Swindon's 160 greatest headline makers...part 10
TO celebrate the Adver’s 160th anniversary this year we present a Swindon Roll of Honour comprising 160 headline makers from the history of our town.
Here you will find those whose work and achievements have helped raise the standing and profile of both the town and the borough, or who have striven to improve the lives of ordinary folk.
It includes the greats of industry, commerce and technology along with those who have gained prominence through sport, arts, culture and media.
We have attempted to cut through the strata of Swindon life to include some of the town’s many colourful characters…along with two horses, a dog and one or two who have brought infamy crashing down upon us.
Our 160 Headline Makers were agonisingly whittled down from around 200 contenders.
There are some who perhaps should have made the list but have not, having either fallen under the radar or who have not, for one reason or another, received the recognition they have deserved. If you feel we have missed someone who warrants inclusion please let us know and we will gladly look at their case and include them in a follow-up article.
Email: leightonbarry@ ymail.com or write to 160 Headline Makers, Swindon Advertiser, 100 Victoria Road, Swindon, SN1 3BE
We now complete the list with the final part in our series of ten...
TANNER, MOLLIE (1927- )
From the garage of her home in Ferndale Road, Mollie launched a school for performing arts that continues to thrive today – 70 years on.
It was 1944 when Mollie Woodcock, 16, directed a group of young dancers for a street party to celebrate Victory in Japan Day. The evergreen “Miss Mollie,” as she is popularly known, has not looked back since.
Well over 20,000 youngsters have learnt to sing and dance at Swindon’s nationally recognised Tanwood School of Performing Arts.
Her pupils have included Diana Dors, Catherine Zeta Jones and “proud ex Tanwood boy” Marin Harvey who became Principal of the Royal Ballet.
Mollie’s girls and boys have graced top West End musicals including Annie, 42nd Street, Moulin Rouge, Fame and Les Miserables.
Over the years performances by the Tanwood dancers have also raised countless thousands for charity.
THOMAS, JAMES (1874-1949)
The illegitimate son of a domestic servant, Jimmy Thomas worked for the GWR in Newport where his high profile union activities prompted the company to in 1899 shunt him to the Swindon Works.
Away from his Welsh powerbase, he was confined to working long hours cut off from the main Swindon factory in the marshalling yard.
That did not discourage Thomas from pursuing his campaign for ordinary folk and in 1910 the “firebrand champion of the worker” was elected a Swindon councillor.
Four years later, aged 30, the humble Swindon GWR worker became the youngest ever President of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.
He left Swindon for a career in politics which saw him become MP for Derby.
TOOMER, JOHN (1824-1882)
Setting up a depot near Swindon station in 1849/1850, merchant John Toomer founded what is today the town’s third longest standing business, after Arkells (1843) and Deacon’s (1848).
Dealing in coal, coke, slate, lime and salt, Toomer became Swindon’s foremost merchant of the era.
When he died aged 57 he had established depots allied to rail delivery points in Swindon, Chiseldon, Highworth and others across Wiltshire.
From rail points the goods were transported by horse and cart, leading John Toomer & Sons to venture into the sale of hay and animal feed.
As the use of electricity and gas gained prominence the family-run firm ditched its previous mainstay of coal and focused on animal feed before expanding into garden and pet supplies which continue to hold it in good stead today.
TOWNSEND, WILLIAM (1903-1982) and BOB (1941- )
Sporting history was made at the County Ground on March 19, 1921. But the large crowd of spectators were not there for football.
It was the first ever race organised by the newly formed Swindon Athletic Club and the three-miler was won by 17 year-old William ‘Art’ Townsend.
For the rest of his life Art became a mainstay of the club – as a competitor, coach, manager, chairman and committee member. He was still president when he died at 79.
Art’s son Bob, above, almost literally followed in his father’s running steps, becoming a leading county competitor before progressing to the roles his father had fulfilled.
Bob was president when the club amalgamated with Swindon Road Runners to form Swindon Harriers in 1996. It was often joked that Swindon AC should have been called Townsend AC.
TROLLOPE, JOHN (1943- ) MBE
A true sporting legend, Trollope holds the record for the number of league appearances for one football club – 770 games between 1960 and 1980.
John Trollope made his Swindon Town debut at 17 in August 1960 in a 1-1 draw against Halifax and only missed two matches that season.
At one stage in a remarkable career Trollope played 368 consecutive games for Town, which finally came to an end when he broke his arm against Hartlepool in August 1968.
It put him out of action for much of Swindon’s triumphant League Cup winning season but he returned in time to share the spoils in the historic 3-1 Wembley win over Arsenal.
After 16 appearances in 1978-79 Trollope hung up his boots but was lured back to action enabling him to break the 764 game appearance record held by Portsmouth’s Jimmy Dickinson.
Over subsequent years he has held numerous posts at the County Ground including manager, assistant manager and youth team coach.
TURNER, THOMAS (1839-1911)
The rapid growth of the railway works during the latter half of the 19th Century sparked an urgent need for new homes, shops and schools to accommodate the influx of workers and their families.
As such a constant supply of bricks was required which saw at least 20 Swindon brickworks spring up around town.
Thomas Turner remains the best known of Swindon’s ‘brick-bakers’ after establishing in the 1870s a quarry and kilns complex off Drove Road in what is now Queen’s Park.
To advertise his diverse and decorative range of bricks and terra cotta products, he erected a number of eye-catching show houses which, with fairy tale-like patterns and giant acorns, are still much appreciated and photographed today.
Tapping into the Kimmeridge clay, his bricks – like others in the vicinity – were distinctively red, earning Swindon the moniker ‘redbrick town.’
TURVEY, MR (circa 1755-1850)
The hill-top market town of Swindon (population around 1,400) celebrated the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo – the 200th anniversary of which is next year – with peals of bells from the now long derelict Holy Rood church.
But one Swindonian had special reason to hold his head high – a one-time schoolteacher called Turvey who is said to have fought at Waterloo.
From the scant evidence available, Mr Turvey – we don’t know his first name – would have been 60 when he took to the field against Napoleon’s battle hardened bluecoats.
He lived, apparently, to be 95. We know this because it was recorded by “Swindon’s first historian,” the Advertiser’s founder William Morris, who was born 12 years after one of Europe’s most defining battles.
WAINWRIGHT, DAVID (1929- ) and VERA (1928-1991)
David and Vera Wainwright were not only Swindon schoolteachers, they were also the mainstays of countless light operatic performances from the late 1950s.
The singers were members of the Swindon Amateur Light Operatic Society (SALOS) and then Swindon Opera before forming Stage Struck in 1983. The music theatre group aimed to give talented youngsters the chance to perform in public.
Meanwhile Vera (nee Bennett) had become well known for her performances with singing partner Michael Chivers.
After Vera’s death from cancer at 63, David – who was head of Covingham Junior School for 21 years – carried on with Stage Struck until stepping down as director in 2000. The group continues to thrive today.
WALTERS, BRYN (1941- )/PHILLIPS, BERNARD (1948- )
They said we had no history but for well over 40 years Swindon-based archaeologists Walters and Phillips have done more than anyone else to prove them wrong.
As Swindon experienced massive growth from the 1960s precious Roman remains were destroyed by builders – but at least Bryn, above, and Bernard were on hand to record such finds before knowledge of them vanished.
As far back as 1969 Bryn had alerted the public to the destruction and looting of one of Wiltshire’s largest Roman villas at Badbury near Swindon during the construction of the M4.
Bernard has worked assiduously over the decades to piece together the story of Swindon’s Roman town of Durocornovium, between Wanborough and Covingham.
Both were there in 1996 to uncover, photograph and record the sprawling, enigmatic Roman complex and its artefacts at Abbey Meads, which led to the site being bought from developers for £1 million and thus prevented from destruction.
WATSON, DAVID (19th Century)
Politician Norman Tebitt famously urged the unemployed to get on their bikes to look for work but David Watson didn’t have a bike so he walked 500 miles from his native Aberdeen to Swindon for a job at the new GWR factory.
Arriving presumably sore-footed around 1846 he attained employment at the works before setting out to become one of the town’s first and most vociferous trade union leaders.
Watson was well aware that GWR boss Daniel Gooch heartily disliked the emerging union movement.
But as Trevor Cockbill wrote in his book A Drift of Steam: “He had the temerity, on more than one occasion, to contradict Sir Daniel Gooch in public.”
His “radical persuasions,” and determination to push for better conditions for the GWR workforce aligned him with William Morris, the Advertiser’s founder, who also championed the working man.
WEBB, RICHARD (1948-1989)
In 1986 old school Swindon bobby Richard Webb was in hospital paralysed down one side after surgeons removed 80 per cent of a tumour from his brain.
Father-of-two Richard’s response was to help provide Swindon with a body scanner – a machine that gives early and accurate diagnosis in cases of cancer, head injury and child illness.
In 18 months the appeal raised more than £200,000. Added to cash from an official campaign – which Richard also went on to spearhead – it was enough to acquire a life-saving, £1 million scanner. In March 1988 and by then severely ill, Richard unveiled at Princess Margaret Hospital the machine that over the next few years helped save many lives.
At his funeral in January 1989 vicar of Covingham the Rev Brian Pearce said: “No words on my account can describe the effect he had on the community and people’s lives.”
WHIPLASH, MISS (1952- )
Most of those who appear in this supplement have brought pride and esteem to the town. Marian June Akin, who grew up in Swindon, has a different claim to fame.
Running away to London in her teens she changed her name to Lindi St Clair and made a successful living (acquiring yellow Rolls Royce, yacht etc) as the infamous Miss Whiplash.
A high profile madam and dominatrix, her lavish brothels were for nearly 20 years frequented by British and international politicians and aristocrats.
But in 1992 she went bankrupt after being pursued amidst a blaze of publicity by the Inland Revenue.
St Clair stood 11 times for for Parliament on behalf of the Corrective Party which campaigned for prostitutes’ rights. In 2009 she was said to have embraced Christianity after
surviving a near fatal car crash.
WHITE, KEN (1943- )
Ken could have made this tally of Swindon headline makers twice over; as one of the country’s premier muralists and an artist whose paintings have immortalised everyday scenes at the town’s long gone railway works.
Before enrolling at Swindon Art School Ken was a sign writer at the British Rail complex which, years later, prompted him to create a series of evocative paintings based on the working practices he witnessed there.
He was also largely responsible for a number of striking public murals that appeared around Swindon during the 1970s and 1980s.
Sadly only one example remains – the landmark Golden Lion Bridge which he refurbishes every few years.
Ken’s work came to the attention of Virgin boss Richard Branson for whom he undertook many high-profile commissions, ranging from expansive murals in the UK, Europe and the States to the Virgin Atlantic ‘Flying Lady’ logo.
WILISDON, CHARLOTTE (1817-1896)
In an unmarked grave in Swindon’s Radnor Street Cemetery lies Charlotte Wilisdon, one of Florence Nightingale’s hardy angels.
When the Crimean War broke out in 1854 reports reached Britain of terrible suffering through disease and an atrocious lack of medical care for our soldiers.
Superintendent of the Female Nurses, Nightingale was despatched to the military hospital in Scutari near Constantinople and Charlotte, from Abingdon, was among a group of nurses who joined her.
The nursing care Charlotte helped provide led to a dramatic improvement in the survival rate of wounded soldiers.
In a letter Nightingale described her as “a kind, active, useful nurse and a strict sober woman.”
Just over a year later Charlotte was invalided home and later moved to Swindon to live with her daughter.
WILLIAMS, ALFRED (1877-1930)
A remarkable man, carpenter’s son Williams grew up in poverty and spent 23 years, from the age of 14 in the hot, grimy and physically testing environs of the Great Western Railway’s stamping shop, mostly operating a steam-hammer.
He had a passion for literature and despite long working hours – and a daily walk to work from South Marston – managed to teach himself Latin, Greek and French.
In 1909 Williams published his first book of poems, Songs in Wiltshire, five years before being forced to leave GWR through ill-health.
He went on to produce many volumes of poetry but is best remembered for the seminal book Life in a Railway Factory, recounting the harsh conditions inside “the works.”
It has been described as “undisputed as the most important literary work ever produced in Swindon, about Swindon.” A heritage society today celebrates the life and works of Williams, who is known as The Hammerman Poet.
WILLIAMS, DANNY (1924- )
No nonsense Yorkshireman Danny Williams was the architect behind the greatest day in the history of Swindon Town FC – the 1969 League Cup Final victory over Arsenal.
Williams spent his entire playing career with Rotherham United, making 621 appearances at either left half or inside forward between 1945 and 1960.
After managing Rotherham he came to Swindon in 1965, rebuilding a team that had been relegated the previous season.
His Swindon sides gained a reputation for beating higher league opposition, on one occasion hammering Bobby Moore’s West Ham 3-1 at the County Ground.
Williams’ Swindon became only the second Third Division side to lift a trophy at Wembley with the historic 3-1 win over the Gunners.
WILMOT, JOHN (1647-1680)
John Wilmot – 2nd Earl of Rochester – brought shame and embarrassment crashing down upon his ancestral home of Lydiard House.
The grandson of High Sheriff of Wiltshire John St John, and son of the Puritanical Anne St John, Wilmot became the infamous Rake of the Restoration. He was one of the most dissolute, reckless and cocksure members of Charles II’s Merry Gang, a group of debauched royal courtiers who led the king through the bawdy houses of London.
Contemporary critic Samuel Johnson said that Wilmot “lived a worthless life” and “blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness.”
Dying at just 33 from venereal disease, he was played by Johnny Depp in the 2004 film The Libertine.
“This is pop” sang XTC in 1978. And pretty good they were at it, too.
They emerged during the new wave/punk era but had far too much nous and pop sensibility to be lumped in with the majority of bands from that genre.
The original line up of Andy Partridge (guitar/vocals), Colin Moulding (bass/vocals), Terry Chambers (drums) and Barry Andrews (keyboards) recorded two albums for Virgin Records.
Three UK Top 20 hits singles followed (Making Plans for Nigel, Sgt Rock and Senses Working Overtime) after guitarist Dave Gregory replaced Andrews.
Over the years XTC – unquestionably Swindon’s most successful pop group – acquired fans and cult status throughout world. They continue to be revered as a result of a succession of enduringly excellent albums such as English Settlement (1982), Skylarking (1986), Nonsuch (1992), Apple Venus Volume 1 (1999) and Wasp Star – Apple Venus Volume 2 (2000).
- We would like to thank authors of the following publications which were used to help compile this supplement: The Swindon Book by Mark Child, A Drift of Steam by Trevor Cockbill, A Swindon Retrospective 1855-1930 by Frederick Large, Swindon Heritage Magazine… and of course 160 years of Swindon Advertisers.
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