Adrian Vaughan

Adrian Vaughan enjoys a high reputation as a railway historian and this is manifest in his Railwaymen, politics & money and in his biography of Brunel. He is also noteworthy in recording life on the Western before it became a sort of glorified bus lane run by a highly inferior bus company known by KPJ's youngest grandson as the Ribena bus. First certainly exemplifies that it will always be Last. Sadly, Railway blunders is almost a railway book disaster.


Railwaymen, politics & money

This is a scholarly work in which sources are carefully recorded in sections of notes for each of its many, relatively short chapters. The core of the book covers the great financial crashes of 1857 and 1866, the rise and fall of Hudson and the growth of the Midland Railway. As this book was written by Vaughan there is obviously a section on the Great Western which lies close to his heart. The author's attempt to place the Midland at the centre of the work causes certain key elements to be ignored whilst others are over-emphasised. Thus the Midland's Pennine adventures to reach Manchester and Carlisle are examined closely, whilst the earlier heroic efforts to cross the Pennines by the Manchester & Leeds and by the Manchester & Sheffield are ignored. An examination of the otherwise excellent bibliography shows that Dow is conspicuous by his absence: not even his First railway in Norfolk is listed. There are problems of writing in a bibliographical desert, but there must be copies of this book either at Lynn or Yarmouth.

Having ignored one of the few masterpieces of railway literature (Dow's Great Central) and the heroic Pennine crossing at Woodhead, Vaughan has the audacity to write on page 151: "There were also two entirely superfluous works, fiercely competitive and very unprofitable, the Hull & Barnsley and the London Extension of the MS&LR". This equally applied to the Midland's three ventures into the backbone of England, but it should not be forgotten that the costly efforts at Woodhead were far earlier. Furthermore the New Woodhead Tunnel is surely the most disgraceful memorial to the laissez faire which has afflicted railways in Britain since 1960.

The early development of railways is well covered: the influence of George Stephenson, the Stockton & Darlington, then the Liverpool & Manchester, and the great leap southwards by the Grand Junction Railway are all surveyed in sufficient depth, but then Vaughan becomes diverted towards the dreary Midlands and its railway. There are several appendixes which include biographies of remarkably variable depth of W.H. Barlow, Sir Gilbert Scott (a very uneven attempt), James Allport, Francis Webb (preceded by onne on the Westinghouse brake), Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin Baker and Sir William Arrol (there is a chapter on the Forth Bridge, in which the Midland held a financial interest). Poor Frank Webb dumped amongst Midland men (there could be no worse fate). The chapter on braking systems once again implies that Webb profited from the chain brake employed on the LNWR (and also fails to make any mention of Galton's involvement in the Newark brake trials. And if Webb of the LNWR is mentioned then why is Sir Herbert Walker, also of the North Western, excluded: Walker was to be behind the sole major advance made by any of the four grouped companies, namely its huge policy of electrification..

The book lacks a thorough Introduction and not surprisingly a concluding chapter although there is a highly pessimistic Epilogue in which the phrase "the blindness of self-interest replacing the ideals of public service" is applied to most-Major shambles where train (alias bus) companies connect train stations if the conditions are right. The omission of McKillop's The naked flame may reflect Vaughan's former NUR membership, but one hopes that this is merely another "Dow".

As usual mechanical engineering receives insufficient attention which is ludicrous in a book which ackowledges the genius of the Stephensons. Churchward is mentioned, although he was well beyond the key period covered: if is argued that Churchward forms the grreat white hope of the twentieth century, then the omission of Sir Herbert Walker is even more serious. To return to the core period, where are Ramsbottom and Beyer? Not even the Armstrongs are mentioned. One suspects that this is an influential book in which case it will encourage the truly ignorant (politicians and civil servants) to treat the railway system which should be at the cutting edge of tackling twenty first problems like global warming and rising sea levels with the utter disdain they have shown since the end of Margaret Thatcher's period in office. Two Jag Prescott typifies these jesters at the Palace of Westminster...

Railway blunders

This book is really two books in one: an account of the efficient demolition of the railway system by John Major and his midgets and the failure of Blair et cie to restore any semblance of order. In general KPJ shares a great deal of sympathy with this book and would forgive some  minor transgressions in fact in the interest of accentuating the political misdeads. The other "book" is an account of several specific, but moderately well-known blunders (the first Tay Bridge, for instance). Some of these impede upon the primary contents of this website; some are questionable in their accuracy. The two themes taken together give a somewhat strange image of railway development. Thus, there are black washes of Webb, Craven, Brunel (for the adoption of the atmospheric system), the Britannia Pacifics, Bulleid's output, and Deeley's reaction to the Paget locomotive.

The book is lacking in depth, and no attempt has been made to link assertions to sources. The book contains some startling errors: Maunsell was not trained at Swindon, but at Inchicore (following an engineering degree from Trinity College, Dublin). F.G. Smith did not write a treatise on locomotive balancing. Thus, some of the other assertions may be based upon false assumptions.

The book begins with an attempt to belittle George Stephenson which only demonstrates the author's failure to appreciate the significance of a man who had the vision to realise that the steam locomotive could power the new generation of railways and managed to persuade those who were capable of implementing such a move on the Stockton & Darlington and Liverpool & Manchester Railways. Trevithick had shared some of this vision, but did not persist, instead he was lured by the instant riches of some South American El Dorado, but returned pennyless, after the action had taken place. Ironically, Trevithick's saviour, Stephenson's son, was also tempted by instant wealth, but returned to save his father's reputation.

Vaughan (a sometime railway signalman!) implies that the world's railways suffer from the lack of Stephenson's formal education: a better educated man might have been prepared to listen to advice, but Brunel with his vastly broader education was equally stubborn with  his adoption of the atmospheric system for the South Devon Railway and would not listen to reason about the broad gauge.

There is a strange incomplete account of coal (as a replacement for coke) as fuel for the mainline railways (it appears that the Stockton & Darlington Railway never burned coke). The section on brakes is a further excuse to denigrate Webb (who also has a chapter to himself which argues that Webb's patents were solely taken out to enrich himself). Would the author have dared to denegrate John Ramsbottom for a similar patenting policy (which Webb presumably followed)? A better-read writer might have attempted to incorporate some of the more balanced accounts from contemporary experts, such as Rutherford. There is no mention of Webb's achievements in signalling apparatus, or of his vision of electric traction. Inspection of Webb's own written papers showed that he had a broad sense of fun.

Craven is taken straight from Hamilton Ellis: Craven may have been a nasty character, but was a minor player in terms of locomotive development. In his "Clash of personalities" Vaughan credits Smith with being a leading expert on locomotive balancing (if this is so then the work should have been cited, as it seems to be highly obscure, although Norfolk is limited in its bibliographical resources). The Paget engine is interesting, but not a major innovation except in that it may have influenced Bulleid, the chapter on whom lacks clarity. The replacement of the ageing M7 class may have been one of the pretexts for the Leader design, but had no bearing on either the Merchant Navy or Q1 designs. The latter was a straightforward 0-6-0 freight locomotive (like a 2251 class with a large boiler) and like the 2251 class, or anyother 0-6-0, was not happy when running in reverse at speed.

There is an absurdly short assessment of oil-firing which fails to note that some of the motives for the Great Western's adoption of it may have been due to external interests of some of its Board Members. The Britannias did experience teething troubles, and showed that Gresley's genius for designing and introducing locomotives for high speed at high speed had been lost, but some of the inferences are false. The failure of the LNER type of slide bar (which had run at higher speeds than any other type) was due to poor design and maintenance by British Railways and not an inherent fault: there were no problems with it on the LNER. His observations on the draw-bar problems might lead the casual reader to think that the locomotive was attached to its train by a rubber band. Rubber is not a 'squidgy' material when used in high performance engineering applications. Properly compounded natural rubber will outlast the metal or concrete elements in many spring devices. There is an underlying inference that Swindon always got it right: sometimes it didn't (the King class nearly came to grief at Midgham).

In his more modern invective, the writer had clearly never expericed the eccentricities of the 313 class at first hand. The door mechanism enabled the commuting pupils from the City schools to open the doors in mid-flight between the outer stations when travel became like that on the District Line on the 1940s. Unfortunately, the solution, or was it punishment, for this was that travellers to the aptly named northern suburbs were forced to sit frozen with the doors wide open at such resorts as Hadley Wood and passenger-operation was only restored after the vehicles had passed their half lives. None of these eccentricities are mentioned, although KPJ agrees that the trip-cock failures were legion at first, and it was quite an event to get as far as Moorgate on some bad days.

Contents: The Invention of the locomotive [Trevithick, not Stephenson]; Parliamentary Blunders; Competition [Victorian]; Blunders of snobbery; Brunellian blunders; Brakes; Burning coal; The [first] Tay Bridge; J.C. Craven; F.W. Webb; A clash of personalities [Newlands versus F.G. Smith]; A line too far {Fort Augustus, GCR, H&BR]; The Paget engine; The Railways plundered, 1940-5; Bulleid locomotives; Oil-firing [on GWR]; Nationalisation; The 'Britannias'; The Transport Act 1953; The Modernisation Plan; Dieselisation; Troublesome traction [including DLR]; The SMJ (investment then closure); Oxford-Cambridge Line; Paradise lost [Milton Keynes]; Lewes-Uckfield; Haverhill; With the Benefit of Hindsight; The Isle of Wight; 'Liner' Trains; Single-lead Junctions; Class 313; Retreat from Traffic (milk/mail); Roads Preferred; The Ones that Got Away; Sectorisation; The Things They Said [Hansard absurdities]; The Results of Privatisation; Automatic Train Protection; The Three-phase EMU; Euro Sleepers; Cranes No More; Heathrow Tunnel; Construction Calamities; Heathrow Express; Great Yarmouth derailment; Virgin and the 'Voyagers'; The East London Extension; Sheringham / Wensum Junction; It's the Way you Tell 'em ...[wrong kind of snow]

Other books

Brunel: an engineering biography. Ian Allan, 2006.
Very well received by Martin Barnes: J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2007, 35, 554.
Great Western portrait, 1913-1921. OPC, 1971.
Ottley 11953
Grub, water & relief: being tales of the Great Western, 1835-1892. London: John Murray, 1985. 178pp.
A series of linked anecdotes about the harsh lives enjoyed or endured by early railwaymen mainly on the broad gauge line. Includes brief biographical sketches of some of the many station masters, footplate crews (the first of which tended to be Lancastrians, Geordies or Scots working on Tyneside "known to Daniael Gooch". The drivers worked for 44 shillings per week. Includes notes on the early locomotives, especially their lack of brakes, the fitting of the second deep-toned whistle intended to call for brakes. Specific drivers mentioned are: John Chicken, John Leonard, Jim Hurst, Harry Appleby, Michael John Almond, Bob Roscoe (Royal Train driver who drove Sir Daniel Gooch up to Paddington from Windsor), Robert Duff, the author's great grandfather Francis Cook, and Evan Harry (who after an undistinguished career served the aptly-named Malmesbury Railway). An appendix gives information on head lights and marks as ordered February 1883. The locations of snowploughs at Gloucester, Oxford, Shrewsbury, etc is recorded on p. 126.
The heart of the Great Western. Peterborough: Silver Link,
This book is predominantly about all aspects of the signalling in the area centred on Didcot and Oxford before it was transformed by centralized colour-lightt signalling: obviously, the Author has great expertise on this topic. But the book also contains some excellent pen portraits, notably of Frank Buckingham, Station Master at Oxford between 1927 and 1941, and of some footplate crews. Captions are not a strong point. On page 165 rolling stock is credited to the LNWR and Southern Railway, which like the locomotive originated on the Great Central Railway.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel: engineering knight-errant. London John Murray. 1991. 285pp.
A pictorial record of Great Western signalling. Oxford: OPC, 1973.
Ottley 12038.
Obstruction danger: significant railway accidents, 1890-1986. Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens, 1989.
Clearly the basis for the blundering book in its chapters on the Milton and Settle acidents which involved the Britannia Pacifics.
Pictorial record of Great Western signalling. Oxford: OPC, 1973.
Ottley 12038
Railway blunders. London: Ian Allan, 2003.
Railwaymen, politics & money: the great age of railways in Britain. London: John Murray, 1997. 407pp.
Includes 16 Appendixes
Tracks to disaster. London: Ian Allan, 2000. 160pp. illus., maps, diagrs.
Accidents post-1975 (begins with Moorgate disaster). Author is frequently at odds with official reports (including that on first). He is extremely anti single-lead junctions and single-track without trap points. Written with a bias towards the signalman's viewpoint?

2008-01-28