I spotted this obituary in the Daily Telegraph. In the UK and for those of my generation, Ian Allan was synonymous with train spotting books and quality transport books. Certainly in my teens and early twenties, Ian Allen was THE transport publisher – we don’t often think how lucky we are today with so many excellent and often very specialised books. I had plenty of both. I got rid of my spotters guides – perhaps I shouldn’t, but all they showed was that I was too young to see much steam in day-to-day service. I have still got some of my early Ian Allan photo albums, including my first, ‘Southern Steam’.
Reading this obituary, I learnt a lot about the man, including….
Ian Allan, who has died the day before his 93rd birthday, triggered the post-war explosion of trainspotting as a British pastime by publishing the first booklet of engine numbers in 1942 and starting a club which had 230,000 members by the time steam gave way to diesel. He diversified the business to embrace magazines, bookshops, a travel agency, a Masonic publisher, a printing business, organic garden supplies, commercial property and car dealerships…..
At 15 Ian lost a leg following a camping accident during exercises with the OTC, and this seemed to limit his career opportunities. Already a railway enthusiast (and regular visitor to the signal box at Christ’s Hospital station), he left school when war broke out to join the Southern’s staff at Waterloo. He helped to produce the company’s magazine and handle enquiries from the public – and increasingly from enthusiasts…..
Allan was 20, and a 15s-a-week clerk with the Southern Railway, when he published the ABC of Southern Railway Locomotives in response to calls from enthusiasts for information. Management declined to publish it, but allowed Allan to do so at his own risk.
The first 2,000 copies of the shilling booklet sold out in days. Further ABCs on the Great Western, LNER and LMS railways, and London buses, trams and trolleybuses, went like hot cakes, friends and neighbours helping to distribute them.
It had not occurred to Allan that “bagging” the locomotives he listed would take off as a hobby. But within weeks, knots of schoolboys armed with his booklet appeared at the end of station platforms, and in 1943 he and his colleague (and future wife) Mollie Franklin launched the Ian Allan Loco-spotters’ Club….
Spotters had to sign a pledge “not to interfere with railway working or trespass on railway property” on pain of expulsion from the club. In the deferential post-war years it was largely adhered to – though unruly scenes on Preston station in 1951 led to spotters being banned there. By 1964, however, Allan was lamenting that “mods and rockers” had infiltrated the club.
Finally, the article included this delightful picture of trainspotting, 1950 style. It’s also an interesting socially commentary. Look at the school uniforms. All urchins are in uniform, and a number of schools seem to be represented. Not so many years later, they’d all be kicking lumps out of each other, and all the caps would be thrown on the track. A good time in some ways – but how many of these kids were living near the poverty line, with an outside toilet and a weekly bath in a tin tub?