Friday, April 14, 2017

What would Swindon's early railway settlers say?

Yesterday evening I attended a very interesting meeting chaired by Robert Buckland MP for Swindon South.

The purpose of the meeting was twofold – to discuss how to better protect and use buildings central to Swindon’s heritage and the subject of the new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Those present spoke with passion, although it has to be said, sometimes without good manners or respect for opposing views.

The new museum and art gallery is planned for a large, empty site between the magistrate’s court and the Wyvern Theatre in Princes Street, the designated Cultural Quarter of the Council’s regenerated Town Centre. 

Some felt it should be situated in the former Carriage Works on London Street.

So that was the gist of the meeting …

No one questioned that the town needs a new art gallery to better showcase the acclaimed modern art collection, acknowledged as the best outside London. No one doubted that the town needs a new museum to better tell the story of Swindon’s fascinating history, which can be traced back way beyond the railway years, with artefacts and exhibits currently stored in various locations across the town.

No one doubted the impact a new museum and art gallery could have upon the town’s cultural status, drawing in tourists, providing educational opportunities, income etc. It’s all a question of where to put it.

For some it was obvious. Why spend millions on a new build when buildings of national heritage importance are standing empty?

Others asked why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have an all singing all dancing new building and preserve Swindon’s heritage at the same time?

So, what did I take away from the meeting – apart from a headache? I was impressed by the desire to work together expressed by some, but I have to admit I was disappointed at the way others put across their arguments.

Last year we celebrated Swindon175 and the beginning of New Swindon – Old Swindon had been jogging along for many hundreds of years prior to this, thank you very much.

So, a hundred and seventy-five years ago Brunel and Gooch were steaming ahead with the Great Western Railway, buying up land left, right and centre in the name of progress. Some local landowners rebelled and refused to sell to them, but ultimately, they got the job done in the end. Hurray! Where would we be without the railways? No, seriously, where would we be? Life as we know it today owes pretty much everything to the coming of the railways, and New Swindon owes it's very existence to the railways. (Not Old Swindon which had been jogging along ...)

By 1843 building in the Railway Village was well underway and people were arriving in their droves from all over the country – to a town that had a huge railway factory and nothing else. The early settlers were innovators, movers and shakers and they created things and built stuff. They built the Mechanics’ Institute, the Milton Road Baths – new stuff, new builds.

I wonder what they would say today as we argue and debate about a brand-new museum and art gallery? I’m guessing they would probably say ‘go for it.’ But we can’t agree where to put it, we tell them.

I wonder what their advice would be?

published courtesy of Swindon Heritage

published courtesy of Swindon Link 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Can Court

So, what is the history behind Can Court Farm and where should I begin my research?

Last week I came across the grave of Margaret Fanny Willis in the abandoned churchyard at Eysey and traced her husband and sister in law, brother and sister Ernest and Ellen Willis, to Can Court, Lydiard Tregoze.

Now I want to know more about the farm where they grew up, and where best to turn to but the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Reports published annually from 1968 – 2007. These reports are a mine of information to those interested in Lydiard Park and the surrounding area, and the St John family. The Friends are currently digitising the Reports and some of them are available to members through the website. Central Library, Swindon also have a complete bound set available on their shelves in Local Studies.

In Report No. 15 published in 1982, Canon Brian Carne wrote an article about Can Court and some of its owners and occupiers.

The Bradford family were tenant farmers in the parish of Lydiard Tregoz from at least the 1730s when Cornelius and his wife Mary Pontin raised a large family at Can Court. The family continued to farm at Can Court until 1858 when John Ambrose Willis, the father of Ernest and Ellen, took over the tenancy.

The earliest references to Can Court is 1564 when the property was held by Henry Compton as part of his manor of Elcombe in Wroughton.

Subsequent owners included Henry Compton’s son, William Lord Compton; Thomas Hutchings; Thomas Baskerville and Sir John Benet until 1624 when the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Oxford acquired the property.

Canon Carne quotes from the Victoria History of Wiltshire, Vol IX p.30, which provides a description of the property.

“The farmhouse is a tall stone building of four stories dating from the 17th century. There are three rooms to each floor, separated by stud partitions, and a massive oak staircase reaching from basement to attics. The twin-gabled front is flanked by projecting chimneys with tall diagonally set stacks; in the centre is a timber framed porch of two stories with a hipped roof. The stone windows, most of which have survived, have ovolo moulded mullions and are surmounted by relieving arches. The ground floor contains a hall and parlour with a smaller room and the staircase at the rear. Oak panelling in the hall is framed in narrow panels and there is an arcaded overmantle. The unusual plan of the house and the workmanship of its fittings may indicate that it was not designed as an ordinary farmhouse, while its architectural character suggests a building date of c.1650. In front of the house is a small enclosed forecourt. At the entrance to this there is a stone slab on which an inscription was still legible in the later 19th century. It apparently commemorated Cornelius Bradford (d. c.1750). The Bradford family were tenants of Can Court for most of the 18th century before leaving it for Midgehall.”

Can Court survived the 1980s West Swindon development and is separated from its former neighbours at Toothill and Blagrove by the M4.

In 1985 Can Court Farmhouse received a Grade II listing. The description on the British Listed Building Register reads as follows:

Farmhouse, late C16. Coursed limestone with ashlar quoins, stone slated roof. 2-storey, 3 bays; cellar and attics. Central hall with 2-storey porch, flanking reception rooms and rear extension.
Gable stacks with diagonal flues. Elevation: twin steep pitched gables with ball finials. Upper floor windows ovolo moulded stone-mullioned with square labels. Lower windows renewed. Stone
relieving arches. Porch timber framed with moulded jetty bressumers and moulded eaves.
Interior: not seen. Said to have panelling and stair brought from Broad Hinton Manor House.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Abandoned churchyard at Eysey

Last week the Swindon Heritage/Swindon Society team went in search of the abandoned churchyard at Eysey/Eisey. It’s relatively easy to find if you know where to look but it is far off the beaten track for cemetery followers.

The church of St Mary’s dated from the 13th century but was demolished and rebuilt in 1844. The parish registers date from 1571, and end in 1947 so as you can imagine there are a fair few burials in the churchyard. The Victorian church stood empty for several years before it too was demolished. Today there is evidence of the boundary wall and some memorials but the whole area is heavily wooded and overgrown.

And of course, as invariably happens when I start researching, I found a link to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze, although not, this time, the St John family and Lydiard Park, but the Willis farming family.
Amongst the nettles and fallen trees we found two perfectly preserved pink granite memorials both apparently dating from the 1920s and contained in a large family plot.

The inscription on one of the graves reads: In Loving Memory of Nelly, the dearly beloved wife of Henry John Horton who died at Eysey Manor Dec. 5th 1924 aged 55 years. On the other side of the memorial the inscription reads: Also In Loving Memory of Henry John Horton her beloved husband who died Sept 1st 1924 aged 64 years. The third inscription reads: In loving memory of Charles James Horton a loving brother & uncle who passed away Jan. 24th 1947, Aged 79 years.

In the neighbouring grave is a memorial to a mother and son. The inscription reads: In loving memory of Margaret the dearly beloved wife of Ernest Willis who died 24th July 1958. Aged 95 years.

On the opposite side of the memorial was the inscription that would lead me to Lydiard Tregoze.

In Loving Memory of Ernest Willis dearly beloved younger son of Ernest and Margaret Willis late of Can Court Wilts. July 5th 1891 – Feby 17th 1924 He served in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regt. & Royal Air Force throughout the Great War.

The Horton family had nipped back and forth across the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire county borders, farming at various times at the Manor Farm, Inglesham, Wiltshire and Broadway Farm at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire.

The Willis family had moved from Stanford in Berkshire to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze where John Ambrose Willis married farmer’s daughter Harriet Ellison and raised a large family at Can Court Farm, owned by The Masters, Fellows, Scholars of Pembroke College, Oxford.

John Ambrose Willis died in 1886 and is buried in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. His son Ernest took over the tenancy of the farm and in 1889 married Margaret Fanny Horton at Down Ampney parish church where a host of Horton’s are recorded as witnesses at the wedding. That same year Ernest’s sister Ellen Willis married Margaret’s brother Henry John Horton.

On census night in 1891 Ernest and Margaret Willis are recorded at Caln Court with their one year old son Edward Ambrose and Ernest’s brother Henry L. Willis who was visiting with his two children, Sarah and Robert.

Henry John and Ellen Willis are at Costow Farm, a neighbouring property across the parish boundary in Wroughton.

By 1901 the Willis family had moved to Caversham where Ernest worked as a ‘butcher & purveyor’ at 12 Church Street. The family are still living in Caversham at the time of the 1911 census. Ernest and Margaret had been married for 22 years. Still living at home was Edward Ambrose, their eldest son, who worked at a Clerk for the GWR, and their daughter Margaret Louisa. Younger son Ernest is not recorded with the rest of the family.

Ernest senior died the following year. He may be buried in the large family plot in Eisey, perhaps mentioned on the kerbstone that surrounds the two large memorials.

In 1911 Henry John and Ellen were living at Eisey Manor where Ellen (Nelly) died in 1920 and Henry John four years later. Henry John left £43,648 17s 9d with probate granted to his brother Charles James Horton and his three sons Robert Willis Horton, Henry Horton and Charles Horton.

Margaret, meanwhile, moved back to Swindon and a house in Westlecott Road. The son with whom she is buried died at the Sanatorium Linford Hampshire in 1924, most probably from the effects of his military service.

On the eve of the Second World War Margaret was still living at Southwood, Westlecott Road with her bachelor brother Charles J. Horton. Charles died in 1947 and Margaret in 1958 aged 95.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lydiard House and Park - latest news

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Lydiard House and Park ended yesterday when Swindon Borough Council confirmed that the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust was the preferred bidder in the outsourcing process. The decision itself will be taken at the cabinet meeting next Tuesday, March 15.

Trustees of the not-for-profit Lydiard Park Heritage Trust include Sarah Finch-Crisp former Director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and previously Head of Heritage at Swindon Borough Council who led The Lydiard Park Restoration Project in 2005. The £5 million project saw the restoration of the 18th century parkland, including the Walled Garden.

Other trustees include Daniel Rose, who is chair of The Mechanics’ Institution Trust and sits on the Swindon Heritage board and Gary Bond, Managing Director of McArthurGlen who 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.

Among the members of the Advisory Group are Matt Holland, Swindon Festival of Literature director who has lived and worked in Swindon and at Lower Shaw Farm since 1980 and Michael Gray.

Michael is a Chartered Architect who, during his training in the 1980s, was involved with various conservation projects in Lydiard Park. After qualifying he went on to found an architect’s practice in Holland Park which enabled him in collaboration with the then keeper Sarah Finch-Crisp and Canon Brian Carne to research, record and interpret the architectural history of the house.

Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for Lydiard, told the Swindon Advertiser (March 7): 

“This has been a long, thorough and fair process and I am delighted we are now in a position to present a preferred bidder.
“Lydiard is a key asset for people in Swindon and we need to ensure it has a sustainable future within the council’s ownership. I would like to thank all the bidders for the time, effort and passion they have shown throughout the bidding exercise.
"We had two very strong bids from both the community trusts, but ultimately the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust came out on top in the scoring."

I am thrilled, excited but most of all relieved that the Lydiard estate is now in the hands of proven heritage experts.

I love walking in the park; playing with my grandchildren on the swings; taking tea in the Coach House Tea Rooms but for me the sheer delight of Lydiard Park is the history and the heritage of the Palladian mansion house and the fascinating St John family who owned it for more than 500 years.

Last year the neighbouring St Mary’s Church made a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid with plans to conserve the medieval wall paintings and the 17th century monuments, plus the reopening of the hidden south porch (read more in the Spring 2017 edition of Swindon Heritage) and I considered it crucial that the new tenants at Lydiard House appreciated the work about to begin at St Mary's. Now that goes without question.

The Lydiard Estate came on the market in 1943 following the death of Viscountess Bolingbroke in 1940 and was initially bought in a holding operation by Cllr F.E. Akers. Swindon Corporation had expressed an interest in Lydiard House and parkland but did not want (and could not afford) the additional property that came with it during the cash strapped mid-war period.

The sale took place in July 1943 and on August 11 the local authority paid Cllr Akers a 10% deposit of £450. The remaining £4,050 was settled on October 30, 1943. (You can read the full story in the Summer 2014 edition of Swindon Heritage).

Now Lydiard House and Park will continue to be accessible to the people of Swindon as was intended by David Murray John and the Swindon Corporation when they bought the estate in 1943.

 Photographs published courtesy of The Swindon Society

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr Love's Heritage Cider

The Love family history in Lydiard Tregoze was explored by local historians Mark and Lorraine Child in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 33 published in 2000 and entitled ‘For the Love of an Angel.’

When Mark and Lorraine’s research of St Mary’s parish registers revealed numerous entries of babies baptised under the name ‘Angel or Love’ they set about discovering the reason, suspecting an illegitimate birth might have set the trend.

And sure enough it was. In 1763 unmarried Martha Angell took her baby son to St Mary’s Church where he was baptised Joseph Angell. Three weeks later she married John ‘Love alias Luff’ who was, presumably the baby’s father.

Now a person can only have so many alias’ so young Joseph dropped the ‘Love alias Luff’ and settled on sometimes Angell (with or without a double l) sometimes Love and sometime both.

In 1828 John Angel married Mary Ann Watson and they named their children with various permutations of the names; Elijah Angel, John Love, Mary Angel or Love, Edwin Angel or Love, Keziah Love, Louisa Love, Julia Angel or Love, George Love and Abraham Angel or Love.

When their son, John junior, came to marry and raise a family all his children were given the surname Love, including his son Henry James who later followed another family tradition by becoming the Lydiard Park estate gardener as had his great uncle Abraham Angel who held the position in 1825.

James was presumably employed chiefly about the walled garden, which served as a vegetable garden during the Victorian period. He appears on the 1901 census living in Hook with his wife and their five children where his occupation is recorded as gardener. However he does not appear to have been the gardener for very long, although he was probably an estate employee for most of his life.

Ten years earlier he had been living in one of the Flaxlands Farm cottages and in 1911 he is described as Manager of Farm, still at Flaxlands, where in trade directories dated 1915 and 1920 he is working as baliff to Edward Hiscock esq Flaxlands.

In 2005 the neglected walled garden was restored and replanted as part of the Lydiard Park Project. More than one hundred and fifty fruit trees were planted, among them old varieties of apple including the Bedwyn Beauty.

Today James Love has become a 21st century advertising phenomena and it is his name that appears on the Lydiard Park heritage cider, complete with photograph and the proud boast that ‘all apple varieties used date back to 1743 or earlier.’

Mr Love's Heritage Cider costs £4 and is available from the Coach House Tea Rooms.

Now what’s not to love about a heritage cider …

Monday, January 23, 2017

Holocaust Memorial Day - Friday January 27, 2017

Matt Holland from Lower Shaw Farm writes about arrangements in Swindon for this year's Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday January 27, 2017.

The theme for this year is “How can life go on?”

First, at 12.00 noon, there will be a short (20 minutes) wreath-laying ceremony by the Cenotaph, Regents Circus. Following this, at 12.30 pm, there will be a gathering for readings and reflection at the Friends Meeting House, Eastcott Hill, Swindon.

NOTE: For this event, and in the spirit of the day, we welcome talks or presentations from individuals and groups. If you would like to speak or read at this gathering or know someone else who would like to, please contact the undersigned, beforehand or on the day. We welcome everyone who would like to speak.

At this latter event, we expect to be together for approx 1 hour. As well as words and quiet time, there will be light lunchtime refreshments, including sandwiches and hot drinks, provided by Friends, whom we thank.


Holocaust Memorial Day was first marked in the UK in January 2001, and is now established as an annual day of remembrance on 27 January each year.

Local authorities, faith and community groups, and individuals have been asked to take a lead in developing local memorial events and appropriate activities. We do so in Swindon.

The aim of this day is to mark not only the Holocaust but also numerous other human rights tragedies around the world, including persecution and wars, past and present. Its aim is also to help raise awareness in young people.

This day also provides an opportunity for all of us to renew our commitment to building a strong and caring community in Swindon, which embraces people of all faiths, beliefs, backgrounds, languages, and nations.

Further information, and a more national perspective, about Holocaust Memorial Day, can be found at

If you have any queries or suggestions, please contact

Matt Holland, Organiser

Telephone No: 01793 771080 Email address:

Photographs: Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

Friday, January 6, 2017

Swindon's Heritage Assets

Council Leader David Renard stated in his column in the Advertiser this week that 'the council works very closely with heritage groups within the town' but there are many volunteers who would refute this assertion.

Cllr Renard was answering claims that Swindon Borough Council neglects heritage assets following the disastrous fire at the Coate Agricultural Museum on New Year's Eve. 

He concluded his column with the following statement: 'Unfortunately, the passage of time does not make it easy to bring these buildings back to their former glory, but that does not mean we should not try. Letting our heritage fall by the wayside is not on our agenda.' Well sadly Cllr Renard, many of us feel it is.

Save Swindon’s Heritage, a new facebook group formed following council tenant GLL’s announcement to develop part of the historic Health Hydro, a Grade II listed building, has registered more than 720 members in just 9 days.

The listing of buildings came out of a WWII measure to record important buildings in possible danger from enemy bombing, but it would appear that in Swindon it's not an aerial attack we have to worry about but something a little closer to the ground.

It was the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that came up with the concept of a list of buildings of special historical or architectural importance. Buildings built between 1840-1914 have to meet a stringent criteria before inclusion on the list is granted.

Perhaps the greatest protection offered to a listed building is that its future fate is in the public arena. An owner must receive permission for any intended alteration and this allows for a public debate. Comments and objections must receive due consideration before planning decisions are reached.

A register of locally listed buildings is available for consultation at the council planning department and Central Library and online at Listed Buildings in Swindon.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the British Listed Building register established to protect buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. In Swindon we have more than 650 buildings on the register with 53 scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens.

If you want to know more about the listing of historic buildings come along to a talk by Martin Newman at Swindon's Central Library, Tuesday January 17 at 7.15.

Lydiard House - Grade I

Central Community Centre, former Medical Fund Hospital -  Grade II

Health Hydro - Milton Road Baths - Grade II

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park - Grade I

Coate Agricultural Museum following a fire on New Year's Eve