Saturday, 15 March 2008

7,000 year old enigma - The Lawn

The Lawn - where Swindon was born
My favourite place in Swindon, mystical and mysterious. Man has occupied this area since 5000BC. There was originally a natural spring that flowed from the top of the hill making this site perfect for settlement - and Stone Age, Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon remains have been found as evidence of its ancient history.
The name 'The Lawn' came into use when the early fifteenth century manor house was replaced with a mansion house by the Goddard family in the eighteenth century and they changed the name from Swindon House to the The Lawn in 1830.
I knew I would have to come back to this very special little place in old Swindon. I posted something on 9th February under 'Spooky Little Church' and received some very interesting background information from Graham Carter. To say the place is haunting would not be an exaggeration. I have known the Lawns (or The Lawn as it is now called) since I was 8 years old - having come to Swindon with my parents as part of the first influx of 'outsiders' to the town. In those days there was a farm at the foot of the wood with an orchard. We were allowed to pick damsons one year which we took to our Harvest Festival. I left Swindon as a much younger person and then later, my beloved parents moved away to spend their retirement years in another part of the country. I was therefore quite astonished nearly nine years ago to find myself living back in Swindon. The first place I headed for was the Lawns, one little bit of Swindon that had not changed much.
I have recently been reading a booklet produced by Denis Bird called 'The Story of Holy Rood' available at the Museum on Bath Road and I thoroughly recommend this little publication as a source of historical information. It is full of fascinating facts about the little church which appears to stand on its own small hill on the larger hill.
To quote Denis Bird "The geological structure of Swindon Hill results in many springs rising not far below the summit all around the eastern end. The spring near Holy Rood must once have been the most vigorous of them all, for the combe which the stream has cut into the hillside is evidence of its continued activity through ages long before human history". He goes on to say "Seen from the direction of the lakes, the church appears to stand on its own small hill, a beautiful and rather mysterious site such as might have been chosen, before Christianity, for the alter of some ancient god". The stream he refers to feeds into two lakes in the valley of the hill and then is lost to sight in culverts under housing estates but eventually joins the River Cole, itself a tributary of the Thames.
Here's a thing - back in February when we were having a burst of bright sunlight, I was walking through the Lawns one afternoon, just by the main gate into the church - with a friend (who is a committed sceptic) - when we saw a mist by some bushes. As we walked towards it, it moved behind a bush. We went to investigate as my friend thought it might some kids fooling around - there was nothing there. In the bright sunlight with plenty of other people wandering about we were both left with an eerie sense of haunting.........
To continue to quote Denis Bird: "To say that ten thousand people may have been buried here may be no exaggeration, for although the population of early Swindon may have numbered no more than a few hundred souls at any one time, it was here that nearly all found their last resting place, generation after generation, for perhaps more than 700 years."
The steep incline towards the site of the old water mill (photo taken in February)

The site of the water mill which until 1850 stood in the hollow below the south-west corner of the churchyard (photo taken 1st March)

"Old Mill Lane, as the name implies, led from Marlborough Road directly to it. In the course of time, the flow of water to the mill was regulated by building an earth dam across the upper end of the combe to form a mill-pond which was still there in 1850. It has since been drained and filled in, but the dam is still visible as a slight undulation extending across the combe from the nearest of the five large buttresses of the churchyard wall, and below which the ground falls steeply towards the site of the mill." (Denis Bird)

The Planks and The Vicarage Wall
"The raised causeway down The Planks was for the convenience of church-goers, for this was a muddy unsurfaced road which also led to the pond. The high stone walls on one side of the causeway belonged to the Vicarage garden, and there was a Vicarage here from the 14th century." (Denis Bird)
Today, behind the wall there is a small secluded little development called The Hermitage.