Back in 1895 sat in the middle of Swansea was a department store where the standards were so high that it was known as the "Harrods of Wales".

Ben Evans was located on the site of the then-town's original trading market in the late 19th century, with its building inspired by some of the finest French architectural themes.

It sold some of the highest-quality merchandise and gave the area a feeling of real prestige. It was held in high regard by many within Swansea and further afield.

But during the Second World War what was held so dear to so many was reduced to rubble.

In what was known as the Three-Night Blitz of February 1941 between 60 and 70 enemy aircraft dropped an estimated 800 high-explosive bombs and 30,000 incendiary bombs on Swansea. The city had to rebuild and the area was cleared in the 1940s.

Wind Street, Swansea in 1920. Dominating the scene in the centre is the Ben Evans department store

What came in place of the famous store was a public garden and a memorial to those who died in the bombing, notably the 230 people killed in the blitz.

Called Castle Gardens, it represented so much and was held incredibly close to the hearts of many. A traditional urban landscaped park, it in its own way commemorated the wartime suffering.

In Then & Now, a special publication produced by South Wales Evening Post, Jill Forwood recalls the "genuine pleasure" at the decision to transform the area.

“Castle Gardens was nothing complicated, not that big, certainly nowhere near as grand as its name suggests,” she said.

“Swards of grass lined the Castle Street top and the slope beside the David Evans store.

“The square below was criss-crossed with paths and bordered with trees and flower beds. What was meant to be a little canopied bandstand stood in the corner and the ruins of Swansea Castle provided a picturesque backdrop.”

Castle Gardens, Swansea pictured in 1983
Children feed the birds in Castle Gardens back in 1973
Castle Gardens as it was in 1983
A view of Castle Gardens, Princess Way, and the old David Evans store

The area was initially a picturesque spot for many to enjoy a bit of calm within an otherwise bustling shopping area, have a picnic, or feed the birds.

But in October 1993 city councillors decided it was time for a change. They gave their backing to a scheme to transform the gardens for good.

Though the gardens had become scruffy, litter-strewn and graffiti-ridden, many were outraged. Swansea council's decision to remove them and bring in a grassless, treeless amphitheatre in its place was not flavour of the month.

Work began in July 1994 and by October 1995 a sculpture of a leaf, made of stainless steel and reinforced glass and costing £40,000, was installed as its focal point.

How Castle Square looks now
The leaf feature, which cost £40,000
A man relaxes with a newspaper in the sun in Castle Gardens, Swansea

In the years which have followed the area has become a spot where many have visited for markets, Christmas concerts, and screenings of films and big sporting matches. 

Many know it as a notorious spot for many undesirables knocking back cans of lager almost before the sun comes up and a popular place for skateboarders to go.

It has an unmissable fountain feature, which is used by some for a summertime dip in its murky waters, which we decided to test last year.

It remains one of the city's most recognisable points of reference, commonly as a meeting point during a shopping trip or after a night out on nearby Wind Street.

But even to this day many still miss the way the area once was.

Ms Forwood observed in Then & Now: “A lot of people, myself included, still feel very strongly about the loss of the Castle Gardens we knew and loved.

“For us, the heart of the city has turned into sterile stone, littered with chewing gum and liked only by skateboarders.

“Not even the addition of 100 glass leaf sculptures would give it a semblance of the soul or character it had before. What was intended as a living memorial is moribund.’’

There's now signs of a new chapter coming in the area's future. Swansea council is currently working on a new vision for Castle Square and has invited professional teams to submit bids to produce a feasibility study for the high-profile location.

Spider Project Management, an independent property and building consultancy, is working with design partner Acme, a London-based international practice with expertise in urban planning and contemporary architecture.

Considerations are being made on how Castle Square could be transformed and a key factor will be how it could link the emerging new-look Kingsway with the new Swansea Central development, including its long-awaited digital arena and conference centre.

The location will remain in public ownership and will continue to be the city centre's focal public space.

Enhancements being considered include a restaurant run by a Welsh business, high-quality sustainable design, and more green space recognising the square's garden history.

It will remain a year-round destination, practical for events, pop-up uses, commercial, seasonal, cultural opportunities, informal play and activity.

October 1993 - Councillors give their backing to a scheme which will transform the 40-year-old Castle Gardens.

July 1994 - Work starts on the new-look design, predicted to cost around £1m.

October 1995 - Eyebrows are raised when it is announced that a sculpture of a leaf, made of stainless steel and reinforced glass and costing £40,000, will be the focal point of the area.

January 1996 - The first known instance of vandals pouring washing-up liquid into the fountain.

February 1998 - The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors includes the square in its awards for outstanding achievement in the field of conservation and enhancement of the built and natural environment.

June 1998 - Graffiti artists turn the area into a scribblers' paradise with obscene messages and scrawled declarations of undying love.

February 1999 - A shoppers' survey finds Castle Square to be the third-best thing in the city centre, rated just behind the Quadrant and Swansea Market.

Swansea council leader Rob Stewart said: “We will soon ask the people of Swansea for their views on a number of exciting options for the future of Castle Square.

“I hope that as many as possible take part in that public consultation when it launches – it will help us decide on a great future for this important location.

“There will be more green space, more planting to help wildlife, and more seating. There will also be an element of commercial space.

“Its future functional public space will be equal to, or greater than, at present and we want to create a new gardens element to offer a re-greened, more vibrant Castle Square that will complement other initiatives in the city centre, including the Kingsway Urban Park and Swansea Central.

“Tens of thousands of people regularly use Castle Square for events and on shopping visits – and those figures will only get better.

“It’s a pivotal location and it will remain a landmark focal point at the heart of our city as major city centre regeneration continues over the coming months and years.

“Castle Square looks tired and – should funding become available – will be significantly improved.

"We want a design that will capture the spirit of the original Castle Gardens, providing a refreshed and usable public space where visitors will want to spend time and relax, yet also provide the flexibility to cater for events in the way the square currently does."