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.
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:
Tuesday 7th January 2014 Hello listeners. I’ve posted on here many times about the wealth of artistic and creative talent in this town. It runs the gamut from Ken White to David Bent both of whom are artists with an international reputation in their fields. But there’s just about everything imaginable in between in Swindon’s artistic cornucopia with the activities of the people at Artsite Ltd and the Old Town Gardens artist group to name but two. But of course I’m not the only person in Swindon that takes an interest in and writes about the talent of the town. The good people of Swindon Heritage Magazine also beat the drum. Thus this post is really by way of sharing a blog post from their website – you’ll see the link below. As they point out, it’s a crying shame that none of Ken’s much sought after work is included in the Borough’s otherwise very fine art collection. Hence they have now fulfilled an ambition to own two of his works which they intend to put to good use. But you can read more of that in their blog post: When heritage meets art – Swindon Heritage.
Happy new year listeners! I hope that the festive season was kind to you and that 2015 will bring you some good things.
So here we are at the start of a new blogging year for Born again Swindonian. Last year was a successful one for this Swindon-centric blog, amassing 30,000 views in 2014 and 40,000 since it began. I’m kicking off this new blogging season with a guest post from Gill Thomas of Contemporary Botanicals. I met Gill at the German style Christmas market at Freshbrook Evangelical church – and a very lovely event it was too. Anyway, I was chatting to Gill at her stall and telling her all about the blog etc and she agreed to do a guest post for me. As an actual Swindonian she has written a delightful ‘memoir’ of some of her recollections of growing up in Swindon. I love the idea of the GWR hooter going off at New Year’s Eve. I’ve long thought it would be wonderful to have that sounded again for special occasions. And how sweet that there used to be illuminations in Queen’s Park – back in the day before fairy lights and garden lights were commonplace. That sounds just so delightful. I really enjoyed reading this and I’m sure you will too. Thanks Gill.
‘Genuine Cockneys are said to be born within the sound of Bow Bells and I believe that genuine Swindonians are born within the sound of the Great Western hooter! I was. I put in my first appearance in the Kingshill Maternity Home and from the top of that hill you could see the machine sheds of the works all along the far end of Wootton Bassett Road behind the rec’. Every day, over a wide area (even in Lydiard), you could hear the hooter; it summoned men to work in the mornings, declared the dinner break and return, then finally the end of working day at 4:30. At 12:30 my grandfather, who was a boilermaker, walked briskly from the works through the alley from Dean Street and up Kingshill where his cooked dinner was waiting for him. Just before the hooter went again just after 1:00 for the return to work, he’d put on his cap, tuck a mint called a Long Tom in his mouth and walk briskly back to work. He did this without fail every day until he retired at 65.
The other unique thing about the hooter was that on New Year’s Eve it would sound at midnight and there were detonators placed on the line at the works which would explode. Weather permitting, all the house doors would be opened to hear this – wonderfully exciting big bangs for a child who was allowed to stay up late for that one night! Then Dad would Act as First Foot, letting out the old year and inviting in the New Year.
As a child growing up in the town in the 50s and early 60s, virtually everyone you knew had a family member “inside”. This didn’t mean that the town was a centre of criminality – “inside” was shorthand for the Great Western works. You kept clear of Sheppard Street, Rodbourne Road and Park Lane when the hooter went otherwise you’d have been mown down by thousands of bikes as the men left work.
Our summer holidays started earlier than most other English schools because of “Trip”. We broke up on the first Friday in July because “Trip” was the annual factory shut down which began then. A lot of works’ employees received free passes or “privs” – rail tickets they used for their holidays. My grandparents went to stay in far off locations (ha!) such as Blackpool and Llandudno and I remember vividly meeting them on the station when they returned when there was always a stick of rock for me. Despite all the changes to the town in the years since then, walking through the tunnel at the station to get up to the platforms remains exactly the same experience – it even smells the same.
During the summer holidays we played out all day, every day. We had trikes, bikes, roller skates, home-made stilts and lots of trees to climb along the old canal which, of course, is now Fleming Way from Jury’s Hotel to the Magic Roundabout. I once got stuck up a tree and was humiliated when my mother had to come and rescue me. I drove past that tree for many years often thinking of that little six year old tomboy. By the way, there was a small farm where the fire station is now – can you imagine!
I had a wonderfully happy childhood. Marvellous teachers in our local schools gave me a classical academic education that has stood me in good stead ever since. The town itself was bustling with a variety of shops –the old Regent Street was a world away from the current one – such memories! I was an avid member of the Junior Library which was situated at the top of Regent Street behind Martins bank and I have the dubious claim of being asked to leave on one occasion when I was found guilty of having a mouthful of Black Jacks! The Reference Library situated in the Town Hall was highly revered and way beyond a child’s reach. Saturday morning pictures at either the Gaumont or the Savoy were an absolute must, lustily belting out Land of Hope and Glory every week!
Then there was the Queens Park. Every September, it staged illuminations which were simply lights among the plants, something which a great many have in their gardens these days but back then it was a real event. We would dress smartly – best clothes – and walk around with our parents at dusk, quite entranced by this spectacle.
In terms of history, these years are merely a heartbeat away but these recollections read like something from the “olden days” and I suppose to the younger generation that’s exactly what they are and long gone. Some things, however, do remain from my childhood and I’m very happy to report that the specimen that was a must-see is still in residence in the Museum – the stuffed crocodile! It’s nice to know he and I are still here.’
I really must stop going into Artsite and Number Nine Theatre Square as I always come out having purchased some piece or other of art and craft work. It’s happened again today – I’ve ended buying another piece of mosaic art from Lynette Thomas – previously mentioned here: https://swindonian.me/2014/11/20/mosaics-at-number-9/ – and some lovely wooden angel wings – and I’ve also put my name on a Tim Carroll piece that I’ve been hanging my nose over for ages.
I’ve written about the Artsite and Number Nine set-up on the blog before here and again here: https://swindonian.me/2013/11/30/artsite-and-the-post-modern-theatre-square/ – so this post is just by way of sharing some pictures of the creations on display in Artsite at the moment. Today – 13th December – there is tea and cake and face-painting for kids. You still have time to get down there and enjoy that and buy some great stuff from local artists while you are about it.
“… Anyone wishing to see the disparate, slim-pickings of Swindon’s early modern art collection would in 1943 have to have made their way to some unused rooms in the town hall and a corridor in McIlroys department store.
It wasn’t until Jimmy Bomford donated 21 works by 20th century British artists that it became, in effect, a collection.First exhibited at the Arts Centre in 1946, it was later housed at a former dance hall, also in Devizes Road.To overcome the lack of adequate premises the collection was on a couple of occasions dispatched on tour in cities and towns around the country.In 1964, however, the “L” shaped extension to the Bath Road museum was built as a gallery to exhibit the works where – due to the collection’s size – they tend to be shown in rotation…”
As it happens I have today been to the Museum and Art Gallery to see the travelling Turners. No not a rock band but a small selection of paintings by Turner himself, that is doing the rounds as it were, on display with a selection of other landscapes. It’s a really nice exhibition with some interesting works in it. And how absolutely fabulous to be able to see Turners – I mean actual Turnershere in Swindon – not Bristol or Bath or even London. Well I’m in awe anyway.