Memories of Swindon II

    In June this year I visited the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port and took the opportunity to visit their archives.  Although they did not have very much about the Wilts & Berks Canal there were a couple of items I found of interest.  One being a letter apparently sent to British Waterways in response to a appeal for research material.  The archivist at Ellesmere Port kindly provided me with a copy and with the permission of Mrs. Eileen Jenkins it is printed below.

Re: memories of the Canal.

My mother, who was born in 1884 and died at the age of 92, used to delight in remembering the Sunday School  Outings, or “Treats” as they were called, of her youth.  The children were taken on the canal in a barge all through the centre of Swindon.

            My own memories of the canal, I was born in 1920, are of the canal at the end of our terrace, then called Oxford Buildings, now Rodbourne Road.  In the twenties the water had mostly disappeared, so that in the summer we could pick huge leaves like rhubarb and wave them over our heads like umbrellas or flags depending on what game we were playing.  One day there were hundreds of cabbage white butterflies and all children caught them in jamjars.  A boy filled my jamjar to the brim with the poor things!

            In the thirties and forties and possibly the early fifties I walked my dog along the old towpath out to the Purton road.  Sometimes I picked irises from the farside of the canal, reaching the flowers after walking through the mowing grass and being chased out by the farmer.

            There were still people living in a cottage on the edge of the canal, a field away from the Purton road.  They had a “snowball” tree in their garden and once the man gave me branches of it.

            My greatest memory is walking along in the dusk and a white shape swooping towards me.  It was a beautiful barn owl, I could almost have touched it.  It was so eerie and yet wonderful.  All this land is now Cheney Manor Trading Estate and the Canal is the road.

Mrs. Eileen Jenkins    3rd. August 1999

When I wrote to Mrs. Jenkins her reply expanded on the original.

Thank you for your letter I shall be quite happy for you to print my letter in your Group’s magazine.  I can’t remember what I said in it!

            I’m afraid that I wasn’t one of the children in the 1912 picture of Rodbourne Road bridge, I wasn’t born until 1920.  However I do remember when I was Infant School age, along with a group of boys and girls, catching cabbage white butterflies.  There were what seemed to be hundreds of them and a boy who lived across the road in Beaufort Terrace and had ginger hair like me caught a whole jam jar full of butterflies for me.  I proudly took them home.  I hope my mother released the poor things!  In the 30s, 40s, and 50s I used to walk my dog along the tow path to the road at Purton.  At dusk a huge white barn owl used to glide along there like a ghost.  There was also a house, one field in from the road.  I imagine it was once a lock keepers cottage.  Once the man who lived there asked me in and cut me a bunch of blossom, which I called snowballs, from a large bush in the garden.  It must have been very lonely there in the winter especially for his wife and young son.  Also to reach the road the field was often very boggy.

            Beautiful yellow irises grew in the canal on the far side and I used to walk thro’ the reeds to get them.  The farmer used to chase children out of the fields full of mowing grass but we did cross the fields to pick dog roses.  My nephew, who was only 8 years younger than I was, used to catch grasshoppers in a matchbox.  We used to lie on our faces to catch them so that he could take them to school and let them out!

Mrs Eileen Jenkins    4th June 2001

I am sure you will thank Eileen for this glimpse into the past and for helping keep our memories alive.

Doug Small


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