Pontypool park for fun, frolics and fairs

Putting green, Pontypool park 1948

 

My house is a split-level with the lounge and kitchen upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. The lounge has a huge picture window occupying most of the wall and it looks over to Caerleon and right up the Usk Valley to Grey Hill and Wentwood beyond; it’s a magnificent sight at all times of the year as the seasons unfold. The first thing everyone does – friends family or workmen – when they enter the lounge for the first time is to go over to the window and say “Wow! What a view!”

I’ve been living in the house for well over forty years, and yet I never take the view for granted; I continually appreciate it. And so it was when I lived in Pontypool. We had a magnificent park of 150 acres which we were able to visit freely  during the hours it was open and at any time of the year and we really did appreciate it. When I was old enough to venture that far on my own, I would go down, with a group of friends, and stay there for hours.

It had everything a group of young lads could ask for: a playground with a variety of machines to play on, acres and acres of green grass to run about on or kick or bowl a ball, hiils to climb, conkers to find, horse-chestnuts to eat, a pond and a stream to look for fish, build dams and get wet feet and acres of bushes near the river to chase about and hide in. When we became teenagers we could also play tennis and even bowls. What more could we ask for?

Then, of course, there were the special events, usually held on bank holidays. On those occasions the Pontypool Council was allowed to close the park and charge admission to enter. One such occasion was when the annual carnival took place. The long procession of entrants and floats wound its way through the town and ended up in the park where the judging took place and the winners were announced. I knew a boy, named Cecil Cleary, who lived in Hayden Street at the back of our house; he was about my age and every year his mother would dress him up as a red indian by using red floor polish. With his head-dress and indian clothes on he really did look the part and won first prize in his section for a number of years. I remember his mother once saying that she had to boil water for three baths in order to wash off the floor polish; there were no hot taps then, hot water had to be heated in a copper boiler or a kettle.

The sports were also great fun and we spent hours sitting on the bank watching the competitors running, jumping etc. And, naturally, there were all sorts of ice-cream vendors and pop suppliers about if we had any money to buy their wares. I remember one year there was a display by a team of Russian Cossacks. I was mightily impressed by their riding skill and daring deeds jumping on and off horses while they were moving and jumping from one side of the horse to the other and back again etc. I found it all so exciting.

The schools also made use of the park. Mr Petty, in the warm summer weather, would sometimes take a large group of boys down the park to play cricket. We only possessed six stumps, two bats and a cork ball, but we managed. I remember the challenge of one boy to Mr Petty: “How about a penny on the middle wicket sir?” He sportingly obliged by putting on the penny. The first bowler to hit the penny off the stumps kept it.

The Sunday Schools also found the park a great boon. At Whitsun, Park Terrace Methodist Sunday School usually went down there for their party. Tables and chairs were taken down, together with a supply of jelly, blanc-mange and slab cake all washed down with tea drunk from a blue and white tin mug. Then would follow the sports, usually the running of various distances according to age, and also novelties like three-legged races, the winners receiving tuppence or so as their prize.

Dante’s Fun Fair, Pontypool park, 1948

There was one event in the year which lasted for about a week; that was the visit of the Dante’s Fun Fair. We all looked forward to this and saved up a few pennies to use during its stay. We loved rolling our pennies down the chutes, trying our skill at darts and air-gun shooting and, when we could afford it, having a drive on the dodgems; how we loved chasing our friends! If the summer was particularly wet at fair time the turf would invariably get pitted and muddy with all the walking on it and complaints usually followed at the state of the ground when the fair had left. Sometimes there would be angry letters in the Free Press saying that the visit of the fair should be stopped.


Tennis courts, Pontypool park, 1948

When I was an older teenager at West Mon School I’d often visit the park with a friend or two to play tennis, or sometimes a more leisurely round of putting. It was quite inexpensive so that we often had a small sum left to enjoy an ice-cream drink in the Italian cafe near the library. With today’s enhanced facilities at the Trosnant end of the park teenagers are able to enjoy their drinks in the restaurant.

Over the years I suppose the park has given great pleasure to millions of people from Pontypool and its environs. May it long continue to do so.

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