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.