Roger Kidner

Died on 14 September 2007, aged 93. Roger Wakely Kidner was born at Sidcup on 16 March 1914, the son of a senior civil servant. He was educated at Westminster School and for a year at the LSE, after which he worked in Fleet Street as reporter and sub-editor and in mainstream publishing for Benn. He delighted to recall that his interest in railways dated from being given a few Locomotive Publishing Company Postcards by a young girl at his primary school. He was at Westminster with another outstanding railway historian, the late Michael Robbins, and from 1931 the two jointly published a typescript magazine Locomotion, soon progressing to publishing books, the first being Canon Fellows' bibliography A Railway Library (1935: Ottley 7941).

The Robbins/Kidner enterprise, originally entitled Four Os (after the four Os in Locomotion) gave way to the name Oakwood Press, called after two houses Kidner lived in, 'The Oaks' and 'Southwood'. In 1936-37 came Oakwood's first classic, L.T. Catchpole's Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (then recently closed) whose initial print run was 125 (it has now had 14 reprints and nine editions and is Oakwood's best-seller). Other classics followed; not a few, on light or narrow-gauge lines and on the Southern Railway and its constituents, were by Kidner himself. Such titles established a pattern which Oakwood has maintained, of scrupulously researched, well written studies of smaller or lesser-known lines in A5 format. Though Ian Allan later were noted for them, Oakwood were first to publish a 'spotter's guide', Kidner's How to Recognise Southern Railway Locomotives (1938).

Oakwood was 'on hold' during WW2 after Kidner and Robbins 'joined up'; the former started the war as a private in the Royal West Kents, later being commissioned in the Essex Regiment, ending the war as a major, Royal Artillery with 21 Army Group. He said that his commanders twice sent him to be killed 'but each time the enemy failed to show up!'

Kidner's post-war career in mainstream publishing and public relations did not prevent him from reviving Oakwood, despite paper shortages and in due course Robbins' departure for a full-time position with London Transport. Not all Oakwood's publications were concerned with railways as many of its Locomotion Papers explored road transport topics like trams, buses and other petrol-driven vehicles. Kidner retired from his 'day job' in 1972 to concentrate on Oakwood, in which his wife Beryl (she died in 1995) greatly helped him on the administrative side. In 1984 he sold it (then with over 300 published titles to its credit) to Jane Kennedy, whom almost up to his death he supported, suggesting titles, vetting manuscripts and writing contributions notably on Welsh railways.

Latterly he lived in Wales, near Aberystwyth, having previously resided in Kent, Surrey, Dorset and Wiltshire, locations largely in Southern Railway territory. The SR, along with light railways and old rolling stock, was one of his main interests; he was a Vice-president of the SR Society for many years. He is credited with 32 books and countless articles. Dare one hope for a full bibliography of his writings?

In 1991 Roger, then 78, was one of the earliest members of the RCHS's Road Transport Group. After each mailing he sent at least one paper of his own. Between 1992 and 2006 these totalled 40 (plus three jointly attributed) on subjects like early London buses, motor coach 'pet names', Post Office motors, early traffic censuses, in-house road transport books, hackney carriages, pantechnicons, early lorries, road transport postcards and registration numbers. I was amazed at his memory and wide transport interests.

These qualities served him well when the Companion to British Road Haulage History appeared in 2003. To that pioneer volume he contributed six entries and part-contributed six more, mostly on steam lorries, another of his pet subjects. He also contributed two articles to the Oxford Companion to British Railway History (1997).

Roger, the most modest of men, made countless friends. Through Oakwood and its associated imprints he was a pioneer in the now relatively crowded transport history field. P.L. Scowcroft obituary J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2008, 36, 50. (slightly corrected and modified).

Kevin has to confess that he has never seen Locomotion nor the Fellow's book list which probably implies that both were beyond the pale so far as George Ottley was concerned. Kidner's history of the Cambrian Railways is listed in Kevin's student bibliographical effort, but he must have doubted whether the short history of mechanical traction and travel was worthy of a student bibliographer: it is many years since he has seen a copy which no doubts demands premium prices at Stamford Station.

A short history of mechanical traction and travel. v. 2. Rail. Chislehurst (Kent), Oakwood Press, 1947. [vi], 150 p. + front.+ 39 plates. 350 illus. (incl. 260 thumb-nail sketches). Bibliog.
A collection of four separate works. Most were also published separately, viz: "The early history of the railway locomotive, 1804-1879" (1946); "The development of the railway locomotive, 1880-1946" (1946), "The railway carriage, 1825-1946" (1946); and "The multiple unit trains, railmotors & tramoars, 1829-1947." The thumb-nail sketches are poorly executed (from Steam Locomotive Development).

2011-02-11