Mary was born at Old Whittington into one of the most prominent Whittington families. Her father was Frederick Swanwick, chief engineer for George Stephenson. Her brother Russell was born in 1843 and the family lived at Whittington House Old Whittington. Mary lived her whole life at Whittington.
The family were non-conformists and regularly attended services at Elder Yard Chapel Chesterfield.
Following in her fathers footsteps, she was a keen educationalist and philanthropist and a great contributor to the lives of people in Whittington.
She became the patron of the artist Joseph Syddall who was a local Whittington boy. He came from Church Street and was working as a clerk when Miss Swanwick spotted his talent as an artist and paid for him to study under Sir Hubert von Herkomer.
She took a keen interest in the Whittington schools and regularly attended to observe pupil teachers and to check registers. Whittington Websters endowed school on Church Street Old Whittington became Mary Swanwick Community school in the 1930’s
She was the first lady governor of what was Chesterfield High School for Girls, and in March 1921 (4 years after her death) a memorial was unveiled to her at the school. According to Sir Henry Hadow, vice chancellor of Sheffield University, who unveiled the memorial to Miss Swanwick, “she not only had the gift for making things move she also had the greater gift of bringing out all that was good in other people”.
(Excerpt taken from Sheffield Telegraph 8th March 1921)
She was nominated as a Guardian of the parish (Old Whittington Ward) in 1894. Miss Swanwick wrote to the Derbyshire Times on 11th December 1894 (appeared 15th December 1894) outlining what she could do if she was elected. Her election was successful and she remained as a Guardian for over twenty years.
Mary Swanwick was a well known and respected figure in Whittington and took the plight of the young and the poor very seriously.
In words taken from her obituary in the Derbyshire Courier April 17 1917 –“ She was indeed a ‘Guardian of the poor’ in its fullest sense and probably nobody but the poor themselves know what a true friend they had in her”. The full obituary can be read below.
Mary Swanwicks funeral service took place at the Elder Yard Chapel and she was buried in the family plot at Spital Cemetery. Her funeral was attended by council leaders, representatives of the charities she was involved in , educationalists and many more people who obviously respected and understood the part Miss Swanwick played in the welfare of the community.
I had never seen a photograph of Miss Swanwick and was delighted to come across this one when I visited Elder Yard Chapel on an Open Day.
The reports of Mary Swanwick’s life would confirm that she was a kind, compassionate and inspirational woman who used her wealth and power for the benefit of the communities of Old Whittington and beyond.
A report of the memorial service in the Sheffield Daily telegraph April 12th 1917 gives further insight into Miss Swanwick’s full and diverse life.
Obituary from Derbyshire Courier 17 April 1917