My collection of books specifically about the SMJ totals just seven - and two of these are versions of the same book. But if you are thinking of starting a collection of SMJ books, which ones should you buy?
Book No 1: I started back in 1962 with The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway by J.M. Dunn (Oakwood Press 1952). It can't have been too popular as I was able to buy a new copy ten years after it was printed, from a bookshop in Northampton who had it in stock. Within its 30 pages is an accurate and quite nicely written history of the line and its locomotives. For the first time, the convoluted ancestery of the line was revealed to a fairly young trainspotter who suddenly realized where all those trains that crept around the "spotters' field" at Blisworth were going. It has a great map, some line drawings and a few well-chosen black and white photgraphs. The price was 5s (25p).A good copy today will cost you about £10 .
Book No 2: In the 1970s, The Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway by J.M. Dunn was reprinted. The format was enlarged and the book expanded to 72 pages, meaning more information, more pictures and more coverage. It included much more detail about the locomotives and if you have just one SMJ book, this reprint would be a good choice. Once again it was published by the Oakwood Press, for £2-70. Copies today change hands for about £10.
Book No 3: A quite different type of book, this time a hardback, appeared in 1982 with The Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway by Arthur Jordan. Mr Jordan was a teacher whose days working for the LMS brought him in contact with the SMJ. His book is brilliant - great to read, full of interesting asides and stories, and it paints a wonderful picture of this esoteric railway. You'll find all the essential historical information as well, plus a great selection of photographs within its 136 pages. Another "must-have" to my mind. It was published by the Oxford Publishing Co at £7-95 and you can usually find copies on the Abebooks web site for about £20.
Book No 4: Oakwood Press returned to the SMJ for No 78 in its railway histories with the publication of The Northampton & Banbury Junction Railway by Stanley C Jenkins. Mr Jenkins tackles the 20 miles from Blisworth - Towcester - Banbury in 112 frighteningly detailed pages. You get all the information you could possibly require and even the most diehard SMJ follower would probably admit there's not much more to be said. It even lists all the stationmasters at all the stations! It's quite readable, if a trifle heavy going and has a good selection of pictures and diagrams. It necessarily includes lots of information about the rest of the SMJ. But N & BJ from Towcester to Banbury is probably the hidden gem of the SMJ so it's a good book to have. Published at £5-95, good copies today change hanbds for around £10.
Book No 5: The smallest and most entertaining book about the SMJ is Towcester Memories of the "Slow Miserable and Jolty" by Robert Stevens. Actually, only about half of this book is about the SMJ, the rest being memories of being in Towcester in the 1940s and '50s. Still, it's a jolly read and has a hand-drawn, very detailed map of Towcester station and some very funny anecdotes. Published by Towcester Local History Society, it has 32 pages, the map from Mr Dunn's book and mostly familiar photographs. You can buy it at Towcester Tea Rooms, or from the society, for a modest £3.
Book No 6: Two well known photographers got together for our next offering - A History of the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway by R C Riley and Bill Simpson. Here we have a real curate's egg of a book - lots of great photographs, some very mixed up facts and writing that never matches the quality of the pictures. Lamplighter Publications did a fairy amateurish job on this 160 page hardback, but so useful are the pictures that you should buy it for these alone. Messrs Riley and Simpson have gone way beyond their own impressive collection of pictures to include lots of illustrations of SMJ engines and rolling stock. Although there are some familiar shots, many are new. Getting hold of a copy could be tricky, but Amazon show a second hand one at £70 at the time of writing.
Book No 7: Middleton Press seem to be covering every mile of track in Britain with their "Branch Lines" series, and in 2008 they released Branch Lines Around Towcester by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith for £15-95. This is basically a collection of 120 SMJ pictures in black and white. Lots of them will already be in the hands of those who own the other books, but there are some that are new and interesting. The captions are brief and to the point and there is a set of excerpts from old maps. It's all a bit condensed, but despite a couple of howlers (for example, a train heading east through Olney is said to be climbing towards Ravenstone Jct), there are some new facts. It's available from bookshops or Middleton Press.
These are all the books I have specifically about the SMJ. But I have at least a dozen others with much about the SMJ in them. Prime among these is Ironstone Tramways and Railways of the Midlands by Eric Tonks, or the same author's Ironstone Quarries series (an expanded version of the already detailed first book). I have both and cannot imagine not having them on my bookshelf. There is lots of good stuff about the quarries at Byfield, Blisworth and elsewhere. These are all getting expensive, having been out of print for many years.
Northamptonshire Libraries and W D Wharton published several books by Richard Coleman and Joe Rajczonek, many of them including some SMJ pictures, but not much that is new. East Midlands Branch Line Album by Anthony J Lambert has a few nice pictures by T E Williams, a noted SMJ photographer. And books like the Forgotten Raiways series include the SMJ.
Hamilton Ellis's classic The Trains We Loved (my copy is dated 1947) also has a fascinating portrait of the SMJ. Lastly, I would strongly recommend, among dozens of magazine articles, Railway Bylines for December 2007 and January 2008 with two excellent articles about the SMJ and lots of pictures I had not seen before. It was a real fluke that I happened to be in the UK when these appeared as getting them in my home town of Pasadena, California, would have been just a bit tricky!
If you have books and articles in your possession that I don't know about, I'd be fascinated to hear about them. Happy reading!
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