The first known written record of the manor of Even Swindon mentions that the Abbess of St Mary in Winchester held land in Swindon worth £4 a year between 1210 and 1212. Even Swindon was probably in existence long before then, and its exact location is not known.
There are two schools of thought as to why this land was called Even Swindon. The former is that the land is extremely flat in comparison with the small high level hamlet of Swindon (probably deriving from Sweyn’s don – the hill of the Danish Invader Sweyn) mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1086. Other people believe Even Swindon was so named because of its level water table and it is true that in periods of excessive rain, parts of the area are still prone to flooding.
Rodbourne (reedy brook) was linked to the manor and parish of Rodbourne Cheney through the church, as will be explained later. The Manor House of Rodbourne Cheney, by Rodbourne Green is divided into two dwellings. The Plymouth Brethren meet in the building behind the Manor House, which I believe only has a door and no windows. Nearby St Mary’s Church is still in use.
Rodbourne/Even Swindon was a rural area of one or two farms, with enormous stretches of adjoining pasture land. There were very few cottages and, consequently few people living in the area.
The arrival of the railway and the formation of Swindon Railway Works, with its workforce drawn from all over the country, meant that there was urgent need for housing for the workers. Thus, Swindon New Town was formed. The difference this made to Swindon and the factions which arose between Old and New Town are well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say, that many of the new houses were built ‘the other side’ of the railway line, in Rodbourne/Even Swindon.
Indeed, a significant portion of the railway works is situated in this area. Although Rodbourne Road (still known by the locals as “The Lane”) was dug out under the railway line in order that people could easily cross into Swindon to work, trade or go to school, the railway line formed a natural boundary.
It was only in 1890 when extensions were made to the Swindon boundary, that Even Swindon and Gorse Hill became part of Swindon. It wasn’t until 1928 that Rodbourne Cheney and Stratton also became areas of Swindon. With the arrival of so many workers in Rodbourne, services were required. Soon after 1880, the Even Swindon Working Men’s Club was opened. Others followed. In 1887, land was made available for allotments (part of the land on which St Augustine’s is built was formerly allotments).
In 1889 land was purchased for recreational use and sport. Rodbourne Rec (or Mannington Rec as it is now known by locals) is still one of the few unspoilt green areas of Swindon. A wide variety of new shops were opened in The Lane, and most Rodbourne Streets had at least one local shop; some two or more.
Even Swindon bakery (later bought by Castles) was in Jennings Street and there was a dairy and Shirt factory in Rose Street. From 1904, one of the Swindon tramway routes used to come out to Rodbourne in order that people could avail themselves of the more centralised services. A branch Library/reading room was built in Rodbourne Road, where workers could read daily papers before starting work. This is now the St John’s Ambulance Headquarters.
Rodbourne Sewage farm had to cover larger areas as Swindon expanded. Many was the day when the wind was in the wrong direction and Rodbourne people complained about the smell from the Sewage Works!!