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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.
150 years ago, George Bradshaw produced
the must-have railway maps, timetables and guidebooks.
Now, using one of those ancient guides,
I'm making four long journeys across our country
to view Britain through the proud and prudish eyes of the Victorians
and to learn how much they made us what we are today,
but also to appreciate how much we've changed since.
Today, I'll head to the treacherous quicksands of Morecambe Bay.
Even on dangerous quicksands, you won't go down. You can lie flat and roll out.
I'll be making a sobering visit to Preston.
It means there's 12% alcohol, which is deadly poison.
If you injected it into your cat, it'd drop dead.
-I'd never thought of doing that.
-No, you wouldn't.
And I'll be taking in a music-hall revival in Blackpool.
-Ready to give your performance?
-I think we should get in there, we've got an audience as well!
# Adlington or Darlington Torrington or Warrington
# Sure that she would find it in the Bradshaw's guide. #
This week, starting in Preston,
I travel along the first rail link between Scotland and England.
Heading inland, I'll take the beautiful Settle to Carlisle line
before visiting the Lake District.
Then, following my Bradshaw guide,
I'll end up at my mother's home town of Kirkcaldy.
Today, I'm covering the first 60 miles
up the west coast to Blackpool and then Morecambe Bay.
'Next station will be Preston, next station.
'Change at Preston for Lancaster and stations further north.'
My first stop is one of the North's busiest railway stations, Preston.
The size of the station at Preston
reminds us that this was a huge industrial town,
but even today it is the hub of railways
spreading out throughout Lancashire.
In Bradshaw's day, there weren't buffet cars on trains.
Instead, you could get tea or food on the platform at large stations.
In 1914, Preston's refreshment rooms took on a truly strategic role.
Can you tell me about the history of the buffet here?
Well, the buffet's been here for, well, as long as the railway station,
but I think the history you're on about is The Great War of 14-18
where the WVRS provided, on a 24-hour-a-day basis,
refreshment for the troops moving up, moving back.
And this carried on until 1919, with the demobilisation of the troops.
They carried that service on right through and it never closed.
It was providing 24 hours a day for almost five years.
How many cups of tea got served here during World War I?
Well, I'm led to believe it's about 3.25 million,
which is an awful lot of hot water!
Today, Preston is the centre of Britain's high-tech military aircraft industry,
but in the mid 19th century, it had a rather different reputation,
for hard boozing and industrial unrest.
Bradshaw's guide says of Preston,
"It's become one of the principal manufacturing towns of the country.
"There are upwards of 50 cotton mills in the town.
"The commercial annals of this town are memorable
"for two long continued disputes between employers and employed."
Preston was a place where the early problems of the Industrial Revolution emerged
and a place where those problems were first tackled.
Working life was pretty grim.
So, perhaps it's no surprise that some workers turned to alcohol.
But in 1832, Joseph Livesey founded the first British temperance movement here
based on his belief that alcohol was the root of most social ills.
The temperance movement still exists and Anne Hindley is a member.
So, why did Joseph Livesey found the temperance movement?
Well, he saw the trouble there was with drink
round his community and in Preston itself.
The temperance movement even made films
to warn workers of the dangers of alcohol.
People who believe in temperance make a pledge, don't they?
What is that pledge?
The pledge is that they will not drink again in their lives.
No moderation, total abstinence for the rest of their lives, like I did.
-I signed the pledge.
-Have you ever had a drink yourself, Anne?
Yes, I have. A long, long, long time ago.
People don't think of drink as a drug.
It is a drug, and it's at the top of the list.
It's absolutely poisonous to the human body.
When you see volume, whatever it is, 12, it means there's 12% alcohol, which is deadly poison.
If you injected it into your cat, it would drop dead.
-I'd never thought of doing that.
-No, you wouldn't.
So, how did the temperance movement develop?
Did it become a very big thing?
Joseph was a preacher. He preached and he preached temperance and he told everybody about it.
People came from all over the world to see him.
Cheap train travel allowed tens of thousands of people
to journey to temperance rallies to hear Joseph Livesey speak.
By the 1900s, it was estimated that one in ten people was teetotal.
Temperance peaked during World War I
when new licensing laws reduced pub opening times,
but Britain stopped short of the prohibition
practised by the Americans.
Do you feel that you're in tune with your Victorian predecessors?
I certainly do.
That's why I do this.
It's a wonderful thing to be able to do,
to have the knowledge to do it, and I've spent my life, really, doing it.
The railways not only brought people to the rallies in Preston,
but also took workers on day trips and summer holidays to the newly accessible seaside resorts.
This is the Blackpool Belle,
the passion wagon!
A train on which romances were made.
The next part of my journey takes me 20 miles away to the coast.
There is Blackpool Tower
and we're still two stops away from Blackpool, but at 158 metres,
about 500 feet, you can see it from miles and miles away.
The Blackpool Belle carried young men and women
from nearby towns to the bright lights of Blackpool.
And two of them have agreed to meet me somewhere on this train.
You're Norma and Norman, aren't you?
I'm Michael. Hello.
-So, I understand you two met on the train.
Where we come from originally, Radcliffe near Manchester,
during the illuminations they ran the Blackpool Belle,
otherwise known as the passion train!
So, what was going on there?
-Well, it was kissing and cuddling.
-Kissing and cuddling.
-Oh, there was nothing else.
Oh, yes. I mean, it wasn't corridor trains in those days,
they were the single carriages, so once we'd left Blackpool,
we were well clear of Blackpool Station, the bulb came out,
went on the luggage rack, it was never broken.
-When we got near Chorley, you'd see the train light up all the way along then.
The bulbs was put back in!
Because we're talking about the 1950s here.
You've been married how long?
On Friday, we will have been married 55 years.
Blackpool was so popular that the railways ran special services
every weekend, running into the early hours of the morning.
So, what did you think of Norma when you first saw her?
Well, she were all right, yeah.
I couldn't really see her proper!
We stopped at Black Lane Station.
You know, the banking of a railway, like that?
There were steps, you see, to get off the station, so...
And I run up the steps with her!
That's how drunk he was!
What, on the first date?
-On the first meeting?
-You picked her up and ran up the stairs?
And then I took her home and that were it.
-You walked her home like a gentleman.
-Oh, yeah. Oh, aye.
So the whole point was to meet girls.
In a way, yeah. It was, it was.
Without the Blackpool Belle,
many a local romance would never have started,
and where better to go
than the splendid Tower Ballroom to dance the night away?
'Barry McQueen knows everything there is to know about Blackpool.'
-Welcome to Blackpool.
-It's lovely to be here.
What do you do when you're not dressed like that?
Well, at the moment this is my Mr Bickerstaff uniform, this is.
This is for my tours of the town, but when I'm not dressed like this, I'm the official town crier of Blackpool.
Oyez! Oyez! There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool, noted for fresh air and fun.
We've got a tower, three piers and a pleasure beach,
and I guarantee we've always got plenty of sun!
Bradshaw describes Blackpool as "a pretty bathing place on the Irish Sea, much frequented by visitors.
"In 1863, a new pier was opened,
"which forms a most pleasant promenade."
Blackpool was just starting life as a seaside resort in Bradshaw's time.
Then the railways arrived, bringing thousands of holidaymakers every summer.
Within a few years, theatres, the Winter Gardens
and three piers were built.
And in 1879, almost 100,000 people came to see
the first illuminations, known as Artificial Sunlight.
Bradshaw's name may not be recognised now,
but his railway timetable was a household name
and the Victorians wrote comic songs about him.
-You are doing today a very special performance for me.
-I certainly am today.
I'm going to sing a song with our wonderful organist here at the Tower, Phil Kelso.
We're going to sing a song called The Bradshaw Guide.
It's an old music-hall song, quite a catchy tune, actually.
-Ready to give your performance?
-I think we should get in there. We've got an audience as well!
-So I think we'll get in there.
-Thank you. Let's go.
Thank you. And stay, don't sit, because here's the next one for you this afternoon, the bossa nova.
Michael, a warm welcome
to the world-famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
-Thank you and good luck to you.
-Thank you very much indeed.
A fantastic space, with this brilliantly painted ceiling and its lanterns
and its gold and its composers' names around the outside.
-Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
-I must take a seat.
This afternoon, Phil and myself, we're going to do a song
about a railway timetable, called The Bradshaw Guide.
# I had to take a journey a little while ago
# Somewhere down the Midlands The counties you must know
# A charming little creature was seated by my side
# And asked if she could borrow my Bradshaw guide
# The lady was in trouble with absence of mind
# She could not recollect a journey for the ride... #
It seems crazy to us today to write a hit song about the railways,
but Bradshaw's new guidebooks had captured the imagination of the Victorians.
# ..Sandringham, Alverston or Warrington
# Alvediston and Dorchester or Rochester and Rye
# Adlington and Darlington Warrington and Torrington
# Sure that she would find it in the Bradshaw's guide. #
Now, one thing I won't find in my Bradshaw's guide is the Blackpool Tower itself.
That opened in 1894, a smaller replica of the Eiffel Tower.
For sixpence, you could travel over 500 feet up, to enjoy the view from the top.
It may cost a little more today, but that doesn't stop
around half a million people trying it out every year.
-Have you been up the tower before?
-Oh, yes. Years ago.
-A lot of years ago.
-What do you remember of it?
Just this, and being very windy at the top.
-I think it's going to be windy today, don't you?
-Get a lovely view, though.
Just as you remembered it?
Yeah, yeah. Better actually, now.
-I don't know, you seem to appreciate it more.
When you're little, you're just excited about going up and don't bother, really.
-Were you very little when you went up?
When it was opened, visitors had to use ladders to reach the top.
Thankfully, today, the steps are a little steadier.
There's no netting or anything and there's waist-height railings all around the edges.
-I'll follow you up.
-I'll try to resist the temptation.
Please don't. Oh, no, please do, sorry! Please don't jump!
-You must be one of my voters!
Up and up and...
You really need a head for heights here.
It's very windy and it's quite a low rail, but it's a great view.
And Blackpool, like so many seaside resorts, has that nostalgic feel to it,
but the people I've met here have been really warm-hearted
and this town gives - to its many faithful visitors -
a really engaging welcome.
But, for me, Blackpool signifies the autumn trek north to attend
the political rally of the year.
This hotel is full of memories for me.
I must have been here for a dozen Conservative Party conferences
and this place was always teeming
with people and television crews and journalists
and I remember, on that staircase, the Prime Minister, with her entourage, would sweep through
and all the flashbulbs would be going off.
-Michael Portillo, checking in, please.
Thank you. Just your signature there and there.
Thank you very much. It's lovely to be back.
-Lovely. Have you stayed with us before?
You've got this place rigged out like a political museum.
Could I have a glass of red wine, please?
Of course, in the bar is where all the chicanery went on.
This is where all the politicians would be talking to the journalists.
Whenever you read in the newspaper, "Sources close to the Foreign Secretary say..."
What they mean is the Foreign Secretary told us over a drink.
-There you are, sir.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-To your good health,
and to the memory of all those politicians
who've drunk in this bar.
I've spent many nights in this hotel in Blackpool,
but this is the first time I've enjoyed the best room in the building, the Royal Suite.
Now, Margaret Thatcher never spent the night here,
but Tony Blair as Prime Minister did
and David Cameron has been here too.
So, I suppose that's the nearest I'm going to get to knowing what it feels like to be Prime Minister
or, for that matter, leader of the opposition.
Before I continue on my journey, there's just one more thing to do.
I can't come to Blackpool without meeting one of its comedians.
Joey, I recognise you. I saw your name in lights.
'Joey Blower has performed in Blackpool countless times over the last 16 years,
'although his connections to the town go back even further.'
-You did come as a kid, though?
-Oh, definitely, I think everybody came to Blackpool as a child.
It was the place to come. Even though Spain, when I was a child,
was very popular, there's nowhere like Blackpool.
-You used to see the comedy shows?
-We went to see every show.
Crikey, when I was a child, there was theatres on every pier.
North Pier Theatre, South Pier Theatre,
there was shows in every hotel, in every bar.
There was...people came to Blackpool for a week's holiday
and couldn't take in all the shows,
-they'd have to do matinees.
-Ah, big audiences!
They'd sell out. 3,500 people in the Opera House, it was absolutely phenomenal.
Don't tell me you're not getting 3,500 in your audience.
No, we probably get about 5,500 in to see my show,
but that's the only successful show I've ever done
when we had 5,500 people in. Thousand, did you say? Sorry.
I understand they're going to be commemorating the great catchphrases here in Blackpool.
If you see the building works over there,
that's where they're doing "a comedy carpet".
The carpet will be an area of stone paving the size of a football pitch.
It will be engraved with catchphrases from the world's comedians, spanning generations.
There'll be "Nicky, nacky, nicky, nacky, noo", probably.
That'll be over two slabs, I'm sure.
And there's going to be catchphrases from Arthur Askey,
such as "Hello, playmates",
and there'll be Peter Kay "garlic bread", I'm sure.
The beauty of that is the different generations that come now...
My granddad wouldn't know what "garlic bread" meant,
he'd think that was just a menu that had been put in the carpet!
So I'd have to explain what Peter Kay's comedy was all about.
He would then, hopefully, become a fan of Peter Kay.
He would then explain to me what "Hello, playmates" was all about.
I would then start to watch some of the Arthur Askey stuff
and it could be a bonding thing for all the generations of families
to get to know what comedy was like then and now,
because comedy's evolved massively.
Can I do you now, sir?
Well, not at this pace, no!
So that's it in Blackpool.
My journey now continues up the coast,
along another branch line to Morecambe Bay.
I'm on a really spectacular bit of railway track now
as we cross a bridge over an inlet of Morecambe Bay
and my Bradshaw's guide says,
"Morecambe Bay is a fine sheet of water, eight or ten miles wide when the tide is up,
"but at low tide, its quicksands are extremely treacherous
"and must on no account be crossed without the guide who's paid by the Government."
Amazingly, 160 years later, there's still an official Government guide
who lives near this remote station, Kent's Bank.
Ah, there can't be many railway stations with a view like this
over the grass and sheep meadow towards the bay.
Fabulous, fabulous view.
And I love this too.
I'm actually allowed to walk across the railway line.
Stop, look, listen,
use your common sense.
No health and safety overkill here!
Morecambe Bay is the largest expanse of tidal mud flats in Britain.
With its rapid tides and shifting sands,
it's every bit as treacherous now as it was in Bradshaw's day.
The job of guide is a job for life.
Cedric Robinson is the current officeholder.
-Very pleased to meet you.
-Do I have the honour of addressing the Queen's guide to the sands?
-Lovely title, isn't it?
Yes, fantastic. How old is that title then?
Well, it goes back to the early 1500s actually, before the Queen.
What are your duties to the public?
-You're bound to offer guidance to anyone wanting to walk on the sands, are you?
Before that time, many lives were being lost on these sands.
It's a lot of responsibility, but I'm very laid back and I don't look at it as a responsibility.
I've been on the sands all my life. We've lived in this house 47 years.
This belongs to the Queen, this property.
Was it the pay that attracted you?
Oh, by gum, aye! Yeah!
-What are you paid?
-Well, I'm paid £15 annually, right?
£15 per year and I'm given the cheque and a big smile.
-And you get the cottage...
-We get the cottage.
Mind you, they do say when they give me the £15, "rent deducted",
so I never know how much rent I pay!
What's it safe for us to see today?
Safe for us to see? Well, it's safe...
As long as you're with me, it's safe, right?
If you went out there on your own, I could wave bye-bye to you.
The bay spans almost 200 square miles,
and Cedric conducts tours across the sands for walkers about once a fortnight,
sometimes taking over 100 people.
It's very impressive countryside and dramatic vista, this, isn't it, Cedric?
It's a lovely area. I mean, I don't think there's anywhere else
as nice as Morecambe Bay, but it has its dangers.
So, what really is the nature of the danger here?
Firstly, there's the speed of the incoming tide.
You could never outrun it, and the tide never tires.
And, secondly, there's the dangerous quicksands.
And we're approaching now a dyke which only a few weeks ago
I brought hundreds of walkers across safely
and when we approach it now and look at it,
you wouldn't dare set foot anywhere near it. It's all quicksands.
If you were in a quicksand, would it really suck you in?
Well, the danger is, people tend to stop. When the sand gets soft,
they stop, and that's the worst thing you can do.
You must always keep moving, and the other thing with quicksands is,
if you lie even on dangerous quicksands, you won't go down. You can lie flat and roll out of it.
where if you just stood there like a fool, you would go down like a stone.
-Like a stone?
-Yes. I've seen two horses go down in quicksands in my lifetime.
They didn't disappear altogether and luckily when the tide come,
it covered them and the buoyancy of them struggling, floating, brought them out to the surface.
I've seen tractors go down and they're still down.
Cedric, a lot of people, I'm afraid, will associate Morecambe Bay
with the tragedy of those Chinese cockle pickers a few years ago.
-What happened there?
-These Chinese cockle pickers had gone out when they should have been coming back in.
It was quite high tides, a really cold night and...
I mean, there'd been a lot of cockle pickers on that area that day, and they'd come home,
but seemingly these cockle pickers were almost forced to go out
and I don't think they could speak much English
and they didn't know the state of the tides.
So they were just cut off by the water?
Wherever the river is, that's the lowest part of the bay.
The tide comes up there first. That was behind them.
There was a wind blowing,
they wouldn't even know the tide was coming in.
They were just working there until it just came
and they'd be on an island, it would just close in on them.
-Very, very sad.
-That's terrible, isn't it? Terrible.
-That's all quicksands.
-So if I set foot in there, I'd disappear?
You wouldn't come out again. That is so dangerous.
Changes are so frequent.
I think I'll stick by your side, Cedric.
Well, one thing is certain, you may keep by my side, but we're not going down in that area!
In the 19th century, Morecambe Bay was a remote area of small, shell-fishing villages,
but the trains made it more accessible
and very soon fresh cockles, prawns, shrimps and lobsters
were all on their way to the fish market in Manchester.
People still brave the sands to gather shellfish from Morecambe Bay,
but in smaller quantities.
Luckily, some of the local catch is still on the menus today.
So, here we are, Morecambe Bay potted shrimp.
perfect for coming off the sands and that cold, cold wind.
The remote communities of the north-west coast of England
were virtually impenetrable before the railways came
and then they took holidaymakers and fun, laughter and prosperity
to a town like Blackpool.
But, for rural communities,
dependent on the produce from the land or the sea,
the railways provided that vital lifeline,
the thing that's enabled them to survive.
On my next journey, I'll be exploring
the historic Settle to Carlisle line.
I'll find out what's happened to it
since I convinced Margaret Thatcher to save it.
You know, of all the things I did,
it's the one that I can still point at and say,
"Look, that made this difference."
I'll discover how building the route claimed so many lives.
Of all the chapels along the line,
this, sadly, has got the most number of deaths.
And I'll be getting the thrill of a lifetime.
This is a fantastic sight
as the steam engine begins to go over the Ribblehead Viaduct.
You'll never see another sight like this on a railway in Britain.
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, he travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
Michael's second epic journey takes him north, from Preston to Scotland, on one of the first railways to cross the border. On this first leg, he explores the origins of the temperance movement in Preston, samples the attractions of Blackpool, a resort made by the railways, and takes a walk across Morecambe Bay with the official keeper of the sands.