Book Review: An Odyssey in STEAM: “Rocket” to “Evening Star”.By DAVID C.BELL

It has to be said that I enjoy looking at a good railway based painting or photograph….

Indeed, my current interest in railway matters and the setting up of Steam Tube (now on Facebook) and more especially Rail Tube ( can be directly connected with buying occasional copies of railway magazines, and seeing photographs ,especially of steam locomotives.

Over the years I have treated myself to the occasional print, including examples from Terence Cuneo and David Shepherd.

Now I shall have to see about getting a print from David C Bell.

David was born in Lincolnshire (1950), attended Trinity House Navigation School, thus enabling a nine year career in the Merchant Navy. After which he jumped ship, so to speak, and changed career, gaining a BA Honours Degree at Hull College of Art.

And so began his career as a marine artist, for which he is mainly known, although his first commission was of a Vulcan bomber. But it is sea and steam that are the recurring themes of his work as this volume “An Odyssey in Steam”, and previous works “Nautical Odyssey” and “HMS Victory” so obviously testify and demonstrate.


The subtitle of “An Odyssey in Steam” is  “Rocket” to “Evening Star”, both locomotives encapsulating the entire history of steam locomotion in the United Kingdom. “Rocket”, forever associated with George Stephenson, “Father of the Railways”, and winner of the 1829 Rainhill Trials….and “Evening Star”, bringing down the curtain after nearly 130 years of steam locomotive engineering prowess and advancement.(This, of course, does not include new build locomotives like “Tornado” and “2007 Prince of Wales.”)

And so to the book itself….a coffee table book I think is the way such books are described….and anything smaller would not do justice to the artist’s work.

The thing that strikes you as you turn the book’s pages is the attention to detail….and locomotives have plenty of that to test the artist’s skill. And although I am no engineer, the pictures really do convey a feeling of “being there”, smelling the oil and steam and the evocative atmosphere of the roundhouse or station.

Several locomotives are given star treatment…notably “Flying Scotsman”. Indeed, the picture of the A3 at York Motive Power Depot in 1953 would have you believe that you were actually there. Others include “Mallard” , the A4 Gathering, the “Duchesses”, and a smattering of other key non-LNER locomotives!

The painting that particularly caught my eye …in fact a group of them.. is on Page 25 “The Warehouse” (at the NRM York). And it is quite rightly named….such a room in your home might be called the spare/junk room!  The place you put essential items that can’t fit somewhere else!!

And The Warehouse presented the artist a whole new challenge. Try getting all that detail in a picture!

When you get your copy of the book you will see the artist’s developing style over the years – a kind of “work in progress”, especially given the pencil first drawings that provided the base for the paintings….and he freely admits to hoping that the accuracy is up to the mark, and adds to, rather than detracts from, the overall impression you will get from this first volume.

As to a personal favourite?

Well, if I get to give myself a David C. Bell print as a treat (or perhaps someone else will!Hint!!), then “On Track for Ninety Years” p39;”Flying Scotsman” p45; the Gresley Gathering” p79; or” “Top Shed” King’s Cross c1957” would be the one…..

You’ll have to purchase a copy to determine your David C. Bell favourite……..Go to it!!