Swansea High Street: new project to gather memories of its vibrant history

A new collaborative project has been launched to explore and celebrate the rich history of one of Swansea’s most famous streets, High Street.

Led by Swansea Music Art Digital and supported by Swansea University’s Connected Communities Programme and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Swansea Scenes oral history project will focus on uncovering and documenting the history of the communities who have used the social spaces of High Street since the 1800s - from music halls and Wales’ first cinema, to Wales’ first gay club and live music pubs. 

'Preserving stories'

The memories and materials gathered by the Swansea Scenes project will be detailed in a feature-length documentary film, a digital archive, and a virtual museum located at various places across the city, using the latest technology to provide spaces with digital content that is linked to a specific geographical area.

The project will feature some of High Street’s best-known buildings:

  • The Grade II-listed Palace Theatre was built in 1888 and hosted the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Morecambe and Wise, and was the site of Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins’s first stage appearance in 1960. The iconic building has had a chequered existence, being used as a theatre, cinema, makeshift morgue during the Blitz, a gay nightclub, bingo hall, and a dance club in the 90s. It was also the first venue in Swansea to show moving pictures. 
Palace Theatre - Swansea ‌The Palace Theatre remains derelict.
  • The Bush Hotel, a Grade II listed Georgian building, was used by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, after horse racing at Crymlyn Burrows. In 1804 investors met at The Bush to discuss establishing the Mumbles train, and it is said to be the last Swansea pub in which Dylan Thomas drank before leaving for the USA. The building has now been demolished.
  • The Elysium Building opened in 1914 as a cinema on one level and a club for the town's working men on another. It also contained a ballroom and a ladies reading room. The cinema closed in 1960, with the whole building eventually closing 1994. It remains derelict to this day.

 Elysium Building - Swansea

The Elysium Building closed its doors for the last time in 1994. 

Working in collaboration with the Connected Communities Project, Swansea Scenes will look to train a core team of 15 local volunteers in heritage, oral history, filmmaking and digital design and development. 

Kate Spiller, Connected Communities Project, said: “As of yet the oral history of the culture of High Street is unrecorded. This project will change that by conducting a range of events, workshops and multimedia productions aimed at unearthing and preserving High Street’s forgotten past, with an archive preserving stories, photos and music from its rich cultural past”.

Memories of local people who had connections with Swansea’s High Street will be central to the research.

The Venom

Pictured: The Venom at the Coach House 1980. Original photo by Walt Davison, manipulated by Steve Mitchell.

'Significant impact'

Stuart Summer, lead of the Swansea Scenes project explains: “So much of our local history is woven into people’s reminiscences and experiences. This project gives us the chance to tell the story of Swansea’s High Street and the significant impact it’s had on the communities who had strong connections with the area - LGBT, punk, rock, indie, rave, dance and so many more. We want to hear about their memories and see any photos or materials they may have.

“By illustrating the use of the area for different and disparate communities, we hope to provide a further and lasting insight into the events and activities which went on during the life of the street and help provide a better interpretation of the history and importance of this rapidly changing street to the wider community in south Wales and beyond”.

The Swansea Scenes project forms part of the Connected Communities Programme that researches and celebrates the history of communities across the Swansea Valley, and has been developed by the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH) and the history department at Swansea University. 

If you would like to contribute to the Swansea Scenes project, contact Kate Spiller: k.spiller@swansea.ac.uk / 01792 606587