The Death of Mrs Swinhoe

The re-imagined story …

I stood across the road from Park House, amongst a group of women, all of whom had been in receipt of an act of kindness performed by Mrs Swinhoe.

She wasn’t a demonstratively affectionate person, not a woman to place an arm around your shoulder, or take your hand in hers. She wasn’t one for displays of emotion, but Mrs Swinhoe was one of the kindest women I have ever met.

She was a stalwart of St Mark’s Church, a member of several committees, a fund raiser and a generous benefactor. She would be greatly missed in the railway community.

Everyone in the railway village had been in receipt of her kindness at some time yet she had never sought comfort from a stranger, except on one occasion.

I was employed as a housemaid in the doctor’s residence when the Swinhoe family lived in London Street. It was a busy household as the property served as the doctor’s consulting room and the Swinhoe family was quickly growing, three little daughters and another child on the way when I joined the establishment in 1864.

Mrs Swinhoe’s confinement proved difficult when on May 19 two little girls were born and quickly named Eliphalette and Etheldreda. On June 20 the babes were baptised by their grandfather at St Michael’s Church in Cornhill in London, but the event was quite subdued; all was not well with the smaller baby Etheldreda.

I was with Mrs Swinhoe the day her baby died. I’d never seen sorrow like that before. I was fifteen years old. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. What words of comfort can you offer to a woman who has just held her baby while it died? I put my arms about her as she sobbed and sat with her until her husband returned from the Works where he had been attending an accident. I left them to their grief.

Mrs Swinhoe is to be laid to rest in Swindon’s cemetery on Kingshill. Her little daughter was buried in the churchyard at St Mark’s, but that is closed to burials now.

It must have been a dreadful thing – to be a doctor and unable to save your child.


London Street 5 (2)

The facts …

Diana Maria Matilda Wrench was born on June 17 1836 at St Michael’s Rectory, Cornhill in the City of London the daughter of Rev. Thomas William Wrench and his wife Diana Maria. She married George Money Swinhoe, a Practitioner Surgeon at the church where her father officiated on August 13, 1859 and by the time of the 1861 census, they were living at 4 London Street, Swindon.

The couple went on to have a large family, seven daughters and five sons survived to adulthood. Diana died after a short illness and was buried in Radnor Street Cemetery on April 25, 1894. She was the first of six members of the Swinhoe family to be buried in the large family plot numbered E8228/29/30.

Death of Mrs Swinhoe

We regret to announce the death of Mrs Swinhoe, wife of Dr G.M. Swinhoe, of Park House, New Swindon. The deceased lady had been ailing only a day or two, and died somewhat suddenly on Sunday morning. Her death will be a great loss in St Mark’s parish, where she has been such an excellent worker for many years past. The circumstances are rendered still more sad by the fact that deceased’s son Dr. G.R. Swinhoe, returned with his bride from his honeymoon trip only a day or two previously.

On Sunday at St Mark’s church (where Dr Swinhoe is vicar’s warden), the organist, Mr Geo. Burrows, played the “Dead March in Saul” at each service.

In consequence of the sad event, a concert and operetta which was to have been rendered on Monday evening in the Mechanics’ Institute, New Swindon, and in which the Misses Swinhoe were to have taken part, was postponed.

It would be altogether superfluous for us to enter into panegyrics respecting the deceased lady, the long period Dr Swinhoe has been the friend in need to the great majority of the inhabitants of New Swindon, and the “right hand” Mrs Swinhoe has been to him, are too well known and appreciated to make the telling necessary. Suffice it, that the sad intelligence was received with profound and genuine regret throughout the neighbourhood. The deceased leaves in addition to her stricken husband seven daughters and five sons to mourn their irreparable loss.

The Funeral

Took place on Wednesday morning and was of a quiet and private character. The funeral cortege left the late residence of the deceased lady, Park House, about 11.15 am. The first part of the most solemn service was read at St Mark’s Church, by the Hon and Rev Canon Ponsonby, and there was a crowded congregation, a large number being unable to gain admission.

At the grave side this number was still further increased. The first part of the service being over, the procession wended its way towards the cemetery where the Rev Canon Ponsonby read the remaining portion of the burial services. The remains were buried in a bricked grave, lined with moss, primroses and other flowers. The coffin, which was of oak, with very massive brass fittings and a large Latin cross on the lid, born the following inscription: – “Diana Maria Matilda Swinhoe, Died 22nd April, 1894, Aged 56 years.” It was conveyed in a hearse, and completely covered with beautiful wreaths.

Long list of mourners …

Messrs Chandler Bros. were the undertakers, and discharged the funeral arrangements in a most satisfactory manner. The coffin was made by Mr. T. Barrett.

Swinhoe Diana Maria Matilda wife of George Money Swinhoe 56 years Park House New Swindon 25th April 1894 plot E8229.

Radnor Street Cemetery Registers

Swindoe 2


Chiseldon Camp disaster

The houses in Medgbury Road looked exactly like ours in Derby. I don’t know why I was surprised. We were exchanging a home in a northern railway town for one in Wiltshire, of course there would be similarities. I just didn’t take account of how many there would be though.

The old canal ran alongside Medgbury Road, silted up and no longer in use, while row upon row of red brick terrace houses stretched back to the railway line.

We were moving to Swindon to make a new start. I don’t know how we thought that would be possible. To begin with we had a kind of excitement, but I soon realised we lacked imagination. Perhaps it was the grief. We were no different to anyone else; how could we have ever thought it would be otherwise?

Every household, every family had someone employed in the railway works and in 1920 everyone had been touched by four long years of war.

When my new neighbour told me about the Chiseldon Camp accident it felt as if it had happened just yesterday, so intense was her grief.

“We knew them all. You did in a street like this. Watched them grow up, start school, start work.”

On Good Friday 1919 a group of about 24 boys had set off from Medgbury Road for a day’s outing. They left early taking with them a packed lunch and walked to Liddington Castle where they stopped to play games and eat their sandwiches.

One of the boys suggested walking over to the practise trenches at the Chiseldon Camp. They split into two groups and just seven of the boys chose to go on to the Military Camp.

“Albert Townsend watched his mate Fred pick up something that looked like a rolling pin, and roll it down a bank,” she pulled a handkerchief from her apron pocket. “Three of the boys were killed, outright, only one of the seven escaped injury.”

There was talk of setting up a memorial in the cemetery, she told me, raising a public subscription, but people just didn’t have the money in those first years after the war. There were already a growing number of memorials appearing across the town commemorating too many dead. The boys’ story would long be remembered and the mothers of Medgbury Road would never forget.

We lived in Medgbury Road for a year and then we moved back to Derby. How did we ever think we could forget, why would we want to?

Chiseldon Camp

The facts …

The funeral of Frederick Cosway 14, Frederick Rawlinson also 14 and 13-year-old Stanley Palmer, the adopted son of Elizabeth and Henry Holt, took place on April 24 and was attended by what was described as ‘an immense throng’ of people.

The funeral procession started from the boys’ homes along a route lined with spectators and proceeded to the Central Mission Hall in Clarence Street. The congregation numbered approximately 800 with many more standing outside the hall.

The report of the funeral continued:

“Two of the coffins were conveyed in shillibiers and the third on a handbier. There was a great profusion of flowers. The chief mourners followed in carriages. They included the parents and other relatives of the deceased lads. Between 30 and 40 lads, companions of the deceased, followed on foot.

As the procession wended its way to the Cemetery rain commenced falling heavily, but it proved to be a storm of short duration. The interment took place in the Cemetery in the presence of several thousand spectators, and the service, which was conducted by Pastor Spargo, will long be remembered by all who took part.”

The three boys were buried together in plot C728. Today there is no memorial to mark the spot.

Chiseldon boys




Up at the Castle

The re-imagined story …

Rosa Christelow and I started work as housemaids at Windsor Castle on the same day. Rosa was older than me and had lots of experience. I had grown up in Oakley Mere, a small village on the outskirts of Windsor, and had lots to learn. Rosa also used to say I had a lot of cheek.

People couldn’t understand how we were such good friends; we were like chalk and cheese. Perhaps that’s why.

Rosa got me out of a lot of scrapes, I can tell you. And me, well I could always make her laugh. Once I demonstrated how to dance the Charleston in a corridor outside the library where some of the young royal cousins were playing a gramophone. I nearly lost my job over that, but Rosa managed to intercede for me.

It was a wonderful life working up at the Castle. The things we saw and the people we met. Well, not met exactly. Most of the guests barely noticed us, but we would peep round corridors and over the top of stairs to watch them arrive and depart. And of course, there were occasions when the household staff were presented to the King and Queen. And Christmas – oh Christmas was a wonderful time. Hard work, but wonderful.

And sometimes the staff had the place to ourselves. What we got up to then, well I couldn’t possibly tell you.

I left in 1913 when I married Robert one of the footmen up at the Castle, but I always kept in touch with Rosa. When she retired, I visited her once or twice at the house she shared with her sister in Swindon. Her home was as neat as a pin. You could tell she had been a housemaid; little touches I noticed, ways of doing things she had taught me. I didn’t envy the little girl who came in to clean for them. I bet Rosa put her through her paces.

Goddard 2
Goddard Avenue

The facts …

Rosa Harriet Christelow was born on October 25, 1879 the third child and second daughter of John Christelow, a boilermaker, and his wife Priscilla. Rosa was baptised at St Mark’s Church on November 30, 1879 and grew up at 42 Wellington Street, the family home for more than 70 years.

In 1907 she entered the Royal Household at Windsor Castle as one of the 38 Class 3 housemaids earning £25 per annum. Rosa was later promoted to a Class 2 housemaid on £30 per year. She was still employed at Windsor Castle during the First World War and records list here there in 1924, the date at which published figures close.

At the time of the 1911 census Rosa was one of 33 housemaids, a total of 51 female servants. Royals in residence in 1911 were Princess May of Teck who was five years old and her three-year-old brother Prince Rupert of Teck. The children were Queen Victoria’s great-grandchildren.

By 1939 Rosa was living at 42 Wellington Street with her sister Rhoda where she is described as a paid domestic servant. There are gaps in what is known about Rosa’s whereabout between 1891 to 1901 and 1924 to 1939 probably due to a mis-transcription of her surname.

Rosa’s parents, John and Priscilla, are buried with two of their daughters, Laura Priscilla and Rhoda Annie, in plot D1350.

Rosa eventually moved into 125 Goddard Avenue, a home she shared with her brother Samuel. After several years working in the railway factory, Samuel Christelow travelled to Zimbabwe where he was ordained. Widowed and retired he returned to Swindon where he lived with Rosa at 125 Goddard Avenue. He died in St Margaret’s Hospital in 1972 and is buried in plot D1587.

Rosa died at St Margaret’s Hospital in 1972. She was aged 92. She is buried with her grandmother in plot B1877.

Christelow - Copy
Rosa was buried with her grandmother
Samuel James Christelow
Samuel Christelow


Coming next …

Chiseldon Camp Disaster – The houses in Medgbury Road looked exactly like ours in Derby. I don’t know why I was surprised. We were exchanging a home in a northern railway town for one in Wiltshire, of course there would be similarities. I just didn’t take account of how many there would be though.

Published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday, June 6th, 2019.





13 Wellington Street

Number 13 Wellington Street was perfect, just perfect. I knew it would be. I had a look at the property as soon as I heard it was going on the market; only from the outside, that is.

Eric took some persuading.

“It wouldn’t hurt to ask for a viewing.”

 “We won’t be able to afford it Lil. It’s got four bedrooms. Why set yourself up for a disappointment?”

The house belonged to Mr Goudge who worked in the offices at the Works. He was a fair and honest man. I hoped the house would sell at a price we could afford with the help of a small mortgage.

We had been saving hard, well as hard as you can with two children and another on the way. Eric was earning good money as a fitter in the Works and mum didn’t take much money off us in the way of board. But now she was expecting another child and the house in Reading Street was just too small to accommodate all of us.

A clerk from Mr Kinneir’s office met us at No 13. The front garden had a neat little square of grass surrounded by rose bushes all neatly pruned back for the winter, the iron palisades freshly painted. As we were led through the gate and up to the front door, I imagined myself turning the key in the lock.

It was beautiful inside. At the front of the house a drawing room led off from the hall with a dining room at the back. The kitchen overlooked the back garden.

Mrs Goudge was there to greet us. She showed us upstairs. The boys’ bedroom was at the back of the house, her two daughters slept in the smaller one at the front. Both rooms were light and airy; the girls’ room was so pretty with pink rosebud wallpaper.

“We’ll be leaving the gas fittings and the Venetian blinds,” she told us.

We ended up renting a little house in Westcott Place. I made it home. I even papered the second bedroom; pink rosebuds for the girls. We were very happy living there, but I often used to take a walk down Wellington Street and ponder on what might have been.

Joseph Goudge
Mr Joseph Goudge

 Joseph Goudge was born on November 8, 1842 in Westminster, the son of James, a dressing case maker, and his wife Annie Elizabeth. Joseph was baptised at St John the Evangelist, Westminster on December 11.

 By 1859 16-year-old Joseph was living in Swindon where he entered the employment of the GWR as a clerk on August 1. Two years later he is recorded on the 1861 census as lodging at Belle Vue Villas with George Dicks and his wife Jane.

 Joseph married Mary Hall on June 10. 1868 at Christ Church, Swindon. The couple had six children, but sadly one died in childhood.

 The couple lived first at 32 Prospect before buying the Wellington Street property. By 1891 they were living at 4, Brunswick Terrace, Bath Road (later known as 94 Bath Road) which remained their home.

 Joseph progressed up the career ladder from clerk to accountant. He served as Education Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute and also as Secretary of the New Swindon Improvement Company. He worked within the co-operative and trade union movements in the town and was also a Freemason and member of Gooch Lodge. He was a talented calligrapher and produced certificates, memorials and testimonials.

 Mary died on January 1, 1916 and Joseph on Christmas Eve, 1916. They are buried together in plot A1065.

Among the staff.

Swindon. – The clerical staff of the chief Locomotive Superintendent has recently, in consequence of retirement under the age limit of Mr. Joseph Goudge, lost one of its most valued and capable members. Mr Goudge, who was born in 1842, entered the Company’s service on 1st August, 1859, and undertook increasingly important work, eventually having charge of the Chief Superintendent’s statistical office. In this capacity he rendered valuable service in the preparation of statistics affecting the Locomotive and Carriage Department in connection with legal and parliamentary business, and working arrangements with other companies. One of his many other important duties was that of examining candidates for clerkships in the department.

Mr. Goudge had the honour of taking up the Freedom of the City of London in the Haberdashers’ Company in 1863, on the same day, curiously, as a brother of the late Mr. William Dean. It is interesting to note that Mr. Goudge’s three sons gained various scholarships in connection with that Company and at public schools, finally winning open scholarships at Oxford.

Mr. Goudge joined the Volunteers on the formation of that body, and served for ten years. Always an earnest advocate of educational work he became a member of the Council of the Mechanics@ Institute in 1867, was appointed educational secretary and continued so for twenty-five years.

The deep respect and esteem in which Mr. Goudge was held by his colleagues was expressed in a tangible manner by the presentation of a cheque and illuminated address signed amongst others, by the Chief Superintendent and his assistants, the Stores Superintendent and other officials.

Great Western Railway Magazine May 1908

 No 13 Wellington Street.

The House has a flower garden in front, with iron palisading, and contains an entrance hall, dining room, drawing room, 4 bedrooms, kitchen, and pantry. Outside are wash-house, with copper, closet, and coal house, and there is a Garden, with backway. The House has a frontage of about 20 feet, and is of the estimated rental value of £30 per annum, exclusive of rates. The gas fittings and Venetian blinds will be included in the sale.

The above, being situate in a favourite locality, where Houses are much in demand, forms a desirable House for investment or occupation. The same is in a good state of repair, and early possession will be given.

To view, apply to Mr Joseph Goudge the owner, and for further particulars to Messrs Kinneir and Tombs Solicitors Swindon or to The Auctioneers Faringdon Street.

 Swindon Advertiser 6 December 1890

Joseph and Mary Goudge


Coming next …

Up at the Castle – Rosa Christelow and I started work as housemaids at Windsor Castle on the same day.

Published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog on Thursday, May 30th, 2019.

Elderly Man Expires in the Cemetery

The re-imagined story …

I leaned back on the bench and closed my eyes, my face turned towards the sun. Bird song filled the air on this glorious summer’s day. But how could there ever be a glorious summer’s day again? All I could think about were the days so many had been robbed of, and yet here was I in my 60th year, an old woman, enjoying the bird song and the sunshine.

I often come to sit in the cemetery. There is usually someone here, tending a grave. We exchange a few words, pleasantries. Sometimes we even talk about our boys.

The guns have been silent for many months, the servicemen returned home. Even those who were prisoners of war are back, aimlessly walking the streets of Swindon. They stop and speak. Everyone knew my boy.

I wish I could have brought his body home and buried him here in the cemetery. I’ve seen photographs of the battlefield cemeteries, row upon row of crosses. My boy has no known grave.

A parent shouldn’t out live their child. Will this be a country full of old people now? Parents mourning sons.

I open my eyes, ahead of me there is an old man, walking slowly up the hill. I think I recognise him. Another old man. This world is full of old people, all the young ones are dead.

He stops and lays the flowers he holds on a grave. I watch as he appears to stumble. I stand up and begin to walk towards the Dixon Street gate. I’ve had enough now, watching other old people. I shouldn’t be here, none of us old people should be here.


The facts …

Elderly Man Expires in the Cemetery

The death of a well known Swindonian, Mr Donald Macdonald Andrew, a retired GWR foreman, occurred under tragic circumstances in Swindon Cemetery on Saturday last. It appears that Mr Andrew, who was 72 years of age, and resided at 142 William Street, went on Saturday morning to the Cemetery, with the intention of placing some flowers on his wife’s grave. When walking along the pathway towards the grave he was seen by Mrs Amy Haynes, wife of Ald. A.W. Haynes, ex Mayor of the Borough, to fall. She ran to his assistance, and also a gravedigger, named Sidney iles, who was working nearby. But deceased expired in a few minutes.

The Faringdon Advertiser Saturday June 21 1919.

The Andrew family lived at 142 William Street for more than sixty years. Donald Macdonald Andrew, an engine fitter in the Works, and his wife Emily Jane had six children, a seventh had died before the 1911 census – Samuel Henry, George Edward, Ralph Macdonald, Florence K and twins Adelaide Mary and Margaret Elizabeth.

Donald’s funeral took place on June 17, 1919. He is buried in a double grave plot E8347/8 with his wife, son Ralph and daughters Adelaide and Margaret.

Adelaide Mary and Margaret Andrew


Coming next …

13 Wellington Street – Number 13 Wellington Street was perfect, just perfect. I knew it would be. I had a look at the property as soon as I heard it was going on the market; only from the outside, that is.

Published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday, May 23, 2019.







Luke Higgs – a first class engineman

Luke Higgs

I could see Mr Higgs next door, standing at the bottom of his garden, looking out over the old canal. He was there most mornings, just standing and staring.

I picked up my basket of laundry and opened the back door. I could spare a few minutes chatting to him while I hung out the washing.

“Morning Mr Higgs,” I called. “Bit breezy! This washing should dry quickly enough.”

He was dressed in shirt sleeves even though it was a chilly January morning. I suppose he was used to being out in all weathers. He once told me that the old locos were open to the elements; no cab over the engineman then. Life for the drivers was hard in those early days.

It was all he talked about – the old days. The journeys he had done with the Royal family, how much the job had changed over the years.

He was hungry for news from the Works, but he had few visitors. Everyone was too busy, but I tried to find a few minutes in the day to talk to him, although I couldn’t bring him the conversation he wanted.

“Fifty-two years and two months, I worked for the Company,” he proudly told me, “and an unblemished career. I’m still fit and able to work but these new rules meant I had to retired at 70.”

I’d read the newspaper reports published when he retired at Christmas. My husband Jack told me how Mr Higgs had fought the retirement ruling, but there was nothing the Company could do.

“I think he’d have taken any job going, but it just couldn’t be.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. Mr Higgs believed he was still fit enough to drive locos and that’s what he wanted to do. I don’t think a caretaker’s job would have suited him.

He turned his back on me as I started to peg out my washing. He didn’t seem to want to chat today.

“Everything alright Mr Higgs?”

He looked across towards the railway line.

“The wind must have changed direction,” he said. “I can’t hear the trains today.” He turned around and walked slowly back up the garden path.

“I think we might have some rain. Your washing won’t dry after all.”

canal route

1950s photograph of Faringdon Road and the route of the old Wilts and Berks Canal

The facts …

Luke Higgs was born on December 3, 1834 and consistently gave his place of birth as London, Tower on census returns.

He married Margaret Beaupre in Bourne, Lincolnshire in October 1859. At the time of the 1861 census the couple were living at 20 Bath Street (now known as Bathampton Street) in the railway village, however their first child, a daughter Annie Agnes, was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Paddington when they were living at 16 Waverley Road. The couple went on to have four more children and by 1871 the family was living at 19 Brunel Street. They soon moved to 8 College Street, their home for more than 40 years.

Luke entered the employment of the Great Western Railway in October 1852 just a few weeks before his 18th birthday. He worked first as an engine cleaner and lighter up before become a fireman in 1855. By 1861 he was working as an engineman and in a career that spanned more than 50 years there are just five disciplinaries recorded against him.

In 1858 he moved an engine that was under repair without first ascertaining that it was ready and thereby bent the connecting rod. For this he was fined two shillings which constituted the cost of the necessary repair. His second misdemeanour occurred ten years later when he was fined two shillings for taking oil from Lamp room. On November 11, 1869 he was severely reprimanded and cautioned after breaking down due to a drop of water level in the boiler.

It would be almost thirty years before he received another black mark when he was cautioned for ‘not exercising sufficient care when backing passenger train against stop blocks.’

In May 1899, by then aged 65 years and with his eyesight found to be deteriorating, he was cautioned for ‘want of care when backing passenger train into a siding, resulting in a slight collision.’

Later that year Mr W.H. Waister, Chief Superintendent at the Works, decided Mr Higgs must be removed from 1st class work but that he could be employed as a shunting engineman at a daily rate of five shillings and sixpence.

A medical check made on August 1904 found Luke Higgs to be a very strong man in good health who wanted to continue working for another year but sadly he was told he would not be allowed to continue working after he reached the age of 70 years and that he must retire on December 3, 1904. He was later told he could continue until the Works closed for the Christmas holidays that year.

Luke Higgs died at his home, 8 College Street, on March 12, 1913 aged 78. He left effects valued at £707 11s 3d (later resworn £642 11s 3d) to his wife. Margaret outlived him by a further twelve years. She died at 8 College Street on October 29, 1925 aged 90. They are buried together in plot D950 where they were later joined by their daughter Margaret Easley who died in 1953 and their grandson Elliott Tuckwell who died in 1967.


A well-known engineman has recently left the service at Swindon in the person of Mr Luke Higgs, who, having reached the advanced age of 70, and seen 52 years’ service, has entered on retired life. It may truly be said that Higgs has grown with the line, and he has numerous recollections of early broad gauge days, when railway work was far different from what it is at the present time – when engines were unprovided with a cab or steam gauge, and when the signalling arrangements were of the crudest character, necessitating the greatest care and judgement on the part of drivers. Higgs was on many occasions concerned in the working of important trains for instance as long ago as 1857 he was fireman on the engine that took the Prince Consort to Saltash to open the Royal Albert bridge, and later, on the engine of the train in which our present King first journeyed to Oxford University. He retires with a first class reputation, and, we are glad to add, still in the enjoyment of vigorous health.

Great Western Railway Magazine March 1905


Retirement of a Railway Veteran

Over 50 Years’ Service

Mr Luke Higgs, of Swindon, who has just retired from his duties as driver on the Great Western Railway through the operation of the age limit of 70 years, has probably achieved a record of service, having been no less than 52 years and 2 months in the employ of the Company. It is remarkable that notwithstanding his great age he enjoys the best of health and looks a robust, able bodied man. He passed the eye sight and health test of the GWR doctor on 13 occasions, and when he passed last time his sight was exceptionally good.

Mr Higgs was born in London on December 3, 1834, his father being a noncommission officer in the Scots Fusilier Guards. Early in life he joined the service of the GWR and has grown in age with the railway, seeing many different systems in vogue during the half century. Improvements in the working of locomotives have of course come under his notice more particularly than any other, and he speaks of the time when there was no protection on the engines beyond the fire box, and no leg plates or cab, no steam pressure gauges, and no dry sand boxes. Those were hard times for enginemen, and great judgement was required to work the trains in safety.

He was fireman on the engine which took the late Prince Consort from Windsor to open Saltash Bridge in June 1857, and also filled a similar capacity on the train which conveyed the present King to Oxford, to open his college education, on Monday, Oct. 17, 1859. Not only that, but he has been fireman several times on the Royal train between Paddington and Windsor.

It is interesting to note that he was made a permanent engine driver the same day as the late Prince Consort died – December 14, 1861 – and ever since he has held a good reputation, so that when he retired there was not a black mark against his name. We are given to understand that he has the cleanest record on the Great Western line. In his career he has never lost an increase in wages or a premium, and has received from the Company £325 for good conduct whilst in their employ.

His varied experiences are of more than ordinary interest, and he modestly tells of incidents which would have turned but disastrously had it not been for his prompt actions. His advice in working trains has been frequently sought after by younger men, and many a good drive have been turned out of his engine. He was most economical in his work and studied the Company’s materials as though they were his own.

He is held in the highest esteem by all the officials with whom he came in contact, and all regret his retirement. The doctor who signed the last certificate said that Mr Higgs was well able to work for another five years, but of course the age limit had to be observed.

North Wilts Herald January 28th 1905

Luke and Margaret Higgs
Luke and Margaret Higgs with one of their daughters. Published courtesy of philstree18 from a public family tree on Ancestry.


Coming next …

Elderly Man Expires in the Cemetery – The guns have been silent for many months, the servicemen returned home. Even those who were prisoners of war are back, aimlessly walking the streets of Swindon. They stop and speak. Everyone knew my boy.

Published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday May 16,  2019.

The terracotta grave markers

The bluebells grow in hidden places in the cemetery, in the hedges and in the long grass. There are still primroses nestling round the headstones, but the daffodils are finished, withered and creeping back into the earth.

Back in the day there were flowers everywhere, right across the cemetery, displayed beneath glass domes; cultivated in the greenhouses. In 1907 the groundsmen were so busy that planning permission was sought for additional glasshouses to be built behind the caretakers lodge.


For those families who could not afford a headstone the flowers were a monument among the graves so densely arranged with barely a foot’s breadth between each plot.

Every grave was identified by a terracotta marker, sadly an unsatisfactory method. The system had worked well when a caretaker and gravediggers were employed in the busy cemetery but today they lie broken and scattered about. Some graves sport several of the brick like markers, others have none, and when searching for a grave they should be used with caution and only as a rough guide.

Section D 3 of 3

So what about the marker pictured here, found on a mound of earth. Is there a fallen headstone buried somewhere beneath? There are no clues, but it is possible to trace who was buried in plot D1083…

Molden 2

The facts …

The Radnor Street Cemetery burial registers reveal that there is only one person buried in plot D1083. His name was William John Molden, a boilermaker at the Works, who died on March 3, 1919 at his home, 145 Clifton Street. He was 44 years old and his funeral took place on March 8. Administration of William’s estate was awarded to his widow, Emily and his effects were valued at £179 5s.

Without applying for William’s death certificate we cannot ascertain his cause of death. Unfortunately we do not have a budget to pay for all the death certificates we need when researching the cemetery.

William was born on February 23, 1875 in Purton, the son of Eli and Hannah Molden. He began a six year boilermaking apprenticeship in the Works on February 23, 1890 aged 15. The 1891 census lists William as a 16 year old GWR Boiler Maker Apprentice living with his parents and older brother Sidney at Battle Well, Purton.  

William married Emily Painter in 1898 and at the time of the 1901 census they were living at 65 Redcliffe Street, Rodbourne with their four month old daughter Dorothy.

The family appears on the 1911 census living at 122 Clifton Street where William lists his occupation as Boilermaker Rivetter. The couple have three children, Dorothy Maud aged 10, Muriel Louise Hetty, 8 and Harold Sydney John 2. Another son, Raymond Edward Joseph was born in 1917.

William was a relatively young man when he died. Perhaps he died as a result of the post-war ‘flu epidemic which raged through Swindon as it did everywhere else.



Coming next …

Luke Higgs – a first class engineman – I could see Mr Higgs next door, standing at the bottom of his garden, looking out over the old canal. He was there most mornings, just standing and staring.

Published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday, May 9, 2019.

The Old Congregational Church

The re-imagined story …

Tomorrow I will hang up my check at V Shop for the last time. I’m looking forward to retirement with some trepidation. My body has had enough of the hard graft but I will miss my mates and the camaraderie. Fifty-five years I’ve been ‘inside.’

I left school at 14 and worked for a local builder until I could begin my apprenticeship in the Works. Some dates stick in your mind. On March 23, 1883 I was sent to join a group of labourers excavating the burial ground in Newport Street. The old Congregational Church had been demolished almost twenty years earlier, but the burial ground had been left intact, until now when the area was required for redevelopment. We were to locate and exhume the graves for reburial in the new Swindon Cemetery on Kingshill.

It had rained for most of the previous week and the clay soil was heavy and claggy and difficult to dig. You had to use a lot of force to shift the earth but all the time I was worried about what I might be disturbing. Some of the burials were more than 60 years old, the coffins rotting away. Every time my spade made any contact, I gave out an involuntary noise, something between a cry and a yelp. The men got angry with me and told me to have some respect for the dead. I was only a lad, I hadn’t known what to expect and I feared hitting a decomposed body, I tried not to look too closely, frightened of what I might see.

Eventually the foreman gave me a different job to do while the men transferred the exhumed remains to the mortuary in the cemetery. The new grave had already been dug by the cemetery Sexton.

A few weeks later I went to pay my respects at the graveside of the Strange family whose remains had been re interred. I stood by the large plot with the tall cross and made my apologies.

Richard Strange Mannington Farm (4)

The facts …

The Strange family was a prosperous family in 19th century Swindon. They were farmers and salt and coal merchants, grocers and drapers and they even opened the first bank in the town in 1807 Strange, Garrett, Strange and Cook.

Richard Strange junior was born in 1799, the son of banker and grocer Richard senior and his wife Mary.  Richard married his cousin Martha, youngest daughter of Uncle James and Aunt Sarah Strange at Holy Rood Church on January 9, 1834.  Richard farmed at Mannington Farm from 1841 until his death in 1883 when his daughter Julia took over the tenancy of the farm.

Mannington FarmThe Strange family were prominent non-conformists in the town and Martha’s father James founded the Congregational Church in Newport Street where members of the family were interred in the small burial ground. The Newport Street Church was demolished in 1866 and the burial ground remained intact for almost twenty years. However, in 1883 the graves of Richard Strange’s immediate family were exhumed for re-burial in Radnor Street Cemetery. The bodies of his mother Mary who died in 1829, his father Richard who died in 1832 and his 16-year-old sister Sarah who died in 1820 along with the body of Richard’s wife Martha who died in 1858 and a one-day old baby son also called Richard, were re-interred in plots E8463/4/5.

Richard Strange junior died at Mannington Farm on June 23, 1883 aged 83 and was buried in the large family plot. He left a personal estate of £4,775 1s 6d to his only daughter Julia who took over the farm. Julia was buried in the family plot when she died on August 30, 1911.

A memorial stained-glass window is dedicated to Julia in St Augustine’s Church, Rodbourne. The dedication reads ‘a devoted worker in this Parish.’


Photograph published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

Coming next …

The terracotta grave markers – The bluebells grow in hidden places in the cemetery, in the hedges and in the long grass. There are still primroses nestling round the headstones, but the daffodils are finished, withered and creeping back into the earth.

Published on the Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday May 2nd, 2019.





The nurses call me Edie

more bluebells

The re-imagined story …

They’ll be along in a little while. I see them most days, the young man and the little girl. Sometimes they walk past me but sometimes they sit next to me on the bench. I like those days. The young man exchanges a few pleasantries, comments on the weather, that kind of thing. The little girl only talks to him. My, she’s a chatterbox. She tells him about her friends and about school and who got told off that day. She has a nasty cough, mind. some days I think she doesn’t wear enough clothes. She never wears a coat in the winter, but then the young man takes off his greatcoat and puts it around her shoulders while they sit on the bench.


But today it is summer and the sun shines on the cemetery and warms the cold earth. Yesterday she collected some flowers from one of the graves. He gently explained that she couldn’t take them and that someone had placed them there as a token of their love for the person who had died. She said she wanted to take some flowers to her mother so they picked some harebells that grew by the cemetery gate.


Here they come now. She is skipping alongside him, holding his hand. He is smiling. There is something very familiar about that smile. He reminds me of someone, but I can’t remember who. My thoughts are so muddled these days. The nurses call me Edie but I don’t think that’s my name. Tom never called me Edie. After the children came along he called me ‘ma’ like they did. I’m sure my name isn’t Edie though.

more bluebells

They’re not stopping at the bench today. That’s a shame. I like listening to their conversation. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.


Evening is drawing in. Doris will be along soon. She is never far away. She knows where to find me. It’s funny, I never forget her name. Here she comes now.

“Did you see them Ma?”

“Yes. They were along earlier.”

“Did Charlie speak to you?”

“No, not today. But he did smile. Do you know him then?”

“Of course I do Ma. It’s our Charlie and little Vera.”

“He doesn’t recognise me. Why doesn’t he recognise me Doris?”

“It was a long time ago Ma. You’ve changed a lot, got older. He doesn’t recognise me either.”

“I’ll remind him who I am tomorrow. They’ll be along again tomorrow.”

“Come on Ma, it’s beginning to get dark. We should make a move. Take my arm.”

I lean heavily on her, but she never complains. She’s a good girl. She’ll make some lucky man a lovely wife. I wonder why she hasn’t got married by now. I wish I could remember these things.

The nurses call me Edie, but I’m sure that’s not my name.

The facts …

Edith Emily was born in 1876 in Gorse Hill, the daughter of John Painter, a sawyer at the GWR Works, and his wife Hannah. She married Thomas Gray, a steam engine fitter in the Works, in 1895 and at the time of the 1901 census the couple were living at 263 Cricklade Road, Gorse Hill with their two children Florence aged 4 and one year old Charles. They would go on to have a total of 11 children, the last born in 1919, a daughter Gwendoline, who died before her first birthday. She is buried in a public grave with six others including Hilda Mary Chord, 11 months and one year old Ernest John Lovegrove who both died in December 1894.

Two other daughters died in the 1920s. Winifred Alice was buried on February 5, 1920 aged 16. Doris, who appears as the youngest child on the 1901 census aged just two months old, died at the family home, 16 Haydon Street in 1929. She was buried on June 18, with her sister in plot C1024. She was aged 18 years.

On the 1939 List Thomas and Edith are living at 13 Carlton Street with their daughter Irene, who works as a domestic servant and son Ronald, a van driver for a Wine and Spirit Merchant.

Thomas died in November 1941 at Carlton Street and was buried on December 3 with his two daughters in plot C1024. He was 67 years old.

Edith Emily Gray died on Christmas Day 1959 at Roundways, a psychiatric hospital in Devizes. The hospital had opened in 1851 when it was called the Wiltshire County Lunatic Asylum, changing its name to the Wiltshire County Mental Hospital in 1922 and eventually Roundways. Edith was 83 years old. She was buried on December 31, in plot C1024, with her husband and two daughters. This is a public or pauper’s grave and the Gray family members are buried with two others.

Thomas and Edith’s eldest son was Charles Herbert, born in 1899. He served with the 6th Wilts regiment from the outbreak of the First World War and was discharged  from the army on March 15, 1919. Sadly his records are among those destroyed during bombing in the Second World War, but we do know what action  the 6th Wilts served in  and that Charles was most probably with them.

The 6th Wilts embarked for the Western Front in July 1915 as part of the 19th Division and were involved in action at Loos in September of that year. After the attack they returned to Neuve Chapelle for the remainder of 1915.

In 1916 they were engaged in training at Albert in preparation for the Somme offensive, during which they suffered 380 casualties in two months.

In 1917 the 6th Battalion saw action on the Ypres salient, Messines Ridge and Passendaele Ridge. They became the 6th (Royal Wiltshire) Yeomanry Battalion following more heavy losses.

Throughout the last year of the war the 6th (Service) Battalion were heavily engaged. They sustained heavy losses and despite reinforcements were eventually disbanded, most of the men being sent to the 2nd Battalion. They were eventually disbanded in Devizes in 1919.

During the September quarter of 1920 Charles married Ada J. Edginton and the coupled lived at 14 Haydon Street. Charles died on April 4, 1921 at Salisbury Hospital. Unfortunately we do not have any funds for research so we are unable to buy a death certificate to confirm his cause of death. However, his name appears in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission records and he has an official CWGC headstone on his grave so he must have died from the effects of his military service.

Charles was buried on April 9, 1921 in plot B2321 in a public grave he shares with two others.

The birth of Charles and Ada’s daughter, Vera Dorothy Joan was registered during the June quarter of 1921, so probably around the time of Charles’s death.

Vera died in January 1926 at the Isolation Hospital. She was four years old. She is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery in plot C569, a public grave which she shares with eight others, including Anthony Williams a two day old baby, Dorothy Maud just 23 days old and Charles Edmund Lewis aged 16 months.

Gray CH

History of the 6th Wilts taken from The Wardrobe – Home of the Infantry Regiments of Berkshire & Wiltshire.


Coming next …

The Old Congregational Church – A few weeks later I went to pay my respects at the graveside of the Strange family whose remains had been re interred. I stood by the large plot with the tall cross and made my apologies.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday, April 25, 2019.

No place like home

Half way up Victoria Road, behind the bus stop called The Brow, stands an empty and derelict property and so it has been for several years. Last year, or maybe it was the year before, the builders arrived and I was hopeful the property, called Oxford House, might be about to begin a new life. The roof was stripped and new dormer windows inserted. Then the builders left, the new windows were boarded up and the pigeons moved back in. And so it stands, dilapidated, unloved.

DSC05329 - Copy

At the time of the 1881 census the Clarke family lived at 17 Wellington Street.  William worked as an Iron Turner in the GWR Works, but he was an ambitious, intelligent and determined young man.

Ten years later William had moved his family up the social ladder and up the hill to a house in Victoria Road where he worked as a solicitor’s clerk.

When William died on December 16, 1898, the obituary in the Advertiser recalled how for many years he had been employed as a mechanic in the GWR Works. ‘But eventually [he] resigned his post to act as an accountant and debt collector.  In the latter capacity he has worked up undoubtedly the largest business of the kind in the county, and has been of great assistance to the business men of the town,” the report continued.

Oxford House dates from around the end of the 19th century when development at the northern end of Victoria Street began.  Known first as New Road and then later as Victoria Street North the road was eventually renamed Victoria Road in 1903.

DSC04980 - Copy

In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union at her home in Nelson Street, Manchester and at Oxford House, 57 Victoria Road, Swindon the three Clarke sisters, Rosa, Mabel and Florence, established their own financial business, as accountants and debt collectors.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales set up in 1880, discussed admitting females in 1895.  Sadly, Rosa died in 1904 and it would be another fifteen years before the first woman became a member in 1919.

The two remaining sisters kept Rosa’s initial letter R in the company name. While the campaigning suffragettes boycotted the 1911 census, refusing to be counted without representation, Florence and Mabel Clarke filled in their census form and are recorded still in business at 57 Victoria Road.

In 1918 Mabel died, leaving an estate of £2,609 4s to her surviving business partner and sister Florence.  Interestingly, when Rosa and Mabel died neither sister received the press recognition that their father had.

Florence carried on the business following Mabel’s death in 1918 but by 1920 the North Wilts Trade Directory records that H.T. Kirby, registrar of births and deaths, lived at 57 Victoria Road.

Mabel is buried in plot E8015 with her father William and mother Mary Anne Tilley Clarke.

Clarke family from Oxford House


During the 1980s architect Geoffrey Drew worked out of offices in Oxford House. Brian Carter sent me a photograph taken then and a few words about his father-in -law.

‘My reason for photographing it in 1983 was that the first floor was then the offices of Architect Drew. This was the business of my late father-in-law, Geoffrey Drew (and his secretary – my mother-in-law – Elisabeth Drew).

Geoff was born in Southampton in 1928, was evacuated to Corfe Castle during World War II, and started his working life in Ipswich. Later, he went into partnership in a business in Bristol. This brought him to Swindon for the first time in the 1960s (his first job in the town was working on the original BHS shop in Swindon town centre).

He set up a satellite office in Swindon and liked the place so much that he spent the rest of his life in Bishopstone, and married my future mother-in-law in 1972.

He set up in business on his own in 1981 – briefly in Newport Street, before moving to 57 Victoria Road. In about 1999, they vacated those premises and worked from home in Bishopstone.

Sadly, Geoff died in 2006, aged 77.’

57 Victoria Road


Coming next …

The nurses call me Edie – They’ll be along in a little while. I see them most days, the young man and the little girl. Sometimes they walk past me but sometimes they sit next to me on the bench.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday April 18, 2019.