IT WAS a solemn day 25 years ago as the hooter sounded for the last time and 1,100 people walked through the gates of the Railway Works bringing nearly 150 years of proud engineering tradition to an end.

March 26 1986, the day Brunel’s once proud GWR factory closed, was one of the darkest days in Swindon’s history.

The factory, which produced some of Britain’s best-known locomotives, was the largest employee in the town, employing whole families, but now the majority of the buildings house the Steam Museum and the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet.

On Thursday about 70 former workers got together for a champagne party to mark the anniversary. The former rail workers meet every Thursday in the Central Community Centre for a social get together and to chat over old times.

Former coach builder John Rogers who was the first Welshman to join the works.

“I remember my first day, it was the first time I had ever been away from home and I was only 16,’’ he said.

“When we walked through the tunnel and smelled the railway it was as if we were coming home.’’ As the last note of the hooter died away all those years ago, heralding the end of a historic chapter in Swindon’s history, a new enterprise was born to support the redundant workers.

The Great Western Enterprise was set up to help them start up their own business, develop skills and explore their options.

The enterprise was only going to be in place for three years but is still going strong.

Nicky Alberry, chairwoman of Great Western Enterprise, said she was proud of what they had achieved.

“They look after each other and we are proud to support them.’’ The oldest member of the party was 93-year-old Gordon Ing who was a sheet metal worker in 15 Shop and a soldier fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in Normandy.

Gordon enjoyed the camaraderie inside, and said of his fellow rail workers: “I have never worked with a more skilled bunch of men in my life even in the army.’’