Isabella New (a Mother’s Day story)

Isabella New (a Mother’s Day story)

Blog/March 15, 2015: When Isabella Frampton was born in April 1850, the Frampton family circumstances were comfortable, if slightly precarious. Her father William was working as an appraiser at the time of her birth, but later had his own business as a carpenter and builder, owning properties in Wood Street, Prospect Place and Union Row, as well as the Victoria Inn and an adjoining house.

But by the end of the decade William had twice declared himself bankrupt.

In 1872 Isabella married widower Frederic New, a clerk in the railway factory, and during the following six years Isabella gave birth to four children and was pregnant with a fifth when tragedy struck. Frederic was walking along the railway line to meet his friend who lived at Toothill Farm when he was hit by a train and killed.

Isabella and her children moved from the family home in North Street to a cottage in Prospect, possibly one her father owned, where she resumed her career as a music teacher. By 1891 home for the family was 29 Lethbridge Road. Isabella lived on the income from property she had inherited from her father William, but a lifetime of insecurities had made an impression upon not only Isabella but her surviving children as well.

Isabella’s youngest daughter Edith was less than a year old when her father Frederic died. She grew up in a household headed by a resourceful mother who made sure all her children had a good education and a career. Eldest daughter Ellen trained as a draper’s assistant, while son Frederick, like his father, worked as a clerk in the railway works, and Edith was already working as a pupil teacher by the age of 14.

She completed her teacher training in London and returned to Swindon where she taught at Queenstown Infants’ School. Her childhood experiences had made her sensitive to social and gender inequalities and she eventually moved to London to teach in the poor working class communities of Greenwich and Lewisham. She spent her whole life campaigning to empower women, fighting for equality in the teaching profession and in the Votes for Women Campaign.

Isabella died on December 2, 1922. Her last home was at 4 St Margarets Road, Swindon. She was the mother of…

Edith Bessie New, who was the first suffragette to chain herself to railings at 10 Downing Street as a method of protest.

Photographs published courtesy of Edith’s great niece, Tamara Dugdale

Let’s hear it for Diana!

Let’s hear it for Diana!

Blog/October 3, 2016: When we launched Swindon Heritage in the spring of 2013, we said it was our intention to celebrate all of Swindon’s rich heritage; and the cover of our second edition (Summer 2013) underlined the point.

Whereas our first cover featured Swindon-born suffragette Edith New, the second concerned an altogether different kind of heroine: Diana Dors. The international film star, larger-than-life celebrity and often under-rated actress, who was born Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon in 1931, came with her share of controversy, but we have always maintained our pride in her achievements, and claimed her not just as Diana, but our Diana.

Now we have re-affirmed our affection for her by making her the fourth subject in our project to install blue plaques to famous and heroic sons and daughters of Swindon.

crowdfunderlogoThe plaque will be installed at Diana’s birthplace, the former Haven Nursing Home in Old Town, Swindon, with the £380 cost of casting and installing the plaque being met by crowdfunding. Anyone can contribute here. We are hoping to unveil the plaque before Christmas; the exact location of the blue plaque will be revealed in due course.

The Summer 2013 edition, which featured an in-depth review of Diana’s life, is no longer available, having sold out within weeks of being published, so we have made the pages available as a PDF, which you can download by clicking here.

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Swindon’s blue plaques

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Blue plaques can be found in towns and cities across Britain, marking the site of important events in local history, often with national significance, but although you can find various plaques in Swindon related to our heritage (and some of them are even blue) nobody had ever co-ordinated a concerted blue plaque scheme in the town before 2016.

Blue plaques usually mark the birthplace of famous and/or important people, or a particular building where the subject lived or even died. But they can also mark the site of an important building – whether lost or still standing – or a location where an important event took place.

Contrary to what is often thought, no central body governs blue plaque schemes (although English Heritage manages them in London) and there are no concrete rules controlling who or what qualifies to have one installed. However, there is a tradition that blue plaques are only installed in honour of people who have passed away, and usually a period of at least 20 years elapses before the person is commemorated.

Late in 2015 we decided that Swindon has many sights deserving of blue plaques, so launched a scheme of our own, and set the example by paying for the first of the plaques, with a plan for subsequent plaques to be financed by crowdfunding.

Choosing the first plaque was easy. When we launched our magazine in spring 2013, we chose Swindon-born suffragette Edith New for our very first front cover. At that time we felt Edith’s extraordinary work had been largely forgotten by the town, and choosing her to be the face of our first first edition was intended as something of a tribute to her. So it seemed logical to afford her a similar honour by marking her birthplace with Swindon’s first blue plaque. The story of how we approached the current owners of the house, which is at 24 North Street, Swindon, and the unveiling of the plaque on March 19, 2016, was told in our Summer 2016 edition.

We organised a joint installation for our second and third plaques, which honour brothers Harold Starr and Norman ‘John’ Starr, who were born at the Central Hotel in Regent Street – a building replaced by The Savoy (originally a cinema, now a pub) in 1937. The brothers’ heroic stories were told in the Summer 2015 and Autumn 2015 editions of the magazine respectively, and the unveiling of their plaques took place on September 8, 2016, which would have been Harold’s 102nd birthday. Our fourth plaque, installed on January 14, 2017, marked the birthplace of film actress Diana Dors, at 61 and 62 Kent Road, Swindon, the former Haven Nursing Home. Number five commemorates Swindon Town manager and football pioneer Sam Allen (the sixth-most longest-serving manager in Football League history), and was unveiled on May 19, 2018, by former Swindon Town footballer John Trollope MBE, and Sam’s granddaughter-in-law, Pat Chapman. Our sixth (and latest) plaque was the first to mark a building rather than a person, and was unveiled at the former headquarters of the GWR Medical Fund, now called the Health Hydro, on June 16, 2018.

Each plaque has to be specially cast in aluminium, then carefully painted, with each one costing around £400. But we are fortunate that Chris Garrett of Swindon-based Dreambox Toy Boxes kindly agrees to do the installation for us, free of charge.

Although we have so far led the choice of blue plaques, the order in which future ones are installed will depend on how much support each one gets, as crowdfunding schemes are launched. The process begins by identifying potential sites and then approaching the owner(s) of the building for their agreement for the plaque to be installed. Because we need this before proceeding, we don’t reveal the subject of the plaque until we have permission. Once it is granted, we will set up a crowdfunding webpage for each plaque, and several may run concurrently.

Plaque number seven is still being planned, but will commemorate Swindon-born author Ralph Bates, who also played a key role in the Spanish Civil War.

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Check out our blue plaques gallery so far (selected images used by kind permission of Calyx Picture Agency)…

 

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Countdown to plaques unveiling

Countdown to plaques unveiling

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Blog/September 4, 2016: Final preparations are underway for the latest Swindon Heritage plaques unveiling.

Following the launch of our scheme, earlier this year, when we installed a plaque to honour Swindon-born suffragette Edith New, we have arranged a double installation to commemorate the birthplace of the Starr brothers.

Squadron Leader Harold Starr and Wing Commander Norman ‘John” Starr were both killed during the Second World War; Harold during the Battle of Britain in 1940, and John, who was awarded DFC & Bar, over Dunkirk in 1945. Harold’s story was told in our Summer 2015 edition, John’s in the Autumn 2015 edition (which are available here).

They were both born during the First World War at the Central Hotel in Regent Street, a building that was replaced by The Savoy in 1937.

It is rare for two blue plaques to be installed side-by-side, at a single location, but we thought it was important for the brothers to be given individual recognition.

Our thanks to Chris Garrett (pictured above) of Dream Box Toy Boxes, who installs the plaques for us.

The plaques will be unveiled on Thursday, September 8, 2016, at 3pm. All are welcome, and we recommend those attending arrive by 2.30pm.


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