Fascinating look at railway history evokes atmospheric fever
At the time of its creation, Brunel's atmospheric railway was hailed as an icon of innovation – yet it was to be consigned to history as an expensive failure, writes Roger Malone.
A new book featuring contemporary watercolour illustrations by talented land surveyor William Dawson, who lived in Cathedral Yard, Exeter, brings the South Devon Atmospheric Railway vividly to life.
For Brunel this broad gauge curiosity – clinging to the sandstone cliffs at Dawlish en route from Exeter to Newton Abbot and Totnes – was far from his finest legacy.
However, a new comprehensive publication provides a refreshing and fascinating look at this slice of railway history. When it comes to capturing the flavour of the line, Brunel's Atmospheric Railway – featuring the Contemporary Watercolours of William Dawson, edited by Paul Garnsworthy, is a close second to turning the clock back to 1847 and experiencing atmospheric fever first hand.
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Published by The Broad Gauge Society in association with The Friends of Devon's Archives, it is a thoroughly researched and excellently illustrated labour of love. William Dawson made a complete record of the atmospheric railway under construction from Exeter to Totnes.
Now, with high resolution images obtained from the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a large format layout to do justice to the fine detail, the full set of 25 sheets is published together for the first time. Each includes a strip plan of a mile and a quarter of railway, a longitudinal section and a sketch view of either side of the line and detailed descriptions.
His watercolours are talented compositions and meticulously observed studies packed with almost serene lineside detail from the 1840s.
Available at most bookshops at £20, it is distributed on behalf of the Friends of Devon Archives, Stevensbooks, Taddyforde House South, Taddyforde Estate, New North Road, Exeter, EX4 4AT (stevensbooks. co.uk). It is also available through The Broad Gauge Society (email@example.com).