Bridging the Gulf A Train to Nowhere by Dr Mcneil
Once upon a time there was a railway line which ran from Sheffield (approximately) to London. This line was part of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, which originally served the north of England, but which had become ambitious and re-named itself the Great Central Railway to celebrate the new line’s opening. When the railways were ‘grouped’ in 1923 (a sort of nationalisation without actually nationalising anything) the G.C.R. was added to the London North Eastern Railway group – a grave mistake as its London extension ran through London Midland and Scottish Railway territory. The latter group did not like it; nor did Dr Beeching, who managed to close all but the London commuter land section and the line from Rugby to Nottingham. This latter section was closed by Barbara Castle in 1969.
The first thing British Railways (Midland) – which came into being in 1948 and ultimately took over the extension – on that closure did was to demolish the G.C.R. bridge over its main line. This was sad as the sections north and south of the bridge were acquired by a preservation society. Admittedly part of the line north of Loughborough had been kept open to serve a local quarry, which explains to some extent the decision to preserve both parts of the severed line. All the preservation society wanted for Christmas was to put the bridge back (and part of the embankment leading to it). Their wish could soon come to fruition.
So, soon the good folk of Nottingham will be able to travel all the way to Leicester North on one train. And what will greet them there? A golf course on one side of the station and a patch of scrub on the other. Fair enough, sooner or later the scrub will be replaced by a railway museum, but at present many passengers will be tempted just to sit on the train and go back. This may not be the best thing to encourage the many inhabitants of Nottingham to do the trip – what is needed surely are some other attractions than golf and scrub-watching to encourage people onto the line.
The other weekend I was at the launch of a book on the permanent inhabitants of Belgrave cemetery which detailed what they did or did not do with their lives. The organisation behind this launch was the Friends of the Belgrave Cemetery, one of whose greatest desires is to attract more visitors to that cemetery. To do this they would rather like a gate between it (hidden in the scrub) and the railway site which they could unlock to allow parties of visitors to explore the cemetery. One of the problems for this idea is the location of the cemetery itself on the borders of the city and Charnwood. A gate is not a priority in the strategic planning of either concern and it would also be a source of insecurity for the railway which is potentially an easy target for metal thieves.
What attractions can the cemetery offer? To start with, history. The inmates lived their lives in long-forgotten environments. Most of them would never have known the mobile telephone, the internet, the computer. Several may never have known an electric light. Jingoism, world wars I and II may have claimed them; Korea, railway and tram accidents, diseases (that can be cured now or even have been eradicated), murder or just old age; they may be related to you; they may have had very important positions in society, or they may just have been labourers. There are on gravestones hints of who they were and sometimes how they died. One inmate was the captain of a ship sunk in 1914 and was celebrated just before the book launch on the 99th anniversary of his death. I admit these hints made my life easier when I was recording war graves a few years ago.
Natural history may be an attraction. My researches into the bird-life of the cemetery do suggest that most birds favour the surrounding scrub. It would be useful if records of its botany were known to its Friends. There is already a pamphlet on the trees; sadly there are no bushes in its centre which I believe explains the absence of many species of bird. All that is needed is someone who knows their grasses, flowers and mosses.
Come to that there are other attractions not too far away – Belgrave Hall perhaps? Could enough be found to justify the railway advertising that Leicester North does not only serve a golf course? (Is there a gate?)
As an afterthought, at great public expense our national administration intends to re-create the Great Central, though along a line even more remote from human habitation. Weird, is it not? Will the ghosts of Beeching and Barbara Castle close it again?