Thompsons Park is a late Victorian garden laid out by the well known garden designer, William Goldring. The park is a charming place with woodland, mature trees, lawns and more formal areas and its character is enhanced by the pool and bronze statue of ‘Joyance’ by Sir William Goscombe John.
Thompson’s Park subdivides into two sections. The upper two thirds of the park, known as Sir David’s Field, is a level plateau, now used informally as a playing field, encircled by a path with distant views of the hills south west of Cardiff.
On the lower level, the garden is more ornamental, laid out with lawns, a circular pond and fountains and small lake. East of the lake, ‘The Dell’ comprises the embankment between the two sections, where the path rises via a series of stone steps through woodland to the upper level.
The name ‘Sir David’s Field’ marks the site’s association with the Mathew family of Llandaff. Sir David Mathew was granted the land in the fifteenth century for services to the king. Eventually the land was sold to the Romilly family in 1818.
In 1852, the Cardiff Freehold Society purchased parts of the Romilly estate as part of a national campaign to enfranchise people – those who purchased a plot of freehold land and built a house with a minimum value of £150 were granted the right to vote.
Charles Thompson moved to Cardiff in 1857, after Spiller Milling became established in the town He became chairman of the company in 1860 and moved to Preswylfa, one of the houses on the former Freehold Society land, in 1870. His son, also called Charles Thompson, started working for the same company in 1874, rising to become a director in 1887. He was also a prominent local businessman and it was he who owned Sir David’s Field which eventually became the park.
In 1891, Charles Thompson junior opened the garden to the public as a philanthropic gesture. The family were already well known for their public spirited generosity, having made contributions to a wide range of public projects including University College, Cardiff and the National Museum.
In 1896, the garden area was extended and laid out by William Goldring – the well known Victorian designer. Goldring was assistant editor of The Garden and editor of Woods and Forests between 1879 and 1886. He later set up as a landscape architect in 1887. His work included private houses, asylums and public parks across the UK and commissions in India, France and the United States.
Evidently the park was popular, in 1897 urinals were built on the site and the layout also included a playground with wooden framed swings. In 1899, Thompson commissioned Sir William Goscombe John to install the bronze statue of ‘Joyance’– now one of the iconic features of the park.
In April 1911, Charles Thompson and his wife Honora hosted a garden party in the park at which he announced that he would hand over the freehold of the site to Cardiff Corporation as long as they renounce the right to build upon Llandaff Fields and ensured the site remained an open space forever. The gardens were given the name ‘Thompson’s Park’ to commemorate the gift. Boundary stones in the park inscribed with Roman numerals denote the area of the park conveyed to Cardiff Corporation. Thompson continued to maintain the park until 1924, when he requested that the Corporation take on three gardeners and three caretakers to be employed by him to carry on the work.
The park has altered little from its original layout, although its surroundings have changed following the development of Cardiff in the early 20th century. The Thompson family home of ‘Preswylfa’ was demolished in around 2003, but another property, Dulwich House, on Pencisely Road, which was opened by the Thompsons as a convalescent home for ‘tired mothers and sick children’ still remains. The park is designated Grade 2 on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens in Wales.