Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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”.                                                            

1 comment:

  1. Indeed a great gentleman to whom we owe a great debt for his championing of open spaces.