SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
the life of
A look at our town’s history by Councillor Derek
Antrobus who first researched this article for a
feature published in his time as deputy editor of
the Swinton and Pendlebury Journal in the 1970s
Councillor Antrobus is a local historian who has
published several articles and A Guiltless Feast, a
book about the origins of the modern vegetarian
movement in Victorian Salford. He is a trustee of
Mr Noah Robinson the People’s History Museum in Manchester.
If you look carefully at the relief of St Peter which adorns the Lych Gate 1 of Swinton
Parish Church, you will notice something rather odd. The figure is clasping the keys to
heaven and holding the book of judgement, and is swathed in gowns. The image is
the traditional one of St Peter – until you look at his head. There you see the
archetypal Victorian gentleman, complete with mutton chop whiskers.
It is, in fact, an icon made in tribute to Noah Robinson (1826-1907) who can claim to
be the founding father of modern Swinton. And it is a fitting tribute because he was a
key figure in history of St Peter’s Church. He is also commemorated in a stained glass
window within the parish church, which features a rare depiction of a black woman,
marking his support for the abolitionists in the American Civil War. Robinson was also
a driving force behind the provision of education, highways and sanitation as Swinton
developed from a rural backwater to a busy township.
So esteemed was he among his contemporaries, that in 1901 a column was erected in
the Swinton Public Gardens (opposite the Swinton Police Station on Chorley Road) to
mark his services to the district. Twenty years earlier, he was honoured by fellow
citizens with a presentation of his portrait to mark his anniversary as a member of the
Board of Guardians.
A Lych Gate is the structure at the gate of the church where coffins were laid under shelter to be met by the priest
who led the funeral procession into church. Sometimes rendered as one word, lychgate, the ‘lych’ comes from the
Saxon word for ‘corpse’
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
Life in Brief
Robinson was born in Chapel Street, Salford. At the age of six, he came to Swinton
where his father, Thomas Robinson, had made his home at Ivy Cottage, Wardley
Lane, Worsley – close to the Morning Star public house in the Wardley2 area.
His father had built the Albert Mill which stood until the latter decades of the 1900s by
St Peter’s Church, behind the site of the current Swinton police station.
He married a widow, Mrs Howarth in 1867. She died within a year and they had no
children. Mrs Howarth had a daughter from her first marriage who continued to live with
Robinson. For much of his life he lived at Poplar House, 216 Chorley Road, which
stood opposite St Peter’s Church. He died there in July 1907, a few days before his
81st birthday. He left in his will nearly £15,000.
Robinson was buried at Eccles Parish Church. On the day of his funeral, the Albert Mill
closed and flags were flown at half-mast. The streets of Swinton were lined with people
on both sides to pay tribute as the cortege went past.
He attended school in Swinton under the tutelage of his uncle Luke Smith. In his
Reminiscences he described the Swinton he first knew as “in a very primitive state”.
Writing in 1901, he recalled: “When I went to school , 69 years ago, down Burying
Lane, to Swinton, which is now called Station Road, there was neither pavement nor
edging stones”. No streets were lit and people had to fetch domestic water from pumps
Robinson’s life was dedicated to seeking to remedy this ‘primitive state’. He was active
during a period of great change. According to his Reminiscences, he possessed an
accounts book which recorded the changing population and rateable value of Swinton.
In 1815, the population was around 5,500 (with a rateable value of £7,300) and
changed little until the 1840s.
Robinson notes the arrival of the Swinton Industrial Schools3 and the decisions of the
trustees of the Duke of Bridgewater to open up their extensive landholdings in Swinton
for building as contributing to growth. But the most significant factor was the
establishment of a Local Board (see below) which brought clean water and drainage to
By 1851, the population had risen to 10,188 with a rateable value of £20,095 and by
1901 the number of citizens stood at 30,954 with a rateable value £115,726.
The Sindsley Brook rises at Clifton and runs alongside the former Brook Tavern (now converted to a supermarket)
and along Moorside Road and marks the boundary between the old towns of Swinton and Worsley. Wardley was
historically part of Worsley. Since 1974, when the towns amalgamated, Wardley has been incorporated into a
Swinton ward. The motorway – which divided Wardley from the rest of Worsley - marks a more modern and visible
boundary. In Robinson’s time, Swinton was part of the Worsley township, in the parish of Eccles and in the Hundred
of Salford. It changed to becoming its own parish and own local authority.
The Swinton Industrial Schools were basically a training centre for poor children. Built by the Manchester Poor Law
Guardians in 1846, they occupied the site of the Swinton Town Hall.
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
He involved himself in all the local institutions whose role was to improve the lot of the
people of Swinton. To understand his influence, it is necessary to have a rough idea of
what those institutions were.
At the start of the 19th century, local government was organised around the church with
the local Anglican parish being the centre of political as well as religious life. The parish
was required to elect an Overseer of the Poor (often a churchwarden) and a Surveyor
of Highways. But this was usually too great a burden for local communities. In some
places such as Worsley, there continued the Court Leet – the ancient manorial court –
which was primarily responsible for nuisances, weights and measures, and keeping the
peace. (Larger towns from 1835 were able to consolidate all these powers under a
borough council – often know as the Corporation).
From the 1830s, the institutions of local government were reformed. The Poor Law
Amendment Act 1834 – forever associated with the workhouse – also combined
parishes into Unions administered by elected officials known as the Poor Law
Guardians. Robinson was a Guardian from 1865 until 1901, representing the township
of Worsley (which encompassed Swinton) on the Barton-upon-Irwell Board of
In response to outbreaks of cholera, the Public Health Act of 1848 allowed for setting
up Local Boards of Health, responsible for housing, sanitation, and drainage. These
bodies were renamed Local Boards and given wider powers by the 1858 Local
Government Act. Again, Robinson was a member of the Local Board from 1867 to
Turnpike Trusts – ad hoc bodies established by Parliament to improve and maintain
highways and charge a toll – were more effective than the Parish Surveyor. Robinson’s
career in public service seems to have started in 1841 when he recalls keeping the
highways accounts for Swinton and so it is fitting to start by looking at the development
Robinson recalled how the Surveyor for Pendlebury levied a 10 pence (5p) rate 4 which
was the maximum rate allowed. But that did not raise enough money to complete the
stretch of Station Road from the Windmill Inn in Pendlebury to the Swinton boundary.
Fortunately, the law did not prescribe how many times the Surveyor could levy a rate in
any one year – so he raised the rate three times to pay for the work.
According to Robinson, this prompted the Swinton Surveyor to pay, by levying two
tenpence rates, for the improvement of Station Road from the Bull’s Head so the whole
stretch was completed.
But Robinson believed that Swinton benefited most from the establishment of turnpike
roads and in particular the passing in 1836 of the Pendleton Road Trust Bill which
allowed commissioners to borrow money to cut a new road from the Morning Star to
The rate determined the amount ratepayers were required to pay. Each property had a rateable value – an
estimate of how much it was worth. The rate was levied at x amount in the pound. So for every pound of rateable
value, the ratepayer would pay x. Thus a property valued at £50 levied at ten pence in the £, would pay 50 x 10
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
Lynnyshaw (sic) thus improving the connection between Walkden and Swinton.
Altogether, the Pendleton Bill provided for 23 miles of road to be built, paid for by tolls
to be collected at toll bars at Pendleton, Irlam, Pendlebury, Swinton and Agecroft. At
some of the toll bars there were weighing machines as vehicles (horse-drawn in those
days) were charged by weight.
When toll roads were abolished, the rates in Swinton went up by 1s 4d (about 7p) in
the £ as the cost of maintenance switched from the road user to the ratepayer. The
enormous burden this put on local communities was recognised and the Local
Government Act of 1888 vested responsibility for the upkeep of main roads in the
newly-created county councils.
Robinson’s first elected position as a Guardian for the Barton Union, administering the
Poor Law, seems to have been a consequence the Cotton Famine starting in 1862.
The Cotton Famine was the period during the American Civil War when the blockade
of southern ports mean no cotton was being exported the mills of Lancashire. This led
to the closure of mills and terrible poverty and suffering.
Robinson sought to relieve the poor with the Rev Dr Alfred Dewes5 and the Rev
Thomas Wilson, both clergy at Christ Church, Pendlebury. Robinson was closely
involved with the growth of the church in Swinton and so he would have been involved
in administering relief. This “very sad year for Swinton”, according to Holland, was the
year Robinson “commenced a career of usefulness in Swinton which did not cease
until a short time before his death”.
Robinson himself recalled in December 1882: “Twenty years ago, a black scourge
hung over Swinton. The cotton famine had begun to make itself manifest. I was looking
over my relief-book, and I find the relief-committee commenced its operations on the
20th August 1862 and it was 1865 before we could close the book.
“I was appointed a member of the relief committee and I saw many painful scenes
during my visiting of people out of work through no fault of their own, which I hope I
shall never see again nor that anyone here may witness such a time.”
In the same speech he says that he was then nominated for election as a Guardian
without being consulted at all – the first he knew about it was when he was
congratulated by one William Yates on his way to church one Sunday morning! He was
elected in 1864 and retired in 1901, having served as chairman in 1870-1.
It was Robinson’s service as a Guardian which led him to confront probably the
greatest issue of the time which led to the establishment of Swinton's first local
authority – the Local Board established in 1867. Public health had been a concern
since the early years of the century. In particular, outbreaks of cholera saw a massive
death toll in European cities throughout the period.
Cholera was proven in 1854 to arise from polluted water and water pollution was
classified as a ‘nuisance’ and thus dealt with by the manorial Court Leet. The 1848
Dr Dewes, born in Coventry in 1825, was curate at St John’s, Pendlebury, and later the first vicar of Christ Church
from 1859 until 1874 when he took over the newly-built St Augustine’s.
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
Nuisance Removal Act allowed Guardians to appoint local committees to deal with
nuisances and the first time this arose in the area was in 1853 with what Robinson
calls ‘a slight outbreak of cholera’.
A more severe outbreak occurred in 1866 – the fourth and final pandemic to afflict
Europe – and on Sunday, September 9th, several deaths were reported in Swinton. A
policeman called on Robinson to seek advice on what to do with the bodies. He
immediately went with the policeman to see Dr Dorning, then medical officer for
Worsley. The situation was recognised as being serious and the two men settled on
the idea that a local committee needed to be set up and an Inspector of Nuisances
appointed. Robinson then travelled to Patricroft the same night to call upon the Clerk to
the Barton Union who immediately sent out messengers summoning a meeting of the
Guardians the following morning. That meeting appointed a committee which met each
evening with Dr Dorning to hear his report and act on his advice.
Eighteen deaths were reported and this caused great alarm throughout the area,
including neighbouring Salford where the borough council urged the Barton Union to
take further action. One suggestion proffered was to incorporate Pendlebury,
historically part of Pendleton, into the borough. This was discussed at a public meeting
involving the Borough Council and the Barton Union at the Royal Oak Hotel,
Pendlebury. The Barton Union agreed to appoint a permanent Inspector of Nuisances
and this satisfied Salford that the issue was being addressed.
It soon became clear, however, that without a proper system of drainage there could
be no effective solution to water pollution. The Local Government Act of 1858 had
replaced Local Boards of Health with more powerful local government agencies known
simply as Local Boards. Robinson saw that this was the way forward and a group of
ratepayers put forward a proposal to establish such a Board for Swinton. A public
inquiry was held at the Bull’s Head Hotel in Swinton in early 1867 and the session
lasted just half-an-hour, no objections being raised. The Swinton Local Board, which
also covered the majority of the neighbouring township of Pendlebury, met for the first
time in May 1867 at St Peter’s School in Swinton. It changed its name to Swinton and
Pendlebury Local Board in 18696.
The new Board set to work in earnest, and immediately concluded agreements with the
Manchester Corporation for the supply of water – which until then had to be carried
from pumps and wells – and with the Salford Corporation for the supply of gas. This led
to much disruption as roads were dug up to lay new pipes. In September, 1868,
however, the water supply for Swinton was turned on for the first time. In the same
month, the streets of Swinton were lit for the first time. A survey was undertaken and
contracts let to develop a drainage system for the area. For Robinson, these
improvements were the reason that the town grew so quickly thereafter.
Robinson remarked in 1882 how his duties as a Guardian took him to the workhouse
and observed how few who ended there could read or write. He was convinced that
Following the Local Government Act 1894, Swinton became a civil parish, and the area of the local board became
Swinton and Pendlebury, an urban district of the administrative county of Lancashire. In 1907 there were exchanges
of land with the neighbouring Worsley Urban District, and in 1933 most of Clifton and a part of Prestwich Urban
District were added to Swinton and Pendlebury.
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
education was a way of avoiding poverty and through his association with St Peter’s
Church, did his best to promote schooling – for him, the 1870 Elementary Education
Act which made school places available to all up to the age of 13 had come “not a
moment too soon”.
Swinton had historically been part of the parish of Eccles. A chapel was built in
Swinton in 1791 and it was only 1865 that it became a parish in its own right, the Rev
Henry Robinson Heywood being the vicar. A new church was completed in 1870 to
replace the chapel and Robinson appears to have supervised the contractual
arrangements – he was present when the topstone was laid and there to witness the
removal of scaffolding. He was parishioners’ warden7 at the church from 1871 until
In 1887 a decision was taken to build a new school at St Peter’s and Robinson, who for
34 years until 1898 was treasurer of the School, was called upon to cut first sod a
mark of his prominence in advancing education locally. In his Reminiscences he
devotes a whole section to describing the progress of education in the vicinity, praising
the neighbouring town of Walkden in particular for the foresight of its citizens in
providing cheap education from the earliest times.
Robinson was proud of these achievements and he certainly played a significant role in
modernising the machinery of local government in Swinton and Pendlebury and
advancing the cause of education. But he is also a bridge between the antiquated,
medieval system and one more befitting an industrial age. It is interesting to note that
the last meeting of the Worsley Court Leet in 1888 appointed Robinson the Constable
for the district. The county authorities also sought to honour him by making him a
Justice of the Peace – a position he declined. But other honours were bestowed on
In December 1882 a ceremony took place to mark his years of service as a Guardian.
He was presented with a portrait of himself sitting in the Overseer’s Chair.
In 1901, the Noah Robinson memorial, marking his retirement as a Guardian, was
unveiled in the Swinton Public Gardens in the presence of Robinson, the local MP Mr
O. Leigh Clare, and Mr H. A. Heywood, of the county council. It was inscribed: “Erected
to commemorate the services rendered to the district by Noah Robinson who for more
than 36 years filled the post of Guardian of the poor and also discharged many other
public duties in a manner which has won for him the gratitude and esteem of his
friends and neighbours.”
After his death, a Noah Robinson Memorial Window was dedicated in Swinton church
in October, 1909. It was donated by Miss Howarth (presumably Robinson’s
stepdaughter) and bears the words: “To the glory of God and in memory of Noah
Robinson, born July 19th, 1826, departed this life, July 11th, 1907. Churchwarden of this
Church 1871-1890 and Treasurer of St Peter’s Day and Sunday School from 1864 to
During the 1840s, a Mr T Robinson is names as the incumbent’s warden – perhaps his father, Thomas? This
family link would explain his close association with the church.
SWINTON LOCAL HISTORY PAMPHLET 1
There is much that can be learned from this story other than the career of one man.
Firstly, we may note how the machinery of local government has changed over time to
tackle the challenges that confront society. We have seen the arrangements change
depending on the nature of the problem. The Poor Law Union was a federation of
parishes which included Eccles Parish – and Swinton was just a small settlement
within that parish. The Local Board was a response to public health concerns.
Secondly, we can see a relationship between the local authority and economic growth.
The pressure of growth – the increasing population of Swinton – meant that measures
had to be taken to accommodate the influx of people into Swinton (generated by the
growth of mills and mines – an issue not addressed in this paper). At the same time,
the actions of the local authority in providing the necessary infrastructure clearly
stimulated more growth.
Finally, we can see how Swinton has changed over time. It changed from being at the
margins of the Eccles Parish and administered through the Worsley Township, to
developing its own local government. Initially it was separate from Pendlebury which
was seen as part of Pendleton. Only from 1888 did Lancashire mean anything
significant in terms of local government. Swinton was always part of the Salford
Hundred. Swinton’s fate has always been enmeshed with its neighbouring
communities and this is a reminder that Swinton is not a natural and eternal entity but
one which has been in constant flux.
The Swinton Community Committee asked that this pamphlet be produced to help
preserve our heritage. The memorials to Noah Robinson exist within Swinton. I hope
that this paper gives some meaning to the stones and glass which commemorate his
Eccles and Patricroft Journal, December 9, 1882, p8, cols 1-3
Eccles and Patricroft Journal, July 19, 1907, p10, col 1
Eccles and Patricroft JournaL, October 25, 1907, p5, col 3
Englander, D., (1998) Poverty and Poor Law Reform in 19 Century England, 1834-1914: From
Chadwick to Booth, London and New York, Longman
Fletcher, D., (1929) Swinton Church and Parish: Brief History, publisher unknown
Heys, K., (1958) The Stained and Painted Glass Windows in the St Peter’s Parish Church, Swinton,
Holland, P., (1914) Recollections of Old Swinton, Swinton, W. Pearson
Midwinter, EC (1969) Social Administration in Lancashire 1830-1860, Manchester, MUP
Robinson, N., (1901) Reminiscences (mimeograph in personal possession of author)
Shaw, H., (1949) A Brief History of Christ Church and School, Pendlebury, publisher unknown
Thornhill, W., (ed) (1971) The Growth and Reform of English Local Government, London, Weidenfeld
Tupling, G. H., (1952) ‘The Turnpike Trusts of Lancashire’, in Memoirs and Proceedings of the
Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 94, session 1952-1953
Waterson, C., (2004) ‘Hon Guardian for Swinton Township’, in Lifetimes Link, Issue 14, November-May,