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Swindon's original water feature
By Daniel Garrett
BBC Wiltshire

Water feature (photo courtesy of Swindon Central Library)
Swindon town centre's original water feature was installed on The Parade in 1966

Work is under way in Swindon town centre on a new £200,000 water feature.

The three metre tall stainless steel structure is just part of a £3.9m regeneration scheme to improve the centre of Swindon.

The water feature has been designed by Bristol artist Walter Jack and will be located in Canal Walk.

However many may remember its predecessor - a highly controversial water feature which stood a few yards away on The Parade until the late 1970s.

Swindon town centre was undergoing an altogether different regeneration in the mid-sixties, which included the building of the Civic Centre and the Wyvern Theatre, the Thistle Hotel on Fleming Way and the pedestrianisation of Regent St.

And in 1966, the Swindon Corporation, in their wisdom, decided the centrepiece of these improvements to the town would be an "elegant", modern water feature located in The Parade.

At the time there was an international revolution in arts and culture sweeping the world. The sixties had well and truly started to swing and futurism was very much in vogue.

Water feature
The structure designed by sculptor Geoffrey Wickham cost 3,500

As a result, Geoffrey Wickham, a London sculptor renowned for abstract construction was commissioned to design the structure.

Costing £3,500, the 7ft 'revealed aggregate' cube weighing 17 tonnes and sitting in a 24ft square water pool was installed in early July 1966.

Once electrics had been installed to provide inner illumination, and a pump plumbed in, water flowed out of it day and night.

Not surprisingly within days of it being unveiled, Swindon residents were heavily critical of its perceived lack of beauty.

Geoffrey Wickham was unperturbed to hear criticism, and told the Swindon Echo newspaper at the time: "It is an entirely new art form and and it may take people a little while to get used to it.

"There is not a single other concrete cube waterfall in the world, anywhere."

It is an entirely new art form and it may take people a little while to get used to it
Sculptor Geoffrey Wickham

He may have overlooked the fact that there may well have been a very good reason for this, but Wickham was also hopeful that those who might take offence to the structure would find it impossible to deface.

The sculptor said: "I have carried out my commission. I was told to produce something indestructible and vandal-proof, good to look at when the water is off or on, by day or night, rigged and not likely to suffer from day to day mishaps."

Wickham may have been slightly optimistic however as only a couple of weeks after it was installed, practical jokers emptied a packet of soap detergent into it, turning the structure into a giant foam dispenser.

Similar incidents occurred over the ensuing years until the much-maligned structure was quietly demolished in the late 70s.

The new water feature currently being constructed on Canal Walk in the town centre will have to go a long way to generate quite the level of controversy its sixties predecessor did, over 40 years ago.

Click the link below to watch a BBC TV programme from 1967 which includes interviews with Swindon shoppers talking about Geoffrey Wickham's newly-installed square fountain.

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