Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Triumphal Celebration of Nostalgia


I was in the process of commenting on a post the other day when I went in search of a YouTube clip to illustrate the point I was making (a somewhat spurious contention about the direction of growth of various types of plants and vines). Having found the clip I wanted, I rewarded myself with a rummage in the "Related Items" collection and found an excellent interpretation of one of my very favourite Flanders and Swann songs, "Slow Train". Michael Flanders and Donald Swann wrote and performed the song back in the 1960s and although the events it recorded (the closure of almost 50% of the small railway stations in Britain following the Beeching Report on the future of the railway network) are now long gone, the song remains as a triumphal celebration of nostalgia. To illustrate the cultural loss resulting from the Beeching Axe, Flanders and Swann merely strung together a list of the names of just a few of the 3,000 small stations and halts that were closed during the 1960s. The result is musical poetry at its best.


The Beeching cuts hit all parts of the country. Both rural and urban lines were decimated and by the end of the decade a quarter of the railway millage and a half of all stations had been cleaved from the system. Here in West Yorkshire, many of the small stations and desultory branch lines of my youth vanished almost overnight. One of the more bizarre cases was the fate of the station at Cleckheaton, just down the valley from where I live. It was stolen. Following the closures, British Rail issued contracts for the demolition of the buildings, the clearance of the sites, and the sale of the recovered material. When the appointed contractor turned up at Cleckheaton Station he found the entire station - every stone, wooden fence, metal frame, and tin signpost - had already been dismantled and removed. Eventually the person who had dismantled the station was apprehended and taken to trial (the only case in British legal history concerning the theft of a railway station). They were later acquitted as the court accepted their defense that they had been following the orders of what they thought was the legally appointed contractor. The company that masterminded the plan was never identified, and the station was never recovered.


You might want to bear this story in mind as you watch the video, or you may want to just look at the lovely old photographs of steam trains and sooty cuttings. In either case, I hope you enjoy it.



YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE ....
THE MACHINIST'S WIFE : Take a look at the entertaining and original blog that prompted the comment that resulted in the post.
LIVERPOOL OVERHEAD RAILWAY : From the News From Nowhere Archives, a brief trip to the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

10 comments:

  1. Some great shots on the F&S video; somehow I think young lads today are 'deprived' by not having live steam trains to watch and listen to. Magic old machines. I think I'll stick up another Didcot post today.

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  2. Wonderful nostalgia. Stations were lost during the Beeching era, since reinstated, thank goodness.

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  3. I learn about the most interesting and obscure things reading your blog...

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  4. Good post Alan. Flanders and Swann at their brilliant best.

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  5. A wonderful song & post. The decline of train travel--& train travel is in much worse shape here in the States I believe--is really lamentable.

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  6. Its The Smell of Steam Travel I Miss The Most!Someone Should Invent An Aerosol Spray To Reproduce The Aroma For Modern Travel.

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  7. Hey I can dig a story of someone stealing an entire railway station. That took a lot of quick work and open lying to people who watched you tearing it down. My father-in-law's farm home is on a main highway, and since he moved in with us, it was vacant for six years. The antique people ransacked it so many times carrying out as much as they could, even a broken clothes dryer. Anyway, they actually caught the guy and his crew the other day, as they were sloppy and hit a lot of places. We won't get anything back but it is nice to know they were stopped for awhile.

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  8. I've not heard of F & S. This clip is greatly nostalgic. Thanks.

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  9. Oh how novel. I loved it. I love learning about stuff like this.

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  10. I remember 'train spotting' at my Grandma's down south. Loved the sooty things. We have a few faithfully restored steam engines here which manage the odd tourist trip now and then and getting a ticket to ride is damn near impossible. And guess what? I remember Chorlton cum Hardy!

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