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justin1985

Pre-Grouping \ Line "encyclopedia"?

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When doing some writing for my day job my mind wandered onto some of the challenges of researching the pre-grouping companies. It strikes me there is a bit of a big gap in the railway publishing market.

 

In the area I work in for my day job (academic history) most books published are niche research monographs (one battle, one piece of technology, one city during one century etc.). In a lot of ways, this isn't so different from the railway publishing market, especially on pre-grouping topics: its pretty standard to get wonderfully researched niche books, like "Great Eastern Railway Engine Sheds" (excellent book!) and the recent "LB&SCR Carriages". Combined with the masses of information in the journals of the various line societies, it seems like most pre-grouping companies are pretty well researched. 

 

The problem is that to get hold of that information, especially if you're new to an interest in any particular line, you have to try and build up a really wide library of often hard to find books, and archives of line society journals (at least that is much easier now many of these are digitised on DVD etc). So, I've been interested in the Great Eastern since I first re-awakened my interest in railways as an adult, so I've built up a pretty wide library on that line. But when I took a bit more of an interest in my local LBSCR, it has proven quite a challenge to try and "start again" learning about another line.

 

In academic publishing, it is also pretty standard for the big publishers to commission big survey volumes that try and capture the "state of the art" in a broader area every so often - "The Oxford Handbook of X" etc. I don't think I've ever seen anything like this in the railway world? 

 

There have been some recent "big book" histories of the Scottish pre-grouping companies, but these seem to be much more blow-by-blow accounts of line building, mergers and boardroom intrigue etc., rather than details of stock and architecture etc that would be of interest to modellers.

 

I'm imagining a kind of "encyclopedia" on a pre-grouping company, summarising and acting as a gateway to all that wonderful research that already exists about all of these really distinctive companies. Rather than a "history", I'm picturing something organised by theme. Ian Futers' "Modelling Scottish Railways" seems to give a brief summary of each of the Scottish companies in something like this approach.

 

A bigger book might have sections like this - and of course would point to "Further reading" in the more detailed works that already exist (e.g. Oakwood line books, Tatlow on wagons, Yeadon on locos etc.)

  • Lines - short (2-4 pages?) histories of each line, with plenty of diagrams and illustrations
  • Personalities - short profiles of chief engineers and chairmen etc.
  • Architecture - short histories of particularly important stations, standard architectural styles used on different lines or in different eras (e.g. Great Eastern '1865'). Scale drawings of representative examples.
  • Permanent way - summary of styles used - interlaced sleepers or timbers? styles of buffer stop etc.
  • Signalling - distinctive styles? Signal box "types"etc.
  • Locomotives - short summaries of each type with scale drawings
  • Coaching stock - summaries of "types" or  "generations" of design
  • Wagons - The profiles of GER wagons on the "Basilica Fields" blog would be a good model for the kind of level of detail that would work well, I'd think?
  • Liveries - clear summaries of liveries used in different eras and on different types of stock, as many illustrations as possible.

Is there anything like this out there already? Would people be interested in a book like this?

 

 

Justin

Edited by justin1985
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I for one would be interested in such a series of publications, simply because as nice as these niche books are, I can't afford them! It's all very well having three volumes on LBSCR Coaches but I seem to remember they're more than £20 each, and as such that's over £60 for the set!

 

I think this is a great idea, and am now following with interest!

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In the case of the LBSCR, I think many of your subject headings were at least addressed by C. Hamilton Ellis, in his history of the line, published by Ian Allan in 1960 or ‘61. A lovely volume.

 

Railway histories tend to be a labour of love, I suggest, and so we get what we get, really. J.T.Howard-Turner published a three-volume history of the Brighton in the late ‘70s. Quite different in style from CHE’s, more detailed. I found it less readable.

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The Caledonian is well served in this respect with recent books on the history, wagons (with a supplement just published), coaching and NPCS and signalling, all by the CRA.  Locomotive are covered by 'Caledonian Locomotives 1882-1922' and 'The Caledonian Dunalastairs', buth fom David and Charles, and 'The Caledonian Jumbos' again from the CRA.

 

Admittedly these are all separate volumes, but to produce the detail of information which is contained in them would require a tome of academic proportions at a corresponding price!

 

Jim

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Thanks chaps. I hadn't realised the CRA published books as well as "The True Line" - they look very interesting indeed! Do any\many other line societies publish anything like that? 

 

The GERS only ever seem to have published the Journal - huge amounts of research there, I just don't think its ever been brought together thematically in the way those CRA books seem to. 

 

For some reason I'd been thinking the Hamilton Ellis book was just a locomotive history. I've ordered a copy from Amazon now!

 

Best

Justin

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Does this mean you may not follow up the idea? Shame, I was looking forward to a new series!

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Does this mean you may not follow up the idea? Shame, I was looking forward to a new series!

 

As Olddudders said, railway books are a labour of love. This isn't something I was planning to rush into! 

 

To do something like this properly it would need to be a joint effort, or at least have the cooperation of, the leading experts in each field in the respective line societies. If the CRA have done essentially this, perhaps this could be a kind of model or at least example for others to follow. It might not be quite a "one stop shop", but purchase all 4 or 5 volumes and you have everything you need to start modelling the Caley, by the sound of it. 

 

It's actually the NBR and GNoSR that have caught my interest the most amongst the Scottish railways, but I'm still tempted to buy one or two of those CRA books - its a shame the liveries one is out of print! 

 

I'd certainly be interested to see any other examples. I've been a mainly passive member of the GERS so far, but perhaps I'll try and find a way to bring up the suggestion of pursuing something similar, either under the GERS banner or independently with their support/cooperation. But certainly no hurry.

 

Justin

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The GNR Society have a whole range of books on GNR rolling stock and RCTS published a 4 volume series on locomotives and their histories (without drawings IIRC).  

 

While I might well be very interested if such a work existed, I think the size of each volume would be enormous.

 

While I am probably wrong, I think a lot of the information is already out there but you have to do a lot of digging and expend a lot of money to get everything covered.  The biggest gaps are likely to be scale drawings.

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While I am probably wrong, I think a lot of the information is already out there but you have to do a lot of digging and expend a lot of money to get everything covered.  The biggest gaps are likely to be scale drawings.

 

That's exactly the point that got me thinking. The information is out there when you dig deeply enough, but its not always easy (in terms of knowledge or logistics).

 

When I look at other pre-grouping companies I'd really appreciate some kind of moderately detailed summary that gives me a "way in" - both in terms of some basic knowledge, and in practical terms of knowing where to look for more detailed information. 

 

The GERS website actually has some really excellent articles reproduced from the Journal that do pretty much this for locomotives and carriages - e.g. John Watling's really nice summary of developments in GER carriage building. Bringing the information together like this, when it originally appeared over a whole series of Journal issues, makes it much more accessible and more digestible. I can't help thinking that having this kind of information in an actual book would be even better!

 

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I do agree that to have everything in one place would be the ideal, though I think we are beyond a book - a website might be a good solution.

 

I make no apology for once again posting about what is happening with French pre-nationalisation information which is being collated on the web under the Rails d'Autrefois banner (rails from another time).  So far they have something like 35000 entries (including the drawings where they are available) and are part way into their second and third companies out of 7.

 

http://railsdautrefois.fr/

 

The English translations cover only a few cover pages but not the real information, but you can get a feel.

 

So far I think it has been 10 years of work

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For some reason I'd been thinking the Hamilton Ellis book was just a locomotive history. I've ordered a copy from Amazon now!

 

Best

Justin

Locos certainly get their share of the limelight, perhaps more than their share, but the development of the network of lines, timetables and train services, architecture, even matters maritime, all get a significant mention. And Bradley has published three detailed volumes on locomotives for those who seek to know more. CHE lived in Dorking in his yoof, as did I, 50 years later, so perhaps I am biased, but I feel sure you will not be disappointed with your purchase.

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A few people might like a general book, something along the lines of Jack Kite’s photo albums, along with a bit more text, but as well as the royalties you may have to pay the owners of some of the pictures (although anything pre 1911 is out of copyright and nearly everything pre-group probably is), there were 123 companies combined into 4 as a result of the 1921 Act, and some railway companies were left outside from it, with route miles ranging from a couple of thousand or so down to not much more than a long sprint.

 

To provide all these with a few pages, with some proportion to the size and complexity of the companies, would require a large collection of fairly substantial volumes. I don’t think you would sell enough: people might buy the odd volume which appealed to them, but you are fairly unlikely to find many new facts and photos.

 

The recent book on the SMJR contained two photos I had not seen before after 35 years of off and on research, and that was from an extremely dedicated author who went to great lengths to be as comprehensive as he could. (And I provided one of the photos and a caption for it. Gratis, I might add.) Why would I buy a general volume that would barely scratch the surface of my particular interest? Why would I commit to, say, £30 a volume for a 12-part series? I could buy a lot of tools and raw materials for that money!

 

Have you seen the old David and Charles series, “A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain”? Sometimes the photos are biased towards the 50s, but there is a lot of useful information on a region by region basis.

 

I don’t want to pour cold water on your enthusiasm, but this would be a monstrous undertaking and you would need to get the facts right. If your username indicates the year of your birth, then I would advise starting now: you might just get to see the final volume published before you retire from full-time employment, and you can say goodbye to building (m)any models.

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I don’t want to pour cold water on your enthusiasm, but this would be a monstrous undertaking and you would need to get the facts right. If your username indicates the year of your birth, then I would advise starting now: you might just get to see the final volume published before you retire from full-time employment, and you can say goodbye to building (m)any models.

 

I wasn't proposing creating a full set for all of the pre-grouping companies myself. And certainly not one big encyclopedia of all the pre-grouping companies in general!

 

I've built up a pretty good knowledge on the GER, although I'm obviously no way near as much of an expert as John Watling and others. I might have enough knowledge to (help?) synthesise the information on the GER, but I wouldn't propose to do the same for another line myself. If a publisher coordinated a series of lines or something like that, that would obviously be excellent!

 

J

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 - its a shame the liveries one is out of print! 

It has just been noted on the CRA forum that it is available on Ebay   It is also on Amazon, but at an eye-wateringly inflated price!!

 

Jim

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There is the Encyclopedia of British Railway Companies by Christopher Awdry. My copy is the Railway Book Club version with hints towards Patrick Stephens. There is only a paragraph or two on each company and a few photographs but it still runs to 280 (nearly) A4 pages.

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OD’s suggested starting place is a very sound one, and the same IA series included general histories of several other companies too. And, it wasn’t only IA that published these general histories, others did too.

 

In short, a good place to start is to go for older books, before the amount of detail of the particular made it impossible to see the wood for the trees.

 

They’re cheap too, especially if you ferret about at secondhand stalls at exhibitions and preserved railways, because every enthusiast had a shelf full in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

 

Kevin

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