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.’
‘The economy of Swindon has, pre-predominately over the years, depended on Land, agriculture and livestock markets. William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (½ brother of Henry III) is recorded as having held a market in Swindon from 1259. It is from these records that the name Swindon first appears, as well as ‘Chepyng Swindon’ in 1289 and ‘Market Swindon’ in 1336.
Although Thomas Goddard was granted a weekly market and two fairs a year in 1626, the Market in Swindon was in decline by 1640. However a cattle plague hit nearby Highworth in 1652, allowing Swindon’s livestock sales to increase. In 1672, John Aubrey remarked “Here on Munday every weeke a gallant Markett for Cattle, which increased to its new greatnese upon the plague at Highworth.”
Swindon Market was one of the 32 weekly markets held throughout Wiltshire up to 1718.
In 1814, John Britton passed through Swindon and recorded 1,600 people and 263 houses in the town. He also wrote of the weekly corn market, fortnightly cattle market and regular Horse sales. However, by the mid-19th century the cattle market was poorly attended.
A new Cattle Market site was built in 1873 to try to revive the Market, a site which remained until the late 1980s when the final auction was held. There is no longer a Cattle Market in modern Swindon.’
So the tented market is now to be demolished and proposals are in for a change of usage. What ever your thoughts on that, my personal opinion is one of sadness that the market is going. Not the structure per se – it’s a the end of its lifespan – but the concept of there being a market.
Indeed this feeling is echoed by Ash Mistry, owner of Eggelicious. Ash started his business in the tented market back in 2009 and is grateful to it as a place that gave him a start. In this brief YouTube clip you can hear him say just that:
Ash has now moved Eggelicious – or E3 as it’s called (E2 is on Wood Street). Here’s a couple of snaps taken while it was being got ready for opening:
And here they are on the last day of trading in the tented market:
The Mistry family on the last day of trading in the tented market
Print by Tim Carroll – one of his 100 views of Swindon
Back in 1950, in his ‘Studies of Swindon’, John Betjeman wrote, apropos of architecture in Swindon, that there was ‘very little architecture in Swindon and a great deal of building’. He then went on to say that ‘Swindon, instead of being a West Country town, looked on its outskirts at any rate, like any industrial town anywhere.’
Implicit in Betjeman’s observation is, I think, the suggestion that Swindon, by sheer dint of its position rubbing shoulders with Bristol and Bath and Cheltenham, should be architecturally similar. But why should it and why would it?
Those three places grew out of very different circumstances to Swindon. The point that Betjeman appears to miss is that Swindon – well the ‘New Swindon’ at any rate – is an industrial town. It was the great GWR industry that brought it into being and it’s its industry that has breathed life into its lungs ever since. So why would it have sweeping Georgian crescents or Regency arcades? Why do we expect it to?
Betjeman made that observation two decades or more before Swindon gained the modern buildings that qualify, in my entirely non-expert opinion, as ‘architecture’. If nothing else their designers are people I’ve heard of: Sir Norman Foster and Sir Hugh Casson – responsible for the Spectrum Building (still known to many as the Renault Building despite Renault being long gone from it) and the Wyvern Theatre respectively.
Betjeman was a lover of, and passionate advocate for, Victorian architecture. And thank goodness for that. Otherwise the nation and the world would have lost the glory that is St. Pancras station in London.
We also have him to thank for the continued existence of our Railway Village. As this 2017 article from The Swindon Advertiser points out: ‘… by the 1960s there were plans to raze the area. And it was only saved following a campaign by famous poet and architecture buff, Sir John Betjemen.
Yet it’s a moot point whether he would’ve approved of the Wyvern Theatre, the Link Centre and Foster’s Spectrum building. Tension structures such as those were of their time. Nevertheless, all of them are architecturally interesting. But perhaps none more so than my particular favourite: the David Murray John Tower.
It’s an exuberant exclamation mark of a building that proudly proclaims itself across the Swindon skyline. At 83 metres high, the DMJ (along with Old Swindon’s Christchurch) is the master of all it surveys.
The building struck me when I first moved to Swindon and I love it to this day.
Knowing even less at that time about architecture than I do now (and that’s not to say a great deal) it seemed to me to have something of a futuristic feel to it – though I couldn’t pin it to anything more specific than that. It’s only now, having researched the building a little, I understand what my subconscious was relating to.
If your response to that nugget of information is ‘Douglas who?’ you’d be in good company.
Back in 2004, Jonathan Meades (essayist, broadcaster and architecture writer) published an article on Building.co.uk entitled: ‘Five great architects … you’ve never heard of’ in which he writes about a number of architects, Douglas Stephen included, on why they’re so good – and also so neglected.
On the subject of Stephen, Meades has this to say:
‘Yet there was something about the details … The Mount was the first of Douglas Stephen’s buildings I saw. It was completed in 1965, and was entirely out of step with its time: it was at odds with both the fey Festival style and with the sculptural brutalism that was the conventional reaction to the Festival style (and which Stephen had essayed). But Stephen belonged to no school. That, I suspect, is why he is overlooked. The Mount retains its extraordinary freshness. So does his David Murray John Tower in Swindon, that town’s most (only?) striking building, a mini-skyscraper that has affinities to a design of Frank Hampson’s for Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future.’
I think now that it was the Dan Dare influence that was ringing a very quiet bell in my brain when first my eyes alighted upon the DMJ tower.
The David Murray John Tower is on that list. He wrote of it: ‘Designed by Douglas Stephen and built in the Seventies, this tower is a sleek, slick return to the smooth white grace of Twenties and Thirties Modernism. It’s a mixed-use building, incorporating social housing, offices and retail, which is rare in Britain. Stephen was a communist and believed in architecture as a power for social good.’
As to whether Stephen’s building achieved that lofty aim I’m not sure. Its intended mixed-use was innovative in its day. But it’s arguable that it turned not to be so workable.
So, with no knowledge of what it’s like to live and work in that building I base my affection for it on its aesthetics and what is so clearly stood for: the future.
It was the intention of the building’s futuristic look to reflect the forward-looking aspirations of the town at the time.
With its curved corners, the design of the building is sleek and sophisticated. It’s clad in stainless steel – an expensive material even then. It makes historical references with its nods to Art Deco and Modernism. Everything about the building makes a statement – it screams at you to look it. Indeed, you can’t avoid looking at it – it’s visible for miles. At night when lights are on inside it, it’s like a land-locked lighthouse.
And some great black and white photos from Chris Eley:
Compare and contrast
Think now to the Whalebridge car park at Kimmerfields in the town centre. Every time I look at that building I think of a stockade, a fort, in a western film. It’s all pointy edges and sharp protruding angles. Even the steel decorative panels inserted into the walls remind me of barbed wire.
side panels in Whalebridge car park – photo by Swindon Driver
This is a structure that’s doing the opposite to the DMJ. Where the former stands proud and tall and proclaims itself, the latter is a building on the defensive. Arguably much like society at the time of writing (2017): austerity, Brexit and more. Pathetic fallacy in architecture.
“Give me a tower to touch the sky!” With those words, city elder Mr David Murray John proposed the building of a skyscraper to give Swindon the skyline it had lacked since the destruction of the Cathedral of St Zvlkx almost five centuries before.’
Given that Fforde’s Seven Wonders of Swindon are set in a futuristic/alternative/parallel universe it’s not hard to think that he knew/recognised what niggled at me: the futuristic look of the thing.
Now. Okay. So the real ‘Tower of Brunel’ doesn’t quite reach the vertigo-inducing heights of Mr Fforde’s invention but a skyline it does give. And yes, there’s an argument that the architect’s intentions didn’t quite come to fruition.
But I still feel that there’s much around this edifice we should laud and applaud. There’s Murray John’s energetic exhortation for a tower to touch the sky. There’s the shining optimism it was built to represent and Ffordes T-I-C yet affectionate tribute.
Then there’s the singular fact that Jonathan Meades, a respected authority on architecture, placed the DMJ on his personal list of five extraordinary buildings. In the world. Keeping company with Marseille Cathedral, the Walhalla Temple in Bavaria, Cothay Manor in Somerset and Edinburgh’s Stewart’s Melville College,
What I love about this post is that Julie has picked a range of aspects that go a long way to highlighting what is so great about this place. And who knew that Swindon is a brilliant place to home educate your children?
So here’s Julie’s 7 reasons to be switched on to Swindon:
‘I didn’t choose Swindon as a place to live. Rather, I chose my ‘husband to be’ and this is where he lived.
When it came to be time for me to settle in England (which I had wanted to do since I was a child) after an 8-month long distance relationship – and it was long distance back then.The Internet didn’t exist and it took a week for mail to reach Switzerland. So Swindon is where it happened to be.
I was told Swindon was the fastest-growing town in England if not Europe. And though that didn’t appeal to me much, what was welcome was it’s proximity to places I needed to travel to: Blackpool, Belgium and later on Brighton and Devon.
Though I did not choose Swindon as such, I’m happy to call it home – something I never felt in my native Belgium. To be honest I can’t think of anywhere else I could live that gives me what I need in my life right now in the way that Swindon does.
Country lover enjoying town life
I’m not keen on cities. I much prefer being out in the countryside. But as I prefer getting around on my pushbike I don’t want to live out in the middle of nowhere either. Swindon enables me to do just that. I can cycle to most of the places I want to go. The town centre, Old Town, to my gym in Greenbridge, as well as the green spaces which I will expand on later. All this is done mostly off the main roads, even if the cycle tracks are not as well signposted as I’d like. This is a good test of my navigation skills and I always get home though sometimes not the way I was expecting!
1. Swindon: Brilliant business support
When I came to Swindon in 1993 and I could finally start my business, Body Mind Coaching, two things were important then and still are.
Fist was the support I got for my business. It started with Great Western Enterprise and the Chamber of Commerce. This support continued with a whole host of networking groups, especially one I joined more recently, despite knowing about it for almost 10 years: Business Village. In addition there’s been lots of mostly free business training along the way.
2. Swindon: a green town
I mentioned above that one of the great things about Swindon is access to green spaces. So evening walks around The Lawns and cycling to Coate Water are things we do regularly.
3. Swindon an accepting town
Thinking about it now, I realise that although I was a foreigner, (and still get asked where my accent is from) I have felt accepted by the people, even if I might be considered a little strange. This was something I hadn’t felt growing up in Belgium as I was considered a foreigner there for being British.
4. Swindon: a town with lots happening
It’s been wonderful to find groups in Swindon that support my interests outside of work:
– A choir,
-Full moon Relaxation and other activities at Lower Shaw Farmwhich I discovered through a lovely health food store Pulse
Swindon has also proved to be a wonderful place to bring up our son.
Thanks to a friend I discovered storytime at many of the libraries, though Central library was the favourite. I got to learn and share some English nursery rhymes with my son as well some stories and other activities. Unbeknown to me at the time, this turned out to be the start my second business, Bilingual Babies ~ Bébés Bilingues.
We make lots of use of all the different play areas and green spaces scattered around the town. The one in Eastern Avenue in Old Walcot and Cambria Bridge along the canal track in town were regular haunts when my son was little. Now that he is able to cycle, Coate water,Lydiard Park, and Angel Ridge are among his favourites.
Last year, we began to consider whether to home educate or not. We were told by a parent in one of the groups that Swindon is one of the best places to home educate as there are loads of activity groups going on where children can socialise and learn all kinds of things depending on their interests. A year on, this has proved to be a great decision and we’re so grateful that Swindon home education has so much to offer.
On this note, from a child’s perspective, I’ve been told to mention that Swindon is one of the best places to be, because the Swindon buses have names and my son is very pleased that the new company has kept that going.’ Good work Thamesdown Transport: you’ve got a fan!