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Rooftops and the David Murray John Tower
Grid reference: SU152842
Location: 51°33’36"N, 1°46’48"W
Population: 155,432
Post town: Swindon
Postcode: SN1-6, SN25, SN26
Dialling code: 01793
Local Government
Council: Swindon
North Swindon, South Swindon

Swindon is a large town in northern Wiltshire, midway between Bristol, 40 miles west and Reading, 40 miles east. It is a modern, developed town, often assumed to be a New Town but not technically so: it was developed after the War as an "Expanded Town" under the Town Development Act 1952. The old town stands on a steep limestone hill while the more recent developments have spread out over the plain below.

The major increase in Swindon's size and population as it developed from the brutalist 1950s changed the town's character beyond recognition. Even before then it was Wiltshire's first industrial town: the canal network came here early in the nineteenth century and the railway reached Swindon in 1842, bringing factories in its wake, led by the Swindon railway works. Swindon New Town was a nineteenth century creation, which the twentieth century's bland developments absorbed.

Swindon is still an important rail destination, the station on the line from London Paddington to Bristol. It is home to a railway heritage museum and to the Bodleian Library's book depository too, which contains 153 miles of bookshelves,[1] perhaps appropriate for a town that had Britain's first public library.

Name of the town

The old town was named from its position on a hill: Swindun is Old English for "swine down". It is listed in the Domesday Book as Suindune.


Industrial Revolution

The Wilts and Berks Canal near Rushey Platt

Swindon was a small market town until roughly 1848. This original market area is on top of the hill in central Swindon, now known as Old Town.[2]

The Industrial Revolution was responsible for an acceleration of Swindon's growth. It started with the construction of the Wilts and Berks Canal in 1810 and the North Wilts Canal in 1819. The canals brought trade to the area and Swindon's population started to grow.

Railway town

In 1840, Isambard Kingdom Brunel chose Swindon as the site for the railway works he planned for the Great Western Railway. Eastwards towards London, the line was gently graded, while westwards there was a steep descent towards Bath. Swindon was the junction for the proposed line to Gloucester.

Swindon Junction station opened in 1842 and, until 1895, every train stopped for at least 10 minutes to change locomotives. As a result, the station hosted the first recorded railway refreshment rooms.[3] There were three storeys to the station in 1842, with the refreshment rooms on the ground floor, the upper floors housing the station hotel and lounge. That building was demolished in 1972 and replaced by an office building with a single-storey modern station under it.

The town's railway works were completed in 1842. The GWR built a small railway 'village' to house some of its workers. People still live in those houses and several of the buildings that made up the railway works remain, although many are vacant. The Steam Railway Museum and English Heritage, including the National Monuments Record, now occupy part of the old works. In the village were the GWR Medical Fund Clinic at Park House and its hospital, both on Faringdon Road, and the 1892 health centre in Milton Road - which housed clinics, a pharmacy, laundries, baths, Turkish baths and swimming pools - was almost opposite.

From 1871, GWR workers had a small amount deducted from their weekly pay and put into a healthcare fund – its doctors could prescribe them or their family members free medicines or send them for medical treatment. In 1878 the fund began providing artificial limbs made by craftsmen from the carriage and wagon works, and nine years later opened its first dental surgery. In his first few months in post the dentist extracted more than 2,000 teeth. From the opening in 1892 of the Health Centre, a doctor could also prescribe a haircut or even a bath. The cradle-to-grave extent of this service was later used as a blueprint for the National Health Service.[4]

The Mechanics' Institute, formed in 1844, moved into a building looking rather like a church and included a covered market, on 1 May 1855. The New Swindon Improvement Company, a co-operative, raised the funds for this path self-improvement and paid the GWR £40 a year for its new home on a site at the heart of the railway village. It was a groundbreaking organisation that transformed the railway's workforce into some of the country's best-educated manual workers.[5]

Swindon had the United Kingdom's first lending library,[6] and a range of improving lectures, access to a theatre and a range of activiies from ambulance classes to xylophone lessons. A former Institute secretary formed the New Swindon Co-operative Society in 1853 which, after a schism in the society's membership, spawned the New Swindon Industrial Society that ran a retail business from a stall in the market at the Institute. The Institute also nurtured pioneering trades unionists and encouraged local democracy.[7]

When tuberculosis hit the new town, the Mechanics’ Institute persuaded the industrial pioneers of North Wiltshire to agree that the railway's former employees should continue to receive medical attention from the doctors of GWR Medical Society Fund, which the Institute had played a role in establishing and funding.

Swindon's ‘other’ railway, the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway, merged with the Swindon and Cheltenham Extension Railway to form the Midland & South Western Junction Railway, which set out to join the London & South Western Railway with the Midland Railway at Cheltenham. The Swindon, Marlborough & Andover had planned to tunnel under the hill on which Swindon's Old Town stands but the money ran out and the railway ran into Swindon Town railway station, off Devizes Road in the Old Town, skirting the new town to the west, intersecting with the GWR at Rushey Platt and heading north for Cirencester, Cheltenham and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, whose 'Midland Red' livery the M&SWJR adopted.

During the second half of the 19th century, Swindon New Town grew around the main line between London and Bristol. In 1900, Old Swindon, the original market town, merged with its newer neighbour at the bottom of the hill to become a single Swindon.[2]

20th century

View down Little London

On 1 July 1923, the GWR took over the largely single-track M&SWJR and the line northwards from Swindon Town was diverted to Swindon Junction station, leaving the Town station with only the line south to Andover and Salisbury.[8][9][10] The last passenger trains on what had been the SM&A ran on 10 September 1961, 80 years after the railway's first stretch opened.

During the first half of the 20th century, the railway works was the town's largest employer and one of the biggest in the country, employing more than 14,500 workers. Alfred Williams[11] (1877–1930) wrote about his life as a hammerman at the works.[12]

The works' decline started in 1960, when it rolled out BR standard class 9F 92220 Evening Star|Evening Star, the last steam engine to be built in the UK.[13] The works lost its locomotive building role and took on rolling stock maintenance for British Rail. In the late 1970s, much of the works closed and the rest followed in 1986.

David Murray John,[14] Swindon's town clerk from 1938 until shortly before his death in 1974, had foreseen the decline of the railway works and, with colleagues, had worked to attract other employers to the town. The extent of their success can be judged from the list of current major employers. Swindon's tallest building is named after him.

In February 2008 The Times named Swindon as one of "The 20 best places to buy a property in Britain".[15] Only Warrington had a lower ratio of house prices to household income in 2007, with the average household income in Swindon among the highest in the country.

In October 2008 Swindon made a controversial move to ban fixed point speed cameras. The move was branded as reckless by some[16] but by November 2008 Portsmouth, Walsall and Birmingham councils[17][18] were also considering the move.


At the junction of two Roman roads, the town has developed over the centuries, with the assistance of the Great Western Railway and the canals, into a transport hub. It has two junctions (15 and 16) onto the M4 motorway and is on the ex-GWR main line to London.


"Magic Roundabout"

The town is notable for its roundabouts, part of the car-friendly plans for the expanded town from the 1950s. (A calendar published locally features a different roundabout each month.[19]

The best-known roundabout is the 'Magic Roundabout', which is a system of five mini-roundabouts in a close, pentagonal road system, the central point of which is a contra-rotational hub, forming the junction of five roads. It is built on the site of Swindon wharf on the abandoned Wilts & Berks Canal, near the County Ground. The official name used to be County Islands, although it was colloquially known as the Magic Roundabout and the name was changed in the late 1990s to match its nickname. The same system, with six mini-roundabouts, is found in Hemel Hempstead, and has also attracted the name "Magic Roundabout". Swindon's Magic Roundabout inspired the song "English Roundabout" by local band XTC on their 1982 album English Settlement. It has also been prominently featured in several television programmes.

Culture and arts

Museums and institutions

King George V pulling the 'Bristolian' at the Museum
  • Artsite Ltd.: Post Modern gallery
  • National Museum of Science & Industry, Wroughton.
  • Railway Village Museum.
  • Richard Jefferies Museum, Coate Water Park
  • Steam Railway Museum.
  • Swindon Collection, Central Library (local studies)
  • Swindon Arts Centre, in the Old Town
  • Wyvern Theatre
  • Swindon Museum and Swindon Art Gallery, next to each other.
  • The Museum of Computing the first computer museum in the United Kingdom.


  • The town has several live music venues which attract local acts as well as touring national acts and host Swindon's annual music festival the Swindon Shuffle.[20]
  • The Oasis Leisure Centre and the County Ground are used for some major events.
  • The Swindon Arts Centre is a theatre in Old Town which seats 200 and has music, professional and amateur theatre, comedians, films, children's events, and one-man shows.
  • The Wyvern Theatre has film, comedy, and music.
  • Swindon hosts festivals such as the Swindon Festival of Literature, the nationally known Swindon Invincible festival, the annual Swindon Mela (an all-day celebration of South Indian arts and culture) in the Town Gardens.[21]
  • The Big Arts Day is an annual celebration of the arts that started in 2010.
  • In 2012 'Swindon: The Opera' will be staged at Steam in Swindon by the Janice Thompson Performance Trust,[22] a lottery-funded thing charting Swindon's history since 1952.

Green spaces

Public parks include:

  • Lydiard Country Park
  • Stanton Park
  • Barbury Castle
  • Queens Park
  • Town Gardens and
  • Coate Water

Shaw Country Park currently being developed in western Swindon.


Shopping street
  • Newspapers:
    • Swindon Advertiser
    • Western Daily Press
    • The Gazette and Herald (weekly)
    • Others include The Wiltshire Ocelot (listings magazine), Swindon Star, Stratton Outlook, Frequency (arts and cultural magazine), The Great Swindon Magazine, the Swindon Business News and The Swindon Link
  • Radio:
    • BBC Radio Wiltshire
    • Heart Wiltshire
    • More Radio (Swindon)
    • More FM.
    • Swindon 105.5


Stratton Bank, County Ground
  • Football:
    • Swindon Town FC, a professional club, play at the County Ground near the town centre
    • Swindon Supermarine FC, non-league
    • Highworth Town FC, non-league
  • Swindon Robins speedway
  • Swindon Wildcats, Swindon Top Cats and Swindon Panthers play ice hockey
  • Swindon Rail Road Rebels - Swindon Roller Derby are Wiltshire's first and only roller derby league
  • Swindon Flames, an inline skater hockey team
  • Swindon Sonics basketball
  • Rugby (amateur):
    • Swindon RFC (Rugby Union)
    • Supermarine RFC (Rugby Union)
    • Swindon St George (Rugby League)
  • Swindon Hockey Club (field hockey)
  • Swindon Road Club (cycling)
  • Swindon Badminton Club
  • Swimming:
    • Swindon ASC (The 3rd oldest swimming club in the country)
    • Swindon Dolphin
    • Swindon Tigersharks Swimming Club
    • Wroughton ASC Swimming Club
    • Sx3, a joint swimming club combining swindon Tigersharks with Wroughton ASC, Highworth ASC, Wootton Bassett ASC and Swindon ASC clubs

The town has two leisure centres, the Link Centre and the Oasis. Milton Road Health Hydro has two pool both used for casual and club swimming.

Broome Manor Golf Complex outside the town is a golf course set against the backdrop of the Marlborough Downs.

In popular culture

Books set in modernist Swindon are somewhat fewer than those set in mediæval Salisbury and of rather different style. Such as are set in Swindon include:

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • The Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde (which feature an alternative-universe Swindon)
  • Robert Goddard's Into the Blue, Out of the Sun and "Never Go Back", all with the character of Harry Barnett from Swindon, and all of which start in the town
  • In "Evil Machines", a story collection by Terry Jones is a story "The Lift that Took People to Places They Didn't Want to Go". It ends with the section "...But actually... the evil elevator hadn't changed at all. In fact it went on secretly taking people to places they didn't want to go. For every time the lift took the inhabitants of Swindon back down to the ground floor, they stepped out of the department store and onto the streets of Swindon, and so found themselves somewhere they didn't want to be."

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Swindon)


  1. "Vast bookstore opens as famed library runs out of space". BBC News. 6 October 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11484494. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 John Chandler, Swindon Decoded, The Hobnob Press 2005, ISBN 0-946418-37-3.
  3. LTC Rolt, Isambard Kingdom Brumel, Penguin 1957.
  4. ‘’Background’’ – New Mechanics Institution Preservation Society. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  5. 1850 – New Mechanics Institution Preservation Trust, Swindon. Retrieved on 23 July 2007.
  6. Background – New Mechanics Institution Preservation Trust, Swindon.Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  7. This is Our Heritage — 1996 lecture by Swindon labour movement historian Trevor Cockbill. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  8. Swindon's Other Railway — the Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  9. The Midland & South Western Junction Railway, Railspot Reloaded.Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  10. GWR Museum picture gallery. Retrieved on 2007-07-23
  11. Leonard Clark, Alfred Williams - His Life and Work, David and Charles 1969
  12. Alfred Williams, Life in a railway factory, first published 1915, 2007 edition published by Sutton Publishing ISBN 978-0-7509-4660-5
  13. Evening Star — Steam Locomotive, BBC, 29 November 2006. Retrieved on 2007-07-21.
  14. David Murray John's obituary in the Swindon Evening Advertiser, 24 May 1974.
  15. The 20 best places to buy a property in Britain, The Times, Property pages, February 2008]
  16. More councils expected to ban speed cameras, The Times, October 2008.
  17. http://www.bigredl.co.uk/Swindonbansspeedcameras.htm
  18. Weaver, Matthew (2008-10-23). "More councils expected to ban speed cameras". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/23/localgovernment-motoring. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  19. "Round trip for town's calendar". BBC News. 2003-09-04. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wiltshire/3081662.stm. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  20. Richard Craven (2007-07-26). "Swindon Shuffle 2007 — A Retrospective". BBC Wiltshire. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/content/articles/2007/07/04/swindon_shuffle_2007_feature.shtml. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  21. Swindon Mela.
  22. Janice Thompson Performance Trust

Further reading

  • Swindon, Mark Child, Breedon Books, 2002, hardcover, 159 pages, ISBN 1-85983-322-5
  • Francis Frith's Swindon Living Memories (Photographic Memories S.), Francis Frith and Brian Bridgeman, The Frith Book Company Ltd, 2003, Paperback, 96 pages, ISBN 1-85937-656-8