Saturday 12 December 2015

28 The Bush Hotel

28. The Bush Hotel (photos: The Bush [2], Dylan and Leon Atkin) - 12 December 2015

The 1851 Swansea Guide describes one prominent building as follows: ‘This old-established house, in High-street, is kept by Mr and Mrs Sayer, who from its convenient position, its commodious stabling, and superior entertainment, continue to maintain its wonted reputation’.  Those proprietors have been long gone, as more recently has the establishment itself, notwithstanding being a Grade II listed building.  Like such well-known pubs as the No 10 in Union Street, the Three Lamps in Temple Street, and the Antelope in Mumbles, the Bush Hotel is no more.

The Bush used to stand on the east side of High Street; it was a Georgian building with a porch and a railed balcony, supported by cast-iron columns.  Such was the importance of this hostelry that Swansea historian W.H. Jones of the Royal Institution of South Wales brought out a booklet about it in 1915.  A notable visitor after the Civil War was Oliver Cromwell, described as ‘Lorde of this Towne’ when he first came to Swansea in May 1648. 

In the course of visiting Swansea in August 1802 Admiral Lord Nelson, along with Lord William and Lady Hamilton, dined at the Bush.  The Portreeve gave a banquet at which both Nelson and Sir William were awarded the freedom of the town.

In the early nineteenth century landlord William Jones added a ballroom where Grand Dances were held, especially during Race Week on Crymlyn Burrows, and the Bush became an important meeting place. 

Sir John Morris chaired the meeting at the Bush in July 1804 that facilitated the building of the Mumbles Railway.  Initially a mineral line, three years later it began carrying fare-paying passengers to a regular timetable – so becoming the oldest passenger railway in the world. 

In 1905 the Bush Hotel was acquired by Mr and Mrs D.J. Thomas, and was patronised at times by a Grammar School teacher of the same name and initials – the father of Dylan Thomas.

During the Second World War, when three consecutive nights of aerial bombardment during February 1941 exhausted water supplies, draught beer was used to combat fires from the incendiary bombs; so the building survived - unlike the Thee Lamps. 

After Dylan Thomas had moved from Swansea, he stayed at the Bush on occasions when visiting the town.  Jeff Towns’ fine book ‘Dylan Thomas: The Pubs’ reproduces two telegrams sent by Dylan from Laugharne to composer Dr Daniel Jones, then living at 22 Rosehill Terrace.  The second one in October 1953 asks ‘Can you meet Bush 1.30 today on my way to America – Dylan.’  This was before Dylan took the train to London for his fateful fourth visit to North America, for the New York performances of Under Milk Wood.  So the Bush became the final Swansea pub patronised by Dylan Thomas; among those who joined him that afternoon along with Dan Jones were fellow poet Vernon Watkins and Rev. Leon Atkin, the unconventional minister of St Paul’s Congregational Church in St Helen’s Road.

The terracotta-coloured Bush Hotel had a brief resurgence in the early years of the twenty-first century as ‘Swansea’s premier Gay Destination’.  But then it stood empty for some years, and during this time of neglect it suffered from severe weather damage and vandalism.  An inspection in 2013 by structural engineers and Swansea Council's building control surveyor concluded that the building was a dangerous structure, and ordered its demolition.  The owners of the site, Coastal Housing, claim that some aspects of the hostelry will be retained in what is erected in its place. 
Certainly such aspects as the seventeenth century visit of the future Lord Protector, the meeting that led to the first passenger-carrying railway in the world, and the departure of the town’s most famous poet, all merit some form of retention. 

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