North Country Guides









Poetry & Art

The Hayloft Stable


Young People


Servant of Empire


About this book:

  • ISBN 9781904524717 (hardback)

  • Published 2009

  • Price £20.00 + postage

  • 360 pages

  • Illustrated with 123 colour and black & white photographs, and maps




Stainmore man's work in far reaches of the British Empire
A native of Stainmore whose work as a civil engineer took him to the far reaches of the British Empire at the end of the 19th century, is the subject of a new book published by Stainmore-based Hayloft.
'Servant of Empire' by Martin Gibson, tells the story of Thomas Wilson Bracken (1865-1932), great-grandfather of the author.
Born and brought up on Stainmore, Thomas trained in civil engineering at Darlington and was involved in the final phase of Victorian railway building in England, Scotland and Ireland during the 1880s and 1890s...
In a fascinating twist later in his career, he was called upon, along with other qualified civil engineers, by the War Office to help break the stalemate on the Western Front in 1915.
At the age of 50 he became Lieutenant, and later Captain Bracken RE, and while serving in France and Belgium, experienced the horrors of battle at Arras and Passchendaele... 'Servant of Empire' is extensively illustrated with historic photographs of Stainmore, wartime France and life in pre-1900 colonial Africa.
Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, October 2009.

'Servant of Empire' is the story of Thomas Wilson Bracken (1865-1932). Born and raised in the high Pennines on a farm next to what was then the highest railway station in England, he was inspired by the adjacent marvels of engineering to qualify as a civil engineer. After training in the town that had cradled the railways, Darlington, he was involved in the final phase of Victoiran railway building in England, Scotland and Ireland during the 1880s and 1890s.
His boyhood imagination was captured by Disraeli's imperial adventures, so fixing his political allegiance and loyalty to the British Empire for the remainder of his life. He took the opportunity to participate in the building of the first railway on the west coast of Africa.
Soon after his arrival in Lagos in 1897 he inadvertently became wrapped up in the scramble for Africa, in the form of a potentially explosive Anglo-French struggle over what are now Nigeria's borders.
In 1901 following completion of the Lagos Government Railway he returned to England and practised in the thriving world of Edwardian Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Endowed with both money and leisure he became a regular newspaper correspondent, providing a fascinating commentary on the great Liberal/Tory struggles of 1905-14.
In 1915 when the War Office appealed for experienced civil engineers to volunteer and help to break the Western Front's appallingly costly stalemate he became, aged 50, Lieutenant and then Captain Bracken RE and while in France and Belgium, experienced the full heat of battle at Arras and the awful horrors of Passchendaele.
When he eventually returned to civilian life in 1920 he took up his pen once more and in a series of nostalgic newspaper letters and articles commented on the post-War transformation of so much that had gone before.
The Royal Engineers Journal

Meticulously researched and quarried from numerous unpublished sources, 'Servant of Empire' is not only a fascinating, vivid account of the life of an eminent engineer and World War I Captain, but a keyhole through which the achievements and upheavals of the British Empire are illuminated. From the hills of Westmorland, to the swamps of Nigeria and the trenches of the Western Front, Martin Gibson follows his subject on a journey that will inform and enthral anyone with an interest in the development of, and fight for, modern Britain. Dr John Leigh, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Barrister Martin Gibson's meticulously researched biography of his great-grandfather Thomas Wilson Bracken gives us a fascinating insight into the final decades of the British Empire.
Bracken, who was to become a prominent Westmorland Tory, was born and raised on a high Pennine farm and inspired by the railway book, trained as a civil engineer. He played a part in the final phase of Victorian railway construction in England, Scotland and Ireland before becoming involved in the first railways built in Africa.
In World War One, at the age of 50, Bracken witnessed the conflict as an officer-engineer on the Western Front. Bracken ended his life much more sedately as a man of letters and newspaper correspondent.
Westmorland Gazette, January 2010.

Barrister Martin Gibson of Wisbech has written a fascinating book charting the life of his ancestor Thomas Wilson Bracken. 'Servant of Empire' was launced at Wisbech Museum. The biography of his great-grandfather is Mr Gibson's first book and gives a vivid account of the life of the eminent engineer and First World War captain. As a professional railway builder Bracken was instrumental in the development of Imperial trade in West Africa at the end of the 19th century. During the First World War he volunteered at the age of 50 to serve in the Royal Engineers where he played a key supporting role in the battles of Arras and Passchendale. Wisbeck Standard, November 2009.

The Wisbech and Fenland Museum hosted the launch of Martin Gibson's new book 'Servant of Empire' charting the life of his ancestor Thomas Wilson Bracken. Bracken's life spanned the peak of the Victorian era, the descent into the maelstrom of the First World War and the social changes of the 1920s. After the war he published a number of letters and articles commenting on how the world had changed. Fenland Citizen, November 2009.

About this Book:
'Servant of Empire' charts the life of Thomas Wilson Bracken, engineer, railway-builder, soldier and patriot. Author Martin Gibson uses the eventful life of his ancestor to shed fresh light on forgotten aspects of Victorian and Edwardian politics and society. His story encompasses the Imperial climax of Queen Victoria's reign; the history of the West African parts of the British Empire; the age of coal, iron and steam railways; and the Great War and its economic and social legacy.

About the Author:
Martin Gibson was born and brought up in rural north Lancashire. He studied history at New College, Oxford, and after graduating, read law at The City University, London. He qualified as a barrister in 1990 and then practised from commercial chambers in Gray's Inn, London.
'Servant of Empire', the biography of his great-grandfather, is his first book. The author's maternal grandfather Edmund John - always known as 'Jack' - was Thomas Wilson Bracken's second son.


Next page




To Order:

this book with payment via Worldpay's secure credit card website:




If you prefer to pay by cheque or to order by post then please print out and complete the order form by clicking the link:

Order Form

Copyright © Hayloft Publishing Ltd