A steam-train journey from Milton Keynes to Carlisle reminds Jane Taylor of what Britain has left behind
On English Street in Longtown, Carlisle, a poodle danced to a brass band as its collar, branded with the Cross of St George, twinkled in the afternoon sun.
The lightbulb moment came, crystallising the fleeting images that entered my mind’s eye on the journey up the iron spine of England, from Milton Keynes to Carlisle. As the Royal Scot train snorted and chugged rhythmically, consuming its 40 tonnes of Yorkshire coal, the trackside heritage of yesteryear came back to me in a jingoistic rush – Made in England.
Remember the once-familiar household names, emblazoned on factories and foundries, or on trucks laden with raw materials dragged from pits and quarries up and down the land. Remember the reminders that arrived every day, on the overhead door closer, the white circle on the cold-water tap and the wash basin – all signed ‘Made in England’.
Even manhole covers and bricks proudly carried the imprint. You could be in another country and spot any of these, spirited via iron roads to the docks for export.
All those factories – ribbons cut by royalty, kilns and blast furnaces fired for years on end – have gone as cold as the bastions of manufacturing: providing loyal workers with houses and pensions. Such a solid and dependable thing, torn up in my working lifetime. And how the trackside landscape has changed, the iron road now linking the retail parks and small industrial estates of one city with another in an anonymous blur.
What do they teach in Geography now? Wolverhampton – famous for its retail parks? Preston – on the map as a founder of the football league? Milton Keynes – a pioneer of boulevards and office space? Skelmersdale – boasts high levels of unemployment? The North – employs one in three workers in the public sector? Now I’ve finished typing this on my Made-in-China keyboard, I’ll pick up my Made-in-China phone and find out.
- Jane Taylor worked on the AJ from 1977 to 1998, and founded AJ Specification (formerly AJ Focus)