Newark-on-Trent to Stockton Great British Railway Journeys


Newark-on-Trent to Stockton

Michael Portillo continues his journey from London to Edinburgh. Tracing the path of the Flying Scotsman, Michael heads to Stockton-on-Tees.


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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.

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At a time when railways were new,

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Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.

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I'm using a Bradshaw's guide to understand

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how trains transformed Britain,

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its landscape, its industries, society, and leisure time.

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As I crisscross the country 150 years later,

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it helps me to discover the Britain of today.

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I'm continuing my trip along the tracks of the Flying Scotsman.

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Today, I hope to have a singsong amongst holy innocents as my journey

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stretches into industrial Nottinghamshire, to discover how

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a novelist writing in Yorkshire prompted a Victorian concern

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for animals, and to meet my match as I strike into County Durham.

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My journey is taking me up the East Coast Main Line from

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London King's Cross through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire,

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and on via Nottinghamshire to where a steam locomotive

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first hauled wagons in County Durham.

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I'll progress along the North Sea coast, crossing the Scottish border,

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to finish in the capital, Edinburgh.

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Today I start at Newark-on-Trent,

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a town dubbed the Key of the North.

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I'll continue on to Retford before stopping off in Thirsk and finishing

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in Stockton-on-Tees, the cradle of the modern railway.

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'On this journey, I rally a crowd of choristers...'

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Has your chanting ever been atrocious?

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No.

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'..become friends with a prickly chap...'

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Hello, Charles. Charles is certainly not lacking in energy or strength,

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-is he?

-He is quite a character.

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'..and get fired up with a Victorian chemist.'

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Let there be light.

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My first stop today will be Newark. Bradshaw's says, "the parish church

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"of St Mary is one of the finest in the kingdom.

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"A grammar school founded in Henry VIII's reign with a song school

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"attached is near the church."

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Children singing - a choir of new archangels, perhaps.

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Beside the River Trent,

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Newark's old castle provided the focus for a town

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where roads and railway lines converge.

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Its church steeple has long towered over the hustle and bustle

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of this market town.

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The Bradshaw traveller would already have recognised it as a hub.

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I'm meeting Andrew Fern,

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clerk at the charity that founded the choir school.

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Andrew, Bradshaw's mentions the very distinguished

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St Mary Magdalene Church, and mentions too that the grammar school

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from Henry VIII's time had a song school attached.

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For what purpose was there a song school?

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The song school was to enable the young men to learn to sing

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and to further their religious education at the same time.

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How was such a school funded?

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Thomas Magnus was a loyal courtier of Henry VIII,

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and because he was faithful to his king he was rewarded

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with emoluments and decided to endow the schools here

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with some of that wealth.

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Thomas Magnus was Henry VIII's chaplain.

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At a time when religion and power went hand in hand,

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Magnus left his mark on Newark.

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He bequeathed land that generated revenue for the trust to fund

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the grammar school and the song school.

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I think of funded choirs attached to Oxford and Cambridge colleges,

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to cathedrals, and so on,

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but it's quite unusual, isn't it, for a parish church?

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It's very unusual. We're enormously lucky.

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We're just one of the few parish churches in the whole country

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to have an endowed choir. And it gives a great opportunity

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to youngsters of all backgrounds, and sometimes different talents,

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to come together and make music. It's fantastic.

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Today's choir echoes the voices of generations of children

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who attended the school over the past five centuries.

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The choirmaster is Stephen Bullamore.

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Choir, what a splendid sound.

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Thank you very much. You must be Stephen.

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-Yes, thank you very much.

-It's great to see you.

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What a range of ages.

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And what does it feel like to sing with this choir?

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Well, it feels quite cool because it feels like it's a chance to be you,

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and it feels like you can express yourself.

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That's very nice indeed.

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So, has this choir pretty much been singing since 1530?

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Not necessarily each individual member, but as a body

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we've been going for a very long time, yes.

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I've been digging into the archives and we have a list of music which

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was sung in the 19th century, kept by one of my predecessors.

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And he also comments on quite how well the singing was or was not,

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so we have a rather nice comment: "All the music went well tonight."

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That's good.

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"Chanting in the morning simply atrocious.

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"As bad in the evening, and the anthem murdered entirely."

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Now, let's check with the choir.

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Has your chanting ever been atrocious?

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-ALL:

-No.

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And have you ever murdered an anthem?

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-ALL:

-No!

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Before leaving Newark, I'm going to visit a special display

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celebrating a time when train travel was still an adventure.

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The London North Eastern Railway ran to some beautiful places -

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York, Scarborough, Berwick-upon-Tweed -

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but how were those attractions to be illustrated?

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Posters were the answer,

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and writer Edward Yardley has a passion for them.

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Edward, I'm Michael. How lovely to see you.

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-Lovely to see you.

-What a great collection of railway posters.

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-Yes.

-When does the railway poster start life?

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The poster starts in the Victorian period, Michael, but it starts as

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a rather muddled set of images with some overstated letterpress.

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It really gets going in the Edwardian period,

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and by 1923, we were in the heyday of the poster period.

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Illustrated by artists,

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these posters transformed platforms into open-air galleries,

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and Frank Henry Mason was one of the masters.

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Born in 1875, he'd been a marine life painter when the LNER

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lured him into the advertising world.

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He demonstrated his talent for everything from the Flying Scotsman

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to the most intricate industrial scenes,

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and the east coast seaside destinations.

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Well, that speaks for itself.

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I mean, that is the classic, isn't it?

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Inviting us to the broad, open beach.

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Yes, this is what we think of as a typical railway poster,

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designed to entice the holiday public to the resort.

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It's Scarborough in this one.

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And it's alluring after all this time.

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-Yes.

-But, now, this is quite different.

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This is NOT buckets and spades at all.

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No, but this was the advertising manager coming up with

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a different slant on enticing the public to the Great Britain

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in terms of its industry as well as coastal resorts merely being

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for the holiday-maker.

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A tribute to what's actually going on in Britain.

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-Absolutely.

-And then up the east coast we go.

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Berwick-upon-Tweed, the famous bridge.

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And at last we arrive in Scotland, and that's a beautiful piece too.

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Indeed, and this is a series of six, Michael,

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showing the different types of fishing boats that in those days

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were very much at work in the harbours up and down the east coast.

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These posters...

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-Yeah.

-..remain very popular and you're obviously extraordinarily

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keen about them. Why are we so attracted still to

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the work of Frank Mason and others all these years later?

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Well, I think you can sum it up in the word "nostalgia".

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These are images of a bygone age.

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Yes.

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I'm leaving Newark to press northward.

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My next stop will be Retford in Nottinghamshire.

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According to Bradshaw's, the inhabitants manufacture hats,

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sail cloth, and paper, in considerable quantities.

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The Chesterfield Canal from the Trent has been of great advantage

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to the town. In Victorian times they discovered a new industrial plant,

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proving that the manufacture of the town was highly flexible.

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Retford has kept the traces of its industrial splendour,

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with fine Victorian frontages adorning the town square.

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The Northern Rubber Factory was founded here during that boom era,

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and has been on this site since 1871.

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Its product was destined to become indispensable.

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Mike Heslop has worked here for nearly 40 years,

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and knows about the history of rubber at the time of my Bradshaw's.

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In the Victorian times, the only rubber that was available

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was natural rubber, which was taken from trees,

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and that was sourced from Brazil

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because that was the only place that they grew,

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and it was illegal to actually export seeds or plants from Brazil.

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But in the 1870s, a chap called Henry Wickham

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smuggled 70,000 seeds from Brazil to Kew Gardens,

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where they were propagated and the resulting plants were

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distributed throughout the Empire.

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So to Ceylon, Malaya, at the time, India,

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all of which had the correct climate to grow rubber plants.

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When those rubber trees had grown in those colonial regions, their gum

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was a cheap commodity readily available to imperial Britain.

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Back in America, in 1839, Charles Goodyear had discovered that

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by heating rubber with sulphur, one was able to harden

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the amorphous mass into a material which would hold its shape.

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This process would be called vulcanisation.

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Alfred Pegler saw the potential,

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and founded the factory as a family business.

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His great-grandson would go on to look after the company,

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and put his name down in railway history.

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Alan Pegler is well known for his activities in the rail industry.

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In the early '60s, he purchased the Flying Scotsman and he then spent

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a large amount of his fortune restoring the train.

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We owe to him the fact that it has now been restored

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-and is available for us to ride.

-Yeah, absolutely, yes.

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Inside the factory's Victorian walls,

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the activity is resolutely modern.

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The old vulcanisation technique has evolved to produce army tank wheels,

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while synthetic rubber is used by 21st-century aerospace.

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Manufacturing manager, Tom Wagstaff, takes me behind the scenes.

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So, Michael, this is a fire test and what we're going to do is we've got

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a silicone rubber seal in the test rig. This particular seal,

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a safety-critical engine component for an aircraft. The point

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of the fire test is we are going to hit it

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with 1,100 degrees C of flame.

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We're going to do that for five minutes to make sure that

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the seal stays intact, and it will be safe on the aircraft.

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So that looks pretty metallic,

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but actually it is...

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-Silicone rubber.

-Silicone rubber.

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Whoa!

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Excuse me.

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Silicone rubber is the perfect material for this aircraft seal,

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because it can survive very high temperatures, as in this fire test,

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and extremes of cold, down to -60 Celsius.

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I can feel the heat radiating from here.

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A pretty powerful flame.

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It really is an aggressive flame, for the worst type of fire.

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I'm just going to have a look at what's happened to the seal.

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And the answer is nothing.

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With contracts with NASA and the British Ministry of Defence,

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the company is accustomed to manufacturing critical

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pieces of equipment, such as this in-flight refuelling hose.

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Imagine a fighter plane coming in at 300, 400mph,

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to the back of a tanker plane.

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It's got to be able to connect onto this.

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It's got to be strong enough to be able to take that force

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without breaking loose from the aircraft.

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And how on Earth does this thing find its way towards the fuel tank?

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So, it's a good question.

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These can be up to 120 feet long,

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and today the pilot will fly in,

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home in to the back of the tanker, and try and hook the end of it.

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I couldn't do it. I'm sure you could, Michael!

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But what we're actually doing as well -

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a really interesting piece of technology - is for drones, so UAVs.

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We're actually running data fibres within it, so an unmanned aircraft

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can clip onto the back, get fuel on board, download mission parameters,

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uncouple, and it allows those to stay in the sky 24 hours a day.

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And so, really, you're working on an intelligent hose.

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Oh, absolutely, yeah. This is the cutting edge of technology

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-across the world.

-Can you imagine what a gardener could do with that?

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-Thirsk, please. Senior.

-£27.05, then, please.

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To make my journey from Retford to Thirsk, I've had to change trains

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in York, but who needs an excuse to come to this magnificent station?

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When it was built in 1877,

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York was the largest station in Britain, and many perceived it as

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a monument to extravagance.

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The whole station was constructed on a curve,

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making it all the more striking.

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My next station will be Thirsk.

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Bradshaw's says, "that it cannot lay claim to any feature

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"worthy of attention." Oh, dear.

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I'm sure the people of Thirsk would not agree.

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"A few miles on is Byland Abbey, a fine ruin,

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"in going to which Laurence Sterne's house may be observed."

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Sterne, although a man of the cloth, wrote satire and comedy,

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and so his surname was not particularly appropriate.

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Despite Bradshaw's giving Thirsk the brush-off,

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it's actually a charming town,

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with a picturesque town clock and a cobbled market square.

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Just outside, in a pastoral haven, a man penned a series of books

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that shook the literary world.

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Patrick Wildgust is curator of the Laurence Sterne Trust.

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Well, Patrick, Bradshaw's recommended that I come to see

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Laurence Sterne's house, and I must say, it is highly attractive.

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But let's begin with - who was Laurence Sterne?

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Laurence Sterne was a clergyman, and he was the clergyman of two villages

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to the south of here, but he had ambition.

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He said, "I write not to be fed, but to be famous."

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And he produced a book called

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The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,

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one of the most extraordinary books that's in the English canon.

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-And why is it extraordinary?

-Because it's funny.

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It's a genuinely funny book, but it's also very clever.

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It begins with a rather strange way of referring to the hero's

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conception, which is dictated by the winding of the clock,

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and as a result of this, it was scandalous.

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That, presumably, is the book.

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Well, this is the first volume.

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This is a first edition, a copy of the first volume,

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which was published in 1759, and here is the title page.

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Shandy's a North Yorkshire dialect word,

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meaning a bit strange or a bit odd.

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And then, beneath that, we have two lines in Greek,

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so that's appealing to the intellectual,

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and it means something along the lines of,

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"It's not what things are that men fear, it's his opinions of them."

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How was it received at the time?

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It was a huge success, but it was also quite controversial,

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because the book, although funny and bawdy,

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when it was discovered it was written by a clergyman,

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that altered its reception to some degree.

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How was he regarded in Victorian times?

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In Victorian times, they chopped off the first five chapters

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in some editions, to make sure that this didn't offend.

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If a vicar in a parish today brought out a slim volume of erotic verse,

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how would it go down with the parish?

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-It had that sort of effect?

-Yeah, certainly.

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Sterne both provoked and influenced his readers.

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One of his best-known characters, Uncle Toby,

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made an impact on Victorian society.

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This painting here shows two characters from

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The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy -

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Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman.

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Uncle Toby is a kind and genial man.

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In volume two of Tristram Shandy, if I can show you here, on page 79,

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there's an account as to why we should look at this man because

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Tristram thinks that he owes 50% of his understanding of philanthropy

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because of this action, "where my Uncle Toby had scarce a heart

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"to retaliate upon a fly which had buzzed about his nose

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"and tormented him cruelly all dinner time.

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"Get thee gone, why should I hurt thee?

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"This world surely is big enough to hold both thee and me."

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And this must have been very unfashionable at the time.

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-People didn't care about animals.

-It's an unusual perspective.

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Tristram is affected by this, and so they were in Victorian times

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as well, because the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle decided that

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there should be a society organised for the young child

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to try to encourage the idea of not killing sparrows and birds.

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The editor used the pen name Uncle Toby to promote

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the Dickey Bird Society. Within ten years, 100,000 people had pledged

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fealty to feathered friends, and parades were held in Newcastle

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in celebration.

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Dear Uncle Toby, we owe you such a lot.

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Indeed.

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Uncle Toby and the Victorians sowed the seeds for the nation of

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animal lovers that the British have become.

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On the outskirts of Thirsk,

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Krista Langley has a wildlife centre funded entirely by donations.

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Since its opening in 2008,

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the centre has taken care of over 5,000 animals.

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Wow, cages all around.

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So, which animals are in residence at the moment?

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We've got a little owl. We get quite a few in.

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-Ooh!

-Looking very bright.

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Hello, little owl. What a lovely bird.

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They're full of character, little owls.

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Looking me directly in the eye.

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This little owl was brought to the centre after being found concussed

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on the roadside. It couldn't feed itself, but is recovering,

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and will soon resume its life in the wild.

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Cygnets, rabbits and other animals have found shelter and care,

0:21:320:21:37

including this hedgehog, Charles.

0:21:370:21:39

At only 142 grams, he's in need of a feed.

0:21:390:21:43

Nice soft blanket for him.

0:21:450:21:48

Hello, Charles.

0:21:480:21:50

Come on, Charles. Come on, Charles.

0:21:500:21:52

Charles is certainly not lacking in energy or strength, is he?

0:21:560:21:59

He's quite a character.

0:21:590:22:00

Charles.

0:22:020:22:04

That's better. Here we go.

0:22:040:22:06

You're doing really well, because he's quite difficult.

0:22:060:22:08

He's always had a habit of pulling on the teat.

0:22:080:22:10

Yeah, he does pull a lot.

0:22:100:22:11

Although he's started to eat solids, he still enjoys his milk.

0:22:110:22:15

How's that, Charles? Is that nice?

0:22:160:22:18

My next stop will be Stockton.

0:22:260:22:28

Bradshaw's tells me it's a market town in the county of Durham,

0:22:280:22:31

employed in the coal and shipping trade, situated on the River Tees,

0:22:310:22:36

and celebrated for the manufacture of rope.

0:22:360:22:39

The first bar of the railway line to Darlington was laid here in 1825.

0:22:390:22:45

It's also the birthplace of the man who gave us heat and light

0:22:450:22:50

at our fingertips.

0:22:500:22:51

Stockton has a special place in the heart of all train lovers.

0:22:570:23:01

Here ran the world's first public railway to use steam locomotives.

0:23:010:23:06

Today, the town proudly commemorates the famed Locomotion No 1

0:23:060:23:11

with a modern sculpture that moves on the hour.

0:23:110:23:14

The 19th-century town residents were true pioneers,

0:23:150:23:18

and when it came to inventions, the railways were about to be matched.

0:23:180:23:23

This enormous work of art celebrates the achievement of a

0:23:250:23:29

Stockton-on-Tees chemist.

0:23:290:23:32

Just a little invention,

0:23:320:23:34

but one that simplified our lives,

0:23:340:23:36

and helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution.

0:23:360:23:39

To find out about that discovery, I need to step back in time to 1895,

0:23:430:23:48

in the Victorian street of the Preston Park Museum,

0:23:480:23:52

just in time for my appointment with the local chemist.

0:23:520:23:56

John Walker was a 45-year-old pharmacist

0:23:560:23:59

when he invented the striking match.

0:23:590:24:03

His shop stocked products ranging from cosmetics to leeches.

0:24:030:24:07

Historical interpreter John Sadler has stepped into Walker's shoes.

0:24:070:24:11

Mr John Walker.

0:24:130:24:14

-Good afternoon.

-Inventor of the striking match, I believe.

0:24:140:24:18

Well, I must confess that I was not intending to create the match.

0:24:180:24:23

I was inspired by The Reverend Alexander Forsyth,

0:24:230:24:26

and he had invented a new firing mechanism called the percussion cap,

0:24:260:24:32

which was an improvement on the flint mechanism,

0:24:320:24:35

and all one has to do now is literally pull the trigger.

0:24:350:24:38

So that's at half cock, go to full cock...

0:24:380:24:42

I feel a bit like Dick Turpin.

0:24:420:24:43

Ha! Take that, you blaggard.

0:24:450:24:47

So, why was it that that led you to the match?

0:24:470:24:51

I was working with a particular compound, which was sulphur-based,

0:24:510:24:55

and I had coated the solution onto a stick and then, purely by mischance,

0:24:550:24:58

I struck it against the fireplace, and it ignited.

0:24:580:25:02

John Walker promptly sold his matches,

0:25:040:25:06

and their success spread like wildfire.

0:25:060:25:10

Scientist Dr Joe McGuinness and artist Sarah Pickering

0:25:100:25:15

are keeping Walker's flame burning.

0:25:150:25:17

Sarah, hello, I'm Michael.

0:25:170:25:19

-Hi, Michael.

-Now, you have done an art piece,

0:25:190:25:23

an artwork around the invention of the match.

0:25:230:25:26

That's correct. It's a 38-metre photograph,

0:25:260:25:29

a massive enlargement of a John Walker replica match.

0:25:290:25:33

The commission that I had was to celebrate something

0:25:330:25:36

about the Stockton area. John Walker's invention in 1827

0:25:360:25:40

seemed really perfect subject matter for me.

0:25:400:25:43

And how did you, as it were, generate a Walker match?

0:25:430:25:46

Well, I came to the museum here and did some research.

0:25:460:25:49

They provided me with an original recipe, and this is where

0:25:490:25:52

Dr Joe McGuinness came in and helped me out.

0:25:520:25:54

-Joe.

-Michael.

0:25:540:25:56

Very good to see you.

0:25:560:25:57

So, a difficult task to remake a Walker match?

0:25:570:26:00

Not really. The compounds involved are relatively common.

0:26:000:26:04

You need an oxidising agent, which is potassium chlorate.

0:26:040:26:07

You can think of that as a bit like concentrated oxygen.

0:26:070:26:11

-OK.

-We need a fuel, which is antimony sulphide,

0:26:110:26:16

which is not the nicest compound,

0:26:160:26:19

but, you know, don't drink it, you'll be OK.

0:26:190:26:23

And then we need some plant gum.

0:26:240:26:27

That's just gum arabic and that is required to get the match head

0:26:270:26:31

to stick together and adhere.

0:26:310:26:34

-How do we do it, then?

-The first thing to do is to put a pair

0:26:340:26:36

of safety glasses and a lab coat on.

0:26:360:26:38

I've got a face shield, if you prefer,

0:26:380:26:40

and a pair of gloves will be advisable too.

0:26:400:26:43

This is clearly going to be more dangerous than I thought.

0:26:450:26:48

The mixture obviously is shock sensitive, so you can't do it in

0:26:480:26:52

a mortar and pestle and grind them all up together,

0:26:520:26:55

because it might go bang.

0:26:550:26:56

Despite hiring people to help him make matches,

0:26:570:27:00

John Walker never allowed anyone to do the last part of the process.

0:27:000:27:04

Some suspect that it had a special ingredient that he kept secret.

0:27:040:27:10

That's fine.

0:27:100:27:11

One thing is certain - its result was akin to a miracle.

0:27:110:27:15

Let there be light.

0:27:180:27:19

The steam engine is the icon of the 19th century,

0:27:280:27:32

but other inventions of the period also loom large in our history.

0:27:320:27:36

Vulcanised rubber, and the striking match, invented here on the banks of

0:27:360:27:40

the Tees, bringing illumination to our homes and fire to our hearts.

0:27:400:27:46

But humanity is not just about technology.

0:27:460:27:49

Laurence Sterne's character, Uncle Toby, suggested that a concern

0:27:490:27:53

for animal life was also a badge of a civilised society.

0:27:530:27:58

'Next time, I step through the looking glass...'

0:28:010:28:04

Michael, are you all right?

0:28:040:28:07

I've gone mad.

0:28:070:28:09

'..prove there's no smoke without fire

0:28:090:28:11

'when it comes to Northumbrian delicacies...'

0:28:110:28:14

Right, quite enough of that, I think.

0:28:140:28:16

Bye-bye, kippers.

0:28:170:28:19

'..and rock the boat on Scottish waters.'

0:28:200:28:23

My thoughts on the coracle -

0:28:230:28:25

possibly the most impractical thing I've ever set eyes on.

0:28:250:28:27

Whoa!

0:28:270:28:29

Following his trip from London to York on board the Flying Scotsman, Michael uses his Bradshaw's to trace the path of the famous service, beginning in the 'Key of the North' Newark-on-Trent and finishing in the cradle of the railways, Stockton-on-Tees. Michael rallies the choristers of a Tudor song school and admires the art of the railways before travelling to Retford, where he discovers a high-tech application for a Victorian rubber technology. A scandalous novel written in Thirsk leads Michael to a wildlife centre, where he is enlisted to feed a hungry young hedgehog named Charles.