Posts Tagged ‘Sir John Betjeman’

Three cheers for Prince Charles!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

hrh

HRH, The Prince of Wales, Zac Goldsmith and others at the launch of the Revolve Eco Rally at Hampton Court in June 2007.

(From a photo by RevOlvin, click to see original and details of licensing.)

Three cheers for the way The Prince of Wales responded to the D-Day crisis, and with scant regard for protocol, obtained an invitation from President Sarkozy to honour the British soldiers who gave their lives on the Normandy beaches. We have no private source of information whether the absence of an invitation to the Queen was the result of President Sarkozy’s determination to keep the commemoration an American-French affair or whether the cause was Gordon Brown’s wish not to be up-staged. In the event, Prince Charles’s performance was regal and dignified, in stark contrast to the political posturing going on elsewhere.

Prince Charles suffers from a hostile press which mocks his beliefs and regularly ignores the valuable work that he carries out through his charities such as The Prince’s Trust and PRIME. While some of this may mirror the drop in the Prince’s popularity following his disastrous marriage to Diana Spencer, and the manner of the Princess’s death, in fact the hostile press articles started well before his marriage got into difficulties. It difficult to escape the conclusion that the Prince’s espousal of causes such as organic farming, holistic medicine and traditional architecture has upset major vested interests who have manipulated the media in an attempt to clip the Prince’s wings and limit his influence.

tornado_trh

TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, with A1 Trust chairman, Mark Allat, looking on, name brand new Peppercorn A1 class pacific, Tornado, 19 February 2009.
Photo A1 Trust

For lovers of Britain’s railway and industrial heritage, the Prince plays a vital role as a national figurehead. He fills the space vacated by the death of stalwarts such as Sir John Betjeman and Fred Dibnah. These days, there’s scarcely an important heritage railway event which the Prince does not personally support, whether it is the reopening of the Severn Valley Railway after major flood damage, or the naming of the A1 Trust’s Peppercorn pacific Tornado. The Prince helps to provide public recognition of the amazing achievements of British railway enthusiasts. This recognition helps them with their negotiations with all the official bodies who have to be brought on side before a railway project can be nursed to its ultimate success.

We have it on very good authority that when Howard Jones was collecting his MBE, the Prince congratulated Howard on all the good work he was doing to preserve the Polish narrow gauge railways. Howard was understandably somewhat miffed because his amazing achievement was in persuading PKP to leave at Wolsztyn as the last steam shed in the world servicing standard gauge locos rostered for regular mainline passenger traffic. Perhaps, the Prince – a keen supporter of the Welsh narrow gauge – had in mind the extent to which Howard’s Wolsztyn Experience helps to cast an international spotlight on Poland’s minor railways as well?

In Poland the future of the country’s railway heritage hangs on a thin thread – the victim of a shock transition from communism to Latin-American style capitalism, Poland’s burgeoning bureaucracy, the lack of official recognition and absence of public support. Perhaps it may be unrealistic to hope that on his next visit to Poland the Prince might find time to visit Wolsztyn and travel on the footplate (or even drive!) one of the Ol49s on the Wolsztyn – Poznan turn and maybe even drop in to see the Smigiel Railway next door. Wishful thinking or not, in a country which lacks a powerful national advocate for its railway and industrial heritage, such recognition would give the Polish railway preservation movement the shot in the arm it desperately needs.

Dyspozytor

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Remembering a friend

Saturday, 21 June 2008

One that got away, Sir John Betjeman at Broad Street Station, photo Lord Snowdon (click for picture in original context)

A friend has died. We never met face to face, but used to chat by e-mail because our posts in another place often saw eye to eye. He liked steam and contributed the log of his voyage down the Thames in a small open steam boat to “If Not Duffers…” one of my early blogs. He sailed on the East Coast and was involved in the restoration of a much bigger steam boat, the herring drifter Lydia Eva, and invited me to visit the boat with him. Sadly, other things got in the way and my visit never took place. Today’s post about Sir John Betjeman is dedicated to the memory of Laurence Monkhouse.

Essex by Sir John Betjeman

“The vagrant visitor erstwhile,”
My colour-plate book says to me,
“Could wend by hedgerow-side and stile,
From Benfleet down to Leigh-on-Sea.”

And as I turn the colour-plates
Edwardian Essex opens wide,
Mirrored in ponds and seen through gates,
Sweet uneventful countryside.

Like streams the little by-roads run
Through oats and barley round a hill
To where blue willows catch the sun
By some white weather-boarded mill.

“A Summer Idyll Matching Tye”
“At Havering-atte-Bower, the Stocks”
And cobbled pathways lead the eye
To cottage doors and hollyhocks.

Far Essex, – fifty miles away
The level wastes of sucking mud
Where distant barges high with hay
Come sailing in upon the flood.

Near Essex of the River Lea
And anglers out with hook and worm
And Epping Forest glades where we
Had beanfeasts with my father’s firm.

At huge and convoluted pubs
They used to set us down from brakes
In that half-land of football clubs
Which London near the Forest makes.

The deepest Essex few explore
Where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers
And out of elm and sycamore
Rise flinty fifteenth-century towers.

I see the little branch line go
By white farms roofed in red and brown,
The old Great Eastern winding slow
To some forgotten country town.

Now yarrow chokes the railway track,
Brambles obliterate the stile,
No motor coach can take me back
To that Edwardian “erstwhile”.

Sir John Betjeman not only wrote about railways in his poems, he also made TV programmes about them and campaigned actively to popularise Victorian architecture. Sadly his work came too late to save the old Euston Station, but the survival of St Pancras Station virtually intact and much of Liverpool Street Station owes a great deal to his influence. He also helped railway groups, such as the Swanage Railway Society, with their campaigns to save their local branch lines. Now if only we had a person of Sir John’s calibre in Poland to campaign about Polish railway heritage.

More John Betjeman (on You Tube):