Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Documents indicate that Bank Manager William Brewer Wearing lived there in 1859 and for the next thirty years the Victorian tenants came and went as revealed in census returns throughout the 19th century.
By the 1890s the Kinneir family owned the property, but it was with the death of J. L. Calderwood in February 1960 that the house passed out of private ownership and into the public sector.
Among documents held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham is a schedule drawn up by Swindon Corporation on August 30, 1960 concerning The Hermitage and three cottages in Dammas Lane.
A stone and brick building with slated roof, The Hermitage contained five bedrooms and four attic rooms with extensive cellar space in the basement. Rooms on the ground floor included a hall, dining room, drawing room and study while the domestic quarters incorporated a large kitchen, Butler's pantry, scullery, larder and china pantry. The secluded grounds included a partly walled garden with carriage drive, coach house and garage.
The condition was described as 'sound structurally, but redecoration is required.' The District Valuer & Valuation Officer declared: 'I estimate the life of the buildings, if properly maintained, at not less than sixty years.' Town Clerk David Murray John stamped his signature and the sale was completed the following month.
Scheduled for a nursing home, new tenants the Theobalds, wardens at the recently closed Kingsdown House, signed a fifteen year lease. However there were problems from the outset and by October 1963 the couple had vacated the property and emigrated to America.
A 1960 application to use the building as office accommodation was reconsidered but rejected. Then Donald A. Cameron, director of the Cheriton Nursing Home in Westlecot Road was approached to take it on, but he also declined.
One proposal was for a Maternity Unit, another a Y.W.C.A. hostel. Conversion into a teachers' or students' hostel was also considered.
Eventually, in a letter dated May 4, 1964 Murray John confirmed that The Hermitage had been let to the Trustees of the Mayors' Helping Hand Fund at a rent of £340 for use as a short stay care home for the elderly.
But in 1972 The Hermitage was in trouble again and Wiltshire County Council officials were concerned about empty beds and under occupancy.
The beginning of the 1990s saw the elegant neo Tudor house closed and boarded up. Despite a local campaign to save it, the fate of the dilapidated building was sealed and it was demolished in 1993.
Before building work began in 1993 an archaeological excavation was made on the site of the proposed new doctor's surgery. The excavations revealed a sunken floored building dating to the Saxon period and evidence of a medieval building. Among the finds made were fragments of clay pipes, the earliest dating from 1640 and scattered human bones identified as being that of a man aged about 30.
The following year Wessex Archaeology continued the excavations on what was known to be a Saxon settlement on the east side of the High Street. Two incomplete infant burials thought to be Roman were discovered.
photographs courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/