Forever Autumn in Swindon

In late 2018 I began work on a three-month assignment in Swindon, Wiltshire. The following photographs were made while staying in the town. This post is titled after the song from War of The Worlds famously recorded by Justin Hayward, who was born in Dean Street.

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The sun rises over Lydiard Fields, Swindon, 2019.

The M4 motorway is one of the main arteries into Swindon. Junction 16 exits at Lydiard Fields, a business park which takes its name from nearby Lydiard Park, a historic country estate with a large Palladian house that is the ancestral home of the Viscounts Bolingbroke. From here it is just a short drive of ten minutes into the centre of Swindon, making it a popular site for large hotels.

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Covered pedestrian bridge, Swindon, 2019.

The railway line running from Bristol to London slices through the centre of Swindon, hence there are numerous overhead bridges in the town. This one is a covered walkway which leads from the Hawksworth Trading Estate directly into the station, convenient for rail passengers who wish to park their cars on the northwest side of the line, avoiding the busy town centre traffic. At dawn the rising sun illuminates the bridge.

An interesting fact about Swindon: the town is not one, but two – the part known as Old Town which was the original settlement, and the new town which developed with the railway works during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The two towns were joined in 1900.

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Melissa’s Suitcase, Swindon, 2019.

Many large businesses and UK government organisations have sites in Swindon, which means a constant influx of business travellers entering the town and staying in hotels for the duration of the working week. Some weeks it is difficult to find a hotel room at a reasonable rate, simply due to the volume of people staying in the town. The threat of Brexit has already had an impact on the local economy, with the planned closure of the Honda plant leading to the loss of c. 3500 jobs.

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Rugs hung out to dry, Swindon, 2019.

Swindon is a town that suffers from a poor reputation. While it may be true that some areas of the town are considered deprived, that is not a blanket description that can be applied. Old Town is showing strong indications of gentrification, and in other parts of town there are heartening signs that a community spirit exists, and that people still trust their neighbours.

An interesting fact about Swindon: the town was originally a Saxon settlement positioned on top of a hill. The Domesday Book refers to Swindon as ‘Suindune’, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘swine’ and ‘dun’, together meaning ‘pig hill’. Rumour has it that pigs were once allowed to run through the streets to celebrate the coming of the 5th New Moon of the year.

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Renovation, Swindon, 2019.

A lot of regeneration and development work has taken place in Swindon in recent years. Since the ‘Planning Swindon Together’ blueprint for transforming Swindon was unveiled in 2012, many changes have taken place in the town centre. Not all proposals have been good, such as the plans for the development of a tower block in Old Town, which were quickly withdrawn following a public outcry. The spirit of regeneration seems to have captured hearts and minds, and renovation work has spread to residential areas of the town.

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Swindon, 2019.

Many people describe Swindon as a ‘rough’ town, and crime statistics suggest there are problem areas, with many reported crimes being of a violent nature. However, despite its reputation there are many other towns in Britain with more severe issues – including higher crime rates and higher levels of deprivation. During the time I worked in Swindon I never experienced anything negative other than my own preconceived notions based on hearsay, and never felt threatened in any way.

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No Parking, Swindon, 2019.

Many of Britain’s towns and streets were built in a time before the motor car. As we embraced this mode of travel during the 20th century, our roads became increasingly clogged not just with commuter traffic, but also with parked cars. Swindon is no exception, and many older residential areas cannot cater for the modern two-car household, which inevitably leads to frustration for residents who are rarely able to park outside their own homes.

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Garages, Swindon, 2019.

When Tony Blair visited Toothill Community Centre in 2006 to launch a campaign against anti-social behaviour, his famous pressure hose pose left Swindon with a reputation for having streets painted with mindless graffiti. Swindon Council started to offer a graffiti removal service, and the war against what is seen by some as vandalism continues, but at high cost for the council. Despite appearing to be a modern problem, Graffiti is nothing new, and examples exist which date back to ancient Egypt and the Roman empire.

An interesting fact about Swindon: as well as some examples of genuine street art, the town has lots of public art, including the Sculpture Trail which features an impressive statue of Diana Dors at Shaw Ridge Leisure Park.

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Street sign with shopping trolley, Swindon, 2019.

Three hundred miles north of Swindon in the city of Glasgow there is an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington that has been adorned with a traffic cone since the 1980s. In 2013, Glasgow City Council estimated the annual cost of removing cones to be £10000 per annum, and put forward plans to raise the plinth to prevent cones being placed. There was a public outcry leading to withdrawal of the plans, and at least one cone remains to this day. Was the careful placement of this shopping trolley on top of a No Stopping sign in Swindon simply a minor act of vandalism? What is it that elevates such an act into art or iconic status?

An interesting fact about Swindon: there are several iconic buildings in the town, including the David Murray John tower, the Motorola building, and the Spectrum building. The latter two featured in the James Bond film A View to a Kill.

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Hawksworth Trading Estate, Swindon, 2019.

While the town centre is busy with shoppers during the day, there is a stillness and quiet around some of the nearby trading estates and business parks, where people go about their daily working lives inside the many factories and offices.

A final interesting fact about Swindon: over the years the town has had links with many world-famous brands and industries including Intel, Motorola, BMW, Rover, Honda, and the Spitfire aircraft.

 

Information sources:

Born Again Swindonian (https://swindonian.me/).
Information Britain (http://www.information-britain.co.uk/).
Swindon Advertiser (https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/).

Marine Drive

I don’t photograph landscapes very often, especially not my local landscape which most people would describe as totally flat and somewhat dull. However, yesterday evening I went out and tried to make a short series of interesting pictures just a few minutes drive from home. I’m pleased with the results.

Marine Drive is a coastal road in Southport which cuts through an extensive marsh/wetland area where most photographers come specifically to photograph the amazing bird life. It is a recognised RSPB nature reserve site.

Sadly, the area was recently the focus of a search for Adam Seaton, a student who went missing in early August 2018. His body was eventually found in the nearby Ribble Estuary in January 2019, suggesting he may have got into difficulties while carrying out research for geography work he was about to undertake at Edge Hill University.

Liverpool Comic Con 2019

Today I spent a couple of hours photographing some of the visitors to Liverpool Comic Con, held at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool. The wind was crazy, with gale-force gusts blowing hair and bits of costumes everywhere, but spirits were high, even as people queued in the cold to get in.

Comic Con is a big deal, with several events taking place in different citities throughout the year. Many attendees are dedicated enough to go to all the events.

Bec and Takk go to Comic Cons in London or Manchester, and are trying Liverpool for the first time this year. Dan goes to a Comic Con event at least once a year, and loves meeting up with friends. Charlie is attending the Liverpool event for the first time in a while after moving away from the area. Jess comes every year!

Truly a fascinating subculture, with such a diverse and friendly group of people.

What pumpkins do when Hallowe’en is over

I went to the Hebden Bridge Pumpkin Festival last weekend. A trip to Hebden Bridge is always something I enjoy, as it’s such a pretty little town with a wonderful vibe.

This time I noticed quite a few changes since my last visit. Some of the old shops had closed and quite a few new cafes had opened, some with a definite hipster feel, making me wonder if Hebden is becoming a little too gentrified.

One thing that hasn’t changed though is the creativity of some of the folks who live there, as these pumpkins show. This little collection made me chuckle, and wonder what pumpkins do when Hallowe’en is over!

BHS NW Dressage Championship

I spent the day photographing The British Horse Society NW Dressage Championship at Bold Heath Equestrian Centre. Here are some of my favourite images from the day.

 

This is the third event I have photographed for The British Horse Society and was a little bit different to the Aintree Summer Camps I’ve photographed. Shooting with the backdrop of Fiddlers Ferry Power Station made for some interesting and moody shots.

I used my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lenses for the shoot, and it was great being able to switch between the two based on a creative decision. It should be fairly easy to work out which was used for some shots.

I’m looking forward to helping out with many more events next year.

Ribble Valley Mod Weekender, 2018

The annual Ribble Valley Mod Weekender has came around again. Once more the streets of historic Clitheroe, Lancashire, were taken over by scooters, Fred Perry polo shirts and Dr Martens boots.

I love the smell of the two-stroke exhaust from the scooters as they ride into the town. Everyone is so proud of their wheels, and there is real effort to dress and act the part. At times the event can be busy and it’s tough to get good pictures, but I came away with a few I’m very pleased with.

For anyone interested in participating in the event or viewing more pictures, there is a Facebook page and an Instagram hashtag. It takes place every September.

The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre Open Day

Today, I spent a few hours photographing the Open Day at The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre. The BTRC is a British Horse Society Approved Retraining and Facility Centre, and is one of the most immaculate yards I have visited.

The BTRC hold an Open Day every year, and I can heartily recommend a visit if you are a horse lover like me. It is truly heart-warming to see what they are doing to retrain beautiful racehorses like these, who have reached the end of their racing careers.

I took the photo opportunity as a great chance to try out a new toy, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. I’m used to shooting at focal lengths of 50mm and above, so opening out to 24mm felt very challenging and unfamiliar to me first time around. However, I do like the results – as in the shot of ‘Fizz’ above.

If you want to find out more about The BTRC and their work, please visit The BTRC website.

British Horse Society Northwest Camp 2018

Last week I volunteered a day of my time to The British Horse Society to photograph their Northwest Camp at Aintree Racecourse. This is the second time I’ve been one of their official photographers – the last time was in 2016. I got some great pictures second time around, and am already looking forward to next year.

 

The above images are some of my favourite pictures from this year’s camp.

For the technically curious, I shot all these with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens at various focal lengths. I think it performed superbly despite the dim lighting conditions in the indoor arenas.

If you like the idea of staying in the jockeys’ accommodation at historic Aintree with your equine friend (they will have to sleep in the stables of course!), then keep your eye on the events section of the society’s website for next year: The British Horse Society.

Hebden Bridge Handmade Parade

Last weekend I attended the Handmade Parade in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. This festival happens every year around the same sort of time, and lasts all afternoon, passing through the streets and ending up in Calderholmes Park where there is more drumming/dancing, and lots of food trucks.

The light was challenging – bright sunlight with accompanying high temperatures – but my camera coped well. I used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens to get up close, and am pleased with the results.

As the parade website above says, the theme for this year’s parade was turning the town into a travelling carnival, with “ridiculous rides, surreal sideshows, weird circus, and all the fun of the fair”.

If you have never been to the town I heartily recommend it. The people there are friendly and there is a huge selection of vegetarian/vegan cafes and individual shops selling ethically sourced products. Visit the Hebden Bridge website to find out more.