Category Archives: History

Please feel free to contribute & email any information, comments, research or articles to Jane Cook at

Advertiser: The sleeping city beneath our feet

I missed this article when it was originally produced by Swindon Advertiser, but I thought that it would be worth reproducing here for local village interest.

SLEEPING under a Swindon bypass is a Roman city that archaeologists say is twice as big as they first thought. The site, to the east of the A419 near Covingham, has been known about since the 18th century when it was referred to by well-known antiquarian William Stukeley.

Bryn Walters, director of the Association of Roman Archaeology in Swindon, and archaeologist Bernard Phillips have been keeping the hidden town under observation for years. They have discovered it had homes, shops, a temple and a mansio, which was an imperial lodging house.

Bryn said: “It is a cursus publicus, which is like a motel for imperial civil servants scurrying about on government business. It is one of the first mansios unexcavated in Britain and sadly it is now under a pick your own farm.’’ The core of the Roman town is protected as a Schedule Ancient Monument, which has caused problems with erecting sound barriers alongside the busy A419 at Covingham, because there are burial sites there. Bernard was there in 1967 when they first found the burial sites.” He said: “We found cremations as well as burials which dated from early second to fifth century.” 

He came across some extraordinary finds, including a skeleton of a man aged 35 to 45 with a purse and a silver coin still attached to the pelvis.

Coin of Magnus Maximus.

 “The head on the coin was Emperor Magnus Maximus, AD 383-388,’’ he said. “We also uncovered evidence of a lot of arthritis of the spine in our finds and they had well worn teeth where
they would grind the grain between stones and then eat the bread with stone in it.”

When the A419 bypass to the M4 motorway was built, a lot of the Roman town was lost.

“The bulldozers smashed through some impressive buildings including a polygonal temple by the bridge,’’ said Bryn. “We saw part of the 3ft high walls and the white tessellated floors, like mosaics. There were also fine blocks 6ft thick which were part of an outer wall or gateway. It is a tragedy this was lost.”

Swindon today is on the M4 corridor with easy access to London, Bristol and Bath and it was the same in Roman times as Ermin Street was the main road leading from Londinium (London) to Corinium (Cirencester) and at the apex of three tribes.  In the south were the Atrebates, to the South West were the Belgae and our own tribe would have been in the North, called Dobunori.

Domesday Reloaded – South Marston

If you are of a certain age then you may remember the Domesday Project. Modelled on the Domesday book from 1086, commissioned by William the Conqueror, it was a project commissioned in 1986 by the BBC. The intent was to provide a snapshot of our communities and everyday life, and it achieved this by inviting over 1 million individuals to contribute articles about their home area. This information was compiled onto Laserdiscs and was intended to be navigated around using a trackball, which was cutting edge technology at the time, which could be read by BBC Master Computers.

The intent was this equipment could be used in schools. However due to the cost of the equipment it never took off, and very few people got to see the fruits of the work.

Now 25 years later in our age of the world wide web, digital photography, email and social networking, its time to have a look at those entries again, to bring the project up to date, and perhaps to lay down another layer of local history.

The BBC have now made all of the original content from the Domesday Project available online, on a website called Domesday Reloaded.

You can rediscover and explore images and articles from the original project to find out how life in Britain has changed… and how some things have stayed the same.

In addition, you will be able to update the project by re-photographing the images today and updating text entries.

To see the Domesday Reloaded information for South Marston, and potentially update it for future generations visit here.

Swindon Advertiser – Town poet in the spotlight

Swindon Advertiser published an article about one-time South Marston Resident, Alfred Williams.

In a town quick to celebrate a working class hero, Swindon lags behind in its recognition of writer Alfred Williams, an omission about to be addressed by the recently formed Alfred Williams Heritage Society.

Alfred was born in South Marston, one of Elias and Elizabeth Williams’s eight children. A carpenter employing one boy at the time of the 1881 census, Welsh born Elias deserted the family soon afterwards. Continue reading Swindon Advertiser – Town poet in the spotlight

History – The Twentieth Century

World Wars, Spitfires & the demolition of the Manor

The Census population figures are:

1911 387
1921 363
1931 396
1951 374
1961 540
1971 533
1981 529
1991 703
2001 859

1914-18: 8 South Marston soldiers died in World War I & are commemorated on the War Memorial near the Church.

1918: the 1918 Auction Catalogue &; Map for the disposal of the Bell Estate can be compared with the 1840 Tithe Map & Apportionments Register to show the changes & new buildings in the village over that period.

The Bell Estate included 709 acres, the Manor House (built c.1860 in “the Tudor Style”, possibly imitating the original manor house & re-using some of its materials & features) & Lodge, 8 farms & 30 cottages, almost half of the land & buildings of the village:

Farms: Manor, St. Julien’s, Church, Rowborough, Priors Farley, Stones, South Marston &; Longleaze, all built c.1700-1800;

Cottages: Gordon, Leaze (2), built c.1750; Red House, Fairthorne (4), Old Post Office, Exton (2), Elm (2), River (4), all early 1800’s; Rowborough (2), St. Mary’s, Meadow, Manor (6), a ll1840-1870; Dryden (2), St. Michael’s, c.1890.

The following are Listed Buildings: the farmhouses at Marston, Longleaze, Hunts Copse, Nightingale, Church, Manor, Burton Grove (& Barn) & Priory Farms, Lock Keeper’s Cottage,  Red House & Gordon Cottage.  The Council’s Listing Descriptions give full details of these buildings & suggest that Priory Farmhouse is the oldest, built c.1650.

The Church also is Listed & the description refers to “doors C12 from earlier church, C13 chancel, C15 tower, West door [porch] & South Chapel 1886, 1886 restoration, Memorials [Duke, Freke, Southby] 1719-1770”.

The National Archive holds photographs of the School (1900) & Manor Farm (1920) & the National Monuments Record in Swindon holds more than 50 aerial photographs of the village from 1942 to 1988 (produced on 7 days notice if you telephone first & quote ref. 15980).

1938-45: the Air Ministry chose South Marston as a new site for aircraft production which began in 1940 with the Master & then Stirling Bombers & Spitfires for World War II.

1945-1985: Vickers-Armstrong purchased the aircraft site, built Spitfires, then Attackers, Swifts & Scimitars until 1961 & component parts for aircraft, hovercraft & the railway before selling the site to the Honda car manufacturer in 1985.

1985-2008:  Honda car production began in the 1980’s & continues today.  Part of the former Vickers site is a multi-business industrial park.

1980’s: the Victorian Manor house was demolished in the 1980’s & replaced by estates of new houses built in its grounds &; the adjoining fields.

We especially welcome any contributions to this section, maybe a project from the school, memories of those who lived through the war years, stories or photographs; in fact anything of interest during this century !