11 facts about Swindon’s GWR hooter via Western Daily Press
21st January 2015
This article from the Western Daily Press recently appeared on my Twitter stream – it’s about the famed GWR hooter so is definitely worth a share on here. Here’s the link to their article: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/11-things-didn-t-know-Swindon-s-hooter/story-25864016-detail/story.html
Several times now listeners, I’ve mentioned on here about how, despite having been in Swindon for 20 years or so now, there’s an awful lot I’ve never really noticed until recently – writing this blog has certainly made me open my eyes and ears more to what’s around me. And the GWR hooter is a case in point – a classic example of what you might see if you lift your eyes up from pavement level. The English broadcaster Ray Gosling specialised in “the sideways look at such eclectic and quintessentially British institutions as the working classes… and faded seaside towns, the minutiae of life.” And I think it was he that said something about looking up – when visiting a new place make the effort to look up because that’s where the interesting things are. It’s certainly true of Swindon. As dispiriting as the place is in some areas, raise your eyes and there are interesting building frontages, ghost advertising signs and even public art such as the Minis climbing a building – see here. So I now endeavour to do both those things: celebrate the minutiae of Swindon within this blog and to look up. In a similar vein an American writer, Henry Miller, said: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” He was referring to travelling but it’s kinda appropriate in this context too – a new way of seeing familiar surroundings. And that’s something I try to do in this blog.
Back in December of 2013, when this blog was still quite young, I wrote a post about having a trot round the town (read more of that here) with a visitor to Swindon to take in some of the town’s heritage. It was only then that I noticed the hooter. I know – shameful. Indeed as the article says on point 5: “The hooter’s two rooftop brass domes that generated such a powerful sound are still in place, and usually missed by the thousands of people walking into the entrance to the Designer Outlet Shopping Village the works have now become.”
I think my very favourite fact is this: “It was loud enough to be heard more than three miles away. Viscount Bolingbroke, who lived in Lydiard Park, tried to get it silenced because it scared away the pheasants he wanted to shoot. His attempts were met by a petition signed by thousands of workers insisting it stayed. GWR replaced it with an even louder one.” Despite his best efforts, Viscount Bolingbroke didn’t get his own way. Power to the people! 🙂
My companion commented that it would be great to hear the hooter sounded again for high days and holidays and red letter days – or events relevant to Swindon maybe – something that people might gather for? I’m inclined to agree. This year, 2015, marks the 160th anniversary “of the hooter first Swindon Railway Works hooter that summoned the workers from all over town to start their days building trains for the British Empire.” How great would it be to hear it again to mark this occasion? A red letter day if ever there was one for sure. I’ve no idea of the feasibility of that – it’s probably not feasible at all – but it’s a neat idea eh?
NB: It’s my understanding – though I’m not entirely sure – that the STEAM museum has a recording of the hooter.