It was the beating heart of Swindon, employing thousands of people for more than a hundred years. And now, as part of a range of events to celebrate the birth of Swindon’s railway works, people will have the chance to own a special piece of the town’s locomotive hub just in time for Christmas.
Commemorative pens made from timber sourced from the site of the town’s former works are currently being made to coincide with next year’s Swindon175 celebrations.
Local craftsman Simon Webb, who made similar collectors’ items from Lydiard Park’s 300-year-old Walnut tree, is making a series of ballpoint and fountain pens using timber that was uncovered from the old railway works site.
But Simon was astounded to discover that the unusual Eucalyptus Marginata red wood he was given to work with had an otherwise unknown family connection.
Ian Surtees, Income Generation Manager for STEAM, explained: “Simon made our beautiful Lydiard walnut pens, which we are soon to release an additional fountain pen range for. He said to me that if we ever got some timber from the railway works, he would make us some similar pens for STEAM.
“We approached the site manager at Thomas Homes next door to ask if they had found any timber and they pulled out this huge block of wood out of the ground, which we think was part of a foundation or a platform to support heavy machinery.
“One of our volunteers Jack Hayward did some research on Facebook and discovered that the wood was Eucalyptus Marginata from Australia, also known as jarrah.”
But Simon was taken aback when Jack explained that the wood was discovered near to the Blacksmith’s Shop and Chain Test House, which is where he had worked alongside Simon’s father Ken Webb for six years.
Simon said: “I couldn’t believe it when Jack told me where the wood had come from and that he had worked with my dad close to where the wood had been used all those years ago.
“The reason I wanted to make the pens was due to the upcoming Swindon175 celebrations and the fact my family has such a strong association with the railway works. I hope the pens prove popular with all those people in Swindon who have an affinity with the works.
“It was a fantastically dense material to work with, but usable and malleable. When the building companies took it out of the ground, it was completely grey, but I scratched away just the tiniest layer of the surface and this rich red wood was underneath. It was preserved so well.”
Simon will be producing a platinum and gunmetal ballpoint pen in a black velvet case priced at £75 and two fountain pens in two sizes. The fountain pens, priced at £200, will be rhodium plated with gold highlights in a presentation box with a leather carrying case and high quality ink cartridges.
Geoff Davis, who looks after the online shop for the STEAM museum, said “You’d be surprised at the antipodean interest in particular for our products. People who’ve had relatives emigrate and want to learn something about the history of the railway works love coming here and buying a piece of that to take away. We estimate 15% of our sales are outside of the UK, and we expect the pens to be of particular interest”
All the products will be limited editions and certificated and orders are being taken up until 30 November to be produced in time for Christmas, and are to be sold through the STEAM museum shop and their website.
Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for STEAM, said: “The pens Simon produced from the Lydiard walnut tree were exquisite and the Swindon175 versions are just as impressive.
“The railway works were so important to the town and the people that worked there, so it is fitting we have been able to take a small piece of that heritage and turn it into a unique and beautiful memento.”
Swindon175 will celebrate the town’s railway heritage and, in particular the decision by GWR directors on 25 February 1841 to authorise the establishment of the railway works in Swindon.
A programme of events to mark Swindon175 is taking place in 2016 and next month two flagship locomotives – King George V and City of Truro – will be loaned by the National Railway Museum in York to STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway.
Details of the Swindon175 programme will appear soon on: www.swindon175.com
To order one of the pens email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01793 466651.