Friday, April 27, 2012

Henry and the Hooter

Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke spent just two months of the year during the shooting season at his country home of Lydiard Park, where he liked it to be, above all else, quiet.

But there was one big spanner in the works - the GWR factory hooter.

Originally mounted on 'R' shop, now the home of the STEAM Museum, the hooter had a range of between 12-15 miles, reaching the far flung corner of Lydiard Park, and sounding at various times throughout the day.

But it was the early morning calls at 5.15, 5.45 and 6 am to which Lord Bolingbroke particularly objected, claiming a subsequent lack of sleep was jeopardising his weak heart.

Henry began his campaign to silence the hooter in 1868 and succeeded in persuading the GWR to construct a screen around the offending instrument, thereby muting the sound.

However, after complaints by the workmen, the screen was eventually removed, but Henry refused to concede defeat.

On January 9, 1873 he presented an 11 point memo to the New Swindon Local Board, spelling out his grievances.  The Advertiser published his lordship's application for the removal of the hooter.

"I am disturbed in the enjoyment of my said property, and I am prevented from residing at the said mansion house so much as I should otherwise do, and I could not let it except at a reduced rate," Henry stated.

"That I am informed and believe that the said New Swindon Local Board then consisted and still consists of twelve members of whom no less than nine were and still are officers and persons in the employ of the Great Western Railway Company, and that two other of the said members were also some years since in the employ of the said company," he wrote, referring to his earlier protest, hinting at political bias and unfair representation at local government level.

A deluge of letters submitted by the railway workers of New Swindon arrived at the Advertiser offices.

"I have a wife and four children, wages 16s per week, and being a sound sleepers, I am satisfied I should lose many morning quarters if the whistle was discontinued," wrote one employee. "I do assure you, that I can scarcely make both ends meet and to lose a quarter or two would be a great loss to me and my family."

Men whose livelihood depended upon getting to work on time defended the continued use of the hooter and 4,339 of them signed a petition, among them landlords and tenant farmers from Hook in Lord Bolingbroke's parish, and neighbouring Lydiard Millicent, Wootton Bassett and Purton.

The Town Hall in Old Swindon was packed for the subsequent inquiry at which Lord Bolingbroke was the victor.  The hooter was silenced, but only temporarily.

Following a people's protest meeting at the Mechanics' Institute the ruling was overturned.

The Swindon New Town Local Board reply to the Memorial of Henry St John Viscount Bolingbroke concluded:

That taking into consideration the wishes of the inhabitants of any important and populous district, as expressed in the petitions above mentioned, and the necessity for the efficient carrying on of the works in the factory of the Great Western Railway Company of the use of a steam whistle - this Local Board came to the unanimous conclusion that it would not be right in them to deprive the public of what they considered to be a great boon, and for the reasons above stated they respectfully submit to your Honorable Board that the license given by this Local Board to the Great Western Railway Company to use their steam whistle ought not to be revoked. 

The ruling was overturned and the hooter was reinstated.

Did the return of the hooter cause Lord Bolingbroke to fall into a decline?  Apparently not.  He died peacefully at his home in Lydiard Park, twenty five years later, on November 7, 1899 aged 79.

The hooter was later moved to the Hydraulic House were it can still be seen today.  The blast of the hooter was last heard on March 26, 1986 at 4.30 pm when it poignantly sounded until the steam ran out.

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