Opened in July 1874, Cwmdonkin Park was, like many of the Parks of Britain, a Victorian creation. The park was built on the land already occupied by Cwmdonkin reservoir and from two fields bought from the Ffynone Estate belonging to a local landowner, Mr James Walters. The cost of the purchase of the fields was £4,650, but the use of public funds to purchase the park was consdered somewhat controversial at the time, according to the Borough records and those of the Cambrian newspaper.
Building parks was an extremely fashionable topic in the professional journals and newspapers of the day, where the need for relaxation, leisure and exercise was discussed and debated avidly. It is no surprise then that the park was created at the Western edge of the town in what was essentially a professional area.
The other great public preoccupation of the Victorians, health, had been behind the building of reservoirs in Swansea, following the two cholera outbreaks of 1832 and 1849, but the land around the reservoir was rather a mess if we are to believe the discussions preceding the park’s creation. It was described variously as “the destructive pit at Cwmdonkin, euphemistically called a reservoir”, and “at present the land surrounding the Cwmdonkin reservoir is waste. The hedges on the upper side are in so dilapidated a condition that cattle may get through and trespass on the fields.”
The fields and the area round the reservoir were landscaped and planted over the next few years with the sort of features you would expect in a Victorian park. It was laid out with the informal paths you can see to this day, and included a bandstand for concerts by the local police and military bands. The planting of the park started in 1876 and probably reached its peak in Edwardian times, and the 1910 catalogue describes 15,000 species of plants in the park. Many of these were exotics that would be considered totally inapporopriate today.