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This review is from: The Witney & Fairford Branch Through Time (Paperback)
This book is just freshly off the presses, so presumably it can be taken as a fair example of the current state of the railway nostalgia industry in Britain. In many ways it is a very attractive production. It is printed on high-quality glossy paper and it contains no fewer than 89 pages of photographs (with accompanying text), two snaps to a page. The photos are what would be expected - some of the railway in its early heyday, some as closure approached, some of the mouldering and derelict remains before the solum was reclaimed for other uses, and some of the way it all looks today or at least looked recently. In addition there are groundplans of several of the stations, and there is a short history of the line, but no description of the journey and even no map. Admittedly the Witney and Fairford railway was an isolated line without branches or connexions except at Yarnton just north of Oxford, but a map serves to show its location relative to other lines, not least the trunk line through Cirencester, which the Fairford extension had been intended or hoped by some to reach.
So it all ticks a lot of boxes. It has a professional air about it, but in the railway nostalgia market professionalism is only partly a good thing. The charm and fascination of much of the copious lost-railway literature of years gone by was precisely its amateur feel. It had an atmosphere, and that is what this new book lacks. Even taking it on its own terms I'm inclined to be slightly fault-finding over the photo selection. Not all of them are terribly good photos, but in fact I don't mind that because in many respects it is all professional enough. My sense is that there are too many photos, almost as if the author and editors were prepared to include any they could find. Eynsham market square and Kelmscott Manor, as examples, are nothing to do with the railway as such. However I wouldn't object to their inclusion if they did not come on top of rather too many how-it-all-looks-now modern shots. Indeed the author seems uncomfortably conscious of a slight problem here when he remarks on `the decidedly nondescript group of buildings' now occupying the station site at Alvescot. I would gladly have traded some of this material for some discussion of the line's links to the RAF bases at Carterton and Brize Norton. Were any nuclear bombs transported on this sleepy rural railway, for instance?
On the face of it, this was not an `exciting' railway, but that is not what creates the fascination of much of the traditional railway literature. I can think of a book on the Findhorn railway, for instance, which I have read and reread with avidity, and the story of that could be nobody's idea of a page-turner. Perhaps I am being too pernickety. The book ticks most of the usual boxes for ticking. What I can't imagine myself doing is treasuring it.