My satirical rant, No Surprises Living in Devizes, once popular Sunday reading, now lies dormant. I’ve deliberated writing a conclusion, but that would be the final nail in the coffin I’m not ready to hammer in. The issue; I loved trudging my week, hunting a subject to bombast about the town I live in, and receiving the relative responses, be they positive laughs or death threats.
The reason for its gradual demise is simple; there’s finite topics to explore, and while at first the obvious flooded me, as time progressed I struggled. Methods to keep it running when subjects wore thin were many fold; more positive episodes transpired into what we now have, Devizine. The negative I’ve abandoned under the premise life is too short to be whinging, even if some thought it amusing. One of my earliest methods of trapping a good rant when nothing in Devizes sprung to mind though was to take the column to other towns, as a kind of “unwanted roadshow.”
Chippenham took the brunt of these outings, but one Sunday, when the subject centred on Swindon, I predicted many would assume it’d be the icing on the cake, as it’s a common joke that Swindon has a lot to rant about. However, for this episode I twisted the cliché, determine not to follow sheep and waffle how cultureless and uninspiring our nearest metropolis is, rather share my opinion that while, as any large town does, Swindon has its social issues, it is far from the negative stereotype it’s frequently perceived as.
This turned the head of a fellow writer at Index:Wiltshire, Angela Atkinson. Angela was brought up in a Derbyshire mining village and moved to West Swindon in the 1990s. It’s fair to say she has fallen head-over-heels for Swindon, and alongside her proofreading business, AA Editorial Services, scribes a popular local blog called Born Again Swindonian. The original blog entries were the exploration of her new surroundings; a guidebook to the Magic Roundabout or a piece on the West Swindon sculpture trail, and, akin to the direction I took my article the aforementioned week, it now centres around her conviction that Swindon is actually a great place with more than first meets the eye.
Her argument is convincing and thorough, to the point where she was approached by Gloucestershire publisher, Amberley Books, to pen a title on Swindon in its ‘Secret’ series. This week sees the book “Secret Swindon” released, and its launch is at Swindon Central Library, between 11am and 1pm; July 28th. Angela will be there to sign copies, and it’ll be available in the library shop afterwards.
Intrigued to know what “secrets” Angela could uncover to challenge my assumption everything that may be of historical or contemporary interest in the town I’m already fully aware of. That then, some topics did not spring surprise, Angela commences with a brief general history, from it’s namesake “pig hill” origins to the birth of its industrial revolution; the GWR. But it’s the depth Angela goes which is informative, and in the loose, blog-style, she writes which entertains.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, gaining knowledge of many aspects and artistic properties of Swindon I could’ve driven past and only causally pondered their history. From the wonderful mural on the side of the house near Lion Bridge, which I pass, like, but seldom aspire to seek any knowledge of its artist or background, to the thought process of the contemporary architecture which Swindon holds, with all its 1970s futurism; the Meccano-fashioned “Renault” building, or the curvaceous landmark David John Murray tower. All of these popular sites of Swindon are featured and detailed, with fascinating facts you never thought to ask about. And yeah, the Magic Roundabout is covered too!
There’s quantity and a vast array to subjects, meandering off the concept Swindon has a magic roundabout and that’s about it. One would be forgiven for assuming “Secret Swindon” is going to be a mammoth read and ponder why they’d want to take up so much time reading about Swindon. But while it’s arranged with copious facts, it remains brief enough not to grow tiresome of, and with informal speech style of writing, doesn’t aim to baffle.
Angela covers art, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, industry, war eras, and many notable Swindonians. In one neat, ephemeral but enlightening package Angela challenges Swindon’s negative stereotype, steps in the ring and knocks it for six in the first round. It’s a perfect natural progression and extension of Born Again Swindonian.
It also highlights areas I was totally unware of, agreed I’d heard of Spitfire Way, having worked on South Marston Industrial Estate, but confess I was ignorant as to why it was named thus. So aside the fascinating facts about the more renowned landmarks of Swindon, and people, such as a captivating insight about Edith New, there are some completely new things I learned, awarding the book’s apt title.
Here is a book which will inform and entertain the proudest Swindonian, the curious history hobbyist, and any mere window-shopper of local history. A perusal for students, or general passing interest, I tick none of the above, but still adored this. I only apologise to Angela for waffling on about my own little column at the beginning of this review, but it was necessary to elucidate my personal relevance to it!
If you ever pause while shopping, look around for a brief second, in any town you’ll note something you may not have ever noticed but bears heavy importance to the history of the area; “Secret Swindon” proves Swindon is far from the exception.
Secret Swindon’s RRP is £14.99. It can be bought through Amazon and via Amberley Books at https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-swindon.html.
To follow Angela’s blog visit http://swindonian.me/ and for more information about AA Editorial Services go to: https://www.aaedits.co.uk/