SWANSEA.

The Later Victorian Period
The Gower Peninsula
The Enterprise Zone

Oystermouth Castle

Oystermouth Castle




The present City of Swansea has grown from humble beginnings. Little is known of the period when the name of Swansea was thought to have indicated the settlement of a Viking named Svenn. The Normans settled on lands given by their conquering king William. Their names like De Breos, Beaumont and de la Beche still remain in place names. They built their castles along the coast, presumably to protect themselves from the marauding Welsh.

About three hundred years ago, the population was small in number; hardly two thousand. There was little increase during the 1700s, but at the beginning of the 1800s, it increased by a few thousands, and during the 1800s, up to the early years of this century, the population of Swansea and its districts between two and three miles around had increased to about one hundred thousand, and the religious leaders of the area made extensive preparations for the one hundred thousand. In the early period referred to, that is, about three hundred years ago, although the inhabitants were few in number, it would have been appropriate for the spiritual leaders to be aware of their religious duties, but apparently they were not, because in 1648, a spiritual decision was made when Parliament arranged for six itinerant preachers to be appointed in each of the counties of Wales to spread religious knowledge through the land, an Act that remained in force for three years. These preachers were called "Spreaders of the Gospels." From this period when Parliament took the religious cause in Wales under consideration, there were signs of religious effort and success. These "Spreaders" laboured in this region and other regions for years. There were some hard working priests at that time in some parts of the country, and with the combined efforts of the "Spreaders of the Gospels" and these priests, it appears that Nonconformist churches were established near Swansea and other places near Neath, such as Tirdoncyn, Blaengwrach, Chwarelau Bach, Mynydd y Drumau, and Ilston in Gower. They were very weak at the beginning, as the population was very thin and scattered. A Nonconformist church was established in Swansea in the final years of the 1600s. In 1696,a chapel was opened in High Street, Swansea. Apparently this was the first Nonconformist chapel in the town. This has been in the possession of the Unitarians since the beginning of the 19th century. As it is the religious side I have in view in this connection, it would be inappropriate for me to expand in other directions. I can state that many improvements have taken place in regard to trade and the comforts of the inhabitants of the town and the populated areas within a few miles of it. By this time, large docks have been built. There are large buildings such as shops, halls, and the market, with the roads straight and wide. There are splendid opportunities for trade on a large scale, which is necessary, as great numbers visit the town from more than twelve miles away, especially on market day. This has taken place regularly over the years, like the ebb and flow of the sea. They come to the schools in the town to be educated. There is a fine museum called ëThe Royal Institution' containing a large library and ancient curiosities, and thousands of valuable books, Welsh and English, and this aside from the Welsh library connected to the Reading Room in Alexandra Road. Apart from the advantage of trade, the town has every educational opportunity. In the midst of these opportunities and advantages there were keen men, who, over the years were leaders in religion, doing what they considered best to meet the call by raising fine chapels and halls as well as schoolrooms. Thus these leaders of various branches of the Christian church, by preparing an abundance of places in this direction, and using their influence for the good of the masses, brought them to the House of the Lord, to be taught in the things of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Around 1739, Howell Harries of Trefecca visited the town. At that time he came to Llansamlet and travelled through Swansea to the district of Gorseinon. The way to Gorseinon was not over a bridge at that time, nor for many years to come, but by fording the river, or by crossing by boat. Until 1780, Swansea was reached from the East through Llansamlet past a place called called Capel-y-Cwm, and on to the Western counties through Gorseinon. I refer to Gorseinon because Howell Harries had arranged to occasionally meet about six religious societies who would gather in the house of Hopkin John Hopkin to hear their stories. Naturally the evangelist from Trefecca would not lose the opportunity to preach to any crowd he could gather on his way through the town of Swansea. Whenever he began to preach it was not long before a large crowd would gather around him. This was his usual method. He not only used opportunities but also made opportunities. Howell Harries said of the year 1739: "After leaving all my friends in Bristol, I visited Wales. By this time the door was opening more and more to go to several counties, such as Glamorgan, Brecon, Carmarthen and parts of Radnor and Pembroke. That year he went again through the Southern counties of Wales for the second time. " It was through these visits of Howell Harries that the religious societies of the Methodists began in the Swansea districts, but the beginning in the town is not so clear as in those years he would meet the religious societies in Gorseinon. History does refer to his meeting with the well-known Rev. George Whitfield in Swansea, and apparently this was no accidental meeting but was arranged by Howell Harries, and it apparently happened quite often. We have them meeting in April 1743, the year that the association met in Watford near Cardiff.

The Copper Works at Landore

The Copper Works at Landore

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The Later Victorian Period

In the 1870s Llansamlet Parish was alive with smoke and bustle of industry, where collieries and metal smelting works abounded. Very close behind the then new Parish Church was the Charles Pit, At Birchgrove the Sistersí Pit was in full production and in 1887 the Felin Fran Colliery was authorised to build a tramway section across Heol-Las presumably to the Midland Railway, which at that period was one principal routes for coal transportation into Swansea Docks. Large scale coal mining was no new phenomenon. Pwll Mawr was re-opened in 1878 after lying idle for many years following an explosion, in 1827, even then it had been some forty years since the pit was sunk down to the Great Vein by the entrepreneur Chauncey Townsend.

But the new and coming industry was tin-plate. The great works along the River Tawe - the Midland, the Beaufort, the Upper Forest, the Worcester and the Duffryn all lay within the bounds of the parish.

In Llansamlet Higher, the villages of Llansamlet, Birchgrove and Glais were growing. In 1878 the population was something over 2500 and by 1890 William Sims, the local Poor Law Guardian estimated at 4000. Llansamlet was a lively community which expressed itself through the Vestry.
Yet, while the population and industry was expanding most of the profits went to men who lived outside the parish. Lewis Llewellyn Dillwyn MP whose company controlled the Llansamlet Silver and Spelter Works, lived in Hendrefoelan near Killay. The Lower parish had Pascoe St Leger Grenfell, the copper magnate who chose to live who chose to live among his workers and patronise All Saints Kilvey. Llansamlet Higher had no ësquireí after Charles Henry Smith of Gwernllwynchwith House sold his pits in about 1870 to the Foxhole Colliery Co. and moved to Tenby. The Moores of Glanbran had offered help in raising funds for the new Parish Church and Lord Jersey whose Briton Ferry Estate covered most of the land of the parish had given land for the new church.

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The Gower Peninsula

The Gower Peninsula, with the inclusion of Swansea, is one of the greatest tourist magnets in Wales. Each summer countless thousands are drawn to Gower by its golden bays, whilst Swansea also has the appeal of its seaside charm and its strong affiliations with the poet and author Dylan Thomas. More recently, Swansea has reached the headlines being the home town of actress Catherine Zeta Jones.

The Gower Peninsula was the first place in the UK to be designated and protected as "An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" by the National Trust, and the whole region here is steeped in folklore, decorated with some of the most varied and richest wildlife habitats in Britain and bathed in an anachronistic charm increasingly rare in this industrialised country.

Much of the beauty of the area is contained within the shoreline. The cliffs at the Mumbles provide an extensive path along their ridges. As the bays at Bishopstone, Oxwich Bay and Port Eynon are navigated the ever changing rock formations provide an area of superlative natural beauty. The fields and valleys away from the sea retain an air of tranquility, Narrow lanes abound and travel by car is restricted. It is better to walk than to search for places to park.

Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula

Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula

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The Enterprise Zone

Over a hundred years of desecration and pollution had poisoned the land on both sides of the Swansea valley. From the meagre beginnings of copper smelting in Landore to the rise of tin plate manufacture, each of the successive methods of metal smelting and other chemical processes had left a legacy of waste products which still to some degree contaminates the soil.

Since the 1960s the demise of the coal industry has reduced the need for railway facilities. Gone are the extensive areas of railway sidings. The Swansea Canal has been reduced to a few carefully managed stretches fostered by an enthusiastic band of volunteers who preserve those buildings and relics of the once busy canal.

White Rock works on the river Tawe has been landscaped and much of the derelict factory buildings left to give an indication of what was once a prosperous source of profit to the many entrepreneurs who made their money and built palatial mansions on great estates on the west side of the valley.

The lake in the Enterprise zone once part of the Swansea canal is now surrounded by a collection of office buildings and large hypermarket stores. These are landscaped and planted with maturing trees and seasonable flower beds. The main advantage to shoppers and people who work here now is the ease of access from the M4 motorway and the ample parking spaces which are provided.

This then is present day Swansea or, as it known by Welsh speakers, Abertawe. A cleaner but somewhatcharacterless city; with few buildings of architectural merit remaining after the destruction caused by the Blitz, in the second World war. The once popular Mumbles railway has had some suggestion of revival but the track has now disappeared and the project has little commercial value. On bank-holidays the trains were filled with day-trippers from the valleys. Now the trams have a place in the Maritime Museum in Swansea Marina.

The gates of Swansea Marina

The gates of Swansea Marina


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