Reviews of John Hannavy's books

The Gas Tramcar – an idea ahead of its time

"The gas tramcar's hitherto neglected status is corrected in this splendid book which is not just about gas-powered trams, but with impressive research is, in this reviewer's opinion, a thorough and accurate background history setting out in detail the development, causes, successes and failures of what was happening in the early days of street tramways, both in this country and abroad. It is to be applauded that a book about the gas tram is not merely a description of the cars themselves but of what made them possible which was the necessary generation of town gas which is accurately set out.... It is a superb book, being a painstaking and comprehensive overview of early tramway developments... It will surely become the established reference for its subject. It is highly recommended." (Ashley Birch, Tramfare magazine, January 2023)


"Original in scope, well researched, attractively presented and backed up with details of patents and a bibliography, the previously obscure gas tramcar now has an excellent history well up to the standard set by the author’s earlier books on transporter bridges and governors". (Roger Backhouse, Journal of the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers, February 2023)

The Governor – Controlling the Power of Steam Machines

"This is a beautiful well-produced book that any engineering-minded person will be proud to own. It traces the story of attempts to get the speed of steam engines and other machinery under control... ...The book is lavishly illustrated with many beautiful photographs of some of the author's favourite machines... ...I found this a gloriously well-produced book which I devoured enthusiastically! I commend it to anyone with a serious interest in mechanical engineering. Richard Gibbon, OBE CEng FIMechE, former Head of Engineering, National Railway Museum.


"Sometimes a book is original in concept, well researched and beautifully illustrated. This is such a work, following the author's excellent book Transporter Bridges –- an illustrated history, from the same publishers in 2020. The governor is near essential on a steam engine, its purpose is more than simply regulating speed... ...The author has [also] researched patents for governors – there were many – and offers a thorough list of places where governors can be seen, so this is a good guide to industrial history. Taking clear pictures of heritage machinery is not easy but the photographs throughout this book are superb. A book to be recommended. (Roger Backhouse, The Model Engineer, February 2022).

The Victorian Photographs of Dr. Thomas Keith and John Forbes White

"John Hannavy is still the principal champion of Thomas Keith and his brother-in-law John Forbes White. Nobody knows them better. He gives us a thorough account of their family backgrounds and the photo-historical context, as well as the technical challenges which they, as amateurs, faced. The landscape format Hannavy employs for the book is interesting and adds to its value. It allows many of the images to have, immediately beside them, not only captions but smaller reproductions of the relevant negatives or related images. The quality of the reproduction is consistently very good and the text well organised, clear and accessible. Hannavy's will not be the last word on Keith and White, and while there is no such things as a definitive account of the life, times and achievements of such important photographers, whatever is written subsequently cannot but reference Hannavy's important contribution as manifested in this book, surely a most welcome addition to the photohistorian's shelves." (David Bruce, The PhotoHistorian, Winter 2016)

Wigan Pier – the facts and fictions of an enduring Music-Hall joke

"My appraisal of the book is brief – It's a GEM" (Jack Winstanley former Editor, Wigan Observer)

"Peppered with photographs and with many tales to tell, this magnificently researched book is informing, enthralling, and has many elements of fun. It's true, Wigan Pier is the central theme of the book, but John has delved far deeper than those few acres at the bottom of Wallgate where today the pier buildings lie empty. Stories and anecdotes jump from almost every page. One tells how top officials of Wigan Borough Council years ago tried to persuade writers "not to mention the pier" because it had made the town a laughing stock." (Geoffrey Shryhane, Wigan Observer, October 2016.)

The once-ubiquitous Paddle Steamer

"This book does not set out to be a comprehensive history of the paddle steamer. Rather it offers a series of snapshots of the fascinating story and enduring charm of paddlers over the past two hundred years, profusely illustrated by nostalgic historic images and the author's own superb photography. This is a delightful book and I would highly recommend this book to our readers." (Ian Lawrence, Shipping Today and YesterdayFebruary 2016)

Britain's Industrial Heritage

"When it comes to nostalgia there are those dedicated individuals whose prctical input ensures we have something tangible to admire – while others devote their time to helping spread the word. John Hannavy is one of the latter. A photographic historian and author, he takes his camera off on fascinating jaunts to capture the remaining wonders of our industrial heritage. This abiding interest has not only enriched his own life, but his endeavours provide enlightment for the rest of us. John's latest book Britain's Industrial Heritage is a handbook and gazetteer to guide the reader around the most interesting locations in the country, from Cornwall to Scotland. The message is clear – the more you look the more you realise that, while a lot has been lost, there is still a lot to be found. His chapters embrace success stories from canals, mills, mining, railways and shipping to windmills and waterwheels. The text takes the reader from the general to the particular – all written with the author's infectious enthusiasm." Roger Malone, Western Morning News, November 3rd 2015.

Edwardian Mining in Old Postcards

"Writer, photographer and photographic historian John Hannavy's enthusiasm for his subject has led him to bring out Edwardian Mining in Old Postcards. Engaging and informative, it throws considerable light on a way of life full of hardship and hazard. John's knowledge, both of the miners' lot and the postcards that depicted it, gives the reader an invaluable and accessible insight into this long-forgotten world." (Roger Malone, Western Morning NewsNovember 2013)

The Way We Were

"The Way We Were sets out to explore people, places, lifestyle, employment and leisure pursuits, which together made Victorian and Edwardian Scotland the place it was. ... Hannavy offers an extensive visual collection in excess of 200 pictures, and provides text that brings these beautiful images and the people within them to life. Whether read from cover-to-cover or dipped into at random, this book is certain to have wide appeal". (Jordan Sadiq, History Scotland, November/December issue 2013)

We are all conditioned to seeing the world around us in colour. For many of us, especially those born after black and white TVs became museum pieces,'monochrome' seems to equate to 'inaccessibly distant in time', and suddenly the places depicted seem less real and the people much harder to relate to. The Way We Were: Victorian and Edwardian Scotland in Colour by John Hannavy seeks to overcome this barrier by using, as the title suggests, colour pictures of Victorian and Edwardian Scotland to bring the places and people of the era to life. As the author acknowledges in his introduction, the legacy of our Victorian ancestors is largely in a range of shades of sepia, butas the 1800s became the early 1900s it was increasingly common to find photographs being hand-tinted, and printed using colour lithographic techniques. This book accordingly comprises a series of collections of images in both sepia and full colour. The quality of the images that emerged from the early colouring processes varies significantly. Some are fairly crude, but others are amazing pieces of work that could easily pass for a colour photograph. The key question is this: does this approach overcome the barrier to the past described above? The answer is: yes, it does. Pictures of things and places have an immediacy that is difficult to gain from a monochrome image. And pictures of people given the same colour treatment bring them back to life in a remarkable way." (

Preserved Steam-powered Machines

"Hannavy has clearly spent a good proportion of his adult life as a hands-on enthusiast. The book is superbly written with clear and precise information complemented by beautiful images, most of which are taken by Hannavy himself. In keeping with the idea of getting enthusiasts out to places of restoration and preservation, the author has produced an exhaustive list of sites, events and rallies at the back of the book with contact details. This is a wonderful book written by a man with a real passion for preservation. If you share that passion, you'd do well to pick up a copy."(Richard Murphy, Vintage SpiritDecember 2012)

Scotland's Heritage

"Scotland's Heritage by John Hannavy is a lovely book that works well on a number of different levels. At one level it offers the casual browser a superb collection on photographs of many of the most interesting corners of this wonderful country of ours. Simply judged as a book of photographs, this is a book that continues to delight as you delve deeper: not least because of the range of subject matter on offer. It's certainly one we'd strongly recommend to anyone wanting a feel for the sheer range of what the country has to offer. But what John Hannavy has produced is far more than just another book of photographs of Scotland. His approach has been to take a series of themes, and cover each in turn with a chapter that combines his outstanding photography with highly informative captions and a linking text which sets out the background and draws the strands together. The result is a combination of the author's own words with quotes from the likes of William Camden from the 1500s, Thomas Pennant, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (of course) from the 1700s, and H. V. Morton from the last century. In each case the author's choice of subject matter is fascinating, ranging from obvious subjects that really  need to be included, through to quirky and unexpected inclusions which add greatly to the appeal." ( July 2012)


"This book is a photographic journey that sets out to explore Scotland's evolution from 4000BC to the present day. The stunning pictures and interesting narrative make an engaging read that could only have been bettered by higher quality printing and paper, which would have more accurately displayed the delightful details of these stunning photos." (Scottish Field, October 2012)

The Gas Tramcar – an idea ahead of its time is published in hardback by Pen & Sword Transport, price £35.00


The last few copies of The Victorian Photographs of Dr Thomas Keith and John Forbes White are available in hardback direct from the author at half price – £10 plus P&P. Use Contacts Page to order.

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All images and text © John Hannavy