Swindon Link has been marking Swindon175 by writing about businesses and industries that built Swindon. This month Graham Carter of Swindon Heritage tells how the town has been a driving force in the British motor industry.
Everybody knows Swindon was a railway town, but there are plenty of reasons to re-christen itself ‘Motown,’ 60 years after Pressed Steel’s new plant produced its first body panels on New Year’s Eve, 1955.
However, the story really began three years earlier, when Swindon was chosen as an official overspill for Londoners displaced by the Second World War.
This paved the way for major new alternative industries to be brought to the town and it took less than ten years for Pressed Steel to overtake the declining railway industry as the area’s leading employer.
Research into the era also dispels the myth that the original car plant was mostly staffed by skilled former railwaymen. Although its higher wages did eventually attract lots of workers from British Railways, for the first ten years more than 90 per cent of the workforce were London-born.
Cars have now reigned supreme in Swindon for more than half a century, with Honda the town’s biggest private employer, second only to Swindon Borough Council, while BMW’s Mini Plant is also a cornerstone of the town’s economy.
The Mini bodies produced by BMW link neatly with motoring history, since it is almost certain that the panels for the original Mini, launched in 1959, were pressed in Swindon.
But two of Swindon’s other motoring ‘claims to fame’ link back to the railway. Both Henry Morgan, who founded the Morgan Car Company, and local man Kenneth Howse, designer of the classic Sunbeam Alpine sports car in the 1960s, were trained by the Great Western Railway in Swindon.
After buying his first car in Swindon, Morgan was bitten by the motoring bug, and returned home to Worcester to found his iconic car company, despite being offered a permanent job with the GWR in Swindon.
Read the full story
The Autumn 2016 edition of Swindon Heritage includes an interview with former STEAM museum curator Tim Bryan who switched from railway to cars in 2004, when he became a senior manager and archivist at the British Motor Museum.
The new edition is packed with insights into the town’s history, intriguing stories and interviews and insightful images. Find out how to subscribe to Swindon Heritage or buy individual copies at: www.swindonheritage.com