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Welsh History Review


Vol. 14, nos. 1-4 1988-89

British railways 1948-1973 : a business history. Book review.

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buildings, but because they executed fewer commissions there than in England, many
Welsh houses are, in a sense, unique and are therefore more vulnerable. Thus, when
the sole Welsh house ascribed to Robert Adam (at Wenvoe) was demolished, there
was no other to stand as an example of the architect's work in Wales.
If the reasons for growth are fully described, so are those for decline. A variety of
factors, including death duties, falling land prices, and agricultural decline combined
to lead, by the first decades of the present century, to the abandonment of many houses
by families which had been their proud owners for generations. Fragmentation of
estates and requisition during the Second World War sounded the death-knell for
many others. The author, perhaps too charitably, says that before the war losses were
'inevitable and largely blameless'; now, they are unforgivable.
This book will certainly make those who read it aware of the 'appalling catalogue
of destruction' which has taken place and which is continuing. Indeed, any person of
feeling cannot fail to be moved by a sense of loss on reading it. But we live in an era
of severe financial stringency, and whether this work will melt the hearts of those who
hold the official purse-strings remains to be seen.
BRITISH RAILWAYS 1948-1973: A BUSINESS HISTORY. By T. R. Gourvish. Cambridge
University Press, 1986. Pp. xxvii, 781. £ 35.00.
This volume, entitled 'A business history', was commissioned by the British
Railways Board during the chairmanship of Sir Peter Parker. It has taken seven
painstaking years to produce and is definitive in its survey of British Railways from
nationalization in 1948 up to 1973. Dr. Gourvish is Senior Lecturer in Economic and
Social History at the University of East Anglia: his approach, therefore, perhaps
reflects more of the economist than of the social historian.
The book is divided into three major sections reflecting the changes in the structure
of railway management over the period. The first part covers the period of the British
Transport Commission and the Railway Executive from 1948 to 1953; the second, the
British Transport Commission from 1953 to 1962 and the third, the British Railways
Board from 1963 to 1973. In each section the author and his team of researchers deal
with organization, financial performance, and investment. There are also extensive
statistical appendices analysing the financial position of the railways over the period
of the study. In total, the book is a comprehensive work of reference which reflects
the undoubted scholarship put into it. If anything, it is too full of detail, almost to the
extent of overwhelming the reader. How one would appreciate an overview of the
period which would lift one out of the morass of detail!
The opening description of the nationalization process, the underpayment of the top
personnel, under-investment from the outset and the absurdity of an annual
programme for an industry with a lengthy production cycle make fascinating reading.
The book also traces the way in which the high ideals of nationalization embodied in
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