Mechanics Institute, Swindon

‘Birthplace’ of the NHS in a sorry state

Photo by Adam Slater

Photo Credit: Adam Slater

A striking sight from the railway, the Grade II* Mechanics Institute has truly national significance. Built in 1853-55 by Edward Roberts and paid for by rail workers, it contained the UK’s first lending library and it ran many activities and classes. The same body that ran it also opened up health services to other workers. It was enlarged in 1892-93 by Brightwen Binyon.

Nye Bevan, mastermind of the NHS said, ‘There was a complete health service in Swindon. All we had to do was expand it to the country.’

The late 20th century saw its decline. After it closed in 1986 the Institute fell prey to vandals and arsonists, and to those who wish to demolish it.

This is an important building that needs protection and support. It also needs a workable plan, so it can survive long into the future. If the private owner isn’t willing to provide this, Swindon Borough Council, whose policy is to preserve the Institute, must step in forcefully.

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