Monday, April 21, 2014

Guided Walks - Radnor Street Cemetery

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has recently erected new signage at Radnor Street Cemetery where work continues apace to commemorate the centenary of the Great War.

The Community Payback Team is doing a marvelous job clearing overgrown areas and revealing gravestones long hidden while in the chapel boarded up windows have been replaced with Perspex. Unfortunately work on a small damaged area of the roof, promised by Swindon Borough Council some months ago, has still to be completed.

The Swindon in the Great War team will begin guided tours of the cemetery next month with local military historian Mark Sutton talking about Swindon men who fought and fell while I will be looking at some of the other memorials and the stories behind the families. In August local historical societies will come together in to produce an exhibition in the cemetery chapel.

Dates for your diary:

Thursday, May 22 - An Evening Walk through Radnor Street Cemetery - 6.30 pm. 

Saturday June 21 - Swindon in the Great War display and guided cemetery walks at 11 am and 2 pm.

Sunday August 17 - Swindon in the Great War Exhibition - local historical societies gather to remember - guided cemetery walks at 11 am and 2 pm.

You can book a place on the walks in the comment section of this post or visit our facebook page.

Meanwhile, enjoy some photographs taken recently in the cemetery.

William and Celia Pitt

Memorials revealed - thanks to the Community Payback Team

Remembrance Sunday 2013

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hunt's Copse Farm, South Marston

Pigs might not fly but they certainly caused confusion on the runway at the South Marston airfield, built in 1940 to serve an aircraft factory on the same site. One persistent escapee proved to be a large sow who managed to lift a heavy iron barred gate with her snout. But catching pigs was probably one of the more unusual jobs former Land Army girl Monica Tovey found herself doing. 

In 1943 Monica joined six other Land Army girls at a farm in South Marston.  She explains that the girls only knew the farm as Owl’s Roost, the name of a nearby cottage, which lent its name to the farm during this time  to avoid identification in the event of invasion.

Hunt's Copse Farmhouse, South Marston dates from around 1700 and was once at the centre of 370 acres farmed by Charles Pinniger.

Charles took over the tenancy from his father William and in 1861 he lived in the stone built farmhouse with his wife Harriet, their seven children and an assortment of servants.  Charles employed 13 men and three boys and living at the farmhouse on census night were Elizabeth Bridges 17, a dairy girl, William Yeates 16, a cow man and Charlotte N. Piper, a twenty year old governess.

“Another track known as Green Lane, or Gipsy Lane, branches off and conducts you through the fields and under a magnificent avenue of elms till you strike the main road opposite Kingsdown,” Alfred Williams, Swindon’s Hammerman poet, writes in his book  ‘A Wiltshire Village’ published in 1912, as he takes the reader on a virtual walk through South Marston.  “A footpath brings you past Hunt’s Copse Farm and Broadmoor into the road leading through dense lines of beech to the pretty village of Stanton Fitzwarren.”  He describes the South Marston farms, including Hunt’s Copse, as picturesquely situated and rich in timber, pasture and corn land. 

In 1943 fifteen year old Monica was already doing her bit for the war effort and was working as an assembly worker at the South Marston aircraft factory, a job she found repetitive and boring and decided she would much rather be a Land Army girl.

The minimum age for Land Army recruits was eighteen, but as Monica was already employed in war work a simple sidestep saw her move from the factory to the farm.  While all the other women were employed by the farms on which they served, Monica reveals she was the only one to be employed by an aircraft factory. 

“It was very hard work,” she said.  “With double British summer time in practise the working day could go on to 10 o’clock at night.” The average working week was 48 hours in winter and 52 in summer.

Today the Grade II listed building is surrounded by factories and offices.  The garden and orchard behind the magnificent farmhouse have been carefully preserved, but sadly Hunt’s Copse farming days are now long over.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Holy Rood Church, Swindon

When Swindon Corporation bought the old Goddard mansion house and 52 acres of parkland, it also acquired the ruins of Holy Rood Church, the town's original parish church.  In 1947 the borough surveyor reported to Town Clerk, David Murray John, on the sorry state of the burial ground and chapel at The Lawn.  Many of the tombs had been vandalised with the coverings and side slabs removed while the sheet lead covering on the Goddard family vault had been taken.

"In the chapel itself, a number of plaques have been wrenched from the walls and a hole has been cut in the outer wall on the North Side," wrote the inspector.  Sadly even the stone font had been smashed and scattered around the Chapel.

It is believed that a church had stood on the site of Holy Rood since Norman times but the earliest mention of one dates from the 12th century when it was given to the Augustinian priory of Southwick by the Pont de l'Arche family.

Alongside the burials of Swindon worthies such as the Goddard and Vilett family members are those of William Levett's two children.  A courtier to King Charles I, Levett accompanied the King during his imprisonment at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight and also attended him prior to his execution at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.  Originally from Wiltshire, Levett retired to Swindon after the King's death where in 1658 he leased the 'mansion house lately occupied by Anne Goddard in Swindon.'

In 1845 a new church, St. Marks, was built in the railway village to cater for the ever increasing population of New Swindon.  Meanwhile the old parish church of Holy Rood, by then already in a state of disrepair, struggled to accommodate the growing congregation in Old Swindon.

Building began on a new parish church, Christ Church, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and upon completion in 1851, Holy Rood was partially demolished.  It is thought that the Goddard's gazebo was built around this time using materials from the old church tower.  The farmhouse at Church Farm also included masonry taken from the old church.

In his book 'Swindon Fifty Years Ago (More or Less) published in 1885, William Morris, founder of the Swindon Advertiser, describes the fixtures and fittings of the church including the 'box pews, of all heights and sizes.'  Morris mourns the passing of older forms of worship and writes how before the introduction of the ubiquitious organ, the choir was accompanied by 'a bass-viol, a violin, a flute, a clarionet, sometimes a trumpet.'

Following the borough surveyor's damning report what remained of the chapel was repaired and secured. Today the building is seldom opened but can usually be viewed during the English Heritage Open Days which this year will be held on September 11-14, 2014 - visit for confirmation and more details.

The church registers date from 1623 and can be viewed on microfiche at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.  Holy Rood marriages 1623-1754 can also be viewed on line at the Church of the Latter Day Saints website

Goddard family vault

The Jefferies's family tomb

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