The Project

A thriving port, a marcher base for the lords of Gower, and a multi-cultural urban community, Swansea was an important centre in the Middle Ages, comparable with many other historic European towns. Yet the medieval legacy of Swansea is almost invisible today. Wartime bombing and later re-development of the city centre, in particular, have almost completely obscured the traces of the medieval urban lay-out and its buildings. Currently, urban regeneration is fostering interest in Swansea's medieval heritage, driven by rescue archaeological work in the city and ongoing excavation / conservation projects on Swansea Castle. This project aims to further our understanding of medieval Swansea, to forge connections between the modern city and its medieval antecedent, and through digital mapping and textual analysis to reveal how medieval individuals from different cultural and ethnic communities understood and represented their town.

A unique research resource exists for medieval Swansea in the form of a fourteenth-century Vatican Library manuscript, which brings together witness testimonies describing the hanging of the Welshman 'William Cragh' by the lord of Gower in 1290. This project aims to exploit the rich potential of this source to extend our understanding of the medieval town, by connecting it with GIS mapping and 3D digital visualisation, reconstructing the literal perspectives experienced by the medieval witnesses within the city, and exploring the diverse identities and perceptions of urban spaces which are represented in the text.

The project aims to:

  1. Create a hybrid digital resource which combines an interactive map of the town c.1300, showing its principal topographical and landscape features, with an electronic edition of the fourteenth-century witness testimonies of the hanging in Swansea of the Welshman 'William Cragh' by William de Briouze, lord of Gower.
  2. Draw on these new, digitised primary resources to explore questions of place and perspective by reconstructing the multiple vantage-points on the town (literal as well as metaphorical) represented by the medieval witness statements. These will then show the different significations attached to locations within the town by different social and ethnic groups (including Anglo-Norman and Welsh; lay and religious; male and female; lord, burgess and outlaw).
  3. Develop conceptual and methodological comparisons, building upon the project team's previous research on place and identity in frontier cultures, including work on Anglo-Norman towns in Wales and, especially, our Mapping Medieval Chester and Discover Medieval Chester projects.
  4. Make a significant contribution to the local community and tourism in South Wales, by promoting the untapped cultural and economic asset of Swansea's medieval past. The High Street / Castle area of Swansea is currently targeted for regeneration, and the Council aspires to develop a distinct 'Castle Quarter'. This project will provide a new perspective on the Castle site by re-situating it within the medieval city. Interpretation and knowledge transfer work will include material on Swansea's culturally-diverse medieval past and downloadable multi-media resources for visitors to the city. Our digital map will also form the basis of a series of pavement markers, allowing visitors to view previously invisible features and locations within the medieval urban landscape.
  5. Exploit the timeliness of this research and the partnerships we have established in order to achieve greater impact and value. Working with the City and County of Swansea and the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, we are able to draw on additional resources and expertise, as well as matched funding. The intersection of our research with current renewal and development projects in the city will create a powerful 'multiplier effect' and enhance its profile.

Project outputs include:

  • Website with digital resources for the study of medieval Swansea, including an interactive digital atlas of Swansea c.1300, new edition and translation of the witness depositions relating to the hanging of William Cragh (MS Vat. Lat. 4015) and other selected medieval documents, visualisations of the medieval town and witness routes / sightlines, interactive tour facilities and a game.
  • Special issue of the Journal of Medieval History (2015), with articles from the project team as well as contributions from other leading scholars (Daniel Power, Helen Fulton, Susan Ridyard and Jeremy Ashbee).
  • Series of pavement markers in Swansea, showing locations in the medieval town (produced in partnership with the City and County of Swansea). These also link to the digital tours online.
  • Exhibition at Swansea Museum, June - September 2014, with associated events and activities.
  • Traditional paper tour leaflet for local people and visitors to Swansea.