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Alfred Raworth's Electric Southern Railway (Hardback)

Colour Books P&S History > By Century > 20th Century Photographic Books Transport > Trains & Railways

By Peter Steer
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 344
Illustrations: Black and white illustrations & maps, 16 page colour plate section
ISBN: 9781526778413
Published: 16th February 2022


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The Southern Railway between 1923 and 1939 was the only British company to carry out a sustained programme of electrification which became known as the Southern Electric. Unlike many recent projects, each incremental step was completed on time and within budget. This successful project was more impressive as it was achieved during a period of economic stagnation (including the ‘great depression’) and despite government disapproval of the method of electrification. The driving force behind this endeavor was the railway’s general manager, Sir Herbert Walker, but at his side was his electrical engineer, Alfred Raworth, the man one journalist described as an ‘electrification genius’.

Alfred Raworth’s career began working with his father the eminent consulting engineer and entrepreneur, John Smith Raworth. Following the collapse of his father’s business Alfred joined the railway industry and devised an ambitious and innovative electrification design. This was discarded when the railways of southern England were ‘grouped’ into the Southern Railway after which he took responsibility for the implementation of the electrification schemes. With Walker’s retirement in 1937, those who continued to support steam traction took the policy lead. A marginalised Raworth retired but was later to witness the fruition of many of his discarded ideas.

"Recommended for those who love early electric traction and system history."

Diesel and Electric Modellers United, Spring 23 Issue 103

"This book puts a different perspective on a journey from Wareham to Waterloo".

Swanage Railway Magazine – Summer 2022, Issue 128

Featured by

The Broad Gauge Society

This hefty hardback provides a biography of Alfred Rowarth, engineer for the Southern Railway’s ground-breaking electrification programme. The author considers the original business case for electrification and describes the innovative engineering practices that created one of the world’s greatest electrified suburban networks, between 1918-56. The Southern was the only British railway company to carry out sustained electrification works, not only within the London area, but reaching out towards the south coast. Sir Herbert Walker may have been the driving force behind the project, but it was his engineer Rowarth - described as a genius by the author - who made it happen. Copiously illustrated with photos, maps and diagrams, there’s plenty of technical details and explanations of how the various infrastructure operated. Useful for modellers contemplating a Southern-themed layout.

Model Rail Magazine

"It is a lengthy book, well written and illustrated providing a very useful history of a great railway achievement - the Southern Electric story and the man who achieved it. Alfred Raworth, was truly an electrical genius and with this biography will now have greater recognition."

The Journal of the Bulleid Society - Bulleid Express Winter 2022-23

"It is the sort of book that railway history needs. Heartily recommended."

Model Engineer no 4710

The book has a very comprehensive set of referenced end-notes and a general index... a highly recommended work.

The Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society Jan/Feb 2023

Competition as featured in


Featured by

The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society - The Railway Observer, November 2022, Volume 92, Number 1125

This most interesting book is highly recommended to all devotees of the Southern Railway and anyone interested in suburban electrification in general. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

5 out of 5

Read the Full Review Here

Rail Advert

What can I say about this book? Exhaustive? Authoritative? Comprehensive? All of these and more. Peter Steer has produced THE definitive work on the Southern Railway’s electrification schemes. Not only the rolling stock – those lovely comfortable 2-BIL, 4-COR and later 4-REP units, but the lineside power supplies, the architecture of the transformer/rectifier stations and the internecine politics of successive Governments wedded to the totally inefficient and impractical 1500V DC overhead system of the LNER, all are covered in great detail. Indeed, it took me a month to finally read this in depth work in its entirety; it is so detailed and so well-conceived that you don’t want to skip anything. Compared to the dusty tome that is Dendy-Marshall’s work on the SR, this is a dream to peruse.
The detailed maps showing where the power came from and how it was distributed were a revelation to me and the details of the rotary convertors and electrical engineering required were fascinating.
Having built eight sets of 4-COR / 4-RES /4-BUF / 4-GRI stock now for my own layout it was great to learn about how they were developed, how they performed and from the modellers’ point of view, most importantly, what lineside infrastructure was required to power the Southern Electric system. If you have more than a passing interest in the SR 750V electric railways, this book is for you.

Kitmaster Collectors Club

A worthy biography of a lesser-known engineer who was nevertheless a giant in his field.

This book receives the highest possible recommendation.

The Journal of the Friends of the National Railway Museum - Summer 2022, Issue 180

"The text is carefully researched and although a former engineer himself, Steer appears to have been at pains to ensure that non-technical readers don’t feel intimidated by the technical world inhabited by Raworth and that defined his career. Jargon is avoided and complicated concepts are reduced to more easily understood component parts."

Rail Express, April 2022

Over the years a great deal has been written about the Southern Railway’s electrified network of lines developed between 1923 and the Second World War. However much less has been written about the man who largely made it possible, electrical engineer Alfred Raworth. This book gathers together in one place a full account of Raworth’s achievements, together with much information about his early life and his involvement with the family firm.

A serious work covering railway electrification aimed at amateur readers will inevitably face challenges when it comes to dealing with the complexities of electrical systems and theory, and the author has struck the right balance as to how much detail to include when dealing with such matters as alternating and direct current, electrical cycles, rectifiers and the other aspects to be considered when designing an electric railway from first principles.

This major work on Raworth and his work provides a significant addition to the history of the Southern Electric system and makes fascinating reading.

Barney Forsdike, West Somerset Railway Association

"This is a beautifully produced large-format
hardback book which describes the life and
work of Alfred Raworth."

Tenterden Terrier, Summer 2022

"Produced to Pen & Sword’s usual high standards, this must be one of the most important books on the history on any of the ‘Big Four’ companies published in recent years, and is highly recommended."

Tony Kirby, The RCHS Journal

Featured in

Heritage Railway Magazine

If you like to get your teeth into a mega read which covers all aspects of electrification from the early innovations to the massive plan to transform Southern, then you will really enjoy this book.

PB Preservation Group members magazine - March 2022 Issue No88

Book review as featured in

Rail Express

This scholarly book by Peter Steer is an absolute masterpiece on the subject and covers not only the work carried out by Alfred Raworth and the electrification of the Southern Railway but, also looks at the achievements of his father John Smith Raworth, a distinguished consulting engineer and entrepreneur. This most interesting book is highly recommended to all electrical railway enthusiasts and all devotees of the Southern Railway in general.

Peter A. Harding - Branch Line & Light railway Publications.

As featured in

The Bookseller

In 1961 I was given at the age of 11, my first box brownie camera. The very first photograph that I took was of the Brighton Belle passing Streatham Common while staying at my Grandparent’s house in Balham. Ever since I have had a love of the Southern Electrics.

This is probably the best book on the subject ever published. Well illustrated it not only covers in detail the history of the electrics but also explains the technical as well as operational details. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Essential reading for all.

James Simmonds

About Peter Steer

A life-long railway enthusiast, Peter Steer’s career was as an engineer and manager in the electricity supply industry. He is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (MIET). Since retirement he has written articles for and edited the Southern Railway Group’s magazine ‘Southern Notebook’. To add to his technical and managerial qualifications he has been awarded a Master of Arts Degree in Railway Studies by the University of York.

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