Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 101

Swansea — The Flemings — Towards England.

SWANSEA is called by the Welsh Abertawe, which signifies the mouth of the Tawy. Aber, as I have more than once had occasion to observe, signifies the place where a river enters into the sea or joins another. It is a Gaelic as well as a Cumric word, being found in the Gaelic names Aberdeen and Lochaber, and there is good reason for supposing that the word harbour is derived from it. Swansea or Swansey is a compound word of Scandinavian origin, which may mean either a river abounding with swans, or the river of Swanr, the name of some northern adventurer who settled down at its mouth. The final ea or ey is the Norwegian aa, which signifies a running water; it is of frequent occurrence in the names of rivers in Norway, and is often found, similarly modified, in those of other countries where the adventurous Norwegians formed settlements.

Swansea first became a place of some importance shortly after the beginning of the twelfth century. In the year 1108, the greater part of Flanders having been submerged by the sea 19 an immense number of Flemings came over to England, and entreated of Henry the First the king then occupying the throne, that he would all allot to them lands in which they might settle, The king sent them to various parts of Wales, which had been conquered by his barons or those of his predecessors: a considerable number occupied Swansea and the neighbourhood; but far the greater part went to Dyfed, generally but improperly called Pembroke, the south-eastern part of which, by far the most fertile, they entirely took possession of, leaving to the Welsh the rest, which is very mountainous and barren.

I have already said that the people of Swansea stand out in broad distinctness from the Cumry, differing from them in stature, language, dress, and manners, and wished to observe that the same thing may be said of the inhabitants of every part of Wales which the Flemings colonised in any considerable numbers.

I found the accommodation very good at the “Mackworth Arms”; I passed the Saturday evening very agreeably, and slept well throughout the night. The next morning to my great joy I found my boots, capitally repaired, awaiting me before my chamber door. Oh the mighty effect of a little money! After breakfast I put them on, and as it was Sunday went out in order to go to church. The streets were thronged with people; a new mayor had just been elected, and his worship, attended by a number of halbert and javelin men, was going to church too. I followed the procession, which moved with great dignity and of course very slowly. The church had a high square tower, and looked a very fine edifice on the outside, and no less so within, for the nave was lofty with noble pillars on each side. I stood during the whole of the service as did many others, for the congregation was so great that it was impossible to accommodate all with seats. The ritual was performed in a very satisfactory manner, and was followed by an excellent sermon. I am ashamed to say that have forgot the text, but I remember a good deal of the discourse. The preacher said amongst other thing that the Gospel was not preached in vain, and that he very much doubted whether a sermon was ever delivered which did not do some good. On the conclusion of the service I strolled about in order to see the town and what pertained to it. The town is of considerable size, with some remarkable edifices, spacious and convenient quays, and a commodious harbour into which the river Tawy flowing from the north empties itself. The town and harbour are overhung on the side of the east by a lofty green mountain with a Welsh name, no doubt exceedingly appropriate, but which I regret to say has escaped my memory.

After having seen all that I wished, I returned to my inn and discharged all my obligations. I then departed, framing my course eastward towards England, having traversed Wales nearly from north to south.

19 Drych y Prif Oesoedd, p. 100.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50