Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mattresses, blankets, sheets, quilts and coverlets.

Local newspapers can be a wonderful resource for the family historian, especially if a well to do ancestor hits upon hard times.

The King family roots in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze date back to the 18th century when they farmed areas now buried beneath the 1980s West Swindon development. Richard Dore King was born in about 1776 and by 1812 was married and living at Mannington Farm.

Mannington, along with Toothill and Whitehill Farms, formed part of the Charterhouse estate in Lydiard Tregoze.  Thomas Sutton bought the three farms in 1605 to help finance the hospital and school for 40 poor boys he founded on the site of a Carthusian Monastery in the Smithfield area of London.

By 1828 it appears the King family had hit hard times.  An advertisement in the local press announced that Swindon auctioneer William Dore would be conducting an extensive sale at Mannington Farm ‘under a distress for rent and an assignment for the benefit of creditors.’

The three day sale began on Wednesday December 18 and drawing attention to the shortness of the days and the great number of lots, Mr Dore asked prospective buyers to attend on time.

Among the animals for sale were 36 cows and two bulls, seven cart horses and three nag horses.  There were water troughs, cow cribs and sheep cages along with post and rails, scales and weights and tools of husbandry on the for sale list.

Everything in the dairy was up for grabs as well, from a capital oak double cheese press to milk buckets and yokes and about three hundred weight of Thin Cheeses, a North Wiltshire speciality.

But saddest of all was the sale of household furniture, particularly the beds, a much prized possession in any early 19th century home.  Richard’s wife Elizabeth would no doubt have shed a tear over parting with her ‘two lofty four post Bedsteads in chintz and cotton furniture with window curtains to match, capital goose feather and flock beds, Mattresses, Blankets, sheets, quilts and coverlets.’

From two mahogany dining tables with circular ends and two sets of horsehair dining chairs to sundry prints glazed and framed, there could have been little left in the spacious farmhouse at the end of the three day sale.

What had led to Richard’s predicament remains unknown, but he obviously owed a lot of people, including his Charterhouse landlords, a lot of money.

But this wasn’t the end of Richard Dore King.  At the time of the 1841 census he was living at North Lains Farm in Even Swindon.  He died two years later and is buried in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze, his grave surmounted by an impressive monument.  Now that must have cost a bob or two back in the day.

The King dynasty continued and in 1851 Richard’s widow Elizabeth King was living at Whitehill Farm, another Charterhouse property, with her unmarried son and daughter, Richard Dore King junior and Sarah Sheppard King.

When Richard Dore King junior died in 1862 he left effects to the value of about £5,000, worth in the region of £4 million today.

The former Whitehill Farmhouse on Beaumaris Road is a Swindon Borough Council property and Mannington House has been converted into flats.


Mannington Farmhouse



Whitehill Farmhouse


The King family graves at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Jon Ratcliffe

Today is Jon Ratcliffe's last day behind the enquiry desk in Local Studies at Swindon Central Library as the busy department is reduced to one full time post and one part time.

Jon has worked with the Local Studies team for two years, one year volunteering and one year as a member of staff. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and the many visitors to this fantastic archive who have benefited from his knowledge of local and family history research. His area of expertise has been the architecture of our town, both old and not so old and he has contributed some stunning photographs to the library online archive.

When the latest round of restructuring hit the library we were assured there would be no further cuts to front line staff. However, Local Studies has been hit under the guise of back room efficiencies. I for one am not convinced by this argument as the immediate impact is a reduction in the number of hours the enquiry desk will be able to open. Visitors needing help with their research projects will have to make an appointment; those who just pop in on the off chance will be unaware of the vast resources available to them - if only there were someone there to ask!

With the forthcoming First World War centenary fast approaching more and more people will be wanting to trace their family members who served. How do you begin that first step in your research? By visiting the Local Studies department of your local library.

While remaining staff members grapple with the logistics of continuing to provide the comprehensive service customers are used to, future planned events continue. There will be a schedule of talks and drop-in sessions with the Archivists from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre while there will also be a new run of the free family history drop-in sessions facilitated by volunteers from the Wiltshire Family History Society. Other events include a talk exploring the tunnels of Swindon and events and projects relating to the Great War centenary.

Look out for the library strategy on www.swindon.gov.uk/librarystrategy and to have your say on future plans for all of Swindon's libraries email krwilliams@swindon.gov.uk. And keep up with events by reading The Link Magazine.

And goodbye and good luck to Jon in his new job. He assures us he will keep in touch.


Swindon Central Library, Regent Circus


The newly opened Local Studies department pictured in 2008.



From the archives - Local Studies, Central Library, Regent Circus

Type Swindon Central Library into Google search and enjoy a virtual tour of the building!



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Adopt a Tommy



Ironically the dedication on the official Swindon Roll of Honour reads 'Their Glory Shall Not Be Blotted Out, Their Name Liveth For Evermore.' Whilst it might not be exactly blotted out, the magnificent memorial lies hidden behind curtains in the dance studio at Swindon's Town Hall and today is seldom seen.

The memorial was erected by public subscription and in the same spirit the Swindon in the Great War committee launched its own fund raising memorial project 'Adopt a Tommy.'

You are invited to adopt one of the servicemen whose name appears on the memorial. For £10 you will receive a certificate based on the one the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen received and details of that man's service.

I've 'adopted' Edward William Reginald Bevan. Why? He is no relation, but I share his surname and because he served at sea. My husband comes from Milford Haven, a small former fishing town on the Pembrokeshire coast. Generations of his family depended upon the sea for their livelihood. Uncles and cousins worked as trawlermen, aunties and sisters worked in the fishmarket or making fishing nets or in the ship's stores. My father in law William Edward Lewis Bevan served in the navy during WWII and following the war worked as a shipwright on the docks. 

It seemed fitting that I should adopt Engine Room Artificer E W R Bevan. This is the wartime story of Edward and his wife Mabel.


Beatrice Street lake, an old clay pit at the back of the Princess Hotel, was the scene of a near tragedy when a young naval widow, overwhelmed by grief, poverty and worry, tried to end her life.

Mabel Hurst was born in 1890 and grew up in Wellington Street, Swindon, the daughter of Francis Hurst, a fitter in the Works, and his wife Elizabeth Ann.

In 1912 she married submariner Edward Bevan and the couple made their home in Plymouth.  An Engine Room Artificer on HMS 'E 16' Edward was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in January 1916 but just seven months later he was lost at sea when the E16 was sunk by a mine in Heligoland Bight on August 22, 1916.  There were no survivors.

Mabel returned home to Swindon with her two children.  She took in a lodger to try to help make ends meet, but he attacked her and beat her up.

Eventually Mabel felt she could no longer carry on and jumped in the stretch of water behind Beatrice Street. She was rescued by a passing policeman who marched her home, dripping wet.  With little compassion, he pointed at her children and told her to look after them, a scene that lived long in the memory of her daughter.

For details on how to Adopt a Tommy see below.








Mabel and her baby son John







Sunday, January 12, 2014

Geoffrey Drew - Architect




Following my post yesterday about the Clarke sisters and 57 Victoria Road, Brian Carter has contacted me with the story of another occupant of this once elegant property.

Thanks, Frances, for an interesting story featuring a building to which I have a personal connection.

My reason for photographing it in 1983 was that the first floor was then the offices of Architect Drew. This was the business of my late father-in-law, Geoffrey Drew (and his secretary - my mother-in-law - Elisabeth Drew).

Geoff was born in Southampton in 1928, was evacuated to Corfe Castle during World War II, and started his working life in Ipswich. Later, he went into partnership in a business in Bristol. This brought him to Swindon for the first time in the 1960s (his first job in the town was working on the original BHS shop in Swindon town centre).

He set up a satellite office in Swindon and liked the place so much that he spent the rest of his life in Bishopstone, and married my future mother-in-law in 1972.

He set up in business on his own in 1981 - briefly in Newport Street, before moving to 57 Victoria Road. In about 1999, they vacated those premises and worked from home in Bishopstone.

Sadly, Geoff died in 2006, aged 77.

I'm quite sure that he didn't know the story of the Clarke sisters, which is a great shame. As an architect, he was naturally interested in buildings and their history. But he was even more interested in people and their stories. I'm certain that he would very much have approved of the Clarke sisters.

And had be been the right age to have ever met them, then I know he would have supported and encouraged them.

Despite not being born in Swindon, Geoff considered himself an honourary Swindonian. He was an active member and past president of Swindon Rotary Club and a keen Swindon Town fan - being a season ticket holder for many years.

His other passions were railways and aircraft. Having been born in Southampton, the Southern Railway was in his blood, but he was also very fond of the Great Western Railway and a member of the GWR Preservation Society at Didcot. He was especially pleased to have seen the first Spitfires making test flights above his home during his childhood. Not surprisingly, the love of aircraft (though not of flying) stayed with him all his life.

In the Swindon area, Geoff left a legacy of countless buildings which he designed. Most of these were private houses, but he also designed the occasional commercial or community building. These included the Focal Point building near Swindon Bus Station and the Church of Christ the Servant in Abbey Meads.

Brian Carter (Carter Collectables)




Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rosa, Mabel and Florence Clarke

Debt collecting might not be an obvious career choice for genteel ladies but by 1915 the old social order was on the way out as women took to the streets demanding equality and the vote.

In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union at her home in Nelson Street, Manchester and at Oxford House, 57 Victoria Road, Swindon three sisters established their own financial business.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales set up in 1880, discussed admitting females in 1895.  However it would be 1919 before the first woman became a member.

Rosa, Mabel and Florence Clarke were three of William Clarke’s four daughters. At the time of the 1881 census the family lived at 17 Wellington Street.  William worked as an Iron Turner in the GWR Works, but he was an ambitious, intelligent and determined young man.

Ten years later William had moved his family up the social ladder and up the hill to a house in Victoria Road where he worked as a solicitor’s clerk. Oxford House dates from around the end of the 19th century when development at the northern end of Victoria Street began.  Known first as New Road and then later as Victoria Street North the road was eventually renamed Victoria Road in 1903.

When William died on December 16, 1898, the obituary in the Advertiser recalled how for many years he had been employed as a mechanic in the GWR Works. ‘But eventually [he] resigned his post to act as an accountant and debt collector.  In the latter capacity he has worked up undoubtedly the largest business of the kind in the county, and has been of great assistance to the business men of the town,” the report continued.

The sisters took over their father’s business following his premature death and in the 1901 census Rosa states her occupation as accountant working from home ‘on her own account,’  Lily and Mabel do not state an occupation.  Florence, however, who was staying with friends in Devizes on census night 1901, also describes herself as an accountant.

Rosa died in 1904, leaving the administration of her will to Florence.  The two remaining sisters kept Rosa’s initial letter R in the company name.

While the campaigning suffragettes boycotted the 1911 census, refusing to be counted without representation, Florence and Mabel Clarke are recorded still in business at 57 Victoria Road.

In 1918 Mabel died, leaving an estate of £2,609 4s to her surviving business partner and sister Florence.  Interestingly, when Rosa and Mabel died neither sister received the press recognition that their father had.

Lily was the only one of the four sisters to forego a career in favour of a husband and family.  In 1901 she married Charles Rix Jeyes, a quantity surveyor for the London & North Western Railway Co.  At the time of the 1911 census the couple were living at The Hollies, Priests Lane in Shenfield, Essex with their four young children.

Florence carried on the business following Mabel’s death in 1918 but by 1920 the North Wilts Trade Directory records that H.T. Kirby, registrar of births and deaths, living at 57 Victoria Road.

The subject of numerous unsuccessful planning applications in recent years, Oxford House today is boarded up and derelict.








Number 57 in happier times as captured by www.cartercollectables.co.uk December 1983.