Saturday, January 28, 2012

Holocaust Day 2012

Local MP Robert Buckland, Mayor Ray Ballman and council officials joined those gathered around Swindon’s cenotaph in bitterly cold temperatures and beautiful sunshine to mark Holocaust Day 2012.

The ceremony opened with a haunting violin duet played by musicians Debbie and Michael as we were reminded how important music and the arts were to those inside the Nazi death camps.

Matt Holland addressed those present to remember the innocent victims of genocide, not only the six million Jews who died during the Second World War but those massacred since in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

By November 1939 the international press had already revealed there was mounting evidence of the plight of Jews in German occupied Poland.  Kept behind barbed wire in huge camps called ‘reservations’ men up to the age of 70 and women up to 55 were made to do 12 hours of forced labour a day with just one thirty minute break.  Children were looked after by the older women where it was reported ‘concentration camp discipline prevails.’

An estimated 650,000 Jews were expected to have been removed to this area by April 1, 1940.  “Where a German Jew has married a non-Jew, both are being forced to go,” the Danish newspaper Politi Ken reported.  “This has led to many suicides, the Jewish husband or wife preferring to die, so that the survivor can continue to live in Germany.”

On this, the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Matt reminded us of the power of words and the theme of this year’s event, ‘dare to speak up and speak out against wrong.’

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Archibald Edward Knee


You might think that a young unmarried, childless soldier who died in the carnage of the First World War might be forgotten today.  But more than 95 years later photos of Archie Knee have been published on the internet.

In Australia a descendant of his sister Ethel has posted a photo of the young Archie on the Ancestry website. The Local Studies Collection at Swindon Central Library has a further two photos viewable on their flickr website.  Archie appears in a team line up of the 1912-13 Swindon Corinthians Football Club.  More poignantly he is also pictured in the September 1916 edition of the Great Western Railway Magazine among other GWR men who lost their lives in the war that month.

Born in Stroud in 1892 Archibald Edward Knee was one of Francis and Rose Knee's eight children.  Francis moved to Swindon and a job as a railway carriage painter in the Works and by the time of the 1901 census the young family was living at 123 Albion Street.

On leaving school, Archie followed his father into the works, no doubt expecting he had a job for life.  A 15 year old boy could hardly have predicted what was in store for him and his generation of young men.

In the spring of 1916 the British army prepared for the 'big push,' the allied offensive that would finish the war.  But the horror of the Battle of the Somme would see more than 57,000 British soldiers killed, wounded or reported missing during the first 24 hours of action.

The 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment was entrenched at Pylones, 3 kilometres north of the German held Vimy Ridge.  On May 21 the German army bombarded this section of the Western front, firing everything at their disposal including gas and lachrymatory shells.  The men of D company were fighting by day and making running repairs to fencing and trenches throughout the night.

The war diary entry made by Lt. Col. W.S. Brown records the events of May 24.

"In the trenches.  The enemy were able to reach the Birkin Crater post with cylinder stick bombs and some casualties were caused.  Many rifle grenades were fired at the outpost line of P73: those fired in retaliation appeared to do considerable damage.  After 5pm the enemy fired several heavy trench mortars at P74 and P75 and also at the head of Grange CT.  Snipers claimed three Germans.  Repairs to the P line were carried out and a large amount of wire was put out along the whole front during the night of 24th/25th."

Private F. Daniels of A Company was killed outright.  Casualties that night numbered 10, among them was 25 year old Lance Corporal Knee of 31 Catherine Street, Swindon.

Archie died of his wounds five days later.  He was buried in the military cemetery at Etaples.  With 10,773 graves, Etaples is the largest cemetery in France to be maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Nearly 100 years later Archie continues to be remembered by his family and the town in which he grew up.





The military cemetery at Etaples.

Visit the Swindon Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal to view more pages from the Great Western Railway Magazine.

Service of Remembrance

Record numbers joined in a Service of Remembrance at Radnor Street Chapel on November 13.  The service is now in its seventh year and organisers Mark Sutton and Tony Fox said this was the largest attendance to date.

Swindon Mayor Councillor Ray Ballman and representatives from Swindon Borough Council were among those who filled the Chapel to capacity while a crowd several deep stood outside. The service was led by Deacon Dennis Sutton and members of St. Mark’s Choir while Fr David McConkey, rector of the Parish of Swindon New Town, supported those singing outside the Chapel.

Members of the 18th Swindon Scouts attended the service, including Edward who told those gathered why wearing a poppy was important to him.

At the Commonwealth War Graves Memorial bugler Derek Webb sounded the Last Post and Jim Leonard read from ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon.

Wreaths were laid at the Cross of Sacrifice by the Mayor, William du Plooy ex member of the Royal Fleet Air Arm and serving soldier Terry Gidzinski of the King’s Royal Hussars.

And on the very eve of Remembrance Sunday the Friends of Radnor Street discovered yet another soldier who lies there in an unmarked grave.

William George Driver was born in Torquay in 1892 and has no obvious connections with Swindon.  He married Emily Dorothy Pretious at St Anne’s Church, Wandsworth on August 21, 1911.  They were both 19 years old and William was working as a clerk in the Civil Service.  He was to eventually set up in business as a watchmaker and jeweller and the couple had two children, George William and Patience.

William joined up at Hounslow on March 19, 1915.  He served in the Army Cyclist Corps and later transferred to the Yorks & Lancaster Regiment.

On William’s attestation papers there is no mention of any health problems in the section a) marks indicating congenital peculiarities or previous disease, other than scar from an appendicitis operation or b) slight defects but not sufficient to cause rejection.

By January 1917 he was suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthma and by February had been transferred to Bicester VAD Hospital.  By June of that year he was in the 2nd London General Hospital, Chelsea where an enquiry was received concerning his son.  It appears that seven year old George William was in a home for Waifs and Strays at this time, so his wife was obviously in great distress.

His medical notes tell that he was admitted from the Expeditionary Force France on 1.1.17 with bronchitis & asthma.  He looked ill and presented the usual signs & symptoms of an old standing Asthma & Bronchitis – his condition was not considered to have been caused by active service, climate or ordinary military service - although none of these symptoms had been evident when he enlisted.

He was discharged on September 24, 1917 as unfit for military service suffering from Asthma & Emphysema aggravated by exposure on active service.

By then William’s sight had also deteriorated and he was unable to resume his work as a watchmaker and jeweller.  He expressed a desire for outdoor employment in munitions work. 

His pension papers contain a paragraph that reads – to what extent is his capacity for earning a full livelihood in the general market lessened at present – 3/10.  He was awarded a pension of 11s 8d a week which was later reduced to 11s.

William didn’t return to his wife who was then living in Plaistow, East London, but came instead to Swindon where he lodged with a Mrs Howard at 49 Cambria Bridge Road.

He died in the Victoria Hospital on November 14, 1918 from broncho pneumonia. He was 26 years old.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Looking down on the GWR Gas Works in the 1950s

This 1950s aerial photograph of Swindon is dominated by the GWR gas works on Iffley Road, where the company made its own gas in what was believed to be the largest, privately owned plant of its kind in the world.

The gas installation operated around the clock with gas or retort workers employed in three shifts.  During WWII enemy aircraft had the gas works firmly in its sights.  Although narrowly missing the works during an air raid on August 17, 1942, several houses on Ferndale Road were bombed.

After Westcott Place built in the mid 1840s, Rodbourne and Gorse Hill were the next significant developments built to house the ever increasing GWR workforce.

In 1890  Even Swindon and Gorse Hill, with a combined population of more than 6,000, were incorporated into the parish of New Swindon.  Iffley Road was built around this time with neighbouring Harcourt Road following in 1905.

By 1895 parts of the Gorse Hill Farm estate were being developed and by the turn of the century Florence, Whiteman, Poulton and Beatrice Streets were under construction.

Ferndale Road dates from the late 1880s and was named by incoming homesick Welsh railway workers after a village in the Rhondda Valley.  Roads north of Ferndale Road date from the 1930s while Pinehurst Road, built in 1924, snakes through fields, open green spaces and allotments which remain more than fifty years later.

Ferndale School, built for the growing population north of the railway track, opened in 1907.  In 1926 a new building for the infants opened on the site and the school was further extended during the interwar years.  In 1946 the complex was reorganised as separate junior and secondary schools.

Today the Great Western Way arterial road scythes through the former gas works skirting the Hawkesworth Trading Estate, named after Frederick Hawkesworth, the last Chief Mechanical Engineer at the GWR (1941-49).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Restoration Man

Restoration Man - George Clarke
Channel 4’s George Clarke was up in Cumbria visiting a project on a 19th century church in this week’s episode of ‘Restoration Man’ (Thursday Jan 19).

Phil Evans and his partner had paid £128,000 for a dilapidated church in the picturesque village of Gamblesby in the North Pennines. Built in 1868 St John’s had stood empty for eight years when the young couple took on the challenge of converting it into a family home. 

The church was built in a mixture of architectural styles and loosely based on the Victorian Gothic Revival.  George took time out from the build to visit the Chapel at Exeter College, Oxford designed by the doyen of Victorian Church architects Scott, but he could have just as easily popped into Swindon to see more examples of the great man’s work.

George Gilbert Scott was born on July 13, 1811 at Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, the third son of Rev Thomas Scott and his wife Euphemia Lynch.  Scott moved to London in 1827 and after completing his articles with architect James Edmeston went on to work first for contractors Grissell and Peto before entering the office of Henry Roberts in 1832.

Anxious to go it alone, Scott decided to establish his own practice and entered into partnership with William Bonython Moffatt in 1838.  Together they won competitions to design Reading gaol and the Infant Orphan Asylum, Wanstead.

Scott went on to design some of the most iconic buildings of the Victorian era, including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Building in Westminster, the St Pancras Station and Hotel and the Albert Memorial in Kensington for which he received a knighthood from Queen Victoria. And during the 1840s and 50s he designed not just one, but two of Swindon’s historic buildings.

In 1840 Brunel and Gooch established a repair and maintenance railway workshop at Swindon where passengers could take refreshments while a change of engines took place.  The town of New Swindon grew faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Building on accommodation for the workforce began in late 1841.  As to their spiritual needs, the GWR provided a room in the factory where services could be held, but this could clearly only be a temporary measure.

St Mark's Church

In 1842 G.H. Gibbs, a director in the GWR, left £500 in his will to go towards building a church and school for the company employees and they chose an architectural star on the ascent to design it for them.
Built in limestone, the design of St Marks bears many of Scott’s hallmarks, such as the large chancel and panelled roof supported by elaborate cornices.

In 1851 Scott returned to Swindon, this time to design a building to replace the old parish church of Holy Rood.  The 13th century church was in a state of disrepair and too small to cater for the demands of the growing town.  Scott came up with the magnificent Christ Church, built in the style of the late 13th century and complete with chancel, clerestoried nave of three bays with aisles, transepts and a western tower with broach spire.
  
The final cost of St Mark’s was £6,000, considerably more than the modest village church in Gamblesby whose congregation stumped up £1075 19s to build St John’s, but just a fraction of the bill Phil and his partner faced at the end of their project.

The restoration work cost £175,000 more than £45,000 in excess of their original budget which left them mortgaged to the hilt and in debt.  With the work completed Phil and Joanne were unable to move in to the beautifully restored church.  They were hoping that instead of selling up, which they had at first feared they would have to do; they might be able to rent out the converted church and move in at some future date when their financial situation improved.

This programme is still available to view on Channel 4oD for the next 27 days but if you want to see examples of Sir Gilbert Scott’s work pop in to St Mark’s or Christ Church.

Christ Church

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Looking down on Old Town in the 1950s



This 1950s aerial view of Swindon takes a broad sweep of Old Town from the junction at Okus Road and Kingshill, along Bath Road and Wood Street to the Goddard Arms Hotel at the top of the photograph.

Okus Road takes its name from Okus Farm, which stood at the western end of Swindon Hill and was owned by the Goddard family from the mid 17th century.  The thatched Okus Barn, dating from the same time, survived into the 20th century but was demolished in 1975.

Old Swindon Local Board records include a covenant for laying out new streets and sewers at Okus dated 1890 with building dating from around the turn of the 19th century.

Kingshill House, former home of the Bowly family, was bought by the Borough and converted into a maternity hospital in the early 1930s.  This aerial view shows additional buildings in the grounds and also in front of neighbouring Victoria hospital.

A collection of Nissan hut type structures stand on the site of the present day Savernake Street Social Hall while St Saviour's Church in Ashford Road, built by railway men in 1889, appears to be lacking a couple of neighbours.

The Congregational Church built in 1906 on the corner of Bath Road and Victoria Road is missing from this photograph.  Demolished in 1949 the site was later used as a car park before road widening took place in the 1960s, which must date this photograph to the mid 1950s.  The Swindon Advertiser building can be viewed through a gap in Victoria Road.



St Saviour's then and now




Thursday, January 12, 2012

Burglar Thrown Out of A Window

Taken from the 1773 Andrews & Drury map of North Wiltshire
A middle aged woman fends off a violent intruder and one local man had a very close call when a night time burglary didn’t go according to plan in October 1850.

Miss Keziah Prior was well known in Lydiard Millicent where she kept a small grocer’s shop.  In 1851 the population of the North Wiltshire village was just 491.  Thomas Sadler farmed at Shaw where the parish boundary met that of Lydiard Tregoze.  John Bewley was at Parkside Farm, the former dower house of the St John family at Lydiard Park while John Hinder was at Parsonage Farm and the wealthy Mary Tuckey at Lower Shaw.

Miss Sarah Hawkins was the schoolmistress and Thomas Howard the blacksmith.  There were just four shops in the village.  John Cowley and John Newith are both described as shopkeepers in trade directories of the time, while William Mouldon was a baker and shopkeeper and Keziah Prior ran a small grocer’s shop.

Keziah had retired to bed at about eight o’clock on the fateful Tuesday October 8, having first made sure her windows were fastened and the doors locked.

During the night she was awakened by the sound of breaking glass, which she at first attributed to her cat.  Catching a glimpse of a light from the room opposite her bedroom, Keziah jumped out of bed and straight into the grasp of the intruder.

She later identified the man who she said she had known for some time and who called in at her shop, remembering the red cap he wore.

Mr Superintendent Haynes of the Wiltshire Constabulary apprehended Charles Clark also known as Embury who lived about a mile from Miss Prior’s shop.  The prisoner was brought before the magistrates in Swindon where Keziah’s compelling account of the burglary was recounted in the local press.

“As I was going towards the door a man rushed upon me,” she said.  “He took hold of me, and we fell to the floor together.  I was undermost.  As we were falling, he said “**** your eyes, deliver your money!”

Miss Prior went on to say how she went to the open window through which Embury had made his entrance and yelled ‘Murder.’  As Embury called to his accomplice, Miss Prior told how she turned from the window and met him face to face.

“We closed together and struggled.  I can’t say whether he struck me there, but he struck me in the bedroom; I bear the marks on my face.  My toes were trod to pieces with his nailed shoes or boots,” she said.  “He got to the window and he put his right leg up to get out.  I put my hands round his body and helped him up.  He drew his other leg up, and I pat my hand on his back and struck him as hard as I could, and said, ‘That’s where thee’s come in, and that’s where thee shall go out,‘ and out he went.  He fell about 13 feet, and dropped on the road.  I said ‘You rogue, I hope you will break your neck.’

A red cap and a heavy bludgeon were found at the scene of the crime.  Traces of blood on the floor were evidence of the desperate struggle that had taken place in Keziah’s spare bedroom.

The description of the prisoner was that he was a ‘tall, powerful man, with long black hair, repulsive features, and of the most ruffianly appearance.’

Embury was committed for trial at the New Sarum Assizes, Salisbury where he duly appeared on March 28, 1851.

Embury’s neighbours acted as witnesses and claimed that at about one o’clock in the morning they heard the child of the prisoner crying, and then heard the prisoner and his wife talking about the child, which the prisoner’s wife was trying to wean.  But despite this evidence the jury found Embury guilty and a sentence of death was pronounced.

It was only when another prisoner appearing at the same assizes for the theft of an ass, also from the Lydiard Millicent area, confessed he had broken into Miss Prior’s home.  His description of the events of that night corroborated the findings of the police and Keziah’s evidence. 

Charles Embury was granted a free pardon.






Views of The Street, Lydiard Millicent are courtesy Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trade Directory details are courtesy of Swindon Central Library



Monday, January 9, 2012

Swindon Central Library celebrates

There should be champagne corks popping at Swindon Central Library today where the innovative free online image gallery has just notched up 2 million page views.

The project was launched on June 22, 2009 with images from the local studies collection of photographs and ephemera.  And before long library visitors were bringing their own photographs to be scanned and added to the online collection.  Today the archive contains some 6,000 images.

Among the photographs of local people and Swindon dignitaries is one of the last Lord of the Manor, Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard pictured here with his pet parrot at his home The Lawn.

Images of Swindon suffragette Edith New (back row, left) include a photograph taken with members of the Women’s Social and Political Union in prison uniform and newspaper coverage of her attack on 10 Downing Street.



Taken at the top of Victoria Street, could this be the oldest Swindon street scene?  The Swindon Advertiser building is on the right while the building materials to the left of the photograph indicate work had begun on the Congregational Chapel built on the corner of Victoria Street (later renamed Victoria Road) and Bath Road in 1866.


For some quirky views of Swindon in the 1950s check out the Man With A Stick series of Ordnance Survey photographs.


Other images include a poster announcement of a Penny Reading to be held at the Town Hall on Monday October 31, 1864.  Tickets in the body of the hall cost 1d while reserved seats cost 3d with ‘Free Tickets (as usual) for Working Men & Their Wives.’

Local businesses advertising in Astill’s Almanack & Trade Register of Swindon include Harry Walters ‘The Hatter and Hosier’ 23 Wood Street where his entire stock was ‘unusually cheap.’

The gallery is easy to navigate and can be searched by date or keyword with images tagged to help you find others in common.  To start viewing, log on to www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal.  Check out the library’s facebook page – Swindon Local Studies & Family History Collection.  Twitter fans can send them a tweet on SwindonLibrary.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Looking down on Stratton St Margaret



This aerial view of Swindon fifty years ago moves out of the town centre to Stratton St. Margaret.  The photograph is dominated by the car body manufacturer, Pressed Steel factory, a new arrival in the late 1950s.

As jobs declined at the railway works, Swindon Corporation set about attracting new industry to the town.
Vickers-Armstrong at South Marston, Plessey Co and Marine Mountings at Wroughton were three wartime newcomers who stayed.

Pressed Steel relocated to Swindon from the company headquarters at Cowley in Oxford, and was one of the early arrivals on the Parsonage Farm Industrial Estate at Bridge End Road, overlooking the railway tracks.

Construction began on the plant in 1955 with production starting in 1956. During the 1960s Pressed Steel produced body parts for the Morris 1100, BMC sports cars and the Triumph 2000.

By the summer of 1965 the workforce numbered more than 6,600 with the factory occupying 1,750,000 square feet.

Also caught on camera at the top of the photograph, is the Dockle Farmhouse, today a popular family pub. Built on the site of a medieval farmstead, the Grade II listed building dates from about 1800.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Windmill Hill

The Windmill Hill Business Park in West Swindon with its futuristically designed buildings, opened to great acclaim in 1984.

The area owes its name to the presence of a windmill in the vicinity, although not the one that stands in the Business Park today, which originally came from Chiseldon.

Built in 1823, next to the cemetery on Butts Road, Chiseldon, the mill passed out of use in around 1892.  After that it was used as a stable and for storage purposes, until the St. Martin's Property group began reconstruction at the Windmill Hill site in January 1984. A building more authentic to the area is the former Marsh farmhouse presently used as office accommodation.

The 101-acre dairy farm, once part of the Lydiard Park Estate, belonged to the St. John family.  The tithe map apportionments, produced in 1841, record ancient field names such as The Shannells and Picks Mead.

Early 19th century Rate Books reveal that William Dore, founder of the Swindon auction business, was tenant in 1806 while James Ellison was one of the longest serving tenants, paying rates on the farm from 1823-1850. He was followed by a series of relatively short-term lets until W.J. Rumming moved in at the end of the century.

Marsh Farm appeared as Lot 18 when Lady Bolingbroke put the bulk of her estate up for auction in 1930.  The farm was described as an exceptionally convenient dairy holding with 'Good, Healthy, Level Pasture Land.'  The brick built farmhouse contained three rooms, dairy, larder and milkhouse on the ground floor with three bedrooms and a cheese room on the first floor.  Outbuildings included tie up accommodation for 44 cows and stabling for six horses and there was a four roomed brick built, thatched cottage close by.  The tenant, John P. Rumming, son of W.J. Rumming, bought the farm in a private transaction.

In the absence of any archaeological remains of the windmill there is one compelling piece of pictorial evidence.

Among the St John monuments in St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze is the Golden Cavalier, a memorial to Sir John St John's son Edward who died fighting for the Royalist cause at the 2nd Battle of Newbury in 1644.  Edward was one of three of Sir John's sons who were killed during the English Civil War and it is believed  that the house at Lydiard Park served as a garrison for the Royalist troops.

On the base of the Golden Cavalier statue there is a relief carving of the Captain Edward St John leading his troop of sixteen men.  Alan Turton in English Civil War Notes & Queries in 1985 writes "the whole design may show Captain Edward St John parading his troop in the park, hence the railings, of his family home at Lydiard Tregoze where there is also a Windmill Hill on the estate."

Marsh Farmhouse


Golden Cavalier

Edward leading his men - 
the windmill can be seen in the top left hand corner


Redville House


Swindon Central Library is full of gems. Preserved on a few sheets of paper in the Local Studies section are Richard Tarrant's memories of  'Swindon 80 odd years ago' written shortly before his death in 1926 aged 85.

"Before you get to the Hermitage at the back of Mason's, there was a very large house, a brick house.  When Kinneir came to Swindon as a solicitor he began his practice there.  Very big house pleasant and beautiful gardens ...," writes Tarrant.

Documents held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham confirm that Henry Kinneir signed a 14 year lease on a "messuage or dwelling house with Stable Gardens Outbuildings Auction Room called Redville House," owned by John William Browne, an attorney and solicitor.

The rent was fixed at £100 a year for the first eleven years dropping to £70 for the last three years of the tenancy.

An inventory of fixtures and fittings taken in 1858 before Kinneir moved in, extended to the contents of the greenhouse and garden - "Pruning bag quantity nails shreds etc etc 4 pair scissors 3 pruning knives Case containing 1 saw 3-4 knives 1 Syringe."

There were 120 pots of flowers containing Fuchias, Geraniums, Petunias etc and a further 130 in 'Garden Rows.'  Four cucumber tubes, 12 dozen-flower pots and 16 saucers for potting flowers are listed along with a small log tub and a quantity of firewood.

The contents of the garden are described as 'The whole of the Vegetables - growing there in, Gooseberry trees, wood etc.'

With '21 Odd Bottles Wine' in the cellar, the items were valued at £28 9s 6d (£28.47) various additional charges brought the total to £40 18s 6d (nearly £41 worth today over £3,000).

Six months later Browne and Kinneir had entered into partnership and Henry's rent was reduced to £20 a year.

By 1861 the Kinneir family had settled into the house overlooking the driveway to the Goddard's mansion.  Henry 29, an attorney and solicitor from Ashton Keynes, his wife Harriet 30, and their four children Henry 5, twin daughters Alice and Minnie 2 and six month old Walter.

Over fifty years later and Henry Kinneir then nearly 70 years old, continued to live at Redville with his second wife Susan.  The family owned the property along with The Hermitage occupied by Henry's son Walter, and three cottages in Dammas Lane.

Henry died on May 27, 1915 and is buried in Christ Church graveyard alongside his first wife Harriet Elizabeth who died in 1898, and his son Henry who died in 1881.  His eldest daughter Harriet Edith was buried in the family plot when she died in 1931.

Redville, along with the Hermitage, were both built by Charles Anthony Wheeler in the early 1840s.  Richard Tarrant recalls:  "Smith the chemists shop, kept then by C.A. Wheeler and afterwards by a Mr Pinnegar then by a clever little man who hung himself."  Library reference SWI.948.  Today the Grade II listed building on Charlotte Mews has been renamed Redlands.




Images of The Hermitage and Henry Kinneir courtesy of Swindon Local Collection visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Milton Road Baths

Plans for the Medical Fund flagship building had been in the pipeline for a number of years.  The committee paid £999 for a plot of Rolleston estate land when it came on the market in 1885 but it was another six years before construction began.



Built in 1891 and opened the following year, Milton Road Baths soon became the hub of the Medical Fund activities.

With a grand, glass covered entrance in Faringdon Road, the red brick building was designed by Swindon architect J.J. Smith at a cost of £10,000.

Keeping up with the times, the Medical Fund committee installed both Turkish and Russian baths.  The Turkish bath with dry air heated rooms, followed by a full body wash and massage was seen as being ‘of great value as a sanitary and cleansing agent.’  The Russian baths were a variation on this theme, a vapour bath created by the throwing of water on hot stones, followed by a massage that involved being hit with a besom made of birch twigs and leaves.  In the battle against disease and premature death, anything was worth trying.

Central to the building were the two swimming pools, the larger one reserved for men, could be covered and used for dances and concerts, seating around 2000 people.  The smaller pool was for the use of women and children.


The dispensary moved from across the road to the new building which had eight consultation rooms and large waiting room area.  Eventually most of the Society’s clinics were housed in the new Milton Road building.

A hairdressing business opened at the end of the 19th century.  However, unable to compete against private town centre salons, it shut after some twenty years.

The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham hold a suggestion book from the Milton Road building, dating from the beginning of the 20th century.  The first entry with six supporting signatures is for a ‘shaving saloon’ an idea that was rapidly adopted.

Another entry reads:  It is the wish of the under signed that a weighing machine be added to the baths for the convenience of bathers.  This request was readily granted. 

However, it is unknown if the artistically included petitioners H. Ellwood, G.H. Burrows and H.F. Sykes, who included a sketch in support of their suggestion for headrests for the Long Lounge, were successful.

And not all the suggestions were practical, such as the request for a piano ‘for the purpose of accompanying bathers who are anxious to display their Vocal powers.’

Tucked inside the notebook is a memo dated 1912 issued by Phillis Tindale requesting that ladies using the Turkish baths not to wash their head in the basin under the tap used for drinking water.

An extension built around 1899 added washing baths to the many facilities all ready on offer to Society members.



The Milton Road Baths building was converted into a hospital during both World Wars.  In 1949 the building, along with other Medical Fund initiatives, was absorbed into the National Health Service.

GWR Medical Fund Hospital

Built in 1862 as a drill hall and armoury for the XI Wiltshire Volunteer Rifle Corps, the cottage hospital building in Swindon’s railway village began life designed for a completely different purpose.

However, by the end of the 1860s the pressing need in the railway community was for a hospital.  The armoury was selected as being suitable for conversion and new premises was built for the Rifle Corps in the GWR Park.

Accidents in the GWR Works were an everyday occurrence.  A gravestone in St. Mark’s churchyard records the death of 19 year old Frederick James Tucker ‘killed by burst boiler at Swindon works’ on June 18, 1855.

A decade later and safety precautions had improved little.  Robert Hanks, 71, a fitter at the works, was crushed to death when a truck he was working under collapsed on top of him.

Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Superintendent Joseph Armstrong proposed that the GWR Company pay for the conversion of the armoury property and that additional costs be met through member’s subscriptions and fund raising .  Sir Daniel Gooch donated £1,000, a sum matched by the men.

The hospital opened in December 1871 with one four bedded ward, an operating room and a room for post mortems.  The cottage on the west side of the hospital became a dispensary with accommodation above for the dispenser.  The 1881 census records Mary A. Jennings, the Matron, living at 44 Taunton Street and John Tod, the dispenser living at number 45.

In the Medical Fund Society’s half yearly report ending December 1883 the resignation of the resident nurse Miss Luxton was announced ‘upon her marriage’ along with the appointment of a Miss Whittaker as her successor.

The report to the Medical Fund Committee made by Drs. Swinhoe, Howse and Bromley on January 12, 1886 recorded a total of thirty patients admitted during the previous 12 months.  Whilst six had died, twenty had been discharged with one remaining under treatment but ‘doing well.’

Details of the men’s accidents give an indication of the dangerous conditions in which they worked.  George Turnbull, 33, a chargehand, suffered a compound fracture of the skull and died three days later.

By 1894 the incidents dealt with in the hospital were many and varied, with numerous eye injuries, referred to London hospitals, alongside tonsillectomies and circumcisions.

However, the majority of cases were still workplace accidents, sometimes treating the onlookers rather than the victim.  On October 3, 1894 ‘3 glasses of Brandy for men & one porter’ were given to those who had witnessed the death of 75 year old William Clark Prizys ‘killed at work.’

Kelly’s Directory of 1898 description of the hospital indicates that the property had been enlarged and then has an ‘accident ward with 4 beds, convalescent ward containing 8 beds, an operating theatre and an additional ward added in 1898 containing 6 beds.’

In 1927 an extension was built on the site of formal gardens to the front of the hospital, increasing the number of beds to 42 and incorporating an X ray department and blood donor clinic.

The hospital was absorbed into the NHS in 1948 and eventually closed in 1960 shortly after the first phase of the Princess Margaret Hospital opened on Okus Road.

Victoria Hospital

When Mrs Ambrose Goddard ceremoniously announced ‘I now declare this hospital  to be open,’ she unlocked the door on not just a new hospital but free medical care for the people of Swindon, regardless of for whom they worked.

Ambrose Lethbridge Goddard had given a one-acre plot of land in the Sands on which to build the new hospital and his wife Charlotte laid the foundation stone on Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, opening the hospital just 15 months later on September 29, 1888.

Goddard family involvement continued with Ambrose serving as the first president.  Bank Manager Lyttelton Etty was the first treasurer and Thomas Roberts the first secretary.  Mrs Rhoda Smith was appointed first matron.  Katherine Ackerley from Huddersfield succeeded her, supervising an increase in the hospital capacity from 12 beds to 22 by 1904.

The hospital opening day was something of an occasion in itself.  The procession set off from Faringdon Street and marched along Bridge Street and Regent Street, up Victoria Street, completing a lap of the principal streets of Old Swindon before heading off down the Sands. 

The parade contained six bands, including the Regimental Band of the Swindon Troop of Yeomanry, mounted and carrying drawn swords; members of both Old and New Swindon Local Boards, marched alongside members of the Oddfellows and the Ancient Order of Druids.

Mr and Mrs A.L. Goddard with the building’s architect W.H. Read and members of the Hospital Committee, travelled in an open carriage.  The official opening ceremony contained lengthy speeches given by local dignitaries and concluded with prayers spoken by Rev. F. Pugh and a burst of the National Anthem.

The procession reformed, marching to Market Square, but the festivities were far from over.  The Goddard’s played host to a Garden Party at their home, The Lawn, with a Promenade Concert, Horticultural Show and a Fire Brigade Competition.

And as if that wasn’t enough celebrating for one day, the piece de resistance was a Masquerade & Torchlight Procession through Old and New Swindon, terminating at the bottom of Eastcott Hill where a bonfire was made.  The Advertiser reported that ‘thousands of spectators lined the route.’

With the fun and games over, the serious work of the hospital began in earnest.  The Swindon Hospital Saturday Committee composed of representatives from town traders and the Friendly and Temperance Societies set about fundraising and in the first fifteen years donated £1,700.

Ten years after the opening, at the time of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, fund raising endowed the hospital with a further £1,570 16s 11d and in 1901 £223 was raised to build a lodge.

During the first year, 35 patients were treated on the three wards, male, female and accident, at costs totalling £250 and within 12 months of opening the hospital was declared to be free of debt.

On the 6th anniversary of the opening ceremony, Mrs H. Kinneir laid the foundation stone for a new wing adding a further four wards containing 22 beds and four cots.

Proud of its innovative achievements in care in the community, the Hospital Board announced the parish nursing team had made 1000 home visits during 1903.

During its long history the Victoria Hospital has provided a variety of health and care facilities in the field of gynaecology, infection diseases, child assessment and psychiatric care.  It was also home to the Prospect Foundation Hospice during the early 1990s.

The hospital closed its doors for the last time on December 5, 2007.  Future plans included converting the original 19th century building into apartments and developing the remainder of the site for family houses.