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  • Beverley in 50 Buildings by Lorna Jane Harvey

    In 2019, I co-authored a book for Amberley Publishing about the small town of Beverley in Yorkshire. I have since moved half-way across the world and now live in New Zealand. There is no place on earth farther from Beverley than New Zealand.

    Beverley Market Cross (Saturday Market Place). (Beverley in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The significance of this book may seem to some to only have a local impact. However, not only does the book serve to guide tourists and locals who may be interested in the town of Beverley, but it also serves a greater purpose by recording its history. The extensive research that goes into this series of books brings to light information that could easily have been lost or forgotten otherwise. How else would the Hodgson’s Tannery be remembered as it has been replaced by the modern shopping centre Flemingate? Who would know where the statue of a red devil on a house outside North Bar came from? Would Nellie the hunchback be recalled in another generation or two?

    Included in the numerous little-known histories featured, the former site of a Knights Hospitaller preceptory is exposed. The Knights Hospitaller were a crusader military order. In 1540, the preceptory was the richest of its kind in Britain. It seems almost impossible that half a century later it would be all but forgotten under a railway station. The book also points to a Bronze Age Burial Mound overshadowed by a massive black tower, prisoners’ treadmills, and much more.

    Old Friary (Friars Lane). (Beverley in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    In my case, this book has brought enjoyment in other ways as well. An elderly woman I have the privilege to have met in New Zealand was thrilled to read it as her ancestors came from this very town. Ruth remembers visiting Beverley as a child and was delighted to be able to give a copy of the book to her children. Without it, perhaps their family’s link to Beverley would have been left behind. Her great grandchildren would probably only be told that they had British ancestors. They likely wouldn’t ever know that numerous buildings in Beverley were named after their family.

    My own story is not dissimilar as I have lived most of my life in Canada and Switzerland, a long way from Yorkshire. I treasure the link to Beverley that writing this book has brought back to me. I have fond childhood memories of Beverley, but my understanding and appreciation of the beautiful town only truly developed as I researched this book.

    My ancestors, the Robsons, were part of the Gunn Clan not far from where Beverley now sits. I imagine these Vikings would be amused and pleased to think of their home being remembered all around the globe. Indeed, copies of Beverley in 50 Buildings are in homes in Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, England, and likely a few more countries. As many others this century, we are a migrant family: I recently edited an anthology about migration called ‘Somewhere - Women’s Stories of Migration’ in which the topic is discussed further. The knowledge of our roots will always be essential to each one of us. By supporting book series such as the 50 Buildings series, Amberley Publishing is contributing to the knowledge of our roots remaining alive and well.

    Lorna Jane Harvey and Phil Dearden's book Beverley in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Second Generation EMUs by John Jackson

    As a youngster in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, my earliest memories of watching trains were at a time when diesel locos were replacing their steam predecessors. As a Northampton lad, those ‘spotting’ days involved regular sessions at the likes of Peterborough, Wellingborough and the West Coast Main Line station at Roade, just south of Northampton.

    It was not until a family holiday in 1964, however, that I had my first experience of trains running on electric power. We were staying just outside Newcastle upon Tyne when I had my first sight of a third rail providing 600-volt DC to power a fleet of ageing ‘North Tyneside Electrics’.

    This class 313, seen at Finsbury Park, was built in 1977. (Second Generation EMUs, Amberley Publishing)

    A little later that summer I was also to witness for the first time that same third rail powering London’s Underground network. Regular sessions at the likes of Clapham Junction and London Bridge were to follow shortly afterwards. It didn’t take long for me to realise the importance of the third rail in providing an intensive service for London bound commuters from what was then the Southern Region.

    Since those days in the late 1960’s, I have witnessed the expansion of electrification across much of the UK rail network. My childhood haunts of Peterborough and Roade have long seen electric trains running under the overhead wires. It should only be a matter of months before Wellingborough joins them as the Midland Main Line overhead electrification is extended northwards from Bedford to Kettering and Corby.

    The initial infrastructure costs of electrification may be high, but it is the considered view that electric trains are more environmentally friendly and, over time, have proved to be both cheaper to run and more reliable than their diesel counterparts.

    A class 717 unit, one of the newest classes, is also seen at Finsbury Park. (Second Generation EMUs, Amberley Publishing)

    The electric multiple unit (EMU) has played an increasingly important part in shaping Britain’s passenger railways and, in the 1970’s, this ongoing expansion of the electrified network demanded a new generation of these electric units. This planning culminated in the introduction of the class 313 units at the end of that decade, working on inner suburban services out of London’s Moorgate station.

    From the Isle of Wight to the Central Belt of Scotland centred on Edinburgh and Glasgow, this second generation of electric multiple units now provides the mode of transport for an increasing percentage of all passenger journeys made in the UK. Since swapping the rat race for the rail tracks and, with my camera as a constant companion, I have been privileged to witness the many types of electric units at work across the UK.

    In my twelfth and latest book, ‘Second Generation EMU’s’, I explore the variety of classes that have graced our railways over the last half century. Starting with the class 313’s introduced back in 1977 and ending with a glimpse of ‘bi-mode’ units. This latest industry buzz word may offer a far cheaper alternative than full end to end electrification of our secondary lines. These bi-mode units offer the flexibility of electric power when available, supplemented by the use of diesel engines when it’s not.

    Bi-Mode power may be one for the future. Meantime, I hope you have the chance to share the journey through the pages of this publication.

    John Jackson's book Second Generation EMUs is available for purchase now.

  • Women of Science: 100 Inspirational Lives by John S. Croucher

    International Day of Women and Girls in Science took place on 11 February, it is timely to recognise the extraordinary achievements of women in a wide range of scientific disciplines. A glimpse into women’s lives that is indeed inspirational. There are common themes across the lives of these women – often an early passion for the subject that became their life’s work, and an abiding curiosity. This hunger to learn, and to solve problems, was essential for scientific pursuit, which requires patience, observation and application, the essence of empirical work, often repeated many, many times to test sometimes fragile, and bold, hypotheses. For every one of the women, we see a story of incredible, persistent, even stubborn, determination and courage.

    Agnes Pockels. (Women of Science: 100 Inspirational Lives, Amberley Publishing)

    The example of Italian chemist Agnes Pockels, born in 1862 in Venice, is illustrative. Agnes had a passionate interest in natural science, especially physics, but in her day, women were not allowed to enter universities. Her younger brother was, and he passed on what he could, giving access to his textbooks. Through curiosity and application, Agnes measured the surface tension of water by devising an apparatus known as the ‘slide trough’, a key instrument in the emerging discipline of ‘surface science’. Consider also the story of Austrian physicist, Lise Meitner. With the chemist Otto Hahn, she discovered several new isotopes and, in 1918, while studying radioactivity, they discovered the element ‘protactinium’. In 1926, Lise became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin.

    Where British astronomer Caroline Herschell, born in 1750, was credited with discoveries of eight comets and locating a number of new nebulae and star clusters, German astronomer Maria Kirch was not so lucky. On 21 April 1702, Maria discovered the so-called ‘Comet of 1702’, but her husband took the credit for it. It was not until 1710, the year that he died, that he finally admitted the truth, and Maria was then deemed to be the first woman to have discovered a comet.

    US geologist Florence Bascom spoke of the motivating force in scientific inquiry, that is seen in the stories of many scientific women, ‘The fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment … but in the pursuit, where all the powers of the mind are absorbed in the task. One feels oneself in contact with something that is infinite, and one finds a joy that is beyond expression in ‘sounding the abyss of science’ and the secrets of the infinite mind.’

    In honour of all women mathematicians, ‘Women in Mathematics Day’ has been celebrated since 2018 on 12 May, marking the birthday of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani on 12 May 1977, while ‘Ada Lovelace Day’, on the second Tuesday in October since 2009, has celebrated achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some have local days in their honour, like ‘Alice Ball Day’, 29 February, in Hawaii; and ‘Katharine Blodgett Day’, 13 June, in Schenectady.

    Other ways of honouring the women in this volume include their being selected for stamps and banknotes. Maria Göppert Mayer and Virginia Apgar, both had US postage stamps in their honour; and while biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin was honoured in British postage stamps, astronomer Mary Somerville had a Scottish banknote in her honour.

    Rita Levi-Montalcini. (Women of Science: 100 Inspirational Lives, Amberley Publishing)

    The cameos also include a few quotes that may be seen, perhaps, to represent the lived experience of the women included here. A particular issue was how, if at all, to identify their gender and their professional pathways. While engineer Olive Dennis, one of the most remarkable women in US railroad industry history, said that, ‘No matter how successful a business may seem to be, it can gain even greater success if it gives consideration to the woman’s viewpoint’, US engineer Betty Hugle resisted the elision of her professional identity with her gender, stating, ‘I am a woman and an engineer; I am not a woman engineer’, and resented the notion that her gender defined the type of engineer she was.

    While gender may have been resisted as a categorisation of the women scientists in this volume, marriage and motherhood had to be managed, somehow. Speaking in 1996, when she was in her early fifties, Jocelyn Bell Burnell spoke about the differences of life experiences for women from those of men, ‘Although we are now much more conscious about equal opportunities I think there are still a number of inbuilt structural disadvantages for women. I am very conscious that having worked part-time, having had a rather disrupted career, my research record is a good deal patchier than any man’s of comparable age … The life experience of a woman is rather different from that of the male.’

    Reflecting on the larger driving force in her intellectual quests, Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, wrote in her autobiography, ‘It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain and of the influences exerted upon us by the environment, and whoever takes care of us during the long years of our physical, psychological and intellectual development.’ In a letter she wrote in 1890, Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya observed that, ‘It seems to me that the poet must see what others do not see, must see more deeply than other people. And the mathematician must do the same.’ 

    Woman of Science: 100 inspirational lives outlines the wonderful stories of one hundred such women, spanning five centuries. And for each woman included the cameo is but a short snippet of a rich, lived life, chasing a hunger from their youth in pursuit of answers. This volume is an example of, and an inspiration for, the thousands upon thousands of women in science yet to have their stories.

    John S. Croucher's book Women of Science: 100 Inspirational Lives is available for purchase now.

  • East End Born and Bled: The Remarkable Story of London Boxing by Jeff Jones

    Ninety years ago, on 18th February 1930, twenty-one-year-old Jack Berg, known as Jack ‘Kid’ Berg, stepped into the Royal Albert Hall boxing ring to face the American world champion, Mushy Callahan for the light welterweight boxing title. Fifteen rounds of tremendous fighting later and the title was his.

    A famous victory for Berg but it was more than just that. Berg was following in footsteps of another great East End Jewish boxer Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis who was also a world boxing champion, fifteen years previously.

    Playboy boxer Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. (© PA Images, East End Born and Bled, Amberley Publishing)

    Jack Berg was born Judah Bergman into a large Jewish family in Whitechapel, deep in London’s East End in 1909. That victory, twenty-one years later, and several more that followed cemented the reputation of not only Britain’s Jewish boxers but that of East End boxing in particular.

    Six months later, in New York, one Eligio Sardinãs Montalvo, walked purposely from his dressing room at the Polo Grounds venue, continuing the path to fame and fortune. ‘Kid Chocolate’ as he was known, came with a burgeoning reputation. The brilliant American based Cuban fighter entered the ring at the Polo Grounds, unbeaten in fifty-six fights and was considered the best ‘pound for pound’ boxer in the World at that time.

    Kid Chocolate was a firm favourite given the way he had despatched his previous opponents and his eyes were firmly fixed on the $66,000 dollar purse that was up for grabs.  An absolute fortune, one of the largest purses for a non-title fight to date. Sitting quietly in the opposite corner was Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. A win for Kid Chocolate against Berg would set up a world title fight later in the year. Neither boxer had fought for such a huge sum. Chocolate was there for both the win and the money.

    In New York. Jack Berg (white slacks) with the great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (far left). (East End Born and Bled, Amberley Publishing)

    Over ten blistering rounds of boxing, Berg’s East End grit and determination proved to be the deciding factor and it produced a narrow win.  One of the greatest wins by a British boxer on American soil. That victory, more than most, ensured that the world became aware of the East London conveyer belt that was rolling off great boxers. It continued to do so.

    For Jewish boxing, Berg was considered to be the last of the great East End Jewish boxers in a line that stretched back well over one hundred and twenty years to Daniel Mendoza, the most famous Jewish East End bare knuckled boxer and a true Legend of the sport.

    East London has produced well over 300 British, Commonwealth, European and World professional champions to date. The names that claim East End heritage and a place in British boxing’s hall of fame include, Bombardier Billy Wells, the truly great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, Pat O’keeffe, Teddy Baldock, The Corbett brothers, Sammy McCarthy, Terry Spinks, Billy Walker, John H Stracey, Charlie Magri, Terry Marsh, Kevin Lear and Lennox Lewis to name just a few *gloved” champions. There were many more, great bare-knuckled champions.

    Its amateur boxers are just as impressive, boasting several Olympic/Commonwealth gold medal winners. East London was full of boys boxing clubs that produced these champions.  The list of East London boxers goes on and on, as does its boxing legacy. Their stories are inextricably linked with the area into which they were born and bred. The East End.

    Jeff Jones's book East End Born and Bled: The Remarkable Story of London Boxing is available for purchase now.

  • Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons by Gareth Winrow

    One of the main, general observations of my book is that history is constantly being rewritten. This is certainly the case regarding the Robinson family. Further research, contacts with members of the extended family, and exchanges with individuals who knew of particular members of the family, has enabled me to tap into new sources of information.

    A key character in my book is Hannah Robinson, one of the first female converts to Islam in late Victorian England. In late 1891 she was married to a supposed Afghan warlord in the mosque at Liverpool, before the couple went off in the hope of beginning a new life in Constantinople. Presumably, the founder of the mosque, the lawyer William Henry “Abdullah” Quilliam, officiated at the wedding ceremony.

    (Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons, Amberley Publishing)

    I have lately discovered that Hannah made use of her ties with Quilliam, who was a close confidante of Sultan Abdulhamid II, to secure financial support from the Ottoman court when her marriage was in tatters and Hannah sought a divorce. Her pleading letter penned to the Grand Vizier, Ahmed Cevat Pasha, in June 1892, can be found in the Ottoman archives. In this letter, Hannah mentioned how she was on good terms with Quilliam, who was by this time establishing a close relationship with the sultan. Connections between the Robinson family and Quilliam, not picked up by other commentators, is one recurring theme in the book which I do believe needs to be explored further. Amazingly, according to the Ottoman archives, Quilliam was the father of Hannah’s children! This is clearly wrong. But how, and perhaps why, the archives came to this conclusion and pedalled this story does need to be examined.

    Hannah would continue to benefit from the generosity of the Ottoman court after her divorce and then marriage to the military officer, Ahmed Bahri. I knew that the couple were given rent-free accommodation on Akaratler, a well-heeled neighbourhood very close to the Dolmabahce palace. What I did not know, until recently, was that the Ottoman authorities at one time attempted to claim rent payment of 90,750 kuruş from the Bahris. This was a substantial sum. Hannah immediately notified officials that the accommodation at 107 Akaratler had been provided to her and her family free of charge. The authorities swiftly backed down. The chastened Ottoman Minister of Finance, himself, addressed a letter of apology to Hannah on 12 February 1907. This incident provided a further illustration of the extraordinary strength of character of Hannah, the one-time domestic housemaid from London’s impoverished East End.

    Another leading personality in my book is Ahmet “Robenson”, one of Hannah’s sons. Much is already known about Ahmet Robenson. Indeed, in today’s Turkey he is almost a living legend because of his sporting prowess and his achievements with the Galatasaray Sports Club. However, I do believe that there is still a lot more to learn about this celebrated sportsman, who introduced basketball and founded the Scouting movement in the late Ottoman Empire.

    Ahmet Robenson and members of family at the Lyndhurst estate, Tarrytown, New York. (Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons, Amberley Publishing)

    After emigrating to the US in the late 1920s, Ahmet Robenson spent his last years working at the famous Lyndhurst mansion in Tarrytown in New York state. I have written a small piece for one of the local newspapers which covers the Tarrytown district, pointing out how nobody in the area knew that the elderly groundskeeper who had worked at the Lyndhurst estate in the 1950s and 1960s had been such a well-known sporting celebrity.

    Little is still known about the life of Ahmet Robenson, and of his wife Nina, after they had emigrated to the US. I am fascinated to learn what really happened to Ahmet and his wife. Were the couple forced to abandon Turkey in the face of criticism from hard-line Turkish nationalists who were opposed to Ahmet’s work with the Americans on social and educational projects? Or were there other factors at play? And, how were they able to adjust to living a life of relative obscurity in New York after having been so well-known in Turkey – in the 1920s Ahmet had also played an instrumental role in the construction of the Taksim sports stadium, and had briefly served as President of the Galatasaray Sports Club.

    I am hoping to re-trace the lives of Ahmet and Nina in the US. A visit to the Lyndhurst mansion is a must. My study of Ahmet Robenson remains a work in progress.

    Who knows what other stories about the Robinsons may come to light in the months ahead? Perhaps, I may also uncover new information about Ahmet Robenson’s father, Spencer – the tenant farmer from Lincolnshire who began a second life as a tea planter in Darjeeling. And, may be, further details about Gertrude Eisenmann, the intrepid motoring amazon of late Wilhelmine Germany, who was an illegitimate daughter of Hannah, may come to my attention.

    Will there be a sequel to Whispers Across Continents?! It is too early to say. What I am sure of, though, is that my work with the extraordinary Robinson family is still far from complete.

    Gareth Winrow's book Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of the Lothians by Jack Gillon

    The Lothians consist of West Lothian (Linlithgowshire), East Lothian (Haddingtonshire) and Midlothian and Edinburgh (Edinburghshire), which nestle along the south side of the broad estuary of the Forth.

    The strategic location and political and economic importance of the Lothians, with Edinburgh at its centre, have made the region witness to some of the most significant events in Scottish history. This is reflected in the remarkable wealth of architectural heritage spanning thousands of years. The Lothians have been settled since prehistoric times, as reflected in two of the gems in this book – the fortified settlement of Traprain in East Lothian and the sacred site at Cairnpapple Hill in West Lothian. Castles, royal palaces, churches and industrial buildings of national importance abound in the Lothians. 50 Gems of The Lothians explores the places that make the Lothians special and tells the fascinating story of their rich and varied past.

    With this wealth of heritage, the task of selecting fifty places to represent Lothian’s rich architectural legacy has been immensely difficult and not everyone will agree with the selection. However, hopefully it will be of interest, even if your particular favourite has been omitted or you think a particular example is less than worthy of inclusion.

    50 Gems of the Lothians explores the places that make the Lothians special and tell the fascinating story of their rich and varied past. It takes the reader from Edinburgh, with its castle, the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House, to the East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, the birthplace of the Saltire, Traprain Law and the historic Hailes Castle.

    Among the gems of Midlothian are the glorious Rosslyn Chapel, which was the setting for the finale of The Da Vinci Code and described by its author, Dan Brown, as ‘the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth’. This book also explores the highlights of West Lothian including the Bo’ness &Kinneil Railway, Linlithgow Palace (birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots) and the impressive Hopetoun House, near Queensferry.

    Here are just  a few of those gems:

    The Palace of Holyroodhouse. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    The Palace of Holyrood house and Holyrood Abbey

    The abbey was founded in 1128 and was the base of Augustinian monks who were granted the right by a charter of David I to form a new burgh between the abbey and the Netherbow – the Canongate. The Scottish kings made the abbey their main residence when they were visiting the area until James IV started to build a palace.

    Between 1195 and 1230, the original abbey was rebuilt as a substantial building of great importance and splendour, consisting of a choir, transept and an aisled nave. It has been witness to some of the most dramatic moments in Scottish history.

    It was repeatedly burned by English armies and suffered further damage in 1559, during the Reformation. After the Reformation, the nave was used as a parish church. However, in 1570, the choir and transept were in such poor condition that they were demolished.

     

    Hailes Castle. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    Hailes Castle

    The substantial ruins of Hailes Castle are located around 4 miles east of Haddington along a single-track road and hidden away in a peaceful riverside setting on a bend of the River Tyne. The castle has its origins in the early thirteenth century as a fortified tower house for the Earls of Dunbar and is one of Scotland’s oldest castles. It was later held by the Hepburn family and Mary, Queen of Scots was entertained by her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, at Hailes. There are two vaulted pit-prisons and a dovecote in the original tower.

     

     

     

    Athelstaneford Doocot. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    Athelstaneford

     Athelstaneford, pronounced locally as ‘Elshinthurd’, lies some 3 miles north east of Haddington. It was established by a local landowner as a planned village in the mid-eighteenth century. Low, whitewashed and red-pantiled single-storey cottages stretch along both sides of the wide road. The village is the legendary home of the Scottish Saltire. The story has it that in AD 832 a Pictish army was mustered in the area for a battle with the invading Angles. Before the battle St Andrew appeared in a vision to Óengus II, the leader of the Picts, and predicted their victory. The following day a white cross formed by clouds appeared in a blue sky and the Picts went on to win the battle. The village is also said to take its name from Athelstane, the leader of the Angles, who was killed at a local river crossing by Angus McFergus, the Pict.

    The legend has made Athelstaneford an important site on the Saltire Trail with the National Flag Heritage Centre based in a lectern doocot, which dates from 1583, in the village.

    Doocots (dovecotes) are prominent features in the rural landscape of many parts of Lothian, as estates were relatively small and consisted of rich arable land producing fine agricultural crops, which provided an excellent source of food for the pigeons.

     

    Jack Gillon's book 50 Gems of the Lothians is available for purchase now.

  • Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire by David Paul

    Over the years many stories have been written and recounted concerning the visitation of the Plague, or Black Death, when it was inflicted upon the tiny Derbyshire Peak village of Eyam.  At that time the vicar of Eyam, as is well documented, was Rev. William Mompesson. However, it is the exploits of another of Eyam’s vicars that I have researched and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire. The story relates to a bizarre marriage that took place towards the latter part of the seventeenth century and is recounted as follows:

     

    The Parish Church of St Lawrence, Eyam. (Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One winter’s day in 1684 the Rector of Eyam, Rev’d Joseph Hunt, had been called to the Miners Arms to perform the office of baptism, as the landlord’s infant son had suddenly taken ill. Having baptised the child the landlord, Mr Matthew Fearns, invited the rector to stay and enjoy a drink or two with some of the village’s miners who were sat in the bar enjoying a well-earned couple of pints at the end of a long week. The rector took the landlord at his word, and enjoyed his hospitality and the company of the miners until he became totally inebriated. Now, it was well-known in the village, especially amongst the miners in the community, that the landlord had a very charming and beautiful daughter, Ann, who, at the tender age of 18, was destined to break many hearts. Before very long Rev’d Hunt was seen entering into flirtatious conversation with the young woman. As is often the case when large quantities of ale are consumed, one thing led to another and, ‘egged on’ by the miners, the rector, enjoying the prevailing mood and one or two drinks too many, agreed to participate in a mock wedding with the publican’s daughter. The miners had little trust in the rector’s promise, so they insisted that he should honour his promise there and then. After imbibing in another glass or two, the rector consented to go ahead with the ceremony. Without further ado, one of the miners produced a Book of Common Prayer and promptly acted as officiant. He read through the whole of the solemn ceremony, with the young girl and the rector performing the roles of bride and groom respectively.

    News of the event quickly spread throughout the neighbourhood, and before very long the unfortunate act of theatre came to the notice of the Bishop of the Diocese. He had no hesitation in commanding the beleaguered rector to legitimise the mock wedding, declaring that he must fulfil in earnest what he had done in jest. Although Hunt was already engaged to another lady from Derby, he duly complied with this edict and legally married Miss Fearns (Furness) on 4th September 1684. This action had unfortunate consequences, as the lady from Derby, who was very wealthy, took out an action for breach of promise against him. Many of Hunt’s subsequent years were occupied in legal proceedings. The legal expenses alone ensured that he lost what little money he had, but the stigma of his actions soon lost him his friends in the village, whilst the reality of his actions meant that he was continually harassed by the officers of the law.

    Desperate to escape from the multitude of pressures which were besetting him, Hunt, together with his new bride, took refuge in the vestry which, supposedly, had been built for the specific purpose of providing him with a place of refuge from his enemies. He dwelt in the vestry, together with his wife and nine children, until his death. In later years he was characterised as being of a very friendly disposition, with young people from the parish visiting him in his abode, where they would sit round the fire telling tales to while away the dreary winter nights.

    Rev’d Joseph Hunt was Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709.  He resided in his makeshift dwelling until his death. There is a tombstone in a corner of the churchyard which records his death and the death of his wife. It simply states that of Rev’d Joseph Hunt, Rector of Eyam, was buried on 16th December 1709 and Ann, his wife, was buried on 18th December 1703.

     

    There are many other strange and incredible stories, garnered from numerous sources across the county, and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire.

    David Paul's book Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

  • Queen Victoria and The Romanovs by Coryne Hall

    Sixty Years of Mutual Distrust

    Much to my surprise, no previous author has ever looked in depth at Queen Victoria’s ambivalent relationship with Russia and its ruling family. Armed with permission from the Royal Archives at Windsor to quote from the Queen’s Journals, I decided to put this to rights.

    Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg (Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna of Russia) as a young woman. Stories about her treatment in Russia greatly influenced her niece Queen Victoria. (Private collection, Queen Victoria and The Romanovs, Amberley Publishing)

    The reasons for her dislike and distrust were both political and personal. The political centred on the historic British distrust of Russian aims since the expansion of the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great. The personal reasons centred on the bad treatment of Queen Victoria’s maternal aunt Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by her Romanov husband Grand Duke Constantine, Catherine the Great’s grandson.

    As I worked through the Queen’s Journals, I found that there were a lot more communications between Victoria and the Romanovs than I had thought. So many of them visited the Queen at Windsor, Osborne or Balmoral.

    The first to arrive was the future Tsar Alexander II in 1839. Alexander and Victoria were almost the same age. Victoria described him as tall with a fine figure, a pleasing open countenance without being handsome, fine blue eyes, a short nose, and a pretty mouth with a sweet smile.’ His impression of her was less complimentary: ‘[She] is very small, her figure is bad, her face plain, but she’s very agreeable to talk to.’ Nevertheless, when he whirled her giddily around the ballroom she was soon completely bowled over. The feeling (at the time) was mutual. Years later Victoria’s granddaughter described Alexander as ‘Grandmama’s first beau.’

    Tsarevich Alexander (later Alexander II) who completely bowled over the young Queen Victoria when he visited England in 1839. (Private collection, Queen Victoria and The Romanovs, Amberley Publishing)

    Nicholas I came to Buckingham Palace and Windsor in 1844. He refused a comfortable bed in favour of his own camp bed from St Petersburg and asked for straw to stuff the mattress. He was an autocrat to his fingertips but Victoria found that ‘his sternness is less remarkable, when one gets to know him better.’  Ten years later the Crimean War broke out and they were enemies.

    On his death in 1855 Victoria’s former ‘beau’ Alexander II came to the throne. Nevertheless, at least once during his reign Britain and Russia were brought to the brink of war.

    What Victoria did not foresee was the Romanovs marrying into her own family. Her son Alfred married Alexander II’s daughter Marie in 1874 after long and tortuous negotiations, when both the Tsar and the Queen proved reluctant to give way on any issue. When Marie arrived in England after the wedding she insisted on being treated as a Russian Grand Duchess. Not only was she autocratic but her jewels dazzled the court and made the Queen and her daughters rather jealous. Marie was soon complaining about the Queen and life in England in letters home.

    Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Windsor. To the annoyance of the tsar, Victoria married her Coburg cousin in 1840. (Private collection, Queen Victoria and The Romanovs, Amberley Publishing)

    The only Tsar who did not visit during his reign was Alexander III. His wife, Marie Feodorovna, was a sister to Princess Alexandra, wife of the Prince of Wales. Tsarevich Alexander and his wife came on a visit to her sister in 1873, when the Queen also invited them to Windsor and Osborne but, when he became Tsar after Alexander II’s assassination by terrorists in 1881, he and Victoria did not get on at all. ‘A sovereign whom she does not look upon as a gentleman’ was her comment about Alexander III.  In return, he described her as a ‘pampered, sentimental, selfish old woman.’

    The differences in language and culture, as well as the unstable political situation in Russia, explained the Queen’s horror when two of her favourite Hesse granddaughters, Ella and Alix, married into the Russian Imperial family – Ella to Alexander III’s brother Grand Duke Sergei, and Alix to Tsar Nicholas II. The Queen did her best to discourage both young women from going to what she called ‘horrid Russia’ but to no avail.

    Victoria gave an especially warm welcome to Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna when they stayed at Balmoral in 1896, but although the Queen liked Nicholas as a person, she didn’t like or trust his country. Her Empire always came before family connections.

    ‘Russia,’ the Queen Victoria once wrote, ‘is not to be trusted.’ It is fortunate that she didn’t live long enough to know that she would be proved right. Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, their children and Ella were all killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

    Coryne Hall's book Queen Victoria and The Romanovs is available for purchase now.

  • Shropshire Airfields Through Time by Alec Brew

    Wander nowadays down many Shropshire country lanes near small villages like Atcham, Condover, Montford Bridge or Rednal, and you will come across silent, sightless sentinels, looking out across empty fields of corn or cows, derelict control towers watching over long forgotten airfields. High above, only soaring skylarks can be heard, where once aircraft engines filled the heavens with noise, as young men from across the World learned the necessary skills to fight the aerial battles of the Second World War.

    The Spitfires moved south in August and were replaced by the Lockheed Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group, who flew their aircraft from California. An RAF officer greets one of the pilots. (Shropshire Airfields Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    When war clouds loomed in the late Thirties, the adjacent counties of Shropshire and Staffordshire were seen as the ideal place to site the training airfields which would be needed for an expanding air force, thought to be far enough away from Europe to be out of range of the Luftwaffe. Shropshire alone had nearly twenty airfields across its Northern plain, two of them, at Shawbury and Tern Hill, reviving First World War airfields, which had served the same function. Suddenly the skies over Shropshire were filled with aircraft, the circuits at many airfields almost touching.

    There was basic training from RAF Tern Hill, advanced training from RAF Shawbury, Bomber Operational Training Units (OTUs) at Tilstock, Sleap and Peplow, a fighter OTU at Rednal and Montford Bridge, the Fleet Air Arm used an airfield at Hinstock which they called HMS Godwit, about as far from the sea as a godwit could fly. Even the Americans came, operating a Combat Crew Replacement Unit at Atcham, and when their P.47 Thunderbolts chanced upon the Spitfires from Rednal, could they resist a mock dogfight?

    Other combats were far from mock. Night fighters operated from High Ercall and Tern Hill, stalking the Germans who came to bomb the North-West or the Black Country. Bomber OTUs joined raids on Europe, new crews testing their skills.

    Even in training accidents were many, young men let loose on powerful machines, always a recipe for disaster, and especially with the Shropshire and Welsh hills close at hand. The Americans at Atcham had a favourite sport, chock to chock races in their powerful Thunderbolts, all around the Wrekin, which loomed large just to the south. Such was its peril that they placed a warning beacon on the top, with the on/off switch in Atcham control tower, turning it off when Germans were about. After the War, when Atcham closed, the switch was moved to High Ercall, and now resides in the tower at RAF Shawbury.

    This photograph has always been attributed to Tern Hill, but shows 1456 Flight Turbinlite aircraft. In the foreground is a Handley Page Harrow transport ‘Boadicea’, sometimes called a ‘Sparrow’ without the front turret. Behind is an Airspeed Oxford of No. 286 Army Co-operation Squadron, a Havoc and two black Hurricanes of 1456 Flight. The Pontoon and Dock Company, currently make Marina equipment in this Type K hangar on No. 2 Sub Site. High Ercall has a total of three Type K hangars. (Shropshire Airfields Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    When the invasion of Europe loomed, assault gliders were assembled at RAF Cosford, and glider pilots trained at Tilstock, Peplow and Sleap, and then they went away to carry the fight to Normandy fields.

    At the end of the War the cut back was swift, airfields soon closed, those at High Ercall and Tern Hill lasting longer than most. RAF Shawbury remains today training the helicopter pilots for all three services, including, in its time, two young princes. Its runway remains a safe haven for aircraft in difficulty, in an area of the country where few remain. RAF Cosford remains the sole training base for ground based trades, and the home of the RAF’s only surviving annual Air Show. Tern Hill was turned over to the Army but the helicopters from Shawbury visit often. Sleap became Shropshire’s main general aviation airfield, and up on the Long Mynd, the one airfield closed during the War, has thrived since, as the home of the Midland Gliding Club. One other airfield is a surprising survivor, little RAF Chetwynd, a neat grass field lost down the lanes north of Newport, continues to serve as an extra landing field as it has for over 75 years, currently for the helicopters from Shawbury.

    Hopefully my book makes sense of what once was there, and what little still remains, those silent sentinels, the old control towers, those small industrial estates in surprisingly rural places, built on the old technical sites like Condover, Hinstock, Atcham or Rednal, those derelict Romney or Maycrete huts in farmyards or woods. Unsung memorials to a generation of young men now disappearing as they are reclaimed by Nature and the march of time.

    Alec Brew's book Shropshire Airfields Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Broadstairs by Andy Bull

    The untold story of the lady who inspired David Copperfield’s aunt, Betsy Trotwood.

    Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical story of David Copperfield has proved a timeless classic, and is gaining new admirers through Armando Iannucci’s 2019 film version.

    Aunt Betsy chasing donkeys off the green in an illustration for the American edition of David Copperfield. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    A central character in the story is David’s eccentric aunt, Betsy Trotwood. A key comic scene in both book and film is that in which she chases donkeys off the green in front of her home.

    Aunt Betsy was based on a formidable lady Dickens came to know during his annual summer stays at Broadstairs. That lady was Mary Pearson Strong and, while her connection with the character is well known in the town and where her former home houses the Dickens Museum, I discovered a fascinating untold story about Miss Strong while researching my new book, Secret Broadstairs.

    It involves a long-forgotten legacy which means that Mary, who was a hugely public-spirited character and did a great deal to help the people of Broadstairs, is still benefiting the town’s children and elderly today, 165 years after her death.

    Here is the story I uncovered.

    Mary Pearson Strong’s home, now the Dickens Museum. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    Mary Pearson Strong was a member of the wealthy Strong’s brewing family from Hampshire. She had a sister, Ann, and while Mary remained single – like her fictional counterpart – Ann married Stephen Nuckell in 1799.

    Stephen owned the cottage in which Miss Strong lived, and several adjoining buildings in what was then called Nuckell’s Place. He also owned the land running down to the cliff edge, which is now an enclosed garden. It was from this spot that Betsy (and Miss Strong) tried to ban donkeys.

    Stephen Nuckell was a prominent figure in Broadstairs, running Nuckell’s Library and the town’s Assembly Rooms, which stood at the western end of Nuckell’s Place (now Victoria Parade) where the Charles Dickens Inn is today. Mary, Ann and Stephen share a tomb in St Peter’s churchyard.

    The green from which Mary Pearson Strong chased donkeys. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen Nuckell’s death, in 1834, coincided with a change in the law regarding provision for the poor. The occupants of the town’s workhouse, in the High Street in the St Peter’s area of town, were moved to another facility at nearby Minster-in-Thanet, and the building put up for sale. It was bought by Stephen’s widow and named Nuckell’s Almshouse in his memory. In 1838 she paid £700 for the building and a further £100 converting it from what had been a grim and forbidding place into pleasant homes for ten poor, elderly widows.

    This pattern of charitable giving continued in the wills of Mary Pearson Strong and Ann, in which they both endowed charitable institutions that still exist in Broadstairs to this day.

    Delving into documents including a Board of Education report on endowments for the years 1853 to 1894, I discovered the details.

    Nuckell’s Almshouse, which still benefits from a bequest by Mary Pearson Strong. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    When Ann died, in 1843, her will left instructions that, upon her sister Mary Pearson Strong’s death, the sum of £5,000 should be invested and the income used to support or establish three schools in Broadstairs: an infants’, a girls’ and a boys’ school. The money was expressly to be used ‘for the purpose of educating the children of the poor in religious and useful knowledge ... and towards the clothing [of] such children of the said schools’, and to help them become ‘good and profitable servants and labourers’.

    Ann left it up to the vicar of St Peter’s, John Hodgson, to decide exactly where and how the money should be spent. He divided the income in equal proportions among the six schools built during his incumbency in the parish of St. Peter.

    When Mary Pearson Strong died, in 1855, her will left money for the improvement of St Peter’s Church and ‘for the benefit of the Girls’ School at St. Peter’s ... and of the inmates or any of them in Nuckell’s Almshouse’. Shortly afterwards, in 1858, Nuckell’s Almshouse was radically rebuilt, creating the grand Palladian-style Grade II-listed building to be seen today, with its niche holding a sculpture of a mother and children, representing Charity.

    The inscription on Mary Pearson Strong’s grave, urging charity. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    John Wood, clerk to the trustees of Nuckell’s Almshouse, confirms: ‘Together with a few others, Nuckell’s Almshouse benefits from a small charity of Mary Pearson Strong. I understand that Miss Strong also paid for a girls’ school to be added to St. Peter’s Infants school in the village ... Nuckell’s Almshouse still houses “poor” people. The building is now arranged in six self-contained flats – one two-bedroomed and five with one bedroom. The residents help towards the upkeep of the premises by paying a weekly maintenance contribution.’

    Charities in the names of Mary Pearson Strong and Nuckell’s Almshouse still exist. The charitable object of the Mary Pearson Strong endowment, as the current Charity Commission listing makes clear, is little changed. It is to provide: ‘Almshouses for poor persons of good character who are members of the Church of England and who have resided in the Isle of Thanet for not less than seven years ... with preference to persons who have so resided in the ancient parish of St Peter.’ It is linked with the Nuckell’s Almshouse charity.

    Mary’s inscription on the family tomb in St Peter’s churchyard reads: ‘Give alms of such things as ye have’. Ann’s inscription records that she died ‘bequeathing large sums to pious and charitable uses in this parish. Founder of Nuckell’s Almshouse’. Inflation has eaten away at Mary Pearson Strong’s endowment and, says Mr Wood, the charity now receives just £19 per year from this source.

    Andy Bull's book Secret Broadstairs is available for purchase now.

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