Become a Friend of the Swindon Museumand Art Gallery

For only £15 a year, you can become a Friend and receive links to our Zoom talks. To become a Friend or find out more about us, go to the website The Museum and Art Gallery at Apsley House has been closed for 2 years. Please sign the petition:

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Relocation Plans for Wiltshire Museum

 David Dawson, Director of Wiltshire Museum in Devizes gave our March talk via Zoom on plans to relocate the museum, currently on 9 different levels to the former Assize Court, unused since the 1980s. At the moment, it's empty and a derelict shell. There is an excellent video on the Wiltshire Museum website where you can find out more about the plans from David Dawson, I was interested to see that plans for the renovation had been posted on boards on the outside of the Assize Court so people could read about them. It was fascinating to hear how David had an over view of the process of breathing new life into the old building; he sees opportunities and builds on them. 

I took notes and photographed some of the slides, my favourite being this one below, people were asked about the proposals for relocation in single words, the size of the word indicates the frequency with which it was used, so the slide below gives a good indication of how they feel:

The slides that follow are ones used in the video and on the hoardings outside the Assize Court during the consultation. One of the interesting aspects of the building is that it has the canal behind it, it might be possible to use the rear of the building overlooking the canal as a way in. Along with image makers, they have created visualisations of how spaces will work, and how to use the spaces outside to engage with people.

In this slide, you can see where the canal is situated in relation to the building which is a real asset; water being a great feature in any situation. Think of the Hepworth in Wakefield and how fabulous it is to see the river snaking around the building.

The next slide looks at the audience development report where people were asked if they visited the current museum and what would influence their decision to visit. Telling stories of Wiltshire came out very strongly, and providing interesting things for the children to see, for example leaving cells in the basement. Location and layout of the present museum is seen fairly obviously as a problem, which I feel has been largely overcome by a determination to make things happen.
This slide looks at the potential audience for Wiltshire Museum
This slide below gives an idea of how people feel about the current museum which engages with about 20,500 people annually, it's seen in a very positive light as can be seen by the words people used to describe how they felt
This slide which you can only see if you home in, asks questions about why people don't visit, and the reasons they give.
The next one asks why people do visit.
The next slide shows that twice as many people use the building as visit it. The shop is excellent and a great place to buy cards, books and other items.
You may have visited the recent Ravilious exhibition, I visited it twice and thought it was fabulous. The Duchess of Cornwall visited and looks very happy being shown round by David Dawson. If you click on the link, you will find the duchess also visited the new cinema in Marlborough.
This slide was also very interesting, the figures are amazing and well deserved. If you put on exhibitions and advertise them, people will come, and spend money in Devizes town as well as in the museum. A calculation was made that it was worth £500k to the town in extra revenue. People eat and shop when they visit the exhibition.
Below a timeline and costings
And what's coming up
Including Hardy's Wessex which opens on 28th of May and is part of an exhibition in 4 museums.
Lots of food for thought in the talk. We will follow the progress made towards a new museum for Devizes with interest, and wish David Dawson every success in moving this project forwards.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Two Year Anniversary of Closure Marked

 When Apsley House, home of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery closed on 18 March 2020 in line with every other public building, because of Covid restrictions, we didn't realise that would be the last time we would be able to visit. It didn't reopen when restrictions were lifted in early 2021, and then when all restrictions were to removed on 19 July 2021, we learned it would never reopen, be emptied and the building sold as surplus to requirements.

The signs outside the building indicate the opening hours, but it never opens, the general public may think it does open occasionally. We met outside the building to remind people of its status, as closed, and how important we think a museum and art gallery are for the people who live here, and who used to like to visit it. An article in the Swindon Advertiser says this much more eloquently than I can do:

We had large and small cakes to commemorate the event, and lots of people came along to support us. Here's a photo taken after we'd gathered and had a speech and started to eat the cake:

I took some more photos of cake with toppers on, I didn't know you could buy such things:
We also had iced cakes with flags in:
There was a card, held here by Angela Atkinson, says on the outside: 'On the 2nd anniversary of your closure' and inside
'Dear Apsley House, Two years ago today you were closed to us & we lost our museum and art gallery. We miss you #FreeOurCroc

This was setting up at the beginning, the sign says 'Swindon Borough Council this is a Swindon Borough Council designated site for rapturous applause.
A sad day we felt we needed to mark.
There were biscuits with marzipan crocs on, and a croc suited supporter, hopefully Angela's blog will have those photos, please click here to find more content and photos.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

The History, Art and Architecture of St.Mark's Church, Swindon New Town 1843-1995

Michael Gray gave our February talk to a packed Zoom audience on St.Mark's Church, located in the Railway Village, and built a little after the village. Michael recently reviewed the listings for Historic England when the whole Railway Village became a Heritage Action Zone in 2019; he gave us the talk he gives on Heritage Open Days, and I hope we can have a tour round it before long as a Friends' trip.

The railway came to Swindon in 1841, at that time, Brunel sketched plans for the village, not the church. The main church in Swindon at this time was Holy Rood in Lawn, it was very small and with 1800 staff employed in the works, the need for another church was appreciated by the Goddard and Villet families who each paid £500 for the church, probably half a million today. The bulk of the funding came from Lambeth Palace, £5-6,000 was allocated to build a church, vicarage and church school.

Michael started his talk with this lovely photograph of light pouring through a window from the south, the effect is of sunlight passing through incense burnt in all services. The resurgence of all things Catholic, with ritualist ideas dating back to 1830 was called the Oxford movement and dates back to 1830, arriving in Swindon in 1840, it didn't take hold then, but Canon JMG Ponsonby who was vicar from 1879-1903 was keen on the Oxford movement.
George Gilbert Scott tendered for the job , submitting the watercolour below which won him the commission. His most famous other commissions include St Pancras station and the Albert memorial tower.

In the graveyard, there are 5 large memorials, including 2 listed ones. The one above as you can see is to Joseph Armstrong who was an engineer and driver, 6000 attended his funeral.
Many people who worked in the railway works had come from other regions of the UK, they tended to build their own churches because they didn't want to worship in Anglican churches which is why we have so many chapels in Swindon.
The photograph above shows a hammerbeam roof and scissor trusses to give height and space; the church lifts the worshipper up , as though revisiting paradise.
You can see above the detailing on the stone work
The stained glass in the church is beautiful, the window below is the one behind the altar. Jesus in depicted in the centre of the window, set in a sunburst with 4 apostles around him, and the hand of God above him. It was designed by Martin Travers who died in 1949
The two windows below were made at different times, the one on the left in 1888, depicts the returning prodigal son, and jealous brother depicted as Henry VIII. The one on the right, the Baptistry window was commissioned to mark 150 years of St Marks and the other 3 Anglican churches, St.Saviours, St Lukes and St.Aldems
Below is a magnified bit of the window on the left.
Two more windows, the one on the left tells the story of Isiah and Jeremiah, commissioned in 1894 as a tribute to a dead wife. The window on the right was made in 2012 in memory of Rex Hurrell, commemorating Saint Sithney, patron saint of mad dogs

You can find what Sir John Betjeman thought about St.Mark's by listening to this BBC archive material from March 1949.  However to listen, you have to log in to Discogs, something I was not able to do just now. And also watch the talk by clicking here
What a fascinating tour around St.Mark's, thank you very much Michael.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

A Visit to View the Roman Wine Strainer

 Anyone who has been following the Roman Wine strainer restoration via blog post 1 and post 2, will remember that almost 20 years ago, a metal detectorist found a Roman Wine strainer and decided to donate it to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, then at Apsley House. The Friends offered to pay for the restoration of the wine strainer, and went to check up on its progress at the Wiltshire History Centre in Chippenham in January 2020, when it was almost restored, but not quite. On finding out that it had been restored, collected and was now back in storage in Swindon, I asked if the Friends could see it. 

The visit was arranged for Tuesday 15 February at lunchtime at Steam. It looks absolutely fantastic, especially when you consider it's 2000 years old, and looks just like something you'd use in the kitchen today, although in the last 50 years, we would have used aluminium or plastic. In Roman times, they would have had a range of alloys to use, but not aluminium because it needs electricity for its extraction. It has a green colour on it, so it contains copper, alloyed with something else.

Anyway here are a few photos of the wine strainer when we visited it, I'll start with my favourite photograph which shows the beautiful patterning of the holes:

and this one gives some idea of the bottom part of the strainer:

and this one shows it on its stand, specially made for it:

I'll add a few more, importantly one of the whole thing. I do like the handle, it's very simple, but rather lovely:

and a few more, with people in, this one shows Paula and Simon who hadn't seen it before
a different view of the wine strainer

Here are more people:
and this is a bit silly, it's a photo of me taking a photo, taken by Paula.

Not everyone was able to see the Roman Wine Strainer, I'm hoping it can go on display in a ceramics' cabinet at the Civic Offices

Friday, 11 February 2022

Questions and Answers

 This is a very difficult and worrying time for those concerned that Swindon is destined to be a dormitory town for others with no facilities within the town. When we were told the museum and art gallery at Apsley House was to remain closed, with no obvious replacement, we were very concerned and felt this was a very bad idea. In fact no one has said it is a good idea. 

There are many concerns felt by residents about this state of affairs, some of them were voiced by Carole Bent, in her second round of questions to the council, I felt it was helpful to publish them here:

Pls confirm what consultation was undertaken with the public prior to the decision being made to close Apsley House, the home of the Museum & Art Gallery.
The Council took the decision to move the collections from Apsley House to the Civic Offices, from unsuitable premises to improved accommodation.
The civic offices will provide improved accommodation suitable for the delivery of a modern museum service with improved accessibility and from a central location.
To provide the best possible outcomes for the collections, local residents and visitors, it was determined that the best solution would be to find a medium term solution, until plans for the Cultural Quarter can be advanced.
Over the years there have been extensive discussions about relocation plans for the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery.
Pls confirm what consultation / engagement was undertaken with the public to explore options to display our Art Gallery & Museum collections prior to deciding to keep Apsley House shut.
The Council took the best decision for the operation of the service and improving access for all visitors.
Discussion took place with the Arts Council as a key partner and our accrediting body, there has been extensive public discussion following the consideration of two reports at Cabinet in the second half of 2021.
Q3 )
Pls clarify where a full list of contents of the Museum & Art Gallery collections can be accessed by members of the public (as recorded on 18th March 2020 )
I understand that for security reasons, SBC may choose not to publicise the locations where these are being stored, but believe that it is fully acceptable for a list to be provided on request.
A full list of all items held in the collections of Swindon Museum & Art Gallery is not currently accessible to members of the public.
It is not a priority to create such a list at this time.
Similar lists do not exist for either of Swindon Borough Council’s other owned and operated museums (STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway and Lydiard House Museum).
To create a publically accessible list of all items within the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery collections would take a considerable amount of staff time, at a point where staff are actively working to create a fully accessible, centrally located museum and art gallery at Civic Buildings, which will offer better access to our collections than was previously available at Apsley House.
A list of the works held as part of the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art is accessible through the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery website
Swindon’s Collection of Modern British Paintings and Swindon’s Local Art Collection can also be viewed on the ART UK website.
Is SBC aware of decisions being taken to donate art works , intended for Swindon to other Towns / City Museums & Galleries instead - due to concerns over current plans ?
Is SBC concerned about the impact of this for the development of the collections / future bequests?
We are not aware of any decisions taken by owners of artworks over their intention to donate artworks to other museums or art galleries rather than to Swindon Museum & Art Gallery.
Since the decision was announced to move Swindon Museum & Art Gallery to Civic Buildings, we have received several gifts to our permanent collections.
Given that staff are actively working to create a fully accessible, centrally located museum and art gallery for Swindon, which will offer better access to our collections than was previously available at Apsley House, this should provide the reassurance necessary for future donors.'

Regarding the last answer, I will publish an email I received on this matter:

'Firstly, we are totally disgusted with Swindon Council's attitude to the Museum (and the Arts in general) and just don't want to hear any more about their woeful inadequacies.

It had been our intention to offer our Studio Pottery collection to Swindon Museum. (Over 600 pieces) This is now out of the question. So, we are now in touch with the Centre of Ceramic Art in York on this matter. '

I've included a couple of paintings by LS Lowry, Winter in Pendlebury and A Procession, in an exhibition 3 years ago at our gallery.

Work Starts on New Home for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

This was the Swindon Advertiser headline to an article published the day after my letter to the Advertiser asking what was happening to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery which closed for good on 18 March 2020. We didn't of course know it was closing for good at that time, with no plans at the end of June 2021 for reopening until the cultural quarter building has been completed.

I've included the link to the article explaining that the whole top floor of the Civic Offices will be converted into Swindon Museum and Art Gallery as agreed at Cabinet on 1 December 2021:

The photo the Advertiser used for the article yesterday was of one of our rallies outside Apsley House:

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

What's happening with our museum?

 Last week, the Save our Museum and Gallery group, SoMAG, decided we needed to give an update on our museum and art gallery which remains closed to the public. In a town identified as having low cultural engagement, why close the museum and art gallery, without plans for another one, except in the distant future? We sent this letter to the Swindon Advertiser, which they kindly published today:

'Whatever has happened to the wonderful things we used to see in our Museum and Art Gallery?

Like many venues, Apsley House, the building that housed Swindon’s beloved “crocodile” and the Egyptian mummy, closed because of the pandemic. Unlike other venues, it remains closed. Swindon Borough Council’s leaders say a new museum and art exhibition facility should be built in the centre of town, as part of a planned cultural quarter. So the collections have been put into storage, and Swindon residents can see a few of the artworks via worthy but small exhibitions called Art on Tour.

Swindon Borough Council’s leaders admit it will take at least ten years for the new facility to be built. The Save our Museum and Art Gallery (SoMAG) have asked the council to ensure that the collections have a suitable home until then. In December 2021, the Cabinet decided to convert the entire top floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery. So far, so good. But something does not add up.

In March 2019, the council estimated it would cost £1,864,000 to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices. It now claims it will cost £400,000. We have asked how the cost of conversion can have fallen by £1,464,000, but had no answer.

Our rapidly growing town is already identified by the Arts Council as having low cultural engagement. This is shameful. A significant part of our culture is locked up somewhere, out of sight.

For two months, we have been trying to meet the Culture Councillor, Robert Jandy, to discuss when we will have a museum and art gallery fit for the town. Swindon risks becoming a dormitory town, with huge housing estates and no facilities. Instead, let’s create a place we can all enjoy, and let’s start by valuing what we have got. Swindon Museum and Art Gallery remains closed and it is not good enough.

Linda Kasmaty

Chair of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery(FSMAG)  and Save our Museum and Gallery (SoMAG)'

Here's a link to the letter in the Swindon Advertiser: 

Letters: What's happening with our museum? | Swindon Advertiser 

With this photo standing outside the Civic Offices before a council meeting: