Friday, July 31, 2015

Chiseldon Camp Disaster

Our next guided walk around Radnor Street Cemetery takes place on Sunday, August 9, 2015. Meet at the chapel at 2pm.

Somewhere in the area marked Section C in Radnor Street Cemetery, close to the Chapel, is the grave of three boys, friends and neighbours who in 1919 lived at numbers 42, 69 and 73 Medgbury Road – Frederick Cosway 14, Frederick Rawlinson also 14 and 13 year old Stanley Palmer the adopted son of Elizabeth and Henry Holt.

Good Friday 1919 dawned bright and sunny when a group of boys, about 24 all together, set off from Medgbury Road for a day’s outing.  They left early, taking with them a packed lunch and walked to Liddington Castle where they stopped to play games and eat their sandwiches.

One of the boys suggested walking over to the trenches at the Chiseldon Camp.  At this point the group split with just seven of the boys deciding to go on to the Military Camp.

Fourteen year old Albert Townsend of 44 Medgbury Road, who along with Frederick Rawlinson worked for Reynolds boot and shoe manufacturer in Old Town, told a reporter from the Advertiser what happened next.

“As we were walking along Rawlinson picked up something, a piece of iron, which looked like a rolling pin, and rolled it down a bank.  Suddenly I heard a loud report, and looked round, but I could see nothing but ‘mist.’  I found something strike me in the leg, and also in the back.  I afterwards found that I had been wounded in three places.  I have two slight wounds in the back, and one in the leg.  I was able to get home, and was attended by Dr. Lavery.  Two of the injured boys were first taken to a farmhouse near the scene of the accident, and then to the Military Hospital.  The seventh boy, who escaped injury, is named Love.  Two of the boys who were killed were blown to pieces,” he said.  The explosion was heard as far away as Coate Reservoir, a distance of about three or four miles.

The funeral of the three boys took place on April 24 and was attended by what was described as ‘an immense throng’ of people.

The procession started from the boys homes along a route lined with spectators and proceeded to the Central Mission Hall in Clarence Street.  The congregation numbered approximately 800 with many more standing outside the hall.

The report of the funeral continues:

“Two of the coffins were conveyed in shillibiers (a horsedrawn vehicle) and the third on a handbier.  There was a great profusion of flowers.  The chief mourners followed in carriages.  They included the parents and other relatives of the deceased lads.  Between 30 and 40 lads, companions of the deceased, followed on foot.

As the procession wended its way to the Cemetery rain commenced falling heavily, but it proved to be a storm of short duration.  The interment took place in the Cemetery in the presence of several thousand spectators, and the service, which was conducted by Pastor Spargo, will long be remembered by all who took part.”

The boys were buried together in plot C728.  Today there is no memorial to mark the spot.
The area in which the boys are buried
For more photographs of Chiseldon Camp visit Swindon Central Library flickr website on

Monday, July 27, 2015

Edith New - Swindon Suffragette

In 1906 the suffragette campaign entered its most violent phase. Over 500 women had been imprisoned by 1909 and right up there among the militant activists was a Swindon schoolteacher.

Edith Bessie New was born 17th March, 1877 at 24 North Street, Swindon, the fourth of Frederic and Isabelle New's five children. Frederic worked as a railway clerk at the GWR Works and Isabelle was a music teacher.

An assistant mistress at Queenstown Infant School from 1899-1901, Edith subsequently left her Swindon home to teach in the deprived areas of Deptford and Lewisham. It was after hearing the charismatic Emmeline Pankhurst speak at a meeting in Trafalgar Square that Edith joined the Women's Social and Political Union.

In February 1907 a deputation of suffragettes marched on the House of Commons in protest at the omission of votes for women from the King's speech. What had begun as a peaceful demonstration ended in a violent confrontation with police. Edith was among those arrested and sentenced to two weeks in Holloway gaol.

She continued to be at the forefront of innovative and dangerous protest methods. In January 1908 Edith chained herself to the railings at 10 Downing Street, the first time suffragettes had employed such tactics. It took the unprepared police sometime to release her, allowing Edith to make her protest heard by the assembled Cabinet gathered there. A three-week sentence in Holloway followed.

The hugely successful Women's Day rally held in Hyde Park on June 21,1908 attracted an estimated crowd of 250,000. Edith, by now an experienced and informative speaker, took her place alongside suffragette leaders.

Later that same month Edith, accompanied by Mary Leigh, broke windows at 10 Downing Street, another new headline grabbing tactic which would be increasingly employed by suffragettes. The women served two months in Holloway. On their release they were taken to a celebratory breakfast party in a carriage drawn by six suffragettes.

Edith resigned from teaching in 1908 to join the WSPU paid workforce. She travelled the country organising support for parliamentary candidates sympathetic to women's suffrage. In September 1909 she campaigned in Scotland where she was arrested for causing a breach of the peace during a meeting in Dundee. Sentenced to seven days imprisonment, Edith and her fellow prisoners went on hunger strike, the first to do so in Scotland.

Edith returned to teaching in 1911, where she continued to campaign for women's rights and equal pay within her profession.

Edith died aged 73 on 2nd January 1951 at The Croft, Landaviddy Lane, Polperro, Cornwall. She left property valued at £3,771 to her two nieces.  She never married and her death was registered by her companion of over 40 years, Nea Campion, a fellow teacher from the Lewisham days.

Images courtesy of T. Dugdale and Swindon Local Studies 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Emmeline Pankhurst

Today marks the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday, although the date is still up for debate. Emmeline always celebrated her birthday on July 14 aligning her arrival with that other revolutionary happening Bastille Day. It is more generally accepted that she was born in Manchester on July 15, 1858, the second of Robert and Jane Goulden's ten children.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline's involvement in socialist politics began in the 1890s when she joined the fledgling Independent Labour Park with her husband Richard Pankhurst. Her conviction that the only way women could improve their situation, still very much one of subordination to men across every stratum of society, was to campaign for the parliament vote.

In 1903 the widowed Emmeline and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Society and Political Union in Manchester and three years later moved their organisation down to headquarters in London.

Mrs Pankhurst under police escort

On May 19, 1906 the first Women's Suffrage Demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers was Keir Hardie Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and in the crowd was a Swindon schoolteacher, Edith New.

Edith began her career as a pupil teacher at Queenstown Infants, one of the first schools built in 1880 by the new Swindon School Board.  Following two years spent in London studying for her teacher's certificate, Edith returned to Swindon but in 1901 she took up a teaching post at Calvert Road School in East Greenwich.  When Charles Booth conducted his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London he identified this area as largely poor where the average income was between 18 and 21 shillings a week.

Edith New

Edith joined the Women' Social and Political Union and in March 1907 she was sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Gaol for attempting to get into the House of Commons. In 1908 Edith left teaching and became a paid organiser for the WSPU. She travelled the length and breadth of the country, organising by-election campaigns and addressing meetings and demonstrations. She served several terms of imprisonment, most famously for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Edith New (right)  and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway

On July 14, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated her 55th birthday during a brief respite from Holloway Gaol. In April she had been sentenced to three years penal servitude for being an accessory before the fact in the attempted burning of a house at Walton Heath. She was released on June 16th under the terms of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act. More commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, suffragist prisoners weakened by hunger strikes and forcible feeding, were temporarily released when their health gave prison officials cause for concern. Released on licence, once deemed sufficiently recovered, they were rearrested to continue their sentence.

Both Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney had ignored the terms of their licence and on July 14 they turned up at the London Pavilion for the weekly WSPU meeting. Mrs Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome from the audience, however, the police were also present and ready to arrest the two women.

They turned their attention first to Annie while Emmeline was said to have walked through the crowd and out int a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney

"A struggled followed, the detectives and uniformed policemen rushing into the mass with their heads down to protect their faces from the possibility of attacks by hatpins, and striking out in all directions," the Times reported the following day. "Detectives attempted to encircle Miss Kenney, but women pressing out from the entrance to the Pavilion rushed to the rescue. Two detectives put their prisoner into a taxicab and took her to Holloway. Standing on the pavement were women with their hair down their backs, their hats off, and clothes torn while the detectives had suffered equally, their coats being in some cases alsmot torn from their backs and their hats broken in."

Mrs Pankhurst spent the following week in a flat on Great Smith Road, Westminster with a police guard on duty outside. An attempted escape using a 'double' to lure police away from her door failed, but a week later supporters managed to smuggle her out of the flat and into the London Pavilion yet again. A week after her birthday Mrs Pankhurst was rearrested as she attempted to take the stage for the WSPU meeting.

Emmeline Pankhurst's memorial in Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just one month before her 70th birthday and shortly after the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. On March 6, 1930 a monument to the suffragist leader was erected in Victorian Tower Gardens next to the House of Parliament and unveiled by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Edith New died on January 2, 1951 in Polperro, Cornwall. Recognition in her home town for her achievements in the Votes for Women Campaign would take another 60 years to be put in place, thanks to an appeal made by Greendown Community School pupils. In 2011 a street on Nightingale Rise, Moredon was named Edith New Close.

Edith was buried with her much loved sister Ellen 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

GWR Park

Today you will be unlikely to hear the thwack of leather on willow in Faringdon Road Park where in 1844 the GWR bought a parcel of land west of the Railway Village, owned by Lt. Col Vilett.

In the early days the Cricket Ground was surrounded by a hedge and wooden palings and the GWR frequently had to issue warnings when their property was vandalised.

A notice published in June 1860 by Works Manager William Gooch announced – “I have again to caution, and call the attention of the Workmen to the damage done in the village by their Children, such as destroying trees in the Cricket Ground.”

Families faced severe penalties if their children were found to be the culprits. Gooch warned that the guilty boys "will not in future at any time be employed in the Works." If the offences were repeated the men risked losing not only their job but their home as well.

The GWR Cricket club, formed in 1847, shared the Cricket Field with teams representing other Shops in the railway works, even playing separate matches on the same day.

Star all-rounder was foundry worker John Laverick who as a 19 year-old moved to the GWR Works in 1866 from his home in Northumberland. He joined the cricket club the following year and scored 60 runs in his first innings played on the home ground.

In 1870 a match played at Bedminster's home ground saw batting legend W.G. Grace bowled out for a duck by Laverick.

During the club's heyday, when crowds averaged 1,000, team members included twin brothers Tom and George Hogarth who apparently caused the tetchy Dr. Grace some confusion when they played against him. Convinced that the GWR team had put the same man in to bat twice, the brothers had to stand side by side to settle the charge.

The GWR Company continued to develop the park, although sometimes at the expense of the cricket club, as Frederick Large notes in A Swindon Retrospect. “A bandstand having been erected by them almost in midfield of play rendered the playing of matches well nigh impossible ...”

After 63 years the club's career finally came to an end in 1910. Financial difficulties compounded by the high rent charged by the GWR on the Cricket Field saw the team selling off materials to pay debts.

In 1925 the park passed out of GWR ownership when the company entered into an 'exchange' with Swindon Corporation for land at Gorse Hill.

1870 - plans are drawn up for a Lodge on the eastern side of the New Swindon Cricket Field.
1871-72 Landscaping and formal gardens are laid out. Pavilion built on western side of the park, backing onto Park Lane. Fund raising events such as Penny Readings held at the Mechanics Institute to pay for these improvements.
Drill Hall built for the XI Wilts Rifle Corp - site now occupied by the TA Centre.
1881 census - Robert Matthews is head gardener and park keeper living at Park Lodge, Church Place.
1897 - railings and ornamental gates added.
1898 - plan for Bandstand submitted.
2010 - New railings erected around Faringdon Road Park

old postcard views of GWR Park courtesy of