Books on Snowdon Mountain Railway

The earliest book connected to the Snowdon Mountain Railway appears to be have been printed in the 1890’s and entitled Snowdon and the Snowdon Railway. It was set out in landscape format/foolscap size ( similar to today’s A4.) The engine depicted on the cover was no less than a 0-6-0 tank as those found on the main line railways! The book consisted of a short introductory text and twelve photographs. The text clearly refuted that anything untowards happened in April 1896 (the first operational day’s disaster) clearly an attempt to put passenger’s minds at ease. A picture of the 1897 book can be seen on page 45 of ‘Snowdon Mountain Railway’ by Peter Johnson.

Over the next few years The Snowdon Mountain Tramroad book was published, consisting of about 18 pages, half of which were about the railway and the rest advertising. It was a pocket handbook in portrait format and roughly the size of today’s A5 standard. A very great emphasis was put on the safety record of mountain railways. The book gave the prices of early fares too – these were Five shillings for a return. An up single was Three shillings and sixpence whilst a down single was Two shillings and sixpence. Later editions spoke glowingly of ambitious plans for a twenty bedroom hotel, with entertaining rooms and a spacious refreshment room. This never came to fruitition, however a much smaller version was built and this lasted until 1935.


One of the next major publications was “28 gravure reproductions from camera studies illustrating the grandeur of Snowdonia” and published for the Snowdon Mountain Railway by Photochrom in 1929. Part of the cover is shown above. Half of the photographs were of the railway whilst the rest were of features around Snowdonia. Little was said in the way of the railway itself and a large map at the rear showed the way from London to Snowdonia. A roundel picture of Shakespeare was accompained by text urging tourists to spend time visiting the birthplace of the Bard en-route to Llanberis and the Snowdon Mountain Railway!

Little is known of the other Snowdon Mountain Railway publications until recent times. The market for railway enthusiasts has fared better with a substantial number of publications – that first began with Ian Allan’s offering in the 1950’s.

An Argo Transacord EP disc featuring the sounds of the Snowdon Mountain Railway was produced in 1963. The sleeve is shown below. One strange thing about this EP is the image used was at least 40 years old, since it features semaphore signals at Clogwyn. These had been removed in the early 1920’s.

Argo Transacord EP 1963/4

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1st book: The Snowdon Mountain Railway. Ian Allan Publishing. Published editions from the 1950’s to 1970’s. The author for the first two was Owen James Morris. The first edition was published in 1951, the second in 1960. P. Ransome-Wallis took up the authorship from the third (1964) edition onwards. Click to see excerpts from the 1969 edition

2nd book: The Way to the Stars by Keith Turner. David & Charles PLC; 1973 (ISBN-10: 0715358758) No picture available.

3rd book: Snowdon mountain railway travelogue: a description of the ascent of Snowdon by the mountain railway by Peter Crew. Published by the Snowdon Mountain Railway Limited, 1979. No picture available.

4th book: Snowdonia and the Snowdon Mountain Railway: a portrait in old picture postcards by Glynn D. Parry. S.B. Publications; 1991. (ISBN 1870708822) No picture available.

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5th book: Three stops to the summit by Rol Williams. Published in the 1990’s by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch . A revised edition emerged in 1997 (ISBN 9780863814334).

6th book: Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis by Norman Jones. Foxline Publishing; 1997.

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7th Book: The Snowdon Mountain Railway by Keith Turner. Arcadia Publishing 2001 (ISBN 10: 0752417487)
8th book: The Way to the Stars by Keith Turner (new revised and renamed edition) Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2007

The latest Snowdon Mountain Railway’s publication is this attractive booklet:


Despite being described as a brochure, the contents offer far more than some of the SMR’s other books! The Snowdon Mountain Railway Souvenir brochure contains lots of pages of pictures of the railway, many not seen in any of the other publications, as well as a quite detailed history. Centrefold pages open out into a panorama of views from the summit.

An illustrated history of the Snowdon Mountain Railway by Peter Johnson, is the most comprehensive available. It has splendid illustrations and offers many new insights into a subject whose historical sources are scarce.

A short review of the 2010 book by Peter Johnson:
Purchasing a copy and reading the book for the first time (instead of just thumbing through it) left me with a satisfaction that I had learnt so much more about this unique railway. For example the diagrams drawn by Abt himself related the story of the fateful opening in 1896, the warnings that track construction standards were poor and uneven transitions between the different gradients tells us why LADAS jumped the rails.

Shots of the original summit station and interior of the 1935 summit building were a pleasure to view. The aerial photograph of a gigantic nissen hut upon the station tracks at the summit during WWII had me puzzled. Whatever on earth were the military playing at up there? Several pictures showing Llanberis station in the 1960’s were just as I remember it myself, especially that controllers cabin stood in the centre of the departure platform!

Errors, of which a number were unfortunately apparent, were found. Amongst them is an unintelligible sentence on page 32, whilst a caption on page 56 says “visitors enjoy the vista from the roof of the 1953 summit building in 1936.” Puzzled?

Inconsistencies in the story of the 1896 disaster tell us it began 100yards above Clogwyn, yet photographs show it to be far in excess of this. Later the distance is revealed as being a quarter of a mile (pages 28-30.)

Bottom of page 99 the picture is said to be of a train near Halfway when in fact it is above Clogwyn Goch. Pages 57/8 state that height posts were not installed along the SMR as surveys found just one at Waterfall. Height posts were most definitely installed, there are photographs showing these alongside the line’s steeper stretches up to the summit.

Peter Johnson’s book is a suitably worthy addition to any home library, especially for those with an interest in mountain railways.

The Book Depository offers around 50% less than in-store prices.

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