On a night of high drama on 5th & 6th January 1969, the community of Newcastleton joined together to show their outrage at the cuts proposed in the Beeching report by blocking the passage of the very last train from Edinburgh to Carlisle via the Scottish Borders.
David Steel MP, now Lord Steel of Aikwood, was just 26 when he was elected to parliament in a by-election in 1965 called after the previous Conservative MP, who had backed the Beeching report, died.
On the night when the final train set off from Edinburgh there was a huge demonstration in Galashiels station, where Lord Steel boarded the sleeper for London and also at Hawick.
The train had to be stopped at Newcastleton because the villagers had closed the level crossing gates and were standing across the line.
Photograph copyright R.B.McCartney
It was freezing cold, well past midnight in early January, but the protesters would not budge resulting in the police taking the parish minister, the Reverend Brydon Maben, into custody as one of the ringleaders of the demonstration. This action made the demonstrators even more resolute.
The police tried to force the gates open but they could not do anything.
Lord Steel was summoned by the Guard to negotiate with the demonstrators to allow the train to continue its journey.
Lord Steel, addressing the demonstrators from the footbridge, came to an agreement with the crowd that, if he could get the minister released from the police station without charges, they would go away. With the release of the minister secured the train continued its passage arriving at its final destination, London St. Pancras Station some two hours late.
To commemorate the event, The Waverley Route Heritage Association has invited Lord Steel back to Newcastleton to share his reflections of the events of that evening 45 years ago.
A commemorative dinner, kindly sponsored by First ScotRail, will be held at The Grapes Hotel on 5th January 2014 at which Lord Steel will be guest of honour and will be speaking about the events of that night.
Tickets priced at £30 are now available from The Grapes Hotel and the Liddesdale Hotel and WRHA members will shortly receive booking forms along with the imminent mailing of the latest newsletter, “Borderline”, copies of which can also be downloaded from the members’ area of the website.
Book early for what promises to be a memorable occasion.