With a campaign on the cards to restore the crumbling Stapenhill swan, many have questioned the history of the structure.

Many assumed the swan was built in the early 1930s after the demolition of Stapenhill House in 1931.

Others assumed the swan was linked in some way to the swan junction and the former Swan Hotel – all of these assumptions are wrong.

The swan was built in 1953 and is the work of members of the old Burton Corporation Parks Department.

Many will instantly recognise that 1953 was a significant year as June 2 marked the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The Stapenhill Swan in Stapenhill gardens is going to be having a refurbishment.
The council have decided to take responsibility for the upkeep of the ornamental swan in the grounds and will be giving it a much needed refurbishment before it falls apart.
It was installed in around 1953 to 1954
The Stapenhill Swan in Stapenhill gardens is going to be having a facelift

Why, rather than when, the swan was constructed is open to some debate but it is most likely many factors played a part.

Firstly, from the 12th century onwards, mute swans were given the status of “royal bird.” No subject was allowed to possess one of these royal birds without a licence from the Crown. Hence, with 1953 being the coronation, the swan would be the bird of choice.

Secondly, the swans on the River Trent are reputed to be lineal descendants of the swans brought to the area by St Modwena.

A seventh century monkish scribe describing the death of St Modwena read: “One morning as the grey dawn broke, two lay sisters came to her cell, and as they approached they saw two silver swans – the emblem of chastity – rise into the air, bearing the soul of Modwena to the border of that sea like unto crystal.”

Thirdly, just a year or two before the swan was built, Burton welcomed some rare winter visitors.

Whooper swans, typically found in Iceland, were spotted on the River Trent and a Bewick’s swan made its home near St Peter's Church, in April 1951. This Bewick's swan stayed for many weeks and would accept bread crusts from visiting children.

The Stapenhill Swan in Stapenhill gardens is going to be having a refurbishment.
The council have decided to take responsibility for the upkeep of the ornamental swan in the grounds and will be giving it a much needed refurbishment before it falls apart.
It was installed in around 1953 to 1954
The Stapenhill Swan in Stapenhill gardens is going to be having a refurbishment. The council have decided to take responsibility for the upkeep of the ornamental swan in the grounds and will be giving it a much needed refurbishment before it falls apart. It was installed in around 1953 to 1954

These whooper and Bewick’s swans made such an impact on the community that the long-established Swan Hotel had a new pub sign painted to depict a whooper swan rather than a traditional mute swan.

Wildlife experts will also point out that the neck on the Stapenhill swan structure is much straighter than that of a mute swan – it is more akin with that of a whooper or Bewick’s swan.

Finally, it is said by some that the swan is a memorial to a real life swan. In the early 1950s, a swan spent time near what was Dobson’s Boat Yard and latterly the Boat House pub.

One day this swan was covered in oil from a faulty boat at the yard and it was rescued by Ernest Topham.

Mr Topham, alongside a gardener from Burton Corporation, nursed the bird back to health and would take turns to feed it on a regular basis. When the swan eventually died – probably in 1953 – its remains were buried and the Stapenhill swan was fashioned on top of its grave as a memorial.

It is feasible that all of these stories have a role to play somewhere in the history of the statue.

As to who built the swan, the full list of those responsible ranges from the gardeners through to the head treasurer.

In the 1950s, Charles Boyce was a member of the Burton Town Council Borough Treasurer’s Department.

His job was to check the finances of the Burton Cemetery and Parks Department and one of his duties was to turn up each Friday afternoon with pay packets for the grounds staff.

The parks superintendent at the time was Len Bradbury, and rather than lay off his gardeners during the winter months, he would keep them busy maintaining paths and making themselves useful.

It was during the winter months these gardeners laid out the steps and the rock garden.

Many people have enjoyed the swan in Stapenhill Gardens over the years

In 1953, the foreman of the cemetery and parks department, Arthur Shilton of Robin Hood Cottages, set about constructing the swan.

Mr Bradbury, with the permission of Mr Boyce, saw to it that Mr Shilton and his men were supplied with all the sand, gravel and cement they would need for their artistic effort.

Some road-making reinforcing wire was obtained to support the swan’s neck and this was taken to the council yard at Bond End to be bent to shape. Now, did the team at Bond End struggle to bend the wire sufficiently to represent a mute swan or was it a deliberate effort to represent the neck of a whooper or Bewick’s swan?

Among those responsible for the work on the swan were Archie Moore, Bill Rowe, Bill Garner, Eric Pallet, Ken Ford, Fred Bateman and Ian Hingley.

Mr Hingley worked as a trainee gardener between 1952 and 1955 and recalled his memories of building the swan to Mail Remembers some 20 years ago.

He said: “The main construction of the swan was reclaimed brick made to the rough shape of the body, then a cover of chicken wire netting and mortar was laid over.

“This was also coated with sand and cement and the neck was made of a hollow tube of chicken wire with reinforcing rods.”

Mr Hingley also revealed the true DIY nature of the project. He said: “Archie went to Woolworths one evening on his way home from work to choose two glass marbles for the eyes of the swan.

“In those days Woolworths was in High Street and the marbles were loose in glass containers as part of a counter display. He drove the store manager crazy because he sorted through several hundred marbles looking for two exactly alike. Archie was determined not to have a boss-eyed swan.”

After the swan was finished along with the rock path gardens, Mr Bradbury confessed to town treasurer Mr Boyce that he thought the end product was “a monstrosity”.

However, by now the people of Burton had taken the statue to heart and postcards soon appeared showing the structure. It was now too late to order its demolition and so the swan has remained for more than 60 years.

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