Swinnertons in the Arts

Swinnertons have achieved recognition in a number of artistic fields, notably in painting but also in sculpture and in music.

Charles Swinnerton

Monumental mason.
Charles Swinnerton the Mason started out dressing stone on the Isle of Man for the building of King William's College, the island's only public school.
He became a very good mason; there are many examples of his work scattered around the island's graveyards and churches.

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The Mason

Charles was born on the 19th October 1813 in Liverpool, the fifth son (out of a total of 6 sons and 2 daughters) of Joseph Swinnerton and Hannah, nee Dodd. Joseph had been born in Betley and was the Master of the Charity School there for a time. Subsequently,however, he appears to have moved around the country a good deal as he had children born in Chester, London and Newcastle-under-Lyme before finally settling in Liverpool about 1800.

As a small boy, Charles witnessed the first steam boat to sail in the Mersey and the first railway train between Liverpool and Manchester. He learned the trade of stonemason and in his mid-teens travelled to London to work with the intention of proceeding to Rome to improve himself as a sculptor. However, this was not to be, and instead he crossed the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man where he was to work initially at dressing the stone being used in the building of King William's College (1830-33). The crossing to Douglas took 2 weeks due to headwinds and heavy seas, a journey that today takes just a few hours!

He took lodgings in Castletown, where the College was being built, and there met Mary Callister or Collister - it has been spelt both ways — of a family who were resident in Cronk Renny, Castletown. She kept a small school near the country hamlet of St Marks. They married on the 13th August 1834 in St.Mary's, Castletown, but subsequently moved to Douglas where he took up employment with Messrs. W.& R.Quiggin - timber, slate and general merchants. Mary is listed in the 1846 Directory of Douglas as a Staymaker. Their home at 60 Fort Street is listed in the 1847 Directory as a boarding house.

Charles's talent was soon recognised by the general public; firstly for a Grecian Urn carved on a local tomb, and later a bust of one of his children carved in stone "direct from nature".

By 1843 he had entered into partnership with Daniel Creer, a fellow stonecutter, with whom he purchased several building plots and erected terraced houses in the developing town. However the partnership did not last; by 1843 it had been dissolved and they had gone their separate ways. Charles moved to Fort Street where his wife advertised 'Desirable Lodgings'. His stone yard, in which he employed 2 stonecutters and 5 labourers, was immediately opposite the house and backed directly onto the shore. Years later his eldest son Mark recalled how his father had tried to raise a pig in the yard. The pig was very fond of seaweed but never grew any bigger than a 'good sized tom-cat'!

Charles was a man of many parts: he was the maker of the first steam engine ever made in the Isle of Man which drew crowds of country people to his house after Market on Saturdays. He took a great interest in things antiquarian, and due to his initiative several runic crosses and other historic objects were collected for the local museum.

One of his most ingenious works was a beautifully sculptured sundial enriched by Gothic ornamentation, a figure of Old Father Time and several grotesque heads: the unique feature was that it had sixteen dials each giving a different time for a different place in the world. One account says that the heads were all of different races of people, and when the shadow of the hand fell on a certain head, e.g. a Chinaman or an Egyptian, it told the time in that land. This article apparently appeared in America and was entitled Famous Sundials of the World. A Mr Joe Cannell of Cleveland showed it to Charles's grand-daughter Florence: the article said that the sundial had been in the nunnery grounds for many years and was then taken to a boy's school where it had been defaced. It was traced from there to a private estate in England but had since disappeared entirely. The calculations were all undertaken entirely by Charles. John, a great-great grandson of Charles, possesses a book in manuscript form entitled Problems in Dialing - As Worked Out and Figured by Charles Swinnerton, Douglas 1840. The book was bound in Sienna by the Reverend Charles Swynnerton to whom it was given by his father in 1905.

The mainstay of Charles's business was monumental carving, which ranged from very straightforward headstones to the best examples to be found on the Island. His ecclesiastical work included gargoyles, angels, pulpits, fonts and reredos.

Charles worshipped at St.Thomas's in Douglas, and when in 1875 they decided to erect a school he entered the open competition for the design of the building. His plan won first prize but he offered his services as architect free of charge. He also undertook some carving on the building and, at the foundation-stone laying ceremony, the vicar's wife who performed the ceremony was presented with an engraved silver trowel which had been made and supplied by Robert Swinnerton, Charles's 28 year old son who was a watchmaker and jeweller.

Amongst other work he carried out was the pulpit back of the altar wall in the chapel at Bishop's Court and a reredos of Caen stone in St.Thomas's Church, Douglas. This has since been replaced by a wooden one, but pieces of the original can be seen in the Castle Rusben Museum.

Charles took an active part in the affairs of the town of Douglas having been elected to the Town Commissioners or Council in May 1867. He topped the poll of 6 candidates with 124 votes, the last candidate gaining only 10. He retired from business in 1882 at the age of 69 and realised his life-long ambition to go to Rome where he spent 9 weeks out of his 3 months visit to Italy.

In 1890 he had a house-cum-studio built at Gansey in the south of the Island which was also used occasionally by his sons Joseph, the internationally known sculptor, and Frederick, the artist.

Charles died on the evening of St.George's Day 1907 at the grand age of 93 years, 6 months and 4 days, having previously shown no signs of illness. He was buried in St.Peter's Churchyard, Onchan, which is near Douglas where his wife had been laid to rest 33 years before on the 1st January 1874. He had, in fact, carved the plain headstone for this family grave himself and included his own name and the numbers 18... intending the mason to put in the last 2 numbers of the year he died. He had obviously never visualised that he would live on into the 20th century, and so, after the funeral, the whole reference to the date had to be carved out by cutting a recessed panel and a new date was then carved into it.

Charles and his wife are further commemorated in St.Matthew's Church which is only a few yards away from their first home on the quayside at Douglas. The memorial, which was provided by their son the Reverend Charles Swynnerton, is a stained glass window depicting St.Matthew and is a very fitting memorial to a man who spent a lifetime creating memorials to others.

The Manx Quarterly reported that he was a commercial success and a 'gentleman with a delightful manner'. According to family notes, his retirement home on the shore at Port St.Mary was very beautiful and had superb views of the sea and rocks and headlands all around, which was a definite encouragement to his artistic children. His grandchildren Godfrey and Frances said he never really got over the death of his wife Mary despite having outlived her by so long. She was described as being tall and slender but very soft and gentle. She was a very well educated person and a great reader but was a semi-invalid for years before she died. Another granddaughter, Florence, describes how she used to go to the churchyard at Onchan with her grandfather to visit her grandma's grave; it had a high ornamental black iron fence around it which was always covered with delicate pink and mauve blossoms which were very fragrant.

(From the original article in the Manxman by Richard Kelly and additional notes by Douglas Swinnerton, another of Charles's great grandsons).

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Charles Swinnerton Heap

Musician - Composer, conductor, player.
Music in the Five Towns 1840-1914, by R. Nettel, includes many references to Charles Swinnerton Heap.
See Wikipedia article.

Dave Swinerton

Artist. See (external) Article.

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David Michael Swinnerton was born in Walsall, Staffordshire, the son of Michael Paul Swinnerton and Marguerite née Brough.

On leaving school, he studied at Walsall College of Art but then worked in engineering for some years until he moved to Ross-on-Wye where he became a full time artist and photographer of people and wildlife.

See website 'davesartworld.com'.

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Frederick Swinnerton

Artist and Painter.
See Manx article.

Jimmy Swinnerton

American desert landscape painter and cartoonist.
James Guilford Swinnerton (1875-1974) is a well listed California artist of Palm Springs. He is a highly collectible artist with an auction high price realised of over $27,000. Known as "The Dean of Desert Painters", he is listed in Davenport's Art Reference and Price Guide, Hughes's Artists in California, The Red Book of Southwest Art, Who Was Who in American Art, and Mallett's Index of Artists. Further information can be found in the book Jimmy Swinnerton, the Artist and his Work written by Harold Davidson. Some examples of his paintings and illustrations are shown on this website.
See also Wikipedia article.

Joseph Swynnerton

Manx Sculptor.
Joseph Swynnerton (1848-1910) became the foremost of the Manx sculptors having studied at Edinburgh University. He demonstrated his talent also in painting, and there is a detailed article about him in Volume 12 No.6 of the Swinnerton Family History magazine. There is also a biography, with photographs, at this Isle of Man website.

Mark Swenarton

Architectural critic and historian. Emeritus Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University. Publications include:

  • Homes fit for Heroes : The Politics & Architecture of Early State Housing in Britain (1981)
  • Artisans & Architects : The Ruskin Tradition in Architectural Thought Vol.1 (1989)

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Mark Swenarton is Emeritus Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University. He has dual interests as a historian and a critic of architecture.

He trained originally as an architectural historian and has practised as such for many years, focusing on twentieth-century housing. Later he became also an architectural critic and editor.

From 1977 to 1987 he taught at the Bartlett School of Architecture (University College London) where, with Adrian Forty, he set up the first masters' course in architectural history in the UK. In 1989, with Ian Latham, he founded the monthly journal Architecture Today, co-editing it from 1989 - 2005. This was followed in 2000 by EcoTech. He remained publishing editor of both titles until 2005.

He was head of the architecture school at Oxford Brookes University from 2005-10, and from 2011-15 held the inaugural James Stirling Chair of Architecture.

His books include Homes fit for Heroes, Artisans and Architects, Dixon Jones (with Ian Latham), The Politics of Making (with Igea Troiani and Helena Webster) and Feilden Clegg Bradley: the Environmental Handbook (with Ian Latham).

Mark Swenarton is a member of the peer review college of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and vice-chair of CABE's Design Review Panel.

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