Michael Portillo learns the secrets of stilton cheese and finds out how trains transformed the traditional British sport of fox hunting.
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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 a series of journeys across the length
and breadth of the country to see what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.
I've been travelling from Tyneside to the Midlands
and I'm now embarking on the final stretch.
I'm completing my railway journey across the northern half of England.
My Bradshaw's guide has made clear to me how the region's natural
resources, coal, water and iron, made the Industrial Revolution possible
and how its inventors, entrepreneurs and craftsmen made it happen.
I'm trusting that my Bradshaw's will help me uncover more
of the intriguing history of the heart of England.
On this leg, I'll be learning the secrets of one of Victorian
Britain's favourite cheeses - stilton. You turn that very well.
I can't turn an omelette, let alone a thing like that.
Finding out how the railways transformed a traditional British sport.
Special carriages were built to take these hunters from the middle
of London right up to the shires of Leicestershire.
And attempting to mould an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie.
Oh dear. Mine doesn't look like yours, but never mind.
It's a good job it's a three year apprenticeship!
I'm nearing the end of a journey which started in the North East of England and has passed through
the manufacturing cities of Leeds and Sheffield.
Now I'm continuing south, into the Midlands, where I'll
be exploring the region's rich industrial and rural heritage.
This final stretch starts just outside Nottingham at Langley Mill,
before crossing into Leicestershire and finishing up at the county's food capital, Melton Mowbray.
The first part of the route skirts the city of Nottingham,
of which Bradshaw says, "Silk, cotton stockings and bobbin-net lace are the staple manufactures."
When industrialisation came, Nottingham made its fortune out of textiles, and lace in particular.
In fact, it became known as the lace capital of the world.
The lace machine was invented in the city,
but most of the manufacturing was done in towns and villages outside.
The Erewash valley, near the city, got its first railway in 1847.
Soon lace factories sprang up all along the line.
By 1900 there were more than 40 mills in the vicinity,
sending their finished lace into Nottingham by rail.
I'm getting off at Langley Mill, to find out what's become of the Victorian lace industry.
I'm visiting an old family firm that's been doing business
since Bradshaw's day, run by managing director, Charles Wood.
Morning Charles, very good to see you. I can just about hear you.
How long has your family been in the textile business?
Since 1831, probably a little bit before.
The company was founded by three brothers who started making textile machine parts and then eventually
finished products and really this was at absolute outset of
Industrial Revolution, certainly as far as textiles were concerned.
Before the 19th century, lace-makers were skilled artisans.
It could take two hours to create just an inch of handcrafted lace, making it one of the most expensive
fabrics. Then in 1813, John Levers invented a lace-making machine.
Mass-produced lace was affordable to the middle classes and came to be used in all kinds of clothing.
This is one of the products which the company produced.
Silk lace, pure silk lace.
So they produced silk lace shawls and also silk lace gloves.
A tiny hand.
Yes, a tiny hand.
It's interesting that there's no textile machinery today that could produce that product. Really?
No. And we have to bear in mind that this is not done by hand, this is done on a machine.
Yes. And that is the miracle of it. Yes, absolutely.
The Erewash valley became a centre of machine lace production.
Midlands coal fuelled the factories,
and the local metal industry was a ready source of machine parts.
Everywhere I go I find it's the same story,
a combination of metals, of coal, of water,
of brilliantly inventive people.
And railways? And railways, absolutely, I mean the lace market
in Nottingham was the central trading point for lace really throughout Europe and, in many cases, the world.
And I would say the railways were instrumental in building the brand of Nottingham lace which has
become so famous and well known to this day.
To keep up with the times, Charles's family firm invested in ever more sophisticated machines.
Like this one, which transformed lace making
and surprisingly pointed the way towards the age of information technology.
Goodness, what a fantastic museum piece.
This is a Jacquard machine for making silk lace from probably the 1840s, which is pretty unique.
I'm intrigued by these things, what are they?
That's a Jacquard card, so that's the patterning device which would determine the patterns for the lace.
And this is the sort of coding, which would determine which needles were knitted and which weren't.
The machine was turned over by hand, so they didn't have to do so many stitches of the pattern,
and then they come and change the card and do the next section with a different pattern.
So in fact there were limitless possibilities in terms of patterning.
Punched cards like these were used in the first computers.
But not everyone welcomed the mechanisation of the lace industry, as my Bradshaw's guide explains;
"The frame-work knitters and twist hands broke out
"under the name of Luddites and went about destroying machinery."
And at the beginning of the 19th century
they smashed up machines in Nottinghamshire, didn't they?
Yes, that's right. The Luddite movement was up in arms about the mechanisation, the industrialisation
of the textile industry, removing their jobs, removing the requirement of so much labour.
And of course this affected many, many families, so they
smashed up machines and burnt down Nottingham Castle!
And they sent in the army to deal with this people?
Yes, they did. It was, in terms of industrial revolts that
we see today, that was nothing in terms of what happened in the Luddite revolution.
The government's tough line including executions and transportation crushed
the Luddites by 1817, leaving the textile industry to grow and bring great wealth to Nottinghamshire.
Today, Charles's firm remains at the forefront of textile technology.
It's developed 3D knitting techniques, that produce
extra strong fabrics for clothing like police body armour.
That's the protected area.
OK, have a lunge. Yes, just have a lunge.
I don't feel good about this but I'll have a go. There we are.
You see, not really a blemish at all. No, not a blemish.
It's vital in protecting our police officers.
The company's fabric is also used in motorcycle jackets with built-in airbags.
There's a CO2 canister in the jacket.
So I'm going to pull this lanyard here quite hard.
There will be a loud bang and then the air bag will be inflate.
How do I get into these things?!
OK. Here we go. one, two, three.
Ooh! Wow, I feel lots of pressure around me.
Masses of protection. Masses of protection.
That's a great invention.
It's a fantastic invention.
With his great respect for innovation, I'm sure George Bradshaw
would have been excited by these high-tech fabrics.
Now it's back to Langley Mill to continue my journey south towards Leicestershire.
My route takes in some important railway heritage.
The wrought iron Bennerley viaduct is 1400 foot long and was built in 1877 to serve the coal trade.
But, as ever, the railways soon adapted to be used for leisure.
Along this railway line in 1841,
a devout Leicestershire business man organized an excursion for 500 people
to go from Leicester to Loughborough for a temperance fair,
and then the following year, he organized a Sunday
school trip to get kids out of Leicester to Derby on a day when there were races in Leicester.
And then he organized trips to North Wales and Snowdonia, and in 1851
a big excursionS to the Great Exhibition in London.
All that was made possible by the railways.
And that man has become a byword for organized travel,
because his name was Thomas Cook.
Thomas Cook negotiated cheap train fares for
his customers, to go from the North of England to the Great Exhibition
in the Crystal Palace with entrance included for as little as five shillings.
Mass travel had begun in earnest.
In Bradshaw's time, the Midlands' railways also enabled
the upper classes to travel to their favourite sport of fox hunting.
But what do today's passengers know about the region's hunting tradition?
Do you live in the Nottinghamshire area?
No. I'm about to move here.
Cos there's quite a lot of hunting around the middle part of England.
I wasn't really aware of it to be honest, but, as a principle, I don't like it.
I feel like, even if there's a lot of people who depend on it in the countryside,
I feel that I find it uncomfortable the whole kind of blooding
young people on their first hunt and things like that.
When I went to boarding school people used to get the afternoon off to go fox hunting, and if I
wanted to do anything we were never allowed to take the afternoon off to go and do that.
My next stop is Barrow upon Soar, in rural Leicestershire.
In Bradshaw's time, was at the heart of an enthusiastic fox hunting territory.
Bradshaw says we're in the finest fox hunting ground in England.
That's because the good quality soil is good for the scent
and he says most of the land is pasture rather than being ploughed.
And this he says is where the famous Quorn hounds are kennelled, for this
is the property of Sir R Sutton, baronet, this is Quornden hall.
Many people claim that modern foxhunting was born at Quorn in the late 18th century, when
faster hounds were bred here. In the 19th century, the hunt's
popularity grew as the railways made it easier to travel to meets.
Soon rail companies were targeting the sporting
fraternity with special services.
The Quorn ceased its pursuit of live foxes in 2005, but it's still an important local institution.
Some of today's hounds are directly descended from the specimens used in Bradshaw's day.
Hello, gentlemen. Good afternoon.
I'm Michael, very nice to see you.
And this is the famous pack of Quorn hounds?
Indeed it is. Beautiful creatures, beautiful.
I'm joining huntsman Peter Collins and Rad Thomas, a lifelong
member of the Quorn Hunt, as they exercise the hounds.
So here we are on a blazing summer's day. No hunting this time of year.
So what do the hounds do?
Basically this time of year we're keeping them fit.
You can see, we've got this many hounds in the kennels all day, they've got to be exercised.
And how fit do these hounds have to get?
By the time it comes to the season, these hounds could run anything up to 100 miles a day. 100 miles?
And they would probably hunt two days a week.
So that would be pretty good training for a marathon runner, wouldn't it? It would.
My Bradshaw's guide says that this is the best hunting territory in England, in fact he quotes a
columnist in a sporting paper called Nimrod, and Nimrod apparently said of all the hunts this is the belle.
Is that still the case? I think so, and many others
do as well and it's a history of the topography of the county, which meant that the sport was faster,
more scary, and that attracted the interested people who were prepared to come and hunt.
And of course a lot of them came by train to enjoy that sport.
Tell me more - how did the railways affect hunting?
Before the railways you had to set your stall out and go for the whole season because
it took so long to get there and get all your equipment and your servants and your horses and everything else.
Now the railways have arrived, the easier routes up to Leicestershire
from the swells of London, and so they could do it in a day.
How did they get their horses up here?
On specially built carriages, which were equipped for the horses
and room for the grooms and all the provender that went with it.
Not only to get them here, but also to get them back of course.
The rapid expansion of the Quorn boosted local businesses.
Hunting lodges and gentlemen's clubs sprang up to serve the influx
of wealthy visitors.
Even today, the hunt looms large in the local economy.
On an average day there's 100 horses out,
all those horses have got to be fed hay, hard feed, got to be shod,
everyone's got to buy their riding clothes.
So all the local millers,
all the people that produce the food, hay, straw.
It's a very, very big thing.
If that were gone, it would make a big hole in the community.
It's time to continue my journey through Bradshaw's Britain
to a town which greatly benefited from both hunting and the railway,
My next train takes me east, from Leicester Station.
Good morning. Any tickets from Leicester, please?
Thank you very much. Thank you. It's a wonderful day.
In the 19th century, the fertile land through which I'm travelling
was the source of much wealth.
Its yield helped Melton Mowbray blossom into a thriving market town.
The railway reached Melton Mowbray in 1846 and Bradshaw says,
"Melton is the centre of a famous hunting country.
"Horses are bred here.
"Its pork pies and stilton cheese are also valuable productions."
I'm here to hunt for those valuable productions.
The area around Melton Mowbray
promotes itself as a centre of gastronomic excellence,
a reputation launched by Stilton.
That magnificent blue cheese dates back at least to the 18th century,
but the railways magnified the business.
In the second half of the 19th century,
many new dairies sprang up to meet increased demand.
Webster's Dairy, which opened in 1890, is in production still.
Manager Mark Frapwell has worked here for 27 years.
Hello, you're Mark? Yes.
I'm Michael. Morning. Nice to meet you.
How do you do? I see your cheese making is well under way here.
Yes, we're working hard this morning and bringing the milk in.
Why did it all happen here?
Why did Stilton cheese happen in the area of Melton Mowbray?
A rich farming area, excellent pastures, good climate,
so a traditional dairy area.
Farmers' wives would make cheese.
At some point blue cheese became more popular
or certainly commanded more money.
Without modern methods
it was actually very difficult to make cheese go blue.
Once you'd learnt, you didn't tell people about it,
they kept within the Melton area the secrets of how to make blue cheese,
that commanded a greater price.
To create Stilton's characteristic blue veins,
a special mould is added.
That tiny amount into this enormous vat makes everything happen?
Yes, that's right.
Then the cheese is packed into cylindrical hoops to mature.
Webster's is one of only six producers licensed to make Stilton.
To be allowed to use the name
they are bound to follow a precisely stipulated method.
The hoops are removed and the cheese is smoothed with a knife.
This is Amy. Hello, Amy.
What are you doing there?
Basically, it's to keep the blue inside the cheese.
To keep the blue inside the cheese.
So you're removing the holes on the outside?
You turned that very well.
Did you get that right the first time you tried it?
No, I didn't!
I can't turn an omelette, let alone a thing like that.
Takes a lot of practice. I bet it does.
Proper Stilton is made only in Derbyshire,
Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
But strangely, it takes its name from a village in Cambridgeshire.
I've come to the village of Saxilby, but this is Stilton cheese.
Why is it called Stilton?
Because Stilton was sold mostly from the village of Stilton,
which was on the old Great North Road,
and it was the main point from Melton Mowbray
to deliver your cheese to London.
So that was in the days when it went by stagecoach?
That's correct, yes. And then after that obviously it went by railways.
Were railways an advantage to Stilton? I think so, yes.
Stilton compared with other cheeses is a lot more problematic.
It's much softer,
it's prone to weep and deteriorate if it's not transported quickly.
So the faster it goes, the better it is. Yes.
The more places it can reach. That's right, yes.
The railways allowed city-dwelling Victorians to enjoy Stilton in peak condition for the first time
and it became a favourite luxury for Christmas and special occasions.
Why do you think it's associated with Christmas?
Because sometimes some of the best milk
is from what we call the second bite of grass,
which is the second growth after the summer.
That will produce very good September milk,
and also calving then happens, produce a higher protein content,
therefore that cheese would be perfect for Christmas.
And if it's a thing you're only going to have once a year,
you could only afford it once a year,
Christmas would be the perfect time to have it.
Pile up your table with luxury goods.
It takes eight weeks for the cheese to develop its blue veins.
Then, it's ready to taste.
They're all brought upstairs.
Into this extremely pungent room.
Wow, what a smell of cheese! Ammonia. Ammonia, is it? Yes.
And hopefully the cheese are ready for grading.
By putting the iron in and turn.
And you can see all that blue grain.
I can just sample that? You can, yes.
And if you take a little bit from that end. Just off there.
You've got a winner there, that's lovely.
It'll be even better in two or three weeks' time.
It gets better still? Yes, it will.
That taste makes me crave more,
but I must abstain because Stilton isn't the only local delicacy.
In Bradshaw's time, trains leaving for London
were also packed with the town's famous pork pies,
cooked in the bake houses surrounding the station.
With Stilton and pork pies exported from Melton Mowbray
to the rest of the country,
I'd like to know whether locals appreciate them.
Are you a fan of Stilton and pork pies?
I'm a big fan of the pork pie,
but Stilton is not my favourite, it's a bit bitter.
No, I don't like Stilton cheese and I don't like pork pies.
I thought to live in Melton Mowbray it was compulsory to like both. No.
I don't like Stilton cheese, I'm afraid. The Stilton cheese is nice.
I'm vegetarian so I don't eat meat.
OK, so no pork pies for you and no Stilton cheese for you.
I'm afraid not.
What about the pork pies?
The pork pies are nice from Melton.
The evolution of Stilton and pork pies alongside each other
isn't a coincidence.
It goes back to Bradshaw's era and it's connected with hunting.
Farmer Ian Jalland can explain.
Ian. Hello, Michael.
Lovely to see you, what a beautiful looking shop. Thank you.
Full of temptations, isn't it? Yes.
But you're famous for your Melton Mowbray pork pies.
How long have they been around?
Well, Melton Mowbray pork pies have been around for 200-300 years.
Historically. Why were there pork pies here?
Leicestershire is a grassland county.
There's a lot of livestock.
Stilton cheese became quite a big industry
and a by-product of the production of Stilton cheese was whey,
and whey was fed to the pigs.
So there's a lot of pigs, a lot of pork,
and people decided a good use of that was to make a pie.
Now I'm always interested in railways,
so railways were pretty important for pork pies here, were they?
It was the railways that brought the hunting fraternity
from London to Melton Mowbray.
The hunt's servants often carried these pies in their pockets
to keep them going on a hard day's hunting
looking after their master.
And someone from London noticed that they were eating these pies,
and tried them, liked them, thought they were great,
and started taking them back to London by train.
And hence the popularity of the Melton Mowbray pork pie.
I saw as I came in that you are looking for a pie maker,
and I thought I might offer my services.
We've been trialling apprentices for a while now.
I'm sure Lee would like to entertain you as an apprentice pie maker.
Shall we put on funny clothes? Yes, follow me.
Ian's bakery is one of just nine
still making traditional Melton Mowbray pork pies.
Michael, this is Lee. Head of production.
Hello, Lee. Hi, Michael.
These pies are special because they're not baked in a tin,
but moulded round a wooden dolly.
You place your dolly into the centre of your pastry.
Start lifting the pastry up.
As you're lifting it, you want to be turning your pastry. Turning.
That's going nicely.
Most pork pies are factory-produced
but here, to this day, they're made by hand.
Now you want to release the pastry from off the dolly.
Right, you're a bit quicker than I am. OK.
It's all practice. Yeah, I know.
OK. A nice pizza!
Oh, dear. Mine doesn't look like yours, but never mind.
Whilst most pork pies contain cured meat,
a traditional Melton Mowbray pie contains fresh pork.
When it's cooked, the filling looks grey, not pink.
Throw it in to take all the air out.
Right, OK. That's fine.
Then you place your lid on top of your meat.
And then you want to go all the way around your pie.
Are you pulling faces? No, no!
Good job it's a three-year apprenticeship.
A couple of little holes...
It takes skill and a light touch to make the perfect pie.
Qualities I fear have passed me by!
Right. Mine are not particularly... LAUGHTER
Would you stop laughing, Ian, please!
My pie is a sorry sight,
disgraced by the perfection of Lee's.
Now, this doesn't go in a tin, it just bakes as it is?
Yes, that's why you get such a crisp finish when you're cutting the pie.
You see how crunchy it was, cutting through it,
and that's what gives you the taste. Wonderful.
My Bradshaw's guide said
that a Melton Mowbray pork pie was a valuable production,
and indeed it is.
Thank you very much.
At the end of my rail trip from the North East of England
to the Midlands I've been strongly reminded that in Bradshaw's day
the railways made Britain shrink.
Whether it was the new mass-produced goods
or delicacies that had been available only locally,
trains allowed the nation to enjoy the specialities of central England.
Using my Bradshaw's guide on my long journey
from Newcastle to Melton Mowbray has opened my eyes to history
that I never fully knew
and to people and industries that I never fully understood.
I've made this journey after a long career in public life.
My only regret is
that I didn't make it before setting out on that career.
On my next journey,
I'll be exploring the scenic railways of Kent.
Starting in London, I'll travel south east through Canterbury,
and around the coast to Hastings.
Along the way, I'll be finding out
how the trains synchronised time across Britain...
If you wanted to catch a train and you had your watch set to local time,
and they had train timetables on London time,
you needed to know that otherwise you'd miss your train.
..Exploring the history of a seaside swim.
If you were staying in Margate, you'd come out of your lodgings
and you would wait for a bathing machine to be ready.
Which apparently always smelt like rotting carpet,
that kind of horrible smell.
..And hopping with excitement, Victorian style.
I just yank this, do I?
Give it a good pull.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
As the eyes of the world focus on Scotland,
we wait to discover the future of the United Kingdom.
Will Scotland vote to become an independent country or stay
Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. He travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains, as his journey follows some of the earliest railways in the country from Newcastle to Melton Mowbray.
Michael learns the secrets of stilton cheese, finds out how trains transformed the traditional British sport of fox hunting and attempts to make an authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie.