RAILWAY historian Rosa Matheson paints an evocative portrait of holidays past in Trip - The Annual Holiday Of GWR's Swindon Works, when the Great Western Railway ruled in Swindon.

From the first one-day sightseeing trip to Oxford in June 1848 when a group of 500 Swindonians were guests of the Oxford branch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr Matheson charts the phenomenon that was Trip.

Between the 1860s and 70s the holiday increased, first to three days and by 1874 to a nine-day break during early July.

While the train journey may have been "free" to members of the Mechanics' Institution, parents made considerable sacrifices both before and after the event.

Families saved their pennies every way they could, from the Co-op Dividend to the "Diddlum" Club.

Some of the men would retain bonus and overtime awards, presenting their slips for payment in the week before the shut down.

Weymouth became known as Swindon by the Sea, a popular choice for Swindonians during the GWR annual shut down.

From the early days in 1870 when the special train provided by the company transported 1,000 holidaymakers to the Dorset resort, Weymouth remained a favourite.

Dr Matheson captures the anticipation of departure day in the words of those who were children during the heady holidays of the pre war years "we were all ready the night before, bathed and dressed and almost sent to bed with our shoes on.."

Today trip week has entered the realms of affectionate nostalgia, but Dr Matheson points out that until the 1938 Holiday With Pay Act "it was unpaid holiday or, seen from a different perspective, a lock-out while the company carried out essential maintenance and repairs".

Ivy Lawrence, a regular traveller to St Ives, and Mary Starley, who records three generations of the holiday-making Rudduck family, are just two of the contributors in a book packed full of anecdotal accounts.

Illustrated with family photographs and bursting with facts and figures such as the "record" trip in 1900 when more than 22,000 people left Swindon on one day, the first of many such records, Dr. Matheson's book is both a nostalgic read and a commemoration.

With a workforce reduced to about 3,000, the last Trip Special Train ran in July 1976 as holidaymakers by then preferred to travel under their own steam.

Today the railway works that dominated the town lies beneath a modern housing development and the Swindon Designer Outlet occupies what remains of former GWR buildings.

l TRIP The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-3909-X available from www.amazon.co.uk.