Catherine Zeta Jones and the Zeta.

Catherine Zeta Jones and the ZETA

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Above: Catherine Zeta Jones and below Henry Bath's ship the ZETA.

Swansea born actress Catherine Zeta Jones, the star of The Mask of Zorro and Entrapment carries a little bit of Swansea's history around with her in her unusual middle name. 

Her middle name Zeta has its origins in family connections to the famous nineteenth century Swansea copper ore trading fleet of Henry Bath.

Henry Bath and sons operated a number of ships transporting copper ore from Chile to the many copperworks of the Lower Swansea Valley. Swansea was the centre of the world's copper production by the 1860s and Henry Bath's ships were well known along the trade routes of the Atlantic.

Most of Henry Bath's ships were named after the letters of the Greek alphabet, and the Zeta was the pride of the fleet for a number of years.

The Zeta was built in 1865 in Glasgow by Alexander Stephen. She was famous for being the first ship in the port to be fitted with an auxiliary steam engine and was renowned for her fast passages to the South Atlantic. Although comparatively small, copper ore barques such as these were sturdily built to withstand the severe southern Atlantic weather and the crude dock facilities of Chilean ports. By 1872, she had been sold off from the Bath's fleet and renamed Urmeneta of Valparaiso.

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Another picture of the ZETA.

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SHW Microhistory: 10. Twin town

Love it or hate it and there's plenty that do one or the other, the 1997 film Twin Town painted a picture of Swansea that has become an historic milestone.

In the future, when someone asks the question what was Swansea like in the closing years of the twentieth century? The answer will be go and watch Twin Town. The film was slated by large portions of the movie press both here and in the United States but absolutely loved by the residents of Swansea.

The film is one of the high tide marks of the glorious but all too brief period of 'Cool Cymru' in the 1990s when modern Welsh culture emerged from the dreadful overburden of rugby, coal mining and love spoons and spoke for a generation of urban Welsh people who live in a modern Europe and care little for harps or poetry. The writers Kevin Allen and Paul Durden had a Swansea background and used this to tremendous advantage to paint pin-sharp pictures of life and times in 1990s Swansea.

Allen and Durden deliberately set out to debunk the traditional Welsh stereotypes that hang like albatrosses around the neck of both people and country. The scenes filmed outside High Street Station where they talk about Dylan Thomas and introduce Durden's now infamous line 'pretty shitty city' are hilarious and get better with age. I have seen people incapable with laughter at the scene which ends with the (sadly) often standard foul mouthed rebuke from a Swansea cab driver who doesn't want to take anyone on a short cheap journey. Stories still circulate around the town of how Swansea councillors invited to a special showing of the film emerged speechless and horrified at the image portrayed and wondered what on earth they had let themselves in for.

Although there were unkind comparisons to Trainspotting and various Tarantino efforts, the strong points of the film for many were the honesty in showing Swansea as it is. Allen and Durden tapped into the veins of urban Swansea and displayed the rich but unclassy elite of Mayals, and the bleakness of Penlan life for the masses. The car theft, drug abuse and indifferent policing that are much of modern Swansea are all there in uncomfortable detail. The night club scenes are uncanny in their accuracy, and many Swansea residents will attest to seeing press ups in the middle of the road on a Friday night.

The first time I saw the film I remember being struck by the sheer beauty of the urban backdrops mostly filmed around the streets of Town Hill and Mount Pleasant. We live in such a photogenic city, I don't understand why more films aren't made here. I know many people expected a film from Swansea to be full of leeks, harps and Dylan Thomas nonsense and complained bitterly when they didn't get that. But for a large portion of the population of Swansea the film remains 95 minutes of pure pleasure whilst we laugh at ourselves and see people we recognise - a mirror for Swansea. (NR)

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All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2006, 2007

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