On this blog, I’ve sometimes touched on the many connections between railways and death, including the naming of engines and trains, commemorating suicides, and steam heritage environments as places of remembrance and memorialisation. Check out my past posts here.
I recently encountered another example on a rare occasion (in fact the only occasion) where my government-sanctioned daily lockdown exercise took me to a railway station: Caergwrle, Flintshire. The heritage dimensions of this particular station are manifold: it is now ‘Caergwrle’, but used to be ‘Bridge End Station’ from opening in 1872 but then ‘Caergwrle Castle’ from 1898 until 1974. Hence, for a long time, it was named after the nearby ruins of a medieval castle. Indeed, the station buildings still bear this name.
For more information, see Coflein.
Here I encountered something I’ve discussed for other kinds of memorial in animal sanctuaries where commemoration takes place in exchange for adoptions and legacies. This builds on a long tradition of this financial relationship being central to church, chuchyard, cemeteries and gardens of remembrance in a host of different emphases. However, I haven’t thought about this sufficiently for railway stations: how death today is a financial exchange in return for public memorialisation. This certainly applies to steam heritage lines run as charities, but increasingly death is being mobilised as a strategy in heritage conservation and management on public transport networks. This is emotive and personal, but equally it sublimates and supplants what might be regarded as a public duty of maintaining services and facilities with privatised memorial relationships. This is what I witnessed on the historic shelter on the south-bound platform at Caergwrle station: this memorial plaque commemorates the adoption of the station in commemoration of a loved one whose working life (in part at least) was tied to the line. Of course, railway station adoption is part of a broader effort to engage living people, but it also extends to relationships with, and commemorative strategies for, the dead.
This is now itself part of the past, since Arriva Trains Wales no longer holds the franchise for running services on this line. I hope Transport for Wales honour the arrangement and update the sign in due course.