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Northern Salvo 319

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (both Lancashire) email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

No.     319     May  2024   

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

The merry month of May

It’s certainly a merry month for Labour which has made sweeping gains in the local elections. But there’s a small caveat; here in Bolton the results were very mixed, with the ‘hyper-local’ parties continuing their successes and the Greens finally getting their first councilor.

May greetings from Fang, the Station Cat

Meanwhile, Labour lost control of Oldham. A key factor in all this is Gaza –see the longer piece below. On the rail front, we have got our trains back along the Furness Line. The month-long loss of train services has highlighted how important rail is to people’s lives in this part of the world. Some lessons to be learned on the bus replacement service,

….and from Ellie, The Station Dog (waiting expectantly for a train during the line closure)

hopefully the rail industry will listen to the feedback it is getting from passengers and user groups. Have a great bank holiday weekend!

Rocket 200

Plans to mark the 200th anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway are moving forward, with a series of community consultation events being held over the last few weeks. Perhaps the most interesting was an event held at Edge Hill station, home of arts group ‘Metal’. A

The collection of historical items from Rainhill Library (now closed) are on temporary display at St Helens Transport Museum. It opens every Sunday and is well worth a visit.

meeting was held for the local refugee community which brought together a wide cross-section of individuals and groups. Other meetings have been held in Manchester, Patricroft and Lea Green. The next one will be in Liverpool. More specialist meetings have been held in St Helens, hosted by the Council.

For media enquiries or further information, please contact:  Karen Shannon CEO Manchester Histories: karen@manchesterhistories.co.uk

The elections: is Bolton exceptional?

The results are coming in but it’s clear that Labour has done very well. Could it have done better though? As Starmer said, perhaps undiplomatically, the most important result for them was the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election, which Labour won with a large majority. Yet in this part of the world (Bolton) Labour could have done better, and Gaza was clearly a factor in shifting votes away from Labour towards other parties. Where those went was interesting.

The most surprising result was in Halliwell ward, which is literally just across the street from me. It has a large Asian community and has traditionally been a solidly Labour, working class, ward. Yet it was won

Cliched view of back street in Halliwell

by Hanif Alli, the Green Party candidate. This is the first time that the Greens have won a Bolton council seat, despite the perseverance of Alan Johnson in Daubhill (which was won by an Asian independent). If anyone had asked me which seats the Greens had any chance of winning, Halliwell would have been very low down the list of possibilities. The Greens also did well in Great Lever, which has a large Asian population. However, Gaza was not the only factor in people shying away from voting Labour. The ‘hyper-local’ parties for Farnworth and Kearsley, and Horwich, all did very well. The places Labour performed best were in quite middle class wards which have traditionally voted Tory. They came within one vote (yes, one!) of winning Astley Bridge, but most surprisingly won Bradshaw, which is normally Tory. Reform UK, with Bolton for Change, made no gains and performed quite poorly, but undoubtedly took some votes from the Tories, and possibly Labour (more research needed). The Workers Party of George Galloway stood a few candidates but made little headway despite the ‘Gaza’ factor.  Labour lost control of Oldham Council, and again Gaza will have been a factor, together with support in white working class areas for hyper-local parties.

You can’t draw too many overall conclusions from what happened in Bolton and Oldham but what strikes me is that a) Gaza is a big issue among Asian voters and Labour can no longer rely on their loyalty; b) that the white working class vote is vulnerable to ‘hyper-local’ parties and also Reform UK around the margins. In more middle class wards Labour is popular, helped by many Tory voters not bothering to vote.

So, as my mum would have said, put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Railway manufacturing faces an uncertain future

The Government has secured a last minute deal to prevent the closure of Britain’s last-remaining train building facility, in Derby. Whilst the rescue will provide some hope for the plant’s short-term future, there remain big questions over the future of train building in the UK. The 1.300 workers who were facing redundancy probably have forthcoming local and indeed a General Election to thank for saving their jobs, rather than any strategic vision by the Government to invest in British industry.

The history of railway manufacturing in the UK is complex. Even in BR days it was common for rolling stock to be manufactured by UK-based private sector firms, including English Electric and others. However, the mainstay was the BR-owned workshops at places such as Crewe, Doncaster, Eastleigh, Swindon and Derby. These were true ‘railway towns’ with the works employing tens of thousands of men and women, offering long-term, secure employment.

That started to change in the 1980s with closures of major workshops including Swindon, Horwich and others. A BR subsidiary – British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) – was formed in the run-up to privatisation. When the railways were privatised in 1994 the workshops themselves were sold off, with a much-reduced BREL getting split up into several different ownerships in 1989. In the case of Derby, the main workshops were bought by ABB with a 20% management stake. In 2001 the works was sold to Canadian-owned Bombardier.

The problems began in earnest following privatisation and the loss of any strategic long-term focus by Government. The rail industry was split into hundreds of businesses, with the most obvious division being that between the train operators and the infrastructure body, Railtrack. The train operators were franchises, the creatures of Government with very little room for manoeuvre on their own. Yet they were expected to lead on the procurement of new rolling stock. Buying a new train is not

Avanti West Coast Pendolino….where will the next generation of intercity trains be built?

like buying a new car – it is investment for the long-term and involves massive costs. A railway vehicle will cost millions and – here’s the rub – the pay-back period for the investment is in decades, not a few years. Yet the train companies’ franchises were, typically for seven to ten years.

To complicate matters further, the post-privatisation rolling stock fleet was sold to rolling stock leasing companies, mostly owned by banks, who leased the trains to the train operators through an extremely complex (and for them, lucrative) package which formed part of the franchise agreement. So rolling stock investment was effectively under-written by Government, but without a clear long-term strategy for building trains.

Although Government had many fingers in the rolling stock pie there was never any great commitment to supporting UK-based industry. The Government hid behind EU procurement rules, while France, Germany, Italy and other European countries supported their own industries and jobs. The so-called ‘open market’ was a mirage.

Many of the new trains we see on our railways today are manufactured

A class 150 at Rainford Junction. This scene has gone but class 150s are still operating. A major new order for their replacement is being developed.

abroad and either shipped to the UK or assembled in Britain, but without the all-important components, with huge multiplier effects across the local and regional economy of places like Derby and Doncaster, being made here. By the 2020s, the only plant capable of building a train or locomotive was at Derby, owned by French railway engineering company Alstom since 2021.

In late 2021 Alstom and Hitachi (which has an assembly plant in the North-East) won a £5.1 billion contract to design, build and maintain the new fleet of trains for HS2. Yet with the Government’s decision to cut back on HS2 and instead invest in filling pot holes, there will almost certainly be a requirement for fewer trains when HS2 is completed to Birmingham. Even so, it would be a life-line to Alstom in Derby but the lack of current orders has left the factory facing complete closure.

As far back as May 2023 Alstom raised the looming problem of a 27-month gap between the completion of current orders in early 2024 and the start of the HS2 work in 2026. We’re at that stage. You can’t keep a production line, and the hundreds of staff involved, running with no trains to build.. The Government has raised the prospect of £3.6 billion’s worth of orders for new trains for (state-owned) Northern and TransPennine Express, Chiltern and other UK train operators. Yet there is no guarantee that Alstom would win this work and the winners in recent UK train orders have been CAF (Spain) and Stadtler (Switzerland). All of these contracts are at a very early stage and it will be years before any of these trains reach the production line.

Government is at the heart of the problem. Within England, the Department for Transport specifies contracts for most of the train operators in the minutest of detail. Many of the train companies such as Northern, LNER and TPE, are Government-owned companies. Trying to shift the blame for the current situation to the operators, as Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has said, is “disingenuous at best” and an “abdication of responsibility for protecting high-skilled jobs in a  key manufacturing sector.”

What appears to have been agreed as a stop-gap, to tide the Government over an election year, is a handful of new trains for London. It doesn’t represent a long-term vision for railway manufacturing, but there isn’t a long-term vision for the railways as a whole either. And what railway manufacturing needs, whether it is publicly or privately-owned, is long-term certainty and stability and a presumption to invest in UK industry, with the obvious wider economic and social benefits that would bring. (first published in Chartist, May 2024)

Bolton and Leigh Railway 200

We were first! The Liverpool and Manchester isn’t the only important railway anniversary in the North-west  I’ll have you know.  In 2028 it’s the 200th anniversary of the Bolton and Leigh Railway, Lancashire’s first public railway and two years ahead of the Liverpool and Manchester. The first locomotive was ‘Lancashire Witch’ – built by

A BR class 5MT climbs Chequerbent Bank, on the original Bolton and Leigh Railway, assisted by a Stanier 8F. July 1966.

Robert Stephenson &Co. in Newcastle. Interestingly, Bolton became a centre of early locomotive building. The firm of Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell built locomotives for the Bolton and Leigh, Liverpool and Manchester and other British and overseas railways. A small group has been formed to celebrate the Bolton and Leigh’s anniversary. Ideas include a publication, a walking trail and – more ambitiously – the building of a replica of ‘Lancashire Witch’.  Email me if you want to be involved.

Station Library doings

Kents Bank Station Library continues to develop with well-attended monthly open days and talks (see below). For now, the Library is open once a month, normally on the second Saturday of the month – the next open day is Saturday May 11th, from 11.00 to 3.30 pm. This will also be our next book launch – see below (‘Bahamas’). We will be open additionally for the Station Fete being organized by Friends of Kents Bank Station and Foreshore, on the following Saturday, May 18th. The fete starts at 13.30.

Entrance to the library is via steps next to Beach Hut Gallery (also open). Teas, coffee and biscuits available – as well as sale of surplus books there is also an expanding ‘lending’ section. The library is open for reference/study purposes by appointment – ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk . We continue to receive generous donations of books and railway ephemera, which are very much appreciated.

The Library has started a series of monthly talks. We’ve christened

Open day visitors, attracted by Debbie’s cake. Spot the slug!

them our ‘Mutual Improvement Class’ (MIC) reviving a railway tradition that goes back to the beginnings of the Railway Age. The next talk is on Wednesday May 8th with Malcolm Kimber revealing all in his ‘Confessions of a Train Spotter’. The talk is at 14.00 and must be pre-booked. Ring 07795 008691 or email us as above.

We’re  going to start publishing ‘occasional papers’ on aspects of railway social history. The first will be a three-part paper by John Kolodziejski, ‘London Bridge Freight Guard: Life on BR on the 70s’. John went on to become a journalist with the FT; this memoir offers a fascinating glimpse into life during a period of rapid transition on the railways. It will be posted on the library website shortly.

We continue to get very welcome donations of railway and transport-related books. We accept most transport related books that are in good shape, but may sell on some duplicates to raise funds for the library. We also welcome copies of contemporary transport magazines for our Reading Room. We welcome bound magazines but not loose ones, of which we have a large pile which are free to good homes. Keep an eye out on www.stationlibrary.org.uk .We are encouraging friends to become ‘supporters’ – with an annual financial contribution to help cover costs. We suggest £25 a year but more, or less, is welcome. Deatils on the website.

If you want to send anything by post our postal address: Station House, Kentsford Road, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands LA11 7BB

Footplate Passenger

Our April book event went very well. Bob Waterhouse launched his book ‘Footplate Passenger: the Locomotive Journal writings of E.S. Waterhouse’ (with a foreword by myself).  This is no ordinary railway book. It is a selection of the writings of E.S. Waterhouse, a Methodist minister between the 1930s and 1960s, and Bob’s grandfather. The

Bob Waterhouse and his book

book is illustrated by the great photographer Denis Thorpe, who worked with Bob on The Guardian.  Like many clerics, Waterhouse had a love of railways and steam engines, but he took this to amazing heights. With the permission of the railway companies he had a footplate pass to ride in the cab of express trains across the British railway network. He become good friends with many ‘top link’ engineman and wrote about their exploits.
These were published in the loco drivers’ union paper – Locomotive Journal  under the heading ‘As The Passenger Sees It’. Some of the articles are politically radical; Waterhouse was aware of the looming threat of fascism in the 30s and the importance of strong unions to protect workers’ interests. Copies available at the library for sale price £14.99. Also from bookshops and Amazon.

Bahamas comes to Kents Bank!

Our next book launch is a locomotive biography.  Bahamas – the story of a steam locomotive is by Barrow-based Peter Skellon.  As its title suggests, it tells the story of LMS ‘Jubilee’ loco no. 45596 Bahamas. It does much more than that though, telling stories of people: those employed by, and those with enthusiasm for, the steam- powered railway. Set against a narrative of the times, this fully illustrated book also discusses the burning question of coal and pollution; the desire to find solutions to

The cover…in the shape of a North British Loco. builders’ plate

prolong the useful life of steam traction and allow its succession by modern diesel and electric types; and the sparring between railway management – whose mantra was to end the story of steam – and the enthusiasts – who wanted to keep the old ways alive. The role of the enthusiast is further demonstrated by the efforts needed to overcome the numerous obstacles to buying, maintaining and operating just one locomotive, Bahamas.

‘Bahamas’ pays a visit to Bolton for minor repairs in 1967. It got a good clean from the local volunteer cleaning gang

Peter said: “ It’s often said that one never stops learning about a steam locomotive.  Having been involved with No. 45596‘Bahamas since 1968, I thought I knew something of its history, that is until I began to dig a little deeper.  Fortunately, I’ve been privileged to have played a small role in the team involved with its care since that time, and fully

An early BHS publication

appreciate and understand the rigours and enjoyment which that brings.  I have tried to give recognition to the many people involved with the engine throughout the years – even prior to its inception in 1934 – in the hope of offering, not only a story of one particular steam locomotive, but also of many.”

Kents Bank Station Librarian, and young Stockport ‘Bahamas’ enthusiast John Kitchen, said: “There is a very good chance that if Bahamas had not come to Stockport Edgeley shed in July 1962 my life would have been completely different. Rescued by local ‘ordinary’ people – many still involved – and still sustained by a society rather than a business it has provided a thread throughout my life and an enduring link to my formative years.”

Casebound with dust wrapper, 256 pages, 215 x 274mm, ISBN 978-0-9569292-2-8, Price £35. Published by the Bahamas Locomotive Society.

Railwaymen (and women!) remembered

The following personal accounts of railway life came out of an oral history class I taught, called ‘Railwaymen Remember’, for the University of Leeds in 1994. The class members were mostly retired drivers, a few former guards and signalmen and one remarkable lady, Eunice Bickerdyke, of Normanton (see Salvo 318). The stories were put together as ‘Messroom Gossip’, but were never published. Hope you enjoy them!

RAY HEMSLEY

Ray’s railway career spanned 45 years and included 16 years as a goods guard at Ardsley, near Wakefield. He was promoted to Supervisor, and retired in November

The Railwaymen Remember’ group at Leeds station. Ray is second from the left

1986. He started on the LNER on 14th April 1941, aged 16, at Ardsley Spring Lane box as a telegraph lad.

My grandad was a shunter at Top-Cliffe. My dad was a driver at Ardsley. My brother was a clerk in the Goods Offices at Leeds Wellington until 1953 when he emigrated to Canada. My father in-law was a Loco Foreman Boiler Washer at Ardsley shed, and my brother-in-law was also a boiler washer. My uncle was a driver at Farnley Junction.

My job was booking all train movements in the Train Register Book, answering bell signals, and looking after the phone. The box controlled movements into and out of Ardsley loco shed. I had to meet the engines on their departure to identify their workings and pass the information on to the signalman. The only signal lever I was allowed to pull was no. 75, a miniature signal. Other box lads were allowed to work other levers and do all the jobs of a signalman, thus helping them learn the job thoroughly. We worked the Morse Code telegraph instrument, passing information such as train numbers and important train messages.

I joined the railway’s Home Guard at Ardsley in 1942, when I was 16. We met at the station at the weekend. We had three ancient 303 rifles and a sten gun. We’d go to the local quarry for target practice. The station master at Ardsley was a Mr Pilgrim, and he was in charge of the unit. We’d often have to sleep on the station during fire watch. We went up the cutting to Morley and ‘raided’ the Fire Station which was then behind the Town Hall. The firemen turned their hoses on us and most of us got drenched!

As soon as I was seventeen I volunteered for the navy but they said I was too young. Instead I joined the Royal marines and served for four years. After a few weeks demob leave I returned to the railway and went learning to be a goods guard. I passed the exam, but we had to re-apply for our own positions again soon after : most of the jobs were war-time posts only.

I went shunting in Ardsley Old Coal Yard and Thorpe Lane Sidings. After a spell of shunting at Spring Lane, I became a goods guard. I worked all round Yorkshire and lodged at London (Kings Cross Hampton Club, Kentish Town, and Cricklewood) and at Whitemoor near March.

The Union

I joined the NUR at Ardsley when I was 16. I became a collector for the branch – I’d go round the yard and depots collecting union dues and also sit in at branch meetings if people wished to pay there. I became a minute-taker and then later, assistant secretary. Alan Dance was secretary in those days, and he was also Mayor of Morley. A lot of members used to attend the meetings.

Nearly Off the Road

I had a frightening experience in October 1959. I was waiting for my engine to work to London from Ardsley Coal Yard. The driver, Horace Haigh, was just bringing the engine down to the Old Coal Yard when he realised that the loco was on the same line as an oncoming express. He reversed his engine, and made sure his fireman, Norman North, jumped clear first. Horace was awarded the ‘Daily Herald Order of Industrial Heroism’ – the workers’ VC.

Completely Off the Road

The headlines for the Yorkshire Evening Post on Friday 18th December 1964 read “Kings Cross – North Lines Blocked  –  Minister Among Those Delayed”. I was in charge of a fully fitted freight from Ardsley to London – 71 wagons. The maximum was 75. The driver was Ernest Porter and the Secondman was Brian Whitwam, with myself as guard. We were all Ardsley men.

The derailment happened at 05.15 at Sandy, on the slow line. We were ‘inside’ to allow a Kings Cross express to pass us on the fast line. About five minutes after it passed, the accident happened. Every single wagon was either derailed or damaged, and created a stack of wagons 30 feet high.

The first time I realised something was wrong was when I felt heavy braking by the driver, and then a sudden stop. I got out of my van and had not gone far when I saw the huge pile-up of wagons. At about the same time I heard my name shouted by Brian, the secondman, who said the diesel loco was on its side. No-one was injured, though the driver was trapped in the cab and couldn’t get out. We agreed that I would go back and protect the train in rear, and he would go forward to Sandy signalbox, which was just south of Sandy station.

I reached a lineside telephone and was able to tell the signalman to put all signals to red : at that moment they were showing green. Although he said he couldn’t ‘put back’ all the signals, every train in the area was stopped. Two expresses, an Edinburgh and an Aberdeen, were stopped and had to reverse to Peterborough to take a diversionary route. I did my protection duties and then went to the signalbox. By this time the driver had managed to get out of the cab with help from his mate.

Naturally many people were delayed, including Mr Charles Parnell, MP for Leeds West, who missed an important appointment. The reason for the accident was soon established. The driver stated that the outlet signal to go from the slow to the fast line was showing ‘half and half’ – that is, it was only partly in the ‘off’ position. He should have erred on the side of caution and treated it as a ‘stop’ signal.

Off the Road, Again

I was working a train from London to Ardsley with driver Steve Calvert and fireman Ken Harper. It was a steam loco and the night was very foggy. We went into the down goods at Sandy for other trains to pass us. The driver stopped dead at the home signal and I was catapulted forward from my seat. My head hit the vacuum brake and I started bleeding. I kept my hand on the brake handle until the fireman came back to see what was wrong. We went to the signalbox for first aid. I refused to go to the hospital and after getting bandaged up I went back to the brake. After a pre-arranged signal owing to the fog, the train set off towards the main line. The movement was controlled by a ‘dolly’ signal which was in the danger ‘on’ position. The engine was derailed and the fireman had to drop the fire after he had gone back to the box to tell the signalman what had happened. We all got the first passenger train home. What a night!

Know Alls

A platelayer at Ardsley decided he’d transfer to the traffic grades, and got a job as a guard. After passing out on his rules and regulations, he was put to road learning. The shed foreman was surprised when he simply signed all the routes in the area. “I should know them by now – I re-laid them all!”

I remember when the first diesels came into service. When the guard opened the doors, they’d open on both sides of the train! They had to have a man standing at each door to make sure no-one fell out!

The Closure Era – and Promotion

Ardsley station closed in 1964, and the loco shed and yards shut in 1965. I went to Healey Mills and was promoted to a class 4 supervisor. I worked in ‘the tower’ as charts supervisor, recording on the chart all vehicles and brake vans which were hump-shunted to their respective sidings. Then I took a summer job as temporary class 3 supervisor at Stourton Up and Hunslet Down. I then went to Leeds City as class 3 shunting supervisor in the tower. This involved ‘pushbutton’ shunting.

In 1968, under the Pay and Efficiency agreement, my job was reclassified and my grade was made class ‘A’. I then had to start looking for an appropriate position in that grade. This was the third time I had been made redundant – at Ardsley, at Stourton, and then again in 1968! My fourth redundancy was in July 1981 when BR finished the collection and delivery service for parcels. I had to look for another class ‘C’ position.

In 1970 I went to Wakefield, as a relief class ‘A’ supervisor, working at Westgate and Kirkgate. Eventually I got a ‘B’ position at Westgate. It was an interesting job covering all aspects of railway work : station duties, carriage cleaning and labelling, shunting – goods and passenger – parcels, NCL staff and vehicles, and lots of other things too! I had to know EEC regulations for drivers’ hours, have good links with local firms for the parcels traffic, and look after the parcels concentration depot itself. In November 1981 I was appointed a class ‘C’ at Doncaster where I stayed for five years, taking early retirement in 1986. I was 61 when I did my last day’s work.

The railways are like the Royal Marines in one respect. They are a big family: once a Royal Marine, always a Royal Marine. I’m still in touch with some of my wartime mates, and I’m a member of the Royal Marines Association. I’m also a member of the BRSA Retired Staffs, and I keep in contact with old mates from there too.

The Wide World of the Webbs

Sidney and Beatrice Webb are well-known figures to Labour historians but have perhaps been in danger of neglect in recent years. Michael Ward has very ably corrected that possibility through his new book Unceasing War on Poverty: Beatrice and Sidney Webb and Their World. The Webbs (and they were often referred to as a couple, even in political terms) had a major influence on British politics. Sidney Webb contributed to Fabian Essays in 1888 which inspired the ‘gradualist’ approach to socialism which Labour has adopted ever since, perhaps with minor glitches during George Lansbury and Jeremy Corbyn’s tenures.

The big question though, is whether Sidney was simply theorizing a tendency that was already there anyway. Despite the fanciful ideas of some historians on the left, there has never been much danger of Labour becoming a revolutionary socialist party, or for that matter the working class turning their backs on Labour and supporting a revolutionary alternative. Michael’s book, which deserves the title ‘magisterial’, explores the detail of Sidney and Beatrice’s contribution to social change and what comes across is a very real difference, particularly in their work on combating poverty (hence the title).

This is quite a dense work but well written; I’m hoping to take a few days off at Station House and read it from cover to cover; there is so much on our history from the 1880s to the late 1940s that is covered in this book. While being a very political, not to say academic, work there is much about the personal lives of Sidney and Beatrice and their own relationship. I would have liked more on Beatrice’s Lancashire connections – her grandmother was a weaver in Bacup and she visited the town on several occasions. These visits helped inspire her own beliefs.

Michael makes good use of the Webb archives and quotes extensively from both figures. Some of these are very perceptive, including Beatrice’s diary entry for August 1931 when she mused “The problem is how to prevent the subtle disease of mental enfeeblement in the next Labour Cabinet? Can we grow a socialist faith, entailing rules of conduct for the faithful without developing a group of self-righteous and self-centred cranks like the ILP, reiterating shibboleths and refusing to face facts?” Yet a very unpalatable fact was the decision by Ramsay Macdonald and Philip Snowden to join the

Cover of Michael’s book

National Government in 1931, splitting the Labour Party. The book is useful on reactions within Labour to Macdonald’s ‘betrayal’. He also covers the Webbs’ relationship with Soviet Russia. They visited the Soviet Union at the height of Stalin’s reign and wrote a highly favourable account, Soviet Communism: a new civilization. They were certainly not on their own in their admiration of the Stalinist regime and I look forward to reading more about how they justified it.

Unceasing War on Poverty: Beatrice and Sidney Webb and Their World, Michael Ward, The Conrad Press price £25 paperback

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

I’m still getting invited to do talks on my ‘Lancastrians’ book. The next is for the University of the 3rd Age (U3A) Hyndburn branch, in Great Harwood.

The book itself isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different themes of Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in

A gradely book for gradely folk

America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25 (hopefully there will be a paperback out this year). Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £5.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

Allen Clarke (‘Teddy Ashton’) in 1925

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £12

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

 

 

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Northern Salvo 318

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (both Lancashire) email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     318     April  2024   

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

Easter special

Quite a lot has happened since the last Salvo, with some positive developments with the Station library and some big news about the Rocket 200 celebrations of the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway – 2030 may see a good way away but it will soon come round and there’s lots that can be done in the run-up to the anniversary. I’ve steered clear of politics (apart from an historical piece on English Socialism). What is there to say? It’s so bloody depressing, particularly in Ukraine and the Middle East, but not a lot of room for optimism here at home. But, for all that – have a lovely Easter break.

Rocket 200

I’m delighted to say that I’ve recently been appointed chair of Rocket 200. Here is the press release from Rocket 200  which was sent out earlier this week:

“Manchester Histories, in collaboration with partners National Museums Liverpool, Metal, Manchester Science Museum, Manchester University, Liverpool City Council, Manchester City Council, St Helens Council and Network Rail, is proud to announce the appointment of two distinguished individuals to steer the Rocket 200 project towards its ambitious goals for 2030 after a public recruitment process. Professor Paul Salveson will serve as the Chair, accompanied by Jessica Bowles as the Vice Chair.

The Rocket 200 project was originally developed with Manchester Histories and partners in 2021 to explore how best to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the world’s first inter-city railway between Liverpool & Manchester. This encompassed several key objectives: fostering community regeneration along the railway line, delving into the depths of the UK’s industrial past, shining a global spotlight on the

Salveson with a gradely group of St Helens council leaders and community activists at a recent meeting in the fine town hall. I was presented with a wonderful painting of ‘Rocket’

North West as a hub of innovation and international influence, and providing a distinctive platform for cultural, engineering, and community engagement. During 2023 the Steering Group has been consulting and researching options for these activities with partners. It is now ready to develop the next phase of its programme, supported by Paul and Jessica’s leadership.

Professor Paul Salveson brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his role as Chair. With a career deeply rooted in the railway industry, Professor Salveson has been a trailblazer.  He is credited with originating and developing the concept of ‘community rail’, which has led to establishing over twenty community-rail partnerships across the UK and Eastern Europe. As president of the South-East Lancashire Community Rail Partnership and a member of Bolton at Home’s Operations Committee, his commitment to community engagement and empowerment is unwavering. Rocket 150

Rocket 150 – a scene at Bold Colliery in May 1980 with replica ‘Rocket’ and Deltic (built just down the road…)

Professor Salveson is a visiting Professor at Bolton and the University of Huddersfield in the Department of Transport Logistics where he shares his knowledge and expertise to the next generation of leaders. Additionally, his role as manager of the new Kents Bank Station Library underscores his dedication to preserving and promoting local history. Paul is also the author of the recently published book ‘Lancastrians – Mills Mines and Minarets’ which highlights the role of railways in the North’s industrial transformation.

Jessica Bowles will be joining him as Vice Chair and her public and private sector experience will complement Paul’s.  Jessica brings over 25 years of experience in generating investment and fostering growth in cities through expertise in economic policy, strategy, and commercial development. Her career has seen her emerge as a trusted leader in various capacities, including the senior civil service, local government in Manchester, and at the board level of Bruntwood, one of the UK’s most forward-thinking property companies.  As Director of Strategic Partnerships and Impact at Bruntwood since April 2016, Jessica plays a pivotal role in shaping the company’s strategic direction and driving cross-sector partnerships to enhance both business value and the wider economy.

Together, Paul and Jessica will spearhead Rocket 200 towards achieving its mission of celebrating and preserving the story of Rocket 200 past, present and future. Manchester Histories is acting as the lead organisation for the project for the next three years. “

For media enquiries or further information, please contact:  Karen Shannon CEO Manchester Histories: karen@manchesterhistories.co.uk

Manchester Histories

Manchester Histories is an award-winning charity that works collaboratively to reveal and celebrate the stories of the people and places of Greater Manchester and beyond. It connects people through histories and heritage to explore the past and shape the future, valuing all voices in the telling, preserving, and celebrating stories.

It was established in 2012 and delivers a year-long public and community engagement programme, and the biennial Manchester Histories Festival is now in its 9th edition. Manchester Histories is proud to be part of GMAST (Greater Manchester Arts Sustainability Team). This network brings together the cultural and creative community across Greater Manchester to address the climate and ecological crisis.

Past projects include Peterloo 2019, a project to mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre; DigiFest 2020, a celebration and recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (1970); Manchester Histories Festival 2022, History of Climate Change which explored the local and global climate crisis.

History Matters. It connects people with those who’ve gone before and those who’ll come after. We support people to explore these connections. It’s why our work is vital.

www.manchesterhistories.co.uk

Facebook            facebook.com/manchesterhistories      

Instagram            instagram.com/manchesterhistories     

Twitter (X)          twitter.com/mcrhistfest

Happy anniversaries

The Liverpool and Manchester isn’t the only important railway anniversary – 2025 is the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Local authorities in the area have been very active in developing their plans with Railway 200 formed to promote railways

Councillor Derek Bullock inspects one of the original B&LR stone sleepers

on a national level. More in future Salvoes. In 2028 it’s the 200th anniversary of the Bolton and Leigh Railway, Lancashire’s first public railway and two years ahead of the Liverpool and Manchester. The first locomotive was ‘Lancashire Witch’ – wouldn’t it be great to have a replica built! A committee is being formed to take forward ideas – email The Salvo if you’re interested in being involved. The Cromford and High Peak and Canterbury and Whitstable are also 200 in 2030.

Station Library doings

Kents Bank Station Library continues to develop with well-attended monthly open days and talks (see below). For now, the Library will be open once a month, normally on the second Saturday of the month – the next open day is Saturday April 13th, from 11.00 to 3.30 pm. Entrance is via steps next to Beach Hut Gallery (also open). Teas, coffee and biscuits available – as well as sale of surplus books there is also an expanding ‘lending’ section.

The library is open for reference/study purposes by appointment – ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk . We continue to receive generous donations of books and railway ephemera, which are very much appreciated.

The Library has started a series of monthly talks. We’ve christened them our ‘Mutual Improvement Class’ (MIC) reviving a railway

One of our regular users!

tradition that goes back to the beginnings of the Railway Age. The most recent talk was by retired Blackburn locoman Raymond Watto, speaking on his ‘Memoirs of a Lancashire Engineman’. Raymond started his railway career at Lower Darwen shed, moving to Blackburn and then Preston depots. He was fireman on 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ on the famous ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ marking the end of steam on August 11th 1968.

The next talk is on Wednesday April 10th with Tony Parker speaking on how the impressive station buildings at Carnforth were saved from demolition and became what is now the Railway heritage Centre. The talk is at 14.00 and must be pre-booked. Ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk .

We’re also going to start publishing ‘occasional papers’ on aspects of railway social history.

A hundred years ago….

The first will be a three-part paper by John Kolodziejski, ‘London Bridge Freight Guard: Life on BR on the 70s’. John went on to become a journalist with the FT; this memoir offers a fascinating glimpse into life during a period of rapid transition on the railways. It will be posted on the library website shortly.

We continue to get donations of railway and transport-related books. Thanks to Peter in Altrincham for donating 400 Oakwood Press titles – filling in some major gaps in our collection of branch-line histories.

Library trustee with Frank Paterson and Mike Webb have lunch in the NRM Great Hall, in good company. John is explaining the intricacies of Gresley’s valve gear

We recently had a trip to York to meet Frank Paterson and Mike Webb from Friends of the National Railway Museum. We did a mutually beneficial ‘book swap’ and we came away with some real gems, including several bound volumes of the Great Western Railway staff magazine, going back to 1907. I’ll give you a few examples of their stories in later Salvoes. Keep an eye out on www.stationlibrary.org.uk

Postal address: Station House, Kentsford Road, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands LA11 7BB

Footplate Passenger

I’m delighted to tell you about a very special event we’ve got coming up on Friday April 19th at the Station Library, on Kents Bank Station.
Bob Waterhouse will be launching his book ‘Footplate Passenger: the Locomotive Journal writings of E.S. Waterhouse’ (with a foreword by myself).  This is no ordinary railway book. It is a selection of the writings of E.S. Waterhouse, a Methodist minister between the 1930s and 1960s. The book is illustrated by the great photographer Denis Thorpe, who worked with Bob on The Guardian.
Like many clerics, Waterhouse had a love of railways and steam engines, but he took this to amazing heights. With the permission of the railway companies he had a footplate pass to ride in the cab of express trains across the British railway network. He become good friends with many ‘top link’ engineman and wrote about their exploits.
These were published in the loco drivers’ union paper – ‘Locomotive Journal’ under the heading ‘As The Passenger Sees It’. Some of the articles are politically radical; Waterhouse was aware of the looming threat of fascism in the 30s and the importance of strong unions to protect workers’ interests.
His grandson Bob Waterhouse, a retired Guardian journalist, has put together several of his articles and is publishing the book next month; we are really proud to be hosting the launch at our unique station library at Kents Bank, on the scenic Lancaster – Barrow line, on Friday April 19th at 12.30 for a 12.45 start.
Salvo readers are very welcome to join us – but please let me know if you can come as space is limited.  There will be drinks and light refreshment and review copies of the book will be available.

Railwaymen (and women!) remembered

The following personal accounts of railway life came out of an oral history class I taught, called ‘Railwaymen Remember’, for the University of Leeds in 1994. The class members were mostly retired drivers, a few former guards and signalmen and one remarkable lady, Eunice Bickerdyke, of Normanton (below). The stories were put together as ‘Messroom Gossip’, but were never published. I’m hoping to feature some of the stories in the next few issues of The Salvo. Hope you enjoy them!

Eunice Bickerdyke

“I started in January 1949 on the London Midland at Normanton. I had to attend formal classes in Railway Operating and Railway Geography. These were evening classes. I also had to attend HNC typing class on two other evenings, and the Ambulance Class on the fourth evening! I attended some education classes organised by the TUC and the National Council of Labour Colleges.

I started in the clerical grades in the 1940s and was sent bto be trained at Wakefield College. I then went to a post in Manchester. There was a Ms Glydill who ran the typing pool. There weren’t so many opportunities for women then. By the 1960s it became easier to get promotion, including into management positions. Very often your prospects were tied in with your boss’s. If he was promoted, you were promoted with him.

As well as looking after pay and conditions, there was a great social life in the RCA (Railway Clerks’ Association – now TSSA). There were weekend trips to the seaside and all sorts of excursions.

Railway work used to be seen as a job for life, but you were often forced to move. Sometimes, if the company wanted to get rid of you, you’d get instructions on Friday afternoon to “report at 6a.m. at Port Talbot, Monday morning.” If you were forced off like that, you couldn’t sign on, as you had, technically, resigned. Sometimes you were forcibly promoted! My father was station inspector at Normanton during the war. He was ‘invited’ to become station inspector at Bletchley, but he refused. It meant that any future promotion would be virtually impossible. Firemen were often instructed to transfer, if there was a shortage. And you had to go.

You couldn’t move from one company to another, or, after nationalisation, from one region to another. But both the LNER and the LMS covered a vast territory. The LMS went down into South Wales and up to the west of Scotland.

The railway police often had to lodge. My husband left home on Friday afternoon and went up to Newcastle, for a football special going to London. He slept that night in a sleeping car in the sidings. He got home Sunday dinner time! I worked for a time in York. I was sent on a course in Devizes on ‘How to deal with staff problems’ – but I’d never had any staff problems before! Anyway, I had a lovely time. It helped make me more aware of potential staff problems, at least.”

Fred North

Fred came from a West Riding railway family. His father was a driver at Manningham shed, Bradford, later Holbeck. He drove the famous test runs over the Settle-Carisle Line with Jubilee loco 5660 ‘Rooke’ in 1936. Fred started his footplate career just before the outbreak of the Second World War and retired in the 1970s. He was booked as a driver in the 1950s and worked at Manningham, Copley Hill, and finally Holbeck sheds.

Company rivalries

“There’s always been rivalry between the different railway companies. It’s still there among older railwaymen! We used to call the LMS ”Let Me sleep”! But there was often a nasty edge to it. I can remember drivers on the GN saying about a transferred driver, ”Don’t talk to him, he’s a Midland man”. I used to like the GN gauge lamps, and I’d often

The Railwaymen Remember’ group at Leeds station. Ralph on extreme left

try and swap a few cloths for one of them!  The rivalry could get serious when promotion was involved. When someone came in from another shed he’d put you back for promotion. It wasn’t his fault of course. But often these transferred men were treated with hostility.

I remember worrying when I transferred to Copley Hill, the GN shed, I was a Midland man, and I’d seen men at Holbeck sent to Coventry by some of the other men. I always challenged this, and I’m glad to say that I was well received at Copley Hill.

Fun and games – and ghosts

Many Tunnels had their own resident ghost, often near running water, for special effects. Bramhope was particularly wet, the ghost must have worn a mac all the time. Some tunnels were built on rising gradients and you’d often start slipping on the wet rails: Sometimes you’d lose all sense of whether you were moving forward, standing still, or going backwards! The only way you’d know was by sticking your shovel out of the cab, to touch the tunnel wails.

In the days of loose-coupled freight it was easy to end up breaking couplings or giving violent snatches which could result in the guard at the back of the train being thrown across the van floor and getting badly injured. There was one place which was notorious, near Bingley. I was a young driver and my father advised me the best way to tackle the dip. “Keep the buggers going! ” he said. He insisted that the best plan was to keep steam on hard after slowing down before Bingley. I tried it out, and we went storming through Bingley tunnel, only to find the distant was off for us but for the slow line. There was a 20 mph slack from fast to slow. We hit the points at something more like double that. Anyway, we held the rails but I was a bit angry with my dad. He repeated his opinion, adding that I must have just been a bit soft to worry about coming off the road. There wasn’t any snatch, was there?

A Passed Fireman once took the quickest way into the Holbeck Mess Room, he ran a locomotive into it! He was on the turntable with a loco and the road off the table was on a rising gradient. He had trouble

Normanton, 1967. Railway workers’ housing in background

moving the loco so he wrenched the regulator fully open. The loco moved all right, straight into the mess room wall! The main casualty was the mess room cat: it ran off in terror and obviously found a less dangerous abode.

There were some perks in working on the footplate. We had jobs to Heysham where you could sample the nettle beer. It was delicious! And at Kentish there was a place that sold lemonade, not ordinary lemonade. You could taste the lemons!

We used to have a regular express passenger job to Carlisle; We’d always get sandwiches from the dining car lads when we got to Carlisle. One day, we arrived and there was no sign of our ‘treats’. I got up on the tender and ‘put the bag in’ to take water, and then one of the attendants appeared. ”1’m sorry we’ve no sandwiches today” he said, ”the chef has been busy. But would you accept this?” And he pulled out an enormous pork pie, together with a silver tea service! We split the pie in half and took most of it home.

Toilet tricks

If you were caught short on the bookplate, you’d use the shovel! You’d have be careful not to use the shovel for catering purposes after! I remember being on a Morecambe excursion, returning to Leeds. We stopped at Skipton and two men came up to us from out of the train.   They explained that their female companions needed to use a toilet (it was non-corridor stock with no toilet). I gave them a bucket which was duly returned at Keighley!

I was with one driver at Manningham shed for some time. He was always playing tricks. One day he was leaving Bingley, with a young lad firing for him. When they got into the tunnel he grabbed hold of the lad’s neck. The lad was terrified and asked if he had got hold of him. The driver replied he hadn’t, he must have been grabbed by the ghost of a dead platelayer who haunted the tunnel. He was run over by an engine and had a grudge against locomen.

There were different working practices. Eastern men – or GN men, as we called them – never did any hooking on. We Midland men always did! Sometimes a train would wait for hours for someone to hook on because the GN men wouldn’t do it.

When I signed up during the war I was asked what I wanted to do. I said ‘railway work’ – but I ended up bridge building! I had no interest in this at all, and eventually I got my own way.

Lodging Turns

Our link had 18 lodging turns in 12 weeks, We would lodge at Carlisle, Burton, Derby and other places. I had one driver who never lodged all the time I knew him! He’d always find a ruse to avoid it. He’d find a fault on the loco or claim he didn’t know the road.

Some of the lodging houses were very comfortable. The house at Carnforth was run by a nice lady, Mrs Marshall, who kept the place immaculate. The food was good too. It was normal for footplatemen

Holbeck shed, 1967

to take their families there for a holiday in summer! The Lancaster lodge was a cold place and we always took coal to keep warm. Mrs Lockhart was stewardess at Carlisle Kingmoor lodging house (it’s a hotel now). It was rum place. On my first visit she told me to be careful if I went into town there were a lot of bad women in Carlisle. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any!

The Kentish Town lodging house just had a series of cubicles, with no roof over them. You could hear everything and some drivers snored heavily! There was only one chamber pot, and when it was full someone chucked the contents out of the window.

I was lodging in London after Kentish Town Lodge had closed. I was sent to Ilford but it was miles away. So I went to a place called the Hampton Castle, near Kings Cross. That was a right doss-house. The staff were ignorant. I got a meal but no spoon so I asked for one. They refused, and said I should have asked for it when I ordered my meal! I kicked up a right fuss.

Carlisle had several lodging houses – Upperby, Durranhill, and Kingmoor. Kingmoor had a lot of Scotch lodgers. They were big, hefty men. In the middle of the mess room there was a table with a big bowl of fat. They’d ladle some up to make a fry-up, and then sling the fat back in when they’d finish. God only knows how old that fat was! Most of them used to make a big pot of tea, with a bowl of porridge. Their tea was something else. They’d brew up and leave their tea pot behind the back of the heating boiler and leave it there until the following day. There were dozens of these teapots, talk about liking your tea stewed. Ugh!

We’d often cook onions in the cab. We’d stick one behind the injector handle and it would cook a treat. It was quite a common delicacy. It would roast slowly, and be a delicious treat after an hour or so. My mate used to take his false teeth out first, wash them out in a firing bucket, then eat his onion.

War

My first trip to London as a fireman was at the height of the war. The driver was Lionel Bateson. At Bedford we were told it was ”Air Raid Alert Red”. As we headed south towards London the sky was lit up, bright red, by fires and bombings When we arrived at St Pancras the station was quiet, but we could hear bombs exploding all round the city. We headed for the lodging and found some other Leeds men already there. We then heard the anti-aircraft guns at Hampstead Heath start firing and then there was a massive explosion and lots of shattering glass. All the lights went out, but after the dust had settled nobody was injured.

We went out to have a look round and collect some souvenirs. There was a huge crater directly outside the building with lots of tangled metal. It turned out to be a land-mine which had exploded on impact after being dropped by a German plane. It was a lucky escape! One Leeds fireman was killed by a bomb, it ripped his leg off and he bled to death.

During the war there was a regular train for expectant mothers. It left St Pancras at 10 am every day, for Derby. Buses were waiting there to take them to a home in Alfreton.

There were a lot of black American soldiers stationed in Britain, and they were rigidly separated from the white Gls. We worked a special train which was specially for black Gls and two white Americans got in by mistake. They got badly beaten up.”

More to follow in next month’s Salvo.

Walt Whitman and Northern Socialism

This is an outline of my talk for Wakefield Socialist History Group on February 23rd 2024, at The Red Shed. My book With ‘Walt Whitman in Bolton’ gives a fuller account of the connections but is almost out of print. I’m looking at doing a new edition.

The great poet of American democracy, Walt Whitman, had a huge influence on the early British socialist movement. The man whom many acclaim as the United States’ greatest-ever poet had very close ties with a group of friends, many of whom were active in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), in Lancashire. Each year, on May

Walt Whitman in old age

31st, they celebrated Whitman’s birthday on the Lancashire moors with readings from his poetry, wearing sprigs of lilac and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Since 1985 the tradition has been revived, and has become a popular event for both socialists and the gay community.

The central figure in the Bolton group was J W Wallace, an architect’s assistant with Bolton firm Bradshaw Gass and Hope. He was a close friend of both the Glasiers and Keir Hardie, and a member of the ILP’s National Administrative Council. Wallace used this position to promote his almost fanatical devotion to the prophet of comradeship and the open air and had some measure of success.

Most socialist publications in the 1890s carried adverts for ‘Leaves of Grass’, Whitman’s ever-changing collection of his writings, and his poetry featured in most collections of socialist verse. Labour’s Garland – Poems for Socialists, published by The Huddersfield Worker and edited by James Leatham included an excerpt from Whitman’s prose on the cover and part of ‘Song of the Redwood Tree’ and ‘To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire’ amongst the poetry.

What made him so popular? Whitman cut a striking figure, with a shock of white hair and beard, wearing a cap perched at a jaunty angle. He was almost sanctified by the early socialist movement in England, particularly in the North. The Bolton socialist Allen Clarke wrote in 1919 that ‘it is fitting that Bolton should be distinguished above all towns in England by having a group of Whitman enthusiasts, for many years in close touch, by letter and visit, with ‘the Master’, for I am sure Walt Whitman, the singer of out-door life, would have loved to ramble our Lancashire moorlands.’ (published in book form in ‘Moorlands and Memories’, Bolton, 1920).

The correspondence with Whitman started with a birthday greeting

A Whitmanite picnic at Rivington, 1894. Edward Carpenter is in the group

sent in 1887, signed by Wallace and his friend Dr John Johnston. Whitman was touched, and there began an exchange of letters which cast a lot of fascinating light on Whitman himself and on life in Lancashire in the late nineteenth century.

Whitman died in 1892, but by then a firm friendship with other American ‘Whitmanites’ had been established with this small group of enthusiasts in the town which was then at the heart of the Lancashire cotton industry. They called themselves ‘The Eagle Street College’ after the modest two-up two-down terraced house where the group’s mentor, J.W. Wallace, lived with his parents in the mid-1880s. They used to meet at Wallace’s home each week to discuss Whitman and other great thinkers and poets of the time. Wallace moved to Adlington, a small village on the edge of the Bolton moors, in the mid-1890s and this encouraged the group to come to visit and explore the magnificent scenery around Rivington and Anglezarke.

The highpoint of the group’s social calendar was the celebration of Whitman’s birthday. The day included a brisk walk up to Rivington where they would be entertained by the Unitarian minister Samuel Thompson. There would be readings from ‘Leaves of Grass’ and the passing round of a ‘loving cup’ containing spiced claret. More of ten than not Wallace would deliver an ‘address’ on the political and spiritual significance of Whitman. But basically they had a good time and were able to work off the claret on the walk back down to the railway station at Adlington.

The group were, at least initially, mainly lower middle-class men who included clerks, a journalist, clergymen and one or two skilled workers. They were not a metropolitan intelligentsia, but neither could they be described as representative of Bolton’s industrial working class. They were probably typical of the sort of person drawn to the young Independent Labour Party with its message of ethical, rather than Marxian, socialism. As Fred Wild, an early member of the group commented ‘these young men were all from the Parish Church and for the most part were engaged as clerks or minor gaffers and were attracted to Wallace by his personality and intellectual powers.

Wallace had a wider circle of friends who were infected by his love for Whitman, including Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party, who frequently visited him in Adlington. Edward Carpenter, Robert Blatchford and the Irish co-operator Horace Plunkett were amongst his friends and correspondents. Whitman and Carpenter were particularly close friends and Carpenter visited the poet in America. Whilst Carpenter was overtly gay, Whitman kept his sexuality something of a mystery, though America’s modern gay community has claimed him as their own. Much of his poetry is a powerful celebration of love between men, with some strongly erotic themes and imagery. Equally, he was the poet of spirituality and comradeship, and love of the open air.

Whitman’s birthday will be celebrated, as usual, on the nearest Saturday to his birthday (May 31st), which means it should be Saturday June 1st. Details in a future Salvo.

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

The first three months of the year has been a busy time for talks on my ‘Lancastrians’ book. The most recent was to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, in the fine surroundings of the Athenaeum in Liverpool. More to come in April and May;  please contact me if you would like more details.

The book itself isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different themes of Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25 (hopefully there will be a paperback out this year). Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £4.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £12

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

 

 

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Northern Salvo 317

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Lancvashire Loominary and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (also Lancashire) email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     317     March 2024   

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

Anniversaries and Aggravation

Apologies for the long gap since the last Salvo – various things have got in the way but here is the first offering for 2024. Several important anniversaries are coming up, the first being the Stockton and Darlington in 2025. ‘Railways 200’ is really taking off and there are some exciting plans in preparation. Following Railways 200 there’s the Bolton and Leigh 200th in 2028 (see below) and then the Liverpool and Manchester in 2030 (‘Rocket 200’), which I’m going to be closely involved with. Hopefully by then the railways’ troubles will be a distant memory. While it’s great news that RMT has settled, there is still little sign of a deal with the drivers’ union Aslef (who celebrate their 150th in 2030). I have to say my sympathy has moved much more towards the drivers, given the refusal of the Westminster Government to engage. It is a telling fact that it’s only this one body that is holding out against a settlement. Wales, Scotland, London and Merseyside have all reached agreement with the drivers: why not Westminster? On a much more localized level, our station barrier staff at Bolton have been taking strike action this week. They are not directly employed by the train companies and have very poor working conditions. If anyone should be striking, they should. Their cause is being championed by RMT and The Salvo offers its full support (that’ll get the bosses quaking in their boots).

HS2: Digging an ever-bigger hole (and I don’t mean the tunnels)

The Government’s decision to scrap the northern (Phase 2) leg of HS2 without any sensible alternative plan is causing massive problems (Salvo 316). As readers will know, I’ve never been a fan of the project but we’ve ended up with a half-built scheme costing billions which will make precious little contribution to solving our transport problems, and could actually make them worse.

A recent report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) confirms this. Chair of the committee, Meg Hillier, was highly critical of current Government intentions, commenting: “The decision to cancel HS2’s Northern leg was a watershed moment that raises urgent and unanswered questions, laid out in our report. What happens now to the Phase 2 land, some of which has been compulsorily purchased? Can we seriously be actively working towards a situation where our high-speed trains are forced to run slower than existing ones when they hit older track?”

Hillier is referring to the current notion that the new HS2 route beyond Birmingham will rejoin the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre, with the super-fast new trains using existing infrastructure to Crewe and beyond, which is not only slow but already congested, particularly in the Stafford area where tracks go down to just one in

The original concept of HS2

each direction. Even more ludicrous the new trains will not go as fast as the current Pendolinos, which can tilt, meaning  they can take curves at a higher speed than conventional non-tilting trains. The new trains planned for HS2 do not have tilt because the assumption was that most of the route they would be running on was largely straight.

A further problem with the current HS2 fiasco is that the logical southern terminus – Euston – is very much in doubt. The only commitment is to build as far as Old Oak Common, despite a huge amount of demolition work having taken place in the Euston area. The Government suggests that Euston will only go ahead if private sector investment can be found. The PAC report was highly sceptical that that investment can be attracted of the scale that would make the project viable.

Can anything be rescued from the mess? There is a desperate need to improve capacity on the West Coast Main Line (London to Glasgow)especially  north of Rugby and have the entire route upgraded to four track, with speeds of at least 140 m/ph. Without that extra capacity there is a real risk that freight trains will have fewer paths than they have now.

Some of the land that was purchased for the abandoned Birmingham – Crewe section (Phase 2a), at a cost of £600 million, would be needed to provide some of that extra capacity but the Government is pushing to sell it off. Sooner or later, much of that land will be needed, when some degree of common sense returns.

Further north, regional mayors Andy Burnham (Labour, Greater Manchester) and Andy Street (Conservative, West Midlands) are working together to try and come up with a plan to connect the two major conurbations. I hope they will come up with a better alternative than the original plans offered, with an over-engineered ultra high-speed railway (225 m/ph) that massively inflated costs and environmental damage. As Street himself admitted “a lot of the cost in HS2 has come from this very uncompromising point about the speed.”

There’s no doubt that much better rail links between Manchester and Birmingham are needed. The current route is slow and rail has, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very small share of the market, at just 4%.

The two mayors have brought together a high-powered team to look at options and there have been suggestions that the private sector could stump up the investment. I have my doubts: it would be a big project and needs public investment on a large scale to get the best overall value. This would be exactly the sort of project that an incoming Labour Government, committed to a green economy, true ‘levelling-up’ of the country  and creating jobs, should grasp with both hands. The recent announcement abandoning Labour’s green investment plans doesn’t augur well. It’s ironic that two regional politicians, Labour and Tory, are showing between them far more vision than any politician at national level.

Let the Public Accounts Committee have the last word:  “HS2 is the biggest ticket item by value on the Government’s books for infrastructure projects. As such, it was crying out for a steady hand at the tiller from the start,” Dame Hillier said. “But, here we are after over a decade of our warnings on HS2’s management and spiralling costs – locked into the costly completion of a curtailed rump of a project and many unanswered questions and risks still attached to the delivery of even this curtailed project.”

Station Library doings:

The MIC Re-born! And occasional papers to be published, occasionally

Kents Bank Station Library continues to develop with well-attended monthly open days and talks (see below). For now, the Library will be open once a month, normally on the second Saturday of the month – the next open day is Saturday March 9th, from 11.00 to 3.30 pm. Entrance is via steps next to Beach Hut Gallery (also open). Teas, coffee and biscuits available – as well as sale of surplus books there is also an expanding ‘lending’ section.

The library is open for reference/study purposes by appointment – ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk . We continue to receive generous donations of books and railway ephemera, which are very much appreciated. The Library has started a series of monthly

Part of the audience for Martin Bairstow’s talk at the last MIC

talks. We’ve christened them our ‘Mutual Improvement Class’ (MIC) reviving a railway tradition that goes back to the beginnings of the Railway Age. The most recent talk was Martin Bairstow, speaking on ‘Railways of the Lake District’. We managed to cram sixteen of us into the Reading Room but we’re looking at other options to accommodate a few more people, in comfort.

Our next ‘MIC’ is on Wednesday March 13th. Retired Blackburn locoman Raymond Watton who will speak on his ‘Memoirs of a Lancashire Engineman’. Raymond started his railway career at Lower Darwen shed, moving to Blackburn and then Preston depots. He was fireman on 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ on the famous ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ marking the end of steam on August 11th 1968. The talk is at 14.00 and must be pre-booked. Ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk .

We’re also going to start publishing ‘occasional papers’ on aspects of railway social history. The first will be a three-part paper by John Kolodziejski, ‘London Bridge Freight Guard: Life on BR on the 70s’. John went on to become a journalist with the FT; this memoir offers a fascinating glimpse into life during a period of rapid transition on the railways. It will be posted on the library website shortly. Keep an eye out on www.stationlibrary.org.uk Contact details: Paul Salveson on 07795 008691 or info@stationlibrary.org.uk

Postal address: Station House, Kentsford Road, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands LA11 7BB The Library’s website is www.stationlibrary.org.uk

Dear friends departed: Valerie Hirst

It’s sad that this is becoming a regular feature of The Salvo. My very close friend Valerie Hirst died in January and her funeral, at Friends’ Meeting House in Huddersfield, took place on February 14th. I first

Valrie Hirst in typically mad activity, scaling a rock

got to know Valerie on the Penistone Line Music Train, in 1994. She always made an impact and she certainly did that on the music train, getting passengers off their seats to jive along the train. We became great friends and had some lovely trips to the east coast and Dales. She spent much of her early life in the NHS, becoming a Community Psychiatric Nurse. She trained as an Alexander Technique teacher, a job that she took to with her usual gusto. In more recent years she took up photography and became a brilliant landscape photographer, winning numerous competitions and becoming an active member of the Huddersfield Camera Club. She was a very spiritual person, fascinated by mysticism and alternative lifestyles. She was a great traveller; despite having ME she managed to get to Crete every year and made many good friends from around Europe during her trips. She will leave a very big hole in many people’s lives, mine included.

Railwaymen (and women!) Remembered

The following personal account of one railwayman’s life came out of an oral history class I taught, called ‘Railwaymen Remember’, for the University of Leeds in 1994. The class members were mostly retired drivers, a few former guards and signalmen and one remarkable lady,

Liverpool driver Eric James

Eunice Bickerdyke, of Normanton. The stories were put together as ‘Messroom Gossip’, but were never published. I’m hoping to feature some of the stories in the next few issues of The Salvo. Hope you enjoy them! Here’s the first…

Ralph Burnell, Driver, Stourton

Ralph started on the footplate at Stourton (Leeds) at the age of 14 in 1942. He was made a fireman in 1948, and passed out for driving in 1964. He retired in 1987 after nearly 45 years’ service. I don’t know what became of him but if anyone does know anything (I have to assume he has died, but if still going he will be in his mid-90s) please get in touch.

“When I started at Stourton I worked as a caller-up and messenger boy. I had to advise men of altered turns of duty. There were a lot of specials then: troop trains, petrol trains, and other wartime special workings. On the afternoon turn I would advise twenty to thirty men: drivers, firemen, guards. I would then take the letters to Leeds City Station. One night, during the blackout, there was a thick fog and an air-raid warning. I ended up staying the night at the Queens Hotel!

When I was 16 I got passed for firing duties, but was put on nights as a knocker-up, since I new the knocking-up area. I used my bike, but we only had paraffin lamps.

The ‘Railwaymen Remember’ group at Leeds station. Ralph on extreme left. The great Charlie Wallace, organiser of the group, in foreground. Harry Thurlow immediately behind.

If you held up the lamp to see the street name, the oil would run down your arm. Men were usually given an hour or so to get to the shed, but sometimes a driver and fireman might live a mile or so apart. If the bike had a puncture – a frequent event since inner tubes were in short supply – it was a mad dash from one to the other. You’ve got to remember the black-out was on, and there were no street lights. Everything was pitch black. One night, I had an experience which made my hair stand on end. A dog came up and licked my hand – but I couldn’t see it, it was so dark!

If a man missed being called he could come down to the shed at 9 a.m. and get a day’s pay. One fireman tried this on, but didn’t get paid. It turned out that the knocker-up had been round but couldn’t wake him up. But he’d managed to wake all the rest of the street in the attempt!

I was in the Leeds Home Guard. I had a problem with boots – I couldn’t get any. I was then called up into the regular army in 1943, and it was expected you’d present yourself in your Home Guard uniform, boots included. All I had was a disgusting pair of second-hand ones. When I turned out on parade, the sergeant-major took one look at them and had me arrested! So twenty minutes after joining the army, I was in prison! Fortunately they rang Leeds and they confirmed my story, and I was let out to pursue a distinguished military career!

Footplate Food

I’ve had a few fry-ups on the firing shovel, when we could get some bacon. We’d also roast onions on the engine. I had a driver who would bring his kippers and warm them up, then put them in a bread cake and eat the lot – including head and bones! I once took 2lb of kippers for me and my second-man, when we were on station pilot duty. He was taken for another job, so I was single-manned and had to eat the lot myself.

I was stationed in Palestine during the war, working as a driver. We used to do bacon fry-ups on the firing shovel – but if you had a Moslem fireman you’d be in trouble!

There was a Holbeck driver called Gladstone Simpson – JP – he was very proud of

Holbeck Loco Shed, September 1967

that, and he used to start off cleaning the shovel with the degging pipe. He’d stick the shovel in the firehole to burn the remaining dirt off, and then add the bacon and eggs. It was a great ritual for him!

We’d often cook onions in the cab. We’d stick one behind the injector handle and it would cook a treat. It was quite a common delicacy. It would roast slowly, and be a delicious treat after an hour or so. My mate used to take his false teeth out first, wash them out in a firing bucket, then eat his onion.

Characters

Ernie Rainford was called “The Vicar”. He lived in Hunslet by the vicarage. On one occasion a knocker-up arrived at what he thought was Ernie’s door, very early in the morning. A bad-tempered man came to the door and was told it was time to get up. He answered “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Vicar of Hunslet!” To which the knocker-up replied “I don’t care who you are, but you’re on the 2 a.m.!”

Ernie had the distinction of being fond of animals, and on one occasion brought a donkey into the mess room. It left its calling card.

The shed foreman was called ‘Barber’ and everyone knew him as ‘Ali’ – but not to his face. He had a big car, and one day Ernie and his mate ‘stowed away’ in the back seat when he was going home. When they wanted to get out, Ernie tapped him on the shoulder, and said to the surprised foreman – “Let us out here Ali.” They got a bigger surprise when he took them a further five miles out of their way!

There was one driver known to one and all as “Deep Depression”. If you said ‘Good Morning’ to him, he’d say “It’ll rain before dinner time.” Another was called ‘Fish Billy’. He always had a cold fish from the fish shop, which he would warm up on the shovel. One day his mate was driving: he opened the regulator hard and the fish was sucked into the firebox – well and truly cooked!

Lodging

There were some important unwritten rules in lodging. Driver and fireman often had to share the same bed. The youngest man – the fireman – always slept nearest to the wall; you couldn’t get up until the driver did!

There was one very funny character who was a driver at New England, Peterborough, and transferred to Ardsley. His reputation for being mad had gone before him. On his first day he walked into the mess room and announced to the throng “They tell me there’s a lot of lazy buggers around here – well meet the new champ!”

If a driver was learning the road and he got on with him, it was normal for the poor man to be left to himself. He would retire into the train with a casual “I’ll see you gentlemen in Leeds!”

Casey was another character. He’d cause trouble anywhere. If he walked into a quiet room, he’d walk out with a riot going on. He became known as ‘Sailor’. He was on a job to Cleethorpes and it was common to take the ferry over to Hull to get a train home passenger. One night the boat got stuck on a sandbank in the middle of the Humber and it was 24 hours before he booked off.

I started with another lad on the same day, and we were the same age. So we tossed a coin to see who’d be the senior man. I won – and the chap who lost reckoned it cost him about £1500 in wages over the years. Promotion was invariably on seniority grounds for wages grades. In clerical grades seniority was important, but not the sole consideration.

Diesels Arrive

Stourton closed in 1967 and I transferred to Holbeck. In 1978 I moved to Leeds City and joined the railcar link, where there was no night work. When the diesels arrived they were a source of controversy. Some men swore by them, others swore at them. If you spat on the rail they’d slip and slide, some of them. There were always problems with non-compatible couplings, and with brake blocks. BR made a big

Leeds driver and fireman at Blackpool North, 1966

mistake in introducing too many different types. They should have gone for a smaller number of standard types, which is what we’ve finally got.

Some blokes loved railways, and would work for nothing. Harry Holroyd came up for retirement and didn’t want to finish, even though he had a 6-track model railway in his cellar to play with!

I met a lot of nice people on the railcars. One train I used to work every other week was called the ‘Bingo Special’. We used to bring people from Castleford, Pontefract and Knottingley into Leeds, arriving at 7pm for the bingo hall near City Station. We’d take them home at 9.45 When I retired in 1987, I received a number of retirement cards from the ladies who used the ‘Bingo Special’. One was headed ‘To the driver of the Orient Express Bingo Train’. I also got a large box of Liquorice Allsorts from the ‘Ladies of Pontefract and the Sweetie Girls of the 6.45 Train’. One of them wrote a poem in my honour, which I’ve still got!”

A Forgotten Railway ‘First’: Bolton and Leigh, 1828

The Bolton and Leigh Railway opened in 1828 and was the first public railway in Lancashire, preceding the Liverpool and Manchester by two years. It connected in to the Liverpool and Manchester at Kenyon Junction (via the Kenyon and Leigh Railway) opening for through passenger traffic in 1831. The main function of the Stephenson-built line was to shift coal, and it connected the major collieries in the Leigh and Atherton area with Bolton. The line featured some severe gradients, at Bolton (Daubhill) and Chequerbent, requiring rope

A BR class 5MT climbs Chequerbent Bank, assisted by a Stanier 8F. July 1966.

haulage. Eventually, in 1885, two diversions were built which removed the need for the rope haulage but Chequerbent Incline remained a fearsom clim at 1 in 30 – though this slipped to 1 in 18 as a result of mining subsidence. Regular passenger traffic finished in 1954 though a  young Salvo travelled on a Bolton Holidays excuirsion from Great Moors Street to North Wales in 1958. Freight traffic carried on into the mid-60s. There is growing interest amongst some Bolton folk in celebrating the 200th anniversary. Recently, a small gathering of local councillors and other interested parties had a look at some remaining features of the pre-1885 route

Councillor Derek Bullock inspects one of the original B&LR stone sleepers

and were surprised at what still remains: including some of the original stone sleepers which have been incorporated into a stone wall. We were shown some historic artefacts and photos by the owner of Majestic Motors, which is on the route of the 1828 line at the site of Sunnyside Mills. Please get in touch via The Salvo if you’d like to be involved in plans to mark the anniversary.

Walt Whitman and Northern Socialism

This is an outline of my talk for Wakefield Socialist History Group on February 23rd 2024, at The Red Shed. My book With Walt Whitman in Bolton gives a fuller account of the connections but is almost out of print. I’m looking at doing a new edition.

The great poet of American democracy, Walt Whitman, had a huge influence on the early British socialist movement. The man whom many acclaim as the United States’ greatest-ever poet had very close ties with a group of friends, many of whom were active in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), in Lancashire. Each year, on May 31st, they celebrated Whitman’s birthday on the Lancashire moors with

Walt Whitman in old age

readings from his poetry, wearing sprigs of lilac and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Since 1985 the tradition has been revived, and has become a popular event for both socialists and the gay community.

The central figure in the Bolton group was J W Wallace, an architect’s assistant with Bolton firm Bradshaw Gass and Hope. He was a close friend of both the Glasiers and Keir Hardie, and a member of the ILP’s National Administrative Council. Wallace used this position to promote his almost fanatical devotion to the prophet of comradeship and the open air and had some measure of success.

Most socialist publications in the 1890s carried adverts for ‘Leaves of Grass’, Whitman’s ever-changing collection of his writings, and his poetry featured in most collections of socialist verse. Labour’s Garland – Poems for Socialists, published by The Huddersfield Worker and edited by James Leatham included an excerpt from Whitman’s prose on the cover and part of ‘Song of the Redwood Tree’ and ‘To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire’ amongst the poetry.

What made him so popular? Whitman cut a striking figure, with a shock of white hair and beard, wearing a cap perched at a jaunty angle. He was almost sanctified by the early socialist movement in England, particularly in the North. The Bolton socialist Allen Clarke wrote in 1919 that ‘it is fitting that Bolton should be distinguished above all towns in England by having a group of Whitman enthusiasts, for many years in close touch, by letter and visit, with ‘the Master’, for I am sure Walt Whitman, the singer of out-door life, would have loved to ramble our Lancashire moorlands.’ (published in book form in ‘Moorlands and Memories’, Bolton, 1920).

The correspondence with Whitman started with a birthday greeting sent in 1887, signed by Wallace and his friend Dr John Johnston. Whitman was touched, and there began an exchange of letters which cast a lot of fascinating light on Whitman himself and on life in Lancashire in the late nineteenth century.

Whitman died in 1892, but by then a firm friendship with other American ‘Whitmanites’ had been established with this small group of enthusiasts in the town which was then at the heart of the Lancashire cotton industry. They called themselves ‘The Eagle Street College’ after the modest two-up two-down terraced house where the group’s mentor, J.W. Wallace, lived with his parents in the mid-1880s. They used to meet at Wallace’s home each week to discuss Whitman and other great thinkers and poets of the time. Wallace moved to Adlington, a small village on the edge of the Bolton moors, in the mid-1890s and this encouraged the group to come to visit and explore the magnificent scenery around Rivington and Anglezarke.

The highpoint of the group’s social calendar was the celebration of Whitman’s birthday. The day included a brisk walk up to Rivington where they would be entertained by the Unitarian minister Samuel

A Whitmanite picnic at Rivington, 1894. Edward Carpenter is in the group

Thompson. There would be readings from ‘Leaves of Grass’ and the passing round of a ‘loving cup’ containing spiced claret. More of ten than not Wallace would deliver an ‘address’ on the political and spiritual significance of Whitman. But basically they had a good time and were able to work off the claret on the walk back down to the railway station at Adlington.

The group were, at least initially, mainly lower middle-class men who included clerks, a journalist, clergymen and one or two skilled workers. They were not a metropolitan intelligentsia, but neither could they be described as representative of Bolton’s industrial working class. They were probably typical of the sort of person drawn to the young Independent Labour Party with its message of ethical, rather than Marxian, socialism. As Fred Wild, an early member of the group commented ‘these young men were all from the Parish Church and for the most part were engaged as clerks or minor gaffers and were attracted to Wallace by his personality and intellectual powers.

Wallace had a wider circle of friends who were infected by his love for Whitman, including Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party, who frequently visited him in Adlington. Edward Carpenter, Robert Blatchford and the Irish co-operator Horace Plunkett were amongst his friends and correspondents. Whitman and Carpenter were particularly close friends and Carpenter visited the poet in America. Whilst Carpenter was overtly gay, Whitman kept his sexuality something of a mystery, though America’s modern gay community has claimed him as their own. Much of his poetry is a powerful celebration of love between men, with some strongly erotic themes and imagery. Equally, he was the poet of spirituality and comradeship, and love of the open air.

Whitman’s birthday will be celebrated, as usual, on the nearest Saturday to his birthday (May 31st), which means it should be Saturday June 1st. Details in a future Salvo.

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

February has been a busy month for talks on ‘the book’ with well-attended audiences in Blackburn, Rawtenstall and Padiham in particular. More talks are planned on aspects of my new book on Lancashire history and identity. There’s a bit of a lull in March apart from a lecture for the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, at Liverpool’s Athenaeum, on March 20th.  Please contact me if you would like more details.

The book itself isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different themes of Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Station Buffet Bulletin

We’re re-starting this column, by popular request. The first item is based on a press release from Merseyrail and is on my ‘must visit’ list for the Spring:

NEW COMMUNITY COFFEE SHOP FOR MAGHULL

Two young entrepreneurs have launched a new coffee shop at Maghull station, providing not only refreshments for commuters and travellers, but a hub that aims to be a focal point for the local community. The Coffee Carriage recently opened in the station’s ticket office and provides a warm, cosy seating area for customers. With artisan pastries and a range of freshly baked produce, the new shop is a must-visit for foodies in the area. Craig Reeves, who runs Coffee Carriage alongside Rory McLellan, said: “Our customers can expect a friendly and welcoming place, almost like a second home.

“We will be providing barista coffee from a traditional espresso bar, as this is what customers have come to expect now when visiting any good coffee lounge. “We will also be offering freshly baked morning pastries, breakfast rolls, cakes and other treats.”

And Craig has revealed ambitious plans for the Maghull coffee shop. He said: “We will be looking into having events in the mornings, together with afternoon teas, Sunday strolls and so on. We want to make this a little hub for the local community and become a part of it. Our opening times will be Monday to Friday from 6am – 4pm, Saturday 8am – 4pm. However, these times will be reviewed and adjusted to meet the demand.

Suzanne Grant, Deputy MD of Merseyrail, said: “We’re delighted to be able to welcome Coffee Carriage to Maghull station, and I’m sure customers and local people will be impressed with this fantastic new facility.  Rory and Craig’s business is a great example of some of the opportunities available on the Merseyrail network, and we’d love to work with any local independent businesses who are interested. We’re open to any ideas, so do please get in touch by emailing propertyenquiries@merseyrail.org.

Reading for the train

Our good friend John Davies has just published another book of his railway memoirs. Commercial: It’s not railway work is the slightly ironic title of what he describes as my remarkable journey from Swansea District Office to Regional Railways Manager, Wales.” Highly recommended – £14.99 from Amazon. (A longer review will follow in the next issue).

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £5.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £12

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

 

 

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Northern Salvo 315

The Northern (Christmas) Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (both Lancashire)

email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     316     December 2023   

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

Festive greetings
During last week’s snow, trains kept running on the Furness and Lakes Lines, helping to rescue stranded motorists. Here’s a suitably festive scene at Kents Bank

Welcome to the festive Northern Salvo, with the by-now-traditional Christmas ghost story, which takes up most of this issue. Well, it’s partly set around Christmas, slightly adapted and Christmasised from my short story ‘The Station Clock’ first published in my collection of stories Last Train from Blackstock Junction (Platform 5, 2022).

With The Salvo I’ve always tried to produce something that’s readable and of interest not just to railway people but a wider audience who share some of my interests, from tripe, chip shops and Shostakovitch, to progressive politics (however defined) and industrial dereliction, to Lancashire dialect and Dadaism. Hopefully you’ll find something in this to entertain you.

It’s hard to insulate yourself from what is happening in the rest of the world. The situation in Ukraine doesn’t get any better and events in the Middle-East are heartbreaking. My sympathies have always been with the Palestinians but who could not be outraged by what happened on October 7th, many of the victims of Hamas being pro-Palestinian Jews (not that it makes any difference who they were). No cause can justify what happened. The reaction from Israel, which Hamas must surely have anticipated, has been barbaric. The killing of thousands of children is a war crime; again, nothing that has been done to Israel can justify the slaughter of these innocents. Stop it. But rather than wrapping yourself in the Palestinian or Israeli flags, people outside the conflict should be demanding an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid for Gaza, release of all hostages –  and a start towards negotiating a just settlement, if such a thing is possible. Certainly after October 7th it has become much more difficult. The alternative is a widening conflict, the end of which could be catastrophic not just for the Middle East but for everyone, everywhere.

Hey ho. But let’s have hope for humanity. Ninety years ago, Christmas 1933, the Lancashire writer and homespun philosopher Allen Clarke reflected on his 70 years in the introduction to Teddy Ashton’s Lancashire Annual. It seems very appropriate for today’s Salvo and its editor (though I’m a year older):

Allen Clarke (‘Teddy Ashton’) in 1925

“I’ve always tried to be straight and fair, to see both sides, to be tolerant as well as truthful…I have spoken out against wrongs and cruelties, and suffered for it….I have never feared abuse for battling for the oppressed and downtrodden, especially the children. That was my thought and aim at twenty. I still think the same at seventy. Views modify with experience, but principles remain like rocks, and I think now, as I thought fifty years ago, that it is good to help your neighbour, to try to make this world grand instead of squabbling about the next…”

After HS2: Back to Square 1?

Since Sunak’s bizarre speech at Tory Party Conference the rail industry has been in turmoil – perhaps even more so than usual. There have been some real successes – notably the ditching of plans to close ticket offices; a great victory for mass campaigning. As I argued in the last Salvo, the announcement that HS2 was being killed off beyond Birmingham was a mixed blessing, with what is looking increasingly like a renewed orgy of road building. At a recent hearing of the Transport Select Committee, secretary of state Mark Harper said that over a third of the money ‘saved’ by cancelling HS2 will go to road schemes, though it’s looking like it will be much more than that. RAIL magazine suggests the figure is more like 70%. Watch out for them all being in winnable Tory seats (if there is such a thing anymore).

There’s an element of smoke and mirrors in all this, the money as such doesn’t exist – it would be based on borrowing. But anyway, it’s clear that the Government wants to make political headway by putting money into their much-loved roads, saying that it is a ‘saving’ from HS2, which it isn’t really. There are some upsides and there have been promises of ‘real’ money to support local bus services which are desperately needed. However, the ‘alternative’ plans promoted as ‘Network North’ are nothing of the sort, just a rag-bag of local schemes to win a few votes, many not located in ‘the North’ anyway.

The abandonment of ‘very high-speed rail’ does offer opportunities which should be seized. The positive schemes which the Government has promised, including rail re-openings and bus improvements, are welcome. But we need to construct a ‘Network North’ which is truly about creating a sustainable and strategic transport network for the North, and beyond.

That means re-visiting HS2 and seeing what is left that can, and should, be rescued. Simply abandoning the route in a field near Lichfield (Handsacre Junction) adds a huge extra volume of traffic onto an already congested route. It has to continue to Crewe, avoiding bottlenecks in the Stafford area. Much of the construction work is well underway and it would be folly to abandon it. At the southern end of the route, not going into Euston would be complete madness. Again, a lot of work has already been done.

That said, there’s a need now for a national strategy with high-speed rail integrated into the conventional network. Speeds do not have to be engineered for 400 km/h – 300 km/h is plenty, and much less environmentally damaging (you can avoid sensitive areas but in addition, lower speeds are more fuel efficient).

A national high-speed rail network should connect not only the main cities (London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds) but smaller cities and large towns, which HS2 ignored in a reckless pursuit of very fast end-to-end journey times. Northern Powerhouse Rail, from Liverpool via a new route to Manchester and on to Leeds and the east coast would be an essential part of the network. Most importantly, what happens north of Crewe must be re-assessed. The route is looking very tired, with capacity bottlenecks and frequent infrastructure failures. The entire route from Crewe to central Scotland needs an urgent review with a major upgrade sooner rather than later. This would benefit freight as well as passenger services (as would completing HS2 to Crewe). So too would improving a short stretch of highly congested railway through central Manchester – the Castlefield Corridor.

We’re not talking about lots of new railway, but some new infrastructure should be assessed, together with ‘grade separated’ junctions to improve capacity, and four-tracking of most remaining double-track parts of the line north of Crewe.

Crucially, a strategic rail plan must integrate inter-city with local and regional services, many of which are sorely in need of investment. The Calder Valley route from Manchester and Preston to Bradford and Leeds via Hebden Bridge, needs electrifying and upgrading. Some routes, such as Skipton – Colne, the Woodhead Route from Manchester to Sheffield and York – Beverley, should re-open. And let’s not forget how people get to and from the station: buses that actually connect with trains, and safe walking and cycling routes, are a vital part of the mix.

We mustn’t obsess about ownership. Most of the rail industry is now state-owned (infrastructure, and many train operating contracts) or are rigidly controlled by the state. I’d be for trying out some different models of ownership including worker and passenger co-operatives that have a degree of commercial freedom but recycle profits back into the railway. At the regional level, the mayoral combined authorities, suitably enlarged, could take over and run local rail services, as the highly successful Merseyrail operation, managed by Liverpool City Region, proves. They’ve even bought their own trains! Andy Burnham is itching to do the same in Greater Manchester. Where infrastructure is self-contained (e.g. much of Merseyrail) there’s an argument for taking the lot and having a vertically integrated operation.

(First published in Chartist magazine see www.chartist.org.uk)

Station Library doings: From the shores of Morecambe Bay

Kents Bank Station Library and the neighbouring Beach Hut Gallery held a well-attended Christmas Fair on December 9th, with over seventy guests, some from as far afield as Derbyshire, Hindley, Bolton and West Yorkshire. Good job we didn’t go for the previous week, we’d have been snowed up! Several donations of books and artifacts

Much munching going on in the Reading Room

were received and many mince pies were munched. The soup was declared highly delicious (that doesn’t sound right does it? It was yummy, anyway.) So too were Sheila’s cakes, transported, by rail, from the home bakery of Hindley.

The Library has made a successful auction bid for an historic ex-British Railways totem sign for ‘Kents Bank’, with over 25 supporters contributing to the cost. The sign will be officially unveiled by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, in January. From January the Library will be open once a month, normally on the second Saturday of the month – next open day is Saturday January 13th, from 11.00 to 3.30 pm. Entrance is via steps next to Beach Hut Gallery (also open). Teas, coffee and biscuits available – as well as sale of surplus books there is also an expanding ‘lending’ section. The library is open for reference/study purposes by appointment – ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk
Michael illustrating his talk with ‘Dick’ at the head of his train…

Michael illustrating his talk with ‘Dick’ at the head of the train/tram

We’ve started started a series of monthly talks. In December, Michael Davies of Allithwaite gave a fascinating two-part illustrated talk on ‘Irish Railways in the 50s’.It included the legendary Fintona Horse Tram, the Sligo Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway, Cavan and Leitrim – and much more.

The next talk will be on Wednesday January 10th at 7.30 when Richard Hinchcliffe will talk on his book ‘Flying Scotsman in America’ covering the historic locomotive’s remarkable expedition across the United States, the subject of his recent book (with Bill Wagner). Richard’s talk is about his family’s intense adventure with ‘Flying Scotsman’ in America and draws on his recent book: Flying Scotsman in America: the 1970 Tour. Richard travelled with his Mother and Father down the eastern seaboard and up the midwest meeting a great range of characters, landscapes, mishaps and joyous experience. Richly illustrated by his co-author Bill Wagner’s brilliant photographs, Richard takes us from the 1950s to the full restoration of ‘Flying Scotsman’ by the National Railway Museum in 60 galloping minutes.

Space is limited and pre-booking is essential. Ring 07795 008691 or email info@stationlibrary.org.uk .

Contact details: Paul Salveson on 07795 008691 or info@stationlibrary.org.uk

Postal address: Station House, Kentsford Road, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands LA11 7BB The Library’s website is www.stationlibrary.org.uk

Dear friends departed

It’s sad that this is becoming a regular feature of The Salvo. Noel Spencer, long-time councilor, former mayor of Bolton and dedicated socialist and trade unionist, passed away in November. I have fond memories of Noel at Farnworth Labour Party, fighting hard for his community in the face of indifference from the Council leadership. That indifference led to political melt-down for Labour in Farnworth, from which it has yet to recover. He had a great sense of humour and was an accomplished Frank Sinatra impersonator.

I was shocked to hear that my longstanding pal and fellow rail crank Harvey Scowcroft had died suddenly at his home in Bolton. Harvey was a well known face on the railway scene, often observed on the lineside photographing steam specials. I first knew Harvey back in 1965 when we polished up 42626 to work the last train from Horwich.

Railway villages

Thanks to everyone who chipped in suggestions in previous Salvoes. I’m still working on this and looking for examples of small communities that were – and perhaps still are – railway ‘villages’. They don’t have to be rural, they could be evry urban, e.g. Corkerhill in Glasgow, Upperby (Carlisle), Patricroft (Salford) and various places in London. Kentish Town? Stewarts Lane? Bricklayers Arms? Please advise….

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

I’ve done several talks on aspects of the book recently, all well attended with lively and engaged audiences. These include Unity Hall (Nelson), Bolton Socialist Club and UCLAN (Preston). More talks are planned in 2024, next sessions are:

  • Edwin Waugh Dialect Society, Rochdale,  January 9th
  • Blackburn Public Library, February 21st
  • Burnley U3A, Thursday February 22nd
  • Halliell Local History Society, February 27th
  • Edwin Waugh Dialect Society, Rochdale, January 9th at 19.30 (switched from Nov. 14th)

Please contact me if you would like more details.

The book isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different themes of Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £9.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

Could this be Blackstock Junction?

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

Comments on Salvo 315

There was a lot of comment on HS2, mostly against, some for – all well argued. You can read them in the ‘Comments’ section of the website. Here’s a few others, on media bias, and ‘Railways and Music’.

Peter Holmes writes: I’ve got a point which doesn’t relate to either railway songs or HS2, but I think it deserves to be made. It relates, basically, to right-wing media bias on transport matters (and everything else, to be honest). For the past few years, the railway services in the North West have suffered from an appalling level of cancellations at short notice. It has become a ‘New Normal’ to the extent that people are abandoning rail travel. It appears to be 99% caused by the incompetence of the Train Operating Companies, which in the worst cases are clearly not Fit for Purpose, and we hear stories again and again of total chaos at places like Preston and Carlisle. But we all just have to take it lying down, with little or no reference in the press. Might the Governmental and media attitude to we ‘Northern Bumpkins’ just have some bearing on that?  Earlier this year, when the rail unions threatened cancellations on a country-wide basis, it was Front Page News.

Michael Ross advises: Amongst railway songs you could have mentioned Flanders and Swann’s ‘The Last Train’. A fortnight ago I heard this performed with style as an unaccompanied solo by Dave Vaughan (a driver on Northern’s trains) on one of the Mid Cheshire Line’s Music Trains. And John Nicolson adds: “Glad to see reference to Ewan McColl’s Ballad of John Axon & Flanders & Swann’s Slow Train. Another example of the former’s lack of railway knowledge is that the Ballad contains reference to an 8F’s boiler pressure being 225 lbs per inch. Don’t forget the square, Ewan! Sorry – being pedantic!”

Christmas Ghost Story for 2023: The Station Clock

(you can also read it here: https://stationlibrary.org.uk/the-station-clock-a-christmas-ghost-story/)

Grange-over-Sands on a wet evening in early January; rain mixed with sleet driving in across Morecambe Bay. Dave Little and his partner Jane Bradshaw had been for a walk along the promenade before combined common sense took over and they retreated back towards the hotel. They walked down High Street, taking shelter in the doorway of an estate agent to escape a particularly torrential downpour.

The couple had decided to take a short break over New Year. Thanks partly to Covid It had been a hard year for them both. Dave’s lecturing job at Leeds University had lost much of its intellectual attraction thanks to Microsoft Teams taking over from human interaction. Jane’s life had been harder, working as a consultant for the NHS in Bradford. Both were coming up for retirement and were ready for it; the stress of the last year was getting to them. A much-needed break in the South Lakes would allow them to see Jane’s mum Agnes, in Barrow.

They waited for the rain to pass and scanned the properties for sale.

“It’s more pricey than Leeds,” Dave thought out loud.

“Well, we’re not thinking about moving – are we?” Jane responded.

“No, course not. But there could be worse places to live if we ever wanted to.”

“You’re joking! God’s waiting room they call this place – very nice to visit and use as a base for walking but it’d drive us both mad if we had to live here.”

“OK, you’re right Janey. But hey, look at this – ‘Station Master’s House, Kirkhead Crossing – needs renovation but would make a superb home for couple or single-person seeking a quiet life.”

“Show me – God Dave it looks a bit of a wreck don’t you think? Even an over-grown train-spotter like you should know better.”

He took another look. “It’s going pretty cheap – £150k or near offer.”

The rain had stopped and Jane grabbed Dave’s arm pulling him towards the hotel and the promise of a last glass of wine before bed.

The room had a fine view across the bay towards Morecambe, taking in the Midland Hotel – and the nuclear power station. Gazing through the window they could see the Isle of Man ferry coming in to dock at Heysham. A train rumbled past, slowing down to call at Grange, then re-starting and curling round the bay towards Kents Bank and Wraysholme. The red tail light flickered then disappeared in the distance, leaving only the sound of the train’s horn as it approached the crossing before Kents Bank.

“Jane… we were planning to do a walk over towards Cartmel tomorrow, why don’t we see if we can get an appointment to call in and see that house, just out of curiosity…it’s sort of on the way?”

“Bloody hell Dave, you know what curiosity did?”

“Yes, I know…but we don’t have a cat.”

“You’re incorrigible…come on, let’s get to bed. I’ll ring the estate agent first thing but I bet they won’t be able to fix anything before we leave on Wednesday.”

She rang the estate agents at 9.15, before they went down for breakfast. The woman on the other end of the phone explained that the house was empty and they could only do accompanied viewings. She’d check the diary.

“You’re in luck – we’ve had a cancellation this morning. Could you make 11.30 at the property? Otherwise it would have to be Thursday.”

“Thanks – we’re heading home on Wednesday but it’s OK, if you can do this morning that’d be great. We’ll see you there.”

They set out just after 11 along the winding, hilly road to Flookburgh. The rain had cleared and the morning sky over the bay was dramatic, changing by the minute with clouds scudding across the morning sky. They turned off the main road and along a single-track lane dropping down towards the sea. The railway came into view and they could see the house as they approached, past the old tower, an historic landmark now partly in ruins, used as farm buildings.

They were a bit early so they parked up by the house and had a look round outside. Jane groaned.

“I see what they mean about requiring renovation! It’s a bloody wreck.”

Conversation was drowned out by the sound of warning sirens as the barriers opposite the house came down across the road. A minute later a train came into sight and shot over the crossing. The gates lifted, silence returned.

A car was approaching down the lane and stopped next to theirs. A well-dressed young woman carrying a file got out.

“Hello, I’m Margaret Postlethwaite – or just ‘Mags’ –  nice to meet you. As you can see, the house has seen better days. The last resident – Mr. Benson, the tenant – sadly passed away four years ago and he’d not kept it in very good condition. The owner has been sitting on it since then but finally decided to sell. I know it’s a mess, but that’s reflected in the asking price. It’s got great potential though!”

Margaret struggled with the door key, an old mortice lock that had got rusty. It finally turned and she opened the door to find a mountain of junk mail piled up behind.

“I think the electricity is still on, let’s see if we can get some light!”

The lights came on to reveal two downstairs rooms with an adjoining kitchen. There was a bit of a garden at the side. The front window directly overlooked the line, with distant views of the bay and Humphrey Head beyond.

The stairs led to a couple of small bedrooms and bathroom, very 1970s style. The windows were UpVC and the downstairs fireplace had been replaced by storage heaters. Whoever had been here, they weren’t too interested in preserving heritage features. Not much apart from the shell of the house had survived. But one thing had – the old clock on the outside of the house, fixed above the front door and sheltered by a decaying timber canopy.

It was fixed at 11.45 – the face was in Roman numerals, the traditional railway style.

“The clock’s a nice feature isn’t it?” the estate agent commented, “doesn’t look like it’s worked for years though. The station closed years before I was even born, don’t think there’d have been much need for a station clock, nobody ever used it.”

…………………………………………………………………………….

Dave and Jane drove back to Leeds on Wednesday; most of the conversation centred on the house.

“We could always buy it as a holiday home, maybe even make a bit of money from renting it out?” suggested Dave.

“Well, the red-hot socialist has turned all capitalist now! But there’s the small problem of getting the money to buy it in the first place. Capitalists need capital.”

“Jane, if we pooled some of our resources we could afford it – just.”

“And what about the £30,000 – and maybe more – to make it liveable?” Jane responded. “Listen, if you really want it, let’s sell up and go for it. But after we’re both retired. My mum would be delighted, she always complains we never see her.”

“So that’s a ‘yes’ then?” said Dave, swerving to avoid an oncoming lorry on the Settle by-pass.

“Yes, if we manage to live that long…”

The sale was agreed and their solicitor said she expected completion by June, fitting in well with both their retirement plans. As they signed the contracts, she wryly commented that they’d both need to get proper station master’s uniforms to go with the house. “But won’t it be noisy with the trains going so near? Good luck, anyway.”

The sale was completed on time. They sold their house in Leeds with no difficulty and decided to stay a few weeks at the local pub – The Railway, appropriately enough, though it was track from the station. It made it easier to get stuck in with cleaning and painting, using local tradesmen to do the bigger jobs. They put their furniture into store for the time being.

Jane went at the task with the zeal of a convert, coming up with grandiose ideas for timber-framed doors and windows and Victorian fireplaces in the downstairs rooms.

They got on well with the people who ran the pub – Jack and Brenda Robinson. The family had had the pub for years, Jack inheriting it from his dad.

“It’s good that someone’s taking the Station House on”, said Jack, as he served Dave a pint of his new-found favourite, Loweswater Gold. “It’s not had a happy history but don’t let that put you off.”

“What was that?” picked up Jane. “What happened?”

“Over the years there’ve been a couple of accidents on the crossing,” replied the landlord, warming to his subject. They sen as there’s ‘blood on those tracks’. My dad remembers George Huddleston, a platelayer who lived with his family, getting run over right outside the house. Was distracted by something and a train hit him. Left a widow and three kids, though she – I think she was called Edith – carried on as crossing-keeper and kept the house. More recently there was a nasty accident late one night when one of the local lads drove over the crossing without looking. A train went right into the car and killed him outright. It was after that they put those automatic barriers in.”

“Huh, the estate agent said nothing about all that,” sighed Jane.

“It’s not like you to be superstitious,” said Dave, putting his arm round her. “Maybe we’ll get to know the ghost of the old station master, like ‘Ben Isaacs’ in that Arthur Askey film, ‘The Ghost Train’ – or the signalman in the Dickens’ story.”

“Oh sod off Dave. And don’t blame me if it all goes pear-shaped, if there’s any ghosts around I’ll be away off to mum’s in Barrow.”

They made good progress on the house; no ghosts were spotted and the incidents recounted by the landlord were put aside as they grew more excited about ‘moving in’ day. The date was set for September 1st.

They’d filled two skips of rubbish, got local builders to put in a new kitchen, bathroom and – Jane won the argument – traditional timber-framed windows.

Searching the internet, they had dug out some original photos of the Station House, taken around 1900, which they used to get the new fittings as close to the original as possible, which dated back to the line’s opening in 1857.

“Look at that one, with the family group in front of the house,” said Jane. “’Mr and Mrs George Huddleston and family, Kirkhead Station House, 1901.’ That was the man Jack told us about in the pub, who was killed on the crossing. Poor chap, and leaving a wife and kids as well.”

“…and a crossing-keeper’s wage wouldn’t have stretched far then, if you’ve three kids to bring up on your own. But at least she was able to stay on here.”

The local joiner and plumber had turned up on time, did a good job and didn’t charge the earth. “Would still be waiting for them to come if we were back in Leeds,” said Jane, as she lugged the dining table chairs out of the removal van.

“There’s just one thing we should think about,” said Dave as they stood outside by the front door, enjoying a break between the unloading. “That clock.”

“What do you want to do with it,” said Jane. Can’t see it ever being made to work, it’s OK where it is.”

“Well let’s have a look anyway.” He got the ladders out and climbed up to the clock. It was screwed into a wooden panel that was rotten and the whole thing came off easily. Dave triumphantly carried his trophy down the ladder steps.

“Let’s take it inside and have a proper look.”

They were approaching the front door and a sudden wind slammed the door in Dave’s face.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Dave asked himself. Looking round, it was a calm, sunny July day.

“It’s that ghost o’ George Huddleston, I told yo’,” grinned Jane, lapsing into her mum’s Barrow accent.

Dave cleared some space on the kitchen table and started unscrewing the back of the clock. The screws were rusty and needed some WD 40 to encourage them, but eventually it pulled off. The mechanism looked as though it was still intact but badly rusted.

“There’s no way we’re going to get that working,” said Dave. “We’d be better off taking it to a clockmaker’s and having the old mechanism out and putting in entirely new battery-operated gear into it. I saw an advert for a place in Grange, shall we see if they can do it?”

“Well, if you want, but let’s keep the old mechanism, it’d be a shame to throw it away,” said Jane.

The face of the clock was pock-marked with stains from being exposed to decades of harsh weather. But cleaning round it he could make out the words ‘Furness Railway’ and a serial number.

“Bet this is worth something Jane, if we get stuck we could always sell it on e-bay.”

“Oh no we won’t,” responded Jane. “It’s one of the few bits of originality about the place, apart from the stone and mortar. It stays here – but if you want to get it running, try that place in Grange.”

The clockmaker – another Postlethwaite, Harold, who it turns out was Mags’ dad – was fascinated by it.

“Well I never. Furness Railway! It’s a fine clock but as you say there’s no way that mechanism will ever work. A shame to take it out, but don’t be too sentimental. A clock’s like a dog – made to work not for ornament.

As he spoke, Ella, a retriever, came bounding out of the back room. “Though there’s always exceptions to the rule, I suppose.”

“Right, well if you can go ahead that’s great. We want to keep the old mechanism as part of the history of the house but having the clock working again would be the icing on the cake of everything we’ve done.”

“Aye, it’ll be a nice touch. Our Margaret told me about you and your wife buying the place. Good to get it occupied after all that trouble.”

The clock was ready in just a couple of days. Harold had done a decent job, even to the extent of giving the clock an artificial ‘tick-tock’ to make it seem a bit more ‘real’. Jane wasn’t convinced but it appealed to Dave.

Why don’t we keep it in the house? asked Jane. “It’d look good in the kitchen and nobody would see it outside above the door. There won’t be any passengers turning up for their train to Carnforth or Barrow, checking to see if they were in time.”

“OK, let’s try it in the kitchen. I’ll get a few rawl plugs and screw it into the wall above the dining table.”

After weeks of hyper-activity – and stress – trying to get everything done, it seemed strange to be able to just relax and do nothing much.  A few friends from Leeds came over to see the new place and Jane’s mum drove across from Barrow.

“My, it’s lovely. And what a great job you’ve done on it. I love that clock, where did you get it from?” she asked Jane.

“It came with the house – we’ve had to have the mechanism changed – no way it could’ve been repaired. But it looks a treat, doesn’t it?”

“It does. They say clocks can bring you luck – good and bad, it has to be said. But I hope that’s a lucky clock.”

Summer gradually progressed into Autumn and the winds coming across the bay got stronger. They discovered they had a few neighbours, some of whom they’d met during their three weeks’ stay at the pub.

David Braithwaite was a local farmer, one of the few regular users of the crossing. He had two sides two him – the taciturn north Lancashire farmer but with a kinder welcoming side.

“I’ve brought you a few eggs – and some jam the wife has made. A sort of house-warming present though I know you’ve been here a few weeks now. Settling in alreet?”

“Oh yes,” responded Jane. “And thanks so much for the eggs. I was just going to pop into Flookburgh for some things so I can cross them off the list. Lovely.”

“Aye, they’ll taste better than those eggs you get in supermarkets from battery hens. Wouldn’t touch ‘em. Now then, I see the old clock’s gone?” he said, looking up to the blank space where the clock had been fixed.

“Well not exactly, Dave took it down and it’s in the kitchen. We got a new mechanism put in – it works now.”

“Well, I’m glad it is. They sen as that was what, indirectly like, killed George Huddleston.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, this is just hearsay passed down but my fayther told me as George had had a few bottles of ale an’ he decided he’d go out and wind up the clock. Silly bugger, it were well after 11 o’ clock at neet and pitch black. Wind blowing like mad. His wife begged him to stay in but he’d have nowt of it. The next thing we know is the sound of a train whistling – and a shout. They found George’s body further down the track. A bit of a mess by all accounts. Sorry lass, hope that doesn’t upset you. Long time ago, before the Great War. But time moves slower round here.”

………………………………………………………

It was a fine Autumn. Dave and Jane had time to explore the area, making the most of the good walking country around Cartmel and Grange. A stroll down to Humphrey Head was a regular afternoon outing, by the ‘holy well’ and up onto the headland where legend says the last wolf in England was killed. Standing on the headland looking out across the bay you could see Morecambe, and round to the west was Ulverston and the Hoad Monument; Barrow further along.

Before the railway was built there was a regular coach service across the bay. It was a dangerous experience and a journey that had claimed many lives over the centuries. It was discontinued after the railway opened in 1857 though people carried on walking across, using the services of The Guide who lived further round the coast between Kents Bank and Grange.

………………………………………………………

They were looking forward to their first Christmas at Station House. Trips to Leeds and Manchester for Christmas shopping combined with evening concerts nearer to home: Flookburgh Band were, according to local friends, in excellent form.

Christmas Eve came round quickly. To their disappointment snow hadn’t been forecast and it was rare enough anyway in this part of the South Lakes. The couple were planning to take a trip to Windermere to do a bit of last minute shopping and have lunch in a local hotel. Yet that morning, a few flurries of snow started to come down.

“We might get a white Christmas yet,” Dave said, looking out of the bedroom window across to Humphrey Head.

“It won’t be much,” said Jane. “You never get much snow round here. I’m popping down to Grange now to get the turkey and I’ll be back by 10.00 – make sure you’re ready and we;ll head up to Windermere.”

It only took a few minutes to get into Grange and Jane found a parking spot near the butcher’s; there was a queue but it was moving quickly. The butcher was in chatty mode and the shop had a festive buzz about the place.  Jane mentioned their trip to Windermere later in the morning.

“Eh, ah wouldn’t if ah was you,” he said. “That snow is startin’ to come down thick further north, they sen the buses have already stopped runnin’ in Ambleside.”

“Oh thanks, maybe we’d better have a re-think.” Jane got in the car and rang Dave. “Yes love I’ve heard it on the local news. Afraid our Christmas Eve meal is off – think it’ll have to be fish and chips in The Railway.”

“Well, we could do worse, and the menu is a bit more extensive than just fish and chips.”

They booked a table at the pub and decided to walk up – even by the bay the snow had started to come down heavy and they needed their walking boots. Quite a few had cancelled owing to the roads being snowed up so they were given a particularly warm welcome. The pub shut early to let staff get home to their families as more and more parts of Cumbria were reported as being cut off.

…………………………………………..

They got back to Station House to find the snow had blown into the porch and was a few inches deep. They pulled the door closed just as the barriers came down for the 22.40 to Barrow.

“Trains are still running then!” Jane said to Dave, as he revived their coal fire in the sitting room.

“Aye, you never know where you are with the trains – you’d think in weather like this they’d grind to a halt but they seem to reserve that for nice weather! I think The Whip is running as well, probably the last train we’ll see until after Boxing Day.” Dave opened a bottle of wine in preparation for midnight and the arrival of Christmas.

‘The Whip’ was the last train of the day – Manchester Airport to Barrow, reporting number 1C50. This night it was powered by one of the new class 195 trains – ‘Pride of Cumbria.’ It has been known by generations of railway folk and locals as ‘The Whip’ – though nobody really knows why.

The driver was Jimmy Helm, an old-hand Barrow man who had started on the railway as a cleaner at Carnforth, not long after the end of steam. He’d been booked as a driver at Barrow for 25 years and was coming up to retirement. Jack had company from Preston – his old mate Derek Graham who was booked to return to Barrow ‘as passenger’ after bringing in a train from Windermere. He was sat in the front coach behind Jimmy, and joined him – against the rules but no prying eyes would be around at that time of night – after they left Carnforth. The train gradually emptied, small handfuls of people getting out at Silverdale, Arnside and Grange. There hadn’t been much snow until they left Carnforth but it started to thicken as they carried on through Silverdale and Arnside.

At Kents Bank a couple of regulars got on, heading home to Barrow after seeing friends. They waved to Jack from the platform as they joined the train, thankful to get into the warmth. After the doors had closed he got the ‘right away’ signal from Jenny. The snow was about three inches thick but a team had been out laying grit and shovelling a path through the snow onto the platform. It was still coming down and the station looked pretty in its white covering.

“Well Derek, just a few months to go and that’s it. Job’s not what it was, I’ll be able to get me feet up or do a spot o’ fishin.”

“Aye, an’ I won’t be far behind you! I’ve had enough o’ 4 a.m. starts and late finishes like this.” Derek agreed.

The train gathered speed and swept round the curve past Humphrey Head and the farm buildings to the left, rain lashing across the train’s windscreen making visibility difficult. They’d left Kents Bank on time at 23.59 and were hoping for a slightly early finish at Barrow.

It wasn’t to be.

Jack had expected the signal controlling Kirkhead Crossing to be showing ‘green’ – and it was, together with a flashing white signal to tell the driver that the crossing was working correctly.

A couple of seconds later Jack looked through the snow-spattered windscreen in horror. The gates were open to the road and there was what looked like a horse and cart, or carriage, galloping towards the crossing.

“Bloody’ell! What in f…’s name…..” shouted Jack as he threw the train brake into a full emergency application. He felt the train rock violently.

Derek had instinctively crouched down behind the control panel to avoid any shattered glass hitting him. Jack just looked on in shock. The next moment there was a loud bang and a flash, with the snorts of a distressed horse. In the train there were shouts of panic as the train slowed to a violent halt.

The train’s brakes had taken effect quickly and the three-coaches shuddered to a stand about a hundred yards beyond the crossing.

“You alreet mate? Derek asked.

“Well I’m not hurt. But f….n’ hell, what was that?”

“B…..d if I know but we’ll go and see. Better get the ‘red button’ pressed so the signaller and Control know we’ve a problem. We could be here a while.”

The conductor, Jenny Johnson, had been issuing a ticket to the couple who’d got on at Kents Bank when she was thrown to the floor when the train lurched to a stop. She was just behind the cab door.

“You guys OK? What happened?”

“I wish we knew – we had a green – didn’t we Derek? – yet the gates were open and some sort of horse-drawn carriage ran across. We hit it, I’m sure. That’s as much as I can say. Let’s have a look at the train and see if there’s any damage. Jenny, tell the passengers what’s happening and put some clips down on the up line to mek sure we’re protected.”

She put her ‘hi-vis’ jacket on and jumped onto the track with the regulation pair of Track Circuit Operating Clips, fixed across the rails to put signals to danger, if they weren’t already. Just to make sure they were on, she gave each clip a good stamping with her boots.

The Ulverston ‘bobby’ had been alerted by the emergency signal – the ‘red button’ – and the cab telephone rang within a few seconds.

Arthur Pickstone, the signaller, had been expecting a quiet night and was told to book off after ‘The Whip’ had cleared section. There were no more trains until the 27th..

“Hello Signaller. This is an emergency call. This is the driver of IC50 stopped in advance of Signal U24. I think we’ve just struck summat at Kirkhead Crossing. Can you confirm signaller that all lines are blocked so I can go down and safely inspect. Thank you.”

“By the hell, I wondered where you’d got to,” Pickstone replied. “Is everyone OK?  Control is aware of the situation and all I can tell you is wait for further instructions. There’s nothing on the ‘up’ now until the 5 a.m. Airport but take care all the same.  I can confirm that both lines are blocked. It’s bloody strange, everything was working OK at this end, the gates were shown as down and you had a green signal.”

“You’re telling me it’s strange – I had a green and the flashing whites but the barriers seemed to be up – and this horse and cart, or something, went across and it sounded as though we’d hit it. Anyway, stay awake and I’ll let you know if we find owt. I’ve got a driver travelling home passenger with us and he’ll assist, as well as my guard.”

Jack climbed down onto the track with his lamp to see if there was any damage, or sign of what he might have hit. He was prepared for the worst, having been involved in another crossing accident years ago near Millom. Some poor old demented sod had wandered onto the line and the train hit him full on. There wasn’t much of him left. It made an awful mess of the train too.

This time there was no scene of squashed bodies with blood, skin and bone smattered around the front. Nothing at all, as far as he could see. Derek had gone back with Jenny reassuring the few passengers on the train that everything was OK but they could be stuck a while. Most of them took it well, though one character who’d been on the ale at Lancaster started shouting the odds about compensation.

“Everyone will get compensation, don’t worry about that – I’ll go round with forms for you to fill in and claim, we’re just checking there are no casualties,” said Jenny. “A…….e”, she thought to herself.

Derek looked round towards the crossing and sure enough the gates were down – the train had stopped within the overlap before they would go back up for road traffic – not that there’d be any at that time of night.

The Control duty manager at Manchester, Dave Parkinson, rang Jimmy a few minutes later after Jimmy’s initial check round the train – which had revealed nothing. He’d started his railway career at Carnforth so knew the line well.

“Hello driver – that’s Jimmy Helm isn’t it? I knew you when I was Signalling Manager at Barrow back in the 90s. You OK? What’s happened?”

Jimmy explained, as best he could, what he’d seen and how he had reacted, adding that he’d done as good an inspection of the train as he could – it was a dark night and the rain was still coming down in buckets – and nothing had been found.

“Bloody hell Jimmy, that’s some story. Listen, I’m going to send out some relief for you – you’ve had a nasty shock. Cliff Rudge was just signing off and he owed me a favour, so he’s on his way in a taxi – just hope the driver can find you. Des Melia, the on-call DTM is with him and Network Rail has been informed; their Mobile Ops Manager is on his way from Lancaster so you’ll have quite a party! How’s your conductor? Is she OK? I’ll try and raise her on-call Conductor Team Manager if need be?”

Jenny responded saying she was fine apart from a bit of a bruised knee after the sudden stop and dragging the on-call CTM out on Christmas Day would be over-kill.

“Good, it was starting to get a bit over-crowded. We’ve sent out for technicians from Newton Heath to have a closer look under the train – as close as possible on a night like this anyway – and that’s going to take some time. The taxi will take the five passengers; you and your mate go back to Barrow on the train with your conductor, which will run as empty. Oh, merry Christmas by the way…..it’s gone midnight!”

……………………………………………………………………………..

Derek managed to walk down the four-foot, in about six inches of snow, towards the Station House, which was in semi-darkness, though Dave and Jane’s car was outside suggesting the occupants were at home. He thought it wise to let the occupants know what had happened – and there might be a brew going, though they might not appreciate being woken up at half past midnight on Christmas Day morning.

He rang the door bell and after a couple of minutes some lights went on and Dave opened the door.

“I’m really sorry to disturb you sir. I’m a driver on the Barrow train and there’s been an incident here at the crossing. We can’t see anything amiss but we’ve had to make an emergency stop. The train is just down the line.” Derek pointed to the red tail light of the beleaguered express.

“Did you hear anything, about fifteen minutes ago? We seemed to hit something, looked like a horse and carriage of some kind, and it made a huge bang.”

Dave looked nonplussed. “We were just going to bed – I didn’t hear anything. Look, would you like to come in and have a cup of tea? You look in a bit of a state. If there are others bring them down and we’ll get the kettle on. A bit of festive cheer!”

“That’s very kind but the rules say we’ve got to keep the passengers on the train for the time being – if we have hit something we don’t want to give them any nasty shocks. But we will need to get the passengers out of the train eventually, when the taxi arrives to take them home; we could be stuck for hours. It’s not a nice night to be standing around in the middle of nowhere – if you don’t mind me saying so – with no shelter.”

“Sure, fully understand. Tell you what – we’ll get the kettle on and make a pot of tea and you can take it back to the train, cups and milk provided as well. We’ve even got some mince pies you can have!”

The five passengers, as well as Jimmy, Derek and Jenny, appreciated the cups of tea and mince pies. Even the drunk – who’d sobered up a bit by now – was appreciative of Dave and Jane’s hospitality.

“We’ll keep an eye out for the taxi,” said Jane, before Derek walked back to the train. “A lot of taxis don’t know the area, just hope he’s not got lost and ended up in Grange. What time is it Dave?”

Another half hour passed; Dave and Jane stayed up to greet the taxi. “Oh shit, the clock has stopped. It’s still showing 11.45. Hang on, I’ll get the phone out. It’s 1 o’clock now and I think I can hear something coming down the lane – must be the taxi. They’ve done bloody well to get here.”

The cab stopped just short of the crossing, with a Network Rail 4×4 just behind with Cathy Huddleston, the on-call Ops Manager; Cliff Rudge and Des Melia got out, offering to help the train crew get the passengers safely down the track to the crossing.

“This was a Christmas treat I wasn’t expecting – good job it’s a 4×4, it’s a miracle we got here. Sooner we can get away the better,” Cliff said. The taxi driver had come from Barrow and had a struggle, but the roads were still just about passable. “Didn’t expect this tonight – but still, the railway pays well. It’s my Christmas bonus! Just hope we can get home to Barrow…”

Knowing the ‘up’ line was blocked the small group of passengers and railway staff was led down the track by Jenny, using her torch to show the way. It was slippy under foot with the snow but everyone made it.

She saw the passengers into the taxi and told the driver to drop off two off at Ulverston then head direct for Barrow with the rest. Checks had been made at Cark and Dalton just in case anyone was waiting and luckily there wasn’t – or they’d given up and ordered a cab.

Jimmy got onto the signalman at Ulverston and told him the taxi was on its way to Barrow. “Thanks driver. Control has said the rolling stock technicians should be with you soon, if they can get through.”

The snow had stopped soon after ‘the incident’ happened but the local news was saying that it was the heaviest snow for years. Clive Draper and Ash Patel were there by 2.15 a.m., greeting Clive with characteristic Manchester humour.

“Hello driver, merry Christmas – and some bloody Christmas! What have you got for us then? Hope it’s not too grisly because we’ve only just had our supper.”

A more thorough inspection produced the same result as Jimmy’s. There was nothing apparent. “What they’ll probably do,” said Ash, “is send the train to Newton Heath for a more detailed inspection after Boxing Day. If this train has hit anything – and we can’t see a thing – they’ll find out.”

Cliff Rudge, now the driver of the train, rang Ulverston box to say that the train was ready to proceed following the inspection. Cathy had checked the gates as best she could in the darkness and they seemed to be working OK.

“Thanks driver, you’re right away to depot then. And I can close the box and get home and get ready for the relatives to arrive for Christmas dinner.”

Derek and Jenny thanked Jane and Dave for their hospitality. “We’re really grateful for all your help; some folk would have slammed the door in our faces and told us to get lost!”

“I’m really glad we could help and hope you get to the bottom of the mystery. Let us know if you hear anything,” said Jane as Derek turned towards his train, feeling ever more baffled as to what he and Jimmy had experienced. “And, have a great Christmas!”

Cliff took the controls and the train moved forward – Jimmy and Derek sat at the table behind the cab door.

“So you’re telling me that you saw a horse and carriage galloping over the crossing and you think you hit it – but there’s no trace of any damage? Had you two been on the piss in Preston, having a pre-Christmas tipple?” shouted Cliff from the cab. “You couldn’t make it up though, I’ll give you that. And to be honest, and seriously, I know you two aren’t ale cans.”

Jimmy, Derek and Jenny signed off at 3.45 after each completed an incident report. They knew they hadn’t heard the last of it. The duty supervisor told them Control had said they were to phone in at 12.00 – Christmas Day or not –  and they’d take it from there, but they were not expected to take up their booked work on the 27th. “For your own good – you’ve had a fright, especially you Jimmy,” Eddie Wilson, the supervisor added.

…………………………………………………………….

They were asked to appear on the 28th before their Driver Manager at Barrow. It was Mary Harrop, an experienced manager with ten years’ driving experience, but half the age of both the drivers.

She was suitably deferential to Jimmy and Derek, seeing each individually, offering them cups of tea. They told the same story of what they’d seen happen. Derek was the second interviewee.

“Derek, you and Jimmy have had unblemished careers and I know you’re both coming up for retirement. All we can see is that you made an emergency stop at Kirkhead Crossing. That’s OK, you didn’t go through a red, nothing untoward happened. If I was you, off the record, I’d keep quiet about this ‘horse and carriage’ story. I’m not saying I don’t believe you. I don’t know what to believe. But if it went to Rail Accident Investigation Branch I can’t see them swallowing it. Can you?”

“No, Mary, you’re right. But it’s a queer do that we both saw this bloody nag, and heard one hell of a bang. And both of us saw the barriers were up. What d’you mek o’that?”

“We’ve had a preliminary report from Network Rail on the barriers at Kirkhead and they say they’re working normally and no fault has been detected. Same with the signal that protects the crossing. So we’re still none the wiser. The 195 has been sent to Newton Heath for examination, let’s see if they can find any trace of it hitting something. For now, I’m giving both you and your mate a week’s sick leave. Whatever did happen that night it might have an effect on you and your alertness so we’re not taking any chances. In fact, let’s make it two weeks. OK?”

A couple of weeks paid leave wasn’t unwelcome to either of them. Jenny was given two days off.

“I’d give you a bit longer chuck but we’re short-handed and we’re already having to cancel trains because we’ve no guards,” the CTM Janice Pickering explained.

…………………………………………………………………………….

Jimmy’s wife, Alex, had been saying she fancied a trip to Grange to visit Higginson’s the famous butchers, so how about a run out in the car next week?

That gave Jimmy an idea. It would be nice to call in at the Station House and personally thank the people there – David and Jane he remembered – and have a look at the place in daylight. The snow had gone as quickly as it arrived and the roads were clear and free of ice.

The car meandered down the lane from Allithwaite and pulled up outside the Station House. Dave was doing a bit of work outside, making the most of the mild November weather.

“Hello, I don’t know if you remember me but I was one of the drivers on the train that made the emergency stop on Christmas Eve. Just called round to thank you for your hospitality. It was really appreciated.”

“No problem at all, we don’t get much excitement round here and it has certainly given us something to talk about. It was certainly a Christmas with a difference! And we’ve been doing a bit of our own research. Come in and have a cup of tea.

Jimmy and Alex went into the sitting room where they’d been on ‘that night’, feeling much less stressed than Jimmy had been then. Jane joined the company.

“I’m glad you called round,” Jane said as she placed the coffee and cakes on the table. “After last week we’ve been doing a bit of research on the area and found some things that might interest you. Back in the 1850s, when the railway was being constructed, there was still a horse carriage service, a few days a week, from Ulverston to Lancaster, ‘over the sands’. It didn’t last long after the railway opened – it was unreliable and dangerous. What probably killed it off was a terrible accident that happened on Christmas Eve 1857 when it tried to cross the bay on a stormy night,” Jane explained.

“The Westmorland Gazette had a lot to say about it – the carriage, carrying four people, a driver and guide, got lost in the sands and it was only a couple of days later when the bodies started to appear, washed up at Kents Bank and by Humphrey Head. The coach driver was never found, probably got washed out into the sea.  The route the coach took was this crossing by our house, then round by Kirkhead Hall to Kents Bank – and then headed across the sands. It was a stormy night, the driver took a big risk, and sadly paid for it. The coach left Ulverston at 11.00 pm so would have been at the the crossing by around midnight – the time when you saw what you thought was a horse-drawn carriage.”

“Well, thanks, that’s really very interesting. I’ve seen paintings of the carriages crossing the sands, led by teams of horses. I thought that had finished by the early 1800s.” Jimmy gazed into his coffee.

“Have another biscuit James – they are very nice – then we’d better get on our way,” announced Mrs Helm, lowering the tension.

“Thanks once again for your kindness,” said Jimmy. If I hear anything from the examination of the train I’ll let you know.”

………………………………………………..

Two days later his mobile rang. “Hello Jimmy, it’s Mary here at Preston. “We’ve had some results back from Newton Heath. The examination of the class 195 unit didn’t produce much more than the usual bits and bobs that trains pick up – remains of birds that had got in the way, a few branches, general muck. But they did find traces of timber – polished wood to be precise – at the front end. One of our ‘Year in Industry’ students said she could take a sample of the wood to the university and ask one of his mates in the labs if they could do an analysis of it. Now this is where it does get interesting. The bit of wood was well over a hundred years old. Probably 150 years or even more. There was some lacquer on one side, used by coach makers back in the 1840s, on both traditional horse-drawn carriages and early railway carriages. This sample also showed some trace of, well, to put it crudely, horse shit. So you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to think it was the remains of a horse-drawn carriage from the 1850s which our 21st century train had managed to hit. Or might have done. Maybe. What do you think of that then?”

There was a long silence on the phone at Jimmy’s end. “So d’you think my story – and Derek’s – about hitting a horse and carriage isn’t such a fantasy after all?”

“I’m not saying I’ve changed my mind – and I don’t see how we could take this to RAIB and expect them to believe us. And it wasn’t a reportable accident anyway. But I thought it might give you and Derek some peace of mind. As far as the company’s concerned, case closed. Enjoy your leave and please don’t see any more ghosts, OK? And by the way, you know the company takes a dim view of unauthorised members of staff riding with the driver?”

……………………………………………………………………

The following day – Jimmy was still on his enforced leave – he decided to call round again at the Station House and tell the couple what he’d been told. Dave was out – Jane said he’d been at the clockmaker’s getting the old clock mended after it had stopped the other night. Dave came through the door, holding the ancient time-piece.

“The clockmaker said there didn’t seem anything wrong with it – put a new battery in but it was working alright before. Just a quirk.”

……………………………………………………………….

Dave and Jane settled into life at Kirkhead. Spring came early and they were able to get out and do more exploring around the South Lakes. Retirement was doing both of them good – no more of the occasional rows, no stressful ‘Teams’ meetings. And the clock was keeping perfect time. Spring came round, and the valleys of the Winster, Duddon and Rusland Pool were full of colour and warmth.

It was a Saturday, May 7th. Dave and Jane had been out for a long walk over Hampsfell, getting home in time for a late supper followed by an early night.

It was Dave who first heard something, at about quarter to twelve.

It seemed to be coming from Ulverston way. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. The sky was completely ablaze and opening the window he heard a seemingly endless succession of explosions and what sounded like heavy gunfire.

“My God! Jane, come here…I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Where’s it coming from? It must be Barrow – it’s well beyond Ulverston. It looks like the whole town’s on fire……What’s going on? There was nothing on the news. Are we at war? Or at the receiving end of some sort of terrorist attack? If one of those nuclear subs goes up the whole of Cumbria could go with it.”

Dave stood at the window, staring in shock. The explosions continued, with the sound of counter-attack fire coming from below. What looked like an aircraft burst into flames, downed by the ground fire.

The next moment they heard loud banging on the front door.

“Help! Please let us in! Help!”

Dave dashed down the stairs and opened the door – to find nothing. The rain was lashing against the porch and he checked up and down the lane – there was no sign of anything.

He went back upstairs. The sound of explosions in the distance continued and through the rain they could see the flames getting higher. After two minutes the banging started again. “Please help us! Let us in!”

This time they both went down, with a torch and some trepidation. The door blew open with the wind, Jane was drenched by a squall of rain. There was no-one to be seen.

“Look, let’s make ourselves a brew – we’re not going to get any sleep with all this going on – and if we do get any more visits at least we’ll be downstairs. Maybe it’s kids playing stupid games.”

“Dave, come off it. What kids? And at half past midnight? Any naughty boys will be safely packed up in bed. We’re not in Headingley now!”

It was then that Jane made a sudden realisation. “Mum! Oh my God Dave, she could be in the middle of all that. I’ve got to ring her.”

She rushed downstairs picking up the landline which was placed on the kitchen table below the clock. The phone rang for what seemed an eternity until at last she heard a voice.

“Who’s that ringing at this time?”

“Mum, it’s me, Jane. Are you alright?”

“Course I’m bloody well alright, at least I was before you woke me up. What’s the matter?”

“Oh, well…. nothing really, we just keep hearing explosions that seem to be coming from Barrow way. You sure you’re OK?”

“Yes love, I am. Have you been on the wine again? We’re alright here, get some sleep,” as she put the phone down.

Jane stood still for some time. She noticed that the clock had stopped again, at its usual time of 11.45. Bloody clockmaker! It would have to go back in the morning. Hopefully he wouldn’t charge.

She went back upstairs; the fires had disappeared and the explosions had stopped. All that remained was a gentle whistling through the trees and the sound of the barriers coming down as the slightly-delayed Barrow train came rattling over the crossing.

Jane and Dave settled back down to bed; neither could sleep. She mentioned the clock stopping again.

“I’m sure that clock has something to do with all this. All the bad things here have happened around midnight. It can’t be a coincidence. Come on Jane, we’ve both got PhDs, we should be able to get to the bottom of this.”

That morning, before taking the clock back to Grange, Jane got on the internet and googled ‘Barrow – bombings’. Wikipedia described the events of May 1941:

The difficulty of solely targeting Barrow’s shipyard meant that many residential neighbourhoods were bombed instead; 83 civilians were killed, 330 injured, and over 10,000 houses were damaged or destroyed during the Blitz, about 25 percent of the town’s housing stock. Surrounding towns and villages were often mistaken for Barrow and were attacked instead, while many streets in Barrow were severely damaged. Bombing during mid-April 1941 caused significant damage to a central portion of Abbey Road, completely destroying the Waverley Hotel as well as Christ Church and the Abbey Road Baptist Church. The town’s main public baths and Essoldo Theatre were also severely damaged, however they were repaired within years. Hawcoat Lane is a street that is most noted for taking a direct destructive hit in early May 1941. Barrow has been described as somewhat unprepared for the Blitz, as there were only enough public shelters for 5 percent of the town’s population; some people who lived in the town centre were even forced to seek refuge in hedgerows on the outskirts of Barrow. This shortage of shelters was believed to have led to excessively high casualties.”

The worst of the bombings took place on May 7th, with the bombardment starting the previous night, just before midnight. Other reports told of terrified Barrovians fleeing the blitz, getting trains or buses – if they could – to surrounding towns and villages where they hoped they’d be safe. A train left Barrow that evening bound for Carnforth, packed with people escaping to wherever they could – Dalton, Ulverston, Cark – and Kirkhead. It departed minutes before the station suffered a direct hit. Many families were said to have taken shelter in strangers’ homes, barns or just on roadsides. Anything would be better than what they’d experienced that night.

“Look at this Dave. This is what we saw last night. Or imagined what we saw. 80 years to the day. I remember mum talking about it all, stories her mum had told her. She lived at the bottom of Abbey Road which took some of the worst of the blitz. She was lucky, but some of the houses nearby were destroyed and several of her neighbours died. She helped pull some of the bodies out of the rubble, including little kids. Grandad was away in North Africa, with the Lancashire Fusiliers. When he came back and saw the town he said it looked like they’d had it worse than anything Rommel threw at them. And that hammering on the door – was it something to do with those poor people fleeing the bombing – eighty years ago?”

……………………………………..

The strange series of events was starting to take its toll. Rows between Dave and Jane become more common, almost as bad as when they were back in Leeds doing stressful jobs. Jane was starting to think they should put the house up for sale. They’d get their money back, even with all the extra work they’d done.

Dave took the clock back to Postlethwaite’s. He had some sympathy for what Jane was saying.

“Good morning David,” Harold looked up from his current ‘patient’ as he called them and put down his pipe. “Not more problems with that railway clock? Let’s have a look.”

The battery was tested and was OK; the clock had started working that morning, after Dave had re-set the fingers.

“Do you think there’s something odd about the clock?” Dave asked. “I mean…something supernatural. Sounds weird I know. We’ve been doing some digging and it seems that all the bad things – fatal accidents, imagined fires and explosions, seem to happen around the same time of night – 11.45 – and the clock stops working. I’d have said it was just coincidence if it was a couple of times, but it’s more than that.”

Postlethwaite sat down on his bench and re-lit his pipe.

“Strange things happen Dave. Have you ever heard of the Timberbottom Skulls, over Bolton way? Ancient human skulls, nobody knew where they’d come from. They’d been displayed in a farmhouse for very many years, with a legend that they should never be moved. Then some bright spark came along and moved ‘em. They didn’t like it. They created havoc. The old dresser fell over smashing the family crockery; chairs got broken. Th’dogs wouldn’t stop wailing. It was only when they were put back in their original resting place that the trouble stopped. It may sound a mad idea, but why not put the clock back in its original place; I’ll fit the old mechanism – happy to do it, as favour, and I’ll sort you out with a nice retro-style Victorian clock for the kitchen.”

Dave returned the following day with the clock and the old mechanism which they’d been lucky enough to keep in a bottom drawer, following Jane’s intervention. Postlethwaite took out the new battery-powered mechanism there and put back the old clockwork machinery.

“Pity it’ll never work. But good luck – let’s hope these goings-on come to an end. I’ll order one of those repro railway clocks for you. They cost about £60 on e-bay and look OK.”

……………………………………………………………………..

Jane had already been up the ladders and fixed a new wooden batten on the wall above the front door. She was a better DIY-er than Dave, though he wouldn’t admit it.

“Well done love! Let’s give it a coat or two of paint to protect it from the weather and we’ll mount the clock tomorrow.”

It was another fine day and after breakfast. Dave volunteered to fix the clock back into place. Three long screws went easily into the batten, securing the clock in the timber. Dave went back down the ladders, pleased with his efforts.

………………………………………………………………………………………

Neither of them noticed that the clock had started to work.

Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock

……………………………………………………………………………………….

 

December 11th 2023 (re-written from January 9th 2022)

 

Many thanks to all who have helped with technical advice, particularly Chris, Jason and Tim.

Note that this is a work of fiction, loosely based on a particular part of the Cartmel Peninsula. The characters are entirely fictional. Barrow was badly hit during the Second World War and the story is told in detail through displays in the town’s Dock Museum. Barrow station did suffer a direct hit but the part of the story about a train taking people out of the town is imagined – but may well have happened. See The Barrow Blitz, by Bryn Trescatheric.

 

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Northern Salvo 315

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (Lancashire-South-of-the-Sands)

email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

No.     315     November 2023   

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

Railways in turmoil

It has been an interesting few weeks for the railways, despite being overshadowed by the tragic events in the Middle-East. The scrapping of HS2 north of Birmingham has been greeted with predictable outrage. In this Salvo we take a more measured view of Sunak’s announcement at Conservative Party Conference, with some very good reader responses. The really good news has been the Government’s U-Turn on ticket office closures. Despite the weasel words from Government suggesting that it was a ‘the train companies’ fault’, this was a plan driven by Government. Don’t forget that the proposals did not extend to Wales, Scotland, Merseyrail or London Overground, where the Department for Transport isn’t responsible for regional railways.

Bizarrely, one of the few stations down to lose its ticket office in Scotland was Glasgow Central! That was because it’s operated by Avanti West Coast, a contract managed by the (London-based) DfT. We should be careful about being too complacent following the U-Turn. The Treasury will still be after ‘savings’ in the rail budget and the Ticket Office victory was down to strong lobbying and political pressure, uniting unions, community groups and transport campaigners. If there had been that sort of united response to the Beeching closures of the 1960s, our railways would look very different today. I won’t labout the HS2 farce in this issue: the comments from readers (‘Top Feedback’) give a good overview of the issues. While I always argued that it was very poor value for money and potentially destructive for the North, siphoning a large chunk of the money saved into roads schemes isn’t the way we should be going.

Small changes at The Salvo,  no need to panic

I’m making some small changes to The Salvo’s production. The main change is that the website hosting The Salvo will change from www.lancashireloominary.co.uk to www.paulsalveson.org.uk

The change should take place with issue no. 316 but I’ll keep you posted. The Lancashire Loominary website will be closed down and I’ll concentrate all my own stuff on www.paulsalveson.org.uk, which is currently devoted to photographs (have a look, there’s some nice stuff there, but a lot of it will be removed). The consolidation is partly driven by having another website to manage now, for the Station Library (see below) as well as realising that the photographic website was not getting much use.

Railways and Music

Links between railways and music go back a long way and the connections have been well-documented. We all love Strauss’s ‘Excursion Train Polka’ and Honegger’s ‘Pacific 231’. But there is also a less recognised tradition, which includes the work of some ‘classical’ composers as well as folk song.

This survey of British music ‘with a railway connection’ does not pretend to be comprehensive and reflects the author’s own tastes. I’ve tried to highlight the contributions of railway men and women to music, mainly as performers, and the contribution of the industry to music. While the focus is very much on Britain, I should mention Julius Beliczay (1838 -1893), a senior engineer with Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) and an accomplished composer. I’ve a CD of his Symphony in D Minor performed by the MÁV  Symphony Orchestra in 1996. The orchestra was formed after the Second World War and was originally composed of working railway employees who mostly performed for railway audiences around major railway centres in Hungary. Today, it is a professional orchestra with an international reputation.

But back to the UK.  There is fascinating history of railway company support and sponsorship for bands, orchestras and choirs. As early as the 1860s there was a Great Northern Railway ‘Glee and Madrigal Society’.  Other companies supported operatic societies and even orchestras. Why did they do it? Undoubtedly it was partly from a sense of encouraging employees to be involved in ‘uplifting’ activities which kept them out of the pub. A form of social control. But there was also a sense of encouraging company pride, as well as what we would recognise today as a form of marketing and promotion.

There are many examples of railway brass bands. The nature of railway work tended to limit the involvement of shift workers, whose hours of work would have made it impossible to co-ordinate a large ensemble. So it’s not surprising that most railway brass bands tended to be based at the larger workshops. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway opened its engineering works at Horwich in the mid-1880s and encouraged recreational activities. The Railway Mechanics’ Institute developed as a cultural as well as a technical centre and the RMI Band became a nationally-respected ensemble, winning the British Championship at Crystal Palace in 1922.

The North Eastern and Great Northern Railways did much to support employees’ recreational activities and H.V. Ivatt, the chief mechanical engineer of the Great Northern between 1895 and 1911, was a well-known music enthusiast. His daughters often gave piano recitals at railway social events.

The Dhol drummers with Julie (hi-vis) and Cllr Linda Thomas, Mayor of Bolton

When the London and North Eastern Railway was formed in 1923 it didn’t take long for an LNER Music Society to be formed, which acted as an umbrella body for a choir and full orchestra. The LNER also sponsored its own Silver Band which performed at events such as the Darlington Railwaymen’s Carnival during the 1920s and 1930s.

Some of the pre-grouping railway music groups merged after 1923 and the formation of ‘The Big Four’ companies. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway had a Military Band and Orchestra while the London and South Western had a Musical Society. They amalgamated in 1925 to form the Southern Railway Musical Society, under the patronage of the General Manager.

Chudley Candish was a professional railwayman and composed The Song of the Jolly Roger. Sebastian Meyer, Assistant General Manager of the Hull and Barnsley wrote A Holiday Reminiscence for the company’s Railway’s Choral Association in 1887. Hubert Bath, a minor English composer, wrote the cantata for men’s voices Men on the Line for the  Great Eastern Railway.

Some larger railway centres had their own bands, including Doncaster, York and Bletchley. The Bletchley Station Band often performed at union events and demonstrations. Generally, the railway unions did not have their own musical bodies though in recent years the RMT union sponsored Easington Band, in Co. Durham, and encouraged the band to play at RMT demonstrations. There was a Doncaster NUR Band in the 1920s but it does not seem to have lasted for very long. The York Railway Institute Band, with a history stretching back to 1883, is a great survivor, along with the institute that supports it. As recently as December last year it gave a performance of Mozart’s Requiem with Skipton Choral Society in Selby Abbey.

Hundreds if not thousands of songs have been written about railways; however, it is not so easy to find many that were written by working railway people. Dave Goulder, a former loco fireman from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, is an exception. He wrote and performed songs about railway life which capture that period around the end of steam. In Requiem for Steam he sang a lament for the end of an era, from the point of view of one of the many who were thrown on the scrap heap:

Well I’ve given me kettle and me old tin can
To a lad for a souvenir
And I’d trade in me shovel for twenty fags
Or the price of a bottle of beer
For the Scotsman has come to the end of his run
And Mallard is cold as the stone
The story is over, the giants are dead
And the jackals are picking the bones

The English ‘Folk Song Revival’ of the 1850s and 60s produced The Ballad of John Axon, written by Ewan McColl and performed with Peggy Seeger. The ‘radio ballad’, one of a new approach to broadcast folk music, was based on the life and sad death of Stockport driver John Axon in February 1957. While driving a Stanier 8F on a heavy goods train from Buxton to Stockport the train ran out of control after the steam brake failed, enshrouding the cab in scalding steam. Axon stayed in the cab after telling his mate to jump for his life. Axon died in the ensuing collision at Chapel-en-le-Frith. The LP (and subsequent CD) The Ballad of John Axon includes some songs that McColl wrote himself but also some he collected as part of his research in the Manchester area. More railway songs appeared on Steam Whistle Ballads including one song he learnt from an old railwayman at Newton Heath depot. Moses of the Mail  is a light-hearted tale of woe about a Lancashire and Yorkshire driver whose journey from Manchester through the Calder Valley to Yorkshire goes sadly wrong. However, McColl was no locomotive expert and he wrote some of the terms down incorrectly. For example one line goes ‘both front fenders failed to work, and the engine wouldn’t steam’ instead of ‘both injectors’ (though sometimes it’s given, more possibly, as ‘sanders’). The error has been perpetuated in countless folk clubs across the North! Here’s how I think it should be sung (first two verses):

It was a dark and stormy night, the snow was falling fast
I stood on Thorpes Bridge Junction where the reckless Moses passed.
His hair was widely waving as through the air he sped;
He’d never had such doings since he started at the shed.

The signals on at Newton Heath – the shed was close at hand
He sent his mate for some more oil and a couple of bags of sand
At Moston’s dreary cutting the struggle was extreme
Both injectors failed to work and the engine wouldn’t steam…..

Another outstanding song about the Beeching era, written by former booking office clerk ‘Stanley Accrington’ was The Last Train. A retired railwayman dreams about his life on Lancashire’s railways before the axe came down, and then wakes:

Down the Rossendale Valley on a sultry warm day
The clanking of wheels echoes on
But it’s all in my mind, when I wake up I find
That the last train from Bacup has gone…….

Stanley himself describes his first gig, in appropriate surroundings, when “he finally plucked up the dutch courage to perform in front of real people in August 1979 at the Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Station, a local live music venue. No one heckled and some applauded, so he knew he was on the right lines, as it were.” He’s still going yet. Stanley performed Last Train on a memorable night on the Penistone Line ‘Folk Train’ some years ago.

What must count as a unique event in the history of railways and music was the collaboration between Northern and the Royal Northern College of Music, on June 22nd 2008. Part of Newton Heath Train Depot (‘The Parlour’ as it has been known for generations) was converted, for an afternoon only, into a concert hall. Northern Brass – a musical celebration of railways in the community -brought together two brass bands to perform a selection of railway-themed music, including a specially-written piece called Newton Heath Variations, by young composer Lucy Pankhurst.

A4 Variations at Newton Heath

The finale featured the opening of the shed doors and the appearance of preserved Barclay saddletank May steaming slowly but majestically into the ‘concert hall’, with whistle blowing! It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life and thrilled the audience, drawn from railway families and community rail activists.

The punk band Blyth Power, named after a class 56 diesel loco, perform some great railway songs, including Junction Signal and Signalman White. I’m sure there’s a lot more out there, with bands playing local gigs and promoting a railway message. Nominations welcome, especially if they include working railway people. Surely there’s an opportunity out there for the train companies, or Great British Railways, to nurture the huge talent that exists within Britain’s railway community?  One shining example in recent years was TransPennine Express, whose employee choir delighted audiences for several years before its disbandment.

There’s so much more the industry could do to encourage the talent within its ranks, as well as supporting young people’s musical development and sponsoring bands, orchestras and individual musicians. They’d be following a long and honourable tradition which helps place railways where they should be – at the heart of society.

I am grateful to the work of Philip Scowcoft for some of the background to this article.

A Railway Library on a Railway Station

Following the Government U-Turn on ticket office closures, it’s a good time for creative ideas on what to do with our stations that helps them become community hubs.

Kents Bank, on the Furness Line between Carnforth and Barrow, is an example of what can be done. It’s now home to a library devoted to railways and transport, with an emphasis on the social side of railways. It’s run by Salvo editor and co-owner of the Station House, Prof. Paul Salveson, and is based on his extensive collection of railway books, numbering over 3,000 titles. Over the last few months it has expanded thanks to several donations, including some from railway staff, delivering books from trains!

“We are in the process of setting up a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC) to develop the library,” said Paul. “Once the CIC is established, the collection will be vested in the company, which may become a charity.”

All the collection is now shelved and categorised. A longer-term project is to get every item catalogued. The collection includes a full set of The Railway Magazine from 1897 to 1980, and some rare bound volumes of railway trade union journals going back to the 1890s. A website went live two days ago: www.stationlibrary.org.uk

The library is primarily for reference though there is a small lending section. Visits are by appointment (or pot luck!) but there will also be a monthly open day, on the first Saturday of each month starting in 2024. A preview ‘open day’ was held on Saturday October 21st and attracted over sixty visitors. The only down side was the non-appearance of Bulleid Pacific on a railtour – it slipped to a stand on Dalton Bank, causing widespread disruption to other services. It finally came storming through Kents Bank over two hours late. You just can’t trust these Bulleids. The next event has been organized to avoid any incursions or excursions by Southern locomotives.

“We are holding a pre-Christmas event on Saturday December 9th, jointly with The Beach Hut Gallery, next door. There will be mince pies, mulled wine and soup,” said Paul. “Our first talk, in the Reading Room, will be about Irish Railways in the 1950s, by Michael Davies. It’s on Tuesday evening December 5th, starting at 7.30. Admission is free but must be pre-booked by phone or email.”  (see below).

Although use of the library is free and open to all, it is planned to develop a subscription offer where members receive a newsletter, notice of events and talks and discounts on book sales.

Salvo with Michael Davies and MP Tim Farron in The Reading Room

The individual subscription will be £25 a year, with a higher corporate subscription. Donations of books are very welcome.

Maybe the next step should be to get a station cat.

Contact details: Paul Salveson on 07795 008691 or info@stationlibrary.org.uk

Postal address: Station House, Kentsford Road, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands LA11 7BB

Website: www.stationlibrary.org.uk.

After the U-Turn: can we transform the ‘ticket office’?

The recent announcement that the mass closure of ticket offices, mostly in England, has been abandoned is great news. But let’s not get too complacent: whilst the immediate threat has gone there will be a risk of ‘closure by stealth’ as train companies are encouraged by Government to take a more incremental approach to booking office closures.

What a station could look like…Irlam

Let’s look at some of the issues, and the opportunities this week’s announcement offers. What was singularly lacking in the announcement was any commitment to looking at ways of making more use of our stations. At least RMT, in its announcement welcoming the U-Turn, recognised this.

There is no doubt that more and more rail passengers are buying tickets on line. This is in the face of persistent advice from me (mainly to my daughters) who think, often wrongly, that they get a better deal ‘going on line’. That trend will continue. But we still need that staffed presence, but perhaps doing other things than just selling tickets.

What we offer ‘customers’ at staffed stations is often a less-than-ideal experience, having to communicate with someone stuck behind a window who can sometimes present, without intention, the image of unfriendly officialdom. It’s a system that even most banks have done away with.

Under-used asset: Farnworth station: booking offices must become community hubs

For so many journeys involving different options in the kind of ticket purchased, being able to talk to a real live person sat alongside you is important. For larger stations, we need to keep a decent number of highly trained and well-motivated staff, with good language and inter-personal skills.

But what of the small station which might have a footfall of around 200,000 passengers a year and may offer nothing more than a single person doing a 6-2 shift? Many stations around the North fall into that category, and the member of staff may only be dealing with  a couple of trains an hour with passengers bunched within a few minutes of the trains’ departure.

“Close them,” the bean counters will say. But there are other ways. Think about it, how barmy is it that someone is sat there in a ‘booking office’ selling only one product (i.e. rail tickets)? Can you imagine a petrol station selling nothing other than petrol?

One experienced professional told me “a station is the railway’s shop window and is now more than ever a loss-leader like milk in a supermarket. Yes it can sell tickets but can also provide useful information about rail travel, plan journeys, de-mystify tickets types, provide details of onward connections, advise about bus links, be a source of local information  and be that reassuring presence for passengers wary of travelling by train.”

Merseyrail piloted a pioneering scheme some years ago called ‘M to Go’, with their partner Merseytravel and with union agreement. It was based on experience on Netherlands Railways (NS) – the ‘wizzl shop. This involved some ‘booking offices’ being transformed into convenience stores. Merseyrail staff would sell rail tickets but also a range of other products. From what I’ve heard, the scheme has generally worked well, though it is very location specific –  like any other retail business. Some locations have worked well, others less so.

City-region transport authorities such as Transport for Greater Manchester or West Midlands Rail Executive could take over the running of smaller stations and develop them along the ‘M to Go’ lines, where the location is right. I suspect the train company would be glad to co-operate. Having a substantial public body like TfGM or WMRE taking over responsibility for smaller stations would ensure economies of scale in procuring goods as well as ensuring high customer care standards and staff conditions. Depending on location, there may be scope for extended opening hours and more staff, including use of part-timers.

There is potential for the rail industry working in partnership with convenience store ‘chains’ such as the Co-op, Post Office or others. This has been tried in the past, in the south-east. Again, it’s location, location, location.

There is a ‘community rail’ angle to this. A few stations (e.g. Gobowen and Millom) have staffed booking offices run by a social enterprise. I’m talking about paid staff rather than volunteers.

Stationmaster, Lostock Junction: Mr Atcha would have been an ideal community station manager

That could work in several locations, including stations outside the larger combinations without the benefit of a regional transport body like TfGM but possibly with an active community rail partnership (CRP). There is scope for using new products at stations. Payzone now have a fully functional rail ticketing module which is cheap to operate and also offers all the other Payzone modules such as mobile phone top-up and payment of utility bills.

There are quite a few stations that could develop this way, with the support of an active CRP or ‘station partnership’. I would stress that it is heavily dependent on location and footfall, what else is in the immediate vicinity. It makes neither commercial nor social sense to set up shop in competition with a similar place across the road.

One station in my area (Lostock: a re-opening of the 1980s) has a busy commuter flow as well as leisure trips. It serves what was an old mill village which has been transformed into an attractive place to live with a lot of nearby housing development. Yet there are no facilities. The old corner shop and post office closed when the mill shut, leaving nothing. The under-used ‘booking office’ could provide a much wider range of facilities and services.

In some cases where a station is only partly staffed , as an alternative to de-staffing it and losing an important community asset,  why not hand it over to the community to develop? This is a model that is growing in popularity, with a number of shops and pubs being handed over to community-owned businesses. There is money to help. The Government – sponsored Community Ownership Fund’s objectives include help to:

  • acquire a physical community asset at risk, such as land and buildings which deliver a benefit to local people
  • renovate, repair or refurbish the asset, only where it is a community asset at risk of closure and where this is critical to saving the asset and making it sustainable for long-term community use
  • set up a new community business or buy an existing business in order to save an asset of importance to the community

(https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/community-ownership-fund-prospectus/community-ownership-fund-prospectus–2)

Could existing employees, working with the local community, set up a community business if there was the right support (finance, training) available?  A CRP could help to get the process off the ground, possibly as a subsidiary business. As president of my community rail partnership (South-East Lancashire) I’d shy away from my CRP taking on the direct running of a station shop, but we could offer support and advice, with help in promotion and marketing (just as we do with our sponsored bus services).

Coffee time at Irlam

There should be a clear contract on what would be expected and a favourable rent, but outside of mainstream regulation. Grants should be available (as above) to take on the station shop with structural changes made to the lay-out of the building to bring it into line with what we expect from an attractive small shop.

It’s about applying ‘corner-shop economics’ to a small station, where the people running it are part of the community and able to exploit opportunities and develop a valuable range of services.

Using this model, there would be a case for bringing quite a few currently unstaffed stations back to life. In my own neck of the woods, I would nominate stations such as Westhoughton, Mills Hill, Slaithwaite, Marsden and Mirfield.

We should not be deterred by the absence of buildings. There are examples, such as Ludlow and more recently Llandeilo, where a new station building has been provided. There are lessons to be learned from that experience (it wasn’t easy) but the basic concept was right. The cost could be brought down by having a simple but attractive modular design approved by Network Rail/GBR.

To re-cap, we’re talking about four categories of station, viz.,:

  • Category 1: Large station, staffed by train company (or GBR possibly), with specialist advisers, including offering one-to-one travel advice (multi-modal), with other retail facilities available within station.
  • Category 2: Medium-sized station, possibly with combined ticket sales and some retail, staffed either by the train company or a transport body such as TfGM, WMRE, Merseytravel etc. Could also do bike hire and other services depending on location..
  • Category 3: Small station, staffed by employed agents as above, providing a mix of rail tickets and other retail. In tourist areas there is scope for doing a range of tourism-related products and sales. There could be potential for involving a retail partner, e.g. Co-op, Post Office, or similar, in this category.
  • Category 4: ‘Community Station’ run independently by a social enterprise, small business or similar, offering perhaps a limited range of rail tickets and advice, plus ‘local shop’ functions and other goods depending on location. Local post office? Village cafe? Art gallery and shop? The possibilities are endless. It’s about applying ‘corner-shop economics’ to a small station and being at the heart of the community..

The experience so far of independently-run booking offices is mixed and we need to learn from that. If independent station shops are to sell tickets, they need to be properly re-imbursed. They must be disentangled from the red tape that surrounds rail ticket retailing and booking office opening times. There should be public funding (capital for setting up costs and initial revenue support while the business gets established) for staffing smaller stations where there is a demonstrable community benefit. Stations have potential to be community hubs in so many ways and that should be recognised through start-up funding.

There is already quite a lot of thinking about these questions going on in the rail industry behind the scenes; this is a contribution to what should be an ongoing debate informed by some serious research.  Staying as we are is not a long-term, or even medium-term, option.

Salvo Shorts

Dear friends departed

I’m very sorry to have to report the deaths of two good friends. Paul Blackburn, a talented poet, died unexpectedly in his sleep a few weeks ago. His funeral was well attended by friends and comrades going back many decades. Noel Spencer, former shop steward and Bolton councilor (including a stint as mayor) died three weeks ago and his funeral is on November 9th. I’ve many fond memories of Noel back in the 1980s, campaigning for the people of Farnworth. My love and very best wishes to the families of Paul and Noel: both made a great contribution to Bolton and its culture and politics, although in very different ways.

Station of Sanctuary: wonderful walk Wigan-wards

The development of Bolton as a ‘station of sanctuary’ – a friendly, welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers, is coming along well. Last Saturday the local City of Sanctuary together with the community rail partnership, station partnership and Friends of Hindley Staion

Walkers head through Borsdane Wood towards Hindley

organized a very well supported walk along the new Community Rail Trail from Westhoughton to Hindley. The walk runs from Bolton to Wigan, via Lostock, Westhoughton, Hindley and into Wigan. Over forty of us took part, the weather was fine and we had an excellent lunch at the Eddington Arms, next to Hindley station, on arrival.

Railway villages

Thanks to everyone who chipped in suggestions following the last Salvo. Malcolm Bulpiit wrote: “Melton Constable on the MGNJR in Norfolk, it lived and died with the railway. Lostwithiel in Cornwall was an ancient town but the Cornwall Railway put their C&W works there and it then became a railway village. Newcastleton on the Waverley Route only existed due to the railway. There are many, many, more. Get scribbling.”

I will! More suggestions welcome. To qualify as a village I suppose it needs a bit more than just a row of houses, and ideally include shops, schools or church. But not necessarily. Some larger places, including cities, have several railway villages within them, including Carlisle, which has at least four examples (Currock, Durranhill, Kingmoor and Upperby) reflecting the different companies presence in the border city. Woodford Halse would qualify, and there’s a good Oakwood Press book about it. There must be lots scattered around London, e.g. perhaps Bricklayer’s Arms, Camden, Kentish Town. Suggestions please!

Birthday treat to Beamish

I know how to have a good time: playing trains, trams and going down t’pit, followed by a pint. Most if not all these pleasures can be enjoyed at Beamish, the wonderful open-air museum near Stanley, Co. Durham. The last time I was there was 1982, not that long after it had opened. My, what a transformation!

Lots of activity at Beamish

It’s fabulous place, and immensely popular.  The basic idea was to re-create a classic Durham mining community, round about 1900. Several buildings, including an entire terraced row of houses, were taken down brick-by-brick and re-built on the large site. There’s a coal mine, railway (well two really), a co-op store, pub and lots more. A more recent development has been the creation of a 1950s community, with modern (for its day) council housing and even a slag heap. The whole thing is connected by tram, performing a circuit around the site, supplemented by heritage buses. Sunday afternoon was spent looking round Bishop Auckland – including a visit to the new Faith Museum and the excellent Museum of Mining Art. A town definitely ‘on the up’. Other treats over the weekend included a visit to Locomotion at Shildon for the model railway exhibition and Ripon Cathedral, where I had the pleasure of meeting up with old railway pal Phil Bustard, now a verger in the cathedral.

And Blackpool

Nice to meet up with another old pal this time in Blackpool. I’m always drawn back to Blackpool, especially this time of year, with ‘Th’Lights’. A nice lunch was had and as we headed back to the station we came across a really interesting place, which I can recommend to visitors and locals alike. It’s called ‘Aunty Social’ and is a shop full of fascinating things, made by local artists and ‘makers’. It has a radical edge to it, and I bought a Walter Crane reproduction poster celebrating ‘The Co-operative Commonwealth’.

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

More talks are planned on aspects of my new book on Lancashire history and identity. The gg at University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, was very well supported with about 60 people attending, a nice mix of students, academic staff and local people.

The next sessions are:

  • Clarion House AGM, Nelson – Unity Hall, 14.00 Saturday November 18th
  • Bolton Socialist Club, Friday November 24th at 19.30
  • Edwin Waugh Dialect Society, Rochdale, January 9th at 19.30 (switched from Nov. 14th)

Please contact me if you would like more details.

The book isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different theme sof Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Top Feedback: HS2

Some very supportive/intelligent  responses to the last Salvo on HS2 cancellation: thank you. Here’s a selection of comments, which take differing approaches but all have validity:

Mark Barker says:  The Government’s list of goodies needs to be treated with a degree of suspicion:

  1. The named rail schemes are uncosted, whereas there are specific sums for road schemes, presumably these are more developed than the rail schemes. So how much of the £36 bn does rail get? This despite the fact that the rail schemes are known about, but unsupported by DfT, such as ‘Restoring Your Railway’, or major upgrades such as Ely remodelling.
  2. Over £23bn is allocated to City Region Sustainable Transport or Local Transport funds. Is this ‘new money’ and how will these funds be allocated? Will this be a City Region or DfT decisions?
  3. There is a lot of double counting going on, for example, the same ‘pot’ of money being mentioned in different regional sections e.g. £2.2 bn for local transport projects mentioned in East Midlands and West Midlands, and £4.0 bn for linking Northern cities mentioned in Yorks & Humber and North West. Some projects are mentioned twice; eg Leamside line and Leamside new station, Tavistock station and five miles of new line. Yes, there are some worthwhile, even important schemes mentioned eg Ely remodelling, but there are some notable absentees eg Colne-Skipton, the western part of Northern Powerhouse (Liverpool to Manchester Airport), or any freight infill electrification schemes. Above all, nothing at all to address capacity on the WCML north of Handsacre and on the approaches to Manchester

David Horsman: Paul, We have been vindicated though after a terrible waste of money.We told them that HS2 was not going to provide an up to date integrated transport system for the country which we desperately need. So our efforts were not in vain and we were RIGHT !

Malcolm Bulpitt:  HS2 should have been called ‘London’s Crossrail Two’. It was a political vanity project that only existed to bring more people into the capital. Why else would the Westminster Village have approved it? Anyone north of Watford who thought otherwise was soft in the head. Looks like most of the money ‘saved’ is going on political bribes. A sort of 21stC ‘Bread and Circuses’.

John Yellowlees: Sorry, Paul. This is a dark day for rail investment. Costs will now soar as bidders price in uncertainty. You can’t just switch projects in mid-development without huge wastage, and Bradford is simply in the wrong place to be on the Trans Pennine main line. Another huge victory for the roads lobby from a millionaire Prime Minister who has no sympathy for public transport.

Stewart Arnold: It all stems from the lack of regional governance in the North. If the Government had gone to a Yorkshire Parliament at the outset and asked what are your top 10 transport priorities, nowhere would have getting to London 20 minutes quicker appeared. As it was, without a regional structure in place, Westminster decided they knew best and so HS2 was born. The betrayal thing is a bit wearing I agree. It hadn’t been coming to Yorkshire for quite some time now and I don’t remember the same sense of outrage from Labour Mayors. However, the North was promised a part of one of the largest infrastructure projects in recent times and for that to be scrapped feeds into a narrative of indifference when it comes to how Westminster sees the North. I’d get behind a fast direct route from Hull to Manchester Airport though!

Mike Pedler: I agree with you Paul on HS2 but also with Vince Chadwick and maybe with John Yellowlees that this is a victory for the roads lobby. I never believed HS2 had anything to do with that mythical kingdom “The North”, but I struggle to believe that we will get the promised schemes even if Labour adopts the plan. Regarding the Hope Valley line, it has taken us 7 or 8 years just to get rid of some single tracking and build a passing loop. What chance of electrification?

John Kolodziejski: I was against HS2 from the start for the same reasons you have clearly adduced. I think Burnham et al were wrong-headed in backing HS2 unless it was a cunning, far-sighted plan to get what the Tories are now saying they’re offering for Northern Power House Rail. HS2 was a ‘big sell’ offering jam which will only be savoured some 15 to 20 years of tomorrows. Most of today’s keen rail travellers (e.g.myself) are opting reluctantly for the comfort and predictability of our own four rubber wheels. Burnham should have campaigned incessantly for the debottlenecking the obvious distinctive regional obstacles to reliable services ie Castlefield Corridor…..at least i’d have something to look forward to in my lifetime.

Robert Snape: Restoration of the double track of the Manchester to Blackburn route is essential. The railway to Clitheroe and that to Colne depends on a single line for much of its length to connect it to the region’s economic and cultural hub. The extension of a passenger service from Clitheroe to Hellifield would also create a second route to Carlisle. In this case the track is already there and being used by freight traffic. We have been waiting for these things for decades. If we don’t get them in this current plan we’ll probably never get them at all.

Andrew Needham: Manchester-Liverpool: Section 33. “We will also invest £12 billion to better connect Manchester to Liverpool. This would allow the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail as previously planned, including high-speed lines. But we will work with local leaders to agree whether they wish to suggest other ways to achieve the objectives within thatcost envelope.” So it means delivery of what was planned (which included the airport) – but it might not. Phase 2b safeguarding will be amended by summer next year, to allow for any safeguarding needed for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Alan Burrows: I agree with your comments about HS2. The sad thing is that the government have been in “charge” of the project, the PM complains of the high costs but he was the credit card holder. As a resident of Greater Manchester I feel that the present government are beyond shame, that they can hold a conference in Manchester, and insult the North by stating that “no decision had been made”, when it obviously had (re: film of PM in Downing St.). I would like to know several things:-
1) How was the money spent?
2) How much more money has to be to sub-contractors and other parties for the cancellation of the allocated work for Birmingham to Manchester, the Leeds leg and any other parts of the project that were cancelled along the way?
3) How many of these projects are actuallly new projects?
4) Timescale for delivery of the alternative projects?
5) How is the West coast mainline going to be improved? The line is already in a shocking state. When SkyNews put this question to the Mayor of the Tees Valley (Tory) he did not have an answer apart from he was happy that his area was getting £1 billion (so that is ok then)! With sensible management & less need for speed an intercity and regional rail improvement plan could have been carried out, but frankly, like the first comment I do not hold out much hope.

John Chapman: We can argue about the merits – or otherwise – of abandoning HS2 until the proverbial cows come home but the decision has been made and we will all have to live with it. The important thing now is to ensure that these alternative schemes are all actually implemented – after all, the NHS is still waiting for the £350 million per week ‘Brexit bonus’. We also need to ensure that the road projects are not followed through at the expense of rail investment.

John Nicholson: I was never a great fan of HS2. I could never see how it would inevitably benefit ‘the North’ as its trains would have run in both directions & could just have easily transferred wealth north to south as well as south to north. Moreover I think you have to be suspicious when its supporters change the case for it. As I remember it originally was about cutting journey times (& presumably making it competitive with domestic air travel) which then shifted to connectivity. But now we seem to have got the worst of all worlds – a massively expensive London-Birmingham shuttle! But aren’t the £36b savings going to be poured into more local transport improvements? Don’t you believe it! Consider:
1.  Some of the £36b is going to finance a Metrolink extension to the airport. This has existed since 2014.
2.  85% (by expenditure) of the projects mentioned have already been promised or committed to during the 13 years of Conservative/Conservative-led government.
3. The promises made in ‘Network North’ have proved either ridiculous (quadrupling the number of trains between Leeds & Sheffield – there are already five an hour so are we seriously expected to believe there’s going to be 20 an hour?!) or ephemeral (the Leamside line in Co Durham was promised to be reinstated. 24 hours later this promise was removed).
4. The whole tone of the Network North document was unbelievably casual – Manchester on an accompanying map was placed on the Ribble, in a document meant to be about rail improvements in the North, Holyhead & Plymouth were included as well as improvements to the road between those two heart of the north locations Bognor & Southampton – later scaled back to Littlehampton. But what do we expect from a PM whose default modes of transport are helicopter & private jet?
Anyway let’s rejoice that we won’t have seven bins, a meat tax, compulsory car sharing & local councils telling us when & where we shop. Or is the slaying of these dragons just evidence of Trumpian post-truth, alternative facts, rejection of evidence politics making their unwelcome way across the Atlantic? I pose the question.

Jim Trotman: I always predicted that HS2 was folly and would only ever reach Birmingham (clearly the capital of the North). I once heard it said in the DfT years ago that the line to Birmingham served the North. Perhaps we can now have a doubling of capacity, as promised, on the Lakes Line to Windermere and then electrification – small change compared to billion pound schemes.

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £9.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England.

Could this be Blackstock Junction?

Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

Categories
Uncategorized

Northern Salvo 314

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (both Lancashire)

email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     314     October 2023    HS2 Special

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

A special edition of The Northern Salvo, mainly but not entirely about HS2. No photos this time owing to time constraints. Want to get this out to my avid readers……

The Right Decision

Rishi Sunak is still delivering his conference speech as I write but the news we’ve all been waiting for is out. HS2 to Manchester is scrapped, the £36 billion (?) saved will go into regional transport schemes. See the full document (Network North: transforming British transport) at www.gov.uk.

The devil is always in the detail and it was interesting that the loudest applause he got was the announcement of a string of road schemes. Yet there were some intriguing references to electrifying the North Wales Coast main line and upgrading the Cumbrian Coast route – maybe he’s been watching Portillo’s ‘Great Coastal Rail Journeys’. He emphasized east-west links and the building of a new Trans-Pennine route via Bradford. There was also funding for buses and a continuation of the £2 fare. Further details below with a regional breakdown of public transport projects. Some good ones, it must be said, but an awful lot of roads…..

It’s the end of a long saga in which politicians ignored reality and ploughed on with the scheme first mooted by Andrew Adonis in the dying years of the last Labour Government. A lot of money has already been wasted on a scheme that was over-engineered and badly conceived, with very poor connectivity to the existing rail network. There was a always a risk that far from regenerating the North, it would have sucked wealth further to the south-east and London. Major centres like Stockport, Wigan, Warrington and Stoke would have ended up with a poorer service. As more and more money was being ploughed into HS2 it would have strangled many far better regional projects. I realize many will mourn its demise but I won’t be one of them. Here’s a few more snippets about the scheme, recent and in the more distant past.

What should Labour do?

For a start, drop the soundbite politics about ‘Betrayal of the North’. It isn’t. There’s some good things in the announcement but also a lot that should be challenged, including many of the road building schemes. Where the Government announcement is deficient is the lack of an overall strategy for ‘Network North’ – as it is, there’s a lot of piecemeal schemes (some of which are much needed, undoubtedly). Dumping HS2 means there is a gap in terms of overall rail strategy – below we highlight the importance of a new ‘whole route modernisation’ for the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe. This should be part of an overarching Rail Plan for the North which the proposed ‘Network North’ could drive forward. Castlefield Corridor enhancement would transform the North’s rail network.

The Government announcement

This was published earlier this afternoon, October 4th, and fleshes out what ‘Network North’ would – or could – mean. But read carefully, it’s saying that the money ‘could’ be used to fund the named projects, e.g. Metrolink to Bolton…The schemes below are a summary of the announcement, I haven’t included all the road schemes. Each region gets the £2 bus fare extension and funding for smart ticketing. It’s all here in full: –

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/find-out-about-every-new-transport-project-in-your-region
North West
  •  Improving connectivity in all six Northern city areas: Nearly £4 billion to improve connectivity, which could pay for schemes such as the extension of the Manchester Metrolink to Heywood, Bolton, Wigan and Manchester Airport and bus rapid transit corridors in Manchester.
  •  New fund to transform rural travel: A brand new £2.5 billion fund to transform local transport for smaller cities, and towns. This new money could pay for new stations, further electrification, bus corridors and new integrated public transport networks.
  •  Energy Coast Line between Carlisle, Workington and Barrow upgraded: Improving capacity and journey times, enabling trains every 30 minutes between Carlisle, Workington, and Whitehaven
  •  Contactless & smart ticketing: £100 million will be shared across the North and Midlands to support seamless travel by enabling contactless or smartcard payment.
  •  £2 bus fare will also be extended: Will run to the end of December 2024 instead of rising to £2.50 as planned. This will mean passengers on a bus journey from Lancaster to Kendal will save £12.50 every time they travel.
  •  £700 million bus funding package in the North: More buses and more frequent routes, including a new service to Royal Blackburn Hospital, doubling the service between Northwich and Chester and more buses to industrial estates and business parks.
  •  £1.5bn for Greater Manchester: Comes from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement 2 budget
  •  Nearly £1bn for Liverpool City Region: Comes from City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) 2 budget, plus a further £600 million on top – funded from HS2.
North East
  •  Reopening stations: Communities in the North East will be reconnected, including a new station at Ferryhill, Co Durham. The Leamside line, closed in 1964, will also be reopened.
  •  Funding for contactless and smart ticketing: Supporting seamless travel by enabling contactless or smartcard payment.
  •  £1.8 bn for the North East from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement 2 and HS2 funding.
  •  £1 bn for Tees Valley.
Yorkshire & Humber
  •  £2.5 billion West Yorkshire mass-transit system: Better connections to Bradford and Wakefield. Leeds will no longer be the biggest European city without a mass-transit system, with up to seven lines potentially created as part of a transformed network, eventually linking Leeds to Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield.
  •  Hull brought into Northern Powerhouse Rail network: Reducing journey time to Leeds from 58 minutes to just 48. The number of trains between Hull and Sheffield. Journeys from Hull to Manchester will drop from 107 to 84 minutes, enabling two fast trains to Leeds.
  •  Sheffield-Leeds line  electrified and upgraded:  Giving passengers a choice of three to four fast trains an hour with journey times cut from 40 to 30 minutes. A new mainline station for Rotherham will also be added to the route, boosting capacity by 300 per cent.
  •  Hope Valley Line between Manchester and Sheffield electrified and upgraded: Cutting journey times from 51 to 42 minutes, and increasing the number of fast trains on the route from two to three per hour, doubling capacity.
  •  Reopening train lines: Communities will be reconnected, including through the restoration of the Don Valley Line between Stocksbridge and Sheffield Victoria, and new stations at Haxby Station, near York, Waverley, near Rotherham, and the Don Valley Line from Sheffield to Stocksbridge.
  • Nearly £4 billion to better connect all six Northern city areas: This could pay for schemes such as bus rapid transit corridors in Bradford and Leeds.
  • £2.5 billion fund to transform local transport in 14 rural counties: This new money could finance projects like more electric buses in Harrogate and better bus-rail interchange in Scarborough.
  • £1.4 bn for South Yorkshire from savings from HS2 and the City Regional Sustainable Settlement.
  • £1.3 bn for West Yorkshire. This includes a £500m downpayment for the West Yorkshire Mass Transit.
West Midlands
  • Reopening closed Beeching lines: including the Stoke to Leek line and the Oswestry to Gobowen line, with a new stop at Park Hall. A new station will be built at Meir, Stoke-on-Trent, on the existing Crewe to Derby line,
  • £2.2 billion fund to transform local transport: Rural counties such as Shropshire, smaller cities like Leicester and towns such as Evesham will receive funding which could pay for smaller, more demand-driven buses in rural areas as well as funding the refurbishment of Kidsgrove and Longport stations, near Stoke-on-Trent.
  • £230 million for more bus services: Increased  frequency of bus services in the Midlands, which could be spent on new bus stops around Telford and park and ride upgrades elsewhere in Shropshire and new bus lanes in Herefordshire.
  •  £1 billion more for local transport funding in West Midlands:  This includes £100 million to deal with ongoing metro and Arden Cross cost pressures, £250 million to accelerate local transport projects over the next five years.
East Midlands
  • Increased rail capacity: The number of trains between Leicester and Birmingham will be doubled from two to four per hour.
  • £1.5 billion for East Midlands City Region Mayor: Transforming transport for 2.2 million people living in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. This is an average of almost £1000 for everyone in the two counties. The new Combined Authority could use the funding to extend the Nottingham Tram system to serve Gedling and Clifton South and connect Derby to East Midlands Parkway with a Bus Rapid Transit System.
  • Reopening Beeching Line stations: Including the Ivanhoe Line between Leicester and Burton, connecting 250,000 people across South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire, with new stations en route.
  • Funding for the Barrow Hill Line: Between Chesterfield and Sheffield Victoria, with a new station at Staveley in Derbyshire.
  • Fixing two major pinch points on the A5: Funding a stretch of road between Hinckley and Tamworth, linking the M1 and M6, that serves more than one million people. Funding will also be provided for improvements to the A50/500 corridor between Stoke and Derby, cutting congestion for the 90,000 drivers who use the road each day and ensuring smoother journeys for drivers and freight around Rolls Royce, Toyota, Magna Park, and other major local employers.
  • £2.2 billion fund to transform local transport: Available in every part of the Midlands outside the mayoral combined authority areas and the new East Midlands combined authority – rural counties such as Shropshire, smaller cities like Leicester and towns such as Evesham.
  • £230 million for more bus services: Increasing frequency throughout the Midlands and the popular £2 bus fare will also be extended until the end of December 2024 instead of rising to £2.50 as planned.
  • The East Midlands will get a brand new the City Regional Sustainable Transport settlement of over £1.5 billion as it embarks its new status as a Combined Authority next year.

Rail Reform Group prepares a vision

The last few weeks has seen some serious thinking within the Rail Reform Group (an independent network of rail professionals) looking at ideas for how a post-HS2 vision could look like. A very pertinent comment was:

“The key challenge is not to over-analyze but to deliver – to make good use of the massive sunk costs in HS2 but improve local services as well.  HS2 was very good at arguing that it needed its own route to avoid impacting on the current network – but there are massive direct impacts on the current network at Euston, Old Oak Common, Handsacre, Crewe and lots of other areas which they claim is not their problem – Manchester approaches, West Coast Main Line North  …”

The West Coast Main Line north of Crewe is life expired after the BR ‘total modernisation’ in the early 1970s – and is a massive constraint on freight and passenger services now as well as slow for modern passenger use. Work is happening now, based on renewals, but the vision needs to be wider with both capacity and line speed increases. It must be all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

A key focus must be on Manchester – particularly the Castlefield Corridor, with quadrupling between Deansgate and Piccadilly and similar enhancement south of Stockport, where there is insufficient capacity for the current services and planned HS2 services over the existing infrastructure.

What was wrong from the start?
  • Over specified – speed was too high at 400 kph, trains will only be 360kph, while most high-speed railways in other countries manage with much lower top speeds. This is important –it makes it really difficult to fit the railway into our crowded environment and reduce impact on people and places.  This has resulted in miles of tunnels which are there for environmental purposes rather than to get through the topography – with massive costs
  • Over engineered – all the tunnels – the parallel access road, slab track, platform doors…station design  was similarly over-ambitious.
  • Not integrated into the existing network – with its expensive terminal stations (Leeds, Piccadilly, Birmingham Curzon Street) which did not link into the existing networks. And not connected to HS1 (an early casualty of the project).

Looking back, five years ago…

This article was written for Chartist and published in April 2018

Fast line to failure? The HS2 Conundrum

The traditional left likes big infrastructure projects. They create jobs and provide long-term infrastructure for the nation. So whether it’s a new motorway, airport (or new runway), railway (slow speed or high-speed), they are almost by definition ‘a good thing’. In addition, it’s often asserted that major infrastructure projects can assist economically disadvantaged areas. Environmental campaigners tend to be inherently distrustful – wary of extra pollution through car or air traffic, as well as opposed to the environmental damage which new roads or railways cause. The new high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester – HS2 – exemplifies the divisions. Labour and the unions seem broadly in favour of the scheme, with local authorities in the main cities seeing it as a tool of urban regeneration. Most environmental campaigners are against it.

But what of the influential but fragmented ‘rail lobby’, comprising the industry and its suppliers but also the large number of campaigning groups who have succeeded in shifting much Government policy towards a much more pro-rail stance, compared with the road-obsessed approach of the 60s and 70s? It’s very divided. Unsurprisingly, rail industry suppliers are all in favour, with the prospect of multi-billion pound contracts for rolling stock, signalling equipment and actual construction. Some rail campaigners are in support, seeing any rail investment as automatically positive. Yet a large number of experienced industry professionals, as well as lay campaigners, think the whole thing is ill-conceived. This is an interesting group: knowledgeable and pro-rail and not instinctively against ‘high-speed rail’ as seen in mainland Europe, China and Japan. I include myself amongst their number.

So what’s wrong with HS2? The scheme is for a 400 km/h railway starting at Euston and running via west London then out through the Chilterns to a major interchange south of Birmingham. The route then splits, with a branch terminating at a new station at Birmingham (Curzon Street). Phase 2a continues to Crewe and will eventually continue joining the existing West Coast Main Line near Wigan with trains continuing north to Scotland. In Phase 2b there will be branches to Manchester and another line heading to Leeds and the East Coast main Line, with a line joining up with the existing East Coast main Line near York. As with Birmingham, both Leeds and Manchester stations will be dead-ends. There is also serious consideration being given to a Northern east-west route – HS3 or ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ linking Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and the east coast.

There are a number of big issues with HS2 as it’s currently conceived which should make Labour MPs and local authorities pause for thought. Above all, it’s a hugely London-centric scheme which will benefit the economy of London and the expense of other regions, particularly the North. It will suck wealth further into London, with only some localised regeneration benefits in the areas around the three termini (Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester). At £56 billion (a very conservative estimate and challenged by several commentators, including internal government sources) it’s a very high price to pay to bring a few more jobs to cities which are already doing pretty well. The benefits to large towns which are currently struggling are minimal. And it won’t link to HS1, allowing through trains to mainland Europe, and neither will it serve Heathrow which would help reduce the number of highly polluting domestic flights.

The maximum speed that the line is engineered for is very high – at 250 mph it is much more than European high-speed operation and has consequences for where it goes and places it serves. It is engineered to get from A to B as quickly as possible and misses out large towns and cities in pursuit of the very high-speed holy grail (which is hugely environmentally damaging, both in terms of route and energy consumption). Ironically, it doesn’t do what any sensible high-speed rail project should do and serve the country as a whole, including more distant cities which currently tend to use aviation rather than rail. Above all, this means Glasgow and Edinburgh, but Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea should be included in a strategic approach to a British high-speed network, which is fully integrated with the conventional network. HS2 is neither. Interestingly, the new trains for HS2 which are compatible with the conventional network can only go at a maximum speed of 115 mph, unlike the existing Pendolinos and ageing HST fleet which can run at 125 mph (in the case of Pendolinos they have a design speed of 140 mph but existing signalling limits them to 125). So new ‘high-speed trains’ post 2033 (that’s the target) will actually be slower from Preston northwards.

The new route south of Birmingham will free up capacity on existing routes, though mainly for longer-distance suburban services into London. It will do nothing to provide extra capacity into the major northern or Midlands cities. It won’t help the rail freight industry, whose main spokespersons (including Labour peer Tony Berkeley) are strongly opposed to the current scheme.

I haven’t dwelt much on cost. Even the official estimate is very high and likely to be exceeded. A final figure of around £100bn isn’t unrealistic. You could get an awful lot of good quality conventional railway for that, with money left over for schools and hospitals. There’s still time to reconsider.

What were the true costs?

Michael Byng, an experienced railway engineer, has made the following comments in a letter to the BBC recently, following a discussion between Sir John Armitt and Lord Berkeley:

For those who heard the discussion involving Sir John Armitt and Lord Berkeley this morning on the programme, I regret that your Interviewer failed to establish the base date for the costs being cited. Sir John Armitt inferred that the £180 bn (£182.10 bn actually) was at 4th Quarter 2019 prices, where it is at 2nd Quarter 2023 prices. The estimate of cost at 4th Quarter 2019 prices was £125.52 bn, from independent assessment and supported by ‘Whistleblowers’, within HS2 Limited and its supply chain.

Inflation, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “All Construction Index”, between 4Q 2019 and 2Q 2023 is 20.33%, which adds £25.51 bn to the estimate before the events in the last 4 years, see below, are considered. In the last 4 (four) years, additional costs arising from the problems at Euston caused by the suspension of the works, Contractor’s claims for Loss and expense arising from Extensions of Time to the original 2017 – 2026 programme and advice from “Whistleblowers” about the “sunk costs” for property acquired and design work done on the, now abandoned, East Midlands to Leeds section, increase the cost to £182.10 bn

Lord Berkeley quoted the current estimated cost correctly, £180 billion at current, 2nd Quarter 2023 prices (my emphasis – ed.).

In August 2018, Sir John Armitt said that “the extra £43bn is needed to prevent “inadequate transport links” for those using public transport in cities across the country, not just those on the HS2 route.” Applying ONS Index to that figure, the further cost, over and above £182.10 bn, of additional connectivity, is £53.13bn. There was no mention of these additional costs in the discussion today.

If Sir John Armitt’s statement made in August 2018 is accepted and taken into included, the cost of the whole connected project is now £235.23 billion!

My comments are in my own area of expertise, construction costs. I understand from railway managers that HS2’s revenue, for whatever extent of reduced system is built, are at least as dubious as the misquoted cost figures. They ask, what is this actually all for?”

Rest of the Salvo……………………

The Community Railway Library and Reading Room make progress

The last issue of The Salvo mentioned some embryonic ideas for the railway library at Kents Bank. Things have moved on a bit and the idea of a publicly-accessible resource, specializing in local/community rail, is coming along. It will be initially based on my own collection, which comprises around 3,000 titles, though I’ve never got round to counting them. It is now shelved at Station House, Kents Bank.

The various categories are being refined but will include sections on railway social history, the unions, railway literature (including poetry), children’s railway books, engineering (civil and mechanical), railway policy and politics, narrow-gauge and miniature, international…and more. There will be space for books on other forms of transport including cycling, trams, buses and shipping.

A community interest company is being formed, with charitable objectives (eventually it may become a registered charity). The collection will be bequeathed to it. It will also be open to other donations. We’ve already had several offers of books from Salvo readers – thank you!

An informal preview of the library will take place on Saturday October 21st, from 13.00h but ‘open house’ for the afternoon, with light refreshments available. All Salvo readers welcome (and donations very much welcome!). The Beach Hut Gallery, next door, has plenty of good stuff on view, and is open Thursday to Sunday 11.00 to 16.00h, so will be open on the 21st.

Plans for a monthly meeting with a guest speaker are also coming along but no date fixed for the first session yet. If you want to be on a dedicated mailing list for the library and ‘railway book club’ events/talks, let me know.

Railway Pigs, Donkeys and other Animals

This idea seems to have got legs (ouch). In the last Salvo I mentioned an embryonic idea to write something about local branch lines that have survived in the popular imagination – like The Pilling Pig, Delph Donkey and Burton Dick, and have their own local name. Things have moved on and those nice people at Platform 5 Publishing in Sheffield have agreed to publish an A4-format book for next summer.

I’d like to get a good geographical coverage across Britain. The key criteria is that the particular line must have evidence of it being remembered today. It could be a photos in the local pub or village hall, a memorial plaque, or even an occasional event. It would be good to get some lines that are still open, such as The Marlow Donkey. The aim is to get about fifteen lines covered So please send your nominations, but remember there must be some present-day evidence that the line still has some local visibility, in whatever way.

Salvo Shorts

To Workington and Millom

Our mini Autumn Holiday took us to places such as Bassenthwaite Lake to sample the excellent station restaurant, housed in the film set for the Orient Express. We had a pleasant ride up the Cumbrian Coast Line to Millom before heading back to Workington. Millom impressed – a town that has gone through hard times but seemed to be on the up. The new art gallery and museum was taking shape down by the harbor and the temporary location had plenty to see. The station itself has some great displays about the town’s history, particularly its Roman past. What tempted us to visit Workington was the excellent artwork on the station which we noticed on our way up. “Let’s see what Workington has to offer!” we decided. The answer is, once you’ve visited the station, not a lot. Yet the historical displays at the station are brilliant and well worth a visit. The town itself has seen better days though the 1920s bus station is worth a visit.B eyond that, I’d struggle…but maybe we missed something. We also stopped off for a drink at the 1970s-heritage Railway Club next to the station which was warm and welcoming.

…and Barrow Hill

It’s a while since I visited Barrow Hill Roundhouse at Staveley, near Chesterfield – so I was looking forward to my trip last Saturday. There was a very practical purpose: to collect garden railway loco 99.6001 following extensive repairs at Nottingham Works, and to collect an antique bell. The bell is intended for Station House, replacing a similar one that disappeared in the late 19th century.  Not sure of exactly where it will go, but working on it. Does anyone know of any other surviving station bells? Barrow Hill is a classic railway community (see below) complete with an ‘Allport Street’ and ‘Midland Terraces’. I’d love to go back and explore further. As it is the Roundhouse is wonderful, and nice to see the Midland Compound no. 1000, GC ‘Director’ Butler Henderson’ and other fibne machines including the three Deltics in the adjacent shed.

Railway villages

Another idea taking shape in my head is a book on ‘railway villages’. No, I don’t mean railway towns, like Crewe, Doncaster or even Horwich. I mean smaller settlements, villages, Barrow Hill being a great example. To qualify as a village I suppose it needs a bit more than just a row of houses, and ideally include shops, schools or church. But not necessarily. Some larger places, including cities, have several railway villages within them, including Carlisle, which has at least four examples (Currock, Durranhill, Kingmoor and Upperby) reflecting the different companies presence in the border city. Woodford Halse would qualify, and there’s a good Oakwood Press book about it. There must be lots scattered around London, e.g. perhaps Bricklayer’s Arms, Camden, Kentish Town. Suggestions please!

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets

My book on Lancashire history and identity seems to be doing pretty well. I;ve done half a dozen talks on the book so far and always had good audiences. The next one is at Bolton Family History Society, followed by Grange Photographic Society. More to follow in Preston, Rochdale and Nelson. It isn’t a ‘conventional’ history and covers different theme sof Lancashire history, including sport, culture, politics, industry and religion. It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

It’s available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Book Talks

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

Categories
Uncategorized

Northern Salvo 313

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (both Lancashire)

email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     313     September/October  2023

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

September sunshine…..

Cor, what a scorcher! Nice to have some late summer sunshine, with time to get out into the garden and do some trackwork. I had hoped to spend some time on the ‘Railway Library’ at Kents Bank but it’s not quite the weather to be stuck in a cellar. But good to have a choice.

In this Salvo I mention my next book project, on the cultural and social impact of local branch lines – some long gone (but not forgotten) and some still thumping along. My latest book Lancastrians – Mills, Mines and Minarets. A New History, is published by Hurst. It covers questions of identity and several themes often neglected by more conventional histories. The ‘launches’ have all gone well with more talks in the offing (see below). Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by entering LANCASTRIANS 25 at the checkout on Hurst’s website www.hurstpublishers.com

I’m sad to have to record the deaths of two outstanding people. David Mackereth, of Stretford, a very active champion of Urmston station adoption and ‘community rail’ generally, passed on recently after a fairly short illness. David was very active in a wide range of activities and he will be sadly missed.  The superb displays at Urmston station are just part of his legacy. In Bolton the diminutive figure of Malcolm Pittock was a well known in a wide range of campaigns, particularly the peace movement. Though small of stature he was a very big man in every other way. His death at the age of 94 has been widely mourned. We shall not see his like again.

Very best wishes to the Rev. John McKegney, former chairman of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and a great example of the fine tradition of Liberal Protestantism in Ireland. He has been struggling with a serious illness for some time and his condition has recently deteriorated. Our hopes and prayers are with you John.

Booking Offices: a people’s revolt

The announcement in early July that hundreds of station booking offices were to close (mostly in England) was greeted with a storm of opposition. The (extended) deadline for comments on this ill-thought proposal was September 1st, and an amazing 680,000 submissions have been made. I suspect most will be against. There is still time to sign the parliamentary petition which opposes the plans. At the last count there was well over the 100,000 required to trigger a parliamentary debate. But worth keeping on the pressure and if you haven’t signed yet, please do…It’s below, in the accompanying article that recently appeared in Chartist magazine (www.charist.org.uk):

Stop this Beeching of the Booking Offices

The last couple of months have seen an unparalleled explosion of passenger anger over the Government’s plans to close down hundreds of station ticket offices. It is being presented as a proposal by the train companies, who manage most station ticket offices, but there is no question that this is Government -inspired.

It has been spectacularly badly managed. The original consultation period offered just over three weeks for people to respond to what is one of the biggest changes proposed for the railways since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Whilst Beeching was far worse, cutting thousands of miles of track, the attitude demonstrated by the cuts has much in common. It is a sledgehammer approach with no analysis of particular stations, still less any consideration of how ticket offices could widen their scope to take in other retail activities. Groups like the Rail Reform Group have proposed re-purposing the traditional ticket office to offer a wider range of services and goods, whilst retaining ticket sales.

It is being foisted on train operating companies by a Government which is desperate to save money on the railways, following Covid and as well as the on-going strikes. There is an element of political spite in all of it, as a way of attacking the unions and cutting staff.

It makes no sense in terms of passenger convenience, despite the hype that we will somehow get a better service. While a lot has been said, rightly, about how elderly and disabled people will be particularly hit, it cuts across most rail users. Ticket machines can be OK if you’re making a simple journey, but you may well need help if the trip involves several changes, route options and possibly starting from a different station. Tourists from abroad using the rail network need help from a friendly face, not trying to work out a route by machine – and often paying too much.

Much has been made of the figure of ‘only’ 12% of ticket sales coming through staffed ticket offices. Yet that masks large variation across the network and we are not told what percentage of revenue is taken by the different methods. My suspicion is that ticket offices take much more than 12% of revenue, as opposed to numerical sales, because people tend to use staffed offices for longer and usually more costly journeys.

Lest anyone thinks I’m being too easy on the train companies, let’s just spell it out. This is an English, Tory Government project. There are no plans to close ticket offices where there is devolved government, including Scotland, Wales, Merseyside and Greater London where TfL control stations through their London Overground operator. In Scotland there will be the ludicrous situation of some of the busiest stations, such as Glasgow Central, having no ticket office while small local stations, run by ScotRail (owned by the Scottish Government) will keep there’s. Liverpool Lime Street, operated by Avanti, loses its ticket office but all local stations run by Merseyrail will remain open.

Under-used asset: Farnworth station: booking offices must become community hubs

It’s surprising that none of the main parties have made much of the ticket office issue. There’s a pool of public anger out there that the opposition parties could capitalize on.

The proposals say that no station currently with a ticket office will be left unstaffed yet these are weasel words. At most locations there will be ‘flexible’ staff who provide assistance to passengers, but their hours of attendance will typically be no more than a couple of hours per day.

The unions have fought back with petitions, marches, demonstrations, posters, leaflets and social media initiatives. The consultation process was extended to September 1st as a result of public pressure, which suggests the Government is already on the back foot.  There is a Parliamentary Petition that is still open and has already attracted over 100,000 signatures. It is worded ‘require train operators keep ticket offices and platform staff at train stations’. Should the petition exceed 100,000 signatures before the deadline on18th October (which it already has) it will be considered for a parliamentary debate. The weblink to sign the petition is here:  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/636542 .

If train companies (and their Government bosses) are determined to close some of the smaller ticket offices, then offer them rent-free to social enterprises, with suitable training and assistance in purchasing equipment (much of which could be redundant if the plans go through). This model already works at stations like Gobowen and Millom, which will not of course be closed. Irlam (left) is a great example of what can be done at a small station that was once a derelict shell.

The ‘Beeching of the Booking Offices’ can be reversed. It is part of an attempt to ‘dehumanise’ public transport at a time when people need people for all sorts of reasons – safety and security, information, reassurance. It’s time to make a stand: To the barriers, comrades!

The Politics Bit

I wish I could feel more positive about the political scene. John Nicolson’s letter (see below, Reader’s Write) says it all. If someone who regards himself as being on the right of Labour thinks he is likely to get expelled for admitting to voting tactically, what hope is there? We currently have the unedifying spectacle of Labour and the Lib Dems squalling about who is best to win Nadine Dorries’ former seat of Mid-Bedfordshire. I suspect the answer might be the Tories given a split vote between Labour and Lib Dem. But maybe common sense will kick in and voters themselves will plump for who they see as the best option. I suspect it may be the Lib Dem, with Labour holding sway at Tamworth. It’s OK Labour saying they came second in Mid-Beds last time but the key is getting thousands of former Toru voters to switch – and that might be best done to the Lib Dems in this leafy Home Counties seat.

Meanwhle the Greens continue to suffer from our outdated voting system. Next year’s General Election will seem them squeezed between Labour and Lib Dem as voters decide which is best placed to get rid of Sunak and his awful bunch. I’d dearly love to vote Green – more than any of the existing parties they are far the closest to my views. But…I don’t live in Brighton or Norwich, nor even Bristol. So I’ll grit my teeth and vote for a party (Labour) which I have less and less faith in at national level.

The same ‘squeeze’ will happen to the small regionalist parties, like The Yorkshire Party, who are doing well at a local level. I’m currently reading Alec  Niven’s excellent The North Will Rise Again, but I suspect that a real Northern Renaissance will come from an alliance of progressive regionalist parties getting together and attacking Labour in its former ‘heartlands’. Anyone for a Lancashire Party?

The Community Railway Library and Reading Room make progress

The last issue of The Salvo mentioned some embryonic ideas for a railway library at Station House, Kents Bank Things have moved on a bit and the idea of a publicly-accessible resource, specializing in local/community rail, is coming along. It will be initially based on my

The Reading Room!

own collection, which comprises around 3,000 titles, though I’ve never got round to counting them…In due course a charitable trust will be formed and the collection bequeathed to it. It will also be open to other donations.

My own  railway collection is now at Station House and there is sufficient shelf space to accommodate everything. There’s also room for small meetings and individual study/reading. If everything goes to plan there will be n informal preview of the library on Saturday October 21st, from 13.00h but ‘open house’ for the afternoon, with light refreshments available. It’s dependent on trains running so check in advance please. But all Salvo readers welcome (and donations very much welcome!). The Beach Hut Gallery, next door, has plenty of good stuff on view, and is open Thursday to Sunday 11.00 to 16.00h, so will be open on the 21st.

Plans for a monthly meeting with a guest speaker are also coming along but no date for the first session fixed as yet. If you want to be on a dedicated mailing list for the library and ‘railway book club’ events/talks, let me know.

Railway Pigs, Donkeys and other Rattlers

Another follow-up from the last Salvo. I mentioned an embryonic idea to write something about local branch lines that have survived in the popular imagination – like The Pilling Pig, Delph Donkey and Burton Dick, and have their own local name. Things have moved on and those nice people at Platform 5 Publishing in Sheffield have agreed to publish an A4-format book for next summer. So I’d better get cracking. At this stage, ideas are very welcome. I’d like to get a good

The Halliwell Flyer at Astley Bridge Junction c 1977 (one I made up…)

geographical coverage across Britain. The key criteria is that the particular line must have evidence of it being remembered today. It could be a photos in the local pub or village hall, a memorial plaque, or even an occasional event. It would be good to get some lines that are still open, such as The Marlow Donkey. The aim is to get about fifteen lines covered, and there’s still a few empty spaces! So please send your nominations, but remember there must be some present-day evidence that the line still has some local visibility, in whatever way (see Stuart Parkes’ letter re ‘The Marsden Rattler’ below.

Salvo Shorts

To Nottingham: Not to see the Sheriff or Robin Hood….essential railway business took me to Nottingham recently (collection of two 1908 bound volumes of Railway Magazine and return of repaired ‘Feldbahn’ loco, Lottie). I had time to wander round this fascinating city, served by frequent trams from the station. I walked up to the north end of the city centre  to the Oxfam Bookshop to collect the magazines and then call in at the excellent Five Leaves Bookshop next to the City Hall. It’s one of England’s few surviving radical bookshops and is always well worth a visit. The shop has its own publishing arm

Five Leaves Bookshop

specializing in local titles. I picked up a book on Nottinghamshire writers which I’m looking forward to reading. The city centre is much changed since I last walked up from the station, through the hideous 1970s shopping centre. It’s gone! Work is in progress to rebuild the centre, be interesting to see what emerges. The city has lots of excellent pubs, cafes and independent shops. Somehow it has managed to avoid the curse of the corporate giants. The train journey was enjoyable (managing to dodge chaos in Sheffield due to a points failure). I like the Erewash Valley.  One of these days I’ll get off at Langley Mill an explore DH Lawrence country, and walk over Bennerley Viaduct. If that Portillo character can do it, I can.

…and Glazebrook: Glazebrook and Irlam stations celebrated their 150th birthdays on September 2nd with some great community events. The Hamilton Davies Trust, responsible for the stunning restoration of Irlam station, organized a ‘flat cap walk’ from Irlam to Glazebrook which attracted over 50 behatted strollers. At Glazebrook itself over a hundred local people took part in events at the station and in the

The Raffle Stall at Glazebrook (guess who won the bottle of wine?)

nearby Methodist Hall, where entertainment included a Ukelete Band. Friends of Glazebrook Station is a relatively new adoption group but if last Saturday is anything to go by, they’ll make rapid progress. They’ve a lot to go at – the station building is mostly empty but has huge potential. Well done Julie, Alison and the Friends and all the best of luck in your endeavours.

Atlas shrugged and puffed: Bolton’s Atlas Mills were once amongst the biggest in the world. Part of the complex is now the Bolton Steam Museum – containing a great collection of working mill engines. The bank holiday weekend saw one of the occasional steaming days and attracted a good crowd. There’s always a good second-hand book stall and I came away with some nice prizes.

A good year for blackberries: After a generally poor summer, a positive spin-off seems to have been the exceptionally good crop of blackberries in late August and early September. I’ve got a few from my garden but the best patch by far is just off Forest Road. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you, though most have gone now….  However, I probably don’t need to worry, there was little sign of anyone else being out picking. I find it odd that so few people go out and collect these delicious berries nowadays. Why? Are we so obsessed with supermarket shopping that we can’t make the most of what’s there – and free! It’s also a very therapeutic activity. So get out there and start picking! They can be very nice just as they are though I have to confess I usually boil them up with a bit of sugar and use as a compȏte on my cereal. Yummy.

Railway Benefit Fund: I was recently invited to give a talk to the Railway Benefit Fund in Crewe, where the national charity is based. The Fund offers help to railway people who may be going through hard times but is also looking to develop new activities aimed at retired railway people. I came along with a couple of mates to talk about the Settle-Carlisle Line and my years working over the line as a goods guard. It happened to be Jo Kaye’s first day as CEO of the organization and she very kindly popped down to the Health Shield offices to say hello. Many will remember Jo from her time at Network Rail. A great railwaywoman who will be a huge asset to the organization. Thanks for calling in and here’s wishing you every success in the new role. See www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets – a new history

It’s now available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The publisher’s blurb says says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage.  Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?”

The book has chapters covering culture, politics, sport, leisure, industry, religion as well as a ‘Cook’s Tour’ of the county (mostly by train). It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Readers’ Write…

A good crop of readers’ letters – many thanks, keep them coming….

Walter Rothschild offers some fascinating insights: To named trains – a classic one is ‘Bulliver’ used for the branch train Totnes to Ashburton. many years ago I used to belong to the Dart Valley Railway and read their newsletter, also called ‘Bulliver’. Nobody knew the origin of the name. Then years after that I was reading an ancient 1890’s or so issue of the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly at a library in Jerusalem and came across an article about Phoenician remains in Devon and Cornwall (some place names are well known in this connection, e.g. Marazion) and lo and behold there was an item on ancient Phoenician temples and altars found on the top of a hill near Totnes to ‘The God of Fire: Baal Iver’. Which means some folk memory of this name for something fiery and smoking must have survived somehow for two thousand years or so……

Three things from John Nicholson…..Ticket offices – we keep hearing that ticket office staff will be ‘redeployed’ (not heard that word for a bit – reminds me of the alleged benefits of the 1966 Selective Employment Tax) to interact with passengers on the concourse and platforms. But just how will they advertise themselves, especially on huge stations? We know where ticket office staff actually are but how easy will it be to spot them in their new ‘I’m here to help’ role where they could be anywhere? Actually I very much doubt that the new role will materialise.  Secondly:  Labour – I’m pretty much on the right of the party, which I joined when I started work in 1971, but am anticipating expulsion given my admission of voting Lib Dem in the 2019 local elections. If it can happen to Alastair Campbell, no one is safe!! We MUST vote TACTICALLY to get rid of the party that gave us the lies & scandals of Johnson, the chaos of Truss & the cynicism of Sunak.  It’s ironic that Sunak is appearing as the motorists’ friend when his own default mode of transport is helicopter or private jet. I just hope the people who benefit from low traffic networks, 20 mph zones, ULEZ etc will remember when they cast their votes next year – provided they have the necessary ID of course.

Malcolm Bulpitt adds: Railway Names. Is/was there a local line in the country that did not have its own special name, either for the line or a local train/engine/working? The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway here in Kent was known as the ‘Crab and Winkle’ from its Day 1 in 1830, partly as it brought fresh seafood into the City. In Suffolk the short-lived Mid-Suffolk Light Railway was always ‘The Middy’, as its small preservation operation still is. Most names were friendly, but some reflected the operation’s shortcomings. In Norfolk the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway earned the soubriquet ‘Muddle and Get (K)Nowhere’ due to its erratic service. (always liked the MSJ&A – Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Rly – or ‘Many Short Jerks – and Away!’ -ed.)

Martin Arthur sends a helpful correction: I think predictive text gave the wrong name for the 15 in gauge line near Coleford – it should be Perrygrove not Perrivale ()done! – ed.) I made a visit to the Forest in October 1967 , unfortunately just after closure of the GWR branch to Coleford in July of that year, but the ex Severn and Wye line to Parkend was still open with tracks in place to Coleford.
A fascinating place indeed with remnants of early tramroads and industries as well as coal mining.

Malcolm Bulpitt also offers some ideas from the Swiss: Booking Offices. Like you I have been saying for a long time that the obvious route for them is to be transformed/incorporated into retail outlets on their respective stations. This has been the case on the SBB/CFF in Switzerland for decades and this type of operation is also common with other operators across Europe. This would both preserve a service to the travelling public and, in the majority of cases, let the current railway staff keep their jobs. The sticking point from Mick Lynch and his hardliners point of view is that they would no longer probably feel the need to be part of ‘his’ Union and hence his salary base. It is this overtly personal agenda of the RMT top brass that is causing the disruption by unnecessary strike action over the long-overdue reorganisations that are needed in the area of railway operations.

Allen Dare writes: Re ticket office closures, it’s good you’re majoring on the potential revenue loss (even at my small local station the ticket office takings must be several hundred thousand pounds p.a.). The idea that complex enquires and transactions can be handled on a noisy, rainswept platform just as well as in a quiet, dry ticket office is ludicrous. No sensible business would risk over £1bn p.a. nationally, but this idea has DafT’s fingerprints all over it. As to train names. WCML commuters of a certain age will recall the “Master Cobbler” from/to Northampton, and “The Sandman” which also called at Leighton Buzzard. The typical formation was an 86 + 12 Mk1s, and the ECS for the evening trains was backed down Camden Bank into Euston – quite a sight.

John Davies says: I’m so pleased to be living in Wales where our much-maligned Transport for Wales concluded wage agreements with the unions over a year ago and will have nothing to do with the ‘stations idiocy’ – yet nothing is heard about this outside Wales. I understand TfW have been developing a ‘PayPoint’ solution to smaller ticket offices as general retail outlets and even bringing back ticket facilities to places that lost them years ago. It’s such a shame that rolling stock issues and staff training is impacting on services (and rail’s reputation).

Stuart Parkes nominated: ‘The Marsden Rattler’, which now gives its name to a restaurant, served surprisingly enough, the Marsden area of South Shields. A fiend of mine gave the afternoon parcels train from Leeds to Heysham which was usually very short the esoteric name ‘The Futile Flyer’. If we can go beyond Britain two of the east German narrow gauge lines have nicknames. The Puttbus- Göhren line on the island of Rügen is ‘Der Rasende Roland’ (raging Roland) and on the mainland the Bad Doberan- Kühlungsborn line is ‘Molli’ for some reason.

Book Talks

I’ve done several  talks about my new book ‘Lancastrians’, including events in Bolton, Blackrod, Preston, Stretford and Grange-over-Sands.

Future events include Lancaster on September 9th, for Friends of Real Lancashire, followed by Eccles Local History Society on the 13th, Working Class Museum Library on the 15th, Turton Local History Society on the 28th, Bolton Family History Society on October 4th and Grange-over-Sands Photographic Society on the 16th. Last one currently scheduled is in Rochdale for TheEdwin Waugh Dialect Society on November 14th

Still in Print (at special prices)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

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Northern Salvo 312

The Northern Salvo

Incorporating  Weekly Notices, Lancashire Loominary, Sectional Appendices, and Northern Weekly Salvo

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB and at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU (Lancashire-South-of-the-Sands)

email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No.     312     August 2023

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North.

Going monthly….

Greetings on August 1st, Yorkshire Day. Over here in Lancashire it’s a wet miserable morning, ‘siling down’ as my late Huddersfield friend and colleague Philip Jenkinson would have said. This is the first ‘combined volume’ of The Salvo and Lancashire Loominary, with the aim of coming out roughly every month. Hopefully there’ll be summat for everyone. Comments are always welcome, either by email or in the ‘comments’ section on the website. If you find you’re getting two copies, let me know and I’ll take one off.

It has been a time of changes, the loss of several good friends and also some major decisions with REPTA, a much-loved railway institution dating back to 1893.

REPTA Presidents: Alan Logan (right) hands over to incoming president Colin Rolle

It was set up as ‘The Railway Employees’ Privilege Ticket Association’ and more recently became ‘The Railway Employees’ Passenger Transport Association. In its heyday, around the 1960s, it had about 60,000 members. I was honoured to be REPTA’s patron from 2006. The organisation held its 123rd AGM at  Bath AGM last weekend, when some major strategic decisions were made; further announcements will be made later this year.

I’ve been pleased with the response to my new book Lancastrians – Mills, Mines and Minarets. A New History, published by Hurst. More on it below; a few local launches are in the offing (Barrow, Eccles, Salford, Rochdale). It costs £25 (hardback) but Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by entering LANCASTRIANS 25 at the checkout on Hurst’s website www.hurstpublishers.com

Booking Offices: need for a re-think all round

The announcement in early July that hundreds of station booking offices were to close (mostly in England) was greeted with a storm of opposition. There has been a partial retreat, with a longer period being given for responses to what is an ill-thought through proposal, reminiscent of the mass closures of the Beeching years in the 1960. Tens of thousands of submissions have already been made and numerous petitions circulated which oppose the closures. A lot of attention has focused on the problems it would cause for elderly and disabled people. However it goes well beyond that and I’d say that a lot of people value the help and advice from a trained railway person when they are making complex journeys. If it takes about four weeks to train a railway employee to become competent in ticket retailing, how can we expect members of the public to get the best deal just by ‘going on the internet’. I suspect that thousands of people get ripped off every week by selecting a more expensive ticket for their journeys. Perhaps intending rail passengers should be sent on a compulsory training course.

The closures do not make much sense from a commercial perspective as well as a social one. Railway companies will lose revenue as a result of people not making their journey by rail and using the car instead. We have been bombarded with a figure of 12% of ticket sales being done through booking offices (the figure is more like 20% on Northern) but what would be interesting to know is that is the percentage of revenue taken through booking offices? I suspect it will be higher as people use booking offices for longer and more complex journey rather than using the platform TVM.

My own position (and that of the Rail Reform Group, see www.railreformgroup.org.uk) has been clear for a long time. Whilst accepting that the current traditional model of a station booking office is no longer appropriate in many places, with a very limited range of ‘products’ being on offer, that should lead to what has been called a ‘re-purposing’ rather than blanket closure of booking offices. Where the location is right, stations could become retail centres with the traditional ticket sales (and information) service complemented by other activities. It really isn’t ‘rocket science’. When did you see a petrol station that only sold fuel?

If someone is sat behind a window selling tickets for say four trains an hour, that will, in some cases, allow time for doing other things which add value to the booking office’s function. In the case of smaller stations with less frequent trains, more innovative approaches should be tried including offering them (with financial help) to displaced staff who might want to develop their own businesses. OK, perhaps there wouldn’t be many but I know some who would make excellent ‘station entrepreneurs’. Offering booking offices, rent-free, to small businesses including social enterprises, with training given on ticket issuing, is an approach that could work in some places.

The closures should be halted and time given to explore a range of options which may be appropriate in different locations. In the meantime, if you haven’t objected yet, please do so. The standard format is TicketOffice.Northern (or whichever operator)@transportfocus.org.uk (see poster image above).

Fiddling while Rome burns

It has been hot out there, in that far-away land called ‘Europe’. Soaring temperatures have caused chaos and the continent has been cut off from mellower climes, like Bolton’s. Perhaps that of Uxbridge too. The recent  by-elections were expected to lead to a triple Tory defeat. The fact they hung on, very narrowly, to Uxbridge has been put down to public opposition to the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) proposals being put through by the Greater London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Keir Starmer was upset at not winning the seat and urged Khan to ‘reflect’ on his ULEZ proposals. It seems that the mayor has made suitable reflections and is continuing with his proposals.

The impact of Uxbridge has been very significant and the Tories, always good to spot a bandwagon to jump on, are calling for measures such as ULEZ to be scaled back. Not that they’re against ‘doing something on Climate Change’, mind,  just that ‘we need to exercise a bit of caution’. Which is all quite predictable.

The Tories have always tried to paint themselves as ‘the motorists’ friend’, but it would be good to see more of a fightback from Labour. I mean getting really dirty and accusing the Tories of complicity in 500 child deaths each year through air pollution in Greater London. As an aside, some friends from Heywood visited London recently and were struck by the palpable smell of polluted air, even in more suburban south London – and not that Heywood is an unpolluted nirvana! Sunak has made his lack of interest in ‘the environment’ (other than in opposing relatively modest measures to do something) but where is Starmer in all this? It’s hard not to detect a similar lack of interest in all this ‘green nonsense’. The party line is very clearly trying to appear moderate in all things and let the Tories dig their own political grave. So when devolved mayors like Khan (and Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram up North) do something that’s a bit more radical, it sends off warning bells in Labour HQ. Lisa Nandy is now saying that the mayors won’t get tax-raising powers which makes a joke of real devolution.

There’s been a lot in social media saying that Starmer is just a closet Tory (dredging up the ghost of Tony Blair). Actually, he isn’t. Starmer is part of a long right-wing Labour tendency that’s statist, centralist and authoritarian. It isn’t the only Labour tradition: there is an alternative approach stretching back to the Independent Labour Party which is decentralist, inclusive and open. Yet it has become a minority trend within Labour, ceding more and more political ground to the Greens and the left-of-centre nationalist parties such as Plaid and the beleaguered SNP. Principled socialists like Neal Lawson who advocate such dangerous notions as PR and working with other progressive parties, are threatened with expulsion.

Come next year’s General Election we’ll be told to hunker down, bite our tongues and vote Labour, as the best way to get the Tories out. Yet I have to say that a Starmer-led majority Labour Government doesn’t hold out much attraction to me, much as I want to see the back of this awful lot. I’d be far happier with a minority Labour administration which depends on Lib Dem, Green and other support (and it’s about time Sinn Fein dropped their abstentionist policy). A condition for the Lib Dems’ backing should be the introduction of radical measures to address The Climate Emergency, a fair voting system and democratic regional government (at least).

Station House progress: A Railway Reading Room?

The renovation work on Station House at Kents Bank is pretty much complete. A few ideas have been swishing around regarding the cellar (actually a nice, dry place). It lends itself well as a library and space for small meetings for up to about ten people. I’m planning to move most of my railway book collection up to Kents Bank, keeping the

Kents Bank Station House

Lancashire and general items in Bolton. One option with the railway material is to develop a modest library with an emphasis on rural and community railways. It could include a ‘railway book club’ which meets occasionally and facilities for researchers to use the collection. Early days but watch this space. Meanwhile, The Beach Hut Gallery, next door, has plenty of good stuff on view, and is open Thursday to Sunday 11.00 to 16.00h.

Eminent Northerners

One of the things I tried to do in my ‘Lancastrians’ book was to highlight some men and women who have made important, but neglected, contributions to Northern politics and culture. Two that stand out are Mary Higgs and Solomon Parrington. Both have railway connections. Mary Higgs set up the ‘Beautiful Oldham Society’ in the early 1900s and badgered the railway companies to let the society develop bits of unused  railway land to grow vegetables. Sound familiar?  Very much a forerunner of the ‘incredible edible’ movement. Some companies were more receptive than others. Mary went on to initiate the ‘garden suburb’ project in Oldham, with houses built along co-operative lines. She figures in Allen Clarke’s novel ‘The Red Flag’, with a fictionalized re-working of her adventures when she went ‘on the tramp’ to examine conditions in women’s lodging houses.

Not far from Oldham lies Middleton, birthplace of Solomon Partington in 1844. Some readers will know of him through the Winter Hill mass Trespass of 1896. He came from a family of silk weavers which was an important local industry. His early professional life was spent with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. He was employed as a station master, probably at Middleton, before moving to Birkdale. He left the railways after being wrongly accused of swindling the company and became a journalist on The Leigh Journal, owned by the Bolton-based Tillotson Group. He was involved in local radical politics through the Liberal party and organized ‘the March of The Thousand Lads’ to campaign for better leisure facilities for working class boys and girls. After moving to Bolton he played a leading part in the 1896 Winter Hill Trespass and later stood as an independent candidate for West  Ward, getting elected. His final years were spent in Grange-over-Sands writing a history of Lancashire dialect. He died in 1927 and is buried in Grange Cemetery. The Bolton Evening News paid tribute to “a trenchant and fearless writer who used the Press in full measure, though never unfairly, for the advance of schemes for the public good.”

Bath time

We headed down to Bath for the REPTA AGM last weekend (see above). We had a long journey down by car, owing to strikes on the Saturday. We stopped off at The Saracen’s Head at Symonds Yat East, a beautiful spot on the Wye. Just down from the pub is the site of the old station on the Monmouth – Ross-on-Wye line which closed in 1959.

6412 at Symonds Yat on last day – photo in Saracen’s Head

Pleasingly, the pub had some photos the ‘last day’ on January 4th, when GW Pannier 6412 was specially turned out  for the occasion. What a great line that must have been, and what a loss. The only public transport remaining is the ferry which plies its way across the river from outside the pub, permitting a visit to the Old Ferrie Inn just a bit further up. You need to make sure you don’t miss the last ferry as it’s a long way round.

Bath is one of those places I generally try to avoid, preferring less well-visited places. However, I must say I was impressed with the place. I had time to visit Green Park Station, where I caught a train to Templecombe down the old Somerset and Dorset in summer 1965, about six months before closure. It was hauled by a BR standard tank

Green Park Station – part of the station area is currently closed following fire damage

80044 if you want to know. Today, the station is nicely preserved and had a thriving antiques market in full flow. We were staying at The Doubletree Hilton on Walcot Street which is adjacent to the bohemian part of the city with some great little shops, cafes and pubs,

We returned via Monmouth and Hereford, making a special stop at Junction Railwayana in Tintern where certain items were purchased. If the weather hadn’t been so awful we’d have stopped longer to look at the magnificent abbey and have lunch in the old station tea rooms.

Into the Forest

After our stop at Symonds Yat we had some time to explore the Forest of Dean, a fascinating place which is unlike anywhere else. It still has small-scale coal extraction, hewn by the ‘free miners’ of Dean. We called in at Hopewell Colliery which has an exhibition about mining in the Forest, with underground tours. We had a look at the Dean Forest Railway which was operating with ‘Pannier’ haulage. We reached Dean

Old trackwork at Dean heritage Centre

Heritage Centre, located in an old tannery, by a roundabout route – but it was worth the visit. Amongst many industrial artefacts there’s a great display about Dennis Potter who came from the area and wrote extensively about it, including parts of ‘The Singing Detective’. The towns and villages have more a feel of the industrial North rather than rural Gloucestershire. The mining tradition encouraged a flourishing socialist culture which I suspect may still be active today. I used to subscribe to The Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Clarion, edited by Alistair Graham who died last year. The area was criss-crossed by colliery railways, many of which are now cycle trails. At Coleford there’s a railway museum in the old station yard with a miniature railway operated Saturday afternoons. Sadly we missed it. Just down the road there’s the Perrygrove Railway, a miniature railway operating along the course of the old line.

Railway Pigs, Donkeys and other Animals

Visiting Pilling the other day, for Harold Elletson’s funeral, reminded me of the old Garstang and Knot End Railway, traces of which are still visible. It was a standard gauge light railway that ran from Garstang and Catterall station, on the main line, through small settlements out to Knott End (the railway never bothered with the extra  ‘t’ in the name).

Pilling Pig quilt in Pilling Village Hall: the memory is still strong

One of the early locomotives had a very shrill whistle which sounded a bit like a pig squealing. hence the name. The title ‘Pilling Pig’ broadened to include any  loco that operated the line. Although the line closed well before Beeching, the ‘Pilling Pig’ is still remembered. There’s even a plinthed Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 saddletank at Stake Pool which celebrates the steamy porker. Should be said that the loco never worked the line and spent most of its time on the NCB colliery system in Mountain Ash, where I photographed it hauling a heavy coal train.

Inspired by the ‘Pig’ I asked around my facebook friends for other colloquial train names and it’s a long list, including (so far) three ‘Donkeys’ (Delph, Marlow and Dursley), The Spratt and Winkle (West Croydon – Wimbledon), The Dudley Dodger (from Snow Hill to Dudley), The Burton Dick (Huddersfield – Kirkburton), The Kendal Tommy (Kendal to Garnge-over-Sands) and several more. Please keep them coming! I’m particularly interested to hear about surviving ‘named’ trains. On the Furness Line the last train of the day to Barrow from the south is still called ‘The Whip’. Why? The last train on a Saturday night up the Rhondda Valley was called ‘The Rodney’. Again, why? Who he? The evening Newcastle-Chathill train was called ‘The Rattler’, when it was Pacer-operated. Is it still rattling? More suggestions please!

Salvo Shorts

Angina Monologues I was diagnosed with ‘stable angina’ a few months ago, following chest pains. I have to say the service from the NHS has been pretty good, though slightly ‘fits and starts’. After initial worries they don’t seem to think it’s anything too serious though I’m being sent off to Bolton Royal Hospital  for an ‘angiogram’ shortly. A great pity that I can’t get there by train – the Bolton Great Moor Street to Manchester Exchange ran right past the hospital. Maybe one day we’ll get a tram but well after my clogs have popped I suspect.

Harold Elletson My friend Harold Elletson died a few weeks ago, at the young age of 62. His funeral was in the impressive St John’s Church in Pilling, attended by a very large group of friends and family. I got to know Harold through our ‘radical devolution’ project. He set up the Northern Party and stood as candidate in 2015, but got what could best be called a modest vote. He had previously been Consrvative MP for Blackpool North and became disillusioned with the Tories’ anti-European stance (amongst other things). He was a proud Lancastrian and had many strings to his bow. We shall not see his like again.

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets – a new history  It’s now available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The publisher’s blurb says says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage.  Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?”

The book has chapters covering culture, politics, sport, leisure, industry, religion as well as a ‘Cook’s Tour’ of the county (mostly by train). It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

The book is hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Book Talks

I’ve done several  talks about my new book ‘Lancastrians’, including events in Bolton, Blackrod, Preston, Stretford and Grange-over-Sands. Future events include Barrow Public Library on August 17th at 14.00 and September 13th at Eccles Local History Society. Friday September 15th I’m at the Working Class History Museum, close to Salford Crescent station, 14.00. Then Bolton Family History Society on October 4th , Grange Photographic Society October 16th and Rochdale (Edwin Waugh Dialect Society) on November 14th.

Still in Print (at special prices!)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

Last Train from Blackstock Junction (published by Platform 5 Books). A collection of short stories about railway life in the North of England. Salvo readers can get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

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Northern Weekly Salvo 311

The Northern Weekly Salvo

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

 In association with The Lancashire and North Lonsdale Loominary

Published at Station House, Kents Bank, Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands, LA11 7BB email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No. 311 June 30th  2023       SUMMER SATURDAY RELIEF

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Not really weekly, definitely Northern.

After a long gap….

Here’s your Summer Salvo….after a long gap here’s a bumper ‘Bolton Holidays’ special. The usual varied focus including a look at the current state of things within the railway industry, a fascinating new novel set in Farnworth and Hindley, arguments for ‘The Parish Commune’ and some recent trips to places of interest across the North.

My latest book Lancastrians – mills, mines and minarets is now available. It’s a rather unconventional history of an unconventional place. We can’t even agree where it actually is (I cover ‘real Lancashire from the Mersey to the Lakes). It’s about culture, identity and the rise, fall and maybe the rise again of a great county-region. More details elsewhere in The Salvo – events are being planned in Blackburn, Bolton, Barrow, Blackrod and other places not beginning with ‘B’ including Grange-over-Sands (July 12th). Open to invitations for talks elsewhere.

It has been a bad time for friends passing on. Keen Salvo reader, ace reciter, model engineer and surgeon John Brandrick died suddenly a few weeks ago. Harold Elletson, former Tory MP, naked gardener and subsequent champion of Northern devolution, died in Berlin a few days ago (see Times and Daily Telegraph obituaries June 29th). David Tomlinson, who did outstanding work around drug rehabilitation, died in London recently. Condolences to their families and friends.

Holiday Time!

Today (Saturday June 30th) would have been the start of Bolton Holidays – always the last Friday of June, for a fortnight. Everywhere shut. Looking back, the two weeks had an almost surreal air, with normal life totally changed. I suppose you could say it was as though a huge pandemic had hit Lancashire and everyone had died. In fact they were enjoying themselves in Blackpool, Rhyl, Newquay or Scarborough. The same process had been repeated in Oldham a week earlier, and the other cotton towns through July.

The tradition of the Lancashire ‘Wakes Weeks’ (we never called it ‘Wakes’ in Bolton) goes back to medieval times and local religious ceremonies. Farnworth still had its own ‘Wakes’ in the early 1900s, which was more of a fair. Bolton holiday week was  just called ‘Bolton Holidays’.

A returning special from the Yorkshire coast with Bolton loco 73014 and Driver Bert Welsby, at Platform 11 Middle, Manchester Victoria. Sadly, ’14 didn’t perform as well as hoped and was withdrawn soon after.

During the 19th century the combination of rapid population growth and the development of the railways allowed the possibility for working class people taking a holiday. Whitsun was the main holiday period, with a mass exodus from Bolton and other ‘cotton towns’ on Whit Friday. However, it was only in the late 19th century that workers were given a full week off, and that was without pay.

By the end of the 19th century the cotton industry was a highly organised industry, with the owners combined in powerful trade associations; their counterparts were the cotton unions, equally well organised and influential. The employers decided between themselves which town would have its’ week holiday. Oldham went first, followed by Bolton the week after at the end of June. Burnley, Bury and Wigan had their holidays in early July followed by Blackburn and the North-East Lancashire towns at the end of the month. The week’s shutdown, only lengthened to a fortnight after the Second World War, enabled the mill engines and machinery such as looms and spinning mules to be overhauled and given a thorough clean. Paid holidays didn’t come until 1941, so it was only after the war that the holiday ‘boom’ really took off. A further week was added in September.

The ‘staggered’ holidays were helpful for the railway companies who would have been overwhelmed if every town had its ‘wakes week’ around the same time. As it was, the railways struggled to cope with the huge demand for ‘specials’ taking families to Blackpool, Southport, Morecambe and further afield including North Wales and the West Country.

Heading for Southport

Most trains left from Trinity Street, though some – particularly the North Wales trains – went from Great Moor Street, a tradition which continued for sevral years after the station had officially closed in 1954. I was on one of the last, in 1958.

During the inter-war years families would save up all year for their week’s holiday. Thousands were members of savings clubs, known locally as ‘Diddle ‘em clubs’ because of the frequency of the collectors running off with the takings! The safest option was to save with the Co-op, which also organised holidays, including transport by train or ‘charabanc’. Some companies, such as Walker’s, ran their own ‘holiday fund’ which employees paid into each week.

In those days it was normal for families to take their own food in tin containers  – the landlady would cook the food for them, though there was the more expensive option of having meals made for you. In many guest houses families would invite neighbours or other members of the extended family to join them for their tea!

So for one week in every year, popular destinations such as Blackpool and Rhyl became ‘Bolton by the sea’. The Bolton Evening News was on sale along the sea front and the paper sent staff . Probably the high point of Bolton Holidays for the railways was the late 1950s and early 1960s.

getting away from it all…

The 1962 holidays saw 31 special trains leaving Trinity Street, 13 on the Friday evening and 18 on the Saturday. Destinations on Friday night included Newquay, Heysham (for the boat to Northern Ireland), Bournemouth, London (St Pancras), Paignton, Plymouth, Yarmouth, Holyhead, Eastbourne and Portsmouth. On the Saturday, the rush started with a train to Penychain, for Butlin’s, via the now closed route from Bangor and Caernarfon. There were further North Wales trains to places including Llandudno, Bangor, Rhyl and Caernarfon. Other destinations included Filey Holiday Camp, Liverpool (for the Isle of Man), Skegness and of course Blackpool.

Additional locos were drafted to Crescent Road sheds and Bolton drivers and firemen had a rare chance to widen their horizons, with some working trains through to North Wales. The coaching stock was assembled at Horwich, Lostock Junction, Moses Gate and other locations. The 7.00 special to Llandudno used ‘borrowed’ Jubilee class express loco ‘Manitoba’ and was worked by Bolton driver Jack Ritson and fireman Tommy Bustard throughout. An Oldham – Blackpool ‘Wakes Week

An oldham – Blackpool ‘Wakes Week’ special crosses Burnden Viaduct into Bolton, June 1967

Jack Hartley and fireman Cliff Edge worked a later special all the way to Bangor with another borrowed ‘Jubilee’ from Patricroft depot.

Life in Bolton, especially for the first week, was completely different from usual. It became like a ghost town. The factory chimneys stopped smoking and you could see the Welsh mountains from the top of Smithills Dean Road. Most shops closed, including newsagents. Children set up ‘pop up’ paper shops on the pavements, sometimes earning a bit of extra pocket money but not always.

The decline of ‘Bolton Holidays’ happened almost imperceptibly. As the mills and engineering factories went into decline there wasn’t the same co-ordinated ‘shutdown’ at the end of June; the mills had shut for good. If there can be said to be an ‘end’ it was in 1992, when schools went over to a standardised national pattern of summer holidays. By then, Bolton had changed dramatically and people’s leisure habits had as well. Cheap foreign holidays by air became normal, though some people maintained the old traditions of Blackpool or the North Wales Coast.

(this is based on a longer piece in The Bolton News last year. Many thanks to Steve Leyland for additional notes on loco movements.)

Railpolitics

There’s been a lot happening in the railway world recently. The news that TransPennine Express was to be nationalised (see elsewhere in this Salvo) didn’t come as a big surprise and hopefully will provide an opportunity to re-set relationships with the unions. It was a good move to appoint Northern’s Chris Jackson as interim MD (and, equally, for Craig Harrop to step into his shoes as Regional Director at Northern, also ‘interim.’) My very best wishes to both, but also to the TPE team who have copped for a lot of blame, unfairly.

ASLEF has ended its ban on overtime and rest day working at TPE so hopefully things will start to change quite quickly. However, the wider dispute over pay and conditions shows little sign of being resolved any time soon. The continuing dispute is massively damaging to the railways and to its customers. If, as the unions claim, progress is being held back by UK Government interference, Sunak needs to let the unions and management get on with negotiating a settlement that’s in everyone’s interest. It has already happened in Scotland and Wales. Now, there’s a coincidence – no UK Government sticking its oar in.

Meanwhile lots of friends enjoyed watching Ben Elton’s Channel 4 piece on ‘The Great British Railway Disaster’ recently. It was entertaining stuff but other than telling us what we already knew, it was short on analysis.

Avanti West Coast has struggled with labour problems but has avoided nationalisation. A Pendolino arrives at Lancaster

Why has TransPennine Express been so awful? Maybe a chat with the unions might have helped. No single reason explains it all, but the ban on overtime (now relaxed) was probably the biggest cause of the misery at TPE. As I’ve argued repeatedly, ownership on its own is not a panacea. You can have an absolutely awful operation run by the state and some good private train companies (Chiltern, Merseyrail to name but two). Many on The Left have this touching faith in the power of the (capitalist) state whilst The Right thinks private ownership will as if by magic run a better rail service. The reality is we now have a railway that is mainly state-controlled, with ownership of infrastructure in the hands of the state (Network Rail) and about a quarter of train services run by (UK) state-owned companies. The rest are, to a large extent, told what to do by the Government. Are there alternatives? Yes, most definitely…read on!

TransPennine Express – a suitably socialised case for devolution?

The news that TransPennine Express (TPE) was to be transferred into the public sector, stripping First Group of its contract, came as little surprise. Despite new trains and a major recruitment programme, the company struggled to run a reliable service leaving thousands of passengers angry and frustrated.  TPE is a major player in the UK transport scene, providing services across the North of England and into Scotland, under contract to the Department for Transport.

So what happens now? The Government has stressed that TPE’s transfer to the public sector, under the wing of the ‘Operator of Last Resort’ (OLR) was a temporary measure before the company was returned to the private sector. It joins South-Eastern, LNER and Northern as part of OLR’s expanding portfolio. There remain difficult issues around industrial relations, as well as major infrastructure works forming part of the TransPennine route upgrade between Manchester and Leeds, which includes long-awaited electrification. However, the news that Aslef is ending its ban on overtime is very welcome. It lays the basis for recovery, with scope to make TPE a showpiece for what a good quality railway company should look like, both as a service to passengers and as an employer. That needs TPE’s new management team being given the sort of freedom that their LNER colleagues enjoy.

There a need for some longer-term thinking about how TPE should fit into the bigger picture. Currently, railways in the UK are rudderless, lacking any sort of ‘guiding mind’ to bring coherence and direction to the industry. Rumours are rife that the proposed  ‘Great British Railways’ has been sidelined though the recent announcement that Sir Peter Hendy has been re-appointed as chair of Network Rail (effectively ‘GBR in waiting’) is very welcome and suggests there gossip could be misplaced. Had Hendy not been reappointed that would have sent a very clear message that GBR was dead. So let’s see. But whether GBR happens or not, there’s plenty that can be done, sooner rather than later.

The current situation in the North of England, with both TPE and Northern being in the state sector, offers opportunities for fresh thinking which Labour should seize on, instead of repeating glib mantras about nationalisation (25% of all train operators are now in the state sector and infrastructure is controlled by state-run Network Rail).

The last thing either TPE or Northern need is a return to the private sector, though a long period of uncertainty and ‘interim’ management won’t be helpful either.  The most straightforward approach would be to keep the two operators under state ownership. However, there is a growing appetite amongst Northern politicians to get control of their rail network; taking on responsibilities for the two Northern operators would be quite an attractive proposition.

The most obvious vehicle would be Transport for the North (TfN), a sub-national transport body run by a consortium of local authorities but without the powers enjoyed by Transport for London. That should change, with more resources and expertise given to TfN. The Department for Transport has the power to transfer responsibility for both contracts to a body such as TfN if it chose to do so.

If that happened, Transport for the North could, if it wanted to be more radical, set up the two operations as social enterprises. There are business models out there to guide them, including the experience of Welsh Water and other larger businesses. An arms-length mutual approach, in which any surplus is ploughed back into the business, is the sort of innovative approach which Labour should be looking it. A significant amount of worker and passenger involvement could form part of the structure.

A new, socially-owned TransPennine Express, working closely with Northern, could pick up the threads that have been lost over the last couple of years and contribute towards the creation of a railway of which the North could be truly proud.

That begs a bigger question about the accountability of TfN. In Scotland and Wales the transport bodies (Transport Scotland, Transport for Wales) are overseen by a democratically elected parliaments with ministers holding transport responsibilities. It’s difficult to work out where the accountability of TfN lies. Its chair, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, is well respected and it could be said that his accountability is to the TfN board which comprises politicians from across the North. That’s OK as far as it goes but the North needs its own directly-elected parliament – just like Wales and Scotland –which could drive TfN forward and ensure it has the resources and expertise that bodies like Transport for London enjoy. Maybe regional parliaments for Yorkshire, the North-West and North-east collaborating in pan-Northern bodies like TfN would work, but the present arrangements ensure not only a lack of democratic legitimacy but a body which lacks real clout and is constantly at risk of cuts or even abolition by central Government.

(This is based on a longer article article which appears in the current issue of RAIL).

Moving – and remaining

The best laid plans, as they say…after announcing my complete move to Station House at Kents Bank in the last Salvo (seems a long time ago), things have changed a bit. After trying to sell my house in Bolton and not doing very well with it, I’ve decided to be a true Lancashire cosmopolite and hop between Kents Bank and Bolton. We’re now comfortably ensconced in our former Furness Railway residence and getting to know the local community; Station House will be much

Kents Bank Station House

more than a ‘holiday home’. How much I’ll divide my time between Bolton and Kents Bank remains to be seen; it will vary. I’ll have the best of both Bolton and magnificent Morecambe Bay. It means that difficult decisions about what to do with the garden railway and my book collection can be avoided. However, a branch of the Halliwell Light Railway has appeared in the yard of Station House and will be home to visiting engines from the parent depot. Real-life human visitors to Station House are very welcome – say hello if there’s any sign of life (give a ‘one’ on the signalbox bell by the front door, to call attention.)

Blue Labour and radical local democracy

I’ve always liked Maurice Glasman’s political writings and his willingness to speak the sometimes unspeakable. At a time when the Left in England is pretty much devoid of fresh ideas (Compass is a welcome exception to the rule – see below) Glasman keeps pushing radical ideas which ought to command a wider audience than they do. Part of the problem is the ‘Blue Labour’ name: it puts off a lot of people are Labour because they think it’s a Tory incursion, and may alienate others who just see it as relevant to the Labour Party. Actually, the ideas in his latest book – Blue Labour: the Politics of the Common Good – are relevant to a broad audience who find the simplicities of Left as well as Right. Much of his think reflects the influence of Catholic Social Teaching, which has quite a lot to offer, whatever your religious views. What I found particularly interesting in the book was Glasman’s ideas for very local democracy and the potential for the much-derided ‘parish council. He also stands up for the return of ‘the ceremonial county’ as a unit of self-government, reflecting people’s continuing strong sense of identity with ‘their’ county. He says:

“There should be a redistribution of power to the smallest unit of self-government. The parish is an elemental aspect of our polity, ecclesiastical and temporal. The parish, the country, the town and the city remain the fundamental units of affection, attachment and affiliation.” (p. 116)

Glasman argues for a strengthening of local democracy and the need to learn from the brave experiments in popular participation by the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG) in the Rojava area which did so much to defeat ISIS,  suggesting the revitalizing of local democracy through ‘parish communes’ inspired by their politics of the common good.

He counterposes ‘the ideology of globalization’ based on ‘the centrality of the internet, of online shopping and Netflix’ with active citizenship and says: ‘Unlike the parish council, which has very limited powers, the parish commune would be a direct democracy in which issues of immediate concern to residents could be addressed and voted upon….’

I’d say that there is scope to build on the work of some existing parish and town councils to develop his ideas for ‘parish communes (I keep putting in ‘Paris Commune’ which was quite a different and much bloodier  thing). The ‘Flatpack Democracy’ ideas developed by the ‘Independents for Frome’ have shown that what was a dreary and inactive parish council can be transformed. If Maurice hasn’t visited Frome, I’d suggest he hops on a GWR train and meets up with some of the Flatpack democrats: it would be a very productive conversation.

Finding my political Compass

After a slight reluctance (too many meetings in one day) I was persuaded by our CRP treasurer to attend the Compass open meeting in Manchester a few weeks’ ago to launch its ‘Winning as One’ campaign. Compass is a great organization, lobbying hard for greater democracy and a ‘politics of the common good’. A central focus is the need for voting reform, and getting proportional representation. Compass is ‘of the Left’ but provides welcome space for Greens, Lib Dems and nonaligned radicals (self included) as well as Labour types. Neal Lawson, founder of Compass and a great ‘bringer together’ of people, is currently under threat of expulsion from the Labour Party for advocating cross-party working , which is further reason why I’m less and less likely to vote Labour at a General Election.

The Manchester event included Andy Burnham, who spoke well, and passionately, on the need for PR and a more inclusive form of politics. It was held at the Night and Day Café in central Manchester and included some amazing street music from ‘Mr Wilson’s Second Levelers’. Compass described the evening:

The Greater Manchester Mayor joined Compass Deputy Director Frances Foley in conversation to discuss how progressives can build their collective power across the North ahead of the next general election. He called on the Labour Party to ‘lose its ambivalence to devolution’ and reflected on the mistakes New Labour made in leaving this programme of democratic renewal unfinished, warning that without electoral reform and a rewiring of our political system, we could be looking at ‘another Tory-dominated century.’ He said proportional representation could bring about a ‘massive switch of power to the people over the vested interests’, adding: “We have a parliament that doesn’t represent all people and all places equally. How can that possibly be acceptable to anybody in 2023?”

They added that “Winning As One means that instead of working against each other, progressives will campaign and fight together – not just against the Conservatives, but for a different, more collaborative kind of politics….at the last election, there was a higher concentration of ‘progressive tragedy’ seats in Greater Manchester than anywhere else in the country. These are seats where support for progressive parties outnumbered support for the Conservatives at the last general election, but the Tories still won because the progressive vote was split. Over half a million voters in Greater Manchester are represented by a Conservative who benefitted from this progressive division. We can’t let this happen again.”

A Lancashire Story

I’m enjoying Ged Melia’s latest novel – A Lancashire Story. It is initially set in a working class (Irish Catholic) family from Farnworth though we follow the fortunes of the family from as Austin progresses his career is an engineer – initially in a local colliery, then in the cotton industry. The novel features Allen Clarke’s ‘Teddy Ashton’ stories and also the Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. Ged has done his homework and it represents a realistic picture of working class life in south Lancashire at the end of the 19th century. I’m half way through so looking forward to reading how the family fortunes end. A Lancashire Story is available on Amazon.

The Parbold Bottle

It was very nice to get an email from retired medic Ken Hampden, about a mysterious monument about our political history – The Parbold Bottle (thanks to being touch through the People’s History Museum). The ‘Parbold Bottle’ (see pic on the left with Ken) was erected in the 1830s following the passing of the 1832 Reform Act and is sited on the top of Parbold Hill, close to the Beacon. It looks across the Lancashire Plan and out to the Irish Sea.  The monument was originally sited a bit higher up but was relocated on a nearby spot in the 1950s. The monument poses many questions: who erected it and why there? The local landowner doesn’t appear to have been even moderately radical and Parbold wasn’t notable for its revolutionary zeal, though there were several local pits in the area. Why would the landowner have permitted the monument on his land? The 1832 was of course something of a damp squib, and disappointed working class hopes for at least make suffrage. The Chartist Movement emerged in the late 1830s to demand a much wider suffrage but the process took decades, with full adult suffrage taking nearly a century to achieve. It was interesting talking to Ken about the need for a modern day ‘Reform Act’ that would include proportional representation and regional devolution.  For now, the Parbold Bottle remains an enigma. It’s easy to locate: either walk up from the village or park at the top of Parbold Hill (ice cream van on hand) and walk down a short distance and a path goes off to the left. The monument is well looked after by the local and has some information about its history, as much as we know,

Salvo Shorts

Pear Mill

I’m a great fan of old mill buildings, particularly where they are being put to good modern-day uses. Yorkshire has probably more than we have over here, not least Salt’s Mill at Saltaire and the amazing mill complex in Halifax. However, there are some good examples around, particularly (as you’d expect) Manchester but also in East Lancs, Preston and Rochdale. Bolton continues to allow its mill heritage to be torn down. It was really interesting to visit Stockport recently and have a look round Pear Mill.

Daughter Alice with Pear Mill (the Pearly Gates?)

It is amazingly well-preserved and was one of the later examples of spinning mill, completed in 1912. There s a very good ‘antiques market’ with a café, and also a shop selling oatcakes (the Derbyshire version but very nice).  Nearby Vernon Mill has some galleries but we didn’t get chance to look: a good reason for a return visit. Very much welcome for other good examples of mill conversions/exciting uses for former mills or other industrial buildings.

Bradford-by-the-Sea: days out in Morecambe

Is Morecambe finally on the up? It looks so, following the granting of the half the cost of the new Eden Project, which will be located very close to what remains of Morecambe station. I’ve been a couple of times recently and liked the feel of the town. It isn’t as lively as when I lived there in 1971 when I was in my first year at Lancaster, but has gone through difficult times since. The Midland Hotel has made a huge difference to the town and I like the public art, mostly featuring birds and poetry, on view around the place. Heysham (by the way, pronounced ‘Hee-shum’) is a delightful spot and I found a place that still settles Nettle Beer (though not produced in the village any more). St Patrick’s church is one of the most lovely places anywhere, with fabulous views out to Morecambe Bay and (if you’ve good eyesight) Station House at Kents Bank. It’s a very pleasant walk from Heysham village back into Morecambe past ’The Battery’. Highly recommended is  Atkinson’s  fish restaurant on Albert Road.

I hope the train service improves. The community rail partnership for the Bentham Line (Leeds- Lancaster-Morecambe’) has been doing a grand job and has promoted the route as Britain’s first ‘dementia friendly line’.  Bare Lane, next station up the line, is a great example of station adoption. But Morecambe needs a better rail service including electrification (only a couple of miles required) and direct trains to Manchester and Liverpool.

Bradford itsel: JB Priestley celebrated in his home city

I was very impressed by Bradford’s Literature Festival which took place last week. I only managed to get to one event, but it was well worth the trip over from Accrington. The event was ‘Inspired by JB Priestley’s English Journey’ and was hosted by my pal Lindsay Sutton, who is also chair of the JB Priestley Society. Lindsay was born and bred in Bradford and had the good sense to move to Lancashire in his later years, probably trying to instill a bit of sense in us Lancs. (sorry Lindsay, couldn’t resist that). The panel discussion was introduced by Lindsay who had the pleasure of meeting Priestley in his later years and challenged him about why he travelled around the country for English Journey in a chauffeur-driven car! The panelists were John Higgs and Kathryn Walchester who both contributed fascinating aspects of Priestley’s work.  After that we adjourned to the Midland Hotel, which is always a delight. Maybe Priestley’s ghost was lurking in the bar enjoying a glass of Taylor’s bitter.

Kents Bank in Party Mode

Friends of Kents Bak Station and Foreshore held a very jolly Station Garden Party in May. There were plenty of stalls (the Plant Stall proved particularly popular) as well as an excellent local band (The Sands Band, see pic). There was a visiting mini traction engine and (thanks to Community rail Network) a special bus operating between the station, Allithwaite and Cartmel. The weather was lovely and it was great to see visiting station friends from as far afield as Mytholmroyd, Reddish South, Marple, Settle, Bolton and Littleboorugh. Thanks to Northern for their support.

Local MP Tim Farron visited the station recently and was impressed with the great work being done by the station volunteers. Meanwhile, the Beach Hut Gallery at the station has a new exhibition for the summer period. Well worth popping in, there’s some great stuff (open Thursday to Sunday 11.00 to 16.00)

Platform 5 Gallery

The P5 Gallery at Bolton Station has been hosting a great exhibition by students at Woodbridge College, following on from the success of their show last year. ‘True Colours’ is running for a few more weeks.

Explore Rivington by Bus – for Nowt!

The popular country park at Rivington is usually only accessible by car (or bike). However, for the third time running, South East Lancashire CRP has organised a Sundays/Bank Holidays bus service to serve the area. It’s the 125R and this year is operated by Stagecoach. It runs every hour from 10.40 to 16.40, from Horwich Parkway station via

The 125R heads back towards Horwich

Middlebrook and Horwich. It returns from Rivington Village Hall every hour from 11.00 17.00 and operates on a  ‘hail and ride’ basis.  It does a loop from Horwich via Rivington Lane, Horrobin Lane and back along New Road and Bolton Road to Horwich. IT’s FREE! Many thanks to Horwich Town Council and TfGM for their support.

Celebrating Margaret: Thursday 6th July from 5.30 to 7.30 pm in the Hive Gallery, Market Place Shopping Centre, Bolton.

Celebrating the life and achievements of the late Margaret Jackson through an exhibition of her artwork assembled by her family. These stunning works have been donated by them in the hope they will raise funds for the Bolton Hospice and Bury Hospital Cancer Ward, both of which looked after Margaret towards the end of her life. Margaret’s work explored many subjects and issues from trees and landscapes to mystical places, protest groups, allotments and architecture and the diversity and variety within the exhibition makes it quite unique.

Lancastrians: at a gradely book shop near you

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets – a new history is now available, published by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/.

The publisher’s blurb says says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage.

Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?”

The book has chapters covering culture, politics, sport, leisure, industry, religion as well as a ‘Cook’s Tour’ of the county (mostly by train). It explores the Lancastrians who left for new lives in America, Canada, Russia and South Africa, as well as the ‘New Lancastrians’ who have settled in the county since the 14th century. There are about forty ‘potted biographies’ of men and women who have made important (but often neglected) contributions to Lancashire.

The book is published on June 29th 2023 in hardback, price £25. Salvo readers can get a 25% discount by going to the publisher’s website (www.hurstpublishers.com) and enter the code LANCASTRIANS25 at checkout.

Lancastrians Launched around Lancashire

There are quite a few ‘launch’ events planned for the book. This is the current list up to mid-August:

  • Grange Library: Wednesday July 12th at 15.00
  • Bolton Library (Lecture Theatre) July 13th at 13.00
  • Barrow Library: August 17th at 14.00

I’m open to offers from community groups, societies, libraries and other organizations to talk about the book.

Last Train from Blackstock Junction

My new(isgh) book comprising 12 short stories about railway life in the North is now available. Last Train from Blackstock Junction includes a very appropriate tale about the last train from somewhere called ‘Blackstock Junction’ on November 5th 1966, when a group of kids succeeded in stopping the Glasgow – Manchester express which they mistakenly thought was the last stopping train from their local station. Oops.What very naughty boys. Don’t try this on your local railway.

The book has a very kind foreword by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of

Could this be Blackstock Junction?

Network Rail, who said “As you read these stories, you’ll find some history, some romance, some politics, a little prejudice – sadly – and some humour; you will in fact be in the world of railway men and women. I hope you find them as absorbing as I did when I read Paul’s manuscript. Please enjoy his work!”

Writer and environmentalist Colin Speakman said “it is an amazing collection – powerful, moving, and what I would call ‘faction’ which tells truths even though the details may be fantasy, ‘Hillary Mantel school of history’ perhaps. Director of Platform 5 Publishing, Andrew Dyson, said “Paul’s  stories provide a fascinating insight into what life was really like for thousands of railway workers.”

The tales include a ghost story set in a lonely signalbox in Bolton, in 1900, while other stories are about life on today’s railway, including ‘From Marxist to Managing Director’ – the story of a young female political activist who ends up running a train company. Some are set in the ‘age of steam’ and life on the footplate as well as the rise of the trades unions on the railways and the rise of the Labour movement.

Salvo readers will get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

The three launches (Elsecar, Bolton and Carnforth) all went well and I’m giving talks to a number of other groups over the next few weeks.

Talks, walks and wanderings

Recent talks have included ‘The Social History of Lancashire’s Railways’ for Preston Historical Society, ‘Allen Clarke’s Bolton’ for Friends of Smithills Hall and Bolton U3A, ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’ for Turton LHS, ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley?  and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod LHS.  I’ve had already done several  talks on my new book ‘Lancastrians’ book including Chorley Historical Society, Blackrod Local History Group, Preston Retired Railwaymen and Stretford Probus Club.

Other topics I speak on are:

  • The Lancashire Dialect Writing tradition
  • The Railways of the North: yesterday, today and tomorrow
  • Allen Clarke (1863-1935) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical
  • The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896
  • The Rise of Socialism and Co-operation in the North
  • The Clarion Cycling Clubs and their Club Houses
  • Walt Whitman and his Lancashire Friends
  • Forgotten Railways of Lancashire
  • Banishing Beeching: The Community Rail Movement
  • Railways, Railwaymen and Literature

I charge fees that are affordable to the organisation concerned, to fit their budget – so by negotiation. My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. With sufficient notice I can go further afield.

READERS’ LETTERS

Since it has been a long gap since the last Salvo I’m leaving ‘readers’ Letters’ until Issue 312 – please send ‘em in.

Still in Print (at special prices!)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

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Uncategorized

Northern Salvo 310

The Northern Weekly Salvo 310

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

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

Moves afoot and a sad but joyous farewell

Sorry for the long gap since the last Salvo. I’ve been a bit distracted with house matters – as you’ll see below I’m upping sticks and moving to ‘Lancashire North of the Sands’ – to be more precise, Kents Bank, near Grange-over-Sands. I’m now joint owner of Station House, a fine old Furness Railway stationmaster’s house with splendid views across Morecambe Bay. It means I’m selling my lovely house (and some of the garden railway) at Harpers Lane.

Kents Bank station c 1890. It hasn’t changed much! See right…

Over the next couple of months there will be a steady transition to Kents Bank (served by hourly trains from Bolton). Work on Station House will be completed by early May so I’ll spend part of my time up there over the summer before taking up full residence when Harpers Lane is sold. I’ll keep a foothold in Bolton, through the Horwich sub-shed.

My friend and community rail stalwart Marjorie Birch died, suddenly, before Christmas. I attended a lovely celebration of her life at the Platform Gallery on Clitheroe station. Fittingly it was held on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Marjorie did much to promote community involvement in Lancashire’s railways, bringing her huge experience as a teacher to the work of Community Rail Lancashire. It was nice to see many children from a local school at the memorial event.

HS2 – told you so…

The saga of the HS2 farce continues to unfold, with more and more of the ill-conceived project cut back. As The Times commented, it is becoming like ‘The Black Knight’ who continues to maintain he’s perfectly OK despite more and more of his limbs being cut off. “’Tis but a scratch!” The secretary of state’s announcement that the Birmingham – Crewe section is being deferred a couple of years ‘to save money’ ought to presage its total abandonment . As supporters of the scheme have said, deferring it for two years will end up costing more. Talk about throwing good money after bad. I suppose it will get as far as Birmingham given that a lot of the building work is underway. The chances of it getting to Crewe seem increasingly slim and – at least as currently projected – won’t ever reach Manchester. Good. This scheme would have done little to support regeneration in the North, other than development schemes in the immediate area around Piccadilly. The North desperately needs investment in the local and regional network. Personally I’m not that enthusiastic about ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’, the east-west high-speed route from the Mersey to York and the Humber. Too much of it is politically-driven (even the name!) including the bonkers idea of going via Bradford. The city has fared badly from lackof rail investment but the idea that you tunnel twenty miles under the Pennines to serve the city is yet another dream that will never materialise. Build Bradford Cross-Rail to connect up the two parts of the city’s rail network – that could be delivered in a realistic timeframe and bring real benefits. As for the main Manchester – Leeds route, invest in the existing Standedge route (including re-opening the disused tunnels) and electrify Calder Valley Line via Hebden Bridge and Bradford.

True Levellers would be aghast

Labour’s victory in the West Lancashire by-election last month was hardly unexpected; the best the Tories could come up in response was to say that the 10% swing wasn’t as much as they’d expected.  There were some big local issues which highlight the joke that the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda has become.  In particular, the Department for Transport’s rejection of plans for a rail link to Skelmersdale, now the biggest town in the West Lancashire constituency. Skelmersdale (or ‘Skem’) was one of the 1960s new towns, built in the days when the car was king and planning was built around assumptions that universal car ownership was just a matter of time. So the railway that ran through the centre of the planned town was allowed to close and get built on. A community that grew to a population of over 40,000, mostly re-housed Liverpool families, was left stranded with only a slow bus service to get them into the city for jobs (if you were lucky) and to see friends and relatives.

In a positive display of partnership working, Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council worked with Labour’s West Lancashire Borough Council and Liverpool City Region, with its Labour mayor Steve Rotheram, to come up with a plan to get Skelmersdale back on the rail network, with a short link to the existing electrified Merseyrail network at Kirkby.  It looked like a scheme tailor-made for the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ policy: getting people into jobs, offering an alternative to the car, and deliverable. Yet it was rejected as being ‘poor value for money’. Instead, a bus link has been provided to get people to the station at Kirkby. Experience has shown that these bus links, for relatively short journeys, are seldom well-used. People wanting to get to Liverpool city centre would use a direct train service, but taking a bus to then get a train is more problematic. Those that can would probably carry on driving to the nearest station.

The decision probably cost the Tories little more than a handful of votes – their supporters in Skelmersdale are a virtually extinct species. But it highlights the nonsense of civil servants in London having responsibility for a decision that should be made within the region. Meanwhile, about 30 miles to the east, the people of Oldham have been informed by the London-based Arts Council of England that all of their funding for the highly-respected Oldham Coliseum theatre is to cease. This means the theatre, which has worked hard to make itself inclusive and accessible to everyone in Oldham and beyond, will close down. The decision to stop funding the Oldham theatre is all the more perverse when the Arts Council has recognised regional imbalances yet still gone ahead with its plans that will see the end of one of the North’s most successful theatres.

About half way between Oldham and Skelmersdale is my (current) home town of Bolton. Fortunately, we’ve an excellent theatre which is, so far, managing to survive. We’ve got good rail links. Unfortunately, the fine town centre, dominated by the 150 years-old town hall, is crumbling, with empty shops and worse to come. A few weeks ago Marks and Spencer announced it was closing its town centre store, because of ‘changing shopper needs’ or some such bullshit. This comes on top of the general decline of the town centre which has seen Woolworth’s, Debenhams and dozens of small shops disappear and much-heralded development plans run into the sand. Marks and Spencer was the last remaining ‘quality’ store of any size in the town centre. Not to worry, there’s another Marks and Spencer, along with multiplex cinemas and all the big name chains, three miles away at Middlebrook – a large retail development which is poorly accessible by public transport – but has a huge free car park. The Tory-controlled Bolton Council has said it has been ‘in talks’ with the company to persuade them to stay but I suspect it would take a sizeable financial inducement to get them to reverse the decision. Not our problem? Well, yes, it is: it will accelerate the town centre’s decline with other shops and cafes that benefit from people coming into town to visit M&S becoming vulnerable. And oh yes, Bolton’s bid for ‘levelling-up’ funds to regenerate the town centre were recently turned down.

What all this adds up to is the absurdity of decisions that affect the lifeblood of communities being made by civil servants in London. The North needs strong, well-resourced  and democratically-accountable regional government that can work with local authorities and the private sector to support new railways, arts facilities, town centres and much more. It would be nice if Keir Starmer and his team showed more sign of recognising this.

This is based on an article in a recent issue of Chartist magazine (www.chartist.org.uk)

What future for the station booking office?

There are growing concerns that we are about to see ‘A Beeching of the Booking Offices’, in which most if not all station booking offices will disappear. This would be disastrous for all sorts of reasons. The Rail Reform Group held a well-attended seminar before Christmas in which some creative ideas for how to re-imagine the traditional booking office were explored. A paper has now been published on the Group’s website (https://railreformgroup.org.uk/). The three key suggestions in the paper are headed ‘Bringing About Change’:

“First, it appears to be clear that reform to ticketing is desirable before major changes are made to the provision of information and tickets at stations. Reform would simplify the decisions that would-be travellers have to make, making alternative provision of tickets, for example, through convenience stores, more viable.  Making changes without such reform risks eroding revenue even further.

Second, industry red tape needs to be cut back. There needs to be a way of changing the arrangements for selling tickets at stations which involve local communities and make it easier for 3rd parties to sell tickets than is the case within the current regulatory framework.  There could for example be provision for 3rd parties to be rewarded for guiding customers through transactions on their own devices or for direct ticket selling. The process of agreeing changes to building use and lessee where these lie outside the operational boundaries could also be made simpler.

Third, there is scope to change the way things are done, building on current examples of good practice which have used community-led change to deliver a more market-focused railway. Change should be collaborative involving staff, managers and local communities. The whole industry – Regulator, policy makers, staff and managers need to be open to this in order to create the best possible railway within the resources available. Where it is proposed to either ‘re-purpose’ or even close a booking office, there needs to be a clear and accountable process for this, which could include bodies such as Transport Focus and local community rail partnerships.”

Property Page:  FOR SALE: Garden Railway with Bungalow and large garden

So it’s time to move on from 109 Harpers Lane. I’ve been there nearly five years and I’ve loved it. But the attraction of my own Station House is too much to resist and keeping two houses going was neither viable nor ethical. I’ve bought the house jointly with Linda and we’ve spent the last three months getting work done on it – and spending far too much time going round B&Q, Wickes and the like. However, the aim is to restore as much of the historic features of the house as possible. Should be done by May: look out for announcements on events, including possibly one for Community Rail Day at the end of May.

Meanwhile, 109 Harpers Lane is being marketed by local estate agent Chris Ball. The asking price is £295,000, which doesn’t include the garden railway. This will be by separate negotiation as I’m hoping to accommodate at least some of it at Kents Bank. I’m hoping the house will sell over the summer. In the meantime I’m hoping to hold at least one garden party with the railway in full operation.

Details of my Bolton house are at: https://www.chrisballestates.co.uk/property-details/32156371/

Lancastrians: at a gradely book shop near you soon

Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets will be published at the end of June by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/. The page on Lancastrians says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage. Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?” The book will be published on June 29th 2023 in hardback, price £25.

Last Train from Blackstock Junction

My new book comprising 12 short stories about railway life in the North is now available. Last Train from Blackstock Junction includes a very appropriate tale about the last train from somewhere called ‘Blackstock Junction’ on November 5th 1966, when a group of kids succeeded in stopping the Glasgow – Manchester express which they mistakenly thought was the last stopping train from their local station. Oops.What very naughty boys. Don’t try this on your local railway.

The book has a very kind foreword by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, who said “As you read these stories, you’ll find some history, some romance, some politics, a little prejudice – sadly – and some humour; you will in fact be in the world of railway men and women. I hope you find them as absorbing as I did when I read Paul’s manuscript. Please enjoy his work!”

Writer and environmentalist Colin Speakman said “it is an amazing collection – powerful, moving, and what I would call ‘faction’ which tells truths even though the details may be fantasy, ‘Hillary Mantel school of history’ perhaps. Director of Platform 5 Publishing, Andrew Dyson, said “Paul’s  stories provide a fascinating insight into what life was really like for thousands of railway workers.”

The tales also include a ghost story set in a lonely signalbox in Bolton, in 1900 while other stories are about life on today’s railway, including ‘From Marxist to Managing Director’ – the story of a young female political activist who ends up running a train company. Some are set in the ‘age of steam’ and life on the footplate as well as the rise of the trades unions on the railways and the rise of the Labour movement.

Salvo readers will get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.

Talks, walks and wanderings

Following the end of the Pandemic, I’ve been getting a number of invitations to give talks on various topics. Recent talks have included ‘The Social History of Lancashire’s Railways’ for Preston Historical Society, ‘Allen Clarke’s Bolton’ for Friends of Smithills Hall and Bolton U3A, ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’ for Turton LHS, ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley?  and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod LHS.  I’ve had several requests to give talks on my forthcoming ‘Lancastrains’ book including one for Chorley Historical Society and Stretford Probus Club.

Other topics I speak on are:

  • The Lancashire Dialect Writing tradition
  • The Railways of the North: yesterday, today and tomorrow
  • Allen Clarke (1863-1935) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical
  • The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896
  • The Rise of Socialism and Co-operation in the North
  • The Clarion Cycling Clubs and their Club Houses
  • Walt Whitman and his Lancashire Friends
  • Forgotten Railways of Lancashire
  • Banishing Beeching: The Community Rail Movement
  • Railways, Railwaymen and Literature

I charge fees that are affordable to the organisation concerned, to fit their budget – so by negotiation. My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. With sufficient notice I can go further afield.

Talks..and films

There are some interesting talks coming up in the next few weeks.

  • Tuesday March 14th Horwich Heritage is hosting a talk on The Handloom Weavers of Horwich by Geoff Timmins, who has written extensively on handloom weaving in Lancashire. Starts 19.30 in the Resource Centre, Beaumont Road (small admission fee for non members.
  • Tuesday March 21st, 17.30 Bolton Town Hall (Mayor’s Parlour). ‘The Hidden Muslim Mayor of Victorian Manchester’. A talk by Robert ‘Reschid’ Stanley by his great x3 grand-daughter!
  • On Wednesday March 22nd Alan Fowler and Terry Wyke are giving a talk on The Gradely World of Sam Fitton at Oldham Gallery, 14.00. Fitton was a highly talented writer and artist.

This film sounds good: “A laugh-out-loud story of a dysfunctional Punjabi family in the pressure cooker life of a terraced suburban home in Slough. Newly arrived from India, naive Simmy has come to marry the family’s eldest son Raj, who shockingly does a runner, leaving Simmy locked in the house by her domineering mother-in-law. However, Simmy is smarter than she appears, and soon enlists the support of the family’s disgruntled in-laws, including a sugar crazed, diabetic grandpa and dangerous, but hot, brother in law, fresh out of jail. Together they plan Simmy’s big escape.” There’s a Bolton screening. See www.littleenglishfilm.com

READERS’ LETTERS

Salvo 309 had a good haul of readers’ letters, many on HS2 but most on the Christmas short story, The First Aid Phantom of Wayoh Sidings. It’s still on my website if you want to have an unseasonal catch-up:

 

Still in Print (at special prices!)

ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)

Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)

The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)

With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6  (9.99)

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16

See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)

Mates’ Stuff

Several of my friends are writers and I always try to give a good plug for their work. In the last Salvo I mentioned Martin Bairstow’s excellent new publication (well, updated new edition) on Railways in the Lake Counties. In the last couple of months I’ve had copies of new books from John Davies, Les Lumsdon and Nick Burton. Here’s a summary:

From Achill Island to Zennor

I’ve known John for a long time and always admired his broad knowledge of railways across the world. His latest offering, From Achill Island to Zennor, covers his wanderings ‘to the extremes of the British Isles’. There’s much on ‘Celtic Britain’, including his native Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. John travelled extensively in Ireland and the book features his trip to Achill and also explorations around Donegal, once served by the magnificent County Donegal Railway.  The book is well illustrated and anyone with an interest in ‘the wider Britain’ will love it. Email John for details on price and postage etc: johnbaytrans@btinternet.com

The Heart of Wales Line Trail

Les Lumsdon has updated his guide to the Heart of Wales LineTrail, a 141 mile route from Craven Arms to Llanelli. The walk uses well-established rights of way, taking you through magnificent Welsh and borders countryside. The walk was first mooted in 2015 and was taken forward by the then Arriva Trains Wales with the Heart of Wales Line Development Co. It was launched a couple of years later and has become one of the UK’s most popular long-distance trails. The Heart of Wales Line Trail is published by Kittiwake, price £10.95. See www.kittiwake-books.com

Walks for every season

Nick Burton has done much to promote walking as a healthy and accessible activity in Blackburn and the Ribble Valley. His booklet on Lancashire- Year Round Walks describes twenty walks, with five for each season of the year. It also includes ‘top pub recommendations’. It’s a very handy little production which fits easily into your pocket. Each walk includes a map of the route with suggestions for places to eat and drink. If I’ve any criticism it would be the lack of reference to public transport links – the assumption is you’ll get to the start by car. I suspect this is the publisher’s fault rather than Nick’s. Published by Countryside Books price £5.99 see www.countrysidebooks.co.uk