Archive | August 2013

Farming today – or at any rate yesterday

30th August 2013

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a busy university student needs guest bloggers to keep the blogging ball rolling.  So I’m really delighted to introduce my second guest writer, Frances Bevan. Whilst my knowledge of Swindon, is at best, superficial – though my enthusiasm for the town is anything but –  the same cannot be said of Frances.   As she explains herself, she is the chief writer of the splendid Swindon Heritage magazine. I was dead impressed when I read the summer issue I can tell you. Frances also pens a number of blogs that give detailed accounts of various aspects of Swindon’s rich history – just one of which is ‘Good Gentlewoman’ in which you can read about the St John ladies of Lydiard Park.

Anyway, I think you’ll agree that Frances’ article gives a lovely insight into some of the buildings we do still have round and about us.

front cover of the autum issue of swindon heritage magazine“As chief writer and co-founder of Swindon Heritage, it’s a pleasure to be invited to write a guest post for Angela’s Born Again Swindonian blog, because like her, I love living in Swindon.

Yes, I know previous generations of councillors and town planners have a lot to answer for, but although some beautiful properties have sadly gone, there are still a number of interesting and historic ones around and I’m going to raise a glass to one or two of them in this post.

With a wealth of engineering expertise to celebrate, in the latest edition of Swindon Heritage we turn our attention to a much older period of the town’s history when agriculture reigned. Clive Carter of the Wiltshire Buildings Record Farmsteads Project has identified no fewer than 81 farms, and many of the farmhouses survive today, as private homes, community centres and yes, you’ve guessed it – pubs.

In my neck of the West Swindon woods we have several such properties. Today Lower Shaw Farm offers weekend breaks, events and courses and is home to the prestigious Swindon Festival of Literature. But it was once farmed by several generations of the wealthy Tuckey family and records exist dating back to the 17th century.

Now known as Brookhouse Farm and part of the Hungry Horse chain of pubs and restaurants, Brook Farm was once part of the Lydiard Park estate. Margaret Beauchamp (recently portrayed by Frances Tomelty in the BBC series The White Queen) brought the estate to the St John family by her marriage to Oliver St John in about 1425. The present Victorian farmhouse is much altered, but the link with Swindon’s heritage remains.

Privately owned Wick Farmhouse, another former St John property, nestles at the centre of a housing estate, believed to be close to the site of a lost medieval village.

picutre of converted farmhouse

Wick farm, Swindon

In 1881 the 74 acre Upper Shaw Farm with fields named Martin’s Hill and Griffins, was farmed by William Plummer aged 76 and his three sisters, Amelia 78 and Emma and Hannah who were both in their 60s. Today it’s home to the Hop, Skip and Jump project.

Of course there won’t be any surviving farmhouses in sprawling North Swindon, I hear you say, well you could be in for a surprise.

And if you haven’t seen a copy of Swindon Heritage yet, the Autumn edition will be on sale at various town outlets from Saturday, August 31. For a list of stockists visit our website on www.swindonheritage.com.

old farmhouse now a pub

Manor Farm, Swindon

stained glass window in barn conversion

stained glass window Wick farm, West Swindon

NB: Wick Farm – Interestingly when I was out doing the West Swindon sculpture walk I came across a lovely stained glass window in the side of what was clearly a barn conversion. And what do you know? It belongs to Wick Farm – but of course I had no idea of that then.  You can read about a Victorian murder mystery related to Wick Farm on the wonderful ‘Swindon in the Past Lane’ blog.  Here’s an appetizer: “During the 19th century Wick Farm was home to Jonas Clarke senior for over 26 years. The Clarke family were pretty unconventional by Victorian social conventions. Although married in his late twenties, Jonas soon began an alliance with a servant girl called Alice Pinnell. Thirty years and seven children later they eventually married at St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze in 1853, after the death of Jonas’ first wife.”

And here’s a link to a picture of Manor Farm in the Swindon Flckr collection.

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Take a stroll to Cafe Strozzi

Pretty pots outside Cafe Strozzi

Pretty pots outside Cafe Strozzi

Wednesday 21st August

Oh blimey. What am I going to do? Not so long back there was just about only one place in town that I went to for coffee and that was U Piri Piri. Then I tried Cakes Heaven and THE 2WINS at Rodbourne.   All of which I like very much, they all have their charms and different things to commend them. And I’m already at the stage of having to have part of lunch in one establishment and then going somewhere else for coffee and pudding so as not miss out. Yes, I’ve actually done that. In town with a friend one day we couldn’t decide where to choose so instead did two places: a scrummy savoury wrap at Eggelicious followed by coffee and egg custards in U Piri Piri. Simples. Problem solved. But, now I’ve been in Cafe Strozzi there’s a new element to the equation.

Tucked down College Street, Cafe Strozzi, is easy enough to pass by and until now I have.  But last week I was walking by first thing on a damp, grey morning and had my eye caught by all the pots of flowers surrounding their outside seating area.  In fact it’s not an exaggeration to say that the sight stopped me in my tracks.  It’s a truly dispiriting aspect they’ve got directly opposite them, in the form of the side wall of Primark – if ever a wall was crying out for a Ken White mural it surely must be that – perhaps a Mediterranean pueblo or something?  So full marks to them for making the effort to brighten it up I say! It definitely got my attention. I was just really, really impressed by that. And I wish my pots looked so nice. Anyway – having seen that I thought I’d give them a try the next chance I got – which was today.

cafe table with cheesecake and coffee

cheesecake at cafe Strozzi

Feeling in the mood for something ‘naughty but nice’ (and did you know it was Salman Rushdie who coined that catchphrase for the cream cake adverts back whenever it was) I decided to try a piece of home-made Amaretto cheesecake. A wise choice. It was light and fluffy and I enjoyed every single calorie it contained. They serve many other splendid things ranging from a full English breakfast to Mediterranean salads of Feta, humous and Haloumi. So clearly I’m going to have to go back and try those now when the opportunity presents.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against Costa, I do use them from time to time and at least they pay their taxes which is more than we can say for some. But how much nicer it is to use an independent.  I’d always rather to do that wherever I am and especially in the town where I live. They are trying hard and deserve our support.

And it’s great to  know that it’s not just Old Town that has some great coffee shops, cafes and what not. Whichever part of town you are in there’s somewhere nice to go – and I’m thinking too of the cafe in the central library and Cafe Ambience up at that end of town.  A regular cornucopia indeed. Our (coffee) cup runneth over!

10 things to celebrate about Swindon, No 6: The Museum of Computing

Thursday 19th August 2013

Hmm. Not quite eh?

Hmm. Not quite eh?

Well, yet another ‘at last’ this week. In this instance I finally managed to get beyond the threshold of Swindon’s Museum of Computing in Theatre Square. I’ve only been meaning to go in for about 5 years. Oh well, better later than never eh?

Small it may be – but it’s perfectly formed.  A real little gem tucked away in Theatre Square.

I had a lovely little wander around wallowing in nostalgia as I went. Oh – the Commodore 64 – how I remember thee! My favourite game on that was Trivial Pursuit which was wonderfully animated. There was a character called TP and he stamped his foot with impatience if you took too long to answer the question. There were all manner of other animations on it too. It was well worth the pain that was sometimes involved in getting the cassette to load.  Then there was the BBC Micro – oh how I coveted one of those. And all the different Macs. Or Macintoshes as they were then. Remember the translucent coloured ones? How achingly cool were they? Well they’ve got one of those.  Amongst a whole host of splendid things.

There’s a lovely display and explanation of how the term ‘bug’ came into being which I’ve looked up on the internet – how fitting …

‘The term “bug” was used in an account by computer pioneer Grace Hopper,who publicized the cause of a malfunction in an early electromechanical computer. A typical version of the story is given by this quote:

In 1946, when Hopper was released from active duty, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory where she continued her work on the Mark II  and Mark III. Operators traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay, coining the term bug. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. Stemming from the first bug, today we call errors or glitch’s [sic] in a program a bug.’  Which is really rather wonderful is it not?
There is though evidence to suggest that use of the term “bug” to describe inexplicable defects has been a part of engineering jargon for many decades and predates computers and computer software; it may have originally been used in hardware engineering to describe mechanical malfunctions. For instance,Thomas Edison wrote the following words in a letter to an associate in 1878:

‘It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise — this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs” — as such little faults and difficulties are called — show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labour are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.’

But hey – I reckon I prefer the explanation that the museum gives don’t you? It’s a much more interesting and poetic explanation!

old poster advertising a pocket PC the size of a suitcase.

Osborne Personal PC

As I wandered round I saw a somewhat hysterical poster advertising a ‘Personal PC’ that was the size of a small suitcase. Hmmm. Well it all had to start somewhere eh?

The museum puts on all sorts of special events, exhibitions and activities that lets the kids get really hands on so it’s a great place to keep them entertained and stimulated for a couple of hours or more at very little expense. Theatre Square is a great location with lots of cafes close by: the centrl library cafe, Cafe Ambience and of course the Wyvern Theatre so you are easily placed for refreshments before or after your visit.

So don’t leave it as long as I did to have a look round. It’s the school holidays now so it’s the perfect opportunity to go in and say hello to Robosapiens, Furbees – my daughter had one of those till my sister murdered it – and the Sinclair C5 amongst tons of other stuff that the kids will just LOVE.

This year is their tenth anniversary would you believe – from their website:

This year we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Volunteers, sponsors and friends got together to look back at a decade of exhibitions, events, and activities. From a small room on the Oakfield Campus we now have a town-centre gallery and have welcomed many people from around the world, as well as from Swindon.

The theme for our birthday celebrations is robotics, and the anniversary event launched our latest exhibition, Robots Revealed. Our oldest robot, a Hero 1, is an educational robot from the 1980’s and has been refurbished for the exhibition. We also have modern robots, both domestic and industrial.’

Find em on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MuseumOfComputing and see what they are upto.

 

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #robotics #museumofcomptuing #swindonmusemofcomputing

The Swindon book

Front cover of the Swindon book

The Swindon book

At last! I’ve managed to get my copy of  The Swindon book from the tourist information desk at the central library. As the back cover says, the book is:

The story of Swindon, from the earliest times to the present day, is here encapsulated in an alphabetical compendium of people who have influenced its development, places that have given character to its landscape and important events that have punctuated its history. The SWINDON BOOK, written by an eminent local historian, and writer on history, topography and architecture, is a unique and readable distillation of the centuries’.

Hmmm, well, I won’t lie – a bit of plain English wouldn’t have come amiss on that back cover.  In other words, it’s a collection of lovely, conveniently bite-sized titbits arranged in alphabetical order. So don’t let the somewhat purple prose on the back put you off – because it is – as it says – readable. Very. It’s a labour of love stuffed full of all sorts of wonderful nuggets of information that the author has been squirreling away for years.

I haven’t had time to have a thorough browse yet, but I was interested to read that the statue of Diana Dors outside the Shaw Ridge cinema complex was unveiled by no less a movie god than David Putnam. That’s a pretty cool thing I think. As is the book as a whole. It’s really  very informative and a ‘must have’ for anyone with any interest in Swindon’s history. It’s a reasonably priced £12.99  – so go buy one! It’s my understanding they are selling like the proverbial hotcakes so you might need to be fleet of foot to the information desk in the library.

Picture this: Public art picture gallery from the Swindon local flckr collection

Wednesday 14th August 2013

As any regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve written a lot about the public art that we are so lucky to have here in Swindon – much of which I’m slowly discovering.  I did know that the Swindon local collection had photos of some of Swindon’s art works but I didn’t, until tonight, know just how much. Now, yet again thanks to interactions on the Twittersphere, I have been further enlightened. They have a wonderful set of 257 photos, some of them with associated information, of Swindon’s art works. Many of them are now sadly lost but luckily many are still with us.

Clearly I haven’t gone through all 257 with a fine toothcomb but just a quick scroll through reveals the diversity of the art that Swindon has had and still does have. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about ‘Looking to the future’, the sculpture of the sunbathers over at West Swindon, so it was great to see some pictures of it in this gallery when it was all shiny and new. On the subject of that sculpture, one of my faves, Swindon Viewpoint, the community television folk, have a film in the archives on their website of the then artist in residence, Jon Buck, at work on it. Amazing! Unsurprisingly and thankfully there are also a lot of pictures of Ken White’s work, amongst many, many more. Some of which I was aware of – but much that I was ignorant of.

So yeah, it’s a great pity that so much of this splendid public art has been lost but thank goodness for the Swindon Local collection and for Swindon Viewpoint. Between them, at least Swindon has got a record of it all. So three cheers for them – that’s what I say.

 

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #swindonviewpoint #kenwhite #swindonlocal #swindonflickr #photoarchive #communitytv

Swindon Travel Choices

Well, you learn something new every day don’t you? And it’s amazing what you can discover in the Twittersphere.  Until some interactions on Twitter yesterday I had no idea of the existence of Swindon Travel Choices. Well, actually that’s not strictly true – I had seen persons on the bus wearing polo-shirts emblazoned with the company name but I assumed it referred to a bucket holiday-shop. Not so.

Swindon Travel Choices is a project to support the regeneration of Swindon Town Centre by promoting different travel choices to the people who work in the town centre and live in the borough.

So whether you walk, cycle, drive, use the bus or possibly even if you jet-pack from place to place, Swindon Travel choices is the site to go to. There’s maps and journey planners and all manner of useful stuff on the website – best thing to do is go and have a look. For instance in the ‘walking’ section of the site you can download a copy of a magazine or request a copy to be sent to you in the post. The current issue has a feature on the West Swindon sculpture tour about which I’ve been banging on ad nauseum. Hurrah! It’s lovely to see that featured.

So, dust down your walking shoes or dig out your cycle clips and visit this site for all sorts of inspiration.

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #sustrans #healthwalks #cyclepathsswindon #walksinswindon #swindontravelchoices

The Steam & Cream Experience: Swindon and Cricklade Railway

Tuesday 13th August:  Right then, here we are with Born again Swindonian’s first guest blog: a delightful write-up of an afternoon at Swindon and Cricklade railway. Friends of mine were visiting it on Sunday and, as I was unable to go, I saw a great opportunity for a guest blog. I’d still love to visit this myself, but for the moment I can at least live it vicariously through this lovely write up by Pam Jones. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I have.  All aboard and tickets please! Thar she blows…………..!

NB: Pam took a lovely selection of photographs which were intended to be a visual portrayal of the visit. Unfortunately I’m having trouble with the technology – I can’t find a way to present them as I’d hoped so they will appear throughout the post instead. Sorry about that Pam!  Best laid plans and all that …  😦

Steam train coming into the station

1. The train coming into Blunsdon

The Steam and Cream Experience  Tucked away in the North of Swindon is a gem of a day out – the delightful Swindon and Cricklade Railway: Wiltshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway. 35 years ago, a volunteer organisation took the empty track bed between Swindon and Cricklade and rebuilt the railway. Today, the railway continues to be run by volunteers. We started at Blunsdon station, home of the main visitor centre with its restaurant, shop and museums.

Old fashioned railway crossing

2. Blundsdon crossing

What’s special about the event is that it’s not just another steam train ride – oh no. You board the train and can then tuck into a cream tea. Scone with clotted cream and jam? Slice of cake with a cuppa? The choice is yours. No need to pre-book; you just pay on arrival. Ticket prices vary depending on what’s happening on the day.

Cafe sign

3) Whistle Stop Cafe

As we visited when it was the Steam and Vintage weekend, our £9 ticket gave us unlimited travel on the train (the cream tea costs extra). It’s a short ride up and down the track so you can stay on board for as long as you like or until you’ve finished your cuppa and cake.

Picture of a cream tea

4) A scrummy cream tea!

If you don’t fancy the train ride, there’s a picnic area beside the track where you can relax and watch the train go by. We also visited the two railway museums – one displaying a variety of railway memorabilia and the Wartime museum. All in all, we had a very relaxing afternoon with friends.

A map showing the steam train's route

5) A map of the train’s route

 

These boots are made for walking: Swindon Health Walks, Ramblers – Get walking – Keep walking

You know, Swindon is not a bad place to be if you want to get yourself off the sofa and get into the great outdoors. I’ve written at length here about the West Swindon sculpture walk  and the walk along the old town railway path where the wheel sculptures are. But there are dozens more walks and cycle paths to be explored. Swindon is on the Sustrans cycle network for a start. Swindon benefits too from being flat in many areas so if, like me, you aren’t that keen on hills, you are in the right place.

There are certainly numerous walks in Swindon that can be done in less than an hour – take a look here  at ‘Get Walking- Keep Walking’ for some ideas.  For a start there’s an easy 40 minute walk from Windmill Hill, along Hay Lane, through Freshbrook and back.

Map of a walk

Map of walk from Windmill Hill

However, if you fancy doing some organized walks you might consider the Swindon Health Walks.  As the website says:

‘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.’

There are currently eight different Swindon Health Walks available across the borough, all offering the opportunity to explore local green areas and communities.  The groups are friendly and welcome new walkers. Some walks offer occasional ‘away day’ specials.’

All the information you need is on the Health Walks website so do check it out. Alternatively you can find them on Facebook.

If you are up to something more strenuous consider joining the Ramblers Society – they have walks mapped out up and down the county and have groups in both Swindon and Highworth.

So … all together now … ‘I love to go a wandering along the mountain track, I love to go a wandering with a knapsack on my back …’

 

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #sustrans #healthwalks #cyclepathsswindon #walksinswindon

Swindon Shuffle – Swindon Samba

Samba group performing

Swindon Samba get down drumming

Swindon Samba strut their stuff

Swindon Samba strut their stuff

Okay. So what sort of giant sized rock have I been hiding under that I’ve managed not to notice the Swindon Shuffle for the entire seven years of its existence?  I only got to know about it this year because Cidalia at U Piri Piri on Havelock Street sent me an invite on the ubiquitous Facebook.

So, to cut a long story short, Friday just gone saw me and a few friends on Havelock Street ready for the night’s shuffling. The evening kicked off with Swindon Samba  doing their thing – totally awesome. I absolutely loved them. They are just, to paraphrase ‘MIranda,  – such fun! Just vibrant and energetic and how the ‘conductor’ manages to do that and play a drum I’ve no idea. Impressed doesn’t cover it.

There were also other artistes playing inside the Piri Piri including a gypsy king!  Then later Swindon Samba appeared again and this time it was even more amazing.    Guys – this was just so fabulous. I absolutely loved it.  Ace, fab and brill!

There’s a few of my personal pictures on Born Again Swindonian’s Facebook page, but there’s more and better on the Swindon Shuffle Facebook page. And possibly too on the Swindon Samba page.

So thank you Swindon Shuffle and Swindon Samba for quite the best fun I’ve had in a long time!

Introducing a guest bloggers section

Sunday 11th August 2013

In the couple of months since I started this blog I’ve had an absolute blast writing about the things I know and love about Swindon and loving the things I didn’t know about, but do now. Swindon Viewpoint to name but one.  I’ve lived here for 20 years now and had no idea of the existence of Swindon Viewpoint until I started to write this blog. I was alerted to this shameful lack of awareness early on, so they were one of my first discoveries to get written about. Together with the Swindon flickr collection they give Swindonians access to two richly diverse digital archive collections.

There is just so, so much goes on in Swindon and its environs that I could happily sit here all day and every day writing about it all and sharing it with you, my steadily growing band of readers and followers across the ether. And thank you all so much for that!  Sadly though,  that’s not feasible. Life huh?!

I’ll be returning to university for my final year very soon, so obviously that has to be my number one priority for the next 6 months or so. And anyway, apart from that, I can’t go everywhere, see everything or even know about all the good stuff that goes on Swindon – and even if I could that might cause some sort of space – time – continuum paradox and we don’t want that do we? Cardiff already has a rift in time and space – imagine the chaos if there was one here as well. Oh – it doesn’t bear thinking about! Although … if it brought David Tennant or Matt Smith hot-footing over here in their blue box it might be worth it…

Anyway, for all these reasons, I’m introducing a Guest Blogger section to Born again Swindonian.

So dear reader do keep a look out for the guest blogs.  I hope to have the first one with you all very soon. I think it will be good.  It’ll bring a new element and fresh perspective to the blog. I’m certainly looking forward to reading them just as much as I’m sure you will be.

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