Saturday, 29 November 2008

The old and the new

The Town Hall in Regent Circus
Next to the new library is Swindon's Victorian Town Hall. Still the dominant building of the town though now longer used as the town hall (now a dance studio). With the coming of Brunel's Great Western Railway works in the early 1840s 'new' Swindon gradually started to be built, starting with the Railway Village. For quite a few years this was separate from the original Swindon now known as Old Town. As 'new' Swindon grew, the gap between the two communities closed, linked together by Victoria Road, Eastcott Hill, Kingshill Road and even the hillside cemetery behind Radnor Street which served both the 'old' and 'new' towns. The 'new', as it then was, is now part of Swindon's history - sadly much of it has disappeared with the 'progress' of the 1960s when many of the terraced streets and red-brick Victorian buildings were demolished to make way for roads and modern buildings.
The Town Hall was built in 1891 - here is what Mark Child says about it in his excellent illustrated History of Swindon:
"Here was the New Swindon Local Board making a statement in 1891, with a building that dominated the Swindon sky-line, in a position that was also clearly visible from Old Town .......From the moment it was built, the New Swindon Town Hall became a vocal point for large outdoor meetings and places where visiting worthies were displayed to the people. The Town Hall clock has been known to chime eccentrically over the years, once in the 1960s striking 24 times at three o'clock in the afternoon. Eventually, local government outgrew the building and it was removed to the Civic Offices, built for the purpose in 1938."
Note: Today many of the 1960s buildings have been demolished as the town's council seeks to regenerate the town centre - hopefully the old Town Hall and the new library will continue to stand side by side as an example of how the new can (in the hands of skilled architects) compliment the old.

Swindon's new library

View of the new library from the crossing going towards Victoria Hill
The new Central Swindon Library

The stairs leading to the second floor
Hidden Swindon has mainly been about the places I walk around the the town, places are generally best accessed by foot. Here is another wonderful place - no secret and definitely not hidden.
Swindon's new rotunda central library - a building any town would be proud of, beautiful inside and out. I usually head for the 'quiet' second floor where the ancient history section is.
Many thanks for the two comments, much appreciated. To answer Sean's question, the new Central Library replaces the prefab building that was (according to Swindon Web) on the site for 30 years. In fact there had been a smaller prefab building on the site since the 1950s so the old hut served Central Swindon as a library for well over 50 years.
Edit: 4/12/08 - Just came across an excellent article by Mark Child in January's edition of Wiltshire Life - recommended.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Croft Wood in November rain

A carpet of beech leaves - soft and springy underfoot

One of the more mature trees in the wood - now almost leafless

I realised today that I have neglected some of my favourite places around 'old' Swindon. Croft Wood is a joy and has appeared on this Blog many times. Full of bluebells in the spring, today it was carpeted with autumn leaves. A magical 'hidden' little wood tucked away between Croft Sports Ground and Pipers Way - this part of Swindon is a patchwork of copses and footpaths through strips of woodland. What a beautiful place it must have been just half a century ago before the motorway, corporate headquarters and the upmarket hotel.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

No! to the Coate Development - update

(photo taken in January this year)
The 'Council Oak' at Coate Water - the same tree featured in Richard Jefferies novel 'Bevis, the story of a boy'. Richard Jefferies was born at Coate in 1848 and died in 1887.
Below is a reproduction of a photo that appeared in yesterday's Swindon Advertiser
The land by Coate Water Country Park
Permission has been given by the editor of the Swindon Advertiser to reproduce in part the following report and the above picture.
Yesterday's Swindon Advertiser (12/11/08) ran a 'good news' story on its front page under the headline: No! Not In Our Backyard. Report by James Wallin (Political Reporter).

Plans to dump 1,500 houses close to a local beauty spot have been condemned by Swindon Councillors. An application to build on land near Coate was branded a "travesty" by planning committee members at a meeting last night. An appeal by the developers, the Swindon Gateway Partnership will now be considered at a public inquiry on February 10th 2009. But Swindon Council has sent a strong message to the Secretary of State that in their view the proposal is "fundamentally flawed" and should be refused.

The battle to save this land and its historic associations with the writer Richard Jefferies whose house (now the Richard Jefferies Museum) stands on the corner of Dayhouse Lane is not yet completely won but with 52,000 signatures on a petition against the development the Save Coate campaigners were upbeat after the council meeting: To quote the Swindon Advertiser again - Jean Saunders said: "I think it was a wonderful decision by the councillors and I pleased to hear their support for Coate Water".

Jean Saunders and other campaigners such as Brian Burrows and Felicity Cobb have worked tirelessly for the past five years or so to stop this development. After Bath University pulled out of their earlier plans to develop a campus on the site the developers dug their heels in and lodged an appeal with the Secretary of State on the basis that Swindon Council had not made a decision about the building plans for the site.

The Swindon Advertiser has reported this story right from the start and has been active in keeping the people of Swindon informed of every setback and progress made in this long campaign.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Red Lion at Avebury

The Red Lion Pub - from the Cove at Avebury
Avebury is often very busy so week days are the best time to visit. Just a short walk outside the henge in any direction will bring you to the pastoral tranquility of sheep grazing in meadows - if you just want to clear the mental cobwebs away. On my visit today in the pale November sunshine, there were groups of schoolchildren with their teachers on field studies - what a lovely day out from school. The children were all, without exception, engaged and interested in the massive stones. I walked out along the West Kennet Avenue of stones to Waden Hill where there a spectacular view of Silbury Hill may be had. Today there were sheep grazing across the hill and also clambering up Silbury.
For refreshment, or just to catch up with friends, the Red Lion thatched pub sits in the centre of the stone circle. Pagans and druids gather there at certain times of the year to celebrate various festivals including the summer and winter solstice. The Red Lion has its own ramshackle charm, I recall sitting outside in sunshine by the old stable area (now an outside storeroom) with a 'walking' friend back in August and was enchanted by the fledgling swallows taking flight from the the top of the wooden doors. Quite magical.
The pub also has the old village well inside the front room of the pub which was a later addition to the original building. And if that's not enough, the Red Lion is reputed to be haunted by several apparitions including that of Florrie who (as legend has it) was murdered and thrown down the well ..... this has never been disproved as at the bottom of the well there now sits a large immovable stone.
Avebury is just half and hour's bus journey from Swindon. The no 49 bus runs hourly and is probably my favourite bus journey - as the bus travels uphill from Wroughton suddenly the downs open out and the air instantly freshens. I never tire of making this short trip from bustling town to ancient and unique landscape.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Radnor Street Cemetery - in November

Radnor Street Cemetery
Radnor Street Cemetery is a fascinating little hillside Victorian cemetery - I live very close by so often walk through en route to Old Town. Today, my friend and neighbour called in on me and told me this story of a rather humerous encounter in the cemetery.

Yesterday (Bonfire Night) my friend had taken her hidden short cut into the cemetery via a path that runs along the side of some houses. She was with her husband and little dog when fireworks started going off - the dog bolted and my friend's husband went after it. It was by this time starting to get dark and the large Victorian gates at the top and the bottom of the cemetery had just been locked. My friend then saw an agitated looking man who had apparently been locked in so she asked if she could help. On seeing her the man nearly jumped out of his skin and, while my friend was telling him how to get out via her short cut, he edged gingerly away. She finally had to show him the path while he kept a clear and nervous distance between them.
It was only when she told her husband about it and he roared with laughter did she realise the man she she had helped must have thought he had been speaking to a ghost.