Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Loss of Welsh Parks …

Drew Bennelick, Head of Landscapes and Natural Heritage at the Heritage Lottery Fund.

From ClickonWales, the news analysis magazine of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, 20 November 2014.

Public parks play an important part in the social and environmental infrastructure of communities, making neighbourhoods more attractive, healthy and enjoyable places to live. They are a fundamental element of sustainable development.

But the Heritage Lottery Fund has a strong message to say to anyone who loves their local park: it could be under threat. The reason for this concern is found in our recent report the State of UK Public Parks 2014: Renaissance to risk? This study has brought together and reviewed much of the existing evidence base. It makes worrying reading for park lovers throughout the United Kingdom, not least in Wales. The report is wide ranging and drew on date from three specially commissioned UK-wide surveys: a survey of local authority park managers, including 16 of 22 local authorities in Wales; a survey of park friends and user groups; and a public opinion survey undertaken by Ipsos MORI.

Using this wealth of information, the report sets out in stark terms why people are worried:

  • 86% of parks managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010, a trend they expect to continue over the next three years. The report suggests this could mean: park facilities such as cafes and toilets are closed or opening hours reduced; grass left uncut, flower beds left empty, play areas less regularly cleaned and inspected and more anti-social behaviour due to less park staff. Wales, along with Scotland and the North West, recorded the largest proportion of park managers who reported that their parks have been declining in condition.
  • 45% of local authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management to others.
  • 81% of council parks departments have lost skilled management staff since 2010 and 77% have lost front-line staff, though it is worth noting that Wales’ cuts in this respect compare favourably with most other parts of the United Kingdom including regions of England.

Local authorities have no statutory requirement to fund and maintain parks. Thus at a time of spending reductions, local authorities are looking first at what can they can cut without breaking the law. Parks are therefore an easy target.

Yet parks have a critical role to play in the health and wellbeing of communities. A study undertaken by DEFRA into creating sustainable communities used green space as an indicator of wellbeing and found that people place great importance on having parks as part of their wider neighbourhood. The vast majority of people (95%) thought that it was very or fairly important to have green spaces near to where they live. A similar figure was recorded by Groundwork in a recent Ipsos MORI Survey100 which found that ‘nine out of 10 adults (93%) identify parks, playgrounds and green spaces as important in making somewhere a good place to live or work’. Green spaces also, of course, also have a direct bearing on obesity and health. There is now a growing evidence base from the UK and abroad on the impact parks can have on public health.

The newly formed Parks Alliance, which has been created as a voice of UK parks, believes the report “provides the evidence to back up the experience of park staff and volunteers on the ground that the parks we know, love and use are close to crisis point. “They are not the only ones to greet the report as a powerful wake up call. The National Trust, Nesta, Keep Britain Tidy, the Big Lottery Fund, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, Groundwork, and the charity 4Children have all welcomed the publication of the report.

Alliance members know these are financially tough times. We do not dispute tough decisions are having to be made. Yet we also believe that we cannot afford to lose parks without considering the consequences. That is why we need collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline and stop this cycle of boom and bust.


Clean-up day at Hafod Morfa Copperworks, Sat 6th December …

There will be a work day at the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks on Saturday 6th December from 10.30am until 12.30pm. We will meet by the new artwork and interpretation panels.

We will be cleaning up litter at the site with the help of Keep Wales Tidy and looking for objects of archaeological interest with the help of GGAT. We will record the location of any objects and photograph them with a view to possibly removing them to a safer place if appropriate to do so.

We also hope to be able to do some litter picking at the White Rock Heritage Park and the New Siloh Chapel depending on volunteer numbers.

It should be a fun and satisfying few hours and hope you will want to join us.

Keep Wales Tidy will provide tools, gloves and bags. I would suggest sturdy footwear, wet weather gear and your own gloves if you have them.

Please get in touch with me on the number below if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

Stuart Griffin
Hafod Copperworks Development Project
College of Arts and Humanities
Swansea University
Singleton Park

01792 602617

Follow the Cu @ Swansea copper project at

Find us on Facebook;!/pages/Hafod-Morfa-Copperworks/381169952010109

See photos of the project on Flickr

Working Days Monday 9-5, Wednesday 9-5, Thursday 9-12.30.

Heritage Careers Masterclass, 19 November …

Research Institute For Arts and Humanities Heritage Skills Programme

Don’t miss the upcoming masterclass focused on: Enhancing Employability – Career Development – Applying Education and Skills in the Work Place

‘Careers in Museums: Volunteering, Engagement, Participation and Learning Programme’

Loveday Williams, Learning and Participation Officer of the National Waterfront Museum

Venue: ‘Faraday H’ Room, Swansea University, 19 November 10 – 11am

The session are open to all students and non-students.

The session will be informal and will offer a chance to pick the brains of an  experienced working professional and to ask questions and gain advice.

Places are limited. Reserve your space today:

Contact Kate Spiller, Project Coordinator:

Please note: The original date and time for this session (August 18th at 2pm) has been changed to the above.


Hafod-Morfa object search and litter pick, 6 December …

There will be an object search and litter pick at the Hafod-Morfa site on Saturday 6th December, 10.30 until 12.30. Keep Wales Tidy are providing the management and equipment. Bring good footwear and gloves.

Several objects of interest have been found at Hafod-Morfa recently. When discovered they will be photographed in situ by GGAT before being moved and the local site examined.

If there is enough resource we can do some picking and searching at White Rock as well, otherwise we will organise a separate event. Siloh chapel is also on the radar for 6 December.


Restoration of the Old Highways Depot, Clydach …

Between Clydach Aqueduct and Coed Gwilymn Park, Clydach, the Swansea Canal is culverted underground for 100 yards under what used to be the Council’s Highways Depot in Pontardawe Road. One of the canal’s historic locks is also buried there.

Glandwr Cymru, (the Canal and River Trust in Wales) who own the canal in water from Clydach to Ynysmeudwy, wish to restore this section (including the lock) and, in conjunction, with CCoS, regenerate the site. The plans include a small number of new homes, an attractive public open space and improved pedestrian and cycle access to the area. This will completely reinvigorate the lower end of Pontardawe Road, enhance the environment and bring significant benefits to the community.

The Swansea Canal Society fully supports this restoration and development plan.

On the 2nd of December, the CRT Development Manager,  Aiden Johnson-Hugill, has been allocated a ten minute slot at 5.00pm to present the full plans to the Swansea Councillors.

The Swansea Canal Society sincerely hopes that you too will support this scheme. Here is a brief synopsis and plan of the site redevelopment – Pontardawe Road Briefing Note.

Below is the link to our e-petition of support if you wish to sign it. We will hand it in on Dec. 2nd when we meet the Leader of the Council

Martin Davies
The Swansea Canal Society | Cymdeithas Camlas Abertawe

Tel; 0844 209 4548      mob: 07773 206 943
UK Charity Registration Number: 1105624.


Sonia Rolt, pioneer campaigner for Britain’s industrial heritage …

The Times obituary, 8 November 2014

Campaigner for Britain’s industrial heritage who fell in love with canals during wartime service.

A small advertisement in The Times in the early 1940s changed Sonia Rolt’s life for ever. On answering its call for women to work on the canals of Britain to take the place of men who had gone to fight in the Second World War, Rolt began a love affair with the canals and waterways that was to last a lifetime.

Becoming one of the trainee boatwomen on the canals was far from the only notable feature in Rolt’s life. At various times she fought not just for the survival of the canals and waterways as a founder member of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), but also for the preservation of the architectural heritage of Britain — both industrial and residential — through her work with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (Spab).

She helped to establish a heritage steam railway in west Wales and in later life was particularly concerned about the need to maintain and preserve ancient orchards. Other interests included furnishing houses and providing libraries for both the Landmark Trust and the National Trust.

As Tim Rolt, the younger of her two sons and a writer and film-maker, put it: “The thread that united everything that she did was her enormous appetite for life and her great interest in other people which led her into all sorts of different areas. She valued things that were not necessarily being valued by others at the time.”

Rolt was living in a flat in London with fellow aspiring actors when she saw the advert for women to work on the canals, a notion that was viewed by many men as ridiculous. Sceptical boatmen at first dubbed the volunteers the “Idle Women” because they wore an “IW” Inland Waterways badge on their overalls. However, many went on to become highly proficient at boat handling and worked on the canals and waterways throughout the remainder of the war. Their exploits were covered in Pathé newsreels, newspapers and even Life magazine which carried a large feature on them just before D-Day.

At the time Rolt was already doing her bit for the war effort at the Hoover factory at Perivale in west London where she was employed installing electrical wiring in the cockpits of Lancaster bombers. She was good at it, too. So good in fact, that factory managers did not want her to leave.

“They wouldn’t let me go so I had to have a fearful interview and there was the threat of prison [if I absconded],” she recalled. “Finally a psychiatrist person saw me from the Ministry of Transport and they said ‘this woman has a pioneering spirit and must be allowed to go her own way and do her own stuff’.”

And go her own way she did. “It was extraordinarily surprising because I had not seen any canal as far as I know at any time, anywhere, and when I applied for the job it was going to be a huge surprise — canals? What are they?”

Rolt learnt her new trade fast, helping to take barges loaded with steel to Birmingham, then heading to Coventry to load coal and taking that down to north London, before setting out again. Along the way she fell in love with the canals and the people who worked on them and determined she would do all she could to preserve a way of life that was already under threat from road and rail freight transport.

It was from the perspective of a canal boat’s stern that she came to love the industrial heritage of Britain’s great cities. “I think it was then that I began to look at buildings in a very serious way,” she said. “I looked at the modest ones, the working ones, and I saw beauty in them. Going into Birmingham, at the end of some dark, blackened channel, you’d see flaming red and men working with shovels. What I saw was highly industrial and totally alive.”

Her love affair with the canals was best summed up by her “wonderful, but very short” first marriage to a canal boatman called George Smith who could neither read nor write. The pair stayed on the canals after the war as Rolt began campaigning for better conditions for those who worked on them. Later she married the industrial heritage pioneer Tom Rolt, whose 1944 book Narrow Boat is credited with inspiring the movement to save canals.

Sonia Rolt (née South) was born in New York in 1919. Her mother, Kathleen, was from a doctor’s family in Barbados. Kathleen married a civil servant working in the Far East but had an affair with an engineer in Trinidad and Tobago. This led to her leaving for New York before returning to England with her new baby, Sonia.

Rolt was educated in Farnborough, Hampshire while her mother worked as a school matron. She then trained as an actress at the London Theatre Studio in Islington. In 1939 she toured with the London Village Players before the war interrupted her career and she began work in Perivale.

It is not clear when her marriage to Smith ended, but she met Tom Rolt in 1945 at the premiere of Painted Boats, a film set on the canals and went on to marry him. In addition to Tim they had another son, Richard, who runs his own design and engineering business.

The pair were initially active in the campaign to save the canals and in setting up the IWA. In 1950, however, Tom fell out with the organisation and he and Sonia decamped to the seaside town of Tywyn, near Aberystwyth, where they helped to set up the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society. This was dedicated to ensuring the survival of what was then a decrepit narrow-gauge railway and it became the template for similar projects all over the world. “We worked the railway together,” Rolt recalled. “At one point I was the guard and I was pregnant to boot. He was the engineer and I was the clerk of all things.”

With the railway’s future assured, Tom and Sonia moved back to his parent’s house at Stanley Pontlarge in Gloucestershire where Tom would write some 40 books under the name LTC Rolt, dying aged 64 in 1974. Sonia lived in the medieval Cotswold stone house for the remainder of her life, eventually becoming affectionately known by the locals as “Lady Pontlarge” or the “Potentate of Pontlarge.”

She lived amid elegant chaos with a collection of furniture, none of which matched. But her taste appealed to others, not least Tom’s friend John Smith (later Sir John) who set up the Landmark Trust in the 1960s dedicated to the preservation of small but architecturally worthwhile buildings. The novel idea was to give these properties new life as holiday rentals. Smith asked Rolt if she would look after the furnishing of the houses and she did so for more than 20 years, later taking on a similar role for the National Trust.

It was when she needed to do repair work on the roof of the house at Stanley Pontlarge that she first came into contact with Spab which helped secure funding for the project. She went on to become an active committee member.

In 2011 Rolt was appointed OBE for services to heritage. She was thrilled and not a little perplexed to be honoured and on meeting the Queen at Windsor exclaimed: “I simply don’t know why I have been given this.” The Queen is said to have replied: “Perhaps you should think about it.” Rolt then replied in turn: “It could be because I live in an old house.” The Queen was having none of that: “I live in one of those too,” she said.

Sonia Rolt, OBE, champion of Britain’s canals and architectural heritage, was born on April 1, 1919. She died on October 22, 2014, aged 95.


Help the Swansea Canal Society reclaim 100 yards of the canal …

We have just started the petition to reclaim 100 yards of the Swansea Canal and wanted to ask if you could add your name too. This campaign means a lot to us and the more support we can get behind it, the better chance we have of succeeding.

You can read more and sign the petition here:

Thank you!

Martin Davies
The Swansea Canal Society | Cymdeithas Camlas Abertawe

Tel; 0844 209 4548      mob: 07773 206 943
UK Charity Registration Number: 1105624


Advent Calendars and the Antikythera Mechanism, 16 December …

This free Christmas lecture is a collaborative event between the British Computer Society (BCS) and Software Alliance Wales.

Book here.

The Antikythera mechanism is the earliest known analogue computer, containing over 30 gear wheels. It was designed to predict the positions of Sun, Moon and Planets in the sky, and eclipses. The cycles of lunar and solar motion that it is based on are those that still determine the details of our own calendar.

The remains of the Mechanism were recovered in 1900–01 from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The instrument was constructed by the ancient Greeks around 150 to 100 BC. Devices that exceeded the complexity and workmanship of the Antikythera Mechanism did not appear again in Europe until the 14th century AD, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.
Mike will talk about the project to understand this incredible Mechanism, including news of a recent new dive on the shipwreck site. He will link it to calendars ancient and modern, and of course the most important aspect for children, the advent calendar.

Mike Edmunds is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University in Wales. He is lead academic on the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.


17:30 Registration
18.00 – 19.00 Lecture followed by Light Refreshments


Digital Past 2015 in Swansea, 11/12 February …

Digital Past 2015
New technologies in heritage, interpretation and outreach.

11 and 12 February 2015
Brangwyn Hall, The Guildhall, Swansea

Organised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Digital Past is an annual two day conference which showcases innovative digital technologies and techniques for data capture, interpretation and dissemination of the heritage of Wales, the UK and beyond. Bringing together individuals from the commercial, public, academic, third sector and voluntary sectors, the conference aims to promote learning, discussion and debate around a range of digital technologies in current use, or in development, to record and understand the historic environment.

Delegates will be offered a combination of presentations, seminar sessions and hands-on workshops and demonstrations in a friendly and informal atmosphere that aims to promote networking and the exchange of ideas. ‘Unconference sessions’ will be provided on the first afternoon, giving the opportunity for delegates not on the formal timetable to give presentions on projects, research, ideas or issues within or outside the strict themes of this year’s event. Exhibition and Poster stands will also give the opportunity for display and demonstration of projects or products, and the chance to talk to heritage organisations, societies, universities, product developers and retailers.

Digital Past 2015 is being held in the waterfront city of Swansea. The conference will be held in the spectacular venue of the Grade I listed Guildhall complex, incorporating Brangwyn Hall, George Hall and the Lord Mayor’s Reception Room.

The themes for this year are ‘Visual Heritage’ and ‘Digital Public & Community Archaeology’.

For information about the conference please go to:

For registration go to:

and follow #digitalpast2015

We look forward to welcoming you to Digital Past in 2015.

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