Summer Reading 2021

I enjoy reading outside in the summer, in fact I probably read more in the summer than in the winter.

Here’s a quick tour of this summer’s reading list…

Narrow Gauge Railways of Wales

I had a copy of this book as a kid and I must have spent hours pouring over it. When I saw a second-hand copy online I knew I had to buy it.

Reading it, I’m taken back to my childhood, many of the photos are still very familiar!

Published in 1976, the Vale of Rheidol locos are in BR blue, the Fairbourne Railway is still 15 inch gauge and the Bala Lake Railway is described as a ‘recent innovation’. How times have changed…

The Calshot and Fawley Narrow Gauge Railways.

An interesting book focussing mainly on the military railway that served the air force base at Calshot on the Hampshire coast. The base was located at the end of a ‘spit’ of land sticking out into Southampton Water and operated sea planes and flying boats. The railway existed from the first world war to just after the second world war. It was used to bring supplies and staff to the base.

The book is written for the railway enthusiast with a detailed history of the line, track layouts, locos and rolling stock. There are plenty of good photographs of the Kerr Stuart and Barclay steam locos. One of the Andrew Barclay locos built for the line now runs as Talyllyn Railway No 6, ‘Douglas’.

The book reveals some of the challenges of historical research of ‘industrial’ sites. While the plans and layout of the air base and it’s buildings are well documented, the exact configuration of the railway sidings that served them is not certain. Various plans exist, showing how the railway was intended to operate at different times, but it’s not known if the line was constructed as shown in the plans.

The Heartbeat of Hythe

The world’s oldest pier railway runs in Hythe, Hampshire. Built to take passengers to the ferries running between Hythe and Southampton, it opened in 1922 and is still running today.

The locos are four wheeled Brush electric locos used in the Avonmouth Mustard Gas factory during the first world war and were acquired from ‘Government Surplus’. They were originally battery powered but the railway converted them to a third rail pick up and invested in a new, purpose built generating station for the railway. In fact, it produced more power than was needed and the surplus was used to supply electricity to much of Hythe in the 1930s. The Hythe locos have been modified during their lifetime, but a similar loco survives, in more original condition, at Amberley Museum.

The author’s included a lot of interesting detail about the construction of the line, the locos and stock. Dimensions of the locos and stock are included and these could easily be used as the basis for a model. There are ‘biographies’ of many of the drivers and even a description of how to drive the train, a driver training log and a driver knowledge test!

Pier railways face unusual challenges, not experienced by other lines. In 2003 a dredger collided with the pier, creating an 24 metre (80 foot) long hole in the pier and a £300,000 repair bill. The train, fully loaded with supporters returning from a football match, had run past the point of impact a couple of minutes earlier. Luckily, no one was injured.

Talyllyn Railway Official Guide

I found this book in the second hand bookshop at the National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey. Priced at 50 pence, there was no way I was leaving without it.

It’s a piece of a time gone by: it cost one shilling when new, the text is densly packed using a small font size, and the adverts contain hotels with three digit phone numbers, offering croquet and bowling. Fortunately one hotel includes their telegram address to make booking easier 🙂

It’s an absolute delight to read. There’s a very good history of the line that includes the locos, passenger stock, permanent way and operations. There’s a charming description of a journey down the line, including the walks you can do at various points. (My kind of guide book). I’ve not seen many of the photos before and there are several photos of No. 6 ‘Douglas’, the loco from Calshot.

The writer is rightly proud that the society has taken a railway with ‘worn out rails and rotten sleepers almost invisible under grass and weeds’ and achieved a ‘complete transformation’.

There’s no publication date but from the text I guess it’s from 1958 or 1959. Interestingly, it’s not the first guide published by the preservation society, there was an earlier one. I must search that out!

Exploring Britain’s Lost Railways

It turns out my local library has a good selection of railway books. Who’d have thought 🙂

This book includes over 50 lost railways in England, Wales and Scotland. There’s a brief history of how each line originated, what caused it to decline and what’s happened since it’s closure.

The photos are super. The editor has done a great job of selecting an interesting variety of images showing each line operating, during decline and what remains today. For me this was the most enjoyable part of the book.

There’s a good map of each line showing the parts of the line that can be accessed today and what is inaccessible. In many cases part of the line has been converted into a footpath or cycle route. While this is positive, I thought it was a lost opportunity too. Imagine what a great network of long distance routes we would have if the whole of each line has been preserved as a right of way….

My recommended read: ‘The Heartbeat of Hythe’. It’s well researched, with diverse, interesting subject matter and is a very enjoyable read. If you’ve interested you can find it here.

(I must add I’ve no connection to the author or the publisher – I’m just a happy reader).

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