BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britain’s Declining Secondary Railways Through the 1960s

Authors: Kevin McCormack and Martin Jenkins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 168

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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According to the song Big Yellow Taxi, ‘…You don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone’ and in many ways this volume is reflective of those words. It records the demise of Britain’s branch line railways in all their faded glory, and while so-doing-so, also unintentionally records the attributes of a society that is now but a fond and increasingly-distant memory.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre and was the result of a very deliberate campaign by one Blake Paterson to record scenes from the branch-line railways  being closed as Dr. Beeching attempted  to rationalise Britain’s  railways by the removal of   uneconomic lines. The result of Mr. Paterson’s efforts is a series of beautiful and evocative photographs. These depict trains of all sizes, shapes and varieties, in railway settings that range over the entire British Isles and include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That in itself is commendable and an admirable record has resulted. . However, at least for this reviewer, even more commendable is the unintentional recording that occurred; the ‘background things’ that portrayed 1950’s and ‘60’s Great Britain.   The image of Blower’s Green on page 101 is a case in point. Unintentionally, the volume has become a document of social history and on that basis it is possible that the images may have greater value beyond being merely ‘pictures of trains’.

The book consists of a two-page Preface written by Blake Paterson (the photographer and source of the images that appear within this work). This provides details of Mr Paterson s quest, with an Author’s Note from Messers McCormack and Jenkins adding some additional information. This is followed by the photographs which form the main body of the work. A single-page Index appearing on the book’s last page provides page numbers for the stations appearing within it. The volume contains no maps.

Although the authors’ of this volume (actually ‘Compilers’ in this reviewer’s opinion), state that: ‘An attempt has been made to arrange the images … on a rough geographical basis’,  they have not provided any maps to assist in locating where the images were taken. Although to an ‘enthusiast’, this is likely to be of little consequence, many readers of this volume will not be familiar with the British railway network.  In addition, and despite the excellent captions accompanying the photographs, readers will also be unlikely to know exactly where the photographs were taken. This could well reduce the volume’s usefulness and desirability.

Regrettably, and despite the fact that he is the sole source of the images it contains, the book contains no biographical details about Blake Paterson,  The previously-referred-to Preface and Author’s Note provides details of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, for the volume’s photographs, with full biographical details of the Authors / Compilers appearing on the dust jacket. Mr. Paterson is not however, given the same courtesy. Although useful as the source of the photographs, he remains anonymous. To know more about him, his methods and the equipment he used, would have been of value – especially to those interested in railway photography.

This work is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include railway enthusiasts, especially those with a specific interest in Branch Railways within the British Isles. Railway modellers with an interest in transition–era railways of the British Isles are also likely to find this volume of interest, while transport, social and political historians could find the images (especially what appears in the backgrounds) useful in their  researches.

As previously noted, the absence of both maps and biographical information about the photographer lessens this volume’s value, and for this reviewer, it is ultimately just a collection of very pretty pictures. Were that that was not so.

On that basis, and using a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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 nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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