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Swindon's 160 greatest headline makers...part 1
TO celebrate the Adver’s 160th anniversary this year we present a Swindon Roll of Honour comprising 160 headline makers from the history of our town.
Here you will find those whose work and achievements have helped raise the standing and profile of both the town and the borough, or who have striven to improve the lives of ordinary folk.
It includes the greats of industry, commerce and technology along with those who have gained prominence through sport, arts, culture and media.
We have attempted to cut through the strata of Swindon life to include some of the town’s many colourful characters…along with two horses, a dog and one or two who have brought infamy crashing down upon us.
We have broken the list down into ten parts, each feauturing 16 leading lights. Enjoy the first chapter...
Addison, Christopher (1869-1951)
Known as “the father of the council house”, Addison was Swindon’s first Labour MP, serving the town for two periods, 1929/31 and 1934/35.
A GP-turned-MP, he became one of the era’s great social reformers after witnessing atrocious London housing conditions and the damaging health effects on occupants.
The future 1st Viscount Addison published a pivotal book The Betrayal of the Slums that linked poor housing with poor health.
As Health Minister he introduced 1919 legislation under which the state built low rent homes for the working class, including Pinehurst in the town he would later represent.
Eminent historian AJP Taylor wrote “He, more than anyone else, established the principle that housing was a social service.”
Anderson, Bob (1947-)
“I was worried all through it – you can’t afford to relax for a moment,” said The Limestone Cowboy, reflecting on the greatest day of his sporting career.
Bob Anderson brought the biggest trophy in darts home to Swindon after clinching the Embassy World Championship in January, 1988.
Anderson, who retired to Somerset in 2002, beat John Lowe in the final at Frimley Green, Surrey.
He led from the start and held off Lowe during a tense 105 minutes to win by six sets to four.
He also became the first man to win three World Masters on the trot, from 1986-1988.
Ardiles, Ossie (1952-)
The World Cup-winning Argentinian midfielder, in his first job as a manager, spent less than two years at the County Ground, from 1989-1991, but his impact was immense.
Ardiles converted Town’s long ball game into an attractive, pass-and-go “samba style” of football.
Ten months after his arrival Ossie led Swindon to their highest ever position, fourth in the old Division Two.
After making the play-off final he was rewarded with a “ticker tape” reception that replicated Argentina’s 1978 World Cup triumph in which he starred.
Swindon memorably beat Sunderland 1-0 at Wembley to the reach the top flight for the first time only for the promotion to be cruelly snatched away for irregular payments that had nothing to with Ossie’s time in charge.
Arkell, John (1802-1881)
Having founded a town that still bears his name in Ontario, Kempsford-born farmer’s son John Arkell returned to the UK in 1833 after deciding that life in Canada was not for him.
Becoming a farmer in Stratton St Margaret, ‘Honest John’ grew barley and brewed his own beer as a sideline.
A few miles away, however, the railway town of New Swindon was emerging. And what did thirsty railway workers require after a tough day of sweat and grime? Beer, of course.
He built a brewery – which he later replaced with a larger one – and established a dynasty that still thrives today.
Steadfastly independent, family-run Arkells is Swindon’s longest surviving company with 170 years of brewing under its belt and around 100 pubs to its name.
Armitage, David (1937-) Bem and Wendy (1938-)
For years hundreds of Swindon kidney patients faced regular 60-mile plus trips to Oxford for vital dialysis treatment.
Wiltshire Health Authority couldn’t afford one, so in June 1997 the Adver launched a £160,000 campaign to provide Swindon with a much needed kidney unit.
Step forward long term kidney patient David Armitage and wife Wendy of the Swindon Kidney Patients Association who magnificently fronted our campaign.
Rover worker David had already been awarded the British Empire Medal for raising cash for Swindon kidney patients while Wendy became an indomitable force in the push for funds for that all important facility.
The kidney unit opened in January 2000, marking the end of the time consuming and often exhausting trek to Oxford.
Armstrong, Joseph (1816-1877)
One of the great names of the GWR – and thus, of Swindon – Armstrong took charge of “the works” from 1864-1877 during its early rapid expansion.
As well as designing and overseeing the introduction of new locos and rolling stock he became heavily involved in the wellbeing of the company’s 13,000 employees and their families.
He strove to improve virtually all aspects of life in fast growing New Swindon, from the population’s educational, cultural and medical needs to social issues and its water supply.
The creation of Faringdon Road Park as an area of relaxation and recreation was largely his doing.
Such was the esteem in which he was held, 6,000 people crammed into St Mark's churchyard for his funeral.
Attwood, Carleton (1908-1985)
Profoundly deaf, Attwood largely lived in a world of his own as he invariably refused to switch on his hearing aid. From these silent confines he became a sculptor of national repute.
As a boy he used clay from the back-garden of the family home in Goddard Avenue to create sculptures in the greenhouse.
Studying at Swindon College, he fashioned a well-known bust, from a life sitting, of “people’s champion” Reuben George.
A sundial at Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne’s house is among many of his works found around the UK.
He taught at Swindon College, was involved with Thamesdown Community Arts but is best known here for the town centre’s affable Golden Lion and Toothill’s guardian angels The Watchers.
Ausden, Kenneth (1924-2009)
Returning to Swindon after serving in Italy during World War Two, Ausden achieved renown as an ornamental gardener, picking up a string of national prizes.
It was as a playwright that he made his name; two of his plays, Full Time and A Town Growing Up, were broadcast by the BBC in the Seventies.
A stage play set in Swindon, A Full Head of Steam, was one of the first performed at the newly-opened Wyvern Theatre in 1972, running for 11 days.
One of Ausden’s two books, Up the Crossing (1981) – a fictionalised account of growing up in Swindon in the Thirties – was serialised on BBC Woman’s Hour.
Backhouse, Dave (1933-2001)
He was as passionate about local history and heritage as he was about real ale – so he combined them in a publication that is unique, enduring and a fine read.
Home Brewed, A History of Breweries and Public Houses in the Swindon Area (1984, revised in 1992) followed years of dogged research that often involved delving into centuries-old deeds of properties that once sold alcohol.
The publication preserves forever the stories behind dozens of long-gone taverns such as The Whale, The Rhinoceros, The Red Cow… and three pubs called The Oddfellows.
Knowledge of these bastions of social history would have vanished but for this huge labour of love.
Dave also founded the still thriving Swindon branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and instigated (in 1976) the still thriving Swindon Beer Festival.
Baily, Rev Henry (1816-1900)
The Old Lady on the Hill stands proud and erect at the apex of Old Town. The Rev Henry Baily was the driving force behind its existence.
When he became Vicar of Swindon at 31 in 1847 it was obvious that ancient Holy Rood in The Lawns could not meet the demands of a growing population.
Stumping up £500 of his own cash he launched a public appeal that netted £5,000 – enough to start the construction of Christ Church.
A further £3,000 was later raised enabling the church to be consecrated in November, 1851.
The Rev Baily was buried in its churchyard while Holy Rood, first referred to in 1154, is Swindon’s oldest above ground structure.
Beauchamp, Margaret (1409-1482)
Margaret Beauchamp of Lydiard House had an interesting great grandson – Henry VIII.
She was 11 when she inherited the Lydiard estate during the tumultuous War of the Roses.
Her daughter Margaret Beaufort became the mother of the future Henry VII, the first Tudor King.
Anyone gripped by the BBC’s historical drama The White Queen will know Margaret Beaufort as the Red Queen.
Beauchamp brought wealth, power, prestige and a royal ancestry to the St John family of Lydiard House. Her portrait can be found in St Mary’s Church next to the mansion.
Beaney, Albert (1913-2009)
Beaney discovered a novel way of supplementing his income while working in jobs ranging from French polisher at GWR to postman.
He spent his spare time taking photographs of children and teenagers as they larked around the streets, parks and wastelands of Swindon.
He taped up the images in his front window and sold the photos to the children’s parents.
Traipsing the streets with his trusty camera, he became a well-known figure around town. They were more innocent times. Such an initiative could never happen today.
Over nearly four decades, from 1937 to the early 1970s, Beaney took an estimated 40,000 black and white “moment in time” snaps, leaving a unique picture archive that will forever be treasured.
Beard, Edward (1878-1982)
At one time he was known as “the man who built Swindon.” The company he founded in 1897, five years after embarking on his career in construction at 14, certainly built much of it.
EW Beard – later EW Beard & Sons and now simply Beard – was in the right place at the right time as Swindon experienced whirlwind expansion.
The company portfolio includes the now demolished Garrard factory, Immanuel Church in Upham Road and St Joseph’s, Lawn, Penhill and Churchfields schools along with countless houses.
Beard was a workaholic who continued to put in a shift until his 100th birthday. The award-winning company that bears his name continues to prosper.
Bird, Denis (1923-2001)
For nearly 60 years photographer/historian Denis Bird charted Swindon’s changing architecture and its people.
When he died at 78 he left 30,000 prints, negatives and slides including many award-winning images.
Local historian Brian Bridgeman said: “His perceptive camera often managed to produce truly artistic views of the most unpromising subjects such as the demolition of old buildings and somehow convey the sadness of the act.”
A founder member of the Swindon Society and for many years president of the Swindon Camera Cub, Denis published several books including the series Old Photographs of Swindon.
His enduring legacy has been described as “an invaluable archive for the people of Swindon for the future.”
Bown, Alfred (1897-1982) OBE
Alf Bown has been dubbed “the spiritual father of Swindon’s expansion.”
In the Fifties he led the Labour-run town council when it made the controversial decision to invite industry and people to head for Swindon, opening a new era of growth and prosperity to offset the wane of the town’s railway industry.
A life-long railway worker, Bown – a man “of humble origins” – was a councillor from 1946 to 1973. He was awarded the OBE and became a Freeman of the Borough for his efforts on behalf of the people of Swindon.
At his funeral the Rev George Hand said: “Because of the vision of men like Alf Bown this town has grown the way it has instead of stagnating and declining.”
Braid, Alexander (1814-1899)
A dour Scot, Braid became the first headmaster of the first schools built by the Great Western Railway company in New Swindon in the 1840s.
He played a key role in the educational and social requirements of the town emerging around the GWR, becoming the first secretary of the New Mechanics Institution which housed the community library.
In 1850 he was one of the prime movers in the scheme to launch a Co-operative Society in Swindon, becoming its first secretary.
Described as a “revered if not the best loved figure in New Swindon,” he took part in the first of many “people’s penny readings” at the Mechanics, the proceeds from which helped fund a four-bed hospital.
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