In 1978 I decided to test railway publishing. As a youthful traveller, I had enjoyed Mile by Mile, a descriptive route diagram, and decided to upgrade the concept by using old Ordnance Survey maps at 4 miles to 1 inch scale. My LSWR Route Map came out in 1978 at 90p each and, although it was advertised for sale by mail order, many shops ordered for stock. It carried the name of Middleton Press, but I did not develop the series, I was busy with other projects.
As a fund raising scheme for our church, I occasionally arranged a "One Day Museum" and decided on a special event in February 1980 to mark the 25th anniversary of the closure of Midhurst station. Former staff were invited and on show were photographs and tickets. Looking at and talking about the latter was Keith Smith. Many people were asking how they could obtain copies of the prints and we felt that the demand justified producing a book.
We selected 120 of the best photographs, in journey order, and set off to the three largest railway publishers of the day, plus one producing local books. The former indicated that a localised picture album would not be successful, particularly as it did not have enough train photographs in it.
Therefore it was resolved that I would finance Branch Lines to Midhurst (about £5000) and produce it using my MP imprint. It was important to choose printers who would give both quality and guidance. Biddles was selected after careful consideration. I expected that capital recovery time could be years and recognised that good publicity was essential to minimise it.
Thus we enlisted the help of a number of local organisations to mark the centenary of the opening of the line from Chichester. The book was published on 1st May 1981 and the major publicity events took place on 11th July following. We were astounded at their popularity - special trains ran to Lavant, the vintage buses were full, the line walk permits raised over £700 for Christian Aid and over 1200 books were sold by the end of September hence the capital was recovered very speedily.
Keith and I had no intention of compiling more than this one album, but many of its readers were asking for more. Thus, we were persuaded to produce Branch Lines to Horsham, which came out in 1982. Again, we enjoyed creating this, and my wife Barbara and I could cope with the publishing and distribution aspects. Keith was being flooded with interesting photographs and so we thought of a Brighton to Portsmouth volume. This came out as three albums, two of which (together with Branch Line to Selsey) were published in 1983.
To catalogue the growth of Middleton Press would be lengthy, so I will simply record that the 100th MP title appeared in April 1992 and the 500th in July 2011. Keith and I soon established an arrangement whereby he works with our splendid band of photographers and contributors, while I undertake the map selection, research and writing.
Middleton Press has always been a family affair, except for packing which has been done by local part time help. My daughter, Deborah has undertaken all the cover design and almost all book design, evolving the style herself without training. Daughter Caroline cared for the sales ledger until it was computerised in March 1988 and thereafter helped part-time, as did my mother-in-law.
Deborah developed all the foregoing office skills and faced her greatest challenge when changing from paste-up and scalpel to "Desk Top Publishing". We waited until June 1997, when we judged it to be sufficiently refined and cost effective.
Selling was by mail order as a result of extensive advertising (Deb designs the ads) and by means of direct mailing. While the subjects of our books were within 50 miles of Midhurst, I drove to all the shops and carried stock on shelves fitted into my Sierra. Subsequently, I visited every outlet between Hastings, Weymouth and London by train, telephoning most others outside this triangle.
Deborah's husband, Ray Esher, joined us in April 1997 and has competently provided commercial services part-time ever since, relieving me considerably. He is also a full time fireman (of the type that puts them out).
In 1998, Keith and I fulfilled our ambition of completing the coverage of all the routes of the former Southern Railway. We had already started on the Great Western and made plans to spread further along those lines. By 2012, we only had the creation of another two albums remaining to complete its coverage.
Our range of photographic contributors increases steadily, as does the number of folk offering to create albums in other areas. We are always pleased to welcome more of both and continue to expand our series northwards.
Grand-daughter Emily has been an invaluable research assistant to me (part time) since April 2001 and now almost knows Bradshaw backwards. I have issues for over 90 different years to hand. Since graduating, she has acted as our ebook consultant amongst diverse research matters.
Grandson David joined the family firm in September 2002 as a "modern apprentice" and has displayed his skills in all aspects of computer work, including creating this website.
Emma is a great assistant, particularly in the area of reprinting Bradshaw publications.
I am always grateful for the appreciative letters and warm reviews about our creations. As so many like our publication style, it seems to show that I am not as eccentric as I thought I was.
(e.g. Newbury or Branch Lines)
(e.g. Reading or Old Oak Common)