The Legend of Bladud
The reason for the hamlet of Swineford’s position near the Rivers Avon and Boyd was perhaps due to the forceful flowing Boyd and the twice daily tidal Avon which offered the opportunity to ford or even foot paddle to the far bank. These tidal conditions of the Avon also resulted in frequent flooding, making the land marshy and difficult to cultivate, but an almost perfect habitat for pigs. It also led to the sometimes varying story of Bladud the son of the legendary King Rud Hud Hudibras1
Sadly the young prince suffered with Leprosy and was banished by his father to wander the Gloucestershire countryside scavenging for food and shelter, finally finding a resting place with the local pig herds near the river crossing. In the springtime of his stay Bladud noticed the pigs showing symptoms of his illness and not wishing to disclose his whereabouts or arouse the wroth of the pig owners he took advantage of the low tide to drive the pigs across the river through the thick, heavy stinky mud to the far bank towards Bath.
While the pigs wallowed, Bladud himself covered in the warmish water and mud, fell sound asleep. When he awoke he noticed that the pigs had no signs of Leprosy and his own weeping soars and wounds were healing. Having recovered Bladud returned home to become the Ninth King of the Britons, 9th century BC, and is said to have founded the city of Bath. This is thought how the hamlet found its name and the healing power of the waters and mud became legendary until man management of the river reduced flooding and the loss of the marshy, boggy fields.
The strong current of the River Boyd had already allowed the building of a watermill at Swineford feeding small industries including the brass mill, but the planned development of the Avon & Kennet Canal from Keynsham to Swineford ran into various difficulties in 1725. These included flooding near Keynsham, difficult landowners and the onset of winter. Engineers John Hoare (Hore) and Mr Downs suspended work until the following spring when, after difficulties with The Coster’s Copper Company, work began on a lock across the Avon at Swineford. The first cargo carried to Bath in December 1727 was ‘Deal boards, Pig-Lead and Meal’. The Coster’s had taken over a double tucking mill in 1709 adapting it to a rolling mill from where the copper was sent to Bye Mill on the river Chew near Keynsham to be made into pots and pans. The Swineford company later became the Joseph Percival Copper Co. and then in 1840 the John Freeman Copper Co. when new buildings were added on the site. It later became a lead works and a flock mill (2).
Swineford Dyewood/Colour Mill
There are documented references to the processing of dyewoods at Swineford which may just possibly be relevant to part of the copper-mill site above, but more likely refer to the small mill site on Pipley Brook where a picnic site has now been established. The grinding of ochre was carried out here by the late nineteenth century.3
The Golden Valley mills and Swineford industries could now take advantage of the river, the new lock, the already existing wharf and the development of the Avon & Kennet Canal from Bristol to Devizes and further. Cottages were built alongside both sides of the road to accommodate the mill workers and the hamlet sustained two inns, The Swan and the Old Bath Barge. A Congregational Chapel was built in 1870, which is a fine example of a (considered temporary) metal building often described as a Tin Tabernacle or Iron Church.
Some of those listed in the 1851 census as working at the copper mill were: Sumption Thompson, John Hadderall, George Hook, William Bush, John Brimble and Nathaniel Rose. Also listed is Amelia Bush, William’s wife, recorded as a copper mill man’s wife. There were few noted jobs for women in the early census so most were left blank or listed as an unpaid domestic (housewife). Some of the landlords of the two Swineford pubs:
The Old Bath Barge: Isaac Thompson 1841- 1853, Jane Bell 1871-1875 and Walter Morris 1906. It was also run by the Hillman family for many years. The Swan also had
a selection of landlords from the 1850s to the 1900s including Edward Cox, William Sleigh and Jane Cox.
(1) Miller, Frederic P.,Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Alphascript Publishing, 2010
(2) Day, Joan, ‘A Guide to the Industrial Heritage of Avon’, Association for Industrial Archaeology, 1987
Peter Davies, 2021