Friday, April 27, 2012

Looking down on Holbrook Street in the 1950s

This 1950s aerial photograph shows Swindon town centre on the threshold of a major revamp.  Vast tracts of terraced housing would be demolished to make way for the new Brunel shopping complex, constructed in several phases between 1970-1979 and Fleming Way, a major new road, was built along part of the route of the old Wilts and Berks Canal.

The distinctive uniform planning of the railway village dominated by the Mechanics' Institution building is easily recognisable.  Closed in 1986, the Mechanics' building has been the subject of unsympathetic and flawed building applications and more than 25 years of neglect.  But if you thought this historic building was doomed, think again.  The future is looking surprisingly bright for this iconic building - read more about the history of the Mechanics' and the exciting proposals made by the Mechanics' Institution Trust on

On Rodbourne Road Joseph Armstrong’s 1874 locomotive works accommodated tin smiths, the brass foundry and a number of other workshops and is now home to the Designer Outlet Village.

In 1999 the former GWR Paddington to Bristol mainline railway, including the railway village at Swindon, was nominated for World Heritage status.  Alarmingly the 1950s had seen the company houses, then in need of restoration and renovation, under threat of demolition.

Holbrook Street, a back street tucked away behind Fleet Street, was built in around 1872 and renamed Holbrook Way in a more recent regeneration.

In 1901 the terraced houses were occupied by men employed in the railway works - brass finishers, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, engine fitters and coach painters.

Albert R. Hill 15, a lamp lad on the Great Western Railway, Reginald H. Ayers,16, a lamp porter, and Frank Racey 17, a shop assistant in the boat trade, all boarded with a young widow, Annie Bird and her two children at number 20.

Properties in the John Street area were demolished to make way for The Parade, opened by Prince Philip in 1963, who returned with the Queen to inaugurate the town's new Civic Centre on November 5, 1971.

Images of the Mechanics' Institution and the 1960s view of The Parade are published courtesy of Swindon Local Studies Collection visit their website on

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