Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Looking down on Parks in the 1950s

The Town Development Act of 1952 set Swindon on an expansion that continues today and this 1950s photograph takes a bird's eye view of the two Parks estates under construction.

With plans for Penhill taking shape, the Corporation soon turned its attention to developing the east of the town where it had purchased over 1000 acres of farmland, mostly belonging to the Goddard estate.

Church Farm, acquired by the Goddard family in the 16th century, stretched from the edge of the Goddard parkland to the two neighbouring farms at Walcot and was one of those to be ploughed up.  In all seven farms - Upper and Lower Walcot, Park, Church, Manor, Coate and Prince's - were swallowed up.  As Penhill neared completion in 1955 work began on the two Park estates.

In the middle of the photograph can be seen the outline of the distinctive loop which would become Welcombe Avenue in Park North while Cranmore Avenue in Park South is more densely built along.

Roads built in 1957 such as Caxton Close, Farnborough Road and Knolton Walk were named after engines in the GWR 'Hall' class.  The second phase of building had roads named after British villages and towns such as Amersham Road after the Buckinghamshire town.

The houses went up at a cracking pace and the town’s 1950s expansion plans came in for some harsh criticism in the media where national newspapers attacked what was labelled the Swindon ‘land grab.’  The Corporation met with stiff opposition from the National Farmers Union, local Conservative MPs and the Goddard family who were set to lose their last remaining holdings in the town.

Church Farm photographed in the 1940s

Official records reveal that between 1961-2 the Corporation built nearly 1,200 houses with a further 738 built by private enterprise, but amenities for the new residents were somewhat lagging behind.  

The Civic News, the local authority's official news sheet, reported in the May 1962 edition that Park Shopping Centre was making rapid progress with the first shops due to open sometime in the summer.

In July of the same year it was announced that Frederick Gibberd, designer of the iconic Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool and Didcot Power Station, had been asked to prepare designs for the second state of the Park Neighbourhood Centre.  This would add ten more shops to the complex, maisonettes and a large block of flats.

Named after a picturesque village in Suffolk, Cavendish Square would be built on green fields bearing the shadow of ridge and furrow, the marks of medieval open field farming methods.

Cavendish Square pictured in the 1970s

Sadly the 1980s saw the beleaguered Cavendish Square area blighted by vandalism and in need of modernisation.  Despite a revamp at the end of the decade, a more vigorous makeover was deemed necessary and Cavendish Square appeared as pledge number 39 on the Swindon Borough Council's list of 50 Promises launched in 2005.  

Major demolition work has since taken place and a new Co-op store opened in August 2008 followed by a new library in September.


  1. The picture of Parks taken from the air must have been taken in 1958. The doctors' surgery is seen at the end of Knolton Walk, it was opened in 1959. That's when Priory Road was laid; here just a stub. Interestingly, although the houses were put up quickly and Park South was only about half built, all the fields seen here were not built on until the early 1960s. The above information comes from my father's diary which he started when we moved to Knolton in 1957.

    1. Thank you for this additional information, Tiger.