James Ian Craig Boyd
1921-2009
Steamindex homepage

Boyd was a major historian of Welsh minor railways and most of his books were published by Oakwood Press.  The following obituary was obtained off the Internet. On Friday 20 March 2009, J.I.C.Boyd was laid to rest with his beloved wife Dorothy at St James the Great Church, Colwall when the following Eulogy was given by Patrick Keef of Alan Keef Engineering Ltd. The death of James Boyd is undoubtedly the end of an era. To most people, publicly, his name will always be synonymous with research, writing and preservation of narrow gauge railways - particularly in North Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland. This legacy alone forms the cornerstone of much subsequent research by others and the foundation of the now worldwide railway preservation movement.

He was the great-grandson of a railway civil engineer with direct links to Brunel, James was born, brought up and lived for more than half of his life in the Manchester area. He was always very proud of the North West of England so much so that in his latter years, if his carers had Manchester connections they would always have a head start. James went to Prep School at the Downs, in Colwall, where he was taught by W.H. Auden (among others) and through the offices of the then headmaster, Geoffrey Hoyland, had his first practical railway experiences on the Downs Light Railway. It was also whilst on a field trip with the Downs that he had his first contact with the Festiniog Railway. Following the Downs, he went to public school at Bryanston where he formed the school Model Railway Society and was able to make extensive official - and some unofficial - trips on the railways of southern England, befriending many local railwaymen along the way.

During the school holidays he would be involved with both the Manchester Locomotive Society and the Manchester Model Railway Society and both organisations benefited from James' input for many years thereafter. Family holidays were taken on the Isle of Man, based at Port St Mary where his lifelong interest in the railways of that island was undoubtedly developed. James' family were in the textile and clothing industry and upon leaving school, as eldest son, James was obliged to join the family textile firm and although he ran the business successfully, but his heart was never really in the commercial world. However, business trips took him to Ulster to purchase of linen and lace - a happy coincidence of destination that allowed him to indulge in excursions to the lesser railways of the Irish Republic, another one of James' lifelong passions.

The outbreak of WW2 brought further changes. James' asthma meant that he was unable to go into active service but became a map reading instructor based in Prestatyn in North Wales. Once again, circumstances were turned to his advantage by making the location a base for investigation and research into the North Wales narrow gauge railways, particularly the Festiniog Railway, where he was once famously arrested on suspicion of spying whilst making detailed notes of the moribund rolling stock at Portmadoc Harbour Station. It also surely has to be the source of a nearly full set of Ordnance Survey maps, all marked "War Office Issue" which he used thereafter for the rest of his life.

His marriage to Dorothy in 1940 proved to be a very successful and mutually supportive union. She ran their home in Brooklands, Manchester and was involved in the family business. She travelled with James on many field trips and became intimately involved with his work undertaking much of the research herself. She also typed and proof-read many of his manuscripts.

James' meticulous fieldwork, note-taking and research, combined with photographs, courtesy of War-rationed film provided via a copyright agreement with Locomotive and General Railway Photographs, finally bore fruit with the publication of his first book, Narrow Gauge Rails to Portmadoc in 1949. This book was a landmark in many ways: it was one of the first in-depth studies of any narrow gauge railway, setting the benchmark for future research and it was a leap of faith for the publisher, Oakwood Press. His collaboration with Oakwood was to last for the rest of his life and between them they published the vast majority of James' output; running to numerous revisions, updates and reprints. Other volumes were published by Wild Swan, Bradford Barton and Rail Romances.

James' books were all definitively researched and comprehensively illustrated both photographically and with beautiful drawings and maps by Jim Lloyd. They have proved inspirational to over three generations and been the catalyst for many becoming actively involved in railway preservation.

James, of course was a founding-father of the preservation movement and after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to reopen the Festiniog Railway, turned his attentions to the fledgling Tal-y-Llyn Railway Preservation Society. He was a founder member of the North West Area Group and as a family, James, Dorothy and by now their two daughters, Elizabeth and Diana would head to Towyn with other volunteers all crammed into the Boyd Landrover for weekend working parties. Over the ensuing years, James was to serve the Tal-y-Llyn in many capacities; as a volunteer, co-ordinator of the North West Area Group, a member of Council for many years, Director, Society Chairman, Trustee of the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum and, ultimately, Vice-President.

In the late 1960s, James and Dorothy decided to sell the family business and take what would now be termed as "early retirement" in order to allow James to devote more time to his research and writing. They moved to Colwall into a new bungalow, "Rineen" (named after land they owned in West Cork, Ireland) in 1970. This, coincidentally, brought James back into contact with the Downs School and more particularly the Downs Light Railway where he commenced his 30-year campaign to restore the railway. James became further involved in the Downs community by teaching woodwork and taking on the role of Bursar. In due course, the Downs was to support James as his health started to fail.

By this time, Elizabeth and Diana were married. However, shortly after the move to Colwall, Elizabeth died suddenly and James and Dorothy took on the responsibility for bringing up Angela, Elizabeth's young daughter. Diana and her children Elizabeth, Sarah and Michael, grew up in Gloucester and were regular visitors to "Rineen" until Diana's untimely death in 1985. The deaths of both their daughters hit James and Dorothy very hard.

Apart from the railway interest, there were many other aspects to James' life which are not so widely known. Although brought up in the Non-Conformist tradition, James allied himself to the Church of England and derived great pleasure from singing in church choirs. As a boy, he sang at the memorial service in Worcester Cathedral for Sir Edward Elgar in 1934 and was immensely proud of this connection with Elgar. More recently, James sang in Ledbury Church choir. He would always take his cassock and surplice with him on holiday to Ireland and the Isle of Man so he could sing in the local church choir whilst away. He also became involved in taking services - Evensong was a particular favourite of his and this led to him being known in the local church community as the "Semi-Reverend Boyd".

In addition to his singing, James was also an accomplished pianist. He loved sailing and for many years kept his own dinghy on the west coast of Ireland and it was in was in this vessel that both his daughters and grandchildren learnt to sail. He enjoyed model railways and was a very fine modeller - his Irish prototype railway being a testament to his skills. His photographs are well-known but he was an extremely skilled photographer in his own right with a very good eye for picture composition. In his youth he played hockey and in later life enjoyed watching rugby on the television. He enjoyed travel (rail in particular, of course) and in addition to the many trips to Ireland, in later life he went further a field to India, Portugal and the USA, always in pursuit of railways.

In 1992 he was hit by his first stroke and this blow was compounded by the death of his beloved Dorothy eighteen months later. These events could have broken him but his tenacity and determination brought him through and Volume 3 of his "History of the Isle of Man Railway" was published, followed by the two anecdotal autobiographical volumes of Saga by Rail.

He maintained his impish sense of humour and dazzling smile to the end. As we all know, he had his stubborn and infuriating side but he kept going despite his failing health and a further stroke which ultimately led to his requirement for full time care at home.

James was a distinguished railway writer and researcher and his books are of historic significance. However, the private James Boyd was much more, a family man, a husband, father and grandfather, a good friend and correspondent, musician, photographer, sportsman and adventurer. He bore personal tragedy with great dignity and leaves a legacy not only of exceptional books but of so much more…

May his soul rest in peace.

Following the Service the large congregation retired to The Downs School for refreshment and rides on The Downs Light Railway, engines being driven by pupils from the school, ending the day with a fitting tribute to a former Scholar and Master.

Additional notes

Saga by rail is now owned by KPJ and will be used for a more extensive bibliographical appreciation and since he started work on indexing Railway World during the winter of 2012/13 he has become even more aware of Boyd's very considerable literary output (the long running Glimpses of the narrow gauge) and the correspondence he participated in. One of the Glimpses published in May 1956 is reproduced below.

There was no petrol in those days and we were obliged to travel overnight to Machynlleth by train. It was a rotten journey, with several changes in the small hours, but we reached Machynlleth at 6.30 a.m. to spend a full day on the Corris. At that time it was running on three days a week, a reminder of which fact hangs in my garage where there is a tattered board reading "Nut-picker's Special."
The engine had to come down light from the shed, some miles up the line, and by 12.30 it had backed on to its train—one open wagon containing a bicycle, and a van, containing everything but the kitchen sink, as the saying goes. This entourage stood on a muddy flat in front of the once imposing passenger station buildings and H.Q. of the former Corris Rly. Even after a spell of hot weather there were sheets of stagnant water about and the train stood in one of the largest and swelled it from the injector overflow.
Thomas brought out some chairs from the refreshment room on the main line station—or rather, a porter was ordered to do so—and these were put in the wagon. We set off with a good soaking for a start as the boiler had been overfilled and No. 3 was priming nicely. Humphrey (the driver) just grinned back at us when we shouted. We made our way joltingly from the yard and three small kids sucking ice-creams jumped in the van, carefully un-noticed by anyone. So across the fields on the only straight and level length of the line, and on to the girders of the Dovey river bridge, roaring under our wheels. Humphrey opened out a bit to take the steep bit which lay between tall hedges beyond the bridge and we received a further baptism. No. 3 barked up the slope, sniffing each hedge as she thrust to and fro, like a small terrior looking for a lamppost. We crossed Ffridd Gate crossing, once a halt, and entered Ffridd Wood, as yet only in bud as it was April.
The line ran about five feet below the level of the road which it followed pitilessly for much of the way-where there was a sharp curve on the road then the Corris twisted itself into that same curve. The line, carpetted with wild flowers in early bloom, was a picture. Bluebells and primroses flanked our way, and the river roared down, unheard by us, on the right. Ffridd Wood made a continuous tunnel overhead. We stopped the train and took a picture—here it is. What a pity there was no colour photography just then! Off again, the smell of the woods mingling with the usual oily whiffs off the footplate, which floated back to us through the hole in the back weather-board of the engine. Thomas shouted stop, and wagon and van thumped up behind the engine. He got off, picked up his basket, and disappeared through the bushes. We had made arrangements to pick him up later, so the "Nut-picker's Special" put on steam again.
When we reached the loco shed we drew up for water and Humphrey climbed on to the water tank to insert the hose which was hooked to the loco shed wall. Like the shed at Towyn, the tank was in the engine shed itself. The metals left the road about here and for some furlongs the railway meandered between walls made of huge slabs, stuck endwise into the ground and serving as fences. One more sharp curve and we ran under a dilapidated roof, Corris station, now a tattered relic of its spacious days when the Company paid fantastic dividends to its shareholders. The stationmistress found an extra two cups and we went inside to slake down the dust and comb the soot from our hair.
The smells, the flowers, the over-grown site; these are still there for all to taste and see. The train has now come to rest, oomplete, as on that day in 1944, on Talyllyn rails, as though some magician had waved a wand and connected the Corris and Talyllyn Railways (the connection was seriously considered half a century ago). Of all the Welsh narrow gauge, even including the Festiniog, the Corris took a lot of beating!