The GWR Workers' tunnel

Now Grade II listed and built in 1870, 380 ft (1115.8m), 15ft (4.6m) wide and 7ft (2-1m) high, the GWR Workers’ tunnel still provides the main pedestrian access from the railway village to the Works’ site. Now that’s the home of STEAM museum, Isambard House, Churchward House and the residential apartments now on the site. Not forgetting of course Heelis, the National Trust HQ and the outlet centre.

The tunnel emerges north of the railway line at the western end of the general offices building. Until 1922, an early 20th century extension of the subway continued northwards under the office block to an open junction in the yard behind. From there it continued, by tunnel, to the general stores building beyond the Gloucester line.

*sourced from Swindon: The Legacy of a Railway Town from the Royal Commission of Historical Monuments of England.

A danger to life and limb

Before the building of this tunnel, Swindon’s railway men risked life and limb in getting to the Works’ site. As the listing entry on the Historic England website describes, the 1860s saw GWR workers suffer a number of serious accidents. In a single month in 1869, there were three deaths of workers struck by trains as they crossed the railway line.

Public art with a railway theme

Light installations at Swindon's railway quarter - gwr workers tunnel

As I’ve mentioned on here before dear listeners, Swindon enjoys a great deal of public art. And much of it I’ve written about here: https://swindonian.me/category/public-art-sculpture/

And this light picture installation, put in, in 2012, are a fabulous addition to it. The installation depicts, in green metal light images, railway workers past and present. As I look at them, I think of the men and women, across the years, who used this tunnel to go to work ‘inside’ – as they referred to it.

And as the Swindon Advertiser article says – they don’t half add some interest to a dark passage. Ooh er missus!

As you walk through the tunnel towards the town centre this is the order in which they appear – I think …

Close-up of one of the light pictures in the GWR Workers' tunnel. The GWR Workers' tunnel 1870


The artist


The artist responsible, Bruce Williams, said:

‘The characters you can see used the route under the tracks themselves on their way to and from work. These are regular men and women, who worked on the trains through war and peace and in all weathers. There are riveters, train drivers and look-out people.

On the opposite walls in gleaming letters read the words Swindon Works. That’s the name of the site yes. But one could also read it as a hopeful slogan for the future.’