Michael Portillo's journey continues from Manchester. He comes face to face with the Victorian scientist who invented modern atomic theory.
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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.
At a time when railways were new,
Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.
I'm using a Bradshaw's guide to
understand how trains transformed Britain,
its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.
As I crisscross the country 150 years later,
it helps me to discover the Britain of today.
My journey from the Irish Sea to the North Sea continues by tram through
Manchester. The city shared with
Liverpool the world's first intercity
passenger railway and, with its cotton mills,
it was at the heart of the world's first Industrial Revolution.
But, today, I hope to discover that
Manchester was also a city of science.
Was, and still is.
My journey would take me across England towards East Anglia.
I started in the north-west and headed to Manchester,
the world's first industrial city and,
using the historic route of the
North Country Continental rail service,
I'll cross the Fens and finish in Essex at the port of Harwich.
'This second leg of my journey
'starts in Manchester and takes me to nearby Fairfield.
'From there, I'll head north-east,
'marvelling at Britain's longest canal tunnel in Marsden,
'before finishing at a triumph of Victorian manufacturing
'near Silkstone Common.
'On this journey, I discover
'Victorian grandeur deep underground...'
This is known as the Cathedral,
which has this vaulted cast iron arch.
'..find my travels lit by starlight...'
Lift it, please! Let there be light.
'..and take a miniature detour.'
Bradshaw's tells me that John Dalton here developed his great discovery
of atomic theory, which has done so much to give precision to science.
The revelation in Manchester of the
tiniest thing has had, for the world,
the most enormous consequences.
In the hundred years before my guidebook was published,
Manchester had grown from a market town of 10,000 people to become the
world's first industrial city, with a population of 300,000.
Technology drove that unprecedented expansion.
I'm meeting historian of technology Dr James Sumner
at Manchester Town Hall to learn
about the impact of John Dalton's work.
-Michael, pleased to meet you.
We meet in Manchester's famously magnificent town hall,
and you have a statue here of John Dalton?
We do indeed.
It's the first thing that people see as they come into the town hall.
It's right in the main entrance.
-Here he is.
-Well, a massive statue of John Dalton.
James, what was it that he did?
John Dalton came up with the idea of the modern atomic theory.
He didn't come up with the idea of atoms,
these tiny unbreakable particles that make up all of matter,
that's an ancient idea.
What he did come up with was a very simple system
to use the atomic idea to help us understand the world.
So he knew about the elements that we're familiar with - hydrogen,
oxygen and so forth.
Dalton's system was all hydrogen atoms weigh the same or oxygen atoms
weigh the same and,
when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together, and combine them to make
water, what's happening is that
exactly one atom of oxygen is somehow
combining with exactly one atom of hydrogen or, possibly, two.
It took a while to work out the details.
Dalton created the periodic table,
showing the relative weights of atoms of different elements.
He has been hailed as the father of modern chemistry.
Chemists of Dalton's time really started to take notice because they
were getting very good at making
exact measurements of various chemical and physical processes,
and Dalton's system of simple
proportions allowed them to understand a lot
of the results that they were getting.
How was he regarded here in Manchester?
John Dalton was not only
Manchester's most important scientific hero,
he was its only scientific hero in the first half of the 19th century.
And so there was so much effort to commemorate Dalton,
even during his own lifetime.
What's really unusual about this statue is that it was produced while
Dalton was still alive,
so Dalton actually went down to London and modelled for this.
The civic leaders of Manchester were keen to establish it's not just a
place where people manufactured things,
it's a place that has culture and art and science,
so they needed a scientific hero.
When Dalton died, Manchester honoured him with a civic funeral.
He lay in state in the town hall for
four days as 40,000 people filed past his coffin.
His ideas transformed 19th-century science and remain
important for today's research.
I'm heading to the National Graphene Institute to meet Professor of
Material Science Ian Kinloch.
-Hi. Welcome to Manchester.
Thank you very much indeed. What an almost James Bondian scene this is!
Manchester has the National Graphene Institute,
which raises the question, what is graphene?
Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms where the atoms are
arranged in a hexagon, but the interest in graphene is because,
when it gets down to one atom thick,
it has excellent conductive properties,
the electrons are moving as if they're close to the speed of light,
it has excellent stiffness,
excellent strength, and a really high surface area,
which opens up a whole range of applications.
It is mind-boggling, to me, to
imagine a substance that is one atom thick.
Graphene was isolated in 2004 by physicists Konstantin Novoselov
and Andre Geim,
who received the Nobel Prize and were knighted.
They used a piece of sticky tape to isolate graphite by peeling it
backwards again and again and again until it got thinner and thinner and
thinner. They just had one atom thick of material left.
That is an extraordinary image!
It's the world's first
two-dimensional material as well as its most electro conductive.
It's 200 times stronger than steel
and a million times thinner than a human hair.
What uses have you found so far for graphene?
We are looking at putting graphene into energy storage devices such as
batteries to make them last longer, for them to store more power,
applications in aerospace.
Why are the people behind us wearing such a lot of protective clothing?
When you are working down on the atomic scale,
bits of dust can interfere with experiments,
and the biggest source of dust is ourselves,
so all these protective gowns you
can see here is actually to protect the samples from the scientists.
Though graphene is a substance that works at an atomic level,
it's possible to see it being created.
So what we have is we have a beaker with two graphite electrodes in it.
The idea is that we put a potential across this and drive ions into the
graphite lattice, and we expand it so the graphene falls apart.
So it's all set up and all we need to do is just switch on the switch.
Off we go and make some graphene.
I can see that the clear solution is now being clouded with black,
and that is the graphene been pushed off the graphite, is it?
Yes, so the ions are going into the graphite and pushing the graphene
layers away from that graphite electrode,
and what we end up with this a solution such as this.
We end up with a nice black solution.
Then we can dry it even further and make a powder.
Can you demonstrate an application to me?
Of course. So we have just over here a brick,
which has been covered in graphene paint.
We've got this side is uncoated and this side you can see is coated with
the graphene. If we put water on here,
you can see the water on the brick fairly quickly goes into the brick.
Or if we put it over on the graphene surface here,
you can see how it rises up and it's hydrophobic and the water droplets
stay on the surface.
So Manchester is not any more the city of horny-handed toil,
but actually of science?
Yes, and, in fact, we are the 2016 City of Science.
I'm returning to Piccadilly station and taking the short hop four miles
west on the line which connects
Manchester to Leeds, via Huddersfield.
My next stop will be Fairfield.
Bradshaw's tells me that it's
celebrated for its extensive Moravian settlement.
It shows there's nothing new about immigration.
Moravians were, I think, a fleeing,
persecuted religious minority at a time when most people thought that
their immortal souls depended not
only upon being godly but on adhering
to a single religion which they regarded as true.
Today, the Moravians are still part of the Fairfield community.
I'm eager to learn more about the settlement from Fairfield community
guide Janet Waugh.
Janet, where is the Moravia from which Moravians come?
It's from the Czech Republic.
It has two provinces there, or did have, called Moravia and Bohemia,
and that's where they got their sort of nickname, if you like.
Why did they move out of Moravia and Bohemia?
Because they were being persecuted.
They were a Protestant church,
and the ruling king and queen were Catholics
and they couldn't freely worship as they wanted to,
so they decided it was best to move on.
The Moravians objected to many
doctrines and practices within the Catholic Church.
They criticised the behaviour of priests and the Pope,
in particular, the sale by the church of indulgences,
which amounted to selling forgiveness for one's sins.
Moravians also believed that
ordinary people should receive wine, as well as bread at Mass.
So are Moravians part of a
Protestant movement around the time of Luther and Calvin?
Yeah, they were actually about 50 years before Martin Luther.
The main person in the Czech Republic was Jan Hus.
He was around 1400.
He was asked to go and meet the Pope and he was martyred there,
-killed for heresy.
-When did the Moravians first come to Britain?
They'd come from Germany.
They decided they wanted to go out into the world and be missionaries.
This extraordinary and wonderful place,
they built this as we see it today?
Yes, they started in 1783.
They set up kilns on-site in 1783 and used the clay that was here so
that all the bricks are handmade and, by 1785,
they'd managed to build the main Church Terrace,
the brethren's house and the sisters house and 13 dwellings.
And the rest of it was finished about 1796.
Though it's now been engulfed by the city of Manchester,
the Fairfield settlement was originally built in open fields.
When inaugurated in 1785, it had 110 inhabitants.
How many Moravians would there be, for example, in Britain?
There's about 2,000. 30 churches.
And what does it mean to you to be a Moravian and to live in a Moravian
-I feel very privileged to live in this community because it is
a community, we do look after one another.
It is a very equal church,
so there's no hierarchy in at all and everybody
calls each other still brother and sister.
-Well, thank you for your welcome, sister.
-Thank you, brother.
Though they ordain ministers,
Moravians believe in a personal relationship with God,
not one that's mediated by priests.
The settlement's Chapel is still in use.
We're just in the process here of making and assembling a star.
And what's that for?
We put these up in Advent, until the 12th night.
So how do you make this thing?
Well, we have the three different sizes of points.
Would you like to have a go at making one?
HE LAUGHS NERVOUSLY
I'll give it a go.
Hello. I'm Michael.
Hi. I'm Carol. How are you?
I'll put my spectacles on for this one.
Now, I imagine you've got to draw lines, haven't you?
What I have to remember from childhood days is to get my finger
and thumb out the way when I come past.
How long have you been doing this, Carol?
Well, this is the first time that the star's been done for quite a few
years so, hopefully, this will last us for over 25 years.
If I make a mess, I've got to remember that I'm in church.
-No rude words!
Did you get it right first time or were you a bit clumsy like me?
Well, we had a few spare, so that's always good!
Absolutely brill. We'll get you back in another 25 years(!)
-Here is my poor offering.
And that appears to be the slot.
Yeah, one last slot there.
-So what happens now?
-It needs to go up.
I need to shout. Lift it, please!
Let there be light.
A star is borne aloft!
Leaving Fairfield, I'm re-joining the railway at Ashton-under-Lyne.
My next stop will be Stalybridge.
Bradshaw's tells me that it's part in Lancashire and part in Cheshire,
the two being joined by an old bridge, the rugged limestone bridge,
forming the backbone of England.
But my interest is not in the skeleton of the country.
I'm here for the buffet bar at Stalybridge station,
where travellers have slaked their thirst since 1885.
Good evening to you. Hello.
Can I have a pint of Stalybridge's best, please?
There you go. Can I get you anything else?
You wouldn't have anything to eat at this time, would you?
What we've got, which is a kind of local speciality to this pub,
is something called black peas.
Black peas, you're on!
-Excellent. Portion of black peas.
The buffet at Stalybridge is one of a handful of surviving
Victorian station bars.
I'm pleased to see that the walls are adorned with memorabilia from
the halcyon days of the railways.
In truth, I've never seen anything like these black peas.
They are about the same colour as my Bradshaw's and they look as though
they're about as old!
And yet, of course, they're delicious.
Ready for the day ahead,
I resume my journey east on the Huddersfield line,
skirting around the northern edge of the Peak District National Park.
The first stop of my new day will be Marston.
My guidebook directs me to the entrances,
to the railway and canal tunnels which run parallel with each other
and are the longest in the world.
George Bradshaw's first job was mapping canals, and he developed a
tremendous admiration for their brilliant civil engineers,
an enthusiasm which I find infectious.
I cross the Saddleworth viaduct, completed in 1849.
Its 23 arches carry the railway in a gentle curve
above the Huddersfield narrow canal.
Surrounded by the Pennines,
Marsden grew rich from the wool trade in the 19th century.
Bank Bottom Mill was one of the largest in the country,
and closed only in 2003.
Fred Carter from the Canal and River Trust
is my guide to the Standedge Tunnel.
Fred, this canal tunnel dates from
long before the railway age finished,
I think, in 1811.
It must've been a prodigious achievement in those days.
Well, you're quite right.
As I say, the fourth of April, 1811, when this tunnel was opened and,
originally, they said it would take six years to build or complete.
16 years later, they were still at it.
It's the highest, longest, deepest canal tunnel in this country.
So you're now 645 feet above sea-level.
The tunnel itself is three and a quarter miles long
and there's about 680 feet of Hillside above us.
16 years to build.
-What went wrong?
-Unfortunately, the hit a band of millstone grit,
and it's one of the hardest rocks.
Also, when they did actually dig from both ends,
they actually quite managed to miss one another and, believe it or not,
the two tunnels were actually 50 feet out of line.
And, to make life interesting,
we've got a lovely S-bend right in the middle.
The engineer for the Huddersfield narrow canal was Benjamin Outram.
He mistakenly thought that they
would be tunnelling through soft rock and
left most of the work under the
control of a less experienced engineer.
In 1801, with costs and schedules spiralling out of control,
It wasn't until six years later that renowned engineer Thomas Telford was
called in to advise on the canal's completion.
What is so striking about it, Fred, is just how incredibly narrow it is.
Well, that's why they call it a narrow canal,
and it stays about this width all the way through, would you believe?
How did they build it?
I'll just show you some of the tools.
This is what we call a star drill.
One of the navvies would hold this against the wall.
Either one or two of his colleagues
would strike at it with sledgehammers.
Strike, turn, strike, turn until, eventually, this would drill a hole.
They'd then fill the hole with gunpowder and fire that charge.
Many deaths during the construction?
They say 50, but we think there are more.
The tunnel cost around £125,000,
one of the most expensive canal tunnels built at the time.
To cut costs, the engineers dispensed with a tow path.
No room here for an animal.
-What was the propulsion?
to bring the barges through here by a method called legging.
Two gentleman would lie on the backs of the boats here,
feet out to either side.
They'd begin to take this sideways step like a crab.
For more than three miles?
Yeah, this took them about three to
three and a half hours to leg a boat through the tunnel here.
They must have been absolutely exhausted.
How they did not break their ankles or their legs in some of it,
-it's a wonder.
-The tunnel is an awe inspiring relic of the tenacity and
grit of the industrial age but its heyday was brief.
With their vastly superior speed and power, railways superseded canals.
The London and North Western Railway built a bore or tunnel parallel to
the canal, to carry trains between Manchester and Huddersfield.
Network Rail's Ian Wilson has been
responsible for maintenance at Standedge for over 20 years.
My guidebook, which is about 1864,
refers to the longest railway tunnel in the world.
-Which one is that?
-That would have been this one,
which is the Standedge Centre Bore.
It's just over three miles long and that was open at the time of the
Since then, the south bore was built, when rail traffic increased,
and then the twin track live bore,
which is this one that's still running.
What happened to the two tunnels that are now closed?
They were closed in around 1966 as part of the Beeching cuts.
-Can we go inside?
-Yes, let's go.
The closed tunnels are carefully maintained to allow servicing of the
operating bore. They also preserve the opportunity to increase rail
capacity, should it ever be required.
The 1894 tunnel is the fifth longest on the National Rail network,
running for just over three miles.
Well, this is the midpoint of the tunnels.
This is known as the Cathedral,
which has this vaulted cast iron arch,
and it's the widest connecting point between the two tunnels.
This tunnel was built, what, more
than 30 years after the canal tunnel.
Was it of any use to these tunnel builders that the canal tunnel was
-Having the canal
meant they could create short passages
across from this tunnel to the canal
and they could take the spoil out and bring materials in,
which would have speeded the
building of the tunnel up by possibly years.
And, by comparison with the canal
tunnel, of course, this is much bigger.
I mean, this is a monumental piece of work.
It's huge. I think there's 50
million bricks used to build one of these tunnels.
50 million bricks!
-50 million bricks.
-And how do you
feel about these tunnels where you work every day?
I do get quite attached to them and I have been known to refer
to them as my babies, because every one has its own character and little
traits and things.
They're my babies, yes!
With my subterranean exploration at an end,
I'm completing my journey across the Pennines to Huddersfield.
From there, the railway takes me 17 miles south.
'The important rank,'
which the manufacturers of Yorkshire have long maintained in the
estimation of the world, the amount of patient thought,
of repeated experiment and happy exertion of genius,
by which our various manufacturers
have been carried to their present excellence,
is scarcely to be imagined.
When I leave this train at Silkstone Common,
I'm going to investigate the life of a man who added mightily to the
reputation of his county and his country.
Four miles south of Silkstone Common lies Wortley Top Forge.
It's the oldest surviving
water-powered iron forge in the country,
dating back to 1640.
It's now a museum, and I'm meeting guide Ted Young.
So was the history of the forge?
Early in the 1600s, it was set up by the Lord of the Manor,
Sir Francis Wortley, because he was using water power.
And around a third of a mile up that way, he put the weir in,
and that holds the water at a level,
giving a difference that allows you to run the water wheels.
During the 1870s,
the metallurgist Thomas Andrews
began to conduct experiments at the forge.
He focused on the strength of
railway axles that were used on early
rolling stock, whose failure could cause a catastrophe.
Ted, do you think that Thomas Andrews was a man who used thought
and experiment, and indeed genius?
Oh, absolutely so.
He was a man who committed his life to looking into the properties of
And is it possible to see the place where he did his work?
Certainly. Shall we go into the forge?
-At the time Andrews conducted his experiments,
he was a pioneer.
The forge seems to be very kind of rustic, almost homely.
Did they have serious production going on in here?
It is, essentially, a preindustrial revolution site but,
by the railway era,
it was bringing in wrought iron bars and making 200 to 300 axles a week.
Andrews created wrought iron and subjected it to a variety
of strength and temperature experiments.
This is a bar of wrought iron.
This is the result of a process of taking pig iron,
which came from the blast furnaces.
The wonderful thing about this
material is that it has great strength.
So how'd you get from this to a railway axle?
You have to overcome one of its weaknesses,
and that is it can only be produced in bars of that size.
They got round that by fixing together 16 bars
in what they called a faggot.
The faggot is heated in the furnace up until it's white heat,
hung from a crane, and then swung across under the hammer.
And then this has begun to acquire the round shape of an axle?
Yes, this one is nearly complete,
and we can gauge it up to see that we've reached the correct diameter.
And I can swing it into position on this chain
and I can rotate it comme ca.
And how does the hammer get its power?
-From the water wheel.
-Between 1840 and 1910,
railway axles from Wortley were exported all over the world.
It's said that none ever failed, a legacy to be proud of.
Ted, that's beautiful. A working water wheel.
The power of these things is extraordinary, isn't it?
It's producing 8-10 horsepower.
This was really advanced engineering.
A real gem from the Industrial Revolution.
As though to remind us of the train axles that were manufactured here,
the forge has its own railway.
Hello, Chris. What a beautiful miniature locomotive.
-Tell me about it.
-Well, it's a quarter scale model of a locomotive,
-typically used in the North Wales quarries.
-And it runs?
Strong enough to carry someone like me?
-Shall we give it a whirl?
-We'll give it a good whirl.
There might not seem to be much
connection between the arrival of Moravian
immigrants in the 18th century and
the much later development of tunnels
and iron forges during the Industrial Revolution.
But the fact that nonconformists
were welcome in England points to
the fact that the British enjoyed relative freedom of speech
and thought at that time.
People who were educated, and those who were not,
felt at liberty to enquire
into the nature and origin of things and to experiment.
And that led to an extraordinary British contribution to engineering,
science and thought.
-That's the one.
'I climb beyond my comfort zone...'
-Just put your other foot on the next hold.
-All the way over there?
Yeah, you'll be fine. I've got you nice and safe.
'..uncover a museum of curiosities...'
If a predator tries to grab them,
they will ooze out all this slime and the predator will literally kind
of spit the hagfish out in disgust.
'..and embrace a new language with open arms.'
This is 'have to'.
-Oh, that's 'have to'?
-That's good, yeah.
Michael Portillo's journey from the Irish Sea to the North Sea continues by tram from Manchester. At the imposing town hall of the world's first industrial city, Michael comes face to face with the Victorian scientist who invented modern atomic theory. He then heads to the city's National Graphene Institute, where he learns to make the groundbreaking material invented there by two Nobel prize-winning scientists. His Bradshaw's leads him to an 18th-century settlement built by refugees from Europe.
Next, deep underground at Standedge, Michael discovers an ambitious Victorian engineering marvel. At Silkstone Common, he tracks down the forge where a Victorian metallurgist created wrought iron axles strong enough for railway rolling stock and is delighted to discover the works operates its own miniature train.