In August 2015 retired scientist and local artist Alistair Parker was awarded a commission as Artist in Residence by Wyre BC in partnership with LeftCoast, as part of the “Creative People in Places” initiative on the project, “People Places & Conversation”, part of a collective of six artists.
For his residency he chose to engage with the former historic Preston and Wyre Railway, a wonder of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian innovation. The railway was the vision of Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood and opened in 1840; just five years after the opening of the first passenger railway between Liverpool and Manchester and only five years after work was started on the project. The railway has a fascinating history and was instrumental in the establishment of the port of Fleetwood, as the first town to owe its very existence to the building of a railway and the first seaside town on the Fylde coast. The railway was a great success it was planned to carry 15,000 passengers in its first year, the railway carried 20,000 passengers in the first month.
Unless you are tall enough to see over the parapet of the Breck Road bridge at Poulton Station you probably would not realise that as the railway track emerges from the station heading for Blackpool there is a branch off to the right just before the signal box, the rusting rails disappear into an overgrown tangle of brambles, bushes and rapidly growing trees, this is the disused railway line to Fleetwood, realigned here in 1896. Just four hundred yards further down Breck Road at the junction with Station Road another mysterious piece of railway history has recently been excavated, the remains of the original 1840 railway line to Fleetwood together with the foundations of the original Poulton Station. The Poulton to Fleetwood line closed to passenger traffic in 1970 and finally to freight traffic in 1999. The track rapidly became overgrown and virtually invisible, amazingly the track is still in place as far as the bridge at Jameson Road, a hidden reminder of a speculative adventure.
Plans to reopen the line began in 2006 when Poulton and Wyre Railway Society was formed with the objective of reopening the Poulton to Fleetwood railway line. To date they have refurbished Thornton Cleveleys Station and are currently engaged in the renovation of Burn Naze Station. The Society has cleared significant sections of the track and has a number of railway related items they are in the process of refurbishing, including a diesel shunter. Funds are currently being raised for the purchase and refurbishment of a Diesel Multiple Unit, similar to the last rolling stock that formerly ran on the line. A report commissioned by Wyre BC in 2009 estimated that a full refurbishment of the line would cost in the region of £40m, the option of a Heritage railway run by the Poulton & Wyre Railway Trust would cost £5.5m.
The artists’ task was to find a way of bringing the existence of the railway, its history and future to the attention of a wider audience. With the cooperation of PWRS a limited section of the track was explored together with the history of the railway and the plans for the future. Alistair also conducted a more detailed exploration of the history of the railway through local archives, the Internet and the resources of the British Newspaper Archive. The local libraries proved particularly helpful with this research.
Part of the brief was to engage with the local community. Alistair commission a local artist David McGuire to give his interpretation of the Preston and Wyre Railway. A retired aerospace design engineer, David had been a prolific illustrator and cartoonist in his earlier years but a career and family had cut short his artistic aspirations. It was my intention to offer David a challenge and encourage him to rediscover his artistic talents, I think the results will confirm that he has. Conversations have been had with local residents and people with an interest in the railway and its history. It is planned to engage with local schools in the coming months to complete the project.
Following early retirement as a business man and a career as a Laboratory Scientist, Alistair became a practicing artist, in addition to having a busy commercial art practice, he is engaged in contemporary art research through post-graduate Masters and Doctorate degrees at Lancaster University.
Alistair J Parker, BA(Hons), MA, PhD in progress
Contact: 07711004086 – firstname.lastname@example.org – www.alistairparkerart.com