Michael Portillo journeys around Britain by train. He learns to speak Scouse in Liverpool and finds out about the first railway fatality.
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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.
His name was George Bradshaw, and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.
Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see and where to stay.
Now, 170 years later, I'm making four long journeys across the length
and breadth of the country to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
Until the 1840s, travelling by rail in Britain was really complicated.
There were already 20,000 miles of track
and more railway companies than we have today.
The only way you could find out the timetable was by going to your local station.
Then, in 1841, along came George Bradshaw, a map engraver from Manchester, who put the timetables
together and produced the first handbook of Britain's railways.
I want to find out the extent to which the industries and the places and the types of people
that Bradshaw wrote about still exist and whether a Victorian handbook
can help us to understand the way that the railways made us the people that we are today.
First up, I'll be learning the lingo in Liverpool...
You have the Beatles - Paul McCartney, very soft, sort of, "How you doing, Michael? How's things?"
And then you've got Lennon, with his nasal sort of twang, the adenoids.
..then visiting the birthplace of the first steam locomotive, George Stephenson's Rocket...
It was an absolutely astonishing event in railway and, indeed, world history.
..and having a go at folding an Eccles cake.
That's one of mine. You may have guessed.
All this week, I'll be travelling west to east,
starting from Liverpool, along the oldest
passenger railway in the world,
on the line that was built to take cotton
from Liverpool's docks to Manchester's mills.
After stopping at Skipton,
I'll carry on across Yorkshire
and eventually end up at the east-coast resort of Scarborough.
Today, I'll be covering the first 30 miles
via Rainhill to Eccles.
And my first stop is Lime Street station, in Liverpool.
I'm now in the tunnel
that runs from Edge Hill into Liverpool Lime Street.
It's a mile and a quarter long.
It goes all the way under the city, and Bradshaw was incredibly impressed.
And he said when people see this, they'll want to pay just tribute to the engineering skill
of those people who delivered the railway to the very heart of the city of Liverpool.
Bradshaw marvelled at the new railway line. But he was even more impressed
by Lime Street, one of the first stations ever built.
Bradshaw talks about Lime Street as having an Italian design, with many columns, and I suppose
he must be referring to this part of the station, which is now rather run-down and tucked in a corner.
Because when you come to Lime Street, what you're really impressed by is this enormous
Victorian canopy of glass and iron. Magnificent.
Liverpool has always been a vibrant city.
In Bradshaw's day, it was a great port, second only to London.
Today, its rich Victorian heritage sits alongside
a shiny new Liverpool that's sprung up in the last few years.
I love the way this brand-new glass building reflects the old Liverpool,
the Liver Building, one of the most famous buildings on Merseyside.
Throughout its history, the docks, more than anything else, have shaped Liverpool's character.
Bradshaw's guide was struck by the huge numbers of people moving through the city.
"Liverpool, as might be expected, is also a great emigrant port. As many as 206,000 people,
"for whose use half a million tons of shipping were required in 1851."
In the 19th century, millions of immigrants
passed through Liverpool, leaving a mark on the city that's instantly recognisable - the Liverpool accent.
I must admit, as a Southerner, I've sometimes struggled to understand it,
so I've come for a lesson in Scouse with local author Peter Grant.
-How very nice.
-What did you say?
-La' - lad.
-Ah. That's a good start, isn't it?
That's a very good start. Where does this Liverpool accent come from?
It comes from this almost allegorical big melting pot, a big pan of accents
thrown in - Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Lancashire, Cheshire.
Put a spoon in it, stir it all up and you've got
little sparkles here and there, our little idiosyncratic little accent.
I'm following a nineteenth-century guide.
Would there have been a Scouse accent in those days?
-They would have spoken it, but it wouldn't have been recognised till about 1890.
-Is it a single accent?
You can actually discover different types of Scouse accent - the north and the south.
In Maghull, you can hear a certain type of accent that is different from the one in Allerton,
and this is reflected especially in people like some of the comedians.
You know, Stan Boardman, "the Germans".
He's from the north side. You have the Beatles - Paul McCartney,
very soft, sort of, "How you doing, Michael? How's things?"
And then you've got Lennon, with his nasal sort of twang, the adenoids.
George talking out of the side of his mouth, "Scrotty,"
and Ringo's "Thomas the Tank Engine".
So all four, all from different parts of the city.
-You're a sort of Professor Higgins of Scouse.
-I like that. I like that.
I think I'll bring out My "Faaa-ir" Lady, the sequel.
So, why don't you test me out on some Scouse words or phrases, and I'll see if I can follow you.
That fella over there, he's brickin' it.
That fella over there's brickin' it.
-That's great. That sounded like George, yeah.
That means, "That man over there is scared".
Scared, yeah, petrified. And it could have other connotations,
but, you know. 'Ey, la', you're doin' me 'ead in.
'Ey, la', you're doin' me 'ead in.
-Er, that means, "Hey, boy..."
"..you're driving me crazy".
That's good. It's like an American pop song, that.
-Have you heard the phrase "getting off a' Edge Hill"?
-Getting off the train at Edge Hill?
Yeah. In Liverpool, if you're getting off at Edge Hill, it's the last stop before Lime Street,
but Scousers tend to use it as a sort of analogy to the... let's say the sexual act
and that you went out with a girl, or a girl went out with a bloke, and you nearly got there, you know?
In the art of copping off, which is short for "copulation". So, "Did you cop off last night?"
-This is going out at 6:30!
'But it seems Scouse isn't only an accent in Liverpool.
'It's also a dish.'
-Thank you very much.
-If you like it that much, we do it in a tin as well.
OK, great. Thank you.
I feel really ignorant asking this, but what is scouse?
It's very much a peasant, working-class-type dish. It comes from Norway.
We adopted this Norwegian dish, which was a lovely big stew with beef, meat, fat, you name it.
Throw all the vegetables in, stir it round. Very nutritious.
And it stopped you getting scurvy.
What do you say for "bon appetit" in Liverpool?
Er, "'ave a good scran, la'".
'Ave a good scran, la'.
-What do you think?
-I think it's very good.
The beef has been shredded so that it just gives it a kind of real...
-kind of lovely stringy texture, doesn't it?
Yeah. But you can't beat a good, solid bowl of scouse.
And as I say, it's got everything in it.
So, it's a very, very good metaphor for the accent.
So, Liverpool's signature dish comes from Norway.
It seems everything in Liverpool originates somewhere else.
Hello, guys. Nice to see you all.
-Are you all from Liverpool?
-Do you like the city?
-Love the city.
-What do you love about it?
-The way it's so diverse.
-I like that.
-Everyone who's born in Liverpool is either
of Irish, Scottish or Welsh descent, and they say that it's a combination.
-Like, our nan's Irish.
-It's lovely to see you so enthusiastic about your city. Thank you so much.
All right. Thank you. Bye, now!
-What do you think of the city?
-The city's great.
-Great? You like the city?
-Is it getting better?
Lots of money coming in.
Can't beat it.
There was a lot of money coming in in Bradshaw's time too.
Liverpool grew into the most important port for the cotton trade,
with two million bales passing through the docks every year.
Across the Mersey, on the Wirral, there's another place Bradshaw
talks about that I'm keen to see...
Bradshaw's a little bit iffy about Birkenhead Park.
He says it's not one of the largest.
But then he goes on and says but as a model,
it's "owned to be one of the finest in England".
And it did turn out to be a model, because it was designed by
Sir Joseph Paxton and then an American, called FL Olmsted, came over.
And he was inspired by this and designed Central Park in New York City.
And with these beautiful lakes and with these rocks piled high and the trees raised up,
it does have the feel of Central Park.
And so you like to think of all those people leaving Liverpool,
Birkenhead, going across to New York City and finding something very familiar at the other side.
-Morning. How are you?
In the 1850s, up to a thousand ships a year were leaving Liverpool
for America, many carrying Irish refugees fleeing the potato famine.
The trains brought people from all over Britain to Liverpool to board the emigrant ships.
In the late nineteenth century, one of the largest groups of refugees
passing through Liverpool were Jews, like Mervyn Kingston's grandfather.
-How lovely to see you. Good morning.
-How nice to see you, Michael.
Great to see you.
When did your family come to the United Kingdom?
In the 1890s.
They came sent from Riga, in Latvia.
Now, why were they leaving Latvia?
Probably because of the pogroms.
They were chased all the time in Latvia and Lithuania, which was then part of Russia.
-They were being persecuted?
As anti-Jewish riots took hold across Russia,
over two million Jews fled Eastern Europe for America.
Between the 1880s and 1920s, many of them travelled by boat to Hull,
then caught the train to Liverpool on their way to New York.
They came to Liverpool, the whole family.
There were five of them, five children.
And when they got to Liverpool, they settled in town,
in what was called Little Moreton Street. It's been demolished since.
And my grandfather got a job with Cunard.
As they passed through Liverpool,
many decided to stay, forming one tenth of the city's population.
These days, the Jewish community has shrunk to less than one per cent.
What would you say the Jewish community's influence on Liverpool has been?
We've had seven Jewish lord mayors, many councillors.
I was a Conservative councillor once.
And we believe we give back as much as we take, if not more.
-A great tradition of philanthropy.
-We do our best.
Mervyn, thank you so much. That's been really interesting.
-Thank you for sharing those memories.
-Very nice seeing you.
-Very nice to meet you.
-Bye-bye. Take care.
I'm now leaving Liverpool to continue my journey east to Manchester.
My train will take me to Rainhill, along what is perhaps
the most historic stretch of railway in the world.
Not surprisingly, the Bradshaw guides were really keen on railway history.
"The Liverpool and Manchester line was really the first on which was attempted the practical application
"of locomotive power for the transit of goods and passengers.
"And it is therefore prominently entitled to rank as the pioneer of those stupendous undertakings
"which have not only given a new stimulus to the mechanical and architectural genius of the age,
"but have enabled this country to take the lead of all others in these respects."
The Victorians were immensely proud of their railways and immensely proud of their country.
They had good reason to be.
Before the railway, it took some 36 hours to cover the 30 miles by canal.
This line cut journey times down to just two hours,
a revolution for inter-city travel.
As the line was being built, a highly innovative competition that would change the world
took place about nine miles outside Liverpool.
This is Rainhill, and I've come to this little place because railway history was made here.
Christian Wolmar is an expert on the Rainhill Trials, the world's first steam-locomotive race.
-Are you Christian?
-How do you do? Hi.
-How lovely to see you.
Thank you very much. Why were there Rainhill Trials?
Well, essentially, it was a very clever public-relations exercise,
because they were building the Liverpool and Manchester railway,
they had just about decided that they wanted locomotives,
rather than horses or stationary engines,
so they decided to have a big launch
of a PR exercise, announcing several months in advance that there were going to be these trials
for a locomotive in October of 1829.
Set the scene for me. Were there bands? Were there balloons?
And was there hullabaloo?
Oh, it was an absolutely huge event.
There were people from Europe, from the United States.
There was maybe 10,000,15,000...
onlookers, but also all these foreign visitors who had come to see,
you know, was this the invention that, er,
was going to change the face of the world?
And they were proved right.
It was an absolutely astonishing...
event in railway and, indeed, world history.
George Stephenson, chief engineer for the Liverpool to Manchester line,
entered his steam locomotive, the Rocket.
It won hands down, achieving a top speed of 29 miles per hour.
The Rocket became the prototype for all future locomotives.
It was a one-iron-horse race, because the others blew up one by one.
He got the £500 prize, probably worth around £20,000
these days, and, crucially, the contract to build more locomotives for the Liverpool to Manchester line.
You paint a really vivid scene.
I wish I'd been there!
Christian, my train is here.
-I'd better scoot.
-Thank you so much.
Phew! Just made it.
Well, the party atmosphere of the opening of the Manchester to Liverpool railway line
was pretty much spoilt when, at the opening ceremony, there was what Bradshaw called...
"a lamentable accident to the Right Honourable William Huskisson".
Huskisson was President of the Board of Trade. He was a member of the Cabinet.
And at the opening ceremony, he was hit
by Stephenson's Rocket and he was injured.
They loaded him onto the train.
They took him to Eccles, where I'm headed now.
But he died, and so a cabinet minister became the first...
railway fatality anywhere in the world.
My last stop is Eccles, towards the other end of the Liverpool to Manchester line.
This stretch of railway is full of engineering firsts,
like the Sankey Viaduct, built by one George Stephenson.
Well, I'm looking forward to Eccles, because Bradshaw says...
"this little village is prettily situated
"on the northern banks of the Irwell
"and environed by some of the most picturesque rambles".
It sounds charming.
Which way for the picturesque rambles?
Whoops! The 21st century caught up with Eccles.
Up to the 1860s, Eccles was barely more than a few cottages.
But when the world's first passenger railway was routed through it,
the village's fate was sealed.
It was soon swallowed up into the suburbs of Manchester.
There are still some patches of greenery left,
like the vast estate of Worsley Hall.
The hall dates back to the 16th century, but was re-modelled
in Victorian times and eventually turned into a pub.
My Bradshaw's guide says it belonged to "the celebrated Duke of Bridgewater".
So, the notice in the pub tells me that the old hall burnt down
and its historic owner had a great interest in engineering.
So, tomorrow, I shall explore what was for Bradshaw
a passion almost as great as railways, that is to say canals.
Bradshaw started his life mapping Britain's canals,
before he moved on to railways, and so Worsley was of great interest to him as the birthplace of the canal.
Bradshaw's guide is interested in all great feats of construction.
It says of this spot, "The late Earl of Ellesmere inherited the vast estates of the celebrated
"Duke of Bridgewater, for whom Brindley, the engineer, first made the subterranean canals here.
"They supply the coal mines below, at a depth of 180 feet,
"and wind in and out for about 18 miles."
That prodigious feat of engineering must have inspired the railway builders of later years, and,
ironically, the railways were then to put the canals out of business.
These underground waterways were part of
the Bridgewater canal system, arguably the first in Britain.
They were built to carry coal directly from the Duke's mines
at Worsley without going to the expense of
bringing it to the surface.
This pool is browny-orange,
telling us that this water still comes up from the mine.
You can't see much now, but from 1761, barges laden with coal
would have emerged from there
and this pool would have been a hive of early industrial activity.
Clearly, what was the village of Eccles has changed a lot since Bradshaw's guide.
But the guide also notes that Eccles is celebrated for its cakes, and that hasn't changed at all.
Ian Edmondson is the production director of Lancashire Eccles Cakes.
How long has your family been involved in making Eccles cakes?
I suppose it started in the 1920s, when my grandad went round the local
bakers' shops buying cakes and then he'd put them on his horse-drawn cart
and he'd sell them at the local shops on the corners of the streets of Manchester.
And then the family decided it would be better if they actually made the cakes,
-so they set a bakery up making the cakes.
-Can we see how they're made?
Of course, yes. First, I'll show you the ingredients.
As you see here, this is the most important ingredient in an Eccles cake -
a really, really good-quality currant.
These are Vostizza and they're from a place in Aeghion, in Greece.
You'll see it says "Protected designation of origin."
Now, this is just like Champagne, where they don't allow another grape to come out of that area.
-This is the same with here.
-A guarantee of quality.
-Yes, it is.
And then we've got sugar...
Yeah, just simple ingredients. That's all that's in the product.
It's sugar, more currants, brown sugar...
-..a bit of salt...
-..and lots of butter.
Wow! It's a whole different world, isn't it?
I know, it's absolutely fantastic, isn't it?
What would it have been like here, I don't know, 50, 60 years ago?
The way they'd have made the cakes 60-odd years ago would have been
on a big, round table, a big pile of currants in the middle.
Everyone gets a little bit of pastry,
puts it in and then starts folding it into a little dolly bag
and then knocking it in rings and then putting them on trays.
So, quite inefficient, compared to how we make them now.
Yeah, because now, it's all coming down the process line.
-That looks quite complicated.
No, it's easy, really.
Just put all the four corners to the middle...
-..and then the sides.
-If you'd like to have a go, put these gloves on.
-I wish you luck, anyway.
-Yeah! Surgeon's hands! So, four corners...
-Aaah! ..into the middle.
-And then fold the side bits in as...
-Oh, Lord. Oh, that's a bit of a mess, isn't it?
And once they come off the line there,
they get baked in these ovens, taken out and taken into the packing room for cooling, then packing.
This is really where you get the strong smell of the Eccles cake, isn't it?
Yeah, you get that fantastic smell. It's all the flavours coming together of the ingredients.
How many Eccles cakes are you producing?
We're producing about 150,000 Eccles cakes a day.
In fact, it's probably in the top six most popular cakes.
That's about, er, 40 million a year, or something.
Yes! I'll take your word for that.
-Would you like to try a real Lancashire Eccles cake?
-I thought you'd never ask. Yes, please.
Beautifully folded, by the way.
Is it one of yours?
It's wicked. It's, erm...
Look at the lovely row of currants inside.
Can you taste the butter and the sugar?
Are you kidding? Of course I can! Absolutely buttery and sugary.
I'm really pleased to have looked into this very historic cake.
Centuries of history in this cake.
Yeah, and the fantastic thing about it is that it's the only Eccles cake
you'll get in a supermarket that's made within five miles of Eccles.
-The genuine article.
-Of course, yes.
The delicious pastries became so popular, they were transported to
markets up and down the country by train and sold on station platforms.
They were even exported to America and the West Indies
and were laced with brandy to help them last the journey.
But that method of preservation got the cakes into trouble.
The apparently innocuous Eccles cake has been
associated with merrymaking, so much so that at one time, Cromwell banned the Eccles cake.
And it got into trouble again in the 19th century, because they used to put brandy in the cakes,
and it's thought that one railway driver
got so drunk on eating Eccles cakes that he fell off his footplate.
And thereafter, the sale of liquor and the sale of Eccles cakes
was banned at all the stations around Eccles.
It wasn't only goods like the Eccles cake that the railways transported around the world.
Before Britain had railways, the average Briton was born, lived
and died within a 15-mile radius of the same spot.
The railways changed people's lives, and George Bradshaw saw it happening.
In a single lifetime, he saw how the railways changed industrialisation,
and how they changed people's lives,
and how they brought about the exponential growth of cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
And Bradshaw was proud of the technology and proud that it was British.
Next time, I'll be discovering how Manchester came to be known as Cottonopolis.
By the end of the century, the Indians were getting Indian designs
sent back from Manchester to India that maybe came from cotton that they'd grown originally.
-It was crazy.
-I'll be finding out about Bradshaw the man
and how he helped to unify time...
Each provincial city, like Birmingham, Manchester and so on, had their own time.
And of course, this was liable to create great confusion with railway timetables.
..and how the railways brought fish and chips to British plates.
Oh, thank you very much! Lovely.
It was the onset of the railways that allowed all this population,
this inland population, to, for the first time, experience sea fish.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. In a series of four epic journeys, Portillo travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed the public, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
His journey takes him coast to coast, from Liverpool to Scarborough, beginning on the world's first passenger railway line. On the first leg, Michael learns to speak Scouse in Liverpool, finds out about the first railway fatality and explores the origins of the Eccles cake.