Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Part 1
23rd March 2015
Richard Jefferies Old Town walk Part 1
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
“(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 cam 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.
So that concludes the first half of the Richard Jefferies Old Town trail. The rest of it will be covered in a further post. For more information on Swindon’s Old Town visit: Swindon Web history of Old Town.