Tue, 23 April 2024

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By Sir Nicolas Bevan
Foreign affairs
Press releases

My Swansea, my youth: a love affair

2 min read

Dylan Thomas’ description of his home city as an “ugly lovely town” is right on both counts. Others describe Swansea as a series of villages held together by gossip. 

I invite you to join me as we make a tour starting from High Street Station. We soon pass the Elysium where I joined the Labour Party in 1957, and soon the museum “which should have been in a museum” (Dylan again) now happily much improved. We have passed through the city centre, badly damaged in the Blitz, when I lay snugly protected in the aptly named Anderson shelter in our garden.

We reach the docks and the marina where my wife and I live. The old Swansea Harbour Improvement Trust is prudently abbreviated as SHT. The magnificent curve of Swansea Bay greets us with a backcloth of seven hills, which Rome has copied. From here, we see the coast of Devon, a sign that it is going to rain. If we cannot, it is raining. 

On route westwards we pass the university in the park where I met my wife, on the way to the former fishing village of Mumbles, where the Bumbles of Mumbles live. Here begins the Gower Peninsula, the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK. Two of the bays regularly feature in lists of the UK’s most beautiful beaches.
The villages to the south mostly have English place names; to the north, Welsh place names. Swansea may be viewed as a border city between English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Wales – but faithful to both.

Having passed Penclawdd, the centre of the cockle industry, we reach Clydach where my father worked and died of ‘Monditus’, the local industrial disease. Alfred Mond, one of my predecessors as an MP, spoke fervently of “Vales for the Velsh”.

Woodfield Street in Morriston contains the Tabernacle Chapel, “the cathedral of nonconformity”, the acoustics of which make it a favourite for the many local choirs. We pass the Liberty Stadium [now the Stadium], home to Swansea City FC and the Ospreys rugby club, a jewel in the crown of the lower Swansea Valley, once an area of great industrial dereliction. 

Back to the city centre and the largest covered market in Wales to buy “Welsh caviar” – laverbread. My mother sent me tins of the black stuff after I set off in 1960 for the Foreign Office. We pass Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, where I married 60 years ago.

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