Making tracks: Beeching 50 Years On at the National Railway Museum

By Ben Miller | 27 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Beeching 50 Years On, National Railway Museum, York, until June 16 2013

In an era of cuts, the Beeching Report of 50 years ago has a painfully modern resonance.

Implemented by the Conservative Transport Minister, Dr Beeching, it changed Britain’s railways forever, removing 4,000 route miles on cost and efficiency grounds, leaving the country with 13,721 miles of track in 1966.

And for communities such as the ones on the Borders, the effect was one of disconnection: the closure of the Waverley line, between Carlisle and Edinburgh, was one of the first manifestations of the measures, leaving the populace further away than any other from a rail network.

Now Esther Johnson has turned her poetically-minded filmic hand to exploring one woman’s post-report predicament.

In It’s Quicker By Hearse: The Tale of the Petitioning Housewife, the Protesting Schoolboy and the Campaign Trail Student, the story of Madge Elliot’s march to Downing Street with her 11-year-old son to deliver a petition of almost 12,000 signatures in 1968, is given a new spin by Johnson, who has made works for Tate Modern and the BBC.

“Telling the story of Madge and how the cuts to her local line have affected her community has been inspiring,” she says.

“It’s given me an insight into a unique approach to grassroots campaigning.

“It’s been great to work with the National Railway Museum to mark this milestone in British history. I’m looking forward to visitors seeing the work.”

The report remains contentious and emotive. Some commentators see Beeching as a figure intent on removing trains from Britain, and Michael Palin considers him a villain of national transport history.

The museum’s exhibition is part of an extensive season commemorating the anniversary of the publication. Lectures, debates, arts events and heritage walks are among the activities planned.

More pictures:

An image of an advert in green and black advertising the withdrawal of a railway line
© National Railway Museum
An image of a map of Britain showing railway lines
© National Railway Museum
The remains of Rugby Central Station, which closed in 1969
A photo of a country bridge
The former railway bridge in Rudgwick© Colin Smith
A photo of an urban railway station
Birmingham New Street station was closed in 1972, but reopened in 1987© OLU
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Incorrect caption. That's Birmingham Snow Hill which was rebuilt and reopened about 20 years after closure, the first step of a rail renaissance in the West Midlands.
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