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


  1. Many thanks again for a great evening out Frances.


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