Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great Coxwell Barn

To the inexperienced eye the barn at Great Coxwell might appear big, but apparently as monastic barns go, it’s a bit on the small side.  Measuring 152 feet and 7 bays long, records reveal examples of others double that length.

Situated along the Hollow Road, the medieval barn formed part of the monastic farm or grange belonging to Beaulieu Abbey.  Built in around 1300 the Cotswold rubble-stone walled barn with purlin roof is today admired for its architectural features. 

But those medieval builders knew a thing or two about efficiency and everything was designed to make life just a little easier for both builders and the over worked agricultural labourer.

The canny 14th century architects sited the barn on a natural stony outcrop thereby avoiding the need to dig foundations and prolong building work.  The barn itself was constructed by a team of masons and carpenters.  The square holes in the walls, ‘putlog holes,’ supported the builders scaffolding poles and on completion provided crucial ventilation, creating a constant movement of air through the barn.

Threshing - separating the grain from the stalks by beating with a flail - took place between the porch and the back door where a through draft of air assisted the winnowing process to remove the inedible chaff from the grain.

With security a top priority the barn had its own resident caretaker, a granger, who had a room above the west porch where the laden carts came through.  Tally marks scratched on the pillars reveal primitive account records made by the granger who was closely observed to ensure he wasn’t fiddling the books.  The farm bailiff meanwhile checked that the threshers and winnowers left with empty pockets and were not smuggling out the grain in their boots and shoes.

Other marks in the stone work include some ancient graffiti and a circular motif called a daisy or sun wheel.  This symbol was inscribed to ward off evil spirits and to protect the harvest.

Central to work on the medieval monastic grange the barn was not simply a place to store the harvest and it is quite possible the building was also used for annual village events as well.

The nineteenth century saw the Victorians getting up to some DIY in the barn, but thankfully it was just a bit of repair work and not the sometimes destructive restoration of which they were rather fond.

Local neighbour William Morris, prime mover in the arts and crafts, kept a keen eye on the property, escorting guests at his home in nearby Kelmscott Manor on visits to the barn. Morris, founder of SPAB, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, famously described the barn as ‘unapproachable in its dignity, as beautiful as a cathedral, yet with no ostentation of the builder’s art.’

The barn was acquired by the Pleydell Bouverie family in the 18th century and became part of the Coleshill Estate.  Ernest Cook, who bought the estate in 1945, bequeathed the Coleshill property, including the barn at Great Coxwell to the National Trust on his death in 1956.

The barn is open all year from dawn to dusk.  For further details about this and events at the Coleshill and Buscot Estate, telephone the Coleshill Estate Office on 01793 762209.

The above three photographs are of the grangers accommodation within the barn.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Development at Princes Street

Work continues apace on Princes Street at the Union Square development despite the recent snow and rain. Have a look how things are progressing and catch up on the history of Princes Street on a previous Swindon in the Past Lane post.

The Man with a Stick outside 19 Princes Street in 1953.  For the legendary MWAS series see Swindon Local Studies and for the whole story visit Swindon Heritage.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rockin' All Over the World

What's your idea of history? The Iron Age, the Tudors, the Victorians -  at least a hundred years ago, well maybe fifty?  For all you rock and roll fans the 80s definitely rank up there in the historical stakes now, I'm afraid.

When Status Quo came to town in 1986 the Advertiser reported that their fans ‘delighted local residents with their impeccable behaviour.’ Although concert goers began arriving at the venue around 5.30 by 11 pm the park was silent with police praising the behaviour of the fans.

The Quo played to 4,500 fans in the big top at Faringdon Road Park, the highlight of Allied Dunbar Arts Festival week in 1986. The legendary rock band already had a twenty year career behind them when they played on the former GWR Park in Swindon.  Their set list included perennial favourites such as Down, Down and Whatever You Want and their 1985 Live Aid concert opener Rockin’All Over the World.

“What they lost on subtlety and finesse they gained on raw excitement,” said Advertiser reviewer Barry Leighton. “They may be limited but they are immensely entertaining.”

In 1986 the Advertiser was describing Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt as veteran rockers, but their story was far from over.  Declared the hardest working band of 2009 by the Performing Rights Society, the rock duo was awarded OBE’s the following year for their services to music and charity.

And in 2013 the original line up of Rossi, Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan, are performing a series of UK dates opening at the Glasgow O2 Academy on Sunday March 10.  Sadly they won’t be visiting the GWR Park in Faringdon Road, Swindon though.

Whatever your favourite period of history might be you're guaranteed to find something to interest you in a brand new history magazine called Swindon Heritage.  Visit the website on for a taster or come along and meet the editorial team at Swindon Central Library February 2 where copies of the magazine will be on sale.

Francis Rossi and Rick Parifitt receiving their OBE's from the Queen in 2010.

A 1905 William Hooper view of the GWR Park - published courtesy of Paul Williams and Swindon Local Studies

The magnificent glass houses at the former GWR Park visit Swindon Local Studies for more Swindon images 

Exciting new local history magazine - visit the website on

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Commercial Road

What a difference a few months make.  For too long the dark empty windows of number 66-68 have stared out forlornly at the busy traffic along Commercial Road, but not any more.  

Today the windows shine brightly with the arrival of the Prospect Charity Shop selling a wide range of good quality items from books to comfy sofas to curl up on and lamps to read them by.

For more than thirty years the Prospect Hospice in Wroughton has provided specialist end of life care.  Today this service is also available at the Great Western Hospital and to people in their own homes. The Prospect Hospice is close to the hearts of the people of Swindon, particularly Swindon Society member Martin Vandervelde who has cycled many thousands of miles, raising more than £90,000 for the charity.

Construction along Commercial Road dates from around 1890 with local builders Joseph Ponting, James Hinton, Charles Williams and Joseph Williams quickly getting in on the act.

Today Commercial Road is home to recruitment agencies, estate and letting agents but in Victorian times and even into the 1960s it was a busy shopping street to rival Regent Street.  In 1949 George Eburne had a Gent's Hairdressers at number 65.  C.H. Baxter was a greengrocer at number 66 while Herbert Bristow ran the newsagents at number 67 where his mother Sophia set up business in the 1890s following the death of her husband Edwin.

These are difficult times for town centre shops.  It seems that almost every day there is news of another firm going into liquidation while smaller independent traders struggle to make a living. Some say charity shops are the death of our High Streets but I for one was happy to see the lights on at 66-68 Commercial Road when I walked by the other day.

Unrecognisable today - a 1910 William Hooper view of Commercial Road courtesy of Paul Williams and Swindon Local Studies visit the website on

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Snowy Day in West Swindon

I've got snowy photographs of Lydiard House and Park and Radnor Street Cemetery so for a change I made my way through Shaw to Peatmoor and the lagoon.

Deserted Roughmoor Way

Narnia? Copse at Peatmoor

Footpath off Roughmoor Way 

Hongxin Oriental Buffet - formerly known as the Chinese Experience

Pagoda on the island at Peatmoor Lagoon

The old Cellular Operations building

No school today - this sleigh train proved difficult to organise

Brook Field School - closed

Picture postcard views of Lower Shaw Farm

Looking down Old Shaw Lane

Looking up Old Shaw Lane

To the shops

Holy Trinity Church, Shaw

Shaw Village Centre

Ah - doesn't the snow look pretty!

Hope it's soon gone.