My Memories of Swindon Museum by Rebecca Davies BSc (Hons)
Having written a short piece on my memories of The Oasis, it feels timely to think back on another important, but threatened piece of Swindon heritage, the Bath Road Museum. So here goes with my memories of Swindon museum.
As a matter of fact, I have not been in the Bath Road Museum in many years. When did I last visit it? It must have been before my mother died, and that was 1991. So it was a long time ago – my grandad used to take me. Indeed my grandfather used to take me all sorts of places. He was my special friend. My father worked long hours, and my mother was often ill. So my grandparents,who lived in a bungalow at the bottom of the village, cared for me often. Nan used to cook and garden, but it was my grandad who took me out.
He took me all over. We went to Coate water, to Lechlade, Painswick Beacon, Western-Super-Mare and to the Kensington museums.
Bath Road and Town Gardens
My mother used to attend a chiropodist in Bath Road. And while she was there my grandfather would take me to the museum. Either that or to the Town Gardens. I will admit I was not thrilled by the Town Gardens. It was a bit formal for my liking and lacked the lake and greenhouse that attracted me to Queen’s Park. I’m sure Town gardens afficionados will disagree with this.
But the museum certainly pleased me.
Swindon museum and art gallery
There was a big old copper beech outside and a Neo-classical facade. It was a true temple of the Muses.
Being a classical scholar sometimes – I wear many hats as you know. Thus always when in a museum I ponder on the Muses, who watch over all scholastic endeavour. The Great Library of Alexandria was an archive, a research centre and a museum. But it was also a holy place.
So, does a modern museum honour the Muses as it surely should?
I don’t remember much about what was in the museum, only that it was in several rooms over different levels. On the left hand side, as you went in, there was a room with old school desks and a Penny Farthing bicycle. On the right hand side, I seem to remember it was more ethnographic curios, such as a ritual sword made from Chinese coins laced together. These were the ones with a square hole in, which I regarded as very exotic – on a par with triangular postage stamps!
Upstairs I think, the contents were, for the most part, local archaeological finds. There was the Roman pavement from Pavenhill, the area on the edge of the escarpment in Purton in the 19th century. Hence the name of the area. Indeed there was a lot of Roman activity in the village. There’s a street named Blacklands because the soil is very dark in colour, rather than the ordinary brown of most of the village. The reason for this is the discovery of several pottery kilns of the Roman period. No wonder the soil was so dark, it was full of ash and charcoal.
Other Roman finds in this area include a high status cemetery in the grounds of North View and a drain in the high street. It is evident that, though not on a (known) main road, Purton saw much activity at that time. Yet, no-one has found the expected villa. And that in spite of the presence of that pavement.
The room at the back of the top floor was the one with all the taxidermied animals in it. This was one of my favourite sections. There were several cases, all of a different habitat. The animals seemed old and a bit sad looking, dating from the Victorian times.
In the centre was Swindon’s famous crocodile. Well, the fish eating gharial to be precise and not the more fearsome Mugger. I don’t know how big this famed specimen is but to a small person he looked huge! That’s it, we will end with what for many is the high point of the museum, its famed crocodile.
At this point I must confess I never went in the art gallery as I am not much interested in paintings. Sorry!
I seem to recall that my grandparents donated items they found to the museum at one point. Things like Roman coins and the like. I wonder if I could find these in the database?
The future of the museum
What will happen to the museum and art gallery in the future? (Good question says I! – See the link at the bottom of this post for recent occurrences in the campaign.)
To tell the truth I am not bothered as long as the new museum honours the old. Culture is not a static thing and museums should reflect that. You could argue that, since culture is a living thing it does not belong in a museum, anymore than living creatures and people do.
There is nothing wrong with the more old fashioned museums, the ones with cases full of often unrelated artefacts, and plenty to gawk at? People like cluttered collections I find.
The artefacts should be the genuine article, young people these days have a strong sense of authenticity. But this does not preclude modernity.
Organisations like the Petrie museum, that lies behind the British Museum in London, are uncompromisingly conservative. Yet they can be very modern too. This museum caters to all levels of scholarly ability ranging from pre-school to post grad and welcomes independent researchers too. It also has strong community ties.
They blog often and hold related events like book signings and have a stand at the British Science Fiction Convention. This museum works hard to be `busy` and keep in the public eye.
This is the sort of museum I like.
Swindon museum – Swindon Museum and Art Gallery
Petrie museum – Petrie Museum | UCL CULTURE – UCL – University College London
Huge thanks to Bernard Philips for these photographs of some of the artefacts as they were displayed in the recently revamped archeological gallery.