Commemorative Bell

Swindon Art Gallery & ‘Steam’ Museum – 30 January

It is pleasing to report that our mid-winter half day visit to Swindon proved remarkably popular. An introductory talk by the Museum Curator gave us some insight into the history of the Swindon Collection since its inception, back in 1921, when Jimmy Bomford set the ball rolling with the donation of 21 paintings. The Curator also shared with us useful background information on the key artists represented within the Collection. Works by Alfred Wallace, John & Paul Nash, William Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, George Clausen, and Henry Moore all caught the eye. However, for me, the ‘gold medal’ surely had to be shared between Gwen John (her 1910 Portrait of a Lady in pencil and wash), and John Skeaping (Barbara Hepworth’s first husband) for his drawing ‘Study of Roe Deer’. Oh, that we were all capable of capturing such a sense of movement!

In the 1970s the Gallery started to acquire, again initially via a benefactor, what has since become a fine collection of studio ceramics. Bernard and David Leach, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Ray Finch, Edmund de Waal and Grayson Perry all feature.

There is every prospect of the Swindon Collection being given a new home, on a prime site in the centre of the town, should the anticipated Lottery Funding come to fruition.

For me, the opportunity to re-visit Swindon’s iconic Steam Museum (for the first time in over 50 years!) proved a nostalgic experience. A fair number of our travelling members and friends obviously felt the same way!

Preserved number and nameplates, from legendary Castle, Hall, City and King Class locomotives, brass all beautifully polished, the original eight ft diameter driving wheels of Brunel’s broad gauge Lord of the Isles and a small section of surviving pipeline from his Atmospheric Railway (one of his very few failures!) all feature among the artifacts on display. A reconstruction of the Foundry, Boiler Shop, etc., gave some insight into how tough the working conditions would have been, the majority of the work force being deaf, from the pervading noise, by the time they were thirty.

The prime exhibits, without a doubt, were the fully restored Caerphilly Castle, City of Truro, and the flagship of the GWR fleet, No.6000, George V. 160 Castle Class locos were built, all in the Swindon works, between 1923-50. In 1927 George V (135 tons,

including the tender) was shipped to the USA to spend 22 days, as star of the show, at the ‘Fair of the Iron Horse’, Baltimore, Ohio. Finally retired in 1962, it covered nearly two million miles during its years of service with the Great Western.

A different era, but the Museum still stands testimony to a golden age of British engineering and man’s capacity to design essential, functional objects of enduring beauty.

Bob Williams