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REMEMBER WHEN: What’s in a name?
4:17pm Friday 22nd March 2013 in News
IN this week’s Remember When we’re back at the start of what many proud Swindonians thought of as a dark age.
The old borough of Swindon, which had been created from the Old and New Towns in 1900, ceased to be on April 1, 1974.
A new borough took its place, one with new boundaries and a new name – Thamesdown – from which all mention of Swindon was dropped.
An ensuing campaign by disgruntled Swindonians to restore the old borough name would not bear fruit until local authority rules changed again exactly 13 years later.
All of this was the unknowable future back in March of 1974 when the old borough produced the final edition of its Civic News, The Monthly newspaper of the Swindon Borough Council and Highworth Rural District Council.
The 117th and final edition bore the headline ‘The Borough of Swindon 1900-1974’ and the tone couldn’t have been more funereal had the front page been edged in black.
There was a eulogy by visionary town clerk David Murray John, who wouldn’t live to see the end of the year, let alone the construction of the landmark building that bears his name. He was photographed for the piece, characteristically, with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
“The demise of the borough,” he wrote, “inevitably brings a feeling of sadness to many; those who have given in varied ways years of loyalty and conscientious service cannot but regret the passing of the corporate body of Swindon.
“There is also a deep feeling of disappointment, since the shape of local government which has emerged from reorganisation is very different from that which has been sought by the borough council for more than 20 years.”
Of all Murray John’s achievements, the greatest was probably diversifying the economy in readiness for the decline of the railway works.
Pages two and three of the newspaper covered this process and had photographs of buildings such as the Square D factory – since demolished – and the WHSmith building surrounded by grassland at Greenbridge.
Over the page was a photo spread headlined ‘Swindon Yesterday’, with classic old images including the Victoria Hill tram crash of 1906, Bruce the early 20th century fundraising dog and a visit by George V to the Cenotaph.
Other pages listed various council services. One headed The Public Health Department illustrated injections, lab analysis and the popularity of a style of spectacle frame associated with Olive, a character in an old sitcom called On the Buses.
Elsewhere were photographs of new council housing in Eldene, old council housing in the Railway Village, the newish shopping centre in Sussex Square, refuse wagons past and present, assorted schools and colleges, and interior shots of the Arts Centre, the Wyvern Theatre and the Museum and Art Gallery. Princess Margaret Hospital was described as one of the most modern in the country.
There were just five colour pictures, as colour was expensive and tricky to reproduce. They showed the Swindon and Thamesdown Coats of Arms, the town as seen from The Lawn, Fleming Way and Theatre Square.
The Theatre Square image depicts an early Swindonian stab at café culture, with beards and flared trousers much in evidence as couples dine al fresco outside a venue called The Pavilion Lounge Bar.