Sunday, 17 March 2013

Beeching 50 Years On

March 2013 marks fifty years since the Beeching Axe fell upon the nation’s railway system. The recommendations made by the infamous report were greeted with horror and indignation then and the furore is rekindled simply at the mention of Beeching’s name.

Dr Richard Beeching was a businessman; he had no connection with the railways. Thus any decisions that were made were based solely upon the logic of profit margins, efficiency and reinvestment, never to be swayed by sentiment. Yet still his name is remembered in an almost Quisling-esque light as the man who decimated the railways. Even British situation comedy used his infamy: thirty years after its publication, writers David Croft and Richard Spendlove, in conjunction with the BBC, produced twenty episodes in a series entitled Oh, Doctor Beeching!

Five decades have passed and, with hindsight, we now see that the report did more than any other factor to preserve the nation’s railway heritage. Without it the buildings, disused lines, locomotives, rolling stock, signalling systems and signs would simply have been removed and tucked into a corner to be forgotten, or even rotted away.

In this book we shall look at the positive effects the report has had, not on the railways themselves – that has been done many times – but on the opportunities which would never have arisen otherwise. We shall look at the gentle gradients of old lines, perfect for walkers and cyclists alike. Buildings, no longer used as stations and sheds, are now private residences, small businesses, holiday homes and public meeting places.

Memorabilia, often described as railwayana, which would otherwise have rusted away, now command prices at collectors’ auctions which would astound those who lovingly painted and polished them. And, of course, we shall look at the heritage railways which attract many thousands each year. They not only allow volunteers to enjoy railways at a level they could otherwise never have imagined, they have also provided employment for others as engineers, station staff, and so on.

Maybe by the end of the book Dr Beeching will be seen in a slightly different light by the reader: not as the saviour of Britain’s railways, but as someone whose name should be associated with a whole new area of leisure for all and indeed pleasure for those who can swap 00 gauge for 4ft 8in (1.44m).

As part of the launch The History Press will be at the West Somerset Railway Spring Gala 2013 between Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th March at the Railway Literary Festival.

As usual I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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