Monday 1 December 2014

Basingstoke It Is, My Dear [1]

As Featured in Opera!
In "Ruddigore", Mad Margaret
now married to Sir Despard Murgatroyd,
is calmed by a meaningful word.

On Saturday 15th inst, the fbbs travelled from Axminster to Reading (change at Basingstoke) to join in a birthday party. Unofficial grand-niece Phoebe was 1!
The railway line from Basingstoke to Reading does not have the cachet of a delightful West Country branch; it might well be described as boring (even more boring that most railway lines, non-enthusiasts might think!). But it most definitely isn't.

The fbb schedule was straightforward ...
... or it should have been. But freight diverted from the Great Western main line because of engineering work got in the way. Arrival was 1305 and a bit. Fortunately, the First Great Western shuttle in platform five was "waiting for the road" as well so a wheezy sprint (?) was unnecessary. We left 5 minutes down.

But there is a clue to part of Basingstoke's railway history; albeit not obvious from the platform.
Visible across the car park on the north side of the station is the "Great Western Hotel". And the clearing house rail map does, indeed show two stations.
The Berks and Hants Railway Company had the idea of building a link between Basingstoke and Reading. This undertaking was absorbed the Great Western Railway before the track was laid.

The line was thus built by the GWR, with the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who used his favoured broad gauge (7ft), from Reading's railway station to Basingstoke. Since the main line at Basingstoke used standard gauge (4ft 8½in), it was impossible for the railways to share the same station. The GWR built a small station to the north of the L&SWR's station which was completed in 1848 after some significant aggro from the London and South Western Railway who didn't welcome the arrogant interloper!
Mixed gauge track allowed through running eight years later. Few pictures exist of this structure which was closed in 1932 when platform 5 opened as part of the main station. Now there is nothing to see of the old.
Standard gauge won the war of track width and the two lines were linked forming the route taken by today's Cross Country trains.
Cross Country : platform 4

There was just one intermediate stop named Mortimer which still retains its Great Western Railway buildings.
Interestingly (?) this station claims to be the only unaltered Brunel station remaining.
The waiting facilities are hardly lavish ...
... but the ticket office has quite respectable opening hours by today's rapidly declining standards.
Needless to say, the station is not at Mortimer! It is actually in the neighbouring village of Stratfield Mortimer.
Trains run every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday ...
... but this, largely self-contained, local "shuttle" has to be extracted from a leaflet with a decidedly unhelpful title.
Surely a separate leaflet for the Basingstoke line would be more helpful?

The real Mortimer is served by bus from Reading ("Lime" 2/2A) ...
... every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday.
And the buses are lime green as well!
But it was not long (not long? piffle! 47 years!) before another station was added to this little GWR backwater.

Of which more tomorrow!

Traditionally, at this time of year, fbb appends his Seasonal Thoughts to the blog in the form of a "Advent Calendar". Each year the old bloke tries to combine general interest with a spiritual message, offered as a "daily thought" not, hopefully, as a pompous preach. This year it is "Why Christmas? In Numbers".
The concept of one supreme God emerged in writing about 4000 years ago but must have existed for many centuries before that. To help people understand the idea, writers and artists have anthropomorphised the Deity; i.e. given him/her/it a human form and character.

The picture above, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is God leaning our from his humanised super-brain and "creating" the first man. 

But, because of that rather ludicrous attempt to explain the inexplicable in human terms, we have made the idea of "creation" into a crisis of intellect. Over the centuries we have argued over "six days of 24 hours" when no such schedule exists in the Bible. Even the most ancient Hebrew texts have something like "and evening and morning was the first day" which has no literal chronological meaning.
What is remarkable is not that the Genesis story is unscientific; it never could be, there was no suitable science back then. What is really remarkable is how close to modern cosmology and anthropology these ancient texts are, despite their poetic naivety.

The first words of the Bible "in the beginning, God" offer one possible explanation that is neither better nor worse than the "singularity, everything from nothing," basis of current cosmology. Both offers are outside the laws of physics.

But without God, Christmas in meaningless.
So, let here be Light!

 Next rail blog : Tuesday 2nd December 

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