Terry Bracher, Heritage Services Manager, writes: In 2020, the Friends of National Libraries assisted This letters patent, written on one skin of dust-stained vellum, measures 450 x 740mm, is in good condition in wholly legible Latin. It was issued on 20 July 1626, in the second year of the reign of Charles 1 under the Great Seal of England, which is still attached and in also well preserved. Embossed at the head of the document is a half portrait of the regent, holding the orb and sceptre, with a historiated first line, topped with fine decoration across the header. Accompanying the original document is a 17th-century legal transcript, written in English, which adds a great deal to the evidential value, as it ensures easier understanding for those without Latin training.
The importance of the document in terms of understanding Swindon’s development as a town through the ages cannot be understated. Nowadays, the town is closely associated with the Great Western Railway, which certainly put the town on the map. However, prior to Brunel & Co. laying down the famous train line between Bristol and London, Swindon was a vibrant and locally important market town, as ordained by this Charter.
The Victoria County History of Wiltshire notes that Swindon has been known as a market town since the 13th century when, in 1289, it was referred to as Chipping Swindon. However, the royal authority, set out by the Charter in 1626, allowed Thomas Goddard to hold regular and continuous markets “to have & to hold within the town of Swindon one Markett every Monday in the week” for ever “& two Faires there yearly”. This will have greatly enhanced its reputation and allowed the market, and in turn the town, to flourish. It is important to note that the Charter not only benefitted Thomas Goddard, but all the inhabitants of the town who wished to sell at the market, as they would be free from all stallage, picage and tolls linked to the market. Indeed, the right and ability for markets to be held in Swindon will have made it the focal point for the surrounding area and will have had a progressively positive impact on the town’s development.
Thomas Goddard (1580-1641) was a member of the Goddard family, a prominent in Wiltshire family throughout the centuries, who initially purchased the manor at Swindon in 1563, and thereafter have regularly occupied important political positions within the authorities of the town and county. This is reflected in modern Swindon, with parks, pubs and streets all brandishing the Goddard name. The markets instigated by Thomas Goddard, which were flourishing by the late 17th century, must have been one of the most important contributors to the growth and prosperity of the town prior to the 1840s and the arrival of the railway.
The FNL grant towards the purchase of the Charter has ensured not only that it sits in ideal archival conditions to ensure its long-term preservation, but that it also sits in an appropriate home, in the company of its documentary relatives within the Swindon Borough Council records. The item is now catalogued and findable via our online catalogue under the Ref No - G24/001/2 and is available for public consultation.