Former GWR works entrance, pedestrian subway and former carriage trimming shop


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Entrance to the former Great Western Railway works and former trimming shop, including Bristol Street subway, Emlyn Square, Swindon


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Statutory Address:
Entrance to the former Great Western Railway works and former trimming shop, including Bristol Street subway, Emlyn Square, Swindon

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Swindon (Unitary Authority)
Central Swindon North
Swindon (Unitary Authority)
Central Swindon South
National Grid Reference:


Entrance building to the former Great Western Railway engineering works with pedestrian subway under the railway, 1870, and former carriage trimming shop above, 1870-1872. The subterranean structure of the subway tunnel north of the entrance building and trimming shop is included in the listing, as indicated on the map which accompanies this description, but the above-ground surfaces and structures are excluded.

Reasons for Designation

The entrance building, subway tunnel and former trimming shop, built in 1869-1870, are listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as specialised railway buildings for the Great Western Railway works in Swindon, which was expanded considerably in the 1860s and 1870s under Joseph Armstrong;

* the buildings are in a recognisable Swindon works house style, with elevations of snecked stone with ashlar quoins and dressings, and despite later alterations made in connection with changing industrial practices by the railway works in more than 100 years of intensive use, are remarkably well preserved.

Historic interest:

* the buildings form part of the historic Great Western Railway works in Swindon, established by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 1840s, which continued in the same use until the 1980s; the trimming shop formed part of the dedicated carriage works added in the 1860s and 1870s, expanding the range of specialised buildings constructed on the site;

* the entrance building and subway tunnel formed the only direct link between the railway village and the town to the south, and the railway works to the north of the main line; every day thousands of workers, which numbered over 14,000 at the site’s peak, made their way to work through the tunnel on each shift.

Group value: * with the extensive range of listed buildings making up the former GWR railway works to the north of the main line, and the listed buildings of the GWR railway village to the south, in particular the former carriage works of which the entrance building and trimming shop form an integral part.


The Great Western Railway works in Swindon were established in 1841, to provide a central repair facility for the various locomotives which had been sourced to run on the railway line from London to Bristol, whose construction had begun in 1840. The Great Western Railway (GWR) village was established in Swindon from 1841, aiming initially to provide 300 homes and associated health, welfare, lodging and education facilities for a new community of workers and their families arriving from across the country to staff the railway works, which came to house an extensive and integrated design, engineering, construction and repair plant for locomotives and other rolling stock, and rails. At its peak in 1925, the workforce numbered over 14,000. The works remained in use by GWR and, following the nationalisation of the railways, British Rail, until 1986.

The works entrance and trimming shop above were constructed in 1870 as part of the creation of the carriage works at the Swindon site. Until the later 1860s, carriages had been constructed and repaired at various locations around the GWR estate, and putative plans to create a centralised carriage works earlier in the decade had been thwarted by a banking crisis and consequent lack of investment in railways. In 1864, Joseph Armstrong (1816-1877), formerly superintendent of the GWR’s northern division, had been appointed the GWR’s first superintendent of locomotives, carriages and wagons, based in Swindon. Armstrong oversaw a period of rapid expansion and modernisation at the Swindon works, so when in 1867 the establishment of a consolidated carriage works became financially viable again, the company pushed ahead, with an initial sum of £26,000 agreed by the board, and a site identified on land already owned by the GWR: a long, linear plot immediately south of the railway, and north of the village, bounded to the western end by the Church of St Mark and the school, which had been constructed in the 1840s. The carriage works was built in phases, working west to east. The buildings had extensive workshops at the upper level, to allow construction to take place at the same level as the railway, which was set well above Emlyn Square, which the new buildings faced on their south side. The workshops constructed eastwards from Emlyn Square, on falling ground, also had a basement level below the main workshops, running along London Street.

A number of serious accidents were suffered by GWR workers in the 1860s, including three deaths in a single month in 1869, where workers were struck by trains as they crossed the railway line. There was criticism of the GWR company for not addressing more seriously the prevention of accidents on the main line, which effectively separated the railway village from the works; this resulted in the addition, in 1869-1870, of the broad subway tunnel under the railway as part of the construction of the carriage works which was added immediately to the south of the main line, allowing safe passage between the railway village and the works. The tunnel, opened on 5 February 1870, was aligned on the centre of the northern elevation of the Mechanics’ Institution in the railway village, and emerged on the north side of the railway outside the offices, with a ramp rising eastwards from its northern end to reach the higher level of the land within the locomotive works. This tunnel provided the principal access to the works site for the thousands of employees, over 14,000 at its height, making their way from the railway village and the town. The flow of people was controlled by iron turnstiles at either end of the tunnel. The new entrance building, with a workshop above, was constructed, giving the tunnel a formal elevation, and a wide entrance gateway, flanked by narrow offices at the southern end. This entrance formed the starting point for popular tours of the railway works from 1870 onwards. The building on the upper level, with a high single storey, on a roughly square plan, became the trimming shop for the carriage works, where textile work, upholstery and other finishing for carriages were undertaken. This was one of the few areas of the works where women were employed in the late C19; they were provided with a separate entrance from the male workers, and alternative start and finish times. The carriage sheds were altered several times during construction, with the trimming shop probably taking on its historic form in 1872. The building has since been truncated slightly at the north end, presumably in connection with the demolition of the adjoining range to the west to create a car park.

The south elevation of the entrance building was altered several times over the years in which the works was in operation, with changes to the first-floor fenestration, and a variety of signage. The broad gable was largely glazed, shown in a photograph of about 1910; it was only built up in stone later in the first half of the C20, and was certainly present in its current form by 1952. The turnstiles were removed to allow light vehicles to use the tunnel. In the later C20, after the closure of the railway works, the narrow office ranges to either side of the southern entrance to the tunnel, under the trimming shop, were converted to modern business units, with glazed entrances in the walls of the tunnel. The present brick walls lining the tunnel were built in about 1990, approximately 50cm inside the original raking walls shown in archive drawings. The tunnel continues to provide the only direct pedestrian access between the former railway works and the town.


Entrance building to the former Great Western Railway engineering works, with pedestrian subway under the railway, 1870, and former carriage trimming shop above, 1870-1872. The subterranean structure of the subway tunnel north of the entrance building and trimming shop is included in the listing, as indicated on the map which accompanies this description, but the above-ground surfaces and structures are excluded.

MATERIALS: rock-faced snecked Foxwood stone, with Bath stone ashlar quoins and dressings. Slate roofs.

PLAN: the works entrance building is at the southern end of the north-south pedestrian subway running between Emlyn Square in the south and emerging at the northern end in the former GWR railway works. The trimming shop on the upper level is roughly square on plan.

EXTERIOR: the building has its main elevation to the south, on Emlyn Square. The structure is of two storeys and seven bays. The central bay leads to the subway tunnel which runs from the GWR railway village, under the main line, to the former GWR works to the north. The central three bays are brought forward and quoined, the ground floor on splay, with a continuous ashlar string across all seven bays. The round-arched tunnel entrance to the central bay has panelled, square-headed double doors and multi-paned overdoor light, with four-panel round-arched pedestrian doors to the flanking offices, all with hood moulds, and a keystone with a lamp on a bracket over the tunnel entrance. The first floor has central paired six-over-six sashes with stone mullion between. The side bays have round-headed sash windows under hood moulds matching those to the central bays to the ground floor. The first floor has two eight-over-eight sashes to the side bays. A gable rises over all seven bays, with an unmoulded ashlar cornice, and a keyed oculus in the apex. The rear of the building is on higher ground, a single-storey workshop with a broad gable to the north, clad in timber, with late C20 windows and door openings to the ground floor. The west side is bounded by the remains of the original wall between the trimming shop and the adjacent sawmills, later a carriage shop, since demolished. This wall has a wide doorway to the right, with C20 doors, and two windows with eight-over-eight sashes to the left, under plain lintels. There is a bricked-up, segmental arched opening in the section of wall which extends beyond the north end of the workshop.

INTERIOR: WORKS ENTRANCE BUILDING The offices to either side of the entrance each have a late-C20 glazed opening to the tunnel. Internally, they have late-C20 partitioning but retain their cast-iron columns, and the western office has an internal wall with small, round-arched openings remaining from the time of construction.

SUBWAY The pedestrian subway is approximately 116m long, 4.6m wide and 2.1m high. The southern end of the tunnel, under the trimming shop, has visible cast-iron GWR columns with iron beams running between them, and late-C20 plastered walls with glazed entrances to the flanking offices. The remainder, lined with red brick walls with engineering brick dressings, is roofed by brick jack-arches which spring from cast-iron columns along its length. The northern section has concrete roofing. Clusters of early C21 metal bollards are set at both ends of the tunnel. The subterranean structure of the subway tunnel north of the entrance building and trimming shop is included in the listing, as indicated on the map which accompanies this description. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the above-ground surfaces and structures above the tunnel are not of special architectural or historic interest; however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.

TRIMMING SHOP The former workshop has regular cast-iron columns and iron roof trusses.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cattell, J, Falconer, K, Swindon: The Legacy of a Railway Town (RCHME), (1995), 88, 120, 140
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, (1975), 511


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 29 May 2001
Reference: IOE01/04341/24
Rights: Copyright IoE Dr Robert Slade. Source Historic England Archive
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