Architecture in Swindon

Architecture in Swindon

December 2015

A Great deal of Building

John Betjemen wrote of there being ‘very little architecture in Swindon and a great deal of building’ before going on to say that ‘Swindon, instead of being a West Country town, looked on its outskirts at any rate, like any industrial town anywhere.’

Well. Yes. Quite. Forgive me, I’m no expert here, but surely that’s rather the point?

Implicit in Betjeman’s observation is that, somehow or other, by virtue of its positioning between the likes of Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham, Swindon should be like them in terms of its architecture.

But why should it be? And more to the point – why would it be?  Swindon’s Old Town aside, it is a town born and reborn many times over from a rich variety of industry.

“Let’s go to Swindon for a spa break” said no-one. “Let’s go to Swindon for jobs, homes and some economic prosperity” said thousands.

Ergo, the place is hardly likely to have Regency Arcades and grand Georgian crescents now is it? So frankly I’ve had enough of that particular criticism so often spewed at Swindon. Comparing Swindon’s architecture to that of Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham and finding it wanting is simply an exercise in futility. Time to move on methinks.

Nevertheless, we should note that, being as fond of Victorian architecture as he was, Betjemen was complimentary about Villett’s House in Old Town – which he apparently described as “the finest house in Swindon“.  As this Swindonia Blogspot points out it bears a plaque stating this fact. The blog has some interesting photos of the house so is worth a peep.


From Industrial to Modernist

All of the above accepted Swindon is however home to a smattering of buildings that are, at the very least interesting, and in some cases significant. They may not be to your taste – but that doesn’t make them any the less valuable.

The town can boast buildings created by the great and the good of the architecture world and it’s my intention to look at some of them in more detail in further posts but they include:

  1. The Wyvern TheatreSir Hugh Casson
  2. The Renault Building/Spectrum BuildingNorman Foster
  3. The Art Deco diving board at Coate Water – okay not strictly a building but it’s on the listed register
  4. The David Murray John Tower – Douglas Stephen
  5. The Link Centre at West Swindon – Installed by the then (1983) Thamesdown Council the design was undertaken in-house under the chief architect K P Sherry.  This one is not necessarily of any particular significance (though someone might be able to enlighten me on that) but I do really rather like it. I liked it on first sight.

The David Murray John Tower is a particular favourite of mine – I was as struck by that as I was by the public art when I came to Swindon twenty-odd years ago.  I absolutely love it. I can’t necessarily articulate why I love it – it simply invokes some visceral reaction in me. I think it’s *expletive deleted* awesome.

Some may say it stands out like a sore thumb on the landscape but I really disagree. To me it’s a giant exclamation mark, proudly proclaiming itself to all directions. It’s the master of all it surveys.

See the DMJ tower in Brian Carter’s Flickr collection:

Jonathan Meades, a well-known writer, food journalist, essayist and film-maker has placed this building with its Modernist lines on his list of five extraordinary buildings.  Now, I don’t know about you but I find that to be fantastic and wonderful. Here in Swindon, a town with a lot of buildings but no architecture, we have a building that’s viewed as extraordinary!

Something to shout from the rooftops surely? From the room of the DMJ itself preferably.

So, for all these reasons, that will be the first building that I’ll explore in greater depth in later articles.

Plaque on David Murray John Tower in Swindon

Plaque on DMJ tower

Look up

It was I think the late broadcaster Ray Gosling who said something about, when visiting a new place, to be sure and look up. Because that’s where the interesting things are to be seen.

And he was right. It is. And even here, in industrial Swindon, make the effort to look up and there’s many points of interest to discover.

NB: Photo of Coate Water diving platform by Maureen Illes and the photo of the Wyvern Theatre comes from the theatre itself. So thanks to them. The Flickr collection is owned by Brian Carter of Carter Collectables.


10 reasons to love Swindon: a northerner’s perspective

10 reasons to love Swindon: a northerner’s perspective

7 December

Ten reasons to love Swindon

swindon sign on railway station

Swindon: THIS is Swindon

To be fair I could easily have called this post ’10 reason’s to love Swindon: another northerner’s perspective. What with hailing from a northern direction myself.

An earlier guest post from Brian Carter about how multicultural Swindon is noted the situational  irony of this particular northerner recognising all that was wonderful about Swindon.

However this guest post from Cheryl Tanner, is another example of someone from another part of the country pitching up in this town and asking ‘Why?’ As in ‘why does this town get so much flak?’ Indeed countless are the times I’ve chatted to many incomers to Swindon who ask that very same question – and versions thereof. It’s always mystified me as much as it’s mystified Cheryl and all the other people I’ve come across.

Indeed on that note, my friend and fellow business owner Sandra Trusty, owner of the Fab Gift Boutique (aka Fab Events & Occasions ) ( told me that she too experienced that same negativity from others when she was moving to Swindon but has been delighted by the place, its people and the staggering amount of green spaces we have here.

Cheryl Tanner is a local business owner in Swindon, running the pre-loved and vintage bridal wear business Tanner’s Bridal Boutique. The business currently has some of their lovely dresses residing in the Emporium of Loveliness in the covered market but are soon to be online also. 

screen shot tanner's bridal boutique website

Anyway – to the point. Here in her own words, are what the author likes about Swindon – a very insightful young lady I must say. Welcome to Swindon Cheryl.

“I moved to Swindon a year and a half ago for a new job  and I can honestly say me and my husband are really happy here and don’t want to leave anytime soon.

We didn’t quite know what to expect when we moved here, because the motivation for moving was a new job and finding out about the town was a bit of an after thought. Between us we’ve lived in quite a few places and we’ve got used to moving somewhere new and finding out about it as we go so – you can say we were quite relaxed about the whole thing.

However when we told people where we were going, the most a lot of people could say about Swindon was “The magic roundabout”, “wasn’t that where The Office was based?” and ” oh, could you not find a job in London then?” So we were pleasantly surprised by what we found when we came here and can honestly say that Swindon’s got a lot going for it.

Here I’ve listed 10 of the reasons why I love Swindon:

1)  A lot of big organisations are based here, so a greater variety of jobs

Compared to where I’ve lived before, Swindon has a variety of jobs going and not just in the retail sector. I moved here for a good job in the Civil Service,  based in the centre of Swindon and there were a number of other Government bodies based in the same building.

Swindon has head offices and large offices for a lot of other national firms here too in a number of sectors, which just goes to show you don’t have to live in London to get a decent job. Speaking of London…

2)  It’s only an hour’s train journey to London

It seems amazing to me that housing and rent prices aren’t a lot higher then they are as you are only an hour’s train ride from the capital. It’s an easy distance for a day trip and the trains run frequently. Yeah there are delays, but you will get that just about everywhere. But before I start kicking off about trains, let’s move on…

3) Independent shops and restaurants

I was surprised by the amount of independent businesses you have for a town this size and it’s really refreshing to see. There are all the restaurants and bars up in old town, the shops in the tented market, the unique shops opening on the main high street and the ones already in the Brunel centre to name a few. It just adds a nice bit of variety and character to the town.

4) The weather is better here (she’s right – it’s a top coat warmer)

This is more of a general comment for the south of England but the weather is better here. When you move from one place where it seems to rain most of the time you really notice the difference.

5) You’re a short drive to countryside and historic sites

You don’t have to travel very far before you hit fields, big open parks, castles and historic walks. Plus there are a number of buses to popular sites which is great for non-drivers.

6) You’re close to a number of city breaks and trips

Even if you don’t like Swindon you are very close to a number of popular city breaks and trips like Bath, Bristol, Salisbury, Cheltenham and Oxford to name just a few. Not to mention skipping London airports and using Bristol airport instead – saves on the train fare and there is a bus straight to the airport from Bristol Temple Meads. 

7) Investment and development 

Since we’ve moved here there have been improvements made like the new Regent Circus development and all the new housing being built and renovated by the retail outlet and in the town centre.

8) Retail outlet which is walking distance from town

This is a big plus. There was a McArthur Glen outlet near Chester but you normally needed to drive or get the bus and would take most of the day to go around and travel to and from it. But here you can just wander over after work or for part of a Saturday. 

9) Nice area to live

It’s unavoidable that every city or town has areas which aren’t as nice as others and since moving we’ve heard about the areas which are meant to be rough. But to be honest, the parts of Swindon we’ve seen aren’t that bad at all, I feel safe walking alone when its dark and generally it looks nice. Not exactly a critical analysis of the complicated elements of city planning, security and urban living but personally, feeling safe and being able to walk where I need to go is what’s important to me.

10)  Activities like ice hockey, zorbing, comedy clubs, theatres , museums, gin tasting nights and more!

I remember before we had even moved here, I had booked two tickets to go see the Swindon Wildcats. My husband had always wanted to see an Ice hockey game and I hadn’t realised it was popular in the UK let alone here. Again, we didn’t know what to expect and I thought it would be quite a small match with a small audience. But the atmosphere was amazing and they really do well with the lights and music to make it feel like an event, plus the Swindon team is brilliant so it gives you something to cheer for! There is a whole host of things to do here and I have no where near covered it all, but it helped us settle in.

This is probably just listing things many resident Swindonians already know and it’s sometimes hard to get excited about a place you’ve lived in for a long time – I feel the same about some of my previous homes. But you’ve got a lot to be proud of and to us it already feels like home.”

Swindon Soup

Swindon Soup

4 December 2015

What a souper idea

TV screen with image of soup bowl

So last night, more in nosiness then anything, I toddled along to the HQ of Excalibur (and The Positive Media Group) for the very first Swindon Soup. Now – I won’t lie – I’m immensely disappointed that a company called Excalibur doesn’t have a giant polystyrene stone in the middle of its office with a sword stuck in it. I mean – come on! Okay – I feel better for getting that off my chest – let’s get to the point.

Swindon Soup – what is it?

As the Swindon Soup website explains:

“Originating in Detroit, Swindon Soup is a crowd-funding event for community projects. Sponsored by Excalibur Communications, the inaugural event will take place at their Head Office on Thursday 3rd December 2015.

The concept is simple, it’s a minimum of £5 to attend for everyone (you can donate more if you wish) and the purpose of the evening is watch around three people pitch an idea to improve their local community.

Once the ideas have been pitched everyone gets a bowl of soup to eat plus a chance to chat and mull over which pitch they want to vote for. When the votes have been counted the winner will receive all the cash raised on the night to go ahead and start their project.

This bi-monthly event aims to bring together people who share a desire for a better community. The added advantage is they also get to meet people and share ideas and resources. New connections are made and it brings the community closer together.”

Now isn’t that a souper idea? And a positive American import too.

What’s really kind of nice about it I think is that there’s something in it for everyone. The attendees get to donate to a good local cause so get the ‘feel-good’ factor – plus a bowl of soup. The pitchees get, at the very least, exposure for their cause/organization and a chance to network.

There are slips on the table for attendees to offer other types of support to each group pitching aside from fiscal. So even if they don’t succeed in getting the pot on the evening they may well find support in other ways.

This surely has to be a win-win situation for everyone? Well done to Swindon and to Exaclibur for making this happen. Even if you don’t have a sword stuck in a stone … *sigh*

I thought these first pitchees were really very brave – after all they’d no idea what they were pitching into this being a the first of its kind. I wouldn’t like to have to do it so well done to them.

The Pitchees 

So last night’s pitchees were:

  1. Meet – Eat- Learn:

They are a new ( I think) group in Swindon created with the aim of building friendships between cultures in Swindon. And goodness there are plenty. They share meal and recipes and learn English. Meeting fortnightly they are just starting out and could really use your support.

2) The Wrong Shoes Theatre Company:

“Wrong Shoes is the resident theatre company at the Shoebox Theatre in Swindon. Our aim is to provide opportunities for people in Swindon and the surrounding areas to engage in original and contemporary theatre, both as performance makers and as audiences.

We want more people engaged in the arts and believe that performances and education should be affordable, and accessible to everyone.

As well as creating theatre, we also provide educational services and manage the Shoebox Theatre space and programming.”

3) Inner Flame

“Inner Flame helps people aged 16-25 to build confidence and achieve their goals.

We help young people from Swindon and North Wiltshire to develop their potential through inspiring training, coaching and challenging experiences. We deliver The Prince’s Trust Team Programme in Swindon, for 16-25 year olds who want to move towards employment.”

The winning pitch last night was that of the Wrong Shoes Theatre company. So very well done to them. I’m sure they’ll make very good use of it.

Now – more soup anyone?



Mince Pie mania at Broadgreen Community Centre

Mince Pie mania at Broadgreen Community Centre

26th November 2015

Making Mince Pies: Broadgreen Community Centre

poster advertising mince pie event

With the help of Helen Akiyama and Frances Barrone, Broadgreen community centre is encouraging you to come along and make mince pies on TUESDAY 10TH DECEMBER. 10am – 12pm.

They are looking forward to welcoming friendly people to help celebrate UK culture, with the theme of making mince pies.

Broadgreen community centre is an ideal venue as it’s right in the heart of the community and celebrates the diversity of people living in Swindon.

Most people know that mince pies taste better fresh from the oven, homemade and in the company of friends.

During the time from 10-12pm we’ll have a chance to mingle, meet new people while making the traditional food of the season. Mince pies are easy to make and delicious – you can enjoy making them for your family.

All ingredients are included and the £3 entrance fee will be shared and donated to Broadgreen community centre fund & International Women’s Day Swindon fundraising.

Many thanks

Helen Akiyama

077 88 77 8001

Japanese – English language & cultural specialist:

‘Celebrate culture with Helen Akiyama’ events coordinator

Money saving enthusiast, partnered with The Utility Warehouse Discount Club
Surprising Swindon – Past & Present Explorers’ Guide

Surprising Swindon – Past & Present Explorers’ Guide

21 November 2015

‘New Swindon’ 1840 – 2015 – Swindon Civic Voice Walker’s Guide

Swindon – this is Swindon

Though not intentionally planned that way, it turned out to be rather timely that Jess (@swindondriver) and I should go on an EXPOTITION and go exploring the New Swindon ‘trail’ put together by Swindon Civic voice just a few days ago. How so? Well because just last week there was a launch event to announce and to kick off the 2016 events that will happen in celebration of ‘New Swindon’ being 175 years old. Read more of that here:

Loving a bit of urban exploration and discovery as we do, Jess and I – and Daisy the dog –  set out on a blustery day last week to photograph a few elements of the explorers’ guide. It’s a wonderfully detailed leaflet that lists 100 points of interest/interesting facts all related to New Swindon.

If you wanted to follow the whole thing round it could very easily take a day – maybe even more- what with coffee stops and lunch breaks etc. Not having that much time to spare we simply selected bits of it and took some photos of things marked on the trial and a few that aren’t – and you can see those below.  But really the best thing to do is to get a copy of the leaflet from the library and check it out. It’s only a £1! It really is a mine of information. For instance, and in no particular order:

  1. I hadn’t previously noticed the flying pig gargoyle adorning Radnor Street chapel.
  2. The Brunel Centre was an award winner in 1975 being the first mall in the UK. Who knew?
  3. The 1843 brick built market was demolished in the 1970s because it was ‘out of character’ with the new Brunel Centre. *sigh* – not that Swindon is the only town guilty of such crimes! And old and new can exist perfectly well together – UTC being a fabulous example.
  4. The Cenotaph erected in 1920, replaced an earlier wooden one burned down by protestors in 1919 who felt that a wood structure was not sufficiently respectful to the dead servicemen. Prior to that there’d been a horse trough on the site. Clearly there used to be a radical element in Swindon, what with this and the flagpole riots:  –  a really amazing story.

Photos here from Swindon Local collection of the Cenotaph being unveiled:

I can really see this thing as an app for mobile devices – we had terrible trouble controlling the leaflet on such a windy day!  It would be great to have it mapped out properly so you could know the distance and how long it would take to do the whole thing.

The trail starts and ends at Swindon Station. Swindon – this is Swindon: