Nostalgia – in books…
Looking back at some influential publications…
For this post I thought I would take a little look into a series of books that have provided, and continue to do so, much enjoyment, inspiration and coverage of a wide spectrum of railway history might fit in with the holiday weather we are currently enjoying. Inexpensive books (though some now command a premium price!), widely available and once more or less the definitive work on their subject, these picture books, usually containing somewhere shy of 90 black and white photographs, have become a regular feature of second hand stalls or fund raising shops at heritage and tourist railways across the UK, but they should not be overlooked for this ubiquity or their early appearance in the transport ‘library’.
Bradford Barton introduced their familiar square-shaped pictorial books on largely railway subjects in 1973. Based in Truro, Cornwall, they eventually listed over 150 titles in their series, with some single volumes featuring more obscure subjects, and series covering the larger railway companies and their locomotives. Some of the titles were reprinted in later years by different publishers - but their quality does not match those of the originals and these should usually be avoided.
In recent years there have been some extraordinary railway books, covering in considerable depths the subject of British railway history in its many facets and ranging from highly technical to social history and all stops in between. We have become accustomed to awaiting the latest detailed volume on a particular railway, no matter how obscure; the product sometimes of a lifetime of work by the author, drawing on a wide variety of sources, the colossal assistance of the internet and the greater ease of access to archives and original documents in repositories across the country.
For this reason, the Bradford Barton books have, perhaps, rather been eclipsed. However, they provide a valuable resource on the shelf of any enthusiast’s library and are worthy of further study – not least those albums that covered subjects seemingly so rare and off the beaten track (a title used by Bradford Barton themselves on at least one book) that they became particularly sought after. In this regard they can also be considered remarkable as providing the first published works on some subjects, and their authors had the first trawl of the photographic collections then available – often the ‘definitive’ views in some cases.
I have quite a number of Bradford Barton books in my collection, and some are real favourites which are often to be found on the arm of the sofa as I dip into their contents. I thought that I would share a few of these with readers, and dwell a little in the nostalgia of our recent publication history…
Below: Industrial Narrow Gauge Railways in Britain by Peter Nicholson
My first choice is a book that I recall in the mid 1990s was something of a ‘holy grail’ for those of us distracted by the curious and obscure industrial narrow gauge railways. These are now very well covered by publishers, but at the time I became aware of this book (1995) and shelled out £16 for a good second-hand copy, it was one of the key sources of information on the subject, often discussed in slightly awed tones in the mess-room of the railway I was then involved with. It was something of a ‘coming of age’ book in this regard, in that it’s acquisition marked your initiation into the industrial narrow gauge World and proved one’s credibility to speak of Simplexes, Ruston 20DLs or Penrhyn and Dinorwic. 22 years on, my copy is still regularly consulted, for a little inspiration when sketching up a project for Beamish’s narrow gauge, or a reminder of the many hundreds of plans that I drew for model railways never built or imaginary preservation projects never formed. Still, it obviously worked to some extent and so to some degree, Beamish’s narrow gauge railway owes its existence to this particular book!
Below: On the Isle of Man Narrow Gauge by J. I. C. Boyd
I am a fairly recent convert to the charms of the Manx system of three-foot gauge railways, so armed with the knowledge that Bradford Barton books always marked a good entry point to a subject, I soon purchased this copy of Boyd’s book on the subject. I regard this as something of an elite example of publishing from this company, as Boyd would later to go on to produce the definitive history of the railways on the Isle of Man and was therefore writing from a considerably well-informed platform – reflected in the longer captions and wide-ranging selection of images. The railway system’s early years are covered well, and some truly beautiful images amply illustrate why this railway has had, and continues to exert, such appeal. It includes one of my favourite photographs of a narrow gauge railway, on page 12 (upper)… I’ll leave those with a copy of the book to look it up!
Below: Mineral Railways of the West Country by Tony Fairclough and Eric Shepherd
I had already gathered quite a collection of Bradford Barton books when I came across and purchased this one – and what a revelation it has proven to be! Another book that makes full use of some significant early images of the subjects covered, and with comprehensive captions once again a feature. I can probably count several images that have inspired particular narrow gauge features on the ‘to build’ list, and quite a number of characterful locomotives that would make very good subjects for replication – full size or model! The cover is perhaps not as inspiring as it might be, given the very rich contents within…
Below: The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway by J. R. Yeomans
Today, with significant internet presence, several books chronicling the history of this beautiful railway and even the ‘Lynton & Barnstaple – Measured and Drawn’ representing the line in stunning drawing form, it is easy to forget books that were once almost the first and last word on the subject. The Oakwood Locomotion Papers were significant in covering many railways (including the L&B) in detail, but Bradford Barton titles such as this brought the subject to a much wider audience. This volume is no exception to this, and its pictorial journey, covering the various era of the railway, provides a tremendous insight into the charm of the route and the scale of its ambitions, largely dashed. Even though there was a high degree of standardisation in the locomotives and rolling stock, even the later application of a ‘main line’ livery to the locomotives served to enhance and enrich its history rather than detract in any way. Indeed, the investment made by the Southern Railway breathed new life into the line and took it into a new post-light railway era and very much reinvented it, perhaps creating its most popular period of operation – much modelled and also now being superbly recreated by preservationists intent on resurrecting the route. It is also enjoyable to see photographs taken in less clement weather – somehow making it seem more accessible when browsing this book and a reminder the sun did not always shine. Of course, photographic technology was such that it worked best in sunlight, so it is all the more interesting to see wet-day images taken in one of the premier tourist regions of the UK.
There we go – ringing the changes and perhaps of interest to readers here. Obviously I can claim no connection with the long defunct company that published these books – merely being an appreciative reader of their wares and collector of these appealing volumes.