These days a ubiquitous HMO, what was the Ship Inn sits on the corner of Westcott Place, Birch Street, Park Lane and Faringdon Road, opposite the GWR park. In 2006 The Ship relaunched as a music venue, but closed for good in 2012. 

Opened in 1847 as a beer house, like many town and city centre public houses, the Ship Inn has enjoyed or endured a chequered history. But it’s arguable that the most interesting part of its story is that of its infamous murder.

In 2009, historian Frances Bevan recounted the tragic tale of the barmaid killed by her ex-fiance for the Swindon Advertiser.

‘On September 18, 1903, Edward Richard Palmer, 24, walked into the Ship Inn. He ordered a bottle of Bass. He then pulled a revolver from his pocket and shot dead the 19-year-old barmaid, Esther Swinford.’

Young Esther worked as a live-in servant at the pub when first she met Palmer. In 1902 they became engaged. But events were to take a dark turn. With the date of the nuptials set and the banns read, Esther learned her beloved had been somewhat careless with the hard-earned cash she’d given him for for their shared future.

I’m not going to recount the whole tale here. Follow the link above. Or this one to Frances’ blog:

Let’s suffice it to say, and cutting short a long story, that Palmer paid for his crime of passion with the death sentence. He was hanged at Devizes prison on November 17th 1903.

In the witness stand Palmer confirmed that he was in the habit of carrying a revolver. Though on this occasion he’d only meant to frighten Esther. It appears he was annoyed that she’d not spoken to him. They found a photograph of Esther with the words ‘the curse of my life’ written across it on Palmer after his arrest.

The Ship Inn Swindon when it was still operating as that.
The Ship Inn Swindon – photo from Strolling in Swindon – when still functioning as a pub.

For more in this Swindon in 50 More Buildings series go here:

Last Orders

*John Stooke’s book of the above name, gives over ample space to this pub.

*I can’t find my copy of this book. If I’ve lent it to someone can I please have it back? My house isn’t big enough to lose a book of that size and the only thing I can think is that I’ve lent it out and forgotten about it. I dunno …

Anyway, in his amazing book he describes varying landlords over the years and some of their stories. He also mentions that, in 2006, Enterprise Inns reopened The Ship as the 12 Bar music venue with Dave Young and Anna Sprawson at the helm. Dave Young explained the name 12 Bar as a being familiar to musicians. It’s one of the first things you learn on the guitar.

Enterprise Inns spent £250,000 on the place but sadly stripped out pretty much every vestige of the Victorian internal architecture in the process.

John tells us that the revamped pub opened on October 13th 2006. Sadly initial success didn’t last and the obvious happened. Local property developer Pat Slattery snapped it up and the Ship was sunk.

Below we can see the Ship Inn as it looks today. The internal Victorian features may have beeb stripped away, but externally at least, it hasn’t homogenised. It’s clear to see what its previous life was, with the ghost sign to the left of the top, front window, the pub sign hanging to the left and the window to the left of the door on the corner. All of which is a whole lot better than complete obliteration.

The Ship Inn in 2023
The Ship Inn in 2023 – photo courtesy of Chris Eley

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