Swansea's Rise and Fall as Capital of Wales

Posted on 13 January 2012

Intelligent Town: An Urban History of Swansea, 1780-1855 by Louise Miskell

A new study published by the University of Wales Press examines Swansea’s historic rise to being regarded as the “metropolis of Wales”, and dissects how the city would come to lose this status.

Intelligent Town: An Urban History of Swansea, 1780-1855 by Louise Miskell is the first full-length study of Swansea’s urban development from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century.

The book tells the little known story of how Swansea gained an unrivalled position of influence as an urban centre, which led it briefly to claim to be Wales’s capital, and how it then lost this status in the face of rapid urban development elsewhere in Wales.

The history of Swansea's early 19th-century coming-of-age is traced through its participant individuals and institutions.

From wealthy industrialist employers to gentlemen scientists and from banking establishments to assembly rooms and libraries, Swansea's growing reputation as a prosperous, flourishing and "intelligent" town is explored.

With its combined functions as a metal smelting town, bathing resort, port and cultural centre, its urban character was arguably unique.

But in its experience of urbanisation it shared much in common with towns and cities the length and breadth of Britain.

The question of how to maintain health, order and safety in an environment undergoing demographic and industrial growth - while, at the same time, providing the facilities and institutions befitting a place of growing importance - was the key preoccupation of leading townsmen in Swansea and elsewhere in the 1780-1855 period.

These all important decades in Swansea's urban history, long obscured from view by the legacy of copper smoke and post-industrial dereliction, provide an important new perspective on the history of modern Wales in which, traditionally, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and even Bristol have been better known as towns of influence in Welsh urban life.

Dr Louise Miskell is a lecturer in history at Swansea University and is the author of Victorian Dundee.


Notes to Editors:

9780708325100 Intelligent Town £24.99 (PB) Author: Louise Miskell

Review excerpts: 

“This is a marvellous book, lucid, lively and well written which shifts the focus of Welsh history in the early nineteenth-century away from the well-ploughed path to Merthyr and engages with a civic place in which science and learning were valued. It asks new questions not simply about Swansea but also about the whole industrial and urban experience of Wales in the early nineteenth century.” – Neil Evans, Coleg Harlech

“…a consistently absorbing account of Swansea’s own mini-Enlightenment. It is a groundbreaking and challenging model for the further analysis of the formative influence of such elites elsewhere in Wales.”—Nigel Jenkins, Planet, Issue 181

"This is an admirable 'urban history', beautifully written throughout, and fascinating because it turns the spotlight on ignored and neglected features of our history, the urban middle classes." - Prys Morgan, Morgannwg, Volume L 2006

For more information on the University of Wales Press visit or to place an order: www.uwp.co.uk  

For press and media information, please contact Tom Barrett, Communications Officer, University of Wales: t.barrett@wales.ac.uk 02920 376991


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