Arteries of International Sustainable Industry: the Swansea Canal and its Early Railways by Stephen Hughes. Published by RCAHMW & the Swansea Canal Society
Swansea is known the world over as Dylan Thomas’s ‘lovely, ugly town’. Its history is truly extraordinary: the Swansea region was one of the earliest intensive industrial landscapes in the modern world and at its centre was a Canal. The Swansea Canal powered industry using the sustainable resource of water. It provided a transport system that enabled a series of international industries to develop and thrive – copper, iron and steel, tinplate, and coal. The waterway was the central artery of a larger circulation system which had a railway network using a variety of early steam locomotives, as well as horse and even oxen power, and it continued to develop for over a hundred years.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in partnership with the Swansea Canal Society has just published a brilliantly illustrated book charting the history and importance of the Canal. The story begins 230 years ago with the 1794 Act of Parliament authorising the Canal, which ran for over 16 miles (26km) from the port of Swansea to Aber-craf. There were numerous locks and culverts as the Canal had to rise over 370 feet (112.7m) along its length. The Canal was the prosperous transport hub for numerous industries in the Victorian period and was acquired by the Great Western Railway in 1873. But the Canal declined in the early twentieth century and commercial traffic ended before World War II. In the post-War period the significance of the Canal was forgotten as parts of the waterway were closed and filled in as Swansea modernised. Fortunately, about 5 miles (8km) still remains ‘in water’ and the Swansea Canal Society formed in 1981 is dedicated to restoring the Canal as a community resource.
The new history of the Swansea Canal is a large-format book of over 300 pages and is beautifully illustrated with over 500 illustrations including 100 specially prepared reconstruction drawings which show what the Canal originally looked like and how it operated. The book will be launched at the National Waterfront Museum, Maritime Quarter, Swansea, on Friday 1st December 2023 between 1pm and 3pm. All are welcome but, if possible, please register with email@example.com beforehand. There will be light refreshments and an opportunity to buy signed copies of the book as well as prints and a selection of original watercolours prepared for the book.
The full details of the book are Arteries of Sustainable Industry: The Swansea Canal and its Early Railways by Stephen Hughes published by RCAHMW and the Swansea Canal Society. ISBN 978-1-871184-65-5. Price: £45. This is available from the Royal Commission’s online bookshop and the Swansea Canal Society: https://www.swanseacanalsociety.com/ with free package and postage. There will be the usual 10% discount for Friends of the Commission.
The author, Stephen Hughes, said: ‘the book was suggested by the late, great Professor Glanmor Williams of Swansea (then Chair of the Commission) when many of the Canal remains were threatened by redevelopment. The many reconstruction drawings and watercolours in the book have been a labour of love taking many years to accomplish but I hope the book and its illustrations will be a lasting contribution to understanding the Canal. ‘
Christopher Catling, CEO of the Royal Commission, said: ‘the book shows the global importance of Swansea in the Industrial Revolution’, adding ‘It is essential for Wales to have an authoritative but accessible record of this outstanding industrial monument.’
A spokesperson for the Swansea Canal Society said that ‘The Society has worked closely with the Royal Commission to produce this important book. The aim of the Society is to make the Canal something the whole community can be proud of as a heritage asset and for active recreation. The Society needs new members and volunteers of all ages to achieve its aims of regenerating the Canal – no-one is excluded, all are welcome.’
For further details and enquiries, please contact Nicola Roberts: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fig. 1.50. Waterways and industry at Morriston. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
- Fig.2.26. The Swansea Canal at Landore with bridges, culverts and railways. © Stephen Hughes
- Fig. 2.123. Waterwheel and blast-furnace at Abercraf Ironworks. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
- Fig. 2.139. RCAHMW recording at lengthman’s punt recovered from the Swansea Canal bed in 1980s. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
- Fig. 3.16. Iron ‘pigs’ dredged from the Swansea Canal. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
- Fig. 3.19. Copper-smelters between Morriston and Landore. © Crown Copyright: RCAHMW
- Fig. 3.21. The world’s largest copperworks at Hafod with the Swansea Canal in the foreground depicted in G. Grant Francis, The Smelting of Copper in the Swansea District, 1881)
- Fig. 3. 163. Locomotives in sidings alongside the Swansea Canal. © Stephen Hughes.