Bute Park & Arboretum is nationally important for its grade 1 historic designed landscape, its wealth of archaeological and nature conservation interest and for containing the largest Arboretum in a public park in the UK.
Proposals to restore the park have evolved over a number of years through extensive research and development work and public consultation. The £5.6 million Bute Park Restoration Project, supported by a £3.1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was agreed in 2008. Work started on site in January 2010 and was completed in Spring 2014.
Project Mission: “The Bute Park Restoration Project aims to maximise public access to and enjoyment of Bute Park through restoring and conserving its features of special historical, environmental and horticultural interest, introducing sustainable management and maintenance regimes and extending access to the park’s heritage by developing learning and recreational opportunities for the widest possible audience.”
As part of the restoration project, general works have been carried out to improve accessibility and visitor experience in the park, including path repairs, increased planting, updated signage and new bins and benches. In addition, a woodland balance trail has been installed for children in the woods behind the Summerhouse, as well as eight pieces of fitness equipment that form a trim trail alongside Blackweir playing fields. As well as implementing general works in the park, the Restoration Project has restored key historic features in the park and built new facilities for all users to enjoy.
Building of the Summerhouse Café: The original Summerhouse kiosk, believed to be designed by William Burges, was located in the park near the sunken lawn. Used as a tea room when the park came into public ownership in 1947, it eventually fell into a state of disrepair and was relocated to St Fagans National History Museum in 1988. Completed in May 2010 as part of the restoration project, the new Summerhouse Café is based on Burges’ original design and provides park users with hot and cold refreshments, a beautiful seating area with views of the Herbaceous Border and disabled access toilet facilities.
Restoration of the Animal Wall: The Animal wall, designed by William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, is one of the most delightful and photographed historic features in Cardiff. The original wall, which featured nine animals, was positioned directly in front of the Castle. Due to road widening works in the 1920’s, the wall was moved west to its current position and a further six animals added. Natural weathering and its proximity to a busy road resulted in the Animal Wall deteriorating badly by the turn of the 21st Century, and not for the first time the anteater was without his nose.
In 2010 as part of the Restoration Project, the wall was comprehensively cleaned, badly damaged stone work repaired, and the landmark conserved for the delight of future generations of both residents and visitors. During this work a section of the wall near to Cardiff Bridge was lowered to improve views into the park from Castle Street. The realistic animals perching along the wall are unique to Cardiff and have become a major landmark within the city. Stories about the antics of the animals were serialised in the South Wales Echo in the 1930’s.
Restoration of West Lodge (including – Pettigrew Tea Rooms): West Lodge, which defines the southern boundary of the park, was designed by Alexander Roos, for the Third Marquess of Bute. The building was constructed sometime after 1860 and provided part of the grand entrance to the estate that the castle had lacked up until that time. The house was originally used to accommodate Castle employees and after the gifting of the main estate to the Council in 1947, it was used for park and castle employee accommodation.
Until summer 2011, West Lodge was used as office space for Parks and as a mess room for the park rangers. Due to its listed building status, discussions were on-going with the historic buildings section within Cadw to determine the extent of alteration that could be undertaken as part of the project in order to increase the floor area of the building and provide disabled access to the facilities. The restoration and extension of this historic landmark, completed early 2012, provided a beautiful setting for a tea room, a gift shop, office/gallery space and much needed additional public toilets within the park. Beautiful reclaimed Victorian tiles from the site of Blackfriars Friary were laid on the floor, and in March 2012, Pettigrew Tea Rooms had its official opening event.
Building of the Bute Park Education Centre (including the Secret Garden Café): In the early 1900’s, a Walled Garden was built to replace the original estate nursery next to Greyfriars House. It was used to produce fruit and vegetables for the Bute family when they were in residence at the castle. To this day, the nursery is still in use; it produces bedding plants and supplies plants and trees used throughout Cardiff’s parks and in the City Centre (500,000 bedding and 30,000 potted plants). As part of the restoration project, the Bute Park Education Centre was built within the site of the existing plant nursery, and plays on the concept of a ‘Secret Garden’ behind a beautiful red brick wall. The building’s high levels of insulation, grass roof, reclaimed bricks, solar panels and onsite sewage treatment plant make it sustainable.
This exciting new facility opened in October 2011, and is now the base for educational visits in Bute Park. It also supports in house training of horticultural staff and apprentices, offers a wealth of guides and information for family and tourist visits to the park, and provides additional refreshment and toilet facilities through the onsite Secret Garden Café. A new border was also created that runs along the beautiful red brick wall. It contains roses, mixed border seasonal interest plants for pollinators and some species that were in Pettigrew plantings within the park.
Restoration of the site of Blackfriars Friary: Blackfriars Friary is a scheduled ancient monument dating back to the 12th Century. It is of national importance as it is one of the few friary sites for which the full building plan is known; the area of low-lying brickwork visible on site today actually depicts the layout of a friary dating back to 1256. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the site was robbed of much of its building material and very little remained by the time the Bute family took up residence in Cardiff Castle. During the 1880’s, the third Marquess of Bute instructed an archaeological excavation of the site (then part of his private grounds), which was followed by a scheme of work to depict the plan of the original buildings. This included the Victorian brickwork that you can see on site today, as well as the beautiful Victorian tiles that are on display in West Lodge and on site.
Completed in 2014, work was undertaken as part of the restoration project, to conserve and interpret the medieval Friary remains and the late Victorian interpretation of the original building plan. Signage and a tactile model have also been introduced to allow people to better understand and interpret the site and it’s fascinating past. The works included full restoration of the church and nave walls, whilst archaeologists conserved, recorded and buried medieval remains at the north end. Paths around the site have been restored, and a new path through the woodland has been created to take cyclists off the herbaceous border.
Re-flooding of the Mill Leat: The Mill Leat, or Castle moat, follows the line of the original mill stream, which was constructed in the 12th Century and used to power the mills. In the 1830’s, the Dock Feeder was constructed, and subsequently the mills were demolished and the area became an ornamental pond as the Castle grounds were being developed. In the 1870’s, Burges constructed the Swiss Bridge, a new exit from the castle to the private grounds over the old mill stream. When the West Gate was reconstructed in the 1920s on instructions from the 4th Marquess of Bute, the Swiss Bridge was moved to cross the dock feeder below Castle Mews. Sadly the Swiss Bridge was dismantled following vandalism in the 1960’s. The Mill Leat contained water until the late 1970’s but following a drowning and problems with flooding of the Angel Hotel, on the opposite side of Castle Street, the water was drained.
As part of the Bute Park Restoration Project, works were carried out to excavate the leat and rebuild existing masonry including 2 new dams. The leat was then lined and re-flooded off the dock feeder with the refurbishment of the well and a contained system pumped to maintain water flow. During the excavations, a number of important archaeological discoveries were made. Completed in 2013, re-flooding the Mill Leat has restored beautiful views and reflections of the castle house, as well as enhancing the character of the park to the west of Cardiff Castle. It has also provided a new habitat for wildlife in the park.
Repairs to the Eastern Boundary Wall The Bute Park Eastern Boundary Wall runs from Blackweir Farmhouse to Gabalfa Lodge. The precise age of the wall is not known but it is likely that it is contemporary with Llys-Tal-Y-Bont Lodge which is dated pre 1880. The wall forms a significant visual feature along the north/south cycleway and provides a strong boundary statement for the northern section of the park. Following ivy clearance in 2012, works were carried out during summer 2013 to repair and consolidate the wall. Work included re-facing areas with lost stone, re pointing and capping to stabilise the wall and improve its appearance, as well as replacement and refurbishment of railings. The works along this boundary wall aimed to deter access to the locked section of the park, whilst maintaining the necessary clear sight lines for the safety of path and cycleway users and offer glimpses into the park along its length.