Origins of the park
The main driving force behind the creation of Belle Vue Park was Councillor Mark Mordey. During his Mayoral year in 1889 he approached Lord Tredegar on the question of a site for a public park.
Two years later the then Mayor, Henry John Davis, continued the project. At a banquet on 22 December 1891 Lord Tredegar expressed his intention of presenting a site to the town.
After an open competition for the design for the park which was won by Thomas H. Mawson of Windermere, the ceremony of cutting the first sod was held on 4 November 1892. Present at the ceremony were Lord Tredegar, Aldermen and Councillors.
Thomas Mawson went on to have an illustrious career as a renowned landscape architect and town planner - working extensively in the United Kingdom and around the world.
Belle Vue Park was Mawson’s second public park. The layout and structures within it demonstrate the results of his early work and the evolution of his particular style and philosophy.
The park appeared not only to have evolved from a means of relieving unemployment, but also a sense of civic pride was engendered by the energy of extensive industrial development.
There was also a recognition of the need to provide a place for public recreation and healthy pursuits for people living in inadequate housing and engaged in unwholesome industrial processes. Something that was popular in the late 19th century.
Perhaps the most significant ‘social’ or ‘cultural’ event in the park was the holding of the National Eisteddfod in 1897, with the proclamation ceremony held in the park on the 27 August 1896.
The Gorsedd Stones, a group of standing stones constructed for the National Eisteddfod of Wales, form an integral part of the druidic Gorsedd ceremonies of the Eisteddfod. The Parks Committee agreed in September 1897 that the Gorsedd stones were to remain in the park, and in September 1898 the committee agreed that oak trees supplied by the Newport Eistedfodd Committee were to be planted around the stones. Some of these are the trees still standing around the circle to this day.
The original plan for the park included a miniature ornamental lake but, in March 1893, it was decided to create a series of small pools with cascades instead.
Using a shallow natural valley an artificial watercourse was created which descended with the slope of the park from the terraces towards the Cardiff Road entrance. It was constructed by James Pulham & Son, an eminent firm of garden landscapers who specialised in ornamental rock and water features.
In June 1893 the Parks Committee instructed that further rockwork be built at an additional cost which was to cost no more than £125. By October of that year Pulham & Son had completed the rockwork.
Designs for two wooden bridges to cross the watercourse were approved in January 1894 and were constructed by Mr. J. D. Parfitt at a cost of £96.
The watercourse was described in the South Wales press as follows:
"The rockwork and pools form...from some points of view, the prettiest feature of the park. Here nature has been simulated with that art which conceals art. Masses of bolder-like stone, looking for all the world like the outcrop of the Titanic strata of sedimentary rocks, face the series of dells, pools, and cascades which twist and wind for a length of 400 feet. Two ornamental wooden bridges span this length, and with the fine old elms which have not been sacrificed to the greed of the land agent, give a flavour of genuine beauty to the whole place.
The old watercourse, dry in summer with a black ash path beside it…has given opportunity for this prettiness. The largest of the many pools is near the Superintendent's lodge on the Cardiff Road and the biggest cascade near the pavilion.
A considerable number of hardy ferns, reeds, irises and rock plants have been planted about the pools and rockwork, and some idea of what has been so successfully accomplished may be gathered from the fact that over a thousand tons of rock and stone have been used in the formation of the details."
Fountain bowl and aviary
In August 1893 the Parks Committee awarded a contract to Mr H. Davis of Newport to construct the ornamental fountain near the Friars Road entrance, at a cost of £129-10s-0d.
Constructed of red forest stone, the fountain was described in the local press:
“The fountain is the first thing which arrests the attention when entering the park from the Friar's-road Lodge. It forms a finishing central feature of the avenue of limes which has been planted. These, of course, have not yet grown sufficiently to develop to the full the architect's idea...
"The fountain top is designed very much along the lines of the well-known Revelstone fountain, near Edinburgh; but in this instance a central top jet has been added which throws an upright spray of water. Around the top of the shaft are ranged, as at Revelstone, a series of dolphins which spout water into the upper basin. The upper basin drips into a lower and larger basin, and the water descends again from thence into the pond. The pond is somewhat cramped, but it is intended to enlarge and improve it by the addition of quatrefoils so as to prevent splashing.”
In 1908 it was reported that the fountain was not in operation because of complaints that water was falling outside the basin and wetting bystanders. It was decided to remove the ornamental centre of the fountain, leaving the basin, and to provide a spray in place of the original centre. Flower beds were made inside the fountain's outer wall and seats provided for the area around it.
In late 1913 an aviary was constructed within the park near the old Belle Vue Court location.
Between the park's opening and when the decision was made to dispense of the aviary in 1932 it was home to numerous species of birds and other animals. These included golden pheasants, Madagascan lovebirds, peacocks and even monkeys.
Conservatories, pavilion and terracing
The large pavilion is the dominating feature on the west side of the park. The contractor for its construction and the associated terracing was Mr Dyson Parfitt, whose tender for £2,048 was accepted in June 1893.
In February 1894 it was agreed that Richardson Bros. would build the conservatories which were to be placed either side of the pavilion, at a cost of £561-8s-0d.
At the same meeting the Parks Committee decided that the terrace steps would be constructed of Stuart's Granolithic (a form of paving made from granite chippings mixed with Portland stone cement).
The pavilion, terraces and conservatories were described in the South Wales local press:
"The idea carried out in the arrangement of the terraces fronting the pavilion is to give plenty of accommodation for promenade concerts and music generally. The terraces, which are capable of holding 3,000 or 4,000 visitors, are on four levels, communicating with each other by broad flights of steps. The terrace walls are of local stone, with terra-cotta balustrading and courses. The band stand is to occupy a position on the lowest of these terraces, and will, when erected, form an ornate structure, ample for the largest band.
The pavilion consists of a central hall, flanked on either side by conservatories...so charming is the contrast between the red brick and terra-cotta of the pavilion and dainty tones in cream and green of glass roofing and wood framing. The pavilion is primarily a large shelter from the rain, and is capable of accommodating 500 to 600 people. There is a balcony above, reached by an internal stairway...In the central hall provision has been made for the erection of a refreshment buffet, but as yet the parks committee…has come to no decision about this very necessary detail of park enjoyment. The pavilion is 100 feet by 600 feet with 36 feet elevation, and the conservatories about 30 feet square, and ten feet lower in elevation than the pavilion.
The main approach to the pavilion is from the Stow Park-road or upper side, and there are doors leading from the hall to the conservatories, and from these in turn to the terraces - an arrangement designed to prevent draughts. Some pretty friezes, with conventional foliage, have been introduced between the string courses about half-way up the front of the pavilion, and there is some noteworthy modelling in terra-cotta at the front entrance, into which is worked the arms of the county borough. The floors of the conservatories have been paved with hydraulic pressed red tiles. Around the sides of the conservatories is arranged a narrow staging which will be kept furnished with plants. The idea of the parks committee is to arrange for exhibitions of chrysanthemums in these conservatories and possibly for rose shows and shows of other cut flowers."
Over the years the conservatories have housed various plant collections including interesting and exotic palms, annual shows of chrysanthemums and even a small aquarium with goldfish at one time.
There is also a long history of refreshments being offered for sale from the pavilion building. In 1996 CADW gave the pavilion, conservatories, terrace and bandstand Grade II status.
In response to the demand for refreshments in the park, the rustic teahouse was built in 1910. The design for this was approved in November 1909. It was to have timber uprights supporting the roof, and the spaces between the uprights would be filled with trellis work.
The cost of materials was estimated to be £57-10s-0d with labour costs estimated to be £77-10s-0d.
In February 1910 it was agreed that Mrs Bevan (who ran the refreshments service in the pavilion) be allowed to use the new building for an additional rental of £5.
In 2000, the tea house was given listed grade II status along with the gates, gate piers and two lodges.