The Northern Weekly Salvo 310
Incorporating Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette etc. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary un Tum Fowt Telegraph
Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk
Moves afoot and a sad but joyous farewell
Sorry for the long gap since the last Salvo. I’ve been a bit distracted with house matters – as you’ll see below I’m upping sticks and moving to ‘Lancashire North of the Sands’ – to be more precise, Kents Bank, near Grange-over-Sands. I’m now joint owner of Station House, a fine old Furness Railway stationmaster’s house with splendid views across Morecambe Bay. It means I’m selling my lovely house (and some of the garden railway) at Harpers Lane.
Over the next couple of months there will be a steady transition to Kents Bank (served by hourly trains from Bolton). Work on Station House will be completed by early May so I’ll spend part of my time up there over the summer before taking up full residence when Harpers Lane is sold. I’ll keep a foothold in Bolton, through the Horwich sub-shed.
My friend and community rail stalwart Marjorie Birch died, suddenly, before Christmas. I attended a lovely celebration of her life at the Platform Gallery on Clitheroe station. Fittingly it was held on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Marjorie did much to promote community involvement in Lancashire’s railways, bringing her huge experience as a teacher to the work of Community Rail Lancashire. It was nice to see many children from a local school at the memorial event.
HS2 – told you so…
The saga of the HS2 farce continues to unfold, with more and more of the ill-conceived project cut back. As The Times commented, it is becoming like ‘The Black Knight’ who continues to maintain he’s perfectly OK despite more and more of his limbs being cut off. “’Tis but a scratch!” The secretary of state’s announcement that the Birmingham – Crewe section is being deferred a couple of years ‘to save money’ ought to presage its total abandonment . As supporters of the scheme have said, deferring it for two years will end up costing more. Talk about throwing good money after bad. I suppose it will get as far as Birmingham given that a lot of the building work is underway. The chances of it getting to Crewe seem increasingly slim and – at least as currently projected – won’t ever reach Manchester. Good. This scheme would have done little to support regeneration in the North, other than development schemes in the immediate area around Piccadilly. The North desperately needs investment in the local and regional network. Personally I’m not that enthusiastic about ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’, the east-west high-speed route from the Mersey to York and the Humber. Too much of it is politically-driven (even the name!) including the bonkers idea of going via Bradford. The city has fared badly from lackof rail investment but the idea that you tunnel twenty miles under the Pennines to serve the city is yet another dream that will never materialise. Build Bradford Cross-Rail to connect up the two parts of the city’s rail network – that could be delivered in a realistic timeframe and bring real benefits. As for the main Manchester – Leeds route, invest in the existing Standedge route (including re-opening the disused tunnels) and electrify Calder Valley Line via Hebden Bridge and Bradford.
True Levellers would be aghast
Labour’s victory in the West Lancashire by-election last month was hardly unexpected; the best the Tories could come up in response was to say that the 10% swing wasn’t as much as they’d expected. There were some big local issues which highlight the joke that the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda has become. In particular, the Department for Transport’s rejection of plans for a rail link to Skelmersdale, now the biggest town in the West Lancashire constituency. Skelmersdale (or ‘Skem’) was one of the 1960s new towns, built in the days when the car was king and planning was built around assumptions that universal car ownership was just a matter of time. So the railway that ran through the centre of the planned town was allowed to close and get built on. A community that grew to a population of over 40,000, mostly re-housed Liverpool families, was left stranded with only a slow bus service to get them into the city for jobs (if you were lucky) and to see friends and relatives.
In a positive display of partnership working, Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council worked with Labour’s West Lancashire Borough Council and Liverpool City Region, with its Labour mayor Steve Rotheram, to come up with a plan to get Skelmersdale back on the rail network, with a short link to the existing electrified Merseyrail network at Kirkby. It looked like a scheme tailor-made for the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ policy: getting people into jobs, offering an alternative to the car, and deliverable. Yet it was rejected as being ‘poor value for money’. Instead, a bus link has been provided to get people to the station at Kirkby. Experience has shown that these bus links, for relatively short journeys, are seldom well-used. People wanting to get to Liverpool city centre would use a direct train service, but taking a bus to then get a train is more problematic. Those that can would probably carry on driving to the nearest station.
The decision probably cost the Tories little more than a handful of votes – their supporters in Skelmersdale are a virtually extinct species. But it highlights the nonsense of civil servants in London having responsibility for a decision that should be made within the region. Meanwhile, about 30 miles to the east, the people of Oldham have been informed by the London-based Arts Council of England that all of their funding for the highly-respected Oldham Coliseum theatre is to cease. This means the theatre, which has worked hard to make itself inclusive and accessible to everyone in Oldham and beyond, will close down. The decision to stop funding the Oldham theatre is all the more perverse when the Arts Council has recognised regional imbalances yet still gone ahead with its plans that will see the end of one of the North’s most successful theatres.
About half way between Oldham and Skelmersdale is my (current) home town of Bolton. Fortunately, we’ve an excellent theatre which is, so far, managing to survive. We’ve got good rail links. Unfortunately, the fine town centre, dominated by the 150 years-old town hall, is crumbling, with empty shops and worse to come. A few weeks ago Marks and Spencer announced it was closing its town centre store, because of ‘changing shopper needs’ or some such bullshit. This comes on top of the general decline of the town centre which has seen Woolworth’s, Debenhams and dozens of small shops disappear and much-heralded development plans run into the sand. Marks and Spencer was the last remaining ‘quality’ store of any size in the town centre. Not to worry, there’s another Marks and Spencer, along with multiplex cinemas and all the big name chains, three miles away at Middlebrook – a large retail development which is poorly accessible by public transport – but has a huge free car park. The Tory-controlled Bolton Council has said it has been ‘in talks’ with the company to persuade them to stay but I suspect it would take a sizeable financial inducement to get them to reverse the decision. Not our problem? Well, yes, it is: it will accelerate the town centre’s decline with other shops and cafes that benefit from people coming into town to visit M&S becoming vulnerable. And oh yes, Bolton’s bid for ‘levelling-up’ funds to regenerate the town centre were recently turned down.
What all this adds up to is the absurdity of decisions that affect the lifeblood of communities being made by civil servants in London. The North needs strong, well-resourced and democratically-accountable regional government that can work with local authorities and the private sector to support new railways, arts facilities, town centres and much more. It would be nice if Keir Starmer and his team showed more sign of recognising this.
This is based on an article in a recent issue of Chartist magazine (www.chartist.org.uk)
What future for the station booking office?
There are growing concerns that we are about to see ‘A Beeching of the Booking Offices’, in which most if not all station booking offices will disappear. This would be disastrous for all sorts of reasons. The Rail Reform Group held a well-attended seminar before Christmas in which some creative ideas for how to re-imagine the traditional booking office were explored. A paper has now been published on the Group’s website (https://railreformgroup.org.uk/). The three key suggestions in the paper are headed ‘Bringing About Change’:
“First, it appears to be clear that reform to ticketing is desirable before major changes are made to the provision of information and tickets at stations. Reform would simplify the decisions that would-be travellers have to make, making alternative provision of tickets, for example, through convenience stores, more viable. Making changes without such reform risks eroding revenue even further.
Second, industry red tape needs to be cut back. There needs to be a way of changing the arrangements for selling tickets at stations which involve local communities and make it easier for 3rd parties to sell tickets than is the case within the current regulatory framework. There could for example be provision for 3rd parties to be rewarded for guiding customers through transactions on their own devices or for direct ticket selling. The process of agreeing changes to building use and lessee where these lie outside the operational boundaries could also be made simpler.
Third, there is scope to change the way things are done, building on current examples of good practice which have used community-led change to deliver a more market-focused railway. Change should be collaborative involving staff, managers and local communities. The whole industry – Regulator, policy makers, staff and managers need to be open to this in order to create the best possible railway within the resources available. Where it is proposed to either ‘re-purpose’ or even close a booking office, there needs to be a clear and accountable process for this, which could include bodies such as Transport Focus and local community rail partnerships.”
- Meanwhile, The Beeching of the Buses continues, with little opposition. See Colin Speakman’s excellent piece, here: https://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/national-park-bus-services
Property Page: FOR SALE: Garden Railway with Bungalow and large garden
So it’s time to move on from 109 Harpers Lane. I’ve been there nearly five years and I’ve loved it. But the attraction of my own Station House is too much to resist and keeping two houses going was neither viable nor ethical. I’ve bought the house jointly with Linda and we’ve spent the last three months getting work done on it – and spending far too much time going round B&Q, Wickes and the like. However, the aim is to restore as much of the historic features of the house as possible. Should be done by May: look out for announcements on events, including possibly one for Community Rail Day at the end of May.
Meanwhile, 109 Harpers Lane is being marketed by local estate agent Chris Ball. The asking price is £295,000, which doesn’t include the garden railway. This will be by separate negotiation as I’m hoping to accommodate at least some of it at Kents Bank. I’m hoping the house will sell over the summer. In the meantime I’m hoping to hold at least one garden party with the railway in full operation.
Details of my Bolton house are at: https://www.chrisballestates.co.uk/property-details/32156371/
Lancastrians: at a gradely book shop near you soon
Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets will be published at the end of June by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/. The page on Lancastrians says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage. Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?” The book will be published on June 29th 2023 in hardback, price £25.
Last Train from Blackstock Junction
My new book comprising 12 short stories about railway life in the North is now available. Last Train from Blackstock Junction includes a very appropriate tale about the last train from somewhere called ‘Blackstock Junction’ on November 5th 1966, when a group of kids succeeded in stopping the Glasgow – Manchester express which they mistakenly thought was the last stopping train from their local station. Oops.What very naughty boys. Don’t try this on your local railway.
The book has a very kind foreword by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, who said “As you read these stories, you’ll find some history, some romance, some politics, a little prejudice – sadly – and some humour; you will in fact be in the world of railway men and women. I hope you find them as absorbing as I did when I read Paul’s manuscript. Please enjoy his work!”
Writer and environmentalist Colin Speakman said “it is an amazing collection – powerful, moving, and what I would call ‘faction’ which tells truths even though the details may be fantasy, ‘Hillary Mantel school of history’ perhaps. Director of Platform 5 Publishing, Andrew Dyson, said “Paul’s stories provide a fascinating insight into what life was really like for thousands of railway workers.”
The tales also include a ghost story set in a lonely signalbox in Bolton, in 1900 while other stories are about life on today’s railway, including ‘From Marxist to Managing Director’ – the story of a young female political activist who ends up running a train company. Some are set in the ‘age of steam’ and life on the footplate as well as the rise of the trades unions on the railways and the rise of the Labour movement.
Salvo readers will get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.
Talks, walks and wanderings
Following the end of the Pandemic, I’ve been getting a number of invitations to give talks on various topics. Recent talks have included ‘The Social History of Lancashire’s Railways’ for Preston Historical Society, ‘Allen Clarke’s Bolton’ for Friends of Smithills Hall and Bolton U3A, ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’ for Turton LHS, ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley? and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod LHS. I’ve had several requests to give talks on my forthcoming ‘Lancastrains’ book including one for Chorley Historical Society and Stretford Probus Club.
Other topics I speak on are:
- The Lancashire Dialect Writing tradition
- The Railways of the North: yesterday, today and tomorrow
- Allen Clarke (1863-1935) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical
- The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896
- The Rise of Socialism and Co-operation in the North
- The Clarion Cycling Clubs and their Club Houses
- Walt Whitman and his Lancashire Friends
- Forgotten Railways of Lancashire
- Banishing Beeching: The Community Rail Movement
- Railways, Railwaymen and Literature
I charge fees that are affordable to the organisation concerned, to fit their budget – so by negotiation. My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. With sufficient notice I can go further afield.
There are some interesting talks coming up in the next few weeks.
- Tuesday March 14th Horwich Heritage is hosting a talk on The Handloom Weavers of Horwich by Geoff Timmins, who has written extensively on handloom weaving in Lancashire. Starts 19.30 in the Resource Centre, Beaumont Road (small admission fee for non members.
- Tuesday March 21st, 17.30 Bolton Town Hall (Mayor’s Parlour). ‘The Hidden Muslim Mayor of Victorian Manchester’. A talk by Robert ‘Reschid’ Stanley by his great x3 grand-daughter!
- On Wednesday March 22nd Alan Fowler and Terry Wyke are giving a talk on The Gradely World of Sam Fitton at Oldham Gallery, 14.00. Fitton was a highly talented writer and artist.
This film sounds good: “A laugh-out-loud story of a dysfunctional Punjabi family in the pressure cooker life of a terraced suburban home in Slough. Newly arrived from India, naive Simmy has come to marry the family’s eldest son Raj, who shockingly does a runner, leaving Simmy locked in the house by her domineering mother-in-law. However, Simmy is smarter than she appears, and soon enlists the support of the family’s disgruntled in-laws, including a sugar crazed, diabetic grandpa and dangerous, but hot, brother in law, fresh out of jail. Together they plan Simmy’s big escape.” There’s a Bolton screening. See www.littleenglishfilm.com
Salvo 309 had a good haul of readers’ letters, many on HS2 but most on the Christmas short story, The First Aid Phantom of Wayoh Sidings. It’s still on my website if you want to have an unseasonal catch-up:
Still in Print (at special prices!)
ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical £6.99 (normally £18.99)
Moorlands, Memories and Reflections £15.00 (£21.00)
The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)
With Walt Whitman in Bolton £6 (9.99)
The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16
See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £3 per order for post and packing in UK)
Several of my friends are writers and I always try to give a good plug for their work. In the last Salvo I mentioned Martin Bairstow’s excellent new publication (well, updated new edition) on Railways in the Lake Counties. In the last couple of months I’ve had copies of new books from John Davies, Les Lumsdon and Nick Burton. Here’s a summary:
From Achill Island to Zennor
I’ve known John for a long time and always admired his broad knowledge of railways across the world. His latest offering, From Achill Island to Zennor, covers his wanderings ‘to the extremes of the British Isles’. There’s much on ‘Celtic Britain’, including his native Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. John travelled extensively in Ireland and the book features his trip to Achill and also explorations around Donegal, once served by the magnificent County Donegal Railway. The book is well illustrated and anyone with an interest in ‘the wider Britain’ will love it. Email John for details on price and postage etc: email@example.com
The Heart of Wales Line Trail
Les Lumsdon has updated his guide to the Heart of Wales LineTrail, a 141 mile route from Craven Arms to Llanelli. The walk uses well-established rights of way, taking you through magnificent Welsh and borders countryside. The walk was first mooted in 2015 and was taken forward by the then Arriva Trains Wales with the Heart of Wales Line Development Co. It was launched a couple of years later and has become one of the UK’s most popular long-distance trails. The Heart of Wales Line Trail is published by Kittiwake, price £10.95. See www.kittiwake-books.com
Walks for every season
Nick Burton has done much to promote walking as a healthy and accessible activity in Blackburn and the Ribble Valley. His booklet on Lancashire- Year Round Walks describes twenty walks, with five for each season of the year. It also includes ‘top pub recommendations’. It’s a very handy little production which fits easily into your pocket. Each walk includes a map of the route with suggestions for places to eat and drink. If I’ve any criticism it would be the lack of reference to public transport links – the assumption is you’ll get to the start by car. I suspect this is the publisher’s fault rather than Nick’s. Published by Countryside Books price £5.99 see www.countrysidebooks.co.uk