James Boyd

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
(Redirected from Boyd)
James Boyd
Born 31 March 1921
Died 20 February 2009
Occupation Author and historian
Wikipedia entry James Boyd
FR People | WHR People

James Ian Craig Boyd (1921-2009) was the pioneer historian of the Welsh narrow gauge. He was also involved in early efforts to revive both the Festiniog Railway and Talyllyn Railway. Later he wrote a large number of books on the subject of narrow gauge railways.[1]

Early life[edit]

The great-grandson of a railway civil engineer, his family was also connected with the Scottish textile machinery industry; other branches were in the Church, the law, medicine and teaching. He ran the family clothing textile business in Manchester.

Boyd was introduced to the narrow gauge railways of North Wales during field trips led by Geoffrey Hoyland a master at his prep school, The Downs, Colwall, Herefordshire, where his English teacher was WH Auden, whose verse includes the railway classic Night Mail. It boasted a 9½in-gauge miniature railway (see his Don't Stand Up in the Tunnel! (2001)).

Early writings[edit]

Later he revisited the Festiniog Railway and Talyllyn Railway, while on leave from the army during World War Two, some of his reminiscences of this period being recounted in Saga by rail: Great Britain and the Isle of Man (2007). Recognising a form of railway apparently on its last legs, he began his researches into the history of these little lines and made an arrangement with the Locomotive & General Railway Photographs company to take a multitude of photographs of the north and mid-Wales scene: L&GRP provided the film stock and he took two negatives of each image, keeping one for himself.

His first work, Narrow-Gauge Rails to Portmadoc, was published in May 1949 by the Oakwood Press (the personal imprint of an equal enthusiast for the narrow gauge and obscure lines, Roger Kidner) and was intended as a valedictory tribute to the recently closed Festiniog. Little could Boyd have known that this book would spark sufficient interest to light the tinder for the movement that would, eventually, succeed in reviving the FR and, even later, rebuilding the other major narrow gauge railway to Portmadoc, the Welsh Highland Railway.

Early railway volunteer[edit]

Boyd made moves to assist revival of the FR. On 1 July 1949 he wrote to the Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society outlining how the line might be revived [2]. He then tried to interest the old Company in such a scheme, and in 1950 he was active in the "Portmadoc committee" discussions to involve financial backers and local authorities in another revival scheme. This, however, came to nothing, partly because of the apparent inactivity of his chief backer, E.E. Smith, and partly because the financial impact of the WHR had soured the attitude of the authorities, and the revival process switched to the scheme initiated by L Heath Humphrys.[3]

Boyd was a very early participant in the rescue of the Talyllyn Railway and the establishment of the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at Tywyn. He organised the first regional working group of volunteers on the Talyllyn.[4] His interest in the TR led to the publication of a definitive history of the pre-preservation railway by Wild Swan in 1988, a book that set a very high standard of both content and production for future narrow gauge histories.

Return to the downs[edit]

Retiring from the textiles industry in the late 1960s, Boyd moved to Colwall and became a Master at the Downs School. At the same time, he was appointed to look after the Downs Light Railway and started a twenty-year restoration that would ultimately result in his efforts being recognised with a miniature steam locomotive bearing his name. Boyd later retired from the school, but continued to fight to preserve the railway amidst Headmasters who failed to see the historical and educational importance, and led the formation of the Downs Light Railway Trust in 1983. Boyd continued to oversee the railway up to the millennium, despite suffering a stroke in the 1990s.

Later writing[edit]

Boyd went on to produce a number of books on railways, most published by the Oakwood Press and some running to several editions. He covered all the narrow gauge railways of north and mid Wales plus the Isle of Man Steam Railway in a series that, in its final form, runs to eleven volumes. His other Oakwood books include a comprehensive history of the Wrexham, Mold & Connah's Quay Railway and a history of the Schull & Skibbereen 3-foot gauge railway in southern Ireland. He also produced some photo albums for Bradford Barton.

More recently there has been some criticism of the factual accuracy of Boyd's writing with some claiming that many of the tales recounted are in fact apocryphal. However despite (or perhaps because of!) this his books remain eminently readable and remain popular with many titles still in print.


He wrote a number of books, some of which are referred to in this wiki. Be advised that these books have gone through various editions and reprints, sometimes with changes in the volume structure.

  • Boyd, James I.C. (1978). On the Welsh narrow gauge. Truro: Barton. ISBN 9780851533407. OCLC 5776970.
  • Boyd, James I.C. (1950) [1949]. Narrow-gauge rails to Portmadoc; a historical survey of the Festiniog-Welsh Highland Railway and its ancillaries;. Tanglewood, South Godstone, Surrey: The Oakwood Press. OCLC 12129614.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Obituary", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 205, page(s): 025
  2. ^ ""The letter that begain it all?"", Festiniog Railway Heritage Group Journal, Issue 097, page(s): 24-5
  3. ^ Johnson, Peter (2004). Immortal Rails (Vol 1) The Story of the Closure and Revival of the FR 1939-1983. Chester, England, CH4 9ZH: RailRomances. ISBN 1-900622-08-4. OCLC 56654167.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ Brown, Jonathan (2017). The Railway Preservation Revolution. Pen & Sword Transport Press. p. 26.