It’s everything you ever wanted to know about Swindon’s history!
The first Swindon Heritage History Day will bring together the leading experts in the town’s local history, in the same place, at the same time; namely Radnor Street Cemetery, on Sunday, July 10 (10am-4pm).
The cemetery is the venue for monthly guided walks on the second Sunday of each month, during the spring, summer and autumn, and we decided to expand the July walk as part of this year’s Swindon 175 celebrations.
Two guided walks (plus a third, on a military theme) will visit the graves of leading Swindon railwaymen and tell their stories, while – back at the cemetery chapel (pictured below) and in marquees being set up for the day – there will be displays by more than a dozen local history groups.
Noel Beauchamp of Swindon Heritage, who is project manager for the event, said: “This is a rare chance for visitors to tap into the combined knowledge of Swindon’s best-informed local historians. If you have a question about Swindon’s history, then even if we don’t know it ourselves, we can point you towards somebody who does. And the day is planned to be a two-way exchange too. If you have some information or material relating to Swindon’s heritage, come along and talk to one of our many experts about it. Swindon Heritage is all about sharing our rich local history.”
Swindon 105.5 will be broadcasting live from the cemetery during the event, which will be opened by Robert Buckland, MP for Swindon South.
Throughout the day visitors will be able to trace ancestors buried at Radnor Street through a free service providing look-ups of the burial registers, with volunteers also on hand to help family history researchers find their ancestors’ graves among the 33,000 in the cemetery. Funeral directors AE SMith will also be on hand with some of their records of the many burials they have overseen at the cemetery during its long history.
Visitors will be able to buy light refreshments, but they are also encouraged to do something they have probably never done before, as Noel explained. “Most people have probably never thought of bringing a picnic to a cemetery before, but if the weather is good: why not?
“The cemetery is a green oasis amid the redbrick terraces of the railway town, so we are encouraging more people to make more of it. So dig out your picnic baskets, grab a bottle of wine and bring the family.”
Noel said he hopes the History Day becomes an annual event. “We really wanted to bring together the many groups and individuals working on preserving and promoting Swindon’s rich heritage, and thought this year was the time to do it. But Swindon 175 is about legacies, not just a one-off celebration, so the plan is to make this the first of many such events.”
So far, groups who have confirmed attendance are:
- Rodbourne Community History Group
- Swindon Libraries/Local Studies
- Wilts & Berks Canal Trust
- The Swindon Society
- Alfred Williams Heritage Society
- Broad Green History Group
- Wiltshire Family History Society (Swindon Branch)
- Mechanics’ Institution Trust
- Swindon Museum & Art Gallery
- Swindon in the Great War
- Richard Jefferies Museum
- Eastcott Community Group
- Swindon Colouring-in