Monday, July 4, 2016

Radnor Street Cemetery - a coppice ground formerly called Wibley's

The land at Kingshill, which later became the site of Radnor Street Cemetery, once belonged to James Bradford and appears on the Tithe Map details of 1840.

It is described as a coppice ground formerly called Wibley’s but later known as Howses Coppice. A coppice ground is an area of woodland where the trees are cut down close to ground level the resulting growth was then used to make hurdles, in wattle and daub house building and also to make charcoal.

James Bradford was a solicitor who lived and worked at a property in the High Street close to what was then The King of Prussia public house. He married into the Goddard family. His wife’s name was Annica Werden Goddard and she came from a branch of the family living in Cliffe Pypard.

James died in August 1861 and the following year Annica sold this 4 acre plus plot of land to John Harding Sheppard for £559 14s.

John Harding Sheppard owned most of the land on Kingshill. He was a farmer and a brewer and he also owned Kingshill Villa and various other properties across Swindon.

Sheppard died in 1868 which is when a lot of the Kingshill land came up for sale and development began. But for some reason the land seemed to be unpopular and sales took place periodically throughout the 1870s.

In 1871 the executors of Sheppard’s will – his sons John Harding Sheppard (jnr) and William Sheppard sold Howses Coppice by then described as a Close of land, to James Edward Goddard Bradford, so it came back into the Bradford family’s possession.

Then in 1878 James Edward Goddard Bradford sold Howses Coppice to James Hinton. If you compare maps of the piece of land Hinton bought with a map of the cemetery today it looks a very similar shape although considerably smaller in 1878 than when the cemetery was laid out three years later.

Now I’d always been led to believe James Hinton was a bit of a wheeler and dealer. In his time he was a butcher, an auctioneer, a builder and brick maker, a railway entrepreneur, a Freemason and Forester, New Swindon Local Board member, Alderman and Mayor of Swindon in 1903.  In 1878 James Hinton paid almost £1,900 pounds for the 4 acre + Howses Coppice Ground.

With this land James gained ‘right of ingress egress and regress at all times with or without horses carts and carriages’. This means he had right of way across this piece of land and as he was by then engaged in building at various plots across Kingshill that must have made life much easier for him.

Hinton obviously bought a further 6 acres plus around the Coppice Ground as when he offered the land for sale at £3,907 to the Burial Board it measured 10 acres plus.

My foray into the records yielded yet more information. I found details of a stone wall built in 1890 to protect the bank at the rear of Nos 30-38 Clifton Street. You can’t help but wonder if building a cemetery on the side of a hill was a good idea?

I also found plans dated 1907 to extend the existing greenhouses at the back of the Lodge.

On early photographs of the cemetery you will see flowers under a glass dome on many of the graves. Maybe these were produced in-house by the cemetery staff in the greenhouses.

It took a long time for the Local Boards of Old and New Swindon to come to an agreement on where to site a municipal cemetery. Talks began in 1868 but the cemetery wasn’t laid out until 1881.

The contract for laying out the cemetery and completing the necessary buildings went to Messrs Phillips, Powell and Wiltshire.

The architect was W.H. Read who designed the buildings, that is the Chapel, the mortuary and the Lodge, in the popular Gothic revivalist style. He is buried here with his wife so he must have liked what they did with the place.

The churchyard at St Mark’s closed on August 1st 1881 and the first burials at Radnor Street took place on August 6.

The cemetery closed to new burials in the 1970s but burials still take place in family plots.

There are 33,000 people buried here – and members of the Swindon Heritage team are telling their stories one at a time!

Conveyance dated November 6, 1871 between John Harding Sheppard of Stoke, William Sheppard of Ashford to J.E.G. Bradford

Plans for new greenhouse at cemetery
William Hooper photograph published courtesy of Paul Williams

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