Lawyer, writer and expert on Glasgow trams

Born: August 6, 1939;

Died: August 25, 2017

Loading article content

DAVID Thomson, who has died aged 78, was a lawyer with the Glasgow firms McGrigor Donald and latterly Stenhouse but in a life away from legal practice, he produced four notable guides on his lifelong passion: Scotland’s transport systems. His interest in transport began when he was a child and later turned in to a number of books on trams and the Glasgow Subway.

He was the author in 1962 of A Handbook of Glasgow Tramways, retailing at 7/6d (37½p), one of the first publications of the then Scottish Tramway Museum Society (now the Scottish Tramway & Transport Society). Two years later, it was followed by The Glasgow Subway (co-authored with David Sinclair), a pioneering volume describing what was then Scotland’s most forgotten little railway. Both are now collectors’ pieces.

Almost half-a-century passed before he again went into print, this time with Glasgow Tram Services (2009) and Scottish Tram Services (2014), each a magisterial A4 hardback describing in detail the tram systems of Scotland’s four cities.

David Lawrie Thomson was born in Glasgow, moving from Glasgow Academy to graduate in law from Glasgow University. As a schoolboy, he was studious to a fault, and this included a passion for Glasgow’s trams. With the co-operation of Eric Fitzpayne, then general manager of Glasgow Corporation Transport, the teenage David spent Saturday mornings not on the sports field but recording traffic logs by hand in the transport head office at 46 Bath Street.

It was this work which helped provide the basis of his Handbook of Glasgow Trams, and then a generation later with assistance from his friends Brian Longworth and Ian Stewart, the foundation of his detailed and lavishly illustrated book Glasgow Tram Services.

Given a Letts’ day-by-day diary for 1958, he began the practice of logging every single journey by bus, tram, train, Subway or steamer, noting time, date, destination and number of every vehicle. The curiosity is that however pernickety he was in lifestyle, when he turned the events into print, he wrote with a warmth and a style of reader appeal that turned dry records into engaging travel writing.

More than 35 years ago, he moved to Gourock to be closer to his lifelong interest in Clyde steamers, and from his home in Clyde Road, he would head to all points on the western seaboard. As with tram journeys, every voyage was carefully listed – and in one of his regular contributions to the journal Scottish Transport, he described Scotland’s steamers from a different standpoint – how the weather affected services, telling the tale in a fashion that held reader interest throughout.

In 2007, he even ventured an analysis of Scotland’s increasingly gridlocked traffic, examining the source, pondering how to resolve it and apportioning blame by stating how and why it is the fault of each of us.

A very private person, he divided his life not just into work and hobbies, but into the completely separate compartments of law career with McGrigor Donald and latterly Stenhouse, his involvement in the church, with even his interests in trams, railways, the Glasgow Subway and Clyde steamers, with the people involved rarely overlapping from one sector to another.

Fastidious in his habits, he eschewed computer, internet and email, handling his business solely by post or telephone. Every Wednesday morning he took the same train from Gourock into Glasgow Central to conduct his banking affairs face-to-face in town.

For all his self-containment, he was rarely self-effacing, and readily made clear his reluctance to suffer fools in any form. He could be forceful in committee work, and rarely hesitated from vouchsafing an opinion. In turn, he did not appreciate having his views queried.

Mr Thomson, who never married, had been ill for some years, and died in hospital in Glasgow of bone marrow cancer.

At his well-attended funeral, the organ was played by Hugh McAulay, organist at his one-time church Old Gourock & Ashton, and fellow member of the Scottish Tramway & Transport Society.

GORDON CASELY