The Northern Weekly Salvo

From Th’Edge O’Leet. Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, BikkiRail, Weekly Notices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly. Contains no Isinglass

No. 219 September 25th 2016    

Salveson’s digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, often not; but definitely Northern. Read by normal Hawaiians, the highest officers of state, Whitmanites, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, pie-eaters, tripe dressers, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and nobody else’s.

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

General Gossips

Welcome back to the first Salvo in my new Lancashire home. And it does feel like home, even though it’s only five weeks since I moved. The important jobs are done: the books are unpacked and the garden railway is operating! Yes, the first loaded test run took place on Saturday, prior to the official opening next Saturday. It looks very good indeed, in some ways better than its former incarnation at Bank Top.

I’m just under a mile away from Croston station, which is my gateway to the outside world (except on Sundays, when there are no trains).

Evening view of the lakes from The Velo Cafe near Croston

Evening view of the lakes from The Velo Cafe near Croston

It’s a 17 minutes’ walk or a five minute bike ride. And it’s great cycling country round here, as I’m busy finding out. Just down the road is the marvellous Velo Cafe – a shrine to all things cycling, situated next to an artificial lake and serving excellent coffee and yummy cakes and ‘gourmet burgers’. It feels more Danish than English (and that’s a compliment by the way).

Being over on the ‘west’ side means that my longer distance travels are often with Virgin, which I must say offers a good service, especially when it’s a Preston crew. But roll on our Arriva open access service from Blackpool to London in 2018. Preston itself is the home to Northern’s new ‘West’ regional directorate, headed up by the lovely Sharon Keith, formerly of Tyne and Wear Metro. I’m sure she’ll bring the same energy and commitment to her new role that she showed in the North-East.

Corbyn wins again…and trouble at th’Co-op

Well no surprises there…and here’s hoping that the various sides of Labour will pull together and form an effective opposition. It’s a poor do when even the Tories are wishing they had a stronger opposition to keep them on their toes (see interview with George Osborne in weekend FT). There have been suggestions that some of the right-inclined Labour MPs who hate Corbyn are going to re-group within the Co-operative Party. That’s an odd idea and doesn’t seem to have gone down well with many co-operators judging by comment in recent issues of Co-operative News. But it does raise questions about the Co-operative Party, which needs a fairly drastic re-think if you ask me (actually no-one is). It was formed as a sort of sister organisation to the Labour Party back in the 20s and doesn’t stand candidates against Labour. I was unceremoniously kicked out of the Co-operative Party when I stood against Labour in 2015. But at a time when Labour is struggling and there are other parties on the left who support co-operative values (the Greens, SNP, Plaid, etc.) the Co-operative movement should be asking whether the ‘Co-operative Party’ hasn’t gone well past its sell-by date and needs to re-position itself as a political lobbying force which isn’t tied to one particular party.

Bus cuts loom in Herefordshire

Herefordshire Council is consulting about what could become a new ‘Beeching of the Buses’ in the rural county. Campaign group Rail and Bus for Herfordshire is saying ‘Say No to More Bus Cuts’ and is urging people who use buses in the country to respond to the consultation (see www.herfordshire.gov.ukbusreview2016).If the council’s plans take effect the bus network will be reduced to just four priority routes, three of which are already operating comemrcially anyway, without subsidy. For more details of the campaign contact railfh@aol.com

Cambrian Railways Re-born

A victim of a previous round of cuts was the forme Cambrian ‘main line’ from Oswestry to Welshpool. Parts of it are being revived by Cambrian Railways Heritage – the group has just completed purchase of some of the former bay platform at Gobowen station and has bases at Oswetsry itself and at Llynclys.

Idyllic rural scene at Llynclys on the Cambrian

Idyllic rural scene at Llynclys on the Cambrian

I stopped off at Llynclys last Sunday for a pleasant run down to the line’s current terminus at Pen-y-Garreg, near Pant. The ageing Metro-Cammell class 101 looked a bit the worse for wear but sounded in good nick and the volunteer staff were friendly and welcoming. Well worth a  visit!

Re-thinking regionalism

The last Salvo, way back in August, carried a piece on the Northern Powerhouse which was subsequently published in Chartist magazine. It suggested that the new PM was less enthused with the idea of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ than her predecessor and George Osborne whom she kicked out of the cabinet. Subsequently, there have been denials that the ‘big idea’ of ex-chancellor George has been side-lined but the signs are ominous – the biggest one being the recent resignation of Jim O’Neill from the government, who was very much at the core of the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Interestingly, Osborne has launched a ‘Northern Powerhouse Partnership’ to drive forward his project, showing the usual lack of ‘inclusivity’ in its formation.

A new Nortehrn Powerhouse owned by the North needs to address urban problems

A new democratised Northern Powerhouse owned by the North needs to address urban problems

Businesses, local authorities and the great and the good are involved but as for any democratic accountability, forget it. Insider Media ran a story saying “the new Northern Powerhouse Partnership is hoping to add value to the work already underway by being a focus for research, intelligence and co-ordination with important stakeholders in the North. The overriding goal of the independent not-for-profit partnership is to ensure that the vision continues to be developed and delivered. Its business-led board will comprise influential business figures from across the North East, Yorkshire and North West, while there will also be political representation to ensure city leaders have their say and the Northern Powerhouse remains an all-party strategy.”

Which is fine. There’s room for several different bodies raising the profile of the North. There is still a huge space for a progressive regionalism that can challenge the establishment-oriented ‘Northern Powerhouse Partnership’ and promote a radical democratic agenda. Devolution should be about devolving real power to accountable bodies, not creating unelected quangos which involve safe, selected ‘business leaders’ and politicians. There is a growing number of progressive regionalist bodies across the North, including The Yorkshire Party (formerly Yorkshire First), the North-east party and the Same Skies Collective. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a cross-party lobby for democratic regionalism. All need to work together to build a Northern alternative that pushes for elected regional government, elected by a fair voting system, with the power and resources to make a real difference. Similar in fact to Scotland, only the North, taken as a whole, is three times larger in population terms.

A radical Northern regionalism should work with like-minded progressives in Scotland, Wales and the English regions. It should build contacts with radical regionalists elsewhere across Europe and maintain the flame of a ‘Europe of the Regions’. There is the political space in the North to do it, given Labour’s total lack of interest in democratic regionalism, the low profile of the Lib Dems and the Greens apparent shift away from espousing real devolution. Is a new political formation the way to achieve it? I’m not so sure…there is support for democratic regionalism within Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, the small regionalist parties and lots of non-aligned people who are pro-democracy, pro-Europe, socially progressive and anti-statist. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation, as a non-aligned radical regionalist force, is well placed to bring that progressive regionalist alliance together. So watch this space.

Shed cat allocated to new depot

A recent addition to the household is ‘Justina’ – a 20-years old mog who has been living a semi-feral existence since her owner (at no. 4) had the audacity to die six months ago.

Justina decides to have a cat nap in between Dreamies

Justina decides to have a cat nap in between Dreamies

Justina seems to have decided that the new occupant of no. 8 is sufficiently gullible to allow her in and get fed, on a regular basis. She is also looked after by most of the other residents on the terrace. But it’s nice to have a cat around the place and she will be allocated an appropriate shed code in due course.

The Bretherton Bibliophile’ (formerly The Slaithwaite Review of Books and Bookshops)

The big ‘new book’ find of the month was the 2015 edition of Fred Bower’s autobiography Rolling Stonemason. It had been out of print and virtually impossible to find for decades. Fred was a radical activist in the early 20th century and was closely aligned to the anarcho-syndicalist movement. Much of his life was spent on Merseyside and he worked on the new Liverpool Cathedral in the early 1900s. He and his workmate Jim Larkin (who became one of Ireland’s greatest union leaders) left a message in the foundations of the cathedral which has become famous (in some quarters anyway).  On  June 27, 1904 he and Larkin buried a tin time capsule in the magnificent building’s foundations. The message reminded future generations that “within a stone’s throw from here, human beings are housed in slums not fit for swine.”

Fred Bower

Fred Bower

The book is an excellent read and includes an account of the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, which featured an unprovoked police attack on a mass demonstration outside St George’s Hall which left dozens injured. The book is published by Merlin Press and I got my copy from Housman’s on Caledonian Road, just round the corner from King’s Cross station.

The other big find was in the amazing labyrinth of antique and bookstalls in the old cotton mill at Eccleston (near Bretherton), now branded as ‘Bygone Times’. Several stalls have good transport sections and one in particular has some very scarce railway documents, including internal notices and obscure working documents. The first amazing find was an individually produced briefing for a senior officers’ inspection tour of the North-West  on the 23rd and 24th of February 1953.It includes detailed maps and commercial information about passenger footfall, tonnages carried by goods departments, and revenue figures. It includes photographs (original prints) of places to be visited, showing passenger and goods facilities. It goes so far as to include the list of attendees at what we would now call a ‘stakeholder dinner’ on the evening of the 23rd, inevitably at the Adelphi Hotel, close to Lime Street station. Guests included the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, the leader of the City Council, chairman of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, chairman of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, pro vice-chancellor of Liverpool University and other leading business figures including Chairman of the Liverpool Steamship Owners’ Association. The media was included too, with the MD of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. It must have been some gathering.

A similarly fascinating publication, from the same era, was an internal BR booklet published in 1950 outlining times of an Officers’ Special to inspect stations competing in the 1950 Station Garden Prizes competition in the ‘North Eastern Operating Area’. station-garden-specialThe special train set off on Monday July 17th from York, departing at the civilised time of 09.05. It called at several stations to inspect gardens including those at Burton Salmon, Moorthorpe, Tadcaster, Spofforth, Starbeck, Goldsborough returning via Cattal and calling at Marston Moor and Poppleton – which still has splendid gardens and its own community rail nursery. The special continued to Naburn, Escrick and Riccall, arriving in York at 16.02 (4.02 pm).The trips continued each weekday until Friday August 18th totalling 20 outings in all. It would be fascinating to find some photographs of the outings; they must exist. The saloon used for the trip was No. 902177, just in case you were interested. I think the particular trip I would most liked to have travelled on was Tour no. 19 which took the great and good from BR to visit station gardens at Wark, Reedsmouth, Plashetts, Kielder Forest. Marvellous. And the final ‘great find’ for a mere £1.30 was the Greater Manchester Council promotional booklet for The Picc-Vic Project, published in April 1975. piccvic-picOh, what might have been! The plan was for routes from Bolton and Bury joining at Radcliffe and using what is now Metrolink to a new ‘Victoria Low Level’ and tunnelling under the city with stations at Royal Exchange, Central, Whitworth and Piccadilly Low Level. Trains would continue to Macclesfield and Alderley Edge and Macclesfield with a future extension to Buxton. There would have been extensions from Oldham and Rochdale in a Stage 2 of the scheme. The concept is as relevant now as then (even with Metrolink) and better value than HS2 if you ask me (but maybe no-one will…).

And a late notice…take a look at this about New York Public Library, with a good practical use for a railway….https://www.indy100.com/article/this-library-has-built-a-railway-for-books-and-its-awesome-7329316?utm_source=indy&utm_medium=top5&utm_campaign=i100 (thanks Harriet)

Diggers in Wigan and RMT eats all the pies

The annual Diggers’ festival in the pie-eating capital of Lancashire (Wigan) was a great event. The festival celebrates the memory of the great radical thinker (and do-er) Gerrard Winstanley who hailed from Wigan. Ken Loach was the guest speaker and went down well with the crowd.

Craig Johnston models Wigan RMT's stylist t-shirt

Craig Johnston models Wigan RMT’s stylist t-shirt

The food was good and there was a fascinating range of stalls, including Incredible Edible Todmorden and Wigan RMT. I particularly liked the union branch’s t-shirt, modelled by RMT officer Craig Johnston, which proclaimed ‘Love Pies – hate Racism’. I’m still waiting for it, Craig.

Arriva in Llandrindod

Our Society and Communities Improvement Network had a productive and enjoyable couple of days in Llandrindod, sharing ideas and experience on community engagement. We had guests from the Heart of Wales Line Development Company and Cambrian rail Partnership. Visits (sadly not in an Offices’ Special) were made to Llandovery to see the excellent community-run station cafe and gardens, and then on to Llandeilo to inspect the ‘transportable station hub’ – or caboose.

Community Rail’s Big Night

This week it’s the national Community Rail Awards, in Southport on Thursday night. It is the biggest-ever night since the awards were started 12 years ago (in Norwich). Over 400 guests from the railway industry, government and local communities will enjoy an evening in the Floral Hall. Earlier in the day there’s a conference on new developments in community rail and on the following day there’s a gala at Southport station. A full report of the winners will be in the next Salvo but for the full shortlist go here: http://acorp.uk.com/eventsawards/community-rail-awards/

A warm Lancashire welcome to Daisy and Emily

Community Rail Lancashire’s two newly-appointed education workers have been appointed. Daisy and Emily are based at the Accrington Bumnker and are already getting stuck into the job, both full of ideas. Good luck to you both – you are the future face of community rail!

Special Traffic Notices

Wakefield’s Red Shed (56A) still going strong! See http://www.theredshed.org.uk/

Hebden Bridges Trades Club is alive and well after the devastating floods: support them! http://thetradesclub.com/

The Red and Green Club has a full programme of events over the next couple of months. Go to https://www.facebook.com/redandgreenmilnsbridge for more details. A photographic group has been established and welcomes new members. 42 Bankwell Road, Milnsbridge, Huddersfield.

Bolton Socialist Club continues to develop its wide range of activities including poetry, film and talks. See http://boltonsocialistclub.org.uk/

Glossop Labour Club has a regular programme of events including a Red Film Club on June 5th: http://www.glossoplabourclub.org.uk/

The Jubilee Station Refreshment Rooms has a great programme of talks – see www.jubileerefreshmentrooms.co.uk;