An Agreeable Church and a Railway Church: St Augustine’s Church Swindon
I have to say, I think this is a delightful church. Perhaps because it’s a brick rather than stone building, the church has a warmth to it. Sir John Betjeman visited it several times and even invited its choir to his Wantage estate. I enjoyed my visit to it anyway.
Along with first St Mark’s (by the GWR Park) then St Barnabas in Gorse Hill and St Luke’s on Broad Street, St Augustine’s came into being to meet the spiritual needs of the burgeoning population of New Swindon. Those who came to Swindon to work in the GWR Works.
Designed by W A H Masters the church is in the Diocese of Bristol and province of Canterbury. It’s dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury and is one of only a few churches Roman Basilica style churches in the south of England.
Fleur Kelly completed a series of gorgeous Byzantine artworks, like the one below, between 1987 and 1995.
Visit the church , and I urge you so to do, and you’ll find they have a handy leaflet that gives a short tour of the church and a brief history. It tells us that: ‘The acoustics in the church are good and that there’s a strong musical tradition there. In its early years, the choir often numbered 50 voices, singing in churches and cathedrals across the country.
Back in the 1960s, the church choir presented a steam locomotive plate to the choir of Westminster Abbey. And while we’re on the subject of trains – the following is lovely to see:
St Augustine’s began life as a former schoolroom, across the road from where Daniel (Sir) Gooch House now stands.
Church records show the earliest recorded baptism as being in 1885, while the licence for the performance of Divine Services was issued on 2nd April 1881.
And I loved these mosaics. Having seen them on the church’s Instagram feed I wanted to see them for myself.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Revelation 22:13
The Prospect Beerhouse is a building with an interesting history – both during and after its period as a beerhouse. And it’s now the home of friends of mine. It’s a curious thing, because when you’re in the house you do get a feel for its early life.
John Stooke’s book, Last Orders, has an entry for the Prospect Beerhouse – historically 20 Prospect Place. This is much to the delight of its current owners.
This building stands where South Street and Prospect Place join. According to John, in his book, ex-stonemason John Jones established the Prospect Beerhouse in 1848, with the Jones family running the place throughout its history as a beerhouse.
It seems that by 1850, John’s 68 year old mother held the licence – though, come 1853 the back door had John Jones’ name over it once more.
According to Last Orders, all appearances are that Jones’ beer selling venture didn’t end well – it seems that Frederick Large – in his Swindon retrospective recalls an 1865 incident of the landlord’s furniture being thrown out of the house and onto the street.
Life After Beer
The current residents of this house in Prospect Place, my aforementioned friends, have done some research into the well-known, Gateshead-born, founder of Swindon Ironworks: William Affleck – 1816-1894. His son Fred, occupied the former beerhouse, now domestic residence.
AS Mark Child points out in his Swindon Book, innumerable pieces of ironmongery – drain covers in particular – around Swindon bear his name. Why? The Affleck Ironworks that’s why.
During the 1850s, Affleck established his Prospect Works, off Eastcott Hill.
1887 saw the Old Town cattle market laid out and Affleck’s Prospect works supplied most of the pens.
And gardening too
With a slight touch of the bizarre, it transpires that Affleck was a talented gardener too. In 1869, Affleck placed an advert in the local paper for the sale of Capital Swedes. It’s interesting that the advert gave no address – only his name. So we can assume he was well known for his swedes and that people knew where to go for them. Given that he describes the swedes as capital, do we assume that 1869 was a good year – swede-wise?
Below is an extract from it. Do follow the link above and read the whole thing. Fascinating stuff.
It turns out that:
‘In June 1963, whilst at the height of his appeal, Nervi received an unexpected piece of correspondence from the municipality of Swindon, England. Swindon was a mid-sized railway town, located 80 miles west of London in the rural county of Wiltshire. The letter from Mr Laurence Robertson explained that he had received authorisation from the local Council to engage an “illustrious” architect to produce plans for a new grandstand at the County Ground, home of Second Division Swindon Town FC. The project was to be funded by the Council as landowners and repaid over time by the tenant football club.
The letter from Swindon Council described their admiration for Nervi’s Olympic portfolio, making particular reference to the Stadio Flaminio. They wanted to bring a piece of nuovo-Roman chic to Wiltshire.
The precise identity of the visionary on the Swindon Development Committee remains a mystery, but the employment of Nervi certainly represented a shift in the town’s traditional architectural style, which was more Industrial Revolution than Italian Modernism. This was to be Britain’s first Nervi monument.’
Swindon’s County Ground – not with a Nervi-designed stand.
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.