Friday, April 14, 2017

What would Swindon's early railway settlers say?

Yesterday evening I attended a very interesting meeting chaired by Robert Buckland MP for Swindon South.

The purpose of the meeting was twofold – to discuss how to better protect and use buildings central to Swindon’s heritage and the subject of the new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Those present spoke with passion, although it has to be said, sometimes without good manners or respect for opposing views.

The new museum and art gallery is planned for a large, empty site between the magistrate’s court and the Wyvern Theatre in Princes Street, the designated Cultural Quarter of the Council’s regenerated Town Centre. 

Some felt it should be situated in the former Carriage Works on London Street.

So that was the gist of the meeting …

No one questioned that the town needs a new art gallery to better showcase the acclaimed modern art collection, acknowledged as the best outside London. No one doubted that the town needs a new museum to better tell the story of Swindon’s fascinating history, which can be traced back way beyond the railway years, with artefacts and exhibits currently stored in various locations across the town.

No one doubted the impact a new museum and art gallery could have upon the town’s cultural status, drawing in tourists, providing educational opportunities, income etc. It’s all a question of where to put it.

For some it was obvious. Why spend millions on a new build when buildings of national heritage importance are standing empty?

Others asked why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have an all singing all dancing new building and preserve Swindon’s heritage at the same time?

So, what did I take away from the meeting – apart from a headache? I was impressed by the desire to work together expressed by some, but I have to admit I was disappointed at the way others put across their arguments.

Last year we celebrated Swindon175 and the beginning of New Swindon – Old Swindon had been jogging along for many hundreds of years prior to this, thank you very much.

So, a hundred and seventy-five years ago Brunel and Gooch were steaming ahead with the Great Western Railway, buying up land left, right and centre in the name of progress. Some local landowners rebelled and refused to sell to them, but ultimately, they got the job done in the end. Hurray! Where would we be without the railways? No, seriously, where would we be? Life as we know it today owes pretty much everything to the coming of the railways, and New Swindon owes it's very existence to the railways. (Not Old Swindon which had been jogging along ...)

By 1843 building in the Railway Village was well underway and people were arriving in their droves from all over the country – to a town that had a huge railway factory and nothing else. The early settlers were innovators, movers and shakers and they created things and built stuff. They built the Mechanics’ Institute, the Milton Road Baths – new stuff, new builds.

I wonder what they would say today as we argue and debate about a brand-new museum and art gallery? I’m guessing they would probably say ‘go for it.’ But we can’t agree where to put it, we tell them.

I wonder what their advice would be?

published courtesy of Swindon Heritage

published courtesy of Swindon Link 

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