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, but The Intemperate engineer: Isambard Kingdom Brunel in his own words is a masterpiece and is one of the best publications which Ian Allan has ever produced and far removed from the picture book images which tend to dominate thoughts of this publisher..

The Intemperate engineer: Isambard Kingdom Brunel in his own words

Brunel as perceived through his letters including two to his wife and one to his son at Harrow school. The atmospheric railway is the subject of a long letter from Brunel to the unfortunate Directors of the South Devon Railway wherein Brunel attempts to blind them with science whereas it was quite clear that such a project was very deeply flawed. Adrian Vaughan lets Brunel hang himself with his own atmospheric rope. Elsewhere it is suggested that Vaughan is not always to be trusted for his views on locomotive developemnt, but in this book he nails Brunel's lack of ability in locomotive design firmly on the head.

The Vulcan Works designed engines with 10-foot wheels. These were made as plate iron discs, heavy and effectively a sail for the wind to press against. Brunel raised no objection. The Haigh Foundry and T. E. Harrison, a designer with the firm of R. W. Hawthorn, designed an engine that drove through gears. Harrison's engine came closest to Brunel's specification on weight and piston speed by having the boiler and the cylinders/driving wheels on separate carriages - an idea picked up again decades later to produce the ultra-powerful Beyer-Garratt type.

It was very unfortunate that Brunel did not send his specification and invitation to build locomotives to the Rennie Brothers. Did Brunel have a prejudice against them? His comment in his diary for 6 May 1828 could be a clue that he did not greatly admire them. George and John Rennie, sons of Sir John Rennie, had an engineering works in Holland Street, Blackfriars, London, maybe 2 miles from Brunel's office in Duke Street. In 1838 they designed and built engines of the 2-2-2 wheel arrangement for Joseph Locke's London & Southampton Railway (L&SR), and 0-4-2s for William Cubitt's London & Croydon Railway. Both types worked perfectly from the outset. The L&SR engines were conventional standard gauge machines with 13in x 18in cylinders driving 5ft 6in wheels, and normally reached 40mph between stops, and with light loads as much as 50. At 30mph their piston speed was 458 feet per second. They weighed only 11 tons, without their tenders and without water in the boiler. Instead of trekking to Liverpool – in the days before there was a railway – Brunel could have gone a couple of miles to the Rennie Brothers. But he did not.

The Author and publisher unfortunately adopted the common convention of prnting the letters in italic type which makes them difficult to assimilate. The use of two distinct typefaces would have been more helpful.

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 appear to be copies in Norwich and possibly elsewhere.

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 great 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. 160pp.
Very well received by Martin Barnes: J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2007, 35, 554 and rightly so. Firstly, it is a beautifully produced book where the illustrations are both informative and decorative and colour has been used to enhance both where it is available. This is especially effective with some of the engineering drawings, but there are also some excellent contemporary depictions of the atmospheric railway. There is an excellent account of Brunel's (fortunately brief) adventure into locomotive specification, including a rewarding section on Hurricane and Thunderer which includes an extract from a warm letter to Tom Harrison, the designer of this extraordinary pair. Sadly, the index is an excellent example of how not to...
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, 1994. 224pp.
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.
Comparison with Rolt's biography
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. Based mainly on official accident reports (although none are clearly cited). Accidents covered are: Manor House, Northallerton in 1892 (signalman error with strong mitigating circumstances); Douglas Park, Motherwell on 23 April 1949 (points moved under sleeping car train); Conington South on 5 March 1967; Curry Rivel Junction on 15 April 1923; Hixon level crossing accident on 6 January 1968; Welwyn Garden City on 15 June 1935; Parkhall on 18 January 1918;.Abermule on 26 January 1921; Thorpe-le-Soken on 17 January 1931; Fakenham (LNER station) on 27 May 1931 (head-on caused by driver error); Sun Bank Halt on 7 September 1945 (failure of canal led to derailment of freight train); Lichfield (Trent Valley) on 1 January 1946; Hellifield on 22 December 1955; Milton on 20 November 1955; Lewisham on 4 December 1957; Dagenham East on 30 January 1955; Welwyn Garden City on 7 January 1957; Chapel-en-le-Frith on 9 February 1957 (accident in which Driver Axon died and involved fault in brake valve on 8F 2-8-0);  Arklestone Junction on 20 May 1958; Ince Moss on 17 February 1958; Lunan Bay on 2 September 1958; Crayford Spur on 17 February 1959; Polmont East on 12 February 1962: Settle on 20 January 1960 (failure of motion on Britannia); Singleton Bank on 16 July 1961; Torquay on 25 August 1962; Knowle & Dorridge on 15 August 1963; Barnbham on 1 August 1962; Kingham on 15 July 1968; Batchford Viaduct on 30 January 1975 (problem with Gozunda); Ealing Broadway on 20 December 1973 (when 1007 Western Talisman caused serious derailment when battery box doors fouled and Chinley on 9 March 1986 (signalman error).
Pictorial record of Great Western architecture. Oxford: OPC, 1977.
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
Railways through the Vale of the White Horse. Adrian Vaughan, Crowood Press, 2015, paperback, 160pp,  DMA *****
Wonderful review in Backtrack, 2016, 30, 466 repeated herein
Why do people protest against the building of a new railway? Why do they protest against the closure of a railway? The answer lies in our fear of growing old. Seeing childhood friends and places allows us to feel young, but when some familiar thing from our youth is knocked down we feel the weight of time passing. likewise when something new is built across long· remembered fields. Imagine the uproar if the Great Western main line through the Vale of the White Horse was to be shut down, allowing weather, excavators and rain to undo it again. Imagine the outcry if a railway were projected across the Vale for the first time. It would only proceed if forced from sight, behind plantations of trees and in tunnels rather than being allowed to become part of the landscape. Luckily for us the railway was built, running proud across the fields of Berkshire and Wiltshire that King Alfred knew. From the Ridgeway trains can be seen, like threads being pulled across the patchwork quilt of the Vale. From those trains the line of hills can be seen, sometimes through a veil of grey drizzle, sometimes bright and sharp when the rain has cleaned the air and the sun comes out. And on those hills runs the White Horse as it has done since before Alfred first sounded the Blowing Stone.
Adrian Vaughan's book describes in loving detail the line through the Vale from Steventon to Wootton Bassett along with the branches to Uffington and Highworth. A line where the industrial world of steel and coal met the countryside of hay and horse:; two worlds in contact along a line. The books starts with BruneI's survey, a line on a map skirting the Downs, ignoring the local towns as it ran from London to Bristol, avoiding· all curves and steep gradients. Designed for express trains to run from city to city, the Great Western Railway originally intended to have only three stations between Didcot and Swindon: at Steventon, Faringdon Road (later Challow) and Shrivenham. Wantage Road and Uffington were added later. Vaughan's book runs like a stopping train, calling at each station, sharing old photographs, telling stories from the time of Brunel to the time of Betjeman. Stories of the heroic early days, of long hours and fatal accidents. Stories from the sixties when the poet's wife would request 'Peddington', before the world of steam and country stations came abruptly to an end. For 125 years the old rituals and routines had been kept, the life of railwaymen hardly changing from father to son. It must have felt eternal, inconceivable that it should suddenly stop.
Vaughan tells of the Victorian Sunday routine on the Faringdon branch. No day of rest here. A main line goods train arrives in Uffington and is shunted into a siding. Meanwhile the Faringdon porter walks down the branch line, three and a half miles, taking the train staff to Uffington. In rain, snow or in sun with skylarks singing. The wooden staff allows the engine and brake van to go up to Faringdon to fetch milk, cattle and freight. The porter gets a ride home. Back at Uffington the wagons of country produce are added to the goods train and it resumes its journey down the main line. In the afternoon another train stops at Uffington and a second journey is made to Faringdon and back. Finally an Uffington porter plods his weary way to Faringdon returning the staff ready for the first train on Monday morning, before walking back home.
The book passes through Swindon, after a brief diversion to Highworth. Vaughan tells of the first days of the Great Western in this country railway town including the infamous refreshment rooms. Having arrived in Wootton Bassett the book returns to Steventon and repeats the journey, this time pausing at each signal box. The author was, of course, a signalman in Challow and Uffington and gives an eyewitness account of the life and work of these country signal boxes. This narrative is illustrated with track diagrams. The railway through the Vale was a piece of the modern world in the countryside and a piece of country life intruding upon the modern world. Railwaymen lived amongst their countrymen, sharing the slow pace of life, sleeping in old cottages and walking along quiet lanes to work. But once at work they were part of a complex organisation, strictly regimented to timetable and clock. They got the road and pulled the levers for the fastest trains in the world, seeing them run through at 90 on their way to London. Then walked home to dig the light chalky soil in their gardens as their fathers had done before the railway had ever been built.

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?