The View for 15 October 2000

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The View

Sunday 15 October, 2000

The local residents have already slated it as an unforgivable act of vandalism. The destruction of the Victoria Park toilets probably doesnít arouse much interest in the City Council Offices, and the now anonymous city workers who ordered their destruction had probably never even seen them. For a council whose usual speed of activity can be described as glacial, the speed at which they demolished the toilets was breakneck. It is lucky that workmen were not injured in the haste to demolish the building.

 

The toilet block was not of architectural significance, it was not a unique building or a special design, although some would have recognised the classic municipal style which we treasure in the Guildhall but is ignored or even hated in lesser buildings. The building had something far more significant in the history of Swansea, it had value, and it had memories.  It had value for being a public convenience in a part of town that has none. It had value in being the toilets opposite the Slip, the most important part of the Beach. It had memories for the generations of people who spent days at the Slip and who trekked across the Slip Bridge to use the toilets and buy Wallís ice creams in the cafť that used to hide in the arch under the stairs. It had memories for the children who would use the water to wash sand off their feet before putting their shoes and socks back on. I am sure that Dylan Thomas must have used them, so you would think that the burgeoning Dylan Thomas industry would have latched onto the fact that another part of Dylanís Swansea has been taken from us. However the Dylan sector is silent. Hardly surprising, as very few of the key workers in the Dylan sector are familiar with Swansea.

I can remember giving a history lecture to some German students a few years ago. When discussing the Blitz (yes we did mention the War!), I remarked that many of the historical buildings missed by the Luftwaffe were eventually destroyed by the local council. This caused much amusement and the students told me that was exactly what they say in their home town about the RAF and Bremen Council. So Swanseaís council is only averagely uncaring.

The town is suffering a severe identity crisis at present. The wholly inappropriate campaign over siting the Welsh assembly building in Swansea, the planning disasters over shopping redevelopment and remodelling Wind Street have sent waves of despair through Swansea people. The lacklustre council leaders have lurched from insult to injury by demolishing much loved institutions such as widening car access to Singleton Park (reason: because cars are important) spoiling the park for many users, destruction of Brynmill Zoo (reason: modern planning constraints) spoiling the park for many users, on street parking (reason: because cars are not as important as they were last year). And now we see the destruction of two more priceless items of value, the Victoria Park toilets and Swansea Baths.

I think this is more about peopleís history. As with Swansea Slip, the history and value with such a building is in the use and familiarity that it has experienced over the generations. Any  building that is not associated with what I call the Welsh History ĎA Listí (i.e. Coal Mining, Dylan Thomas, Castles, Cardiff, Welsh Language and more Dylan Thomas) is likely to be at risk. What is especially sad for the local people is that another link with Victoria Park will now be obliterated. I donít mean the small ornamental postage stamp piece that is now used as a race track for wedding parties in the Patti Pavilion, I am talking about the grand idea that William Thomas had in the 1880s that the St Helenís fields should be saved for recreation. After a gigantic struggle in the 1880s the open fields of St Helenís were saved for parks and sports much to the annoyance of unscrupulous property developers who wanted to build further tracts of housing. The park was opened in 1887 and named Victoria because it was her Golden Jubilee year. I donít suppose that would be a politically correct action nowadays! 

 Millions of pounds have been spent on cleaning up the Bay, and thankfully the water is improving. The beach at the Slip will attract more people because it will be a convenient place to go. However itís now far less convenient because there are no toilets. The local authority regularly sacrifices our past on the altar of new development. We see our past bulldozed away and replaced either by buildings that are dreadful amalgams of glass and metal such as Parc Tawe or not replaced at all because the City planners donít know what to do. In the midst of it all our heritage is reduced  to photograph albums peddled by the local newspaper because the Council have knocked down the real stuff. Apparently we get the local government we deserve. The people of Swansea donít deserve this.

Nigel Robins 

 

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