Northwords Now

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Lairds in Waiting by Anne-Mary Paterson

The Highland Railway Society (2020) £9.90

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

Technologically, the Highlands has always been bit of a late bloomer. By the mid 19th century it was still only accessible by narrow twisting roads, while the rest of Britain (even the remotest parts) was benefiting from the railway.  Predictably, the advent of the railway when it eventually arrived in 1865 had a profound impact on every part of Highland life. Paterson’s Lairds in Waiting is a unique exploration of one part of that life: the private stations and private waiting rooms built by the Railway as a token of gratitude to the lairds who allowed the railroad to be built on their estates.

  Paterson is the author of two previous train-based books – Pioneers of the Highland Tracks, and Spanning the Gaps.  As the great grandniece of William Paterson (engineer in chief of the Highland Railway), and his brother Murdoch (involved in the construction of Highland railway lines), she has a personal interest in the subject. She knows what she’s talking about both in terms of historical accuracy and the less quantifiable cultural changes that came to pass. 

  The chapters focus on individual stations, namely Beauly, Kildary, Alness, Moy, Duncraig, Rosehaugh, Blair Atholl, Castle Grant, Orbliston & Fochabers Town and Dunrobin.  Each section contains treats like original photographs of the stations’ interiors and exteriors, maps of the area and oil portraits of the aristocracy connected to them. Both concise at 88 pages and leisurely in tone, Paterson’s style is refreshingly unfancy.  Reading her work is never work.  But the best part for me, is the way the book feels personal.  Not only does she thread her own insightful impressions throughout, she brings these Victorian families to life. Their odd habits and preferences and traditions are fascinating.

  This book is a much-needed preservation of information about a time already fading from memory. It’s obvious Paterson finds everything about old railways – their designs, constructions, viaducts, stations, waiting rooms – beautiful.  This book confirms her role as the unsung queen of Highland Railway.

The Board and Editor of Northwords Now acknowledge support from Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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