Friday, April 27, 2012

Looking down on Holbrook Street in the 1950s

This 1950s aerial photograph shows Swindon town centre on the threshold of a major revamp.  Vast tracts of terraced housing would be demolished to make way for the new Brunel shopping complex, constructed in several phases between 1970-1979 and Fleming Way, a major new road, was built along part of the route of the old Wilts and Berks Canal.

The distinctive uniform planning of the railway village dominated by the Mechanics' Institution building is easily recognisable.  Closed in 1986, the Mechanics' building has been the subject of unsympathetic and flawed building applications and more than 25 years of neglect.  But if you thought this historic building was doomed, think again.  The future is looking surprisingly bright for this iconic building - read more about the history of the Mechanics' and the exciting proposals made by the Mechanics' Institution Trust on

On Rodbourne Road Joseph Armstrong’s 1874 locomotive works accommodated tin smiths, the brass foundry and a number of other workshops and is now home to the Designer Outlet Village.

In 1999 the former GWR Paddington to Bristol mainline railway, including the railway village at Swindon, was nominated for World Heritage status.  Alarmingly the 1950s had seen the company houses, then in need of restoration and renovation, under threat of demolition.

Holbrook Street, a back street tucked away behind Fleet Street, was built in around 1872 and renamed Holbrook Way in a more recent regeneration.

In 1901 the terraced houses were occupied by men employed in the railway works - brass finishers, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, engine fitters and coach painters.

Albert R. Hill 15, a lamp lad on the Great Western Railway, Reginald H. Ayers,16, a lamp porter, and Frank Racey 17, a shop assistant in the boat trade, all boarded with a young widow, Annie Bird and her two children at number 20.

Properties in the John Street area were demolished to make way for The Parade, opened by Prince Philip in 1963, who returned with the Queen to inaugurate the town's new Civic Centre on November 5, 1971.

Images of the Mechanics' Institution and the 1960s view of The Parade are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection visit their website on

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Looking Down on the County Ground in the 1950s
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Looking Down on Cheney Manor Road in the 1950s
Looking Down on Rodbourne Cheney in the 1950s
Looking Down on Newport Street in the 1950s
Looking Down on Walcot in the 1950s
Looking Down on Parks in the 1950s

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Keeping the law in Swindon

When Joseph Boots of Highworth rashly declared he would rather spend his days in prison than pay money owed to Miranda Archer, that's exactly where magistrates sent him.

Boots appeared before the Swindon Petty Sessions in September 1854 accused of failing to comply with a maintenance order for the illegitimate child he had fathered.

Meeting just four times a year, the 18th century saw the Quarter Session Courts overwhelmed with work.  By the middle of the 19th century the Police Courts or Petty Sessions, the lowest tier in the English court system, were taking over the less serious crimes.  With no jury to be sworn in, two or more magistrates heard the cases, which were then speedily dealt with.

When a similar case to the Boots/Archer one was brought before the Petty Sessions in 1881 the courtroom was cleared of 'females and juveniles' before the evidence could be heard.

John Maslin, a hay binder from Liddington, was ordered to pay Mary Carter 2s per week for sixteen years to support her illegitimate daughter.  It was recorded that 'the evidence showed a very loose state of morals to exist at Liddington.'

In the 1880s the Petty Sessions were held twice weekly at the Police Court where cases brought before the courts have a familiar ring about them and received extensive coverage in the Advertiser.

Wootton Bassett was the scene of some dangerous driving when on the evening of March 28, 1881 John Roper, a dairyman of Coped Hall, was nabbed en route to the railway station, driving his horse and trap at a 'racing pace.'

Somewhat unwisely Roper had sped past the police station where he was spotted by Sergeant Carter who ran out in pursuit.

The police officer reported that he saw the defendant thrashing and urging the horse but by the time Sergeant Carter reached the bottom of the hill, Roper had been to the station and returned up Stoneover Lane at 'a terrific rate.'

Sergeant Carter estimated that defendant was travelling at a speed of '16 or 17 miles per hour' and it was noted that 'the manner drivers took the milk carts to the station was very dangerous and it was a wonder persons were not often killed.'

Ironically Roper had been unable to appear when originally summoned the previous week because he had been thrown out of his trap and injured.

The County Law Courts opened on Clarence Street in the early 20th century.  A hundred years later the building was home to Swindon's Jobcentre until staff moved to offices on Princes Street.  The building stood empty for several years until it was bought by EPOC Properties in 2010 who then planned to convert the property into 20 apartments.

In the 1960s terrace housing along Princes Street was demolished to make way for the new Courts of Law building.  The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor of Swindon, Alderman CWJ Streetly in a ceremony held on July 12, 1963 and the building was opened by Lord Devlin two years later on April 21, 1965.

Images: Terraced housing along Princes Street; the New County Court Offices in Clarence Street and Magistrates Court, Princes Street are published courtesy of  Swindon Local Collection visit the website on

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Margaret Brind

Holy Rood, Swindon’s first parish church, was abandoned and partially dismantled in the mid 19th century when construction began on the new one at Christ Church.  All that remains today is the chancel complete with numerous memorials to previous parishioners. 

Alongside plaques to the Goddard’s and the Vilett’s is one to Mary Broadway, the widow of former parish priest John Broadway, and her sisters Dorothy and Margaret Brind.  The inscription reads - Near this Place/Lie the Bodyes of three Sisters/Mary, the Widow of/John Broadway/Late Vicar of this Parish/Died Jan 7 1747 Aged 70/She left 20 Pounds, the Interest/to be given yearly for Ever/to Poor Widows of this Parish/Dorothy Brind died/May 4 1748 Aged 64/Margaret Brind died/May 29th 1748 Aged 68/She left 100 pounds /to the Poor of this Parish/the Interest to be given yearly/for Ever on Margarets Day/and directed by her Will/this Monument to be/erected.

When Lord of the Manor Richard Goddard died in 1732 Margaret and Dorothy were living with him.  In his first will dated 1718 Richard bequeathed the Swindon estate to his brother Pleydell and that if he too should die childless, it should go to the older of the two spinster sisters, ‘cousin’ Margaret, on condition that she change her name to Goddard.  But who was Margaret Brind?

It has taken members of the Goddard Association of Europe many years to solve the mystery but with the assistance of new online data they have been able to reveal the identity of the elusive Margaret Brind.

The three Brind sisters, along with two others, were born in Wanborough, the daughters of Thomas Brind and his wife the former Dorothy Hedges.  Thomas’ sister Martha Brind was the wife of Oliver Pleydell and it was their daughter Mary who married into the Goddard family and became the mother of Richard and Pleydell Goddard. 

Margaret and Dorothy died within days of each other in May 1748.  Dorothy left a brief will with bequests to her married sisters, the bulk of her estate going to Margaret who died less than four weeks later.

The sums of money bequeathed by the two sisters, worth today approximately £17,000 were combined. Acting on behalf of Margaret and Mary, ‘the minister, churchwardens and overseers of the parish of Swindon’ purchased a three acre close of meadow or pasture ground called Cannon’s Close in Stratton St. Margaret. The last tenant to lease Cannon’s Close was Richard Blunsden who in 1831 paid £9 a year rent. When land at Stratton St. Margaret, including Cannon’s Close, was inclosed, an allotment at Upper Stratton was granted to Swindon’s parish church. 

During the 1880s land acquired with the sisters’ bequest was sold along with land belonging to Richard Goddard and the Poor’s Allotment charities.  From the money raised £1,171 was invested as a fund for the poor and £203 for widows.  In 1906 these and a number of other 18th and 19th century charities were combined. 

Although the money didn’t stretch to cover the ‘for ever’ clause, the charity was still in operation more than 150 years later when in 1903 the poor fund stood at £30 and the widow’s fund at £5.  By 1962 the annual income was £110 and only residents of the ancient parish of Swindon were eligible to apply.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Looking down on the County Ground in the 1950s

This bird's eye view taken in the 1950s illustrates the frenzy of Victorian building that created New Swindon as the town grew to keep pace with developments at the GWR works. Just visible above the rooftops is the line of Regent Street, with the Town Hall and the Baptist Tabernacle at Regent Circus.

The Broad Street area of the town was built around 1900 with streets named after prominent Liberal politicians - Gladstone, Graham, Rosebery and Salisbury - possibly influenced by Swindon's own local Liberal Levi Lapper Morse.

St. Luke's, a sister church of St Mark's, opened in 1903 in temporary accommodation. A new church, designed by W.A.H. Masters in the style of the 15th century, was dedicated in 1911.

The 21 acre County Ground site opened in 1893. Fifteen years later Kelly's Directory describes the complex as comprising 'a bicycle track of 3 laps to the mile, and in addition to the space devoted to football and cricket, there is a Galloway racecourse and a polo ground.' 

In Swindon Town's first season at the County Ground crowds averaged 3,000. However a record breaking 6,000 were on the terraces on Saturday October 17, 1896 to watch Swindon beat their old adversary Reading 4-1. Goal scorers were Richie Cox and Joey Murray with David Skea getting two past the Reading goalkeeper.

Kingsdown brewer Thomas Arkell became one of Swindon Town's earlies creditors when he lent the club £3000 in 1896 to build a stand on the north side of the pitch.

The neighbouring cricket ground already had its own architectural masterpiece. The cricket pavilion, designed by W.H. Read and E.H. Pritchett, cost £850 in 1893 with dressing rooms for the competitors costing a further £450. The two storey building boats seven bays with a cast iron arcade of slim columns and was awarded a Grade II listing in 1986.

The Regents Sports Club photograph taken in 1918 in front of the Cricket Pavilion and St Luke's Church are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection.  For more views of Swindon visit their website on

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Looking Down on Rodbourne Cheney in the 1950s
Looking Down on Newport Street in the 1950s
Looking Down on Walcot in the 1950s
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Golden Lion Bridge

Ken White’s Golden Lion Bridge mural is a focal point in Swindon town centre, just as the bridge itself once was.

Local artist Ken White first painted the mural on the side of a terraced house in Medgbury Road in 1976 as part of a job creation scheme for Thamesdown Arts.  Based on a 19th century photograph, Ken added his own touch with representations of hammerman poet Alfred Williams and bridge builder Brunel.  Repainted in 1983, Ken spruced up the mural in 2009 and with the recent demolition of the Whalebridge Roundabout in Fleming Way it is once again on full view.

The elaborate iron lift bridge depicted in the mural was built in the GWR works in 1870, replacing the original wooden swing bridge over the Wilts and Berks Canal.   Its neighbouring pedestrian footbridge, paid for by public subscription, was added in 1877.

Once a farm track leading from Upper Eastcott, the main road through New Swindon, soon became known as Bridge Street while the bridge itself took its name from the Golden Lion Inn.

The canal side pub and a few cottages were built in the late 1840s and at the time of the 1851 census Thomas Edwards was landlord.  The area was still very much under construction and the census enumerator described the properties as “Cottage next Golden Lion beside the Canal” and “Baker’s Shop next Golden Lion.”

A somewhat hazardous setting for a public house, it was not unknown for the patrons to fall in the canal.  At least one Victorian landlord was said to employ a man with a pole to pull out anyone taking an impromptu dip.

An absence of street lighting also became a cause for concern as development continued in the area.  In 1864 the Free Christian Church subscribed for a gas lamp to be situated near the bridge.

“From the Golden Lion bridge to the Centre were a few private houses, standing back from the street, with long gardens in front, the end, or Tram Centre portion, being a piece of waste ground,” wrote Frederick Large in A Swindon Retrospect 1855-1930.

As well as a busy shopping thoroughfare, Bridge Street was also the site of the Tram Centre at the Fleet Street junction, as mentioned by Frederick Large.  Original plans were for an 8 mile electric tramway from the Corn Exchange in Old Swindon to the GWR station in the new town.  The eventual route measured 3 miles and five furlongs and opened on September 22, 1904.

The Golden Lion statue in Canal Walk commemorates the approximate site of the Victorian pub.  Brought down to the forecourt of the pub, the original once stood on a parapet on the roof.

During the 1960s development of the town centre the lion was removed to a Council yard and stored beneath tarpaulins for safekeeping.  Ironically, the statue that had weathered the elements for so many years became damp and cracked into pieces.  Sculptor Carleton Attwood was commissioned to create a replacement, unveiled during the Queen’s Jubilee Year in 1977.

With the Wilts and Berks Canal officially closed in 1914, the Golden Lion Bridge itself became redundant and was demolished in 1918.  Fortunately Ken White’s depiction has survived to preserve a little bit of Swindon’s history.

Photographs are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection - visit their website on

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Sarah Sheppard King

Fortunate family historians may come across an inventory attached to a will such as the one made by Swindon surveyor James Radway on behalf of the trustees of Miss King's estates.

Spinster Sarah Sheppard King was born in 1826 in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze, the daughter of yeoman farmer Richard Dore King and his wife Elizabeth.  For eighteen years she lived with her sister Elizabeth at Yucca Villa in the Sands during which time she managed to cram an awful lot of stuff into her spacious newly built home.

Miss King had the usual settee, chairs and tables in the Drawing Room.  Pride of place went to a 'Hansome Inlaid Cabinet with Glass Panel Doors' containing 'Tea and Coffee Service 40 pieces, 20 various pieces of China, 2 China Bowls, 2 small bowls, 3 Large China Cups, 2 Tea Pots, 2 Small Basins and a Pair of Marine Shells.'

Arranged along the Mantel were '6 Cups and Saucers (blue) 4 Flower Vases, a Small Vase, 2 Figure Statuettes, 2 Brackets and Pair of Shells and a Stereoscope' (a photograph viewing instrument that creates a 3D effect).

Although stuffed with furniture, the Dining Room had fewer sundries, just '2 Brackets and 2 Small Teapots, a Small Book Case and Several Books and an Engraving in Frame - Death of Nelson.'

Silver items are listed separately - 'Quart Tankard with Lid, Punch Ladle, 2 Gravy Spoons, 9 Table Spoons, 11 Dessert Spoons, 24 Tea Spoons, 4 Salt Spoons, Sugar Sifter, 3 Pairs Sugar Tongs, Sugar Scoop and 2 Caddy Spoons.'

Miss King died at her elegant home on March 9, 1896 where her effects were valued at £1,468 7s 11d worth today more than half a million pounds.

But the homes of the wealthy were not always so lavishly furnished and previous generations put more value on the useful than the decorative, as an inventory taken after the death of Thomas Edney in 1673 reveals.

The assets of landowner and farmer begin with '2 dairy cows, 2 twoyeare old heifers and 1 store pig' worth in total £11.19s with the outhouses containing '1 new cheese press.  About the value of 6 stalls with their furniture, 3 cawls, 1 peere of scales, eights belonging & other lumber' coming in at £1 13s 4d.

Thomas Edney and his wife Sibyl lived in a house in Creekard Streete (Cricklade Street) but even here listing priority went to '1 hundred & a half of cheese at 30 shillings, Wood, Cole 36 shillings, French Beanes, a pan of lard 8 shillings, Slatts 5 shillings, cheese tacks, old lid & other lumber at 20 shillings.'

Edney's 17th century estate along with the contents of his eight roomed house, pewter, linen and 'Money in ye house & weareing apparell' totalled a not inconsiderable £258 18s 10d worth today in the region of £393,000.

Images - 1905 William Hooper view of The Sands is published courtesy of Paul Williams; Cricklade Street in the 1960s and the Sands courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection - visit the website on

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Leah Horne - Blacksmith

Once known as Blacksmiths Street, the 1841 census reveals that, like today, Wood Street was home to a diverse cross section of society.

One of the oldest streets in Swindon with records dating from 1599, Blacksmiths Street wasn't its first name either.  Wood Street was also known locally as Windmill Street after a windmill that stood on the site of the Kings Hotel.

Among the residents 171 years ago were surgeon John Gay and attorney Thomas Jeffries who lived and worked alongside the magnificently named tailor, Nehemiah Lea and printer James Morris, father of Advertiser founder William.

Morris recalls in his book Swindon - Fifty Years Ago published 1885 how in Wood Street "there were no less than two blacksmiths' forges opening right onto the street" during a time when "the town was downright busy."

Pigots 1844 Trade Directory lists five blacksmiths in Old Swindon, Thomas Grinaway or Greenaway who was based at Short Hedge, better known today as Devizes Road, with Robert Arman and Edward Smith in the High Street.

The two blacksmiths working in Wood Street were Sadler Bristow, and perhaps surprisingly, a woman - Leah Horne.

For centuries the blacksmith played a crucial role in both town and village life as toolmaker, chainmaker and cart wheel repairer, as well as producing decorative commissions such as gates.  The blacksmith made nails and rivets and shod not only horses, but also oxen and donkeys.

Blacksmith William Horne married Leah Gardner on April 23, 1807 at the old parish church of Holy Rood  where they later took their seven children to be christened.

When William died in 1837 business continued as usual and the 1841 census records Leah Horne 57, blacksmith living with her sons Henry 20, also a blacksmith and fifteen year old John.

It was not unusual for a widow to take over the running of her late husband's blacksmiths business, but the assumption that she acted merely as a manager may not always have been correct.

There is evidence to suggest women were at work in the forge themselves, especially, if like Leah, they had a son to share the workload.  By 1851 Leah was living in Lower Town, Old Swindon, with Thomas Horne, a widower, possibly a relative of her husband, and his daughter.

The Post Office Directory of 1855 lists just two blacksmiths, Robert Arman in Newport Street and Thomas Greenaway, a shoeing and jobbing smith at Short Hedge.  Like Leah, by 1861 widowed Ann Greenaway had taken over her husband's business.  She also describes herself in the census of that year as 'Blacksmith employing three men.'  Ann's two sons John and William worked alongside boarder John Sharpe in the forge on Short Hedge.

Leah Horne died on May 1, 1866 aged 82 and is buried with her husband William in the churchyard at Holy Rood.  Her will was proved at Salisbury on May 26 by her son Henry who lived in North London where he worked as a Railway Guard.

Images - Wood Street c1860 and M. Sargent, blacksmiths at 1 Regent Street are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies - visit their flickr website on Other images - the Chancel at Holy Rood and the King's Hotel, Wood Street.

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Sheppard's Mansion House

The mystery of just where Sheppard's Mansion House stood is solved in the recollections of Richard James Tarrant written shortly before his death in 1926 aged 85.  Tarrant, a former boot and shoe maker, had once lived at 9, Wood Street, Old Swindon.

"I knew John Harding Sheppard, brewer and malster," he wrote.  "He built Bowlys brewery and lived in the house opposite the Square, where Kinneirs had their offices, now turned into a garage, Skurrays."  Today the foundations of this building lie beneath the Co-operative store on the corner of High Street and Newport Street.

Sheppard's extensive Kingshill estate caused quite a stir when it went under the hammer in September 1870.

"The sale occupied several hours, and presented a scene but seldom witnessed on such occasions.  The preliminary wrangle over the conditions and particulars occupied from two to three hours," reported the Swindon Advertiser.

With the population of both New and Old Swindon doubling within  ten years, any building land that came on the market was usually snapped up.  But not in this case!

Lot One in the Kingshill auction, over twenty-eight acres with fields named Kingshill or Furze Ground, Lower Kingshill or Randall's Ground and Hill Ground or Waight's Ground, went unsold.

Other numerous small lots of land were up for grabs but it was the cottages, shops and three public houses, which proved a more attractive proposition for investors.

"The Running Horse public house, with mill adjoining, a small close of pasture land, and two cottages was knocked down to Mr John Jacobs for £680," reported the Swindon Advertiser.

It would be another year before Kingshill Villa was sold to Richard Bowly for £950 in a private contract.

However, one property did find a buyer, "the residence opposite the Square, lately in the occupation of Mr Sheppard, was knocked down to Mr Kinneir for £1,220 and the small house adjoining for £400."

Four years later Henry Kinneir leased the property to Thomas Deacon and Thomas Edmund Liddiard, auctioneers, dealers in horses and livery stable keepers who expanded their Vale of the White Horse Repository to the corner of High Street and Newport Street.

The indenture on the property described as a 'Mansion House with Garden, Yards, Stables and premises situate in the High Street' includes a detailed inventory of the fixtures and fittings.

Perhaps solicitor Henry Kinneir made out the inventory himself, walking from room to room, compiling his notes - 'Drawing Room late Dining Room - 3 Rollers, Register Grate, 3 Venetian Blinds - Shop late Drawing Room 3 Rollers, Register Grate and extra Steel Bars.  Hall Entrance - 9 Hat Pegs, 8 Bells hanging in Passage, mahogany Side Board, Library - Venetian Blind, Long Cupboard, Corner Cupboard, Grate.'

Empty of furniture and personal effects, it is the domestic quarters that create a behind the scene image of the daily life in a prosperous Victorian household.  'Large Kitchen Range and Smoke Jack - Large Meat Safe and three Shelves - Baking Oven and Skeleton Grate - Laundry, 2 Large Drying Horses on reels Small Drying Stove.'

Sheppard died on February 15, 1868 aged 91.  He is buried alongside his wife Ann in the church yard at Christ Church marked by an elaborate monument.

Images - Sheppard's Mansion House courtesy of the Swindon Society - visit their website on