Ian Allan books


How it all started

Ian Allan had a passion for railways from an early age and planned for a career with the Southern Railway. However, in the summer of 1937 at the age of 15, he lost a leg in a camping accident with the Officers’ Training Corps. Although up and about trainspotting again on his bicycle within six weeks, this accident meant that he was technically unfit to take up a traffic apprenticeship with the company. Just two years later, in August 1939, he began his working life in the office of the General Manager of the Southern Railway at Waterloo Station as a Grade 5 clerk earning 15 shillings a week. This allowed him to pursue his boyhood enthusiasm for railways. Working in the publicity section, he helped plan advertising and excursions while fielding telephone inquiries from the public. Within a few months of joining however, the Second World War began and his work planning advertisements for excursions had to stop and he was moved to the publications department, where he began to learn how to organise the print and production of the Southern Railway magazine.

Ian Allan in 1946
Ian Allan
Taken from Trains Annual 1947
published by Ian Allan Limited in 1946
Author's collection

Recognising his all consuming interest in railway engines, locomotive classes and types of rolling stock, he was given the task of handling enquiries from the public. Many of these concerned details of Southern locomotives. To do this he was given a notebook listing engine numbers, their classes, names, and their shed allocations. Realising that there was a keen interest in this information he suggested that the company should publish the notebook. The suggestion was turned down and so he sought permission to publish his own booklet. Although frowned upon by Oliver Bulleid, the Southern’s chief mechanical engineer, the idea was supported by the railway’s chairman, Robert Holland-Martin, and permission was given, subject to it being at his own risk and expense. Placing a small classified advert in Railway World Magazine, he very soon had nearly 2,000 orders at a shilling each. A reprint with the new title of ABC of Southern Locomotives was quickly ordered, with the author’s credit of Ian Allan. It was published in December 1942, and so started the world famous series of ABC books. Books for the other three ‘Big Four’ Railway companies (LMS, LNER and GWR) followed, with the first GWR one being published in August 1943. The popularity of the books was soon attracting the attention of book chains such as W.H.Smiths, and they started to appear at railway station bookstalls and newsagents in addition to being available by mail order.

We thank Laurence Waters for making avaliable to us a copy of the very useful booklet A collectors guide to the Ian Allan ABC Locomotive Series 1942-1990 which he compiled and which, being the second edition, was published in 1991.

In late December 2016 Ian Allan Publishing sold its transport publishing division, which included its titles, the 'OPC' imprint and the 'abc' brand, to Crécy Publishing. The imprint name of 'Ian Allan' was retained however.


Ian Allan Locospotters Club

In 1944 an incident made headlines in the national press when a group of schoolboy enthusiasts wandered on to the mainline track. Realising that a code of conduct was required, the Ian Allan Locospotters Club was formed, eventually attracting over 300,000 members from all parts of the country. Application forms appeared in the ABC locomotives books and these detailed the club rule which all members undertook to obey - Members of the club will not in any way interfere with railway working or material, nor be a nuisance or hindrance to their staff, nor, above all, trespass on railway property. Tin, and later celluloid, pin badges were issued in return for the enrolment fee. Alternativey, deluxe chrome and enamel badges were also available for a small additional charge. These metal badges had either a pin type or a button hole fastening. The design of the badge changed slightly over time but they were always produced in colours appropriate to the railway company, or BR region, of interest to the spotter. Brown was obviously indicative of the GWR (or BR Western Region) with others being either green, red, dark blue, tangerine or light blue representing Southern, London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern and Scottish regions or companies respectively. The badges were supplied by several different makers and had many detail differences as they continued to evolve to reflect the changing motive power and organisation of the railways.

Locospotters club badge Locospotters club badge Locospotters club badge Locospotters club badge Locospotters club badge

left to right - the very first badge design, tin badge, plastic badge, early chrome badge, later chrome badge
All badges shown approximately full size

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Our collection holds many examples of the very popular Ian Allan publications coverering both GWR and BR Western Region subject matter. It has been grouped into fairly logical sections according to the publication series.
Choose a section from the menu bar to see and read about the various examples in our collection.

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