Friday, November 2, 2012

The Railway Factory

It was railway engineer Daniel Gooch who identified Swindon as the most suitable site for the much debated principal engine establishment in a letter to Brunel dated September 13, 1840. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Chief Engineer at the Great Western Railway, and Gooch worked on the design for a substantial engineering works for the maintenance and repair of locomotives.

The land, approximately a mile to the north of the small market town of Swindon, was somewhat unprepossessing. 'The poorest in the neighbourhood; low lying, shallow soil on top of an endless depth of stiff clay, worthless for arable purposes, of small value for pasture, covered with furze, rushes and rowen,' according to local writer and naturalist Richard Jefferies.

Once the workplace of boilermakers, brass finishers and toolmakers today 'V', 'O' and 'E' Shops are Grade II listed buildings and a modern day monument to merchandise.  The historic buildings built during the 1870s reign of Locomotive Superintendent Joseph Armstrong were transformed following the closure of the railway works in 1986, reopening in 1997 as the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Village.  But look up and around and you will see the vestige of  the buildings industrial past; fixtures and fittings, overhead cranes, including one of the earliest wooden examples and of course the big yellow walking crane.

Wall plaques inform the shopper who cares to stop and read and in the Food Hall there is a memorial 'To Commemorate the Memory of the Men of W Shop who rallied to their Country's call during the Great War 1914-1919.'

Big yellow walking crane

Early wooden crane

Looking down Rodbourne Road towards the old Pattern Shop

These two paintings hanging in the Outlet Village were painted by local artist Ken White. In 1958 fifteen year old Ken began an apprenticeship in the railway factory working as a rivet hotter.  He later moved to a job in the Carriage and Wagon Works as a sign writer, the first step to a long and extremely successful career in art.  For many years the personal artist for Richard Branson, Ken designed the Virgin airlines Scarlet Lady logo.


  1. Thank you Frances, for once again giving us interesting stuff about Swindon. I now MUST visit McArthur Glen just to see the buildings and the artefacts there. Keep up the good work, I love reading your articles. Please could you consider taking the code thingy off? the one that asks me to identify the two words, I can never do it and get fed up trying

  2. Hi Ladkyis - thank you for your kind comments. I'm afraid I don't know how to remove the code - I'm not sure if it is possible.