The Decline of the Oyster Industry
by Carol Powell MA
Ed. Note: This is another of our ‘Vanished Landmarks’ and is a brief history of one of the bygone features of our locality, which live on only in the imagination and through stories passed down through the generations. If there was just one of our ‘vanished’ landmarks, which I would have loved to have seen above all others, it would be the Horsepool. I know I would have loved its vibrancy, skiffs and fishing boats coming and going, men mending nets and repairing boats — colourful boats and distinctive characters. Yes, I know life was hard and there was often poverty and disease and if I went time travelling, I would have to take my washing machine and central heating back with me, but I feel that here would have been the lively fascinating centre of our past sea-going community.
I have also written an article entitled The Changing Shoreline from 1870 until today
Since 17C, many Mumbles fishermen would lay up their craft all along the shore as far out as Southend (outalong) and in stormy weather, at the Horsepool, a natural haven. On a normal high tide, the sea would rise up over the sand-bank, across the Horsepool and reach as far as the side of the road, as shown here.
This 1870 view shows Horsepool and the shoreline at the roadside.
Horsepool House (The Marine Hotel in this photo and later The Village Inn) looked out over the Horsepool Harbour.
On 20 December 1734, a lease for three lives on this property had been granted to Philip Powell and his two daughters for an annual rent of ‘two shillings together with two fat pullets or one shilling in lieu thereof. Plus the sum of five shillings on the decease of every tenant dying in possession . . .’ By 1891 and known as the Marine Hotel, George Dowman was the Licensed Victualler and lived there with his wife, Hannah and their three daughters, a general servant and a barmaid. Nearby on the water’s edge were two fishermen’s cottages, one occupied at that time by William and Jane Jenkins and their son, Alfred and the other by Thomas Llewellyn and his wife, Martha. These, then, were just some of the people who lived near Horsepool.
However later in the 1890s, with the growth of Mumbles as a tourist mecca, the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company decided to extend the Mumbles Railway line from Oystermouth out across the Horsepool to the gardens at the Parade and thence to the other part of their development—the new Pier.
The soon-to-be-enclosed area became known as the Ballast Bank as the ballast from Cornish ships was used to fill the now-defunct Horsepool. The ships would then return to Cornwall loaded with Mumbles Limestone. A funfair was soon erected on the site, which today is occupied by the tennis courts, bowling green and Cornwall and Devon Places.
The face of the Mumbles foreshore was irrevocably changed and the mode of living of many families altered forever. The oyster industry was already in decline and the livings of its attendant industries of dredge- and sail-making, smithy and carpenter, suffered too.
As compensation to the fishermen, the Mumbles Railway Company constructed a wooden groyne (which can be seen in the middle of the photo) as shelter for them on the shore near the Antelope. Unfortunately, the Oystermouth U.D.C. refused to maintain it and when the weather did its worst, it soon fell into disrepair.
Some wooden stakes still remain visible, as do the remains of several oyster skiffs, which lie near the sea wall and are a small, but constant reminder of a once proud and hard working band of men.
These photos show the remains of several oyster skiffs (boats), which lie near the sea wall at Oystermouth
Other boats lie further out in the bay