Published in June 2021 by Pen & Sword and written by Malcolm Batten, this hardback book measures 21.59 cm x 27.94 cm, has 192 pages, and a staggering 299 black and white and 18 colour illustrations.
Unlike the great railway photographers of the pre-war years such as Marice Earley and H.C. Casserley, Reg Batten is an unknown as this is the first book of his work.
The contents cover from the early 1930s through wartime and the 1950s, and onto steam in the preservation era. The book is broken down into similar logical sections titled Pre-war Days, Wartime Great Western in North Wales, Post-war Days, Into Nationalisation, Early Privatisation, Steam Returns to London in the 1980s and 1990s, and a short-section appropriately titled Odds & Sods.
Although written by Malcolm Batten, this book is a compilation of photos taken by his father, Reg. Unfortunately, Reg didn't record the date or location of many of his photos, but before he passed away Malcolm sat down with him to recall what he could. However, in some cases Reg couldn't recall the exact details, which has resulted in some generic captions such as “Another unidentifiable V2 – another passenger working.” However, Reg's ability to compose a good photo irrespective of the subject matter shines through.
Along with the photos, many of them are accompanied by stories that must be familiar to many of us who were around in the age of steam. Such as stories of friendly signalmen advising Reg what trains were expected and where to get the best shot, his encounters with bulls in lineside fields, and the perennial risk of bees, nettles, and brambles.
Looking at the photos taken in wartime, which was very difficult to achieve anyway, it is pleasing to see that Reg didn't hold back just because the locos were dirty. In fact, many of them are so filthy that it is impossible to decipher their identity, and after all these years, they are better for it.
An interesting coincidence given the recent sad passing of The Queen is an anecdote that Reg tells about a trip to Huntingdon on the day of King George VI's Coronation in 1937. As it was Coronation Day, it had been declared a bank holiday, but unfortunately for Reg everywhere in Huntingdon was closed. Instead, he contented himself with a day photographing trains from the lineside.
After reading this book it made me realise that there must be many more similar collections of photographs hiding in attics and lofts, just waiting for someone to take on the mammoth task of identifying the trains and their locations.
Many of Reg Batten's photos are of LNER trains taken before World War II, and these fit the bill perfectly.
As well as an excellent range of photos, the book has many humorous and eminently-readable anecdotes about Reg's travels in search of good photo locations.
How fortunate Reg must have been to have been forewarned about the use of Stirling Single No. 1 on a special train organised by the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society. His photo seen below was later recreated as a painting by artist Jim Hayes, Another photo that Jim Hayes turned into a painting was of B12s on King's Lynn shed as seen on the right, although in this case, the artist used artistic licence to change the positioning of the tank engines on the far right.
In 1963 a railway museum was established in a disused bus and tram garage at Clapham in south London, and Reg has provided us with some excellent photos of a few of the exhibits.
Steam returned to London in the 1980s with special trains from Marylebone, and Reg was there to capture some of them. It's difficult to believe that the image at the bottom left is yet another painting created from one of Reg's photos, in this case from the photo above.
In summary, this is one of those books which brings back memories of innocent railway photography in far-off days when the sun shone and many happy lineside hours were spent just watching whatever came along. Malcolm Batten has done an excellent job of selecting and sharing his father's 50 years of railway photography and some anecdotes to accompany them. The book is well laid out with so many wonderful pictures of steam locomotives from a bygone era, most of which have not been seen before and are therefore a most welcome addition. The quality of reproduction is excellent, and the book should find a place on the shelves of anyone who relishes the steam age. Highly recommended.
RailAdvent would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing RailAdvent with a copy of the book for review.