Life on the Old Railways

Published 24th July 2012

Author: Tom Quinn

Publisher: David & Charles

ISB: 13:978-1-4463-0066-4

Pages and dimensions: Hardback. 223 pages. 12mm X 18mm approx

Cover price: £9.99

Available from: The Hobby Warehouse

Review by Phil Marsh

This book does not contain glossy pictures because that is not what it is about. There are some illustrations but they are not really needed other than to break up the text which for readers with any imagination, will conjure up images

In their mind.

Tom Quinn is the author and is a social historian so his work will delight those who have an interest in the human side of our railways and is much a social commentary going back over a century as much as about railways. Each of the 13 chapters describes an era when for example, being a Stationmaster or engine driver was considered to be a resected occupation and one achieved through hard work.

The 13 railway careers written about are looked at through the eyes of the individual concerned with the less serious side of being in railway service as it was called years ago. The reviewer is fortunate enough to have known two of the 13 people and can vouch for the veracity of the book’s contents. Each chapter is interspaced with a one page story illustrating curious railway stories, a good touch.

The subjects of the book range from Britain’s oldest railwayman, porters to stationmasters, drivers and signallers and any occupation in between. Some of the memories are serious, some less so and describe the antics that prevailed behind the public face of railways.

The more serious stories recalled the use of scent bottles on express locomotives which if broken, indicated hot bearings, not many people will probably have known about this safety aspect.

Other stories include starting a railway career looking after shunting horses and progressing onto looking after the oil lamps, long lost jobs which were essential to keep the railways running. Others started as a knocker-upper. This was a lad’s job and involved knocking on driver’s front doors in the early hours to make sure they went to work on time.

Other memories are of having a meal break in the local pub where many sampled a few pints before resuming front line duties in charge of passengers! We are lucky that this book has recorded the reminiscences of these people for posterity providing a window into the past. There is not a technical railway book or for railway experts, but the author describes it perfectly as a tribute to the railwaymen of a past era.

Life has most definitely moved on since these far away days, but has it become better? This book provides the rose tinted glasses and will bring back memories for many while educating younger readers as to how the railways really used to run!

A good book then if going on a long train journey for example, and will give readers ideas on what used to go on whenever they see a disused railway building at any location. The memories in this book cover most areas of the UK, another nice touch.

Once read, it will doubtless be debated by many people as to why things were better then, or worse, depending on one’s point of view!

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