Although Swansea possessed its fair share of parks, most were small in size and poor in structure. The outlying districts tending to fare better than those who resided towards the town centre.
This was most frequently referred to as the swan park, principally because of the flock of elegant white swans, that sailed blissfully across the surface of the lake. It was always a delight for small children to visit this area, which, in addition to its free swings, also had its own small pool, where countless numbers of small boats would be sailed or pulled along with long lengths of string from the adjacent pathway. Alas, time has caused this youngsters’ paradise, with its own small island, to become a graveyard for pleasure – a slime filled, rubbish strewn pool, testimony to years of neglect and decay. The animal pens were not so regal or clean as their present day counterparts, but they did have an abundance of monkeys. It was sheer delight, armed with a penny bag of peanuts, to make the monkeys run riot around their cages and jabber away at them in the hope that they might reply. The lake dominated the park, and during the summer, boat trips around it could be had for a few coppers, by those intrepid enough to endure the motion, living in a world of piracy and ships bound for far off places, at the same time flicking crusts of bread at passing ducks, more in the hope of seeking a hit, than to satisfy their ravenous hunger.
In addition to a bowls rink and tennis courts, there was also a large tract of grassed, sloping hillside. There many a football cup final or test cricket match was fought.
A small reservoir was operational, challenging the adventurous in many ways, while on occasions an elegant iron built bandstand would be the home for visiting brass bands. Sitting in the open space was a pleasant form of relaxation, particularly as far as courting couples were concerned. This was the time when Dylan Thomas was unheard of, when Cwmdonkin rested on its laurels for its success, not on the eulogies of a poet.
In scope and size, Singleton outdid them all. Acres of grassland, surrounded the elegant old university buildings, which are now buried out of sight by multi-storied concrete monuments of progress. It was a long walk to visit the park, unless a special festive happening was afoot. On Swansea carnival day, thousands would make their annual pilgrimage to join in the festivities. The carnival procession would end at the horse ring, inside the park, where in attendance would be a full blown fair, a medley of side stalls, including strong men performers, boxing booths and a host of try your luck stalls. The parade ring would be a riot of moving colour, with marching jazz bands from all over south Wales, tilting for the major prizes on offer. What a spectacle they made, dressed as soldiers, pirates, Arabs and a score of other exotic examples of human nature. Jazz bands were very big business in the 30s.bringing large troops of supporters to cheer them on. Alongside the main parade ring would be baby show tents, gardening displays, dog shows etc., while close at hand the annual sheep dog trials would be in full flow. When dusk descended, and the throng were still out in force, a spectacular fireworks display would light up the August night sky, one of the few free shows the working class ever had.
THE RECREATION GROUND
The Rec, flanking St. Helen’s rugby ground, was the main sporting arena of Swansea. Consistently bare of grass, except along the touchlines, it regularly featured three games of football at a time, twice on Saturday afternoons, and countless others on other week days, and Saturday mornings. The Ashleigh Road playing fields were still a figment of the imagination, the Rec, with its pot holes and stony surface, was the mecca for sport lovers. It had its share of problems. The dressing room was really a shed for storing workmen’s barrows and implements, with one cold water tap, frequently housing 6 teams, all changing their clothes at the same time. The over-spill used the shelter of a nearby tree to hide their predicament. There was also the proximity of Mumbles Road, and the passing traffic, including the Mumbles train. Any player belting the ball out of the ground, and that was not difficult, would have to run the gauntlet of hooting motor horns, as an attempt was made to retrieve the missile before it became crushed under a set of passing wheels. During the cricket season, when matches were played on a broken concrete strip of ground, covered by a cloak of coconut matting, more often than not frayed and lethal, it was one of the great hopes of any batsman that just once they might strike the cricket ball far enough out of the ground to coincide with the passing Mumbles train, possibly breaking a window, and certainly knocking off a little of its shiny red paint. The Rec seldom accepted defeat. Unless inches of snow covered its surface, play would go on. Great pools of muddy water creating the appearance of a miniature Lake Windermere did not deter it, baked hard ground like an M4 motorway had no effect. The Rec was indestructible, even if some of those who played on it were not.
The smaller playing areas I shall ignore, leaving but one major park to consider – Victoria Park. Today it is but a reduced portion of its heyday, due, in the main, to the Civic Centre (Guildhall) covering so much of it. What remains is quiet and respectable, with the Patti Pavilion flanked by flower beds, a tennis court, children’s corner and bowls rink. There was a time when it became a resting ground for all forms of travelling retinue. Circuses, whose tents covered the side spaces like an Indian settlement, and fairs featuring every kind of amusement one could envisage. Long before the sophisticated machinery of the present, the delight lay in braving the galloping horses, chairaplanes, switchback dragons and clanking dodgem cars. Side shows were ever popular, coconut winning always seemed easier, prizes more worthwhile. The hustle and bustle of Victoria has faded, only a memory remains.
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