History, heritage, and urban regeneration: the global and local worlds of Welsh copper

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Swansea copper barques sailed the world to bring ore from Valparaiso, Santiago de Cuba, or Adelaide, resulting in large quantities of copper goods being exported from South Wales to Asia and the Atlantic region. The project will explore this process and also the profound local economic, social, and cultural impacts of this unique form of industrialisation which left behind a devastated landscape as well as rich industrial archaeological sites of world significance scattered across the Lower Swansea and Neath valleys.

History, heritage, and urban regeneration: the global and local worlds of Welsh copper, an ESRC-funded research project, will address the troubled heritage of this once powerful Welsh industrial sector.

Drawing on cutting edge research and new technologies designed to bring the industrial past to life, the project is expected to appeal to a wide public audience, community groups and learners of all ages. A major exhibition is to be held at the National Waterfront Museum in 2011 followed by a travelling exhibition throughout Wales; a ‘virtual’ exhibition with 3-D animations to be hosted on partners’ websites; a public policy forum on heritage and urban regeneration; a one-day academic conference; the publication of a major study on the development of Welsh copper industry; and the production of a large volume of new heritage and educational materials.

Professor Huw Bowen (Department of History and Classics, University of Swansea), the project leader, welcomed the £95,000 ESRC award: “We are delighted to win this support from the ESRC. The grant enables us to explore the global dimensions of the development of the copper Welsh industry for the first time.

“Most importantly, through exhibitions, a programme of digitisation, and the use of advanced visual technology we will be able to throw light on the region’s past in new and exciting ways.

“It is especially fitting that the project begins next year as 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Hafod copper works. In terms of industrial heritage, the site of these works is now of enormous international importance, and we hope that the project will help to raise public awareness of this.”

Chris Evans, the Glamorgan partner in the project, added: “Copper is often the forgotten element in the history of modern Wales, but in its heyday it was one of the most outward-looking sectors of the Welsh economy – technologically advanced and serving markets that were genuinely global. It’s appropriate that we have such an innovative research programme to study its heritage.”