Posted by: billpurdue | December 22, 2010

My favourite topic

Well, as it’s the last posting before Christmas, I’m indulging myself in my favourite topic – railways. You can never have too many railway books – at least that’s always been my excuse for buying yet more of them. So I’m going to take a look back at some of the more important railway books I have bought over the years.

My railway book collecting dates back a long way. I have in front of me one book which was a Christmas present from my parents in 1968. Decline of Steam by Colin T Gifford  (63/- or £3.15p) is a landscape format volume of 291 black and white photographs taken during the final years of steam traction on our railways. The photos are very evocative and atmospheric and not all of them have steam locomotives in them; often it’s just the paraphernalia of railway operations during that era – the signals, the oil lamps, the coaling plant and the loco shed – that dominate the scene. Some of my favourite photos in the book are taken inside loco sheds where rays of sunlight stream down on engines, seen almost completely in silhouette. There’s nostalgia for you! This book is still available from second hand dealers.

For some reason – don’t ask me why – I became interested in the Irish narrow guage railways quite early on and the first book I read about them was Edward M Patterson’s The County Donegal Railways (first published in 1962 by David and Charles : my copy cost only 50 pence in 1969!). I think the reason for my fascination was the wild terrain of the west of Ireland and some of the strange looking locomotives they used, as well as the rather unusual operating methods. Some the Donegal’s diesel locos were railbuses which looked like 1930s single deck buses which had had the tyres replaced with locomotive wheels. This book is available from second hand sources, but if you want a new book, try The Wee Donegal Revisited [Colourpoint £19.99 978-1904242024] by Robert Rowbotham and Joseph A Curran – a book that’s still on my “wants” list.

In 1925 a special event was held in the County Durham to mark the centenary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. A cavalcade of 53 locomotives old and new drove slowly past the Duke and Duchess of York and other dignitaries and large crowds of onlookers. A similar event took place in the same spot 50 years later. Cavalcade Remembered – 1925 [British Rail 1976 £1] is a slim paperback containing about 60 official photographs taken at the 1925 event. Companion volumes were published of photos taken at the 1975 celebrations. I remember being on a canal holiday at the time of the 1975 cavalcade and could only read about the event in the daily paper.

Railway timetables are a favourite browse of many railway enthusiasts. One of my timetables is a reprint in hardback of Bradshaw’s July 1938 Railway Guide by David and Charles. Though I haven’t done this myself, many Bradshaw’s enthusiasts enjoy planning imaginary journeys throughout the length and breadth of the UK and the Irish Republic by looking up the train times in their Bradshaw’s. You can even decide which hotel to stay at using 135 page section of hotel adverts ( like The Station Hotel, Rothbury, telephone Rothbury 5 or the New Bath Hotel at Matlock Bath, tel. Matlock 39). Armchair travel as it used to be.

Finally a pictorial album about the London Midland and Scottish Railway. Thanks to private collections, the National Railway Museum (, British Railways and picture agencies, there are many thousands of photos out there covering every aspect of the work of the railways. In the LMS Album by H N Twells (OPC 1982, £7.95), as well as a few of the usual passenger trains speeding along the track, there are photos of derailed trains, ambulance trains, locos on shed, Pullman cars, stations and even aircraft (yes, the LMS did run some air services before 1939) and canal boats.

Well that’s my dip into the world of 20th century railway literature. New railway books are still being published of course and I hope to bring a few to your attention in the coming year.

Whatever you are doing over the festive season, I hope you have a great time and I wish you happy reading in 2011! Thanks for reading my blog – if you want more (and I hope you do!) I’ll be back in January.

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