Swansea in 1838

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As mentioned earlier, the tithe apportionment although now redundant for its intended purpose allows us an insight into the nineteenth century in a way in which few other sources can. It is worthwhile considering some of the facets of the nineteenth-century town revealed using the tithe documents. The apportionment provides us with some useful social background.

In 1838, Swansea’s Rector was Sir John Morris II who was also the head of the massive coal mining concerns that did so much to bring about Swansea’s industrialisation in the 1840s. It is curious to note that despite being such a notable industrialist and very much a man of his times , he was also the main beneficiary of a ancient agrarian custom; namely the payment of two-thirds of the tithes of the Parish of Swansea.

Sir John was also at the centre of Swansea society for he owned a considerable amount of land in the parish and was the landlord of a large number of Swansea parishioners. The remaining third share of the tithe was as tradition required, awarded to the vicar of the parish who in 1838 was the Reverend William Hewson. We also know that within the parish there were two estates whose tithes were payable to rectors other than Sir John. The tithes of the Sketty Hall Desmesne Lands were payable to Lewis Weston Dilwyn the notable quaker scholar and owner of the Cambrian Pottery. The tithes of the Bryn Estate which adjoined the Bryn Common (now Known as Sketty Green) were payable to Thomas Eden who, in 1838, was resident at the Bryn House. The schedule of apportionment gives us the names of the sixty-seven landowners and two hundred and forty occupiers of the parish lands surrounding the town.

In 1838, Town Hill Farm was occupied by members of the Powell family, descendants of the famous Gabriel Powell who first took a lease of the land in 1762. The list of names can be used quite profitably with the census schedules of 1841 and 1851 for family history research. One other notable land owner is the corporation of Swansea, which strived to derive income from its land holdings in order to fund itself. In the eighteenth century it had been this need to provide extra income which prompted the Corporation to enclose the large common which was known as the Town Hill, thereby adding considerably to its land holdings in a short space of time. 

A general inspection of the tithe map will impress upon the reader the large number of fields that surrounded the early Swansea. In many places, agricultural activity extended right into the heart of the town. The Hamlet of St Thomas was, with the exception of Port Tennant, almost exclusively rural. In total there were over a thousand fields in Swansea parish, nine hundred of which have names which were recorded in the tithe apportionment. The creation of fields in a landscape is often an erratic process. We can be fairly confident that, at its foundation, Swansea was surrounded by areas of dense forest. The Middle Ages saw a gradual clearance of woodland and the creation of farms and fields. The process was sometimes piecemeal and at other times on a larger scale. At first, clearings in the forest may have provided the basis for small farms. The welsh place name Llanerch (a clearing or glade) may indicate an early settlement site.

There are a number of Llanerch names within Swansea parish. Early fields can sometimes be identified by their shape; often in long thin strips and characterised by a reversed ‘S’ shape. This may indicate that oxen were first used to plough them. The fields of Llanerch Farm near Dunvant can be clearly identified on the tithe map displaying these characteristics. In later years, farmland was often created on a much larger scale. The enclosure movement of the eighteenth century often employed the fledgling science of cadastral surveying to create large fields of straight lines and square outlines. The fields of Town Hill were created in this way and can be seen to be quite different to the smaller, older fields whose hedgerows tended to meander across the landscape. Returning to the subject of field names, the tithe apportionment is without doubt the most valuable document we have concerning the subject. We can be confident that every tithable parcel of land that had a name was recorded by the tithe surveyors. Field names are a fascinating source of information or just plain curiosity. they may describe what the field was used for, who owned it or an unusual characteristic.

An interesting point about the Swansea parish field names is the considerable amount of Welsh used. it is important to remember that Swansea is a town of Norman derivation and is therefore essentially English. There is no tradition of the Welsh language being used locally to any great effect throughout its history. It is rather interesting therefore, to find that the countryside surrounding the town is referred to almost entirely in Welsh. There is only one English field name, which may suggest a very early origin, which is Hay Haggard (parcel 1724) in the Uplands area of the Borough. The term Haggard is possibly derived from the Old English word Haga - a fenced enclosure. >In view of the forest origins of the landscape, the Welsh word Coed is apparent in many field names (Coed Cae-parcel 114; Coed Cae Cam-parcel 477). Even more apparent are names containing the element Waun indicating in many instances moorland or rough fields, suggesting that many fields were founded on land already cleared of substantial woodland.



The View for Sunday October 15 2000

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