SWINDON was one of the birthplaces of the National Health Service, a crowd of heritage-lovers heard.

The Great Western Railway Medical Fund was an inspiration for NHS founder Nye Bevan. The organisation provided for the health needs of railway workers and their families until the health service was set up in 1948.

On Saturday, the part the medical fund played in the town’s history was marked with the unveiling of a new blue heritage plaque by group Swindon Heritage. It comes a month before the NHS's 70th anniversary.

Mayor Junab Ali was joined by Mike Atwell, grandson of one of the fund’s last commissioners, to reveal the new plaque. Mounted on the Faringdon Road façade of the Milton Road Baths, the plaque reads: “GWR Medical Fund HQ and Baths. The blueprint for the NHS.”

A large group gathered to watch the unveiling, with police officers called out to direct traffic around the crowd. Coun Ali told them: “We have a 200-year history and I think it is one of a kind in the country. This is as far as I know the birthplace of the NHS. We should be hugely proud of our history.We need to promote our town a lot better, promote our history, promote our heritage.”

Founded in 1847, the GWR Medical Fund moved from its Railway Village hospital to the new purpose-built Milton Road Baths in the 1890s. The baths boasted range of health treatments and professionals, from doctors and dentists to a pharmacy and Turkish baths.

Mike Atwell’s grandfather, Jack Dixon, oversaw the transfer of the fund from the GWR to the state in 1948. “My mother always said Jack owed his life to the medical fund,” said Mike. “He was prescribed penicillin in the 1940s before it was widely available across the country.”

Jean Allen, 86, of Rodbourne Cheney, remembered life working in the Milton Road Baths. The former dental nurse said: “One thing I remember in the railway works, they issued little brass checks to those waiting for doctors’ appointments downstairs. You kept hearing the ‘tinkle tinkle’ of the checks. When they said they were going to move to Carfax Street I asked what they were going to do with the brass checks. They said, ‘That’s old hat.’ They used plastic.”

Where are all Swindon's blue plaques?

The unveiling of the blue plaque came as Swindon celebrated Civic Day, with tours around the historic Health Hydro and Railway Village.

Campaigners fear the 120-year-old baths could be under threat. In 2016, Greenwich Leisure Limited, which leases the site from the council, announced a consultation to convert the Turkish baths into 30 flats. A petition against the move has been signed by almost 6,000 people.

GLL has said no decision over the flats plan had been made.

Speaking to crowds on Civic Day, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland alluded to the controversy over the baths’ future: “Together we can make progress. We’re probably going to need help and support from other agencies, but there’s a lot we can do.”