A story from the November 2003 Link Magazine
As construction moves on apace in North Swindon, it’s easy to forget that it is less than ten years since the first people moved into Abbey Meads. Looking a bit further back most of Haydon Wick, Greenmeadow and Woodhall Park have been built within the last thirty years. Before then Haydon Wick was a village surrounded by fields and a trip into Swindon was a major undertaking.
Lorraine Palmer retains an unusual and poignant link with the past and holds some responsibility for the changing face of the town into the future. As sales and marketing manager for Swindon based developers Bloor Homes, who are building a major part of Priory Vale, she is also the grand-daughter of Tom Saunders, a giant of a man who farmed Brook Farm in the 1930s to the late-1960s. Many people will remember the pink painted farm house off Lady Lane which was turned into a riding school and saddlery, before being knocked down to make way for the North Swindon District Centre.
A year ago Lorraine moved to a new house built by Bloor Homes on their Saunders’ Brook site in Priory Vale, named in honour of her grandfather. “My memories of Tom are a mix of awe and admiration,” said Lorraine. “As a child in the 1960s I was very frightened of him; he was a huge man and very well known as a proud, hard working person who would take no nonsense from anybody. Tom had this albino Alsatian dog who followed him everywhere on the farm which he kept to perfection. He was known to be out after dark trimming his hedges by the light of an oil lamp.
“My father Frank was expected to be up early to help with milking, feeding the pigs and doing general chores before walking to school, across the fields at Pinehurst. He started his own pig breeding enterprise whilst at school to earn his keep and occasionally the truancy officer would call round to find him because he was working on the farm.
“I was brought up in Gorse Hill and a trip to Brook Farm was an expedition. Tom and his wife Wyn were totally self-sufficient on the farm and one visit always stayed in my mother’s mind when Wyn asked her on arrival whether she wanted chicken or pork for Sunday lunch. Being a townie she did not know what pork tasted like so she asked for chicken. To her horror Wyn crossed the farmyard, selected a plump chicken and wrung its neck. She became a vegetarian from that day on.”
The family was not above its disputes and feuds and Tom could be a pig headed individual according to Lorraine. Ill health forced him to retire in the late 1960s and because Frank could not raise the last £100 to buy the farm from his father, it was sold off to somebody else. By then, probably due to the demands put on him as a child to stand on his own two feet, Frank had become a self-made man and owned County Road Garages.
Lorraine moved to a Bloor built house on St Andrew’s Ridge in early 1998 and could see the pink painted farmhouse in the distance from her bedroom window. “Having lost my grandparents and my parents when I was quite young, I felt very connected to the area seeing the house which held so many memories for me. It was a heart breaking time to see it knocked down when the shopping centre development started; it really felt my link with a community of the past had been severed.”
However the memories live on and Lorraine was delighted when Bloor Homes agreed to name their Priory Vale development site after Tom Saunders and feature him in their marketing material. Lorraine’s daughter Kelly moved into Saunders’ Brook whilst pregnant at the beginning of April this year and Tom’s great, great grand-daughter Harley-Jay was born there.
“When I walk the dog in the evening, I sometimes imagine I will bump into Tom walking his land, inspecting the hedges. As a private individual who spent much of his life working in the fields by himself, he would be horrified by the number of people now living in the area. I expect he’s spinning in his grave to know that his grand-daughter, a woman, is involved with the spread of the town over his beloved farm. ”