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….                                                                                                

Sunday 30 July 2017

120 The Vikings

120 The Vikings
Anyone who has watched on television (or perhaps seen in the old Plaza cinema) the 1958 film “The Vikings”, which starred and was produced by Kirk Douglas, father–in-law of Swansea’s Catherine Zeta Jones, will envisage Vikings as Norse seafarers intent on plunder and pillage.  The word “Viking” comes from an Old English word meaning pirate, though there is no evidence that they wore horned helmets.  According to legend, Vikings destroyed St Cenydd’s hermitage in Llangennith in the year 986.  Yet prior to the Norman conquest Norsemen were often engaged in more peaceful activities, setting up trading settlements from their Irish bases at Wexford and Dublin across the Irish Sea to South Wales.  That could have been how Swansea originated, although, as Gerald Gabb points out in the first volume of his authoritative “Swansea and its History”, actual evidence is hard to come by, and what there is can often be disputed.
The Welsh name Abertawe meaning “mouth of the river Tawe” is an accurate description of the town, for that was the attraction for a settlement.  The English name Swansea may have derived from “Sweyn’s Eye”, composed of an old Norse proper name “Sveinn”, along with the old Norse word “ey”, meaning an island or inlet.  Svein might have been Svein Forkbeard, who was king of Denmark from 986 to 1014, and the father of Cnut the Great.  This was Canute of the apocryphal anecdote about king Canute and the waves, which demonstrated the limitations of secular power compared with God’s supreme power, though it often misrepresents Canute as if he believed he had supernatural powers.
Was Swansea founded in the eleventh century by a person named Sweyn?  In spite of the paucity of evidence, when the new Guildhall was being built in the 1930s, architect Ernest Morgan advised the Corporation to include features suggesting Viking connections.  So the bronze handrails of the grand staircase represent the bows and sterns of Scandinavian ships, the imagined visage of a bearded Sweyn presides over approaches to the Council Chamber, and the prow of a Viking long boat projects from each side of the clock tower.
Some Viking artefacts have been uncovered – in 1949 Minchin Hole below Pennard car park provided the earliest find of any post-Roman currency in Wales, before any coins minted by the Normans.  It yielded a penny of Egbert of Wessex (802 to 839), as well as two other coins.  When a road was being constructed from Penrice Castle to Millwood a hoard (rather like the large 3rd century Pennard hoard) of 30 coins was discovered dating from 1003 to 1009, from the time of Ethelred the Unready (meaning “uncounselled”).  A complete bronze brooch, described as of Irish-Norse type and probably used to affix a cloak, was found in Whitford in the parish of Llanmadoc.  At Culver Hole near Burry Holmes (not the Port Eynon Culver Hole), a 10th century bronze ring-and-pin brooch was discovered.  Of course the name of the tidal island Burry Holmes may itself indicate Viking connections, since “holm” is the Old Scandinavian word for island.
In 1993 artist Mark Mumford envisaged an immense statue of Sweyn, about 150 feet high, rivalling New York’s Statue of Liberty, and proposed it be erected on top of Kilvey Hill, but his suggestion was not taken further.                                            
If we move away from images of a warlike Viking (Kirk Douglas wearing a horned helmet), perhaps we can imagine Norse seafarers seeking a trading post at the mouth of a navigable river.  In the absence of conclusive proof, former City Archivist Dr John Alban, County Archivist of Norfolk, stated, “I am still of the opinion that there was a Viking settlement at Swansea”.  

Saturday 15 July 2017

119 Parc-le-breos

119 Parc-le-breos
Parc le Breos near Parkmill was a medieval deer park established early in the 13th century; the boundary of the original hunting park extended for 6.7 miles.  Its name is from the Norman de Breos family, some of whom ruled Gower despotically during the 13th and 14th centuries.  Subsequently the estate passed through hereditary lords - the Earls of Worcester and then the Dukes of Beaufort.
Around 1860 a substantial farmhouse was built about 1,200 yards north-east of Giant’s Grave, on the Duke of Beaufort’s land.  In 1865 it was rented by Edward Barton, who became a churchwarden at Penmaen Church, where after his death in 1873 two stained-glass windows were placed in his memory.  By then the estate, called Park le Bruce, had been purchased by Henry Hussey Vivian, owner of the vast Hafod copper-works and later first Lord Swansea.  He embarked on enlarging and transforming the farmhouse into the country residence Parc le Breos, and built a dwelling for the farm bailiff. 
In 1869 workmen digging for road stone uncovered Parc Cwm long cairn, just south of Cathole cave.  This early Neolithic cromlech, also known as Giant’s Grave, is evidence of human settlement from earliest times.  John Aubrey Vivian, only child of widower Hussey Vivian’s second marriage to Flora Cholmeley, had been born in 1854 in London, and was brought up at the Vivian mansion Parkwern in Sketty, where his mother died in 1868.  Quiet and unassuming, Aubrey Vivian settled at his father’s country retreat Parc le Breos, and became its owner after Hussey Vivian died in 1894.  Aubrey Vivian was a magistrate, governor of the village school, like his father a member of Swansea Harbour Trust, and a patron of Swansea Choral Society.  A high churchman, he made several gifts to Penmaen Church, including a lectern, an altar cross and a pair of candelabra.  But only four years after Hussey Vivian’s death, while he was staying in London with his aunt Miss Dulcie Vivian, he died suddenly of peritonitis in February 1898.  He was buried at Penmaen Church, where he had served as a churchwarden.
Later that year Parc le Breos was purchased by Aubrey’s uncle, Graham Vivian of Clyne Castle, who maintained the house just for shooting parties – the estate was known for woodcock, with as many as 52 having been shot in a single day.
Descriptions from that time describe Parc le Breos having a terrace, with parterres and rose-gardens, and kitchen gardens having cucumber and melon houses, with a photographic dark room inside the house itself.  The Home Farm had a tramway for moving dung, with a water turbine for driving the machinery.  After Graham Vivian died in 1912 it passed to his nephew Admiral Algernon Heneage-Vivian, who lived there for a few years after the First World War with his first wife and their three daughters, before they moved into Clyne Castle, when once again Parc le Breos was used mainly by shooting parties.  During the Second World War, RAF personnel and Polish airmen occupied the house, until in 1952 it was sold in a poor condition to settle death duties. 
It was purchased in October 1953 by Tom and Gladys Edwards, who used the land for market gardening, and parts of the house for rearing chickens and turkeys, breeding finches, and even a pig sty!  By the early 1960s their son John and his wife Olive began a pony trekking business, with Robbie, a wedding gift, being the first horse to work there.  The house has been gradually renovated, with run-down parts rebuilt in a tasteful manner, restoring old features and uncovering even older ones during restoration.  A 1912 postcard showed the original Victorian weatherboards, so these were remade to bring the house closer to how it used to look.  
This former hunting lodge has been converted into a guest house of character now offering home-cooked food in superb surroundings.   

Wednesday 12 July 2017

118 City Status

118 City Status
1969 was a significant year for several reasons, according to one’s interests and priorities.  From a sporting viewpoint, followers of Glamorgan cricket would remember it as the year that Tony Lewis’s side won the County Championship, for the second time, in those days when cricket was not distracted by T20 matches, or games with a pink or white ball.  On a national level the investiture took place of 21-year-old Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July.  On a worldwide level, 1969 is remembered as the year that man first walked on the moon – memorably Neil Armstrong, but also the rather overlooked “Buzz” Aldrin.  On a local level, 1969 was the year when the town of Swansea was awarded city status.  This was announced by Prince Charles on the steps of Swansea’s Guildhall on 3rd July, two days after his investiture at Caernarfon, in the course of his tour of Wales; he returned to Swansea on 15th December to present the charter of city status at the Brangwyn Hall.  
Swansea had first petitioned for city status in 1911, the year of the previous investiture, when on Lloyd George’s initiative the future King Edward VIII was invested as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon.  Following the 1974 local government reorganisation, when the County Borough of Swansea and the Gower Rural District Council were merged into the City of Swansea, city status was re-granted, and from 1982 Swansea’s mayor became a Lord Mayor, the first being Paul Valerio.  When in 1996 Swansea became one of 22 Welsh unitary authorities, acquiring part of the former Lliw Valley Borough, it was designated the City and County of Swansea.
Wales currently has six cities, well spread throughout the country.  In the south-east is Cardiff, which attained city status in 1905 (weeks before the famous 3-0 rugby win there over the All Blacks), and it became Wales’s capital in 1955.  Bangor in the north-west had been considered a city from 1886, with its status confirmed by the Queen following the 1974 local government reorganisation.  From 1969 there was Swansea in the south-west, while further west is Britain’s smallest city, St David’s in Pembrokeshire.  From the sixteenth century St David’s had been considered a city because of its cathedral, until 1888, though city status was reinstated by Royal Charter in 1994.  After centuries of uncertainty as to whether the county of Monmouthshire was really in Wales or not, Newport in Gwent became a city in 2002 during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. 
These five cities were joined by St Asaph in north-east Wales in 2012, as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  That decision disappointed Wrexham, which had petitioned for city status several times.  The six Welsh cities have cathedrals (Cardiff’s being Llandaff), apart from Swansea, which from 1923 has been in the Church in Wales diocese of Swansea and Brecon, with the cathedral being Brecon Priory rather than St Mary’s Parish Church, Swansea.  Swansea, however, does have a cathedral - St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Greenhill, following the formation of the Diocese of Menevia in 1987.  The link between having a cathedral and being a city began in the early 1540s, when Henry VIII founded six dioceses (each of which had a cathedral in the city) in six English towns, granting them city status by letters patent.  It became the informal custom to describe any town with a cathedral as a city, with Birmingham in 1889 being the first large town without a cathedral to acquire city status, though subsequently St Philip’s Parish Church became a cathedral in 1905 when the diocese of Birmingham was formed.              
Although I have concentrated on Swansea acquiring city status – having been among those who heard the announcement on the steps of the Guildhall on 3rd July - 1969 was also significant for much else, such as the birth of Swansea’s Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.              


Tuesday 4 July 2017

117 North Dock railway catastrophe, 1865

117 North Dock railway catastrophe, 1865
On sunny days people sit outside Sainsbury’s cafĂ© looking across the river, unaware they are at the scene of a fatal railway disaster 150 years ago.
Before any docks or the barrage were built in Swansea, vessels lay on the mud of the river, as depicted in early photographs of pioneer photographer Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, for at low tide such vessels could not be reached to load or discharge cargoes.  This situation led to plans for a floating harbour, which became the North Dock, the first of Swansea’s five docks.  In 1840 work commenced to divert the River Tawe, cutting a new direct course across a section of the river that meandered near the estuary.  The first barque sailed through this straight section (called the New Cut) in 1845.  Where the river had flowed, a half-tide basin with a lock was built leading to a 12-acre dock, with another lock and a navigable cut to access the upper river.  The floating harbour - the North Dock - opened on New Year’s Day, 1852. 
The Vale of Neath railway line was carried over the New Cut by a box girder bridge, and over the North Dock by a drawbridge.  The Act of Parliament authorising the line stated that the company had to open the drawbridge to shipping and keep it open for 2½ hours before high water and 1½ hours after high water, for each tide.  Coal traffic usually ceased about 8.30pm and resumed around 4am.
On Wednesday, 29th November 1865, signalman John Howells came on duty at 4am, with the drawbridge open, but there was insufficient pressure in the hydraulic pumps to close it: an hour later there would have been sufficient. 
Though the drawbridge spanning the lock was still open, an incorrect ‘line clear’ signal had been given.  A red warning light was exhibited automatically by the bridge being open, but coal train driver William Cole was struggling to get his engine working on slippery rails; it was a tank engine, running bunker first so the driver consequently had his back to the direction of travel.  At 6.30am the Vale of Neath coal train with 32 wagons, driver William Cole and fireman/stoker Clement Longstaf, plunged into 18ft of water in the North Dock.  The guard George Garrish had leaped clear and survived.
An eye-witness reported: “I could hear the train moving, and it passed me at about six miles an hour. The driver had his right hand on the engine rail, and with his left he was working the regulator in and out, as it was so slippery.  I was standing on my platform with my white light shown towards the train, and when the last truck reached opposite, looking round I saw the red light on at the North Dock drawbridge.  At this moment I heard the crash of the engine and trucks falling."
During the following week 20,000 sightseers visited the scene – the £40 raised in tolls was divided between the dependants of the two victims.  All wreckage was cleared within six days.  Signalman John Howells, who admitted, “It is my own fault and nobody else’s”, was found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.  The jury recommended mercy because of his long working hours - his standard working day was 4am to 6pm (14 hours), and with overtime it could extend to 9pm: his average working day over the previous year was 15¼ hours!
A local “photographic artist”, Mr Andrews, took a series of photographs of the wreckage, which were on sale from 8th December.  The drawing published in the Illustrated London News is from one of the photographs.       
The North Dock closed in 1928, though its half-tide basin continued in use for vessels going to Weaver’s flour mills for some years.  Subsequently rubble from damaged buildings during the Second World War was used to fill in the North Dock. 

“Illustrated London News” image

Monday 3 July 2017

116 The Gower Show

116 The Gower Show
Several readers attended the annual Gower Show in the grounds of Penrice Castle on 6th August, or have done so in previous years.  Although the centenary was celebrated in 2005, this year’s Gower Show was the actual 100th, since the Shows were suspended during both World Wars.
In the past, quarterly fairs and weekly markets were held on the green at Penrice, and an annual fair had been held on Reynoldston’s upper green.  In those pre-motorised days livestock would be driven along country lanes and drovers’ routes to fairs and markets, as happened when the first Gower Agricultural Show took place on Thursday 20th September 1906, in the Kittles behind Penrice Home Farm.  The Show offered “a grand exhibition of cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, jumping, trotting, corn and root crops” (mangolds, swedes and turnips - grown primarily for fodder).  It was claimed that there were upwards of 500 entries, with judging commencing at 11am.  Luncheon was at 1.30pm costing two shillings, provided by Swansea’s Grand Hotel, with general refreshments available at “popular prices”.  The permission was gratefully acknowledged of Miss Emily Talbot, whose grandfather Thomas Mansel Talbot had been a founder member of the Glamorgan Agricultural Society.  He had built Penrice Castle opposite the ruins of the Norman castle, a decade after the first known agricultural show - Salford Agricultural Society in Lancashire in 1768.
The South Wales Daily Post commented: “There is now an opportunity in this event for the people of Gower to have in time an important show, and it only remains for them to rally round the powers that be.”
The following year the Gower Show, including a class for horses suitable for underground colliery purposes, was held in the grounds of Kilvrough Manor, whose owner Admiral Lyons was the Gower Agricultural Society’s first president.  By the fifth show there were 746 entries, with a class for a mare or gelding suitable for yeomanry.  During the early years entries from the Talbot or Lyons families won many of the prizes and cups!  The show was suspended during the First World War, when horses were requisitioned for the war effort.  On resumption sheepdog trials were added in the 1920s. 
In 1924 the Gower Pageant, organised by Ernest Helme of Hillend, was re-enacted at the Gower Show on 4th September, since heavy rain had impeded the original performance at Penrice the previous month.
Following the sale of Kilvrough and the dispersal of the estate, from 1926 the Gower Show was held annually in the top park at Penrice.  When shows took place on Thursdays, school attendance was affected – the 1932 Llanmadoc School log noted “Attendance very low today, owing to the annual Agricultural Show taking place at Penrice”.  The following year they bowed to the inevitable with a half-day holiday on the day of the show.
Guests at the show on 31 August 1939, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, were the Band and Drums of the 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Regiment.  Subsequently 30-year-old Pat Smythe, Britain’s leading female showjumper, competed in the 1958 show jumping event.  By contrast, one show in the seventies was enlivened by an unscheduled blonde streaker, who caused the beer tent to empty in record time!
By the 1980s the Gower Show had become what some considered over-commercialised, and it was held from 1987 to 2002 at Swansea airport - with no show in 2001 owing to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  Special guests at the 1990 show were Hungarian Csikos Riders (mounted horse-herdsmen).  Although the airport provided level ground with plenty of hard standing, Fairwood lacked rural character, and the return to Penrice in 2003 as once again principally an agricultural show was widely welcomed. 
Penrice has continued to be the venue to the present day, fulfilling a 1926 newspaper opinion that “the Show is to Gower what the National Eisteddfod is to the nation”.

Saturday 1 July 2017

115 Air Raid Precautions

115 Air Raid Precautions
In previous centuries people affected directly by war lived near the scene of conflict, hence the particular horror of civil war, when fighting might occur nearby, not just on the Continent or at sea.  Even sinister First World War developments such as introducing tanks and poison gas still affected primarily people near the action – such as those caught up in trench warfare in northern France.  But during the build-up of international tension in the 1930s a new dimension meant that even island inhabitants like the British could be involved directly in conflicts other than by invasion.  Towards the end of the First World War the Zeppelins and Gotha bombers had indicated the shape of things to come: aerial bombardment.  The threat was limited by the range that enemy aircraft could travel, though by the Spring of 1940 the Luftwaffe could launch attacks from airfields in Norway, Holland, Belgium and France, right around to Brittany, which brought not just London and the home counties (hitherto threatened from the east) but also southern England and South Wales into range of attack from enemy aircraft.
Swansea was an important target for aerial bombardment because of the Llandarcy Oil Refinery, and having four docks (the North Dock had closed in 1928).  The principal target for the bombers should have been the docks and industrial sites, rather than residential areas, but the town endured 44 air raids, with 387 fatalities, 841 people injured and about 7,000 made homeless.  The most intensive bombardment was during the ‘Three Nights Blitz’ in February 1941, when on three successive nights the Luftwaffe’s attacks killed 230 people and injured 409. 
The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Act came into force at the start of 1938, with basements of both public and private buildings, and church crypts, designated public air-raid shelters.  At the time of the first aerial attack, on the King’s Dock in June 1940, Swansea had no anti-aircraft guns, but a month later 16 were in emplacements, along with searchlights.  St Helen’s cricket and rugby ground had a searchlight battery.  Anti-aircraft guns, known as ack-ack guns because of their noise, were sited on Mumbles Hill, on the King George V playing fields, at Port Tennant, Jersey Marine, Ravenhill and Morriston. 
A different tactic was the use of barrage balloons, which aimed to damage aircraft that collided with their steel cables.  Called “silver fish” or less politely “pigs”, they were approximately 19m long, part filled with hydrogen (which needed to be topped up each day), and often winched to the required altitude from vehicles for mobility.  Members of the WAAF were recruited for a four-week course to operate them, using crews of 16 women, though otherwise 10 airmen would suffice.  Swansea docks had half-a-dozen barrage balloons, while London had over three hundred.
On 8 May 1995 a heavy anti-aircraft gun was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on a plinth at the junction of New Cut Road.  This 3.7-inch quick firing gun was presented to the City of Swansea by the Royal Artillery Association “to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in Europe and in memory of the 387 civilian and military personnel who died in air-raids on Swansea”.  It could propel a 28½lb shell up to 32,000ft, and was from batteries 247 and 248 sited around Swansea during the war.  The monument was financed by donations from the general public, local businesses and service organisations.  Later in the war a few 4.5-inch heavy guns were used, capable of firing 54lb shells to a range of 42,600ft, which exceeded the operational height of any bomber.  In July 1940 Swansea had three heavy anti-aircraft guns, while Newport had six, Cardiff had 12, and Portsmouth had 44.
Swansea’s anti-aircraft gun complements the Cenotaph on the promenade and SA1’s Merchant Navy memorial, a reminder that modern warfare can produce civilian casualties, even when they live far from the main scenes of conflict.