BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

91. Scottish Steam

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s

Author:  Kevin McCormack

Total Number of Pages: 168

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

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In the opening paragraph of this volume’s Introduction,  the author states: ‘’This colour album covers steam in Scotland…and uses, to the best of my knowledge, images which have not previously appeared in print’. With that established, he then states that ‘Most of the pictures used have been sourced from the Online transport Archive’ and that ‘…There are even some of my colour slides included…’  He concludes by saying: ‘I hope readers will enjoy this nostalgic glimpse of the Scottish railway scene…before the Beeching axe was wielded…’  As a precis it cannot be faulted.

The volume contains no Contents page, its first section being a three page Introduction. Within this the author details his personal railway-related story, introduces the reader to Scottish railways (the subject of this volume), and provides details about the origins of the photographs that have been used within it. The 159 pages of colour images which comprise the majority of the volume then follow. The author notes that ‘The pictures…have been arranged on a roughly geographical basis, starting on the eastern side of Scotland upwards from the English border, proceeding around the top of the country and ending on the western side near the border’. Unfortunately the absence of any Maps makes the statement rather pointless, especially to those readers who are neither local residents, or who live off-shore. All images are in colour and, as indicated by the title, the volume is predominantly of photos of steam locomotives of varying shapes, sizes and classes in a variety of Scottish settings and conditions. Sometimes the locomotives are attached to trains, but most of the photographs are of single units. Curiously, two stations (Broomhill and Arrochar and Tarber on pages 108 and 138 respectively), make appearances in their own right sans steam. The photographs are from a variety of sources, are largely single-paged in format and have informative captions placed underneath. However, and where appropriate to the narrative, smaller images have been inserted into the larger and two or three smaller images appear on a single page. The sources of the images are acknowledged. A single page Index completes the volume. As previously-noted no Maps are provided.

In this reviewer’s opinion (and given the book’s title), this volume’s Index is woefully inadequate.  Although the volume is (supposedly) concerned with Steam In Scotland, the Index carries absolutely no mention of either locomotives or trains within its entries. It is totally ‘station focused’. As a result, were the Index to be the first section consulted by a potential reader, it would be easy to conclude that steam locomotives and trains were not present when the volume’s photographs were taken. Yet even with that focus, not every ‘caption’ mention of a specific station is recorded. Boat of Garten (for example), while mentioned on page 106, according to its Index entry appears only on pages 102-104. All and any references to such items as Railway Companies, Events and Geographical Entities (despite being mentioned within the captions) are also absent. The lack of Maps has already been noted. A Glossary providing quick interpretation of the various ‘Company’ acronyms within the volume would have been helpful.

For readers seeking ‘Pictures of British steam trains in a Scottish setting’ this volume will be a delight, as they are there in quantity. Due to the Index, those seeking photographs of specific Scottish railway stations are also likely to find their desires met. Enthusiasts and railway modellers seeking images of specific locomotives and / or classes (and assuming that these have even been included) may also find this volume of interest. It should however be noted that, due to the previously-noted inadequacy of the Index a lot of searching may be required with no guarantee of success. Some may not deem it worth the effort.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

Had the Index been more indicative of the volume’s content, the rating would have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

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’