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’