David Ross

The Caledonian Railway, Scotland's Imperial Railway: a history David Ross. Catrine: Stenlake Publishing, 2013. 252pp. Reviewed by Keith Fenwick in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2013 (218) 52.
The Caledonian was one of the two main pre-grouping companies in Scotland. Its main lines completed the West Coast route to Scotland and ran from Carlisle to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It employed 29,000 staff at its peak and ran stylish passenger trains hauled by distinctive blue engines, but its bread and butter was the mineral traffic of Glasgow and Lanarkshire. Although there have been numerous books about smaller companies this is the first time for many years that the history of one of the larger pre-grouping railway companies has been published. In undertaking this major project, the author decided to present the story in chronological order so one gets a very good idea of the complexity of managing such a large organisation. It is hard to see what else he could have done but it does make following particular threads more difficult.
Of the sixteen chapters, fourteen are devoted to the development ofthe Company, from its gestation to the grouping. Chapter 15 reviews how the staff were treated. The last chapter gives a potted history of locomotive development; this seems out of place to your reviewer. A timeline shows major events over the years. There is a bibliography, references and an index.
The author has worked assiduously through original sources, including minute books and newspaper reports. His style is simple and direct. Each paragraph is packed with details; little seems to have been missed. Extensions to the system, abortive proposals for lines and the shady financial dealings of the early years are all described. But we do not find out much about the Company's commercial development and its relations with other railway companies and customers; the author recognises this in his Foreword, acknowledging that a book oftwice the size would have been needed.
The way the publisher has laid out the book does it no favours. The single column text is difficult to read, subheadings and captions and page titles are all in the same font. Several of photographs are from poor originals and not directly related to the text. But overall, this is a significant and substantial work which deserves to be on the shelf of anyone interested in Scottish railways or in the larger pre-grouping companies.

KPJ has seen this book, albeit briefly, in Waterstone's in Ayr and thought that it would be an interesting read, but is not prepared to pay £4.50 to Nofolk "Library" to borrow a copy from elsewhere as £30 is more than three times spent on traditional trash' thus he hopes to see a copy in Scotland in one of their many free libraries. The reviewer does not expand on why the chapter on locomotives is poor.

The encyclopedia of trains and locomotives. London: Amber Books, 2007. 544pp.
This is an odd book which is held together (if that is not too strong a term) by being arranged chronologically. The main driving force appears to have been pictorial, but images based on photographs, drawings and paintings rub shoulders. Furthermore, many are in colour. The items illustrated may have been in their prime, but many are in their restored state. Some have now become sufficiently old to be revealing as in the case of a Eurostar train crossing a British level crossing, and of a Eurostar set in GNER livery operating a White Rose service.
Ross claims to have been the Editor, but one is forced to feel that a set number of pages have had to be filled without too much effort. The coverage is global so one might expect the British contingent to have been selected on the basis of being "representative", but this contingent consists of too many odd-balls. Both of the Marsh 4-6-2Ts (Bessborough and Abergavenny) are included: these were singletons. The Z class (0-8-0T) was an attractive locomotive, but to what extent was it representative? The compound locomotive with the Gresley-Yarrow watertube boiler was an interesting concept, but by the time it had become No. 60700 it had lost its interesting number and its wheel arrangement had become unique in Britain: so it certainly was not represntative and only the caption makes it interesting.
There are two pictures of No. 6100 Royal Scot in its unrebuilt state: surely it would have been better to have selected one and another of a rebuilt locomotive (and its no use Ross saying that "he didn't do rebuilds": the W1 is only there in that form). There are some odd combinations: both the Princess Royal and Duchess Pacifics are considered together, yet only the latter type is illustrated. The LMS seems to have suffered on a gross scale: thus the Stanier (of 1934) 2-6-4T design is illustrated by a Fairburn 2-6-4T (No. 42128) which is captioned as "45128".
There is a glossary and an index where the term "class" has a vast number of entries, but some classes are not subsumed in this way: thus A4 is listed under just that. One suspects that the entries for other countries may be even less typical. One fears that ill-educated modern librarians may consider this to be a work of reference.

George & Robert Stephenson: a passion for success. Stroud: History Press, 2010. 317pp.
When the Willing servant was encountered it was KPJ's assessment that this would be David Ross's sole contribution, but we have since had a (not very good) encyclopaedia and now a biography of the Stephenson's father and son which on initial inspection appears to be rather good, but suffers from the lack of a fully comprehensive index, chapter titles which might be suitable for a work of fiction and a lack of side headings to facilitate navigation. The Acknowledgements and the Introduction are reproduced in full below. The former demonstrates that this is a substantial work which has been founded on a considerable amount of research into secondary sources. The very full bibliography and the Introduction show that the Author is fully aware of what has been written before. This aleretness continues throughout the text and in the many accompanying notes. Peter Cross-Rudkin (J. Rly Canal Historical Soc., 2011 (211), 62-3) appreciates its readability and considers that it displaces Rolt whilst not displacing Bailey and Addyman.
The approach adopted tends to diminish the two subject's work and for this reason, any library daft enough (e.g. Norfolk) to consider that this is the one book on the two great engineers is highly deluded. Robert Stephenson is very well served by two relatively recent studies of his works as is made clear in Ross's Introduction. George Stephenson's achievements were set out by Dendy Marshall, but more recent research manifested in the Early Railway series is tending to bring more to light on early locomotives and the systems upon which they ran. Ross is aware of this.
The chronological approach sometimes leads to some uncomfortable transitions: for instance on page 175 when the previous section had been describing George's friendship with Paxton and the introduction of Paxton to Hudson and railway investment is followed by a paragraph which opens with "His interest in the practical arts and sciences led Robert to become a become a member..." where the "His" might have related to George, or Paxton or Hudson rather than to Robert.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Research for this book was done in many different places, and I am grateful to all for their help: Birmingham Refe.rence Library (Boulton & Watt Archive); Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford; Bristol University Library, Special Collections; Chesterfield Library, Local Studies Centre; Durham Records Office; Gateshead Reference Library; Institution of Civil Engineers Library and Archives; Institution of Mechanical Engineers Library and Archives;]ohn Rylands Library, University of Manchester; Lilly Library, University of Indiana; Literary & Philosophical Institution, Newcastle; London Library; Montrose Public Library;The National Archives, Kew; National Railway Museum.York; Northumberland Records Office; Robinson Library, University of Newcastle; Royal Society Library; Royal Yacht Squadron Archives, Cowes; St Andrews University Library, Special Collections; Science Museum Library, London and Swindon; South Shields Local Studies Centre; Stephenson Locomotive Society Library; Sunderland Public Library; Tyne & Wear Archives Service, Newcastle; Whitby Library;York Reference Library.

I am indebted to Professor Maggie Snowling of the University of York and Professor PG. Aaron of Indiana State University, for assessments of George Stephenson's orthography.Thanks are also due toA.G. Miller, MICE. My account of Robert Stephenson's involvement with the Isthmus of Suez was published in the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society, November 2007, and I am grateful to the Editor for permission to reuse it here. For help in sourcing illustrations I am grateful to Carol Morgan of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Liz Bentley of the Royal Meteorological Society, Mike Claxton of the IMechE, the Chesterfield and Darlington Local Studies Centres, the Northumberland Archives and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

INTRODUCTION

George Stephenson was not a modest, self-effacing sort of man, and if he had been, many things might have happened differently. In him, will-power, tenacity, technical ability and self-confidence were fused into intense and strongly focused ambitiousness. To these qualities can be added courage, bloody-mindedness and gross insensitivity to the feelings of other people. Perhaps if he had found it easy to pursue his natural gifts, he would have achieved less than he did. A formidable personality was made even more so by having to overcome the obstacles set before an illiterate working boy with aspirations. When George was born, rail- ways were horse-drawn wagon-ways. Twenty-two years later, at Robert's birth, that was still the case. By the time of George's death, the steam railway had trans- formed industry and commerce, reshaped and expanded the economies of several countries, hugely influenced everyday life and set in motion an ever-expanding series of further developments. He was not the only begetter, but at a crucial time, he was its main driving force. Success made him a phenomenon, a walking, talking legend whose great subject, in the end, was himself. For his son, having George Stephenson as a father was to be handed a ticket to life printed with very clear directions. It was no free ride and he was offered no optional routes. Before Robert reached his teens, father and son were working together at mechanical contrivances. Perhaps inevitably, the boy became an engineer. In that role he faced and framed for himself some breathless challenges, but none greater than the private one, of defining his own character and approach to life against the hugely compelling yet unrepeatable example of his father.

To write a coherent life of either Stephenson without full reference to the other is really impossible, and so this is a double-headed biography. Yet their personalities were very different, as were the ways in which they went about . things. Often there is a sense of the son looking at his father's methods and doing the opposite. And, having jerked a slow-turning planet on to a new, faster-spinning and unpredictable course, each reacted in his own way to the changed order of things which, with no particular intention, they had done so much to bring about.

Considering their impact on the world, there have been few biographies of the Stephensons. First in the field was Samuel Smiles, who persuaded Robert Stephenson in 1849 that he was the right person to produce a biography of George. Robert told him that:

... there had been some talk of writing the life of his father, but nothing had been done. Indeed, he had given up hope of seeing it undertaken. Besides, he doubted whether the subject possessed much interest; and he did not think the theme likely to attract the attention of literary men of eminence. 'If people get a railroad,' he said, 'it is all that they want; they do not care how or by whom it is done."

Having warned Smiles against wasting his time, labour and money, Stephenson agreed to help and took a close interest in the project.' Smiles was able to gather first-hand information from many people who had known George, even as a young man. His book, published in 1857, became a bestseller and established its author's name and fame. An important source, it is not wholly reliable, glossing over some aspects of George's behaviour and character, and playing down the role of other people in his achievements. Later it became clear that Smiles had shaped his portrait of George as the prime exemplar of his personal idea of 'self-improvement' , spelled out in his Self Help: Or Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance, written before the Stephenson biography but only finding a publisher after it, when Smiles had become a big name. Revised versions of the biography were published in 1862 as Lives of the Engineers, Vol. 3, and separately in 1864 and again in 1873.Also in 1864,John Cordy Jeaffreson published a two-volume Life of Robert Stephenson, with chapters on Stephenson's engineering works contributed by ProfessorWilliam Pole. Jeaffreson, a professional author, was commissioned to write it in 1860 by George Parker Bidder, a close friend of Robert's and the most active executor of his will. He was not Bidder's first choice, and makes no claim to have known Robert Stephenson personally, but he too visited Northumberland to gather oral memories and to look at parish and colliery records. He refers to 'letters submitted to my perusal by a great number of the engineer's friends' and to papers provided by his executors. In the practice of the time, Smiles and Jeaffreson provide no references for their quotations and statements. Thomas Summerside's short anecdotal memoir of George appeared in 1878, and Francis Grundy's Pictures of the Past (1879) has a chapter, 'Memories ofTapton House', based on recollections from John Hart, who was George's secretary from 1840 to 1843. No other attempt at a researched biography was made for almost a century, though some very useful and important books and journal articles dealt with aspects of the Stephensons' work, most notably ].G.H. Warren's centenary history of the Robert Stephenson locomotive works in 1923. In 1960 L.T.C. Rolt published George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution, which, though a long overdue corrective to Smiles, is seriously marred by factual errors, confusions and hasty-seeming judgements. Hunter Davies' George Stephenson: Father of Railways, published in 1975 at the time of the 150th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, includes some new material. In 2003 Michael Bailey, author of numerous scholarly articles on Robert Stephenson in particular, edited Robert Stephenson: The Eminent Engineer, in which he and other specialists examine most aspects of Robert's work. This is a valuable and generally authoritative book, to whose scope and detail any writer attempting a more general account of Robert must be grateful. Not a systematic biography, its focus is very much on his engineering works. Robert Stephenson: Railway Engineer (2005), by John Addyman and Victoria Haworth, is another well- researched book with an engineering emphasis. The present book is the first to set out the interlocked careers of George and Robert in chronological order, and to consider their activities within what Emerson called 'the idea of the age'. Only in this way can the pattern of their lives and their involvement with the intellectual, political, commercial and social currents of the time, be clearly seen, and an assessment made of what sort of men they were and of the scope - and limitations - of their achievement. The evidence is here for the reader to judge, but, like the glimmer of a miner's lamp advancing through the dark, one thing becomes steadily more apparent. By comparison with most of their peers and rivals, to the many qualities possessed by the Stephensons must be added an extra one. Luck plays some part in it, but far more important is the urge to strive and survive, to compete and come out on top – a passion for success.

The willing servant. Tempus, 2004
In the introductory chapter (page 9) the author notes that there are two categories of railway book: "hard" and "soft" (the former are written for committed enthusiats and the latter for leisure readers. According to Ross this book is intended to fill the gap between the two, and the following extract on Bulleid's locomotives shows that in his writing he has been highly successful. The initial sentence encapsulates Bulleid's philosophy in a handful of words. The next couple of sentences cover the Q1 design and then we have the fundamentals of the Pacific designs in a carefully crafted nutshell. A minor digression on mechanical stokers and the light Pacifics is followed by a brutal assessment of the failings of the British system of locomotive design, after which the topic of the Leader class is introduced. The same Author has acted as the compiler of The encyclopedia of trains which falls into another category: "heavy": not in the literary sense, but in the physical..
Bulleid was a firm believer in the ability of steam power to meet the needs of a modern railway, and set about designing large new engines. ...To avoid wartime restrictions on construction, his 1939 design for the 4-6-2 'Merchant Navy' express passenger engine was presented to the Ministry of Supply in 1941 as a 'mixed traffic' type. At 6ft 2in (188cm) its driving wheels were not quite too large for that description to be completely mendacious. In the eyes of its designer, it was a new-generation locomotive intended for an era when trains loading up to 600 tons would be hauled at average speeds of 70mph (113km/h) or more. It was a prescient vision. The squared-off 'air-smoothed' casing was intended to suit automatic washing plants as well as to reduce air resistance. It gave the engines a bold new look, and some of the novelties incorporated inside it were no less bold. Bulleid was an authority on welding, and much weight was saved by welded construction of an all-steel firebox and boiler. At 280psi (19.6kg/cm2), it carried the highest pressure of any conventionally-boilered British locomotive. The three simple-expansion cylinders were operated by piston valves, actuated in turn by his unique chain-driven valve gear, enclosed within an oil-tight casing. This 'oil-bath' also enclosed the middle connecting-rod, crosshead and crank. These novelties were to present incessant repair and maintenance problems. ...From 1954, all the 'Merchant Navy' class and over half of the 'West Country' were rebuilt in conventional form without the outer casing and inner oil bath, and with three sets ofWalschaerts valve-gear. Their story illustrates the degree of personal power, even into the 1940s and in wartime, which a British chief mechanical engineer possessed within his domain. ... [pp. 306-7]
The Librarian of the NRM gave the book a glowing review in Backtrack. My major personal reservation is the extent to which it is possible to bridge the gap mentioned at the start without any form of illustrative material other than the purely decorative which Phil Atkins admired. It is possible that proximity to a steam railway which Ross delightfully calls a cross between a theme park and a safari park might be sufficient to cover this lack of basic illustrative material, but I doubt it, and anyone questioning this should look into the basic manual which accompanies most automobiles where the simplest text possible with communication is usually linked to excellent pictures even of such trivialities as the cigar lighter. An assessment of the steam locomotive really demands a similar approach. Ross is very fond of heating surfaces, but what is the "man-in-the-street" to make of this concept?
The attempt to cover all aspects of locomotive development is both a strength (British development did not take place in isolation and the greater coverage should ensure a wider readership), but this is sometimes a weakness: the K4 Pacifics are mentioned in a chapter on American development and this remains unlinked to the Gresley Pacific story which owed much to the K4 design. Much is well done: there are a few carefully crafted words on the Cramptons and on the Norris locomotives: Ross, unlike many authors, appears to have read sensibly, but too often the book is best considered as a series of essays. There is an excellent contribution on locomotives in art and in music (but Ross missed Reich's Changing Trains surely a seminal contribution to our perception of trains in a wider context). The races to the north form another essay and so on. Anybody setting up a bed & breakfast business for anoraks should have a copy of this book in every bedroom and a notebook to note infelicities in the text.
One major eccentricity demands specific comment. Peddie's Railway literature 1556-1830 (1931) was seen by one who considers himself to be a bibliographer in his student days half a century ago, and has never been examined since. Ottley is used almost daily. Ross cites Peddie, but not Ottley! McKillop is not mentioned. Like many journalist-produced books one has more than a suspicion that much of the real reading was done by others.
Errors found on a second inspection included "James" Kirtley, the "Chief Mechanical Engineer" of the Midland who with the correctly identified Charles Markham introduced the brick arch and deflector in Britain to enable the general combustion of coal rather than coke. On page 206 Walter Smith's contribution to locomotive development in Japan is casually noted, but there is no indication concerning his contribution to compounding in Britain.
The index is mainly acceptable, but see entry for Pacific type which is unhelpful (and there are several others where re-reading is just about as helpful).

Martin Barnes reviewed it in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2004, 34, 644 and called it a major work at a reasonable price and noted its "breadth and depth and the clarity and perception of its analysis".

©Kevin P. Jones

2013-11-13
Steamindex home page