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


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


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.




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

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

87. boocock railway pics

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


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.


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