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WAY OUT WEST.

Byline: ROBIN TURNER

IT survived the terrible Three-Night Blitz, was the place where Prince Charles proclaimed Swansea a city, and was opened by one of the most scandal-ridden royals of modern times.

And today the now-iconic Swansea landmark The Guildhall is celebrating its 81st birthday.

It was on this day in 1934, when beer was fourpence, the world was gripped by recession, and Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister that Prince George, the Duke of Kent, officially opened the building in front of a large crowd.

It may have been him the crowd came to see. A handsome, dashing man who served in the Royal Navy, George had a string of affairs, reputedly with men and women, before and after his marriage to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark.

It's reported his sexual conquests included writer Barbara Cartland, playwright Noel Coward, and banking heiress Poppy Baring.

But it was his long-time affair with beautiful-but-wild socialite Alice 'Kiki' Preston that attracted most attention.

She was dubbed the "girl with the silver syringe" for her brazen drug habit and was four years his senior and had worked as a cabaret dancer. By the time she met George in the mid-Twenties she was twice married.

The larger-than-life prince died in an air crash just a few years after opening the Guildhall.

The Guildhall became the centre of civic life in Swansea - not only housing council discussions in its ornate, leather and gleaming wood debating chamber but also accommodating the area's law courts while the Guildhall's Brangwyn Hall became the centre for arts and culture.

During the World War II Three-Night Blitz of Swansea the "unmissable" building, with its huge clock tower and pale surfaces, remarkably emerged unscathed.

There was even speculation Hitler may have instructed bombers to avoid it as it was regarded as such a fine building it would have made a suitable centre for "Nazi rule" in south-west Wales.

In the summer of '69 a young Prince Charles chose the steps of Swansea's Guildhall to announce the seaside port had at last won city status.

As the sands of time shifted on the Guildhall was central to Swansea's strong bid to house the Welsh Assembly.

And there are very few from this part of the world who do not think the Guildhall's Australian walnut columns, graceful interior, and striking lines would have made the perfect, "ready-made" Welsh parliament.

But that battle has been lost and Swansea now plans a Cardiff Bay-style transformation of its own based on a beach-side all-new city centre.

Thankfully, though, the "new Swansea" will still have the Guildhall as a reminder of its glorious past - and what should have been.

robin.turner@walesonline.co.uk

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 23, 2015
Words:447
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