By Thomas Homes on 20/06/2012

For decades it was the main entrance to Swindon's historic railworks - at one time the largest industrial complex of its kind in the world. Thousands of workers - from fitters and engineers to clerks and managers - made their way through the tunnel from Bristol Street under the railway line every morning into the huge site and out again every evening.

When the works closed for the good in 1986 the gloomy underpass became a route to nowhere as the famous workshsops, sheds and offices of GWR were abandoned and the site sealed off.

The tunnel reopened linking the site, renamed as Churchward, to the town centre following the arrival of the Designer Outlet Village, STEAM musuem, National Trust head office, English Heritage National Monuments and Records Centre and, most recently, new homes being built by Thomas Homes. These new homes are in the final part of the site known as The Old Railway Quarter, which includes Heritage Plaza where 124 brand new apartments will be located.

Now the underpass has been given a facelift with 10 artworks celebrating Swindon rail workers alongside redecoration and new lighting. The works, by artist Bruce Williams and commissioned by Foward Swindon for one side of the tunnel, were unveiled earlier this month. Large letters spelling out Swindon Works have been installed on the opposite wall.

Mr Williams, who works almost exclusively in the public realm and has produced artwork for other locations around Swindon, said the idea was to recognise the men and woman who worked 'inside'. He said "The characters you can see would probably have used the route under the tracks themselves on their way to and from work. These are regular men and woman, who worked on the trains in war and in peace time, come rain or shine." He used seven photographs from the STEAM's archives and three images are of people working in the industry today.

The opening was attended by Mr Williams, Foward Swindon chief executive Ian Piper, councillor Gary Perkins, Swindon Council cabinet member for regeneration and culture, and Chris Brotherton a director of Thomas Homes. Chris said "The underpass provides a vital link from Heritage Plaza in The Old Railway Quarter to the town centre, and the new art works captuare the rich history of the site". 

Artist Gives Tunnel Vision of the Past to Heritage Plaza header image