Following the initial building boom during the 1840-60s, development of New Swindon pretty much ground to a halt. The reason given was a slump in the railway industry in the 1870s and the scarcity of building land in the centre of town due to the Goddard’s reluctance to sell their land.
Another area of prime building land, the Rolleston estate, owned by William Vilett Rolleston, was tied up in the Court of Chancery for more than ten years. It was not until 1885 that parcels of land came onto the market and were rapidly snapped up.
Old Swindon jeweller Hubert J. Deacon bought the area on which Deacon Street was built and named in his honour.
Construction began in 1890 when builders William Crombey, a former engine driver from Durham, and John Horsell, who lived in neighbouring Commercial Road, got the ball rolling. They soon began work on streets that would eventually be named Curtis, Crombey and Deacon Streets.
At the time of the 1891 census just seven houses were recorded in Deacon Street. Robert J Dixon, a 27 year old engine fitter and his brother Walter 31, lived at numbers 1 and 3 with their young families. John S. Tilbury 30, a coach trimmer lived at number 2. Elizabeth Emond and her four children plus a lodger lived at number 4 while gas stoker Thomas Mercer and his wife, father in law and a lodger lived at number 6. Number 7 was still uninhabited.
But the prize for the most overcrowded house on the newly built Deacon Street must surely go to number 5 where George Key, a painter, lived in four rooms with his wife Kate, their six children and a lodger. William Peat, a trimmer’s assistant, his wife Rose and their baby son John lived in the remaining two rooms.
Newhall Street, originally called Spackman Street, and Stanier Street named after William Stanier, Stores Superintendent of the GWR Works and later Mayor, were built in 1891 and Morse and Whitney Streets a year later.
As was typical throughout the growth of 19th century New Swindon, terraces of houses were built by speculative builders. Henry William Bennett, an up and coming bricklayer living at 72 Bridge Street, was responsible for a spate of building in Deacon Street during 1892-4 while in 1896 Joseph Ponting, a builder and baker from Blunsdon, added his terrace.
By 1901 there were 82 houses climbing the hill to the cemetery at the top with just about every trade and occupation in the railway works represented among the neighbours.
Those Victorian builders would be astonished to know that today the asking price for a three bedroom property in Deacon Street is in the region of £130,000.
Looking down on the Murray John Building and Swindon town centre
Looking up towards the Dixon Street gates of the cemetery
Samuel Loxton's 1900 view of Deacon Street and the William Hooper photograph are published courtesy of Swindon Collection, Central Library.