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Visiting the Swiss Cottage, Singleton Park, Swansea, Wales: dating from 1826, designed by Peter F. Robinson
Formerly the home of a dame school in the 1820s
This colourful structure, painted in red, white and blue, is known as the Swiss Cottage, and is located in Singleton Park (Welsh: Parc Singleton), in Swansea (Welsh: Abertawe), Glamorgan (Welsh: Morgannwg). It dates from 1826, the work of architect Peter. F. Robinson. Interestingly, one of Architect Robinson's other works is the Swiss Cottage at Regent's Park, London (1).
Features of this two storey building include a conspicuous apex of an overhanging roof, scalloped barge boards, and a slate roof.
Sarah Vivian, of the prominent Vivian family, to whom Singleton Park once belongs, used the Swiss Cottage as a Dame School in the 1820s (2). Mrs. Vivian, wife of local industrialist John Henry Vivian who was known to compel his workers to fulfill 24-hour shifts, must have come across as somewhat severe; historian Ralph A. Griffiths writes:
'Sarah bore her devoted husband nine children in 22 years — and then survived him by 30 years more. Known for her sharp tongue, she presided over Singleton (i.e., their home at nearby Singleton Abbey) in the same masterful way as her husband presided over his works — much to the chagrin of her sons.' (3)
In addition to Sarah Vivian's involvement with the dame school at the Swiss Cottage, the Vivians used their wealth to found and support schools at Hafod for their workers' children.
Severely damaged by a fire in 2010, the Swiss Cottage was painstakingly restored by 2014 (4), under the auspices of Cadw, the Welsh government's heritage body.
It may be thought that mountainous Wales is exactly the sort of place where a Swiss-style cottage would blend in. Well, much of Wales is indeed mountainous, but Swansea, though overlooked by some hills, can hardly so be described. But P. F. Robinson's structure fits in well to Singleton Park, in any case!
In recent years there was some controversy about the spelling of a German inscription on the wall of the Collage, following a restoration; efforts were subsequently made to restore the correct spellings! (5)
Swansea City Council was recently considering offering the Swiss Cottage for commercial use, or making it available for community functions.
February 3, 2015
(1) Other works by Architect Robinson include: Singleton Abbey, Sketty Hall (both in Singleton Park); Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London (demolished in 1905); properties in Cadogan Square and Clarendon Place, London. A somewhat melancholy footnote to the career of Peter F. Robinson is that he died in self-imposed exile at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, owing to financial difficulties.
(2) A dame school was essentially a private, elementary school usually taught by women. When in 1870 schooling became compulsory in England and Wales, dame schools had become less common. Establishments patronized by the daughters of upper class and affluent families were often known as 'finishing schools'.
(3) Ralph A. Giffiths, Singleton Abbey and the Vivians of Swansea, Swansea: Gomer Press, 1988, p. 37. The Vivians were a family of local industrialists, who were socially prominent; John Henry and Sarah Vivian's son Henry Hussey Vivian was to become the 1st Lord Swansea in 1893; a grandson was Admiral Algernon Walker-Heneage-Vivian.
(4) See also: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-28012690
(5) See also: http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/Black-mark-German-bungling-Swansea-Council-chiefs/story-22965685-detail/story.html
Also worth seeing
In Swansea itself, the nearby Singleton Abbey belongs to Swansea University; Sketty Parish Church; Swansea Castle, in the Downtown area, dates from the 12th century; visible remains date from the late 13th or early 14th century; the Guildhall and the Brangwyn Hall form a fine, Neo-Classical and Art Deco complex; Oystermouth Castle, Mumbles, is a ruined Norman structure dating from the 11h century, situated near the scenic Gower Peninsula.
Afan Forest Park, Visitor Centre and South Wales Miners Museum (distance: approx. 27 kilometres) contains many, scenic walks, with copious local information.
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. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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