This is the largest town in the county. It was a hilltop community running a cattle, sheep and horse market, and made cheese until the 1840's. Of this town there is little left. In 1842 the railway works were established in the plains below and New Swindon was created. The red brick buildings spread up the hill to meet the grey limestone buildings of the old town. Eventually in 1900 Old and New Swindon were administratively joined.
Until after 1945 the railway dominated the town, when industrial development attracted medium size engineering.
Sprawling, tedious council estates built to house the sudden surge in population in the 1960's still mark the town's outskirts. Also in the '60's the centre was redeveloped in piecemeal fashion, which is still going on today. Large modern buildings, put up to house contemporary office businesses is mostly inharmonious, although the smaller type developments of recent years are a great improvement. A place that should be visited however is the stone built railway village of about 1850, with its restored cottages, larger officials' houses and mechanics' institute - a planned Victorian village. Nearby is St Mark's, the railway-men's church, built with their own hands. An eccentric rarity is New Swindon town hall, built 1889 to 1891, in Dutch 17th century style. It is now used as a reference library, dance studio and theatre and media art complex.
Part of the Goddard estate in the old town, which once belonged to the lords of the manor, is open to the public. It includes the chancel and parts of the town's original church of Holly Rood, open at certain times through the summer. A most charming house is 42 Cricklade Street, built in 1729. Other notable buildings here include Christ Church, built 1851, the adjoining hospital, 1877 and some 18th century buildings in the High Street.
A feature of Swindon is the sculptures and murals, which have appeared over the last decade or two. There are over fourty murals on terrace end walls, beside carparks, underpasses and other places. Some are relevant to Swindon's past history or personalities. They are the work of local artists, students and groups. They may be visited on Thamesdown Art Trails. There are around fifteen groups of sculptures, ranging from major works by internationally known artists to local crafts-men. Including many controversial pieces.
The Parade in Swindon
When the Great Western Railway opened its main railway works at Swindon in 1843, most staff came from outside the area as there was no heavy engineering tradition in North Wiltshire. The old town of Swindon could not cope with the influx so the GWR built the Railway Village. This was an estate of 300 houses for its staff. The village was finally completed in the 1860s, and although the accommodation was better than industrial houses elsewhere, many of the cottages soon became overcrowded. Most of the roads were named after places on the GWR. This is Reading Street.
View over Swindon
In the foreground is the Mechanics Institute and in the background is the David Murray John tower.