Book reviews — August 2012
'London's railway heritage — architecture, engineering and industrial archaeology, Volume One: East', by Peter Kay
86pp., A4, many illus, ISBN 978 1 899890 45 3. Published April 2012 by the author. £12.95. Available from Peter Kay, 6c Park Road, Wivenhoe, CO7 9NB. Tel: 01206 824951. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of industrial London's buildings and structures have inevitably been demolished and replaced as industries have evolved, expired or relocated; however, much of the railway infrastructure survives. In large part this is because London railways continue to serve their original purpose, although nowadays with more emphasis on passengers than on freight. Even closed routes can find re-use, as when the Docklands Light Railway took over part of the abandoned London & Blackwall Railway's lengthy viaduct — whose demolition after closure was presumably too expensive and unappealing for anyone to bother with. This structural 'recycling' continues, with Crossrail making use of sections of the disused Eastern Counties (later North London) route to North Woolwich for its branch that will then pass under the Thames to Plumstead.
For anyone keen to see what remains on the ground, either on foot or from an armchair, this book is recommended. Mr Kay has already published two similar volumes covering Essex railways, and this book follows a similar format. Little 'traditional' railway history is included (rightly, I feel, as we are already well served by both general and company-specific accounts of London's railways); the author describes this volume as being in essence a 'railway supplement' to the Pevsner volume London 5: East (GLIAS Newsletter April 2005) (to which GLIAS member Malcolm Tucker contributed much). In this unduly modest aim it more than succeeds, with abundant black-and-white photographs crisply printed on art paper, augmented by informative captions. There are gazetteers of surviving buildings and structures (and notes on lost sites), local plans, and a number of original drawings of station buildings and bridges. Former railway hydraulic power stations are not overlooked. The centre-spread is a wonderfully atmospheric early 20th-century photo of the London & Blackwall Railway's bridge over the Limehouse Cut, complete with working barges. Sourced by the London Metropolitan Archives, this picture epitomises 'the [industrial] world we have lost', with its soot-stained masonry, sulphurous haze and malodorous canal.
While the local plans are useful, there is no overall plan showing the lines featured; this would probably occupy several pages if it were to locate all the sites with readable-size text. Not being an East Londoner myself, I referred to my first edition copy of London Railway Atlas by Joe Brown (Ian Allan, third enlarged edition due later in 2012 — see GLIAS Newsletter February 2013), which proved very useful.
This book covers East London north of the Thames and outside the City of London. A second volume is planned for North-East London (GLIAS Newsletter April 2013). Further studies for the rest of London to a similar format and price would be most welcome! Michael Bussell
© GLIAS, 2012