Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

Book reviews — October 2003

'Britain's historic railway buildings: An Oxford gazetteer of structures and sites', by Gordon Biddle
Published: 2003. ISBN: 0-19-866247-5. Oxford University Press: xxxvii + 759pp. £60
This impressive volume records the 'most historically important or interesting' railway buildings (widely defined to include tunnels) of Great Britain (including the Isle of Man but excluding Northern Ireland.) It includes all those listed as buildings of special historical or architectural interest (over 2,000) with about 350 additional ones of interest selected by the author. Industrial railways and their structures are mostly excluded, as are preserved and heritage railways unless these included statutorily protected or especially interesting buildings. Although tunnels are included, primarily on the strength of their portals rather than their inherent interest or importance in terms of tunnelling technology, other earthworks are not (although embankments at least might be considered to be buildings within the meaning of the legislation).

There is an introduction on 'The nature of railway buildings' which discusses bridges and viaducts, tunnels, stations, goods sheds and warehouses, signal boxes, engine sheds, hotels, and railway housing: also building materials.

The gazetteer arranged by 11 geographic areas fills over 700 pages, with at least one black-and-white illustration on almost every page. Several of the shorter sections in the book are similarly generously illustrated. Suggestions for further reading/sources of information cited are appended to entries. These are usually references to general works, Alan Blower's British railway tunnels (1964) for example, rather than more detailed studies of specific structures. There are regional maps showing current and closed lines and the locations (except within Greater London) of gazetteer entries.

At the end of the work there are short sections on recent listings, some important losses, engineers and architects (but not contractors or builders), a very short bibliography of predominantly architectural works, an illustrated glossary of (mostly) architectural terms, and a comprehensive index.

In such a monumental work, occasional errors are perhaps inevitable. Kenley Station (which is actually within the London Borough of Croydon) is credited to Surrey, for example. However, this is clearly an important and authoritative reference work for all concerned with the history and conservation of an exceptionally important part of the built heritage. The author makes the point that the number of listed buildings in the railway estate is exceeded only by those in the care of the Church of England. Paul W Sowan

'Signs: Lettering in the Environment', by Phil Baines, Catherine Dixon
£25.00. Paperback 192 pages. Published by Laurence King Publishing in August 2003; ISBN: 1856693376
Providing a broad overview of signage, this book focuses on the letterforms and typography found in public places, designed to help us to navigate town and countryside, and which contribute to our sense of place. Featuring examples from all over the world, the authors discuss the function and execution of signage, focusing on the intentional rather than on the accidental or temporary. Visually led, the book contains some 700 colour images, thematically grouped, and described in extended captions, and the best current examples appear alongside historical material.

'Seven Wonders of the Industrial World', by Deborah Cadbury
£8.99 Paperback. Publisher: Fourth Estate; ISBN: 0007163053
Published to accompany the BBC TV series of the same name.

© GLIAS, 2003