BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945

Author: Peter Waller

Total Number of Pages: 181

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

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According to the author (when writing in the volume’s Preface), ‘This is the fourth in a series…intended to cover all the tramways of the British Isles. Its focus is primarily on those tramway systems in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales that operated after 1945. However, it also provides an overview of tramway development from the horse-tram era onwards’. It is a succinct and informative summary.

As would be expected, a Contents page opens the volume. This is followed by a page titled Abbreviations, within which appear the abbreviations used by the author for the various tramways under discussion. The page also contains a separate (albeit ‘boxed’) Key to Maps section. This provides both visual and textual keys to the colours the volume’s Maps employ when denoting the status of the tramways they portray. The previously-mentioned Preface follows. This section functions in the dual roles of acknowledging those who have contributed towards the volume, while clarifying points within it which may be likely to cause confusion; ‘A note on Welsh place names’ being but one example of the latter. The book’s Introduction follows. This is a section of some size and is divided into four parts, the reason being (again, according to the author) because ‘…Each of the constituent parts of this volume were covered by separate legislation’. That detail notwithstanding, what results is a consolidated and ‘potted’ history of all the lines which appear within the volume. It also includes information which the author considered relevant to the narrative, but was unable to place inside the individual Company histories. The main part of the volume follows. This consists of 15 alphabetically-arranged ‘Sections’ (analogous to Chapters, but not defined as such). Of these, 14 narrate the story of a specific tramway, the content of the 15th (Preservation) being evident from its title. With the exception of Section 15, which contains only photographs and text, each Section follows a standard format. Sequentially, this consists of a Map of the system, (although for unknown reasons The Manx Electric Railway and the Snaefell Mountain Railway are not ‘map-equipped’), several pages of text and numerous photographs. The text itself also follows a format. This consists of a history of the tramway, and (through the use of subheadings), a list of the Depots (Locomotive-shed equivalents) that existed while the line was in existence, and the dates upon-which the system’s routes were closed and ceased to operate. Histories of the vehicles that each system employed are also given. These appear at the end of each Section and cover either classes or individual vehicles as appropriate. A 14-entry Bibliography placed after Section 15 completes the volume.  There is no Index, nor outline map of Wales, the Isle of Man or Ireland to place the tramways in context to the British Isles as a whole. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are clear, clearly and informatively-captioned and from a variety of well-documented sources. Curiously, the first two words of each caption are presented in ‘bold’ format. Why this practice has been adopted is unknown. The Contents page contains no reference to the existence of images within the volume. The book also contains two colour images of tickets and a copy of a letter. These relate to the final day of operations of tramways in Cardiff.

Unfortunately, for this reviewer this book was let down by its lack of an Index. Prior to reviewing the volume he knew little about its subject and, in the absence of an Index, had absolutely no way of finding out more about the interesting subjects within the volume that he encountered. Who (for instance) were the Richardson family mentioned on pages 67 and 72? There was/is no way to know and no guarantee that even the most thorough search will in fact locate the information being sought. Similar arguments could be applied to such diverse subjects as equipment manufacturers, geographical locations or organisations. The lack of context-setting outline maps has been previously noted, while the text also contained small lapses of tense.

The matter of the Index notwithstanding, this volume is well-researched, well-written and easy to read. The author definitely knows his subject. As a result, this book is likely to appeal to those railway enthusiasts with a particular interest in all forms of street tramways within Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland since 1945. It may also be of interest to those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in public transport within the British Isles while Historians with an interest in British and Irish Social History may find the images and text informative and useful. Railway modellers with street tramway interests may also be able to make use of the images that the volume contains. For visitors to the Isle of Man who have travelled on its tramways, this book might also be a worthwhile souvenir.

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

It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945’

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: ‘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’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour

Editor: David Cable

No. of Pages: 217

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 9, Text 5

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Between 1985 and 2015, the author of this volume attempted to photograph ‘…Virtually all the trains that… operated on the main lines of Great Britain…’  The result is a 217 page, A-4 sized, book of colour photographs that shows both the changing-face and use of railway rolling stock in Great Britain, and the evolving and multitudinous colour schemes carried by British trains during this time.

This book is of the ‘Railway picture book’ genre, with the photographs it contains being taken during the 1985- 2015 period. Although these images comprise the majority of this volume’s content, they are prefaced by a two-page Introduction which the author has written to provide background to what follows. It includes a short history of British railway operations and developments (described by the author as ‘…Some of the most dramatic changes to the British Railways system since its inception…). Within the photographic section, trains of many types and varieties appear. Of the 200 full-page photographs on display, 195 are of DMU’s and EMU’s and trains hauled by diesel-electric and electric locomotives. The final five images show trains hauled by steam locomotives, and were taken between 1991 and 2011. The images are presented in consecutive year-order with the number of pages allocated to each year varying from three (1985) to 15 (1986). Curiously, one image (on page 178) is un-dated, but presumably belongs to the year group (2010) within-which it has been placed. A detailed, several-sentence caption is placed beneath each image. The caption invariably provides details relating to the specific motive power appearing in the photograph, together with information concerning where the image was taken and the colour-scheme it carries. Where the author believes it to be necessary, additional facts are also given, although this does not occur in all the captions. No Index or Maps pages are provided. The photographs are not listed separately. No ‘Technical’ information is provided concerning the equipment or methods used when taking these images.

For this reviewer, this volume has three serious faults. Of these, two are ‘mechanical’ the third ‘political’. Of the two ‘mechanical’ faults, the most obvious is the lack of an Index or any means by which specific trains / locations / colour schemes (even years) can be found within its pages.  Without an Index to guide them, a reader is reduced to ‘flicking through pages’ in an at-times futile attempt to locate an image, a location, colour scheme or a locomotive. In addition, the lack of any Maps (even one of the national railway network), means that the reader has no idea as to where the images were photographed. This is particularly problematic for readers living outside Great Britain who cannot be expected to know the location of (for example) Llandevenny (Page 94). The ‘political’ fault previously-alluded to, occurs when the author, while writing his Introduction, sees fit to create a new political administration for Great Britain ‘…The Tory Government…’  As the Conservative and Unionist Party has not changed its name, the use of a derisive nickname for a formally-constituted political party lowered the tone of both the Introduction and the volume itself. This reviewer expected better.

This volume may appeal to several different groups of readers. Due to its very-specific time period, railway enthusiasts interested in British trains of the 1985-2015 era are likely to find it especially useful. For such individuals, it could become a standard reference work. Those railway enthusiasts with a more general interest in railways within Great Britain could also find it worth viewing, Artists and modellers portraying British railways rolling stock and stations during the 1985-2015 period may also find it useful for reference purposes.  As the book depicts the evolution of British railways over a very specific time-period, transport historians may also find it of interest. The images of steam locomotives could appeal to steam aficionados.

Although the photographs are beautiful, the lack of both Index and Maps, when combined with the unnecessary political jibe, affected the rating that this volume has received.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9;

the Text: 5.

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

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

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’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines 

Title: Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe

Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe): 258

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 245

Colour Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe):248

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 236

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volumes: 4.

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Although these are separate titles, the author notes that they are in fact ‘sister’ volumes; it is on that basis that this reviewer has chosen to deal with them as a single entity.

These works are hard-covered examples  of the ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ genre and contain colour images of locomotives (both with and without attached trains), in a wide variety of locations across the European continent.   The author very-evidently loves both his subject and photography, and has travelled widely in pursuit of his subject material. |It should be noted however that although the majority of the images are his own, contributions from other photographers also appear, a fact acknowledged by the author. The quality of the images is such, that if a reader is seeking a pair of books showing only contemporary ‘European’ trains, there would be few to rival what these works contain. It should however be noted that the section on the United Kingdom is not large, the author stating that this railway system will be the subject of a separate volume in its own right.

However, although the images are of excellent quality, this reviewer believes that these works are seriously let down in other areas. Because the volumes are arranged by country, this reviewer expected to find, at minimum, a map of Europe indicating international boundaries, borders ad railway networks.  He found none. Regional maps (to assist the reader in locating the sites where the images were photographed\) were also absent. There are no maps within these volumes, and unless the reader is familiar with the continent/region/ district, the locations and captions are virtually meaningless. Each volume contains an Introduction, Notes on railways of each country [sic], and nothing else.  There is no Index, Table of Contents, or Glossary. There is no way of identifying or locating the various locomotives (or even the sections for individual countries) within the volumes. No key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within these volumes, making them of little value.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching) then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the absent additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volumes, 4.


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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.