Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cromwell Street and Brunel Street

The 1970s regeneration of Swindon town centre saw the disappearance of many local landmarks, including two Victorian roadways, Cromwell Street and Brunel Street. Today the foundations lie beneath the Brunel Centre, awaiting some futuristic Time Team dig to reveal their secrets.

Photographs taken in Cromwell Street before the First World War show a busy shopping street with awnings stretching into the distance. At the Regent Street crossroads Briggs & Son boast 70 years of honest value. Fast forward to 1967 and a film clip viewable on the BBC website shows the demolition in action with views of Norman's Carpet Store and Briggs Footfitters, possibly a descendent of the honest Victorian traders.

Cromwell Street, Brunel Street and houses on the north side of Havelock Street were built in the late 1860s in response to the chronic shortage of housing in the town. New Swindon was experiencing a population explosion with the continued expansion of the railway works. The census returns chart a dramatic increase from 6,856 in 1861 to 19,904 in 1881. Housing was at a premium with land difficult to acquire.

The manor of Eastcott, much of which had been sold during the building of the railway, had once belonged to the wealthy Vilett family. However, by the 1860s what remained was held by Colonel W.V. Rolleston and was involved in a Chancery suit. Parcels of land were released piecemeal by the trustees as they became available.

The two lost Swindon streets were laid out on a piece of Eastcott land called Cow Leaze Close, alongside the Wilts & Berks canal - 34 properties in Brunel Street and 36 in Cromwell Street with a public house, The New Inn, on the corner.

The houses were occupied almost exclusively by men employed in the works. Jobs that varied from steam hammerman, pattern maker and coach body maker to engine driver, signalman and clerk. They came from all parts of the country, especially from centres of industrial development such as Bradford in Yorkshire and Manchester in Lancashire. Some moved into town from the surrounding countryside but very few gave their place of birth as Swindon, the town was far too new to have a home-grown workforce.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century the terraced houses were extended and converted into shops. However by the Swinging Sixties Cromwell Street was considered an inadequate shopping centre for an expanding Swindon, on the threshold of yet another phase of its development. Then, like today, Swindon town centre appeared to be one large building site as the Victorian red brick terraces disappeared.
Properties that had survived a hundred years made way for others like the Police Station in Princes Street that had lasted less than forty.

Details from the 1881 census reveal that the small terraced homes often accommodated a surprisingly large household.

22 Cromwell Road,
John Stevens 47 Head of household Wood Sawyer
Susan Stevens 54 wife
William Stevens 21 son Boiler Smith
John Stevens 19 son Apprentice Coach Trimmer
Kate Stevens 16 daughter Polisher French
Charles Stevens 14 son Factory Labourer
Rose Stevens 12 daughter scholar

3 Brunel Street
William Dadge 39 Head of Household Striker (E&M)
Martha Dadge 39 wife
Elizabeth Dadge 10 daughter scholar
William Dadge 8 son scholar
Henry Dadge 5 son scholar
Ellen Dadge 3 daughter
Albert Dadge 23 brother Iron Dresser
George Dadge 21 brother Iron Dresser
Maurice Woodward 23 boarder Machineman

14 Brunel Street
William Matthews 29 Head of household Waggon Painter (Ry)
Elizabeth Matthews 29 wife
John F. Matthews 5 son
William &. Matthews 4 son
Lizzie Cook 13 niece scholar
Maud M. Matthews 2 daughter
Henry Hill 23 boarder Carpenter
John Cotty 23 boarder Machineman (E&M)

25 Brunel Street
William Reynolds 42 Head of household Railway Engine Driver
Maria Reynolds 44 wife
Tom R, Reynolds 20 son Engine Fitter
Frank J. Reynolds 18 son Boiler Maker
Thirsa F. Reynolds 14 daughter scholar
William Hancock 29 boarder Copper Smith
Mary Ann Ovens 10 boarder (visitor) scholar

A rare photograph of Brunel Street

Two 1910 views of Cromwell Street

And two photographs taken in 1967

A photograph of the new Brunel Centre pictured in the 1970s and reproduced courtesy of Mr J. Ensten

All images can be view on Swindon Local Studies Collection

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