This week, as I was taking my daily constitutional around Mumbles I saw the most amazing sight. It actually made me stop and rub my eyes to see if I was imagining things. No, it wasn’t seeing people walking around shopping in Marks and Spencer’s in Dry Robes. Shocking though that might be they’ve been doing that for some time. No, as I stared at the Mumbles lighthouse I saw what looked like the London Eye.
I reacted in the way any normal person would. I immediately took a picture and posted it on my socials asking was I seeing things. The response was almost immediate. Shock, even some horror. Some delighted others not so. There’s nothing quite like unexpected change to get people reacting.
What I thought was…whoever came up with the idea of The Mumbles Eye is a marketing genius.
Obviously Mumbles has evolved over the last century. With such amazing access to the natural beauty of Gower right on their doorstep the inhabitants are maybe a little protective of their home village. People live and work in the village, or travel to Swansea or further afield on a daily basis. Maybe what they forget is that in the past Mumbles has been very much a village built on tourist attractions.
The original railway was built to transport limestone from the Mumbles Quarries to the docks. Of course some enterprising person thought it a good idea to add people to the limestone cargoes and so was built the world’s first passenger railway.
Then the human traffic started travelling in the opposite direction.
Whilst heavy industry destroyed much of the natural wildlife in the lower Swansea Valley it did provide relatively good wages for those who survived the dust and smoke and dirt. It soon became the fashionable way to spend a day off…a trip to the Mumbles.
In 1889 an Act of Parliament incorporated the Mumbles Railway and Pier Company. By the 1900’s agreements were in place for a variety of different amusements including an early cinema, sweet shops, a photographer’s studio and a ‘Fancy Dealer’s Shop’. They even had a ‘Pierrot Troop’ concert party which would appear every day…except Sunday!
The Pier Hotel included a dance hall which was always popular. Surprisingly, it became especially busy during World War 2. With the influx of service men from America and munitions workers arriving in the area that meant there were lots of new people with money looking for entertainment. A report form an Inspector at the time said…
‘People have gone crazy on dancing, drinking and any form of amusement during the war’.
As I grew up some way from the sea in Brynhyfryd a trip to the Mumbles was always a treat. My dad was fascinated by the Mumbles lighthouse and as an artist he would sit in the Bracelet Bay carpark on a summer’s afternoon for hours. As he sketched, we played on the tiny patches of sand below until the tide came in. On the way home we would ask for Ice Cream from Joe’s to round off the afternoon.
On summer evenings we would drive down to see the Mumbles illuminations. If my memory serves me well, high above where Verdi’s now sits there were all sorts of coloured lights. It wasn’t exactly Blackpool but in my mind’s eye I can still see the wonderful sight of those coloured rocks. As Joe’s would be closed by then we would change our demand on the way home from ice cream to chips from Dick Barton’s. Small pie and chips in newspaper for a small boy please.
For a number of years in the late Twentieth Century Mumbles appeared to be in terminal decline. The old Victorian themed festivals seemed to be losing their appeal and the annual Son et Lumiere at Oystermouth Castle was always subject to the vagaries of the Welsh weather.
In recent years the tide has turned. The old Tivoli has been replaced by a strip of restaurants and a hotel which really has the feel of a European holiday resort…when the sun shines…obvs!!!
Underhill Park has been transformed with a 4G pitch and changing room Hub that really does boast some of the best facilities especially if you have children.
If I’m being honest the front itself is a bit untidy at the moment. For the last year or so there’s been lots of work being done to reinforce the sea walls. I think what we might have forgotten is that where Oyster Wharf now stand the sea once ruled. It was only when building the railway that the land was reclaimed and the sea defences built. It was probably high time for the walls to receive some TLC. Again, on the positive note if you have grandchildren who love diggers, and which grand parent doesn’t, a trip to the front always has something new to see.
So where does the Mumbles Eye leave us. Is this the start of a whole series of new Fun Fair style attractions? This is where I have to share a strange and odd story. I had always in my mind remembered an old ‘Rollercoaster’ somewhere near where the old tennis courts and bowling green now sit. If I close my eyes I can see it on my right as we drove home along the Mumbles Road.
A few years ago I was chatting to an old friend, sadly no longer with us. Grafton Maggs loved a chat and as a man who had spent most of his life in the village he knew everything there was to know about its history. I asked him was I right in thinking there had once been such an attraction in Mumbles. He said I was right. Mumbles was once the home of ‘The Figure Eight Railway and Fun fair.’ It had been built in the 1890’s and had been greatly used.
I was delighted that I had been proved right. The only problem was that Grafton told me the Figure Eight Roller-coaster had been moved to somewhere like Barry in the 1920s!!
Maybe that’s why when I saw the Mumbles Eye going up earlier this week I wanted to make sure I was really seeing things.
So I decided I would pop down and get a close up view. Boy it looks amazing. I think they start taking bookings from this weekend but whether you take a ride or just go to see it, it will be worth the trip.
If you go during the daytime you can get ice cream on the way home. If you go in the dark and see it all lit up, well pie and chips is still very much on the menu.