Saturday, 10 September 2016

66 Morris 'Castle'

66 Morris Castle(photos: colour and b & w of the ruins) - 10 September 2016
Supporters of Premier League football teams who visit the Liberty Stadium may well not notice beyond the Landore viaduct some ruins on the horizon.  Even if they do, they would no doubt be most surprised to know that those partial remains of two towers are called Morris Castle. 

This was never an actual “castle” as at Oystermouth or Pennard, even though it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  Also known as Castle Graig, Morris Castle was built on Cnap Llwyd hilltop between around 1768 and 1775, to house colliers working in Trewyddfa colliery in Treboeth, by the industrialist Sir John Morris (1745–1819), owner of the Forest Copper Works.  Confusingly his son shared the same name, as well as also becoming a baronet.  Like the Vivians of Singleton and the Grenfells of St Thomas, the Morrises built housing as well as schools for their employees.

The significance of Morris Castle is that it was probably the first tenement housing for workers in Europe, if not in the world, designed to accommodate twenty-four families within four castellated corner towers around an internal quadrangle.  It was probably designed by the architect John Johnson of Leicester, who also designed Morris’s Georgian-style mansion of Clasemont just to the north, which balanced Morris Castle as a landscape feature, catching the attention of such artists as Thomas Rothwell and John “Warwick” Smith.

It may have been John Johnson who brought to this area as his assistant William Jernegan, who went on to become “The architect of Regency Swansea”, designing such buildings as Stouthall, Kilvrough Manor, the Assembly Rooms, the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, and Mumbles lighthouse.  His gravestone lies on the north side of St Mary’s Church.

In 1815, in his survey of the agriculture and economy of South Wales, Rev. Walter Davies described Morris Castle as being “a kind of castellated lofty mansion, of a collegiate appearance, with an interior quadrangle, containing dwellings for forty families, all colliers, excepting one tailor, and one shoe maker, who are considered as useful appendages to the fraternity”.  Rather than forty families, the number is generally believed to have been twenty-four, but mention of a tailor and a shoe maker suggest it was envisioned that the residents might become a fairly self-contained community.  It was built four storeys high, of local sandstone and brick, ornamented with bands of copper slag.

However this experiment in workers’ tenement housing did not last very long - perhaps after a 12-hour working day it was unrealistic to expect colliers to climb up to Castle Graig and then face further steps up to their dwellings; furthermore the supply of water to the elevated site could be erratic at times.  By March 1811 Morris Castle was being advertised in “The Cambrian” newspaper for sale or to be let, described as “A Building containing Twenty-four convenient Cottages for Workmen, with Gardens adjoining, in a healthy situation, within two miles of Swansea”.

With the increase of quarrying and open cast mining nearby, it evidently declined into a ruinous state, being designated on the 1876 Ordnance Survey map as “Morris Castle (ruins of)”.  Stones would have been removed for building purposes, and in January 1990 the east wall collapsed in a storm, to leave just the partial remains of the two corner towers which stand today. 

The first Sir John Morris later laid the foundation of the workers’ village designed in a gridiron pattern by William Edwards - best known for his single-arch bridge across the Taff at Pontypridd - which was first called Morris Town, and is now known as Morriston.  Though that is his enduring memorial, those stark ruins on Cnap Lwyd are the remains of “possibly the first block of workers’ flats in the modern world”. 

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