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Book & DVD Reviews

Hendry R (1999): ‘British Railway Goods Wagons in Colour: For the Modeller and Historian’
Midland / Ian Allan: Hersham ISBN (10) 1-85780-094-X ISBN (13) 978-1-85780-094-4
96 pages, 217 colour photos, glossary, facsimile wagon diagrams (21),lamp head-codes

I have only just acquired a copy of this book, but as it was reprinted in 2003 and 2007, copies should still be available It is a detailed history of the British goods wagon from the days of the small, wooden-framed vehicles up to the 1970’s. I gather that a second volume covers the period 1970-2000, but I have not come across this yet. There are separate sections for general merchandise opens; vans; cattle wagons; tanks; bulk traffic; conflats; bolsters; brake vans; service stock and “special vehicles.” The book is very good on the transitional BR period from steam to diesel and the introduction of block and liner trains. It is in fact a history of freight handling as well as the wagons themselves, with a few bits of social history on labour and union relations included. The Irish content is quite small, and since the author seems rather strict on the geographical term “British” limited to Northern Ireland, but as published photographs of Irish wagons are rather rare, the five shots are still interesting:

p. 5: an ex-BNCR 3-plank open, presented as a late survivor, with many primeaval design features.
p. 6: a more modern NCC van
p. 6: another NCC van but one that quite foxed the experts, being an obsolete Midland (of Derby) design, turned out by LNER shops as a stop gap for service in Northern Ireland in World War Two.
p. 54: Shell Mex & BP tank wagon 271, Adelaide Yard
p. 55: Irish Shell & BP tank wagon 2617 at Grosvenor Road Depot [AO’R]


RJA Pue: ‘Steam Locomotives of Irish Railways’
Published by: the BCDR Museum Trust, 9 Kilbright Rd, Carrowdore, Newtownards. Co. Down BT22 2HQ Tel: 0870 740 9311 E-mail:

No. 7 The PP Class 4-4-0s of the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) ISBN 978-0-905196-13-8 56 pages £8-95 softback

No. 8 The Locomotives of the Ulster Railway ISBN 978-0-905196-15-2 60 pages, £10-95 softback

The seventh book in this series has now reached one of the more numerous groups of GNR 4-4-0s,the PP class of seventeen engines built between 1896 and 1911, the last scrapped in 1963. As with the earlier books in this series, each of these begins with a brief survey of the class, and then tables of key dates, dimensions and rebuilding. There follows a portrait and “bibliography” for each engine in the class, although much of this information is repeated in summary tables. About half of the book is a photographic album of the class, with a good mix of in-action, on shed and makers’ photographs, spanning the whole history of the class, the various metamorphoses these engines passed through, and with several shots of some of them running in the pre-World War I livery of lined green with name plates. Despite the use of un-glazed paper, reproduction of the photographs is generally good. There is a very diagrammatic outline drawing, which shows dimensions, but which is neither detailed nor accurate enough on its own to support building a model of one of these engines.

The eighth and most recent addition takes a step back in time from it usual format of describing one specific class of relatively modern engines, to review the entire motive power of the Ulster Railway, which lost its independence in 1876. As with such remote periods of railway history, there is little to add to what has already been published, allowing for the gaps in the extant records, and most of this topic has already been covered in Norman Johnston’s detailed history of GNR locomotives. There is a short history of the Ulster Railway itself, followed by a description of its engines, in the form of tables of dates, rebuilding and renumbering of each machine. The author has classified the stock his own way into twenty types. This nomenclature includes two classes delivered during or shortly after the formation of the GNR, and one which did not emerge until 1881 being three rebuilds of older engines into a small class of 0-4-2s.There are some 68 photos in the book, again finding unpublished ones for this period is rather hard, and slightly over a third have already appeared in Mr Johnston’s book, in some cases several enlargements from one of the shed scenes providing illustrations of different classes. The author, however, does find some shots from the FitzGerald Collection which I have not seen before, but as with earlier books in the series, reproduction on un-glazed paper, while keeping costs down, impairs reproduction of some photos.

These booklets are produced as limited print runs, on a subscription basis, with future plans to cover the U2 and W classes of the NCC; the Q, and S classes of the GNR; the DNGR 0-6-0STs; and the Queens. [AO’R]


Jeremy Clements & Michael McMahon: ‘Locomotives of the GSR’
384 pages, 346 photographs, colour dust jacket pictures, 2 line drawings, maps, tables etc
ISBN 978-1-906578-26-8 £35-00 From: Colourpoint Books, Jubilee Business Park, 21 Jubilee Road, Newtownards, Co Down BT23 4YH

Wow! For some time, Southern locomotive fans have cast envious eyes at the Colourpoint histories of the GNR and more recently NCC engines. Well, their own volume has proved well worth the wait At first sight it sounds expensive, but taking account of size and photographic content, it is actually very good value for money. Of course, a book limited to the machines built for or by the GSR would be rather slim, and this covers all the stock inherited in 1925, even if some never carried a GSR number plate. As much pre-group stock had long lives, it is a really a history of locomotives built from about 1880 onwards for the constituent companies. The authors have done their homework very well, and although there may be room for a bit more scholarship on the mechanical dark ages at Inchicore and Broadstone, as regards the post 1925 era, this really is the definitive account. Some material has appeared before, but is well integrated, such as the 1948 summary of each surviving class, a pithy, unsentimental few lines saying what the operating department thought of its antiques on day-to-day basis, and often far removed from dewy-eyed enthusiasts, coming across some ancient engine, or logging a spectacular one off run.

This is of course an era now slipping from living memory, and some decisions may not have been “minuted,” so there has to be a bit of reading between the lines. Here the authors are very perceptive. One problem was that in the newly formed GSR, MGWR men took many of the administrative positions, and to even up the power balance, the chief mechanical post went to Bazin, whereas Morton, your man from the Midland who had already proved himself an astute fellow in spotting bargains off the shelf, had a much more enlightened view on superheating the better older classes. In fact, Broadstone seems to have thumbed its nose at Inchicore on this issue, and quietly finished superheating the 650 class: in 1948 they were about the only Midland engines to get an unqualified thumbs up, the larger 4-4-0s being damned as poor timekeepers on the DSER section.

However, for a company that prided it self on thrift, GSR locomotive practice was decidedly wasteful at times, with each CME determined to produce “something new,” although this lead more to technological vanity than genuine progress. 850, always an engine to provoke partisan views, but the one genuinely innovative design was doomed to be a one off; the 670s were a retrospective step. In fact, Inchicore should have adopted a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” approach to selecting the best of the later pre-group designs: a dozen more 257 class would have been more welcome to the operating department than “improved J15s.” A few more DSER moguls and B4 Bandon tanks would also have been useful additions to the fleet. Maybe nothing illustrates this principle more than the 4-6-0s: the 500s did everything required of them, and more, for thirty yeas, with only minor modifications, whereas the mechanically more sophisticated 400s needed radical and expensive rebuilding to make them efficient engines. The cost of reconstructing them might have been better spent on a few more 500 and Woolwich class engines. The authors even take on the legend of the 800s, suggesting that their main value was boosting morale and for publicity, whereas from mechanical point of view, they were a luxury the GSR could ill afford and minor changes to working practices would have made them un-necessary. But, as the authors comment for much or their period, passenger traffic was actually in decline on the GSR system, whereas goods receipts held up much better, and so, while the company fiddled around trying to produce “fixes” for the Cork mails and the Bray suburban services, it was just as well that it had inherited a fleet of hardy 0-6-0s, which could handle the bread-and-butter traffic.

The photographs are generally well reproduced, just a few for obscure engines are a little soft, and for “spotters” there are good shots of some rather camera shy specimens, like 211, 250, 441, 618 and 621. Sadly, the only scale plans are of two patterns of WLWR tenders, from the Stephenson Locomotive Society book on Robinson’s work: there may be a book of drawings later if there is enough demand (hint, hint!). There are chapters on tenders; the fuel crisis (a detailed account of a difficult time, which bridged the GSR/CIE transition); and a brief account of steam loco policy under CIE (for more details of this period see the Decade of Steam book). Wisely, the turf-burner is left to its own specialised books, but the authors take “locomotive” as a broad term for any self propelled vehicle, so the Claytons, Sentinels (both shunting engines and railcars), Drewry vehicles (broad and narrow gauge) and Drumm trains are all covered. All narrow gauge engines extant in 1925 also feature, but these are well documented elsewhere, and I think the real strength of the book is the detailed accounts of the pre-1925 engines, their rebuilding and modification, and the critical discussion of GSR locomotive policy down to 1940. For the not so technically minded, there is also a very clear and illustrated account of the working of locomotive valve gears and superheating. Finally, the book also includes detailed tables of GSR and GNR returns, which suggest that the GSR was not quite so economically backward as followers of the “enterprising” cross-border line would have us believe! In fact, allowing for the fact that GSR engines and rolling stock were older (and in many cases fully depreciated), the return on capital may have looked even better for the GSR. [AO’R]


DVD: ‘The West Cork Railway  1958, 1959 & 1961 Cameo Memories’ by Brian Baker
Produced and distributed by: Signcraft, Bretby, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire DE14 0PS UK Tel. 0044(0) 1283 551581 E-mail:
Running time approx 60 mins Price: £18 including p&p 

Included with this DVD is a section of the 1897 Railway Clearing House Map of southern Ireland showing the west Cork railways, in order to help the viewer visualize the lines depicted.  The reverse side carries additional notes which give mileages for the different sections, a very brief history and a list of books on the  west Cork lines. From the turning of the first sod of the Cork & Bandon Railway on the 16th September 1845, up till the complete closure on the 31st March 1961, the west Cork railways served a large area on the southern coast of Ireland.  The story is recorded in full colour on the DVD with both cine film and still photographs taken in 1958, 1959 and 1961,  and including the final four days of operation, and brings to light some very interesting footage and photographs of the west Cork system.  It also covers the Shannon Vale Mill, showing the working of the line by horse power.  It will be of interest to people who knew the system and people with a general interest in Irish railways, but above all will  be of immense value to modellers of Irish railways as it shows the  many different operations that were typical of the period, including shunting, running, and some beautiful landscape that will inspire modellers of any of the Irish railway systems.

It also includes cab rides for the sections Clonakilty Junction-Ballinascarthy- Courtmacsherry-Clonakilty, Skibbereen-Baltimore and Cork-Bantry. Starting at Albert Quay with steam locomotive No.90 shunting the diesel railcar set, the film takes us through the rural and beautiful countryside that is west Cork, and over some of the best kept track on any railway of the period, as well as over some extremely neglected rails.  The line had the distinction of serving the most southerly railway station in Ireland, and also boasted the first tunnel in Ireland to have steam working through it. The line was worked at this period by diesel railcar sets and C-class Metro-Vick locomotives, with short mixed trains made up of as few as two coaches plus a wagon of pigs, and strengthened on Thursdays by an ancient six-wheeler.  The line also saw excursion traffic as well as loose coupled freight trains which since the 1930’s include beet trains for Mallow sugar factory.  Running through one of the most tranquil scenes in Ireland, this is surely a modeller’s dream railway, with the variation of changing landscape as well as delightful stations along the line and at the termini. There is also an extract of an interview by Brian Baker with 96-year-old Mr. Champion who was a former employee of the railway, man and boy, who recalls some of his railway memories.

The material is professionally produced and narrated by Brian Baker who grew up in west Cork, his father having spent his working life on the west Cork lines apart from a short time at Charleville, and being station master at Clonakilty in the 1930’s. His final appointment was stationmaster at Bandon.  The programme deliberately does not set out to be a source of reference but simply a shared record of a once proud system.

After production and distribution costs, all profit is being donated to the Railway Children charity. [POS]

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Book Reviews

William Scott: ‘Locomotives Of the NCC LMS and Its Predecessors’
192 pages, 272 photographs, colour cover, 47 line drawings, maps, tables, etc.
ISBN 978-1-904242-84-0
£25.00.  Published by Colourpoint Books, Jubilee Business Park, 21 Jubilee Road, Newtownards, Co Down, BT23 4YH, Northern Ireland.

The locomotive history of the “Northern Counties” spans over twelve decades, from the opening of the first portion of the Belfast & Ballymena company, down to the end of revenue earning steam in Ireland.  That story encompasses some 187 engines, including a foray into the narrow gauge.  In that period, technology evolved from the little Sharp singles, weighing in at about 21½ tons, to the almighty Jeeps, which, if not quite the last steam engine delivered to Ireland, represent the zenith of locomotive design on 5′ 3″ gauge.

This book is the result of over 2o years of research.  Naturally it will stand as companion to Norman Johnston’s history of the GNR(I) locomotive fleet, but in comparing the two volumes, you end like Balaam’s ass, gazing from one to the other, and deciding that they are both very good!  They do however take a different perspective.  Norman’s book was a real mechanical archaeology, digging up the sort of details of primeaval engines I never expected to see in print.  Bill, I suspect, does not have this option, since many of the NCC archives were destroyed in the Blitz.  He does however provide a comprehensive record of the “mechanical dark ages” based on what has survived and some detective work by RN Clements.  However, he draws heavily on his friendships with the men who built, maintained, drove and fired these machines, now sadly a dwindling band.  In this respect, his book will never be bettered, and the extra space allows him to provide more operational details for the later period: details of the running and composition of specific services; loco allocation and performance; logs of runs; and some highly amusing anecdotes, gleaned from his time spent in the company of footplate staff.  Moreover, as the author has built several miniature NCC engines himself, I feel his book will have the edge for modellers: it contains scale drawings.  At the end, there are reproductions of 35 NCC weight diagrams for engines and railcars, and the NCC had weight diagrams of the better sort, pretty much scale elevations.  Whilst not quite covering every class, there should be enough material here to keep a workbench busy for a few decades!  Earlier in the book are good reproductions of some of John Houston’s scale drawings, going right back to the Bury and Sharp engines of 1847!  For anyone contemplating building a Worsley Mogul kit, there is a whole chapter of inspiration, a cover picture of 94 in crimson glory, and an unusual and useful photograph of the backhead detail.  Further appendices provide useful details for modellers on livery and lamp codes.

There is also fascinating detail of some innovations which have not previously been published such as early turf-burning experiments and the NCC’s own ATC systems.  There is some humour too: a vignette of Bowman Malcolm, who stamped his mark on Northern Counties design over nearly half a century, and some gentle disparaging of the less competent locomotive policy of a smaller line across Belfast Lough!  For anyone without an engineering degree there are clear explanations about the rationale for superheating and the economic arguments about compounding.  Another useful feature is a periodic standing back from the detail of individual engines, to give a brief summary of the loco fleet at key dates, and compare policy with other Irish railways’ practice.

There are also some interesting notes on the genisis of the Moguls and Jeeps, and, something that is getting rare, some brand new information from the steam age, including details of how the NCC operated a “slip” on the narrow gauge (albeit for an NPC vehicle); various locomotive exchanges with the GNR; and the fact that one of the little DNGR tanks borrowed for shunting in the Second World War got to work a few passenger turns around Coleraine.  Although the book concentrates on the steam locos owned by the “Northern Counties,” for completeness, there are chapters on diesel shunters and railcars and locomotives drafted in from other sections in UTA days.

Some of the early locomotives, despite short lives, moved around a lot, and had complex life stories, but by the 1850s, engineers could produce sturdy machines, with economic lives of upwards of 60 years.  However, most of these engines underwent at least one major rebuild or renewal, and on the NCC it was often hard to tell where an old engine ended and a new one began!  In fact, the NCC was particularly bad among Irish railways for metamorphoses, as 2-4-0s became 4-4-0s, compounds turned into simples, and an engine might have several class designations in its career.  Bill explains all this well: there is particularly good use of detailed tables to show the life history of individual engines, and at last I think I understand the complex history of the A, B, C and D classes, and how a few made the final evolutionary step into the U group!  The photographs include real gems, and reproduction is generally good, allowing for the age of some of the originals.  Many would clearly benefit from larger reproduction to show up small details, but when we are back to the old argument of cost: would you like a few large pictures, or more smaller ones?  Once again, I think Colourpoint have got the balance right here.  Overall this is a wonderful book, and we are very lucky that Bill has put so much effort into pulling all this material together. [A O’R]


Tom Ferris: ‘Irish Railways: A New History’
222 pages, map and 78 plates.
ISBN 978-0-7171-4291-0
€24.99/£19.99.  Published by Gill & McMillan, Hume Avenue, Park West, Dublin 12.

Reading this new volume, I reflect that Irish railway books come in three main types: there are photographic albums; there are detailed technical books or individual company histories (for what Tom calls the “true believers”); and there are books appealing to a wider audience.  A variety of these have appeared since Conroy’s 1928 epistle, a little flurry at the time of the Dublin & Kingstown 150 celebrations, some well written and some not so well crafted.  But it is a while since we have had a generic history of Ireland’s rail network, and Tom is quite explicit that his work is aimed at the general reader, and assumes no knowledge of railway history or operation.  It does however display extensive reading and an encyclopaedic knowledge on Tom’s part.  Anyone already familiar with Irish railways will not, to be honest, learn much fresh.  However, there are some new bits of information: I did not know before that the legislation for the establishment of the joint GNR Board in 1953 empowered the Dublin government to save much of the Irish North-Western in 1957, and if it had, a Dundalk-Clones-Enniskillen line might even today break up that huge railway desert between Sligo and Derry.

Tom divides his topic into five periods.  The first three chapters cover the primeaval era, down to 1850, but going back before the DKR to the 18th century mineral tramways.  This section makes good use of the 1838 report on railways in Ireland, covers he Irish railway mania and even puts the origin of “five foot three” in a new context as the beginning of parliamentary regulation.  In the second period, covering the next 30 years, Tom covers a lot of ground, concisely and accurately, to show how the vast majority of the commercially viable network was built.  We then step aside for an account of the narrow gauge lines, which, unsurprisingly, does get rather generous cover.  Tom’s third period is the golden age, from 1880 to the outbreak of the First World War, although even in this period the economic performance of Irish railways ranged from moderate prosperity to near bankruptcy.  Most new lines built in that period depended on various fairy godmothers such as the Tramways Acts, direct grants and baronial guarantees, and were often constructed for social rather than commercial reasons, or to pacify Irish politics.  Although he does mention it very briefly later on, I think there is one thing Tom misses here.  From the late 19th century, there was strong agitiation, especially from Nationalist politicians, for some form of state control of the Irish railway network.  the main rationale here was that compared to English lines, Irish ones had little mineral traffic and rather top-heavy management and administrative costs, which brought much higher charges.  Central control was mooted as offering greater efficiency and thus lower freight costs to Irish businesses.  The next period (1914-50) is rather ambivalent: on the one hand the railways, despite two periods of wholesale suspension of services, remained a key part of the national economy, comprehensive both in geographical coverage and the traffic they handled.  On the other hand, their economic performance declined even more, and despite a few local experiments with diesel traction and modern signalling, they sank into technological obsolescence.  By the middle of the 20th century, something clearly had to be done, but the last 50 years the “solution” has bounced between closure, rationalisation, reorganisation and at last proper investment, but delivering an odd paradox.  Irihs railways spent much of their history trying to extract a living wage from a rural economy, carrying just about anything that needed to go from A to B: the last mixed train ran as recently as 1975.  Yet today the system depends on railcars, passengers and a growing commuter traffic.

There is a good selection of illustrations, showing the range of Irish railway activity over some 170 years, including some old favourites in colour for the very first time,but in my copy a few plates are spoiled by poor reproduction.  The other main defect is the lack of a bibliography.  Given that the intended audience may not be familiar with Irish railway literature, a book list (at least of recent company histories) would be very useful for anyone whose appetite is whetted by Tom’s broad overview.

In summary, this book aims to give the general reader an introduction to Irish railways, or to place them in context for the student of economics or history, and it does this very well.  As for the “true believers,” most of us will I think still enjoy Tom’s arguments, even if we don’t quite agree with all his interpretations.  One final but important point, especially for any budding authors: Tom has written in a clear and elegant style, which is very refreshing after much of the unintelligible jargon you get today and shows that you can write competent railway history, which is also good prose. [A O’R]


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