Saturday, 29 November 2008

The old and the new

The Town Hall in Regent Circus
Next to the new library is Swindon's Victorian Town Hall. Still the dominant building of the town though now longer used as the town hall (now a dance studio). With the coming of Brunel's Great Western Railway works in the early 1840s 'new' Swindon gradually started to be built, starting with the Railway Village. For quite a few years this was separate from the original Swindon now known as Old Town. As 'new' Swindon grew, the gap between the two communities closed, linked together by Victoria Road, Eastcott Hill, Kingshill Road and even the hillside cemetery behind Radnor Street which served both the 'old' and 'new' towns. The 'new', as it then was, is now part of Swindon's history - sadly much of it has disappeared with the 'progress' of the 1960s when many of the terraced streets and red-brick Victorian buildings were demolished to make way for roads and modern buildings.
The Town Hall was built in 1891 - here is what Mark Child says about it in his excellent illustrated History of Swindon:
"Here was the New Swindon Local Board making a statement in 1891, with a building that dominated the Swindon sky-line, in a position that was also clearly visible from Old Town .......From the moment it was built, the New Swindon Town Hall became a vocal point for large outdoor meetings and places where visiting worthies were displayed to the people. The Town Hall clock has been known to chime eccentrically over the years, once in the 1960s striking 24 times at three o'clock in the afternoon. Eventually, local government outgrew the building and it was removed to the Civic Offices, built for the purpose in 1938."
Note: Today many of the 1960s buildings have been demolished as the town's council seeks to regenerate the town centre - hopefully the old Town Hall and the new library will continue to stand side by side as an example of how the new can (in the hands of skilled architects) compliment the old.