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: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives

Author: Fred Kerr

Total Number of Printed Pages: 126

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

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Although to the General Public ‘Preserved’ steam locomotives are epitomised by such well-known machines as Flying Scotsman, there are other steam locomotives which are equally interesting and worthy of attention. These are the ‘Industrials’; the small steam engines which have invariably worked tirelessly in largely-unknown areas and industries. They have a definite charm of their own and can be equally fascinating. Yet despite this, these engines are still largely overlooked. This volume is an attempt to remedy that situation and, in summary is ‘… Dedicated to those builders whose products are still in use many years after being built…’

This book is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre. It is a collection of colour photographs of small industrial steam locomotives built by 25 different British manufacturers. The photographs are beautiful and for those merely seeking high-quality images of small and colourful steam locomotives, this could be incentive-enough to purchase this volume. Those with a more technical interest in the subject are not left out however. As previously noted, this volume consists of 26 sections; (there being no ‘Chapters’ in the accepted sense). These are listed alphabetically on the Contents page, and are repeated as ‘Section’ headings. However, when creating these headings (and to delineate each section) the author has employed a curious form of two or three-letter abbreviations. These include (for example), AB (for Andrew Barclay Sons and Company); GR (for Grant Richie & Company) and WCI (Wigan Coal & Iron Company). As such items are not normally found in published works, they are possibly the author’s invention, perhaps created to record details in his notebooks. Their use in a published work makes for an untidy Contents page and, in the opinion of this reviewer, brings an amateurish look to the section headings. The Contents page is in turn followed by an untitled page which provides a very brief history of industrial steam locomotive construction in Great Britain. The ‘Photographic’ part of the volume then follows. Within this, each ‘Section’ commences with three self-explanatory sub-headings (titled Date Established, Location and History).  These are followed by a single paragraph listing the specific-manufacturer’s locomotives that have been preserved, and their location within the British Isles.  Although each locomotive-builder’s product is portrayed by at least one colour photograph, several have received photographs in the 12-20 image range, However, 60 photographs have been taken of the products of one manufacturer (Hunslet), with the qualification that that Company’s products are divided into two sections: Austerity Locomotives and Industrial locomotives. Each photograph is clearly captioned, and frequently-contains additional information relating to the specific locomotive it portrays or the event at which it was appearing when the image was taken. However, as some images have been transposed, it is advisable to check that captions refer to the specific locomotive in the photograph. In addition to the captions, an accompanying paragraph details the history of the individual locomotive. No Maps or an Index are provided. Regrettably, the author provides no details about the cameras or methods he used when taking the photographs.

As previously noted, this volume is of the ‘Picture book’ genre. As such it is beautiful, with the photographs being of frameable quality. It is little more. The absence of an Index requires readers to undertake unnecessary (and probably fruitless) searching, while the lack of any Maps means that the reader has no idea where the photographs were taken. This can be an especially frustrating situation for ‘off-shore’ readers for who maps are a necessary adjunct to their reading. .

Because of the quality of the images, it is possible that this book may have a wider appeal beyond the railway world; perhaps to readers who simply like quality images of small steam locomotives; or want something to share with children who are fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. It is also likely to appeal to ‘generalist’ railway enthusiasts, although those with a specific interest in preserved British industrial steam locomotives in contemporary settings are likely to find it a delight. Railway modellers with a specific interest in the subject may also find it of use.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’