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ICE Library’s book of the month, reviewed by ICE Fellow Mervyn D Carter FICE FPWI
The Meon Valley Railway
Part 2: A Rural Backwater
Southampton: Noodle Books, 2012
This is the second part of a 3-part series on the history of the late Meon Valley Railway, a 22 mile route running from Fareham to Alton. Part 1 dealt with construction and was largely a photographic record of particular interest to the Railway Civil Engineer as well as the local historian. Part 3 will deal with the closure process from 1955 onwards. Part 2 starts with the formal opening on 1 June 1903 and deals with operation to 1955.
As with the first book this is a delightful volume to dip into with many contemporary photographs (in black and white) but with enough facts, figures and storylines to keep the historian's interest. For railway professionals and buffs there are interesting key statistics drawn from the original Board of Trade Report, which permitted the line's opening, early photos of the infrastructure, clearly still in the maintenance period, and aspects of permanent way maintenance long since vanished.
Chapters cover each of the nine stations often at two periods in their existence. As might be expected these show construction to a 'kit of parts' for standard buildings, station canopies, footbridges and the like. Each of the stations ran a goods yard for anticipated freight traffic. House coal featured large in this with one local coal merchant storing up to 400 tons at one station.
Intermediate chapters provide descriptions of winter and summer working. The winter work was truly heroic in December 1927 with snowdrifts of 8–10ft (2.4 – 3m) and trains running through 18in (0.45m) of rail coverage. Frozen signals were replaced by hand signalling and waiting rooms kept warm and open for stranded road and rail passengers alike.
In complete contrast the summer working describes extensive local strawberry traffic with timetables showing next day delivery to all corners of the United Kingdom.
Other chapters describe the economies required in the 1920s and 1930s and provide a description of a journey down the line supported by timetable copies. Another intriguing chapter covers a wartime conference held at Droxford Station a few days before D-Day in June 1944 attended by Churchill, Eisenhower, and other world leaders.
The book would benefit from an index and comprehensive page numbering (only page 6 was numbered in the reviewer's copy) but is otherwise well put together.
Part 1 and Part 2 of The Meon Valley Railway are available for loan from the ICE Library. To borrow, please see our catalogue or contact us on 020 7665 2251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.