The chicly renovated building is celebrating its 110th birthday in 2013, opening as the Harbour Trust on Oct. 12, 1903. The grand structure was designed as the headquarters of the company that had administered Swansea’s port and shipping trade since 1791.
Modern, casual vibe in classic building
Today, the stately building, of Kittybrook red bricks banded with Portland stone, holds 20 rooms, a restaurant and two bars. A 21-room townhouse behind the hotel expands its capacity.
The feeling is casual and welcoming within a Grade II listed historic property—the restaurant, for instance, has no dress code. The Café and Champagne bars are also come-as-you-are and relax.
Owners Martin and Louisa Morgan created this atmosphere after the building’s two-year restoration, with Morgans opening in September 2002.
The Morgans also celebrated Swansea’s maritime heyday as Copperopolis, the thriving center of the international copper trade. Each of the rooms is named for a grand ship that visited Swansea in her days as a thriving port: Flying Cloud, Admiral, Fitzroy and Sinbad. There’s also the Zeta, named for a ship built in Glasgow, as well as Alpha, constructed in Bridport, and Artizan, built in Swansea herself.
The rooms are much more luxurious than an old sailing ship, with heated towel racks and top-shelf Molton Brown London toiletries.
'Only the best will do'
To build the Harbour Trust a century ago, the company set up a design competition, sending the requirements to more than 100 architects. The charge was clear: “Only the best will do.” The prize was 100 guineas—about £6,000/$9/,179 today. Ninety-seven architects from all over Britain submitted designs.
The winner was Edwin Seward of Cardiff. With the resources of the Harbour Trust behind him, he put in electric lights, hot water and telephones throughout the building.
You can still see the gorgeous teak paneling in the restaurant, once the Harbour Trust boardroom. Over the doors, look for the mural of Swansea Harbour in the 17th century, painted by Robert Morton Nance. He was a marine archaeologist and a founding member of the Society for Nautical Research.
Even higher, the cupola is decorated with stained-glass portraits of the winds from four points of the compass.
Swansea roots run deep
Swansea is an ancient city, its name probably coming from Scandinavian sea raiders who were based in Ireland. Coins have been found in the excavations of a wooden fort here, dated between 1137-1141 and imprinted with several variations of the Swansea name.
So it’s no surprise that the Harbour Trust, repurposed as it is today, also stood on an older footprint. It’s just a bit of historical irony that what is now Morgans Hotel stands on the site of the old Somerset Hotel, which prided itself on sea water bathing. Some of the artifacts discovered during construction are on display in Morgans library and the Swansea Museum.
When you go
Morgans Hotel, Somerset Place, Swansea. Phone 01792 484848. Rooms start at £65/$100.