Our Meetings

Swindon Society Meeting Review

Wednesday 10th April 2024

1. Andy Binks - Febraury 2023.jpg3. A Man With A Stick Beechcroft Road 1953 - Swindon Libraries.jpg5 Bruce Street Bridge Demolition.png7. 5048 Richmons Devizes Road (Enhanced).jpg

In April there was an unexpected appearance from our chair Andy Binks. We had been expecting a talk on Rodbourne from Gordon Shaw, chair of the Rodbourne Community History Group. However, he had a complete technical disaster earlier in the day and lost everything that had been prepared for us. So luckily for us Andy stepped into the breech to save the day. The Man with a Stick talk was first given on 11th January 2011 and Andy did a sterling job of revisiting it with no preparation, despite often not being able to remember what photo was coming next! The Man with a Stick talk was compiled by Andy after 22 folders of photos were deposited with Local Studies at Central Library, all taken in the 1950s for the revision of Ordnance Survey maps. Each photo had a board with a date and the exact map location upon it, and “the man with a stick” pointing to a very specific location with his pointer; usually the corner of a drain or similar. As Andy remarked upon throughout the presentation, it is such an important collection because the photos are of views that no-one else would take. They therefore captured long-gone buildings and landmarks often just in the background of photos and areas of Swindon in the pre- and mid-building of estates such as Parks and Walcot. We began with Andy telling us that in the 1950s Drew Street was the most westerly point of Swindon. We then watched Swindon grow and grow on subsequent maps with the developments all around Swindon suburbanising once-independent villages such as Haydon Wick and Stratton St Margaret. We then moved onto the photos with the stick (technically called a pointer). Andy took some comparison photos around Swindon in 2010 and made sure to get his bike into many of the photos - just as the field assistants did (purposely or not) in the 1950s. Talking about field assistants led Andy to tell us that there is now just one man with a GPS device for the whole of Wiltshire, whereas there were six field assistants just in Swindon during the 1950s. One of the first location photos we saw was taken in Beechcroft Road and it looked almost fake or like a film set. There are several reasons for this - nowadays we tend to have much more street furniture and markings (yellow lines, signage, wheelie bins, etc.); there are usually many more cars parked up on almost all streets; and there is more litter, whether that be actual rubbish or weeds in cracked pavements, etc. There’s no judgement implied, as priorities in the 1950s were different than they are now. But it shows that areas may not necessarily have undergone big building changes to look really quite different. There were so many photos in the presentation that Andy really couldn’t talk about them all and we had to really whizz through the later part of the show. In that spirit, I’m not going to be able to recap them all either but I will mention a few that stood out. We saw the demolition of Moredon power station, which didn’t actually happen when the OS photos were being taken, but prompted by it being in the background of one of their photos. Andy joked about the complete lack of Health & Safety seemingly being implemented, with the many people sat in adjoining fields to watch the tower fall. We also had some fabulous photos of railway bridges being knocked down, in very much the same manner - children sat in the middle of the road, not far from where the masonry was falling! The only other photo of a child in the collection that I recall was of a cheeky girl photo-bombing a picture of a MAP bungalow in Moredon, which they probably didn’t realise until the photos were later developed. Moving through other photos, we heard some great anecdotes about the town. For example, viewing the photo of Stanmore Street (reportedly the steepest street in Swindon) with Packers shop at the top, we learned that for a ha’penny you could get a glass of lemonade - but you couldn't leave the shop with it (they wanted the glass back!). We also saw lots of photos of the canal, wending its way through Swindon and learned that the Coate Water reservoir was built as a top-up reservoir for the Wilts & Berks Canal, and it was from here that the feeders went across the fields to a variety of points along the canal. Thanks to the OS we have what are probably the only photographs of these canal feeders. There was also a run of photos of the funeral of Captain Walter Henry Wheeler, which was prompted by the OS taking a picture outside his shop on Victoria Road. He was the Mayor of Swindon for a time during the Second World War and received a military funeral, being buried in Christ Church (albeit with no headstone). We saw photographs of the funeral and this led nicely on to some OS photos of Christ Church in 1955 with all the gravestones at the front which were later moved because of the car park. This is where the photos then sped up somewhat… We had a brief detour through Broome Manor and a lost lake. We also saw some OS photos of public toilets and then some shop fronts across the town too, including Hollicks on Bailey's Corner, Richmans in Devizes Road (now The Little Hop), the now-closed Boots in Wood Street, Howletts on Albert Street, Gray’s bakers on Cromwell Street and Nichols butchers at the bottom of Kinsghill Road. The man with a stick talk then finished up where most people would like to finish an evening - at the pub! So we were treated to a sight of several pubs in the town, many of which are now long-gone or converted into other premises. Many thanks to Mr. Binks for stepping in at the last minute and entertaining us as only he could with a reappearance from The Man With a Stick. Kelly Blake - April 2024

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