Industry in Swansea



The east side of the town was where the majority of the heavy work was carried out. This represented a motley collection of all skills and trades.

One of the most dominant landmarks was the Victorian Flour Mill, more commonly known as Weaver’s. It still remains, at present, an ugly testimony to one of the first mutli-storeyed reinforced concrete building is Europe, although its future appears destined for demolition.

In its heyday it employed a large labour force who worked long hours in deplorable conditions, turning out sacks of flour. If this location was bad, things got even worse once the River Tawe was reached, and progress was made passed the St. Thomas Railway Station up the valley towards Morriston.

From the commencement of the early 18th century, this area had developed as a natural industrial belt for the avaricious factory owners. It could be reached by the Swansea canal, had access to the railway and also the port.

Around this hotch potch of misshapen works, continually belching out acrid fumes, grew the St. Thomas and Bonymaen areas of the town. Even today, many relics of this misbegotten era can be observed.

By the 1930s, many of the old works had seen the end of their glory days, all that remained being skeletons of fallen down buildings and moss covered chimney stacks.

One of the first such sites to be seen was an old copper works that later attained some renown by becoming the home of the Cambrian Pottery, a product much sought after by collectors today.

This was followed by the Middle Bank Copper works, the White Rock Copper works, the Hafod Copper works, the Morfa Copper works and the Upper Bank Copper works. The ores for these industries came from Cornwall, North Wales and abroad, as far as Chile and China.

The pollution that resulted from this never ending stream of processing took a long, long time to vanish.

And so it continued, all the way up the banks of the Tawe to Morriston and beyond, where the Swansea Canal, opened in 1798, provided an ideal way for transporting freight down the river towards the docks.

But it was not only the east side of Swansea where so many factories stood out like sore thumbs. Richard, Thomas and Baldwin in Landore, the Cwmfelin Steel works in Cwmbwrla, the Mannesman and sundry smaller companies all produced various forms of steel or tin plate.

It was a time when the old fashioned style of heavy industry was on the decline. Testimony to this were the derelict former factories that cluttered the area. But for all that, there was still a proliferation of industrial output to be found.

Small, privately owned coal mines surrounded Swansea. In Clyne Valley there was a brick works and at one time a source for arsenic. In local quarries at Bishopston, stone was produced. Mining, in numerous forms found an outlet in the most unlikely places.

A lasting monument to the plethora of industrial activity that abounded in the district can be seen today at Treboeth. Morris Castle is reputed to be the first ever skyscraper built. The originator of this was John Morris, whose father, Robert Morris, not only founded Morriston, but changed it from a place of beauty into a cauldron of heavy industry, steel and tinplate works enveloping the landscape.

He built his “Castle” for his work force, to give them somewhere to live, reasonably close to their work, and perched on a high hill, so they could expel the fumes of the smoking works from their lungs. Needless to say, the Morris family, like the Grenfells and Vivians, and all the other major industrial barons who made their fortunes out of the sweated labour of the common man, lived elsewhere. The Vivians eventually landing up in Clyne, Blackpill.

The conditions in those days were absolutely inhuman by today’s standards, and, although some of these works had all but vanished by the time I recall them in the 30s, the spectre of the area has remained firmly etched in my memory from childhood.

I can clearly recall the workers trudging home from their long day’s labour, with their tattered clothing, scruffy flat caps and mufflers. Swinging from their waists were billy cans and tin boxes for their food. They always appeared to be tired, with drawn faces, and they seldom smiled. Their work was arduous, but necessary, their pay lowly, but essential. If ever there was shown an example of one rule for the rich and another for the poor, this was it. Such regularly witnessed sights do not lightly pass away. They help form the character of a person, whether he is a player or a spectator. Despite many of today’s shortcomings, at least we have all but laid this ghost to rest.

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