Songs O to So
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The old road - not your modern highway, planned and built by people who know nothing of the land it runs through, but the Old Road. It grew from animal trails and the tracks used by people going about their daily lives, from where they were to where they had to be and back again. If you want to get from 'A' to 'B', take the new road. But if you want to understand 'A' and 'B', and their joint history, you need to travel the Old Road. And where will it lead us? We leave that to you.
Out The Sands
Gower's north coast is famous as a cockle fishery. The heart for this was (and still is) the village of Penclawdd. While the men worked in coal mines, brick and tinplate works, the women would supplement the family income by going 'out the sands' for cockles. The cockles were boiled in large vats by the older women (Mamgu is Welsh for grandmother), then the younger women would walk the ten miles to Swansea market, travelling the first eight miles or so barefoot to avoid wear to their boots. At the edge of the town they would wash their feet and put on their boots to be decently shod on arrival at the market. Their cry of "Heddiw cocos" translates as "Cockles today".
Pennbucky to Llangenny
The way of life on Gower, the peninsula west of Swansea, remained unchanged for centuries before the coming of the motorcar. Small family farms were passed down to the eldest son - younger sons often left to sail in the copper ore fleets. Some eventually retired back to Gower, and tried to settle into communities where most people never travelled more than fifteen miles in their lives. One old matelot was heard to say that he "knew Pennbucky better than he knew Llangenny" - Pennbucky was the Brazilian port of Pernambuco, while Llangenny is the Gower village of Llangennith.
We were asked to provide the music for a pirate-themed evening, and didn't have a suitable song for a woman to sing. Now we do. The ladies of the pirate taverns have a vital role in keeping the economy going - doubling their doubloons, in fact. The word maroon has several definitions - here it means a signal rocket. Any hidden significance is entirely in your own imagination.
The copper works were the best-paid employment in 19th century Swansea. but conditions were bad. The process gave off arsenic and sulphurous acid fumes which damaged workers' lungs - if they survived the first 6 months, they were usually OK. Whole families worked at the furnaces. A report on child labour described young women moving 20 tons of ore and slag during a 9-hour shift, using shovels and wheelbarrows. Men worked double shifts (24 hours on, 24 hours off). Poling copper, the final purification stage, involved standing, unprotected, above open vats of molten metal, stirring with a length of green wood to release impurities. They earned every penny of their extra pay.
Queen of Swansea, The
The Queen and other small sailing ships carried copper ore from the mine at Tilt Cove, Newfoundland, back to Swansea for smelting. In 1867 she sailed from St John for Tilt Cove with general cargo and passengers, including Dr Felix Dowsley, who was due to take up the post of medical officer at the mine. She was never seen again. Human remains were eventually discovered on Gull Island, a rocky outcrop near Tilt Cove, which were identified by letters as being from the Queen. Dr Dowsley's letters to his wife Margaret survive, and make painful reading. A memorial was erected at the mine and the bodies returned to Swansea for burial.
After the Napoleonic wars, thousands of ex-servicemen were sent back to their homes, and at the same time the Government stopped buying huge amounts of supplies to fight a war. This resulted in a collapse of the rural economy and is usually known as the 'Peace Dividend'. At the same time there was widespread indignation at corruption amongst the gentry, the focal point of which was the system of collecting road tolls. In Southwest Wales, multiple companies were often granted licences to collect tolls for the same stretch of road, which didn't ever seem to get repaired. Tolls were collected from farmers, carters and even from hearses, though the gentry seemed to find ways of exempting themselves from paying. Popular uprisings against these abuses centred on Rebecca's daughters, men who disguised themselves in women's clothing to break gates and burn down tollhouses. Eventually the protest was successful in forcing a public enquiry into the system and widespread changes.
Based on an old Gower joke. The peninsula has been divided into English-speaking and Welsh-speaking communities (known as the Englishrie and the Welshrie, or Gower Anglicana and Gower Wallicana) for about a thousand years. Here, the lad from Reynoldston, in the Englishrie of Gower, has to find his own way of coping with the bilingual streetnames of Swansea.
Silver And Sand
In 1807, an exceptionally low tide at Gower's Rhosilli sands exposed an unknown shipwreck, below the normal low water line. Locals recovered about 12 pounds of silver dollars and half-dollars, minted in Peru and dated about 1630, stamped with the head of Phillip IV of Spain. The story grew that the ship ran aground, or was possibly lured ashore by wreckers, in the mid 17th century and that most of the cargo was somehow carried off by a notorious local smuggler (and perhaps wrecker), a Mr Mansel from nearby Llandewi. By morning, the wreck was covered by the tide and Mansel had fled with the silver, or had been murdered for it. His ghostly coach is said to appear on the sands after violent storms, looking for the last of the silver. One such storm, in 1833, exposed more coins, cannon balls and an astrolabe, an early navigational instrument. The rising tide covered the site again, and nothing has been found since.
Son of Mine
The Admiralty Tender Caesar left Swansea in November 1760, taking over 60 pressed men, locked below decks, to the Naval base at Plymouth. A storm blew up, and the ship's master, a Lieut. Commander Hood, decided to turn back for shelter. He messed up and sailed smack into the south Gower coast, at a place known as Caesar’s Hole ever since. Hood and a few men made it ashore, without bothering to unlock the holds. Locals buried 63 bodies the next day, some boys as young as 13, in a mass grave marked with a ring of stones, still visible. The area is marked on the map as Grave's End.