David Wragg

Wragg has annexed the words "dictionary" and "manual" for his titles and therefore must be assessed on this basis. The four handbooks appear to have had coffee table origins and are not nearly as attractive nor as informative as the "LMS 150" series produced by David & Charles. In terms of physical presentation they are not even a pale reflection of the gloriously produced D&C series which incorporated the work of many authors, including such worthies as D.S.M. Barrie. The more KPJ sees of Wragg's growing output; the more he is tempted to consider him as a twenty-first century Stretton: that is an author who should never be cited and whose statements always require verification elsewhere.

A historical dictionary of the railways of the British Isles. Barnsley: Wharncliffe, 2009. 288pp..
This book suffers from several defects, some of which stem from its use of the term "dictionary" and which might be overlooked had the term "handbook" or even "encyclopaedia" been used. One expects a dictionary to be in alphabetical order with precise, concise definitions, but the entries are long and many topics are subsumed into broad categories which are not mutually exclusive. Thus there is no heading for Pullman, nor is there one for Bournemouth Belle, yet both topics are mentioned in a non-lexical heading "Naming of trains". Furthermore, there is another entry at "High speed trains" which includes a mention of Silver Jubilee [train] and Mallard [locomotive]: neither of which are featured in the main alphabetical sequence.
The entries contain far too many words, many of which add nothing to the information: more than, nearby, wide and varied, and so on. Many are excessively long in relation to their overall importance: half a column on Mansell [as in wheel] and a full column on the Manx Electric Railway. It may seem to be a harsh judgement, but wait until the omissions are noted: neither Peppercorn nor Thompson are included yet the broadly comparable Hawksworth is. Hawkshaw, Garratt and Beyer were sought in vain.
Accuracy seems to be fairly good, yet there is some evidence of sloppiness. In the entry for the East Kent Railway it is alleged that it was "almost immediately closed" under British Railways and there is no mention of the Kent Coalfield which kept part of it alive for several years.
The layout of the text is not helpful: there are whole pages where it is not immediately clear what a piece of text relates to (remember the dictionary claim). There is a bibliography which fails to mention Ottley and includes four titles by Nock and an equal number by Wragg. There is very little evidence that the book was "read" prior to publication or was "edited". There are some illustrations which in the case of the portraits can be justified, but the captions contain some howlers, the most notable being Sir William Stanier standing beside his locomotive No. 10000 – actually Herbert Nigel Gresley. Neither engineer had been knighted in 1930. Bulleid "left after nationalisation, angered by the rebuilding of his locomotives": both statements are true, but were not connected. Two pictures of double-deck trains are visually interesting, but they have yet to make a significant contribution to British transport.
Orher serious errors noted included Selby on the route of the Settle & Carlsle line.
Nevertheless, there is good entry on Geddes (and he quotes the 'Geddes Axe'). Martin Barnes reviewd it for J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2009, 36, 125 and noted further errors whilst observing that it is a very good read and failed to recognise that it includes the howlers in the entry on high speed trains.

Men of steam: railwaymen in their own words. Barnsley: Wharncliffe, 2011. 206pp.
This is a sort of an anthology based mainly on the house magazines produced by the post-grouping companies and available within the Search Engine at the NRM. As will be clear from the comments made elsewhere on this page the author makes sweeping statements of questionable accuracy and obviously has an incoherent image of that twenty-five year period when wages were reduced and the threat of being sacked dominated the very large workforce, running a railway which by and large failed to respond to road competition. On the other hand some of the personal accounts are informative and entertaining.   

Signal failure: politics & Britain's railways. Stroud: Sutton, 2004. 202pp.
The Michelin Micheline railcars had pneumatic tyres, not solid ones as suggested by Wragg on page 90. It is debatable that the English-Electric diesel-electric railcars were "better" than the Great Western diesel mechanical cars introduced in the 1930s (same page). On page 88 the Southern Railway is alleged to have "squandered money" on the Night Ferry service and that the Atlantic Coast Express was wasteful in terms of rolling stock utilisation.
On pp. 120-1 there is the most extraordinary statement which refers to the tank engine based on the Class 5 and the use of Merchant Navy and Britannia classes into Charing Cross! Firing at this stage of the journey was almost a criminal offence. Here is the relevant text:

While many of Bulleid's initiatives on the Southern Railway's Pacific locomotives were appreciated, the main focus of attention was on Stanier's mixed-traffic locomotives, and this design was modified slightly, most noticeably by the design of the tender, and returned to production both in tender and tank engine form. The new standard Pacific, the 'Britannia' class, owed much to Stanier, but incorporated some Bulleid features, while the rebuilding of the Bulleid Pacifies led Bulleid to resign. The 'Britannia' class, while more reliable than the Bulleid 'Merchant Navy', 'West Country' and 'Battle of Britain' classes, was markedly less economical. The author recalls a railway manager who had earlier in his career been a fireman telling him that when a train was hauled by a 'Merchant Navy' he could probably relax before it cleared London Bridge, but that he had to continue firing almost all the way to Charing Cross on a 'Britannia'!

Gibbins in Backtrack, 2012, 26, 539 uses this nonsense to criticise British Railways' motive power policy.

Wartime on the railways. Stroud (Gloucs): Sutton, 2006. 200pp.
Not well organised; mainly WW2. Bibliography fails to note Pratt's magisterial study of WW1 (AWOL Norwich & Norfolk) and It can now be revealed..

The handbooks
The handbooks were reviewed as separate volumes by four different reviewers in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2011 (212) 54-5. One of the reviewers (William Featherstone) was firecely critical: "The book is not redeemed by its illustrations; maps too few and too small, timetables too many and it has an unexciting selection of photographs (a third three-quarter locomotive pictures)". The other reviewers appear to have been bowled over by receiving a free copy and failed to recognise systemic faults and in particular the complete lack of mention of freight traffic in the Southern Handbook: the other three give freight due attention, but not in a systematic manner which a "handbook" demands. Geoffrey Hughes LNER (1986) page 149 showed how it should have been done.
Like most railway enthusiasts Wragg is dazzled by the chief mechanical engineers yet in most cases fails to appreciate the role of the chief civil engineer (the LNER was atypical in that it lacked one until the appointment of J.C.L. Train, after Gresley's death: before that civil engineering was an area responsibility). Perhaps, predictably Wragg mentions John Miller, the civil engineer for the North Eastern area, but not J.C.L. Train who took over from him and assumed all-line responability. Similarly, chairmen and board members are largely ignored: part of the Southern's success may have been due to its proximity to City finance, rather than to northern industrialists who were  mainly interested in cheap transport for their products and raw materials. The Railway & Canal Historical Society reviews are repeated below. To return to civil engineering, it is disingenuous of Wragg to consider this towards the end of these "handbooks" as it is a key limiting factor on all railways and dictated motive power policy and the ability to hadle traffic.
One feels that Wragg lacks the technical skills necessary to produce a series of what claim to be handbooks. It is evident that he has read far too little and sought too little assistance from experts in the subject. The publisher is also blameworthy and debases its reputation as a publisher of "handbooks" for DIY car mechanics.

The GWR Handbook: The Great Western Railway 1923-1947. David Wragg. Haynes Publishing, 2010, 248pp. Reviewed by Rodney Hartley. [54]
This book is a re-issue of the book first published in 2006 by Sutton Publishing. While basically, it may be termed as a 'coffee table' book, it does form a useful reference to the Great Western Railway, perhaps as a starting point for further study of the various details of the Company. Many of the items covered are quite brief, notably the constituent companies and later acquisitions, although the antecedents and neighbours together with Paddington Station are covered in some detail. Likewise, the chapter on Great Western shipping services covers only four pages, that on associated air services merits only five. There are two chapters covering the Second World War totalling sixteen pages. The Great Western's foray into bus transport is covered, and there are chapters on the named expresses and publicity. The various General Managers receive briefbiographies. There are useful appendices, ranging from Locomotive Headcodes to locomotives absorbed at the grouping of 1923 and all GWR locomotives are listed, together with Diesel Railcars and Shunting engines. There is a relatively short bibliography and an extensive index. However, the question, which must be asked, is whether this book is worth the high price?

Southern Railway Handbook: The Southern Railway 1923-1947. David Wragg. Haynes Publishing, 2010, 248pp, Reviewed by Graham Bird. [54]
Originally reviewed in the July 2004 Journal, this volume has now been re-issued by a different publisher. It is a well-balanced account of its subject, with 18 chapters covering topics such as electrification, marketing, accidents, air, shipping and (rather briefly) road services, ending with nationalisation and 'What might have been'. There is also useful coverage of the Southern's London termini, its coastal destinations, and its managers. One perhaps debatable assertion is that the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway acted as a feeder to the SR; given the substantial holiday traffic which the latter brought to this part of Kent, the opposite seems more likely.
Locomotive development occupies nine pages and the various classes are also listed in two Appendices, but these should be treated with caution. There are several errors — for example, the numbering of the Q, UI and W classes — and omissions, such as the USA 0-6-0Ts; the lists of locomotive names at first appear complete but do not include all pre-grouping types. The eight pages of (steam) headcodes might have been more usefully devoted to tabulated summaries of locomotive dimensions and technical data, and of traffic and revenue statistics. Overall the book is attractively produced. An index and bibliography (secondary sources only) are included
KPJ: if freight had not been neglected this would have been moderately successful. The concept of a sectiuon on London termini was appropraite for the Southern, but did not carry over well to the northern companies: viewed from Aberdeen or Inverness Fenchurch Street was irrelevant. The map used on the front end-papers is clearly not a Sothern map as it gives undue prominence to the Great Western!.

LNER Handbook: the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1947. David Wragg. Haynes Publishing, 2011, 256pp, Reviewed by Philip Scowcroft. [54-5]
This is basically a readable reference book, one of four, each covering one of the Big Four, created by the Grouping of 1923. The LNER, the second largest, was the poorest funded and circumstances did not help as it was dependent on goods traffic more than the other three and, especially in the 1920s, labour relations and growing road competition conspired against the LNER particularly. Yet it achieved much. This book is divided into 22 themed chapters, which inevitably produces some overlapping but does not affect readability. We start with the LNER constituents, subsidiaries, joint ventures and immediate neighbours, then London terminals and provincial centres. Chapters follow on the company's setting-up and its leading managers, mechanical and administrative (the names Gresley, Wedgwood and Whitelaw show how fortunate the LNER was in its leading servants). Four chapters are devoted to locomotives; electrics and diesels having one to themselves. These lead to a longish and interesting chapter on named trains, almost thirty of them and others on goods traffic (it should have been longer) and passenger business, with shorter sub-studies on publicity and record-breaking runs. Shipping was important as was road transport, the latter more summarily dealt with, as are accidents — three important ones from 1947 (Doncaster, Gidea Park and Goswick) could have been mentioned. Longer chapters discuss infrastructure (stations, goods depots, workshops) and, divided into two, wartime experience. The two final chapters deal with the years 1945-7 and the onset of nationalisation and pose the question whether the latter could or should have been avoided (on the whole the answer is in the negative). Five appendices variously list LNER locomotives, a bibliography is short yet surprisingly detailed, and there is an index. A very recommendable book, both for the student and general reader, and comprehensive, though maybe there should have been a chapter employees' welfare, cultural and sporting activities, perhaps covering the company's own labour relations. The photographs, variable in quality — we must remember they are up to 60 years old — illustrate the text appropriately.
KPJ: on page 100 there is an illustartion of No. 2001 Cock o' the North in its original state which the caption clearly identifies, but then states "was later rebuilt as a semi-streamlined Pacific". The mishapen Thompson rebuild was remote from the original semi-streamlined locomotive. George Dow is not mentioned in the text on public relations nor acknowledged for his Dowagram shown on page 30. The concept of joint railways seems to befuddle Wragg: the Cheshire Lines Committee was in many ways an integral part of the LNER giving it access not only to Liverpool, but to wholly owned lines in Wales. Similary, the line to Aylesbury from Amersham remained in the shared ownership of the LNER and LPTB, albeit the latter ceased to provide motive power for its services north of Amersham after 1937. The deal between the Midland and the Tilbury line was done before the LNER was envisaged and could not be undone

LMS Handbook: The London Midland & Scottish Railway 1923-1947. David Wragg. Haynes Publishing, 2010, 256pp. Reviewed by William Featherstone. [55]
The dictionary [used by reviewer] defines a handbook as a 'manual, a handy compendium of a large subject', and such a volume on the largest of the 1923 Grouping companies would fill a gap on the bookshelf and be very welcome. At first sight this large handsome volume, with a series of thematic chapters — including ancestor companies, managers, locomotives, freight, passenger services, named expresses, publicity, records, Ireland, ships and ports, road services, air services, accidents, WWII and nationalisation — together with five appendices and a very short if dated bibliography, might meet both need and definition. It fails at the most basic level; a reference work needs to be accessible, and an index that in most cases refers the reader the wrong page and has entries relating to non-existent text (the de Havilland Dove aircraft for instance but then the LMS did not use this plane anyway) is fundamentally flawed. There are many other problems and is poorly proof read; for example, Leeds finds itself 99.1 miles from London, Wolverhampton the site of the company's carriage works, and the LMS handing seven billion tons of freight in a year. It is inaccurate with the chapter on air services missing the significant factors such as mail and parcels services and more aircraft errors. The Micheline, no doubt because it had rubber tyres, becomes a road/rail vehicle, and major accidents are the fault of infrastructure even though the preceding chapter makes clear most were human error. It is unbalanced — four pages on Euston, one paragraph on Broad Street; the war ends in 1942 for the LMS. It is also repetitious, with frequent accusations that the company was too large, should not have taken over the LT &SR, and did not electrify enough (and so was nationalised!).
The book is not redeemed by its illustrations; maps too few and too small, timetables too many and it has an unexciting selection of photographs (a third three- quarter locomotive pictures). Given major revision and correction this could be a handsome and useful work but as it stands it cannot be recommended.

KPJ: Considering the Author's stated Ulster links it is remarkable that there is no mention of William Kelly Wallace, who implemented many of the improvements on the Northern Counties system and then moved on to become Chief Civil Engineer of the LMS in 1934. Prior to that another Irishman E.C. Trench had bedevilled early locomotive development on the LMS through his strictures. Looking at the series as a whole Wragg, like many railway enthusiats, fails to realise that the engineers on any railway were the chief civil engineers. There is a similar neglect to record the chairmen of the Board who played a major role in capital projects. City financial involvement clearly aided the Southern electrification. There is too much repetition and clear evidence that the texts were not read by a publisher's reader. There is some evidence to indicate that the Author is unaware of the status of the post-grouping railways: to a great extent they were hemmed in by the legislation which had established them which in retrospect was badly designed: a more flexible structure might have avoided some of the initial managerial problems.