York Walks /3

Former York Carriageworks site

Photographed on 27 July 2004

Abandoned buildings, former carriageworks site   Workshops,  former carriageworks site

This area in Holgate Road, York, is the site of the former carriageworks, a part of York's railway history. It's easy to forget now that York was once a central part of the rail industry. I can't forget, because my brother worked here for twenty years, from the 1970s to the 1990s. My father spent his whole working life at the railway offices in York, and my great-grandfather too was a railway man.

I visited and took these photographs on 27 July 2004. I've tried to avoid the place, and haven't been this way much since the carriageworks – then ABB-owned – closed in the mid 1990s. Before privatisation, thousands of people worked here. It was never a beautiful place, but it meant something, and men like my brother made something real and tangible. I always felt some kind of reflected glory when I was on a train elsewhere in the UK with carriages that displayed in neat lettering that they were built in York.

People have worked hard to regenerate this site, and to keep some kind of rail industry here. Thrall Europa were here for a while, after ABB, but they've gone too.

The photos without captions will, I hope, speak for themselves. Empty workshops and To Let signs.

Former carriageworks building   Former carriageworks building: detail
Former carriageworks building: detail  

What is it with these old industrial buildings? How come they're so much more beautiful – even when empty and neglected – than anything we're building now?

Lots of square feet to let . . .
To Let sign: former carriageworks site   Workshops and empty spaces, with the Minster on the horizon

I hated visiting here. It seemed necessary, in my quest to cover the changing face of York in photographs and commentary, but it's difficult to do the commentary without being very negative. It feels bad being negative, because I know that people have worked so hard to regenerate this area. But it's such an ugly, soulless kind of place now. There are roads that curve for no apparent reason, like they're trying to look natural and like they've always been there. All the buildings are strangely multicoloured – what is it with this trend for brightly-coloured buildings, and features like blue window frames? They don't look right under the light of the skies of northern England. And where people used to make things, now they answer phones in the new call centre, sitting at desks all day talking to members of the public – who are often even more grumpy than I'm sounding now.

CPP York, on former carriageworks site   New buildings – former carriageworks site, Poppleton Road frontage

I had to walk right through this horrible alien environment because I wanted to find the sculpture that commemorates the history of this site. I thought I must have missed it, but it was eventually found as I followed one of the unnecessarily curving roads back onto the perimeter of the development, on Poppleton Road.

It seems to be still under construction, and as the building materials were still standing by in their packs, and no site security was present, I did consider doing a bit myself, as it looked like it needed finishing.

All the time I was standing looking at this monument I was conscious of the bored gaze of people in the nearby traffic queue, and the sound of cars, constant. The area is much busier than it used to be, with traffic, and the whole of the other side of Holgate Road is full of new-build residential property and converted older property, with estate agents' boards up everywhere. I guess it should feel good to live in a boom-town, but it didn't. It felt claustrophobic, noisy, ill-planned and unsustainable.

I got a bit tearful to begin with, when I found the artwork/monument in progress, and saw the arch made of rusting metal, which reminded me of the truly awesome Angel of the North. But then I got irritated that they hadn't found a better spot for it, where it could be silhouetted against the sky, away from the houses. And made it bigger. If it's going to be in rusting metal, like York's copy of The Angel of the North, it should be massive, like that sculpture.

Artwork commemorating carriageworks  

Detail – 'Pride of York' – Artwork commemorating carriageworks

Not surprisingly, our pride is slightly rusty.

I didn't want a monument, anyway. I wanted to see a factory, like there used to be. And if anyone thinks I should stop being so nostalgic – it's not about nostalgia, it's about waste. We still need trains, and people around here knew how to build them.

  Detail: end of the line . . .