Monday 4 December 2017

135 Lliw Valley reservoirs

Lliw Valley reservoirs
Constructing reservoirs in Wales can be an emotive subject, especially when villages in Welsh-speaking areas are flooded to provide water for English cities.  
Despite high-profile protests, the Llyn Celyn reservoir north of Bala was opened in 1965, which had entailed flooding the Tryweryn Valley, with the loss of Capel Celyn village with 12 farms, a school, Post Office and chapel, to provide water for Liverpool.  Previously that city had relied on Lake Vyrnwy in Powys, opened in 1888 after 10 farms and the village of Llanwddyn were flooded: at the time it was Britain’s largest masonry dam.
Birmingham benefited from the Elan Valley reservoirs, opened in 1904, after 18 cottages and farmhouses, a school, church and two manor houses (one with links to the poet Shelley) had been flooded.   
By contrast the two reservoirs near Felindre in upland Gower, set amid the mountain scenery of the Mawr region, were built to provide water for Swansea and the surrounding area.  The Lower Lliw reservoir (also called the Felindre reservoir) was opened in 1863, at a cost of £160,000.  But it took reconstruction between 1976-78, with a new rockfill dam, overflow spillway and pumping station, to make the dam completely watertight.  To the north 233 men used stone from Darren-fawr quarry to construct a 25m-high dam, so the Upper Lliw reservoir was opened in 1894 at a cost of £116,000.  Yet that reservoir may hold a sinister secret.
Ioan Richard, Mawr ward councillor for over forty years, grew up after the war on the seven-acre smallholding Ty’r Darren, beneath the Upper Lliw reservoir’s quarry.  He was fascinated to hear older neighbours speak about the building of the Upper Lliw reservoir in the 1890s, a boom time for local cottages and farms, who took in construction workers on the site as paying lodgers.  That thinly-populated Welsh-speaking area became a bustling community of navvies during the construction of the Lliw Valley reservoirs. 
Last year this paper reported a tale passed down that during the construction of the Upper Lliw reservoir a navvy had died following a bare-knuckle fight around 1890 - and been buried in the dam.  This oral account was backed up by a book published in Australia by Stuart Morgan, many of whose ancestors had lived around the village of Craig-cefn-parc.  An ancestor Hannah Jones owned and ran the Colliers Arms, a pub with a small brewery in the village.  When a construction workers’ camp had been established for the navvies at the Upper Lliw between 1886 and 1894, she enterprisingly set up a pub on the site, in a shack called the "Black Slant", to quench their thirst.  The 1891 census for the Mawr area of Glamorgan lists many itinerant navvies from Ireland and England who swelled the size of the local population.  Hannah Jones’s sons worked in local coal mines, but would bring beer to the site by horse and cart in barrels from the Colliers Arms brewery in Craig-cefn-parc.  Harsh working conditions and alcohol could lead to violence, and bare-knuckle fist-fights were frequent.  Hannah's son Thomas was sent to deal with one particular navvy who had been causing repeated trouble at the shack.  An ensuing bare-knuckle fight led to the troublemaker’s death, and his body was hastily concealed amid the construction of the dam.  As with navvies working on Brunel’s railway projects, with so many transient labourers one man’s disappearance might not cause comment, for it would be assumed that he had moved on to seek work elsewhere. 
Nonetheless Thomas Jones left the village the next day and sailed to North America, where he settled without ever returning to Wales.  Stuart Morgan was a descendant who, after retiring from business in Western Australia, donated to the Swansea Valley chapels where his ancestors had worshipped, and undertook the family research that supports the oral tale of that fatal fight from the 1890s. 
Not as controversial as Tryweryn, but Upper Lliw reservoir has its dark side.      

Friday 1 December 2017

134 Severn Princess

134 Severn Princess
In June 1999 a vessel called the Severn Princess being towed from the west coast of Ireland to Chepstow needed to shelter in Swansea Bay.  The significance concerns the alternative route from South Wales to southern England for drivers to avoid the detour around Gloucester before the Severn Bridge was built: this was the Aust car ferry, the last of which was the Severn Princess.
The Beachley to Aust ferries in Gloucestershire were revived by Newport architect Enoch Williams, who formed The Old Passage Severn Ferry Company in 1931.   Passengers with bicycles and motorbikes were transported on a 40ft wooden ferry, until two larger steel ferries were added in 1934 and 1935, each able to carry 17 cars.  Each car had to turn sharply off the ramp onto the ferry, and then be turned by a manually operated turntable before being parked: the process was reversed for unloading.  By 1959 a third ship was ordered from the Yorkshire Dry Dock Company of Hull, and launched as the Severn Princess on 23rd May 1959.  She was slightly larger than the other car ferries at 77ft x 28ft, with twin Leyland diesel engines to give a better performance.  With three vessels operating, the frequency of ferries was increased from every 30 to every 20 minutes, and it was estimated that up to 25,000 cars could be carried each month.
This could, however, be a challenging undertaking, with a 40ft tidal range and fierce currents, and the ferry could not operate at low tide or very high tides.  Occasionally a car might slither down the muddy slipways into the swirling waters of the Severn, but there were no serious injuries to passengers.  The end for the Aust ferries came with the construction of the first Severn Bridge, opened by the Queen on 8th September 1966, whereupon the three ferries were laid up on their moorings on the River Wye, and later moved to Cardiff docks.  West of Ireland fisheries bought the Severn Princess, intending to use her as a ferry on the west coast of Ireland, but she was laid up at Limerick until sold in 1975.  She was then used for salvage purposes, carrying cargo across Galway Bay to the Aran Islands, and for engineering projects. 
By the 1990s the ferry was having frequent breakdowns, and when laid up in harbour in Galway in 1994 she was grounded by a severe Boxing Day gale.  Five years later she was discovered wrecked and abandoned by Dr. Richard Jones, grandson of Enoch Williams.  The Severn Princess Restoration Group was formed, and some enthusiasts travelled from Chepstow to the west coast of Ireland to set about cleaning and repairing the ship, and purchased her for a nominal guinea (one pound and one shilling) before the vessel could be scrapped. 
On 21st June 1999 a tug from Penarth was towing her across the Irish Sea when they encountered conditions bad enough to cause the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry to be cancelled.  With difficulty they managed to reach Mumbles, where the Severn Princess was pumped dry before being towed up the Bristol Channel to Chepstow, and moored on the west bank of the River Wye.  Of course her home-coming was a considerably more low-key event than the 1970 return of SS Great Britain from the Falklands to Bristol!  With a Chepstow shipbuilding yard available, the Severn Princess was floated onto the slipway for a complete survey.  The first phase of restoration was completed in September 2014, with the aim to site the vessel as a permanent heritage display beneath Brunel’s 1852 tubular railway bridge.
The Aust ferry terminal can be seen in the background of a May 1966 photo of Bob Dylan, used as a promotional shot for Martin Scorsese’s film “No Direction Home”, about Dylan’s controversial 1966 tour.  The Nobel prizewinner might comment of the ferry that once sheltered in Swansea Bay “You ain’t goin’ nowhere”.                                                                         

Thursday 30 November 2017

133 Church Bells and ringing

133 Church Bells and ringing 
This aspect of local history may be hidden, but it is certainly not silent!  Bell ringing, where bells are rung through a full 360° circle to carry the sound a considerable distance, originated in Britain, and has spread to parts of the Commonwealth, especially Australia and Canada.
Chiming is where the bell is stationery and just the clapper is moved to strike the bell.  But in bell ringing the bells are rung manually through a full circle, with each person ringing one bell.  The bells are hung in a frame in the belfry, each with a wheel attached, around which ropes run to bell-ringers standing in the ringing chamber below.  That is usually reached by ascending spiral steps inside the church tower, as in Sketty and St Mary’s Swansea, or it may be on the ground floor at the back of a church.  Swansea has churches with eight bells hung for ringing at St Mary’s in the city centre and at St Paul’s, Sketty, with other eight-bell rings at St Catherine’s, Gorseinon, and St Elli’s in Llanelli.  There are rings of six at Cadoxton and at St Thomas’s in Neath.  Llangyfelach’s four bells are rung from the ground floor of the detached tower, as at St David’s Cathedral, where the heavy eight hang in the detached belfry overlooking the Cathedral, not in the central tower.  St John’s in Morriston had six bells that stood idle on the ground for decades, since the movement of the bells had caused too much stress on the tower. 
Bells are usually made in the proportion of four parts copper to one part tin.  At St Paul’s Church in Sketty the ring of eight bells with a tenor (the heaviest bell) weighing 13cwt were cast by Mears and Stainbank of London, and re-hung in 1950 by their successors, the Whitechapel Foundry.  This closed in May 2017 after 250 years on that site.  The country’s principal bell-foundry is now John Taylor of Loughborough, who cast the eight bells with a 20cwt tenor in E for St Mary’s Swansea in 1959.  Older bell-founders were Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester (1684 to 1835), William Evans of Chepstow (1710 to 1767), and there were local small bell-founders like Thomas and David Davies of Oystermouth (1714 to 1722).
Ringing is not a matter of strength, since bells are hung now on ball bearings, rather than on plain bearings, as in the days of John Bunyan.  Children can ring the lighter bells once they develop the necessary hand-eye co-ordination, though the skill of ringing a bell takes time and perseverance to master.  Careful instruction should ensure that no learner is pulled up to the ceiling!  Instead of tunes, what are called “changes” are rung – which alter the order of the bells in prescribed ways, so that 123456 changes to 214365, and to 241635, etc.  Besides being rung for Sunday services and for weddings, church bells are rung for special occasions like the 70th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, when a peal was rung on Westminster Abbey’s 12 bells.  A peal is high-quality ringing of 5,040 changes that usually takes three or more hours, rather like a marathon in running terms.  Shorter lengths such as quarter-peals can be rung, similar to a 10k run, taking about 45 minutes.  Ringing chambers in many towers display boards that detail occasions on which particular peals have been rung, and listing the ringers.  In Sketty the name of former railwayman J. Arthur Hoare is prominent as conductor of several peals in the 1960s.  Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novel “The Nine Taylors” features bell ringing, though with some inaccuracies. 
Any hymn or carol heard on church bells will not be rung but chimed, probably by one person: when bell ringers are in action the difference is apparent, and many peals will be rung throughout the country at the time of the next royal wedding!                                                                                                                    

Saturday 4 November 2017

132 Dylan Thomas's Swansea

132 Dylan Thomas’s Swansea
Dylan Thomas is hardly “Hidden History” now, although 30 or 40 years ago people might have linked him with Laugharne or Newquay rather than with Swansea.  Once Jeff Towns, dealer in second-hand and antiquarian books, had established Dylan’s Bookshop in Salubrious Passage, he galvanized the city into appreciating what an asset it had as the cradle of this major poet.  When Swansea hosted the Year of Literature in 1995, the Old Guildhall in Somerset Place was transformed into first Tŷ Llen and then into the Dylan Thomas Centre, where Jeff’s extensive collection of Dylan Thomas memorabilia formed the basis for what was intended to be a permanent exhibition.  Subsequently Dylan’s birthplace in Cwmdonkin Drive has been opened to visitors, John Doubleday’s bronze statue stands in the Marina, with a statue of Captain Cat nearby, the Eli Jenkins pub in Oxford Street, the Dylan Thomas Theatre in the Maritime Quarter, a refurbished Cwmdonkin Park, and much else display Swansea’s connections with Dylan.
Of course over sixty years after his death much of Dylan’s Swansea has gone, like the reservoir in Cwmdonkin Park.  Near the High Street terminus of what used to be the Great Western Railway, at 60 Alexandra Road stood the second-hand bookshop run by Ralph Wishart (“Ralph the books”), in a row of buildings long demolished to make way for the open-air car park.  On Mount Pleasant Hill much of Swansea Grammar School, which Dylan attended and where his father taught, was destroyed during the war: what remains is now part of University of Wales Trinity St David’s.  Walter Road Congregational Church, to whose Sunday School Mrs Florrie Thomas would take her young son, stood at the junction with Humphrey Street, where the Brunel Court flats now stand. 
During his brief employment in 1931/32 as a junior reporter with the Evening Post and the Herald of Wales, the newspaper offices stood on the green in front of the Castle ruins, convenient for the Three Lamps Hotel in Temple Street, which following bombardment was rebuilt on the opposite side and re-named The Office.  Adjacent in Castle Street was the Kardomah Café, formerly Castle Street Congregational Church where Dylan’s parents were married in 1903.  In what had been the chapel’s gallery, Dylan presided over a group of Swansea’s gifted young men in the 1930s – at various times including composer Dan Jones, artists Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy, writer Charles Fisher and poet Vernon Watkins.  In High Street opposite the King’s Arms was the Bush Hotel, which might yet re-emerge from behind hoardings.  Dylan drank there in October 1953 with Dan Jones, Vernon Watkins and others before catching the London train for his final visit to New York. 
In Mumbles, across the car park behind All Saints Church, are the church rooms, formerly the church hall - where Swansea Little Theatre rehearsed when Dylan was involved with the company.  Of the nearby pubs visited unofficially during rehearsals, the Antelope at the corner of Village Lane is no more, while the Mermaid has been extensively rebuilt following fire damage.  
In pre-television days, when cinemas were prominent centres of entertainment, a young Dylan in the 1920s enjoyed Saturday afternoon matinees which serialised the silent-film adventures of Pearl White, at the Uplands Cinema, where until recently a branch of Lloyds Bank stood.  That “flea-pit” had been frequented a few years earlier by a young Vernon Watkins.  The large Oceana building has been demolished in what is now the Kingsway, having stood on the site of the Plaza cinema in Northampton Lane, opened in 1931 as the largest cinema in Wales.  Though not a political animal, Dylan accompanied Bert Trick to a political rally there on 1st July 1934, when Rev. Leon Atkin upstaged the right-wing anti-semitic rhetoric of Sir Oswald Moseley, causing the meeting to end in uproar.            
The city of culture for 2021 may be Coventry - but Swansea has Dylan Thomas!

Monday 30 October 2017

131 The Balinka Expeditions

131 The Balinka Expeditions
Peninsular Gower’s subterranean caves were explored during the 1950s and 1960s by the unlikely trio of Maurice Clague Taylor and his sisters Marjorie and Eileen.  At an age when less demanding activities might be expected, they were caving pioneers in this area.  But even caving in Gower can have its hazards, as when in November 1961 three young cavers exploring an abandoned lead mine in Brandy Cove made the grisly discovery of the dismembered skeleton of Mamie Stuart, who had been murdered forty years earlier.  But it takes particular courage to deliberately set out to recover bodies of those who have been violently killed, which was the mission of some members of South Wales Caving Club in the 1960s.
In the upper Swansea valley Dan-yr-Ogof cave was first explored in 1912 by three local Morgan brothers, which led later to that extensive cave network being opened up to the public.  Across the valley, the headquarters of the South Wales Caving Club is in the former quarrying village of Penwyllt, along with that of the South and Mid Wales Rescue Team, also located in Powell Street’s terraced houses.  The Caving Club has around 300 members from all over Britain, and makes frequent trips to other British caving regions, as well as embarking on overseas expeditions.  One such expedition, to Balinka, about 60 miles south of Zagreb, concerns us.                
Members of the South Wales Caving Club had been caving in the former Yugoslavia in 1961, when a Bosnian mentioned an event that occurred during World War II.  When Germany had invaded Yugoslavia, resistance came from communist partisans under future President Tito.  On 2nd April 1942 four prominent partisans were murdered by guerrillas known as the Chetniks, and their bodies flung down a vertical pot-hole called Balinka pit.  After the War two of the deceased were declared national heroes, and attempts made to recover the bodies for burial; but at a depth exceeding 500 metres the pit was too deep for local cavers.  South Wales Cavers offered to help, and received a formal invitation in May 1964 from the Croatian Speleological (the scientific study of caves) Society. 
In Penwyllt it was decided that a motorised winch would have to be built, capable of hauling a man-carrying cage up and down the main shaft.  Anticipating an exceptional depth, a cage with a power-driven winch was built by the late Gwyn Sanders, who lived at Twynybedw Road in Clydach.  Having worked as a mechanical engineer in local coal mines, he was then working at Clydach’s Mond Nickel Works.  In the summer of 1964 the first expedition set out from Penwyllt in a modified bus carrying all the equipment for the long drive to Yugoslavia, with the group having to cope with mechanical problems along with customs delays at international borders.  Balinka is in an area of mixed forest, so all the equipment had to be hauled to the entrance of the pit by Land Rover, horses, and expedition members.  Some trees in the State-owned forest near the pit entrance even had to be felled by foresters.  There was telephone contact between the winch cage occupant (and it was sometimes two people) and the winch operator and others on the surface.  Although several descents were made which gradually extended the known depth of Balinka, time ran out and it was necessary to return to Wales. 
After some adjustments and re-designing of equipment, a second expedition in 1966 managed with much difficulty to recover the bones of the men murdered 24 years earlier, which were placed in four metal coffins.  Those four Partisans had been war-time comrades of President Tito, so the undertaking aroused much media interest, and the cavers received medals of appreciation from the president himself.  The South Wales Caving Club can take pride that their members, including Gwyn Sanders from Clydach, successfully performed this demanding and compassionate recovery.

Saturday 28 October 2017

130 The Slip Bridge

130 The Slip Bridge
The Slip Bridge was built by Swansea Corporation between June 1914 and September 1915 and sited on two stone abutments near the Bay View Hotel.  In March 2004 the footbridge was removed, ostensibly to examine what repairs were necessary, and placed on the Recreation Ground.  After a year the estimated cost of £350,000 to make it safe for restoration was deemed to be uneconomic, so it was moved onto the seafront promenade opposite, where after twelve years it seems unlikely to return to its original site.  Notwithstanding opposition from the Civic Society, the Open Spaces Society and others, the public right of way across the road which the Slip Bridge had spanned was closed. 
The “coat hanger” footbridge had been erected to take pedestrians across Oystermouth Road to the part of Swansea beach known as “the Slip”, near a signal box and level crossing.  The Slip was very popular before the last war, and crowded at holiday times, being near a tram terminus, and having tearooms, beach huts, vendors and offering donkey rides: Dylan Thomas’s short story “One Warm Saturday” starts there.  But the footbridge did not merely cross Oystermouth Road – substantially narrower in those days – but also crossed two railway lines that ran parallel with the road.  
One was the L.N.W.R. (London and North Western Railway), which from 1923 became the L.M.S. (London, Midland and Scottish), which ran along the coast from Swansea’s Victoria Station – roughly where the Leisure Centre LC2 is – to Blackpill.  There it turned inland over a long-demolished bridge to continue up the Clyne Valley – the route is now a cycle track – to Dunvant, Gowerton and along the Central Wales line to Mid Wales and Shrewsbury.  The section from Victoria Station to Gowerton was closed amid Dr Beeching’s reports of 1963 and 1965, which led to extensive closures throughout the entire rail network.
The other line was of course the Mumbles Railway – originally called the Swansea and Oystermouth Railway - which as most readers will know became the first passenger-carrying railway in the world.  It was initiated by an 1804 Act of Parliament as a mineral line to transport lime, bricks and also marble to Swansea from the Clyne Valley and Mumbles, but from 25th March 1807 it also carried passengers along the 4½-mile route to a regular timetable.  This was initially from the Rutland Street depot to Oystermouth Square, until in 1898 an embankment was built enclosing the natural harbour known as Horsepool, so the route could extend to the newly-opened Mumbles pier.  
Today a few signs of the railway remain, such as Blackpill’s Junction Café with its colonnaded porch, formerly the Mumbles Railway’s electricity sub-station and the Blackpill stop.  At Oystermouth Square a rusty pole remains that carried the overhead transmission wire to the electric carriages, and in the Maritime Quarter the tram-shed by the Dylan Thomas statue contains the front part of red double-deck passenger car no. 7.  The tram-shed also displays the three means of transportation during the 156 years that the railway operated – horse-power, then steam locomotion from 1877, and finally electrification from 1929, until closure on 5th January 1960.  
From the 130-tonne iron walkway of the Slip Bridge one had a fine view of Victoria Park’s working floral clock, which the Parks Department maintained from 1911 for much of the twentieth century, before a large segment of the park was taken as the site for the new Guildhall.  By the end of the twentieth century, with Victoria Park smaller, both railway lines removed, and car ownership opening up Mumbles and Gower’s beaches, the Slip had ceased to be a mecca for bathers, so the main reason for the footbridge was gone.  
The two stone abutments remain, with access up the steps blocked on safety grounds, so their future survival may be in doubt.  Those abutments at the Slip and the grounded footbridge on the prom are jarring reminders of what is missing.



Wednesday 25 October 2017

129 Lady Houston

129 Lady Houston
A recent article concerned the inventor Harry Grindell Matthews, known as “Death Ray Matthews”, who lived in Tor Clawdd on Mynydd y Gwair in upland Gower from 1934 until his death in 1941.  One interesting response provoked speculation about a possible connection to the name of an avenue in Newton. 
At Tor Clawdd, where there was a private airstrip, a frequent visitor to Grindell Matthews was aviator Lieut. Col. P.T. Etherton, who organised the first aeroplane flight in April 1933 over Everest, whose summit was unconquered until 1953 (assuming Mallory and Irvine were unsuccessful).  That enterprise was sponsored by a good friend of Grindell Matthews, Lady Houston, a political activist and philanthropist whose patriotism played a crucial part in Britain’s success in the Second World War.
Born Lucy Radmall in Lambeth in 1857, she became a professional dancer who was left a handsome annuity by a married member of the family who owned the Bass brewery.  Her first marriage, to a baronet, ended in divorce, and in 1901 she married George Byron, 9th Baron Byron.  He died in 1917, the same year that she was appointed a DBE (Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire) for her support for a home for nurses who had served in the First World War.  In 1924 she married the shipping magnate and MP Sir Robert Houston, who died fifteen months later, leaving her an extremely wealthy widow.  She had no children.
Thereafter she gave generously to British aviation, in particular, after Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government had withdrawn their support, donating £100,000 (over three million pounds in today’s money) to Supermarine, declaring “Every true Briton would rather sell his last shirt than admit that England could not afford to defend herself”.  This financial support enabled them, with an RAF crew, to win the 1931 race off Cowes to retain the Schneider Trophy, which was significant in advancing aeroplane design, especially in engine design and aerodynamics.  The first Supermarine landplane design to go into production was the Spitfire - so Lady Houston’s support had far-reaching consequences. Her gift provided a valuable impetus to the development of the engine technology that would ultimately be vital in the Second World War, and in particular in the Battle of Britain.  Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, president of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, commented: “The donation was the incentive to develop a high-speed aeroplane.  We were just about able to prepare in time for Hitler’s air armada.”
Lady Houston went on to fund that first aeroplane flight over Everest, before she died of a heart attack in December 1936, aged 79, at her home in Hampstead Heath.  Her headstone in St Marylebone cemetery describes her as “one of England’s greatest patriots”.
Although she was a good friend of Grindell Matthews, we cannot be certain that Lady Houston visited Tor Clawdd.  But might an avenue between Newton and Murton be named after her?  If Housty were a corruption of Houston, that might explain why Lady Housty Avenue is so named.  There have been enquiries about who Lady Housty was from as far afield as Canada, without any definitive answer as yet.  However a Lady Housty cottage, with two fields attached, is shown on the tithe maps from the 1840s, thus predating any Grindell Matthews connection by a century.  Swansea’s local studies librarian Gwilym Games speculates that the avenue might have been church land during medieval times, with the name being a corruption of Lady House, indicating some connection with worship of the Virgin Mary - perhaps the land was owned by St Mary’s, Swansea, or St Mary’s, Pennard?       
While Lady Houston may not be remembered through the name of an avenue in Newton, “the saviour of the Spitfire” was a friend of Grindell Matthews, thereby providing an indirect, albeit tenuous, connection with upland Gower.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

128 Rotherslade

128 Rotherslade
Rotherslade can be reached at low tide from the beach at Langland, or by descending the steps from the clifftop path.  It used to be called Little Langland or Ladies Bay, when men would swim in Langland before mixed bathing became customary.  The 1902 Guide to Swansea and Mumbles claimed that Rotherslade “affords splendid attraction for ladies and children, who crowd there during the summer”.  On the beach was a wooden refreshment room and shop – sometimes with canvas sides and a tented roof.  Swimming lessons were available during the 1890s, with wheeled bathing machines in use until the 1920s.  
But by 1926 access other than from Langland beach had become difficult, for the rickety steps cut into the cliff were crumbling away, and the footpath needed the support of wooden struts.  Rather than erect a new retaining wall and steps, Swansea Council considered building a large concrete structure to shore up the coastline and to provide steps, a shelter, café and promenade terrace.  The estimated cost (in 1926) was £10,325, but the Council envisaged the expense could be gradually recouped by hiring out deck chairs.  The General Strike delayed progress in construction, along with shortage of materials and of skilled workers, and the challenge of high tides.  Then it emerged that the concrete wall would be too high for anyone in deck chairs to see the bay!  The Council faced the dilemma of either proceeding as planned and thereby forfeiting the income from deck chairs, or amending the scheme and incurring extra costs.  Newspaper headlines proclaimed “the Rotherslade blunder”, there was acrimonious debate among councillors, and the project was dubbed “the white elephant”. 
In March 1927 however, an amended plan was approved, with railings being installed for an extra £800, so that people in deck chairs could see the beach and enjoy the view.  A ground floor shelter was erected, with refreshment rooms above, beneath a promenade roof.   The Rotherslade Shelter was opened in 1927, which was a wet summer - so the shelter was appreciated, even if there was little demand for deck chairs.
But after seventy years the Shelter had become abandoned and derelict, so it was demolished in 1997.  The Rotherslade Shelter was replaced by a new retaining wall, with steps and promenade, opened on 21st August 1998.  Below the privately-owned green beach huts, the terrace café is open throughout the year, with an outside seating area that overlooks the beach.  While this is a vast improvement on what had become an eyesore, Kate Jones, who assembled the display currently in Oystermouth library, points out that there is no shelter from the wind and rain.  
Originally a private residence for the Bassett family, the Osborne Hotel used to overlook Rotherslade Bay.  During its extension in 1892, Rother's Tor Cave was discovered, which contained several prehistoric items, including a mammoth's tooth, now displayed in Swansea Museum.  The cave was filled in and sealed to secure the hotel’s foundations.  In 1897 the Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley stayed at the Osborne after marrying his long-term partner (they had two children) in Cardiff registry office.  Preferring to paint in the open air rather than in a studio, Sisley was enthralled by the windy cliffs, and captured the distinctive light effects on the sea and the tidal ranges in at least eleven paintings, such as “Lady’s Cove, Langland Bay, Morning”.  Some of those paintings show the distinctive Storr’s Rock, formerly called Donkey Rock.  His painting “Donkey Rock in the Evening” now belongs to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. 
The Osborne Hotel was popular with visiting rugby and cricket teams who were playing at St Helen’s, Swansea, but like the Caswell Bay, Langland Bay and Langland Court Hotels it closed in the 1990s, and was demolished in 2003-04, before the Osborne Apartments were built on the site. 
Oystermouth library’s display shows the huge changes at Rotherslade in just over a century.

127 William Thomas o Lan

127 William Thomas o Lan
Which Swansea statue commemorates a pioneer?  It is evidently not those of J.H. Vivian MP in Ferrara Square, his son H.H. Vivian outside St Mary’s Church, Dylan Thomas by the Pump House, Ivor Allchurch outside the Liberty Stadium, the soldier on the Boer War cenotaph on the Promenade, or Captain Cat in the Marina.  It is the Victoria Park statue outside the Patti Pavilion of Alderman William Thomas o Lan, known as “The Pioneer of Open Spaces”.  This now stands alone, though it used to have the two Vivian statues on either side, and the Boer War statue had also been in Victoria Park - before a major segment was appropriated for building the Guildhall.
William Thomas was born in Lan Manor, Trewyddfa, Morriston, in 1816.  His father was agent to the Morris family, and a partner in the Millbrook Iron Company. William Thomas joined that firm, and married in 1853 in Shrewsbury, though his wife died seven years later.  They had no children, and he never re-married.  Since its formation in 1851, he was a director of the Landore Tinplate Company, which at its peak had 1,000 employees.  With a 122-acre estate near Defynnog, William Thomas was a keen fisherman on the river Tywi.  He became a captain in the local militia, the 4th Glamorgan Rifles, and was elected to Swansea Council in 1871, where he became a vociferous campaigner for open spaces, seeking recreational facilities for all. 
The rapid increase of industrialisation in the 19th century had left little land for recreation, and while the Council’s plans to lay out Cwmdonkin Park would benefit middle–class residents living nearby, most of the working population who lived in the docks and lower Swansea Valley areas were not catered for.  So William Thomas offered a prize at the 1874 Christmas Eisteddfod at Morriston’s Libanus Chapel for the best essay in English or Welsh on the desirability and advantages of recreation grounds for the working classes and the poor children of Swansea.  His challenge elicited eight essays, with first prize of 20 guineas going to R. Rice Davies of Brunswick Street.  Even better, there was an offer of a suitable piece of land for recreation.
John Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare responded to William Thomas’s challenge by offering the 42-acre Cnap Llwyd Farm, near the ruins of Morris Castle, to the people of Swansea.  Later he also gave £1,000 towards the expense of the farm being laid out as a park.  During William Thomas’s term as mayor, this was officially opened in October 1878 by his son John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn (as his father was unwell), and named Parc Llewelyn.  The day was declared a local holiday, with a fireworks display in the evening.
William Thomas went on to secure the land for Victoria Park, opened in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Brynmelyn Park the following year, as well as the Recreation Ground at St Helen’s, and Brynmill Park.  He was appointed Chief Magistrate, and after 23 years retired from the Council in 1894.  The Eastside was accommodated with the opening of Jersey Park in Dan-y-graig in 1903. 
Bandstands were a regular feature of those early parks, which in the case of Victoria Park could also be used for drill by the local militia, and staging Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  There were games of tennis and bowls at several parks, with cricket at Parc Llewelyn, and Brynmill Lake was used by a model yacht club.  The Gorsedd ceremony was held in Cwmdonkin Park in August 1907 when Swansea hosted the National Eisteddfod, for Singleton did not become a public park until 1920.       
The statue of the man who inspired all these was funded by public subscription and unveiled in Victoria Park in 1906, three years before the death of William Thomas, the “pioneer and champion of open spaces”.                                                            

Monday 16 October 2017

126 Death Ray Matthews

Death Ray Matthews’
Last month an Evening Post article contained a Craig Cefn Parc resident’s recollections about Harry Grindell Matthews, popularly called Death Ray Matthews, a pioneer inventor described by Churchill as being “100 years too advanced”.
Born in 1880 at Winterbourne in Gloucestershire, Matthews enlisted in Baden-Powell’s South African Constabulary during the Boer War, becoming interested in wireless telephony.  Subsequently he became an electrical engineer, though he was something of a visionary, interested in the hidden powers of radio and light.  
Matthews transmitted the first wireless press message from Newport to Cardiff in 1912, and in order to transmit speech from the ground to an aircraft he developed an Aerophone, which he demonstrated to King George V at Buckingham Palace.  After the outbreak of the First World War the government offered £25,000 to anyone who could devise a weapon against zeppelins or remote controlled unmanned vehicles.  In the presence of Admiralty representatives Matthews demonstrated with a searchlight beam that he could control a launch on an artificial lake in Richmond Park by using light-sensitive selenium cells.  But his invention was never used, though subsequently Lord Fisher made him an advisor on the Board of Invention and Research. 
Matthews experimented in recording sound directly onto film, and claimed that an interview with Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, recorded before his final expedition south, was the world's first talking picture, though that was not the case.
During the inter-war period when there was concern about lethal rays, Matthews claimed to have developed ones that could stop an engine by de-activating the magneto.  In 1924 he made a short film to promote his invention the death ray – alleging that with enough power he might be able to shoot down an aeroplane: this was described on the Pathé News as “war’s latest terror”.  A 1925 photo purports to show a night demonstration on Flat Holm Island, though Matthews was reluctant to have his inventions scrutinised or tested – citing a fear of industrial espionage.  After previous bad experiences with alleged inventors, the Air Ministry was wary of proceeding further, but there was concern lest Matthews sell his death ray to another country, for he visited France and the United States.  The High Court in London even granted an injunction to Matthews's investors that forbade him from selling the rights to the death ray.  
In 1930 at Hampstead he demonstrated his latest invention, a “sky projector” to project an image onto clouds in the sky.  But it was not successful, and he faced bankruptcy, having used up much of his investors' money by living in expensive hotels.  
Helped by new financial backers, Matthews moved in 1934 to upland Gower, where in a remote area he built Tor Clawdd, a large white bungalow on two acres of land.  During construction he was a popular lodger at a farmhouse on Mynydd y Gwair, and would dine at the Masons Arms in Rhyd-y-pandy.  Tor Clawdd, standing a few miles south of Penlle’r castell, contained six bedrooms and two bathrooms, a laboratory, with mains electricity and its own supply from a generator.  It also had water from a man-made well, a private airstrip for light aircraft (Matthews was a qualified pilot), and was surrounded by a tall electrically-guarded fence with steel gates.  Matthews employed a housekeeper and a handyman/gardener, while he worked on a system to detect submarines.  He enjoyed solitary rambling in that remote area.
Following two marriages of short duration, at the age of 57 he married in 1937 the Polish-American Ganna (Hannah) Walska, whose unrealistic operatic aspirations rivalled those of Florence Foster Jenkins.  She had accumulated a fortune from four previous marriages. 
But they separated after four years, shortly before Matthews died at Tor Clawdd of a heart attack aged 61.  After cremation at Pontypridd, his ashes were scattered at Tor Clawdd.  A 2009 blue plaque outside his Gloucestershire birthplace commemorates “one of the most enigmatic and shadowy inventors of the twentieth century”.

Monday 9 October 2017

125 31st October

31st October
Next Tuesday will be the final day in the month, and for many people 31st October means celebrating Hallowe’en.  For decades the impact in this country of the Americanised Hallowe’en has increased, with “trick and treat”, and the wearing of all sorts of bizarre and ghoulish costumes - though we haven’t yet followed New York’s Greenwich Village with a huge Hallowe’en parade!
To some this is just harmless fun, but to others it is a sinister and unwelcome focus on the forces of darkness.  Yet I suggest two historical events on this date that are more worthy of our notice.  The first has already received much attention, for this year is the 500th anniversary of when German monk Martin Luther pinned up 95 theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony, in 1517.  This set in motion the Reformation, which led to the emergence of Protestant and Nonconformist Christian denominations. 
The second event is local, being the start (in human terms) of the 1904 Welsh Religious Revival, which we date from a prayer meeting in Loughor’s Moriah Chapel on 31st October 1904.  In the schoolroom (adjacent to the new chapel of 1898) a young man named Evan Roberts spoke of four conditions for receiving God’s Spirit – to confess sin, remove anything doubtful from one’s life, surrender to the Spirit, and publicly admit to being a follower of Christ.  Those present felt a move of God’s Spirit, which escalated into months of packed meetings throughout the valleys, in North Wales and in Liverpool, with people gathering to experience God.  Meetings often included spontaneous unaccompanied congregational singing, with women playing a prominent part - singing and sharing testimonies of what Christ meant to them.  Especially popular was the hymn “Dyma gariad fel y moroedd” (“Here is love, vast as the ocean”), which was called “the love song of the revival”.  Many people came to faith in Christ, hundreds joined chapels and churches, the impact caused the crime rate and drunkenness to plummet, and many pubs were closed.  Men’s lives were changed - even pit ponies had to adjust to miners’ commands that now excluded swear words and blasphemies!  Although the Revival mainly affected Welsh-speakers, it could develop independently of meetings at which Evans Roberts was present.  In Mumbles the Tabernacle Congregational Church schoolroom held revival meetings from December 1904, resulting in 62 people joining the church.
The reporting of these events in the Western Mail and by newspaperman W.T. Stead (who later drowned in the Titanic) tended to focus on 26-year-old Evan Roberts.  Born in 1878, this earnest young man had worked as a miner from the age of 12 and as a blacksmith’s assistant, before embarking on training at Newcastle Emlyn for the Christian ministry.  In September 1904 during a Seth Joshua mission at Blaenannerch, Cardiganshire, he had an experience of God which led him to return to Loughor and seek permission to hold prayer meetings.  Evan Roberts never sought the limelight, and whereas the 1859 Welsh Revival had been led by outstanding preachers, he had no illusion of being an inspiring orator.  Though he toured the country and addressed many meetings, the strain of publicity and expectations led to his breakdown the following year, and withdrawal from public life, moving initially to Leicester.  He later returned to Wales to live quietly in Cardiff, devoting himself to prayer and to writing, until he died in 1951, and was buried at Moriah.  Yet the impact of the 1904 Welsh Revival spread overseas, even to the Khasi hills of north-east India.
A memorial column to Evan Roberts stands outside Moriah Chapel in Loughor.  Mal Pope’s 2005 musical “Amazing Grace” gives a good idea of what occurred, and the fierce opposition encountered, even from certain ministers. 
So on 31st October I prefer to thank God for what happened on that date in Wittenberg and in Loughor, rather than concentrating on dark and unedifying aspects of Hallowe’en.         

Sunday 8 October 2017

124 Edgar Evans statue

124 Edgar Evans statue
A recent Evening Post article reported on plans to raise £90,000 for a 15-foot statue of Edgar Evans “to honour the Polar explorer”.  Evans was the Rhossili seaman who accompanied Captain Scott on two expeditions to Antarctica, during the second of which he was among the five men who reached the South Pole in January 1912, though the first of them to perish on the return journey.  I would suggest that Petty Officer Evans, an integral member of both Captain Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, is already suitably honoured in his home town, and further afield.
Swansea Museum contains a fine bust of Evans, based on the famous photograph of the five men at the South Pole, carved by Philip Chatfield, who carved the Merchant Navy memorial in SA1, as well as many other commissions.  Evans’s bust, which was commissioned by the Captain Scott Society of Cardiff, from where the 1910 “Terra Nova” expedition had sailed, was presented to the City of Swansea in 1995 by the Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan at a Civic event held at the Brangwyn Hall. 
In 2012, on the centenary of that expedition, Swansea Museum had an excellent display about Evans and the 1910 British Antarctic Expedition for many months, with the actual centenary of Evans’s death being marked by a Civic Service at St Mary’s Church in Swansea.  In Rhossili, at the church where Evans had married in 1904 his cousin Lois Beynon, who used to sing in the church choir, is a plaque commemorating him, as well as a stained-glass window in his memory, along with an information board.  On sale at West Glamorgan Archives is the first biography of Evans, my 1995 book “Swansea’s Antarctic Explorer”, while the more comprehensive biography by Dr Isobel Williams entitled “Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant: Edgar Evans” was published in 2012 and continues to have a wide readership.  That year Evans was the subject of a fine HTV television documentary, and in November 2014 a blue plaque was unveiled outside Middleton Cottage, his birthplace near Rhossili. 
Furthermore Swansea Museum has items relating to Evans – one of his boots is displayed in the Cabinet of Curiosities – and researchers can view two letters which he sent from Antarctica, and peruse information pertaining to him and Scott’s ill-fated 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition.
Evans’s old school, St Helen’s in Vincent Street in the Sandfields, has a fine framed photograph of their famous former pupil, while the former Head Post Office in Wind Street (Evans worked as a telegraph messenger boy at their previous Castle Bailey Street premises) used to display H.A. Chapman’s large framed photograph of him taken at the time of his wedding.  That building at the junction of Green Dragon Lane is now Idols bar, so the photograph can be seen at the Royal Mail premises on the Enterprise Zone.  Evans’s Royal Naval roots were recognised by a residential block being named after him at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth, while in Antarctica two geographical features bear his name.
Although much focus is on what is called “Scott’s Last Expedition”, Evans was also a prominent member of Scott’s earlier Antarctic expedition from 1901 to 1904 in the “Discovery”.  Swansea Museum contains a two-volume first edition of Scott’s account of this.  The “Discovery” is open to the public at Dundee, where this wooden ship was built, though the “Terra Nova” sank off Greenland in 1943: her figurehead is in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
Besides the soldier on the South African War memorial, Swansea has statues of industrialists John Henry Vivian and his son Henry Hussey Vivian, of William Thomas of Lan “the champion of open spaces”, of poet Dylan Thomas and of footballer Ivor Allchurch.  Though the intention is laudable, surely plans for a 15-foot high statue of Petty Officer Edgar Evans are superfluous?    

Thursday 5 October 2017

123 Unitarians

123 Unitarians
What links American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and radical scientist Joseph Priestley, with novelist and biographer Mrs Gaskell?  It is that all these people were Unitarians.  Britain has 170 Unitarian meeting-houses, of which 27 are in Wales - the same number as at the Religious Census of 1851.  Swansea’s meeting-house is next to the Argos store in High Street, with Gellionen near Pontardawe being another well-known Unitarian chapel - built originally in 1692 by Protestant dissenters on Mynydd Gellionnen.  The Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan’s has Pen-rhiw Chapel, which is also Unitarian.  This was probably first built as a barn during the mid-eighteenth century, before being acquired in 1777 by Unitarians for use as a meeting house.  The original loft was removed or altered in the 19th century to create the gallery, greatly increasing the seating capacity.  The floor of the building is of beaten earth, except the communion area which is boarded.  Originally at Drefach Felindre in north Carmarthenshire, the chapel was dismantled in 1953 and moved to the Folk Museum.
In 1774 a former Vicar, who had left the Church of England, opened Britain’s first Unitarian meeting-house, in Essex Street, near the Strand in London: today the headquarters of British Unitarians stand on that site.  The first meeting-house in Wales was established 20 years later by Thomas Evans (Tomos Glyn Cothi) - known as “Priestley bach” from his adherence to the teachings of Joseph Priestley.  Evans preached the first Unitarian sermon published in Welsh.  In 1802 the Unitarian Association of South Wales was founded, one member being the controversial poet and Unitarian hymn writer Iolo Morgannwg (Edward Williams), who introduced Druidism and the Gorsedd ceremony into Eisteddfodau.
Swansea’s Unitarian Chapel is set back from High Street, being reached across an open paved forecourt, and having a gabled porch.  After the 1689 Act of Toleration permitted Dissenters (though not Unitarians) to meet, it was used for worship by initially Baptists and later by Presbyterians, before being rebuilt in 1840. 
In Pennard after the war a small meeting-house was built in Hael Lane.  This was supplied with ministers from Swansea - Rev. Basil Viney would walk to Pennard - but after numbers dwindled the building was sold at auction in 1966, then demolished and a bungalow erected on the site.
Unitarians differ from various Christian denominations in that they do not recognise Christ Jesus as being God the Son, co-equal with God the Father and with God the Holy Spirit.  The term “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible, being a human attempt to describe God, but Unitarians do not recognise the Trinity, and would deny Christ’s deity and pre-existence prior to his birth in Bethlehem.  During the nineteenth century Christian ministers who opposed Unitarianism included the Welsh Methodist and hymn writer William Williams (Pantycelyn), Peter Williams, who translated “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah” into English, Welsh Baptist Joseph “Gomer” Harris (of Capel Gomer), and Christmas Evans, who is buried in Swansea’s Bethesda Chapel. 
Unitarians do not impose creeds or specific beliefs, but welcome people with open minds who share their tolerant and inclusive views.  They conduct naming ceremonies and weddings for people of any faith or none, and welcome those planning a second marriage.  At times Unitarians have been persecuted – as have Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Quakers and others.  The term “Christian” can be loosely used to mean a gentleman or a respectable person, whereas it should mean a follower of Christ Jesus.  For example, to state that Nick Clegg MP is not a Christian is not to denigrate him or to cast aspersions on his integrity, but merely to state a fact - he is an atheist.  Similarly Unitarians are not Christians, which does not preclude their campaigning for such issues as the abolition of slavery and for gender equality.  They support equality of respect and opportunity foreveryone.                       

Wednesday 4 October 2017

122 Vernon Watkins 50th anniversary

122 Vernon Watkins 50th anniversary
This year October 8th falls on a Sunday, as in 1967, when in Seattle, North America, 61-year-old Pennard poet Vernon Watkins collapsed and died while playing tennis.  Following retirement from long service with Lloyds Bank, mainly at Swansea’s St Helen’s Road branch, he took up a Gulbenkian Fellowship in poetry at University College, Swansea, which awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Literature, before he travelled with members of his family to Seattle.  This was intended to be a year as Visiting Professor of Literature at the University of Washington, where he had lectured on W.B. Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins for one semester in 1964.
Often referred to as “Swansea’s Other Poet”, Vernon Watkins was a good friend of Dylan Thomas, whose obituary he wrote in “The Times”.  He sought to defend his friend’s reputation, for the often exaggerated anecdotes of Dylan’s drinking and outlandish behaviour distracted attention from appreciating the quality of his poetry and other writings.
Vernon was a very fine poet in his own right, whose work was as different from Dylan’s as that of John Donne (like Vernon, a metaphysical poet) from that of John Betjeman.  There was no rivalry between Dylan and Vernon, for both appreciated the other’s poetry, and during the 1930s they would regularly meet to discuss poetry, and suggest any words or phrases that might improve what either had written.
During Vernon’s lifetime Faber and Faber published six volumes of his poetry, with a seventh being printed at the time of his death.  Subsequently three more volumes of his poetry have appeared, as well as his “Collected Poems” in 1986.  For the centenary of his birth “New Selected Poems” was published in 2006, and this was recently reprinted for the 50th anniversary of his death.  In the foreword, Dr Rowan Williams describes Vernon’s long poem “The Ballad of the Mari Llwyd” as “one of the outstanding poems of the century”.  Sadly the radio recording of Dylan reading it (which takes 30 minutes) has not survived.
Vernon could speak German and French, and translated poems from both languages, having spent one year at Cambridge studying modern languages.  He made several visits to Germany, being outraged at the time of the Nazi book burning in 1933 when books by German nineteenth century poet Heinrich Heine were burnt: he had to be hurried away by friends from danger.  Vernon translated two cycles of Heine’s poems composed in 1825/26 into English, entitled “The North Sea” and this was published in 1951.  At the time of his death Vernon was being considered, among others, as a possible Poet Laureate, following the death of John Masefield.
His poetry was composed in spite of the time pressure of full-time work six days a week in a bank, entailing bus journeys to and from Pennard to Hospital Square (the junction of St Helen’s Road and Bryn-y-Mor Road), and not neglecting his wife Gwen and his five children.  He met Gwen during the war, when they both worked at Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, the government secret code-breaking centre.  They lived on Pennard cliffs where a friend recollected “my image of him will always be out of doors, on walks above or below the cliffs, or on the rocks at low tide, out for lobsters, crabs and prawns…”
The 50th anniversary of his death is being marked in several ways.  This month Jeff Towns’ exhibition is in the foyer of the Singleton campus University library, with last Monday a reading of and discussion about his poetry at the Taliesin Theatre.  This morning a Vernon Watkins walk will start from outside Pennard’s Three Cliffs coffee shop at 11am, while on 19th October the Ostreme Centre in Mumbles hosts a talk from the editor of “New Collected Poems” at 8pm - admission £3.  
These events and a forthcoming biography should ensure that Vernon Watkins, whom Dylan described as “The most profound and greatly accomplished Welshman writing poems in English”, is not forgotten.                                                                                  
  Late I return, O violent, colossal, reverberant, eavesdropping sea.
  My country is here.  I am foal and violet.  Hawthorn breaks from my hands.
  I watch the inquisitive cormorant pry from the praying rock of Pwlldu,
  Then skim to the gulls’ white colony, to Oxwich’s cockle-strewn sands.
  (from “Taliesin in Gower”, courtesy of Gwen Watkins)

Monday 31 July 2017

121 The Dollar Ship

121 The Dollar Ship
With Burry Holmes at the northern end, and Worm’s Head at the southern, the large expanse of Rhossili Bay has the remains of two shipwrecks visible - most noticeably protruding through the sand are the ribs of the Helvetia, a Norwegian barque with a cargo of timber that ran aground in 1887.  Further along by Diles Lake, equinoctial tides twice a year reveal part of the engines of the City of Bristol, a paddle steamer from Waterford, that ran aground and was wrecked in 1840. 
But not visible is a more famous wreck, called “The Dollar Ship”, the precise details of which are lost in legend.  She may have been a Spanish vessel wrecked beyond the low tide line during the seventeenth century, possibly around the year 1660.  At one time she was believed to have been carrying a vast treasure, the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess who came to England in 1661 to marry King Charles II, and who introduced the drinking of tea to Britain. 
In 1807 exceptional tides uncovered for a few hours part of a wreck beyond the low tide mark.  This prompted a “gold rush” in west Gower, for Spanish coins from the early seventeenth century were uncovered.  Over 12lbs in weight of Spanish dollars, half-dollars and pieces-of-eight were dug up, some coins dated 1625 and others 1639, from the time of King Philip IV of Spain - which would date that shipwreck after 1640.  “The Cambrian” newspaper of 7th March 1807 reported that the findings “are conjectured to have formed part of the cargo of a rich Spanish vessel from South America, called the Scanderoon galley, which was wrecked on that part of the coast upwards of a century since”.
Though the tide came in and the sands closed over the site, there was a similar “gold rush” again in 1833, when C.R.M. Talbot of Penrice waived his right as lord of the manor to the finds, so some local people had a windfall.  Rev. William Griffiths, Lady Barham’s minister at Cheriton Chapel, commented on the enthusiasm with which people hastened to the beach to seek gold coins, while being unconcerned about seeking spiritual riches. 
Besides coins being uncovered, there were also lead bullets, pewter, and part of an astrolabe (an old navigational instrument).  According to Rev. J.D. Davies, who recounts legends as well as actual history in his “History of West Gower”, two iron cannon were also recovered, and mounted in the garden of Richard Helme at Hillend.  As the coins were Spanish dollars, any connection with the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza can be dismissed; anyhow she had sailed to Southampton through the English Channel, not the Bristol Channel, and there was no record of such a calamity as a future Queen of England’s dowry having been lost. 
A letter of 3rd December 1666 states that a vessel, laden with wine, sugar and Brazil wood was wrecked “on a certain sand ten miles off Swansea.  The men are Portuguese and cannot speak English”.  But in this case no treasure was mentioned, and again she was a Portuguese not a Spanish ship.  To add to the confusion moidores (Portuguese gold coins) and doubloons were later found in Bluepool Bay, but they would seem to have been from a different wreck, possibly travelling in convoy.
Writing in “Gower Gleanings” in 1951, Horatio Tucker points out that a ship that had grounded in the darkness would have been pounded mercilessly by the waves, and would disintegrate in the broken water to leave no trace of her visible by the morning.  Local people would have been unaware that any shipwreck had taken place until those exceptional tides of 1807, and it would have been difficult to salvage a wreck beyond the low water mark. 
Perhaps at the time of the equinoctial tides people with metal detectors will be scouring Rhossili Bay sands at low tide….