The Victorian port of Swansea

Up ] 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 ] More about Swansea in the 1790s ] 17a. Smuggling in Swansea and Gower ] 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 ] 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 ] Jack's World: Swansea North Dock in the 1880s ] James Harris Seascape Painter ] 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 ]

Nicholas Minns is looking into the life and times of his great grandfather Charles Island. Nicholas raised a number of questions about Swansea in the 1880s and we thought that a number of people would be interested in the answers:

Swansea's population of seamen dramatically increased with the opening of the South dock in 1859. Not only did the opening of the new dock double the size of the port's accommodation but it fundamentally changed the nature of the type of ships that were able to enter Swansea. Consequently, Swansea had to deal with large numbers of merchant seamen needing temporary or semi-permanent lodgings. Being the focus of the original port, The Strand quickly developed into a mass of hotels, rooming houses and bars, and gaining a rather dark reputation as the underworld of Victorian Swansea.

Merchant seamen from all over northern Europe found regular employment in the Swansea coal trade and many settled in the growing suburb of Port Tennant on the east side of the River Tawe. Thus by the 1880s Swansea had two 'maritime', districts, The Strand (warning large graphic file!) and Port Tennant. Large numbers of Swansea people trace their origins from the seafarers that settled here at this time, and it is probably true that Swansea's distinct identity and character owes more to its maritime past than its Welsh location.

As with many American settlers, it is evident that seamen from many cultures and languages changed or altered their foreign names to make it easier to spell, pronounce or fit in with local people. Charles Island sounds like a typical Swansea mariner in both his origins and where he lived in town. Changing a name was a simple procedure (much easier than nowadays), there would have been little need for official documentation for the nineteenth century was still a predominantly illiterate society for working people and names would have been frequently misspelt in all sorts of papers and documentation.

By the 1880s, Swansea was one of a number of flourishing ports on the South Wales coast. It was a simple matter to travel to Cardiff, Newport or Barry to pick up a ship and there was considerable travel on the Great Western Railway line around the coast.

Below: The port of Swansea shortly after the Prince of Wales Dock (on the left in the picture) was opened  in 1881.



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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