A Ghost Pub Swindon Pilgrimage

Ghost walks

With A Saint in Swindon


The lines that you are reading now
Are not necessarily written
For the bibulous and the bibliophile,
But it might help if you are one or other or both of these,
For these lines will take you on a ghost pub walk
Through Swindon’s streets
(Thanks to John Stooke’s book, Last Orders)
Where you can imagine yourself
Sitting in the snug, sipping on a pint,
Discussing, remembering, or reading
The books mentioned in Alice Jolly’s book,
A Saint in Swindon.


As I write these lines, I have no idea
Which text suits which ghost pub,
But I hope serendipity
Will come to my aid as my virtual walk unfolds …
But I would like to imagine
That pilgrims might bear Geoffrey Chaucer in mind,
As they make their way to Hunters Grove,
Telling tales about the texts
As they make their way to an imaginary shrine
To the Saint of Swindon.
So, first up:


The Duke of Wellington, Eastcott Hill:
Well, perhaps Madame Bovary,
Might help us forget Waterloo,
1815 and all that;


The George, Eastcott Hill:
A name redolent of Hanoverian and Regency pomp,
And even though it was written in the ‘Hungry Forties’,
Alongside so many other classics,
It has to be Vanity Fayre;


The Lamb and Flag, Bridge Street:
Perhaps a bit of Kafka and The Castle,
Hopefully won’t be too confusing
Down that part of town;


Rolling Mills, Bridge Street:
Hard work in there in the Factory:
A family trade and skill too:
The Brothers Karamazov;


Wheatsheaf, Dores Road,
A rustic image of farms and hayricks and barns and stables:
Animal Farm;


Bakers Arms, Emlyn Square:
A railway village from the 1840s
Needs a novel from 1847:
Jayne Eyre;


The Bell, Old Town,
An obvious piece of nominative determinism:
The Bell Jar;


I think the Cross Keys
Should turn for the Gamekeeper
In Guildford Avenue:
Two pubs for
Lady Chatterley’s Lover;


The Queen’s Hotel & Refreshment Rooms:
Portrait of a Lady;


The Ship
Run aground in Swindon:
The Crack-Up;
Then on an even keel:
The Even Swindon;


A White Horse
Reminds me of the 1830 Captain Swing Riots
And summary justice in Wiltshire:
Crime and Punishment;


I think Pride and Prejudice
Needs a public house suggesting Austen land,
That’s Jane not Charlie,
Swindon Town FC fans,
So, I suggest a virtual journey
on the turnpike and coach,
From the Frome Hotel;


The Great Gatsby?
Well, Fitzgerald was fond of a drink, wasn’t he?
So, perhaps the Grapes Hotel fits the bill;


Great Expectations?
Surely snobby Pip would think that
The Sir Daniel Arms would be his yard of ale;


Carpenters Arms, Cricklade Road …
On the road to Cricklade,
A village despised by William Cobbett
In Rural Rides,
So, this has to be Cormac McCarthy and The Road;


Cricketers Arms, Railway Village,
Needs someone who can keep the score card:
The Count of Monte Christo;


Midland Refreshment Room aka ‘The Ghost Train’,
Needs an elegiac sort of title,
With a hint of dystopia, perhaps.
So, it’s Darkness at Noon;


Elm Tree Beerhouse
Has to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;


The Rifleman
Might be wounded and need attention:
Step up, Doctor Zhivago;


I’m not sure if the Red Cow
Could jump over the moon,
Even if Swindon Town gain promotion,
But we’ll imagine it did,
With a reading of Good Morning, Midnight;


The Prince of Wales
Would, I’m sure, approve of
Howards End;


And if you have to stay in town,
Why not the Park Hotel,
Where Tender is the Night;


As regards 1984,
A priori,
So many New Inns are not in fact, new,
That that sort of double-think
Needs no explanation;


This leaves the Rodbourne Arms
For The Secret History;


The Wild Swan and the Wild Deer
For Far from the Madding Crowd;


Visits to pub sites such as the Bulldog,
The Cock Robin, and the Lady Margaret,
Will be sustained on the pilgrimage
By readings on the hoof:
Tess of the d’Urbevilles,
And Liza of Lambeth:
Thereby conjoining the history of Swindon:
Wiltshire and London together.


This leaves the Queensfield
And the Worthington:
I shall visit those last,
And then return to Stroud,
And, so to the Woolpack in Slad,
And Cider with Rosie.


But that can only happen
After a train ride back to Stroud,
And an act of homage outside the railway works,
Where I remember the GWR Saint class,
The original Saints in Swindon,
And an act of homage


Outside the Mechanics’ Institute,
Where I pay tribute to my town,
And its unique history,
In the tale of Victorian literacy:
Those men and women,
Sharing their love of reading,
After those long shifts inside the factory, kitchen, and home:
Saints in Swindon.


Obviously, you can perform this pilgrimage
In any order you wish,
Alone or in any number prescribed
By public health regulations;
You might also, of course,
Read and discuss Cider with Rosie
At the Queensfield and the Worthington;
But I would like to commence mine,
With my sister, Felicity, brother in law, Rod, brother, Keith,
On the sixtieth wedding anniversary of my sister.
We shall start at St Mary's Church, Rodbourne Cheyney,
Then progress to the Moonrakers,
For a remembered reception,
And then to the old local at the Wheatsheaf in Dores Road.

Image placeholder
Saint David leaving Cardiff