Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking down on Fleming Way in the 1950s

This 1950s aerial view of Swindon shows the town centre on the threshold of an earlier regeneration project.

Demolition had already begun with a small cluster of terraces on the corner of Weymouth Street.  Built in the 1870s, the site of the former housing was used as an unofficial car park when this photograph was taken in 1959.

The transformation would continue with the creation of Fleming Way, named in honour of former Swindon Town striker, Harold Fleming.  This busy bus terminus cut a swathe through housing in Cheltenham and Gloucester Streets.

Today the Zurich Tri Centre buildings stand on the site of houses once bounded by Wellington and Gloucester Streets.

Farnsby Street, at the top of the photograph, numbered fifty-seven houses.  The Wesley School Rooms stood on the corner of Faringdon Road, now dominated by the refurbished Bridge House.

Catherine, Carr and Vilett Streets all made room for the multi-storey car park and the Murray John building.  Named after Swindon's visionary Town Clerk, David Murray John, today this iconic 1970s building dominates the Swindon skyline.

Still recognisable today is the distinctive building at the Bridge Street crossroads, once home to Burtons the tailors in 1959.

In 1957 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the British public they had 'never had it so good.'  While Regent Street was dominated by super store old timers McIlroys and Morses there was a myriad of other smaller businesses in neighbouring streets.  Harry and Sidney Godden had a tobacconists in Cheltenham Street while E.D. Major ran a cycle repair workshop from 1 Weymouth Street and Sidney F. Radford had a dance school at 71 Cheltenham Street.

Today changes continue to take place with the demolition of the Whale Bridge roundabout and more work planned to alter Fleming Way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thomas Hooper Deacon

The Vale of the White Horse Hunt was formed out of the ancient Old Berkshire Hunt in 1832. By 1837 the Master of Fox Hounds, the Hon. Henry Moreton, had moved the hounds to new kennels at Cirencester Park. In 1886 the hunt split yet again, becoming the VWH (Cirencester) and the VWH (Cricklade). Two years later Mr T. Butt Miller took over as Master of Fox Hounds, a role he was to fill for 22 seasons, eleven of which he was assisted by Thomas Hooper Deacon as secretary. The two VWH Hunts were eventually amalgamated in 1964.

Today the subject of fox hunting is a contentious one, but there is no denying that for many generations it was an important part of country life. Fox hunting created many occupations for the rural community, including a flourishing trade in horses, which was good news for one Old Swindon businessman.

Thomas Hooper Deacon was born in Faringdon in about 1838, the son of Cornelious Floyd Deacon and his wife Ann. By 1861 he was working as a saddler, employing two men and two boys at his business in the High Street, Highworth where he lived with his wife Jane and their young son Floyd.

Widowed in 1866, Hooper Deacon married Elizabeth Kempster Sainsbury in 1868, moving to Swindon around the same time and establishing in 1871 the VWH Horse and Carriage Repository with his business partner Thomas Edmund Liddiard.

The first large sale took place on February 26, 1872 and was attended by farmers and dealer from all parts of the country.

In 1874 the two men signed a lease on the mansion house, garden, yards and stables in High Street, formerly occupied by John Harding Sheppard. Under the same agreement they also acquired various other properties in the area behind High Street and Newport Street, further extending the Repository premises. The business flourished and in 1879 1,872 horses were entered for sale across the year.

A man of phenomenal energies, Hooper Deacon's activities were not limited merely to his auction business and fox hunting. A Managing Director at Swindon Town FC, President of the Swindon Amateur Bicycle Club and Captain in the Wilts Yeomanry, Hooper Deacon was also one of the founder members of the Victoria Hospital.

In a political career spanning nearly forty years he served as a member of Old Swindon Local Board and represented the South Ward following the town's incorporation in 1900. He was one of Swindon's first Aldermen and was elected Mayor in 1908.

The Advertiser described Thomas Hooper Deacon as 'one of the best known and highly respected men who have lived in Swindon' in a lengthy memorial published on his death in April 1915.

"His energy and abilities have helped in an incalculable degree to the prosperity of the community, and his purse has been always open to every demand made upon it,' the obituary continued.

Hooper Deacon lived for several years at Kingshill House, then owned by the Bowly family of brewers, but for much of his life he lived close to the VWH Repository at 58 Newport Street where he died in 1915. He is buried in the churchyard at Christ Church alongside his second wife Elizabeth and their daughter Mabel Ivy.

Today he is commemorated in the naming of Hooper Place, a lane close to the site of the Newport Street entrance to the former Vale of White Horse Repository.

The Hunting Act of 2004 has altered the nature of the traditional hunt where horses and hounds now follow an artificially laid trail, however the Boxing Day Hunt remains one of the best attended meets of the season.

Images - A William Hooper view of VWH Hunt outside Kingshill House, home of Thomas Hooper Deacon, courtesy of Paul Williams, see this and more on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just when they thought it was all over ...

While 21st century Premier Division players complain about Christmas fixtures curtailing their party going, in 1952 Swindon Town travelled to St. James's Park, Exeter on Boxing Day, with a return match at the County Ground the following day.

In front of a crowd of 13,620 it looked like Town was in for another defeat when the home team scored after 28 minutes. Under pressure from an all out attack by Exeter, Swindon goalie Sam Burton made a series of brilliant saves while centre half George (Garth) Hudson executed some timely interceptions.

And just when they thought it was all over, Jimmy Bain scored followed by a goal from Terry Ryder in the closing minutes of play, making Swindon the first team to win at St James's Park that season.

A victorious Town returned to the County Ground to do it all over again the following day, however the match looked in doubt when Swindon woke up to a heavy blanket of fog. The game eventually went ahead although at times spectators found it almost impossible to follow the ball or to identify the players.

In an evenly matched first half the score stood at 1-1. The second half opened with an early goal from Exeter and a swift reply from Swindon. The Town went on to dominate the game, beating Exeter 5-2 with goals from William Millar, Terry Ryder, Ray Betteridge and Jimmy Bain who scored twice.

While the fog obscured much of the play, the Advertiser reporter named Ryder as one of the shining lights in Town's victory, writing that "he swung across a stream of excellent centres, several of which might have brought more goals."

The Christmas fixtures saw Town earn four points, rising four positions in the Southern League, but sadly the end of the season had them finishing in 18th place. Having been in the bottom nine for three successive seasons, Louis Page said goodbye to the County Ground after eight years as manager while the holiday match hero Terry Ryder moved on to King's Lynn.

Pictured - Terry Ryder (top) Louis Page (bottom)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

St Saviour's Church, Swindon

In 1881 the population of New Swindon stood at nearly 20,000 and was rising. In just forty years building had spread out of the railway village, first along Westcott Place and then beyond the railway line to the north of the town.



With the parish church of St Mark's struggling to meet the spiritual needs of its ever increasing congregation, another church was desperately needed, but the coffers were empty.

Undeterred Canon Maurice Ponsonby stepped into the pulpit to give an inspirational Whitsunday sermon on June 9, 1889. Taking as his text Genesis Chapter 6, verse 14, he told his congregation to 'build me an ark' - and that's exactly what they did.

Meetings held on two consecutive Wednesdays in June soon saw a band of sixty volunteers step forward. The men were rapidly organised into three groups headed by Cresser, Hayward and Wager, three carpenters and joiners employed in the GWR works. Work began immediately on a plot of land in Ashford Road gifted by local landowner William Sheppard.

Rev. Charles John Corfe set the ball rolling, lifting the first spade of earth on the site while Miss Ethel Dean, daughter of Chief Mechanical Engineer at the works, William Dean, laid the foundation stone on August 12.

With Cambria Bridge room serving as a workshop, each of the three groups put in two evenings voluntary labour a week. Work continued every evening and Saturday afternoon, with the volunteer labour force working throughout the GWR Christmas shut down. In just six months St. Saviour's Church was ready to open.


Gifts included 1000 bricks donated by local builder George Wiltshire, and wood, of which there was a considerable amount, by an anonymous 'Welsh Churchman.'

Among others who made donations were the Verschoyle sisters, daughters of Crimean veteran Henry William Verschoyle and his wife the former Lucy Clarissa Goddard. The Goddard granddaughters Sybil and Kathleen gave eight chairs costing 2/6 each while their sister Theresa provided the altar cross.

As if their Herculean effort had not been enough, fifteen years later and the congregation were asked to do it all over again as the busy little church required an extension.

By the 1950s the congregation at St Saviour's anxious to protect their 'temporary' wooden structure considered their options and whether to rebuild or renovate. Local architect R.J. Beswick was engaged and produced designs to build an outer shell of Cotswold Dale random stone blocks.

In 1961 St Saviour's was rededicated and the homemade wooden church as last became a permanent fixture.

Family Service at St Saviour's takes place every Sunday at 9am and the church has a thriving number of clubs including Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Brownies. For further information telephone 619706.

Build Me An Ark, a history of St. Saviour's Church by Frederick Fuller is available for consultation in the Swindon Local Studies section at Central Library.



Images - 1910 views of St. Saviour's are by William Hooper, available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/


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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Three R's

School logbooks are a valuable source of local knowledge, providing a snap shot of a locality and even the name of a young ancestor - especially if they were naughty!

Built in 1841 on land provided by Rev. Henry Streeten, 'adjacent to the Butts' the school in Lydiard Millicent opened in 1842.

The logbooks held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives date from 1870 and the appointment of Miss Hannah Shore.

Despite all efforts to get them into school, hard-pressed rural families often kept children at home. Boys were put to work on local farms during busy times and education versus a few coins towards the family income was always a hard fought battle. Hannah Shore writes on June 30, 1871 - 'Many of the children away on account of the haymaking.'

From 1880 education became compulsory for children up to the age of 10, yet in 1891 schoolmaster Francis Drew was to write in the Lydiard Millicent school logbook - 'Lucy Leonard who has been absent 158 times during the past 9 months, having been kept at home as her parents state to nurse the baby.'

The Lydiard Millicent catchment area was a large one and the children from the outlying village of Shaw had a long walk. During the harsh winter of 1880/1 Drew writes that the roads were completely blocked by snow and that some children only managed to get to school 'owing to the kindness of Mr. Hayward.' (Henry Rudge Hayward, Rector of All Saints' Church).

The Lydiard Millicent logbook includes a record of what was taught in the various standards and sometimes a comment on the progress of individual children. After tests in 1883 Drew writes - 'The backward children in this standard are: Letitia Love, Hester Greenaway, Phoebe Embling, Mary Beasant, John Carter and Charles Greenaway. The names of persistent truants and cheeky children pepper the pages - June 17th 1881 - 'Severely caned John Titcombe for using bad language.'

Along with entries about the Children's Treat, a picnic provided by local landowner Captain Sadler, and half-day holidays, are the more distressing events of Victorian village life. An outbreak of Scarlatina in August 1881 saw 20 children sick and Drew writes - 'One of the children has died with the Scarlet Fever and as the number of cases is increasing the school is closed under medical authority.'

While new teaching appointments are noted, children joining the school are recorded, with perhaps a hint of professional one-upmanship. March 29th 1886 - 'Admitted 3 children from Hook School viz Florence Guest, Benjamin Stoneham & Ernest Tuck who know nothing of Geography or Grammar.'

So if your ancestor was less than a model pupil, or failed to turn up at all, you might just find them in a school logbook.


Blunsdon National School 1898 - photograph courtesy of the Richard Radway Collection for more from this archive visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Looking down on the Drove Road area in the 1950s

The County Ground, home to Swindon Town FC since 1896, takes pride of place in this photograph of Swindon 50 years ago.

The 1958/59 season saw Swindon Town playing in the new Division Three. Bob Edward was top scorer with nine goals to his credit that season and a total of 69 during his time at the County Ground. This was the season manager Bert Head recruited Ernie Hunt, the club's youngest signing at 16 years and 182 days old, to what later became known as Bert's Babes.

With an average home crowd of over 11,300 sadly Swindon Town finished the season in a disappointing 15th position, although well clear of the relegation zone.

Development along Shrivenham Road had begun in the 1920s with building to the east of Drove Road starting in the 1930s. Drove Road was an ancient route along which drovers brought their animals to market at the old town on the hill. The modern routes of Queens Drive and Drakes Way have yet to make an appearance.

A predecessor of the Magic Roundabout was built close to the site of the former Swindon Wharf and the Drove Road Bridge that crossed the Wilts and Berks Canal. This traffic control complex of one large roundabout contained by five smaller ones was built in 1972 to the designs of Frank Blackmore, traffic engineer and inventor of the mini roundabout.


The Magic Roundabout pictured under construction is courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser and available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Looking down on Regent Circus in the 1950s



With the 19th century Town Hall and the temporary library buildings in the foreground, Regent Circus is almost unrecognisable in this 1950s photograph.

Fletcher's Directory of Swindon records doctors J. Holland, W.O. Connell and T. Quigley in practise at 37 Regent Street while solicitors Pooley, Booth & Anderson were at number 34. There were four greengrocers and three butchers including Eastmans, J.W. Read and Hunt & Sons among the many shops since replaced by 1960s office blocks.

In December 2010 Meca, a 2,000 capacity live entertainment venue, opened in the former Regent cinema built in 1929. Renamed the Gaumont in the 50s and the Odeon in the 60s, the building later became the Top Rank Bingo Club.

Rudi's Bar, the art deco building on the corner, opened as the Corporation Electricity Showrooms in the 1930s. Home to the children's library it later became the Islington Furnishing Company.

Although shops to the right of the Victoria Road traffic island are sill recognisable, housing between Byron Street and the bottom of Eastcott Hill was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Swindon College, itself now awaiting demolition.

An area today occupied by the Wyvern Theatre was once a complex of terraced housing called Regent Place, built in around 1900. In 1946 Grace and Richard Loveridge lived at number 17, approximately where the Wyvern stage door stands today.

The distinctive dome of the Wesleyan Methodist Central Mission Hall is visible above the Clarence Street rooftops. Closed in the 1970s the building was seriously damaged by fire in 1977 and demolished in 1985 to make way for yet another new office block.




Photograph of Regent Circus courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal

Allotments - more popular than ever

The credit crunch combined with concerns as to how our food is produced has seen a revival in home grown produce. Allotments are more popular than ever, although you may have to get on your bike to find one in Swindon.

The history of allotments can be traced back over a thousand years. It appears that the invading Anglo Saxons, driven by a shortage of suitable farming land in their own countries, were less interested in warfare and more likely to plant a few drills of potatoes instead.

So it continued until revolutionary new agricultural methods saw the end of open field farming and the enclosure of common land. No longer able to graze a few animals and grow their own food, the poor were suddenly robbed of a vital source of income and a crucial supplement to their meagre diet. Those who migrated to the new, industrial towns fared even worse.

The General Enclosure Act 1845 saw the creation of 'field gardens' limited to a quarter of an acre, but this tended to be a rural initiative. It would be another forty years before the 1887 Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act obliged local authorities to provide allotments if there was deemed a demand for them.

Despite the Victorian enthusiasm for anything that kept the poor gainfully employed, the Act was unpopular and local authorities proved uncooperative. Further legislation followed and the Smallholding and Allotment Acts of 1907 and 1908 imposed a responsibility upon councils.

The demand for allotments increased both during and after the First World War. In 1919 Mannington, Toothill and Whitehill farms were bought by Wiltshire County Council and a large percentage of the land was converted into smallholdings for ex-servicemen.

Second World War blockades and food rationing saw every available plot of land utilised, including public parks and royal residences as people were encouraged to Dig for Victory.

Post war Swindon Corporation had over 280 acres of land available for allotment cultivation, including 47 acres at Rodbourne and Broome Sewage farms, which the Official Year Book dated 1946-7 states was 'available for allotments, but not acquired for the purpose.'

Rental averaged 8d per perch per year with some plots at the two sewage farms available at 6d (about 2p) while at the more desirable Broome Manor Lane site the charge was 1s (5p).

In 1946 the largest sites were at Southbrook with 64 acres and Marsh Farm with 61 acres. Gorse Hill had 35 acres available at 8d per perch while the 5 acres known as Bailey's Field in Birch Street cost 10d per perch.

In Swindon today there are 25 allotment sites with a total of 1200 plots, however most have a long waiting list.



Images - top - Holy Rood schoolboys on their way to the school allotments in Upham Road and bottom pupils from Sanford Street School preparing ground off Upham Road for the planting of potatoes from the Swindon at War archives.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blunsdon House Hotel

Today separated from Swindon's northern expansion by just the A419 road, Blunsdon was once a village five miles out of town.

The former parish of Blunsdon St. Andrew has a long history, appearing in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Blontesdone.

Along with various Roman remains, a numbers of bones, spurs and 17th century military relics have been excavated indicating it might have been the site of action during the English Civil War.

At the top of Chapel Hill are the remains of two stone piers marking the former rear entrance to Blunsdon House. Although probably built on the site of an earlier house, the present Blunsdon House only dates back to the early 1830s, when the property was owned by the wealthy Calley family of Buredrop Park. A plaque in St. Andrew's Church records the death of John James Calley in 1848 and his wife Elizabeth in 1861.

Elizabeth moved to Bath after her husband's death and in 1856 the property was sold to Thomas Edward Freeman. By the mid 1860s Edward Taylor Middleditch occupied the Georgian style Blunsdon House.

Reputedly the first farmer in the village to use steam ploughing, Edward Middleditch was an important local employer. However, by the mid 1880s his fortunes were on the decline and in 1889 the estate was on the market.

The sale catalogue describes the Blunsdon House estate with farm buildings, three cottages and 160 acres of arable and pasture lands, as being 'well adapted for gentlemen in search of a pleasing occupation in capital Hunting Country.'

Edward offered to escort prospective buyers around the property which was entered through a portico supported by stone columns. The ground floor rooms included an entrance hall with bay window overlooking the front lawn, a library leading to the tennis lawn and a conservatory overlooking pleasure grounds.

The first floor comprised 'five best bedrooms' and two servant's bedrooms with a staircase leading to four attic rooms.

Village folklore has it that Farmer Middleditch declared himself bankrupt. Maybe his financial condition improved as just over two years later he can be found on the 1891 census farming at North Bovey in Devon.

The new owner of Blunsdon House was William Titley, a gentleman farmer originally from Yorkshire who had more recently been living at The Grove in Lydiard Millicent.

It was the Titley family that made the first of some significant changes to the house including the addition of three dormer windows to open up the attic rooms for their family of seven children.

William died in 1895 aged just 44, but the Titley family connection with Blunsdon continued well into the 20th century. William, his wife and three of their children are buried in the graveyard at St. Leonard's Church.

After the Titley occupancy the house was leased to the Sutton family who then owned large areas of Blunsdon. Colonel Jagger was the next resident, followed by Commander Royds.

Peter Clifford bought the house and 30 acres of land in 1949, taking in bed and breakfast guests to help out a friend in the 1950s. Blunsdon House became a fully licensed hotel in 1962. Now part of the Best Western Premier Group, the four star Blunsdon House Hotel boasts 116 en suite bedrooms, a leisure club and nine hole golf course.


Images - Blunsdon House Hotel today and an earlier view with Miss Elsie Beatrice Gibb taken in the 1960s courtesy of the Richard C. Radway Collection available to view on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Sir Daniel Arms


When the Sir Daniel Arms opened its doors in June 2007 it wasn't for the first time. A public house of the same name had stood in Fleet Street for around 140 years, which is somewhat surprising given a clause in the original deeds.

Old Swindon brewer John Harding Sheppard made sure he protected his business interests when he sold land called 'Upper Ground or Fosters Upper Ground' in 1848.

George Selby, a tea dealer from Eastcott, bought a piece of the land on 'the Highway called Fleet Way,' agreeing as part of the sale that he would not 'carry on or permit or suffer to be carried on ...the Trade or business of a Brewer, Publican, Beer House Keeper or Dealer in or retailer of beer or other Malt Liquor Wines or Spirits or any offensive Trade or calling whatsoever.'

By 1851 George had opened a grocer's shop on the site but the property soon changed hands. In 1858 new owner William Henry Warner drew up a seven year lease with Charles Lea, a New Swindon tailor, including that pesky clause again.

With the thirsty railway factory workers his near neighbours, Charles Lea obviously wasted no time in renegotiating the terms of his lease and Kelly's Trade Directory dated 1867 record 'Charles Lea, Sir Daniel, Fleetway.'

Lea eventually sold the property to John Platt, a Hungerford brewer. In 1917 it was owned by James John Brown of the Bell Hotel, Swindon who that year sold it to Usher's Brewery for £3,000.

A valuation made in 1932 describes the Sir Daniel Arms as having 'a public bar, Jug and Bottle, Smoke Room and private saloon.' The living accommodation above included sitting room, two bedrooms, kitchen, scullery, bath and lumber room with a further two bedrooms on the 2nd floor.

In 1939 staff included two barmaids earning 16s and 15s (about 30p) plus keep and a man who helped at weekends and was paid 10s a week (50p).

In 1970 a major revamp of the pub took place, creating a lobby and two new bars connected by a central serving area. Plans reveal the living area above had already received a makeover.

But sadly time was running out for the old Sir Daniel's as long overdue redevelopment of Fleet Street took off. Demolished in 2000, when the pub was then called The Sportsman, links with its 19th century predecessor made a surprising reappearance. Victorian artefacts including two cast iron columns, a pub sign, frontage pieces and a wooden lion were rescued by the Gloucestershire based demolition team of Ronsons.

Edwards Bar first occupied the corner site until June 2007 when Wetherspoons opened their third town centre establishment and fittingly renamed the pub the Sir Daniel Arms. Named after the first chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1837-1864, it was Daniel Gooch, along with Brunel, who identified Swindon as being an ideal location for a repair and maintenance depot on the GWR network.

Much of Fleet Street closed to traffic for good in February 2001. Swindon Borough Council's £300,000 plans saw the area from John Street to Faringdon Road pedestrianised and the creation of a new square at the junction with Bridge Street.

Sir Daniel Arms images are courtesy of Swindon Local Studies, visit their website on www.flickr.com/photos/SwindonLocal/ for more views of Swindon.

Sir Daniel Gooch



Sir Daniel Arms 2012 courtesy of  www.flickr.com/photos/johnmightycat/7493754184