Trelai Park, Ely, Cardiff
This is unique among Cardiff’s many parks because it’s the only one with the remains of a Roman villa! It was also the site of Cardiff Racecourse in Victorian times.
The park was created in 1933. Cardiff was then expanding westwards as population increased and Victorian slums were replaced with more spacious housing. Open green spaces were known to be important for health and wellbeing in urban areas.
The area of rough grassland on the eastern side of the park is where a Roman villa was excavated by archaeologists in 1894 and later. They also found a Neolithic flint arrowhead, from c.3000-2500BC.
They concluded that the villa was built c.150AD and remained in use until c.325AD. It had a tiled roof and a courtyard. The central part of the building measured c.21x18 metres.
There was a detached three-room building nearby. To its north, a human skeleton was found. It lay on the east-west axis, indicating Christian burial. Remains of an iron foundry, including slag (ironworking waste) were also discovered. Small objects found there included coins, pins of bronze and bone, pottery and a strainer made of lead.
The top photo shows part of a mortarium, a large hemispherical bowl with grit embedded into the internal surface for use in Roman kitchens for pounding and mixing food. This example was probably made somewhere in what’s now South-east Wales. The fragment was found here in 1894.
Races “over the new course at Ely” began with a two-day event in May 1855. Prizes included the Revival Stakes, the Cardiff Stakes, the Ely Stakes and the Innkeepers’ Plate. There were also hurdle races. The course was 2.4km long (1.5 miles).
Later a three-storey grandstand was built – pictured here c.1898 courtesy of Cardiff Libraries. The course hosted the Welsh Grand National, won in 1910 by Caubeen (pictured). Aviation pioneer Gustav Hamel brought a plane to Ely Racecourse in 1913.
The races continued after Cardiff council bought the land in 1931 for recreation but finished by the Second World War, when the military took over parts of the course. There was already a rifle range for territorial (reserve) soldiers at the south-eastern corner of the ground by the 1870s.
Postcode: CF5 5AQ View Location Map