Part Three: A high point and a lost opportunity pg.3

 

Part Three: A high point and a lost opportunity (continued)

 

The BAAS visit to Swansea was the high point for the RISW, and this was partly due to the fact that by the middle of the century many of the scientists that had put such an input into Swansea’s scientific community were elderly or had moved away. Sadly, the two great grandees of Swansea’s industrial and cultural life, John Henry Vivian and Lewis Weston Dillwyn died within a few months of each other in 1855. Logan was living and working in Canada, though he kept in touch with his friend Jeffreys who visited him in Montreal. Jeffreys, De la Beche and Grove were also living away in different parts of England, and importantly another factor was that the sciences and their study were undergoing a change. Babbage had declared his worries about the future of science in the 1830s, but still found the lack of professionalism a problem by the middle of the century, yet this was changing rapidly with a move towards paid professional scientists. This development increased the division between professionals and amateurs, with amateurs increasingly seen by professional scientists as second-rate. Nevertheless, the network of country houses with their social relationships and common scientific interests and practices continued to be an integral part of the scientific movement in Britain, which prompted praise from Kelvin who stated in 1898: ‘the best of experimental physics in this country has been undertaken by wealthy amateurs.’ Swansea’s own country house scientific network of Penllergaer and Singleton Park estates continued through the nineteenth century due to scientific interests and endeavours being shared by the next generation in the Dillwyn and Vivian families. Likewise the well stocked library and museum in the RISW building continued to be popular with visitor numbers reaching 12,000 annually by 1884, though the science classes that had been established since 1868 discontinued in 1894 as did the programme of free lectures given by local people. In fact RISW lectures were increasingly given by local people from as early as 1849, and by 1864 the Cambrian recorded that the lecture theatre had become a stage for attention- seeking rhetoricians. Even so the RISW continued in its role of promoting scientific knowledge though to a lesser degree and without the input from gifted scientists and their research, so when the BAAS made a return visit in 1880 the RISW role reflected its lesser position.

It was in the area of establishing higher scientific education where there was failure, as Gwyn Jeffreys’s ambitions for the RISW to establish a ‘school of science’ waned after he moved to London. In the late 1840s Jeffreys had hoped that by providing an organised and advanced scientific education would provide impetus to establish a ‘popular college for the higher departments of useful knowledge.’ By the middle of the nineteenth century there was increasing debate regarding the need for science departments with research facilities in universities in England.An increasing recognition of the commercial and industrial needs of the country led to an acceptance of scientific studies in universities especially in the new civic universities that were being established, starting at Manchester in 1851 with the creation of Owens College. Yet in Wales the impact of the university movement in industrial regions was not felt, which is illustrated by the fact that by 1880 five of England’s major provincial towns had their own university colleges and Wales’s only higher education was in rural Lampeter and Abererystwyth. The situation in Wales was highlighted in the House of Commons in July 1879 during a debate on the motion presented by Swansea’s liberal MP Mr. Hussey Vivian which resulted in the setting up of the Aberdare Committee. The report that was drawn up by the Aberdare Committee decided:

To inquire into the present condition of Intermediate and Higher Education in Wales, and to recommend the measures which they may think advisable for improving and supplementing the provision that is now, or might be made available for such education in the Principality.


The Aberdare enquiry promoted the idea of a university in South Wales which would provide education that was more relevant to an industrial area, this prompted intense competition between Swansea and Cardiff who were the only two towns with the required technological claims. The rivalry is to be understood as there was local prestige and an acknowledgement of their scientific achievements in all their forms that were at stake. In spite of Swansea’s reputation as the ‘metallurgical centre of the world’ and its cultural and social prominence in South Wales, it was decided to site the university at Cardiff which was quickly overtaking Swansea commercially and in size.Clearly Swansea had many positive attributes to support its claim, but it did not match the financial assistance of some £40,000 plus a charitable endowment of £15,000 raised by Cardiff. Swansea had only managed to raise £15,000 due to a lack of financial support from local industrialists and limited contributions from the Corporation, although 6,500 workmen promised to undertake a ¼d.per week for ten years to secure a £325 per year scholarship endowment fund for the proposed university. Discussions with the government in 1886 regarding the establishment of a technical school gave way to disappointment when it was clear that government funding would not be available, and the campaign to enlist financial support locally failed. Finally, at the very end of the century in 1895 a Technical School was established in Swansea mainly through the endeavours of Hussey Vivian, although a university college would not be established until the early decades of the twentieth century.

 

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