April 2017

Swindon Town Gardens

Bandstand Town Gardens 2
The Grade II listed bandstand in 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 one of them.

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

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

In May 1894, a Mr W Reynolds, Chairman of the Board, declared the gardens open. 1902 saw the northern area of the gardens with a maze, a shelter and rustic bridges and seats. All to a design submitted by Mr A John Gilbert. Improvements came in the mid-20th century including the creation of a rose garden and bandstand with arena.’

Historic England

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.’

It goes on to inform that along the northern boundary of the rectangular garden there lies an entrance porch with iron turnstiles and brick pillars leading to a domed Art Deco concert bowl in the valley below. According to them one J BL Thompson designed both bowl and entrance in 1934. Swindon’s mayor at the time formally opened music bowl on 6th May 1936.

The Concert Bowl, referred to in Thompson’s drawings 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’s 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….’

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

Lots to see

You do 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 features a nice photo of the bowl and says: ‘The Bowl is pre-war and might be 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. It’s one of only a handful built in this county. The 1990s saw restoration of the bowl.

Bench plaques

On a wander around Swindon Town Gardens earlier this year some of the plaques on the benches caught my eye. It’s my suspicion that 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 a family member tied the heart-shaped wreath to this bench. 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. 

Peter Pan

Below you see Peter Pan. Sporting not only his head but some pastilles on his head! I mention this because back in 2011 the statue suffered a beheading. This BBC News article has the full story.

‘Someone stole the original statue, in place since World War I, in 2004. After recovery and restoration it went into storage with a fibre-glass replica going back into the gardens. The 2ft statue sits on a stone cairn.’

And a couple of better shots from Justin Smythe:

The VE monument

And the Victory in Europe memorial. Two pics are mine and one is from Justin Smythe. This has had a clean-up of late.

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

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

The terrific town gardens feature in my newest (2020) publication, my Born Again Swindonian guide book. And the art deco bowl and the pavilion cafe feature in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

6th June 2022 – update

The sundial you see in the image above has, in recent months, had a refurb. So thanks to Chris Eley for these photos of it:

And to round things off – as mentioned in my Born Again Swindonian’s guide book – the ammonite fossils tucked away in town gardens. Do you know where they are?

Ammonites in Swindon's town gardens

Born Again Swindonian Logo

Sign up to receive awesome Swindon content in your inbox, every week.