Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lord Bolingbroke lets off steam!

Henry Mildmay, 5th Viscount Bolingbroke spent just two months of the year, during the shooting season, at his country home of Lydiard, where it has to be said, he liked it to be above all - quiet. But there was one big spanner in the works - the GWR factory hooter.

Originally mounted on 'R' Shop, now the home of STEAM railway museum, the hooter had a range of between 12 to 15 miles, reaching the far flung corner of Lydiard Park, and sounding at various times throughout the day.

It was the early morning calls at 5.15, 5.45 andd 6am to which Lord Bolingbroke particularly objected, claiming a subsequent lack of sleep was jeopardising his weak heart.

Henry began his campaign to silence the hooter in 1868 and succeeded in persuading the GWR to construct a screen around the offending instrument, thereby muting the sound. However, after complaints by the workmen, the screen was eventually removed, but Henry refused to concede defeat.

On January 9, 1873 he presented an 11 point memo to the New Swindon Local Board, spelling out his grievances and the Advertiser published his lordship's application for the removal of the hooter.

'I am disturbed in the enjoyment of my said property, and I am prevented from residing at the said mansion house so much as I should otherwise do, and I could not let it except at a reduced rate,' Henry stated.

'That I am informed and believe that the said New Swindon Local Board then consisted and still consists of twelve members of whom no less than nine were and still are officers and persons in the employ of the Great Western Railway Company, and that two other of the said members were also some years since in the employ of the said company,' he wrote, referring to his earlier protest, hinting at political bias and unfair representation at local government level.

Letters to the editor flooded in. Men whose livelihood depended upon getting to work on time defended the continued use of the hooter and 4,339 of them signed a petition.

The town hall in Old Swindon was packed for the subsequent inquiry at which Lord Bolingbroke was the victor. The hooter was silenced, but only temporarily.

Following a people's protest meeting at the Mechanics' Institution the ruling was over turned and the hooter reinstated.

Did the return of the hooter cause Lord Bolingbroke to fall into a decline. Was his life expectancy foreshortened?

Apparently not, as he died peacefully at his home in Lydiard Park 25 years later on November 7, 1899, aged 79.

The hooter was later removed to the Hydraulic House where it can still be seen today, close to the entrance to the food hall at the Designer Outlet Village. The blast of the hooter was last heard on March 26, 1986 at 4.30 pm when it poignantly sounded until the steam ran out as the workforce left the railway factory for the last time.

Photograph of Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke courtesy of Lydiard Park

1 comment:

  1. I love that story. I did a bit of a blog on Born again Swindonian about the hooter. It is a shame we don't hear it on high days and holidays.