Talking trains and horses: BBC doco makes equine stopover

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Michael Portillo during the filming of an episode of Great British Railway Journeys. © World Horse Welfare
Michael Portillo during the filming of an episode of Great British Railway Journeys. © World Horse Welfare

An episode of Great British Railway Journeys has been filmed in East Anglia in Britain, and the horses of World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm have played a starring role.

Presenter Michael Portillo and the BBC team stopped in at Snetterton on their most recent rail journey through 1930s Britain, and learned about the charity’s pioneering founder, Norfolk’s own legendary Ada Cole, and the appalling conditions in which the country’s old working horses were transported to the continent for slaughter that inspired the charity’s formation in 1927.

Hall Farm is the largest rescue and rehoming centre of international charity World Horse Welfare. This episode of Great British Railway Journeys is the final in the current series and will be shown at 6.30pm on Friday, January 24 on BBC2.

During his visit, Portillo, a former Conservative MP and Cabinet Minister, discovers that the need for rescuing horses is still very much ongoing and he meets several of the more than 100 horses and ponies being rehabilitated and prepared for rehoming at World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre, before getting hands-on with helping to clip one of the ponies, Rudolph, who is in rehabilitation. Clipping the excess winter hair from horses and ponies allows them to keep cool when being exercised and enables the handlers to give each horse the level of activity needed to keep fit and remain a healthy weight.

Michael Portillo during the filming of an episode of Great British Railway Journeys. © World Horse Welfare
Michael Portillo helps clip Rudolph at Hall Farm. © World Horse Welfare

This episode, which passes Attleborough, is the 11th series of Great British Railway Journeys and features Portillo travelling around the railway networks of Great Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man, referring to Bradshaw’s Guide and comparing how the various destinations have changed since its publication.

Bradshaw’s Guide was the name of several Victorian guidebooks written by George Bradshaw; it was the first comprehensive timetable and travel guide to the railway system in Great Britain, which at the time although it had grown to be extensive, still consisted of a number of fragmented and competing railway companies and lines, each publishing their own timetables.

Cartographer George Bradshaw produced the first comprehensive timetable and travel guide of Great Britain’s railway system in 1840, although later editions are used in the most recent series. In each destination Michael visits local landmarks, meets residents, enjoys local food, and tries his hand at local crafts and manufacture, and comparing its content with the modern world, both the physical and cultural ones.

Ada Cole was a local legend and a remarkable woman: small and often frail, she was a dedicated nurse and WW1 prisoner of war who was also unfailing in her dedication to speaking up for the thousands of horses transported on horrific, exhausting journeys to slaughterhouses in Belgium and France where their dispatch was usually brutal. Born in Norfolk in 1860 near Thetford, and later moving to Cley-next-the-Sea, she grew up surrounded by countryside and animals and was shocked in 1911 to encounter a sight in Antwerp, Belgium which was to change her life: “For there, upon the quayside, stood line upon line of worn-out English horses, feeble, lame and pitifully old, some of them partially or wholly blind as, roped three abreast they staggered to a dreadful end in the local abattoirs over four miles ahead. Behind them creaked a string of conveyances, waiting to pick up those too infirm, or too injured, to continue walking. Those that had not survived the brutal conditions of their voyage lay crumpled in horrifying stillness on the ground.”

From that moment on, Ada vowed to do whatever she could for these forlorn and forgotten animals and World Horse Welfare was founded in 1927, as a campaigning organisation to prevent the export of live British horses for slaughter – a campaign which succeeded in 1937 with the Exportation of Horses Act.

Michael Portillo during the filming of an episode of Great British Railway Journeys. © World Horse Welfare
Michael Portillo and the BBC team stopped in at World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm in Snetterton on their most recent rail journey through 1930s Britain. © World Horse Welfare

 

 

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