Swansea (Welsh: Abertawe, “mouth of the Tawe“) is a city and county in South Wales, situated on the coast immediately to the east of the Gower Peninsula. The name Swansea is believed to come from “Sweyn’s Ey” (“ey” being a Germanic word for “island”) and to have originated in the period when the Vikings plundered the south Wales coast.
Swansea is Wales’s second city, and it grew to its present importance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, becoming a centre of heavy industry. However, it did not enjoy the same degree of immigration as Cardiff and the eastern valleys.
The local government area is some 378 km² in size, including a large amount of open countryside, towns like Gorseinon and Loughor, and the Gower Peninsula. The population in mid-2004 is about 225,000, 13.4% of which were Welsh speakers at the 2001 census, as compared with 11% for the capital city, Cardiff.
The Gower Peninsula, to which the city proper is considered the gateway, is Britain’s first area to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. The coastal landscape of the Gower Peninsula as a whole is impressive. The wide sandy beaches at Langland, Caswell and Limeslade are the most popular with swimmers and tourists with children, whereas the wide and calm waters of Swansea Bay tend to attract the water-sport enthusiast. Coastal paths connect most of the Gower bays and Swansea Bay itself, and hikers can enjoy breathtaking views throughout the year. The North of Swansea, whilst little known on the tourist map, has some of the most outstanding countryside in the country, with unparalleled panoramas of the breathtaking Welsh mountains. Felindre, a district in north-west Swansea, will host the National Gower Peninsula in 2006.
As part of a coastal region, Swansea experiences a milder climate than the mountains and valleys inland. This same location, though, leaves Swansea exposed to rain-bearing winds from the Atlantic: figures from the Met Office make Swansea the wettest city in Britain.
The South Wales Coalfield reaches the coast in the Swansea area. This had a great bearing on the development of the town.
The former fishing village of Mumbles (located on the western edge of Swansea Bay) has excellent restaurants and coffee shops, and is a great place to pick up a local souvenir. In addition, the vista of Swansea Bay is perhaps most spectacular when viewed from the promenade at Mumbles. The nearby village of Oystermouth is home to the ruins of 12th Century Oystermouth Castle of the same name.
Archaeology on the Gower Peninsula includes many remains from prehistoric times, passing through Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. Prehistoric finds in the Swansea city area proper are rare. The Romans visited the area, as did the Vikings, whose name for the settlement on the river is used in English today.
Following the Norman Conquest, a marcher lordship was created: named Gower, it included land around Swansea Bay as far as the Tawe, and the manor of Kilvey beyond the Tawe as well as the peninsula itself. Swansea was designated its chief town, and subsequently received one of the earlier borough charters in Wales.
Swansea became an important port: some coal and vast amounts of limestone (for fertiliser) were being shipped out from the town by 1550. As the Industrial Revolution reached Wales, the combination of port, local coal, and trading links with the West Country, Cornwall and Devon, meant that Swansea was the logical place to site copper smelting works. Smelters were operating by 1720 and proliferated.
Following this, more coal mines (everywhere from north-east Gower to Clyne to Llangyfelach) were opened and smelters (mostly along the Tawe valley) were opened and flourished. Over the next century and a half, works were established to process arsenic, zinc and tin and to create tinplate and pottery. The city expanded rapidly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was termed “Copperopolis”. By the mid-nineteenth century Swansea docks was the largest exporter of coal in the world.
Through the twentieth century, these industries eventually declined, leaving the lower Swansea valley filled with derelict works and mounds of waste products from them. The Lower Swansea Valley Scheme (which still continues) reclaimed much of the land: the present Enterprise Zone exists almost entirely a result of this scheme, and of the many original docks, only those outside the city continue to work as docks: North Dock is now Parc Tawe and South Dock became the Marina.
Little city centre evidence beyond road layout remains from mediæval Swansea; its industrial importance made it the target of heavy bombing in World War II, and the centre was flattened completely.
In addition to being a holiday resort, Swansea is also a commercial centre, and the recently regenerated dock areas are home to some cutting-edge hi-tech industries. One of the most well-known employers in Swansea is the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Whilst the city itself has a long history, many of the city centre buildings are post-war as much of the centre was destroyed by World War II bombing in the so-called Three Nights’ Blitz. Within the city centre, sites worth a visit are the ruins of the castle, the Marina, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea Museum, the Dylan Thomas Centre, the Environmental Centre, and the Central Market, which is the largest covered market in Wales. It backs onto the Quadrant shopping centre which was built in the 1970s.
Wind Street is the city’s main watering hole and also the location of many chain restaurants. Many of these buildings were originally banks, with one being the old central Post Office and thus they are substantially larger than some of the other city centre pubs. Discos and clubs line the Kingsway and this street is one of two hubs of central Swansea nightlife, the other being the aforementioned Wind Street. St Helen’s Road connects the city centre with the Brynmill area, and has many Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants and shops on it: convenient when walking back from the Kingsway to Brynmill in the evening.
Swansea was granted city status in 1969, to mark Prince Charles’s investiture as the Prince of Wales. It obtained the further right to a have Lord Mayor in 1982.
Many areas of the city have seen changes within the early part of the 21st century. The Wales National Pool, of Olympic size, was completed. A new multi-million pound National Waterfront Museum officially opened in October 2005. Out-of-town retail parks increased in the first years of the new century. In addition to the Enterprise Park, there arose new developments at Fforestfach and next to the Liberty Stadium in Landore.
Swansea’s diverse and interesting past has helped weave a city of character and charm, which has produced many famous personalities. On the literary stage, the poet Dylan Thomas is perhaps the most well known. He was born in the town and grew up at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands. There is a memorial to him in the nearby Cwmdonkin Park. The actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is probably the most famous of the city’s recent cultural exports, and she maintains close links with the city. Author Mary Balogh, singer/songwriter Mal Pope, MP Michael Heseltine, scriptwriter and producer Russell T. Davies and entertainer Sir Harry Secombe were also born and raised in the city, as was the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Perhaps the city’s most celebrated personality is Jack – a black Labrador. During his seven years of life, he managed to save twenty-seven people from drowning in the murky waters of Swansea docks. There is a monument to commemorate Jack’s gallant efforts on the foreshore near the St. Helen’s stadium. People from Swansea are known locally as Swansea Jacks, or just Jacks. The source of this nickname is not clear. Some attribute it to Swansea Jack, the life-saving dog. Others point to Swansea’s long history as a port and the use of the word jack to indicate a sailor.
There are a number of sporting venues in Swansea. St Helen’s is a cricket ground which is one of the homes of Glamorgan County Cricket Club. It was in this ground that Sir Garfield Sobers hit six sixes in one over: the first time this was achieved in a game of first-class cricket. One ball is reputed to have landed in the Cricketers’ pub just outside the ground. The stadium is metres from the coast of Swansea Bay. In 2003, Swansea RFC became a feeder club for the Neath-Swansea Ospreys regional rugby club. Swansea RFC remains at St Helen’s, but the Ospreys moved to the then named New Stadium in Landore for the start of the 2005-2006 season. Swansea also boasts one of the largest Saturday local football leagues in the country, second only to the one in Birmingham at its peak. Swansea City A.F.C., the Swans, moved from the Vetch Field to Liberty Stadium at the same time, winning promotion to League One in their final year at their old home. The final Ospreys match at St Helen’s was played on the same day as the final Swans league game at the Vetch: April 30, 2005. The first game at the new stadium was on July 23: a football friendly between the Swans and Fulham.
The Swans’ football following are known as the Jack Army due to the regional nickname for people from Swansea. Strong local rivalries exist between Swansea and Cardiff in football and between Swansea and Llanelli in rugby. Swansea/Neath rugby games used also to be a hotly-contested match, such that there was some debate about whether a regional team incorporating both areas was possible. The Neath-Swansea Ospreys, in fact came fifth in the Celtic League in their first year of existence as a regional team, and won the league in their second year.
There are a number of theatres in the city and the surrounding areas. The Grand Theatre in the centre of the city is a Victorian theatre which celebrated its centenary in 1997 and which has a capacity of a little over a thousand people. It was opened by the celebrated opera singer Adelina Patti. A new wing of the Grand, the Arts Wing, has a studio suitable for smaller shows (capacity about 200). The Taliesin building on the university campus has a theatre. Other shows are held at the theatre in Penyrheol Leisure Centre near Gorseinon. In the summer, outdoor Shakespeare performances are a regular feature at Oystermouth Castle, and Singleton Park is the venue for a number of parties and concerts, from dance music to outdoor Proms. Although Pontardawe is outside the city boundaries, the trip from Swansea to Pontardawe for the annual folk festival is a short one. Another folk festival is held on Gower. Standing near Victoria Park on the coast road is the Patti Pavilion: this was the Winter Garden from Adelina Patti’s Craig-y-Nos estate in the upper Swansea valley, which she donated to the town in 1918. It is used as a venue for music shows and fairs.
Kingsley the Clown, the only Welsh-Asian clown in the business, is based in Swansea.
There are many Welsh-language chapels and churches in the area. Welsh-medium education is a popular and growing choice for both English- and Welsh-speaking parents, leading to claims in the local press in autumn 2004 that to accommodate demand, the council planned to close an English-medium school in favour of opening a new Welsh-medium school. (Source: Swansea Evening Post, September 8, 2004, and subsequent issues.)
45% of the rural council ward Mawr speak Welsh, as do 38% of the ward of Pontarddulais. Clydach, Kingsbridge and Upper Loughor all have levels of more than 20%. By contrast, the urban St. Thomas has one of the lowest figures in Wales, at 6.4%, a figure only barely lower than Penderry and Townhill wards.
- Edgar Evans, Sailor and Antarctic Exlplorer
- Ian Hislop, Comedian/satirist, Editor (Private Eye Magazine)
- Catherine Zeta Jones, Actress
- Gary Jones, actor Stargate SG-1
- Harry Secombe, Comedian, Singer
- Gary Taylor, 1993 Worlds Strongest Man
- Dylan Thomas, Poet/Playwright
Swansea, like Wales in general, has seen many non-conformist religious revivals. In 1904, Evan Roberts, a miner from Loughor (Llwchwr), just outside Swansea, was the leader of what has been called one of the world’s greatest protestant religious revivals. Within a few months about 100,000 people were converted. This revival in particular had a profound effect on Welsh society. The “Welsh Revival” of 1904 is acknowledged as having been an instigator of, and a major influence on the twentieth century’s Pentecostal movement. One of its first overseas influences was seen in the African American church: the Azusa Street Revival, beginning April 9, 1906 at Los Angeles, USA. It has been said that 25% of the world’s Christians (usually Protestant Pentecostals or Charismatics) are Christians as a direct result of the 1904 revival in Swansea.
Traditionally, Swansea refers to the City of Swansea which is the settlement around the Tawe estuary. In 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, Swansea (which had previously been a county borough) was merged with Gower Rural District, to become a district of West Glamorgan. In 1996, another local government reform saw the district of Swansea merged with parts of the Lliw Valley district to form a unitary authority under the name of the ‘City and County of Swansea’ (Welsh: Dinas a Sir Abertawe.)
The University of Wales, Swansea has a large campus in Singleton Park overlooking Swansea Bay. Other establishments for further and higher education in the city include Swansea Institute of Higher Education and Swansea College, with Gorseinon College in just outside the city proper. Swansea Institute was particularly well-known for its Architectural Glass department; stained glass was a long time speciality.
There are fifteen comprehensive schools under the remit of the local education authority, of which two are Welsh-medium. The oldest school in Swansea is Bishop Gore School. Swansea is also home to The Bible College of Wales.
The local newspaper is the Evening Post. There is also a local free newspaper called the Swansea Herald. Local radio stations include Swansea Sound and 96.4 FM The Wave. Swansea is one of the few regions in Wales with reasonable digital radio coverage: this was improved in January 2005 with the launch of the Swansea DAB multiplex which is located on the top of Kilvey Hill. The local papur bro (Welsh-language news) is Wilia.
Swansea plays host to the BeyondTV International Film Festival. BeyondTV is annual event organised by independent filmmakers Undercurrents to showcase the best of activism filmmakers. Independent filmmakers Undercurrents are based in Swansea.
Swansea’s main mode of local public transport is via buses. The Quadrant bus station in the city centre serves as the main bus transport hub. The local commercial bus companies include FirstCymru. Some rural routes in the local authority area are funded by the council; this includes the majority of the services on Gower, for example, which are operated by Pullman Coaches under the brand name of ‘Gower Explorer’ with its distinctive Ray Stenning-designed livery.
Park and Ride services are operated from secure car parks at Landore and the Fabian Way. During busy periods of the year, additional Park and Ride services are operated from the Brynmill recreation ground. Recently it was announced that a third Park and Ride site is to be established on Carmarthen Road (on the site of the old Mettoys factory) with an expected opening date during 2006.
Numerous taxi firms operate in Swansea ranging from large professional outfits to small and cheap minicab firms. Vehicles include typical 3/4 seat family saloons, 5 seat London cabs and eight-seat mini-buses. For city centre shoppers, the main taxi rank is located next to St. Mary’s church. For transport connections, taxi ranks are located at the Quadrant bus station and the High Street railway station. In addition, small taxi ranks are located at Castle Square and the Kingsway, providing a convenient if expensive way to get home after a good night out on the town.
The Swansea Bay promenade forms a very convenient cycle commuting route, offering spectacular panaromic views of Swansea Bay. The Maritime Quarter and the Knab Rock near the Mumbles Pier form the ends of this route. At the heart of the Clyne Valley Country Park is the Clyne Valley Cycle Track, part of National Cycle Route 4. This track connects Blackpill with Gowerton, cutting through much tranquil woodland. On the east bank of the River Tawe is a cycle track (National Cycle Route 43) and foot path, offering excellent views of the River Tawe and the industrial ruins at Hafod. This route terminates at the Quay Parade road bridge and Pentre-Chwyth traffic junction.
Getting in and out
Swansea’s High Street railway station is the terminus of the South Wales Main Line (a branch of the Great Western Main Line.) From here, there are connecting Arriva services on their way to west Wales: Carmarthen, Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. The famous Heart of Wales train service with its distinctive bright orange and yellow carriage, terminates at High Street station. It travels via Gowerton to Llanelli where it joins the Heart of Wales line. Arriva operate the regular direct service from Swansea to Manchester Piccadilly via the Welsh Marches Line.
Swansea is close to the M4 motorway (junctions 42 to 48 inclusive), the main artery for road traffic through south Wales. It is a National Express stop, and for a short while was on the Megabus route. The Swansea-Cardiff shuttle bus is heavily used. Swansea is also on the TrawsCambria route which connects the north and south of the country together via Aberystwyth, a bus so well-known in Wales that songs have been written about it.
Swansea Airport is situated on Fairwood Common on Gower. It is primarily a domestic airport, first built during WWII when there was no need for an inquiry. Air Wales operated services from Swansea, but ceased to use the airport from late 2004.
There is a thriving passenger ferry service between Swansea and Cork, Ireland. This is a one ferry service run by Swansea Cork Ferries, an independent company.