Railway periodical literature

This page has its origins in of some of the preliminary material in Jones. Very few books were written for professional locomotive engineers within Britain (the picture was rather different in the USA and in Mainland Europe). The major sources for publishing were the Journal of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers and the Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The former contains the greater number of locomotive papers, but the latter includes papers which mark milestones within the subject (and covers a much longer period). The contents of both were mainly confined to the verbally exposed paper, with discussion. This led to a high level of authenticity. The Journal of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers was absurdly difficult to obtain through the public library network, considering (1) the great interest in steam locomotives (including preserved railways even in bibliographical backwaters like Norfolk); (2) its key position within the literature, and (3) that public library copies had been withdrawn and were for sale at high prices. To an extent the problem is resolved by the ready availability of full files of the Journal and the Proceedings in pdf format on the Internet.

Jones should have added the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. A few papers were published on mechanical engineering in this major journal for the period then covered; furthermore, this journal is a vital source of key papers for the earlier period (it is exciting to be able to read what Robert Stephenson and Brunel actually had to say). Unfortunately, the awful standard of reference citation adopted by even some of the "well-reviewed" authors used to make finding such papers an excercise in weight lifting. One suspects that such "authors" have only read about these papers. After a great deal of effort a few of these papers are entering the website. It is also available in machine readable form in a slightly more generous form than that adopted by the Mechanicals (abstracts are available to non-subscribers)..

The Railway Engineer (and later the Railway Gazette), Engineer and Engineering were the principal commercial publications. The Railway Gazette was created to serve railway commercial and financial affairs, but in February 1935 it absorbed the Railway Engineer and since then has reflected all aspects of railway activity. In addition to noting new developments the Railway Engineer, and subsequently the Railway Gazette, abstracted the more important papers from the professional journals and carried the occasional special article. Editorial comment and letters were other important features. Engineer and Engineering covered the whole sphere of engineering; consequently only the more important developments in locomotive engineering were reviewed: these were sometimes treated in great depth, however. Railway Engineering Abstracts was late on the scene and involved H. Holcroft as its Editor (material obtained in this way gives the abstract number preceded by REA). The Abstracts were seen either at MRPRA or at the old Patent Office Library where runs of journals could be inspected in the proper manner (and most material was bound).

The Locomotive Magazine or Locomotive, Railway Carriage & Wagon Review restricted its coverage almost entirely to locomotives and rolling stock (the Railway Engineer also included civil and electrical engineering). It surveyed the whole world of locomotive development, by month, and also carried many retrospective features. Some of the latter are of great length, being published over a period which could amount to several years. Subsequently, some of these were augmented and published in book format  by the Locomotive Publishing Co. There probably remains, however, a considerable of serially published articles which could advantageously be published as books. Unfortunately the journal ceased publication in 1959, and was absorbed Trains Illustrated.

Having recently found an extensive run of the Locomotive, Railway Carriage & Wagon Review at somewhere convenient to KPJ he communicated with Phil Atkins which led to the following response: The Locomotive Mag was a fascinating publication, at the NRM we had one loose example of the Railway Carriage & Wagon Review as a separate entity. He has a theory that there has been an inverse relationship between what was around and what was known about it at the time. The period say, 1906-1913 was particularly fascinating, but now we have the RCTS histories etc long after the hardware was gone.

Phil also noted the shortlived Locomotive & Railway Notes, 1919-1923, (also mentioned by Robert Humm below) it even contained photos by one E S Cox of NER Zs at York, etc. People asked questions about locos of which we now have all the answers at our finger tips, at the time the scene was changing by the day, and there were strange rumours about the Paget loco, that never even got a mention in the Loco Mag. The latter had remarkable serial articles that ran on year on year with scale line drawings of the locos of the GER etc. (these are highly worthy tasks for conversion to pdf files, KPJ).

With the exception of the formation of the Stephenson Locomotive Society in 1909 (with its Journal) and the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society in 1928 with its associated periodical Railway News (later Railway Observer, due to a copyright claim from the Railway Gazette group), the amateur market remained unchanged until Ian Allan published his first ABC booklet of engine numbers in 1942. This filled a large gap in the amateur market and locospotting, or the collection of engine numbers, became a post-war craze for small boys. This hobby was promoted by Ian Allan clubs, frequent publication of the accurate ABC series, diaries, and other boyish paraphernalia. At first Trains Illustrated was produced to meet the needs of locospotters, but it rapidly matured. For a time it paralleled the Railway Magazine by including retrospective material. Then in 1959 it absorbed the Locomotive, which induced further changes, culminating in a change of name to Modern Railways in 1961. Modern Railways is now tending to be a competitor with the Railway Gazette and contains similar material. Trains Illustrated re-started publication in 1967 to cater for nostalgia for steam, but this was relatively short-lived..

In 1939 Railways commenced publication. In 1952 it changed its name to Railway World and after falling into financial difficulties it became an Ian Allan publication in 1959. It was published for enthusiasts and specializes in steam locomotives and other features of past railway operation. The magazine used to appear to be short of copy, but Ian Allan appeared to be rejuvenating it under the editorship of G.M. Kichenside. A large amount of illustrative material was published in this journal. In general editorial standards are declining and in many cases it is clear that the people concerned lack any real knowledge of what they are writing about and publishing. Furthermore, much is being published without being read. The recent death of David Jenkinson is indicative of the gradual loss of what is best described as "literary expertise". David may have been an enthusiast for everything about the LMS, but he had a general knowledge which would not tolerate some of the current editorial blunders which create virtual scenarios rather than record historical truths.

At the time of the compilation of Steam locomotive development the content of the excellent Transactions of the Newcomen Society fell outwith the period covered, but this has now changed. As befits an organization which includes the history of computing machinery within its domain it operates a paradigm website with an excellent search engine. The cost of downloads from it would be modest to most: unfortunately, it is still competitive for someone with a retirement income to get onto the train at West Runton, travel to the "Millennium Library" in Norwich, wait whilst the journals are brought from a bookstore (presumably in the previous millennium) and if necessary copy the odd page or two.

Three relatively obscure enthusast periodicals were described by Robert Humm in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2008, 36, 102-6. At about the same time as the The Locomotive and The Railway Magazine started publication three further periodicals attempted to serve the enthusiast market: these were Locomotives & Railways (42 issues between 1900 and 1903); Railway Notes (1909-1911) and The Locomotive News & Railway Notes (1919-1923). The last included contributions from J. Maxwell Dunn, A.B. Macleod, E.S. Cox, Bertram Baxter and F.G. Carrier. Some covers reproduced.

Current scene

Railway World has ceased publication; Railway Magazine continues, but the key historical bookstall journal is currently Backtrack (and this is reflected in this website). British Railway Journal was excellent when produced, but suffered from being an irregular and from competition from a varied output from the same publsher (the multiplicity of which would have offended the late Professor Jack Simmons). It has now almost ceased publication!. It is the compiler's opinion that enthusiasts would be better served by fewer, broader, yet deeper titles. Great Western Railway Journal suffers from examining the company mainly from too low a position in the management hierarchy: one engine cleaner's, grade five clerk's, or junior porter's are much like any other's. The clerical grind at very low rates of pay could be very tedious as is obvious from KPJ's father's diaries written between 1935 and about 1942: the later one's written as he was promoted towards the officer class, show that he becomes more interested in his work. Nonetheless, the Great Western Railway Journal is being included, as is the LMS Journal. The latter includes some interesting features, but is expensive on the basis of relevant items found per issue.

Some features from Steam World are being included, notably the articles by R.H.N. Hardy. The problem is that its readership appears to be mainly interested in things like whether 44444 had a burnt smokebox door when it passed through Lees station on Wednesday 3rd May 1953 (although 1963 is a more probable date for such observations) and whether Will Stokes was firing that morning. Too much literature is concerned with the under-the-stairs approach now favoured by the National Trust rather than those who ran the systems. Where are the articles on Colonel Rudgard whose activities directed the activities of tens of thousands of railway servants?

The Industrial Railway Society shows how the Internet can be used to maximize access to its vast literature which is available online if out-of-print (which most literature is), or if still available for sale.

Archive is included for two reason's: a complete run is owned by the creator of this website and the content is interesting. Railway Archive is now at least as good as its Wild Swan competitors (and is far more modestly priced), is beginning to show greater variety and is beginning to exploit colour in a very meaningful manner: it has recently published an excellent study of the Caledonian blues. It is probable that much of the highly specialized publishing might be better served through websites, provided that a means of paying the website provider can be devised.


Received a helpful e-mail from Chris Aspinwall which notes that Bill Scott's book Locomotives of the LMSR NCC , W.T. Scott, Colourpoint Books, Newtownards 2008, ISBN;9781904242840 is missing from published work on BNCR/MRNCC/LMSRNCC locomotives. The book is good and the author coming from a railway family knew some of the officers on the NCC. The author has not referred to any primary source NCC records held in the PRONI and the book is weaker for it. Where primary material (Hanley diaries) has been used/referred to is not made clear in the text and the bibliography is not as good as it could be. With this caveat it is the first published history of locomotives on the BNCR/NCC. and more relevant to this page:

Ref. the IRRS Journal. This grew out of a newsletter which was circulated privately amongst railway enthusiasts interested in Irish railways before WW2. Publication of the IRRS Journal proper started in July 1947 and initially was copied typed foolscap for the first 10 issues, 2 volumes up to 1951 and then printed with 2 issues a year before increasing to 3 issues. The magazine was printed by the Donegal Democrat newspaper, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. A full set of IRRS Journals was held in both the Belfast Central Library, Royal Ave, Belfast and I would suspect also the Linenhall Library, Belfast. The library of the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra, should also have a complete set. The IRRS Journal now features more modern developments as there has been significant change on the Irish network in recent years but also the number of members with intimate knowledge of steam traction has very much declined over the years.

Another periodical which was published in the postwar period by members from the IRRS. Publication began in January 1955 and the newletter was published 4 times a year, so could cover more contemporary change than the IRRS Journal. Publication ceased in 1973. I do not have a full set, missing only a couple of issues Vol.2 No.3 and Vol.3 No.4. This has become much sort after and as initial print run was never large very hard to track down. This is unlikely to be found in a library.

The RPSI magazine Five Foot Three has contained some very interesting articles over the years and the RPSI are in the process of putting all the back issues on their website so this resource will be available online shortly.

The LMSR NCC published a couple of books:-
NCC 1848 - 1948 published by The Railway Executive Northern Counties Committee, Belfast, April 1948
The Operating Department in War Time 1939 - 1945 London Midland & Scottish Railway Company Northern Counties Committee, Belfast 1946

Chris Aspinwall wrote a couple of articles for the HMRS Journal on NCC topics:- 'A Class and A1 Class 4-4-0 Locomotives' HMRS Journal, Vol.17, Number 1, April - June 2000 (used primary NCC Sources) 'LMSR NCC 20 Ton Brake Van', HMRS Journal, Vol.17, Number 6, April - June 2001 (The works GA drawing and only known example of York Road drawing to exist was not published for some inexplicable reason as historically very significant) 'BNCR Album', HMRS Journal, Vol.17, Number 7, July - September 2001

The HMRS Journal is clearly important.

The preservation movement coupled with the deliberate destruction of the railways under John Major has made its mark upon railways in Britain and the periodical literature associated with them and it would be tedious to reiterate this here. Many current periodicals consist almost solely of illustrations with the text placed in absurd positions: such abberations are far more suited to the Internet and could come with video and audio clips and games.

The following formed part of Steam locomotive development (and should be up-dated)

Allen, C.J. 1942-1967: Ian Allan Ltd. - a publishing success story. Rly Wld, 1967, 28, 474-8+. 8 illus.
Brailsford, L.E. The Stephenson Locomotive Society. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1949, 25, 270.3: 1950, 26, 15-17; 60-3; 89-91.
Clinker, C.R. Good, bad and indifferent: a critic looks at railway books, publishers, reviewers and readers. Rly Mag. 1966, 112, 654-5.
Clinker, C.R. Railway books-authors, publishers and readers. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1965, 41, 25-6.
Cox, E.S. The history of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers: the ten years to the Golden Jubilee. J. Instn. Loco. Engrs, 1960/61, 50, 682-6.
1896-Diamond Jubilee-1956. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1956, 62, 217.
A brief history of the periodical.
Griggs, G. History. Rly. Obsr, 1938, 10, 147-51.
History of the RCTS.
Holcroft, H. The history of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers: the first forty years. J. Instn. Loco. Engrs, 1960/61, 50, 662-82. 2 illus., table.
Jubilee of "The Locomotive". Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1946, 52, 1.
Lee, C.E. Diamond Jubilee of the Railway Club. Rly Mag., 1959, 105, 797-8.
Madgwick, H.M. The history of the railway coloured plate. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1954, 30, 143-6.
That is the coloured plates published in the Railway Magazine and other journals.
"Mechanicals" Centenary. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1947, 53, 115.
Editorial comment.
Mowat, M.
British engineering societies and their aims. Proc. Instn. mech. Engrs., 1937, 137, 333-44.
No. 100. Trains ill., 1957, 10, 1-2.
Editorial comment on the development of Trains Illustrated.
One hundred years of railway publishing: a brief history of "The Railway Gazette" and its incorporated journals. Rly. Gaz., 1935, 62, 849-53. 5 illus., diagr.
Includes a "family tree" of the publications.
Our Golden Jubilee. Rly.Mag., 1947, 93, 195-6.
A history of the periodical.
Pendred, L. St. L. British engineering societies. London, British Council, 1947. viii, 38 p. + front. + 10 plates. illus. (incl. 3 ports.)
Excludes the Institution of Locomotive Engineers.
Recorder, pseud. London, the home of the journal. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1955, 31, 236-8.
History of the journal.
Robbins, M. Points and signals: a railway historian at work. London, Allen & Unwin, 1967. 256 p. + 8 plates. 14 illus. table, 11 maps. Bibliogs.
Selection from the author's previous publications produced to show now the craft of railway historical research should be performed.
Robbins, M. What kind of railway history do we want? J. Transp. Hist., 1957, 3, 65-75. Bibliog.
Probably told to read and cite the above two by George Ottley
Sekon, G.A. pseud The start of the Railway Magazine. Rly Mag., 1947, 93, 197-8. 3 illus.
Vidal, J.F.B. The Institution and its members. J. Instn. Loco. Engrs., 1956, 46, 296-305. 3 illus. (Presidential Address)