Cardiff - Sophia Gardens

Pontcanna : CF11 9XR Cardiff - Sophia Gardens : Map credit National Library of Scotland
Sophia Gardens is a park in Cardiff which opened in 1858 on land owned by the Marquess of Bute, the name Sophia was the name of the Marchioness.

On February 22nd 1879, the Weekly Mail reported that "the field adjoining the gardens to be encompassed by a broad, level path, which is intended to be used principally for bicyclists and athletes." The new grass track was reported to be 980 yards long and was first used in 1881.

The South Wales Daily News reported on the Cardiff College Sports which was held on the 13th April 1881, which were the first bicycle races to be held on the new track at Sophia Gardens. There were two bicycle races over one mile and three miles, "the weather was fine but few people were present".

The South Wales Daily New reported on July 15th 1882 regarding Sophia Gardens that racing would be held "on a track which has been specially laid down by the kindness of the Marquis of Bute." Presumably this would have been a cinder track. It was reported to be half a mile round.

The Weekly Mail of July 22nd 1882 reported that a series of races had taken place "at the Sophia Gardens Field, under the auspices of the Cardiff Bicycle Club." Four races were held including a tricycle event. In September of the same year, the Conservative Fete included two bicycle races. Also in September, the South Wales Bicycle Meet was held in Cardiff, where 156 cyclists rode in procession to Sophia Gardens where a large track meet was held.

In a race report of the Cardiff BC race meet in 1883, the track was said to be 980 yards around.

In 1885 the condition of the Sophia Gardens track was described as deplorable with extensive ruts and a dough-like surface. The Cardiff Bicycle and Tricycle Club held their Spring Sports there with four open and two club races on May 16th 1885 and drew a crowd of 2,000 people.

At the Jubilee athletic sports meeting on Wednesday 22nd June 1887, organised by Cardiff Bicycle and Tricycle Club, there was a large crowd of between 6,000 and 7,000 people. The spectators were separated from the track by a ‘frail single rope' and unfortunately, after an exciting race, the crowd surged onto the track. After a long delay, a path through the crowd was cleared and the bicycle races continued with difficulty.

Bicycle racing continued at Sophia Gardens into the 1890's, Cardiff Harlequins Football & Athletic Club held their amateur sports meetings there and Cardiff Cycling Club arranged ‘a capital programme of cycling events'.

In 1893 the state of the track at Sophia Gardens gave rise to concern as it had ‘heaps of pebbles and rubbish' on it and the track needed clearing rolling and re-laying. In 1894 it was in ‘a very rough condition'.

The Hibernian Society held their annual sports in 1899 and included two bicycle races and the Cardiff Boilermakers sports in 1900 which included professional bicycle races. In 1902 there was an international cycling meeting that drew a large crowd.

In 1902, the track was described as ‘unsuitable' and ‘May be admirable for learners and timid young ladies, but as a racing track it is a failure'.

Bicycle racing seemed to stop in the late 1900's.

Sophia Gardens was acquired by Cardiff City Council in 1947. The Gardens still exist and now include Sport Wales National Centre, multi-use sports halls and Sophia Gardens Cricket Ground, home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club.


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