At 'White Rock', a specific area of the wider industrial complex, development of the industry moved so fast that experts couldn't be confident that existing maps and plans from the time were accurate. With the entire site soon to be developed into a heritage park, an opportunity existed for Time Team to help the local authorities solve a few mysteries.
Having examined the documents, Francis wasted no time in getting to grips with a huge structure known as the 'workhouse'. This building contained a number of furnaces that burnt copper ore to release the precious metal - a process known as smelting. Francis tasked Phil with finding the furnaces. Locating these would allow the team to get an idea of where they were within the wider complex and then compare results from the excavation to the plans and maps produced by the copper magnates 200 years ago.
A second site; 'Hafod', now under a car park, became our second target. This site went out of use in the 1980s so a danger existed that the 19th century structures we were after could be covered by later buildings. Again, our aim was to prove or disprove the mapping evidence, which suggested a large industrial building on the site - had it survived?
Phil's first trench at 'White Rock' was proving fairly complicated. Different types of brickwork and plenty of evidence of rebuilds suggested the structure had been altered substantially over time. Did this mean it had changed its use? And still no sign of the elusive furnaces we were looking for. Then Phil had struck gold - well, copper. The burnt floor of what Phil thought should be a furnace began to reveal itself, complete with 'slag'; the remnants of the processes that took place here. But the dates were wrong. Brick buildings meant Victorian structures. Francis wanted to see furnace structures from the origins of this site and decided to extend the trench to find them.
Meanwhile, John had been busy. His geophysical survey team had been hard at work across the more open areas of the 'Hafod' site, and the results were intriguing. There was evidence of heavy firing that could indicate furnaces at our second site. It was time to get the big yellow trowel in! This freed up the team to cover even more of the site in the hope of identifying the mysterious 'Manilla house', where so called 'manilla bracelets' were produced. These were associated with the slave trade; a darker part of the industrial history of this area
At 'Hafod' the team were quietly having some success. A large area of brickwork showed evidence of intense heat with plenty of copper ore found by Tracey and Raksha. This placed the building at the end of the process; a smelting kiln. Evidence for earlier buildings was scant, but we'd answered our questions about half of the site by confirming the 18th and 19th century structures shown by mapping in the area.
Meanwhile, the search for the Manilla house was proving more difficult. Geophysical survey results were being obscured by the remnants of large scale bulldozing of the site in the 1960s, but Francis was not discouraged. Using good old-fashioned methods of mapping and aerial photographs, the team agreed the most likely location for the building, and the location of the trench going in. Map evidence labelled the building as the 'Manilla House and Pay Office'... but plenty of work remained to be done to prove we were in the right place. After plenty of graft, Matt eventually revealed the Manilla House just where we had hoped it would be.
Back at Phil's trench we still had no date for the features in his ever-expanding trench. Further rooms were revealing themselves but these were full of the remains of 19th century work. Where were the earlier structures? With more careful excavation it soon became clear that Phil had found a 19th century 'calcine' furnace. This giant building was a great surprise! It wasn't for copper, but was designed to remove impurities from the lead, an industry which came to replace copper as the site dwindled in importance.
Time Team's work at 'White Rock' and 'Hafod' played an important role in demonstrating the importance of the site on a local, national and international scale, and has shown that the site is still well preserved.
Our work will be written up, and contribute to the interpretation of the site for future generations. Now, the importance of early industry in Swansea will never be forgotten.