Memories of Swindon I
I grew up and lived for the first 25 years of my life, in Stanier Street, off Commercial Road in Swindon.
My grandparents lived in Curtis Street and their back garden led onto the old canal. The earliest time that I can think back to is about 1938, but of course, the canal had been filled in by then.
My brothers and my friends and I often used to play along the stretch of canal between Milton Road and Cambria Road Bridge, especially in the Tennison Road recreation grounds. When no-one was around we would climb over both bridges, expecting a clip round the ear if caught doing so.
In the season when the berries were red, we would buy a tin pea-shooter and use the ‘peggles’, as we called the berries, as ammo to shoot at each other, or any passing youngster. The original towpath hedge can still be seen there in places.
During the war, half of Milton Road Bridge was bricked in and used as an air raid shelter. Other shelters were dug in the canal bed on both sides of Regent Street and Bridge Street in what is now Canal Walk.
I can also remember the ‘Golden Lion’ pub, with the lion above it, and a row of cottages where the Semington mile-stone is now, in Canal Walk. The mile-stone used to be on the other side in the wall of what was then Lloyds Bank.
Recently, I volunteered to help Henry Smith clear trees and other rubbish from the section between Skew Bridge and the watered section at West Leaze. My reason for doing so was that it brought back memories of playing truant from school. We would go along to Skew Bridge and cross the canal, sometimes getting wet feet, before going into the withy beds to make crude bows and arrows to shoot at the trains travelling up and down the ‘Old Town Line’. Nobody is a saint!
My current interest in the canal was aroused when a friend persuaded me to go to a meeting and talk, by Keith Walker and John Henn, about the restoration of the old Wilts & Berks and how there would be a cycleway into Swindon. Having been, and still am, a keen cyclist, I was immediately attracted by this idea but, like all such fine-sounding ‘next week’ things, sadly, the distance covered is still only from Templar’s Firs to Binknoll Lane and at 71 years old I can’t see it being completed in my lifetime.
However, I’ve enjoyed my part in the restoration of the Wilts & Berks Canal and, over the years, building my own dinghy and punt, which a friend and I have rowed from Bath to Reading along the Kennet & Avon Canal, but that’s another story.