STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway, is in the heart of the former Swindon Railway Works. The museum tells the story of the men and women who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway, a network that, through the pioneering vision and genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, set the standard for rail travel.
This story is brought to life with famous GWR locomotives, imaginative story-telling displays, videos - mixing rare archive film footage with the stories of ex-railway workers - hands-on exhibits, interactive displays and a large number of rare GWR objects memorabilia. The museum is peopled by character figures life-cast from Swindon people - many of them former railway workers.
Stepping into the museum, visitors are taken into the world of the railway worker at Swindon, passing through a series of reconstructions, carefully assembled using original equipment, supported by video and interactive displays.
The STEAM experience starts with the hushed tones of The Offices where - in the GWR's heyday before the First World War - clerks toiled to support the workforce of over 12,000. This is followed by the General Stores - an 'Empire within an Empire' - which kept Swindon and the GWR supplied with everything from pen nibs to railway sleepers. As the story unfolds, visitors begin to grasp the scale of the operation needed to build and maintain the railway. At its height, the Swindon Works was producing three locomotives each week.
Visitors will get a sense of the heat and grime experienced in the Foundry. Then, passing through the Carriage Body Shop – with its evocative smell of wood – the sights and sounds of the Machine Shop are evoked. Lathes, drills and slotters were used to manufacture parts to the highest standards. Visitors complete this part of their journey in the Boiler Shop - where the noise endured by the workers meant that many were deaf by the age of 30 - and the Erecting Shop.
To emphasise and celebrate the skill and achievement of the Swindon workforce, the final part of this display is the GWR express passenger locomotive, 'Caerphilly Castle'. This famous locomotive stands on its own, displayed in 'ex-works' condition - all gleaming paint and brass - illustrating the magnificent end-product of many thousands of hours of labour.
The GWR Network
Leaving The Works section, the visitor takes another journey - out onto the GWR network. A series of displays tells the story of the construction and growth of the railway, from its Bristol-to-London beginnings, to the era when it covered most of western Britain. The role of the thousands of men and women who operated the railway - often in difficult conditions – is also told.
The achievements of the navvies - who physically built the railway - are celebrated,along with the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the best-known engineer of the Victorian period.
Highlights of this section include the 1925 replica of the 1837 broad gauge locomotive, 'North Star’, and a simulator - where you can feel what it was like to drive a steam engine.
Entering the area depicting the movement of goods, visitors are confronted by an enormous pile of goods illustrating the variety of freight - from coal to carpets, broccoli to newspapers - carried by the GWR.
The Wall of Names
Moving on to a viewing platform, visitors see The Wall of Names - a memorial to the men and women who worked inside the Swindon Works. It is a permanent reminder of the human aspect of the story. Visitors can also look out over the main Bristol railway line and watch the comings and goings of the modern railway network.
The Railway Station
Coming down from the viewing platform, visitors can explore a reconstructed station platform - where a short train - comprising of Lode Star, Ditcheat Manor and a 1934 Buffet Car - awaits. Also on view are an 1897 GWR Royal Carriage and a 1934 Diesel Railcar. Train whistles, doors slamming and station announcements bring the platform alive with the sounds of travel.
Speed to the West
The journey is completed in the final 'Speed to the West' section where displays evoke the railway’s role as the 'Holiday Line'. Some of the Great Western Railway's famous posters and advertising material are shown, plus a section on the famous annual 'Swindon Trip' holiday and a reconstructed seaside pier complete with working vintage amusement machines.