Swansea – Staying in Dockland

Engraving of central Swansea, showing river Tawe top right, and locks to old meander (North Dock) as well as South dock and small basin to its east. Our flat is on bit of land between basin and dock.

Jackie had found us a flat to rent in the new Dockland Developments around the South Dock.  The Tawe river was the site of coal exports from way back, and of copper ore processing for hundreds of years, but on a much bigger scale by 19th century.

To cope with growing trade the river was straightened in 1842-5, and the old meander turned into a locked dock (the North Dock) in 1852.  The dock beside our flat is the South dock, and it was opened in 1859.

Sadly this huge growth of industry polluted the water and air near the river and docks, so the wealthy factory owners moved west – upwind – to better areas.  One of the bosses did think of his workers – he built houses for them next to the factory on the Tawe.  Probably thought they’d have less reason to be late for work that way.

Assembly Rooms and a neighbouring one-time home for wealthy merchant, just round the corner from the Old Guildhall

The result of a westerly migration of money and culture left the Old Guildhall, Assemby Rooms and pleasing Georgian housing stranded in the industrial quarter.  But it has been partly rescued by modern Swansea now that the industry is a heritage site and the air is cleaner.


The Old Guildhall - beautiful graceful sash windows - now houses the Dylan Thomas Centre


The Old Guildhall is now a centre to celebrate Dylan Thomas, but it also has a good cafe, and an exhibition of photos of Picasso by Lee Miller, the American photographer and partner of English surrealist painter Roland Penrose – a local Sussex chap, often had Picasso round to his little farm near Chiddingly after the war.  She also photographed Dylan T and there was a poster set available – we bought one.

The Centre held a poetry competition for local children and some of the best were on the cafe walls – my favourite couplet, from a year 6 pupil of Pontybrenin Primary School ran:

The pubs and the Kardomah

the drunken and the sober.

And his name?  Quillan Thomas.

The copper ore originally came from North Wales and Cornwall.  Cornwall was also the home of the aforementioned industrialist, J H Vivian, who had been a copper mine owner.  I guess he wondered who was processing the ore he shipped over, and whether he could get involved.  And he did.  Statues to him and his son in the town, but it was the son who got the knighthood.

Later the ore came from Cuba – there is a Swansea cemetery near Santiago de Cuba for dead Welsh miners – and later from Chile.  The first auxilliary steam powered three masted barque built specially for the two way trip round Cape Horn was the Zeta, and a relative of Catherine Zeta Jones sailed on her (she’s a Mumbles lass, just across Swansea Bay).  The return trip to Cuba took about 6 months, but it could be a year to get to Chile and back.

By 1924 the Swansea copper refining was over, though copper processing continued for some decades.  Workers lost their jobs, but the bosses probably invested in the new refineries near to the ore source.

Image of the Zeta - one of many seafront walk pieces of art



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