Tag Archives: RAILWAYS

RAILWAYS in FICTION

Many people will immediately identify E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children as the most famous piece of fiction involving railways. This children’s story was first published over a hundred years ago, and has proved an enduring favourite. The story is one of a false accusation of espionage set in a political situation far removed from the present day; its popularity must rest with Nesbit’s ability to tell a story. I saw the 1970 film version shortly after it came out, and most people these days know the story from its film or television adaptations. But there had already been several film versions before 1970, from 1951 onwards. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, the railway setting is thought to have been inspired by the railway that runs through Chelsfield in South East London, near Nesbit’s home.

Perhaps as famous as The Railway Children is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; this uses the backdrop of the broken down train to provide the enclosed environment in which the typically involved Christie plot is played out, but otherwise the railway does not feature largely in the story. Both The Railway Children and Murder on the Orient Express first appeared in book form, although they have long been adapted for the screen.  The Titfield Thunderbolt must be the most famous work of fiction that appeared as a film from the start.  Its plot is about railways, whereas the works so far mentioned only incidentally involve this form of transport. It is one of the Ealing Comedies, released in 1953. The Titfield Thunderbolt celebrated the first Heritage Railway (although the term had not then been invented), the Talyllyn narrow gauge line in Wales, which had been taken over by volunteers three years earlier.

A whole series of books by the Rev W. Awdry has been a runaway success. The first book in the series, The Three Railway Engines, was published in 1945, and Thomas the Tank Engine, the most famous locomotive,  had to wait until the second book was published in 1946 to be introduced to the world. The anthropomorphic locomotive and his railway engine friends exhibit all the human frailties that you meet in life, and the stories all have a strong moral tone, in keeping with the author’s clerical background. It is a pity that the illustrator Reginald Payne has not received more credit for his iconic work.

Wilbert Awdry was  among the first undergraduates to study at the newly created St Peter’s Hall in Oxford. This was founded by the Bishop of Liverpool to provide a Low Church environment to instruct the clergy of the Church of England, in contrast to the High Church Keble College. From the start the Hall was fully integrated into the intellectual life of the University, and a broad range of subjects was studied, though railway engineering was not one of them! The Reverend Awdry first composed the railway stories to amuse and educate his young son Christopher, and was encouraged to publish them by his wife Margaret.

Ivor the Engine should also be mentioned in the context of children’s stories on a railway theme. These are a series of stop motion animated films for television, produced from 1959 by Oliver Postgate. The subject concerned a Welsh railway, though not a narrow gauge one. Ivor has no face, unlike Thomas, but has other human characteristics; he is for example a member of the local Male Voice Choir.

I should mention among other works of fiction with railways at their heart The Signal-Man, an 1866 short story by Charles Dickens. This is a horror story and is centred round a railway tunnel. Tunnels are pretty spooky places at the best of times. Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar is one that author’s best known books, but it does not count in this list as it is not a work of fiction. The non-fiction books written on railways form a subject in themselves.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY of RAILWAYS

Advertisements

EAST ANGLIA in PICTURES

The splendor falls on castle walls

WEST DOOR, CASTLE ACRE PRIORY in CENTRAL NORFOLK. (Photograph by the author)

Sutherland House Hotel, Suffolk, to the left. (Photograph by the author)

 

The River Glaven and St Martin’s church, Glandford, North Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

A Norfolk heath

KELLING HEATH near Holt, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

Looking towards the Woods End, early 19th century, (Norwich School).

River Yare at BRAMERTON; Woods End Inn, far left. (Norwich School, early 19th century)

BUNGAY GOLF COURSE

BUNGAY GOLF COURSE, OUTNEY COMMON, SUFFOLK

FILBY BROAD

FILBY BROAD in FLEGG, EAST NORFOLK.

RIVER YARE at LAKENHAM

RIVER YARE at LAKENHAM near NORWICH. (Photograph by the author)

Norwich cattle market.

Norwich cattle market. Painted by Frederick Bacon Barwell, 1871. (Norwich Castle Museum)

Woodbridge tide mill

Woodbridge tide mill in SUFFOLK, pictured in 1971. (Photograph by the author)

Heydon

Heydon, Norfolk. (Postcard illustration)

 

NORWICH CATHEDRAL from ST JAMES'S HILL

NORWICH CATHEDRAL from ST JAMES’S HILL. (Photograph by the author)

FRENCH CHURCH FARM

FRENCH CHURCH FARM, CAISTOR ST EDMUNDS – now a housing estate! (Photograph by the author)

The stooks of corn

STOOKS OF CORN in NORFOLK. (Photograph by the author)

WINTER VIEW FROM BRITANNIA ROAD

WINTER VIEW FROM BRITANNIA ROAD, NORWICH. (Photograph by the author)

THE HERONRY, BLYTHBURGH ON THE RIVER BLYTH

THE HERONRY, BLYTHBURGH ON THE RIVER BLYTH IN SUFFOLK. (Painting by the author)

The main path through the Lowes

Path through the Lowes, HOLT, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

BRAMERTON COMMON, 1970s

BRAMERTON COMMON, 1970. (Photograph by the author)

Shepherd at Costessey, c1910

Shepherd at Costessey, c1910. (Photograph by Frank Welch)

Blythburgh, SUFFOLK. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)

Autumn 1958, Trowse.

Autumn 1958, Trowse Millgate. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)

BLAKENEY CREEK

BLAKENEY CREEK. (Photograph by Frank William Mason)

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth, c 1978, former oil-powered electricity generating station to the right.

Bawburgh mill

Bawburgh mill, Norfolk. (Photograph by the author)

Turkey Oak at Spixworth

Turkey Oak in the former Spixworth Park. (Photograph by the author)

Caister Castle

Caister Castle, NORFOLK. (Photograph by the author)

POSTWICH GROVE Woods near Norwich. (John Crome)

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

joemasonspage@gmail.com

AS KEEN AS MUSTARD

The loss of Colman’s mustard to the city of Norwich finally ends a tradition that goes back two hundred years, but it has been inevitable since the company of Reckitt and Colman sold out to a faceless multi-national. One of the first things the new owners did was to sell off the collection of silver mustard pots that the Colman family had built up over many decades, and which should have been left to the Castle Museum. The amount raised by the sale was insignificant in comparison to the company’s annual turnover, but it showed that only money mattered to Unilever. I for one will be glad to see the back of them in Norwich. I wonder what Sir Timothy Colman makes of it? In spite of his directorship, the family had no real control over the company that bore his name by the time the end came in 1995.

COLMAN’S OMNIBUS, JUNE 1977, at the Royal Norfolk Show.

It is sad for the remaining workers at Carrow, but the factory is but a shadow of its former self. In the seventies I knew a manager at Carrow and he showed me round the works. Mustard was but a detail of what they then produced at the site. Besides mint and horseradish sauce they had Robison’s fruit squashes, made from juices imported from South America and brought to their doorstep by freighter up the river Yare. Tonic wine was a major product at the site. That was after the company had acquired the similar sounding Coleman’s, of Barn Road Norwich in 1968, makers of Wincarnis.

Before 1862 the mustard had been made at Stoke Holy Cross, the village a few miles outside Norwich. Before the arrival of the railway at nearby Swainsthorpe station in 1847, the mustard was taken to London by a fleet of five horse-drawn wagons. Tins were first introduced in 1851, and until then smaller quantities were supplied in bottles; larger amounts were sent in casks. The growth of the company to such importance could never have occurred without the railway. The sidings to Carrow Works from Trowse station, with their bright yellow mustard wagons, started the journey that spread the condiment throughout the British Empire. It was a brilliant business strategy; the milling of corn produced just flour for bread making, but the pounding of mustard corns produced a powder that could be sold for many times more.  How did such a strong flavour become the essential addition to the roast beef of old England? The phrase “keen as mustard” is recorded in the seventeenth century, so the condiment was appearing on our tables long before the Colmans started milling it. Before the Colmans started selling the powder, it was a  difficult sauce to make. Even if the plant was available locally, it was used in such small quantities that I can’t see that it was worth your local windmill producing it it. Perhaps you pounded up mustard seeds as part of the preparations for Sunday dinner. That was of course roast beef by tradition, if not always in fact.

Unilever have made a sort of’ promise to retain a mustard milling facility in Norfolk. This is put forward as a sop to local opinion, but it cuts no ice with me. Without Carrow Works at its heart, there is no mustard in Norwich. In fact when I first remember mustard it was always mustard powder, and this we are told will remain a local product; it was mixed fresh for every meal, and then thrown away. Hence the saying that Mr Colman was made rich by the mustard we left on our plates. I don’t think the way of preserving mustard ready mixed had even been invented in the fifties.

I wonder what my ancestors would make of the news that mustard was to desert the city? My great-grandfather spent most of his working life at Carrow, and his eldest and youngest sons followed him into the mill. It had an important part in my ancestral past, but times move on. Mustard making is but a quirk of history, like shoemaking, silk weaving and woollen cloth making, trades that once defined the city but are now no more. We still have an insurance industry, but even that may pass into history.

At least I will feel no compulsion to buy Colman mustard ever again. In future I can use the French variety which I actually prefer. English mustard is just hot, but Dijon mustard has subtle flavours.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

RAILWAY SAFETY

Network Rail places a high safety requirement on all its operations, and as a consequence our railways are the safest in the world. When you consider that last year alone there were 1.7 billion railway journeys undertaken in the UK, the safety record of rail travel is amazing. There have been only FOUR train accidents that resulted in fatalities in the last ten years.  Compare that with the almost daily toll on Britain’s roads, in which around two thousand fatalities occur every year. In the circumstances which method of transport ought you to prefer? There is nothing recent about this aspect of British railways either. As the first railway system in the world, we had to find out all the dangerous pitfalls implicit in the iron road for ourselves, but the safety of railways has always been of the highest priority. Our railways are the only ones in the world that must be fenced off from the surrounding countryside; it is rather worrying to our eyes to see trains speeding past lineside houses in France with nothing between them and the railway. These miles of fencing have been required in the UK from the very start. They not only make trespass on the line by humans more difficult, they also keep farm animals away from the trains.

The first widely reported railway accident occurred at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in September 1830. George Stephenson developed his steam engine The Rocket to operate this, the first real passenger railway. The MP William Huskisson was among the guests who came to witness this major event, but unfortunately he fell onto the track as the Rocket was approaching; his leg was crushed, and with the primitive medical aid available at the time this proved fatal. Railway accidents were common at first; on a journey from East Dereham to Oxford (one that it is no longer possible to make) the Revd Benjamin Armstrong relates how he was delayed for an hour at Winslow station when the locomotive’s boiler blew up. No one was injured on that occasion, but in an entry in his diary in 1855 he mentions that four people were killed in a collision near Attleborough.

Single line working tablet

One of the major railway disasters occurred on the Norwich to Yarmouth line just outside Brundall in 1874. Twenty five people were killed when two trains collided on a single track section of the line. This accident which is known as the Thorpe Railway Disaster led to the introduction of the tablet system, where an interlocking token must be secured before a train may proceed along a single track. This system is still in use, although the disappearance of the semaphore signal, and with that the closure of many signal boxes (where the tokens used to be exchanged) means that an electronic system of token exchange is now widely employed.

The safety record of the railways is based on the fail-safe principle. It was the proud boast of the M&GN Railway (that ran almost entirely in the county of Norfolk) that during the 80 years in which it was in operation it never killed a passenger.

The use of modern technology makes keeping the railways safe much easier than it used to be. The entire network is regularly checked by a special train that examine the track by ultra-sound for cracked rails, which could fail and cause a derailment. With high-definition cameras they can check the line from the air, and thermal imaging equipment reveals hotspots in the cables on electrified lines that suggest problems with the system. Engineers are then dispatched to the exact location to remedy the problem. It all adds to the safety of the railways.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

WENHASTON STATION, SUFFOLK

The Heronry

The Heronry at Blythburgh

Wenhaston was the last station before Halesworth on the Southwold railway. This railway closed in April 1929 with just a week’s notice, but not before my mother had travelled on it as a teenager. She was on a family holiday from her home in Buckinghamshire, and they came along the Great Eastern Railway to Halesworth station (which is still there) and then transferred to the narrow gauge line. When it closed the rolling stock was simply abandoned to rot at Halesworth station, and even the company was not formally wound up until the 1990s! The locomotives and track fell victim to the scrap drive of the Second World War, and raised a grand total of £1,500.

The plan by the Southwold Railway Trust to build a short length of line through a rebuilt Wenhaston station is proceeding, although the planning process is long an involved. Fifty yard of 3 ft gauge track were laid in 2016, and the fencing has been restored. At present it is promoted as a wildlife haven, and most of the activity of the Trust is concentrated in Southwold.

Sixty years ago the best part of the former trackbed for walking was (and still is I believe) the section from Southwold to Blythburgh. This crossed Southwold common, the river Blyth (by the Bailey bridge that had replaced the railway bridge blown up in the war). Past the site of Walberswick station and across Walberswick Heath you come to Tinkers Walk. This gives way to the pine trees of the Heronry before reaching Blythburgh, where the fine medieval church dominate the skyline.  It looks majestically out over the river Blyth. Continuing towards Halesworth the railway is less accessible; when I was a lad it was overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles, and I doubt it is any better now.

As far as Blythburgh we walked along the former railway line, but when we went on to Wenhaston it was by car. The reason for the visit was not to see the remains of the railway but the Wenhaston Doom, the most famous historical feature in the village. The Doom is a medieval painting which had been covered with whitewash by the puritans in the Reformation. It remained hidden from view until 1892, when the wooden panels it was pained on were removed as part of a Victorian restoration. The wood was left out in the churchyard overnight, prior to being burnt the next day. A providential shower of rain dissolved the whitewash and revealed the painting underneath to the astonishment of the onlookers. This is the Wenhaston Doom. This would have been nothing special before the middle of the 16th century, when many churches had similar paintings; it was its survival which has raised its importance. That said, it is a well executed example of medieval art. It is now mounted on the wall facing the door but originally it would have filled the chancel arch.

A picture of the Last Judgement (the Doom) was a common feature of pre-Reformation churches, but such things were deemed superstitious by the Protestant reformers and were removed or overpainted. Those parts of Europe that remained Catholic fared rather better in keeping their religious art, although the French Revolution produced lasting problem for the church in that country too. The town of Beaune in Burgundy has a nine panelled altarpiece in the former chapel of an alms house, by the 15th century Netherlands artist Rogier van der Weyden. This picture of the Day of Judgement played a large part in converting the journalist Peter Hitchens from his former atheism, according to his account. The theological implications of the Day of Judgement are no longer popular in our times. In spite of Hitchens’ experience, we think very little about eternity and even less of eternal damnation; however there is no doubt that for many hundreds of years the prospect of the Jaws of Hell played a big part in people’s lives.

Among the residents of Wenhaston is the composer Gordon Crosse. After many years during which he had a break from writing music, aged 80 he is again composing. During his young adulthood he was in the circle of Benjamin Britten’s admirers, which accounts for his home being near Aldeburgh. His early life was spent in the Manchester area. I know this because since my friend Bill Wragge was a child he has known Gordon Crosse as a family friend. Bill’s father had was involved in Gordon’s upbringing during the war, and remained in touch with him afterwards.

JOSEPH MASON
joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

Trowse Millgate

Autumn 1958, Trowse Mill  & the bridge.

Trowse Millgate is part of the city of Norwich; it lies across the river Yare from Trowse Newton which used to be in the Hundred of Henstead. It has long been on a busy roadway, bringing traffic from Lowestoft, Beccles, Loddon, and Bungay into the City. King Charles II arrived in Norwich via Trowse on his visit in 1671, and Celia Fiennes described the fields there as being covered in woollen cloth laid out to bleach in the sun. In the eighteenth century this way into the city was via a toll bridge, and possibly the river Tas still had its confluence with the Yare before reaching the bridge. There had been a watermill on the river Yare since the eleventh century, and by the nineteenth century this was one of the largest corn mills in the county, being powered by a steam engine as well as water wheels. No doubt it was able to bring coals from Yarmouth directly to its doorstep by wherry. This gave it a commercial advantage over all the other mills in Norwich. Daniel Bloome the miller was certainly a very rich man.

The construction of the railway to Ely in the 1840’s brought yet more traffic to the settlement. Tens of thousands  head of cattle came from as far away as Ireland annually for sale at the cattle market. These were unloaded in the sidings at Trowse Millgate. If they arrived during the previous week they would be grazed on the adjacent water meadows until market day on Saturday. To begin with the railway line crossed the road by means of a level crossing, but the number of trains must have meant that it was more often closed than open. When the railway bridge was built (some time before 1880) the arches were occupied by a number of commercial enterprises. The Pineapple had been the local on the main road since at least the 18th century. After the bridge was built it was on a dead-end road that led merely to the railway station. The station closed to passengers in 1939, but the pub struggled on until 1985. In 1789 the Pineapple had almost two acres of fruit trees on the land between lower Bracondale and the river.

Coal siding at Trowse sewage works

Following the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1867 a sewage pumping station was built between the railway station and the river Yare; the sewage is treated a mile away at Whitlingham before the clean water is discharged into the river. A new pumping station was built in the 1960’s, when the old buildings fell into disuse which is how they remain today. The picture opposite shows the coal siding for the pumping station shortly after closure.

Trowse Millgate was also the terminus of the tramline from Orford Place via King Street. This was built at the beginning of the 20th century, but the line from Bank Plain to Bracondale was lifted in 1918 to be used on the Mousehold extension that carried aircraft from Boulton and Paul’s factory to the aerodrome. Trowse Millgate was without a tram connection for two years until a shorter route was opened from Queen Street along Bracondale.

Whitlingham Broad

Opposite the Pineapple a meadow was developed after the Second World War and this is now where Ben Burgess Ltd established their agricultural machinery sales showroom. All this activity was going on against a backdrop of motor traffic that was a constantly growing flow through Trowse Milligate. This all came to an abrupt halt in 1992, when the Southern Bypass sealed off the road and for the first time in its history turned Trowse Millgate into a backwater.  As well as stopping the road access from the east, the building of the Bypass also required a large amount of aggregate that was extracted from the water meadows along Whitlingham Lane; this has produced two new Broads. These, and the ski slope (also on Whitlingham Lane), have replaced some of this traffic with that intent on leisure activities. On  the whole however Trowse Millgate has never been so quiet.

There is one other way to approach Trowse Millgate, besides by road or rail, and this is by water. There is no problem going as far up the river as the bridge, although this is seldom done because beyond that the mill has prevented further progress along the Yare for the best part of a thousand years. I approached the bridge by motor boat in 1958, and a dozen years later I went under the bridge in a canoe. There is an island between the bridge and the mill arches and the water around it is extremely shallow; although the canoe drew less than six inches we nearly went aground on the eastern branch of the river.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THE IPSWICH TROLLEY BUS

The first tram to operate in Ipswich was a 3ft 6in gauge horse-drawn vehicle which ran for about ¾ mile between Cornhill and the mainline railway station. It opened in 1880. In 1884 an extension was opened from Cornhill to Derby Road railway station, also in Ipswich, but on the Felixstowe line. This completed the system; by then it was being operated by a fleet of tram cars. The earliest ones were single deckers, drawn by one horse, but later double deckers were introduced with two draught horses. The provision of rails made the friction was less than with a horse-drawn omnibus, and this enabled a greater number of passengers to be carried. By 1900 it was becoming increasingly old fashioned however; unlike modern motive power, horses had to groomed, fed and stabled, and in the early years of the 20th century it was resolved to convert the horse-drawn tramway to an electric system. The town Corporation purchased the horse tramway but it lost money and was abandoned to allow the electric infrastructure to be installed.

The electric trams did not last any longer than the horse-drawn trams: introduced in 1903, they were replaced by trolleybuses from 1923, and in 1926 the last tram ran on the streets of Ipswich. The trolleybus lasted a bit longer than its predecessors, and I remember the final years of them; my sister had taken her first job in the town in 1959, and from the aged of ten I made many visits to Ipswich. The trolleybuses survived until 1963, by which time my sister had left Suffolk for a new post in the Channel Islands. Thereafter I no longer frequented the town.

1933 Ipswich Trolleybus: Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies

The first indication that we had reached a strange new world where the buses were powered by electric wires was by the railway bridge on the Norwich Road. There a circle in the overhead catenary was where the buses had to turn around and begin their journey back to Ipswich town centre. At one time the system had gone further to Whitton, but by 1959 the railway bridge was the limit of its northern extent. The Corporation bought its first motor buses as late as 1950 to serve the outskirts. At the time, and for many years thereafter, the bridge had the large sign FERODO painted on it in red. I will always associate these brake pads with Ipswich.

Coming by car I had no reason to use the trolleybuses, but going by train I surely would have done so; my sister had no car at this time. An indication of how normal they were in Ipswich in those days is that  I have no memory of riding on a trolleybus, although I must have used them. This is a pity, but I have plenty of memories of seeing them making their silent progress through the town. Once you were inside the effect could not have very different from a normal motor bus; all the unusual features were outside. If they met an obstruction in the road they could only take limited avoiding action, or the poles would come detached from the catenary wires. This meant the driver or conductor getting out and re-attaching them with a long stick. There was definitely no overtaking allowed with a trolleybus.

Unlike trams, trolleybuses have not made a return to the streets in the UK, and there are no remaining systems in place here. This seems strange, as the infrastructure is much simpler and cheaper for trolleybuses, and they are similar environmental benefits. There is bad quality air in nearly all major cities, where diesel buses are almost the only vehicles still (just about) tolerated. This would disappear if trolleybuses were still in operation. If you are cyclist who has travelled over tram lines you will appreciate that  bikes and trams don’t mix – you will fall off immediately if your wheel gets stuck in the groove of a tram line. This quality of not antagonising cyclists is another advantage of the trolleybus. In other parts of the world these systems still exist.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

THE 1950s

The pub in Drayton. See how little traffic there was!

There was virtually no road building in the 1950s until the M1 was constructed right at the end of the decade; the only improvement I can call to mind was the straightening of a short length of blind bend outside Ditchingham Hall. This was in about 1957; you can still see the lay-by which this created on the Bungay road. The traffic was still relatively light; many of the cars were prewar, and those that were not were all painted black; you were lucky to get a car at all, and the colour wasn’t important. The lorries were of the fixed chassis type – there were no articulated juggernauts then. The country folk who had to go to town went by bus, otherwise they travelled round on their bikes.

In Norfolk the railway network was already beginning to shrink. The lines from Cromer to Mundesley and from Heacham to Wells closed completely in 1952, and the stations at Hellesdon and Whitlingham stopped serving passengers early in the decade.  Also in 1952 passenger traffic was ended on the Wroxham to County School branch; however most of the rural branch lines remained open. For a few more years Hunstanton, Holt, Dereham, Watton, Swaffham and Fakenham (all of them substantial country towns) had regular train services that carried passengers as well as goods. Trains stopped crossing Breydon Water en route from Yarmouth Beach station to Lowestoft in 1952; the swing bridge remained in place but permanently open to shipping.

There were still a lot of sea-going freighters threading their way up the river Yare to Norwich. Coal was one their main cargoes, and it was universally used to produce electricity, gas and domestic heating all across Britain. The miners toiled day and nigh to extract this invaluable commodity. Many coal-fired steam drifters tied up along the Yarmouth quayside every autumn herring season, ready for the Scottish fisher girls to pack the fish away in their millions. The London Docks were still at the hub of the nation’s trade in 1950, and Southampton was still the place you went to catch liners for overseas destinations.

As for aircraft, the skies were full of them; not commercial airliners (there were none of these outside London) but fighter jets. Never a day went by without vapour trails appearing among the clouds, and sonic booms were often heard. There were still over a dozen RAF air bases in Norfolk at the beginning of the period, including at Coltishall, St Faiths, Swanton Morley and Marham; there was a major USAF presence at Sculthorpe near Fakenham. All through the decade the RAF held open days to commemorate the Battle of Britain. In the less mean-spirited nature of the times these festivities were free to attend, although the members of the public who flocked to them would support them generously in a voluntary capacity. The threat of Nazi invasion was still a recent memory and those who fell in resisting it were honoured annually.

Norfolk is a sparsely populated county; in a hundred and fifty years the population of Norfolk doubled to stand at around 600,000 by 1961. Even with the huge increase in recent years it is still estimated at under a million, which is tiny for one of the largest counties in the land. It has always been an agricultural economy, specialising in arable crops. All across the country the horse had vanished from the farms by 1950, and everywhere the ploughing and reaping was done by internal combustion engine: the tractor was king. Things are still much the same for now in Norfolk, but the most thriving communities are increasing becoming centred on the digital world. We had no idea what the phrase ‘the digital world’ might mean in the 1950s. The first massive mainframe computer arrived at Norfolk County Hall in the 1960s (it was about the size of a small bungalow), and the data was carried on magnetic tapes between there and Norwich City Hall in a little blue Daf van. Even electric typewriters were almost unknown in the 1950s, and calculations were largely done with pencil and paper; the very advanced firms (like Norwich Union) used mechanical comptometers with their highly trained female operators.

There were young Teddy Boys with Brylcreemed hair, jeans and bomber jackets, and their female counterparts, but many of the working population had been alive when Victoria was Queen. They had been through two World Wars, many of them as combatants in both. National Service was still in force, and this all made for a less effete nation. It was a hard life – for example there was virtually no central heating, and  double glazing was completely unknown. The ice would form inside the bedroom windows as you slept. The only insulation was made from asbestos, and that was treated with gay abandon by everyone, but fortunately we seemed to survive without succumbing to the material; visits to the doctor were for other ailments.  The GPO phone box was always there for use in emergencies; you pressed button B and heard the money drop into the machine, when you would ask the operator to connect you. There were two visits a day from the postman who rode his red bicycle round the village. The local Bobby rode his black bicycle to keep a beady eye on the world. All these things were common throughout the land; in the 1950s there was a sense of national identity that is largely lacking today. The very idea of Scotland splitting away was almost nowhere on the political agenda back then. It is true that there were voices raised against the new queen’s title. Even a few post boxes with the monogram EIIR on them were blown up in Scotland. This was not from republican motives, but because she should have been called Elizabeth the first in Scotland – it had been an independent country when Good Queen Bess was on the throne!

Hard though it is to believe, in the 1955 General Election the Tories received more than half the popular vote in Scotland. The Tories governed the UK for most of the 1950s, but it was a very different country sixty years ago.

joemasonspage@gmail.com

 JOSEPH MASON

 THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

POLITICS TODAY

I like Jeremy Corbyn’s stated aim to reopen the railway line from March to Wisbech as soon as possible if he becomes PM. As things stand we have endless reports on the subject but no action. Corbyn is naturally in favour of the renationalisation of the railways, but the track infrastructure has been in public ownership since 2002, when Railtrack effectively went bust. It is only the train operating companies and the rolling stock leasing companies that are privatised.  I think the policy to take back the railway operators into public ownership as the franchises come up for renewal is the right way to go; it costs nothing to the taxpayer and returns the train operations to those who ought to own them, the people. Instead of paying large subsidies to companies like Virgin Trains and Abellio, the money would be retained in the public sector. Why ever are we filling the pockets of Sir Richard Branson and the Dutch national rail operator in this way? I like LABOUR’s policy on  the rail industry; I wish that all their policies were as fiscally neutral as this one!

What about the commitment of Corbyn to abolish university fees? I was one of the lucky generation who not only got our fees paid but got a grant towards living expenses too. The number of young people attending university in those days was under 10%, and the cost to the government was affordable. With that number now nudging 50%, the ongoing cost to the taxpayer would be quite outrageous. The policy is naturally popular among the young, or a section of them at least; whether it ought to be popular among those young people who do not receive a university education (but will nonetheless be expected to pay for those who do) is another point entirely. If political affiliation had anything to do with self-interest none of this group would support the Labour Party, but it has much more to with the idealism of youth. Even this idealism would surely be sorely tested among those unfortunate young graduates who already have student debts of many thousands of pounds to repay. After rashly promising to pay off these debts too, the mind-boggling sum this would cost caused even the Labour leadership to have second thoughts; instead they have said they will merely “think about it”. While the Labour Party is thinking about this, the better paid graduates will have paid off their debts; can they then look forward to a massive lump sum in repayment of the money spent on their fees? Of course not, but that would be the only fair option to pursue. With all these proposals Labour have got into deep waters indeed; where do they see the money coming from for all their schemes? I think they even said they would reduce the deficit at the same time!

The SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY’s plan to set up a not-for-profit alternative to the big energy companies has the potential to provide the way forward in that country. The oligopolies in energy supply are worse than the nationalised industries that they replaced. However, given the SNP’s abysmal record in administration, I wouldn’t count on anything they try to do being a success. Scottish education used to be the envy of the world; look at it now! Scottish universities are still free for Scottish students, but the expense of providing this has been ruinous for the rest of the education system. Further education in Scotland has more or less collapsed.

The LIB DEMS are stuck in an unhappy place; their resolute determination to remain in the European Union should have garnered them much support, given that nearly half the electorate voted that way in the referendum. Moreover, they are the only major party to unequivocally take that position. Nonetheless their parliamentary representation is only 20% of what they enjoyed just a few years ago. I hesitate to mention university fees once again, but their volt face on the subject is the only thing I can point to that could account for their reversal in fortunes.

What can I say about the TORIES? Their tinkering at the margins of student loans is pathetic; it doesn’t impress anyone, and nobody will vote for them because of this. They are in a terrible position; with no majority in Parliament they are attempting to put into effect the greatest constitutional change in this country since the Second World War that is Brexit. Not only that, but most of Parliamentary Conservative Party plainly do not in their heart of hearts believe in the policy they are committed to implementing. I contrast this with the rapidly shrinking paid-up Tory Party membership, who are about 100% Leavers. Mrs May’s inclusive social policy has no prospect of ever being brought about. Much of it is in direct opposition to her party’s pro-business values. Even if it had a chance of success, it is not part of a conservative mindset; it might be a very good thing (or it might not) but the Conservatives should leave Socialist values to a socialist party. The Tories cannot gain from aping Labour at very turn. The true believers will always vote Labour, and the conservatives will have nothing to go to the ballot box for.

You will have noticed how often the subject of university fees has raised its head. The fact is there are far too many universities. At least half are providing a poor standard of education to intellectually challenged students. Many of the rest used to provide a perfectly good technical education without an academic veneer on which successful careers could be built.  Worse than possessing this travesty of a degree level qualification, few of these low-end graduates will ever earn enough to pay off their student loans in full, though most will earn enough to ensure that they pay a higher rate of tax than their more sensible non-graduate counterparts. The whole higher education system is a pig’s breakfast.

We live in interesting times.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

SOME RAILWAYS I HAVE USED

Czechoslovakian railway engine in Communist era.

Barnstaple, Devon 1958. My first long distance trip, starting from Norwich Thorpe as the station was then called, to distinguish it from the other two termini  in Norwich. Steam engines ruled the tracks in those days!

Glasgow, Scotland, 1962. With my sister Tiiggie we stopped off at Glasgow en route to Malaig, where we were to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye. We had gone up to Edinburgh on the night sleeper.

Ostend, Belgium, 1965. School trip to Eastern Europe.We went by train from Waterloo. After catching the ferry to Belgium we caught the train at Ostend. There were no electric trains on the European railways then, but in the capitalist West the expresses were already diesel hauled. In Communist Europe the trains were still steam hauled.

Cologne, Germany, 1965. Our first change of trains at about midnight. The workers were still busy digging up the road outside the cathedral (a dedication to getting the job done unheard of in England in those days, and even today). We had to stop at the border with Czechoslovakia where we were thoroughly checked by the Communist border guards. The border was heavily defended by machine gun-toting soldiers. It was strictly prohibited to photograph near the railway, but I managed to sneak my camera there to take this picture!

 Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1965. After an overnight sleep in the couchette car of the train we arrived at Prague, our first destination in the Communist East. In the hotel I experienced my first night under a duvet; such things were then unknown in Britain.

Budapest, Hungary, 1965. We spent several days in Czechoslovakia before going on by train to Hungary. We stopped off at the border to view the Danube Bend. In Budapest we rode the ancient electric underground railway which was then still using the original carriages from the 1890s.

Vienna, Austria, 1965. Our last stop was  back in the West, and rather flat in comparison to Communist Europe. It was dire in the East for the inhabitants, but as visitors from the wealthy Capitalist part of the world we were treated very specially indeed, almost like Royalty. They needed our cash!

Montreal, 1969. While visiting my sister in Canada my mother and I caught the train from the suburbs to downtown Montreal. We went with my sister and her children. It was single car train, but it had an observation deck (which I used of course). There was another railway visible from my sister’s house, one with plenty of freight trains going past.

Oxford, 1967. I went to Sheringham from school by bus, to catch the train from the station.  This was already the new BR built halt. The North Norfolk Railway had purchased the adjacent former station, but as yet no trains were running and it stood derelict. This was in December for my interview for a place at university. From Norwich I caught the train to Liverpool Street, and from Paddington I went to Oxford on a train full of fellow candidates. 

The metre gauge Baie de Somme railway

Folkestone, 1977, en route for the  Baie de Somme, France.  With my friend Bill I went on a day trip to ride the Baie de Somme narrow gauge preserved line. The return trip entailed changing trains after midnight at Shippea Hill of all places!

Aarhus, 1982. In Denmark me and my friend Bill travelled from Aarhus in Jutland to the island of Zealand, which at that time involved the entire train being hauled on the ferry for the sea crossing. (Since then a bridge has been built.) The door at the end of the last carriage on the train had a widow, from which you could watch the track disappearing into the distance.

Copenhagen, 1982. Arriving by train, we spent a few days in the Danish capital, where we did all the usual tourist things like visiting the Little Mermaid. We flew back to Manchester airport from there.

Aldershot, 1986. Stopped off for a haircut en route to my RAMC recruitment assessment.

Ash Vale, 1986. To RAMC HQ at Keogh Barracks for basic training.

Windermere, 1986. Just married, Molly and I went on a special to Lake Windermere in the Lake District; on the way we went over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line. We  stopped off at Ribblehead station for a look over the valley.

Bournemouth, 1996. I caught the train down to Bournemouth where I had a week’s training at the Elstead Hotel as rep for the Union of Postal Workers. Saw the QE 2 at Southampton.

Paris, France,  2001. Our first overseas family holiday; Molly, Peter, Polly and I went by Eurostar from London. This was before the high-speed line was built, and we left from Waterloo.

Bruges, Belgium, 2002. With our children we went on a day trip by train to Bruges from the Midi Station in Brussels.

Estoril, 2005. On a family holiday to Portugal (when we flew to Porto) we arrived at our hotel by train from Lisbon.

Cascais, Portugal, 2005. We travelled to the beach for a morning sunbathing at the terminus of the line. Sunbathing is something I almost never do, and this was not a success. The railway line was lovely though, and runs along the sea throughout its length.

Flam, 2011. On our Norwegian cruise we travelled this steep electric railway line from sea level (the fjord) up to the mountainous country. There, despite it being August, there was still some snow about.

Me on the footplate at March shed, 1964.

Brussels, Belgium, 2015. Molly and I travelled on Eurostar from St Pancras and spent a few days with Peter and Alex in Brussels. It as February, and Peter was due to move back to England later in the month. We went first class (as by then I had  suffered from a stroke) and were entertained to a lavish meal as we were whisked through Kent.

Wymondham, Norfolk, 2015. I went solo for the first time since suffering from my stroke.I got on the train at Wymonham and travelled to Cambridge, where I was met by my cousin William. I also returned unaccompanied to Norwich.

I have been on many other railway journeys, mostly to London. Over my lifetime I have been by train to Wales, March in Cambridgeshire, Weymouth, Liverpool Street (all of these in steam days), to name but a few. I have travelled on lines that were axed by Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s. This article includes all my travels abroad.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR RAILWAY MEMORIES

[TO SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT IN THIS BLOG ENTER ‘joemasonspage’ and the subject from the list on the right into Google; this should show the relevant blogs]