Book review. Devonshire Railways

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Author(s): Cobley. Brian; Year published: 2010; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 424–425
Topic(s): railways; Location(s): 

Colin G. Maggs, Devonshire Railways (Halsgrove, Wellington, 2010), 160 pages, profusely illustrated in monochrome. Hardback. ISBN 9781841149127. £19.99.

This book provides an overall history of Devon’s railway heritage. Its emphasis is on the development of the County’s network of railway lines (main and branch) from Somerset and Dorset to the east and Cornwall to the west and the impact the railways had on the lives of those living in the county.

A map of the Railways of Devon, included on the contents page, does not confine itself to the administrative area but also includes lines and stations around Taunton to the east and Launceston and Callington to the west. Two short chapters, covering a survey of developments of the railways in Devon and how a railway was created, set the scene for the more substantial chapters. First, are chapters on the Broad Gauge Lines (The Bristol & Exeter Railway and the South Devon Railway) and Branches from the Great Western Railway Main Line. Second, are chapters on the London & South Western Railway Route to Plymouth and Branches from the London & South Western Railway Main Line. Final chapters cover Independent Lines & Industrial Branches and An Overview. A page of suggested further reading is included at the end of the book. Accompanying the text within the chapters are monochrome images of numerous photographs, for example, of steam locomotives and carriages, freight wagons (and the occasional diesel locomotive/unit and tram), stations, staff, passengers; also selected stretches of lines and bridges together with, for example, illustrations of various prints, seals of Railway Companies, travel tickets and luggage labels comprising Devon’s railway past.

Given that the coverage of the book on the history of Devonshire railways is but part of a wider sub-regional rail network, the rail routes of the adjoining Counties, for example, Somerset and Dorset, are also likely to be of interest. Alternatively the reader may wish to investigate more in-depth detail of their local area. The latter might include reference to railway books on specific lines and stations and here the suggested further reading contained within the book will be of help. For example, further information on the County’s stations is detailed in the recently published book on Devon Railway Stations (M. Oakley, Devon Railway Stations, The Dovecote Press, 2007).

The final chapter of Devonshire Railways offers ‘An Overview’ and is structured around four specific questions: What have the railways done for Devon? How has passenger transport changed between 1950 and 2010? What is the future for the railways of Devon? What is the future of those railways closed and not brought back into use? In response, the author provides his personal vision of the future for the railways. Also, more specific to Devon, recent proposals are outlined for re-opening lines, adjustments to track for improvements to services and some specific railway initiatives that could assist the local economy. Furthermore, suggesting using the old (disused) rail routes as official paths and cycle ways to explore, by the more sustainable modes of transport, the heart of the countryside.

It is good to see in a book covering the railway heritage of Devon an attempt to look forward and consider how this rail infrastructure investment might be able to support the sustainable development of Devon’s cities and towns (Devon Structure Plan 2001 to 2016 Written Statement of policies and proposals, Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council, Torbay Council and Dartmoor National Park Authority, 2004).

Brian Cobley
(First published in Transactions 2010)