Book reviews — December 2003
'The End of the Line: The Story of the Railway Service to the Great Northern London Cemetery', by Martin C Dawes
Published by Barnet & District Local History Society, 2003, ISBN 0 951 3342 5 5. Price £7.50
This is an interesting book on a neglected subject. Railways entered into most aspects of Victorian life, and death, and one thinks of the celebrated hearse van on the Festiniog, or that Mr Gladstone's last railway journey in 1898 terminated at Westminster station on the Underground — at St Deiniol's Library at Hawarden I recently saw a copy of a letter from an officer of the London & North Western to his opposite number on the Metropolitan District thanking him fur his co-operation. Earlier, the prospectus for the cemetery at Kensal Green proposed the use of the nearby Grand Junction Canal for waterborne funerals, although I believe they only began in recent years. However, the canal does seem to have been used to receive monumental masonry, a classic canal traffic, being bulky but not required in a hurry.
The most familiar example in this country of the relationship between railways and funerals is the service from Waterloo to the London Necropolis at Brookwood, which survived until 1941. This has been well described by John Clarke in his Oakwood Press book, now in its third edition. Its northern counterpart, the subject of the present note, lasted under two years, 1861-3, with a possible last use arising from the cholera epidemic of 1866, and ran from a station at the north end of Gasworks Tunnel some 7½ miles to another on cemetery land at Colney Hatch. At the King's Cross Funeral Station a hydraulic lift took coffins from street level to platform level, but mourners had to use a staircase.
The author sets his account in the context of London's burial problems, gives us the information that railway company histories should, not only descriptions of rolling stock, stations, tickets and services, but also something about the people involved, and the present day, and also seeks to explain why the service was a failure.
There is a bibliography and an index. Some of the illustrations have not reproduced well, presumably because of poor originals, and in my copy a slip provides a clear substitute for the plan on p18.That on p29 is not much better, although legible under a magnifying glass. There are a few minor typos, the worst being that the last line on p19 belongs at the beginning of p21, and it is a pity that the name of the late John Wrottesley, past president of the Railway Club, and a fine man, is twice mis-spelt. Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles, which can be corrected if the book runs into a second edition, as it deserves, although I suspect the author has probably found as much as is left to be found about this fascinating service. Richard Graham
'Robert Stephenson — the Eminent Engineer', edited by Michael R Bailey
£60. Hardcover 401 pages. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited, 28 October, 2003. ISBN: 0754636798. Web: www.ashgate.com
It is perhaps surprising the Robert Stephenson does not figure in the top Britons' list or even in the top Victorian engineers' list in peoples' minds today and yet he was eminent enough to be one of the only two engineers, so far, to be buried in Westminster Abbey, the other being Thomas Telford.
Born 200 years ago Robert, with his father George, was the founder of inter-city rail transport and Robert left his mark on the country during the Railway Mania of the 1840s. While doing that he also managed a spell of mining in South America and many other projects as well as being a Member of Parliament.
This book separates, as far as possible, Robert's story from that of his father and sets out his achievements in their own right.
It would make a very generous Christmas present, but the quality of the research and writing together with the illustrations and basic printing of the book makes it worth the price to those interested in Robert Stephenson and his career. It must also be a strong recommendation that three of the seven contributing authors are GLIAS members; Julia Elton, James Sutherland and our chairman, Denis Smith. Danny Hayton
'London's New River', by Robert Ward
Hardcover 248 pages. £17.95. Published by Phillimore & Company, 24 October, 2003. ISBN: 0948667842. Web: www.phillimore.co.uk
It is very pleasing to see that the students who worked towards the short-lived Certificate in Industrial Archaeology at Birkbeck College are now progressing to writing books on the subject. GLIAS member Robert Ward has written an outstanding new book on the New River opened in 1613 to bring fresh water to London's expanding population.
Robert has collected information from many new sources to do justice to a remarkable enterprise which still contributes a large volume to London's water supply. I hope that he will continue his researches and treat us to another volume soon.
With many illustrations, this would make a splendid Christmas gift, especially as the best price is to be obtained at the Phillimore website — 10% off as well as post free. Sue Hayton
'St Pancras Station', by Jack Simmons, revised with an additional chapter by Robert Thorne
£15.95. Hardcover 144 pages (2003. ISBN: 0 948667 68 0. Web: www.phillimore.co.uk
This book, first published in 1968 when the future of St Pancras Station was in doubt, was instrumental in the campaign to save the station. Combining architectural, social and railway history, it provides a comprehensive biography of the station from the first designs to its subsequent use.
For this republication, the engineering and transport historian, Robert Thorne, has added to the original text and provided a new chapter bringing the story up to date.
© GLIAS, 2003