Book Review: ‘Regional Tramways – Scotland’ by Peter Waller

‘Regional Tramways’ is a new series of books by Peter Waller which aims to cover the history of tramway operations on all systems which existed across the British Isles, or at least as many as possible. The first two volumes have already appeared so far this year, with the first of these detailing the various Scottish tramway systems.

The introductory chapter details the beginnings of British tramways with George Francis Train; this well documented background is only briefly mentioned before the author moves on to the subject of this particular publication. Starting with a summary of the long-lost horse tramways of Scotland, most of which are represented by a single photograph, steam and cable traction are also covered before we move on to the lesser-known tram systems in the country which were abandoned prior to 1945. Perhaps the book’s biggest weakness is that many of these are covered by only a small amount of text and again, just one image. I would have liked a series of books which aims to catalogue all of Britain’s tramways share out the coverage between systems more equally as some operators rarely feature in print – however obviously the need to produce an affordable collection of books has heavily restricted how much detail some of these smaller systems can receive. Therefore the decision to focus on 1945 onwards is understandable due to far more material being readily available from this period.

The main focus of this book is therefore the larger Scottish tramways of four cities which lasted beyond the Second World War – Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. All are given a basic but informative route map, a fairly detailed history, plenty of photos and perhaps best of all, comprehensive information on their entire vehicle fleets from 1945 onwards. This includes details of what became of each tram, with mention given to the various examples which survived into preservation. Another of the book’s biggest strengths is the level of detail given to each systems’ final years, with full details given of post-war route closures and how the running down progressed. It is fascinating to note how quickly the tide turned against trams in some places, where public opposition to tramway abandonment was quickly swept aside in the alleged name of progress. Some tramways such as Aberdeen’s were turning a profit whilst the rival bus services made a substantial loss, yet in spite of this the buses won the war and ended up ruling the roads. The author has clearly done a painstaking amount of research, unearthing many interesting facts and figures, some of which make it all the harder for many of us to digest what was lost.

Most of the photographs are in black and white and many have not been published before. Some are perhaps not the best with the ends of trams missing in a few cases, but their rarity probably justifies their inclusion and for the most part, the pictures are excellent. Highlights include a Manchester ‘Pilcher’ car en route to Aberdeen by road, and a rather charming Dundee ‘repair wagon’ car number 2. However most aim to show trams at work in typical conditions, with some additional views showing tickets and the like adding to the appeal of the book.

Things are brought up to date with a short section on the second generation Edinburgh Trams, and the book concludes with a rather rushed summary of the numerous Scottish (well, mainly Glasgow) cars which exist today and where these can be seen.

Overall despite a few niggles, this book is a worthy addition to an enthusiasts’ library and further editions are eagerly awaited. Expert historians will probably learn little here, but as a well illustrated overview of Scotland’s tramways with particular emphasis on the post-war years, this book does a very good job and is most enjoyable to sit with and read.

‘Regional Tramways – Scotland’ by Peter Waller is published by Pen & Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk) and retails at a recommended price of £25. It is a hard-backed book comprising 144 pages and nearly 200 images. ISBN 978 1 47382 385 3.

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2 Responses to Book Review: ‘Regional Tramways – Scotland’ by Peter Waller

  1. Paul D says:

    I have a copy of the second volume in the series “Yorkshire and North East of England”. It follows the same format as the “Scotland” volume and my thoughts on it are similar to Andrews comments above.

    It sets out to concentrate on the post-war period and that it does well, but the earlier period and particularly tramways that closed entirely before that date are ‘skimmed over’ rather too briefly…

    There are other books which cover individual tramways in much greater depth, but as an overview of all the systems in a region (within the limited time frame) it does well.

  2. Edward M. Koehler says:

    I am fortunate enough to have a complete set of the LRTA Regional Handbooks which cover all but the Capitol. Based on the comments above about operations that disappeared before 1945; I feel that they will better serve as a quick reference for British trams.