GWR Swindon

The next section comprises the portals of the two tunnels at Box, near Corsham where the refined classical portals of the short Middle Hill Tunnel complement the massive western portal of the 3195 yard long Box Tunnel. East of Box Tunnel the railway passes through Chippenham on a long embankment, pierced by an underbridge accommodating the former Great Western Turnpike, leading to the town itself where a impressive viaduct straddles the town centre. The station at Chippenham retains much of its original appearance and there is a handsome masonry outbuilding which, reputedly, was the engineering works office for this section of line.

At Rodbourne Road in Swindon, the proposed Site recommences and broadens to encompass the historic core of the former Railway Works and Village. Many of the industrial buildings of the Works date in part to Brunel’s involvement with the Site and have been or are currently being restored for retail, heritage and office uses. The original office building with its later additions now houses the National Monuments Record Centre, Brunel’s 1846 Fitting Shop is being converted into a railway heritage centre, while ranges of his wagon shops are incorporated in the Great Western Designer Outlet Centre. The Village was designed by Brunel and largely completed by 1850. In addition to the rehabilitated terraces of masonry cottages which contain a variety of dwelling layouts, it has shops, public houses, a church and rectory, a park, a barracks block for single men (converted to a chapel and then a museum), a Drill Hall (converted to a cottage hospital and now a community centre) and an impressive Mechanics Institute. It is without doubt the finest surviving example in the country of a planned railway town. The proposed Site ceases at the station which, although a sorry remnant of its former glory, is a very historically important site in relation to the railway and the development of Swindon.

East of Swindon the gradient of the line becomes very gentle and there are fewer engineering structures other than bridges, with those over the Thames at Basildon and Goring being particularly fine. The small complex at Didcot has Listed structures and at Steventon a surprisingly grand house was built as a temporary terminus and for a short time housed the GWR boardroom.

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