Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

Choosing Fifty Buildings

The process of choosing the fifty buildings to put into Swindon in Fifty Buildings, was something akin to drawing up a wedding invite list. Y’know – you make a list of all the sisters, uncles, cousins and aunts. Then you realise there’s far too many people and you have to start making choices and thinning out.

Toothill farmhouse, 1979. (Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

So how to decide what to include in a book that tells aspects of Swindon’s story in its buildings and what to take out?

Do I draw the list from Swindon’s listed buildings? Hmm – as this blog by Martin Newman on the Swindon Civic Voice website, points out, Swindon has some 659 listed buildings – not to mention fifty-three scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens. It’s easy enough to see how selecting fifty from that would be similar to the wedding list task: herculean. How else?

I could have taken a good number from Old Town (Old Swindon), everything in the GWR railway village conservation area and beyond: the McArthur Glen Outlet Centre, STEAM Museum, Churchward House et al and have soon got to fifty notable buildings. But as interesting as that might be it wouldn’t make for a balanced book.

In the end then, after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I opted to go for:

Geographic spread – Swindon is a large town now and there’s buildings with stories right across it. Thus, I decided to represent as many areas as I reasonably could.

Different periods of time – Returning to the blog about Swindon’s listed buildings, we learn that it’s a common misapprehension that listed buildings are old.  Not so. A building can be listed after thirty years – or even ten. When the Renault (now Spectrum) building was listed in 2013 it was one of the youngest Listed Buildings in the country and took pride of place on the cover Designation Yearbook. You won’t be at all surprised to know that, the Spectrum Building is indeed included in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

Different types of buildings – Again, lots of hemming and hawing and decision-making needed. Not too many breweries.  Not too many old farmhouses. Not all of the modern iconic buildings – else would I take out to make room for them?

Aerial shot of Railway Village. (Courtesy of Martin Parry, Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

At length I have my list of fifty buildings. Not that it remained unchanged of course. For instance, I hadn’t planned to include the Brunel Centre until, in my research, I came across a review of it by architecture writer, Colin Amory. My eyes alighted on the phrase ‘Swindon has acquired a touch of Milan’ and that piqued my interest. I felt it had to go in after that!

The buildings in this book then run the gamut from a Palladian Mansion to old farmhouses and the GWR Railway Village conservation area to iconic 1970s and 1980s buildings – with plenty more in between. The GWR and its great locomotive works looms large in much of it and its tentacles reach into even more of it. As is inevitable. For New Swindon exists solely because of the GWR Works and Brunel and Gooch’s decision to build it where they did. But of course, that’s not the whole story of Swindon.

The fifty buildings in this book then tell stories large and small, wrought in Victorian brick, older stone and 20th century metal.

Angela Atkinson's book Swindon in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.