So – 1st November and the start of a new National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). My inspiration for tthis opening piece is a store of early memories of my childhood growing up in Splott, Cardiff. I was actually born in my grandparents’ house in Tremorfa, but I spent the first seven years of my life at number 12 University Place, a cul de sac running parallel to Habershon Street. It was here that I first played football in the street (although never on a Sunday); and it was from here that we travelled each Saturday to Splott Park to watch my dad playing football for Bridgend Street FC, a football club that had played a large part in our family since its foundation by my great grandfather (Pop Bowley) as part of the community development work undertaken by the Bridgend Street Mission. By the time I was old enough to be really aware of what was going on, ‘The Mish’ was coming to the end of its life as a physical place, although the football club lives on at its new home at The Willows in Tremorfa, and the team is now an established Welsh League side.
Among my earliest memories are the times that we were taken as grandchildren by our Bampy (Theo Bowley) for a ride in his car following church at Splott Methodist Church on a Sunday morning. These ‘outings’ were invariably to one of two places – either Roath Park Lake to feed the ducks, or down to the docks to see whichever large ship happened to have come into port in the preceding few days.
These trips were memorable in part because of the excitement that came with a trip out with ‘Bampy’, and in part because for most of the time that I can remember, the trips involved travelling in (what to me at least seemed like) his enormous and very luxurious car. It was either a Morris Oxford or an Austin Cambridge, and it almost felt like it was the ‘poshest’ car in the neighbourhood!
Splott Park features large in my memories of those early days. It was the venue for football matches on the ‘hallowed turf’ of the big pitch nearest the swimming baths (then open air, since replaced by an indoor pool which has itself now been closed down); but it was also the venue for possibly the most dangerous piece of playground equipment ever to be allowed in a British park : the old steam shunter.
This was quite literally an old steam railway engine from the docks that had been de-commissioned and that somebody had thought would be a great piece of adventure playground equipment for a children’s play area. There was a steel staircase up to the footplate area, and a steel platform with railings ran around the perimeter of the engine allowing children to run around it. However, the best fun was to be had from climbing onto the top of the coal store to the rear of the footplate, and from there, over the top of the cab and onto the curved dome of the engine itself. As a six and seven year old, it literally felt like I was standing on top of the world, with a commanding view of the rose gardens to the rear of the playground, and the bowling greens behind the swimming baths. Eventually, health and safety rules were tightened and the engine was removed, I think to the steam museum at Barry Island. I have an inkling (although this may just be wishful thinking on my part) that it was actually the subject of a renovation project and was eventually brought back into use on a heritage steam line elsewhere in the country. I like to think so, anyway.