We were up very early this morning and out of the house by 7 a.m. as it was quite light – but it was rather chilly.  We made our way to Sanford Street, as I wanted to be there early before cars and people got in the way.  Built in about 1873, this street is named after Charlotte Sanford, the daughter of Edward Ashford Sanford of Nynehead Court, Somerset.  She was married on 14th August 1847 to Ambrose Lethbridge Goddard, who was a Major in the Royal Wilts Regiment of Yeomanry and who lived on the Goddard Estate in The Lawns, Swindon, where the family were Lords of the Manor of Swindon. 

Shown in the top left of the collage, Sanford Street is quite a short street in the centre of Swindon.  It had 24 houses but now has only one that may have been for the caretaker of the school next door, which looked very run down and even the front wall had been demolished!  However, it does have a very large apartment block named Plaza 21, shown at the bottom left of the collage, and although it looks rather run down and in need of care and attention on the outside, having looked at various apartments on the internet, they look quite good and probably have an amazing view over Swindon.  The other advantage is that it is a very short distance from the shops in the town – although some might say this is no great advantage! The ground floor of the building houses one or two shops and on the corner of the street is a betting shop, which actually added some colour to the rather drab surroundings.  Opposite the five storey building where the houses have been demolished is a large Pay & Display car park.

Sanford Street Boys’ School was opened in February 1880 – and this has been recorded just above some of the windows in beautifully crafted terracotta panels – shown middle right in the collage.  There is also a terracotta panel stating the name of the school over the front entrance, but there is no apostrophe!  I must admit that I have never looked up and seen these panels and although it was early, we did get some strange looks from several people passing by.  The photograph in the middle right of the collage was taken from College Street.  By 1892 pressure on school places was intense so the headmaster only admitted boys living close to the school.  In August 1914 the building was temporarily commandeered by the War Office as a hospital.  Lessons were relocated to the Wesley Sunday School in Faringdon Road and the Primitive Methodist Sunday School in Regent Circus.  

Former Sanford Street School old boys include Frederick Hawksworth, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway, after whom an industrial estate in Swindon is named, Swindon Town football legend, Harold Fleming, after whom a dual carriageway in the town centre is named, Rick Davies, founder member of the 70s band, Supertramp and also Mr. HCB, husband and father extraordinaire – more about him below.

Mr. HCB attended this school from 1953-1957 – it was a Secondary Modern school and he remembers that there was always a lot of competition relating to football and cricket.  He said there were various leagues between schools in the town and that he was more interested in sport than anything else!  The middle photograph shows Mr. HCB standing (rather reluctantly) outside the main entrance.  

In those days the goal in this all boys school was to educate the boys so that they could attain apprenticeships in industry i.e. the railways, which was a major employer in the town or in large engineering firms such as Garrards, which made record turntables, the Plessey Company, which manufactured radio components, Vickers Armstrong, an aircraft manufacturing company W.D. & H.O. Wills, a tobacco importer and cigarette manufacturer or with local plumbers and electricians.  Mr. HCB says there were no officially recognised exams at the end of his time at the school and “O” levels came in two years after he left.  He was a member of the Chess Club and still plays a mean game.  He has many stories about the teachers there – not all of them good memories, but they obviously left an impression on him.  He left school when he was 15 and went to work in at British Rail as an office boy prior to starting his apprenticeship when he was 16 years old.

In a nearby cemetery, in Radnor Street, there is a War Memorial for those who attended the school and who later died in the First World War – there are 128 names in total.  

In 1966 Sanford Street School amalgamated with the girls’ school on Drove Road and in recent years it housed Swindon Council’s Education Department.  However, it is now known as the Swindon Advice and Support Centre where local people in need can obtain information, advice and support.

Sanford House brings together a wealth of help, advice and information under one roof for the residents of Swindon including the Citizens Advice Bureau, Wiltshire Law Centre and the Alzheimer’s Society to name but a few.

To meet the need for a chapel in New Swindon, 56 members of the Victoria Street Chapel in Old Town left to form a new congregation in Sanford Street where an iron chapel was erected in 1877.  In 1894 a permanent chapel was built on the same site with accommodation for 550 and the building was described locally as in “a late Gothic style, slightly modified by Jacobean peculiarities”.  A Sunday School room was added in 1898.  In 1964 there were 105 church members.   I remember it as a very imposing building but sadly this Church was demolished in the 1970s, along with many more of Swindon’s historic buildings, when the town centre was regenerated.  The photograph at the top right of the collage shows the building that now occupies the site where the church once was – but even this building now stands empty and has a large “To Let” sign on it.

We were actually married by the man who was the Minister of Sanford Street Congregational Church for many years, Rev’d Frederick Carr, and who was the Minister overseeing our church, Immanual Congregational Church (now Immanual United Reformed Church) in Upham Road, Swindon.  In 1968 when we got married, he was a widower, and was quite lonely, so we often used to invite him round for lunch and we would sometimes go to visit him at his house in The Mall for afternoon tea.  I remember that when our older son was born, he wrote a most beautiful letter to us and also to our new baby son – it was a very moving letter and mentioned how we he felt blessed “to count us in his circle of friends” and how much he enjoyed coming to our house for lunch – I have to say we were equally blessed by this wonderful “Man of God”. 

From 1970 when the church building was demolished, the remaining congregation amalgamated with other churches in the area at Trinity Church at the bottom of Victoria Hill and called themselves Central Church, Swindon.  In 1990, the congregation moved into a building known as The Pilgrim Centre, built on the site of the original Baptist Tabernacle, another beautiful building in the town which was demolished – mentioned in my Blip last Saturday.

I found it quite sad that there were only two of the original buildings left in this street – the school and the caretaker’s house – but at least the fact that Mr. HCB had been a pupil there makes it more interesting – and gives me a photograph for the middle of my collage!

“Education is the most powerful weapon
     that you can use
          to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

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