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St Helen's Cricket and Rugby Ground, Swansea

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Map ReferenceSS69SW
Grid ReferenceSS6395492244
Unitary (Local) AuthoritySwansea
Old CountyGlamorgan
PeriodPost Medieval
St Helen's ground has been the home of cricket and rugby in Swansea since the middle of the nineteenth century. Purchased from Colonel Morgan in 1873, Swansea Cricket Club set about levelling the site and laying turf. In total, £2000 was expended in the initial laying out of St Helen's as a sports ground. The formation of Swansea Rugby Football Club in September 1872 (initially as a soccer club - only in 1874 did the All Whites switch codes) also brought the footballing codes to St Helen's. From 1882, St Helen's became one of the two main venues for rugby internationals in Wales (the other being the Arms Park in Cardiff). County cricket was first held at St Helen's in 1892 with a match between Lancashire and Glamorgan. For much of the 1880s and early 1890s, a cycling track was present at the site as well though this was considered to be a relatively poor track because of being squeezed between the cricket and rugby pitches.

The development of Swansea for sporting purposes began in earnest after the First World War. Whilst a small wooden pavilion had stood on the northern side of the ground since the 1870s, it was the construction of a brand-new, two-storey pavilion in 1927 that asserted St Helen's status as a first-class sporting arena. With a colonade and veranda on the upper floor, the pavilion provided space for BBC commentators and colleagues from foreign broadcasters including the Irish "Radio Eireann". By this time, St Helen's was used exclusively for cricket and rugby matches though there were attempts to bring greyhound racing to the ground in 1928. In addition to the cricket pavilion, a grandstand was constructed along the southern part of the ground which provided covered accommodation for spectators and also blocked the view into the ground from Oystermouth Road.

Used as an ARP station during the Second World War, St Helen's underwent refurbishment and further improvements in the late-1940s with particular focus on retaining rugby internationals at the site. Enlargements to the embankments which ran along the entirety of the north section of the ground impared the view from the ground floor of the cricket pavilion. As a result, the veranda on the second floor was extended and four pagodas constructed. Two of these provided accommodation for broadcasters. Memorial gates, dedicated to former players, were erected opposite the Cricketers Arms in 1959. Floodlights were added in 1964.

In more recent years, St Helen's has suffered from the departure of top-flight rugby and rugby internationals. Aside from the match between Wales and Tonga played in 1997, no rugby international has been played at St Helen's since 1954. With the establishment of professional rugby in the 1990s, the formation of the Neath-Swansea Ospreys in 2003, and the construction of the Liberty Stadium in 2005, St Helen's has ceased to be the premier rugby ground in the city. But, with recent modernisation - the former wooden grandstand on Oystermouth Road was demolished in 2005/2006 - St Helen's remains an important sporting venue and with the views over Ostermouth Bay, one of the more picturesque in Wales.

Daryl Leeworthy, RCAHMW, 20 October 2011.