Book reviews — August 2015
'London's railway heritage — architecture, engineering and industrial archaeology, Volume Three: North (GER)', by Peter Kay
92pp., many illus, ISBN 978 1 899890 48 4. Published 2015 by the author. £13.95. Obtainable by post from the author (cheques payable to P Kay) at 6C Park Road, Wivenhoe, Essex CO7 9NB
I reviewed the first two volumes of this series in Newsletters 261 and 265. This latest volume continues the systematic coverage by geographical sectors that began with railways in the east of Greater London north of the Thames, excluding those in the City of London itself, and proceeding anti-clockwise. It deals mainly with lines built by or taken over by the Great Eastern Railway. So there are chapters on the Lea Valley line (Stratford through Tottenham Hale and Ponders End to north of Enfield Lock); the two lines serving Enfield Town (from Angel Road on the Lea Valley line, and the later and longer route from Bethnal Green via Hackney Downs and Seven Sisters); the Chingford line from Hackney Downs; the lost branch from Seven Sisters to Palace Gates; and the Southbury Loop from Edmonton Green to Cheshunt, just in Essex. (The GER's main line through Stratford and Romford out to Harold Wood had already been covered in Volume Two.) One further line included here, an 'intruder' in GER territory, is the Tottenham & Forest Gate route. This was a joint project by the Midland and the London Tilbury & Southend Railway from South Tottenham through Walthamstow, connecting with the LTSR main line at Barking.
This is not a book of railway history, but of railway archaeology (much of it still in use of course). For each line there is a gazetteer of surviving buildings and structures, and notes on lost examples. The author points out that there are no listed buildings along the lines covered in this volume, and chapter lengths vary considerably, reflecting how much or how little remains that is worth seeing. What does remain is illustrated by local maps and some building drawings, and a profusion of black-and-white photographs, many taken by the author and all crisply rendered on the good quality art paper used throughout. Four colour photos on the back cover illustrate the attractive detailing to be found in stations and bridges. A page of concise notes amends or supplements information in the first two volumes.
A further chapter of 27 pages — more than a quarter of the book — is devoted to a detailed study of the 16 '1872 style stations' as the author describes them, designed for the lines to Enfield and Chingford that were built under the authority of the GER's 1864 Act that also sanctioned the Liverpool Street terminus. The company's consulting engineer Edward Wilson adopted the neo-Gothic style there, and on these stations that have a pleasingly consistent house style, with pointed-arch windows and interesting brickwork detailing such as eaves dentils that it seems cannot be afforded, or tolerated aesthetically, in station projects today. Distinctive features such as covered stairways and platform canopies are particularly well illustrated. With the use of London stock brick, economical but a ready absorber of soot from the dirty East London atmosphere, compounded by a generally unsympathetic attitude to Victorian architecture by British Rail, it is sad but not surprising that only two of these 16 stations have retained most but not all of their original buildings, while two have kept nothing at all.
On the other hand, it would appear that not a single original station building of the 1890s Tottenham & Forest Gate Railway has survived. Instead, though, we are treated to 20 pages of an impressively thorough gazetteer and numerous photographs of the line's surviving viaducts, bridges, and cottages that were built to replace some (but not all) of the dwellings of 'persons belonging to the labouring classes as tenants or lodgers' demolished to accommodate the new railway. This includes a schedule of all the original steel girder bridges.
It is clear from this kind of detail, and indeed from the book throughout, that the author has undertaken extensive fieldwork and documentary research, resulting — as in the two previous books in this series, and in his two similar volumes of Essex Railway Heritage — in a remarkably valuable record of the railway infrastructure. And all this for £13.95.
And yet... it is sad to read in the author's Introduction that this may well be the last in the series. One further volume is hinted at for the Great Northern lines, located in the next 'sector' to the west of those of those already covered, but Mr Kay accepts that to continue further would require lengthy research largely from scratch, whereas the material held by the Great Eastern Railway Society and available to him has greatly eased his task. Having read his three London books and the two on Essex, I agree that the research and labour involved in producing the dozen or so volumes needed to complete the coverage of London's railways to this standard would indeed be Herculean! I suspect that in fact much of the documentary information needed is held by the various societies devoted to the former railway companies, such as the Great Western Society and the South Western Circle. But whether this could be brought together in an extensive collaborative effort is questionable. And there would still be the need for time-consuming fieldwork. Remembering the fate of the three book series on British IA, none of which were completed — and not least the fate of the Batsford London volume — does not inspire optimism.
Mr Kay also notes that sales of Volume Two in this series were lower than of Volume One, and records his disappointment that 'so little interest has materialised from the 'London industrial archaeology' side, as it has always been the accepted wisdom that railway infrastructure was their number one field of interest'. Er, that surely includes us...
I have no connection with Mr Kay, commercial or otherwise, but I do share his disappointment! These books are well-produced at reasonable price; they cover the physical evidence of London's railways in an informative way that has not been attempted before; and we are not exactly awash with other books on London IA that might compete for our money — indeed, rather the opposite. Mr Kay also laments the impossibility of getting into 'the 'heritage' and 'architectural' markets' — a problem that faces many deserving books on 'niche' subjects, which unfortunately don't come from an established publisher who can muster marketing efforts in the expectation of large sales. Those who write books like these on London's railways are not anticipating riches from their efforts, but it is surely demoralising to be 'rewarded' by poor sales. Michael Bussell
© GLIAS, 2015