In 1801 the population of Cardiff, Wales, was 1,860. Now it’s Wales capital city and the metro area has about half a million people. Wales only other urban area is Swansea. Its population is about half of Cardiff’s. It was granted city status by the current Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth’s son Charles, in 1969. Both cities are worth visiting although you won’t hear much Welsh spoken in either place.
Ruth and I spent far too much time on the Gower Peninsula west of Swansea, so we only had time for one city attraction. I opted for the National Waterfront Museum on the Swansea Marina expecting it to be about this city’s venerable shipping industry, which was impressively big in the the 19th century when coal was king and “the finest power source of the steam era”. It was an interesting museum and free but not about Swansea’s waterfront. It was about the past 300 years of Welsh industry and innovation and was officially opened in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth as part of a family of 7 museums around this country within a country that tell its work story. Three others are the National Slate Museum in Llanberis, the Big Pit: National Coal Museum at Blaenafon, and the National Wool Museum in Dre-Fach Felindre.
I admired the National Waterfront Museum’s candor. Its signage reported, “Thousands of people once worked in the mining, quarrying, and manufacturing industries in Wales.” It celebrated Sir Pryce Pryce Jones, a pioneer of the mail order industry who died in 1920, and said honestly that “Oil overtook coal as the main source of energy” in the mid 1950s and that the last recession of the 20th century devastated Wales. Its 15 themed galleries were mostly about past glory. One brochure challenged visitors to “Discover how Wales was a world leader in the production of metals throughout the Industrial Revolution.” I only found 3 displays about currently viable Welsh industries: Corgi toys, a Royal Mint, and Spectrum. Spectrum Technologies in Bridgend is a leader in laser wire and UV cable marking technology, and it customers include Airbus, Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation, and Boeing. While we were in Wales, Ford announced the closing of its Bridgend engine plant in 2020 with the loss of 1,700 jobs.
This museum experience begins with 2 red vehicles. The one above was once a Danish 3-wheeler and is called the Welsh Mouse. It received a certificate from Shell for getting 568 mpg. The one below was once manufactured in Wales. A lot of children apparently visit this museum. The art they leave behind is mostly about how beautiful Wales is, not its powerful economy.
PS The monoplane above in the National Waterfront Museum dates from the early 20th century and is considered one of the oldest British aircraft in existence.