Walking Swindon's red brick streets


When I walk through Swindon’s red brick streets
(Richard Jefferies’ ‘Chicago of the West’),
Which wander up the hillside from the railway village,
I use the old factory tunnel, the railway park,
The canal cut, the alleyways, the ginnels,
‘The Loop’ –
Joining Swindon Junction (GWR)
To MSWJR Old Town Swindon Station
(Scene of my sister’s honeymoon train in 1961,
And my brother and my train-spotting and chips trips),
But I stood for a while at the red brick railway bridge
Arching over the canal, where a heron stood sentinel,
Poaching hard by an outfall tumbling from the bank.
Unsure of my path, I asked a fellow pair of walkers,
‘What happens if I turn right?’
‘You’ll end up at Waitrose, where the canal ends.’
‘There’s been a lot of changes since I was here last,
Forty years ago, I should think.’
‘There’s been a lot of changes in the last year, mate.’
By then, I had already roamed around Cambria Bridge Road,
Trying to find the cottage where Edward Thomas used to stay
(Now a Chinese take-away)
When visiting his grand parents before the Great War,
When my gramp was serving his GWR apprenticeship,
A carpenter in the carriage and wagon works,
Working alongside his father.
Did they ever meet and chat, I wondered,
Walking through the Railway Park,
Perhaps watching the steam powered machine
Cut the giant lardy cake on high days and holidays;
Did they ever chat to Alfred Williams,
‘The Hammer man Poet’, hot from his labours,
Or Archibald Knee, once of Stroud, but then alongside
My family in the Carriage and Wagon paint shop:
Archibald Knee, killed in the Great War,
Commemorated in the STEAM Museum:
“Their names liveth for ever”,
Archibald Knee, friend of the other Archibald Knee,
Drowned with Dorothy Beard, Avening, 1916.
My grand dad was a sociable cove,
Who liked a chat and a song –
I think he would have chatted with the Swindon Archibald,
They worked alongside one another, after all,
And having married Elsie Bingham in Cainscross in 1914,
They returned to the Cotswolds after gramp was demobbed,
And after he was made redundant in 1921:

26th October 1921
This is to certify that C.H. Butler has been employed by us a Bodymaker for some time.
During this period we always found him an honest, sober and industrious workman. He is a good timekeeper.
We had to dispense with his services owing to slackness of trade.’

They found a home near Frampton Mansell,
High above the Thames and Severn Canal,
An ex-army Nissan hut,
Gramp scraped a living
With a horse and cart milk round,
Until he got a job again in the Works in Swindon.
And there they stayed, until retiring,
To Leonard Stanley, in 1959;
I have his GWR plane stamped with his name,
A sort of talisman, to me, as well as memento,
And it’s image drifted through my mind,
As I descended through Stafford Street Cemetery,
To reach red brick Clifton Street Junior School
(Beat them five – nil in 1960, and I scored four),
Then it was back to Edward Thomas land: