With the wag of the tail and a timely bark whenever anyone dropped a coin into the wooden collection box strapped to his furry back as he traipsed the streets of Swindon, he was without question one of the town’s most memorable characters and winsome ambassadors.
It is recorded that Bruce travelled 12,000 miles up and down the country by train in his unfailing efforts on behalf of charity, raising the equivalent back then of well over £25,000.
Born in January 1878, in Read Street, Central Swindon, Bruce’s big-hearted owner was Thomas Arthur Beal. Like most Swindonians in those days he followed his father – also Thomas – straight into the Great Western Railway Works after leaving school at 14.
Following a spell in Portsmouth, Thomas – or Arthur (he was sometimes known by his second name) – returned to Swindon, got married and set up home in Nelson Street.
In the same year – 1905 – he acquired a comely pup of indeterminate lineage (though a spot of Collie has to be somewhere in the mix.) No record appears as to why he began doing it – perhaps a family member had received treatment there – but Thomas and Bruce became a team who tramped around Swindon raising money for the town’s Victoria Hospital in Bath Road.
They must have been quite a sight – Thomas having fitted Bruce with a collection box, complete with a lock that he had strapped to the pooch’s back.
As a party trick that never ceased to amuse and amaze his patrons – and must have been an absolute hoot for on-looking children – Bruce gave a little bark every time a coin was dropped into the box.
They also journeyed further afield by train – all over the country, it seems – collecting, collecting, collecting...
Over the years Bruce must have humped many tons worth of change on his sturdy back. In 1911, the odd couple were presented with a certificate from the hospital that marked £140 raised over the previous three years.
Other needy causes also benefited from the pair’s unstinting efforts including families of Titanic victims in 1912... perhaps in concert with a fund-raising show staged in the wake of the tragedy at the Town Gardens Bandstand.
Bruce became something of a celebrity as the generously hirsute hound amassed an impressive array of gleaming medals which he proudly displayed while “at work.”
Next to Bruce’s photo a caption read: “I am Bruce of Swindon, the famous Collecting Dog of nearly £500 for Charity. I have travelled over 10,000 miles by Rail. A solid Silver Collar, 16 Gold and Silver Medals have been Presented to me for my noble work. I am also member of the Brotherhood of Hero Dogs, London.”
According to the local history website Swindon In The Past Lane, Bruce’s 10-year career saw him travel more than 12,000 miles and raise £890 – well in excess of 25 grand by current standards.
Sadly, the last coin dropped into Bruce’s box during the early months of 1915 before this singular hound succumbed to illness and padded into history.
Such was the esteem in which he was held, Bruce’s box found its way into the town’s museum collection. The presumably dog-eared artefact has not been displayed for some time but hopefully continues to reside in the bowels of the Bath Road establishment alongside countless other mothballed exhibits.
Source: Swindon Advertiser Nov 2014