The Golden Corridor

didn't feel the decline of the railways as hard as it might have done - but only because that decline was fairly gradual.

The late Forties and early Fifties were tough, however - as steam railways went right out of fashion. The Works stayed open, but only for repair and special projects.

In the late Fifties, the government took a hand, and decamped some 20,000 government office workers to Swindon - not so much for the benefit of the Wiltshire town, but because of the current panic about the over-population of London.

These workers were housed in typical Fifties dwellings - typically awful - designed, specified and built to the lowest bidder (who often cut a few more corners on the way to his first or second million).

The Sixties and Seventies were more of the same - with no single industry offering the same economic drive as the GWR had done.

But Swindon was still well-sited, and there were plenty of skilled workers in the area. By the Eighties, it was apparent that Swindon's future would not rely on a single huge employer, or on government re-location policies. That decade saw an explosion of small businesses - some originating in Swindon, some drawn there by an active local government.

Much of this new business was (and is) in computers and allied trades. In previous years, a lot of computer companies had set up their UK headquarters in the leafy Western fringes of London. . As time passed, new companies pushed further West, to Reading, Bracknell, Newbury, Swindon, Bath and Bristol, forming a "Golden Corridor" along the M4 motorway.

When the Swindon Works finally closed at the end of the eighties (the railways having been sold off to a ragbag of exploiters), the demolition squads were hardly finished before brightly-coloured "business units" started sprouting up on the hallowed site.

By the Nineties, it wasn't just small businesses anymore. Burmah-Castrol and W.H.Smiths (the UK's premier bookseller) had been there for some time. Honda set up their main UK factory, followed quickly by Renault - turning Swindon into Wiltshire's answer to Detroit, a sort of Wessex Motown.

Today, the most visible sign of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's influence on this town is Brunel Tower, an early-Seventies office block in the middle of town. When he was alive, Brunel could have designed a better building in his lunch-break. Come to think of it, he could probably design a better building now - from the grave.

Email correspondent, Richard McCarthy corrects me. The tower is apparently named the David John Murrey Building, after the local politician whose energy contributed to the influx of small industry to Swindon. Even though it contains the Brunel Tower Restaurant, I feel the correct name is more fitting.

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