Even today, over 50 years after the last scheduled service was hauled by a steam locomotive in Britain, many people's abiding image of rail travel comes from that age of steam, a romantic view of big muscular locomotives, belching clouds of steam and smoke, hauling long, snaking trains through picturesque countryside to the sound of the great chuffing from the engine, the thunder of the wheels on the rails and the haunting notes of the whistle. All this, and the fact that engines came in so many different shapes and sizes, conspired to give steam locomotives personalities of their own, to make them seem almost as if they were alive - quite different from today's super-efficient, quiet, clean and anonymous electric trains.
Britain's railway system is the oldest in the world, and British engineers pioneered the development of the steam locomotive along with iron and steel rails that permitted rapid expansion. They were pivotal in the worldwide adoption of railways, and steam became the driving force of industrial expansion in the 19th century.
As the years passed, steam locomotives became ever more powerful and efficient, culminating in the record run of the LNER locomotive Mallard, which attained a speed of 126mph in 1938. In those days, before air travel became commonplace, steam railways were the crucial link to the coastal ports and the Continent, the USA and the world. Royalty, politicians and celebrities could be seen at London's Victoria station boarding luxurious boat trains pulled by gleaming, streamlined steam locomotives. Travel then was an exciting adventure, and the steam train was where the adventure began.
In this book, approximately 250 photographs from the vast archives of Mirrorpix provide a nostalgic and fascinating look back at the age of steam, from its heyday of the early 20th century to its demise in the 1950s and 1960s, and subsequent resurrection through the work of the many railway preservation groups.