Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking down on Fleming Way in the 1950s

This 1950s aerial view of Swindon shows the town centre on the threshold of an earlier regeneration project.

Demolition had already begun with a small cluster of terraces on the corner of Weymouth Street.  Built in the 1870s, the site of the former housing was used as an unofficial car park when this photograph was taken in 1959.

The transformation would continue with the creation of Fleming Way, named in honour of former Swindon Town striker, Harold Fleming.  This busy bus terminus cut a swathe through housing in Cheltenham and Gloucester Streets.

Today the Zurich Tri Centre buildings stand on the site of houses once bounded by Wellington and Gloucester Streets.

Farnsby Street, at the top of the photograph, numbered fifty-seven houses.  The Wesley School Rooms stood on the corner of Faringdon Road, now dominated by the refurbished Bridge House.

Catherine, Carr and Vilett Streets all made room for the multi-storey car park and the Murray John building.  Named after Swindon's visionary Town Clerk, David Murray John, today this iconic 1970s building dominates the Swindon skyline.

Still recognisable today is the distinctive building at the Bridge Street crossroads, once home to Burtons the tailors in 1959.

In 1957 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the British public they had 'never had it so good.'  While Regent Street was dominated by super store old timers McIlroys and Morses there was a myriad of other smaller businesses in neighbouring streets.  Harry and Sidney Godden had a tobacconists in Cheltenham Street while E.D. Major ran a cycle repair workshop from 1 Weymouth Street and Sidney F. Radford had a dance school at 71 Cheltenham Street.

Today changes continue to take place with the demolition of the Whale Bridge roundabout and more work planned to alter Fleming Way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thomas Hooper Deacon

The Vale of the White Horse Hunt was formed out of the ancient Old Berkshire Hunt in 1832. By 1837 the Master of Fox Hounds, the Hon. Henry Moreton, had moved the hounds to new kennels at Cirencester Park. In 1886 the hunt split yet again, becoming the VWH (Cirencester) and the VWH (Cricklade). Two years later Mr T. Butt Miller took over as Master of Fox Hounds, a role he was to fill for 22 seasons, eleven of which he was assisted by Thomas Hooper Deacon as secretary. The two VWH Hunts were eventually amalgamated in 1964.

Today the subject of fox hunting is a contentious one, but there is no denying that for many generations it was an important part of country life. Fox hunting created many occupations for the rural community, including a flourishing trade in horses, which was good news for one Old Swindon businessman.

Thomas Hooper Deacon was born in Faringdon in about 1838, the son of Cornelious Floyd Deacon and his wife Ann. By 1861 he was working as a saddler, employing two men and two boys at his business in the High Street, Highworth where he lived with his wife Jane and their young son Floyd.

Widowed in 1866, Hooper Deacon married Elizabeth Kempster Sainsbury in 1868, moving to Swindon around the same time and establishing in 1871 the VWH Horse and Carriage Repository with his business partner Thomas Edmund Liddiard.

The first large sale took place on February 26, 1872 and was attended by farmers and dealer from all parts of the country.

In 1874 the two men signed a lease on the mansion house, garden, yards and stables in High Street, formerly occupied by John Harding Sheppard. Under the same agreement they also acquired various other properties in the area behind High Street and Newport Street, further extending the Repository premises. The business flourished and in 1879 1,872 horses were entered for sale across the year.

A man of phenomenal energies, Hooper Deacon's activities were not limited merely to his auction business and fox hunting. A Managing Director at Swindon Town FC, President of the Swindon Amateur Bicycle Club and Captain in the Wilts Yeomanry, Hooper Deacon was also one of the founder members of the Victoria Hospital.

In a political career spanning nearly forty years he served as a member of Old Swindon Local Board and represented the South Ward following the town's incorporation in 1900. He was one of Swindon's first Aldermen and was elected Mayor in 1908.

The Advertiser described Thomas Hooper Deacon as 'one of the best known and highly respected men who have lived in Swindon' in a lengthy memorial published on his death in April 1915.

"His energy and abilities have helped in an incalculable degree to the prosperity of the community, and his purse has been always open to every demand made upon it,' the obituary continued.

Hooper Deacon lived for several years at Kingshill House, then owned by the Bowly family of brewers, but for much of his life he lived close to the VWH Repository at 58 Newport Street where he died in 1915. He is buried in the churchyard at Christ Church alongside his second wife Elizabeth and their daughter Mabel Ivy.

Today he is commemorated in the naming of Hooper Place, a lane close to the site of the Newport Street entrance to the former Vale of White Horse Repository.

The Hunting Act of 2004 has altered the nature of the traditional hunt where horses and hounds now follow an artificially laid trail, however the Boxing Day Hunt remains one of the best attended meets of the season.

Images - A William Hooper view of VWH Hunt outside Kingshill House, home of Thomas Hooper Deacon, courtesy of Paul Williams, see this and more on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just when they thought it was all over ...

While 21st century Premier Division players complain about Christmas fixtures curtailing their party going, in 1952 Swindon Town travelled to St. James's Park, Exeter on Boxing Day, with a return match at the County Ground the following day.

In front of a crowd of 13,620 it looked like Town was in for another defeat when the home team scored after 28 minutes. Under pressure from an all out attack by Exeter, Swindon goalie Sam Burton made a series of brilliant saves while centre half George (Garth) Hudson executed some timely interceptions.

And just when they thought it was all over, Jimmy Bain scored followed by a goal from Terry Ryder in the closing minutes of play, making Swindon the first team to win at St James's Park that season.

A victorious Town returned to the County Ground to do it all over again the following day, however the match looked in doubt when Swindon woke up to a heavy blanket of fog. The game eventually went ahead although at times spectators found it almost impossible to follow the ball or to identify the players.

In an evenly matched first half the score stood at 1-1. The second half opened with an early goal from Exeter and a swift reply from Swindon. The Town went on to dominate the game, beating Exeter 5-2 with goals from William Millar, Terry Ryder, Ray Betteridge and Jimmy Bain who scored twice.

While the fog obscured much of the play, the Advertiser reporter named Ryder as one of the shining lights in Town's victory, writing that "he swung across a stream of excellent centres, several of which might have brought more goals."

The Christmas fixtures saw Town earn four points, rising four positions in the Southern League, but sadly the end of the season had them finishing in 18th place. Having been in the bottom nine for three successive seasons, Louis Page said goodbye to the County Ground after eight years as manager while the holiday match hero Terry Ryder moved on to King's Lynn.

Pictured - Terry Ryder (top) Louis Page (bottom)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

St Saviour's Church, Swindon

In 1881 the population of New Swindon stood at nearly 20,000 and was rising. In just forty years building had spread out of the railway village, first along Westcott Place and then beyond the railway line to the north of the town.

With the parish church of St Mark's struggling to meet the spiritual needs of its ever increasing congregation, another church was desperately needed, but the coffers were empty.

Undeterred Canon Maurice Ponsonby stepped into the pulpit to give an inspirational Whitsunday sermon on June 9, 1889. Taking as his text Genesis Chapter 6, verse 14, he told his congregation to 'build me an ark' - and that's exactly what they did.

Meetings held on two consecutive Wednesdays in June soon saw a band of sixty volunteers step forward. The men were rapidly organised into three groups headed by Cresser, Hayward and Wager, three carpenters and joiners employed in the GWR works. Work began immediately on a plot of land in Ashford Road gifted by local landowner William Sheppard.

Rev. Charles John Corfe set the ball rolling, lifting the first spade of earth on the site while Miss Ethel Dean, daughter of Chief Mechanical Engineer at the works, William Dean, laid the foundation stone on August 12.

With Cambria Bridge room serving as a workshop, each of the three groups put in two evenings voluntary labour a week. Work continued every evening and Saturday afternoon, with the volunteer labour force working throughout the GWR Christmas shut down. In just six months St. Saviour's Church was ready to open.

Gifts included 1000 bricks donated by local builder George Wiltshire, and wood, of which there was a considerable amount, by an anonymous 'Welsh Churchman.'

Among others who made donations were the Verschoyle sisters, daughters of Crimean veteran Henry William Verschoyle and his wife the former Lucy Clarissa Goddard. The Goddard granddaughters Sybil and Kathleen gave eight chairs costing 2/6 each while their sister Theresa provided the altar cross.

As if their Herculean effort had not been enough, fifteen years later and the congregation were asked to do it all over again as the busy little church required an extension.

By the 1950s the congregation at St Saviour's anxious to protect their 'temporary' wooden structure considered their options and whether to rebuild or renovate. Local architect R.J. Beswick was engaged and produced designs to build an outer shell of Cotswold Dale random stone blocks.

In 1961 St Saviour's was rededicated and the homemade wooden church as last became a permanent fixture.

Family Service at St Saviour's takes place every Sunday at 9am and the church has a thriving number of clubs including Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Brownies. For further information telephone 619706.

Build Me An Ark, a history of St. Saviour's Church by Frederick Fuller is available for consultation in the Swindon Local Studies section at Central Library.

Images - 1910 views of St. Saviour's are by William Hooper, available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Three R's

School logbooks are a valuable source of local knowledge, providing a snap shot of a locality and even the name of a young ancestor - especially if they were naughty!

Built in 1841 on land provided by Rev. Henry Streeten, 'adjacent to the Butts' the school in Lydiard Millicent opened in 1842.

The logbooks held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives date from 1870 and the appointment of Miss Hannah Shore.

Despite all efforts to get them into school, hard-pressed rural families often kept children at home. Boys were put to work on local farms during busy times and education versus a few coins towards the family income was always a hard fought battle. Hannah Shore writes on June 30, 1871 - 'Many of the children away on account of the haymaking.'

From 1880 education became compulsory for children up to the age of 10, yet in 1891 schoolmaster Francis Drew was to write in the Lydiard Millicent school logbook - 'Lucy Leonard who has been absent 158 times during the past 9 months, having been kept at home as her parents state to nurse the baby.'

The Lydiard Millicent catchment area was a large one and the children from the outlying village of Shaw had a long walk. During the harsh winter of 1880/1 Drew writes that the roads were completely blocked by snow and that some children only managed to get to school 'owing to the kindness of Mr. Hayward.' (Henry Rudge Hayward, Rector of All Saints' Church).

The Lydiard Millicent logbook includes a record of what was taught in the various standards and sometimes a comment on the progress of individual children. After tests in 1883 Drew writes - 'The backward children in this standard are: Letitia Love, Hester Greenaway, Phoebe Embling, Mary Beasant, John Carter and Charles Greenaway. The names of persistent truants and cheeky children pepper the pages - June 17th 1881 - 'Severely caned John Titcombe for using bad language.'

Along with entries about the Children's Treat, a picnic provided by local landowner Captain Sadler, and half-day holidays, are the more distressing events of Victorian village life. An outbreak of Scarlatina in August 1881 saw 20 children sick and Drew writes - 'One of the children has died with the Scarlet Fever and as the number of cases is increasing the school is closed under medical authority.'

While new teaching appointments are noted, children joining the school are recorded, with perhaps a hint of professional one-upmanship. March 29th 1886 - 'Admitted 3 children from Hook School viz Florence Guest, Benjamin Stoneham & Ernest Tuck who know nothing of Geography or Grammar.'

So if your ancestor was less than a model pupil, or failed to turn up at all, you might just find them in a school logbook.

Blunsdon National School 1898 - photograph courtesy of the Richard Radway Collection for more from this archive visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Looking down on the Drove Road area in the 1950s

The County Ground, home to Swindon Town FC since 1896, takes pride of place in this photograph of Swindon 50 years ago.

The 1958/59 season saw Swindon Town playing in the new Division Three. Bob Edward was top scorer with nine goals to his credit that season and a total of 69 during his time at the County Ground. This was the season manager Bert Head recruited Ernie Hunt, the club's youngest signing at 16 years and 182 days old, to what later became known as Bert's Babes.

With an average home crowd of over 11,300 sadly Swindon Town finished the season in a disappointing 15th position, although well clear of the relegation zone.

Development along Shrivenham Road had begun in the 1920s with building to the east of Drove Road starting in the 1930s. Drove Road was an ancient route along which drovers brought their animals to market at the old town on the hill. The modern routes of Queens Drive and Drakes Way have yet to make an appearance.

A predecessor of the Magic Roundabout was built close to the site of the former Swindon Wharf and the Drove Road Bridge that crossed the Wilts and Berks Canal. This traffic control complex of one large roundabout contained by five smaller ones was built in 1972 to the designs of Frank Blackmore, traffic engineer and inventor of the mini roundabout.

The Magic Roundabout pictured under construction is courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser and available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Looking down on Regent Circus in the 1950s

With the 19th century Town Hall and the temporary library buildings in the foreground, Regent Circus is almost unrecognisable in this 1950s photograph.

Fletcher's Directory of Swindon records doctors J. Holland, W.O. Connell and T. Quigley in practise at 37 Regent Street while solicitors Pooley, Booth & Anderson were at number 34. There were four greengrocers and three butchers including Eastmans, J.W. Read and Hunt & Sons among the many shops since replaced by 1960s office blocks.

In December 2010 Meca, a 2,000 capacity live entertainment venue, opened in the former Regent cinema built in 1929. Renamed the Gaumont in the 50s and the Odeon in the 60s, the building later became the Top Rank Bingo Club.

Rudi's Bar, the art deco building on the corner, opened as the Corporation Electricity Showrooms in the 1930s. Home to the children's library it later became the Islington Furnishing Company.

Although shops to the right of the Victoria Road traffic island are sill recognisable, housing between Byron Street and the bottom of Eastcott Hill was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Swindon College, itself now awaiting demolition.

An area today occupied by the Wyvern Theatre was once a complex of terraced housing called Regent Place, built in around 1900. In 1946 Grace and Richard Loveridge lived at number 17, approximately where the Wyvern stage door stands today.

The distinctive dome of the Wesleyan Methodist Central Mission Hall is visible above the Clarence Street rooftops. Closed in the 1970s the building was seriously damaged by fire in 1977 and demolished in 1985 to make way for yet another new office block.

Photograph of Regent Circus courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Allotments - more popular than ever

The credit crunch combined with concerns as to how our food is produced has seen a revival in home grown produce. Allotments are more popular than ever, although you may have to get on your bike to find one in Swindon.

The history of allotments can be traced back over a thousand years. It appears that the invading Anglo Saxons, driven by a shortage of suitable farming land in their own countries, were less interested in warfare and more likely to plant a few drills of potatoes instead.

So it continued until revolutionary new agricultural methods saw the end of open field farming and the enclosure of common land. No longer able to graze a few animals and grow their own food, the poor were suddenly robbed of a vital source of income and a crucial supplement to their meagre diet. Those who migrated to the new, industrial towns fared even worse.

The General Enclosure Act 1845 saw the creation of 'field gardens' limited to a quarter of an acre, but this tended to be a rural initiative. It would be another forty years before the 1887 Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act obliged local authorities to provide allotments if there was deemed a demand for them.

Despite the Victorian enthusiasm for anything that kept the poor gainfully employed, the Act was unpopular and local authorities proved uncooperative. Further legislation followed and the Smallholding and Allotment Acts of 1907 and 1908 imposed a responsibility upon councils.

The demand for allotments increased both during and after the First World War. In 1919 Mannington, Toothill and Whitehill farms were bought by Wiltshire County Council and a large percentage of the land was converted into smallholdings for ex-servicemen.

Second World War blockades and food rationing saw every available plot of land utilised, including public parks and royal residences as people were encouraged to Dig for Victory.

Post war Swindon Corporation had over 280 acres of land available for allotment cultivation, including 47 acres at Rodbourne and Broome Sewage farms, which the Official Year Book dated 1946-7 states was 'available for allotments, but not acquired for the purpose.'

Rental averaged 8d per perch per year with some plots at the two sewage farms available at 6d (about 2p) while at the more desirable Broome Manor Lane site the charge was 1s (5p).

In 1946 the largest sites were at Southbrook with 64 acres and Marsh Farm with 61 acres. Gorse Hill had 35 acres available at 8d per perch while the 5 acres known as Bailey's Field in Birch Street cost 10d per perch.

In Swindon today there are 25 allotment sites with a total of 1200 plots, however most have a long waiting list.

Images - top - Holy Rood schoolboys on their way to the school allotments in Upham Road and bottom pupils from Sanford Street School preparing ground off Upham Road for the planting of potatoes from the Swindon at War archives.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blunsdon House Hotel

Today separated from Swindon's northern expansion by just the A419 road, Blunsdon was once a village five miles out of town.

The former parish of Blunsdon St. Andrew has a long history, appearing in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Blontesdone.

Along with various Roman remains, a numbers of bones, spurs and 17th century military relics have been excavated indicating it might have been the site of action during the English Civil War.

At the top of Chapel Hill are the remains of two stone piers marking the former rear entrance to Blunsdon House. Although probably built on the site of an earlier house, the present Blunsdon House only dates back to the early 1830s, when the property was owned by the wealthy Calley family of Buredrop Park. A plaque in St. Andrew's Church records the death of John James Calley in 1848 and his wife Elizabeth in 1861.

Elizabeth moved to Bath after her husband's death and in 1856 the property was sold to Thomas Edward Freeman. By the mid 1860s Edward Taylor Middleditch occupied the Georgian style Blunsdon House.

Reputedly the first farmer in the village to use steam ploughing, Edward Middleditch was an important local employer. However, by the mid 1880s his fortunes were on the decline and in 1889 the estate was on the market.

The sale catalogue describes the Blunsdon House estate with farm buildings, three cottages and 160 acres of arable and pasture lands, as being 'well adapted for gentlemen in search of a pleasing occupation in capital Hunting Country.'

Edward offered to escort prospective buyers around the property which was entered through a portico supported by stone columns. The ground floor rooms included an entrance hall with bay window overlooking the front lawn, a library leading to the tennis lawn and a conservatory overlooking pleasure grounds.

The first floor comprised 'five best bedrooms' and two servant's bedrooms with a staircase leading to four attic rooms.

Village folklore has it that Farmer Middleditch declared himself bankrupt. Maybe his financial condition improved as just over two years later he can be found on the 1891 census farming at North Bovey in Devon.

The new owner of Blunsdon House was William Titley, a gentleman farmer originally from Yorkshire who had more recently been living at The Grove in Lydiard Millicent.

It was the Titley family that made the first of some significant changes to the house including the addition of three dormer windows to open up the attic rooms for their family of seven children.

William died in 1895 aged just 44, but the Titley family connection with Blunsdon continued well into the 20th century. William, his wife and three of their children are buried in the graveyard at St. Leonard's Church.

After the Titley occupancy the house was leased to the Sutton family who then owned large areas of Blunsdon. Colonel Jagger was the next resident, followed by Commander Royds.

Peter Clifford bought the house and 30 acres of land in 1949, taking in bed and breakfast guests to help out a friend in the 1950s. Blunsdon House became a fully licensed hotel in 1962. Now part of the Best Western Premier Group, the four star Blunsdon House Hotel boasts 116 en suite bedrooms, a leisure club and nine hole golf course.

Images - Blunsdon House Hotel today and an earlier view with Miss Elsie Beatrice Gibb taken in the 1960s courtesy of the Richard C. Radway Collection available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Sir Daniel Arms

When the Sir Daniel Arms opened its doors in June 2007 it wasn't for the first time. A public house of the same name had stood in Fleet Street for around 140 years, which is somewhat surprising given a clause in the original deeds.

Old Swindon brewer John Harding Sheppard made sure he protected his business interests when he sold land called 'Upper Ground or Fosters Upper Ground' in 1848.

George Selby, a tea dealer from Eastcott, bought a piece of the land on 'the Highway called Fleet Way,' agreeing as part of the sale that he would not 'carry on or permit or suffer to be carried on ...the Trade or business of a Brewer, Publican, Beer House Keeper or Dealer in or retailer of beer or other Malt Liquor Wines or Spirits or any offensive Trade or calling whatsoever.'

By 1851 George had opened a grocer's shop on the site but the property soon changed hands. In 1858 new owner William Henry Warner drew up a seven year lease with Charles Lea, a New Swindon tailor, including that pesky clause again.

With the thirsty railway factory workers his near neighbours, Charles Lea obviously wasted no time in renegotiating the terms of his lease and Kelly's Trade Directory dated 1867 record 'Charles Lea, Sir Daniel, Fleetway.'

Lea eventually sold the property to John Platt, a Hungerford brewer. In 1917 it was owned by James John Brown of the Bell Hotel, Swindon who that year sold it to Usher's Brewery for £3,000.

A valuation made in 1932 describes the Sir Daniel Arms as having 'a public bar, Jug and Bottle, Smoke Room and private saloon.' The living accommodation above included sitting room, two bedrooms, kitchen, scullery, bath and lumber room with a further two bedrooms on the 2nd floor.

In 1939 staff included two barmaids earning 16s and 15s (about 30p) plus keep and a man who helped at weekends and was paid 10s a week (50p).

In 1970 a major revamp of the pub took place, creating a lobby and two new bars connected by a central serving area. Plans reveal the living area above had already received a makeover.

But sadly time was running out for the old Sir Daniel's as long overdue redevelopment of Fleet Street took off. Demolished in 2000, when the pub was then called The Sportsman, links with its 19th century predecessor made a surprising reappearance. Victorian artefacts including two cast iron columns, a pub sign, frontage pieces and a wooden lion were rescued by the Gloucestershire based demolition team of Ronsons.

Edwards Bar first occupied the corner site until June 2007 when Wetherspoons opened their third town centre establishment and fittingly renamed the pub the Sir Daniel Arms. Named after the first chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1837-1864, it was Daniel Gooch, along with Brunel, who identified Swindon as being an ideal location for a repair and maintenance depot on the GWR network.

Much of Fleet Street closed to traffic for good in February 2001. Swindon Borough Council's £300,000 plans saw the area from John Street to Faringdon Road pedestrianised and the creation of a new square at the junction with Bridge Street.

Sir Daniel Arms images are courtesy of Swindon Local Studies, visit their website on www.flickr.com/photos/SwindonLocal/ for more views of Swindon.

Sir Daniel Gooch

Sir Daniel Arms 2012 courtesy of  www.flickr.com/photos/johnmightycat/7493754184

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't You Touch His Reverence!

The November speaker at the monthly Monday lunch time talk at Swindon Central Library was archivist Robert Jago from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

Robert’s subject was Churchwardens’ Accounts and he described the many and varied tasks performed by the churchwarden, charting a role dating back to medieval times. The oldest surviving churchwardens’ accounts are those of St. Michael’s in Bath which date from 1349.

The main duty of the churchwarden was to keep the fabric of the church in good repair and to attend to the fixtures and fittings, although he also had to sort out any unruly sexual behaviour in the parish especially when it involved the vicar!

Pest control also took up a fair bit of the churchwardens’ time and account books list payments for song birds found to be depleting the local crops. Foxes presented a big problem as well and the accounts for Brinkworth reveal regular payment for foxes heads, a wily solution to parish enterprise where the same sorry fox was repeatedly presented until the smell betrayed this entrepreneurial activity.

Churchwardens’ accounts are useful for both family and local historians as Robert explained. For those researching the history of their house, churchwardens’ rates can sometimes provide a list of landholders and their properties.

Bell ringing appears to have been a nice little earner. The Churchwardens’ Accounts of Mere 1556-1617 reveal the ringers received 6s ‘for ringing for our Queene’ on Crownation Day November 17, the anniversary of Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne while Brinkworth churchwardens paid ringers 3s for their services on Thanks Giving Day in 1708. Craftsmen and labourers frequently appear in the churchwardens’ accounts and the Mere records reveal that John Bruar the Plumer received £3 10s for ‘his worke and stuffe.’

Even local reaction to cataclysmic national events such as the Reformation can be deduced from the churchwardens’ accounts, for example candles were no longer purchased at Candlemas in Edward VI’s reign to the replacement of rood screens in Mary’s.

Robert brought with him a selection of books including the comprehensive Churchwardens’ Accounts by J.C. Cox published in 1913 and now available on line on http://www.archive.org/details/churchwardenaccou00coxuoft

Check the Swindon Borough Council website on www.swindon.gov.uk for details of forthcoming events at Central Library.

medieval wall paintings in St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze, courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball. Visit their website on www.oodwooc.co.uk

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A commodious family residence

With residential car parking at a premium in Old Town today, there was no such problem for the 1900 owner of 31 Wood Street. The sale catalogue of 1903 advertises a carriage entrance at the rear of the property leading from Devizes Road with a coach house, stable yard and stabling for two horses.

A Grade II listed building, 31 Wood Street dates from the late 18th century to early 19th century. Described as a 'commodious family residence' the property belonged to John Chandler, a successful local businessman.

At the time of his death in 1902 Chandler owned fourteen other properties on Eastcott Hill and stocks and shares in numerous local businesses including the Swindon United Gas Company and the Swindon Central Market. He also owned an impressive five bedroomed house, The Lime Kiln, standing in over an acre of land in Wootton Bassett, let to solicitor Harry Bevir.

Born in Pewsey, by 1841 John Chandler was already working as a draper in Swindon and in 1844 he married Susannah Hoystrop at the parish church in Wootton Bassett.

Among papers deposited by Kinneir and Company at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham is a deed of co-partnership between Nehemiah Lea and John Chandler to carry on the tailoring trade in Swindon.

In 1861 John lived above his shop at 35 Wood Street where he employed a staff of 16. With his wife Susannah, their five children aged between one and eight years old, a governess and eight of his employees resident on census night, there could hardly have been room to swing a cat.

Perhaps he already had his eye on purchasing the spacious property next door but one, then owned by town surveyor William Read and the home in which Swindon architect William H. Read grew up. However, it would be over twenty years before Chandler could move in.

Swindon Advertiser founder, William Morris makes reference to the growing Chandler empire, writing how an old house in Wood Street had been 'recently pulled down for the erection of Messrs. Chandler and Sons' carpet warehouse.'

The 1903 catalogue describes this desirable town centre house as containing eight bedrooms served by no fewer than three staircases, presumably the front one for the family and the two back ones for servant access.

The ground floor accommodation consisted of dining and drawing rooms, a library, back lobby, kitchen fitted with range, dresser and cupboards, a back kitchen, wash house (with two furnaces)pantry and 'capital cellars in the basement.'

John Chandler died on August 1, 1902 aged 83. Widowed for over thirty five years he was buried in the graveyard at Christ Church with his wife Susannah and their son Charles Frederick who died in 1880 aged 22 years.

Images - a 1911 William Hooper view of Wood Street decorated for the coronation. Number 31 is on the right. The view from Bath Road shows the Chandler store on the corner of Wood Street. To view these and more historic photos of Swindon visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

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Love letters straight from the heart

As electronic communication takes over, it has to be asked - what has happened to the love letter?

When Judy Rebbeck Watten of California began investigating her family history she discovered 32 letters written by her grandfather James Knight Rebbeck to his fiancée Lili.

Born in 1848 in Lockeridge, near Marlborough, James Knight Rebbeck, the eldest of Cornelius and Caroline Rebbecks's nine children, was raised by his maternal grandparents. By 1851 two year old James was living with James and Caroline Knight in a house described in the census of that year as Near Assize Hall in Devizes.

In 1863 James, 15, was sent to his Uncle James Knight in Calcutta where he studied mechanical engineering.

James junior worked as a superintendent in the railways workshop of the Howrah Foundry in Calcutta until the beginning of the 1880s when he was seconded to Hong Kong.

By the mid 1880s James was based at the Victoria Foundry, Hong Kong, employed on the ambitious Peak Tram project, a cable railway from the summit of Victoria Peak to the commercial centre of Hong Kong.

In 1887 a business trip to Haiphong, Tonkin - modern day Vietnam - saw him supervising the delivery of a paddle wheel steamer to French businessman Jules d'Abbadie. It was here that James met Lili, who lived with her bachelor brother, acting as his hostess when he entertained.

After a whirlwind romance, James returned to Hong Kong an engaged man and so began the couple's correspondence. James sent Lili a photograph of himself and asked her to keep it next to her when she wrote to him.

"Ours is indeed a sweet and sacred love story," wrote the 39 year old bachelor who once thought love and marriage had passed him by. "It seems as if it were ordered for us, a kind of ordination, a link in that life we are designed to run, one of those chances which seem so mysterious for which we shall be thankful always."

Nine months and 32 letters later James and Lili were married in Hong Kong on May 21, 1888. They made their first home in Macao where their eldest two children were born. A son, Brian d'Abbadie Rebbeck, was born in Devizes in 1891, but only lived two months. Another daughter and Judy's father James Waller d'Abbadie Rebbeck were born in Canada.

James died on September 1, 1910 in Victoria, Vancouver Island. Lili survived him by near 25 years, dying on February 12, 1935.

The letters James wrote to his future bride remained hidden until 1993 when their granddaughter Judy Rebbeck Watton discovered them in a decorated satin folder among some old papers belonging to her father.

Photographs courtesy of Judy Rebbeck Watton - James and Lili on their wedding day and James at work in the Victoria Foundry, Hong Kong

Daisy Eleanor Tuckey

'She found the wide open prairies a big change and was very afraid of the howling coyotes,' writes Pat Psooy, a Canadian Swindon Advertiser reader.

A far cry from Park Ground Farm in Wootton Bassett, part of the extensive Meux Estate sold in 1906, where Pat's grandmother, Daisy Eleanor Tuckey spent most of her childhood.

Reading Remember When articles about Robert Ernest Plummer Tuckey who set sail for Australia in 1877 and the Rev. Henry Edward Tuckey who took his bride to New Zealand in 1859 set Pat wondering if these adventurous Tuckeys might be connected to her own Canadian explorers.

The prosperous Tuckey family arrived in Swindon from Gloucestershire in the mid 17th century and figured prominently in local affairs. Through carefully negotiated marriages and shrewd property deals the family held considerable influence in the small market town.

Robert Thomas John Bailey Tuckey, Daisy's father, born in 1856 at Shaw House in the former parish of Lydiard Millicent, boasted the names of several of his wealthy forebears. However, by the end of the 19th century Tuckey family fortunes were on the slide.

Born at Cotmarsh Farm, Broad Town on February 15, 1883, the eldest daughter of Robert and his wife Emma, a life of leisure was not an option for young Daisy.

One of her jobs was in a cheese factory, which saw her travelling to cheese markets in London and by 1901 she was working as a domestic servant for sisters Maria and Louisa Douglas in St. Giles, Oxford.

But it was Daisy's cousin Clayton Freeman who proved to be the catalyst for her great big adventure.

The son of Daisy's father's sister Sarah, Clayton had worked briefly in the GWR Works and decided a job 'inside' was not for him. When an elder brother returned to take his place on the family farm, Clayton left for a new life in Canada.

He was obviously taken by the Canadian lifestyle, encouraging not only Daisy but three other cousins to join him there as well.

Daisy arrived at Moose Jaw, a former Cree fur trader's camp, in Saskatchewan in 1911, the first stopping off point for all five Tuckey immigrants.

Perhaps she had second thoughts about settling in this vast country, but a trip back to England in 1913 left her feeling closed in, says Pat, and she never returned.

Daisy married William Brander in 1916. The couple settled in a farming community south of Moose Jaw where they had four children, Phyllis (Pat's mother), Jane, Archibald and James.

Today the travelling Tuckey's are still on the move. 'One of Daisy's grandsons works in Oman,' says Pat, 'and three of her great grandsons have lived in Mexico, Australia and Korea.'

Pat's Canadian branch of the Tuckey family is connected to both Rev. Henry Edward and road building Robert Ernest Plummer Tuckey through a common 18th century ancestor, Richard Tuckey and his wife Joanna Phelps of Lower Shaw Farm.

Images - a picture postcard view of Moose Jaw taken around the time Daisy emigrated in 1911
Lower Shaw Farm where Daisy's wealthy family lived in the 18th century

If you enjoyed this you might like to read 

Tuckey Family History Research 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Swindon Wharf and an elegant villa called Fairholm

Today the infamous Magic Roundabout is probably one of the busiest junctions in Swindon. At the beginning of the 19th century a different method of transport stopped close by at the site of the Swindon wharf, although this traffic was considerably slower.

In 1826 William Cobbett, 19th century radical politician, travelled through Swindon on one of his famous fact finding journeys across Britain. Surveying the Wilts and Berks Canal, Cobbett remarked on the 'gentleman's house, with coach house, stables, walled in garden, paddock, and the rest of those things, which, all together, make up a villa,' and supposed that the canal earned prodigious profits.

In fact the canal was never particularly successful and was at its busiest, somewhat ironically, during the 1830s when it conveyed vast quantities of materials to build the Great Western Railway.

The GWR itself once considered buying the canal for £20,000. In 1894 the United Commercial Syndicate was another possible purchaser. However, with transport reduced from barges of 35 tons to those of 18 tons and an estimated dredging cost of £6,000, the sale fell through.

Building on the Wilts and Berks Canal was under way by 1796, taking fifteen years to complete. William Dunsford was appointed canal manager in 1817 and the 1841 census records the Dunsford family living at the Canal House, also known as Fairholm.

After William's death in 1845 his son Henry, a civil engineer, took over William's job and the family home. Henry and his wife Susannah with their family of six sons continued to live at Fairholm for more than 25 years.

At the time of the 1881 census a fleet of servants were holding the fort while the resident family was away and by 1891 William A. Harford 'gentleman JP' was the occupier.

But perhaps the most notable owner of the property was George Jackson Churchward,Superintendent at the GWR Works, although his ownership was a relatively short one. Churchward bought Fairholm in 1895 and seven years later it was on the market again.

Sold at auction by Bishop and Pritchett at the Goddard Arms Hotel on August 25, 1902 the seven bedroomed property stood in five acres with 'Stabling for 8 horses, outbuildings, pleasure grounds, capital kitchen garden and paddock.'

The ground floor accommodation was described as containing 'Entrance Porch, Vestibule, Hall, Dining Room 17' 3" by 14' 9" with Bay, Small Sitting Room with Casement opening onto a flower garden, Smoke Room 15' by 14' with Safe ...'

The property was sold for £2,000 to Mr Gilling and Swindon Wharf soon became known as Gillings Wharf.

The canal itself was abandoned under an Act of Closure in 1914 and eventually filled in. The foundations of the elegant villa called Fairholm lie beneath the Drove Road Fire Station.

Photographs - 1905 Dorothy Gilling pushing her brother Lionel in a pram in the gardens of Fairholm. Drove Road bridge, now the site of the Magic Roundabout. See these and many more on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting the party started!

1912 William Hooper photograph of United Gathering of Band of Hope at GWR Park
With the party season getting into gear, no doubt few people will be paying much heed to their recommended units of alcohol consumption, despite the continued warnings of health experts.

Mid 19th century social reformers also attempted to tackle the problem as concern grew over alcohol and its effects upon the working class.While the drinking habits of the middle class were largely a private affair, those of the working class tended to be more public.

With the cost of picking up the financial pieces falling upon rate paying businessmen and traders, it is hardly surprising that the temperance movement was initially led by middle class social reformers and philanthropists.

The original tenet of the movement was that alcohol in moderation was acceptable and members continued to imbibe wine and beer, abstaining only from spirits. Out of the early temperance movement evolved the hard line teetotalism where members pledged to abstain from all alcohol for life.

The Band of Hope was a temperance organisation for working class children. Children over the age of six could join and meetings consisted of music, slide shows, competitions and lectures on the importance of total abstinence.

The non-conformist churches were particularly active in the temperance movement, most notably the Salvation Army founded in the East End of London in 1865. Surveys taken during the 1880s revealed that 1,000 of the 1,900 Baptist ministers were total abstainers as were 2,500 out of 3,000 Congregationalist ministers and by 1900 approximately one tenth of the total adult population of Britain were non drinkers.

Late 19th century industrial Swindon numbered some 18 temperance organisations, among them the GWR Temperance Union with around 3,000 members.

The Swindon Temperance Cavaliers met weekly at the Central Dining Rooms in Regent Street while the more sombre sounding Sons of Temperance, "The True Friendship" division held their meetings at the Liberal Rooms in Commercial Road on alternate Thursdays at 8 pm.

One family particularly active in Swindon's temperance movement was the Pressey family. Born in Hungerford, George was master at Westcott School and Vice President of the Swindon and District United Temperance Council. His Swindon born wife Sarah, daughter of John Bell, a wheel fitter at the GWR Works, was treasurer of the Swindon branch of the British Women's Temperance Association.

In the 1890s Swindon membership of the women's association numbered 250 with Miss Ellis President in 1899. The women held a monthly public meeting at the Liberal Hall while members met more frequently.

Temperance hotels and public houses also became popular and a local trade directory dated 1895 lists Mrs Annie Thomas as proprietor of the Temperance Hotel in Bath Road while Ernest Chappell Richards ran the Wellington Temperance & Commercial Hotel at 13 Gloucester Street. According tot he advertisement the Wellington was 'close to station' with 'commercial, smoking and writing rooms, ladies coffee room, boots meets all trains.'

The temperance movement continued to be active into the 20th century while legislation was introduced during the First World War to restrict drinking.

for more old views of Swindon visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Thursday, November 24, 2011

19th Century Scandal at Lower Shaw Farm

Story telling is an integral part of both summer and winter events at Lower Shaw Farm. Whether seated beneath a star lit sky or gathered around the coal burning stove in the former calving sheds, the farm provides an evocative setting for tales of days gone by.

However the 18th century farm, former home of the Tuckey family, could tell a yarn or two of its own, including a love story that ended up in the courts.

Mary Ann, daughter of labourer James Weston, was employed by Mary Tuckey as a farm servant at Lower Shaw Farm in the early 1850s. Her lover, Charles Ody was the youngest of Noah Ody's ten children.

The Ody family was well known in the close knit agricultural community of the two Lydiard parishes. Noah farmed land at Braydon and Hayes Knoll in Purton as well as the 206 acre Flaxlands Farm owned by Lord Bolingbroke of Lydiard Park.

Perhaps Mary Ann had marriage in mind? Several of the wealthy Ody sons married daughters of farm labourers. Mary Ann was a few years older than twenty one year old Charles but was this a tale of Cider with Rosie or Tess of the D'Urbervilles?

In 1855 Mary Ann gave birth to a baby girl, but by then the relationship had obviously ended. She applied to the courts for maintenance for her child and Charles was served with a bastardy order.

Giving evidence, the unmarried Mary Ann told how Charles had made occasional payments of 1s 6d (7p worth about £47 today) since his daughter was fifteen weeks old, often using a go between named Jane Hughes.

Jane also gave evidence and told how she had seen Mr Ody give Mary a sovereign at the Fox and Hounds public house at Coped Hall. "They had been talking about the child and he said he'd pay 1s 6d a week and he said he'd pay that money to the child," said Jane. The court awarded an order for this amount.

Little Elizabeth Weston wasn't the only illegitimate Ody child, but she does seem to be the most unfortunate.

Sarah Ody's daughter Matilda was raised by grandparents Noah and Sarah and Elizabeth Russell had a son William at the time of her marriage to Walter Ody, while John Ody's illegitimate son Robert Saunders received an inheritance in his Uncle Noah's will.

By the time of the 1861 census Charles was farming at Minety where he lived with his wife Emma and their two young sons William and Thomas.

Meanwhile Mary Ann was living with her father and brother at Coped Hall. The census returns reveal that unmarried Mary had two daughters, Elizabeth 5 and one year old Mary Jane.

Lower Shaw Farm offers weekend breaks, events and courses for adults and for families. If you are looking for a relaxing break, a stimulating weekend of new experiences, or wanting to learn a new skill, visit their website www.lowershawfarm.co.uk for further details.

He's Behind You!

Panto season in Swindon gets off to a swinging start with Keith Chegwin starring as Buttons in the Wyvern Theatre's production of Cinderella, opening on December 10th.

But more than fifty years ago Mollie Tanner's dance troupe was left waiting in the wings when a production of Aladdin at the Empire Theatre was blighted by a wage dispute and eventually cancelled. Let's hope the current financial climate doesn't cast a malevolent shadow over this year's festive season.

With a seating capacity of over 1,000, the new Queen's Theatre on the corner of Groundwell Road and Clarence Street opened on Monday February 7, 1898 with a production of Dick Whittington and his Cat.

In 1906 the theatre changed its name to the Empire. One of the characters closely associated with the Empire was rag and bone man James 'Raggy' Powell. During the First World War Raggy organised free shows and refreshments for the families of men in the armed forces. His philanthropic work was recognised by Swindon Corporation when he was made one of the first Freemen of the Borough in 1920.

Acts appearing during the interwar years included the Kellys and the Cohens. In a revue advertised as containing "Good Singing, Good Dancing, Comedy all the way" audiences were warned "If Laughing Hurts - Don't Come!"

During the 1930s and 40s the Empire fought off opposition from the talkies by showing films along with its staple diet of variety shows and, of course, the annual pantomime.

Robinson Crusoe opened to rave reviews on Boxing Day 1954. Popular comedy actor Leslie Sarony topped the bill as Billy Crusoe in a performance described as "a warm, friendly show" by the Advertiser reviewer. Although the writer did voice some disappointment to find the role of Dame, traditionally played by a man, had gone to Joyce Golding. Dorothy Black was principal boy in the title role with the villainous Will Atkins played by an actor called Afrique.

The run was due to end in mid January when the production moved on to a sister theatre in Folkestone, exchanging venues with Aladdin which was due to come to Swindon. But by then the actors and management were embroiled in a dispute over wages and both shows were suspended.

This proved to be the death knell for the Empire which closed its doors for good on Saturday January 22, 1955. It stood empty for several years before being demolished in 1959. Today the name lives on in the 1960s former office block built on the same site.

Former Swindon librarian Roger Trayhurn is currently working on the definitive history of The Empire Theatre.

Images - 1905 postcard of the new Queen's Theatre pictured shortly before it's change of name and a 1960s view of Empire House.

Silk invitation to the grand opening of the threatre, courtesy of Roger Trayhurn.

Visit the Swindon Local Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/ to view these and other images associated with The Empire Theatre.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Carfax Street

The seventeen acre site around Carfax Street hit the headlines in January 2009 when Swindon Borough Council confirmed that redevelopment would go ahead, despite the gloomy economic climate.

The importance of this prime town centre location was recognised early in Swindon's 19th century development when the Oxford Building and Investment Co. Ltd., built 108 houses on this same site.

The new properties were built on a parcel of land called Brierly Close between the canal and an orchard, part of Lower Eastcott Farm which then belonged to the extensive Rolleston Estate.

Named after Oxford city centre locations, construction began in Merton Street in 1873 followed by Turl Street in 1874, Carfax Street in 1875 and Oriel Street in 1876. On July 6, 1876 Frederick Skuse, an enterprising 23 year old bricklayer, bought lot 14 in south Carfax Street for £40.

Frederick's newly acquired plot measured 82ft (26 metres approx) north to south on the east side and 80ft (24 metres approx) on the west side with a frontage of 17ft 9ins (5 metres approx).

On December 1, 1876 he applied for a mortgage of £150 for "the newly built Messuage lately erected and built thereon by the said Frederick Skuse and now known as 14 Carfax Street, New Swindon."

In the summer of 1878 Frederick married Sarah West and the 1881 census shows the young couple living at the renumbered 20 Carfax Street with their two year old son Willie and 8 month old daughter Ellen.

Living next door at the overcrowded number 21 was George Kinch with his wife, daughter, grandson, brother and two lodgers, Albert Cove, a railway labourer and his wife, George Linkhorn, a stoker striker and his wife, John Williams, a railway labourer with his wife, William Watkins, another railway labourer with his wife and three children and finally labourer William Hibberd.

But the family was soon on the move and on March 22, 1883 Frederick sold the property for £235 to Samuel Rogers, a fitter employed at the railway works.

By 1892 the house was on the market again, sold to Thomas Whittaker, a tinsmith who lived just around the corner at 41 Oriel Street.

In 2009 the site was at the centre of the ambitious renamed Union Square - a complex of flats, offices, leisure facilities and a 200 bed hotel with building scheduled to begin immediately but in 2017 the site is still a wasteland.

Swindon Borough Council was criticised for spending £130,000 on a 'temporary' park opened in October 2011 on the site of the old Post Office on Fleming Way. Originally with just a three year life span, the park is still there.

The 1970s photographs of the demolition of the Turl, Carfax, Merton and Oriel Street area are courtesy of Mr J. Ensten and can be viewed on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apprentice Registers of the Wiltshire Society

The Apprentice Registers of the Wiltshire Society 1817-1922 will be of particular interest to local researchers, especially if your Swindon ancestors moved to London.

Established in 1654, the Wiltshire Feast was a county organisation of merchants, traders and gentry who annually convened to London for some 17th century networking. The visit included the placing of children of the deserving poor with Wiltshire links in apprenticeships to city traders and concluded with a feast, hence the name.

The society can be traced to around 1776 when it appears to have experienced a hiatus. However work began again in 1817 when it was remarketed at 'a public meeting of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Wiltshire' held at the Albion Tavern, Aldersgate Street in the City of London.

The registers, published by the Wiltshire Record Society in 1995 include entries such as that of Frederick Newcombe and his sister Phillipa, two orphans living in London whose mother was from Swindon.

Frederick was placed with William Lakeman, a hatter of 44 High Street, Shadwell to begin a seven year apprenticeship in 1844. Two years later Phillipa was placed with Elizabeth Hunt, a straw hat manufacturer of 102 Great Russell Street.

Closer to home, widow Mary Nash from Chiseldon applied to the Society on behalf of her 13 year old son Thomas. The records show that the £20 apprenticeship fee was paid on April 5, 1873 when Thomas entered into a seven year apprenticeship with 'George Wiltshire, mason etc. of Bath Road.'

George had first appeared in Swindon on the 1861 census when he employed seven masons, four labourers and two boys.

An entry in Astill's Swindon Almanac of 1867 describes him as a marble and stonemason, lime burner, carpenter, joiner and builder of The Sands, Bath Road and at the Quarries. By 1887 George Wiltshire is described as a Master Builder employing 140 hands with his son Simeon acting as his manager.

During the 1870s and 80s George Wiltshire as building contractor on a number of Swindon projects designed by local architect W H Read, including a cheese factory for Aylesbury Dairy, the Vale of White Horse Repository and the County of Gloucester Bank in Fleet Street.

During the busy 1870s George took on another apprentice through the Wiltshire Society, Arthur Smith, one of Jeremiah and Sarah Ann Smith's five children.

While Thomas Nash finished hsi apprenticeship as a bricklayer, Arthur became a carpenter and the 1881 census records him living with his widowed mother and sister Kate at a house in North Street.

The original Wiltshire Society apprenticeship registers are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History centre, Cocklebury Road, Chippenham. The Wiltshire Record Society's publication Volume 51 is available for consultation in the Local Studies section at Swindon Central Library. The Broad Town apprenticing charity records 1714-1909 are also held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, ref 700/61 and 765/2,3.

images include a stonemason with traditional tools; Work by Ford Maddox Brown

Baptist Tabernacle

If your family worshipped at either the Baptist Tabernacle or the Cambria Place Chapel you stand a good chance of finding them in one of the church's Year Books. Those for 1895-1938 are held at Swindon Central Library and contain a fascinating amount of information.

With just 24 members, the Swindon Baptist community had their beginnings in Prospect Place under the ministry of Rev. Richard Breeze, but by 1849 the congregation had moved into a new chapel in Fleet Street. In little over 35 years this also proved too small for the growing Baptist following and Swindon architect W H Read was commissioned to design a new chapel.

Built to classical proportions, the Tabernacle certainly made a statement and soon became a focal point of Regent Circus, originally destined to be named Trafalgar Square. More than 1,000 people attended a tea party at the official opening and twenty years later membership stood at 780.

Each Year Book contains a list of church members, among them those who had died in the previous year. The 1925 edition included the names of the Elders, Deacons, Trustees, Lady Visitors and non resident members.

In 1895 Sunday services were at 10.45 am and 6 pm with a short prayer meeting following the evening service. Week day services included an evening prayer meeting every Monday and Saturday and a sermon preached by the Pastor on Wednesday evening. On Friday the Pastor was 'at home from 7 pm - 9pm to see enquirers.'

Members of the congregation paid for their seats. The cost of a seat in the main body of the building was 3s for three months, with those under the gallery costing 2s 6d. Front row gallery seats raised between 2s and 2s 6d a quarter with the second row raising 1s 6d and the third 1s. These charges along with collections and fund raising events such as 'Our 20th Century Fund' launched in 1899, saw the £6,000 building debt cleared within 20 years of the Tabernacle opening.

Published in the church magazine dated 1927 is a list of fifteen men from the congregation who died serving in the First World War. Among them were brothers Archie and Alfred Richman, sons of David and Sarah Richman, grocers at 7 Devizes Road.

A yearbook had been published since the earliest history of the Baptist church in Swindon. However, when church secretary F.E. Lovesey prepared to write a church history to celebrate its Jubilee in 1936, the earliest he was able to find was that of 1895.

The Tabernacle was demolished in 1978 and today the Pilgrim Centre, built in 1990, stands on the site it once occupied. The magnificent stone facade of the building returned to Swindon in 2008 with plans for its reconstruction in Swindon's regenerated town centre. Unfortunately this has yet to take place.

1971 view of the Baptist Tabernacle courtesy of Swindon Advertiser; internal views taken in 1905 and 1910 by William Hooper courtesy of Paul Williams. Visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal


Demolition taking place in 1978

During the 1978 demotion - published courtesy of Mr J Ensten