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Tales of Milk, an Artist and a Library

September 24, 2019

The Our Town group had a delightful morning and early afternoon on Saturday exploring this year's Chippenham's Heritage Open Days organised by the Museum, having also wandered down to Pewsham Locks on the previous Saturday. This time we started with a relaxed coffee at Grounded followed by the 11am tour of the former Nestle factory. The aerial photograph above shows the site was more extensive than it is today.

We were highly entertained by a fellow attendee and former worker who could pinpoint what was where and told us of her dislike of the ground floor tin lid and packing activities. "I only managed a couple of days down here."

Her preference for upstairs in the attic where all the boxes were and the supply of steel sheets which were formed into tins. She was able to solve the mystery of some of the structures in the ceiling (the chutes where the tins came down to be filled - the posts and beams in the photo collage are also original structures) and she confirmed the factory made evaporated (the Ideal brand) as well as condensed milk. "The milk filled up the tins automatically and quickly, and we had to fit 24 of them into each box."

Pay day was on Tuesday "so we all had a fish supper that night, and then it was over the road the next day (to the Bank House area) to buy our chocolate and all the other sweets on offer." Nestle left Chippenham in 1965, partly because the Bath Road cutting through their complex of buildings had got so busy and also because sourcing milk became difficult. This was due to the Milk Marketing Board, who after WWII decreed milk produced within 100 miles of London should supply the market there.

Jenny reminisced about all the tyres she saw when the building belonged to Avon and we learned the building had also hosted a firm of Naval architects at one time. They left a large hole in the floor,  presumably to hold a large 'bath' used for testing ship models. Now the building hosts Alliance pharmaceuticals who've gone from needing just one quarter of the building 20 years ago, and now occupy the whole building and employ around 130 staff.

Then it was on to Tanner's Cottage in Westmead Lane, soon to have Florence Hancock's blue plaque when listed building consent is received. This was the second building associated with Florence Hancock we visited on the day (she lived in several places along the lane) as she was a founding member of the Workers Union at Nestle. Tanner's cottage and the older buildings opposite show what the whole River Street/Westmead housing area must have looked like before most of it was demolished in the mid 20th Century. 

We had a treat of a tour by the owner, artist April Barlow (aka April Fool) whose bright, vibrant work was on display throughout the house and garden. Diane recounted tales of the parties she attended there when she was a colleague of April's, and we all enjoyed a highly civilised Pimm's in the sunny courtyard garden.

Our final stop was the Jubilee Rooms, home of Chippenham Borough Lands, where we learned about the new skatepark and climbing wall destined for the Westmead area and their plans to add to the owl sculpture found below the Westmead car park along Pewsham Way. Jenny told us of the time when it was the town library and her mum sending her to collect the books she wanted to borrow from the adult section.

Diane and Michelle finished the day with delicious noodles from the High Street's van for lunch, munched on a shady bench in Monkton Park because it was so hot in the sunshine!

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