You can hear them out on Green Grounds
Across the world there are many ancient legends told of cities and civilisations lost to the sea. The Greeks have their Altantis and the Welsh tell the tale of Cantre'r Gwaelod [in Cardigan Bay]. Older Mumbles residents will remember similar stories of a now submerged part of our coastline known as Grove Island or the Green Grounds. For centuries many a timid local child will have been scared by the phrase, 'You can hear them out on Green Grounds'.
Remains of ancient forests have been discovered at very low tide all around the Welsh coast. Semi fossilised tree stumps in the sand and mud have been preserved by the sea and date from before 1,500 BC. Their presence might well have given rise to the many old legends of flooded kingdoms and cities. In South Wales the ancient tree stumps tell of the time when the Bristol Channel was a vast and wooded valley. The earliest human inhabitants here, like the Red Lady of Paviland Cave [actually a man] hunted and foraged in lands now submerged since the retreat of the ice-age glaciers thousands of years ago. As the huge ice-caps melted so the sea level rose, flooding vast areas of land. The legend of Mumbles' Green Grounds might be rooted in this and in the folk memory of the many generations of people who have lived in this part of south east Gower.
But there is also other evidence to suggest that there was indeed land beyond Mumbles Head up until four hundred years ago. Medieval accounts tell of a bridle path from Penrice Castle to Margam Abbey that took the traveller way out past the headland of Mumbles. But what happened to that land?
If the Grove Island or Green Grounds were offshore they might have been swept away by the cataclysmic flood which caused the loss of over two thousand lives in the Bristol Channel on the morning of 20th January 1607 [30th January in the modern calendar]. This is now thought to have been a four metre high tsunami. The giant wave caused terrible loss of life in the low lying Gwent and Somerset levels. In this part of the coastline too, it would have devastated land and property near to sea level. An early 17th century engraving [shown above] depicts the horror of the great flood and is thought to be of St. Mary's Nash, near Newport, Gwent.
The existence of the Green Grounds is also attested by a court case in the nineteenth century. This was recorded by a Mr E. E. Rowse in 1896. When Sir John Morris set about quarrying Mumbles Hill he was presented with a bill for way leave by two sisters, the Miss Angels, who claimed to own all the land from All Saints Church to the headland. When he refused the sisters took him to court. The first case found in Sir John's favour, as the counsel for the defendants, who had vital evidence on his person, had been conveniently delayed on his journey to court. But the sisters were undeterred. They took their grievance to Hereford. There the judge was presented with an old map showing the extent of the Angel's land and which clearly showed a farm house on Green Grounds out in the bay and a large meadow crossed by a stile. The judge and jury were convinced and found in the Angel's favour. Sir John Morris faced near ruin and left the country.
Then, in 1899, Col. W. LI. Morgan published an Antiquarian Survey of East Gower. He wrote of how, "A slab of rock was dragged up on the Green Grounds bearing marks of a chisel and cement. It is supposed to have come from the old house of the Angels, said to have existed on these lands."
So the old talk of land out in the bay, of a farm, people and a meadow, might well be much more than an old legend told on stormy nights in the ale houses of Oystermouth and Southend. As you walk out on Mumbles head, listen out! You might well 'hear them out on Green Grounds!'