Book lifts the lid on Swindon – and raises charity cash

By Jamie Hill - 18 March 2019

Arts and CultureHeritage

A NEW book that shines a light on some of Swindon’s little-known stories, culture and traditions will give back to the town by raising money for charity.

Deepest Wiltshire, published on March 28, has been written by journalists Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Weir after almost eight months of travelling hundreds of miles around the county.

Proceeds from the book will go to the Wiltshire Community Foundation, which gave out more than £300,000 in grants to groups and individuals in Swindon last year, SSAFA Wiltshire and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

The book has been underwritten by Lord Rothermere’s Rothermere Foundation and follows a similar volume about Dorset two years ago.

The hardback book is part almanack, travel guide, recipe book and history tome with some social, artistic and cultural reference nuggets as well.

The book’s seven chapters look at how industry, the military, art, farming and technological development have shaped the county through stories of interesting personalities as well as historic events, quirky tales and fascinating facts.

Craftsmen and women, food producers, including cheesemaker Ceri Cryer of Brinkworth, historians and artists all feature.

Then there is a section devoted to Darkest Wiltshire – a collection of stories that reflect on some of the less savoury incidents including murder, highway robbery and brutal punishment.

The authors, who live on the Somerset/Wiltshire border, spent hours researching the county.

Said Ms Charles: “We both knew Salisbury well and Devizes from childhood visits, but Swindon was not somewhere we knew anything about. I knew Malmesbury well, but Gay had never been there, and we have both completely fallen in love with it.

“We have really enjoyed discovering the rest of the county.”

They set out each day with a location in mind but often veered off course, attracted by a landmark or interesting building that prompted further investigation and often led to a story.

“We started researching on the first May bank holiday last year and every day last summer was beautifully sunny,” said Ms Pirrie-Weir. “We set out each day with a destination, but we often got side-tracked.”

There are several personal pieces written by personalities, about what the county means to them. There is one by actor Nigel Havers, whose inclusion only came about by accident.

Ms Pirrie-Weir said: “We were in The Bell in Ramsbury when our dog Pippin broke free from his lead and jumped up at a man. It was only when I went to get him back that I realised it was Nigel Havers. Until then I didn’t know he lived in Wiltshire.”

 

 

The announcement of Honda’s closure in Swindon in 2021 caused a hasty rewrite from the other side of the world of one section about industry in Swindon.

“I was away in Sacramento and saw the news about Honda, but the book was already at the printers,” said Ms Pirrie-Weir.

“It meant having to rewrite it hastily, but we couldn’t let the book go as it was.”

Among the quirkier tales in the book is the tale of the last surviving GI bride, Dorothy McDaniel from Swindon.

She, like all GI brides, was flown out to America from Tidworth to begin a new life stateside. She was interviewed by Ms Pirrie-Weir by phone at her home in Florida. Now 92, she recalls her home town and tells how she left it behind for love.

“She’s absolutely wonderful,” said Mrs Pirrie-Weir, “I even found a picture of the band that was playing the day she met her husband.”

All through the book are similar human stories that bring Swindon and Wiltshire’s history vividly to life.

Ms Pirrie-Weir  said: “In a way the book has turned into a sort of a love letter to Wiltshire, because we have been amazed at the stories we found and fascinated by them.”

Deepest Wiltshire is published by Deepest Books, priced £25, on March 28 and is available at bookshops, farms shops, galleries and many other places. For details of where to find the book go to www.deepestbooks.co.uk.

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