Swabs Lane – Street Story

Cropwell Bishop Streets: — Swab's Lane

Swab's Lane

I imagine a lot of people living in Cropwell Bishop are not even aware that we have a street called Swab's Lane.

The road stretches from the Lime Kiln crossroads on the Colston Road, to the Owthorpe crossroads. For only a third of its length is it within Cropwell Bishop.

At the Cropwell Bishop end, there are only two homes together with a collection of farm buildings.

Map of Swab's Lane
Map of Swab's Lane as it was 100 years ago.
The Lane runs from the crossroads at the centre, to the middle of the bottom border.
The white region is the parish of Cropwell Bishop, the yellow, Colston Bassett and the orange, Owthorpe.

So, you are probably asking, who is this Swab character that the lane is named after.

Well, these are the facts.

  • I have an OS map (above) which names the road, Swab's Lane. It was printed in 1971 but was compiled from "sheets last revised in 1919". It does not even show Hoe View Road – and that was built in 1952.
    So, I think, it is safe to assume that the name has existed for at least 70 years – probably much longer.
  • I have not found any record of a person named Swab ever having lived in Cropwell Bishop.
  • The only historical record that I have found which mentions anything like "Swab" is from 1751.

Let's further investigate this last point.

In 1751, a man named Christopher Bell, who lived in Cropwell Bishop, died. What makes his death of interest to us is that he was a wealthy man.

Being a wealthy man, he wanted to ensure that his house, land, goods, and everything else of value, was passed on to his family when he died. He did this in exactly the same way that people do today – he made a will. His will is of interest to us because it mentions Swabbs.

Christopher Bell wrote his will on 30th May 1751. It begins:

"This is the last will and Testament of me, Christopher Bell of Cropwell Bishop in the county of Nottingham, Yeoman, being now in bad health of body but of good mind and sound understanding and calling to mind the uncertainty of this life Do give and Devise unto my Mother, Elizabeth Bell and my brother John Bell and to their heirs all that my Moiety or the divided half Part of all those four closes or inclosed grounds lying in the parish of Coulston Bassett in the said county called the Swabbs, now in the possession of myself the said John Bell and Thos. Pine."

Even the legal jargon cannot hide the fact that "Swabbs" refers to land.

Following his death, an inventory of all his belongings was made by four of his friends. It lists over 100 everyday household items, farming implements and machinery, etc. The items of interest to us are the parcels of land, and in particular, the one described as,

"8 akers of whete on ye SWOBS"......£28".

We can interpret this as "8 acres of wheat on the land called Swobs". This is an area equal to about 5 football pitches.

Notice the different spelling of the name: we have so far encountered Swabbs, Swobs and, the present-day spelling, Swab's.

It is clear from these 270-year-old documents that, The Swabs, (whatever its spelling) refers to land of that name.

The wording in the Will appears to associate The Swabbs with Colston Bassett. But Christopher Bell was very much a member of Cropwell Bishop: his father had been a constable of the village in 1728, and Christopher is buried in St Giles Churchyard.

It is also worth noting that the white farmhouse on the Lane, which is now named 'The Old Farmhouse', was called 'Swobbs Farm' a hundred years ago.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Swobbs name predates any building on this road.

It does seem highly likely, then, that the name of the Lane comes from nearby land called, The Swobbs, and not from a person although, it could be argued that the land had been named Swobbs, after a Mr Swobb who, in some earlier time, had lived nearby – we just don't know.

The colouring on the map shows that some land on the eastern side of the Lane is in Colston Bassett. Given that Christopher Bell's will associates The Swobbs with Colston Bassett, it might be reasonable to assume that the land once called The Swabbs, was on this eastern side of the Lane.

The variety of spellings for Swabbs comes as no surprise. The spelling of places and people has long been unstable (for example, is it 'Tithby' or Tythby') and comes from a time when spoken, rather than written, English ruled.

Nevertheless, of all the versions unearthed, "Swab's Lane", seems the least appropriate of all. The apostrophe suggests a person's name, but the evidence suggests it was land.

Having exhausted the history of the naming of Swab's Lane, I think it is worth looking in more detail at the history of Christopher Bell and his family.

His will was written on 30th May 1751. In it, he goes into a lot of detail on how he wants his wealth to be used for the education of his four children (all young girls), and how they are to inherit equal parts of his land and property once they are 21 years old.

He names his brother, mother, cousin and friends in the arrangements, but nowhere does he make any mention of his wife, Ann.

In the will he says that he is "in bad health of body but of good mind and understanding". The next day, he died; he was just 35 years old.

He was buried 2 days later on the 2nd June 1751 and on the 5th June the inventory of his house and property was completed by his friends.

But what of his wife, Ann. She was 40 years old and alive and, for all we know, attended her husband's funeral. Was there a sound reason for not mentioning her in the will: I think so.

What we do know is that 7 days after Christopher died, she also died and was buried 2 days later. They share the same headstone in St Giles Churchyard.

Grave of Christopher and Ann Bell
Grave of both Christopher Bell and his wife Ann who died a week apart in 1751

Christopher appears to have accepted that he was going to die in the near future. He may have also accepted that Ann was near death too. Maybe he anticipated outliving her which is why she was not mentioned in his will.

A man and wife dying within days of each other because of separate illnesses is not unheard of, such an instance happened in Cropwell Bishop just a few years ago. But these were young people, with four young daughters: their youngest, Sarah, was only one year old.

Had they both been infected by some terrible disease, or had they both been involved in some kind of accident. I don't suppose we will ever know.

Tony Jarrow

Note: Thanks to Anne Terzza and Pam Barlow for their help with this article.

Bell Family Tree
Bell Family Tree
Bell Graves
Bell family graves are some of the oldest in the Churchyard

green rule
Swab's Lane
View down Swab's Lane from the Lime Kiln crossroad
Swab's Lane
View up Swab's Lane towards the Lime Kiln crossroad
Swab's Lane
Members of the Cropwell Bishop Walking Club making their way up Swab's Lane after a walk to Owthorpe in 2014
Swab's Lane
Runners heading down Swab's Lane during the Stilton Stumble in 2016
Swab's Lane
A stile at the start of a public footpath which goes through Lime Kiln Farm yard and then across fields to Owthorpe
Swab's Lane
Lime Kiln Farm
Swab's Lane
Barn across the road from Lime Kiln Farm. A lime kiln once stood on a spot just to the right of this barn.
Old Lime Kiln
The old lime kiln that once stood at the side of Swabs Lane. In the background is a house on the Colston Bassett Road.
Look at the map of Swab's Lane: the kiln is highlighted by a pink spot.
Swab's Lane
Bungalow on Swab's Lane
Swab's Farm
The Old Farm on Swab's Lane: it used to be called Swobbs Farm