Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mary Ody and Pry Farm

"There've been Odys farming in North Wilts for five hundred years," local resident Harold Ody proudly told Elspeth Huxley when she was writing her book Gallipot Eyes – a Wiltshire Diary, about Oaksey village in 1975.

With such well established roots, Swindon based Ody family historians have a head start with local parish registers available on microfiche at Swindon Central Library and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

Early parish records for St Mary's Church at Lydiard Tregoze reveal Richard Ody confirming the appointment of the churchwardens in 1742.  It was his descendant Noah Ody, who with the help of his wife Sarah, populated many of the local farms.

Noah and his sons were tenants, at various times during the 19th century, at Hayes Knoll and Bagbury Farms in Purton, Haxmoor in Purton Stoke, Braydon, Marsh, Flaxlands and Glebe Farms in Lydiard Tregoze and Lower Shaw Farm in the parish of Lydiard Millicent.  It was the couple's eldest son Thomas who spent most of his adult life at the canal side farm of Pry in Purton.

Construction on the North Wilts Canal began in 1814 with the Purton route passing through the 17th century Pry Farm.  The North Wilts Canal was bought by the Wilts & Berks Canal Company soon after its completion in 1820, but trade was never very brisk and by the end of the 19th century a combination of low usage and mounting maintenance charges threatened the future of the canal.

Thomas Ody married Mary Freeth in early summer 1847 and set up home at Dill Farm, Close to Mary's parents Joseph and Anne Freeth at Liverpool's Farm in Purton.  But by the time of the 1861 census the couple was firmly established at the 104 acre Pry Farm with their seven children.

Thomas died at Pry on August 6, 1892 but the family connection with the farm did not end there.  In 1895 Thomas' youngest daughter Kate married local boy Job Simpkins.  Her brother George James Ody married Kate Eliza Hulbert in 1898 and when the census was taken in 1911 the two couples were still living at Pry.  George and his wife have Dorothy Maud Ody staying with them.   Job and Kate are also at Pry Farm and they too have a member of the family, niece Katie Ody, staying with them.   Neither couples had any children of their own.

The Wilts & Berks Canal was eventually abandoned by Act of Parliament in 1914, the North Wilts followed in 1927.  For over 30 years the energetic volunteers at the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust have been working on restoring the canal.  Perhaps before too long it will be possible to recreate this idyllic 19th century scene.

The photograph of Mary Ody in the front garden of her home at Pry was taken in about 1900.

Gallipot Eyes by Elspeth Huxley

You might also like to read

Brook House Farm 
Hunt's Copse Farm, South Marston 
Padbrook Farm
National Farm Survey
Lower Shaw Farm

Friday, March 30, 2012

Looking down on Cricklade Road in the 1950s

This aerial shot of Swindon fifty years ago shows Headlands School which opened in 1952 as Headlands Grammar. In 1959 T.S. Magson was the Head Teacher.

Part of the parish of Stratton St Margaret was added to Swindon by Local Government Board order number 25.937 on September 30, 1900.  What had once been a rural area on the outskirts of industrial Swindon would soon become engulfed by the encroaching town.

The original Boundary Cottage stood on the Highworth and Swindon parish boundary.  It is said that the new Boundary House, built in 1894, was modelled on the owner’s home in Bayswater, but frustratingly little is known about the impressive four storey building that once dominated the former Kingsdown Road.

During the early 20th century Boundary House was occupied by the coach building King Brothers, Henry Charles and Joseph and their two families.  

Listings in modern directories prove patchy but the Boundary House maintained its connection with the motor industry.  Fletcher’s Swindon Directory 1959 lists Hedley Hawkins, John Howard and J. Duff, motor agent, all living at 60 Beechcroft Road.  Leslie Heard, Worcester Car Sales Ltd was based there from 1963 to at least 1967 when Boundary Motors is also recorded at Beechcroft Road.

Owned by Kingsdown brewer Arkell's the Moonrakers is reputedly the biggest pub in Wiltshire with a function room that can hold up to 300 people.  First opened as the Crossways Club in 1931 the pub received its full licence twenty years later and became the Moonrakers in 1953.

In 1959 the corner shop still flourished and Cricklade Road was home to numerous enterprises.  From Redwoods at number 77, A.J. Drew - post office and grocers at number 345, V.W. Rawlings at 166 and Penhill Stores at 516 there were plenty of place to compare prices.

The 1901 census returns for Stratton St Margaret (Upper and Lower) reveal a population of 3,367 which included 16 officers and 330 inmates at the Swindon and Highworth Workhouse.  Fifty years later the population had risen to 7,761 while numbers for the 2001 census came in at 21,436.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Morse's Store

The Victorians knew a thing or two about retail therapy and might well have coined the phrase 'shop till you drop.'  The advent of mass production saw an explosion of 'must have' commodities for those fortunate enough to have a disposable income.

By the 1860s Swindon's Regent Street, named after the famous London shopping precinct, was moving with the times as former worker's cottages were converted into shops.

Swindon's first department store was opened in 1875 by Reading retailer William McIlroy, but the town would soon boast it's own home grown enterprise.

Levi Lapper Morse was the eldest son of Stratton shopkeeper Charles Morse and his second wife, Rebecca Lapper.  The Morse family were prominent members of the Primitive Methodist movement in Swindon and financed the building of the Regent Street Church in 1849.

Born over the shop at Stratton Green, Levi had retail in his blood.  In 1878 he acquired premises at 10-12 Regent Street and announced the opening of his store with an advertisement in the Swindon Advertiser.

Having recently purchased the stock of Mr J. Warton, Levi offered 'Parlour, Bed-Room & General Household Furniture, Hardware, Kitchen Utensils And small articles which add so much to the comfort of a home, at prices which must speedily effect a Clearance.'  By the 1880s Levi had a business interest in several other shops, including the Regent Street Arcade.

Morse served as a Justice of the Peace, an Alderman, and Swindon's second mayor following the incorporation of the Borough in 1900.  He was also MP for South Wiltshire for six years.

Levi Lapper Morse died in 1913 and is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery.  The inscription on the impressive monument reads:

'His many acts of beneficence were quietly performed, and because he did good by stealth he helped those who needed help most.'

Morse left an estate worth more than £124,000, the equivalent of about £40 million today.  Morse Street off Commercial Road is named after him and Winifred Street, built at the turn of the 20th century on land adjoining his old home at The Croft, was named after his wife.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fairford Crescent

Throughout the 1930s the British government made preparations for war as the aspirations of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler became increasingly more menacing.  It was anticipated that this conflict, when it eventually began, would not be confined to the battlefield but would extend to the Home Front.

Experts predicted that bombing raids would kill hundreds of thousands of people and the provision of adequate protection for the civilian population was top of the government's list of priorities.

In November 1938, ten months before Hitler's invasion of Poland, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain placed Sir John Anderson in charge of air raid precautions.  The air raid shelter he commissioned would become a household name.

Issued free to householders on a yearly income of below £250, the Anderson shelter consisted of galvanised corrugated steel panels which had to be sunk into the ground to a depth of 4ft and covered with at least 15 inches of earth.  No easy task but ARP wardens and even the boy scouts responded to the call for help to build the shelters where there were no able bodied men to take on the construction.

However, the residents of Fairford Crescent, Swindon had no such problems as Terry Gill masterminded their own, much larger project.

In the 1930s prolific local build A.J. Colborne, built a number of properties in the Whitworth Road area and in 1938 newlyweds Terry and Rose Gill moved into 6 Fairford Crescent.

Terry's niece Brenda Murphy recalls how Mr Lovelock from number 8, Mr Manning from number 10, Mr Woodward and Mr Green with his boys all helped her uncle dig the 12 foot deep hole for the shelter.

When the shelter was complete, the neighbours constructed a connecting access path at the bottom of their gardens along which they scrambled at the sound of the air raid warning.

The GWR Works was a frequent target for enemy bombers.  A raid on the works on December 20, 1940 resulted in damage to rolling stock while on July 27, 1942 a German bomber peppered a gas holder with machine gun fire.

On the night of December 19, 1940 Beatrice and Ipswich Streets took a direct hit during a bombing raid.  Five house were destroyed and many others damaged.  One person later died from their injuries.  But Swindon's highest death toll came on August 17, 1942 when bombs fell on Ferndale Road and Kembrey Street, killing 25 people.  Later that same month a bomb fell on Drove Road and eight people were killed.

Like the Anderson, Terry's shelter in Fairford Crescent was prone to flooding and Brenda recalls how her uncle used to drain it to water his garden during the summer months.

New owners Mike and Muriel Sellwood purchased the property in 2008 following Terry's death and while Mike started on some renovation work indoors, Muriel tackled the garden.

"After clearing all the brambles at the bottom of the garden, I found the air raid shelter," said Muriel, solving the mystery of why the Sellwood's garden was much higher than their neighbours.  Muriel explained that they had taken down the rotten entrance but had not ventured inside as there was about three feet of water inside.

After the war many Anderson shelters were converted into garden sheds and while occasional examples still survive, the majority were reclaimed by local authorities for the metal content.

Meanwhile Terry Gill's substation concrete structure remains, a unique relic of Swindon's war time history.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


When Garrard moved to Swindon in 1919 it heralded a change in the industrial profile of the town.  The precision engineering manufacturer was among the first to offer large scale alternative employment - Swindon would no longer be a one industry town, dependent on the railway works.

The firm was established in 1721 by silversmith George Wickes, who entered his mark at the Goldsmith's Hall the following year.  From 1802 the jewellers became known as Garrard  when Robert Garrard took over control.  Queen Victoria made Garrard the official Crown Jeweller in 1843.

Garrard has been jewellers to the rich and famous for over 250 years and continued to be responsible for maintaining and restoring the crown jewels until 2007.

Responding to wartime needs the Garrard Engineering & Manufacturing Company Limited evolved out of the jewellery making business, employing their skilled craftsmen and specialist machinery in the production of precision range finders for the British Artillery.

The post war move from the White Heather Laundry premises in Willesden, North London to the Newcastle Street factory in Swindon was headed by Major S.H. Garrard and engineer Herbert Slade and the factory opened with 30 employees during the summer of 1919.  Just four years later and development saw the firm extending the old canal side factory by a further 1,200 square feet of floor space.  Towards the end of the 1960s the workforce numbered 4,500.

During the Second World War production saw subsidiary factories opened at Arkell Hall in Gorse Hill, Steel's Garage and a large room in the yard of the Rifleman's Hotel.  Although these sites were closed after the war, other new factories opened at Okus and Marlborough Road.

The interwar period had seen Garrard diversify, building what would become a whole new area of production for them.  First developed in 1918, progress on the Spring Wound Gramophone Motor continued and was quickly snapped up by leading manufacturers Columbia, Decca and His Master's Voice.  By 1930 the company was producing their own gramophones and the Garrard name soon became synonymous with top of the range turntables and high quality record players.

In common with the GWR, Garrard had a whole raft of employee benefits, including a thriving social event programme.  From the Horticultural Society to the darts, cribbage and skittle teams, there were clubs to suit all tastes.

In 1949 the cricket team won the prestigious Morse shield while the bowls club had a membership of 194 playing and non playing members.  And in the early 1950s works outings included trips to Whipsnade Zoo, Weston Super Mare and to watch Chelsea play Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

The death of Major Sebastian Henry Garrard in 1945, great grandson of Robert Garrard senior, saw links with the royal jewellers severed.

On March 21, 1958 flames swept through the Newcastle Street building causing extensive damage and still rated as Swindon's worse ever fire.  The firm's proud boast was that production resumed on the assembly line within days.

Sold to Plessey in 1960, Garrard found it increasingly difficult to compete against the growing Japanese market.  In 1979 the company was sold to the Brazilian firm Gradiente Electronica and production in Swindon ceased in 1982.

Today the former factory site is occupied by The Range and Halfords.  Garrard's sports ground lies beneath part of the Greenbridge retail and leisure park and is commemorated in the naming of Garrard Way.

Images - early 20th century picture postcard view of the Crown Jewels.
1980s photographs of the Garrard factory demolition is published courtesy of Mr J. Ensten - visit for more views.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Looking down on Cheney Manor Road in the 1950s

Designated a Conservation Area by Thamesdown Borough Council in 1990, Rodbourne Cheney can boast St Mary's, a Grade II listed church and a late 16th century Manor House with stables - and apparently several ghosts including a spectral coach and four horses.

The parish of Rodbourne Cheney once included a village originally called Hreod Burna and Moredon, Haydon and Haydon Wick hamlets.  When the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 the name had become Redbourne, a corruption of 'reedy-bourne.'  Finally a 13th century lord of the manor, Ralf Chanu added his name to complete the modern appellation Rodbourne Cheney.

Early Ordnance Survey maps show just a handful of houses along what was once known as Telford Road, renamed Cheney Manor Road in 1929 when Rodbourne Cheney became part of Swindon Borough.

In 1900 Bessemer Road, named after Victorian steel maker, Sir Henry Bessemer who invented a process for converting iron into steel, contained just ten properties.

The industrial commemorative theme continues with Churchward Avenue built in 1936 and named after George Jackson Churchward, Chief Mechanical Engineer at the GWR Swindon Works from 1902-1921.  Collett Avenue, built in 1938, was named after his successor, Charles Collett.

This aerial shot of Swindon taken fifty years ago shows the first stage in development at Cheney Manor Industrial Estate.

One of the early occupants at the 1950s Cheney Manor Industrial Estate was Plessey.  The radio component maker's first Swindon address was a factory in Kembrey Street where they relocated to during the Second World War, employing a largely female workforce.  Other member companies of the Plessey Group moved to Swindon during the 50s and 60s.

By 1965 the estate at Cheney Manor contained various small engineering and casting factories, clothing firms, a GPO engineering depot and various warehouses.

Today the Cheney Manor Industrial Estate is home to Swindon Commercial Services and the Borough's Household Waste Recycling Centre where in 2010 the Council announced controversial plans to build a £8.3 million 'incinerator.'  The Council claimed that the new facility would be capable of producing enough energy to power 6,000 homes.

Images - St Mary's Church; 1901 OS map of Rodbourne Cheney and Plessey's factory are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies - visit for more views.

You might like to read

Penhill - diamond estate
Looking Down on Holbrook Street in the 1950s
Looking Down on the County Ground in the 1950s
Looking Down on Gorse Hill in the 1950s
Looking Down on Cricklade 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

Alfred Williams

In a town quick to celebrate a working class hero, until recently Swindon lagged behind in its recognition of Alfred Williams. However Graham Carter, John Cullimore and Caroline Ockwell, founders of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, are working tirelessly to bring this extraordinary man to the attention of a whole new audience of admirers.

Alfred Owen Williams was born on February 6, 1877 in the small Wiltshire village of South Marston. The 1881 census records the family living at Cambria Cottage - his parents, Welsh born carpenter Elias, and local girl Elizabeth with their seven children, Ernest 10, Edgar 8, Elizabeth 7, Henry 5, Alfred 4, Charlotte 2 and one year old Ellen.

The following year Elias deserted the family leaving Elizabeth with another child and a pile of debts.  He turned up in Llanrwst, Denbigh in 1891 where he is working as an agricultural labourer 'residing' with Superintendent Thomas Hammonds at the Police Station, described as a 'stranger.'

Young Alfred began part time work on a local farm aged just eight, leaving school three years later to work full time at Longleaze Farm, South Marston.  In 1892 he joined his two elder brothers at the GWR Works, working first as a rivet hotter, then a furnace boy and eventually a drop stamper.

"A drop-stamp, or drop-hammer, is a machine used for stamping out all kinds of details and uses in wrought iron or steel, from an ounce to several hundredweights," Williams later wrote.  "Three hands are employed at each machine.  They are - the stamper, his hotter, and the small boy who drives the hammer.  All the work is done at piece rate, and the prices are low; the men have to be very nimble to earn sufficient money to pay them for the turn."

In 1912 Williams published A Wiltshire Village, an account of life in South Marston and the following year Cor Cordium, his fourth book of poetry, when his writing career was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914.  A gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, Williams served in Ireland, Scotland and finally India, a posting which would have a profound influence on the Wiltshire born poet.

After 22 years employment in the works, Alfred wrote an account of life 'inside.'  When it was eventually published in 1915, Life In A Railway Works caused a storm.  The reviewer in the GWR Magazine dated January 1916 tore into it, writing of Williams' bitter spirit against the management' and his attacks on his fellow workman. The book sold badly locally with only around twelve copies bought in Swindon during its first year. But while Alfred received increasing recognition in literary circles, his life was one of unremitting hard work and poverty.

Alfred died at his home in South Marston on April 10, 1930 following a hospital visit to his devoted wife Mary who lay terminally ill with cancer.  During Mary's illness it is believed that Alfred himself lost the will to live and friends and neighbours commented on his frailty as he cycled back and forth to Swindon twice a day to visit his wife. The official cause of death was heart failure.

The Alfred Williams Heritage Society, launched in 2009 has embarked upon an energetic programme to raise the profile of this home grown literary giant. For more information on the life and work of Alfred Williams and the Heritage Society visit and read more about the production of The Hammerman on

Today Swindon Central Library holds copies  of Alfred Williams' books in the Swindon Collection, including Life In A Railway Factory, Villages of the White Horse and War Sonnets and Songs - telephone 463238 for further details.

Images - Alfred Williams as a schoolboy; Alfred and Mary, probably taken at the time of their marriage in 1903; Ranikhet - Alfred and Mary's home in South Marston taken in 1963; the bronze tablet added to the Town Hall, Swindon in 1933 and Alfred's memorial - published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies visit the website on

Monday, March 19, 2012

Looking down on Rodbourne Cheney in the 1950s.

The 20th century expansion of Swindon began long before the Corporation adopted the 1952 Town Development Act and this 1950s aerial view of Swindon looks across from the old to the new.

The post war acquisition of 44 acres to the north and south of Moredon Road paved the way with planning for some 550 new homes.  Manor Crescent was built around 1949 on farmland belonging to Manor Farm at Rodbourne Cheney while Akers Way, built around the same time, was named after Swindon Mayor, Francis Akers.

In 1954 the total area of the Cheney Manor Industrial Estate measured 74 acres and most of the new, incoming factories to Swindon moved here.  By 1959 twleve firms were already up and running with another three due to begin operations.

Built in 1959, a new Arkell's pub helps date this photograph.  Arkell bought the land in 1892 but it was over sixty years before the Kingsdown brewer built The Steam Train.  A major refurbishment in 1997 saw the pub on Cheney Manor Road renamed The Manor.

The World War II Dig for Victory campaign saw an estimated war time production of 1.3 million tonnes of food grown on 1.4. million allotments nationwide.  The post war passion for home grown food continued and the Borough of Swindon Official Year Book 1953-54 records 15 allotments at Cheney Manor Road where tenants paid 9d per perch for their plot.

The busy junction at the Bruce Street bridges has seen some changes over the years.  In 1956 alterations were made to allow the passage of double decker buses beneath it.  A later road widening scheme saw the demolition of two properties where today the busy traffic flow system stands.

Bruce Street itself along with Morrison Street were built and named after local landowner and solicitor Sydney Bruce Morrison who invested heavily in the building of Even Swindon.

Sydney was born in Marlborough in 1872, the son of James Morrison, a rope and twine maker. At the turn of the century Sydney was a partner in the legal firm of Butterworth, Rose & Morrison with offices at 6 High Street and 1 Regent Circus.  In 1900 Sydney married Barbara Maud Elwell, the daughter of Highworth solicitor Herbert Elwell and the couple began married life at 2 Clyde Villas, Bath Road.

The Morrison's first home

By 1911 Mr and Mrs Morrison were living at Westlecott, a house on Westlecott Road where they employed a cook, housemaid and nurse and boasted the distinguished telephone number Swindon 10.

You might like to read

Penhill - diamond estate
Looking Down on Holbrook Street in the 1950s
Looking Down on the County Ground in the 1950s
Looking Down on Gorse Hill in the 1950s
Looking Down on Cricklade Road in the 1950s 
Looking Down on Cheney Manor Road 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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frederic New

Today the London Street tunnel provides easy access for shoppers walking from Swindon town centre to the designer outlet village.  Built by Joseph Armstrong in 1871 the tunnel originally had a much more serious purpose.

Men living in the company houses would not longer have to dice with death as they crossed the busy railway line to work.  But people continued to use the railway line as a dangerous short cut and along its length accidents continued to be a frequent occurrence.

In February 1878 the Advertiser reported the death of Frederic New, a clerk at the Works, found dead on a stretch of the line between Swindon and Wootton Bassett.

The coroner heard how Frederic was in the habit of visiting his friend Thomas Large, farmer at Toothill Farm in the neighbouring parish of Lydiard Tregoze.

On the evening in question Frederic had walked from his home in North Street to New Swindon, where he met W.H. Shepherd, a friend and fellow clerk at the railway works.  Shepherd declined an invitation to join Frederic, who having bought some tobacco, continued on his journey alone.

The New family home in North Street

At the Running Horse public house he climbed the railway embankment to take a short cut along the railway line and thereby considerably reduce the length of his journey.

"The night was very dark and the wind somewhat boisterous," reported the Advertiser.  "The up side of the line is much the best for walking on and it is supposed the deceased kept his side until arriving within a very short distance of the place where he would have had to leave the line for the fields to go to his friend's house."

With a goods train fast approaching it was thought Frederic crossed over to the other side of the line, stepping in front of the Weymouth express travelling in the opposite direction.  Struck on the back, Frederic was thrown 100 yards down the bank.

When he failed to arrive at Toothill Farm, Large assumed his friend's plans had changed.  Back home in North Street his wife Isabella put their three young children to bed and presumed her husband was spending the night in Lydiard Tregoze.

Isabella New and the three grown up children she raised alone
Frederic's body was found early the next morning by a packer named Edward Bathe on his way to work.

An examination was made at the Accident Hospital by GWR surgeon, Dr. Swinhoe. Frederic's injuries were found to include a fractured right arm and right leg and a lacerated wound over the right hip.  Cause of death was identified as a compound fracture of the skull at the back of the head.

Frederic was buried in the churchyard at Christ Church.  His memorial reads - erected by the officials and his fellow clerks at Swindon as a tribute of respect.

Frederic's memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Frederic's youngest daughter Edith trained as a teacher before joining the Women's Social and Political Union.  An active and militant member of the suffragette organisation, Edith served several prison sentences including one for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Images - Frederic New's memorial is published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball - visit their website on

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Say cheese!

With the arrival of the smart phone and the digital camera, it has never been easier to take and share photographs.

Having one's portrait preserved was once the prerogative of the wealthy.  But with the advent of photography in the mid 19th century, all but the very poorest could afford to leave their photographic image to posterity.

The carte de visite, a small visiting card portrait, was patented by Parisian photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi in 1854 and made photographic images available to the ordinary person.  Soon the whole family was getting in on the act and photograph albums were produced with cut out slots to accommodate the 4.5 x 2.5 inch images.

The carte de visite was particularly popular during the 1860s but these four photos of Swindon babies probably date closer to the beginning of the 20th century when Henry Hemmins had a studio at 16 Victoria Street.  George E. Stone was based at 25 Faringdon Road where both he and his wife are described as 'photographic artists.'

Jules Sigismund Guggenheim was the son of Hungarian born photographer Jules Nicholas Guggenheim who had a studio at 56 High Street, Oxford in 1881.  Several of his sons also became photographers and Sigismund had business premises at 14 Regent Circus, later moving to 31 County Road.

Fred Viner, well known local photographer, had premises in South London before relocating to Swindon.  In 1901 he lived at 99 Victoria Road with his wife and two daughters.  Ethel 16, is described an an apprentice photographer in the census of that year.  By 1907 Viner was based at 23 Fleet Street where the photograph below was taken.

With the proliferation of online auction websites, batches of photographs come up for sale, usually with little or no identification.  Sadly with no name or date the babies in these photographs cannot be identified.

Visit to view a selection of unidentified Swindon wedding photographs.

You might also like to read

Swindon ankle-biters

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Looking down on Newport Street in the 1950s

Newport Street is probably the oldest recorded thoroughfare in Swindon and was first mentioned in documents dated 1346. 

In 1874 Thomas Hooper Deacon and his business partner Thomas Edmund Liddiard signed a lease on the mansion house, garden, yards and stables on the corner of High Street and Newport Street, formerly occupied by John Harding Sheppard.

Under the same agreement they also acquired various other properties in the area behind the two streets to further extend their VWH Horse and Carriage Repository. The business flourished and in 1879 1,872 horses were entered for sale across the year.

Today Thomas Hooper Deacon is commemorated in the naming of Hooper Place, a lane close to the site of the Newport Street entrance to the former Vale of White Horse Repository.

This 1950s photograph shows Newport Street almost unrecognisable today with the Co-op Store occupying the former corner site of Sheppard’s mansion house.

Upham Road marks the divide between old Town and the interwar year’s development at Walcot in this 1950s aerial view of Swindon.  Built in 1928 Upham Road was named after the 16th century ancestral farm home of the Goddard family.

And on Bath Road, pictured bottom left, the Gothic Revivalist Bath Road Methodist Church, complete with turrets, was designed by Liverpool architects Bromilow and Cheers in around 1879 and seats 600 people.

Next door the Grade II listed Granville House hides its multicoloured brickwork and stone dressings beneath a coat of whitewash.  Built around the same time as the Methodist Church, Granville House was once the home of Levi Lapper Morse, businessman, Liberal Party politician and Mayor of Swindon in 1901.

Old Swindon’s Market Hall, pictured bottom right aerial view, was built in 1852.  The adjoining Corn Exchange opened in 1866 subsequently served as a skating rink, cinema, ballroom and bingo hall and is better known at the Locarno.  Ravaged by fires in 2003 and 2004 the old Locarno building has been the subject of various failed planning proposals and is today a very sorry sight.

The Hermitage was an apt name the neo Tudor House Charles Anthony Wheeler built nestled up against the Goddard family’s secluded parkland.

By the 1890s Swindon solicitor Henry Kinneir owned the property, but it was with the death of J. L. Calderwood in February 1960 that the house passed out of private ownership and into the public sector.

In 1964 it became a nursing home but despite a protest by local residents, the Victorian property was demolished in 1994.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Looking down on Walcot in the 1950s.

With completion of the Penhill estate in mid 1955, development began to the east of the town.  This aerial photograph of Swindon fifty years ago shows building under way at Walcot East where streets were named after famous 16th and 17th century Brits.

Swindon Corporation acquired 1,000 acres of land for building to the east of the town, swallowing up long held Goddard property, including Lower and Upper Walcot Farms.

Although it would be another three years before the borough adopted the 1952 Town Development Act perhaps the future of the dairy farm at Lower Walcot was already under threat when it came on the market in 1949.

The estate agent’s blurb was rather restrained by today’s standards describing the stone built farmhouse as merely ‘convenient.’  The farmhouse boasted an entrance porch, dining room, sitting room with attractive new grate and built in cupboard, kitchen with Raeburn stove, back-kitchen with wash-hand basin, brush cupboard, separate WC etc.  On the first floor there were three bedrooms, one double and two single, a boxroom and a bathroom with bath, wash hand basin and hot and cold running water.  

Among the ‘adequate range of farm buildings’ was ‘a dairy, excellent enclosed concrete yards surrounded by accredited stalling accommodation for 48 cows, a range of piggeries and a good four-bay Dutch Barn.’

With two cottages, flower and vegetable gardens and ‘a highly productive Orchard,’ the land was described as consisting ‘of some of the most productive Pasture and Arable in the district with a well-known reputation for prolific production of Dairy Produce.’

Bailey's farmhouse pictured today

The two Walcot farms were bought by Swindon Corporation in 1954 and construction work began a year later.  The new estates were built quickly and cheaply, the majority by contractor’s John Laing and Co. who introduced the new prefabricated concrete houses, Easiform.   By 1960 the homes at Walcot were close to completion and maps reveal that in 1967 the farm yard and buildings at Lower Walcot farm served as a Corporation Yard.

Following refurbishment and renovation, Lower Walcot farmhouse was renamed Bailey’s Farm after the family of butchers long associated with the property.

Brothers Frank and Harry had shops in Swindon town centre in the early 20th century, Frank at 48 Fleet Street and Harry at both Fleet Street and 15 Bridge Street.

Documents reveal that in 1916 Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard, the last member of the family to live at The Lawn, Swindon, signed a yearly tenancy on Walcot Farm with Frank Bailey.  Frank’s son Frank Norman Bailey continued the tenancy in 1922.

The stone built farmhouse survived demolition during the development of the farmland and now forms part of Baileys Farm Gardens, a complex of council owned flats.

The Walcot estates were the first to be built with a neighbourhood centre.  This photograph shows the road plans for the future award winning shopping precinct at Sussex Square.  The broad sweep of Frobisher Drive can be seen in the foreground with Shrivenham Road and the County Ground in the distance.  St Andrew’s Church, designed by Swindon architects R.J. Beswick & Son of Victoria Road, was consecrated in 1958.

The Walcot Dome Community Centre in Burghley Close stands on the former site of the Walcot Boys Club.  This club opened in 1961, providing a variety of sports and activities for boys on the estate.

Today the housing estates at Walcot cover more than 350 acres of former farmland, including ancient fields once named Glazemore Ground and Chantery Green. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Padbrook Farm

At the time of the 1900 sale, Padbrook Farm in Lydiard Tregoze was described as a freehold farm with ‘five Enclosure of productive old Pasture Lane.’

Bounded on the north by the railway line and on the south by the Wilts and Berks Canal, details of Padbrook Farm can be found in rate books and census returns, but this modest little dairy farm has more fascinating facts and figures for the foraging family historian.

Victorian record keeping was phenomenal and family historians researching tenant farming ancestors may be fortunate enough to come across a set of farm accounts, such as those dated 1843-1967 deposited by the Vines family at the Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading.

Charles Vines, a young farmer from Bremhill, took over the tenancy at Padbrook Farm in Lydiard Tregoze in about 1843.  He appears on the 1851 census, farming 35 acres and employing two labourers.

The account books reveal the workings of Padbrook Farm where Charles lived at for about eight years.  In 1844 he sold 8 calves for £5 10s.  Production improved across the years of his tenancy and in 1850 he sold thirteen.  However prices had fallen that year and according to the accounts each calf sold for about 10s.   Prices improved the following year when Charles sold a calf for £3 10s on April 3.

In 1846 cheese production at Padbrook netted £93 6s 11d. Together with the sale of butter, calves, pigs and lambs the farm income for that year was about £160.

Cheese production was a major source of income and 1848 proved to be a bumper year.  With the cheese room shelves groaning under 48 cwt of cheese, the account book records £119 in the farm coffers.

Outgoings are recorded alongside sales and in 1845 Charles paid a hefty £5 6s 6½d in parish taxes with two instalments of Poor Rate at £2 1s 11d plus 10s 6d Highway Rate and 12s 2½d Church Rate. 

Robert Freeth took over the tenancy at Padbrook in the early 1850s and is farming there at the time of the 1861 census.  Charles Ferris was tenant at Padbrook from at least 1871 to 1881 and Robert Archer was there in 1891.  The census of 1901 records Mark Church as ‘cattleman on farm’ living at Padbrook and in 1911, the last census available for consultation, Charles B. Hill was the dairy farmer there.

Meanwhile Charles had moved on to the much larger Vicarage Farm at Studley where the account books record a yearly income of £400 in 1852.

Between 1867-1889 Trade Directories show the Vines family farming at the Vicarage Farm in Bremhill. Charles died in Bremhill in 1884 but the book keeping continued with accounts in the hands of his son Jacob.

By the end of the 19th  century Jacob worked Manor, Vicarage and Glebe Farms where in 1901 milk sales topped £1,300.

The farm accounts were presented for photocopying by the museum by Charles’ grandson in 1967.

The Museum of English Rural Life contains the most comprehensive national collection of objects, books and archives relating to the history of food, farming and the countryside visit the website on

Chloe Spencer and Ruth Goodman making cheese in the BBC 2 series Tales From the Green Valley available on DVD

You might also like to read 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

James Shopland - hero

Radnor Street Cemetery contains the graves of more than 100 service men from both world wars.  Men, who like Battle of Britain pilot Harold Morley Starr, performed incredible acts of bravery.  Then there are others whose sacrifice has long been forgotten, such as James Shopland, a young civil engineer.

James was born in Purton in 1873, the eldest child of James Rew Shopland, also a civil engineer and his wife Laura.

By 1900 James had struck out on his own and moved to the Southampton area.  On July 6 he was at the Southampton Sewage Works at Chapel, although it was pointed out at the inquest that he had nothing to do with the works but was assisting in the rescue.

Three labourers working in the press house at the Sewage Works had attempted to free a blockage in a lime vat, firstly by ramming a rod down from the top, the usual way of clearing it.  However, when this didn’t work one of them went down into the ejector chamber and tried to free the pipe by undoing it.  They tried to remove the cap but this wouldn’t move either so they proceeded to remove a flange from the bottom and then the upright pipe.  This immediately set off a fast flow of sludge and released a smell that rendered the men semi conscious.

Passing workmen attempted to rescue the three men who were all lying unconscious in the sludge.  James Shopland arrived on the scene as the call went out for volunteers.  A witness at the inquest described how as Mr Shopland descended the ladder he saw him put his hand to his head.

At one point someone tried to stop any more men from descending into the subterranean chamber, saying at this rate there would soon be fifty dead at the bottom.

The next reference to James was made by Dr. O’Meara who described how he found the young civil engineer lying near the open shed door where some of the men were using means of artificial respiration to try to revive him.  Dr. O’Meara examined James’s heart and declared that life was extinct.  At a subsequent post mortem the cause of death was found to be due to congestion of the lungs, brought about by carbolic acid gas poisoning.

Two others died alongside James, overcome by sewer gas in the sludge pit.  Walter Charles Mussell an 18 year old foreman of works and Henry Godding 47 a labourer.  The jury agreed to a verdict of accidental death, commending the noble endeavour made by James Shopland and four others who had attempted to rescue the men.

James' body was brought home by train to Swindon for burial where a special room was reserved at the station for the reception of floral tributes.

The first part of the funeral service took place at St. Saviours, the little wooden church in Ashford Road built by railway workers.   The cortege then proceeded to the cemetery at Radnor Street.

James has an impressive memorial, befitting his status, but there is no mention of how he came to meet his death or that he was, quite simply, a hero.

There are still some places left on the Friends of Radnor Street Cemetery guided walk this Saturday, March 3, meeting at the Clifton Street gates at 11 am.