Historic Mumbles



Visitors are often confused by the names Mumbles and Oystermouth.

The Mumbles, in fact, are two rocky islets off the Mumbles Head, but the name is used for the whole area west of Blackpill, including West Cross, Norton, Murton and Caswell. Oystermouth refers to the parish with its Church and Castle, and roughly the area between them. Some suggest that the name is s corruption of the Welsh name Ystumllwynarth. It is not likely to have had anything to do with the oyster gathering that went on in the bay from very early times. Southend is the name given to the area roughly from near the end of the Bowling Green to just beyond Knab rock.


was built in stone in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although it was probable that earlier wooden towers, standing on an earth mound and protected by a deep ditch and wooden fence, had been constructed and destroyed several times. The Normans reached this part of Wales early in the twelfth century, and Henry I gave the commote of Gwyr (Gower) to a trustworthy vassal, Henry de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick.  He built Swansea castle, while his followers built castles in Gower. In 1116 the Welsh Chronicles record the destruction of a castle which was probably one at Oystermouth, “Which he (Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr) burnt entirely killing many men therein”. By 1215 there is a definite mention of a castle at Oystermouth, one built by William de Breos, who had been given the title ‘Lord of Gower’ by King John.  This too was burnt, as was a later one in 1256-57 when Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, last of the Welsh Princes, devastated parts of South Wales.

After this the de Breos of the day rebuilt the castle in stone. This part, known as the Keep, forms the nucleus of the present ruined building. By December 1284 the work was sufficiently far advanced for Edward I to be the guest of   de Breos at the castle, while on a progress through Wales after Llewelyn´s  defeat and death in battle near Builth. There is a legend that had the new building been completed in time, Edward´s son, who became the first English Prince of Wales, would have been born in Oystermouth instead of Caernarvon.  In 1287 there was a final revolt by Rhys ap Maredudd, Lord of Dynevor, which caused extensive damage to the castle, although a whole 17 day siege was necessary this time. The damage was repaired and additions were made in the early 14th century by Alina de Mowbray, daughter of the last de Breos. She made the castle her chief residence and it became more of a home and less of a military stronghold. The Chapel was built and the upper rooms of the Keep were fitted out for comfort rather than defence.

In 1400 the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr began and lasted for ten years. Swansea Castle was destroyed and the local people are said to have taken a hand in the destruction of Oystermouth Castle. By now the Castle had ceased to be a home for the Lords of Gower. Alina´s son, John, was probably the last to live there permanently. The Castle became a prison and was the Seat of the Lord´s Steward, associated in the minds of local people with the collection of dues to the last farthing. In 1432, when another John de Mowbray died, Oystermouth Castle was listed among his possessions, but only as to its land value which was £12 per annum.

The castle came into the hands of the.ancestors of the Duke of Beaufort who became Lord of Gower. It gradually decayed with local people carrying off the stone, while cattle were also kept in it. In 1927 the Duke sold the castle to Swansea Corporation.   In 2010 Swansea Council, with financial support from other agencies,  supervised a very successful project to repair and regenerate the Castle.


of All Saints is in two distinct parts. The medieval portion, farthest from the Mumbles Road, was built most probably by a follower of Henry Newburgh. There was certainly a church there in 1141 as a document records that “Maurice des Londres, son of William de Londres, gave the Church of Ostrenuwe in Goer” to the Abbey of St. Peter in Gloucester. It probably suffered, as did the Castle, from attack during Welsh uprisings, and the present medieval section dates from the reign of Edward I. Even then life was considered far from peaceful, and the Church tower with its narrow slits and battlement roof was obviously built for defence. This building was restored in 1860 while a large north aisle was added. During the restoration, frescoes were found beneath whitewash in the old chancel, but damp had so damaged them that the subjects were not clear.

Probably the most interesting discovery was that of the remains of a Roman pavement which was accidentally uncovered by the workmen. Some of the small coloured tiles are on display in the Church.

The church has a window dedicated to the crew of the Mumbles lifeboat who were lost with the crew of the ´Santampa´ on 23rd April 1947 while attempting a rescue. The Churchyard contains the grave of  Dr. Thomas Bowdler, best known for his attempt to ´clean up´ Shakespeare, giving us the term ‘to Bowdlerize´.


From the discovery of Roman tiles on the site it would be reasonable to assume that a Roman villa once stood there. This would have been a civil, not     military settlement, the home of a prosperous Roman, or Briton, who had adopted Roman ways. Possibly trade went on across the Bristol Channel, for Roman coins and pottery have been found in Mumbles.


has a place in the record books as the First Passenger Railway in the world. It was authorised in 1804 by an Act of Parliament entitled ´An Act for making and maintaining a railway or tram road  from the town of Swansea into the parish of Oystermouth in the County of Glamorgan´. It was intended for the carriage of limestone and iron ore on mineral wagons drawn by horses. The line began in Swansea near the present railway station, ran down the Strand to the old Swansea Museum, and ended near the site of the present Mumbles Post Office. Much of it went along the beach. A branch line ran from Blackpill part of the way up Clyne Valley. However, in days when there was no road from Swansea to Oystermouth it soon became apparent that with enterprise, fare paying passengers could be carried, and a contractor offered the railway company money to supply this service. The first passenger vohicles were nothing more than converted mineral wagons. They were first used on 25th March 1807. By 1816 covered coaches were specially built for the railway as passenger traffic seems to have been very profitable. Perhaps with a minimum return fare of 2 shillings (10 pence) between Swansea and Mumbles and Oystermouth, this was not surprising  as it war considerable sum for those days. However the opening of a turnpike road between Swansea and Mumbles in 1826 provided strong competition and the railway was used less and less even for freight. Sections of line were washed away in storms which did not help matters. Horse power continued until 1877 when the first steam engine was used on the line which had been relaid in 1855. Things did not go smoothly, as many people objected to the use of steam power, while there was a dispute between two rival companies over which of them had the right to supply such a service. After many legal wrangles one company was allowed to run steam trains, while the other had the right to run horse-drawn carriages immediately behind them. This state of affairs lasted until 1896, when the company running the “horse-power” service was offered yearly compensation to withdraw it, and a horse=pulled carriage ran on the railway for the last time on March 31st of that year. An act of Parliament in 1889 empowered  the railway company to extend the line and build a pier at the Mumbles Head. In 1893 the section to Southend was completed, as incidentally was the Mumbles Station, the remains of which can be seen as a small hut on Oystermouth Square.. In order to build the extended line an embankment was laid across the bay. The area behind it was later filled in, and on it were built the tennis courts, bowling green and several rows of houses. In 1898 the last section of line was completed, as was the pier. By 1928 demand for a more frequent and swifter service between Mumbles and Swansea was growing as the population of the Mumbles area increased. It was decided to use electric tramcars for the railway and 11 were bought, each seating 106 people, and capable of being run singly or in pairs. An electricity sub-station was built at Blackpill  (now the home of the Junction Café} and overhead cables were installed. In March 1929 the last steam trains ran on the line. The line was highly successful and became even more so in World War Two, with petrol rationing now in operation. However, after the war, cars and buses were more popular with the public. The South Wales Transport Company, which had leased the Railway and Pier since 1927 with the object of co=ordinating all Swansea to Mumbles road and rail services, now found the Railway a great drain on its finances. It therefore decided to increase the bus service and close the line. The last train ran on January 5th 1960 and the deeds of the land on which it ran were handed over to Swansea Corporation.


was a great attraction in its early years with crowds parading along its 800 feet to enjoy the sea air and listen to concerts. Military bands were very popular as were afternoon teas. It was very much a place of entertainment, but never the beginning of a great trading centre as some local business men had hoped.   It was built with a landing stage for boats and was soon used by paddle steamers sailing in the Bristol Channel. The best known company running such sailings was that of  P. & A. Campbell & Co. Ltd.  Based at Bristol, it had regular sailings to Weston=Super=Mare,  Minehead,  Clovelly, Ilfracombe and Lundy Island. One of their ships was the ´Waverley´, built in 1899, which was lost in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. Its successor still runs occasionally from Swansea, but more often from Penarth to ports on the English side of the Bristol Channel. It is now Britain’s last remaining paddle steamer in regular use. The pier never enjoyed as much popularity again as it did before World War I, although attempts were made to attract the public with concerts and other entertainments. Eventually it became the home of games and dodgem cars, although the steamers still continued to call in summer for a while. At length it became simply a place for anglers, or those wanting to see the view.   During World War 2 the Pier was employed as a defence measure, after which it needed substantial repair.   In the 60’s a popular amusement arcade was opened, and in 2012 the Pier closed for total refurbishment and  the building of a new Lifeboat house.


was originally kept at a boathouse built next to the pier in 1922, although the  slipway was in use in 1916. Before 1866 the lifeboat was kept in Swansea, but Mumbles was a better place, having fishermen who had great sailing skills and who understood many of the local dangers, such as the Mixon sandbank. The first boat based at Mumbles was an open one pulled by 10 oars. The first one with an engine came into use in 1924.

The tragedy of 1947 has not been the only one for this is a treacherous coast and crew members have been lost on other occasions, most notably in January 1883, and February 1903. There have also been a great many rescues when no lives have been lost and whole crews have been rescued from large ships in very stormy dangerous conditions. The lifeboat men have often shown great bravery in making such rescues, and many R.N.L.I awards have been made to crew members.


In 1791 the Swansea Harbour Trustees were empowered to provide a light on Mumbles Head, so that ships could be warned of the dangerous Mixon sands and Cherrystone rock. By May 1794 a stone lighthouse had been built on the outer island with two platforms one above the other, each having a coal-fired beacon. The next year a house and shed were built for the Keeper. In 1799 an oil lantern replaced the beacons, and during the nineteenth century the light was improved so that it was visible from 18 – 20 miles away on a clear night. In 1905 the light was modified to flash at regular intervals, thus distinguishing it from neighbouring lights. Later the lighthouse became unmanned and now the light is automatic. The last keeper was Charlie Cottle, member of a well known Mumbles family, who gave up in 1934. The lighthouse is now the responsibility of Trinity Hose, who in 1977 – 78 carried out essential repair work, while preserving as much of the existing structure as possible.


Built near the lighthouse in 1860, it was one of several intended to guard against French invasion in the time of Napoleon III. It had five 68 pound guns, three members of the Royal Artillery who lived on the island, and was kept in a state of readiness for action. By 1909 however, it was decided that the guns would be unequal to withstand fire from a battleship, and they were thrown into the sea to save money. One of these was later recovered and can be seen near the Marina in Swansea. During World War I the battery was again manned and had a new set of guns.


On the outer island, and visible only from the sea, is Bob’s Cave.   It is here that remains of bison and buffalo from the Neolithic Period were discovered.

There were also signs of human habitation.