Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TRIP - a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture

As Swindon schools prepare to begin the summer holiday at the end of this week, the debate continues about the validity of a long six week break at the end of the school year.

The tradition harks back to our agricultural past when children were required to work in the fields, earning a much needed additional income for their family. Today things are a little different and the long summer break is said by some educationalists to disadvantage children and set back their learning. School holidays are an expensive time to travel but parents potentially face fines for taking their children out of school during term time. Perhaps there is an argument for readjusting how we do things.

While firms such as Honda still shut down for a fixed number of holidays across the year, nothing compares to TRIP when the mighty railway works closed for its annual break.

'Swindon changed its ways and adapted itself to accommodate TRIP, so significant was it for the town's economy and social well being. The council called special meetings, the shopkeepers changed their half day closing, the local paper even closed its offices and did not print an edition on TRIP day, the schools started summer holidays early, local employers adapted their holiday arrangements in keeping with TRIP. The impact on the town was huge', Rosa Matheson writes in her book TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works.

The origin of TRIP began in 1848 when some 500 men, women and children enjoyed a day trip to Oxford where they were escorted on a tour of the colleges and other places of interest by members of the British Association.

By 1892 TRIP had evolved into a nine day unpaid break, beginning on the first Friday in July. By then the number of men employed in the works was about 10,000 and the population of New Swindon was more than 27,000. In that year 18,248 people took off on their annual holiday. The town emptied.

The Works closed on March 26, 1986 bringing the end of an era. 'The Great Western Railway Co., Swindon Works and TRIP are a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture,' writes Rosa. 'While they are gone, they still live on in the memories of Swindonians, especially in the hearts of ex-Works railway families.'

Rosa's book is a treasure trove of memories and family photographs from another age and is packed full of fascinating facts and figures.

TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus.

Photographs courtesy of William Hooper and Local Studies, Swindon Central Library.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmeline Pankhurst

Today marks the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday, although the date is still up for debate. Emmeline always celebrated her birthday on July 14 aligning her arrival with that other revolutionary happening Bastille Day. It is more generally accepted that she was born in Manchester on July 15, 1858, the second of Robert and Jane Goulden's ten children.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline's involvement in socialist politics began in the 1890s when she joined the fledgling Independent Labour Park with her husband Richard Pankhurst. Her conviction that the only way women could improve their situation, still very much one of subordination to men across every stratum of society, was to campaign for the parliament vote.

In 1903 the widowed Emmeline and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union in Manchester and three years later moved their organisation down to headquarters in London.

Mrs Pankhurst under police escort

On May 19, 1906 the first Women's Suffrage Demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers was Keir Hardie Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and in the crowd was a Swindon schoolteacher, Edith New.

Edith began her career as a pupil teacher at Queenstown Infants, one of the first schools built in 1880 by the new Swindon School Board.  Following two years spent in London studying for her teacher's certificate, Edith returned to Swindon but in 1901 she took up a teaching post at Calvert Road School in East Greenwich.  When Charles Booth conducted his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London he identified this area as largely poor where the average income was between 18 and 21 shillings a week.

Edith New

Edith joined the Women' Social and Political Union and in March 1907 she was sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Gaol for attempting to get into the House of Commons. In 1908 Edith left teaching and became a paid organiser for the WSPU. She travelled the length and breadth of the country, organising by-election campaigns and addressing meetings and demonstrations. She served several terms of imprisonment, most famously for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Edith New (right)  and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway

On July 14, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated her 55th birthday during a brief respite from Holloway Gaol. In April she had been sentenced to three years penal servitude for being an accessory before the fact in the attempted burning of a house at Walton Heath. She was released on June 16th under the terms of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act. More commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, suffragist prisoners weakened by hunger strikes and forcible feeding, were temporarily released when their health gave prison officials cause for concern. Released on licence, once deemed sufficiently recovered, they were rearrested to continue their sentence.

Both Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney had ignored the terms of their licence and on July 14 they turned up at the London Pavilion for the weekly WSPU meeting. Mrs Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome from the audience, however, the police were also present and ready to arrest the two women.

They turned their attention first to Annie while Emmeline was said to have walked through the crowd and out into a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney

"A struggle followed, the detectives and uniformed policemen rushing into the mass with their heads down to protect their faces from the possibility of attacks by hatpins, and striking out in all directions," the Times reported the following day. "Detectives attempted to encircle Miss Kenney, but women pressing out from the entrance to the Pavilion rushed to the rescue. Two detectives put their prisoner into a taxicab and took her to Holloway. Standing on the pavement were women with their hair down their backs, their hats off, and clothes torn while the detectives had suffered equally, their coats being in some cases almost torn from their backs and their hats broken in."

Mrs Pankhurst spent the following week in a flat on Great Smith Road, Westminster with a police guard on duty outside. An attempted escape using a 'double' to lure police away from her door failed, but a week later supporters managed to smuggle her out of the flat and into the London Pavilion yet again. A week after her birthday Mrs Pankhurst was rearrested as she attempted to take the stage for the WSPU meeting.

Emmeline Pankhurst's memorial in Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just one month before her 70th birthday and shortly after the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. On March 6, 1930 a monument to the suffragist leader was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the House of Parliament and unveiled by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Edith New died on January 2, 1951 in Polperro, Cornwall. Recognition in her home town for her achievements in the Votes for Women Campaign would take another 60 years to be put in place, thanks to an appeal made by Greendown Community School pupils. In 2011 a street on Nightingale Rise, Moredon was named Edith New Close.

Edith was buried with her much loved sister Ellen 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Honest John Arkell

Are you still reeling from the result of last week's General Election? Does the thought of doing it all again in a few months time fill you with despair. As Brenda from Bristol famously said: "Not another one!"

How privileged we are in this country to have the vote and how sad that for so many it has become a burden. Can't be bothered, it doesn't make any difference, they all say one thing and do something different when they are elected. We've all heard these comments, possibly even uttered them ourselves.

In 1849 John Arkell, founder of the Kingsdown brewery, was writing to the local papers with some very modern and interesting ideas. He supported universal suffrage, although it is not clear whether he included votes for women in this recommendation, and a fairer society. His arguments resonate today, 168 years later.

To the Editor of the Wiltshire Independent

Sir, - As it appears from a letter in the Devizes Gazette, of Thursday last, dated from Swindon that the time has fairly arrived when some persons can be allowed sufficient space to inform the thinking world how we are going on in this neighbourhood; and as nothing but universal suffrage, or near approaching to it, and an equitable adjustment of all our national burdens, will ever stay the general ruin and confiscation of property which is now going on; I have thought it my duty again to call your particular attention to those facts which I have set before the public in your journal many times before, namely, the extension the suffrage to every householder, and the question of paper money, and how the continual reduction of country bank notes is daily affecting the community who have mortgaged their estates and entered into other monetary engagements.

 As the greater portion of the productive classes will be ruined, and the labouring population reduced to the Irish level, if some speedy means are not adopted to remedy the most strange and destructive anomalies which appear to be growing into existence throughout England, namely, the rapid accumulation of property in the hands of a few, and the great and unheard of poverty on the part of the many; and until we shall have found a complete remedy, or rather till the mass of the people will take the trouble to inquire into the great national swindle which has been, and is still be carried on against them; no positive and last good whatever can come to the industrious and productive classes ...
... At the same time, as the minds of Wiltshire Farmers and tradesmen have been roused to action more than those of many other counties, I see no reason why many of them, or at least those who are not so foolish as still to look after protection, should not join the movement which has been commenced with so much vigour in London and elsewhere, by the “Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association,” a branch of which is now in existence at New Swindon. 

Neither do I see any reason at all why the farm labourers and country tradesmen should not join the Association, even if the farmers refuse to lead them on; for I am well persuaded that since the major part of the farmers have agreed to discontinue all improvements during the coming winter, and turn away all the men they can possibly do without, so as to fill the poor-houses and create poverty amongst the people generally, for the purpose or showing their landlords and the legislature that we cannot go on under the present system and without protect on; the only hope which the tradesmen and labourers have of salvation lie in Parliamentary and Financial Reform.

And as the London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham Reformers have joined hand in hand, and are about to send deputies into the country, for the purpose of enlightening the working classes respecting the corruption of our present system of representation and public finance, what can we do better than to leave all minor disputes amongst ourselves, and advocate Parliamentary and Financial Reform as the thing wanting to make us a more contented and happy people, a truly rich and powerful nation.

Who knows but that when the farmers see that if they and their interest are to be represented and saved, it must be by those persons who represent the people, they will think it much better to trust to such men as Messrs Williams and Gladstone, and the working millions, than in rich landlords and political factions, who interest appears to be in misleading and deceiving still further those whom they ought to have protected. Even the pride of the proprietors of East India stock was greatly subdued, when they found that if they refused the assistance of such men as Sir Charles Napier any longer India would be lost to them. The same by the Great Western proprietors and the Messrs Williams and Gladstone; and the same it will be, no doubt, between the farmers and those who have been trying to open their eyes to their present situation. – Hoping by throwing out these few hints I have not trespassed too long upon your patience.

I remain, your humble servant,
John Arkell,
Kingsdown, near Swindon, Sept. 24, 1849

When John died in 1881 the Swindon Advertiser described him as a Radical Reformer, 'honest, outspoken, independent.'

John Arkell

Kingsdown brewery pictured in the 1930s

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Garden for All Seasons

Are you gardening on a budget? Apparently so was Sir John St. John married to wealthy heiress Anne Furnese, when he transformed the gardens at Lydiard Park in 1743.

Sir John had the 17th century formal gardens tended by his grandmother torn up in the name of changing garden fashions for a romantic, more natural looking landscape. It was out with the old and in with the new and the formal fruit and flower garden was relocated to the back of the house.

Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter was a keen gardener. Letters written from her home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard indicate how involved she was with the planting and development of the garden.

I bid richard brown send down some slips of the austrian rose if he hath sent them set them betwen the lawrel tre in the court if ther be any that stand far enough asunder...

Another letter to Hardyman gives instructions for Rudler, the gardener regarding a consignment of send him a noat of the number and how to use them but the seed must not be s[own] till next yere tell him he must not brag to much least he lose them and tel him I would have all the white and yelow crowns planted in the outward garden as wel as thos that are turned plaine red or yalow or white bid him also save some of his white stock seed for us...

The walled garden has been central to the ambitious restoration project at Lydiard Park, championed by former keeper of the house Sarah Finch-Crisp.

The garden is surprisingly large with an area measuring 4,500 square metres. It's an odd shape too, a parallelogram. The northeastern wall is taller than the others to offer better protection against winter winds. While three of the corners are angled, the fourth is rounded. It has been suggested that a curved bench was probably positioned there to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in 2004 ahead of the four-year restoration programme. Among the finds made was evidence of ornamental garden features and a well with a stone cistern.

Over 300 years later, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St. John have contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Gardeners in charge of the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants, which would have been popular in St. John's day.

In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Today they are a tad cheaper, good news for gardeners working to a budget.

Apple blossom time in the Walled Garden April, 2017

Photographs by Frances Bevan and  Leah Bevan-Haines

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Friday, April 14, 2017

What would Swindon's early railway settlers say?

Yesterday evening I attended a very interesting meeting chaired by Robert Buckland MP for Swindon South.

The purpose of the meeting was twofold – to discuss how to better protect and use buildings central to Swindon’s heritage and the subject of the new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Those present spoke with passion, although it has to be said, sometimes without good manners or respect for opposing views.

The new museum and art gallery is planned for a large, empty site between the magistrate’s court and the Wyvern Theatre in Princes Street, the designated Cultural Quarter of the Council’s regenerated Town Centre. 

Some felt it should be situated in the former Carriage Works on London Street.

So that was the gist of the meeting …

No one questioned that the town needs a new art gallery to better showcase the acclaimed modern art collection, acknowledged as the best outside London. No one doubted that the town needs a new museum to better tell the story of Swindon’s fascinating history, which can be traced back way beyond the railway years, with artefacts and exhibits currently stored in various locations across the town.

No one doubted the impact a new museum and art gallery could have upon the town’s cultural status, drawing in tourists, providing educational opportunities, income etc. It’s all a question of where to put it.

For some it was obvious. Why spend millions on a new build when buildings of national heritage importance are standing empty?

Others asked why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have an all singing all dancing new building and preserve Swindon’s heritage at the same time?

So, what did I take away from the meeting – apart from a headache? I was impressed by the desire to work together expressed by some, but I have to admit I was disappointed at the way others put across their arguments.

Last year we celebrated Swindon175 and the beginning of New Swindon – Old Swindon had been jogging along for many hundreds of years prior to this, thank you very much.

So, a hundred and seventy-five years ago Brunel and Gooch were steaming ahead with the Great Western Railway, buying up land left, right and centre in the name of progress. Some local landowners rebelled and refused to sell to them, but ultimately, they got the job done in the end. Hurray! Where would we be without the railways? No, seriously, where would we be? Life as we know it today owes pretty much everything to the coming of the railways, and New Swindon owes it's very existence to the railways. (Not Old Swindon which had been jogging along ...)

By 1843 building in the Railway Village was well underway and people were arriving in their droves from all over the country – to a town that had a huge railway factory and nothing else. The early settlers were innovators, movers and shakers and they created things and built stuff. They built the Mechanics’ Institute, the Milton Road Baths – new stuff, new builds.

I wonder what they would say today as we argue and debate about a brand-new museum and art gallery? I’m guessing they would probably say ‘go for it.’ But we can’t agree where to put it, we tell them.

I wonder what their advice would be?

published courtesy of Swindon Heritage

published courtesy of Swindon Link 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Can Court

So, what is the history behind Can Court Farm and where should I begin my research?

Last week I came across the grave of Margaret Fanny Willis in the abandoned churchyard at Eysey and traced her husband and sister in law, brother and sister Ernest and Ellen Willis, to Can Court, Lydiard Tregoze.

Now I want to know more about the farm where they grew up, and where best to turn to but the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Reports published annually from 1968 – 2007. These reports are a mine of information to those interested in Lydiard Park and the surrounding area, and the St John family. The Friends are currently digitising the Reports and some of them are available to members through the website. Central Library, Swindon also have a complete bound set available on their shelves in Local Studies.

In Report No. 15 published in 1982, Canon Brian Carne wrote an article about Can Court and some of its owners and occupiers.

The Bradford family were tenant farmers in the parish of Lydiard Tregoz from at least the 1730s when Cornelius and his wife Mary Pontin raised a large family at Can Court. The family continued to farm at Can Court until 1858 when John Ambrose Willis, the father of Ernest and Ellen, took over the tenancy.

The earliest references to Can Court is 1564 when the property was held by Henry Compton as part of his manor of Elcombe in Wroughton.

Subsequent owners included Henry Compton’s son, William Lord Compton; Thomas Hutchings; Thomas Baskerville and Sir John Benet until 1624 when the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Oxford acquired the property.

Canon Carne quotes from the Victoria History of Wiltshire, Vol IX p.30, which provides a description of the property.

“The farmhouse is a tall stone building of four stories dating from the 17th century. There are three rooms to each floor, separated by stud partitions, and a massive oak staircase reaching from basement to attics. The twin-gabled front is flanked by projecting chimneys with tall diagonally set stacks; in the centre is a timber framed porch of two stories with a hipped roof. The stone windows, most of which have survived, have ovolo moulded mullions and are surmounted by relieving arches. The ground floor contains a hall and parlour with a smaller room and the staircase at the rear. Oak panelling in the hall is framed in narrow panels and there is an arcaded overmantle. The unusual plan of the house and the workmanship of its fittings may indicate that it was not designed as an ordinary farmhouse, while its architectural character suggests a building date of c.1650. In front of the house is a small enclosed forecourt. At the entrance to this there is a stone slab on which an inscription was still legible in the later 19th century. It apparently commemorated Cornelius Bradford (d. c.1750). The Bradford family were tenants of Can Court for most of the 18th century before leaving it for Midgehall.”

Can Court survived the 1980s West Swindon development and is separated from its former neighbours at Toothill and Blagrove by the M4.

In 1985 Can Court Farmhouse received a Grade II listing. The description on the British Listed Building Register reads as follows:

Farmhouse, late C16. Coursed limestone with ashlar quoins, stone slated roof. 2-storey, 3 bays; cellar and attics. Central hall with 2-storey porch, flanking reception rooms and rear extension.
Gable stacks with diagonal flues. Elevation: twin steep pitched gables with ball finials. Upper floor windows ovolo moulded stone-mullioned with square labels. Lower windows renewed. Stone
relieving arches. Porch timber framed with moulded jetty bressumers and moulded eaves.
Interior: not seen. Said to have panelling and stair brought from Broad Hinton Manor House.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Abandoned churchyard at Eysey

Last week the Swindon Heritage/Swindon Society team went in search of the abandoned churchyard at Eysey/Eisey. It’s relatively easy to find if you know where to look but it is far off the beaten track for cemetery followers.

The church of St Mary’s dated from the 13th century but was demolished and rebuilt in 1844. The parish registers date from 1571, and end in 1947 so as you can imagine there are a fair few burials in the churchyard. The Victorian church stood empty for several years before it too was demolished. Today there is evidence of the boundary wall and some memorials but the whole area is heavily wooded and overgrown.

And of course, as invariably happens when I start researching, I found a link to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze, although not, this time, the St John family and Lydiard Park, but the Willis farming family.
Amongst the nettles and fallen trees we found two perfectly preserved pink granite memorials both apparently dating from the 1920s and contained in a large family plot.

The inscription on one of the graves reads: In Loving Memory of Nelly, the dearly beloved wife of Henry John Horton who died at Eysey Manor Dec. 5th 1924 aged 55 years. On the other side of the memorial the inscription reads: Also In Loving Memory of Henry John Horton her beloved husband who died Sept 1st 1924 aged 64 years. The third inscription reads: In loving memory of Charles James Horton a loving brother & uncle who passed away Jan. 24th 1947, Aged 79 years.

In the neighbouring grave is a memorial to a mother and son. The inscription reads: In loving memory of Margaret the dearly beloved wife of Ernest Willis who died 24th July 1958. Aged 95 years.

On the opposite side of the memorial was the inscription that would lead me to Lydiard Tregoze.

In Loving Memory of Ernest Willis dearly beloved younger son of Ernest and Margaret Willis late of Can Court Wilts. July 5th 1891 – Feby 17th 1924 He served in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regt. & Royal Air Force throughout the Great War.

The Horton family had nipped back and forth across the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire county borders, farming at various times at the Manor Farm, Inglesham, Wiltshire and Broadway Farm at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire.

The Willis family had moved from Stanford in Berkshire to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze where John Ambrose Willis married farmer’s daughter Harriet Ellison and raised a large family at Can Court Farm, owned by The Masters, Fellows, Scholars of Pembroke College, Oxford.

John Ambrose Willis died in 1886 and is buried in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. His son Ernest took over the tenancy of the farm and in 1889 married Margaret Fanny Horton at Down Ampney parish church where a host of Horton’s are recorded as witnesses at the wedding. That same year Ernest’s sister Ellen Willis married Margaret’s brother Henry John Horton.

On census night in 1891 Ernest and Margaret Willis are recorded at Caln Court with their one year old son Edward Ambrose and Ernest’s brother Henry L. Willis who was visiting with his two children, Sarah and Robert.

Henry John and Ellen Willis are at Costow Farm, a neighbouring property across the parish boundary in Wroughton.

By 1901 the Willis family had moved to Caversham where Ernest worked as a ‘butcher & purveyor’ at 12 Church Street. The family are still living in Caversham at the time of the 1911 census. Ernest and Margaret had been married for 22 years. Still living at home was Edward Ambrose, their eldest son, who worked at a Clerk for the GWR, and their daughter Margaret Louisa. Younger son Ernest is not recorded with the rest of the family.

Ernest senior died the following year. He may be buried in the large family plot in Eisey, perhaps mentioned on the kerbstone that surrounds the two large memorials.

In 1911 Henry John and Ellen were living at Eisey Manor where Ellen (Nelly) died in 1920 and Henry John four years later. Henry John left £43,648 17s 9d with probate granted to his brother Charles James Horton and his three sons Robert Willis Horton, Henry Horton and Charles Horton.

Margaret, meanwhile, moved back to Swindon and a house in Westlecott Road. The son with whom she is buried died at the Sanatorium Linford Hampshire in 1924, most probably from the effects of his military service.

On the eve of the Second World War Margaret was still living at Southwood, Westlecott Road with her bachelor brother Charles J. Horton. Charles died in 1947 and Margaret in 1958 aged 95.