A full length film plotting how the Great Western Railway Company turned a sleepy market town into an industrial powerhouse was screened to a capacity audience of 635 people at the Wyvern Theatre on 25 April.
Carefully researched and professionally produced by film maker Martin Parry, Railway Town brings together previously unseen archive film and photographs, as well as key insights from astute historians.
The film charts the remarkable story of Swindon from its ‘wild west’ beginnings, through problems and triumphs, and then conveys the mood when the great GWR factory (by then British Rail) closed in March 1986.
Martin, who came to the town in early 1980 as a British FiIm Institute funded film-maker in residence, said he conceived the idea of Railway Town soon after he arrived. “Even though Swindon had moved a long way from railways in the post-war period, the legacy of the works was deeply embedded in the town, yet there was a sense that closure was on the cards.
“I started to document the railway heritage by interviewing scores of factory workers, filming inside the works and collecting archive material. I wanted to show how much the Swindon of today is underpinned by its history and how this frames the future, through archive and previously unseen material.”
Although much of the film is made up of pictures over the decades since the early days of photography and the movies, Martin has incorporated the very latest methods of capturing images by using a drone flown early in the morning over the railway village and the now derelict Mechanics’ Institute.
He said: “Quadcopters – or drones as they are popularly known – open up new horizons for photographers and filmmakers, but there are strict requirements and regulations concerning their use close crowded areas and buildings.
“Responsible use involves doing a thorough risk assessment of factors such as wind speed and direction, overhead wires, not to mention trees. But when these safeguards are dealt with you can gain a thoroughly fresh perspective on landmarks and places of interest.”
The screening was followed by a panel discussion on Swindon’s past and future.
The Railway Town DVD is now available shortly on the online shop at www.viewpointcommunitymedia.org.uk with all proceeds going to sustain Britain’s first community television station established in the 1970s and now operating online. The DVD is also be available at Steam, Museum of the Great Western Railway. Click to view the trailer
• Martin, although hailing from Herefordshire, came to Swindon from Canada’s National Film Board. After the BFI funding ended, Thamesdown Council appointed him as media arts officer where he set up Thamesdown Media Arts, later renamed Create Studios, and continued a leading role with pioneering community TV station Swindon Viewpoint.
Pictured top and bottom, drone images of the Mechanics’ Institute and part of the former GWR school in the railway village now occupied by UTC Swindon with St Marks Church and the GWR Park in the background. Below, Martin Parry editing Railway Town by Richard Wintle of Calyx