Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 1941

In the final days of 1940, London received yet another pounding from the Luftwaffe during which serious damage was caused by fire in the historic City area.

“An army of firemen, wardens, workers and civilian volunteers battled with the thousands of incendiaries showered on the district,” reported the Advertiser.

Several incendiary bombs were dropped on St. Paul’s but Cathedral staff managed to prevent any serious damage.

“At one time the Cathedral was ringed with fire,” the report continued.  Cheapside was badly damaged with building after building reduced to a scarred and blackened shell.

Back home in Swindon things were much quieter. Brides who walked down the aisle on the last Saturday in 1940 included Ida Muriel Green of 73 Rodbourne Road, who married Engine Room Artificer Reginald Rouse at St. Augustine’s Church.  Annie Seward Stratton of 7 Buller Street married L/Cpl Frederick Charles Monk at St. Barnabas’ Church while Margaret Louise Avery of 7 Quarry Road married Pte Albert Victor Speller at Christ Church..  

And the great and the good sent New Year messages to Advertiser readers.  Sir Noel Arkell declared that he was proud to be born a Briton, adding ‘we strive for self preservation, but we also strive to save the world from barbarism, and God will not forget us.’

The Mayor of Swindon, Alderman F.E. Allen sent greetings to both long time and more recent residents evacuated to the town.  He urged the people of Swindon ‘to face the coming year with fortitude in the knowledge that the ultimate victory will bring with it not only peace for ourselves but the return of their countries to the peoples of the occupied territories.’

Rev W.H. Willetts, Rector at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze looked back on the events of 1940 and the tragic days of June last, when France surrendered, but went on to remind readers of the amazing exploits of the RAF and the recent good news received from the Forces in Africa.

“So although it may be a grim time in the year 1941 please God we may still remember that God is our Hope and Strength.  A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear.”

Swindon based servicemen celebrated the New Year with an afternoon tea party at the Prospect Drill Hall.  The ladies of the Cricklade Street Servicemen’s Club and Canteen headed by Mrs C.S. Dean, organised the event which was attended by about 400 soldiers and their officers.

The cost of the food, which amounted to £15, included a pig, turkeys, mince pies, sausages, cakes and jellies was met by the canteen funds and from outside contributions.  The entertainment was provided by Mr Fred Senior and his Gipsy Serenaders.

Santa Claus paid a New Year’s Day visit to children and mothers at the Great Western Sports Club pavilion where he handed out presents from the Christmas tree.  Miss Yvonne Sutton and her Kent Girls performed a cabaret show with Mr Raymond Sutton at the piano.  Miss Hedges contributed a fairy dance and C Gibbs songs and step dances.

The only thing remaining of this London church, damaged during air raids at the end of 1940, recording the destruction of the old church in the Great Fire of London 1666.

A tablet on one of the walls of Lincolns Inn, London where hundreds of windows were broken during air raids in December 1940.

Annie Seward Stratton and L/Cpl Frederick Charles Monk

Margaret Louise Avery and Pt. Albert Victor Speller

Ida Muriel Green and Engine Room Artificer Reginald Rouse

Yvonne Sutton and her Kent Girls with Raymond Sutton at the piano.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Deacon Street

Following the initial building boom during the 1840-60s, development of New Swindon pretty much ground to a halt.  The reason given was a slump in the railway industry in the 1870s and the scarcity of building land in the centre of town due to the Goddard’s reluctance to sell their land.

Another area of prime building land, the Rolleston estate, owned by William Vilett Rolleston, was tied up in the Court of Chancery for more than ten years.  It was not until 1885 that parcels of land came onto the market and were rapidly snapped up.

Old Swindon jeweller Hubert J. Deacon bought the area on which Deacon Street was built and named in his honour.  

Construction began in 1890 when builders William Crombey, a former engine driver from Durham, and John Horsell, who lived in neighbouring Commercial Road, got the ball rolling.   They soon began work on streets that would eventually be named Curtis, Crombey and Deacon Streets.

At the time of the 1891 census just seven houses were recorded in Deacon Street.  Robert J Dixon, a 27 year old engine fitter and his brother Walter 31, lived at numbers 1 and 3 with their young families.  John S. Tilbury 30, a coach trimmer lived at number 2.  Elizabeth Emond and her four children plus a lodger lived at number 4 while gas stoker Thomas Mercer and his wife, father in law and a lodger lived at number 6.  Number 7 was still uninhabited. 

But the prize for the most overcrowded house on the newly built Deacon Street must surely go to number 5 where George Key, a painter, lived in four rooms with his wife Kate, their six children and a lodger.  William Peat, a trimmer’s assistant, his wife Rose and their baby son John lived in the remaining two rooms.

Newhall Street, originally called Spackman Street, and Stanier Street named after William Stanier, Stores Superintendent of the GWR Works and later Mayor, were built in 1891 and Morse and Whitney Streets a year later. 

As was typical throughout the growth of 19th century New Swindon, terraces of houses were built by speculative builders.  Henry William Bennett, an up and coming bricklayer living at 72 Bridge Street, was responsible for a spate of building in Deacon Street during 1892-4 while in 1896 Joseph Ponting, a builder and baker from Blunsdon, added his terrace.  

By 1901 there were 82 houses climbing the hill to the cemetery at the top with just about every trade and occupation in the railway works represented among the neighbours.

Those Victorian builders would be astonished to know that today the asking price for a three bedroom property in Deacon Street is in the region of £130,000.

Looking down on the Murray John Building and Swindon town centre

Looking up towards the Dixon Street gates of the cemetery

Samuel Loxton's 1900 view of Deacon Street and the William Hooper photograph are published courtesy of Swindon Collection, Central Library.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Charities

Anderson's Hostel
The feast of St Thomas on December 21 was the day when alms for the poor were distributed within the parish.

Traditionally caring for the poor and infirm in the past was achieved by taxation (the poor rate) and charity dispensed by affluent and local landowning families such as Swindon's Tuckey family, who frequently left a bequest in their will.

Kelly's Directory of 1889 states that Swindon charities amounted to £110 yearly from land and Consols left by 'Mrs Evans, Messrs. Sheppard and Rolleston, Anderson, Gray, Bowly and others at various times.'

Documents held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham dating between 1899-1955 cover Swindon United Charities, listed as - Alexander Anderson, Anderson's Institution, Richard Bowly, Margaret Brind, Mary Breadway, John Burgess, John Chandler, Joseph and Elizabeth Cooper, Elizabeth Evans, Richard Gray, Horne, Sheppard's Dole, Villett's Charity and the Widows Fund.

Mary Tuckey of Shaw died in 1837 and among her many gifts to family and servants she left £5 to the poor of Liddiard Millicent and the same to the poor of Rodbourne Cheney with '1s per week for life' to Robert Laws of Liddiard Millicent and to 'old James Symkins' of Rodbourne Cheney.

Others also invested a not inconsiderable sum of money with the intention of providing ongoing assistance. Surprisingly some of these charities, instituted in the 18th and 19th centuries, were still paying out in the twentieth.

In her will dated 1763 Swindon spinster Elizabeth Evans left a sum of £70 (worth today more than £8,600) to the churchwardens of Holy Rood Church.

From the interest accrued Elizabeth wanted them to purchase 'Six New gowns' and 'on the said St Thomas day yearly and forever give the said Six Gowns unto such Six Poor Women above the age of Sixty residing within the said parish as they in their discretion shall think the Greatest Objects of Charity.'

More than 190 years later the charities accounts for the year dated 26th March 1954 - 25th March 1955 reveal that Horder & Sons were still providing dress material for distribution.

Another benefactor was Richard Gray, Maltster and Brewer of Swindon who died March 28, 1807 aged 41. In his will made the same year he left a sum of money to the Minister of the Independent Chapel in Newport Street 'commonly called Strange's chapel' after its founder, James Strange. Richard Gray wished the interest to go to 'the Second poor of the parish of Swindon but those only who are widows, widowers, single men and single women who have attained the age of Sixty years.'

In 1954 this charity, coupled with money left by another brewer, John Harding Sheppard, paid out 12s (60p worth about £12 today) to 25 recipients.

Also in 1954 A.H. Bradbury was providing four blankets for the Richard Bowly Charity, left by yet another town brewer.

In 1877 Alexander Anderson left a considerable inheritance to 'the second poor of Swindon.' Trustees of his will commissioned local architect William Henry Read, to design a row of four almshouses known as Anderson's Hostel. A further £500 was invested as an annual endowment with £100 as a repairing fund for the property.

In 1954 the utility bills, insurance, repairs and sundry other expenses totalled £80 9s 8d (£80.49). In 1993 the almshouse were converted into flats for the elderly.

Chancel interior at Holy Rood Church

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Sad Case of the Clockwinder's Ghost

The former Great Western Railway buildings in Swindon are rumoured to include a ghost or two, one of which apparently patrols the National Monuments Record building. 

A model of Victorian efficiency, the Works complex contained a vast array of clocks and employed a clockwinder to maintain the various time pieces.  Legend has it that one such clockwinder climbed a spiral staircase in what was then a store room, to a door high in the eaves of the roof. From here he walked along one of the massive iron beams over which he threw a rope and hanged himself.  

His ghost has been seen attempting to wind an absent clock in what has since been dubbed the haunted corridor and along which security guard dogs are reluctant to patrol.

Today the imposing stone building overlooking the railway line accommodates the custodians of British history, but during the nineteenth century it accommodated the men who were actually making it. The GWR was very proud of the Swindon Works and during the late Victorian period promoted regular Wednesday afternoon public tours. 

Following the closure of the Works in 1986 plans were already under way to utilise the historic railway company buildings. The National Monuments Record Centre moved from London in 1994 to the refurbished, former GWR General Offices, a building that had been subject of alterations and ambitious rebuilding projects for more than 150 years.

All that remains today of the original 1842 building are a few window details, a doorway and lobby and a central room.  By 1870 Joseph Armstrong, Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent at Swindon’s GWR Works, had doubled the size of the building with a two storey eastern extension.  

Plans discovered during the 1990s rebuilding project revealed that by the end of the nineteenth century the central block had a glazed clerestory roof - windows set in the roof structure - suggesting that the upper floor was already being used as a drawing office.

But probably the most ambitious alterations were begun in 1904 when George Jackson Churchward added a second floor to both wings of the building.  A metal framed cage was placed on the existing walls to create a top floor measuring 31 feet (9.5 metres) at the apex of the roof.  Flooded with natural light this spacious top floor accommodated the Works drawing offices.

Other Edwardian additions to the building, which then housed a paper and plan store, a laboratory and a pay office were demolished in 1992 to make way for the NMR state of the art archive store.

The Designer Outlet Village, housed in Joseph Armstrong’s 1874 locomotive works was home to tin smiths, the brass foundry and a number of other workshops while Isambard House is one of the oldest surviving buildings dating from the first stage of construction in 1841-2.

Churchward House was the site of Archibald Sturrock, the first work’s manager’s office, a small suite of rooms built in 1846 on the corner of the iron store.  Original features include the central atrium and iron framed staircase.  The traditional lamp brackets, built to support gas lamps, were cast in the Works.

Swindon’s railway museum moved out of the old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Faringdon Road and into a former machine shop dating from 1846, part of Brunel’s original complex.  STEAM, the museum of the Great Western Railway opened in June 2000.   Joseph Armstrong’s 1864 extension to this building houses the museum’s Wall of Names, a memorial to the men and women who laboured inside the Works during its 143 year long history.

Views of the National Monuments Record Building

Churchward House

STEAM Museum

One of the oldest surviving buildings in the railway complex

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ghostly goings on at the Clifton

Maybe people no longer gather close to the fire at Christmas, a flickering candle the only light to reach the dark recesses of the imagination, listening to tales of ghosts and ghouls.  But ghost stories and Christmas go hand in hand so here's a revisit to a well known Christmas spectre.

Any old building worth its bricks and mortar should have a spectral presence and the Clifton has long
boasted one of its own. Supernatural sightings have included those of a hooded figure, possibly a nun, in keeping with Arkell's website claim that the pub was built on the site of an ancient priory.

However, evidence to support this legend is lacking. The surrounding area once comprised part of the former Kingshill Estate owned by John Harding Sheppard where around 300 houses were built along Clifton, Albion, William, Redcross (renamed Radnor) and Exmouth Streets between 1877 and 1880. The Clifton Hotel, complete with a tiled mural of Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge, was built around 1878.

As with so many Swindon Streets, Clifton Street grew piecemeal across a number of years. Among the 19th century builders was Job Day who constructed an unspecified number of cottages in 1882 and Edwin Harvey who built eleven houses in the same year with further properties in 1883. W.H. Read designed Clifton Street Schools in 1884-6 and the Primitive Methodist Chapel, built in 1900, was designed by R.J. Beswick.

To date no documentary evidence of a priory has made an appearance, and neither has the nun. Apparently religious ghosts have slipped out of fashion in recent years.

Ghostly goings on at the Clifton hit local news headlines more than thirty five years ago when during the busy Christmas Day celebrations a poltergeist joined Christmas revellers.

Manager's wife Mrs Blanche Chirgwin reported sherry glasses jumping from shelves behind the bar while her husband recalled an eerie presence in the beer cellar. Then there was the story of a previous landlord's dog that went mad and a jammed attic window found open only to jam again.

One long serving landlord at the Clifton was Cardiff born Henry Jefferies and his wife Frances. Local trade directories place them at the pub in the mid 1880s and Frances was still there at the end of the 19th century.

During their occupancy of the pub, two of the couple's sons died, Edwin in 1887 and Frank ten years later. Henry died in 1896 and is buried with his sons and his wife in nearby Radnor Street Cemetery. Perhaps he pops back occasionally to keep an eye on the business!

The Paranormal Site Investigators (PSI) conducted an overnight investigation at the pub in March 2005. Despite a few bumps in the night the team failed to detect any ghostly activities. And still no sign of the nun.

A Foggy Morning in Radnor Street Cemetery © Andy Preston - for more of Andy's photographs visit

1950s photograph of the Clifton is used courtesy of Arkell's see

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas at Lydiard Park

Staff and volunteers have decked the hall with boughs of holly and Lydiard House is all dressed up for a Victorian Christmas. But how did an earlier branch of the family celebrate the festive season?

Custodians of the 17th century Lydiard House were Sir Walter St John and his wife Lady Johanna. In 1652 the austere Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, abolished Christmas all together and for eight years the people of Britain had little celebrate. However, with the restoration of the merry making monarch Charles II in 1660 it was party time again and records show that plans for Christmas at Lydiard House in 1661 were well underway by October.

"I doe intend gd wiling to be at Cristmas at Lidiard," wrote Lady Johanna St John from the couple's London home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard.

Ahead of the festivities Lady Johanna instructs Hardyman to brew 40 gallons of ale "so that it may be a month old before we begin it."

However the family's plans were disrupted by the political duties of Sir Walter, Member of Parliament for Wootton Bassett.

Lady Johanna writes to inform Hardyman that they will not be down as planned as Parliament was due to adjourn for just three days over the Christmas period.

But Christmas in London would be equally busy with the King likely to be popping round and Lady Johanna asks that Hardyman send her some turkeys and instructs him to "make more butter against cristmas when it is to late to make chees." She adds "your Master is so in love with Lidiard drink that I would not have the Ale drunk if yu have any Brued."

Menus created for the cook survive in the archives but with the family in London for Christmas 1661 it should asked who ate the vast quantities of food prepared in the Lydiard House kitchens. Among the dishes consumed at 'the table in the great Parler on December 27 day 1661' include "rost venson, rost beife, 2 geese and a swane' with 'Plume broth, Ince Pye and bake Pudin.'

Christmas 1662 was on an even grander scale with menus surviving for the 28 day period when the family entertained both family and friends. Dinner on December 27 was 'for Hooke' probably the estate tenant farmers, while on January 5 Sir Walter and Lady Johanna entertained the Gentry.

In 1841 Lydiard House was let to Lincolnshire landowner Thomas Orby Hunter who, at the time of the census that year, lived there with his daughter Charlotte Orby Wombwell, her husband Charles and fifteen servants.

With a household that large it's easy to see who ate all those 17th century pies.

The State Bedroom

Lydiard House pictured in all its snowy splendour

Lady Johanna

Looking across the frozen medieval lake

The Ice House - repository of Christmas goodies past

Images of Christmas decorations courtesy of Lydiard Park

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

General Election 1945

W.W. Wakefield Conservative MP

With the war in Europe over, Winston Churchill faced increasing pressure at home to call a General Election.  Winding up the wartime National Government he went to the country to ask the electorate to give their mandate to his Conservative Party.

With the town’s newly honoured former MP, Sir Wavell Wakefield, contesting the Marylebone seat, Lieutenant Col. Alistair Gibb became the Conservative candidate in Swindon where he hoped to hold on to his predecessors 975 majority.  His adversary was Labour candidate Thomas Reid.

Among the 59,898 names on the new electoral register were 4,679 service voters.  However since its compilation, hundreds of war workers billeted in the area had returned to their homes.

“I regard it as the greatest compliment I have yet received that all the boo boys should have followed me here tonight,” said Col. Gibbs, addressing an eve of poll meeting held at the Drill Hall.  Meanwhile, at a Party rally at the Playhouse, Labour candidate Thomas Reid told his audience that there were nearly as many people outside the hall as in it.

Voting began early on Thursday July 5, as the 35 polling stations opening their doors at 7am and with a 9pm extension, most of them were kept busy almost up to closing time.

A Rodbourne Cheney voter in a hurry to catch an early train cast his vote as the polls opened while at 9pm at Lethbridge Road a motor cyclist raced up to the polling booth to find he was 15 seconds too late.  One woman informed the tellers outside the booth that she had a proxy vote from her husband in the Forces, but was not going to use it.  When asked why not she replied because he was voting differently to her.

As the polls closed in Swindon both the Conservative and Labour Parties were confident that their candidate had won.  “We originally thought that it would be a close fight, but now I think we are in with a substantial majority,” said Mr J. Burrows, the National Conservative Agent for Swindon.

With the count delayed three weeks to await the arrival of votes made by serving soldiers overseas, the country could only speculate as to the result.  Counting began at 9am on July 26 and by midday the results came flooding in.  A massive swing of opinion to the Left saw Labour sweep to victory with 393 seats.  Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and inspirational wartime leader, tendered his resignation to the King who invited Mr. Attlee to form a new Government.

And in Swindon too, Labour romped home to victory.  Thomas Reid polled 27,545 votes, winning with a resounding 10,904 majority.

Thomas Reid was re-elected in the 1950 General Election but retired at the end of that Parliament in 1955. 
Francis Noel-Baker was elected Labour MP for Swindon in 1955, standing down in 1969.  Conservative Christopher Ward won the ensuing by-election only to lose the seat just months later at the 1970 General Election.  Swindon turned red again when David Leonard Stoddart held the seat from 1970 until losing to Conservative candidate Simon Coombs in 1983.  Following boundary changes in 1997 Coombs stood for the new South Swindon seat but lost to New Labour’s Julia Drown with her stablemate Michael Wills winning the Swindon North seat.

Francis Noel-Baker Labour MP for Swindon 1955-1969

Lord Stoddart Labour MP for Swindon 1970-1983

Simon Coombs Conservative MP for Swindon 1983-1997

Anne Snelgrove South Swindon Labour MP 2005-2010

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Fair at Lower Shaw Farm

Jane Stephens's tie dyed babygros

Jam jar lanterns lit a frost encrusted pathway to a magical world of mince pies, mulled wine and crafts at the Lower Shaw Farm Christmas Fair last evening.  The former calving sheds were transformed into an Aladdin's cave of handmade gifts - everything from knitted garments and toys to felt bags, pot holders and super sparkly jewellery - for that special Christmas gift.

A farm has stood on this site in Old Shaw Lane since at least the 17th century.  In 1710/11 Thomas Strange left the tenancy of the farm to his niece Bridget Tuckey and her brother Richard 'to share and share alike.'  At the beginning of the 19th century the 136 acre dairy farm was owned by the Earls of Shaftesbury and in the 1970s the land was purchased by the local authority as part of the 1980s West Swindon development.  Fortunately the farmhouse and 3 acres of land remain, the long time home of Matt Holland, Andrea Hirsch and the Lower Shaw Farm Community.

Stallholders last night included Jane Stephens, co-ordinator of the Knitting Circle, which meets at the farm the second Monday of each month.  Along with her knitted items for sale Jane had a selection of colourful tie dyed baby clothes.  Her next door neighbour was Maria Jones of the Tuesday Craft Group with a table top full of Christmas decorations and toys.

Sarah Thomson was selling glass chopping boards formed from recycled wine bottles.  Sarah, a 3rd year student in Architectural Stained Glass at Swansea Metropolitan University  was recently highly commended for her submission in  a World Skills UK competition. If you would like to know more about Sarah's innovative work you can email her on

Next event on the LSF December calender is Carols by Candlelight, a fund raising event for homeless people in Swindon, 6-7.30 Saturday December 8 - £5 for adults and £2 for children.

Visit the Lower Shaw Farm website to find out more about what's on.

Maria Jones of the Tuesday Craft Group

Elena Rossi and her handy pot holders

Sue Leonard's jewellery

Sarah Thomson

Helen Flinders - multidisciplinary artist - bespoke commissions, original artwork and prints -

Welcome to the world of Rosa Bloom - a boutique of curiosities!