking Fountain at the park at a cost of £2. 10s.
In May 1921 money amounting to the sum of £350 was given by the Secretary of the Parks Improvement Committee for Terracing at the Football Ground. The work on the new terracing was carried out by 25 unemployed workers of Abertillery under the instructions of the Chief Surveyor Mr L. D. Lewis (son of the former Cwmtillery Collieries General Manager and ex-Councillor, Mr Daniel Lewis of Blaenau Gwent). The Unemployment Workers Scheme was carefully managed and non of the men working in connection with it had less than 6 Children under 14 years of age, one man had a family of 13 Children.
In August 1921 additional land at the Park was acquired the by the Council to build new Tennis Courts and to build dwelling houses on the Old Barn site. The Council was also told the new Terraces were near completion. Throughout the 1920s the Park-Keeper was Mr Bester.
On Friday evening 2nd June 1922 the New Tennis Courts were officially opened at the bottom end of the extension on the Eastern side of the Park. The new 6 courts were Clinker Asphalt made from the waste from the Destructor Plant at Six Bells. The Asphalt was and inch thick laid on top of a three inch slab of reinforced concrete. The whole scheme cost 5,000 and the work was done by unemployed men from the area under the Unemployment Scheme. Mr Thomas Mytton declared the Tennis Courts open and the first match was played between Mr D. Walters and Mr W. J. Owen (Secretary of the Abertillery Town Tennis Club) against Mr T. Mytton and Mr H. Selway (Secretary of the Abertillery Athletic Tennis Club), games were also later played on the other courts.
In 1923 the Council heard of concerns over the state of the Bowling Green and the Committee asked if there was a possibility of them acquiring land at the top of Glandwr Street to build a new Green.
On Monday 2nd May 1927 the old Bowling Green was officially re-opened. In the mid 1920s it had been severely affected by subsidence and had to be repaired, levelled and relaid.
On Monday 3rd October 1932 during the Abertillery Shopping Week festivities the first ever rugby match was played under Flood-Lights. It was a school boys match for the Tom Evans Challenge Cup between Hafod-y-dol School and the Blaina Central School. The teams were – Hafod-y-dol Juniors Masters R. Jenkins; L. Hale; H. Tapper; I. Thomas; D. Jones; L. Morgan; F. Williams; N. Jeffreys (Captain); R. Hathway; I. Payne; M. Jones; S. Bryne; D. Davies; L. Collins and R. Chaffery: Blaina Central School – Masters John Evans; W. Thomas; ?. Gittins; T. Jenkins; R. Smith; A. Southway; K. Evans; H. Herbert (Captain); George Sperring; Albert Morris; Graham Evans; George Jenkins; J. Jones; W. Smith and H. Morgan: The Blaina Central School Boys won.
The other teams that participated were – Garnfach School, Abertillery County School, Junior Technical School, Gelli Grug School, Bryngwyn School, Brynhyfryd School.
Over the following years many various activities, Carnivals, Fete’s, Circus’s and Shows were put on at the Park Grounds Too numerous to mention individually. Also many sporting activities again too many to write, though a few memorable ones included the Australian Rugby Team coming to Abertillery Park in 1908 and 1917. The New Zealand All Blacks army touring team featuring many International capped players in the side visited in 1919. In the 1920 Whippet Racing was organised over the period of a few years with Boxing tournaments and even Dancing Lessons in the open air. Flower and Agricultural shows and Dog Shows etc.
In 1938 there were plans proposed to construct a boating lake in the park at the extension. This was all put on hold in consequence of the outbreak of the war. Later much of the flower gardens and lower portion of the Public Park fell into disrepair, Remploy Factories purchased a section of the lower park at the top end of Bridge Street to build a factory (since demolished). The new tennis courts had been neglected since the 1970s not used and is now beyond repair.