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Friday, 26 September 2014

National Sporting Heritage Day and the Heritage of Wales

“Every pavilion or clubhouse has had its own struggle to be built and every club has faced its own fight for survival. It is why we cherish our fields of play and defend them furiously.” Eddie Butler

Although the Millennium stadium in Cardiff might be world famous, many of us take the existence of parks, recreation grounds and leisure centres for granted. In Fields of Play, the author, Daryl Leeworthy, explores the history of these everyday sites and examines the impact of sport on the landscape of modern Wales.

It explores the diversity of sporting facilities from the earliest public park opened in 1858 at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, through the Llwyn Onn swimming baths in Wrexham, opened in 1854, to the numerous welfare grounds that opened across Wales at the turn of the twentieth century. Lesser-known sporting venues are also highlighted, such as the American Roller rink in Cardiff from 1908, the Welsh White City greyhound stadium of 1928 and the short-lived Penarth Road Speedway Stadium from the 1950s.

A game of tennis, photographed around 1934, in the ruins of the Bishops Palace, St Davids, NPRN: 21633
Activities such as the Powderhall races, pushball, baseball, hill-climbing races in cars and the development of adventure playgrounds and leisure centres are all considered, alongside the better-known rugby, football and cricket that dominate the sporting press today.

The book also considers the sporting heritage of Wales in wider terms, with a chapter on the role of the countryside as a national playground, looking at the infrastructure generated by the rise in popularity of cycling, hill-walking, climbing and youth hostelling in the early twentieth century.
Superbly illustrated with 172 historical and contemporary photographs, including many never-before-seen images from the Aerofilms archive of the National Monuments Record of Wales, Fields of Play will enable an understanding of this significant aspect of Wales’ built heritage and encourage a greater appreciation of sporting places in the landscape.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate National Sporting Heritage Day on Tuesday 30 September 2014  it is worth remembering that without the efforts of those who struggled to create the parks and open spaces of Wales over a century ago, we would all have far fewer sporting facilities than we have today.

The book is priced at £9.95 and is available from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and all good bookshops.

Fields of Play: The Sporting Heritage of Wales by Daryl Leeworthy, with a Foreword by Eddie Butler, published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, 2012, 180pp, 172 illustrations, size 252x224mm.
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