Next year marks 175 years since New Swindon came into being and Steam Museum income generation manager Ian Surtees is calling on residents to find out more about the town’s history and to look at what they can do to contribute to the celebration.
In 1840 railway engineer Daniel Gooch, who surveyed the route for a new railway to run from London to Bristol, wrote to Isambard Kingdom Brunel recommending that the Great Western Railway company build a refuelling and repair workshop in farm fields in the county of Wiltshire, below the small hilltop town of Swindon.
Brunel and the board accepted the proposal and the rest is history as they say. But for Ian, 1841 is the year when things started to happen, no doubt to the horror of the good burghers of Swindon at the time. “It’s the year when work actually started on site, the year when the foundations of what we know as Swindon today were laid; it’s the reason why we are all here now,” said Ian.
“The railways were the highest form of technology of the day and were the driving force of the industrialisation of Britain. Swindon played a major role in that process and we should celebrate it.”
Ian said former Swindon councillor David Glaholm had suggested 2016 was a worthwhile anniversary.
Five years ago, then-Swindon Advertiser editor Dave King wrote an article explaining why it was important to mark the year. Speaking to Swindon Link, he said: “I was trying to promote 175 years as a catalyst to celebrate all that is good about the town. This was in 2010 to give the town five years to prepare. One meeting was held with the council and interested parties such as Forward Swindon, but nothing ever came of it.”
Ian agrees that 175 years is more than just history and heritage. “Planning is just starting and we want to hear of projects and initiatives that will get the people of Swindon involved in some way to ask the question: why are you here?
“It would be great to hear from businesses who provide so many job opportunities and from individuals, community groups and schools who have ideas about how the anniversary can be celebrated.
“Let’s shake off whatever negativity there is about Swindon. This is an opportunity for everybody to participate in what makes Swindon great.”
Ian added that negotiations are taking place with the National Railway Museum in York to bring back two iconic products of Swindon railway works: King George V and the City of Truro. Exhibitions and special events are being planned at Steam and Lydiard House.
Discussions are also taking place with the two oldest businesses in Swindon. Deacon’s in Old Town are looking at producing celebration timepieces, and Arkell’s will brew an anniversary beer.
Ian would also like Gooch’s crucial letter, now in the national archives at Kew, to be displayed at Steam.
If you have an idea about how 2016 can be marked, email: email@example.com
Photos by Roy Nash, top, King George V marking 74 years of Swindon Borough in 1974. Below, KGV on the turntable in the railway works