Early Railways Shire Book 1569 to 1830 and other early railway titles

Another excellent Shire Library book, a short illustrated introduction covering the earliest days of mineral tramways from horse-drawn tramways into the experimental steam era.

Book Blurb “In the popular mind, the history of the railway begins in 1830 with the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. In fact, by that time the concept of the railway in Britain was already more than 250 years old. The interim is a fascinating but little-known period of experimentation, improvement and invention which included such remarkable oddities as an Elizabethan version of the ‘Scalextric’, an early ‘JCB’, and an engine fitted with steam-powered legs. Innovations such as iron rails, inclines and the pioneering locomotives were gradually introduced, so that by 1830 the basic principles of the modern railway were already in place.

Never again would the industry see such fundamental development, and it is this heady and industrious period that Early Railways examines, in fascinating detail and with lavish illustrations.”


The authors Andy Guy and Jim Rees were involved in the Beamish Living History Museum 1825 early tramway recreation and the National Railway Museum at York.

Although I am not a railway modeller (but come from a family of railway modellers), I grew up on the edge of London near one early railway which is covered in this book and near a famous later railway tunnel where many navvies died.

Early inventions and incarnations of now familiar things fascinate me, including the ‘also rans’ and failures.

Jack Simmons‘ scholarly book on The Victorian Railway (Thames and Hudson, 1991/2009) is very good for this, as is Gordon Biddle’s Victorian Stations 1830 -1923 (David Charles, 1973) and the early part of the Victorian Farm team’s TV series Full Steam Ahead. All books worth a review on this blog sometime.

These books chronicle the many ways in which the “vandalism” of railways changed our towns, our countryside, our culture and the world.

Tunnels had to be dug, viaducts built Roman style and track had to be laid leading to the strange and riotous life of the navvy camps The navvies had already done the same for the canals and inland waterways, which were often eclipsed by their new upstart neighbour running alongside them.

Stations had to be built and carriages designed for people, often mimicking the stage coaches and infrastructure of the mail coaches of the day.

eBay image source: my copy of this unusual subject for a Britain’s figure is boxed away in storage somewhere!

I live in the Southwest UK and 150 years on still travel from a Victorian station on a Great Western Railway system of bridges, lines and tunnels created by Brunel.

Cornish inventors like Richard Trevithick, William Murdoch and Goldsworthy Gurney tried creating both steam cars or wagons and engines for roads.

If it had worked in the late 1820s, the post Napoleonic and Crimean era Victorian British Army could have ridden to war on a Gurney steam car or steam drag and dragged its guns there with steam. Instead Brunel built the “Crimean Railway” or tramway. Christian Wolmer has written an interesting history of railways at war called Engines of War.

Goldsworthy Gurney steam drag, 1820s (Wikimedia source)


Before dying aged 18 / 19 in the trenches in the final year of WW1, my Great Uncle had been a fit young “steam waggon stoker” in this road steam version of a locomotive and lorry, a curious and rare “steam hybrid” that I got to look around recently at a local steam fair. The internal combustion engine, road freight and diesel lorry eventually won over that rival or competitor. The world with its vanished branchlines is probably poorer for it.

Before this Victorian era, there were rail ways or tramways across my current landscape. I now live in a village like much of its area and road network still awkwardly shaped in parts by its early 19th century life as a horse tram and steam Mineral Tramway and docks for the Cornish mines, like many such tramways in Devon, Cornwall and the North. I still work in the shadow of a stone railway viaduct to a coastal town that owes its seaside heritage and modern trade to a mineral tramway that ended up shipping in tourists and holidaymakers when the minerals petered out.

Pull the Emergency Stop Chain now! Woah there!

Caught myself there before the railway madness in the family descends full steam ahead on me …

If you search early railways, you will find a range of interesting books including this one:


If you hanker after early tramways and railways, be warned, there is not much off the shelf Or ready to run engines and rolling stock. You’ll have to build lots of fiddly twiddly stuff.

Good to know that the original Airfix Stephenson’s Rocket kit (static model) and railway labourers are still available from good old Dapol:


Almost steampunk, two of the odder Airfix figures with their fine top hats.

They could join my Victorian policeman conversion (can you recognise the original Airfix figure with a ‘straw’ top hat?) sorting out those riotous navvies.

The sign reads “Stop Now! This (rail) way madness lies …”

Blog Post Script

I have Mr. Bob Cordery to blame for this post, having posted about his Diddly Dums.


One of the comments on his blog jokily mentioned Beware joining the “chuff puff loonies” so it’s obviously not just my family curse.

Blog posted by Mark Man Of TIN, 18 February 2023. Toot toot!


Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

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