Oh listeners, I do love a bit of urban discovery as evidenced with my travelogue on the West Swindon sculpture trail and the subject of this post turned out to offer some nuggets of urban discovery.
When I say ‘discovery’ I do of course mean new to or previously unnoticed by me – not that they’ve been seen by no-one before ever. I’m referring to the Richard Jefferies Old Town walk which is a trip round the eponymous area of Swindon taking in buildings and spots that were known to him. I did this walk last week with @swindondriver AKA Jess Robinson who took the photographs.
I’m going to break the walk up into two separate posts as there’s a lot of it and it would be a VERY long post otherwise.
Richard Jefferies – Born at Coate, Swindon, Wiltshire in 1848 – Died in Sussex in 1887
I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about RJ but before I talk about the walk here’s a bit of information about who RJ was. From the website of the Richard Jefferies society:
“(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”
Wikipedia: “His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction. For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. “
Now – onto the walk. This is a circular walk that begins and more or less ends at The Square in Old Town. Despite the fact that the leaflet I found about it was a few years old the walk remains pretty much as described. Here’s a link to a plain text web page of the walk and a numbered map which corresponds now to each paragraph in the post: http://writersgate.co.uk/map/rjwalk.htm
1) The bakehouse and shop belonging to Richard Jefferies’ grandfather, John Jefferies (1784-1868), stood to the right of the Corn Exchange building, fronting the road. The shop has long since been demolished. Richard went there frequently, as a child, and would have found there, also, his aunts Eliza (Sewell), Mary and Sarah. Now Jess and I weren’t entirely sure where the bakehouse and shop mentioned would have been as the description isn’t particularly clear from which angle of the Corn Exchange (the Locarno) it referred to.
2) Take the lane leading out of The Square along The Weavers and continue left into Old Mill Lane. On your right is an old ‘squeeze-belly’ stile. The path beyond it leads to Coate and would have been used by Richard to come and go, on foot. Continue along Old Mill Lane and note the buttresses in the churchyard wall. Close to this spot stood the mill, once in the charge of Richard’s great uncle James. The Goddard family mansion, ‘The Lawn’, now demolished, stood a few yards farther on. NB: the squeeze belly stile is still there – that was a new ‘discovery’ for me.
3) On the right stands what is left of Holy Rood Church. The gates are locked but if the key is obtained you may see the box tomb of Richard’s great grandfather Richard (1738-1825). Richard was baptised here. Not that I have any idea from whom or where the key is obtained – one assumes it still can be.
4) Return via The Planks (an ancient and raised walkway) to The Square and go into High Street. Notice the Bell Inn, (no longer an inn but the building and bell are still there) occasionally visited by Richard where, as a young reporter, he would talk with Sir Daniel Gooch* and other leading citizens. Cross High Street and walk to Newport Street. The National School, now pulled down, stood in Newport Street; it was run by a Mr Jenkins, and Richard attended in the evenings in his teens.
Sir Daniel Gooch now has a Wetherspoons in his name – there’s lots of interesting information and pictures on the stairwell in there.
During recent months all sorts of posts about the Western Flyer kept appearing on my social media streams. However, absorbed as I was in the final few months of my degree studies, I had neither time nor energy to engage with it all. Well, the degree is now finished so I find myself with some time to explore some things that have had to go on the back burner. And one of those things was the Western Flyer.
So what is the Western Flyer then? It’s an upgrade of an existing cycle and pedestrian route that goes from West Swindon to the town centre via Barnfield, Bruce Street Bridges and North Star, bringing you into town across from Holbrook House on Station Rd. It incorporates National Cycle Network Route 45 .The National cycle network is a ‘series of safe, traffic-free lanes and quiet on-road routes that connect to every major city and passes within a mile of 55 per cent of UK homes. It now stretches 14,500 miles across the length and breadth of the UK.
Sustrans developed the concept and coordinates the development of the National Cycle Network, working with Local Authorities and partner organisations to identify future routes and, in some cases, providing the funding to build extensions.
Route 45 of the NCN links Chester with Salisbury via Whitchurch, Ironbridge, Bridgnorth, Droitwich Spa, Worcester, Gloucester, Cirencester and Swindon. The full route travels 270 miles from Chester to Salisbury and takes you via Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Worcester, Gloucester, Stroud, Cirencester and Swindon. Read more information about Route 45 here.
Apropos of the gates below: There’s a better photograph of them on this site which says this about them:
The cast iron gate posts date back to the years when this area was occupied by the huge Great Western Railway factory developed in the mid 19th century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to manufacture everything needed to run a railway. I don’t know the age of these gate posts but they pre-date the second world war and may be even older. Originally they provided access to 24 Shop which I think was used for carriage and wagon repairs.
Other than the gates, and as Swindon Heritage pointed out, the Western Flyer route has lots of history built into it as it ’emphasises the heritage that’s underfoot (or wheel) wherever you go in Swindon.’ Just one of the things they highlighted is the fact that, just a stone’s throw from the Western Flyer, is the workshop where Swindon’s ‘Hammerman’ poet Alfred Williams spent 25 years working for the GWR.
Born in South Marston, Williams published six books of poetry and a series of books about the area and is renowned at national level for his contribution to preserving the lyrics of folk songs. I was recently on the top floor of the central library chatting with the lovely peeps in the Swindon Local section where I saw a photograph of Alfred Williams.
On a personal level I was surprised and interested to note that Alfred’s wife’s maiden name was Peck – because my maiden name too is Peck and it’s not a name one comes across much. Hardly at all even. Except for in Suffolk, which is where my dad originated, where there seem to be millions of them. In my entire life I have only come across two other Pecks – aside from relatives in Suffolk – with Alfred Williams’ wife making three.
Whenever I go meandering along the Western Flyer, I am struck by the astonishing amount of greenery, natural habitats, bridle paths, play parks and open spaces there are most everywhere one goes in Swindon.
I’m lost for words. Well okay, that’s never going to actually happen but the expression gives an indication of my surprise at finding out about this delight tucked away behind a busy main road, an industrial estate and the Holiday Inn Express. Well, I’ve only lived here the twenty years so how could I possibly be expected to know eh? Even worse, the copse is only 15 minutes walk from my home in Grange Park.
Once more, as with several other instances that have triggered blog posts, it was social media that alerted me to its existence – in this instance a photograph of a friend of mine in the aforesaid copse. Then, as is so often the case, no sooner had I seen that, then photographs of the same copse appeared on Instagram. So clearly I thought, in the manner of Winnie the Pooh, an EXPOTITION was in order. This I accomplished today – see the picture gallery lower down.
And what a charming little spot it is. Tranquil isn’t quite the word with the busy road just beyond it, but a haven of nature it most certainly is. Currently carpeted with a bevy of beautiful Bluebells, this little piece of ancient woodland is an absolute delight and makes for a lovely little stroll.
I grew up in Derbyshire and close to my home there was an appropriately called Bluebell Wood which, as children, we frequently visited at Bluebell time. More years than I care to remember have passed by since I last saw Bluebells like this. Just stunning.
As ever, and unsurprisingly, Swindon Web have a nice article about the copse and some lovely photographs – as you can no doubt tell I’m no David Bailey. As they say:
“Bluebell woods are a predominantly British phenomenon as three-quarters of the world’s bluebells are found in these islands.
They occur all over Britain, but whereas most people head for the countryside to enjoy this once-a-year spectacle, Swindon folk don’t need to travel so far… The vast majority of bluebell woods are relics from ancient woodlands, often dating back to the 17th century – and Hagbourne Copse is no exception.”
To take a break from studying I’ve been lately been having a wander around Grange Park, where I live, and Freshbrook which is close by. And because I was wandering for its own sake, just to get some fresh air, stretch my legs and have a break from my screen, rather than purposefully traversing from A to B, I took the time to take a few snaps round and about. Round where I live it is so very, very green and leafy. Lots of foot/cycle paths bordered with hedgerows, copses and dotted with open spaces and childrens’ play parks. It is not an unpleasant place to live for sure.
On some of my wanderings I went down Tallis Walk which opens out onto Kiln Park, once the site of a Roman brickworks I believe. I also went around Freshbrook, the village centre there being the home of ‘Nexus’ – a recently revamped bit of public art on the West Swindon Sculpture trail.
Public art bench on South Marston cycle path. Pic taken by Jess Robinson
I just love social media! One of my Twitter and blog followers sent me this photo,which is great, as being a non-driver and bogged down in studies I don’t get to all four corners of our town. What you are looking at is a new(ish) piece of public art that is also a handy bench: a perfect marriage of form and function indeed! But not just any old bench. This here is a Portrait Bench. So now, not only do I know about this lovely bench, I also know about the concept of portrait benches and a little bit more about Swindon’s history. And it started with a Tweet!
About the Portrait Benches and Sustrans: “The Portrait Bench is a new and unique national collection of local portraits. The figures are inspired and chosen for their individual contribution to the life of the community. Creating portraits is an old custom – honouring individuals for their philanthropy, political prowess or acts of heroism, and most commonly for the love of family members. All major public spaces are graced by statues or portraits of eminent individuals and family photos are treasured across the world. Each Portrait Bench is a collection of three distinctive, life-size local figures cut from sheet steel and installed by a simple bench, inviting you to sit or step up into the space and become a part of the portrait group. The features of each character have been simplified while retaining their essential characteristics. The characters reflect those things that are important to the community; each is inspired by the local heritage, culture and aspirations of the area; some we’ll know and some we won’t…together they will represent around 230 characters chosen by thousands of people from across the UK”
The three figures you see here are representatives of some aspects of Swindon’s rich heritage. The chap with a barrel on his shoulder is representing Arkell’s Brewery, established in 1843 and still going strong. The man in the centre serves as a homage to Swindon’s rich railway heritage, glimpses of which you can see in a couple of my other posts, A Tiny Tour around the town and the one on the Outlet Centre. The third figure, as you can no doubt tell is a WWII airman, in tribute to the part that Swindon played in producing the Spitfire – arguably the nation’s most famous aircraft. The factory that contributed to the Spitfire production was located in South Marston, hence the fitting inclusion of an airman on this portrait bench. If you want to know more about all of that then Swindon Web have a fab article about it all and read here to learn more about the figures used in this particular portrait bench. Isn’t it a really neat idea?
The creation of this portrait bench and the cycle path on which it is located is part of the Sustrans Connect2 project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund: “Sustrans’ Connect2 project has transformed everyday travel for communities across the UK by helping them to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys. The project has created new bridges and crossings that overcome busy roads, rivers and railways, and link to networks of walking and cycling routes, making it easier for millions of people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys to shops, work, schools and to each other.” Read more about it here: http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/sustrans-connect2 …
Not long back it was Swindon the Driving Utopia, now it is cycling haven as Claire Fleming, of Swindon Bicycle User Group and Swindon Borough Council travel plan officer explains here:
Cycling in my city: Swindon | Latest News | Cycling Weekly. In the article, in Cycling Weekly, she explains: “I spent 18 years in Nottingham, which has a good reputation for cycling, but when I moved to Swindon in 2008 I was pleasantly surprised at how much network there is already on the ground, and how well it is being integrated into new development as Swindon grows. Swindon received £4million from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) in 2011 and has set up a project called Swindon Travel Choices.” For the rest of the article in Cycling Weekly follow the link above
Swindon is really not a bad place to be when you want to get off the sofa and get out there. There are a multitude of walks and cycle routes. Many of them taking less than an hour and an awful lot of that is on level ground for those of you not inclined to inclines. Should you fancy an organized walk there’s the Rambers society or the Health Walks: ‘Swindon Health Walks are weekly group walks that encourage the use of our local parks and open spaces. Usually they last 40 – 60 minutes with refreshments offered at the end.’
If you want a walk – or cycle ride for that matter – with an added cultural element then Swindon is blessed with fantastic public art, so check out the West Swindon Sculpture trail or the Old Town railway path where the haunting wheel sculptures are.
The Swindon BUG website does of course have a whole host of information on cycle routes with downloadable maps and links to other cycling sites such as Sustrans. Personally I prefer to keep my feet on terra firma but if cycling is your thing then Swindon affords many opportunities.
A further exciting development in the world of cycling and walking is ‘Marking Time on the Western Flyer’. From Total Swindon:“an exciting arts project being delivered by Swindon Borough Council’s Create studios in its 30th anniversary year. Funded by Swindon Travel Choices and led by artist Scott Farlow, the project is part of the new enhancements to the Western Flyer cycle and pedestrian route,which runs from Shepard Street underpass in the town centre to Mead Way in West Swindon …” There’s a Facebook page for the project so check it out there too.
See also Swindon’s Recycles project located in Booth House on Fleming Way which “provides a meeting place and resource centre for people that share our enthusiasm for all things related to cycling. Drop in for all kinds of information, help and advice; from local cycle routes, clubs and the benefits of cycling to organised events. And, naturally, recycles can professionally repair or service your bicycles at competitive rates or sell you a quality refurbished model ready to go”