Sunday, 13 December 2009

Chalkland beeches

The beeches at Avebury Stone Circle - beeches thrive in chalky ground, shallow rooted they are susceptible to being blown over. Associated with ancient knowledge and wisdom; the Anglo-Saxon for beech is 'boc' which became book.
Anyone travelling westwards towards Swindon along the M4 will know they have almost arrived when the clumps of beeches come into view high on the Marlborough Downs. The beeches mostly grow on tumuli; Bronze/Iron Age burial mounds.
I mention them on Hidden Swindon because with Liddington Hill overlooking the southern edges of our town they are part of our landscape; the Marlborough Downs are part of our town's heritage and our town belongs to the landscape of north Wiltshire.
Yesterday I jumped on a 49 bus out to Avebury, quite early. This is such a simple pleasure as the 49 is generally a double-decker, to sit upstairs gives an amazing view of the Downs. The bus slowly ascends the hill out of Wroughton and there ... suddenly, one of the best views in the country opens out before you. The ancient Clouts Wood drops away to left with deep coombe surrounding it, then the rolling curves of the downs, often still cloaked in morning mist. Yesterday I witnessed something I have never seen before - a swirling cloud of birds rose up from one of the crop fields and flew in balletic formation before dispersing into the sky. It was a bird I was not familiar with as rooks are usually the dominant bird on the land; after doing a bit of research I have decided they must have been fieldfares - a fleeting moment of the wonder of nature ... for free.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


The church of St Michael's and All Angels dates back to the 13th century and much of Highworth's history is recorded within. The entrance facing the avenue of trees has a hole in the masonery, this was made by a cannon ball in the Civil War. The cannon ball remains in the church though the ball on display is a wooden replica. The church also has some impressive stained glass windows, an example can be seen here

Highworth is a small market town north east of Swindon. It once had a larger population than Swindon and was a more prominant town - until Brunel built his railway which started Swindon's expansion. Highworth continues to remain separate though the rural green belt between it and the outskirts of Swindon is gradually shrinking.
Apart from the church there is much of the old market town still in evidence; I found myself walking past cottages that date back to 18th century before walking up Sheep Street to the town square (below).

Highworth means town on a hill ('worth' comes from enclosure) - it looks out over the Vale of White Horse and the Thames Valley. The area is thought to have been well settled in prehistoric times and I understand archaeological investigations are planned in the future.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Alfred Williams - a man of distinction

This evening I attended a small function at Swindon's Central Library. The gathering to launch a new website dedicated to the life and work of Alfred Williams (1877-1930) The Alfred Williams Heritage Society.
Graham Carter, a journalist at the Swindon Advertiser is largely responsible for this superb website. He also compiled the evening's handout which described Alfred Williams as - author, linguist, soldier, hammerman, builder, artist, naturalist, scholar, folk song collector, poet, historian, philosopher and ... local hero - quite a list.

Alfred Williams is probably most well known for his book Life in the Railway Factory; a while back, however, I wrote about his excellent little book Villages of the White Horse (on my other blog)
Alfred Williams has been mentioned several times before on Hidden Swindon. Local artist Ken White dedicated a wall mural to Alfred Williams for the centenary of his birth back in 1977 and, still living and working locally, he repainted it this year.
I am sure I will be adding to this post on a regular basis, happy to join forces with the people I met this evening, from all walks of Swindon life - to help this unsung man of distinction gain the acknowledgement he so richly deserves.