Sharing Swindon’s Story

Sharing Swindon’s Story

Over the past year, in a project coordinated by the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, thirty-five young Swindonians learnt lots of amazing things about our town. What they learned is on this Sharing Swindon’s Story website.

sharing swindon's story
The project participants outside Central Community Centre – once the Medical Fund Society Hospital

NB: Both Secret Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings between them tell of the Medical Fund Society, the Mechanics’ Institution, the GWR Railway Village and central community centre.

Funding partners

The organisations that enabled this project to take place are:

The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon.

Some of what the youngsters did

On the Sharing Swindon’s Story website here, you can find out more about what they got up to.

‘Starting in Summer 2018, 35 young people based at Central Community Centre in Swindon’s historic and award-winning Railway Village began a project to create artworks inspired by the heritage around them and share these with the local community.

‘Sharing Swindon’s Story’ focused on the community and cultural heritage of our town, linked to the first generations of ‘New Swindonians’ and the Mechanics’ Institution.’

A group of 11-16 year olds from the local youth club designed and led the project.

sharing swindons story

See this YouTube film to hear the youngsters talking about their activities: https://youtu.be/MVAsKZtMTfU

Read the rest of the story and see loads of photographs on the website here: https://swindonstory.uk/the-project/

Their social media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SwindonStory

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SwindonStory

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swindonstory/

Artwork on the hoardings around the Mechanics’ Institute

I think I’ve got them in the right order!


Last Orders – by John Stooke

Last Orders – by John Stooke

Wow! Yet another Swindon-related book. How fantastic. Hot on the heels of Swindon in 50 Buildings and the Ken White Bio/retrospective – both by me – and France Bevan’s recent book we have Last Orders by John Stooke.

John Stooke’s new book, Last Orders, is launching at Swindon Central Library at 11am on Saturday 19th October. You’ll be able to buy the book in the library shop after the launch.

About Last Orders

Last Orders is the result of four years of meticulous research by John – and hours spent writing in The Blunsdon Arms. Well it would have to be a pub where John worked wouldn’t it?

Supporting Charity

Some of the book’s proceeds are going to support Swindon Women’s Aid. The charity will receive a direct donation of £3 from each £10 selling price.

The book runs to 400 pages, includes 800 images and is an impressive heritage record of Swindon’s best known disappeared alehouses.

Natasha Moyles, spokesman for SWA said, “We at Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Service are delighted to have been chosen as the beneficiary of this fascinating project. It is a continuing challenge to raise adequate funds for the essential work we do locally. Initiatives such as John’s enable us to continue to help more victims of domestic abuse within Swindon”

Other Events

John is giving a talk to Swindon Civic Voice on Thursday the 7th November – more information on that here: https://www.swindoncivicvoice.org.uk/2019/10/talk-john-stooke-last-orders/

The Swindon Civic Voice talk aside, John book sales and signings at:

  1. The Designer Outlet Centre: November 16th
  2. The West Swindon Centre: November 23rd
  3. STEAM Museum: November 30/31
  4. The Brunel Centre: December 8th
  5. The Old Town Co-op: December 14th

An ideal gift for the CAMRA and real ale lover methinks. And one that supports such a splendid cause.

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

I love a whodunnit. Who doesn’t? So last night’s performance of The Girl on the Train at the Wyvern theatre was much enjoyed.

I confess that, somehow or other, this million-seller novel by Paula Hawkins and film adaptation starring Emily Blunt, had pretty much passed me by. Which is sort of appropriate if you stop to think about it.

The Girl on the Train

The train is a perfect vehicle ( sorry!) around which to build a thriller. So it’s not surprising that Agatha Christie (the queen of crime herself) made brilliant use of it it Murder on the Orient Express. Also, Ethel Lina White’s 1936 novel The Wheel Spins – better known as The Lady Vanishes – uses the conceit of a mystery centred around a train. I don’t want to say too much about the plot of The Girl on the Train but there are resonances between the two – in that each features a young woman who has seen something on/from a train but is persuaded by others that she hasn’t. In this play the central character, Rachel Watson, has doubt planted in her mind by her ex-husband.

How is he able to achieve that? Because Rachel is a drunk on a downward emotional spiral. One of several themes running through this play is that of domestic abuse – in this case gaslighting.

In this central role, Samantha Womack ( of Eastender’s fame) is entirely believable as a young woman depressed by her infertility and the loss of her marriage, her husband to another woman who IS fertile and has produced a child. She gives a strong performance in what must be a challenging role.

Here Samantha Womack talks about the role: https://youtu.be/oEAHU2YctHc

The rather nifty passing train effect on the stage before the play began: https://youtu.be/bd1MN5UIPX0

The Stage Adaptation

It’s always interesting to see how a book is adapted for the stage. I thought this was rather nicely done. The passing of the days and the changes of location in this production are smoothly executed. My companion for the evening, who as it happens, had recently finished the novel, thought the adaptation was rather good.

All the elements of a good thriller are there. There’s the requisite number of red herrings for a start. All in all a cracking play.

The play is running at the Wyvern Theatre until Saturday 12th October – so if you’ve got a free evening get your tickets and get on board!

Book your tickets here: https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-the-girl-on-the-train-swindon-2019

The crime scene that greeted us on our return from the interval

The official trailer for the play: https://youtu.be/O2zY-9vJVHk

Ken White Exhibition – Swindon

Ken White Exhibition – Swindon

Railways and Landscapes

At the ripe old age of 76, Swindon-born, mural painting legend, Ken White at last has a a solo exhibition. Called Railways and Landscapes, the exhibition is on at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery until the 30th November 2019.

Ken White swindon exhibition
Ken White - Railways and Landscapes

As it says in this article about the Ken White exhibition in the Swindon Advertiser: ‘The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery exhibition stars more recent works, including landscapes painted by Ken on a trip to the Gower peninsula in south Wales.’ I rather liked some of his landscapes I have to say.

As one of Swindon’s well-known creatives, Ken has featured on this blog several times. Find them all here.

Book cover of Ken White: Muralist and Painter by Angela Atkinson

The exhibition coincides with the release, via Amberley Publishing, of a retrospective of Ken’s work written by yours truly.

Some of the works on show at the exhibition

I’m not the best photographer and I took these in a bit of a rush so these are not the best. Better by far to go and see them for yourself. It is a gorgeous exhibition.

A Mural Man

Ken is of course well-known as a muralist – both here in Swindon, in the UK and abroad. During his years as Richard Branson’s personal artist, Ken travelled the world painting airport lounges, record shops, car parks restaurants and more. Of his Swindon murals only one now remains – The Golden Lion mural. You can read more about that in both the new book and also in my first volume, Secret Swindon.

To return to the Advertiser article:

Sophie Cummings, curator at the Swindon museum, said: “I think the exhibition is a real celebration of Ken’s art and the response we’ve had to it from visitors already just shows in what high regard the people of Swindon hold him.”

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

September 2019

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school – Well this has been a wonderful development.
A week or two back I received a contact from Sally Clarke, the head teacher at Nythe Primary school. She’d seen my posts on LinkedIn about my most recent book, Swindon in 50 Buildings.

Well, I say most recent. In actual fact another book, about Swindon-born artist and mural man Ken White, hit the bookshelves a few days ago.

As you can see from the image below, I’ve very nearly got an entire catalogue now. Find all of them here: https://swindonian.me/my-publications/

Images of three books - Swindon in 50 buildings, Secret Swindon and Ken White.

But back to Nythe and Swindon in 50 Buildings Going to School

The ever-so-lovely head, Sally Clarke, at Nythe contacted me asking me to meet her. The upshot of that meeting was myself, a barrow-load (well eight) of copies of Swindon in 50 Buildings and my ex-teacher friend, Jo Garton heading over to Nythe school to speak to Sally and her lovely staff about this blog and my books and how they might be used as a teaching resource to teach the children about Swindon and having pride in where they live. And there’s SUCH a lot to be proud of.

I’m so delighted that Sally spotted my book and make contact. It’s great to sell some books of course – I won’t lie to you. But it’s also lovely to see their potential recognised. Thank you Nythe!

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

All three of these books, in their own way, constitute good resources for schools as well as excellent general interest – though I say it myself.

Secret Swindon – here’s a short YouTube film of me attempting to describe Secret Swindon. The book gives a good overview of Swindon’s cultural past and present, tells the story of the medical fund society, Swindon’s spitfire involvement and more.

A bit about Born Again Swindonian

It’s quite a tale about how this blog came into being – one which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say if you’re interested enough, the Born again Swindonian backstory is here. The main thing is that this blog is here. It’s free. And it’s a resource for all of you to use. I’ve been writing it for six years now (I think) and I’ve covered a lot of stuff. The image below gives you some indication of the topics covered.

Born again swindonian blog topics

Where to Buy

All three books are available at:

  1. The library shop in Swindon Central library
  2. Waterstone’s Swindon
  3. At the website of the publisher, Amberley books.
  4. On Amberley’s Amazon store.

On the subject of civic pride

In yet another hat I’m chair of Swindon Civic Voice. In 2018, we led the GWR Railway Village conservation area to victory as England’s conservation area – and more on that here: https://www.swindoncivicvoice.org.uk/2019/06/conservation-area-award-official-presentation/

The GWR railway village is one of many, many things that Swindon and its people should cherish and be proud. Winning that award played a big part in the railway village being awarded a Historic England action Zone.

That was/is a fab achievement yet there’s much to be done. So, I’m sneaking in a plea here for members! Either active or simply willing to pay £6 a year to help support us. Can you? https://www.swindoncivicvoice.org.uk/2019/08/swindon-civic-voice-needs-you/

Thank you.



Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019

Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019

August 2019

Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project Serve up a sweet treat with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

If it’s late August that can mean only one thing: Wyvern’s Theatre Summer Youth Project 2019.

Running since 1994, the summer youth project has become a highlight of the Wyvern’s calendar.

Hear theatre director Laura James talking about the SYP: https://youtu.be/TMuT3eTpBMY

I’ve been to several of them now and they do seem to get better each year. They do a damn good job – all them. On stage and off – the standard is VERY high. All kudos to the Wyvern, to the foundation and to the kids themselves.

2017’s Summer Holiday was lovely and in last year’s production of Oliver, the then 16-year-old Archie Fisher made a big impression with a mature-beyond-his-years performance as Fagin.

I said it then – and I’ll say it again. That young man has ‘it’. So when, in a few year’s time, you see his name in lights remember: you saw him here first.

Here again, in the Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019, in the lead role as Caractacus Potts, the still-only-17-year-old Archie gives a credible performance as as father to two young mother-less children.

Archie Fisher as Caractacus Potts with Ben Brindle as Jeremy and Mollie Avenell as Jemima. Wyvern theatre summer youth project 2019.
Archie Fisher as Caractacus Potts with Ben Brindle as Jeremy and Mollie Avenell as Jemima.

A host of memorable performances

But I can’t only talk about Archie Fisher. The production boasts a full complement of super performances. There are not one but two lovely comic duos. Michael Kerr gives a good turn as the infantile Bulgarian Baron – one feels apologies are owed to Bulgaria – and so does Rae Alexander as his long-suffering, indulgent wife.

Amy Gordon made a fitting Truly Scrumptious with her sweet singing voice fitting the role well.

Also deserving a particular mention are Maddy Stimpson-Duffy and Marcellus Hill as Cloris and Goran, the Baron’s bumbling spies sent to get hold of Pott’s car. Lots of laughs from all four! Super stuff.

Both the youngsters playing Pott’s children were scene stealers of course. But I have to give a special word about Mollie Avenell – I felt she too had a notable stage presence.

If you’re at a loose end tonight and you can get a ticket – go! https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-chitty-chitty-bang-bang-swindon-2019 It’s such fun! Scrumptious even. Truly!

Credit: All photos – screenshots aside – Anthony Hunt Photography

Things you might not know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a 1968 British-American musicaladventurefantasy film.  Ken Hughes  directed it. Roald Dahl wrote it, loosely basing it on Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.

Albert R. Broccoli ( often known as Cubby) famous for being a regular co-producer of the James Bond films produced it.

The film starred Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann HowesAdrian Hall, Heather Ripley, Lionel JeffriesJames Robertson JusticeRobert Helpmann, and Gert Fröbe.


From the 1960s film: https://youtu.be/-P2jiRPlq2U




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