Is a simple form of transport a reflection of one’s personality?
For many people a motor car is not just a simple means of personal transport, it is a reflection of who they are and of their status in life. Today, the prestige market for “executive” saloon cars is dominated by three German manufacturers: BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But in the early 1960’s, certainly in the United Kingdom, the market was very different with local manufacturers having a near monopoly on supply and the market segmented very differently. Small family cars, a result of the helter skelter, stop go economy and fuel crisis brought on by the Anglo-French “Suez Adventure” were becoming popular. At the high end, well-appointed large motor cars with engines of around 3 litres and interiors finished more like country house drawing rooms than a car. In the middle sat a range of unadventurous and mundane models that, by repute, rusted before they left the production line and while they performed the task demanded of them, were neither adventurous or stylish.
All this was to change in 1963 when the rival businesses of Standard -Triumph and The Rover Car Company each announced a new model that would create a paradigm shift in the motor trade by providing a new model that would offer the style and appointment of the existing three litre class, the performance of a sports car (certainly in the case of the Triumph), but be priced in the middle market area. That rival manufacturers were about to launch a new model that would turn upside down the established market segments and compete with each other was well known to each company for there had earlier been attempts to merge both businesses and historically, there were close family connections between the senior management of the two businesses.
“TRIUMPH 2000 – Defining the Sporting Saloon” tells the story of the Triumph model and how it established the market. The book starts with the origins of the Triumph company, one that like so many businesses that were to settle in Coventry had its foundations in sewing machines, bicycles and motor cycles before entering the world of motor cars. It tells of the perilous finances of the business leading to insolvency and eventual sale to the Standard Motor Company in 1945 where the Triumph name would be used to great success, initially on a range of highly successful sports cars and ultimately on the entire output. The chance meeting between senior executives of what was then called Standard – Triumph with Italian styling genius Giovanni Michelotti lead to a distinctive house style of cars that immediately suggested quality and sporting prowess. To the middle manager or professional looking for a suitable form of transport, the new Triumph or Rover was the solution. While the Rover 2000 expressed traditional “Britishness” and featured an innovative style of construction, the Triumph made great play of the company’s sporting success, which in the early 1960s was at its Zenith with multiple class wins both on the circuit at Le Mans and in rallying.
Featuring many new and previously unpublished photographs, this book describes in detail the evolution of the car and Triumph’s efforts to substantially increase its performance through the addition of petrol injection. The first UK manufactured saloon car to feature such a system at a time where any form of fuel delivery other than by carburettors was restricted to the race track or exotic machinery with prices orders of magnitude more expensive than the Triumph. Such innovation was typical of Triumph; not always successfully.
The book concludes by pondering whether had the Triumph brand survived the upheavals of the motor industry in the 1970s and the mergers with the volume car business of BMC not taken place. Would the aspiring successful business person of today now be considering the purchase of a Triumph rather than a BMW?
About the Author:
“TRIUMPH 2000 - Defining the Sporting Saloon” has been written by Kevin Warrington who has been Editor of the Triumph 2000 / 2500 / 2.5 Register club magazine “SIXappeal” for seven years and is actively involved in the management of the club. He is an enthusiastic writer and photographer, having started to take pictures when he was given his first Kodak 127 Brownie camera as a gift for his 7th birthday. “After 53 years, I think I am just about getting the hang of it”, he frequently says. Kevin’s family background has been in the motor and transport business for many generations, but prior to embarking on a writing and photographing career, he made his life in the computer industry where he did, as he describes if “just about everything”, starting as a designer, then a service engineer before moving into product management and eventually sales. A change of management and business strategy led to him leaving a very senior international management position in one of the largest software companies to pursue his own interests.
Kevin Warrington's new book Triumph 2000: Defining the Sporting Saloon is available for purchase now.
For me, writing about rivers started off in 2013 when I was discussing possible books with my contact at Amberley. He mentioned the ‘From Source to Sea’ series on rivers. I live in Dorchester in Dorset so what came to my mind immediately was the river Frome which flows past the town. This Frome is one of several of that name in this country, and runs entirely within Dorset. It passes lots of historic locations and scenic countryside, so that suited both Amberley and myself, and off I went! There were several surprises on the way to finishing the volume – like trying to work out if the accepted source of the river was really the true one when there were at least two other candidates (I came to the conclusion that the Frome proper only started when all these streams had joined together), and also one or two interesting encounters with flooding!
A year or so later I was getting ‘itchy feet’ to try another river, and spoke again to Amberley. The publisher was now looking for a book on a larger river, and after a bit of thought we decided on the Bristol Avon. This was relatively easy to reach from Dorset, and though quite a long river, it flows within a surprisingly small area – the Bristol Avon is some 75 to 80 miles long, but I worked out that a South Gloucestershire village called Pucklechurch is no more than 15 miles from every point along its looping course. There was even more controversy over the source – two rivers called the Sherston Avon and the Tetbury Avon join to form the Bristol Avon, and each has more than one candidate for its own source. In the end I gave up and tried to describe them all! Thereafter the river runs through some lovely countryside, much of it in the Cotswolds, and some superb towns and villages such as Malmesbury and Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, then the cities of Bath and Bristol. Using the river as a reason to explore all of this was great fun, though I didn’t quite fulfil the requirement of the book’s title, as the Bristol Avon flows into the Severn Estuary, which is not quite the sea!
By now I was getting somewhat addicted to following rivers around the place, and Amberley and I agreed that I should have a crack at the Thames. On the face of it this all seemed straightforward – I decided to concentrate on the generally accepted source of the river and not worry too much about an alternative (admittedly one with a good case) that starts up near Cheltenham, and there was no doubt where the river flowed to as it has a sizeable estuary that joins the North Sea. Admittedly there was a couple of hundred miles of river between these two locations, but I could worry about all that later.
So in early March 2016 I set off to look at the accepted source up in the Cotswolds. I parked a mile or two away and set off to follow a footpath to the source. Getting closer I started feeling somewhat disconcerted that I could see no river, then came upon the stone set up at the source. Checking my map and reading the inscription on the stone left no doubt that I had found the correct spot, but there was still the not exactly minor issue that I could see no water. There was some softer ground here, though, and the grass looked whiter along the supposed course of the river, so I started following this. I did so for a mile before I found a flowing river, and it was only when I got home and did some reading that I found about the variable flow of water here.
Anyway, over the next six months I followed the river in a series of daytrips, and once again there were lots of fascinating villages, towns and cities, historic locations and lovely countryside. There were also many pleasant surprises – for instance, I had expected the section in the Cotswolds to be the most scenic, but while the villages there are very picturesque the landscape is relatively flat, it was the part that flows past the Chilterns that I found the most dramatic and attractive. Then there was the realisation that most bridges had a pub by them – all clearly well located to take advantage of thirsty travellers, although the rural crossing with a pub at either end seemed a little excessive! Then there were the discoveries that the river’s rural setting survives well into London, and that south Essex is much hillier than I remembered. On the negative side I got caught in the London rush hour on the Underground and still cannot understand how people are able to go through that every day!
All in all I am extremely glad that I undertook all this exploration, and while of course I heartily recommend the book to you, I must also admit that there is much more than I was able to include, and so I recommend equally that you go and explore the river for yourself.
Steve Wallis' new book River Thames From Source to Sea is available for purchase now.
My lifelong enthusiasm for Celtic studies began about the age of twelve, when my inspiring preparatory school headmaster suggested I read Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’ novels. I at once became engrossed in Scottish history and that of the Gaelic Highlands in particular. A prior love of the stirring tales of King Arthur combined with this enthusiasm to lead me into an abiding desire to establish the historical origins of the Arthurian legend.
By fortunate chance my five exceedingly happy years of undergraduate studies took place at Trinity College Dublin. Although my course was in Modern History and Political Theory, I was able to study Middle Welsh and Old Irish under the guidance of the formidably bearded Professor David Greene. I enjoyed a close friendship with his convivial colleague James Carney, and was privileged to know many of the giants of Celtic studies in those distant days, including Rachel Bromwich, Kenneth Jackson, Myles Dillon, Kathleen Hughes, and Nora Chadwick.
All my allowance that I could spare was devoted to building up a collection of books on the subject – a pursuit which became something of an obsession. Indeed, Susan Gregory, my unforgettable companion of those halcyon days, in conversation with my stepfather Patrick O’Brian once gently criticized the extent to which I dwelt upon ‘ye olde folks’! Meanwhile, browsing in the entrancingly cheap Dublin bookshops permitted me to amass the beginnings of a library of books on Celtic studies. Today the collection has increased to several thousand works, and it is with some gratification I note that my 45-page bibliography to The Mysteries of Stonehenge comprises in its entirety books and off prints on the shelves around me as I write.
I must here confess with shame that my command of spoken Irish and Welsh remains rudimentary. Although my wife and I found our first home in the forested heart of Welsh-speaking Powys, I have since enjoyed little opportunity to use the spoken word. In any case, my desire to master those two ancient languages remained focused on the ability to study early medieval texts.
Apart from the riches of Dublin bookshops, I obtained many rare treasures in London from Griff’s, the Welsh bookshop in Cecil Court, and became close friends with its owners, the Griffiths brothers. One summer vacation while still at TCD, I devoted myself to studying Teach Yourself Welsh. Proud of my fancied progress, at my next call at Griff’s I began the conversation in Welsh. Ever polite, William Griffiths inclined his head on one side with an expression indicating increasing bafflement at every word I spoke. Eventually, he enquired diffidently: ‘Was that Russian you were speaking?’ Realizing that learning from phonetics was far from representing (at any rate in my case) the path to fluency, I abandoned any attempt to become a Welsh speaker.
My early interest was confined to efforts – often sadly jejune, as my youthful publications attest – to recover ‘realities’ lying behind our sadly deficient sources for Dark-Age history. This interest continues, and I hope to publish before long investigative studies of the historical Arthur (assuming there was one – as I believe there was), and the originally distinct mystery of the Holy Grail.
However, my focus shifted considerably when in 1967 I bought Anne Ross’s classic Pagan Celtic Britain. Among other revelations, it made me realize that much I had assumed to be historical (such as the birth-tale of Arthur at Tintagel) proved to be mythical – in the authentic sense of the word. From this period my researches expanded increasingly into other spheres of knowledge: above all, Indo-European studies, together with comparative religion, mythology, and cosmology. At an ancillary level, I pursued investigations into the ultimate origins of religious belief, whether in anthropological or philosophical terms.
Shortly after I married my dear (and patient) wife Georgina in 1971, my researches became of a sudden directed into a very different course of study. The national controversy provoked by my Victims of Yalta culminated in my book The Minister and Massacres, which was subsequently suppressed at the instance of an apprehensive British Government. By curious chance this occurred exactly two centuries after the previous book to have been officially censored – which was no less than Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man!
However, I had in the meantime completed a study of the Merlin legend. The Quest for Merlin was published in 1985, in which I argued for an historical Merlin, whose legendary career and prophetic powers strikingly resembled those of Siberian shamans. In fact, my fascination with the Celts had never abated, and eventually I became free to pursue broader researches culminating in publication of my current book The Mysteries of Stonehenge.
Over years of research it increasingly dawned on me that detailed examination of the earliest surviving Welsh and Irish literatures might provide access to a vastly older prehistoric past extending to the Bronze and even Neolithic Ages. While archaeologists have established with increasing accuracy how and when colossal megalithic structures like Stonehenge were erected, their explanations why such laborious feats were undertaken of necessity derived largely from informed speculation. However, scholarly works such as the classic Celtic Heritage by the brothers Rees, and more recently Proinsias Mac Cana’s The Cult of the Sacred Centre and John Waddell’s Archaeology and Celtic Myth pointed the way towards a radically distinct approach.
It is hard now to recall the evolution of my labours over the years, but two critical points glimpsed at a formative stage of my researches stand out. The first was the twelfth-century imaginative ‘historian’ Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful account of Merlin’s transporting the gigantic monoliths of Stonehenge from the hill of Killare in Ireland. Killare lies beside Uisneach in Meath, a site famed in Irish medieval literature as the umbilical sacred Centre of the island. Clearly, Geoffrey’s tale reflects misunderstanding of an archaic tradition that Stonehenge represented the corresponding Centre (Navel) of Britain. The fact that a mere handful of monoliths were to be found at Uisneach could have confirmed a belief that the originals had been removed to Uisneach’s ideological counterpart at Stonehenge.
Again, archaeologists have established that the smaller (though still massive) ‘bluestones’ of Stonehenge were originally transported to the spot by a miracle of prehistoric engineering from Preseli Mountain in remote Pembrokeshire (Dyfed). Clearly, there must have been something exceptionally holy about their original site, but what that was could only be subject for conjecture. That is, until the significance of an episode in the early eleventh-century Welsh tale of ‘Pwyll, prince of Dyfed’ struck me.
The story tells how the nobles of Dyfed, becoming alarmed at the failure of Pwyll’s queen Rhiannon to produce an heir to the kingdom, repaired to Preseli Mountain to seek a solution. Following the assembly, Rhiannon duly gave birth to a princely son. The gathering implicitly took place on a significant date in the pre-Christian British calendar. In early times the person of the king embodied his realm, so that extinction of a royal dynasty brought about sterility of the kingdom as a whole – the Wasteland of the Grail romances. All this suggests the motive for the transfer of the bluestones, which were believed to be imbued with magical power (mana) ensuring the perpetuation of the Monarchy of Britain, which in turn was focused on the mighty national Centre at Stonehenge.
These factors led in turn to a succession of comparable discoveries, which after long years were finally published in my detailed study The Mysteries of Stonehenge. Together, they reveal much of pre-Christian myth and ritual, prominent among which were the Celtic doctrines of the soul and divine kingship, and explain how much of this cosmology came to be deliberately absorbed into Celtic Christianity.
Nikolai Tolstoy's new book The Mysteries of Stonehenge is available for purchase now.
Slavery was an accepted part of the economy in the ancient world. Defeated peoples might expect to have been enslaved by their conquerors, and the desperation of poverty could lead to children being sold to slave traders to provide money for the family, and even give the child an opportunity to avoid starvation. One thing that marks ancient slavery out from the practice in more recent centuries is that it was not restricted to specific races, meaning that slaves in the ancient Roman world came from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Roman slaves were not marked out by a particular costume or physical mark and this makes determining the extent of slavery difficult. The philosopher Seneca (4BC-AD65) commented that the senate once discussed introducing an item of slave dress so that they might be distinguished from free citizens, but it was recognised that this would be dangerous as it would lead to the slaves realizing that they were actually in the majority (On Mercy, 1.24).
Slavery is an abhorrent practice in any age, and we should make no attempt to excuse it, but the experience of a slave was not universally consistent. The Greek slave living in a wealthy household on the bay of Naples, teaching rhetoric to the family’s children and allowed to earn some money in his spare time clearly had a very different experience of slavery to a Gaul forced to spend a hard and shortened life quarrying stone in a southern Spanish mine. Trying to reconcile these two extremes across the extent of the empire is difficult, though we should not forget that the latter greatly outnumbered the former. A unique aspect of Roman slavery is that manumission was a realistic ambition for some slaves, such as the Greek in the example above. A slave might expect to be freed by his master for faithful service, in his will, or after saving enough money to purchase his freedom. Once released, the former slave (known as a ‘freedman’) would be expected to further the interests of his former owners, and many continued to work in family businesses. Often taking the name of their former master, the freedman did not have the rights of a freeborn citizen, but could rise in the community and gain wealth and status in their own right. Significantly, their children would become full Roman citizens. It has been estimated that, at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, half of the population of Herculaneum were freed slaves or their descendants. In no other society, then or since, have former slaves been permitted to become such an integral part of the society that enslaved them.
Slavery in Roman Britain is a subject that evokes much interest, and one that I discuss in my new book ‘Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire’. Direct archaeological evidence for slavery in Roman Britain is unsurprisingly slight, but sadly this does not mean that the practice somehow escaped our shores. Indeed, in the pre-Roman Iron Age, the taking of captives as slaves seems to have been a common result of inter-tribal conflict. Literary evidence for slavery exists in the form of a writing tablet from London, dating to c.AD75-125, recording the sale of a female slave (ironically named ‘Fortunata’), and lead curse tablets found at religious sites such as Bath and Uley (Gloucestershire) plead with various deities to punish the people who have wronged the author, si servus si liber - ‘whether slave or free’. Clearly, the economy of both rural and urban sites in Roman Britain was powered, at least in part, by slaves. One fascinating example is the tombstone of a woman called Regina, found at South Shields. She was a freedwoman and the wife of a Syrian man called Barates. Whether or not she was originally his slave is unknown, but she was a Briton of the Catuvellauni tribe of south eastern England, demonstrating that a person could even be a slave within their own country and their own culture.
One of the best pieces of evidence of a slave in Lincoln is a fragmentary inscription excavated at the site of the Roman forum in Lincoln in the 1970s. It formed part of a dedication, recording that a ‘freedman of the emperor(s)’ had rebuilt the town’s temple to the Imperial Cult. A slave owned by the emperor could have had many varied duties across the empire, such as involvement in provincial government or the running of centrally controlled industries such as mineral extraction or coin minting. This freedman, whose name is sadly lost and would doubtless have given us the name of the emperor under whom he gained his freedom, had obviously become wealthy enough to repair a major temple in a large Roman town. Perhaps more importantly, it shows us that he wanted to spend his money in such a way, emulating the custom of public munificence that marked the social aspirations of the middle and upper classes of the time. In other words, rather than showing resentment for his slavery, this freedman was going to great lengths to demonstrate that he was now a successful part of the culture that enslaved him.
Other evidence of slavery can be found in a series of copper alloy figures, known only from Britain and Germany, of which three are known from Lincolnshire. These naked figures, likely representing males, are bound around the neck, hands and ankles. Their pose – the angle of the legs and the perforations through the centre – suggest that they were originally attached to larger objects. Their function remains unknown, but it seems clear that they represent the misery represented by human slavery. Their silent forms serve to remind us that despite the literary and archaeological evidence we have for ancient slavery in Roman Britain and Lincolnshire, the most important viewpoint of all is the one we cannot obtain – that of the slaves themselves.
Antony Lee's new book Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire is available for purchase now.
What motivates an author to write a book? Well, in my case it was an old photograph.
I bought it in a junk shop for a few pounds, simply because I liked it. It’s dated 1866, and shows three very stern-faced Victorian gentlemen staring into the lens. The men in question seem unremarkable, but they were the only passengers to survive the sinking of the SS London in January 1866. The year 2016 therefore marked the 150th anniversary of the ship’s loss.
This was once a notorious shipwreck, as famous in its day as the Titanic or the Lusitania. The SS London was a luxury liner on only its third trip to Melbourne, transporting British emigrants and carrying Australian citizens back home. When it sank, the initial reaction was incredulity; then two nations fell into mourning.
I was intrigued by the photograph, but my interest was further piqued by the find of another ‘artefact’ connected with this wreck only a few weeks later. Wedged into an old encyclopedia and acting as a bookmark was a slip of paper carrying the autograph of one John King, an able seaman who escaped the sinking of the SS London. The text accompanying the autograph explains that he was the hero of the shipwreck and ensured the safety of other survivors. Interestingly, he’d been wrecked twice before.
I now set about researching the loss of the SS London in earnest. It was a difficult task because the wreck received such intense and prolonged media coverage that there were acres of newspaper coverage to wade through. My task was further complicated by the fact that original archive materials that I needed to see were distributed all around the globe – from Australia to Canada to New Zealand to London.
I am not superstitious, but it would be easy to believe that someone guided me towards finding the many other artefacts that I stumbled upon over the course of a decade. I found a copy of the ship’s original sailing brochure – an almost impossibly rare item and it’s probably the only one left in existence – and I also managed to get hold of contemporary books about the wreck, official reports and even sermons. I was fortunate enough to meet some descendents of one of the survivors as well.
Yet two artefacts stand out for me. The first is a ceramic mug bearing a picture of the ship and the legend ‘The Unfortunate London’. This intrigues me because it says so much about the Victorian attitude to death. These days, it would be considered enormously distasteful to produce a commemorative mug after, say, a plane crash or a motorway pile up. But the Victorians regarded death differently. It was important for them to honour and remember significant life events – even tragedies like the sinking of the SS London.
The other artefact that I found, by enormous good luck, was a small model of the SS London made by one of the survivors: fifteen-year-old midshipman, Walter Edwards. It’s more of a diorama than a conventional ship model of the kind we often see in museums. Yet it has a presence and a feeling of movement that I like. I imagine that the making of it was perhaps some kind of ‘therapy’ for poor Walter, who witnessed some appalling scenes as the ship went down. To me it is beautiful, but it also had practical value during my investigation because no contemporary ship-plans for the SS London survive. So the next best thing was a model built by someone who actually worked on the vessel.
None of the items I’ve managed to find have any real monetary worth. Yet putting them together with contemporary information sources has enabled me to tell the tale of the loss of the SS London. It’s a dramatic tale; a tragedy; but with twists and turns that you wouldn’t believe, and it’s always a very human story. A tale worth telling and I hope those who died would think I had done it justice.
Simon Wills new book The Wreck of the SS London is available for purchase now.
I seem to have become celebrated as ‘a historian with a special talent for getting behind the mythology of history’. My work in this direction began as a result of my interest in the case of King Richard III. Later, I also explored the wider mythology which surrounds the Wars of the Roses.
But the key feature of my initial research into all the legends surrounding King Richard III focused on his claim to the throne. This claim was clearly based upon the allegation that his elder brother, King Edward IV, had committed bigamy, making his sons, the so-called “princes in the Tower”, royal bastards. In a sense, my research into the private life of Edward IV was therefore always inevitable.
One of the key writers responsible for the mythology which surrounds the reputation of King Richard III was undoubtedly Sir (St.) Thomas More. But he was writing years after the short reign of the king who was killed at the battle of Bosworth. Thomas More himself had only been seven years old when Richard was killed. He can have had no personal memory of that king and his reign, of which he later wrote an account. The source of More’s information was probably Henry VII’s leading politician, Cardinal Morton – making the story as More received it part of the political rewriting of history. But perhaps More was never entirely convinced in respect of the accounts which he had heard, because intriguingly he himself seems to have written various versions of his history of Richard III. Also he never had any of them published during his lifetime. A text of More’s ‘history’ was first published later, by his foster daughter’s son.
It is therefore interesting that, although the point has hitherto been overlooked by most writers, in reality Thomas’ More’s account of Richard III is also the key source for some of the ‘facts’ about the private life of Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV which have hitherto been universally accepted as true. For example, Thomas More is the earliest written source for the claim that Edward IV was the lover of ‘Mistress Shore’. Astonishingly, no earlier source exists to suggest that William Shore’s ex-wife was King Edward’s mistress. Incidentally, More refers to her simply as ‘Mistress Shore’. At least he never made the ridiculous claim that ‘Mistress Shore’ bore the first name of Jane! That story was only invented even later, by Jacobean playwrights who wanted to put her as a character on stage, and who therefore needed a first name for her. Unfortunately Mistress Shore’s real first name – Elizabeth – had not been recorded by any of the sources which connected her story with that of Edward IV.
Thomas More is also the key source for the allegation that Edward IV had a relationship with a woman called Elizabeth Lucy. Indeed, More states that Richard III’s claim to the throne was based upon the allegation that Elizabeth Lucy had been his elder brother’s legal wife. In reality, however, contemporary evidence shows very clearly that the woman who was accepted by Parliament as having been the legal wife of King Edward IV was definitely not called Elizabeth Lucy. The woman who really was recognised officially as Edward’s legal wife was Lady Eleanor Talbot (Lady Boteler), the daughter of the first Earl of Shrewsbury. As for ‘Elizabeth Lucy’, although I and a number of previous writers have tried very hard to find some evidence relating to her, the fact is that in reality no such person is ever mentioned anywhere in any fifteenth-century records. Thus it now appears to be the case that the alleged ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ named by Thomas More never really existed. The name was merely a later invention. Probably it was part of the well-recorded policy – explicitly stated by King Henry VII and his government – to ensure that Lady Eleanor Talbot was airbrushed out of history.
Having shown that Edward IV’s relationship with two of his alleged ‘mistresses’ is highly questionable, my book on his private life then goes on to explore what sexual relationships the king really does seem to have had. It also investigates how many illegitimate children he produced as a result. In order to answer the question of whom the king might have met, when, and where, I have also explored for the first time, detailed contemporary evidence in respect of his movements around the country – and abroad.
In reality, Edward IV appears to have been rather uxorious. His reign and his political actions were often clearly based upon the wishes of his bigamous second secret wife, Elizabeth Widville. She was the mother of his two sons, the so-called ‘princes in the Tower’ – who, however, were subsequently declared by parliament to have been royal bastards.
Other important facts emerge. For example the alleged birth and death dates which are usually published for King Edward IV himself cannot be substantiated! Also, an appendix introduces the intriguing quest for the mitochondrial DNA of the ‘princes’. With a little help from me, a colleague who was inspired by my earlier discovery of Richard III’s mtDNA has now made remarkable progress on the mtDNA search in respect of the ‘princes’. We agreed to publish the results of his findings as they then were. But one of the outcomes of that publication has already been further progressed! Hopefully it will therefore soon be possible to establish the mtDNA haplogroup to which Edward IV’s sons belonged.
Further progress on the DNA research is not the only update which has taken place in the very short time since The Private Life of Edward IV was published. I have spotted a couple of small mistakes in my text, and one of my readers has made helpful suggestions about the identity of three medieval place names which I had not been able to identify. The corrections and other updates will be included in later editions of the book. Meanwhile they can be found on my website: https://www.johnashdownhill.com/the-private-life-of-edward-iv/
John Ashdown-Hill's new book The Private Life of Edward IV is available for purchase now.
It was only after I had agreed to write the Reading edition of Amberley’s ‘…in fifty buildings’ series that I started to have misgivings. I remembered John Betjeman’s words, that “no town in the south of England hides its attractions more successfully from the visitor”. That was in 1949 and the town had since undergone a further two-thirds of a century of rapid growth and change. Reading is at the heart of the most economically dynamic part of the country, and one of the prices that towns tend to pay for success is the destruction of all traces of the past.
Never was this more true than in the past sixty years. For a start, we have seen the disappearance of the Victorian town’s three staple industries – beer, biscuits and bulbs – that for more than a century had been Reading’s economic life’s blood. The value of the sites they occupied was one factor in their decision to relocate and, sure enough, developers soon swallowed up their land, sweeping away almost all the built evidence that Simond’s beer, Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits or Sutton’s seeds had ever been produced here.
But development can add to our store of history, as well as take it away. In 1987, as developers were building the Reading Business Park, they started unearthing Bronze Age artefacts. It turned out to be the largest Bronze Age settlement in the south of England, taking our knowledge of the town’s history back to around 1000 B.C. As for more recent evidence of the town’s history, I need not have worried. A gratifying (and surprising) amount of built reminders of the town’s past have survived for us to enjoy - if you know where to look.
But by now other questions were starting to preoccupy me, such as ‘what criteria should I use to assemble my short list?’ and ‘what is a building’? As for the first question, I ruled out the idea of some sort of beauty contest, of choosing Reading’s fifty most attractive buildings, or of trying to decide which fifty were the most important. Instead, I simply went for fifty that told part of the story of the town, be they architectural gems or eyesores, massive landmarks or humble almshouses. As for ‘what constitutes a building?’, I took it to mean anything that man had built. So, beside the houses, factories, offices, churches and railway stations that you would expect to find in the book, there are canal locks and a pioneering cemetery. One further confession – I cheated a bit on the fifty, as you will find when you reach the final entry.
No built evidence of Roman settlement remains, unless you count the nearby ruins of Silchester, so our story begins in the year 979 – and what a story that one entry tells. It starts with a royal murder, with Edward, would-be future King of England murdered by his stepmother. Penance for this act led to the founding of St. Mary’s Minster Church. Prior even to this King Alfred fought the invading Danes for possession of the land on which it stands. The church was used as a lookout for the incoming Dutch forces during the misnamed ‘bloodless revolution’ of 1688, when William of Orange dispossessed James II of the throne. The revolution was misnamed ‘bloodless’ because a decidedly bloody battle was fought around the church and in the streets of Reading to drive out Irish troops loyal to James. Later the church became one of the first buildings in the world (along with several other Reading landmarks) to be immortalised by pioneer photographer William Henry Fox-Talbot, who based his fledgling business in the town.
Violence seems to be associated with many of the town’s churches. Both St Peter’s in Caversham and St Giles in Southampton Street were partly destroyed by artillery fire, after being used as gun emplacements during the Civil War siege of the town. As for St Laurence’s in Friar Street, it survived the Civil War, only to have its western front blown out by a World War Two German bomber, which nearly killed the creator of Paddington Bear in the process. Greyfriars church saw a different kind of violence. After the reformation under Henry VIII, it was stripped of any useful building materials and the ruins turned into a particularly degrading and brutal prison.
The story of local stately home Caversham Park is like a history of England in miniature. Before 1066 it was the property of the elder brother of King Harold. In the centuries after that, it passed through the hands of many of the most powerful men in Britain (a surprising number of whom seemed to meet sticky ends). Kings and Queens visited the house and, for a short period in the thirteenth century, the whole of England was ruled from the Caversham Park estate. There have been several stately homes on the site over a period of about a thousand years, the latest of them designed by the architect better known for London’s Tower Bridge.
And so the story goes on – a thousand years of history captured in fifty buildings. I have not even got space in this blog to talk about one of the greatest religious centres in the land, with a church the size of Westminster Abbey; a Victorian prison by one of the century’s greatest architects, modelled on the mediaeval Warwick Castle; the school where Jane Austen got part of her education, right through to a brand-new space age railway station costing £895 millions at last count. Far from worrying about finding fifty buildings to include, my challenge turned out to be knowing what to leave out.
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Although it was a turning point in British history we don’t actually know exactly how King Harold died. Two different stories have come down to us. The traditional one, known to every schoolchild probably from that day to this, is that he was fatally struck in the eye by an arrow in the final stages of the battle of Hastings. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings) however, gives an altogether different version.
This Carmen is probably the earliest account of the events of 1066, a poem in Latin prepared rather hastily in 1067 for presentation to King William on his return to Normandy. The only manuscript copy of the poem disappeared some thirty years after it was written and was only rediscovered in 1856 leading to suspicions that it was a forgery. Now, however, it is generally accepted as authentic and the author is named as Guy, Bishop of Amiens.
In this version of the story, as the English shield wall is finally weakening and beginning to break up, William himself spots a chance to dispose of his rival once and for all. Getting together a group of knights, he deliberately targets Harold, still in the thick of the fighting, and sets out to hack him to death. Gruesome descriptions are given of how Harold was pierced through with a lance and ‘drenched the earth with a gushing torrent of blood,’ at the same time being beheaded and disembowelled and even having his leg cut off.
Which of these stories is true, we really don’t know. William of Poitiers, a Norman monk who had previously been a soldier himself, gives an account of the conquest full of detail on everything else, but says nothing at all about how Harold met his end. It has been suggested that he might have found the deliberate ganging up on Harold and the subsequent butchery to be a shameful act, and did not want to tarnish his hero William with such a deed, particularly when the victim was a consecrated king.
The other almost contemporary record, the Bayeux Tapestry, is as unclear as usual. The caption, ‘Harold is slain’, is spread over two different deaths. One under the word Harold shows a man clutching an arrow apparently stuck in his eye, while the other has a man cut down by the sword of a horseman. The suggestion that both are Harold in a kind of cartoon sequence, can probably be discounted. In the first picture he is shown with a shield, but in the second this has disappeared and instead he is dropping a battle axe as he falls. It has also been pointed out that if both were intended to be Harold he seems to have had time to change his socks in between.
Wace, born on Jersey and brought up at Caen in Normandy, wrote his Roman de Rou some hundred years after the event, intending it more as an entertainment than a serious history, but he also has the story of an arrow. He places it, however, towards the start of the battle and has Harold pluck it out and carry on fighting. In fact he flatly declares, ‘I do not indeed know … and have not heard say, who it was that smote down King Harold, nor by what weapon he was wounded.’ This suggests that a century after Hastings neither version of events seemed to be regarded as definitive, at least in Normandy.
The uncertainty about the mode of death extends even more to the disposal of the body. By the time William finished his pursuit of the fugitives and returned to the battlefield it would probably have been quite dark. In the meantime, as depicted in a whole series of cartoons along the lower frieze of the Tapestry, others had been busy gleaning everything they could from the fallen, leaving the corpses, and no doubt others who were merely wounded, lying naked as they were born. How then was the dead king to be recognised among the pile of bodies?
There is a story that when women came to claim husbands, fathers and brothers from those left on the battlefield Harold was so disfigured that it was left to his long time mistress Edith Swan-neck to identify the body by some mark known to her alone. Next we hear that Harold’s mother, Gytha, came asking for the body. She is said to have offered his weight in gold in exchange but was flatly refused. Instead we are told William gave the body to one William Malet, telling him to bury it secretly on the seashore and adding that since he had guarded the coast so devotedly in life he could go on guarding it in death.
A strong tradition, however, claims that, although William refused money for Harold’s body, he did in fact turn it over to Countess Gytha, or at least to two canons from Waltham Abbey who may have supported her claim, and who then brought it back to the abbey and buried it before the high altar. The basis of this claim comes from William of Malmesbury writing in 1125, and he is backed up by Wace in the 1160s, though Wace adds, ‘I do not know who it was that bore him thither, neither do I know who buried him.’ In the abbey grounds today there still stands a memorial to Harold, reputed to mark the site of his grave, and this is certainly the nearest the last consecrated Saxon king has ever come to a gravestone. It is recorded, though, that when on one occasion the grave was excavated it was empty.
Perhaps that would not be surprising if we were to believe another legend, recorded in a ‘Life of Harold’ also written at Waltham that gives a completely different end to the story. According to this Harold survived the battle of Hastings and in fact lived for many years after.
This Vita Haroldi or The Life of Harold was among a collection of ancient documents known as the Harley Collection, preserved after the dissolution of the monasteries and eventually sold to the newly founded British Museum in 1753. It appears to be an early fourteenth century copy of an original work from the late twelfth century, written by a secular canon of Waltham Abbey. This in turn claimed to be based on a shorter primary source from someone with direct personal knowledge of the facts alleged.
The story it tells is quite simply that Harold survived Hastings, that another body was wrongly identified as his, and that he was slowly nursed back to health over a period of two years. He then went abroad to try and raise help to dislodge William, failed in that, became a pilgrim and eventually returned to England to live out his life at Chester as a hermit.
Hastings, Chester or Waltham? 1066 or sometime between 1090 and 1150? Harold, last Anglo-Saxon King of England died and was buried, but how, when or where we may never know.
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There were several reasons why I wrote my new book on the servants of Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, the country home of the Dukes of Sutherland. In the early 19th century they were reputed to be the richest non-royal family in England and the largest private landowners in the UK, thanks to their huge land holdings in Scotland. But this is not what attracted me to them. Trentham itself is now only a ruin set in a beautiful landscape and garden, home to a bustling shopping centre. What draws a historian’s interest, however, is the huge family archive which survives in public ownership in the Stafford Record Office. This contains a wide range of records, including a large collection of letters between agents about servants. Surely, I thought, there is enough there to enable research into the people who worked for the family, and in particular enough to let us see them as real individuals, not just caricatures or fictitious representations on television.
I was right! Helped by a good friend of mine, Linda Barton, it has taken the best part of five years to piece together mini biographies of a number of servants. Some of them have their family origins in Staffordshire. One of these was the Penson family, who provided men and women as both indoor and outdoor staff to work for the Sutherlands for at least 200 years. Some of them were highly successful, some had terrible stories to tell. One who experienced both was Mary Penson. She was born in the rural heart of Staffordshire in the hamlet of Standon, a member of the Wrights, another of the long-serving families of Trentham. In 1822 she was just twenty-one when she married Thomas Penson, a quarryman on the estate. In August of the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Frances, who tragically died before she could be baptised. Almost exactly one month later Mary buried her young husband, killed in an accident in the estate quarry. Widowed so young, Mary inevitably fell back on family tradition and went into service. After a couple of years she was set on by the Sutherland family as a children’s nurse, later became the nanny and eventually, in 1847 was taken over by the Duchess of Sutherland as her personal lady’s maid. She became close to the Duchess, accompanying her on her many travels both in the UK and on the continent. It was on one of these journeys that Mary was taken ill. The whole holiday was abandoned, Mary brought back to London, but after a short while the family had to announce that their ‘dear old friend Penson’ was dead. She was buried in the quiet country churchyard at Standon, in a tomb provided by the Sutherlands, for whom she had worked for forty years.
By contrast many of the Sutherland servants were recruited in London, some from exotic foreign countries. One such was known as Zenon Vantini, described as an Italian, who in 1833 took the post of house steward to the family. No doubt his knowledge of a variety of European countries made him both attractive and useful to the Sutherlands, but the correspondence in the archive shows that he never really fitted into the household. He did not get on with the Duke’s private secretary, a powerful and discreet figure whose letters have a careful, measured tone in great contrast to those of the excited, emotional Vantini. Over a period of ten years they were constantly at war, mainly over the household accounts, usually under the same roof as each other in London or Trentham, sometimes on the family travels through Europe.
Vantini eventually made his escape from this unfortunate situation in 1841, investing in the newly built Euston hotel, where he installed his wife and eldest daughter as managers while he went north to help set up another huge hotel at the other end of the railway going north-west, the North Euston Hotel at Fleetwood. Although this last was not a success for the Vantini family, Zenon went on to found other hotels, at Folkestone and Paris. He also founded and ran the first refreshment rooms attached to a number of railway stations including Manchester and seems to have been the first to organise an all-in package holiday to Paris and the battlefield of Waterloo, several years before the launch of similar holidays by Thomas Cook.
All the time Linda and myself were picking our way carefully through this research we were intrigued by the problem of Vantini’s early life. Where did he learn his skills at running such a sophisticated household to the standards expected by the Sutherlands? There was just one clue, something Vantini had let drop during his stay in Fleetwood – as a young man he had been associated with the household of Napoleon! Neither of us really believed this – he was good at telling jokes was Vantini – but imagine our amazement when, through family history sources, we found this to be true. He was in fact born on Elba, brought up as a page by Napoleon’s sister’s household in Tuscany, and returned to Elba when Napoleon landed as an exile. He became one of the emperor’s couriers, accompanying him on his tours of the island and walking with him along the shore. He even played a part in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. What happened thereafter to the young Vantini, still only in his late teens, is unknown until he turns up in various records in London in 1825.
Vantini’s career both before and after the Sutherlands is a complex story which I summarise in the Trentham book but which I am now following up in greater detail, to be published later. The story of both him and Mary Penson are just two of a number of narratives of the servants of Trentham which I have included. Individually they are intriguing, heart-wrenching, often frustrating, but together begin to sketch in some of the details of this amazing household.
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When I agreed to write the story of Oxford in 50 Buildings I knew I had accepted a difficult assignment. This is no ordinary town.
Oxford can be seen as the product of many individual decisions. First being Alfred the Great’s decision to turn this insignificant river crossing settlement with its convent into one of his system of defensive burhs. The individual decisions of many long-forgotten wandering teachers who felt that this would be a good place to earn a living, creating a critical mass that became the university. Then with the young William Morris’s decision to assemble his cars at Cowley rather than in an established manufacturing town.
Many of the decisions which have gone to make the Oxford we know are fossilised in bricks (or stone) and mortar. So the story of this complex place can be told using its buildings, though doing that in just fifty buildings is a real challenge. Everyone has their favourites, and the celebrities (such as the Radcliffe Camera) feature in guidebooks and in tourist photos and videos which are then carried all around the world. Some are truly iconic. Others, perhaps less photogenic, played an important part in the story. Which do you include; which do you regretfully have to leave out?
Oxford is, of course, world famous as a university. But it is also a town where people live and work. In fact, it was a town for centuries before the university began to develop. These two faces of the town share the same space yet have their own priorities and often live separate lives. They have always jostled for prominence – think of the long tradition of town versus gown rivalry. Part of the fun for the writer is to tell both stories as they intertwine.
I resisted the temptation to photograph all the venerable colleges with their mellow stonework and leafy gardens; they all have their architectural gems, their place in history and famous alumni. Instead, I limited my choice to those which marked a key moment in the bigger story. For example Merton, the first college, New College, the first to admit undergraduates, or the monastic remains at Worcester. That left space for some of the non-university buildings which have shaped the Oxford story. Some being the fourteenth-century half-timbered merchant’s house on the corner of Ship Street, for example, or the former Cooper’s factory where the world-famous marmalade was made. The Eagle and Child tavern also squeezes in, one of several surviving seventeenth-century inns, but which is elevated into the national consciousness as the favoured drinking hole of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.
It would be easy to fill the selection with medieval or eighteenth-century architecture, but the book needs a good spread over time. The story is brought right up to date with the Saïd Business School and Plant Oxford, the Mini factory at Cowley. But it does not end here. New architecture will continue to write itself into the narrative as society, and with it both the town and university, adapt to an ever-changing world.
Once the selection was made, even photographing each of the fifty buildings presented its problems. Constant traffic and pedestrians allow only brief opportunities for a well-composed shot, while access to many university buildings is restricted in term time.
I expect every reader will argue with my final fifty, wanting to include a favourite here and drop another there. Make your own selection, and above all enjoy the wide range of architectural gems which weave the fabric of this remarkable place.
Andrew Sargent's new book Oxford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.