The year is 1945, and people in Swindon’s Regent Street are doing all they can to shelter from the relentless rain. The poor light and number of people on the street suggest it’s late in the afternoon.

A neatly dressed mother and child, accompanied by a miserably wet dog, are walking briskly towards their destination, while to their left a cyclist is resigned to the downpour as he makes his way down the busy thoroughfare. His dress – including the flat cap which is enjoying a revival with us 21st century Britons today – suggests he may be heading away from, or to, a working shift, quite possibly “inside” the GWR works in the Railway Village.

His air of quiet resignation is understandable. These are people who have lived in the shadow of a world war for six years, and discomfort has long become a way of life. To the left of the picture, a couple of American soldiers getting into a car are a reminder that Swindon played host to thousands of GIs during the 1940s. Many were billeted in and around the town, as householders were instructed to offer them spare rooms. In 1943 Swindon Council had anticipated an influx of American soldiers and produced a booklet called America Gets Around: Starting From Swindon, which was intended as a guide to the area to make servicemen feel more at home in the town. Despite some initial culture shock on both sides, there are reports that many hosts and visitors built up very warm and cordial relationship,

But while this Regent Street snapshot depicts a day when the Second World War may be drawing to a close, or even have just ended, the residents of Swindon will experience the aftershock of it for many years yet to come. Many will have lost loved ones, but even for families untouched by loss there are years of hardship and deprivation ahead.

The following year, 1946, a long spell of rain will ruin the country’s wheat crop, and bread begins to be rationed. Then the hard winter of ‘46/’47 will be marked by frosts that destroy an enormous amount of Britain’s potato stock, which means they too will join the list of rationed food. Hard on the heels of this come a transport and dock strike which results in petrol rationing, and it won’t be until May 1949 that clothes rationing will end. It’s a reminder that our protagonists on Regent Street may have had to wear those garments for many a year after drying them out that evening,

The artist who captured this scene is Harold Dearden, who was born in Rochdale in 1888 but who had a huge impact on Swindon’s cultural landscape. Dearden studied at the Rochdale School of Art from 1905 to 1910, and then at the Royal College of Art, London, under Gerald Moira who became renowned for his murals. But Dearden then moved west, and eventually served as head of the Swindon Art School for over 30 years, during which time he helped found Swindon Artists Society. The positive effects of his decision to become a true Swindonian are still being felt by artists and art-lovers alike today.

This painting of his adopted home was acquired earlier this summer with the support of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and Wiltshire Council’s Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘Creative Wiltshire’.

n 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.

This feature is supported by Vox PR.