The Northern Weekly Salvo
Incorporating Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.
Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: email@example.com
Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk
No. 276 February 27th 2020
Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats, 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, and the Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.
“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
We are certainly living in interesting times. HS2 has got the OK, at least as far as Birmingham, and the good people of Ashington and Fleetwood can look forward (maybe) to getting their trains back. Meanwhile, the spread of the coronavirus threatens to do what any good transport policy should aim at, drastically limiting travel. It could become one of the supreme ironies of the 21st century that the colossus that is China manages to bring down world capitalism (with itself) whilst cleaning up the atmosphere. I’m stocking up on Tunnocks and Wagon Wheels just in case.
If you get my tweets and facebook postings you may have noticed that my novel – The Works – is back from the printers, and looks very good. Whether it reads well I’ll leave to readers to decide. So far the responses have been pretty positive, bar one. Designer Rob did a great job and the printers delivered in express time. The launch is on March 20th in Horwich (see below) followed by several other events. There’s a pre-publication offer of £10 (plus p and p) if you order before March 21st. http://lancashireloominary.co.uk/index.html/order-form
Politics, debate, controversy
The Labour leadership campaign rumbles on. I’ve been following some of the televised debates and really, all three have done a good enough job, avoiding childish sniping at each other and making valiant attempts to unify the membership. The problem with any leadership election is that the person who may be irresistible to the membership may not carry much weight with the general public. No names, obviously. I will cast my vote for Nandy but I’d be comfortable enough with Starmer and a bit twitchy if RLB gets it. Victory in the next general election will be a huge challenge for whoever gets the job.
But what of Johnson and the Government he leads? Revenge of the Cummings, or the ‘night of the long spoons’, with Sajid Javid bounced into resigning was certainly a surprise to commentators who expected only a modest re-shuffle. If it means freeing-up investment for the North, great; the Treasury has been a big part of the problem in restricting projects which don’t meet their narrow criteria. I don’t really get the ‘checks and balances’ argument, as far as The Treasury goes. It has long had too much power; any ‘checks and balances’ should come from the backbenches and an intelligent opposition. Meanwhile, politics in Eire and Ulster continue to be extremely interesting. It would be a courageous person who would forecast how all that will pan out, but the prospect of a united Ireland is certainly much nearer than at any time since Partition.
Friday night in Blackburn
It was our second trip this year to King George’s Hall, Blackburn. The first excursion was for the BBC Philharmonic, in January. Very good it was too. On the night, we picked up a leaflet advertising Aida, being performed by the Russian State Opera, on February 21st. It was a glorious performance, in front of a rather small, but very appreciative, audience. The concert hall is (I think) owned by Blackburn with Darwen Council and I can imagine the debates in council cabinet about the cost of keeping it going. Yet it really is the jewel in Blackburn’s crown, even if it needs a bit of polish. The bar area is atrocious, devoid of anywhere to sit and long queues for a drink. We adjourned next door to the recently-opened Indian (East is East) and were able to sit down with a pleasant and not over-priced glass of wine. Russian State Opera is doing a UK tour between now and the Autumn, including several venues which are well off the usual concert trail. They include Darlington, Crewe, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Some readers may spot a theme emerging, though sadly Horwich isn’t on the list. I’m sure they could have squeezed into the RMI Club. I’m hoping to get to Blyth in October for my birthday treat, to see Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. With any luck Mr Johnson will have trains running up the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne by then. https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/russian-state-ballet-and-opera-house
From Bolton to Bethesda
Back in the early 1980s I researched the story of Bolton solidarity with the Penrhyn Lock-Out (1900-3), probably Britain’s biggest and most protracted industrial dispute. The story was published in Bolton People’s History, amongst some other interesting pieces of local history. Probably the most notable part of the very moving tale was the involvement of children, in both Bolton and Bethesda. Allen Clarke, through his paper Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly, mobilised children’s support for their brothers and sisters in Wales through collections and concerts.
A correspondence developed between the communities, with letters published in Northern Weekly. The young readers were drawn from an area about 20 miles radius of Bolton, stretching as far as the Colne Valley and Rossendale. Many of the boys and girls were already working as half-timers in mills and factories, including Susie Lord, age 13, who worked in Whitewell Slipper Works, in Rossendale. She was one of the most enthusiastic of Clarke’s young collectors and wrote to the paper saying how much had been contributed in different parts of the factory. Clarke organised cycle trips to Bethesda where Lancashire families were put up by the Bethesda quarrymen’s families, on a ‘full board’ basis, helping the locked-out workers with some income. Choirs from Bethesda came to Bolton, giving concerts at Barrowbridge and Bolton Town Hall. I’m working on a new edition of the article which I’m hoping to publish (through Lancashire Loominary) as a bi-lingual production. It should be out for May 2nd when there’s a May Day Festival in Harlech, which seems a good place to launch it. Maybe an event in Barrowbridge too, where 10,000 took part in the ‘Teddy Ashton Picnic’ in May 1901 to raise money for Bethesda.
This ‘Red Wall’ Stuff
It’s ‘The Great Red Wall’ that never was. The idea that huge swathes of the North of England have been rock solid Labour since the world began is a nonsense. It’s true that some constituencies in the North of England, south Wales and the central belt of Scotland had – fleetingly it now seems – once had very large Labour majorities, but it was patchy. Some Lancashire seats had long traditions of working class Toryism, whilst parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire were Liberal. Labour’s so-called ‘red wall’ was at best a temporary ‘1945’ structure, happening amidst a wave of fearless post-war exuberance and hope. Yes, Ken Loach’s film was a great piece of political nostalgia but the idea we can recapture that particular kind of politics is a bit like saying we should revive the Chartist movement of the late 1830s and 1840s (come to think of it…).
Labour’s success under Attlee was down to very specific circumstances which no longer exist. For a start, wars can stimulate rapid change, for better or worse. Labour’s success in 1945 was down to a mobilised working class, determined – after fighting a war against fascism – not to go back to the 30s.
That working class was organised in strong trades unions and bolstered by the co-operative movement and a plethora of institutions which no longer exist, at least in the form that they once did. As the traditional industries (mining, steel, textiles) died, so too did the unions based within them. But it was more than that, the communal culture of many working class communities (which had its bad as well as good points) died with it.
So some parts of the North, Scotland and Wales erected a kind of red wall but it was built on shaky foundations. These began to erode in the 1970s and Thatcher hastened (but didn’t begin) the process. Many Northern local authorities have fluctuated between Labour and Tory (sometimes Liberal) control over the last few decades; so too parliamentary constituencies. These have included places like Liverpool, Sheffield, Bolton, Kirklees and many others. Labour’s support base has never been as impregnable as some people, looking back with red-tinted glasses, often think.
But let’s drill down a bit further and ask a few questions about the traditional ‘Labourism’ which did have a base, however exaggerated its hold may have been, in Northern working class communities. It wasn’t the sort of red-blooded socialism which was found in west Fife or the Welsh valleys. It was comfortable in a sort of Wilsonian social democracy which included the NHS, free education, council housing and cheap public transport. I don’t think it was ever fully sold on state ownership. To an extent, it was distrustful of ‘the state’ and continued to treat the nationalised industries not as ‘ours’ but ‘theirs’. It was more comfortable with institutions like the Co-op, but never extended the co-operative vision to social ownership. Trades unions were something you had to join; few members were actively engaged.
Perhaps this is a view of my own territory – the former cotton towns of Lancashire. Yes, there was a vibrant socialist culture, stretching back to the late 18890s and expressed through the Independent Labour Party and, to a degree, the Social Democratic Federation. But it was only attractive to a minority of working class people. The relationship with Labour, once it had established itself as a major political force, tended to be instrumental – or ‘transactional’. “We’ll vote for you, if you give us council houses, cheap buses, schools and social care.”
By the 1980s Labour councils were less and less able to deliver. Thatcher went on to strip them of more powers, whilst at the same time decimating the industrial working class as it had emerged over the preceding century. Yet Labour clung on to the idea – at both national and local level – that “we can do it for you” when it was becoming increasingly obvious they couldn’t (whatever ‘it’ happened to be).
So where does that leave Labour now? What would make it attractive to working class voters in the misleading-named ‘red wall’ towns? It’s a very hard question. The Tories, so far, are doing a good job in stealing some of Labour’s clothes by saying they will invest in the North, though they have over-estimated the popularity of HS2.
I don’t think trying to cloak ourselves in the union jack and declare for some pseudo-progressive ‘patriotism’ will get us far. At the same time, we should rid ourselves of some misplaced ideas about ‘the white working class.’ It’s much more diverse than a lot of commentators suggest. It contains multitudes, with a wide range of attitudes and opinions. One thing that does unite a lot of people is a belief in ‘democracy’ which is where Labour fell down over calls for a ‘second referendum’. It was seen as going against ‘the people’s will’, right or wrong. As someone who voted remain and reluctantly favoured a second referendum, I have to admit they were right.
To be positive, Labour could do a lot to capture the ‘democratic imagination’, which is really a cross-class thing. Electoral reform, votes for 16-18s and stronger local and regional democracy would help – and be in keeping with socialist values. Labour still has a strong pull on issues like the NHS and protecting the elderly. But I don’t believe Labour’s ‘transformational’ policies on nationalisation cut much ice; people are not sold on the virtues of a ‘command economy’. Yet with a bit of perseverance, Labour’s co-operative heritage could be re-discovered. Promoting an economic message of ‘responsible capitalism’ coupled with social ownership could find a positive response.
Whoever inherits the leadership of the Labour Party will have an implacable task, the greatest challenge facing a party leader since 1931 – and it was only a war that got us out of that mess (perhaps climate change coupled with pandemics will achieve the same?). A safe pair of hands won’t be enough.
(by permission of Chartist magazine, appearing in the March issue)
The Rail Reform Group and the Enterprising Railway
If you’re interested in exploring how a modern, entrepreneurial railway for the North might work, come along to the Rail Reform Group’s first open meeting, on Thursday March 19th. It’s at the Waldorf pub, 12 Gore Street, near Piccadilly station starting at 18.00h. Admission is free, just turn up. There will be a collection to help cover costs.
Speakers will include Chris Kimberley, Nicola Forsdyke and Laurence Hilland. Each will explore different aspects of how railways can become more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. Admission is free and doors open at 18.00. The Rail Reform Group is a small network of rail professionals. We are non-party political and not linked to any corporate group. We’ve come together to develop ideas that we think are deliverable, offer good value for money and lay the foundations for a growing railway that meets the needs of both passengers and employees. We have submitted detailed suggestions to the Rail Review chaired by Keith Williams and the short article below represents a summary of ‘work in progress’: comments welcome.
A Railway for the Common Good
Britain’s railways are going through a tumultuous period, with fundamental questions being asked about the way they are owned and managed. Any change of direction must build on some of the positive achievements of the last 25 years.
We reject the binary simplicities of public good/private bad (or vice-versa). But we must move on from a structure that is no longer fit for purpose. A new approach should be based on greater integration of railway operations and infrastructure, long-term stability and a wider social purpose than purely shareholder profit.
We use the example of the North of England, particularly the ‘metropolitan belt’ from the Mersey to the Humber – as a prototype for a ‘railway for the common good’ which is part of the economic and social fabric of the North; big enough to achieve economies of scale but focussed on key regional markets which have suffered historic neglect but are experiencing (in part) regeneration.
A fresh approach should combine a strong degree of commercial freedom and initiative whilst maintaining public sector support and accountability. We need to rebuild traditional railway skills, complemented by new ones.
Our key argument is for a regional railway company – Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways – constituted as a mutual business, in which most of the profits generated would be re-invested into the railway. A closer relationship between operations and infrastructure, combined with long-term stability, would provide the vital basis to develop a modern railway which the North sorely needs.
The reality is that modern-day railway technology has moved, in practice, back towards much stronger integration between train operations and infrastructure, yet this is not yet reflected in how the railways are run. At the same time, the need for long-term stability and growth to meet the potential of significant modal shift (to help meet a range of pressures, not least Climate Change), has become greater.
We consider it essential that Network Rail’s regional structure should be aligned with that of the suggested new railway company, covering the North of England as a whole.
The current structure of east and west regions, based on the East and West Coast Main Lines, is London-centric and deeply unhelpful to the North of England, with split responsibilities and lack of focus on the needs of the North as a whole. We advocate a Network Rail (North) that would takes on most functions currently provided across the North by Network Rail’s two regions (LNE and LNW), whilst retaining a smaller ‘system operator’ for critical oversight of the network as a whole.
As a mutual business, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways would be accountable to its Board of Trustees who would be independently selected on the basis of wide-ranging expertise and knowledge of the region and its needs, some by key stakeholders such as TfN, TfGM and similar bodies. Beneath the board, an executive with high-level rail expertise, would run the day-to-day operation. We have used the example of Welsh Water/Glas Cymru as a business which delivers vital services to the public with a mutual structure.
It should have a contract to operate for a long-term period (e.g. 30-50 years) with periodic reviews which are aligned with current rail industry Control Periods. It would be very closely aligned (but legally separate) from a re-structured and devolved Network Rail (North). Its geographical spread should be smaller than the current Northern franchise, with a separate business covering the North-East and Cumbria, which would also come under Network Rail (North).
We propose a hierarchy of services, with high quality inter-regional trains serving key locations (based on a merger of existing TPE and ‘Northern Connect’ services), integrated with local and regional services and rural routes.
There is potential to do much more with the ‘community rail’ concept, with partnerships serving urban as well as more rural networks, with a clear focus on social and economic regeneration. We should not take the current network as static, but develop a long-term plan for new routes and stations.
An organic process of gradual integration between infrastructure and operations would start by Network Rail (North) and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways working together at board level, with a long-term business plan aligned by control periods and the train company’s periodic reviews. A joint culture and ethos would be established, over time, at all levels of the railway to achieve ever-closer integration in the practicalities of running a dynamic and responsive railway.
Any railway manager will tell you that there’s considerable scope to look at a range of pragmatic solutions which bring track and train closer together. The industry must work together collaboratively and creatively, with a clear understanding of responsibilities and a reduction of unhelpful interfaces, which are expensive, inefficient and cause delays in decision making.
Our focus has been on the North of England, but a similar approach could work in other parts of the UK. Our approach avoids the short-termism of the current system but doesn’t risk a return to the dead-hand of the Treasury which BR experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.
(The Rail Reform Group will shortly be launching its website www.railreformgroup.org – further details in next Salvo).
Bolton Community Update
After a few setbacks last month (leaking ceilings!) things have improved. On February 26th we heard that the bid for ‘Access for All’ funding to DfT had been successful. This will fund installation of a lift to the
community spaces upstairs on Platforms 4/5 which will be leased to the university. The AFA money has been matched by £20,000 from the Station Partnership, which had been contributed by Arriva Trains UK. This enables the lift to be installed as part of the current renovation works, which are due for completion on May 18th.
The Community Rail Partnership (Bolton and South Lancs) will be advertising the full-time job on or just after March 1st using our new website www.communityrailbolton.org.uk. The website will be up and running very soon but expressions of interest can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Salvo. Funding for the two-year post comes from Northern, Bolton at Home, Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry. TransPennine Express has also been a very generous funder for the Gallery and Community Room.
Negotiations between the University of Bolton, Northern and Network Rail for a tripartite lease on the ‘community’ space is moving ahead positively and work on the roof is steaming ahead. We are hoping for a positive result on our application for a lift to make the upstairs area fully accessible. During March the Community Room will host some of the ‘Worktown 2020’, events organised by the University Arts Faculty.
‘The Works’ is ready
My first (hopefully not the last) novel is set around the Lancashire town of Horwich, in the former railway engineering factory where I worked for a short time in the mid-70s. Much of the action takes place in the 1970s and 80s but the story is taken through to 2025, with China looming large in the UK economy. It’s about life in a factory facing up to closure – the tensions and fears of being made redundant, as well as everyday life in a working class community.
The narrator is a trade union activist – with a secret. It’s partly a love story about his relationship with an office worker, Midge, who becomes involved in local politics and nearly becomes an MP. In ‘real life’ the Works closed in 1983 and is now being demolished. In the novel, the factory is saved by a workers’ occupation and buy-out, with some dramatic scenes where riot police try to break the occupation. The novel links the fictitious outcome at Horwich with the actual occupation and buy-out at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow. The novel is illustrated with photographs of the Works in the early 1980s which I took as part of a commission from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils, during the campaign to save the Works.
The story has a lot to say about local life and politics in the 1970s and 80s and Midge’s role as a community activist and councillor. Part of the story is about Horwich starting to build steam locomotives once again – for the heritage railway market – as well as making modern rolling stock. Lovers of L&Y ‘Highflyers’ please note.
There’s lots of surprises so I won’t spoil it for you. It contains strong language – and some Lancashire dialect. There will be a number of book launches around Horwich and Bolton in late March and April. If you want to secure an advance, signed, copy at the special price of £10, fill in the form below. If your community group would like a talk on the novel please contact me at the address below or email email@example.com. All orders must be paid in advance and received before March 21st.
THE WORKS SPECIAL PRE-PUBLICATION OFFER : ORDER FORM
Email………………………………………………….(for notice of book signings and updates)
Please send….copy/ies of The Works to the above address. At the special price of £10 plus £2.50 post and packing. The novel will be available from March 26th in bookshops and other outlets price £12.99. If you live within 5 miles of Horwich I can deliver without the extra £2.50 charge.
I enclose a cheque for £…….. made to ‘Paul Salveson’. Please add £2.50 for postage (regardless of number of copies ordered) unless you’re local! The book will be posted to you before March 26th. Would you like it signing/dedicating? If to someone else, give details:
Post to: Paul Salveson, 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU or email this form to firstname.lastname@example.org and use bank transfer to A/C of Paul Salveson, National Westminster Bank Code 53-61-07 account 23448954 with your surname for reference
(Cultural) Crank Quiz: Which railway engineering works had their own musical societies/orchestras? Please name them…….
Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events
Saturday March 14th: Lancashire Authors Association AGM, St Mary’s Church, Chorley
Friday March 20th from Launch of The Works Wayoh Brewery, nr. Blackrod Station 18.00
Saturday March 21st: Cumbrian Railways Assocation, Penrith.
Friday March 27th Talk on Horwich Works and the novel, Bolton Socialist Club, 16 Wood Street, Bolton 20.00
Tuesday April 14th Horwich Heritage: Talk on ‘Railways and Literature in Lancashire’
Saturday April 18th Horwich Library, 13.00: ‘Horwich Loco Works’ in Art, Literature and History
The Salvo Publications List – see www.lancashireloominary.co.uk
The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1
The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. 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, number-plates 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, unsuccessful 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 pioneer 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 £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group 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.
You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.lancashireloominary.co.uk