Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wednesday Cafe at Lower Shaw Farm

Once you’ve enjoyed the Lower Shaw Farm experience you’ll never truly leave the place again, even after you’ve moved away, as Claire will probably tell you.

Claire spent four years as a volunteer at Lower Shaw Farm and every week you’ll find her back there working in the Wednesday Café.

Lower Shaw Farm was once a 136 acre dairy farm with a history dating back to the 18th century when it was owned by the Earls of Shaftesbury and farmed by the Tuckey family.

The continuing post war expansion of Swindon saw the farmland disappear beneath a swathe of 1980s housing.  Thankfully the stone and brick built farmhouse and a precious three acres of land escaped development and has been home to the Lower Shaw Farm community ever since.

In the capable hands of Matt Holland and Andrea Hirsch the project has gone from strength to strength hosting weekend breaks, events and courses and is home to a multiplicity of community run projects.

When we arrived the farm car park was already full and a long line of vehicles were parked on the grass verge, evidence of the popularity of the Wednesday Café, which first opened its doors in 2007. This week regular volunteer Sarah was pricing up a mouth watering selection of Ginger Crumble slices, lemon curd biscuits and great wedges of chocolate cake.

Sarah lives at the top of Old Shaw Lane and has been enjoying the Lower Shaw Farm experience for eleven years, firstly through an involvement with the Children’s Project and now with the Wednesday Café. Sarah’s two sons also help on the farm, looking after the rabbits and collecting the eggs.

Open during term time only the Wednesday Café has become a meeting place for several local mother and toddler groups. The sand pit was particularly popular with the young visitors, as was the cargo net although sharing occupancy of the playhouse proved more problematic.  And two year old Elliot couldn’t wait to launch himself off the climbing apparatus as his sister Anna practised the perfect landing.

At 11 am Claire stepped into her Wellies, a cue for the children that the farm walk was about to begin.  First stop was Maggie and Charlie, two inquisitive Kuni Kuni pigs who snorted their welcome as the children poked potatoes through the fence.  Next we processed through the polytunnel where Alfie and friends turned over stones looking for – well, anything that might be there.  Then it was through the gate and into the front garden to meet Blossom and Rose the rabbits whose cage proved almost as interesting as they were themselves. Last stop of the day was feeding the hens, that is once the irascible turkey was captured and confined to his pen.  The tour over, the food distributed, the children trooped off to wash their hands, well familiar with the routine.

Why don’t you call in one Wednesday – but be warned – you may never escape.

Sarah - busy in the kitchen

Eliott and his mum

Claire summoning the troops

First stop the Kuni-Kuni pigs

Well, how nice to meet you!

By the pond in the polytunnel looking for - well anything, really.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Swindon Festival of Literature

The 20th Swindon Festival of Literature was well and truly launched today at The Old Reference Library, Swindon with masterful words, music and just a little mayhem.

The Swindon Festival of Literature was homegrown at Lower Shaw Farm in 1993 in collaboration with Book Auctioneer Dominic Winter and today remains a Swindon based enterprise with local designers, printers and organisers. 

Festival guru Matt Holland looked back over a score of literature festivals with pride, affection and a rhyming couplet before embarking upon a Think Slam! challenge with Sara-Jane Arbury. Matt touted for support with the promise of complimentary tickets but Sara-Jane won by 253 points to 235 as she questioned the need to wear clothes and declared 'body freedom's no crime.'

Next came Linda Lee, choir mistress extraordinaire, founder of the Swindon Scratch Choir, and Lower Shaw Farm volunteer Kelly, who sang The Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats.

Rod Bluh, long serving Leader of Swindon Borough Council, bid farewell to the festival as official council representative, although he said following his resignation he might be able to attend more of the events. He spoke of the importance of art and culture in our society, especially in these cash strapped times and took the opportunity to congratulate the Swindon Heritage team, urging festival goers to support and subscribe to the magazine.  Thank you Rod.

The Festival kicks off with the Dawn Chorus at 5.30 am on May 6 in Lawn Woods and concludes with the Festival Finale: Poems, Pints, and Music! at the Town Hall, Regents Circus on Saturday May 18 at 7.30 pm.  Across 13 days you can listen to, among others, Clare Balding talking about her work, her life, and her book My Animals and Other Family, Stella Rimington on counter-espionage and all things secretive and come and enjoy a history lesson with the Swindon Heritage team - we promise it will be a blast. 

The lavish programme, free of any spelling or grammatical errors, which apparently was why Will Self chose the Swindon Festival of Literature above all others, is now available at Swindon libraries. For more information telephone 01793 466454 or email Book online for most events at

Diaries to the ready - festival goers plan ahead.

Matt Holland launches the 20th Swindon Festival of Literature

Matt and Sara-Jane Arbury prepare for battle

Body freedom's no crime - says Sara-Jane

Linda and Kelly sing the beautiful Wandering Aengus

Rod Bluh says goodbye

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tuckey Family History Research

Jean and Tuc surrounded by young members of their family
 August 31st Wind still in the right quarter and blowing fresh. Passed Madeira today leaving it about 120 miles to the eastward. The weather is beginning to feel hotter every day and one or two of the 2nd cabin passengers have taken to sleeping out on the deck. It is generally predicted that we are in for a 4 months voyage at least. I most decidedly hope not, seeing that we are beginning to long for land already. Progress 175.

The Rev Henry Tuckey and his young bride Frances had been on board the SS Ashburton barely three weeks when he made this entry in his diary. Unfortunately Henry's fears were confirmed with the passage from Gravesend to Nelson, New Zealand taking a total of 109 days in 1859.

Henry led an eventful life, serving as parish priest, sheep farmer and classics master, but it was his Wiltshire roots that found Jean Tuckey undertaking some long distance rummaging about in Rodbourne Cheney parish registers.

Born in Staffordshire in 1929, Jean has led a pretty colourful life herself, living in India, South Africa and Rhodesia where she met and married Ron Tuckey, the Rev Henry's grandson. In 1987 the couple moved to New Zealand where reminiscing with Ron's elderly aunt saw Jean become hooked on genealogy.

Jean's research has seen her trace the Tuckey family from New Zealand to Haydon, Rodbourne Cheney and Henry, born in 1829 the son of Richard Tuckey. With the death of his father in a hunting accident in 1833 four year old Henry and his brother and two sisters were placed in the care of their wealthy bachelor uncle Thomas Tuckey who raised them up to the manor born in Compton Beauchamp.

Uncle Thomas provided well for the orphaned children, sending Henry to Marlborough Grammar School and Cambridge University. After his ordination at Lichfield Cathedral in 1854 Thomas bought Henry a farm and the advowson of St Mary's, Rodbourne Cheney.

In June 1859 Henry married Frances Isabel Bryant and on August 11 the couple set sail for New Zealand. Henry had sold both the advowson and the farm to fund the venture, much to the displeasure of Uncle Thomas who promptly cut him out of his will.

The transcript of the diary is just one of Jean's many genealogical projects as she continues to research the Tuckey family.  One conundrum that continues to confound her though is the matter of Henry's parents' marriage, if there ever was one, which seems increasingly unlikely.

However, Jean plans to consult the ultimate in primary sources. "Our Richard has been dead a very long time and I will dig out the facts one day," she says. "Or ask him if I don't - when I get there!!"

Frances Tuckey

Rev Henry Tuckey

Image courtesy of P.A. Williams and Swindon Local Studies - visit the website on 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Front Doors on Bath Road

If an Englishman's home is his castle, what message is conveyed by these front doors on Bath Road? Pull up the drawbridge or welcome - step inside and stay awhile, let me take your coat and sit by the fire, I'll put the kettle on.

Building on Bath Road took off in around 1830 when property such as the elegant Apsley House was built for Charles Axford  Fox.  The development rapidly became an area for wealthy inhabitants of the genteel Old Town in contrast to the industrial clamour for housing at the bottom of the hill.

Perhaps a candle lit chandelier once hung behind the fanlight at Fairview where James Fearnley Carlyle, a civil engineer, lived with his wife and three young children in 1881.  Whose task would it have been to sweep away that carpet of golden autumn leaves I wonder?  Not Miss Adkins the governess, nor Emma Augore the cook; another job for housemaid Florence Tonkin maybe.

At number 33 Alice Deacon and her daughter Mary had their needs attended to by overworked general servant Louisa Lee.  Alice had moved to Bath Road following the death of her husband George in 1884.  Their last address had been Foxhill Farm, Wanborough.  Alice died in 1903 and left effects to the value of £189 12s to her daughter.  Sadly not enough to maintain the establishment at 33 Bath Road it would appear.  The 1911 census reveals Mary and her brother had taken lodgings at 12 Meridian Place in Clifton, Bristol.

In 1881 45 Bath Road was better known as 1 Brunswick Terrace, home of Charles W.V. Kenrick, curate at St Marks, in New Swindon's railway village.  The 21st century dentist waiting room once the subject of much dusting and sweeping by parlourmaid Martha Shilhim while 13 year old Theresa Holder toiled in the kitchen under the watchful eye of housekeeper Sarah Atkins.

And for those callers not permitted to take the stone steps to the castle keep, there was the back entrance where tradesman delivered their wares and maids secretly slipped out on secret romantic assignations.

Today the Old Vicarage knits old build with new, a complex of twenty flats for older residents.  In 1898 the reprehensible Rev Newton Ebenezer Howe, Vicar of Swindon was in residence, but he wouldn't remain there for much longer.  In 1901 the Rev Howe appeared before Wiltshire Assizes charged with obtaining money by false pretences with intent to defraud. 'Several witnesses gave evidence as to cheques from Mr Howe being dishonoured, and also as to extensive county court and bankruptcy proceedings,' the press reported.

Rev Howe had previously received a three year suspension having pleaded guilty to improper behaviour towards one of his Sunday school scholars, an offence to which Justice Day referred when sentencing the vicar to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour in Devizes Prison.

Who knows upon what other Victorian dramas these doors have slammed shut?

Once home to the curate of St Mark’s today the former 1 Brunswick Terrace is a dental practice

Shiny blue door and polished brass

Chemist Samuel Smith’s very own 19th century castle keep

A glimpse inside the elegant Yucca Villa

The back entrance where tradesman delivered their wares and maids slipped out to keep secret romantic assignations.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

International Women's Day Celebrations in Swindon

Swindon Central Library celebrated International Women's Day with poetry, dancing and art in a day packed full of activities.

In the morning Bea Menier shared her colourful journals and showed us how to make every day count in her Creative Journaling workshop while Juliet Platt introduced us to reflective journaling in her afternoon workshop.

Other contributors included Hilda Sheehan, writer, performer and arts events organiser, who read from her newly published book The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood and encouraged members of the audience to read some of their favourite poems.

Dance teacher and director of Bollywood Dreamers Dorothy Clarke talked about her work in Swindon's twin town of Ocotal and gave a demonstration of a dance she taught on a visit to the Nicaraguan capital.

The International Women's Day extravaganza was the inspiration of historian, writer and campaigner for women's education and empowerment Rosa Matheson. In 2011 Rosa published 'A Day in the Life of 100 British Women' the proceeds of which go towards helping women in Nepal to develop their skills and become more independent. Friday's event saw the launch of another exciting project entitled 100 Women's Portraits in which Rosa is working in collaboration with artists at Swindon's Artsite.

The whole day was captured on film by Swindon photographer Sabine Coe. Here is a snapshot of the day's events and read more about Rosa's work on my post Rosa and Ian Matheson.

Bea Menier in conversation with Swindon Mayoress Ruth Bray

The Day My Hat Blew Off - from Bea's journal

5th October 2006 

Hilda Sheehan


Kaye Franklin MBE reads from Jenny Joseph's poem 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple'

Dorothy Clarke and the International Women's Day dancers

Sabine Coe in action

You might also like to read

Rosa and Ian Matheson