Among the doom and gloom of Covid and Brexit and town centre shop closures there’s some good local news in the restoration of The Watchers.
The Watchers form part of the West Swindon sculpture walk. These sculptures are a culturally significant part of the West Swindon landscape, installed in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Roger Ogle has done much to champion them – then much later than him – so have I. I’ve featuredThe Watchers and the rest of the trail on this blog and in my new guide book.
Despite the fact that they’ve been shamefully neglected by our town’s leaders for decades now, they remain things of enjoyment and an untapped resource I’m sure. If the powers that be did but know it.
Anyhoo! Last year the chap on this sculpture sadly suffered decapitation. But rejoice! For, thanks to Swindon stonemason Toby Robson,The Watchers are Restored. But more on that in a bit!
‘Artist: Carleton Attwood. Material: Cement Fondue. Project details: Funded by R.S. McColl and E.H.Bradley Building Projects Ltd. The sculpture represents guardian figures looking over the community.’
‘The Watchers, 1982, by Carleton Attwood (1908 to 1985) at Toothill Village Centre. The first sculpture in West Swindon, cast in ferro-concrete at Swindon’s town hall studios, is one of Carleton’s last works. Sculptor Pat Elmore had to complete the piece as Carleton suffered ill-health. Thanks to Carleton’s ill-health.
The work represents the guardians of the new community.’
The story behind the sculpture
The story goes that Carleton got the idea for this piece of public art from a family he observed at a Swindon town football match.
The day was a rainy one and the father was holding his raincoat around his wife. She in turn shielded their child with their raincoat and the child the dog.
The restoration of The Watchers
Now back to the resoration. There’s a nice piece here inThe Swindon Advertiser about the restoration. Said Toby: ‘… it’s a big challenge because the sculpture is more than 40 years old. And nobody knows what materials went into it originally in terms of sand and the cement mix used. Nobody remembers.
I chatted to Toby just yesterday and he told me that the community had been so supportive and interested in what he was doing and how heart-warming he’d found that.
Some photos from Toby of the work in progress:
And now the finished product. Ta da!The Watchers are Restored!
Freshbrook gets performing arts class – so children in West Swindon who love singing, dancing and acting can try out a new class which starts in Freshbrook on Wednesday September 30.
One of the town’s leading performing arts groups, Revolution Performing Arts, is offering Covid-safe, socially distanced small group classes at Freshbrook Community Centre. The classes are every week, on Wednesday, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
Founder Fi Da Silva Adams said: “We’re starting the Freshbrook All Stars at the community centre for children aged between four and 11 years old.
“Our classes are a safe space for children to express themselves. We have an ethos of empowering children who can sing their favourite music, create their own dramatic scene, share their own dance moves and feel safe and secure in doing so. If they don’t want to perform they don’t have to. We want to create a fantastic, relaxing and fun experience for them.”
RPA leader Jade Carroll will run the Freshbrook group. She has thirteen years’ experience of dance and has worked with RPA for two years.
Jade said: “I’m excited to be starting this new class and look forward to meeting the children and their parents. We do ask that everyone books in advance though. That’s so we can ensure safe social distancing measures. That said everyone’s first session is free of charge!”
Fiona Di Silva Adams founded Revolution Performing Arts in 2007. Her team have run online sessions throughout lockdown.
They’re now getting back to some in-person classes across Swindon. The organisation received a grant from Arts Council England through the Covid19 Emergency Fund. This allowed them to continue supporting children in Swindon.
Revolution Performing Arts runs sessions in after school clubs and also open classes in other community venues. All their teachers are DBS checked, trained in first aid and receive full training in safeguarding protocols.
RPA specialises in empowering young people to celebrate their individuality through the power of performing arts. To enrol for the new Freshbrook class visit www.revolutionpa.co.uk/enrol
YOUNGSTERS PUT ON THEIR DANCING SHOES AS THEY GET BACK TOGETHER – SAFELY
Latest news from Revolution Performing Arts
16th September 2020
RPA Youngsters Don Dancing Shoes. And young people in Swindon who love singing, dancing and acting are getting back to the studio after many months of online classes.
One of the town’s leading voices in performing arts, Fi Da Silva Adams, worked hard with her team to return to socially-distanced performing arts classes last week.
“Our online classes were a life line for many young people during lockdown,” said Fi. Fi is the MD and founder of Revolution Performing Arts which, as a rule,supports around 350 young people on a weekly basis.
“Young people still had an outlet and an opportunity to experience our empowerment through the arts experience. So they got a thrill from seeing their friends, even if it in the virtual world.
“Now we are doing a phased, Covid-safe return to classes so that children can get back together in a mindful manner and it’s been wonderful.”
In-Person Session – RPA Youngsters Don Dancing Shoes
One of the first parents to attend an ‘in-person’ session at Shaw Church in West Swindon was Emma King. Her daughter Darcy felt excited to attend a real-world class. RPA are soon to launch classes are in Freshbrook and Shrivenham too.
Emma said: “What a return! First class back after summer and lockdown and it was amazing! The measures to ensure the safety and happiness of the children and us parents was outstanding, from entering the building to leaving. You could see the smiles from the children and they were so excited to be back.”
Revolution Performing Arts, founded in 2007, has felt the effect of lockdown with half of the business based in schools. Fi knew she’d have to innovate. So her team offered online classes and now a phased return to distanced classes.
She said: “As schools are still reluctant to have external clubs in I had to diversify. So we decided to launch a programme of new sessions. These new session include more performing arts open classes, circus theatre arts, musical theatre, ballet for fun, RPA Sing, RPA Dance, RPA Street and RPA Act. We’re now offering some of these classes in person at venues around Swindon.
“It’s so exciting. I’m so grateful for the Covid19 Emergency Fund Grant from Arts Council England. And the hundreds of parents who stood by us and kept us going all through lockdown.”
Revolution Performing Arts
Revolution Performing Arts runs sessions in after school clubs and also open classes in church halls.
It specialises in empowering young people to celebrate their individuality through the power of performing arts.
Heritage open days 2020 is England’s largest festival of history and culture. It brings together over 2,000 local people and organisations and thousands of volunteers. Every year, in September, places across the country open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history.
This is your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences. And – ta da – it’s all for free!!! Or rather it would be were it not for a little thing called Covid-19. Oops!
So what CAN you do in Swindon?
Well a number of things – and not all of them virtual experiences. Although, for obvious reasons, the offering is a bit more limited than it might be under usual circumstances, there are some worthwhile offerings.
Exciting things are happening in Swindon’s Railway Village which is currently being revitalised by Historic England, Swindon Borough Council and other organisations through the Heritage Action Zone.
Built in the 1840s to Isambard Brunel’s design to house employees of the Great Western Railway (GWR) Works, the village is the UK’s best preserved example of a model railway village. Planned as a self-contained community with all the necessary facilities for a ‘decent’ life (according to the times), it comprises 300 railway workers’ cottages. All laid out in charming terraced streets, a church, pubs, shops, a school and a park.
Additional communal buildings of interest include the Mechanics’ Institution and the Health Hydro. Long before the National Health Service this provided a comprehensive health and wellbeing service for GWR workers and their families.
Refurbishments are ongoing or planned for the Cricketer’s pub, the Carriage Works, the Health Hydro and the Mechanics’ Institution.
Explore the Railway Village for yourself guided by our free map, downloadable from the HOD website. It’s full of information about Swindon’s rich history. Then come back next year to see inside the buildings and check how the regeneration is progressing.
The Pattern Store
The interior of the newly refurbished Pattern Store:
1897 saw the completion of this imposing 4-storey building, built to house the GWR’s collection of patterns. And later the pattern-makers themselves. It was designed to be fireproof with a steel frame and minimal combustible materials. All loading and internal doors and stairways are metal. On the roof are four massive steel watertanks capable of holding 1.1 million litres of water.
See all that in this lovely film by CREATE Studios:
Our small but perfectly formed museum is going all out to reach our visitors through a mix of virtual and ‘real’ activities.
On Friday 11th September, a brand new section on our website will go live with a host of wonderful resources, and entertainments. All designed to help folk make the most of the museum in these strange, limited times.
Our new online activities include: Downloadable art/heritage activities for adults. Fun and easy-to-do crafts for children. Videos of musicians who have been commissioned to play/sing for the museum. Educational activities for children to engage with the museum in all its different ways. And a wonderful collection of nature photographs by Sarah Singleton.
Photographers invited to snap Swindon’s heritage in all its glory
Photographers invited to snap Swindon’s heritage to contribute to a ‘virtual history book’ about the town. With prizes on offer for the best shot.
Photo opportunities abound
Swindon abounds with photo opportunities. Consider the English Heritage listed GWR Railway Village. Or the Art Deco diving platform at Coate Water. Then there’s heritage buildings like the Mechanics’ Institution or The Locarno and Swindon boasts picturesque canals steeped in industrial history. And the old GWR works reimagined as the Designer Outlet.
Whatever it is, if you’re a photographer you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to fascinating and beautiful buildings to snap.
Visit Swindon, the organisation formed to showcase the best the town has to offer, has launched the Heritage Photo Challenge. And there’s terrific prizes on offer.
They’re urging everyone from serious amateurs with professional camera kit to Instagrammers armed with mobile phones to get snapping.
And what do photos make? Prizes!
The winning photographer will receive a prize package of a £100 voucher from independent photographic retailer T4 Cameras, plus an A3 print of their work.
“Swindon is steeped in history. And that history is a photographer’s dream said Julia Stuckey, business and economy manager at Swindon Borough Council.
“To give yourself the best chance of winning your photo should capture something special about Swindon’s heritage. Or something eye-catching with a historical backdrop.
“We’re looking for great buildings. Be they beautifully preserved or with an air of fading grandeur. Or wildlife engaging with architecture. Or scenes of photogenic people with heritage backdrops. We’re looking for beautiful but quirky, pseudo abstract or laugh out loud. Any of that could put you in the running.”
What the organisers are looking for
For a chance to win one of the prizes this what you have to do:
1. Follow Visit Swindon’s Instagram page at @visit_swindon. 2. share your photographs on the platform using the hashtag #SwindonHeritage2020
The competition runs until October 16, 2020 and a panel of judges will choose the winners. The best entries will appear on the Visit Swindon website and social media platforms.
You’ll find a full list of terms and conditions, as well as some handy photography hints from Visit Swindon’s in-house photographers at:
It’s ever curious is it not – how stuff pops up on social media relevant to somewhere you’ve not long since been to? In this instance the co-incidences relate to Shaw House, on Old Shaw Lane.
I tend to think of Old Shaw Lane as being a bit of bygone Swindon. But of course it’s not – not really. Because this side of town – the western expansion – wasn’t Swindon. Back then Swindon was the settlement on the hill. Old Swindon – Old Town as we call it now.
I wrote about the western expansion where I live, inSecret Swindon. And Frances too has mentioned it in this blog post. ‘Development on the western expansion of Swindon began in the mid 1970s. First came Toothill, then Freshbrook, Grange Park (where I live) and Westlea. Shaw and Middleleaze followed in the 1980s.’
During this whole lockdown and Covid carry on I’ve taken to meandering around on what I call Covid constitutionals. During lockdown in particular I couldn’t get any further than my bladder would take – so that meant roaming West Swindon. I did feel a bit like I was in the Truman Show…
And one of my recent meanderings took me down Old Shaw Lane past the house that you see below – Shaw House.
Frances Bevan again:
‘The lane that runs between the former Lydiard Millicent parish boundary and the tributary of the River Ray dates back to the Middle Ages. Building was slow along the thoroughfare known as Shaw Street in 1668 and two hundred years later there were just two farmhouses beside the lane. Shaw Farm, once owned by Viscount Bolingbroke, stood at the south east end and Lower Shaw Farm near the west end. A further 13 houses and cottages straddled the verges.’
Frances wrote about Mary’s great niece, Jane Helena Tuckey, in her splendid book Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon. It’s a great book – I heartily recommend it to you – and you can find a bit more info on it in this poston Born again Swindonian.
Across the lane from this house is Lower Shaw Farm – another old farmhouse that Frances writes about on her blog.
On and around and about Old Shaw Lane
Remnants of rural life are all around us if we take the time to look. As the photographs above testify.
And my last word, and staying on this particular snatch of days gone by and linking to Frances one last more (as my granddaughter says) she has a blog post with the most appropriate name – Rural Remnants