Parish history

by Dr. Virginia Bainbridge

Swainswick has an ancient history, nestling in its steep-sided valley between Lansdown and Little Solsbury Hill, with their Prehistoric hill-forts, tumuli or burial places, Roman camps and roads.1

The Legend and the Name

Swainswick is associated with the legend of Prince Bladud, the first recorded celebrity who found healing in the sacred springs of Bath. The legend tells us that after Bladud was cast out by own community because they feared he had the dreaded skin disease Leprosy, he became a swineherd tending pigs in the place we now call Swainswick. Noticing that any skin problems his pigs had were cured when they wallowed in the spring waters, he did the same and his skin condition was healed.2 Swainswick is an Anglo-Saxon name, either meaning a hamlet where the inhabitants tended pigs, or perhaps a hamlet founded by a powerful man named Swain.

A Parish shaped by Medieval Agriculture

Swainswick is typical of many rural parishes in the surrounding counties: it is long and thin, giving its medieval inhabitants a share of all types of farm land, from steep downland grazing for flocks and herds, woods where pigs could forage, land where crops could be grown, and meadows along streams and the River Avon providing summer grazing for livestock and hay as winter fodder.

Swainswick’s ancient parish boundaries follow watercourses to the north, west and south. The Lam Brook is the boundary with Langridge, Woolley and Larkhall to the west, and the River Avon is the boundary to the south. To the east the boundary follows old lanes, deviating to encircle settlement at Bailbrook, Charmy Down and Tadwick. Although Swainswick has always been closely associated with the hamlet of Woolley across the Lam Brook, Woolley was a detached portion of Bathwick parish, which gave its inhabitants downland grazing to complement the arable and meadow lands by the River.

Upper Swainswick grew up as a farming community. The buildings cluster around the medieval church with the manor house and large farms at the centre of the village. Most of the people who lived here were engaged in agriculture: many of the men and women, boys and girls, worked as agricultural labours. Work done by tradesmen and women helped to support the agricultural work of the village. There were also wealthy residents who did not need to work, but who enjoyed living in the elegant mansions with lovely views of Bath. Their houses still stand today and their monuments may be seen in the church.

Medieval Lords and Peasants

Swainswick is called Wick in Domesday Book written in 1086. The lord of this small estate was the Saxon Alfred the Steward, who unusually was not replaced by a Norman immediately after the Conquest of 1066. There were 11 households of inhabitants, 2 of wealthier tenants, 6 of smallholders, and 3 of slaves. Between them they cultivated 2 hides of land with three plough teams of oxen. Two teams were owned by the lord and one by the peasants. The lord also had 5 a. of valuable meadow, 10 a. of thorny scrub, and a mill which he leased out, presumably on the site of the present Dead Mill. However, Alfred had already lost another hide of land to the Normans William, Bishop of Coutances (Normandy), and his tenant Nigel of Gournai.1

At Tadwick, three Saxon thegns who held the manor in 1066 were replaced by William Hussey, one of William the Conqueror’s knights. His 1½ hide estate at Tadwick was farmed by 2 households of smallholders and 3 of slaves with his plough team. He also had ½ a. of meadow and 10 a. of woodland. The scrub and woodland was presumably where the pigs foraged.2

Just over a century later a series of medieval deeds, or property transfers, written between 1200 and 1250, provide the next chapter in the history of Swainswick. In these decades much of lower Swainswick was granted to St John’s Hospital, founded in Bath around 1180.3 Walter Hussey, by this time lord of Swainswick, Roger Wayllant, and members of the le Chanu [Canutus], le Goiz [Goyz], and Godmer familes gave small parcels of land to the hospital which eventually owned an entire estate west of Gloucester Road. The names of these knightly families are Norman. While they were endowing the Hospital, the peasants were farming the land and making the profits which allowed their lords to live in style. Generations of peasants gave names derived from the Anglo-Saxon language to features like Bail Brook and Honeywell streams. They cleared arable fields from the waste and divided them into furlongs, and built causeways and walls. By the 1200s Swainswick had two common fields where crops were grown and animals grazed the stubble after harvest. Swainswick field by Dead Mill was bounded in places by a causeway over marshy ground and by Bath Way. It had furlongs called Schonel Broadacre, and Dunham Furlong. The second field lay further east by Bailbrook and had furlongs called Stretfurlang [Street Furlong], Watelegeswalle [Wateley’s Wall / Well], Tollond [Toll Land] and Ealdelege [Older Ley]. A third field above Henley [meaning a high wood or clearing], had Bergfurlang [Hill Furlong] above Rugedune [Rough Dean], Ninnedune [Nine Dean], and a furlong next to the wall ‘de montibus’. St John’s Hospital received pasture rights for 100 sheep in both of Swainswick’s fields, and also in the field on the hill above Henley. Swainswick had meadows called Longmead by Dead Mill, and Swainswick Meadow along the Bailbrook between the Avon and the King’s Highway [London Road / A4]. Other roads mentioned included the Fosse Way.4 Tadwick had its own arable field above the hamlet next to the Lord’s wood, which extended down into Ashcomb Valley [Aissecumbe / Aixcumb, a comb cleared with an axe]. Its features included Brissupfurlang, Serpe acra [Rushy acre] and Hunespina [Hunes thicket].5

The Manor of Swainswick

The manor of Swainswick passed down the Hussey family.6 In 1343 it was sold to William of Iford, whose brother Nicholas of Iford sold it to Henry Forde in 1368. The replica brass in the church commemorating Edmund Forde (d. 1439), is a reminder of his family’s two centuries as lords of Swainswick. The manor passed down the Forde family until it was sold in 1521 to Dr Richard Dudley, who gave the manor to Oriel College, Oxford.7 College ownership is recorded in the local names Oriel House, Oriel Lodge, Oriel Cottage and Oriel Gardens.

The Manor of Tadwick

The Hussey family were lords of the smaller manor of Tadwick for several generations, and also gave parcels of land there to St John’s Hospital.8 Tadwick later became the property of Bath Abbey. Following the Abbey’s Dissolution by Henry VIII, it was sold in 1540 to Sir William/Walter Dennis.9 It later belonged to John Shatford (d. 1553), whose son Henry Shatford sold it to Timothy Pipwell (d. c. 1573), mayor and alderman of Bristol. In 1629 Pipwell’s descendants sold Tadwick to John Gunning Junior, another alderman and mayor of Bristol, and it remained in the Gunning family until the late 1800s.10

Farmers, Smallholders and Cottagers

Because Oriel College were not resident landlords, the tenants of Swainswick Manor Farm and the other large farms played a more prominent role in running parish affairs. Their names are recorded in extracts from the parish records printed in the Annals of Swainswick.11 These men, or sometimes their widows, took it in turns as churchwardens, overseers of the poor and other local officers. They dominated the lives of poorer parishioners by employing them, controlling religious and social life, and deciding who would receive payments from the parish poor rates. By 1654 the old leasehold tenements in Swainswick and Tadwick, each consisting of a house, perhaps a barn and outbuildings, arable strips in the common fields and pasture rights, were in the process of being amalgamated into larger farms. In that year, the Churchwardens’ Accounts list 16 leaseholds in Swainswick, which paid parish rates on a total of 476 a. By far the largest was Manor Farm leased by Mr. George Clarke with 225 a. The wealthiest families of Clarke, Tanner, Walter, Longman and Griffin had amalgamated most of the other leaseholds into 5 farms of between 50 and 20 a. There were also 3 smallholdings of around 16 a., and 3 cottages with lands of up to 5 a. Tadwick, referred to as ‘Tadwick Acres’ had 216 a. By 1654, land which had once been farmed as 14 separate leaseholds of between 36 and 2 a., had then been amalgamated into 4 farms and 1 smallholding. Sir Robert Gunning and Mr. Phillips respectively held the two largest farms of 45 a. and 96 a.12

Occupations for Children

While the adults toiled in the fields, farmsteads, and homes of Swainswick what did the children do? They began to do paid tasks as soon as they were old enough. In the days before primary schooling was made compulsory in 1870, a Dame School was run by Anne Manning, her mother and sister:

‘In the kitchen might be found on every week day the united infants of Swainswick and Woolley, male and female, till the former were old enough to scare crows, or to do odd jobs about the farms. Old Mrs. Manning was the titular schoolmistress, but Anne assisted her mother with energy, ‘dapping’ the heads of the idle with her thimble. … The girls learned to work thoroughly well under these good women’.13

The Churchwardens’ Accounts list an extra source of income for struggling households. Young boys graduated from scaring crows to killing sparrows, ravens, foxes, greys [badgers], and hedgehogs. Classed as vermin for eating crops, chickens and lambs, the churchwardens paid out for each head produced, most frequently ravens at 1d. and foxes and badgers at 1s.14

Swainswick School

The dame school run by Mrs. Manning provided child-care and taught some basic skills. Churches began providing education in reading, writing and arithmetic once it was needed for more jobs. From 1851 a parish schoolmistress held classes at Swainswick Rectory, and a separate schoolroom was built on. In 1858 a Rectory farm outbuilding was converted into a school-room. In 1870 the Education Act made primary school compulsory and the present school was built on Rectory farm land. The school year was arranged so children could work in the holidays, especially helping with the harvest in the long summer holiday. Most children left school in their early teens until after the Second World War, to earn a living to help support their families. Swainswick School is still flourishing in the early 21st century.15


In the Medieval and Tudor centuries the poor, who were the majority of the population, lived in homes built of wood and materials to waterproof and thatch them, including mud, clay, cowpats, moss, straw and reeds. They easily crumbled away and the houses we call cottages were the homes of the wealthiest peasants and minor gentry, built with strong timber frames and limestone walls. Once the timbers began to rot away the house was generally rebuilt on a different part of the plot, reusing as many of the timbers as possible – hence the myth that old buildings were made of ships’ timbers. These were really salvaged from earlier buildings and had holes where other beams once slotted into them.

The Manor House and Farmhouses of the 1600s

The oldest buildings in Swainswick parish date from the decades around 1600. Farmhouses were rebuilt or extended incorporating older buildings into new structures. They generally evolved from the medieval ‘hall-house’, a two-bay building. One bay was an open hall, originally with a fire on an open hearth in the centre, later a chimney stack. The hall was separated from the other bay containing unheated store-rooms, a pantry and buttery, by a wooden screens passage, a corridor with outside doors at each end. In larger establishments, the kitchen was a separate building because of the danger of fire, as were other outhouses where food was processed: bakehouses, brewhouses and dairies. Over the centuries farmhouses were extended so their origins are barely recognizable. Parlours were added, upper floors of bedrooms made in the roof space of once open halls, ladders replaced by staircases to upper floors, they were re-fronted in fashionable style, and outhouses were joined to the main building. Large farms had accommodation for domestic, dairy, and farm servants and food was prepared for many people daily. The lay-out of these homes and workplaces as revealed by surviving historic features, for example windows, doorways, fireplaces and ovens, is a record of how people went about their daily lives.

Three Great Farmhouses

In Upper Swainswick three great farmhouses, Manor Farm, Hill House, and Upper Swainswick House, all originated as hall-houses dating from the decades around 1600. In each case, the stone-built hall with its great chimney became the kitchen when modern wings were added. Smaller farmhouses, Pickwick Farmhouse and Sunnyside were built in the later 1600s. At Tadwick, Manor Farmhouse and Tadwick House were also built in the late 1600s.

Hill House, Upper Swainswick

Hill house was built shortly before 1600 for Thomas Prynne (d. 1620), a prosperous Bristol merchant, father of William Prynne (1600-69), Swainswick’s most famous resident and it was William Prynne’s home for the rest of his life. The house retains some original finely carved stone fireplaces, although it was altered around 1730 and in the early 1800s.16

Swainswick Manor House

In 1066 there was already a manor house by the church, and it has been rebuilt several times on this site. The earliest fabric survives from the late 1500s. The house was completely rebuilt following the marriage of William Prynne’s widowed mother Mary and Edward Capel, tenant of Oriel College in 1621. Edward and Mary built a fashionable terraced water garden in 1625, similar to the one which may be seen at nearby Dyrham Park, and added a large barn in 1629. The Prynne’s descendants, the Clarke family were tenants of Swainswick Manor until 1825. The interior was remodelled in Georgian style and the exterior in the Victorian era. In the early 20th century, the house was divided into two homes for members of the Shackell family, and these were sold to separate owners in 1963.17

Upper Swainswick House and Stable Cottage

In the 1700s Bath became a pleasure resort for the wealthy. Houses in Swainswick, a short journey from Bath were remodelled in Georgian style for tenants. Upper Swainswick House is typical of those remodelled for tenants. In 1740 Dr. Rayner, a physician from Bath took up the lease and in the later 1700s a new block of principal rooms was built with views down the Lam valley to Bath. Behind it, the old hall built by the Maynard family in 1670 became the kitchen with rooms above for servants, and a high wall along the street gave the tenants privacy. During the Regency period, between 1810 and 1820 the house was greatly extended and the attics and parapet were added. Between 1852 and 1860 the tenant was another famous resident, the naturalist Leonard Jenyns (1800-93, from 1871 Leonard Blomefield). He was a lifelong friend of Charles Darwin, and curate of Langridge and Woolley. The house continued to be leased out until 1924 when Oriel College sold it to Mary Aylmer, whose great-niece Joanna Cacanas and her family still live there.

Stable Cottage was built a separate farmhouse in the 1600s, and later became an outbuilding for Upper Swainswick House. In 1830 a new storey and attic provided a stable and coach house with a hayloft above, and accommodation for servants. It became a garage when motor cars were invented, and was converted into a home by the Cacanas family in the 20th century.18

Georgian and Victorian Mansions and their Residents

Around 1825 when Oriel College sold the lease of Manor Farm, new gentry residences were already being built in Swainswick. The 1825 sale included homes the Clarke family had built in Lower Swainswick. George Clarke (b. 1679), who became Lieutenant Governor of New York, built Lambridge House overlooking Swainswick meadows for his visits to Bath.19 The Clarke family acquired plantations in Jamaica and with the income Edward Clarke (b. 1770), the last member to live in the parish, built Swainswick Villa later called The Woodlands.20

The White House (formerly Swainswick Cottage) and Monck’s Cottage

The White House (formerly Swainswick Cottage), was built in the early 1800s on land leased by the Cirencester to Chipping Sodbury Turnpike Trust, for road improvement. From 1836 it was the home of Rev. Francis Lockey (1796-1869), one of the pioneers of photography. His family continued to live there after his death, and their servants lived in Monck’s Cottage, built across the road around the same time.21

Glebe House (formerly the Rectory, previously known as Streets)

Glebe House, the former Rectory, was rebuilt in Victorian Gothick style by Rev. John Earle (1824-1903), to accommodate his family of seven children. Earle was another notable resident of Swainswick. A fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, he combined his duties as rector of Swainswick for over 40 years (1857-1903), with research into philology as a professor of Anglo-Saxon. He had the first purpose-built school added on to the Rectory for the children of Swainswick.22


The Eighteenth Century was a time of economic progress. Trade and industry were developing, money flooded in from plantations and colonies, wealthy people and the not so wealthy flocked to Bath for a cure in the mineral springs or for The Season of social events. While new gentry residences were built along Gloucester Road after 1825: Oriel House, Lower Swainswick House, The Elms and Bellevue Cottage, this is not the whole story. The story is one of the gradual spread of the city of Bath into new suburbs.23

Travelling along Gloucester Road

Since the Middle Ages Bath had been a centre of the cloth industry in which Swainswick played a part. Dead Mill originally ground corn, but was later converted into a fulling mill for processing cloth. Major roads to London and Gloucester carried goods through the parish and the Cirencester to Chipping Sodbury Turnpike Trust was an agent for change. In 1784 the Trust built Turnpike Cottage on Gloucester Road to collect tolls for road repairs.24 Forge Cottage on Blacksmith Lane in Upper Swainswick is a reminder of the days when horses were shod there and wheels repaired.

The Development of Lower Swainswick

Lower Swainswick grew up around the cloth mills at the bottom of the valley which the Lam Brook carved for itself over many centuries. There were many small cottages for the mill workers to rent. Ribbon development grew up along the London Road, where the big Georgian houses were built to take in visitors to Bath as lodgers. By the 1850s there were terraces of cottages: George’s Buildings, Gloucester Buildings, Lower Gloucester Buildings, Millbrook Buildings, Millbrook Cottages, Swainswick Buildings, Lower Swainswick Cottages, and by 1900 Spa Lane Cottages. The Batch in Upper Swainswick, a well-built row of small homes for agricultural labourers, probably replaced run-down older buildings.25 Some of the businesses employing the growing population of Lower Swainswick were old: Dead Mill, Lambridge Mill and the Oil Leather Mill, all relying on the water power of the Lam Brook. New businesses were of the type which grow up on the edge of a city to service its richer inhabitants. There were painters, letter carriers, shoe makers, tailors, coachmen and several women who ran laundries, as well as masons, carpenters and doctors. The Bladud Arms Public House, The New Inn, and the Post Office were all built to serve the new suburb.26

Dairying and market gardening

Dairying and market gardening were profitable businesses in Lower and Upper Swainswick and in Tadwick. A family only needed a few cows and a few acres of grazing to make a good living by selling milk door-to-door. Under Westwood in Upper Swainswick and Bellevue Gardens on Gloucester Road were two of many market gardens growing fresh food on the south facing slopes around Bath.27

Swainswick in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Upper Swainswick shrank in size as fewer people were employed in agriculture. By contrast, Lower Swainswick increased in size as tram and bus transport allowed people to commute to work in factories and offices in other parts of Bath. Lower Swainswick developed into a pleasant suburb in the building boom of the 1930s. Houses and bungalows were built along the Gloucester Road and around Alice Park. The park itself was built for the young people of Swainswick by Herbert Montgomery MacVicar of the Elms as a memorial to his beloved wife, Alice, following her death in 1937.28 After the 2nd World War more roads and cul-de-sacs were laid out around the park, starting in the 1950s. Newer housing now fills the spaces between the old Gloucester Road and the A46 dual-carriageway. Upper Swainswick remains as a beautiful stone village to remind us of the agricultural labours of our ancestors over so many centuries.



Maps – Ordinance Survey Maps 1”, sheets viii/5 (1886), viii/14 (1888), xiv/2 (1888), 1/2500; Explorer sheet 155 (2011).

R.E.M. Peach, The Annals of the Parish of Swainswick, with abstracts of the Register, the Church Accounts, and the Overseers Books (Sampson Low etc., London, & Charles Hallett, Bath, 1890), includes the work of Mrs Henley Jervis

The Buildings of England Series:

Andrew Foyle & Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset, North and Bristol (Yale University Press, 2011)

Michael Forsyth, Bath (Yale University Press 2003, revised edn 2007)

Historic England Buildings List:

Post Office, Bath Directory (1858-9, 1900)


Domesday Book

C. and F. Thorn, eds., Domesday Book: Somerset (Phillimore, Chichester 1980), 5,38, 47,18 Accessed 22 Nov 2016 Accessed 22.29 pm, 22 Nov 2016

Medieval Deeds of Bath and District: I, Deeds of St John’s Hospital, Bath, ed. B.R. Kemp, PhD; II, Walker-Heneage Deeds, ed. D.M.M. Shorrocks, MA (Somerset Record Society, Vol 73, 1974), I, Nos. 124-36 Swainswick, Nos. 137-141 Tadwick; II, Nos. 181/520-186/525 Swainswick

Jean Manco, The Spirit of Care: the 800-year story of St John’s Hospital, Bath (Bath 1998)


David McLaughlin & Michael Gray, Shadows and Light: Bath in Camera 1849-1861 – Early Rare Photographs: Calotypes by the Rev Francis Lockey LLD. 1796-1869 (Dirk Nishon Publishing, 1989)

Rob Iles and Laurie Bingle, ‘An Early Garden at Upper Swainswick’, Avon Gardens Trust Journal 1 (2006), pp. 24-32

Rob Iles and Laurie Bingle, ‘The Remains of an Early Garden at the Manor House, Upper Swainswick, Bath’, Bristol and Avon Archaeology 20 (20??), pp. 17-23

The House Historians, ‘Report on the Manor House, Swainswick, Bath’ (2004)


Dictionary of National Biography:

Blomefield (formerly Jenyns), Leonard (1800-93), naturalist

Earle, John (1824-1903), Philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon

Prynne, William (1600-69), Puritan pamphleteer

Wood, John (1704-54), the elder, architect

Wood, John, (1727-82), the younger, architect

Ian Wallace, ed., Leonard Jenyns, Darwin’s Lifelong Friend (Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 2005



3 Jean Manco, The Spirit of Care.

4 Medieval Deeds of Bath and District, I, Nos. 124-36.

5 Medieval Deeds of Bath and District, I, Nos. 137-41.

6 Medieval Deeds of Bath and District, II, Nos. 181/520-186/525.

7 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, p. 6.

8 Medieval Deeds of Bath and District, I, Nos. 137-41.

9 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, p. 22 William / p. 24 Walter – check Collinson.

10 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 22-29.

11 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 98-173.

12 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 129.

13 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 176.

14 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 98-129, Church Accounts.

15 Information from Swainswick Church of England Primary School.

16 Pevsner, Somerset North and Bristol, p. 625; Peach, Annals of Swainswick, p. 36; Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

17 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, p. 36; Iles and Bingle, Avon Gardens Trust Journal 1 (2006), pp. 24-32; The House Historians, ‘Report on the Manor House, Swainswick, Bath’ (2004); Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016; inf. from Pat Shutter of the Manor House, East.

18 Dictionary of National Biography, see under Blomefield; Ian Wallace, ed., Leonard Jenyns, Darwin’s Lifelong Friend (Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 2005); Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016; Inf. from Joanna Cacanas, Upper Swainswick House.

19 The House Historians, ‘Report on the Manor House, Swainswick, Bath’ (2004.

20 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 81-2.

21 Peach, Annals of Swainswick; McLaughlin and Gray, Shadows and Light; Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

22 Dictionary of National Biography, Earle, John (1824-1903); McLaughlin and Gray, Shadows and Light, p. 18; Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016; inf. from Mr. and Mrs. Sanders of Glebe House.

23 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, pp. 81-2; Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

24 Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

25 Post Office, Bath Directory (1858-9, 1900); Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

26 Post Office, Bath Directory (1858-9, 1900); Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016.

27 Post Office, Bath Directory (1858-9, 1900).

28 (Historic England Buildings List,, accessed 27.11.2016)

1 Maps used include OS Maps 1”, sheets viii/5 (1886), viii/14 (1888), xiv/2 (1888), 1/2500; Explorer sheet 155 (2011).

2 Peach, Annals of Swainswick, p. 6.