Love’s story to you

Kingshill (43)
Kingshill Road, Swindon


The re-imagined story …

Love is the sweetest thing
What else on earth could ever bring
Such happiness to ev’rything
As Love’s old story.

How wonderful it must be to find love twice in a lifetime. In my mind’s eye I can see mother’s sardonic expression. She didn’t believe in love, or luck – she’d never had much of either in her life, but I was the eternal romantic.

Mother and I would go into town every Friday. We’d do some shopping and then we’d have afternoon tea in McIlroys. We used to meet Mrs Sessford, as she was then, at the bus stop on Kingshill Road.

Mother and Mrs Sessford were about the same age, but you would never have guessed it. Mother was, how can I put this kindly? Well let’s say she didn’t have much joie de vive. Mrs Sessford, on the other hand, was joyful, yes, that is the correct word to describe her. She was joyful.

Love is the strangest thing
No song of birds upon the wing
Shall in our hearts more sweetly sing
Than Love’s old story.

Mother always complained about the weather; it was either too cold or too hot. But for Mrs Sessford, the sun always shone.

Mrs Sessford had grown up in Devonport where her father, Thomas Steel, served in the navy. Her first husband, James Henry Sessford, died in 1927 and Mrs Sessford came to Swindon to look after her elderly father. They lived together at 155 Kingshill Road where her father died on August 30, 1943. Within weeks Mrs Sessford married Henry Harold Musto.

Whatever heart may desire
Whatever fate may send
This is the tale that never will tire.
This is the song without end.

“They must be almost 60,” Mother tutted. “There’s something fishy about it all, you mark my words. I bet he’s after her money.”

Mother thought it ridiculous. I thought it was rather lovely, and how lucky Mrs Sessford had been, to find love twice in her lifetime. Sadly, it passed me by completely.

 Love is the greatest thing
The oldest yet, the latest thing
I only hope that fate may bring
Love’s story to you.

Love is the sweetest thing written by Ray Noble and performed by Al Bowlly 1932 


Al Bowlly
Al Bowlly

The facts …

Edith Maud Steel was born on February 9, 1886, the eldest of Thomas and Letitia Steel’s three children. She grew up in Devonport where in 1908 she marred James Henry Sessford. Lieut Sessford died on September 15, 1927 at the Royal Naval Hospital in Chatham from Broncho Pneumonia and Cardiac Failure.

By 1939 Edith was living with her father Thomas, Chief E.R.A. Royal Navy (Retired) at 155 Kingshill Road. Thomas was 77 years old and Edith was 53.

Thomas died at his home on August 30, 1943. His funeral took place in Radnor Street Cemetery on September 2 where he was buried in plot C4911.

Edith married Henry Harold Musto in the December quarter of 1943. She died in St Margaret’s Hospital, Stratton St Margaret on June 3, 1951. Her funeral took place on June 7 when she was buried with her father. They are the only two interments in plot C4911.

Henry Harold Musto died in the December Quarter of 1971. His death was registered in the Plymouth district.

Henry Harold Musto was the only child of Joseph Henry Musto and his wife Margaret. He was a railway clerk in the Works and had grown up at 146 Clifton Street.

At the time of her marriage to Thomas Steel, Edith’s mother was living at 21 Regent Street; Letitia Fanny was one of William and Jane Musto’s five children, along with brother Joseph Henry.

Edith and Henry were, therefore, first cousins.

Thomas Steel and Edith Maud Musto
Thomas Steel and Edith Maud Musto



Charles Haggard – Prisoner of War

Charles Haggard - Copy

The re-imagined story…

‘He woke up gently, sliding smoothly into a new day.  It wasn’t usually like this.  Sometimes he woke up with a jolt, ready to jump out of bed, as if he could.  Sometimes he suddenly found himself awake, his heart beating rapidly, his breath coming in gasps.  Sometimes he just lay there, eyes open, awake, absent.  But today felt different.  Today he turned over in bed and snuggled down beneath the blankets.

The bedroom was cold.  He’d known colder.  He’d known bone aching cold when every joint was immobilised, every muscle mortified.  But he liked this cold.  It reminded him of childhood.  Ice on the inside of the window; a house full of noise, children getting ready for school, his father already at work.

“Charlie are you up yet?” he was always the last one, reluctant to leave his bed.

Today his mother tapped softly on the bedroom door; checking if he was awake, checking if he was alive.  He understood her dilemma.  Should she wake him or should she let him sleep on?

“Morning Ma,” he called.

The door opened.

“Cuppa tea boy.”

Nearly 37 years old but he would always be her boy.  When he was a child he had to share her, but now she was his alone; making up for lost time.

His father hadn’t recognised him when he opened the door of 60 Stafford Street.  Four years as a prisoner of war had altered him immeasurably.  But as the cold January air swept around him and into the house she knew it was her boy returned.  She had never given up hope.

Today he felt a little better, a little stronger.  Today he would take a slow walk into town.  He would call in at the Town Hall and sign the register of returning soldiers.  He hoped Miss Handley might be there.  He would so like to see her, say thank you for the food parcels that had kept the prisoners of war alive’.

The facts …

Charles Haggard was born April 30, 1882 at the Old Red Lion Inn in Minety where his father Samuel was the innkeeper.  His parents were in their early 20s and already had four children, George, Alice, Kate and Thomas.

By 1901 the family had moved to 60 Stafford Street, Swindon and on the census returns for that year 18-year-old Charles described himself as a Steam Engine Tender Maker, Fitter & Turner – of course he still had two years left to serve of his apprenticeship.

By 1911 he had left a life ‘inside’ (which is how everyone referred to working in the railway factory) and joined the army where he served as a Private in the 1st Wiltshire Regiment.  Charles was taken prisoner on October 24, 1914 at the Battle of Mons and was held prisoner at Krossen-on-Order for the duration of the war.

On February 7, 1919 Charles spent the day in Shrivenham visiting friends. He arrived back in Swindon sometime between 9 and 10 pm where he met his father in Manchester Road.

At the inquest Charles’s father said his son seemed very cheerful as they began the walk home to Stafford Street.

When they reached Deacon Street Charles called out “Wait a minute, dad,” and went to catch hold of the palisading, but fell backwards. His father knew he was dead.

Mr A.L.  Forrester, Coroner for North Wilts, held an inquest at St Saviour’s Schools, Ashford Road, Swindon where Dr Beatty testified that he had made a post mortem examination of the body and found athroma of the valves of the heart.  The cause of death was aortic disease of the heart, a condition worsened by starvation and exposure during his time as a prisoner of war.  Charles had been home less than three weeks.

He is buried in plot E7227 with his brothers George and Thomas.

Deacon Street

Comrades of the Great War

The re-imagined story …

I stood in front of the Baptist Tabernacle and watched the crowds gather, ten, twelve, fifteen deep in some places, packing all the approaches to the Town Hall.

Hundreds upon hundreds of people had come to pay their respects. Grieving parents stood next to those who had welcomed home their shattered sons, everyone touched by the horror of four long years of war.

Soldiers on crutches, soldiers with no obvious injuries. Widows holding the hands of little children, who even at such a young age appreciated the solemnity of the occasion.

Gathered immediately around the shrouded war memorial were the Mayor and civic dignitaries standing next to members of the clergy from the various Swindon congregations. Alongside detachments of the local military units were a group of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, all standing to attention.

I went to school with the Preater brothers. I was in the same class as Bert, the youngest. Six sets of brothers were lost from Sanford Street School and I knew them all. Reginald Corser, an Engine Room Artificer who died on board HMS Defence in 1916. His brother Horace died on the Western Front two years later.

The Leggett brothers both served with the Wilts 1st Battalion and died within three months of each other in 1915. Bill was shot through the stomach. He was 22 years old. Ern was also killed in action. He was 21.

I went to school with the Preater brothers and Bill and Ern Leggett and the Corser brothers, but I didn’t go to war with them. The British Army wouldn’t have me. I tried to enlist twice, but each time I failed the medical.

The ladies used to wait outside the Works with their white feathers. I keep mine in an envelope in my sock drawer.

And then it was time for the service to begin. The Mayor unveiled the Cenotaph as the Last Post was sounded.

The band of the Comrades of the Great War played the introduction to the hymn “Nearer my God, to Thee” and a great swell of voices carried the words heavenwards on that serene and sunny day in October 1921.

After the prayers the short service closed with another hymn, “For all the saints who from their labours rest” and as the voices stilled, relatives made their way to the war memorial to lay their flowers. The silence only broken by the sound of sobs. How many more tears could we shed?

Mrs Preater leaned heavily on the arm of her son John, the only one of four who went to war and returned home. She looked frail. Three sons lost and no grave to visit for any of them.

The war had been over for almost three years but for families like the Preater’s it would never be over.

It took a long time for the crowd to disperse. People were reluctant to leave this place, this time.

I stood and watched and wondered how I could continue to face the men who had returned home broken. The war casualties continued long after the armistice.

I am writing my memories of that day. Maybe in the future someone will be interested. At the moment I can’t see a future.

These words were found with a white feather in an envelope in his sock drawer.

Preater family

The Preater family grave in Radnor Street Cemetery

The facts …

Buried in this grave are Charles and Mary Jane Preater, their daughter Hilda who died in 1907 and John Edward Preater, the son who survived the First World War.

A memorial to the three sons who died stands on the grave.

Arthur Benjamin Preater was born in 1886 and served in the 2nd battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. The battalion had been involved in the Somme battles since July 8, 1916. On October 18 they were in the line along with the 2nd Liverpool, 2nd Manchester Pals and the 2nd Yorks and attacked the German positions not far from Flers. The attack was not successful and the battalion reported casualties of 14 officers and 350 other ranks. Arthur was among those killed. He is remembered on the Thiepval memorial and has not known grave.

Charles Lewis Preater was born in 1889 and served in the 6th battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. In April 1918 the 6th were in the Messines area of Belgium about seven miles from Ypres. The 2nd part of the great German offensive took place on the night of the 9/10 and the objective was Ypres again. In the path of this onslaught was the 6th Wilts. By the time the battalion was relieved on April 20 they had lost over half their strength. Charles had been severely wounded and died as a result on April 29. His grave was lost due to constant shelling and he is remembered on the Tyne Cott memorial.

Herbert Frederick Preater was born in 1896 and served with the 2nd/8th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. He was killed in action on November 1, 1981 and is buried in France in the Cross Roads Cemetery Fontaine au Bois.

John Edward Preater was born in 1893. He served with the Worcestershire Regiment. He survived and returned home. He took over as landlord at The New Inn following his father’s death in 1922. John collapsed at the GW Railway Station, Chippenham on August 14, 1933. He was travelling with a group of friends and his fiancée. They were off to Weymouth for a short holiday. He died on the platform before a doctor could arrive. There was no inquest as John was under the care of a doctor at the time of his death. He is buried with his parents and his sister.

Two elder sons didn’t serve.

There were two daughters. Eva Emma Leah Preater who married James Ernest Wood, an Engine Erector, in 1909. Eva died in 1974 aged 90 and is buried close to the Preater family grave. Youngest child, Ada Cora Preater, never married. She took over as proprietor of The New Inn after her brother’s death in 1933. She died on February 26, 1956 at the pub where she had lived all her life. She is also buried in Radnor Street Cemetery in plot D65A.

Resources include Tell Them of Us by Mark Sutton

Swindon’s War Record by W.D. Bavin


William (left) Ernest (right) Leggett (1)

The Leggett Brothers – William (left) Ernest (right)


Sanford Street School memorial 2

Sanford Street School Memorial, Radnor Street Cemetery chapel



Yesterday had been a good day

The re-imagined story …

‘A sound of breaking glass; she had been so close to sleep that at first she had thought she was dreaming.  But soon she heard the unmistakable sound of panic surge through the house.

She had done everything in her power for the man, three nights she sat with him until she felt that she could do so no longer and then it was decided to obtain a nurse to take the night duty.

Yesterday had been a good day.  He had sat up in bed, even ate some toast and marmalade.  The doctor said the pneumonia wasn’t that bad, just on the right side.  Today had not been so good.

His condition had rapidly worsened.  She had tried to encourage him to sip a spoonful of broth, but he had taken no fluids all day; all she could do was keep his lips moistened.

She had sent word down to Morris Street, to let his wife know he had taken a turn for the worse.  Poor woman was worried out of her mind but what could she do with the little ones clinging to her skirts and the babe just a few weeks old?

All day she had sat with him, her presence seemed to calm him, his ramblings were less wild when she held his hand.

“Sorry dad, I’m sorry dad,” he sobbed as he gripped the sweat soaked sheet.  He called for his mother, told Norah he loved her and the kids.  “If it’s a girl call her Phyllis.”’

The facts …

The inquest took place at the Police Station at the top of Eastcott Hill.  Norah told the court that her husband was 27 years of age, and a bombardier in the Reserve Battery of the Royal Field Artillery.  In private life he was a wagon painter.  She lived at 4, Morris Street, and her husband was billeted at 97 Lansdown Road.

The jury found that the deceased died from fracture of the base of the skull, due to leaping from the window while in a state of unsound mind.

At the time of the 1911 census James and Norah were living in Bristol where he worked as a pottery labourer in a brick and tile works. He was 24 and Norah was 21. They had a year old son Herbert and six month old twin daughters Norah and Kathleen. They had been married for five years.

By 1912 the family had returned to Swindon and were living at 16 Reading Street in the railway village where little Norah died aged 19 months old. She is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery in a large plot for infant burials B1317.

Price JW

James William Price is buried in plot B1777, a pauper or public grave where he lies with two others.

Lansdown Road

Houses on Lansdown Road today


Charles Normandale and Walter George David Hughes

The re-imagined story …

I never knew my two cousins Charles and William Hughes. I was born nearly twenty years after they both died in the First World War. In our family it felt as if the war never really ended. My gran lost four grandsons, boys she had helped to raise. Families were close in those days.

After the war, how did the families carry on?  How did they pick up their lives with an empty place at the table and unslept in beds in the back bedroom?  A best suit hanging in the wardrobe; boots in the passage way.  Family photographs where a pictured son, sometimes two, are forever missing.  How did siblings feel, growing up, growing old, living years of which a brother was robbed?

Gran kept photographs of her boys on the mantelpiece for the rest of her life. I often wonder what happened to them after she died. No doubt one of my aunties took them. One thing I can guarantee, they will still be in one of the family homes, their names remembered once in awhile.

The facts ….

One Rodbourne family lost two sons in the First World War.  Albert and Minnie Hughes lived all their married life in the streets alongside the railway factory, raising four sons and a daughter.

Their third son, Charles Normandale Hughes, was a driver with the Royal Field Artillery.  He died on December 3, 1918 in Manchester.  He was 19 years old.  His records lost, it is likely he was another victim of the virulent TB.  His grave in plot D192 in Radnor Street Cemetery is marked by an official Commonwealth War Graves headstone.

Charles is buried with his parents and another family member E.  Hughes, most probably a cousin.  In 1995 the cremated remains of his sister Muriel May were interred in the grave.  Muriel was just four years old when war broke out and claimed her elder brothers.  She was 84 years old at the time of her death.

Albert and Minnie’s eldest son Walter George David Hughes joined the 97th Field Company Royal Engineers and was killed in action on June 26, 1916.  He was 23 years old.  He is buried in the Ville Sur Ancre Communal Cemetery.

Charles and Walter’s names appear on the Roll of Honour, now on display in the Civic Offices in Euclid Street. For nearly 100 years it hung in the old Town Hall and for many of those it remained hidden behind curtains after the building became used as a dance studio.

Charles received an official Commonwealth War Graves headstone and the Hughes family remembered their other lost son Walter on their own grave in Radnor Street Cemetery. Sadly, until recently the kerbstone memorial had lay discarded in nearby bushes. Radnor Street Cemetery war graves volunteers Jon, Dave and Brian have recently reunited the kerbstone with the family grave.

Walter HughesHughes CN


No Victory without Sacrifice

The re-imagined story …

I was coming out of my apprenticeship in August 1914 and I knew I would soon be out of a job. They were laying men off at the Works and wouldn’t be taking on any newly qualified boilermakers.

Then England declared war on Germany and I enlisted with the Wiltshire Regiment the following week.

That was my reason for joining up. Other men had other reasons. Many enlisted because it was the right thing to do, God was on our side. Some joined up to be with friends and family. Others saw it as an opportunity to travel beyond the confines of Swindon and see a bit of the world and anyway, it would all be over by Christmas, that’s what everyone believed.

My mate Norman Lynes didn’t have an option. He had previously served with the Middlesex Regiment and was on the reserve list. Perhaps he had a different attitude to warfare, having already experienced it. I doubt whether he had a different attitude to being killed. We all wanted to come home. He wouldn’t have been any different.

Norman was reported missing following the attack on Bully Wood during the Somme offensive in September 1916. Everyone knew what that meant; he had been killed in action, yet his death wasn’t confirmed until a year later – a year later! Then his mother placed a plaque on his father’s grave. It’s quite worn now; you can still read the words taken from his last letter home.

There’s no victory without sacrifice.

I didn’t want to make that sacrifice and I bet Norman didn’t want to either.


Norman Lynes (2)


The facts …

Frederick Jesse Lynes married Ann Glover at St Mary de Lode, Gloucester on August 23, 1877. By the time of the 1881 census Frederick and Annie were living at 34 Catherine Street, Swindon with their daughter Maud aged 2 and five months old Frederick John.

Frederick was employed as a Steam Engine Maker and Turner at the GWR Works and by 1891 the family was living at 23 Carr Street, their home for more than twenty years. Their youngest child Norman was born there in 1892 and baptised at St Mark’s Church on February 22, 1892.

Frederick died in December 1904 and was buried on December 15 in grave E7187, a plot he shared with his mother Caroline who had died eleven years earlier. On his headstone is inscribed ‘for 25 years a member of St Mark’s Church choir.’

Norman enlisted with the British Army at Hornsey on September 11, 1914. His attestation papers reveal that he had previously served in the 10th Middlesex and that his time had expired. He was 23 years and 11 months and a tall man, standing 6ft 2 and a half inches. With a chest measurement of 36 inches his physical development was described as good.

Norman served in Gibraltar and Egypt for seventeen months and France for four months. On October 22 he was officially declared missing and on July 26, 1917 it was accepted he was dead, his death assumed on or since September 1, 1916.

TF/200776 Private Lynes (1/7th Middlesex Regiment) name appears on the Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 12D and 13B.

On September 20, 1921 Annie took receipt of her son’s medals – the 1914-15 Star and the British War & Victory Medals.


The 1/7th Battalion Middlesex Regiment served with the 167th Brigade, 56th (London) Division. They were on the Somme before the battle and helped dig assembly trenches near Hebuterne. On 1st July 1916 they were in reserve for the attack on Gommecourt. They trained with tanks in August 1916 near Abbeville and fought in the battles for Leuze Wood and Bouleaux Wood in September 1916. In one attack with the tanks on 15th September 1916 they lost over 300 men out of 500 who took part in the attack on ‘Bully Wood’. In October 1916 they fought at Spectrum Trench near Lesboeufs suffering nearly 200 casualties.

Thiepval Memorial published courtesy of CWGC



Frederick Jesse Lynes (2)

Edwin Thomas Brittain – oldest foreman in the Works

The re-imagined story …

Gran loved a good funeral. She especially liked the ones held at St Mark’s where Canon Ponsonby officiated as he had such a lovely voice, she said. But she wasn’t adverse to attending services at one of the many non conformist churches or chapels across town, or even the little cemetery chapel itself.

And afterwards she would come round to our house and over a cup of tea she would recount the events.

Mr Brittain’s funeral ranked as one of the best she had attended, she told us. The list of mourners read like a Who’s Who of Swindon railway royalty, she said.

As a child I accepted Gran’s funeral fascination as just one of the funny things old people did. Most things about the elderly were pretty incomprehensible to the young. It wasn’t until Gran died that I began to understand.

Gran had been born at a time when death was very much a part of life. Before she was ten years old she had lost her own mother and several siblings. Today we tend to think people must have become used to all that death and dying. One child died and the next one born received their name. Perhaps people didn’t invest so much love in their children then as we do now. Of course once I had my own family I realised what a ridiculous notion that was and I came to understand the loss Gran continued to mourn throughout her life.

Mr Brittain’s funeral was one of the best she’d ever seen, Gran told us.

E T Brittain 4

The facts …

Death of Mr E. Brittain – We regret to announce the death of Mr E. Brittain, which took place almost suddenly at his residence in Wellington-street, New Swindon, on Thursday morning. Deceased left his work as usual the previous night, and retired to rest in fairly good health, but died about 4.30 a.m. Mr Brittain was a very old employe of the GWR Co., and had been a foreman in the works for many years. He was a member of the Council of the Mechanics’ Institute, but was best known perhaps as chairman of the New Swindon Industrial Society; he presided at the last half-yearly meeting of the society held a few weeks since.

The Swindon Advertiser, Saturday, June 29, 1895.

The Late Mr E.T. Brittain – We gave a brief account in our last Saturday’s issue of the sudden death of Mr E.T. Brittain of Wellington-street, New Swindon, the esteemed foreman of the R. Shop (Loco. Dept.) of the GWR Works.

Mr Brittain, who was 65 years of age, was well-known in New Swindon. For many years he occupied a seat on the Council of the Mechanics’ Institute, and for 17 years he was a director of the New Swindon Industrial Society, and during the last 12 years he ably filled the office of chairman. Deceased also took a great interest in political matters; he was a staunch Conservative, and at the time of his death was treasurer of the North Wilts Conservative Association.

His position in the GWR Works was unique, as he was the oldest foreman in the Works. He commenced as assistant foreman in the R. Shop, the principal fitting and machine shop, under the late Mr James Haydon. Upon that gentleman being appointed as Assistant Works Manager, Mr Brittain continued in the same capacity under Mr E.J. Davies. When some 20 years ago, Mr Davies obtained the appointment of the managership of the Engine Department of Messrs Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, Limited, Ipswich, Mr Brittain was appointed to the chief foremanship, a position which he held and worthily filled to the day of his death.

We understand that for many years nearly all the fitter, turner and erector apprentices received their early training under Mr Brittains’s management and we are sure that his lamented death will come as a great shock to engineers who have been trained under him, and who are to be found at most centres in the world where engineers are employed.

The funeral of deceased took place on Monday last, and was the occasion of a striking demonstration of respect on the part of the officials and workmen of the GWR and the various bodies with which deceased was connected, as well as the general public.

The funeral cortege left deceased’s late residence in Wellington-street at half-past four, and proceeded to St Mark’s Church, where the first portion of the service was conducted by the Vicar, the Hon. And Rev. Canon Ponsonby, who also read the concluding service at the graveside in the Cemetery.

There were five mourning carriages, and the chief mourners included deceased’s three sons and brother-in-law. Deceased being an old Volunteer, eight members of the New Swindon Companies attended as bearers. Nearly 400 persons followed the remains from the church to the graveside, and the route was lined with spectators, besides which a vast crowd assembled in the Cemetery. Some idea of the extent of the procession may be gathered when we state that it extended from the Cemetery entrance throughout the whole length of Radnor-street.

The coffin was covered with an immense number of beautiful wreaths and crosses and other floral offerings. Amongst the mourners, besides deceased’s relatives, we noticed Mr. D.E. Marsh (Loco. Dept.), Mr J. Fordyce Stevenson (district engineer), Mr F.C. Kent (district estate agent), Mr Webb (representing Mr Carlton), Messrs. T.B. Watson, A. Adams, W.H. Ludgate, E.L. Pugh, Theo Wright, R.B. Pattison, W. Mole, W. Hunt, T. Veness, W.H. Lawson, J. Ireland, T. Stone, T. Money, H. Green, G.M. Butterworth, R. Baker, A. Nash, W. Booth, W. Harvie, R. Affleck, H.J. Southwell, F. Tegg, W. Sewell, D. White, J.D.R. Phillips, T. Spencer, H. Morris, R. Chirgwin, H. Wright, L. Dyer, H. Andrews, J. Christelow, E.Y. Westlake, E. Harvie, R. Hogarth, W. Morrison, R.N. Sutcliffe, E. Burns, W. Clark, J.S. Protheroe, W.J. Greenwood, C. Fox, T.C. Morgan etc. etc. The funeral arrangements were satisfactorily carried out by Mr H. Smith. Mrs Brittain and family desire to thank the many kind friends for the expressions of condolence and sympathy in their recent bereavement.

The Swindon Advertiser, Saturday, July 6, 1895.

Edwin Thomas Brittain

Edwin Thomas Brittain was born in the parish of St Pancras on November 21, 1829, the eldest son of Henry James Brittain, an undertaker, and his wife Charlotte.

He married Louisa Elizabeth Hooker at Trinity Church, St Marylebone on January 11, 1852 and the couple soon moved to Wolverton in Buckinghamshire where Edwin was employed at the London & North Western engine works. Their son Thomas is born in Wolverton but by 1853 the family have moved to Swindon.

Edwin Thomas Brittain entered the GWR Service on July 26, 1853 working as a Fitter in the Loco factory. He was made Assistant Foreman on October 7,1865 and Foreman on January 12, 1867.

At the time of the 1861 census he was living at No 6 King Street with Louisa and their five children. The couple had nine children in all, moving to Wellington Street where they lived at No 18 and No. 39 at various times over the next twenty year period.

Edwin died at his home at 39 Wellington Street on June 27, 1895. He left effects to the value of £181 5s 2d. Louisa survived him by eighteen years and is buried here with him.




Snap village and the Bates family

The re-imagined story …

My mother wasn’t an emotional type of woman, but when John and Hannah Bates moved away she was inconsolable. I don’t think I’d ever seen her cry before, so it came as quite a shock.

The Bates boys Bill and Tom had already gone and with the selfishness of youth all I could think was how lucky they were to escape. There was nothing in Snap anymore, but to be honest the village probably never had a thriving social life; not like Swindon where there were theatres and clubs and pubs.

But what there had been in Snap was a sense of community, and now even that had gone. I think that’s probably what upset mother as much as the departure of John and Hannah Bates. The families she had lived alongside had all left – the babies born at the same time she had hers, the children raised, the hardships shared, the good times celebrated, all in the past.

I hoped we might follow the Bates family but my parents were loathe to leave. We stuck it out a while longer, but things were never going to improve. There would be no new jobs, no one moving into the empty cottages; no one even came back to visit those of us still here.

I never made it to the bright lights of Swindon. My parents moved up the road to Aldbourne, and now I find, like mother, I don’t like change much either.

The facts …

The first recorded mention of Snap, or Snape as it was sometimes called, is in a medieval document dated 1268. In the 14th century Snap was the smallest settlement in the parish of Aldbourne and one of the poorest in Wiltshire.

During the last decades of the 18th century the village consisted of five cottages built on the southern side of the valley and by 1851 there were just 41 inhabitants. For more than one hundred years Snap village was he home of the Bates family.

Three generations of the Bates family made their home in Snap. They worshipped at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at Woodsend where John Bates was a trustee, and worked as agricultural labourers on the two farms that supported the village.

In 1861 John Waldron owned Snap Farm where he employed 8 men, 7 boys and a groom on his 411 acre holding. Thomas Bates was employed as a carter, living in one of the larger properties in the village which had an extension to accommodate the cart and stable the horses.  His son Joseph boarded at Snap Farm where he worked as under carter. Thomas’ father Joseph lived in the village and at the age of 76 he was still working as an agricultural labourer.

The difficult years 1871-1880 saw the onset of an agricultural depression. A series of cold, wet summers resulted in a succession of poor harvests and the residents of Snap began to move away.

At the time of the 1881 census there were just seven occupied cottages and a property described as a hut where the young shepherd William Marten lived.

John Bates lived at Snap Cottage with his wife Hannah and their three youngest children, William 14, Emily 10 and Thomas 7. For William, already working as an agricultural labourer, and his younger brother Thomas, there was no future for them in Snap.

William moved to Swindon where there were jobs aplenty in the railway factory. He married Ada Florence Gerrard at St Mark’s Church on September 30, 1893 and at the time of the 1901 census the couple and their three young children Dorothy 6; Hubert 4 and 8 month old Frances, were living at 13 Curtis Street. William’s brother Thomas was boarding with them and the brothers both worked as Machinemen in the GWR Works.

Back home in Snap a series of events would sound the death knell for the village. William’s parents had already left the cottage that had been their home for more than thirty years and moved to East Garston near Lambourn. Then in 1905 Henry Wilson, a butcher and sheep dealer from Ramsbury, bought both Snap and Leigh Farms. He quickly turned the land to grass and shipped in a more profitable crop – sheep.

Snap was all but deserted with just two remaining residents, James and Rachel Fisher. Following the death of her husband, Rachel was persuaded to move into Aldbourne, which she found too quiet, missing the birdsong and the barking of foxes in her cottage garden at Snap.

Following the outbreak of war in 1914 the village was used by the War Office for military training. The cottages fell into ruin, the stones robbed for new building in neighbouring Woodsend during the 1940s.

William Bates died on September 26, 1925 at his home in Curtis Street. His funeral at Radnor Street Cemetery took place on September 30th when he was buried in plot D907 where he was later joined by his son Hubert who died in 1932 and [Ada] Florence, his wife, who died in 1943.

William and Hubert and Florence Bates

Snap 3

Snap 2

Ruins of Snap farmhouse in the 1930s.

In 1991 the pupils of Toothill School, Swindon placed a stone in memory of the people of Snap. Photograph is published courtesy of Brian Robert Marshall.

The restless Weight family

The Weight family were a restless bunch, well some of them were anyway. This is the grave of Samuel Joseph Weight and his wife Mary Ellen, a more settled couple.

Samuel J. Weight was typical of most newcomers to Swindon. Born in Gloucestershire in about 1839 he came to New Swindon in the 1860s to a job in the Works. At the time of the 1861 census he was lodging with his brother John and his family at 17 Reading Street and both brothers worked as a fitter and turner in the railway factory.

Two years later Samuel married Mary Ellen Ford at St Mark’s Church on July 16, 1863. By 1871 the couple were living at 5 Cromwell Street with their five year old son Ozias Enoch, Samuel’s widowed mother Mary and nephew Albert John, the son of Samuel’s brother John.


Rivera and Wight

By 1881 Samuel had left the Works and was licensed victualler at the Golden Lion Hotel, a pub on the Wilts and Berks canal which lent its name to the iconic Golden Lion Bridge. It was here that Mary Ellen died on December 26, 1890.  At the time of the 1891 census Samuel was still living at the Golden Lion Hotel with his sons Ozias, Bertie and William and daughter Emma, but soon after this he retired to Hook House in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze where he died on May 21, 1897.

Ken White

Photograph of Ken White and the Golden Lion Bridge mural is published courtesy of Roger Ogle.

Only one of Samuel and Mary’s children remained in Swindon, Bertie Charles Weight. Ozias ended up in Liverpool where he died in 1922, Samuel jr moved to Balham while William died in Bromley in 1960. Daughter Emma married and died in Heston in 1912. Little Polly, a baby daughter who died at the Golden Lion in 1881 aged three weeks old, was one of the first burials in the new cemetery on August 18.

By 1871 Samuel’s brother John had moved away from Swindon, but it would be his son and grandson who made perhaps the biggest leap.

Mary Ellen and Samuel Joseph and Arthur Clarence Weight

Albert John Griffiths Weight followed his father and uncle into the GWR Works but in 1911, at the age of 59, made the decision to emigrate to Canada. With his wife Emma and their daughter Elsie Pauline, a teacher aged 25, they boarded the Royal Edward setting sail from Bristol for Montreal on May 3. Albert’s name appears on the Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada Homestead Register dated 1872-1930. Emma died in 1937 at Shamrock, Saskatchewan and Albert died in 1942.

But it would be their son Clifford who led the most memorable of lives and left his mark on the art world.

Clifford Seymour Weight was born in 1891, the youngest of Albert and Emma Weight’s four children. In 1901 the family are living at 17 William Street and Albert works as a Saw Mill Machinery Fitter in the GWR Works. By 1911 they had moved up the social ladder to Old Town and lived at 32 The Mall. Just weeks after the census was taken in 1911 Albert, Emma and Elsie left for Canada.

Clifford Wight

Surveyor by Clifford Wight – Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Clifford left England two years after his parents and set sail from Liverpool to Maine on the MS Canada. He spent some years in California where he trained as an architect and in around 1925 he travelled to Mexico where he met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

By 1929 he was better known as Clifford Wight. Whether the name change was a deliberate decision remains unknown, just another facet of this man’s extraordinary life. At this time he was working as a technical assistant, translator and secretary to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Clifford worked on murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Rockefeller Centre in New York (later destroyed) and the Coit Tower in San Francisco.

Clifford led a fascinating life, full of action, adventure and political intrigue. For a comprehensive account of his life and work read Clifford Wight by Mike Yates on the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery blog.


Steelworker by Clifford Wight – Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Clifford’s death, like his life, is shrouded in mystery. He died on May 7, 1961 at the Hospital Clinico Barcelona Spain, following a fall from a train. Or was he pushed?

But getting back to the Weight family in Radnor Street Cemetery …

Although Arthur Clarence Weight is remembered on Samuel and Mary Ellen’s headstone their grandson is not buried with them. He lies in plot E8548 with his parents Bertie Charles and Edith Eleanor and a brother Reginald Charles Frederick. A branch of the family who stayed put.


Farmer by Clifford Wight – Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Photograph of Diego Rivera and Clifford Wight published courtesy of Local Studies, Swindon.

The Golden Lion Bridge mural on Medgbury Road was painted by Swindon muralist Ken White.

Samuel Chappell – boot maker and Minister of the Gospel

The re-imagined story…

We always bought our shoes and boots from Mr Chappell’s shop in Bridge Street. I say ‘always’ as if it were a weekly event. Buying shoes and boots in our family was a big occasion and only done after much forethought and deliberation.

Father patched up our footwear until it was beyond repair and the new purchase was only embarked upon at the moment of absolute need, never on a whim or a fancy.

My sister always chose a dainty pair of shoes with buckles and bows. Of course these were never the ones she ended up with. I was just happy to have a pair of boots that kept my feet dry and didn’t scrunch up my toes.

My sister told me that Mr Chappell was born in America; New York, she said, but I knew that couldn’t be true. He didn’t look American and he certainly didn’t sound American. And why on earth would you leave New York and move to Swindon?

She also said he was a Minister of the Gospel and I didn’t believe that either. Why would he sell boots and shoes if he was a man of God?

Girls have some funny notions.

invoice from Chappell

The facts …

This is the final resting place of Samuel Chappell, master shoemaker, boot and leather seller and as inscribed on the headstone, 40 years a Minister of the Gospel.

Samuel was the eldest son of Eli and Ann Chappell.  His father was born in Castle Combe where he worked for many years as a tailor.

Samuel, however, was born in New York in 1847.  By the time of the 1851 census the Chappell family was living in Hullavington where Eli was working as a Master Tailor.  Living with him were his wife Ann, 8 year old daughter Ann who was born in Castle Combe, obviously before the family’s big American adventure, and a baby son John, born in Hullavington on their return.

Samuel appears to have been raised in Castle Combe by his aunt and uncle, Susanna and William Chappell.  William was a master shoemaker and in 1861 Samuel was working as his apprentice.

The 1871 census has two entries for Samuel, one living in Stratton St Margaret with his parents and two brothers. The other entry shows him lodging with the Keylock family at 5 Albert Street in Old Swindon.

Samuel opened his own boot and leather shop at 26 Bridge Street in 1872. In 1874 he married Sarah Ann Sainsbury.  On the 1911 census Samuel and Sarah Ann are living at 68 Eastcott Hill and state that they had six children, four of whom were still living.

This photograph shows Samuel and his eldest son William outside the shop in the early 1900s.  According to a family member who kindly sent me this photograph, the shop remained open until the 1950s.

Samuel died at his home in Eastcott Hill and was buried in plot A2560 Radnor Street Cemetery on January 19, 1926.  He shares the grave with his wife Sarah who died in 1916 and their youngest son Samuel, who died aged 24 in 1909 following a leg injury sustained whilst playing football.  

Samuel Chappell