Swindon is a large town within the Borough of Swindon and ceremonial county of Wiltshire, in South West England. It is midway between Bristol, to the west and Reading, to the east. London is to the east. In the 2011 census, the population of the built-up area of Swindon was 185,609. The larger borough had a population of 209,000, including the small town of Highworth and village of Wroughton, an increase of 16.2% since 2001.
Swindon was named an Expanded Town under the Town Development Act 1952 and this led to a major increase in its population. Swindon railway station is on the line from London Paddington to Bristol. Swindon Borough Council, is a unitary authority independent of Wiltshire Council since 1997. Residents of Swindon are known as Swindonians. Swindon is home to the Bodleian Library's book depository, which contains of bookshelves.
The original Saxon settlement of Swindon sat in a defensible position atop a limestone hill. It is referred to in the Domesday Book as Suindune, believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "swine" and "dun" meaning "pig hill" or possibly Sweyn's hill, where Sweyn is a personal name.
Swindon was a small market town, mainly for barter trade, until roughly 1848. This original market area is on top of the hill in central Swindon, now known as Old Town.
The Industrial Revolution was responsible for an acceleration of Swindon's growth. It started with the construction of the Wilts and Berks Canal in 1810 and the North Wilts Canal in 1819. The canals brought trade to the area and Swindon's population started to grow.
Between 1841 and 1842, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Swindon Works was built for the repair and maintenance of locomotives on the Great Western Railway (GWR). The GWR built a small railway village to house some of its workers. The Steam Railway Museum and English Heritage, including the English Heritage Archive, now occupy part of the old works. In the village were the GWR Medical Fund Clinic at Park House and its hospital, both on Faringdon Road, and the 1892 health centre in Milton Road – which housed clinics, a pharmacy, laundries, baths, Turkish baths and swimming pools – was almost opposite.
From 1871, GWR workers had a small amount deducted from their weekly pay and put into a healthcare fund – its doctors could prescribe them or their family members free medicines or send them for medical treatment. In 1878 the fund began providing artificial limbs made by craftsmen from the carriage and wagon works, and nine years later opened its first dental surgery. In his first few months in post the dentist extracted more than 2000 teeth. From the opening in 1892 of the Health Centre, a doctor could also prescribe a haircut or even a bath. The cradle-to-grave extent of this service was later used as a blueprint for the NHS.
The Mechanics' Institute, formed in 1844, moved into a building looking rather like a church and included a covered market, on 1 May 1855. The New Swindon Improvement Company, a co-operative, raised the funds for this path self-improvement and paid the GWR £40 a year for its new home on a site at the heart of the railway village. It was a groundbreaking organisation that transformed the railway's workforce into some of the country's best-educated manual workers.
It had the UK's first lending library, and a range of improving lectures, access to a theatre and a range of activities from ambulance classes to xylophone lessons. A former Institute secretary formed the New Swindon Co-operative Society in 1853 which, after a schism in the society's membership, spawned the New Swindon Industrial Society that ran a retail business from a stall in the market at the Institute. The Institute also nurtured pioneering trades unionists and encouraged local democracy.
When tuberculosis hit the new town, the Mechanics' Institute persuaded the industrial pioneers of North Wiltshire to agree that the railway's former employees should continue to receive medical attention from the doctors of GWR Medical Society Fund, which the Institute had played a role in establishing and funding.
Swindon's 'other' railway, the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway, merged with the Swindon and Cheltenham Extension Railway to form the Midland & South Western Junction Railway, which set out to join the London & South Western Railway with the Midland Railway at Cheltenham. The Swindon, Marlborough & Andover had planned to tunnel under the hill on which Swindon's Old Town stands but the money ran out and the railway ran into Swindon Town railway station, off Devizes Road in the Old Town, skirting the new town to the west, intersecting with the GWR at Rushey Platt and heading north for Cirencester, Cheltenham and the LMS, whose 'Midland Red' livery the M&SWJR adopted.
During the second half of the 19th century, Swindon New Town grew around the main line between London and Bristol. In 1900, the original market town, Old Swindon, merged with its new neighbour at the bottom of the hill to become a single town.
On 1 July 1923, the GWR took over the largely single-track M&SWJR and the line northwards from Swindon Town was diverted to Swindon Junction station, leaving the Town station with only the line south to Andover and Salisbury. The last passenger trains on what had been the SM&A ran on 10 September 1961, 80 years after the railway's first stretch opened.
During the first half of the 20th century, the railway works was the town's largest employer and one of the biggest in the country, employing more than 14,500 workers. Alfred Williams (1877–1930) wrote about his life as a hammerman at the works.
The works' decline started in 1960, when it rolled out Evening Star, the last steam engine to be built in the UK. The works lost its locomotive building role and took on rolling stock maintenance for British Rail. In the late 1970s, much of the works closed and the rest followed in 1986.
David Murray John, Swindon's town clerk from 1938 to 1974, is seen as a pioneering figure in Swindon's post-war regeneration; his last act before retirement was to sign the contract for Swindon's tallest building, which is now named after him.
In February 2008 The Times named Swindon as one of "The 20 best places to buy a property in Britain". Only Warrington had a lower ratio of house prices to household income in 2007, with the average household income in Swindon among the highest in the country.
In October 2008 Swindon made a controversial move to ban fixed point speed cameras. The move was branded as reckless by some but by November 2008 Portsmouth, Walsall and Birmingham councils were also considering the move.
In 2001 construction began on Priory Vale, the third and final instalment in Swindon's 'Northern Expansion' project, which began with Abbey Meads and continued at St Andrew's Ridge. In 2002 the New Swindon Company was formed with the remit of regenerating the town centre, to improve Swindon's regional status. The main areas targeted are Union Square, The Promenade, The Hub, Swindon Central, North Star Village, The Campus and the Public Realm.
Swindon hosted Radio 1's Big Weekend in May 2009 at Lydiard Park. Building on the work of Radio 1, Swindon Borough Council organised the Big Arts Day in 2010. Aiming to be an annual event celebrating the arts it was held at Lydiard Park in July for three consecutive years before being cancelled due to lack of funding.