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Tag Archives: 50 Buildings Series

  • Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

    Choosing Fifty Buildings

    The process of choosing the fifty buildings to put into Swindon in Fifty Buildings, was something akin to drawing up a wedding invite list. Y’know – you make a list of all the sisters, uncles, cousins and aunts. Then you realise there’s far too many people and you have to start making choices and thinning out.

    Toothill farmhouse, 1979. (Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    So how to decide what to include in a book that tells aspects of Swindon’s story in its buildings and what to take out?

    Do I draw the list from Swindon’s listed buildings? Hmm – as this blog by Martin Newman on the Swindon Civic Voice website, points out, Swindon has some 659 listed buildings – not to mention fifty-three scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens. It’s easy enough to see how selecting fifty from that would be similar to the wedding list task: herculean. How else?

    I could have taken a good number from Old Town (Old Swindon), everything in the GWR railway village conservation area and beyond: the McArthur Glen Outlet Centre, STEAM Museum, Churchward House et al and have soon got to fifty notable buildings. But as interesting as that might be it wouldn’t make for a balanced book.

    In the end then, after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I opted to go for:

    Geographic spread – Swindon is a large town now and there’s buildings with stories right across it. Thus, I decided to represent as many areas as I reasonably could.

    Different periods of time – Returning to the blog about Swindon’s listed buildings, we learn that it’s a common misapprehension that listed buildings are old.  Not so. A building can be listed after thirty years – or even ten. When the Renault (now Spectrum) building was listed in 2013 it was one of the youngest Listed Buildings in the country and took pride of place on the cover Designation Yearbook. You won’t be at all surprised to know that, the Spectrum Building is indeed included in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

    Different types of buildings – Again, lots of hemming and hawing and decision-making needed. Not too many breweries.  Not too many old farmhouses. Not all of the modern iconic buildings – else would I take out to make room for them?

    Aerial shot of Railway Village. (Courtesy of Martin Parry, Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    At length I have my list of fifty buildings. Not that it remained unchanged of course. For instance, I hadn’t planned to include the Brunel Centre until, in my research, I came across a review of it by architecture writer, Colin Amory. My eyes alighted on the phrase ‘Swindon has acquired a touch of Milan’ and that piqued my interest. I felt it had to go in after that!

    The buildings in this book then run the gamut from a Palladian Mansion to old farmhouses and the GWR Railway Village conservation area to iconic 1970s and 1980s buildings – with plenty more in between. The GWR and its great locomotive works looms large in much of it and its tentacles reach into even more of it. As is inevitable. For New Swindon exists solely because of the GWR Works and Brunel and Gooch’s decision to build it where they did. But of course, that’s not the whole story of Swindon.

    The fifty buildings in this book then tell stories large and small, wrought in Victorian brick, older stone and 20th century metal.

    Angela Atkinson's book Swindon in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings by Martyn Taylor

    Debenhams, Charter Square. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was asked to write something about this subject I thought the choice would be challenging, it wasn’t, after all the town I was born into has numerous interesting buildings; many within the medieval grid of what is most probably the oldest purposely laid out town in the country from the 11th Century. But what to start with? Well I chose to commence with Debenhams Store on The Arc, a very modern shopping centre in the town. Controversially futuristic in appearance and not very Bury St Edmunds are just some of the descriptions used by people since it was built and opened in 2009. From there the iconic Abbeygate was probably the most obvious to proceed with, it sums up the power of the Benedictine Abbey that owned and controlled Bury St Edmunds for over 500 years whilst the noble Norman Tower, its counterpart further along, is now the belfry for the Cathedral the last to be finished in the country, a triumph of modern craftsmen. Nearby is the wonderful St Marys Church, the final resting place of Queen Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk the youngest sister of Henry VIII. Her subdued and under-stated tomb surprising to all, considering her status in life at one time, Queen of France. St Mary’s magnificent Angel Roof above one of the longest naves of any parish church in the country must be appreciated for the quality of its medieval workmanship, superlatives abound for what is today the Civic Church of the Town.

    Chapel of the Charnel, Great Churchyard. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the book, creating lists is never ideal so I would say to potential readers consider what is within and what is without. Everyone has opinions of what is good architecture, but I have tried to get a balance of the construction of the buildings and their descriptions and some of the stories behind their occupants. The nefarious Arundel Coke who once lived in St Denys on Honey Hill is a case in point. Having lost his wealth in the greedy investment scandal known to history as ‘The South Sea Bubble’ he elicited the help of an assassin to do his dirty work, that of murdering his well-off brother-in-law, Edward Crisp. Unfortunately, it did not go as the script intended, Crisp survived the brutal attack and Coke and his accomplice, John Woodburn, ended up on the gallows.

    Public buildings are well represented, alms Houses, hotels and public houses also. One of these, The Nutshell, is the smallest in the country, as far as I am concerned there are no other contenders! Two buildings not far from each other have unusual names, Goodfellows named after four brave brothers who fought in WWI, three of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice and Notice to Quit Cottages, the origins of which I have yet to fathom out. The Great Churchyard, the scene of the murderous attempt on Edward Crisp’s life is where I finish with the 50th entrant in the book, that of The Charnel House. This consecrated bone depository from 1300 has various plaques on its exterior to The Good, Bad and Unlucky. Bartholomew Gosnold the good founder of Jamestown, Sarah Lloyd for burglarising her employer’s home with her lover and the unlucky Mary Haselton struck down by lightning whilst saying her prayers. For a town so steeped in history Bury St Edmunds punches far above its weight, the many people who come here as tourists and stroll around the beautiful Abbey Gardens are amazed and ask, “Why have we not come here before”? There is no real answer other than to say just keep coming back!

    Martyn Taylor's new book Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings is avialable for purchase now.

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