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Festival brings local history to life
HUNDREDS of people, young and old, expanded their knowledge of the town’s history after flocking to the Alfred Williams History Fair.
The event, held at the Steam Museum, saw dozens of local history groups come together to bring Swindon’s background to a wider audience and celebrate the life and work of South Marston writer Alfred Williams, who worked as a hammerman in the GWR.
Graham Carter, the vice-chairman of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, said the event had been a huge success after organisers secured a £35,000 grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund.
“The reason this all started was because no one had ever really heard of Alfred before,” he said.
“But he was a bit of a hero to us, a bit of an inspiration and we thought we should do something to remember his name.
“We have had some very good feedback, people from the Lottery Heritage Fund came down and were very impressed – they insisted that we didn’t charge people to come along because it should be a community event.
“All the groups we have here know each other, but sometimes people just need an excuse to get together in the same room.”
A number of illustrated talks were given throughout the day, with themes ranging from Swindon Men In The First World War, the Life Of Alfred Williams and Alfred Williams’ Folksong Legacy.
Exhibitors included the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, Wiltshire Folk Arts, The Swindon Society, The Wilts and Berks Canal Trust and The Empire Theatre.
Jo Clark, the chairman of the Highworth Historical Society, said the event had stirred up a lot of interest in local people.
She said: “We have had a lot of interest in the society – from people who no longer live in Highworth but family members do and they want to get in touch, to people who want to join the group.
“It has been really great, and I have some information which I can feed back to a man in Australia whose ancestors come from here, which will be lovely.”
Musicians and actors from across the town took to the stage on both Friday and Saturday night to a full house as they performed The Hammerman, a musical about Alfred Williams’ life.
The show, written by GWH consultant surgeon John Cullimore, was a huge success, with more than 500 people turning up each night.
John said: “It has taken me about three years to write, and then I managed to find Graham who also had an interest in Alfred Williams.
“I am pleased with how well it has gone, compared to what it was like 24 hours before the performance, everyone really sharpened up their act on the night.”
For more information visit the website which can be found at www.