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David & Charles' "Regional History of the Railways of Britain": are they any good?


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The title says it all, really. These books seem to have been around forever (a check on Amazon suggests that they date from the 60s and 70s); but I'm interested in whether they're actually any good. Are they reliable as works of history?

 

I've never read one, so I really don't know (although I note that the volume on North-Eastern England was by Ken Hoole, which is a good sign). I've been reading some books on the earliest years of the rail network recently, and I was wondering about getting one or two of these volumes.

 

Thanks

 

Jim

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They are generally reliable histories, written by authors who knew their stuff, and being histories they are current up to the dates of publication, but may not be updated since the 70’s.

 

They are not very generously illustrated as the publisher also had an album picture book for each region. Don’t expect excitement either, the style varied between authors. They used to be a staple of public & club libraries so you didn’t need to buy them, maybe try one for your favourite or local region?
 

Dava

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Yes. Very much a history though.

 

More a brief description of each line with a few photographs and maps. Good for getting a general idea of the geography of railways in an area, some places are quite complicated.

 

Personally I think worth getting but I wouldn't pay more than about a tenner each for a very good copy.

 

 

Jason

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Agree with the foregoing.

 

I hadn’t had time/inclination to get ‘into’ the railway history of the area where I now live until recently, and needed a primer to get a good overview of a lot of complexity, so borrowed one from a pal. Excellent for that purpose.

 

id regard them as ‘standard works’, which will probably outlive a lot of insanely detailed (every telegraph pole) histories of particular sections of line.

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I agree with the above. I have those for the areas I am interested in and they are always a first port of call for information - though not as Nearholmer says in enormous detail. One volume came out later in paperback in a different format under the title "West country railway history" but I don't know whether any others did.

Jonathan

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22 hours ago, Jim Martin said:

The title says it all, really. These books seem to have been around forever (a check on Amazon suggests that they date from the 60s and 70s); but I'm interested in whether they're actually any good. Are they reliable as works of history?

 

I've never read one, so I really don't know (although I note that the volume on North-Eastern England was by Ken Hoole, which is a good sign). I've been reading some books on the earliest years of the rail network recently, and I was wondering about getting one or two of these volumes.

 

Thanks

 

Jim

 

Hi Jim,

The previous contributors to the topic have posted many positive comments about this extensive series of books and I agree with them all. Kevin (Nearholmer) regards them as 'Standard works' and Jonathan (Cornelius) as his 'first port of call'. David (Dava) is correct that they were written by 'authors who knew their stuff' and many have been revised (and occasionally enlarged) by subsequent 'sages' in the areas under study.

 

Although, all the contributors to this topic may well know the full extent of the Regional History Series, I wondered if it might be worth adding a list of all the volumes, for those not fully aware of the complete series. (I believe that the list below includes the latest hard-back revised editions of each of the volumes produced, but there may well be even later impressions out there).

 

The history of the railways has fascinated me since school-days and over the years I have been fortunate to be able to collect examples of all of these excellent volumes. I've not read them all yet by a long shot, but sections from each of them, as and when the urge sends me in the direction of another part of the railway network that once stretched across all areas of the British Isles.

 

Every volume has a fold out map of the area covered and many local area sketch maps in the text.  However, I have found a pre-grouping period railway atlas often very helpful to relate the area under study to its surrounding geography and routes.

 

All the titles were originally published by David & Charles and pre-fixed; A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain - excepting Volume 16, which is sub-titled A Regional History of Railways and was published by Atlantic Transport Publishers.  The date in brackets is the publishing date of the first edition.

 

1. The West Country by D.St. John Thomas (1960), 4th Revised Ed. 1973: ISBN  0-7153-6208-9.

2. Southern England by H.P. White (1961), 4th Revised Edition 1982: 0-7153-8365-5.

3. Greater London by H.P. White (1963), 3rd Revised Edition 1987: 0-946537 -39-9.

4. North East England by Ken Hoole (1965), 3rd Revised Edition 1986: 0-946537-31-3.

5. The Eastern Counties by D. Gordon (1968), 2nd Revised Edition 1977: 0-7153-7431-1.

6. Scotland, The Lowlands by J. Thomas & A. Patterson (1971) 2nd R. Ed. 1984: 0-946537-12-7.

7. The West Midlands by Rex Christiansen (1973) 2nd Revised Edition 1983: 0-946537-00-3.

8. South West Yorkshire by David Joy (1975) 2nd Revised Edition 1984: 0-946537-11-9.

9. The East Midlands by Robin Leleux (1976) 2nd Revised Edition 1984: 0-946537-06-2.

10. The North West by Geoffrey Holt (1978) 2nd Revised Edition 1986: 0-946537-34-8.

11. North & Mid Wales by Peter Baughan (1980) 2nd Impression 1982: 0-7153-7850-3.

12. South Wales by D.S. Barrie (1980) 2nd Edition 1994: 0-946537-69-0.

13. Thames & Severn by Rex Christiansen 1981: First Edition 0-7153-8004-4.

14. The Lake Counties by David Joy 1983: First Edition 0-946537-02-X.

15. The North of Scotland by J. Thomas & David Turnock 1989: First Ed. 0-946537-03-8.

16. Ireland by J.W.P. Rowledge 1995: (Atlantic Transport) First Ed. 0-906899-63-X.

 

Although the second-hand book market is quite volatile at the moment, several of the titles are harder to find in good condition, but IMO all are worth adding to your shelves if you're interested in how the railway network of the Isles developed.

 

I hope this information helps you decide to try one, or two . . 

All the very best,

John.

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They are general potted histories, covering their whole patch. As far as I'm aware they are reliable and their authors were reputable authorities. As a basic introduction to what was out there, when it was built and by whom, and when it closed , they are useful. For detailed accounts of lines , including their operation and post war description, you would go to a line monograph of the Oakwood Locomotive  Papers style

 

Lightly garnished with a few pictures , and invariably featuring a good pull-out map of the area showing all lines and stations, marked for pre-grouping company

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Gosh! There seems to be a rare degree of consensus about the virtues of this series. I think that I will invest in a couple (probably starting with the Northern Scotland volume). Many thanks to everyone who replied.

 

Jim

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As Jason ('Steamport') has indicated above, there was a Companion series to the Regional Histories by David & Charles under the Headline "Forgotten Railways of . . ." and running to 11 volumes. Plus there is a slightly larger 'Introductory' overview book under the same title, which was published just before the final volume of the regional series.

 

Here's another list - as previously the first edition publishing date is in brackets and the volumes are listed in publishing date order (as they carry no volume number sequence).  I don't know how many impressions might have been issued and to date, I've only seen one revised edition.  All were published by David & Charles, excepting the H.P White overview volume (my copy was by Guild Publishing / Book Club Associates).  Perhaps Simon (Not Jeremy) might know a bit more?

 

1. North East England by Ken Hoole (1973) ISBN 0-7153-5804-4.

2. East Midlands by P.H. Anderson (1973) 2nd Impression 1979 0-7153-6094-9

3. Chilterns & Cotswolds by R. Davies & M. Grant (1975) 0-7153-66701-3.

4. North & Mid Wales by Rex Christiansen (1976) 1979 0-7153-7059-6.

5. Scotland by John Thomas (1976) 2nd Edition 1981 0-7153-8193-8.

6. South East England by H.P. White (1976) 0-7153-7286-6.

7. East Anglia by R.S. Joby (1977) 0-7153-7312-9.

8. South Wales by James Page (1979) 2nd Impression 1980 0-7153-7734-5.

9. North West England by John Marshall (1981) 1992 edition 0-946537-71-2.

10. West Midlands by Rex Christiansen (1985) 0-946537-01-1.

11. Severn Valley & Welsh Borders by Rex Christiansen (1988) 0-946537-43-7.

*.  Forgotten Railways by H.P. White (Overview volume 1986) Guild Publishing CN5698.

 

I hope this extra information helps.

Happy reading,

All the very best,

John.

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In the first reply to this topic, Dava mentions another series of books by the publishers David & Charles Ltd., which were related to the Regional Histories.

 

These volumes are a series of albums of photographs promoted under the banner headline "Railway History in Pictures . . ." and listed below are 15 volumes from the series, several of which refer to areas in the 'Regional History' series.  However, there may well be more titles out there.

 

As with the previous lists the first edition publishing date is in brackets and the volumes are listed in publishing date order (as again they carry no volume number sequencing).

 

1. The pilot volume was: Scottish Railway History in Pictures - John Thomas (1967) 7153-4161-8.

All the following titles (excepting 7 and 15) were pre-fixed:  "Railway History in Pictures" = RHiP:

2. RHiP - North West England by J. Clarke & J. Allan-Patmore (1968) SBN 7153-4274-6.

3. RHiP - North East England by Ken Hoole (1969) U.S. publishing No. 68-23818?

4. RHiP - The Midlands by H.C. Casserley & C.C. Dorman (1969) SBN 7153-4687-3.

5. RHiP - Ireland, Volume 1 by Alan McCutcheon (1969) SBN 7153-4651-2.

6. RHiP - Ireland, Volume 2 by Alan McCutcheon (1970) ISBN 0-7153-4998-8.

7. The Picture History of the Somerset & Dorset Railway by Robin Atthill (1970) 0-7153-4933-3.

8. RHiP - The West Country by R.C. Riley (1972) 0-7153-5479-5.

9. RHiP - Stockton & Darlington Railway by Ken Hoole (1975) 0-7153-6770-6 (a).

10. RHiP - Wessex by H.C. Casserley (1975) 0-7153-7058-8 (a).

11. RHiP - Chilterns & Cotswolds by M. Davies & J. Grant (1977) 0-7153-7299-8 (a).

12. RHiP - The British Railway Station by G. Biddle & J. Spence (1977) 0-7153-7467-2.

13. RHiP - The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway by John Marshall (1977) 0-7153-7478-8.

14. RHiP - East Anglia by Peter Swinger (1983) 0-7153-8205-5. (a).

15. Rather than reprint the pilot book, David St. John Thomas suggested John Thomas produce a new version, hence: The Scottish Railway Book by John Thomas (1977) 0-7153-7324-2 (a).

 

I hope this extra information proves useful.

 

All the very best,

John.

 

Note: All the volumes, excepting those marked with (a), were produced in hardback with cloth boards and a coloured dust-jacket, to a book size of 7.25" x 9.5" (a fairly common album size).  However, the five volumes tagged (a) were produced to 7" x 10" and the last two listed have only glazed boards and lack dust-jackets

 

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John (Old Gringo) - I really appreciate you taking the time and trouble to list out the three series of books, thereby creating both a resource and point of reference within this thread.

 

I've tended to buy the books within these series that cover my areas of interest - while agreeing with the consensus, I find that coverage of a particular "region" can often be quite broad.  More specific histories (such as those from Oakwood and Middleton Press) are more often the first point of call.

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Another in agreement.  In the 80s I bought all of 1 to15 and still sometimes use them for historical reference, although you have to realise that more recent years are not covered.  Two or three I could only find in paperback.  They remind me of a time when many people actually read books instead of just looking at the pictures.  What is also very interesting is the authors' expectations for the future, which now often seem rather optimistic.  

 

I hadn't realised there was one on Ireland  but wouldn't expect that as it is not part of Great Britain.  

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The Ireland one [last in series from 1995] is actually very good, I got it before going on holidays to Ireland as I didnt know much about the standard gauge railways. Its the only one I own, I read most of the others as library books. The 'Forgotten Railways' series are quite readable but the Julian Holland type picturebooks have pretty well replaced these now.

 

Dava 

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I read quite a few of the David & Charles Regional Histories as a teenager - from the Public Library - but I have to say I found the parallel series of company histories more interesting, perhaps because they told a more unified story. But both series remain as has been said, standard works, without which one would be much less well-informed. There was also a series of regional histories of canals. 

Edited by Compound2632
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20 hours ago, Compound2632 said:

There was also a series of regional histories of canals. 

 

Which are excellent (apart from stopping at nationalisation).  Most of them were written by Charles Hadfield (the Charles of David & Charles).

 

Adrian

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4 minutes ago, figworthy said:

 

Which are excellent (apart from stopping at nationalisation).  Most of them were written by Charles Hadfield (the Charles of David & Charles).

 

David being David St John Thomas, author of The Country Railway, possibly the greatest railway book of all time. Not to be confused with John Thomas, who wrote a goodly proportion of David & Charles' Scottish railway list, including the classic The Springburn Story.

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A ‘John Thomas’ also features in the greatest literary tribute written to the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Tramway (or possibly any British tramway), the short story ‘Tickets, please’, by none other than DH Lawrence, in ‘England, my England’. Apart from the base of a trampole on the edge of Ripley, it is the only enduring legacy of England’s most dangerous (or exciting) tramway.

 

Dava

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 15/10/2020 at 18:49, Compound2632 said:

 

David being David St John Thomas, author of The Country Railway, possibly the greatest railway book of all time. Not to be confused with John Thomas, who wrote a goodly proportion of David & Charles' Scottish railway list, including the classic The Springburn Story.

 

In the note above, Stephen (Compound 2632) mentions that John Thomas wrote quite a number of the volumes on Scottish railway subjects published by David & Charles.  After reading this, I was interested enough to find out how many books Mr. Thomas might have written.

 

So, a bit of a swerve 'off-topic' - mainly for those interested in Scottish railway history - here's yet another list of books; this time by John Thomas (1914-1982) and including all those of his published by David & Charles.  Born in the Springburn area of Glasgow, John Thomas wrote at least 24 books, with the earliest railway-connected title (and perhaps his first book) being 'Obstruction - Danger! - Stories of memorable railway accidents', 276 pages published by Blackwood in 1937.

 

His early output appears to have included the following titles; 'Earthquake in England', 'Himalayan Journey' and 'Line of Communication', before returning to another railway-connected title, 'British Railways Steamers on the Clyde', a 48 page paperback published by Ian Allan in 1948.

 

I've never seen any of these first five books and would be especially interested to read the content of 'Obstruction - Danger!'.  This book predates (by 18 years and is included in the references of) Tom Rolt's classic volume regarding railway accidents, 'Red for Danger', first published by Bodley Head in 1955 and reprinted many times.

 

Next, it seems that John Thomas wrote five titles 'for young people'. I suspect that the first of these was 'The Story of George Stephenson', 171 pages published by Oxford University Press in 1952.  Three of the titles were included in the 'True Book' series (i), published by Frederick Muller Limited in the 1950s: No.1, 'Lawrence of Arabia', No. 16, 'Leonardo da Vinci' and No. 39, 'The Crusades'. The final title in the category 'for young people' was 'The Story of Sir Lancelot', but not listed in the true book series.

 

By the early 1960s John Thomas had therefore ten published works, before he had his first work published by David & Charles in 1964.  Subsequently, all the books published by D & C were directly connected to Scottish railway history.  He also wrote at least one introduction to another authors' work (ii) and also introductions to a couple of Reprints by D & C (iii) - one of which is a classic Victorian railway book (iv).  AFAIK, the final book that he was involved with was the penultimate in the series of the Regional Histories; Volume 15, completed by David Turnock several years after Mr. Thomas's death.

 

Here's all that I've found so far and as with the previous lists, the first edition publishing date is in brackets and the titles are listed in date order of publication.

1. The Springburn Story (1964),260 pages; which concentrates on the railway workshops of the area, including those of both the North British and the Caledonian Railways plus the independent companies - and with this book began his relationship with David & Charles.  The first edition of The Springburn Story has a rather splendid dust-jacket, with a picture of a bright green-liveried locomotive built for export to Egypt in March 1948 being towed from Hyde Park Works by a couple of traction engines ('Simplicity' and 'Supreme') through the streets of Glasgow.

The un-credited artwork is based on a North British official photograph, which appears on p52 of 'Scottish Railways in Pictures' and on p231 of 'A Century of Traction Engines' by W.J. Hughes (2nd ed. 1968, also published by David & Charles).

Edit: A second edition of the 'Springburn Story' was published in 1974, with the same cover artwork and a list of all the books by John Thomas up to that time: ISBN 0-7153-6482-0.  Thanks to Stephen for this extra information and a picture in the next post.

 

2. The West Highland Railway (1965) 172 pages, 3rd edition 1984.

3. The Callander & Oban Railway (1966) 200 pages. A later edition updated by John Farrington.

4. The Story of 828, Caledonian Rly, McIntosh 0-6-0 of 1899 (1967) - and still in steam!

5. Scottish Railways in Pictures (1967) 112 pages, SBN 7153-4161-8.

6. Gretna, Britain's Worst Railway Disaster, 1915 (1969) 143 pages, SBN 7153-4645-8.

7. The North British Railway, Volume 1. (1969) 256 pages. SBN 7153-4697-0.

8. Regional History No. 6: Scotland, The Lowlands & Borders with A. Patterson (1971) 288 pages.

9. The Tay Bridge Disaster (1972) 208 pages, ISBN 0-7153-5428-0.

10. The North British Atlantics (1972) 188 pages, ISBN 0-7152- 5588-0.

[11.] Introduction to the (1972) reprint of the 2nd edition (1895) of 'Mountain, Moor & Loch' - The Route of the West Highland Railway, ISBN 0-7153-5422-1 - see also note (iv).

12. The North British Railway, Volume 2. (1975) 224 pages, ISBN 0-7153-6699-8

13. Forgotten Railways of Scotland, No. 5 in the series, (1976) 224 pages.

14. The Skye Railway (1977) 168 pages, Revised 181page edition 1990, ISBN 0-946537-48-8.

15. The Scottish Railway Book (1977) 96 page revision of the 1967 book, ISBN 0-7153-7324-2.

16. AFAIK, the final book, that John Thomas was involved and shares authorship with, was the penultimate in the Regional Histories series; Volume 15, North of Scotland (1989), and which was completed after his death by David Turnock.

 

Extra Notes:

(i) The True Book about Railways, No. 72, by Ernest Carter (1959), 142 pages measuring 6" x 4", has a full list of titles up to 1959 printed on the rear of the red and white striped dust-jacket. 

(ii) Introduction to 'Rails around Glasgow' by W.A.C. Smith (1980) 56 pages.

(iii) A (1970) Reprint by D & C of a North British Locomotive catalogue of narrow gauge locomotives (1912), with an introduction by John Thomas and notes by Alan Dunbar.

(iv) 'Mountain, Moor & Loch' illustrated by pen and pencil, on the route of the West Highland Railway. with 230 illustrations from original drawings (first published 1894 / 180 pages).  The (1972) reprint by David & Charles of the 1895 edition has a 5 page introduction by John Thomas and is a super reproduction, lacking only the colour washes found on the six maps of the original publication.  At the end of the introduction, following the comment that the combined sales figures of the 1894 and 1895 editions totalled some 25,000 copies, J.T. muses, "In 1901, six months before the opening of the Mallaig extension, the North British Railway board turned down a proposal that the book be re-issued incorporating a description of the Mallaig line. Why ........etc.?".

 

Hope this information helps all those interested in the history of Scottish railways.

 

Enjoy your reading in these trying times!

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4 minutes ago, Old Gringo said:

1. The Springburn Story (1964),260 pages; which concentrates on the railway workshops of the area, including those of both the North British and the Caledonian Railways plus the independent companies - and with this book began his relationship with David & Charles.  The first edition of The Springburn Story has a rather splendid dust-jacket, with a picture of a bright green-liveried locomotive built for export to Egypt in March 1948 being towed from Hyde Park Works by a couple of traction engines ('Simplicity' and 'Supreme') through the streets of Glasgow.

The un-credited artwork is based on a North British official photograph, which appears on p52 of 'Scottish Railways in Pictures' and on p231 of 'A Century of Traction Engines' by W.J. Hughes (2nd ed. 1968, also published by David & Charles). I believe that there was a second edition of the 'Springburn Story' published in 1974, but don't know whether it has the same cover, or if it has an ISBN number.  If anyone else has this information, please let me know and I'll edit it in?

 

I have the 1974 edition, ISBN 0 7153 6482 0. The reverse of the title page lists all John Thomas' publications prior to 1974 but not in chronological order. The dust jacket illustration is the same, or possibly a crop from it, since one traction engine and the locomotive fill the cover, with the rear wheel of the leading traction engine wrapped around the spine. On the back cover, blurb for The North British Railway Vol. 1 and Nock's The Caledonian Dunalastairs. Photo from a seller's website:

 

image.png.6785b9a83fe931784c55d02f21b2a9be.png

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John Thomas's description, in Chapter 1 of the West Highland Railway, of the opening special train is in IMHO a wonderful piece of writing and every time I read it inspires to make another trip on the WHL, even if today's trains do not have quite the same romance !

 

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