Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Astill's Corner

Window bills, confectioner's bags and sermons are just a few of the seemingly endless list of printing services produced by Robert Astill at his works in Victoria Street.

Born in Coventry in 1833 Robert Astill married Margaret Delphi Considence Hall in 1866 and by 1871 the couple were living at 18 Victoria Street with their two young children. Employed as foreman at the printing works established by auctioneer William Dore, Robert Astill became proprietor probably after Dore's death in 1877.

In 1883 Astill celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Swindon Almanack, Trades' Register and Local Guide which he 'Circulated Gratuitously to Householders.'

Astill's premises occupied the large corner plot at the top of Victoria Street where Victoria House now stands. With a Victoria Street frontage measuring 93ft (28.3 metres), the area was known locally as Astill's corner. Astill had bought the property in 1885, signing a conveyance between Charles Richards Plummer and his first wife Mary, most probably the former Mary Dore and daughter of Astill's employer, William.

By the turn of the century Robert was widowed, the youngest of his eleven children, Lily Blanche, had recently emigrated to Australia where she worked as a domestic servant in the Brisbane/Gold Coast area. With the business now in the hands of his sons, Robert was preparing to retire to Zeals, a small village near Warminster.

The whole complex was placed on the market in 1903 when it was described as being 'suitable for any Large Business or Offices with Stable, Coach House, Out Buildings, Yard and Garden ground.'

The 1903 sale catalogue describes a complicated arrangement of domestic and workplace accommodation. On the ground floor there were two entrance lobbies, one opening on to Bath Road and the other on to Victoria Street.

The Breakfast Room facing Victoria Street was used by Astill as a 'Stationery and Fancy Shop' while W H Bush used the Bath Road side Drawing and Reception Rooms as a 'Hairdressing Establishment.' The stables and use of the yard were let to Mr Greenman on a weekly tenancy.

A selling feature was made of the bressummers, strong beams supporting the superstructure of the building, thus enabling a conversion into two shops if the purchaser so desired.

With a dining room, seven bedrooms, a dressing room, WC and Linen closet on the two upper floors, this building presented a serious undertaking.

There appears to be no report in the Swindon Advertiser of the auction held at the Goddard Arms Hotel on the evening of Monday February 16. Kelly's Directory of 1915 reveal that the Astill brothers still occupied the premises, then described as 103 Victoria Road after renumbering of the recently built up road linking former Old and New Swindon.

Images courtesy of Swindon Local Studies 

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