Portrait comes home to gallery

This Is Wiltshire: Brian and Mary Goddard, right, donate Ruby Matter’s portrait to Emma Cook, of Swindon Museum And Art Gallery Brian and Mary Goddard, right, donate Ruby Matter’s portrait to Emma Cook, of Swindon Museum And Art Gallery

A mysterious portrait of a Swindon College secretary produced by a local artist 74 years ago is to go on public display for the first time.

The depiction of Ruby Matter, who was 24 when she sat for the picture, has been donated to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery by her family.

Ruby’s son, Brian Goddard, now lives in Surrey but has handed over the painting, by local artist Hubert Cook, because of her links to the area.

Ruby was born in Swindon on June 15, 1914, to GWR worker Harry Matter and his wife, Marie.

She was youngest of four children. The family lived in Ferndale Road and Ruby attended the former Euclid Street School before becoming a secretary at Swindon College.

It was during this period that she met Cook, who also worked for the GWR before training as a fine artist, and agreed to the sitting, which took place in 1938.

But the relationship between the pair – and whether Cook had taken a shine to his subject – remains a mystery.

Mr Goddard, who delivered the painting in person last Thursday, said: “This is a Swindon woman and a Swindon artist.

“We know it is in its rightful place and will be looked after and conserved for years to come. We feel the painting has come back to where it belongs.”

Mr Goddard does not know how the painting came into the family’s possession but believes they would have been unlikely to have had funds to buy it.

The relationship between Cook and his mother is also a mystery, though it is assumed they were just friends.

In any event, he believes Ruby would have approved of the portrait becoming the latest addition to the Old Town museum.

Mr Goddard, 69, said: “My mother was a modest woman but she would have been flattered by the portrait going on public display.”

Two years after the sitting Ruby married Eddie Goddard and moved to Westbury.

Eddie’s jobs included working as an accountant and running a grocery store before becoming the vicar of three rural parishes in North Devon.

Ruby, who had taken a job in the office of a Bristol bookshop, settled down to life as the vicar's wife and church organist.

However, the pull of Swindon led to Eddie, an adventurous man, taking the unusual step of becoming minister of the Methodist Church in Purton, despite having been ordained in the Church of England.

The couple retired to Moredon and continued a long association with St Mary’s Church, in Rodbourne Cheney.

Ruby died in September 1992 and Eddie in September 2000.

Their ashes were buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, where a commemorative plaque beneath a tree by the church porch preserves their memory.

The portrait is set to go on display in the museum’s ‘pick of the month’ alcove in the last week of July.

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