The Port of Swansea lies at the mouth of the River Tawe on the Bristol Channel in southwestern Wales. It is the second biggest city in Wales and the birthplace of poet Dylan Thomas. During the 19th Century, the Port of Swansea was one of the world’s most important copper centers, and it had the nickname “Copperopolis.” After World War II, however, the city’s heavy industries declined, and Swansea’s economy transformed into post-industrial and service sector activities. In 2001, almost 170 thousand people called the Port of Swansea home.
The area around the Port of Swansea was visited by Romans and Vikings, who gave it its current name. The founder of Swansea is thought to be Sweyn Forkbeard, Denmark’s Viking King who conquered Wessex and Mercia in 1013 and controlled much of southern England.
In the mid-12th Century, William de Newburgh, 3rd Earl of Warwick, was granted the first charter for the town, giving it the status of a borough. After the Norman Conquest, the settlement was part of Gower, a marcher lordship. The Port of Swansea was recognized as its chief town and had one of the earliest borough charters in Wales.
The Port of Swansea grew in the middle 16th Century by exporting large volumes of limestone and some coal. Until the early 18th Century, the Port of Swansea was a small coal port and market town. But local deposits of coal were used to smelt imported copper, and the industry prospered after 1717. By the middle of the 1800s, the city’s Metal Exchange was the center for copper world trade, and the Port of Swansea benefited from the anthracite mines in South Wales’ coalfields.
During the Industrial Revolution, it was a logical place for copper smelting, as it had the combined resources of the port, local coal, and established trading links within the UK. By 1720, copper smelters were operating in the Port of Swansea.
Over the next couple of centuries, more coal mines and smelters were opened, and new factories appeared that processed zinc, arsenic, and tin and created pottery and tinplate. The city grew quickly in this period, with the population growing 500% during the 18th Century to over six thousand residents in the city proper 1841 and another four thousand people in the surrounding area.
In the 19th Century, a new canal linked the port with the coalfields, and new docks were built in the 1850s that brought increased industry and commerce to the Port of Swansea. Coal exports peaked in the early 1900s and all but disappeared by the 1980s.
During the 20th Century, the Port of Swansea’s heavy industries began to close, and the town was left with abandoned factories and piles of metallic waste in the Lower Swansea Valley. A long-standing effort to reclaim the land continues today. Reclamation efforts produced today’s Enterprise Zone and discontinued the use of many of the original docks.
Because of its important industrial role, the Port of Swansea was a target of bombs during the German Blitz of World War II. The city center was destroyed, and only three historic buildings remain there (Guildhall, Swansea Castle, and Morriston Tabernacle).
Modern Swansea received city status in 1969 when Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales. In 1982, the city received the right to have a lord mayor.