RESIDENTS of a Swindon tower block counted themselves lucky to be alive this week in 1968.

Exactly half a century ago, dozens of people living in Seagry Court in Penhill were awoken in the middle of the night by what must have sounded like the end of the world.

As mentioned in a previous edition of Rewind, winds recorded at up to 56mph tore huge pieces of asphalt, large metal fittings and even a lightning conductor from the top of the 11-storey block.

The debris rained down on the parking area below, badly damaging two cars and all but cutting a Mini van in half.

There were no casualties but 10th floor resident Gwen Ashton came close when a large lump of asphalt smashed through her bedroom window and two smaller ones landed on her pillow.

We noted that the block’s hilltop position on the edge of the estate left it vulnerable to strong winds coming from the direction of Bristol.

“Two rows of houses,” we added, “built at right angles to the edge of the hill on either side of the flats, tend to act as a funnel, directing the wind towards the building.”

Housing-related news of an entirely cheerier kind came from Covingham.

We said: “The key to the last of 212 houses built at Covingham Park, Stratton St Margaret, at a cost of £600,000, was handed over to the Mayor of Swindon, Ald HG Lewis, today.”

The Alderman promptly passed them on to a couple and their infant daughter. An Adver photographer was on hand to record the moving-in ceremony in Foxbridge Road, which was also attended by Colonel JR Marriott, head of the building firm given the Covingham contract.

“It was,” we said in a story the next day, “a fairy tale come true for Mr and Mrs James Coleman.

“Three years ago they were living in London, where there was a 12-year waiting list for council houses.

“They saved desperately to buy a house of their own but prices kept soaring.

“Then they moved to Swindon and were given a council house straight away. They heard, too, that the council was planning to build houses for sale.

“More saving and yesterday the dream of a home of their own became a reality.”

The Colemans moved in the day before Mr Coleman’s 38th birthday, and were presented with a bottle of champagne by the council as a house-warming gift.

Another house in the news was a Swindon garage owner and gifted amateur rally driver Bill House, who had harsh words for the organisers of the Monte Carlo Rally.

He had hoped to take part in the world famous event, in which competitors set off from various parts of Europe and race to reach Monte Carlo in the shortest time, but was thwarted by a series of administrative hold-ups.

By the time his official racing plates were issued, it was too late for him to prepare for the event.

He said: “I’m not only disappointed – I’m seething.

“The Monte Carlo organisation is chaotic if not practically non-existent. I don’t think they are interested in private entrants.”

Also less than happy was an Adver reporter called Hugh Clayton, who was sent by a pitiless newsdesk to get up close and personal with a serpent in Purton.

A local man, Mr TC King, found what was described as a young grass snake in his rockery. Youthful it may have been, but our photo suggests it was at least two feet long.

Before releasing the reptile, which seemed to have come out of hibernation early, Mr King put it in a box for safekeeping and called the Adver.

Our reporter wrote: “Although I know grass snakes are harmless, I felt quite a few qualms about lifting it out to pose for a photograph. But after a few moments it grew quite affectionate and started to curl its tail around my hand.

“Apart from its preliminary lashing movements and hissing it seemed a very subdued reptile, and has probably gained its evil reputation from its menacing expression and confusion with the adder.”

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra visited Swindon that week to perform for senior school pupils at the Methodist Central Hall.

The venue, as older readers will recall, stood in Clarence Street and was known for its distinctive dome.

Images of its interior are hard to come by, but we ran one showing the orchestra in action.

The hall was sold by the church a couple of years later and within a few years more it was used to store goods collected by a charity.

On the night of Wednesday, May 4, 1977, the hall was gutted by a fire whose cause was never established. The remains stood for a few years before being removed.

On the night of the blaze, the nearby Youth Enterprise Hall had been due to host a gig by rising punk band The Clash, who were forced to decamp to The Affair in Theatre Square instead.

Lead singer Joe Strummer famously marked the occasion by changing the title of classic song London’s Burning to Swindon’s Burning.