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Swansea and the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836

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The Origins of the tithe custom

The Different Types of Tithe that evolved over the centuries

The Great Tithe Commutation Act of 1836

The Tithe Surveys of the Country

The Tithe Map and Apportionment

The Tithe Survey of Swansea

A view of Swansea in 1838 using the Tithe survey

To find detailed information about Swansea’s past can often be quite difficult. The further back in time one wants to study, the harder it can be to unearth useful or interesting material. Some landscapes in Britain have a almost timeless quality remaining apparently unchanged for hundreds of years; whereas other localities undergo complete transformation within living memory. the Swansea of the past is not only remote in time but is so unlike its present form that in many ways it is a different place in another world. The town’s past is only open to us as snapshots through documents, paintings or other such sources. In the absence of living memory we must rely on observation and interpretation to answer our questions. The view we get of our past is dependent on the nature of the source we use; the camera may not lie, but an artist may have been more subjective in his work.

Equally, written sources can also vary greatly in their scope and reliability. A historian must build up as complete a picture as possible from the snapshots of information available before coming to a conclusion (if a conclusion is possible!). In the history of Swansea there is one source which is of considerable value to anyone who has an interest in the past.

The tithe survey for the parish of Swansea gives us a window through which we can look at the town in the 1830s. At that time Swansea was still largely rural, untouched by large scale port improvements or urban sprawl. A Swansea poised to enter the years of commercial and industrial expansion which transformed the town into a centre of national and international commerce. The tithe survey gives us a last look at the rural town which was Swansea for the first seven hundred years of its life. The generation of Swansea inhabitants born in the years of the tithe survey grew up and worked in a town which rapidly became an industrial and commercial centre; with the fields of the past being built over to provide space for housing, railways, and factories. As more and more people left the land to work in the new industries which developed in the port and the lower Swansea Valley, the town quickly expanded its built up area north and west transforming the rural environment into an urban one.

The tithe survey for Swansea parish is one of over eleven thousand such surveys which examined in intimate detail the landscape of three-quarters of England and Wales. The surveys are the earliest large scale investigations into the boundaries of fields, woods, roads, and streams and the occupation and ownership of land in England and Wales. The surveys have been described as the most complete record of the agricultural landscape made at any time. In the following pages the reader will find a guide to the peculiarities of the tithe surveys and how to use them. The particular relevance to the history of Swansea will be discussed in some detail. The general aim of this guide is to make the survey more accessible to all those who have an interest in or enjoy the past. The reader should also bear in mind that the Swansea survey is but one of many thousand such surveys and much of what follows can also be applied to those other surveys.


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