Sunday, October 12, 2014

To Fitzroy and Eugenia with love - two Berkshire pigs and some meal

Today it is de rigueur for the about-to-be-married couple to circulate a gift list, but few would publish the results in the local paper.  Yet this was common practice among the great and the good of the 19th century and when the Goddard heir married he did just that.

Captain Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard, second eldest son of Ambrose Lethbridge Goddard married Mrs Eugenia Sutton, widow of Alexander George Sutton, at the Parish Church, Chippenham on June 1, 1895.  The wedding, described as being of ‘a very quiet character,’ was performed by Captain Goddard’s brother, the Rev. C.F. Goddard assisted by the Rev Canon Rich, Vicar of Chippenham and the Rev Canon Mayne, Rector of Christian Malford. Following the wedding breakfast at The Angel Hotel, Chippenham the couple left for a honeymoon in Lynton, Devon.

While the wedding might have been a low key event, the presents were in a different league altogether and were described in the Advertiser as ‘numerous and valuable.’

Heading the list were those exchanged between the couple.  The groom gave the bride a sapphire and diamond horse shoe brooch, a sapphire and diamond ring, a sapphire and diamond bangle, silver brushes and a fur coat.  The new Mrs Goddard presented her husband with a gold and enamel pin, gold initial links, silver dressing case boxes, a ring, a silver cigar lighter and a silver hunting flask.

The groom’s parents were equally generous.  Ambrose and Charlotte gave them a brougham, a light, four wheeled horse drawn carriage.

The Townspeople of Swindon clubbed together to buy a silver tea and coffee service and tray and the tenants of the Swindon estate gave a silver salver while the Lawn servants presented the couple with a silver vegetable dish and a silver thermometer.

Intriguingly, included in the list of presents is a silver cigarette box given by the Hon. Mrs Keppel.  Could this be Alice, later mistress of Edward Vll and great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall?

Among the titled gift givers were Lord and Lady Swansea who added to the silver stash with an ink bottle and a sugar basin while Lady Peel, daughter in law of Sir Robert Peel Prime Minister and founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, gave a Chippendale table.

The more unusual gifts included some fantail pigeons from Miss N. Pegler while Mr Newman presented the newlyweds with two Berkshire pigs and some meal.

The couple never had any children of their own although Major Goddard acted as stepfather to Eugenia’s two children by her first marriage, Naomi who died aged 16 in 1910 and Thomas Alexander who lived at Westlecott Manor.

Major Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard died at his home The Lawn on Friday August 12, 1927 ending more than 350 years of Goddard family history in Swindon. 

Major Goddard’s widow continued to live at The Lawn for a further four years before leaving for America.  She returned to England and died at her home, The Cottage, Buckland on June 8, 1947. Her funeral took place at Christ Church, Swindon two days later.

Having stood empty for several years The Lawn was requisitioned by the war office to accommodate American troops during the Second World War.  It was bought by Swindon Corporation in 1946 and eventually demolished in 1952 when it was declared unsafe.

The Lawn
 Major Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard in old age

Remains of the sunken garden at the Lawn

The gazebo and ice house at the Lawn

Remains of the Lawn

Goddard family vault in the remains of Holy Rood Church.

Memorial window to Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard in Christ Church, Swindon

Old images of Major Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard, the Goddard family and the Lawn are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection. Visit the website on

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Poole family's Amazing Myriorama show

When Florence Poole married Elver Milsom in 1900 her family was at the peak of their profession, enjoying celebrity status across the country.  Florence was the daughter of Joseph Poole who with his four brothers developed novel techniques in the art of myriorama, introducing explosive special effects, which caused great excitement amongst audiences, especially when the scenery caught fire.

The family business began in the 1840s when Malmesbury brothers George, Walter and Charles Poole, itinerate musicians working south coast resorts, met old showman Moses Gompertz.

By 1863 the brothers were managing Gompertz's panorama and diorama touring productions.  However, it would be their nephews who would take the myriorama, a presentation of painted pictures moving across the stage on rollers, to new heights of popularity.

One of the Poole brothers most successful shows was 'The Bombardment of Alexandria' which included realistic gun fire achieved by a network of brass tubing loaded with small pieces of gun cotton and finely ground gunpowder.  A performance at the Colston Hall in Bristol literally brought the house down when parts of the ceiling plaster fell off.

A handbill advertising the arrival of the show at Lowestoft in September 1896 announced among the many variety acts supporting the myriorama were, soloist Miss Ada Violet Poole (Joseph's daughter) and Professor De Voye's Performing Dogs who waltzed, skipped, somersaulted and sang.

By 1897 the brothers had added 'cinematographie.' a combined film camera, projector and developer, to their repertoire.

Eldest brother Joseph and his wife Susannah led a very peripatetic lifestyle with their four children born on tour - Florence (pictured bride) in Leighton Buzzard, Minnie in Plymouth, Ada in Leek and Joseph junior in Cardiff.

However, Malmesbury continued to remain base camp for the family.  The 1881 census reveals that George had given up the travelling life and was landlord at the Railway Hotel in Malmesbury with his wife and four children, assisted by his parents John and Matilda.

By 1883 Joseph had bought a house named Verona where he established a studio for the maintenance of the paraphernalia associated with the shows.  He later went on to become an Alderman and served as Mayor of Malmesbury in 1890-91.

Florence's wedding took place on August 29, 1900 at the parish church Malmesbury.  Most of the travelling Poole clan were present for the big occasion.  The bride's parents Joseph and Susannah are to the right of the photograph on the end of the front row, with Charles and Fred in the middle row and Harry and George at the back.  In 1901 Florence's sister Ada married Elver's brother Percy B. Milsom, their brother Joseph's business manager.

At the time of the 1900 wedding the Poole family had seven elaborate shows touring the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands.

The third generation of Poole family entertainers moved into cinema.  Charles Poole junior, son of Charles William, opened Taunton's first cinema, the Empire Electric Picture House in 1910 while Percy Milsom, Ada's husband, managed The Grand Cinema at Newport on the Isle of Wight in the 1920s.

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 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard

Major Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard's dying request was that his funeral service be as simple as possible and that he wished to be buried in a "plain elm coffin made from timber grown on my estate."

The last Lord of the Manor to live at The Lawn, Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard died at the family home on Friday August 12th 1927 and less than three weeks later Fielder and Tuckett, a firm of auctioneers, valuers and surveyors, were called in to catalogue the family treasures.

An Inventory of Plate, Pictures, Busts, Statutes, Books and Jewellery fills several typewritten sheets of paper, recording items of both financial and sentimental value.  Items were listed under headings of the rooms where they were observed, for example the Dining Room, the Lobby to Drawing Room, the Blue Room and the Rose Room along with the Gun Room and the Billiard Room.

Pages and pages of books are recorded not just from the library but all over the house. An eclectic selection of titles such as Williams' Dogs and their ways is listed alongside a Welsh Dictionary, a photograph book and a scrapbook.

Among the silver plate was a tankard with lid dated 1643 and a Queen Anne crested salver on stand from 1711. There was a Georgian sugar sifter along with a Victorian one, a pair of small rat-tail sugar tongs and dozens of forks, knives and spoons.

Surprisingly there were few items of jewellery. A gold half hunter watch and chain, and seal has an explanatory annotation initialed E.W.G. "given to the Reverend C.F. Goddard (Fitzroy Pleydell's younger brother) at my husbands death."

Oil paintings of animals including two by Benjamin Marshall, an early 19th century canine and equestrian painter, hung on the walls alongside photographs of Teignmouth and Torquay.

In the Major's private room were two photographs of his parents taken on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1897.

Whether the inventory was made for probate or sale is unknown. Fitzroy Pleydell's widow spent a brief four years at The Lawn after her husband's death, before leaving for America where she made her home.

The Major's funeral took place on Monday August 15 at 8pm. Advertiser headlines read 'Interred at Sunset' and 'Large Attendance.'

As requested the Major's coffin was made from one of his trees, cut down in Drove Road during road widening work. Covered by a Union Jack the coffin was carried from The Lawn to the Parish church on a handbier where Canon C.A. Mayall and Dr. R. Talbot, the Archdeacon of Swindon conducted a simple service in Christ Church. The congregation was estimated to number in the thousands as Swindon marked the end of an era.

The Goddard Family - Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard is perched on the bench wearing a bowler hat

The ha-ha

The gazebo

Old images of the Goddard family and the Lawn are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies see

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The Lawn 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

1880 General Election Riot

On the eve of voting in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the United Kingdom holds a collective breath. This is possibly the most emotive if not the most important political event to take place during my lifetime. With more than 81% of the population in England, Northern Ireland and Wales hoping for a 'no' vote, all we can do is sit back and wait.

The past two weeks has been a period of intense campaigning by those representing both sides of the argument with old fashioned tub thumping accompanied by extensive media coverage.

Press coverage more than 130 years ago also had a major influence on public opinion, resulting in a landslide Liberal victory in the 1880 General Election. But even William Morris, founder of the Advertiser, could hardly have anticipated it would lead to a riot in Swindon.

Polling day dawned dull and dismal but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the people. This had been a long anticipated election and the popularity of the Liberal Party had seldom been greater.

The GWR Works had closed for the day, increasing the number of people on the streets and as yellow and blue supporters jostled at the polling stations the excitement reached an alarming point, according to Morris.

"At New Swindon Mr Maskelyne's [Liberal candidate] reception was unprecedented in the history of all our local demonstrations," he reported.

Supporters of Mr Maskelyne made a dash for his carriage and having unfastened the horses, "drew him in triumph through the streets of the town accompanied by some thousands of spectators cheering and shouting vociferously."

However at the closing of the poll the mood on the streets changed sharply as crowds gathered in Bridge Street. The road from the Volunteer Inn to the opposite side of  the Golden Lion Bridge was virtually impassable for several hours.

Local pubs and landlords, especially those who had declared their political allegiance, were targeted by the mob and an attempt was made to throw two publicans in the canal.

Pub windows were smashed on a route through the town centre to the railway village where the Cricketers' Arms and Thomas' in the Market Place were broken. The crowd then stormed up Prospect Hill where private houses also came under attack.

It was after 9 pm before a police presence arrived on the scene, a matter much criticised in the aftermath of the riot. Forming a cordon four deep, the officers swept through the town and eventually managed to clear the streets.

On Saturday morning stunned Swindonians returned to the town centre to view the damage.

"Every right thinking person must sincerely regret and denounce the window breaking which disgraced the election proceedings of last week," Morris reported in Monday's edition of the paper.

Highlighting inflammatory pre election campaign tactics fostered in two New Swindon coffee palaces, Morris urged that criticism should not be too severe "on the action of a thoughtless mob, provoked and irritated by the action of those who ought to have known better."

It remains to be seen how the Scottish people will react when the result of the Independence Referendum becomes known.

Sir Daniel Gooch

Mervyn Herbert Story Maskelyne 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hamblet's famous blue bricks

Today it is difficult to picture the former GWR Park on Faringdon Road without it's splendid railings, yet it is a mere four years ago since the installation of the new ironmongering. A £200,000 developer funded project was announced in March 2009 and the final section along Church Place was finished in the summer of 2010.

The park project generated an interest in the distinctive Victorian blue brick capping on the walls stamped with the imprint Joseph Hamblet from West Bromwich and canal historian Janet Flanagan contacted me about a former boatman Bill Cutler.

Bill was born in 1895, a third generation boatman, and in 1969 the Advertiser interviewed him. He told of working on his father's two horse-drawn narrow boats called Lea and Rea, bringing bricks and brewery sugar from his native West Bromwich to Swindon.

"It was a lovely life," he told the Advertiser. "Peaceful, yet you were doing some hard work."

The Cutler Family connections in the Midlands saw them perfectly placed to transport the blue bricks manufactured at Joseph Hamblet's West Bromwich brickworks.

Like Bill, Joseph Hamblet worked in the family firm where the blue engineering bricks were a speciality. In the 1890s the firm was producing more than 400,000 bricks a week, among them the ones used to cap the walls around the GWR Park.

Bill recalled bringing the bricks down from the Midlands, through Gloucester and on to the Thames and Severn Canal at Stroud. Turning off at Latton the blue bricks made their way along the North Wilts Canal, eventually joining the Wilts and Berks Canal.

The Staffordshire blue bricks, made from the local Etruria Marl red clay, had a high crushing strength and were much favoured by civil engineers. Used in bridge, canal and railway construction, the blue bricks were the Victorian equivalent of reinforced concrete. These impermeable bricks were also ideal for parapet copings and capping walls and apart from a minimal amount of damage those used on the GWR Park walls remain in excellent condition, more than 100 years later.

No record remains of how large the Cutler shipment of Hamblet's blue bricks was and in 1969 Bill made no mention of the GWR Park but said that family memory was they were destined for Clarence Street School.

When Joseph Hamblet senior died in 1894 his grandson took over the business and in 1898 it became a limited company, the Hamblet Blue Brick Co.

Labour and fuel shortages during the Great War marked the end of the Hamblet family business and Bill was later employed to fill in the Swindon canal junction through which he had travelled so many times.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Swindon Heritage - Autumn 2014 edition

The team from Swindon Heritage will be launching the publication of the Autumn edition of the magazine at the Richard Jefferies Museum tomorrow.

The farmhouse at Coate was the home of Victorian naturist, novelist, poet and journalist Richard Jefferies and throughout the day Dr Mike Pringle will be conducting tours of the property. Mike will also be signing copies of his own book Swindon - Remembering 1914-18, the story of how Swindonians served in and survived the Great War.

Read about Kate Tryon in the Autumn edition of Swindon Heritage. An American artist and Jefferies devotee, Kate wrote an account of the first of her three visits to Jefferies Land to accompany a series of paintings, some of which will be on display at the museum tomorrow.

Visitors are invited to join the Bluegate Poets annual open day and barbecue, which begins at 3pm. Come and make a day of it at the Richard Jefferies Museum, Coate.

Mike Pringle

Richard Jefferies
Kate Tryon

Coate Farm

Reservoir House, Coate

The Lawn

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Swindon in the Great War

The people of Swindon marked the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War across the town in a variety of events this week.

On Monday August 4 Dr Mike Pringle (pictured below) launched the publication of his book Great War Britain - Swindon: Remembering 1914-18. A professional in the arts and heritage sector, Mike follows in the footsteps of headteacher WD Bavin who in 1922 was commissioned by Swindon Corporation to write Swindon's War Record. Read more about Mike's book in The Link Magazine.

Tuesday was a busy day for Swindon in the Great War volunteers who welcomed Swindon Mayor Teresa Page to open their exhibition - One Town's War - at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Bath Road, Swindon. The exhibition, created by volunteers and funded by an HLF grant, features exhibits and artefacts donated by Great War historians Mark Sutton and Richard Fisher. The exhibition will run until January 31, 2015. The Museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 11am to 3pm.

On Friday evening a free, public viewing of Steven Spielberg's War Horse, adapted from a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, was shown on the big screen at Wharf Green and on Saturday August 9 the Brunel Centre hosted a series of Great War events in and around the shopping centre.

And in conversation with Alastair Greener of SwindonWeb, Mike talks about Swindon during the Great War. Among the topics he discusses is the work of Old Town furnishers Gilberts who provided furniture for Chiseldon Camp and the story of two incredible Swindon women. Mary Slade MBE and Kate Handley headed a team of volunteers who collected provisions for the men of the Wiltshire Regiment. They later went on to support Swindon men taken prisoner of war. Read more about these women in Swindon in the Past Lane and visit the exhibition to see evidence of their work.

Commemorations continue next week with a local history exhibition in the Radnor Street Cemetery Chapel and guided cemetery walks on Sunday August 19. For further details see below.

Dr Mike Pringle - Swindon: Remembering 1914-18

Swindon in the Great War - One Town's War exhibition

Swindon in the Great War - One Town's War exhibition

More from One Town's War - exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

More from One Town's War - exhibition runs until January 31, 2015.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum - Teresa Page, Swindon Mayor; Sophie Cummings curator at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and  Great War  historians Mark Sutton and Mike Pingle - Calyx Picture Agency

Swindon Society photographic exhibition

Swindon Heritage magazine

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bruce - the famous fund raising dog

Bruce travelled 12,000 miles by rail and raised more than £890 for charity, mostly for the Swindon Victoria Hospital, in a life that spanned just ten short years.  Awarded 16 gold and silver medals and a solid silver collar, Bruce the famous fund raising dog has gone down in local history, but what about his owner.

Thomas Arthur Beal was born on January 31, 1878 at 5 Read Street.  His father, also named Thomas, was a railway coach body maker in the GWR works, and on his 14th birthday Thomas junior joined him in the railway factory, beginning a seven year apprenticeship in the Turning Department.

By the time of the 1901 census Thomas was boarding with a family in Portsmouth where he worked as an electrical engineer fitter, but it would not be long before he returned to Swindon. In 1905 he married Jane Rice and set up home in Nelson Street, living with his new wife, her 12 year old son and, presumably Bruce who was born the same year.

An obituary was published in the Evening Swindon Advertiser when Bruce died in July 1915 - "Mr T.A. Beal of 16 Nelson Street, Swindon, informs us his well-known collecting dog, Bruce died last Friday morning, after three months illness, suffering from an ulcerated stomach.  Two veterinary surgeons have attended the animal, and did all that was possible to save his life." The report continued - "He will be greatly missed on Hospital Collection days and especially by the children, with whom he was a great favouriteBy his death Mr Beal has lost a valuable pet.'  Bruce was photographed many times but Thomas only appears in one picture taken by William Hooper.

Thomas died in 1957, not at the Victoria Hospital for which he and Bruce had raised so much money, but at St Margaret's Hospital built on the site of the former workhouse at Stratton St Margaret.  Whether he owned any subsequent dogs remains unknown, but Bruce would have been a tough act to follow.

Images published courtesy of P.A. Williams and Swindon Local Collection.