News index


First Great Western Faces Renewed Scrutiny

From Oxford Times March 26

RAIL regulators today warned Network Rail that it must improve punctuality and reliability on train services in Oxfordshire, the Thames Valley and the West of England.

Passenger services operated by First Great Western in these areas have been dogged by poor punctuality for several years and are among the worst-performing in Britain.

After repeated complaints from passenger groups, the Office of Rail Regulation is closely monitoring FGW's performance, amid calls for the company to be stripped of its franchise.

The ORR said that in the latest performance figures, only 83 per cent of FGW services were on time, compared with a national average of more than 90 per cent.

And at the turn of the year, only 64 per cent of FGW's peak-hour commuter services in the Thames Valley were on time.

Michael Lee, the ORR's director of access planning and performance, said: "Everyone agrees that the performance of services on Network Rail's western route has been poor for far too long. The cycle where performance takes a step forward, only to take another step back, is not delivering the necessary improvements.

In cases of prolonged poor performance on a particular part of the network, ORR can investigate whether the failure to meet targets constitutes a breach of Network Rail's licence.

Mr Lee added: "If targets for this route are not met in the near future, then the consequences for Network Rail could be severe.

"I do not propose, at this stage, to look into whether it is in breach of its licence, but all parties should be clear that this is an option that may be open in the future."

Igor Goldkind · Sat 29 Mar 2008, 10:01 · Link

Forthcoming Town & District Council Elections

Elections for the 12 Town Councillors and 1 District Councillor will take place on May 1st. Nomination papers for Town Council can be obtained from the Town Clerk by telephoning 810608, by email at or direct from the District Council Offices at Woodgreen Witney. Nomination papers for District Councillor are only available at the Witney Office. Nominations close at noon on 4th. April but it is advisable to return forms a day or two earlier in case of error.

A full timetable and general information is included with each nomination pack. Enquiries relating to the role and requirements of Councillors can be made to the Clerk.

Susie Finch · Wed 19 Mar 2008, 16:09 · Link

Charlbury's Communist Past

Apparently, at one time during the war you could purchase a copy of the Daily Worker at the Charlbury Bookshop!

Perhaps Evenlode Books will want to revive the tradition with a nod towards heritage.

From the Camden Journal, March 13th edition:

Lawyer Jack Gaster came in for special attention from the government

Why Jack Gaster never went to war

Secret files reveal how civil rights lawyer was kept from frontline battle and spied on by MI5

LAWYER JACK Gaster spent his life fighting fascism, battling injustice, and promoting civil rights and individual liberty. But when his country was facing its darkest hour, his call-up papers were not forthcoming.
Top-secret government files seen this week by the New Journal, on the first anniversary of his death, explain why: Hampstead-based Gaster, who died aged 99, was labelled a danger to the state and secret agents were detailed to spy on him.
Gaster was famous for his commitment to left-wing politics. The son of chief rabbi Moses Gaster, he was a prominent member of the socialist lawyers group the Haldane Society and worked as a legal adviser for trade unions.
But when the Second World War broke out and Jack put his private business in order so he could fight the Nazis, he found his services were strangely deemed surplus to requirements – because Special Branch were worried he might spread Communism among the lower ranks.
The classified documents fill two thick files and were compiled over 20 years. Held at the National Archives centre in Kew, they cover the period between 1933 and 1954, and outline how serious a threat agents believed Gaster to be – and their ham-fisted attempts to stop him doing his bit.
Phone taps, bugging Communist Party headquarters, tailing him to meetings across the country and opening his personal mail, collating evidence of his supposedly subversive activities; it prompted a note to be sent to the Ministry of Labour, saying on no account must he be allowed to join the services.
But because of a clerical error, Jack was enlisted.
One memo, signed by a secretary called Ms W Ogilvie in 1941, in­formed Special Branch that Gaster was due to join the Army. In spindly writing, she states: “You will be interested to see that Jack Gaster is about to be called up after many postponements.”
Other notes were disparaging. One agent wrote after spying on political meetings Jack had spoken at: “He says that ‘his appearance was part of a farewell tour before he joins the forces’... I take it, however, that this has no more significance than, shall I say, a prima donna who announces for the umpteenth time that this is positively going to be her last appearance in public.”
But Jack was called up – which led to hand-wringing in darkened Whitehall offices.
Ms Ogilvie later wrote: “Owing to some ‘mischance’ he has been posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment.
“The Ministry of Labour regrets this error and will let us know whether it would be possible for them to take any action to obtain his release.”
But the thought of the fuss Jack might make and the political capital that could be gained by his dismissal meant he was kept on and given menial work as a private, while his commanders were told to keep him out of active service or training roles.
Special Branch de­tailed a series of colonels under whom Jack was serving to watch him. They produced hand-written notes outlining his behaviour, which ranged from commenting on his “exemplary attitude” towards training to fears that he was spreading dissent in the barracks. The observations seem to have been based on the authors’ own political views: liberals said he was OK, while right-wingers were suspicious.
One Colonel Alexander wrote: “Gaster is clever, cunning and unscrupulous – but his danger lies chiefly in his close liaison with CP HQ. The repercussions of discharging him might be more serious and would certainly be more troublesome than leaving him where he is.
“I should like to recommend that if you decide to leave him in the Army, he must on no account be allowed to go in for a commission.”
Another suggested postings where he could have little influence and, as one note put it, “be kept out of the way as much as is possible for a man of his calibre”.
Even on leave, such small matters as buying a daily paper were deemed important enough to be noted. “He goes to Charlbury, a little town near where I live,” one agent wrote.
“It is almost impos­sible for a discreet watch to be kept... there is only one policeman, who is known to everybody... it is interesting the bookshop stocks the Daily Worker, and I have seen a soldier strongly resembling Jack buy it.”
Before MI5 were faced with the problem of ensuring Jack did not see service overseas, he broke an arm badly during night training as he attempted to leap a ditch wearing full battle kit. He was hospitalised – and his fellow patients were asked to spy on him.
The commander of a Red Cross hospital where Jack was being treated wrote: “I am quite sure PteG has no idea he is under observation.”
Another entry raised concerns about Jack’s conversations as he recovered.
A bedridden fellow soldier wrote: “This man has an undue interest in tank warfare, obtaining as much information on this subject from other patients as he can... JG’s knowledge of military matters is quite out of proportion for his length of service.”
The files are full of warnings but never offer evidence of law-breaking or treason.
His daughter, Lucy Gaster, recalls her father often joking that his phone calls must be tapped – something which the files show happened.
She said: “I am sure he did not know the extent the Secret Service followed him, but we would joke about hearing strange clicking noises on the phone.
“I think the key thing is he was so well known as a left-winger, surely Special Branch should have spent their time looking for real spies.”

Igor Goldkind · Thu 13 Mar 2008, 17:40 · Link

Charlbury needs higher a profile

Charlbury Business Community (CBC) should have a bigger say in the future of the town, it was agreed on March 12 at a meeting of representatives of CBC and the Town Council. The CBC will prepare its own submissions as part of the 'Local Development Framework', which replaces the Local Plan as the planning 'bible' for the area.

The CBC wants the potential for appropriate tourism to be further explored: it's a great centre for walks with excellent public transport links. While tourism brings employment and increases custom for local shops, it was argued that the town has to find ways of relieving its serious parking problems, and find a site for a new car park which would accommodate walkers, other visitors and people working in the town, and relieve increasing pressure on the Spendlove site.

A county council visitor map of the county does not show Charlbury at all, nor does it list Charlbury Museum in its list of the county's museums (Chipping Norton, Witney and Burford museums are there).

For more information on CBC, click here.

Jon Carpenter · Thu 13 Mar 2008, 08:21 · Link

March police neighbourhood update

From Thames Valley Police:

"Local police officers ran an Operation Judicious on the evening of Friday 22 February. This operation is specifically targeted at young people, anti-social behaviour and alcohol, and many sites were visited that are well known for underage drinking, both in Chipping Norton and Charlbury. I am pleased to report that no alcohol was found. Further operations will take place during the coming year.

"An assault took place on the evening of Thursday 21 February in the town centre. Close liaison with Gloucestershire Police resulted in a 15 year old being arrested in Gloucestershire and following interview, the matter has been forwarded to the Youth Justice Panel for charging decision.

"If you wish to contact the Neighbourhood Team or to report a crime please contact us on 0845 8 505 505 or email to ."

Richard Fairhurst · Mon 10 Mar 2008, 17:41 · Link

"Our challenge is to be punctual more often and consistently" - FGW

Mark Hopwood, First Great Western's new Performance Director, posted the following to our Cotswold Line blog on Friday.

"Good to meet some of you at the station last night and this morning at our FGW Meet the Manager. All trains so far at 22:40 on the Cotswold Line today have arrived at their destination within 5 minutes of scheduled time except for the 11:51 from Paddington which ran 16 mins late from Charlbury and reached Hereford 5 minutes late. Indeed 17 out of 31 are early at destination. So our challenge is to do it more often and consistently.

"From Monday I have made arrangements to run the empty coaches for the first Charlbury train to London (06:10) earlier from Oxford (Network Rail are opening the signal boxes 10 mins earlier at FGW request). This should allow us to operate the train more reliably now that it is a longer HST and needs to shunt at Moreton-in-Marsh in a more time consuming way.

"I have joined FGW last month after a career in other rail businesses. I won't contribute to this log daily but will keep an eye on it. The Cotswold Line is our worst performing route and one we shall focus on and I am keen to see what you all have to say.

"Mark Hopwood, Performance Director - FGW"

Richard Fairhurst · Mon 10 Mar 2008, 11:32 · Link

Development of the Spendlove site and Charlbury Community Centre

Thomas Gifford’s Charity would like to invite members of clubs and groups to a meeting with David Saxby from ZeroZero, the appointed architect, to discuss your thoughts and suggestions on the proposed development on the Spendlove site.

Three meetings will be held on Saturday 8th March 2008 at The Bell, Charlbury (Cornbury Suite):

Group A 2:30 p.m. Sports and youth groups

Group B 3:15 p.m. Theatre, arts and performance groups

Group C 4:00 p.m. General users including groups for children and the elderly

If you are a member of a group and would like to attend we would welcome your attendance

russell robson · Thu 6 Mar 2008, 18:44 · Link

Working for all: Charlbury Business Community recruits new members with new website

Charlbury Business Community (we used to be called the Chamber of Trade) is looking for new members. Anyone who earns their living working in Charlbury, whether from an office, a shop -- or from home, like most people do -- can join. You may be a researcher, a plumber, a shopkeeper, a music teacher, a novelist, an artist or a therapist. By
working together we can ensure Charlbury remains a good place to live and work. We have a great deal in common, and the welfare of the Charlbury community is important to us all.

You can see what we are doing, and learn more about membership, by clicking here.

Enquiries to or phone 819117.

Jon Carpenter · Mon 3 Mar 2008, 13:12 · Link

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