Some Churches and Chapels in Swindon, Wiltshire, England

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Introduction

Despite having grown from an insignificant market town to major industrial centre in a remarkably short time, and then having the heart of the new town obliterated by 1960s redevelopment, Swindon has a surprisingly large number of interesting buildings. This page illustrates a few of the churches and chapels.

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Churches and Chapels

Swindon's old Parish Church

Remaining chancel of Swindon's old parish church This chancel is all that remains of the old parish church. It was situated close to the manor house. Click on the image for a larger picture (283,716 bytes).

There seem to be different opinions about the architectural merits of the old church. William Morris, in his Swindon Fifty Years Ago, More or Less says of it (writing in 1885): "Fifty years ago, the parish church of Swindon was the plainest and most insignificant ecclesiastical building in the whole neighbourhood. With one very trifling exception, it positively had no architectural feature about it...". On the other hand, Frank R. Heath in his Methuen Little Guide "Wiltshire", says (writing in 1911) after praising the new church that it "almost reconciles us to the loss of the older edifice, of which the chancel, containing some memorable monuments, is still standing". Pigot's Directories of Wiltshire in 1830 and 1842 say it "is a small plain structure, with a low tower; the interior is fitted up with great neatness".

I believe the chancel is in fact still in occasional use for services - certainly they were annual in 1979. In the mid-late 1940s, however, it was in a sorry state, with broken windows, and with smashed monuments lying over the floor (presumably the same monuments referred to by Heath). This is from my own observation at that time. During World War 2 the mansion and surrounding parkland, including the chancel, were occupied by the military, first British and later Americans, but whether they or intruders were responsible for the damage I do not know. I know even a nine-year old, totally unreligious, boy found the wanton destruction of beautiful carvings disturbing.

There appear to be differences also as to the dedication of the old church. Peter Sheldon, in his: "Swindon in Camera" (published 1979) refers to it as Holy Rood Church, as do the Pigot's Direcotries of 1830 and 1842, whereas Morris says: "whether the church was large or small, the only thing certain about it is that it was originally dedicated to Holy Rood, and, for some reason which does not appear, it was afterwards - and some time prior to 1302 - rededicated to St. Mary". Maybe it changed as Morris says but later reverted to the original dedication, but it is surprising that he did not mention the fact if that is so.

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Christ Church, the "new" Parish Church

Christ ChurchSwindon parish church (Christ Church) - click for larger picture (46,324 bytes)

This church was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott to replace the old church, and opened for use in 1851.

The new church is described by Heath as "a very handsome building, with accommodation for nearly 1,000 people, and with its western tower and lofty spire, and its ample and well-designed proportions ...". Its prominent position on top of one of the steepest parts of the hill means that it is visible for many miles. The five bells of the old church, all dated 1741, were moved to the new and joined by a new one immediately, followed by two more in 1883.

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St. Mark's Church

St. Mark's Church With the growth of the new railway town a new church was needed to serve it. St. Mark's was built by the Great Western Railway company adjacent to the railway village. Click on the image for a larger picture (181,048 bytes).

Like Christ Church, St. Mark's was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. It was opened a little earlier, in 1846.

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Bath Road Methodist Chapel

Bath Road Methodist Chapel This building was opened in May 1880, with seating for 800, plus a basement used for a school and for public meetings. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image (26,907 bytes). William Morris, in his book Swindon Fifty Years ago (More or Less) (published in 1885) says it is "a particularly handsome structure, and both externally and internally contains some of the best masonry and carpenters' work to be met with in the district".

 

 

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Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Faringdon Road

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Faringdon Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Faringdon Road This building was apparently intended originally to be a model residence for single men working in the Great Western Railway works. The company built it at the edge of the The Railway Village for this purpose, but changes were made to convert it to a chapel. It replaced a building erected in 1869, and was certainly in use as a chapel before 1885, but I do not yet know when it opened. It had seating capacity for 1,100 people, and also incorporated a school. The two huge and disfiguring windows and the wheel mounted between the small spires were incorporated in the second half of the 20th century, when the building became for a time a railway museum. When I took the two photos (late February 2004) it appeared to be derelict. The first photo (29,095 bytes) shows the front from across Faringdon Road, while the second (29,265 bytes) is the rear, seen from the Mechanics Institute, with the spot where I took the first just visible on the extreme right.

 

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Chapel in Radnor Street Cemetery

Chapel in Radnor Street Cemetery Chapel in Radnor Street Cemetery These two photos (20,626 and 36,394 bytes respectively) show the front and rear of the small chapel in the centre of Radnor Street Cemetery. Although it is tiny, it occupies a prominent position, with the cemetery ground dropping away quite steeply from it in three directions and rising only very slowly in the fourth (the south). The view over the town from the chapel can be seen on my Miscellaneous views of Swindon page. All I know of it is that it is shown as a chapel on a map dated 1883, and that it was sealed up and clearly out of use when I was there in late February 2004.

 

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Emmanuel United Reform Church, Upham Road

Emmanuel United Reform Church Emmanuel United Reform Church This church in Upham Road was built just before the outbreak of World War 2 as Emmanuel Congregational Church (at about the same time as most of the houses in the immediate area). It faces directly down Burford Avenue.

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