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Swallowfield Local History Society



Welcome to the July 2019 News Letter


There will not be a meeting this July. Our next meeting will be on 19th September and will be a talk given by Thomas Macey on "The Story of Jacksons Iconic Department Store 1875 - 2013.


The May talk  was given by Sue Dormer, on Farley Castle who has a considerable background in archaeology and now lives at Farley Castle. She has studied the history of the castle in depth and gave a fascinating insight into its surroundings, its many roles and some ofthe people who lived there. A large and very interested audience heard new details about the gravel & stone extraction in the area with associated road names, and the origins of and extensions to the building. Interesting and socially well connected families owned the castle at different times. Edward Stephenson, who had it built, was not only a High Sheriff of Berkshire but also had “perhaps the best and most valuable” collection of Cremona violins in England. By contrast, it was briefly owned in the 1950s by a rather raffish explorer-cum-adventurer who may have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones, suspect crystal skull included. While he was ultimately discredited, he did acquire a genuine Russian icon which meant that the castle was visited by Russian pilgrims. He couldn’t afford to insure it, so reputedly kept a gun under his bed in case the Russian Secret Service tried to steal it! It Frederick Mitchell Hedges – was he the role model for Indiana Jones? is now back in Russia as Our Lady of Kazan. These were just two of the many details which held the audience’s attention. Eventually, in 1958, new owners turned the castle into the Hephaistos School for clever boys with physical disabilities, who were encouraged to overcome these and seize opportunities. Some of us were unaware of just how many buildings and facilities were added on to the site for the school. (The society does hold one or two booklets on the school if anyone would like to see a copy.) It is a great shame that, after the school closed in the 1980s, the castle was extensively robbed and vandalised, so much so that many details were lost for ever, and Sue showed some shocking pictures of this. At least the conversion into dwellings in the 1990s has safeguarded the remaining features. This was a riveting talk, much appreciated by us all.


We have no meetings planned for the summer months – perhaps a visit to a local place of interest in either June or July, and we will be exhibiting again at the Swallowfield Show at the end of August.


Our meetings are usually on the third Thursday of the month in the Rose Room at the Swallowfield Parish Hall. Visitors are always welcome.


If you have any queries, please phone Ken Hussey (Chairman) on 0118 988 3650 or Maggie Uttley (Secretary) on 0118 988 2954 or email her on

Check our website,, for our programme for the year.



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