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: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’


Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013

Author: James Opie

Total Number of Printed Pages: 480

Total Number of Photographs: 400

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


The hobby of ‘collecting’ is widespread and can range from full-size machinery to very minute items. Almost anything can be ‘collected. If the interest is sufficient and the collecting fraternity large enough, eventually ‘learned tomes’ are written about the subject. Such works can cover all and any aspects of the hobby, and can themselves be worthy of collecting; if only for the sheer volume and detail of their contents.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that James Opie’s Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and handbook 1893-2013 falls into this latter category; it’s comprehensiveness and encyclopaedic detail ensuring that it is worthy of attention on its own merit.

As will be evident from the title, this volume is essentially a history of Britains Ltd., internationally-renowned makers of the small-scale figures known colloquially as ‘Toy’ soldiers.  Britains do however make other figures and objects and these (and the aforementioned soldiers) are covered within the eight chapters (and a separate sub-chapter) which comprise the majority of this work’s pages.   The author believes that there have been seven separate stages in the evolution of the Britains organisation and its models. He designates these stages ‘Ages’ and uses them to form the basis for the volume’s seven main chapters.  Within each chapter the company’s activities during that time are detailed and the models created during that period, critiqued. The previously mentioned sub-chapter (2a) investigates in detail the many variations of a specific series within the larger Britains range of models. In addition (and to quote the author) , Chapter 8 provides ‘…An encyclopaedic glossary of subjects…that are of interest to Britains collectors’. It is a fair summary.  The work also contains a Foreword, an Introduction, a Bibliography, an Appendix and an Index. Four hundred high-quality photographs are also provided.  Regrettably, the Foreword, although subtitled Auctioneering, does not detail the Auctioneering process, but rather describes the author’s experiences as an auctioneer of both toy collections and Britains figures. As it broadly outlines what the author’s activities consist of, some readers may find it of interest.

That the author knows his subject is very evident, yet it is precisely that knowledge which caused this reviewer difficulties. The work contains an incredible amount of detail, with the photographs acting as aid memoirs for the text. The information appears to be accurate and as noted, it is both comprehensive and encyclopaedic. However, the sheer volume of information tends to overwhelm the casual reader, to the extent that it is almost information  ‘overload’. This is very definitely not a volume for light reading; but is rather (as with many encyclopaedia-type books), a work which can be dipped-into when seeking specific information about a specific item. Used in that manner, this volume will be a work of great value.

This reviewer believes that this work is very-much in the ‘niche market’ category and as such will be invaluable to any specialist collector of Britain’s material. In that context, it may well become a classic, and perhaps even a ‘Collectable’ in its own right. To a lesser extent, researchers interested in toy-history and toy companies may also find it of use. The information it contains notwithstanding, it is probable that the average reader will however only read it for its curiosity value. This is unfortunate, but is a fate not unknown for similar works in other fields.

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


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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’