Posted by: billpurdue | July 19, 2014

Looking back on a lifetime of railway writing

David St. John Thomas is well known amongst buyers of railway books: he’s written quite a lot: amongst those best known are “The Country Railway”, “The Great Days of the Express Trains” and “The Trains We Loved”. He’s also well known for his publishing company David and Charles, which he founded along with his friend Charles Hadfield, author of “Hadfield’s British Canals”. Thomas’ latest book is “Farewell to Trains” (published by Frances Lincoln – he sold ‘David and Charles’ to Reader’s Digest in 2000).


The subtitle of this book is “A lifetime’s journey along Britain’s changing railways”. It’s brimming with railway nostalgia as the author looks back over a very long career of journalism and railway writing and then publishing. There are three chapters entitled ’65 Years of Railway Writing’ – 1:1946-63 , 2: 1963-84 and 3: 1984-2011, in which are reproduced extracts from some of his books as well as articles for newspapers and even a radio script. In another chapter he imagines railway scenes from different locations from various railway eras. He devotes another chapter to the railway related paintings and other pictures and photos which adorn the walls of his house in Scotland.


Short sections are devoted to a selection of photographs by Peter W Gray, H C Casserley, John Edington and Bernard Mills. There are also photographs scattered throughout the book, but most of the time these photos are not connected with the text. In the ‘Author’s note’ it states that the text and photos run parallel with each other rather than being connected. There seems to be much more about the Great Western and West Country railways in general than about other areas of the country, although this is possibly to be expected as Thomas grew up in the area and his publishing company was based at Newton Abbot in Devon. He also mentions Irish railways, a topic I also find fascinating because of their quirky nature.


All in all, this book is a bit of a mixture, but anyone wanting a wallow in railway nostalgia will love it. I wonder if Thomas really has given his final word on railways or will he write more? Time will tell.


The wonder of dogs


Being a lifelong dog lover, I was drawn to a book I saw on the shelves at W H Smith this week. It was amongst their best selling non-fiction titles and is called “John and George, the dog who changed my life”. It’s by John Dolan, someone who only a short time ago was in and out of prison and a heroin addict, but he says he owes his transformation to George. George is a lovely Staffordshire Bull Terrier, now 7 years old. John is now a street artist and currently has an exhibition at the Howard Griffin Gallery, London E1, until 17th August. There’s a full length article in the Guardian family supplement for 19th July 2014.  John’s (and George’s) story is definitely one I want to read.



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