Swansea Devil - Atlas Obscura

Swansea Devil

Swansea Museum

A turn-of-the-century prophecy comes true when a mischievous wooden Devil watches the neighboring church burn to the ground 


On the ground floor of the Swansea Museum, the oldest museum in Wales, you can find a large wood carving of a very mischievous devil tucked away in a corner. He is known as Old Nick, or as many call him, the Swansea Devil.

Old Nick dates back to the 1890s, when the prestigious St. Mary’s Church in the center of town, decided to do some major renovations. The work was put out to bid, but a local architect who was turned down for the job didn’t appreciate that the church was now worked on by an outsider, and decided to enact his revenge.

The architect bought up a row of cottages next to the church, demolished them and built large red brick offices. He then commissioned the carving of Old Nick and perched him on top of the building overlooking the church. The architect is reputed to have cursed the church by saying, “When your church is destroyed and burnt to the ground, my devil will remain laughing”.

Years later, during World War II, a German blitz left most of Swansea—including St. Mary’s—destroyed and burnt to the ground. But the building with Old Nick on top was undamaged and remained standing until 1962.

Twenty years later, as part of the country’s postwar restoration, the second chapter of Old Nick’s twisted tale began when St. Mary’s was rebuilt, again following Blomfields designs, whilst Old Nick was removed when the building he watched from was leveled. For many years it was unknown where Old Nick had ended up, but following efforts by local historians to discover the resting place of “The Swansea Devil,” he was discovered in the 1980s rotting in a Gloucestershire garage.

Once returned to his native Swansea, there was a public campaign for the Swansea Devil, to take up his old place overlooking St Mary’s Church. This was met by a counter-campaign by the church but ultimately, the management of the Quadrant, a shopping plaza now standing in the location of Old Nick’s old perch. Here he continued his watch until 2019, when he was moved to his current location at the museum. Locals say they keep him behind glass—more for our protection than his.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Last admission is at 4 p.m. Admission is free. Disabled parking is round the back of the museum, and there is on- street parking nearby. 

The devil is currently in the room to the left of the main door,  on top of a stand in the far left corner. 

In partnership with KAYAK

Plan Your Trip

From Around the Web