The Swindon Works Collection consists of a wide array of objects made up of tools, machinery, furniture, patterns and items of office administration. The collection also contains archival material including order ledgers, accident reports and staff registers. Items in this collection range from the 1840s through to the closure of Swindon Works in 1986.
A large proportion of the collection is focused on Swindon Works operation. Highlights include the main time clock which regulated all other clocks around the Works site. There is also a collection of around 800 pay checks and cheques which were used by staff to clock in and out of work and collect their wages.
Employment at Swindon Works was often heavy and dangerous work. Explore how the Great Western Railway helped its injured employees in this short video with STEAM’s Collections Officer, Elaine Arthurs.
When an employee first began their job at Swindon Works, or any other of the GWR’s larger sites, they were allocated a unique number. Their number was stamped onto a metal token or ‘check’, which was hung on a board at the entrance of the workshop that they worked in. When they arrived at work, they collected their check to show that they had clocked in. At the end of the day the check was hung back on the check board.
The system of time checks was different to the metal pay cheques that were used on payday for employees to collect their wages.
The check board was watched over by a ‘Checky’ who noted any employees who were late for their shift. Those who did arrive late had a check with ¼ or ½ stamped on it hung on their hook to show that they would be docked quarter or half an hours pay for their tardiness. Even a visit to the toilet was monitored by check numbers to make sure that employees did not take too long.
The system was also used as a way of communication. Checks with letters or words on were hung on individual numbered hooks when a message needed to be passed on. ‘MT’ showed that the employees time check was missing. CTO told the ‘Checky’ that the employee was not working in the shop that day and had booked in at the Central Time Office. Similarly, ‘OS’ meant that the employee was working as part of an outstation gang. Those working on the night shift had an ‘N’ hung on their hook. While a check that was not welcomed by workers was one that read ‘To see foreman before starting’.
At Swindon Works in particular bikes were a regular sight with hundreds of workers travelling to and from work on two wheels. Bike sheds were positioned at each entrance to the Works and every day they were filled with bikes lined up in neat rows.
Official Works bicycles like the one that is on display in the Foundry area at STEAM were a regular sight around the Works. These were used by employees to travel quickly around the vast works site on errands. The frame at the front of the bike allowed for a huge basket in which to carry anything that was required from workshop to workshop.
Our ‘paint blob’ was formed in one of the paint shops at Swindon Works. When cleaning their brushes, the workers would first remove the excess paint by wiping the brush on the wall. Over time a mound of paint built up until one day it was removed from the wall, cut in half and the surface polished to reveal a fascinating cross section of layers and layers of paint.
The paint blob is a chronicle of the paint types and colours used within the Works. Scientific analysis of the layers of paint would reveal so much information that would be of interest to GWR historians and railway modellers.
The ‘blob’ even featured on the Antiques Roadshow when it was filmed at STEAM in 2010 with Fiona Bruce asking members of the audience what they thought this unusual item might be.
STEAM holds a variety of photos, tickets and posters relating to ‘Trip Week’ – the name given to the annual shut down of Swindon Works when all of its employees and their families went on their summer holidays.
The earliest trips were only available to members of the Swindon Mechanics Institution, but in time ‘Trip’ grew to include all Swindon Works employees and their families. Free trains were laid on by the GWR to take the holiday-makers to destinations across the South West and beyond. In order to avoid disruption at Swindon Station, the trains departed from the network of tracks and sidings around the Works site.
The above New Swindon Mechanics Institution Trip Ticket was issued for use in 1903.