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

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