Above: the Great Central main line being built, 1890s. Photo: SWA Newton
BBC Radio 5 Live's Drive programme tonight featured protests against the proposed high speed rail line HS2 by villagers in Finmere, Calvert and Twyford in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
The people interviewed explained how the rail link would spoil their villages and the countryside around them without bringing them any benefits - other than the chance to watch a train tearing through at high speed.
The comments echoed those of friends and neighbours in Chalfont St Giles, which is also on the route. (See my earlier post on HS2 and Chalfont St Giles.) But I was intrigued because Finmere, Calvert and Twyford lost an earlier battle against a new main line. In the 1890s, the Great Central Railway's London extension cut through this part of the world. It was the vision of Sir Edward Watkin, who dreamt of a mainline from the north of England to the continent via a channel tunnel. Its modest London terminus at Marylebone is one of the few remaining monuments to Watkin's dream - or folly. Most of this magnificent line was closed in 1966.
Now the peaceful countryside that once echoed to Great Central expresses faces another rail invasion. Unlike the Great Central, HS2 will have no local stations or trains. But Watkin would have approved this bold project, regarding protest as a mere inconvenience. It will be interesting to see if the 21st century protesters are more successful than their Victorian predecessors.
PS: the Great Central's construction created far more destruction in Leicester and Nottingham than in the villages on its route. In the words of LTC Rolt, it 'cut ruthlessly through the heart of the old city' of Nottingham. Photographer SWA Newton recorded the birth of the line in a series of extraordinary photos, including this graphic image of Nottingham, below.