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Welsh: Abertawe
Wind Street - geograph.org.uk - 1485053.jpg
Wind Street, Swansea
Grid reference: SS6593
Location: 51°37’14"N, 3°56’27"W
Population: 169,880  (2001)
Post town: Swansea
Postcode: SA1-SA7
Dialling code: 01792
Local Government
Council: Swansea Council
Swansea East
Swansea West

Swansea is a coastal city in Glamorgan, of which it is the largest town after Cardiff and indeed the most populous town in Wales after Cardiff.

At its height in the 19th century, Swansea was one of the key centres of the world copper industry,[1] earning the nickname 'Copperopolis'.[2]

Name of the city

The earliest known form of Swansea's modern name is Sweynesse, which was used in the first charter granted at some time between 1158–1184 by William de Newburgh, 3rd Earl of Warwick. In King John's charter of 1215, the name appears as Sweyneshe. The town seal which is believed to date from this period names the town as Sweyse.[3][4]

The leading explanation for the name is that it is from Old Norse, meaning Sveinn's island (referring to an island may refer to a bank at the mouth of the river Tawe, or perhaps an area of raised ground in marshes.[5] or a similar derivation from a word for "inlet".[6]

The city's Welsh name is Abertawe, menaing "mouth of the Tawe", which first appears in Welsh poems at the beginning of the 13th century, as "Aber Tawy".[3]


Satellite photo of Swansea

The most populated areas of Swansea are Morriston, Sketty and the city centre. The chief urbanised area radiates from the city centre towards the north, south and west; along the coast of Swansea Bay to Mumbles; up the Swansea Valley past Landore and Morriston to Clydach; over Townhill to Cwmbwrla, Penlan, Treboeth and Fforestfach; through Uplands, Sketty, Killay to Dunvant; and east of the river from St Thomas to Bonymaen, Llansamlet and Birchgrove. A second urbanised area is focused on a triangle defined by Gowerton, Gorseinon and Loughor along with the satellite communities of Penllergaer and Pontarddulais.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles and Swansea Bay, seen from the Mumbles Lighthouse.


Swansea Castle

Swansea is thought to have originally developed as a Viking trading post which took the presumed name Sveinsey (Sveinn's island). There is no island now; it may refer to a bank at the mouth of the river Tawe, or perhaps an area of raised ground in marshes.[5] An alternative explanation is that the name derives from the Norse name 'Sweyn' and 'ey', which can mean inlet.[7] The name is pronounced Swans-y /ˈswɒnzi/), not Swan-sea.[8]

The Normans came from the early twelfth century and a marcher lordship was created under the title of Gower. It included land around Swansea Bay as far as the River Tawe, the manor of Kilvey beyond the Tawe, and the peninsula itself. Swansea was designated chief town of the lordship and received a borough charter at some time between 1158 and 1184 from William de Newburgh, 3rd Earl of Warwick. The charter gave Swansea the status of a borough, granting the burgesses certain rights to develop the area.

King John granted a chater too in 1215. A further, more detailed charter was granted in 1304.[9]

Industrial Revolution

A view of Swansea from Kilvey Hill

The port of Swansea initially traded in wine, hides, wool, cloth and later in coal.[9] As the Industrial Revolution reached Glamorgan, the combination of port, local coal, and trading links with the West Country, Cornwall and Devon, meant that Swansea was an attractive place to site copper-smelting works. Smelters were operating by 1720 and proliferated. After this, more coal mines were opened and smelters were opened and flourished. Over the next century and a half, works were established to process arsenic, zinc and tin and to create tinplate and pottery. The city expanded rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was termed "Copperopolis".[9]

From the late 17th century to 1801, Swansea's population grew by 500% — the first official census (in 1841) indicated that, with 6,099 inhabitants, Swansea had become significantly larger than Glamorgan's county town, Cardiff, and was the most populous town in Wales after Merthyr Tydfil (which had a population of 7,705). Swansea eventually outgrew Merthyr but by the 1881 census Cardiff had overtaken both. Much of Swansea's growth was due to migration; in 1881, more than a third of the borough's population had been born outside Glamorgan, and just under a quarter outside Wales.[10]

20th century

Through the 20th century, heavy industries in the town declined, leaving the Lower Swansea Valley filled with derelict works and mounds of waste products from them. The Lower Swansea Valley Scheme (which still continues) reclaimed much of the land. The present Enterprise Zone was the result and, of the many original docks, only those outside the city continue to work as docks; North Dock is now Parc Tawe and South Dock became the Marina.

Little city-centre evidence, beyond parts of the road layout, remains from mediæval Swansea; its industrial importance made it the target of bombing during the Second World War, and the town centre was flattened completely. Much of the town centre destruction was over the worst night soft hr Swansea Blitz; the 19th, 20th and 21 February 1941, known as "the Three Nights' Blitz".[11]

Swansea was granted city status in 1969,[12] to mark Prince Charles's investiture as the Prince of Wales. The announcement was made by the prince on 3 July 1969, during a tour of Wales.[13] It obtained the further right to have a Lord Mayor in 1982.[14]


Whilst the city itself has a long history, many of the city centre buildings are post-war as much of the original centre was destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The city today nevertheless has three Grade I listed buildings; the Guildhall, Swansea Castle and the Morriston Tabernacle.[15]

Within the city centre are the ruins of the Swansea Castle|castle, the Marina, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea Museum, the Dylan Thomas Centre, the Environment Centre (Swansea)|Environment Centre, and the Market, which is the largest covered market in Wales.[16] It backs onto the Quadrant Shopping Centre which opened in 1978 and the adjoining St. David's Shopping Centre (Swansea)|St David's Centre opened in 1982. Other notable modern buildings are the BT Tower (formerly the GPO tower) built around 1970, Alexandra House opened in 1976, County Hall opened in July 1982. Swansea Leisure Centre opened in 1977; it has undergone extensive refurbishment which retained elements of the original structure and re-opened in March 2008. Behind it stands the National Waterfront Museum, opened in October 2005.


St Mary's Church in St Mary's Square

In the Church in Wales, Swansea is part of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, whose cathedral is in Brecon.

St Mary's (Church in Wales) is the earliest parish church, in the city centre. However the city has a wealth of churches of many denominations, including a great number of the non-conformist churches which throve in Glamorgan from revivals of the nineteent and twentieth centuries. The city also has a Roman Catholic cathedral.

Swansea has seen many non-conformist religious revivals. In 1904, Evan Roberts, a miner from Loughor just outside Swansea was the leader of what has been called one of the world's greatest Protestant revivals. Within a few months about 100,000 people were converted. This revival in particular had a profound effect on Welsh society. The "Welsh Revival" of 1904 is acknowledged as having been an instigator of, and a major influence on the twentieth century's Pentecostal movement.


The Royal Institution of South Wales was founded in 1835 as the Swansea Literary and Philosophical Society.

Performing arts

Brangwyn Hall main entrance

The Grand Theatre in the centre of the city is a Victorian theatre which celebrated its centenary in 1997 and which has a capacity of a little over a thousand people. It was opened by the celebrated opera singer Adelina Patti and was refurbished from 1983–1987. The annual programme ranges from pantomime and drama to opera and ballet. A new wing of the Grand, the Arts Wing, has a studio suitable for smaller shows, with a capacity of about 200. Fluellen Theatre Company is a professional theatre company based in Swansea performing regularly at the Grand Theatre. The company also presents Lunchtime Theatre on the last Saturday of every month.

The Taliesin Arts Centre on the university campus has a theatre, opened in 1984.

Other theatres include the Dylan Thomas Theatre (formerly the Little Theatre) near the marina, and one in Penyrheol Leisure Centre near Gorseinon. In the summer, outdoor Shakespeare performances are a regular feature at Oystermouth Castle, and Singleton Park is the venue for a number of parties and concerts, from dance music to outdoor Proms. Outside the city, Pontardawe hosts an annual folk festival.[17]

Standing near Victoria Park on the coast road is the Patti Pavilion; this was the Winter Garden from Adelina Patti's Craig-y-Nos estate in the upper Swansea valley, which she donated to the town in 1918. It is used as a venue for music shows and fairs. The Brangwyn Hall is a multi-use venue with events such as the graduation ceremonies for Swansea University. Every autumn, Swansea hosts a Festival of Music and the Arts, when international orchestras and soloists visit the Brangwyn Hall. The Brangwyn Hall is praised for its acoustics for recitals, orchestral pieces and chamber music alike.[18]

Swansea Grand Theatre


Swansea hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1863, 1891, 1907, 1926, 1964, 1982 and 2006. The 2006 event occupied the site of the former Felindre tinplate works to the north of the city and featured a strikingly pink main tent.

The international BeyondTv film festival has been hosted in Swansea since 2000 by Swansea-based media charity Undercurrents. In 2009 Swansea Council launched Wales only week long St David's Week festival in venues throughout the city.


Local produce includes cockles and laverbread which are sourced from the Loughor estuary. Local Gower salt marsh lamb is produced from sheep which are raised in the salt marshes of the Loughor estuary.[19]


Swansea City Centre is undergoing a £1 billion transformation scheme. A large area of the city is earmarked for redevelopment. A new city-centre retail precinct is planned involving demolition of the dilapidated St David's Shopping Centre which has three or four traders, about 13% of the retail space in the centre and the Quadrant Shopping Centre. With the relocation of supermarkets, the new retail precinct will be almost four times the size of the Quadrant Centre. The city centre is also being brightened up with street art and new walkways, along with the first phase of the David Evans – Castle Street development.

New green spaces will be provided in conjunction with the proposed Quadrant Square and Grand Theatre Square. Redevelopment of the Oxford Street car park and Lower Oxford Street arcades are also planned.[20]

At the sea front, The Tower on Meridian Quay is now Wales's tallest building at a height of over 260 feet; upon completion in 2009 it was planned to be 351 feet tall with a restaurant on the top on a 29th floor. However the height of the building and the facilities of the restaurant had to be scaled down to save costs because the economic recession struck during building.


The Technium centre

Swansea originally developed as centre for metals and mining, especially the copper industry, from the beginning of the 18th century. The industry reached its apogee in the 1880s, when 60% of the copper ores imported to Britain were smelted in the Lower Swansea valley.[21] However, by the end of the Second World War these heavy industries were in decline, and over the post-war decades Swansea shared in the general trend towards a post-industrial, service sector economy.

Over 90% of the population are estimated to be employed in the service sectors, with relatively high numbers in public administration, education & health and banking, finance & insurance,[22] and correspondingly high proportions of employment in occupations associated with the service sector, including professional, administrative/secretarial and sales/customer service occupations.

Leisure and tourism

The marina from Trawler Road

A number of beaches around Swansea Bay are promoted to visitors. Surfing is possible at Langland Bay, Caswell Bay and Llangennith, the latter winning accolades from two national newspapers for the quality of its waves.[23] The five-mile promenade from the Marina to Mumbles offers views across Swansea Bay.


  1. Swansea (Wales, United Kingdom) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. Hughes, S. (2000) Copperopolis: landscapes of the early industrial period in Swansea (Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Swansea". Classic Encyclopedia. 2007. http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Swansea. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  4. "Swansea Timeline". Genuki. 2007. http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/GLA/Swansea/Timeline.html. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wyn Owen, H. and Morgan, R. (2008) Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales. Llandysul: Gomer.
  6. Alban, JR (1984). Swansea 1184–1984. Swansea City Council. 
  7. Alban, JR (1984). Swansea 1184–1984. Swansea City Council. 
  8. Glanmor Williams, ed (2007-07-26). Swansea, An Illustrated History. Christopher Davies. ISBN 0-7154-0714-7. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008.
  10. Rosser, C. and Harris, C.C. (1998) The Family and Social Change: A Study of Family and Kinship in a South Wales Town. Routledge
  11. "Swansea's Three Nights Blitz". BBC. 2005-09-03. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southwest/sites/local_history/pages/swansea_blitz.shtml. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  12. London Gazette, issue no. 44986, 12 December 1969
  13. Prince announces city status for Swansea,The Times 4 July 1969.
  14. London Gazette, issue no. 48932, 25 March 1982
  15. City and County of Swansea – Listed building index
  16. "Tourism joins shopping at market". BBC News. 2003-09-29. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/3148686.stm. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  17. "The Living Tradition Festival Listing, 2007". The Living Tradition. 2007. http://www.folkmusic.net/htmfiles/festivals_000.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  18. "Brangwyn Hall & The Empire Panels". BBC. 2006. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southwest/sites/swansea/pages/brangwyn.shtml. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  19. Food detective: Salt marsh lamb- Times Online
  20. "City Centre Strategic Framework". City and County of Swansea. 2007. http://www.swansea.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=13786. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  21. Jenkins, P (1992) A History of Modern Wales 1536–1990. Harlow: Longman.
  22. Swansea Economic Profile October 2008
  23. "Swansea Bay Sports and Activities – Watersports". Swansea Bay Futures. http://www.abayoflife.com/en/visitingsports-and-activities/#water. Retrieved 27 August 2010. 

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