As a child, I enjoyed going to the Great Western Railway Museum in Swindon. I loved seeing famous engines such as City of Truro and Lode Star – and the setting of a former chapel seemed appropriate given the almost spiritual devotion the GWR inspired.
That small museum was replaced in 2000 by STEAM, a magnificent new museum based in part of Swindon’s famous old railway works. It’s far more interactive than the old one, and visitors get the chance to drive a train and operate a signal box.
We visited for the second time yesterday. Owen, four, is still unsettled by loud noises, so he wasn’t so impressed by the sound effects, but he loved the various hands-on play areas. We built miniature versions of Saltash, Maidenhead and Culham bridges! And he enjoyed introducing his Brio Duck pannier tank and Toad brake van to their real life counterparts. (Duck, below.)
The highlight of STEAM is walking underneath 4073 Caerphilly Castle, one of the GWR’s most famous engines. It’s fascinating to glance up to see the machinery of an express engine and tender above you. Curiously and appropriately, this GWR icon spent time in the old loco works in Caerphilly. My sister remembered being taken to see it there – and sure enough, Eric Mountford’s book about the works shows 4073 being repaired at Caerphilly in September 1959.
STEAM has an excellent shop and cafe. And it’s next to the Outlet Village, including the National Trust’s cafe and exhibition.
Here’s my video of our visit.