A tip toe round some of Swindon’s heritage
17th December 2013
Yesterday was the day of the Grand UWE Joint English Hons Mature Students Christmas ‘do’. Which meant my friend Kim, who hails from Bristol, came to Swindon for the day and we trawled round coffee shops and cafes, did a bit of heritage and ended the day in Bistro Les Chat in Old Town. And a jolly good time was had by both!
Km has visited me here in Swindon early in the summer and on that occasion we did the West Swindon Sculpture trail so this time I planned something a little different. Thus it was, aside from taking Kim to some of my favourite watering holes, The 2Wins in Rodbourne, Eggelicious, and U Piri Piri , I decided we’d do a bit of heritage too. We’ve talked about ‘Heritage’ quite a lot in our literature studies so it holds interest for us in that aspect as much as anything else. My first port of call was the website of the Swindon Heritage trail for some information. The website boasts a ‘downloadable and printable ‘ PDF document of the trail. This document is full of great pictures and loads of information but at 21 pages it’s hardly practical! A plain text version might be an idea? And a mobile friendly website? Then people with tablets and smartphones – which is a lot us now – could read it on the devices as they walk it. So – much copying and pasting into Word later I had a 6 page document with all the main blurb on. Much more manageable methinks.
Hence, after an initial visit to The 2WINS for coffee and Portuguese cake we headed to the Outlet Centre to check out some heritage – oh and a bit of shopping too.
Yet again I have been struck, in doing something with a stranger to the town, how much I don’t know and haven’t noticed previously – especially if you lift your eyes up from pavement level. My fellow-student and companion for the day Kim, hadn’t been to our Outlet Centre before. Like me she was favourably impressed by the re-generation of the place and the homage it pays to the GWR workers. As it says on the trail: “This modern and vibrant shopping centre has been carefully regenerated to reflect its previous heritage as part of the Great Western Railway Works”. I’m not sure that ‘previous heritage’ is possible – surely ‘heritage’ is what it is now – not what it once was. That should be ‘previous purpose’ surely? Anyway….
As we were loosely following the heritage trail we made our way round to the food court and The Hooter. I won’t lie. I had NO idea this was there and knew nothing about it – other than that there had been a hooter. Kim thought it would be rather cool if it were sounded still – say twice a day – something that could be an attraction, that people would gather for. I think that’s rather a nice idea but whether it’s feasible or not is another matter. From there we continued with the trail, following it into town via the Worker’s Tunnel, where on reading the blurb I too learnt some new stuff. Like for instance the fact that, before the tunnel, the workers had to risk life and limb crossing the main railway line to get to the works. I haven’t been down that way for a while so was excited by the light portaits down the tunnel – see pictures. Emerging from that I pointed out the Mechanics’ Institute. Apparently, according to the Heritage Trail, a ‘project of restoration and refurbishment is now underway.’ Really? Is that in some parallel universe then?
Next up on Kim’s whistle-stop tour of some of our heritage was the Railway Village.: “Brunel’s sketches show clear plans for the village settlement for the GWR employees and their families. Designed with imposing and elegant frontages, despite the very basic interiors, because at that time they would have been clearly visible to the travellers on the trains…” And it is still very impressive. Certainly Kim thought it looked amazing with its imposing chimneys and the ‘backsies’: “In the early years the privvies were emptied of ‘nightspoil’ daily by a man coming along these back alleys with his horse and cart to take the spoil away to the countryside….”
Sunday 1st February 2015: a pictorial update to this post with some photographs sent to me by Maureen Iles, a reader of the blog:
After a drink in The Cricketers Arms we made our way into town for a look at part of old canal route and the travesty of neglect that is the old canal bridge. Getting hungry now our next priorty was lunch so we headed to Eggelicious for just the best pan-Asian street food. A bit more wandering and shopping, coffee at U Piri Piri and then we headed back to my place for a couple of hours before going out again later to Bistro Les Chats – my first visit there – which proved to be a fitting end to the UWE Joint Eng Hons Mature students Christmas do..
Kim found the railway history really interesting, she liked the Outlet Village, The 2Wins and Eggelcious and I too learnt some stuff and noticed some stuff that I hadn’t before – which is always good is it not? 🙂
NB: Sunday 29th December. The website I refer to above is currently down for re-construction.
Some more pictures taken today – 17th December 2013
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