On a journey from Brighton to Cromer, Michael Portillo visits the government arms factory at Enfield and discovers how the trains transformed Newmarket's races.
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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.
The next train to depart from Platform 8
will be the 0930 National Express service to Norwich.
I'm continuing my journey from Brighton to north Norfolk.
150 years ago, businessmen, commuters, even politicians,
realised that the railways, with their power and speed, were transforming lives.
You could bathe in the sea at Brighton in the morning,
you could have lunch in London, and you could be in Newmarket for a race meeting in the afternoon.
And, luckily, George Bradshaw was on hand, with his handbooks and his timetables,
to enable Victorians to maximise their social opportunities.
All along this route, I'm gliding over the tracks that got the Victorian bourgeoisie on the move,
whether for business, sport or sightseeing.
'Each day, I'll depend on my Bradshaw's to be my guide.
'Today I'll be seeing how trains changed the fortunes of Newmarket's famous races...'
It's a sign of a very smart town, isn't it, to have one station for people from the North,
-one for people from the South and one for the horses?
'..following my tracks back to my student days...'
And that's where my all-important cocktail bar was.
I probably had a desk as well, but I don't remember.
'..and finding out that Cambridge has
'a rather surprising claim to fame.'
Football really started to blossom as clubs could be formed,
competitions could be organised, and teams could travel some distance.
So far, I've journeyed 68 miles from Brighton through London.
Now I'll head north out of the capital,
following a major commuter line into Cambridgeshire.
I'll explore the Fens en route to King's Lynn,
then pass through East Dereham and Norwich,
on the way to my final stop - Cromer.
Starting in Enfield today,
I'll travel via Newmarket to my old university town.
My first train takes me north out of London through the suburbs of the capital.
One of the things that fascinates me about suburban railways
is that you can see into people's windows and into their back gardens.
The railways didn't just change life for people travelling by train,
they changed the lives of the people living by railway tracks.
And how many movie plots and novels have been based on some incident glimpsed from a fast-moving train?
London's suburbs snaked out along the railway lines.
Once distant places were, by the mid-19th century, only minutes from the city.
But I'm surprised to find one that's very familiar to me recommended to tourists -
Bradshaw says, "The environs of Enfield are exceedingly pretty, and the scenery quite picturesque."
Having been an MP in this borough, of course I agree with that,
and returning stirs cheerful memories.
It's not principally the scenery
that makes Enfield score highly in Bradshaw's Guide.
It says, "A visit should be made to the government arms factory,
"an order for which must be previously obtained
"from the Ordnance Office in London."
Now, you probably wouldn't think of visiting a weapons plant,
but Victorian tourists sought self-improvement through knowledge,
and they took pride in Britain's superior technology.
The machine shop at Enfield was the biggest in Europe,
and attracted trainloads of admiring visitors.
-Very good to see you.
-Yes, a pleasure to meet you.
Ray Tuthill worked here in the 1950s.
This is a magnificent building, Ray. What was it?
It was the machine shop that was built in 1856
to house machinery brought from Springfield in America.
It went in here, and mass production, as we know it today, started in this machine shop.
At the Great Exhibition, the Americans brought some rifles across
and amazed everybody with this wonderful process, where you could take a random selection of components
from a number of rifles, put them together in any order, and get a number of complete rifles.
Prior to that, all engineering components were made by hand.
This new American method of constructing guns from machine-made parts was revolutionary,
and it's often seen as the beginning of modern-day mass production.
The Enfield factory was the first in this country to adopt the system.
Since the mid-1800s, every major type of rifle for the British armed services has been made here.
Now, I imagine the weapon that most people would have heard of is the Lee Enfield.
It was first produced in this machine shop at the beginning of the 1900s
as a service weapon.
The short-magazine Lee Enfield, or the Lee Enfield No. 1,
that saw Great Britain through the First World War and up into the Second, and indeed through it.
The factory was so large that, from 1855, it had its own railway station on the main line.
Later, special trains were ferrying workers to Enfield in time for the 7am shift.
Now, my Bradshaw's Guide from the 1860s refers to a railway station here called Ordnance Factory.
-Was that used for bringing materials in and taking them out?
-Not at that stage.
As the factory expanded and the population of workers expanded,
all the housing around here grew up and also workers started coming in from further afield,
so it would have been transport for people, but not actually for materials until the 20th century.
From Bradshaw's day until the factory closed in the 1980s, the Enfield munition workers
were admired for being amongst the most skilled in the world, and Ray was one of them.
I first crossed this bridge in September, 1952,
when I started my apprenticeship, and it was a wonderful apprenticeship.
It was not just about teaching you engineering, it taught you about life,
and in many ways it paralleled a modern university education.
And if you'd done an apprenticeship at Enfield Lock it was recognised worldwide.
It was often called a ticket to a job anywhere in the world.
Much though I've enjoyed returning to familiar Enfield,
it's time to continue on the next leg of my journey.
It'll take me 58 miles along the tracks.
After two changes of train, I'm now heading across the open plains of Cambridgeshire towards Newmarket,
and Bradshaw says, "long celebrated in the annals of horsemanship for its extensive heath,
"in the immediate vicinity of which has been formed one of the finest racecourses in the kingdom".
And even someone as ignorant as I am of thoroughbreds knows that that remains true even today.
Newmarket was the first course to organise official horse races,
and, since the railways arrived in 1848,
trainloads of optimistic punters
have threaded their way to the town for a flutter.
Are you often on the train on race days?
I am, yes. Last year I remember a lot of race days, it gets very busy.
I bet it does. And are they celebrating already when they get on?
The majority of the time, yes. But they're normally pretty good.
Well, I'm off to see the gee-gees myself now.
-Oh, OK, just at Newmarket?
-OK, well, good luck.
-Thank you very much indeed.
In Victorian times, Race Special trains from around the country brought racegoers to Newmarket.
The meets are as popular as ever, but nowadays fewer people come by rail.
-Thanks a lot.
Well...I was expecting something rather grand at Newmarket,
because I know the station plays quite an important part in the town's history, but it's such...
well, it's just a little halt.
When the first trains arrived in Newmarket,
it was a town for the gentry,
and the races were the preserve of the rich.
My guide says, "Most of the houses are modern and well built,
"and have been erected as residences
"for the nobility and private gentlemen who attend the races."
Newmarket's pre-eminent position in racing originated with a group of London gentlemen
whose passion for horses led them to form the Jockey Club.
I'm looking to historian Sandra Easom to tell me more.
-Hello, very good to see you.
-Nice to meet you.
Now, I understand that you can't really comprehend Newmarket unless you know about the Jockey Club.
-What's the Jockey Club?
-Well, racing started with royalty here.
Then, in 1752, a group of young bucks from London were interested in the racing on the heath.
They thought it would provide good sport,
and so the Jockey Club moved up from London to have its headquarters here,
and they've been here ever since.
'The Jockey Club appreciated the commercial and sporting potential
'of racing at Newmarket, and devised the first official rules.
'Soon, these were adopted by courses across the country,
'but when the railways reached Newmarket,
'bringing a new type of race-goer,
'the elitist Jockey Club was less than thrilled.'
They were very much against the idea of the lower orders coming here for racing.
They saw it as a gentleman's sport and a gentleman's preserve, and they didn't want
the hoi polloi being able to come along and spoil their day's racing.
Basically, they made sure that racing was held at times that wasn't convenient to the masses.
They made sure that the railway journeys were quite expensive.
Most of the trains that came here came at times that were convenient to them rather than to the working man.
'Eventually, the Jockey Club realised that it was missing out on a money spinner,
'so ceased its obstructionism and began to work WITH the railways.'
The Jockey Club actually thought, well, they might give this a go,
and they negotiated for cheap day excursions from Liverpool Street in London
for the princely sum of six shillings and sixpence,
which was still, you know, quite pricey for your average working man.
So, the trade opened up and it proved very popular indeed.
'Newmarket became so popular that extra stations had to be built.'
-Now, evidently we are meeting at a FORMER railway station.
I was rather disappointed to come into a tiny little station.
I know, it's very disappointing these days, isn't it?
You come in and it's just a little halt, a remnant of its former glory.
It was built in 1902 and it was one of three stations,
which shows you how important the railway was to Newmarket.
So, in great contrast to today,
-Newmarket used to be a bit of a railway hub?
-Oh, indeed, yes.
I mean, it was very popular for excursions from all over the country, not just the South and London,
which of course was the main place they came from, but from the North.
All the horses came into the old station, the 1848 station.
'The railways revolutionised racing.
'For the first time, horses caught the train to race meetings,
'instead of walking, and so arrived in better condition to compete.
'On a good day, 75 special railway horseboxes and 6,000 people
'passed through Newmarket stations en route to the course.'
The railway had a tremendous effect on Newmarket's prosperity, because
the population actually doubled in the 40 years from the time that the railway started.
The number of trainers, who of course were the primary employers, doubled, and the town prospered.
It's a sign of a very smart town, isn't it, to have one station
-for people from the North, one for people from the South, and another one for the horses?
Of course, it was the ultimate technology in Victorian times,
it was a new technology, and every town worth its salt wanted a railway.
First thing in the morning, I'll be up to see the horses train,
so I plan to stay in Newmarket and go to bed early.
Thinking about where to stay the night, my Bradshaw's Guide mentions two hotels, and this is one of them.
This has been one of the most popular stopovers in Newmarket since the races began.
-Hello, Michael Portillo checking in.
-Checking in. If I could just ask for a signature there, sir.
Thank you. I love your courtyard, it has a very historic feeling to it.
Originally the hotel was a coaching inn, so lots of horse-and-carriages used to come through.
It was built in the 17th century.
I thought it had the feel of horses about it.
That's fantastic. Thank you, sir.
Thank you, I've got a very early morning so I'm going to hit the hay.
-OK, have a good night, sir.
-Thank you, bye-bye.
-Enjoy your stay.
The next morning, I'm out long before breakfast
to witness a centuries-old routine.
The horses begin their day by stretching their legs
on the Newmarket gallops.
It's a beautiful morning, just before seven o'clock.
This is the Newmarket Heath, these are the famous gallops.
I'm meeting one of Newmarket's most experienced trainers, Sir Mark Prescott.
He's been responsible for over 1,500 winners and is out on the heath every day.
-Mr Portillo, how are you?
-Very nice to see you.
So, this heath, for how long has it seen this sort of activity?
The grass you're standing on here was sown in 1660,
and it's not been ploughed, fertilised, watered since,
so it's exactly the same grass that they were on then.
What makes Newmarket famous isn't really the racecourse. There are 57 other towns with a racecourse.
But the heath here, the training facilities,
that's what brought, in the end, now, 2,500 horses, 82 trainers,
and, during the covering season, when the stallions and mares are being bred,
there are 10,000 horses in a ten-square-mile area.
The well-drained, chalky terrain
makes the heath ideal for training horses.
Mark works with around 50 animals at a time.
It can take anything from six months to two years
to prepare a young horse to race.
What about your relationship with the horses?
Well, that's the most important, really. I suppose the trainer equates really to the headmaster.
The horses equate to the children, the owners are the parents, and the racecourse is the exam.
My job is to get as many of the...pupils through their exams at the best level that I can.
Heath House, where Mark keeps his horses,
has stood here for hundreds of years,
but he draws my attention to a relatively recent Victorian relic.
What do you think that is?
I think it's a bit of old horse.
It's a bit of very famous old horse called St Simon.
He is, according to the millennium poll, the greatest racehorse in history.
He was owned by the Duke of Portland,
and he sired a Classic winner every crop he had,
and he stood at 500 guineas.
500 guineas in those days, half a million in our money.
And the next most expensive horse in the world covered at 75 Guineas.
He earned £296,000 at stud, 296 million in our terms.
-Are we meant to kneel down before him?
-I think we should.
'In Bradshaw's time, there was less technology involved in training horses.
'Now a top stable must invest in five-star luxury.'
-A beautiful blue pool for your horses.
-Yes, well, by lunchtime it looks like the River Thames.
And they're actually going to swim,
-they're not just going to walk through?
-No, it's ten foot six deep.
The idea is to cool them off, stretch their...stretch them again,
and so, rather like you, if you went and sat down in the office sweating,
you stiffen up, whereas, if you'd had a swim and put your dressing gown on,
you stay a lot looser.
They look magnificent, don't they, as they emerge with the water streaming off them, refreshed?
And hopefully contented, and hopefully feeling like eating a major breakfast.
Funny you should mention that.
I do, too.
I have it all planned -
not far from Heath House I shall sample the town's other speciality.
If there's one thing that Newmarket is famous for apart from racehorses
it is Newmarket sausages,
and, indeed, the sausages still form part of the prize
that's given to the winner of the annual horseracing town,
the so-called Town Plate, which was initiated by Charles II.
So, here goes,
my first tasting of a Newmarket sausage.
Full of beans, and sausage,
it's time to leave Newmarket for the final leg of my journey.
In railway terms, at least, Newmarket's glory days are gone, and it's now just a single track
which will enable me to shuttle towards the city where I was at university - towards Cambridge.
It's 15 miles away, and it's a city that in my Bradshaw's
scores a superlative commendation.
"The University of Cambridge is second to no other in Europe."
The last stop on my journey today leads me down memory lane.
Arriving in Cambridge is always like a bit of a homecoming for me,
having spent three years here.
And not just any three years, those formative three years,
the first three years of being an independent adult.
In Bradshaw's day, and in mine,
students were known to get up to all sorts of mischief.
One legend claims that the station was built out of town
to make it harder for the all-male students to get to the races
or to the racy ladies in London.
True or not, there's one thing that Cambridge gents have come to rely on
for wooing the women.
-What are you selling?
It's called punting, a sightseeing tour on the river, just like the gondola ride in Venice.
Basically, a chauffeur is going to punt the boat with a pole.
There's a slight difference, do you mind if I tell you, between punting and gondolas.
-Gondola is with an oar, and punting is with a pole.
-No, gondola is with a pole as well.
No, gondola riding is with a pole as well, in Venice.
-It's with a pole.
-OK, I'm not going to argue with you.
-Are you from Venice?
That's a good point.
Well, even your average Venetian
might associate punting with Cambridge.
But he might be surprised to learn of a more global sport that has its roots here.
-Hello, Michael. Nice to see you.
-Very good to see you.
'I've come to meet Dr John Little, president of Cambridge University Football Club.'
-Now, this is Parker's Piece.
-This is Parker's Piece, yes.
I believe it's very important in the history of football.
It's extremely important in the history of football.
What, in fact, this was
was the site where the undergraduates would congregate
to play their many, varied forms of football that existed at the time.
Some could handle the ball, some couldn't. Some could go offside, some couldn't.
So, when they came to Cambridge, they all continued to play to their own rules.
This was obviously rather difficult, and when they set up on Parker's Piece,
each school would pin its own rules into one of the trees that surrounded the pitch,
and so, if you were a passing undergraduate and wished to join in, you knew which rules to play to.
These common rules were so widely taken up by other teams that, from 1863 onwards,
the Football Association adapted them for the national game.
Twinned with the arrival of the trains, football was entering a new era.
Finally, teams could travel, play a game and get home,
and indeed Oxford and Cambridge themselves could finally play Varsity matches, travel on the day,
and then get back to their respective universities, probably with some supporters.
And, in the wider game of football, football really started to blossom
as clubs could be formed, competitions could be organised, and teams could travel some distance.
'Just as the trains transformed horse racing in Newmarket,
'so they also revolutionised the Beautiful Game.
'Leagues grew because teams were able to get to fixtures anywhere in the country.'
-So would it be fair to say that football was born on Parker's Piece?
-I think it would.
I think those young men playing to different rules and being exasperated at not being able to play together,
it made them write these new set of rules, they were adopted,
and so one could say it was the birthplace of the modern game of football.
Cambridge's connection with football is largely unknown,
but its university is world-renowned.
My Bradshaw's devotes pages to extolling its virtues.
But this time I don't need the guide to find my way around.
Well, this is the college when I was an undergraduate, Peterhouse.
It's mentioned in Bradshaw's, of course. He says it's the oldest college of all, founded in 1257.
Actually, I think it was founded in 1284.
Now, I must confess that when I was here there was quite a lot of student misbehaviour.
For example, if a guy was out for the evening maybe with a girlfriend and was hoping to bring her back,
while he was out, we would go into his room and take away all his furniture and then, with some style,
we would lay it out on the old Court lawn, the carpet, the bed, the bedside lamps and everything.
And then the man would come back and find his bedroom in the middle here.
Now, if HE was really stylish, he would simply clamber into bed
and go to sleep for the night and be found there next morning.
While I'm here, I must revisit an old haunt.
Now, this is a moment of nostalgia, because I'm going back to
one of the rooms I had here as an undergraduate.
And I haven't set foot in here for...35 years.
Mind your head.
Well...here are lots of memories.
They've changed the furniture completely, but...
the room feels the same.
I think I may have had this table,
and that's where my all-important cocktail bar was.
I probably had a desk as well, but I don't remember.
My room-mate had that bedroom, and this one was mine.
With...a rather spooky view over the graveyard.
Indeed, we used to think this room was probably haunted.
And, famously, there's almost no high ground between Cambridge and the Ural mountains,
and in winter the cold in this bedroom was intense.
In Bradshaw's day, students out in public would have worn cap and gown.
And women weren't admitted to the university.
There were women's colleges when I was here, but none that was mixed.
And not until 2009 did Cambridge employ the first female head porter,
at Selwyn College.
-Helen, mistress of all you survey, because you are the head porter, aren't you?
-Yes, I am.
So part of what you do is discipline, isn't it?
Definitely. Security, discipline.
I'm the bad person of the college. I'm probably the most hated person in the college.
Oh, no, I don't believe that. I think it's a complex relationship.
Because you are the authority figure, but you're very friendly with the undergraduates, aren't you?
It's a very fine line, yes. Firm but fair, that's our mantra.
Friendly, firm and fair.
-How many porters are they here?
-Including me, there's 10.
Including two night porters.
Yes. So they're on the gatehouse at night, letting in latecomers?
-Most students nowadays have keys...
-..so they let themselves in.
We allow them that privilege.
But for anybody locked out or, like me, forget my keys, we allow them in.
'Over the generations - Bradshaw's, mine, and today's, I feel sure -
'students have always challenged authority.'
Are the ladies as badly behaved as the men?
No, of course not.
I'd never admit to it if they were!
Following Bradshaw's to locations that I already knew has proved very illuminating.
We take the familiar for granted.
My ancient guidebook opens my eyes to how exceptional those familiar haunts really are.
The places I visited on this leg of my journey have all been shaped
by a single activity which was established long before Bradshaw's.
Rifles in Enfield, and horse racing in Newmarket, and the university here in Cambridge.
And these institutions shape not only the towns, but everyone who passes through them.
And although I only spent three years in Cambridge, I'm very aware
that I carry a little bit of the city with me wherever I go.
On my next journey, I'll be in for a rare rail treat.
This bit of card means that between Downham Market and King's Lynn
I get to ride in the cab with the driver.
I'll be hearing how Victorian technology is still responsible for the safety of two counties.
The structure we've got here can hold back up to five metres worth of tidal water,
so if you imagine that's heading up towards Ely and Cambridge, it would cause catastrophic events.
And I'm covering an ambitious Victorian plan to reclaim the Norfolk Wash.
The Wash had the largest amount of land claimed from it.
Now it's a three-mile boat ride up the River Great Ouse before you actually get to the Wash.
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 five epic journeys, Portillo travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us, and what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
On a journey taking him coast to coast from Brighton to Cromer, Michael visits the government arms factory at Enfield (the largest machine shop in Europe in Bradshaw's day), discovers how the trains transformed Newmarket's races and finds out why Cambridge could be considered the birthplace of modern football.