There were three substantial histories of major English railways published prior to the Great War. The first by Charles Herbert Grinling about the Great Northern Railway appeared in 1898, with a revised updated edition in 1902. Grinling worked for the GNR 1887-1892 and his father William, was Chief Accountant of the Company with access to minute books and documents not in the public domain. C.H. Grinling’s work was therefore at least semi-official, with a measure of Company approval.
William Weaver Tomlinson’s work on the North Eastern Railway, published in 1914 had full backing of the management, to the extent that arrangements were made for a special cheaper “paperback” edition was made available to staff. Tomlinson worked in the Accounts department of the NER and had excellent access to internal documents, supplemented by extensive research in newspaper files and local government records. He spent 14 years, 1900 to 1914 on the work, unfortunately dying before completion. The later part of the book is therefore rather “scrappy” compared to the detailed coverage of earlier years.
In contrast, Wilfred L Steel makes it clear that his “History of the London & North Western Railway” (also 1914) was entirely unofficial and un-vetted. The only official involvement was in the “generous” provision of illustrations and photographs. At over 500 pages, the book must have occupied Steel for many years, but as his admiration for “The Premier Line” shines through, it can be seen as a labour of love. He was reliant on material in the public domain, but as this included LNWR half yearly reports to shareholders, newspaper and periodical files, and books by C. J. Bowen Cooke, Sir George Findlay and G.P. Neele, Steel was not starved of material.
He is far from uncritical, but is much too lenient in his description of the career of Capt. Mark Huish, the LNWR’S first General Manager, whose attempts to strangle the infant Great Northern Railway at birth, then having failed, to restrict its growth, were morally reprehensible, if not illegal. The very names of these machinations “The Euston Square Confederacy” and the “Octuple Agreement” more than hint at conspiracy in restraint of trade, where the travelling public suffered from higher fares and restricted facilities. These tactics would sour relations between the East Coast and West Coast Companies for decades, flaring into open rivalry in 1888 and 1895. (See “Kinnaber” by the Rev. W.J. Scott).
Steel’s book remains a comprehensive portrait of a very great business undertaking on the eve of it, and the whole world changing forever.
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