Our Meetings

Swindon Society Meeting Review

Wednesday 10th April 2019

Darryl Moody - April 2019

It’s been a number of years since we’ve had a talk from the Local Studies staff based at Central Library, but Darryl knows the Society and its members well, so gave us exactly what we really like – lots of photos and illustrations of our town. There were plenty of pictures that had not been seen widely before, accompanied by some very interesting stories.

Darryl began with a quick explanation of what Local Studies’ purpose is and welcomed any members that hadn’t previously visited to go and have a look at what they have available. Illustrating this point was a letter from Harold Joliffe, Chief Librarian for Swindon in 1960 asking for donations; these became the foundations of the Local Studies collection.

There were some really interesting tidbits of information that accompanied Darryl’s pictures, but several anecdotes particularly stood out.

  • Harry Stanley Fairclough, musical director of the Swindon Musical Society who bought world-class Russian opera to Swindon and Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Arts Centre.

  • Rumours behind the house in Hyde Road built right out to the road and bearing the engraving Ebenezer, as a reminder of an illegitimate child.

  • Sailors upon the ship the Black Prince, which went down with all hands in the Battle of Jutland during WW1. The barrel that the sailors were photographed with bore the legend Rake Daddy Rake (from the famous Moonrakers postcard), which seems to indicate that the sailors were Wiltshire/Swindon men, all of whom likely perished onboard.

And as for the Moonrakers postcard itself - a bit of detective work during the Dixon-Attwell project found that it was taken from a painting which hung in the Reading Room of the Mechanics Institute by W.T. Hemsley, a forgotten Swindonian who was actually the foremost theatrical scenic painter of his era.

Probably the most intriguing part of the talk though was Darryl’s recounting of the legend of the Coleshill House stone baby, which involved spies, a travel agent, a house fire and a lithopedion (baby which calcifies in the womb) found in a chimney breast. I know I’d read a book about that strange tale.

There’s much more that could be said about all the images we were shown, but Darryl rounded up the talk almost back where it started - the activities of Local Studies, and more specifically the books they have published and those which are in the pipeline. I think I can safely say we’re all looking forward to reading them when they go on sale. Thanks again to Darryl for such an entertaining evening.

Kelly Blake - April 2019