Friday, September 28, 2012

Edgeware Road, Swindon

Town centre visitors could be forgiven for thinking of Edgeware Road as a mere shortcut behind Regent Street shops to the law courts on Princes Street.  But before the 1960s development Edgeware Road was a busy community presided over by St Paul’s Church.

Building began on Edgeware Road in 1877 by H.C. Smith and by the time of the 1881 census there were seventeen occupied houses.  Primitive Methodist Minister Thomas Powell lived at the grandly named Bourne Villa, while his neighbours were mostly GWR employees, among them a coach builder, a railway clerk and a boiler maker.

A new church was soon needed for the growing town centre community and in 1881 Gloucester builders D & C Jones & Co began work on St Paul’s Church, designed by Edmund Ferrey.  William Morris, founder of the Swindon Advertiser, recorded that St. Paul’s, like St Mark’s in the railway village, held highly ‘Ritualistic’ services.  He wrote that the High Church practises included processional hymns and banners and that on special occasions the altar was ‘ablaze with candles.’

Local builders Tydeman Bros & Sons Ltd had premises in Edgeware Road and in 1901 and 1909 building applications by the firm added another thirteen houses, a carpenter’s shop, a workshop and a shed to the neighbourhood.

Sadly all that remains of the Victorian Edgeware Road today is the W.W. Hunter building fronting Regent Street.

Born in the east end of London, William Wallace Hunter moved to Swindon towards the end of the nineteenth century.  In 1891 he lived over his furnishers shop at 24 Regent Circus with his wife and their two young sons.  But by 1901 William had built his spacious showrooms on the corner of Regent Street and Edgeware Road and moved his family into a villa on Bath Road.

In around 1905 William Hunter developed two streets off Ferndale Road and named one of them Hunters Grove.  According to Peter Sheldon and Richard Tomkins in their book Roadways, St Mary’s Grove was named in honour of his wife.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, two of William’s three sons answered the call to the colours.  William’s youngest son, Second Lieutenant William Samuel Hunter served with the 9th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and was killed in action on February 1, 1916.  He was 21 years old.

Newly married Ralph enlisted in 1915 and served with 345 Company in France from September 1915 to January 1916.  He returned to Britain as a casualty and was later released for civil employment with the Royal Aircraft Factory at South Farnborough.

William and his wife Mary retired to Weston super Mare where he died in 1936, but it would appear that the family furnishers remained in business until at least the 1940s.

Following the demolition of St Paul’s the site was acquired by F.W. Woolworth.  A plot of land was reserved for the building of a small chapel of ease and today the chapel at St Aldhelm’s centre is open to the public and used throughout the week for services.  The St Aldhelm’s Resource Centre is a point of contact for the group of churches in the Parish of Swindon New Town – St. Mark’s, St. Saviour’s, St Luke’s and the chapel of St. Aldhelm. 

When Edgeware Road was demolished along with a network of town centre terraced housing during the 1960s redevelopment, an estimated 4,500 residents were moved to outlying areas of Swindon.

Looking down Cow Lane towards Tydeman Bros.

St Paul's Church, Edgeware Road

 Old images of Swindon are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies

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