The town’s birth rate has always been high but it rocketed when the soldiers returned from World War II, as can be seen in a 1947 news clip at http://bit.ly/bYrr7O reporting how flocks of storks were bringing bundles of joy to happy couples in the town.
Back in the old days, newsreels played before the main feature film at cinemas were the visual form of communication for the masses and British Pathe were the moving image news reporters for over half the 20th Century, recording absolutely everything, from the serious and tragic to the fun and frivolous happenings of everyday life.
The company has been compiling archive newsreels focussed on towns around the country covering the period 1918 to 1969. And the online collection for Swindon is absolutely fascinating – http://bit.ly/swindonpathe
Apart from the booming birth rate – which continues to this day – the site contains reports from ‘inside’ Swindon railway works, showing the building of engines and the breaking up of rolling stock in 1938, and also a film called ‘Queer Jobs’ showing some of the lesser known occupations in the factory.
There’s a wonderful film of Princess Elizabeth in 1950, including shots down Regent Street lined with Swindon people, scouts and girl guides and servicemen, ending with shots of the future Queen naming a Castle Class locomotive Swindon before she’s taken on a short trip, standing in the drivers cab. See http://bit.ly/9kVAxS
The comings and goings at RAF Lyneham feature in several clips including the return of Prisoners of War from the Korean War, the repatriation of wounded British soldiers flown back from fighting the communist insurgency in Malaya, shots of the RAF’s Comet 4s in 1962 and the very first Hercules C130s in 1967. Their recognisable shape is familiar in the skies over Swindon today. There’s even a 1962 film of a hovercraft built at the Vickers factory in South Marston.
There are many other eye catching and amusing clips such as the croc flower bed created in Queens Park by head gardener Bill Wicks and his team in 1961 and a first world war silent movie of Canadian troops enjoying Empire Day in Swindon with sports events including a three legged race and piggy-back wrestling.
Mark Harris of British Pathe, who lives in Cirencester, put the collection together. He said, “Swindon is local to me and I once worked there. The town has a rich heritage which is reflected in the archive. Whatever anyone says about the town – and they do – I think Swindon is a very important place and this footage shows just how important it was.”
The Pathe newsreels are certainly entertaining and time spent viewing the clips is a rewarding opportunity to put the town’s history into perspective.
The Mayor of Swindon Rex Barnett was delighted to view the old news coverage. “I started my gas fitter and plumbing apprenticeship in the railway works in 1953 and was made redundant in 1962 after the Beeching reorganisation of the railways.
“The Pathe newsreels were always an exciting start to a cinema visit and I recall the events around the footage that’s online. Pathe have done an excellent job pulling together the history of Swindon for all to see on the internet.”
Pictured: Princess Elizabeth unveiling ‘Swindon’ in 1950; Engines being broken up inside Swindon works in 1938