Wednesday, 10 May 2017

108 The Colonial Building

The Colonial Building
The Strand in central London is a major thoroughfare that runs for ¾ mile from Trafalgar Square to Temple Bar.  By contrast Swansea’s Strand - the street below and running parallel to Wind Street - is completely different in character.  That area near the old docks used to be given a wide berth by respectable citizens, being the haunt of seamen of diverse nationalities, with pubs and brothels, and the scene of frequent fights and disturbances of the peace.  The mayor in 1852 described Swansea “outside the Strand and its environs” as an orderly town: most of the 199 known prostitutes in 1877 were operating in “the Strand and its environs”.
The Strand ran along the western bank of the original course of the river Tawe, an area subject to flooding, especially before the river was diverted by the New Cut to produce the North Dock in 1852.  Yet at the bottom of the Strand is an impressive grade II listed building formerly known as Colonial Building, which is shown on the 1748 engraving of Swansea Castle and the Strand by the brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, and is the subject of a deed of conveyance from 1806. 
A six-storey building, the Colonial used to be that of Ace Electrical, whose owner Mr Don Ace said the name came from that of a Cardiff firm - though not Home and Colonial!  Originally it was a sail loft and a dwelling-house, then it became a flour warehouse and a tea warehouse, with part used by a sail-maker.
Swansea’s Scandinavian residents worshipped in part of the building before acquiring the Norwegian Church.  Services were led by Pastor Sivertsen (whose son Werner was a later Mayor of Swansea) in the sail-maker's loft at the bottom of the Strand.  As the congregation grew, Pastor Sivertsen, along with ship’s chandler Lars Knutsen, applied to the Seamen's Mission in Norway for Swansea to have a Norwegian Church, as Cardiff and Newport had.  The Newport Mission closed in 1910, whereupon its corrugated iron building was dismantled and brought to Swansea docks, being re-erected off Fabian Way, near New Cut Bridge.  The Mission was open each day, and became the focus for the Norwegian community, being used as both a place of worship and a social club, and remaining open day and night during the last war.  It closed in 1998, and was moved six years later the short distance to its present location near J Shed, beside the former Prince of Wales dock.  It is currently used as a day nursery, with the words Sjǿmanns Kirken on the wall of the foyer entrance.
During the last war the Colonial Building was an annexe for the naval headquarters HMS Lucifer at the Old Guildhall (now the Dylan Thomas Centre).  It was used as a dormitory for seamen on minesweepers or coastal defence vessels.  When interviewed by Jill Forwood of the Evening Post, Don Ace, who had been a second engineer in the Royal Navy, suggested that marks in the beams indicate that the naval men slept in hammocks: each of those beams of Oregon pine came from an entire tree. 
The interior retains the original structure, with brick arched basement vaults supported by inverted T-girders on cross-shaped stanchions.  Likewise cast iron pillars support pitch pine cross-beams under timber floors.  The building’s exposed flank faces east to Quay Parade, and contains an oculus (circular window) to the attic, two windows to the top floor, and three windows to each of the lower floors at that end.  A boarded lift tower breaks the line of the slate roof at the centre.                                   
Amid the night-time exuberance of nearby Wind Street, the Colonial Building stands proud as a reminder of the heyday of Swansea Docks.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm really interested in this post. Thank you. Could you possibly let me know which issue of EP the interview with Don Ace was in?