Swindon Town Gardens

April 2017

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Swindon Town Gardens

As I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once – Swindon is blessed with some wonderful green spaces.  The Swindon Town Gardens up in Old Town being just one of them.

Read about some more of them here: https://swindonian.me/category/parks-and-open-spaces/

It’s taken me some times to get round to dedicating a post to the town gardens – hey ho. Such is life.

So what can we say about them? Well, according to Parks and Gardens.Org our Town Gardens were ‘were laid out in the late-19th and early-20th centuries on the undulating Okus Field. 

The Gardens were opened in May 1894 by Mr W Reynolds, Chairman of the Board. The northern area was laid out in 1902 and included a maze, a shelter, rustic bridges, and seats, to a design submitted by a Mr A John Gilbert. In the mid-20th century improvements were made to the Gardens, including the creation of a rose garden and bandstand with arena.’ 

All of which is fine if not a little dry.

The Historic England website tells us that the gardens are ‘registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage for its special historic interest.’

The Historic England website also tells us that: ‘Along the northern boundary of the rectangular garden is an entrance porch with iron turnstiles and brick pillars that leads to a domed bandstand in Art Deco style, called the Concert Bowl, situated in a valley below. Both the Concert Bowl and entrance were designed by J B L Thompson in 1934(6 (drawings, WRO), and were formally opened by the Mayor of Swindon on 6 May 1936. The Concert Bowl, referred to in Thompson’s drawings (see above) as ‘Bandstand and Arena’, and in Civic News, July 1963, as ‘a concert bowl and shell’, stands 65m south of the north-eastern entrance. It is approached from the south along a lawn at the bottom of the steep grass-banked valley, with mature trees to the north, west, and east….’  So a bit more descriptive then. 

The Great British Gardens website though exhorts us to: ‘Step back in time to this Victorian garden set in an old quarry which used to produce Portland stone.’

None of which though portrays just how loved these gardens are. Indeed there’s a bunch of wonderful Town Gardens artists who are prolific in the art they produce inspired by these wonderful gardens.

You do though get the sense, from all these entries, of the things to see at every turn. The concert bowl here, the aviary there, a sculpture of Peter Pan, a Victory in Europe memorial and of course, the fabulous bandstand. There’s a great picture on Swindon Local Collection’s Flickr page of the bandstand back in the day. 

Of the concert bowl, Geography.org has a nice photo of the bowl and has this to say:  ‘The Bowl is pre-war and is possibly modelled on the rather larger Hollywood Bowl of the 1920s.’  Over on SBC’s website you’ll find this: ‘The Old Town Bowl opened in 1936 and is one of only a handful built in this county. The Bowl was restored in the 1990s and is now a venue for regular summer concerts.’

See also Francis Firth.com about the rose gardens.

On a wander around Swindon Town Gardens earlier this year some of the plaques on the benches caught my eye. I rather suspect there’s more entertainment and intrigue to be found there if you look hard enough.

I first saw the plaque in the first image on Facebook – just as it appears here – with words by my friend Carole Bent.

Plaque on bench in town gardens

I assume the heart-shaped wreath was tied there by a family member. It was still there when I was in the gardens. Lovely words from Carole and lovely words from whom so ever it was that put the plaque on the bench. Wonderfully profound in its way is this next one – which made me smile I have to say.

Stan - Ice cream times plaque on bench

And finally this one is rather lovely because it commemorates Harold – a gardener in Town Gardens for 38 years.  Good work Harold. Good work!

Seat plaque gardener in town gardens

Something that always makes me think of Trumpton and the band concerts – the bandstand. 

 

Below is Peter Pan. Sporting not only his head but some pastilles on his head! I mention this because back in 2011 the statue was beheaded. This BBC News article has the story.

‘The original statue, which had been there since World War I, was stolen in 2004.

It was recovered, restored and put into storage and a fibre glass replica was put in the Town Gardens in November. The 2ft statue sits on a stone cairn.’

See also: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/wiltshire/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9216000/9216275.stm

And a couple of better shots from Justin Smythe:

 

And the Victory in Europe memorial. Two pics are mine and one is from Justin Smythe. Guess?

There’s some information about the Commemorative VE memorial on this Traces of War.com website.   And also here: http://www.iwm.org.uk_www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/43362

But this is the poem – or extract of  – that is on the stone. It’s from Siegfried Sassoon’s 1919 poem ‘Everyone Sang’:
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on–on–and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

Finally, just because we can, some lovely shots of Town Gardens wildlife from Justin Smythe:

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Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. E: The Wish Hounds

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The Wish Hounds

“And then he sought the dark-green lane,
Whose willows mourn’d the faded year,
Sighing (I heard the love-lorn swain),
Wishness! oh, wishness! walketh here.'”
— The Wishful Swain of Devon. By POLWHELE.

The Wish Hounds - sculpture of large black dogs

THE tradition of the Midnight Hunter and his headless hounds–always, in Cornwall, associated with Tregeagle–prevails everywhere. Whether this slice of mythology and folklore is the inspiration for Swindon’s fantastical Wish Hounds sculpture I’ve no idea but I’ve certainly always been intrigued by them.

The hounds, created in 1994 by Lou Hamilton, have a menacing air about them even on a pleasant May Bank Holiday. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to hear them howling Baskerville-like in the dusk and making mere mortals quake. Perhaps dusk is a better time to see them, to feel their hot breath, see their jowls heavy with saliva…

Location Location Location

I found this information – and you can get the location of them here too on Geograph.org: ‘Wish-hounds also have other many other names, such as Yeth. It seems the word wish is from a Sussex word meaning marsh. Ghostly black dogs, usually with glowing red eyes, have been reported for hundreds of years, and probably date back to the mists of time. It is generally reckoned not to be a good thing to meet one. When this sculpture was first mooted, there were protests from some local Christians who objected to what they felt was pagan imagery and therefore, in their view, undesirable.’

The sculptor wrote a poem about them: the last two lines of which read: ‘They are the Guardians of the Earth’s secret; Wish-hounds of the Old Land.’ See the whole thing on this photo in the Swindon Flickr collection: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/6103658812/

The Wish Hounds is a sculpture in three parts – concrete cast lettering, powder coated scrap metal and earthworks in a circle of trees. As you can see from the pictures the lettering is becoming a bit grown over in places and the floodlighting that was illuminated the hounds is now broken.

Swindon’s erstwhile Thamesdown council was the first in the country to adopt a percent for art policy which encouraged developers, once their scheme was completed, to fund a piece of public art. This forward thinking and innovative scheme resulted in Swindon acquiring an unusual, if not unique, cultural landscape with public art being scattered the length and breadth of the town – amongst my personal favourites are The Great Blondinis, the West Swindon Sculpture Trail, and the lonely cow chewing the cud up at the hospital. Though really I love them all.

Though some of the original ones have disappeared new ones have sprung up and even though some of them are now somewhat unloved they are no less interesting for all that. Before I started blogging about it all I’d never heard of the term ‘public art’ and really the closest I got to it was an old village pump, the Cenotaph and a redundant pit winding wheel..

May 26th – comment left by a listener:

“If I remember correctly, the Wish Hounds are on their long legs because they were designed to appear above the tree line for drivers on the M4 – and they used to look magnificent, leaping over the trees.

However, I’m not sure whether it was because of budgetary constraints or simply forgetting that trees grow but, they were gradually hidden by the ever growing trees – which is a shame. 

They used to provide a great introduction to Swindon art to drivers between J15 and J16″

They must have been a magnificent sight before becoming obscured by all the trees – as lovely as they are.

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A rough guide to Swindon: The Magic Roundabout

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The Magic Roundabout Swindon

Dare you navigate yourself across the infamous & world-famous counter-flow ‘Magic-Roundabout’ – the ‘white-knuckle’ ride of traffic?

Swindon magic roundabout road sign

The Magic Roundabout Swindon signage

Postcard picture of the road roundabout system

The Magic Roundabout

You’d be forgiven for being perplexed at the notion of a traffic roundabout being of any interest to anyone other than traffic-system aficionados. But you couldn’t be more wrong. This fabled entity is known the world over.

Created in 1972, Swindon’s Magic Roundabout was originally named the County Islands roundabout due to its location in close proximity to the town’s County Ground football stadium, home of Swindon Town FC. But the locals were not long in bestowing upon it the nickname ‘The Magic Roundabout’ after the TV programme of that name. Eventually the local authority submitted to the popular consensus and officially re-named the roundabout and gave it appropriate signage.

Swindon is famous, even infamous, for its roundabouts. But this legendary one surely has to be the jewel in the town’s roundabout crown? Situated on a junction where five roads meet, the traffic-consuming monster vexes native visitors and utterly baffles those from across the pond. For all this though Swindonians love it and generally find their passage across it to be smooth and fluid, even at peak times.

The roundabout was created by the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) to deal with an area that was a motorist’s nightmare, being routinely unable to handle the sheer volume of traffic converging on it from five directions. Like many of the best ideas their solution was stunning in its simplicity. They simply combined two roundabouts in one. The first being of the conventional clockwise type and the second, revolving inside the first, sending traffic anti-clockwise.  This counter-flow roundabout solved the congestion problems back in the 1970s and is still, despite the ensuing increase in traffic volume over the last 40 years, processing it all as quickly and as smoothly as a giant Magimix.

Traffic keeps moving almost all the time, waiting only a few seconds to join each mini-roundabout and thus steadily travelling at low speed across the junction. A normal roundabout would involve long waits to join; signals would involve bursts of movement and long enforced stoppages. As a result, it has been calculated that the Magic Roundabout has a greater throughput of traffic than anything else that it would be possible to install in the same space. Magic indeed! Moreover, it has an excellent safety record.

Although voted the seventh worst junction in the UK, the roundabout’s bark is worse than its bite. Though appearing difficult to negotiate, all it asks of the driver is to be observant and to always give priority to traffic coming from the right.

One approach to the roundabout is to drive down Drove Road from Swindon’s Old Town. If you don’t fancy manoeuvring it in a car it’s possible to stand and observe the carefully controlled mayhem from the safety of the pavement – you can even consume fish and chips from the chippy on the corner while you do.

Swindonians are very proud of their Magic Roundabout and the tourist information desk, situated in the town’s central library on Regent Circus, sells a wide range of Magic Roundabout memorabilia that runs the range from key-rings to mugs to tea-towels and even T-shirts. So, if you’ve braved this colossal contraption of a road system you can celebrate your feat of derring-do with a suitable souvenir or two.

Whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent to it one thing is for sure: visit Swindon and you can’t ignore it.  Swindon-grown band XTC effectively and poetically, whether directly intentionally or not, capture the dizzying assault on the senses this behemoth can induce in their 1981 song: ‘English Roundabout’:

‘ … all the horns go ‘beep! beep!’

All the people follow like sheep,

I’m full of light and sound,

Making my head go round, round.’

 

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10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 1: parks & green spaces. B: Faringdon Road Park

Monday 23rd March 2015 – Update

I’m always happy to concede that there are others out there whose knowledge of Swindon is far deeper and greater than mine – ‘proper’ historians with in-depth knowledge where mine has hidden shallows. So it’s been pointed out to me today by one such luminary that what I’ve been referring to as Faringdon Park is in fact more properly called Faringdon Road Park. Which makes sense if you think about it. Apparently older Swindonians, railway men in particular, always gave it its full handle. Moreover there’s an argument for it being properly termed the ‘GWR Park’. As my source said, anything that keeps the focus on Swindon’s proud railway history has to be a good thing. And I’m not arguing with that.

Saturday 24th May 2014

10 things to celebrate about #Swindon. No 1: parks & green spaces – Faringdon Road Park

Last weekend I was en route, on foot, to the railway station to meet my sister off the train. It was a gorgeous sunny day and I had a bit of time to spare so  decided to have a meander through the park and take a few pictures. I often walk alongside the park as I’m tramping around but rarely take the time to go through it – which is a shame as it’s a lovely big open space.

The park dates from the 1840s when  it was provided for the Great Western Railway workers many of whom lived in the adjoining Railway Village. It’s now popular with local residents office workers in central Swindon out for a stroll and on work breaks.

As Swindon Web state: ‘Faringdon Park was also the venue for an unusual moments in 1870 when the world-renowned W.G Grace was dismissed for a duck in both innings when he played for Bedminister against the New Swindon side.’  It seems that it doesn’t matter who or what you think of  there’s a Swindon connection somewhere.  On Swindon Web there’s a couple of lovely old photographs. Swindon local have some on their flickr collection too.

 

 

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Swindon’s Magic Roundabout | Swindon Viewpoint

Swindon’s Magic Roundabout | Swindon Viewpoint.

Wow! I just came across this fabulous piece of film made in 2008 from Swindon Viewpoint about the Magic Roundabout which I recently blogged about.

I absolutely love it. The disjointed, unsettling soundtrack is very clever. And it, the roundabout that is, inspired the XTC song. ‘English Roundabout’ How cool is that?

“… The film is intended as a homage to the late Frank Blackmore, of the British Transport and Road Research Laboratory, inventor of the mini roundabout. Swindon’s famous example was constructed in 1972 according to the design of Frank Blackmore, under the control of Highways engineer Jeff Maycock of Swindon Council. The official name of the roundabout used to be ‘County Islands’ but was changed in the late 1980s to match its popular name ‘The Magic Roundabout’. It inspired the song ‘English Roundabout’, a Pop song by the Swindon band XTC, which was recorded for their 1982 album ‘English Settlement’ … “

Just for interest here’s another nice, one of many, write up about the roundabout on BBC Wiltshire. Here’s an extract:

“The junction known as the Magic Roundabout, located near the County Ground football stadium, opened in September 1972. Its unusual design consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth central, anti-clockwise roundabout. Roundabout fan Kevin Beresford said the junction was a “white knuckle ride”.

Mr Beresford, who runs the roundabout appreciation society, Roundabouts of Great Britain, said: “Swindonians should beam with pride with this fantastic feat of road engineering, which it has to be stated has now achieved iconic status around the world.” The local authority officially named the junction County Islands Roundabout, but it became commonly known as the Magic Roundabout due to its unique design…”

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