Northern Weekly Salvo 290

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

Publications website:

No. 290 December 30th    2020                      End of Year Special

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern. Read by the highest and lowest officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, sleepy Hungarians, members of the clergy and the toiling masses, generally. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club, Station Buffet Acceleration Council and the Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

Challenging, weird, awful, terrible, I could go on. The descriptions have become clichés, there is little left to say. The Thursday evening ‘clap for the NHS’ is a distant memory but the pressure on NHS staff is, if anything, worse than it was back in those golden sunny evenings of Spring. We need a well-resourced NHS more than ever.  I’ve been lucky – managing to avoid getting the virus (so far) and same with

Tottington Viaduct and Scholes Lodge – a super walk along the Holcombe Brook Branch – see below

close family. But some good friends have had the thing and it has been bloody awful. A lot of people are very sick and it seems to be getting worse. But there is a libertarian nay-sayer in me which resents some aspects of society’s response. It has been used by some bureaucrats as an excuse for doing stuff which has nothing to do with the pandemic but falls into the ‘can’t be bothered’ or ‘we never liked doing this anyway so let’s use it as an excuse’. I’ve seen public footpaths closed ‘due to Covid’ and far too many important public facilities shut down (toilets being the most obvious – yes there’s a risk in keeping them open but it can be managed). So let’s hope the vaccine will start to have an impact and in the meantime I’ll have to hunker down and get on with writing those weighty tomes I keep saying I’ll do. Further lockdowns seem inevitable and necessary. There’s always a silver lining, and my e-bike has been getting a fair bit of use over the Christmas period fulfilling orders for the Bolton Bicycling Bookshop. Have a happy, healthy New Year and try not to think about Brexit!

New Year up North

My ‘Looking Back’ feature in this week’s Bolton News is on how Boltonians celebrated New Year in ye olden days. Just like anybody else you might reply? Actually, no. They seem to have gone completely over the top in their party-ing. The mills shut for three days (when everywhere else in Lancashire carried on working normally). Bolton’s New Year Fair was the biggest in the North of England, attracting tens of thousands of visitors over a three day riot of festivities. The fair

A drawing from Allen Clarke’s novel ‘The Knobstick’ set in the late 1880s – a scene from Bolton New Year Fair

included a ‘menagerie’ (with lions and giraffe), all sorts of music and singing, street food including black peas and ‘tripe on a  stick’, children’s rides and amusements and lots more. Allen Clarke, writing in 1930 as ‘Old Boltonian’, describe it thus: “…it consists of menageries, circuses, exhibitions of all kinds, hobby horses, swing boats, ‘Aunt Sallys’, pea saloons, coconut shies and all the multifarious lures and pocket fillers in the amusement line that the wit of man has devised.”

The tradition of ‘letting in the New Year’ also seems to have been different in Trottertown. Allen Clarke once again highlights Bolton’s distinctiveness. He talks about his own street where dozens of men emerge from their homes, just before midnight. When the clock strikes midnight they are allowed back in, wishing the waiting assemblage a Happy New Year. He mentions that light-haired men, or women dark or fair undertaking the job, is considered bad-luck!

Newcastle seems to have a similar tradition, called ‘first footing’. Once again, it was considered ill-luck for a woman to be first through the door. But maybe this was a clever female device to avoid being shunted outside in the freezing cold while waiting for the clock to strike? Suggestions welcome, as well as examples of other regional ‘New Year’ traditions.

This is based on a longer feature published in The Bolton News on December 30th. The full version is here:

Along the old Tottington Lines

The ‘quiet’ time (is there anything else at present?) between Christmas and New Year has always been a good time to get out for a walk, ideally along a disused railway. Despite it being so close, I’d never

Along Tottington Viaduct looking up to Peel Tower, Holcombe Hill

ventured along the former Bury – Holcombe Brook branch. I had a look at it many years ago and it seemed completely overgrown and impassable. Not so now. The route from Bury as far as Greenmount is a popular footpath and cycleway. It forms part of Sustrans National Cycle Route no. 6. Local people call it ‘The Tottington Lines’, I’ve been informed, so I’ll stick with that.

A pioneering community railway

First a bit of history. It is one of the most interesting branch lines in the country, mainly because of its distinction in being electrified – not just once, but twice. It was also a good example of a real ‘community railway’, initially owned by the people who used it, or at least the better-off part. The railway from Bury to Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall (now ‘The East Lancs’ heritage railway) opened in the mid-1840s. The people of Tottington felt a bit left out and got together to raise capital for their own railway. These far-sighted people included local mill-owners, bleachers and dyers, cotton printers and iron masters. Interesting that in those days small communities like Tottington had its own industrial bourgeoisie with money to invest in ‘the local good’. The Bury & Tottington District Railway was an example of a railway owned by its people, or at least some of them.

There was an element of class conflict in the railway’s construction – the Earl of Derby (one of whose predecessors got his head chopped off in nearby Bolton) – strenuously opposed the railway and its incursion onto his land.

Two of the pioneering electric cars built by Dick, Kerr – at Tottington Junction, just outside Bury, c 1913

Fortunately he was over-ruled and the line opened on November 11th 1882, actually going beyond Tottington to Greenmount before terminating at Holcome Brook. The Bury Times in January 1877 prophesised that the trains would be used by tourists ”in quest of mountain air” available in the environs of Holcombe Brook.

The company contracted out the actual operation to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway which provided the locos and rolling stock and had a sizeable shareholding in the venture.

It seems that the high hopes of visitors flocking to Holcombe Brook to sample the mountainous climate were disappointed, though freight traffic did better. In 1884 the L&Y’s traffic manager reported that ‘cloth traffic’ from Holcome Brook was doing so well that the goods yard required extension. The goods yard at Greenmount was improved and there was a substantial goods yard at Tottington, the site of which is still clearly visible and part of a local nature reserve with bee hives.

Turn of the century improvements: rail motorisation

The community-owned railway was over a century ahead of its time and the L&Y snaffled up the remaining shares and assumed complete control – but it was a vote of confidence in the railway’s prospects. However, passenger traffic continued to lag behind freight receipts, exacerbated by tram competition. The railway fought back. In 1905 the L&Y introduced a pioneering ‘rail motor’ service, operating at 40 minute intervals during the day with

Tottington Viaduct – note the bases of the piers – intended to extend to double track

an extra late train on Saturday evenings, no doubt to cater for people returning from the fleshpots of Bury. There was an augmented Sunday service, permitting leisure travel and more spiritual journeys. New ‘halts’ were opened and passenger numbers grew. The ‘rail motor’ train was built to an L&Y design but the vehicles were constructed by Kerr Stuart. It was an odd design, comprising an articulated unit of steam loco and carriage, with two transverse boilers.

Local passengers would have appreciated the electric lighting and comfortable seating; the collapsible steps gave much-improved access to the low platforms. The carriage was steam-heated with electric bell communication. All in all, a marked improvement, though the original design was replaced by a more conventional single-boiler ‘motor’, with the design rolled out by Horwich to other lightly-used lines across the network.

Electrification (Twice)

The really major development occurred in 1913 when the line was electrified. The firm of Dick, Kerr &Co. of Preston (later to become part of English Electric) wanted to test out their concept of an electric passenger railway which they were hoping to build in Brazil. The Holcombe Brook branch was a perfect length for a pilot scheme (just under four miles), with steep gradients which would test the capabilities of their design. The L&Y agreed to Dick, Kerr’s proposal, seeing it as valuable for their own emerging ideas for electrification. The Liverpool – Southport line had been electrified at 630v DC, 3rd rail, as early as 1904. The line was wired up for overhead electrification at 3,500v DC, supplied from a power station built at Radcliffe. The first fare-paying service began on July 29th 1913 and attracted great interest nationally. It was a genuine pioneer of a future commuter railway. The catenary was supported from single masts, the bases of which are still visible along the trackbed at various locations.

The L&YR had decided on a third-rail system rather than overhead electrification and the route from Manchester to Bury was selected as one of its first schemes which would be rolled out to other routes around the network, including Oldham, Bolton and Royton. The First World War put paid to those plans. For the time being, there was an ‘end on’ connection at Bury Bolton Street of two different types of electrification at different voltages. What became of Dick, Kerr’s Brazilian plans isn’t recorded, but the L&YR judged that the best future option for Holcombe Brook was conversion to its standard 3rd rail system, connecting with its Bury scheme. Conversion was completed in 1918. The original stock used for the Dick, Kerr overhead scheme was displaced and eventually rebuilt as diesel-electric railcars, operating between Blackpool Central and Lytham until 1929 (Richard Watts, I bet you didn’t know that!).

The branch settled down to life as a moderately well-used commuter line with a busy goods traffic, served by several private sidings between Bury and Tottington. Freight was, of course, steam-operated. Although infrastructure such as Tottington Viaduct shows that the intention was eventually to operate the branch as double-track, it remained single, with a  passing loop at Woolfold, throughout its life. After the Second World War the electrification equipment was in need of renewal and BR clearly saw the line’s future was limited. The branch was actually de-electrified in 1951 and passenger services reverted to traditional steam operation, using a venerable L&YR ‘Radial Tank’ based at Bury shed, usually 50829 or 50731. Services were operated in push-pull mode, obviating the need for the loco to run-round at Holcombe Brook. From being a state-of-the-art electrified commuter line, the branch reverted to traction dating from 1889. The passenger service ceased in 1952, with freight ending in 1963.

What a pity it hadn’t survived few decades more – housing development along the corridor, particularly around Tottington and Greenmount, as well as Holcombe Brook, would have made a viable Metrolink extension, if a route out of Bury could have been devised which avoided the East Lancashire Railway and its steam operations.

The line today

But dream on Paul, it wasn’t to be and probably never will be (but you never know). Instead, thanks to the efforts of Bury Council and Sustrans, most of the route is a footpath and cycleway. It’s actually got a tarmac surface which I’d say was a bit over-the-top, but I’m not complaining.

We started our walk from the site of Tottington Station, where the remains of the former single platform are clearly visible. The area is a charming community garden with bee hives and helpful signage. It was the day after Boxing Day and lots of people were out for a walk or bike ride, with probably far more people walking along the trackbed than

Remains of the concrete platform edging at Tottington Station

used it in its railway days. We headed north towards Holcombe Brook, over the magnificent Tottington Viaduct which crosses Scholes Lodges. We descended from the embankment and made our way along the well-made path through the Kirklees Valley, with plenty of signs of industrial remains. We came out by the former Kirklees  Bleachworks, now developed for housing, and picked up the trackbed near Woolfold. It’s an easy walk back and it was good to see so many people using the route. As mentioned above, there are many remains of the original bases used for the overhead electrification masts. A bit of signage to enlighten passers-by that this was a pioneer of railway electrification would be useful.

I’m planning to do the remaining parts of the route, at the south end. Sustrans has built a bridge replacing the demolished Woolfold Viaduct and its looks as though you can get into Bury and out the other side. Maybe a job for the e-bike.

This month’s short story

I’m hoping to do more short story-writing. Here is one I did earlier this year, caleld ‘Waiting for Mr X’ – based on real events, but embellished! A long time ago…see what you think:

The Delights of Politics (1): Deal or No Deal?

So, a deal has been done and we’ve avoided the chaotic mess that would have resulted from a ‘no deal’. Whether what we’ve got is any better than what Theresa May negotiated all those years ago (so it seems) I don’t know, but I somehow doubt it. A number of politicians whose views I respect are up in arms over Keir Starmer’s intention to vote with the Government on the deal. These include Clive Lewis, John McDonnell and Glynn Ford, whom many readers will remember as a North-West MEP back in the day. They have signed a letter to Starmer saying that Labour should not support the ‘rotten deal’ and let Johnson take the responsibility when it all goes pear-shaped, except we won’t be able to get pears as they are made in Belgium I think. But enough of this levity, it’s serious. The consequence of Labour MPs voting down the deal (along with the SNP, Lib Dems and DUP) could well be to wreck the deal, given that a few Tory MPs might go down the same road, for different reasons. So we’d end up with ‘no deal’ by default. I’m not sure this is really a good idea, and would infuriate a lot of people (not just Brexit voters) who want to move on from this whole sorry mess. The likelihood of getting ‘a better deal’, at least in the short term, is nil. If we really wanted to annoy our European neighbours, throwing the deal out would be a perfect way to do it.

So I hate to say it, but Starmer is right to grit his teeth and support Johnson’s deal. There is a bit future agenda that can be worked on, based on friendly co-operation with the EU states and (more importantly) businesses, universities and civil groups across Europe. But we can’t prevaricate any longer, whatever the rights and wrongs of the original Brexit vote (and I voted to remain and still think that was the right thing to do).

Delights of Politics (2):

Devolution and The North (from current Chartist magazine, with added bits)

The North of England is in tough times and in the coming year they may well get tougher. Covid has killed many thousands and upended the livelihoods of millions. The end of the Brexit transition period will cause huge upheavals and potentially further major hardship, with parts of the North bearing the brunt. No wonder the newly-formed ‘Northern Independence Party’ has already had thousands of messages of support on social media.

The region’s problems of social injustice and strategic economic weakness were already there; it’s just that the last year has compounded them. Decades of ‘neo-liberalism’ and ten years of austerity have taken their toll. Now, the rollercoaster of successive crises is here to stay: global warming is with us. The Arctic is melting and nothing can be the same again even if we wanted it to be.  2021 offers the opportunity for a reset; people don’t want the new normal to be like the old normal. The North must have a new economy and a new social contract; it can and must ‘build back better’.

How? The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is proposing a Campaign for Northern Democracy to argue that constitutional and democratic reform is a vital ingredient in the task of building a new economy and addressing social injustice across the North. To succeed in fixing our social and economic problems, we must fix the problem of the North’s democratic deficit and abject subordination to London. It’s not the whole solution, but it’s an indispensable part of the solution. The North needs its own grassroots movement to demand it.

The Campaign for Northern Democracy could provide that grassroots movement. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is inviting all citizens and organisations who are working for a better North of England, and agree that democratic reform in the North is part of what we need, to join us. It will be progressive and inclusive but politically non-aligned.

As a member of the broad campaign, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation will work with others to specialise in developing the thinking behind, and practice of, progressive regionalism and regional democratic government. That can take many forms and ‘The North’ isn’t a monolithic whole. It contains at least three generally-accepted ‘regions’ – Yorkshire and the Humber, the North-east and North-West. In the past, advocates of regional devolution have used these ‘standard planning regions’ (as they were once called) as the basis of future regional government. Yet regional identities don’t always fit with planners’ thinking. While Yorkshire clearly has a strong emotional identity (as well as making sense as a regional economic unit), the North-West doesn’t. Lancashire does and a county-region taking in much of ‘historic’ Lancashire, including Merseyside and Greater Manchester, has a lot going for it.

Opponents still point to the referendum in the North-east sixteen years ago, when a proposal from the Blair government for a regional assembly was decisively rejected. It was from that defeat that the idea of ‘city regions’ began to take hold in the world of planning and local government. However, there are two very big flaw with ‘city-regions’. The first is that people don’t actually like them. Within the ten districts that make up ‘Greater Manchester’ you won’t find anyone, even within the city of Manchester itself, describing themselves as ‘Greater Mancunians’. Towns like Bolton, Wigan, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham still doggedly identify as ‘Lancastrian’ and many fly the Lancashire flag on Lancashire Day, November 27th.

The second major problem with the ‘city region’ concept is that it is highly centralist, concentrating economic and political power on ‘the city’ and consigning the so-called ‘satellite’ towns to secondary status. So in Greater Manchester, the economic growth of Manchester in the last decade has been undeniable. But the once-economically powerful towns surrounding it are in a dire way. More and more power has been ceded by the districts to the ‘combined authority’ which lacks either credibility or accountability.

The ‘county-region’ approach offers a different model where the region covers a bigger area but once which makes sense in terms of a viable regional economy, supported by a strong regional transport network and links between cities and towns on many different levels. Instead of power being concentrated on one centre, there could be two or three regional centres (in the case of Lancashire, Manchester, Liverpool and Preston) linked by good rail connections complemented by strong ‘second tier’ towns and cities such as Warrington, Lancaster, Bolton and St Helens. At the very local level, there’s a need for re-invigorated town (parish) councils, using the experience of councils like Frome as an inspiration.

For more, see

The Salvo Shop

The main sales items at the moment are my new book celebrating the West Pennine Moors – Moorlands, Memories and Reflections and my limited edition ‘Bolton –Lancashire’ facemask. The book marks the centenary of Allen Clarke’s book Moorlands and Memories which was about cycle rides and rambles around the West Pennines. It has been getting many positive reviews and the best tribute of all – lots of repeat orders!

Clarke was an avid cyclist and it’s highly appropriate that I’m able to deliver the book by bike. Allen Clarke often brought along copies of his books to sign and sell on his ‘Speedwell’ cycling club trips in the 1920s. Another Northern writer who had a similar idea was Todmorden novelist William Holt who would deliver copies of his books on horseback (c/o his faithful nag, Trigger).The facemask has been produced to raise money for local charities: Bolton Hospice and Bolton NICE (Neighbourhood Initiative for Community Enterprise). All proceeds are split between these two good causes. The masks cost £6 and are washable, adjustable and

Suitable for wearing on and off the train, tram or other forms of public transport.

comfortable. They look good too. So far I’ve had plenty of local orders as well as purchases from ex-pat Trotters in Wales, Canada, the USA and Australia.

Full details of all publications are on my website here (or see summary below): or email me for details at

Good places to buy my books and other things

A popular addition to my list of retail outlets is Bunbury’s real ale shop at 397 Chorley Old Road, Bolton. The bar side of the business is currently shut but they are open for takeaway. I can recommend their oatmeal stout and they have some superb German lager. Another slightly unconventional outlet is A Small Good Thing, on Church Road. This is a great little shop mainly selling organic fruit and veg and a range of ‘small good things’.

Bunburys on Chorley Old Road – stock up on my books and beer

Fletcher’s Newsagents on Markland Hill Bolton and The Pike Snack Shack on George’s Lane Horwich and Wrights’ Reads also in Horwich are stockists. Justicia Fair Trade Shop on Knowsley Street, Bolton, is handy for the town centre and has a full set of my books available (and some great gifts from around the world). Further afield the Pendle Heritage Centre at Barrowford has a supply; so has George Kelsall’s bookshop in Littleborough and The Carnforth Bookshop, a short walk from the station.

Winter Hill 125 wins more support

Plans to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the 1896 Winter Hill ‘mass trespass’ continue to evolve with strong interest from local unions, The Ramblers and many more groups and individuals. The celebration will take place on Sunday September 5th 2021 – get it in your diary now! My book on the mass trespass is available price £5 (plus postage if not local) – see below. It is hoped to have some major events during 2021, circumstances permitting. More details to follow. The best way of keeping updated is to join the Winter Hill 125 facebook page.

Small Salvoes

New product line: Lancashire-themed face masks!

The latest production of Lancashire Loominary is a ‘Bolton – Lancashire’ facemask. The ideal fashion accessory for the health-conscious Lancastrian Trotter. Available now and costs £6; proceeds to Bolton Hospice and Bolton NICE. The design features a Lancashire rose with the words ‘Bolton – Lancashire’.

Tripe Matters: Don’t forget to remember Forgotten Yorkshire now and help charities

The Tripe Marketing Board, the UK’s most progressive offal-based trade association, has a publishing arm. One of its most interesting books is Forgotten Yorkshire and parts of North Derbyshire and Humberside which is currently on sale through Amazon at the knock-down price of 99p. It’s a great book full of all sorts of things you’d never imagine happened in the white rose country, nor its neighbours in parts of North Derbyshire and Humberside. If you’re quick, you should get it in time for Christmas. It’s here:

See for more details about tripe in general and how you can support tripe as part of a balanced healthy diet and ward away nasty viruses and find your ideal partner.

Hannah Mitchell Foundation re-founded

The HMF is alive and kicking, once again! The annual general meeting was held by zoom on November 23rd and was well supported, considering we’ve been near-dormant for over three years. A new steering group has been elected and we agreed to seek partners in a new ‘Campaign for Northern Devolution’. We have a new website, still very much work in progress ( We’re also out there on facebook and twitter. The foundation is about promoting discussion on democratic devolution to the regions of the North.


Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events

ALL STILL CAPED (railwayese for ‘cancelled’)


The Salvo Publications List  – see

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections (2020)  A hundred years ago Lancashire writer Allen Clarke published a forgotten masterpiece – Moorlands and Memories, sub-titled ‘rambles and rides in the fair places of Steam-Engine Land’. Clarke’s biographer, Professor Paul Salveson, has published a new book celebrating Clarke’s original and bringing the story of Lancashire’s moorland heritage up to date. Maxine Peake, in her foreword to Paul’s book, says “Hill walking, cycling, literature, philosophy, protest and The North…. these are a few of my favourite things.” She adds “Paul Salveson’s new book on Allen Clarke is irresistible.” See the website for details of how to buy:

The Works (2020). My first novel , set in Horwich and Bolton in the 1970s and 1980s but bringing the story up to the present and beyond. Much of the action takes place in Horwich Loco Works and the campaign to save it from closure. In real life, it closed down in 1983. In the novel, after a workers’ occupation it is run as a co-operative, building both steam for heritage railways and modern eco-friendly trains for the world market. Price £12.99 from Amazon but special rates for Salvo readers buying direct (see above). Also on Kindle £4.99.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free local postage or £3 further afield in UK. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 plus post and packing. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America.

You can get a better idea from going to my website:





Bolton Lancashire Facemask


I’ve done a limited run of ‘Bolton – Lancashire’ facemasks to help raise money for local charities – Bolton Hospice, Fort Alice and Bolton NICE (Neighbourhood Initiative for Community Enterprise). They sell at £6 (or £2 with postage). Go to ‘How to order my books’ on my website: