Documentary series with Michael Portillo. Michael travels back in time on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway and sees the latest Roman discoveries in York.
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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 am making four long journeys across the length
and breadth of the country to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
In the days of Sherlock Holmes, you wouldn't have set out
across Britain's private railways
without first consulting the timetables compiled by George Bradshaw.
I've embarked on four intriguing excursions up-and-down the country
using one of his guide books, 150 years old.
Halfway through this journey, it's lit up for me the Victorian world and set me to discover
what happened to its industries and artisans and how the railways made the British people what we are.
Today, 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 windows."
-So, may I have a lean out of the window, please?
I'll be finding out about the latest Roman discoveries in York.
Well, this is 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's one of the most spectacular bits of track I've seen.
We're looking for anything, any damage or any debris
or anything that's out of the ordinary that should not be there.
I'm almost halfway through this week's journey,
travelling from Liverpool, across the country.
Having passed through Bradshaw's home town of Manchester, I'm headed east into Yorkshire.
Before continuing along the Humber estuary, past Hull,
towards my final destination, Scarborough.
Today, I'm leaving Bury and travelling to Todmorden and Skipton,
ending up at the historic city of York.
And this is my first stop.
Once a cotton milling town, today the people of Todmorden are on a mission.
They're going back to a way of life rather similar to Bradshaw's day.
I'm meeting a lady called Pam.
I've no idea what she looks like.
So, I hope she's come to the station and not been put off by the wet weather.
-Enjoy your day.
-Are you Pam?
Have you got room under that umbrella?
-Nice to see you. Welcome to Todmorden.
Local cafe owner Pam Warhurst is encouraging her neighbours
to grow vegetables and produce their own food.
Before the railways, growing your own food wasn't unusual.
These days, we're more accustomed to going to the supermarket.
Pam wants to make Todmorden more self sufficient
so she's even persuading people to keep chickens in their gardens.
Lynne has a dozen hens and sells eggs directly to her neighbours.
Hi, Michael. Nice to meet you.
-What are the chickens?
-They're are a mixture of White Rock, Black Rock, Rhode Island Red and one Wyandotte.
-Are they good layers?
Yes, although the eggs are smaller than your average chicken egg.
And how many do you normally get?
We get three or four eggs a day. Five of those are just chicks at the moment so they're not laying.
-Any eggs I could see?
-Yes. They haven't laid very many that I found
but there are some around the garden. We can have a hunt.
-We have to go and look for them?
-That's what WE do.
-I suppose you do, yes!
I found one.
-A nice mucky one.
-We started a campaign, Every Egg Matters, and we've now got an egg map.
We started off with four people keeping chickens in their gardens and we've got 30 now.
And the egg map is on our website and people that live in any vicinity
can look and see who's the nearest local person keeping chickens.
Phone them up and say, "Can I have half-a-dozen eggs?" And they say, "Yeah, OK".
Chickens aren't the only thing in Lynn's garden. She also has a large vegetable patch.
And her friends are digging up and planting the rest of Todmorden too.
Anyone can help themselves to the carrots growing in the car parks
and the herbs sprouting on the railway platform.
In Bradshaw's time, the railways changed what we ate.
Suddenly, fresh food could move swiftly up and down the country.
The railways carried milk to the cities, strawberries from Somerset, fish from the coast.
Food was no longer locally grown and locally eaten.
Now Todmorden is trying to cut down on how far food travels.
Michael, let me introduce you to Jean.
-Good morning, Jean.
-Lovely to see you.
-Pleased to meet you.
-Are you telling me everything on that blackboard is local?
Everything on that blackboard is within a 30-mile radius of Todmorden.
-And we've even got our local cheese.
The first Todmorden organic cheese. Launched a couple of weeks ago.
-Wonderful, and I've sold out.
-That's a good sign.
As fast as it comes, it goes.
Yes, it is a good sign. It's a wonderful cheese. And it's just from down the valley.
What is the nearest cheese that you've got to Todmorden?
The nearest I have are the Lancashire ones.
Can I taste a bit of crumbly Lancashire?
It is my favourite. It's wonderful.
-Let me share this with you, Pam.
-There we go.
-It's my favourite as well.
-You know this well?
This is divine. We serve it in our cafe with local chutney.
Fantastic. Really popular.
Jean, that was delicious.
-Thank you. See you, Jean.
I love it that now ever more people care passionately
about the quality of what they eat and where it comes from.
150 years ago, it was a breakthrough that fresh food could be brought from the countryside to cities
and I suppose it's not surprising that soon, urban folk didn't know that eggs came from chickens.
But we've reached the situation where even people
living in towns and villages didn't know that milk came from cows.
And there at Todmorden, they were doing something to put that right.
The next leg of my journey takes me to Skipton, on the edge
of the Yorkshire Dales where I'll be taking a step back in time.
I'm old enough to remember travelling by steam train.
By comparison with nowadays, it was relatively uncomfortable and, certainly, much smellier.
But now I'd like to discover what railway travel was like at the time of Bradshaw, 150 years ago.
At the Embsay and Bolton steam railway, they have trains dating back to the Victoria era.
A lovely station! Absolutely fantastic.
Thank you. We're trying to recreate the past here. I gather you've come to see some of my carriages?
Yes, please. 'Stephen Middleton's passion is restoring these old railway carriages.'
Which one will we be travelling in?
We'll be travelling in this great North of Scotland coach.
It's a first third and I think it's everyone's favourite.
It's absolutely beautiful.
Do have a look in.
-It had wood like this originally, did it?
-Quite likely, yes.
We've copied some of the gold detailing there.
The lamps are rather splendid although they came from British Home Stores.
-But they would have been similar in design.
Very similar, yes.
Few people can recall how to operate these.
Oh, no, I recall.
You position that there and then it stops it.
You pull the strap and up it goes.
Oh, you pull the strap and up it goes. I wasn't remembering perfectly then.
That's it. You can control your ventilation.
The only problem was these used to get stolen, these straps.
I gather the old fashioned cut-throat razors could be sharpened on these.
Well, thank you very much. Lovely.
Fantastic sound, when you set off on a steam train.
It is. It's not quite the same with an electric train, is it?
No, it is not.
This carriage is typical of the 1890s
and has a luxuriously upholstered interior for first class passengers.
But it wasn't always like this.
Take me back to 1850s when Bradshaw's guide was written, the one I am following.
I think the 1850s, the passengers then may have been grateful to have a shelter over their heads.
Because a lot of them would have experienced the 1840s riding in open wagons.
Clearly, the railways thought, "We get more money transporting coal.
"We get more money transporting cattle."
So, they put as many third-class passengers into an open wagon as possible.
Parliament stepped in and decreed that they really ought to have better travelling conditions.
In the age before Health and Safety, it doesn't say, "Do not to lean out of the window".
So, may I have a lean out of the window, please?
-Yes, of course.
It's a great feeling, the smoke pouring down the line.
My next stop is Bolton Abbey.
The station was built here in 1880 to accommodate day-trippers who flocked here to visit the ruin,
which commands a vista unspoilt by time.
My Bradshaw says it is "most charmingly situated on the banks of the River Wharfe.
"Indeed the picturesque character of this and surrounding districts is peculiarly striking and impressive."
The 30,000 acre estate has been owned by the Dukes of Devonshire since 1755.
The Devonshire Arms, a 17th-century coaching inn on the estate, has been turned into a rather smart hotel.
I think Bradshaw would have approved.
Fit for a duke.
And warm and dry.
A new day and a new part of my adventure.
But though I'm following the route from my trusty guide,
I'm about to see it in a way George Bradshaw could barely have imagined.
George Bradshaw loved progress.
He couldn't see a viaduct or a railway tunnel without praising the engineering skill involved.
Nowadays, an important part of the maintenance of
the railway infrastructure is carried out from the air.
I'm sorry George Bradshaw isn't here to share the experience
but at least with me today one of his guide books will go aloft.
Most of us travel by train without a second's thought for how the line's kept safe.
-Can I get aboard?
-You certainly can, sir.
But ever since the railways were built, someone's had to look after almost 20,000 miles of track.
A few moments ago, we took off from Leeds-Bradford airport,
now we're flying at fairly high level towards York.
When we get there, we'll pick up the East Coast mainline heading up towards Edinburgh
and we're going to start to survey that bit of track.
In Bradshaw's Victorian Britain, the linesmen would walk the tracks at night checking for problems.
This helicopter helps do the job today, stuffed full of gadgets
and gizmos in which Bradshaw would surely have taken delight.
The camera on the bottom of the aircraft is following
the track northwards and I can see it with the naked eye
but also following here on the screen inside the aircraft
and as I'm watching,
Howard is zooming in for me taking me into remarkable degrees of detail.
One of the most important devices is an infrared camera used to inspect the points.
The infrared camera checks whether the heating system on every set of points is working properly.
A breakdown here could cause chaos.
Bradshaw's having a great day out.
It's going to come down to the right.
So, a 12 minute flight has brought us all the way to the east coast
and we're looking at a little bit of track here that runs between Redcar and Whitby.
And the Victorians built it right along the cliff edge.
It's one of the most spectacular bits of track I've ever seen.
Nowadays, you just need to keep an eye on it to make sure that
with the coastal erosion, it's not in any danger.
And the helicopter is making a video of this spot so that it can be
examined by the engineers who need to know that everything is safe.
It's an absolutely spectacular bit of track.
I'd love to ride the train along there and see the view.
That's given me an idea for a future railway journey.
Whether you come to York by air, road or rail you discover a beautiful city.
The station itself is well worth a look.
Built in 1877, and designed by architects Thomas Prosser and William Peachey,
it was the largest station in the world.
And with almost 400 trains passing through it every day, it's now one of the busiest.
Not surprisingly, York attracts about four million visitors a year.
Some come to search out its Roman roots.
Some come to marvel at its medieval buildings.
Well, others come for the trains.
Experience tells me that you'll always find trainspotters at the ends of platforms
where they can jot down the numbers of locomotives or photograph them, or whatever.
-Good evening. Pleased to meet you.
Very nice to see you. Would you by any chance be a trainspotter?
No, railway photographer, please.
You've got a camera.
I don't know how to put this to you, but trainspotters do have a certain reputation.
Which reputation are you thinking of?
Well... maybe for being a little bit dull?
I think you become involved to an extent that you ignore the real world outside.
You come into your own little world and you have many people who join you in that,
whether they're interested in mechanics,
interested in the actual observations, interested in the operations.
They all have their own little interest.
But it means that we're committed to what we enjoy.
A little obsessive, then? You will admit to a little obsessive, would you?
I think obsessive, possibly, yes.
But certainly not dull.
I wouldn't consider myself an obsessive about trains, but I do like them.
I wonder whether there isn't a little bit of trainspotter in all of us?
-What do you think of trainspotters?
-Well, I think it's a good pastime.
Yeah? Have you ever been a trainspotter yourself?
When I was a little lad but I'm 74 years of age now.
There we are. There's an advertisement for trainspotting.
-Keeps you young.
In my day, it was very much the thing to do.
My mum used to say to me, "Don't you dare go trainspotting."
But you know what lads are. It was wonderful.
A wonderful era to see all the steam coming out, you know.
And the engine drivers were all black with the coal and...
What an era!
It's all gone now, hasn't it?
You are a poet of your age.
-Well, that's very kind of you to say.
Do you have any views on trainspotters?
Yes, leave them to it.
I think they're interesting and fastidious, probably.
And, yeah, good on them.
Have you ever been one yourself?
I've never had a camera but I like to see a freight train.
-You like to see a freight train?
-Yeah, I'm fascinated by freight trains.
-Interesting trains, yeah...
I don't get it immediately. What's the fascination with freight trains?
Well, actually, I'll tell you what it is. When I was younger I was in America for a long time.
The trains there are enormous.
They're half a mile long. So I think that's what it is.
-Wow, I've struck gold.
-I mean in meeting you.
I never expected to find a man in love with freight trains. Great.
York is a largely medieval city built around the Minster.
It started out in AD71 as a settlement besides a huge Roman fortress.
And it was those Roman beginnings that impressed Bradshaw the most.
Bradshaw really knew his Roman history of York.
"Having been an imperial city all the time the Romans kept possession
"of Britain, there are of course many vestiges of antiquities. Here died Constantius Chlorus,
"the father of Constantine the first Roman Christian Emperor."
But I wonder whether Bradshaw is still a good guide to Roman archaeology in York?
Fortunately, I'm meeting a man who knows.
Andrew Jones, from the York Archaeological Trust.
-Hello and welcome to York.
Lovely to see. Thank you so much for your time.
You're going to tell me something about Bradshaw's Roman history?
Yes. Bradshaw did a lot to promote Roman York but it was actually known
as an important place for at least 200 years before he wrote his book.
First on the tour is what's left of the original Roman settlement.
This is part of the Roman fortress wall, and if you
look carefully at the wall, you can see how eroded the stones are.
They're quite rounded and that's because of 1,700 years of rain and pollution and so forth.
One of the things I'd like you to do is to squint along the wall
and just appreciate how straight and how vertical this is.
Remember, this was built by Yorkshire lads 1,700 years ago.
It's absolutely true, isn't it?
It's a fantastic piece of masonry.
York was an important military base for the Romans with 6,000 soldiers based at the fort.
For a short time, the whole Roman Empire was ruled from York when the Emperor Severus lived here in 209.
The red line here that interrupts the wall, what's that?
These are tiles.
This is a characteristic of Roman military architecture.
A lot of forts have these tile courses deliberately built into them.
They're there for two reasons.
One is they're a signature saying this piece of masonry is Roman.
We are here claiming the landscape, beware all you native people.
And it's also there as a practical thing to allow people to
get a level surface and start building again straight up.
You've told me that this has been weathered for 1,700 years so,
clearly, Bradshaw must have known all about this?
He did but what he didn't know is about the things we've discovered inside since his time.
So let's go and see that next.
This is the place here that I'd like to show you now, Michael.
And this demonstrates what, then?
This is a part of the city wall that was only exposed about 30 years ago.
-Yes. This was formerly covered completely in a mound of earth,
so this has not been exposed to 1,700 years of weathering and you can see the stones are
beautifully cut and you can even see the little bits of tooling marks on them.
Looking further along, you can see the tile courses are actually projecting.
So these were not just a practical thing, they were there
to cast a shadow, to make a line, to be an architectural feature.
A bit like a string course in today's buildings.
It's a small detail but to me it brings the Roman achievement to another level.
Given, then, that this was covered up during Bradshaw's time, it turns out, in your view, that
the Romans were even more brilliant engineers than archaeologists of Bradshaw's era would have known.
That's absolutely right.
What's more, when the new railway station was built in the 1870s,
even more fascinating Roman discoveries were made and I'd like to show you those as a final bit.
These are some of the stone sarcophagi that were found
when they rebuilt the railway station in the 1870s.
In the old railway station, then?
No, the first railway station was inside the city walls but the railways grew and expanded
and the present day railway station, built in the 1870s, was built on the site of a Roman cemetery.
And these are some of the sarcophagi discovered there and brought here for safekeeping.
Very substantial bits of stone.
Massive pieces of stone. Weighing five or six tons, at least.
And brought a long way, carved out for, obviously, people who were very highly regarded.
And very substantial members of the community.
I think Bradshaw would have been doubly pleased.
York was getting a new and bigger railway station and new Roman discoveries came about as well.
That's absolutely right. And we keep making new discoveries to this day.
Seeing Roman York through the eyes of the Victorian Bradshaw makes me aware of some striking parallels.
When the Romans invaded Britain,
bringing with them fine architecture and fast roads, they made us part of
the most advanced civilisation that the world had ever seen.
The Victorians with their factories and steam engines were the new Romans.
It's symbolic that when the railways reached York,
the tracks punched their way through the ancient walls to reach the historic centre of the city.
With our love today of steam engines and the obsession of trainspotters,
it's clear that the railways still have us in a powerful grip.
On my next journey, I'll be discovering how the railways
made Hull one of the biggest white fish ports in the world.
The railways make fish an article of cheap mass consumption.
They create the trawling industry and it grows phenomenally.
'I'll be searching for liquorice in Pontefract.' I'm guessing that is a liquorice plant.
This is a liquorice plant.
It's a Mediterranean plant.
It came from Spain, originally.
That's why in Pontefract we gave it the nickname "a stick of Spanish".
And I'll be finding out why cod might soon be off the menu.
We're starting to see a lot more warm-water species that we normally associate with the Mediterranean.
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. His first journey is from Liverpool to Scarborough.
Michael travels back in time on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, finds out about the latest Roman discoveries in York and takes to the air in the Network Rail helicopter.