Swansea - Gazetteers
"SWANSEA, or EGLWYS-VAIR-ABER-TAWY, a parish, comprising the Upper and Lower divisions, and the Franchise of Swansea (which latter contains the important borough; market, and sea-port town of the same name), in the hundred of SWANSEA, and the hamlet of St. Thomas, in the hundred of LLANGYVELACH, county of GLAMORGAN, SOUTH WALES, 44 miles (w. by N.) from Cardiff, 68 (E. by S.) from Milford, and 209 (W.) from London, and containing 14,931 inhabitants, of which number, 13,256 are in the Franchise, 678 in the Higher, and 559 in the Lower, division of the parish, and 438 in the hamlet of St. Thomas.
The town, called by the Welsh "Abertawy," from its situation at the mouth of the river Tawe or Tawy, which here discharges its waters into the great bay of Swansea, in the Bristol channel, derived the appellation of " Swinesea," or "Swinesey," according to Camden, from the number of porpoises with which this part of the channel abounded ; and of this designation its present name is only a slight modification.
After the defeat of Rhys ab Tewdwr by the united forces of Iestyn ab Gwrgan, Prince of Glamorgan, and the Normans under the command of Fitz-Hamon, Conan, natural son of Rhys, having escaped from the scene of carnage with some of his troops, was drowned in the lake of Cremlyn, now an extensive marsh between this place and Briton Ferry, in attempting to pass it in his flight towards Carmarthen.
The castle of Swansea, or Abertawe, according to Caradoc of Llancarvan, was built in the year 1099, by Henry Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, with a view to secure possession of those territories, in the province of Gower, which he had wrested by force of arms from the sons of Caradoc ab Iestyn ; and on the completion of that fortress, the town is said to have been built by the same nobleman, who, having subsequently reduced the whole province under his dominion, introduced into it colonies of English and Flemings, to garrison the various castles which he had erected for its defence. To these his dependents he gave a large portion of territory, and their descendants, who still retain possession of the ancient settlements, were, until of late years, distinguished by their language, manners, and customs, from the aboriginal inhabitants, with whom they seldom intermarried. The town, from the peculiar advantages of its situation, and its early maritime importance, soon became the capital of the province of Gower: its inhabitants enjoyed many valuable privileges, which were conferred by the early Norman lords, and for some time it continued to flourish with increasing prosperity.
Its importance, and its being regarded as the key to the English possessions in Glamorgan, exposed it to all the horrors of frequent warfare, and subjected it to repeated desolation and rapine. In 1113, this place was furiously assaulted by Rhys ab Grufydd, who, after fruitless attempts to reduce the castle, which, from the strength of its fortifications and the number of its garrison, resisted all his efforts, set fire to the town, and laid waste the surrounding country. Early in the thirteenth century it was more successfully attacked by Rhys Vychan, who, being assisted by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, finally succeeded in destroying all the fortresses which had been erected by the Normans within the province of Gower. In reference to the desolation which Swansea suffered upon these occasions, Llywarch ab Llewelyn, in a panegyrical ode addressed to the victor, has these remarkable words : " In Swansea, that peaceless town, the towers are rent, and now peace prevails there : in strongly fortified Swansea, the key of England, all the women are widows." From this dreary state of devastation the town, however, soon recovered, and was again besieged, in the year 1260, by Llewelyn ab Grufydd, the last prince of North Wales, who, coming against it with a powerful army, entirely demolished the castle, which, according to the testimony of most historians, lay from that time in ruins till the prelacy of Henry Gower, Bishop of St. David's, who restored it, besides building the palace of St. David's, and enlarging and embellishing the episcopal residence at Lamphey. A similar style of architecture and embellishment is observable in these three buildings, which are all distinguished by a beautiful open parapet, pierced alternately in pointed and circular Norman arches, a peculiarity of feature, which is characteristic of all the buildings erected by that munificent prelate.
In 1331, Bishop Gower, who was a native of this province, founded an hospital at this place, in honour of St. David, which continued to flourish till the dissolution, at which time its revenue was estimated at £20. After the death of that prelate, Swansea, being so remote from the seat of the diocese, and there being not less than seven palaces in different places belonging to the see, the castle, during the prelacy of his successor, was neglected, and went rapidly to decay.
In the reign of Henry IV., the town suffered materially during the insurrection raised against that monarch by Owain Glyndwr, by whom it was burnt, and the neighbourhood reduced to a state of desolation. During the parliamentary war in the reign of Charles I., Oliver Cromwell visited this place, on his route to embark for Ireland, and is said to have taken up his abode in a house in the High - street, which, till very lately, was occupied as a place of worship by a congregation of Wesleyan Methodists.
The town is beautifully and advantageously situated in an angle between two lofty hills, on the western bank of the river Tawy, which is here navigable for ships of large burden, and at the head of a noble bay to which it gives name, extending for nearly nine miles in breadth from east to west, and sheltered by an amphitheatre of hills from the most unfavourable winds. The principal thoroughfare through it extends for more than a mile in a direction parallel with the river; and the streets diverging from it, which are numerous and in some instances spacious, are well paved, and lighted with gas, under the provisions of an act of parliament obtained for that purpose in 1809. The houses are neatly and substantially built, especially those in High-street, Castle-street, and Wind-street, which are the principal streets for business. From these numerous smaller streets branch off in various directions, some of them leading to a populous district towards the west, in the neighbourhood of the new market-place.
Among the numerous ranges of building in the more retired parts of the town are, Belle Vue, an assemblage of detached houses of handsome elevation, with several pleasing villas, occupying a delightful eminence, and commanding a fine view of the sea and the distant coasts of Somerset and Devon ; the Burrows, comprising several ranges of respectable houses of modern erection, inhabited by genteel families; and a continuation of handsome buildings, both in the upper and lower roads leading to the Mumbles, a pleasant village about five miles from the town, the road to which is, throughont the whole distance, under an elevated ridge, thickly studded with elegant seats and substantial dwellings.
Considerable additions have been made to the town within the last few years, several new streets having been formed, and numerous detached residences erected: a very considerable portion of land in the neighbourhood has also been appropriated as building ground, and some streets of neat houses and ornamental cottages upon it are already occupied. The beautiful situation of the town on the margin of a fine open bay, with extensive, firm, smooth, and level sands, presenting an interesting and pleasant marine promenade, the salubrity of the air, the beauty of the surrounding scenery, and the excellent accommodations which the town affords, have contributed to render it a favourite place of resort for sea-bathing ; and the opportunities of aquatic excursions which the bay affords, and the numerous pleasant rides and walks in the immediate vicinity, extending through a tract of country abounding with picturesque scenery and romantic beauty, attract to this place, during the summer season, a numerous company of fashionable visitors, for whose accommodation and amusement adequate provision has been made in the erection of public rooms, and hot and cold sea water baths, furnished with every requisite appendage.
The Cambrian Society, for the encouragement of researches in geology, mineralogy, and natural history, was established in 1821, under the patronage of the Duke of Beaufort, and the nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood, and contains a number of eminent scientific honorary members. A geological arrangement of the several rocks, according to the Wernerian system, and a geological map of England and Wales by Greenhow, were purchased for the use of the society, and deposited in a room at the infirmary, where they have remained for some years in disuse, the non-residence of most of the members, and a want of energy in the others, having retarded the progress of the society, which, though professedly existing, seldom holds any regular meetings, or makes any advances in the prosecution of the original design.
A society for the cultivation of pure Welsh literature, and a critical study of the Welsh language, was established here some few years ago; but for want of sufficient encouragement it has been suffered to decline, and is at present but little regarded.
A branch of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Horticultural Society, for the encouragement of improvements in the growth of fruits, flowers, and vegetables, by a distribution of premiums among the most successful candidates, was established here some time since : this society held its last meeting about two years ago, but no further proceedings have taken place, and it appears, like the others, to be falling into disuse.
A mechanics' institute, which was established within the last few years, is also on the decline ; no meeting of its members having been held, nor any affairs transacted for some time.
The assembly-rooms, in Cambrian-place, comprise a suite of five spacious and handsomely arranged apartments, consisting of a ball-room elegantly fitted up, in which concerts are also occasionally performed, and a cardroom on the first floor, and having on the basement story, a reading-room, a billiard-room, and a club-room, which are well attended.
The theatre, a neat and commodious structure, is entitled to rank among those of the second class out of the metropolis ; it is opened during the season by a portion of the Bath and Bristol Company, and is occasionally visited by some of the principal London performers, who, during the recess of the winter theatres, attend here in their provincial tours.
Races occasionally take place on the Cremlyn Burrows, and are continued for two days : the time of the meeting is regulated by the English races, upon which they are in a great measure dependent. The principal prizes are, a tradesmen's plate, of which the value is uncertain, and a subscription purse, of which the amount necessarily fluctuates : the course, which is well adapted for two-mile heats, is upon these occasions numerously attended, but the races are so entirely dependent upon the influence and liberality of the stewards, that they cannot be considered as fixed either with respect to the period of being held, or to the stakes which may be run for.
An annual regatta is celebrated, generally in August, and is continued for three days, during which, as also during the races, balls and concerts are held at the assembly-rooms, and dramatic performances are exhibited at the theatre.
This town has risen, with a rapidity unparalleled in the history of the principality, from a comparatively insignificant place to a degree of commercial and manufacturing importance which may well entitle it to be considered not only as the chief town in the county of Glamorgan, but as the metropolis of South Wales. About a century ago it had only a manufacture of straw plat, which was conducted upon a very limited scale ; and its port, at that time a creek dependent on the port of Cardiff, was noted only for the exportation of coal, which was conveyed from the pits in the neighbourhood to the shipping-place by means of packhorses and so deeply-rooted was the prejudice of the inhabitants, at this time, in favour of this their accustomed mode of conveyance that, on the introduction of waggons by an ancestor of the present Sir John Morris, in the early part of the last century, they threatened to indict him for a nuisance, affirming that " the motion of his cumbrous machines disturbed the beer in their cellars."
For its advancement and almost unprecedented commercial prosperity this place is not less indebted to the mineral treasures abounding in its neighbourhood, than to its highly advantageous maritime situation. The vast stores of coal, culm, ironstone, limestone, rotten-stone, flags, fire-clay, and other mineral productions throughout the district, combining with its local facilities of intercourse by sea, first attracted public attention, and led to the establishment of furnaces for the smelting of copper-ore, which were conducted with such complete success that Swansea soon became the principal seat of the copper trade of Great Britain. The whole annual produce of the copper mines of the United Kingdom is estimated at sixteen thousand tons of fine copper, of which the mines of Cornwall and Devonshire produce fourteen thousand, the remaining two thousand tons being the produce of the mines of Anglesey, Cumberland, and Ireland; and of this Anglesey furnishes by far the largest portion. The average richness of the ores is about 8 1/2 per cent., and the number of tons of ore smelted annually, including the poor ores containing fluor spar, and smelted as a flux, is about two hundred thousand tons. Of the whole ore produced in Great Britain, nineteen-twentieths are smelted at Swansea, and at Llanelly, Neath, Aberavon, and Loughor, all within twelve miles of this town; and the other twentieth part is smelted in Anglesey, where there are furnaces for reducing the ores found in that island. With the exception of some recently erected near Liverpool, for smelting the ore from the Bolivar mines in Columbia, there are no other copper smelting furnaces in the empire than those above enumerated ; and of these so much more extensive are the works at this place than all the others taken collectively, that of the whole quantity of ore produced in Great Britain, five-sevenths are smelted in Swansea alone. Although it has been supposed that the art of manufacturing copper was known in this country at a very early period, and some old excavations for copper-ore in Anglesey have been attributed to the Romans, yet the practice was entirely neglected, and the art altogether lost, till within the last one hundred and sixty years, when it was restored by Sir Clement Clarke, who in 1670 first erected works for the smelting of copper-ore, in Cornwall ; but, from the scarcity of fuel, they were soon after removed to the Hot Wells near Bristol. Other furnaces and smelting-works were soon after erected at Crew's-hole, near Bristol, and subsequently at Redbrook, on the river Wye, near Monmouth. At this time the Cornish miners were unacquainted with the true nature of the copper-ore, which they called " Poder," and when they met with it, in working for tin, it was thrown away as useless. To Mr. Coster, the agent and successor of Sir Clement Clarke, is ascribed the discovery of the value of the " Poder," or copper-ore, the promulgation of which has tended so greatly to increase the prosperity of the county of Cornwall, and of the copper-smelting districts of South Wales.
From such inconsiderable beginnings has the copper trade of the kingdom advanced to its present extent and importance ; the annual produce of this trade, estimated at the present low price of copper, amounts to between a million and a quarter and a million and a half sterling, of which about £800,000 is received annually for what is exported to foreign countries, as Great Britain supplies at least one-half of the copper used in the known world. The first works for smelting copper-ore, established in South Wales, were erected in 1700, by Mr. Turner, near Neath Abbey ; the next were built at Melingryddan, near Neath, by Sir Henry Mackworth and Co. ; and the first which were erected in the immediate neighbourhood of this town were built on the site of the present Cambrian pottery, by Mr. Phillips, in 1719. To these succeeded the Landore works, on the site of the present Landore foundry, and afterwards were successively erected, the Forest, White Rock, Middle Bank, Upper Bank, Ynis, Rose, and Havod works. Villages have arisen in the vicinity of all these works, and the town of Swansea has, within the last thirty years, increased in population from 6099 to 13,694.
At this place there are at present, in full operation, the following extensive smelting-works : viz., the Forest works, belonging to the Forest Copper Company; the Ynis works, to the Birmingham Copper Company; the Rose works, to Messrs. Williams, Foster, and Company ; the Landore works, to Messrs. Bath, Nevill, and Company; the Upper Bank works, to Owen Williams, Esq. ; the Havod works, to Messrs. Vivian and Sons ; the Middle Bank works, to Messrs. P. Grenfell and Company ; and the White Rock works, to Messrs. Freeman and Company. There are also four very large rolling establishments on the Swansea river, for the manufacture of sheet copper. A very considerable number of vessels are constantly employed in conveying the ores from the different mines in England and Ireland to the several smelting places in South Wales ; and in transporting the copper, when smelted, to the different markets ; and it is calculated that the average expense of conducting the entire copper trade, in South Wales, is at least £300,000 per annum, exclusively of purchasing the ores. The number of persons employed in all the copper mines of Great Britain is abont ninety thousand. The ore raised in the greatest quantity is the pyrites of copper, or yellow copper-ore, which, upon analysis, is found to contain one-third part of copper, one-third part of iron, and one-third of sulphur. In separating the copper from this proportion of sulphur, which is effected by sublimation, sulphureous and other gases are evolved, and very large sums of money have been expended in repeated attempts to obviate this result, but only with a trifling degree of success, and experiments are still being made in the hope of ultimately accomplishing so desirable an object. Though the smoke emitted from the copperworks is injurious to vegetation, it has not been found prejudicial to health ; but, on the contrary, it appears that agues and fevers, which were formerly endemic in the low and swampy grounds in the neighbourhoods where these works have been erected, have, since their establishment, materially decreased ; and no situations have been found more generally favourable to health and longevity.
The bituminous and stone coal of this district are peculiarly adapted to the purpose of smelting copper, and carrying on the numerous other works established here. In addition to the copper-works there are, the iron-works belonging to the Milbrook and Landore Iron Companies, two very extensive potteries, and other establishments, in which collectively not less than three thousand men are regularly employed, exclusively of those engaged in the mines and in the shipping.
The adjacent district abounds with collieries, employing a very considerable number of men, though the continual fluctuation to which they are liable renders even a remote estimate of the exact number impracticable. The produce of these collieries gives rise to a trade of such extent as to afford business in the harbour for nine shippers of stone coal, seven of binding coal, and four of culm. Ship-building and the repairing of vessels are also carried on to a considerable extent ; and commodious and spacious yards have been formed for these purposes, in which many persons are constantly employed. There are also extensive ropeyards, tanneries, breweries, limeworks, and numerous other establishments connected with the manufactures and general commerce of the town.
From these various sources arises the trade of the port of Swansea, which is consequently very extensive, and has been for several years rapidly increasing. The principal exports are, copper, iron, coal, culm, lime, and earthenware, which are shipped hence to various parts of the kingdom, but the copper chiefly to London : the chief imports are, copper-ore from Cornwall, Devonshire, Cumberland, and Ireland ; timber, from America and the Baltic ; hemp, tallow, flour, and miscellaneous goods from London, Liverpool, and Bristol ; and also flour, grain, and provisions from the south of Ireland.
The number of vessels belonging to the port is one hundred and twenty-two : according to the official returns for the year ending January 5th, 1831, three thousand five hundred and eighty-eight British (including different arrivals of the same), and one hundred and sixteen foreign, vessels cleared outwards ; and two thousand two hundred and thirty-four British (reckoning as above), and forty-three foreign, vessels entered inwards, at this port. During that year also one thousand six hundred and ten British (according to the same mode of calculation), and thirty-five foreign, vessels cleared outwards; and eight hundred and sixty-six British vessels, and one foreign, entered inwards, at the various creeks dependent upon the port of Swansea. The total amount of duties paid during the same year at the custom-house was £4,767. 18. 7.
The situation of the port is in every respect admirably adapted for carrying on a very extensive commerce, and very considerable sums have been expended in its improvement. The first attempt of this kind was made under the authority of an act of parliament obtained in the year 1791, for "enlarging and preserving the harbour of Swansea," the original powers of which were extended by two additional statutes subsequently obtained. Under the provisions of these acts of parliament two massive stone piers were constructed at the mouth of the river; one on the western side, extending three hundred yards in length, and the other on the eastern, extending six hundred yards, leaving an entrance between them eighty yards in width. At the head of the western pier there is a lighthouse, which by night displays a light, and by day a black ball, as long as there is a depth of eight feet of water above the bar. At high water the harbour forms a noble and spacious basin, capable of containing a great number of vessels of large burden; but at low water, and for two hours before and after, it is nearly dry, the river during this time being fordable.
Among other numerous and important improvements which have been undertaken to promote the commercial prosperity of the town, much has been done within the last century towards enlarging and deepening the harbour ; and it is at present in contemplation to convert it into a floating haven, capable of receiving ships of greater burden : the execution of this design, however, has been suspended, owing to a misunderstanding between the shippers of coal and the provisional committee, with respect to the rate of tolls. Notwithstanding the vast expense which must necessarily attend this important undertaking, and the difficulties that have hitherto retarded its progress, there is very little doubt of its being ultimately carried into effect. Both the custom-house and the commercial rooms, though spacious, and internally well adapted to the purposes to which they are respectively applied, are not distinguished by their architecture from the private houses in the town.
On the north-east of the harbour is Port Tennant, so named from the gentleman by whom it was originally projected, and at whose expense it was constructed, in the year 1826: it contains two spacious docks, in which the water is of sufficient depth for vessels of two hundred tons' burden, opening on one side into the basin, and communicating on the other with the Swansea and Neath Junction canal, which is also the property of H. T.Tenant, Esq., of Cadoxton Lodge. The river Tawy is navigable, for vessels of three hundred tons' burden, for two miles from its mouth, and one mile farther for small sloops and barges. On the western bank of the river are spacious and commodious quays, wharfs, warehouses, stores for timber, a dry dock, and every accommodation requisite for the prompt despatch of business.
Great facility of communication between the various works and the harbour is afforded by means of canals and tram-roads, by which the produce is conveyed to the port, in order to be shipped to its destination. The Swansea canal, constructed under the provisions of an act of parliament obtained in the year 1794, and completed in 1798, commences near the mouth of the Tawy, and extends up the valley of this river for seventeen miles, passing by Landore and the copper-works at Morriston, crossing the small river Twrch by an aqueduct of four arches, and terminating at Hen Noyadd, in the parish of Ystradgynlais, in the county of Brecknock. In the line of its course from Swansea to Pont ar Tawy, a distance of eight miles and a quarter, there is a rise of one hundred and five feet; and from that place to Pont Gwaynclawdd, a distance of eight miles, there is a rise of two hundred and thirty-seven feet, making, together with a rise of thirty-one feet in the remaining distance, a total rise in its whole length of three hundred and seventy-three feet.
The Swansea and Neath Junction canal, constructed in 1789 by H. T. Tennant, Esq., originally formed a direct communication between Swansea and Briton-Ferry, falling into the Neath river at a short distance above that village : it was subsequently, however, diverted up Cwm Neath by an abrupt turn to the north-east, and now joins the Neath canal at a place called Aberdylais, about two miles above Neath, after crossing the Neath river by a magnificent stone aqueduct of thirteen arches, the only one on a line nine miles in length : this alteration was completed, and the new line opened, in 1824. Numerous rail-roads from the collieries in the neighbourhood of the canals and the river complete the extensive chain of inland communication, and afford a facility of conveying the produce of the various works in this extensive mineral and manufacturing district to the ports of Swansea and Neath : a tram-road has also been constructed from the lower extremity of the Swansea canal to the limestone quarries at Oystermouth, a distance of more than five miles.
The markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday; the latter is for corn, but is also abundantly supplied with provisions of every kind : fish is exposed for sale daily, but the fish here is not considered to be of so good a quality as on other parts of the coast, a circumstance which is attributed to the prevalence of sand in the neighbourhood of the shore. Fairs are held annually on May 2nd, July 2nd, August 15th, and October 30th. The new market-place, though not yet completed, was opened to the public in 1830 : it occupies a plot of ground given for that purpose by Calvert Jones, Esq., and comprises a quadrilateral area, three hundred and twenty feet in length, and two hundred and twenty feet wide, enclosed by a lofty stone wall with spacious and convenient entrances : along the walls are ranged the shambles for butchers' meat, consisting of eighty-nine stalls. The central portion of the area is divided into compartments furnished with long tables, each sheltered by a penthouse roof, supported by cast iron pillars : in these compartments are exposed for sale fish, poultry, eggs, butter, fruit, vegetables, flannel, boots and shoes, and almost every other article of provisions, pedlery, and merchandise : the area is flagged, and in the centre it is intended to erect a market-house containing a committee-room and other requisite apartments, which will be surmounted by a handsome turret, in which will be placed a clock. The whole expense of erecting this building, which is of such essential importance to so populous a town, is defrayed by the corporation, and is supposed, at a moderate estimate, to amount at least to the sum of £20,000.
Swansea is a borough by prescription, and the various privileges which it had acquired at different times have been confirmed and extended by successive charters, from the time of Henry III., by whom the first royal charter of incorporation was granted, to the reign of James II., by whose charter the government of the borough is vested in a portreeve, recorder, twelve aldermen, and an unlimited number of burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, two common attorneys, who together act as chamberlain, two serjeants at mace, and other officers. The portreeve, who is also clerk of the market, is elected annually on the eve of the festival of St. Michael, by the steward of the lord of the manor, who appoints to that office one of two candidates presented to him by the burgesses at large, and selected by them from four individuals nominated for that purpose by the aldermen. The portreeve may, under the provisions of an act of parliament passed in the year 1791, for the improvement of the harbour, qualify as a magistrate within the borough; but he is not, ex officio, a justice of the peace. The corporation possess a considerable estate in land; they also claim all the waste lands within the limits of the borough, and a right to certain customary tolls and dues, sanctioned by immemorial usage, producing in general from £ 700 to £ 800 per annum, which is enjoyed by the portreeve for the time being, to defray the contingent expenses of his office.
This borough, together with Aberavon, Cowbridge, Kenvig, Llantrissent, Loughor, and Neath, was made contributory to the borough of Cardiff, as the county town, in returning one member to parliament, by the 27th of Henry III., and the right of voting vested in the burgesses generally. During Cromwell's usurpation it sent one member to parliament independently of the other boroughs ; as it appears that, in 1658-9, William Fox, one of Cromwell's judges of assize on the Brecknock circuit, was chosen representative for Swansea exclusively. After the Restoration it resumed its former character as a contributory borough, and has continued to participate with the other boroughs in the return of a member to parliament to the present time; the right of election having hitherto been in the burgesses generally, in number about one hundred and ten. By the recent act to amend the representation, Swansea has been made the head of a new district of boroughs, including those of Swansea, Aberavon, Kenvig, Loughor, and Neath; and the right of exercising the franchise is now vested in the resident burgesses only, in number about sixty, if duly registered according to the provisions of the act, and in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of at least ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering as the act demands: the present number of tenements of this value, within the extended electoral limits of the borough, is about one thousand.
The new limits, which are minutely detailed in the Appendix, include, on account of the increased populousness of the vicinity, in addition to the ancient town and franchise of Swansea, the parish of St. John, the hamlet of St. Thomas, part of the parish of Lower Llansamlet, and the modern town of Morriston, in that of Llangyvelach. The freedom of the borough is inherited by all the sons of a freeman, born after his admission; obtained by marriage with a freeman's daughter; and acquired by a servitude of seven years' apprenticeship to a resident freeman, or by presentation of a jury of burgesses.
The corporation hold a court of pleas by prescription, recognized by statute of the 34th and 35th of Henry VIII., every month, for the recovery of debts above the amount of forty shillings, in which the portreeve presides either in person or by deputy, together with the recorder, or the steward of the lord of the manor : this court has power to issue process to hold to bail in actions for debt, the amount to be not less than twenty pounds, as altered by statute of the 7th and 8th of George IV., and its jurisdiction extends over the town and franchise. The steward of the manor holds a court baron every three weeks, for the recovery of debts under forty shillings, the jurisdiction of which extends over the seigniory of Gower and the manor of Kilvey. The town is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty session for the hundred of Swansea, every Tuesday, in the town-hall, where also are held the Michaelmas quarter sessions for the county. Swansea is likewise one of the places at which, under the recent act, the poll is to be taken at the county elections.
The town-hall, erected in 1827, at the expense of the burgesses, is a neat substantial building, with a front of freestone, ornamented with a receding portico of the Doric order: it contains a well-arranged suite of rooms for the holding of the several courts, and for the transaction of the public business of the corporation.
The house of correction for the western part of the county, also erected in the year 1827, at an expense of £3750, defrayed by the county, and situated in a healthy spot on the shore, within a quarter of a mile of the town, is a substantial stone building, well adapted for the reception of fifty prisoners, for the proper classification of whom every facility has been provided : it comprises thirty-six sleeping-cells, four day-rooms, and six airing-yards, in one of which there is a tread-wheel.
The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Carmarthen, and diocese of St. David's, rated in the king's books at £7.14. 4 1/2., endowed with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of Sir John Morris, Bart., who is the lay impropriator : the tithes formerly belonged to the hospital of St. David's, in this town, but in the reign of Edward VI. they were, together with the other possessions of that establishment, after its dissolution, granted to Sir George Herbert, and are now divided between the impropriator and the vicar, of whom the former has two-thirds, and the latter one-third. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, from which circumstance the parish derives its Welsh name of " Eglwys Vair Aber-Tawy," having become greatly dilapidated, fell down in the year 1739, and was then almost entirely rebuilt. The present is a plain neat structure, in the later style of English architecture : the interior is well arranged and appropriately embellished : in the chancel, which is the only remaining portion of the old edifice, is an east window in the decorated style : the altar is ornamented with a valuable Madonna, presented to the parish by the late Thomas Bowdler, Esq., editor of the Family Shakspeare, and, according to a tablet recording the gift, supposed by the donor to have been an original painting by Sassaferat, the companion picture of which was sold for £750; some connoisseurs, however, ascribe it to Ludovico Caracci. The internal arrangement is well adapted to the reception of a numerous congregation ; but since the amazing increase in the population of the town, which has been progressive for some years, it is quite inadequate to the accommodation of the parishioners. The parish church of St. John juxta Swansea is also situated within the town, and, from the service being performed in it in the Welsh, as well as in the English, language, affords considerable accommodation to the inhabitants of this part of the town, who are mostly of the poorer class, and speak only the Welsh language, and also in a great degree compensates for the deficiency of accommodation in the parish church of St. Mary. There are two places of worship each for English and Welsh Baptists ; two for English, and one for Welsh Independents ; two each for the Society of Friends and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists ; one each for members of Lady Huntingdon's connexion, Unitarians, and Unitarian Baptists; a Roman Catholic chapel ; and a Jews' synagogue.
The free grammar school was founded in 1682, by the Rev. Hugh Gore, D.D., Lord Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, who endowed it with lands in the parish of Llandyvodog, in this county, now producing £ 100 per annum, which endowment has been augmented with £40 per annum by the corporation. The bishop appointed Bussey Mansel, of Briton-Ferry, Esq., trustee and patron of the school, with power to appoint and remove the master, which power he made perpetual in the proprietors of that estate, and, during their minority, in the Bishop of St. David's : the master becomes ineligible as soon as he obtains a benefice. The school is open for the gratuitous instruction of twenty boys, sons of the poorest burgesses, and, in the event of a dissolution of the corporation, to sons of the poorest inhabitants of the town. National schools for the instruction of children of both sexes are supported by subscription. A school for the gratuitous instruction of girls of all religious denominations, on the plan of the British and Foreign schools in London, was established in 1820, by subscription among the Society of Friends, the funds and the superintendence being vested in trustees, members of that society: a commodious school-room has been built, capable of receiving from two hundred to three hundred children : there are at present one hundred and thirty girls in the school, who are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, plain needlework, and knitting, by a mistress who receives a salary of £40 per annum. An infants' school was established here in 1832, under the immediate patronage of the Duchess of Beaufort, and is conducted by a committee of ladies of the town and neighbourhood : a school-room, capable of receiving two hundred children, and a cottage for the master and mistress, have been erected, at an expense, including the fitting up, of £ 420, on a site granted on lease for sixty years, at a nominal rent, by the Duke of Beaufort. This institution will be open to the children of parents of all religious denominations ; and a man and his wife are at present in course of preparation at the school patronized by the Rev. F. Close, at Cheltenham, to qualify them to perform the duties of master and mistress, for which, in addition to the cottage, rent free, they will receive a salary of £60 per annum. Sunday schools also, in connexion with the established church and the several dissenting congregations, are supported by subscription.
An infirmary for the relief of the sick and lame poor from every part of the kingdom, whose cases might require the aid of warm or cold sea-bathing, was established here in 1817, and is principally supported by subscriptions, amounting at present only to £500 per annum, a sum very inadequate to the accomplishment of the object it had in view, upon a scale commensurate with its importance, as the only establishment of the kind in the principality. The affairs of the institution are under the management of a committee, and the medical department comprises the gratuitous attendance of two physicians and two surgeons, exclusively of a resident surgeon, who receives a regular stipend. The funds have not yet been sufficient to warrant the erection of a separate building for its use, and the business of the infirmary is at present conducted in a part of the house of industry.
There are also other benevolent institutions established in the town, among which are the Infants' Friend Society, instituted some years since for the relief of distressed women during their confinement, and for supplying infant apparel ; and the Dorcas Society, for the gratuitous clothing of the destitute poor. Among the religious benevolent associations are, the Bible Society, the Religious Tract Society, the Seamen's Bethel Union, and the Association in aid of the Irish Sunday schools.
Gabriel Powell, in 1733, bequeathed a rent-charge of £ 5, to be distributed among twenty-five poor persons of the parish ; Captain John Price bequeathed £200 for apprenticing poor children ; Dr. Miller left a rentcharge of £ 1. 4., and there are several other charitable donations and bequests, the produce of which is annually distributed among the poor, according to the intention of the several benefactors.
The remains of the ancient castle, situated on an eminence now nearly in the centre of the town, are so surrounded with buildings, that little more of them can be seen, to any advantage, than a lofty circular tower, from the summit of which a beautiful and extensive view is obtained over the bay of Swansea and the adjacent country : to the east of this tower are extensive remains of the ancient state apartments, distinguished by the elegant open parapet said to be the work of Bishop Gower : the apartments, which are still habitable, are appropriated to the confinement of debtors.
Near the castle are the ruins of the ancient mansion of the lords of Gower, formerly occupying a spacious quadrangular area, through which a street has been carried, leaving now but few remains by which any thing more than the extent of the buildings can be traced. Here was formerly an ancient hospital, dedicated to St. David, and endowed for twelve poor people, the original foundation of which is by some writers attributed to Bishop Gower, and by others to Elinor de Breos, in the reign of Edward II.: it was endowed with the tithes of the parish, with the lordship of Brinavel, and with lands and tenements in the hamlet of Sketty, in the parish of Swansea, and also in the environs of the town, and at the dissolution had a revenue estimated at £20.
There are numerous gentlemen's seats and elegant villas in the immediate vicinity of the town : Singleton, the seat of I. H. Vivian, Esq., situated at the distance of two miles, on the road to the Mumbles, is an elegant and spacious mansion, in the later style of English architecture, erected at different periods by the present proprietor, and is now one of the most complete and best built houses in the county. The grounds, which are very extensive, are laid out with great taste, and embellished with some beautiful cottages after Swiss and Italian designs : the variety and beauty of the scenery within the limits of the demesne are judiciously displayed in the construction of the walks through the pleasure grounds, and the distant views obtained from several points are finely diversified and strikingly picturesque. Sketty Park, the seat of Sir John Morris, Bart., is a handsome and substantially built mansion, situated in finely varied grounds of considerable extent. Sketty Hall, the seat of L. W. Dilwyn, Esq., and Veranda, the residence of Ireland Jones, Esq., are both elegant residences pleasingly situated amidst flourishing plantations ; and among various others, which constitute a rich assemblage in the vicinity, too numerous for a detailed description, are, Park Wern, the seat of Captain Hickey, R. N. ; Bryn y Mor, that of Robert Eaton, Esq. ; St. Helen's, that of Mrs. Jones ; Upland Villa, the residence of Henry Lucas, Esq. ; Pant y Gwydir, belonging to David Tennant, Esq. ; and Hill House, the property of J. W. Wheatly, Esq. All these are situated on the road between Swansea and tbe beautiful village of Oystermouth, in which is Woodlands Castle, the seat of J. Berrington, Esq.
Near the town there is a chalybeate spring, called Swansea Spa, which was formerly much resorted to for the highly medicinal properties of the water, though at present it is not much frequented, having almost fallen into disuse. In the Caswell rocks upon the coast, and within six miles of the town, there is a remarkably fine spring, which, though always overflowed by the sea at high water, retains not, on its retiring, the slightest saline admixture.
In the parish of Swansea, and the lordship of Gower, within which it is included, many eminent and highly distinguished individuals have been born. Henry Gower, D. D., Bishop of St. David's, celebrated not less for the elegance of his taste than for his munificent patronage of the fine arts, was a native of one of them, as also was probably John Gower, the poet, who flourished towards the close of the fourteenth century. Both these distinguished characters were descendants of Grufydd de Gower, a Welsh chieftain of one of the ancient royal houses, and founder of a family in Gower, distinguished alike for opulence and power, in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Henry de Swinesey, abbot of Glastonbury, whose epitaph on the tomb of the renowned Arthur, at Glastonbury, is noticed by Leland, was born in this town. Richard Nash, more generally known by the appellation of Beau Nash, was born at a house in Goat-street, in the year 1673 : his mother was niece of the unfortunate Colonel Poyer, who, after the taking of Pembroke castle by the parliamentarians, during the civil war in the reign of Charles I., was shot at Covent Garden in London. Mr. Nash acquired his celebrity at Bath, where for many years he filled the office of master of the ceremonies with so much dignified urbanity and scrupulons impartiality, that he gained the esteem and respect of all ranks : he died at Bath, in the year 1760, and was honoured with a public funeral in the abbey church of that city. Hugh Gore, D. D., founder of the grammar school, was rector of the parish of Oxwich, in the lordship of Gower : being ejected from his living during the usurpation of Cromwell, he retired to Swansea, where he for some time kept a school. After the Restoration he was advanced to the see of Waterford and Lismore, which he held till the reign of James II, when he retired from his bishoprick, and settled at this town, where he died, and was buried in the parish church.
Each of the divisions of the parish separately maintains its own poor ; the town and franchise at an average annual expenditure of £2258.8.; the upper and lower divisions by a similar expenditure of £314; and the hamlet of St. Thomas, by that of £43. 6.; making a total, for the whole parish, of £2615. 14. The poor of the franchise are maintained in a commodious house of industry by the sea side, in which they are all classed according to their ages, and employed according to their abilities, the produce of their labour being appropriated towards defraying the expense of their maintenance ; and the establishment, which is regularly conducted under the provisions of an act of parliament, called Gilbert's Act, has been productive of benefit, both to the poor and to the ratepayers."1/2: Patron, Sir John Morris, Bart.: Church dedicated to St. Mary. The Resident Population of this Town, and Franchise, and the Parish (containing the Higher and Lower Divisions), in 1801, was 6831. The Money raised by the Parish Rates, in 1801, was, £1630..9..11 1/2. It is 45 m. W. b. N. from Caerdiff, and 205 m. W. from London. The Markets are on Wednesday, and Saturday. The Fairs are on the second Saturday in May, 2d of July, 15th of August, and 8th of October. It is one of the Contributary Boroughs with Caerdiff which send one Member to Parliament. The Corporation consists of a Portrieve, 12 Aldermen, 2 Common Attornies or Chamberlains, a Recorder or Town Clerk, 2 Serjeants at Mace, and an unlimited Number of Burgesses. Here is a Free School, built and endowed by The Right Reverend HUGH GORE, Lord Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, in Ireland, in the year 1684; and to which, the Corporation have, of late years, added Twenty Guineas per annum, making altogether an Endowment of £60. per annum. All the Petty Sessions for the Cantref of Eginog are holden here, and also the Michaelmas quarter Sessions for the County: The Parish, Town and Franchise, contain nearly about 7600 acres of Land; very little of which is uninclosed. The Corporation have an Estate on the West side of the River, above the Town, called The Town Hill, being about 600 acres; and a small Tract of Land, called The Burrows, along the Sea-shore; which were inclosed by an Act of Parliament in the year 1763. It is divided into The Town and Franchise, and the Parish of Swansea, each of which has its own Officers for Parochial purposes. On the Eastern side of the River, within the Parish of St. Mary, is a small Hamlet, called St. Thomas: the remains of its Chapel are now scarcely discernible, being almost entirely washed away. There is another Church in the Town, called St. John's (formerly a Chapel belonging to the Knights of Jerusalem); but the Parish of St. John, does not commence until a mile beyond the Town, and extends only a mile further. There are still the remains of the suppressed Hospital of St. David's, founded by Eleanor, only Daughter and Heir of William de Bruce, who married John Lord Mountrath. There are also, in the centre of the Town, some beautiful remains of the old Castle, now converted into a Poor-House, and Town Gaol. This Castle was burnt down by Grufydd ab Rhys, Prince of South Wales, soon after its erection; it was afterwards re-built by Henry Earl of Warwick. It is situate at the Mouth of the River Tawy, upon the Bristol Channel.-The Rev. JOHN COLLINS, M. A. Junr., (then Curate), in the kindest manner adds, " Swansea is situate in a Part of the County of Glamorgan, called Gower, which was conquered, about the year 1100, by Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, and over which The Duke of Beaufort now claims a Seigniory, and particular Jurisdiction. The South West part of Gower is inhabited by the Successors of a Colony of Flemings, who do not talk or understand the Wesh Language, and are distinguished by their Dialect and Provincial Dress. They seldom or ever intermarry with their Neighbours on the North West side of Gower; the Inhabitants of which universally speak Welsh. A peculiar kind of Provincial article of Dress is worn in Gower, called The Gower Whittle. This Whittle is manufactured from fine Wool, and then dyed scarlet. It is nearly square, about a yard each way. At the bottom is a handsome fringe, or in the Provincial term, Ddrums. The Whittle is thrown across the Shoulders, and fastened before, with a Pin or Broach. But the old Provincial mode of fastening it, was with the Prickle of a black Thorn, which being itself of a tough nature, and being dried, is sufficiently strong to penetrate the Whittle.. Some of the old Women retain it to this day. The Whittle is also worn in the Neighbourhood of Fishguard, in the County of Pembroke, where there is a Colony of the same People, as the Gowerians (Flemings). When the French landed there a few years ago, the Women ran down to the Sea-shore with these Whittles on, which much terrified the Enemy, who took them at a distance for a Corps of Soldiers. The whole of the Neighbourhood of Swansea is filled with extensive Mines of Coal, Iron, and Lime-stone. The Trade is very considerable; above two thousand sail of Vessels entering the River annually. The Harbour (a dry one) is now greatly improved by two fine Piers, forming a complete outer Bason. The Town is much resorted to for Sea-Bathing. A Mail-Coach passes daily to and from London, and Ireland: it being 67 miles distant from Milford Haven. A neat Theatre has been built here, within the last three years, by Subscription, by way of a Tontine in Shares of £10. each. The Survivor of the whole, to become the Proprietor. The Building of Publick Rooms, for the accomodation of the Annual Visitors, is now on the eve of commencement, on the same Plan as the Theatre, with this difference, that the Shares are only £5. each, and at the expiration of Ninety-nine years (being the Term of the Lease for the ground, granted by the Corporation), the Survivors then to become the Proprietors, and to whom a new Lease is to be granted by The Corporation."- According to the Diocesan Report, in 1809, the yearly value of the Benefice of St. John, arising from Augmentation, Rent of Land, fixed Stipend, and Surplice fees, was £51. The Church contains some ancient and very interesting Monuments.-" An Hospital, founded by Henry de Gower, Bishop of St. David's, A. D. 1332., and dedicated to St. David. It was valued, 26 Hen. VIII., at £20. per annum, as Dugdale and Speed, who both call it Swansea Guardianatus, and occasioned the Author formerly to call it a Preceptory of the Templars, which it never was."-Tanner's Not. Mon. "
[Last Updated : 31 Jan 2005 - Gareth Hicks]