BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 352

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

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In his Introduction, the author notes that ‘The Ffestiniog Railway [sic]… set the scene for the use of narrow gauge railways around the world’. However, competition (primarily in the form of the internal combustion engine and the motor vehicle), resulted in a decline and ‘…The effects of the First World War seriously weakened the company’. He also states that  ‘The events of the 1920s and 1930s started the railway on the road that led to the position in which it finds itself today, making the transition from being a common carrier [railway], to become a leading Welsh tourist attraction of international renown’. This is the story of that ‘Transition’. It complements the author’s previous volume (Festiniog Railway The Spooner Era and After 1830 – 1920), which narrates the railway’s creation and early years

An Acknowledgements ad Sources section is placed immediately behind the Contents page. In it the author details the individuals and publications which contributed to the creation of the volume. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the 14 Chapters which form the main part of this work. Although ostensibly the volume covers the period 1921-2014, a Postscript placed after Chapter 14 brings the reader up to date with events that occurred in the 2015-2016 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. Of these Appendices 1-7 are in Table format and cover the commercial activities of the Festiniog Railway Company for the period 1921-2014. Appendix 8 consists of Deposited plans for 1923, 1968 and 1975 Light Railway Orders. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a 10–page Index completing the volume. In format the Index is confusing, and ‘muddled; in its arrangement. Within it, this reviewer looked in vain for references to South Africa and Beyer-Garratt’s, finding only an entry for Garratt K1, and that under the entry Locomotives, Steam. That he found even that was surprising as those subheadings themselves appear under the even broader heading Festiniog Railway. Regrettably, there is no similar entry for the Welsh Festiniog’s associated Highland Railway, despite the fact that the Garratt type of locomotive is mentioned several times in connection with that railway and is also the subject of several photographs within the volume. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour images.  Although with one exception (that of the locomotive on page 290), these are well and informatively captioned, with the majority being from the author’s own collection, a fact noted within the Acknowledgements ad Sources section. Where they are from other sources, these are acknowledged. Where relevant, a Table format is used throughout the volume to present details relating to ticket sales etc. Although numerous local maps and plans appear within this volume, no general reference maps of either Great Britain or Wales are provided. While not problematic for those who are ’Festiniog familiar’, for ‘non-railway enthusiast’ readers living either ‘off shore’ (or even within the British Isles), this lack is regrettable, since if one does not know where the Festiniog  is located within Great Britain, how can one visit it?  For international visitors unfamiliar with even the country itself, this could be especially difficult.  The reasons for the omissions are not known.   There is no reference to images, plans or maps on either the Contents page or within the Index. No reference notes or citations are provided for the quotes appearing within the volume. There are no diagrams of Company 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 Festiniog.  When combined with its previously-mentioned sister volume, it forms a valuable resource on its subject.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Festiniog enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. 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 find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Festiniog 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: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young

Author: Peter Higginbotham

No. of Pages: 310

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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As is evidenced by this volume’s subtitle, it is ‘A history of institutional care for Britain’s young’.  The author notes that ‘The total number of children’s establishments that operated over the years [ran[ into many thousands and the children that lived in them probably into millions.  As a result, and by ‘Casting its net wide, this book takes a look at how these many and varied institutions operated and evolved in the context of changing views of how to best serve the needs of children in their care’.  It is a fair summary.

The volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject. Within it, the reader is take from the Christ’s Hospital (claimed to be ‘..England’s first institutional home for poor or orphaned children’), to the Twenty-first Century and beyond. The story that is presented between these two points is well-researched and written. it is eminently readable, and is both enlightening and (not unexpectedly), at times somewhat depressing.

The main part of the volume consists of 25 Chapters preceded by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow.  Of the Chapters, 23 relate directly to the subject. Chapters 24 (Children’s Home Records) and 25 (Useful Resources) are however intended to assist genealogists and researchers seeking further information on the topic. Each Chapter covers a specific time-period, with subheadings within it providing more details about specific subjects. There are numerous informatively-captioned illustrations, although these are not sourced, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. Endnotes are employed to provide additional information within each chapter. Chapter-specific and numbered sequentially, their citations appear in a dedicated References and Notes section placed after Chapter 25.  A Bibliography follows that section, with an Index completing the volume.

That this book is well-researched is very evident. However, for this reviewer, it was badly let down by its Index. While reviewing the volume, he had occasion to check the Index for additional information concerning British Home Children (p.209). Nothing was found. Subsequent (and random) searches for Australia, Canada and Ontario (subjects which figure prominently within the narrative) had the same result, while a final (also random) search for Hampton (p.213) also found nothing. For a volume with the potential to be an authoritative work on its subject, this discovery was disconcerting. While it cannot be known if other omissions have occurred, for this reviewer, the authority of the Index is now under question. Whether or not this is important will depend-upon the reader.

The mater of the Index notwithstanding, it is possible that this volume may become a major research-tool for those interested in British social history, orphanages, child welfare and the evolution of child foster care within Great Britain.

On a Rating Scale Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

BOOK REVIEW:’Being British’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Being British

Author: Kieran Hughes and Maureen Hughes

Total Number of Printed Pages: 152

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

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In the Introduction to this book, the authors state that ‘There is so much in Britain worthy of celebration ‘and that ‘Hopefully, this book will remind you [the reader] how great it is to be British and for those wanting to settle here, provide a little something about our customs, history and idiosyncrasies’. It is a succinct summation.

The result of this intent can best described as a compendium of many of the things that the authors perceive to be ‘British’. The main part of this volume consists of 16 well-written, and at times humorous, Chapters. Within these, the subjects covered are wide-ranging. The Chapters include such titles as  The Geography of Britain and Its Counties (Chapter 1), and The English Language (Chapter 7); this latter section including such delights as Common Yorkshire Words And Phrases, Cockney Rhyming Slang and Common Welsh Phrases within its pages. As already noted, the main part of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. Although the majority concern the ‘positive’ side of being ‘British’, for ‘Completeness’ the last of these (titled Worst of Britain) is devoted to those things which the authors perceive as being to be the worst aspects of ‘British’ culture. It makes for interesting reading.   The text within the Chapters is invariably entertaining and in some instances contains relevant personal reminiscences. Because of its content, this volume is encyclopaedic in nature and suited for ‘dipping-type’ searching. Although (as this Reviewer proved) it is possible to read this book from cover to cover (and in a single sitting), the volume of information it contains tends to result in ‘information overload’ and such a practice is not to be recommended. It should also be noted that for unknown reasons, the focus of this book is primarily on England and, to a lesser extent Wales. Although references are made to locations within their borders, Scotland and Northern Ireland receive little attention.

As would be expected, the Contents page appears at the front of the volume.  However (and unusually), the reverse of that page contains both an Introduction (which gives a very brief summary of the book’s purpose), and an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to it. As it is more usual to have an individual page dedicated to each of these sections the reason for this arrangement is not known. The ten Chapters which constitute the main part of the volume then follow. Where additional information is provided within each Chapter, this takes the form of Subsections, the headings for which appear in Bold-type. A two-page Bibliography follows the Chapter section. Of the 36 entries the Bibliography  contains, 32 are websites, and only four are books.

 A four-page Index follows; completing the work. Although a small number of illustrations and numerous Tables appear within the book, the Contents page and Index make no mention of their existence. Surprisingly, given its subject, and the references to various British geographical, geopolitical and linguistic locations that it makes, the volume contains no Maps.

As it gives a ‘once-over lightly’ introduction to ‘British’ culture, this volume will probably have wide appeal. Tourists and potential immigrants are likely to peruse it with great and earnest interest. In this context it is perhaps unfortunate that as a potentially high-use book, consideration was not given to producing it as a hard-cover volume rather than using an easily-damaged, high-wear paperback format. That detail notwithstanding, residents of the British Isles and native-born ‘British’ may find it amusing to see themselves described by their peers. Linguists with an interest in the Welsh, Yorkshire and Cockney language / dialects may also find it useful in their researches.

For this reviewer, this volume is an ‘Introduction’ to the subject; it should not be taken as the ‘Final word’.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW:’Being British’