To be honest it kind of creeps me out that people could be blissfully shopping in town, completely oblivious to the fact that Satan himself is glaring at them.
The statue has its origins in 1896, when St. Mary’s church underwent substantial structural plans. The task of re-designing the building was put to tender and many ambitious architects applied. The committee in charge accepted the designs for Sir Arthur Blomfield and the church was built. Among the unsuccessful applicants was a proper tamping Swansea Jack, who in a pissed off fit of fury swore vengeance against St. Mary’s church and its acclaimed architect. Blomfield’s disgruntled rival held a grudge and several years later purchased a newly available row of cottages adjacent to the religious building. The angry architect became the anarchist and tore down those cottages and in their place he erected a red brick building to house the brewery offices, on which he placed a wood carving of Satan, facing the church.
The begrudging local is reputed to have prophesied “When your church is destroyed and burnt to the ground, my devil will remain laughing.” He delighted in his plan to submit the church to ‘Old Nick’s’ constant evil gaze.
Gloating with glee, he stated that: “[the] devil will be able to leer and laugh, for at some time in the future he will see St. Mary’s burn to the ground.”
Ignorance is Blitz
In an astonishing twist of fate, ‘Old Nick’ finally had his day when during the blitz of February 1941, St. Mary’s Church and most of Abertawe’s Town centre was incinerated to the ground by the bombs of the German Luftwaffe. What’s even more uncanny is that in defiance of the carnage, the Swansea Devil was one of few artefacts left standing the following morning, undeterred and grinning.
A dramatic clean-up of the war-beaten Swansea ensued throughout the 50’s and 60’s – St. Mary’s was deemed a priority and ’Old Nick’ endured watching the object of is hex being rebuilt, as per Blomfield’s original plans. In 1962, the statue was removed from its watch post in order for it to be demolished.
Lost and Found
During this time the relic mysteriously disappeared for many years until a determined local historian named Rowley Davies managed to track it down. Found in the unlikely location of a suburban Gloucester garage during the 80’s, where he had been sent to ‘rot for his sins,’ the wooden omen was brought back home to continue his mischievous mission of watching over St. Mary’s. Although his old perch has been discarded by the more recently built Quadrant Shopping centre, for historical authenticity, permission was gained to install Swansea’s favourite demon within the buildings’ Whitewall entrance.
It’s no surprise that the sculpture has caused significant controversy over the years, with some citing ‘Old Nick’ as a blasphemous disgrace to God, and others claiming it to be a valuable piece of the City’s history. This divide in opinion has seen the Devil moved to storage on many different occasions, with the Quadrant’s management eventually placing the devil above the entrance near New Look (look left as you enter the shopping centre!) However, criticism still ensues as the Devil is virtually hidden from view, confined high above the entrance within a glass roof and partially obscured by the shelter. Regardless, ‘Old Nick’ still stands proud and continues to observe the Church’s every move – plotting his next move no doubt.
By Hari Powell