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Michael Robbins collection

His interest in railways was first stimulated by the purchase of The Railway Magazine on a station bookstall at Horsham in April 1929. "I don't think the term 'spotter' had then been invented," he recalled, "but I was one."

Excerpt from Michael Robbins' obituary in The Times

Richard Michael Robbins CBE was born in London 7 September 1915, and died in Teddington, Middlesex on 21 December 2002 aged 87. In 1998, the John Rylands Library was chosen by Mr Robbins to acquire his extensive collection of books on railway and local history topics.

Mr Robbins worked for London Transport from 1939, and served as Managing Director (Railways) from 1971 until retirement in 1978, a period which included the extension of the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport, and outside his professional career was a devoted rail enthusiast and historian of railways.

His published works include The North London Railway (1937), The Railway Age (1962 - still in print at Manchester University Press) and a dual biography, George and Robert Stephenson (1966); he also worked with T.C. Barker on the second volume of the History of London Transport (1974.) He was joint editor from 1953 of the Journal of Transport History. He served on committees of the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (1982-90) through which he established a connection with the Manchester area.

The Robbins collection of over 1000 printed volumes ranges widely over all aspects of railways in Britain and around the world; Michael Robbins lived through the golden age of railway enthusiasm, and in his capacity as an author and reviewer received complimentary copies of many publications.

[Picture of an old first class carriage]

The material ranges from a copy of Whishaw's The railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (1840) - the illustration on the left is from that work, and shows a Grand Junction Railway first class carriage - right through to the popular railfan books of the 1990s. It captures the explosion in railway publishing from the 1960s onwards, carrying on from the historic collections of our earlier benefactor Kenneth Brown.

Also included are many files of correspondence and press cuttings which have yet to be examined and listed; the majority of the books have now been catalogued, and are included in the Library catalogue; a selected list of the collection is also available.

Of interest is an album of locomotive postcards, a popular collector's item in the 1920s and 1930s. Right is LNWR no. 3105 Jennie Deans, one of Francis Webb's 'uncoupled compound' 2-2-2-0 locomotives. The card is from the legendary F. Moore range, sold by the Locomotive Publishing Company. This one is stamped on the reverse '31 DEC 1929.'

[Old picture postcard featuring LNWR locomotive no. 3105 Jennie Deans]


  • Obituary, The Times, Jan 3, 2003 p32.
  • Obituary written by his friend the late Jack Simmons, The Independent Dec 28, 2002 p16.

All of the Library's Railway Collections are now housed and accessed through the Main Library on Oxford Road. please contact

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