Saturday, November 12, 2011

Birch Street

The front page of the Swindon Advertiser dated Friday May 4,1900 described the event as “one of the most attractive Sales of this class of Property ever Held in Swindon."

Twenty two houses and a shop in Birch Street were among other town centre properties to come under the hammer of auctioneer Mr Ernest Bishop at the Regent Circus Sale Room of Bishop and Pritchett on May 21.

With a yearly income of over £945 in rents (worth about £73,300 today) it was anticipated that the properties would sell easily.

Birch Street was named after Henry James Birch, an accountant at the GWR Works during the late 19th century and was built in several phases during the 1890s by at least three builders, including Arthur Colborne.

Arthur Joseph, born in Midsomer Norton in 1870, was the son of Thomas Colborne, also a builder and timber merchant who by 1873 was established at the Cross Roads, Stratton St. Margaret.

From 1876-1940 the Colborne family built a staggering number of properties in Swindon. The father and son firm built houses in a street off County Road close to their business premises which was later named after them, although the spelling has since been changed to Colbourne. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy in 1911-13 A.J. Colborne continued in business until the late 1930s.

The Ordnance Survey Map dated 1889 shows Westcott Street School surrounded by fields, however by 1900 the whole length of Birch Street was built up.

The Bishop and Pritchett sale included eight lots in Birch Street although whether Colborne built these remains unknown. Lots 1-3 comprised nine, two bedroomed houses and lots 6, 7, and 8 a total of 10 houses, numbers 56-65 Birch Street.

Lot 4 was a shop and dwelling house at 10 Birch Street let at 8s a week (40p about £31 today). The property included a double fronted window, open space for standing goods and a paved yard with side entrance and garden. The living accommodation consisted of a “Sitting Room, 3 Bedrooms, Good Living Room, Wash house and pantry."

The Swindon Advertiser reported that Levi Lapper Morse bought two lots, 13 Gloucester Street and 7 Weymouth Street for £380 (about £29,500 at today's values).

The only other lot to change hands was Lot 5, numbers 25-27 Birch Street. Mr. A. Mold paid £525 (over £40,700 today) for the three houses described as containing a "Lobby, Passage, Parlour, 3 Bedrooms, Living Room and Back Kitchen with Coal House and WC. The properties had gardens with rear access and 'forecourts with palisading.'

Despite the pre sale hype and 'a good company present' on the day, the sale proved disappointing - the powers of advertising not quite what they are today!

Kelly's Directory of Wiltshire 1898 lists two dressmakers in Birch Street, Rhoda Taylor at number 42 and Annie Cuthbert at number 9. Henry Fraine, a taxidermist, lived at 14 and insurance agent Henry Barnes at 44.

In 1898 there were three shops in Birch Street run by Joseph Hibberd at number 55, Mrs Emily Dewett at 68 and Henry Davis at 79.

Arthur Colborne died in 1945 aged 74. He is buried with his wife Helen and their daughter Vera at Christ Church.

H. J. Birch, after whom the street was named

A view up Birch Street showing modern housing on the site of the old Westcott Street School

A William Hooper view of Birch Street courtesy of Paul Williams

H.J. Birch/Hooper view available to view on

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