The Swindon Heritage Action Zone
The Railway Village
The Railway Village is an iconic part of Swindon’s heritage, considered to be the best preserved railway village in the UK.
Its layout was planned by Isambard Brunel with terraced streets of around 300 cottages that are now listed. There is also a range of pioneering, purpose-built, unusual public buildings, many of which have had different uses over the years.
- St Mark’s Church
- three pubs
- a former lodging house known as the Platform
- the former armoury and hospital, now the Central Community Centre
- the first school site, now the UTC
- the Mechanics’ Institution
- the Health Hydro
- a water tower
- GWR Park
The focus below is on the main landmark of the Railway Village – the Mechanics’ Institution – and its surroundings.
The Mechanics’ Institution (MIT) is the priority project for both the council and Historic England and it is intended that The Works will pave the way for the future restoration of this Grade II* listed building. It is a nationally important historic building and of great local importance as an integral part of the town’s former railway community.
The detailed history of the building can be found on the MIT website.
What has happened so far?
In order to identify how the Mechanics’ Institution can be brought back into use and how this could be funded, a working party has been set up which includes representatives from the council, the MIT, the Theatres Trust and Historic England (HE). This group has commissioned reports and surveys to inform decision making and grant funding applications to help ensure the building has a future.
Following a condition survey report, a series of urgent works have been carried out to keep the building watertight.
The MIT secured funding from the Theatres Trust and Architectural Heritage Fund to commission consultants, Fourth Street, to carry out a viability study on potential future uses for the building. This study concluded that there should be demand for the building to function as a venue for meetings, conferences and weddings, which could underpin its financial viability and enable it to operate as a multi-purpose venue with a broader use by the community for meetings and arts, cultural and community events.
The next step is to commission a detailed business plan that will need to take into account the impact of the pandemic on the original assumptions of the viability study.
You can read the viability study below:
Murals around the Mechanics’ Institution
Over the summer of 2022, with funding from the HAZ, Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme and the Towns Fund, local creative collective Artsite, twelve local artists, eleven local schools and some willing volunteers created a series of murals for the hoardings around the Mechanics’ Institution in Emlyn Square.
The murals tell the story of the Railway Village and its key buildings and are supported by themed information boards. A large pictorial map has also been created to show the locations of the historic buildings and help people navigate around the area.
Schools who took part in the mural project include:
- Bishopstone Primary School
- Bridlewood Primary School
- Dorcan Academy
- Even Swindon Primary School
- Eastrop Primary School
- Lethbridge Primary School
- Mountford Manor Primary School
- Nythe Primary School
- Ridgway Academy
- Robert Le Kyng Primary School
- Westrop Primary School
Established in the 1840s, GWR Park was initially a cricket pitch for GWR employees and became a formal park in the 1870s when formal beds were laid out and glasshouses built.
Historically the park has played a key role in the sporting and social life of Swindon, hosting many social events such as the annual Children’s Fete which attracted crowds of over 30,000 people.
Through the HAZ funding, a Conservation Management Plan was developed which sets out the importance of the park and a vision for its future use and management.
In 2023, HAZ funding plus Blossom Together funding from the National Trust was used by South Swindon Parish Council and the HAZ project team to deliver improvements to the park, including:
- the creation of formal flowerbeds to enhance the main entrance to the park, to add interest and create new attractive spaces for people to enjoy
- a ‘blossom circle’ of trees on the footprint of the historic bandstand provides a floral display in the spring and creates a new semi-enclosed space to be used for events and performances
- the renewal of the seating bays around the perimeter path and new seating created, including within the new flowerbeds and blossom circle. All existing benches have been replaced with one consistent and heritage appropriate style of bench (21 in total)
- the replacement of all bins, noticeboards and bollards in the park
You can read more on South Swindon Parish Council’s website.
The Grade II listed Cricketers in Emlyn Square was built in 1847 and traded as a pub until 2016 when the building became vacant.
In November 2019, the MIT signed a lease to take on the building with the aim of bringing it back into use. HAZ funding has enabled works to improve the exterior of the building, due to be completed in summer 2023.
A further £250,000 from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in March 2023 will enable the refurbishment of the interior to begin.
The ground floor is set to be occupied by Community Opportunity, which provides courses in sewing skills for the unemployed and people with disabilities.
MIT have been key partners in the HAZ. Besides the Cricketers, MIT manage several buildings around Emlyn Square including the Central Community Space, the Bakers and the Railway Village Museum on Faringdon Road.
To find out more visit the MIT website.
A key aim of the HAZ is to improve the public spaces and pedestrian connections in the Railway Village to encourage more walking and cycling across Swindon town centre.
This is being achieved in a number of ways, including:
- the production of a HAZ public realm strategy aimed at guiding and raising the quality of all future public realm improvement schemes
- the planting of 44 blossom trees in the gardens of the Railway Village cottages. This was funded by Trees for Climate and forms part of The Queen’s Green Canopy marking The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. 26 further trees were also planted in Oxford and Reading Street when the 1980’s brick street planters were removed in 2022.
- the rerouting of outbound buses along Faringdon Road for a six month trial period. This will reduce the impact of vehicle traffic on Emlyn Square and encourage more pedestrian movements.
- the award of £3 million from the Town Deal to improve the pedestrian route from Swindon Station into the Railway Village and including the Bristol Street and Sheppard Street tunnels
- the appointment of specialist consultants to advise on how to improve signage and heritage interpretation across the HAZ
- the exploration of a range of options to provide a pedestrian crossing between the Health Hydro and the Railway Village
If you are interested in learning more about the Railway Village and its historic buildings, you can e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a tour or visit.