Bygone Swan Story

A short story written by Shelagh Ensor of Burton, Staffordshire & Swadlincote, Derbyshire who heard we were sponsoring the Burton Swan Trail and told us about her Grandad Bateman and the connection to the Iconic Burton Swan.

Shelagh writes;

I was born in 1952, to a father who was a bus driver and a homemaker mother, I had two older brothers Keith and Stewart, we were very loved children of parents who engaged with us in all our activities.

This led to an idyllic childhood, of woods and tree climbing, pond fishing, stickleback and newt hunting, bluebell picking, walks along the river to the secret garden of Drakelow Hall, long since demolished, cycling and stilt walking, romping through the hay and playing ball games in our close.

I recall as early as crawling, Dad was left in charge, whilst Mum popped to the shop. My humming top had hummed and danced its way out of the living room doorway and into the kitchen, where the floor was a cold red painted concrete. Like the Pied Piper baby Shelagh followed the spinning colours and soft humming top out onto the kitchen floor, only to be scooped up in Dad’s arms and laughingly plopped back into the warmth of the lino floored living room.

Due to the age difference, I had several years alone with my mother, until old enough to attend school with my brothers. I have many memories of these early years.

Particularly fond ones are of my mother’s father, Grandad Bateman, whenever in his company I could feel his fondness and love for his little granddaughter surround me. Needless to say, I adored him and would sit on a little foot stool he would place between his legs, and he would playfully pull my ponytail and my treat was always a Bluebird toffee.

Pictured here 'Grandad Bateman'

Grandad, Frederick Alfred Bateman, worked for the Burton Borough Council in the parks department, as did several of his sons and grandsons after him. At this time, he was Park Keeper at Stapenhill gardens.

Mum and I would visit him often, whilst my brothers were at school. There was a cabin for the keepers, a log-built cabin away at the side of the park, tucked below the Dingle. Inside it was a dark, subterranean world, with a red firey mouthed “dragon” burning at the back, from the little black stove, with constant brews of tea on top. As you entered it was dark and like a cave, smelling strongly of earth, timber, and plants.

Lying out of sight of the terraces of flowers, the sweeping lawns down to the riverbank, and the Regal white Swan in the centre. Grandad was always welcoming and after a cuppa, we would wonder the park with him, always heading for the Swan first, to check the fish were happy and dangle my little fingers into the water. The red fish were often unnerved and swim off to the other side, and as children we would pursue them around and around. The end of our visit would always to placate me, be a last visit to the Swan before heading home. The Swan with its fish pond surrounding it was a base for us children , on a summer’s day or a Sunday afternoon it would be the central place of games; hide and seek, up and down the terraces, or tick, always the base our parents would look to locate us first. Dobson’s Boat Yard was across from the park gate but more importantly for us children, the Dobson’s Sweet Shop, with sherbet kali, Dolly Mixtures but mostly ice creams, tri coloured Rocket Ice lollies, on a hot summer afternoon.

Our family like many Stapenhill families spent endless sunny days playing or picnicking in the park, from Waterside in the hollow and down to the Bandstand opposite the cemetery, where a band would play on a Sunday afternoon, and the benches surrounding it would be packed, whilst we children played games up and down the steps, in secret hollows and arbours, shrubs and trees of the waterside. We knew every nook and craney down the length of the Stapenhill waterside park. The Swan continued to sail regally over her little pond, until society grew too disrespectful, and the fish had to be replaced by bedding plants, she always looked resplendent. It was fantastic to see the Swan restored, as was the Ferry Bridge, not just locations to Stapenhill families but landmarks of halcyon days of children playing happily together whilst parents were confident to let us be free. In the 1950’s people didn’t have cars and barely could afford too many bus trips, so walking down to the park, to watch the cricket on the Hollow, to listen the band to picnic or meet other Stapenhill folk you knew was the meaning of our leisure time.

In more recent years as a runner, whenever we ran the Bovril 10 miles, my family would be at the Swan, with water refreshments for me to pick up. At the age of 11yrs, my mother achieved her diving certificate at school. It was taken in the River Trent at Stapenhill, imagine that today!!!

The Swan always felt like it belonged to our family, we spent so much of our childhood around it, and will forever be my memorial to Grandad Bateman who passed away not long after my visits to the cabin ceased for school.

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