ANDY BINKS, 62, chairs the Swindon Society, which has about 150 members and is devoted to the preservation of the town’s history. He is the author, with fellow local historian Peter Timms, of a well-reviewed book, Swindon Works Through Time, and gives regular public talks. Andy, himself a former engineer at the Works, is married and lives in Old Town

THE history of Swindon is sometimes mistakenly believed to have begun and ended with the railway.

In fact, it began thousands of years before the railways when some ancient tribe chose to settle on a hill with a commanding view, and continues with the ongoing story of the town and its people.

The value of history and of studying it?

“I suppose there are two views on that,” said Andy Binks.

“Some people would say it’s a waste of time, but I think there’s something to be said for reliving the past and bringing it back to life with photographs, talks, presentations and what have you.

“A lot of people are interested and what I would like to do is get some of the younger ones involved.”

Andy readily admits it can be difficult to get younger people to become involved with the society, although he’s seen plenty of evidence that many of them have a genuine interest in local history.

At this summer’s recreation of the old GWR Picnic, the society had a stand.

“A massive number of people turned out for that, and at our stand there was tremendous interest, especially from young people. They wanted to know about their houses, were there any photographs of it, and they were saying they couldn’t believe Park Lane used to look like that. There was a real interest.

“But they don’t go home and think, ‘I’m going to join the society’ because they have busy lives and kids to bring up.”

Andy is originally from Leeds, and is the son of a Lancastrian mother and a Yorkshireman father.

“I’m a Yorkshireman who’s almost a Swindonian. I’ve only been here 52 years.

“My dad came down in 1965. He’d been to India and built several factories as a chief engineer for a company called Yorkshire Imperial.

“They wanted a plastics division to make plastic extrusion pipe, and they chose to come to Swindon because there were some railway buildings that were obsolete – on the carriage side, the former 24 Shop.”

The young Andy went to Lawn Secondary Modern School, which became Churchfields, and then to Commonweal.

In 1970 he began an apprenticeship at the Railway Works, where he was to stay as a mechanical fitter until three weeks before it closed in 1986. Andy could have gone to firms such as Pressed Steel, Vickers and Marine Mountings but chose the railway because he’d been fascinated by railways since childhood.

Laster he worked for EMI, which itself pulled out of Swindon in the early 2000s, and then did a stint of maintenance duties and customer service at Broome Manor Golf Course.

That job gave allowed him to devote more time to the local history which had begun to fascinate him years before. He joined the Swindon Society 12 years ago and was its publicity officer before becoming chairman.

“The Swindon Society was formed in 1972. It was the history of Swindon and the surrounding area in photographs, really. It was started by some good folks who saved a lot of photographs. They said to people: “Don’t throw those photographs away, let us see them, let us have a look at them, copy them’.”

The society also gathers films, memorabilia and ephemera such as advertising material. It chronicles what has changed and what has evolved. The past had its own versions of instant shopping, for example.

“People wouldn’t believe how many shops there were. All the houses would have been within easy walking distance of shops – the butcher’s the greengrocer’s, the baker’s. There were dozens around the town.

“Sometimes it was like going online. You ordered by postcard. Can you imagine now, going to the Post Office, putting a postcard in a box and expecting to get your delivery that afternoon?

“Yet that’s what happened. I find it astounding but that’s exactly what was happening over 100 years ago.

“The postal system was so good – you were getting four and five deliveries a day to your house. Now you’re struggling to get one.

“It’s amazing what’s coming out of the woodwork all the time. You think to yourself, ‘this has been stuck in someone’s attic’, and if the Swindon Society or a Rodbourne group or any group has reminded them about that little shoebox stuck in the loft, it’s done some good in my view.

“It doesn’t happen all the time but you do get some gems.

“I recently got a donation of some stuff in Bristol and it was a complete fluke. A bloke phoned me and said, ‘I’ve got some Swindon-related railway photographs from the 20s. Do you want them?’ I never say no to anything. I went down to see him and he said, ‘the lady across the road came from Swindon.’ She had a fantastic photograph collection which I scanned and copied.

“eBay is also a good thing because it brings stuff home. It might be in Australia, a postcard of the Town Hall or whatever it might be.”

Swindon’s library service, with its extensive local studies collection, is also a great friend to the society.

Interest in local history seems to be growing, with an average of 90 people attending society meetings. Andy’s own talks are also well-attended. He agreed to just one initially, but is now on his way to his 100th.

“If you’d said to me six or seven years ago that I’d give presentations I’d have just laughed at you. The thought of standing up in front of crowds of people filled me with fear.”

The society’s website is