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Swansea

Anti-slavery campaigner honoured with blue plaque

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Swansea woman Jessie Donaldson who bravely fought slavery in America around 170 years ago will be honoured by her home city on June 19, (also referred to as Juneteenth) – the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

A blue plaque has been installed by Swansea Council outside the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) Dynevor building in the city centre to celebrate the actions of the campaigner.

Jessie travelled to Ohio in the 1850s to operate a safe house, risking fines and prison sentences for offering shelter and protection for slaves as they tried to escape from the southern states to the north of America.

A video documenting Jessie’s journey has been created by Timi O’Neill, Programme Director of BA Film & TV at UWTSD’s Swansea College of Art. It will be shown on the Big Screen in Castle Square on the morning of June 19.

Cllr Yvonne Jardine, Swansea Council’s Councillor Champion for Sanctuary and Inclusion said: “The blue plaque recognises Jessie Donaldson’s role in the long fight against slavery in the United States which culminated in the American Civil War. Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the US so it’s apt that the day was chosen for the unveiling of the plaque.”

Nineteenth Century anti-slavery campaigner, Jessie Donaldson

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism said: “I’m pleased that we’re honouring Jessie Donaldson on such an important day in the anti-slavery calendar. After moving from Swansea to America, she provided sanctuary for slaves escaping from the southern US states to reach freedom in the north. Today, Swansea is designated nationally as a City of Sanctuary and so it’s fitting that we recognise Jessie with this blue plaque.”

The blue plaque nomination was submitted to the Council by Swansea cultural historian Professor Jen Wilson, founder of Jazz Heritage Wales which is based in the city’s Dylan Thomas Centre as part of UWTSD.

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Professor Wilson, who has researched Jessie’s life over many years, said: “Jessie Donaldson, at the age of 57, left Swansea to embark on an extraordinary life of international politics on a grand scale, her house on the banks of the Ohio river was the third of the Welsh safe houses for runaway slaves.

“Jessie’s friends in the anti-slavery movement were Frederick Douglass, a freed slave, fugitive slaves Ellen and William Craft, the fiery campaigner William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Throughout the American Civil War Jessie worked alongside her friends, enabling fugitives from the plantations across the river to seek freedom. Jessie returned home to Swansea in 1866.”

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Whilst undertaking research in Cincinnati, Professor Wilson made several visits to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The Center is an impressive building on the Ohio riverbank where the history of slavery is told through film and oral history. Visitors are able to step inside one of the original slave holding pens where chained slaves were held awaiting a ship.

The Center’s Senior Research Historian Carl Westmoreland identified the old holding pen in a field then in disrepair, secured funding, and had it rebuilt in the Freedom Center. The Center is now filled with children, students, and families, all learning their heritage.

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“Mr Westmoreland agreed to help our project and filmed his story, which is now part of our archives as well as the Freedom Center’s,” added Professor Wilson. 

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Professor Ian WalshProvost of UWTSD Swansea, said: “We are delighted that Jessie’s extraordinary efforts are being recognised in this way. It’s also a tribute to Professor Wilson’s tireless research in unearthing this truly inspirational story of selfless commitment to justice and liberty.”

Professor Wilson’s book ‘Freedom Music: Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950’ tells how Jessie emigrated to Cincinnati in her 50s and helped fleeing slaves during the American Civil War. In subsequent years choirs and bands of freed slaves visited Swansea to perform abolitionist campaign songs, spirituals and gospel music.

Jessie was born in 1799, the daughter of lawyer Samuel Heineken and mother Jennet. She lived in a three-storey terraced house in Dynevor Place, Swansea, for 41 years with sister Mary and brother Samuel.

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In the 1820s she opened a school in Wind Street.

The location of the blue plaque in Swansea as it was in Jessie Donaldson’s day (Image: Swansea Council)

At the age of 41 in 1840 Jessie married Francis Donaldson. They set up home in a three-storey terrace in Grove Place where they lived for 16 years.

In 1854 the couple emigrated to Cincinnati and lived there throughout the American Civil War (1861-65) which began primarily as a result of the controversy over slavery. They ran their safe house for fleeing slaves; it was part of the famous Underground Railroad escape network.

The couple returned to Swansea in 1866 and lived briefly at 2 Phillips Parade before moving to Ael-y-Bryn, Sketty. Jessie died in 1889.


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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.

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Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”

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So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Swansea

Swansea’s popular land train is back – and you can even take your dog for a ride!

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Taking your family for a day out along Swansea prom? Now your four-legged friend can join in the fun too by hitching a ride on the land train!

Officially known as the Swansea Bay Rider, the 72-seater land train runs along Swansea’s prom from Blackpill Lido to Southend Gardens in Mumbles giving passengers an incredible view of Swansea Bay as they travel along.

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Run by Swansea Council, the land train has been a feature of summer holiday trips for many years – whether it’s to soak up the sights in style, or hop on for a relaxing journey after a day of fun in the sun.

But did you know that dogs are allowed on board too?

The council has highlighted the little known fact that four-legged friends are welcome to ride the land train with their owners, as long as they are wearing a lead and are under control.

With more people than ever taking their dog on holiday or on days out, the land train is another fun activity that all the family can enjoy.

The Swansea Bay Rider is also fully accessible to wheelchair users.

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The land train runs every weekend from 23 April to 4 September, and daily during the school holidays between 30 May and 3 June, and again between Friday 15 July and Sunday 4 September.

The 30 minute ride from Blackpill to Southend runs 7 times a day at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm from Blackpill.

Return journeys from Southend are at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

Can’t get enough of riding the land-train? How about becoming its driver!

Swansea Council are recruiting a land train driver on a zero hours contract for £19,264 per annum (pro-rata). Applications are open until 24 May on the council’s website.

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(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend

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From Swansea Bliz survivor to fairground strongman – an author discovers his grandfather’s fascinating story as The Welsh Hercules.

In the early half of the 20th Century, Jack Lemm was a household name in Wales. As the Strongman star of fairgrounds and Music Hall, he was famed for his feats of strength, wrestling and his dangerous headlining act, The Whirl of Death.

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Times and entertainment trends change, however, and now the once-famous showman is almost forgotten.

For one man, however, the story of the strongman had special meaning. Glaswegian Steven Blockley had always thought that his Great Grandfather deserved to be better known.

“I never actually met Jack,” he says. “I grew up listening to my uncles and aunts telling fascinating stories about all his incredible achievements around the Swansea area and I always knew I wanted to write a book to bring them to a wider audience. As I dug further into his past, however, even I was surprised by what I found.”

Looking into the background of Jack, Steven and co-author David J Thacker uncovered a rich life story and the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

Steven continues, “Jack lived through some harsh years – he was on HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland in World War 1 and was a survivor of the Swansea Blitz in the Second World War – but his focus was always to put family first and to provide for everyone at home, even if doing so took him away from them.”

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David takes up the story. “Jack came from a Greek family and his given surname was actually Lamnea, but his exploits on stage and at fairs all over the UK, including at Neath, were not always popular, especially with his authoritarian father.

“A lot of the tension in our book comes from that relationship, of a son trying to live up to the ideals of his father.”

The resulting book, The Welsh Hercules, took over a year to research and write but in doing it Steven found a kind of resolution.

“While we were writing the book, I turned 60. At that age, Jack was still doing 40 shows a day at the fairgrounds and even after he retired, he was helping roadworkers outside his house to fix the roads!

“Age really was just a number for him and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

The Welsh Hercules tells the story of Jack, from his humble beginnings on Swansea Docks through to becoming a renowned boxing coach and fairground star. It takes him through two World Wars, as a survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the Swansea Blitz, and introduces a whole new world of showmen, acrobats and colourful characters.

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But at its heart, Jack’s story is one of family – of the challenges met, the hearts won and the enduring romance of a Showman and his wife.

The Welsh Hercules is available in paperback on Amazon priced at £11.99

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