The Northern Weekly Salvo

From Th’Edge O’Leet

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly.

No. 253  April  24th 2018

Salveson’s nakedly political 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, bi-guys, pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, 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 usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity, possibly. Promoting moderate rebellion and sedition, within reason.

“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 – Scotland in Spring

Here’s your Salvo number 253, mostly full of reports from my holiday in Scotland.

We caught up with ‘The Royal Scotsman’ on our way to Skye…here it’s heading towards Achnasheen, for Kyle of Lochalsh. Even to look at this train costs you a lot of money.

The trip took in New Lanark, the 150th celebrations of the Far North Line at Rogart, followed by a week’s holiday on Skye. We returned via Glenfinnan with a bit of steam-bashing. The last leg of the journey included a delightful interlude travelling on the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway.

More on data protection

Thanks to everyone who emailed me following the special notice in Salvo 252 about data protection. If you want to carry on receiving your Salvo by email it’s essential that you let me know (a simple email will do, or more elaborate email is fine as well). The new laws come into force next month, so all being well (subject to the exigencies of the Salvo) there will be one more warning and then that’s it.

Simple Salvo Says

The political air north of the border is always fresher than here in England. The increasingly desperate right-ward drift of English Conservative politics is scary, and I don’t get much comfort from the Labour Party, which feels more and more tribal. I realise some of my friends in the Labour Party will hate me for saying that, and there you are. There’s some grounds for hope, highlighted by the recent Ctrl-Shit conference in Wigan (see further) but a lot of the interesting stuff is outside the Labour Party mainstream. Am I looking at Scotland through rose-tinted specs? Maybe, but I’d be quite comfortable living under an SNP government, with a strong Green influence. But again, some of the really interesting things happening in politics are outwith the mainstream – such as the Radical Independence Campaign and Commonweal. And how many parts of the UK have a wide circulation radical local weekly paper? I refer to The West Highland Free Press, published on Skye and representing a standard of local journalism that has long since disappeared in most parts of Britain. Long may it thrive.

Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway

We stopped off at Leadhills and Wanlockhead both on the way up and coming back. This is a very remote – and elevated – part of southern Scotland, once notable for its lead mining. The Museum of Lead Mining at Wanlockhead is fascinating – and the cafe is highly recommended.

Glengonnar Halt, current terminus of the line, 1498″ up

The Caledonian Railway ran a branch from the main line at Elvanfoot, which climbed to 1498’ above sea level – making it the highest adhesion railway in Britain. The line was standard gauge and survived until 1938, when the mines closed. For some years, there was a passenger service connecting these two isolated communities with the outside world. Today, the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway is a volunteer-run heritage railway, 2’ gauge. It is a lovely run from Leadhills (where the society is based) up to Glengonnar Halt. It operates at weekends and we were able to catch an afternoon working, powered by a Hunslet diesel. There are many remains of the mining industry along the route, and the society hopes to extend its operations beyond Glengonnar, towards Wanlockhead, in the near future. It’s a fascinating, and friendly, operation. Another place worth seeing is the Miners’ Library in Leadhills, the oldest subscription library in the UK, which opened its doors, and books, in 1741. If you are heading north – or south – on the M74, it’s well worth breaking your journey to visit this fascinating area.

Far North 150th

For some reason – perhaps more to do with distance and remoteness than any intrinsic qualities, or lack of  – the Far North Line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso doesn’t get the same recognition as the West Highland, or the Kyle Line. Yet it’s a remarkable journey, full of historical interest and scenic beauty. It was a privilege to be invited to an event at Rogart station last week to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the line. Accommodation was provided in one of Frank and Kate Roach’s Mk2 carriages, which have been converted to sleeping car accommodation. The business is marketed as Sleeperzzz if you fancy a trip north.

Frank, sporting rather stylish headgear, passes round The Glenmorangie, to an appreciative audience despite ‘STOP’ sign in background. Philip Haigh of RAIL is taking no notice. By eck it were cold.

The mid-day train was piped into the station by Fraser Roach and dad Frank passed around glasses of malt whisky to the shivering throng. Speeches were made by Frank, Transport Scotland’s Bill Reeve and by Lord Strathnaver who unveiled a commemorative plaque. ScotRail’s John Yellowlees, in good ambassadorial mode, was seen clutching a ‘Far North 125’ nameplate rescued from a class 158 unit. How time flies. The party then retreated to the nearby pub and enjoyed a buffet lunch, followed by shunting in the goods yard using Frank’s 4-wheel diesel shunter.

Storr Lochs Electric Railway

We stayed in a wonderful eco-house near Broadford (google ‘Fearna’ or check it on Air BnB) and spent a week with the kids and touring round. It might surprise some readers to know that Skye (and neighbouring Raasay) is full of railway interest.

Salvo does a bit of Skye shed-bashing…railway, loco and its shed in background. Very pleased with this discovery.

There are some long-deceased lines but I was amazed to find, completely by accident, a working railway on the island. Its weird how I am often drawn to places like this, some sort of extra-sensory perception. I refer to The Storr Lochs Electric Railway which operates a short distance from the top of a cliff down to the hydro-electric power station on the beach below. I am informed that it uses three Pelton turbine generators and is employed very occasionally to move equipment down to the power station (there is no road access). It would be amazing to see it working, even better to ride on it.

The SSE website tells us more about this highly sustainable form of power and the role of Tom Johnston in turning vision into reality: “Hydro electricity is produced using the power of running water to turn the turbines of generating sets in power stations. The technology dates back to the late 19th Century when the first privately owned hydro electric power stations were built to power the aluminium smelting industry and to provide local electricity supplies. But it took the vision of one man, Tom Johnston, the Secretary of State for Scotland in Churchill’s wartime coalition government, to bring power from the glens for the benefit of all. At the time, it was estimated that just one farm in six, and one croft in a hundred, had electricity. Today, virtually every home in Scotland has mains electricity”.

Nearby is a long-disused railway (closed c. 1920) that brought diatomite, used to make dynamite, down from the mountains – the trackbed is clearly visible near Lealt. The Railscot website has this to say:  “The line was a 2 foot gauge tramway. In a description from 1905 the line was worked by manpower and gravity, later it appears to have had a locomotive.

Industrial remains on the shore – drying and grinding used to go on here

It ran from Loch Cuithir (where the diatomite was extracted from the lochbed and initially dried on wire nets) to the clifftop at Invertote where there were storehouses. At the foot of the cliff was a drying and grinding factory where the diatomite was kiln dried, ground and calcined (roasted). An extension of the line ran from the factories to the pier. A second facility carried diatomite from Loch Valerain by aerial ropeway to Staffin Bay. Between these the Skye Diatomite company extracted 2000 tons. Today the line and works are closed and ruined and Loch Valerain is worked out.” So now you know. It adds “The Diatomite was converted into kieselguhr which was used by Nobel Explosives at Ardeer to mix with nitroglycerine to make Dynamite. Diatomite has many uses and is still prepared in many parts of the world.” There are remains of the drying and grinding factory on the beach (pic).

Photting The Jacobite

West Coast Railway Company’s Jacobite train is a long-established part of the Scottish tourism scene and goes from strength to strength. During the peak of the season two steam-hauled trains operate, between Fort William and Mallaig. The season is gradually extending and this year trains have been running since before Easter and continue to October, Mondays to Fridays.

Worth nearly falling down a cliff for….

The current service is being operated by LMS Black 5 45407 masquerading as 45157 carrying the nameplate ‘Glasgow Highlander’. The arrival of the ferry from Armadale allowed sufficient time to head down the line and find a suitable photographic position. Loch nan Uamh Viaduct passes over the road and there’s a handy parking spot. I managed to perch on a rock above and got quite a decent shot, just using my phone camera, of the Black 5 steaming past. We managed to get ahead of the train thanks to its booked stop at Arisaig and got another shot of it passing over the River Morar. We were re-acquainted with the Black 5 later in the afternoon at Glenfinnan, though this time running tender first. But it was nice to do a bit of steam chasing. Who’d have thowt it, in 1968? Oh, it took me back….

Skye Marble Railway

One of the best preserved former mineral lines on Skye is ‘The Marble Line’ which ran from marble quarries at Kirlchrist down to the harbour at Broadford. It was 3’ 6” gauge, using a Hunslet built loco called Skylark. The trackbed (or ‘solum’ as a Scot would say) is very easily walkable from about half a mile out of Broadford, and what a lovely walk it is. The marble quarries are well preserved and the final rope hauled section leads you up to the remains of the winding engine, and some superb views across the Cuillins.

Skylarking about on Skye

The railway opened in 1907, though the mineral extraction began much earlier. Its life was brief, closing in 1912 when the quarries ceased operating. It would make a superb tourist attraction if the railway re-opened – there is very little in the way after the former railway crosses the Elgol road, with no major infrastructure required.

The Hebridean Light Railway Company’s website has this useful information: “The Skye Marble Company set up a quarry in the Kilchrist area of Skye near the foot of Ben Suardal, however they had problems transporting their produce to the then new pier at Broadford. In the latter half of the 1890s the grandiose schemes for lines across the majority of Skye were taking place, however none of these ever got off the ground. This consequently left the marble company still unable to transport their wares further afield to somewhere like the pier.

It makes for a grand walk

In 1904 a 3’6″ gauge line was opened from Kilchrist to Broadford Pier at a cost of £30,000 including the construction of a bridge to span the Broadford River so that it could connect to the pier.  The line was initially operated by horse power, however this clearly wasn’t sufficient as Skye Marble Ltd. purchased two locos. The first is conspicuously absent from all sources of information on the line, however there is substantially more information about the second. It was a Hunslet 0-4-0ST named Skylark (works number 564 of 1892). This loco was initially delivered to T.S. Dixon with the name of Bruckless in May 1892 for use in the construction of the Donegal to Kilbegs section of the County Donegal Railway in Ireland. It was sold in 1894 following completion of the line and was subsequently purchased by the Preston Corporation Waterworks Department for use in the construction of their Spade Mill no. 1 Reservoir.

Remains of the winding engine at the top of the incline

It was here that it gained the name ‘Skylark’. In the period between July 1897 and March 1905 the loco was under the ownership of the Newcastle & Gateshead Waterworks. It was from this owner that it was transferred to the ownership of Skye Marble in 1907. The company quarried material from their site at Kilchrist using a partly Belgian migrant workforce. The company seemed prosperous throughout the early years of the 20th century, however by 1913/14 the company had gone into liquidation…Skylark was sold in May 1914 to John Mackay of Dublin Waterworks, and it ended its days back in Ireland where it had been initially delivered”.

Glenfinnan

Glenfinnan, on the Fort William – Mallaig ‘West Highland Extension’ is one of those very special places which have a timeless feel about them. John and Hege Barnes have created an idyllic railway paradise (OK, I suppose a paradise is by definition idyllic). The station museum charts the remarkable story of this most scenic of railways, with a strong emphasis on the human story.

The trackbed is prepared…and the engine shed waits for its engine. Note the blue bin idling outside the shed doors.

The signalbox offers a unique ‘virtual signalling’ experience – pull the levers and a computer simulation shows the signals coming off and points being moved for the passage of trains. There is a sleeping car in the yard, snowplough and a dining car that does excellent food. The museum shop is licensed for the sale of railway books, whisky and wine (needless to say, ‘Signal Post’). On top of that, you have daily steam operation and the scenery isn’t bad either. Progress with the miniature railway is coming along well and the engine shed is now complete.

New Lanark

We stopped off on our way north, staying overnight at the excellent New Lanark Mill Hotel, which is run by the communist run which owns and manages the mill complex. The accommodation was superb with a wonderful view of the River Clyde from our room. New Lanark, as many Salvo readers will be well aware, was the location for Robert Owen’s first major experiment in co-operative living and working. Owen himself was a remarkable man whose ideas helped to shape the co-operative movement and modern day socialism. His ‘Halls of Science’ were real ‘people’s universities’ and spread across Britain, with a particularly strong presence in the North of England. More on him, and New Lanark, in subsequent Salvoes.

CTRLshift: An Emergency Summit for Change: March 27 – 29 2018

I briefly mentioned this wonderful conference held in Wigan at the end of March. With my friend Richard (Billy Bolton) we organised a session on The Northern Umbrella which went down well (see text of our flier, below). I’m hoping there will beaa  report of the whole event sometime soon, as it was a reyt good do all round. The following is the general introduction to the conference which readers may find of interest.

“We’re bringing together visionary organisations and individuals to create a powerful coherent voice and a collective action plan for radical, positive change in the UK.

By combining our organisations’ talents and visions we can shift control over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain.

  • Creating a strong, organised, vocal alliance we have an unprecedented opportunity to control the massive shift the UK faces in a post-Brexit, social and ecological time of crisis.
  • It’s now or never to seize this moment and help radically redesign all our futures for the better.
  • Be part of the change, become a CTRLshifter.
  • Why is this summit crucial?
  • We are in a time of great uncertainty and unfolding crises

The social, economic and environmental failures of the current system are being cruelly exposed by rising inequality, social division, increasingly precarious and insecure employment, loss of biodiversity, accelerating climate change and the inability of an increasing number of people to meet their basic needs for good food and housing.

Another Britain already exists

Across Britain individuals, organisations and networks are working together to create a future that is inclusive, collaborative, and creates shared benefits. We are creating affordable housing, local food, renewable energy, sustainable transport, and alternative finance systems from the ground up. We have the research and policy proposals, campaigns and participatory processes to support them.

But we lack voice and coordination

Whilst many of the people working for a more participatory, inclusive and sustainable future share a set of values, and are working towards similar goals, our work remains fragmented and siloed. We have yet to demonstrate that we can bring together the different components we are each engaged in to create an alternative sustainable system, and our advocacy and policy work lacks voice and coordination. We struggle to work across identities of class, colour, culture, nationality, gender, politics and religion, even where we share the same values and aspirations for the future. In the departure from the European Union and its aftermath, there will be unprecedented opportunities to shape and influence the creation and direction of policy in the United Kingdom. Will our collective voice be heard, or will the alternatives we have developed be ignored?

Help us shape a positive post Brexit future

We believe that the best way to effect change is to bring together those working to reform the system with those actively building practical radical alternatives on the ground. We want to bring together activists, organisers, commoners and entrepreneurs to develop a shared agenda to shift power over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain. By bringing these solutions together and mobilising people for local and regional action we believe we can make ‘taking back control’ a positive reality. This is long term work – over the two days we can develop new relationships, and identify mechanisms and opportunities to work together more closely. We envisage that this will be the start of a wider process, one of a series of connected events and activities that will work together to create real change. Our departure from the European Union is a moment of significant disruption and presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to reshape the future. We hope you will join us in that effort.

Rise up, North! What great stuff is happening in England’s North right now?  And how do we get more of it?

  • Northern Umbrella aims to create a space where we can gather together all of us who want a better North of England, and want to share ideas and collaborate across the North’s many cities and places to build it.
  • We want to see a new popular movement for the North aiming to re-invigorate our communities, towns and cities.  We want the North to create its own version of the amazing political and cultural renaissance that is currently going on in Scotland.
  • What kind of space?  At the moment we are compiling a digest of specifically Northern groups and organisations who in some way or another are working to improve the quality of life in the North.  Please take a look at our website.

In future, we could become a magazine, or an annual gathering.  If you are interested in helping, or just keeping in touch, email us at northern.umbrella@hotmail.com

Northern Umbrella – A friendly shared space to gather folk working for a better North of England www.northern-umbrella.org.uk

An Unequal Kingdom – The Barriers to Federalism in the UK

The Salvo has been one of the few voices in England to put the case for a Federal Britain. This is in the context of the perhaps more accepted ideas for regional devolution with real teeth, as opposed to the dog’s breakfast that has been imposed on many ‘city regions’. Interestingly, Gordon Brown has been one of the few politicians to raise this possibility. It’s very good to see the Scottish-based think tank Common Weal coming up with ideas that could help chart a way towards a federal Britain. It presents several options, and it won’t surprise Salvo readers to hear that the option of a federal UK based on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions is the favoured approach by this publication. Federalism based on a single English parliament would be a disaster for the North and take us down a very reactionary road. Here’s what Common Weal says:

“IN A NEW REPORT for Common Weal, former Convener of the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament and executive member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, Isobel Lindsay and Common Weal Head of Policy and Research, Craig Dalzell lay out the barriers to reforming the United Kingdom from a unitary state with devolved nations into a federation of states. This report comes after several parties, notably Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have voiced support for such a reformation but have so far been largely silent on providing the necessary details about what their plans would look like or how they would be achieved.

The new paper, entitled An Unequal Kingdom – The Barriers to Federalism in the UK, outlines several possible models of federalism in the UK such as a “Four Nation” federation in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England had defined control over certain domestic affairs and shared control over the federal government in areas such as foreign affairs and defence. This model, the paper points out, could be vulnerable to domination of the federal system by England given its size compared to the other states. Another model suggest would involve the creation of regional assemblies across England which would correct for the population imbalance but at the cost of the dissolution of England as an entity.

The paper asks any future proposal for a Federal UK by any political party to answer seven key questions about its proposed structure, constitutional limits and the path towards the settlement.

Report co-author Craig Dalzell commented: “Opponents of Scottish independence have a long history of demanding that its supporters provide as much detail of our plans as possible. They are too often less forthcoming with a similar standard of detail with regard to their own proposals. Both the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour have voiced support for the reformation of the United Kingdom from a unitary state into a Federation but, to date, neither party has provided anything but the most cursory of proposals to this effect. They have neither explained what a federal UK would look like nor how it would be achieved. It is no longer tenable for parties opposed to independence to offer “alternative” proposals without giving those proposals as much scrutiny as they demand from others. This report lays out the barriers which must be overcome if any plan for a Federal UK is to be taken at all seriously.”

The report can be read in full here https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/12677/unequal-kingdom-barriers-federalism-uk

Bolton Station has a party

Plans for Bolton station’s community gala continue to progress well. The event marks the 50th anniversary of the end of steam at Bolton loco shed (9K, or 26C for those older readers) but also the present-day role of rail in the community and the investment going into the local network. The gala, on Saturday June 30th, will feature stalls, music, food, theatre performances and general bonhomie.

Last of the line…L&YR saddletank 11305 at Bolton shed, minutes after the LMS numberplate had been removed…last of the Horwich Works Lanky saddletank shunters

There will be a vintage Bolton Corporation bus (maybe more)and a steam miniature railway. The event is being co-ordinated by Bolton Station Community Development Partnership, a new model of rail partnership for a larger station. Those involved include Northern, Network Rail, Community Rail Lancashire, Bolton Council, Bolton University, Octagon Theatre, Bolton at Home and Bolton CVS, plus several individuals, arts and community groups. If you want to have a stall please contact laura.calvert@northernrailway.co.uk or c/o The Salvo.

Culinary Cranks’ Corner

The Scottish Spring Holiday was a good excuse to visit good cafes and restaurants, many having strong railway connections. In no particular order, here is a selection.

Spean Bridge: The Old Station Restaurant (bit of a misnomer as it is still very much a working station, though I suppose ‘old’), is an excellent example of good uses for a former station building. The North British building lends itself well to what is a very classy eating place, easily accessible by train from Glenfinnan. We were able to travel on a ScotRail 156 to Fort William and change onto loco-hauled comfort of the Caledonian Sleeper, with a class 73 at the front. The restaurant is well decorated with historic photographs and posters. My one very slight criticism would be the awful models of Mallard and in particular Flying Scotsman, which lowered the tone slightly. But what the hell, the food is bloody good, so too the wine. They also serve local real ale, a big plus in a small restaurant. The service was friendly and attentive.

Crianlarich: The Station tea Rooms are legendary but I’ve managed to find them closed every time I’ve attempted a visit in recent years. However, we dropped lucky on Saturday and enjoyed beans on toast and a nice mug of coffee. The service was friendly and welcoming and the cafe’s walls have some fine historic photos of the station, depicting steam in the 1960s. If I was adopting a critic’s hat (perish the thought) I’d say it could do so much more, though the 1950s feel is not without charm.

Kinloch Lodge: perhaps at the opposite end of the culinary spectrum to Crianlarich Station Tea Rooms, Kinloch Lodge isn’t somewhere you’d just pop in for beans on toast. It has built a strong reputation as one of Scotland’s finest restuarants, under chef Marcello Tully (I wonder if he’s any relation to BBC India correspondent Mark Tully?). The hotel and restaurant is beautifully situated overlooking the loch.

Gathering of The Salveson Clan at Kinloch Lodge

We had a special Salveson Family Treat to mark Iona’s 18th birthday; whisky was enjoyed in the Drawing Room, then a four-course lunch in the Dining Room. All delicious and served by friendly and attentive staff. The background music was Sibelius and a bit (I think) of Philip Glass. Couldn’t be better really, apart from perhaps a Black 5 steaming past the window, but since there’s no railway that’s perhaps unlikely.

Wanlockhead: The lead mining museum is well worth visiting and it’s suggested that visitors take time to sample the delights of this friendly community-run cafe which adjoins. We had already eaten so sadly missed out on the local fare, but we will be back. I love stovies.

Aberfeldy: This small town in the Highlands once had its own branch line, closed by Beeching. However, it has managed to keep its wonderful cinema, which is now owned by the community. As well as showing good quality films it also has an excellent cafe. We had a very pleasant lunch – and they do great coffee. Sadly we weren’t able to round off the experience with a viewing of Brief Encounter, but it would be nice to return for longer. The nearby Watermill (bookshop, gallery, cafe) is also excellent.

Rogart: Rogart is a tiny place in Sutherland, its main claim to fame being its station and associated sleeping cars, diesel shunter and assorted railway paraphernalia. It is linked to the wider world by the Far North Line, of which you’ve already heard (above). I’m not sure why, but the village is also called Pittentrail (or maybe ‘Pittent-Rail’) and a mere 100 yards from the station is The Piettentrail Inn, managed, or perhaps ruled, by landlord Hector. He’s a larger than life character, in every sense, and a very good host. We had a most enjoyable meal washed down by good local ale.

Skye Pie Cafe: This is a relative newcomer to the Skye culinary world and it’s well worth sampling. But get there early as the superb home-made pies often sell out by dinner time. The place has a slightly bohemian character, the kind of pie cafe where hipsterish folk might hang out. Wigan it ain’t.  It’s near Staffin and can be combined with a visit to the Storr Lochs Electric Railway and the Dynamite Line (see above). There is an occasional bus service from Portree so if you want to be ideologically pure and politically correct, you can use public transport (it’s the 57A).

Deli Gasta, Broadford: and on the subject of hipsterish places, the Deli Gasta does the best sandwiches around and probably the best coffee too. There is an element of family bias here as my grand-daughter Iona works there. It also has some fascinating art work and other things.

Iona at Deli Gasta

If visiting Broadford, or Skye, make sure you call in at The Skye Gift Shop on Market Square Broadford (next to the Co-op). It opens very shortly. It will be offering generous discounts on all railway memorabilia.

Heart and Art of Wales

More events are starting to take shape to mark the 150th anniversary of the Heart of Wales Line.

More details about the 150th events at http://heart-of-wales.co.uk/. The Heart of Wales Line Development Company is still looking for more offers of help from local artists and musicians. All enquiries to Moira Davidson at moira@bluekite.org.uk

Meanwhile, a correction to the last Salvo… David Edwards has not retired. He has stood down from his post as General Manager with the Development Company but remains involved with the line and is keen to continue work on areas such as introduction of the new franchise.

The Wallsuches Review of Books and Other Things

It’s quite a while since I reviewed any books, so here’s a few to show that I do still get chance to read. A mixed bag, reflecting my amazingly catholic (small ‘c’ Father) – trains AND politics….

Hilary Wainwright A New Politics From The Left (Polity Press 2018)

Hilary Wainwright is in serious danger of becoming the grand old lady/woman of the British left. Be that as it may, her ideas are anything but old, and remain refreshing young and lively. Her new book aims to chart out ‘a new politics from the Left’ though there are some recognisably Wainwrightian elements in it, not least the welcome emphasis on participatory democracy and workers’ and community control/management. Her invocation of that great socialist thinker Raymond Williams is very welcome, though I get a bit tired of references to Gramsci – he was a man of his time (1920s Italy) and apart from the fairly banal notion of ‘hegemony’ not much what he said remains of real value. Perhaps a criticism of Hilary’s work is that it remains very much located within the tradition Western Marxism and Social Democracy – including some important thinkers such as Panitch, Paul Mason, Robin Murray, Raymond Williams and Ralph Miliband. But the anarchist tradition represented by people like Colin Ward and Murray Bookchin don’t figure. Their ideas could really enrich some of the things Hilary writes about. Whilst she rightly stresses the importance of extra-parliamentary activity and grassroots action outwith party limits, she neglects parties other than Labour. Any agenda for radical transformation that doesn’t include the Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP and all or most of the Lib Dems is at heart sectarian. A real gap in her book, reflecting the current state of ‘new left’ politics, is the absence of any serious thought on transforming the governance of the UK and England in particular. Regional democracy doesn’t feature, but neither does local government reform to bring it closer to people. Yes, ‘democracy’ isn’t just about traditional elected government but it’s a big part of it, and no amount of workers’ councils will replace the need for it.

I don’t share her enthusiasm for Momentum and the Labour Party, but I hope my (unusual) pessimism is unfounded. I still see a Labour Party that is tribal, centralist and statist. I hope some of Hilary’s ideas for radical democracy will start to sink in.

Gar Alperovitz Principles of a pluralist commonwealth (Democracy Collaborative, 2017)

Alperovitz is a little known figure in British politics but highly influential in the USA. His ideas for a ‘pluralist commonwealth’ were developed in previous books America Beyond Capitalism (2004) and What That Must We do: Straight Talk About the Next American revolution (2013). I have to say I found Alperovitz’s book much more radical and potentially transformative than Hilary Wainwright’s – though interestingly both show their admiration for Raymond Williams. Maybe part of the problem for me, with Hilary’s ideas, is that they remain stuck within a western European model of socialism which Alperovitz rejects. In his introduction, he says of his idea of a pluralist commonwealth: “Contrary to both the corporate capitalist vision – which lifts up private ownership above all else – and the state socialist vision – which focuses on bureaucratic, centralized forms of public ownership – this is a fundamentally pluralist vision in which multiple forms of public, private, cooperative and common ownership arte structured at different scales and in different sectors to create the kind of future we want to see. The vision begins and ends with the challenge of community…” (p.17). Alperovitz, like Hilary Wainwright, offers examples of real, practical transformative practice which is happening right now in the USA. There’s lots of exciting, radical stuff happening about which we in the UK don’t get to hear about it (look at his email news sheet Community Wealth https://community-wealth.org/). But as well as grassroots co-operative ventures he has a lot to say about more strategic governance, including the regional level – and how that can enable good stuff at the local level to happen.

Keith Widdowson Scottish Steam’s last Fling (The History Press, 2017)

I enjoy reading well-written books about ‘the last days of steam’ and this definitely comes into that category. It’s fun – and mentions lots of places that I became familiar with between 1964 and 1968. Names like Dalry Road, St Rollox, St Margarets, Polmadie, Corkerhill and – south of the border – Carlisle Kingmoor and Upperby sheds. The book isn’t just a sterile recitation of ‘spottings’ and brings in a strong element of fun and surprise.

An early ‘Salvo Tour’ – Thornleigh College Railway Society Scottish Tour, Easter 1966. Rare view of college minibus driven by one of our priests. Father??? Somewhere in Fife. Anyone know where?

He also has a good feel for the politics and culture of the day which brings a helpful wider dimension to the story. I have to confess to being particularly interested in some of the runs he enjoyed in the final years, around 1966. I was frustrated to hear about Bank Hall ‘Jubilees’ still running football specials all the way to Glasgow as late as summer 1966. Why wasn’t I told?

David Parker (ed.) Lettrs of Solidarity and Friendship (Bacquier Books, 2017)

This collection of letters between Leslie Parker and Paul Zalud add up to a fascinating account of left politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Leslie (David’s father) was a British communist who – initially – carried the customary loyalty to the Soviet Union that was an article of faith for most CP’ers in the mid-60s. Paul Zalud was a Czech socialist who had left the party in disillusionment. The invasion of his country by Soviet troops in 1968 forms a key part of the correspondence, but it also touches on wider issues around politics, culture and friendship. The two men, who started ‘at odds’ with each other, became dear friends. The book has a very useful introduction by David Parker and the letters make compelling reading. Really, it would make an excellent film or play. Anyone out there?

David Spaven and David Fasken The Insider Rail Guide – Inverness to Kyle 0f Lochalsh (Kessock, 2017)

The Insider Rail Guide to the Kyle of Lochalsh line by David Spaven and David Fasken is a pocket-sized nook of 128 pages, 40 historic and contemporary photographs, 11 pencil drawn illustrations, excellent hand drawn maps and a wealth of information. It includes a history of the line, from its opebning to Stromeferry in 1870 and alter extension to Kyle of Lochalsh. The second half is a ‘window gazer’ of the 82 mile route, including histroical and conetmporary observations. The Railscot website is right in saying “As a cracking little guide to this well-known route the book deserves to be popular.” It is the first in a series and other route guides will follow, the next being Aberdeen-Elgin-Inverness (to be reviewed in future Salvo).

Kirsten Harris Walt Whitman and British Socialism (Routledge 2017) based on a longer review in current Chartist

The contribution to the development of British socialism by the great American poet Walt Whitman (1819-92) has been sadly neglected by historians. Whilst the influence of William Morris has been rightly celebrated, the immense impact of the writings, and philosophy, of ‘the good, gray poet’ has gone virtually un-noticed by contemporary accounts of early socialism. So Kirsten Harris’ Walt Whitman and British Socialism is a very welcome addition to the history of the broader radical history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

By the time of his death in 1892, Whitman was lauded as one of the great influences on that ‘ethical socialism’ which was exemplified by figures such as Keir Hardie, the Glasiers and Robert Blatchford. Its institutional base was the Independent Labour Party and the wide network of Clarion clubs, the Labour Church movement and very localised groups and clubs.

Harris’ book is primarily an intellectual history and she carefully unpicks the various philosophical strands that permeated Whitman’s own work, including eastern religious thought, and its links to more well-known figures on the British left including Edward Carpenter, whom many saw as ‘The English Whitman’. At the same time, Whitman’s celebration of ‘manly love’ made him an appealing figure to the broad, but often submerged, gay men’s culture of the late 19th century of which Carpenter was part.

Much of the credit for disseminating Whitman’s ideas and poetry in Britain was down to a remarkable figure called James William Wallace who lived a modest existence in Bolton for much of his life. Harris devotes a chapter to Wallace and the Bolton ‘Whitmanites’. Wallace, and his close friend Dr Johnston, a Bolton GP, were regular visitors to Edward Carpenter at his home on the outskirts of Sheffield, and Carpenter reciprocated by attending the celebrations of Whitman’s birthday on May 31st, which were revived by local socialists in the 1980s and continue to this day.

Whilst Wallace and his Bolton ‘Whitmanites’ were an entirely male group at first, female socialists including Katherine Glasier and Caroline Martyn became a part of the wider circle. Both were well-known figures on the socialist lecturing circuit, with Caroline wearing herself out by the strain of her incessant travelling. She died in Dundee whilst visiting female jute workers.

Walt Whitman, in characteristic pose

She had earlier written to Wallace saying “that the great joy of Walt Whitman’s teaching has brought to me has not been the capacity to love but the strength to express it”. Harris notes that Martyn’s religious socialism was far from conventional, with strong elements of mysticism influenced by Whitman.

The late 19th century saw a blossoming of the socialist press and Harris devotes a fascinating chapter to its treatment of Whitman. Whilst national publications such as Labour Leader, Clarion, Commonweal and Justice were of great importance, Harris recognises the perhaps even greater influence of very local, or regional, publications. Allen Clarke’s Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly ran from 1896 to 1908 (with various changes of name) and circulated in the textile areas of Lancashire and the West Riding. It had a circulation at its peak of around 35,000 but would have been read by many more. Clarke used every opportunity to promote Whitman and his poetry. In the August 8th 1896 issue he urged his readers to study Whitman’s “strange yet beautiful and homely poetry.” Similarly, papers like Rochdale Labour Journal, The Bolton Socialist, Bradford Forward and Keighley Labour News helped spread the word to a predominantly working class readership.

Whitman didn’t consider himself a socialist. His political core was that of a radical democrat, taking shape before socialism came to the United States. Yet his followers, such as Horace Traubel and J W Lloyd were libertarian socialists and in many cases overtly anarchist. He was admired by Emma Goldman, Max Berkman and Eugene Debs. These towering figures of the American left corresponded with the English Whitmanites and some of them, including Lloyd, visited the Bolton group. Harris has done a fine job in rescuing an important but neglected current of ideas that helped shape British socialism in the 20th century.

Salvo’s Travelling Post Office

The Sage of Crosland Moor writes: Well, I think my life would continue its relatively innocuous and uneventful course whether or not I received the Salvo, but since it’s there and I’m here and it doesn’t cost either of us anything for the present arrangement to continue, I see no reason to ask you not to send it any more. As for this time’s issue: 1)Whilst deploring such outrages, I refuse to feel shamed by Syria’s action; it’s got nowt to do wi me, and there’s sod all I can do about it.  Encouraging ‘my’ government to fire a few missiles least of all; 2)           Fully endorse your comments about the subjugation of the Farnworths of this world.  Oddly enough Kirklees seems to have done as much damage to Huddersfield as it has to the Heavy Woollen District (although this view is not necessarily shared in Cleckeckmondsedge).

Simon Norton notes regarding ‘small councils’: “We need to avoid the temptation of going to the other extreme and making small councils responsible for all services, including those like public transport which need to be coordinated over a wide area. There are many areas of England where the creation of unitary authorities has led to permanent Tory hegemony over rural buses, with total disregard of the needs of town dwellers who want to visit the countryside (not that many Labour controlled councils are much better). The disinclination of rural councils to support buses is exacerbated by the loss of their urban tax base”.

Walter Rothschild comments (at length – the full version will go on my website) on the Israel-Palestine situation: “Thanks for the latest Salvo. I always read through though much of the local politics has little to do with me here. Since you suggest that we write to this address rather than try to add comments, I shall try this – indeed in the past I have tried sending comments which never seemed to be cited later! I am just writing because I get depressed and upset when people write of ‘massacres’ along the Israel-Gaza Strip border – the implication being that massed machine guns are set up to mow everyone down. A lot depends of course upon which media one gains information from and I’d recommend ‘Times of Israel’ which, to my mind, is reasonably balanced between left and right opinions. Today I just read the following! –

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israels-labor-cuts-ties-with-jeremy-corbyn-citing-anti-semitism-in-labour/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=3cb58dd40f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-3cb58dd40f-54954553

I think – rather than getting bogged down in fruitless arguments about numbers and whether setting bombs at the border fence counts as an armed attack or not – I would simply ask you to apply your own local political and political-historical approaches to British politics to what is happening in the Near East. It isn’t just the people of Farnworth who should be encouraged to take their own local government into their own hands, but the people of Rafah or Khan Yunis or Gaza. Or Ramallah and Rabeh. As long as they allow themselves to be instrumentalised by fundamentalists to present a totally hostile and negative face to their neighbours (which for the Gaza Strip includes Egypt… currently fighting an armed islamist fundamentalist rebellion in Sinai) rather than concentrating on the provision of schools, employment opportunities, public transport, health, refuse removal and the rest, then the conflict will continue because there is simply nothing else to keep people occupied!! But I would certainly pose a few pertinent questions, such as:

  • What happens to the cement and building materials imported into the Gaza Strip? What is being built – statistics please – for schools, social housing, roads, drainage?
  • What is being taught in the schools? What are the rights for religious and social/sexual minorities there? What proportion of women are in the labour force, are in education, are active in political parties?
  • How many active political parties are there? Who are the opposition parties and what are their policies?

If the area is, as some claim, totally cut off: How come the area is filled with healthy, well-nourished individuals  (you see no ‘ghetto’ starvation images as in Warsaw or as in Eritrea or Somaila) and how come there are so many large rubber tyres available for burning? And from where do the weapons and explosives come? Who is paying for all this?

Walter concludes: 20% of the Israeli population are Palestinian Arabs, they have their media, schools, mosques and churches, their representatives in the Knesset, etc. There are constant grumbles that their villages look dirtier and less well organised and cleansed than Jewish villages but surely this is also a matter for self-help in a  democratic society. Israel pulled back out of the Sinai and out of the Gaza Strip.  I simply ask that you place the same demands on the PA or the Hamas governments (they don’t work well together and Abbas is in the tenth or eleventh year of his four-year term of office but everyone knows that Hamas will win the next election when he falls off his perch, because no other party gets a chance…) as you do on Westminster or the Northern Powerhouse or local politicians in Britain. I think the problems in Gaza are largely due to the fact that it is seen everywhere as a matter of ideological. Foreign Policy rather than local Domestic Politics for and by the people living there.

Crank Quiz: Fruit and Nuts on the Line

In the last Salvo readers were invited to nominate railway locations (stations, junctions, depots etc.) with a fruit and/or nut connection. We had a good harvest. Philip Jenkinson writes from his Crosland Moor residence: “Disregarding such obvious examples as Appleby and Cherry Tree (which aren’t purely railway locations) I’m inclined to go for Walnut Tree Viaduct and Strawberry Hill depot”. Martin Arthur offers ‘Cherry orchard, Dublin’ while Malcolm Bulpitt adds Berrylands and Hazel Grove. In Kent Hazel (Cob) nuts are grown in ‘orchards’ known as ‘Platts’, so would Miles Platting count? Is a Goud a fruit or a veg? If fruit then Goudhurst (on the erstwhile Hawkhurst Branch) just down the road from where I was born. Others have noted Appledore in Kent, but there was an Appledore in Devon on the light railway to Westward Ho! (The only station with an exclamation in its name?). The most obscure entry came from Dave Walsh: “Geneva Curve (the long upward gradient from the Middlesbrough and Saltburn line to link with the ECML just South of Darlington Station) ? Juniper Berries are known elsewhere as Genervres or Genevas and were the historic base for Gin”.

So a good haul of fruit and nuts, and I think I’ve missed a few more that were emailed. This week’s questionis; Putting aside ‘saints’ (far too many) readers are invited to suggest railway objects, locations etc, that are somehow ‘holy’ or vaguely religious. I think I’d have to exclude abbeys, cathedrals and the like too. Be a bit more imaginative…spiritual, mystical even…..

Special Traffic Notices

Saturday May 5th: Stockport Community Rail Gala – all day, Edgeley station. In the evening Paul Shackloth will be giving a talk at Stockport Art Gallery (7.30, admission £2.50) on Stockport in the Age of Steam and Corporation Transport.

Sunday May 6th: Blackstone Edge Gathering: celebrate the 1842 Chartist gathering! Walk from Littleborough station. Details to follow but book the date.

Saturday May 27th: Walt Whitman Day in Bolton. Walk from Barrowbridge, starting about 13.00 (details to follow)

Sunday June 3rd: Whitman Celebration at Rivington Chapel, from 14.00 (service). Strawberries and cream on offer, but you have to put up with Salvo speech first.

June 30th: Bolton Station Community Gala 10.30 – 4.00

The Salvo Publications List

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 8 Moorhey Cottages, Bretherton, Leyland PR26 9AE. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, numberplates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccesful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This 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. He became a much-loved writer and an early piopneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘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. Price £9.90 including post and packing. New edition published in May 2016. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in liteary 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 were 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.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896?. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

 ‘Songs of a Northerner‘  by Jo Barnes. Photos by Paul Salveson. Price £3.50 inc postage  – please make cheques payable to ‘The Jo Barnes Fund’. A lovely collection of Jo’s poems written in the two years before she died; about landscape, emotions and day dreams.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/little-northern-books-2/