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New homes keep memories of past
BY 2015 there will be an entire neighbourhood in buildings where our industrial history was born from metal, fire and toil.
“This was one of the old spring shops, built in the 1840s,” Chris Brotherton told me.
Chris is a director of Thomas Homes, the firm in the midst of creating The Old Railway Quarter, a development which includes sections called Heritage Plaza, The Works and Jackson Corner.
A total of 68 out of 300 planned homes on the former Railway Works site, almost all of those completed so far, are already occupied.
Chris had just levered open a reluctant padlock, hauled aside an equally reluctant door and led us into a huge Grade II-listed glass roofed chamber which was at various times housed not just a spring shop but also a chain testing area.
Piles of pigeon droppings on the floor chart the positions of nests in the nooks and crannies overhead.
Intriguing traces of the building's past remain. Set into the floor are metal numbers worn shiny by decades of footsteps, which Chris explained were used to measure chains before they were sent for use elsewhere in the Works.
A fearsome-looking black trench cut into part of the floor holds the remains of the chain-testing equipment, while the walls are a patchwork of plaster, paint and brickwork which reflects the ‘as and when’ nature of the alterations made to the structure during its long working life.
The abandoned wooden shell of a vintage radio adds to the effect.
“I’m always thinking of what happened here,” said Chris.
“What I love about this place is thinking of 150 years, and of how many people have been in this building and what they did.”
Sales to the public are being handled by the Richard James estate agency.
When complete, that development will be what is known as ‘residential, commercial, retail and leisure’.
This is another way of saying there will be places to live, to work, to shop and to do things not falling into the other categories, all within a self-contained neighbourhood.
Balconies will overlook central courtyards; some already do. Building started in 2009 and will continue for a further three years.
Strolling around the chain testing area, Richard said: “I think the unique thing about this site is that the apartments are being built within the old works site.
“They’re being built within the old walls, within the shells of the buildings.”
Richard James and Chris explained that they wanted me along not so much to publicise the development as to write about the history of the location.
Much of that history will be preserved, both in the external fabric of the buildings and in the entire chain testing area.
Chris said: “We’ll either give it to Swindon or the Outlet Centre, and it will be restored. It will be a masterpiece.”
Further information about the development can be found at www.thomashomes.co.uk and at www.richardjames.info.