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COVID-19 - Good books should be read twice

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Sun 21st Jun 2020
Blog Categories: Inspiration & Books Reviews | Things we did | Wood Engraving Printmaking | My Coronavirus Story | All / Filter

I enjoy reading books, books about things and people - especially (auto) biographies about people who did things (such as engineers or artists), and books about history combining people and engineering. And well written books on good subjects should be read twice - in my view - I get so much more out of them. Two books I have read recently combine this.

The Landscape Trilogy (L.T.C. Rolt)

Not a very inspiring title, but a fascinating book
L.T.C. Rolt (11 February 1910 – 9 May 1974) is perhaps best known for his engineering books, especially his biographies of engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford, but he also lived a truly fascinating life, with canals, cars and railways, and this Trilogy is his autobiography telling us, in his own words, his remarkable life, with his emphasis on the skills of craftsmen, which has made a deep impression on me.



Whilst he attended private school (Cheltenham College), he was not destined for the type of career that one might expect. He left, fairly abruptly, Cheltenham College, to work as an apprentice at first a small agricultural maintenance works in Pitchill where he maintained and drove various Fowler steam ploughing engines and other such steam apprautus used in the farming world, and writes of his fascinating 2 years there.

Then, more remarkably he continued his apprentice at Kerr Stuart in Stoke on Trent until the company collapsed, working first in the cacophony of the boiler workshops etc. building steam engines, then heavily involved in the first diesel powered lorries, as well as some early diesel locomotives (and on the Welsh Highland).

Then on to Perkins, then other rural workshops which are story themselves, then running his own garage. But then things change, and he spent 12 years living on Cressy (his 'design for living') on canals from late 1930s up to about 1949, seeing the last working barges, and the rapid decline of the canal system. He was the first person to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen canal in 10 years - an aqueduct which is now so well used. He writes a lot about his exploits around various canals, and the struggles to get around a then failed network, but he was also instumental in setting up the Inland Waterways Association after writing about canals in 'Narrow Boat'.

Then on to pioneer to preseve the first steam railway - the Talyllyn Railway - from 1950, running the line in 1951 and 1952, then on to writing and life 'on the bank'.

He travelled on now near forgotten railways such as the Glyn Valley Tramway (including a cab ride), Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway and so many other interesting stories, history in small workshops.

Skills of Craftsmen
But it is his interest in craftsmanship, the skills of craftsmen (and I include women equally here), and pride in their skills that resonates with me most of all. Craftsman skills are not learnt from a book, or an App on a phone, but are hard won through repeated practice, failing repeatedly until they get it right, and when they do, to a high repeated standard, it is the pride in those skills and abilities that are rewarding. He talks of his time at Kerr Stuart, and those boiler makers and fitters who made a hard job look easy through the skill and judgement, and the loss of identity when the firm came crashing down and all those jobs, and skills, were lost.

We might think that these skills are old fashioned and unnecessary in our 'modern' world of computers and computer controlled machines. But I disagree. These skills are even more important now because there are so few who posses them, relative to 50, 100 years ago, but they are necessary skills - not for the oft repeated assembly job of 'standard' items, like mass produced furniture items, but to make the bespoke items that are not available off the peg, and to keep the skills alive and working, to make a better quality, longer lasting items, that are made with care and love for someone to enjoy for ever - not the next few years, then fling it in the tip or charity shop. Things made to last that perform a function.

My only criticism of this book is that Rolt doesn't tell us more about this, because whilst he tells us stories, particularly in the rural workshops, and covers some details about the craftsmen skills, I would like to have heard more from him on this important aspect.

The Landscape Trilogy (L.T.C. Rolt)

Not a very inspiring title, but a fascinating book
L.T.C. Rolt (11 February 1910 – 9 May 1974) is perhaps best known for his engineering books, especially his biographies of engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford, but he also lived a truly fascinating life, with canals, cars and railways, and this Trilogy is his autobiography telling us, in his own words, his remarkable life, with his emphasis on the skills of craftsmen, which has made a deep impression on me.



Whilst he attended private school (Cheltenham College), he was not destined for the type of career that one might expect. He left, fairly abruptly, Cheltenham College, to work as an apprentice at first a small agricultural maintenance works in Pitchill where he maintained and drove various Fowler steam ploughing engines and other such steam apprautus used in the farming world, and writes of his fascinating 2 years there.

Then, more remarkably he continued his apprentice at Kerr Stuart in Stoke on Trent until the company collapsed, working first in the cacophony of the boiler workshops etc. building steam engines, then heavily involved in the first diesel powered lorries, as well as some early diesel locomotives (and on the Welsh Highland).

Then on to Perkins, then other rural workshops which are story themselves, then running his own garage. But then things change, and he spent 12 years living on Cressy (his 'design for living') on canals from late 1930s up to about 1949, seeing the last working barges, and the rapid decline of the canal system. He was the first person to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen canal in 10 years - an aqueduct which is now so well used. He writes a lot about his exploits around various canals, and the struggles to get around a then failed network, but he was also instumental in setting up the Inland Waterways Association after writing about canals in 'Narrow Boat'.

Then on to pioneer to preseve the first steam railway - the Talyllyn Railway - from 1950, running the line in 1951 and 1952, then on to writing and life 'on the bank'.

He travelled on now near forgotten railways such as the Glyn Valley Tramway (including a cab ride), Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway and so many other interesting stories, history in small workshops.

Skills of Craftsmen
But it is his interest in craftsmanship, the skills of craftsmen (and I include women equally here), and pride in their skills that resonates with me most of all. Craftsman skills are not learnt from a book, or an App on a phone, but are hard won through repeated practice, failing repeatedly until they get it right, and when they do, to a high repeated standard, it is the pride in those skills and abilities that are rewarding. He talks of his time at Kerr Stuart, and those boiler makers and fitters who made a hard job look easy through the skill and judgement, and the loss of identity when the firm came crashing down and all those jobs, and skills, were lost.

We might think that these skills are old fashioned and unnecessary in our 'modern' world of computers and computer controlled machines. But I disagree. These skills are even more important now because there are so few who posses them, relative to 50, 100 years ago, but they are necessary skills - not for the oft repeated assembly job of 'standard' items, like mass produced furniture items, but to make the bespoke items that are not available off the peg, and to keep the skills alive and working, to make a better quality, longer lasting items, that are made with care and love for someone to enjoy for ever - not the next few years, then fling it in the tip or charity shop. Things made to last that perform a function.

My only criticism of this book is that Rolt doesn't tell us more about this, because whilst he tells us stories, particularly in the rural workshops, and covers some details about the craftsmen skills, I would like to have heard more from him on this important aspect.

The Railways - Nation, Network & People (Simon Bradley)

This book is, as it's name implies, about the Nation, Network and above all else to mind my the People of the Railways and is a fascinating read whether you are interested in railways, history, or people. It isn't about engine numbers, value configurations or other overly technical detail that some might assume a book with the title 'Railways' might have. And as such it is a book I read once, and so impressed was I, that I read it again and got so much more of out of it the second time.

It is so interesting to read how what we expect has changed from the early railways to now. Now a days, no one would pay to travel across the country in an open truck with seats in the middle of winter, but that is what happened in the early days. And the 'extendibility' of people in worked for a company is another such change that has transpired.

Like it or not the Railways transformed our nation from a mainly local one to a national one, moving goods and people around in much larger numbers, and faster, than anyone could have imagined before.

This book is a big read (551 well written pages) and what I say hardly does it justice, but I'm tired, it has been a long day, and it is hard to sum this book up other than to say what I've said.

The Railways - Nation, Network & People (Simon Bradley)

This book is, as it's name implies, about the Nation, Network and above all else to mind my the People of the Railways and is a fascinating read whether you are interested in railways, history, or people. It isn't about engine numbers, value configurations or other overly technical detail that some might assume a book with the title 'Railways' might have. And as such it is a book I read once, and so impressed was I, that I read it again and got so much more of out of it the second time.

It is so interesting to read how what we expect has changed from the early railways to now. Now a days, no one would pay to travel across the country in an open truck with seats in the middle of winter, but that is what happened in the early days. And the 'extendibility' of people in worked for a company is another such change that has transpired.

Like it or not the Railways transformed our nation from a mainly local one to a national one, moving goods and people around in much larger numbers, and faster, than anyone could have imagined before.

This book is a big read (551 well written pages) and what I say hardly does it justice, but I'm tired, it has been a long day, and it is hard to sum this book up other than to say what I've said.


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Blog Categories: Inspiration & Books Reviews | Things we did | Wood Engraving Printmaking | My Coronavirus Story | All / Filter

All text, images and illustrations © Copyright David Rodgers 2020 unless stated otherwise. No copying in part or whole without written permission.

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All articles made are based on my own personal experience, and may not be suitable for everyone. They are not to be taken as formal advice; always seek personal professional advice before doing anything, especially if it is health related, or might affect your health.

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