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Seven fascinating facts from Swansea’s amazing past you probably didn’t know!

by Gary Reading, May 2018

Swansea’s Wind Street may be most well-known nowadays for being the place to be on a night out in the city – filled with restaurants, bars, and clubs for revelers to enjoy.

But it looked very different hundreds of years ago when it was a hive of commercial activity, manufacturing, and the home to a huge variety of businesses where objects on sale included ‘ornamental hair’, caged birds, and ‘blood purifier’.

Residents and visitors to the busy street in the heart of Swansea city center can now take a tour of the street on their mobile phone or tablet using QR codes set up by website HistoryPoints.

The Tales of Old Wind Street tour has largely been funded by local businesses and allows historical societies and museums to share what they know with visitors.

As a remarkable relic of old Swansea here are seven facts about the street’s amazing past that you probably don’t know.

Wind Street looked very different hundreds of years ago

1) Some of it’s residents met a nasty end

A sailor who lived there died when cholera broke out on a ship after he was duped into ferrying pilgrims across the sea.

What is now the Perch, at 66 Wind Street, was once home to William Caldwell who in 1893 was tricked into carrying pilgrims on a freighter across the sea.

The steamship Etna was mostly crewed by Swansea sailors who thought they were fetching goods from North Africa. But two days after leaving Swansea they discovered they would be carrying human cargoes.

William was a fireman whose job was to maintain the ship’s boiler fire.

Wind Street with the statue of the first Lord Swansea which was moved to Victoria Park in 1933

2) The street was home to many heroes

A surgeon who worked on the street once resuscitated a 15-year-old girl after she was pulled from the River Tawe after a ferry accident.

The plaque above Wind Street carries the name of Thomas Williams – a surgeon who, in 1808, resuscitated teenage girl Margaret Thomas when she was pulled from the water.

She had tried to board the Swansea ferry, which crossed the river near today’s Sainsbury supermarket.

Margaret and a friend slipped on the plant and were swept away by the strong current.

Wind Street has changed significantly over the years

3) Items worth a small fortune were crafted on the street

Peppermint stands where a clockmaker produced timepieces worth a small fortune today.

Peppermint bar, at number 16, was the site where Cornelius Tyte made and sold clocks and watches.

He came from a family of clockmakers in Somerset and is thought to have worked there for around 40 years from the 1820s.

A fire at the shop in 1858 destroyed a clock worth around £400 – about £45,000 in today’s money.

One of his clocks, a long-case, sold at auction in 2004 for £2,585.

The Tales of Old Wind Street tour allows historical societies and museums to share what they know with visitors

4) Alcohol has always been a subject up for discussion in Wind Street

A fight once broke out between an American boxer and an Australian sergeant during World War Two over alcohol.

An American man called Rocco ‘Rocky’ Marciano fought with the Aussie at the Adelphi, 18-19 Wind Street, after he allegedly made fun of Rocky for not drinking alcohol.

Rokcy became a boxer after the war – becoming heavyweight champion for four years in the 1950s.

He died in a plane accident in 1969.

In the past Wind Street was a hive of commercial activity and manufacturing

5) Supplying seafaring equipment provided jobs for many of Swansea’s residents

There were 12 businesses making timepieces in Swansea in 1854 and five of them were in Wind Street.

For many decades 20 Wind Street, next-door to the Adelphi, was occupied by the Cousens family, makers of watches and nautical instruments.

William Cousens ran the business, which was described in 1874 as a “chronometer maker and optician”.

Chronometers measured time more accurately than other timepieces and were used by mariners to measure longitude.

6) Swansea Labour Club was once the home of a railway office for a firm based in… Derby

44 Wind Street was far from the core territory of the Midland Railway, based in Derby, but in the 1870s there were profits to be made from serving the thriving industries of South Wales, including Swansea’s copper factories.

Rival companies had taken the easiest routes between England and Swansea, forcing Midland to lease other companies’ tracks or negotiate rights to run trains over them.

Swansea Labour Club was founded before World War Two as a place for working men to socialise.

The ‘tour’ allows people to find out more about the history of Wind Street

7) Nicknames stick around for a very long time

Dating as early as the 1600s, The No Sign Bar has a long history in the wine and spirits trade.

It was not required to display a sign, like ordinary pubs, when it was licensed as a wine bar and came to be known as the No Sign Bar.

The No Sign Bar was the prototype for the Wine Vaults in Dylan Thomas’ short story The Followers.

‘On-the-spot access to stories’

Rhodri Clark, editor of HistoryPoints.org, said: “Wind Street is a fascinating area of Swansea because it survived the city’s bombing in the Second World War. Today we know it as primarily a leisure area but in the past, it was a hive of commercial activity and manufacturing, especially after the North Dock was opened nearby.

“We hope the QR codes will encourage people to view the street in a new light by providing on-the-spot access to the stories of buildings which are so familiar to residents and regular visitors.