Hello lovely listeners. On the heels of Secret Swindon, I’m now in full flow with research and writing for my second book from Amberley Books, Swindon in 50 Buildings. It’s come as no surprise at all to me that there’s a cornucopia of potentials for this book. For every building I’ve put on the list, I could quite easily have selected several more. So I’ve had to make choices. And it’s been tough I tell ya! There’s no shortage of interesting material in Swindon as we all know.
For instance, I’m definitely featuring Swindon’s County Ground in the book. After all – a tale of any town or city couldn’t call itself complete without mentioning the town’s sporting life. A natural complement to that listing then is theCounty Ground Hotel. But do I have room for it? No I do not. For now it’s on the reserve bench – and in this blog.
The Swindon County Ground Hotel is a mere few yards from the stadium of the home team – Swindon Town football club. Hence its name. It’s a popular watering hole for fans whenever Swindon Town are playing at home. And, according the website, a down-to-earth ‘local’ when they are not.
Curiously, for a watering hole associated with a football ground, the pub has strong associations with pugilism. ‘In fact, the pub’s favourite sport in modern times has been boxing, having been equipped with a gymnasium and former licensee Pete Neal a well-known former boxer. Who knew? Well not I!
A bit of County Ground Hotel History
Taken from the pub’s website:
‘Regulars in the County Ground Hotel celebrated a special anniversary on 2nd November, 1997 when this grand old pub notched up a century of service to Swindon drinkers.
Commemorating its opening year is a terracotta plaque on side of the building. The plaque include a portrait of Queen Victoria who happened to be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee that year.
Arkell’s bought the land from C Williams the year before and had a ready-made licence thanks to the demise of a pub in Highworth. The Rampant Cat was closed by a relieved James Arkell – son of John Arkell – who lived nearby at Redlands and was annoyed by the rowdy behaviour of some of the regulars. So the County Ground got the licence and one of the town’s landmarks was born.
Outwardly, The County Ground Hotel is largely unchanged from how it looked a hundred years ago, though alterations and extensions in 1921 and 1954 mean that it is not wholly Victorian.’
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.
‘ … 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.’
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.
Architectural Interest: it’s a particularly important building of the 1980s by Sir Norman Foster – one of Britain’s foremost contemporary architects. It embodies the key features and characteristics of the British High Tech movement.
2. Technological Interest: This is an innovative industrial building using new materials, technology and design solutions, built for a forward-thinking client. One that demanded a fully flexible and prestigious building to promote the company and reflect the advanced design and technology of its products.
Historic Interest: The building’s strong association with the French company Renault, ranking among the most notable and prestigious car manufacturers of the twentieth century adds to its level of special interest.
Foster’s design and involvement didn’t stop with the building itself. He also designed all the building’s fixtures and fittings, free standing office furniture and warehouse storage systems included.
He designed glass top tables with steel and aluminium legs for the reception area and cafeteria to echo the design of the beams and mullions of the building itself.
He developed these designs from his own 1970s experiments in furniture design. They went on to inspire his later Nomos office furniture system.
Once completed, the Renault Centre received widespread admiration winning several awards.
Madam La Lumiere, the French Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs performed the official opening on 15 June 1983.
Fascinating fact:In 1985, the Spectrum building featured in the James Bond film, ‘A View to a Kill’. Not the only Swindon building to attract producers of Bond films, the Motorola building has also had that privilege.
I daresay you’ve seen this on social media already – that said it always happens that someone says, about whatever it might be, ‘I didn’t know that was happening’. I’m often astonished because I’ve usually seen whatever was all over social media. Which may say something about my habits and the iPhone shaped extension to my left arm!
So – just in case – I’m sharing a recent article in Swindon Link Magazine apropos of the renewed plans for the new museum and art gallery:
‘Trust director Rod Hebden says all the feedback, suggestions, comments and innovative ideas have been fed back to the architects, engineers and other professionals working on the design, and as a result the plans have evolved thoroughout the summer.
One of the most striking adjustments is that the position of the building, which was originally planned to be on the site of the old multi-storey carpark that stood next to the Wyvern, may now change to the opposite side of the open air carpark, bordering Princes Street.
“When we went out to consultation, the plans showed the new building directly on the space that remains now that the multi-storey car park has been demolished,” says Rod.’
This post is by way of a share of a post on the Swindon Civic Voice website. It’s a guest post by Swindon Civic Voice member and friend, Martin Newman about Swindon’s list of listed buildings.
There’s an astonishing amount of them! Swindon contains 659 Listed buildings. AND fifty-three Scheduled Monuments and three Registered Parks and Gardens!
‘There are a number of misconceptions about listing, one of which is that all the entries are buildings. Yet, as the example below shows, this milestone on Canal Walk is a listed building. One which you could easily trip over if you weren’t looking where you were going!’
A blog from Historic England featuring our very own Swindon Health Hydro:
‘Completed in 1891 for the Great Western Railway Medical Fund, Swindon’s Health Hydro played a big part in the formation of the National Health Service. It was paid for with compulsory deductions from member’s wages, giving them access to a dentist, hairdresser and surgeon as well as swimming and bathing facilities. Designed by JJ Smith it used red brick from the GWR brickworks; two Victorian swimming baths survive in almost their original condition.’