ON March 26, 1986 John Walter sounded the famous Swindon Works hooter for the last time – or so he thought.

With the closure of the Works there was no longer any need for the steam-powered ‘alarm clock’ which had marked out the days and shifts for more than a century.

A bell had initially been used, but the idea of replacing it with a hooter was floated as early as 1867. The exact date of its first sounding is lost to history, but it was certainly a feature of life in Swindon and much of the surrounding area by 1868.

Doom for the Works was spelled when British Rail shifted first locomotive production and then other work away from Swindon to its other centres amid pressure to save costs.

Many Works buildings live on, of course, whether as the huge Swindon Designer Outlet, the STEAM museum, housing or the headquarters of various organisations.

The memory of an era which shaped and continues to shape Swindon is also still strong, and remains a source of pride.

Almost 30 years to the day after John Walters sounded the note which ended that era, the 86-year-old was called back into service to sound another.

This time his duty was to herald not an end but a beginning.

Shortly before 1pm on Tuesday, March 22, crowds began to gather at STEAM to hear the blast of a faithful replica of the hooter. It marked the start of Swindon 175, a huge celebration of the GWR Works and its people.

A programme of exhibitions, performances, art events, films and other commemorations is set to run throughout the year.

So far these have included a synchronisation of whistles between STEAM and the Swindon and Cricklade Railway and a Create Studios film called Digital Journeys. Seen by thousands of STEAM visitors, Digital Journeys consists of Swindonians from all over the world telling their stories.

STEAM is also hosting a photographic exhibition called Swindon – Then and Now, with images from the town’s past and present, many taken from identical vantage points.

On Sunday, June 26 at 3pm, St Augustine’s Church in Summers Street will host a public service of thanksgiving attended by the Bishop of Swindon.

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in Old Town is hosting an exhibition called Swindon in 175 Images. Set to run until mid-July, it features images from Swindon’s art, photographic and postcard collections.

A Snapshot of Swindon is another photographic event. On June 23 – the 175th day of the year – primary school pupils and college students will be invited to take single photos capturing what Swindon means to them.

The winning pictures will form a unique collection which will be displayed around the town.

The Rodbourne Community History Group is running an ongoing series of history tours of the GWR site, enhanced by the use of pictures, maps and other documents.

Booking is required and can be arranged by calling 01793 616558 or emailing secretary@rodbournehistory.org

The Mechanics Institution Trust, which is working to preserve the iconic building, hosts what is set to be its most ambitious children’s fete on Saturday, July 9 in the GWR Park on Faringdon Road.

The trust has revived the fete, which was for many years a favourite annual fixture of local life. Further details can be found at mechanics-trust.org.uk

Over the same weekend local musical charity The JTPTrust will stage

the one-act Opera 'Brunel: The Little Man in the Tall Hat' at Steam Museum on Saturday July 9 and Sunday July 10.

The JTPTrust are reviving 'Brunel the Little Man in the Tall Hat' which was commissioned by the JTPTrust for the Brunel200 South West Celebrations in 2006 and originally performed at St Marks Church in the railway village.

This revival features 21-year-old William Pearson as IK Brunel himself; William having placed the Boy Brunel in the 2006 production. Community forces include an Adult Choir, the JTPTrust Concert Choir and Juniors, performers from Lydiard Park Academy plus a core family 'The Beddows', all 'Off to St Ives' on the Swindon Trip Train.

The chatter on the 'Trip Train' introduces IK Brunel, Daniel Gooch, George Stephenson, Dr Lardner and other engineers, all brought to life by local adult soloists.

The Swindon 175 theme will extend to this year’s Swindon Railway Festival at STEAM on September 10 and 11, with commemorative exhibitions and displays.

Later, on November 19, Swindon Symphony Orchestra will be at STEAM to give a commemorative concert.

Information about Swindon 175 events can be found at swindon175.com