Miss Blount’s tea party

The re-imagined story …

I really didn’t want to visit Miss Blount. I liked her well enough; she was a kind, patient teacher, but she was dying. We all knew it. She had been ill for a long time and this would probably be the last time anyone other than her family would be invited to visit.

As the senior pupil teacher I was selected to deliver the presents the children had produced. The infants had drawn pictures while the older children had written diary entries telling her what was happening at school. The girls in Standard IV had baked a Victoria Sandwich cake, named after the Queen who was known to have a sweet tooth. My contribution was a bunch of dahlias grown in my dad’s greenhouse.

The Blount family lived at 14 Park Lane. I expected the house to be shrouded and shuttered, the family sombre and in premature mourning, but it wasn’t like that at all. Miss Blount was sitting in the sheltered back garden where her mother served the tea. The flowers were placed in a cut glass vase and set upon the garden table while both ladies exclaimed over the lightness of the sponge cake. The younger children’s pictures caused much delight and the diary entries were pored over with great interest.

Our little tea party was so relaxed and jolly that I began to think perhaps the reports of Miss Blount’s ill health had been exaggerated. Then suddenly she was overcome by a paroxysm of coughing, and her mother rushed to her side. When eventually the attack subsided I noticed the handkerchief she held to her mouth was spotted with blood. She looked exhausted and Mrs Blount thanked me for calling, which I took to be my cue to leave.

Miss Blount was very pretty and so young, just 27, but of course as a 14 year old school girl I didn’t truly appreciate the sorrow.

There’s a beautiful monument on her grave, a floating angel, delivering her soul to heaven. When I visit my parents’ grave I take some flowers for Miss Blount. She told me she thought the dahlias were a cheerful flower, that day of the tea party.

Blount family

The facts …

Eleanor Marian Blount was born in Hereford, the eldest of William and Ann Blount’s eight children, but she was not the first to die.

William married Ann Lane on August 6, 1866 at St Peter’s, Hereford. They moved to Swindon in about 1868 where William started work as a Moulder in the railway factory. Their first home was in Havelock Street in 1869 before they moved to 43 Cheltenham Street. Their third child, Mary Emma Blount was born in Cheltenham Street but died at 8 months old. She was buried on August 22, 1871 in the churchyard at St Mark’s. In 1881 the family was living at 22 Cheltenham Street and by 1891 they were living at 14 Park Lane.

Three of their children went on to become teachers, Eleanor, Lily and Edgar. William John Lane Blount turned up in the US sometime around 1888-91. George followed his father in the Works as a Brass Finisher, but later he also emigrated to the US. Alexander (Henry) Blount worked as a mechanical engineer in the railway factory. Youngest son Frederick Walter, also worked in the railway factory as a fitter.

William died on April 27, 1913 aged 69. Ann survived him by more than twenty years. She died in 1934 aged 87. They were buried with their daughter Eleanor in a large double plot E8158/8159.

Blount Feb 9, at 14 Park Lane, New Swindon Eleanor (Nell), the dearly loved eldest daughter of William Blount aged 27 years.

Swindon Advertiser Saturday February 23, 1895.

William Blount of 14 Park Lane Swindon Wiltshire died 27 April 1913 Probate London 13 August to Ann Blount widow and Edgar Blount Schoolmaster Effects £611 8s.

Park Lane, Swindon

Coming next …

A Literary Legacy and the Misses Baden – Everyone with the name Jefferies wanted to tell us their memories of the man, even those who were unrelated and had never met him. The Swindon Advertiser had already published a fulsome obituary notice on the local writer Richard Jefferies but Mr Morris wanted me to come up with something more, something from a different perspective.

published on the Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday March 21, 2019.


Granddad’s Museum

The re-imagined story …

As children my brother and I thought our granddad lived in a museum. His house was packed full of stuff; ornaments on every surface, even affixed to the walls, paintings, prints and photographs and books, so many books.

Inside the house we had to manoeuvre our way around, careful not to knock anything over, but fortunately for us there was a long back garden where we played, whatever the weather. We were even allowed inside the shed if it was lashing down with rain.

The shed was a microcosm of the house, but without the china. There were racks and racks of old fashioned tools but no one seemed to worry that we might sever a limb or drive nails into each others eyes.

One day we found a wooden model train in a box under the workbench. I remember how we stared at one another apprehensively. It looked like a toy, but could we play with it or was it another museum piece? We just didn’t know. We decided we would play with it, only very carefully, and if it got broken we would say it was like that when we found it.

It was actually pretty robust. Not big enough to sit on, although we tried that, but sturdy.  The wheels turned and the bell on the front moved, but that was about it really. We sat our Action Men in the cab and created war time scenarios, but there wasn’t a lot you could do with it really.

Clearing granddad’s house after he died was a nightmare. Our poor parents spent weeks and weeks at the job. Everything had to be valued for probate before the bequests in his will could be fulfilled. There were quite a few valuable items, especially among the books. Sadly everything reeked of cigarette smoke and mum didn’t want any of it in her house.

I would have liked longer to go through it all, but there just wasn’t the time and I couldn’t store anything in my small, one bed flat.

The shed was one of the last things we tackled and this yielded some of the biggest surprises. The tools my brother and I had looked upon as instruments of torture turned out to be real museum pieces, some of them dating back to the 18th century and engraved with the initials RGL.

When I saw the train for the first time in years I realised it was a model of the famous King George V loco made in the Swindon Works in 1927. Perhaps the owner of the tools, or one of his descendants had made the model. Sadly there was no way of finding out who. The Carriage and Wagon Works employed hundreds of skilled carpenters and throughout its history Swindon had numbered countless building firms, large and small.

As we bagged and boxed and dumped so much of granddad’s treasure I wondered how he had come by it all, especially those tools. And who had made the model of the King George V loco, which now sits on the coffee table in my lounge.

Sarah and William Leighfield

The facts …

This memorial was recently revealed during a major bramble clearance exercise in Radnor Street Cemetery by Swindon Borough Council.

This is the final resting place of Sarah Leighfield, her husband William and their son in law James George Plank.

Sarah was born in Swindon in c1851 and married William Leighfield in 1871. William was born in Wootton Bassett in c1851 the eldest son of James and Ann Leighfield.

By the time of the 1911 census William and Sarah were living at 91 Curtis Street with four of their children. William, aged 61, was by then working as a Wood Sawyer in the railway works. His son Robert was a Coach Painter in Motor Works, Alfred and Albert were both House Decorators and Ernest also worked as a Coach Painter.

Curtis Street

1915 Curtis Street photograph published courtesy of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

His younger brother Richard James Leighfield established a successful construction business at 1 Witney Street. The firm still exists today based in Royal Wootton Bassett where in 2015 they celebrated their 130th anniversary.

Sarah died in April 1911 and was buried on April 13 in plot E7339. William died in June 1915 and was buried with his wife on June 9. The last person to be buried in this plot was their son in law James George Plank, their daughter Emily’s husband. J.G. Plank died at St Margaret’s Hospital on July 3, 1955.

King George V, designed by Charles B. Collett and built in the Swindon Works in 1927, was the prototype for Great Western Railway’s (GWR) King class. It was the first of a thirty strong fleet built in Swindon from 1927-1930  to meet the demands of rising passenger numbers and heavier carriages.

Photo of King George V published courtesy of STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway, Swindon.

Coming next …

Miss Blount’s Tea Party – I really didn’t want to visit Miss Blount. I liked her well enough; she was a kind, patient teacher, but she was dying. We all knew it. She had been ill for a long time and this would probably be the last time anyone other than her family would be invited to visit.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog Thursday March 21, 2019.

Mrs Peddle and me

An extra instalment of the Radnor Street Cemetery blog, published today March 8, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

The re-imagined story …

Life’s circumstances can create some unusual friendships. In the case of Mrs Peddle and me it was the death of our husbands.

We didn’t have a lot in common. Mrs Peddle had money and I didn’t. I had a houseful of children and she had none.

I don’t think she much enjoyed living in Swindon. She told me she was born in a village called Keinton Mandeville in Somerset and she was a country girl at heart. Her back garden was full of old fashioned country flowers like night scented stock and grandmother’s bonnet. My garden was always full of washing.

I’d never known anywhere other than Swindon. I’d been born in the railway village and lived there until I got married. My dad was a railwayman and so was his dad and just about all the boys I grew up with ended up working in the railway factory. My husband Fred was a steam hammerman.

I don’t know why Mr and Mrs Peddle moved to Swindon in the first place. Mr Peddle had worked as a house painter and decorator. Perhaps he looked at all those red brick terrace houses and thought there would be plenty of work for him, but of course everyone took care of their own properties in those days. Few of us had the money for an interior decorator. So like every other man in town, Mr Peddle found himself sucked into the railway works.

Mrs Peddle would come across to my house most afternoons. She seemed to enjoy the noise and chaos the children created and I was grateful for someone to hold the baby while I caught up with some household jobs.

Then afterwards we’d have a cup of tea and we’d talk. We’d talk about really personal stuff, things I’d never spoken to anyone else about. She told me why she’d never had any children and I told her why I had so many.

Before the year was out I married William, one of Fred’s friends, and moved into his house in Clifton Street. He had lost his wife around the same time Fred died. I needed a breadwinner and he needed a mother for his children. More kids! And we soon had one of our own together.

After that I only saw Mrs Peddle occasionally. The intimacy of those few months in 1911 was gone. I’m not sure that either of us wanted to be reminded about some of those confidences we shared.

It’s a funny old world. Death drew us together but life pulled us apart.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, plant, tree, sky, outdoor and nature

James Peddle D (3)

The facts …

Emily Jane Louisa was baptised on August 27, 1865 at the parish church in Keinton Mandeville, Somerset, the daughter of John Cox, a labourer and his wife Matilda. Emily worked as a dressmaker until her marriage to James Peddle in the September quarter of 1887.

At the time of the 1891 census James was recorded as living at No. 12 York Place, Swindon, where he worked as a painter and glazier. On census night 1891 Emily was staying with her widowed mother back home in Keinton. By 1901 James and Emily were living at 76 Radnor Street, their home for more than ten years. On the 1911 census James is described as a house painter employed by the railway company. James and Emily had been married for 23 years and had no children.

James died on August 4, 1911 and was buried in plot D1473 on August 9.

In 1916 Emily married widower John Parker, a carpenter who worked in the railway factory. His wife Eliza had died in December 1914. John and Emily lived at 33 Wellington Street.

It was a brief marriage as Emily died on November 15, 1919. She was buried on November 21 with her first husband James Peddle in plot D1473.

John Parker outlived Emily by more than 30 years. He died on November 17, 1952 and was buried with his first wife Eliza in plot D1302, not too far from James and Emily.

John and Eliza Parker share their grave with their grandson Alan Parker who died in 1931 aged 8 years old.

Peddle James of 76 Radnor street Swindon Wiltshire died 4 August 1911 Probate London 9 October to Emily Louisa Peddle widow Effects £715 17s 8d.

Parker Emily Louisa of 33 Wellington Street Swindon Wiltshire (wife of John Parker) died 15 November 1919 Probate Salisbury 19 December to Charles Chamberlain electric car driver Effects £745 18s 3d.

Parker John of 33 Wellington Street Swindon Wiltshire died 17 November 1952 at St Margarets Hospital Stratton St Margaret Wiltshire Probate London 31 December to Leonard Victor Parker coach body builder and Wilfred Sydney Parker cabinet maker Effects £3133 11s 7d.

Views of Radnor Street taken in 2019


Coming next …

Granddad’s Museum – The shed was a microcosm of the house, but without the china. There were racks and racks of old fashioned tools but no one seemed to worry that we might sever a limb or drive nails into each others eyes.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog March 14, 2019








First caretaker – Charles Brown

Radnor Street entrance

The re-imagined story …

It’s a long trek back home from the market to Clifton Street. I usually walk up Deacon Street and cut through the cemetery. Of course, in the old days you weren’t allowed to and if Mr Brown caught us kids, we were in for a right telling off.

Mr Brown was the caretaker who lived in the lodge at the Radnor Street gates. He used to keep all the other gates locked so the only way in and out was past his front door.

Us kids used to climb the railings, but woe betide you if he caught you scratching the paintwork.

top of Deacon Street
View from the cemetery at the top of Deacon Street

He and his team kept that cemetery in a beautiful condition. The grass edges were always neat and tidy and come Autumn the paths were all kept clear of leaves. We reckoned he polished the gravestones as well, they were so clean.

He was very proud of the place. Well, he’d been caretaker from the day it opened. Funny to think he’d known the cemetery in its empty state. Strange thing was he died on July 31, 1905 the anniversary of the date he began work in 1881.

People say he’ll be missed. I’m sure he will, but my generation will always remember him as the scary man who used to chase us out the cemetery.

The facts …

With the opening of the cemetery imminent the Cemetery Committee advertised for a caretaker and sexton, at a Salary of £1 a Week, and House-Rent Free. The successful applicant was 44-year-old Charles Brown who in 1881 was working as a Coachman in Wroughton.  Charles worked as caretaker for 24 years.  He died at home in the Cemetery Lodge on July 31, 1905 and is buried in the cemetery in plot E8661.

Death of Mr C. Brown. The death of Mr C. Brown, the caretaker at the Swindon Cemetery, took place on Monday afternoon. Deceased was born at Lambourne Berks 68 years ago, and after living at Burderop for some time, he removed to Swindon, and became the first caretaker of the Cemetery, being appointed just 24 years ago, his death occurring on the anniversary day. Deceased had been failing in health for the last twelvemonths, and went away a short time ago for the benefit of his health. He was taken seriously ill about a fortnight ago, and passed away on Monday, as already stated. Deceased was always mot unobtrusive and courteous in the discharge of his duties – On Thursday afternoon, at 2.30, the mortal remains of the late Mr Brown were laid to rest in the Swindon Cemetery, over which he had had charge for so many years. The remains were enclosed in a polished elm coffin, with brass furniture, and the breast place bore the inscription: “Charles Brown, died July 31, 1905, aged 68 years.”

Mourners and floral tributes

Swindon Advertiser, Friday, August 4, 1905.

Charge of stealing flowers from a grave – James Hill, 51, fitter, of Faringdon street, New Swindon, was summoned at the instance of the Swindon Local Board and Burial Board, charged with stealing some flowers – daisies – from a certain grave in the Swindon Cemetery and placing them on that of his mother – Mr. H. Kinneir, Clerk to the Local Board, appeared to prosecute, and in opening the case stated that the action was taken at the instance of the New Swindon Local Board and the Cemetery Committee. The case, although not a serious one – possibly a trivial one to many – was one of importance to the Cemetery Authority, and people interested in the cemetery. It was well known that persons who had relatives lying buried therein took pains with the graves, and planted flowers thereon. The present action arose through defendant, who was a man well known and highly respected, going through the cemetery on a Sunday and plucking several flowers from a certain grave and placing them on his mother’s grave. It was to point out the seriousness of the case that the present action was taken. Mr Kinneir said the Board did not wish to press the case, but wished for a small fine to be imposed, to let the public know that they must not gather flowers from a churchyard or cemetery. This proceeding of gathering flowers was going on all over the cemetery, and the Board wished to put a stop to it. The maximum penalty for the offence was £5. Without hearing any witness the bench imposed a fine of 2s 6d, and ordered payment of court fees.

Rose Tanner, a child 11 years of age, residing at 42, Clifton street, New Swindon, was charged with a similar offence to the last defendant. – Mr H. Kinneir appeared to prosecute in this case also. The charge was that the child plucked a flower from a grave in the Swindon Cemetery on April 20th. – Chas. Browne, caretaker of the Cemetery, was sworn, and said he saw the defendant pick a hyacinth from a grave in the Cemetery. He watched her take it away, and followed her, and found she had put the flower underneath a younger sister’s jacket. – Fined 10s 6d, including costs.

The Swindon Advertiser, Saturday July 9, 1887

Bell Ringing – Richard Bunch and Henry Lacey, two young lads, of New Swindon, were summoned at the instance of the Swindon Burial Board, charged with unlawfully ringing the bell at the lodge-keeper’s house of the cemetery, on Saturday last. Charles Brown, the caretaker, said he was much annoyed by boys in the cemetery. He had to order the defendants out. As they passed out of the lodge gate they pulled the bell violently and ran away. This was a very common practice, the false alarms being as often as the legitimate ones. – Mr J.C. Townsend, who appeared to prosecute, said the Burial Board was anxious to put a stop to this nuisance. – The Chairman pointed out that the penalty for such an offence was 40s or imprisonment, said if it was repeated the bench would feel it their duty to punish severely. – Defendants promised not to offend again, and expressed their sorrow for having committed the offence. Fined 6d and 9s 6d costs, or 7 days’ imprisonment. – Paid.

The Swindon Advertiser, Monday May 15, 1882

Damaging the Cemetery Fence – Joseph Deacon, 36, carpenter, 6, Albion Street, was charged with committing wilful damage to the rails enclosing the Swindon Cemetery. Mr J.C. Townsend appeared to prosecute on behalf of the Burial Board. On Monday, the 5th inst. The defendant was in the cemetery and went to the Clifton street gates to leave. He was told by John Bastin, a man working there, that the gates were locked, and that he would have to go to the lodge entrance. The gate had been locked by order of the board. Defendant replied to Bastin that he should not go any further round, but should get over the rails. He was told not to do so, but he went up to near the mortuary, and climbed over the rails, scratching off the paint, and telling witness that he could go and tell Brown (the keeper) if he liked. The damage was estimated at 1s – Defendant said he did what he did in a passion. He never heard that the lodge gate was open or he should have gone out by it, that being his nearest road. He should like to know if a person could go through the cemetery? – The Chairman said certainly not; the cemetery was a sacred place and must not be trespassed on. If he was to send defendant to gaol for two months, or fine him £2 and costs, as he could do, every man in Swindon would know that it was a private place. – The defendant said he did not know this. – The Chairman fined defendant and costs, in all £1 8s.

Swindon Advertiser Monday December 19, 1881

cemetery lodge front door 2
Mr Brown’s front door – Cemetery Lodge

Coming next …

Mrs Peddle and me – Life’s circumstances can create some unusual friendships. In the case of Mrs Peddle and me it was the death of our husbands.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog March 8, 2019 in celebration of International Women’s Day.



Family dynamics and a rediscovered grave

Family dynamics – how do they work? Are events propelled by personality, internal conflict or economic pressures? A sense of adventure, an escape and world events all play a part.

In recent weeks Swindon Borough Council have cleared a large area of the cemetery swamped by brambles, revealing some graves lost for years. One of the rediscovered plots is that of the Barnes family.

This double plot is surrounded by an elegant, black marble kerbstone memorial. Although still partially concealed, two names can be detected. From these slim pickings it has been possible to trace much of the history of this family, using a combination of sources beginning with the Radnor Street Cemetery burial registers.

On October 15, 1878 John Barnes and Elizabeth Jane (also known as Jane Elizabeth) Farmer married at St Mark’s, the church in the railway village. John worked as a plumber, most probably with his father Richard who was also described as a plumber on the marriage certificate. Elizabeth Jane was the daughter of Thomas Farmer, a mason.

At the time of the 1881 census John, Jane and their daughters Edith Ellen aged 1 and three-month-old Florence Beatrice, lived at 9 William Street. By 1891 they were still living in William Street where their family has increased by four sons – Harold E 6 years old, Ernest A 5, Herbert H J 3, and one-year old Frederick W.

By 1901 they were living at 5 Tennyson Street, their family complete with the birth of Edgar A in 1897. Their elder sons Harold aged 16 and Ernest 15 were both working in the building trade, Harold as an apprentice house carpenter and Ernest as an apprentice house painter. At a time when the railway works dominated the town, this large Swindon family worked independently and within the building trade. Maybe the family would look back on these times as the good years.

On September 4, 1907 18-year-old Frederick set sail for Australia. Perhaps the building trade had taken a temporary down turn, although that seems unlikely in fast growing Swindon. Was his departure a shock for his parents, or perhaps he had always been a daring, adventurous type.

bramble clearance 4
Section E – cleared of brambles February 2019

But worse was to come. The first real tragedy struck on November 26, 1907 when 21-year-old Harold Ernest died, the first of the family to be buried in the large, double plot in Radnor Street and whose name is visible on the recently discovered grave. It was Harold’s death that gave me an entry into this family’s history.

The 1911 census confirms some details. Jane states that she and John have been married for 34 years and that they had eight children, 7 of whom are living and one who has died. The couple’s four sons are listed at home in Tennyson Street, including Frederick returned from Australia.

On Boxing Day 1911 eldest son Herbert Horace John married Kate Gray Hill at St Mark’s, the church where his parents had married.

The following year Frederick and his younger brother Lionel set sail on the Orvieto bound for Sydney, Australia. John and Jane would never see Frederick again. He died in Drummoyne, New South Wales in 1913. His name appears on the family memorial.

Lionel remained in Australia where he married Lucy Amelia Hunt, a girl from Wootton Bassett, in 1913. They came back to England at some point, but returned to Australia in 1951 where Lionel died in Drummoyne, New South Wales in 1963 aged 71.

William Street - Copy
William Street picture in 2019

On September 23, 1914 Herbert’s wife Kate gave birth to a baby girl called Freda but sadly they both died the following day. Kate and her baby daughter were the first of the family to be buried in the adjoining plot E8411.

With the declaration of war, the parents must have feared for their sons, especially when their widowed son Herbert enlisted with the Royal Marines Divisional Engineers. He later transferred to the Royal Air Force.

Herbert returned safely from the war to marry Mabel Homer in 1919. He died in 1959 and was buried with his first wife and their baby daughter in plot E8411. They share the grave with Herbert’s sister Edith Ellen Lucas who died in 1962 and her husband Ernest Lucas.

Another son served in and survived the First World War. Edgar Arthur Thomas Barnes, a motor engineer, joined the army at the beginning of the war and served in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was awarded the Military Medal for repairing a motor under fire and bringing three wounded soldiers safely to hospital. Edgar died in Lincoln in 1961.

Jane died in 1922 and John in 1924. They were buried in plot E8410 with their son Herbert and daughter in law Mabel Barnes.

Eight family members and a day-old baby are buried in the newly discovered double grave plot. Thanks to the hard work of the Swindon Borough Council team it has been possible to trace the events of the Barnes family history.

The Barnes family grave

Photograph of William Street c1910 published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies.

Coming next …

First Caretaker – It’s a long trek back home from the market to Clifton Street. I usually walk up Deacon Street and cut through the cemetery. Of course, in the old days you weren’t allowed to and if Mr Brown caught us kids, we were in for a right telling off.

published in Radnor Street Cemetery blog March 7, 2019.





Have you seen the doctor?

albert ramsden surgeon (2)

The re-imagined story …

Every Saturday Nan and me would come into town on the bus. We’d buy a bunch of flowers from a stall in the market and then walk up Deacon Street to the cemetery.

After we had spent a few moments looking at the wonky little headstone we would lay the flowers on the grave. Then I’d skip off down the steep path and out of the gate to Grandma’s house in Dixon Street, arriving at the front door ahead of Nan.

“Have you seen the doctor?” was the first thing she always said. Before “hello Marilyn, why aren’t you wearing a coat?” or “hello Marilyn I’ve got some chocolate cake in the pantry.”

Grandma was a wizen, little, ancient lady, who always dressed in black, I assumed in perpetual mourning for my dead Grandpa. Old ladies did that in my childhood. Of course, you don’t see that now. These days they get a tattoo and move on to a 50-year-old boyfriend. Grandma was my great-grandmother, someone to be revered and obeyed. That’s all changed as well.

When I was very young, I thought ‘the doctor’ was a relative of ours, but when I came to understand social politics I realised that’s wasn’t very likely; all the men in our family had been railwaymen.

Then one day Nan mentioned that the doctor was a surgeon, one of the GWR doctors employed at the Medical Fund Hospital. Perhaps he had performed some life saving operation on a family member. Perhaps that was why Grandma had been leaving flowers on the grave for more than 60 years.

Then suddenly, as happens, life passed by. Grandma died and my much loved Nan took her place as the little old lady I took my children to visit on a Saturday afternoon. We didn’t call in at the cemetery first though as Nan lived just around the corner from us in Gorse Hill.

We talked about the past a lot, same as I find I do now, and then one day I asked her who the doctor was we used to visit in the cemetery.

She took her time replying and I wondered if she might have forgotten.

“When my mother was young she worked for the railway doctors. The surgery was at Park House where Dr. Swinhoe lived, but the younger doctors lived in a house in London Street.” She paused for a moment and I sensed she was about to share a confidence that had not be spoken of for many years.

“My mother used to do the washing for the young doctors, keep the house tidy and cook them a midday meal, returning in the afternoon to finish her duties. Remember mind, she was only 15 or 16. That was a lot of work for a young girl to be doing. This particular day, she left the meal for the doctors and went home for her own dinner.

“Just as she was about to leave the house a young boy knocked on the door with a note for her telling her not to return to work as one of the doctor’s had suddenly died. She would be expected at work the following morning. She never went back to her job or the house in London Street.”

It was a sad story. “She must have been very fond of that doctor,” I said.

Nan sipped her tea and I could sense that wasn’t the end.

“It wasn’t that Marilyn. No one explained to her what had happened, or why he had died. She thought she had killed him.”

“Killed him?”

“She wasn’t a very good cook. Her family used to tease her and say one day she’d kill someone. That day she thought she had killed the doctor.”


Views of London Street taken in 2019

The facts …

Albert Ramsden was born in 1852 the son of Charles Ramsden and his wife Ann. At the time of the 1851 census, the year before Albert’s birth, the family was living at an address in the Beast Market, Huddersfield where Charles worked as a dry-salter. A dry-salter was a dealer in dry chemicals and dyes and in the 1857 Post Office Directory Charles is listed as living at 9 Beast Market, a dry-salter and oil merchant. By 1861 he was employing five men and two boys and obviously earning enough to pay for his son’s education. That same year Albert was a boarder at a school in Ramsden Street, Huddersfield, run by John Tattersfield.

Albert moved to Swindon in 1881. At the time of the census earlier that year he had been lodging at 35 Bromfelde Road, Clapham where he was described as a medical student. He had previously worked for Dr John Sloane at his large practise in Leicester.

Sudden Death of a Medical Man – An inquest was held at Swindon on Wednesday, August 31st on the body of Albert Ramsden, aged 29, who died suddenly on the previous Monday afternoon, at his lodgings No 5 London-street, Swindon, where he resided with four or five other gentlemen of the medical staff. It appears that deceased, when at dinner, rose suddenly and went into the drawing room where he stayed two or three seconds, and then upstairs. On entering his room shortly afterwards his body was found lying across the bed with the head on the floor. The four medical gentlemen present did what they could for him, but to no effect. Deceased it seemed had fallen in a fit, death resulting from a flow of blood to the head. A verdict was returned in accordance with the evidence. The deceased had only resided at Swindon three weeks, having been an assistant to Dr Sloane, of Leicester, for several years. He was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and had passed his examination as L.R.C.P. only four weeks previously.

Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday September 10, 1881.

Albert had died during an epileptic seizure. He was buried in plot A137, the 14th burial to take place in the new cemetery at Radnor Street.

albert ramsden surgeon

Coming next …

Family dynamics – how do they work? Are events propelled by personality, internal conflict or economic pressures.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog February 28, 2019


First impressions


The re-imagined story …

There was a lot of talk in the workshop about the new cemetery. We had a vested interest as undertakers, and wondered at the choice of location.

“Makes you wonder why the Local Board settled on that piece of land.”

“Must have been something to be made out of it for one of them.”

“It belonged to Mr. Hinton.”

“Enough said.”

“Which gate will be the usual entrance?”

The new cemetery was situated in the middle of Kingshill with an approach by four entrances at Dixon Street, Clifton Street, Radnor Street and Kent Road.

“I’m assuming it will be the Radnor Street one. That’s going to be quite a climb with a handbier.”

“Kent Road might be a better option.”

“Which ever way you approach from New Town there’s going to be a hill to climb.”

“Has anyone been to have a look?”

“It’s one big building site up there at the moment. There’s work going on in all the surrounding streets. I pity anyone who has to bury a loved one during the next few weeks.”

Little did we know we would be burying our own governor Mr Edward Hemmings just five days later.


The facts …

Edward Hemmings, a carpenter, joiner and undertaker, was born in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. He and his wife Eliza lived in London between 1851 and 1861 and moved to Fleet Street, Swindon in the mid-1860s.

By 1871 he had a business at 43 Fleet Street and ten years later they were living and working at 22A Fleet Street. This may have been the original property, renumbered as building work continued in that area.

Following her husband’s death Eliza placed an announcement in the Swindon Advertiser.

Mrs Hemmings, of 22, Fleet Street, New Swindon, begs to inform the inhabitants of Swindon and the neighbourhood that she intends carrying on the business of her late husband Edward Hemmings, Builder, Carpenter, and Undertaker, and trusts to meet with the same liberal support bestowed upon him during the past 15 years.

Six years later the following announcement appeared in the Swindon Advertiser.

22 Fleet St New Swindon

Fredk. Hemmings

Builder, carpenter, & Undertaker

Begs respectfully to inform the inhabitants of Swindon and neighbourhood that he intends carrying on the business of his later Brother Edward Hemmings, who preceded him as above so successfully for many years.

F.H. begs to remind them that the same earnest attention to business, and care in the execution of all orders entrusted to him, will be paid, and that there shall be nothing wanting on his part to give the same satisfaction as heretofore.

Funerals Economically Conducted.

Estimates given for all Work connected with the Building Trade.

The Swindon Advertiser, Saturday March 11, 1882.

Edward was buried in plot A137 on August 11, 1881, the fifth burial to take place in the new cemetery. He was buried in a public or pauper’s grave where he lay alone for more than twenty years. In 1904 a child by the name of Frank Batt was buried with him.


Coming next …

Have you seen the doctor? – It was a sad story. “She must have been very fond of that doctor,” I said.

published in Radnor Street Cemetery blog February 21, 2019.

Standing at the graveside


The re-imagined story …

That first week she visited her baby’s grave every day.  She stood by the small mound of freshly turned earth, every day.  There would soon be a bench placed close to the grave.  Somewhere she could sit and think about him, but today the cemetery was a barren, vast gash in the hillside.

A few trees remained scattered about, relics of the cemetery’s past when it had been a coppice ground called Howses.

And the new chapel stood in all its Gothic splendour, if on a small, parochial scale, the modest bell tower guarded by grotesques.  But there had been no tolling bell for her baby, no headstone, no marker for there was no money to buy the burial plot in which he lay.

On the day of his funeral she laid flowers.  The following day she bought a small pot plant and knelt on the soft soil and pressed in the roots with her fingers, reaching for her baby.


But the next day the plant had gone.  There could be no permanent marker on this grave, for this was a pauper’s grave and even in the vastness of the new, now empty cemetery, soon there would be others buried with her baby.  She didn’t know if this was a comfort or not.  She hated the thought of him lying there alone in the cold earth, but she didn’t want to share this space with anyone.

Then just four days later there was another woman standing at that graveside, the earth freshly turned, again.

They looked into each other’s eyes and saw the grief, but they did not speak.

After that she stopped coming every day, now another child lay on top of hers, placing him a little further out of reach.  She visited on a Sunday, sometimes, and always on his birthday and, so quickly afterwards, his death day, and then there were the other days, when she just wanted to remember him.

Shrubs were planted, headstones raised, she watched the grass grow and one day the bench appeared.  Sometimes she would sit there and watch; the cemetery was a busy place now.  Mourners left flowers set beneath a glass dome; she would have liked one of those for her baby.

She never met again that other mother.

The facts …

Albert Edward Wentworth was the second burial to take place in Radnor Street Cemetery on the day it opened, August 6, 1881.  He was one-month old.  His mother’s name was Lucy. Matthew Henry Bissell was buried in the same grave plot four days later.  He was one-year old.  His mother’s name was Susan.

Coming next …

First Impressions – “Has anyone been to have a look?”

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog February 14, 2019

Frederick Gore – The Closing of the Churchyard

The re-imagined story …

I bet there will be a good attendance for the funeral of Mr Gore, he was a popular man and well liked.  Some will be there out of friendship, others in respect for a member of our congregation sadly passed away, but I can tell you there will be plenty who just turn up out of curiosity. After all, it will be the first funeral at the new cemetery.

Rev. Ponsonby had announced the closure of St Mark’s churchyard in the August edition of the parish magazine. Who would have thought a burial ground could fill up so quickly, the church had only been dedicated thirty years previously. It was rumoured that with the coming of the railway factory the life expectancy in the town had dropped to under 30 years. Unbelievable! That’s worse than in my parents day when the average job was on the land.

I suppose Mr Gore had done well to live to the age of 54. Perhaps if he had died in the middle of winter people would have been less keen to climb up Kingshill to visit the new cemetery. There’s even talk of some bringing a picnic. Unbelievable!


The facts …

The New Cemetery – On Sunday evening last, when giving out the usual weekly notices at St Mark’s Church, the Rev. M.J. Ponsonby took occasion to remind his congregation that in accordance with the order received some time previously from the Local Government Board, the churchyard would be closed for burial on the following day, remarking that as neither the ground or the Church at the New Cemetery were consecrated, any of the congregation wishing to have the first part of the service performed over their dead in a consecrated building, could have it done at the Church, by giving not less than one day’s notion – The first interment in the Cemetery, will, it is believed, take place this (Saturday) afternoon, at half past three, the deceased being a painter named Frederick Gore, recently employed in the GWR Works, who died on Tuesday morning. Gore had often, we are told, during his long illness, expressed a wish to be buried in the Cemetery, if it was sufficiently advanced at the time of his death, and, although a member of the Baptist church, had obtained a promise from the Rev M. Ponsonby, who had visited him, that he would officiate at the funeral, and allow his body to be taken into the church. It is somewhat remarkable that Gore died within an hour or two of the time the order for closing St Mark’s Churchyard came into force.

The Swindon Advertiser, Monday, August 8, 1881.


The Closing of the Churchyard

Dear Friends,

We are no longer allowed to bury in our Churchyard, except under certain circumstances.  It was, we all know, necessary that this regulation should be passed, but this will not prevent the great regret of many that they cannot lay the bodies of their dead in the hallowed precincts of the Church.

Probably no part of the public cemetery will be consecrated; but a prayer authorised by the Bishop, will be said by the Priest over each grave, and that particular spot in the cemetery will thus be solemnly dedicated to Almighty God.

Many who have been accustomed to carry their Blessed Dead into the Church in which they have worshipped, and which is set aside for God’s service, will feel aggrieved at entering an unconsecrated building, such as that which has been erected in the Cemetery. 

I have, therefore, arranged that, where it seems fit, the body may be brought first to the Church, when the usual service will be performed, and may be carried thence direct to the cemetery, where the service will be concluded.

Application for permission to do this should be made to one of the Clergy not later than the day preceding the burial.
I remain,

Your affectionate Friend and Vicar,

Maurice Ponsonby

St Mark’s Parish magazine, August 1881.

At the time of the census taken on the night of April 3,1881 Frederick was living at 4 East Street with his wife Hephzibah and their fourteen-year-old son Charles, whose occupation is given as an apprentice Coach Body Maker.

In 1891 Hephzibah was living at the GWR Offices in East Street where she worked as a servant and shared three rooms with Margaret Furey, the caretaker. By 1901 she had returned to her birthplace of Newbury and was living with her sister Thirza. Ten years later and she is back in Swindon living with her son at 13 Granville Street, where she died in 1914. She is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery, but not with her husband.

Frederick was buried on August 6, 1881. The service was conducted by Rev. Ponsonby. Frederick was buried in plot A140, a public or pauper’s grave. He lay there alone for more than 20 years. In 1902 Ann Bishop, a widow from 16 Stanley Street was buried in the same plot and in 1918 27-year-old Emily Annie Walklett of 188 Beatrice Street was also buried there.

Coming next …

Standing at the Graveside – They looked into each other’s eyes and saw the grief, but they did not speak.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog February 7, 2019




A Nice View

Radnor Street Cemetery
William Hooper photograph published courtesy of P.A. Williams

The re-imagined story …

“It’s going to be an expensive business, getting buried in the new cemetery.”

“Perhaps we ought to invest in a grave now, before the prices go up.”

“How big a plot were you thinking of buying?”

“Well, we ought to consider your parents.”

“Do we want a vault?”

“How much would that work out at?”

“It says here – For a Vault in perpetuity, to contain four corpses abreast, not exceeding 9ft deep £4 4s.”

“How much? I don’t think so.”

“What section shall we plump for?”

“There’s a nice view from the top of Section D. We could see our house from there as well.”

“That would cost another 21s.”

“What about a headstone? It says here ‘all inscriptions and plans of monuments, tablets, and stones, to be erected in the Cemetery or Chapels, to be submitted to the Board for its approval.’

“Oh, I’d like a pink granite one with fluted pillars and foliage tracery and maybe a verse from a hymn, or perhaps a bit of Shakespeare.”

“You’d better start saving up now then.”

“It’s going to be an expensive business, getting buried in the new cemetery.”

“Well I suppose they’ve got to pay for it somehow.”

The facts …

Swindon Cemetery

List of Fees proposed to be taken by the Burial Board.

On interment of any resident in either of the Local Board Districts in a common grave 5s

For a Vault in perpetuity, to contain four corpses abreast, not exceeding 9ft deep £4 4s

The like, three corpses abreast £3 3s

The like, two corpses abreast £2 2s

If more than 9ft. deep, per foot extra £1 1s

For a brick or boarded Grave, for one corpse only, not exceeding 9ft. deep £1 1s

For re-opening a Vault or Brick Grave 10s 6d

For interments in selected situations £1 1s

Entry in Register of vault or grave in perpetuity 2s 6d

Certificate thereof 2s 6d

For erecting a head-stone 15s

For erecting a foot-stone 3s 6d

For every additional inscription on any stone 10s 6d

For erecting or placing a coffin-shaped tomb, or flat stone, or stone or slate enclosure over the grave, not exceeding 18 inches high (without palisades) £1. 1s

For erecting any other Tomb or Stone, or Palisading only not exceeding 8ft. by 4ft. £2 2s

The like, not exceeding 10ft. by 8ft £4 4s

For enclosing any Tomb or Stone with palisades, any space not exceeding 8ft by 4ft. (extra) £1 1s

The like, not exceeding 8ft. square (extra) £2 2s

On erecting any mural monument in chapels, not exceeding 3ft. by 2ft. £10 10s

For an extra size, subject to an agreement

For Sexton’s Fees

For digging and filling in a common grave for any resident, his wife, or child 3s

The like for an out resident 8s

Every grave to be 6ft. deep, if above, per foot extra 5s

For digging, excavating, and levelling ground over a vault for two corpses, 9ft. deep, and attending burial £2 2s

For every additional corpse 7s

For filling up and turfing when required 2s

For tolling Chapel bell if required 1s

For tolling Chapel bell above one hour extra, and so on in proportion 1s

For Hand Hearse

For the use of a Hand Hearse (without attendants), at the burial of any resident, his wife, or child, time not exceeding one hour 2s 6d

For every additional period of time up to half an hour 1s

For searching register of burials, one year 1s

For every additional year 6d

For each certified copy of an entry therein 2s 6d

All walls of vaults to be nine inches thick and every wall between two vaults to be nine inches thick and every wall between two vaults to be a party wall. All damage to any boundary wall by making a vault or grave to be substantially repaired by the party causing the same.

All inscriptions and plans of monuments, tablets, and stones, to be erected in the Cemetery or Chapels, to be submitted to the Board for its approval.

On interment of non residents all fees and payments to be charged double.

By Order of the Board,

James Copleston Townsend, Clerk.

Any objection to the above mentioned Board Fees to be communicated to the Clerk to the Board, 42 Cricklade Street, Swindon, on or before Saturday, the 20th August instant.

Swindon Advertiser, Saturday, August 13, 1881


Coming next …

Frederick Gore – The Closing of the Churchyard – I bet there will be a good attendance for the funeral of Mr Gore.

published on Radnor Street Cemetery blog – January 31, 2019