The Illustrated Weekly Salvo
and Slaithwaite Review of Books
No. 31 January 2nd 2012 HAPPY NEW YEAR TO OUR READER!
Salveson’s weekly digest of news, shed codes and skewed political comment
A weekly manifestation of old-fashioned Labour politics, culture and trains. Feel free to use the ‘comments’ section of this post. You can follow me on twitter@NorthSocialists or if you’re so inclined or befriend me on facebook.
Quote of the week: A slightly religious tone! See back page for who said and where I dug out from
“In those whom we condemn as ill,
I find so much of goodness still:
In those whom we pronounce divine,
I find so much of sin and blot:
I hesitate to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.”
Managed Decline? I don’t think so….
Much has been made of the discussion in Thatcher’s cabinet about opting for the ‘managed decline’ of Liverpool in the early 1980s. I certainly think Britain’s railways were subject to a similar policy, from Beeching in the early 1960s through to the early 1990s. But ‘managed decline’ of Northern cities like Liverpool, and many more mining communities in Yorkshire and the North-East, is to dignify a process which was anything but ‘managed’. They were left to rot. ‘Managing decline’ suggests alternative measures were put in place, that the process be made as painless as possible, and alternatives sought. As if! The only alternative offered was Tebbit’s famous suggestion to ‘get on your bike’ and look for work. Liverpool is slowly coming round after decades of unmanaged decline whilst many communities in the former mining areas of South and West Yorkshire, Durham and West Cumbria have never recovered. Many communities of the North will experience ‘unmanaged decline’ in the next few years as Osbornesterity bites. The ineffectual and unaccountable ‘local enterprise partnerships’ which have replaced the regional development agencies can barely afford to support their own running costs, let alone lead regeneration. That will only come from getting the sort of devolved regional government we see working across Europe, which is both accountable and well-resourced. That’s what the Hannah Mitchell Foundation will be lobbying for in 2012.
Jimmy Reid’s Legacy
Which brings me nicely on to one of my (few) political icons of the 1980s. Jimmy Reid was one of the most outstanding British politicians of the second half of the 20thcentury. Leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ occupation, Communist Party councillor for Clydebank: he was the best working class leader of his generation. He died in August 2010. A friend recently sent me a copy of his 1972 speech on becoming Rector of Glasgow University (with the famous line about rats). He also sent it to a Conservative MP, Jesse Norman, who described the speech as ‘amazing’. It is. It’s one of the most inspiring political statements ever made – a pity it wasn’t made by a Labour Party leader, but it certainly fits with some of Ed Miliband’s recent pronouncements on ‘predator capitalism’. It’s on my website in full. Here’s part of it. A good start for 2012!
“To the students I address this appeal….. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts, and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks. The vocabulary in vogue is a give-away. It’s more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard-won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands.
The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy. Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision-making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter. In essence it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society”.
Don’t touch the wires: losers as well as winners from Trans-Pennine Electrification
Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, continues to ask awkward questions about what will happen to his Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport service under plans for Trans-Pennine electrification. Middlesbrough is on a section of line not currently proposed for electrification and has an hourly service to Manchester Airport. Un-wired Hull and Scarborough also have hourly TransPennine Express services to Manchester.
Tom has tabled a parliamentary question asking about the Government’s plans and received a prompt response from Theresa Villiers saying that the department of Transport has asked Network Rail to look into the business case for the extension. The MP has responded by insisting that key agencies in Tees Valley are involved in the process so it is not just a desk exercise performed in London with a pre-determined outcome (and guess what that is!). The opinion of The Salvo is that there should be a case for wider electrification in Tees-side including Darlington to Saltburn via Middlesbrough. This well-used local service, currently operated mainly by ‘Pacers’, desperately needs investment. Yet the ambitious plans for a ‘Tees Valley Metro’ have been quietly left to die.
What the Darlington – Saltburn route needs is a good quality local electric service running very 15/20 minutes, connecting into TransPennine, Whitby and Durham Coast services at Middlesbrough and the East Coast Main Line at Darlington. Bishop Auckland should have an hourly connecting service from Darlington. Meanwhile, what of Scarborough and Hull? The citizens of both places seem to have lost their voices, or not realised that current plans will leave them high, dry and un-electrified. Hull should be an obvious contender for wiring, though Scarborough may be more difficult to justify.
The Salvo Plan to run the current Blackpool to York service on to Scarborough, instead of having a train slumbering in the bay platform of York for nearly an hour, is good railway sense and still gives the seaside town a link to Leeds and the North-West. Scarborough remains an opportunity for open access operators such as Grand Central, if they could get paths down the East Coast Main Line – or even couple up with Sunderland – Kings Cross services at York, if the temperamental 180s would do it! Meanwhile, Tom, keeping asking awkward questions and back it up with a broad campaign.
Salvo’s Campaign to ‘Save Our Stoppers’
Comments in last year’s Salvo about the growing threat to stopping services on lines used by faster InterCity or inter-regional services got a huge postbag of positive responses (well, two from memory). It was stimulated by concerns that the stopping train service between Huddersfield and Manchester Victoria would be axed as part of ‘Northern Hub’ plans to run six TransPennine services an hour between Leeds and Manchester. Local stations would be served by these trains calling on a ‘skip-stop’ pattern. The salvo from The Salvo was that would break connectivity between local communities and make some journeys much more difficult (especially to/from Ashton). Call me stick-in-the-mud Salveson but four fast trains an hour, providing they have sufficient capacity (i.e. at least six cars) is more than sufficient for present and likely future demand. The issue is not confined to the Trans-Pennine route. A correspondent from the south-west voiced concerns about local trains west of Exeter being at risk from being shoved out of the way by InterCity services. The same applies on the Hope Valley Line between Manchester and Sheffield, where the local stopping service is mostly two-hourly – except on Saturdays when it goes to hourly! Why you ask? Because of pathing problems Monday to Friday. More examples welcome!
Crank Question for 2012 ( answers from Christmas Crank’s Quiz are on my website)
This week’s question is: What was the last ’main line’ to be constructed in the UK (not including The Selby Diversion or HS1). Respondents should define what they mean by a ‘main line’.
Leeds New Line Expedition: report from the Front Line in Heckmondwike by The New Line 5
The pre-Christmas safari into the heart of the Heavy Woollen District of North Kirklees, exploring the disused ‘Leeds New Line’, was a qualified success. A ‘success’ insofar as it was a sunny day, the five of us enjoyed the delving (and fish and chips in Gildersome’s ‘Wild Ocean Fish Bar’) and we witnessed a most interesting piece of railway archaeology. But, to qualify, our hopes that we would return convinced that re-opening the line was possible were mercilessly dashed.
But first, some background information for readers not au faitwith the precise route and the reasons for its construction. In the 1890s the London and North Western Railway realised that its route between Huddersfield and Leeds via Dewsbury was clogged with traffic and options to widen it beyond Thornhill (where the L&Y continued on to Wakfeiled) were impractical. With business elan worthy of ‘The Premier Line’ it was decided to build a ‘new line’, leaving the Huddersfield –Leeds route at Heaton Lodge, just west of Mirfield. The line then took a sinuous – but fast – route through Heckmondwike and Clekheaton before rejoining the existing line at Farnley Junction (55C – ancestral home of such fine specimens as ‘Alberta’, ‘Rodney’ and ‘Bihar and Orissa’). Not a company to do anything by half, the LNWR also built a further new route into Leeds over Farnley Viaduct, most of which remains, though disused. It ran above the loco depot at Holbeck and was great for train spotters.
But anyway, I digress…what was promoted as ‘The Leeds New Line’ opened in 1900 with several stations serving such delightful places as Clekheaton, Heckmondwike and Gildersome. Most stations had ‘Spen’ added to their titles to distinguish them from the nearby ‘ Lanky’ route.
For many years the line had a mix of stopping trains and faster services. I can remember a former Farnley Junction driver (by the name of Harry Thurlow I think) telling me of the famously tightly-timed ‘Papers’ train which ran in the early hours from Manchester via Huddersfield and ‘New Line’ to Leeds. Although the line was heavily curved the tracks were well cambered and some drivers ran a bit faster than they should have done. On one occasion, the old driver recalled, they went so fast the engine was actually riding on one rail, with the other wheels some inches above the other rail! A junior management trainee who was riding in the cab promptly handed in his notice on arrival in Leeds, saying the job was much too dangerous for him.
Would you mind getting on with the story?(– Gregory). OK, so…We set off from Batley station using Michael’s car. First stop was Farnley Junction. Little of the former flyover remained but the junction was unobstructed. A walk across a field revealed a panoramic view of the alignment curving away towards Gildersome Tunnel. On the other side, the
route emerges into what is now the massive Birstall Retail Park, skirting the edge of the busy site. Clearly, a station serving the horrendous place would do well. Yet our confidence began to ebb as we explored further. New housing development, a factory built across the route and deep cuttings in-filled began to curb our optimism. We didn’t exactly give up our quest but time was getting on and there was something we wanted to see. This was the remarkable ‘Cleckheaton Viaduct’ built by the LNWR to provide foot passenger and goods access from Cleckheaton town centre to its station at (you guessed it) ‘Cleckeaton Spen. The iron structure crosses a wide valley and is a remarkable piece of engineering.
These days it is only used by walkers. We were lucky enough to meet a local chap who works in the former railway stable block – all that remains of the station. He had long memories of the place, using the station to go on holiday, and to do his courting. From here on the route seems less obstructed and intersects with the ‘Spen Valley Greenway’ beyond Heckmondwike. A new link was just being completed onto the cycleway. Although disappointed, ‘TheNew Line 5’ resolved to complete its explorations early in the New Year. Your correspondent will report back on our further investigation in due course.
Morley is quite a nice place
I’m not quite sure how Morley was selected as our pre-Christmas ‘treat’ visit. But I found myself waiting for Hester on a wet and windy morning, looking down to Morley (formerly ‘Low’) station and its neighbouring tunnel after alighting from my well-filled ‘Pacer’
competently crewed by Huddersfield (55G) men. It seemed like a scene from the Dickens’ story ‘The Signalman’ with spooky goings-on inside a dark, miserable tunnel. I was expecting to hear someone shouting ‘Hallo…below there….” But no-one did.
I must say we were both impressed by Morley town centre. One of its most famous daughters is Beryl Burton, the champion cyclist, who is commemorated by a fine mural (see pic on website ‘Illustrated Weekly Salvo’) behind the main shopping street. The town is also birthplace of the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. The main street is largely pedestrianised and another famous product of the town, Ernie Wise, is commemorated with a statue. The market hall was busy and there were no sign of empty stalls.
Despite its closeness to Leeds, this is no twee suburb of the professional middle class; it’s a down-to-earth town with a sense of pride which is un-mistakeable. The real piece de resistance of Morley is its town hall. It’s a hugely impressive structure, not dissimilar to Bolton’s but on a smaller scale. Morley still has its own town council and there seemed to be lots going on. We popped in to look at the Carnegie Library which as some fine tiled illustrations in the entrance hall. Facing it is a fine bit of old Labour history – ‘Unity Hall’, belonging to the local Labour Party. Groundwork Trust is based in a well-restored mill building and contains some displays on the town’s social and industrial history.
We had coffee in Cuccina’s, an interestingly modernist restaurant at the end of the main street, which was fine, though the stew and dumplings in nearby Sylvia’s also looked tempting. Next time. So despite a wet and miserable day, we enjoyed Morley and would go back to sample the town park and delve a bit deeper into this fascinating small town. When it’s not raining. Maybe during the town’s annual Literature Festival next October.
Holiday reading: Irish railways, ‘Arold, Emigrants and Mill-owning Socialists
The holiday period is nearly over and I must say I would have liked to have done a bit more reading. However, I did get chance to make a start on W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, which has been lying around, un-read, for years. Having been given a copy of his strange and engrossing Austerlitz, an excellent read if you persist after the first 20 or so pages, I had been meaning to read more Sebald. This German writer settled in Britain in the 1970s, spending much time in Manchester teaching Literature. He has a remarkable sense of place (and obviously likes railways). A more obscure acquisition was J. Percival Davies’ The Politics of a Socialist Employer, published privately in Skipton in 1929. Davies was a mill-owner, Quaker and active member of the Labour Party. He was en-nobled by Attlee in 1945 and was involved in running a socialist guest house and cultural centre on the outskirts of Clitheroe, at a place called Heys Farm. Does any reader know where it is? I’ve also made a start on Paul Routledge’s biography of Harold Wilson. It sheds some interesting light on the circumstances of his departure in 1976, but I’m only at the early part of the book. I read Lesley Smith’s biography, published in 1963 (before he became PM), just before Christmas. Useful for information on his early life in Huddersfield (Cowlersely, which happens to be in the ward I’m fighting in May). Harold was a bit of a train-spotter who liked model railways and maintained his railway interest in adult life. As a bright young chap he won the Gladstone prize for his 18,000 word essay on the state and railways. My railway reading has been Martin Bairstow’s new Railways in Ireland (Part 4) which covers the Great Southern and Western. Martin always writes knowledgeably and goes beyond the dry recital of facts so beloved of many more tedious railway writers. He provides a wider social context too, which is so often missed out. My one criticism is his failure to allude to the railway writings of Flann O’Brien, a great novelist, train-spotter and acute, if sometimes warped, observer. His work would have seemed to be an obvious point of reference for the historian. Someone needs to get Martin a collection of his writings in time for his 60th birthday.
Worth Valley Railway: 50 years on and still going strong
The last train from Keighley to Oxenhope, or so it seemed at the time, ran on December 30th1961. Thanks to the efforts of people like Bob Cryer MP, and thousands more, the line re-opened. Cryer’s vision was always of a railway which would provide a service for the local community as well as a tourist attraction, but that utopian combination has so far eluded railway preservationists.
A wet Friday December 30th found Jonathan and myself riding up the Worth Valley behind ‘Derby 4’ 43924 sporting a slightly ludicrous ‘82E’ (not even going to ask) shed-plate*. The Derby 4s make a lovely sound when working hard and a bit of window-hanging was in order (see pic on website).
The main event was a commemorative DMU service from Oxenhope to Keighley, returning as a symbolic ‘last train’ at 1800 (the original ‘last train’ left at 23.30 but most people around these parts are safely tucked up in bed by then). The changing nature of Yorkshire life was highlighted by the presence of the Lord Mayor of Bradford – Councillor Naveeda islam, Britain’s first Muslim woman mayor. And a true Lancastrian, born in Rochdale! She spoke about ‘community empowerment’ and obviously loved every minute of the eccentric event. Her speech on a wet Oxenhope platform was well received and was followed by a further
contribution from Councillor Tony Wright, the more ‘traditional’ Mayor of Keighley. He stressed his support for achieving that early vision of a real ‘community railway’ providing a transport service for the valley as well as the opportunity for cranks like Jonathan and myself to ride behind Derby 4s, long after most locomotive firemen had hoped they were gone forever.
*For the shed code-unaware, 82E was Bristol (Barrow Road), home of possibly my last Jubillee 45682
Clarion Tea Rooms: best (and cheapest) left-wing brew in Lancashire
What better way to start 2012 than a visit to the wonderful Clarion Tea Rooms, at Roughlee,
near Nelson, Lancs. The socialist café celebrates its centenary this year and lots of events are being planned. If you haven’t been there, you are missing one of the best treats in Lancashire. It exudes the spirit of Northern ethical socialism, with images of Keir Hardie looking down at you. The building is still owned by Nelson ILP Land Society and the original construction was financed by a loan of £350 from the Nelson Weavers Association. (Did they ever get it back I wonder?).The fine new banner emblazoned with the words ‘Socialism Our Hope’ is on display inside the café. We arrived, to our shame, by car (there is no parking at the café but room further down the road or in Barley). Most of our fellow tea-drinkers had come by foot. Cyclists, unusually, were thin on the ground but who could blame them for staying at home on a wet and windy day. The café doesn’t do food but you are welcome to bring your own. Tea is charged at an exorbitant 45p, or 55p for a gallon-size mug and tastes superb. The café opens every Sunday and during the summer the ‘Hopper Bus’ provides a link from Nelson. Map ref. is SD 832 396.
Up on Th’Moors with Philip Snowden
After our New Year’s injection of ‘socialism with a northern accent’ with industrial
quantities of tea, we headed east across the frontier, into darkest North Yorkshire. It was a bank holiday so the customs and immigration office was shut. We were heading for Philip Snowden’s memorial, on Ickornshaw Moor and we weren’t sure where it was. We needn’t have worried though. The ‘Viscount Snowden Memorial Cairn’ is very well sign-posted off the main A6068 Colne – Keighley road. After negotiating flooded farm tracks we saw the cairn in the distance. It’s a short but wet and muddy walk to the cairn itself which looks out proudly across Yorkshire, with perhaps a squint in the direction of Lancashire too. This is where the ashes of Snowden, Labour’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer, and prime mover in the early ILP, were scattered along with those of his wife Ethel who out-lived him by a decade. He died on May 15th 1937, after he had deserted Labour to join the National Government in 1931. The plate on the cairn reads:
“In this place, mingled with the soil and near the friends he loved, are the ashes of Philip Snowden, first Viscount of Ickornshaw, who lived his whole life in the service of the common people and died in the love of his native land.”
Nearby is the cottage where he was born, at the end of a row of houses called ‘Middleton’. Don’t even think about driving up there, because you will not get out. Somewhere on the A6068 is a memorial tree planted by friends from Holmfirth but we didn’t manage to track it down. But we’ll go back on a finer day and see what there is to see about this most tragic of Labour leaders.
Socialism with a Northern Accent: radical traditions for modern times NEARLY READY, honest
My new book is being published by Lawrence and Wishart, which also publishes Soundings will be out by the end of the monrth, with a bit of luck (but don’t quote me). It will be priced at £14.99 but there is a pre-publication offer for readers of ‘The Weekly Salvo’ at just £11.99 plus £3 post and packing. The offer is still available (obviously, if it hasn’t been published – Gregory, SJ).The book covers early radical movements and focuses on some of the grass-roots, often libertarian, decentralist traditions which have been forgotten. Above all it attempts to do justice to the Independent labour Party’s brand of ‘ethical socialism’ which was so strongly rooted in the North. But it’s not just a history lesson, it makes the case for democratic regional government for the North today. Please email me if you’re interested and I’ll send you a pdf of the order form.
Special Traffic Notices: The Year Ahead!
January 5th: AGM of Denby Dale Labour Party; Salvo speaking
January 10th: Elland Labour Party: Salvo on transport issues
January 17th: ‘Were the Luddites Right?’ Free University of Slawit
February 22nd: Landor Conference on ‘Stations’ London
July 14th: Durham Miners’ Gala
– Meg Merrlies
Quote of the week: Joaquin Miller, quoted by Allen Clarke in the 1930 edition of Teddy Ashton’s Lancashire Annual