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Gates gift for museum opens way to rail history
A LARGE set of historic ornamental gates, with a connection to the sporting prowess of Swindon’s railway workers, has been donated to the Steam museum.
The 12ft iron gates were one of two sets at the entrances to the former GWR Sports Ground, off Shrivenham Road.
The ground was the home of sports clubs for GWR workers and ex-workers from the early 1930s until the site’s closure in 2005.
David Wilson Homes which, with Barratt Homes, is building 226 homes on the site yesterday delivered the gates to Steam on the back of a flatbed lorry.
The museum plans to restore and display them outside the building. The developer will restore the other set and keep it on-site as a piece of heritage artwork.
Museum collections officer Elaine Arthurs said: “We’re really excited, especially in the Olympic year.
“We’ve got an Olympic sports exhibition on at the moment so it’s quite fitting, as the Olympics are going on, we’re having the Athletics Association gates coming to Steam.
“They were possibly in danger of being scrapped so it’s good to be able to save them and we’ve got a good piece of railway and sporting history.
“Sport was really big with the workers. The earliest evidence we’ve got is there was a cricket club in 1860 and it basically snowballed.
“It basically encouraged morale, it kept people fit and healthy and the GWR was able to provide them with the facilities to do that.”
The gates, thought to date from the 1950s or 1960s, after British Railways took over the railways, bear the letters BRWRAA, which stand for British Railways Western Region Athletics Association. The ground itself was owned by the railways, and a pavilion, now demolished, was built in 1935.
Simon Kirk, the technical director of David Wilson Homes Southern, said: “There’s two sets of gates on site, one of which is this one, and the other one we’re retaining as part of the public art for the site.
“We thought it would be a good part of the town’s heritage and history if we donated this set back to the Steam museum.
“The entrance they came from is going to be stopped up, so they would only have sat there and potentially have been stolen.”
The new development, called The Sidings, will mainly comprise two and three-bedroomed homes. Work started about two months ago and is expected to be finished in about three years, with the first show homes opening in September.