Monday, May 11, 2015

No 34 Regent Circus

This impressive building once stood on the corner of Regent Circus and Commercial Road. The house was caught on camera shortly before and during its demolition in 1964.

In 1901 number 34 Regent Circus was the home of Swindon solicitor Alfred Ernest Withy.  Alfred was born in Bath in 1860, the son of leather seller, shoemaker and Coffee House Keeper John Withy and his wife Sarah. Alfred grew up at addresses in and around Bath and in 1881 the family home was Tyndale Villa on Wells Road in Lyncombe and Widecombe where Alfred worked as a solicitor’s article clerk.

In Trade Directories of 1889 Alfred appears listed as a solicitor and commissioner for oaths, a Wiltshire County Councillor and an insurance agent for the Alliance Fire and Life Company.  He married Florence Clinker in 1890 and the following year the couple were living at 1 Rolleston Crescent, an area identified as between Temple Street and York Place on the census returns of that year. With the newly completed Town Hall taking centre stage, the whole area received a makeover and York Place was renamed Regent Circus.

By 1915 Alfred had moved to a house named Westlecot on Westlecot Road, Old Town, but his business address remained at Regent Circus where he had added Clerk to the Borough Justices to his long list of duties.

Alfred’s record of public service continued into the period of the Second World War.  Then aged 78, Alfred was still acting as Magistrates’ Clerk at Swindon Borough Police Court and was not averse to handing out a few home truths, especially to the drunks who appeared before the Bench.

One of the first cases to come before him following the outbreak of war was that of Ernest William Scutts who pleaded guilty to being drunk in Newport Street in September 1939.  “Beer is going to cost you more in the future and you will not be able to get so much,” Alfred told the repentant Scutts.

“We are getting more drunks in Swindon than we ought to do.  We are breaking the record altogether,” Alfred declared as labourer William Petrie was fined 7s 6d having been found drunk and fast asleep on the pavement in Chapel Street in November 1939.

Homeless Irishman Frank Cosgrove who caused a stir when he performed an impromptu striptease in Drove Road on Thursday December 14, 1939, received short shrift from Alfred when he appeared before the magistrates. “Have a good night’s rest,” advised Mr Withy as he returned Cosgrove to the police cells. “Tomorrow morning at nine o’clock you must march – out of Swindon.”

Alfred died at his home on March 30, 1947 and left nearly £54,000 to be administered by The Public Trustee.  The Alfred Ernest Withy Trust Fund that he set up in 1939 to support disadvantaged young people from across Wiltshire to access further education, continues today, providing grants to children of secondary school age for educational purposes.  Applicants must be ‘poor in pocket and rich in merit.’

Photographs are published courtesy of Local Studies, Central  Library  

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