We Need a New Edward Watkin
This current period of postmodernity lacks a certain idea of permanence which our forebears once possessed. So much of what this civilisation produces, if one could still deem it such in its hyper-atomisation, is ethereal and consumable in a way that amounts to a sort of permanent revolution. Even those who still build tangible things in this society risk having no legacy. One only needs to think about all the mid-twentieth century modernist and brutalist architecture we destroy, to replace with not too dissimilar glass boxes, when considering the lifespan of today’s skylines or infrastructure.
If civilisation is to thrive once again, we could do worse than looking to a great visionary in our past as inspiration for a better future. I therefore propose Sir Edward Watkin (1819-1901) as an ideal role model for both his repeated proposals of grand projects and the almost surprising feasibility of all of them. I think it is worth first to give a historical account of him, then suggest a grand project based on his ideas.
In short, Watkin was the quintessential Victorian railway baron, yet so much more. The energy he possessed during his life was nothing short of astounding and went far beyond the railways for which he is mainly remembered today, but those achievements remain a good place to start.
From his first position in the industry as Secretary of the Trent Valley Railway in 1845 until the completion of the Great Central Main Line in 1899, Watkin’s presence was felt just about everywhere. ‘The Railway Doctor’ rescued the bankrupt Grand Trunk Railway in British North America and transformed it into the then longest railway in the world. His chairmanship of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway forged a vast network of lines across the industrial North West and North Midlands. He drove the Metropolitan Railway deep into the Middlesex countryside and beyond, ultimately creating swathes of London suburbia and a bevy of other towns. He steered the South Eastern Railway through the Panic of 1866 and further expanded it through that part of England. He became director of the Great Eastern Railway in 1868 and drove it out of bankruptcy, employing the help of fellow MP Viscount Cranbourne, later the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and Prime Minister. He advised on railways in four continents and built the last main line in Great Britain until High Speed One over a century later. I might add that this list, however impressive it might be, is not exhaustive.
The ever-restless Watkin was not content with merely the above. Whilst saving the Grand Trunk Railway, he was enlisted by the Cabinet to take part in talks to create the Dominion of Canada. This resulted in a buyout of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which he personally negotiated after the British and colonial governments refused to do so. Elsewhere, he pioneered the first public parks in Salford and Manchester, as well as the first footpath in Britain dedicated for public use going up Mount Snowdon. Watkin developed Grimsby into the largest fishing port in the world and neighbouring Cleethorpes into a major Victorian resort. In 1894, he opened a large pleasure garden with a football pitch in a rural parish where the sheep outnumbered the people called Wembley. Readers might have heard of it. Again, this list of achievements is not exhaustive, and I am omitting most of Watkin’s political work in this article for the sake of brevity.
However, Watkin’s life and works were not without their faults, of which he is best known for two. The first was the Channel Tunnel, the only link in his envisioned railway from Manchester to Paris which was not built during his lifetime. He and his French counterpart successfully tunnelled 3.6 miles out of 22 under the English Channel before the British government forbade further work in 1882. This was the point when his contemporary critics pointed and said ‘now he really has gone mad’, but Watkin proved it was entirely possible over a century before the modern tunnel commenced digging. The site under Shakespeare Cliff and his twin tunnel design were both adopted in the 1980s. When the machine drilling the current tunnel broke into Watkin’s forcibly abandoned project, the engineers found it was dry after over a century of sitting abandoned.
The second mark against his reputation was the Metropolitan Tower, intended as London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and the centrepiece of the aforementioned Wembley Park. The winning design from Watkin’s competition was to be 1,200 feet tall, 150 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower at the time, and the tallest structure in the world until the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931. If it had been completed, it would still be the tallest building in the United Kingdom today. Unfortunately, this would-be monument to heroic materialism was scuppered by a lack of willingness from investors to fund such an extravagant speculation. The first stage was finished in 1895 at a height of 154 feet, but a redesign several years prior to cut costs had already sealed its fate. Only four of the planned eight legs of the tower were built, putting too much pressure on the ground and leading to subsidence. Watkin’s Folly, as it had become known, met its fate via dynamite in 1907. Wembley Stadium now stands on the site, with its arch rising to 436 feet to serve as the constant advertisement Watkin had once hoped for his tower.
It is safe to say that if Watkin were on the parts of Twitter frequented by many readers of this publication today, he would be regarded as a radical Anglofuturist. His manifold ambitions demonstrate an absolute faith in the United Kingdom and its future at the forefront of global civilisation. With knowledge of some of his ideas, energy and determination, one can now imagine a grandiose yet entirely feasible project to strike a course away from national stagnation and decline.
We shall call it the Great Central Railway Company, a fitting revival of a name for what one can foresee as the backbone of a coherent and comprehensive railway system for modern Britain. This cannot be a state venture as most modern railway projects have become, subject as they are to hordes of overpaid bureaucrats and special interests. The GCRC would be a private company naturally responsible for every part of its operations and with the logical aim of out-competing Grant Shapps’s reheated British Rail in every way.
It would first be useful to lay out the technical and aesthetic quirks of this company’s core railways. China has been extremely industrious in its construction of very high-speed lines over the past decade or so, thus Britain can and should do the same. Our trains would be the old British-made InterCity stock on steroids, which one shall call the InterCity 325, with a top speed of 325kmh. It might be pandering, but perhaps we should also incorporate some ideas from the Mallard steam locomotive in these trains; it relates nicely that the refurbishment program for the InterCity 225 carriages was called Project Mallard. Aside from being a rather nice shade of blue, its curved front still maintains a surprisingly modern appearance despite it being over 80 years old.
Infrastructurally, this company would not mess around with glass boxes or minor ventures. GCRC main lines would have four tracks as a minimum to separate the local and freight trains from express services. Stations would be of a two-platform island design, plus as many more platforms as needed for express and branch line services. Smaller stations would be built with a dignified but cosy atmosphere in mind, whilst the larger stations would be designed akin to a palace for the people as the Great Central Railway’s Nottingham Victoria once was. I am quite sure this would actually turn out to be cheaper and more visually appealing than doing something artsy with glass and/or steel for the millionth time.
Now for some actual railway lines, of which I shall discuss two focussed around tunnels once thought of by Watkin. We shall start with what could be called the New Eastern Main Line at Dungeness, which Watkin once wanted to turn into a resort town like Cleethorpes, and strike northwest by ‘borrowing’ a rather straight freight line across the Romney Marsh. We shall carry on until Tenterden, whence it would curve slightly to brush by the east of Headcorn and then go on to Maidstone. There would have to be some urban negotiation by viaduct, as there would be in the Medway conurbation, before emerging into the open countryside of northern Kent around Wainscott. It would then move north, go under the Thames to Canvey Island, and begin its whistlestop tour of eastern English towns. It would travel past Benfleet, Hadleigh and Rayleigh (with interchange for London), then Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford and Great Dunmow before reaching Stansted Airport to its east. Onwards it would go to Royston, Godmanchester and Huntingdon, then Peterborough (with a complete rebuild of its station) before reaching Spalding. In Lincolnshire, it would follow several mostly abandoned lines to Boston, Louth and Grimsby before ‘borrowing’ a couple more lines to reach a tunnel under the Humber at New Holland. We shall stop discussing this line in detail with Hull, with it having achieved Watkin’s plan of connecting Hull with the south, but from there it could easily go deeper into Yorkshire and beyond.
The other line I shall discuss will be the Great Central Main Line, but with a route beyond Watkin’s achievements which shifts this project from being defined by a semi-romanticised past for the sake of the present to defining the very future of this Kingdom. I think a new terminus next door to the original Marylebone but larger is fitting, then ‘borrowing’ the London to Aylesbury line from its current custodians. It would then follow the old railway up through Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, Sheffield and finally Manchester via the Woodhead Tunnels, but from there we must go further north. It would make its way through Salford and Bolton before reaching Blackburn and Preston. Then it would go in a straight a line as practical near the M6 to Lancaster, Kendal, Penrith and Carlisle before reaching the Scottish border at Gretna. The next leg of this line would see a rather straightforward journey through southwest Scotland, the only towns of note on the way being Dumfries and Newton Stewart. However, at Stranraer we must irrevocably change the political and economic trajectory of the British Isles with a tunnel under the Irish Sea to Larne and ultimately Belfast. There may be a large munitions dump in Beaufort’s Dyke which would merit some praying during construction, but the benefits of joining the two main islands of the United Kingdom, even those which are merely symbolic, cannot be understated.
One could envision the natural evolution of dozens of branch lines serving further towns and cities from just these two lines alone. Indeed, the entire national infrastructure network could reorient itself with just a handful of main lines inspired by Watkin’s vision, prompting a new era of construction which merges the functionality of technology with our primordial desire towards the beautiful. These railway lines would also give many counties much-needed economic relevance through the secondary emphasis on freight, a far more prevalent aim of the railways from Victorian times until Beeching, giving eastern counties in particular the opportunity to have purposes other than being London’s barracks or middle-of-nowheres.
All that is needed is the money and willpower to see this project through. With a new Watkin in our midst, I am sure that we can once again find the willpower, wherefrom the money would follow, to reassert our faith in this country by building something remarkable. I hope readers agree.
At the end of last month, the first results of the 2021 UK Census were published. As many will recall, the results were simultaneously, although not quite paradoxically, shocking and expected. The information published showed that 1 in 6 UK citizens are born in another country – ten million of the UK’s 69 million; a 33% increase from the 7.5 million a mere decade ago.
The details were shocking insofar that few expected a demographic shift of such extreme proportions, even when compared to the last census in 2011. Nevertheless, they were expected. As anyone with an elementary understanding of British politics knows, the political system has pursued, less-so out of empirical consideration and moreso out of humanitarian (“it’s our moral obligation!”), diveristiarian (“diversity is our strength!”), and utilitarian (“immigration grows the economy!”) dogma(s), a policy of mass immigration since the late 1990s.
Just last week, data from the ONS showed that migration into Britain had reached a new record of 504,000 – a net increase of over 331,000 from the year prior. Keep in mind, all of this has happened despite the public’s clear and consistent opposition to immigration, nevermind the magnitudinous demographic change it has caused.
As soon as the data went public, one could piece together the overarching division of attitudes. Some welcomed the rapid erosion of Britain’s native-born citizenry. By contrast, the murmurs of the moderate-minded indicated a sense of foreboding. If the data on citizenship is this demographically untenable, what on Earth is the data regarding national identity going to look like?
Well, now we know. Reported by the ONS, the UK 2021 Census showed:
“81.7% of residents in England and Wales identified their ethnic group as within the high-level “White” category in 2021. A decrease from 86.0% in 2011.
As part of the “White” ethnic group, 74.4% of the population in England and Wales identified their ethnic group as “English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British. This is a continued decrease from: 80.5% in 2011 and 87.5% in 2001.”
As with the initial citizenship data, many celebrated this seismic change, suggesting that fewer white British Christians in Britain amounted to a moral improvement.
On the other hand, some deemed the largest demographic shift since late antiquity to be completely ineffectual. Directed at Nigel Farage’s reaction to the census, which underscored the shrinking ethnic British population in London, Conservative MP Sajid Javid tweeted a forthright and mask-off response: “So what?”.
“It’s not happening and that’s why it’s a good thing” as the saying goes.
Nevertheless… So what? Well, for a start, it shows that the 2011 Census wasn’t a one off, but signified the start of an unprecedented trajectory: the continuous decline of the ethnically British population. On its own, this should be alarming, but the fact this demographic shift has occurred within a single generation makes it even moreso. Needless to say, but worth saying nonetheless, to do so without consultation from or consideration of those implicated is, to put it moderately, extremely irresponsible.
Moreover, what good is talk of “integration”, the oft-proposed silver-bullet to the consequences of immigration, if the historical ethnocultural in-group, the one which immigrants are supposed to integrate, cannot sustain its hegemony? At most, they’ll “integrate into” (perpetuate) a godless ratrace; a demoralising sluggish existence against the world’s richest on the housing market and the world’s poorest on the labour market. As Morrissey says: shelve your Western plans… Life is hard enough when you belong here.
As it stands, numerous communities across England and Wales are majority-minority – where the national majority group constitutes a local minority – a fact which makes panicked rhetoric about rhetorical divisiveness all the more out-of-touch. Mutually-segregating, and often mutually-loathing, communities have been around for decades, the census just reaffirms this reality.
More to the point, who could expect integration? Flimsy abstractions of Britishness aren’t holding British society together. Having a cuppa, forming an orderly queue, and appealing to vague, arbitrary, and contradictory notions of “tolerance” and “inclusion” and so on just doesn’t cut it. What is a nation, especially a democratic one, if it cannot inspire loyalty?
The rate of immigration and concentration of immigrant and immigrant-descended populations diminishes any incentive or expectation of integration, no matter how willing the native population is to water down the criteria of national belonging. If people can choose to associate and live amongst their kind, they shall do so – as has been the case since the dawn of time. Blood is thicker than water, even if the water is boiled, milked, and caffeinated.
But beyond a debate of causation, whether it’s a case of “can’t integrate” or “won’t integrate”, both instances point to the same overarching problem: Britain is fragmenting.
In order to accommodate the contradictory complexities of the world, primarily a consequence of the similarly unwanted reimagination of Britain as a “global” entity, “Britishness” has been reconfigured from a distinct identity – something that people indivisibly are, that their parents are, that their parents’ parents are – into a bureaucratic technicality – something that people can have, should and whenever they be so inclined; from a complex and unique ethnocultural particularity to a two-dimensional universality.
This fact, combined with evidently unmanageable and unpopular immigration numbers, is not a good omen. Rather, it risks gradually wiping Britain from the face of the Earth; from its unique and beautiful place in relation to a global diversity of similarly unique and beautiful ethnocultural organisms to a crude amalgamation of all-else, pathetically bound though an appeal to inoffensive all-inclusive emptiness.
All the more fitting then that the census should also reveal a collapse in religiosity. In a nation where church and state are bound, less than 50% (46.2%) of the population identifies as Christian – down from 59.3% in 2011. Simultaneously, those self-identifying as having “no religion” surged from 25.2% to 37.2%. This is the first time in 1000 years that Christainity is not the majority faith.
Of all the census details, this is perhaps the least surprising. For decades, we’ve barely considered ourselves “Cultural Christians” – those that tick the box, but don’t attend the service. In this regard, the 2021 Census is merely a formal confirmation of long-waning Christainity.
Who could have seen any of this coming? Actually, quite a few people. Back in 2011, then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, citing statistics published by Migration Watch, said that the UK could expect 50,000 Romanians every year over the course of ten years.
At the time, these numbers – as well as millions of ordinary people – were lampooned and ridiculed by the media, politicians, comedians, and (most damning of all) the Experts (the Serious People that Know Things), as delusional racists, fruitcakes, loonies, and so on.
Nevertheless, a decade later, that is exactly what has transpired. The census revealed that the number of Romania-born people living in the UK amounted to 539,000 – a 576% increase from 2011.
It’s no secret that Farage’s acknowledgement of immigration-led displacement of white Britons was one of his early selling points. Indeed, it was arguably as important (if not more important) than his euroscepticism. As has been established time and again, the latter is very much a product of the former. As such, it’s rather uncharitable to interpret his aforementioned comments with regard to London as anything but a reiteration.
Additionally, there’s David Coleman, former Professor of Demography at Oxford University, who predicted back in 2013 that, if demographic trends continued, “white Britons could be a minority by 2066” – a prediction which not only remains valid after the 2021 census but, evidently, did not assist him in retaining his then-already under-pressure position.
Granted, these are only notable examples. I cannot begin to imagine the number of normal people that have lost their livelihoods for concurring with such predictions, nevermind articulating the sentiment that they spelt trouble. Not even then does this account for those who have been scared into silence by active legislation and the fear of a vitriolic social death. You can be targeted for far less.
The inability to talk about matters in a frank, open, and civilised manner compounds problems which arise from matters which provoke the desire to discuss them in the first place.
On the religious front, Peter Hitchens has written and spoken about Britain’s post-Christainity on multiple occasions. Ever since WW1, Britain’s religiosity ceased to be sincere, instead being a series of motions undertaken without spiritual, theological, or moral investment. Now that there’s no room for doubt, one can expect the iconoclasts of Diversity and Inclusion to erase whatever hollow secularised traces of Britain’s Christian identity still exist in public life.
Put diplomatically, none of this is sensible. Quite the contrary, all these convergences spell catastrophe. Over the past few years alone, we’ve seen the fledglings of a nihilistic balkanised Britain.
Back in September, the now white British minority city of Leicester – a so-called “model” for a ‘diverse but cohesive’ Britain – fell victim to ethnoreligious rioting between Indian-descent Hindus and Pakistani-descent Muslims. Far from ‘diverse’, the riots were a replication of pre-existing global troubles.
To bare witness to the impotent, ahistorical, buzzword-laden gush of no-name ‘community leaders’, drowned out by an eruption of third-world carnage in Britain’s oldest settlements, as the mainstream press obfuscate the essence of the problem, is to bare witness to the self-deluding and short-sighted nature of Britain’s post-war political establishment.
Throughout various towns and cities across England, South-Asian grooming gangs have targeted white children since the 1980s. The police, more concerned about causing offence than networks of child prostitution, ignored the plight of the victims for several decades. Not even MPs could discuss the matter without facing repercussions.
Along the south-east, the perpetual tide of migrants (legal and illegal) has caused social unrest, so much so that coastal residents have taken to barricading their homes. The rate of immigration has skyrocketed housing costs, led to panicked hotel cramming by the Home Office, as well as an explosion of council-sanctioned homelessness.
Immediately following the release of the ethnicity data, tweets taunting white Britons to “come get your capital back” go viral, along with recorded procolations that Britain “is our country now”. Erstwhile, those of immigrant backgrounds descend on the capital, declaring their undying allegiance to a country that isn’t the one that houses them.
As for the sainted discourse, the goalposts of debate are shifted from “relax, you’re a local majority” to “relax, you’re the largest minority group” and pieces bemoaning “gentrification” are replaced by pieces celebrating “diversification”.
In the case of London, now 36.8% (down from 42.7% in 2011), some have tried to deflect any and all discussion of this matter by appealing to insinuations of white nationalism, forgetting that this entire question is, in essence, an ethnocultural one.
The idea that an unprecedented, unasked for, and potentially irreversible shift in the composition of a major city, nevermind an entire country, would not matter to the people insofar the shift was driven by those identifying “White Other” is obtuse and arrogant. Indeed, even when such a racial commonality exists between ethnically native and foreign-descended populace, there are still longstanding consequences.
As mentioned at the start, all of this boils down to mass immigration. The old and moneyed, addicted like junkies to the coursing streams of cheap foreign labour, are prepared to carve Britain’s youth out of the social contract in order to get their fill. Big business, professional activists, bureaucratic functionaries, and main-party politicians have locked arms and tirelessly marched in lock-step against my generation, their national belonging, and their prospect of a better future.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have demonstrated their indifference towards the problem of large-scale immigration-led demographic change. If anything, they have encouraged it, despite the pleas of their core voters.
Under Blair, Labour pursued a policy of mass-immigration to “rub the right’s nose in diversity”, simultaneously creating a pool of votes on which the party could rely in future elections, and accelerated Britain’s descent into ‘humanitarian’ quangocracy.
By not-so-much contrast, the Conservatives, having promised for decades to reduce immigration, won a landslide majority with the aid of traditional Labour voters (distinctly opposed to immigration) with a pledge to fulfil the spirit of Brexit – retainment of the sovereign control of borders to reduce the mass influx of people – only to do the exact opposite once in power. Don’t attribute to “failure” what is, in every respect, a design choice.
In the media, the Sensible umpires of political discourse, with clear-minded sobriety and transparent neutrality, insist that mass immigration is completely unstoppable and that we should shut up and make-do.
Likewise, in the equally Sensible world of think-tanks, mass immigration is supposedly the magical solution to all of Britain’s economic woes; everything from unprecedented high-tax levels to Britain’s economic stagnation. Even a general overview of Britain’s economic performance these past few decades is enough to clock that such “expertise” is merely an officialised delusion.
More than mere snark, “So What?” perfectly encapsulates the underlying problem of our entire political system. Everything, from the political media to think-tanks to sitting MPs, pushes depoliticisation. The art of the possible is replaced with the art of the impossible. A decision of indecision, democratic deliberation, and the alternatives it affords, is supplanted by the arbitrary apolitical confines of authoritarian managerialism.
By opening up a multitude of historically unprecedented political fronts (tension between ethnocultural groups) whilst depoliticising the policy areas pertaining to their creation (post-war immigration policy) the British political system has manufactured an increasingly unsustainable ethnocultural divide.
In a scrambled effort to feign unity, schools across the country are mandated to teach the British state’s reinvention of its foundational identity, utilising empty appeals, laden with contradiction and irony, to “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs“.
It does not occur to our leaders that democracy is the conduit by which identity groups will compete against others, that high social trust is prerequisite to liberty, or that mutual respect and tolerance can be hard enough within predominantly monoethnic/monocultural societies, nevermind increasingly multiethnic/cultural ones. In the end, all that is left is the brute force of authority.
Being the only politician with sizable political support that is prepared to deliberate this fundamental matter, Farage’s hour of decision is upon us. If he does re-enter politics, he must do so on the back of these census results. The stalwart indifference of the political class, and all that has transpired as a consequence of their dogmatic recklessness, must not be allowed to continue.
If he does create a new party, there’s every reason to believe he’ll be rewarded handsomely at the ballot box. The Conservatives face electoral annihilation. Javid, fully aware of this fact, is not standing at the next election; presumably why he felt comfortable telling his constituents (96% white British) that their survival, in their own native land, never meant anything to him.
That said, few expect things to improve under a Labour government. Having never promised a precise number on immigration, one could safely bet, if they ever did, that a) it wouldn’t be sufficient or, if it was, b) they’d u-turn on their promise once in power – just like the Tories.
However, should Farage decide against a new party (or leadership of an already existing party), he must stand aside for an alternative to manifest. Whether we like it or not, as Britain’s demographics continue to change, especially at the current rate, ethnicity, identity, and all things in-between will become a far more prevalent part of our politics. We must be prepared to address these matters – for our own good and for the good of others. The only thing worse than an insufficient answer to the demographic question is to never answer it at all.