It’s taken me some times to get round to dedicating a post to the town gardens – hey ho. Such is life.
So what can we say about them? Well, according to Parks and Gardens.Org our Town Gardens were ‘were laid out in the late-19th and early-20th centuries on the undulating Okus Field.
The Gardens were opened in May 1894 by Mr W Reynolds, Chairman of the Board. The northern area was laid out in 1902 and included a maze, a shelter, rustic bridges, and seats, to a design submitted by a Mr A John Gilbert. In the mid-20th century improvements were made to the Gardens, including the creation of a rose garden and bandstand with arena.’
All of which is fine if not a little dry.
The Historic England website tells us that the gardens are ‘registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage for its special historic interest.’
The Historic England website also tells us that: ‘Along the northern boundary of the rectangular garden is an entrance porch with iron turnstiles and brick pillars that leads to a domed bandstand in Art Deco style, called the Concert Bowl, situated in a valley below. Both the Concert Bowl and entrance were designed by J B L Thompson in 1934(6 (drawings, WRO), and were formally opened by the Mayor of Swindon on 6 May 1936. The Concert Bowl, referred to in Thompson’s drawings (see above) as ‘Bandstand and Arena’, and in Civic News, July 1963, as ‘a concert bowl and shell’, stands 65m south of the north-eastern entrance. It is approached from the south along a lawn at the bottom of the steep grass-banked valley, with mature trees to the north, west, and east….’ So a bit more descriptive then.
The Great British Gardens website though exhorts us to: ‘Step back in time to this Victorian garden set in an old quarry which used to produce Portland stone.’
None of which though portrays just how loved these gardens are. Indeed there’s a bunch of wonderful Town Gardens artists who are prolific in the art they produce inspired by these wonderful gardens.
Of the concert bowl, Geography.org has a nice photo of the bowl and has this to say: ‘The Bowl is pre-war and is possibly modelled on the rather larger Hollywood Bowl of the 1920s.’ Over on SBC’s website you’ll find this: ‘The Old Town Bowl opened in 1936 and is one of only a handful built in this county. The Bowl was restored in the 1990s and is now a venue for regular summer concerts.’
On a wander around Swindon Town Gardens earlier this year some of the plaques on the benches caught my eye. I rather suspect there’s more entertainment and intrigue to be found there if you look hard enough.
I first saw the plaque in the first image on Facebook – just as it appears here – with words by my friend Carole Bent.
I assume the heart-shaped wreath was tied there by a family member. It was still there when I was in the gardens. Lovely words from Carole and lovely words from whom so ever it was that put the plaque on the bench. Wonderfully profound in its way is this next one – which made me smile I have to say.
And finally this one is rather lovely because it commemorates Harold – a gardener in Town Gardens for 38 years. Good work Harold. Good work!
Something that always makes me think of Trumpton and the band concerts – the bandstand.
Below is Peter Pan. Sporting not only his head but some pastilles on his head! I mention this because back in 2011 the statue was beheaded. This BBC News article has the story.
‘The original statue, which had been there since World War I, was stolen in 2004.
It was recovered, restored and put into storage and a fibre glass replica was put in the Town Gardens in November. The 2ft statue sits on a stone cairn.’
But this is the poem – or extract of – that is on the stone. It’s from Siegfried Sassoon’s 1919 poem ‘Everyone Sang’: Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on–on–and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Finally, just because we can, some lovely shots of Town Gardens wildlife from Justin Smythe:
“BEAUTIFUL images of one of Swindon’s parks have been turned onto a calendar to help pay for its preservation.
Debs Donkersley took the pictures on her many walks through Queens Park. She regularly posts photos on the park’s Facebook page but decided to create a calendar to boost the funds of the community council that keeps the park blooming.
Priced at £7, it will be on sale from next week with proceeds helping to support the community council’s work in preserving and improving the park … “
English Heritage considers the space to be of historic interest and has listed it as a Grade II site on the national register of parks and gardens.
The calendar will be on sale at Bake ‘n’ Roll in Groundwell Road and at Baristocrats cafe in Commercial Road.
Not having got any small children I’m not au fait with the town’s play parks. However, I have a friend with a small daughter and sometimes visit a play park with them- and a few weeks ago we went to the Angel Ridge play park. It’s taken me weeks to get round to posting on it!
The who, the what, the where
You’ll find the Angel Ridge play area on the site of Swindon’s original NHS hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, now redeveloped as a residential housing site.
According to Building Construction Design – http://www.buildingconstructiondesign.co.uk/news/angel-ridge-play-area-swindon/ – ‘Swindon Council had the task of creating a challenging and exciting play area that referenced the rich heritage of the site, keeping the local residents on side and also improving links with the surrounding communities. They worked with Timberplay, selecting the best products to suit the site and its heritage.’
As the article goes on to say: “Angel Ridge is a linear development, situated along a ridge, hence the name. When embarking on research for the site, Swindon Council Landscape Architect, Andrew Norris found that the bones of an Ichthyosaur (marine dinosaur) were discovered nearby, which then went on to find fame on Blue Peter. This pre-historic relic inspired the use of fossils throughout the site, with hidden replica fossils secreted in the sand area and a giant ammonite heralding the start of the play site. “
Angel Ridge Play area 1
The turning stone
Detail on the turning stone
One of the key features of the site is the weighty Turning Stone, a huge 5 tonne boulder which even small children can easily rotate. This is personalised with an inscription, a poem by Jane Evans that summed up the overarching themes of the scheme:
“Then here’s to the heartening wassail, Wherever good fellows are found; Be its master instead of its vassal, and order the glasses around” Ogden Nash I believe…
I missed last year’s wassail held in the ever-so-lovely- secret garden so it was great to get the chance to pop in there yesterday, observe all the wassailing related carryings on and get a few photos. But first a brief history of wassailing.
“… The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter….
One legend about how Wassailing was created, says that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words ‘waes hael’. Over the centuries, a great deal of ceremony developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl was carried into a room with a great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink was sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage was served.
From this it developed into a another way of saying Merry Christmas to each other!”
And indeed most of us will know the popular wassailing carol – it formed a part of yesterday’s fun and frolics:
“Here we come a-wassailing Among the leaves so green, Here we come a-wassailing, So fair to be seen:
Love and joy come to you, And to you your wassail too, And God bless you and send you, A happy New Year, And God send you, A happy new year.”
However, you won’t be at all surprised to know that there’s another tradition centred around wassailing, and this is what yesterday’s event in the secret garden was all about, and that’s the apple wassail.
There are many well recorded instances of the Apple Wassail in the early modern period. The first recorded mention was at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as “howling”.
On Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to “bless” the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. Among the most famous wassail ceremonies are those in Whimple, Devon and Carhampton, Somerset, both on 17 January.
A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the “Apple Tree Man”, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is said to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried treasure.”
At the Wassail
Singing the wassail carol
The King & Queen of the Wassail feed the Apple man
The King & Queen of the Wassail
The fabulous Banged to Rites
And yesterday’s fabulous event in the secret garden at Queen’s Park was based on the above. So there was a King and Queen of the Wassil, there was drumming from the fabulous Banged to Rites and cider and toast were fed to the apple tree man – once he’d been woken up with all the shouting, drumming and singing – he’d be hungry after all that lot!
Oh. I ‘d rather hoped that Apple Day was some old pagan thing. But apparently not. Boo!
According to the Common Ground websiteApple day was launched in 1990 the intention being to: “create a calendar custom, an autumn holiday.
From the start, Apple Day was intended to be both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing, not simply in apples, but in the richness and diversity of landscape, ecology and culture too. It has also played a part in raising awareness in the provenance and traceability of food.”
How very disappointing I must say. HOWEVER what was far from disappointing was yesterday’s Apple Day festivities in Swindon’s Secret Garden tucked away in Queen’s Park.
Visiting the secret garden is akin to buses it seems. I don’t go to it in twenty years and then twice in the space of a few weeks.
I wasn’t able to stay too long yesterday as I’d got other places to be sadly – but I was able to be there long enough to chat to a few people, including Swindon Civic Voiceand the lovely Amanda Adams from Incredible Edible Swindon.
I also got to see some of the Bang to Rites drumming action – LOVE a bit of drumming and percussion. I’m a big fan of Swindon Samba too. And the show STOMP.
And I made a discovery. Well something that was new to me at least. We have cider made in these here parts. Who knew? Well plenty of people I think – just not me. Circle cider is Swindon’s only craft cider producer.
They’ve produced a cider called Roundabout which, rather wonderfully and appropriately, has a stylised version of the Magic Roundabouton its labelling. It’s described as: ‘A medium sweet cider created from the apples round and about swindon, either picked by ourselves or swapped with local reisdents. This cider is smooth and enjoyed chilled.’
And now for some photographs. Amazingly for me they are largely in focus. Whoo hoo! And that metal sculpture in front of the pond – what is it? It reminds of a lobster with leprosy or some such… 😉