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Swindon Society Meeting Review

UP ON NOB HILL - BY ANDY BINKS
Wednesday 10th September 2018


Gina

Andy started off the new season with his talk Up on Nob Hill. This was advertised as a nostalgic trip around Old Swindon via photographs with lots of fun and filled with fascinating facts. As usual with Andy’s presentations, he did not disappoint.

Swindon Hill is 500 feet above sea level and due to its strategic position and excellent water supply, it attracted settlement from the earliest times by the Romans and Saxons. The Saxons lived on the hill and named it Swine dun, meaning pig hill or where pigs were bred. Evidence has been found of a Chieftain’s longhouse; and a cluster of huts once stood where Saxon Court is today behind the Market Square.

Mention of Swindon was made in the Domesday book (1086). In 1066 Swindon was considered sufficiently valuable to be given to the King’s (William the Conqueror) half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, and 100 years later the Norman Church of Holy Rood was granted to Southwick Priory.

If you are planning an historical tour of Swindon, start at the ruined church of Holy Rood, where its chancel and gaunt six-sided pillars remain. If you are lucky enough to get into the churchyard you will see the gravestone of Swindon’s oldest person who died at the age of 117. Below the high churchyard wall, it is easy to see a great depression where the mill pond once fed the Domesday Mill. Unbelievable... a mill on a hill? But it is true!

The Goddard family were attracted by the lovely setting of the Lawns and built a fine 18th century house on the former site of a Tudor mansion. This was their home as Lords of the Manor from 1563 to 1927. Sadly, the house no longer remains, but there is still evidence of their habitation; the Italian Sunken Garden and the odd shaped brick building which was once the Ice House. The Goddard’s were the first in the area to make ice cream and sold it at fetes. People from the bottom of the hill came up to see what the Nobs on the hill ate.

Prosperity for both Swindon and the Goddard’s really came in the 17th century, mainly as a result of The Black Plague and The Great Fire of London. Plague closed the Highworth market which brought the trade of North Wiltshire to the Swindon market. Market day meant the town was busy with cattle and sheep being herded through the narrow streets. I can remember going to the market on a Monday during the school holidays with my Gran to collect a trays of eggs. These were then transported home on the back of her bike.

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire led to a new demand for Swindon stone – not for elegant churches, but for paving stones. The streets of London in the 18th century were not really paved with gold... but actually with Swindon stone.

Okay, history lesson over. Andy’s nostalgia carried on to Christ Church, where he was married, his barbers in Bath Road and where he once spent three hours waiting for a certain bus to pass in front of Victoria House (luckily there was still an open toilet nearby).

As I said previously, Andy did not disappoint and came up with the goods. Obviously, there is more to his talk than I have room to write here so, if you missed it, make sure you catch it next time. You won’t be disappointed!

Nicky Shackell - October 2018