Steam in My Lens by Malcolm Batten

Published in June 2021 by Pen & Sword and written by Malcolm Batten, this hardcover book measures 21.59cm x 27.94cm, has 192 pages and 299 black and white and 18 color illustrations.

It has a published price of £30, although Pen & Sword is currently offering it at £27.00, and at the time of writing it can be purchased from Amazon for around £20.

Unlike the great railway photographers of the pre-war years such as Marice Earley and HC Casserley, Reg Batten is an unknown as this is the first book of his work.

Content spans from the early 1930s through the war and into the 1950s, and steam through the preservation era. The book is divided into similar logical sections entitled Pre-war Days, Wartime Great Western in North Wales, Post-war Days, Into Nationalisation, Early Privatisation, Steam Returns to London in the 1980s and 1990s, and a short section appropriately titled Odds & Sods.

Although written by Malcolm Batten, this book is a compilation of photos taken by his father, Reg. Unfortunately, Reg didn’t record the date or location of many of his photos, but before he passed Malcolm sat down with him to remember what he could. However, in some cases Reg could not remember the exact details, resulting in generic captions such as “Another unidentifiable V2 – another passenger working”. However, Reg’s ability to compose a good shot regardless of the subject shines through.

Along with the photos, many of them come with stories that must be familiar to many of us who were in the age of steam. Like tales of friendly flagmen advising Reg which trains were expected and where to get the best, his encounters with bulls in fields bordering the line, and the constant risk of bees, nettles and brambles.

Looking at the wartime photos, which were very hard to pull off anyway, it’s nice to see that Reg didn’t hold back just because the locomotives were dirty. In fact, many of them are so dirty that it’s impossible to decipher their identities, and after all these years, they’re better off for it.

An interesting coincidence given the sad recent passing of the Queen is an anecdote Reg tells about a trip to Huntingdon on King George VI’s coronation day in 1937. As it was coronation day, it was stated public holiday, but unfortunately for Reg everywhere in Huntingdon was closed. Instead, he settled for a day photographing trains from the side of the line.

After reading this book, I realized that there must be many more similar collections of photographs hidden away in attics and lofts, just waiting for someone to take on the colossal task of identifying trains and their locations.

Many of Reg Batten’s photos are of LNER trains taken before WWII, and these fit the bill perfectly.

Credit: RailAdvent

As well as an excellent range of photos, the book contains many humorous and eminently readable anecdotes of Reg’s travels in search of great photo spots.

Steam in my lens 26-27
Credit: RailAdvent

How lucky Reg must have been to have been warned of the use of the Stirling Single No. 1 on a special train organized by the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society. His photo seen below was later recreated as a painting by artist Jim Hayes. Another photo that Jim Hayes turned into a painting was that of B12 on the hangar at King’s Lynn, as seen on the right, although in this case the artist used artistic license to change the positioning of the tank engines on the far right.

Steam in my lens 34-35
Credit: RailAdvent

In 1963 a railway museum was established in a disused bus and tram garage in Clapham, south London, and Reg provided us with excellent photos of some of the exhibits.

Steam in my lens 168-169
Credit: RailAdvent

Steam returned to London in the 1980s with special trains from Marylebone, and Reg was there to capture some of them. It’s hard to believe that the bottom left image is yet another painting created from one of Reg’s photos, in this case the photo above.

Steam in my lens 186-187
Credit: RailAdvent

In summary, this is one of those books that brings back memories of innocent railway photography in days long gone when the sun was shining and many happy hours at the line’s edge were spent watching everything that happened. Malcolm Batten has done a great job of curating and sharing his father’s 50 years of railway photography and some anecdotes to go along with it. The book is well presented with so many wonderful images of steam locomotives from a bygone era, most of which have never been seen before and are therefore a most welcome addition. The quality of the reproduction is excellent, and the book should find a place on the shelves of anyone who savors the era of Steam. Highly recommended.

The book is available for purchase on Amazon and on Pen & Sword.

RailAdvent would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing RailAdvent with a copy of the book for review.

The article

Steam in my lens

ADVANTAGES

  • Excellent selection of pre-war photographs.
  • Very readable anecdotes accompany many photos.
  • Superb quality printing and binding.

THE INCONVENIENTS

  • This is not a negative comment, but it is a pity that some places could not be identified.

Breakdown of reviews

  • Presentation/Layout
  • Technical informations
  • Value for money

About Jun Quentin

Check Also

Railways in Movies: North by Northwest

from north to northwest Newly dressed passengers walk past the New York Central’s 20th Century …