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Lost Classic: The High Girders, by John Prebble

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  25 January 2019

Shortly before 7pm on the evening of Sunday, December 28, 1879, a foreman employed by the North British Railway Company walked in the howling wind up the path to the signal cabin next to the railway line on the Fifeshire bank of the River Tay. John Watt greeted his friend Thomas Buchanan. Watt and signalman Buchanan settled down to share a can of tea, agreeing that the weather was bad. As bad as they had known it. Buchanan signalled the north bank that a train was on its way to Dundee and would shortly make its way over the bridge and across the water.

In this ominous style, the journalist and historian John Prebble opened The High Girders, a widely-praised and at the time highly influential work of non-fiction, first published in 1956. Today his book has been all but forgotten other than by a small group of fans, and perhaps by older Dundonians raised on the tale offering a parable about the power of nature and the vanity of man.