February 2022

Swindon SMAG Friends Update

Swindon SMAG Friends Update

A Swindon SMAG Friends Update -edited highlights from the most recent newsletter from the Friends.

Swindon MAG Friends Update - Friends logo

Forthcoming Zoom talks

Wednesday  23rd February  7.30pm. Michael Gray, conservation architect, will talk about Swindon’s St Marks Church. The church was dedicated in 1845, for the employees of the railway works.

NB: Both St Mark’s church and Apsley House feature in Swindon in 50 Buildings. And ditto the civic offices.

March 23rd:  David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Museum. David will speak on plans for the relocation of the Wiltshire Museum to the old Assize Courts building in Devizes.

April 27th: Lisa Westcott–Wilkins. Co-founder and Managing Director of Dig Ventures will be telling us about the Mammoth Graveyard uncovered near Swindon.  

DigVentures began the excavations after Sally and Neville Hollingworth gave the alert about the site. Non-professional palaeontologists, they’ll also take part in the talk.

May 25th: Sarah Finch-Crisp, Chair of the Friends of Lydiard Park will speak about the Lydiard Archives, a unique on-line collection of objects, portraits, records, manuscripts, photographs, memories, and ephemera related to Lydiard Park.

June 29th Martin Newman of Historic England and also a member of the Friends committee will talk about  ‘List Swindon: 75 Years of Protecting England’s Heritage’. Martin is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities, a Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and a Fellow or the Royal Society of Arts.

The Friends are arranging more talks for the second half of the year. Information about all the talks available here on the Friend’s website.


The Roman wine strainer

Roman wine strainer
Roman wine strainer

A year ago, in the first edition of the Friends’ Newsletter we reported that the restoration of the Roman wine strainer, paid for by the Friends, was complete. That said, it remained at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, where the restoration had taken place.  Linda Kasmaty recently made enquiries and found that the strainer is now back in Swindon.  

We’re hoping that it will soon be on display in Swindon for all of us to see and enjoy.


Group of SOMAG supporters outside swindon museum and art gallery
Photo by Stuart Harrison

March 2019 saw the presentation of a report on Swindon’s Art and Museum collections and cultural provision’ to an SBC Cabinet meeting.

The report highlighted the museum and art gallery as housing ‘an outstanding modern art collection of national importance. And of course the largely locally sourced artefacts of historic significance’.

It went on to say, ‘The collections deserve greater visibility, bringing cultural and educational benefits to a wider audience’. It recommended ‘approval for a budget of up to £400,00, to undertake essential improvements at the Swindon MAG at Apsley House.’

This work was to include the installation of a lift to improve accessibility. It also recommended that ‘Every child will be encouraged to visit the Council’s museums. That recommendation included the Swindon museum and art gallery as a learning opportunity while they’re at school’.

To ‘increase visibility’, the report also introduced the idea of ‘Art on Tour’. This initiative to comprise pop up exhibitions in ‘satellite facilities in or around the town centre to house art or artefacts on tour’.

Artworks and artefacts would be available to residents unable to visit Apsley House and the publicity would bring more visitors into the museum and art gallery. So far so good.

Moving forward to June 2021

The council decided that Apsley House would not re-open after the covid lockdown. During lockdown maintenance of Apsley House by the council had lapsed. The council stated that the roof leaked, the boiler had broken and the fire alarm system wasn’t working well. The lift installation had not taken place.

Further, the council considered that Apsley House, which in February 2020 was operating as an accredited, functioning museum and art gallery was, out of the blue, no longer fit for purpose.

SBC had, had it seems, allowed Apsley House, containing the ‘outstanding art collection and artefacts of historical significance’, to fall into disrepair such that the precious collections had become endangered. Since then they’ve removed the collections and stored them elsewhere.

The council has mounted ‘Art on Tour’ displays of artworks in the foyer of the Civic Offices, corridors in Steam museum and the Central Library and at two heritage open weekend sites. These areas aren’t accredited art galleries and conditions for accessing and viewing the works are less than ideal. Posters have not been in evidence to advertise the displays.

The purpose built art gallery in Apsley House, displayed at least forty paintings at a time. Further, the exhibitions changed throughout the year. Yet the council maintain that the ‘Art on Tour’ displays are bringing ‘More art to more people’.

In the space of two years we’ve seen the council shift its position from:

  • Encouraging more visitors to Apsley House via art on tour to …
  • … saying that art on tour and (another idea) museums without walls would completely replace SMAG.

Protest action

Protests from Friends and the petition signed by over 5,000 supporters have had some effect. Those actions have persuaded the council to convert the first floor of the civic offices into temporary galleries for the museum and art collections until they can provide new facilities in 10 years’ time in the cultural quarter. That’s the plan anyway.

We’ve learned that the timetable for the temporary galleries has already slipped.

Any questions or comments? Contact Councillor Robert Jandy, email: RJandy@swindon.gov.uk


The Friends on social media

Friends’ Website
Click on http://www.friendsofsmag.org to find details of talks, newsletters, news, videos of talks, a link to the blog and you can also make a donation to FSMAG.

Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/friendsofswindonmag/
Try out the Friends Instagram account, now with 1,030 followers.

Don’t forget the Friends’ page on the ‘We Are Swindon’ website: https://weareswindon.co.uk/swindons-charity-hub/friends-of-swindon-museum-and-art-gallery/

Let’s not forget the museum and art gallery collections now in storage. Here are a few links from the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery website: https://www.swindonmuseumandartgallery.org.uk/

Swindon Archaeological Collection http://www.swindonmuseumandartgallery.org.uk/info/4/collections/4/collections-1/3

and a 3D virtual tour of the archaeology gallery

Swindon Social History Collection

Earth and the natural world

The Swindon collection of modern British art and ceramics. Several items in the Ron Sloman gift are included in the Art on Tour display at the Civic Offices. 

NOTE: The Friends aren’t sure of the contents of the ceramics collection. If you have information or photographs then please let us know so that we can build up a record. email: admin@friendsofsmag.org

You can also view some of Swindon’s Collection of Modern British Painting and Swindon’s local art collection on the ART UK website


For more posts about the museum and art gallery go here.



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