Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins

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Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins

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Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A book to treasure: brilliantly written, interesting and the images are absolutely stunning.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Viking
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241978986

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In the mid twentieth century the railway was something which harked back to the Victorian age with trains being supplanted by cars and planes, but steam was being replaced by oil, even then and in the twenty-first century oil is giving way to electricity. It's cleaner, more environmentally friendly and the stations which we'd all rushed through as quickly as possible, keen to escape their grime, were restored and became places to be admired, possibly even lingered in. Simon Jenkins has chosen his hundred best railway stations.

We begin with a very brief introduction to the railways and to the people who pioneered them - brief because, as Jenkins stresses, this is a book about railway stations and not about railways or trains. There's an equally brief section about railway stations in general: how and why they were built, the styles which developed and how they grew through to the Devastation, as Jenkins terms the cuts under Dr Beeching. Most interesting to me is what he calls the Renaissance - of which Jenkins was a part as a non-executive board member of British Rail from 1980 to 1990. It's fascinating to read about what was saved - and depressing to hear about what was not. I expected to be most interested in the stations themselves - and surprised to find that Jenkins' introduction was so gripping.

The format is gloriously simple: for each station Jenkins gives us a star rating from one to five with only ten getting the full five stars: four of those are in London: the star rating doesn't reflect size, importance, customer service or any of the other factors which usually go into star ratings. It's simply Jenkins' response to a particular place. In general I'd have to say that I agree with him, although I was disappointed to find that Durham only received one star, but then put this into perspective by remembering that it was still on of the list of the best one hundred stations.

We get a little of the history of each station and this makes for very easy reading, as the tone is light, sometimes even gossipy as when we're told about the bitter rivalry between the Great Northern Railway and the Midland for the use of the tracks into Kings Cross: GNR regularly ensured that the Midland trains were held up and passengers even forced to disembark short of the platforms. Parliament finally conceded that the Midland needed its own terminus and the promiscuous architecture at St Pancras took revenge.

I thought that I would be most interested in stations which I knew, but this wasn't the case: I was riveted by the story of the redevelopment of Liverpool street and nodded knowingly as the thought that urban renewal is about choices, not inevitability. Or Marylebone, which Betjeman likened to 'a branch public library in a Manchester suburb' and I giggled at the story of the Roman Catholic complaining to his confessor 'There's nowhere in London I can meditate in quiet and peace.' 'But have you tried Marylebone Station, my son?' replied the priest.

We start with the London termini and work, well, outwards, ending up on the west coast of Scotland at Wemyss Bay, thus beginning and ending our tour with a five star station. Wemyss Bay station is pictured on the cover of the book and for probably the only time in my life I want to go somewhere simply to see the railway station. The importance of the station was that it was originally built where it is because of its position opposite the Isle of Bute and was designed to meet the need of getting passengers plus luggage from train to ferry in five minutes without exposing them to the elements.

I could write much more with snippets from Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations: every station is quotable and it's a pleasure to read, but there's a wonderful bonus in that the images are absolutely stunning, of a quality which you'd be delighted to hang on the wall. There are few books which you can describe as total delights, but this is one of them. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more on the history of St Pancras we can recommend St Pancras Station by Simon Bradley. If it's the trains you're interested in we think that you might enjoy Stephen Biesty's Trains.

Buy Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins at

Buy Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins at'


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