Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Stepping out with the Swindon WI

The members of Swindon WI put their best foot forward on Saturday evening when they were among 700 people who took part in the Prospect Hospice fund raising Starlight Walk. The WI members braved torrential rain to complete the 10k walk as part of their 2016 Walking Challenge.

Conditions were marginally better yesterday when I joined them for a guided walk around Old Town following in the footsteps of Swindon Suffragette Edith New and other Old Town women.

First stop was Apsley House, which today houses the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery but was once home to the Toomer family.

In the 1870s Apsley House was an L shaped property with land stretching back as far as the cottages on Prospect Place and boasted not only a coal yard but formal gardens and a paddock. A photograph on display in the museum shows one of the Toomer daughters on her pony at the back of the house, giving some idea of the the extent of the property.

Following John Toomer's death in 1882 five of his sons took advantage of the terms of their father's will and sold their shares in the business to their mother Mary Ann.

In 1914 more than 30 years later, the mother of all legal arguments broke out in the family as the remaining Toomer siblings claimed there had been an injury done to their inheritance. It was proved that although Mary Ann had paid an excessive amount for these shares, she had gained no advantage and at the time she gave her sons all the information she herself had.

Poor Mary Ann was 77 years old when all this legal wrangling took place. She died in 1926 aged 90 and is buried with her husband and two of their children in Christ Church churchyard.

She left £18,762 17s - presumably for her family to fight over.

We then crossed the road to Wood Street where we paused outside Balula's Delicatessen.

The highly decorative oak woodwork frontage is evidence of a much older shop and in the mid 19th century it was the home and business premises of William Frampton, Edith New's maternal grandfather.

This is where Edith's mother Isabella and her seven siblings grew up. William was a carpenter and builder and owned a number of properties in Old Town, however in the 1850s he was declared bankrupt.

Isabella married Frederic New on 1872 and the couple had five children; Ellen Mary born in 1873; Frederick William Westmacott in 1874; Annie Isabella born in 1876 who died in infancy and Edith Bessie born in 1877. In that same year Frederic died, struck by a train when he was walking along the railway line to visit his friend at Toothill Farm. Isabella was pregnant at the time, a son Henry James Earnshaw was born in 1878 but died in infancy.

Recent research has revealed that Frederic, his brothers and step father were all Freemasons and it is believed that Isabella and the children received some support from that organisation.

Isabella died on December 2, 1922 aged 72 at her home 4 St Margarets Road. she is buried in a large family grave in Christ Church.

We arrived at The Lawns - along with the rain - the former home of the Goddard family.

Here I pondered on the day to day lives of Charlotte Sanford Goddard, wife of Ambrose, Lord of the Manor and her only daughter Jessie Henrietta.

Ambrose and Charlotte's first home was at 58 Chester Square, Westminster but by 1861 they had moved into the Lawns and in the census of that year they were in residence with three of their children and Ambrose's sister Ada.

This reasonably small family unit was looked after by 13 servants, a butler, housekeeper, footman, lady's maid, a governess and a school room maid, a nurse, a cook, two housemaids and a kitchen maid. A coachman lived above the stables in Mill Lane and there must have been several gardeners to attend to the pleasure gardens and Italian sunken feature.

You might, therefore, wonder why I feel a bit sorry for Jessie. Jessie obviously led a very comfortable life. Never had any money worries, never had to work for a living but it seems to me that perhaps one thing she lacked was choice.

Comparing her to Edith who worked all her life, starting as a pupil teacher at the age of 12, to her time as an Organiser for the WSPU and then back into teaching, I wonder if Jessie would have been able to strike out like that. She might never have wanted to, but it seems to me that Jessie was forever trailing after her mother. She never married and consequently never had a family of her own, but was that because she didn't want one or was it because her mother needed her.

Our guided walk ended at 24 North Street and the beginning of Edith's story. The house where she was born now boasts a Swindon Heritage blue plaque.

The weather could have been kinder but the thanks from the Swindon WI members couldn't have been warmer.

Members of the Swindon WI setting off on the Prospect Hospice fundraising Starlight Walk (photo courtesy of Swindon Advertiser)

Balula's Delicatessen once the home of William Frampton, Edith New's maternal grandfather

Apsley House once home to the Toomer family

The Goddard family (photo courtesy of Swindon Local Studies)

The Lawn (photo courtesy of Swindon Local Studies)

Swindon Suffragette Edith New

Edith's great niece unveils blue plaque at 24 North Street

Monday, June 27, 2016

May George

During this turbulent week in British politics I look back on the career of Swindon's first Lady Mayor, May George.

Described as the most active and progressive member to occupy a seat on the Town Council, May George was the first woman to hold the office of Mayor of Swindon.  And apparently no one knew quite how to address her with speakers at public meetings unsure whether to call her Mr or Mrs Mayor.

Sarah May Williams was born in 1883 in Craven Arms, Shropshire on the Welsh Borders, the daughter of George Williams, a railway guard and his wife Eliza.  May grew up at 2, Tabernacle Terrace, Carmarthen, one of six daughters and two sons.  No surprise that she championed the well being of mothers and children during her political career. 

She served a pupil teacher apprenticeship in Carmarthen before marrying Charles Ferdinando George, a fellow teacher at Pentrepoeth Council School, in 1903. By 1911 May, Charles and their young son had moved to Swindon and were living at 85 Avenue Road.

Although not a native Swindonian, May’s connections with the town went back to her earliest childhood.  Her mother’s sister had moved to Swindon with her husband Joseph Crockett, a foreman shunter.  The couple never had any children but raised May’s elder sister Bertha as their own.

May’s political career began in 1921 when she was elected councillor for the South Ward.  She became an Alderman in 1931 and Swindon’s first woman Mayor in 1935.

May worked tirelessly to improving the lives of women and children, and served on the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee.  She was a tenacious and persistent campaigner and, unafraid of becoming unpopular with her fellow councillors, was famed for her fierce debating.

She was instrumental in establishing a standard of care at Swindon’s Kingshill Maternity Home that made it an example for the whole country.  May also served on the Guardians’ Committee, the local Employment Committee and the Pensions Committee and raised funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

May collapsed at her home at ‘Lynwood,’ Croft Road after attending a Council Committee meeting.  She died the following day, April 21, 1943 aged 60 years old.  Speaking at a later Council Meeting the Mayor, Alderman A.J.B. Selwood paid tribute to Mrs May George and said he was afraid her premature death was due to overwork.

A large congregation, including representatives from all the civic and social organisations with which May had been associated, attended a memorial service at Christ Church.  Her funeral took place at the English Congregational Church, Lammas Street in her home town of Carmarthen, where she was buried. 

“Mrs George died as she would have wished, working,” her obituary in the Advertiser read.  “No woman – or man – put so much into public work as she did.  Her whole life was bound up in it.”

Civic Offices pictured today

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Town Centre Regeneration and Slum Clearance

In 1952 Swindon embarked upon an ambitious programme of expansion. One of the objectives was to encourage London based industries to relocate and thereby revitalise a town too dependent on a declining railway industry.

As central government made an attempt to tackle the chronic housing shortage in the post war capital, country towns were given incentives to develop and expand. But Swindon had first to address a few pressing housing problems of its own.

A memorandum from the Medical Officer of Health to the Town Clerk dated September 11, 1951 confirmed that Swindon had '138 sub-standard dwelling houses.' Some were considered to be 'in such a condition as to be a potential danger to life and limb, or to the health of the occupants'.

The state of Swindon' housing was already causing concern in the 1930s. Wilfred Moss with his wife and daughter lived in a bungalow at Lower Walcot Farm, described as having four small rooms with timber partitions, two of which had insufficient light and ventilation. There was no water supply and the corrugated iron roof let in rain.

The family was eventually rehoused and the building threatened with demolition however W.G. Partridge, dairy farmer and Goddard estate tenant said he would 'probably use it for a cattle food store.'

But it was not only the private landlords who needed to get their house in order. In 1947 eight Corporation owned properties in Byron Street racked up a long list of defects. Structural work such as attention to brickwork and roof repairs, along with the replacement of joists and floorboards, ill fitting windows with broken glass and defective ceiling plaster came in at an estimated £962 (more than £27,000 today) and this would only raise the accommodation to 'reasonably fit for human habitation.'

One tenant, fed up with trying to get results from her landlord, took her complaints to the Right Honourable T. Reid, Labour MP for Swindon in 1949.

Built around 1900 the houses in Beatrice Street were obviously in need of some renovation and Mrs Stevens living at number 129 described her house as being 'not damp but wet from top to bottom.'

'I pay 19/6 (97p about £85 today) per week for this place yet I can get nothing done. I am turning to you as my last hope,' she wrote. Her daughter lived with her and was shortly expecting a baby. 'I do not know what to do about bringing a new born baby here,' Mrs Stevens said.

The complaint was referred back to Swindon's Medical Officer of Health. The District Sanitary Inspector, who had previously been unable to gain access to the property, made an inspection and sent the owner a notice of essential repairs.

In June 1945 the local housing waiting list stood at 1,100. By 1947 the figure had risen to 3,685.

In 1951 construction work began on 200 acres at Stratton Cross Roads, When completed in mid 1955 the Penhill estate comprised 1,500 homes as work began on three neighbourhoods in the Walcot area. Park North, Park South and Walcot were completed in the early 1960s, each comprising between 1,500 - 1,950 new homes.

Commercial Road

Farnsby Street

Byron Street

Photographs taken during another town regeneration scheme - 1957 Byron Street 1957 Commercial Road and 1964 Farnsby Street see these and others on

Latest news on Lydiard Park

On June 25, 2016 the recently created Lydiard Park Heritage Trust announced the names of the inaugural trustees.

Mike Bowden (Chair) - Former FTSE 100 Managing Director and Company Secretary and currently CEO Swindon Speedway

Per-Axel Warensjo (Vice-Chair) – Former Finance and HR Director within the technology sector and currently a local Parish chairman and CFO of Swindon Speedway.

Kevin Fisher - Swindon resident for 54 years, electronics engineer background and former employee of a multinational technology company where he held various European level management roles. Currently chair of the Shaw Residents' Association

Sarah Finch Crisp - Former Director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and previously Head of Heritage at Swindon Borough Council and led The Lydiard Park Restoration Project

Richard Howroyd - Chartered Accountant and procurement professional with significant public/private sector experience. He has lived in Swindon for over 15 years. He is currently Head of Strategic Procurement & Commissioning for local authority which is world renowned for its heritage expertise.

Gary Bond - Managing Director of McArthurGlen responsible for the development of retail space across Europe and Canada. Before that he was responsible for the Swindon Railway works redevelopment (one of the largest regeneration projects in the UK).This role and his work at McArthurGlen has involved extensive work with listed buildings.

Daniel Rose - Leads market research for the National Trust and is actively involved in Swindon's voluntary and community sector where he has been the vice chair of Voluntary Action Swindon, chair of Swindon Youth Partnership and has led many local heritage and culture related projects. Currently he is chair of The Mechanics' Institution Trust and sits on the Swindon Heritage board.

Mike Bowden said: 'We are in discussions with a number of people including Lydiard staff and members of various local organisations ( particularly schools, charities community groups and businesses) with a view to appointing additional trustees over the summer.

If any of our supporters would like to express an interest in becoming a trustee please leave a comment to that effect on the petition.

As ever my continued thanks for your outstanding support'

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park is open to visitors this afternoon where the magnificent St John polyptych will be on display.

I will be continuing my series of guided churchyard walks (hopefully the rain will hold off) between 2 and 4.30 pm. 

The St John polyptych

Reused headstone, mason's mark or elegant graffiti?

Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham, second wife of Sir John St John

William and Catherine Kinchin - photograph published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

Friday, June 24, 2016

Henry Fox Townsend

Swindon solicitor Henry Fox Townsend was feeling as fit as a fiddle when he boarded the 3pm train for Paddington on Thursday December 13, 1894.

The purpose of his London visit was to bid farewell to his brother Charles, a tea planter, who was returning to India the following day.

The brothers had a table booked at the Holborn Restaurant on the Friday but Charles was to report that Henry failed to turn up.

'Upon the arrival of the train at Paddington it was noticed by one of the railway officials that Mr. Townsend was in an insensible condition, apparently suffering from a fit,' reported the Swindon Advertiser. 'He was at once removed and conveyed to St. Mary's Hospital, where he died shortly afterwards without regaining consciousness.

His death at the early age of 34 shocked all who knew him. His friends told how he had recently purchased a property called the Firs in Wroughton where he intended 'settling down and enjoying what appeared to be, in all probability, a long and prosperous career.'

The following week the Advertiser reported on the verdict of the inquest where coroner Dr. Danford Thomas heard how railway porter William Lovesey found Townsend lying on his face on the floor of one of the compartments.

Dr. Poynton told how Townsend was 'unconscious and breathing stertorously' upon arrival at St. Mary's Hospital. "Both pupils had become dilated and the unfortunate gentleman remained insensible till his death, which took place at a quarter past nine the same evening.'

'A post mortem examination showed that the cause of death was compression of the brain, the result of an apoplectic seizure,' continued the report.

The funeral took place the following Tuesday with the coffin covered in wreaths, and carried on a hand bier the short distance from Townsend's offices at 42 Cricklade Street to the parish church.

Chief mourners were the deceased's sister Annie Louise and brothers Southcote and Charles. Others present included Ambrose Goddard and his son Capt. Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard, Henry's partner Edward Tudor Jones and rival solicitors Henry Kinneir and his son Walter.

Among the many wreaths was one with the sad message 'From his mother with tender love and unutterable sorrow.'

Unbelievably Annie Townsend had lost her husband James Copleston Townsend in identical circumstances when returning from London on the evening of March 26, 1885, he was 'noticed to totter and fall' as he alighted from the train.

He was carried to the Refreshment Rooms and then to one of the bedrooms, where he momentarily regained consciousness but died at around 10 pm.

A fallen cross on a pink granite plinth marks the grave of father and son in the churchyard at Christ Church.

photograph courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball see

Monday, June 20, 2016

William Dore

Continuing the story of the Dore family ...

The local firm of auctioneers was central to commercial enterprise in any 19th century town and in Swindon one family dominated the scene.

The death of William Dore on July 12, 1877 saw the end of a family business spanning nearly 100 years and three generations. "An instance of the transference of business from father to son in direct succession rarely equalled," the Swindon Advertiser noted in an obituary to the third William Dore.

The Dore 18th century family roots were in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze. William Dore, the first in the auctioneering dynasty was Lord Bolingbroke's tenant and paid rates on Wick Farm and additional land called Prinnels, Blacklands and Greendown between 1806 and his death in 1815.

Baptised at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze in 1749, the son of Peter and Jone Dore, William married local girl Sarah Hedges.

William fulfilled his parish responsibilities as tenant and rate payer, and clocked up an impressive 13 years service as churchwarden with Jacob Matthews of Toothill, retiring in 1812, possibly due to ill health or just a general infirmity.

In addition to heading the thriving auction business inherited from his father, the second William Dore established a printing works, initially for his own requirements but which later produced an annual Almanack.

But it would be his son, also born in Lydiard Tregoze, who took the family business to new heights.

With the arrival of the GWR and a building boom in New Swindon, the family business flourished with livestock sales remaining central to the business.

Dore began holding cattle sales in a private yard by the Queen's Hotel close to New Swindon station. Increased trade saw him move first to a temporary yard in Lower Town before buying a two acre site which the Advertiser described as "one of the most complete and efficient sale yards of the kind in the west of England."

The opening of the new yard in 1873 was marked by a public luncheon where William Dore was presented with a golden auctioneer's hammer. He told how the wooden hammer he used in his daily work had been first used by his grandfather and passed to him by his father.

In a town once famed for its swine, Dore's new market specialised in the sale of sheep. Today a statue of a ram marks the former market site on Marlborough Road.

In 1875, just two years before his death, the sales at Dore's yard had become a weekly event and totally eclipsed the old High Street market.

Described as 'a man of retiring habits' William Dore had suffered from heart disease for a number of years but had continued to wield his hammer, and a year before his death had entered into a new partnership with Henry Smith. The firm survived into the 20th century as Dore, Field and Co.

images - Wick Farm, home to the Dore family and statue on the site of the former market on Marlborough Road, Swindon.

St Mary's churchyard, Lydiard Park

A busy day at St Mary's yesterday. Lovely new contacts made and a request from the stewards in the church for a guided churchyard walk.

Here are photographs of some of the graves we visited.

Next guided churchyard walk takes place Sunday June 26.

Jonas Clark from Wick Farm

Henry and Rebecca Rudler from Banner's Ash Farm

Delicate detail on this tabletop memorial

Mary Ody 

Intricate detail

Says it all 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Radnor Street Cemetery, Essie Fox and all things Victorian

Yesterday Radnor Street Cemetery resembled something straight out of a Victorian novel. Gravestones crouched half hidden among the grasses as wild flowers sprung out of once lovingly tended plots where far flung families seldom visit. 

It was wild, beautiful and with an air of abandonment, and for a moment I was lost in the world of Essie Fox, writer of dark haunting Gothic stories. Her debut novel, The Somnambulist, takes it's title from a painting by Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais and was chosen by Channel 4's TV Book Club as one of the best reads of 2012. Essie followed this with Elijah's Mermaid, a sinister tale that begins with the story of Pearl - a web-toed child who is found half drowned and floating in the Thames one night.  Her third novel, The Goddess and the Thief, is an exotic and sensual tale of theft, obsession and 'other worlds'  Visit The Virtual Victorian, and read about Essie's inspiration for her work, which is what I was doing before my cemetery visit.

Armed with my cemetery map and camera I made a visit yesterday to take some photographs for the GWR themed walks I am researching, but it proved impossible to find the last two graves on my list. I knew roughly where they were but I felt a bit like the non swimmer I am paddling out to sea. Dare I go a few more steps or should I turn back?

Radnor Street Cemetery is caught in the dilemma of conservation area versus cemetery and all the responsibilities that go with its historical worth. There are 33,000 burials in the cemetery, each one with a story that tells the history of Swindon. The cemetery only receives four comprehensive grass cuts a year due to this conservation status but the good news is that it is due one fairly soon and will be neat and tidy for our Swindon Heritage History Day on July 10.

Meanwhile, the churchyard at St Mary's, Lydiard Park is trim and easily navigable, so why not join me there this afternoon, June 19 from 2-4.30 for a guided walk. 

The Somnambulist by Sir John Everett Millais

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rudler family

Join me on a guided churchyard walk at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park this Sunday, June 19 between 2-4.30 pm.

You'll find several memorials to the Rudler family in the churchyard at St Mary's and it is most likely they are all related.

The first time the name appears in the burial registers is when Richard and Anne, the son and daughter of Richard Rudler, were buried on December 16, 1679.

More than a hundred years later John York Rudler married Ann Lock (sometimes called Lockey) in the same church on March 14, 1794. Their seven sons were christened at the 13th century font, where baptisms take place to this very day.

Two of the Rudler brothers are buried in the churchyard. Richard was innkeeper at the Prince of Wales Inn, Coped Hall Road for many years. He died on January 12, 1875 and shares an elaborate tabletop tomb with other Rudler relatives.

Henry, his younger brother, died at Banner's Ash Farm on October 9, 1884. His less elaborate headstone contains a lot of family history, which still takes a bit of working out, but revealed that Henry's first and second wives were sisters.

If, like me, you enjoy reading headstones you probably like reading wills as well. Here are a few excerpts from Ann's will.

This is the last Will and Testament of me Ann Rudler of Liddiard Tregooze in the County of Wilts Widow Whereas Thomas Lockey father of the said Ann Rudler Widow Formerly of Liddiard Tregooze aforesaid in and by his last Will and Testament bearing date on or about the second day of January one thousand eight hundred and five gave devised and bequeathed his whole fortune of money plate jewels goods chattels stocks funds securities and all other his personal estate whatsoever unto Gabriel Hollister and Ralph Broome their executors and administrators In trust that they or the survivor of them his executors administrators or assigns should convert such parts as did not consist of money or securities for money into money and invest the same upon Parliamentary or real securities or in the purchase of stock in the public funds and yearly pay the interest dividends and produce thereof to his daughter the said Ann Rudler then the wife of John York Rudler during her life for her own sole and separate use And from and after her decease in trust to pay his said personal estate or assign or transfer the stocks and securities in which the same should be then invested to and amongst all or any more or one of her children of the said John York Rudler on the body of the said Ann Rudler his wife ...

..... do by this my last Will and Testament in writing by me signed and published in the presence of and attested by the two credible persons whose name s are hereunder written as witnesses hereto direct limit and appoint that now and after my decease the said personal estate so bequeathed by the Will of the said Thomas Lockey deceased and the stocks funds or securities in which the same may be invested shall go remain and be and I hereby give and bequeath the same unto my four sons Richard Charles Henry and Cornelius equally to be divided between them share and share alike I give and devise All that my moiety or equal half part of and in All that freehold meadow ground called Lambourn Ground situate in the parish of Minety in the County of Gloucester (the entirety of which was devised to me and John Rudler Sheldon as tenants in common by the Will of Margaret Rudler deceased and all other my real estate whatsoever and wheresoever unto my friend William Priddy of Spittleborough Farm in the parish of Liddiard Tregooze aforesaid Farmer and Francis Templer of Purton in the said Count of Wilts yeoman To hold to them the said William Priddy and Francis Templer their heirs and assigns nevertheless upon the trusts hereinafter declared concerning the same (that is to say) Upon trust with all convenient speed after my decease to make sale and absolutely dispose of the said hereditaments and premises either together or in parcels and by Public or Private sale and to convey and assure the same unto the purchaser or purchasers thereof or as he she or they shall direct and to receive the monies arising from the sale or sales thereof and give effectual discharges for the same ….

.....And in the next place to pay unto all and every the children of my deceased son William who may be living at my decease the sum of ninety pounds to be divided amongst them share and share alike and if but one such children to such child wholly Also to pay to Sophia Rudler the widow of my said deceased son William the sum of ten pounds Also to pay to Thomas Hall of Hook in the parish of Liddiard Tregooze aforesaid labourer the sum of twenty pounds

This is a Codicil to the last Will and Testament of me Ann Rudler of Liddiard Tregooze in the County of Wilts Widow Whereas by my said last Will and Testatment in writing bearing date the fifteenth day of September one thousand eight hundred and forty six I have devised and bequeathed All my real and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever unto William Priddy of Spittleborough Farm in the parish of Liddiard Tregooze aforesaid farmer and Francis Templer of Purton in the said County of Wilts Yeoman Upon trust to make sale and dispose of my said real estate and such part of my said personal estate as should not consist of money or securities for money and to collect get in and receive the remaining parts of my said personal estate And I have thereby declared my Will to be that the said William Priddy and Francis Templer and the survivor of them his executors or administrators should stand possessed of as well the monies to arise from my said personal estate as the monies to be produced by the sale of my said real estate Upon trust after payment of my just debts funeral and testamentary expenses and the expense incidental to the trust thereby related to pay unto all and every the children of my deceased son William who might be living at my decease the sum of ninety pounds to be divided amongst them share and share alike And also to pay to Sophia Rudler the Widow of my said deceased son the sum of ten pounds and upon certain other trusts in my said Will particularly mentioned Now I do hereby revoke the trust and bequest of ten pounds to the said Sophia Rudler contained in my last Will and Testament And I do hereby direct that the said William Priddy and Francis Templer and the survivor of them his executors and administrators shall and do pay out to the said trust funds and premises a further sum of ten pounds to the said children of my deceased son William to be divided amongst them share and share alike And I do hereby bequeath the same sum of ten pounds to them accordingly And in every other respect I hereby confirm my said last Will and Testament In witness whereof I the said Ann Rudler have hereunto set my hand and seal this twenty sixth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty eight – The Mark and Seal of Ann Rudler X Signed sealed published and declared by the said Ann Rudler as and for a Codicil to her last Will and Testament in the presence of us present at the same time who at her request in her presence and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses – Francis Wiltshire Wootton Bassett E. Dodd Clerk to Messr Pratt Solicitor Wootton Bassett

Proved at London with a Codicil 28th January 1851 before the Judge by the oaths of William Priddy and Francis Templer the Executors to whom Admion was granted having been first sworn by Comon duly to administer

Richard Rudler - Ann's second son

Henry Rudler - Ann's youngest son

Prince of Wales Inn, Coped Hall - home to various members of the Rudler family
The 13th century font (photograph courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball)

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Pitt Family - a life in service.

Guided churchyard walk takes place this Sunday, June 26 at St Mary's, Lydiard Park between 2-4.30 pm.

Today few occupations can guarantee a job for life but in the 19th century it was quite different. In 1871 there were 1.4 million women in domestic service - 6.5% of the total population.

One in three girls between the ages of 15-20 worked as kitchen maids and housemaids - and one record breaking Swindon family notched up an incredible combined service of over 160 years extending across three generations.

In 1818 James and Elizabeth Pitt moved to their new home, one of three stone built tied cottages in Mannington Lane close to the area marked by today's road sign. An agricultural labourer, James was first employed by tenant farmer Richard Dore King at Mannington Farm and later by Richard Strange who in 1835 signed a 12-year lease on the 237-acre farm.

The couple had five daughters, Eliza, Leah, Jane, Mary Ann and Martha, all baptised at St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze and of whom four were destined for employment at Mannington Farm.

Eldest daughter Eliza worked as a 'house servant' for over 24 years. In the 1860s the going rate for a housemaid was £14 per year, all found, the hours were long and the work hard. But as Mrs. Beeton, that doyenne of household management, advised her readers: "A bustling and active girl will always find time to do a little needlework for herself..."

Eliza's sister Leah served the family for just two years due to her untimely death at the age of just 18. She died on October 26, 1841 in Cricklade where she was then working in service.  The cause of her death was given as 'Visitation of God.'

Third daughter Jane put in an impressive 24 years service at Mannington Farm.  She began work in 1839, first as a house servant then after her marriage to groom Thomas Osman in 1859, as a dairymaid.  Fourth daughter Martha also began her working life as a house servant at Mannington. However by 1871 she had been promoted to Lady's Maid to Richard Strange's daughter Julia.

Elizabeth Pitt died in 1871 and her husband James in 1882.  An elaborate and expensive memorial, probably erected by their appreciative employer, marks their grave in the churchyard at St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze.

Julia took over the running of the farm after her father's death and by 1891 there was a whole host of Pitt descendants employed in the household, including Martha aged 52 and Jane Osman's two daughters, 21 year old Julia who is a housemaid and Louisa 28, cook. The Mannington Farm tenancy changed hands in the late 1890s ending over seventy years of Pitt/Osman family service to the Strange family.

Today the elegant 18th century farmhouse the Pitt girls cleaned and polished has been converted into flats and a bus lane passes by where the family cottage once stood.

James and Elizabeth Pitt's headstone at St Mary's, Lydiard Park

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The daddy of them all

Sir John St John and I will be celebrating Father's Day at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park. Sir John commemorated his father with a stonking great memorial commissioned in 1615 and on Sunday you will be able to see it in all its glory.

The outer panels show the illustrious St John family history, opening to reveal a family portrait of Sir John, his wife Anne Leighton, his six sisters and, kneeling on a sarcophagus, his parents Lucy and John St John.

John Snr was born in 1552 and it was he who received Queen Elizabeth, his kinswoman, at an older version of Lydiard House, and earned a knighthood for his troubles.

Elizabeth St John, a modern day kinswoman descended from the senior Bletsoe branch of the St John family, gives us a glimpse of the life and times of Lucy St John, the youngest of the pictured six sisters, in her historical novel The Lady of the Tower available online through Amazon.

On Sunday, June 19 I will be taking a walk around the churchyard, telling the stories of a few other fathers remembered there. And for me, of course, the daddy of them all is Noah Ody.

The burial registers for St Mary's survive from 1666 and the first Ody burial is that of Richard Ody buried on February 21, 1749.

Noah was the son of George Pike Ody and his wife Mary, and was baptised with his sister Ann at St Mary's on November 14, 1790.

Noah married Sarah Clark at Brinkworth parish church on November 25, 1811 and the couple went on to have twelve children. Their sons became farmers and their daughters married farmers and this large family populated most of the local farms.

On the south side of the church stands a tilted, lichen covered headstone to Noah and Sarah, although whether Noah is actually buried their remains a mystery as there is no mention of his burial in the parish registers. His mother Mary Ody and his father George Ody are buried close by.

The church will be open from 2-4.30 pm with Strawberry Teas available at the Stable Room. Come and join Sir John and I as we celebrate Father's Day on June 19.

The St John polyptych

Elizabeth St John

Mary Ody

George Ody photograph published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

Noah and Sarah Ody photograph published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball