An archival collection documenting the history of Gower has been excitedly uncovered by Archives Assistant (and Gower native!) Sarah Thompson. The Chapman collection offers a unique insight into Gower through time.
Spanning over half a century (1900-1955), the Chapman collection was created by the Antiquarian Donald Le Cronier Chapman. Chapman was a Lloyd’s agent for west Gower and a member of the Royal Institution of South Wales (RISW) and the Gower Society. His collection comprises material relating to Gower and includes scrapbooks of handwritten notes, press cuttings, topographical notes, Gower show pamphlets, watercolors, postcards, photographs and ephemera. Notably Chapman’s scrapbooks are very similar to the “commonplace books” of earlier centuries, of which the Richard Burton Archives has examples of within the Wishart and Dillwyn collections.
The collection includes valuable notes on ships spotted off the coast of Gower, tide times, and information on shipwrecks, accidents and accounts of those who survived them. The following is an account of the Port Eynon lifeboat tragedy, where on the 1st January 1916 three of the crew (William Gibbs, William Eynon and George Harry) lost their lives when the lifeboat vessel Janet capsized twice after assisting the S.S. Dunvegan.
Evidence of Gower’s rich archaeological past is also included in the collection, with notes written by fellow RISW member Audrey Williams, on the excavations at the Knave Promontory Fort in Mewslade (1939) and the burches (burial mounds) on Fairwood Common.
In addition, postcards, photographs and watercolors form a rich historical display of the Gower landscape.
In the years preceding the outbreak of World War II, Gower was largely a region of small farming communities.
A big highlight of the farming calendar was the Gower Agricultural Show at the Penrice Estate. This Gower Show advert shows that the 30th Annual Gower Show took place on Thursday 31st August 1939, just one day before the outbreak of World War II on the 1st September.
Although Gower escaped the bombardment that the city endured during the Swansea Blitz, the War impacted the local communities of Gower in many other ways. Gower welcomed children evacuated from the cities, sections of local roads were destroyed in case of an enemy invasion, drift mines floated along the coast, and beaches were closed. British Allied forces were billeted at large houses of Gower, such as Stouthall in Knelston. Much of the countryside and the beaches were also used as training grounds in preparation for the D-Day landings.
Astonishingly, in 1940 enemy aircraft dropped, near Fairwood Airport, bundles of copies of Hitler’s speech before the Reichstag. This image shows children Dilys and Gwyneth Jones and their friend Mary Moffatt with the Nazi propaganda.
The Chapman collection offers a fascinating exploration of Gower through time: its people, its traditions, and its very landscape. To study the collection is to gain an insight into the lives of past generations, and of Gower customs and sayings that might have died out in the post-war era. It is impossible to display all the gems this collection has to offer in this blog, but if it has piqued your interest, you can visit the Archives to find out more.