This specialist railway book is unusually aimed at three distinct and separate audiences.
In this respect its appeal is certainly not just for the railway enthusiast, although the compilers detailed captions portray the technical information.
It is also a book for the photographic connoisseur. For someone who enjoys seeing how art can be created from everyday scenes – trains, structures, people; indeed from the very fabric of everyday life.
Finally it is a book for the coffee table. To be dipped into and savoured at leisure, for once picked up it will prove to be a hard book to replace.
George Heiron was one of the leading railway photographers of his generation. Indeed such was his standing that he and Eric Treacy produced a book of their combined works, ‘Steam’s Indian Summer’, published by George Allen & Unwin in 1979. But there was one other thing which made George stand apart; he was an accomplished artist in his own right; arguably among the best of railway artists of his generation. His output was also prodigious.
George was the consummate railway photographer with a number of his photographs used as the basis for some of his paintings. He was able to use his skill to construct his photographs with an artistic eye – as will be seen in many of the pictures in this book. They were as often composed by placing a train into the landscape as they were by simply focusing on the train itself.
He also had the particular ability and foresight for the time in being able to take photographs in all conditions, all seasons and during the dark hours or in daylight. He turned out come rain, shine or snow as will be well illustrated here. Personally, I particularly savour a picture which tells a story, and this is where George excelled.
Whilst this is a book aimed primarily at the enthusiast, it is also a look back over the shoulder to what is now a bygone era. A reminder of where we came from and how quickly time has moved on. The decade in which it is set, the 1950’s into 1960’s was the birth and early growth of the second Elizabethan age, resulting in the final development of steam locomotives and the peak of the steam age on the railways.
Regrettably this peak for steam was short-lived and hastily followed by the sudden decline and fall of steam together with its ultimate elimination. Indeed, many steam engines built in the 1950s had a lifespan of ten years or less. Fortunately, there were some brilliant photographers at the time to record these never to be forgotten times. None was more expert than George Heiron.
Although several of his photographs may already have been previously published, I have attempted here to select as many as possible which have not. Where I am aware of duplicity this is shown in the caption of the relevant image, however this cannot be claimed to be fully comprehensive as it does not include all the railway periodicals of the time. The 21st century has also given us a further advantage in that printing techniques have improved beyond what could ever have been imagined 50+ years ago when the first of George’s images graced the pages of books and magazines.
So let me take you on a journey with George. It starts at the seaside just south of Bristol and we travel up to London via Bath. After a short stay at Paddington we retrace our tracks back to Swindon and then take the route via Sapperton down the beautiful Gloucestershire Golden Valley to Gloucester itself From here we backtrack to Standish Junction and on to the old Gloucester and Bristol Railway of 1844 down to Yate and Westerleigh.
Then it is back towards Swindon via Hullavington, in order to pick up the 1903 South Wales Direct main line via Badminton, in order to continue our onward journey west Into Wales. Finally it is the turn of Wales and we go through to Cardiff before returning to Bristol by the same route as far as Filton Junction. With this very convoluted route we arrive back at Temple Meads to witness the elimination of steam and the changing face of the railways as we knew them, to the diesel precursors of what we have today.
I very much hope you enjoy the journey.
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