Railway Works: 1960s
This offering – although not strictly a BBC Points West film – is irresistible for all those who have a passion for steam engines. Filmed at the Swindon loco works in 1963, it shows the launch of the last BR steam locomotive to be made in the UK.
It all started when Richard Trevithick built a steam engine to run along a stretch of Welsh railway in 1804.
How soon this was followed by small boys and their enthusiasm for train numbers is anyone’s guess.
But it was a sad day for those small boys - and a few grown men too no doubt - when British Rail built Britain’s last steam locomotive at the railway works in Swindon in 1960.
Youngsters dream of taking the controls
Gone was the chance to get coal grit in your eye, or feel a wet blast of super-heated steam on your shins; to smell the grease of the engine and smell the bacon frying on the fireman’s shovel.
To think: thousands of youngsters denied such a life-altering experience.
So much so it seems somewhat fitting that it was BBC Children’s Newsreel that captured the day steam came to an end in Britain - and since a copy of the film is held securely in the Points West archive, we are proud to present here!
Swindon’s famous railway works came to the Wiltshire market town thanks to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great railway engineer, and more specifically because of his right-hand engineer, Daniel Gooch, who choose Swindon’s green fields for the Great Western Railway’s new engineering base.
Appropriately enough, Swindon’s first steam loco was called ‘Great Western’ and it rolled onto the rails for the first time in 1846 – 114 years before the steam-driven would come to an end.
The railway works were not just concerned with steam engines though – they turned out everything a 19th Century railway company needed – from locos and wagons, to rails, platform trolleys, dining car cutlery and even GWR toilet rolls.
But for most steam enthusiasts Swindon is best known for designing and building some of the country’s most famous steam engines.
In 1904, Swindon’s ‘City of Truro’ became the first locomotive in the world to reach 100mph – just 25mph short of today’s 125 diesels.
Under the guidance of George Jackson Churchward, Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent – and Truro’s designer - the Swindon works led the way with the development of express steam trains.
In the early part of the 20th Century it was ‘full steam ahead’ as Swindon took on 14000 people to turn out its famous Castle, Hall, Manor and mighty King class locos.
But in 1946 the town’s heyday was enveloped by nationalisation.
Evening Star in 1960
Despite remaining an important centre for engineering under British Rail, the building of the last steam locomotive in 1960 sounded its death knell, and 25 years later British Rail Engineering Limited closed the famous Swindon works.
Today, GWR’s engineering heroes – Gooch, Churchward, Collett, Hawksworth - live on in the streets and trading estates that have taken their names.
They were inspiring men who, in the true spirit of the Victorian visionary, underlined Britain’s manufacturing might and helped make Swindon a renowned centre for world-class engineering, the remnants of which continue to inspire Swindon’s industrialists today.
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last updated: 05/12/2008 at 14:43
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