Book reviews — February 2004
‘Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain Volume 8 Greater London & South East (Kent, London, Middlesex, Surrey & Sussex)’, by George Watkins
Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, DE6 1EJ. 2003. ISBN 1 84306 012 4. Cost £24.
Some GLIAS members will remember George Watkins and many more will have seen his definitive books on stationary steam engines. From the 1930s he travelled around Britain during holidays from his job as a boilerman in Bristol photographing with a large format camera steam engines of all types but particularly stationary engines. He travelled over 120,000 miles by motorbike and visited over 2,000 sites. Just prior to his death in 1989 his collection was gifted to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England and is now housed in Swindon. Over the last few years A P Woolrich has been preparing selections from The Watkins archive for publication.
This volume is No 8 in a planned series of 10 regional volumes and is of particular interest to GLIAS. The format is the same as previously, ie a short description of how the various types of steam engine work followed by sets of three full-page reproductions of George’s usually, but not always, superb engine photographs with a page describing each photograph/engine in detail. In total the book illustrates 142 engines in the SE region with 41 photographs of engines in London while the other counties get similar coverage. However, many engines in the GLIAS area are to be found in the adjacent counties, eg Crossness Pumping Station (photographed 1934), Hampton Waterworks (1971) and Shortlands PS (1934). The majority of photographs were taken between 1931 and 1937, although the Tower Bridge engines were not photographed until 1971. Some of the photographed engines survive ‘in situ’, eg Kew Bridge, Markfield Road while others survive but in museums, eg Mann’s brewery engine. However, the London photographs provide a unique record of many long scrapped engines. Lost gems include a 1850s A-frame beam engine, 1855 Table engine and 1860s horizontal engine in Nicholson Gin Distillery, Finsbury, the open lattice beam engine in Hammersmith PS (although the beam survives), a 1937 beam engine in a Wills Tobacco factory in Holborn destroyed by bombs, and magnificent Bull Engines in Campden Hill PS, Kensington.
A must book for all with interests in steam in London or London’s water supply etc. My only regrets are the continuing high price for this series and the fact that modern digital imaging techniques could have improved many of the reproductions. David Perrett
‘Montmorency’, by Eleanor Updale
£12.99. Hardcover. 192 pages (23 May, 2003). Publisher: Scholastic Press; ISBN: 0439978157
‘Montmorency’ is a novel about a Victorian thief. He is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type character who appears and disappears around London in the 19th century, breaking and entering the properties of the more well-off.
You may wonder why this review should appear in the GLIAS newsletter. I was requested to read and review this book because of my knowledge of some of the subject matter - no, not thieving, but London’s sewer system.
The hero (?) of the story is badly injured while making his get-away from a robbery, and a doctor spends a great deal of time and effort in putting Montmorency back together. A sort of ‘Thousand Guinea Man’. Proud of his surgery skills, the doctor totes his patient around various eminent societies, lecturing on the techniques used. It is while the doctor is showing off his protege that Montmorency sits, or rather stands through a lecture given by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Our thief, racked with pain from his injuries and surgery, has to assist in holding up a huge map of Bazalgette’s system of sewers. In an effort to block out the pain, Montmorency concentrates on memorising the plan of the sewers and their location with respect the streets of London. Once he is released from prison and in better health, his life of crime continues, but this time using his knowledge of the sewers to get to and from his scenes of crime.
Knowing this subject reasonably well, I find this an implausible story but it makes good escapist reading and Eleanor Updale is to be congratulated on her detailed description of Sir Joseph. The ups and downs, and ins and outs (excuse the pun) of Montmorency’s life make this a light, pacy and amusing read. I can recommend this book for those who wish for a change from your usual form of relaxation. Peter J Skilton
© GLIAS, 2004