Swindon: Local government and public services

Pages 133-141

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 9. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.

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As suggested above it appears likely that during the 13th century one of the medieval lords of Swindon may have deliberately encouraged urban growth there by granting his men the right to hold a market. (fn. 1) Nothing is known of any organ of local government formed as a result of this encouragement. But in the 17th century there was still an area of the manor recognized as the borough which had a constable, two 'carnarii', and an aletaster, and sent a tithingman to the manorial court. The manors of East and West Swindon were also represented by tithingmen at the Goddards' court, but it is clear that by 1644, when its surviving records begin, the court had little power. Presentments of nuisances of cottages built on waste, of the lack of pillory and stocks, and of broken assizes of bread and ale, continue for numbers of years unamended, and the court seems to have been active only in the regulation of agricultural practice. (fn. 2) After 1780 it was held only every four years. It was last summoned in 1864. (fn. 3)

From the few records that survive it is clear that by the late 17th century the vestry was the only effective organ of local government within the parish. It seems, in intention at least, to have been also fairly democratic, for it was ruled that certain important parish matters could only be dealt with by the majority of parishioners at monthly meetings held after Sunday evening prayer. (fn. 4) Only with the consent of the majority at these meetings could paupers be accepted for relief; the cost of all work for the church had to be estimated and approved by the same meeting and its consent was necessary before any churchwarden could remain in office for more than a year. At the same time it was ruled that all parish officers should submit accounts, that expenses at times of visitations should not exceed £1, and that wayfarers should not be given relief.

Almost all that is known about the parish officers in the 17th century is that they were chosen from among the more substantial parishioners. In 1674 there were 46 parishioners qualified by their means to serve in person or by proxy. (fn. 5) Of these 46 16 were in West Swindon and the borough, 14 in Eastcott, 10 in Nethercott, and 6 in Walcot—the four tithings into which the parish was divided certainly for rating, and possibly for other administrative purposes. The elective parish offices were those of constable, churchwarden, overseer of the poor, surveyor of the highways, assessor, and rate-collector. (fn. 6)

Overseers' accounts for 1669–70 and churchwardens' accounts for 1692–3 survive. (fn. 7) In that period the overseers spent £54 on the poor, disbursing a little over £2 every fortnight to 21 or 22 persons in sums ranging from 2s. 6d. to 3d. a person. The churchwardens, besides accounting for money spent upon the maintenance of the church and its services, assisted cases of unusual distress where relief from the overseers was inappropriate. (fn. 8)

For the years 1733–1824 a vestry minute book and, with some gaps, accounts of churchwardens, overseers, and surveyors of the highways survive. (fn. 9) By the time the minutes begin the vestry only met with any regularity to appoint the parish officers; every December it nominated those fit for election as surveyors of the highways, and every April it elected two churchwardens and two overseers. Meetings were held at other times to deal with important parish matters, which lay beyond the scope of the parish officers' duties. These meetings, however, seem to have decreased in frequency, the parish officers presumably assuming more responsibility for the conduct of parish affairs.

Next to appointing the officers the vestry's chief concern was poor relief. In the exceptionally severe winters of 1739 and 1768 it augmented the overseers' ordinary payments. (fn. 10) In 1755 it ordered that all paupers should wear the letters S.P. on the right shoulder of their coats. It had to repeat the order ten years later. (fn. 11)

In the later 18th century the vestry was forced to provide more adequate relief. A third overseer was elected in 1761 (fn. 12) but the number of these officers was later reduced to two again. In 1786, however, a salaried assistant overseer was appointed, although it seems only temporarily. (fn. 13) In 1795 the churchwardens and overseers were authorized to sell flour to the poor at a subsidized rate of 5s. a bushel, the loss being made good from the poor rates. (fn. 14) The following year a full-time salaried overseer was appointed. (fn. 15) Besides managing the poor, the overseer was to conduct the making and selling of bread and ale for them, and a qualified person was employed by the parish to assist and instruct him in bread-making. (fn. 16)

In 1705 the church-house served as a dwelling for a few paupers in receipt of parish relief. But that year it was leased to one of the Goddards and converted into a market-house. (fn. 17) In 1767 the vestry decided to build a workhouse. It was to be 80 ft. by 20 ft. and it was hoped to borrow the money required for the building. (fn. 18) How and when the money was eventually raised is not known, but a workhouse was built, which in the mid 19th century was described as an 'old brick building' standing at the corner of the road to the quarries, now (1964) Springfield Road. (fn. 19) It was demolished in 1864 and had then recently been occupied by a few poor families. (fn. 20)

Land for a pest-house in West Swindon Field was given by Ambrose Goddard in 1753. The vestry then authorized the churchwardens and overseers to spend £100 on its building. (fn. 21) Precisely when it was built is not known, but it appears on a map of 1773. (fn. 22) A decision to build a blind-house at the corner of Short Hedge and the Sands was taken in 1762. (fn. 23)

A surgeon and apothecary to care for the poor was appointed by the vestry in 1827. His salary was to include attendance, medicines, fractures, and midwifery cases. (fn. 24)

The approach of a new era in local government was heralded in 1850 by the arrival of an inspector from the Board of Health to enquire into the sanitary condition of Swindon. (fn. 25) He came in response to a petition signed by 162 people, including the lord of the manor, the vicar, and the Wesleyan and Independent ministers, but a more numerously attended public meeting had already passed resolutions objecting to the parish being put under the provisions of the Public Health Act. He concurred with local feeling in agreeing that Old and New Swindon could not be united, and since at that time the new town was still a somewhat loosely-knit community, largely run by the G.W.R., confined his attention to the old. He found Old Swindon governed by the vestry and its officers and also, for the one purpose only, by an elected body of nine gas inspectors, three of whom retired annually. They raised rates charged on an area 200 yards beyond the furthest lamps, and paid the Swindon Gas Company to light and maintain 45 lamps situated in all parts of the town except Little London and Britannia Place. He was pleased by the general appearance of Swindon; the streets were well scavenged and lighted, in good repair, and named, and there were many large and handsome old houses. There were, however, no sewers. Some covered drains took house refuse and the washings of three slaughterhouses to pits and ditches outside the town, which soon became offensive; some, at the bottom of Victoria and Albert Streets, were very near dwelling-houses. The sewage of most houses went into cesspools called dry wells. In better houses they were covered and emptied at intervals, but those of poorer people were open and very offensive. Seepage from them caused all the wells in the town to be more or less contaminated, while the public water supply at the church pond was dirty. In these circumstances the inspector recommended the immediate application of the Act to the old town, and the provision of sewerage and water supply. (fn. 26)

In spite of this the Act was not adopted by either town until 1864 when, it has been suggested, both feared inclusion in a rural sanitary district. (fn. 27) The history of the two boards of health then appointed, and the urban district councils which succeeded them in 1894 can be traced here separately, beginning with that of New Swindon. (fn. 28) The board there consisted of twelve members from its first election until 1895, when the number was increased to 30. The board's area covered 974 a. Clerk, surveyor, inspector of nuisances, and treasurer, all part time, were appointed, and a seal depicting a locomotive with the motto 'Ferra cuncta moventur' was adopted. The first question to receive the board's attention was that of public lighting. The G.W.R. properties in the town had long been lit by gas, but previous proposals to have public lighting had met with strong opposition. In 1864, however, the members of the Free Christian Church subscribed for a lamp to be placed by the Golden Lion Bridge, and, shamed into action, the board contracted with the New Swindon Gas Company for 25 lamps to be put in Westcott Place, Bridge Street, and Eastcott Hill. (fn. 29) This company, established in 1863, had that year opened another gas works in Queen Street. (fn. 30) The extension and supervision of the town's gas lighting remained a regular function of the board. The board also exerted its control over the town streets, other than those repaired by turnpike commissioners; continual attention was given to making builders of new roads make them up to a certain standard, and to providing lengths of footpath in frequented places. It is clear, nevertheless, that the pavements of the town still remained in a bad state in the 1880s. In 1880 the board refused to consider a general paving, in spite of many protests. In 1868 the streets were ordered to be named and the houses numbered, and street-watering was begun. The first road sign in Swindon was no doubt the 'Danger' board at the top of Prospect Hill which the Swindon Amateur Bicycle Club were authorized to put up in 1883.

The great preoccupation of the board was, however, with sewerage and sewage disposal. After a committee had enquired into the sanitary state of the district, the board began to lay sewers in 1866; these merely ran out of the town into ditches, for in 1870 the owner of an estate in Rodbourne Cheney complained of the pollution of the River Ray by sewage. The board immediately decided to buy a farm of 108 a. in Rodbourne Cheney for £7,750 and laid it out as a sewage farm, and in 1871 new and more adequate sewers were laid in the town. A further action for river pollution was begun in 1872, and large sums were spent on trying to make the farm more efficient. For a time the works were regarded as complete, but more pollution led to further extensive works in the town to separate the surface water from the sewage and so prevent the farm from being deluged. The board managed the farm, apparently not with great success, through a bailiff, and questions of agriculture and schemes to make the farm absorb more sewage occupied much of its time.

The board was long unwilling to meddle with other public schemes. Water supply was left to private initiative. The Swindon Water Company (after 1872 called the Swindon Waterworks Company) was formed in 1857, although its waterworks at Wroughton were not begun until 1866. (fn. 31) A first attempt to bring piped water from Wroughton failed in 1867 when pipes leading to the G.W.R. cottages in New Swindon burst. (fn. 32) At first the relations between the board and the company were limited to bickering over the laying of pipes in roads, but in the 1880s the board regularly used its powers to make landlords give their tenants a proper supply. In 1894 the works were taken over by a joint water board of the Old and New Swindon Local Boards under the Swindon Water Act. (fn. 33) A scheme to take over the New Swindon Gas Works failed in 1885–6.

The board's reluctance to concern itself with road improvements, particularly with the improvements to the canal bridges and on Eastcott Hill, has been mentioned above. (fn. 34) The Eastcott Hill schemes, and the idea of a new road to the bottom of Victoria Street, involved a measure of co-operation with the Old Swindon Board, which could not be faced. In 1878 delegates from both boards agreed on a scheme to appoint a joint surveyor, but New Swindon refused to ratify it. The first signs of successful co-operation came in the matter of fire precautions. The board had entered into an agreement with the water company at its formation for the supply of water to extinguish fires, and in 1869 it bought four lengths of hose. The railway company was relied upon for engines; in 1870 it introduced a powerful steam fire-engine which was made available in the town. (fn. 35) The scheme which involved the Old Swindon Board was inaugurated two years later when each board contributed to the cost of maintaining a private telegraph line from the manager's house to the works at Wroughton, so that the supply could be turned on in case of fire at night. In 1880 the boards agreed to build a joint fire station in Victoria Street (later Road).

More important instances of co-operation came in the field of public health. The earliest arrangements in New Swindon were made by the railway when the G.W.R. Medical Fund Society was founded in 1847. (fn. 36) In 1853 an outbreak of typhus saw the company active in cleansing the town, and in 1860 baths were provided, first at the Mechanics' Institute and then behind the 'Barracks'. (fn. 37) Public arrangements began in 1871 when the local board appointed a paid medical officer of health. At the end of the year there was a small-pox epidemic, and the two boards joined to build an isolation hospital at a site in Okus Great Field, on which the pesthouse had stood for at least a century. (fn. 38) In 1873 New Swindon refused to join with neighbouring sanitary authorities in appointing a full-time medical officer of health. In 1877 the first public urinals were placed at the station, Faringdon Road, and the Golden Lion Bridge, but in 1881 the board declined to build a public slaughterhouse. Some trouble was experienced because of the nearness of the town streets to agricultural land, and the board often had to take action against offensive ditches and overhanging trees. Towards the end of the century the canals, rapidly falling into disuse, became a nuisance through pollution. In spite of this the board opposed their closure in 1874, and its successor, the U.D.C., again did so in 1897 because it feared the loss of the towpaths as highways. (fn. 39)

The Victoria Hospital in Okus Road was built and supported by subscription in 1887–8 to the design of W. H. Read on land given by A. L. Goddard. It was extended in 1894. (fn. 40) The two boards were more concerned with the provision of better accommodation for the treatment of infectious diseases. In 1888 the old hospital in Okus Field was dismantled because the boards quarrelled over it; the New Swindon Board rented a house called the Firs at Wroughton, thereby causing a public protest meeting in the village, and received patients from Old Swindon by arrangement. (fn. 41) In 1892 the boards joined with the Highworth R.D. in building a new isolation hospital at Gorse Hill, designed by H. J. Hamp.

In 1891 the New Swindon Board built its new offices in Regent Circus on a site strategically situated between the centres of Old and New Swindon. This was a brick building with stone dressings 'in a vaguely 17th-century Dutch style', designed by Brightwen Binyon of Ipswich, (fn. 42) and later known as the Town Hall.

Towards the end of the century the boards had to co-operate in other projects. The question of a town cemetery first came to the fore in 1869, when nothing was done. In 1876, when the vestry proposed providing one for Old Swindon, one member pointed out that a joint one would be more satisfactory. (fn. 43) A public meeting in New Swindon immediately supported the idea of a burial board but the vestry disliked it, apparently on the grounds that accommodation would be provided for dissenters, and a poll of the parish was called for. This aroused violent controversy about whether the expenses of the poll could be paid for out of the poor rate or the district rate, and in these quarrels and in a new debating point over the necessity of a school board, the original proposal seems to have disappeared. (fn. 44) Four years later the matter was raised again by the Old Swindon Board, and discussed in a friendly way with the New Swindon Board. (fn. 45) The matter came to a head when St. Mark's burial ground had to be closed in 1881; the two boards agreed on action in spite of the opposition of the Vicar of St. Mark's, (fn. 46) and a burial board was set up and the cemetery off Clifton Street laid out.

The history of the Swindon School Board is dealt with below. It included many members of both local boards, and provided a good example of how one authority could work successfully in both districts. Among other activities of the New Swindon Board, and of the urban district council which replaced it in 1894, may be mentioned the provision of allotments, begun on the Rodbourne sewage farm in 1887, and of open spaces. The first of the latter had been provided by the G.W.R. near St. Mark's church as early as 1844. (fn. 47) In 1889 the local board bought the Rodbourne recreation ground, and the U.D.C. provided other sites at Birch Street, Edinburgh Street, and Cambria Bridge Road in 1898–9.

In contrast with that of New Swindon Old Swindon Local Board had a stormy history. In 1866 the Swindon Advertiser wrote that 'the manner in which the first local board was elected . . . is a notoriety—a greater farce was never enacted in this or any other town, the election being nominally with the ratepayers, but in reality managed by one or two individuals'. It went on to comment on the very high rate, 2s. 3d. in the £ compared with 1s. 3d. in New Swindon, and alleged that even then it was dissipated in extravagant salaries and office expenses. (fn. 48) The board's earliest efforts were here, as in New Swindon, directed to sewerage and sewage disposal. In 1866 A. L. Goddard let to the board two areas each of 30 a. lying north and south of the town to be laid out for receiving sewage, and sewers were made in the town. In 1871, however, Goddard took advantage of a stipulation in the lease to withdraw the land to the north on the ground that it was a nuisance, and offered part of Broome Farm instead. (fn. 49) The expense of taking all the sewage through or round Swindon Hill prompted the board to reject this, but after failing to buy some of the Stratton St. Margaret glebe, they were forced to take 142 a. at Broome on a 21-year lease at £357 a year. At the same time they were granted a lease of a spring in the Wroughton road for flushing the new sewers, which they then began to construct. Even before this the local board had been the target of the Swindon Advertiser, which repeatedly complained of its failure to deal adequately with sanitary matters, and of the flippancy with which its proceedings were conducted. Now the management of the sewage farm and the losses in which it involved the board brought regular attacks. In 1872 its accounts were said to be much confused, and in 1877 a Ratepayers' Protection Association was formed and demanded a judicial enquiry into its affairs. (fn. 50) A year later the Advertiser delivered its most tremendous denunciation, not sparing New Swindon either. 'The parish was manoeuvred into its local boards in the first outset, and the ratepayers have been the victims of a series of manoeuvres ever since', wrote William Morris; 'for a succession of bungles, muddles and disappointments there has been nothing to compare with the history of our local boards'. (fn. 51) In 1882, however, the Advertiser reverted to its usual line of comparing the high rates of Old Swindon with the much lower ones in the new town, although it admitted that things were better than they had been. The ratepayers could feel relief and hope, (fn. 52) but were to beware of Stone and Sammes, two protagonists, who constituted a rowdy and unbusinesslike element. (fn. 53) In 1884 Stone and his 'myrmidons' allied themselves with the lord of the manor in a dispute with the board over an obstruction of the highway, but in the upshot Goddard pleaded guilty at Salisbury Assizes. (fn. 54) The following year Stone and his party were defeated, to the Advertiser's great delight. (fn. 55) In its late years, however, the Old Swindon Board showed more activity in performing its functions. Some instances have been mentioned above in the provision of hospital accommodation, water supply, and a cemetery. In 1894 it provided the Town Gardens, a recreation ground of 7 a. on the site of quarries in Okus Field. (fn. 56)

Swindon boundary extensions

The idea that it would be better to have one local authority for the two towns was first put forward in the 1870s. The occasion was the difficulty of setting up a burial board, because the areas of the two local boards added together did not make the whole parish, so that neither board nor poor rates could fairly be used. (fn. 57) This was because the tithings of Broome and Walcot were not in either area, but were reckoned part of the rural sanitary area. Between 1857 and 1862 a series of lawsuits had established that Walcot was not liable to parish highway rates, (fn. 58) so that the parish was under three authorities for sanitation and highways, but only one for education and poor relief. In 1878 William Morris wrote optimistically that old jealousies were dying out, and the prejudices of a former day giving way to friendly feeling, and forecast that incorporation must come soon. (fn. 59) In fact it was not until the 1890s that amalgamation seemed at all likely, and even then the Old Swindon Council was very loth to agree. When it was finally won over, some voices in New Swindon had qualms that its change of heart was due to its bad drainage, poor roads, and high rates. The physical junction of the two towns had brought some disputes over the boundary between the districts, and the joint authorities which had been created for public purposes posed many financial problems, and led to suspicions that one district was paying for the other. (fn. 60) A county council enquiry on amalgamation in 1893–4 came to nothing, but in 1897 the question of the incorporation of the two districts as a borough was first put forward. The idea immediately gained much support in the town and won over the Old Swindon Council. A government enquiry revealed no considerable opposition, and a charter to take effect from 9 November 1900 was granted. (fn. 61)

The new borough consisted of the entire ancient parish and the added districts of Even Swindon and Gorse Hill, a total of 4,246 a. It was divided into six wards each returning six councillors and there were twelve aldermen, one of whom was mayor. (fn. 62) The same six wards existed in 1965. The offices built by the New Swindon Local Board in 1891 in Regent Circus became the offices of the corporation. (fn. 63) A consolidation agreement was made with the county council for policing the newly created borough by the county police force. (fn. 64) A separate magistracy for Swindon was obtained in 1906. (fn. 65) In 1962 a separate court of Quarter Sessions was granted. (fn. 66)

Until after the First World War there was but little relationship between national party politics and the affairs of the borough council. From the time of the creation of the New Town Local Board in 1864 rival groups existed, but these represented local interests rather than national party divisions. The G.W.R. was naturally strongly represented and a minority opposition soon arose. The nonconformist churches, too, which had a strong following in the town in the later 19th century, put up their own candidates. Before the end of the century candidates were also sponsored by both the Conservative Party and the Swindon and District Trades Council, which soon after its formation in 1891 revealed an affinity with the Independent Labour Party. But in so far as there was any party division during the first eighteen years of the borough council's history, this followed the national pattern of Conservative versus Liberal, without either obtruding unduly. A Labour Party group appeared on the council in c. 1919 and to oppose this the older parties combined to form the Citizens' League. The League lasted but a short time and thereafter the issue was a clear-cut one between Labour and Independent. In the late 1920s Labour almost gained control of the council but thereafter its influence declined for a time and it did not succeed until 1945. In 1965 Labour still controlled the council. (fn. 67)

The early years of the corporation were marked by great vigour in providing new amenities and improving existing ones. The old water supply from Wroughton was augmented by new works at Ogbourne St. George built in 1903. Already in 1895 the New Swindon U.D.C. had obtained an Electric Lighting Order, and in 1903 an electricity works was opened in Corporation Street on the site of Lower Eastcott Farm. In 1911 a new cemetery was laid out in Whitworth Road. (fn. 68) The idea of tramways in Swindon had first been considered in 1883, when steam was suggested as the motive power. An ambitious scheme was put forward soon after incorporation, providing for two routes between Old and New Swindon, and four routes to the borough boundary, a total of 8 miles. In fact the system as opened in 1904 amounted to 3 miles 5 furlongs, along which ran 9 vehicles operated by an overhead trolley system. From a centre at the junction of Fleet and Bridge Streets routes ran to the Square in Old Swindon, to Gorse Hill, and to Rodbourne Road. (fn. 69) In 1927 a few motor buses were introduced to supplement the 13 trams then operating, and two years later the tramway services were entirely replaced by 38 buses. (fn. 70) In 1964 the town's bus services were still being operated by the Swindon Corporation Transport Undertaking.

In 1919 the borough council began work on its first housing estate at Pinehurst, to the north of the town. (fn. 71) Between this date and 1925 some 932 council dwellings were built, almost all on this one estate. (fn. 72) The boundary extensions of 1928 brought increased responsibilities for the council. (fn. 73) The period between the World Wars thus saw a steady expansion of the town, calling for numerous additions and improvements to the public utilities and services.

By 1925 the electricity generating station in Manchester Road had reached full capacity, and the corporation decided to supplement supply by building a new power station at Moredon, just within the borough boundary. (fn. 74) This was opened in 1929. (fn. 75) In 1936 the Moredon station became a selected station for the Central Electricity Board. (fn. 76) No new supply of water for Swindon had been added since the opening of the pumping plant at Ogbourne St. George in 1903. (fn. 77) In 1931 the first bore hole was sunk at Latton and three years later the waterworks there were opened. (fn. 78)

The period between the World Wars also saw some additions to the town's amenities. In 1914, in connexion with their promotion of a Canal Abandonment Act, the corporation acquired Coate Water and about 80 a. of land surrounding it, although part of the land and mile-long reservoir at that date lay outside the borough boundary. (fn. 79) After 1928 land and water came wholly within the borough, and subsequent improvements to the property, mostly made after the Second World War, provided Swindon with a valuable open space. (fn. 80) Coate Farm, the birthplace of Richard Jefferies, lying north of the reservoir, was opened by the corporation as a museum in 1960. (fn. 81) The original house dates from the late 17th or early 18th century but was extensively added to in the nineteenth. In the centre of the town the corporation acquired the Park recreational ground from the G.W.R. Company in 1925 in exchange for part of the Rodbourne recreation ground. (fn. 82)

Between the two World Wars Swindon continued to rely to a large extent upon the services of the G.W.R. Medical Fund Society. In 1927 the society's hospital in Faringdon Road was enlarged to accommodate 42 beds. (fn. 83) But some steps were taken to provide other hospital accommodation outside the G.W.R. scheme. The isolation hospital at Gorse Hill, built in 1892, (fn. 84) had been somewhat enlarged soon after it was taken over by the corporation in 1900. (fn. 85) The voluntarily supported Swindon and North Wilts. Victoria Hospital, founded in 1887 in Okus Road, was extended in 1923, and in 1930 when two new wards were added. (fn. 86) The hospital was recognized as a training school for state registered nurses in 1931 and in 1939 had 90 beds. (fn. 87) Kingshill House was acquired, extended, and opened as a maternity hospital by the corporation in 1931. (fn. 88)

The history of public education in Swindon between 1902 and 1944, when the council's education committee was responsible for elementary education within the borough, is traced below. (fn. 89) To house a number of exhibits collected privately, the town's first museum was opened in 1920 by the corporation in a building in Regent Circus, formerly used as a Roman Catholic church. (fn. 90) The museum was moved in 1930 to Apsley House in Bath Road. (fn. 91) In 1964 an art gallery was built on the east side of the house. (fn. 92)

By 1936 the borough council had quite outgrown its offices in the Town Hall in Regent Circus. All departments, except those of the town clerk and borough treasurer, had to be housed in various buildings scattered about the town. (fn. 93) That year a small recreation ground in Euclid Street was used as a site and work begun on building new civic offices. The architects were Messrs. Bertram, Bertram, and Rice, of Oxford. The building, which was opened in 1938, is of brick with stone plinths and dressings to the main doors and windows. It is planned around two quadrangles and includes a council chamber 35 ft. by 50 ft. (fn. 94) By 1965 these offices in their turn had become far too small for the borough council's greatly enlarged staff, and temporary accommodation in the grounds and elsewhere in the town had to be used.

From a town of 54,000 inhabitants in 1921, Swindon grew to one of about 61,000 in 1939 (fn. 95) and there was a further considerable rise in population during the Second World War. (fn. 96) Immediately the war was over the council recognised the need to plan for the town's future expansion and development. At this date more than half the male population was still employed by the G.W.R. but the council foresaw the dangers and disadvantages of continued dependence upon a single industry for employment. (fn. 97) The danger had to some extent been foreshadowed during the depression of the 1930s (fn. 98) and in 1943 the council was determined to adjust the economic and social balance of the community by attracting a far wider range of industries to the town. (fn. 99) To do this considerable expansion was necessary and in 1945 the council produced a preliminary report upon some of the ways this might be achieved. (fn. 100) In 1951 the county council, by then the planning authority for Swindon, prepared the first development plan for the borough which allowed for an additional population of some 9,300 by 1971. (fn. 101) Before this plan was approved, however, Swindon was accepted for expansion under the Town Development Act of 1952 to receive about 20,000 people and some industries from the Greater London area. (fn. 102) At first it was proposed that all development should be within the borough boundary but in 1959 government approval was given to a plan for a total population of about 110,000 to be accommodated in Swindon and the neighbouring parish of Stratton St. Margaret. (fn. 103)

The development of the post-war housing estates has been briefly traced above. (fn. 104) A small extension of the borough boundary in 1951 brought in an area then being developed as the Penhill housing estate. (fn. 105) Between 1945 and 1965 the council built some 9,000 dwellings and 85 shops within the borough boundary. (fn. 106) In 1961 permission was given for Swindon to build outside the borough boundary on the east, and here by 1965 some 480 houses had been built, which, instead of leasing, the corporation sold to tenants of council houses, who wished to buy their own homes. (fn. 107) In c. 1955 the corporation provided its first industrial estate and on this, as on the two estates laid out later, about half the factories and warehouses were built by the corporation and leased to the various industrial concerns. (fn. 108)

To accompany these developments large-scale improvements to the public utilities were essential. In 1953–4 a central relief sewer was built and the Rodbourne sewerage works were enlarged, (fn. 109) so that the Broome works could be closed by 1962. (fn. 110) In the late 1950s a fourth bore hole was sunk at Latton waterworks, the main source of water supply in 1965, (fn. 111) although water also came from Ogbourne St. George and from Wroughton. The gas works of the South Western Gas Board in Chapel Street at Gorse Hill, were enlarged in the early 1940s. (fn. 112)

In certain spheres of local government the borough council lost powers both to the county council and to national bodies in the re-organisation that followed the Second World War. But as the only completely industrial town in a predominantly rural county Swindon had frequently to be treated as an exception and in practice continued to manage most of its own affairs. Even so, the borough council believed that the full autonomy which county borough status would give was desirable for the town and an application under the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945, was made in 1947. As a result county borough status was recommended, but, before the recommendation was put into effect, the commission was dissolved. (fn. 113)

Under the Education Act of 1944 (fn. 114) Swindon ceased to be a Part III authority, but, as shown elsewhere, became the one 'excepted district' in the county. (fn. 115) By the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 (fn. 116) the county council became the planning authority for the whole county. But by agreements made in 1948, 1957, and 1960 wide delegation of planning power was made by the county council to the borough. (fn. 117) A special arrangement for the Swindon area was made under the National Health Service Act of 1946 (fn. 118) when a sub-committee of the county health committee, composed chiefly of members of the borough council, was formed to administer almost all the personal health services within the borough and neighbouring area and the services of a full-time medical officer of health were retained. In 1961 the sub-committee was replaced by a committee of the borough council and additional powers were delegated to Swindon so that the borough administered all mental health and welfare services dealing with the blind, deaf, and handicapped. (fn. 119)

The isolation hospital at Gorse Hill and the Swindon and North Wilts. Victoria hospitals came under the Oxford Regional Hospital Board after 1946, and under the board were administered by a Swindon and District Hospital Management Committee. (fn. 120) The G.W.R. hospital was closed in 1960. (fn. 121) In 1957 work began on a large new general hospital of 800 beds on a 20-acre site at Okus. (fn. 122) The hospital, the first to be approved in the country after the Second World War, was named after Princess Margaret, who laid the foundation stone. (fn. 123) It was designed by Messrs. Powell and Moya, and the first sections came into operation in 1960. (fn. 124) The school of nursing was opened in 1962 (fn. 125) and further extensions were being built in 1965.

Two important properties were purchased by the council immediately after the Second World War. In 1943 Lydiard Park was bought with the intention of converting it into a conference centre, (fn. 126) and at about the same time the council acquired the Lawn, the Goddard family home in Old Swindon. (fn. 127) A Garden of Remembrance, off Drove Road, was opened in 1950 by Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) when she visited Swindon to mark the borough's jubilee year. (fn. 128) In 1953 Queen's Park, incorporating the Garden of Remembrance, was opened to commemorate the Queen's coronation and was later extended. (fn. 129)

As happened elsewhere, war-time conditions during the Second World War revealed a lack of adequate cultural amenities in the town. In 1942 the Mayor of Swindon's Community Fund was established to give financial aid to various cultural projects. (fn. 130) Until 1943 the only public library in Swindon was that of the Mechanics' Institute. (fn. 131) That year, however, a public library was opened in a shop in Regent Street. (fn. 132) In 1949 it was moved to the Town Hall where it was still housed in 1965, awaiting a permanent home. (fn. 133) There were five branch libraries in 1965. (fn. 134) In 1946 an Arts Centre was opened in Regent Street. This was moved in 1956 to a building in Devizes Road equipped for theatricals and other social activities. (fn. 135) Aid from the Mayor of Swindon's Community Fund was extended occasionally to assist enterprises of concern to the whole county. In 1947 Swindon was the prime mover in launching the Wiltshire volumes of this History and in 1965 was still one of the major contributing authorities sponsoring their preparation. (fn. 136) In 1950 it assisted the publication of a volume of Studies in the History of Swindon. (fn. 137) After 1947 the corporation subsidized the Records Branch of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. (fn. 138) In 1962 a Railway Museum, maintained jointly by British Rail and the Swindon Corporation, was opened in the building once known as the 'Barracks'. (fn. 139) Here are preserved, among other objects, some of the famous engines built in Swindon in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Seal, Insignia, Plate, Arms, and Officers. The seal used since the incorporation of the borough in 1900 is round, 2¼ inches, of brass and bears the borough arms with the words 'Salubritas et Industria' below. Legend, humanistic:
the seal of the mayor aldermen and burgesses of the borough of swindon

Borough of Swindon.

Quarterly, the fesswise line nebuly; the first quarter azure with a silver pile and thereon three crescents gules; the second gules with three silver castles; the third gules with a gold mitre; and the fourth azure with a gold winged wheel: on a chief argent a locomotive engine proper

A mayoral chain was presented in 1902 by F. P. Goddard, lord of the manor of Swindon. W. E. Morse gave the mayoral robes in 1927 and a mace bearing the cipher of Edward VIII in 1936. A chain for the mayoress was given in 1935 by J. L. Calderwood.

The first piece of corporation plate was a silver salver presented in 1948. Among later acquisitions are two silver bowls given in 1959 by the Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh's) and two silver models of aircraft given in 1964 by the R.A.F. at Lyneham. Several local industries and business firms have presented plate. In 1962 a model in silver of the King George V railway engine was given to mark the opening of the Railway Museum.

The borough arms were granted in 1901. Lists of mayors and chief officers are printed in the Year Books which have been isssued regularly by the borough since 1900. (fn. 140)


  • 1. See p. 132. A plausible date would be c. 1259, for in 1274 a market had been held de novo for 15 yrs.: Rot Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 261.
  • 2. Goddard MS. 1147.
  • 3. Ibid. 1226, 1227.
  • 4. Ibid. 1280.
  • 5. Ibid. 1267.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid. 1264, 1276.
  • 8. For some extracts from these accounts, see Swindon Studies, 63–66.
  • 9. In Christ Church, Old Swindon. Some facts from the overseers' accts. have been extracted and printed in Morris, Swindon, 317–18, 320.
  • 10. Vestry Min. Bk. 20 Jan. 1739, 25 Jan. 1768.
  • 11. Ibid. 8 July 1755, 4 May 1766.
  • 12. Ibid. 24 Mar. 1761.
  • 13. Ibid. 3 June 1783.
  • 14. Ibid. 8 Feb. 1795.
  • 15. Ibid. 1796 (no more exact date given), 5 Apr. 1796.
  • 16. Ibid. 5 Apr. 1796.
  • 17. Goddards MS. 223.
  • 18. Vestry Min. Bk. 20 Nov. 1767.
  • 19. Morris, Swindon, 81.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Vestry Min. Bk. undated entry but between entries dated Dec. 1752 and 24 Apr. 1753.
  • 22. Andrews and Dury, Map (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), pl. 15.
  • 23. Vestry Min. Bk. 12 May 1762.
  • 24. Note in Acct. Bk. 1733–1827 in Christ Church, Old Swindon.
  • 25. Swindon Pub. Libr., G. T. Clark, Rep. to Bd. of Health on Swindon (1851).
  • 26. Based on the Min. Bks. of both boards in Swindon Pub. Libr.
  • 27. Swindon Studies, 130.
  • 28. Subsequent information about the activities of the boards and the U.D.Cs., except where otherwise stated, from Min. Bks. in Swindon Pub. Libr.
  • 29. Swindon Advertiser, Supp. 5 Feb. 1904.
  • 30. Dore's Swindon Almanack (1864).
  • 31. Min. Bks. of company in Swindon Pub. Libr.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Swindon Water Act, 57 & 58 Vic. c. 181 (local and personal act).
  • 34. Swindon Advertiser, Supp. 5 Feb. 1904.
  • 35. Dore's Swindon Almanack (1870).
  • 36. Swindon Studies, 114–15.
  • 37. Ibid. 115–16.
  • 38. Andrews and Dury, Map (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), pl. 14.
  • 39. Swindon Studies, 137–8.
  • 40. Swindon Advertiser, Supp. 5 Feb. 1904.
  • 41. North Wilts. Dir. (1889); Swindon Advertiser, 4 Feb. 1888.
  • 42. Pevsner, Wilts. (Bldgs. of Eng.), 458; see pl. facing p. 156.
  • 43. Swindon Advertiser, 12 June 1876.
  • 44. Ibid. July to Sept. 1876, passim.
  • 45. Ibid. 19 July, 18 Sept. 1880.
  • 46. Ibid. 5 Feb. 1881.
  • 47. Swindon Studies, 120.
  • 48. Swindon Advertiser, 20 Aug. 1866.
  • 49. Ibid. 8 July 1872.
  • 50. Ibid. e.g. 22 June, 24 Aug. 1868, 3 Apr. 1872, 17 Mar. 1877.
  • 51. Ibid. 23 Mar. 1878.
  • 52. Ibid. 18 Mar., 1 Apr. 1882.
  • 53. Ibid. 1 Apr. 1882, 24 Mar., 31 Mar. 1883.
  • 54. Ibid. 29 Mar., 19 July, 12 July 1884.
  • 55. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1885.
  • 56. Swindon Borough Guide (1906).
  • 57. Swindon Advertiser, 12 June, 14 Oct. 1876.
  • 58. Wilts. Cuttings, xvi. 358; Goddard MS. 1143. Broome and Walcot were added to the Old Swindon district in 1895.
  • 59. North Wilts. Dir. (1878).
  • 60. Swindon Advertiser, Supp. 5 Feb. 1904.
  • 61. Swindon Studies, 130–4.
  • 62. Swindon Advertiser, Supp. 5 Feb. 1904.
  • 63. See p. 136.
  • 64. Ex inf. the Town Clerk.
  • 65. North Wilts. Dir. (1908).
  • 66. Swindon and District Review, Feb. 1963.
  • 67. Thanks are due to Mr. D. H. MacLean of Swindon for advice on this paragraph.
  • 68. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1911).
  • 69. Swindon Borough Guide (1906); Swindon Studies, 139–40.
  • 70. Borough of Swindon Record of Administration (1947), 109.
  • 71. Local Government is our Business, Handbk. issued by N.A.L.G.O. (1960), 35, and see above p. 116.
  • 72. Inf. supplied by the Borough Architect's dept.
  • 73. See p. 116.
  • 74. Wilts. Pamphlets, 70, Official Visit to Moredon Power Station, Oct. 1929.
  • 75. Ibid.
  • 76. Planning for Swindon, 1945.
  • 77. See p. 138.
  • 78. Wilts. Pamphlets, 37, Official Opening of Latton Water Scheme, 1934.
  • 79. Wilts. Pamphlets, 28, J. B. Jones, The Coate Reservoir System, and see p. 8.
  • 80. Ibid.
  • 81. 21 Years of Public Library Service in Swindon.
  • 82. Swindon Studies, 120.
  • 83. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 344.
  • 84. See p. 136.
  • 85. Ex inf. the Town Clerk and Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1903).
  • 86. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939); Swindon and N. Wilts. Victoria Hosp. Annual Rep. 1934.
  • 87. Local information and Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939).
  • 88. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 335.
  • 89. See pp. 159–60.
  • 90. W.A.M. xli. 319.
  • 91. Swindon Studies, 136.
  • 92. Swindon Public Librs. 1943–64 (pamphlet in Swindon Pub. Libr.).
  • 93. Wilts. Pamphlets, 6, Opening of Civic Offices, 5 July 1938.
  • 94. Ibid.
  • 95. Census, and see p. 117.
  • 96. See p. 116.
  • 97. Memo. on Potentialities of Swindon for Industrial Development.
  • 98. See p. 129.
  • 99. Memo. on Potentialities of Swindon for Industrial Development.
  • 100. Planning for Swindon, Survey and Report by W. R. Davidge.
  • 101. Local Government is our Business, Handbk. issued by N.A.L.G.O. (1960), 29.
  • 102. Ibid.
  • 103. Ibid.
  • 104. See p. 117.
  • 105. Swindon Corp. Act, 14 & 15 Geo. VI, c. 40 (local and personal act).
  • 106. Ex inf. Borough Architect's office.
  • 107. Swindon 52–62, 26 and ex inf. Borough Planning Dept.
  • 108. See p. 119.
  • 109. Local Government is our Business, Handbk. issued by N.A.L.G.O. (1960), 57.
  • 110. Local information.
  • 111. Local Government is our Business, Handbk. issued by N.A.L.G.O. (1960), 54.
  • 112. Swindon Guide (1950–1). For an earlier extension of the gas works see p. 135.
  • 113. Ex inf. the Town Clerk.
  • 114. Education Act, 7 & 8 Geo. VI, c. 31.
  • 115. See p. 160.
  • 116. Town and Country Planning Act, 10 & 11 Geo. VI, c. 51.
  • 117. Ex inf. the Town Clerk.
  • 118. Nat. Health Service Act, 9 & 10 Geo. VI, c. 81.
  • 119. Ex inf. the Town Clerk.
  • 120. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 346; Swindon 52–62, 21.
  • 121. Local information.
  • 122. Swindon 52–62, 21.
  • 123. Evening Advertiser, 16 Apr. 1957.
  • 124. Swindon 52–62, 21.
  • 125. Ibid.
  • 126. See p. 80.
  • 127. See p. 120.
  • 128. Souvenir Programme for Opening of Queen's Park (in Swindon Pub. Libr.).
  • 129. Ibid.
  • 130. Memo. on Potentialities of Swindon for Industrial Development.
  • 131. See p. 142.
  • 132. Wilts. Pamphlets 44, Official Opening of Public Library.
  • 133. Local Government is our Business, Handbk. issued by N.A.L.G.O. (1960), 68.
  • 134. 21 Years of Public Library Service in Swindon.
  • 135. Bath Critic, June, 1952.
  • 136. V.C.H. Wilts. vii, p. xiii.
  • 137. By L. V. Grinsell, H. B. Wells, H. S. Tallamy, and John Betjeman.
  • 138. Swindon Studies, 135.
  • 139. Swindon 52–62, 21; 21 Years of Public Library Service in Swindon.
  • 140. All information supplied by the Mayor's Secretary.