Swillington’s secrets and quirky tales

Swillington is one of those great places we take for granted, it’s somewhere I often pass through when travelling to Garforth or further afield. It is quintessentially English with a beautiful church, a few local shops, a good chippy and now even an award winning Indian restaurtant! But how much do you know about this great little place? Swillington has been around ‘donkeys’ years and has a few interesting secrets.

It seems the first recording of Swillington is in the Doomsday Book in the 11th century. The name has changed some what over the years, being referred to as ‘Suillictun’, ‘Suillingtune’, ‘Svillingtvne’ and into the 12th Century ‘Svilentone’, meaning ‘farmstead near the pig hill’. Swillington’s actual full title is Swillington-in-Elmet but nowadays Elmet is only used for the political constituency.

As like its adjacent towns and villages, Swillington had its fair share of mines dating from the mid 1800’s. The five major pits in and around Swillington were the ‘Victoria’, ‘Albert’, ‘Lowther’, Fleakingly Beck’ and ‘Primrose Hill’ pits. The one that I believe is mostly remembered though is Primrose Hill which was situated near Astley Lane. This pit was active from 1893 until its closure in March of 1970.

It was the coal industry that attracted an influx of people to the area from the North East during the 1920’s and 1930’s. At that time the rights of the coal mines were owned by ‘Pease and Partners Ltd’ which was a mining company based in the
North East. As well as the attraction of employment, it is thought this was another reason the areas population boomed with workers descending from the north with the notion that the North East Company would employ workers from the North East in preference to those from the local area. Such was the amount of people who settled in Swillington from the North East, the village at one point was referred to as ‘Geordieland’.

One of the secrets that Swillington holds is the lost village of Astley that was demolished in the late 1970’s to make way for open cast mining. The village had existed since 1543 and had quaint cottages and farm buildings.

The area is also at the heart of a vast agricultural community, including the Leventhorpe Vineyard which was established in 1985 and the Organic Farm situated on part of the historic Swillington Park Estate, including ruined cellars of the old grand Swillington House.

Swillington also had its own pottery industry. In 1791 Swillington Pottery was established on a site near Swillington Bridge. The pottery produced cream coloured earthware and china. Finished goods and raw materials were transported using the nearby canal. Swillington Pottery was bought and subsequently closed in 1838 by John Lowther Esq who at the time was the landlord. It is rumoured that despite the pottery being a thriving industry, Lowther disliked the smoke produced during the process which often drifted over his estate and that reason alone was enough for him to close the entire works down!

Another great tale associated with Swillington is the tradition of the throwing of confetti over the bride and groom at weddings.

The former rector of Swillington Church, Thomas Dealtry is believed to have introduced the custom here. Dealtry was the former Archdeacon of Madras and Chaplain to the East India Company. He was an acquaintance of the Lowther family and on the collapse of the East India Company he returned to England to become the Rector at St Mary’s church in Swillington.

The Hindu custom is to throw three handfuls of rice over the bride and she also throws the same over the groom as a symbol of fertility. It is thought this custom was adapted by Dealtry for newly weds who exchanged vows at St Mary’s.

The church itself holds a first, when back in 1978 eight bells from St Matthews church in Holbeck were relocated to St Marys church. This involved a huge feat of engineering by a team of dedicated volunteers. The work was finally completed in December 1979.

So the next time you drive through Swillington, remember that this is no ordinary place and much more than a simple commuter village, but a place with a great history and some amazing quirky tales that should never be forgotten.