To celebrate London 2012 in GWR style, the STEAM Museum has been tracking the sporting achievements of the famous Great Western Railway Company.
In a new exhibition entitled Track and Field: An Olympic Look at GWR Sporting Life, STEAM uncovers the world of GWR sports, with many surprises along the way.
STEAM Curator, Felicity Jones said: “From the earliest days of the GWR, the company encouraged their employees to take part in sporting activities as a means of keeping fit and healthy and establishing good relationships between staff.
“By the late 19th century, employees had set up many clubs, including cricket, boating, angling, swimming, football and shooting. And at the beginning of the 20th century, new clubs for women began to emerge, with sports like lawn tennis, croquet and hockey.”
The sporting exhibition looks at the many clubs and societies set up within the GWR and how they fared through two World Wars.
Some of the sports and leisure amenities featured in the story-boards will be familiar to people living in Swindon as many of them still exist today.
Among the familiar sights are the “Milton Road Swimming Baths” (now the Health Hydro) and “Coate Water Reservoir” (now Coate Water Country Park).
STEAM’s own Photographic Collection plays a part in the exhibition, with a selection of sporting photographs showing individual clubs and societies as well as images depicting the social scenes of days gone by.
“GWR employees were very much engaged in sporting activities and it was part of their way of life,” continued Felicity. “Indeed, there were many sporting achievements within the GWR, including some resulting in Olympic awards.”
You can even find out what sort of prizes Charles Blewitt, a GWR Olympic Medalist, won as prizes for his many athletic achievements; one of them being a “pair of candlesticks”.
The displays also highlight the importance of rail travel for major sporting events, such as the annual Henley Regatta, when the GWR laid on special excursion trains departing from London Paddington Station.
Councillor Garry Perkins, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Culture, said: “It is fascinating to learn how important sporting life was to the Great Western Railway Company, and to see some of the actual trophies and awards that were won by employees. There is even an original fencing jacket on display, as well as other items of sporting publicity and memorabilia. There are also some traditional games for visitors and their families to experience some good old fashioned fun!”
The new exhibition runs until the end of the year and is located in the special exhibition area next to the museum’s Station Platform.
Entry is free with standard admission.
To find out more, visit the STEAM website at www.swindon.gov.uk/steam or call the museum on 01793 466637.
Photos: Crowds gather at Paddington Station to board special trains bound for the Henley Regatta, c.1910; Female swimmers at the GWR Medical Fund Society small swimming baths (Milton Road), c.1900