Friday, 22 March 2019

At a hundred yards...

I wasn't even looking, I swear. I was just walking past and something caught my eye; I thought 'something's not right there' and I had to turn back and look until I'd worked out what it was.
Proofreader woman. Never off duty. It's a blessing and a curse.

And yes, I am only too well aware that this blog is frequently very poorly proofread.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

A thought...

It occurred to me as I was walking to work today that thost three girls who starved to death in 1868 - Elizabeth, Mary, and Alice - were my great-great-aunts.

The same relation to me as Auntie Doreen is to Aurora.

Ninety-nine years separate Aurora and Doreen; 102 me and Alice. That's all.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019


William George Hale was born on the 5th March 1860, to Stephen and Bethia Hale. Stephen was an agricultural worker at Worton, near Devizes in Wiltshire, and William was one of nine children.
This extract from the 1871 census shows five of them: Henry, Charlotte, William, Jabez and Arthur. Ezra, who would have been 21, was presumably living elsewhere. Elizabeth, Mary and Alice had all died in 1868 - Elizabeth aged 14 and Mary aged 11 from consumption, and Alice, aged five, from 'marasmus' - severe malnutrition. Malnutrition of course probably contributed to the deaths of the other two girls as well.

The following year, William and one of his brothers - presumably Henry, who up to that point had been an agricultural worker like his father - walked the twenty-two miles to Swindon to get jobs on the railway.

William was indentured, at the age of twelve and three-quarters, as an apprentice boilermaker.

These rather poor photocopies are from the Great Western Railway Loco and Carriage Dept Register of Apprentices' Indentures. Unlike some (who 'absconded' or were transferred elsewhere), William served his full seven year apprenticeship, seeing his daily wage rise from 10d in the first year to a respectable 3 shillings in the seventh - more, no doubt, than his parents could have dreamed of.

Having completed his apprenticeship in Swindon, somehow William ended up living in South London, married at twenty (in 1880) to a woman eight years his senior. Before long, however, he was back in Swindon, as the 1901 census shows:
 - he and/or Annie still lying about their relative ages as they did when they got married - and working as a 'Rivetter (Iron) G.W.R.' Someone - possibly my father - has added 'boiler' above this. Son George (George William, or William George Stephen - take your pick, but he was known as George) was at that point, aged fourteen, working as a grocer's assistant.

But by 1911, he was a 'plateworker' in the Swindon works, while his father, by now aged fifty-one, and with only another eleven years to live, was working as a frame builder in the wagon department. I guess boilermaking is a young man's game.
I don't have a date for this photo, but this is William in his Sunday best.

George, meanwhile, carried on working for GWR and in or around 1915 (family legend has it) was on a works trip to Jersey when he met one Irma LeLuan, a woman of his own not very tender age of thirty. Undeterred by the fact that she spoke no English, but only Jersey French, they married in 1916 and settled in Swindon, where she lived until her death in 1985 at the age of 99. That's my Grandma, and the only one of the characters in this story so far that I met.
Here's George in around 1921, with Auntie Doreen
And in 1947. He died in 1958 so I never met him.

Hence my interest in the boilermaking shop at the museum. Although both William and George may have spent much - even most - of their working lives in other jobs at the GWR Swindon Works, it seems pretty clear that they were both, at one time or another, boilermakers - a dirty, dangerous, high-pressured (no pun intended), highly-skilled and above all, deafening, job - and that's something I'm quite proud of.
It may of course also explain my love of rivets.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Waggons roll

I enjoyed this display of a part-built wooden carriage in the waggon workshop. One of my ancestors was listed in one census as a waggon builder...  what he - and my other GWR forebear did primarily we'll come to tomorrow.

Monday, 18 March 2019


For that, sadly, is what the Great Western Railway Museum now feels it has to call itself, which is a bit misleading really, as they don't actually have any real live steam.

It's nine pounds something to get in, which makes it considerably less good value than the National Railway Museum in York, which has a lot more stuff and is free. But that's a national collection, and as such rightfully subsidised by the taxpayer, whereas Swindon's still very significant collection has to pay its way for the local authority. It's moved since I was last there, and now shares a site with an outlet shopping village, or shopping outlet village or whatever the right term is. I should not in fact be sniffy about this, as having arrived a little early for the museum, I killed a happy half hour buying four Monsoon blouses for fifty quid. Not since I worked in Portsmouth has such an opportunity presented itself. The only problem now is that I can't find any skirts I like to go with them - skirts seem to have seriously gone out of fashion - and am reduced to attempting to make one. That, however, is another story.

I do like a recreated room, and I wanted to move into this office.
Then there was the stores...
But no man in a brown coat.
There were plenty of tableaux, big photos, and artfully arranged objets, but not much detail; not much hard history - it's very much a museum in the new mould now and I did feel I would have enjoyed it more if I had been a school party.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Streets of Swindon

The morning after Auntie Doreen's birthday bash, I was determined to visit the GWR museum (now - clearly far more enticingly - called 'STEAM!'), so after Sebastian, Izzi and Rory had departed in the car, I took a slow stroll through a cold by fantastically sunny, quiet Sunday morning in a twon I'd not visited for probably twenty years (at which point I should probably note that cousin Janice doesn't quite live in Swindon, but in nearly Wootton Bassett).

There were some beautiful bits, and some breathtaking ones.

The sheer size of the Works, one building going on forever. Apologies for the stark shadows in the low morning sun.

Somewhere in the works, there is regeneration going on. There was a sign in the window, the usual optimism about craft spaces and cafes. There wasn't much sign of life, but it was a Sunday.
And the streets were deserted.
Still evidence aplenty that this was a company town.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Station to Station

It's a long time since I last visited Swindon, and I look at things differently now. For a town that should be so proud of its railway heritage it has allowed some awful things to befall it.

Auntie Doreen has lived in Swindon all her life. Until she was the age I am now, the sight of the main GWR station would have been recognisable from this rather earlier photo:
Not a flamboyant building, but dignified, and with gravitas.

So of course in 1972 they knocked it down and built this:
Which I'm sure looked nice and shiny for a while, but most assuredly doesn't now.

What I hadn't realised was that until 1961, Swindon had two stations: this one, Swindon Junction, on the Great Western line, and then also Swindon Town, which belonged to the Midland and South Western Junction Railway.