I’m going to tell a tale that I had hoped would never need retelling. It involves the history of right wing Conservative government, Trade Union efforts to protect workers rights and jobs, alongside opportunistic management hoping to cash in on the situation. You may ask “What has prompted this unusual post from me?” Today I saw a tweet from my Union confirming that for the first time since 1987, there would be a national strike of Telecoms workers.

Let me underline the time line here – first strike since 1987! That ought to tell something straight away. Contrary to what most of the press and, especially the likes of the Daily Mail and The Express, want you to believe – Most Trade Unions do not seek strife. I can remember lots of years from 1972 through to when I retired in 2017 when both the union and the management politely rattled sabres in early discussions before seeking a deal that both looked after the rights and pay of the workers and also allowed the company to move forward and gain more earnings for shareholders. Of course, back in 1972, my company was actually a publicly owned company – Post Office Telecommunications. That fact should not influence what I have to say although it’s probably fair to attribute the relative peace and calm in the early years to a certain ‘Civil Service’ approach to a nationally owned company.

Then, after a long fought battle in which the case was well made for keeping The Royal Mail and British Telecommunications as national companies, privatisation was carried out by the Conservative government in 1984 – With money to be made and the public duped into buying something they already owned, the city loved it because the majority of the new shareholders sold their shares immediately for a short lived pittance 😒 The workers were also offered shares as part of the deal – some refused to take them on principle but I took mine because sometimes, the best way to fight is to take advantage of an enemies weakness. I still have them. I viewed it as a battle lost in an ongoing war.

1987 was a year when a Conservative landslide emboldened managers all over the UK. The battles with the Miners in 1984-85 where the police were widely used as political pawns by a rampant Conservative government made them feel that they could do whatever they liked to crush their employees. So, when the Union entered into the annual pay-bargaining with BT management that year, they did so using the usual initial tactic of an overtime ban. It’s intended to limit the effect of the action so customers are unlikely to be affected in the short term. That’s part of the Union playbook. In these industrial dispute situations, both the Union and the Management have playbooks that take them through escalations until they reach a level of pain that one or the other can’t sustain – at which point an agreement is struck. Both the Union and the Management usually know each other’s playbooks pretty well!

I cannot recall a point in all of the period from when I joined the company until 1987 when anything went beyond an overtime ban and, possibly, a couple of token 1-day strikes with an associated march to advertise our grievance. We even went through a protracted period of fighting for reduced hours in that period. My memory may be a little lacking but I can certainly not recall any extended periods of industrial action by us. As an aside and to illustrate what sort of union we were then, a Policeman shepherding one of our marches confided that he loved walking with us because there was never any trouble! I believe the CWU is still the same ‘negotiate first’ union that it has always been.

1987 was a watershed moment. When the Union, as usual, announced an overtime ban, the management decided to throw the playbook out of the window. The following morning, as we turned up for work, we were met by managers at each building presenting us with a document to sign before we would be allowed in. The basic tenet of the document was ‘Work as instructed or hand in your passcards’. It was a huge mistake by the management! That day I saw members who I would have had to argue into taking industrial action, throwing their passcards on the table in disgust and walking out of the building. By the end of the morning it was a huge problem, for the Union of all people – I can remember one of the senior London Officers saying “We’ve got a Tiger by the tail – How do we control it?”

This Strike – it was never a strike in reality although the press liked to call it that – Was a management inspired lock out that ground on for 3 weeks until the management and the union were able to mend the fences that were broken by the arrogant management behaviour at the start. The management got some improved flexibility of hours in customer facing roles. The union got reduced working hours for the vast majority of members with many getting a 9 day fortnight.

Looking back, it was an absolute tragedy for all the staff who found themselves locked out. Many had mortgages and young children. But they stood firm against a despicable act by management, many of whom subsequently were quietly shuffled out of their jobs – the price of failure?

To put some perspective on the aftermath of those events. Both sides looked over the edge of the precipice. Neither liked what they saw. It resulted in 35 years of relative peace with sensible approaches taken by the Management and the Union to resolve disagreements. I guess it should come as no surprise that, when we have another rampant right wing Conservative government, once more my Union finds itself forced into an industrial action situation 😟

If you don’t agree with my thoughts on this, that’s your prerogative. I’ve told it as I saw it from the inside. I just wish we weren’t going through this again!

I’ve had a bit of a break from pursuing my transport goals but, on Monday I was able to get out for one of the more local options. It was a short trip up to Hadley Wood from New Southgate , so I took a bus across to the station and then caught the first northbound Welwyn Garden City service to Hadley Wood.

Hadley Wood is on the borders of the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield. Much of Hadley Wood’s history belongs to Barnet though – it was on Hadley Common that the Battle of Barnet was fought during the Wars of the Roses. It was a decisive battle that saw the death of the Kingmaker, Richard Neville – the Earl of Warwick, and a victory for the Yorkists and Edward IV.

If you walk east down the hill from Hadley Highstone – the obelisk commemorating the battle – and through what is now known as Hadley Woods, you will come eventually to a railway line – the Great Northern mainline from King’s Cross. I was brought here for picnics quite often as a child and watched the trains passing with my Father from behind the low fence that existed back then. It was there that I watched steam hauled express trains and saw my first ever diesel – an English Electric type 1. The seeds of a life-long interest were sown here. But, we’re not in Hadley Woods on this trip although my train passed through them as I headed north and I saw the glade where we used to picnic through the train window. Instead we passed through a tunnel before entering the station named Hadley Wood a little further north.

Hadley wood is quite a unique station – there aren’t very many stations outside of an urban landscape that have tunnels at each end. The Great Northern Railway built the line in the 1850’s. The tunnels were a necessity to overcome the ridges of rocks and clay laid down by the glaciers of the last ice age (I live on one of these a little further south!) while keeping the track as flat as possible. In fact there are three tunnels in close proximity, Hadley Wood South, Hadley Wood North and Potters Bar. So lets take a short walk north from Hadley Wood Station and look at the lie of the land beyond Hadley Wood North Tunnel…

700108 seen from Waggon Road, Hadley Wood

…In this shot, I’m standing on top of the ridge through which Hadley Wood North Tunnel is bored and just on the left hand edge of the image you can see the portal of Potters Bar Tunnel. Around here there is a mix of suburban dwellings, brought about by the railway, and farmland. We’re right on the border of the London Boroughs of Barnet and Enfield too – the road I’m on even changes name from Wagon Road to Waggon Road at the borough boundary! In the shot above, the train is in Enfield but once it passes through that tunnel it will be in Hertfordshire. And when I was born, Barnet was in Hertfordshire.

Hadley Wood Station wasn’t a passenger station at all to start with – it was a goods station called Beech Hill Park and opened in 1884. However, the passenger station opened the following year on 1st May 1885. For much of its life there were just the two platforms and the old buildings of the GNR and subsequently the LNER. In 1959 the station was completely rebuilt by British Railways, of which more in a minute, but the current ticket office post dates even that rebuild and was probably constructed in 1976 when the railway was electrified…

Hadley Wood Station_01

…There is some local pride displayed on the bridge abutment and within the station itself in the form of plaques telling the history of the trains that worked the line and also about local engineering hero Sir Nigel Gresley…

Sir Nigel Gresley plaque, Hadley Wood Station

Popping down onto the station, we find 4 platforms but, except for emergencies, the centre platforms are out of use…

Hadley Wood Station_02

Looking north from the London bound platforms, we can see the portals of Hadley Wood North Tunnels…

700137 at Hadley Wood

…Something will strike you as odd – the tunnels don’t look alike. When the line opened in the 1850’s, the 4 track route north became just 2 tracks south of Hadley Wood and through the tunnels to Potters Bar, saving the costs of making second bores through the hills in the area. The Great Northern Railway and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway, were always strapped for cash and this two-track bottleneck was lived with throughout their existence. Despite this handicap they ran some of the most prestigious high speed railway services in the UK along this route including The Flying Scotsman – I suspect that the corporate pride instilled in every employee back then was crucial to achieving the high standards of service that the LNER was known for. In 1959 the nationalised British Railways rebuilt the line through Hadley Wood – making a second bore for all three tunnels and rebuilding the station with 4 platforms to relieve the bottleneck. In the photo above, the right hand tunnel is the original, the left hand one is the 1959 addition. By the way, there is another bottleneck further north at Digswell Viaduct near Welwyn, but even BR blanched at the thought of making that 4 track! The Class 700 unit in the photograph is bound for Brighton from Cambridge – I doubt the GNR entrepreneurs actually envisaged such a service when they first started the company!

Looking south and here’s a view with Hadley Wood’s north bound platforms and the BR built South Tunnel in view…

801112 at Hadley Wood

An Azuma unit, 801112, leads sister 801103 through the station on a London King’s Cross to Leeds service.

So, there you go, a little bit of history not too far from where I live. A day out with the trains enjoyed and some good walking in the countryside too 😎 Another Freedom Pass trip planned soon – see you then 👍

Last in this series…

One thing that I have noticed on trips abroad or even on a visit to central London, just down the road so to speak, is that tourists themselves are potentially a good photographic subject when travelling. I am an inveterate street photographer! Capturing the locals as they go about their business is great and can really give an understanding of the atmosphere of a place. Catching the tourists – and they often outnumber the locals at historic sites – can be a rewarding study of human behaviour 🙂

The Forum in Rome is always full of tourists and people selling water (it gets hot down there). As an historically important site it is special but I wonder how many other visitors were surprised like me at how small an area it actually covers? On my first visit I was expecting something on the grand scale of Ben Hur or Quo Vadis. Of course, when you look beyond the Forum and go up to the palaces on the hills around then you start to get a cinematic sense of scale. But down in the bottom of the valley, it all seems rather small. Much here is about the detail – the carvings on individual stones – the inscriptions – because the buildings have long ceased to be imposing, now just shadows of their former grandeur.

As we walked amidst the ruins, admiring those details and trying to avoid spending too much time in direct sun, I came upon these two young ladies posing for each other…

…In many ways they were bringing life to an otherwise dead world. I wonder if they knew they were posing in the Temple of Vesta and the conotations of being a Vestal Virgin? But then I wonder if they were students putting together a portfolio of images for their course. Tourists, like locals, can be fascinating subjects 🙂