There is often discussion about what constitutes heritage in the railway context. Is it pre nationalisation? Pre the end of steam? Pre the end of BR? Last century? The century before that?
The reality is heritage is anything that has happened. Yesterday. An hour ago. It’s all in the past. It may be not heritage for us but what about our children who won’t remember the now?
If a railway is going to consider itself heritage it needs to preserve the significant events of the now for the edification of the future. Otherwise it is merely a time capsule that is selectively recording the history that those who run it choose to remember.
It is said that history is written by the winners (someone once said cruelly that explains all the blank pages in French history books, but I digress).
This is the reason people get all misty eyed over the 1950s and 60s steam and why so many preserved locos until recently have only been in BR colours. Until recently most preserved railways were run by people who remembered those times. People remember the good but forget the bad and so the misty eyes had filtered out the bad parts of that railway system. The thing is though, history needs to record the warts as well as the diamonds.
In this context I have been saddened of late to watch the erasing of a section of the history book of the Ffestiniog Railway.
The late 1970s and 1980s were a time of historical significance for the Ffestiniog. In 1978 the deviation was completed. In 1982 the return to Blaenau became a reality. The following years saw a railway carefully recover from the strain of the cost of such endeavour. But where’s the record of this? The innovation of new carriages (the tin carrs) has been wiped with all either scrapped or sold (with the exception of 110 which isn’t a true tin carr and is a completely different design); the pioneer new Fairlie, Earl of Merioneth, has been condemned to the back of the shed because of the desire to build a glitzy new locomotive; the Alco, Mointaineer, has been out of traffic for a long time and has been leap frogged in the queue so often now that “queue” is just a joke word.
The FR powers that be have their reasons I am sure but this is the heritage of my youth; this is the heritage that the young volunteers of the railway don’t remember as they were born a decade or so later. Why is our heritage not worth so much as others heritage?
The pictures in this article are postcards from my childhood which I have kept. These were bought on family holidays to North Wales or sent to us from my Uncle who lived in St Asaph and worked on “Back to Blaenau”.
Soon these will be all we will have left of this significant part of the FR’s history. We can run a train of Victorian carriages and locomotives but not of 1970s/80s traction and rolling stock. What made this acceptable? Why did we stand by and let this happen?
Save our Square is gaining, err, traction; the murmurings about the Alco are getting louder; but to preserve tin carrs we must now appeal to the railway the FR has sold them to that should they sell them on, the FR should have first refusal to regain its lost heritage.
But what will prevent this happening again? What will prevent another “new” locomotive going to back of the shed forever when it gets a bit tired or some other significant carriage design from being sold off when it doesn’t fit in with the policy of the day in 30 years time?
Heritage is history. History is about recording it all. Not just the bits the individual perceives to be good. It is our job to challenge those who strive to rewrite history with omissions.