IT MAY not have sounded for 25 years, but the once familiar sound of the Swindon rail works hooter gave former employees itchy feet when they heard it again.

Retired railway workers gathered at the designer outlet shopping centre yesterday to hear the hooter, which used to signal they were due to start or finish work every morning, lunchtime and evening.

It was organised by BBC Wiltshire breakfast presenter, Graham Mack and his team, and reporter, Annie Weston, said it had taken months to organise.

“We wanted to do it because the railway works closed 25 years ago this year,” she said. “Graham is always one for trying to get things done, he wanted to get the hooter blowing again.

“They wanted to get the hooter itself to sound, but a bit of red tape stepped in to stop that. The next best thing was to rally the support of Swindon PA hire.”

The sound was played at 20,000 watts on 12 speakers stuck on top of each other in the shadow of the original Great Western hooters on the roof of the shopping centre.

Among the former workers at the event yesterday was Jim Osman, 76, of Rodbourne Cheney, who was a fitter and turner and worked there for 35 years.

“The hooter governed your life really. Where you were when the hooter blew, you knew where you should be and if you were a bit late you had to hurry up,” he said.

“The first was at 6.45am – that must have been from the early days when everyone lived in the railway village and nobody had a watch.

“It changed as the working times changed. There was one at 7.20am, 7.25am and 7.30am. At 7.30am we had to be in, then it sounded again at 12.30pm for lunch, then 1.20pm, 1.25pm and 1.30pm. It went off again at finishing time. It changed a bit from 5.30pm to 5pm and then 4.30pm.

“The last one of the day, or the one for lunch, everybody would be straight by the door and out as soon as it went. As soon as I hear it my legs start going.”

Also among the crowd was Peter Legg, 74, of Rodbourne, who was a nightshift store worker and was at the works for more than seven years.

He said: “It was great hearing it again – when it used to go off steam came out of it.

“They could make anything in this factory. When it closed down I have never seen so many people cry in all my life. I cried. It was a great loss to Swindon because a lot of people worked here.”

Ernie Fisher, 85, of Rodbourne, who worked in the boiler shop and was there from 1947 until 1986, said he enjoyed hearing the hooter too.

“It used to let us know what the time was. We didn’t have clocks and watches in those days. I keep thinking I’m late for work when I hear it,” he said.