Our Meetings

Swindon Society Meeting Review

Wednesday 11th October 2023

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Albert Beaney was born in Beatrice Street in 1914 and educated at Ferndale Secondary School. Upon leaving school, Albert entered the Swindon GWR Works before being called up to serve his two-year period of National Service with the RAF. On completion of his National Service, Albert and his wife, Joan, returned to his home in Beatrice Street and Albert went back to his trade as a French Polisher “inside”. When Albert was made redundant, he secured a job working for the Post Office where he stayed until the age of 60. His final job was at Square D where he stayed until he retired at 65. Albert left an amazing collection of images which were predominantly taken during the 40s, 50s and 60s. We know there are well over 40,000, possibly as many as 65,000. Today these images show us the social history of people and events in Swindon and the surrounding villages. This collection is jointly held by The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and The Swindon Society. Diane and Jennie brought part of the collection along to our meeting and the evening started early so that members had the chance to peruse the images for about 45 minutes prior to the presentation. Diane and Jennie started off with a photo of Albert and Joan outside their home in Beatrice Street. It was here that Albert kept his many books in which he recorded the details of all the photos he took and, with up to 65,000 photos in the collection, there must have been a lot of books! It's difficult to write a review on photos of people, mostly groups of children just playing in the street or at a park. However, Diane and Jennie have been collating these images for quite a time now and over the years they have been able to put names to some of the children in the pictures and some of those they have identified are members of our Society. Diane showed us some of those she knew, starting with her mum, Irene Bishop (who Bob Townsend pointed out to Diane when he was scanning in the images some years back), then Sandra Dowdeswell was pictured with her sister, and Tony Rudman with his sister in Beech Avenue. Sheila O’Connell was captured sitting in her highchair, looking very cute! and we also saw an image of John Hacker. We moved on to someone’s wedding, which looked as though it was held at St Barnabas Church in Gorse Hill. And that’s part of the fun with the Beaney images, even though you don’t know the people, you can guess where they were taken and look to see how the surroundings have changed over the years. It can be complicated when trying to identify locations though as Albert’s records show the addresses of where the children lived, not where he shot the photos, so even though we think we know the sites in the images these are not always correct. Consequently we are always glad to hear everyone else’s opinion to enable us to pinpoint more accurate locations. Back to the photos, we then went from a family in Beatrice Street to one of Mervyn Lay in Bright Street. Apparently, he had seen himself in this photo when he attended the presentation at Christ Church and requested a copy. As soon as he got it, he was so pleased that he posted it on his Facebook page the same evening! We then saw a group photo where someone was identified as Irish Pat, another with someone called McGinley and a lady who Diane knew to be Ann Challenger. The next image was of a little girl with a doll’s pram and Diane gave us something to think about when she asked, “Do you see doll’s prams these days?” Good question Diane. We saw some ladies at Fairlanes Bowling, two boys on a witch’s hat (a ride at a play park), a horse and cart in Beech Avenue, boys from either Ferndale or Moredon and a cycle track which showed Yorkshire Imperials in the background. The nostalgia continued with an image containing a push-along toy horse, some lads at All Saints Church in Ferndale, a boundary marker in someone’s garden and two little boys in one pram, possibly in Gorse Hill. Then more lads in Surrey Road and images taken in Harcourt Road and Hinton Street. I loved the next image of some little ones at a play park riding on one of those long rocking-horses that used to seat about six children all at the same time. Some of us thought maybe it was taken in Monkton Close in Park South. A few more names to add – there was the Wiseman Brothers in Leighton Avenue, and Bert Evans, then we were back to All Saints Church in Ferndale. Joy Stone in Ferndale was up next then Marylin Townsend (Bob’s sister) who lived in Cricklade Road followed by a Mavis at Cambria Bridge who I think Diane said was her friend. There was also a picture of Bob and his brother. Onwards then to Plaum’s Pit pool and Penhill pool and a hand-made cart, referred to as a bogie, in The Broadway. Next, we were shown a photo of the working girls of Compton’s Factory and another of a dancing Ann Challenger, then Barry Nash from Gorse Hill, Mr Cromer in Poplar Avenue and a building site, which some thought might have been Ripon Way... and that is what was also so good about the evening, everyone could add their thoughts and snippets of information as we went along. A man in his flat cap at a door numbered 75 was next, and another man who was Diane’s friend’s late husband. We travelled to Holly Close in Pinehurst, Harvey Grove, Ipswich Street and then a photo of George Hudson, the ex- Swindon Town goalkeeper who lived in Cornwall Avenue. Then Diane told us the story of how she and Bob found the artist Ken White on his hands and knees at Artsite when the collection was being exhibited there. He was searching through images trying to find himself, but to no avail. Later, Bob and Diane found an image of Ken, pictured with two others, and presented him with it as a surprise. Apparently, he was so delighted that it too appeared on Facebook that same evening! Jennie then took over proceedings starting with a baby in a pram in Hunters Grove and then a boy on a motor scooter. Albert Beaney’s son Trevor, who was with us in the audience, confirmed that this scooter belonged to his dad and was sometimes used as a prop. There are many images of children sitting on it in the collection. We moved on to an image in Ipswich Street taken in the 1970s (there are fewer from the 70s). Then a boy with a pigeon in Laburnum Road and a little boy or girl about two-years old in Little Avenue, before another scooter photo in Pembroke Gardens. Up next, a picture of what looked to be a sea cadet in Limes Avenue, then some football related photos in Buller Street, and Pinehurst. We then moved to Portal Avenue and an image showing the prefab houses in the background. Jennie then showed us a photo of her brother with a group of boys, taken in Sussex Square, Walcot. All the boys had an ice-lolly except him because he’d remembered he had been told not to accept things from strangers… what a good boy! We travelled again to Limes Avenue, Malvern Road, Montgomery Avenue and Mulberry Grove, where we saw two boys in wellies. There was also a birthday at Oak Tree Avenue and a boy with a fishing net in Pinehurst Road. We saw some girls on a settee at 4 Branksome Road, Moredon, and someone in a trouser suit at 61 Bourne Road. Then Dee Bedford recognised the person at 37 Bourne Road to be Suzy Horton. We saw some children on bogies, including twins, and a school group of girls from 60s. Back then to Moredon and the school, which is now demolished. Then there was a picture of four Brownies and a photo of a child on a skateboard wearing shorts, sunglasses and gloves all at the same time! Then three girls in a house in Pembroke Gardens (the sofa had caps to cover the arms which is something you don’t see these days), then we saw a photo of David Hempleman Adams in Bourne Road, a boy sitting on a wall by Clarks Chemist, a girl by the chip shop in Cheney Manor Road, and three boys with a small trike in Oak Tree Avenue. The next photo I loved. It was of a wedding outside the Registry Office which at that time was a converted house in Milton Road, in the photo was one of those old-fashioned litterbins with the wooden slats. My elder sister got married there when I was eight, and it reminded me of her wedding day. We finished up the evening with a visit to Pound Lane, a picture of Barry Odey in Cricklade Road, Kevin Weaver in Ferndale Road and a photo of Albert Beaney himself, taken by David Bedford. It is amazing to think that all the time Albert was working, whether “inside”, at the Post Office or at Square D, he continued with his hobby and produced this vast number of photos, not only taking them, but developing them too! Where on earth did he find the time? Thank you to Diane and Jennie for another excellent presentation. Angie Phillips - October 2023

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