The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea took me by surprise. I was expecting the typical old type of glass case museum displays with liberal ‘do not touch’ notices. I suppose I was relating to the old Swansea Museum that I last visited about 40 years ago, when I was the age my children are now. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to find a more modern interactive experience. This is the best way to get the children engaged we’ve found.
The first gallery had a transport theme. On show was the electric-powered car made of Western Red Cedar that was designed and built in Caerphilly and called Yr Glanaf – or ‘The Cleanest’. The wooden car is as strong and light as aluminium and with three-wheels has a joystick for steering, accelerating and braking.
Also on show was an example of the Gilbern GT.
This is the only sports car that was designed and built in Pontypridd, Wales. The company operated between 1959 and 1973, producing over 1,000 cars of various marques.
Transport, Materials and Networks
This gallery, at the front of the museum, provides an insight into the metal-producing and coal mining heritage of the Swansea area. This includes displays about Richard Trevithic building a steam engine to transport coal to the dock areas near Cardiff. There were also exhibits about coal mining and tinplate production. At one time Wales produced 80% of the world’s tinplate.
The real growth of Swansea as an industrial centre is thought have commenced in 1717. This was on the initiative of Gabriel Powell, steward to the Duke of Beaufort. He advocated that the copper industry be started in Swansea. He pointed out its accessibility and closeness to the port in Cornwall where copper ore was obtainable, local sources of cheap and suitable coal, and the harbour for transport. The first copper works in Swansea were established in Landore in 1720 and by 1823 there were nine copper works. By the mid-18th Century, Wales was the world centre of copper and brass production. The working people suffered terribly with TB and heavy metal poisoning. Copper and iron barons made fortunes and supported the slave trade.
Further into the National Waterfront Museum was a pirate exhibit for younger children. This detailed Welsh pirate facts along with a play boat. There was also a rope making demonstration. This was interactive and required some skilful children to step and take part. Mine were not among them as they had already adjourned to the nearby café for refreshments. This included cake and crisps and hot chocolate. Mine was a large latte. However, perusing the menu there were a lot of hot meals on offer as well if required.
The Waterfront Museum Exhibits
The exhibits deal with a lot of Swansea history. From the World Wars including the WW2 bombing of the town, which essentially destroyed it. To the maritime history of the city and surrounding areas.
It is well worth a visit, especially if you are a history buff with a couple of hours to spare. The kids can also pick up some ideas for school projects. In fact, there was a pirate quiz for the children to do as they walked around. They had to find ‘rats wearing hats’ that were hidden among the exhibits. At the end, if you complete the task, you get a pirate certificate.
The Waterfront Museum in Swansea is located just behind Swansea Leisure Centre. There’s plenty of parking, and you could do as we did and spend a couple of hours in the pool first! They have some good water slides, and a very active wave machine!
For more information on the museum, visit their website here.