Swindon's 160 greatest headline makers...part 2
Updated 4:33pm Thursday 31st July 2014 in By Barry Leighton
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.
We have broken the list down into ten parts and here is the second installment...
Bridgeman, Brian (1936-2003)
A former aircraft engineer at Vickers in South Marston, Brian was passionate about the history and heritage of the town where he lived all of his life.
A prolific author, he wrote several books about the town and, after helping to found the Swindon History Society in 1972, he was largely responsible for the group’s ever popular Swindon In OId Photographs series.
He further focused much of his research on “Swindon’s other railway” the Midland and South Western Junction, on which he published three volumes.
Briggs, Barry (1934-) MBE
New Zealand-born Briggo, as he was cheerfully known, was already a bona-fide star of speedway when he arrived at Swindon in 1964, having won the World Championship while riding for Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958.
Marking the birth of a golden era for the Robins, Briggs swiftly kick-started his World Championship form by scooping the title as a Swindon rider in 1964 and 1966.
He remains the only rider to have lifted the World Championship as a member of the Robins.
Briggo also created a towering domestic record by winning the British League Riders Championship in Robins colours for a staggering six consecutive seasons from 1965–1970.
A true Swindon sporting legend, he was awarded an MBE in 1973 for services to sport and was twice runner-up in BBC Television’s Sportsview Personality of the Year.
Brown Jack (1924-1948)
Few racehorses captured the public’s imagination more than the much-loved Brown Jack who was held in such esteem that his skeleton was for many years displayed in the Natural History Museum.
Jack was a sickly three-year-old when he arrived at Wroughton’s Barcelona Stables where he was restored to health with hot beer, eggs and whiskey.
Honed on a diet of cheese sandwiches, Jack had by 1933 won the historic Queen Alexandra Stakes at Ascot an incredible five times on the trot.
But old Jack was ten when the 1934 season began. Could he make it six on the bounce? The tension was such that trainer Ivor Anthony could not bear to watch the race.
Tears and beer flowed in equal measure around Wroughton, Ascot and indeed the whole country when Jack, in his emotion-charged 65th and final race, romped home by two lengths.
Bruce the Collecting Dog (1905-1914)
After a horse what else but a dog? During the decade preceding the start of World War One, a hound called Bruce became one of Swindon’s best loved personalities.
Bruce was owned by big-hearted GWR worker Arthur Beale of Nelson Street who saddled his furry friend with a collection box.
Together they walked the streets of Swindon and journeyed further afield by train, collecting cash for the needy including families of Titanic victims.
As a party trick that never ceased to amuse his patrons, Bruce gave a little bark every time a coin was dropped into the box.
He raised around £700 – the equivalent of more than £25,000 today. Bruce appeared on postcards, was awarded medals and a silver collar for his sterling efforts and was a member of the Brotherhood of Hero Dogs.
More than 60 years after his demise Bruce was commemorated in the Famous Swindonians mural in Prospect Place.
Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806-1859)
One of the most important men in the history of Swindon, the Great Western Railway’s chief engineer, all-round visionary and mechanical genius plotted the route of the London-Bristol railway to pass around a mile from the hilltop town that we know today as Old Town.
In league with his Locomotive Superintendent Daniel Gooch, they then decided to build the railway works on a swathe of infertile, marshy countryside near the foot of Swindon Hill.
The town’s railway station opened there in 1842 and the fledgling factory clanked into action on an adjoining spot the following year, sparking the growth of New Swindon and our still expanding town.
Brunel’s achievements were many during a relatively short career. In 2002 he was placed second behind Winston Churchill in a BBC public poll to determine the 100 Greatest Britons.
Bryan Tim (1959-)
Railway fanatic Tim has done more to promote Swindon’s long and illustrious railway heritage in recent decades than almost anyone else.
Becoming the Swindon Railway Museum’s assistant in 1983 he threw himself into the job, giving lectures, writing books and liaising with TV crews, the media and film-makers on the subject.
He was also one of the prime movers for the creation of the Steam museum of which he became collections manager and then general manager before moving on.
His many Swindon/GWR published works include North Star, Return To Swindon, Swindon’s Finest: A Locomotive Album and Swindon and the GWR.
Butt, Ray (1941-)
The driving force behind the local jazz scene, Ray has kept the genre alive and kicking in Swindon for 35 years.
Growing up in an environment of music evenings, Ray – who can trace musicians in his family to the early 1800s – became adept at clarinet, saxophone and keyboards.
Moving from Chilton near Didcot to Swindon in 1979 he formed Fretless & Friends – both a band in which he played, and an agency in which he organised gigs that helped perpetuate the local jazz scene.
During the 1990s he founded the Swindon Jazz Festival and was instrumental in launching the career of local jazz sensation Jamie Cullum – a fact the latter is always pleased to acknowledge.
Calderwood, John (1888-1960) CBE
A solicitor with long established local firm Townsends, Calderwood’s 38 years in local politics saw him at the heart of many important advances and initiatives in Swindon.
He played a prominent role in founding both Swindon’s library service and the town’s Arts Centre, while in 1932 formed the Swindon Council of Social Services, becoming its president until 1949.
As a Wroughton resident before moving to Swindon he was key to the construction of the village’s all-purpose Ellendune Centre.
Calderwood became Freeman of Swindon in 1950 and seven years later was awarded the CBE for services to local government. He died at 72 while in office as the chairman of Wiltshire county council.
Carpenter, Ernest (unknown)
Having already revived three ailing theatres, it was time for Ernest Carpenter to go one better and actually build one.
The Bristol-based theatrical entrepreneur chose Swindon where the 1,600 seat New Queen’s Theatre was imposingly erected at the junction of Groundwell Road and Victoria Road.
Opened in 1898 and re-named The Empire nine years later, it staged popular entertainment that included many top-flight acts of the day such as Laurel and Hardy, Max Miller, George Formby, Gracie Fields and homecoming queen Diana Dors.
After 57 years and around 2,500 productions the curtain fell on the cash-strapped venue in 1955. Thanks to Carpenter, however, Swindon was not entirely starved of stardust for the best part of six decades.
Carron, Arthur (1900-1967)
The son of a local grocer, he was blessed with a peach of a voice. Swindon born and raised Arthur Cox – later widely known under the stage name ‘Carron’ – became a world-renowned operatic tenor.
Young Arthur’s first concerts, aged 17, took place at the Methodist Hall in Clarence Street.
He went onto sing with the Cardiff Grand Opera Company before successfully auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
For several years he toured America before returning to the UK as a major international star to perform at Covent Garden.
Carron also recorded a number of popular gramophone records and after retiring assisted the newly-formed Swindon Amateur Light Operatic Society who regularly met in his Bath Road home.
Churchward, George (1857-1933) CBE
A giant of the Great Western Railway, it was the Churchward-designed locomotive City of Truro that in 1904 became the first engine in the world to haul a train at 100 miles per hour.
Arriving from Devon as a young draughtsman, he rapidly rose through the GWR ranks until landing the top job as Chief Mechanical Engineer, and introduced City, County and Star class engines.
Churchward was also in the vanguard of the campaign to amalgamate Old Swindon with New Swindon.
When the two finally merged in 1900 he became the first Mayor of Swindon. He died after being hit by one of his own locos on a misty day.
When the heart of the historic former railway works site was revived as a retail/commercial/cultural park in the Nineties it was named in Churchward’s honour.
Clarke, Reg (1920-2007)
So how does a man who fought at Dunkirk before seeing action in North Africa, Greece and Italy during World War Two come to be honoured by civic chiefs in Germany?
Witnessing the suffering of ordinary people while stationed in Germany at the end of the war inspired railway worker Reg, right, who lived in Pinehurst all his life, to heal rifts.
He and fellow borough councillor John Stevens in 1975 forged twinning links with the German town of Salzgitter, near Hamburg.
For the rest of his life Reg became the heart and soul of Swindon’s twinning association which saw him make 50 trips to Salzgitter.
He was the only foreigner awarded that town’s Stadt Medal, equivalent to making him a freeman. He later became a Freeman of Swindon.
Cockbill, Trevor (1930-1999)
Author, historian and campaigner, Trevor had an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and a passionate love for his home town.
A fourth generation Swindonian, he was one of the original instigators in the campaign to save the Mechanics Institute and have the grand old building returned to community use.
While the structure still remains vacant, Trevor’s unremitting efforts were at least partially rewarded when the Mechanics was in 1998 granted an all-important Grade II* status.
Trevor’s many diligently researched books on Swindon’s railway history include A Drift of Steam (1992) which shed fascinating light on the first residents – or “pioneers” as he called them – of New Swindon from the 1840s.
Collett, Charles (1871-1952) CBE
One of an elite band of men to have attained the premier position of Chief Mechanical Engineer at the GWR, Collett ran the show from 1922 to 1941.
Unlike his predecessors Joseph Armstrong and George Churchward, Collett appeared largely unconcerned with the social aspects of life outside of the railway works.
But during his tenure he developed some of the most famous classes of GWR locomotives including the Castle and Kings that pulled increasingly heavy express passenger trains.
He also experimented with diesel technology that would ultimately replace traditional steam locos.
Cook, Hubert (1901-1966)
Artist Hubert Cook’s acclaimed pieces capture an alien-like world of sparks, fire and machinery-in-action that were part of everyday life in the Swindon railway works during the early-to-mid 20th Century.
Born in Wroughton, Cook worked for many years as a machine operator at GWR while also finding time to attend Swindon School of Art.
Inspired to create graphic works such as A Welder in a Boiler Shop and Hot Metal Sawing, he later exhibited widely, including at the Royal Academy.
Specialising in lithographs but also painting in oils, he won a prestige medal at the Paris Salon and his works are today well represented in the much admired Swindon Collection.
- This feature is the serialisation of the souvenir supplement that appeared in the Adver on June 24. Limited copies are still available from our reception desk on a first come first served basis.
Comments are closed on this article.