Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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In criticising Ernest Marples, one has to explore the alternative strategies to those he utilised, and whether they were ever viable in the context of the time.

Harold Wilson seemed less than satisfied with his Ministers of Transport – there were four different occupants of the post in six years, in comparison with Ernest Marples’ five-year tenure.Ernest Marples, having decided that the future was road, then cut back on the railway modernisation programme and, in December 1960, he announced that the British Transport Commission was to be abolished and its constituent parts replaced by separate boards and thus the British Railways Board came in to being.

Everyone interested in railways has heard of Dr Richard Beeching, whose 1963 report, ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, recommended the closure of a significant proportion of the UK’s rail network. He would inherited the country in a much better state than he eventually did, but this year’s events had showed up his inability to manage things in a crisis.It’s very much a book by two authors with different styles: the first six chapters cover Marples’ life and career prior to his promotion to Transport Minister in 1959. There was an alternative, to follow the Continental model and allow private companies to build the fast road network and charge a toll to the motorist to use it.

By the end of the war, Marples’ business ventures were also looking up and by the late 1940’s he was the director of the construction company, Kirk and Kirk.He was however one of the first men in St Austell Cornwall to have a Volve 145 estate which he held onto thick and thin for many years. The previous year he had been arrested for drink-driving and received a fine and a one year driving ban. The conspiracy theory is that Marples, in cahoots with the road lobby, deliberately ran down the railways.

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