Site of Cwmbrân Pleasure Gardens, Pontnewydd
The Cwmbrân Pleasure Gardens were a popular attraction in Victorian times. They were on the level ground you can see below the canal here. The curve of the canal bank formed the gardens’ western boundary.
In 1873 businessman Richard Clark of Cwmbrân “Fruit and Recreation Gardens” was granted a licence for the now-demolished Cwmbrân Gardens Hotel (pictured from the towpath). He had also developed the gardens, which he advertised as being an easy walk from both Pontnewydd stations, on the Monmouthshire Railway and Great Western Railway.
Sports available at the gardens in 1877 included croquet, cricket, quoits and football, and floral displays were provided. A “first-class pianist” played each evening and a quadrille band on Thursdays. Admission cost sixpence.
Crowds came in 1877 to watch parts of an endurance feat by a Madame Richards, who walked 1,000 miles (1,600km) in 1,000 hours at the gardens. Three months later, a Madame Anderson was brought in to walk the same distance in “1,000 half-hours”.
Many excursions were arranged to the gardens. In 1878 Newport forge-owner Charles Jordan treated his entire workforce to a trip to “Clark’s Gardens” by train to celebrate the coming of age of his eldest son, John. When the group had almost reached the gardens, an employee named John Mahoney tried to jump across the canal, fell in and drowned.
A company of the 2nd Monmouthshire Rifle Volunteers had a drill hall at the gardens in the 1870s. Battalion drill, with several companies, was sometimes held in the gardens. In 1886 the sergeants of a South Wales Borderers battalion held their annual ball at the hotel, with dancing from 8.30pm to 4am.
Richard Clark was bankrupt in 1879. The gardens were sold but he continued to run the hotel. By 1910 the gardens had become “running grounds”. New housing was built east of the site of the gardens after the Second World War and the district was known as Clarkville.
In the 1950s Cwmbrân Football Club played at “the Rec”, as the grounds were known. The 1st Pontnewydd Scout Group’s hut, tucked under the canal bank on the southern side of the Rec, may originally have been part of the pleasure gardens. Cubs and scouts used the field and trees around it for games and exercises.
With thanks to Lawrence Skuse. Sources include the National Library of Wales