Ian Allan books

How it all started

Ian Allan had a passion for railways from an early age and planned for a career with the Southern Railway. However, in the summer of 1937 at the age of 15, he lost a leg in a camping accident with the Officers’ Training Corps. Although up and about trainspotting again on his bicycle within six weeks, this accident meant that he was technically unfit to take up a traffic apprenticeship with the company. Just two years later, in August 1939, he began his working life in the office of the General Manager of the Southern Railway at Waterloo Station as a Grade 5 clerk earning 15 shillings a week. This allowed him to pursue his boyhood enthusiasm for railways. Working in the publicity section, he helped plan advertising and excursions while fielding telephone inquiries from the public. Within a few months of joining however, the Second World War began and his work planning advertisements for excursions had to stop and he was moved to the publications department, where he began to learn how to organise the print and production of the Southern Railway magazine.

Recognising his all consuming interest in railway engines, locomotive classes and types of rolling stock, he was given the task of handling enquiries from the public. Many of these concerned details of Southern locomotives. To do this he was given a notebook listing engine numbers, their classes, names, and their shed allocations. Realising that there was a keen interest in this information he suggested that the company should publish the notebook. The suggestion was turned down and so he sought permission to publish his own booklet. Although frowned upon by Oliver Bulleid, the Southern’s chief mechanical engineer, the idea was supported by the railway’s chairman, Robert Holland-Martin, and permission was given, subject to it being at his own risk and expense. Placing a small classified advert in Railway World Magazine, he very soon had nearly 2,000 orders at a shilling each. A reprint with the new title of ABC of Southern Locomotives was quickly ordered, with the author’s credit of Ian Allan. It was published in December 1942, and so started the world famous series of ABC books. Books for the other three ‘Big Four’ Railway companies (LMS, LNER and GWR) followed, with the first GWR one being published in August 1943.

The popularity of the books was soon attracting the attention of book chains such as W.H.Smiths, and they started to appear at railway station bookstalls. In 1944 an incident made headlines in the national press when a group of schoolboy enthusiasts wandered on to the mainline track. Realising that a code of conduct was required, the Ian Allan Locospotters Club was formed, eventually attracting over 300,000 members from all parts of the country.

In late December 2016 Ian Allan Publishing sold its transport publishing division, which included its titles, the 'OPC' imprint and the 'abc' brand, to Crécy Publishing. The imprint name of 'Ian Allan' was retained however.

Here we feature those very popular Ian Allan GWR booklets from our collection. These include, of course, the well known 'ABC' spotters' books which fanned the enthusiasm for 'locospotting', and other contemporary booklets which covered GWR subject matter.


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'ABC' book series

We are hoping to collect the full set of GWR ABC booklets and those in our collection are pictured open. For completeness, the two missing ones are illustrated with a stock image of the front cover.

1st ABC edition

1st edition - August 1943

The ABC of Great Western Locomotives, 24 pages and priced at 1/3.

This first book was pretty basic, being compiled using the RCTS GWR book as a reference due to the GWR themselves being unable to assist owing to a shortage of staff. There was no list of running sheds and only one photograph was included, being that of 6000 King George V on page 10.


2nd ABC edition

2nd edition - October 1943

ABC of GWR Locomotives, 31 pages, now priced at 1/6.
'Printed by McCorquodale & Co. Ltd., London'

This is an enlarged and corrected version of the one from August and it now contained a list of locomotive running sheds with codes and some more photographs. A foreword dated October, 1943 and initialled I.A. acknowledges all the help received and looks forward to the possibility of it being officially checked after the war. The cover drawing of a 'King' Class 4-6-0 is signed Baldwin.

Inside the front cover is a reminder that 'Uniform with this book' are The ABC of Southern Locomotives (fully illustrated) price 1/6, The ABC of L.M.S. Locomotives (Fully illustrated and with diagrams) at 2/- and The ABC of Southern Electrics (Fully illustrated and with diagrams) for 1/-.

This 2nd edition was re-published in facsimile form in 1982 and again in 1983


3rd ABC edition

3rd edition - April 1944

The ABC of Great Western Locomotives, 41 numbered pages (including inside rear cover).
Printed by McCorquodale & Co. Ltd., London and published by I.Allan, 225-7, Laleham Road, Staines, Middlesex

Cover drawing of a 'King' Class 4-6-0 signed Baldwin.

Inside the front cover is a list of four books 'In The Same Series', being the ABCs of Southern (fully illustrated or spotters edition), L.M.S., and L.N.E.R. locomotives, and that of Southern Electrics, the prices ranging from 1/0, 1/6 to 2/0. Pages 40 and 41 (inside the rear cover) carry a table of principal dimensions of G.W.R. engines, but it is not indexed to the pages upon which they can be found.


4th ABC edition

4th edition - July 1944

The ABC of GWR Locomotives, 41 pages.

The cover features another drawing of a 'King' Class 4-6-0 by Baldwin.


5th ABC edition

5th edition - January 1945

The ABC of GWR Locomotives, 40 pages.
'Printed by McCorquodale & Co. Ltd., London' on poor quality paper.

A Baldwin drawing of a 'King' Class 4-6-0, similar to that on the 4th edition, features on the cover.

Inside the front cover is a list of editions to date and a reminder that '...copies cannot be supplied to individual customers BY THE PUBLISHERS but should be obtained through booksellers or from the following main distributors...'. There follows a list of seven distributors, which interestingly includes Bassett-Lowke Ltd. in Manchester. Inside the rear cover is a list of eight other books 'in the same series' which serves to illustrate the breadth of coverage already attained, as it even includes The Mackintosh Locomotives of the Caledonian Railway.


6th ABC edition

6th edition - October 1945

The ABC of GWR Locomotives, 48 pages.
Printed by 'Westminster Printing Works, 92-96 Vauxhall Bridge Road, S.W.1'

The cover drawing is now that of 'Castle' Class 4-6-0 5041 Tiverton Castle again signed Baldwin.

A list of eleven more books in the same series' is carried inside the front cover, together with ABC Wallets (covers for loco books with pencil holder), very handy at just 1/9. A note mentions that a 2 1⁄2d stamp should be enclosed with postal orders, but doesn't actually give an address to which orders should be sent. Inside the rear cover a series of six 'High Quality Colour Plates by BALDWIN' is advertised at 6d each plus 3d postage. Four of these are also available as 60-piece jig-saw puzzles (cardboard) at 2/6. The address is given simply as IAN ALLAN - STAINES.


7th ABC edition

7th edition - June 1946

The ABC of GWR Locomotives, 48 pages.
Printed by 'Westminster Printing Works, 92-96 Vauxhall Bridge Road, S.W.1'

Cover drawing again by Baldwin is of 'County' Class 4-6-0 1011 County of Chester.

The range of available items 'In the same series' listed inside the front cover has greatly expanded to include not only books, but Colour Plates of Famous Engines, Real photo Postcards of Trains, and even a guide and timetable for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The rear cover list in more detail the available post cards, advertises two bi-monthly continental magazines available from Ian Allan Ltd., and a book about the Southern Railway in War Time. It gives the postal address of the Ian Allan shop at 282 Vauxhall Bridge Road, S.W.1.


8th ABC edition

8th edition - December 1946

The ABC of GWR Locomotives, 48 pages.
'Printed by: Bushey Mead Press (T.U.) 492 Kingston Road, Raynes Park, S.W.20'

The cover drawing, whilst being very similar to those of previous editions, appears to be signed W.G.Eaton and shows 'Castle' Class 4-6-0 5077 Fairey Battle.

Things have moved on somewhat since the last edition as the front cover carries a list of twenty different publications, colour plates, real photo postcards and photogravure postcards. In addition to the Ian Allan address at Vauxhall Bridge Road, the address of a new mail order department is given as 33, Knollys Road, Streatham, S.W.1. The rear cover highlights the fact that an American, a French, a Belgian, and a Spanish railway magazine are all available, and includes the notice 'LOCOSPOTTERS We will be pleased to see you at our shop at:- 282, Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, S.W.1. near Victoria Station'.


9th ABC edition

9th edition - June 1947

ABC of GWR Locomotives, 48 pages.
'Printed in Great Britain in the City of St. Alban by Gibbs & Bamforth Ltd.' The quality of card covers and paper has now much improved with this particular edition.

Initially printed wrongly as the 6th edition in the frontispiece text.
A copy of one of which is in our collection

A second printing corrected this to read 9th edition, but with no other known changes. The cover drawing of 'King' Class 4-6-0 6028 King George VI alongside 2301 Class 0-6-0 2309, is unsigned, but is thought to be by A.N.Wolstenholme.

The front cover in this edition states that 'For the first time ever -' the Railway Clearing House maps are to be published in the November, and urging customers to use the Mail Order service whose address in Streatham is printed at the foot of the page. The new book Studies in Steam is advertised to the rear as being 'Unquestionably the finest publication devoted to railway photographic art ever produced at so reasonable a price'. Again, the mail order address is printed at the foot of the page. For the first time, the outside of the back cover carries an advert which simply states 'You must get a copy of Titans of the Track = G.W.R. = price 1/6'. Also seen for the first time in this series of books is a logo showing the Houses of Parliament in silhouette and the words 'Published in the City of Westminster by Ian Allan Ltd.'.


10th ABC edition

10th edition - October 1947

abc - GWR locomotives, 48 numbered pages, increased in price to two shillings.
Printed in Great Britain in the City of St. Alban by Gibbs & Bamforth Ltd.

This edition is incorrectly marked as being the 7th edition on the frontispiece, and for the first time the 'ABC' of the title now appears in lower case rather than capital letters. This is the last pre-nationalisation edition. The cover drawing is believed to be by A.N.Wolstenholme and shows 'County' Class 4-6-0 1019 County of Merioneth. There are two known variations of cover for this book, the more common being this dark green one in our collection, and a rare brighter green version.

The booklet carries no advertisements whatsoever with the inside front cover being devoted to a list of running sheds and their codes. Both the inside and outside of the back cover are used to list the principal dimensions of G.W.R. engines indexed to the page upon which they can be found. The introduction is initialled B.W.A.


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Titans of the Track series

Whilst this series of booklets bears the endorsement ABC Locomotive Series they are not 'spotters' books containing lists which can be ticked off. The format is landscape, but the same overall size as the ABC booklets, and they are more informative with longer introductions covering history and background. Each booklet contains many full page (although the pages are still 'pocket sized') photographs of engines from a number of contributors.

Titans of the Track 1945 edition

GWR - Published in 1945

Introduction by A.B.M.
photographs by M.W.Earley

'Printed by Edwin Jones & Sons (London) Limited' and 'Published by Ian Allan, Stianes - to whom all enquiries and applications must be made'
32 (un-numbered) pages, priced 1/6.

According to the introduction, this is the first booklet in this series to deal purely with the Great Western Railway.

The cover bears a photograph of 'King' class 6027 King Richard 1. The frontispiece shows the 'Cheltenham Flyer' at speed, this particular image being attributed as an official G.W.R. picture. The last page carries a list of other ABC and Titans of the Track booklets amongst others, one of which Titled Trains of Great Britan is temptingly announced as being 'To be ready by Christmas'.


Titans of the Track 1946 edition

GWR - Published in 1946

Introduction by Cecil J.Allen
photographs by H.C.Casserley, M.W.Earley, N.F.Ingram and H.M.Madgwick

'Printed by Edwin Jones & Sons (London) Limited'
32 pages, priced 1/6.

Although this edition is undated, the text makes reference to the 'Castle' class of locomotive '...that in 1946, 23 years after the first examples were produced, the G.W.R. is still building them...', so it may be inferred that this booklet was published in 1946. The cover caries a photograph of 'King' class 6010 King Charles 1.

Inside the front cover many other books 'Now Available' are listed, including several in the ABC and Titans of the Track series, whilst the advert inside the rear cover lists some future publications.


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Other booklets of GWR interest

My best railwa photographs - No 3

My Best Railway Photographs - No.3

G.W. & Southern - Published in 1946

Written and photographed by Maurice W.Earley

'Printed in the City of St.Alban by Gibbs & Bamforth, Ltd.'
32 pages, priced 1/6.

This is another booklet bearing the endorsement ABC Locomotive Series, and is of the same landscape format as theTitans of the Track booklets, although slightly larger. Other than four pages of introduction, each page features a full page photograph of mainly GWR trains or locomotives taken at various locations. The nearest one to Culham is that of 'Eaton Hall' passing Kennington with an up express bound for Paddington in September 1937.

The inside of the front cover carries an advert for Trains Illustrated edition number 4, which gives the mail order department as being at '33 Knolly's Road, Streatham, S.W.16' and also bears the address of the shop on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Inside the rear cover is an interesting table detailing the date on which each photograph was taken, the camera and plate or film used, the shutter speed and f stop, and the nagative size.The cameras used must have been quite bulky as the negatives are all either 5"x4", or the metric equivalent of 9x12cm.


My best railwa photographs - No 6

My Best Railway Photographs - No.6

Southern & GWR - Published in 1948

Written and photographed by S.C.Townroe

'Printed by H.O.Lloyd & Co., Ltd., London, N.1'
32 pages, priced 1/6.

As implied by the title, this booklet is predominantly Southern in content, although it does contain a few interesting Great Western subjects.

The inside of the front cover carries an advert for Studies in Steam and The Book of the Schools Class which is another work by S.C.Townroe. Inside the rear cover is advertised 'For the First Time Ever' a book containing The Railway Clearing House Maps of England, Wales, Scotland in six colours and priced at 7/6.


Locomotive engineers of the GWR

Locomotive Engineers series

Locomotive Engineers of the GWR - Published in 1946

Written by Ben Webb

'Printed by H.O.Lloyd & Co., Ltd. London, N.1.'
29 numbered pages, priced one shilling.

This fairly thin but interesting booklet documents, as the title suggests, the working lives and achievements of the Chief Mechanical Engineers of the GWR. These were given as being Daniel Gooch (1837-1864), Joseph Armstrong (1864-1877), William Dean (1877-1902), G.J.Churchward (1902-1921), C.B.Collett (1921-1941) and F.W.Hawksworth (1941- ). Possibly in an attempt to fill it up a bit, a sketch map of the Great Western Railway is included as a double page centre spread. The final page and inside both the front and back covers carry several advertisements for other Ian Allan pubications, notably two which cover the Southern Railway (Ian Allan's passion) in wartime. Ian Allan locations (presumably shops) are given as London, Streatham, Woking and Croydon.


Famous locos - No5

Famous locomotive types series - No.5

Kings and Castles of the G.W.R - Published in March 1949

Written by O.S.Nock

'Printed in Great Britain in the City of St. Albans by Gibbs and Bamforth Ltd.'
72 pages, priced three shillings and sixpence.

This is the only booklet in the series to deal with Great Western locomotives. As may be expected, this comprehensive book contains much historical, technical and operational information including diagrams of 'King' and 'Castle' footplates and side views with principal dimensions. The book is also illustrated by thirty six photographs. The final page, inside the front cover, and both inside and outside the back cover carry several advertisements for other Ian Allan pubications.