A proud history of looking forwards
Many people think of Swindon as a ‘new town’ because of its rapid transformation in the mid-19th century, and its image as a place of manufacturing. It offers a perfect blend of old and new and played a significant role in the creation of modern Britain.
Origins – a market town
Swindon has its ‘old town’, up the hill from the station and Brunel’s Great Western Railway works. It was originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement perched on a limestone hill, entered in the Domesday Book as ‘Suindune’.
Developing into a small market town, the original market area is still known as Old Town. For three centuries that was its role, until a period of rapid transformation in the 1800s. During that time and until 1927, the Lords of the Manor of Swindon were the Goddard family living in their manor house, The Lawns, now Lawns Park.
Revolution! – an industrial town
Swindon’s ‘new town’ grew at the foot of the hill as Britain’s industrial revolution gathered pace. First came canals but their use dwindled with the arrival of the railway. In 1835 Parliament approved the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol and appointed Isambard Kingdom Brunel its chief engineer. Myth has it that Brunel and engineer Daniel Gooch were surveying a vale north of Old Town, when Brunel dropped or threw a sandwich and declared that spot to be the location of the new works.
Brunel’s mighty GWR works
The GWR works employed 14,000 people by 1900, with the locomotive workshop totaling 11.25 acres – the largest covered area in the world. Alongside it, in 1844, the Mechanics Institute was formed, funded by subscription from GWR workers, providing education and leisure facilities including the UK’s first lending library. GWR workers also subscribed to a healthcare fund, used by Nye Bevin as a blueprint for the National Health Service. A workers’ village of 300 homes was completed by the mid-1860s. The new town remained administratively and physically separate from Old Swindon until 1900 when unifying municipal borough status was granted by Queen Victoria.
Post-war growth – a transport town
A second period of rapid growth and expansion followed the building of New Swindon, piloted by Swindon’s dominant civic figure, David Murray John, who was town clerk from 1938 to 1974. His last act before retirement was to sign the contract for what is still Swindon’s tallest building and is named after him.
The economic model of car-based growth was boosted by the arrival of the extended M4 motorway in 1971. Perhaps most symbolic of this era and approach, is Swindon’s famous ‘Magic Roundabout’, completed in 1972.
The future – a town of opportunity
Swindon has a flourishing economy in an ideal location. It lies between three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with the best possible road and rail connections. Journey times to London will reduce with electrification – the biggest investment in the line for 150 years. It offers an exciting new environment for business. Forward Swindon is creating flexible workspaces in heritage buildings at Brunel’s Carriage Works and a new business district is being created at Kimmerfields. New homes are also being built for a growing population, with spacious homes at Wichelstowe offering a balance of rural and urban life, and high quality flats in the town centre.