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Railway Collections

Date range: 19th-20th centuries

Medium: Printed

Number of items: 2,600 items.

The Railway Collection comprises a number of separate collections, including those of E. Kenneth Brown, Michael Robbins CBE and Graham Moss.

E. Kenneth Brown (1879-1958) was an authority on railway history and for several years served as President of the Railway Club, alongside a successful career as a London solicitor. The library which he amassed was bequeathed to the John Rylands Library. It comprises over 1,300 volumes, including 220 bound maps, 280 volumes of periodicals, 225 pamphlets and 600 monographs.

Key topics in this library include social history, engineering, cartography and publishing history. The earliest work is J.T. Desaguliers’ A Course of Experimental Philosophy (1734-44), probably the first ‘railway’ book, with its description of the wooden railway constructed at Prior Park, Bath, by Ralph Allen to carry stone from quarry to riverside.

Pictorial material is significant, including John Cooke Bourne’s History of the Great Western Railway (1846), Thomas Talbot Bury’s Views on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (1831), and Thomas Fairbairn’s Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges (1849).

The collection is rich in the reports of civil engineers such as Robert Stephenson, Edward L. Stephens, Nicholas Wood, Sir John Hawkshaw and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and contains numerous 19th-century Parliamentary Acts and plans. Periodicals include the Railway Magazine from 1837, a full set of the modern Railway Magazine from 1897, the Railway Record from 1852 and the Railway Times from 1839. There are also issues of Bradshaw’s Railway Guides, and a set of Bradshaw’s Shareholder’s Guides from 1848 to 1911.

Following the arrival of the Kenneth Brown collection in 1959, the Library has acquired a number of other railway materials, including the important collection of Michael Robbins CBE which was donated to the Library in 1998. Robbins was the former Managing Director (Railways) of London Transport and a transport historian; his important collection comprises over 1,000 volumes relating to all aspects of railways in Britain and around the world, and to the history of London.

This material ranges from Francis Whishaw’s The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland Practically Described and Illustrated (1840) through to the popular ‘railfan’ books of the 1990s. It captures the expansion in railway publishing from the 1960s onwards, complimenting he historic collection of Kenneth Brown. There are also many files of correspondence and press cuttings, which are not yet catalogued.

The collection of the late Graham Moss, a former member of Library staff, comprises some 280 volumes, including many rare early works.

In addition, the Library holds a collection of ephemera relating to the tickets and machines patented by Lancaster-born Thomas Edmondson (1792-1851) and some early Edmondson railway tickets. The George Miller and Eric Dyckhoff collections contain ephemera such as postcards, leaflets, timetables and magazines relating to railways and steamships.

Further information:

  • Recorded in Library Search.
  • Note on the Kenneth Brown collection in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 41 (1958-59), pp. 277-9.
  • George Miller collection catalogue available via Special Collections Reading Rooms.
  • John P. Tuck, ‘Some Sources for the History of Popular Culture in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 71, no. 2 (1989), pp. 168-71.


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