BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching

Author: Gareth David

Total No. of Pages: 330

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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On 27 March 1963, Dr. Richard Beeching presented to the British Railways Board (the group ultimately responsible for running that county’s railways) what the author of this volume describes as ‘…His draconian solution to spiralling losses on Britain’s outdated railway network, a plan which was…to spell isolation and economic stagnation for scores of communities across England, Scotland and Wales’.  This volume presents the reasons for that report and the results of its implementation. The author is quite clear about his intentions in writing this volume. He states that ‘This book will outline the dramatic changes to the [British] railway network brought about by implementation of closures planned in that 1963 report, and consider how lines which had been slated for closure have fared since they managed to escape the [Beeching] axe’. He also states that he ‘…Hope[s] to be able to convey the scale and future potential of the railway revival which has taken place since….the publication of Beeching’s original report…’ He is on a mission, and this volume is the result.

The volume’s first section (the Introduction), is placed behind the Contents page. Within it, the author provides biographical details concerning his interest in ‘Things railway’, while elaborating on his theme and providing background to his efforts in the railway preservation field.  The introduction is followed by 10 Chapters. Of these, the first nine are related to the directly closure of uneconomic sections of the British railway network and the subsequent reopening of sections closed as result of Dr. Beeching’s actions. Included within these are reproductions of letters relevant to the narrative and interviews with policymakers.  Regrettably, and despite the best efforts of all concerned, not all railways mentioned within this volume will reopen. The author lists and discusses these in Chapter 9 (titled Longer Shots). While so-doing he provides betting odds as to the likelihood that the individual line under discussion will reopen. While a reader familiar with British ‘Betting’ practice will undoubtedly find this both entertaining and educational, non-British readers unfamiliar with such matters may wonder why they have been included. Chapter 10 (titled On Reflection) .presents the author’s views on what has past, the current situation for railways in Great Britain and his thoughts about what the future could possibly hold for the re-emerging national railway network. Within each Chapter subheadings refer to specific sections of railway relevant to that chapter’s over-all narrative. Four Appendices follow Chapter 10. Two of these use a table format to record ‘Lines opened or re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix I) and ‘Stations opened or Re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix II). Within each Table, additional information is provided through the use of chapter-specific end-notes. These are sequentially numbered with their relevant citations appear at the end of each Appendix. Although there is no designated ‘stand-alone’ Bibliography, Appendix III carries the Bibliography subheading and acts in that capacity. It records the printed titles accessed during the preparation of this book.  Appendix IV lists ‘Campaign and Promotional Groups’ involved in railway and transport activism throughout the United Kingdom. The volume contains numerous photographs; both coloured and monochrome. Of these, some are sourced, some are not. In addition it also contains reproductions of schematic maps, tickets and a map of North Wales. There is however, no reference to either maps, tickets or photographs on the Contents page or within the Index. Curiously, the volume contains no maps/s of either Great Britain or its past or present national railway network/s in their entirety.

That the author is extremely-passionate about his subject is very evident, although the end-result (at least for this reviewer), is a volume best-described as being ‘Intense’.  That detail notwithstanding (and due to  the quantity and quality of the information it contains), this book has the potential to become  an authoritative work on its subject  It is likely to be of  use to individuals and organisations involved in the reopening of railways closed as a result of Doctor Beeching’ Report. In addition, groups and Councils involved in regional development within the United Kingdom may also find it informative and useful. Due to the photographs it contains, modellers of Twenty-first Century British railways may also find that it has use as a source book for rolling stock, infrastructure and land-forms.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’

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

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