Jersey Marine Tower. Rocky Marciano's Wartime home?
Updated: Feb 14
In 1886, the brewer Captain Evan Evans was looking to diversify his business. Brewing beer was profitable but he wanted to expand and came up with an idea that would capitalise on a new industry - tourism. The growth of railways made it practical for ordinary people to travel and the introduction of holidays gave them the opportunity.
The ‘Bank Holidays Act of 1871,’ gave working people the legal right to four days paid time off work but it was not until 1936 that the ‘Annual Holiday Bill’ legislated for the statutory right to a paid yearly holiday. The comfortably off already visited spa towns like Bath and Harrogate while the very rich enjoyed continental tours but the workers had few places they could afford to visit. Despite the delay in legislation, factory owners had already recognised the benefit of giving their employees paid holidays and, with money to spend, the workers wanted to enjoy themselves, forgetting their grim working conditions for a few days. New resorts like Llandudno were being developed to cater for the growing demand and Captain Evans decided to invest in the new market.
The captain’s plan was to build a holiday resort at Jersey Marine, an area of beaches and sand dunes between the River Neath and Swansea. The centre of the complex was a four storey octagonal tower with a ‘camera obscura’ at the top. Visitors would climb the tower and marvel at the view of Swansea and the surrounding landscape produced by the camera. It wasn’t a new idea; camera obscuras - pin-hole cameras - had been around when the Greek Aristotle was alive. Competing resorts were busy building huge camera obscuras and, in 1896, the largest in the world was installed, on Constitution Hill at Aberystwyth, a record it still holds today.
Jersey Marine was a failure. The tower was built but, because of financial difficulties, the resort was not finished. According to local legend, the captain was at the top of the tower with a potential investor when he spied his daughter in the sand dunes and was mortified to see her cavorting with a young man. Having witnessed such a distressing scene, Captain Evans decided that he did not want visitors to be able to view such lewd behaviour through the camera obscura and it was never installed. The tower was boarded up and with the idea of building a tourist resort abandoned, Evans returned to his brewing business.
During the Second World War, the tower was a US Army observation post and American servicemen lived in the lower floors including, it is believed, a young man named Rocco Marchegiano. Rocco was a boxer who in 1946 won the American Amateur Armed Forces Championship. In 1948, he turned professional, changed his name to Rocky Marciano and became the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Marciano is the only heavyweight champion to remain undefeated throughout his career. Marciano’s punch was tested in 1963 when Boxing Illustrated reported,’ Marciano’s knockout blow packs more explosive energy than an armour piercing bullet and represents as much energy as would be required to spot lift 1000 pounds one foot off the ground.’ In Febuary 2020 I received a lovely letter from Allen Rix explaining the Marciano connection was untrue because, as a small boy, he lived near Jersey Marine Tower during the war when the tower was occupied by No 247 Battery of the Royal Artillery and, he adds, there were no Americans there. It's a shame because the Rocky Marciano story has been around for some time and I rather liked the idea of the world famous boxer gazing out from the top of the tower.
By the 1990s, Jersey Marine Tower had no windows, ceiling or floors and was threatened with demolition. The building was saved when it was purchased and redeveloped as part of a new hotel complex. Jersey Marine Tower Hotel and Spa opened in 2006 and the centrepiece of the new hotel was the tower and its luxury top floor bridal suite. One hundred years after his original idea, a use had finally been found for Evans’ Jersey Marine Tower in the growing hospitality industry.
Evan Evans brewery still brew excellent beer at Llandeilo and, in 2013, competed with 985 other breweries to win the coveted gold medal for the best organic bitter in the world. Described as the Oscars of the brewing world, it’s a fitting accolade for a company created by a businesman, bold enough to try new ideas but with the courage to admit failure and give up.