Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Carfax Street

The seventeen acre site around Carfax Street hit the headlines in January 2009 when Swindon Borough Council confirmed that redevelopment would go ahead, despite the gloomy economic climate.

The importance of this prime town centre location was recognised early in Swindon's 19th century development when the Oxford Building and Investment Co. Ltd., built 108 houses on this same site.

The new properties were built on a parcel of land called Brierly Close between the canal and an orchard, part of Lower Eastcott Farm which then belonged to the extensive Rolleston Estate.

Named after Oxford city centre locations, construction began in Merton Street in 1873 followed by Turl Street in 1874, Carfax Street in 1875 and Oriel Street in 1876. On July 6, 1876 Frederick Skuse, an enterprising 23 year old bricklayer, bought lot 14 in south Carfax Street for £40.

Frederick's newly acquired plot measured 82ft (26 metres approx) north to south on the east side and 80ft (24 metres approx) on the west side with a frontage of 17ft 9ins (5 metres approx).

On December 1, 1876 he applied for a mortgage of £150 for "the newly built Messuage lately erected and built thereon by the said Frederick Skuse and now known as 14 Carfax Street, New Swindon."

In the summer of 1878 Frederick married Sarah West and the 1881 census shows the young couple living at the renumbered 20 Carfax Street with their two year old son Willie and 8 month old daughter Ellen.

Living next door at the overcrowded number 21 was George Kinch with his wife, daughter, grandson, brother and two lodgers, Albert Cove, a railway labourer and his wife, George Linkhorn, a stoker striker and his wife, John Williams, a railway labourer with his wife, William Watkins, another railway labourer with his wife and three children and finally labourer William Hibberd.

But the family was soon on the move and on March 22, 1883 Frederick sold the property for £235 to Samuel Rogers, a fitter employed at the railway works.

By 1892 the house was on the market again, sold to Thomas Whittaker, a tinsmith who lived just around the corner at 41 Oriel Street.

In 2009 the site was at the centre of the ambitious renamed Union Square - a complex of flats, offices, leisure facilities and a 200 bed hotel with building scheduled to begin immediately but in 2017 the site is still a wasteland.

Swindon Borough Council was criticised for spending £130,000 on a 'temporary' park opened in October 2011 on the site of the old Post Office on Fleming Way. Originally with just a three year life span, the park is still there.

The 1970s photographs of the demolition of the Turl, Carfax, Merton and Oriel Street area are courtesy of Mr J. Ensten and can be viewed on

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