Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sending out an SOS - an invitation to Swindon Open Studios

Next week sees the beginning of the Swindon Open Studios event and I'm trying to plan my route.

Every year this fantastic celebration of local art gets bigger and, I hardly dare say it, better. There are more than 60 artists taking part this year with studios open from Liden to Longcot and paintings popping up at the Core, the Richard Jefferies Museum and Swindon Central Library.

Mosaic artist Lynette Thomas (who is presently working on two commissioned pieces for Swindon Heritage and Swindon Suffragette) will be displaying her work at The Beehive, 55 Prospect Hill. 

I'll be heading first for Olive House, home to the Willows Counselling Service, where Ruth Wintle, Marilyn Trew and Lisa Lane are exhibiting their work. For me this is an opportunity to combine art and heritage. 

Olive House has a long and intriguing history, home to the Noad family for over 40 years where carpenter John Noad can be found at the time of the 1841 census with his wife Martha and their four children. Ten years on and the family had grown by a further five children, but by 1871 only three of the 11 Noad children remained at No. 11; Ellen 22, Richard 17, an apprentice carpenter, and youngest daughter Sarah, 15.

By 1901 the property was home to the Crook family, mineral water manufacturers and in 1920 Olive House was a Children's Home. The Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs F.E. Allen made a 1940 Christmas Day visit to various homes and institutions across Swindon and district and distributed 165 threepenny pieces to children at Olive House and the Limes in Stratton. 

The children's home eventually closed in the 1980s when staff from Swindon Social Services moved in.and today it is home to the Willows Counselling Service.

The first Open Studios took place in 2003 and since 2008 local artists have welcomed visitors during the first two weekends in September. 

So visit the Swindon Open Studios website and start planning your route too!

Uffington White Horse by Lynette Thomas

1905 Olive House published courtesy of Local Studies, Central Library

Olive House, Christmas 1940

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Unveiling of Swindon Blue Plaques

Blue Plaques to honour Swindon’s brave WWII Fighter Pilots to be unveiled - 3pm on Thursday 8th September 2016.

Two of Swindon’s bravest sons will be honoured on Thursday 8th Sept 2016 when the Swindon Heritage Team unveils not one but two commemorative Blue Plaques in the heart of the town.

Brothers Harold Starr and Norman ‘John’ Starr were born in the Central Hotel, Regent Street, Swindon. The hotel was replaced with a cinema in the 1930’s and today the Art Deco building houses the popular Weatherspoon’s pub, The Savoy. As soon as were approached about the idea of having Blue Plaques on The Savoy they immediately said yes and have been assisting with logistics ever since.

Squadron Leader Harold Starr (1914 – 1940) was born and raised in Swindon. He bailed out of his burning Hurricane during the Battle of Britain in 1940 but was gunned to death by a Messerschmitt as he floated down to earth in his parachute. His wife was carrying their unborn child. He is buried in Radnor St Cemetery in Swindon in a Commonwealth War Grave. He was 25 years old.

Wing Commander Norman John Starr DFC and BAR (1917 – 1945) was born and raised in Swindon. He was shot down and killed whilst piloting an Avro Anson over Dunkirk in 1945. He was flying back to England to get married to his sweetheart the following day. He never made it back. He is buried along with his three crew members in Dunkirk Town Cemetery in a Commonwealth War Grave. He was 27 years old.

As featured in the Swindon Heritage Magazine, these will be the second and third of our ongoing Blue Plaque scheme. Our first plaque unveiled was earlier this year in North Street, Old Town and is dedicated to Swindon born suffragette, Edith New.

Funding for our heroic pilots’ plaques was made possible by donations from the public and Starr family members via:

The Magazine is a quarterly publication. £4.99 per edition. 
Plaques will be installed by Chris Garrett. He also fitted the Edith New plaque.
Unveiling the plaques will be by the pilots’ Nephew, 93 year old retired Squadron Leader Peter Starr Mills and Great Niece Sue Giles.
Location: Savoy Pub, 38-40 Regent Street, Swindon, SN1 1JL
Contact: Noel Beauchamp 07980720593

Squadron Leader Harold Starr

Wing Commander Norman John Starr

Harold Starr's grave in Radnor Street Cemetery

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Arkell's great big adventure.

Another day, another churchyard...

This week I visited the Grade I listed church of St Margaret's in Stratton St Margaret. The church retains elements from the 13th century despite many later additions and a partial rebuild in the 19th century.

The churchyard has also been extended several times, but I chose to take photographs in the oldest section around the church. There is a Grade II listed table top tomb to Susanna Hedges, but more of her story later. 

Here I found the rather magnificent memorial to John Arkell, founder of the Kingsdown brewery, and his son Thomas buried with various members of their families in a large plot.

The family brewery has been a feature of Stratton St Margaret for more than 170 years and with around 100 pubs, the Arkell name is well known in Swindon. But it could have been a very different story.

Crippled by heavy taxation and an agricultural depression, John gave up on farming and, with his cousin Thomas, left England for pastures new.

The pioneering group, which included other members of the extended family, landed in New York during the winter of 1830/1, but their eventual destination was the uninhabited plains of 'Upper Canada'.

Cousin Thomas stayed but John returned to England a few years later and established the brewery in 1843, and the rest, as they say, is history.

John died on October 21, 1881 aged 79 and is buried with his two wives and several of his children in the large family plot pictured below.

If you would like to know more about John's great big adventure you can read all about it in the very first edition of Swindon Heritage published in Spring 2013. Copies are still available and can be ordered online or bought at the Visitors Information Centre, Central Library and from Swindon Heritage c/o Belgravia Lettings, Commercial Road (opposite the tented market).

St Margaret's Church

Monday, August 22, 2016

My neck of the woods

Did you know that our neck of the woods was once just that - part of a wood, a very big wood? And not just any old wood but a Royal forest no less - Braydon Forest.

The origins of Braydon Forest date back to the 9th century and a belt of woodland stretching from the Thame Valley to the Vale of Blackmore and known to the Saxons as Sealwudu.

The Saxon lords were pretty easy going, it would appear, and then along came the Normans with their system of forest law, courts and officialdom.

Braydon became a royal forest by 1135 and in the 13th century it contained an area of some 46 square miles. The forest bounds included not only woodland but fields of arable, meadow and pasture and even villages such as those of Lydiard Tregoze, Lydiard Millicent and Purton.

In 1256, during the reign of Henry III the king gave Robert Tregoze 3 bucks and 8 does from Braydon to restock his park at Lydiard Tregoze and in 1270 John Tregoze obtained a royal licence to 'inclose and impark' his wood called 'Shortgrove' which lie within the forest.

The 13th century hereditary Wardens of the forest were various members of the de Sandford family and in 1309 that medieval rogue Hugh le Despenser the Elder also held office until his execution in 1326.

By the 14th century England's great royal forests were already under attack as farms and villages nibbled at the edges and the previously stringently enforced forest law lapsed.

Under the reign of James I the rules were briefly tightened up. A swanimote (a court to try offences against vert and venison) was held at Braydon once a year in either June or July. The crimes that most often came before the forest officials included rights of common of pasture on the forest wastes, felling trees and killing deer belonging to the king.

In 1613 Braydon Forest had shrunk to just four miles in length and two in width and was costing the King in maintenance when it was thought £30,000 could be raised via disafforestment.

After much negotiation the Court of Exchequer eventually decreed the disafforestation of Braydon Forest, but it wasn't all plain sailing. Rioting took place in protest against the loss of common rights and some of the demonstrators were arrested and imprisoned.

Eighteenth century maps of Lydiard Tregoze show that the area was still well wooded with the 30 acre Old Park Coppice and Park Coppice measuring 14 acres with the New Coppice at 16 acres.

In Lydiard Millicent Webb's Wood covered 387 acres in 1630. By the mid 19th century this had been reduced to 342 acres while Great Lydiard Wood measured 58 acres; Brickkiln Copse 29 acres and Purley Copse 14 acres.

Today small wooded areas remain and at Peatmoor Copse there are four acres of woodland beside a head stream of the River Ray, most definitely in my neck of the woods.

Peatmoor Copse

Braydon Forest. Key to bounds

Neck of the woods:- The use of 'neck' with reference to a narrow strip of land, usually surrounded by water, dates back to the mid 16th century. However general consensus appears to be that early American settlers used the term 'neck of the woods' to describe a settlement.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Taylor Wimpey proposal to build next to Lydiard Park

If you wondered what had happened to the Taylor Wimpey application to build on a field close to Lydiard House and Park, it hasn't gone away!

Here is a link to Roger Ogle's report. 

Please read the information below and consider making your objection - and do please share this blogpost.

State bedroom

fine architectural features

Lady Bolingbroke taking tea on the front lawn

Stable block area

Stable block area

Stable block

Walled garden

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park

St John family memorial

details of boss in the Tudor barrel vaulted roof

Medieval wall painting

St John polyptych