Collapse at Sophia Gardens

If the title of this post attracted the attention of cricket fans then I apologize, because it’s not about goings-on at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff but at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion which no longer exists (for reasons which will become obvious) but was an entertainment and exhibition venue built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. You can see a (rather hilarious) Pathé News item about a fashion show held there in 1952 here.  It was also the venue in 1958 for the Empire and Commonwealth Games, held between July 18 and 26th, for boxing and wrestling matches. Owing to post-war austerity, the supply of building materials was heavily controlled so it was necessary to adapt a war surplus aeroplane hangar to provide the framework for the Pavilion. The hangar was obtained from Stormy Down aerodrome near Pyle, Bridgend in late 1949. The cost of dismantling and transporting it was £3,400 and rebuilding it in Sophia Gardens was estimated to cost £40,000. The Pavilion when completed seated approximately 2,500 people, and the final cost of construction was £80,000. It was opened officially on Friday 27th April 1951.

I was about to leave the office just now when I was reminded – by Derek The Weather – that at this time of year in 1982 (i.e. 35 years ago) Cardiff was in the grip of exceptionally severe weather. In fact it started snowing heavily on 7th January and carried on for 48 hours without a pause. It snowed so heavily, in fact, that the weight of snow caused the roof of the Sophia Gardens Pavilion to collapse:


Fortunately no-one was inside. After the roof collapsed the Pavilion was demolished and the land it stood on is now a car park (a little way South of the cricket ground). I don’t know precisely when this event occurred, but it had happened by 13th January 1982. I know this because he collapse of the building led to the cancellation of a concert due to take place there on 13th January 1982 by Black Sabbath, which is apparently a popular beat combo of some sort.

Anyway, it looks like we’re due for some snow in the UK over the next few days although perhaps not in Cardiff and perhaps not heavy as 1982. Strangely, I have no memory of 1982 being a particularly severe winter. I was living in Newcastle at the time, but the weather maps suggest the severe conditions covered most of the country.

17 Responses to “Collapse at Sophia Gardens”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    I remember the snow chaos in parts of South Wales in January 1982 being reported on television news, including the collapse of the Sophia Gardens pavilion. North Wales, where I was, escaped the worse of the weather.

    The pavilion site had been completely cleared by the time I used to walk that way to and from University College Cardiff some years later. It was then a car park with no sign of the old building.

    • telescoper Says:

      There’s still a car park there…

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I presume it’s been covered with tarmac by now. It was dusty stones and grit in the late 1980s.

        A travelling circus used to use the site occasionally. At that time it had performing elephants which would practice on the grass. So I could claim to have seen elephants dancing in the park on my way to the college.

      • telescoper Says:

        Animals from the circus escaped during the floods of 1980.

      • telescoper Says:

        It is not only covered with tarmac, it is equipped with state-of-the-art machines via which one can pay the extortionate fees required to park there.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I didn’t know that. I remember the Cardiff floods on the television news as well.

    • telescoper Says:

      This must have been before they built the little footbridge over The Taff that now leads from Bute Park to Sophia Gardens..

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Oh, yes. I think the footbridge over the river was under construction when I finally left Cardiff in 2001. The footbridge would have been very useful for me as a PhD student: I had to walk all the way down from Pontcanna through Sophia Gardens to the main road to cross over the road bridge, then walk up to University College.

        The astronomy group was based in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy in the Mathematics Institute on Senghenydd Road until 1988. Most of the astronomers moved to the Physics Department on the ground floor of the north end of the main college building during the reorganisation that accompanied the formation of the University College of Wales Cardiff in 1988.

      • telescoper Says:

        It takes quite a lot off the journey having that bridge, but the park gates are closed at sunset so coming home I have to go the long way round.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Ah, yes. I remember walking from Cathays Park through Bute Park near sunset on my way home, but found the gates on the main road near the Angel Hotel were shut. I had to walk back through the park and walk around the castle on the side of the main road.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Didn’t fancy swimming it, Bryn?

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        No. In fact, in those days, it probably would have been easy to wade across the river when the tide was out: the river was tidal before the Cardiff Bay Barrage was completed.

  2. I can remember seeing elephants from the circus taking bathing in the Taf in the early 1990s (when the car park was still gravel). The ‘new’ bridge over the Taf, by the car park, was completed in 1999 I believe as part of the earlier redevelopment of the Sophia Gardens cricket ground so spectators could park at North Road (on the opposite side of the river). Sophia Gardens hosted the Australia V New Zealand game in he 1999 Cricket World Cup.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I didn’t see elephants bathing in the river, unfortunately, which would have been worth seeing.

      I lived in Cardiff until 2000, and completed my move away the following year. I don’t remember the footbridge over the Taf being completed then, but it could just have been that I didn’t go that way, so it could indeed have been completed earlier than that.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I remember that winter well. I was living in the Pepys Building at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and my room was large and scarcely warm enough on the coldest days even with the gas fire on full and an electric fan heater going. I’m glad that as a bye-Fellow I didn’t have to pay the bills! The River Cam froze over and I recall listening to radio commentary from India of England’s cricket tour where the commentators were pleased to be warm. Given that the coldest part of that winter was 35 years ago to the day:

    it must have been the fourth or fifth Test:

    I now live in Shropshire, where the lowest temperature ever recorded in England was logged during that snap (as mentioned in the first link; colder than Newcastle, Peter!)

    When Cambridge thawed, the pipes to the sink I used, which had burst, flooded another Fellow’s room, and it was decided to take the sink out – which was reasonable but nobody bothered to tell me. That led to a row about my accommodation for the next academic year.

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