Northern Weekly Salvo 303

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

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

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No. 303 May 11th 2022  

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips

The election results offer food for thought: the Tories didn’t do as badly as some expected, though Labour continues to grow its popularity in the South. The picture is much more nuanced ‘up North’ with not much sign of a Labour revival in the so-called ‘red wall’ towns, but doing OK in the cities.

Good news for lovers of mill buildings – see ‘No Trouble at Th’Mill’ below

Some of the ‘hyper local’ parties continue to do pretty well in the ‘left behind x 2’ towns like Radcliffe, Farnworth and Failsworth but showing some signs of slippage. The new ‘Cumberland’ has a Labour council whilst neighbouring Westmorland and Furness went Lib-Dem. But I’m not sure that splitting Cumbria into two is for the best. In my old-fashioned view you need a more ‘local’ local authority as well as the county, covering areas which are small enough to have clear identities – e.g. Whitehaven, Barrow, Kendal, Penrith and the like. The bigger you go, the less people are engaged/interested.

All of which seems trivial compared with what’s happening in Ukraine. What an amazing job is being done by the railway men and women of Ukraine to keep trains running and evacuate tens of thousands of people to safety. Here in the UK it’s good to see station gardens sprouting Ukrainian colours, with community rail events being organised in support of the relief efforts. Please support them. Meanwhile, there’s some sort of ‘jubilee’ approaching – not a steam locomotive, but Mrs Windsor’s bash. I hope the many republicans amongst Salvo readers will join me in wishing her a very happy and joyous celebration.

Where should we put GBR?

Last year the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced his latest bright idea. The new body being created to bring a ‘single guiding mind’ to our railways – Great British Railways – would be located outside of London. Which is a good thing. But rather than looking at various locations objectively and deciding where to put it (Bolton, obviously) Shapps said that there would be an ‘open competition’ with towns and cities invited to bid, with a shortlist that would be the subject of a popular ballot. It seems a very odd way indeed to determine the location of the national headquarters of a public body.

The headquarters of GBR will provide strategic direction to rail in the UK, though Scotland has already said that it’s perfectly happy running its railway without GBR’s interference. There will also be a network of regional ‘divisions’.

The Government’s criteria are, in summary:

  • alignment to levelling up objectives;
  • connected and easy to get to;
  • opportunities for GBR;
  • railway heritage and links to the network;
  • value for money;
  • public support

The shortlist will be subject to a ‘non-binding’ public ballot, which suggests that the town likely to win (or at least get most votes) will be the place that is most effective in mobilising local support in the ballot. The selection process is being run by the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT).

Some of the messages that have been coming from Government spokespersons have been slightly misleading, with a heavy emphasis on ‘railway heritage’. What I suspect will influence the shortlist more strongly is likely to be the availability of suitable accommodation, easy access to London, and links to existing rail industry activity, be it in engineering or operations. Rail ‘heritage’ will be a nice added extra, I suspect.

Towns with very strong rail connections which broadly fit the criteria have put considerable energy into their bids – Doncaster, Crewe, Derby and York. The full list of submissions include Barrow-in-

Horwich’s hopes to be Botlon’s choice for locating the GBR HQ were dashed..

Furness, Birmingham, Bishops Stortford, Bolton, Camborne, Carlisle, Carnforth, Coventry, Crewe, Darlington, Derby, Didcot, Doncaster, Dundee, Durham, Eastleigh, Edinburgh, Fife, Gloucester, Grantham, Heywood, Hull, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Motherwell, Newcastle, Northampton, Nuneaton, Perth, Peterborough, Preston, Southampton, Stockton-on-Tees, Swindon, Tamworth, Tonbridge, Wakefield, Wellingborough, West of England combined authority (including Bristol and Bath), Worcester and York.

The shortlist will be announced on May 22nd, and I’d be surprised if the ‘Big Four’ of Doncaster, Crewe, Derby and York aren’t on it. The interesting thing will be to see who else gets through to the final stage. I’d love to know how much total resource has gone into the bids, in terms of scarce officer time and consultants’ fees.

My home town, Bolton, is a bit of an outlier I have to admit, despite having once been home to a very substantial railway engineering works at Horwich, just a couple of miles down the road. Its slim chances haven’t got in the way of a major bust-up over the Council’s decision to opt for a location in central Bolton – not Horwich.

The new railway museum at Doncaster is well worth a visit and would complement a GBR HQ

This has led hyper-local party Horwich and Blackrod First, which is part of the uneasy Tory-led coalition that runs the borough (or did before the elections – now all ‘under discussion’), to threaten to publicly oppose Bolton’s bid. This resulted in the resignation of one of the hyper-local party’s senior members who has joined the Tory ranks. It all makes good copy for The Bolton News.

Let’s see who makes the shortlist; it should be announced in May. A decision on the winner will be made in the summer. I think it will begin with a ‘D’.

(this is a shortened version of a recent article in Chartist magazine).

A forgotten Northern composer

The recent death of Lancashire-born composer Harrison Birtwistle is a reminder of another Lancashire composer who deserves to be celebrated. Thomas Pitfield (1903-1999) was born in Bolton and spent his childhood and youth living at his parents’ home at 57 Bury New Road. His later years were spent in Bowdon, near Altrincham. He became an important figure in British music but his work is, sadly, little known today.

He had a troubled relationship with his parents. Father was a builder

Thomas Pitfield – from Bowtun to Bowdon

and his mother was a dressmaker. They were a reasonably well-to-do family and owned some rental property in the Bolton area. His mother seems to have resented the birth of Thomas as she had to give up her dressmaking business to look after the baby.

Thomas started school at the age of five, attending Ridgeway’s Endowed School and then the Bolton Municipal Secondary School. His mother sent him out rent collecting on Saturday afternoons. Although he hated the job, exploring Bolton and surrounding villages developed his love of nature and encouraged him to write poetry – an activity of which his parents disapproved. It seems they disagreed with most of the things Thomas actually enjoyed, though his father did teach him carpentry skills and, perhaps grudgingly, bought him a piano.

He wanted to become an artist but instead he was apprenticed to Hick Hargreaves of Bolton, one of the main engineering firms in town. The story of how this happened is just one peculiar aspect of his upbringing. His parents sent Thomas to a ‘phrenologist’ – someone who ‘felt your bumps’ to determine your future life chances. The unusual consultation indicated that he was destined for a career in engineering. In August 1917, at the age of 14, Thomas started in the Millwrights Shop at Hick Hargreaves, Crook Street.

He spent seven years ‘on the tools’ and hated much of it. However, his artistic skills were able to develop through work in the Drawing Office. In his spare time he learned to play the piano, and earned extra cash by giving piano and cello lessons.

At the age of 21 he enrolled at the Royal Manchester College of Music as a part-time Composition student. He had very little money and seems to have lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Part of that appealed to his increasingly ascetic character. He drank only water and became vegetarian.

In 1931 he won a scholarship to Bolton School of Art and developed his skill as a painter and etcher. His musical work blossomed and an increasing range of his work was performed in the great concert halls of Manchester and Liverpool. Shortly before his father’s death he turned up to hear a performance of his son’s work by the Halle Choir in Manchester – “the only member of my family who ever went to hear one of my works performed.”

He lived with his parents until he was 31. A few months later he married Alice Astbury, the daughter of a Bolton mill manager, at Bank Street Unitarian Church. His wife was a fascinating character in her own right. She was born in Russia in 1903, when her father was running a cotton mill at Balashika, twenty miles outside Moscow. Alice personifies the close ties between Bolton and Russia in the late 19th century, through the cotton industry. The family returned to England in 1917 to escape the growing unrest which led to revolution later that year. She attended Bolton School (Girl’s Division) and was fluent in both Russian and English. Thomas and Alice discovered a number of letters written by Tchaikovsky which she translated into English.

Thomas and Alice left Bolton soon after they were married, first moving to the Midlands before settling down to life in Bowdon, near Altrincham. Although in a leafy Cheshire suburb, Thomas retained a strong sense of his Bolton roots and the first volume of his autobiography is titled A Cotton Town Boyhood. It features some entertaining examples of his Lancashire dialect poetry, including an introduction to his ‘Overture on North Country Tunes’, composed for the coronation in 1953 and performed on the BBC  ‘regional’ radio station. He became-president of Bolton Musical Artists Association.

His musical output was substantial, but he continued to write poetry and illustrate his works. This included the carved-oak covers of his collection The Poetry of Trees, published in 1944.  He also painted steam engines – Hick Hargreaves (originally Benjamin Hick and Son Ltd) built some of the world’s first locomotives, which may have inspired his interest. He was a true ‘renaissance man’. In 1960 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music, where he rose to become Professor of Composition.

He produced several concertos as well choral pieces and songs. He was strongly influenced by the English folk-song revival and his music has echoes of Ralph Vaughan Williams whose 150th anniversary is being celebrated this year. Thanks to the influence of his wife Alice, he had a strong interest in Russian folk art and music, which found echoes in his work. He was a popular and committed teacher and often wrote music for local societies and schools. He had strong ethical beliefs, remaining a pacifist for all of his adult life.

He died on November 16th 1999. His obituary in The Independent summed up a varied life: “Jack of many trades – artists, engraver, poet, teacher, calligrapher, bookbinder, furniture designer, builder, ornithologist – and master of most of them, too. Thomas Pitfield will none the less be remembered chiefly as a composer of un-emphatic, beautifully crafted music.”

Perhaps it’s time for a Pitfield revival!


Many thanks to Julie Lamara of Bolton History Centre (Bolton Central Library) and her colleagues for their kind assistance with this article, which is based on my feature in The Bolton News of May 4th.

Philip Jenkinson

I had the pain and pleasure of working with Philip Jenkinson over many years. He died in March of this year. By any measure, Phil was a remarkable person. I first met him, I think, in 1993. He was making a tenuous living busking in Huddersfield town centre;  I first met him at a transport meeting. I was planning to start my transport consultancy business and was looking for some help, particularly on the accounts

Phil (right) with brother Keith

side. It turned out that Phil had trained as an accountant, though never got his qualifications. He probably got bored with it, but he liked the idea of doing something to do with railways. So began what was a productive relationship that resulted in the creation of the ‘community rail’ movement – from the basement kitchen of a terraced house in Berry Brow.

It began with TR&IN – Transport Research and Information Network. Like quite a few things we did, the title was a bit of a joke. We eked out a modest living, with me paying Phil enough to keep him in beer and fish.  TR&IN managed to carve out a small niche in consultancy on setting up community rail partnerships. There were a couple of occasions when we came perilously close to shutting up shop, but Phil didn’t mind keeping going without wages, as long as he got something eventually.

It’s worth mentioning his financial administration. He managed to make invoicing more interesting by using locomotive numbers for his

An early ACoRP gathering, at Eggesford on the Tarka Line. Phil (unusually) in the foreground

invoices, based on LMS Black 5s – an invoice to, say a Birmingham client would use a Black 5 allocated to Aston, or Saltley, e.g  44843 Needless to say, they weren’t sequential. It was a challenge for our accountant, railway enthusiast and historian Martin Bairstow, who puzzled over the invoice numbering. It finally dawned and we all had a good chuckle.

I can say ‘without fear of contradiction’ that the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) would never have happened if it hadn’t been for Phil. I’d have got fed up and gone on to do something else. OK, I had the ideas and the drive, but he provided the solid base of administration and book-keeping. He could be the most annoying person on earth, but he was also a very kind man and totally devoid of ‘show’.

Phil was a man of many parts – loyal supporter of Huddersfield Town, train-spotter and trolleybus enthusiast, singer and song-writer, authority on locomotive names and shed codes. He wrote some clever, often self-deprecating, songs, such as ‘The Legendary Anorak on Platform 1’. His elegy for the Quintinshill Disaster wasn’t the sort of thing to liven up parties, but it had depth. He was Yorkshire through and through.

We shall not see his like again.

No trouble at th’mill

It’s not often I pass through Middleton, an interesting small town sandwiched between Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester. It has a station of sorts – Mills Hill, not quite Middleton but near enough – but even better if plans to get Metrolink into the heart of the town come to fruition. We did a very pleasant walk (thanks to Richard Lysons for the suggestions) to Foxdenton Hall, once home of feminist pioneer Lydia Becker, in nearby Chadderton. The building is empty and efforts are

Foxdenton Hall, Chadderton, with ‘boggart o’th’hall’ in foreground – the ghost of Lydia Becker?

underway to restore it. We doubled back and walked up the towpath, passing the ‘Rose of Lancaster’ and did a circuit via Chadderton Heights. Returning through Middleton we passed the enormous Warwick Mill – looking empty and forlorn. My assumption was that it was about to be demolished. However, further investigation showed that it was the subject of a major regeneration project. Well done Rochdale Council and their partners! The press release says:

“The plans will form the cornerstone of a new masterplan for Middleton town centre focusing on delivering new homes, business space, highway and environmental improvements, and new walking and cycle routes to pave the way for the planned extension of the Metrolink into Middleton town centre…… plans (are) to create a central atrium that will open up the mill and provide light and space in a high-quality environment for residents to socialise. The adjacent external area plans to be opened up for commercial, food and drink uses, with new publicly accessible open spaces. The plans will see the demolition of the derelict London House to bring forward a new high-quality residential development, integrated with the mill. The mill’s owners have been working with Rochdale Borough Council and Historic England to create a scheme that sympathetically restores the mill and delivers new development to achieve a viable scheme.”

Train and bus in harmony

South-east Lancs Community Rail Partnership is sponsorsing three dedicated bus services this summer, linking major visitor attractions with the train. They are Horwich Parkway to Rivington, Walkden to RHS Bridgewater and Wigan to Haigh Woodland Park. Funding has

Last year’s Bolton News coverage

come from a variety of sources including Northern, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast, Transport for Greater Manchester, RHS and Wigan Council. The services operate at weekends (Rivington is Sundays and bank holidays only). Further details soon!

Talks, walks and wanderings

Following the ‘official’ end of the Pandemic, I’ve been getting a number of invitations to give talks on various topics. Recent talks have included ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’, ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley?  and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod Local History Society.  Other topics 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. An average fee is in the region of £40-£50, all in.

My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. However, with sufficient notice I can go further afield.

Forthcoming talks include:

  • Socialism with a Northern Accent’ Stretford Probus Club, Monday May 23rd (morning event)
  • Allen Clarke’s Bolton’ Friends of Smithills Hall, 7.30, Smithills Hall, June 15th
Lancashire Loominary publications : Spring Sale for readers
  • ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £8.99 (normally £18.99) ALSO NOW ON KINDLE £8.99
  • 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)

See for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £4 per order for post and packing in UK)

New projects….

My collection of railway-themed short stories  – Last Train from Blackstock Junction – is being published by Platform 5, this Autumn. It features 12 stories of railway life in the North of Enfgland, and has a foreword by Sir Peter Hendy, Chair of Network Rail. More details soon.

Much of my time this year will be devoted to work on one of my biggest projects – a cultural and social history of Lancashire. Lancastrians will be published by Hurst (who recently brought out the fascinating Northumbrians) next year.

Britannia rules the moors

If you want a railway themed walk with a difference, explore the moors above Bacup and Rawtenstall. There was once an extenstive network of narow-gauge (and some standard-gauge) tramways serving the large quarries ‘on th’tops’. Some are still operating but sadly not rail-linked (could this be the way forward for getting rails back to Bacup?). We did a grand walk from Britannia, heading up the track which roughly parallels the incline that took stone down to the exchange sidings. ‘

‘Lord Byron’ – a quarry loco and its menm somewhere up on the moors above Rossendale

Britannia’s passenger station closed in 1917 (but survied as a halt for ‘workmens trains’ which didn’t merit inclusion in the timetable. The passenger service between Bacup and Rochdale ceased in 1947, then complete closure (beyond Facit) followed in 1954. The view from the top of the incline is amazing. It isn’t ‘pretty’ but is quite stunning. We even found a bit of old track. We walked back via Lee Quarry – huge, but disused. We ended up back at the ‘Lancashire Sock Manufacturing Company’ – or these days just ‘Lancashire Sock’. It’s a good example of how a traditional business has adapted, and seems to be doing well. Its website tells us:

“Here at Lancashire Sock we pride ourselves in being recognised as the UK’s leading manufacturer of latex foam and crumb rubber coated felts and textiles which are used in a wide range of domestic and

Lancashire Sock Manufacturing Co., Britannia nr Bacup

industrial applications from footwear insoles to carpet underlay.
We are also the premier manufacturer and supplier of synthetic chamois and advanced heat reflective ironing board cover fabrics.
Founded in 1917, we are the longest established, fully independent, flame lamination specialists in the UK, we have a great depth of experience and expertise in bonding foams, textile materials and films, working closely with our customers to deliver solutions which meet ever more demanding requirements.” Long may they thrive!


The annual Walt Whitman celebrations take place in Bolton over the weekend of May 27/8/9. A lot happening and more details will be posted soon. The annual walk will be on Saturday May 29th, departing

The owd lad himself

Barrow Bridge at 14.00 (please check just in case there’s a last minute change). Bus leaves Bolton Interchange at 13.30. Poetry and picnic on the way, bring a snack and wear suitable footwear! On the Saturday evening there will be a special event at Bolton Central Library ‘Whitman on the Walls’. New York-based Compagnia de Colombari Theatre Company will put on a unique performance. Details to follow.


Inspired by Britannia, readers are invited to nominate stations which continued to provide some sort of passenger service after they had officially closed.


NED WAUGH WOULD LOVE IT: Nice to get along to the Edwin Waugh Dialect Society’s ‘supperin’ do’ in Rochdale recently. The society celebrates the memory of Lancashire’s greatest dialect poet and encourages an interets in modern-day dialect writing. It was good to hear contributions from members, in both poetry and song. Not often you get to events where people actually get up and do summat! And the meat and potato pie was wonderful (thank you Anne Leggett Catering).

BURNHAM’S BOOK BASH IN BOLTON: Dave Bunham is launching his new book on Bolton people, A to Z of Bolton, in Bolton Central Library Saturday May 21st at 11.00. All welcome, no need to book. But do buy the book…

SEE YOU ON PLATFORM 5: There’s an excellent new exhibition in the Platform 5 Gallery on Bolton Station. It’s called ‘The Beautful Ordinary – Finding Calm’ and is by students of Woodbridge College in association with Minty B. It runs for the next month to May 26th, opening hours are limited but Saturdays May 14th and 21st are good bets, open from 10.00 to 4.00.

CELEBRATING THE LANKY: Horwich Heritage is running a splendid exhibition on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, at its museum on Beaumont Street. Lots of material to mark the centenary of the absorption of the L&Y into the London and North Western Railway. Generally open early afternoon but please check their website.


Near-miss at Haltwhistle

David Prescott comments: “I am pleased to hear about Haltwhistle (Salvo 302). Back in the late 80s when I was RR NE Marketing Manager I looked after all the property from the business angle. One day I ha a visit from a very senior roads engineer to talk about the A69 Haltwhistle “bypass” where at that time their plan was to drive the road straight through the station and along the cutting to west which would have required the line to be singled. It would also have required the demolition of the bulk of the listed station with only the water tower surviving. Access to the platforms was to be via a footbridge over said new section of the A69. Suffice to say I disagreed with this proposal, also knowing that the community were not keen on it and the (I think by then retired) traffic manager lived in the station house. We had discussions about it all being government funded – which I found rather amusing as it never flows the other way. It seems mad thinking about it now, but this is only about 15 years after the main Edinburgh – Perth line through Glenfarg was shut to build the M90 on bits of it. I point blank refused to take forward his suggestion and fortunately it never came up again and a more realistic route was chosen.”

Co-operation and Ukraine

Richard Greenwood writes: “There was a Ukrainian Co-operative Society Limited formed in Rochdale about 1960 and they had a shop in Milnrow Road for a number of years. Rochdale is twinned with Lviv; the bridge over the river by the Municipal Buildings is named “The Lviv Bridge”. In the Memorial Gardens is a stone tablet commemoration the Holodomor — Stalin’s famine. The church where my mum and dad were married in 1935 is now the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have a small meeting room as well. The Ukrainians had a strong presence in the local Chess League. I only visited Ukraine once, in the year of the Hale Bopp comet, I think 1997. At that time it was a desperately poor country but everyone we met especially the younger people were extremely friendly and optimistic. Parties of young Ukrainian steam locomotive fans have several times visited the Worth Valley Railway. What is happening is a desperate tragedy.”

Blair, Putin and Kia Hatchbacks

John Nicholson comments: “Not sure I’d let Tony Blair off so easily, though clearly not as wicked as Putin, though it’s interesting to contrast the reaction to Joe Biden’s gaffe about regime change with the tacit acceptance of it in Iraq. Turning to the Budget – yes, a disgrace almost as bad as 1981. I just hope Ukraine doesn’t crowd out the political repercussions for it & much else besides, notably ‘partygate’. Nothing in the budget about levelling-up, net zero let alone what it should have concentrated on – help for those who most need it. And by the way Sunak had borrowed a car from a Sainsbury’s employee for the ‘photo opportunity’. Millionaires with billionaire wives don’t drive Kia hatchbacks.”


From Bolton to Bethesda

From Bolton to Bethesda: Lancashire children and the Penrhyn Lock-Out

“….the daylight is dying over the mountains and the sunset is fair on bonny Bethesda – bonny Bethesda where babes want for bread. As I write, I see before me once again the faces in the mass meeting, the earnest, honest, resolved face, and the vast throng stands up and sings, fervently and pathetically, in Welsh, ‘Land of My Fathers’.[1]

A unique example of children’s solidarity

The active involvement of children in popular politics has been little-researched. One of the most remarkable examples occurred in the early years of the 20th century, during the long and bitter Penrhyn Lock-Out, in North Wales. Bolton writer and socialist Allen Clarke, through his ‘Children’s Column’ in Northern Weekly, played the key role in galvanising a unique campaign, mobilising hundreds of Lancashire boys and girls to help their sisters and brothers in Wales.[2]

Allen Clarke, c 1900

Barrow Bridge was at the heart of the campaign, as the location for Clarke’s biggest-ever event – ‘The Teddy Ashton Picnic’ (Clarke’s nom-de-plume for his Lancashire dialect writings) – organised to raise funds for the locked-out quarry workers. At a time when children and young people are becoming active in fighting climate change, recalling earlier examples of children’s engagement in radical causes is important. The story of Lancashire children’s support for their sisters and brothers in Wales during the Penrhyn Lock-Out has been hidden from history; it should be celebrated.

Britain’s longest and most bitter industrial dispute

The enormous Penrhyn slate quarries at Bethesda in North Wales were the scene of what was one of the longest and most bitter struggles in British working class history. It began on November 22nd 1900 with the victimisation of a small group of quarrymen. It quickly spread to the entire quarry complex and became a fight for trade union rights, better working conditions and improved wages.[3]

Lord Penrhyn refused to even meet the men’s representatives in the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union, and kept them locked out for three years. Of the 2,800 men who came out, over a thousand never returned. The village of Bethesda was decimated – shops closed down, houses became empty and families were split up.

Although the men were ultimately defeated, Lord Penrhyn paid a high price. Never again did his quarries achieve their previously unrivalled position in the world slate market.

There was wide public sympathy for the men. What they were demanding was only what was enjoyed by workers in much of British industry, by the turn of the century. Popular daily papers like The Morning Leader and Daily News publicised the workers’ case and raised money to ward off the creeping starvation that was looming over Bethesda. The union, and the Penrhyn Relief Committee, appealed for help to trades unionists and the public at large. The socialist movement did much to build support at a local level in many towns and cities across Britain.

Bolton to the fore

Perhaps nowhere was that support stronger than in Bolton.  The local Labour Church, led by the veteran radical and friend of Clarke’s, James Sims, played a key role in organising support.

The help that came from working class families, including children, was remarkable. It was the support from local children, many of whom were working in the mills as ‘half-timers’, which marked out Bolton’s contribution as exceptional. [4]

Alongside the Labour Church, Allen Clarke and his newspaper Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly, did much to galvanise support. It had a ‘children’s column’ by Allen Clarke, writing as ‘Grandad Grey’, which encouraged young readers to contribute articles and poetry, and – as we shall see – get practically involved in the struggle.[5]

Local support grows

By the spring of 1901 it was clear that the Penrhyn Lock-Out would be a long and painful battle. Throughout Britain, trades unionists, socialists and other well-wishers were sending funds to help families in Bethesda. Bolton was at the forefront. One particular event helped to build local support to a high level. This was the great ‘Teddy Ashton Picnic’ held at the local beauty spot of Barrow Bridge, on May 11th 1901. He had begun planning the event some weeks earlier, promoting it through his Northern Weekly.

The great Barrow Bridge Picnic

Clarke had a ready-made audience for his picnic in aid of Bethesda, through his newspaper. He built up support for the event through local groups like the Labour Church and arranged special reduced rate tickets with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Wagonettes were on hand at Trinity Street station to take some of the visitors the three miles to Barrow Bridge, though most probably walked.

A selection of the picnic crowd. Allen Clarke to right of group in suit and hat

The picnic attracted a crowd of over 10,000, with people coming from all over Lancashire. There was entertainment provided by the local Clarion Choir and other musicians. The village institute laid on food to cater for the enormous crowds and quickly sold out. The village shop produced special ‘Barrow Bridge Rock’ which popular with the children. There was even a ‘moving picture show’ by local impresario Fenton Cross.

The local constabulary had expressed concern to Clarke and the organisers that such a large crowd might cause disorder. In the event, a policeman turned up at Clarke’s house the following day to thank him for a well-organised and entirely peaceful gathering! There wasn’t a trace of litter.

Support from the unions

The trades unions of Bolton responded magnificently to the quarrymen’s appeal. Nineteen unions in the town contributed money, with the powerful spinners’ union contributing £150 and the Card and Blowing Room Operatives a further £150, with an additional £50 from the local branch. Individual branches, such as the Bolton Spinners’ Atlas no. 1 Mill, contributed smaller amounts. Engineers, bleachers and dyers, carters, hairdressers, railwaymen, miners, printers and even life assurance agents sent in substantial sums.[6]

The choral concerts

In June 1901 the Bethesda Choir made their first visit to Bolton as part of a national fund-raising tour. They were back the following week, performing at a concert in the Temperance Hall organised by Bolton Trades Council and the local Co-operative Society. The officers of the Trades Council spoke, alongside by the president of Bolton Co-operative Society. They were followed by the Liberal MP George Harwood and Bolton socialist activist Fred Brocklehurst. James Sims did most of the promotion for the concert, selling tickets and organising publicity in conjunction with Clarke’s Northern Weekly. The event was a great success and the choir were asked to come back for a further concert.

This time, the huge Albert Hall was the venue with reserved tickets selling for 2 shillings for the best seats down to sixpence. J. E. Jones, Headmaster of Bolton School, presided. A dialect recital was given by Albert Dearden. The following day, a Sunday, Bolton Labour Church put on two performances of the choir in the Co-operative Hall, at 2.30 and 6.00pm.

The concerts continued into 1902. By then, Bethesda possessed two male choirs and a ladies’, which visited Bolton in November 1901. One of the male choirs came to Bolton for a weekend of concerts on February 1st and 2nd. The Albert Hall was the venue for the Saturday evening concert and the Temperance Hall hosted the Sunday performances. Both were organised by the Labour Church. Allen Clarke gave an account of the Albert Hall concert in Northern Weekly, commenting on a particularly fine rendition of ‘Ash Grove’.

Barrow Bridge featured once again in the campaign, with a fund-raising concert held in the former Institute on Good Friday, 1902. The Harvey Street Choir, of Halliwell was conducted by Mr F. Hamer. Their performance was followed by readings from the work of Bolton dialect writer J. T. Staton (see Chapter 12). A report in Northern Weekly said that his comic tale, ‘Soup for a Sick Mon’, had the audience in tears of laughter.

The children join in

Following the February concert in the Albert Hall, Clarke hit on a novel idea to involve young readers of his paper. He ran a children’s column in Northern Weekly, writing as ‘Grandad Grey’.  Some of the young readers of his column had parents who were socialist activists. Towns such as Bolton, Darwen and Burnley had a flourishing socialist culture, with active branches of the Independent Labour Party, Social Democratic Federation and Labour Church. There were ‘Socialist Sunday Schools’ which children attended and learned a socialism that was ethical, compassionate and inclusive. Clarke’s Northern Weekly was a non-aligned labour/socialist paper which did much to popularise a distinctive ‘Northern’ socialism.[7]

At the beginning of February he published his first appeal, headed ‘I WANT YOU TO HELP’. He gave a simple but moving account of the struggle so far, and asks:

Now I want the children of England – and especially the children who read The Northern Weekly – to help the children of Bethesda. I want you to collect money for them. I want you to collect old clothes and shoes, and shirts, stockings etc., from your neighbours and friends; then we’ll send the money and clothes to the poor children of Bethesda. For we must not let the big lord beat them and their families.

Collecting card (from Northern Weekly)

He showed an example of a collecting card which he had printed, “filling in a few names to show you how to do it.[8] The collecting card was headed FEED MY LAMBSBethesda Relief Fund’ and was sub-titled ‘From the children of England to the children of Bethesda’.

The card said “This money is being collected to help the starving children of Bethesda quarrymen, who have because of their trade unionism been locked out for two years by Lord Penrhyn and are still out.”

The response was remarkable. Within a week 26 children had returned completed cards, with monies totalling £10.10.7. Most of the children were from the Bolton area, though others wrote in from Heywood, Ashton, Rochdale, Oldham and other Lancashire towns. Interest extended into the West Riding of Yorkshire, with children in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley involved in the collections.

Rachel Baxendale from Darwen replied to the appeal within two days:

Dear Grandad, This is the first time in my life (that I have written a letter to a newspaper – ed.), but my dada said he would help me if I would try…We have read about the Bethesda children and we are sorry for those two little boys that had only one short for them both. We would like to help them if we could, and if you could please send us one of your collecting cards we will try. I may say that I am eight years old and in the second standard.”

Yours truly, Rachel Baxendale”[9]

The following week, her contribution of 6s 5d was acknowledged in The Northern Weekly.

The money collected was sent on to the Rev. Lloyd, secretary of the Relief Committee. In his replies thanking the children for their great efforts he referred to the plight of some of the families:

“…a family of nine – father, mother and seven children. The father is in poor health and the mother has to keep some of the youngest children in bed to save their breakfasts. The Relief Fund cannot give more than 7s a fortnight on average.”

Lloyd had a special message for the young readers of Northern Weekly:

“…our sincerest thanks to you on behalf of the Bethesda children for sympathising with them, who suffer through no fault of their own. They join their fathers and mothers in the processions of the workmen along the streets of our town carrying small banners and flags with Welsh inscriptions thereon, which translated mean ‘It is better to die a soldier than live a traitor’. Thus they take part in one of the bitterest, longest labour struggles ever known, whose consequences in want and poverty are so appalling. Your subscriptions will cheer them up, I know, and will gladden the hearts of their parents.

Susie, Harold, Martha, Ezra and Lily

Susie Lord was a 13-year old girl working at Whitewell Slipper Works at Waterfoot in Rossendale.[10] She wrote to The Northern Weekly to say that a copy of the paper had been passed round the machine room and the girls decided to have a collection. It raised £1 15s 6d, and Susie became a regular contributor to the fund. The girls in the adjoining ‘Turnshoe and Clicking Rooms’ contributed a further 10s 6d.

A list of young contributors, from Northern Weekly February 21st 1902

Harold Hargreaves, of Barrowford, wrote in to say “The weather is very nice for sliding, but I have given it up to go collecting for the children.”  Martha Smith, of Walkden, wrote to ‘Grandad Grey’ telling him “I am sure Lord Penrhyn is not worthy of the name of man or he would not force little innocent children to starve and clem.”

Ezra Brittan, age 11 of Oldham, said he was “very sorry to think that children have to suffer through a bad man, even if he is a lord..if you ever come to Oldham, come to our house for tea – you will be welcome.

One of the most touching letters published in Northern Weekly came from ‘Lily’, daughter of one of the locked-out quarrymen. It was headed ‘A Letter from a Bethesda Child’:

Dear sir, I take this opportunity to thank you for your kindness, and to thank the children, who are collecting on behalf of the poor children at Bethesda, who have suffered so much during this cold weather. My father was at the mass meeting when Mr Lloyd read out some of the children’s letters, and they were moved to tears when the sympathetic letters were read to the meeting. I am very glad to know you take so much interest in our cause, and that you intend to send an excursion here this summer, and I I would like to see some of the children when they come to Bethesda. We live on the top of a hill close to Bethesda, and my father is working at present in a slate quarry at the foot of Snowdon, and goes away early every Monday morning and comes back on Saturday, to spend the Sunday with us, and I don’t like to part with him every Sunday night. I hope you will accept my sincere thanks, on behalf of the children, and that you will accept my mistakes, as I am a 9-year old Welsh girl, who does not know to write English properly. You may print this letter in a corner of your paper, if you think it is good enough.

Yours truly, Lily[11]

Holidays in Bethesda

The excursion which Lily refers to was part of one of the ideas to assist the quarrymen’s families. Organisations such as local co-operative societies and The Northern Weekly arranged holidays to Bethesda, with accommodation provided in the quarrymen’s cottages.

At Whitsun 1902 Clarke organised a cycle trip from Bolton to Bethesda, offering 25s for full board for the week, or 5s for a day. The route was out via Chester and the coast, returning via an inland route through Betws-y-Coed and Wrexham. He extolled “the cleanliness and sweet homeliness of the people” and the fine mountain scenery, walks, fishing and fresh air.

He produced some of his most powerful journalism during his Bethesda visits. In a full page editorial in The Northern Weekly headed ‘Where Babes Want for Bread’, he contrasts the beauty of Snowdonia with the suffering taking place there:

Beautiful are the mountains about Bethesda, beautiful are the vales and waters, beautiful the lanes and trees, beautiful the white lambkins on the green hillsides – but blighted are the homes of the workers in the midst of this because one man has hardened his heart, because one man selfishly holds a piece of Nature that neither he, nor his ancestors, ever made, and to which he has really no more sole right than the humblest drudge in  this village of Bethesda, over which he is Lord till death reduces him to his deserved level.”

The messianic Christian socialist tone continues to the end of the piece:

“I must finish now. As I cease the daylight is dying over the mountains and the sunset is fair on bonny Bethesda – bonny Bethesda where babes want for bread. As I write, I see before me once again the faces in the mass meeting, the earnest, honest, resolved face, and the vast throng stands up and sings, fervently and pathetically, in Welsh, ‘Land of My Fathers’. And I say to myself, as the sunset lights end, and shadows fall across the garden in front of the cottage, and through the window upon my paper, ‘May the glorious morning soon come, the morning of rejoicing for Bethesda!”

The end

That morning never came. The lead story of The Northern Weekly for October 17th 1903 was headed ‘A Long and Bitter Lock-out’. It was a valiant attempt to rally support for what was a dying cause. A few weeks later it was all over, with only a selected number of the men being allowed to return to work.

The children’s fund raised £147 9s 5d. It was a small sum in comparison to the thousands raised by newspaper campaigns such as that mounted by the Morning Leader and the contributions from the big unions. But in many ways it is more remarkable. The children who contributed were from ordinary working families. Some of them were half-timers in local mills and factories. The letters of the young children, from ages of seven or eight, show an amazing degree of maturity and compassion.

Perhaps some of the children involved in the Bethesda appeal went on to become leaders in their communities, or in the socialist and trade union movement. We know little about them. Nor do we know if the friendships created during the lock-out, through the visits of the choirs to Lancashire and the excursions to Bethesda, resulted in continuing links between towns like Bolton and Bethesda. It would be good to think that they did.

Barrowbridge as it is today

This article is taken from my book ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical (published 2021 by Lancashire Loominary)



[1] Allen Clarke in Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly May 31st 1902

[2] This essay was first published in Bolton People’s History in 1984 as Feed My Lambs: Bolton Kids and the Penrhyn Lock-Out. It has been updated with some additional information added.

[3] For a full account of the lock-out and the wider political and social context, see R. Merfyn Jones The North Wales Quarrymen 1874-1922, Cardiff, 1982

[4] The ‘Half-Time System’ forced working class children to work half-time in mills and factories and spend the rest of their day at school. It was prevalent in the textile districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire and was finally abolished in 1918. See Edmund and Ruth Frow The Half Time System of Education, Manchester 1970

[5] See Lancashire’s Romantic Radical: The Life and Work of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton

[6] The Hairdressers’ Union contributed £21.10s. Other local donations included Gas Workers £3, Typographical Association £1, Wheelwrights £10, Atherton Miners £2, Wharton Hall Miners £2, Lostock Railwaymen £1, Saddlemakers £1, Carters £5, Tape Sizers £2 1s, Engine and Iron Grinders £2.

[7] See Paul Salveson Walt Whitman and the Religion of Socialism in the North of England (forthcoming, 2020/1)

[8] Northern Weekly February 8th 1902

[9] Northern Weekly February 15th 1902

[10] The Rossendale Valley was noted for its footwear industry, particularly slipper manufacture. Large numbers of female labour, including half-timers such as Susie, were employed in the industry. It was highly unionised though I am not aware of whether children were admitted into the union.

[11] Northern Weekly February 22nd 1902


Northern Weekly Salvo 302

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

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

Publications website:

No. 302 March 30th  2022         

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips

So much for the misplaced optimism of the last Salvo, when the prospect of war in Ukraine was dismissed as ‘unlikely’. The situation deteriorates by the day, with horrendous scenes that defy justification or comprehension. We bandy terms like ‘war criminal’ around far too easily (Blair, for all his faults and mistakes, wasn’t one). Putin very clearly is and deserves to be called to full account. It’s a situation in which we are far from being helpless spectators. Sending money to the many charities providing support in Ukraine is the most obvious. A few friends are looking at making their homes suitable for Ukrainian guests; there is scope for using railway property to provide support services.

Meanwhile Rishi Sunak has delivered his budget. I’m certainly not the only one to think it is one of the worst Tory budgets in living memory and completely flies in the face of any ideas of reducing car dependency and promoting public transport. He even had the effrontery to be photographed filling up his car at a petrol station! And where is Labour? They actually supported the 5p per litre cut. It’s unclear from the Lib Dem’s response whether they support it or don’t, or would like a bigger cut.

Petrol head

It was left to the Green Party to point out that it makes a mockery of any attempt to address climate change. Their co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “We absolutely know people need help right now – but cuts to fuel duty aren’t targeted to support the poorest and the greatest numbers of people. They’re not going to fix the cost of living crisis. Research shows such a cut would mainly benefit the richest while doing little or nothing to help people on the lowest incomes. It is also worth noting that prices at the pumps have risen by no more than inflation since 2011, and since March 2021 have increased by 35% compared to a 275% increase in the gas retail price over the same period. Faced with a climate emergency and the need for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, we also need to acknowledge that now is not the time to cut fuel duty. It is really disappointing to see Labour has jumped on this particular bandwagon.”

Next week is the funeral of my colleague and friend Philip Jenkinson. I’ll do a longer tribute to The Curmudgeonly Tyke in the next Salvo but it should be said here that without Phil’s assiduous, often truculent, behind-the-scenes effort, community rail would never have happened.

Meanwhile, Bolton Council is in turmoil (again). The causus bellum is interesting though. With a bit of prompting from certain quarters, the Council decided it would be a good idea to bid for the ‘Great British Railways’ HQ, following Grant Shapps’ idea to ask for competive bids for its location. Maybe they couldn’t think of anywhere. Bolton has some claim to having a railway heritage and certainly qualifies as a town in need of ‘levelling up’. Within Bolton borough sits Horwich, once the engineering centre for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway; the Bolton and Leigh Railway, opened in 1828, was the first public railway in Lancashire. What has caused ructions is Bolton Council’s bid which proposes having the HQ in central Bolton – not Horwich. This has resulted in the delicate political balance on the Council being upset. Some members of ‘hyper-local’ party Horwich and Blackrod First, in alliance with the ruling Tories, think it should be in Horwich. They point to Horwich’s railway heritage and availability of land on the former Loco Works site which could form an ideal location for the GBR HQ. One local councillor angrily suggested that they would withdraw support from Bolton’s bid and send an irate letter to Mr Shapps. Things took a further turn when one of the leading members of the hyper-local party announced her resignation in view of its petulant attitude and now sits on the Tory benches. Whatever next? Be interesting to see if Bolton gets short-listed. My money, putting aside local loyalty, is on Doncaster.

A Lancashire Ukrainian Community

As we watch in horror the events unfolding in Ukraine, one part of the Bolton ‘family’ has particular reason to pray for an end to Russia’s war. Bolton has a well-established Ukrainian community which is working with its neighbours as well as Ukrainian groups across the country to help their brothers and sisters, many of whom have either had to flee their country or are facing relentless bombardment.

Bolton’s Ukrainian community took shape after the Second World War. Ukraine had endured immense suffering under Stalin’s rule as boss of the Soviet Union. During the early 1930s the eastern part of Ukraine

A group of Ukrainian children in Bolton, late 1950s (courtesy Bolton Branch Association of Ukrainians in the UK)

endured a calamitous famine which led to the deaths of between four and seven million people. Stalin sat back and allowed it to happen: it was a man-made catastrophe. What Ukrainians call ‘The Holodomor’ – death by starvation – is etched deeply in the minds of present generations of Ukrainians, in much the same way that the Irish Famine of the 1840s continues to be recalled with deep sorrow and anger by Irish people.

Bolton-born and bred Yaroslaw Tymchyshyn is chairman of the Bolton branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. His father, along with thousands more Ukrainians, arrived in Britain after the Second World War hoping for a better life. Many settled in Bolton, where there was a labour shortage in the cotton industry and coal mines. Several of the men got jobs at Agrecroft Colliery. Yaroslaw’s father worked at Dobson and Barlow’s engineering works before joining Bolton Corporation as a bus conductor in 1953. According to Yaroslaw, he got the job because he was good at Maths!

“A branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain was formed in 1948 – it was one of the first in the country,” said Yaroslaw. “There had been an earlier influx of Ukrainians into Manchester, at the end of the 19th century, but it was only really in the 1940s that the flow became significant.” Alongside the association, a youth group was also established.

The association raised funds to get its own cultural centre where the community’s heritage could be cherished and maintained. The first centre was on Park Road, opposite Queens Park. It opened in 1948, the first in Britain. The association ran classes in Ukrainian for the children, as well as encouraging national music and dance. Ukrainian history and culture was taught, countering the idea that Ukraine had no national identity. It soon became too small to accommodate the range of activities and sheer numbers using the centre. The Saturday School, which focused on language teaching, reached 93 pupils, boys and girls. Some delightful photos have survived of children in traditional Ukrainian costume.

The vast majority of the Ukrainian community are Roman Catholics. In the early years, mass, delivered in the home language, was heard at St Patrick’s church on Great Moor Street. The community wanted to have their own place of worship and the unused All Saints church was purchased in 1967. In recent years the building has become unsafe and the Ukrainian Catholic congregation has returned to its original base, at St Patrick’s. Father Ewhen Nevesniak is the priest.

The association started looking for larger premises and in 1963 moved in to what is their current home at 99 Castle Street, in The Haulgh. The activities of the association expanded further, with the annual Easter Meal becoming a highlight of the association’s calendar. In 1967 a meeting hall was added on to the building.

The first generation of Bolton Ukrainians felt strongly about ensuring their children would get the sort of education that many of them had been denied. Most of the boys went to Thornleigh College, while those who failed the 11-plus often going to Rome to train as priests. The majority of girls went to Mount St Joseph’s, with some attending the former St Cuthbert’s School in Bolton.

There is no doubt that Bolton’s Ukrainian community has integrated well into Bolton life and this has been reciprocated by the huge outpouring of support from Bolton people in the current crisis. “Bolton Council has been amazing,” said Yaroslaw, ”it’s wonderful to see the town hall lit up in our national colours of blue and yellow, with the Ukrainian flag flying over the library. Thousands of people have been spontaneously contributing to street collections and on-line appeals.”

(This article first appeared in The Bolton News, March 16th)

What’s Your Story, Chorley?

Chorley’s annual ‘bookfest’ is a great event. It has obviously made a healthy recovery from Covid lockdown and attracted hundreds of participants last Saturday. It took place in several  venues, including the Library, Ebb and Flo Bookshop and Chorley Theatre. Local MP and Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle spoke about his early years as a politician and his current role as speaker. He is proving to be a great ambassador for his town, and Lancashire as a whole.

I did a session on Allen Clarke’s ‘Moorlands and Memories’,  focusing on the Chorley aspects of his book. His wife was a weaver at Laurence’s Mill and he wrote a poem for her called ‘A Lass Fro’ Chorlah’. The remarkable ‘Walt Whitman connection’ was very much a  Chorley thing, centring on Adlington/Anderton in its later years. A key figure was Charles Sixsmith,

Whitmanite Garden Party at Rivington, 1894. Sixsmith as a young man, on far right of photo, Edward Carpenter just above

who deserves a full biography. He rose to become managing director of Bentinck Mill, Farnworth, and was for many years chairman of Chorley Rural District Council. He had a great interest in regional planning, before most people had even heard of it. He lived at ‘Brownlow’ in Anderton.

My talk was followed by John Harrison speaking about his work on ‘Co-operation in Chorley 1830-1880’. John has uncovered the remarkable history of the co-operative factory at Birkacre, which now forms part of Yarrow Country Park. The large building is long gone and the history of this project, inspired by Robert Owen, had been long-forgotten. There was a pleasing link between my talk and John’s. Allen Clarke was a key figure in the Daisy Colony, a Tolstoyan community established on the outskirts of Blackpool in the early 1900s.

Chorley is a delightful town – the market was busy and there are lots of interesting small shops. You can even get Chorley Haggis from the local butcher’s.  I’m always drawn to Ebb and Flo Bookshop and Neil Hibbert’s second-hand treasure trove ‘Books and Bygones’ near the bus station. There’s usually some interesting railway books, as well as Lancashire history and lots more.

Community Rail and social enterprise – could we help deliver infrastructure services?

This paper builds on the research report published by Community Rail Network (see link below) which offers an excellent introduction to opportunities for social enterprise initiatives in a rail context. This note is more specific and hopefully complements the CRN paper.

Over the years several great ideas have been proposed for how community rail partnerships in particular (and in some cases station groups and others) can actually undertake revenue-generating activities. These have included running shops and cafes, operating community bus services and in some cases providing cleaning and light maintenance services to the railway.

These have had varying degrees of success but now seems an appropriate time to revisit some future opportunities. The creation of Great British Railways, and the strong incentives given to community rail in the Williams-Shapps Report, are the most obvious opportunities. There’s also a more worrying threat on the horizon – the risk of reductions in funding for community rail as the longer-term impact of Covid bites.

Platform 54 Gallery at Botlon is a godo example of what can be done with redundant railway accommodation

Community Rail could do a lot more, but it needs the strong support of Government and GBR, and in turn the train companies.  The first issue is to look at the bigger picture, including the levelling-up agenda. Rail must be part of the local economic scene. Williams-Shapps is, again, very relevant:

“There are real opportunities for the railways to do more to support local economic growth, such as encouraging and supporting small independent retailers on the rail estate. This could extend more widely, with greater emphasis on place and social value. Priorities will differ across the network: in rural areas, community rail partnerships can provide social connections to tackle loneliness, whilst easy connections to our national landscapes can improve health and wellbeing. Reusing existing rail buildings for services such as training, community hubs and education, as Network Rail has already done in Bolton, could reduce costs for the voluntary sector and improve services for local residents.” (Great British Railways: The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, 2021   15 p.44)

But it could go further and start delivering some services which are currently provided on a  contract basis to train operators or Network Rail, such as station cleaning and maintenance, building refurbishment and restoration and feeder bus services, bike hire and other initiatives. A final quote from Williams-Shapps seems relevant:

“New, locally-led innovation schemes will unlock smarter working and support growth. To achieve real change, there needs to be renewed emphasis on locally-led innovation and new ways of working. Those who work on the railways should be able to suggest and lead innovation in their workplaces or local network. Great British Railways will support this, through greater adoption of design sprints and competitions to identify and solve challenges at pace locally and regionally. Targeted partnerships between Great British Railways, its partners and other transport authorities, investors and start-ups will enable collaboration between the public and private sectors to push innovative solutions forward. Best practice will be shared across the sector.” (Plan for Rail, 2021 s. 49, p.83)

What do we mean by ‘locally-led innovation schemes’? It could mean many different things but one particular area of potential is in relatively low-cost infrastructure work. At the most basic, it could include cleaning and light maintenance, including putting up posters cases, small repair jobs, paintwork and the like. But it could go further and include larger refurbishment works such as bringing derelict buildings back to life.

There are many good reasons for this. The experience of many CRPs which have pulled in funding for station refurbishments hasn’t always been great. Sometimes they find the work done is of poor quality and they have had little or no involvement in the detailed specification.

Henley-in-Arden – ambitious plans for the buildings. Who will do it?

At the same time, some contractors parachute in, and out – often from distant locations using staff with no stake in the area. Surely, if the expertise was there, there would be gains to the local economy, to local businesses and would reduce environmentally-damaging road journeys?

Does community rail currently have the capacity to do these things? Mostly, not – at present. Some CRPs could probably take on cleaning and light maintenance for specified stations, including ‘winterisation’. However, there are real opportunities for something bigger, if DfT and Network Rail/GBR was willing to really engage and offer initial funding support. In the longer term, costs could actually come down and quality of work go up.

As noted above, the experience of community rail groups with building contractors is patchy and generally not good. My suggestion is for Network Rail/GBR and a relevant TOC to work with two or three CRPs in a particular area or region to actually create a social enterprise, owned by the CRPs, which could undertake a range of work. This could evolve over time.

There are many ways it could work but the point is to ensure:

  • Good quality work at a sensible price
  • Using local expertise
  • Offering training opportunities for young people
  • Keeping investment within the local community
  • Being accountable to the relevant CRPs as well as train operators and Network Rail

Let’s call it ‘Community Rail Infrastructure Services Ltd.’ (CRIS) for now. It could be regionally-based and in time there could be several CRISs, each owned by the relevant CRP/s in the area. A pilot project could be based on one region, let’s say the North West where there are several well-established CRPs and Network Rail has a record of working positively with CRPs, as well as the TOCs (Northern, TPE, Avanti WC).

CRIS should be set up as a social enterprise, probably using the CIC model. It need not have a large staffing base initially, but would certainly require a core of paid staff with a range of business and construction skills. CRIS (NW) would identify local craftspeople in the area who can offer good quality work at a competitive price. This could include architects and design companies, joiners, plumbers, electricians, painters and general building companies. It could also take on the job of letting premises for community groups. Again, the experience of CRPs with letting agents is generally negative.

Network Rail could look at seconding some staff, including apprentices and graduate trainees, to the company. Initially, Network Rail could look at seconding a senior manager, possibly coming up to retirement who is looking for a fresh challenge and has the diversity of skills and experience which CRIS would require.

The board of CRIS should comprise representatives of the relevant CRPs, Network Rail (and GBR in the future) and train companies. It could also include representatives of FE colleges given the emphasis on apprenticeships and training, linking in to FE colleges’ building and engineering courses.

Could it work? I think it could, but it would need engagement at a senior level in DfT, Network Rail and the GBR Transition Team to make it happen. I suspect that some CRPs would be very interested, but maybe not all. A regional trial would make sense.


St Helens: a walk along the cut

It’s a Lancashire town which I don’t know very well. It was famous for its glass industry and was also a mining centre in its time. I can remember Bold, Sutton Manor and Cronton collieries still working in the 1980s. The main objective of the excursion was to visit the new, community-owned, bookshop: Bookstart. It’s a great shop, with a cafe as well. Right in the town centre, on Bridge Street; it had a nice buzz to it in a town that is clearly struggling. But there’s a lot to this town and a day trip should include the Pilkington’s glass museum, which is close to the station. You don’t have to pay the entrance fee to use the cafe, bookshop and visit the art gallery.

I have to confess I didn’t get to the Transport Museum. Partly lack of time but there are only so many double-decker buses I’d want to inspect. Maybe it should do more to promote the social aspect of

Sankey Canal near Blackbrook

transport. But I promise I’ll go back and visit. We did a very pleasant walk along parts of the old canal network, starting off at Blackbrook and doing a circuit that took us, unintentionally, to Peasley Cross where bits of the old St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway – a very early railway dating back to 1833 – are still visible. Odd that the track is still in place. We then hopped on a bus into town and walked back via the Sankey Canal almost to our starting point, picking up a bus for the last mile. The canal is of great historic importance, dating back to 1759, and is the subject of a ‘world heritage’ bid. I hope it succeeds, it will help put St Helens on the map.

Trespassers to be celebrated

On April 24th 1932, 600 young men and women set off from Bowden Bridge in Hayfield to walk illegally on Kinder Scout to campaign for better access rights. Some fought battles with the gamekeepers while on Kinder, while five of the Trespassers were subsequently imprisoned. The last of the group died in 2019, aged 103. On 21st April, the Working Class Movement Library is hosting a celebratory symposium (in person and online streaming). A panel of researchers, writers and activists will be exploring the resonance and legacy of the ‘Red Politics of the Mass Trespass’ in the 1930s for the Green Politics of the climate emergency and land justice movements of the 2020s. Details can be found on the WCML’s website:–symposium-marking-the-anniversary-of-the-mass-trespass/

On the Saturday, April 23rd, the Ramblers are organising a walk up to Kinder. It’s a 10 mile circular walk. Full details are here:

The walk allows us to pay tribute to those who were willing to risk so much to allow others to enjoy the open countryside, as we follow their original route. It includes a long, steep climb and some open, exposed areas, so is only suitable for anyone who is confident of their fitness.


Meet Point near the ticket barriers, or on the platform at Piccadilly station for the 09:20 train (final destination New Mills Central). At New Mills Central, walk up the road to the bus station and catch the 358 to Hayfield at 10:18. Alternatively, board the 358 in Stockport at 09:35, or meet the group on the train or at the bus station car park in Hayfield. Please note, however, that because of the Trespass events, parking in Hayfield may be difficult.

Railways and Railwaymen of Turton

I had an enjoyable evening with Turton Local History Society last week, talking about ‘railways and railwaymen of Turton’. Apologies for the gender bias there, I did mention the wonderful Gladys, former station-mistress at Bromley Cross in the early 1980s. Here’s a short excerpt from my ‘railway’ chapter of Moorlands, Memories and Reflections which paid tribute to some of the characters I knew as a young lad:

In the summer of 1966 I got to know the regular signalmen at both

Entwistle Viaduct, July 1966

Entwistle and Walton’s Siding. Pat Hatzer and Frank Carroll were the ‘regular men’ at Entwistle though at some point Frank moved ‘up’, at least in geographical terms, to Walton’s. Both were very kind and friendly towards me, but they were as different as chalk and cheese and never really got on with each other. Interestingly, they were both from Catholic backgrounds, Pat being from a Polish family and Frank being Irish by origin. As a ‘Thornleigh boy’ in my mid-teens I was the acceptable face of train-spotting – or ‘railway enthusiasm’ as we preferred to call it. The Hatzers lived in Entwistle and Pat was part of a larger family, with children who have stayed in the area. I would either cycle up to Entwistle or catch the train, often with my friend Steve. We would climb up the signalbox steps to a warm welcome and cup of tea.

Those calm summer evenings were idyllic. By 1966 there were few steam-hauled freights over the route but two regular, heavily-loaded, trains ran in the evening. These were Brindle Heath (Salford) to Carlisle, usually followed about an hour later by the Ancoats – Carlisle. Whilst the ‘Brindle Heath’ could be anything from an LMS ‘Black 5’ to a ‘Britannia’ pacific, the ‘Ancoats’ was nearly always a Carlisle Kingmoor-based class 9F 2-10-0, the most powerful locos in general use on BR by then.

In late June, if you were lucky, it was sometimes still light enough to photograph ‘The Brindle Heath’ but it was always dark by the time ‘The Ancoats’ came up. On occasion, you could hear it coming out of Bolton and hitting the climb past Astley Bridge Junction. It could be fifteen minutes before it stormed through Entwistle, but what a sight – and sound – it made.

Of the two signalmen, Frank was the greater conversationalist. He

Not quite Constantinople…the ticket was issued ‘May 1966’ long after the LM&SR ceased to exist

would regale us with tales of his foreign travels using his BR passes, to places such as Constantinople, to inspect Byzantine treasures. He claimed to be from a strong Irish republican family with a father who had fought in the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916, alongside Patrick Pearse in the beleaguered GPO building. Whether he did or not I don’t know but Frank could certainly tell a good tale.

When Frank moved to Walton’s Siding box, possibly to escape from having to engage with Pat at the change of shift, his eccentricities became further pronounced. He lived in Collyhurst, a mile or so out of Manchester. Travelling to and fro was onerous and difficult so during the summer months he set up camp close to the signalbox and lived the life of a hermit. Another feature of Frank’s time at Walton’s Siding were his culinary habits. He would make a huge vat of soup at the beginning of the week and live off it until the weekend. When he was on nights, and traffic was light, he would nod off in his easychair and hope he would hear the ‘call attention’ bell from Entwistle box. After ‘The Ancoats’ had passed there was usually no other train until about 4 a.m. – the famous (in Bolton railway circles at any rate) ‘Colne Papers’.

This legendary train took newspapers from Manchester to East Lancashire, It would load up on Manchester Victoria’s platform 11

Turton Tower from a Black 5 on the 17.22 Manchester Vic – Blackburn, photo by Steve Leyland

Middle (the longest platform in the world), with consignments from the Manchester presses for Bolton, Darwen, Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, Nelson and Colne. It departed on the dot at 3.45 a.m. For many years it was a Bolton ‘job’, with driver, fireman, guard and loco from Bolton. It was one of the shorter newspaper trains, compared with the heavy Glasgow and Newcastle trains, but it was very tightly timed. Bolton loco shed was very much a freight depot and the opportunities to run fast were limited to the occasional ‘special’ and – ‘The Colne Papers’, usually pronounced ‘Ceawn Papers’ in Boltonese.

The first part of the job was in effect the ‘tail end’ of a working that entailed signing on mid-evening and working a parcels train from Bolton to Stockport. The loco then went to Red Bank carriage sidings to collect the three or vans for the Colne train. At about 3.30 it would get the signal to drop down to Victoria to load up. The timing to Bolton was 15 minutes, faster than any passenger train. It was allowed a few minutes at Bolton to change crews and unload the bundles of newspapers. The new crew – Bolton men again – took over for the run through to Colne, returning ‘light engine’ to Bolton. A few times I rode on the footplate with the first part of the job – the Stockport parcels and then from Victoria to Bolton. It was always a lively run with drivers determined to beat the fast timing and get to Bolton early.

Grand day out in Haltwhistle

I was recently privileged to be a guest of Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership. It covers the historic – and still very important – route between Carlisle and Newcastle, via Haltwhsitle and Hexham. I visited on one of those lovely Spring days and was met by Fiona, Julie, Colin and Malcolm at Haltwhistle. What a transformation at this historic station! Buildings –including water tower, booking office, waiting rooms and signalbox –have been brought back into use, gardens created and a general sense of ‘well-being’ (a much over-used term I know) created. Haltwhistle itself is a delightful town. A real ‘town’ rather than village, with pubs, shops and library. The location, along the River Tyne, couldn’t be better. The station acts as a barrier between town and river; the south side of the tracks take you down to a magnificent bridge across the river and out to open country. Only wish I’d had more time to explore, but there’s always a second time. Thank to my hosts for their company, conversation and lunch!

Lancashire Loominary publications : Spring Sale for readers
  • 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)

See for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £4 per order for post and packing in UK)

Talks, walks and meanderings

Following the ‘official’ end of the Pandemic, I’ve been getting a number of invitations to give talks on various topics. Recent talks have included ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’ (see above), ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley?  and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod Local History Society. A few people (well, one) asked what the other topics are, so here you 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 negotiaton. An average fee is in the region of £40-£50, all in.

My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. However, with sufficient notice I can go further afield.

Forthcoming talks include:

  • ‘Railways, Railwaymen and Literature’: RCTS Carnforth, Royal Station Hotel, Wednesday April 6th at 19.00
  • Socialism with a Northern Accent’ Stretford Probus Club, Monday May 23rd (morning event)
  • ‘Allen Clarke’s Bolton’, Wednesday May 15th, Friends of Smithills Hall, 19.30
Lancashire Authors’ Association – Seeking a Secretary

This year, 2022, is an exciting time for the Lancashire Authors’ Association. We are joining with the University of Bolton and The Lancashire Society to make an application for a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, to publicise the wonderful collection of Lancashire Literature and History. A collection which has been built up over the past 100 years and is now housed in the University of Bolton Library.

From June of this year, our present secretary is unable to continue in the post so we are looking for someone to take on the role of Secretary to the Association. Are you that person?

If you are recently retired and have experience of this type of work, with an interest in Lancashire Literature and History, this could be exactly the right, new hobby for you! This is a voluntary position. You do not have to be a writer although writers are always welcome.

For further information about the association and this role please see our website: or contact Olive by e-mail:

Heart of Wales Line Development Company recruits

The HoWL Devco – the community rail partnership for the Shrewsbury – Swansea Line, is  keen to extend the range of its commercial activity and has decided to create the post of Development Manager, to generate income streams. Details: (note the official deadline has passed but it may be still worth expressing interest).

And finally………
For Sale! Contact The Salvo…. Needs some attention. Would suit applicants from Horwich, Doncaster, Crewe, etc.

Northern Weekly Salvo 301

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

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

Publications website:

No. 301 February 16th 2022     

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips

Welcome to the first Salvo of 2022 (tekken thi long enough). Well, I thought I’d have a bit of a rest after reaching the 300th issue. It gave me time to think about the future shape and size of The Salvo and the conclusion I reached was pretty much ‘leave it as it is’. So, unless anyone has any wonderful ideas, that’s pretty much what I’ll do. Part of me is outraged by my conservatism, maybe it’s just getting old.

There’s all sorts of things goin’ on that deserve some comment. War in Ukraine? Can’t see it somehow and I think Biden and Johnson would be well advised to shut up. They’re making a bad situation worse;  sending the geographically challenged Liz Truss doesn’t help.

Nice to se ‘Royal Scot’ in action recently. Here it leaves Manchester Victoria bound for Sheffield and York

Will Johnson depart? Probably not, at least until after the May elections. If the Tories do really badly,  then  maybe. And as for Cressida Dick – for the best comment I’ve seen so far, look up Libby Purves in The Times, February 14th (‘Cressida Dick deserved better than this exit’). Always more to these things than meets the eye and her assessment sounds right. She ends with the comment “if she had been allowed to get on with her reforms for a couple of years it would have been to our benefit. Instead of which an ineffective mayor dismays and demoralises the Met to make himself look strong.”

This issue has my thoughts on ‘Levelling-up’ as well as ‘railways and literature’, women dialect writers and Lord Leverhulme. I even stray into deepest Yorkshire. So you can’t say I’m not being inclusive. Well, I suppose you can.

Do we want to be ‘levelled-up’?

Michael Gove’s weighty ‘Levelling-up’ white paper has been met with predictable scorn. It’s certainly long, and actually reads well – but lacks substance and real commitments to invest, repeating promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ that have already been made, such as The Integrated Rail Plan, covered in the last Salvo.

Jennifer Williams, in The Manchester Evening News, offers a good review of the document. She makes the point: “A new phrase is seeking to

If Manchester ‘levelled-up’ any more it would tipple over

define the political lexicon of the 2020s. ‘Levelling up’ is now everywhere and nowhere. It is everywhere, in that it is mentioned at every opportunity by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, repeated back by headlines, academics and think-tanks; it is nowhere, in that nobody yet knows what it means in practice.”

She continues: “Narrowing the regional divide is firmly on the agenda, post-electoral landslide. For years, many in this neck of the woods have been making arguments that are now becoming mainstream, as the political imperative turns towards holding seats not previously lavished with attention. So far, Number 10 has certainly been strong on transport and the need to improve infrastructure. Yet…..the issues underlying this debate are far more complex and structural than that, having been exacerbated by a decade of unequal austerity. It will require imagination, compassion, determination and getting out of Westminster to rebalance the inequality between north and south, as well as rich and poor.”

The White Paper runs to a total length of 332 pages, including the Executive Summary. If you measured the usefulness of Government

Stereotypical Northern views no. 332…Sowerby Bridge

reports by volume, it would certainly be up there as a winner. Yet various commentators have pointed out the lack of real commitment, some comparing the huge investment poured into eastern Germany post-unification. It’s full of good intentions; there’s much useful evidence on regional disparities. It presents ten ‘missions’, or promises to get things done. But how much is wishful thinking? It tells us that ‘levelling-up’ means:

  • boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, especially in those places where they are lagging
  • spreading opportunities and improving public services, especially in those places where they are weakest
  • restoring a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost, and
  • empowering local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency

The white paper highlights the Italian renaissance where city states “combined innovation in finance with technological breakthroughs, the cultivation of learning, ground-breaking artistic endeavour, a beautiful built environment and strong civic leadership,” which is all very nice.

But coming back down to hard reality, what does it mean for places like

Bolton station on a dull day

Bolton – a classic so-called ‘Left Behind’ town, with ‘red wall’ constituencies that turned blue, in which even many of its residents seem to glory in its accolade as one of the country’s ‘crap towns’, if social media is much to go by.

The town, and many others like it, has been the victim of three disasters. The first was the Thatcher years which saw the collapse of its core industries, cotton and engineering compounded by imposition of stringent cuts in local government spending and privatisation of services. Secondly, the town had a lacklustre Labour administration that was overwhelmed by the challenges it faced with little strategic vision and an assumption among senior councillors that their seats were safe. The third disaster was the election of a Tory Government in 2010 committed to further austerity. The cumulative effect on a once-prosperous town was catastrophic, with the loss of well-paid (and unionised) jobs, a town centre full of empty shops and ‘pound stores’, and the usual panoply of anti-social behaviour, drug-related crime and the rest. The creation of out-of-town shopping centres was yet another nail in the town’s coffin.

So what should ‘levelling-up’ mean to towns like Bolton? To be honest, I hate the term. It suggests that we all aspire to be like Slough, Basingstoke or Crawley: car-dominated, alienated suburbs. Actually, many people in Bolton want to be more like their image of how it used

Lancashire patriotism? Yes please

to be, with a flourishing town centre, locally-based jobs and a council that had real power to do things. They resented being coerced into ‘Greater Manchester’ and remain proud to be ‘Lancastrian’. In turn, the smaller satellite towns such as Farnworth and Horwich don’t like being lumped into a monolithic local authority, foisted on them in 1974 without so much as a by your leave.

So the third objective (above) of ‘restoring a sense of community, pride and belonging’ isn’t something that Westminster can impose. In fact, it’s already there (in a sulk) but needs the powers and resources to do things which the fourth objective promises, of ‘empowering local leaders and communities’.

Somehow, I can’t see that happening under the present administration, and as yet there’s not much sign of it being done under one led by Keir Starmer, though Lisa Nandy seems to be getting into her new role as Gove’s oppo. Let’s see.

(this is based on my latest piece for my regular column ‘Points and Crossings’ in Chartist magazine see

Messroom poets and brake van philosophers

I recently gave a talk for Horwich Heritage on ‘railway workers’ culture’. It covered a lot of ground and gave me the nudge to re-visit a paper I wrote back in 2004 called ‘Messroom poets and brake-van philosophers’, about railway art and literature in Britain. It was partly inspired by my time as a guard at Blackburn in the 1970s. I have very fond memories of the people I worked with, some of whom had a degree of cultural awareness I’ve not come across since, in academia,

Walter Hampson – driver at Normanton, dialect writer and editor in his spare time

government, or railway management. This isn’t hero worship. The messroom didn’t resound to debates on Kantian metaphysics, nor the leading role of the proletariat in the socialist revolution (though I do recall a heated discussion on the merits of Beethoven versus Mozart!). But quite a few of the men were very well-read, some were skilled musicians, and lots had a real interest in the wider cultural world around them. Hardly any had a ‘formal’ education, and I can remember Sid Townsend (ex-Rose Grove, ‘Long Sid’) fulminating against the narrowness of modern university education, typified by a management trainee doing a stint as train crew supervisor. ‘He knows all abeawt ancient Greek history, but bugger all abeawt owt else’. Damned forever. Jack Bradley, ex-Lower Darwen driver, noted for his flat cap which was possibly older than himself, was a crossword expert. I don’t mean the Mirror ‘quick crossword’ but the Times, Telegraph and Guardian species.

The full version is here:

Lord Leverhulme: saint or sinner?

William Hesketh Lever – later to become Baron Leverhulme of Bolton-le-Moors – is one of the most important figures in Lancashire’s history. There is no doubt that he was a great benefactor to Bolton and a pioneer of good quality ‘social housing’, the six-hour working day, pensions and a strong believer in women’s equality. But there was a dark side to him, most obviously in his company’s activities in the Belgian Congo, but also his attempt to eradicate the way of life of the crofting people on Lewis and Harris. His defenders would say this was done with the best of intentions, but we all know where those can lead us!

In recent years students at Bolton School have researched the story of Lever, who was a major benefactor of the School, in the light of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.  Lever wasn’t a slaver, but he was complicit in forced labour. Let’s have a look at his record.

He was born at 16 Wood Street, Bolton, in 1851. The fine Georgian building remains and has been home to Bolton Socialist Club since 1905, ironic in view of Lever’s life-long Liberal beliefs. He inherited the parental Nonconformity and was a member of Bolton Congregational Church. He went into the family grocery business and quickly excelled as a businessman and marketeer, expanding the family business to Wigan and elsewhere. He developed the ‘Sunlight’ brand of soap which became a household name. Its fame spread from Bolton to the whole of the British Empire. It made him enormously rich. He developed his own ‘garden city’ on the banks of the Mersey, which he called ‘Port Sunlight’. It was a model community with good quality housing and social and educational facilities for his workers and their families.

There was a price to pay if you were one of Lever’s employees. The secretary of the Bolton Engineers’ Union wrote to him saying “no man of an independent turn of mind can breathe for long the atmosphere of Port Sunlight…the profit-sharing system not only enslaves and degrade the workers, it tends to make them servile and sycophant, it lowers them to the level of machines tending machines.”

There is no doubt that Lever expected complete subservience from his workforce, though he did accept trades unions in his factories. One union negotiator described him as a ‘martinet’ while other colleagues quickly realised that there was only one right way of doing things – his way.

This inability to compromise was to cost him dearly, with his ill-conceived plans to transform the Hebridean islands of Harris and Lewis into modern industrial communities, dragging the crofting people out of poverty and providing them with good housing and sanitation. He purchased the two islands in 1918 and set about his ambitious plans with gusto. The only problem was that the crofters were quite happy with their traditional way of life, and just wanted to own their own small plots of land – to which they resorted to guerrilla tactics to achieve. Within five years his plans were in tatters and the huge investment was wasted. The irony was that if Lever had listened to what the islanders were asking, his own ambitions could probably have been reconciled with theirs.

Lever’s role in the Belgian Congo and Solomon Islands was even more problematic, where the same tendency to exert total control – even if it was for your own good, as he would have seen it – caused him to become embroiled in the use of forced labour to coerce African workers to produce the palm oil essential for his soap manufacturing process. The coercion involved violence and imprisonment of workers and their families, leading to questions being asked in the Belgian Parliament, which had initially welcomed Lever’s investment.

At home, Lever – Baron Leverhulme of Bolton-le-Moors from 1917 – never lost his links with Bolton. He was elected mayor of the town in 1918 and a few years earlier produced a remarkable vision for ‘Bolton as it is and as it might be’, crafted by the landscape architect Thomas Mawson. Most of his ideas never saw the light of day, but what did was his lasting legacy to the people of Bolton: the Rivington Estate and Lever Park. He saved historic Hall i’th’Wood from decay and probable destruction and gifted it to the people of Bolton. He died in 1925 and in his will provided for the establishment of the Leverhulme Trust, which continues to support a vast range of research and educational projects.

William Lever: saint or sinner? Let history judge.

(based on a feature published recently in The Bolton News ‘Looking Back pages)

Margaret, Hannah, Sarah and Ethel

I recently gave a talk to the Rochdale-based Edwin Waugh Dialect Society, on ‘Women Dialect Writers of Lancashire’. It was good to revisit some of the work I did for my PhD back in the 1980s. Since then, the work of Ethel Carnie (not really a dialect writer as such) has become more well-known with some of her work re-published. There are others whose work really needs to be brought back to light. Perhaps foremost is Margaret Rebecca Lahee, who features on the Lancashire Dialect Writers’ Memorial in Rochdale. She was born in Ireland and settled in Rochdale in 1831.

Life in the mill wasn’t all fun and games…a cartoon by Sam Fitton

She befriended Susannah Rothwell Wild and they became lifelong companions. Lahee clearly had an acute ear for local dialect and her first attempt proved highly popular – Neddy Fitton’s Visit to Th’Earl o’Derby was published in 1851. She was involved in local radical politics and wrote a remarkable biography of local Chartist leader Tom Livsey, which features Tom’s speeches using Rochdale dialect. Her most outstanding achievement was her novel Sybil West, written in the late 1880s and published in serial form. It came out as a book in 1893 and is about women workers in Rochdale’s weaving sheds. It richly deserves a re-print. Other important women writes of the 20th century include Hannah Mitchell, whose dialect sketches were published in Labour’s Northern Voice, published by the ILP. They put across simple political messages in an accessible dialect. Allen Clarke supported the women’s suffrage cause and did much to encourage women writing for his Northern Weekly. Sarah Robinson worked as a weaver in Padiham and wrote for the local Burnley newspapers as well as Northern Weekly. Most of her poetry was in standard English and feature everyday life in the weaving sheds of East Lancashire. Mention should also be made of Mary Thomason who was active in the co-operative movement in Leigh; many of her poems were first published in The Leigh Co-operative Record. A collection of her poems – Warp and Weft – was published posthumously in 1938.

Beautiful Barnsley

Just in case you think this Salvo is too heavily weighted towards the shire of the red rose, here’s a bit fro’ Yorkshire. Barnsley to be precise, a place I have cause to visit quite a bit at the moment. Compared to many ex-industrial Northern towns, it’s looking pretty good. The town centre has had a lot of work done to it, with much of the 1970s grot swept away. There’s some recently-installed public art which celebrates the people of Barnsley, including NHS workers. I really like what’s been done with the Market Kitchen – a large open eating space with lots of food outlets – ranging from your traditional hearty Barnsley fare to Thai, Greek, Indian and more. Up the hill, past the splendid town hall (now home to Experiencing Barnsley local history museum) is The Cooper Gallery which has lots of good material and a nice cafe (where I once met Dickie Bird, who is celebrated in a nearby statue, even though he’s still alive).

There’s lots of interesting places within easy reach (bus or train) from Barnsley, including Elsecar Heritage Centre. The steam railway doesn’t seem to be operating, hopefully a temporary lull, but there’s plenty other things to interest the visitor. The Heritage Centre website says that following the surrender of the lease by the trustees of Elsecar Heritage Railway in August 2020,  combined with the Pandemic, the future of the railway is under review and a consultation process will start very shortly. Let’s hope the railway will return, it’s an important part of what the heritage centre offers.

Elsecar itself is a fascinating community with historic workers’ cottages – including ‘Reform Row’ of 1837. A few miles away is Darfield, notable as home of Barnsley Bard Ian McMillan but also location of the Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre. It’s an excellent local museum with friendly and welcoming volunteers, and a tearoom serving excellent home-made cakes. Maurice himself was a fascinating

Inside the Maurice Dobson Museum

character. Ian McMillan in Real Barnsley describes him as a gay cross-dressing ex-marine, or maybe Scots Guardsman. Somebody you wouldn’t want to cross, dress or otherwise. The building that’s now the museum is where he lived with his chap, Fred, for many years. Check opening times – currently it’s Wednesday and Saturdays, with bacon butties on the first Saturday of each month.

Short Salvoes
  • The latest edition of the BBC Music magazine has an interesting piece by Julia Winterson on railways and music (‘Trains of Thought’). It includes Honegger’s ‘Pacific 231’, as you’d expect – with a rare photo of him cabbing an A3. Herbert Howells ‘A Spotless Rose’ was apaprently rail-inspired. Plenty more too, she doesn’t always get it quite right (Buttermere never had a station) but a good piece. Her book ‘Railways and Music’ is published by University of Huddersfield Press.
  • You wait ages (a year!) for an AGM then two come along at once. Bolton Station Community Partnership and SE Lancs CRP held their annual gatherings on February 15th. All very positively post-Covid. It was agreed at the CRP to include The Atherton Line (all the way to Kirkby!) under its wing.
  • Great to listen to a real, live concert! Bolton Choral Union (est. 1887) was in good form for Saturday’s concert of songs from West End shows. Packed crowd in the St Andrews/George’s URC church
  • Sad to see that The Boggart Bridge at Towneley Hall is currently CLOSED owing to a partuial collapse. There are no reports of boggart injuries.
Lancashire Loominary publications : Winter Sale for readers
  • ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £9.99 (normally £18.99)
  • Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £12.50 (£21.00)
  • The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)
  • With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6 (9.99)

See for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £4 per order for post and packing in UK)

North-West Book Fairs

Gargrave Village Hall, West Street, Gargrave BD23 3RD on Saturday 5th March, 10am – 4pm.  Around 18 dealers, excellent home-made refreshments and free parking.

The PBFA will be at Derwent & Calder Rooms, Pavilions of Harrogate, Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate, HG2 8NZ on Friday 11th (11am – 5pm) and Saturday 12th (10am – 4pm) March.  Around 40 dealers, with light refreshments in the café.

Saturday 19th Marc: Barton Village Hall PR3 5AA (on the A6 north of Preston), 10am – 4pm.  Around 15 dealers, café serving excellent home-made food and a large free car park.

This year Easter Saturday falls on 16th April, which means we will be at the Civic Hall, Calder Avenue, Longridge PR3 3HJ on that date.  Around 15 dealers, free parking and an excellent café.

Clapham Book Fair will be on Sunday 24th April in the Village Hall, Clapham LA2 8DZ, 10am – 4pm.  Around eight dealers, free parking and café serving home-made food.

On Saturday 30th April we will be at the People’s Hall, Howgill Lane, Sedbergh LA10 5DQ, 10am – 4pm.  Around 10 stalls, with a café serving home-made refreshments.  There is a small free car park at the hall, but it may be necessary to park in the pay and display in Joss Lane and walk up.  As well as the Fair there are a number of bookshops so why not make a day of it in England’s Book Town?

On Bank Holiday Monday 2nd May we will be in the Victoria Hall, Settle BD24 9DZ.  Around 12 dealers and excellent home-made food.  Parking is in the nearby car park.

On Sunday 22nd May there will be a book fair at Gorton Monastery, Gorton Lane, Manchester M12 5WF, 11am – 4pm

Brian Taylor

I’m very sorry to report the news that Brian Taylor passed away, peacefully, a couple of weeks ago. He was an active member of Bolton Station Partnership and had extensive interests. I first knew Brian when he was clerk to Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority back in the 1980s. He was always full of cheer with a ready wit. Condolences to Pat. There will be a tribute evening to Brian on Wednesday March 16th at Bolton Station Community Room (Platform 5). Nigel Valentine will show a selection of his superb steam photos, which Brian would have loved.  All welcome.



Railway Workers’ Culture


Railway workers’ culture in Britain

Paul Salveson

This is a paper is inspired by the men I used to work with at Blackburn when I was a goods guard. My three years there were crucial to my own career, which has been strange and varied, and generally fun. It’s a is a salute to my educators, coupled with a question: does ‘railway culture’ still exist, nearly thirty years on from privatisation  and in an era of mass culture and dominance of TV and the internet?

Life at a Railway Depot in the 70s

Most of the men I used to work with as a guard were drivers who’d been raised as steam men at Lower Darwen and Rose Grove depots, in East Lancashire. The depots closed with the end of steam in 1968 and footplate staff were transferred to a new depot – or ‘signing-on point’ – at Blackburn station. I arrived, fresh out of guard’s training school, early in 1975.

I’m deeply grateful to many of the people I worked with, some of whom had a degree of cultural awareness I’ve not come across since, in academia, government, or railway management. This isn’t hero worship. The messroom didn’t resound to debates on Kantian metaphysics, nor the leading role of the proletariat in the socialist revolution (though I do recall a heated discussion on the merits of Beethoven versus Mozart!). But quite a few of the men were very well-read, some were skilled musicians, and lots had a real interest in the wider cultural world around them. Hardly any had a ‘formal’ education, and I can remember Sid Townsend (ex-Rose Grove, ‘Long Sid’) fulminating against the narrowness of modern university education, typified by a management trainee doing a stint as train crew supervisor. ‘He knows all abeawt ancient Greek history, but bugger all abeawt owt else’. Damned forever. Jack Bradley, ex-Lower Darwen driver, noted for his flat cap which was possibly older than himself, was a crossword expert. I don’t mean the Mirror ‘quick crossword’ but the Times, Telegraph and Guardian species. Raymond Watton, ex-Lower Darwen driver, introduced me to the joys of classical music, after having any interest in the subject knocked out of me at school. Raymond had a small amateur orchestra supported by the local Workers Educational Association and wrote occasionally for ‘The Gramophone’. John de Luca, ex-Rose Grove, was a member of a well-regarded local choir and was known to burst into song in the cab. Leo Kay, ex-Rose Grove, was an avid reader whose greatest passion was the work of D.H. Lawrence. ‘Don’t read him before you’re turned 40, you’ll not understand him’.

Several drivers and guards were good photographers, and we formed a ‘Blackburn S.O.P. Camera Club’ which met in the ambulance room. This was also the venue for the ‘MIC’ – Mutual Improvement Class, a unique example of self-education which had existed on the railways for over a century. Now it’s virtually died out, but in the 1970s it was still a strong and active movement. The focus was on technical aspects of railway operations and locomotive management, and the championships were strongly contested.

Many of the drivers and guards were experts on local history and could point out particular places of interest – especially on the Blackburn – Settle – Carlisle route. People like Ernie Lamb, Blackburn guard, had an amazing store of tales about the ‘S&C’ which I greatly regret never scribbling down. The oral tradition on the railway was still very strong. Some of the ‘old hand’ drivers and guards had careers stretching back to the late 1930s and they could remember the stories told them by their seniors. Lots of the men were part of railway families stretching back several generations. They were typical railwaymen: totally dedicated to the railways, and strong ‘union men’ at the same time. They saw themselves as the real protectors of the railway, with little time for most of the managers.

Blackburn depot wasn’t untypical, I’m sure. I worked with men from Carlisle, Crewe, Healey Mills (a rough lot it must be said), and shared messroom tables at Crewe and Carlisle with drivers and guards from much further afield. You would never be short of an interesting conversation, be it on railways, politics, gardening or the world in general. Equally, if you were into card-games you’d have lots of ‘schools’ to choose from.

Industrial culture

Is there a distinct ‘railway’ culture? Compare it with some traditional industries and it’s less obvious. The pits produced some good novelists and of course choral singers were legion in South Wales. The textile mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire had countless brass and silver bands, usually sponsored by the mill-owners. They also produced an immense flowering of dialect literature, mostly poetry. The railway companies did sponsor bands, and there were regular reports in the staff newspapers. I’d love to spend a few months researching all of them. Definitions of culture are notoriously difficult, and in this paper I use a tight definition which is really about ‘artistic creativity’ rather than ‘culture’ in the general sociological sense of ‘everyday life’. The remarkable tradition of station gardening should perhaps form the subject of another paper, or even book.

Proletcult: railway culture in Europe and the USA

Much railway workers’ culture in other parts of the world was highly political. The US Industrial Workers of the World produced dozens of songs about railroad life. Post-war Hungary, and the other ‘people’s democracies’ saw the growth of railway workers’ culture, supported by the new communist governments as shining examples of proletarian culture. And actually, it was. Hungarian State Railways (MAV) still sponsors a world-class symphony orchestra, which originally was entirely composed of working railwaymen and women. There are several local wind orchestras on the MAV network. In France, the CGT union and its Communist Party sister formed a world within a world. Union and Party created a culture of solidarity and class consciousness which was remarkably strong, and was forged in the heat of the war-time resistance. The CGT-owned ‘bourses de travail’ were the centres for a wide range of cultural activities, including song, drama and orchestral work.

Railway unions and culture

So what about here in Britain? The Labour Party has never been that much interested in ‘culture’. It was left to the tiny Communist Party to encourage, as much as it could, ‘worker writers’ in the 1930s. In the 1970s independent bodies like Commonword in Manchester supported some railway workers, like Joe Smythe, a Newton Heath guard.

Despite Labour Party indifference, the railway unions have a pretty good record of supporting their members’ cultural development. ASLE&F on occasions sponsored publications of members’ poetry and prose. ASLE&F was, and still is, an example of ‘craft unionism’ in which pride in the job as a watchword, and culture was not to be sneered at. F.W. Skerrett’s ‘Rhymes of the Rail’ was published by Goodall and Suddick – printers of ASLE&F’s ‘Locomotive Journal’ for decades. Skerrett was a fireman, then driver, at Patricroft shed, Manchester, in the 1920s. The book had a foreword by the union general secretary, John Bromley, who referred to the ‘American Brotherhood’s’ poet, Patrick Fennell (‘Shandy Maguire’). Bromley also mentioned that Skerrett read some of his work to the union’s AGMs in 1918 and 1919. Skerrett’s poems epitomise the craft consciousness of the footplate, and ‘Ode to the Driver’ is very much an assault on the ‘lesser grades’ of guard, signalman, and controller!

‘so kind and obliging to all other grades

That they take it for granted it’s part of your trade’

And then proceeds to have a go at each of them in turn! Some of his work is an echo, and tribute, to Burns – really the figure which towers over working class literature in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

One of his best poems is ‘The Fireman’s Growl’ which was revived by footplateman-singer Don Bilston in the 1970s.

‘It’s not all beer and skittles, this blooming job of mine,

And it’s not a bed of roses, isn’t firing on the line.

You don’t get too much money, you get lots of slack instead,

And they teach you how to work at night and earn your daily bread.’

Somewhere in my archives I’ve an early copy of ASLE&F’s ‘Locomotive Journal’, for about 1889, which gives details of the fascinating cultural world of the footplate. One of the Manchester branches was organising a ‘soiree’ which included female singers giving excerpts from ‘Lucia de Lammermoor’! ‘Smoking concerts’ were popular, invariably accompanied by suitably elevating songs.

ASLE&F was not the only union to take an interest in cultural matters. In one of the most remarkable literary events in working class literature, the Newton Heath branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, round about 1899, actually passed a resolution condemning the unsuitable ending of a novel by local writer Allen Clarke! The novel had been serialised in Clarke’s ‘Northern Weekly’ which was widely read by educated working men and women in Lancashire. The A.S.R.S. was the fore-runner of the NUR, and today’s RMT, and was instrumental in publishing ‘Songs of the Line’ by Walter Hampson, in 1905. Several of the poems had been published in the union paper, Railway Review. His poem ‘The ASRS Brotherhood’ is a sharp contrast to Skerrett’s sectionalism:

‘Of grade distinction it knows none –

No section, class or clan;

ALL railwaymen may come within

Its all-embracing span’

Branches of the Railway Clerks Association – now the TSSA – organised regular dances and concerts for their members. The London Divisional Councils held an annual concert for many years. The Glasgow branches formed a male voice choir in 1923, which became a mixed choir in 1925. Concerts helped to raise money for union-sponsored Labour Party candidates.

There is of course one cultural form which is at the very heart of trades unionism – the banner. The railway unions are no exception, and each of the ‘big three’ have superb examples of banner art, some of which are of great historical value as well as  artistic merit.

Bloody communists

Many of the outstanding railwaymen-writers were members of the Communist Party. Some were influenced by ‘worker-writers’ from the Soviet bloc though by the 1960s the rigid forms of ‘socialist relaism’ gave way to what was, in fact, a more ‘realistic’ approach to railway life. A truly outstanding writer was Bob Bonnar, an NUR locoman from Fife whom I had the pleasure of knowing back in the 1970s. He was elected to the NUR National Executive when I was avtive in the union, but I didn’t realise he was a talented novelist until many years later. His novel Stewartie was published in 1964 by the CP’s publishing house, Lawrence and Wishart. It is strongly influenced by the wonderful Lewis Grassic Gibbon, whose Scots Quair is one of the truly great Scots novels. Bonnar’s novel is based on life at Thornton loco shed in the 1950s and features political conflicts within the union, particularly between right-wing careerist Labour people and – no surprise – the principled CP railwaymen typified by the hero, ‘Stewartie’.

Another talented communist railwayman/writer was George Chandler, a railway clerk and member of the Railway Clerks’ Association (later the TSSA). He started his railway career in Manchester in 1919, on the LNER, but moved down to London where he was based at Marylebone. He wrote fictional pieces about railway life in the RCA’s Railway Service Journal and also The Daily Worker, sometimes using the pseudonym of ‘A.P. Roley’ (geddit?). A fascinating writer whose short stories deserve re-publishing.

The oral tradition

A few songs have survived into the modern folk repertory. ‘Paddy Works on the Railway’ is a well-known Dubliners’ number, but was probably written mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier. ‘Moses of the Mail’, recorded by Ewan McColl, was probably written in the 1880s and was popular in the Manchester area of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. McColl also sings a lovely Scottish song about a mother soothing her young child and bidding her not to wake up dad, who’s working nights. And no, I can’t remember the title (but it’s maybe ‘Cannily, Cannily’). Some cultural activities survived in the folk memory. I can remember an old Bolton driver telling me about Saturday nights at Brindle Heath Sidings in the 30s, when one of the shunters entertained his colleagues with clog dancing demonstrations, often with instrumental accompaniment.

Cultural life in the railway towns

Some companies sponsored brass bands, and staff were given paid time off for rehearsals and performances. It’s arguable how much all this was subtle attempt by the employers to ‘incorporate’ their workers and keep them off the drink, and how much was a genuine effort to promote their employees’ cultural endeavours. Probably elements of both. In the bigger railway towns of Darlington, Crewe, Swindon, Derby and York  there was  a plethora of bands, small orchestras, amateur dramatic societies and the like. Darlington, heart of the North Eastern empire, for many years had a ‘Railwaymen’s Carnival’. The origins of this lie in 1886 when a goods guard died following an accident on the line. He could have survived if staff had been in attendance at the woefully under-funded hospital. The local trades unions banded together to organise a campaign to raise funds for the hospital and 5000 people attended a demonstration in support of the idea. The ASRS nominated one of their members to serve on the Hospital Committee, a position it held for many years. Hundreds of fund-raising events ere organised, but the carnival itself began in 1924, at the instigation of LNER staff. The company was strongly supportive and the LNER’s senior management was represented on the carnival committee, alongside Labour councillors and trade union officers. The first carnival showed the range of talent in Darlington’s railway community:

LNER Silver Band; LNER Military Band; Tableaux by North Road Erecting Shop, Coppershop and Pattern Shop

Each department of the railway, in the workshops, locomotive, station and permanent way, entered the carnival  – which became known as ‘The Railwaymen’s Effort’. Remarkably, the carnival went ahead in 1926, only weeks after the General Strike which had seen police baton-charges against striking railway workers at Bank Top station. The parade comprised over 1000 participants including the North Road Works Erecting Shop’s ‘Toy Drum Major Band’, hundreds of cyclists and numerous jazz bands.

The Darlington carnivals indicated the political and social dominance – hegemony – which railway labour began to exert by the 1930s, representing a marked departure from the stifling and oppressive atmosphere of some company towns in the nineteenth century (Webb’s Crewe being notorious but not exceptional). The town’s political and economic life, well into the 1960s, was dominated by the railway, and the ruling Labour councillors were overwhelmingly railway trades unionists. The same kind of hegemony was evident in other towns, where railway workers and their families formed a dominant force in local society. At Horwich, the railway ran through every aspect of life. The ‘RMI’, or Railway Mechanics Institute, was the focus of the town’s social, cultural and recreational activities. ‘The Works’ employed someone from most households in the town. The same could be said for small towns like Melton Constable, Inverurie and Carnforth which owed their growth, if not existence, to the railway. Each railway town would have a full gamut of artistic societies, orchestras, and bands.

The Cambrian’s ‘Ceiriog’, and the Sou-Western’s Inspector Aitken

Individual railwaymen, not particularly tied to trade union or political loyalties, produced interesting and important work. John Ceiriog Hughes, one of the most important figures in Welsh literature in the nineteenth century, was manager of the Van Railway in Mid Wales, after a spell as station master at Llanidloes on the Cambrian. The line could never be described as busy, and ‘Ceiriog’ undoubtedly had the time to write some of his poetry while at work. He is famous as author of ‘Men of Harlech’ and ‘Myfanwy Vychan’ amongst many other popular songs of the late nineteenth century. An interesting footnote to the history of locomotive sheds concerns the marriage of Ceiriog’s daughter in 1883. The wedding reception and dance took place in the locomotive shed at Van, decorated with ‘Chinese lanterns, flags, bunting and flowers’!

‘Ceiriog’s’ work could not be described as light or humorous. Few working men poets were given to levity. However, ‘Inspector Aitken’, of the Glasgow and South Western Railway, had a genuine sense of humour, reflected in some of his poems published in ‘Songs from the South West’ published in Glasgow in 1913. ‘Shifting the Pints’ describes the unexpected visit of a straight-laced inspector, who arrives to find the shunting yard deserted. The poem works on the Glaswegian similarity between ‘points’ and ‘pints’. The inspector notices the nearby pub, and enters, enquiring of four shunters, sat with their drinks ‘Is this where the shunting of wagons is done?’ – to which one of the gang replies:

‘with a face all agrin and a twinkling eye,

Comes  a laugh and a smile and a ready reply

From Bob the ball turner, whom nothing disjoints,

“If we’re not shunting wagons we’re shifting the pints’.

And of course there’s Branwell Bronte, drinking himself to oblivion whilst purporting to be station master at Luddendenfoot.

Modern Times

In the 1970s there were a number of railway workers writing poetry and prose. Perhaps the most important was Joe Smythe, a guard at Newton Heath and subsequently Manchester Victoria depot. Joe was part of the Commoword group of worker-writers in Manchester, and had work published in Voices, published by the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. A collection of his poems was published as ‘The People’s Road’ in 1981, almost co-inciding with the 150th anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Joe was able to take three month’s leave funded by the NUR to write a series of poems – not an easy job, as he explained in ‘Third Shunt’ – a poem about writer’s block! ‘New Song for an Old Dead’ celebrates the scores of navvies who died building the Woodhead line:

‘We knew the bitterness of death

from bitterness in life

Angels in a digging hell

Past hope of paradise’

Joe’s poetry was sharp, unromantic and powerful.

One of the railway’s most unusual virtuosos was, or is, Adrian Schofield. Champion Northumbrian pipe player, and former signalman. Adrian learnt to play the pipes whilst working nights at Bullfield West box, Bolton. He went on to become one of the country’s best, no doubt infuriating native Northumbrians with his Bolton accent and punk haircut.

Don Bilston, former Saltley fireman, wrote some brilliant songs about railway life towards the end of steam, as did Dave Goulder. Bilston revived Skerett’s ‘Fireman’s Growl’. Goulder wrote some moving songs about the end of steam and its human impact, as well as the jolly ‘I’d Like to be a Lengthman’. There’s a great collection of poetry by Scottish railway workers, published in the 1970s, called ‘Steam Lines’. It was put together by a retired Polmadie driver, William McLagan. He pays tribute to ‘the philosophers and dreamers, and comic singers – every footplate and bothy had a fair share of them’. There’s lots of entertaining stuff, some that’s maybe best described as doggerel. But I like some of it, doggerel or not, like this by Jock Barret:

I’ve finished oiling jumbos,

And I’ve done with driving pugs

I’m leaving all that nonsense to a thousand other mugs.

I canny get oot quick enough

As sure as I’m alive

I’m tying off and going home

For now I’m sixty five’ 

The period immediately before the end of steam encouraged several railway workers to take their cameras to work: Jim Carter, of Skerrett’s old shed, Patricroft, stands head and shoulders above most. His photographs of steam on the Diggle route, and shed scenes, are works of art. The locomotive is very much placed in its wider context. People, landscape, buildings figure, rather than standard three-quarter front views of engines.

Post-privatisation railway culture

Railway workers’ culture existed well before nationalization in 1948, and it would be ridiculous to say that ‘privatisation’ has somehow killed it. It’s out there, in lots of different expressions – music, literature, painting, drama. As long as there’s a railway, there will be railway culture but it will be very different from that of the past, if it is to have any meaning or relevance. Railway people retain a strong loyalty to their industry, and to the ‘railway community’. The same difficulties, of unsocial hours and the physical isolation of railway workers, remains – but these are not, and never have been, insuperable obstacles. In larger railway centres there will be bands, drama groups, choirs and other ‘collective’ cultural activities. Individual railway workers will continue to write, paint and perform.

While we should be supporting a ‘modern’ railway culture, it would be wrong to consign the cultural traditions of the past to obscurity. One of the great strengths of the railway industry is the ‘collective memory’. This has taken a very hard knock over the last ten years, and perhaps a lot of people are beginning to realise that not everything in ‘the old railway’ was irrelevant and out of date. This collective memory was above all the passing on of the unwritten aspects of the job, ways of getting the job done which could never be enshrined in the Rule Book or in a Group Standard. It was about a pride in doing the job well which goes back to the beginning of the railways. But that collective memory also included wider ‘cultural’ elements in perhaps the broader sense. Some of the young drivers at Huddersfield who work the Penistone Line proudly wear ‘Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’ badges alongside their ASLE&F insignia. They don’t need anyone to tell them where they’re from, and which part of the railway tradition they belong to – even though some of them never even worked for BR, let alone its predecessors. That sort of gives me hope. They’re keen, committed to the job and doing it well, and recognise that they’re part of a tradition stretching back generations. Any railway manager who doesn’t see that as a good thing should go and work for Marks and Spencers.

If railway culture isn’t dead, perhaps it’s too well hidden. As an industry we could do more to promote it – surely it’s in a railway company’s interest to support and show off the creative talent it employs? Why can’t the unions do more to support the cultural activities of their members, as they have done so well in the past? But there’s a limit to how much you can force artistic development – much state or commercially-sponsored culture can be bloody awful. In Britain there isn’t a tradition of supporting industry-based cultural activity – perhaps we should think about changing that. The railways would be a good place to start.


William (Inspector) Aitken ‘Songs from the South-West’ 1913

Philip Bagwell ‘The Railwaymen’ 1963

Derek Cornforth ‘The Railwaymen’s Effort’ n.d., c 1990

Lewis Cozens ‘The Van and Kerry Railways’ 1953

Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers ‘Voices’

John Gorman ‘Banner Bright’ 1973

Walter Hampson ‘Songs of the Line’ 1905

Joseph Jacquet ‘Les Cheminots dans l’Histoire Social de France’ 1967

Norman McKillop ‘The Lighted Flame’ 1950

William Mclagan (ed.) ‘Steam Lines’ n.d. c 1982

F.W. Skerrett, ‘Rhymes of the Rail’ 1920

Joe Smythe ‘The People’s Road’ 1981

Malcolm Wallace ‘Single or Return? History of the TSSA’ 1996


The Station Clock – a railway story

The Station Clock

A railway story by Paul Salveson

 Part 1: The Station House

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.”

“Aye, 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, 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, killed the cat…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.

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

Conversation was drowned out by the sound of warning sirens as the barriers just beyond 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 a nearby pub – The Railway, appropriately enough – while they got 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. 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 be an 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.”

Part 2: The Coach and Horses and the Airport Express

Dave and Jane had time to explore the area, making the most of the fine 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.


It was a typically wet and windy night in late October. The last train of the day was the Manchester Airport to Barrow, reporting number 1C50, powered by one of the new class 195 trains – ‘Pride of Cumbria.’ The last train from ‘the south’ to Barrow has been known by generations of railway folk and locals as ‘The Whip’ – though nobody 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.

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.

It had started to rain – hard. That sort of icy, horizontal rain that comes in off Morecambe Bay when it has a mind to, which is frequently.

“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 23.43 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 rain-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 Kent’s 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.

“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 a night like this 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 dark night 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.”


Derek managed to walk down the four-foot, in the driving rain, towards the Station House, which was in darkness, though Dave and Jane’s car was outside suggesting the occupants were at home in bed. 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.

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. “I’m quite a light sleeper but 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.”

“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!”

The five passengers, as well as Jimmy, Derek and Jenny, appreciated the cups of tea and biscuits. 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.”

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.

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.

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.”

Clive Draper and Ash Patel were there by 2.15 a.m., greeting Clive with characteristic Manchester humour.

“Hello driver, 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 tomorrow. 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 catch up on my night’s reading – it’s a ghost story! But mebbe yours is better!”

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.

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?” 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 and they’d take it from there, but they were not expected to take up their booked work. “For your own good – you’ve had a fright, especially you Jimmy,”  Eddie Wilson, the supervisor added.


They were asked to appear the following afternoon 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?”

It was coming up to Christmas so 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 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 last week. 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. 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 in November 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 11.45 – 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.”

Blitz over Barrow

Dave and Jane settled into life at Kirkhead. Christmas came and went 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, one of those magnificent Springs where 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 a 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 at 11.45. 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 series of events was starting to take its toll. Rows between Dave and Jane become more common, almost as bad as when they were both 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, aping his hero, Harold Wilson.

“Strange things happen Dave. Have you ever heard of the Timberbottom Skulls, over Bolton way? They’d been displayed in a farmhouse for many, 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. 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 strange goings-on come to an end. I’ll order one of those repro railway clocks for you. They cost about £60 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, fixing the clock firmly in place. 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


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 Furness 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.


Weekly Salvo 300

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

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email:

Publications website:

No. 300 December 24th   CHRISTMAS SPECIAL      

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.

General gossips of a personal nature

Flippin’ ‘eck, the 300th Salvo! Not like me to be so consistent, though it’s a while since I was able to produce a weekly version. I’m glad it has kept going, mainly down to people telling me, usually in chance meetings, that they like getting it. So look out for Salvo 301 sometime in January. A very big thanks for the interest and support from everyone, including those who have dared to disagree with the infinite wisdom bestowed on you all, through The Salvo.

Christmas Eve has mixed memories for me. I used to love it as a boy, looking forward to the big day; I think the most memorable present was a Hornby Dublo model of ‘Duchess of Buccleuch’, 46232, when I was eight. I have less fond memories of Christmas Eve 2008 when Jo and myself were ushered into a hospital room to be given the news that Jo’s cancer had spread and really, that was it. And they had done their best. You’d think we would have had a truly dreadful Christmas, but not so. We walked up to West Nab on Christmas Day and did more local walks before New Year. January was dreadful and the end came on a snowy day early in February. But I can look back on over ten years’ of fun and enjoyment.

A lot more people have experienced death of loved ones in the last couple of years. I’ve been lucky not to have been affected too closely though the loss of Manu Mistry was a very sad blow. So too some good friends in the ‘railway family’ REPTA like Bryan and Ian who passed away this year. We must not forget them, and the thousands more who have gone before their time, as well as the amazing people in our NHS who have worked long and hard to help get us through this.

Sid Calderbank in good voice, accompanied by Julie Proctor on fiddle, at Bolton Station Community Partnerhip’s Christmas Fair last Saturday. Instead of teh rather chilly platform 4 e held the event at Bolton Interchange – thank you TfGM!

Let’s not get too miserable though – I’ve just watched the wonderful ‘Blackburn Sings Christmas’ organised by Gareth Malone, involving the people of Blackburn – especially its front-line NHS workers. The best show we’re likely to see over Christmas, even including ‘We Wish You a Mandy Christmas’ which came complete with John Cooper-Clarke.

A very happy Christmas and New Year to all my long-suffering readers.

General gossips of a political nature

Politics in 2021 has been pretty bleak, in many ways, at least until very recently. A welcome Christmas present was the Lib Dems’ win in North Shropshire – a clear pointer that people are well and truly fed up with the present administration. It’s also a signal that people have enough common sense to vote tactically. Could the same approach work in a general election, if there isn’t a formal deal between the opposition parties?  I’m coming round to the view that if we are going to get a progressive government it’s very much down to what happens in England, with voters using their common sense to select the candidate with most chance of beating the Tory incumbent. I don’t think a formal ‘pact’ is the right thing to do, but welcome readers’ views on that.

In some places the ‘main opposition’ will be Labour, in others Lib Dem. That implies -and seems to have been the case in North Shropshire – that one of the main opposition parties gets an easy run, with minimal campaigning by the other opposition parties, without a formal arrangement.

The Lib Dems shouldn’t run away with the idea that they are now in second place against the Tories, in England; they aren’t. Labour still is, though the Lib Dems should be well placed to make gains in more rural seats and parts of the South where Labour doesn’t stand a chance. That’s difficult for the Greens where realistically the best they could

Will the red flag wave over Blackstone Edge in 2022?

hope for is retaining the excellent Caroline Lucas. The better they do the more likely they are to split the progressive vote and let the Tory in. It’s an old dilemma, but they need to recognise that the only chance they have of getting seats is to have a Labour Government supported by the Lib Dems and SNP and Plaid Cymru, bringing in proportional representation. For now, the Greens’ best hope is to build up their support in local elections, where they can offer something distinctive and relevant. The same goes for the emerging regionalist parties in the North. A long haul.

The Integrated Rail Plan:  A Considered View

The Rail Reform Group has published what it rightly terms ‘a considered view’ of the much-criticised Integrated Rail Plan. The full version of the paper has a link below – but to give you a taster, here is an excerpt….

The background to the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) is that the country is still going through a pandemic that has ravaged its finances and changed the market for travel to the extent that rail has lost as much as 50% of its commuting business. Despite this, the Government is still prepared to invest £96bn in rail infrastructure for the North and Midlands. This is a massive vote of confidence in both rail and the economies of the North and Midlands. That should be a cause for celebration, not cries of betrayal, which for the most part seem to be politically motivated.

The IRP was intended to identify how HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub would dovetail together for a network of high speed routes, exploring the scope for shared use of new infrastructure and setting out an overarching delivery schedule in order to deliver maximum benefits quicker and to

Integrated Rail Plan – but we need a plan for all of the North including towns like Accrington

provide a realistic workbank for the supply industry. It was not meant to be a total blueprint for the Midlands and North. This means that proposals such as the Leamside Line are considered to be City Region schemes with alternative funding streams. This may be why no mention was made of Manchester’s Castlefield Corridor, for which there are ongoing workstreams. Incidentally, it does appear that IRP would take two paths off this corridor in each direction; a Liverpool-Manchester Airport semi-fast and a Redcar-Manchester Airport based on the current timetable.

A lot of the criticism is that ‘only’ upgraded lines and not new build is to be provided. Do passengers really care whether the line is new or upgraded if the trains are fast, frequent, comfortable and, of course, on time? An electrified, resignalled and improved Transpennine and Midland Main Lines (MML) is precisely the investment that has been called for over many years.  Whilst ‘upgrading’ implies disruption to services on the existing lines, the industry has improved its management of the required blockades. New Build implies less disruption to existing services, but there will be wider community impacts. If one regards Ditton Junction to Marsden as a new railway, this would then be a similar mileage to the proposed Manchester – Leeds via Bradford route.

Until IRP there were two schemes; the Transpennine Rail Upgrade (TRU), which seemed something of a patchwork of smaller schemes, but are at least already in delivery or under development. This included Manchester-Victoria-Stalybridge electrification, Huddersfield-Ravensthorpe quadrupling and electrification and Colton Junction – Church Fenton electrification. Then there was the showcase new build NPR line linking Manchester to Leeds via Bradford. Both these projects seemed to involve a degree of duplication, that would inevitably push NPR into the distant future while short and medium terms investment focussed on a series of TRU schemes. What we get now is a combination of the two, with the intention of more benefits being delivered sooner.

Commentators refer to a Warrington to Marsden new high-speed line but have missed the point that what is being delivered is a new fast electrified main line between Liverpool and Manchester.  The IRP should have majored on this. The Ditton Junction – Warrington Bank Quay Low Level line, now virtually disused since Fiddlers Ferry power station closed, will be rebuilt as a high-speed electrified line that reaches to within ten miles of Liverpool. That remaining ten miles is a four-track railway with spare capacity, except for a short section at Wavertree Junction, and all of this will doubtless be modernised to fulfil its new NPR role. This new main line from Liverpool and Warrington will be linked by new build to HS2 thus giving them direct HS2 services to Birmingham and London as well as NPR services to Manchester and Leeds. Provision for the new junction from HS2 to the Liverpool direction is already in development under HS2 phase 2b and the route into Manchester (mostly tunnel from the Airport) is already specified. This is precisely the synergy that IRP was intended to deliver.

Building on Success: future directions for Community Rail

After many iterations and debate, I’ve produced a ‘final’ version of my paper Building on Success; Future directions for Community Rail. A link to the full version is below but the Preface gives a flavour and context:

This paper is aimed at a range of people active in the rail and transport industry as well as in the wider public sector – local government, combined authorities – and the ‘third sector’. I’m grateful to many friends and colleagues for their input to the paper, though I bear prime responsibility for what’s in it. The Rail Reform Group has kindly agreed to host the paper on its website and the same caveat applies.

I was involved in setting up the movement that became ‘Community Rail’ in the early 1990s, through a report called New Futures for Rural Rail. We launched it

Knaresborough has benefited from the work of its ‘station friends’ group

at the National Railway Museum in 1992. This paper is my own personal revision of ‘New Futures’, throwing up ideas and suggestions for Community Rail that can go forward over the next ten years.

Back in the 1990s, local railways were struggling and the main priority was to build use of what was there. We’ve moved on from that and part of Community Rail’s role is to politely not accept what we’re given but keep pressing, with well-reasoned arguments, why rail needs to grow. That requires further electrification, improved capacity to allow more services, better quality stations and new ones, as well as line re-openings where there’s a case and good links to the re-fashioned HS2 projects. Getting better access to and from stations by bus, bike and foot are as important as the train service itself.

Today, with over 70 community rail partnerships and hundreds of station groups, ‘community rail’ is no longer a purely ‘rural’ initiative, it includes inner urban areas as much as rural branch lines. And it isn’t just about the hardware of the railway; it’s active across a wide range of activities which back then we’d have thought way beyond the scope of what railways should be about. Mental health, loneliness, hate crime, addressing climate change, and lots more, often using art to get people involved and create stations as places that are a delight to use, not places to endure while you wait for your train. Mad optimism? No, it’s already there at some local stations – Smethwick Rolfe Street, Moorthorpe, Kent’s Bank, Burntisland, Beccles, Hindley, Yatton, Heaton Chapel, Betws-y-Coed, Llandovery and dozens more.

What they add up to is making rail more people-friendly and encouraging people to use the train and value their local station as a community hub. That feeds back into the really big one of the Climate Emergency.  Who was it who once said ‘Think Global – Act Local’?

I see this paper as very much ‘work in progress’ and welcome feedback. It represents a small contribution to the process of growing Community Rail – a healthy and vibrant movement which began with no resources and a lot of scepticism, in the kitchen of a terraced house in Huddersfield thirty years ago. Thanks to all who have contributed to its creation.

Building on success: future directions for Community Rail

A Christmas Railway Ghost Story

What is Christmas without a ghost story? Many years ago I wrote a piece for ASLEF’s Locomotive Journal (December 1985) called ‘Who Signed the Book?’ I’ve carried on tinkering with it and recently posted a slightly revised version on facebook. It’s also on my website and is here:

Inside Astley Bridge Junction, c. 1977. The Train Register Book is on the desk….

The story is set in my old box – Astley Bridge Junction – before the First World War. As far as I’m aware there never was a disastrous accident on the viaduct, other than me narrowly missing being thrown off it by irate workers from Ryder’s engineering works ‘down below’ who got fed up with being pelted by egg-shells. A tale for another time.

Community Rail Awards

An inspiring range of community rail initiatives, delivered by community groups, partnerships and volunteers across Britain – supporting social inclusion, sustainable travel, empowered communities and economic recovery – have been celebrated at the 17th Community Rail Awards. The awards, hosted by Great Western Railway and South Western Railway, were held at Southampton’s O2

David Jory (Rotala Buses), Steph Dermott, Julie Levy and Salvo with the award at Southampton

Guildhall. The event was also streamed live online, with more than 300 guests in total, including community rail volunteers, officers, rail industry leaders and government representatives. The event was addressed by transport ministers from the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments plus industry leaders and personalities passionate about community rail, including Chris Tarrant. The Outstanding Contribution to Community Rail Award was jointly awarded to:

Southeast Communities Rail Partnership, which coordinates activity on eight rail lines across Sussex, Kent, Surrey, and Berkshire, including education and sustainable travel programmes reaching thousands of children, helping adults with additional needs to build rail confidence, and promoting green leisure travel;

Friends of Buxton Station, a volunteer group that has cemented its place at the heart of its community during the pandemic via hugely varied initiatives from arts projects at the station and run digitally, to raising awareness about biodiversity, to improving integrated transport, to supporting local businesses.

A Special Recognition Award, chosen by the Community Rail Network board, was given to Kulvinder Bassi MBE, who was an instrumental member of the community rail team at the Department for Transport from 2006 to 2020 and is now the department’s stations and accessibility policy manager.
South East Lancashire Community Rail Partnership (SELCRP), based in Bolton, fought off strong competition to win the ‘Involving Diverse Groups’ prize at the 17th national Community Rail Awards, also achieving third place in the Influencing Positive Change and Sustainability category.

Raising awareness of Hate Crime

South-east Lancashire CRP won a prestigious award – 1st prize in the ‘Involving Diverse Groups’ category. The partnership’s ‘Hate Crime Awareness Project’ helped to raise public awareness of hate crime, the impact it can have, how it can be reported, and how those affected can access support. Funded by Bolton CVS, the project involved local community groups including Bolton City of Sanctuary, who work with asylum seekers and refugees, and Stand up Sisters who support women with lived experience of mental health issues, substance abuse and sexual/domestic violence in Bolton.

The partnership developed a survey and a series of online workshops in which participants reflected on ways to tackle hate crime, and ran a social media campaign that engaged around 60,000 people. This led to an exhibition of the survey findings, accompanied by art and poetry, that was subsequently put on display at Bolton Station as well as on-line.

The report is available to view at: –

The CRP also won a third prize for its pioneering ‘Rivington Bus’ project supported by CrossCountry Trains, Horwich Town Council and Diamond Buses NW.

Christmas up North

The following piece was published in Big Issue North – if you get chance, do support the magazine by getting your own copy. There’s always lots of good stuff in it. This is the start of the article:

How did our predecessors in the North celebrate Christmas? There isn’t much written about how ordinary people in different parts of the country marked the festive season a century and more ago. However, many working class men – and some women – wrote dialect stories

Cover of one of his hugely popular ‘Annuals’

and songs with Christmas settings, mostly in ephemeral paperback ‘almanacs’. Allen Clarke, better known as ‘Teddy Ashton’ produced his Christmas Annual over several decades between 1892 and 1935. John Hartley started publishing his Clock Almanack in Halifax as early as 1865 and it was still going well into the late 1950s, always appearing in December – in time for New Year. Bradford had its own Bob Stubbs’ Original Comic Yorksher Awmynack, published by Watmough’s of Idle, while the Colne Valley had Sam Thropp’s Dialect Annual, published in Slaithwaite and still going strong in the 1960s. Alongside the dialect stories and poems there were numerous adverts for surgical appliances, miracle cures for rheumatism, coughs, colds and bronchitis as well as pills for ‘women’s ailments’!

The ‘almanacs’ shared a common sense of regional pride – in Lancashire and Yorkshire identity. The dialects of the two historic counties have many similarities. Christmas, in south-east Lancashire, was called ‘Kesmas’ whilst in Huddersfield it was ‘Kersmis’. Neither version seems to have survived into the 21st century!

Christmas for a Lancashire or West Riding mill workers’ family wasn’t the sort of extended affair lasting until after New Year. The mills closed on Christmas Day and they’d be back at full power on Boxing Day. Many of the children enjoying the delights of Santa and Christmas dinner would be up as usual at 5 a.m. on Boxing Day ready for a 6 a.m. start. As late as 1900 children as young as 12 worked half-time in the factories; the system was finally abolished in 1918.

Shady dealings along the Golden Mile

Reality is often stranger fiction in the world of politics. Andrew Rosthorn’s book The Oyston Files charts a remarkable story of corruption and intrigue which leaves a very nasty after taste. Rosthorn has spent a lifetime in journalism, including reporting on ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. While nobody was actually assassinated in Rosthorn’s account of Lancashire political intrigue, it’s fair to say that some lives were ruined.

It’s a complicated story, beginning with the deaths of two young women, one night in August 1975. The two mothers were walking home after a night out in Blackpool and were killed by a car driven by the daughter of a rich businessman, Bill Harrison, who was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party. Rosthorn charts the attempts of Harrison to get his daughter off the hook. The Lancashire Evening Post (as it then was) saw the potential of a major political scandal and they pulled no punches in their reporting of the case.

The entirely honourable role of the Evening Post stands out in Rosthorn’s account. The ‘Harrison Case’ exposed corrupt practices within Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Constabulary. Harrison was determined to ‘get’ the paper and a particular focus of his anger directed towards Owen Oyston, a Blackpool-based estate agent who was a major advertiser in the paper and a Labour Party supporter into the bargain. He had a majority share in Blackpool Football Club – a powerful and influential figure. Harrison assumed, probably wrongly, that Oyston was behind what he regarded as a ‘witch-hunt’ directed at himself.

Oyston was ‘no angel’ and Harrison was quickly able to identify his weakness – sexual relations with young women, barely over the age of consent. Harrison hired a former fish and chip shop owner called Michael Murrin who pursued Oyston over a period of ten years. In 1996 Oyston was accused of rape and indecent assault of two 16-year old girls, from a model agency. At the time of the alleged rapes Oyston was 58. Following three consecutive trials he was found guilty of the rape of one of the young women – ‘Miss H’. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment and served three years and six months.

Such are the bare bones of a story of very dirty dealings which had national political repercussions. Rosthorn presents strong arguments that Oyston was ‘set up’ by powerful forces within the Lancashire establishment who were determined to ‘bring him down a peg or two’. He makes extensive use of court transcripts and telephone conversations. He raises some serious questions about the way the trials were conducted, with some evidence not being taken into consideration.

I would say a weakness of Andrew’s book is his too-casual dismissal of the two female defendants as, in effect, the real criminals. There is no question that he had inappropriate relations with both of the young women and – as the judge observed when Oyston was being sentenced – abused his position of power into effectively coercing the girls into having sex with him. Whether you would call that ‘rape’ is open to interpretation. The prosecuting lawyer, Helen Grindrod QC, was a feminist when it wasn’t exactly a professional asset in the very male world of the law, championing the cause of vulnerable women in rape cases. This is to her credit, but sadly she doesn’t get any of that in the book, which ends with an unnecessary account of her ‘celebrating’ Oyston’s conviction.

What emerges from The Oyston Files is how much has changed since the ‘man’s world’ that was the last quarter of the 20th century. But could the same thing happen again? Well, some high profile cases involving members of the Royal Family suggest it might. There were very specific circumstances surrounding the Oyston Affair which reflect badly on our local polity and the nefarious influence of the moneyed class on our justice system.

Read it and make up your own mind – it’s gripping stuff that would make a remarkable film. The Oyston Files by Andrew Rosthorn is available on Amazon ISBN 9781916096349

Colin Speakman’s Yorkshire

Colin Speakman is a Lancastrian by birth, long exiled in Yorkshire where he has, without doubt, ‘gone native’. Yorkshire, and perhaps Colin himself, is all the better for it. He has made a huge contribution to public transport over many decades, bringing a very strong emphasis on the importance of leisure transport. I think it’s fair to say that he has developed an unrivalled knowledge of his adopted shire, bringing all the zeal of a convert to his work, not least for The Yorkshire Society.

His latest book – which I hope isn’t his swansong as there’s plenty life in the old bxxxxr yet – is Yorkshire –ancient nation, future province. It’s very much about the importance of identity, but this is no backward-looking journey of nostalgia. Colin has an excellent knowledge of Yorkshire history and this comes out in the book very well, but he also has an exciting vision of a modern Yorkshire, in all its creative diversity.

The book was published in August and the malign presence of Covid is apparent from the start, with Colin reflecting that “the world as it was in 2019 will never return.” And always the optimist, he goes on to suggest that while local authorities will be squeezed for cash and some services will be lost, “it could also be a greener future, one in which people get out of their cars and walk, cycle and use trains more, and appreciate the environment and natural world that exists all around them.” I hope he’s right.

This is a strongly political book but one which I would hope people from different backgrounds could appreciate and learn something from. Colin is a committed regionalist and an important part of the book is Colin’s development of the idea of ‘cultural landscapes’, identifying nine such parts of the historic country, each of which has its own distinctive identity within Yorkshire. This approach could well be applied to the county’s western neighbour, Lancashire, which has been mucked about with even more than Yorkshire itself. Re-creating a distinct over-arching Lancashire with its distinctive ‘cultural landscapes’ (Manchester, the South-east Lancashire ‘cotton belt’, West and East Lancashire, Merseyside and ‘Lancashire North of the Sands’ as an initial shot) is an attractive idea and one which I hope to work on in my forthcoming Greater Lancashire, which I hope to complete next year. Well, I suppose I need to start it first. I think Colin’s term ‘cultural landscapes’ is helpful but maybe not quite right. Perhaps ‘micro-regions’ within a Yorkshire ‘region’ instead of ‘province’? Is ‘region’ a stronger term than ‘province’? Possibly. I remember back in the 1990s the idea of a ‘micro-region’ was popular amongst environmentalists in parts of eastern Europe.

It’s great that Colin has started this debate and I look forward to him developing the idea further. In the meantime, do get his book, as you would expect from this veteran (but not quite vintage) writer, it’s a pleasure to read.

Published by Gritstone at £`12.50 (how does he manage to get it that cheap?)

Christmas Quiz: 21 of the worst

I’m grateful to Steve Leyland for some of the questions in this year’s quiz. See how you get on, correct answers (and winners) will be published in the next issue. It’s very nerdish and very male (pretty much 90% of my readers I suppose). Some of the questions were

Steve Leyland (left) and Vern Sidlow at the northern entrance to Sough Tunnel on the walk when some of the quiz questions were trialled

trialled over a pint in the Crown and Thistle, a lonely moorland pub set above Sough Tunnel on the Roman Road. What that has got to do with it, I don’t know. I can’t stop you using google but let’s face it, it spoils the fun…

  1. Which Snowdon Mountain Railway station is mentioned in The Bible?
  2. What was the last class of loco on BR to have any withdrawals?
  3. Which Lancashire station was originally called ‘Poulton-le-Sands’?
  4. Which Victorian author was involved in a serious railway accident – and where was it?
  5. In American railroad slang what is a) a ‘drag’ b) ‘Highball’ (verb) and c) a ‘hog mauler’
  6. How many nicknames were applied to the ‘Austerity’ 2-8-0s (name them)
  7. Which of the following musical figures were railway enthusiasts: Jools Holland; Antonin Dvorak; E.J. Moeran; Rod Stewart; Neil Young; Beethoven
  8. If you were a footplateman returning to depot by train after completing your job, how would you be travelling?
  9. If your train was detained at a red signal close to a signalbox, what would you have to do – and who would do it?
  10. What was it that ripped Frank Zappa’s flesh?
  11. Which Lancashire rural location once hosted a concert at which Captain Beefheart performed? Extra point for name of the Community Rail Officer who attended
  12. Which folk singer recorded ‘Moses of the Mail’ and which loco shed was Moses from?
  13. Which composer wrote a symphony set on the Diggle Route?
  14. What was the name of the piece of music composed specially to be performed at a Northern Rail depot open day? Name composer and depot for extra points
  15. Who was the great Welsh poet who was also a stationmaster at a remote junction?
  16. What task did Dvorak allocate to his future son-in-law and why was he disappointed with the result?
  17. In the gospel song, what line is Jesus on?
  18. Which Glasgow and South Western Railway inspector was an accomplished poet and writer of religious hymns? And which depot features in one of his poems?
  19. What action did C.B. Collett take when a group of GWR apprentices went on strike?
  20. In ‘The Night Mail’ how well was the train performing on Beattock Bank?
  21. In the Summer 1958 Ian Allan Combined Volume, what is the only named class to be in alphabetical order?

Lancashire Loominary publications and special offers to readers

My new biography of Lancashire writer, railway lover, cyclist and philosopher Allen Clarke (aka ‘Teddy Ashton’ is now available. Salvo subscribers can get Lancashire’s Romantic Radical for £15 instead of normal price of £18.99. I’ve some copies of my Moorlands, Memories and Reflections for £15 (reduced from £21) as well as my novel set in Horwich Loco Works (The Works) for £6. More esoteric but interesting is With Walt Whitman in Bolton: spirituality, sex and socialism in a Northern Mill Town. Also £6, not that much sex in it to be honest – but it has compensations. See


Lancashire Loominary December issue


An occasional update from Lancashire Loominary 

No. 7        December 2021

Welcome to the December edition of Lancashire Loominary, an occasional update for readers and friends of Lancashire Loominary publications. It’s probably not too early to wish you a very happy Christmas. If you have bought any of my books over the last year, a particular thanks. It hasn’t been an easy time to be a small publisher (but when is?). Next year I’m hoping to bring out a new book on the history, present state and possible future of ‘Greater Lancashire’ as well as a collection of my local history features from The Bolton News, if they don’t mind, to be called Our Bolton.

This edition features an extended version of my article on Victor Grayson – the socialist MP who disappeared, almost without trace, after the First World War. His links to Bolton are highlighted, with scope for a bit more digging. There is a print version (a bit shorter but with pictures) in the current Big Issue North – which also carries a good piece by Chris Moss on Northern regionalism and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation (which is holding a conference on ‘Real Levelling Up’ on Saturday December 4th ( for details). Please buy BIN if you get the opportunity.

There’s what I hope is an attractive ‘readers’ offer’ for my books – see below. I also have a bit to say about HS2 and its partial cancellation. As usual, I don’t go with the tide!

Readers’ offers for Christmas

I currently have four books in stock – the full cover price is shown in brackets and details of the very generous (!) reductions for Loominary readers are given at the end of this newsletter:

  • Allen Clarke (‘Teddy Ashton’) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical ( £18.99)
  • Moorlands, Memories and Reflections (£21)
  • The Works (a novel set in Horwich Loco Works £12.99
  • With Walt Whitman in Bolton: spirituality, sex and socialism in a Northern Milltown (£8.99)

Some of these, as you’ll see from my website, are already available direct from me at a discounted price. Up to the end of the year I’m doing some further special offers which include:

  • Buy one get one free (the lowest priced one)
  • ‘two for price of one’ for same title
  • Bundle of all four titles for £30 (plus postage if not local)

Feature article:  the mysterious Victor Grayson

A young socialist firebrand called Victor Grayson shot to international fame in 1907 by winning a by-election in the Yorkshire textile constituency of Colne Valley, on an uncompromising left wing programme. He was defeated in 1910 and ten years later vanished, almost without trace. The story of his meteoric rise, and subsequent disappearance, is a fascinating chapter in British political history, very ably explored by the work of historians David Clark and more recently Harry Taylor whose biography Victor Grayson: in search of Britain’s lost revolutionary, was published recently. Bolton features prominently in the story of his life and subsequent disappearance.

Early years

Grayson was born in the Scotland Road district of Liverpool, of working class parents, in 1881 – though even this fact has been questioned, as we shall see. He had an adventurous boyhood, leaving home at the age of 14 to see the world, as a stowaway on board a ship bound for Chile – though he only got as far as Tenby, after being discovered.

Not much is known of his teenage years. He was an intelligent and resourceful lad with a strong social conscience and was apprenticed in an engineering works. He experienced poverty at first hand in the Liverpool slums and wanted to do something about it. In 1904 he enrolled as a student at the Unitarian college in Manchester to train as a minister; however he became increasingly involved in the socialist movement which was sweeping the North of England, inspired by the Clarion newspaper, edited by Robert Blatchford who was to become a close friend.

A popular socialist orator

By the following year, Grayson had become a popular figure on the socialist lecturing circuit across the North of England. He was a regular speaker at meetings of the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Church, both of which had a strong presence in the industrial North. Many meetings were held in the open air and attracted large crowds, such as in Farnworth on Sunday July 28th 1905. He spoke in Bolton’s Temperance Hall on several occasions during 1905, to huge audiences.

Revolution in the Colne Valley

In the Spring of 1907 the sitting Liberal MP for Colne Valley, near Huddersfield, resigned his seat following his elevation to the House of Lords. A by-election was set for July 18th, with the Liberals expecting an easy win. How wrong they were. The socialists got to work with enthusiasm and Grayson – a young man of 26 – was invited to apply to be the ‘Labour and Socialist’ candidate, narrowly beating a local man.

He had huge charisma – a handsome and flamboyant figure who could captivate his audience. Even in small mill villages like Golcar, Honley and Delph Grayson was able to attract audiences in the hundreds and sometimes even more. Grayson’s eve of poll message ‘to the electors of the Colne Valley’ pulled no punches:

“I am appealing to you as one of your own class. I want emancipation from the wage-slavery of Capitalism. I do not believe that we are divinely destined to be drudges. Through the centuries we have been the serfs of an arrogant aristocracy….the time for our emancipation has come. We must break the rule of the rich and take our destinies into our hands..the other classes have had their day. It is our turn now!”

Many of the looms in the weaving sheds of the valley had red ribbons tied to them, showing the weavers – mostly women – where they stood. Local children wore red rosettes and sang socialist songs when Grayson spoke.

The election result was announced on July 19th and it astonished the country. Grayson received 3,648 votes beating the Liberal with a majority of 153. The Conservative came a close third. When the vote was announced at Slaithwaite Town Hall, in the words of a local journalist, “pandemonium prevailed…the wild scene of enthusiasm which followed the announcement of the figures is indescribable.”

The result shook the political establishment to its foundations, with many fearing – or hoping – that a socialist revolution was imminent. Yet it wasn’t to be and Grayson’s parliamentary performance was erratic. He preferred touring the country speaking at socialist meetings than the dreary work of being a back-bench MP, though on one notable occasion he was expelled from the House of Commons for disrupting proceedings in support of the unemployed – an action that won him warm support amongst grassroots socialists but further alienated him from mainstream Labour MPs who were besotted with parliamentary procedure. He continued to visit Bolton and in February 1909 was the guest of honour at Bolton Socialist Party’s ‘Merrie England Bazaar’.

A darker side

There was a darker side to his behaviour. Possibly through the stress of his campaigning, he developed a strong taste for whisky and reached the point where he was consuming a full bottle every day. He enjoyed the social life of the London clubs and was always something of a hedonist, enjoying ‘the good life’. He was hugely attractive to women but also had several affairs with men, which seem to go back to his early 20s. Homosexuality was still a crime and Grayson had to tread carefully to avoid being exposed.

Grayson remained an MP for just three years. He lost the seat in 1910 but continued his socialist campaigning activities. On October 23rd he was speaking to a packed meeting in Bolton’s Temperance Hotel, no doubt amused by the irony of the location. By then, he was making a tenuous living from his speaking engagements though finding it difficult to maintain his lavish lifestyle and increasingly heavy drinking.

Marriage to Ruth

In November 1912 he married Ruth Nightingale, an actress whose stage name was ‘Ruth Norreys’. She was the daughter of an affluent Bolton family. Her father, John Webster Nightingale, was a banker and he shared a substantial house in Smithills with his wife Georgina and housekeeper/maid Jane Mackereth. Victor and Ruth had a daughter, Elaine, in 1914. The relationship with the Nightingales was to become increasingly important for Grayson over the next eight years.

By 1914 his health had deteriorated and he found himself in the Bankruptcy Court. Friends and supporters, helped by his father in law, assisted. Everything changed when war broke out in November of that year.

Most left-wing socialists were bitterly opposed to the war. Grayson took a very different stance, not only publicly supporting the Allies but advocating conscription and demonising the German people as a war-mongering race. Grayson spent some time in Australia speaking on pro-war platforms, then returned to Britain and continued to support the war effort, possibly with some financial help from the Lloyd George government. In 1917, he and his wife Ruth went to New Zealand where she had some theatrical engagements. Whilst there, he was involved in socialist activity but continued to support the war effort, joining the New Zealand armed forces (ANZAC) in 1917.  He took part in some of the heaviest fighting of the war and was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the bloodiest encounters in the whole conflict.

He returned to England in 1918 and was devastated by the death of his wife in childbirth, in February of that year. The baby was stillborn. Grayson agreed with the Nightingales for them to look after the four-years’ old Elaine, who lived at the family home. By then, the family had moved to ‘Ellerslie’, a large house in The Haulgh. Grayson, living in London, was a regular visitor to Bolton, each weekend, with his own room and even pet dog which he named ‘Nunquam’, the pen name of Robert Blatchford. He kept a hidden supply of whisky under the floorboards of his room. His visits were ostensibly to see his young daughter. I wonder if there were other motives?

Post-war uncertainties

Grayson had little involvement in post-war politics. His estrangement from the Labour Party was virtually complete. Harry Taylor quotes a letter from parliamentary journalist Sidney Campion suggesting that Grayson “was a disillusioned socialist turned Tory” and his father-in-law approached Tory leader Bonar Law to employ him as a propagandist. The source of this came from Charles Sixsmith, who was part of Bolton’s ‘Walt Whitman’ circle which included another Nightingale – Fred, who lived, on Chorley Old Road. Whether Fred and John were related isn’t clear but they may have been closer in their politics than historians have given them credit for. John W. Nightingale was a friend of Sixsmith’s, who was a prosperous capitalist, with mills in Farnworth. He was a socialist and also, like Grayson, bi-sexual. Did Grayson and Sixsmith know each other? John W. Nightingale, certainly in later years, was a member of the Swedenborgian church which had much in common with the mystical beliefs of the Whitmanites.


The strangest part of the ‘Grayson Story’ comes next. In September 1920 he left his apartment in London accompanied by two men, telling his landlady that he would be away for some time. In fact, he was never seen again, at least definitively. Some accounts suggest he was murdered, others that he left the country to start a new life. At the time, there was a ‘cash for honours’ scandal brewing which Grayson may have threatened to expose and there are suggestions that he was ‘removed’ by a shadowy character called Maundy Gregory, who had links to the intelligence services.

His daughter Elaine was devastated by his disappearance, being told by Jane, the family maid, that her father “will never come again because he’s going to travel…but he’ll never forget you…and one day perhaps he may come back.”

There are several accounts of him being seen, in places as varied as Melbourne, Madrid and on the London tube. However, there seems to be strong evidence that he was living in Maidstone, Kent, in the 1930s.

He was not in communication with his parents in Liverpool or his Bolton in-laws. However, Elaine’s grandmother Georgina seems to have been convinced that Grayson might return to Bolton and ‘kidnap’ the young girl. She lived a cosseted life being driven to and from school in the family car – a rare luxury at the time – and only being permitted a very limited social life.

During the Second World War there was a government-sponsored investigation into Grayson’s disappearance, led by the well-respected Chief Inspector Arthur Askew, of Scotland Yard. The report was never published but subsequently, after his retirement, Askew sent a short note to his biographer Reg Groves saying “Grayson married – settled in Kent”.

There seems to be a possibility that Grayson died in an air raid in 1941. Certainly, his mother-in-law’s almost hysterical fear of Grayson’s re-appearance had diminished by the early 1940s. Georgina herself died in 1942.

Parentage questions

There is one final twist to the story, relating to Victor’s parentage. There had long been suggestions that his parents in Liverpool were not his biological parents. As Georgina lay on her death bed, accompanied by maidservant Jane and her grand-daughter Elaine, she kept muttering the name ‘The Marlboroughs’. Elaine was puzzled by this, but after Georgina’s death, Jane said to her “Elaine, don’t you realise your grandmother was telling you who your father really was?”

Amongst Grayson historians this story is treated with different emphasis. Harry Taylor rejects the possibility that Grayson was the illegitimate child of the powerful Marlborough family, whose members included Winston Churchill – with whom Grayson enjoyed a friendly relationship whilst in the  Commons, and after. David Clark is not so sure and offers evidence that the story might be true.

There are so many ‘known unknowns’ in the Grayson story, above all what happened to him after 1920 and the riddle of his parentage. As Jeremy Corbyn writes in his foreword to Harry Taylor’s book, says “the ever-secretive British state knows the answer, somewhere in Scotland Yard or the Home Office, the truth is known.” He’s right, and I think there is more to be discovered about his Bolton links, including the role of his father-in-law John W. Nightingale and the maid who seemed to know much, Jane Mackereth.

I am indebted to Lord David Clark, Harry Taylor, Sheila Davidson and Julia Lamara (Bolton History Centre) for their assistance. Harry Taylor’s book Victor Grayson: in search of Britain’s lost revolutionary, is published by Pluto (2021), David Clark’s Victor Grayson – the man and the mystery is published by Quartet (2016).

Use your local shop

As well as being able to order directly, my books are available in a number of shops across the North-West and beyond. At the moment they are:

  • Justicia Fair Trade Shop, Knowsley Street, Bolton
  • Ebb and Flo, 12 Gillibrand Street, Chorley
  • The Wright Reads, Winter Hey Lane, Horwich
  • Bunbury’s Real Ale Shop, 397 Chorley Old Road
  • Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford
  • Smethurst’s Newsagents, Markland Hill
  • Pike Snack Shack, Rivington
  • Horwich Heritage Centre
  • A Small Good Thing, Church Road Bolton
  • Books and Bygones, Chorley
  • Carnforth Bookshop
  • The Lakeland Gallery, Bo’ness
  • Penrallt Bookshop, Machynlleth
  • Beach Hut Gallery, Kents Bank

HS2: the wrong mindset

The response to the Government’s ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ (IRP) has been almost universally hostile. The chopping of the ’eastern leg’ from Birmingham to Leeds and ‘scaling back’ of the east-west line (Northern Powerhouse Rail’) has invoked particular ire, with cries of ‘betrayal of the North’ coming from an unlikely coalition of so-called ‘red wall’ Tories and Labour.

But..there were good arguments for a fundamental review of HS2, particularly in the light of Covid, which many people in transport think will lead to long-term changes in people’s travel behaviour – in particular, less business travel and commuting and more leisure journeys (less time sensitive).

HS2 as originally conceived – a very high-speed route (speeds of up to 225 m/ph or 360 km/h) from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, represents a particular approach to transport and wider spatial planning, which prioritises the major cities, at the expense (unless there is a complementary plan in place) of smaller towns and cities. In his Foreword to the IRP Boris Johnson recognises the adverse effect that HS2 to Leeds would have had on other places currently served by fast and frequent trains: “Under those plans,  many places on the existing main lines, such as Doncaster, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leicester would have seen little improvement, or a worsening, in their services..” The same applies to the ‘western leg’ to Manchester, which is still going ahead: so – tough on Stockport, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Stafford and Rugby.

The thinking behind HS2 reflects a particular approach to transport which I would argue is 20 years out of date. It is a move away from the earlier car-led approach of the 1960s which saw motorway building, rail closures, and towns and cities carved up for the motor car. The ‘Very High-Speed Rail’ approach prioritises the needs of major cities and ‘out of town’ development with huge parkway developments, in the case of HS2 at Birmingham Interchange. The proposed ‘dead-end’ stations at Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would have been poorly connected with the rest of the rail network but developers would (or still will) have a field day with opportunities for major development schemes around the three termini. And anyone who knows much about railways will recognise that terminal stations are bad news, soaking up capacity, limiting the full opportunities of fast, long-distance trains.

The ‘very high-speed’ thinking behind HS2 means that you can’t bother with serving even quite large towns and cities along the route as it slows everything down creating longer end to end journeys which ‘the model’ hates. And of course the other big down side of ‘very high speed rail’ is that the need for such high speeds means you have to build a railway that is very straight – either a lot of tunnelling which is costly and very destructive on the environment, or ploughing through established communities and sensitive landscapes. Running long trains at 225 m/ph sucks up a lot of energy.

There is a further argument against HS2 which is more difficult to prove but has certainly been raised in some academic papers. High-speed rail, or any transport corridor, is a two-way street. The pro-HS2 hype is full of talk about how HS2 will ‘level-up’ the North. Equally, it could do more to benefit London and the south-east. Why should firms bother to maintain a major regional office in Manchester or Birmingham when you can be in London in next to no time? A far more likely economic generator would be better inter and intra-regional rail links across the North and Midlands, which happens to be what most people say in opinion polls, when asked.

This approach of ‘very high speed rail’ can work if you’re a country the size of France, China or the United States. The German approach is more nuanced with significant stretches of high-speed rail but part of a well integrated network of inter-regional and local services. It is less suitable to a smaller country such as Britain, with densely populated areas. One of the most trumpeted-arguments in support of HS2 has been the idea that it ‘frees up capacity’ permitting freight and regional passenger services. That’s only true up to a point and the main capacity benefits of HS2 will be south of Rugby. Where it frees up capacity in the North it is at the expense of existing InterCity services being re-routed via HS2 meaning that major centres like Stockport and Stoke will lose out. If we’re told that the existing InterCity services (3 an hour Manchester – London, pre-Pandemic) will continue, you wonder a) what the point of HS2 is in the first place, and crucially b) where all the extra passengers wanting to get to and from London in 71 minutes will come from.

A third approach would be a more integrated rail-based strategy with a core InterCity network which would aim for speeds of up to 160 m/ph and link major centres across the country, with good connections to regional, local rail and light rail services. This would be a bit more like the German approach, taking greater account of the needs of large towns and cities between the main centres, with good connectivity to all parts of the rail network. Such an approach would be a hybrid of new and existing, upgraded, lines and it would go through to Carlisle, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It could be argued that the newly-published IRP does that, though I’d say it’s more of a ‘politics-led’ plan than anything that is strategic. It tried (and failed) to satisfy politicians in the North with a mix of new and upgraded lines and electrification schemes, notably the Midland Mail Line taking electric trains beyond the south Midlands to Derby and Nottingham, Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds.

Bradford is the big loser in the IRP, so as a concession the short section of line from Leeds to Bradford via New Pudsey will be electrified, shaving a few minutes of journey times. Quite what the trains do when they get to Bradford isn’t said, presumably they’ll speed back to Leeds. Yet all trains from Leeds to Bradford go beyond the city, to Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Rochdale and Manchester or across to Burnley, Blackburn and Preston. Any sensible strategy would have seen those lines fully electrified as part of the Bradford scheme. Even better would be a ‘Bradford CrossRail’ for existing regional and additional InterCity services, joining up the two separate routes into the city and permitting a ‘scissors’ shape network north-west of Leeds which would permit new journey options and improved capacity into and out of Bradford.

The ‘core’ of HS2’s western leg, to Manchester, will be a major engineering challenge and aims to link up with ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ and serve Manchester Airport. The route to Scotland and further north is likely to be re-considered with the proposed new ‘Golborne Loop’ scrapped. A sensible strategy for the ‘West Coast Main Line’ north of Crewe would see maximum use of the existing route with more capacity, track realignment to get faster speeds and some new sections, north and south of the border, to improve overall journey times but still serve main centres such as Warrington (with interchange with Northern Powerhouse Rail as per IRP), Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme (for the southern Lakes) Penrith and Carlisle.

I remain unconvinced that a terminal station at Manchester Piccadilly is the right solution. Termini are operationally difficult and soak up capacity. A through station that would help solve the ‘Castlefield Corridor’ dilemma, perhaps underground, would have been a better solution.

Perhaps the biggest criticism is the length of time the proposals will actually take – with completion of the Manchester parts of the scheme being well into the 2040s. So I won’t be around to see them!

The Rail Reform Group has produced a good statement on HS2 (sub-titled ‘A considered response’ which is available on 

Lancashire Loominary Publications

Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton – Lancashire’s Romantic Radical

This is my latest book and tells the story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer.  The book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. It is a completely new edition of the 2009 edition, and includes an entirely new chapter on his railway writings which include Horwich Loco Works, ‘The Club Train’ and the adventures of Ginger the Donkey.


Moorlands, Memories and Reflections

2020 was the centenary of the publication of Allen Clarke’s Moorlands and Memories, sub-titled ‘rambles and rides in the fair places of Steam-Engine Land’. It’s a lovely book, very readable and entertaining, even if he sometimes got his historical facts slightly wrong. It was set in the area which is now described as ‘The West Pennine Moors’ It also included some fascinating accounts of life in Bolton itself in the years between 1870 and the First World War, with accounts of the great engineers’ strike of 1887, the growth of the co-operative movement and the many characters whom Clarke knew as a boy or young man.

My book is a centenary tribute to Clarke’s classic – Moorlands, Memories and Reflections. It isn’t a ‘then and now’ sort of thing though I do make some historical comparisons, and speculate what Clarke would have thought of certain aspects of his beloved Lancashire today.

With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman.

This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory.

The group was close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

The Works: a tale of love, lust, labour and locomotives

I’ve had a steady flow of orders for The Works, my novel set mostly in Horwich Loco Works in the 1970s and 1980s, but bringing the tale up to date and beyond – a fictional story of a workers’ occupation, Labour politics, a ‘people’s franchise’ and Chinese investment in UK rail.  I’ve had lots of good reactions to it, with some people reading it in one session. The Morning Star hated it. It has been particularly popular in Horwich, which you would kind of expect, but it was nice to see people who have spent a lifetime in the loco works telling me how much they enjoyed it.



Christmas 2021 (offers end December 31st 2021 but check)


Delivery Address…………………………………………………………………….


Post code…………………….



Quantity Title Price ( + delivery)
  Lancashire’s Romantic Radical 15.00 + £3
  With Walt Whitman in Bolton 6.00 + £3
   Moorlands, Memories and Reflections                                                                                                             15.00 + £3
  The Works 6.00   + £3

See above re bundles – please note:

  • If you buy any two, the lowest priced book is free
  • You can buy all four for £30 plus postage if required
  • Maximum postage on all orders is £4 within the UK. Enquire for overseas rates
  • Local delivery (free) is by Bolton Bicycling Bookshop, otherwise Royal Mail

Please send cheque for total amount made to ‘Paul Salveson’to 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU.


If paying by BACS the account details are:

Dr P S Salveson (it’s a personal account) sort code 53-61-07

A/C no. 23448954.

Please email me with your order details and put your name and book e.g. ‘MMR’ or ‘Works’ as the reference when paying.

Lancashire Loominary 109 Harpers Lane BOLTON BL1 6HU

Phone: 07795 008691



Black Friday Deals no thanks!

Black Friday hype and all that

Sorry, I’m not offering any ‘amazing reductions’ for Black Friday. Instead I’m adding £5 on to all orders received on Friday November 26th, which will be donated to the Railway Children Charity.

So do please take advantage of this stunning offer!


HS2 lacks a mandate

HS2 lacks popular support….scrap it!

Every opinion poll conducted on the merits of HS2 show a majority of people in the UK as a whole firmly against it. Only in London does it actually have more support than opposition, which says a lot. A 2021 YouGov poll showed support for HS2 across the UK at 25% with 39% against and 11% ‘don’t know’ – the rest were neither for nor against. In London, the only region in support, 30% were in favour and 27% against, showing a large drop from the previous year.In the North of England, support was at 24% and opposition 42%.

Another UK-wide poll, conducted by Statista in 2020, showed UK 26% in favour and 42% in opposition.

A recent survey was undertaken by Redfield and Wilton Strategies and their findings were published in June this year. They tested general awareness of the HS2 project and found that to be high. They went on to comment: “Amidst this considerable awareness of the project, there is substantial opposition to it: a plurality (43%) of Britons aware of HS2 say they oppose it, compared to 29% who support HS2 and 25% who neither support nor oppose it. In April and May 2021 we found a similar 45% of those in the West Midlands metropolitan area who said they were familiar with HS2 were in opposition to the railway project.”

The pollsters also found that people view it as poor value for money: “a majority (56%) of Britons aware of HS2 say that it is a bad investment that does not represent good value for money, whereas a quarter (25%) believe it is a good investment and 18% are unsure. Following such statements, 48% of this sample think that HS2 should be scrapped and 33% think that it should not be scrapped, while 19% do not know. This demonstrates that opposition to HS2 is strong, with a plurality of Britons preferring to see HS2 scrapped than its continued development.

The professional magazine, The Engineer, undertook a poll in November 2020 which found that 77% of its readers wanted HS2 cancelled with only 23% in favour of keeping it.

From my own experience, people who oppose HS2 are not ‘petrol heads’ who want the money poured into new roads, nor Thatcherites who hate public spending. They want the money to go into improving public transport, rail, tram and bus.

All the evidence suggests that HS2 is unpopular and people think it should be scrapped. The sums of money we’re talking about – £100 billion or more – are eye-watering. The case for HS2 before the Pandemic was flimsy, to say the least. Today, it’s non-existent.

Finally, given the amounts of money involved, HS2 highlights the lack of democracy in the UK. In Switzerland, with its excellent transport network, major projects are subject to a popular vote. HS2 cries out for a referendum. I’m 100% sure that people would vote for it to be scrapped and the money put to better use in improving the rail network as a whole.