Hands Off The Railway

My blood ran cold today. There’s a vitriolic letter on the Chronicle’s letters page laying into the Railway in St Paul’s Hill for its noisy late-night activity. Oh no, I thought, please don’t give anyone an excuse for clipping the wings of Winchester’s last remaining bastion of youth culture.

It’s something that nags me, because I can sort of see both sides. I remember when a few local residents tried to put paid to Homelands festival because they lost a bit of sleep for a couple of days a year. Now there are similar protests about moto-cross in South Wonston. In these cases, I couldn’t be clearer in my views: A simple principle of democracy decrees that the pleasure of a lot of people must take precedence over the peace and quiet of a few people. It’s tough, but it’s simple.

Then again, I’ve had babies and I know the horror of losing sleep. It makes you grumpy. I’ve camped at festivals where I could happily have murdered those who wanted to party at great volume all night. But I dread anything happening to my beloved Railway.

The reason is that, like everyone else who uses the Railway, I’m a music lover. With the demise of the Tower, the Railway is the only place in Winchester that caters for me. It offers folk, blues, roots, rock, pop and also film, poetry and comedy. It does this without any kind of council subsidy, support or even acknowledgement. People travel long distances for Railway shows, bringing revenue into the city and recognizing this little corner of Winchester as a cultural oasis of national significance. Entire careers have been built in the performing space offered here (Andy Burrows, Frank Turner, Mumford And Sons).

The most horrible thing about the letter was the completely false implication that the garden is full of screaming, uncouth yobs. Look elsewhere in Winchester for that. The Railway is probably the most friendly, peaceful pub in the entire city. I am in my sixties and feel completely at home in this unique place. I certainly don't sleep till lunchtime and I know for sure that the claim that the noise can be heard by the train station is simply untrue.

The poor sleep-deprived gentleman who wrote the letter is incandescent that the venue’s garden is open until 2 am. What he doesn’t take into account are the grim economics of running a pub in the current climate. Pubs are closing at an alarming rate and the survivors are those which offer people a good reason to go to them. The powerful musical line-up is what attracts people to the Railway, but, like any other pub, it survives only on the amount of beer it can sell. An orderly, well-run venue like this is allowed to stay open late because that is the only way it can survive. The implication that the landlord is rubbing his hands and counting the profits is sadly laughable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I repeat, sir, that I am not unsympathetic about your sleep deprivation. I would be in favour of the garden’s population being reminded more frequently that they already are of the importance of keeping their voices down late at night. But when it boils down to it, I’m sorry, but the benefits to the thousands of people who annually gain pleasure from the Railway’s bold entertainment policy do outweigh the complaints of a few neighbours.

I find earplugs remarkably effective. Give them a try.

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