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Tag Archives: Angela Atkinson

  • 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.

  • Secret Swindon by Angela Atkinson

    The GWR hooter still in situ on what is now the McArthur Glen Outlet Village. (Secret Swindon, Amberley Publishing)

    The sprawling urban conurbation that is modern Swindon began life as an Anglo-Saxon defensible settlement atop a limestone hill. Old Swindon, known today as Old Town, grew into a sleepy market town. The chances are it would have stayed that way were it not for the Industrial Revolution.

    The subsequent acceleration in Swindon’s growth began 1810 with the construction of the Wilts & Berks Canal. The real transformative factor though came between 1841 and 1842 with the historic decision by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Daniel Gooch to establish their Great Western Railway works a short distance from Old Swindon. This led to the birth of another town: New Swindon.

    The town’s connections to London and the South West made it possible for many later industries to come to the town. Over the decades, Swindon’s engineering and manufacturing associations have run the gamut, from BMW to Honda, and Garrard record decks to Triumph lingerie – though they are all gone now.

    Today’s Swindon is a surprising, multi-, multi-cultural creative and cultural hotspot that is home to artists and writers of every genre and calibre. In Secret Swindon, I take a sideways look at all this and more.

    The story of how I got to writing this book has its roots twenty years ago this year, for 2018 is the silver anniversary of my move to Swindon.

     

     

    A new life in Swindon

    Before moving to Swindon I’d visited the place several times and found it to be a perfectly pleasant place. So, when the opportunity arrived to relocate I arrived with no negative perceptions. In fact, the converse was true for I left behind an area devastated by the wholesale pit closures of the 1980s.

    We had poor transport connections, no work, no prospects, no nothing.  Well – slag heaps, emphysema and mass unemployment. We had that.

    So, I came to Swindon. Within days I found work. Actual proper, full-time work. This one thing was little short of a miracle. You can’t know how magical that one thing was. Let alone the rest.

    I bought a house in West Swindon – a fifteen-minute walk from Shaw Ridge leisure park. Here we (my then 12-year-old daughter and I) found:

    • A swimming pool
    • An ice rink
    • A bowling alley
    • A cinema and oh joy of joys to a pre-teen daughter in the 1990s – a Pizza Hut

    I felt I’d pitched up in the land of milk and honey.

    So that’s my arrival in Swindon. I settle into full-time employment and building a life. I’m content with where I’m living, I like it well enough, it becomes home.

    But the real love affair with Swindon doesn’t begin then. Oh no. To get to the igniting of that flickering fire of fondness into a truly, madly, deeply red-hot love we have to fast forward about sixteen years to when I’m in my early 50s and compulsory early retirement comes my way.

    Fast forward another year and I began a joint English Honours degree at the University of the West of England.

    Becoming a Born again Swindonian

    Fast forward two more years. I’m now approaching the end of my second year at university and selecting modules for my final year. A travel writing module called “Moving Words’ piques my interest. A conversation with the module leader sparks a classic light-bulb moment and my Swindon blog, Born again Swindonian was… well born.

    As I progressed with what largely started as a means to an end, I learnt more and more about the area and all it has to offer – that’s when I truly fell in love with the place.

    It’s now around five years and 600 posts since I started blogging as Born again Swindonian. I’m still at it because there’s so much to tell.

    Late last year (2017) someone left a message on my blog. That someone was a commissioning editor for Amberley books. Would I be interested in writing Secret Swindon?

    Hell yes!

    Which brings us bang up to date and me a published author with Secret Swindon. Wow!

     

    Angela Atkinson's new book Secret Swindon is available for purchase now.

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