RICCARTON JUNCTION - THE END
I wrote earlier about the building of Riccarton Junction and the settlement of the village. On this page I talk about the village's demise. For this, we can start with the period just after World War II, and in particular the state of the railway system in the UK.
During the war years, the British Government had guaranteed the income of the railway companies as that arising in the years immediately prior to the war's outbreak. yet all Government wartime traffic - some 524,000 additional trains - had to be carried free of charge. Furthermore, most of the repair workshops were converted into wartime armament factories, which meant that even if time could have been found to take the locomotives and rolling stock out of service for essential repair, there were not the facilities to repair them. Then, of course, the railways had suffered considerable bomb damage - railway junctions and stations being a legitimate and appropriate wartime target.
After the war, money was tight everywhere. And if that wasn't enough, the landslide Labour victory in the General Election of 1945 promised railway nationalisation. The directors and shareholders would soon be losing control of their companies, so why would they commit any of their scarce funding to investment or repair when it would not be they who would reap the benefit?
Nationalisation took two and a half years to arrive, during which period little had been done to rectify the lamentable state in which the railways had been left at the end of the war. And the terms of nationalisation were horrific.
The new Railway Executive had to buy any railway asset that was presented, and at a fixed price. For example, the value set on a pre-1902 8-ton goods wagon was £16 10s, a great deal of money in those days. For that price, private owners dragged out decrepit and derelict goods wagons by the tens of thousands - most of which went immediately for scrap.
This kind of "compensation" saddled the Railway Executive with a debt of £1,150 million for "a poor bag of assets", as Hugh Dalton, the Government's Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, and while in the old pre-nationalisation days the railway companies simply paid to shareholders a dividend of what they could afford (and by the late 1930s some could not afford to pay anything at all), nationalisation obliged the Railway Executive to pay an interest charge of 4% per annum. With this annual commitment to pay nearly £50 million interest before a wheel was even turned, the Railway Executive was already fighting a losing battle. Cost-cutting came straight onto the agenda.
This was not helped by the Government, both Labour and Conservative, being thoroughly infiltrated by the road transport lobby. The Railway Executive was obliged to carry all and any goods that were presented, at a fixed tariff that had to be published. No such restrictions were imposed on the road haulage industry, which could pick and choose its traffic and undercut the railway tariffs with private tariff agreements of its own. Heavy investment was made in road traffic and road construction while railway investment was hamstrung. Ernest Marples, one Conservative Minister of Transport who had vetoed a railway investment programme in favour of a road-building programme, was a shareholder in a road construction company called Marples Ridgeway. To avoid a conflict of interest upon his appointment to a Ministerial position, he sold his shares. It later transpired that he had "sold" them to his wife.
I could talk for ever about the dirty tricks that were played on the railway in the period 1945-1970. Instead, I recommend that you have a read of this book. The facts remain however that against the background of the tactics outlined, much of the railway system stood no chance at all. And Riccarton Junction was a victim.
Ironically enough, the first shots in the post-war battle of Riccarton Junction were fired in a most inocuous broadside. In early 1946 the railway company (still at this stage the private LNER) changed the time of the last train from Hawick to Riccarton. It now departed prior to the end of the final house at the Hawick cinema. This caused uproar and the local Hawick press was inundated with letters of complaint. This inevitably led to the call for the building of a road to the village.
It is only fair enough to say that while there was no road to the village, my research showed that the village was not as isolated as has often been claimed. A diary kept by a villager gives considerable evidence of people walking, cycling and even motorcycling up alongside the Waverley Line to Whitrope (a distance of two or so miles and a route that I walked comfortably in July 2008) and thence to Hawick. The Border Counties railway line was a single-track line but had been built to double-track standards and even the vicar of Saughtree, who every couple of weeks gave a church service at Riccarton Junction, thought nothing of walking or cycling along the side of the single track.
It is true however to say that some important aspects of village life required certain conveniences that could not come along the side of the railway track. There are stories of funeral trains, maternity trains, and the doctor would need to travel by train to the village from either Hawick or Newcastleton. It is even reported that on occasion a pilot engine would be sent to fetch him in an emergency when there was no regular train.
An example of a "summons to attend" is shown to the left.
But back to the road. A survey by Roxburghshire County Council in 1946 set the cost of a road to Riccarton Junction at £20,000. Not a great deal of money, you might think, not even in 1946. But Roxburghshire was a small county, and £20,000 worked out at 3/8½d on the rates. The Council appealed to central government for a subsidy, under a provision that existed for isolated and remote communities, but Riccarton Junction was considered not to fall into this class. The Council thus decided that "the time was not opportune" for a road to the village.
Battle was rejoined in the local press. One group of citizens urged the railway to pay for the road. Another group of citizens reminded the first group that the inhabitants of Riccarton Junction paid their rates and were entitled to benefit from the budget. The railway company did not see the road as its responsibility anyway. Even the Roxburghshire Womens' Institute joined in the fray. But all parties retired bruised and battered, and nothing was resolved. A couple of additional trains to Riccarton was the answer.
The winter of 1947 was bitter, and the railway line was snowbound for a short while. The storms and the floods of the following summer indirectly led to the sowing of the seeds of destruction of the village. Much of the railway network on the eastern side of the Borders was badly affected, so much so that a couple of lines were permanently abandoned. The Border Counties Line was affected - the bridge over the Tyne near its southern end was badly damaged and a temporary repair was effected.
The first victim at Riccarton Junction of the programme of cuts on the railway network were the workshops for the joiner and blacksmith. These closed down in the late 1940s and transferred to Hawick.
The Railway Refreshment Room on the station platform was the next to go. The "Refresh" had been described by the "Weekly Scotsman" as "the centre of merriment" in an article of 12th May 1949, yet two years later, on 28th May 1951, the axe fell.
The newspaper article itself is quite interesting mainly for the inaccuracies that it contains.
Firstly, the title "Railway Their One Link With Outside World" is a fine example of thoroughly misleading journalism. Indeed it contiues on to describe how it is perfectly possible to walk to the village in a mere 35 minutes. Don't forget that in those days folk were a good deal hardier than they are today and a walk of 35 minutes would be no great inconvenience. Even in the 1960s children were expected to walk three miles to school, and many did so. In any case, there is as I have said before ample evidence to show that it was possible to cycle or even motorcycle to the village along the side of the railway track.
Secondly, the article describes "a dozen or so houses, all owned by British Railways". Most authorities on the village maintain that there were 35 houses (if one includes the shop premises) here. I made it 36 houses - most people forgetting that the bothy attached to the south signal box had at one time been living accommodation. Furthermore, my understanding is that the School House was not owned by British Railways but by the local Education Authority.
It's no surprise that a series of legends has sprung up about the village if this is the standard of "reporting" of events.
In March 1956, the closure of the Border Counties Railway was announced. It was said at the time that there were just three trains on the line on weekdays - 06:25, 10:30, and 17:00. These returned at 08:45, 13:30, and 19:00. Strangely enough, there was no mention of trains at weekend, and no-one thought to ask. The average number of passengers on an average week was said to total 15 per day, and British Railways claimed that each passenger was subsidised to a tune of 6/9d. Based on the above, Hawick Town Council decided not to oppose the closure.
Now the above statements are worthy of comment on two counts.
Firstly it has been contended that while there were indeed three trains that departed from Riccarton Junction for Hexham and return, there were other trains that used the line, leaving Hexham but terminating their journey at some other station before Riccarton Junction and were thus not included in these figures. It was mentioned to me privately that there was at least one train that ran from Hexham out along the branch to one of the stations and then returned empty, refusing to stop for any passenger that might wish to take that train. Furthermore, there were yet other trains along the line, such as the military trains from the North-East that went to Stobs Army Camp, that didn't stop at Riccarton Junction and were thus not included. Their revenue was ignored.
Secondly the calculations from British Railways conveniently forgot all about what became the contentious subject of "contributory revenue". Riccarton Junction is a God-forsaken out-of-the-way place that no-one would want to visit unless they had to. Most people taking a train along the Border Counties Line to Riccarton Junction would be doing so because they wanted to travel further on, on a Waverley Line train or at the other end of the line along the Carlisle - Newcastle line. The public British Railways train of thought involving these passengers went something along the lines that passengers formerly using the branch lines that had closed would take an alternative means of transportation to the main line and then continue their journey. Indeed they might. And they might equally take that alternative means of transportation for the entire journey. or they might not even travel at all. In two of these three circumstances outlined, revenue along the main line would subsequently drop - as indeed it did in numerous branch-line closures. Yet British Railways did not publicly take this into account. Privately, the situation was quite different. Sir Reginald Wilson (Chairman of Eastern Area Railways Board) wrote to Hugh Molson, Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in 1956 to say "... on the other hand credits ... failed to take into account the contributory value of the traffic that these ancillary services brought to the main services...But if the confusion they have caused in your office is any indication of the upset which would ensue if the calculations reached a wider public, then ... the sooner the figures are forgotten the better it will be".
Despite the decision of the Hawick Town Council, the Roxburghshire County Council decided to oppose closure. One of the factors that they had taken into consideration was that in the area there was full employment. The textile industry was booming and every issue of the local press carried a stream of advertisements for employment opportunities in the mills. The Council harboured a real fear that rural villages would become deserted if the public transport situation deteriorated. The Councillors wished for a diesel railcar to be tried on the line.
When it became clear that the line was doomed for closure, the County Council pressed for a bus service in replacement. What was offered was a bus service running twice daily from Bellingham northwards. But not to Riccarton Junction. It was to go to Steele Road, the next station down the line.
In probably the most dramatic U-turn of any local council, the County Council now publicly announced that "Riccarton residents deserve a road", and campaigned for the conversion of part of the soon-to-be abandoned trackbed - between Saughtree and Riccarton Junction - into a public road. British Railways however scuppered that plan by announcing that freight services would be continuing over the line - it was only the passenger services that were closing.
This is something else that is puzzling. Many of the railway lines that closed to passengers in the 1950s and 1960s for financial reasons remained open for goods traffic. In other words, many of the costs of rail services would still need to be met by British Railways in order to cater for the freight trains. The actual proportion of expenses that related uniquely to passenger traffic was minimal and it is indeed likely that the fares received from passenger traffic would easily cover these unique expenses. Sir Reginald Wilson was fully aware of this. In his infamous memo to Hugh Molson, he stated that "... quite often these (passenger) services were ancillary to other services (on the line) and should not be charged, even theoretically, with a full share of the costs".
Another factor emerged from the announcement of the bus service. Why was no replacement bus service proposed from Bellingham to Hexham? When the answer was given, the irony went completely over the heads of everyone who was objecting to the closure of the line. The fact of the matter was that it was deemed that there was already an adequate bus service between Bellingham and Hexham.
All public passenger transport was in the hands of the British Transport Commission (BTC), of which British Railways was just one part. Bus transport was also handled by the BTC, to whom applications for services had to be made, and who granted (or refused) the necessary licence. And it seemed from the foregoing that the BTC had been licensing one part of its operation (the bus companies) to compete directly with another part of its operation (the railways).
And shameful as it is to admit it, the railway companies were fully aware of what was going on. And not only did they raise no objection, they actually encouraged the situation. In 1954, Denbighshire County Council had called a meeting of all interested parties to discuss the situation in the rural areas of the County, where BTC's railway lines were threatened with closure due to competition from BTC's bus companies. The Council asked why it was that rail fares could not be reduced to attract more passengers onto the railway. A certain Mr. Fisher helpfully replied that "it would deflect ... passengers away from the road". Mr Fisher was the local traffic superintendent for British Railways!
The Border Counties Line closed to passengers on 15 October 1956. 14 railway stations lost their passenger train service but incredibly some of the staff remained to deal with parcels traffic, which would from then on be collected by van. Riccarton Junction was now isolated from the south and cut off from the nearest main road, at Saughtree. Officially, that is. People continued to make use of the empty trackbed at the side of the single track line. The postal round was shortened considerably - from now on just the area around the village was served by the Riccarton postie.
Almost two years later, on 1st September 1958, the Border Counties Line closed to all traffic. A rumour has it that the temporary repairs to the Tyne Bridge had reached the end of their lifespan and the economic plight of British Railways was such that there was no money available for a permanent repair. The closure of the line led to the closure of the engine shed, one of the signal boxes and the wagon repair facility. Many of the railway sidings were uprooted and the shunting staff was reduced. The exodus from the village of Riccarton Junction began as people sought employment elsewhere, and houses were abandoned.
Uplifting of the Border Counties Line began in early 1960, although a considerable spur remained from Riccarton Junction, used as a shunting head for loaded goods trains. Despite Roxburghshire County Council's earlier position that the track bed should be used for a road to the village, the Council did not buy it. Instead, it was sold to a local farmer who erected no less that five sets of gates across, one of which can be seen aside.
These gates were a formidable obstruction for anyone to negotiate and led to the writing of a little ditty about one of the members of the Saughtree Social Club, who travelled by motorcycle down the track bed to and from Riccarton Junction
"Railwayman Kit comes down from the Junction
A regular attender of this social function
With all of the gates that he has to open
It's a wonder that he is not heartbroken "
When the spur was finally lifted in 1966, a car attempted to drive up the track bed from Saughtree to the village but became stuck on an ash crossing and had to be pulled off.
Next to go after the Border Counties Line was the village school. This closed down in 1962, and the remaining children (by this time there were only 7) were transferred to the primary school at Newcastleton. Even though the school hours were officially from 09:00 to 15:30 or so, the children were obliged to travel on the 09:10 train and return on the 14:10 as there were no other suitable trains. Later, even the 14:10 train was cancelled and children had to return on the 13:30. A BBC TV television programme featured the short school day of the children from Riccarton, and it was the question of their children's education that forced at least one family into abandoning the village for Hawick.
A similar alteration in the railway timetable caused those villagers who worked in the mills at Hawick to miss the start of their shift. This led to a further flight from the village, as predicted by Roxburghshire District Council back in 1956.
All of this is of course a far cry from the halcyon days of the village when the railway company laid on special trains for dancers at the village hall, special trains for churchgoers on Sunday, maternity trains, funeral trains, pilot engines for the local doctor. It is very tempting to interpret this as a deliberate campaign by British Railways to drive the inhabitants out of Riccarton Junction.
The winter of 1962-3 was a bitter time for the village. Snow caused the railway line to be closed in both directions for a period of several days. One of the trains that were snowbound in the vicinity was a passenger train. The stranded passengers had to wade through the snow to Riccarton Junction where they were billeted on some of the villagers.
Luckily the train was only lightly loaded, but nevertheless this caused a major drain on food supplies, which began to run alarmingly low. When news of their plight reached the outside world, a helicopter drop was proposed. Unfortunately the weather closed in before the drop could take place. Eventually a relief train set out from Hawick with supplies, but this became bogged down in the snow. A couple of the more hardy villagers walked through the drifts to the stranded train and carried the food back to the village.
One casualty of the severe winter was the village hall. The bad weather had meant that the railway staff were working flat out and so the hall did not open. When the weather improved, the hall remained closed, and shortly afterwards the decision was made to dispose of it. Most of the facilities within the hall (games and the like) were sold to the club at the school in Saughtree. But no-one wanted the piano; this remained behind.
The hall itself was sold to an agricultural machinery repairer near Canonbie. He dismantled the hall on site and took it to his farm where he re-erected it (with a new left-hand wall, as it had been a lean-to at Riccarton Junction) and where it remains today.
Re-assembly was easy. The "new" owner told me that when he dismantled it, he could clearly see the pencil guide marks made by the people who had assembled it at Riccarton Junction almost 100 years ago. On re-assembly, he simply followed the "instructions".
He has not repainted the inside of the village hall, and the yellow-and-green colour scheme from its railway days is still clearly visible. He also mentioned in passing that when he bought the hall, the unwanted piano was still there, so he removed that as well. He never said what he did with it, though, and I thought it prudent not to ask
It's a very small world, though, on the Scottish Borders. I had a pleasant chat with the guy and his wife, and it transpired that the wife's aunt was no other than the schoolmistress from Riccarton Junction school. And there are also a couple of other former Riccarton Junction residents living just down the road from the village hall's new home. I shall be back to have a chat with them in due course.
The railway refreshment room, which the villagers had formerly used as the local pub, had long gone. Now, the closure of the village hall saw the end of entertainment in the village and any social activity required a trip to Newcastleton, to one of the pubs or to the British Legion club.
The village shop soon followed the village hall. This had been formerly run by a villager and had been situated in house no10, but the Hawick Co-operative Society had taken it over in the late 1940s and moved it to a building - the Under Store - formerly used by the railway. When the railway refreshment room closed in 1951, the shop moved into those premises. And now, 12 months or so after the closure of the village hall, the village shop closed down. From then on, orders had to be sent to the Co-op's in Hawick, although some people took advantage of the public telephone on the station platform to telephone a local grocer in Newcastleton.
But despite the spate of closures in the early 1960s, there was a most remarkable opening. The Duke of Buccleugh, who owned much of the land around here, sold an enormous parcel around here to the Forestry Commission, who decided that a road would be required to assist in their planned tree-planting. So "in a matter of weeks", in the words of one of the villagers, in 1963 the Forestry Commission built a road from the Newcastleton-Hawick road near Whitrope, that terminated at the rear of one of the Store Brae houses, no9 in fact. It is absolutely amazing how quickly private enterprise, when it is in its own financial interest to do so, can cut huge swathes through almost 20 years of Government red tape.
Local people were permitted to use the road (this is written into the deeds of the school house, now in private hands) and January 1964 saw the first arrival of an emergency ambulance. The post for the village was now delivered by van from Hawick This effectively marked the end of the village's dependence on the railway line.
Local people were indeed permitted to use the road, but there were not so many remaining in the village. One resident noted that by 1964 half the houses in the village had been abandoned and that he, his wife and their two small children were the only youngsters remaining. In fact, in October 1964 when his house in the Store Brae was badly damaged by flooding caused by the Forestry Commission's planting activities, he and his family simply moved to another empty house.
The road did not merely bring benefits. On a couple of occasions it is reported that "strangers" were seen in the village at night, and that some locals set out to follow them around to find out what they were doing. This might seem to be a most extraordinary reaction, but it is one that can only be understood by anyone who has ever lived in a remote and isolated community. From then on, the villagers begin to lock their doors in the evening.
By 1966 there were just two working families left in the village - the remainder being either widows or the retired. The Store Brae houses had been demolished. The pitiful condition of the remaining houses was demonstrated by the fact that one evening, the ceiling of one of the houses that was still occupied caved in on top of the inhabitants.
Early in 1967, the Riccarton Junction labour squad was disbanded and its members joined a mobile squad working from Hawick. As a consequence, one of the members of the squad left the village with his young family for a house in Hawick on 14th April, leaving just one working family behind. A furniture lorry took him and his possessions via the Forestry Road.
Earlier families had not been so lucky, and for many years a series of informal "excavations" at the village site turned up abandoned family possessions that, presumably, could not be taken out by train when families left. The village rubbish dump, situated near to the Leesburnfoot shepherd's cottage, has been said to be a useful source of artefacts with all kinds of abandoned items discovered. A casual inspection in July 2008 by yours truly unearthed the remains of what looks like a 1940s-type of bicycle, and I have been shown other objects that were taken away by these amateur "archaeologists".
The death knell sounded for the village on 27th March 1967. From its heyday as a busy railway junction with 50 or 60 employees, it now became an unstaffed railway halt. Shortly afterwards, all but one of the remaining families were moved out of the village (mainly to Newcastleton) and the houses were pulled down.
The school house remained, as did the station house, the surviving family taking up residence therein. They did not remain there long - for neither adult could drive and on 15th July 1968, after a 2-year fight, it was formally announced that the Waverley Line would close completely on 6th January 1969.
The failure of the opponents of closure to keep the line open was a catastrophe. And it was the end for Riccarton Junction. In fact, it could be realistically argued that the village was totally forgotten by the campaigners. David Steel, the Liberal MP for the area, commissioned a study into the closure of the line, and this reported that "closure of the line can only bring hardship to many of the people ... while this will not in any sense amount to a disaster for the area". Furthermore, the report stated that Newcastleton will be the village most affected by the closure of the line. Obviously, the family hanging on in the station house at Riccarton Junction and unable to drive away had not been consulted over any of this. Their future was not assured until just a couple of weeks before the final closure of the line when they were offered a house in Hawick.
And it was just as well. The bus service that was to replace the abandoned railway did not come to the village. It followed the road from Newcastleton to Hawick via Whitrope and Shankend - some 2-3 miles from Riccarton Junction.
The final act involved the final train to call at Riccarton Junction. A member of staff alighted, picked up from the platform one of the benches with a "Riccarton Junction" sign on the back, and hurled it into the guard's van. I am now reliably informed that this adorns the back garden of a house in Newcastleton.
So what were the myths surrounding Riccarton Junction, and which of these have we managed to bury?
i....there was nothing here before the railways arrived. There were in fact two shepherds' crofts - Leesburnfoot and Phaupknowe. But this we can allow, for there had always been sheep up here on the fells and the shepherds would need somewhere to live - even in the most remote and isolated areas of the country.
ii...everything came here with the railway. There's no problem about this, either. The first six (I'm still not convinced that this shouldn't be 8 - the Store Brae houses) houses were built by the railway builders, and the railway company built the others and provided the remainder of the facilities. The school and the school house may well have been owned and operated by the Council's Education Authority, but that doesn't alter the basic fact. The railway provided accommodation for its workers - these had families - some of these included children - it was the local authority's duty to educate those children. The numbers of children attending the school, certainly in the early years (I was lucky enough to see the school attendance register) certainly justifies the existence of the school.
iii..when the railway left, it took everything away. I would disagree with this. There's considerable evidence of an exodus from the village long before the closure proposals were announced, with people were leaving the village and even leaving the railway employment. Looking back on the events, it's clear to see a focus on the change of society's values in the post-war period. We had the clamour for the road, but what seemed to spark it off was the fact that the villagers would miss out on cinema attendance at Hawick. Education was another issue. One family was quite happy in the village until a revised railway timetable meant that their child would miss part of his education. There was also the question of the quality of the accommodation. Tin baths, outside toilets, shared facilities, no electricity (the National Grid finally struggled over the fells in 1955). A council house project was set under way in Hawick in 1946, and the local newspapers reported the conditions in which those successful in the first round of allocations had been living. In many cases they were better than those of the Riccarton Junction residents. How many people would have been content to live in on windswept and desolate moorland, cut off from the outside world and half-starved during the bitter winter of 1962-3 with tin baths, outside toilets and shared facilities when there were council houses with all mod cons available in nice, quiet suburbs of an urban environment with shops, pubs and cinemas close by?
iv...there's no road to Riccarton. I think that this myth has been demolished. The Forestry Road was built in 1963 and the residents had the right of access. In any case, there is ample evidence of previous social shaping of the trackside, with people walking, cycling and even motorcycling alongside the railway track in order to reach "civilisation"
v....the village was cut off from the outside world. Ditto. Furthermore, while there may not have been electricity, there was a public telephone. There were, of course, two railway lines.
In the end, my personal opinion, for what it's worth, is that the village was the victim of that social phenomenon of the 1950s and 60s - the "flight to the towns". This happened not just in the UK, but elsewhere in the world during the same period and for the same reasons.
So having talked about the decline of the village, what about the present day? I was briefly introduced to the village by Carole back in 2007. When I made known my interest in the village, several people kindly lent me photographs of the area as it had been during its heyday, so I reckoned that it would be interesting to go for a mega-wander about and compare "then" and "now". So, this is my visit in July 2008.
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