logo1.gif (48188 bytes)

Who put the 'Sweyn' in Swansea?

Home Page ] Reading about the Port of Swansea ] Swansea Harbour in 1771 ] Swansea's South Dock (c.1870s) ] Swansea's South Dock (c. 1880s) ] Swansea Docks in 1881 ] Brunel's report for Swansea Docks 1846 ] 2. Charter of William de Newburgh ] 6. A Royal Charter ] 9. Trade In The Early Port ] 10. A port Indenture of 1135 ] 11. Salt A vital commodity ] 12. Swansea's Layer Keeper ] 12a. Early Quays and Docks ] 14. The Uncrowned King Of Swansea ] 15. Swansea in the 1790s ] 16. After Gabriel ] 17. 1790s Swansea;The Time For Change ] 17a. Smuggling in Swansea and Gower ] [Smuggling in Gower sketch map] 18. The Harbour Act and the Mumbles Lighthouse ] 19. Port Tennant ] Port Tennant in 1827 ] 20. Port Development. A Chronology ] 21. The South Wales ports ] 21a. The port in the 1840s. ] 22. Joseph Rutter's pamphlet of 1843 ] 25. Thomas Page's report of 1846. ] 27. John Henry Vivian ] 29. The East Dock ] 30. The Prince of Wales opens the East Dock ] The Helwick Lightvessel ] James Harris, Swansea seascape painter ] Jack's World: Swansea North Dock in the 1880s ] Mr Padley of Swansea ] Plan of the Prince of Wales Dock ] Who put the 'Sweyn' in Swansea? ] Swansea's first tugs ] The Victorian port of Swansea ][The Chariot of Progress in 1909]

It is most likely that the first people to realise the potential of the site at the mouth of the Tawe were the Vikings. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, they harried the coasts of South Wales as marauders. But. they also visited these shores in a more peaceful guise as traders, and established a number of small commercial bases at points on the coast. Few tangible traces of Viking activities in this area remain, but the clearest testimony to the Norse presence is found in the many Scandinavian placenames which occur along the coast: e.g., Burry Holms, Sker, Worm's Head, and Swansea itself.

The name "Swansea" is probably derived from two Scandinavian elements, Sweyn, a personal name and ey, an "island" or "inlet." The island at the mouth of the Tawe has long since disappeared, if, indeed, there ever was one. Moreover, the precise identity of Sweyn is also uncertain. Sweyn was a fairly common Norse forename, but some local historians have sought to establish a connection with Sweyn Forkbeard, who was King of Denmark from 987-1014, and, briefly, King of England from 1013-14. He had undoubted links with South Wales, and was known to have been active in the Bristol Channel in 1002. If, indeed, it is his name which is commemorated in "Sweyn's Ey," then the foundation of Swansea must be ascribed to the beginning of the eleventh century.

 Several historians have chosen to believe that it was, in fact, Sweyn Forkbeard who founded Swansea, because then, in one sense, the town would have the prestige of having been a royal foundation. Unfortunately, this theory cannot be proved one way or the other. However, while no Viking remains have been found at Swansea, it is certain that a Scandinavian maritime trading post was set up there at the close of the dark ages, and that this established a commercial tradition which later attracted other invaders to the site.

There is no other evidence for the involvement of the vikings in the foundation of the town. Perhaps the best viewpoint is a cartoon by Dick German from A July 1912 edition of the South Wales Daily Post. The original was entitled 'What Scared Away Sweyne' The original caption read as follows:

'It has been supposed that the name of Swansea owes its origin to one Sweyne, a Danish marauder, who used the 'eye' or inlet as a safe landing place. Sweyne's unwelcome visits were soon discovered, and, needless to say, things were made so unpleasant for him that soon nothing remained but his name thanks to the several institutions for the prevention of invasion.'

Nothing changes does it?

Swansea History Web subscription details are here

 Sweyne gets stung with taxes. How unusual!

Edition Date August 2004 (Next Edition September 2004)

All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2004

Citation information: www.swanseahistoryweb.org.uk/[page title].htm

Free copy of Eye of the Eagle: The Luftwaffe Aerial Photographs of Swansea 1939-40

Teacher's and Student's Guide (Sitemap) Sample pages

About Swansea History Web   If you want to navigate the site come to the Home Page or the Contents/Sitemap

If you subscribe you will receive a user name and password for the restricted pages

CD ROM and subscription information

 Contact us (Subscribers only) www.merthyrhistoryweb.org www.dylanthomas.org.uk