Swansea is situated on the south coast of Wales, at the narrow mouth of the River Tawe. The Normans considered the area to be important enough to build a castle here in the 12th century.

In 1306 docks were established at Swansea for ship-building. At the end of the 18th century these docks were improved to cope with the growth in the export of Welsh coal, copper and iron ore.

Swansea was only a short journey from the Cornwall's coast, the place where most of Britain's copper was mined. As well as cheap coal, the Swansea area also had rivers that could be used to wash the poisonous sulphur from the copper. In 1820, the entrepreneur, Thomas Williams, built a smelting works at Swansea. This stimulated the industry and by 1820 South Wales was producing 90% of Britain's copper.

The first railway opened in the town was the Swansea & Mumbles horse-drawn line along Swansea Bay, that served local quarries and coal mines. The first steam locomotives arrived in Swansea in 1852 with the building of the South Wales Railway. The line was extended to Milford Haven in 1856. A line between Swansea and Pontardawe was completed in 1860. Sixteen years later, the Swansea Vale Railway, was taken over by the Midland Railway.

Swansea had a population of 10,000 in 1801. The population grew steadily but between 1852, when the South Wales Railway was opened, and 1871, the population of Swansea increased by 68%.