Faringdon Road Park … steeped in history and once a popular venue for Swindon’s railway workers. Now reviving one of Swindon’s oldest events, this park knows how to host a party!
Swindon’s green spaces have been a haven for visitors in this long, hot summer. Couples, families and employees have all found shelter under Faringdon's tree canopy. But the day to day peace and quiet of the gently rustling leaves belies the park’s fun-filled past - and present.
There was a time when this green space hosted a fete so large, a 3.5 ton cake was needed to feed the attending crowds. And, as you’d expect from a party organised by the Mechanics’ Institute, there was even a machine engineered to take on the enormous task of slicing the bumper bake!
Those were the heady days of summer in 1904. When Swindonians feasted on slabs of fruit cake and sipped over 1200 gallons of tea. A glimpse at pictures from the fete in the bygone years show not one inch of space left, as the crowds poured in to enjoy the festivities. Roundabouts, coconut shies and rides filled the park for one Saturday every summer from 1868 to 1939.
But Faringdon Road Park owes its existence to cricket, not cake. In 1844 the land was bought by GWR to create a cricket ground for its employees. Summers will filled with the sound of the thwack of leather on willow as sixers were scored and sporting rivalries were born. The sport of choice for the railwaymen that lived nearby, the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ sparked fierce competition between Swindon clubs. Standards were high and matches were hotly contested within the park’s walls. Swindon’s love of the game saw Dr WG Grace, considered one of the sport’s greatest players, dismissed for 0 in both innings during a match within the park’s walls. The love of the game made the park a key part of the area’s social life. Families came to support the players, watch a match, enjoy a picnic or explore the ornamental gardens that once formed part of the eastern side of the park.
Now, quietly sitting near the GWR Railway Village, Faringdon Road Park is a delightful green expanse offering a change of pace from the nearby urban streets. Benches offer a welcome rest overlooking the playing fields surrounded by tall trees. Accessible paths lead visitors in from Faringdon Road, Church Place and Park Lane. Follow them and you’ll see a dog walkers, joggers, lunchtime footballers taking a break from the office and giddy toddlers heading straight for the play area - while proud parents tuck in to a picnic. Though cycling is strictly off limits, there are plenty of other sporting opportunities. You may still even spot a game of cricket underway.
Despite the many changes to the park over the years, long term residents fondly remember the space’s history and are breathing new life into one of the town’s oldest events. Since 2003, the day to day routine in the park is once again being joyously interrupted with the familiar site of the children’s fete returning to Faringdon Road Park’s grassy lawns. Volunteers at the Mechanics’ Institute have revived the annual get together with outstanding success. Financial help from Big Lottery Fund, the WG Little Fund and Swindon Council sees the fete entertaining Swindon families and visitors every year. And although some of the fetes attractions have been modernised, the event still maintains its charming appeal. It’s about bring Swindon residents, of all ages, together to enjoy the park in the sun.
But this green space’s charm isn’t just about its annual fete, it’s a place in Swindon that holds memories for many and is rooted in the town’s history. From the nearby 300 cottages that make up the GWR Railway Village, to the TA Centre in the corner of the park - this is a space that gave servicemen and industry workers a place to enjoy with their families. And still does. As the park is open 24 hours a day, it’s a great spot for an early morning run or leisurely stroll with the dog.
Faringdon Road Park is just one of Swindon’s many green spaces and each have their own fascinating pasts. Wandering through any of them it would be easy to miss some of the delightful stories the grassy lawns could tell. In Faringdon Road Park, hearing the sound of children’s laughter from the play area, you might now picture the sight of a 3.5 ton cake being sliced. Though the park’s changed over its 150+ year past, it’s still providing Swindon with a lush, green place to laugh, play and relax in the sunshine.
Watch this space for details of more amazing green spaces and outdoor events in Swindon!