Alexandra Park was created from an open field which overlooked the seafront and whose boundaries were two wooded dingles. This field was given to the town by Lord Windsor, and its development complemented the work already carried out by the Windsor Estate in establishing Windsor Gardens, the Dingle Path and the Esplanade. The plan for the Park presented by the Town Surveyor to the Parks Committee in March 1899 was as follows:
The site of the Park to be fenced with an Unclimbable Fence 5ft. high from
Rectory Road along the Footpath to the Dingle Bridge, and from that point
to Bridgeman Road, and where necessary along the Esplanade Hotel Boundary.
Four Entrance Gates to be provided, one at the Rectory corner, one by the
Dingle Bridge, another in Bridgeman Road, and a fourth in Beach Road near
the Kymin. Various Footpaths, as shown on Plan, will be formed. A Public Shelter
to seat 60 persons. A Band Stand. Thirty Seats in various positions. A Lodge
near the Beach Road Entrance. and a Hot-house near the same point. The present
Filter-house, belonging to the Baths, will be converted into a Garden Tool-house.
Conveniences for Ladies will be provided in connection with Lodge, and for
the Gentlemen in a position well protected by trees. A Bridge across the Dingle
on Beach Road side will be constructed to continue a Footpath in a more direct
line from the Beach Road Entrance towards the Dingle Road Entrance.
Estimated cost £2433.
Tenders were invited in early 1901 and a contract for laying out the Park was awarded to MacKay and Davies in July of that year. In April 1902 the Council decided to employ a Gardener at 24 shillings per week plus house (the Lodge) and a Park Ranger at 21 shillings per week. The posts were filled in May, with Rees James being appointed as Gardener and Alexander F. Holl as Park Ranger.
The name of the Park was decided on 7th May 1902: it was to be called Alexandra Park, after Queen Alexandra the wife of King Edward VII, who had newly succeeded to the throne. Discussions were held with Lord Windsor about arrangements for the formal opening, but Lord Windsor was unable to be in Penarth until July or August and thought that the Park should not be kept closed until then. In the event the Park was officially opened by the Chairman of the Council, Mr Samuel Thomas, on June 25th 1902 with an elaborate ceremony that included a band and procession. A full account of the proceedings appeared in the Penarth Times, which also included the following description of the Park:
The new park forms a really picturesque retreat for residents and visitors. It overlooks the beach, esplanade and pier, and commands an excellent view of the Channel. On one side is a beautiful wooded glen, and on the other the stately trees along Beach Road form a natural enclosure. The Park is on sloping ground and the winding walks are well arranged. On the side of the hill is erected a bandstand and pretty shelter, both overlooking the sea. The main park is connected with the Dingle by a wooden bridge. A goodly number of seats are fixed in positions giving the most picturesque views and in sheltered nooks. There are three entrances, viz., Rectory Road, Bottom of Beach Road, close to the gardener's lodge, and another from the bottom of Bridgman Road. Hundreds of shrubs have been planted and the grounds generally have been very tastefully laid out.
Lord Windsor formally handed over ownership of the Park (and of several other pleasure grounds) at a further ceremony on September 5th 1902.
It was agreed that the Park should be kept open until 9.30 p.m. from May to August; until 7.30 p.m. in April and September; and at other times until an hour and a quarter after sunset. As well as the features in the original Surveyor's plan, two cannon were placed pointing seaward above the shelter and bandstand, in the position subsequently occupied by the Cenotaph. There were also two subterranean seawater tanks which predated the Park and which fed the public baths that were built in 1884 on the seafront.
The popularity of Alexandra Park in its early years is indicated by the Council's decision in June 1903 to purchase 150 chairs for seating in the Park. Also early in the Park's development it was thought that a bowling green should be provided, though no suitable place was identified, and in 1907 the Parks Committee sought alternative land for a bowling green.
During 1909 the Parks Committee discussed the creation of a small artificial lake with a fountain in the centre, and it was hoped that this could be financed from funds under the control of the "Coronation" and "King's Visit" Committees. Another proposal was "to form a series of small ponds in the Dingle similar to the experimental one." The Council deferred a decision on a proposal to borrow £250 for a "public fountain" and other works in the Park, and it seems that neither scheme was approved at that time. Ordnance Survey maps from 1920 to 1950 do show a feature that appears to be a pond or small lake at the south end of the Dingle.
In February 1911 the Parks Committee decided to purchase a drinking fountain for the Park at the price of £7 14s 3d, and this was approved by the Council on March 6th.
In 1912 the Council gave permission for a Mr Collett to erect "wires across the Park with his aero safety highway model flying machine."
On January 13th 1913 it was decided at a meeting of the Parks Committee to purchase four dozen yew trees for the Park.
During the 1914 -1918 War the Parks Committee was concerned almost entirely with finding suitable locations for allotments to enable people to grow food. The Park was little affected, though some vegetables were grown there for distribution to local hospitals. In 1919 an army tank used in the War was placed on a square bed to the west of the main path leading from the Rectory Road entrance.
Various improvements were carried out during the 1920s and 1930s. Additional shrubs and trees were planted, including a topiary near the Rectory Road entrance. Beach Road was re-aligned to remove an S-bend and create a wider curve into the Esplanade. This work was reported to be in progress in the Penarth News of February 7th 1924, and expected to be complete in a further four weeks time. In addition to making Beach Road safer, the effect was to add an area of woodland to the Park beyond the greenhouses at the south end of the Beach Road dingle. Also in 1924 the Cenotaph was added, as a memorial to the citizens of Penarth who lost their lives in the First World (1914-18) War.
In the 1930s the Windsor Estate gave the Council several small pieces of land, including the footpath that ran along the edge of Alexandra Park from the lower Dingle Bridge to Rectory Road. This was incorporated into the Park and was no longer accessible outside park opening hours. In 1938 Alexandra Park covered 6.5 acres.
During the 1939-1945 war there were some further improvements. A previously untouched dingle near the greenhouses was developed for public access with construction of steps and walls. The Park's iron railings were not requisitioned - they were protected by an exemption for railings with historic or artistic significance, or where there was an over-riding security need.
To mark the Queen's coronation in 1953, an area in the park, as yet unidentified, was designated Coronation Corner for the Blind and included "provision of playing tables and direction indicators". In 1970 an offer was accepted from the Assistant District Commissioner for Cubs to finance the provision of fragrant flowers and shrubs for the Garden for the Blind.
Just to the south of the tank bed, probably in a railed enclosure, a weather station was established in 1956 and can be seen in the 1977 aerial photograph. It is believed to have been removed in the 1980s.
In the late 1950s came a plan to develop for residential use the land which had been added to the park in 1924 following the re-routing of Beach Road. The Council subsequently sold this land and the Seabank apartment block was built there in the early 1960s. In 1960-61 there was a proposal to create a lido in Alexandra Park, at the lower end of the Dingle. The Council approved a plan for a boating lake and paddling pool for children, along with an ornamental fountain, kiosk, seating area, shelter, sandpit and climbing frame, all shown on a sketch plan published in the Penarth Times. The idea eventually came to nothing owing to local opposition and because the cost (£21,900) was considered excessive.
The original park gates at the Rectory Road entrance were restored in 2007 following a donation from the Earl of Plymouth.
The modern day wood carvings are by Park Foreman, Mike Scott.
Sources of information