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.

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