The Grand Finale Of The Up The Swanee Project

9th January 2024

The Swanee is a historic pond and nature reserve in Kendray, just over a mile from Barnsley town centre. It is situated next to Barnsley Cemetery, housing estates and post industrial land.  It is a place cherished by local people, where parents take the buggies out to get the kids off to sleep in the fresh air, where fishermen tell tall tales and where wild orchids grow. However, very little information was held in Barnsley Archives about this area compared with other sites in the Borough.

And so the Up the Swanee project was born, thanks to a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant and the support of Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust, with the aim of finding out more about this fascinating place, both through research and captring the stories of the people who live there at community events.  

The project commissioned local historian and author Jane Ainsworth to research the history of the Swanee Pond and surrounding area and this research has uncovered that the pond is at least hundreds of years old and was once a boating lake for a grand house and before then a swan pond, from which the name the Swanee derives. This contradicts the more popular theory that the pond is named after the American river, and popular saying ‘up the Swanee’. And the mystery of it being a bottomless mine shaft ‘that sucked you under!’ was finally put to rest, with the mine shaft being a little way away.

As suspected the history was expansive- the Slazenger tennis ball factory sat by the pond, a trailblazing Victorian hospital, the town’s cemetery, a great hall and stories of giant carp, ghost cats, falling stars, floods and terrible accidents have surfaced.

This research is being kept for the future generations of Kendray and with support from Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust it is being turned into a published book in 2024. 

The team held community open days at St. Andrew’s Church Hall in Kendray with more than 50 local attendees. Luke Carver Goss and a local band put music to Swanee song lyrics created during the event with Ian McMillan. The Oral History Society was on hand to record folk songs or stories and artist Richard Kitson led on memory drawing workshops. There was even a didgeredoo involved!

Three workshops were held on the wards of Kendray Hospital which sits at the side of the Swanee Pond. Service users enjoyed creating songs and learning about the history of the hospital which started out as an infectious disease unit funded by local Victorian philanthropists.

Seven school based workshops were held at Barnsley Academy and Forest Academy with hundreds of children. A number of children were new to the area, so it was great to explore the history of Kendray with them for the first time. Some children and families said they would start visiting the Swanee after the workshops.

Artist and illustrator Liz Kay has created twelve beautiful illustrations based on the hidden history of the site, which will feature in a book in 2024. And artist Richard Kitson (Sky Portrait Artist of the Year) provided drawing workshops throughout the project and spent time with the fishermen in the summer, painting the pond.

The team wanted to record a perfomance down at the Swanee in October but the temperamental weather and slippery site access was proving a worry. An extra muscial day at the local community centre was held instead and the Digital Media Centre kindly provided use of their Creator Lab for the team to record. Talented sound engineer, Moony Wainwright expertly recorded songs  performed by members of the community and project team – and SwaneeCast was born!

The team are over the moon with this recording, which weaves community voice, history, folkore, poetry, song and art into one – which ultimately is the spirit of the project, weaving different artforms to tell an untold story.

The SwaneeCast has been added to YouTube by our digital curator featuring drone footage by Oakleaf Drones and land / litter artworks by Geoff Holmes.

The Grand Finale Of The Up The Swanee Project