30 April 2008

A correspondent writes:

CANON DR John Edwin Swaby, who died on 26 February, aged 97, after 74 years in holy orders, spent 42 years of his ministry in Lincoln diocese. He moved across the border only in retirement.

He was born in Withern, Lincolnshire. He attended Magdalen College School, Wainfleet, and then Louth grammar school. He studied for his MA at Durham University, a place he remained fond of to the end. During his time there, he worked with children in the poorer areas of the city, taking them for picnics and caring for them in Sunday school.

He was ordained to a title in Louth, where he spent many happy years before taking up his first incumbency at St John’s, Scunthorpe, an industrial town that had many different challenges.

After 13 years in Scunthorpe, he moved to the coastal town of Mablethorpe. Just before he arrived in 1953, there was great flooding when the sea defences collapsed. He had to cope with the aftermath. He also served at St Helen’s and All Saints’, Theddlethorpe, which were attached to Mablethorpe, and was Rural Dean of Louthesk East.

A move followed to Barton on Humber, where he worked closely with ministers of all denominations. Many barriers and intolerances were broken down.

There were two churches in Barton, both within sight of the vicarage. In 1969, John Swaby was made a Canon of Lincoln Cathedral, and St Mary’s was chosen to host a televised service to mark 1300 years of Christianity in Yarborough deanery. The Archbishop of York, Dr Donald Coggan, preached, Canon Swaby took the service, and his wife, Mary, directed the choir.

Canon Swaby’s final incumbency was in the south of the county, where he was Rector of Uffington, Tallington and Barholm. He retired in 1976, becoming Canon Emeritus. In 1983, at the age of 72, he completed a Ph.D. thesis on religious life in Lincolnshire during the Civil War and Commonwealth.


Canon Swaby’s interest in local history led him to write several books that were published, among them A History of Louth (1952),

The Marshmen (1961), and The Stranded Town: Wainfleet through the ages (1994). He also wrote histories of Mablethorpe, Scunthorpe, Uf-fington, and, in retirement, Empingham.

After retirement, he turned to writing poetry: many of his collections of poems were published, among them Random Rhymes (1989), and Memories of a Country Parson (2001). He was writing up to the day before he died.

He had moved to Southorpe, and regularly helped in the church at Barnack; and then to Empingham, Rutland, where he lived for 22 years. Here he continued to take an active part in the life of the church.

Canon Swaby, while a true intellectual, was a man of the people. He could relate to them on any level. He was a great believer in visiting people in their homes, and made regular calls on the sick or elderly.

Up to his death, he still had contact with people he had helped, christened, or married in the past, a testament in itself of how highly he was valued. He did not agree with change for change’s sake, and at the end he was very concerned about the way the Church was going.

Mary Swaby died in 2001. Canon Swaby spent his last 18 months living with his daughter Sara in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

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