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Railway led to the expansion of the town
1:10pm Monday 9th September 2013 in News
LONG after Old Town was established, there was no such thing as Old Town – There was only Swindon, a small hilltop community which had existed in one form or another since thousands of years before the Romans crossed the Channel.
The first humans to call the place home were ancient Britons who no doubt chose it in order to have a vantage point should any marauding rival tribe come along.
Later it became more properly settled, and by the time William the Conqueror inventoried his plunder in the Domesday Book it was a small but established agricultural community.
As anybody with an interest in the town’s history knows, the volume listed it as Suindune. This is generally believed to signify a place where pigs were kept, although some historians insist the real origin is something like ‘Svendon’– a hill owned by somebody called Sven.
For the next eight centuries, Swindon grew from a scattering of huts and animal enclosures into a market town, although it was dwarfed in this respect by near neighbour Wootton Bassett, which was far larger, busier and more prosperous.
So things went until the middle of the 19th century, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel decided that some of the land at the bottom of the hill would be an ideal location for his railway works.
Within a few years the first houses of the new Railway Village were occupied and some cottages scattered along a rural track became the first shops of what is now Regent Street.
The New Town rapidly became the industrial hub of Swindon. By the time of the amalgamation of the Old and New Towns into a single borough at the turn of the century, the New Town Hall was already the seat of politics for both.
None of these changes had a detrimental effect on Old Town, whose beautiful architecture and leafy parks were a major attraction then and still are today.
As home to both the Arts Centre and the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Old Town has a strong claim to being the cultural centre of Swindon. Many of its buildings, notably Christ Church, are regarded as being among the finest of their kind in the country by connoisseurs of architecture, and the larger private homes command the highest prices in Swindon when they occasionally come on the market.
Shopping is also a major attraction of Old Town, one which has been improved by a regular market in Wood Street and an influx of new shops with a traditional flavour.
As with many other areas of Swindon, Old Town has an atmosphere and a sense of identity all its own.