Anthony Burton

This page is in Limbo due to (1) the loss of the St. John Thomas book cited and (2) the still to acquire The locomotive pioneers. The girly librarians in Norfolk are too obsessed with pretending to be literati and assisting poor poets (in both senses) and female authors of novels.

Television presentation coupled with authorship is always difficult to assesss. especially as there is a trend to produce media which is probably more comfortable viewed on a screen than as a series of pages in excessively bulky books. Furthermore, navigation is often simpler on a screen than in badly constructed books. A successful book has to combine readability (Burton is skilled at this) with simple linkage to greater detail or citations to external literature.
David St. John Thomas (Journey through Britain) has this to say about Anthony Burton: The Retreat [in Stroud] is a great venue suggested by an author who is as practical and easy to get on with as they come: Anthony Burton. He was the obvious author for The Great Days of the Canals, skilfully combining human interest with engineering, social history and a constant reminder that canals were built by commercial companies to maximize their traffIc potential and profIt. Before the railways spoilt the party, the top canals were among the most profItable businesses of their day, though (as with later railway building) ambition and greed often outstripped prudence, and some routes – such as the Thames & Severn – were born losers. ... I remember Anthony as an author able to tackle a wide range of subjects and come up with lively work of depth and accuracy, something rarely achieved by those willing to take on varied commissions. His Shell Book of Curious Britain, for example, didn't look as though it was written to order and went down a treat. But who exactly is Anthony Burton? I have never discussed his background.
He's a big man, enthusiastic and good-hearted. Over lunch he explains his background and then – with his outward-going personality – his professionalism makes sense. Trained as an industrial chemist, he went into the printed word via scientifIc papers. In the 1960s he became editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson. His last 'proper job' was at Penguin where he directed publicity and ran the promotional Penguin News. I first knew him when he lived in Bristol. He came to Stroud, moving into a disused synagogue, because prices were cheaper and he loved the compact town and its industrial background, especially its old woollen mills and the houses of the master clothiers. ... Anthony says: 'Earning a living from book writing is hard work, and you have to balance what you want to do with bread and butter. My agent has helped,

The locomotive pioneers: early steam locomotive development 1801-1851. Pen and Sword Transport. 192 pp., hardback,
Reviewed by GSM in Backtrack, 2018, 32, 510
Normally, confronted by sentences such as "The valve gear was based on slip eccentrics as in Rocket but required two long eccentric rods passing between the cylinders gabs, notches at the end closest to the valve, which could engage or disengage with the rocking shaft to operate the valves" I retire gracefully, clutching an aching head. 'Locomotive Pioneers', from which this sentence was taken, is certainly a good read for technophiles; fortunately it also has much to offer the casual reader, such as this reviewer for whom mechanical detail tends to go in one eye and out the other.
The author has a distinguished pedigree, being an established historical writer, radio and TV presenter, and this book follows a succession of decent, well-argued transport histories. It is also nicely illustrated throughout, my only gripe being that the cover picture gives the impression there were only two 'locomotive pioneers', George and Robert Stephenson, showing portraits of the dynamic duo gazing quizzically down on a working replica of Robert Stephenson Planet. While I agree George was a great railway 'pioneer', his particular genius lay in track surveying and engineering, plus his commitment to the steam locomotive, at a time when the rest of the world was mostly turning away. His contribution to the field of locomotive pioneering, however, left much to be desired. Son Robert, however, is rightly presented as one of the best, if only for his revolutionary Rocket. Most of Stephensons' more notable contemporaries merit a mention. There are sections on Trevithick, Blenkinsop and Murray, Hedley, Hackworth and Brunei, and even the odd paragraph on such glorious failures as William Brunton, whose articulated leg-powered 'Mechanical Traveller' spectacularly detonated. The impression gained, however, is that all these people were small fry compared to the Stephensons.
So much for home-grown talent, after all, most of what can be said about British locomotive pioneers has already been said. Happily, Burton moves further afield with accounts of how locomotive development took place overseas, particularly in America. These, for me, were especially diverting. I was particularly taken by the locomotive DeWitt Clinton which has the appearance of four-year-old's toy 'train', as drawn by a . three-year-old.
If this is a book ostensibly about locomotive pioneers there is also a little background detail about the public railways on which the pioneering engines were used. Burton champions the Liverpool & Manchester (L&MR) as the first railway in the modern sense, since it was the first designed from the outset to cater for passenger travel. In Burton's view the Stockton & Darlington (S&DR) was just an extended colliery rail~ay of the type already commonplacg.in the north east. There are many, including myself, who might take issue with this view, not least because, if the argument used is that the S&DR was just a scaled-up 'hybrid' of what was already around, then the same criticism could equally be applied to the L&MR. The L&MR's raison d'etre after all was not to transport passengers but to break a powerful monopoly on goods transport between the two cities enjoyed by canal owners. Both railways, let us remember, were designed primarily for freight movement (S&DR coal and L&MR cotton) and in both instances passenger transport proved to be a bonus. It was just a question of scale.
For those genuinely interested in technical detail there is much to admire here, even if the mechanical minutiae do tend to slow the narrative action. There is a whole chapter, for example, devoted to engine valve gear, which is nice if you like that sort of thing, and the book contains lots of support drawings to illustrate significant improvements in engine design. One subject it might have been wiser to avoid nevertheless is the debate about 'who invented the blastpipe?' Arguments on this matter have raged for nearly two hundred years now and there are strong cases to be made for all the contenders. Burton sides with Robert Stephenson (it is actually George Stephenson who is credited with the idea if you believe Samuel Smiles). The other contenders include Trevithick and Hedley, who both noted how jetting exhaust steam into chimney smoke increased the flow and hence improved the draught through the fire, but took it no further. Most notable of the claimants to the blastpipe throne is Timothy Hackworth who was using a working blastpipe on his Royal George, some two years before Rocket's appearance at Rainhill.
The book presents the story of early locomotive development in an accessible and logical manner and is a confirmation of how improvements were made piecemeal, by trial and error and just a little genius. It isn't perfect. The index could have been more comprehensive and some of the historical 'facts' are questionable. Blackett's colliery railway at Wylam, for example, had not, as indicated, "differed from the Penydarren in having edge rails instead of plates"; it was still using plate rails long after Puffing Billy and his stablemates first strutted their stuff. Nor was the Trevithick-designed locomotive built for Wylam ever used at that colliery; it never left the foundry at Gateshead where it was constructed. One could add that the Russian locomotive built at Shildon was not, as stated, "typical of the work being done at the Soho Works". It was the first of just two of its kind to emerge from Shildon Works and was a Stephenson 'Patentee' design built specifically to Stephenson's established template. Additionally, Soho Works closed in 1854 not 1883 and the 1925 locomotive cavalcade shown on the penultimate page did not take place at Shildon as suggested, but on a stretch of the original line between Stockton and Darlington.
Nit-picking aside, however, there is sufficient material here to satisfy the committed railway buff and at £25 for a 200- page hardback seems good value for money.

On the rails: two centuries of railways. London: Aurum Press, 2004. 208pp.
This is book is in coffee-table format and is a by-product of a television series made for the Discovery Channel. Both text and illustrations are attractively reproduced and are well-balanced on the page or pages (the two page spreads are sometimes stunning). On the lower half of pages 78 and 79 there is a reproduction of Welwn Viaduct painted shortly after it was opened which is visually stunning. This magnificent structure was seen on every working day for nearly twenty years and yet this picture was still able to shock by demonstrating the shear scale of the structure. The caption fails to indicate whether the structure was viewed from the east or the west, but the great bank of chalk on the right of the picture indicates that the view is towards the west: the chalk would have come from the tunnelling north of the viaduct.
The reproductions of the early pictures by Bourne and others is excellent. There are some stunning pictures of locomotives, including some the great American Mallets, but there are some where the historical balance is lost. A huge two page spread of preserved Ivatt 4-2-2 No. 1 hauling typical "preserved" Mark 1 stock (pages 172/3) wrecks the balance of the book where the beauty of the locomotive is wrecked by its tawdry train which only lacks a "Thomas" headboard. On page 124 there is an excellent black and white illustration of Snow Hill Station in Birmingham, but why does the motive power visible have to include an unrebuilt West Country Pacific and an 8F piloting a rebuilt West Country with only a hint of a Great Western tank engine on a freight? The picture may have been a gem for loco-spotters but it fails to capture the Great Western character of the station.

The railway builders. London: John Murray, 1992. 210pp. + 12 plates (24 illus.)

The railway empire. London: John Murray, 1994. 264pp.+ 12 plates (24 illus.)

The Rainhill story: the great locomotive trial. London: BBC, 1980. 164pp.
Ottley 12195: published in association with a BBC Television documentary and British Rail's Rocket 150 celebrations. Inevitably this type of publication suffers from loose ends: thus a well-produced coloured reproduction of a Punch cartoon (facing page 105) depicting a Walter Hancock steam coach and what might have stemmed from it lacks any mention in the text, yet steam coaches were an important "might have been" at that time..

Richard Trevithick: giant of steam. London: Aurum Press, 2000. 246pp.
The late L.T.C. Rolt's The Cornish Giant was published 40 years ago and this is the first full-length biography since. It is therefore somewhat timely and more so in that 2001 marks the 200th anniversary of the trial of the Camborne road locomotive.
As usual in his writings Anthony Burton gives us a readable and fully referenced narrative. He leads us through the astonishing range of Trevithick's engineering interests and their venues from Cornwall to London (several times) and Penydarren to Peru.
There are many illustrations (well reproduced on art paper), a bibliography and a good index. This one is definitely worth the price and a place on the bookshelf. Michael Rutherford, Backtrack, 2001, 15, 546

2016-08-01