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Strange Air

Price: £9.99

By Tom Brown

Strange Air is an ‘ingenious and gripping’ novel by local author Tom Brown – one which interweaves the true histories of Crystal Palace Park and the air-powered railway trials of the mid-19th Century.

The starting point is the 1864 pneumatic railway experiment that took place in the grounds of the Crystal Palace – and in particular the notorious urban myth that says the carriage lies buried beneath Crystal Palace Park to this day, occupied by a group of fully-clothed Victorian skeletons.

The historical parts of the book have been meticulously researched, making the novel a valuable and highly accessible introduction to the changing face of the Palace and its park through the decades. It is also an important piece of railway history, chronicling in unprecedented detail the work of civil engineer Thomas Webster Rammell, and his tireless advocacy of pneumatic propulsion as an alternative to the steam-driven power of London’s first underground lines.

We should like to stress that there is no credible evidence that the pneumatic railway carriage lies buried beneath Crystal Palace Park – and still less that any passengers remain inside.

The story
‘What a peculiar and wonderful novel Strange Air is . . . A true page-turner, whose ultimate outcome is as unpredictable as a blindfolded interchange at Earl's Court.’ (Matt Brown, Londonist)

It is the mid-19th century, and London is crying out for a cure to the congestion on its streets. Knowing that some kind of underground railway will provide the solution, civil engineer Thomas Webster Rammell fights against the odds to realise his dream of air-powered 'pneumatic' trains – so saving his fellow citizens from the unimaginable horrors of subterranean steam. Meanwhile, in present-day London, ex-tube driver Eric walks amid the ruins of the old Crystal Palace. It’s a strange, ghostly place, and gets stranger still when he is attacked by a vengeful skeleton, lurking in a buried Victorian railway carriage.

An exhilarating blend of railway history and local history, Strange Air takes readers back in time to reveal how close one man came to changing the face of London’s public transport – while providing a fascinating window into a century-and-a-half of Crystal Palace history.

Paperback 352 pages