Jasper the Swan in Hinckely

Jasper the local Hinckley swan with a dark side to him

jasper the swan in the rain during july 1954
Jasper the Swan in the rain during July 1954

Jasper the swan used to swim in solitary splendour on the moat of Hinckley Castle which is now better known as the Hinckley War Memorial in Argents Mead.

Jasper became a local Hinckley character attracting the locals to feed him and was the children’s favourite, but Jasper had a dark streak to his nature. It was reported that as long as this swan swims in the moat in Argents Mead the children of Hinckley will have no ducks to feed.

How did Hinckley get Jasper the Swan?

During the early 1920s a manufacturer from Leicester came to live in the Hinckley District, and once he saw the moat of the old castle in Argents Mead, thought that it would be nice to give a home to a couple of swans. It was not long before he bought a breeding pair of swans for the moat, they became the pride of the Park’s Department of the Town Council.

However, there was a problem. The pair of swans were not breeding as expected. The Council decided somebody should take a close look at these two swans. An expert was called upon and gave the verdict that the ‘breeding pair’ were in fact two pens (female swans).

In November 1923 the former chairman of Hinckley Urban District Council, Mr W. H. Bott came to the rescue and provided a three-year-old cob (male swan); this swan would become known as Jasper!

With the arrival of Jasper, the peaceful scene at the moat changed, it seemed that having three swans made poor company. The town surveyor Mr. John Featherston had dealt with some tricky problems in the past, but this problem with Jasper was something that he had no experience with. Jasper had attacked one of the pens; Mr. Featherston was joined by George Gibson and removed the badly pecked pen from the moat and took her along to Foster’s Pond to be released.

Jasper was now left with the one pen to mate with, but he proved to be boisterous with her. It would not be too long afterwards that the pen would fly away with Jasper following her. Jasper was recaptured 12 miles away at Baddesley Ensor in Warwickshire a month later, but his companion had been shot.

Jasper was brought back to the moat and Mr W. H. Bott provided him with another companion, this time it would be a male and both had their wings clipped to prevent another Baddesley Ensor incident. Jasper never really approved of the other male and eventually he won his claim to a lone habitation of the moat.

Life on the moat

jasper being feed by locals
Jasper being feed by locals

The moat was also home to some Muscovy ducks which had a little brood, they were inoffensive and brightly coloured little things which the local children loved to see. The ducks laid eggs which George Gibson would regularly collect when he used to attend to the Garden of Remembrance which is just above the moat. When George had collected sufficient eggs he would borrow a broody hen from Mr. Mayne who was the coal merchant that lived in Dr. Barratt’s old house. The broody hen settled down contently in George’s little hut which was around the corner from the moat, where the ducklings were hatched.

It was not long before George could proudly watch the hen lead twelve ducklings along to the moat, this helped to increase the duck population within the moat which was increasing nicely, but it was not too long before there was upset upon the water of the moat.

Murder at the moat

One by one the Muscovy ducks disappeared while others were being retrieved from the moat dead. By the time of Christmas in 1955 there was only one little green drake left, he would follow Jasper around and it looked like Jasper had warmed to him; this was not to last.

Jasper took the little green drake in his beak and lifted it clean out of the water, then brutally smashed it down on the bank. A Parks Department man ran to the moat and retrieved the little duck to find that his neck was broken.

The moat was now only occupied by Jasper swimming up and down on his own and preening himself. The locals would still bring food for him to eat. The Parks men would give Jasper a wide berth just in case he would turn on them.

A dog ran into the moat and began swimming around, Jasper flew into a terrible rage and flew at the dog with and outstretched neck and wildly beating wings. The fight would only last a few minutes before Jasper had killed the dog. He had claimed another victim.

There was now a dilemma of what to do, if the moat was to be smartened up and ornamental ducks reintroduced then there was only one option - Jasper must go.

The fate of Jasper

jasper in the moat of hinckley castle
Jasper in the moat of Hinckley Castle

With the unease of Jasper killing the ducks as well as a dog and a worry that he may attack the townspeople while going about their business in Argents Mead, there became a burning question of what to do with Jasper!

Shooting Jasper was considered and Councillor Frank Hall of Stoke Golding was suggested to be the one that did it. It was said that ‘he is such a dead shot, that rifle range keepers put up their prices after he has been at their stalls for a few minutes’.

In July 1954 a photographer from The Hinckley Times was out in the rain at Argents Mead and saw Jasper swimming around on the moat, he went to the edge of the bank to take a photo. Just as the photographer was focusing thorough the lens at Jasper, his foot slipped in the muddy slope and he found himself in the waters of the moat in Jaspers domain. He quickly scrambled back on the bank wondering if it was worth a second attempt, and deciding it was he took the picture of Jasper in the rain.

In 1964, after 41 years of swimming gracefully around on the moat, Jasper was found lying lifeless on the bank of the moat one morning at 11am. Jasper was dead!

Jasper was buried along the bank of the moat, it was said that ‘now Jasper has gone, the moat and the memorial gardens will hardly seem the same without him’.