Sunday, August 13, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery Walk

Fantastic turnout for our guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery on Sunday - 50 people! With the grass almost as high as an elephant's eye we kept mainly to the paths. Andy had three new stories to tell, including that of Town Crier John Hiscock, a direct ancestor of one of his best mates.
We look forward to seeing you all next month, September 10, when we are joining forces with the folks from Eastcott Community Organisation during the Open Heritage Days with an Eastcott centric walk followed by tea and cakes at the Savernake Street Social Hall.
Thank you to everyone who joined us today, and especially to the person who bought a copy of my book!

Someone enjoying a bird's eye view

Friday, August 11, 2017

Join the Cemetery Club

Andy and I will be conducting a guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery this Sunday, August 13, meet at the Chapel for 2 pm. We both have some cracking new stories to bring to the party, plus a couple of favourites I have told before, but I can confidently predict, neither of us will be singing.


Can I recommend that you check in with the Cemetery Club co founded in 2013 by Sheldon Goodman and Christina Owen? Today the blogposts and guided cemetery walks are more often led by Sheldon and Sam Perrin (read more about them and other contributors here). Sheldon and Sam’s stomping ground includes the Magnificent Seven London cemeteries, although you’re likely to find them practically anywhere.

So, what’s all this about singing? 

On a guided walk in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park made in December 2016 Sheldon introduced Cemetery Club followers to Alec Hurley, the second husband of Marie Lloyd and, well sang. (Visit the Cemetery Club facebook page and scroll down to 10 December - Cockney singalong).

We have discovered some interesting characters in Radnor Street, but so far, no lyricists although one of our monuments has starred in a video. The Miles family guardian angel monument featured in an XTC music video to accompany their song ‘In Loving Memory of a Name’ filmed in the cemetery in the 1980s.

If you would like to know more about this and a few other stories you might like to read my e book Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum.

My thanks go to Sheldon who first coined the phrase ‘a people’s museum’ the perfect description of a cemetery. I hope he’ll forgive me for borrowing his words (and without permission). I did explain that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Cemetery Club publishes new blogposts every Monday. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

And don’t forget our walk on Sunday, August 13.

The Miles family monument

XTC - back in the day!

William Hooper view of the cemetery published courtesy of Paul Williams

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum

Written for Radnor Street Cemetery followers and anyone who has an interest in the history of cemeteries and the people who lie in them, this e book is available now via Amazon.

Howses Coppice and Swindon’s Cemetery
We Will Remember Them
Funeral Fashions
James Hinton – Entrepreneur
Henry Smith – Planter
Albert Edward Wentworth and Matthew Henry Bissell
Levi Lapper Morse – Mr Retail
Herbert Marfleet
Esther Swinford – Murdered in the Ship Hotel
Horder Bros – Drapers, Milliners, Mantle Makers and Costumiers
George and Elizabeth House – Social Workers
Charles Haggard – Prisoner of War
Edith Gay Little
William Chambers – builder and funeral director
George and Emma Alley and their seven amazing daughters
Alfred and George Birks
Arthur Joseph Rye – Ironmonger
Elia Isaac Webb – Sign Writer and Artist
Frederick Charles and Marcia Kiddle
James (Raggy) Powell – one of nature’s princes
James Fairbairn – Engine Erector
Plot B2899
Frederick Gee – Plate Layer
Doreen Ind
Charles Normandale and Alfred Hughes – Brothers in Arms
George and Mary Hemsley – a co-operative family
Elizabeth Ann Jefferies – first wife
George Boucher
Harold Morley Starr – Battle of Britain hero
George Adams – Master Pawnbroker
The Butlin family
Celia Morkot – first woman employed in the Swindon Railway Works
Martha Hale
Richard Strange – farmer
Little Freddy Whitby
Samuel Limmex – Ironmonger
James William Price
Joah and Albert Sykes – first settlers in Swindon
James Shopland – another Swindon hero
Robert Laxon – coppersmith
Jason Johnson – homegrown railwayman
Ellis Herbert Pritchett – architect
Charles and William Bond
Charlotte Wilsdon (Andrews) Crimean Nurse
Chiseldon Camp Disaster
William and Henry Wall
William Henry and Susannah Read
William James Pitt
Frederick O’Conor – Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute Council
Friday Frederick Roberts
William Miles and the XTC Angel
Samuel Chappell – Minister of the Gospel
William Dorling Bavin – Swindon’s War Record
Reuben George – forgotten political hero
Stanley William Ashton – Pilot Officer
Thomas and Susannah Hughes
Walter William Palmer
Thomas Trafford Shipman
Samuel Carlton – Manager of the Locomotive Department
William Medcalf Packer – unfit to serve
William Graham Little – generous benefactor
Preater family – the sacrifice
Richard James Leighfield – builder
James Henry Thomas
William and Georgiana Ormond
Lost Memorials -

'But now it is time to come for a walk with me. The best time to appreciate the beauty of Radnor Street Cemetery is to take a gentle walk in early Spring when the snowdrops spear the cold earth and the view across Swindon is visible through the bare trees.

But come again in early summer when Forget Me Knots and Morning Glory appear and Bluebells peek above the invading horsetail grass. Animal tracks weave through the gravestones and magpies chatter and scream as squirrels jump from tree to tree.

In Autumn the cemetery palette is yellow and red and gold and as the season ends leaves are tugged from the trees and the wind soughs through the creaking branches.

November mist and December frost and occasionally a fall of snow in January complete the changing cemetery panorama.

So, come, take a virtual walk among the memorials of Radnor Street Cemetery with me as your guide. I shall don my raincoat and carry an umbrella as the weather forecast is not good, but you can put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and join me from the comfort of your home.'

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TRIP - a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture

As Swindon schools prepare to begin the summer holiday at the end of this week, the debate continues about the validity of a long six week break at the end of the school year.

The tradition harks back to our agricultural past when children were required to work in the fields, earning a much needed additional income for their family. Today things are a little different and the long summer break is said by some educationalists to disadvantage children and set back their learning. School holidays are an expensive time to travel but parents potentially face fines for taking their children out of school during term time. Perhaps there is an argument for readjusting how we do things.

While firms such as Honda still shut down for a fixed number of holidays across the year, nothing compares to TRIP when the mighty railway works closed for its annual break.

'Swindon changed its ways and adapted itself to accommodate TRIP, so significant was it for the town's economy and social well being. The council called special meetings, the shopkeepers changed their half day closing, the local paper even closed its offices and did not print an edition on TRIP day, the schools started summer holidays early, local employers adapted their holiday arrangements in keeping with TRIP. The impact on the town was huge', Rosa Matheson writes in her book TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works.

The origin of TRIP began in 1848 when some 500 men, women and children enjoyed a day trip to Oxford where they were escorted on a tour of the colleges and other places of interest by members of the British Association.

By 1892 TRIP had evolved into a nine day unpaid break, beginning on the first Friday in July. By then the number of men employed in the works was about 10,000 and the population of New Swindon was more than 27,000. In that year 18,248 people took off on their annual holiday. The town emptied.

The Works closed on March 26, 1986 bringing the end of an era. 'The Great Western Railway Co., Swindon Works and TRIP are a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture,' writes Rosa. 'While they are gone, they still live on in the memories of Swindonians, especially in the hearts of ex-Works railway families.'

Rosa's book is a treasure trove of memories and family photographs from another age and is packed full of fascinating facts and figures.

TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus.

Photographs courtesy of William Hooper and Local Studies, Swindon Central Library.

Friday, July 14, 2017

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 Social 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 into a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney

"A struggle 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 almost 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 Victoria 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 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Honest John Arkell

Are you still reeling from the result of last week's General Election? Does the thought of doing it all again in a few months time fill you with despair. As Brenda from Bristol famously said: "Not another one!"

How privileged we are in this country to have the vote and how sad that for so many it has become a burden. Can't be bothered, it doesn't make any difference, they all say one thing and do something different when they are elected. We've all heard these comments, possibly even uttered them ourselves.

In 1849 John Arkell, founder of the Kingsdown brewery, was writing to the local papers with some very modern and interesting ideas. He supported universal suffrage, although it is not clear whether he included votes for women in this recommendation, and a fairer society. His arguments resonate today, 168 years later.

To the Editor of the Wiltshire Independent

Sir, - As it appears from a letter in the Devizes Gazette, of Thursday last, dated from Swindon that the time has fairly arrived when some persons can be allowed sufficient space to inform the thinking world how we are going on in this neighbourhood; and as nothing but universal suffrage, or near approaching to it, and an equitable adjustment of all our national burdens, will ever stay the general ruin and confiscation of property which is now going on; I have thought it my duty again to call your particular attention to those facts which I have set before the public in your journal many times before, namely, the extension the suffrage to every householder, and the question of paper money, and how the continual reduction of country bank notes is daily affecting the community who have mortgaged their estates and entered into other monetary engagements.

 As the greater portion of the productive classes will be ruined, and the labouring population reduced to the Irish level, if some speedy means are not adopted to remedy the most strange and destructive anomalies which appear to be growing into existence throughout England, namely, the rapid accumulation of property in the hands of a few, and the great and unheard of poverty on the part of the many; and until we shall have found a complete remedy, or rather till the mass of the people will take the trouble to inquire into the great national swindle which has been, and is still be carried on against them; no positive and last good whatever can come to the industrious and productive classes ...
... At the same time, as the minds of Wiltshire Farmers and tradesmen have been roused to action more than those of many other counties, I see no reason why many of them, or at least those who are not so foolish as still to look after protection, should not join the movement which has been commenced with so much vigour in London and elsewhere, by the “Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association,” a branch of which is now in existence at New Swindon. 

Neither do I see any reason at all why the farm labourers and country tradesmen should not join the Association, even if the farmers refuse to lead them on; for I am well persuaded that since the major part of the farmers have agreed to discontinue all improvements during the coming winter, and turn away all the men they can possibly do without, so as to fill the poor-houses and create poverty amongst the people generally, for the purpose or showing their landlords and the legislature that we cannot go on under the present system and without protect on; the only hope which the tradesmen and labourers have of salvation lie in Parliamentary and Financial Reform.

And as the London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham Reformers have joined hand in hand, and are about to send deputies into the country, for the purpose of enlightening the working classes respecting the corruption of our present system of representation and public finance, what can we do better than to leave all minor disputes amongst ourselves, and advocate Parliamentary and Financial Reform as the thing wanting to make us a more contented and happy people, a truly rich and powerful nation.

Who knows but that when the farmers see that if they and their interest are to be represented and saved, it must be by those persons who represent the people, they will think it much better to trust to such men as Messrs Williams and Gladstone, and the working millions, than in rich landlords and political factions, who interest appears to be in misleading and deceiving still further those whom they ought to have protected. Even the pride of the proprietors of East India stock was greatly subdued, when they found that if they refused the assistance of such men as Sir Charles Napier any longer India would be lost to them. The same by the Great Western proprietors and the Messrs Williams and Gladstone; and the same it will be, no doubt, between the farmers and those who have been trying to open their eyes to their present situation. – Hoping by throwing out these few hints I have not trespassed too long upon your patience.

I remain, your humble servant,
John Arkell,
Kingsdown, near Swindon, Sept. 24, 1849

When John died in 1881 the Swindon Advertiser described him as a Radical Reformer, 'honest, outspoken, independent.'

John Arkell

Kingsdown brewery pictured in the 1930s

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Garden for All Seasons

Are you gardening on a budget? Apparently so was Sir John St. John married to wealthy heiress Anne Furnese, when he transformed the gardens at Lydiard Park in 1743.

Sir John had the 17th century formal gardens tended by his grandmother torn up in the name of changing garden fashions for a romantic, more natural looking landscape. It was out with the old and in with the new and the formal fruit and flower garden was relocated to the back of the house.

Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter was a keen gardener. Letters written from her home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard indicate how involved she was with the planting and development of the garden.

I bid richard brown send down some slips of the austrian rose if he hath sent them set them betwen the lawrel tre in the court if ther be any that stand far enough asunder...

Another letter to Hardyman gives instructions for Rudler, the gardener regarding a consignment of send him a noat of the number and how to use them but the seed must not be s[own] till next yere tell him he must not brag to much least he lose them and tel him I would have all the white and yelow crowns planted in the outward garden as wel as thos that are turned plaine red or yalow or white bid him also save some of his white stock seed for us...

The walled garden has been central to the ambitious restoration project at Lydiard Park, championed by former keeper of the house Sarah Finch-Crisp.

The garden is surprisingly large with an area measuring 4,500 square metres. It's an odd shape too, a parallelogram. The northeastern wall is taller than the others to offer better protection against winter winds. While three of the corners are angled, the fourth is rounded. It has been suggested that a curved bench was probably positioned there to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in 2004 ahead of the four-year restoration programme. Among the finds made was evidence of ornamental garden features and a well with a stone cistern.

Over 300 years later, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St. John have contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Gardeners in charge of the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants, which would have been popular in St. John's day.

In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Today they are a tad cheaper, good news for gardeners working to a budget.

Apple blossom time in the Walled Garden April, 2017

Photographs by Frances Bevan and  Leah Bevan-Haines

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