Rodbourne reading rooms

January 2020

The GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne Swindon

Between Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings, I’ve given good coverage to Swindon’s Mechanics’ Institution itself in my published books. So this series of Swindon in 50 more buildings gives me a chance to give mention of the GWR reading rooms in Rodbourne.

Where are the GWR Rodbourne Reading Rooms and what are they?

Well the location speaks for itself – well Rodbourne Road to be specific. Just a little way down from the Outlet Centre.

As for what they are – this write up on the Rodbourne Community History Group website serves us well:

‘The Rodbourne branch was built in 1904 and became known locally as the Reading Rooms. The ground floor consisted of a reading room, hall, office and yard. While on the first floor there was a games room.

The building is presently occupied by the North Wiltshire branch of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Evening brigade meetings and daytime first aid courses for companies in the North Wilts. area are provided.’

So Rodbourne’s GWR reading rooms then are a branch of the Mechanics’ Institution. The main one in the heart of the railway village in Emlyn Square.

This blog from Swindon in the Past Lane tells us about the architect of Rodbourne Reading Rooms – Robert James Beswick. Hailing from Manchester, Robert came to Swindon in the mid 1870s. He became articled to another popular local architect, WH Read, and was in practice from around 1874. In 1884 he wed Emilie Matilda Elliott, the daughter of John Elliott, a painter in the works. The blog explains that Beswick enjoyed a prolific career during which he designed several Swindon landmark buildings – this one included. But to say more would be spoliers! Read the Past Lane blog for the full lowdown on his architectural output.

GWR Reading Rooms Rodbourne
GWR Rodbourne Reading Rooms

Related posts in this series:

St Augustine’s church in Rodbourne:

The GWR Weighbridge:

The Mechanics’ Institute

The Mechanics’ Institution building served as a venue for New Swindon’s social activities, entertainment and educational activities.

In its glory days it offered a reading room, a theatre and a library – see Secret Swindon for so much more on all of that. It also boasted cold-water baths (before the building of the Milton Road Baths), a coffee room, a dining room, lecture rooms and public meeting rooms.

In the first instance the Mechanics’ Institution was accommodated within the Works. The institution moved in 1855 to a permanent building in the railway village.

The membership of its library grew fast, necessitating the opening of branches in Rodbourne and Gorse Hill.

The Mechanics' Institute in the GWR railway village in Swindon
The Mechanics’ Institute, Emlyn Square, in the GWR railway village, Swindon

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