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Book Awards

RCHS Transport History Book of the Year 2013

Sarah Spooner and Cup
Sarah Spooner is presented with the cup and cheque from David St John Thomas for the 2013 Transport History Book of the Year award (Photo: Tim Edmonds)

The presentation of the prizes for the Railway & Canal Historical Society’s annual book awards has become an important part of the AGM weekend each year. For 2013 the presentations took place on the evening of 3 May in the Legacy International Hotel, Preston.

The 2013 Canal Book of the Year and the overall winner of the Transport History Book of the Year is Sarah Spooner’s Sail and Storm - the Aylsham Navigation.

The judges described the book as “deserving recognition as a model of what can be achieved by collaborative research and well-edited writing". The book was produced to coincide with the centenary of the 1912 floods in Norfolk that effectively put an end to this canalised navigation of the river Bure. The minutes and account books of the Navigation provide the foundation of the story. There are several themes and the work of the multiple authors, members of the Aylsham Local History Society, was edited and pulled together by landscape historian Sarah Spooner of the Centre of East Anglian Studies, University of East Anglia. The silver cup and a cheque for £300 were presented by the society’s Vice President David St John Thomas, whose Charitable Trust provides the funding for the awards. Sarah also received the society’s framed certificate as winner of the 2013 Canal Book of the Year, presented by President Wendy Freer, and a further cheque for £300 from the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust. In her words of acceptance, Sarah paid tribute to the team she had worked with to produce what is more than an attractive local history. It is a welcome addition to canal histories nationally that will also boost tourist interest in the waterway history of that part of Norfolk.

Cliff Shepherd and Wendy
Cliff Shepherd with President Wendy Freer after receiving his framed certificate as winner of the Railway Book of the Year 2013 (Photo: Tim Edmonds)

The 2013 Railway Book of the Year is Cliff Shepherd’s Skinningrove Iron and Steel Works - its history, railways and locomotives, published by the Industrial Railway Society. It is a comprehensive account of an integrated industrial complex in North-East Yorkshire. The evenly-paced narrative starts with the geological and geographical context, the ironstone mines and collieries and the railway development that served them from the 1850s. Establishment of the ironworks is explained and the narrative then traces company changes through to the present day. While the internal railway and road transport system over the years is covered in detail, the book also records the relationship the steelworks had with the North Eastern Railway and its successors. This profusely illustrated, well-designed book is a fitting tribute to the author’s extensive primary research from the British Steel archives. Cliff Shepherd was present to receive his framed certificate from Wendy Freer and a cheque for £300 from David St John Thomas.

David Spaven and Julian Holland and Wendy Freers
Julian Holland and David Spaven receive their framed certificates from Wendy Freer for the winning Popular Transport Book of the Year 2013(Photo: Tim Edmonds)

This year an award was again made for Popular Transport Book of the Year. David Spaven’s and Julian Holland’s The Times Mapping the Railways was described by the judges as "a novel and seductive introduction to railway history that also offers much for the already-converted enthusiast". The book, published in full colour, is a self-contained history of the railways of the United Kingdom as portrayed by maps and plans that were made for a wide range of purposes. Almost every page offers the potential for further study and will draw the casual reader into many facets of railway history. Both joint authors were present to receive their certificates and a cheque each for £150.

What the book awards are about

The society is keen to encourage the writing of well-researched, interesting and readable books in the field of transport history, and the annual ’Book of the Year’ awards were started in 2004 to help achieve this. Each year the society presents special framed certificates to the authors of leading books in one or more categories: Railway, Canal, and Transport. The winners also receive cash awards from the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust (, thanks to our member David St John Thomas – author of numerous books himself and well-known as a founder of the David & Charles publishing house. He has also provided a silver cup to be held by the winner for a year.

How the winners are decided

The society’s Journal carries a substantial book review section and eligible books are those on transport subjects that receive the best reviews in this. Currently there are some further qualifications. For example, books must be serious historical works based on original research, with subject matter primarily from the British Isles. Although quality of writing is important, reference works are also eligible and subject to appropriate assessment. The shortlisted books are considered by a panel of judges drawn from the membership of the society and the winners are announced at a ceremony at the society’s AGM in May each year.

If you are an author or publisher of books on transport subjects that you wish to be considered for an award, then please submit copies to the Journal for review. Books reviewed in the society’s Journal in 2013 and March 2014 are eligible for the 2014 awards; please contact the Book Review Editor ( for more information. If you would like to know more about the Book Awards scheme, please contact the Administrator (

How to enter books for the awards

Information about winners and finalists in previous years is on the winners’ page. Presentation of the 2014 awards will take place on the evening of Friday 2 May on the occasion of the Society’s AGM weekend which will be based at Newcastle upon Tyne.