Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Groundwell Farm

At the turn of the second millennium the future was looking bleak for the abandoned Groundwell Farmhouse.  Left to stand empty for several years, it looked as if time was up for the Grade II listed building, which had once served as both farmhouse and arts centre.

Elements of the coursed rubble stone house date from 1660 and during a survey made by the Wiltshire Buildings Record in the 1980s a 17th century fireplace was still in situ in the west bedroom.  The building was then described as typical of a late 16th or early 17th century Wiltshire Manor House.  But records for the Groundwell estate go back much further. 

This des res was already on the up and up in 1086, appreciating from 40s to 70s at the time of the Domesday survey where it was recorded that ‘Hugh and Girald hold Grendewell from Humphrey.  Ordulf held it before 1066.’ 

However, even earlier than this, the Romans had appreciated the sheltered aspect of Goundwell Ridge and excavations made during 2004 revealed a second century Romano British farm in the area.

Local landowner Simon Wayte brought his new wife Catherine home to Groundwell House following their marriage in around 1770 and immediately began work on a major rebuild.

At the end of the 19th century the farmhouse was said to have served as a parsonage for the Blunsdon St Andrew clergy, although other sources place farmer William Lush at Groundwell in 1899.

But by 1911 the property had returned to use as a farmhouse with Evan James Hoddinott, his wife and their young family in residence.

Farming has always been a family affair and in the 1930s the Wilkins brothers rented Groundwell.  Charlie Wilkins raised his own large family there and his brother Noel is remembered for riding his horse up the staircase.

Norman Painter was the farmer at Groundwell at the outbreak of war in 1939.  The harvest the following year was described as having been one of the easiest since 1921 and without the need to call on voluntary help as had been anticipated, according to the Evening Advertiser.   A photograph of stooking the corn at Groundwell Farm was published in the edition of August 10, with the farmhouse visible in the distance.

In the mid 1970s, with the vast area of north Swindon ear marked for development, Thamesdown Borough Council purchased the farm and the farmhouse was let to the Groundwell Arts Group. 

However by 2004 the property was empty and Robert Stredder, street entertainer and former Groundwell Arts Group resident highlighted the predicament of the building as dentist Patrick Holmes awaited the outcome of complicated planning approval.  The Seven Fields Dental and Health Care Centre eventually opened in 2007 and modern street names such as Farmer Crescent, Thresher Drive and Haywain Close recall the rural history of Groundwell Farm. 

ghostly outline of former farm building

coach house

Wartime harvest - stooking the corn at Groundwell Farm

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Richard Woolford - sculptor, mason and convicted poacher

Was Richard Woolford motivated by criminal intent or poverty when he picked up his gun and headed off for Lord Bolingbroke’s land one winter’s night in 1834?

Records show that Richard was charged with ‘having in the night together with a great number of other persons armed with guns, and other unlawful weapons entered a certain coppice belonging to the right honourable Lord Viscount Bolingbroke for the purpose of destroying game at Lydiard Tregoze.’

At the time of Richard’s arrest, Robert Hiscocks was the gamekeeper at the Lydiard Park estate, a position subsequently filled by his son Harry who worked alongside him in the second half of the 19th century. Sporting rights across the estate were protected in the farm leases and the duties of the Lydiard Park gamekeeper included the rearing of his lordships pheasants.  Victorian gamekeepers were known to shoot at anything that threatened the birds under their protection.

Richard, a 21 year old labourer and stonemason, was married with two young sons and on that December night in 1834 his purpose was more likely to provide his young family with a meal.

But perhaps things turned nasty in the coppice on his lordships estate.  According to the Night Poaching Act of 1828  ‘such Offender shall assault or offer any Violence with any Gun, Crossbow, Fire Arms, Bludgeon, Stick, Club, or any other offensive Weapon whatsoever, towards an person hereby authorized to seize and apprehend him, he shall, whether it be his First, Second, or any other Offence, be guilt of a Misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be transported beyond Seas for Seven Years, or to be imprisoned and kept to hard Labour in the Common Gaol or House of Correction for any Term not exceeding Two Years.’ Despite having no previous convictions Richard was transported to Australia. Three hundred men were transported for poaching offences between 1788 and 1868.

Richard sailed out of Portsmouth on July 29, 1835 on board the Royal Sovereign along with 169 other convicts bound for Sydney.  He was described as being 5ft 9½ins tall with a dark sallow complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes.  Identifying marks included scarring above his left eye and left eyebrow and that the nail of the third finger on his left hand was split.

In February 1840 Richard was given a ticket of leave, a document granting him parole on the condition that he remained in the employment of John Terry Hughes of Sydney.  However a year later he was found stealing lead and his ticket was cancelled.

This did not appear to prevent him from starting up in business and trade directories of 1839-40 list him as a tombmaker.

Richard was eventually freed on November 28, 1842 and continued to work as a sculptor and mason.  In 1855 he was sufficiently prosperous to be able to pay for the passage of his sister Mary and her family to join him in Sydney.

On December 3, 1867 the Sydney Morning Herald printed the announcement of Richard’s death.  ‘On the 2nd instant, at his residence, Monumental Works, 81 Church hill, Mr Richard Woolford, in the 54th year of his age.  Much respected by a large circle of friends.’

Gamekeeper Henry Hiscocks

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ken White

Last year an exhibition of Ken White’s work opened at The Post Modern, Theatre Square, Swindon to celebrate the artists' 70th birthday.

In the 1980s Swindon boasted a fine collection of Ken's murals - one at Cambria Bridge, the famous ‘Swindon Personalities’ in Union Street/Prospect Place, the King Class Locomotive Passing Through Swindon Railway Works at Henry Street, to name just a few. Sadly today just one mural now remains - the Golden Lion Bridge looking down Fleming Way.

And even more disgraceful is the fact that Swindon does not own a piece of Ken White’s art.  Now how on earth can that be?

In 2003 Advertiser journalist Shirley Mathias was asking exactly that question. Shirley wrote:

‘But the closest Ken has come to recognition by the borough was an invitation to hang two works in a display which is part of Think Art, an event sponsored by the borough’s Swindon Arts project together with, among other supporters, Nationwide, Westfield who own the Brunel Centre, and the University of Bath. The paintings are currently being shown, along with 30 or so other works of art, in an empty shop near House of Fraser’s store in Canal Walk.’

Joe Kaempfer, chief executive of McArthur Glen, was so impressed by Ken’s railway paintings that after the Designer Outlet Centre opened he bought six.  But why are there none of Ken’s paintings in our prestigious Modern Art Collection.

Ken’s work continues to have a presence in the Great Western Hospital and the Commonweal School, but hey – come on Swindon. I know there's not much money in the piggy bank, but here’s a revolutionary idea.  Why don’t we sell a couple of the paintings currently in store at the museum that we never see anyway and buy one of Ken’s that we’d all love to see.

Read more about the inspiration for Ken's work in the Spring 2014 edition of Swindon Heritage.

Two of Ken's paintings that hang in the Outlet Village.

Swindon Local Studies have a selection of Ken's posters. Visit the website on http://www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

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Monday, April 8, 2013

James Smith Protheroe

From local dignitaries and Victorian edifices to pageants and poets, photographer James Smith Protheroe and his partner Thomas Henry Simons captured them all.  But it could have turned out very differently.

One of tailor Thomas Protheroe’s eleven children, James was born in 1858 over the shop in Goat Street, Swansea, next door to the public library.  By 1871 13 year old James was already working alongside his father, described as ‘young tailor’ in the census of that year. 

But his artistic leanings had the support of his elder brother Thomas, an artist, who left Wales following his marriage to Emma Chapman in 1872.  Thomas moved to Bristol and by 1876 had his own photographic studio at 33 Wine Street. 

At around the same time James moved to Swindon and by the 1880s the brothers were advertising their joint ventures on the back of the popular carte de visite they sold for 5s a dozen.   While James established himself at 30 Regent Street, New Swindon Thomas remained in Bristol.   In 1881 the Protheroe studios won a first class silver medal for oil painting at the Plymouth Art and Industrial Exhibition and proudly declared royal patronage by HRH Prince of Wales.

Towards the end of the century Prothero’s sitters included Queenstown School teacher Edith New who would shortly leave Swindon to join the Women’s Social and Political Union and join the fight for Votes for Women. And in 1903 the GWR Hammerman poet Alfred Williams took his bride Mary Peck along to the Regent Street studio to pose for their wedding photograph.

By now James had taken his nephew into the business, Thomas Henry Simons, the son of his sister Elizabeth and her husband Henry, a commercial shipping clerk.  James had married Fanny Jane Redman, a dress mantle maker, in 1894 and the new century saw the family photography firm based at 96 Victoria Road.  The shop is caught in a view of Swindon’s tram disaster in 1906 by that other Swindon photographer William Hooper.

Although the Protheroe name still headed the firm it was Thomas who increasingly took care of the day to day business as James involved himself with the public life of Swindon. 

Conductor of the Baptist Tabernacle choir, Justice of the Peace and Wiltshire County Council member, Chairman of the Swindon and Highworth Board of Guardians and member of the Swindon Victoria Hospital Committee are among just a few of the organisations on which James served.

James died at Eirianfa, Newton Villas, Mumbles, overlooking Swansea Bay, in October 1929 aged 72. His body was returned to Swindon for burial in Radnor Street Cemetery.

His obituary published in the North Wilts Herald declared that ‘there was no busier man in Swindon, and few who will be more missed.’

To see more of the work of Protheroe and Simons and other Swindon photographers visit the Swindon Local Studies Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal
For more information about Alfred's life and work, see the official website of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society: www.alfredwilliams.org.uk

James Smith Protheroe's grave in Radnor Street Cemetery