Swindon – Growth Town 1966

by Ike Gradwell, Communist Parliamentary Candidate for Swindon.
dated 12th March 1966

Any town likely to be faced with rapid development because of “over-spill” plans will have to face unexpected social problems.

Perhaps others may find useful this story of the growth of Swindon from a town of 68,000 in 1953 to 105,000 in 1966, with the prospect of the present population being perhaps doubled by the seventies.

Old Swindon was a market village of 2,000 people built on the hill looking across the lush Thames Valley. New Swindon was built on the plain round the railway factory which started production in 1842. In 1900 the two combined to form the present Borough of
Swindon; to all intents and purposes te Great Western Railway had supplanted Squire Goddard as “the Lord of he Manor”.

The prison-like factory walls would set the train robbers problems; and so the railshop men are said to work “inside”. Although wages were not high, permanent employment was
fairly well assured, and the 12,000 rail-shop men could plan ahead: until 1940 the town claimed to have one of the highest percentages of owner-occupiers in the country.

Protocol governed entry into the ranks of the skilled workers. The son of a “first class” tradesman (a locomotive fitter-erector, for example) had a “first class” apprenticeship. The wife of the “second class” tradesman, a wagon-builder, bore only “second class” sons. The labourers begat only labourers.

However, protocol could be circumvented. Apprenticeship fees were £100 for “first class” and £60 for “second class”. Worthy citizens endowed trusts to indenture poor lads; and as the premiums were perks for the managerial staff, this system persisted until nationalisation in 1948.

It would be wrong to conclude that the railshop workers were ignorant “swede-bashers”; an accusation with which refugee aircraft workers in the wartime shadow factories taunted

Indeed, they had shown remarkable initiative in the early days in establishing their own health service which employed doctors and nurses to staff the surgeries and hospital just outside the factory gates. They owned their own theatre, library, club-rooms, swimming
baths and sports ground. But for the rest of the town not even a public library, and only Garrards and W. D. and H. O. Wills for alternative employment until a few wartime factories like Plesseys and Vickers were established.

This was the town that was to take thousands of Londoners.

In 1945 in its pre-municipal election folder, Swindon branch of the Communist Party made proposals to “break the economic stranglehold in which the G.W.R. holds the workers”. The
town council was not averse from accepting new industries, for the population figure had become static, and 100,000 was thought necessary for Swindon to stand a real chance of
becoming a County Borough, a laudable ambition which had become almost an obsession with some dignitaries.

London “over-spill”

So in 1952 under the Town Development Act, Swindon agreed to take part of London’s “over-spill”. Plessey’s expanded; Metal Box and various other firms arrived; and the great inducement of a council house was extended to cover workers from any part of Britain as the factories became greedy for skilled labour. The Corporation built and let factories to numerous small firms. Then in 1955 Pressed Steel decided to build a car body factory and
by 1958 it was in production.

But it was not only the fresh pure air of the Wiltshire Downs that attracted Pressed Steel to Swindon; labour was cheaper. In April and May of that year all grades of worker were on official strike for seven weeks. As a result the gap between the rates at Pressed Steel,
Oxford, only 30 miles away and Swindon were narrowed; in the case of the skilled from 8d. to 3d. By 1960 it had again widened, and the skilled workers went on unofficial strike for Is. an hour increase. They lost; and many shop stewards and local trade union officials lost their jobs. Some had to leave the district.

However, at present there is one bright spot on the wages front. Although Beeching’s choppper has greatly diminished the labour force in the British Railways, its, character, with the coming of diesels, has changed. With the change has appeared a shop-floor
militancy that has won what are probably the best earnings of any rail-shop workers in Britain.

Amenities lagged behind. In 1960 the Communist Party in the town published a leaflet Swindon, the Boom Town? and under the sub-heading  “What About the Bit Between?” we said:

“The concentration was on somewhere to work and somewhere to sleep; but people must not be  regarded simply as factory fodder.”

In 1961 information about the housing list was refused to the local press; and in its election address of that year the Communist Party declared “Hush-hush Must Go”. Relations between the council and the public deteriorated so much that the following year we had
to point out:

“Within the last 12 months the Chairman of the Housing Committee and the Officer in charge of Public Relations have resigned following the handling of tenders in which certain
specifications were not carried out on Council houses, there were court proceedings followed by convictions; and, now, within the last two months, the Chief Education Officer disappears quietly from the scene without a word of explanation to the public.”

As none of this was discussed in open council, we concluded that the town was governed by a “tacit coalition”.

However, all was not black. At last shops began to appear on the estates— some had waited seven years; new schools, often packed on the day they were opened, were built; the extension to the college was occupied; some youth clubs were provided.

And in 1960 the first stage of the first new hospital built in Britain since the war was completed. Most of the town centre is being re-developed by private companies, but today plans have been published for a new £1 million Civic  Hall in a £2,353,000 civic centre. The
council boasts that the price of land in the centre is comparable with that in “the City” seeing this as a criterion of success rather than robbery of the people as the sharks move in. Financially the town’s expansion is reflected in a loan debt of £25 million (£2 million more than last year), or £236 per head.

Absence of facilities

In the absence of facilities on the housing estates, the Co-op showed initiative in providing mobile shops and it also pioneered self-service to cut “shopping time”. Membership rose
from 30,000 to 50,000 and sales from £2^ million to £4^ million between 1955 and 1965. This without much help from a Labour council. The Co-op president complained bitterly that land was sold to a brewer for a pub but refused to the Co-op for a shop.

The trade union facilities afforded the staff ought to be reflected in a more consistent advocacy of “Go Co-operative Shopping” by the trade union leadership. On the other hand, one would welcome more loyalty to Co-op produced goods and a stronger line against South African produce on the part of the society.

The vast new housing estates afforded splendid opportunities for establishing the comprehensive schools which we have advocated for nearly 20 years. The chance was lost and this year the change was made to Junior and Senior High Schools. We now campaign for
fully comprehensive schools (as the ommunist Party has always done) in roups of existing buildings with all fture new schools to be “purpose-built”.

Maternity facilities are totally in- adequate and plans were prepared and tenders invited for a wing to the new hospital. Then came the economy pause and the plans- went back into their pigeon holes. The E.T.U. branch protested to the Swindon Trades Council, which called a delegate meeting of all organisations where two doctors explained the grave situation. A petition was launched and 18,000 signatures obtained. The writer was elected as one of a delegation to see the Government representative, who would not meet us.

But pressure told in the long run and the building is to start next month.

This is the kind of mass pressure that we hope will be developed to ensure that the next phase of Swindon’s expansion will provide factories, houses and all services at the same time whilst not neglecting the claims of the older parts of the town.

As a Communist I am proud to be representing in the General Election the Party that has fought consistently for a better deal for people in our growing town.

12 comments on “Swindon – Growth Town 1966

  1. In 1968 I was flat-sharing with the guy who I think was at least partly responsible for Swindon’s new town. His name is Mike Harloe. He later went on to be a vice-chancellor. Paul Foot always called him Harloe New Town. What did Paul Foot have to do with him? Harloe was in IS.

  2. #2

    manufacturing employment in swindon in currently 13% compared to an average in England of 9.4%

    Swindon includes big factories for Honda (3300) , BMW (~3000), Catalent and Tyco Electronics UK (2800 between them)

    Other major employers include science research councils and pharmaceutical companies such as Canada’s Patheon and the US-based Cardinal Health, who have their UK divisions headquartered in the town. As well as the British Computer Society, Castol, WHSmiths Distribution, RWE nPower, Motorola and the head office of Alcatel-Lucent Technologies – combined these companies employ over 10,000 people.

  3. The Honda plant is greatly larger than the old Pressed Steel works — but due to increased labour productivity (robots) employs fewer workers.

  4. Grim and Dim on said:

    #1 I was in Oxford IS with Mike harloe in 1963-64. He was an amiable enough bloke, but I haven’t seen him for 45 years, so I can’t comment on his later development.

  5. Thanx for this article Andy – my first job in Swindon 21 years ago was as Community Activities Officer in the “Ike Gradwell Community Suite” link centre (I took over martha Parry’s job)

    I always had a soft spot for him –

    I like his summation of Swindon’s history


  6. Isnt it time Ike Gradwell and Angela got better official recognition in Swindon

    Surely a future (soon) Labour Council should be encouraged to name a street etc recognising their role in the development of Swindon

  7. Angela Tuckett (1906 – 1994)
    by Bernard Barry

    photograph of Angela TuckettThe life story of Angela Tuckett can never be told in full. This human dynamo did far more each day than most of us do in a week or more. It is impossible to fully chronicle all her multifarious activities, among which were author, historian, diarist, song writer, theatrical producer (with sister Joan), solicitor, political activist, Marxist scholar and lecturer, internationalist, feminist, qualified pilot and international hockey player

    In addition, she was a delegate to the London Trades Council, on the Executive Committee of the ‘Labour Monthly’, on the editorial committee of the William Morris Society, active in the International Concertina Association, the English Folk-Dance and Song Society, municipal and county council candidate for the Swindon Communist Party, one of the ‘Women in Black’ – the list seems endless.

    How she found the time, besides all this, to conduct a lively correspondence with so many contemporaries at home and abroad and with local and national newspapers, the BBC, ITV, various universities etc…. and then record it all in detail in her voluminous diaries, simply beggars the imagination, one wonders when she slept in her 25-hour day!

    Her youthful sympathy for Bristol’s unemployed quickly became active support for the Welsh contingent on the 1931 Hunger March, bringing them food and the ‘Daily Worker’, daily. She soon joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and thereafter made an indelible impact in all the Communist Party branches in which she worked. To quote Harry Pollitt’s message to her on her 50th birthday, she ‘brought to the Labour Movement her organising ability, fertile imagination and the power to take endless pains’. However, Angela was critical of her own work and that of the Communist Party and other organisations she was involved in, always looking for more efficient ways of propaganda and ever warmly responsive to the many appeals for help from students, researchers, trade unionists and others seeking legal advice.

    In the 1930s she travelled widely in Europe and the USA. During these years she was involved in the League of Progressive Writers. In 1940 she took charge of the legal department of the NCCL and in 1942 joined the staff of the ‘Daily Worker’, becoming in turn legal adviser, sub-editor, and staff reporter. From 1948 to 1978 she worked on the ‘Labour Monthly’ and for a time was assistant editor under R.P. Dutt.

    In 1962 Angela married Ike Gradwell, secretary of the Swindon Communist Party, and worked ceaselessly with him to build up the branch. She had a leading part in all the Party activities, from organising exhibitions to distributing election addresses to win support for the parliamentary campaign of Judith Gradwell (Ike’s daughter) in which she was an excellent propagandist and frequent contributor to the local press. Age did not wither her. Despite increasing health problems, she was out busking in Swindon streets in her 80s playing her concertina to raise funds for the striking miners in 1984. Angela kept all her diaries and correspondence and was an avid collector of historical material to which the appended lists bear vivid witness, indeed if ever a biography was waiting to be written – this is it!

    The Angela Tuckett archive (Opens as pdf)

    * Civil Liberty and the Industrial Worker – 1942
    * The Scottish Carter: History of the Scottish Horse and Motormen.
    * Up with all that’s down! History of Swindon Trades Council – 1971
    * The Blacksmith’s History; what Smithy Workers gave Trade Unionism.
    * Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (poems) – 1973
    * Sing and stay human (songs and music) – 1977
    * Ike Gradwell – Man of the people 1906-79. A memoir – 1980
    * Verses against War and Fascism (poems) – 1935
    * The People’s Theatre in Bristol 1930-45 (Bristol Unity Players) 1980
    * The Scottish Trades Union Congress. The first 80 years 1897-1977

    Together with sister, Joan Tuckett (Plays)

    * The Bulls see Red
    * Passing unnoticed
    * Smash and Grab
    * Aiden & Abetten
    * Charity begins

    Unpublished works

    * They called her ‘our Enid’. Life story of Enid Stacy, socialist, feminist and worker for democratic rights 1868-1903

  8. ANGELA TUCKETT, 5 Liddington St. Swindon, Wilts

    Once upon a time when closing time in Swindon, was 10:30 in the week the best late night drinking was to be had in the Star Club in Bridge Street which was run by the Swindon Communist Party……courtesy of the legendary Ike Gradwell.

    Of course most of the clientele were Swindon Labour Party….which lacked its own bar.

    Particularly good nights were to be had when the Labour run Council took a number of refugees from Chile….who escaped the CIA backed Pinochet crushing of the democratically elected Allende government. They provided music and food in return for a collection and drinks.

  9. yeah

    The advantage of the Star Club was its location very close to the main gates of the Railway works. I beleive that CP sold their interest in it during the 1980s and ploughed the money into the Morning Star.

    Swidon is now lacking any sort of trade union or labour club