Piggy in the Middle

farm - that's what Swindon means (swine-dun - Anglo-Saxon). There's something intrinsically funny about that, I suppose, but I don't think the football-terrace denigrators of Swindon are scholars of Anglo-Saxon.

It's mentioned in the Domesday Book (of course), but whether there was an actual village here - we can't be sure.

It doesn't seem to have made many waves in the centuries before the nineteenth. During that century, many towns and villages were saved or ruined, according to whether the railway passed through or passed by.

Swindon hit the jackpot.

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel set out to build his Great Western Railway from London to the West Country, he could have chosen a number of routes - South through the Vale of Pewsey, North via Oxford. But the route through the Vale of the White Horse was chosen.

Even so, there was no guarantee that Swindon would get so much as a station halt out of the deal.

True, Brunel always knew he would need a major stopping point between London and Bristol. The (relatively) steep haul out of the Thames valley was an exhausting task for the early locomotives; IKB knew he would need a place to re-fuel and re-water his engines. He also knew that the new railway would need somewhere to build and maintain the locos - somewhere with lots of space.

There's a delightful story that Brunel was out, surveying his route with Daniel Gooch - his Locomotive Engineer. Trundling through the Wiltshire countryside in a carriage they discussed the merits of various sites. (Technically, it was Gooch's decision where to site the company's works.)

At lunchtime, they still hadn't made a decision, except to make their picnic on the move, rather than waste time stopping.

Finally, Brunel stood up and announced, dramatically, "Wherever this sandwich lands, there will you build your Works!" He tossed his half-finished ham sandwich out of the carriage window. It landed at Swindon.

Important note to friends and supporters of SPIT (the Society for the Propagation of Improbable Tales):-
I first came across this story in a coffee-table book on Steam Railways, whilst researching yet another coffee-table book on Steam Railways (a temporary aberration - I'm better now). I searched for another mention of the story - on the principle that nicking something from one book is plagiarism, whilst nicking it from two books is research - but I couldn't find it anywhere.
Friends - don't let this happen again. Relay this story. Insert it into academic papers, traffic reports, letters home to mother, stock market analyses - even books on Steam Railways.
If we stick together, this story could be "true".
So, Gooch built his great Swindon Works, and the Great Western Railway prospered (but the station buffet ham sandwich never quite recovered).

On the other Foot On the other Foot Isambard Kingdom Brunel Isambard Kingdom Brunel
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