The corner site on the pedestrianised Bridge Street was once at the very heart of Swindon’s busy public transport network.
William Clappen’s business empire had shops at prime locations in both Old and New Swindon and his premise at the junction of Fleet Street and Bridge Street was at the site of the tram centre when it opened in 1904. The tram system in Swindon began with a route from the Market Place in Old Swindon to the junction at Bridge and Fleet Streets in New Swindon. It was later extended to include Wellington Street and the railway station with a further route through Rodbourne and Gorse Hill. Tram drivers used the clock set in the wall of William’s shop to check their departure times and the area became known as Clappen’s Corner.
Born in Cirencester in 1855, William Clappen was the son of a tailor, William and his wife Sarah. Like his brothers, the younger William joined the family firm in Cricklade Street, Cirencester where his father employed six men and three women in 1861.
In 1881 William married Hannah Prior, a farmer’s daughter from Kemble. In the census of that year the couple were living over their outfitters business at 14 Wood Street. As the Clappen business empire grew, so did the family, with three sons and two daughters born between 1883 and 1892 above the shop in Old Swindon.
During the 1880s William submitted a number of building applications to both Old and New Swindon Local Boards, among them a plan to convert into shops the Baptist Chapel on Fleet and Bridge Streets. In 1887 he applied to make alterations to his property in Wood Street and two years later he made another application to build a warehouse in Henry Street.
In 1898 Kelly’s Trade Directory lists Clappen business ventures at 14 Wood Street, 7 & 8 Cricklade Street and Fleet and Bridge Streets.
By 1901 William and Hannah had moved to a house called Pinehurst in Rodbourne Cheney. Their daughters Sarah and Ethel were both employed in the family firm as clerks. Second son William James completed his drapery apprenticeship at Alfred Herington’s shop in Arundel, Sussex before returning home to Swindon. But unlike previous generations, not all the sons went into the family tailoring and outfitters business.
Eldest son Allan Victor Clappen, born in 1887, was to become a solicitor and practised at various addresses in Winton, Bournemouth.
William and Hannah’s youngest son Wilfred Joseph, born in 1892 attended Durham University where he gained a BSc in Agriculture and was Master in Agriculture at North Eastern County School in Barnard Castle at the outbreak of the First World War. Wilfred joined the Durham Light Infantry in January 1915. He died on September 22, 1916 aged 24 of wounds received during the Battle of Flers Courcelette during the infamous 1916 Somme offensive. He is buried in the Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, near Albert.
William and Hannah retired to Southbourne on the Hampshire coast and by 1919 William’s tram centre property had been taken over by Stead & Simpson’s shoe shop. William died in 1920 and Hannah in 1928.
Images published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection, Central Library - visit the website on www.flickr.com/photos/SwindonLocal