Saturday, 1 October 2016

69 Wind Street

69 Wind Street – 1 October 2016 (photos: Metropole Hotel, Star Theatre Wind Street)

It happened to part of Oxford Street, and to upper Princess Way, and to College Street (until the decision was reversed), and now it may happen to Wind Street.  But whether or not that street is permanently closed to traffic - which already happens on Friday and Saturday nights - Wind Street is arguably Swansea’s most historic and interesting street.  It used to be Swansea’s commercial hub, with banks, the Head Post Office and first class hotels.

Walking up Wind Street from the direction of Morgan’s hotel and Swansea Museum, on the right (north) side on the stone fascia above no. 27 are the words “Metropolitan Bank of England and Wales Limited”.  Banks proliferated, for next door where Revolution Bar is now was originally a branch of Bristol and West of England Bank, rebuilt of Portland stone 1910-12 when it became Lloyds.  For nearly twenty years it was managed by the father of Vernon Watkins, “Swansea’s other poet”.  A good friend of Dylan Thomas and a major poet in his own right, a biography is due out next year for the 50th anniversary of his death.

On the left (south) side of the street, no. 40 was the Star Theatre.  Also known as the New Theatre, its glory days were during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, before it became the Rialto cinema in 1931 and closed in 1968.  The George was demolished in the early 1900s to build the magnificent Metropole Hotel on nos 46 to 50, since the 1898 demolition of the Mackworth Arms Hotel at no. 10 had left Wind Street without a first class hotel.  The Metropole became a casualty of the February 1941 Blitz. 

Nos 51 and 52 are now Bambu, having been the NatWest Bank, and previously the Westminster before its 1970 merger with National Provincial, which had a branch across the road in nos 11 and 12.  A plaque on the wall of no. 53, a four-storey Georgian townhouse, states “Tho Williams (Surgeon) Buildings 1803”, in the days when a surgeon’s role encompassed the duties of barber-surgeon.

Next is Salubrious Passage, formerly known as Salubrious Place, a covered alleyway with six cast-iron pillars.  At no. 56 the No Sign Bar, mentioned in a 1690 document, can claim to be Swansea’s oldest pub, disguised in a Dylan Thomas short story “The Followers” as the wine vaults.  No. 58 was the offices of “The Cambrian”, the first English language newspaper in Wales, which began in 1804 on the other side of the street.  No 57 and 58 later became the London and Provincial Bank, then Barclays, and now J.D. Wetherspoon’s Bank Statement. 

Opposite at the corner with Green Dragon lane, the words ‘National Bank’ are no longer above the corner doorway of nos 8 and 9.  On the other side of Green Dragon Lane at no. 10 is Idols, the Jacobethan-style building faced with green Quarella sandstone with a classical cupola, opened in 1901 as the Head Post Office.  This was built on the site of the Mackworth Arms Hotel, the coaching inn visited by Lord Nelson in 1802, and scene of Fanny Imlay’s suicide, which prompted  the poet Shelley’s hurried visit in 1816.

The upper part of Wind Street along from nos 62 to 66 used to be divided by Island House which contained a group of shops.  After its demolition in 1879-80, Henry Hussey Vivian’s statue was unveiled there in 1886, before removal to Victoria Park to ease traffic flow.  The statue now stands in nearby St Mary’s Square.  Beyond the statue the section leading up to Swansea Castle was called Castle Square, though that name now refers to the area that was Castle Gardens.

Notwithstanding Wind Street’s recent reputation for the profusion of clubs and drinking establishments, it contains many buildings that Cadw deem of special architectural or historic interest.  Pedestrianised or not, this is a fascinating street of mediaeval Swansea.

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