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.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Plans for the first floor of the Civic Offices


Plans have been submitted by Swindon Borough Council to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. I appreciate it's not easy to see what is written in the boxes in the plan below, but it's probably easier to go to the planning link here:

You can see that the planning application asks for stud walls to be allowed to be removed to enable larger spaces to be created for displays. There will be disabled access via a lift which it is planned will be sited behind the current main reception area in the Civic Offices, which is currently a cafe, no longer used because so few staff work in the Civic Offices. It is hoped that the facility will be open from March-April 2023 for visitors.
Before then, we are hoping that Friends and members of the public will be able to look round the first floor, and then we will have a workshop where we can be involved in the process of deciding how the spaces will be used. Community involvement is important in the process as stressed by the Arts Council who are keen to stress involving communities in their latest guidance:
Expectations of National Portfolio Organisations in relation to Let’s Create 
Public funding entails public accountability, both for Arts Council England and for the organisations in which it invests public money. It follows that we have certain expectations of organisations in which we invest. All our investment is made to help us achieve our strategy,  Let’s Create. 
Let’s Create focusses on three Outcomes: [more detail here ]
•  Creative People: Everyone can develop and express their creativity throughout their life  [this is about ACE wanting increase participation in arts and culture]
•  Cultural Communities: Villages, towns and cities thrive through a collaborative approach to culture [this is about ACE wanting to support community involvement in their culture]
•  A Creative and Cultural Country: England’s cultural sector is innovative, collaborative and international. [this is about ACE wanting to support investment in arts and culture practitioners]
Each Outcome is important and will work together with the four Investment Principles[more detail here: ]
•  Ambition and Quality: Cultural organisations are ambitious and committed to improving the quality of their work
•  Dynamism: Cultural organisations are dynamic and able to respond to the challenges of the next decade
•  Environmental Responsibility: Cultural organisations lead the way in their approach to environmental responsibility 
•  Inclusivity and Relevance: England’s diversity is fully reflected in the organisations and individuals that we support and in the culture they Produce
Under the four Investment Principles guidance:
"In future, we will judge organisations for the way in which they reflect and build a relationship with their communities, as well as for the quality and ambition of their work."

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

August: Friends' Trip to Rabley

 The Friends last visited Rabley 7 years ago, and was very much looking forward to making a return trip, however, best laid plans etc. It turned out I caught Covid last week and couldn't make the trip after all, Meryl Ainslie kindly suggested that everyone went anyway without me which worked out very well, although of course I missed out on what looks to have been a lovely afternoon out. So thank you to all who provided photos. Looking at the website, I can see that the Summer Exhibition at Rabley Gallery is showing new works by Sara Lee, one of the 'artists in focus' along with other artists mentioned below

Here are a couple of photos showing the lovely, light and airy gallery space at Rabley
and here is Meryl talking with Sara Lee woodcuts behind her
More Sara Lee woodcuts below:
and here:

Emma Stibbon RA, whose work can be seen below in the next two photos
This one above might be 'El Chorro Gorge' a woodcut
On the left, the picture is called 'Blast' and on the right 'White House' in Icelandic, both are made by intaglio printing.

I think the next photo is showing woodcut printing:
and this one below shows Sarah Gillespie's Moth, this is, I think a mezzotint as bought recently by the V & A and Pallant House Gallery, if you click on the link you can see a lot more
I'm going to end this series of photographs kindly taken by visitors to Rabley last week with these lovely photos taken from the outside of the building showing the beautiful setting in the Marlborough Downs
There's something really lovely about the views
And this one of the outside of the gallery
So thank you once again for hosting the Friends Meryl, and for the great photos those who sent them to me

Monday, 22 August 2022

July Talk: Kettle's Yard

 For our July talk, we invited a speaker from Kettle's Yard to talk about this beautiful place, Eliza Spindel, Curatorial Assistant for Kettle's Yard, gave us a wealth of information about the history, and showed us photos of some of the beautiful  pieces in the house. I took  notes during the talk and also photos from the screen, I also have a blog post written when I last visited in 2019: Kettle's Yard House ( which you might also like to look at.

Jim and Helen Ede were co curators of Kettle's Yard from the 1960s. Jim had been a curator at the Tate in the 1930, subsequently moving to Tangier, then France in the 1950s and moving back to the UK in the early 60s when he and Helen bought the dilapidated cottages, due for demolition and set about converting them to make them habitable again. One of the things they did was to  add large octagonal bay windows to allow natural light into the rooms. The place became an experiment in how to live with art in a domestic setting. The rooms are small, there is natural light and no captions or labels, and since the rooms are as Jim planned them to be, we can feel the balance and harmony he intended us to feel. The first photo I have added is my favourite, it shows some of the recurring themes, such as circles and spirals of pebbles here seen in descending size order. These were picked up in the 1950s on a Norfolk beach

Here is a photo of Jim and Helen Ede
There's so much to see from the photos of the rooms, the one below shows one of the main living rooms with a small table where people could eat on the right hand side, and shows more rooms in the background. On the left is a bay window and you can just see that paintings are hung beneath the bay
If we get a little nearer, you can see below, there's a broom head with no bristles, a ceramic jar and a Christopher Wood painting on board from the 1930s
Here's a close up of the painting which fits in well with the flower theme, where freshly cut flowers are placed in every room.
Another of their core artists was Alfred Wallis, this one is Five Ships : Mount's Bay 1928. Jim Ede has the largest collection of Alfred Wallis paintings. He would ask Alfred Wallis to send him all his latest paintings and buy the ones he liked best.
Below amidst the plants is a rotating disc made by Gregorio Vardenega in 1960 which refracts light
This sculpture of a dancer is by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who died in WW1 aged 23. 
Below is a painting by Winifred Nicholson 'Roman Road acquired in 1926
The photo below shows some of the Alfred Wallis paintings on display together
There was so much more to the talk, but I think you'll have to visit Cambridge and experience the magic for yourself
I'll end with another painting by Winifred Nicholson, Cyclamen and Primula painted in 1923, and say thank you again to Eliza Spindel and all at Kettle's Yard who make it possible for us to view and experience this fantastic collection.

Apsley House Particulars and a Viewing

 Apsley House is for sale with Hartnell, Taylor and Cooke, the particulars are on their website, and can be seen here. They have a short description as follows:

Apsley House, Bath Road & 113-116 Victoria Road Swindon, SN1 3BH


  • Attractive Grade II listed property
  • Located in Old Town, Swindon, the independent heart of Swindon, home to the town’s best bars, restaurants and retailers
  • Comprises a former museum and art gallery, adjoining a 1960 ’s retail extension fronting Victoria Road
  • Freehold
  • Situated on 0 295 acre site
  • Total GIA area of 8,130 sq ft
  • The former museum, including first floor extension is to be sold with vacant possession
  • The retail parade is a fully let unbroken terrace of 4 retail units producing £43,975 per annum
  • The property provides redevelopment potential

I had the opportunity to visit recently when going round with the parish council, it was strange to be in the building after over 2 years, and also of course to see it emptied of everything, well almost everything, the plinth on which the croc stood, is still there as you can see if you look through the particulars. If you were to visit, I wonder what you'd photograph? The first photograph you'd take is obvious isn't it? The croc's footprints:
I wonder who painted them on the carpet? They are very effective
and of course lead all the way up to the top of the building
It's all very strange with everything taken out, above is the former Archaeology Gallery on the first floor
And lastly I took photos of the beautiful coloured glass in the front windows
So there we are, lovely heritage building in the heart of Old Town. 

SSPC Press Release : Apsley House Purchase?

 It's very easy for things to get a bit lost in August, especially this year with the extreme heat and lack of rain, followed, for me by my first bout of Covid. Still isolating, I'm attempting to catch up with Friends' news, starting with the Press Release from South Swindon Parish Council about their expression of interest in Apsley House, where the former Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was housed for 60 years. It was possible for the parish council to trigger a six month moratorium because the Friends applied for Apsley House to be declared an Asset of Community Value; this was accepted, and we hope Apsley House can remain in community use.

Here it is:


South Swindon Parish Council triggers six months moratorium for the sale of Apsley House museum and art gallery.


At a meeting of its Full Council on the 19th July 2022 (Min. 2223-49) it was resolved by South Swindon Parish Council that –

South Swindon Parish Council, defined as a Community Interest Group in The Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 Section 12(a), will express an interest in Apsley House.

As of the 27th July 2022 per the Localism Act 2011 Section 95, the Parish Council has given formal notice to Swindon Borough Council to be treated as a potential bidder in relation to the land and buildings and therefore commence the moratorium of six months from the date of notification.

Statement from Chris Watts, Chair, South Swindon Parish Council:

“I was pleased to have proposed the motion to the Parish Full Council meeting and also pleased to have received unanimous cross-party support. The moratorium will give time and space for the Parish Council to survey the structure, investigate the potential of the facility and produce a feasibility study and business proposal.

We were disappointed that Swindon Borough Council did not give due consideration to the previous proposal to temporarily transfer the facility to the Parish Council to run whilst the town waited ten to fifteen years for the cultural quarter project to come to fruition. The closure of the Museum and Art Gallery was a great loss to Old Town and the wider community and, as a listed building, Apsley House is an iconic piece of Swindon history and heritage as demonstrated by the level of outcry when the Museum and Art Gallery was closed.”

Statement from Neil Hopkins, Chair of Leisure and Amenities, South Swindon Parish Council:

In the five years that the Parish has been in existence we have been committed, not only to protecting and renovating heritage assets, but ensuring that these assets are put back into use. 

When we took the lease for the formal parks in 2019, they were tired, run down, underinvested and at risk, if not for the heroic work of the gardeners in difficult times. Regenerating the formal parks has allowed us to increase events, such as music concerts, outdoors theatre and the Enchanted Gardens Christmas Lights. It is this style of progressive policy towards Parish Council assets that ensure we can provide much needed amenity, service and value for money for residents. 

By triggering the moratorium we would seek to apply the same values and principles to Apsley House and will be working hard to attain this goal if indeed it is feasible for the Parish to take on this property.

Statement from SOMAG (Save Our Museum and Gallery Group):

''We fully support the South Swindon Parish Council in its bid to bring Apsley House back into community use. This landmark listed building, which belongs to the people of Swindon, has been closed to the public for almost two and a half years. If it is sold into private ownership there will be no guarantees about its future.

“However, South Swindon Parish Council already has a proven track record of approaching projects with vision and innovation, as well as making them pay their way. This is an amazing opportunity to repurpose this wonderful piece of Swindon’s heritage, protect it and breathe new life into it. We look forward to working very closely with the parish council and offering whatever support we can to help make this bid a success.”

Coincidentally the Swindon Advertiser have also published this today:

Parish council seeking to purchase closed Swindon Museum and Art Gallery | Swindon Advertiser

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

History of Building Listing: June talk

 In June, we were very pleased to welcome Martin Newman, information and data analysis manager at Historic England who was talking about the process of listing buildings to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Town & Country Planning Act. 

I took photos of the slides Martin used for his talk, and made notes, so I'll intersperse the slides with some of the notes I took.
The idea of legislation has been to protect buildings and sites began in 1882 with the first Ancient Monuments Act. General Augustus Pitt-Rivers was appointed the first inspector of Ancient Monuments, Sites could be added to a Schedule if approved by the Privy Council in the presence of  Queen Victoria. The oldest complete list of scheduled monuments dates back to 1953 and, the last time they were published  in paper form was 1999. A comprehensive review of the the Schedule the Monuments Protection Programme was undertaken in the 1990s looking at whole classes of sites at a time to protect the best examples. This increased the number to nearly 20,000 sites. The Roman site at Groundwell Ridge is the most recent site in Swindon to be scheduled.
There is a National Heritage List for England which as you can see from the slide below is quite extensive. There are 19 World Heritage Sites in the UK, listed by UNESCO, there were 20 before Liverpool lost theirs recently.
Here's the list for Swindon:
And locations, 
Photo of the Old Vicarage, the first listed building 75 years ago
and just over 4 years later, 20 buildings were listed in Swindon, top of the list being Apsley House, the home of Swindon Museum at that time

Below you'll see the Renault building, listed in 2013, the Crumpled Horn, the Mechanics and the Railway Village
Not everyone thinks listing buildings is a good idea, the Civic Offices and the Oasis have been recent examples of listings in Swindon that haven't pleased everyone, and some were disappointed The Murray John tower was not listed.
Misconceptions heard on property shows include if it's Grade 11 listing, it's only the outside that's protected, that you can change the parts of the interior that aren't original. That listing makes a building harder to sell and more expensive to do anything to it.
You can also list landscapes like Queen's Park and Town Gardens, which use the same grading system as listing.
Heritage at Risk, there are 12 entries for Swindon, the Mechanics Institute being one. The  Corn Exchange isn't on the register as it is Grade ll and the register only extends to Grade ll* buildings outside London. 
Some important links
and Martin also mentioned that a building normally has to be 30 years old to be listed, it can be as 'young' as 10 years old.  The Conservation Areas were instituted in 1967, Old Town became a Conservation Area in 1969. 
A fascinating insight into listing, and a valuable resource, thank you, Martin.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

The sale of Apsley House

 I'm aware the blog has been fairly quiet on the future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery recently, this post is intended to update you on where we are now. Apsley House, the former home of SM&AG has now been emptied and Swindon Borough Council have agreed to sell it. Aware of the vital role it does play in the Swindon community, the Friends applied to make it an asset of community value, and this was agreed. At last night's talk on 75 years of listing, Martin Newman of Historic England led us through the history of listing and reminded us that Apsley House was one of the first buildings to be listed in Swindon:

Interestingly, the 1960s gallery extension was also listed later.
The Swindon Advertiser has published three articles about the sale which is attracting a lot of interest unsurprising really bearing in mind the importance of this building:

What is the future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery? In March, SBC applied for planning permission for a change of use of  the first floor of the Civic Offices, to temporarily open the museum and art gallery there until the Cultural Quarter is built on the Kimmerfields site. Currently you can see some paintings and ceramics in the entrance to the Civic Offices and Committee Room 3, on Monday-Friday 9-5pm.

Friends committee members are meeting with Cllr Matty Courtliff, Cabinet member for culture, heritage, leisure and town centre experience, on a monthly basis to keep them updated and enable discussions about the shaping of the future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.