Visiting Singleton Abbey and Park at Swansea University, Wales: Historic Setting for an Institution of Learning
Memories of Gladstone, Wittgenstein and many others
First of all my undoubted bias must be cited. I studied for a postgraduate thesis at Swansea University (Welsh: Prifysgol Abertawe ), at the time referred to officially as the University College of Swansea, as a constituent institution of the University of Wales (Welsh: Prifysgol Cymru ). Today, the University of Wales is a non-membership confederal institution and the various former members are universities in their own right.
Swansea University has a fine setting in Singleton Park (Welsh: Parc Singleton ), close to Swansea Bay, with Singleton Abbey (Welsh: Abaty Singleton ) one of the buildings from which it emerged. Founded in 1920, what was formerly referred to as the University College remained small in the inter-war years, but expanded greatly after World War Two.
Singleton Abbey has no known connection with a religious institution, but it is a name which has 'stuck'. It was formerly the property of the prominent Vivian family of Swansea industrialists, who, at the Abbey, hosted British Prime Minister William Gladstone on a memorable day in 1887; on that occasion, it was noted that the rhododendrons were looking 'superb'. A century later in 1987, at Singleton Abbey I recall seeing another, former British Prime Minister, Sir James (later, Lord) Callaghan (1) and was able to confirm that, again, as during Mr Gladstone's visit, the rhododendrons in the vicinity of the Abbey were likewise looking 'superb'.
Other of my memories of distinguished people whom I remember from Swansea include Professor Rush Rhys, who was Ludwig Wittgenstein's literary executor and translator, and who hosted the renowned philosopher when he visited Swansea; I recall meeting and talking with historian Professor Ralph Griffiths and with Librarian of Wales Professor R. Geraint Gruffydd. I owe a debt of gratitude to my supervisor Dr. Nigel Addinall.
Regarding features of Singleton Abbey, its sometimes lavish interior includes a Neo-Gothic entrance hall and a grand Dining Room which has been used as the Council Chamber of the University: this room was built in view of an expected visit from HRH Princess Victoria in 1837: but this distinguished visitor never came, because the death of King William IV brought about her accession to the throne. The architect P. F. Robinson's work on the 1837 building was actually a rebuilding in an 'ecclesiastical' style of an earlier, octagonal structure known as Marino, which dated from 1784. At the east wing, a high tower existed until it was removed — to the distress of historian Ralph Griffiths, who wrote a detailed study of Singleton Abbey and its features (1). The south face is complemented by a terrace, with stone lions at steps which lead to expansive lawns. The gardens were partly supplied by plants from Sikkim, in the Himalayas.
In closing, I wanted to mention that the Swansea poet Vernon Watkins, in his Ode to Swansea , wrote this about Singleton Park, where Swansea University is beautifully set:
Pray, while the starry midnight
Broods over Singleton's elms and swans.
Having known these lines for many years, I, frankly, still do not know what the poet meant. (But at least it sounds good.)
Also worth seeing
Oystermouth Castle, Mumbles, Swansea (distance: 5.7 kilometres) is a ruined Norman structure dating from the 11h century, situated near the scenic Gower Peninsula.
Swansea Castle, in Downtown Swansea (distance: approx. 3.0 kilometres) dates from the 12th century; visible remains date from the late 13th or early 14th century.
Afan Forest Park, Visitor Centre and South Wales Miners Museum (distance: 27 kilometres) contains many, scenic walks, with copious local information.
Castell Coch, Tongwynlais (distance: 63 kilometres) a striking, hillside castle, built in the 19th century on the site of Medieval fortifications.
Llandaff Cathedral, Llandaff , Cardiff (distance: 67 kilometres) is a 12th century structure with a landmark spire.
(1) Lord Callaghan was President of the University College of Swansea.
(2) Ralph A. Giffiths, Singleton Abbey , Swansea: Gomer Press, 1988.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is 286 kilometres from Swansea. There are also rail (from London Paddington railroad station) and bus links to Swansea. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.