Tag Archives: railway lines

Oh, Doctor Beeching!

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr Richard Beeching’s The Reshaping of British Railways which led to a major reduction and restructuring of the country’s railway route network (these measures became popularly known as the Beeching Axe). Two long-term effects of Beeching on mail transport were increases in transport by road and routing via London.

Controversial both at the time and subsequently, Beeching’s first report (he followed up two years later with a second, The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes) identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line for closure, representing 55% of all stations and 30% of route miles; the intention being to address increased competition by road transport through cutting less profitable rail services. Beeching had been tasked to write the report by a former Postmaster General, Ernest Marples (who had moved to the Ministry of Transport).

There are a number of files in The Royal Mail Archive which reflect the impact of the report on the General Post Office, some of which have recently gone on our online catalogue among the last batch of files from the decentralised registry POST class, POST 122. 18 April 1963 saw a special Postal Controllers’ Conference held at GPO HQ to discuss the effects of Beeching’s report (POST 73/183). A Steering Group within the Post Office had also been set up meeting regularly throughout 1963. At a wider level, the Post Office was represented on an inter-departmental Working Party.

 POST 73/183, Postal Controllers’ Conference with copy of the Beeching report (from POST 18/208)

POST 73/183, Postal Controllers’ Conference with copy of the Beeching report (from POST 18/208)

Despite these arrangements, Director of Postal Services Brigadier K S Holmes made this assessment at the April Conference:

…it did not seem that Dr Beeching’s proposals would be likely to cause us grave difficulties from a service angle.

For those interested in matters concerning the transport of mail by rail these files should give an insight into a period of great change in the British railway network.

Gavin McGuffie – Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

A Visit to Swindon

By Anne Jensen, Project Officer (Royal Mail Stamps)

Recently I joined a small group of staff from the BPMA on a visit to Swindon, to view the proposed site for the new BPMA Centre. Our very capable guide was Jo Sullivan, New Centre Project Assistant, who told us about the history of the site and its surrounds.

The proposed site for the New Centre is the former chain-testing works in the old Great Western Railway (GWR) locomotive works, a short walk from Swindon Station. On the walk we passed Brunel’s Railway Village, built to house GWR workers, and went through a tunnel which was constructed so that those workers would not have to walk over the railway lines to get to work.

Some of the group who visited Swindon

Some of the group who visited Swindon

The former works area, now known as Churchward Village, is currently being developed by Thomas Homes. Chris Brotherton from Thomas Homes, together with Jo, showed us around the site and explained the vision for the various part of the site.

Having looked at the plans before our visit, I found it difficult to imagine the size of the building the BPMA intended to move into, but once on site it became clear why it had been chosen. At the moment it doesn’t look of much, of course, but when the pigeons have been evicted and the site has been renovated it will provide a suitable space for showcasing and providing full access to the BPMA’s collection.

After our tour of the proposed BPMA site we walked towards the Swindon Designer Outlet, passing the National Trust’s headquarters, Heelis. The use of solar panels on the later building turned our conversation to whether or not it would be possible for the BPMA to do the same or whether, considering the very brisk breeze on the day of our visit, it would be better to invest in a couple of wind turbines.

This memorial sited in the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre commemorates the GWR workers who served in armed conflicts of the period.

This memorial sited in the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre commemorates the GWR workers who served in armed conflicts of the period.

Reaching the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre we were immediately struck by how the existing buildings had been adapted to suit their new purpose, and how the old railway machinery within those buildings had been made a feature of, something the BPMA intends to do in the New Centre.

We then made our way to the English Heritage National Monument Record Centre, next door to proposed new BPMA Centre, where we could see how the windows in the roof provided natural light in their search room (similar to what is planned for the BPMA site) and where we enjoyed looking up photos of places of interest to us.

Having seen how other buildings on the Churchward Village site have been developed, I am looking forward to seeing what happens to the proposed BPMA site in the future.