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Visiting the former Central Library, Alexandra Road, Swansea, Wales: part of the University of Wales Trinity St David

Updated on February 2, 2015
Flag of Wales
Flag of Wales | Source
Alexandra Road campus (1890s)
Alexandra Road campus (1890s) | Source
Swansea Library (Recreated) Looking northeast up Alexandra Street towards the railway station, the library can be seen on the right.
Swansea Library (Recreated) Looking northeast up Alexandra Street towards the railway station, the library can be seen on the right. | Source
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone | Source

Opened by a hugely popular Gladstone

Today, the former Swansea Central Library on Alexandra Road forms part of the Swansea (Welsh: Abertawe) campus of the University of Wales Trinity St. David.

The building dates from 1887, its design the work of Henry Holtom and is executed in Classical Italian style. Typically there is variation in the window pediment patterns, with rounded shapes informing the ground floor windows, while the first floor window pediments are triangular. Another feature is a 7.6 metre dome which used to be the roof of the Central Library reading room.

The former Central Library, which closed at this venue in 2007 (1), previously had a domed tower above its main entrance on Alexandra Road, but this did not survive. I have supplied a photo of the building, dating from the 1890s, which shows this feature.

A historical association of the building is that it was opened in 1887 by William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898). As Liberal leader a hugely popular figure in Wales (2), who served several terms as Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gladstone was often invited to preside at public functions in Wales. On this occasion, huge crowds attended his public appearance in the borough. Historian Ralph Griffiths writes:

"It was Swansea's largest and best orchestrated political jamboree in modern times. The ostensible, formal purpose of the visit was to admit Gladstone as a Freeman of Swansea and for the Grand Old Man to open he new building in Alexandra Road which housed a free public library, an art gallery and school of art. .. The most spectacular event during the visit took place on Saturday, 4 June, which was declared a public holiday locally.. .Massed homage was paid to Gladstone by tens of thousands who marched from the town to listen to the great man—a large leek in is button-hole— hour-long speech which (The Cambrian reported politely) showed a 'wonderful mastery of circumlocutory eloquence'. His audience responded with prolonged applause and occasional cries of 'Home Rule for Wales'. Henry Hussey made a note of the time it took for the crowds of Liberals, nonconformists, public figures and enthusiastic Welsh men and women to pass Mr. Gladstone as he stood patiently..: 4 hours 25 minutes."(3)

Today the restored Old Central Library building houses a centre for design excellence.

Alexandra Road, Swansea, has in recent years been undergoing a program of regeneration. Opposite the former Central Library building is the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery, a facility which has recently been refurbished.

January 27, 2015


(1) Swansea's new Central Library is located in the city's Civic Centre.

(2) Interestingly, in 1906, Wales returned not a single non-Liberal Member of Parliament in the general election held that year. The popularity of this leader of Liberalism clearly extended also over the Atlantic; Canadians familiar with the Toronto area may recall the Gladstone Hotel (dating from 1888) and Gladstone Avenue in that city. However, Canada has probably not witnessed such scenes of adulation for an elected politician — not even when John Diefenbaker was at his most popular — as did Swansea during his 1887 visit there.

(3) Ralph A. Giffiths, Singleton Abbey and the Vivians of Swansea, Swansea: Gomer Press, 1988, p. p. 47-48.

Map location of Swansea, Wales
Map location of Swansea, Wales | Source

Also worth seeing

Swansea Castle, in Downtown Swansea dates from the 12th century; visible remains date from the late 13th or early 14th century.

Oystermouth Castle, Mumbles, Swansea 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.

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.


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.


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