On a sunny August afternoon last year, members of the Ospreys squad took part in an archaeological dig close to the Liberty Stadium where they found out about the rich and colourful history of the area the region calls home.
Established way back in 1737, White Rock was one of a string of factories that helped to place Swansea at the centre of the industrial revolution in the early to mid 18th century. As Chris Evans, Professor of History at the University of Glamorgan, explained last year when nominating the site as one of the ‘100 places that made Britain’ for BBC History:
"Wales as a whole by 1820 accounted for over 50 per cent of the world output of smelted copper, and the Swansea district accounted for pretty much all of that."
Swansea quickly became known as ‘Copperopolis’ as it went from being a small seaside town to a sprawling centre of industry. Today, there are few signs of the industry remaining, the environmental damage caused cleaned up and the £27 million Liberty Stadium now nestling on the banks of the River Tawe, but as the players found out last summer, if you dig deep enough, there’s still plenty of history to be found.
One of the players who took part in the dig, Dan Biggar, said that their day on-site was a fascinating one:
“It’s amazing to think that Swansea was once such an influential city, producing half of the world’s copper and really driving industry. Even more amazing is that there is so little of our history remaining.
“How many times have we as players passed White Rock without really having a clue how important that site is, and what influence the area had on the world. Yet when we were part of the dig, it didn’t take long to uncover things that really helped us understand local history and what this region is about.”
Time Team: Swansea
“A Copper Bottomed Dig”
Two hundred years ago, Swansea was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, if not the world. The source of those riches was neither the coal nor the steel recently associated with the area, but copper.
The Welsh port city once led the world in copper smelting, but today there's almost nothing to be seen of this unique heritage. So Tony Robinson and the Team investigate one of the very first copper works, White Rock.
Records show that its Great Workhouse housed as many as 20 furnaces, right by the River Tawe, and also that copper production once devastated this landscape, leeching deadly toxins into the ground and sending countless workers to an early grave.
The poisonous fumes blighted the landscape, and the valley was described as akin to Dante's Inferno, with smoke, noise and pollution. It's a complete contrast to what can be seen there today. Digging just down-river from the Liberty Stadium, the archaeologists strip turf and shift tonnes of muck – aided by some serious muscle power in the shape of The Ospreys. Over three days they reveal the traces of this once-great industry and rediscover the story of the men who worked in it.
Channel 4, Sunday 26thFebruary at 5.20pm.