Swindon Railway Village and Works
The railway village in Swindon and its associated buildings are testament to nineteenth century philanthropy.
Before 1840 Swindon was a market town serving the surrounding dairy farms with fewer than 2500 inhabitants. It was recognised that a rail service between London and Bristol would provide a quicker and less hazardous means than coastal shipping for goods to be transported. The construction of the Great Western Railway, under the overall supervision of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, began in 1840. At this date engines that could do a single run between the two cities had not been built; a staging post was needed. Brunel's superintendent of locomotives, Daniel Gooch, was responsible for the selection of Swindon to serve this function. Its location on the Wilts and Berks Canal and with a link to the Great Western and Union railway to Cheltenham made the town the idea spot.
The earliest workers were housed in barracks and little was provided in the way of facilities for them. This began to change with the appointment of a doctor and the opening of a library. By 1843 a library was available to workers and work was underway to construct the workers' village. Later the library was expanded to become the Mechanics Institute, providing evening classes. A medical fund society was established and was later studied as a model for the National Health Service. In 1869 public baths were opened, followed by a hospital in 1871. The success of the social and welfare schemes established for the railway workers reflect the philanthropic attitudes of many of the chief engineers.
The Railway Works soon expanded beyond building and servicing engines.
Swindon GWR Works. Copyright: BRB
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