This post comes to you largely via Lee, one of my Twitter friends. He’s a true Swindonian, loves the place and engages with many people on the Twittersphere about Swindon and its history, amongst other things. He’s written me a couple of lovely guest posts about Swindon Town FC and the now long-gone Richard Jefferies school. If you want to follow Lee on Twitter his handle is @leefer3.
Anyway, this post about the industries that Swindon has been, and still is, home to was entirely his idea. Of course there’s the railway industry – Swindon is after all the home of the GWR – and without it Swindon would probably not have become what it is today. But there’s so much more to Swindon’s industrial past and present to explore.
All the photos and leads have come from Lee. I’ve just done the writing and linking it all together.
So, in no particular order, let’s take a wander around some of the industries that have, over the years, been so crucial to Swindon’s economy. Perhaps though, before we get going on this virtual wander we could stop off for some refreshment at Arkell’s brewery.
Established in 1843, Arkells still brew their beer with much the same process as they began with. Arkells is Swindons oldest company and one of the oldest traditional breweries still operating in Britain. Their website is interesting and informative and you can find out much more about them there. Alongside Arkells is Edmont Joinery who. I am led to understand, take on pub refits etc for Arkells.
Having done beer and joinery we’ll now move on to haulage – Les Smith Haulage to be precise – established 30 years ago, so now a firm part of the haulage landscape. Still a family firm, it began when Les did what so many people did in the 1960s and came to Swindon from London. He worked as a coalman for Stallards of Gorse Hill but when they closed Les took the opportunity to start his own his business with one of their redundant trucks. From tiny acorns…..
While we are in Greenbridge let’s say hello to the WH Smith distribution centre there. That’s been in Swindon for many years. When I first came to Swindon I recall seeing the Kinetic Pencils sculpture up there – gone now sadly.
Now we move onto the motor car and the significant role it has played in Swindon’s industrial and economic life – though from many accounts of Swindon you might read you’d be forgiven for getting the impression that Swindon is only a railway town.
As Swindon Web point out in their article ‘The Car Industry in Swindon – The rise of the UKs new Motown’: “Countless volumes have been written to celebrate Swindon’s railway heritage – and rightly so – but the place of the car in the town’s history has been relegated to little more than a footnote in comparison.” But for many years in Swindon the car was king and still has a considerable presence. Indeed, as Swindon Web will tell you, the Pressed Steel Co, which established a factory in Stratton St.Margaret in 1954, was, by 1965, employing 6,595 people. But there is so, so much more in the article on their website. So if you want to read about Swindon’s car connections in detail go there. However, for the purposes of this whistle-stop tour of Swindon’s hive of industry it’s sufficient to say that echoes of Pressed Steel, the reason why so many Londoners came to Swindon creating much of the town’s growth, eventually morphed into BMW. And the BMW connection is commemorated in a fab piece of public art in the town centre. Then came Honda and not forgetting the Renault Distribution centre in West Swindon. Designed by world-famous architect Norman Foster, it is now a listed building.
This next photograph is of Pope Brothers, a small firm in Old Town opposite Christchurch.
Dominating the town centre is the financial services of the Tri-Centre – once Allied Dunbar but now Zurich. I don’t know about anyone else but I still refer it as the Allied Dunbar Tri-Centre. Here’s a link to a Swindon Local flickr picture of it under construction and below the finished article.
This next building is interesting. It was once the home of the Southern Laundry where many GWR workers’ wives sweated for a living. It’s now a Grade II listed building. For anyone with an interest in such things the minutiae of that can be found on the snappily titled British Listed Buildings website. This link to Swindon Viewpoint shows a photograph of some women at work in the laundry.
I’ll round this post off with a mention of the Spitfire plane and its connection to Swindon. I can now hear the music to the film 633 squadron and I don’t doubt that was a completely different plane. But you get the idea eh? The photograph below is of a bite-sized Spitfire on Spitfire Way, outside the Spitfire building – ar you detecting theme by now? I had no idea myself until recently that Swindon had played a significant role in Spitfire production, and that’s rather exciting I think.
Swindon Web have a wonderfully detailed article about it all. There’s some really fascinating information in it and it’s well-worth a read. It seems that the planes were originally built in Southampton but that facility was destroyed in a 1940 bombing raid so production moved to the Supermarine Factory at South Marston. There the planes were constructed and tested on a runway that is now the Honda test track. Nowadays the sports club that was once part of Vickers retains the Supermarine name. Swindon Web have another article which may be of interest: Supersonic Swindon – Swindon’s part in Aviation History.
So this journey has taken us through just of Swindon’s industry past and present. There are many more of note so I think I’ll save those for another time. And you may have noticed a glaring omission to this post – that of the GWR. Well that one obviously deserves a post of its own too.