In 1841 the Great Western Railway Company began construction work on a major new engineering works which would become, in their heyday, one of the largest industrial complexes in the world. The chosen location was open farmland some two miles from the small hilltop market town of Swindon. The lack of existing housing in the vicinity of the works meant that it quickly became necessary to provide accommodation for the influx of workers.
Shortly after the establishment of the works, a planned village to accommodate the GWR’s early work force was built nearby, to the south of the works on the other side of the railway. The terraced stone houses of this railway village, most of which still stand today, are an excellent early example of a “model village” development for an industrial work-force. Planned as a self-contained community, the intention was to provide all the necessary facilities (as perceived from a 19th-century point of view) for a ‘decent’ life.
The original conception and plan for the village belonged to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer selected by the GWR to oversee the construction of the London to Bristol railway, a man who was to become one of the greatest of the Victorian engineers.
Today, the whole of the Railway Village is listed by English Heritage, and to walk through the streets of lovingly preserved homes is to step back into the past.
GWR Park is a simple large expanse of green close to the centre of the town in the historic Railway Village. Boasting ornamental gardens and a children's play park, “The Park” is popular among locals who use the space to play football, cricket and a host of other games.
The park dates from the 1840s when it was a popular venue for the railway workers' community and sporting events and later, holding fêtes and rallies.
In 1904, 38,000 people attended the annual fête with some 3.5 tons of cake and 1,200 gallons of tea being distributed amongst the crowd. Cutting up the cake was such a tremendous task that Mr. Harvey, a foreman in the GWR works, designed a slicing machine to speed up the process.
In 2003, after a gap of more than 60 years, the Mechanic’s Institution Trust revived the tradition of the Children’s Fête in the park, which is now a regular event.
The local Parish Council are planning to undertake a programme of improvement works over the next few years, restoring the park to some of its former glory as part of a much wider initiative and interest in the railway heritage of Swindon.
STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway
Fire Fly Avenue (off Kemble Drive)
Swindon SN2 2EY
Entry to The Railway Village and GWR Park is free. There is limited parking in the village itself but there are big public car parks a couple of minutes’ walk away, at the Brunel West multi-storey car park and STEAM Museum (free with tickets to the museum).
Opening Times (STEAM)
Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm (last entry 4pm)