Book review: Paul Atterbury, Life Along the Line


Paul Atterbury, Life Along the Line, David & Charles, 256pp

There are stunning pictures in this large coffee table size book evoking the age when railways were the main form of transport. But that’s all. They are presented in a higgedly-piggedly way, with pictures from the the 19th century juxtaposed with those from the 1960s on the same page. Ostensibly, they are structured into regions and then subdivided into sections such as ‘station scenes’ and ‘along holiday lines’ but the regional sections are broken up with other categories of material covering material across the whole country, giving an overall impression that the pictures were selected randomly.

 Worse, though is the lack of context and background.To give just oneexample. There is a picture of station workers of Taff Vale Railway in 1905 – unaccountably not in the Welsh section – with the caption reading ‘they all look young’ but no mention of the fact that just four years previously there had been a momentous strike on the line which led, eventually, to workers being able to strike legally. During and after the strike, many men were dismissed, and that may well explain why those in the picture appear ‘young’. Either the author does not know about the strike, or more likely he chooses to omit it to avoid discussing complex but important issues.

 No one could dispute that the pictures are worth seeing. But if they were presented in a context and some narrative, they would be so much more interesting. This is lazy nostalgia and a wasted opportunity to help understand the fascinating story of the rise and decline of Britain’s railways..