Monday, 16 June 2014

Pork pies on the A5

Back in the 1950s we used to trek up the A5 road from our home in Buckinghamshire to visit our cousins in Derby. The journey in my father's Standard Vanguard used to take about three and a half hours and to keep track of our progress we children were encouraged to look out for familiar landmarks: the level crossings in Leighton Buzzard where the narrow gauge quarry trains would rattle across in front of us; the cottage which had 'May's Cafe' painted on the roof in huge letters and which was surrounded by lorries, and the 'pork pies' at Kilsby, which were ventilation shafts for the railway tunnel.

A Kilsby tunnel ventilator seen
from above in 2014
Last week I went up to Derby to see the cousins again. The trains at Leighton Buzzard are now represented by a short preserved line. May's Cafe closed soon after the opening of the M1 motorway in 1960 which took away all her business but the 'pork pies' are still there.

A Kilsby tunnel ventilator
seen from below in 1838.

Kilsby tunnel was built in the very early days of railways - 1838. It was a tremendous undertaking of 2,400yds in length which, due to flooding under construction, delayed the opening of the London & Birmingham Railway by eight months. It cost £100 per linear yard to build, required 157 tons of gunpowder and used 36 million bricks.

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