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National Waterfront Museum launches 'Sport & Industry' Achievers Gallery

This Friday (6 July), the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea will officially open Sport & Industry, a refreshed gallery celebrating Welsh sporting achievers.

The gallery explores the interrelationship, connections and exchanges between Welsh industrial life and sport from the 1800s to the present day and looks at the impact the Industrial Revolution had on peoples’ lives which led to sport becoming an important social and community activity.

In the days of industrial decline and depression, sport played a major role in keeping the morale of the people high. Professional sports such as boxing could be a way out of having to do dirty or dangerous work. The rise of mass media, new transport links and television all played their part in the growing popularity of sports.

The refreshed gallery covers five distinct eras of Welsh industry and the role sport played in each of them:

1851-1914 explores how the rapid growth of industries such as coal, copper, lead, iron, shipping and textiles, meant that traditional rural games were now being played in industrial environments.

1914-1945 highlights the end of the Great War and economic depression of 1929 which meant the demand for coal, iron, steel and tinplate declined rapidly and Welsh industrial communities really suffered as workers were made unemployed or given reduced wages. However, sport played its part in keeping people’s spirits up and billiards, snooker, darts and table tennis became some of the popular pursuits in clubs and pubs across Wales.

1945-1960 uncovers a start of a new era to Wales, Welsh industry was revived through nationalisation and the rise in the economy and the invention of TV meant that people could now cheer on their favourite sports teams in their own homes.

1960-1980 shows how lifestyles in Wales changed significantly and with the increase in earnings people could afford to buy the latest gadgets and travel further afield in their own car. Sports people were becoming celebrities and earning more than their predecessors could ever have imagined.

1980-present day focuses on how the continual decline of traditional heavy industries took its toll on the communities across Wales, with pit closures, strikes and unsuccessful protests. The poor sports performances of the national teams seemed to reflect the mood of the day and the lessening importance of traditional team sports was shown in the diversified physical education in schools. The end of the 20th century, however, brought a turn in the nation’s mood. Devolution and the formation of the Welsh Government continued the growing pride in Welsh National identity. The term ‘Cool Cymru’ was developed and the construction of the Millennium stadium, which opened in 1999, for the Rugby World cup brought a new optimism to Wales.

As well as telling this historical story via a series of illustrated wall panels and famous sporting faces, the gallery displays a range of objects on loan from contributors such as footballer Robbie Savage’s boots, ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll’s boxing gloves and Jack Carney’s snooker cue.

It also boasts a lithograph on paper (on display for a limited time only) by artist Toulouse-Lautrec of cyclist Jimmy Michael, a world cycling champion, a dressing up area and a smell interactive, where visitors get the chance to guess the smell of the sport!

The launch event on Friday will be accompanied by those involved in the exhibition as well as guest speaker Non Evans, one of Wales’ most successful sports personalities, having achieved international honours in four different sports. She is most recognised for her exploits on the rugby field since making her debut for Wales in 1996 and recently received an MBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Speaking about the new gallery, Steph Mastoris, Head of the Museum said: “With sport now a major industry giving Welsh people an opportunity to celebrate their national identity on an international stage, we’re delighted to be showcasing some of its top achievers from quoiting champion William ‘Dice’ Davies, football legend Ivor Allchurch, boxer Eddie Thomas to present day rugby star Shane Williams.”