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A few things you probably didn’t know about Penarth.

If you are like me and have lived in the southern part of wales for an extended period of time then you have very likely paid a visit to the beautiful seaside town of Penarth. But, like me, you have probably taken the town for granted. You have walked along the pier, spending more time worrying about falling down the gap between the slats, than thinking about the history of that upon which you stand. You have wandered through the parks, using them as a shortcut to get from one shop to another, instead of breathing in the beautiful surroundings. You have rushed in and out of the shops, forgetting for the twelfth time that day to buy Aunt Beryl a birthday card, and have not appreciated the architecture of the surrounding buildings.

I know all these things because I too am guilty of them. So I decided to educate myself… and this is what I found.

The Penarth Marina was not always just a handy place to moor your boat. In fact before the marina was reopened as such in 1987 the area was known as the Penarth Docks. The docks were proposed in 1859 and, after a short six years of construction, were fully completed. In the dock’s heyday almost five million tons of coal were carried out within the space of a single year. This, unfortunately, was roughly four million tons less than the dock at Barry and so priorities for the dock started to shift.

One feature of the dock that stayed from its inception all the way up to when the docks officially closed in 1963 was the Penarth tunnel underpass. A beautiful underground route that started at the dockland and led to Grangetown, a half mile walk that took place below the River Ely. The circular tunnel was lined with cream and green coloured ceramic tiles and lit perfectly by gaslight. The underpass was not wide enough for the behemoth sized vehicles of the time and so the only inhabitants were cyclists or pedestrians on their way to work in the city. At the end of the dock’s lifespan the tunnel was closed, the maintenance needed becoming too uneconomical, and so each end was bricked up. Never again providing a victorian era shortcut to the city.

During the second world war the docklands, with its busy commercial day to day workings and its proximity to the docks of Cardiff, became the target for Nazi German air raids. The raids began in 1941 and proceeded to occur almost continually for four years. In 1943 a United States Navy Base was established and Operation Overload began. The base was a starting point from which many of the troops who took part in the D Day Invasion of the Normandy beaches set out from. The base’s Captain looked favourably on the docks saying that “It played a vital role in the Allied Invasion of Europe”and that the Americans regarded it as one of their best repair establishments.

Before the horrendous events at the start of the 20th century Penarth was known throughout the country as ‘The Garden by the Sea’. Everyday the small town was packed with visitors from all over the United Kingdom who came to marvel at the the beautiful expanses of land that the seaside town had to offer. Penarth’s oldest park, Windsor gardens, was opened in 1881 by the Windsor estate. This soon led to a local committee coming together in order to identify suitable areas of land for the creation of more parks in the area and, in 1897, Lord Windsor donated a total of sixteen acres to the cause. Two years later Alexandra Park, Cliff Walk and Penarth Head Park were born. So thanks to the kindness of a single family Penarth became one of the most alluring seaside towns in the U.K.

Thomas Goodyear