Michael Portillo travels around Britain by train. He is fitted for a trilby in Denton and discovers the role the railways had in the creation of fish and chips.
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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.
From the early days of Britain's railways,
you couldn't contemplate a journey without first consulting
Bradshaw's - a comprehensive guide to train timetables.
Over the coming weeks, using an ancient Bradshaw's guide, I will criss-cross Britain,
on four fascinating routes to view the places and achievements that delighted the Victorians,
to see how the railways changed the British people
and to understand how much we've changed since.
Along today's route, 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 had grown originally. It was crazy.
..finding out how Bradshaw helped unify time across the UK...
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.
Thank you very much indeed. Lovely.
It was the onset of the railways that allowed all this population,
this inland population, for the first time to experience sea fish.
On this journey, I'm travelling
from Liverpool along the world's first
passenger railway to Manchester.
Then, I'll continue on across the country,
from west to east through Yorkshire,
along the Humber estuary to Hull,
and eventually, up the coast
to my final destination at Scarborough.
My first train is from Eccles to the centre of Manchester.
Then, I'll head to Denton
and travel north to Bury.
Manchester has a rich railway history, so I'm going to spend some time exploring it and its suburbs.
The city helped to build the first modern train line from Liverpool in 1830.
In turn, the railway transformed Manchester into a powerful global hub,
and it was here that the first railway timetables were published and sold.
So to start off, I'm heading right for the centre, where it all began.
Manchester Victoria. Manchester - one of the hugely important cities
in the development of our railways, and also the birthplace of one George Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, being from Manchester, must have written about this city
with particular pride,
and his guide book contains this page of illustrations of
the buildings that the Victorians were so proud of -
the Free Trade Hall, the Exchange building, fantastic achievements
that I'm really looking forward to seeing again.
Many of these grand buildings so familiar to Bradshaw were built
with the wealth generated by the cotton trade in the early 19th century,
and it was around that time that Manchester was nicknamed Cottonopolis.
I'm hoping to get a tour of Cottonopolis from local guide
Jonathan Schofield, starting at the Royal Exchange building.
Hi, I'm Michael. Great to see you.
Nice to meet you, Michael. Welcome to Manchester.
It's lovely to be here. Why have you brought me to the Exchange building first?
Well, I suppose the Royal Exchange is the spiritual heart of Manchester. What really gave Manchester
its dynamism was trade, was business, and the Royal Exchange is the heart of that business.
Well, I'm carrying this 150-year-old guide book, Bradshaw's, and Bradshaw describes this building...
He was very impressed by this rounded Doric front,
-and he describes the "cotton lords" meeting here on a Tuesday.
they were cotton lords.
Manchester was Cottonopolis and these were the cotton barons,
or the Cottontots they were often called as well,
and they would come here and they would do business.
And by the way, it was so crowded in there that you had a grid reference.
On the columns on the inside, you had letters and numbers,
so I'll meet you at J2, because you would not find the trader otherwise.
Describe the trade to me.
Where is the cotton coming from before it reaches Manchester?
Where is it going to after it has been in Manchester?
It's coming from the hotter parts of the world, in some respects.
It's coming from the southern states of the USA or Egypt - places where they can grow raw cotton.
We cannot grow raw cotton around here, and so therefore, it would have come at least a thousand miles.
The new railway gave Manchester a competitive edge over
the rest of the world and sent the cotton industry into overdrive.
Textiles, spinning, weaving and dyeing dominated
Victorian Manchester and the small mill towns that surrounded it.
By 1913, 65 per cent of the world's cotton was processed in the area.
By the end of the century, we were selling printed fabric back to...
tribes people in Africa.
The Indians were getting Indian designs sent back from Manchester
to India, that maybe came from cotton that they had grown originally.
It was crazy, but it just builds up that classic competitive advantage.
So, what's going to be the next stop on Jonathan's tour of Cottonopolis?
Now, we're here at the cotton cathedral, I suppose, with the Royal Exchange.
-Let's go to the civic cathedral, which is Manchester town hall.
All around the city, you get these little gems that tell a story about Manchester and its cotton heyday.
Sometimes, they're on the buildings. Sometimes, they're literally on city streets,
and just here, you can see iron kerbs, which are very distinctive.
I've come across them in other cities, but not with
the regularity you see them in Manchester, and that's because these
vast cotton trucks, covered in cotton bales, over-laden with cotton bales, would crack and smash stone kerbs.
So what they thought to do - we'll put iron kerbs. It didn't actually work.
They just got pushed into the ground, but they didn't crack at least. And you can see these
certainly in the warehouse districts, but also in other areas of the city, and it's just a little reminder.
We still rattle around in the bones of the cotton industry in Manchester.
A vein of history written into the streets.
This is a wonderful way to approach the town hall, isn't it?
It is. It's the best way - face on to Manchester's civic cathedral that
tried to embody all those virtues of independence of spirit and mind.
This grand Neo-Gothic pile cost a million pounds to complete in 1887.
That's about £48 million in today's money,
which shows just how wealthy Manchester had become.
What it is really, I suppose, is a complete encapsulation of that
high Victorian utter confidence, and I think the golden ball with spikes on the top there is a classic one.
Most town halls might have had a crown, or a cross, or something like that. We've got...
a symbol of the cotton industry, the cotton bud about to burst and give us the raw material itself.
But also - and I love this particular one - is the sun,
and it's saying, "Wherever the sun shines, Manchester has business."
We are international. We don't look local, we don't even look national.
We look across the world to our trade, and we feel we have influence on the world as well.
George Bradshaw was extremely proud of his home city and its monopoly of the cotton industry.
He wrote, "Watt's steam engine,
"Arkwright's power loom and the factory system and
"inexhaustible supplies of coal have given superiority to Manchester."
But when India gained independence, it began to process its own cotton much more cheaply.
Manchester's cotton scene slowed and, by the 1950s,
the mills began to close. Today,
the mill buildings are surrounded by a different Manchester -
a city of glass and steel. And that's partly due to
one recent event that profoundly changed the skyline.
In the 1990s, a massive bomb destroyed the Arndale Centre,
during that dark period for Ireland and the United Kingdom of which I have many poignant memories myself.
But in Manchester today, you sense that it wasn't just the
unhappy chance of a bomb that's led to the city's transformation.
There is today an appetite for architecture as provocative and
outstanding as that that Bradshaw admired a century and a half ago.
Mancunians, it seems, have always been looking ahead, ready to embrace the future.
-How are you?
-Fine, how are you?
So, Manchester now is full of modern buildings, skyscrapers and so on.
-What do you think of those?
-I like it, cos it's like...
a diverse mix of old buildings and new buildings, and some of them, like,
you can see how Manchester's changing over the years. Like, you've got cobbled streets
in Market Street and then next to it, you've got the Hilton Hotel and everything, so it's really different.
You can see the timeline of how everything's changed.
What do you think of Manchester now?
Oh, I always liked Manchester.
-It's a changing city, isn't it?
-Yeah, but I still like it.
So what's better - the old Manchester or the new Manchester?
Well, you've got to go with the times, haven't you?
Manchester's busiest station, Piccadilly, certainly did move with the times.
Manchester Piccadilly has none of the Victorian old-world charm of Manchester Victoria.
This has been made to look like an airline terminal.
This says, "I'm classy, I'm glassy and brand new."
I'm heading south, to find out about another textile success story for Manchester driven by the railways.
Bradshaw's guide tells me that Denton, towards which I'm headed now, has several "hat manufacturies"
as he puts it. Denton then was a village of about 3,500 people.
I think now, I'm going to discover it's pretty much been absorbed into Greater Manchester.
In the 1800s, there were 90 hat factories around here,
employing almost 40 per cent of the population.
It's claimed the trilby hat was born here,
but the hat industry was all but killed off with the arrival of
the motor car. It provided shelter from the elements,
so hats were no longer needed.
Failsworth Hats is one of the few hat factories left,
and manager Karen Turner is going to make me my very own Denton trilby.
Are you Karen?
Oh, I am, yes. Hi! Nice to meet you, Michael.
Lovely to see you. I keep hearing about the history of hats.
So we'll just measure round your head, just above the ears at the
widest point, which is 58cm, which is a seven and one eighth in imperial.
-Oh, seven and one eighth. Useful to know. I'm often being asked that, yeah.
This is what we start off with.
This is what we call a hood, and it's made from rabbit hair,
felted rabbit hair. Nothing else, just felt and...
-It's nice and soft.
I suppose this hasn't changed very much in many decades.
No, not at all. This machinery's probably, what...?
How old do you think? 80 years old perhaps.
Some of it's even older, yeah.
Now, you seem to have put that into a steam chamber. Is that right?
Yeah, steam is really important.
The steam is softening it now.
Abracadabra... I've been following a guide book
150 years old that talks about the hatters around Manchester.
Would the process be very different 150 years ago?
Probably not, no. The only difference might have been that, whereas
we start off now with a hood, they will have
actually bought in rabbit hair and made the hoods themselves,
which was even more labour-intensive.
In Bradshaw's time, mercury was used to separate the rabbit hair from the hide to make the felted hoods.
Many hat workers suffered from mercury poisoning, with symptoms like erratic behaviour and dementia.
It's said that the expression "mad as a hatter" came from that.
Back to my hat. After much more steaming, stretching
and setting of its shape and size, it's almost complete.
So, now we're going to line the hat in,
and perhaps you'd like to have a go at this to finish the hat off?
I'd be worried to have a go, because when I make construction kits,
I always manage to get the glue everywhere.
-Er, not bad, Michael!
-But this is very nearly a completed hat.
It is very nearly, yeah, yeah.
Pull the brim down your nose.
And at a jaunty angle.
That's it, yeah, yeah. Very good.
-Is that it?
-Yeah, very nice.
Thank you very much.
Over many decades, thousands of workers making headwear for the world
helped put Manchester on the map and I lift my hat to them.
-Do you ever wear a hat?
-No, not any more. I used to.
-And what made you give up wearing a hat?
Er, well, none of them fit me now!
They're all too big!
But do you think it's a pity that people don't wear hats any more?
Oh, the young ones do, don't they?
-They seem to wear these trilby things that are in fashion.
-Oh, do you think so?
So, maybe there's still hope for the hat industry.
Now, it's back into Manchester for my bed for the night.
And my trusty edition of Bradshaw
has brought me to one of the most impressive buildings in Manchester.
In Victorian times,
even the most utilitarian of buildings were magnificent.
As Bradshaw's guide says, "For style of architecture and beauty,
"perhaps Watts's new warehouses in Portland Street excel all others and ought by all means to be seen."
When it opened in 1858, it was the world's first cash and carry.
Now, it's a listed building and, luckily for me, my hotel for the night.
This building was designed to look like
a highly decorated Venetian palazzo from the 15th century.
It was a way of saying, "The cotton barons of Manchester are as powerful and wealthy
"as the merchants of Venice were when they dominated trade in Europe."
Bright new morning in Manchester, and the interior of the warehouse
that is now my hotel is just as magnificent as the exterior.
It's incredible that the Victorians built warehouses to this quality, but even so, I can't believe that
the original warehouse had that chandelier.
These days, there's not much sign of the cotton industry left, but I'm told that the sweeping,
cantilevered iron staircase and balconied stairwell
are part of the original warehouse.
Bradshaw's home city has changed dramatically since he set up
his company here in the 1830s, publishing railway timetables.
In this short street, George Bradshaw had his office once,
but it's perfectly clear there's no trace of it left now.
But I'm interested to find out more about this son of Manchester and how it was that he came to bring
order to that chaotic world in which the many railway companies
had uncoordinated and largely unknowable timetables.
I know that he was born in Salford, just outside Manchester, in 1801.
As a Quaker, he was involved in charity work and would have been a well-known figure amongst
the Manchester radicals. A political animal perhaps,
which makes him even more interesting to me.
Historian Trevor Thomas is an expert on Bradshaw and his railway guides,
many of which have ended up here, at the John Rylands Library.
-Nice to meet you.
-I feel as if I've come to Bradshaw's shrine here.
Yes, I think you're right. This is the city he was born in and lived in all his life.
'Bradshaw's big idea was to gather all the railway timetables for the whole country into one handy guide.'
And here is the Bradshaw collection.
Wow. It's all Bradshaw. Bradshaw, Bradshaw, Bradshaw...
Bradshaw, Bradshaw, Bradshaw... And Bradshaw is up here. It's huge.
-Yes, it's one of the...probably the best collection of Bradshaw material that there is in the country.
Trevor's picked out one of the earliest editions
so that we can take a closer look.
So, this is very small, clearly intended to go in a pocket.
I think it's a waistcoat guide,
which you could stick easily in your coat pocket,
and this is actually the first edition of 1839.
And this was the first time these timetables had been brought together in one place, is that right?
Er, it's... A number of people were trying to produce timetables in 1839
and Bradshaw was the one that won the race
to produce the first unified national timetable.
And the interesting thing about this particular copy is that it's
an association copy which a previous owner had bought from Mrs Bradshaw.
And the note says that the coloured lines of the railways were done by
George Bradshaw's son and granddaughter,
so it's a historical connection with George Bradshaw, this particular map.
This tells us about Bradshaw's origin, doesn't it? Because he started as a map-maker.
He was an engraver, and he set up an engraving shop in Manchester that
first produced canal maps. And he was very quick to spot the commercial potential of the new railways
and the need for a unified timetable to make sense of them for the user.
So, by the time that he's producing timetables,
has time been standardised across Britain?
Not at this stage, no. 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.
So each city is setting its own time, according to when the sun sets in that particular place.
That's right. There's no GMT, there's no pips, nothing of that kind.
And the early trains - the guard used to carry a fob watch - which was London time - with him on the train,
so that there was at least one established sort of rule of time.
And the railway manufacturers, or the railway companies,
did start political pressure to standardise time,
so they were responsible for pressure to actually produce what we now know as GMT, I suppose.
The first time I ever heard of Bradshaw I think was in Sherlock Holmes.
Whenever there's a new case and they have to travel somewhere, Holmes says to Watson, "Get the Bradshaw!"
There are many, many literary references, including Jules Verne - Around The World In Eighty Days,
where the first thing they do is to consult Bradshaw, so it was universally known.
Bradshaw got as far as India and China.
One of the most interesting ones is an overland guide, in which
he describes the railway journey from London to India in some detail,
so they did extend very, very widely.
You're giving me a very good idea for the next series.
I did wonder about that.
Despite the enormous changes in Manchester since Bradshaw's time,
with its iron kerbs and grand public buildings,
the city's history is still evident for all to admire.
Hello. Castleton, single, please.
-Single to Castleton... £2.90, please.
-Thank you very much.
There you go.
-Thanks a lot.
Easy enough to buy a ticket, and just as well, because nothing drives me mad like bureaucracy.
When Bradshaw first travelled by rail, you had to buy your ticket a day ahead, you had to give
your purpose for travel, your place of birth, your age, your name, your address -
a bit like buying an airline ticket today, really.
For the last leg of my journey, I'm heading north, to the hills and valleys around Bury.
I don't know what I did with my ticket...
In Bradshaw's day, this area was alive with industry.
He writes, "Stone, coal, slate are quarried in great plenty in the neighbouring moorlands,
"and cotton, woollen and flannel are the staple articles of manufacture."
There's little evidence of any of this today.
But one thing that the railways brought here is still going strong...
..fish and chips.
Hello, I've come to see Tony.
-That's the one.
Tony Rogers and his family have been supplying fish
to fish and chip shops in the area for over 100 years.
I'm following a 19th-century guide book to Britain's railways, and I assume
the railways made a big difference to the availability of fish.
They made a tremendous difference.
Prior to the rail, people living in inland towns and cities could only
eat fresh-water fish caught in the local ponds and rivers and streams.
It was the onset of the railways that allowed all this population,
this inland population, for the first time to experience sea fish.
The railway was a revolution. For the first time,
it meant that fish could be caught, transported
and sold in a city like Manchester, all in the space of a few hours.
Soon, the popular dish - fish and chips - was born, although it's not clear where.
It's a source of great rivalry between where the origins were -
in the East End of London, or Ashton-under-Lyne - Mossley.
Mr Lees, in Mossley, claims to be the originator of bringing over French fries and the chip potatoes.
Now, as a Northerner, I stake my claim!
Well, all this talk of food is making me hungry.
Rock salmon was a favourite in the 19th century,
but at Caroline Thomson's chip shop, the menu is always changing.
-Hiya. How are you?
Hi, Caroline. Fine, thanks.
-Oh, thank you very much indeed. Lovely.
-Smashing. Thanks, Caroline.
-You're Caroline, aren't you?
-Tony's been telling me all about you. Come and join us.
I'm eating traditional cod.
Are tastes changing very much?
-I think cod is our best seller, although we do such a variety of fish.
-Any new developments?
Yes, there are, actually. We've got these.
They're called ocean pearls, which is a mussel deep-fried.
-In batter, yes, yes. And then this is scampi,
but you know what scampi is.
Everything has to be hot. If it's dipped in the chilli, it's nice.
It's nice, very nice. And should I be worried about calories?
You just have to say no to the cream cake afterwards!
In Bradshaw's time, the railways reached into every corner
of people's lives, in ways that no-one could have predicted.
You can scarcely overstate
how much change the railways brought to Britain.
They made Manchester not only big,
they put it at the heart of a global trading empire, and they altered
ordinary people's lives too, including the food that they could eat.
Few people understood, and certainly no-one recorded, the transformation better than George Bradshaw.
Tomorrow, I'll be travelling back in time in a Victorian railway carriage.
In the age before health and safety, it doesn't say, "Do not lean out of the window". So, may I have a lean
-out of the window, please?
-Yes, of course.
I'll be finding out about the latest Roman discoveries in York.
This is a part of the city wall that was only exposed about 30 years ago.
And I'll be taking to the air in the Network Rail helicopter.
The Victorians built it right along the cliff edge.
It is one of the most spectacular bits of track I have ever seen.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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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 us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
While travelling coast to coast from Liverpool to Scarborough, Michael visits Manchester to find out more about George Bradshaw himself. He also gets fitted for a trilby in Denton and learns how the railways helped to create a national institution - fish and chips.