July 2020

Last year, when writing Swindon in 50 Buildings, I knew I simply had to include Thomas Turner’s villas on Drove Road. Since the book’s publication, I’ve had a mind to write a bit more on here about Thomas Turner Swindon brick-maker and his brick-making enterprise. But I never quite got round to it. Then not long back I saw a super blog by Swindon historian Frances Bevan so figured – why reinvent the wheel? I may as well feature that with my own photographs. Well, I say mine, actually there Chris Eley’s, whom I despatch on photographic missions.

The Catalogue Houses

There’s several houses in Swindon that feature Mr Turner’s work. But it’s arguable that these two are the most notable. With the colloquial nickname ‘The Catalogue Houses’ – that’s exactly what these houses are. And there’s more than a touch of the whimsey about them.

Indeed, as Frances writes in her blog, Brickmaker Extraordinare, ‘When brick and tile manufacturer Thomas Turner wanted to advertise his wares he certainly thought of an eye-catching method. In 1889 he built two properties known as the ‘catalogue houses.’

The two cottages along with Jessamine Cottage, were 19th century show homes, built to display every brick and tile, every finial and moulding, made in Turner’s works.’

And do read the rest of Frances’ blog for more detail about Thomas Turner. She has some lovely detail in there about him. And there’s a picture too, of where he now lies in Christ Church in Old Town.

Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker - turner's drove road villas aka the catalogue houses
Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker - architect plans for the Drove Road villas in Swindon.

For the well-to-do

Imagine having the where-with-all back in the day to have your own home built? To rock up to Drove Road, look at these villas and pick out bricks and decorative elements for your own home? An early version of the Ikea catalogue – but for bricks instead of Besta storage units.

Thomas made the bricks on his manufacturing site on Drove Road – on what is now Queen’s Park. Wandering around that delightful oasis it’s hard to picture the clay it, that once it was.

Turner’s family home sat a spit up the road from these villas. It’s currently the Miller and Carter Steakhouse restaurant.

Now – get exploring! Whip your smart phone out and call up Google maps and go looking for other houses bearing Thomas Turner features.

You can find typical Turner decorative features in Belle Vue TerraceHunt Street and Turner Street (named after our man) off Westcott Place. These houses were built with his own bricks as were other streets linking New Swindon and Old Town.

On those houses, and on others he built in Lansdown Road, Kingshill and Westcott Place you’ll find a repeated pottery plaque or keystone in the form of a bearded man surrounded by shell motifs and running vines. It’s said that this face is the likeness of Daniel Lynch, a worker at Turner’s Stratton St Margaret brick, pottery and tile yard.

Born Again Swindonian Logo

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