Saturday, 27 August 2016

64 The Grenfells

64 The Grenfells (photos: Frances & P St L Grenfell, Egyptian mummy, St Thomas) 27 Aug 2016

What connects St Leger Crescent in St Thomas, Maesteg Street off Foxhole Road, and Riversdale Road in West Cross, with Swansea Museum’s best known exhibit?  It is the Grenfell family.

Like the Vivians, another family of copper masters, the Grenfells came originally from Cornwall.  Pascoe Grenfell was born in 1761, though in the Buckinghamshire village of Taplow, and went into partnership with Thomas Williams ‘the Copper King’ to run Swansea’s Middle and Upper Bank copper works east of the river Tawe.  He acquired a controlling interest in the works, and formed the company Pascoe Grenfell and Sons in 1829.  Like Sir John Morris with Morriston, and the Vivians with Hafod, the Grenfells built houses for their workers to rent, and erected schools for the children.

As smoke laden with sulphur from scores of copperworks chimneys began polluting the Lower Swansea Valley, the Vivians moved west to Singleton Abbey and Sir John Morris moved from Clasemont to the now demolished Sketty Park House, but the Grenfells remained eastside where their workers lived, in St Thomas at Maesteg House.  Built in the 1840s, this housed Belgian refugees during the First World War, and was subsequently demolished to make way for the Grenfell Park Estate.

Pascoe Grenfell’s second son, Pascoe St Leger Grenfell, was born in 1798, and after being educated at Eton and in France, he followed his elder brother Riversdale to Swansea, taking over management of the copper works.  He was a benevolent employer, for during more than thirty years when he was in charge there were no strikes or lock-outs.  Of the nine children by his first wife, their fourth son Francis attained the rank of Field Marshal, being elevated to the peerage as Baron Grenfell of Kilvey.  A daughter Mary trained as a nurse in London but devoted herself to work among the poor in St Thomas, supporting the Temperance Movement, and establishing the Golden Griffin coffee house next to the Midland Railway station in St Thomas: it offered tea, coffee and fellowship as an alternative to consuming alcohol in the pubs.  Mary Grenfell provided an iron church for the people of St Thomas in 1876, and ten years later her brother Field Marshal Grenfell laid the foundation of St Thomas Church, which she and other family members financed in memory of Pascoe St Leger.  A blue plaque outside commemorates comedian and goon Sir Harry Secombe, who used to sing in the choir.

The Grenfells also built All Saints Church on the hillside in Kilvey, and three rows of terraced housing below - Rifleman’s Row, Grenfell Town and Taplow Terrace (named after Pascoe Grenfell’s birthplace) – and the Foxhole Music Hall.  By 1871 the area called Grenfelltown comprised seventy-one houses containing 386 people.  Pascoe St Leger was Chairman and then Treasurer of Swansea Harbour Trust, a Borough Councillor, Justice of the Peace and Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Glamorgan.  He built the Kilvey Ragged Schools - providing free education for poor children - where over a thousand children were educated - part of these is now the Gwyn Mission.  Although the Grenfells were members of the Church of England, the schools were non-sectarian, which was welcomed by the predominantly nonconformist workforce of Middle and Upper Bank Works.

Pascoe St Leger Grenfell died aged 80 at his daughter’s Nottingham home in 1879, and was buried in the Grenfell vault in Taplow.  His twin grandsons, one awarded the VC, who were both killed during the First World War, are commemorated in a stained-glass window in All Saints Church, Kilvey.

Mary Grenfell had visited Egypt when her brother, a keen amateur archaeologist, was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and she persuaded him to send Egyptian artifacts - including the mummy of the priest Hor - to Swansea, for an Egyptian gallery in the Museum.   Thus it is Swansea Museum, rather than Swansea University’s Egyptian Centre, that houses an Egyptian mummy.   


  1. When Britain abolished slavery in 1833, Pascoe St. Leger Grenfell was forced to release the slaves he owned on the St James estate in Jamaica. He applied for compensation, for a total of 347 slaves: the British government gave him £4,122, about £500,000 in today’s money. The slaves received no money.

  2. The above comment is fake news.