A well attended meeting in Glasgow on 15th November 2011 heard Andy Savage, Director of the Railway Heritage Trust deliver a fascinating talk on the work of the Trust and a look at Britain's railway heritage. Andy has over 40 years experience in the railway industry, having joined British Rail in 1970 and he held a number of senior posts before becoming the Deputy Chief Inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Board. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales.
Created in 1985, the Railway Heritage Trust is funded by the rail industry to help restore historic structures and find new uses for surplus accommodation. In 2009/10 it supported 50 projects with grants totalling £1.9M, including in Scotland refurbishment of the water-tank at Glenfinnan, restoration of the floral clock at Kilmarnock, creation of an artist's studio at Ladybank and an exhibition at Arbroath, refurbishment of Wemyss Bay Station and a study into a new use for the signalbox at Aberdour.
Britain's railway heritage can be traced back to the early part of the 19th Century and in September 1830 the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened. Although there were railways before 1830, such as the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened in 1825, the Liverpool & Manchester established the twin track intercity railway and was the first to have a major railway station. This established the basic principles for terminals, many of which are still as valid to day as they were then and can be found in most modern transport terminals. The Liverpool & Manchester railway also established the concept of having a locomotive at one end of the train.
From 1830, Britain's railway network grew significantly and the 1840's saw the era of "railway mania" with railways spreading across the country, leading to today's network. Britain has the richest collection of railway heritage in the world and many of the major stations of today date from that period. Examples are London's Waterloo, St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations, which are still evolving to cater for today's traveller. St. Pancras has been rebuilt, although retaining many original features. Currently, Kings Cross station is being redeveloped and interestingly, the shape of the new concourse is determined by the Fleet river that is now underground.
Prior to railways, intercity travel was by stagecoach over rough roads and depending on the distance travelled, journeys could take many days. As railways were built they changed the countryside and dominated the landscape in a way that canals did not, with railway viaducts and tunnels. Railways were mostly built using basic techniques, but despite this many structures exhibited a degree of architectural splendour, even for tunnel portals, for example, that at the Clayton Tunnel on the main London to Brighton railway line, famous for its elaborate fascia on the northern portal designed to resemble a castle. Another good example is Newcastle Central Station and high level bridge.
The railways also required bridges and there are many examples of different approaches taken to the problem and many historically important designs by the leading engineers of the day. Examples are the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straight, the Tamar bridge and the iconic Forth railway bridge.
The end of the 19th Century can be classed as the "golden age" of railways and by that time there were some 19,000 miles of track and some 9,000 stations. Much of this track was not necessary and many branch lines were also not essential. The rail network also had some 60,000 bridges, 1,000 tunnels and innumerable buildings, such as engine sheds, warehouses and signal boxes.
Looking at stations, St. Pancras is a Victorian Gothic design and behind the hotel is Barlow's roof, which at the time was the largest single span arch roof in the world, and is still in existence. Another good example is Nottingham Midland Station, built as a response to the construction of the Great Central main line, or the joint station at Huddersfield serving both the Lancs and Yorkshire Railway and the London and North Western Railway.
Today's railways developed the train product from ~Stevenson's Rocket through the age of steam to the Evening Star and dieselisation and on to todays High Speed trains, but the railway is still very much 19th Century underneath and can be recognised in photographs taken in the 19th century.
In the mid 20th Century there were many changes. After the first world war, the railways lost their monopoly as road vehicles started competing, given a boost be the large surplus of vehicles sold off by the army and the pool of qualified drivers and mechanics who were demobbed. There was a long period of resistance to change and the railways did not recognise that the world had changed. The early 1960's saw the recognition of the need for change and historic buildings and structures were then seen as old fashioned and in the way of progress and not in keeping with the "white heat of technology" as put by Harold Wilson in 1963.
Station redevelopment swept away the old and as an example Andy Savage paused to reflect on the Euston Arch that was once at Euston Station. It was a structure that was demolished, but should have been kept, albeit moved to a new location as it was impeding development of the station.
Another example was the plan to close the Midland main line and St. Pancras station. By the 1960's the line and station were considered redundant This led to a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman to save it and this was successful. Today the rebuilt station is one of the busiest and most modern in the country.
Dr. Beeching played a major part in restructuring the railways in the early 1960's and paradoxically he did more to save the railways than is realised. It should be remembered that railway closures were taking place before he took control and he did more to change the way that the railways did business, for example, devising block trains, Freightliner and Intercity. Beeching oversaw the change needed to usher in the modern railway.
During the 20 years that followed, attitudes to heritage changed, up to and including government level, and in 1984 the Railway Heritage Trust (RHT) was founded as an independent company limited by guarantee. The RHT receives funding from both Network Rail and BRB (Residuary) Ltd, the organization responsible for upkeep and disposal of surplus property no longer need by the railways. The remit of the RHT is to assist railway companies in preserving and enhancing heritage aspects of listed buildings and structures and also to facilitate the transfer of assets no longer needed to other bodies who can undertake their preservation. The RHT also does not deal with rolling stock.
However, the RHT does not support projects on heritage railways or railways that are not part of the national railway system. Currently there are in the region of 1600 listed buildings and structures on the railway network, over 100 of which are also classed as Ancient Monuments. Various parts of the railway network are in Conservation areas and the railway industry is one the largest owners of historic premises in the country.
In the 25 years since the RHT was founded, some 1214 grants worth £31 million have been made and an additional £44 million in funding has been drawn in from other sources. Grants can be made for restoration projects, to assist in the reinstatement of features that have been removed from historic buildings or for the repair of fittings. The RHT also provides advice on restoration projects. Andy Savage illustrated his presentation with numerous examples of the work of the RHT and this was followed by a short question and answer session.
The meeting was concluded with the presentation of a pair of the Scottish Regions engraved glasses to Andy Savage by the Chairman, Derek Halden, as a memento of the evening.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Andy Savage for his presentation and First Scotrail for hosting the event.
Report by John Fender.
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