News Blog

Keeping you up to date with what I am doing or have been doing, this page will be updated regularly. The snippets may direct you to other pages for more info, or may be self-contained. 

September 14 2020

When I posted this in June I thought there was a chance for me to find out if anyone actually reads this stuff. The picture, right, shows the only surviving gas tramcar in Britain, operated by Neath Corporation into the 1920s and restored in the 1980s after spending many years being used as a garden shed. The gas tram was fuelled by 'town gas' supplied by the local Neath Gasworks. Sadly, the tram's engine – which would have either been built by Nicolaus Otto in Deutz in Germany or, more likely, by Crossley Brothers in Manchester – is long gone. The invention of the gas tram was claimed and patented by several engineers in the 1880s and 90s. One of them was Carl Lührig whose first British patent in 1891 suggested a compact German 'Blessing' gas engine could be used . My question was – has anyone come across a reference, or better still an illustration, of such an engine? If so, please get in touch with me. 

April 17 2020

Today sees the publication of the May-July issue of Scottish Islands Explorer, with my article on the island of Mousa featured on the cover. What a change two years can make – it is almost that length of time since we explored the island, and this year all we can do is sit at home and remember that experience. This is the second issue of the magazine to which I have contributed an article and the cover picture – the March/April issue included my article on The Tomb of the Eagles on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay. For August/September I have been exploring the geology of the island volcanoes which, millennia ago, created the Scotland we know today.

April 10 2020

One of three articles of mine which appear in the May issue of Vintage Spirit, out today, is built around a combination of two VE Day stories to mark the 75th anniversary of that event. One is the scuttling of the German submarine U-534, complete with its Enigma machine, the other the story of my late aunt's work as a cryptographer in 'Hut 6' at Bletchley Park, decoding messages intercepted from Enigma machines. One of the other two articles tells the story of a terrible mill accident in Trowbridge in 1815; the other explores the story of light railways and the Colonel Stephens Museum at Tenterden Town Station on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

March 20 2020

Just when I thought my health was returning to a level where I could get out with the camera, along comes coronavirus to put the mockers on such plans. Understandably, my publishers' plans are on hold as well, so Among These Dark Satanic Mills and The Governor are unlikely to appear in print any time soon. At least I had already planned for 2020 to be a quieter year than usual – I ended my 18-year association with Scotland Magazine at the start of the year, transferring my Scottish focus to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine – my first piece for them was published this month – while maintaining my writing for Vintage Spirit. Luckily I got a lot of the photography for 'future projects' done last autumn – including this view of Abraham Darby III's restored Iron Bridge at Ironbridge – the world's first all metal bridge. That will someday feature in a project when life gets back to normal.

December 20 2019

Sometimes the most unexpected good news follows on from unexpected bad news. Just got out of hospital last night after another heart scare, and today Pen & Sword Books have confirmed that The Governor – controlling the power of steam machines will become the second book of mine to be published under their imprint. Working on the book started in mid 2018 and has taken up most of this year. Preparing it for publication will keep me busy well into 2020, with publication probably in early 2021. What an excellent pre-Christmas present. The research for this book has rewritten much of the story of the development and manufacture of engine governors – devices which were amongst the world's first automated control systems.

November 24 2019

What will probably be the last photographic outing of the year as places shut down for the winter, was a trip up to the Didcot Railway Centre to see the GWR's 4-6-0 King Edward II, built at Swindon in 1930, and compare it with a photograph taken around 40 years ago (inset) of the same locomotive when it was still an abandoned wreck in the Woodham Brothers' scrapyard in Barry. Few people thought that wreck could ever be brought back to life, but it was, steaming for the first time in 2010 and now regularly seen doing what it was built to do. Indeed, when this picture was taken it had only recently returned from an extended visit to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

October 4 2019

Today's good news is that Among These Dark Satanic Mills, volume 4 of my Britain's Industrial Heritage series, has just been accepted for publication by Halsgrove and should be published next year. Completion of the project turned out to be a year later than originally anticipated, as a result of my health issues, but getting out with the camera and visiting dozens of heritage sites over the past few months which had previously escaped my attention has been a delight. Subjects include everything from industrial manufacture on a massive scale to the craftsmen who keep the skills of chain-making and nail-making alive. And I have had the pleasure of exploring some massive engines along the way.

September 9 2019

Just back from a couple of days in the Midlands, visiting Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch and re-visiting both the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley and Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge. These are the limekilns on a spur of the Dudley Canal round which the Black Country Museum has evolved. Also had a chance to photograph the recently refurbished Iron Bridge itself. Lovely weather for photography across a couple of really hectic days. But the 'main event' was being given access to all the steam engines at Blists Hill for a future Vintage Spirit article – some covered in years of dust – and adding a huge amount of information to my ever-growing database of British engine and governor makers.

September 1 2019

At last we have a publication date for the Transporter Bridges book – It will be published in hardback on 28 February 2020 by Pen & Sword Transport Books at £30 per copy and is already available for pre-order on Amazon. By the time it comes out, the project will have occupied nearly six years of my life and engaged me in some really fascinating research, some wonderful trips, and the chance to meet and talk to the engineers who keep the last of these amazing bridges operational. I have found myself taking pictures from some pretty hairy viewpoints, and doing stuff someone my age should have had more sense than even contemplate. Happy days!

June 29 2019

With the best will in the world, every so often, something goes wrong, and the fact that it was not my fault may be a blessing, but doesn't make it any less infuriating. This month it has happened with my article on the incised Neolithic 'cup and ring' markings on a  hillside above Cairnbaan at the top of Kintyre which is published in the July issue of Scotland Magazine, just out this weekend. The magazine has recently changed ownership, and someone – nobody has owned up yet – decided to retitle my article as 'Iron Age Discoveries'. That is not an auspicious start! The Neolithic period spanned a range from around 7000BC to about 2000BC, whereas the Iron Age didn't start in Europe until around 1200BC. The cup and ring markings date from around 5000 years ago – so about 2000 years before the Iron Age was even thought of! Not even close!

May 27 2019

You don't often see me with such a determined look on my face but, with lots of people watching, I didn't want to get it wrong. This is me, under instruction from the Bolton Steam Museum's Chief Engineer, Alan Ratcliffe, starting the 1915-built inverted vertical compound engine, built by Scott & Hodgson of Guide Bridge Ironworks, Manchester. The engine spent its working life at the Diamond Rope Works in Royton and is now beautifully restored back to working order in the museum. The late May Bank Holiday was one of the museum's steaming weekends, and I made a couple of trips photographing their collection of thirty-two working engines and their rich assortment of governors. Well worth a visit!  photograph: Duncan Hannavy

March 25 2019

The final proofs of The 1896 Light Railways Act arrived today, with the publishers' chosen cover. All is looking good and set fair for publication in mid-August. The picture on the cover shows a Southern Railways U Class 2-6-0 Mogul approaching Norden Station on the Swanage Railway in August 2018. Built in Brighton in 1926 as a 2-6-4 'River' or 'K' Class tank engine for the Southern, the locomotive was rebuilt two years later as a 2-6-0 Mogul. Withdrawn by BR in 1964, it spent 12 years in Woodham Brothers scrapyard in Barry before being rescued and restored at the Mid-Hants Railway. It is now regularly steamed on the Swanage Railway – known as the 'Purbeck Line' – in Dorset, running between Norden and Swanage via Corfe Castle. 

February 24 2019

A trip to Devon to get pictures for a couple of forthcoming magazine articles took in The Robey Trust's collection of early steam engines in Tavistock – fitted with a variety of governors – Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash, Finch Foundry brought back to life by the National Trust, and Agatha Christie's holiday retreat at Greenway overlooking the Dart estuary. The entire trip took place during those few days of brilliant weather in late February with warm temperatures and clear blue skies– better conditions for photography than we get on many a summer's day.


January 22nd 2019 

It was quite a surprise to discover that there is a rare steam engine almost on my doorstep! I first visited the Wadworth Brewery in Devizes some years ago when I was working for the now-defunct Wiltshire Magazine, but the engine was not part of the tour I was given at that time. It was built by George Adlam & Sons of Fishponds, Bristol, and installed in the brewery in 1900. Its working life came to an end in 1932 when electricity was installed – the blue electric motor can be seen at the top of the picture – and it stood idle until restored in 2004, since when it has been turned over only occasionally. The engine governor is of a surprisingly basic design for an engine of that vintage, a design which has much in common with James Watt's original governor in the late 18th century. Taken with my Canon 5D MkIV and 14mm lens.

January 1 2019 

What a great way to start the New Year – and get the camera out for the first time since my heart attack. A trip to Westonzoyland Pumping Station on the Somerset Levels, with all their engines in steam, and a beautiful day to boot, took my centrifugal governors project a few paces further on. The unusual governor on the 1886 single-cylinder engine, built locally by W & F Wills of Bridgwater, was a design I had never seen before. My thanks to the volunteers on site for all their help and advice. Seeing the 1861 Easton Amos Land Drainage Machine running is an awesome experience, well worth the journey on its own. The story of our visit – with plenty of pictures of course – appeared in the March issue of Vintage Spirit magazine less than six weeks later. Dinner in the Marco Pierre White restaurant at the Mercure Bridgwater was pretty impressive as well!

November 30 2018 

Contracts were signed this month for two new books, both of which are scheduled to appear in the second half of 2019 – my illustrated history of the world's transporter bridges, and a book about the 1896 Light Railways Act which accidentally gave birth to the heritage railway movement more than half a century after it became law. Transporter Bridges – an illustrated history will be published in hardback by Pen & Sword Transport Books, while The 1896 Light Railways Act – the law that made heritage railways possible will be published in softback by Amberley Books. These are my proposed covers – but of course the publishers may have quite different opinions.

November 1 2018 

Now slowly recovering from the heart attack in early September which has temporarily clipped my wings somewhat, my latest project, exploring the importance of the 1896 Light Railways Act which kick-started the modern heritage movement, has prompted me to digitise a whole load of images I took forty and more years ago. This is ex-LMS Jubilee 4-6-0 locomotive Galatea as a derelict scrapyard wreck with just about every salvagable part already removed. The hulk was rescued from Woodham Brothers' scrapyard in Barry in 1980, but was not rebuilt by West Coast Railways and returned to steam until five years ago.

August 22 2018 

Indulging my passion for anything power by steam, yet again, a run on the Mid-Hants Railway – the Watercress Line – seemed an ideal way to spend a pleasant August day. Two trains were running – one hauled by ex-Southern Railways 'Schools Class' No.925 4-4-0 'Cheltenham', the other by an Ivatt 2MT tank engine. In this view 'Cheltenham' has just arrived at Alresford Station.

July 13 2018 

Normally we get better weather in France than at home, but this year, of course, was the exception – the UK was just as hot. This is the ancient village church of Saint-Jean-de-Cole in the Dordogne, not far from our summer 2018 base at Villars. On the way there we re-visited work on the rebuilding of the Rochefort-sur-Mer transporter bridge to get some more pictures for my forthcoming book.

May 25 2018 

Just back from a week in the Shetland Islands where we were blessed with excellent weather for photography. Only one dull day – referred to as 'Jimmy Perez weather' in recognition of the dull dreich conditions under which the BBC films the Shetland tv series. Otherwise, clear crisp light, and some stunning scenery. The pictures will appear in the next two issues of Scotland Magazine.

January 1st 2018 

My article on Orkney's heritage, which was the reason behind our trip to the islands in July last year, is published over nine pages in the January issue of Scotland Magazine, out now. The article opens with this view of the famous rock stack, the Old Man of Hoy, reproduced across a double-page spread. The picture was taken on a Canon 5D MkIII with a 300mm lens from the deck of the Northlink Ferry MV Hamnavoe as we sailed towards Stromness. Good job I got the picture on the way north, as we returned south a week later in atrocious weather when the island of Hoy was almost invisible in the cloud and spray, with the boat rocking and rolling in the storm. We had, however, enjoyed a week of near-perfect weather for photography and exploring.

November 6th 2017 

A massive decision has been made – my renowned collection of Victorian photography and photographic ephemera is being put up for auction in the spring. The collection comprises, amongst other things, the largest collection of thermoplastic Union Cases in the UK – including many by John Smith, the only known British union case manufacturer – hundreds of cased and framed inages from the 1840s to the 1860s, a collection of Roger Fenton's Crimean War images, some of Francis Frith's views of the Nile Valley, and a rare Julia Margaret Cameron print titled 'Love'. Amongst the early daguerreotypes which will be included in the sale is a pair of very rare framed portraits by Berlin photographer Gustave Oehme – this one is identified as Louise Brause, the other is of her sister. Oehme is believed to have been taught the process by Daguerre himself. Daguerreotypes by Kilburn, Mayall, Claudet, and others, and a rare stereo daguerreotype showing the interior of the Great Hall of the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris are also to be sold. The sale will be held at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester.

October 12th 2017 

My feature on Clyde shipbuilding has just been published in the latest issue of  Scotland Magazine. Photography for the project was completed in early July with a visit to Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow, the only civilian shipyard still operational on the river, which was saved from closure by Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers Capital – seen here in front of the partly completed hull of the new CalMac ferry MV Glen Sannox. The vessel will be launched in November; her sister ship – to be known as MV Claymore – will follow in spring 2018. Some of the pictures for the article were taken from the top of a cherry-picker looking down on the two partly-built ships.

September 13th 2017 

Every one of our trips to France has to be punctuated with a few chateaux visits. The Chateau at Cormatin in Burgundy was one of this year's favourites. It has some of the most lavish ceilings in the region. This is the ceiling in the Gold Room. Much of the rest of our trip was spent visiting vineyards, and then sampling their creations back at our gite.

August 30th 2017 

We spent a wonderful day at Guédelon in Burgundy watching a rich and varied assortment of craftsmen working on the 'new' 13th century castle. Everything needed to build the castle is made on site, using only the techniques and tools which would have been available to mediaeval castle builders. Here the blacksmith is at work forging nails and other metalwork as the building work progresses.

July 22nd 2017 

We are now back after our journey to Orkney – a 1,700 mile round-trip taking pictures for future issues of both Scotland Magazine and Vintage Spirit. The weather was kind to us most of the way and the long list of subjects for my camera were all duly ticked off. This image is of the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm, built by Italian POWs at Camp 60 in the closing years of World War 2. The chapel, built out of two converted Nissen Huts,  has become one of the 'must visit' sites on the islands. Inside the prisoners created the painted illusion of a large ornate church. The building has since been restored on several occasions both by returning POWs and their children. Taken with a Canon 5D MkIII and 14mm f/2.8 lens.


June 19th 2017 

We finally made it to Middlesbrough and enjoyed a couple of visits to the Tees Transporter Bridge – one really sunny day, the other less so – and came away with all the pictures I need for that chapter of the book. Thanks to the bridge team for arranging 'access all areas' for us, and answering my many questions. Now the job of writing it all up can get underway. Plan A is to have the whole project completed by September. I shall miss it when it is finished! What will I do next, I wonder?

June 2nd 2017 

The Transporter Bridges project is progressing really well now that we are back from the mega-trip to Spain and France. Wonderful weather for photography came with us all the way, and we were aided and abetted by experts at each bridge we visited. Javier Goitia, Consultant Engineer on the Puente Bizkaia in Portugalete near Bilbao took the left-hand image of me just after I ventured through a small hatch to get outside the protected pedestrian walkway and take some close up images of the bridge's travelling frame as it passed just beneath the girder on which I was standing. The Nervión river seemed a long way below me! My favourite image of the bridge itself – as the gondola docked at Getxo/Las Arenas – will, I hope, eventually be used on the cover of the book.

April 28th 2017 

Five months down the line, I am now pretty much back to fighting fitness – a good job as we have a hectic few months ahead doing the photography for the Transporter Bridges book and for my regular commitments to Scotland Magazine. That will include trips to Spain and France, to the Orkney Islands, and to chronicle the building of CalMac's new ferries on the Clyde. This picture was one of a series taken in the garden to see if I was yet able to control the weight of the camera. I'm pleased to say the arm and shoulder proved up to the challenge. Watch out for further posts as these projects progress. Looks like we'll get a good apple crop this year.

January 8th 2017 

In late November I had a bad fall, severely breaking my right arm and shoulder, so have been somewhat out of circulation since then. Never one to sit idly watching daytime tv, I have become adept at typing with three fingers of my left hand – allowing me to keep up with my Scotland Magazine commitments – as well as working on a project which does not require trying to lift a camera. The resulting book, Edwardian Railways in Postcardsdraws on my extensive collection of cards to weave together the stories of both the Edwardian railway network and the postcard-collecting craze which swept Britain at the time. The book is organised on a regional basis, exploring the huge range of postcards available to travellers across Britain. Along the way, I have found myself expanding my industrial postcards collection, so another book might happen some day soon.

November 17th 2016 

The third volume of my Britain's Industrial Heritage series – due to be published in May 2017 by PiXZ/Halsgrove at £9.99 – has now been renamed Industries Which Made Britain Triumph. I am currently working my way through the page proofs. The book follows the same pattern as the first two volumes, with a very different but equally eclectic mix of subjects as the earlier volumes. This time the themes are Paper & Print, The Farming Industry, Roads & Bridges, Road Transport, Fairgrounds, China, Tiles and Glass, and Computers, Codebreakers and Communications. As with the earlier volumes, there is the expected and extensive gazetteer of places to visit across Great Britain.

September 28th 2016 

My latest book – Wigan Pier - The facts and fictions of an enduring Music-hall joke is published at last. First copies arrived yesterday and I will be signing books at the Wigan Model Railway Show this weekend. The book – 144 pages illustrated in colour throughout – is published by Lightmoor Press and is priced at £9.99. First critical reaction to it is very encouraging.  The last couple of months have been very busy both with getting the book ready for the printers and completing the photography for the third volume of my Britain's Industrial Heritage series. That book is now at the final checking stage and should be going to the publishers within the next month or so. This month also saw my article All Aboard Le Truffadou published in The Railway Magazine. The photography and research for that was completed during a recent trip to the Lot in France.

July 18th 2016 

This infra-red image of five ageing photographers was taken in Cheshire at Jodrell Bank's Discovery Centre and marked quite an occasion. The five photographers all completed their studies in photographic technology 50 years earlier at UMIST, Manchester, in July 1966. Yours truly is second from the left. The original group which started the course in 1963 numbered just twelve and the reunion brought together five of the six we managed to make contact with. Sadly a few are no longer with us. Some of us had not met since leaving UMIST! We don't plan to leave it another 50 years before repeating the event! Photo: David Ruaux

June 5th 2016

A fresh look for the website as summer approaches and the first change to the design for about three years. Over the next few weeks the picture galleries will be updated to reflect my recent work, but in the meantime the images in the slide shows have been made a bit bigger. Sadly, however, it all looks quite different on an iPad to a desktop computer as iPads still can't do Flash.

May 31st 2016

Just back from one of my trips to Scotland taking pictures and doing research for future Scotland Magazine articles, where I met up for lunch with an old school friend – last seen the day I left school 53 years ago – and he assured me that the sun has shone constantly in Scotland since the SNP came to government. Apart from one day, it seems he was right. Everyone and everything seemed to be out sunbathing, including a young common seal basking on rocks which gave us no more than a cursory glance as we made our way along the Fife Coastal Path.

April 26th 2016

While putting the finishing touches to my forthcoming Wigan Pier book, due out in September, I finally realised one of my early ambitions which was to have a stick of Wigan Pier rock on the Contents Page. This particular stick of rock, however, exists only on my computer and was realised with generous help from an unlikely source – the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing of the US Air Force at RAF Lakenheath. One of their photographers had taken a picture of three sticks of 'Southwold Pier' rock and  it had been posted on their website. With their permission, I downloaded the image and with a bit of judicious photoshopping, replaced 'Southwold' with 'Wigan'. The lettering was assembled from several other sticks of rock to look as authentic as possible. Keep it as our little secret, though, as I would hate anyone to think I had been cheating!

April 8th 2016

Local band The Cheverellites commissioned me to design and photograph the sleeve for their second CD Fire in the Night. The album is launched at a party tonight. The main image is of a storm gathering over the hills of Glencoe in Scotland. I wish them every success with the new album.

April 4th 2016

I have just got confirmation that my new book Wigan Pier - The facts and fictions of an enduring Music-hall joke will be published in early October by Lightmoor Press with a cover price of £9.99. The book explores the history of George Formby's mythical Wigan Pier as well as the small coal tippler on the banks of the Leeds Liverpool Canal which later became known as Wigan Pier. The legacies of both George Formbys – father and son – and George Orwell have coloured Wigan's history for a century and a quarter. 2016 is the probable 125th anniversaryn of George Formby's first stories about the seaside pier in the middle of industrial Lancashire, so what better time to publish a new book.

March 23rd 2016

The third book in my Britain's Industrial Heritage series will feature heavily on roads, bridges and road transport, so I have been exploring motor museums – taking in the Black Country Living Museum, the recently re-named British Motor Museum at Gaydon in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire's Cotswold Motor Museum, Glasgow's amazing Riverside Museum and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. Alongside this, I am currently gathering material for a feature on the early years of the Scottish motor industry for  Scotland Magazine, so have been especially interested in the '3 As' – Albion, Argyll and Arrol-Johnson – who were at the forefront of that industry. This image shows a rare Albion touring car from 1909 displayed at Gaydon.

March 15th 2016

It has been a busy month, with work on the new book progressing apace. So far, my travels have taken me to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, the Red House Glass Cone in Wordsley and the Iron Bridge at Ironbridge. My article on the Fakenham Gasworks Museum finally appeared in Vintage Spirit, and I have just completed a new piece for VS – In Search of Wigan Pier – which will hopefully appear around the time my new book on Wigan Pier is published later this year. More about that soon. The image, here, was taken during a glass-blowing demonstration at the Red House Glass Cone – the largest and most complete of the four surviving glass cones in Britain. A fascinating place and well worth a visit.

February 25th 2016

As can be seen from my March Picture of the Month, research visits for the third volume of my Britain's Industrial Heritage series of books is progressing apace. As well as visiting Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Compuing, both for the book and a forthcoming magazine feature on my late aunt's wartime work at Bletchley, our trip in late February included a day at Frogmore Paper Mill – the oldest mechanised paper mill in the world. Paper is still made there on a 110 year old machine. Frogmore's story will also feature in the new book, and in a forthcoming feature for Vintage Spirit.

January 20th 2016

It is just one of those things, but despite having lived in the south-west now for getting on for ten years, I had never seen the Clifton Suspension Bridge – Brunel's first bridge design, produced when he was only 24, but one he never saw to completion. It opened to traffic in 1864, five years after Brunel's early death. One of the chapters in the third volume of my Britain's Industrial Heritage series will look at 'Roads and Bridges', so that gap in my experience was filled today, one of the first truly sunny days of the year. The as-yet-untitled third volume should be complete by the end of the autumn and out some time early in 2017.


The Victorian Photographs of Dr. Thomas Keith and John Forbes White is still available from John Hannavy Publishing, the remaining hardback copies now reduced to half price, just £10.00 + P&P

To order a copy, use the Contacts page.


Transporter Bridges – an illustrated history was published in hardback and e-book on 03 February 2020 by Pen & Sword Transport Books. The hardback is priced at £30. Click on the book cover, below to log on to where you can see all of John Hannavy's currently available books. 

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