Monday, February 22, 2021

Swindon, Wiltshire

Whatever next?

Whatever can that be? This was my first thought on encountering The Platform, now a venue for music and educational work concerned with the arts, in Swindon’s Farringdon Street. The spires made me think of a church, but the part to the left, with its small windows over several storeys, did not seem to fit with that, unless this was a very well appointed Victorian chapel, with additional hall and meeting rooms. Surely not?

The building is on the edge of the railway village, built by the Great Western Railway from 1840 onwards to house staff at the locomotive works that stands nearby. Many of the workers, who arrived in Swindon from all over the country, were single men, and Brunel saw the need for accommodation suited to them – somewhere to lodge for people who did not need or could not afford a whole house. So he built this, a ‘model’ lodging house, designed to house about 100 men and to provide kitchens, a bakery, and day rooms (the individual mens’ rooms were small, with space for a bed, drawers and a chair, so residents needed somewhere to relax when they weren’t working). Construction began in 1847, but immediately stopped because of a recession, to be resumed again in 1853–55 to a revised design.

The result was certainly impressive, but the hostel wasn’t popular with those who lived there, who mostly preferred to find traditional lodgings with local families. Locals took to calling the place ‘the Barracks’ and apparently the residents found it institutional. One can’t blame them. Buildings made up of scores of similar rooms usually do have that feeling to them. In the early 1860s, the company converted it to small flats, to house an influx of Welsh ironworkers who were hired when they built new rolling mills, but even these men and their families were soon accommodated in proper houses added to the railway village. After a while the building became a Wesleyan Chapel, then in the late-20th century a museum of the GWR, then, after 2000, was given over to its present use. Now, presumably, it languishes in lockdown, and one hopes the current users will be able to return soon and bring life to this lively piece of architecture.



Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Pointy towers have no useful architectural function, except to look good. There should therefore be as many of them as possible. Many a townscape, including a lot of poor old Swindon, would be improved greatly by adding pointy towers and turrets like these.

Jenny Woolf said...

It's an intriguing building with rather an interesting history. I'll look out for it after lockdown, when I should be going to that part of the world.

Unknown said...

For the record, The Platform is in Swindon's Faringdon [as in Oxfordshire] Road, not Farringdon [as in London] Street.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Unknown: Thank you. Yes: one 'r' in Faringdon. Must remember.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Hear, hear! More pointy towers!