Reach out and Touch Our Past; Today the Western Mail, in Association with Cadw, Launches Welsh History Month with a Series of Essays from Members of History Research Wales Asking What Is the Most Significant Object in Our Past? Here Professor Huw Bowen Explains Why 'Holding History' Is So Important

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Reach out and Touch Our Past; Today the Western Mail, in Association with Cadw, Launches Welsh History Month with a Series of Essays from Members of History Research Wales Asking What Is the Most Significant Object in Our Past? Here Professor Huw Bowen Explains Why 'Holding History' Is So Important


We can understand the past by reading books and articles, and can visualise the past by looking at paintings and photographs.

But if we want to connect properly with the past, we have to handle objects, those things that were made and used in years gone by.

We all own objects that let us connect with the recent history of our families and communities: letters and diaries, odd bits of clothing, theatre tickets, old 78 or 45rpm records, a Second World War gas mask, a cricket bat.

The list is endlS ess. And, if we are lucky enough, we might own antiques or curiosities that enable us to engage with a more distant past.

In my own case, I possess a large collection of Swansea Town and City programmes that date back to the 1950s; and an old 1940s album bulging with exotic and colourful stamps from around the world.

Such things are precious, not because of any monetary value but because of the stories they tell and the windows they open on a forgotten or fast-fading world.

A primary focus of my academic research is on British trade with Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. And in recent years I have become interested in the ways in which Swansea copper smelters found markets for their products in India.

In terms of facts and figures, I now know most of what there is to know about how the East India Company procured copper from Swansea and then sold it in vast quantities in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. And this enables me to argue that Asian markets were absolutely crucial for the early development of the world-leading Welsh copper industry.

But it was not until I came into possession of two copper ingots that I began fully to understand the significance of the trade and how it connected the Lower Swansea Valley with the Indian sub-continent.

One of my ingots was recovered from the wreck of the East India Company ship, Earl of Abergavenny, which sank off Weymouth en route to Calcutta in 1805. The ingot had been rolled into the shape of a cigar and it is about six inches long.

It was intended that it be clipped and hammered out to make copper coins for use in Bengal.

By working back through the archives it is possible to establish that this ingot, which had lain on the bottom of the English Channel for almost 200 years, was produced at Upper Banks copper works. …

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Reach out and Touch Our Past; Today the Western Mail, in Association with Cadw, Launches Welsh History Month with a Series of Essays from Members of History Research Wales Asking What Is the Most Significant Object in Our Past? Here Professor Huw Bowen Explains Why 'Holding History' Is So Important
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