Posts Tagged ‘workers’


Recently I was asked to write and perform some poetry for an event in my home village to remember the closure of Queensbury Railway Station 60 years ago. These are the poems I wrote. I wanted to capture the life of the railway rather than go into historical details. I hope I did this.

A hill stands in the way

Tons of earth lain here for years

Nothing has moved it

Not wind, rain or snow

Until now

Until now with the overwhelming desire of men

To get through to the other side

Underneath the village of Queensbury

To the town of Halifax

And navvies come from all around

To move earth and dig the tunnel

And with pickaxes and spades

They move lumps of mud and clay

And slowly a tunnel begins to form

Deeper underneath Queensbury they go

Determined to reach Halifax

And lay the tracks of the railway

A rumble deep underground as the

Slaughter line comes crashing down

And a wife and child are fatherless

Penniless, homeless

The price for some was high

But the men must carry on

In order to achieve their goal

And then

A chink of blinding light

Penetrates the blackness

And there is Halifax

1 1/2 miles through earth and stone

The men have built the Queensbury tunnel

 —————————————– 

The tunnel is finished, complete

Tons of earth above will not fall in

The people of Queensbury can

Sleep peacefully

As the lines that will carry trains go down

Mile after mile of cold, hard steel

Sleeping on beams of wood

Forever trapped in the damp darkness

Waiting for the steam train

To wake them up as it takes

The workers and holiday makers

To their destinations

——————————- 

And through the train comes

Thundering through the tunnel

As the village of Queensbury

Silently shudders overhead

Residents deep in sleep

Unaware of the mechanical violence

Happening far below

 ——————————-

And the train clanks and clunks to a halt

At the Queensbury triangle

Hundreds of people get off

And rush up Station Rd

It is long and steep

But they have no choice

The train was late

But they cannot be

Wages will be docked if they are

And someone will go hungry

 ———————————–

The day has been long and hard

Stood at the end of a loom

In a room filled with smoke

Noise, blood, sweat and tears

A child lost an arm today

No-one will see him again

And now the journey home begins

Tired limbs hurry down Station Rd

The train waits for them

Covered in soot and grime

Ready to take the workers

Into the darkness of the tunnel

One last time

 ————————-

And so it goes on

Day after week after month after year

Passengers go to and fro

Carrying cargo and coal

From work to home

For business and pleasure

Every hour of every day

The trains never stop

Not even for snow

———————–

But then stop it does

Passengers in 55

Cargo in 56

The lines go in 63

The air is quiet and still

Without the noise of the

Trains to disturb it

Nature reclaims the tunnel

For its own

 ——————

Now 60 years has past

Since the last passenger

Train ran on the Queensbury line

But plans are afoot to

Reopen the tunnel

And once again

Allow people to

Travel underneath Queensbury

This time by

By foot and by bike

For business and pleasure

As their ancestors

Did all those years ago


On Tuesday 17th February I went to the Calderdale Industrial Museum in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Nothing extraordinary about a trip to a museum you might think, but the Calderdale Industrial Museum is different to other museums. The museum only started opening again last year after closing its doors to the public around 2000/01. Even now it only opens three or four times a year due to funding constraints and being staffed entirely by volunteers.

But this also makes it enchanting, mystical even. And this is because the museum at the moment is stuck in a time warp. Everything is as it was fourteen years ago, the signs, the machines even down to a jacket hung up on a wall. But what hits you most is the smell. The thought of fourteen years of grease, oil, soap and metal might sound disgusting to some people but to me it is so evocative, it fires up the senses and the smells turn into images and the imagination is set alight.

Why? Picture the men who made these amazing machines from a solid block of iron or steel weighing several tons or just a few pounds. These blocks of iron would be fashioned into lathes 50 feet long, drills 10 feet tall, multi-coloured weaving looms, machines that can turn reduce steel from 4 inches to 1 millimetre and something so intricate and delicate it is a true wonder of the industrial age. And all it does is make a staple!

And what of the men, women and children who worked these machines? Men,  women and children who would rise before the dawn chorus so that they wouldn’t be late for work and have to go through the special gate just for latecomers. Who would work for 12 hours or more in conditions that would leave their senses dulled by the noise, the lack of light, the dirt and grime they breathed into their lungs and having to keep up with this new machinery that moved as faster than a bird diving for prey hour after hour after hour all day, every day.

And what happened if one of them should fall asleep at their machine or miscalculate the speed of the iron arm going back and forth at 10,000 rpm or more? At worse they might lose a finger, a toe an arm or a leg. At worse they would be killed as they tried to earn a pittance to survive. If they were injured and became too ill or disabled to work they would be cast into the street to beg and steal to live.

It is their lives and deaths I smell as I wander round the museum, the blood, sweat and tears they split everyday onto the wooden floors, the relief at another day over without injury and some money to feed the hungry mouths at home or the cries of pain as a finger was lost in a split second and their life was changed forever. And these smells transform themselves beyond the machines sat there silent but gleaming in all their splendour for the descendants of the workers to admire in awe and wonder. The smells transform into a fully working factory with all the sensory experiences you would have lived through then.

The Calderdale Industrial Museum evokes all this and much more because of what it is in an age of metal boxes. A true step back in time to an era that we should not forget nor sugar coat in a romantic sheen. But experience and understand it for what it is, what it was and what it stands for today.

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