If, or when the High Speed 2 railway is constructed, it will require roughly 80 dead goats.

This curious statement comes from an old technicality as Acts of Parliament, when passed into law are still printed on vellum, which is typically made from goat skins.

hs2billTwo copies are printed, one for storage in the Victoria Tower, and another is sent to the National Archives in Kew. Now, it has proven surprisingly difficult to work out the average number of pages of A4 that can be extracted from a single hide of skin, but I finally found a page that uses sheepskins as an example.

That shows that the average sheep produces a single sheet that can be folded 8 times to produce 16 sides of vellum of roughly A4 size.

All parliamentary bills need to be printed onto vellum, but the reason I am commenting on HS2 though, is because at 49,814 pages in length, the bill is the largest one ever presented to Parliament.

Oh, and it’s a railway and I write about railways a lot.

Two copies of the Act means nearly 1,200 pages of nearly A4, which is roughly 80 animal skins.

Thanks to the frustratingly unreliable nature of animals when it comes to their size, I am having to make some very wide generalizations here, and could easily be massively over or underestimating the number of dead goats needed.

We would after all require far fewer fatted calves than anorexic goats.

To be fair, whether HS2 needs 20 dead sheep or 80 dead goats probably doesn’t make that big a difference, it’s still a pile of dead animals to build a railway.

A goat at Hackney City Farm -- unlikely to be part of HS2.

A goat at Hackney City Farm — unlikely to be part of HS2.

There have been attempts in the past to scrap the use of animal skin for printing Parliamentary Bills on, but they stick to vellum as it is known to last longer than the longest presumed life of archive paper, which at a mere 500 years (in theory) is really not good enough for an archive that needs to last thousands of years.

Fortunately, the goatskin is a by-product of the animal industry, so it’s not quite as if there will be a massive sacrifice just outside Euston as thousands of goats are slaughtered to the great railway gods.

Then again, maybe they could rebuild the Euston Arch, and turn the top into a giant altar for the burnt offerings?

It’d be more interesting than watching a government minister cut a red ribbon.

(Article edited to remove page count for environmental statement, which it turns out is printed on paper, and made up the bulk of the content)


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  1. Kevin says:

    Would be a good justification for bringing the arch back 😉

  2. slabman says:

    I guess they don’t just run these pages off an an Epson inkjet

  3. Richard says:

    I hope they hand transcribe this using quils and pots of ink, somehow I doubt Epson ink would last that sort of time no matter what their marketing may say 😉

  4. Simon says:

    Can’t they just type it up in Notepad and put it on a USB stick?

  5. Dave Cardboard says:

    With the caveat that I realise we’re all being a bit flippant here, but…

    The “problem” with electronic/digital storage (flash memory, discs, etc.) is that in order to ensure the data is intact, you have to open it up and read it from time to time, thence “fix” and errors. And of course you need to keep the technology around to read it – when did you last use a 5.25 floppy disc..? Not even 30 year old tekk, but already long gone. Obviously this all has a cost associated.

    Printed images such as Ink on vellum are much easier to inspect and is most decidedly a “tried and trusted” long term storage vehicle. They do tend to be a bit burney though.

    Dave (IT Expert and Calligrapher.)

  6. James Bunting says:

    My DfT mole tells me that they will not be wiping out the UK goat population with HS2. Of the 49,814 pages most of this is the impact assessment and other supporting documents. The actual bill, the bit that goes onto vellum, is apparently 428 pages long.

  7. Andrew says:

    Here is the version of the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill 2013-14 that had its first reading on 25 November – http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/highspeedraillondonwestmidlands/documents.html

    Volume 1 is 187 pages (mostly schedules: the 65 clauses end on page 35 of the pdf), and Volume 2 is 241 pages.

    I think the sheet of goatskin is folded three times to make a quire: it starts with two sides, which make four large pages when folded in half. Fold again to make eight sides, and one more to make 16.

  8. Martin says:

    Since is is only one bill of many that means there must already by a thriving industry in goat farming for vellum.

    I wonder what happens to all the meat? I am very partial to goat as an alternative to lamb or mutton.

  9. Dave says:

    The mix it up with horse and put it in cheap burgers,
    Just kidding.

  10. Rationalism says:

    The Environmental Statement is supporting information. It wont be printed on vellum as part of the Act.

    The Act is roughly 600 pages.

    Clever little joke though wasnt it.

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