Connecting Science and History pg. 3


Part One: Connecting Swansea and History (continued)


Henry de la Beche’s (1796-1855) scientific and personal relationship with Swansea will be discussed more fully in the second part of this work, but in respect of the discussion of the use of science to improve social conditions, it is relevant to note his detailed report for the Health of Towns investigation of 1845. Edwin Chadwick the organiser of the Health of Towns appointed De la Beche along with the chemist Lyons Mayfair as the ‘scientific force’ to the Commission, and Chadwick also appreciated the value of Sir Henry’s knowledge of geology. De la Beche’s report noted the complete lack of a drainage system in Swansea and as he believed in the importance of geology and scientific research in planning effective drainage and water systems, he began his report with observations on groundwater. Clearly Chadwick agreed on the importance of a scientific approach to planning drainage schemes and public reservoirs as illustrated by his comment; ‘Drainage is a matter of science, or its practical application and not of mere common sense or general knowledge.’ The deplorable state of Swansea’s drinking water is noted by J. W. Gutch in 1837, he states;

The impure and noxious quality of the water with which the inhabitants of Swansea were originally supplied had long been a subject of loud and general complaint; visitors and strangers, accustomed to the ample supply of pure and wholesome water, which science and the progress of commercial speculation have introduced into most of the large towns of Great Britain.

Yet by 1849 and after a serious cholera outbreak and before the Swansea Local Board of Health was set up (1850) ‘The Cambrian’ reported on the visit by Mr Clark, the Superintendent Inspector who acknowledged a vast improvement in the cleanliness of Swansea and ‘observed that they had effected one great improvement, which was the route of all sanitary movements.’

Therefore, it seems that the numerous municipal advancements that were made in Swansea during the early part of the nineteenth century notably building and maintaining streets and street gas lighting in 1821, were implemented to preserve Swansea’s position as a seaside resort rather than being progressive welfare reforms that were needed in an emerging industrial society. In fact these improvements were not implemented nor the responsibility of the Swansea Municipal government but of an ad hoc body, the Swansea Paving Commission,whose ineffectuality was revealed during major public health problems. Yet, a confidence and civic pride in the industrial endeavours of their metropolis corresponded with a desire by certain prominent industrialists and their contemporaries to extend and enhance Swansea’s scientific and academic reputation. In 1835 these aims were put into practice when the Swansea Philosophical and Literary Society was established, which received royal patronage in 1838 as the Royal Institution of South Wales. The society founders’ belief in the need for their society is stated in their first annual report;

Previous to the formation of this society it had long been a matter of surprise and regret that a large, intelligent and populous town like Swansea, possessing in itself and in numerous connexions with foreign parts so many advantages for the encouragement and propagation of scientific research, should be without some institution of this kind.


Next Page, Part Two: Setting the stage for a scientific community