Robert Hendry's picture or pictures

The changing face of Britain's railways, 1938-1953: the railway companies bow out. Stamford: Dalrymple & Verdun, 2006. 192pp.

This is slightly more than a picture book and is unusual in considering mainland Britain and Ireland on an almost equal footing. There is even a chapter on Wales, and Scotland is not quite forgotten: the Far East (of England) is ignored, however. The writer is the son of a GP, of the old-fashioned sort who used to visit patients, whenever they were in need at day or in the night and the author makes sharp comments upon the nine to five attitudes of current medical practitioners. Nevertheless, he had the time and financial resources to apply himself to his hobbies of model railways and to recording the railway scene. In a way the book is almost a memorial to his father. These pictures are supplemented by others, mainly those taken by H.J. Streeton-Ward and by R.E. Tustin.

The author's father practiced in Rugby and the doctor developed excellent contacts with local railwaymen. Thus there are some good pictures of the Rugby Locomotive Testing Station and of the "new" power signalling box at Euston opened in 1952, but already looking out-of-date. The reviewer has a general fear that text is gradually being eroded by visual material and to a great extent this is the case with this book: the pictures appear to have dictated the overall pattern. The extended captions and the brief commentaries which open the chapters are well written, and have been well thought out, but...

The period covered was dominated by a major event which in terms of pictorial content is sanitised beyond belief: a few pictures of Austerity (British and American) 2-8-0s. The reviewer may have been spared some of the worst personal images of the Second World War: he did not see the actual destruction of Charlton station, but he can still remember the shock of seeing a station which had disappeared under the impact of a rocket attack. Furthermore, the odour of War was still present in the great piles of rubble which dominated South East London in the immediate Post-War period. Before enjoying a period of relative tranquility in Edinburgh he had seen houses being destroyed, felt hot shrapnel, watched the lurid glow from Thameshaven as it burned... Robert was born too late for any of that. But in retrospect one of the most remarkable aspects of immediate Post-War Britain is that the lifts and escalators on the London Underground worked, the Southern Electric may have been over-crowded, yet trains ran to time. It took the magic of John Major and his wee pal MacGregor to disrupt that aspect of Englishness Only on the LMS did trains run hours late, but much of that was due to Stamp's parsimony which eventually reaped its rewards in Lancashire where tunnels collapsed and bridges carrying football crowds fell apart. These were Stamp's "Hatfields" and Ladbroke Groves.

There are some charming pictures of Ireland, North and South and some engaging chat about them, notably about George Howden and Frank Pope. The section about Howden is excellent: the reviewer still has a childhood scrapbook showing the marvellous modern Irish DMUs with their brilliant livery, so different from the dull dark green eventually used in mainland Britain. Pope remains a shadowy figure in spite of Hendry's advocacy, although he does illustrate the "Ulster dimension" in the affairs of the LMS, which culminated with the appointment of William Valentine Wood as President (Hendry presents a sharp verbal portrait).

So all in all a disappointing book: even the pictures often disappoint. They certainly do not present a balanced picture. And 1938 was a very strange starting point. Mel Holley paints a different picture of this work in Steam World No. 234.

Kevin P. Jones