This page is in Limbo due to (1) the loss of the St. John Thomas book cited and (2) the still to acquire The locomotive pioneers. The girly librarians in Norfolk are too obsessed with pretending to be literati and assisting poor poets (in both senses) and female authors of novels.
Television presentation coupled with authorship is always difficult
to assesss. especially as there is a trend to produce media which is probably
more comfortable viewed on a screen than as a series of pages in excessively
bulky books. Furthermore, navigation is often simpler on a screen than in
badly constructed books. A successful book has to combine readability (Burton
is skilled at this) with simple linkage to greater detail or citations to
David St. John Thomas (Journey through Britain) has this to say about Anthony Burton: The Retreat [in Stroud] is a great venue suggested by an author who is as practical and easy to get on with as they come: Anthony Burton. He was the obvious author for The Great Days of the Canals, skilfully combining human interest with engineering, social history and a constant reminder that canals were built by commercial companies to maximize their traffIc potential and profIt. Before the railways spoilt the party, the top canals were among the most profItable businesses of their day, though (as with later railway building) ambition and greed often outstripped prudence, and some routes such as the Thames & Severn were born losers. ... I remember Anthony as an author able to tackle a wide range of subjects and come up with lively work of depth and accuracy, something rarely achieved by those willing to take on varied commissions. His Shell Book of Curious Britain, for example, didn't look as though it was written to order and went down a treat. But who exactly is Anthony Burton? I have never discussed his background.
He's a big man, enthusiastic and good-hearted. Over lunch he explains his background and then with his outward-going personality his professionalism makes sense. Trained as an industrial chemist, he went into the printed word via scientifIc papers. In the 1960s he became editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson. His last 'proper job' was at Penguin where he directed publicity and ran the promotional Penguin News. I first knew him when he lived in Bristol. He came to Stroud, moving into a disused synagogue, because prices were cheaper and he loved the compact town and its industrial background, especially its old woollen mills and the houses of the master clothiers. ... Anthony says: 'Earning a living from book writing is hard work, and you have to balance what you want to do with bread and butter. My agent has helped,
Joseph Locke: civil engineer and railway builder,
1805-1860. Pen and Sword Transport. 180pp
Reviewed by Peter Brown in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2018 (232) 317
Joseph Locke is less well known than Robert Stephenson or Isambard Brunel, the other great ngineers who oversaw the construction of much of Britairi's railways from the 1830s to the 1850s, robably because his works were less visibly spectacular. Locke's works fitted with the landscape. He tried to avoid tunnels, even when crossing mountainous areas such as the Lake District and Southern Scotland; this meant steeper gradients but he was more confident than others that locomotives would progressively improve to cope with these. He believed in detailed specifications for his works, well communicated and closely monitored. Locke had a deserved reputation for avoiding unnecessary cost, delivering projects which rarely exceeded their original budget issues of importance to investors at the time but not to posterity.
But Locke's unassuming competence is a problem for a biographer: no major catastrophes, no real controversies. or has much personal material survived to reveal the man behind his achievements: no diaries, few letters. The author appears to have relied on secondary sources (no references are given), hence this new biography contains no surprises. Locke's sometimes fraught relationship with George Stephenson is particularly well covered, and his works in France, Spain and Holland are given deserved attention. Owners ofN W Webster'sJoseph Locke: railway revolutionary (1970) need not buy this new book, but anyone else wanting a biography of Locke will find it a commendably clearly written outline of his life and works.
Reviewed by GS (Geoffrey Skelsey?) in Backtrack, 2018, 32, 701-2
The problem with Burton's book on Joseph Locke is essentially its subject matter. Unless you're a fan of civil engineering, Locke just isn't very interesting. Indeed, the most interesting thing about him is almost certainly the thing he would most liked to have forgotten, namely that it was he who was driving Stephenson's Rocket when it mowed down poor William Huskisson MP at Parkside.
This is not to state that this book has nothing to offer. There is enough here to maintain the uncommitted reader's interest; unfortunately little of it concerns Locke himself. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of detail about the man's personal thoughts or private life, which leaves us with just a summary of railways he helped to build, alongside his other notable achievements such as the creation and development of the locomotive works at Crewe. In the words of the author "Locke tended to speak only on subjects based on personal experience and knowledge." Sadly this 'personal experience' didn't seem to include either himself or his family. This is therefore a study of Locke's achievements rather than a biography, which may of course be inferred from the books title. What you get is what it says on the tin. The absence of Locke's voice, however, weakens the content. I would have liked to have known, for example, how Locke felt about the Huskisson incident, or what his views were on the catastrophic collapse of his viaduct at Barentin, near Rouen, one of his major overseas projects. Unfortunately, we are left none the wiser. This is a pity because some input from Locke would have added much-needed colour to Burton's book. The 30-plus illustrations also throw little light on Locke the man as opposed to Locke the engineer. It is assumed there must be at least some portraits or photographs somewhere out there taken him during his lifetime but, apart from the cover picture, which mayor may not be him, since it has no caption, there is just a solitary photograph of a park in Barnsley park with what is said to be his statue somewhere in the middle distance. The illustrations, in total, are a mixed bag. Amongst the expected contemporaneous representations of railways under construction, in which Locke played some part, there is an assortment of images associated with historical railway events, such as the Rainhill Trials in which Locke had no involvement and a post-closure water colour of the Stockton & Darlington Railway's (S&DR) Brusselton incline to which he made no contribution. The inclusion of a 1905 school photograph of children at Barnsley Grammar School, taken 80 years or so after Locke was a pupil there, also seems to add little to the text.
The most absorbing bits of this book are those, funnily enough, where Locke was either only indirectly involved or where is presence is peripheral to the matters under discussion. In this context, the section describing the construction of the railway over Shap is particularly good, with an account of both the soul-destroying work conditions of the navvies and their subsequent lairy moments when let loose on the local community with money in their pockets. Despite the frequent drunken brawls, arrests, it seems, were few because there were no gaols available to accommodate the miscreants. I was also rather taken with the apparently serious proposal that the peaty wilderness of Shap was once considered a potential Victorian spa location, during the construction of this bleak section of the railway race to the north. Locke's adventures in France and Spain are also fascinating. The reluctance of the indigenous community to engage in the body-breaking manual labour of railway construction resulted in labour shortages that brought work to a standstill and vigorous, if unskilled, British labourers had to be imported to ensure the work was completed on time. How times have changed.
Locke seems to have been a stickler for delivering his projects in time on or under the predicted budget regardless of the hardship to the workforce this often entailed. This must have endeared him more to his employers than his employees.
For those seeking a comprehensive account of Locke's working life the book is well researched and detailed, beginning with his apprenticeship at Stephenson's Forth Street works through to the major projects he led, including the aforementioned race to the north where he worked as an engineer and/or consultant on both the East and West Coast routes. As with Burton's last book (The Locomotive Engineers) it isn't perfect: there is the occasional minor error. The Pease family, for example, would no doubt have been astonished to learn that its patriarch Edward was "a prominent businessman of Stockton-on-Tees", bearing in mind that he himself insisted on an unnecessary diversion of the S&DR through Darlington to accommodate his family. Niggles aside, however, there remains sufficient detail here to maintain the interest of devotees of early railway history and the book is a decent read if you wish to know what Locke did as opposed to who he was.
The locomotive pioneers: early steam locomotive development
1801-1851. Pen and Sword Transport. 192 pp., hardback,
Reviewed by GSM in Backtrack, 2018, 32, 510
Normally, confronted by sentences such as "The valve gear was based on slip eccentrics as in Rocket but required two long eccentric rods passing between the cylinders gabs, notches at the end closest to the valve, which could engage or disengage with the rocking shaft to operate the valves" I retire gracefully, clutching an aching head. 'Locomotive Pioneers', from which this sentence was taken, is certainly a good read for technophiles; fortunately it also has much to offer the casual reader, such as this reviewer for whom mechanical detail tends to go in one eye and out the other.
The author has a distinguished pedigree, being an established historical writer, radio and TV presenter, and this book follows a succession of decent, well-argued transport histories. It is also nicely illustrated throughout, my only gripe being that the cover picture gives the impression there were only two 'locomotive pioneers', George and Robert Stephenson, showing portraits of the dynamic duo gazing quizzically down on a working replica of Robert Stephenson Planet. While I agree George was a great railway 'pioneer', his particular genius lay in track surveying and engineering, plus his commitment to the steam locomotive, at a time when the rest of the world was mostly turning away. His contribution to the field of locomotive pioneering, however, left much to be desired. Son Robert, however, is rightly presented as one of the best, if only for his revolutionary Rocket. Most of Stephensons' more notable contemporaries merit a mention. There are sections on Trevithick, Blenkinsop and Murray, Hedley, Hackworth and Brunei, and even the odd paragraph on such glorious failures as William Brunton, whose articulated leg-powered 'Mechanical Traveller' spectacularly detonated. The impression gained, however, is that all these people were small fry compared to the Stephensons.
So much for home-grown talent, after all, most of what can be said about British locomotive pioneers has already been said. Happily, Burton moves further afield with accounts of how locomotive development took place overseas, particularly in America. These, for me, were especially diverting. I was particularly taken by the locomotive DeWitt Clinton which has the appearance of four-year-old's toy 'train', as drawn by a . three-year-old.
If this is a book ostensibly about locomotive pioneers there is also a little background detail about the public railways on which the pioneering engines were used. Burton champions the Liverpool & Manchester (L&MR) as the first railway in the modern sense, since it was the first designed from the outset to cater for passenger travel. In Burton's view the Stockton & Darlington (S&DR) was just an extended colliery rail~ay of the type already commonplacg.in the north east. There are many, including myself, who might take issue with this view, not least because, if the argument used is that the S&DR was just a scaled-up 'hybrid' of what was already around, then the same criticism could equally be applied to the L&MR. The L&MR's raison d'etre after all was not to transport passengers but to break a powerful monopoly on goods transport between the two cities enjoyed by canal owners. Both railways, let us remember, were designed primarily for freight movement (S&DR coal and L&MR cotton) and in both instances passenger transport proved to be a bonus. It was just a question of scale.
For those genuinely interested in technical detail there is much to admire here, even if the mechanical minutiae do tend to slow the narrative action. There is a whole chapter, for example, devoted to engine valve gear, which is nice if you like that sort of thing, and the book contains lots of support drawings to illustrate significant improvements in engine design. One subject it might have been wiser to avoid nevertheless is the debate about 'who invented the blastpipe?' Arguments on this matter have raged for nearly two hundred years now and there are strong cases to be made for all the contenders. Burton sides with Robert Stephenson (it is actually George Stephenson who is credited with the idea if you believe Samuel Smiles). The other contenders include Trevithick and Hedley, who both noted how jetting exhaust steam into chimney smoke increased the flow and hence improved the draught through the fire, but took it no further. Most notable of the claimants to the blastpipe throne is Timothy Hackworth who was using a working blastpipe on his Royal George, some two years before Rocket's appearance at Rainhill.
The book presents the story of early locomotive development in an accessible and logical manner and is a confirmation of how improvements were made piecemeal, by trial and error and just a little genius. It isn't perfect. The index could have been more comprehensive and some of the historical 'facts' are questionable. Blackett's colliery railway at Wylam, for example, had not, as indicated, "differed from the Penydarren in having edge rails instead of plates"; it was still using plate rails long after Puffing Billy and his stablemates first strutted their stuff. Nor was the Trevithick-designed locomotive built for Wylam ever used at that colliery; it never left the foundry at Gateshead where it was constructed. One could add that the Russian locomotive built at Shildon was not, as stated, "typical of the work being done at the Soho Works". It was the first of just two of its kind to emerge from Shildon Works and was a Stephenson 'Patentee' design built specifically to Stephenson's established template. Additionally, Soho Works closed in 1854 not 1883 and the 1925 locomotive cavalcade shown on the penultimate page did not take place at Shildon as suggested, but on a stretch of the original line between Stockton and Darlington.
Nit-picking aside, however, there is sufficient material here to satisfy the committed railway buff and at £25 for a 200- page hardback seems good value for money.
On the rails: two centuries of railways.
London: Aurum Press, 2004. 208pp.
This is book is in coffee-table format and is a by-product of a television series made for the Discovery Channel. Both text and illustrations are attractively reproduced and are well-balanced on the page or pages (the two page spreads are sometimes stunning). On the lower half of pages 78 and 79 there is a reproduction of Welwn Viaduct painted shortly after it was opened which is visually stunning. This magnificent structure was seen on every working day for nearly twenty years and yet this picture was still able to shock by demonstrating the shear scale of the structure. The caption fails to indicate whether the structure was viewed from the east or the west, but the great bank of chalk on the right of the picture indicates that the view is towards the west: the chalk would have come from the tunnelling north of the viaduct.
The reproductions of the early pictures by Bourne and others is excellent. There are some stunning pictures of locomotives, including some the great American Mallets, but there are some where the historical balance is lost. A huge two page spread of preserved Ivatt 4-2-2 No. 1 hauling typical "preserved" Mark 1 stock (pages 172/3) wrecks the balance of the book where the beauty of the locomotive is wrecked by its tawdry train which only lacks a "Thomas" headboard. On page 124 there is an excellent black and white illustration of Snow Hill Station in Birmingham, but why does the motive power visible have to include an unrebuilt West Country Pacific and an 8F piloting a rebuilt West Country with only a hint of a Great Western tank engine on a freight? The picture may have been a gem for loco-spotters but it fails to capture the Great Western character of the station.
The railway builders. London: John Murray, 1992. 210pp. + 12 plates (24 illus.)
The railway empire. London: John Murray, 1994. 264pp.+ 12 plates (24 illus.)
The Rainhill story: the great locomotive
trial. London: BBC, 1980. 164pp.
Ottley 12195: published in association with a BBC Television documentary and British Rail's Rocket 150 celebrations. Inevitably this type of publication suffers from loose ends: thus a well-produced coloured reproduction of a Punch cartoon (facing page 105) depicting a Walter Hancock steam coach and what might have stemmed from it lacks any mention in the text, yet steam coaches were an important "might have been" at that time..
Richard Trevithick: giant of steam.
London: Aurum Press, 2000. 246pp.
The late L.T.C. Rolt's The Cornish Giant was published 40 years ago and this is the first full-length biography since. It is therefore somewhat timely and more so in that 2001 marks the 200th anniversary of the trial of the Camborne road locomotive.
As usual in his writings Anthony Burton gives us a readable and fully referenced narrative. He leads us through the astonishing range of Trevithick's engineering interests and their venues from Cornwall to London (several times) and Penydarren to Peru.
There are many illustrations (well reproduced on art paper), a bibliography and a good index. This one is definitely worth the price and a place on the bookshelf. Michael Rutherford, Backtrack, 2001, 15, 546