January 10, 2014

"Farewell to Trains"

I was delighted to be approached by an employee of Frances Lincoln publishing to ask if I would be prepared to review David St John Thomas' latest book, Farewell to Trains.

With my sincere apologies for the delay in publishing the review, which was due originally at the start of November but delayed for a few personal reasons. Well, I'm back and reading up on what is an absolutely fascinating book.

The volume is a hefty piece at over 254 pages long, in a hardback edition of 284 x 216mm size.

The book itself is made up of extracts and anecdotes from over 65 years of writings on railways, mostly concerned with the areas made up by the Southern and Great Western Railways. One thing which will throw a few people are the choices of photographs and images, not always necessarily directly connected to the context of the anecdote.

The first few chapters give us some excellently reproduced photographs of Great Western broad gauge locomotives and their trains, but the topic of discussion is that of how we interact with, and find solace in the railways.

This is not a criticism as such, on the contrary: it was refreshing to see that the images had been carefully selected, not by region necessarily or by the locomotive choice on the front, but by the scene presented.

When talking about the comforts of railway travel, as an example, the asides in the text and the photographs opposite pointed out the advantages of the broad gauge as adopted by Brunel and the Great Western Railway, that is greater stability at speed.

The book is littered with eloquent examples, my favourite being that of the country railway chapter, and the photograph showing horses being loaded into cattle wagons, headed for West Grinsted in a farm removal operation.

The author's knowledge of the way railways work at every level, and their effect at every level to the traveller is vast, and helps the layman (and those who would believe themselves knowledgeable, at least in the field of railways) to realise the importance of the system to ordinary travellers, workers and industry.

The anecdotes throughout are delightful, images are well chosen and sharp, and you get a real favour of British railways - and British Railways with a capital B R - that no one else quite gives. The book really is unique and full of life on so many levels.

You really get such a sense of the enthusiasm, the delight in recounting long lost scenes to readers in extraordinary and careful detail. One feels nostalgic for a time long by despite never experiencing it one's self and therein lies another beautiful advantage of this book: you can experience it alongside St John Thomas himself though his memories and vast knowledge.

Beautifully written, charming, and a book I simply could not put down.

I fully endorse the excellence of this volume and would hope that readers of this blog take advantage of a very kind offer by the publishers, that is to offer a discount on the book by quoting the code given from this website.

To order Farewell to Trains at the discounted price of £20.00 including p&p* (RRP: £25.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG30. 

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to: 
Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department, 
Littlehampton Book Services, 
PO Box 4264, 
Worthing, West Sussex 
BN13 3RB. 

Please quote the offer code APG30 and include your name and address details. 

*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

Simon A.C. Martin

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