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OLD SWANSEA. S01tE VERY INTERESTING REMINIS- CENCES. [BY A NATIVE.] "I could a tale unfold." Hamlet. I don't know a more engrossing subject than that of noting down in a quasi-anti- quarian way the altered circumstances of the past in regard to things in general-I mean, more particularly, in relation to places, customs, modes of life, characteristics and appearances, and comparing those of the older time with those of the present-and this, not only in its reference to matters of magnitude, but to those of smaller conse- quences, such as may be confined within the limits of one's native town. When we live beyond the usual span of life, and have sufficiency of memory left to enable us to narrate circumstances known to us personally, or imported to us in our young days by the old (and yet older ancestry, who have left us), it becomes interesting to the existing generation or, more correctly, those members of it who, from past association- family ties or otherwise-retain a regard for the place, or community, affected; and it is obvious that such references in their applicar tion must have a limited area. However striding those events may be in their alteration or improvement, when taken in their chronological order, I have often thought that the salient points come out and are more remarkable when placed in reverse; for instance, on the subject of fire and artificial light, taking as an individual case the present illuminating power of electricity as No. 1, we may place gas second, then we come to oil, candles, rush-lights, lucifer matches, flint, steel, and tinder, not to say the Indian device of two sticks. Now, how should we relish going back, in this way, through these gradations and taking up, instead of the flashlight of electricity, the old original lantern, with its horn side-lights? This is one sample only of innumerable sub- jects we might handle in the same way, and the effect produced miight be even more remarkable. So, in respect of localities, the great changes in towns, their architecture and population, the status, also, and habits of the residents when treated in this style, become a subject of intense wonderment when we come to the after-view. In what I have to say, I shall confine my observations to the town of Swanzey, now Swansea, whose name, by the way, has been played upon in various forms by antiquarians—genuine and spurious—but whose most reasonable nomen- clature might be, as I think (though I am not a savant) simply the old crude form of Seuernsea, the letter U being customarily written as V in the early days, inasmuch as "Seuernsea," litera scripta, appears in the old maps and documents as referring to the Severnsea, called in modern times the "Bristol Channel," Swansea being the first port at its mouth. I merely give this homely definition for what it is worth. In calling to mind the past and mostly forgotten circumstances of a local character, a difficulty, however, crops up in that it is almost impossible not to refer to individuals, whose position in life "then" would be in striking ontrast with thetr status "now"- the personal element, lin other words, is apt to obtrude, for many I could name, who are now to the front, were, formerly, in a very much smaller way, and had to be accommo- dated with a back seat; and "vice-versa" too, for many there are in the present day, of whom it may truly be said that they, and their forebears, had seen better times; but it is not my desire, or intention, to do eo, and in this connection I shall mention no names; the "new aristocracy," therefore, may rest tranquail amid their comfortable surroundings. Though, after all, what is there in it? The great Lord Erskine was, if I mistake not, a barber's clerk, or something of the kind; and if we look at the pages of genealogies and the visitation? of the Heralds, we see almost at a glance, the incessant ups and downs of old families, and the members of old families, the alternating depths they descended to, as well as the pinnacles they Bad reached, and we shall never cease to have dealings, I suppose, with the "black eheep." Some there are in fhe Swansea, district who can produce no genealogical tree whatever, or, at best, one with an un- fortunate blemish, which mars the flow; and, on the other hand, I will instance a trades- man, who I am acquainted with, in Swansea at this moment who is much respected, for -whom I have a high regard, and who has made, and is making, a fortune, and to whom I could impart the knowledge of his relation- ship in line to an eminent "propositus," and still this man is, I believe, entirely ignorant of a fact he might be proud of. And so this kind of thing goes on. It is the wheel of fortune, never ending in its gyra- tions. Verily the working blacksmiths of former days rise to thei eminence of the "posse comitatus" of present days, and others familiar with the manipulation of grease, oil, pitch, and fat in pristine times, now touch textiles of purple and fine linen, but again, as Mrs. Gamp says, "Where's the odds, Betsy, some 'as it one way and gome another, 'there's' where it is!" And now that I have. come to face the music, I find it difficult to decide how to mar- shal the many subjects, jumbled as they are in one's braiin in a disorderly, discordant mass, so as to place them in something like readable consecutive order;, or any other order that might carry the interest of my narra- tive. It has been said by Pascal, that "in composing a book the tost thing that one learns is to know what to put first," and by another writer of the old school that "amongst the embarrassments of story-telling there is one which, to be appreciated, must have been experienced; it is, however, suffi- cently intelligible to claim sympathy, even by indicating it—we mean the difficulty a narrator has in the choice of those incidents by which his tale is to be marked out." A great number of events must occur in the story of every -day life. of which no record can be made. Some seem too trivial, some too irrelevant for mention; and yet when we come to reflect upon real life itself, how many times do we discover that what appeared to be but the veriest trifles were the main- springs of existence! Shall we begin with the port of Swansea? It seems to suggest itself as a fitting starting point, for, originally, there can be no doubt that its great attractions as a watering-place, its tidal river, and unwonted smuggling facilities, I am sorry to say, together with its back country products, formed the basis of its important after-growth. The port. was of that consequence, at any rate, that gun- boats-very different, indeed, from the gun' boats of the present navy—were extensively and constantly employed in and about the neighbouring coast, these craft being located at SwaDsea as the citadel of operations, not only as regards the contraband and illicit trading doneand a great deal was done up the Tawe River, I believe-but as the watch- dogs of the Channel during the great French War. At the time I speak of, many happy homes in the little town were made miserable by the operations of the Press gang, the sound of whose drums and fifes usually after sunset, was often a sufficient warning to the young, Md, indeed, older inhabitants, who had even the slightest knowledge of a coasting life, to make off to some safe hiding-place. The coercion of the Press gang, whoso visits were sporadic and surprise ones, was worse than conscription, as each one se:ized was whether he would or not, marched off at once to the ship in waiting—oft-times with- out the knowledge of his parents or friends- and was not discovered for months after- wards,—sometimes not ht all. Nature seemed, even then, to place Swan- sea, i.e.. tbe Port presenting itself in the' Bristol Channel, as the one of chief i-portance-and the Government of the day took advantage of the fact in its selection as a naval station, and. centa'nly the rapidity with which it has grown from a fishing village and pleasant seaside resort to a deep water harbour and port of tho first rank, with a still progressing influence of leaps and hounds, is a. fact which shows up in a bril-* liant light the sagacity of the Government of that day, and justifies the choice. With regard to the River Tawe, we must remember that its course was, as it is now, down as far as the branch off to the New Cut. From that point it proceeded through the present North Dock (since constructed), and right away southwards with the "old borough," on the right bank, through the tidal harbour, and so out to the Bay of Swan- sea between the old east and west stone piers. When the spring tides were up, the river opposite the public quay was swollen with a very deep, broad, and extensive acreage of water, forming an inner harbour, in which the gunboats, fast craft of good sailing qual- ities, be it said, were wont to disport them- selves with the Royal ensign at the mizen. The eastern boundary of this sheet of water did not consist of wharves as at present, but of substantial sloping banks, covered on the eastern side, with greensward, and on which though undulating, anyone might take a pleasurable ramble. These banks, then of an unproductive nature, were known as "Tir Llandwr," and about and behind them were sundry pools and marshy, rough spots which, in the early days, provided good snipe shoot- ing. One large pool, in particular, sur- rounded by high dunes, and known as Pock- lington's Pool, afforded, I remember, good opportunities for model boat sailing in the summer time, and sliding in the winter. I say "sliding," because skating was a science not then much practised in Swansea. This pool, I think, must have been as near as may be the site of the Duke's ware- houses of the present day. A little lower down the river came the ferry and ferry-boat-a very necessary ad- junct between the town proper or borough, and the hamlet of St. Thomas. This ferry is more particularly referred to elsewhere. The "Tir Llandwr" land, since dlignified by the title of "The Tir Llandwr Estate," turned out on the formation of the New Cut and floating of the old river as a deep-water dock, a veritable Golconda to the lucky pur-* chaser of it. and he was the late Mr. Thomas Starling Benson, then, I think, residing at Sketty Park. The ground was in the market, and the late Mr. David Walters, if I am not mistaken, had the opportunity of purchasting it for a few hundred pounds, but it remained for a gentleman who, physically shortsighted, possessed a "longer spoon." and saw further, to secure it. I refer to the late Mr. Starling Benson, acting for his father. The annual value in the present day, with the copper ore wharves, patent slip, docks, and yards is suiiciently well nown to the rating authori- ties, and perhaps, even better to the succes- sors of the purchaser. Below this land to the south-east, I sup- pose, there was the ferry opposite the Beaufort Arms, at the back of the present Guildhall, but this leads to the subject of the "Olympian," or, perhaps, "Isthmian Games," as the G.O.M., in supporting the resolution of the House for adjournment, denominated the exploits of the "Derby Day," I refer to the Swansea Races. These we shall get to by and bye. Before going to the Swansea Races, I must clear off other subjects which seem to demand priority, a.nd certainly I think that of the Accession of our late Queen is one of them. My recollection, ihowever, is more confined to the illuminations than otherwise, for I remember there being at my home a series of long wooden shelves, in which were placed rows of tin candle-holders—these were the common arrangements for placing in the front windows of the houses occupied by the loyal inhabitants of Swansea on the night of the Coronation of Queen Victoria, and I have a. distinct retrospect of the effective nature of the illuminations thus simply created by the candles, which, however, as they burnt down, unfortunately required snipping rather frequently with the snuffers of the period. There was little or no attempt at coloured lights then-those were luxuries to come in after years. Snuffers there were for all kinds of candles, from the lowly "dips" to the aristocratic "moulds," and these instruments were, too, of various con- structions, the tip-top sort being of highly- polished steel, with a kind of round reptile- looking head, from which an incisor in the form of a cockscomb rose, and into which, by the action of the scissors, the snuff or charred part of the candlewick was drawn back, so that no objectionable "debris" fell about. These best ones were always a great attraction to the brats of the house whenever they could possibly got hold of them, as on closing the shears, they made a sharp click similar to the cocking or pulling of a pistol- triigger, whch was very attractive to the juvenile mind. By the way, frequency in this shooting practice in inexperienced hands, was apt to result in a defection of the springs, if not a "coup de grace." They were expensive toys, and clearly meant for use on swagger occasions. The candle and snuffer period was of lengthened duration, but was somewhat suddenly and effectually cut short by the general introduction of gas. Our dis- sertation, which commenced on the subject of the Coronation of Queen Victoria, seems to have culminated in "gas!" Returning to the more substantial matter, I was going to say that during the period referred to, I remember great excitement in the country, and constant discussions taking place, on the question of the rebellion in Canada, which, as it were, came in with the Queen's Accession, and a few years subsequently occurred the betrothal and marriage of hei Majesty to her first cousin, the Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha—another great topic of discussion—and, of course, of much mo- ment to her subjects, and, I may add, one of very great curiosity to the local old maids of Swansea, to whom for weeks it afforded never ceasing confabulations. It must be borne in mind,too, that the interest and anxieties of the times were much extended and increased by the tardy process of locomotion, and the consequent slow re- ceipt of news from the Metropolis, and this brings me to the subject of the mails. Though born in the time of George IV., and, therefore, privileged to brag as others do, that I am now in touch with four reigns, one of my earlieet memories does not reach further back than the "Royal Billy!" "Here comes the Royal Billy!" Such was the cry at the end of my parents' large garden, when the distant post-horn was heard, and away went the rush, I, as fast as my legs would carry me, to the front windows of the house to see the splendid four-in-hand pass down—sometimes, if late, on the gallop-the mail-coach, in fact, that brought the up-London letters from Pem- broke and Carmarthen, with the guard in his Royal red-coat and gold lace, pistols and blunderbuss, blowing his four feet of brass, the ringing tones of which were to clear the sleepy carts and obstacles out of the narrow streets beyond. These coaches were well horsed with highly-bred cattle that could "go," and had to make their time on each 10 or 12 mile stage of the journey to London, and so back again. I remember by name several erstwhile race-horses running as "leaders." "Harris the Guard," one of the staff of guards of these coaches, and known through- out the route, was one of the most gentleman- like persons one could wish to meetr-a tall, fine-featured man with ruddy complexion, whose speech and manners were in keeping, and to his care and attention many young passengers were safely and confidently en- trusted en route by the Royal Mail; he was, in fact, a general favourite, especially amongst the gentry of Carmarthenshire and Glamorganshire. and I reoollect him long after the cessation of the coaohes, when he travelled with the South Wales mails in the, G.W. Railway van. in the olden days he would have made formidable opponent to the highwaymen. w-ho did not scruple to "hold up" the mail c»ach and four even in the wilds of Wales. the wilds of Wales.








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