BOOK REVIEW: ‘The National Rifle Association Its Tramways And The London And South Western Railway Targets And Tramways’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The National Rifle Association Its Tramways And The London And South Western Railway Targets And Tramways

Author:  Christopher Bunch

Total Number of Pages: 323

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Writing in this volume’s Foreword, Andrew Mercer (Group Chief Executive & Secretary General; National Rifle Association), notes that ‘This book is a unique reference to the close and often intertwined history of the NRA [National Rifle Association] and the Railways, from the days of Wimbledon common [sic] to the Association’s new home at Bisley’. It is an accurate precis’ of a very interesting book.

Within the volume, the previously-noted Foreword is followed by an Acknowledgements section within-which the author pays tribute to those individuals and organisations that assisted him in the book’s creation. A Preface follows. While summarising the volume’s content, the author also uses it to elaborate on the sources used, paying particular attention to the availability of substantial correspondence held by the National Rifle Association. The section titled Introduction which follows the Preface provides essential historical background to the National Rifle Association itself. The main part of the volume now appears.  This is divided into two sections (Termed Parts), these covering two specific locations and time periods: Wimbledon 1860-1889 (PART 1) and Bisley 1890-1998 (PART 2). Sections within each PART (Termed Chapters and numbered sequentially) cover specific time-periods and subjects.  Where necessary, the Chapters are further-delineated into Subheadings dealing with a specific topic. Three Appendices follow Chapter 10 (The Bisley Camp Tramway from 1923). These cover such diverse topics as ‘….Personalities referred-to with the Text’, a specific locomotive and the various types of motive power used on the Bisley tramway. A small Bibliography follows Appendix 3, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index, its final section. The volume contains numerous photographs (some in colour, the majority; monochrome), together with Maps, Plans, Drawings, Tables, Diagrams and assorted Ephemera. All are clearly reproduced and informatively captioned although many do not carry indications of their origins. No mention of their existence is made in either the Contents page or in the Index. Curiously, although site-specific Maps are provided, the volume contains no General Ordnance Map of Great Britain to indicate exactly where in the United Kingdom, Wimbledon Common and Bisley might be located. In its absence, a casual reader can have no idea as to precisely where these localities might actually be. It is an unhelpful omission.  Numerous Quotes appear within the volume. None carry citations, in the absence of which their authenticity is open to question, and their historical usefulness substantially reduced.

While this volume is well-written and very informative, for this reviewer, it was let down by the small things; the details, especially in regard to of the afore-mentioned Quotes and, to a lesser-extent, the Index. As already noted, the Quotes contain no citations in support of their authenticity, while the Index entries can best be described as ‘piecemeal’. While reviewing the volume, this reviewer had occasion to seek Index entries on Crystal Palace (page 19), Vizianagram (page 133) and Collin Moynihan (page 134). No entries were found, while the Index entry for Australia, although noting that these occurred on pages 23, 129, 137 and 209, omitted mention of an entry on page 132. There were other, similar, examples, with an Index entry for Jennison on page 28 omitting mention of an earlier entry on page 27. As they may be representative of larger ommissions of an unknown size, the discovery of such ‘errors’ does little to engender confidence in the Index. Several errors of punctuation were also noted, the most obvious of these being the omission of two commas in the title, specifically after the words Association and Tramways. Whether a colon should have been placed after Railways could also be debated.

The details outlined-above notwithstanding, this volume was a delight to read, and bids fair to become the Standard Reference Work on the NRA, Bisley and Competitive Target Shooting in the United Kingdom. As such it is likely to be of interest to both Military and Social Historians and target-shooting enthusiasts of all persuasions. Members of the military may also find it of interest. Railway enthusiasts with an interest in both the London and South Western Railway and obscure, little known tramways, may also find it worthy of their attention. Railway modellers may also find the volume’s photographs and plans useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The National Rifle Association Its Tramways And The London And South Western Railway Targets And Tramways’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller’

102. MODELLING EARLY RAILWAYS

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller

Author: Peter Chatham, Stephen Weston

Total Number of Printed Pages: 120

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author states that ‘The aim of this book is to promote and assist the modelling of that formative period of railway history from the very earliest steam railways back to the reign of King George III, up to about 1880 or so, a period which, for modellers in Britain at least, has been covered scarcely, if at all, in book form’. As a precis of what to follow, it is excellent.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgements section placed behind the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations which contributed to its content. This is followed by the previously-noted Introduction. The Introduction is in itself a multi-facetted beast, as aside from précising the contents of the volume, it also explains in great detail, such aspects of its subject as railway and social history, signalling, materials, sources and paints, the three latter written specifically with railway modellers in mind. Internet sources are given where appropriate. It is, in summary, very comprehensive. The six Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume now appear. As evidenced by its title (Mike Sharman – a Pioneer Modeller of Early Railways), the first pays tribute to a specific individual ‘… Who modelled the very early railways’ and ‘…Tells the story of how he set about modelling and promoting the early days [of railways]’. Included within this section are track plans and photographs of a variety of subjects relevant to the narrative. Curiously, the Chapter concludes with a ‘Mini Bibliography’ (titled Further Reading) which lists relevant literature specific to it subject. It is a detail not found anywhere else within the volume. Chapter 2 (Infrastructure) now appears and is followed in turn by three others. Their titles: Locomotives (Chapter 3), Carriages (Chapter 4) and Wagons (Chapter 5) are indicative of their content. As will be evident from its title (Layouts and Models), Chapter 6 is devoted to models of appropriate period locomotives and rolling stock and, by use of photographs shows how the previously-provided information can be recreated in model form in a variety of scales. The models and layouts are a delight and are accompanied by informative notes relevant to the specific items on display. A two-page Appendix follows. Titled Sources of supply for modellers, its content is self-evident, and is described as being a ‘…List of prominent manufacturers’ of period equipment from whom such items may be obtained. Notably (and in addition to the expected O and OO gauges), these include several who have equipment in the larger (‘Gauge 3’) and smaller (‘N’) gauges; thus widening the potential audience for this volume. A Bibliography follows.  While, as expected, this lists the printed texts alluded-to within the volume, its authors have added title-appropriate notes below each entry to assist modellers in search of specific information; an unusual and appreciated touch. A two-page Index completes the volume.  Although largely British-focussed, the book also contains references to both contemporary Continental European and American practices. It contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs and lithographs, as well as relevant locomotive, carriage and wagon plans. A layout diagram (that of one of Mike Sharman’s efforts) also appears, and where relevant to the narrative, technical diagrams showing the evolution of railway track are included. All are captioned and, with a small number of exceptions, contain appropriate citations indicating their sources.

While this reviewer could find little to fault with this volume, he did have issues with the book’s Index. Random searching found several entries within the book that were not supported by Index entries. Of these (and in view of its prominence on page 85 (Carriages), somewhat surprisingly), he could find no Index entries for PLM (Compagnie des Chermins de Fer de Paris `a Lyon et `a la Mediterranėe) under either PLM or the full company name. There were other, similar, ommissions; a small matter perhaps, but enough to raise questions about what else might also be missing.

That detail notwithstanding, it is very evident that this volume has been a labour of love for the authors. It is comprehensive, very informative and very well written. It is likely to appeal both to railway modellers who have a specific interest in its subject, and to those of a similar ilk who are just interested in ‘early’ railways, but with no inclination towards actually modelling the era. Transport Historians with an interest in early British, Continental and American railways may also find it of interest, while Social Historians seeking depictions and descriptions of early Nineteenth Century Britain may also find it worthy of their perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given this volume a 9.

It is well deserved.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Early Railways: A Guide for the Modeller’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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On this volume’s dustjacket it is opined that ‘The revival and restoration of the Welsh Highland railway is one of the greatest heritage railway achievements, yet its success followed more than one hundred years of failure’. It is an accurate precis of the content of a well-written and very readable book.

A Sources section placed immediately behind the Contents page lists the many and varied resources used during the volume’s creation., providing, where necessary, additional information concerning both their condition and the reasons for their inclusion.  This is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section. In it the author details the individuals, publications and organisations which contributed to the creation of the volume. A short section titled Welsh Place Names follows. This clarifies the use of that language within the book. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the two Parts and nine Chapters which form the main part of this work. The parts titles (Setting the Scene and Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway are self-explanatory and cover the history of the line until 2012. The narrative is then updated by a Postscript placed as a subsection of Chapter Nine (The final push), which relates events which occurred in the 2012-2017 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. These are in Table format and present, in visual form, a variety of subjects important to the larger narrative. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a two-page Index completing the volume. The book contains numerous monochrome and colour images. In addition to photographs, these include plans, posters, diagrams and ephemera relative to the narrative. These are informatively captioned and,  where necessary, their sources are noted. There is not mention of the existence of these items on either the Contents page or within the Index. A Map of the railway in its entity appears inside the covers at each end of the volume. Where relevant to the narrative, other maps are  placed within the relevant chapters. Curiously, there is no General Outline Map of Great Britain to place the railway in context. This could prove problematical for potential visitors (especially if they live outside Wales or off shore) as if they don’t know where the railway is, how can it be visited? As with the images etc., the Maps are given no mention in either the Contents page or within the Index. Where quotes appear within the volume, their sources are not given.

For this reviewer this volume is badly let down by its Index. Although in the course of random searching he found many examples where items appearing within the volume did not appear in the Index, one example will suffice; that of Dinas. The Index lists six entries for that location, these being on pages 9,10,21,26, 27, 38.  It contains no entries for pages 113, 114, 116, 118, or 120 where Dinas is also mentioned.  As noted, these latter being found during random searching, there is no way to know what other references to Dinas are also unrecorded. There were numerous similar examples, with the omission of references to both Beyer-Garratts and South Africa (Page 108) being especially noticeable; this on a railway which is unique in Great Britain for its operation of such locomotives. As it cannot be known what else may be missing from the Index, the authority and veracity of that section is inevitably compromised. The lack of an outline Map has already been noted. The volume contains no plans or diagrams of locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure,

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Welsh Highland. When combined with Pen and Sword’s recently-published works on the Festiniog Railway (the Welsh Highland Railway’s parent / owner) it forms a valuable resource on a unique narrow gauge railway system.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Welsh Highland enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. Readers with a specific interest in Welsh narrow Gauge Railways are also likely to find it worthy of their attention. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may also find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Welsh Highland specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Severn Valley Railway

Author:  Michael A. Vanns

Total Number of Pages: 104

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½

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According to its author ‘This book provides a brief history of the Severn Valley Railway, from its earliest days through to the twenty-first [sic] century, providing a guide for all those who love the sight and sound of steam engines making their way through a particularly beautiful part of the midland landscape’. It is a fair summation.

The volume is prefaced by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow. Although not specifically defined as such, four Chapters follow the Introduction and form the main (and central) part of the volume. They cover specific periods of the railway’s history from its Eighteenth Century origins to its state in 2017. They also introduce the reader to the various industries which sparked the Severn Valley Railway’s (SVR) creation and the economic and social factors which contributed to both its existence and its demise. The events which resulted in its passing into preservation are also covered as are events and experiences on the ‘Preservation’ journey. The narrative is well written, the facts both well-researched and presented, and the over-all story an engaging one. A Bibliography follows the final Chapter (Preservation) and is, according to the author, ‘…A list of those [books] used as references in the compilation of this book’. An Index completes the volume. The book is copiously illustrated with well-captioned photographs, the colour images in particular being a delight to view. While the majority of those taken in the railway’s industrial heyday are monochrome, a small number of colour images are also present within those sections (Chapters 1-3) In contrast (and with only two exceptions) all the ‘Preserved’ images  (Chapter 4) are in full colour. The volume contains but one map. This dates from before World War I. As it shows all the railways in the vicinity of the SVR rather than just that line itself, its usefulness is questionable. There is neither a large-scale ‘General’ Ordinance-Survey Map of Great Britain nor maps relating specifically to the SVR. As a result, unless they are personally acquainted with the SVR, the reader can have no idea of its location. While for some, this will not be a problem, this reviewer believes otherwise, since if one does not know where the SVR is located, how can one visit and support it by doing-so? International readers in particular are also likely to find the absence of maps frustrating and may question why it is necessary to consult an atlas when the information should be readily available within the volume.

The matter of maps notwithstanding, the combination of information and photographs is such that this book could well become an authoritative volume on its subject. While definitely a ‘souvenir’ volume; suitable for taking home after a visit to the SVR, it also has value as a provider of historical and social information for those interested in such matters. Railway modellers and members of the railway enthusiast community may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016

Author: Paul Malmassari

Total Number of Printed Pages: 528

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

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To the general public, the idea that trains could be weapons of war is preposterous. Trains carry freight, they do not carry and use guns, and they definitely do not engage in hostile actions against an enemy, especially not in the Twenty-first Century.  This volume proves otherwise.

It is very evident that the author of this volume knows and loves his subject.  Originally published in France in 1989, this revised and upgraded English-language version is well researched and, due to the depth of information, is likely to become the authoritative work on armoured trains.  The book covers the development and use of the armoured train as a military device.  In most of the instances described within this volume, the armoured train was essentially a very mobile ‘fortress on railway tracks’. As such it could carry the battle to the enemy and cause havoc as a result.  It was not as mobile as aircraft (which were invented later), but was a definite improvement over its horse-based contemporaries. The major European and Asian powers were inevitably the largest users of armoured trains and as such their trains form the largest section of the volume. It does not however ignore smaller conflicts and combatants, and includes and describes all and any situations where vehicles running on railway tracks were involved in aggressive military activities.

The volume describes itself as an “encyclopaedia’ and as a result is  more suited to ‘dipping into’ rather than a straight ‘cover-to-cover’ read.  An Introduction provides general background details, and precedes the largest section of the work. This consists of 72 sections (aka ‘Chapters’) arranged by country and appearing in alphabetical order. Within each section information is given concerning the armoured railway vehicles that operated in or were owned by, that specific state. To this reviewer however, some of the inclusions are at best tenuous, and he considers the inclusion of New Zealand as the owner of an ‘armoured train’ while part of British Forces in the Middle East during World War II to be drawing  a very long bow.  At least one image (frequently more) appears within each section, while numerous line drawings are included.  Drawn to HO scale (1:87) these are of both rolling stock and locomotives.  Two Appendices are included; one containing numerous art-works of armoured trains, the other ‘… Original Factory Drawings of Armoured Trains and Trolleys’.  An Index and an Acknowledgements section are also provided. Sequentially-numbered Footnotes are used within each section while a Sources sub-section replaces a designated Bibliography. No maps of any sort are provided.

Unfortunately, this reviewer has two major concerns with this volume. One is with the complete lack of maps within the work, a situation which means that, unless they are geo-politically aware, a reader will have absolutely no idea as to where the trains actually operated. As several of the nations within the volume have also changed their names, this puts the reader at a major disadvantage. The other concern relates to the Index. Although the names of specific countries (for example, France, Russia, United States of America, South Korea, Georgia) are listed as Section (Chapter) Headings on the work’s Contents page, a random search within the Index found no evidence of  either these or any other ‘country’ names within that section. While it could be argued that a Contents-page listing is sufficient for the purpose, and that most readers will turn to the Contents before the Index, observation indicates that although purchasers of such a volume will initially only peruse the Contents page, they will eventually seek additional information within the Index section.  The absence of specific ‘country’ names makes such searching at best very difficult.  To this reviewer, this is a major failing as in his opinion, the seeker of specific information  needs to be able to quickly and positively identify that train X belongs to country Y (or vice versa). For this reviewer, being unable to do so, considerably-reduced the value of both the Index, and the volume.

The limitations outlined above notwithstanding. this volume is likely to appeal to several different groups.  Railway historians and enthusiasts will probably find it of interest, especially if they are interested in military railways, while both general and military historians could also find it informative.  Irrespective of the scale they work in, model-railway enthusiasts could also find it useful, especially if their interest is in military railways.

Due to its specialisation, this volume is likely to become the authoritative one on its subject. The lack of both maps and an incomplete Index do however reduce its value considerably.  On that basis, and on a Rating Scale, where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give this volume a 7. It should have been higher.

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

Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’