Saturday, 18 September 2021

On the right lines

A wonderful book that visually celebrates the achievements of Britain's railways. One reason I particularly like the book is the editorial format, the seven chapters are divided into themed spreads, 108 in all, though a few run over to another spread. The first 107 pages are devoted to schematic engineering drawing of locomotives from the first non-steam railway, in 1825, the Stockton and Darlington goods wagons pulled by a horse. Robert Stephenson's Rocket from 1829, wasn't really the first steam engine but it completed trials against other engines and then ran on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

Some of the engineering drawings are quite stunning to look at. Obviously full of precise technical detail but also colored and shaded to show depth. Page thirty-five has a remarkable drawing of a tank engine from 1870 that would make an excellent framed picture. Famous engines like The Flying Scotsman, Coronation Scot, or The Golden Arrow have their profiles revealed but also the ordinary tank engines that were scattered across the country's rail yards. Steam faded out in the late forties and diesels took over, especially English Electric Deltic class then electrification provided a completely different engine for speed. It seems a huge problem was the railway's tight corners, Victorian trains rarely exceeded 50mph, hopelessly slow by modern standards so British Rail tried out the APT-E in 1972, to travel at 155mph on tracks designed for 100mph passenger trains. It was not a success and the engines were withdrawn in 1985.

The following chapters look at the rail industry, at passenger comfort (or in the early years a lack of it) freight, rail workers, rail during both world wars, railways in other countries, building the railways with aerial schematics of mainline stations and their buildings. The passenger chapter has an intriguing detail. In 1874 the Midland Railway imported some Pullman sleeping cars (pictured on page 129) but they were too wide for the tracks in Scotland so the train had a group of workers to move the tracks. In 1913 the industry suffered 30,000 injuries and 460 deaths on page 175, in the rail workers chapter, there is a diagram of an artificial leg. London and North Western railway made these in the Crewe works for their injured workers.

The book is landscape shaped, with three hundred pictures and a delight to look through and I liked the way it was written in everyday English. Books from the transport press are notorious for heavy use of abbreviations and long paragraphs. Railways: A history in drawings will appeal to engineers and obviously railfans.


Tuesday, 14 September 2021

All the greats are here

Walt Reed seems to have a lock on work from members of the Society of Illustrators, this book is the 2001 edition, another one came out in 2003 with an additional twelve pages so I think it's basically the same. Worth saying that only members of the Society have their work included but this surely must be a significant collection of work that really does represent creative commercial art over the decades.

I'm mostly interested in work from the forties onward and all the greats are here, especially illustrators that did work for the weekly consumer titles before they ceased publication in the late fifties and early sixties. I was interested to see the change in styles in the last couple of decades up to 2000. Straight pictorialism slowly gave way to a much more graphic style of work so that artists in the 1990/2000 pages are much design-oriented in their work than the more conventional illustrators.

Overall a quite stunning reference book and all in color. This probably explains why pre-used copies are quite expensive. I searched the net and found an excellent copy at a surprisingly low price, though it had a small tear on the back of the dust jacket.