As a special treat I went to one of my favourite museums, namely STEAM in Swindon this week. I like this museum because it charts the history of the Great Western Railway (GWR) from the perspective of the building of the locomotives in the Swindon railway works.
Swindon was chosen for the location of the railway works because it is half way between London and Bristol on what was the main line during the early GWR steam era. With the works established Swindon then grew as a town as housing was needed for the railway workers.
The route through the exhibits takes you on a journey through the office, stores, carriage workshop, metal moulding, machine workshop, locomotive assembly, and finally to Caerphilly Castle which is on display. In each area there are cameos as an example of how the railway works functioned day-to-day.
After this there is a brief history of the GWR with an example of one of Brunel’s Broad Gauge locomotives. These first trains on the GWR had a gauge of just over 7ft between the rails. Brunel had used this gauge because the wider wheels gave a smoother ride for passengers. As other railway companies grew in the early days they used Standard Gauge which is 4ft 8 ½ inches. The reason for the narrower gauge was because it was the gauge used for horse drawn coaches at the time and it was easier to make wheel sets for the railway carriages using the existing coaching tools. However it was inconvenient for passengers to change trains when travelling between the GWR and companies that use Standard Gauge. A Government inquiry decided that ,although the Broad Gauge was superior, because of the overwhelming use of Standard Gauge across the rest of the country that all railways must be Standard Gauge.
Next you go into an area which is dedicated to the latter part of the steam era with a goods area, steam engines, a typical platform with a tea lady, and an exhibition of the GWR publicity to get people to visit the Cornish Riviera. In the station they now have the City of Truro locomotive which was the first steam locomotive to reach over 100 miles per hour in 1904. However due to inaccuracies of the timekeeping this as been disputed by supporters of the Flying Scotsman to this day.
Admission to the museum is £8.50 and there is disabled parking right outside the front door. Wheelchair access throughout is excellent and I can recommend the café.