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5.0 out of 5 stars God's Wonderful Railway!, 14 Aug. 2012
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Stanwegian (Tyneside, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Western Railway (Shire Library) (Paperback)
The GWR seems to inspire a remarkably passionate enthusiasm among its supporters - hence the epithet used as a title for this review.
There were, of course, others who called it the 'Great Way Round', because of the tortuous routes of some of its early lines - 'Great' in this context meaning tedious rather than marvellous! Perhaps the most significant factor underlying the above-average level of devotion is the simple fact that the GWR was little affected by the 1923 grouping; it merely absorbed the smaller railways within its sphere of operation. Thus, the GWR was seen as a single developing entity with a continuous traceable history dating from the 1830s, whereas the LMS, LNER and SR were new creations, even though they incorporated some lines of even greater antiquity.

This little book takes a much more balanced approach than several others I have read - despite the background of the author, Tim Bryan, who was for many years curator of 'Steam - The Museum of the Great Western Railway' and its predecessor, the GWR Museum. He's clearly an expert and an enthusiast, and he delivers an amazing array of fascinating information in the extremely readable style we have come to expect from Shire Publishing. He has written two other books for Shire: 'Railways in Wartime' and the recently-published 'Raiway Workshops', both of which I also recommend.

This is a well-designed 64-page card-backed book in the characteristic Shire format, including 90 relevant illustrations. Just under a third of these are in colour, most of the others being reproductions of archive material from the days before colour photography was available. There are five main chapters, covering Brunel and the Broad Gauge, the 'Golden Age' of the GWR, the post-grouping years, World War II and the post-1948 legacy. Two appendices list relevant places to visit, including both museums and heritage railways with GWR connections, and offer suggestions for further reading. An index is also provided.

The presentation is rearkably well-balanced. Brunel comes across as a brilliant and innovative engineer, but an indifferent strategic planner, which sums him up admirably. He gave a great deal to the GWR, but he also involved the company in a vast amount of avoidable expense. Most significant was his adherence to the broad gauge even after it became strategically obvious that the advantages it offered (and there were several) were completely outweighed by the traffic transfer problems which would inevitably arise from ploughing a minority furrow. There were, however, many other examples. His locomptive designs didn't work well (or in some cases at all) and needed extensive re-working after the appointment of Daniel Gooch as Locomotive Superintendent, his experiments with atmospheric propulsion were an expensive failure, and his use of timber in the construction of Cornish viaducts left the GWR with replacement obligations which were not finally cleared until 75 years after Brunel's death. Similarly, while George Churchward (Locomotive Superintendent 1902-1922) is rightly lauded for his innovative design work which established standards which survived to the end of the company's existence, the author also includes the oft-suppressed information that Churchward was responsible for the decision to scrap the historic broad-gauge locomotives stored at Swindon - an act of sheer vandalism by today's standards!

The author notes in the final chapter that Swindon in the 1950s built considerable numbers of locomotive to BR standard designs, 'many with a clear LMS lineage'. This is perhaps unduly modest. The 'LMS lineage' originated in designs by William Stanier; the LMS had a pressing need for new locomotives in the 1930s, and Stanier created a considerable number of successful, and in some cases hugely successful designs. But Stanier was headhunted by the LMS after a 40-year career with the Great Western, and with the specific intention of bringing GWR experience to LMS design. If you compare Stanier's designs with the designs of his effective predecessor Henry Fowler, and also with the GWR designs of Churchward and Collett, it's obvious where his inspiration was rooted. So, in a very real sense, when Swindon built the BR Standards they were building locomotives which were lineal descendants of the GWR locomotives of the 1920s.

My own historical railway interests are focused in Scotland and the North of England, but I very much enjoyed this brief yet penetrating history of 'God's Wonderful Railway'. For the current (August 2012) Amazon asking price of £5.24, you get a large amount of interesting and informative reading and a wide selection of relevant illustrations. By any standards, this is a bargain which anyone with even a peripheral interest in railway history shoud eagerly grasp. I recommend the book wholeheartedly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 Sept. 2014
By 
Peter Jones (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Western Railway (Shire Library) (Paperback)
very good
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The Great Western Railway (Shire Library)
The Great Western Railway (Shire Library) by Tim Bryan (Paperback - 10 July 2010)
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