Catch the Echoes: River Tawe
Catch the Echoes: River Tawe
Eavesdrop on voices from the past as you travel along the River Tawe.
About the project
As the River Tawe ceased to be an industrial working river it became almost invisible – only occasionally glimpsed by commuters from the modern road bridges and by-passes of the A4067. Yet its waters were the reason for Swansea and the Swansea Valley’s growth and wealth in earlier centuries. Polluted, dirty and smelly it was used, then ignored.
Now boat rides, bike trails and access to towpaths are once again opening up a now clean river. As you travel past or pause to enjoy the flowing waters; catch an echo of past voices as they gossip, grumble and confide in you the listener and in doing so catch an echo of the lives, history and heritage of those who lived near the Tawe.
From its rural beginnings through the remains of the now-faded industrial heritage to the modern city at its mouth, bridges mark where the river could be crossed and communities meet, play and earn a living.
Writer David Hughes and four local writing groups have chosen just eight of the forty plus bridges that span the forty odd miles of the river’s length and imagined someone near these bridges. Together the monologues and montages of voices speak of the history of Swansea valley and the river that runs through it.
1 Lucy’s Story The Present Day
The river Tawe rises in the Black Mountain just below Llyn y Fan Fawr. Listen as nine year old Lucy, picnicking with her family, builds her own bridge where the river is still a stream and farmers graze their sheep as they have for thousands of years.
2 The Staff Bridge The Early 1900’s, Summer
Adelina Patti, the renowned nineteenth century opera singer, lived in Craig y Nos from 1878 to 1919. She was very popular in south Wales and was a much loved and respected employer. She held parties for her staff regularly. Catch the echoes as the servants prepare while her more conventional third husband, the Baron, is away in London.
Stay on this bridge for the next story from a later part of the history of Craig y Nos.
4 The Miners’ Bridge Summer 1925
In 1925, the anthracite miners of the Amman Valley went on strike. In July of that year they marched overnight with bands and banners from Ammanford, through Ystalyfera to the Dulais and Neath valleys to picket anthracite mines that were still working. Catch the echoes of that night as they cross the Tawe.
5 Alice’s Bridge May 1908
The Pontardawe Institute in Herbert Street, Pontardawe was opened in May 1908 with great enthusiasm and town pride. A young shop girl waits for her Welsh friend on Pontardawe bridge to go with her to watch the festivities.
6 Daniel’s Bridge Late Summer 1930
People came to Clydach from many parts, not only to work in the many mines in the area but also at the Mond Nickel Works which was regarded as a good employer.
The catholic community, largely made up of Irish immigrants was well established at this time. This was also a period when young people from working class communities first went to university in greater numbers.
A student from a chapel family waits for his catholic girlfriend. The modern bridge is built on the path and the piers of the old railway entrance into the works.
7 The Copper Workers’ Bridge Spring 1850’s
During the nineteenth century, Swansea became the world centre for the production of copper. Huge copper works lined the Tawe Valley and provided employment for hundreds of men, women and children. Though relatively well paid, the work was filthy and dangerous.
The workers were told that the noxious fumes were good for the lungs. Children walk under Brunel’s railway viaduct at Landore to their work at the Morfa works.
8 The Railwaymen’s Bridge November 1865
Before it was filled in and later became Parc Tawe, the North Dock was the centre of the coal export trade. A bridge carried the railway across the river. It opened to let the ships through to the sea.
As a result of human error a coal train plunged into North Dock, killing the driver and fireman. The dock owners charged sightseers to view the wreckage. As you stand by the filled in dock side you can hear local people who have come to see the wreckage.
9 Tommy’s Bridge The Present Day
The land around South Dock and on both sides of the river has been transformed over the last thirty years from post industrial dereliction to residential, business and leisure areas. A man in his eighties, living in one of the residential care homes in the area recalls his courting days.
Created and directed by Derek Cobley
Written and edited by David Hughes
with stories written in workshops by the Neath Port Talbot and Swansea Young Writers Squads, Pontardawe Arts Centre Script Café and members of the Swansea U3A creative writing groups.
Music based on traditional Welsh tunes composed, arranged and played by Andy Tamlyn Jones
Hywel Emrys, Nia Trussler Jones, Angus Jenkins, Adrian Metcalfe, Dili Pitt, Charlotte Rogers, James Scannell, Menna Trussler, Georgia Whitehorn, Anna Williams, Mared-Hedd Williams
with Joel Miller, Cairo Peroune and Ellis Vaughan of Cwm Glas School
With thanks to Gerald Gabb and Ian Smith of the National Waterfront Museum for contributions to the workshops.
Background sound-scapes created with recordings from freesound.org
Recorded at Vibe Video Productions Studios.
Recording Engineer Eoin McLoughlin.
Video and photography for Digital Record byJenni Derrick and Cameron Morris.
Supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund as part of theAll Our Stories initiative and Pontardawe Arts Centre.