BY the autumn of 1972 one of Swindon’s most iconic landmarks was five years from closure and six from demolition.

Congregations at the Baptist Tabernacle had been dwindling for some time. That, combined with the sheer expense of running the huge building, spelled its doom.

The many objectors included not just members of the public but VIPs such as famous art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, who once described Swindon as having many buildings but not much architecture.

Almost exactly 46 years ago another man with a title added his voice to the campaign.

Sir Geoffrey Tritton was a baronet and chairman of Wiltshire County Council’s planning committee, and had twice stood unsuccessfully as Swindon’s Liberal candidate in general elections. He also served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Wiltshire.

He wrote in a letter to the Adver: “All Swindonians must be familiar with the giant portico of the Baptist Tabernacle, which is such a prominent feature of Regent Circus.

“In spite of its date (1886) it is a very impressive building which is (to quote Professor Pevsner) ‘still remarkably classical.’

“I understand that the Baptist members and deacons intend to demolish the Tabernacle and to redevelop the site.

“If the building was in secular ownership it would undoubtedly be the subject of a preservation order but as it is in use for ecclesiastical purposes, the planning authorities have no power to intervene.”

Warming to his theme, Sir Geoffrey added: “I believe, Sir, that you and your readers will agree that the Tabernacle has possibly the most handsome and certainly the most impressive facade in Britain.

“Once it is realised that such an important reminder of Swindon’s past is in immediate danger of destruction, I hope that the overwhelming weight of public opinion will succeed in persuading the Baptist ministers and deacons to have second thoughts.”

The final service at the Tabernacle, on whose site the Pilgrim Centre now stands, was held on Sunday, July 3, 1977 at 6.30pm.

Although the demolition required - and was granted - permission by the Department of the Environment, some people criticised Baptist officials over their decision.

However, as at least one member of the church pointed out, those who urged that the Tabernacle be preserved did not offer to pay the cost of preservation.

The striking stone facade, as many Rewind readers will be aware, was carefully dismantled for future reconstruction elsewhere, although no site has been found.