Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Part 1

Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Part 1

23rd March 2015


Richard Jefferies Old Town walk Part 1

Richard Jefferies Old Town Trail

Oh listeners, I do love a bit of urban discovery as evidenced with my travelogue on the West Swindon sculpture trail and the subject of this post turned out to offer some nuggets of urban discovery.

When I say ‘discovery’ I do of course mean new to or previously unnoticed by me – not that they’ve been seen by no-one before ever. I’m referring to the Richard Jefferies Old Town walk which is a trip round the eponymous area of Swindon taking in buildings and spots that were known to him. I did this walk last week with @swindondriver AKA Jess Robinson who took the photographs.

I’m going to break the walk up into two separate posts as there’s a lot of it and it would be a VERY long post otherwise.

Go here for Richard Jefferies Old Town Walk Part Two.

Click here to download a plain text PDF description of the entire richard jefferies walk

Richard Jefferies – Born at Coate, Swindon, Wiltshire in 1848 – Died in Sussex in 1887

I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about RJ but before I talk about the walk here’s a bit of information about who RJ was. From the website of the Richard Jefferies society:

“(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”

Wikipedia: “His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction. For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. “

Now – onto the walk. This is a circular walk that begins and more or less ends at The Square in Old Town.  Despite the fact that the leaflet I found about it was a few years old the walk remains pretty much as described. Here’s a link to a plain text web page of the walk and a numbered map which corresponds now to each paragraph in the post:

1) The bakehouse and shop belonging to Richard Jefferies’ grandfather, John Jefferies (1784-1868), stood to the right of the Corn Exchange building, fronting the road. The shop has long since been demolished. Richard went there frequently, as a child, and would have found there, also, his aunts Eliza (Sewell), Mary and Sarah. Now Jess and I weren’t entirely sure where the bakehouse and shop mentioned would have been as the description isn’t particularly clear from which angle of the Corn Exchange (the Locarno) it referred to.

2) Take the lane leading out of The Square along The Weavers and continue left into Old Mill Lane. On your right is an old ‘squeeze-belly’ stile. The path beyond it leads to Coate and would have been used by Richard to come and go, on foot. Continue along Old Mill Lane and note the buttresses in the churchyard wall. Close to this spot stood the mill, once in the charge of Richard’s great uncle James. The Goddard family mansion, ‘The Lawn’, now demolished, stood a few yards farther on. NB: the squeeze belly stile is still there – that was a new ‘discovery’ for me.

3) On the right stands what is left of Holy Rood Church. The gates are locked but if the key is obtained you may see the box tomb of Richard’s great grandfather Richard (1738-1825). Richard was baptised here. Not that I have any idea from whom or where the key is obtained – one assumes it still can be.

4) Return via The Planks (an ancient and raised walkway) to The Square and go into High Street. Notice the Bell Inn, (no longer an inn but the building and bell are still there) occasionally visited by Richard where, as a young reporter, he would talk with Sir Daniel Gooch* and other leading citizens. Cross High Street and walk to Newport Street. The National School, now pulled down, stood in Newport Street; it was run by a Mr Jenkins, and Richard attended in the evenings in his teens.

Sir Daniel Gooch now has a Wetherspoons in his name – there’s lots of interesting information and pictures on the stairwell in there.

*Swindon Web on Sir Daniel Gooch 

Slideshow of some photographs from part 1 of the walk:

So that concludes the first half of the Richard Jefferies Old Town trail. See part 2 below:

Richard Jefferies Old Town Walk Part 2


For more information on Swindon’s Old Town visit: Swindon Web history of Old Town.





Step out with Swindon Dance

Step out with Swindon Dance

There are lots and lots of reasons why we can be proud of Swindon – many of which I’ve posted about on this blog as regular listeners will know. Starting with the obvious, there is Swindon’s multi-faceted industrial heritage.  Then of course there’s all the public art about which I’ve banged on ad nauseum, the host of parks and green spaces and the bewildering range of artistic talent that Swindon hosts. And much, much more.

The old town hall, Regent Circus - home of Swindon Dance

The old town hall, Regent Circus – home of Swindon Dance

But now listeners I’ve discovered a new reason to be Swindonian and proud: Swindon Dance.  Well, when I say ‘discover’ – I should perhaps refer to Mary Louise Pratt who I believe, in ‘Imperial Eyes’, describes the ‘anti-conquest’ which she defines as “the strategies of representation whereby European bourgeois subjects seek to secure their innocence in the same moment as they assert European hegemony” . Or – put another way – when we Europeans went stomping around the world claiming and naming rivers, rocks, islands, and countries for King, Country and Empire we weren’t actually ‘discovering’ anything. Because of course ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ was)  was already there and well-known to the indigenous populations without whose help we Europeans might never have ‘discovered’ anything much at all and which we then proceed to steal from said indigenous peoples dressing it up as we did so in a discourse of scientific discovery.

So it is then, in that vein, I’ve recently discovered – or, to be more precise, learnt about – Swindon Dance – who are lovely folk  of discernment and intelligence being fans of this blog.  😉  They invited me to visit them to do a post about them – an invitation I was delighted to accept. It’s taken a while with illness and various domestic crises getting in the way but at last here we are.

The lovely Lizzie sent me lots of fab information which is way better than my scrawls so, with no further ado, dig out your leg warmers and prepare to be, as I most certainly was, duly illuminated! For a start it was news to me that there’s a 100 seat theatre in the old town hall which is the home of Swindon Dance. Nor did I know there was a mural in the building painted by one Carlton Attewood of ‘The Watcher’s’ fame.


Swindon dance is a registered charity that operates as a not-for-profit dance organisation dedicated to creating and developing the dance, dancers and audiences of tomorrow.

Swindon Dance is firmly embedded in the national dance sector and has a 35-year track record and national reputation for providing high-quality dance training in Swindon and the south-west. Their expertise in dance along with a focus on participation and access has ensured that they facilitate quality dance experiences for anyone willing and able to take part.

Swindon Dance are providers of:

  • A programme of community classes for all ages and abilities in Jazz, Ballet, Tap, Urban and Contemporary.
  • Both amateur and professional performance opportunities to dance artists via our unique 100-seat theatre. 
  • Artist and talent development in the form of mentoring, networking, career-training and space provision.
  • More in-depth dance development for young people, as one of nine Centres for Advanced Training (CAT) in the UK via our Youth Dance Academy (YDA), which is funded by the Department for Education and has the only YDA Urban stream in the country.
  • Numerous opportunities for our YDA students to work with new and current professional artists, including award-winning hip-hop group Plague, internationally acclaimed choreographer Russell Maliphant, Matthew Bourne protégé John Ross and award-winning, rising star Aakash Odedra.
  • Opportunities for primary school children to experiences ballet as one of five organisations working with the Royal Ballet School on their primarySTEPS programme.

 As a charity, SD are committed and dedicated to our vision for anyone to access high-quality dance development, regardless of age and experience, economic, social, geographic or physical disadvantage. As a result of our vision, we have seen dance change lives time and time again, including those who are over 60; those who never stopped wanting a purpose in life and an opportunity to learn, grow, create, achieve and contribute.

Are these not great reasons to be proud of Swindon Dance?

Swindon Dance – did you know? – Yet more reasons to be proud:

  • Our Youth Dance Academy (YDA) is funded through bursaries by the Department for Education, as a Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) for exceptionally talented young dancers aged 11-17 years.
  • We are one of only nine centres in England, providing access to 100 plus young students across the South West.
  • YDA is the only CAT providing an Urban stream in the whole of the UK.
  • Swindon Dance is one of only three places outside London providing the Diploma in Dance Teaching & Learning for Children & Young People (DDTAL), as one of the first registered centres and training providers for Trinity College London.

  • We are one of five UK centres working in partnership with the Royal Ballet School through their primarySTEPS programme.
  • We are have been funded by Arts Council England and Swindon Borough Council since 1979.
  • Annually, we have some 19,000 attendances by children and young people at 1,300 dance activities led by Swindon Dance.
  • 50,000 people come to our events, classes and performances each year.
  • Longest standing resident producer of dance events for an area serving a population now exceeding 3 million as the only dedicated dance theatre space in Wiltshire.
  • One of the few dance organisations left in the UK that is building-based.
  • Early careers that have begun at or been supported by Swindon Dance includes Yael Flexer, Wayne McGregor, AMP, Motionhouse and, more recently, James Wilton and Protein Dance, among many others. Matthew Bourne and Russell Maliphant both presented early work in our theatre.
  • A diverse range of artists have also been supported through our partnership with The Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD), including:  Brenda Edwards, Jonzi D (Artistic Director of Breakin’ Convention) and Bawren Tavaziva.
  • Other artists, including filmmakers, musicians and videographers, have also been nurtured through multidisciplinary arts at Swindon Dance, including Barry Ganberg (composer and musician and now head of music at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance), David Yates (director of a number of the Harry Potter films) and Rannel Theatre Company (who have just finished a sell-out show at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol).
  • Our YDA has nearly 5 times more BME students than the national average (22% in comparison to 14.5%), based on 2011 Government figures.
  • Since 2006, 96 dancers from the YDA have gone onto full-time training at vocation college &/or a conservatoire. In 2012, the Swindon Dance CAT achieved 100% success rate for students auditioning for entry into vocational training &/or conservatoires.

And finally – some further facts about Swindon Dance – consider yourself educated. And hopefully very proud. 🙂

  • We are a National Portfolio Organisation, funded by Arts Council England (ACE). We have been funded by ACE and Swindon Borough Council since 1979.
  • Annually, we have some 19,000 attendances by children and young people at 1,300 dance activities led by Swindon Dance.
  • 30,000 people come to our events, classes and performances each year.
  • Early careers that have begun at or been supported by Swindon Dance includes Yael Flexer, Wayne McGregor, AMP, Motionhouse and, more recently, James Wilton and Protein Dance, among many others. Matthew Bourne and Russell Maliphant both presented early work in our theatre.
  • Other artists, including filmmakers, musicians and videographers, have also been nurtured through multidisciplinary arts at Swindon Dance, including Barry Ganberg (composer and musician and now Head of Music at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance), David Yates (director of a number of the Harry Potter films) and Rannel Theatre Company (who have just finished a sell-out show at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol).





Lightkeeper  Music

Lightkeeper Music

Lightkeeper Music

Lightkeeper Music

Monday 9th March 2015

 As is so often the case with posts on Born again Swindonian, this one  has arisen from a chat on social media, in this instance Twitter, with Chloe, a Swindonian, aka @BosPeeps.  During our chat she told me about a music blog and YouTube channel she is launching. And as regular listeners will know I do like to get stuff ‘out there’ on Born again Swindonian. So if you are a music lover then this might well be one to watch:
“Lightkeeper Music is a music blog and YouTube channel. I love music so much, both performing and listening, so I thought I would make this blog and YouTube channel to share that love. New, old, unsigned or signed: all will be featured. Any genre too. The blog is there for people to read up on music and the YouTube channel is there for  people who enjoy visual content. You could even visit both of course!
I have plans for there to be a range of content and series such as Saturday Sessions, Spotlight On, charts and Throwback Tunesday.
If you are an artist/band and would like to be featured, then email me at
You can go to my blog here:
If you want to connect on the Twittersphere you’ll find on: – @LightkeeperMus
Please check it out and support it.  Thank you –  from Chloe”
 On the subject of music I’m going to take this opportunity – it’s a good excuse while talking about music and YouTube – to to share a YouTube clip of Hitesh Mistry,  the son of a friend of mine who, at the tender age of 14/15 is a talented singer/songwriter. He lives in Swindon and I love how the video is filmed around around Swindon. Here it is:
All aboard for the Hooter Express

All aboard for the Hooter Express

Friday 30th January 2015

Get on track at the Outlet Centre!

Born again Swindonian in the driver's cab

Born again Swindonian in the driver’s cab

I absolutely LOVE a miniature train – of any description – they evoke something so visceral. Whether they are ones you sit astride or the ones you sit inside. In fact – extending the genre – wherever there’s a miniature train, a funicular, a monorail or even a cable car – I have to go on it. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it stems from childhood holidays in Butlin’s chugging round the campsite on Puffing Billy. Maybe it’s connected to being of a generation that can remember ‘proper’ trains with carriages, corridors and sliding doors and windows that opened so you could lean out and get soot smuts on your face.  And the wonderful artwork and the luggage racks overhead in each compartment. Oh those were the days – before Dr Beeching came along with his metaphorical axe and the car became king. Or it could simply be because my inner-child is not just alive but positively flourishing. Mostly likely it’s a melting pot of all those things.  So listeners, imagine my unadulterated joy when, shortly before Christmas, I espied the new Hooter Express in Swindon’s Outlet Centre. I was so excited I can’t tell you.

I managed to get my first ride on it just a week or two back and yesterday I went to the Outlet Centre to chat to Shaun Gisbourne and the rest of the team that look after the Hooter Express to find out more about it.

Negotiations to install the train began in July 2014 and it began its service on the 12th December 2014. In the short time the train has been operating it’s proved to be very popular with both the young and the young at heart – just last Saturday they sold 300 tickets. Brunel himself would be proud I’m sure. Of course there are miniature trains like this one up and down the land – in parks and on promenades and piers. But it’s especially appropriate that there’s one in the Outlet Centre. It’s the most perfect addition to the building that is, in and of itself, a fabulous homage to the railway industry that pulsed within its walls and was the lifeblood of the new Swindon that grew up around it.

As Shaun, one of the drivers, explained, the train has purposes beyond being tooting good fun and an attraction for children. It serves as a terrific way to get an overview of the stores. In much the same way as an open-top bus in a new city gives an overview of its attractions so it is with the train – only it’s what might catch your eye in what shops and where they are. It’s also a useful way of gauging the attitude and approachability of the personnel in the shops – the ones that engage with the train and its cargo of shoppers as it does its tour around the centre.

Having got the Hooter Express to a great start the team are not being station-ary and are on track to develop the attraction. A station for the train is already under construction for starters. There is also talk of introducing another stop about halfway round so one could either have the current round trip or do a one-way trip to get you closer to the car park exit. Indeed they’ve already had feedback to the usefulness of that from less mobile users of the centre. Additionally they are looking at introducing some sort of season ticket or bulk ticket purchase discount – the finer points of that are begin worked on. They also hope to form links with some of the businesses in the Outlet Centre. I should point out at this stage that discounts are already available for nursery’s, creches and groups of special needs children. Just ask the team.  Above all though, Shaun and the guys have made improving passenger experience their Raison d’être. Look and learn FGW – look and learn. They want families to find them approachable and they do visibly work hard at that – there’s much encouragement at getting passengers to wave to the shoppers they pass by on their journey. Something that most people respond to which is kinda wonderful.

The train is located in the food court area of the centre, forming a miniature symmetry with the full-size engine that stands proudly there. The ride takes about 10 mins and costs £2 and is way more value than those little static things that just rock back and forth and make a bit of noise but otherwise are not much of an experience at all. It runs  7 days a week from 10-5.30pm on Monday to Thursday and all the hours the centre is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

So far as I can see all that is missing from this delight is some sort of suitable livery for the drivers. At the moment there’s a plain chauffeur’s type cap that is far too small for anyone. Perhaps overalls, peaked cap and a knotted scarf in the manner of Casey Jones or ‘Perkins’ from a recent Dr Who episode? And surely there needs to be a whistle blown and a flag waved when the train is about to set off – just before it toots its hooter. And oh – how about this – there’s a larger version of this sort of train that runs around Disney theme parks. And as the passengers are boarding the train a message can be heard: ‘All aboard the Disneyland Express. This is the last call for the Disneyland Express’ – and then the train whistle sounds. Something similar to that would be really cool!

Other posts about the Outlet Centre:

Shopping with a sense of history

Swindon designer outlet village revisited

Picture this at the Town Gardens – Swindon Heritage

31 January 2015

This post is by way of share of a blog post from the splendid people at Swindon Heritage magazine that’s giving a shout out to the forthcoming exhibition, in Old Town’s VuDu coffee shop, of works but the Old Town Garden’s artists group. One of it’s leading lights, the very lovely Caroline Day, wrote a guest post for Born again Swindonian last year about the group and its inspiration – you can read that here.  So that, in and of itself’ is a good reason to link to it and to share it here. But aside from that it has a few nice photographs that are worth a peek – some new – and some not so new courtesy of the Swindon Society.

I’m looking forward to attending the exhibition – I love Caroline’s work, and indeed the work of Terry Humphries and Susan M Carr. Susan is, amongst other things, a ‘Plein Air’ artist. Read more about their work and indeed about the wealth of artistic talent in the town here.

Here’s the link to the blog post by Swindon Heritage: Picture this at the Town Gardens – Swindon Heritage.

11 facts about Swindon’s GWR hooter via Western Daily Press

11 facts about Swindon’s GWR hooter via Western Daily Press

21st January 2015

This article from the Western Daily Press recently appeared on my Twitter stream – it’s about the famed GWR hooter so is definitely worth a share on here. Here’s the link to their article:

Photo of GWR hooter at Swindon Outlet centre

GWR hooter

Several times now listeners, I’ve mentioned on here about how, despite having been in Swindon for 20 years or so now, there’s an awful lot I’ve  never really noticed until recently – writing this blog has certainly made me open my eyes and ears more to what’s around me. And the GWR hooter is a case in point – a classic example of what you might see if you lift your eyes up from pavement level. The English broadcaster Ray Gosling specialised in “the sideways look at such eclectic and quintessentially British institutions as the working classes… and faded seaside towns, the minutiae of life.” And I think it was he that said something about looking up – when visiting a new place make the effort to look up because that’s where the interesting things are. It’s certainly true of Swindon. As dispiriting as the place is in some areas, raise your eyes and there are interesting building frontages, ghost advertising signs and even public art such as the Minis climbing a building – see here. So I now endeavour to do both those things: celebrate the minutiae of Swindon within this blog and to look up. In a similar vein  an American writer, Henry Miller, said:  “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” He was referring to travelling but it’s kinda appropriate in this context too – a new way of seeing familiar surroundings. And that’s something I try to do in this blog.

Back in December of 2013, when this blog was still quite young, I wrote a post about having a trot round the town (read more of that here) with a visitor to Swindon to take in some of the town’s heritage. It was only then that I noticed the hooter. I know – shameful. Indeed as the article says on point 5: “The hooter’s two rooftop brass domes that generated such a powerful sound are still in place, and usually missed by the thousands of people walking into the entrance to the Designer Outlet Shopping Village the works have now become.” 

I think my very favourite fact is this: “It was loud enough to be heard more than three miles away. Viscount Bolingbroke, who lived in Lydiard Park, tried to get it silenced because it scared away the pheasants he wanted to shoot. His attempts were met by a petition signed by thousands of workers insisting it stayed. GWR replaced it with an even louder one.” Despite his best efforts, Viscount Bolingbroke didn’t get his own way. Power to the people! 🙂

My companion commented that it would be great to hear the hooter sounded again for high days and holidays and red letter days – or events relevant to Swindon maybe – something that people might gather for? I’m inclined to agree. This year, 2015, marks the 160th anniversary “of the hooter first Swindon Railway Works hooter that summoned the workers from all over town to start their days building trains for the British Empire.” How great would it be to hear it again to mark this occasion? A red letter day if ever there was one for sure. I’ve no idea of the feasibility of that – it’s probably not feasible at all – but it’s a neat idea eh?

Until that happens hear it is on YouTube  – I discovered this via a Facebook group interested in Swindon past and present: