Altrincham Gas Works Tramway

An item about the Altrincham Gas Works Tramway appeared on the Industrial Railway Society (IRS) email discussion group to which I belong. [2] John Pitman on that discussion group provided a link to Dr. Mark Newall’s website. [3]

This article grabbed my attention because for the first 5 years of my life in the early 1960s I lived in Altrincham – Broadheath, to be exact. I was born in Altrincham Maternity Hospital in 1960.  I always keep my eye open for interesting snippets of information about the various places that I have lived.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Altrincham like this:

ALTRINCHAM: …. “a town, a township, two chapelries, a subdistrict, and a district, in Cheshire. The town is in the parish of Bowdon, at an intersection of railways, adjacent to the Bridgewater canal, 8 miles SSW of Manchester; comprises good streets and some handsome villas; is a seat of petty-sessions and county courts, and a polling-place; publishes a weekly news paper; carries on iron-founding, bone-grinding, timber sawing, much trade from neighbouring market-gardens, and much transit traffic, and has a head post office, three raIlway stations, two chief inns, a town hall of 1849, a literary institution in the Tudor style enlarged in 1864, a plain church of 1799, a church in the decorated English style built in 1867, a Wesleyan chapel in the Byzantine style built in 1864, five other dissenting chapels, a Roman Catholic chapel, five public schools, a medical hospital, charities £57, a weekly market on Tuesday, and three annuals fairs.-The township comprises 657 acres. Real property, £24,087. Pop., 6,628. Houses, 1,240.” [10]

But, there is no mention in Wilson’s work of a Gas Works present at the time!

It seems that in the 19th century, 3 different gas works existed in Altrincham. The earliest was established in 1844, initially intended to serve an immediate area around the works. It only lasted for 3 years before it was purchased and closed as the main Gas Works was opened in 1847.

South Trafford Archaeological Group produced a short piece about the Altrincham Gas Works just a few days before Newall’s article. As does Newall, they point out that the Altrincham Gas Works were built by 1847. Both add that the third Gas Works were railway related, established to supply gas for carriage lighting.

The light railway, or tramway, between the Gas Works and Altrincham Railway Station was not established until provision was made for it under the Altrincham Gas Act of 1893, as a single track of standard gauge. It cost £1,820 to build, was in operation by 1895 and for many years was horse-drawn.

The South Trafford Archaeological Group point out that, “The tramway ran from the sidings at Altrincham Station for roughly a third of a mile (c. 500m) to the gas works on Moss Lane, where a series of sidings ran around the site. The light railway carried coal for the gas works which was used in the production of ‘town gas’.” [4]

The majority of the length of the short tramway – as shown on the 25″ OS Map from the turn of the 20th century, soon after it was constructed. (The detailed layout in the Gasworks is shown below on enlarged OS Map extract.) This extract shows the line running from the Gas Works, along Moss Lane, to the railway station yard. [15]

 

The map extract above shows the line of the tramway from the Gas Works to the Railway Station Yard. The adjacent extract shows the track arrangement within the Gas Works at about the turn of the 20th century. [15]

“At the station end of the tramway, … the land alongside
the depository was owned by the gas company …; beyond there the land belonged to the railway but the tracks were the responsibility of the gas company. The gas company’s authority ended just before the two sidings became one (on the east side of the station yard).” [5: p198]

Before the tramway was constructed, “coal was conveyed by horse-drawn wagons along the streets to the gas works. The route between the station yard and the gas works was partly along what was, in effect, little more than a rough bridleway (later known as Moss Lane); although unsuited in some ways to the transportation of coal, at least there were no significant gradients to contend with.” [5: p197]

The demand for gas rose quickly in the second half of the 19th century. “By the 1890s the increasing demand for gas meant that easier access to a larger supply of coal … had to be sought. …. [The tramway] was in operation by 1895 and initially was horse-drawn.” [3]

This extract for the 6″ OS Mapping of 1899 also shows the relatively newly constructed tramway serving the Altrincham Gas Works. [8]

The use of horses pertained until the 1930s, when a Sentinel steam lorry running on road wheels was purchased. It was built “by Sentinel of Shrewsbury in 1924, was employed from 1933 to pull the coal trucks.” [4]

The growth in the use of gas in Altincham is evidenced by the increasing use of coal. By 1919, 20,000 tons was used during the year. By 1933, usage had risen to in excess of 32,000 tons of coal. [5: p201]

The Gas Works Tramway in Altrincham from above.. This image covers the curved sidings on the East side of Altrincham Railway Station. Coal wagons are much in evidence. This view was taken in 1927. [6]

An aerial image of the Gasworks taken from the South in 1951. Careful inspection wil show at least one wagon in the Gas Works site to the right of the Gasometer on the left side of the image. [7]

In 1943, a Peckett 0-4-0ST took over locomotive duties from the Sentinel steam lorry. Newell says that this was “Peckett’s W/No. 2034, a ‘Yorktown’ type 0-4-0ST, and the new tank engine was named ‘Arthur E Potts’, after one of the company directors.” [3] No. 2034 left Peckett’s works on 27th May 1943. [13]

The Peckett was joined by “a second locomotive …. in 1947, a four-wheel vertical boiler engine built by Sentinel (W/No. 9375).” [3] Dixon says that this was a diesel loco, [11] but research suggests that Sentinel (W/No. 9375) was a steam locomotive. Sentinel Locos with this range of Works Nos. were all steam-powered. An example is Works No. 9376 which Sentinel’s records show as a Vertical Boiler Steam Loco built in 1947 for ‘Ind Coope and Allsop’ and used at their Burton Brewery. [12] Millichip explains: “This type of engine, with enclosed cylinders and chain drive to the leading axle, was eminently suited to gas works duties. Coke dust, which proliferated in gas works, always seemed to be attracted to the motion and other moving parts of conventional locomotives, and when mixed with oil the effect was far from satisfactory.” [5: p203]

These two locos (Peckett and Sentinel) shared 4 or 5 trips per day between the Gas Works and the Railway Station Sidings on weekdays. [11]

The tramway ran eastward from the Southern end of the sidings at Altrincham Railway Station to the Gas Works where there were a series of sidings that served the Works. Newell says that the “line entered the gasworks from the south-west, passing a weighing machine and an associated building on the western side of the track. It then threaded its way between two gas holders before branching north and eastwards towards two process buildings. Three turn tables gave extra flexibility for the coal wagons accessing these buildings.” [3]

Newell writes about some of the various developments on the line over the years. His words do not need rehearsing in detail here as they can easily be read on his site: https://archaeologytea.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/the-industrial-archaeology-of-the-altrincham-gas-works-tramway [3]

In summary, Newell says that the essential changes were:

  • 1908: a short 50 metre siding running north from Moss Lane between Oakfield Road and Balmoral Road
  • 1936/1937: doubling of the tracks at the Railway Station.
  • various changes to sidings in the Gas Works over the years
  • 1951: a siding accessing a processing building to the East end of the Gas Works site.

Millichip talks of the siding at the station being very difficult to shunt because there was only a small passing loop available. This meant that a rope hawser was used to facilitate shunting. The two sidings mentioned by Newell above  were not connected in a way that would allow either of the Gas Works engines to run round the wagons delivered to the Station Goods yard. [5: p203] Millichip and Robinson provide two excellent shots of the rope -shunting taking place. [5: p203 & p204] In the second of these pictures the short passing loop is visible.

The Altrincham Gas Works was nationalised in 1949 when it became part of the North Western Gas Board. Millichip tells us that North Western Gas Board was one of twelve gas boards set up at Nationalisation and took over not only the Gas Works but nearby offices and a gas showroom on Cross Street in Altrincham [5: p204]

Gas production at Altrincham ceased on 26th June 1957. [5: p204] Newell tells us that the tramway was closed in December 1957, track was removed in 1958, and the Moss Lane site became the headquarters of the Gas Board, opening in 1965. The two gas-holders at the Gas Works survived this work but did not survive beyond the end of the 20th century. [3] The whole site, including the headquarters building were redeveloped in the first decade of the 21st century as housing and a new ice-rink. [3][5: p204]

If you are interested, the process used at Gas Works is covered in an article on the International Good Guys website (https://www.igg.org.uk/gansg/12-linind/gasworks.htm). [14]

References

  1. M. Newall in Reference [3] below mentions a 14 year period. It seems as though the line was first constructed by around 1895 and was still in use in the late 1950s – see references [5] and [9] below.
  2. https://groups.io/g/IndustrialRailwaySociety
  3. M. Newall; The Industrial Archaeology of the Altrincham Gas Works Tramway; 10th August  2020; https://archaeologytea.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/the-industrial-archaeology-of-the-altrincham-gas-works-tramway, accessed on 15th December 2020.
  4. https://stagarchaeologymanchester.wordpress.com/2020/08/07/exploring-altrinchams-gas-works-tramway accessed on 15th December 2020.
  5. Malcolm Millichip & Douglas Robinson; Altrincham Gas Works; Railway Bylines Magazine, Irwell Press, Vol. 5 Issue 5; April 2000, p196-204.
  6. https://britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw017603, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  7. https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW036247, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  8. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=17&lat=53.38629&lon=-2.34401&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  9. The Museum of Transport Greater Manchester has shared an image from 1959, showing the tramway in productive use; https://flic.kr/p/2jy9WSY, accessed on 16th December 2020.
  10. John Marius Wilson; Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales; 1870-1872. https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/549, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  11. F. Dixon; The Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway; 2nd ed. Oakwood Press, 1994.
  12. https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/sentinel-works-no-9376-no-7-0-4-0-vbgt, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  13. https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/70791-pecketts-yorktown-class/page/2, accessed on 10th January 2021.
  14. https://www.igg.org.uk/gansg/12-linind/gasworks.htm, accessed on 15th January 2021.
  15. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=16.193710244992022&lat=53.38569&lon=-2.34339&layers=168&b=1, accessed on 15th January 2021.

 

Into 2021 with God! – Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 – 10th January 2021

The authors of our lectionary placed the Old Testament reading alongside the Gospel reading for  10th January 2021 for a reason. They wanted us to see them in parallel.

In both cases God is doing something new.

I am not an expert in classical music, a bit of a Philistine really, but as I thought about these two readings from Genesis and Mark it seemed to me that they could be described as two different movements from the same symphony. I’m told that the classical composers used variations on the same theme to develop their composition and that if you listen carefully to the music you can hear the main theme being repeated. …..

Perhaps you can imagine a heavenly orchestra playing the first 5 verses of Genesis. Dark, brooding music portrays an overwhelming sense of chaos and darkness. I imagine that the composer would use discordant modern themes to convey a sense of disorder. Then over this music comes the main theme of the symphony – quietly at first, starting with flute and piccolo, and gradually engaging the whole orchestra. Like a wind gradually rising from a gentle breeze to a violent gale. God’s mighty wind (his Holy Spirit) sweeps across the universe. God is speaking, and his very words change the universe for ever. “Let there be light” and light appears. God saw that it was good, and Night and Day were born.

God breaks into the history of the universe with a powerful word of creation.

Our second reading comes much later in the same symphony. The main musical themes are now well developed – we=ve heard them over and again throughout the symphony. When John the Baptist appears we return to that same discordant, abrupt and harsh theme that we heard right at the beginning of the symphony. His harsh manner, his odd clothing, his strange habits all seem to echo the chaos and darkness of Genesis. The sound from the orchestra builds and noise of the crowds coming to John for baptism shake the concert hall and then John’s voice can be heard as a sharp solo, perhaps, by the oboe cutting through the surrounding noise.

Then quietly at first the main theme appears again. The theme that represented God at work as Creator gradually supersedes the chaos of the early part of this movement. Jesus has come for baptism. The Word of God, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, is beginning his work. And as Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism the whole orchestra joins the theme – the heavens are rent open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God speaks, a strong solo voice: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.

Can you see the common themes in the two passages?

  • The milling crowd, longing for God to act in their lives; and the universe awaiting God’s creative action.
  • The wind of God, and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep and the waters of baptism.
  • The word of God bringing creation, “Let there be light”; and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s Son, whose ministry brings redemption.

God’s delight is obvious in both passages. Looking at creation, ‘God saw that it was good’. Looking down on his Son, God said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.

The theme from each movement of our symphony is the same. God creating his world and God redeeming that same world. All part of the same plan. In our symphony, both represented by the same theme.

And now, early in 2021, we are participating in what the Bible calls the end times, the days between Jesus’ first and second coming. We are participating in what we might call the final movement of the symphony.

In the first movement, God saw that everything was good. What does he see now, at the start of this new year, in Ashton, in our churches, in our families and personal lives? Where are the signs of new creation? Where are the dark, formless voids that still await God’s creative action?

In the later movement God expressed overwhelming pleasure at the baptism of his Son. What things in our world, our town, our churches or in our lives today, give God pleasure?

Where might we begin to hear that same musical theme of God’s intervention here in Ashton-under-Lyne? What do we long that God would do in our town and in our world?

At this moment the pandemic looms increasingly large and we can feel the discordant notes of fear and anger. The discordant music seems to dominate our lives, yet quietly, almost unheard in the chaos of noise that theme of hope is still present quietly picked out again by flute and piccolo bringing a measure of calm in the midst of the noise.

How might the final movement of our symphony be being played out? What should I do? What should we do to participate in God’s work here? Now, in these difficult times? Which of the musical voices are we contributing to? The discordant chaos or the still, small, haunting voice of calm and hope?

The Uganda Railway in the first 5 years after World War 1

I recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way‘ written by M.F. Hill and published in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

Hill’s first volume provides a detailed history of the Uganda Railway until just after the end of World War II. This article covers the period between WW1 and WW2.

In the years immediately after WW1, further European settlement was encouraged and ‘European’ electoral areas were set up. By 1921, the Census revealed the European population of the EAP to be 9,651 and the Indian population to be 22,822. [1: p379]

No effective provision was made in the 1919 Ordinance which established the European franchise, for Indian elected representatives. This was a cause of Indian resentment [1: p379f] Changes in India led to a greater Indian interest in politics in what, in 1920, became the Kenya Colony. The annexation of the EAP took place in June 2020, only the area lease from the Sultan of Zanzibar were excluded (a 10 mile wide costal strip).

In addition to the Indian issue, political turmoil/controversy revolved round issues which had an ill-effect on the new colony’s economy. These included:

  • the virtual bankruptcy of The Uganda Railway;
  • the need for drastic reorganisation;
  • the lack of aboriginal contribution to the colony’s economy – the native population was producing little of value on world markets;
  • the Indian community had yet to make a net contribution to the economy of the Colony.

The number of ex-pat European farmers was only 1,339, most in financial difficulty because of lack of experience, falling prices and a “disastrous currency conversion.” [1: p381] …… The rising value of the Indian Rupee against the pound resulted in a dramatic increase in the sterling value of all local services and commodities. The European settler in 1919 received 850 rupees for £100 instead of the rate before the War of 1500 Rupees for £100. If the £3 million loan first discussed in 1913 had been raised in 1919 its value would have been a third less than in 1913. The farmer also received far fewer Rupees for his sterling exports – he had to sell twice as much produce to meet his liabilities. [1: p382]

After much debate and extensive negotiation the sterling value of the East African Rupee was fixed at 2 Shillings. This was relative parity with the Indian Rupee at the time, but within 6 months the exchange rate in India settled back to historic levels of around 15 Rupees to the pound. [2: p384f]

Settlers costs were as a result fixed at a very high level, their income was held down and then they had to watch as Government salaries were increased by 50% to maintain the value of salaries at an equivalent sterling value. All government related costs charged to settlers where increased by more than 50%. [1: p385f]

Pressure to revert to a conversion rate of 15 Rupees to the pound was resisted by HM Government, the 2 Shilling (Florin) of the Rupee was maintained. However, a local review highlighted a need to create a lower standard denomination and this was eventually accepted. The order came into force on 1sr January 1922 and the Shilling became the standard currency its value set at 20 Shillings to one pound sterling. [1: p388]

The new currency maintained the high exchange rate and as a result local costs had to be reduced. Native labour lost 33% of the increase which came from the high exchange rate although, in practice, this meant that their buying power returned to historic levels.

Hill comments that another effect was the greater pressure placed on the aboriginal/indigenous populations in the reserves to take up paid employment outside the reserves. The terms on which this occured were seen by Mission Societies and the Aboriginal Protection Society. Hill says that this was an ill-informed response, however the parallel scheme in Uganda was more onorous. “In Uganda a native could be called out to work, by compulsion and with no pay, for thirty days a year,band for a greater variety of communal purposes than in Kenya.” [1: p392]

Hill says that by 1920, Kenya was planning to extend the line across the Uasin-Gishu Plateau towards Uganda and the Thika Line to Nyeri. The lack of local labour resulted in the Kenyan authorities it arrangements for forced labour into line with Uganda which inevitably drew more criticism. [1: p392]

Hill tells of a significant debate over the relative merits of the settler’s need for labour and the protection of the rights of indigenous labourers. By 1921, Winston Churchill, who had just inherited the role of Secretary of State ensured that the Kenyan Government would only use forced labour when it was absolutely necessary. In 1922, this became a statute at the time when it also became a requirement to seek HM Government approval for the use of compulsory labour. In 1923, Uganda followed suit. [1: p393]

Between 1919 and 1939, compulsory labour was only once called upon to work for the State. “In 1925 the Secretary of State agreed that compulsory labour should be employed on the extension of the Uasin Gishu Railway and on the line from Thika to Nyeri. In each case the need was urgent, because construction was severely retarded – with heavy financial loss – by a lack of labour. The largest number of compulsory labour employed in any one month was 1,500 on the Uasin Gishu line and 1,300 on the Thika-Nyeri line.” [1: p394]

Hill notes that as of the end of March 1920 the outstanding grant and loan balances available to improve the railway were £1,301,033. The settlement of the rupee-shilling conversion in 1921 enabled the colony to raise a loan of  £5 million of which over £4.2 million was designated for use on the railway.

In May 1921 it was decided at a meeting in London that the financial year of the Kenya Colony should become the same as the calendar year.

Over the next few years, the recall of the Military Governor, Sir Edward Northey, led to a significant change in direction for the colony. Northey had worked to the dictum that European interests were paramount and that Indian interests should not be ignored [1: p397ff] The new commitment of HM Government is described by Hill, quoting from the Devonshire White Paper: [2]

“The general policy underlying any decision that may be taken on the questions at issue must first be determined. It is a matter for satisfaction that, however irreconcilable the views of the European and Indian communities in Kenya on many points may be, there is one point on which both are agreed, namely, the importance of safeguarding the interests of the African natives. …” [1: p399]

This policy change was significant. Hill says that HM Government now regarded “themselves as exercising a trust on behalf of the African population, … the object of which may be defined as the protection and advancement of the native races.” [1: p400]

Whether Hill interprets the situation correctly may be open to interpretation, certainly the Wikipedia article about the White Paper suggests a slightly different motivation. [2] However, it does seem to be the case that the net result was Kenya avoiding the route that was pursued in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. [2]

Returning to focus more directly on The Uganda Railway. … The Working Profit of the Railway, even when enhanced by some creative accounting was much lower immediately after WW1 than in earlier years. The figures from within Hill’s account are:

1919-1920         £62,582        [1: p402]

1920-1921      £155,916        [1: p404]

1921                  £15,883        [1: p407]   –   only 9 months and in the midst of a worldwide depression.

1922                  £56,785        [1: p436]

1923                £300,910        [1: p439]

34 No. ‘G’ Class locomotives were delivered by the North British Locomotive Co. and 17 of these were in service by the end of March 1920. At that time, two more were on order from Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. Ltd. A daily service once again became possible along the full line. However, of the 36 new locomotives, 21 were intended for the Magadi Line traffic. [1: p402]

It was as late as 1st April 1921 that the Secretary of State finally rules that the working profit of the railway was no longer to be regarded as available for general colonial revenue purposes and that any surplus generated was to be used:

  • first, for renewals, upkeep and betterment of the railway;
  • second, for meeting loan charges on future development costs;
  • third, for a reduction in railway rates. [1: p404]

Hill notes that the general improvement in the economy brought significant pressure to bear on the railway – the numbers of engines, carriages and goods wagons available  for use was short, it seemed, on what demand required. Despite night-shift working in the maintenance facilities, 24 engines were in the year awaiting overhaul in August 1920. [1: p405] These problems were mitigated by using 17 locomotives and 108 covered wagons intended for the Magadi Line, as anticipated traffic did not arise from the Soda Works until 1921. [1: p406]

At the end of 1920, Lieut.-Colonel F.D. Hammond was appointed by the Secretary of State as Special Commissioner for Railways, Eastern Africa. He arrived in Kenya on 20th January 2021 and left on 24th August 2021 after completing his tour of investigation. His report brought about a new era in the history of The Uganda Railway [1: p409,410]

Meanwhile, Hill writes, there was a significant debate being played out over the route of the Uasin0Gishu Line. An argument had been put forward for a revised alignment which left the existing main line  on the Mau Plateau rather than at Nakuru. There would have been significant initial cost savings if proponents of this route were to prevail. However, given the increasing levels of traffic from Uganda, major improvements on the existing line between Nakuru and Mau Summit would inevitably be necessary in the relative near future. The ruling grade would have needed to be improved from 2% to 1.5% and concomitant improvements to structures would also be required if transportation costs were to be kept as low as possible. The originally surveyed route from Nakuru would, while costing more initially, would result in lower transportation costs. [1: p410-414]

Hill comments: “There is no doubt that the conclusion reached … in favour of the Nakuru route was sound, although much of the financial argument could not be sustained. … The line took far longer to build than was expected, it proved exceedingly expensive and, during the building, there was persistent friction between … the Chief Engineer … and the senior representative in Kenya of the contractors.! [1: p141]

Hammond, says Hill, reported in May 1921 that he was in full agreement with the Nakuru route “being economically the proper one to choose.” [1: p415] He strongly urged acceptance of that route. Hill goes on to say that while this debate was raging, “Hammond was devising a plan for the complete reorganisation of the railway.” [1: p415]

A new ‘Inter-Colonial Railway Council’ was set up with terms of reference provided by Lord Milner, the Secretary of State, which made that Council the effective administration authroity for the railway and all auxiliary services. Hill says that they were “to be administered as a single instrument for the benefit of Kenya and Uganda by a body of men who, with the expection of the Chairman (Hammond was in the Chair at first) were unlikely to have much experience of railway policy or practice.” [1: p419]

When Hammond left Kenya in August 1921 the position of General Manager of the railway was decreed by the Secretary of State as including the role of Chair of the Council. [1: p422]

Hill goes on to discuss the Hammond report – the main points raised were that there:

  • had been gross inefficiencies in freight transport – goods from Kisumu to Mombasa were taking close to 8 days to travel a distance for which the working timetables allowed 2.5 days. Goods from Mombasa to Nairobi were taking as much as 12.5 days to cover the scheduled running time of 1.33 days. Hammond estimated that the efficient running of the network would result in an 11% surplus capacity with the existing availability of goods wagons at the heaviest envisaged traffic levels (including for Magadi’s output). [1: p422-423]
  • was a need for a marked improvement of the telegraph system to ensure safe operating of the railway; [1: p 423]
  • was a need  a better cleaning regime, particularly of passenger stock; [1: p 423]
  • was too much centralisation of maintenance and no progress in developing maintenance facilities, particularly for locomotives; [1: p 423-424]
  • were huge stocks of coal; [1: p 424]
  • was major work required to maintain/replace machinery in teh worskshops; [1: p 424]
  • were ineffective financial controls in the workshops and in the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s Department; [1: p 424]
  • was a major need for investment in replacement of time served timber buildings; [1: p 424-425]
  • was undue pressure on the General Manager from the Protectorate Government to minimise expenditure on the railway; [1: p 425]
  • was no programme for replacement of railway structures.  Although properly maintained, structures would not be adequate for the axle loads of the next generation of locomotives; [1: p 426]
  • was an over-provision of steamers on the Lakes with no possibility of sale to others; [1: p 426]
  • was no possibility of improving the capacity of Lakes steamers as Kisumu Port could not be developed to accommodate ships with a greater draught; [1: p 426-427]
  • were significant losses on the Busoga Railway and the Port Bell-Kampala line caused by a failure of the Railway to properly credit income to those lines. Thos losses were then being born by the Uganda Government; [1: p 427]
  • was a need to focus on generating traffic from Uganda and the Belgian Congo [1: p427]
  • was work to do to address expensive, slow and cumbersome systems in the Stores and Accounts Departments.
  • were too many staff drawn from India rather than from a wider pool and very little intention to employ local staff to do anything other than manual roles. [1: p427] This meant that the railway was entirely dependent on the economic and political circumstances which might arise in India. [1: p428]
  • had been a failure over 20 years to train local technical staff especially when compared to the situation pertaining in Tanganyika which had been in the German sphere of influence. [1: p428]

Hammond placed the highest priority for action on creating a comprehensive technical training scheme for local staff. He proposed the diversion of capital from the £300,000 fund set aside for the provision of additional rolling stock.

He instituted, with Railway Council agreement, a new goods tarrif system which focussed on maximising revenue. It had a tapering system of rates dependent on volumes carried and a far simpler classification of goods. The system was uniform across the network and ensured that “no transport be done at less than cost price.”[1: p429]

He also insisted that the General Manager should place a high priority on public relations and must “be directly represented on Chambers of Commerce and other local associations.” [1: p429]

Hammond estimated that the required annual contribution to a Renewals Fund should be around £280,000 and that there should also be:

  • a three-year programme to replace worn out plant/machinery at a cost of about £24,000/annum; and
  • a five-year programme of building replacement costing £112,000/annum. [1: p 430]

He emphasised the paramount importance of separating colony and railway finances, and suggested that capital costs for the development of the railway were for the colony to bear, withe the railway being tasked with the operating of the network. [1: p431]

Hammond also stipulated that, to ensure fair-dealing with Uganda, Kenya and Uganda should be placed under one Governor-General or High Commissioner to whom the railway would be responsible. [1: p432]

As a final matter, he looked into the status of the Voi-Kahe branch built during WW1. His recommendation was that “the last 57 miles of track at the Modi end of the Tanga line be picked up and used for the betterment of the costal section [in Tanganyika] and that the Voi-Kahe line be retained, regraded and realigned. He considered that the cost of the reconstruction of the Voi-Kahe line should fall upon Tanganyika as the chief benefactor, and he devised a financial arrangement whereby the Territory would bear all loss and collect all profit derived from the line. [1: p433]

Implementation of Hammond’s report was delayed by political issues. There was major controversy over the probable impact of his recommendations and implementation was delayed “pending further negotiations and discussions.” [1: p434]

The railway concentrated on reform of its own administration. The Railway Council pressed for urgent action where economies could be immediately effected. [1: p434-435]

In January 1922, the Council considered the reduction of coal stocks. It decided that the General Manager had acted in the best interests of the railway in purchasing the coal but considered that the information given to him “as to the state of the home markets at the time in question left much to be desired.” [1: p435] It was resolved to sell surplus coal stocks at the best prices obtainable.

At the end of 1922, a new General Manager was appointed. Within 3weeks or arriving, C. L. N. Felling, ” had devised a scheme for the control of the railway. It was discussed for nearly two years, but the eventual Order in Council differed little from Felling’s original draft. [1: p435]

After considerable debate, a final decision over the Voi- Moshi line was made. It was resolved to keep the line open. [1: p437-439] “Within a few years the line was paying its way, and it later became the first section of any railway in British Africa where the engines were driven by Africans, who also provided the bulk of the signal and station staff.” [1: p439]

At the end of 1923, the General Manager’s report announced a significant programme of new construction which included  the extension of the Uasin-Gishu line to meet the Busoga Railway in Uganda. “Considerable extensions and improvements to the mechanical workshops were carried out during the year and the repair of locomotives … was up to date. During 1823, thirty-seven engines were thoroughly overhauled, five were scrapped, … and twenty new engines were erected.” [1: p441]

A Uganda Railway GD Class 4-8-0 Locomotive. The first of these was built in 1923 by the Vulcan Foundry of Nasmyth, Wilson and Co. They were numbered 162 to 217 and layer became Class 24 Locomotives as The Uganda Railway developed. [6]

Hill comments: “Within a year, Christian Felling had created an amazing improvement in the working of the railway. The financial position and prospect had changed for the better beyond the most optimistic prediction. It was only the start of great achievement: in the next 4 years he was to transform the railway and it’s finances.” [1: p442]

 

References

  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbury & London, 1949.
  2. Wikipedia notes: This document was intended to create “a compromise between Indian interests and those of the Europeans, despite its affirmation of African paramountcy. [3] Nevertheless, the Paper allowed for the (slow) improvement of African conditions, such as the establishment of technical schools for Africans by a 1924 Education Ordinance, as well as the appointment of Eliud Mathu to the Legislative Council, the first African to hold a seat. It also allowed for the formation of an African party, the Kikuyu Central Association, which presented African grievances to the colonial government. Although the Indians were prevented from settling in the White Highlands, they were granted five seats on the Legislative Council and immigration restrictions imposed on them by the white settlers were removed. [4] The White Paper was used by the British government to retain control over the Kenya Colony, and is cited as one reason why Kenya did not develop as a white minority ruled country, as South Africa and Southern Rhodesia did.” [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devonshire_White_Paper; accessed on 3rd January 2021.
  3. Robert M. Maxon; The Devonshire Declaration: The Myth of Missionary Intervention; History in Africa Volume 18,1991, p259–270.
  4. History and Government Form 2 Teachers Guide. East African Publishers. p91–92
  5. Robert M. Maxon; Struggle for Kenya: The Loss and Reassertion of Imperial Initiative, 1912-1923. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1993, p270–279.
  6. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/UR_GD_class, accessed on 8th January 2021.

Epiphany 2021

Matthew 2: 1-12

In the bleak midwinter  by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the moment when the story of Christ’s birth first becomes a matter for the whole world. Up until the appearance of the Wise Men, the Magi, the story is exclusive. All the main characters are from Palestine. All of them are Jews.

In Matthew 2: 1-12, we hear the story of how, after Jesus was born, some wise men from the East, from beyond the borders of what we now call Palestine and Israel, even from beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, heard that a King had been born. The Gentiles are at this point included in the story.

These wise men wanted to find the King so that they could worship him. They followed a star to Jerusalem and asked some priests there if they knew where to find the King. The priests knew where Jesus was to be born, because they had been told by the prophet Micah, so they told the wise men that they would find the new King in Bethlehem.

The Wise Men saw the star and chose to follow it, otherwise the Star would have been useless. …

So it is with all that God promises us in his Word. We need to respond to the gifts God gives us. We need to continue to grow in faith and commit to following God – and in doing so we make God’s promises our own. We find God to be trustworthy – God is there for us when we need him. This is the journey that each of us is on!

Wise men and women today are still seeking for Jesus. We don’t look for him in Bethlehem, because he is no longer there. He is on his throne in heaven. We don’t need a star to help us find him. We can find him by reading about him in the Bible, by sharing together in the bread and wine of communion, by talking together with others who know him well.

Just as the Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ-child, so Christina Rossetti reminds us that Christian faith is not just about how we receive the gifts and love which God gives, nor is it just about following the best path to the right place. The words of the last verse of her carol remind us that our faith is also about what we bring, about the offering of ourselves, the core of who we are, as a gift to the Christ-child.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The Uganda Railway during the First World War

I recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way‘ written by M.F. Hill and published in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

Hill’s first volume provides a detailed history of the Uganda Railway until just after the end of World War II. This article covers the period of WW1.

Hill provides, at least as far as I can tell, what appears to be a very fair compilation of activity throughout the East Africa Protectorate (EAP) and the Uganda Protectorate UP) during the War. [1: p344ff] There was significant unrest in the EAP contributed to by a range of incompetencies exhibited by the EAP Government based in Nairobi, during the first year of the War. He highlights the importance of a meeting of Settlers in September 2015, which pressed on the Government the need for effective organisation and which resulted in the first elected representation for the Settlers onto a War Council.

Hill says that organisation improved markedly from this time on, although there were still significant losses in the community and the forces particularly due to fever. The German resistance throughout the War is noted by Hill as being one of “courage, endurance and astounding ingenuity” before it surrendered eventually on 25th November 1918. [1: p354]

Hill’s summary of the EAP campaign says: “The most ardent advocate of the East African campaign cannot maintain that it contributed to the ultimate to the ultimate defeat of Germany. The most caustic critic cannot deny that the story of the campaign is an epic of human endurance in the face of terrible trials. Fever, disease and starvation, through the breakdown of a suicidal system of supply, were von Lettow’s [2] allies, and they caused far more casualties than his soldiers.” [1: p354]

British troops after their train has run over a German mine. [3][4]

Hill points to the War Office record which states that, “during the campaign, 976 officers and 17,650 other ranks were killed, died or missing. Those figures covered the East African, South African, West African, British and Indian troops engaged in the campaign. In addition, 44,572 African porters were killed or died of disease. The maximum strength employed at any time was 24,156 combatants and 187,369 non-combatants. Altogether 112,000 fighting troops and 261,000 non-combatants took part in the campaign. Of the vast army of African porters, on which the transport and supply of the troops in the field mainly depended, nearly 60,000 were recruited in Uganda and the great majority of the remainder came from the Native tribes of the East Africa Protectorate. They were called upon to pay a terrible price in human life and misery because the First German War overspilt from Europe into Africa ” [1: p355]

H.M. armoured train, ‘Simba’ was built in the workshops at Nairobi to counteract the German mounted patrols that carried out nuisance raids on the railway during the War. [3][4] It was destroyed by a mine.

He goes on to talk about ‘The Uganda Railway’. Throughout the text of the chapter on the War, Hill again provides details of the working profit each year:

1914-1915     –      £180,600     [1: p355]

1915-1916     –      £287,300     [1: p360]

1916-1917     –      £351,815     [1: p364]

1917-1918     –      £208,986     [1: p368]

1918-1919     –      £152,255     [1: p370]

During 1915, Parliament approved a loan of £1.868 million for further expenditure at Kilindini Harbour, for railway improvements and for roads and bridges. Only a fraction of the loan was spent until the end of the War. Survey work onthe line from Nakuru across the Uasinn Gishu Plateau did continue. Oil storage at Kilindini and at Kisumu was increased along with work to piers at several ports and Harbours associated with trade on Lake Victoria. One new ship, the ‘Rusunga’, was launched on the lake. [1: p355f]

Hill highlights locomotive developments in 1915: 3 new tank engines were put into service; seven ‘G’ class engines were erected but not out into service until 1817 for lack of flangeless tyres for the leading powered axle/wheel set.

Twenty-nine of the ‘F’ class locos were still working. By the start of the War, the annual engine mileage was 1,862,453 of which the ‘F’ class locos were doing about 50%. The Mallets (18 No.) were doing good work, hauling satisfactory loads, but we’re proving very expensive to maintain. [1: p356]

The Magadi Line opened on 14th January 1915, the Thika Line was still passenger only and already paying its way. The Busoga Railway was crippled by the major drop in export and import traffic. It had also been realised that the costs associated with making Lake Kioga navigable would be exorbitant.

Towards the end of 1915 it was decided to build a new branch line from Voi to Maktau to solve supply problems for the proposed offensive into German East Africa. In due course this line would be extended to Kahe and so would link The Uganda Railway with the line from Tanga to the foothills of Kilimanjaro. [1: p358]

At around this time the military took control of The Uganda Railway. [1: p358f]

By June 1915,1,166 vehicles were being dispatched  monthly from Kilindini. In January 1916 this had increased to 2,994 vehicles. Before the end of March 1916, 25 engines and 200 ten ton covered wagons had been imported from India, mainly for the Voi-Maktau line, but also to receive pressure on the main line. Further wagons were purchased from the contractors for the Magadi Line. [1: p359]

A working profit of £287,000 was achieved in the 1915/1916 financial year but there was no significant allowance made for necessary maintenance and a renewals fund had still not been created. The survey of the line across the Uasin-Gishu Plateau was completed and the first mention appeared in an Annual Report of the General Manager of this route becoming the start of a trunk line through Uganda to the Congo. [1: p361]

In November 1915, the Port at Kilindini was taken over by the Royal Navy and closed to civilian traffic. The inadequate Old Port at Mombasa had to be used for all exports.

The March 1817 report if the General Manager drew attention to the wretched state of engines and rolling stock.

Little had changed by March 1919. The General Manager’s report was a repetition of the difficulties of previous years:

“Little had been done to remedy a chronic decay, the difficulties had, inevitably, become more critical. Several engines had been taken out of service either for lack of spares or as not worth repairing. In February 1919, fifteen new ‘G’ class engines were ordered, but they were not expected to arrive before the end of the year. Meanwhile, of the railway’s ninety-two engines, only seventy-seven were in working order and many of those were in bad shape. Most of the railway’s original rolling-stock particularly the second- and third-class carriages, was virtually beyond repair except at great and uneconomic cost. The majority of the machines in the workshops were worn out and incapable of turning out accurate work.” [1: p371]

All the subsidiary lines were also showing a loss and it was recognised that the two lines in Uganda (Busoga and Port Bell) were too small to be operated effectively as separate systems. [1: p372]

“For years the Treasury of the EAP had pillaged the railway in order to balance its budget. Now the Treasury had extended the field of pillage to Uganda. By this time the state of the railway was so derelict and critical that some radical reorganisation could not long be avoided. The surcharge, and the protests of Uganda, proved to be the last straws. Undoubtedly they impelled the series of events and the design of policy which eventually placed the railway on a sounder constitutional basis and a very much sounder financial basis. Unfortunately, this ill-advised surcharge, following upon the long struggle to secure to Uganda a fair allocation of the customs revenue derived from its imports via Kilindini, left a legacy of suspicion and resentment which exercised an unhappy influence on relations between the two territories for many years.” [1: p373]

References

  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbury & London, 1949.
  2. Lieut.-Colonel (later General) von Lettow-Vorbeck was the German commander-in-chief in East Africa and remained so throughout the conflict until the end of November 2018 when surrender became inevitable.
  3. http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/293122.html, accessed on 28th December 2020.
  4. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern; Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916; Battery Press, Nashville, Tennesse, 1990.
  5. The featured Image at the start of this article comes from http://ww1blog.osborneink.com/?p=10064, accessed on 28th December 2020

The Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist – 27th December 2020

John 20:19-31

On 27th December, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. Born in Bethsaida, he was called while mending his nets to follow Jesus. He became the beloved disciple of Jesus. He wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Apocalypse. The first chapter of his Gospel which focuses of the Word made flesh is one of the most read Gospel reading at Christmas time. In his Gospel and in his epistles, he speaks of the divinity of Christ and of the primacy of love. With James, his brother, and Simon Peter, he was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration. At the Last Supper, he leans on the Master’s breast. At the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts His Mother to his care. John was close to both Jesus and Mary. Towards the end of his life, we know that John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian.

I have chosen to reflect on a passage from close to the end of John’s Gospel. It might seem strange to be reading an Easter story just after Christmas. It isn’t the passage set for the Feast of St. John. But it is the point at which John’s Gospel reaches its climax.

We’re not told why Thomas wasn’t in the upper room that first Easter evening when Jesus visited his disciples. We could spend time trying to imagine where he was – but we won’t! Suffice to say, he missed the key event, the turning point, the moment that changed defeat into victory. And how did he respond? … In exactly the same way as most of us would have done. … Thomas just could not believe what the others told him.

I doubt any of us would have done under those same circumstances. We say that ‘Seeing is believing’ – but so is sharing in an experience with others. Thomas not only didn’t see what happened, he was left out of the experience that everyone else shared. He was in a lonely place, wanting to believe, wanting to share in everyone else’s happiness, but unable to do so. He’d not been there, he had not seen Jesus.

Thomas’ reactions and feelings are understandable, and as we read the story we can see that Jesus thought so too. He provided a repeat of the same encounter – one in which Thomas could share. He then gently reminded Thomas of his outburst – no indignant rebuke, just words which drew Thomas back to faith. Thomas’ response is one of the clearest statements of Jesus’ divinity in the Bible. Having seen the truth of the resurrection he cannot but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

The next 3 verses are important, and they are pivotal to St. John’s message:

Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” ….  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

St. John has led his readers through a story – a story which allows those readers to meet Jesus and begin to understand who he is. It’s a journey of discovery, one in which we can identify with the different characters, feel their emotions, struggle with them to understand what Jesus is doing and saying. Thomas’ words are the culmination, the pinnacle of the story – the point where even the strongest of doubters expresses faith. Jesus response is not just for Thomas’ ears, not just for the disciples, but for all who read John’s Gospel in coming generations. “Don’t think,” says Jesus, “that the disciples were in some way special because they saw all these events first hand. Rather, blessed are those who read the stories and encounter Christ through the work of his Spirit in their lives and the lives of those around them.”

“Blessed,” says Jesus, “are all who read this Gospel, who struggle with doubts & come to believe that I am the Son of God.”

St. John’s message for us is that we have not missed out on the party, we can still be part of the events which changed defeat into victory. We too can own the risen Jesus as our Lord.

This is good news – particularly for those of us who struggle with doubt; for those of us who’d like to believe more strongly than we do; for those of us who see other people’s faith, or the joy they seem to experience in their Christian life, and feel that we are somehow missing out.

I think this passage is not just important as the culmination, the climax of St. John’s Gospel. It is important because St. John chooses, at this climactic moment of change, to embrace doubt. He places the strongest words of faith in the mouth of Thomas the doubter.

Everything is different, Jesus was dead and is now alive. Nothing can now be the same. In the story, Thomas struggles to accept this new reality. For so many of us change is difficult to handle, yet it is happening all the time. It is happening right now as we struggle towards a possible post-Covid reality.

We need to continue to engage with the communities around our churches, looking for new ways to serve, new ways to make Christ known and to bring hope where there is despair. We need to accept that the future for the Church of England is one with significantly less stipendiary clergy – perhaps one third less in numbers in only a few years’ time – and we need to imagine new forms of ministry both lay and ordained, new ways of being church. Nothing is the same as it was, nothing will be the same as it was, and we want to shout out the loudest “No! Not now, not ever!”

I think that there are two key things to take away from this passage.

First – it’s OK to be honest – don’t pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t, don’t manufacture faith if it isn’t there. We can express our fears and we can express our doubts. In fact expressing our fear and our doubt is often, like it was for Thomas, the first step to faith.

Second – this story of doubt and faith is made the crowning moment of John’s Gospel – the pinnacle – Jesus reaching out to his loyal but doubting and fearful follower, not in anger but in love. Thomas’ exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the point at which John choses to rest his case. He has asked his readers to understand who Jesus is and this story of doubt and faith is the crucial last part of his argument. Honest struggling with change, honest struggling through doubt towards faith is given the highest honour in John’s Gospel.

So, don’t be discouraged if the pace of change or the circumstances we face are a struggle. Don’t be discouraged if believing is a struggle. Be encouraged as you struggle to be faithful in an ever-changing context, when at times everything you hold dear seems threatened. Be encouraged as you struggle to believe, for the story of Thomas makes clear that God loves the open and honest doubter.

The Uganda Railway at the beginning of 20th century.

I recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way‘ written by M.F. Hill and published in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

Hill’s first volume provides a detailed history of the Uganda Railway until just after the end of World War II. This article covers the period from the beginning of the 20th century up to WW1.

The railway was handed over to the administration of the East Africa Protectorate on 1st October 1903. [1: p236] Before that date, the line was in use  first, until 1901, primarily as a construction line. The period from the beginning of 1902 until 31st March 1903 was treated as one accounting year. In that first ‘year’, the working deficit of the line was £49.690. This figure excludes interest on the capital  cost of the line. [1: p236]

The actual capital cost was assessed as £5,502,592 which had been financed by annuities by HM Treasury. An annual payment of £319,112 [1: p242] serviced these annuities. When they were finally discharged in November 1925, the Uganda Railway had cost the British taxpayer just under £7,909,295. [1: p243]

In the years following its opening a working deficit was converted into a working profit. Yearly figures are provided by Hill within the narrative of following chapters of his book.

1903/1904       –      -£60,101      [1: p280]

1904/1905       –         £2,639      [1: p280]

1905/1906       –       £56,678      [1: p290]

1906/1907       –       £76,763      [1: p293]

1907/1908       –       £64,713      [1: p300]

1908/1909       –       £64,838      [1: p304]

1909/1910       –       figures not provided by Hill

1910/1911       –       £98,519      [1: p308]

1911/1912       –     £131,373      [1: p320]

1912/1913       –     £209,046      [1: p330]

1913/1914       –     £213,484      [1: p337]

Hill provides a snapshot of the situation on the Uganda Railway on 31st March 1905: “the staff of the railway consisted of 53 Europeans, 176 Eurasians, 1,254 Indians and 3,050 Africans. … The railway had 70 engines, 209 units of coaching stock and 947 units of good stock. The engines consisted of the 34 English-built Class F and 36 American-built Class B, which had all been used on construction.” [1: p290]

The profit margins quoted above were struck “without making provision for the renewal of wasting assets, without any charge for interest on the capital cost, and it accrued not to the railway, but to the Treasury of the East Africa Protectorate.” [1: p280] This was done so as to meet the debt owed to the British taxpayer both resulting from grant-aid and the loans made to cover the costs of building the railway. The grant-aid to the East Africa Protectorate was £2,843,383. The charge on the capital cost, as noted above, was £319,112 per annum. [1: p281]

Winston Churchill in 1907, taken in London close to the time of his African Safari. [4]

Winston Churchill visited Uganda in 1907. Speaking about that time he commented that the Uganda Railway was “one of the most romantic and wonderful railways in the world.” [2: p3]

He writes: “Short has been the life, many the vicissitudes, of the Uganda Railway. The adventurous enterprise of a Liberal Government, it was soon exposed, disowned, to the merciless criticism of its parents. Adopted as a cherished foundling by the Conservative party, it almost perished from mismanagement in their hands. Nearly ten thousand pounds a mile were expended upon its construction; and so eager were all parties to be done with it and its expense that, instead of pursuing its proper and natural route across the plateau to the deep waters of Port Victoria, it fell by the way into the shallow gulf of Kavirondo, lucky to get so far. It is easy to censure, it is impossible not to criticize, the administrative mistakes and miscalculations which tarnished and nearly marred a brilliant conception. But it is still more easy, as one traverses in forty-eight hours countries which ten years ago would have baffled the toilsome marches of many weeks, to underrate the difficulties in which unavoidable ignorance and astonishing conditions plunged the pioneers. The British art of “muddling through” is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything—through the forests, through the ravines, 5through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway; and here at last, in some more or less effective fashion, is it arrived at its goal.” [2: p4-5]

On the Cow-catcher. (Mr. Currie, Mr. Marsh, Col. Wilson, Sir J. Hayes-Sadler, Mr. Churchill.) [2: p7]

Churchill continues: “The Uganda Railway is already doing what it was never expected within any reasonable period to do. It is paying its way. It is beginning to yield a profit—albeit a small profit—upon its capital charge. Projected solely as a political railway to reach Uganda, and to secure British predominance upon the Upper Nile, it has already achieved a commercial value. Instead of the annual deficits upon working expenses which were regularly anticipated by those most competent to judge, there is already a substantial profit of nearly eighty thousand pounds a year. And this is but the beginning, and an imperfect beginning; for at present the line is only a trunk, without its necessary limbs and feeders, without its deep-water head at Kilindini, without its full tale of steamers on the lake; above all, without its natural and necessary extension to the Albert Nyanza.” [2: p6]

Winston Churchill was clearly impressed with the line, in the state that he found it, in 1907.

It was under the tenure of Sir Percy Girouard as Governor that serious thought was first given to real development of the railway and other transport infrastructure – railway, roads, hospitals and schools, and agricultural, veterinary and social services. “The railway needed a deep water quay, or pier, at Kilindini, and branch lines to bring traffic from potentially productive areas, remote from the main line.” [1: p307]

Sir Percy decided that a branch line North from Nairobi through coffee and sisal plantations and on into Kikuyuland was needed, with the hope that later on it could be extended towards Mt. Kenya. This did not receive support from the Treasury until the plan was revised to request permission to build a ‘tramway’ thirty miles long from Nairobi to Thinks. [1: p307]

The Jinja Pier was built in 1912, it once served as the main export gate for Uganda. The the railway tracks can still be seen in the timber planking of the deck. [3]

Winston Churchill was a significant player in a decision to build a line from Jinja to Kakindi (the Busoga Railway) which was reviewed in 1911 as the port facilities developed were inadequate. A decision was taken to extend the line to Namasagali where better quay/port facilities could be developed. An amount of close to £170,000 was allowed for this line which could become a longer route to Lake Albert, a project put forward by Churchill which would have cost around £1.25 million. [1: p309-310]

Magadi Soda Works in 1994 (my photograph).

At a similar time, negotiations were ongoing with the Magadi Soda Company, a new venture, which was given a site at Kilindini to erect godowns and a pier for the storage and shipment of its products. The plan was to build a 106 mile branch line to Lake Magadi to permit economic transport of soda products to the coast. Capital of about £1.3 million was set aside for the whole project on the founding of the company. The Treasury agreed to £350,000 of expenditure on the mail line to upgrade buildings, locomotive fleet and rolling stock. [1: p311]

In order to expedite the development of facilities at Kilindini, the Railway took over responsibility for the port in August 1911.

In 1912 David Lloyd-George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, pushed a bill through parliament in the UK which allocated a loan £500,000 for the development of the port at Kilindini. In addition a series of smaller sums were agreed to cover the cost of: the line to Namasagali; the branch line to Thika; and the main line improvement to facilitate the branch to Lake Magadi. [1: p322]

However, the story of these years before the beginning of WW1 was one of inadequate stock and locomotives, with investment never quite keeping pace with demand. [1: p322ff]

In Uganda in 1912, “In addition to the loan of £170,000 for the building of the Busoga Railway, His Majesty’s Government granted a loan of £125,000 … for the improvement of communications in the Eastern province of the protectorate and the building of a short railway from Kampala to Port Bell on Lake Victoria.” [1: p327]

By March 1913, the Locomotive Superintendent reported: “With the power on order, there will be some 100 engines on the line, eighteen of which will be Mallet engines, equalling 36 ordinary type engines.” [1: p332] Of these Mallets, two were already in service and seemed, after some initial problems with the lack of familiarity of staff with the the locomotives, to be giving effective service. By the middle of 1913, eight Mallet engines had been delivered along with three further shunting engines.

The original Thika Railway tracks before the upgrading and refurbishment in the 21st century. [5]

Major Taylor, the General Manager, reported in March 1913, that the 6 mile long Port Bell railway was under construction and that the Thika line would be open to traffic by the end of October. [1: p333] His promise came to fruition with the opening of the line and in the same month a daily passenger service was inaugurated between Nairobi and Mombasa. [1: p337]

At the end of 1912, the Magadi Railway had reached Lake Magadi. However, it was not until 1914 that the Magadi Works was ready to start production. In the spring of the same year Parliament approved another loan to the East Africa Protectorate – a sum of £3 million of which £610,000 was allocated to Kilindini harbour, £957,000 to railway improvements. There remained £90,000 available from the previous loan associated with the harbour. This meant £700,000 could be spent on the renewed works at Kilindini. [1: p340-341]

Part of the main line improvement was the construction of 18 new crossing stations which would greatly increase the frequency of trains and the strengthening of bridges and viaducts to allow for a maxim.axle load of 15 tons. [1: p335, p337] Also of paramount importance was the strengthening of the rails from 50lb to 80lb and the replacememt of the sleepers with 109lb steel. The old 50lb rail was to be use for the branch lines. [1: p337]

By 1914, “the European population of the East Africa Protectorate was few more than 3,000. Of the 2,321 men of fighting age – including civil servants, missionaries and aliens – 1,987 served in the armed forces of the Crown, some for part of the war and some throughout the war.” [1: p342] The barest minimum of expatriates remained in the Protectorate throughout WW1.

References

  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbury & London, 1949.
  2. Winston Churchill; My African Journey; William Briggs, Toronto, 1909.
  3. https://www.independent.co.ug/falling-in-love-with-ugandas-fading-glory/3, accessed on 26th December 2020.
  4. https://images.app.goo.gl/pDAJDzhSpxPmERfc8 accessed on 26th December 2020.
  5. https://www.pd.co.ke, accessed on 26th December 2020.

Uganda at the end of 19th century and the events leading up to the construction of the Uganda Railway.

It has been some time since I last posted about the Uganda Railway. I have very recently picked up a copy of each of the two volumes of ‘Permanent Way’ written by M.F. Hill in 1949. The first volume [1] is a history of ‘The Uganda Railway’ written in the 1940s when the railway company was known as ‘The Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours’ and published at the end of that decade under the jurisdiction of the new ‘East African Railways and Harbours’ which was formed to formally include the infrastructure in the modern country of Tanzania.

In order to provide the context for the construction of the Uganda Railway, M.F. Hill saw it as imperative in his book to provide a social and economic history of the East African region. It is impossible for me to judge the veracity of what he writes, but it clearly is written from a British Colonial perspective. In addition to covering the strife between the European powers who sought to increase their influence in the Great  Lakes region of the continent of Africa, Hill provides extensive quotes from leading British figures in the region about the Uganda that they knew before the coming of the railway.

It must be acknowledged that the perspective is essentially that of those who were seeking to enhance British influence and eventually to establish Colonial rule, however, it also has to be said that these men (and it was always men) sought, within their own Colonial and paternalistic terms of reference, to be a benign civilizing force. The picture which develops, as one reads M.F. Hill’s book, is, on the one hand, one of competition for influence between Germany, Britain and to some extent, France and Belgium, but on the other hand, a significant and seemingly quite unhealthy competition between three main religious groups, Roman Catholics, Protestants and followers of Islam.

Within the sphere of the Buganda ‘nation’, the influence of the two forms of Christianity was very significant, with adherents to the Muslim faith being a significant minority. The conflict between these groups has to be seen as one of the major influences on the choices made by Colonial emissaries. Yes, there was also an urgent consideration of competition with Germany for control over the Great Lakes region but it is significant that much of the focus of those who were leaders in the development of the British sphere of influence seems to be on the internal tribal conflicts in the region which seemingly were fueled by the rivalry between Protest and Catholic leaders.

Sir Gerald Portal, who led an overland expedition to Uganda in the early months of 1893 at the insistence of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the 4th Gladstone administration) commented in a despatch to Lord Rosebury on the situation he discovered on his arrival in Uganda in March 1893, “he emphasised both the evils of the native system of administration and the curse of the religious conflict which largely arose from political causes.” [1: p103]

The decisions being made about the possible/probable construction of ‘The Uganda Railway’  were equally focussed on the possibility of these tribal/faith conflicts flaring up as they were on firmly establishing British interests over-and-against those of Germany.

In this light, it is worth quoting directly from Hill who is himself predominantly quoting Portal:

Portal described Uganda as a ‘whited sepulchre’, and traced the country’s tragic story from the bloody despotism of Mutesa, and the early years of Mwanga’s reign, when the condition of Uganda had been scarcely rivalled by the horrible records of Dahomey.

“The form of government in Uganda,” he wrote, “is nominally a despotic monarchy, and in the days of the late Mutesa it was really so; but his successors, and notably the present King Mwanga, have been unable to maintain either the prestige or the power of the Crown. . . . At the time when I arrived, the whole population of Uganda was divided into three semi-religious parties, two of which acknowledge no authority on the part either of Mwanga or his Council. Uganda is divided into ten provinces, each of which is under the nominal governorship of a chief. Under these governors again are an immense number of minor chiefs, one below the other, in a complicated system of transmitted authority. . . . In theory, at first sight, this organisation would appear to be not a bad one; in practice, it has proved to be the cause of a vast system of oppression and robbery. The unfortunate peasantry are forced to toil for the support and glory of an immense number of useless and idle petty chieftains who would think it beneath their dignity to do a stroke of any sort of work from one end of the year to another. In recent times, even the small chiefs had powers of life and death over the peasants, and although this has been stopped, there can still be no doubt that cruelty and oppression in various forms are rife throughout the provinces. Economically, the present system is as bad a one as could be devised; certain taxes in kind have to be paid to the King from each province; these taxes are levied solely from the lowest classes, but as they have to pass through the hands of a long gradation of chiefs, the amount which ultimately reaches the King does not represent more than a fifth part of what has been paid by the villagers.”

Portal pointed out that this administrative system accounted for the importance attached by the Bishops and the political leaders of the opposing parties to the possession, on their side, of certain chieftainships or provincial governorships. The acceptance by a great chief of the Protestant creed might mean the addition of a thousand fighting men to the Protestant cause, whilst the appointment of a Catholic governor to the command of a province might mean that every chief, sub-chief and villager in the province had to make up his mind quickly between embracing the same faith, or being forthwith turned adrift and deprived of his house, dignity and position.

The miserable history of Uganda during the previous few years had shown how inextricably religion and politics were interwoven. The three great parties, Mohammedans, Catholics and Protestants, were nominally divided only by religious tenets, but in fact they were adverse and jealous political factions, two of which were led, to all intents and purposes, by European missionaries. [1: p103-104]

Portal went on to say:

“That the missionaries, on both sides, are the veritable political leaders of their respective factions there can be no doubt whatever. As regards the Catholics, Mgr. Hirth and the Fathers would probably be the first to admit this to be the case. On the Protestant side, it is not, I believe, admitted, but the fact unfortunately remains. . . . The present state of affairs is that the natives on both sides have acquired the habit of appealing to their respective missionaries on every possible question, whether it be a personal quarrel with one of the opposite faction, an assault case, an eviction from a plantation, a murder, a decree from the King, or a decision or order from Her Majesty’s Commissioner. There has thus grown up a sort of dual or even triple system of government, which adds very seriously to the difficulties of administration. It will from this be readily understood that the race for converts, now being carried on by the Catholics and Protestants in Uganda, is synonymous with a race for political power. To-day the Protestants are the strongest, and the most numerous, party; to-morrow a successful battle might place the Catholics in a dominant position and, in such case, that religion would gain on the second day many thousands of converts, from among those who are now reckoned as belonging to the Protestant party. Catholics and Protestants here seem to look upon each other as natural enemies; no doctrine of toleration, if it has been taught on either side, appears to have been received by the native Christians; the fear of English officers and of the Nubian soldiers at the Fort may keep them from overt acts of hostility towards one another while this control remains here, but as soon as it is withdrawn, the war of extermination will at once be renewed. It is this feeling which, through the introduction of the two forms of Christianity into Uganda, has cost so many hundreds of lives, and has thrown the country fifty years back in its advance towards prosperity. It is deeply to be regretted that the avowedly great influence of missionaries in Uganda is not used to introduce a spirit of tolerance and peace even at the risk of the loss to the party of some political power of a few wealthy chieftainships.” [1: p104]

Hill continues:

The Mohammedan party was weaker in numbers, wealth and arms than either of the two Christian parties. In the event of the withdrawal of British control, the strength of the Mohammedans lay in their power to hold the balance between the two Christian factions. When it became known that the Company proposed to withdraw from Uganda, overtures to the Mohammedans were made, almost simultaneously, by the Catholics and by the Protestants. Portal realised that the Mohammedan influence in Uganda was inevitably doomed. If civil war again broke out, whichever party gained the Mohammedans’ affiance would certainly win the day—and then turn upon and annihilate the allies who had assured their victory. If peace continued, the Mohammedan party would inevitably be wrecked on the same rock which destroyed the power of so many Mussulman states—that of slavery. [1: p104-105]

Mwanga II was kabaka in Buganda from 1884 – 1888 & 1889 – 1897. He died aged 34 or 35 in 1903. There are notes about his reign below the references at the end of this article.

In retrospect it seems as though there is ample evidence in the story told here for a rejection of all religious influence in matters of state/politics. However, the world is not such a simple place. Portal did not regard all the Christian converts in Uganda as animated solely by political or material motives. He knew that only “a proportion of the so-called Catholic and Protestant parties could truly be called Christians, but Christianity had undoubtedly gained a firm hold in the country. Mwanga’s persecutions, [2] a few years previously, had proved that there were a considerable number of sincere-Christians prepared to die for their faith.” [1: p105] In addition, politics is a descriptive term for all interactions between differing groups of people. Where people exist, politics will occur. It is to be sincerely regretted that denominational loyalties in the West were imported into the Great Lakes region of Africa in such a way as to promote conflict rather than tolerance and understanding! The level of trust between the principal Christian denominations was not high in Europe at this same time.

The primacy of religious leaders in the politics of the time meant that one of Portal’s first tasks was to seek an accommodation between Bishop Tucker, the Protestant Bishop of East Equatorial Africa and Mgr. Hirth, the Rpam Catholic Bishop of Thereste and Vicar Apostolic of Nyanza. Careful negotiation brought reluctant agreement to the partition of provinces between Catholic and Protestant factions.

On 8th April 1893, 40 Protestant Chiefs signed a statement agreeing to release all their slaves. On 29th May, Mwanga also signed an agreement which accepted British authority. On that same day, Portal left for the coast.

By late 1893, Portal’s health was failing and he made his last report to his masters in London before setting off for the UK himself, where he died very early in 1894. Much of the report had to do with the management of British interests in the Great Lakes region. As [part of that report he strongly recommended the building of a railway from the coast to Kikuyu, not to Lake Victoria Nyanza, but including a significant enhancement of the British fleet on the Lake. That report was considered, after his death, by Parliament in London.

In June 1894, the British government was still hedging its bets and not making a commitment to the construction of a railway, although a decision was taken to declare a Protectorate over Uganda. This move was proclaimed in Uganda in August 1894 and was heartily welcomed. A further Protectorate covering the area from Uganda to the coast was proclaimed in 1896 – the ‘East African Protectorate’.

The Report of the Committee on Railway Communication with Uganda was submitted in April 1895, by the end of June 1895, Lord Rosebery’s Government had fallen and the new Tory administration under Lord Salisbury lost no time in deciding that the railway should be built. It was seen as essential to the life of the Uganda Protectorate. Preliminary expense were granted in the sum of £20,000 in August 1895. And the decision was taken to construct the full length of the railway from the coast at Mombasa to Lake Victoria Nyanza – a distance of 650 miles. Through choosing a reduced gauge and a lighter rail, the cost estimate for the work was set at about £2,700 per mile – a reduction from £3,409 per mile in the early estimates of cost. However in April 1896, a Government committee recommended that the gauge should be increased to one metre and the rail weight restored to that originally recommended – 50lb per yard.

The engineering team arrived in Mombasa in late 1895 but the empowering Act was not to achieve its passage through Parliament until August 1896 with a budget of £3 million.

Earlier posts in my series on the Uganda Railway cover the line and its construction. That story starts with the following article on this site:

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2018/05/09/uganda-railways-part-1

Hill continues with the story of the building of the line. [1: p139-244] Given that this series is meant to be primarily about the Uganda Railway, this article has been something of a diversion.

As I am an Anglican priest it seems worthwhile to me to  return to the religious issues mentioned above. These will, in due course, be the subject of a further article in this series.

To restore the balance in favour of the railway itself. I will finish this post with some images directly associated with the railway which come from the pages of Hill’s book. [1]

Sir George Whitehouse KCB., the first Chief Engineer and General Manager of the Uganda Railway. [1: facing p144]

Rope Inclines on the Eastern face of the Rift Valley during construction in March 1900. [1: facing p179]

Kilindini in 1900. [1: facing p208]

Nairobi Railway Station in 1900. [1: facing p228]

Nairobi in 1900. [1: facing p228]

Uganda Railway – Class G 0-4-2 steam locomotive Nr. 101 and passenger train (Hawthorn 1746/1878). This locomotive was a one-off import from India, ex South Indian Railway. This image was posted recently on a French language site associated with the LRPresse Magazine(s), rather than coming from Hill’s book [3]

British East Africa in 1910. The Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Victoria Nyanza. Also included on the LR Presse forum. [3]

References

  1. M.F. Hill; Permanent Way – The Story of the Kenya and Uganda Railway – Volume 1; Hazel, Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbry & London, 1949.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mwanga_II_of_Buganda, accessed on 17th December 2020. Part of the text of this Wikipedia page is reproduced in italics below.
  3. https://forum.e-train.fr/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=87849&p=2255445&hilit=Ouganda#p2255445; accessed on 19th December 2020.

Mwanga came to the throne at the age of 16. He increasingly regarded the greatest threat to his rule coming from the Christian missionaries who had gradually penetrated Buganda . His father had played-off the three religions, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, against each other and thus balanced the influence of the European colonial powers that were backing each group in order to extend their reach into Africa. Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death. A year after becoming king he executed Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuuwa Sserwanga, who had converted to Christianity. On 29th October 1885, he had the incoming archbishop James Hannington assassinated on the eastern border of his kingdom.

For Mwanga, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the (male) pages of his harem when they resisted his sexual advances. According to old tradition the king was the centre of power and authority, and he could dispense with any life as he felt. It was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king. Given those conflicting values Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers. Mwanga therefore precipitated a showdown in May 1886 by ordering converts in his court to choose between their new faith and complete obedience to his orders and kingdom.

It is believed that at least 30 Catholic and Protestant neophytes went to their deaths. Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886 and later became known as the Uganda Martyrs. Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga. They had repeatedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from sexual exploitation by Mwanga which they believed contrary to Christian teaching.

These murders and Mwanga’s continued resistance alarmed the British, who backed a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Mwanga’s half brother and defeated Mwanga at Mengo in 1888. Mwanga’s brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono, was elevated to the throne. He lasted exactly one month and was replaced on the throne by another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma. However, Mwanga escaped and negotiated with the British. In exchange for handing over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company, the British changed their backing to Mwanga, who swiftly removed Kalema from the throne in 1889. He later converted to Christianity and was baptised.

“Moved by Steam” by Richard Inwood and Mike Smith

Published by Silver Link Publishing Ltd in 2009, this excellent book is made up of the personal reflections of the two authors on their memories of following steam as teenagers in the years 1962 to 1967. [1] This was a particularly poignant time in the life of Britain’s railways as the Modernisation Plan saw the relatively rapid demise of steam power.

In his forward to the book, Davis St. John Thomas says: ‘Here is a book with that tingle factor to bring memories flooding back to those old enough to remember the colourful last days of steam’. [1: p7]

I picked up a signed secondhand copy of this book and its sequel, ‘Steam Tracked Back’ online during the second lockdown in 2020. I had just written an article about clergy and railways [2] and was encouraged by someone who read the article to purchase these two volumes. The signed copies were a real bonus.

I mention the article about clergy and railways because one of the authors of these volumes was a retired member of the clergy. Bishop Richard Inwood was Suffragan Bishop of Bedford in St. Alban’s Diocese until his retirement and lived, in retirement in Chesterfield.

His obituary, carried by the Church Times in May 2019 [3] mentions his co-authorship of books on railways during his time as a Suffragan. It also highlights parallel with my own experiences. Like him: I taught for a short time in Uganda; attended Holy Trinity, Platt in Rusholme, Manchester; studied at St. John’s College, Nottingham. My time working for the Church of England as a parish priest and first Area Dean then Borough Dean did not mirror in anyway his later career as Archdeacon and then Suffragan Bishop.

I marvel at his capacity to write books about his love of the railways alongside sustaining a demanding ministry as a Bishop.

In the days before the end of steam on mainline duties on the railways of Britain, Richard Inwood and Mike Smith developed from trainspotters into railway photographers. They first met as schoolboys at the beginning of the 1960s. Subsequently, as members of their school’s Locospotters’ Club, they attempted to record as much British steam as possible in its last years, from Derbyshire to Dorset, from Oxford to Oxenholme.

This volume charts their growing desire to follow what was left of steam as it was being withdrawn across the whole rail network. It is a deeply personal account  which ‘brings to life some of the excitement tinged with sadness of those times’. [1: p7] It is supplemented by some great photographs of the railways around Burton-on-Trent and further afield. Each of these photos is carefully annotated

I was delighted to find a few pictures of the line between Hereford and Gloucester, and particularly one photograph taken at the Aylestone Hill end of Hereford Barrscourt Station. My modelling interest centres on the City of Hereford and its railways. [4]

As an aside, I read this volume very soon after I read ‘Platform Souls’ by Nicholas Whittaker to which also comes out of a teenage spent trainspotting in Burton-on-Trent!

References

  1. Richard Inwood & Mike Smith; Moved By Steam; Silver Link Publishing Ltd., Kettering, Northants, 2009.
  2. https://rogerfarnworth.com/2020/11/14/clergy-and-railways, published on 14th November 2020.
  3. https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/17-may/gazette/obituaries/obituary-the-rt-revd-richard-inwood, accessed on 10th December 2020.
  4. https://rogerfarnworth.com/category/railways-blog/model-railway – the articles on this page are substantially about the model that I have been creating in the vicarage loft. The first article is a general comment on the use of N Gauge (2mm to the foot) as a modelling scale. The remainder focus on Hereford.
  5. Nicholas Whittaker; Platform Souls; Orion, London, 1995 (Revised Edition, 2015).

Sunday 6th December – Mark 1:1-8 and Isaiah 40:1-11

The first Candle on our advent wreath in church spoke of the Patriarchs. The second candle speaks of the Prophets. Both groups witnesses, ahead of time in the Old Testament, to the coming of Jesus. The remaining two outer candles on the wreath represent John and Baptist and Mary.

Our gospel this week and that next week focus on John the Baptist, the last of a long line of Old Testament prophets.

I used to work in the centre of Manchester, and during lunch breaks I’d often wander around Piccadilly Gardens. Frequently I’d be approached by one of the men who lived rough – sleeping on the benches in the Bus Station or in the sunken gardens which were once the basement of a hospital bombed out in the Second World War. Usually I’d be asked for a coin or two to help purchase a meal. Money which, I was near certain, would be spent on alcohol. … Jo, my wife, once told me that when she worked in London and shopped on Oxford Street there was one character that she could rely on meeting. … Trudging up and down, eyes downcast, with a sad look on his face, a rather dishevelled looking man with a scruffy brown overcoat carried a sign “Repent, the end is nigh”. It wasn’t surprising that no one ever stopped him to ask about his message. He seemed rather strange, a person to avoid. Of no relevance to their lives.

This is how I imagine the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist – very similar to this dishevelled tramp, although perhaps with a little more fire in their bellies! . John the Baptist was an unconventional man, living in the desert, with clothes made of camels hair, living on a diet of locusts and wild honey – proclaiming a message of repentance. A seemingly unattractive person – someone to be ignored. Yet John was attracting large crowds and his message was credible. People listened and acted on what he said.

‘Repent’, said John, and people did, in large numbers. He was a success. …

So, what can we learn from John? How come he was so successful?

In John’s day, Israel was a weary people, living under occupation. They’d been so for 400 years – first the Greeks and Persians, and now the Romans. They were right at the bottom, depressed and desperate for any sign of hope. God had promised a Messiah, and in 400 years there had been only imposters claiming the title. God seemed to have gone silent. They lived under pagan occupying forces; they lived in a secular, world with a corrupt king and hypocritical religious leaders.

Yet among the people were those prepared and willing to hear John’s message. People longing for renewal and change, people who knew that there was more to life than the grind of daily living under the burden of an occupying power. People who perhaps were desperate enough to respond to anything – they’d tried everything else, and here was their last hope. Perhaps people, who when they heard John, recognised God’s voice calling to them. Or perhaps they were people who were just dissatisfied with the world around them and wanted something more.

This sounds very familiar? A secular world, full of unbelief? A lack of confidence in authority? Religion on the back foot? Church attendance dropping? Values of society changing – no longer so easily identified with our Christian heritage? God seemingly absent? … Just like today? Well, almost. …. Perhaps the pandemic makes our circumstances different, but the people in Palestine at the time of John the Baptist would have had significant concerns about their health. There were none of the amazing drugs which we can rely on today!

How should we respond? Pack up and go home? That seems to be the easiest option. Let’s retreat back into our churches, do the things we enjoy doing and let the world get on with its own agenda. Unfortunately, in churches across our land that seems to be the temptation. It’s so much easier to stick with what we know than to contemplate radical change.

John the Baptist chose differently, and so did those who listened him. John spoke words that the people needed to hear. Not, perhaps, what they might have wanted to hear. …… “Repent.” Why? Because God’s kingdom is near! There, in John’s message are the first seeds of hope. God seems to be speaking again, just like he did to the prophets of old, speaking with authority once again. Hope was being born again in the hearts and minds of all who listened to John. John was preparing the way for something significant to happen. Something new, something different.

John brought hope, and with it renewed energy and life. Hope that God would act. Hope that, in the words of the placard carried by the tramp in London, hope that the end was nigh. The end, not of the world, but of waiting for God to act. Now, soon, God will act. The people who went out to John in the desert became a people of hope, people with a renewed vision for the coming of the Messiah.

Advent is a season for preparation, for anticipation, for longing; a season of hope; a season to allow ourselves to yearn for things to be right. A season when we can express even our anger to God – anger that the world is not the way it should be, longing that God will do something about it. Advent is a season when we can start to recognise that God has given us his first response to that longing, to that hope; a down-payment, a deposit that we can trust. In the incarnation of Jesus, we have God’s “Yes!” to our cries for help. “Yes, I am with you. … Yes, I have heard you.” … But it is also the season when we acknowledge that we wait for his final answer. We wait in hope for God’s final solution, when everything will be made right.

Advent hope, Christian hope. Hope that is not just ‘pie-in-the-sky’, but hope based on the firm commitment of a deposit made 2000 years ago in the birth of Jesus. Hope that doesn’t just pretend that everything is going to be all right, despite the evidence. But hope which has seen everything and endured everything and still has not despaired, because it trusts God and his promises. Hope which continues to bear fruit in reality, as people’s lives are changed through meeting with God in Jesus; as they encounter Christians who clearly aren’t perfect but whose lives have something deeply attractive about them.

John calls his hears, calls us to renewal, to repentance – to ‘turn round’, to change direction. Not just to tinkering with the edges of our lives, those little personal things that need to change, it’s a call to a complete reorientation of our lives, a call to begin to believe again in God’s love, to turn away from selfish values and to love again as God has loved us – only this kind of all-embracing repentance will begin to demonstrate that hope is more than wishful thinking, that lives can be and are being changed by God’s love. Only through this kind of repentance will we prepare our hearts and the hearts of those around us for the coming of Jesus.

John’s life witnessed to the truth of what he believed. He was sold out to what he proclaimed. He lived his message. Nothing in the way John behaved, not his words nor his actions, left any doubt about where his priorities lay. However strange found him, the one thing that you could not do was accuse John of duplicity. He was whole-heartedly committed to his message. John’s words and actions belonged together. John’s challenge to us is a challenge to integrity – to live day by day the way that we talk at Church on Sunday. To be united with each other, caring for each other, to be seen to be growing in understanding of our faith, to be seen to be loving each other, and to be reaching out with the love of Christ to everyone that we meet in our daily lives. And by so doing, to emulate John who, as our Gospel reading tells us, pointed beyond himself to another, to the one on whom people’s hope can justifiably rest, to Jesus.

How will we make Advent hope more of a reality in our world today? Certainly not by carrying a placard which speaks of impending judgement, nor by mouthing words of faith which are not clearly supported by the lives that we live. Advent hope, real hope, will be seen as a reality by those around us only when they see lives that are sold out to the Gospel.