Book Review – Death, Dynamite and Disaster, a Grisly British Railway

B1976

Today, British railways present a mixture of reactions from frustration at overcrowded commuter trains, to the joy of rolling through magnificent scenery. Few travellers give much thought to how this, still, extensive network came to be built, who built it and under what conditions. This new book sets out the stark realities of the gangs of workers who toiled in often unbelievable conditions, facing significant danger, and suffering high casualty rates.

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NAME: Death, Dynamite and Disaster, a Grisly British Railway
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 120614
FILE: R1976
AUTHOR: Rosa Matheson
PUBLISHER: The History Press
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 224
PRICE: £9,99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: transport, engineering, steam trains, Victorian industry, navies, navigators, work gangs, risk, danger, rail lines, terrain, rail cuttings, tunnels, tunnelling, explosives, manual labour
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9266-7
IMAGE: B1976.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/ok7p6qu
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: Today, British railways present a mixture of reactions from frustration at overcrowded commuter trains, to the joy of rolling through magnificent scenery. Few travellers give much thought to how this, still, extensive network came to be built, who built it and under what conditions. This new book sets out the stark realities of the gangs of workers who toiled in often unbelievable conditions, facing significant danger, and suffering high casualty rates.

This is a small pocket-able book that packs a great deal of information between its covers. It demonstrates the author’s solid research, and it includes a selection of drawings, sketches and formal images in single colour through the body of the text.

The author has covered the grisly realities and addressed the full cross section of incidents, from the dangers of construction, to accidents in operation and the risks from Irish terrorists. This is a book that will appeal immediately to train enthusiasts because it fills in some of the gaps in the wealth of rail history books and it considers the safety, or lack thereof, that was an important factor in the rush to connect British towns, villages and markets. However, it should also appeal to a wider readership because it provides insights into Victorian Britain and the vital part that railways made to industry and society.

It is all too easy to overlook the factors that created considerable risk in early rail travel. The technology was pioneering and in the earliest days tested materials and manufacture to the extreme. This is perhaps most obvious in respect of steam boilers and the pressures that could build up at a time when remarkably little was known about the requirements for iron and steel. It was also a major factor in the laying of rail lines. When the canals had been built in the decades before rail, obstacles were addressed by building locks and reservoirs. There was a small number of spectacular tunnels but, in the main, it was much easier to build flights of locks and to build canals around many obstacles. The railways introduced a new set of challenges. The track had to be as straight and level as possible. That inevitably meant that rail builders had to make a multitude of cuttings with deep embankments and lengthy bridges and viaducts. It also required miles of deep tunnels and the need to include ventilation shafts, some of considerable length. As a result, the terrible early safety record is perhaps more remarkable in th\t it could have been so much worse.

A fascinating book that treads carefully through a gruesome history to provide fresh insight into the times and the technology.

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