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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

The Art of Ashdown House by Nicola Cornick

 On the 25 August we were given a fascinating talk on the art of Ashdown House, a short distance from Swindon, by Nicola Cornick who has been a National Trust guide at the house for 20 years. Ashdown House was built as a hunting lodge in 1661-2, in 'blingy' white stone as a status symbol by Lord Craven who at one time was the richest man in England. He also had a fabulous portrait collection, a small core of which still remains at Ashdown House. I'll include the portraits I photographed from the computer screen, although I'm not sure who they represent. Fortunately we have a recording of the talk, and there are guided tours of the collection bookable on the website, Nicola is doing one tomorrow afternoon which I would very much like to have attended.

I think this is a portrait of Lord Craven above, and below the painting might be called 'Allegory of Love'. It was a posthumous portrait and shows symbols of love, loyalty and marriage

This might be Prince Richter of the Rhine who had 13 children
I will soon watch the recording of the talk and fill in the gaps
 Nicola Cornick is writer in residence at Ashdown House and is a best selling author, she has 2 days ago talked at Burford literary Festival!!

Archaeological Sites in and around Swindon

 Every Friend's talk we have been given has been written up as a blog post for the last 10 years, but lately I have got a bit behind with these, and with tomorrow's talk almost upon us, I thought I'd better catch up with writing up the July talk. We were very fortunate to have Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger, archaeological adviser for Wiltshire and Swindon talking to us via Zoom. This is the information a yields:

 'Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger is a professional archaeologist of more than 25 years’ experience. During that time she has carried out fieldwork, research and lecturing in Britain and overseas including  in America, Greece and North Korea. For the last 11 years she  has been managing the Archaeology Service at Wiltshire Council as County Archaeologist. A particular focus of her work over the last two decades has been the archaeology and conservation of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.' from A303 Scientific Committee.

 I will share my notes and photos from the computer, and fortunately we have a video of the talk where you can find out exactly what Melanie said.

Melanie focused on 8  or 9 sites around Swindon; there are approximately 1800 sites in the area, many around Wanborough and the A419 along Ermin St and in the south east along the M 4 corridor. The eastern villages developments will expose a lot more sites. The first site Melanie talked about was the Foxbridge development where a Roman town can be seen, maybe like the one mapped below.

Maps form an important part of recording remains, there's a site along the A 420 opposite the police station where significant remains have been found, the site is scheduled and will not be built on.
If you look up Marston Farm, there are archaeological reports on the importance of things like a Roman oven with burnt material inside it.
A third site, Sam's Lane, Blunsdon is the site of 32 cremations, some of them in pots. A fourth site of Roman development is at Roves Farm which was surveyed before a solar farm was built on the land.
Day House Lane dates back to early Iron Age. The highlighted link outlines the furore around developing the area, the development did go ahead, although the stone circle has not been built on.
Melanie also talked about artefacts like brooches found at these sites and described this area as the breadbasket of England which is why there are so many archaeological sites here, it was a pleasant place to live. Lots more excavations are needed to get a better picture.
If I had written this talk up before, people may have been able to go on this trip.
Apologies for taking so long to get this posted, and thank you Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger for a super talk.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Two Reports in today's Swindon Advertiser

 There are two reports of the situation regarding the closure of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery at Apsley House in today's Swindon Advertiser. The first found here concentrates on presenting the petition and Cllr Renard's response, with a photo taken outside the Civic Offices by Aled Thomas before we went in:

The second article looks at a possible lifeline thrown by South Swindon Parish Council who will discuss on Wednesday evening whether they might take over the running of the museum and gallery until alternative premises are found.

More updates when we have them.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Petition Speech to full Council meeting

 The Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery petition signatories were submitted to Swindon Borough Council ahead of their full council meeting to be held on 23 September at 7pm, so that the matter could be discussed by councillors. As the person submitting the petition, I was allowed 5 minutes to speak about it, explain the basis of the requests, and why it was important, and be clear about the outcome we were asking for. I read the speech out so I didn't forget any points, unfortunately I had to stand on the balcony, not the best place to attract attention, with no possibility of making eye contact. I did start the speech by asking if people could hear me. I've put a copy of the speech below:

'Mr Mayor and assembled Councillors

The petition you have received today is a reflection of the strong feelings aroused by this Council's proposal to sell Apsley House and consign the town's museum and art collections to limbo for the next ten years, or however long it takes to build the new Art Pavilion as part of Swindon's grand vision of a new 'Cultural Quarter'.

Why sell Apsley House before a suitable replacement has been built?

The petition was started because Swindon Museum and Art Gallery currently housed at Apsley House in Old Town is under threat of permanent closure, its contents being put into storage, and the building sold as ‘surplus to requirements’. The museum has been housed there for the last 90 years, and the art collection for the last 60 years.  Apsley House is a much loved facility despite its shortcomings, a lovely place to visit, and could be improved with some creative thinking.  Please reconsider before passing it into private ownership; it is to use a hackneyed term, a jewel in Swindon’s crown.

Apsley House is a public building, it is not surplus to requirements, and it’s shameful that the council think of selling it now. The money realised from the sale, would not be used for years on the new Art Pavilion and museum. It can only be worth more in years to come?

Swindon needs a museum and art gallery, it does have one, let’s open it. It’s a scandal that a town with 250000 pop contemplates closing its museum and art gallery for an indefinite period. Everyone in the art world I have spoken to has expressed disbelief at these plans, and said surely that couldn’t happen?

The current plans to build a Cultural Quarter are laudable, but there are many challenges ahead, it may take 10-20 years to realise this ambition. In the interim, it has been proposed that Art on Tour where reproductions of artworks are taken to popular locations via pop up gazebos, be used in place of the art gallery, with the mantra ‘more art to more people’ being frequently used. Art on Tour is fine, but as a signpost to the real thing by which I mean a proper museum and art gallery where collections can be seen together.

The latest report, was passed at Cabinet on 8 September, suggesting that some of the collections be housed in the first floor of the Civic Offices which would be incrementally converted for use as somewhere pieces of art and museum artefacts could be viewed.

Effectively then, the latest plans are to use the £400000 allocated in 2019 to Apsley House, be spent on moving all collections from Apsley House, relocating some to the Civic Offices and putting the rest in storage. There have been to date no costings for any of this, no specifics. In their current state, the Civic Offices are not suitable to house SMAG. The space comprises office rooms off a corridor and the Council's proposal to improve the space “incrementally” does not imply that the space will do justice to the Art Collection any time soon. Out of sight, out of mind? This is without considering the security implications of public access to the building.

There is a proposal from the Parish Council that after discussions with SBC, they would be interested in the short term transfer of Apsley House to South Swindon Parish Council so they could reopen it as soon as possible. This would seem to be an ideal solution for resolving the loss of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

It is really important for Swindon and its environs that we have a working museum and art gallery in the interim between now and when the Cultural Quarter is built. We need to give people confidence that we know how to look after our inheritance, and going forward we can acquire and display bequeathed items. At the moment I have emails on an almost daily basis from people choosing to not leave art works or ceramic collections to Swindon. We need to wake up and not sleep walk our way into being entirely off the cultural map of the UK.

How can we even imagine a town the size of Swindon, and growing, without a Museum and Art Gallery?

I’ll end with where we started, the wording of the petition which 5000 people signed:

‘We support the call by the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art and the Museum Collections to be retained on show in Apsley House until they can be moved to a new home where they are on show to the public. 

Finally, closing the museum and art gallery will seriously undermine credibility of Swindon Borough Council with potential funders of the Cultural quarter.'

There were points raised by Councillors Jane Milner-Barry, Jim Robbins and Jim Grant who agreed with the petition and made some excellent points including the fact that being an Arts Council  priority area isn't a good thing, it's quite shameful, the Kimmeridge office development is 10 years behind schedule so how long will the CQ take to build? Cllrs Mary Martin and Nick Burns- Howell spoke about the importance of everyone seeing art. There was a vote, I think to dismiss the petition, it's hard to follow what's going on from the balcony, all the Conservatives put their hands up and the motion was carried.

  In the debate on the Petition, Council Leader David Renard told councillors that the Cabinet Member for Culture and Heritage was keeping an open mind about the decision to move the collections to the Civic Offices, and that the proposal by South Swindon Parish would be evaluated to see whether it would be acceptable to the Cabinet and the Council as a whole.

SBC response to  the petition  22 09 2021 as quoted on BBC Radio Wiltshire:

“Since the building was closed at the start of the pandemic  its condition has deteriorated which would cost a lot of money to fix.  In order to ensure Swindon’s collection continues to be visited, the council’s cabinet has agreed to authorise  council officers to evaluate if Swindon Museum and Art Gallery collections could be temporarily housed in the Civic  Offices.  The civic offices would provide larger more accessible facilities with space for  talks, events, school groups and tours, ensuring that much more of the art is available to view.  The potential display of some of the collection alongside our accredited museum at Lydiard House will also be assessed.”

Before we went into the Civic Offices last Thursday, there were some photos taken of the assembled group, I haven't yet seen any, I did take this photo of Sandy dressed as a croc:


Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Presenting the Petition to Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 This Thursday there will be a full Council meeting in the Civic Offices at 7pm where one of the items on the agenda will be a consideration of the petition 'Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery' which was signed by over 4000 people. A reminder of what we said when the petition was started:

'We support the call by the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art and the Museum Collections to be retained on show in Apsley House until they can be moved to a new home where they are on show to the public. 

We believe that the dispersal and mothballing of the collections would be highly damaging to Swindon’s bid for City status.

We reject the recommendations in the Cabinet Member Decision Note and call for a further report to be produced setting out all the options for the future of the collections and of Apsley House, for all funding opportunities to be investigated, and for a debate to be held in full Council  before any decisions are made'.

A further report was published setting out the options for the future of SMAG on 1 September, although there weren't any options; a reminder of what was in this second report can be seen by following this link:

Before the Scrutiny meeting we had a photo taken of the assembled people, and many came in to follow proceedings at the meeting on 13 September, they asked questions, and it seemed as though the council might be  persuaded that reopening Apsley House in the interim before the new cultural quarter is built, but they weren't. Here's the photo taken before the Scrutiny meeting:

 It would be great to have as many people as possible to come and support the reopening of Apsley House on Thursday evening. We are gathering at 6.40pm outside the Civic Offices, you don't need to come to the meeting, but it would be great if you could be there.

South Swindon Parish Council have submitted a proposal to reopen SMAG, here it is:

  1. Introduction

To investigate the opportunity for South Swindon Parish Council (SSPC) to amalgamate the Old Town Library service with the museum and art gallery based in Apsley House


2.             Report Details

2.1 Swindon Borough Council (SBC) have articulated their desire to dispose of Apsley House as a Borough Council asset.


2.2 SBC have announced that the Museum and Art gallery provision will not reopen within Apsley House and had initially proposed placing artefacts, displays and artwork in storage until such time as a new facility is ready in the proposed cultural quarter, post 2028.

2.3 Robust public opposition to the SBC proposal has seen a policy repositioning with regards to the accessibility of artifacts, displays and artwork . SBC have articulated that the 1st floor of the Civic building may be an alternative temporary location, subject to a feasibility study and budgetary / elected member scrutiny.

2.4 SSPC is proposing that discussion commence with SBC to investigate the feasibility of:


  • The Apsley House asset to be transferred to SSPC on a short term lease of between 7 and 10 years, The transfer to include £400K transitional fund currently reserved for Apsley House in order to complete current listed repairs and help maintain the building for the duration of the short term lease, with an option of an additional £100K based on survey results.
  • SSPC incorporating the Old Town Library Provision into Apsley House, therefore increasing footfall, utilising current Library staff and providing a revenue saving to the Parish in vacating the current premises 

2.5 It is the stated aim of SSPC through this proposal to work towards ensuring that Swindon has a functioning Art Gallery and Museum accessible to the people of Swindon and visitors to our town, whilst the Borough Council moves forward with aspirations to build a cultural quarter that would include an improved Art Gallery and Museum facility.

2.6 SSPC would envisage that the Library provision is mainly housed in the two ground floor front rooms of Apsley House with strategic bookcase deployment, integrating book selection relevant to the exhibit subject matter. It should be noted that these rooms are currently not part of the museum display offering.

2.7 South Swindon Parish Council would be better placed to apply for grants through various channels to contribute to the running costs of the facility in the medium term.

2.8 It would be understood that the exhibits remain the property of Swindon Borough Council.


2.9 If consensus is achieved to move forward with the above proposal, the asset transfer would be subject to the completion of a full building survey and condition report.

2.10 SSPC and SBC should seek to include The Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in discussions 

3.             Proposal

  3.1 That the Parish Council resolves to inform SBC of an expression of interest from the Parish Council pertaining to the potential short term transfer of Apsley House for the purpose of re-opening the facility to the public at the earliest convenience

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Trip to Russell-Cotes: A Century of British Art

 This exhibition at Russell-Cotes Museum and Gallery in Bournemouth starting on 1 October celebrates the Centenary of the formation of Bournemouth Arts Club 1920-2020. I've added the image of 'Spray' by Harold Williamson, used in their promotion of this exhibition.

 Dr Gill Clarke, Curator of this exhibition has brought together many of the works exhibited at the 1957 exhibition, and recently showed me the catalogue where the works from the Swindon Collection are listed; they are kindly being loaned by Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for inclusion in this exhibition. Dr Gill Clarke has kindly agreed to meet us at the exhibition on Thursday 14 October.

Here are the pages of the catalogue, photographed at odd angles, but you can see the annotations as well which make it all the more special:

You'll recognise a few of our favourites in there, including Michael Ayrton, only just back from The Lightbox at Woking.

We were due to visit the exhibition at this time last year, I'm sure it'll be worth the wait, Russell-Cotes is such a fabulous place to visit.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Cabinet Decision on 8 September

Despite our best efforts, the 'Options for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery' were unanimously voted through by the 10 Cabinet members on 8 September meeting.
What can anyone do now?
You can attend the Scrutiny meeting on Monday 13 September at 6pm, where the decision can't be overturned but they can vote to return the decision to cabinet. Best to arrive at 5.45pm to allow time to sign in.
People can just turn up at the meeting, and the Chair, Jim Robbins will try to get everyone's questions answered in the public questions section, but those who have registered will be guaranteed a question.  There is 15 minutes set aside for questions, if you want to ask a question, you can do so providing you send it in before 4.30pm today, 10 September.
 Can we ask questions on the night without registering to attend the meeting?  Yes you can but it is better to ask the questions beforehand as you get provided with an answer and can then ask a supplementary question giving you two opportunities to get a question answered. 
To register ring Douglas Campbell on 07779413886, or email   that's Vicky Yull.
The larger the crowd attending Scrutiny, the better, so please consider coming along, it shows we are concerned by these decisions being made.

A reminder of what was agreed can be seen by following this link: 

There's very little detail in the plans of costings, and concerns of heritage professionals are being dismissed. Basically the agreement last night gave the go ahead for Apsley House to remain closed, be emptied of its collections and sold as 'surplus to requirements'.

If this goes ahead, we won't have a museum and art gallery in Swindon until the new Art Pavilion is built at Kimmerfields and the museum is relocated to the Town Hall which could be 10-20-30 years hence. I've included a link below to the plans for the new Cultural Quarter, released in March 2021, as a reminder of what we have to look forward to at Kimmerfields.
I say in the interim, let's keep Apsley House open.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Saturday's Rally ahead of 8 September Decision

 Last Saturday after the so called ' Consideration of Options for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery' was published, a link appears below:

 The Save our Museum and Gallery, SoMAG group decided to hold another rally outside Apsley House, there aren't any options in the report and no consideration was taken of the views of our group by either council officers or Councillor Jandy, responsible for the future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and Apsley House.

Lots of people came along to show support, and surprise that the council could shut one venue before another was ready to display the collections. I have used other people's photos of the rally, thank you to those who supplied them via social media:

Maybe this is the best one? Here are more:

There was an Advertiser write up of the rally here.

This morning the petition to Save Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was handed in at the Civic Offices. We have well over 4000 signatures, and the petition continues because we haven't declared victory because there hasn't been one yet. If you haven't yet signed, here's a link:

Here's a copy of today's press release:

More than 4000 people have signed the petition urging Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet not to make a decision about Apsley House tomorrow evening <c Wed 8 Sept>.


Members of Save Our Museum and Art Gallery group (SoMAG), who launched the petition, presented it to Swindon Borough Council this morning.

Linda Kasmaty, of Save Our Museum and Art Gallery group (SoMAG), said that arguments by council officers that Apsley House should remain closed for financial reasons simply don’t stack up. There is no evidence of what it would cost to reopen the museum and art gallery or to carry out the repairs the officers claim are needed.

“The council admits it has allowed Apsley House, a Grade II listed building which it owns, to fall into serious disrepair, but there is no evidence that professional surveys have been carried out, and no up to date costs for repairs have been produced,” said Linda.

“The council is also suggesting using the Civic Offices as an alternative to the art gallery. Yet the last time the council considered using the Civic Offices to house the paintings, it dismissed that idea because it would cost £1.8m.

“In all conscience, members of Cabinet cannot take an informed decision on this, because they have not been given the information they need. We are urging members to do the intelligent and responsible thing, and tell their officers to go back to the drawing board.

“Swindon’s art and museum collections belong to Swindon people, not to the local authority. The least residents can expect is that the full council has an opportunity to see the results of professional surveys and costings, and make a decision based on the fact.”


The petition states:


“We support the call by the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art and the Museum Collections to be retained on show in Apsley House until they can be moved to a new home where they are on show to the public. 

“We believe that the dispersal and mothballing of the collections would be highly damaging to Swindon’s bid for City status.

“We reject the recommendations in the Cabinet Member Decision Note and call for a further report to be produced setting out all the options for the future of the collections and of Apsley House, for all funding opportunities to be investigated, and for a debate to be held in full Council before any decisions are made.”

Frank Quinton Exhibition - Last Day Wednesday 8 September

 I think it's true to say that many people in Swindon have been to see John Stooke's exhibition of Frank Quinton's work and bought the book to accompany the exhibition, but in case some people haven't done so, I wanted to say how wonderful the exhibition is, and to encourage people to go along tomorrow if they can do so.

The exhibition is held in a retail unit next to Marks and Spencer on the top floor of the Brunel Centre. John Stooke has managed to borrow approximately 60 works to display and produced labels explaining quite a bit about each painting. There are some paintings owned by Swindon Borough Council which are featured in the book, but which weren't available to be loaned for this exhibition. Strange when the mantra is currently 'more art to more people' from SBC. 

Graham Carter wonderfully encapsulates my feelings about the exhibition and treatment of Swindonians by SBC in the Swindon Advertiser on Monday. When John initially approached Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to ask if he could hold the exhibition there to coincide with the publication of his book, he was told all available spaces were booked up for 2-3 years hence. I wonder what has happened to the exhibitors who couldn't exhibit? The list of exhibitions scheduled for 2020 still appears on the doors of Apsley House. 

But to the photos of paintings, starting of course with Frank's rendition of Apsley House from an interesting viewpoint, taking in the 1960s extension:

Both well established trees are in situ, and the extension seems to fit well with the older part of the building. Blaylocks is on the left, and still there. You'd rarely see the junction looking so quiet, and I think, judging by where the people are standing, this was before the time when the footpath was moved from beside the road to in front of the building.

Above view of Edmund Street just down form the Beehive at the rear of the houses. They are very impressive, mostly HMOs now.
This lovely painting is of the Hermitage built in 1830, it was demolished in 1994, to be replaced by the new building, an old people's home.
There's a sad story behind this photograph of the painting of the Sir Daniel Arms, it was owned by Doreen Scott, wife of Jim Scott, great Quinton fan. John photographed it, and then went back to pick up the painting for scanning, the house was empty, sadly Doreen had died and house clearance people had thrown the painting into a skip!
This terrace of Regency style houses along Bath Road were favourites of Franks.
And this might possibly be my favourite painting in the exhibition, it features the Edwardian row of shops in front of Swindon College. The juxtaposition of the two architectural styles and of course the fact Swindon College is no longer there, make it a great painting.

Finally, a photo of the opening night of the exhibition, what a treat it was to get together and talk about the paintings and catch up with people not seen for ages, all in one place.