Richard Beeching, Baron Beeching (21 April 1913 – 23 March 1985),
commonly known as Dr Beeching, was a physicist and engineer who for a
short but very notable time was chairman of
British Railways and an
affiliate of the Labour Party in Britain. He became a household name
in Britain in the early 1960s for his report The Reshaping of British
Railways, commonly referred to as "The Beeching Report", which led to
far-reaching changes in the railway network, popularly known as the
As a result of the report, just over 4,000 route miles were removed
from the system on cost and efficiency grounds, leaving Britain with
13,721 miles (22,082 km) of railway lines in 1966. A further
2,000 miles (3,200 km) were lost by the end of the 1960s.
1 Early years
2 Stedeford Committee
3 Government appointment
3.1 British Rail Chairman
3.2 First Beeching Report
3.3 Second Beeching Report
4 Later years
7 External links
Beeching was born in
Sheerness on the
Isle of Sheppey
Isle of Sheppey in Kent, the
second of four brothers. His father was Hubert Josiah Beeching, a
reporter with the
Kent Messenger newspaper, his mother a schoolteacher
and his maternal grandfather a dockyard worker. Shortly after his
birth, Beeching's family moved to
Maidstone where his brothers Kenneth
(who was killed in the Second World War) and John were born. All
four Beeching boys attended the local
Church of England
Church of England primary
Maidstone All Saints, and won scholarships to Maidstone
Grammar School, where Richard was a prefect. Beeching and his elder
brother Geoffrey attended Imperial College of Science & Technology
in London, where both read physics and took First Class honours
degrees. His younger brothers both attended Downing College,
Beeching remained at Imperial College where he undertook a research
Ph.D under the supervision of Sir George Thomson. He continued in
research until 1943, first at the Fuel Research Station in Greenwich
in 1936 and then the following year with the Mond Nickel Laboratories
in London, where he was appointed senior physicist carrying out
research in the fields of physics, metallurgy and mechanical
In 1938 he married Ella Margaret Tiley, whom he had known since his
schooldays. They initially set up home in Solihull, and remained
married for the rest of his life. They had no children. During the
Second World War Beeching, at the age of 29, was lent by Mond Nickel
on the recommendation of Dr Sykes at
Firth Brown Steels
Firth Brown Steels to the
Ministry of Supply, where he worked in their Armament Design and
Research Departments at Fort Halstead. His first post was with the
Shell Design Section where he had a rank equivalent to that of army
captain. Whilst with Armament Design, Beeching worked under the
Department's Superintendent and Chief Engineer, Sir Frank Smith, a
Imperial Chemical Industries
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).
After the war Smith returned to ICI as Technical Director and was
replaced as Chief
Engineer of Armament Design by Sir Steuart Mitchell
who promoted Beeching, then 33 years old, to the post of Deputy Chief
Engineer with a rank equivalent to that of Brigadier. Beeching
continued his work with armaments, particularly anti-aircraft weaponry
and small arms. In 1948 he joined ICI, as Personal Technical Assistant
to Sir Frank Smith; he remained for around 18 months, working on the
production lines for various products such as zip fasteners, paints
and leathercloth with a view to improving efficiency and reducing
production costs. He was then appointed to the
Terylene Council, and
subsequently to the board of ICI Fibres Division.
In 1953 he went to Canada as vice-president of ICI (Canada) Ltd, and
was given overall responsibility for a terylene plant in Ontario. He
returned after two years to become chairman of
ICI Metals Division
ICI Metals Division on
the recommendation of Sir Frank Smith. In 1957 he was appointed to the
ICI board as Technical Director, and for a short time also served as
Sir Frank Smith, who had retired in 1959, was asked by the
Conservative Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, to become a member
of an advisory group on the financial state of the British Transport
Commission to be chaired by Sir Ivan Stedeford. Smith declined but
recommended Beeching in his place, a suggestion which Marples
accepted. Stedeford and Beeching clashed on a number of issues
connected with Beeching's proposal to drastically prune Britain's rail
infrastructure. In spite of questions being asked in Parliament, Sir
Ivan's report was not published until much later.
British Rail Chairman
On 15 March 1961
Ernest Marples announced in the House of Commons that
Beeching would be the first
Chairman of the
British Railways Board
from 1 June. The Board was the successor to the British Transport
Commission, which was broken up by the Transport Act 1962. Beeching
would receive the same yearly salary that he was earning at ICI, the
controversial sum of £24,000 (over £490,000 in 2016 currency),
£10,000 more than Sir Brian Robertson, the last chairman of the
British Transport Commission, £14,000 more than
Prime Minister Harold
Macmillan and two-and-a-half times higher than the salary of any head
of a nationalised industry at the time. Beeching was given a leave of
absence for five years by ICI in order to carry out this task.
At that time the Government was seeking outside talent to sort out the
huge problems of the railway network. There was widespread concern at
the time that, despite substantial investment in the 1955
Modernisation Plan, the railways continued to haemorrhage losses –
from £15.6m in 1956 to £42m in 1960. Passenger and goods traffic was
also declining in the face of increased competition from the roads; by
1960, one in nine families owned a car. It would be Beeching's task
to find a way of returning the industry to profitability as soon as
First Beeching Report
On 27 March 1963, Beeching published his report on the future of the
railways, entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. He called for
the closure of one-third of the country's 7,000 railway stations.
Passenger services would be withdrawn from around 5,000 route miles
accounting for an annual train mileage of 68 million and yielding,
according to Beeching, a net saving of £18m per year. The reshaping
would also involve the shedding of around 70,000
British Railways jobs
over three years. Beeching forecast that his changes would result in
an improvement in British Railway's accounts of between £115m and
£147m. The cut-backs would include the scrapping of a third of a
million goods wagons, much as Stedeford had foreseen and fought
against. See Gourvish (link below)
Unsurprisingly, Beeching's plans were hugely controversial not only
with trade unions, but with the Labour opposition and railway-using
public. Beeching was undeterred and argued that too many lines were
running at a loss, and that his charge to shape a profitable railway
made cuts a logical starting point. As one author puts it, Beeching
"was expected to produce quick solutions to problems that were
deep-seated and not susceptible to purely intellectual analysis."
For his part, Beeching was unrepentant about his role in the closures:
"I suppose I'll always be looked upon as the axe man, but it was
surgery, not mad chopping."
Beeching was nevertheless instrumental in modernising many aspects of
the railway network, particularly a greater emphasis on block trains
which did not require expensive and time-consuming shunting en route.
On 23 December 1964,
Tom Fraser informed the House of Commons that
Beeching was to return to ICI in June 1965.
Second Beeching Report
On 16 February 1965, Beeching announced the second stage of his
reorganisation of the railways. The report set out his conclusion that
of the 7,500 miles (12,100 km) of trunk railway throughout
Britain, only 3,000 miles (4,800 km) "should be selected for
future development" and invested in. This policy would result in
traffic through Britain being routed through nine selected lines.
Traffic to Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester,
Liverpool and Scotland
would be routed through the
West Coast Main Line
West Coast Main Line running to Carlisle
and Glasgow; traffic to the north-east would be concentrated through
East Coast Main Line
East Coast Main Line which was to be closed north of Newcastle;
and traffic to
Wales and the
West Country would go on the Great
Western Main Line, then to
Swansea and Plymouth. Underpinning
Beeching's proposals was his belief that there was still too much
duplication in the railway network. Of the 7,500 miles
(12,100 km) of trunk route, 3,700 miles (6,000 km) involves
a choice between two routes, 700 miles (1,100 km) a choice of
three, and over a further 700 miles (1,100 km) a choice of
These proposals were rejected by the government, which put an early
end to his secondment from ICI; Beeching returned thence in June 1965.
It is a matter of debate whether he left by mutual arrangement with
the government, or was sacked. Frank Cousins, the Labour Minister of
Technology, told the House of Commons in November 1965 that Beeching
had been dismissed by Tom Fraser. Beeching denied this, pointing
out that he had returned early to ICI as he would not have had enough
time to undertake an in-depth transport study before the formal end of
his secondment from ICI.
Upon returning to ICI, Beeching was appointed liaison director for the
agricultural division and organisation and services director. He later
rose to become Deputy
Chairman from 1966 to 1968. In the 1965 Birthday
Honours it was announced that he would be made a life peer, and he
was created Baron Beeching, of
East Grinstead in the County of Sussex
on 7 July 1965, in the same year he became a director of Lloyds
Bank. In 1966 he was appointed as chairman of the
Royal Commission to
examine assizes and quarter sessions; he eventually proposed a mass
reorganisation of the court system, involving the setting-up of
regional courts in cities such as Cardiff,
Birmingham and Leeds. The
following year he became chairman of Associated Electrical Industries,
a role he also held with Redland from 1970 to 1977 and Furness Withy
from 1973 to 1975. In 1968 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan
Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in
Scotland. He chose the subject 'Organisation'.
The lines chosen in the 'Beeching II' report "for future development".
The fate of other lines was not discussed.
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help
improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2013) (Learn
how and when to remove this template message)
The Beeching Report remains controversial. Critics have accused
Beeching of ignoring the social consequences of his proposals (There
is little doubt that rail replacement bus services were rarely a
success  ), encouraging car use, ignoring the possible economies
that might have saved lines and getting the figures wrong. Some have
accused him of being part of or even the scapegoat for a conspiracy
against the railways involving politicians, civil servants and the
road lobby. The report was commissioned by a Conservative
government with strong ties to the road construction lobby and its
findings were largely implemented by the subsequent Labour
administrations which received funds from unions associated with road
Others have argued that it was ministers, not Beeching, who were
responsible for any shortcomings in assessing the social case for
retaining lines and that economies had been tried and largely failed,
the road lobby was less significant than the Treasury in making policy
and the Labour Party was funded by rail unions, as well.
Beeching's findings have also been reviewed in two books by his
contemporaries: R.H.N (Dick) Hardy: Beeching – Champion of the
Railway (1989) ISBN 0-7110-1855-3 and Gerard Fiennes: I Tried to
Run a Railway (1967) ISBN 0-7110-0447-1. Neither book was in
print as of 2013. Both are broadly sympathetic to Beeching's basic
analysis and the proposed solution.
On the other hand, Hardy points out Beeching's political naïvete, and
Fiennes notes that because a passenger service was producing a loss
did not mean that it would continue to do so in the future. Like
Fiennes and Hardy, Terry Gourvish's business history of British Rail
sees Beeching as having a positive effect on railway management while
not achieving perfection. There is a broad consensus that the
detail of figures used in individual cases were imperfect, but a wide
divergence of view as to the significance of and motives for this.
Several ex-railway sites have been named after Beeching. There is a
pub called 'Lord Beechings' at the end of the
Cambrian Railways at
Aberystwyth, which until its refurbishment by SA Brain & Company
Ltd was decorated with various railway memorabilia, in particular
Aberystwyth – London and
Aberystwyth – Carmarthen
service, which he axed. It was previously called 'The Railway'. The
road 'Beechings Way' at
Alford, Lincolnshire is so named to
commemorate the loss of the formerly adjacent station and line
Grimsby to London, via Louth and Peterborough) under
the Beeching Axe. The road 'Beeching Drive' in Lowestoft, Suffolk,
located on the site of the former
Lowestoft North station is also so
named. Coincidentally, a smaller pedestrian area in the vicinity is
known as 'Stephenson's Walk'.
There is a cul-de-sac in the
Leicestershire village of Countesthorpe
about 7 mi (11 km) south of
Leicester city centre aptly
named 'Beeching's Close'. The village was served by a line between
Leicester and Rugby, closed under the Beeching Axe. The gardens of the
houses on the west side of the close meet the boundary of the old
line. East Grinstead, where Beeching lived, was formerly served by a
railway line from
Tunbridge Wells (West) to Three Bridges, a line most
of which was closed under the Beeching Axe. To the east of the current
East Grinstead station, the line passed through a deep cutting. This
cutting currently forms part of the A22 relief road through East
Grinstead. Due to the depth of the cutting, locals wanted to call the
road 'Beeching Cut', but as this was deemed politically incorrect, it
was instead called 'Beeching Way'..
^ a b www.egnet.co.uk
East Grinstead Hall of Fame[permanent dead link]
^ a b c d e Hardy, R.H.N. (1989). Beeching: Champion of the Railway?.
London: Ian Allan Ltd. pp. 44–48.
^ "Few lines of comfort for BR: The Serpell Report on the railways",
Financial Times, 6 January 1983, p.9
^ a b The Times, Obituary, 25 March 1985, p. 12.
^ The Times, "I.C.I. director to be first rail board chairman", 16
March 1961, p. 14.
^ Wolmar, Christian (2007). Fire & Steam: A New History of the
Railways in Britain. London: Atlantic Books. p. 280.
^ The Times, "Beeching Report Proposes Closing Nearly a Third of
Britain's 7,000 Railway Stations", 28 March 1963, p. 8.
^ Simmons, Jack; Biddle, Gordon (1997). The Oxford Companion to
British Railway History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 29.
^ Davies, Hunter (1982). A walk along the tracks. Weidenfeld and
Nicolson. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-297-78042-7.
^ Cooke, B.W.C., ed. (February 1965). "Notes and News: Dr. Beeching
leaving B.R.". Railway Magazine. London: Tothill Press Ltd. 111 (766):
^ The Times, "The Second Stage of Dr. Beeching's Reorganisation
Proposals", 17 February 1965, p. 8.
^ The Times, "Mr. Cousins says 'We Sacked Beeching'", 17 November
1965, p. 12.
^ The Times, "Lord Beeching: 'I Was Not Sacked'", 18 November 1965, p.
^ "No. 43667".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1965.
^ "No. 43708". The London Gazette. 9 July 1965. p. 6519.
^ Hillman, Mayer and Anne Whalley (1980) The Social Consequences of
^ Henshaw, David (1994). The Great Railway Conspiracy.
^ Faulkner, Richard and Chris Austin, (2012) Holding the Line – How
Britain's Railways were saved ISBN 978-0-86093-647-3
^ Loft, Charles (2013) Last Trains – Dr Beeching and the Death of
Rural England ISBN 9781849545006
^ Gourvish, T. R. (1974), British Rail 1948 – 1973: A Business
History ISBN 978-0521188838
Why Does Policy Change?: Lessons from British Transport Policy
1945–99 Dudley and Richardson
"Britain's most hated civil servant" (BBC website)
"16 February 1965: Beeching plans for 'bloated' railways". BBC On This
Day. BBC. 16 February 2008. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
Sir Brian Robertson
Chairman of the
British Transport Commission
Chairman of the
British Railways Board
Sir Stanley Raymond
ISNI: 0000 0000 6390 9220