Well listeners, you can hardly have failed to notice that this summer saw the publication of my first book, Secret Swindon. So now it’s onto the next project: Swindon in 50 Buildings. To that end I’ve compiled a list of suggested buildings for the edification of the publisher, Amberley Books.
The buildings I’ve selected for my next project aren’t necessarily there because they’re fabulous architecture, or old or listed – though sometimes that’s part of it – but because they have a part in Swindon’s story. Many, many buildings do that of course – and far more than fifty of them too.
One that I might include in my next project is Deacon’s jewellers on Wood Street in Old Town.
The business is still family-owned – now in its sixth generation – that’s rather cool isn’t it? Besides that though, the business has a rich history – one that’s wrapped up in Swindon’s railway past.
Given that his year is their 170th anniversary (Established 1848), it seems fitting to give them a mention on this blog.
Their website has their history on it so here’s a couple of extracts:
‘ … The catalyst for bringing the name of Deacon to Swindon was undoubtedly the arrival of the Great Western Railway. As an ambitious 26 year old George Deacon, having moved from his home town of Westbury, realised the need for time-keeping in a fast growing town of the industrial revolution. The business was able to expand, winning one of the timing contracts for the Great Western Railway on the line between Paddington and Swansea from the early 1850s until 1893 …
…The Regulator clock which stands to this day in the jewellery, clock and watch department was made by Deacon & Son Ltd around 1865 when the company held one of the timing contracts for the Great Western Railway on the line between Paddington and Swansea. Before radio and the telephone gave universally available timing, accurate time keeping had to be maintained locally and this was usually done by the means of the regulator clock.
The dead beat escapement in this movement causes less friction and dampens vibration, giving greater accuracy. The self regulating mercury pendulum, which changes volume equally with the changes in temperature, keeps the clock on a constant steady beat giving better time keeping. This clock was used extensively in our workshops for clock timing and regulation for many years, until its retirement in the 1960s. In 2011 the same task is performed by radio controlled timing from the nuclear caesium clock at the National Physics Laboratory at Rugby.’
Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deaconsjewellers/
These boots are made for walking
Of course, Deacon’s is not the only long-standing, family-owned business in Old Town. I’m really rather fond of Blaylock’s – the shoe shop on the corner of Bath Road and Devizes Rd.
Blaylock’s is what I call a ‘proper’ shoe shop – though you’d need to be of a certain again to even know what I mean by that. And what I mean by that, is that the shoes are stacked in boxes on shelves in the shop itself. There’s no going out the back somewhere with an iPad and a headset on. Pfft. It’s friendly service and I love it. Not quite as old as Deacon’s they’ve been around for somewhere in the region of 100 years. Still, to my knowledge, this is a family-run business and an independent shoe shop. Fabulous.
Having bought your super comfy carpet slippers in Blaylocks – where better for your actual carpet than Gilbert’s on Newport Street, Gilbert’s have been in Old Town since 1866 so must have furnished a few Swindon homes in the intervening 152 years. What an astonishing thought.
29th August 2018
The Baker’s Community Café
It’s been sometime in the coming – you know how it is with building works – it always takes longer and costs more than you think. But at last it’s open and getting underway and, best thing of all, it’s a lovely bit of good news for Swindon’s heritage and the railway village conservation area.
What am I talking about listeners? The Baker’s Community café of course.
From guns to buns
Or as suggested on social media:
From riot to quiet
From thugs to mugs
I’m pretty ignorant of the history of this ex railway village pub, but it seems it had a reputation for being ‘a bit rough’ – to understate the case. As this article in the Swindon Advertiser explains:
‘The Bakers Arms will reopen as a community café this week after a makeover that saw builders rip out moulding bar and restore historic fireplaces in the 150-year-old pub.
It will prove a major reversal of fortune for the Emlyn Square pub, which was once a source of anti-social behaviour and ire for residents.
In December 2011, police raided the Bakers Arms and found a shotgun and a large amount of what officers suspected was cocaine. The pub was closed three months later after a review by the council’s licensing panel. .. ‘
Huge congrats to everyone at the Mechanics’ Institute Trust – I’m sure it will be great asset to the central area and to Swindon as a whole. Goodness knows Swindon’s heritage areas need some uplift. So this is super welcome.
Find them on social media:
27 August 2018
South Asian Performing Arts Centre: Art is for everyone
This post is largely by way of sharing a lovely Swindon Advertiser Monday Matters piece – Art is for Everyone written by the smashing Sarah Singleton.
SAPC – the South Asian Performing Arts Centre – is a lovely conception and a brilliant thing with Indu Sharma at its helm.
‘I noticed there were quite a few communities in Swindon of South Asian origin, but they were divided into different groups,” she recalled. “They arranged various festivals and cultural programmes, however they were not really available to a lot of the people in Swindon.
A lot of the time, these communities were not even going to each other’s programmes. I thought, why don’t we make it available to everyone and we could share it?’ … Our focus so far has been to present diverse cultural events. We would like to share these with the general public – with whoever is interested.’
SAPAC work often with the splendid Swindon Dance – a recent event staged in conjunction with them back in June of this year sold out. How fab is that? And later this year – on October the 6th to be precise – SAPAC will be part of a spectacular collaborative arts project at the Wyvern Theatre. Presented by Nicky Alberry, the current High Sheriff of Wiltshire, the event is called ‘Uncelebrated Journey’.
‘Uncelebrated Journey will feature an eclectic mix of dance, music and film, including a contribution from SAPAC.
It’s based on a poem Alfred Williams wrote, about a place in India he stayed in during World War I, when he was in the army, Indu said.
Alfred Williams – the Hammerman Poet
He stayed in Ranikhet, a hill station in the Almora district in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas.’ The image below shows Alfred’s home in Swindon named after Ranikhet:
Swindon Dance: https://www.swindondance.org.uk
Uncelebrated Journey: https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-uncelebrated-journey-swindon-2018
Art Boxes and Swindon Open Studios
Years ago, in my early years in Swindon, I recall going to the Arts Centre in Swindon and there being an old-fashioned vending machine there. You put your £1 coin and out popped a little box of art. Oh I thought this was simply the best thing. I still have the mini art works I got from that vending machine collected together in a display box.
But then the winds of changed blew: the Arts Centre was re-furbed (TBH I preferred it before) and the art box disappeared. *sad face*
But Lo! Some years later, visiting artists during Swindon Open Studies, I went to the home/studio of Tim Carroll. And – to my delight – there on the wall in the hall was an art box vending machine. Yay! Not the one I remember but another one. It turns out there was more than one back in the day.
When researching for Secret Swindon I got this information about the Art Boxes from Tim:
‘ In collaboration with likeminded artist Gordon Dickinson, we found old KitKat and condom vending machines and converted them into one-pound coin operated dispensing machines of original art. These were a great success. We had several machines around town – in The Beehive, The Victoria and the Arts Centre. The pressure of producing hundreds of small art objects each month and keeping the machines operating smoothly eventually proved too much for us and the only machine still in action today is at my house.’
Swindon Open Studios
The fantastic community art event that is Swindon Open Studios is coming next month. Dates below. Brochures in the library and all over Old Town including the museum and art gallery. My favourite artists are taking part, including Tim Carroll, Ken White and David Bent. And many more besides! Check the website and the brochure to find out who’s doing what and when and where.
Since the first open studios fifteen years ago, the event has taken place annually, being organised by a committee of volunteers since 2008. After that the committee settled upon September as a good month because it didn’t clash with any other open studios events in the area.
It’s held over two weekends in September, to give flexibility to visitors, some of whom visit a few studios of their choosing one weekend. Though others try and visit all 60 odd studios over two weekends. It’s now a permanent fixture on the cultural scene in Swindon, attracting more visitors each year.
The Summer Youth Project do Oliver!
Summer Youth Project Oliver
WOW! I’ve been to several summer youth project performances now and they’ve never failed to delight. But – last night, I saw them perform Oliver and it blew my socks off. The case were rewarded with a standing ovation that they deserved without a doubt.
Everyone was wonderful, a terrific ensemble cast, BUT – I HAVE to give special mention to Archie Fisher for his portrayal of Fagin. I saw Archie last year as Cyril in Summer Holiday – and he was fab. But as Fagin? For a sixteen-year old boy he gave a bravura performance, channelling the late, great, Ron Moody. Well done Archie – you are brilliant in the role. A name to watch I feel.
A great voice too from Nancy, played by Rhea Thorpe.
A cast of thousands
What I love best about the SYP is the seeming ‘cast of thousands’. The auditorium is used to great effect making you feel part of the action. It’s so very well staged! The Greatest Story Ever Told has got nothing on this. 🙂
What a super talented bunch they all are – my heartfelt congratulations to every single one of them. They’re all amazing and work so hard to get this production up and running in less than two weeks. Yes – that is what I said – TWO Weeks.
There’s no need to review this situation – go see it and consider yourself a damn good evening!
About Summer Youth Project
‘The first Summer Youth Project took place at the Wyvern Theatre in 1994 with Bugsy Maloneand was one of the first community ventures of its kind in the local area. Since then it has become an annual tradition and many young people have been involved in the Projects over the years.
The aim of Summer Youth Project is to provide up to 200 youngsters aged 9 – 21 with the opportunity to work together in a professional theatre. The two week project culminates in five performances of a full-scale musical under the supervision of a highly skilled creative team including a professional Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Musicians and Technical team all in less than 2 weeks! … ‘
‘Oliver! is a 1968 musical drama film directed by Carol Reed and based on the stage musical of the same name, with book, music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart. The screenplay was written by Vernon Harris. Both the film and play are based on Charles Dickens‘s novel Oliver Twist. The film includes such musical numbers as “Food, Glorious Food“, “Consider Yourself“, “As Long as He Needs Me“, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two“, and “Where Is Love?“. Filmed in Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, the film was a Romulus Films production and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures … ‘
Swindon stuff to do on the cheap
National Cycle Network 45 sign
The sign shows a person and bicycle icon, with the letters “45” underneath. The direction shown reads:
Swindon Station 3
The best way to see a town is on foot. Indeed it’s astonishing what you see and a learn about a place if you get of the car. So do exactly that and try some of these things out:
- The West Swindon Sculpture trail: on the face of it looking at sculptures doesn’t sound much of a family activity. Yet following the West Sculpture trail takes you across acres of West Swindon’s green spaces. It traverses play parks and outdoor gyms. It’s a 5-mile walk that can be cycled and is push chair friendly.
Download a map of the trail here. And explore blog posts about the sculptures here: https://swindonian.me/category/artscultureheritage/west-swindon-sculpture-walk-artscultureheritage/
2. Explore the River Ray Parkway walk. I’ve thus far only done half of this week. We started at Moulden Hill and walked across to Mannington. Fabulously green, this walk follows the Route 45 cycle track. If you’re short enough and the water is low – which it was and my companion and myself are – you can walk right under the Great Western Way. The map is downloadable here and is courtesy of Swindon Local Studies.
Old kissing gate along the River Ray Parkway
3. Pack up a picnic and visit one of Swindon’s parks and open spaces. The above two are perfect for a picnic. As too are the following parks. These are only a few of astonishing number of parks, green spaces, walks and cycle paths that Swindon offers. Google is your friend here.
A. Queen’s Park
B. The Lawn – or Lawn if we’re going to be really proper. And I’m not sure I was in the post I link to. Must edit.
C. Town Gardens
D. The GWR Park – or Faringdon Park
E. Coate Water – where you can find quite the best miniature railway I’ve come across.
See also this post about the Coate Water Diving platform
Mention of the Coate Water railway leads to:
4. The Richard Jefferies Museum:
Free to enter, this museum and its gardens are simply a delight. The museum has its own halt for the Coate Water railway. In the summer there’s cream teas in the garden, sometimes with music of some sort, and they put on all sorts of children’s activities. Visit their website (link in heading above) to find out what’s going on.
So you can find out about this particular writer’s life in the museum. You can also see locations where he lived and worked and went to school by following the
5. Richard Jeffereries Old Town Trail. Here’s a downloadable text file of the trail with a map.
Read about the trial here:
Part 1: https://swindonian.me/2015/03/29/richard-jefferies-old-town-walk-part-1/
Part 2: https://swindonian.me/2015/07/07/richard-jefferies-old-town-walk-part-2/
6. For further urban exploration walk around the town in search of the blue plaques in Swindon. Find a map of them all by following the link to my post about them.
Milton Road Baths
7. Try the Explorer’s Guide to New Swindon – get the map produced by Swindon Civic Voice (£2 from the central library) and explore ‘New Swindon.’
8. Go to the Museum and Art gallery in Old Town: they have lots of activities for children in school holidays. Get your #crocselfie taken with the gharial. It’s tradition! Lots of cafe/pub/eating opportunities in Old Town. Combine with a visit to Ton Gardens, Lawn, Richard Jefferies Old Town trial – there’s options!