Full Steam Ahead (2016) s01e05 Episode Script

Episode 5

1 The Age of Steam shaped how we live today.
The Victorians laid over 20,000 miles of lines in the biggest engineering project the country has ever seen.
Connecting our towns with high-speed links, revolutionising trade and transportation, communication and recreation.
It was the greatest transformation in our history.
But how did it happen? To find out, historians Ruth Goodman Flat out! Alex Langlands Shovelling coal is something I'm gonna get very familiar with.
and Peter Ginn It is tough work! are bringing the railways back to life, as they would have been during the golden age of steam.
I feel like I'm in a Western.
This is very definitely the best steam engine I've ever been on.
Oh, no, he's gaining on us! A brave new world.
They will be helped by armies of enthusiasts, who keep the Age of Steam alive on Britain's 500 miles of preserved railway.
This is the way to experience train travel.
They'll follow in the footsteps of the world's finest engineers These are the men that built Britain's railways.
Those who ran it This is brutal! This is savage industrialism! and those for who life would never be the same again.
Internet, pah! It had nothing like the impact of the railways.
This is the story of how the railways created modern Britain.
By the 1860s, mainlines had linked Britain's major cities, enabling goods and people to move freely between them.
But leading off the mainlines, thousands of smaller branch lines were built, connecting rural towns and villages to the rest of the country.
Today we tend to look upon the branch lines as being this quaint part of this old rural idyll.
But I'm really interested in the branch lines because I want to find out how they managed to connect local trades with this emerging global economy in the Victorian period.
The branch lines brought profound changes to villages.
It makes it much more possible to be very, very specialist.
To focus in on one thing and sell it nationally.
So how was it that these locals, sometimes very ancient little businesses, could grow and become national, even global, phenomena? Branch lines changed the way goods moved around Britain.
They were essential to the railway network and I wanna find out what it was like working on a branch line.
Branch lines were primarily built to transport goods.
In the Welsh valleys they turned wool production from a cottage industry into a world-renowned business.
In the Scottish Highlands they transformed the local tipple into internationally famous Scotch whisky.
And in the West Country branch lines turned Devon into Britain's most popular producer of milk.
Before the railways, milk couldn't be transported long distances because it would go sour before reaching its destination.
So it was produced and consumed locally.
Victorian London had some 25,000 dairy cows in cellars and backyards.
But when the railways reached Devon in 1849, it created a high-speed link between the dairy farms of the West Country and London.
This, I think, is the most beautiful view, with cow, I've ever seen, and they look like they belong here.
They're a particular breed.
Yes, they're the South Devons Sandra Fry of Burnford Farm, Dartmoor, comes from a long line of dairy farmers.
As a child she helped her father milk their herd of South Devon cattle.
And if I went back to an age before the railways, would I be still seeing this breed in this landscape? Definitely, yes.
Yeah, they were very much a beef breed and a milking breed.
Just producing for the local area? Local area, yeah, for the milk and the beef.
Branch lines gave farms access to new markets further afield.
Milk could travel hundreds of miles and still be fresh when it reached people's homes.
And when your branch line arrives which was where? It ran along the bottom here Of this valley.
Right up I mean, there's the moors, so it was right up into the middle of Dartmoor.
And that allowed you to be sending milk away? Yes, yeah, I suppose my dad had about four churns.
What's it, ten, 12 gallons in a churn? - So that would've been - Gone every day.
So it's thanks to the railways, really, that the whole milk industry in this area just got bigger and better.
It went from being a little local quality product to being, not just the quality, but this huge quantity? Yes.
Your lives revolved around the railways, really.
Come on then, girls.
It wasn't just milk the railways were transporting away from farms.
Jim Jeffrey can also remember South Devon cattle being moved by rail.
The biggest sale at Tavistock market was always Tavistock Goosey Fair, and it was nothing for them to train away several 100 cattle from that market right into the trains to Cornwall and, of course, the north of England as well.
The South Devon Railway once transported not just cattle and milk out of Devon but also fruit and vegetables from market gardens.
To find out how the line operated, Alex and Peter are taking jobs on the line.
- Cases? - Yep.
I'll go and check the timetable.
The line was part of the Great Western Railway, which had a strict code of conduct for its employees, its rule book stating, "The chief concern of staff should be the safety of the public.
" So before they're allowed near the railway, line director Alan Taylor is assessing their suitability.
- Hi, Alan.
- Hiya.
- Hello, Alan, nice to meet you.
- And you.
So, as budding young railway drivers and signalmen, what's the first thing we need to learn to do? The first thing we need to do is make sure that you're capable of doing the job, so that you can see, for one thing, particularly for anybody that works on a footplate - driver, fireman or signalman - they need to be able to see both colour and see at a distance.
Was it possible for a driver to wear glasses? Not in the Victorian era, no, it wasn't, and, in fact, in those days the only type of glasses you could have would be those with glass lenses, and if they broke, which there was a high risk because of the risks of the profession, you could easily break you know, hit something or a stone could hit you, it would break the lens and that would go in your eye.
So, er, the eye test is gonna determine who gets to drive the train, then? Well, that could well be the case, yes.
- Hm.
- A competition.
It was vital that drivers had good eyesight, so they could spot signals when travelling at speed.
So in 1868 railway companies began testing the sight of their employees.
Well, the idea is that you've got to tell at 15 feet exactly how many dots you can see.
Right How many dots can you see? - 4,5,6,7,8, 9, 10 12? - 12 indeed.
Well done, Peter.
- Memorised the chart! - How many dots? Nine.
Thank you.
Precisely correct.
Well done, you passed the test.
- Goodness me.
- Right, your turn, sir.
- Gauntlet has been thrown.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
How many dots, sir? Erm 15? I'm sorry to say, you've failed the test, sir.
- Ugh! - 16.
Looks like I'm working in the buffet car.
It was essential employees could differentiate between red and green signals.
So they were also tested for colour blindness.
OK, Peter, tell me what colour I'm showing you.
Thank you.
You've passed the test.
Is that it? Is my eyesight that bad, Alan? If that had have been a genuine test, it's fair to say that you would not have been employed by the railway company, other than in an office or some sort of backroom job.
These tests effectively bring in a benchmark as standard across all railways? That was the point, and when that started, it improved safety from that point on.
For those who passed the medical, training began.
The road to becoming a driver was a long one, often taking ten years, but it was well paid.
In the 1870s drivers were earning over three times that of farm workers.
That's the remnants of previous Yesterday's fire, yeah? On his journey to becoming a driver, Peter's starting at the bottom.
He's been given the job of cleaning the firebox, a laborious process, in three stages.
First the ash is removed by brushing it down through the fire grate.
Something like this was, I suppose, a daily occurrence.
Yes, it had to be emptied out before the next run.
An engine this size would be about At least three and a half hours you'd need to leave to prep an engine.
To help with the job, the fire box is illuminated using a burning, paraffin-soaked rag.
Now you can shovel out into the wheelbarrow.
It makes it easier to see the remaining lumps of unburned coal which must be removed.
The ash collects underneath the loco in its ash pan.
- We're going under the loco? - We're going under the loco.
The final stage is to wash it out under the supervision of shed master Barbara Turner.
There's the handle for the hose to turn it on and you soak all the ash, really soak it very, very well.
OK, in there, hose going on.
Washing, rather than brushing out the ash, ensures it doesn't get into the locos important moving parts.
There we go.
OK, Barbara, ash pan soaked.
It's not the only thing.
OK, now you can shove the ash right the way through the pan, onto the ground.
Working for the railway had its dangers, but if you were injured at work the company would do its best to find you an alternative job.
Once you're in the railway, it doesn't matter where you work; you'll stay in the railway.
In the 1870s, Devon was producing over a quarter of a billion pints of milk each year from over 75,000 dairy cows, all milked by hand.
Back then South Devon cattle were the region's most popular milking breed.
Today almost all the dairy herds have been replaced by black and white Friesians imported from the Netherlands.
Friesians produce a much larger quantity of milk, lower butter fat, but larger quantity, and commercially quickly pushed the South Devons out of business as a milking breed.
So what we're seeing today is a a sight from the past, really.
Today South Devons are reared only for beef.
- You wanna have a go? - I'd love to have a go.
I haven't milked for years.
I'm rusty.
Oh, I am rusty, aren't I? - Wait, wait, wait.
- Ooh! Glad I've got my boots on, girl.
Look at that, all foaming and creamy.
These are the cattle that were producing the milk that supplied the whole of London.
This is the railway milk industry at its source.
That scene must have been repeated up and down the country everywhere.
The milk is put into ten-gallon churns ready to be transported by rail.
The milk is warm when it leaves the cow, so will quickly sour.
To extend its shelf life for rail transportation, it's cooled straightaway.
So how exactly does this cooling work, then? So, this goes into the churn and the water goes round these pipes cooling the milk on the inside of the churn, and then we turn the tap on.
So then cools the milk churn on the outside.
Oh, that's really clever! Cooling milk slows down the growth of bacteria, keeping it fresh for days.
This is a familiar sight.
You see them all over the country, don't you? That's right.
So the milk churn was put up here, ready for the milk cart to come and collect it.
So it was at this sort of height so then it was easy for him - just to - Just to move it across.
The churns were taken from the farm to the local railway station.
From there the branch line would transport them to the main line.
This was done after dark.
And this evening Peter will help drive the night train.
OK, so if you just place the wood in now on top of the coal that you've just put in.
With the firebox cleaned, the fire can be re-lit.
Pop it in the middle and then we'll just let that catch.
- Just close the doors? - Yeah, keep the heat in.
Railways cut a swathe through the British countryside, crossing paths, farm tracks and roads.
To maintain rights of way on main lines, bridges were built, but they were expensive.
So on branch lines, thousands of cheaper level crossings were used.
Alex is joining crossing keeper John Brodrib to find out how the system worked.
Most crossings are at remote areas, or away from a station, so the crossing keeper had to have a cottage provided for him.
This sounds like my kind of gig, this really does.
In the early days, level crossings were dangerous places.
Out to do the gates.
In 1861, 71 people died crossing railways.
So gates were introduced to make them safer.
- You need to pull that one out.
- Yep.
That's it and over it goes.
Cor, beautifully balanced gate, that is, isn't it? Now you've gotta reach through and pull that other bolt.
- That's it, you got it.
- Got it there like that.
Yeah, make sure you're the right side of the gates.
I don't wanna shut myself out.
The brown lever.
Once the road traffic has been stopped, the crossing keeper operates the signal.
We're now basically favouring rail traffic - Indeed, we are.
over road traffic.
The gates are locked, the train can approach.
The crossing keeper had to stay alert.
A lapse in concentration could result in a collision between the road and rail traffic.
There we go.
But it wasn't as physically demanding as most other jobs on the Victorian railway.
Very often those crossing keepers were people who had perhaps been injured in railway service.
Still needed to be looked after, and the railway was actually a very good employer in that way.
So if you found yourself falling foul of the railway system, and losing a limb, you could still find yourself - a nice number like this? - Oh, that's true.
Very good example is John James who lost a leg.
Right, oh, OK.
To keep him in employment, the railway gave him the job of crossing keeper at Staverton Mill, or Nappers Crossing.
He was provided with a bungalow as part of the job because again it was remote from anywhere else.
And so he was employed there for nearly 30 years, actually, as crossing keeper.
That really is the perfect sort of job with which to take a railwayman who'd suffered an injury - Indeed.
and keep them in employment.
The railways not only found jobs for those injured Dr Mike Esbester has found evidence that the Great Western Railway workshops did more than just repair locomotives.
The companies tried to provide for injured employees sometimes through prosthetic limbs, replacements.
These are quite basic, aren't they? They are, but it's an effort to try and improve the lives of the employees and provide for their rehabilitation, so they return, sometimes, to useful work.
They're a strange mix of beautiful craftsmanship.
Making an articulated hand out of wood is no easy feat, to have several dedicated workshops dotted up and down the country making artificial limbs, I mean, that really punches home just how many accidents there were.
Working on Victorian railways was dangerous.
In 1900 alone over 500 employees died, and more than 16,000 were injured.
Something had to be done.
The rail companies provided training, but stopped short of taking full responsibility.
In 1905 the Great Western Railway made it clear that the employees were accountable for their own health and safety.
The only rules that really relate to safety in the rule books up to the Second World War tend to be those like rule 24a: "The servants of the company must not expose themselves to danger.
" If you do, you might be injured but you've also broken a rule.
The companies are very, very clear.
It's very much the workers' responsibility, but that doesn't acknowledge the time pressure They haven't got time to do the job.
Or enough people to do the job.
Or the right tools to do the job.
Or looked into other ways of working that'd mean workers aren't exposed to danger.
Trainee driver Peter has been preparing the loco for the past three hours under the watch of fireman Alistair.
This is where you live for your shift.
- Everything you do is up here.
- Is this a kitchen as well? Yeah, it has to be.
So we'd better get some bacon cooking.
Heat the shovel a bit first, get the pan hot.
Now it's up to steam, the footplate will be their home for the next 12 hours.
One man's dinner is another man's breakfast.
You know, this is approaching the night shift, but that's the start of our day.
It is.
It's looking good.
Two bacon sarnies.
- All we need is a cup of tea.
- Cup of tea.
Cup of tea.
See? When on duty, the crew couldn't leave the footplate for more than a few minutes at a time, so this became their home, complete with oven and grill.
Very good.
Right, I think it's time that we'd better be off now, so let's get you looking the part.
Railways took their image very seriously, and the employees were the face of the company.
So the Great Western Railway insisted that staff must always wear uniforms.
The day in the life of a branch line driver.
It's hard work and we haven't even left the engine shed yet.
I'm knackered.
Just hit a lever with my leg.
That's not good.
Although the Victorian branch lines revolutionised village trades, they still had to get goods to and from the station.
And for that they relied on good old-fashioned horsepower.
Ian Cryer is an expert on working horses.
So were there more or less horses once you got railways? Well, there were in fact far more, which increased and increased until the turn of the century.
And that's just because there's so much extra work? - Yeah.
- There's so much extra trade, moving of goods around the place? Yeah.
The number of working horses increased fourfold with the advent of the railways.
By the 1890s, there were nearly 28,000 horses owned by railway companies alone.
The railways were still using horses until the mid-'50s and the last horse retired in 1967.
Good gracious.
What are you doing, hiding in there? I'm waiting for my milk churns.
Mind out, Hamish.
Hamish, move, move, move, move! Oh, dear me.
Shall we get this on its way? OK, walk on.
By the 1920s, such was the volume of milk being transported by rail, churns were replaced by glass-lined tank wagons.
Look at that, Express Dairy's.
This company were set up to move milk and sell it on a big scale, and they chose that name because they were moving it by railway, by express.
Now, tankers seemed like a really good idea, hugely more efficient than the old churns, but they came with a problem.
You see, if you get one sick cow and you're putting that milk into a churn of milk, then all of the milk in that churn becomes infected.
But if those churns had been all put together in a tanker, one cow could infect the whole 300 churns' worth.
Between 1912 and 1937, 65,000 people died from bovine tuberculosis, contracted from contaminated milk.
Only when pasteurisation was introduced in the 1940s did milk become safe.
Peter's coupling up the milk wagons to the loco to form the night train.
Once the train is prepared, it heads out onto the branch line.
In some respects driving on a branch line is more complicated than driving on a mainline.
Mainlines have a separate track for each direction, whereas on branch lines, all trains travel up and down on the same track.
There are short lengths of double track where trains can pass, but on the single-track sections a system was invented to prevent collisions.
A driver could only enter the section if he's been given a token by signalmen like Alan Johnson.
- These are the key tokens.
- Yep.
And there's another machine exactly the same at the other end of the line and they're wired together with a cable between the two and you can only get one token out at a time.
OK, so this is a sort of failsafe device, then? Yes.
Single beat.
- He should reply by repetition.
- That's right, he replies back.
In order to prevent collisions, the machine would only allow one token for each section to be issued at a time.
Entering a section without a token was a sackable offence.
- Remove the token.
- OK.
So this is the key.
And of course this all begs the question, how do we get this key from here up to the other signal box? With that we have a token catcher.
So we place the token in there, slots in like that, and a little pin comes through just to secure it.
And then we hand that over to the crew on the locomotive.
Right, so all I have to do is quite simply just wrap that round Peter's head as he comes through.
Peter's night train is on its way and needs a token from Alex to enter the next section of single track.
Usually we go that way on and then one arm up and ready to catch the other token with your other arm.
- I've gotta catch one as well? - Yes.
Peter also has a token from the previous section which he must hand back to Alex.
He's catching that and I'm catching that? - Yes.
- Right.
- Good luck.
- Cheers.
I'm actually quite anxious about this, not least cos it's Peter on the other end.
I'm holding that like that so it just gets taken out of the hand.
And that way Hold it that way, it'll take your fingers.
And this hand, like a snake, to go through and collect the other token.
It's quite nerve-wracking, this, watching out for Alex.
I've gotta crouch really low cos he's on the ground and I'm obviously on the footplate.
Here we go.
Here we go.
It worked! - We did it! - Right, that's the main one.
That was relatively easy.
Well, there we go.
And that now means a train can only pass from this signal box in that direction with this key.
Milk was transported at night to keep it cool, so it remained fresh for longer.
But driving a steam engine after sunset has challenges all of its own.
- I can see signals.
- Red signals.
And a vague treeline there, but that's about it.
Yeah, that's it, yeah.
You can't see much at all, can you? No.
You've just got to know the route and where you're going.
- That's Dave's job, I suppose? - That's Dave job, yeah.
He's been here for nearly 50 years.
He knows what he's doing.
Driver Dave Knowling started on the railways in 1954 at the age of just 14.
Think about going in the night A lot of the railway traffic went in the night.
It was as busy in the night, the railways, as in the daytime.
In season, you had the broccoli trains going up in the night for Cornish broccoli, taking 'em to markets all over the country and that.
But I suppose throughout Britain, as the majority of people slept in their beds, branch line trains would've been thundering down the tracks carrying all sorts of good.
Milk, and early in the morning the newspapers for the delivery at the shops.
It must have revolutionised people's lives.
Oh, yeah, it transformed them.
When you think you could get London to Plymouth in four hours then.
- You'd be lucky to do that now.
- Well, yeah, yeah.
Dave, how do you know where we are now? We're stopped right on the bridge over the River Dart now, but you can't even see the river, but if we were going along and passing over it, there'd be a hollow sound.
- Right.
- A kind of hollow, tinny sound and that's the bridge over the Dart.
I'd know that by ear.
You do more by ear than eyesight in the night.
Unlike a car, don't get headlights at all on a train, so you've gotta know where you're going.
It's pitch dark out, but the sound of bridges, you know, a hollow sound, it's a different sound entirely, and that.
- Time to put a bit of coal on.
- Right.
- Give it a flick.
That's it! - Dropped some under the doors.
That should do us for the moment.
It's so dark outside, you can't see anything at all, can you? - No.
- The brightness of the fire, it really is blinding.
As soon as you look at it, you lose any night vision that you may have.
Yeah, I mean, that is white-hot.
It's such a bright light! It really is white-hot.
So, when you're firing, it's really important to either cover one eye or close an eye, to keep night vision in one eye, or try to, at least.
Hurtling through the night just gives you a sense of what it was like in the Steam Age, delivering goods to a nation.
Here we are approaching the station.
It's time to unload the milk and then maybe get some breakfast.
In the 1860s, there was a shortage of milk in London.
It was caused by a disease, rinderpest, which wiped out most of the city's cattle.
To meet demand, milk was instead brought in by rail from Devon.
It wasn't long before so much was being taken to London, it became scarce in Devon itself.
In the 1840s, the rail network in both England and Scotland grew rapidly, but it took until 1850 before the two nations were linked together by the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Alex and Peter are leaving Devon and heading north, to see the impact the railways had on Scottish rural industries.
Although most branch-line traffic would've been for trade, many trains would've included a passenger carriage providing an opportunity for people to travel the length and breadth of the country.
By the 1860s, there were over 500 miles of railway in Scotland.
But there was one line in particular that created one of Scotland's biggest, most lucrative exports.
This is the Strathspey Railway, and it was instrumental in establishing a world-famous whisky industry.
It was the railway that allowed barley to be brought to distilleries and allowed the end product, this wonderful drink, to be transported all over the world.
But why were the distilleries here? What was the key ingredient? It was the wonderful water from the River Spey.
Although distilling whisky in the Highlands goes back at least 500 years, Scotch wasn't drunk much outside Scotland until the arrival of the Strathspey Railway in 1863.
It meant a journey to the Highlands that would've taken days now took hours.
Tourism boomed as the wealthy came to hunt and shoot and got a taste for Scotch in the process.
Distilleries such as Grant's, Dewar's and Johnnie Walker all expanded to meet demand.
Alex and Peter have come to the Ballindalloch distillery to see the impact railways had on whisky production.
They're met by Brian Robinson.
Welcome to Ballindalloch Distillery.
Come on in.
Thank you very much.
We're tucked away in the far northeast of Scotland here and this remains, to this day, the epicentre of Scotch whisky production and transport links were sketchy, at best, so when the railways came in, you then had infrastructure.
It was the turning point that made the industry the huge success that it became in the late 1880s, 1890s and that we enjoy today.
I guess the estate would also be investing in the station as well to create platforms and holding yards? Indeed.
It wasn't simply a question of the railways coming to the area.
In many instances, they would come to the distilleries, specifically.
They would have their own arrangement with the railways to get stock in and out.
Private branch lines off the Strathspey Railway brought malted barley to the door of the distilleries and took whisky to the national network.
Access to bigger markets meant distilleries began to produce Scotch on an industrial scale.
This is grist.
It's barley that's been ground down It's a sort of gritty texture.
- It's a coarse wholemeal flour.
- Right.
The grist is mixed with water from the River Spey, then yeast is added.
We're gonna be agitating the liquid so that, when we add the yeast, we don't get a solid ball and a clump at the bottom.
And what is this yeast gonna do? So the yeast is going to, effectively, feed on the sugar that we've extracted from the grist and, over the course of three or five days, it'll give us around 8% alcohol at the end.
The strong, flat barley beer without any hops, effectively.
This is a bit like being on a pogo stick in a sauna.
Within 24 hours, the yeast has reacted with the sugars in the barley.
Next, the fermented brew is distilled.
The still is just, effectively, a great big kettle.
We boil the liquid.
With alcohol, of course, boiling at a lower temperature than water, we're able to create a vapour, turn the vapour back to liquid.
Sort of condensing the alcohol? Exactly, and then it'll run through the spirit safe.
And then it's leaving here at what percentage? We will harvest it between 73% and 62% alcohol by volume, giving us an average of 69%.
At this stage, the distilled alcohol is colourless and bears no resemblance to whisky.
To give it colour and flavour, it must be stored for at least three years in an oak cask.
Only then can it be called "Scotch whisky".
The booming whisky production created by the railways also saw a resurgence of the ancient craft of cask-making known as "coopering".
The popular narrative with the crafts industry is that, essentially, when Britain industrialised, there was less room for the crafts, the crafts were put out of business, but in this case the very opposite happened.
Railway lines connected Scotland up to markets not only in Britain but also across the world, enabling them to sell whisky to a global market.
This increase in demand meant there was an increase in demand for the craft of the cooper.
The Speyside Cooperage specialises in preparing casks for the distilleries.
Darren Morrison shows Alex and Peter the process.
I've never seen quite so many barrels in one location! It's quite a compound.
You have 120,000 in the park just now.
They come in from different parts of the world.
Bourbon casks from America, sherry casks from Spain and brandy casks from France are shipped in and reused to store Scotch, each giving a different flavour and colour to the whisky.
They have a long lifespan.
They can go out to the distillery for 20 years, come back, we'll fix 'em up again, - they'll go out for another 20.
- Right.
I suppose this here, right now, is is a testament to the impact that the railways had on the whisky industry, - cos this is this is amazing.
- Casks as far as you can see.
- How is he doing? - Oh, he's all right.
First Darren looks for damaged panels, known as staves.
We're gonna go round the cask, we're gonna brush it, good scrub and we're looking for any damage, like splits or cracks.
That's a problem that, and that'll have to come out? - That has to come out, aye.
- So I'll mark that one up? - Yes, mark that, as well.
- What's next, then? Next is going to be to open up the cask and re-stave it.
Iron hoops hold the staves together.
He's making it look easy! There we go.
Aah! No glue or nails are used.
Made of oak, they're shaped and fitted in a precise pattern that makes the finished cask watertight.
- That's the stave, right here.
- The one with the crack in it - that needs replacing? - Yes.
The damaged stave is replaced with one recycled from another cask and the hoops are put back on.
The replaced stave is then trimmed to match the others.
Lovely job.
Look at that.
Now, herein lies the craft of the cooper, isn't it? The ability to use hand tools to finish off this.
To char the inside of the cask.
This idea of charring the barrel is really what gives the whisky that extra bit of flavour, but it also helps to give whisky its colour, as well, so it's very much down to the blend of the whisky-maker as to how dark they want that finish and therefore how much charcoal they want in the barrel.
- You can smell the difference.
- Charred-oak smoke.
- Aye.
- Yeah, smell that, Peter.
Moving casks by rail meant they had to be robust and leak-free, so the end panels, known as heads, were sealed using an ancient technique.
Darren's now packing in the water reeds and it's just forming a very, very tight seal between the staves and the lid.
Oh, to watch a master at work! Back at the distillery, Brian and Peter are checking on the progress of an earlier batch.
Whoa! What we do want to do is make sure the spirit we've created is working well with the casks we've selected.
- Wow! - So there you can see, in just a little over 18 months we've gone from a clear spirit to something which is starting to really get the colour and the characteristic of the cask.
This is, essentially, the room in which whisky takes on - its colour and taste.
- Absolutely.
The whisky from each distillery is known as a single malt, but they prove too strong a flavour for many drinkers outside Scotland, so in the 1860s, the process of blending single malts to create a more palatable flavour was developed.
So Keith, where were these barrels destined, then? Oh, this was a typical trip where, in picking the barrels up, they would go to a yard where they'd be formed into a larger train for onward to Glasgow, to the blending-and-bottling plant.
So you'd get whiskies from all over Scotland - being blended together? - Yes.
So that single malt that comes from each individual distillery is actually being brought together to create the more popular blend at the time? Yeah, the blended whiskies, rather than a single malt.
It was the railways' ability to move barrels from distilleries to blending plants that made it possible.
Today, 90% of all Scotch whisky sold is blended.
The branch lines enabled small cottage industries like Fry's Chocolate, Colman's mustard, Hartley's jam and Bird's custard to grow rapidly and become household names.
They also revolutionised how products were sold.
Welsh entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones spotted a retail opportunity.
This is the age of the mail-order catalogue.
In 1861, Pryce-Jones set up the world's first major mail-order company and he went from rags to riches.
His main selling point was that people could order by post and the goods would be delivered by railways.
It allowed people a new freedom, a new access to things and he'd been selling all sorts of woollen goods, from boys' jerseys, ladies' knitted woollen cardigans, vests, jackets, railway rugs and the Euklisia rug, which was a sort of forerunner, almost, of the sleeping bag.
"For persons constantly travelling, they are a unique and invaluable boon and, when not in use, are indistinguishable from the ordinary rug.
" I'll be honest, I quite fancy ordering one of those! People could now order goods from the comfort of their homes.
Thanks to the railways, these products would be delivered straight to their local station for collection.
Pryce-Jones's business relied on Welsh wool.
For over a thousand years, fleeces from local sheep had been spun and woven to make cloth, but it was nothing more than a cottage industry making blankets and rugs for local people.
South Wales is still a sheep-breeding area.
Gareth Richards has been farming in Abergwili all his life.
Your sheep look fabulous on that hill! They look like they're meant to be there, don't they? Well, they've been there for quite a while, especially on a day like today.
It's very windy and blowy.
They're a good, solid, hardy breed.
That's the type that the Jacob is.
The wool they produce is a strong-quality fibred wool.
I mean, one thing Welsh wool has always been really good at is resisting the wet.
Yes, and we get plenty of that.
You get plenty of that on the backs of the sheep.
It's the same in the things made out of Welsh wool, isn't it? Welsh-wool blankets, Welsh-wool coats They're very water-resistant.
Sheep bred in these rugged conditions produced a coarse, durable, waterproof wool.
Look at the depth of the wool.
Goodness! I can feel the thickness of the fibres, too.
The fleece of any sheep is made up of two sorts of hairs: A kemp or, sort of, the hair that sheds the water and then the underhair, which is the wool, the one that's all warm and fluffy and soft.
In a Highland sheep, you'd expect that the longer, harsher kemp fibres, you're gonna get a few more of them to help the water run off and they make it difficult to wear next to the skin, but they make it very hard-wearing, so for a blanket it's perfect, but you wouldn't want it for underwear.
Passing through the wool-producing areas of South Wales was the Gwili Railway built in 1860.
This branch line, connected to the Great Western Railway, created a link to the rest of Britain.
This is the last of them, Jeremy.
Heavier than they look! Like the whisky industry of Scotland and milk industry of Devon, it gave Welsh wool a route to market.
Jeremy John helps run the railway today.
It must have had a huge impact on people's lives here, perhaps more than it would in and around a city? Yes.
And of course they could see it would bring prosperity.
Even if you were selling to local markets, then you could, of course well, prosper.
The amount of mills that opened up was quite incredible, really.
You can see the line goes in and then, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop! All these little mills suddenly come into existence.
- The growth was incredible.
- And so fast! Yes, yes, very, very fast and I suppose, you know, in Wales we've got a lot of sheep, so it's an asset.
There was a reservoir of available resource which wasn't really being fully used until - Yes, quite.
in comes the railway - and everybody can - And everything can be exported and taken everywhere, you know.
Coarse Welsh wool was ideal for blankets, but to produce clothing, they needed a softer yarn.
Mark Lucas, curator of the National Wool Museum in Carmarthenshire, is showing Ruth how it was created.
Mark, this is the raw material, the fleeces.
I mean, were these always very local? It started as being very local but then, when they became more specialised, they imported what was called "colonial wool" as well, so the railways would've brought that to the mills but blended it - with a local fleece, as well.
- Right.
So they could mix it, then, to make a better quality.
So from the start, the railways are changing the product by bringing you in completely different raw materials.
- Yes.
- Thanks to the railways, a new type of wool had been created.
Clothes made from this new blend proved popular and demand for them boomed.
Now the problem was how to boost production.
Untangling the raw fleece by hand, known as carding, was a slow and laborious process.
- Is this hand-carding? - It is, yes.
So you've got a whole series of little pins sticking up and you're combing it out, rather like brushing hair.
It's very slow, isn't it? After I've spent ten, 15 minutes on it - I get one.
- Yeah.
Gradually, the Welsh wool mills mechanised.
So this is the start of the process.
- Raw fleeces go in that end? - Yeah.
This is called the winnower and it just keeps tearing it.
We sometimes call it the Devil, as well.
This machine actually took a man's arm off and we know they have killed children in the past, as well.
- Really? - When they've fallen into one, - cos there's spikes inside.
- So a machine like this is replacing something that was done by hand before.
You would have had hand-carders before that.
It's just all constantly disentangling it as it goes all the way through.
Coal-powered carding engines brought into the valley by the railways not only increased production but they improved the quality of the wool.
Next, the detangled fleece was turned into rovings.
So when you get to this bit, the machine is starting to separate it out into bands and then this is shaken back and forth.
What that's doing then is quietly jiggling it to make it into a long, thin sausage which we call a roving.
The rovings were spun into a yarn ready to be woven using a loom.
And then, once the railways arrived, they would've transported it further afield into the industrial valleys of Wales.
That gives you the impetus to start investing in bigger machines, bigger mills So how much impact does the railway have - on this industry in this area? - There was 24 mills working in this village in the square mile.
- In this one village? - In this one village.
They were producing 8-9,000 yards of cloth a week.
- Each of those 24? - Yeah.
120 miles of cloth a week.
Everybody must've been working in the mills! Everyone would've been in this village, yes.
They were all tied to it in some form.
At its peak, there were over 900 woollen mills and it became one of Wales's biggest industries.
Woollen goods from Pryce-Jones's mail-order business were sold all over the world.
It turned him from a humble shop assistant into a Knight of the Realm with a workforce of 4,000 and a quarter of a million customers.
His goods were distributed by the railway's own parcel service.
Whoa! - 24-piece now 48 - Is that the parcels? - I've been waiting for one.
- Right, which one's yours? That one! The one you've got your hands on.
- Off the top.
Thanks! Cheers! - Not a tea set, is it? Look at that! Sent away for it.
- Wow! - Here we go, mail order.
So this has been brought in on the railways - courtesy of a catalogue? - Absolutely.
This is just another one of those examples of something that starts as a tiny little cottage industry, really quite outdated I mean, they still use spinning wheels - in some parts of West Wales.
- Yeah.
And you'd think, in a new Industrial Age powered by steam and rail, that that would be the first thing to go to the wall, and yet and yet many tiny little specialist craft industries - got a whole new lease of life! - OK, let's have a look at this.
- This is an authentic - This is a Euklisia rug! - Wow.
- Proper Welsh blanket.
Thanks to the railways, the Euklisia rug was a huge success.
This is the forerunner to the modern sleeping bag and this goes global in a matter of years.
Pryce-Jones sold over a 100,000.
The trade opportunities that were opened up by the railways meant that those industries could expand and grow.
And they're doing it through mail order.
Catalogues are getting sent out by the railways.
People are browsing through them and going, - "I'd quite like one of those.
" - This is it.
I'm right in front of the fire.
I've got the pillow at the back.
- I'm feeling warm already.
- Get myself warmed up I'm ready for a journey now in a carriage with no heating up to Scotland.
So, all of a sudden, Great Britain has access to fine Welsh wool, the finest Scotch whisky Fresh milk even in the middle of town! You've got access as a consumer to all the produce anywhere.
Yep, so the railways are not only standardising towns across Britain, they're enabling towns and areas to specialise.
It's odd, that the two things should be going on at once.
Yeah, it's it's It's a drastic transformation.
It really is.
Trades would have changed within a matter of decades, - all because of the railways.
- Yeah.
Rail usage peaked in the early 20th Century, when 420 million tons of goods were being moved each year.
Then the railways' position as the nation's main form of moving goods came under attack from the roads.
Because the railways have to carry goods, they've often used roads to move them either from local businesses to stations, or even between stations that are quite close together.
Much of this was done with horse and cart, but as the road network improved and vehicles came along, lorries such as this could carry much heavier goods, like these planks, and they didn't just have to carry them to the branch line.
They could go all the way to the mainline, so suddenly, branch lines are looking at their own demise.
Moving goods by road proved to be not only more convenient, but also cheaper.
From 1900 to 1960, the number of wagons on the railway fell by a third and rail passengers by half.
The railways were losing over £100 million of public money every year.
The government had to act.
In 1963, the British Railways Board published a report entitled The Reshaping Of British Railways written by Dr Richard Beeching.
Some of you will say, "Can't we have the branch lines as well? Can't you attract enough traffic to them to make them pay?" But unfortunately, we can't.
He recommended that, over the next five years, 6,000 miles of mostly rural lines should be scrapped, closing over 2,000 stations.
The Gwili Railway, that was so instrumental in the Welsh wool industry, the Highland Railway, that put whisky on the map and the South Devon Railway, providing London's milk, were all closed.
Driver Dave Knowling was a victim of Beeching's axe.
I started in 1954 on British Railways and got made redundant by Dr Beeching in 1966.
So I suppose his cuts signal the end of steam.
There was a total ban on mainline Well, a lot of railways in a lot of places, like in Devon, the Southern Line was completely closed.
They were all branch lines that fed off the mainlines.
It was those branch lines that suffered the most.
Ooh, yeah.
It's like a river, cutting off the tributaries.
But Dave was not long out of work.
The South Devon Railway soon reopened as a steam heritage line and he was re-employed as a driver.
Then in 1969, Dr Beeching come and officially I shook his hand, the one that made me redundant.
- Wow.
- And there's a photo of me shaking hands with him on the day he officially opened it.
You're shaking the hand of the man that signed - Signed the death warrant.
signed the death warrant.
- Yeah, yeah.
- I think, coming here, seeing an engine operating on the branch line, it's only now I realise just how much this one thing represents an entire industry.
It was English life, really, the branch lines.
Dave is now Britain's longest-serving steam-locomotive driver, having spent 63 years on the footplate.
Ironically, 500 miles of lines previously closed by Dr Beeching have reopened as preserved railways.
And so, despite the cuts, steam is thriving in the 21 st Century.
And that's not all.
Over the last few decades, the railways have seen a resurgence in both goods and passenger numbers.
Today, nearly 30 million tons of freight are moved and 1 ¾ billion rail journeys are made each year, more than at any time in the history of the railways.
The railways revolutionised leisure A return to Swanage, please.
creating seaside holidays Full ahead! trips to the countryside The train traveller was able to see the English landscape in a way they'd never seen it before.
and days out at the steam fair.
The Victorians, they became steam junkies.
- Oh, this is nice.
- It is, isn't it?