Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Those who stayed behind recall food shortages and deserted streets, just some of the memories recorded by Rose Matheson, not of wartime Britain but TRIP week in Swindon.

Railway historian Dr. Matheson paints an evocative portrait of holidays past in TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works when the Great Western Railway ruled in Swindon.

From the first one-day sightseeing trip to Oxford in June 1848 when a group of 500 Swindonians were guests of the Oxford branch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Matheson charts the phenomenon that was TRIP week.

Between the 1860s and 70s the holiday increased first to three days and by 1874 a nine day break during early July. Whilst the train journey may have been 'free' to members of the Mechanics Institution, families made considerable sacrifices both before and after the event.

Today trip week has entered the realms of affectionate nostalgia but Dr Matheson points out that until the 1938 Holiday with Pay Act - it was unpaid holiday, or seen from a different perspective, a lock out whilst the company carried out essential maintenance and repairs.

Families saved their pennies every way they could from the Co-op Dividend to the 'Diddlum' Club. Some of the men would retain bonus and overtime awards, presenting their slips for payment in the week before the shut down.

Weymouth became known as Swindon by the Sea, a popular choice for Swindonians during the GWR annual shut down. From the early days in 1870 when the special train provided by the company transported 1,000 holidaymakers to the Dorset resort, Weymouth remained a favourite.

Dr Matheson captures the anticipation of departure day in the words of those who were children during the heady holidays of pre WWII years " ... we were all ready the night before, bathed and dressed and almost sent to bed with our shoes on .. "

Mrs Ivy Lawrence, a regular traveller to St. Ives and Mary Starley, who records three generations of the holiday making Rudduck family, are just two of the contributors in a book packed full of anecdotal accounts.

Illustrated with family photographs and bursting with facts and figures such as the 'record' trip in 1900 when over 22,000 people left Swindon on one day, the first of many such records, Dr. Matheson's book is both a nostalgic read and a commemoration.

With a workforce reduced to around 3,000, the last TRIP Special Train ran in July 1976, holidaymakers preferring to travel under their own steam. Today the railway works that dominated the town lies beneath a modern housing development.

With the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet occupying former GWR buildings books like Dr. Matheson's are an invaluable contribution to remembering Swindon's past.

1844 New Swindon Mechanics' Institution formally constituted.
1848 First day trip for members of the Institute, destination Oxford. 1892 18,248 holidaymakers left Swindon, almost two thirds of the town's population.
1924 All previous records broken with 29,000 trippers travelling on 31 special trains in a total of 520 coaches.
1946 Trip resumed when wartime restrictions are lifted. Evening Advertiser headlines announced 'The First Break Since '39 - With Pay Too.'

TRIP The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-3909-X available from

Rosa Matheson's latest publication, Doing Time Inside: Apprenticeship and Training in GWR's Swindon Works is now available.

1910 TRIP photograph by William Hooper, courtesy of Paul Williams
1950s TRIP photograph courtesy of

No comments:

Post a Comment