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Swansea - Overview

Swansea is the second largest city in Wales, and is located on the south coast. In the late tenth century the area was part of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, but Swansea is thought to have been founded in 1013 as a Viking settlement, established by the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard who had led a number of raiding parties in the area. Following the Norman Conquest, Swansea was integrated into the marcher lordship of Gower, and the first castle built in 1106.

Initially a port for the export of wool, hides and cloth, by the mid-sixteenth century coal and limestone was being shipped from here. Owing to its favourable location on the coast and its trading links with other towns and cities, Swansea’s industrial production began to flourish in the early eighteenth century. Copper smelting and processing became central industries in Swansea and earned it the nickname ‘Copperopolis’. The Hafod Copper works, founded in 1810, were the largest in the world, but other metallurgical industries and coal mining prospered as well. Rapid expansion of the town took place to provide housing, schools and places of worship for the industrial workers and their families. Included in these were the Tabernacle Chapel, the so-called ‘Cathedral of Welsh Nonconformity’, and Morris Castle, one of the earliest multi-storey residential blocks in Europe. As a result, Swansea’s population was only overtaken by Cardiff in 1881.

In the late eighteenth century when seaside resorts developed around the Welsh coast, Swansea attempted for a time to follow along. However, as the heavy industries had adverse effects on the quality of the environment, the bathing establishments soon relocated east to nearby Mumbles. Despite this, tourists were lured by the spectacle of large machinery and the roaring furnaces. Numerous visitors from continental Europe marvelled at the international flotillas moored in Swansea harbour or developed a morbid fascination for the ragged street urchins and impoverished workers. As part of her relief efforts for the industrial workers of Swansea, the international opera star Adelina Patti gave annual concerts in the town’s former Prince Albert Hall. Born in Spain to Italian parents, Patti had set up her home on the nearby Craig-y-Nos estate.

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