23 September 1904: An alarming incident at Cardiff Arms Park

On this day in 1904 the pride and joy of both Cardiff CC and Glamorgan CCC, namely the new pavilion at Cardiff Arms Park, was almost lost before it had been even completed.

The dilapidated state of the old pavilion at the Cardiff Arms Park, designed along the lines of an Alpine chalet and installed during the 1870s, had been seen as a major barrier to bringing quality cricket and, possibly, Test Matches to South Wales. In 1903 the cricket and rugby teams had joined forces to seek permission from the Marquis of Bute to replace the old structure with a new and fit-for-purpose building.

Designed by Cardiff architects Veall and Sant the new pavilion had seating for 500 spectators. An imposing wood and brick structure with a corrugated iron roof, the new building housed press and scoring boxes plus dressing rooms equipped with “slipper and plunge baths and lavatories”. With the costs estimated at in excess of £3000 the project was well beyond the reach of the Cardiff CC, but an agreement was reached that Cardiff RFC would provide £1500 on condition that the pavilion also included a large ground floor training room, one hundred foot long, for the use by the rugby club.

Work duly began in the spring of 1904. The contract for construction was awarded to a local company, Gibson Brothers, with a tender that miraculously undercut their nearest competitor by £8. The project, however, soon fell behind schedule, so much so that on the planned opening date, 29 June 1904, only the seating accommodation at the front of the pavilion was ready for use.

Nevertheless, the game went ahead with a Cardiff team pitched against an eleven assembled by Dr E M Grace that included eight Gloucestershire players. The hero of the day for the home side was Cardiff’s professional and groundsman, Jack Nash who took 6-46. His efforts, however, were overshadowed by the 62 year old Grace who opened the batting and top scored for his side. In addition, although he insisted on a runner while batting, he opened the bowling for his side and removed five Cardiff batsmen.

It was Nash who some three months later figured in the episode that could have led to the destruction of the new pavilion. Work was still ongoing and had been further delayed by discussions over whether to install electric lighting. On the afternoon of 23 September Nash was receiving instruction from John Gibson on the use of the stoves installed to provide heating. It was a wet and miserable Monday and, mid-afternoon, two of the painters decided to take shelter in the pavilion.

Clearly unimpressed by Nash’s efforts one of the painters decided to throw a can of oil into the stove. There was great burst of flame that engulfed the room, including the clothes of a plumber, Granville Lewis, working behind the stove. His life was saved by the quick thinking of the Cardiff trainer, M’Intryre, who dragged the unfortunate plumber out of the building and rolled him on the grass to extinguish the flame before he was rushed to the infirmary. Inside the building, Nash led the efforts that successfully placed the fire under control.

It was seven months before cricket returned to the Arms Park with the season opening with a South Wales XI entertaining a Yorkshire XI. As Nash took the field for the home side on 1 May he might just have reflected on how close they had come to disaster that wet Monday afternoon the previous September. As to the painters’ work, while J B Wolstenholm, the former secretary of the Yorkshire club, praised the new structure at Cardiff, he was less than complimentary about the paintwork. Apparently the pavilion had been painted green and he would have preferred white!   

Tony Peters

Museum Volunteer

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