Last week we asked if readers could shed any light on the life of the person who left money in their will to enable the gallery to buy the painting titled The Dead Tree in 1955. We knew that one S B Cole left £300 in his will to the development of the art collection, who was S B Cole?

Thanks to some diligent readers, we now know that he was Mr Samuel Barrett Cole, a Swindon tailor and draper. An entry in The London Gazette on December 28th, 1906 refers to him as living at “Westlecott-road, Swindon”, but his business - S.B. Cole and Co., Tailors – was sited at 5/6 Regent Street, where apparently he sold particularly fine gloves! He is recorded as having died in Bournemouth on 18 February 1951.

Which leads us neatly into this week’s photograph.

Likely to have been taken in the late 1950s, this is a window display at one of Swindon’s most famous stores, McIlroys. It is an entry in a national window dressing competition, the Daily Mail Show and Sell competition, featuring fabrics by an English company called Sylmira. The prices, in “old money” of course, ranged between roughly 10p and 15p a yard.

A purpose-built department store, it was also located on Regent Street, on the site now occupied by Flannels, and was a grand building, with a large clock and striking glass frontage.

McIlroys in Swindon was actually the first store opened by Irish draper William McIlroy in 1875. He and his brothers grew the McIlroy business rapidly, and eventually owned 22 department stores across the country.

The 1930s and 1940s were probably McIlroys’ finest decades, with the addition of a fabulous ballroom that was fitted out with chandeliers and panelling from the cruise liner Mauritania, and with a sweeping staircase that did justice to the beautiful ballgowns the store was renowned for.

But McIlroys also had something for everyone. Whether you wanted silk lingerie or simply a yard of knicker elastic, you could buy it there. And the ballroom became legendary in its own right for the, well, legends who performed there. Local bombshell Diana Dors was a regular, and a boy band called The Beatles even managed to squeeze the Swindon venue into one of the 1962 tours.

During the 1950s the McIlroys business floundered somewhat, but the Swindon store managed to struggle on, although the famous clock tower had to be taken down in the 1960s as it was deemed unsafe. But changing High Street habits, as ever, meant that eventually it was out with the old, as other bigger national chains began to populate the town. On 13 January 1998, the store that many considered the flagship of Swindon’s town centre closed for good.

You can find out more about Swindon’s story at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4.30pm.

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