John Betjemen once wrote of there being ‘very little architecture in Swindon and a great deal of building’ before going on to say that ‘Swindon, instead of being a West Country town, looked on its outskirts at any rate, like any industrial town anywhere.’
Well. Yes. Quite. Forgive me, and I’m no expert here, but surely that’s rather the point? Swindon’s Old Town aside, it is a town born and reborn many times over from a rich variety of industry.
“Let’s go to Swindon for a spa break” said no-one. “Let’s go to Swindon for jobs, homes and some economic prosperity” said thousands.
Ergo, the place is hardly likely to have Regency Arcades and grand Georgian crescents now is it? So frankly I’ve had enough of that particular criticism so often spewed at Swindon. Comparing Swindon’s architecture to that of Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham and finding it wanting is simply an exercise in futility. Time to move on methinks.
Nevertheless, we should note that, being as fond of Victorian architecture as he was, Betjemen was complimentary about Villett’s House in Old Town – which he apparently described as “the finest house in Swindon“. As this Swindonia Blogspot points out it bears a plaque stating this fact. The blog has some interesting photos of the house so is worth a peep.
From Industrial to Modernist
All of the above accepted Swindon is however home to a smattering of buildings that are, at the very least interesting, and in some cases significant. They may not be to your taste – but that doesn’t make them any the less valuable.
The town can boast buildings created by the great and the good of the architecture world and it’s my intention to look at some of them in more detail in further articles but they include:
- The Wyvern Theatre – Sir Hugh Casson
- The Renault Building/Spectrum Building – Norman Foster
- The Art Deco diving board at Coate Water – okay not strictly a building but it’s on the listed register
- The David Murray John Tower – Douglas Stephen. A particular favourite of mine – I absolutely love it. It’s a giant exclamation mark standing proudly above the landscape from every direction and is the master of all it surveys. Click here for photos of the DMJ tower. Jonathan Meades, a well-known writer, food journalist, essayist and film-maker has placed this building with its Modernist lines on his list of five extraordinary buildings.
- The Link Centre at West Swindon – Installed by the then (1983) Thamesdown Council the design was undertaken in-house under the chief architect K P Sherry. This one is not necessarily of any particular significance (though someone might be able to enlighten me on that) but I really rather like it even so. It reminds me somewhat of Meccano – but there’s nothing wrong with that.
It was I think the late broadcaster Ray Gosling who said something about, when visiting a new place, to be sure and look up. Because that’s where the interesting things are to be seen.
And he was right. It is. And even here, in industrial Swindon, make the effort to look up and there’s many points of interest to discover.
NB: Photo of the Wyvern Theatre comes from the theatre itself. So thanks to them. The Flicker collection by kind permission of Brian Carter of Carter Collectables.