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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