There is terror on the tracks in Blackpool as Michael Portillo embarks on a new journey across Bradshaw's Britain with his Victorian guidebook.
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For Victorian Britons,
George Bradshaw was a household name.
At a time when railways were new,
Bradshaw's guide book inspired them to take to the tracks.
I'm using a Bradshaw's Guide
to understand how trains transformed Britain -
its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.
As I crisscross the country 150 years later,
it helps me to discover the Britain of today.
I've embarked on a new railway adventure -
from Blackpool to Harwich.
From resort to port, from sea to shining sea
on a gentle slope from north western to eastern England.
There will be some poetry as I traverse,
and my Bradshaw's Guide will help me to glorify
Victorian civil engineering and science.
But my journey will also reveal some spectacular infrastructure
being built now
and transformational discoveries being made
in Britain's present-day laboratories.
My route will take me south-east across the country to East Anglia.
It begins in Lancashire and heads across to
the mighty northern conurbations of the industrial age.
In Manchester, I'll join the route of
the North Country Continental rail service
and descend through the Fens to arrive in Essex,
gateway to continental Europe.
The first leg of my journey starts in Blackpool
and takes me to neighbouring Fleetwood.
From there I'll head south-east, stopping off near Bolton, before
finishing in the manufacturing power house of Manchester.
'On this trip...' Oh!
'..there's terror on the tracks.'
Only a skeleton staff today!
'I play a small part in a monumental project...'
Looks like you're a natural at this, Michael.
Do they do it "weld done".
'..and pay tribute to the ultimate sacrifice
'that was made by thousands of rail workers.'
And so it is perhaps understandable that when the call came in 1914
that railwaymen were so prominent and so numerous in stepping forward.
My first stop will be Blackpool,
which Bradshaw's tells me is, "A pretty bathing place,
"situated on a range of cliffs, much frequented by visitors,
"possessing an excellent library and sea-bathing at all times of tide."
Well, I don't know how many books
have been borrowed in the last 150 years,
but vast amounts of rock and candyfloss and fish and chips
have been devoured - some of it unwisely -
before taking the scariest of rides at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach.
FAIRGROUND ORGAN MUSIC
Like so many others, I'm here to experience the Pleasure Beach,
a 42-acre cornucopia of edge-of-the-seat excitement
that has entertained thrill-seekers for over a century.
Andy Highgate, Assistant Operations Director at the Pleasure Beach,
has agreed to help me explore the delights on offer by train.
What a lovely station, a beautiful little train.
-Would you like to take a ride?
-I would love to.
How long have you had a railway?
Well, the original Pleasure Beach Express was built in 1933.
Beginning to hear the screams of people on your rides.
What makes it great is there's not that many railways
where you get to see so many roller-coasters,
ten roller-coasters on your route, and also dinosaurs as well,
so that makes it a little bit unusual.
The opening of a rail line to Blackpool in 1846
gave manual workers in the Lancashire cotton mills
an opportunity to enjoy seaside leisure.
By the turn of the century, around two million people visited annually
to experience the traditional British seaside pleasures
of piers, donkey rides and fortune tellers.
How did Blackpool Pleasure Beach start?
There was a guy called William Bean,
and in 1896, he ran a small collection of rides on the beach.
And he had visited America
and was inspired by a park called Coney Island near New York.
It was his vision to bring some of the rides and attractions
and that type of amusement park to the UK,
which is what he did over the next 30 years.
The amusement park was officially named
Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1905
and grew quickly to include new rides
such as the water chute and a wooden roller-coaster.
Here we are passing some absolutely enormous structures.
Tell me about these.
Well, this one is the Big One, which, at one point,
was actually the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world,
and it's 235 feet tall.
In 1928, William Bean's daughter, Lillian, married Leonard Thompson,
and when his father-in-law died in 1929, he took over the park.
Today, it's still run by the Thompson family.
What have been the other important firsts
during the history of Blackpool Pleasure Beach?
Well, we had the world's first ghost train.
The ghost train was basically introduced
as what's called a pretzel ride - named after the layout of the track.
Pretzels don't really mean anything to people in the UK.
The suggestion of one of the ride operators
that had seen a play called The Ghost Train,
they changed the theme to a scary ride,
and the ride was an instant success, and then copied all over the world.
So every other ghost train that you see
has come from our original ghost train here.
I am about to experience the most incorporeal thing on tracks,
the most ethereal of all railway journeys,
the most phantasmagorical of all choo-choos.
Only a skeleton staff today.
Ooh, very nasty things!
GROWLING Argh! Didn't expect that one.
An oncoming train!
TRAIN HORN BLARES
Definitely the most scared I ever want to be on a train.
It was brilliant.
From Blackpool, my journey takes me nine miles
up the coast to Fleetwood.
The railway between the two towns closed in 1970,
but I can still make tracks
by boarding the much-loved Blackpool tramway.
Blackpool had one of the world's first electric tramways from 1885,
and unlike any other city in mainland Britain,
it's kept its trams ever since.
-Good afternoon, Michael.
You must be a happy man driving this wonderful historic car.
It's an absolute thrill to be able to
drive something over 100 years old and making the passers-by smile.
As a frequent visitor to Blackpool, at least in the old days,
what surprised me on this visit
is to see the absolutely modern, brand-new trams.
How do you feel about them?
They're fast, clean, efficient, very well-run.
-I still prefer the old ones, Michael.
-I bet you do!
Fleetwood was the first planned town of the Victorian era.
Its sheltered river mouth location
was ideal for a port and holiday resort.
Work on the town and a rail link to Preston began simultaneously,
and in 1840, the line opened.
Fleetwood Harbour became the starting point
for journeys across the Irish Sea,
and its port grew to be one of the country's largest.
"Fleetwood, on the mouth of the River Wyre,
"built on what was formerly a rabbit warren.
"A modern town which had no existence before 1836.
"Now a commodious harbour from which steamers go to Belfast."
"On my arrival, I'm greeted by a salty breeze."
"Wonderful for clearing the sinuses!"
Today, the town's sea-faring legacy lives on in its most famous export -
Fisherman's Friend lozenges.
I'm meeting Tony Lofthouse,
the great grandson of founder James Lofthouse.
Tony, how does the story of Fisherman's Friend begin?
It started 1865
when my great grandfather moved down from Lancaster to Fleetwood
and opened an apothecary shop, and he traded from there.
And as the trawlers went further and further from Fleetwood,
they went into colder and colder weather,
and the trawlermen got infections of the chest.
So he created menthol and eucalyptus lozenges for them.
No name on it at all,
but it was given the name by the people of Fleetwood.
The trawlermen would come in and say,
"Could I have some of my friends, please?"
And the public would say,
"I want some of those lozenges the fishermen have."
-So, you're making it sound like a very local product...
-Yes, it was.
-..for trawlermen in Fleetwood.
My grandfather, father, uncle were
only interested in the chemist shop side of it, really.
They weren't bothered about marketing at all.
It was only when we opened the, what we call the summer shops,
on the promenade in Fleetwood,
we used to get the holiday workers coming from the cotton towns.
They'd buy the product, go home and couldn't find it,
so they'd write to us.
And my wife collated the letters into towns
and then set off with a box full of loose packets
and picked a post office or another chemist shop
and said, "Look, if you will stock this product,
"I will go home and write to these people
"to say they can get them from you," and that's how it started.
It seems to me that, in the history of your company,
-you owe quite a lot to your wife, Doreen.
She's always full of ideas and bringing something new in.
And what position does Doreen occupy now?
She's chairman of the company - and quite rightly so!
The company has grown to employ 380 people in Fleetwood.
96% of their lozenges go abroad,
and they've won three Queen's Awards for export.
-How many lozenges do you make?
-We make about 23 million a day.
-Gosh, that's a lot of sore throats being dealt with.
Another member of the family shows me the factory floor
where the lozenges are made.
Duncan, a beautiful, pristine environment.
It's as though there's a mist in the air,
I feel my eyes watering slightly and the smell penetrating my nose.
Yes, I think that's probably the menthol
that's causing that sensation for you.
A rather surprising sight to me, Duncan -
these lumps of brown product.
What's happening at this point?
Well, once the ingredients have been mixed together,
the product then comes along this conveyer belt
and goes into a moulder.
The moulder makes the shape of the lozenge,
which are then transferred onto trays.
The trays are then onto palettes
and they go into a drying oven for anything up to seven days.
We have two identical lines to this,
each producing five tonnes of product every day.
How similar is this to the first product
that was produced by your ancestors?
It's very, very similar indeed.
The only difference is now we do a moulding process,
where, previously, the product was stamped out.
That's the only difference.
I think your ancestors, though, would've been just amazed
by this degree of production and automation.
I'm sure they would, yes.
Hello. Have you worked for Fisherman's Friend long?
Coming up to three years this year.
Anyone in your family work for the company?
Yeah, my grandma. She's been here 23 years.
Do you ever get used to the sensation
in your eyes and your nose?
You get used to it now, yeah. Now that I've been here for a while.
-Very nice to talk to you.
-Yeah, you too.
The smell of menthol and eucalyptus is pervasive.
But the range of tastes around the world demands additional flavouring.
-Which one is the original?
-That is the original, there.
Thank you very much.
Quite a strong smell, but of course,
nothing by comparison with the factory floor.
-Quickly it begins to release eucalyptus...
Mm. Very effective.
I'm sure, if I were on a trawler, I would find that very efficacious.
-And what else should I try?
-I'd like you to try this one.
This is a rather unusual one.
This is a salmiak variant
that sells particularly well in Scandinavia.
I hate liquorice!
I think you must be in the minority
because it's one of our bestselling variants, actually.
With head cleared, I seek out my bed for the night.
Why have I chosen the North Euston Hotel
for the first night of my journey?
I'll give you one guess.
It's in my Bradshaw's!
The hotel's grandeur illustrates railway history.
When it opened in 1841,
there were trains from London, but not onwards to Scotland.
Passengers would therefore overnight in Fleetwood
before taking the ferry to Ardrossan for the train to Glasgow.
In 1846, a direct line to Scotland opened,
so the North Euston's heyday was brief.
I'm ready to resume my journey east to Manchester.
George Bradshaw often marvelled at
the triumphs of the civil engineers of his day
in both canals and railways.
But they did leave some gaps,
for example, between Victoria and Piccadilly stations in Manchester.
I want to see how modern-day engineers cope with those issues
and how they live up to the standards of their forebears.
I'm travelling 40 miles south east to Lostock near Bolton,
where I will see a railway bridge taking shape.
When complete, it will be part of an £85 million project
called the Ordsall Chord.
300 metres of new track will allow trains to run
between Victoria and Piccadilly stations in Manchester.
It's part of an investment of more than £1 billion
in the railways in the north of England.
Project manager Jarrod Hulme shows me the bridge
that will form a vital part of the Ordsall Chord.
For whatever reason, the Victorians did not link
Piccadilly and Victoria stations in Manchester.
What advantages do you have over the Victorians?
I'd say the biggest key factor is the technology
that has come about over the last 20 years or so.
We design everything within a 3-D world, and then we transmit
that onto the shop floor for the guys to actually use.
They'll measure things with laser-guided technology,
rather than spirit levels and plumb bob that the Victorians used to use.
-To extraordinary levels of accuracy.
You're looking at between one and two millimetres.
-Have you developed any Victorian engineering heroes?
-Yes, I have.
I'd say Brunel's probably one of my favourite heroes.
Some of the structures he's done,
in the timescale and the tools that they had,
I find absolutely unbelievable.
The Ordsall Chord development
crosses the world's first modern railway line,
built by George Stephenson between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830.
Jarrod, it looks like Meccano on the mega-scale.
Yeah, this is a full-scale trial erection
of one of the structures on Ordsall Chord called Trinity Way.
Basically, what you're looking at here is how we make sure
that the actual items fit together before they get to site.
The main span girders that you can see on the left and the right,
they're fabricated in another area of the bay.
Then they're brought to this particular area
where they're assimilated into the final span position.
The centrepiece of the Ordsall Chord will be the network arch bridge,
which some have compared to a squashed tennis racket,
with a distinctive swoosh at one end.
The ground-breaking design is destined to become
a Manchester landmark.
How do you feel, being in your case,
a very significant part of this extraordinary transformation
in the middle of Manchester?
I'm a local boy, so having the fact that you can actually see this
on a daily basis when you go into the city,
it's going to be an iconic structure that everybody gets to see,
so, yeah, really proud to be part of it.
The Victorians would be amazed to see
the technology at Jarrod's disposal.
But they'd be very familiar with the skills involved
in constructing the bridge.
-My name's Michael.
-This is Steve.
-How do you do, Steve?
-What's going on here, then?
-OK, so this is the welding process.
This is a main span girder for a River Irwell arch.
Must be operating, obviously, at a very high temperature
cos, actually I can feel that there's heat
all the way through this vast piece of metal.
Steve is using a process called submerged arc welding.
This produces slag as a waste material.
I may as well make myself useful.
Steve, my mother taught me to vacuum clean.
-Can I have a go at that?
-Thank you very much.
Let me have that dooberry as well. There we go.
-Sucking up all the bits of flux here.
Keep the place nice and tidy.
And then the other thing you do is you chip these bits off...
Looks like you're a natural at this, Michael.
My mother taught me well.
Do you think it's "weld done"?
When, in decades to come, I travel along the Ordsall Chord,
I shall think back to Steve and the vacuum cleaner.
I'm re-joining the train at Lostock
and travelling 60 miles to Salford station,
close to where the bridge is to be assembled.
The plan to build a new link across Manchester has been controversial
because it interferes with George Stephenson's bridge
across which Robert Stephenson's rocket locomotive has so often run.
And certainly we need to preserve our old heritage,
but what better tribute to those railway pioneers
than that today, nearly 200 years later,
their technology of metal wheels on metal rails
is still being used, refined and developed?
When finished, the new bridge will be taken to Manchester
and assembled on-site.
I've come to meet Alan Parker,
programme manager for Network Rail, at the construction zone,
just south of Salford station
and to the west of Manchester's city centre.
It's an amazing sight, isn't it?
Railway line, canal, river, several bridges - complicated!
Where are you going to put your new railway line?
Directly over where we're standing now.
We've already done quite a lot of work to link Piccadilly with Victoria
in earlier stages of the job.
This is the final link which takes two existing viaducts,
which one comes from Victoria to Liverpool,
the other one links Piccadilly through to Liverpool as well.
This is a link which joins the two together,
allowing the railway to run from Victoria to Piccadilly
for the first time.
When the Ordsall Chord is completed,
there will be two new fast trains per hour
between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool.
A new direct service will run
across Manchester city centre to the airport
and faster journey times to Hull, Newcastle and across the north
will be possible.
Where is the famous George Stephenson bridge?
Stephenson's bridge at the moment is hidden away,
behind this bridge, behind a further bridge.
And if you look closely underneath the bottom of the bridge,
it's two stone arches with a central pier in the river.
We're going to reveal the whole of Stephenson's bridge
for the first time since round about the 1830s, 1840s.
So we're going to fully refurbish the external faces of the bridge
and bring it back to an original condition.
A bit of a renaissance going on for the railways in the north?
I think so. It's a good time for the railway in Manchester.
-Very exciting, yeah.
Bradshaw's says that, "The Liverpool and Manchester line
"is pre-eminently entitled to rank as the pioneer
"of those stupendous undertakings
"which have given a new stimulus to
"the mechanical and architectural genius of the age."
Mechanical and architectural flair are key today.
All my rail journeys using my Bradshaw's guide
are really about historic memories
but I'm now on my way to Manchester Piccadilly station
for a very special act of remembrance.
Railways and their workers played a vital role
in the Great War of 1914 to 1918.
Over 19,000 railwaymen lost their lives.
Manchester Piccadilly used to have a memorial honouring
87 fallen railwaymen of the London And North Western Railway.
It was dedicated in 1920
but mislaid when the station was redeveloped in the 1960s.
Train managers for Virgin Trains Andy Partington and Wayne McDonald
decided to rectify the loss with a new monument,
and after many hours of research,
they've discovered the biographies of 75 of the 87 men listed.
What gave you the idea, not only of recreating the memorial,
but actually investigating the people whose names were on it?
I think it's important that they're not just a name on a memorial.
They were somebody's father, son, brother,
and they were individuals.
It's interesting, as railwaymen, to learn.
Although the railway is different today than 100 years ago,
it's more or less getting to know them personally,
that's how we've felt as we've progressed through this project.
How did you set about your researches?
Mostly through sites like the Commonwealth War Grave site,
family tree sites.
And then, obviously, the release of the headstone registers
by the Commonwealth War Graves last year.
Answered a lot of questions and let us narrow down
that that's definitely the person we are looking at.
I'm deeply honoured to have been asked to give a speech
at the unveiling ceremony.
Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Lieutenant and ladies and gentlemen.
The men who joined the railways during the 19th century
and in the first years of the 20th century
were typically brave and resourceful people
because the railways were dangerous.
And they were also people
who were strongly dedicated to public service.
And so it is perhaps understandable, that when the call came in 1914,
that railwaymen were so prominent and so numerous in stepping forward.
I want to say how very delighted I am that
the First World War memorial here at Manchester Piccadilly station
is now to be restored.
TRUMPETER PLAYS LAST POST
-Who is in this photograph?
-It's our grandad. Joseph Daly.
-A day you'll remember?
-It's very nice.
The memorial includes the name of my late husband's uncle.
A couple of years before my husband fell ill,
he came in to Manchester to see if he could find the memorial
and he was really upset to find it had gone.
So I'm here to represent my husband,
and I'm so sad that he's not here today.
George and Robert Stephenson left their mark on Manchester
when the world's first trains ran to and from the city
while Queen Victoria was still a child.
Today, Manchester is being transformed by new lines,
proving that this 19th-century technology
can still be exploited in the 21st.
The railways attracted a particular sort of man -
tough, resourceful and duty-bound.
And from amongst their ranks,
there stepped forward some of the most effective volunteers
for the First World War.
Britain owes them a debt.
'Next time, I discover Victorian grandeur deep underground...'
This is known as the cathedral,
which has this vaulted cast-iron arch.
This is a monumental piece of work.
'..find my travels lit by starlight...'
Lift it, please! Let there be light.
Bravo. MICHAEL APPLAUDS
'..and take a miniature detour.'
There is terror on the tracks in Blackpool as Michael Portillo embarks on a new journey across Bradshaw's Britain with his Victorian guidebook. He makes potent new friends in Fleetwood then heads to Manchester, where George Stephenson built the world's first modern railway line. This epoch-defining achievement is being incorporated into a new multimillion-pound rail link between Manchester's Victoria and Piccadilly stations, and Michael lends a hand with the welding. At a moving ceremony in Manchester Piccadilly station, Michael unveils a new monument to 87 railwaymen of the London and North Western Railway, who lost their lives in the Great War.