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bullet A Langland Bay Fatality, Sept 1892

A Langland Bay Fatality, Sept 1892

As the cold, wet winter recedes, we look forward to warm sunshine and spending time at the beaches we are so fortunate to have close by -Bracelet, Limeslade, Rotherslade, Langland and Caswell.

'The Mentone of Wales': In Victorian times Langland Bay, with its sheltered, south-facing aspect and balmy air, was sometimes referred to as 'the Mentone of Wales'. Its hotels and boarding houses attracted visitors from all over Britain, sometime. the rich and famous like Madame Adelina Patti and impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Holiday makers and day trippers, brought by the Mumbles Railway, came in their hundreds to enjoy the sandy beach and to venture into the sea. But the sea can be treacherous, and Langland's history has been blighted by several tragic accidents. One of these happened on 1 September 1892.

A Bathinq Tragedy: On Thursday 1 September 1892, around midday, a young man was swimming in Langland Bay. The sea was rough, with a heavy ground swell, but Stephen Barton was a strong swimmer. Nevertheless, he was called ashore by Captain Morgan [in charge of the bathing machines on the beach] and warned of the possible dangers if swimming too far out in such conditions. Despite the warning, the youngster [he was 17] returned to the water for a second swim. But it soon became apparent to onlookers that he was in difficulties. Hearing cries for help, Captain Morgan and another man ran into the sea and swam out. They grabbed hold of the distressed swimmer to pull him closer to the shore, but they were unable to hold onto him in the strong current. The beach boatman threw a line and Lifebuoy but failed to reach the casualty. To everyone's horror the lad sank beneath the waves and did not resurface. It was a week before his body was found by two oyster dredgermen on sands at Rothers Sker. The inquest, held at the Osborne Hotel overlooking the bay, returned a verdict of accidental death.

The Barton Family: Stephen Barton had been on holiday at Mumbles with his parents and brother for the previous three weeks. His father, William Harvey Barton, was a well-known photographer, based in Bristol, who travelled all over Britain taking photographs. Barton had established his photographic business in the 1870s, soon achieving co siderable recognition. His landscape and architectural scenes were highly praised and awarded gold and silver medals at national and international exhibitions. In 1880 The Western Daily Pres. praised his work: 'There is a perfectness of composition, lighting and softness in the definition w ich at once indicates true genius and artistic feeling.' The newspaper added that: 'If Mr Barton produced a series of such artistic gems of scenery a large number of art-loving public would gladly avail themselves of such real pictures'. Mr Barton did exactly this. In the summer of 1885 he stayed in Tenby and it is possible that he also came to Mumbles as a book of his landscape photographs of Mumbles & Gower was published around that time. There is a photograph of Langland in the album. It shows the splendid curve of the bay; the jagged rocks of Rothersiade contrasting with the smoothness of Snaple Point in the distance. Within a few years that photograph would be a poignant reminder to the Barton family [William and Catherineand their children William jnr; Mary, Ellen, Florence and Beatrice] of the tragedy on that dreadful autumn day in1892.

Exhibition in Oystermouth Library: A copy of William Harvey Barton's album 'Photographs: Mumbles & Gower' has been generously donated to the Oystermouth Historical Association. An exhibition about Harvey Barton, his landscape photographs of Mumbles and Gower entitled 'True Genius and Artistic Feeling' is on display in Oystermouth Library until June 2018.

© Kate Jones

[Photographs of Langland Bay and of Caswell Bay, c. 1885, by William Harvey Barton, from his photographic album: Mumbles & Gower. Oystermouth Historical Association archive]