Explore The City of Swansea
...an ugly, lovely town, crawling, sprawling by the side of a long and splendid curving shore.
- Dylan Thomas, 'Reminisces of Childhood'
It is almost certain that Swansea was known and frequented by Scandinavian sailors and traders, during the 10th century, however there is little evidence to suggest that the Norsemen made a permanent settlement here, or that Swansea featured as a home base for either the Romans or Celts. But the Scandinavians certainly realised the potential of the natural harbour of the river mouth and made an intermediary base here for further trading over in Ireland. They named their base Swansea, derived from two Old Norse elements, 'Sveinn', a proper name, and '-ey,' an inlet or island. It has been suggested that the name 'Sveinn' could possibly refer to Sweyne Forkbeard, the King of Denmark (986-1014 AD) and mention of an island corresponds with the island at the mouth of the River Tawe historically reported up to the end of the 18th century.
However, it was not until the Norman Conquest of South Wales in the 12th century that a township was made of Swansea. Following the murder of Hywel ap Goronwy, the Welsh ruler of Gower (Gwyr), the Norman King of England, Henry I, appointed his close friend, the first Earl of Warwick, Henry de Beaumont (also known as Henry de Newburgh) as Lord of Gower. As a priority, de Beaumont needed to find headquarters for his command and discovered the ideal location on the west bank of the River Tawe. From this vantage point he would be able to maintain order of the peninsula and the stretches to the north, towards the river banks of the Aman and Twrch, which marked the old boundaries of Gower. No doubt he was also concerned to protect the natural harbour from attacks via the sea, knowing the area to be popular with Norse raiders in the past.
He built a castle on the western bank of the River Tawe, around which the small borough of Swansea developed. St. Mary's Church was built south-west of the castle and the early street plan relied upon the position of these two core buildings and the borough defenses.
The town proved to have a lot going for it, not only did it succeed in being an adequate headquarters or caput for the lordship of Gower, it also became a centre of agricultural activities and a host for markets, fairs and early industry. More importantly, the natural harbour developed into a flourishing port that was to seal the future prosperity of Swansea through the ages.