Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Swindon Works Training School


The 1950s heralded a new age of diesel locomotives.  In the Western region alone, 130 diesel hydraulics were required to replace over 200 steam locomotives. Fittingly Swindon received an order for 30 of these main line 2000hp engines.

Headed by Mr. J.A. Clarke, British Railways Western Region Diesel School opened in premises at the works in 1956, where training was given to drivers and maintenance staff.

‘Modernisation going on apace’ was one of the headlines in the British Railways Magazine of March 1958.  When the D.800, the first of 33 of its type to be built at Swindon, was named the Sir Brian Robertson at Paddington on July 14, 1958, the future at the former GWR works looked promising.

In 1959 Swindon works received a share of the order for 2700hp diesel engines with hydraulic transmission for use on the Western Region.  Swindon was to build 35 of the 74 engines with delivery due in 1961.

British Railways announced that Swindon was to be a centre for overhaul and repair of the new diesels – sound familiar?



Headlines in the January 1960 edition of the company magazine announced a further expansion of the new diesel fleet. ‘Inter-city diesel trains are to be introduced between Hull and Liverpool, serving other important points en route.’ Ran the report, ‘and the Swindon workshops are to build 51 vehicles for these services.’

This was also the year that the last steam locomotive, the Evening Star, was built at Swindon.  Emotional times for those who had spent their career working on steam engines.  The following year the Carriage and Wagon works, which had opened over 90 years earlier, was closed.  But at least the future looked secure.

On Saturday September 22, 2012 former apprentices are gathering at STEAM Museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Swindon Works Training School.

More than 2000 apprentices passed through the school in Dean Street where Geoff Webber and Ken Dann were among the instructors who put them through their paces.

For more information about this event join the Facebook page or email swindonapprentice@gmail.com.



Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Filtness superstore!

Today even a modest advertisement in the local press can be prohibitively expensive.  In 1854 rates must have been a tad more affordable if the advertisement placed by Stephen Filtness in the Swindon Advertiser is anything to go by.



Stephen was born in Kent in 1813, but by the mid 1850s he was living in Swindon with his wife Ann and running the warehouse at 40 Newport Street.  So what did they stock - well just about everything according to this advertisement.


Where all may be furnished with goods of the best
Of the various articles herein expressed.
Namely, brushes of all sorts, for wet and dry rubbing
Soft brushes for toilets and hard ones for scrubbing,
Paint brushes, tooth brushes, hearth brushes and brooms,
With mops of the best yard for the scrubbing of rooms.
Shoe brushes, horse brushes, curry combs and tin tacks,
Note paper, envelopes and good sealing wax.
Smelling bottles, pins for the hair, and bed sacking,
Bread trays, tea trays, glue and fine japan blacking.
Looking glasses, skimmers, cedar pencils round and square,
And all sorts of china, glass and crockery ware.
Scuttles for coal, or cinders, or ashes,
Hair powder, chalk lines and pulleys for sashes.
Great choice of nick-nacks, combs, ivory and bone,
The very best mousetraps that ever were known.
Pins papered and loose, hooks and eyes and carpenter's flaskets,
American clocks, nutmeg graters and fancy baskets.
Fine razors and knives, and razor strops neat,
Pens, Penholders and shaving boxes complete.
Warming pans, handles and handles for mops,
Han bowls, copper kettles and watering pots;
American tubs, fenders, frying pans, and pails,
Coffin furniture, lace, white and black nails.
Rummers, tumblers and cruets for mustard,
Glass cups, china cups, and cups for a custard.
Saws, chisels, brad awls, and hatchets,
Scissors, paper knives, and black lead in packets.
Cotton purses, silk purses and purses of leather,
Umbrellas to keep out the tempestuous weather.
Braces, belts and fancy studs for shirts,
French clogs, plain clogs and pattens to keep from the dirt,
Tin cups and tin kettles and coffee cans,
Boilers, saucepans, door mats and dripping pans;
Tea caddies, work boxes and cinder riddles
Writing desks, Jews harps, whistles and fiddles.
Table knives, carving knives, of the very best steel,
Tapes, ball cotton and cotton on reels,
Shoemakers knives, rasps, and assortment of rules,
Italian irons, flat irons and carpenter's tools.
Pictures in gilt and plan frame,
And many other articles to numerous to name.
To enumerate all that's sold by this general trader
Would exhaust the patience of writer and reader.

Anne died in 1858.  Less than a year later Stephen married Mary Elizabeth Phipps on October 13, 1859 at St John's Church, Waterloo, Lambeth.

The 1861 census records Stephen and Mary Anne living at 5 Newport Street with their baby daughter.  A son Stephen William was born in 1864 but sadly just two years later Stephen senior died.

Mary took over running the business and in 1881 she employed two men and a boy.  Her last home was at 8 Quarry Road where she died in 1912.



Stephen is buried with both wives and his son in a family plot in Christ Church cemetery, Swindon.

Images - Filtness invoice is published courtesy of Swindon Local Collection visit the website on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal.  The Filtness family memorial is published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball visit their website on http://www.oodwooc.co.uk/


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Walter Morris - newspaper entrepreneur


‘Doc Bishop and Fran Latham were lynched yesterday morning by the settlers living near Watonga, for horse stealing,’ reported the Cheyenne Sunbeam. ‘Both men belonged to a gang that were systematically stealing horses from the settlers and driving them into the Panhandle of Texas.’

While the impressive Morris family memorial at Christ Church contains all the names of newspaper magnet William’s twelve children, one son lies not in the shady churchyard on the hill but in a cemetery in Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

Walter George Morris, third son of newspaper editor, proprietor and printer William and his wife Martha was born above the family firm at 10 Victoria Street on March 2, 1852.  Unlike his brothers, Walter chose not to join the staff on the Swindon Advertiser but instead worked as a clerk at the GWR Works in New Swindon.  But by 1872 twenty year old Walter had decided life in Swindon was a little too tame for him and he emigrated to America.



With printing ink in his veins Walter turned his newspaper skills to good use on the other side of the pond. The 1880 US census records a Walter Morris 28, born in England, working as a compositor, husband of Annie formerly Addis and living with her parents at an address in Kings, Brooklyn.

During the 1880s Walter moved west, working first as a farmer in Galveston before moving to Mobeetie, Texas where he became proprietor, editor and printer of the Texas Panhandle.

In 1892 he married second wife Georgia Seese and a year later the couple moved to Cheyenne, Roger Mills County, Oklahoma where he became manager of the Cheyenne Sunbeam, a weekly newspaper he later purchased.

Like his father in Swindon, Walter published notices of church meetings, court proceedings, births, marriages and deaths, the bread and butter items of any small town weekly newspaper.  However, front page news was something altogether different.



‘The factional fight among the Indians which led to so much blood shed about a year ago has broken out afresh,’ the Sunbeam reported on September 1, 1894.  ‘Last Friday night a party of Indians surrounded the house of Albert Jackson in Cedar County, Choctaw Nation.  He was sick in bed but he was forcibly taken out into the yard where he was shot a full fifty times.  The next day two Indians were caught and killed seven miles east of Antlers.’

Hot off the Cheyenne Sunbeam press Walter writes:  'Someone should enforce the law against the owners of the hogs that are running loose around town.   They are a public nuisance and should be treated as such.'

And he was never one to  look a gift 'bear' in the mouth. 'On Monday last Mr. George Gilmore, living on Candin creek had the good luck to come across a very large bear about one mile east of his home.  He drove it toward his house and rope it, and his son held it until a gun was secured to kill it with.  They say it was very fat and nice.  We would like very much for one to come along this way and we would certainly try our hand at roping and butchering.'

Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, Walter was forced to retire, selling the Sunbeam in 1903.  He died at his home in Cheyenne on Monday morning, February 6, 1905.

Rival newspaper, the Cheyenne Star, published a laudatory obituary in which Walter was described as ‘open and above board in life and character, subtlety and subterfuge finding no place in his thoughts or actions.’



Following a funeral service at the local Methodist church, Walter was buried at the Cheyenne Cemetery.  His name is recorded on the family memorial at Christ Church - Walter George, who died at Cheyenne, Ok, USA, February 6, 1905 aged 52 years.

Images - Swindon Advertiser building courtesy of Collin West visit http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-318829-99-and-100-swindon/photos; William Morris holding a copy of the Cheyenne Sunbeam courtesy of Desmond Morris

Thursday, May 17, 2012

West Swindon Club


A devastating fire in the early hours of Thursday October 4, 1923 saw one of the oldest workingmen’s clubs in Swindon destroyed.  When fire fighters eventually left the scene at 9 a.m. all that remained of the once elegant old building were the external walls. 



The idea of a club for the labouring man was the brainchild of Unitarian Minister Reverend Henry Solly.  Established in 1862 the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union aims included non alcoholic recreation and education in an attempt to lure the labourers out of the pubs and beer houses.  Whilst the idea soon caught on, by 1875 the drinking restrictions were abandoned and members took over the running of their own clubs.

The West Swindon Club in Radnor Street, pictured before the fire, was one of the oldest workingmen’s clubs and in 1923 had 700 members.

Among the fixtures and fittings lost in the fire were two new billiard tables valued at £200 along with 30 or 40 barrels of beer and large quantities of spirits.  Furniture, stock and even the cash register were destroyed with damages estimated at several thousands of pounds and only partially covered by insurance.



The alarm was raised when the crackling of burning woodwork awoke the young daughter of shopkeeper Mr J.A. Chalmers who lived six doors away.  There was some delay in summoning the fire brigade as an initial telephone call made at the Cemetery Lodge received no response.  The fire station in Cromwell Street eventually received the call at about 2 a.m.  ‘In a few minutes the firemen were dashing up Clifton Street, the sparks meeting them as they approached the blazing building,’ reported the Advertiser.

Fanned by strong winds the fire rapidly took hold. The fire brigade, led by Captain W.H. Baker, fought the inferno from five different vantage points, concentrating on the rear of the building where various wooden structures in the vicinity constituted a further hazard.  ‘It is a remarkable and pleasing fact that no one was injured, especially seeing the dangerous positions in which firemen placed themselves to cope with the flames,’ the report continued.

Described as one of the most destructive fires Swindon had seen in many years, local residents told how they were too scared to get out of bed.


Club stewards Mr and Mrs E.H. Hemmins lost their home in the fire.  ‘Though desperate efforts were made to save his furniture, the greater portion of it was destroyed by fire and water, only a piano and a few chairs and other articles of furniture being saved.’

These rare photographs sent in by Swindon Advertiser reader Mrs Iris Matthews from Wootton Bassett, show the smouldering building on the morning after the fire.  ‘The two boys lived next door to us in Exmouth Street, and are standing in the back way,’ said Mrs. Matthews.

A burning match or cigarette end dropped on the sawdust floor in the skittle alley was thought to have caused the fire.

For more images of Swindon visit the Swindon Local Studies Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Avebury Manor - 'Celebrating Art in The Garden'

Swindon may seem like an unlikely holiday destination, but it is ideally placed as a base to see some of the most  beautiful sites in the South West, for example less than a half hour journey away is the historic Avebury stone circle and recently refurbished Avebury Manor.

Last year the 500 year old manor house was the subject of a collaboration between the National Trust and the BBC.  With no original fixtures or fittings remaining in the house an exciting and daring new venture was conceived.  A handful of rooms would be decorated in a period of the history of the house, furnishing them with reproduction and 'new' antiques.

The end result was a TV documentary To the Manor Reborn and a house with  no restricted areas where visitors are allowed to handle the artefacts, sit on the chairs and bounce on the beds.

Avebury Manor is open 11-5 every day except Wednesday and between May 5 and June 10 visitors have the opportunity to view an exhibition of sculpture in the grounds. Celebrating Art in The Garden is another new National Trust venture, this time with the Friends of the Garden.

Work is exhibited in the nine areas surrounding the Manor House including Monk's Garden and the Lion Walk.

The signature piece of the exhibition is 'Penelope Waiting' by Althea Wynne, ARCA, FRBS.  This respected sculptor tragically died with her husband, photographer Anthony Barrington Brown, in a road traffic accident in January 2012 shortly after visiting the Manor to decided where her work should be placed.  As a tribute to Althea's life the Friends are funding a bursary in her memory.  Artists' commissions on sales from the exhibition will go towards this fund.


Bronze statue entitled Penelope Waiting by Althea Wynne in the South Garden




Time Obelisks also by Althea Wynne displayed in The Monk's Garden - contact the exhibition organiser Lesley Andrews on lesley.andrews@virgin.net.  


Mother, Child and Teddy by Helen Sinclair displayed in The Orchard -  www.sculptureculture.co.uk


Looking Good, Feeling Fine also by Helen Sinclair inspired by the song, Doo Wah Diddy, 'She looks good, she looks fine .... seen striding through the Lion Walk.



One of several evocative sculptures by Anne Foxley www.studiopottery.co.uk






Royal Stag, Galloping Thoroughbred and Peacock - all by Amy Goodman www.amygoodman.co.uk

For more photographs of this exhibition visit www.flickr.com/photos/radnorstreetcemetery 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Locomotive

The Locomotive might sound an obvious name for a pub in Swindon, but there have been surprisingly few.  With just one exception, even those pubs built alongside the company houses appear to have declined a railway associated name.

The railway village pubs were all built in what was originally called High Street, a large grassed area enclosed by railings and later renamed Emlyn Square. 


The Cricketers, the first fully licensed public house in New Swindon, opened in 1847 and took its name from its location near the GWR Cricket Field.  The Bakers Arms, on the corner of Bathampton Street, was originally owned by the GWR and served as both a beerhouse and a bakers.  The London Stout House, another GWR property, opened in about 1851 on the corner of Reading Street.  The name was later changed to the Glue Pot when it became the favourite watering hole of woodworkers employed in the carriage bodymaking and finishing shops.  The Engineers Arms, a relatively short lived enterprise, located somewhere in the vicinity of the Mechanics Institute covered market, was closed in 1872, when it was described as three wooden shanties knocked together.


But two New Swindon drinking establishment did eventually adopt the railway themed name.  The Old Locomotive, a beerhouse just north of the railway bridge over the canal was owned by the North Wilts Canal.  Originally called the Crown Eating House, it was renamed in honour of its new neighbours and sold to the GWR in 1888 when it was demolished.

By 1846 Richard Pearce Smith was mine host at a beerhouse called the Locomotive.  Most probably a temporary structure, Smith later bought land in Fleet Street for £92 11s 3d where he built the permanent Locomotive, a project which he claimed had ‘practically bankrupted’ him.

Fleet Street was still under development at the time of the 1851 census, where it is confusingly recorded as Bleat Lane.  Richard P. Smith, 60 is beerhouse keeper at the Locomotive with tea dealer George Selby in a neighbouring grocer’s shop and ‘five house building’ next door.


After Smith’s death in 1858 the pub was let out to various tenants.  In 1861 widowed Elizabeth Jeffcoate was licensed victualler at the Locomotive Inn, Fleetway Road, living there with three of her children and six boarders; all iron moulders, presumably employed at the railway works. 

Newspaper reports reveal that Elizabeth was assaulted by a customer who climbed through a window while in 1862 another tenant J.G. Mayle, was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the RSPCA for allowing badger baiting on the premises. 

Kelly’s trade directories record Robert Shelley was pulling pints there in 1867 and George Greenwood in 1889.  In 1915 the Locomotive had upgrade from inn to hotel with S.J. Strange as proprietor.


The former canal side pub, more recently known as the Mail Coach, closed  in January 2011 due to mounting financial difficulties, but following an extensive refurbishment it reopened three months later.

Images include other Swindon pubs that have closed - The New Inn, The Rolling Mills and The Wild Deer on Westcott Place, now an Italian restaurant - Carbonara.  For more views of Swindon visit The Swindon Local Studies Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Family historians tracing ancestors in the licensing trade may find the following resources useful:
For everything you need to know on how to get started, including how to find out owners and mortgage ties, visit www.pubhistorysociety.co.uk

Researching Brewery and Publican Ancestors by Simon Flower available from www.genfair.co.uk

Home Brewed by David W. Backhouse – the authoritative history of local pubs, is available for consultation in the Swindon Collection at Central Library, Regent Circus.

Historical Directories, a searchable digital library compiled by the University of Leicester – www.historicaldirectories.org

Monday, May 7, 2012

Swindon High School


A 19th century programme reveals an energetic array of activities enjoyed by Swindon High School pupils at their annual Sports Day in 1898.

The earliest record of a school in Swindon was the Free School founded in 1764 to educate 20 boys and 5 girls.  Pupil numbers soon outstripped the accommodation in a cottage in Newport Street and the National School was built on the same site in 1835.



The school in The Sands began life as the Classical and Commercial School for Young Gentleman.  Swindon Advertiser founder William Morris, one of the schools' early pupils, was enrolled for about eighteen months to complete his education where schoolmaster George Nourse, according to Morris, was a nice, kind, old gentleman but lacking firmness and ability to teach.

By 1869 Cornish born Samuel Snell was in charge.  One of five sons of a lead miner, Samuel was a pupil teacher by the age of sixteen and the only one of his brothers to escape the Cornish lead mines.

In the census of 1881 the establishment at The Willows included Samuel, his wife Sarah and their children Jennie 18, Florence 16, Harold 14 and ten year old Lilian, assistant schoolmasters Stuart Blofield and Albert Everett, a cook, two housemaids and nine student boarders aged 12-17.  The remaining pupils on the roll were day boys, sons of local businessmen.

The 1898 Athletic and Sports Day took place on July 28 at the County Ground where the umpires were C.W. Martin and Swindon JP W. Reynolds.  Mrs Ponsonby, wife of St. Mark’s vicar the Rev. Maurice Ponsonby, awarded the prizes.  The event was due to start at 1.45pm but a pencilled note reveals proceedings began at 2.00pm.


Among the events were the 150 yards Flat Race for the Lower School won by Wiseman (major) with Clappen (minor) the younger son of William Clappen, outfitter and tailor who had premises in both Old and New Swindon, coming in second.

The 100 yards Flat Race for Boys Under Ten was won by Master Gilbert who was presented with his prize by Mrs Snell.  Other competitors included the Craddock brothers but there is no record of the runners up.

First prize in the 50 yard Three Legged Race went to Shawyer, the son of Old Swindon chemist, and his partner Dyer.  Adams and photographer’s son Hemmins, were placed second with Read and Robinson coming in 3rd, the Wright brothers and the Craddocks, major and minor were unplaced.

Other events included the 120 yard Hurdle Race won by the son of tailor and outfitter George Pakeman but in the Pick-a-Back Race run across 60 yards Pakeman and his partner Couldrey were narrowly beaten by Masters Cleverly and King Smith.

Burderop farmer Charles W. Whatley recalls his schooldays at Swindon High School in his autobiography Farming and Foxhunting published c1940, where Mr Snell had the reputation of pushing on the smart and forward boys. ‘There were quite a few of us farmer boys, sons of the soil, but as far as I can remember we were all in the back row,’ wrote Whatley.

Swindon School Board was formed in November 1877.  Within four years the Board had built Sanford Street Boys, Queenstown Infants and Girls, Gilberts Hill Girls and Infants and Westcott Infants Schools, accommodating more than 1,600 children.


In 1907 the High School was adopted by the Swindon School Board.  Samuel Snell remained headmaster at 64 Bath Road until his death in 1911.

Images - William Hooper view of The Sands is published courtesy of P.A. Williams; the National School in Newport Street during demolition work in 1962 see the Swindon Local Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Friday, May 4, 2012

Swindon's Canal Bridges

In recent years Swindon’s Magic Roundabout has acquired celebrity status with appearances on TV, a calendar and even a T shirt, but in the 19th century a different mode of transport made its mark on Swindon as a network of canal bridges were built in the town centre.


The Somerset coalfields provided the impetus for construction of the Wilts and Berks canal, 52 miles of waterway from Semington Junction on the Kennet and Avon to the River Thames at Abingdon, begun in 1795 and completed fifteen years later.  The shorter North Wilts Canal opened in 1819, linking the Wilts and Berks at Swindon to the Thames and Severn canal at Latton.

The Wilts and Berks canal neatly bypassed the market town on the hill, but once development began north of Old Swindon, rows of terraced housing were built along its length with back gardens reaching down to the towpath.

Dating back to Saxon times, the ancient Drove Road remained a tree lined lane throughout the 19th century and was the site of one of the earliest bridges over the two Swindon canals.  The narrow stone built construction was demolished between the two wars and is now the site of the Magic Roundabout.  In the same locality and built in about 1810 over the North Wilts canal, the Marsh Farm or Shrivenham Road bridge was declared a Grade II listed building in 1986.


By the middle of the 19th century several of the Somerset coalfields were worked out and closed and with the rest of the haulage trade taking to the railways, the Wilts & Berk Canal Company struggled to survive.  Shareholders proposed closing the company and in 1874 an application was made to the High Court of Chancery to sell and dispose of the canal.  Provision for closure was urged should there be no interested buyer.

The last twenty-five years of the 19th century saw a second programme of bridge building in Swindon.  Cambria Road Bridge was built in 1877 and Queenstown Bridge in 1885 with the landmark Whale Bridge, commemorated today by yet another roundabout, built in 1893

In 1907 the York Road Bridge was built to link housing developments on either side of the, by then, derelict canal.  This bridge was demolished in the 1960s during the construction of Fleming Way.


The canal was eventually closed by an Act of Parliament in 1914.  A slightly misplaced early 19th century milestone declaring ‘Semington 26 miles’ stands outside 2-6 Canal Walk, marking the canal route through the modern town centre.  The Golden Lion statue, a 1970s replacement for an older version, stands near the site of the former Golden Lion Bridge, an iron lift bridge built in the GWR Works in 1870.

Images - William Hooper views of Drove Road Bridge top; Marlborough Street Bridge middle and York Road Bridge bottom are published courtesy of P.A. Williams.  For more old views of Swindon visit the Swindon Local Studies Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal


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Golden Lion Bridge

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Running Horse


An inn has stood on the site of the Runnning Horse since the 18th century, but it didn’t get its present name until the 1820s.  Formerly known as the Royal Oak, some sources claim that the pub was renamed after the circus carousel horse ride which visited the nearby Westcott Recreation Ground during the early 19th century, but perhaps the busy Wootton Bassett Road could have been the inspiration for the name change.


Today the Running Horse is the focal point on the stretch of road linking Swindon’s old and new developments, but it hasn’t always been so.  A nice little earner today, the main attraction once would have been the water mill that stood on the River Ray just south of the road.

Mills were an invaluable source of income for the local Lord of the Manor and appear in that all important property inventory, the Domesday Book.  In 1086 Swindon, then five separate estates, boasted two mills each valued at 4s.

Records of a mill and land in an area called Eastcott and Nethercott, later known as Westcott, date back to 1339 when the property was conveyed to William Goldhyne and Margery his wife by Robert de Colcote, of High Swindon, and his wife Maud. 

Throughout its long history the mill was called several different names – in 1691 Arthur’s Mill, in 1773 Hall’s Mill, in 1780 Westcott Mill and by the 19th century Ladd’s Mill.



In 1805 the Wilts and Berks Canal Company bought Ladd’s Mill from Richard Simmonds, a quarrier from Swindon, under powers that enabled them to acquire mills on waterways likely to be affected by the needs of the canal. 

In 1825 John Garlick built an inn on the site of the present Running Horse and when the canal company’s fortunes began to decline they sold the property. By 1840 both the mill and the pub were owned by Old Swindon brewer John Harding Sheppard.

At the time of the 1851 census there were four cottages occupied by farm labouring families at this outlying area.  William Brooks, a master miller, lived at Ladd’s Mill with his wife, their eight children and two lodgers while Isaac Holdway, another master miller, lived next door at a property called Windmill.

By the beginning of the 20th century the Wootton Bassett Road was largely undeveloped.  The cottages remained at Ladd’s Mill, by then occupied by railway workers families but there was no evidence of the old water mill on the River Ray.



When Kingsdown brewer Arkell’s bought the Running Horse in 1883 they became the latest in a short list of just four previous owners.  A plaque in the brickwork dated 1891 records the date of an Arkell’s rebuild while the remains of the cottages at Ladd’s Mill, demolished in 1985, now lie beneath the pub car park.

Arkells leased the Running Horse to the Beefeater chain of steakhouses in 1985 but back under Arkell management after more than twenty years, the Running Horse was re-furbished and re-launched in December 2008.

Old images of the Running Horse are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies - visit their website on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reuben George - people's champion


“It was the greatest public demonstration of spontaneous affection for a public figure that the town of Swindon had seen for very many years,” reported the Advertiser on the funeral of Alderman Reuben George,one of the forgotten political heroes of the town.



But all that may be set to change as  Andy Newman, Swindon branch secretary for the GMB union, seeks to find any remaining family members.  

Born on September 11, 1864 the son of Stephen George, a bootmaker and his wife Elizabeth, Reuben grew up at Highfield Cottages in the hamlet of Barton St. Mary, Gloucester.

Reuben George moved to Swindon where he worked as an agent for the Wesleyan & General Insurance Company and by 1891 he lived with his wife Clara and their son, two year old Herbert Gladstone George, in two rooms in a shared house at 97 Princes Street.  The rest of the house was occupied by Albert Bick, an iron turner at the GWR works, his wife and her sister.

Socialist, pacifist, member of the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, an authority on Wiltshire local history, one of the founder members of the Worker’s Educational Association and supporter of the Richard Jefferies Society, George’s list of interests and achievements is a long one.



Elected to both Swindon Town and Wiltshire County Councils, he served on numerous committees, including the education committee of both authorities.  His lifelong interest in education stemmed from his own humble beginnings and early lack of opportunities.   

Reuben George stood as Labour Candidate for Chippenham in 1918, the first Labour Candidate to stand in that town, with the slogan - 'You have King George, you have had Lloyd George, and all you want is Reuben George'. ...

During his lengthy political career George served as Mayor of Swindon 1921-22.  George inaugurated the original wooden diving stage at Coate Water opened in 1921 and celebrated the occasion by being the first to dive off it.



Reuben George died in the Victoria Hospital on June 4, 1936.  Described as a champion of the under dog he was a socialist reformer inspired by William Morris, the 19th century artist, poet and political activist. George’s fame was not confined to Swindon.  “The news of the passing of Ald. Reuben George was broadcast to the nation in the second news bulletin of the National programme on Friday night,” the report of his death continued.

During a funeral service attended by not only local dignitaries but also the ordinary people to whom George had devoted his life, it was reported that ‘men and women sobbed audibly.’



A letter of condolence was sent by May Morris, daughter of the late William and among the floral tributes were wreaths from the employees at the Electricity Department, Swindon and Clifton Street School senior girls.  The pall bearers were six members of the Swindon WEA Executive Committee.

Among the family mourners were Reuben’s widow, who attended her husband’s funeral against her doctor’s advice, his three surviving brothers John, Alfred and Walter and his two sons, Granville and Stanley, eldest son Herbert had died whilst on military service in India.
 

Bareheaded crowds lined the streets and blinds were drawn everywhere along the route as the funeral cortege made its way from Christ Church to the Radnor Street Cemetery.

Today Reuben and Clara George's modest grave is neglected and overgrown, something the GMB union would like to address once permission has been obtained from the family.  Minor restoration work estimated at a few hundred pounds would be followed by a re-dedication ceremony.  

Photograph of Radnor Street Cemetery is courtesy of Paul Williams; Reuben and Clara George is courtesy of Swindon Local Collection - both images can be viewed on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal