Thursday, 24 November 2016

A history of Old Swan

Old Swan in Liverpool has a fascinating history; named after an eighteenth century public house called The Three Swans, a stop-off place for pack horses and travellers at the junction of what is now Prescot Road (which was a main pack horse route bringing coal from Prescot and St Helens) Broadgreen Road (once called Petticoat Lane), and what is now St Oswald Street. The sign of the swan was inspired by the coat of arms of the Walton family, and there are symbols of the swan feeding three cygnets in various locations in the area. The site of The Three Swans was located over the road from the present Old Swan pub (which was called the Swan Vaults), where the Red House pub used to be, and another pub called The Cygnet (which is now closed) was situated on the other side of the junction. There was also a Blacksmiths located on Prescot Road.

Old Swan grew from being a stop-off place to water the horses and refresh the travellers, into what effectively became a village, with the St Oswald's church being built in 1842 (designed by Pugin) with a school and a Convent being built. Industry settled in the area, with the early glass works situated near to where the present Glasshouse pub is today, and a rope walk which can still be seen at the side of Tescos opposite the church. The glass works which was opened in 1825, was one the earliest manufacturers of clear plate glass and imported around forty French glass workers to make the plain sheet glass. The factory was a success, and Old Swan glass was reputedly used for the Liverpool based Custom House and the Royal Insurance Buildings. The factory was closed in 1855 due to a Fraud Case, and according to one source, was bought out by Pilkington and the Chance brothers. The church had some major rebuilding done in the mid 1950s and the spire was rebuilt in 1989.

There is also the local mystery of the 3561 burials that were discovered in the mid 1970s on the site of the present St. Oswald's Primary School. The corpses - part of a mass burial - were exhumed and cremated, so no known testing was carried out, and all that can be said is that they were buried there before the death records began in 1837. Local historians have debated if the burials were plague victims from the 17th century or victims of the cholera epidemic of the 1830s.1

Old Swan is a historical gem with still a lot of hidden history to see. Here are a few photos taken from a recent history walk with a group of local students.

The old school building and St. Oswald's Parish Club.

From the grounds of the church - it could be in any English village. The Church and surrounding buildings were constructed using Woolton sandstone.

The school and convent buildings by St. Oswald's Church.

Another view of the church that could be any village in England.

The swan feeding three cygnets - from a tomb in the churchyard.

The font of St. Oswald's.

The Glasshouse Pub - the Old Swan glass works was situated in this area.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

1. See the booklet St Oswald's Old Swan 1842-1992 which was printed by the church and celebrates the 150 years of St. Oswald's. It has much information concerning the history, the rebuilding of the church and the mass burial that was discovered in the area.

1 comment:

  1. I worked for a couple of yrs in a bicycle shop at the junction of east prescot road & green lane & did a lot of shopping there in the 50s & 60s