9. The Southbrook Inn Swindon

9. The Southbrook Inn Swindon

The Southbrook Inn Swindon
The Southbrook Inn Swindon – with thanks as ever to my chum Chris Eley for his photographic expeditions.

The Southbrook Inn Swindon
My regular guest blogger, Rebecca Davies, sent me a charming account of an older couple she once visited in Ferndale. It’s a lovely story, well worth a read and it’s further down in this post.

But, as Ferndale is her story’s setting, I decided to tie it in with a Swindon in 50 More Buildings post. One that centres on the Southbrook Inn Swindon. And that happens to be in Ferndale.

About the Southbrook Inn

In this Swindon Advertiser guide to Ferndale you’ll find mention of the Southbrook Inn. The pub, now a Grade II listed building, had a former life as the Southbrook farmhouse. And in that existence it was the only building in the area. It’s hard to imagine now isn’t it? That what we know as Swindon once was green fields and not much else.

In 1908, Swindon’s expansion brought the farm, and the land surrounding it, into the borough. 1956 saw the farmhouse converted into a pub with the transfer of the license from the Golden Lion on Bridge Street which had closed that same year.

Frances Bevan’s ever wonderful Swindon history blogspot gives us more of the Southbrook’s back story and its long relationship with generations of the Goddard family. They of the long-gone house on Lawn in Old Town.

Says Frances: ‘When the property came up for sale in 1763 Thomas Goddard, Lord of the Manor of Swindon, was ready to sign on the dotted line. Having informed his attorney, Mr Thomas Athawes, that he was ‘very well satisfied with the Title of Southbrook Farm …

… In 1898 Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard sold part of the land to builder William Hobbs, heralding the end of the farming at Southbrook.  However despite the continuing development at Gorse Hill north of the railway line, Southbrook Farm retained its buffer of open fields into the 20th century.’

The above are small extracts from Frances’ blog. DO follow the link above to Frances’ blog for the whole Southbrook story.

A bit about Ferndale

Before I move on to Rebecca’s lovely story some Ferndale facts.
The area became known as Ferndale after the building of Ferndale Road. Today that runs all the way from Gorse Hill to Cheney Manor. But in Victorian times the road was considerably shorter. All of this changed in 1902 after the building contractor Edwin Bradley began to construct houses along the road.

1908 saw the consecretion of All Saints Church, in Southbrook Street. The first building was a temporary one designed for use as schoolrooms.

During the Second World War, enemy bombs hit Ferndale killing twenty-five people in the area. The church held several funerals for those killed in the bombings.

A Swindon Story by Rececca Davies Bsc. (Hons).

This is an account of an elderly couple I once met in Swindon.  This must have been in about the middle 90s?  I do not recall the exact year.  It was some years ago but not a very long time ago. At least it seems so to me. I will admit I have a limited sense of time.

I was delivering something to a Swindon address though what or why evades me. The subjects of my delivery duty were a retired couple. Pleased to see me they invited me in for a cuppa.

Their house was a small one. I do not know which street it was in. It may have been one of those small cul-de-sacs off of Ferndale road. But I am not sure – though I can visualise it even now. It was one of those Victorian terraced houses. You know the sort. They have a front door that takes you straight into the living room. Inside there is an open staircase up to the first floor and the kitchen out the back. If you’ve seen that sort of house you will know what I mean.

A room full of memories

Inside this living room was full of knick knacks. Hanging on the walls, covering the shelves and sideboard and placed on the edge of the stairs. Plates, ornaments, cups, mats, a wide selection of stuff.

It must have been a nightmare to dust. And they were all holiday souvenirs from all over the world. Central Europe, Australia, South America, Hawaii, China, Kenya. You name it – they had a souvenir from it.

Curiosity got the better of me

I wondered if they were someone connected with the big liners, like my Great Uncle Sid. Though I didn’t get the impression of either enough money or of then being globetrotters. My imagination went into overdrive. So it was no good – I had to ask them about it.

It turned out that they had indeed never been abroad. Though yes, they did get their eclectic collection of souvenirs themselves.

It had been their habit to take a weekend trip to the city every month. Each time they spent a weekend in London they visited a different ethnic area. They knew where the obscure ones were too – often in a single cul-de-sac. Though where they got the information on how to locate these places I didn’t find out. Bear in mind I visited pre-internet days – and they had made their journeys before even then.

They met the people and sampled the food and took home to Swindon a souvenir of their adventures. And in doing so they explored the entire world.

London – and then the world

London, like all great cities, has always been an international city. Roman London must have seemed astoundingly multicultural to the rural dwelling Briton. And the city of today is, of course, famed for its diversity. But as for using this attribute for global exploration…well, why not? I’m sure many people have done as my nameless couple did.

The chap did not specify but I suspect he was ex-railway – this is Swindon after all. Both my father and grandfather were in the Works. So he must have had a BR rail pass which would have helped with the travel expenses.

I felt so moved and impressed by their tale – as you might imagine. I asked them if they were going to write a book about their adventures. Or at the very least, they could write a London guide of unsurpassed originality and interest. (Not to mention utility). Yet they regarded their explorations as nothing out of the ordinary at all. This saddened me very much, but I said nothing.

They took their adventures to their grave. But I remember their story and am telling you it now.

A worthy tale, don’t you think?

8. GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne Swindon

8. GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne Swindon

Rodbourne reading rooms

January 2020

The GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne Swindon

Between Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings, I’ve given good coverage to Swindon’s Mechanics’ Institution itself in my published books. So this series of Swindon in 50 more buildings gives me a chance to give mention of the GWR reading rooms in Rodbourne.

Where are the GWR Rodbourne Reading Rooms and what are they?

Well the location speaks for itself – well Rodbourne Road to be specific. Just a little way down from the Outlet Centre.

As for what they are – this write up on the Rodbourne Community History Group website serves us well:

‘The Rodbourne branch was built in 1904 and became known locally as the Reading Rooms. The ground floor consisted of a reading room, hall, office and yard. While on the first floor there was a games room.

The building is presently occupied by the North Wiltshire branch of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Evening brigade meetings and daytime first aid courses for companies in the North Wilts. area are provided.’

So Rodbourne’s GWR reading rooms then are a branch of the Mechanics’ Institution. The main one in the heart of the railway village in Emlyn Square.

GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne
GWR Rodbourne Reading Rooms

Related posts in this series:

St Augustine’s church in Rodbourne: https://swindonian.me/2020/02/08/st-augustines-church-swindon/

The GWR Weighbridge: https://swindonian.me/2020/05/04/the-gwr-weighbridge-swindon/

The Mechanics’ Institute

The Mechanics’ Institution building served as a venue for New Swindon’s social activities, entertainment and educational activities.

In its glory days it offered a reading room, a theatre and a library – see Secret Swindon for so much more on all of that. It also boasted cold-water baths (before the building of the Milton Road Baths), a coffee room, a dining room, lecture rooms and public meeting rooms.

In the first instance the Mechanics’ Institution was accommodated within the Works. The institution moved in 1855 to a permanent building in the railway village.

The membership of its library grew fast, necessitating the opening of branches in Rodbourne and Gorse Hill.

The Mechanics' Institute in the GWR railway village in Swindon
The Mechanics’ Institute, Emlyn Square, in the GWR railway village, Swindon

7. Shaw House – Old Shaw Lane

7. Shaw House – Old Shaw Lane

August 2020

Shaw House – Old Shaw Lane

It’s ever curious is it not – how stuff pops up on social media relevant to somewhere you’ve not long since been to? In this instance the co-incidences relate to Shaw House, on Old Shaw Lane.

I tend to think of Old Shaw Lane as being a bit of bygone Swindon. But of course it’s not – not really. Because this side of town – the western expansion – wasn’t Swindon. Back then Swindon was the settlement on the hill. Old Swindon – Old Town as we call it now.

I wrote about the western expansion where I live, in Secret Swindon. And Frances too has mentioned it in this blog post. ‘Development on the western expansion of Swindon began in the mid 1970s. First came Toothill, then Freshbrook, Grange Park (where I live) and Westlea. Shaw and Middleleaze followed in the 1980s.’

Covid Constitutionals

During this whole lockdown and Covid carry on I’ve taken to meandering around on what I call Covid constitutionals. During lockdown in particular I couldn’t get any further than my bladder would take – so that meant roaming West Swindon. I did feel a bit like I was in the Truman Show…

And one of my recent meanderings took me down Old Shaw Lane past the house that you see below – Shaw House.

Frances Bevan again:

‘The lane that runs between the former Lydiard Millicent parish boundary and the tributary of the River Ray dates back to the Middle Ages.  Building was slow along the thoroughfare known as Shaw Street in 1668 and two hundred years later there were just two farmhouses beside the lane. Shaw Farm, once owned by Viscount Bolingbroke, stood at the south east end and Lower Shaw Farm near the west end.  A further 13 houses and cottages straddled the verges.’

Shaw House, Old Shaw Lane

Social Media Strikes

A mere few days ago, this blog by Frances Bevan appeared on my Twitter stream about one Mary Tuckey. And where did Mary Tuckey live? In none other than Shaw House!

Frances wrote about Mary’s great niece, Jane Helena Tuckey, in her splendid book Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon. It’s a great book – I heartily recommend it to you – and you can find a bit more info on it in this post on Born again Swindonian.

Across the lane from this house is Lower Shaw Farm – another old farmhouse that Frances writes about on her blog.

On and around and about Old Shaw Lane

Remnants of rural life are all around us if we take the time to look. As the photographs above testify.

Indeed, with #LookdownLookaroundLookup that’s the thrust of my new publication, my Born Again Swindonian guide book.

And my last word, and staying on this particular snatch of days gone by and linking to Frances one last more (as my granddaughter says) she has a blog post with the most appropriate name – Rural Remnants

Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker

Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker

July 2020

Last year, when writing Swindon in 50 Buildings, I knew I simply had to include Thomas Turner’s villas on Drove Road. Since the book’s publication, I’ve had a mind to write a bit more on here about Thomas Turner Swindon brick-maker and his brick-making enterprise. But I never quite got round to it. Then not long back I saw a super blog by Swindon historian Frances Bevan so figured – why reinvent the wheel? I may as well feature that with my own photographs. Well, I say mine, actually there Chris Eley’s, whom I despatch on photographic missions.

The Catalogue Houses

There’s several houses in Swindon that feature Mr Turner’s work. But it’s arguable that these two are the most notable. With the colloquial nickname ‘The Catalogue Houses’ – that’s exactly what these houses are. And there’s more than a touch of the whimsey about them.

Indeed, as Frances writes in her blog, Brickmaker Extraordinare, ‘When brick and tile manufacturer Thomas Turner wanted to advertise his wares he certainly thought of an eye-catching method. In 1889 he built two properties known as the ‘catalogue houses.’

The two cottages along with Jessamine Cottage, were 19th century show homes, built to display every brick and tile, every finial and moulding, made in Turner’s works.’

And do read the rest of Frances’ blog for more detail about Thomas Turner. She has some lovely detail in there about him. And there’s a picture too, of where he now lies in Christ Church in Old Town.

Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker - turner's drove road villas aka the catalogue houses
Thomas Turner Swindon Brick-maker - architect plans for the Drove Road villas in Swindon.

For the well-to-do

Imagine having the where-with-all back in the day to have your own home built? To rock up to Drove Road, look at these villas and pick out bricks and decorative elements for your own home? An early version of the Ikea catalogue – but for bricks instead of Besta storage units.

Thomas made the bricks on his manufacturing site on Drove Road – on what is now Queen’s Park. Wandering around that delightful oasis it’s hard to picture the clay it, that once it was.

Turner’s family home sat a spit up the road from these villas. It’s currently the Miller and Carter Steakhouse restaurant.

Now – get exploring! Whip your smart phone out and call up Google maps and go looking for other houses bearing Thomas Turner features.

You can find typical Turner decorative features in Belle Vue TerraceHunt Street and Turner Street (named after our man) off Westcott Place. These houses were built with his own bricks as were other streets linking New Swindon and Old Town.

On those houses, and on others he built in Lansdown Road, Kingshill and Westcott Place you’ll find a repeated pottery plaque or keystone in the form of a bearded man surrounded by shell motifs and running vines. It’s said that this face is the likeness of Daniel Lynch, a worker at Turner’s Stratton St Margaret brick, pottery and tile yard.

6. The Hall and Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry

6. The Hall and Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry

The Hall & Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry

One of the entries in Swindon in 50 Buildings, is The Crumpled Horn pub over in Eldene. So, I figured this blog series of Swindon in 50 More Buildings should include a pub too. And this news about the Hall & Woodhouse pub out at Wichelstow is a good enough reason to make it this one.

NB: When this place first opened, the website had stock photos of a country house that wasn’t Lydiard House. And a steam engine absolutely not made by the GWR. People were upset – with good reason. Lazy and unnecessary. Ergo, I’m happy to report that the local attractions page on their website does now feature actual Swindon places.

The Hall and Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry gets national recognition for innovative pub in Swindon

The Hall & Woodhouse Canalside Hostelry - Hall and Woodhouse

Hall & Woodhouse at Wichelstowe, Swindon, has won the coveted ‘New Build Award’ in the prestigious CAMRA Pub Design Awards 2020.

A CAMRA award – Campaign for Real Ale

The awards, held by CAMRA, in conjunction with Historic England, celebrate exceptional pubs across the country. These are pubs that have undergone conversion or conservation work. That or they’re newly built.

Hall & Woodhouse in Wichelstowe first opened its doors to guests in February 2019. This follows a £5million investment. The canal-side pub sits in the new housing expansion at Wichelstowe and has become a flagship symbol of the emerging community.


The pub’s designers took inspiration from its surroundings, looking at creative ways to:

A. Incorporate the canal
B. Reflect industrial Swindon’s architectural heritage into the pub’s interior and striking exterior.

An innovative, purpose-built canal boat named Lady Rose protrudes from the front entrance of the building. It contains self-serve beer pumps in sectioned booths that can seat up to 20 people.

The Hall & Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry - the half-in-half-out canal boat

Mark James, Property Director at Hall & Woodhouse, said: “It’s important to us to create a welcoming atmosphere that makes guests feel at home. A place where they can relax over a coffee or a meal, or enjoy a drink with friends.

A labour of love

Hall & Woodhouse, Wichelstowe was a real labour of love for our design team. They spent months sourcing unique features to enhance the pub’s iconic appearance. A walk around the pub surrounds you with pieces of Swindon’s history and artefacts conveying our 240 years of brewing heritage.

Glazed drinking and dining areas extending along the canal frontage, represent a terrace of traditional boathouses. The gabled roofs opening onto the water’s edge, form an extensive area of covered outdoor space. And the taller accommodation block symbolises traditional canal-side warehouses.

The Hall and Woodhouse Canal-side Hostelry

Juxtaposition in the internal decor

The internal décor is a juxtaposition of industrial structure and soft furnishings. The walls are adorned with images of local boatbuilding, the Hall & Woodhouse family and the company’s brewing heritage.

We sourced with care, knick-knacks from all over the country to enhance the building’s atmosphere.

Andrew Davison, chair of CAMRA’s Pub Design Award judging panel, added: “The New Build Award is rarely awarded. It’s a testament to the quality of Hall & Woodhouse at Wichelstowe that it has won.

“The commitment Hall & Woodhouse make to individual, location-specific design is praiseworthy.”

About Hall & Woodhouse

Hall & Woodhouse is an independent Dorset family company. They brew award-winning Badger Ales and run an estate of high-quality pubs in the south of England.

Please visit https://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/ for more information.

5. The GWR Weighbridge Swindon

5. The GWR Weighbridge Swindon

May 2020

To be clear, this post is about the GWR Weighbridge Swindon as part of the GWR Works – not the Weighbridge Brewhouse as the restaurant that it is now.

The GWR Weighbridge Swindon

The GWR Weighbridge Swindon on Penzance Drive – near the Outlet Centre and the Pattern Store – soon to be the Pattern Church.

Once the home of Archer’s Brewery – now a restaurant.

Photograph taken during the Covid-19 2020 lockdown. This road is never normally quiet like this.

Swindon’s GWR Weighbridge

This GWR weighbridge – part of ‘A’ shop, came into life in 1906. Penzance Drive is now a busy thoroughfare, with housing on the opposite side, going to the Outlet Centre – itself once part of the mighty GWR Works. But imagine the area as it was – packed with railway sidings and full of rolling stock.

Locomotives came into this building for weighing and balancing along a single track.

A few years later came a breeze block extension and a 1920s interior refurbishment.

The Swindon Book by Mark Child tell us that, photographs taken in the place, over the next decade, depict balancing machines named ‘Henry Pooley and Sons, Birmingham and London – and dated 1930. What’s more the micro brewery, now part of the new use of the building, brewed a beer called Pooley in their honour.

Archer’s Brewery

Between the GWR period and the the buildings’ current use, Archer’s brewery inhabited the place.

According to Quaffle (love that name) Archer’s beer first was brewed in London Street before moving to the weighbridge.

Founded in 1979, by former RAF pilot Mark Archer Wellington and his wife, Wendy, they set up up their brewery in an industrial unit, that once was part of the GWR carriage and wagon works on the aforementioned street.

The Pattern Store and the Turntable

A few yards down the road from the weighbridge, and on the opposite side of the McArthur Glen Outlet centre, is the Pattern Store – becoming the Pattern Church and the turntable.

As the Pattern Store, that building features in Swindon in 50 buildings. As part of a triumverate with the turntable and the water tank on its roof, it features too in my forthcoming Born Again Swindonian Guide. I hope to have that out in the summer.

See this Historic England entry for technical detail: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1355885