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Swansea Timeline

This Timeline by Gareth Hicks is intended to be a "bare bones with some fleshing out " affair,  for further introduction to the subject  I recommend a detailed reading of Swansea, its Port and Trade and their Development on which this Timeline is largely based


Its Danish name of origin "Sweyn's eie" or Sweyn's Island or sea , denotes its maritime origins as also implies  its Welsh name of Abertawe, or Mouth of the Tawe. Another ancient, and discarded name ," Caer Wyr", or the fortress of Gower, has by some commentators been suggested to be referring to Swansea as well.

In pre Norman times Glamorgan was raided by both Danes and the Irish, the former leaving behind traces of their presence in place names on the  Gower peninsula.

870 to 991---There are 7 raids and battles in the general area recorded in "Swansea ", variously involving the Irish , Danes and the Princes of South and North Wales.

1088/9---Glamorgan, excluding Gower, is conquered by Norman barons with 5000 troops by sea from Bristol, Rhys ap Tewdwr [Prince of South Wales] is defeated near Hirwain

1093---According to the Brut, the Normans devastated Gower , Cydweli and  the Vale of Tywi. However the final conquest of Gower did not take place until 1099.

1099---Gower was overcome by Henry Beaumont [Henry de Newburgh]  from Brecon who erected a keep or castle commanding the ford over the River Tawe. At this time Swansea was a Manor in the Lordship of Gower and Kilvey. The Lordship was held consecutively by the Earls of Warwick, the De Breoses, the De Mowbrays, back to the Earls of Warwick, the Herberts and finally the Dukes of Beaufort who are also the Earls of Worcester.The Norman Lord Marchers claimed rights almost equal to the King in their Lordships, they obtained these rights by conquest, and were in many respects like sovereigns in their own Lordships, which made for a generally uneasy  relationship between them and a ruling monarch . The story of who had the  rightful claim to this Lordship is long and convoluted, not one to be gone into here.

Swansea Castle was built by the Normans in 1099.

1158 to 1184---that Swansea is a town of great antiquity and importance is  also demonstrated by its many charters. The first was granted between these dates by William de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick.This was followed by charters from King John[1215], Henry III [1234], William de Breos [Lord of Gower & Kilvey 1305], Edward II [1312,1317], Edward III [1332 , 1338], Lord Henry[Earl of Worcester,Lord of Gower & Kylvey, Chepstow & Raglan 1532], and James II [1685]. The first mentioned Charter gave Swansea the status of a Borough and granted the townsmen, designated burgesses, the right of taking oak from the woods in and around Swansea to make their houses, fences and ships.........and to carry or sell whatever they wished.......peace in their homes and outside their houses for the space of 7 feet from their doors and on their burgages an oven, brewhouse, and household stuff and all their profits freely and quietly. No foreign merchant was to cut cloths by retail nor buy skins, nor hides, except of a burgess. The Charter from King John in 1215 to the town of Swansea gave the Burgesses  the right to " go and come through all our land with their merchandise , to buy and sell and to do business."

1188---Geraldus Cambrensis refers to the existence of a church in Swansea, see General note on St Mary's Church.

1221---Swansea Castle repaired and strengthened by John de Breos.

1231---See General notes re ancient fisheries

1305---For almost a hundred years the residents of Swansea and Gower had been complaining and petitioning the King about the manner the de Breoses ruled the Lordship.There was also a  running dispute with the Warwick family also claiming the Lordship, the latter brought a law action in Carmarthen, at this time Gower was not part of Glamorgan. In 1283 some dissatisfied tenants of Gower and Swansea had migrated to near by royal lands of Cerregcennen saying they would rather live under the King than a Lord Marcher. William de Breos cleverly married the daughter of King Edward's right hand man in Carmarthen and circumvented the inquiry proceedings . He then in 1305 granted his own Charter, which appeared to calm matters down within his Lordship, and inter alia , illegally granted himself the power to appoint his own Sheriff and Justice, excluding the prerogative of the King's writ from the Lordship.

The 1305 Charter also refers to the  following privilege of the Burgesses "And that they have pit coal in Billywasta ...." and this can  perhaps be seen as the first evidence of coal mining in the area, It is generaly assumed that the site was in fact the upper part of the hill known as Gelliwastad between Morriston and Clydach where several seams cropped to the surface and could be easily worked without sinking  shafts . [See General notes re ferries in this Charter, also Castle Bailey St]

1317---The earliest powers to collect monies for paving and repairing the streets, as well as the enclosure of the town, were granted by Edward II in 1317. To help pay for this the Burgesses were entitled to levy a customs duty of varying amounts on all prescribed goods brought into the town for sale and a farthing for every unit of five shillings value on all mercantile commodities not specifically described.[See General notes re roads in Swansea.]

1319---King John ordered an Inquisition into the "illegal" disposal by William de Breos of many parts of the Lordship of Gower. The findings included interesting references to;
"To Richard Hackenut four mills next Swynesie"
"To Henry de Newnham two acres and a half with the passage or ferry of Sweineseie."
"To John de Horton the town of Ibowilestoun [Knelston] with its appurtenances and c acres of land in subbosco....and mines of seal coal near le Clun [Clyne], with the watermill at Blakepulle."

1332---St David's Hospital in Swansea probably founded by Henry Gower, Bishop of St David's, see General notes for more background to this claim.

1349 & 1361---South Wales, including Gower, suffered severe outbreaks of the Black Death plague which greatly depleted the population , disrupted trade and caused lands to lie idle.The resulting poverty caused great social unrest.

1402---Owen Glyndwr [Chief and Prince of all Wales] overran Glamorganshire, including Gower. Swansea Castle is reputed by local tradition to have been despoiled  and partly demolished by Glyndwr's supporters. Glyndwr restored the Welsh as owners of estates previously usurped by the Norman and English Lords; many remained in Welsh hands after Glwyndwr's defeat and so remained until Henry Tudor's triumph at Bosworth  in 1485, when their descendents , as henry's main supporters, irrevocably established their ownership. Thus originates the claim that ,despite Glyndwr's defeat, Wales was never completely conquered.

1526---There exists a lease in the Duke of Beaufort's estate papers referring to the fact that all coal in Gower and Kilvey had been let  to Sir Mathias Cradok for 80 years .

1532---The Earl of Worcester's Charter had an important bearing on the government of the town. It is interesting to note the names of the parties to the Charter deed; the Earl on the one part, Leyshon [Abbot of Neath], Sir Rice Mansell Knight, George Herbert, Thomas Johns, James Thomas, Harry Barrett, John Franklen, John Cradock, John Synt John, William ap Rees Llwyd, Hopkin Dawkin, John David Morgan, Jenkin Franklen, David Mansell, John Parkin, John Gronow, Thomas ap Owen, and Richard Thomas of the Englishery of Gower, freeholders; and also Gwilym Jenkin, Henry ap Jenkin, Hopkin ap John, Richard ap John, David ap Price ap John, William Griffith, Richard ap John, David ap Griffith, and Roger ap Owen, tenants of the Welshery of Gower; and also Thomas ap Myrike ychen, John David ap Hopkin , John ap David, Jenkin ap John, David ap Hopkin and John Thomas vechan of Kilvey, of the other part. This division of the Lordship into Englishery and Welshery , or Gower Anglicana or Gower Wallicana , is said to originate with the Flemings who settled in Gower and refused to mix with the Welsh in law matters resulting in separate Courts being held.

1552---According to Dillwyn the oldest Codes of Law [or Bye laws] was dated this year and "devised by John Thomas, Fleming of the Towne of Swanesey...."

1563---According to the Margam Charters of 1563 an inquiry and survey  was carried out into coal mines in the Manor of Millwood  [ largely equating with the area known later  as St John's Ward] in the Lordship of Gower.It was certified that the vein of coal involved was worth 13/4 pa after all expenses.

1585---First Town Hall erected in Swansea, adjoining the Castle.

1593---Evidencing colliers residing  , and therefore working in the town of Swansea , is this entry in the Borough's  rents due records ; "John the Collyer for his house 11js."

1595---Lord Cemaes wrote about the methods of mining then , and those formerly.

1615---A further survey was taken of the Manor of Millwood on the River Tawe  in 1641 by Henry Mansell, William Powell, William Thomas and others.This was the period of the minority of Bussey Mansell as Lord of the Manor. The findings included reference to "coal pits and seams of coal on lands held by Richard Seys and that Richard Vaughan deceased had [for] about 26 years [thus from 1615] then last past wrought and landed coals within the said ...lands." Another reference was that "one Matthew Williams and others ,under a grant from the said Richard Seys, had worked and landed certain coals of and out of the said coal pits lying and being in Caegarw and Gwayn Evan..."

1615---Walter Thomas, was Portreeve in this year, he is remembered for having  paid out of his own pocket for the erection of a new quay for the port. He is also well known for later having held the town for Charles I against the Parliamentarians and had his estates and those of his son confiscated for his trouble[see 1642].

1639---The 1650 Survey of the Lordship of Gower commissioned by Oliver Cromwell contains an entry referring to:
"John Williams....there is a Coalworke in Morwenllyw which the tenant holds by lease dated 1639 from the Lord .."  There is also a part of the Survey under the heading of the Manor of Oystermouth referring to the grant by Walter Thomas to Richard Seys in 1642 for digging of coales in Clyne Fforest.

1642--The Civil War between Parliament and Charles I began. South Wales, with the exception of Pembroke, was intensely  Royalist to start with although significant support did swing over to  the Parliamentary forces .Local notables  such as Bussey Mansel of Briton Ferry, Rowland Dawkins of Kilvrough[Gower], and Richard Seys of Swansea became prominent Parliamentarians. Swansea was held for the King by Walter Thomas of Danygraig, as Governor. In 1645 the Parliamentarinas under Colonel Herbert took Swansea, in the same year Phillips Jones was appointed by Parliament as Governor of the Garrison of Swansea. In 1648 , Oliver Cromwell arrived in Swansea on his way to Tenby, he was described in the minute book of the Common Hall in Swansea as " ..the truly Honourable Oliver Cromwell Esq., Lieutenant General of all the  Forces of this Kingdom of England, under the command of the Parliament, Lorde of this Towne, the Seigniory of Gower and Manor of Kilvey." It is also recorded that he gave 10 for the use of the poor.

1649---during the Commonwealth  period, John Miles and Thomas Proud started the Baptist Church in Wales.

1650---Cromwell's Survey of Gower. He refers to  Swansea Castle as " an ancient decayed building called the new Castle". Also refers to the common lands known as the Burrows and Townhill.

1652---First Market held in Swansea, between Wind St and Castle St.[See General Notes]

1655 & 1658---In recognition of the services rendered by the town to Parliament in the Civil War, Swansea having been selected as one of the ports for embarkment of the Parliamentary troops to Ireland, Cromwell granted two Charters to the town, which were revoked on restoration of the monarchy. One such short lived privilige was to send a Member to Parliament, another to elect a Mayor instead of a Portreeeve as its chief magistrate.

1659---Colonel Jones appointed High Steward of Gower by Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector, also sat in Parliament as Phillip, Lord Jones.He was accused in Parliament of having enriched himself  as a consequence of the Civil War, from being a landless yeoman of Llangyfelach to be the powerful Lord of Fonmon in the Vale of Glamorgan. Cromwell himself was given the Lordship of Gower together with the estates of the Earl of Worcester in Swansea.   Jones was vindicated before a Committee of Parliament and survived the return to monarchy sufficiently to have become Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1671.

1678---one Thomas Phillips had the unique distinction of holding  the post of Portreeve for 10 consecutive years, from 1678-1687.

1682 ---Grammar School for Boys founded and endowed by Bishop Gore.

1717---Growth of Swansea as an industrial and metallurgical centre , see General note on copper trade.
Iron smelting at Yniscedwyn.

1741 to 1753 ---The first tinplate rolling mill in the Swansea Valley was started at Ynispenllwch, near Clydach .

1767---Messrs Lockwood Morris & Co replaced wooden rails with cast iron rails at their collieries in Swansea, these were used to convey the coal in trams from the colliery to canal, quay or works. In fact the first known tramway in the Swansea area was made of wood, it was at the Llansamlet collieries of Mr Chauncey Townsend which opened in 1750. This was given special protection in Act of 1778  relating  to the construction of the Wychtree Bridge  and its approaches which on the Llansamlet side were to extend as far as Llwynbrwydrau ,and therefore intersect this tramway.

1768---Morriston founded by Sir John Morris to house his copper workers and colliers.

1773---Composite Turnpike Acts.

1774---An Act empowered the Burgesses to establish a market or shambles selling butchers' meat in the garden of the Castle.This market or shambles was discontinued before 1863 when another Act was granted giving the Corporation rights of regulation over markets and fairs in the Borough. The latter had been held in the Burrows and Greenhill  under the prerogatives of the Lords of Gower but were discontinued under this Act. The Market was rebuilt in 1897 at a cost of 30,000.

1780---The Cambrian Pottery was erected  on the same site as the Burlais Brook copper works site mentioned above used to be. Until c 1824 the pottery made the now world famous Swansea china  sought after by collectors , it used clay brought from Corfe[Dorset] and Bideford[Devon]. It continued to make coarser china ware for many years after 1824 but using local clay from near Penllergaer.

1791---First Swansea Harbour Act.

1794---Act authorising building of Swansea Canal.  See General notes.

1805---Tramline to Mumbles and Clyne Valley constructed.

1809---An  Act of Parliament authorised the "paving, cleansing, and lighting" of the town and the levying on the Borough's inhabitants of  a rate of one shilling to pay for it.

1810---Hafod Works [copper] started up

1814---Joseph Harris [Gomer],  published and printed in Swansea  the first newspaper printed in the Welsh language , under the title of Seren Gomer.

1815---one son of Swansea was John Grove , Portreeve in this year and 1828, and Mayor in 1838. Another was Christopher James who was Mayor in 1849. Their respective sons added to the renown of the town, William Robert Grove and Sir William Milbourne James became judges of the High Court.

1821---The town was first publicly lighted with gas on 1st March 1821 , under the direction of Dr. Wilkinson of Bath.There were 120 public lamps.

1823---Tennant Canal from Swansea to Neath constructed. See General notes.

1829---a new Town Hall erected in Swansea, below Wind St. Enlarged in 1848 with court, chamber and office buildings partly to accomodate the Assize Court. Again extended in 1900.

1832--- serious outbreak of cholera in Swansea, and in 1849, see General snippets[Water supplies].

1836---Mr.Crane  at Yniscedwyn works discovers a blast furnace process to use coal for iron smelting.

1837-- a company known as the Swansea Waterworks Company was formed and given Parliamentary powers to construct a reservoir at Brynmill , see General snippets[Water supplies].

1844--- Thirty two Commissioners were appointed by Act of Parliament with powers to improve, pave, light, cleanse, provide sewers, water the roads, and purchase or manufacture gas. They had a Clerk called Mr Strick, a Surveyor, Mr D Jones, and an un-named Inspector of Nuisances, and Collector. They had power to levy an annual paving and lighting rate, not exceeding 1/- in the pound, which was levied on occupiers , excepting when the rent was under 10, when it fell on the owners instead.The gross amount of rate levied in 1848 was 2258.15.8d., of which 1633.15.4d was actually collected. The rent for the public slaughter house in the same year was 182.

1849---Under the 1848 Public Health Act a public enquiry was held at Swansea under Mr George Thomas Clarke, Superintending Inspector of the Board of Health, as to sewerage, drainage and supply of water , and sanitary conditions of the inhabitants of the Town and Borough of Swansea. The report and recommendations vividly disclosed the intolerable conditions in which a large number of inhabitants lived, and the utter lack of all essential services, and the woefully insanitary conditions of the town, and particularly those areas , streets, courts, in which epidemic and contagious disease had been frequent.This scathing report resulted in a petition and further public enquiry leading to the setting up of the Swansea Local Board of Health in 1850.

1850---Great Western Railway opened as far as Swansea. See General note

1851---As far as records show the first public purpose built sewer in Swansea was built

1852 to 1859---Construction of the North and  South Docks.

1854---Swansea Docks and Mineral Valleys Railway was built. See General note.

1863---The Velindre or Lower Lliw Reservoir was opened ,cost 160,000. See General note.

1867---Steel making started in Swansea, at Landore Siemens Steel Co in Landore.See General note.

1867---By now, and following the several extensions which had then been seen in the Borough boundaries, the length of the streets of the town had grown to about 40 miles, and the number of public gas lamps to 589.

1874 ---an Act authorised the constitution of the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company with powers to construct tramways within the Borough.

1878---The Blaennantddu Reservoir was opened, cost c 100,000. See eneral note.

1881---Prince of Wales Dock opened

1887---Reading, Lending and Reference Library opened by Mr Gladstone.

1888---the Borough acquired the status of County Borough making it entirely separate from the administraive County of Glamorgan.

1889---by the Swansea Electric Lighting Order 1889 the Corporation were empowered to generate and supply electric energy within the Borough for public and private purposes.

1892---The Upper Lliw Reservoir  was opened, cost 116,000.See General note.

1906---The Cray Reservoir in Breconshire was opened, cost 690,000. See General note.

1909---King's Dock opened

1920---Queen's Dock opened

1931---the population of the County Borough of Swansea was 164,797.It has been proved that over one third of the entire population of Wales and Monmouthshire was within 25 miles of Swansea.

1932---Cefn Coed Mental Hospital opened by the Princess Royal, it cost 490,000.

1934---the New Civic Buildings in Victoria Park said to be nearing completion

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Swansea Timeline

[Last Updated : 30 Sept 2002 - Gareth Hicks]

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