Save All Saints Church – church linked with Copperopolis under threat
From pioneering education and improvements in workers’ housing to dramatic landslides the brutality of slavery and death by yellow fever in Cuba one particular Swansea church has so many stories to tell. Just when is a local historic building worth saving? Perhaps, when it’s up for sale, in danger of demolition and has been at the heart of the community for over 170 years.
The building in question is the beautifully situated and historically important All Saints Church in Kilvey, which sits high above the Tawe valley and yet can be easily missed by the teaming traffic below. It nestles in the greenery with fantastic views of the valley and towards the city centre.
A local group, SAS (Save All Saints) in Kilvey is campaigning to save the Church. The building was closed in December 2015 by The Church in Wales largely due to health and safety concerns. The group has recently received some good news. CADW, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service is to consider their request to give the building listed status. If approved, listed status will protect it from being demolished or radically changed by any future developer. The group hopes it can be adapted to provide a multi-purpose community centre, if funding can be raised in time to buy it.
The church has an important history with fascinating links to the globally important early copper industry of Swansea. The church was built in 1845 at the expense of Riversdale William Grenfell of Maesteg House, on land originally donated by John Freeman and Co to serve the local copper workers. The Grenfells regularly worshipped in All Saints Church and had front row pews reserved for them. The family were important in the area for a number of reasons. Most well known is that they provided mass employment in Swansea and overseas. Less well known is that they pursued other causes, notably providing workers housing and pioneering local education.
The Grenfells were one of the key families involved in the copper industry in Swansea. They were responsible for opening the Middle and Upper Bank Copper Works in 1803. Along with other family run businesses they transformed the area into what become known as Copperopolis, distributing over 90% of the worlds’ copper to 1806.
The Grenfells built and opened Kilvey Boys’ School for workers’ children in 1806. A small fee was deducted from workers’ pay. This was a revolutionary move at the time when there was no state education provision. They went on to build cottages housing some of their workers on the banks of Foxhole and Grenfell town in Pentrechwtyh.
By 1847 around 200 children attended the school that the Grenfells had built. It was run by Richard Gwynne and his wife Charlotte. Richard and Charlotte’s son, Llewellyn Henry Gwynne was born in 1863 and grew up in the schoolmaster’s cottage. He attended All Saints Kilvey and later began teaching at the Kilvey schools being ordained in 1886 and becoming vicar of Emmanuel Church, Nottingham from 1892 to 1899. Shortly afterwards he began an overseas career in British East Africa as a Christian missionary. He was appointed archdeacon for Sudan in 1905 and in 1908 was consecrated Bishop of Khartoum. In 1914 Bishop Gwynne went on to join the army as Chaplain ranked as Major General. In recognition of his work he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by the university of Glasgow. Bishop Gwynne founded the unity high School in Khartoum, Sudan, with the school being officially opened in 1928. Bishop Gwynne passed away as late as 1957 aged 94.
The Grenfell family commissioned a girls school built in 1860 which later became the church hall. Elizabeth Mary Grenfell was an archaeologist and benefactor of the area and was keenly involved in church activities actively helping in the schools alongside her sister Gertrude Frances. Sarah Bailey was a pioneer of women’s education playing a key role as headmistress at the school for over 50 years. She arrived in the 1840s by ship from Bristol at the request of Miss Grenfell and became choirmaster and organist at the church for 35 years.
“A strong conscientious, and altogether truth-loving woman, with true English doggedness and application, her work endures and lasts, while that of many a more brilliant and modern teacher is apt to crumble. Upon a firm foundation of religious truth, the up-building of character was Miss Bailey’s main object. To turn out truthful, honest, conscientious women was to her mind, the primary work of education, and to this end all her energies were bent.”
Sarah Bailey’s Obituary, The Cambrian, 17th July 1908
A window in the church bears the inscription (below) from Richard and Charlotte’s daughter and five sons.
“ In grateful and loving memory of Richard and Charlotte Gwyn who served their generation at Kilvey for 50 years”
The church, school and surrounding cottages were affected by a major landslide in 1894 which may in part have been brought on by heavy industrial pollution which had killed large areas of the vegetation that helped stabilize the sides of Kilvey Hill combined with torrential rainfall.
“ Never perhaps has the old familiar exaggeration of “thousands of cats” been more thoroughly exemplified than in the reports which have appeared all over the country about the disaster which occurred to the cottages on the side of Kilvey Hill on Saturday last. One Swansea gentleman staying in Manchester was surprised to read that an enormous waterspout had burst over Swansea, destroying a great deal of house property, and that hundreds of people were leaving the town in consequence, while the greatest consternation on all hands prevailed. The facts, revealed by a visit to Foxhole, are certainly serious enough without the intervention of any penny a lining bombast and untruth. There was in effect no waterspout. But there was a very remarkable deluge of rain, which acting under somewhat peculiar circumstances, and in a very peculiar district, caused a great deal of damage to property, but happily no loss of life. Kilvey Hill was once, we believe covered in verdure, but the thousand and one deleterious smokes from the works in the valley have long since killed every blade of grass which grew there, and thoroughly denuded the ground of it’s natural fertility. The slope of the hill at the place where the accident occurred is something like 45 degrees. This would be steep enough in all conscience if the surface were bound together by close and strong herbage. But, inasmuch as all the herbage has disappeared, the hillside is nothing but one great mass of soft, loose, brown earth and stones and boulders. The gases which kill the verdure seems to have had an action upon the ground itself, softening and honeycombing it to such an extent that it is disturbed by every wind and very shower however light. That cottages should have been built in the first place at the base of such a fearful slope is a matter of surprise; that they should have been allowed to continue in such a place, is surely a subject for wonder.”
“The Kilvey Hill Disaster” – from Evening Express 31st May 1894 courtesy of Wales Newspapers Online. (Note: There is some evidence, reported by local newspapers of the time, that there was a waterspout reported locally taking place over the sea.)
This incident illustrates that the story of the copper industry in Swansea had many dimensions.
Most of the copper ore was transported by ship from Cornwall. Coal was then used to help smelt the ore down to metal at the industrial premises on the banks of the River Tawe. When changes to law in the1830s allowed the import of copper from other countries, much richer ore deposits became accessible in Cuba, Chile and Australia. Swansea’s copper industry went global with ships bringing in copper ore from around the world.
By far the biggest supplier was Cuba. A small company, made up of British and local investors, reopened the Spanish mines at El Cobre in Cuba yet lacked the finance to make the most of the copper resources available. A new, much larger company, The Company of Proprietors of the Royal Copper Mines of Cobre, was set up by copper merchants and bankers, with addresses in London, and board members with expertise in shipping. It represented a takeover by British interests. The new company had strong links with the Welsh copper industry. The Grenfell family were among those who had joint interest in both the mines and copper smelting. Shares were issued, with most being held by Charles Pascoe Grenfell and the other directors. Charles Pascoe Grenfell’s family originally came from the far west of Cornwall and he brought with him access to the engineering and mining expertise of that county. Miners and engineers were recruited from Cornwall and sent to Cuba. Many of these recruits died from yellow fever. As a result there was a constant need to replenish the workforce. Miners from the Welsh valleys helped fill this need.
The bulk of the workforce, however, was made up of a mix of descendants of freed slaves, Spanish, Cubans and large numbers of actual slaves. In Cuba, with its sugar cane production in full swing, slavery continued unabated despite an Anglo-Spanish treaty outlawing it in 1817. Though the campaign for the abolition of slavery was at full strength in the mid 1830s, mining companies continued to use slaves. Even the enforcement of various Acts of Parliament made against slavery still allowed existing slaves to be used. The new British legislation merely prevented new slaves being taken on.
It is interesting to note that the founder of the Grenfell family fortunes, Pascoe Grenfell, was a close friend of William Wilberforce, the progressive campaigner for the abolition of slavery and spoke out against the slave trade as an MP. It is also curious to observe that just as the El Cobre mine redevelopment was happening Lewis Weston Dillwyn MP, a Swansea citizen, was pushing for the abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean empire. The new business model of joint stock companies allowed a separation of the oversight of business from business ownership and therefore enabled the horrors of slavery to continue hidden by a patina of city address respectability and men in suits.
The El Cobre mines themselves eventually became increasingly uneconomic. The final nail in the coffin for the mines was the Cuba Libre movement, a war of insurgents against the government of Cuba by colonial Spain. This movement stood up against slavery and made it impossible for the mine to continue operating. The mine company was wound up in 1869 shortly after the death of Charles Pascoe Grenfell in 1867. Supplies of copper from Chile and Australia allowed the Middle and Upper Bank Copperworks to continue business. Pascoe Grenfell and Sons Ltd, the company owning the works went into voluntary liquidation in 1892 after company mismanagement and a general decline in the copper with the sad loss of 600 jobs.
Against this fascinating backdrop All Saints has served it’s community for almost two centuries. Despite this, it now faces being sold off and potential demolition.
Save All Saints are actively seeking to preserve the church and pursuing alternative uses for the building as a community centre. Community use could give a new lease of life to this significant Swansea place of worship helping retain it’s longstanding link with the neighbourhood and city and ensuring it’s place in history is not forgotten.
St Thomas Church lower down the hill and in Port Tennant has recently been selected by for major investment to turn into a community centre. To date CADW have not listed All Saints Church in Kilvey and it is up for sale with the risk of demolition. Save All Saints continue with their campaign.
El Cobre: Cuban Ore and the Globalisation of Swansea Copper, 1830 -1870 Chris Evans, University of Glamorgan
Thanks to Hayley Gwilliam of Save All Saints for the information shared and Dr Chris Evans.
If you are interested in supporting the Save All Saints Campaign see below:
A petition campaigning for listed status to protect the building is here:
Save All Saints are also asking people to complete a survey about the use of the building: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/QRPPMNY
Look out too for leaflets publicizing the campaign and a Facebook group SAS Save All Saints.
SAS Save All Saints have a website www.allsaintskilvey.btck.co.uk
“Copperopolis: Landscapes of the Early Industrial Revolution Period in Swansea” by Stephen Hughes. Published by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. 2008 ISBN-13 978-1871184327
“Slave Wales: The Welsh and Atlantic Slavery 1660 – 1850” by Chris Evans. Published by University of Wales Press. 2010 ISBN-13:978-0708323038