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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Archive Films > 'Requiem for a Railway'

'Requiem for a Railway' opening titles

'Requiem for a Railway' opening titles

'Requiem for a Railway'

Watch three BBC West documentaries broadcast in the mid-1980s focussing on Swindon's Railway Works, prior and up to their closure in April 1986.

The mid 1980s were a historic period in Swindon's industrial history. The curtain began to fall on the legendary 140-year-old Railway Works in 1982, when it was announced that 1,500 jobs at British Rail Engineering Ltd would be cut.

Shortly after, and with some inevitability, the announcement came that The Works would finally close its doors in March 1986.

GWR in Swindon expert Alan Peck is interviewed

GWR in Swindon expert Alan Peck is interviewed

The world-famous works, once owned by the Great Western Railway Company and responsible for the construction of much-loved steam locomotives such as The Evening Star and the King George V, would be no more. 

Broadcast in 1985, shortly after the impending closure became public knowledge was a two-part documentary produced by BBC West, which delved into the history of Swindon Railway Works and the day-to-day life of its contemporary engineers and workers.

Under the banner 'Requiem for a Railway', the films entitled 'Of Coppersmiths and Kings' and 'A Job for Life?' featured the views of such luminaries as Alan Peck, author of the book 'The Great Western at Swindon Works' and the-then Conservative MP for Swindon, Simon Coombes.

Engineers at work in Swindon's Railway factories

Engineers at work in Swindon's Railway factories

Presenter Peter Brown is shown exploring the still-bustling factories and workshops of the sprawling industrial complex which stood on land now occupied by the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet Village and its car parks, Botellinos Italian Restaurant (previously The Pattern Store Bar) and the Steam Museum.

As the documentaries progress, numerous workers, union officials, historians and politicians offer their memories of The Works, their thoughts on the closure and their hopes for an uncertain future.

Also included is archive footage of The Works in their early 20th Century heyday contrasted with contemporary views of Swindon in and around the site complex. 

Workers repair a steam engine

Workers repair a steam engine

As a bookend to the two documentaries broadcast in 1985, a follow-up film entitled 'Off the Rails' aired a year later - two weeks after the closure - and offered a final look back at this most tumultuous time in Swindon's industrial history.

It shows the railwaymen clocking off on the final working day, and the workers speaking with a mixture of poignancy, resignation and bitterness at the governmental decisions that led to the end of Swindon's historic works.

This collection of films will appeal to anyone with an interest in Swindon's history or who has an affinity or connection with the town's historic GWR works.

last updated: 22/05/2008 at 16:51
created: 21/05/2008

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