BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens

Author:  Colin Boocock

Total Number of Pages: 255

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

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In this volume’s Preface, the author makes the following statement: ‘This book serves a modern need…by showing how anyone interested in railways can photograph them, and can keep up-to-date throughout a long photographic career as technology improves’. He then notes that ‘The book is also a celebration. The year 2017 marks the seventieth anniversary of the year in which I took my first railway photograph, 1947’. These statements are an excellent precis for what is to follow.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre of railway publications. However, unlike many of that genre, it has the bonus of both a well-written and very readable narrative and several sections about the actual process of railway photography; the latter being something rarely encountered within such books.

Within the volume itself, an Acknowledgements page placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who contributed to the volume, while clarifying the matter of Copyright in respect of the small number of images that are not the author’s own. The author also notes that within the volume his ‘…Views are based on his own experience and cannot be attributed to the publisher or its agents’. A Preface follows. Within it the author simultaneously explains the volume’s rationale and clarifies various technical matters relating to the photographic equipment he has used over the years. The Preface is followed in turn by an Introduction within which the reader is introduced to both the origins of the author’s photographic passion and to descriptions of the various types of railway photography and the unique technical difficulties and solutions associated with these. The eight Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume follow the Preface. Each Chapter covers a specific decade (for example The 1940s; The 2000s etc.). The Chapters are arranged in a standard format consisting of several pages of explanatory text outlining the author’s photographic adventures during that time, followed by a selection of photographs relevant to the narrative.  While initially the photographs are monochrome, over time (and as colour film became less expensive), these become increasingly of coloured format. Helpfully, and at the beginning of each collection of photographs, the author provides details of the camera/s used to take the images that are to follow. The Chapters are in turn followed by four Appendices.  According to the author ‘These appendices draw on my experience over the years’, and are devoted to the ’technical’ aspects of photography.  A two-line Postscript conveys St. Augustine’s thoughts on travel. It is the volume’s final section.  The book contains neither Index or Maps, nor a list of the photographs within it.

Unfortunately while this volume is both well-written and copiously illustrated, for this reviewer it is badly let down by the lack of an Index, with the additional lack of any Maps serving to compound the problem. In this reviewer’s opinion, without the assistance of an Index, it is unreasonable to expect a casual reader to (for example) know where an image of Ryde Pier Head (page 47) might be found, where a Eurostar (page 153) is located within the volume, or where to look to learn about Mobile phones as a useful photographic device (pages 242-243). The absence of such assistance reduces this volume to essentially a ‘Collection of Pretty Pictures’ with some useful words thrown in – if the latter can be found! A similar situation pertains to the lack of Maps; where (for instance) is Grindleford (page 81) or AoBaoGou (page 177)? The average reader (especially if they are a layman) cannot be expected to have to repeatedly confer with refer to an atlas when perusing this volume. Again, this lack reduces the volume’s value, particularly to the ‘off-shore’ reader not familiar with the geography of the British Isles (the book’s primary area of focus).

Because it provides a unique photographic record of the period 1947-2017, there is no doubt that this volume will appeal to readers with an interest in the railways of Great Britain over that time. In many instances, the images capture now-departed aspects of British culture, and as a result, Social Historians might also find the volume useful as a research tool. Photographers and railway modellers are likely to find the images and articles relating to their interests useful, with the qualified assumption (due to the lack of an Index) that they can actually locate such material. Non -‘railway enthusiast’ readers looking for pictures of ‘pretty trains’ might also find it worthy of their attention. In summary: An excellent, well written and very informative volume; a shame about the Index and Maps

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

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

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’