Hafod copper centre and distillery plan gets funding boost

Copper could soon be back at the heart of Swansea, thanks to work by Swansea University historians, in collaboration with Swansea Council and Penderyn Whisky.

A proposal to develop a visitor centre and a whisky distillery at the historic Hafod copper works site has been given a boost by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has given a first-round pass for a £3.75m funding bid that could see Penderyn expand their business into the city.  

Plans include the restoration of the site’s former powerhouse building and its transformation into a working whisky distillery. Penderyn, based in Hirwaun, has also pledged a £4.2m investment for the plans, which could attract about 100,000 visitors on tours of the whisky-making facilities.

Copper-based equipment would be used during the whisky-making process in celebration of the site’s former status as a capital of the world’s copper industry in the 19th century.

The scheme would build on preservation and interpretation work already under way as part of the Hafod regeneration project being led by Swansea University and Swansea Council.

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Picture:  the Hafod works on the banks of the river Tawe, opposite the Liberty Stadium: the area was the heart of the global copper industry

By 1851 Wales had become the world’s first industrial nation and the copper industry was at its heart. The Lower Swansea Valley was the crucible of this global copper Industry.

Swansea University has developed a programme of research, community engagement and heritage led regeneration to celebrate this important industry, understand how it shaped the city and explore how this heritage can contribute to the future development of the city.

The project is led by Professor Huw Bowen, a leading expert on the economic, imperial, and maritime history of Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Picture:  ‌plaque in the engine house in the Hafod works, marked "V&S" for Vivian and Sons

Professor John Spurr, head of the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University, said:

“This wonderful news shows how Swansea University research is making a positive difference in our city.  

‌The project as a whole puts Swansea’s illustrious copper heritage in the spotlight.  Professor Huw Bowen and his team are blazing a trail with this work, and the proposed new Visitor Centre would be a home for our work in heritage research, teaching, and public engagement.  

The College of Arts and Humanities at the University provided the start-up funding for this project.  We have worked with the City and County of Swansea to make it happen, serving as a great example of community engagement, arts activity, and collaboration.” 

Hafod Copperworks 1957Picture: Hafod copper works in the 1950s

Professor Huw Bowen of Swansea University underlined the importance of Hafod and copper:

“Hafod is one of the most important industrial heritage sites in Britain.  We’re delighted to be taking the next step in this exciting and ambitious project which will provide an opportunity for more people to learn about Swansea’s leading role in the industrial revolution.

We tend to think that the history of Wales is written in coal dust and iron and steel. In fact it is copper that lies at the heart of Wales’s development as an industrial nation.

Because of its copper production, Swansea’s impact on the development of the world economy can’t be understated. This is why we’re also looking, through the project, to generate links with places like Chile, Cuba and South Australia which supplied large quantities of ore to the smelting works in Swansea.”

Find out more about the Hafod project

Watch:  short film about the Hafod project:  "We want to put copper back in our collective past, to move the city forward."

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said:

“The Hafod Morfa Copperworks site and the River Tawe have both played a key role in Swansea’s history, but they’ve been dormant and underused for some time. This plan, with the iconic Penderyn international brand at its heart, will regenerate the site and reinvigorate the riverfront, looking to the future while celebrating our rich heritage.

Building on the conservation work already done on site, this scheme will also attract many thousands of visitors, open up jobs and further improve a local tourism industry that’s now worth more than £400m a year to Swansea’s economy.

We want the Tawe to be at the heart of Swansea life once again, with restaurants and homes overlooking the river, rowers taking to the water and boats sailing back and forth to the city centre. This is why we’ll now start work on a more detailed bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to secure the grant funding, which could help attract even more investment in future.”

Stephen Davies, Managing Director at Penderyn, said:

“This is an exciting opportunity to expand the business, and also to celebrate the copper heritage in Swansea with our premium Welsh brand.”

400 x 389Picture: local visitors learn about the history of copper at one of the interpretation points which have been installed around the site, as part of the Hafod regeneration project

The partners in the project will be putting together a more detailed bid together which they hope will secure the funding and realise their vision for the site.

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