From nights in white satin to breakfast in America

Sarah Baker on Swindon as the inspiration for music legends and literary heavyweights.

Wiltshire is a special place to many for any number of reasons, not least the landscape, but did you know that some of our most loved cityscapes, views and villages have been the inspiration for many a book or song?

Top of the pops are XTC, the English rock band formed in Swindon in 1972. Songwriting Swindonians Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding fronted the band that gained popularity with the rise of punk and new wave music in the 1970s and who saw much success across the UK and in the US.

Many of their songs make reference to their Wiltshire roots and their 1982 Album English Settlement used an image of the Uffington White Horse while the single Ball & Chain used an image of a Swindon house that was due for demolition with a tenant who refused to move out!

Other Swindon musicians to hit the big time are Dean Street born Justin Hayward, lead singer of The Moody Blues and author of the worldwide smash hit Nights in White Satin and former St Joseph’s pupil Gilbert O’Sullivan, who had three US top 10 singles and one top 10 album in the 1970s.

Former Sanford Street pupil Rick Davies was the lead singer and songwriter of Supertramp, whose huge 1979 album Breakfast in America topped the US charts and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. And let’s not forget Swindon born Billie Piper, who before becoming a renowned actress was a teenage pop star with three number one singles in the late 90s.

Billie Piper Swindon Because We Want To

Slightly further afield, best-selling jazz musician Jamie Cullum was brought up in the Wiltshire village of Hillavington, north of Chippenham. He's also married into literary royalty in the shape of writer and former model Sophie Dahl, the grandaughter of Roald Dahl, author of the much-loved James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

Swindon is also the setting for the bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, penned in 2003 by author Mark Haddon and translated into 36 languages making it a global literary success. The book explores the tales of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who discovers the body of his neighbour’s dead dog and who is largely agreed to have autism although this is not directly referred to in the story.

Instead, the author describes him as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. The book mostly takes place in Swindon in the 1990s, describing the local economy as post-recession referring to the town's motor manufacturing industry.

Novelist Jasper Fforde’s fictional version of Swindon takes the county’s unofficial capital from normal English town to a place of wit and weirdness set in several book series set in the 1980s. Most of the Thursday Next series takes place in Swindon resulting in several streets in the Thames Reach area being named after characters in the series.

There is also an annual Fforde Fiesta celebrating the work of the author ‘who likes to embrace absurdity’, although due to the pandemic the next one is not now until 2022.

The village of Sevenhampton, near Swindon is where Ian Fleming lived for the last years of his life and is now buried. Fleming had a long association with the area having lived a stone’s throw from his burial site at Warneford Place, a large home he bought with his wife in 1959.

Fleming needs little introduction as the writer of the James Bond series, he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the world-famous children’s book. However, it is the Moonraker book that has raised most questions about the county’s influence as it is the only book that he ever set solely in Britain.

And we could include our much loved (and missed?) Swindon Oasis Leisure Centre which after catching the eye of Liam Gallagher caused the band to change their name from The Rain to Oasis after allegedly seeing it listed on an Inspiral Carpets tour poster.

Swindon! Who knew?

Sarah Baker Blogger

Sarah Baker
Lifestyle Blogger, Stylist & Content Creator