Monday, October 18, 2010

Beeching and Wolverton

Nothing lasts forever and nobody should expect Wolverton to have carried on blissfully making railway rolling stock to eternity. Railways across the world were past their heyday. They had become inefficient, slow and inconvenient. Road transport seemed to herald a bright new dawn. 

Wolverton people were not blind to what was happening. The council was making efforts to attract new industry to the town and eventually secured some land on the Old Wolverton Road. Copperad was the first, I believe, to set up a new factory there. Some tradesmen started to seek work in the Car factories at Luton and Coventry and were happy to take the higher wages on offer. There were also new companies coming to the Denbigh Industrial Estate at Bletchley. Were it not for these options, the impact of Beeching on Wolverton might have been devastating.

Dr Richard Beeching was born in Kent in 1913 and quickly established himself as a bright student. He took a first class honours degree at Imperial College and later completed a Ph.D. He began his career in research and later moved into production engineering, eventually holding very senior positions with ICI. His railway career began in 1961 when he was appointed by the government as Chairman of the British Railways Board - at that time a new entity. He was given a mandate to make the railways more efficient and cost effective and he approached the task energetically. Wolverton was one of the first places to experience the Beeching approach. The Carriage Works  was relegated to a repair shop in 1962 and the last carriage was completed in 1963. The workforce dropped from 4000 to 2000 almost overnight. This was a year before  the so-called Beeching Report - The Reshaping of British Railways.
The Beeching Report of 1963 captured massive media attention because the railway network served almost every corner of Britain. Wolverton was hardly noticed in the furore. Beeching proposed to eliminate railways from Wales, Cornwall, most of Scotland, Norfolk and Lincolnshire and most of the cross country branch lines. At Bletchley they had begun to build a flyover so that trains could go direct from Cambridge to Oxford. Beeching eliminated the Oxford branch, so the flyover had nowhere to go.
The size of Wolverton works began to shrink. Robert Maxwell acquired the paint shop on the basis of a promise to establish the Pergamon Press there. After he was elected in 1964 nothing more was said or done about it. Dunlop and Rankin was another firm which acquired workshops on the south side. The  Lifting Shop, built by C A Park in 1889 was designated as a shed to park the Royal Train.
From here the Wolverton Works continued to diminish. A lot of it is derelict today and the Tesco supermarket has claimed a lot of its former territory.
I suspect Beeching's name will not be forgotten. He was only in the job for four years before he returned to ICI but his impact was huge. He died in 1985.

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