Swindon Designer Outlet Village: shopping with a sense of history

A weekend visit to Swindon’s outlet centre, outlet village, outlet centre, designer outlet or whatever it is we are calling it, has prompted me to write a view lines about cos I think it’s really rather cool – and I don’t just mean for the shopping. The outlet centre is described by Wikipeadia thus:

“The McArthur Glen Swindon Designer Outlet is a covered designer outlet, occupying restored Great Western railway works, near Swindon town centre, England. Built by Tarmac Construction and opened in March 1997, it is located a few miles from junction 16 of the M4 motorway. Ten million people live within 90 minutes drive of the outlet and 3 million shoppers visit each year. Capacity for parking is 1,850…..In the eating area, a steam locomotive that was built at Swindon is on display. The Severn Valley Railway‘s GWR 7800 Manor Class No. 7819 Hinton Manor has been on display there since 2007 after replacing the railway’s GWR 4900 Hall Class No. 4930 Hagley Hall.”  

Which, as descriptions go, is fine. But it doesn’t, it can’t, convey the atmosphere of the place. What I’m trying to articulate is how, unlike all (I think, but don’t quote me) the other McArthur Glen outlet villages in the UK, the Swindon one is not purpose built. As pleasant as they all undoubtedly are, I love that the Swindon one has taken the home of a once glorious, but now long-gone industry, and breathed new life into it by becoming the home of a 21st century industry: retail.   Instead of a slow disintegration followed by demolishment the workshops of the Great Western Railway* have been recycled, revitalised and regenerated.    And in doing so the character of the workshops has been retained – always the original industrial use of the buildings are clear. Whenever I stroll around and look at the beams, the bits of machinery and the engine in the food court my thoughts turn to the men and women who worked so grindingly hard within these walls.

Swindon Outlet Centre

Swindon Outlet Centre

The recent news that the historic Long Shop (built in 1874) is going to be developed into further retail units  is good news. And really, together with the absolutely splendid STEAM Museum, what finer tribute could there be to the men and women who laboured so hard to make manifest Brunel’s railway?

*”The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838. It was engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who chose a broad gauge of 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) but, from 1854, a series of amalgamations saw it also operate 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard-gauge trains; the last broad-gauge services were operated in 1892. The GWR was the only company to keep its identity through the Railways Act 1921, which amalgamated it with the remaining independent railways within its territory, and it was finally merged at the end of 1947 when it was nationalised and became the Western Region of British Railways.

The GWR was called by some “God’s Wonderful Railway” and by others the “Great Way Round” but it was famed as the “Holiday Line”, taking many people to resorts in South West England. The company’s locomotives, many of which were built in the company’s workshops at Swindon, were painted a Brunswick green colour while, for most of its existence, it used a two-tone “chocolate and cream” livery for its passenger coaches. Goods wagons were painted red but this was later changed to mid-grey.

Great Western trains included long-distance express services such as the Flying Dutchman, the Cornish Riviera Express and the Cheltenham Spa Express. It also operated many suburban and rural services, some operated by steam railmotors or autotrains. The company pioneered the use of larger, more economic goods wagons than were usual in Britain. It operated a network of road motor (bus) routes, was a part of the Railway Air Services, and owned ships, docks and hotels.”

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