Three Very Different Books about the Works.
Swindon Works and its place in Great Western History. Published by the GWR in 1935.
The GWR not only ran the most wonderful railway in the world but also appear to have invented PR.
However, this well written and fact packed booklet makes no reference to the harsh environment in which the builders of engines, carriages, wagons and almost everything else the GWR needed, worked.
Contrast it to the two books reviewed below.
Life in a Railway Factory
Written by Alfred Williams. Originally published by Duckworth & Co in 1915. Reprinted in 1969 by David & Charles.
Alfred was fascinated by railways and went to work at Swindon works at 15.
Clearly an unusual man for his time and place he had a formidable intellect and wrote much during his life.
This book would today be called an 'exposé' because
it describes, in clear and unequivocal detail, just how hard and stark were the conditions that men worked under in such places in the late eighteen eighties and early 1900's.
The book, unsurprisingly, made him unpopular with the powers that be but, perhaps even more surprisingly, with many of his fellow workers.
Albert was concerned at the lack of dignity given to ordinary working men as much as the sheer physical hard work and danger.
It is a fascinating book, a great antidote to an all too common rosy eyed view of the times and well worth hunting out as a contemporary view of social history.
Railway Voices 'Inside' Swindon Works.
Written by Rosa Matheson. Published by the History Press Ltd in 2008.
Another view of life inside Swindon Works by a social historian using contemporary documents and much anecdotal material from the people who worked there from early in its history up until closure.
Her observations on the structure of society then and how workers were rigidly controlled makes for interesting reading.
Essential reading in my view since, like Alfred Williams book above, it gives a true picture of life in those times.
We can only marvel at the resilience and stoicism of the people who built, probably, the greatest railway in the world and mourn the great cost in human suffering that was paid.