Luton History: Thomas and Robert - The Sworder Brothers

Local historian Jackie Gunn is on a mission to share stories of Luton's yesteryear. Join her to revisit the past as she researches the town's buried secrets…
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Thomas Sworder and his younger brother Robert arrived in Luton from West Mill in Hertfordshire around 1849 eager to invest the family inheritance due to the death of their wealthy father in 1846.

In all there were five brothers and one sister, however Thomas inherited the bulk of the Will.

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Both were educated at King's School Canterbury, Thomas was now a qualified solicitor and Robert decided to enter the brewing business.

Thomas Sworder.Thomas Sworder.
Thomas Sworder.

Towards the mid 1850's, the partnership was dwindling, Thomas, with no choice had to take over the brewery business, Robert's love affair with drink and gambling was destroying the relationship to the point of Bankruptcy.

Thomas had purchased a Brewery in Dowlais, Wales, a risky investment that failed dismally, however Robert's conduct never improved. Thomas sent him to Dowlais to "mend his ways", but that didn't work either, in fact, Robert walked away in July 1861, and Thomas was glad to see the back of him.

The following years, Thomas directed and controlled large concerns in Luton, throughout his lifetime some of his affairs were a maze of financial tangled webs that were confusing and risky but always worked out for the good.

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During his life in Luton, Thomas Sworder was a member of the School Board, he held firm his convictions, but wasn't a lover of public speaking. He held great support for education for all children, not just the privileged. It was said he was "quiet and un-ostentatious", when doling out charity.

Thomas died in 1910 aged 87 years, he was remembered for his generosity and integrity to make Luton a better place for everyone.

What happened to Robert?

But what happened to his brother Robert? Some say he just disappeared, he was on the electoral register in 1868 for Dowlais but he wasn't there, or that he left England for elsewhere.

After walking out on Thomas and the Dowlais Brewery, Robert travelled to Marylebone in London where his lady companion Charlotte Swadling was waiting for him. His younger brother John was also in Marylebone at the time preparing to marry Charlotte Leathem, the wealthy daughter of Charles Leathem, the "Sugar King" Plantation owner of Dominica and Antigua.

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I doubt John and Robert met, John blamed Robert for the near bankruptcy against the family business in 1862.

Robert and his sweetheart Charlotte Swadling eloped and set sail for Canada in 1861. On arrival they married in Ontario in 1862, but it didn't last, Robert deserted Charlotte to enlist in the 13th Cavalry New York, during the American Civil War, that didn't last either, he deserted while on furlough leave in February 1864. It was recorded he was alive at that time of his desertion.

Now a deserter, he kept a low profile avoiding the consequences of his actions, however in 1868 he is in New York, but shortly moves to San Francisco where he remains, his occupation is a "junk dealer".

His last known address in 1891 was "Clementina" San Francisco, "Junk Dealer," my guess a horse drawn wagon, there appears to be no further records for Robert Sworder after 1891.

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Charlotte Sworder the deserted wife left stranded in Canada, bigamously married Alexander Tait in Manhattan, New York in 1864, under her maiden name Swadling.

She lived to the ripe age of 94 years and died in Nevada, USA, both Charlotte or Robert never returned home.