Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Swindon Heritage

Do not be fooled by the casual mien of this group of people, chatting, making tea, waving.  This group knows more about the collective history of Swindon and its surrounds than you can shake a stick at.

Members of the Swindon Society, Rodbourne Community History Group et al, independent researchers and freelance writers gather four times a year to look at what's new on the local history scene and last night's meeting was a doozy.

Graham Carter, journalist and columnist on the Swindon Advertiser, gave the Swindon & District History Network a sneak preview of Swindon Heritage - an 80 page, all colour, glossy magazine due out Spring 2013 - the like of which Swindon has never seen before.

Network members got to view a select few pages - the record of Swindon men's sacrifice during WWI by military historian Mark Sutton and a companion piece written by two Commonweal students just returned from a visit to the battlefields.  The story of the Stratton workhouse as seen through the eyes of Hammerman poet Alfred Williams by Graham and the story of Swindon's forgotten suffragette, Edith New as featured in this blog.

With just a few final tweaks to be made to this first edition the production team will soon be putting this exciting new publication to bed.  The Swindon Heritage website will be going live any day now with details on how to subscribe.  Watch this space ...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Swindon Society Old Town Walk

Members of the Swindon Society are now on their summer break, so I thought it was time to publish a couple of blogposts about the work they get up to. Scroll down to see what's on when the group reconvenes in September.

This week saw members of the Swindon Society take to the streets as the local history enthusiasts joined in with Lethbridge Primary School's Victorian project.

The eight and nine year olds had already seen a slideshow of Old Swindon and learned what it was like to be a Victorian schoolchild - now it was time to walk in the footsteps of their 19th century counterparts.

The 140 children took part in four guided walks across two wet and windy days at the beginning of the week.

First stop was at the site of the Old Swindon railway station, now a modern industrial estate.  Andy shows the children a photo of the former station platform -

 and Bob points out the railway tunnel.

The Belmont Brewery - now a nightclub.  The children hadn't been there, and neither had Andy - yet!

Outside the Co-op the children look at a photograph of the thatched cottages in Newport Street.

The children hear about the devastating 2003 fire that gutted the Corn Exchange building, the year in which some of them were born.

Then it's a short walk to Lawn Woods

where the children learn the derivation of the street name The Planks.

The children learn about the Goddard family and the house called the Lawn, demolished in 1952

and follow the footings of the building, recently revealed by Swindon Borough Council groundsmen.

 Back on the High Street

after a now and then view of the old bank.

At the King's Arms Andy explains the importance of looking up at buildings to discover unchanged features in the brickwork.  The children had some interesting ideas on what the Cyclist Touring Club emblem might signify.

Two cyclists join in the fun.

Back in the classroom and there were still more questions from the enthusiastic time travellers.

The Swindon Society members were delighted with this new venture, which had been a great success.  For more information about the society visit the website on www.theswindonsociety.co.uk.

You might also like to read

Swindon Society Celebrates 

Albert Beaney's Photographs

A Soldier's Life in the Trenches

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looking Down on Regent Street

'There is very little architecture in Swindon and a great deal of building,' John Betjeman famously wrote in 1950. 'But Swindon is more interesting than many towns which are more beautiful,' he also observed.

The adoption of the 1952 Town Development Act saw Swindon enter a new era - new industry, new housing and a new town centre.

In 'A Swindon Retrospect 1855-1930 local author Frederick Large remembers when green fields separated Old and New Swindon with Regent Street a mere farm track leading down to the canal.  Regent Circus 'was part of the farm, with a large cowyard and stalls for the housing of cattle where the Town Hall now stands,' Large writes.

The first few cottages along this track were built in the 1850s and by 1865 the enterprising householders were trading from their front rooms in the newly named Regent Street.  Once a busy traffic through road, Regent Street was pedestrianised in 1965.

The imposing Baptist Tabernacle was built in 1886 to replace the chapel in Fleet Street, by then too small to accommodate the growing congregation.  Demolished in 1978 the Bath stone columns and facade returned to Swindon in 2007 and were once due to be reinstated close to the original site but sadly regeneration plans were hit hard by the subsequent recession and the stones are still in storage.

The Savoy Cinema, designed by W.R. Glen, staff architect for the UK ABC chain of cinemas, opened in 1937. During its 54 year history the cinema was also known as the Cannon.  It closed in 1991, later reopening as a Wetherspoon themed pub.

From new estates on former farmland to views of the original old market town on the hill, this look across Regents Street completes my series of aerial photographs.

Lower Eastcott Farm - this old farmhouse stood on what is now Corporation Street and was the site of first the electricity plant and then the bus depot.

An Edwardian view of Regent Street

A William Hooper view of the Baptist Tabernacle on Regent Circus

For more views of Swindon visit the Swindon Collection.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Soldier's Life in the Trenches

In this remembrance week it was appropriate that the speaker at the Swindon Society monthly meeting was Steve Williams who gave a talk about a soldier's life in the trenches. Dressed in authentic WWI uniform and carrying 60lb worth of kit, Steve showed us some of the gruesome weapons the men used in hand to hand fighting and trench raids.

A military historian from Trowbridge, Steve travels the country with his reconstructed trench. He describes himself as a storyteller, but his presentation to group members on Wednesday evening proved he is much more than this.

In 1914 the age range for recruits was 19-35 but Steve told how Recruiting Sergeants, who received a cash enhancement for each man they enlisted, were apt to turn a blind eye to enthusiastic youngsters. Following Kitchener's "Your Country Needs You" campaign 100,000 men enlisted in a week.  The new recruits of  K1-K6 Army Group, as they were known, grew moustaches in homage to Lord Kitchener. Initially new recruits received 16 weeks training but this was quickly reduced to 12 as men were needed to replace the dead on the front line where 250 an hour were reported injured, missing or killed.

Set against the backdrop of the WWI trench, Steve described not only the conditions in which the soldiers lived and fought, but some poignant facts and figures.  Of the one million British servicemen reported dead or missing, only 100,000 were ever identified.  Out on the battlefields of Gallipoli (modern day Turkey) and in France and Flanders there are the remains of 500,000 lost Tommies.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Looking Down on the GWR Works

It is difficult to believe that at the time this aerial photograph was taken in the 1950s, the railway industry was officially in decline.

Visiting Swindon Junction in 1840, Brunel and his superintendent of locomotives, Daniel Gooch decided this would be an ideal place to establish a repair and maintenance depot.  The works opened in January 1843 with 423 men on the pay roll.

Today the Churchward estate occupies what was once the site of  'A' Shop completed in 1920 and reputed to be one of the largest covered workshops in the world.  These were the heady days of the GWR when more than 14,000 worked 'inside' the vast railway factory complex.

The railway industry was nationalised in 1948 by the post war Labour government and the 100 year old GWR works was renamed British Railways Workshops.  In 1960 the Evening Star was the last steam loco built for BR at Swindon and three years later a large part of the Carriage Works closed.  The end came at 4.30 pm March 26, 1986 when the hooter that had sounded the beginning and end of the working day for so long, kept going until the steam ran out. Buildings preserved along Rodbourne Road include the former 'V', 'P' and 'O' Shops which reopened in 1997 as the Designer Outlet Village.

And the former railway works is proving to be a popular eating out venue.  In 2007 Bottelinos, the pizzeria chain of restaurants, opened in the former Pattern Store while in 2011 Anthony & Allyson Windle opened The Weighbridge.

1886 View of Swindon GWR Works from railway line

1881 GWR Swindon Works:  Road Wagon Shop

c1886 The Iron Foundry at Swindon GWR Works

For more old views of the GWR Works visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

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The Railway Factory

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day 2012 at Radnor Street Cemetery

Other writers have said it far better than I ever could - 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, 
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"

Attrib. John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958)

William and Ernest Leggett

The Leggett brothers - William (left) Ernest (right)
Recent publicity concerning the future of Sanford Street School has highlighted the importance of a roll of honour on display there to former pupils who died in the First World War. Among the list of more than 130 names are those of seven sets of brothers killed in the 1914-18 war.

An entry in the school logbook dated March 20, 1936 records – “Received today the memorial to Old Sanfordians who fell in the Great War.  It is a very beautifully made memorial, paid for by money in the School’s private fund.’

Two brothers listed among the dead are Horace and Reginald Corser, the sons of William and Elizabeth Corser of 1 Broad Street.  Reginald, an engine room artificer on HMS Defence was killed on May 31, 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.  He was 25 years old and had been married for less than a year.  Brother Horace was serving with the 79th Field Company Royal Engineers when he was killed on January 11, 1918 aged 25.

Arthur and William Barnes were two brothers both aged just 18 years old when they were killed.  Arthur, an Ordinary Signalman died on board the HMS Queen Mary on May 31, 1916 during the same Battle of Jutland.  His brother William was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment when he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras eleven months later.  The boy’s parents Harry, a warehouseman at the GWR Works, and Charlotte lived at 18 Medgbury Road.

In his book Tell Them of Us, Mark Sutton includes the story of the Leggett brothers William and Ernest of 282 Ferndale Road who enlisted together in Swindon and served alongside each other in 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment.

William was shot during action on the Ypres Salient on June 16, 1915 and was taken into one of the dugouts where Ernest sat with him until he died.

“He was a very brave chap and was very happy, right up to the last.  I was proud of the way he stuck it out,” Ernest wrote home to his mother.

Lance Corporal F. Parker who lived near the Leggett family in Ferndale Road also wrote to his mother:
“I am sorry to say Billy Leggett was killed.  One of our chaps told me that Ern was with him as well and he said that Billy died very calm and like a hero.  He was shot through the stomach and the bullet came out at the hip.”  Less than three months later 21 year old Ernest was also killed in action.

The brothers who enlisted together, served and fought together are remembered together - their names appear on the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium and the Sanford Street School memorial.

Tell Them of Us – Remembering Swindon’s Sons by Mark Sutton is available for consultation in Swindon Central Library.  Copies can be obtained from the author on sutton5110@hotmail.co.uk

Sanford Street School First World War Roll of Honour

Mark Sutton, author of Tell Them of Us

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Sanford Street School 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Looking Down on Moredon in the 1950s

A hundred years ago Moredon was a hamlet in the parish of Rodbourne Cheney.  William Loder farmed at Moredon House and Charles Pitman Staight was landlord at the Red Lion.  At the time of the 1901 census the population of the whole parish numbered just 1,639.

Then in 1948 the corporation purchased farms at Rodbourne Cheney and Moredon towards the north west of the borough boundary.  Just ten years later, at the time of this aerial photo shoot, Moredon estate was up and running. It even received a Royal seal of approval when Princess Elizabeth visited the town on November 15, 1950.  The Princess was in Swindon to officially open the Garden of Remembrance at Groundwell Road.  During her visit she viewed the newly opened council houses on Akers Way and called in on Mrs Willmott at number 22.

Moredon Infants, pictured, opened in 1952 and the junior school opened a year later.  In 2006 the new Moredon Primary School opened on a part of the site of the former school.

Hreod Burna Secondary School, named after the reed stream tributary of the River Ray which runs through the site, was built in the 1960s alongside the infant and junior schools. By 1983 the school, renamed Hreod Parkway, occupied two sites either side of Akers Way connected by a footbridge.  In 2007 a new state of the art secondary school named Nova Hreod opened on the south site of its predecessor while the old north side site became a new housing development called Nightingale Rise.  In 2011 pupils at Greendown Community School were successful in naming one of the new streets Edith New Close after the Swindon born suffragette who served several prison sentences during the campaign for Votes for Women.