GWR Park

Brief History

The site of the GWR Park was purchased in 1844 for use as a cricket pitch hence it was originally known as The Cricket Field. A small pavilion was built, and the New Swindon cricket team played there from 1847. A substantial new pavilion was erected in 1872 on the western side of the park.

Cricket was a popular sport amongst the railwaymen and in addition to inter-shop matches, the New Swindon side played matches against other local towns and villages. There was a fierce rivalry with the Swindon Cricket Club based at the Okus Fields in The Sands, Old Town. Cricket was very popular and the standard of play between the two clubs was high. In the 1890’s, the great Dr.W.G.Grace was dismissed for a “double duck” by a local man for the only time in his career.

In addition to cricket, the GWR Park also hosted athletics and cycling events, playing a big part in the social life of the Railway Villagers and now occupies a special place in the history of Swindon. It was a natural leisure place for the people of the Railway Village and the surrounding area for both young and old. GWR Park was a place for local people to meet and pass the time, for children to play, to have a picnic or just to sit in the sun and watch a game of cricket or to enjoy the ornamental gardens.

The landscaping of the cricket field took place around 1871 when the entrance lodge was built, and formal gardens were laid out on the eastern side of the park. A footpath surrounded the cricket field with some 20 seats located at regular intervals. Ornamental metal railings on top of a low brick wall surrounded the park with several entrance gates located at intervals around the boundary.

All the formal and ornamental gardens were concentrated around the eastern side of the park near the main entrance from Church Place. To the left of the entrance were the park keeper’s lodge and several ornamental glasshouses and frames. On either side of the entrance were formally laid out borders of herbaceous plants and annual bedding as well as a couple of fountains and numerous ornamental urns. A small team of gardeners would have been kept busy tending the ornamental gardens to a high quality. For a while, a bandstand stood in the park and an ornamental drinking fountain with metal drinking cups on chains attached to railings was located near to the Lodge.

A children’s fete was a very popular event organised by the Mechanics Institute and held annually in the park in the afternoon of the Saturday following August Bank Holiday between 1866 & 1939 except during the Great War. Every child under the age of 14 was admitted free and given a slab of fruitcake and a cup of tea as well as one free ride on the roundabouts. At the fete there were roundabouts, swing boats, coconut shies and a wide variety of sideshows. The fete would always conclude with a great fireworks display.

In 1907, it is estimated that around 40,000 people attended the annual fete with free cake and tea being distributed amongst the crowd.

Unfortunately, the formal, ornamental gardens have long since disappeared from the park and the cricket pavilion, bandstand, drinking fountain, lodge and glasshouses no longer exist.

Heritage Action Zone

In 2019, Swindon’s Railway Conservation Area was included in a Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the GWR Park has been produced.

The Conservation Management Plan describes the historic development of the park; it provides information on the current management and describes how it is currently maintained; it goes on to explain why the park is important and to whom, before setting out a vision and series of management actions for the park. The overall vision is to conserve, enhance and restore the most important aspects of GWR Park’s historic and contemporary significance.

For more information about the GWR Conservation Management Plan and the HAZ project, please using click this link.

The Future

Today the 3.95-hectare park is still a well-used public open space that continues to serve the local community.

The Parish Council are planning to undertake a programme of improvement works over the next few years, restoring the park to some of its former glory as part of a much wider initiative and interest in the railway heritage of Swindon.

The eastern side of the park will be transformed to reflect its historic importance and character and the park will be an inclusive space that serves the local community with rejuvenated facilities and a programme of engaging events and activities.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of a new chapter in the long history of Swindon’s first public park.

Facilities

The GWR Park is open daily throughout the year with the following features:

Children’s Play Area
Human Sundial
First World War Memorial
Monument to International Mother Language Day

How to get there

GWR Park is located adjacent to Faringdon Road in the centre of Swindon, SN1 5DJ. There is no car parking available at the park or on the surrounding streets. There are a number of public car parks located around the Town Centre within walking distance of the park.

Booking the Parks for Events

The Parish Council is committed to keeping the parks open for all visitors free of charge. However we do consider hiring sections of the park out to companies and community groups. For more information please visit our private bookings page.