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  • Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton

    Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty

    An Alternative Britain

    Over the last two decades there have been many books positing an alternative history of Britain, if a fictional event had occurred, e.g. if Hitler had invaded, if the Cold War had boiled over, and the like. But do we need these scenarios? For instance, with the surfacing of the obscure Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur after centuries of Welsh rebellion, we see an almost fictional turn of events leading to the nation’s conversion to Protestantism.

    The coat of arms of Owen Tudor (c. 1400-1461) is almost identical to that of Ednyfed Fychan, but probably included martlets (heraldic swallows), like the arms of his son Jasper. (Courtesy of Sodacon, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    His first biography discovers one of the longest and strangest stories in British history, and accounts for the success of his grandson in gaining the throne of England. The tale begins with the Roman departure from Britain around 410, when it seems that the Christianised British expelled their officials – interpretations vary on this matter. The British were constantly attacked by pagan Irish, Scandinavian and Germanic peoples. Eventually, Saxons, Angles and Jutes pushed the British westwards into Strathclyde, Cumbria, what is now Wales and the West Country. Many escaped to Brittany [Bretagne], where the Breton language is very similar to Welsh, and which explains the origin of the term Grande Bretagne, Great Britain.

    Slowly the British parts of England were taken over, with Cornwall, where the British/Welsh language survived until the late eighteenth century, being the last to succumb. The remaining British, in Wales and Brittany, fought off many attempts at invasion. Their hope for a mab darogan, a son of prophecy, to retake England from the Saes [Saxons] with their pagan language [Saesneg], was never extinguished, perpetuated by generations of bards. To add insult to injury, ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ are Germanic terms from this time, meaning foreign. The real names are Cymru and Cymraeg. The British/Welsh were named ‘foreigners’ in their own land. From 1066 the Franco-Danish Normans, led by William the Bastard, quickly took over England, but Wales held its border. Many of the border counties, the English Marches, had large Welsh-speaking populations up to the late fifteenth century, and many of their population supported the Glyndŵr War of 1400-1415.

    Cymru [Wales] struggled to retain independence against a succession of French kings of England, with many invasions into the land, destroying churches, burning crops and taking slaves. Resentment grew, spurred on by the bards, alongside hopes of a promised deliverer to take back British lands and throw the invaders out. In 1282, however, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, was lured into a trap by the Mortimers, killed and his army slaughtered after they surrendered. His successor, his brother Dafydd, was captured in 1283 and Edward I personally invented his gruesome torture of hanging, drawing and quartering while alive. Previously victims had been hung until dead and then disembowelled and quartered, with the parts being despatched for display. Edward I borrowed heavily for foreign troops and to build the Iron Ring of castles around Gwynedd, reneging upon his massive debts to Italian bankers.

    Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V, mother of Henry VI (1421-71), who secretly married Owen Tudor and was the grandmother of Henry VII. (Author's collection, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    However, there was still constant revolt across Wales, with a succession of meibion darogan [sons of prophecy]. In 1400, an English army was sent across North Wales to deal with the Tudur brothers of Anglesey. They belonged to one of the noble houses of Wales, directly descended from Llywelyn the Great’s seneschal Ednyfed Fychan. They rose in favour of their employer, the deposed Richard II against his murderer Henry IV. Their rising came to be led by a new ‘son of prophecy’, their relation Owain Glyndŵr, and the Welsh fought off ten armies in six invasions of Wales from 1400-1415. The Welsh even invaded England as far as Worcester once, with French help. Ednyfed Fychan’s line had fought the English for centuries, but three of the Tudur brothers were killed, one by hanging, drawing and quartering. Maredudd ap Tudur left a son Owain, born at the start of the war, in 1400. He was probably brought up by the Scudamores of Kentchurch, kinsmen of Philip Scudamore of Troy, who was executed for his part in supporting Glyndŵr.

    Somehow, now known as Owen Meredith, Owain joined the retinue of Baron Hungerford, Steward of the King’s Household in 1420-1421. Nearly all his direct ancestors had fought the English. He may well have fought at Agincourt in 1415, and certainly, growing to manhood during the Glyndŵr War, will have been experienced in arms. In 1422 Owen was appointed as the head of household for Henry V’s 21-year-old widow Catherine of Valois. There is a detailed description in the book of the queen’s upbringing and her brief marriage to Henry V, a man in part of unheroic tendencies. Being not allowed to marry, Catherine clandestinely married Owen in 1428. In secrecy, at the bishops’ palaces of Much Hadham and Hatfield, Catherine gave birth to Edmund Tudor in 1430 and Jasper in 1431. Another son became a monk, but Catherine died in childbirth in 1437. Owen was thrown into prison, escaped, and was captured again.

    However, in 1439 he was released, pardoned by his stepson Henry VI, granted a pension and a place at court and his lands restored. Catherine’s young son Henry VI had no immediate family and ennobled his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper as the earls of Richmond and Pembroke in 1452. Owen Tudor served his stepson Henry VI as a captain in the defence of Normandy, before fighting with his sons on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses [1455-1487 – they did not end at Bosworth]. Edmund Tudor was captured and died in 1456, and his son Henry was born a few months later to Margaret Beaufort. His father and brother fought on, but at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, Owen and Jasper were defeated by Edward, Duke of York. Jasper escaped to fight again but Owen was captured and executed.

    The impressive Carreg Cennen Castle stands on a rocky crag in Carmarthenshire, and was taken by Owen's son Edmund, Earl of Richmond, from the Yorkists in 1456. (Author's Collection, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    As well as this first biography of Owen Tudor, I also wrote the first biography of Jasper, a man who fought from the first to the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, 32 years in total, without whom Henry Tudor could never have taken the crown. Which neatly brings us back to alternative histories. Edmund and Jasper Tudor were successively great hopes for the British-Welsh, lauded as inheritors of the age-old prophecy that the Welsh would drive the English back out of the country. Upon Henry Tudor’s adulthood, spent in Brittany and France to escape death by Yorkists, Henry assumed the mantle of mab darogan.

    Henry and Jasper invaded through Wales, support growing all the way, and many, many of Edward IV’s Yorkist followers joined him [including most of the late king’s bodyguard]. Richard III was deserted by nearly all the English nobility at Bosworth in 1485. The mother and sister of the princes he killed [Edward IV’s sons] threw their support behind Henry, which led to Henry marring Elizabeth of York, beginning the Tudor Dynasty. [My books on Richard III and Henry VII make the case for a cathedral interment of Richard’s bones as being quite astounding]. And here we come to ‘real’ alternative history – a man from a long line of nationalists secretly marries the queen of one of England’s greatest heroes. His son fights through the Wars of the Roses. The other son posthumously has a son who takes the crown of England. In turn, his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I turn England and Wales away from Catholicism. And, of course, without Owain’s intervention in history, we would have no Gunpowder Treason Day, which became Guy Fawkes’ Night. Who needs historical fiction when facts are much more interesting?

    Terry Breverton's new paperback edition of Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty is available for purchase now.

  • London - 'The Flower of All Cities' by Robert Wynn Jones

    The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire

    A large part of London, and almost all of the old walled City that lay at its heart, was burned down over the space of a few short days during the Great Fire of 2–6 September 1666. This book attempts as it were to unearth from the ashes something of the history of the already age-old and burnished City that had gone before. It tells tales of settlement, struggle, conquest, oppression, rebellion, war, plague and purifying fire. The City founded by the Romans in the middle of the first century AD, on the damp maritime frontier of their vast continental empire, and named by them Londinium. The City abandoned by the Romans at the beginning of what some still think of as the ‘Dark Ages’ of the seaborne Saxons and Vikings, and known by the former in turn as Lundenwic and Lundenburg. And the City of the – later – Middle Ages or Medieval period, of the Normans and Plantagenets; and the post-Medieval or early Modern, of the Tudors and Stuarts; one of the first true world-cities, called by some Londinopolis.

    Replica of the Elizabethen Globe playhouse, Bankside, Southwark. The original was built nearby in 1599. (The Flower of All Cities, Amberley Publishing)

    This unique history of old London town encompasses the lives of kings and queens, gentlefolk, commoners and knights, monks and merchant-adventurers and strutting players; of the anointed and ill-fated, the remembered and the forgotten. It is a City tale of “great matter” and “great reckoning”; of bustling waterfronts and imposing walls, of praying spires and vying masts, of consuming chimneys and seducing streets, of plunging shadow and abiding light. That which the poet William Dunbar in 1501 described as “sovereign of Cities” and “the flower of Cities all”.

    The City of London as presently defined incorporates some areas that lie a little outside the original walls (including Southwark, south of the river). Pre-Great Fire Greater London, that is to say the more-or-less continuously built-up area, extended even farther out, especially along the Thames: on the north side of the river, as far west as the West End and Westminster, as far north as Spitalfields and Shoreditch and as far east as Stepney, Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliff, Limehouse, Poplar and Blackwall; and on the south side, as far west as Lambeth and Vauxhall, as far south as Borough and Newington, and as far east as Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, but not as far as Deptford, Greenwich, and Woolwich, which remained isolated settlements. The Great Fire was substantially confined to the old walled city.

    Through the story of early London we can trace a busy, beautiful, dangerous city lost forever, but brought back to life here through skilful analysis of the archaeological, pictorial and written records.

     

    Robert Wynn Jones's new book The Flower of All Cities: The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire is available for purchase now.

  • Photographers of the Third Reich by Paul Garson

    Images from the Wehrmacht

    What is it about photos that mesmerize us? When even life and death enemies find themselves smiling for their captor’s camera.

    A group of army officers struggle with various types of cameras, likely in France. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    What power do these images hold that in some cases linger with us for our entire lives? Is it because 70% of our sensory input is visual, recorded through our eyes and pasted into the infinite photo album that is our mind? And while we can only “see” a relatively small part of the electro-magnetic spectrum, evolution has seen to vision’s effectiveness as a paramount tool for survival. And then comes the camera and war itself, when first seen only in black and white images, seems to have been leached of color, as it were, of life itself.

    But still, the starkness of the monochromatic slips of paper, many such seen here, possess in many cases even more impact that color. Perhaps it is because at night, life itself is reduced to shades of shadow.

     

     

     

     

    Ica Icarette 500. Produced by the Dresden-based company, the 120 (6x9) roll film Icarette first appeared in 1914. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    My life-long co-existence with the camera, shall we say, first took focus more than half a century ago. I was an elementary school student in South Florida and for some reason had been “recruited” by my peers to the semi-vaunted position of Captain of the Safety Patrols. I was given a white belt with chest strap, a white “sailor’s” cap and a shiny badge, all part of my uniform. So outfitted, I found myself purportedly in charge of a “troop” of my fellows, now responsible with safe-guarding our schoolmates primarily during the morning and afternoon frenzy of “drop-offs” and “pick-ups.” As I recall we apparently adhered to the call of duty and no casualties were recorded.

    One of the perks was a group trip to Washington D.C. for the annual national safety patrol convocation that saw Pennsylvania Avenue inundated with marching safety patrollers gathered from all over the country. As I recall, even the President took in the review.

     

     

    Paris Occupied, May 1940. A wounded German mechanised trooper with what appears to be a Voigtlander or Plaubel large format press camera. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    Such a momentous event found me gifted with a Kodak Brownie camera and rolls of film to record safety patrol history in the making. That little Dakon plastic-bodied camera with its simple fixed focus and single shutter speed (original price of $5.00), found me snapping away in the nation’s capital. While the black and white images eventually were lost in time, the camera would later sprout into a current collection of over 200 vintage cameras, not to mention a number of “modern” 35mm film and digital cameras I would use professionally for some 30 years while working for various magazines. While several hundred of my images would see publication, the ones that would ultimately take precedence, were photos taken by countless others, their names unknown, and who for the most part while wearing the military uniform of several nations engaged in bloody conflict.

    Agfa Karat 3.5 with Deckel Compur Shutter, 1938. The modern-looking German-made Agfa Karat strut-folding camera was produced by Agfa from the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    So what was the segue from camera as a utilitarian tool of my profession capturing colorful images for national consumer publications to a tangential role as a “photo-archeologist” drawn to excavating the imagery found lurking the darkness of the Third Reich and the Nazi era? It also began by chance.

    Some 20 years ago, I came upon a photo of German soldiers aboard a motorcycle, shouldering machine guns and smiling for the camera. It turned into a magazine feature about wartime motorcycles which eventually turned into an unending quest for wartime images that evoked both history and the power of the camera. It was also infused with an intellectual response to history’s greatest crime committed by humans against humans and where in the end, relatively very little justice prevailed, even decades later. And so, lest historical memory fade, I began “collecting” the original photographs literally from around the world. It took years, thousands of hours of scanning hundreds of thousands of images, selecting, not to mention purchasing them. Then thousands of more hours reading hundreds of relevant books and gleaning the historical context in which the images rested. Thus the evolution of my “photo” books.

    U-Boat Commander with Siemens C Model 16 mm Movie Camera. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    This book is actually the fourth in a series published via Amberley, preceded by volumes dealing WWII-era German motorcycles, horses, and police, a fifth following shortly focusing on Children of the Third Reich, all of which are populated by original, one of a kind photographs in my collection of over 3,000 images taken by individuals who lived, fought, killed and often died during the twelve years of Nazi Germany’s reign of terror. In effect, this book can be viewed as the pre-amble to all the other in the series.

    The photos were created by a variety of cameras, some simple, some advanced, a few seen here, examples from my collection, alongside images taken by those handheld light-capturing boxes and in some cases with snapshots of those who pointed the cameras.

    It can be said that the same advanced German technology that created the Panzer and the V-2 rocket also created some of the world’s highest quality photographic equipment feeding into an already world-wide fascination with the camera, millions sold and many taken to war. The Nazis themselves understood that without such imagery they would never have achieved their goals of social engineering a New Germany toward enslaving all of Europe. (Take that one step further, what would the world be like if the now ubiquitous image taking devices were never invented?)

     

    A Russien Army war correspondent poses at the infamous Auschwitz camp, his camera apparently a German Leica. (Photographers of the Third Reich, Amberley Publishing)

    What has the camera given us? Indelible images of an era seared into humankind’s consciousness? Yes. Individual time machines that capture a flicker of transient human behavior in all its brutal weaknesses? Yes. Self-fulfilling instruments of documentation of Man’s tendency to apocalyptic self-destruction? Yes. But moreover, hopefully a means of facing those tendencies and overcoming them by staring resolutely into the abyss and no longer seeing a reflection.

    Have we learned from our past? Have old cameras given us new insights? Bring out your own camera and start recording for a future answer.

    In the meantime, dwell on this book and its visual record of a time when a part of the world fell into a fatal obedience and vainly endeavored to snuff out all light, but ultimately failed. As part of that process the camera always refused to turn a blind eye.

    Paul Garson's new book Photographers of the Third Reich: Images from the Wehrmacht is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Ramsgate by Andy Bull

    Pugin and Montefiore: building Jerusalem in Ramsgate

    Two remarkable men with a great deal in common but a key religious difference were building empires at opposite ends of Ramsgate in the 1840s. I explore their stories in my new book, Secret Ramsgate.

    On the West Cliff, Augustus Welby Pugin, best known for designing the interiors to the Palace of Westminster, was creating St Augustine’s church, complete with graveyard, priest’s house, cloister and school room, plus a house for himself, The Grange. His church is his monument and final resting place.

    St Augustine's Church alongside The Grange, Pugin's family home. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On the East Cliff, Sir Moses Montefiore, stockbroker, campaigner, philanthropist and one of the richest men in England, had made his home in East Cliff Lodge. He went on to create alongside it a synagogue, a theological college, and a mausoleum in which he and his wife Judith are buried.

    Both men were drawn to Jerusalem, and both are buried facing east, towards the holy city. Montefiore travelled there often, and constructed a famous Kent-style windmill outside the old city, along with alms-houses, designed and built by Ramsgate craftsmen. After Pugin’s death, his son Edward built St. Augustine’s Monastery in Jerusalem.

    The big difference between these two men – towering figures in Victorian England – was that Pugin was Catholic and Montefiore was Jewish. Yet in a way this difference united them. Both had to fight prejudice and discrimination, both in Ramsgate and in their wider lives.

    They both had foreign roots: Pugin’s father fled France at the time of the revolution, Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy, and both chose Ramsgate to realise their great visions. Both were seeking to re-create Jerusalem in Ramsgate.

    Yet, there is no record that they ever met.

    Today, in Ramsgate, the legacies of these two great men are widely divergent.

    Pugin’s church now houses the Shrine of St Augustine and National Pugin Centre, and is hence the official place to honour the saint’s mission to establish Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. After a period of decline and neglect, Pugin’s creation is carefully nurtured, and his reputation has never been higher. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled the establishment of the visitor centre, a place for education and research, in the original schoolroom. It is visited by pilgrims, Pugin enthusiasts and scholars. His house, The Grange, has been restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday home.

    Ramsgate Synagogue built by Sir Moses Montefiore. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On East Cliff it is a very different story. East Cliff Lodge was badly damaged while occupied by the army during the Second World War, then sold to Ramsgate council in 1952 and demolished in 1954. Only the outbuildings survive today. The extensive grounds are the public George VI park. The synagogue is behind high walls and locked gates, and services are only held there occasionally. The theological college was also demolished.

    Not everyone in Ramsgate approved of what Pugin was doing in Ramsgate. In many ways he was a prophet without honour in his home town. He was a controversial, and sometimes hated figure here, and there were outbreaks of violence directed against him.

    In 1845 a naval man and staunch Anglican, Lieutenant Hutchinson, of The Shrubbery, Vale Square, went into battle against Pugin. He raised £8,000 and commissioned George Gilbert Scott to build a Church of England rival to St Augustine’s Christ Church in Vale Square. The two churches rose simultaneously, almost in sight of each other.

    In November 1850, Ramsgate was swept up in a national crisis known as the Papal Aggression, a reaction to the restoration of a Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Anglicans across the country felt under attack.

    In Ramsgate, there were anti-Catholic posters everywhere, Brewer’s drays trundled around with ‘No Popery’ scrawled on the beer casks they carried, and mobs gathered in the streets. While Pugin was away in London, a gang carrying an effigy of the Pope attempted to march on The Grange. They were turned back by police but Pugin’s wife was ‘much frightened’. Some accounts have his house being pelted with excrement, the gateposts graffitied, and Pugin’s children and servants abused in the street.

    The Montefiore Windmill, Jerusalem, based on the Hereson flourmill on the East Cliff estate. (c. Ralf Roletschek under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Moses and Judith Montefiore moved in to East Cliff Lodge in 1822, having such a hugely successful financier and philanthropist in the town made Ramsgate the centre of the Jewish world, and a focus for the international Jewish community.

    In 1833 Sir Moses built a synagogue, between Honeysuckle Road and Dumpton Park Drive, and close to East Cliff Lodge. After his wife Judith’s death, in 1862, he added a mausoleum, in which she was buried, alongside the synagogue. It is a replica of Rachel’s tomb, which is on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and is a place of pilgrimage for both Jews and Muslims.

    As well as bringing Jerusalem to Ramsgate, the Montefiores also took something of Ramsgate to the Holy Land. The Mishkenot Sha’ananim almshouses they built, in one of the first Jewish neighbourhoods to be established outside the walls of the Old City, used decorative ironwork specially imported from G. S. Culver’s East Kent Metalwork factory in Ramsgate.

    The landmark Montefiore windmill, constructed close by, was based on the Hereson flourmill located on the East Cliff estate. Once shipped to Jaffa, it took forty men and a fleet of camels four months to transport it to Jerusalem. Sir Moses built the mill in order to break the Arab monopoly on flour and to provide work for Jews outside the Old City walls.

    Of East Cliff Lodge, only the Grade II stable yard and Grade II* glass house remain, on the clifftop at the end of Montefiore Avenue.

    Following Sir Moses’s death, on 28 July 1885, thousands lined the streets from East Cliff Lodge to the synagogue. In his will, he left a sum of money to Pugin’s parish of St Augustine.

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

  • Illustrated Tales of Shropshire by David Paul

    During the course of my researches for Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, published July 2019, I discovered many interesting and incredible tales, many of which related to the strong sense of duty which prevailed at the time. The Legend of Reverend Carr is certainly worthy of inclusion under this particular category.

    Church of St Michael and All Angels, Woolstanton. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    The tale is told that after leaving his vicarage in Woolstaston, the rector, Reverend Edmund Donald Carr, would lead the Sunday morning service in the little church. Then, after lunch, he would set off to conduct the afternoon service on the other side of the hills at the church in Ratlinghope. This ritual continued for more than ten years, during which time the rector never once missed leading the service. Even in the heavy winter snow, the rector made his weekly journey across the hills, never once losing his way; but walking over The Long Mynd was not without its difficulties, especially when there was low cloud over the tops.

    On a particularly cold winter’s Sunday in 1865, when the ground was covered with a thick carpet of snow – the worst snow for over fifty years – Rev. Carr thought that he might not be able to get over to see his parishioners in Ratlinghope. However, he decided that he would at least attempt to make the journey. After leading the service at Woolstaston his servant saddled two horses and they set off for Ratlinghope. They’d travelled less than a mile when the rector decided to send the servant back to the vicarage, saying that he would continue on foot. It was obvious that the horses couldn’t cope with the deep snow drifts.

    Headstones of Revd Carr and his wife, Elizabeth, in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Struggling on, the rector sometimes found himself up to his thighs in snow, and on more than one occasion he had to crawl on his hands and knees. After de-icing his clothes a few times and taking a number of well-earned rests on the four-mile journey, he did eventually reach the tiny hamlet of Ratlinghope. The few parishioners who attended the service were more than surprised to see him and begged him to stay overnight, but he declined the offer, saying that, apart from anything else, he had to return to lead evensong at Woolstaston Hall. As Rev. Carr was climbing out of the village a great storm blew up, but he continued on his journey, endeavouring to keep to his route. At length he came to a slope that was unfamiliar to him, and, seconds later, he found himself sliding down the side of the Long Batch. Although he tried to break the fall, he was powerless to stop himself from careering into the rocks below. Digging his heals into the snow, he eventually came to a halt just before reaching the rocks. When he did manage to stand up, he realised that he was completely lost, the snow was even deeper than it had been earlier, he was hungry, and it was going very cold as night was drawing in. His plight became even worse when he fell again, losing his hat and gloves.

    Woolstaston Hall today. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As morning approached, he still could not tell where he was. He also realised that during the long night he had become snow-blind. Collecting his remaining energy and senses together, Rev. Carr then heard a flowing stream which he proceeded to follow down and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the stream above Light Spout Hollow, and what the good rector was unaware of was the fact that, rather than proceeding along the path of the stream, he was in fact encircling the waterfall. Then, just when he was thinking that the situation could not become any worse, he actually lost his boots!

    Lying in a deep snowdrift the rector thought that his earthly life was fast drawing to a close, when he heard the sound of children playing in the snow. He managed to raise his head, and was recognised by one of the children. They helped him to a nearby cottage before he was taken to be examined by a doctor. After a long period of recuperation at home, the rector eventually made a full recovery.

    Location: SY6 6JG

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

  • Die-cast Commercial Vehicles by Paul Brent Adams

    Die-cast toys first appeared a little over a century ago. The first vehicles to be produced were cars, but commercial vehicles soon followed. A fleet of trucks, delivery vans, tankers, service vehicles, and mobile shops. Many of these carried the names and logos of real companies, making them some of the most colourful of all die-cast models. Often a single van or truck casting was produced in several versions, each carrying a different company name or livery.

    The British firm of Lledo produced several horse-drawn vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. This small horse-drawn delivery van was part of a set devoted to Ringtons Tea – the rest of the models were motor vehicles. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Real commercial vehicles seldom receive an annual facelift the way cars do. This means that model trucks and vans do not date as rapidly as model cars, and a successful model can stay in production for long periods, with an occasional change of finish. The large, flat sides of trucks and vans giving plenty of space for colourful liveries. Some were even produced to special order for the companies concerned, as part of various promotions, hence the fact they are called promotionals. Commercial vehicle models soon became a staple of many die-cast ranges.

    While vans and pick-up trucks are often the same size as a normal car, most heavy commercials are much larger. To produce models that are not too large or expensive, manufacturers often make their commercials to a smaller scale than their model cars. Several firms also produced a range of larger and more expensive models, which allowed the heavies to be closer in scale to the cars, although most were still a little smaller. Among the leading British die-cast companies there were the Dinky Supertoys, Corgi Majors, and the Matchbox Major Pack and King Size ranges. At the opposite end of the size range, several lines of small scale models were produced as model railway accessories, such as the Hornby Dublo range, intended to complement Hornby OO model railways; or the Lilliput series, made by Britains, who were best known for their extensive range of toy soldiers. In more recent years, several lines have been devoted exclusively to Big Rigs, comprising a tractor unit and semi-trailer. With these models a limited number of different tractor units can be combined with various types of trailer, to produce a fleet of different models. Open vehicles can also be given an assortment of loads, allowing for even more variety.

    The Models of Yesteryear series by Matchbox was devoted to veteran and vintage vehicles, including this American-built Walker electric van. According to the back of the box, Harrods department store in London had a fleet of 60 for local delivery work in the 1920s. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    As collecting die-casts became an established adult hobby, models began to be produced aimed directly at collectors. With adults, size and price were less of a factor than they were with toys aimed at children. Many of these ‘adult’ models being highly detailed, delicate, and expensive. I still prefer the various toy ranges by companies such as Matchbox. They may lack a few of the refinements of the adult collectable, but they were designed to be played with, and there is an element of fun about them that is lacking in adult models. This is why most of the models in my collection are toys. Plus, they were the types of models I once played with.

    Modern toys are also much more affordable than adult collectables. Although vintage toys in pristine condition can be extremely expensive, as few have survived without a few paint chips, and other signs of use. If you are prepared to accept the odd imperfection, and the lack of a box, even vintage models become more affordable – which explains why most of my older models do have a few chips and scratches, some were even part of my own childhood collection.

     

     

    A pair of steam powered lorries, or wagons, from the Models of Yesteryear series. Launched in 1956, the models grew larger over the years – as these two demonstrate. The 1922 Foden being far larger than the early Sentinel. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    After discovering plastic kits in the 1970s, my die-cast toys spent a couple of decades in a box, usually under the bed, until I again began collecting die-casts in the 1990s. My collection comprises a mix of subjects, including a fair number of commercial vehicles. There are horse-drawn vehicles, a few of which survived on British roads into the 1960s; electric vehicles, used mostly for local delivery work, or inside factories and warehouses; steam power, which had been used on roads since the early nineteenth century, and lasted into the 1930s for heavy haulage; and the usual range of motor vehicles. Everything from motorcycles with a sidebox for goods and tools, to the largest lorry or tanker. There have been several ranges devoted to veteran and vintage models, and to vehicles from the early post-war years – the 1950s and 1960s. Buses and racing cars do not usually count as commercial vehicles, but these often carry advertising for various companies, products, and services, so they can be added to a collection, providing even more colour and variety. There are also a few oddballs that do not fit neatly into one of the usual categories, but these can be among the most interesting models of all. Due to the vast range of models available, most collectors specialise to some extent. Some collect only certain types of model – three-wheelers or delivery vans; a specific period, such as a favourite decade; a particular scale; or a favourite brand, such as Matchbox or Dinky. It is even possible to build a collection around a major company or product type – I tend to have a little of everything.

    One of the more modern types in the Lledo range was the Morris LD150 van from the 1950s. This example carrying colourful period-style advertising for Gibbs SR toothpaste. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Apart from the real vehicles, it is also possible to see the way models have developed over the years. Early die-casts were almost always all-metal, except perhaps for rubber tyres or wheels. From the 1950s onwards plastic parts have been used – plastic allowed models to be given clear windows. Today, most models are a combination of metal and plastic. During the 1950s and 1960s companies offered models with more detail, and more working features, in their efforts to increase sales. From the 1970s toys had fewer working features as manufacturers sought to cut costs. Many of the older companies either disappeared, or changed hands, but there are always new companies appearing, keeping the fleets of die-cast commercial vehicles rolling.

    Paul Brent Adams's new book Die-cast Commercial Vehicles is available for purchase now.

  • School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain by Alastair Goodrum

    My latest book, School of Aces (Amberley; 2019), tells the story of how RAF Fighter Command prepared for battle. It takes an in-depth view of the creation and development of its premier fighter pilot and air gunnery school, located at RAF Sutton Bridge. This station is where, for example, the RAF prepared for the air Battles of France and Britain, a decade before they were actually fought. The story that unfolds throughout my book is nothing, of course, without the pilots themselves. Who were they? Where did they come from? What happened to them? These are a few of the questions the book addresses. It is interesting to discover, too, that by the time the Second World War was into its stride, RAF Sutton Bridge was training pilots of every nationality that served in the RAF. This first blog post uses the story of nineteen-year old Plt Off Denis Wissler, from Greenwich, England, to illustrate just what these young men – fresh from No.6 Operational Training Unit at RAF Sutton Bridge – were asked to do.

    Plt Off Denis Wissler Hurricane 1940. (School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    Together with sixteen companions, Denis learned to fly the Hawker Hurricane on the first course run at RAF Sutton Bridge. That course lasted six weeks but the deteriorating situation in France cut subsequent courses to a mere three weeks duration. Denis was posted to 85 Squadron on Lille-Seclin airfield in France on 27 April 1940 but, recognising his lack of experience, his CO, Sqn Ldr John Oliver, ordered him to fly only to get himself accustomed to the local area. The CO considered there was no pressing need at the moment for Wissler to go on operational patrols and he would be much better occupied putting in some more hours on the Hurricane; familiarising himself with squadron routine and generally making himself useful on the ground.

     

     

     

    Plt Pff Denis Wissler, 17 Sqn, 1970. (Courtesy B. B. M. London, School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    When the Germans rolled into France on the morning of 10 May 1940, Seclin was bombed, causing many casualties on the ground but fortunately most of the pilots were already in the air on patrol. Left behind, Denis Wissler literally had to run for his life for a slit trench when the bombing started and soon found out what war looked like when he helped to rescue the casualties afterwards. With mounting pilot casualties, too, his CO had no option but to commit Plt Off Wissler to combat operations and Denis took his place alongside his comrades in the air – and managed to survive. During his first patrol on 12 May, Denis became separated from his flight and got lost. Landing on what – fortunately – turned out to be a French Air Force aerodrome he had to ask for directions back to his own base. No sooner had he returned than he was airborne again for another patrol. That night Denis wrote in his diary: ‘I now have had just six hours sleep in the last forty-eight hours and have not washed for over thirty-six hours. My God, I’m so tired, and I am up again at 3 am tomorrow.’ Next day, 13th, he was indeed up at the crack of dawn for a patrol from which he returned safely. His second sortie of the day was part of a flight led by Sqn Ldr Oliver. They were jumped by enemy Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and John Oliver was shot down. Denis Wissler made a bee-line for the cover of clouds and emerging cautiously, found himself alone and unsure of his whereabouts – again. Landing on another French airfield, this time Cambrai, it was pointed out to him that his Hurricane was leaking oil badly. For once, he was able to sleep soundly in the French officers’ mess while RAF ground-crew were sent to fix his aeroplane. Just four days had elapsed in which Denis had to try to learn to do all the things needed to simply get himself airborne from a bombed airfield; fly his Hurricane in combat; avoid being shot down and – as if that wasn't enough – then find home when he had spent most of his time pulling such tight turns that he hardly knew which way was up. Tired he was – weren’t they all? – but he survived until the squadron was withdrawn to England (RAF Debden) on 22 May. But Denis was not quite done with France yet. At Debden he was posted to 17 Squadron on 8 June and it was still operating in France, covering the British withdrawal while flying from Le Mans airfield. He flew out to join the squadron on 9 June and survived the final days of the RAF campaign in France, finally withdrawing via Dinard and Jersey once more to Debden airfield on 19 June.

    Hurricane Is of 111 Squadron up from Northolt, in July 1938. (Courtesy ww2images.com, School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    Denis Wissler remained with 17 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, scoring his first success on 29 July when he shared in the destruction of a Heinkel He 111 bomber. By September he was now considered an experienced fighter pilot but, in combat with Bf 109s over the Thames estuary on 24 September, after shooting at one ’109, he went for a gaggle of four more and in the ensuing scrap, his Hurricane took a cannon shell hit in the port wing. The explosion damaged the flaps on that side and a shell fragment wounded him in the left arm. Denis dived hard to escape the fight and flew back to Debden where he made a flap-less landing. His Hurricane ran into a pile of rubble which added to his woes by causing cuts and bruises to his face. After a couple of weeks in Saffron Walden hospital he returned to flying duties on 10 October. It was in the closing stage of the Battle of Britain, when 17 Squadron moved to RAF Martlesham Heath, that Fate finally caught up with Denis. On 11 November 1940, while leading a section of his squadron into action, he was shot down and posted as missing in action during an engagement off the Essex coast near Burnham-on-Crouch.

    Alastair Goodrum's new book School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Boulton Paul Defiant by Alec Brew

    The Myths of the Boulton Paul Defiant

    The aircraft most associated with Wolverhampton’s Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd, and the Black Country’s highest profile contribution to the Second World War, was the Defiant turret fighter. It fought over the beaches of Dunkirk, two squadrons fought in the Battle of Britain, and then, during the dark nights of the Blitz, it was our most effective night fighter, seven Defiant squadrons operating against the German raiders using its unusual characteristics.

    A rare photograph of the Defiant prototype, K8310, in the air, fitted with the turret and other modifications, including a tailwheel and ejector exhausts, but as yet without guns. (Boulton Paul Defiant, Amberley Publishing)

    The Defiant was built to an official requirement for a fighter with all its guns concentrated in a power-operated turret. In the belief that bomber formations could only be broken up by fighters attacking in squadron strength, with pilots maintaining formation and gunners aiming the guns in their power operated turret. This theory had been around since the First World War, but finally came to fruition in the form of an official requirement in the mid Thirties, as bombers were becoming all metal, and much faster.

    The Defiant was born in Norwich, where the Aircraft Department of the firm of Boulton & Paul Ltd had existed since 1915. It had recently been sold off and was having a new factory built alongside Wolverhampton’s new Municipal Airport at Pendeford. The prototype was started at Norwich but its first flight was at Pendeford in August 1937, and a total of 1062 were to be built there.

    The first squadron of Defiants, No.264, went to War over Holland as the Germans invaded but it was over the beaches of Dunkirk that it had its greatest day. In two sorties over the Channel No.264 claimed 37 German aircraft shot down, for no loss of their own. The first of the myths surrounding the Defiant was created that day. It was said that the Germans mistook them for Hurricanes, attacked from the rear and were shot from the sky by the concentrated fire of 12 four-gun turrets. This hardly stands up to a second’s scrutiny, the majority of the German aircraft claimed were bombers, it was the Defiants doing the attacking. When they were attacked by Messerschmidts No.264 they adopted their practiced tactic of a defensive circle or spiral, and it didn’t matter from which direction the Germans attacked, they were met with defensive fire. These were tactics they successfully used on several other occasions over the Channel.

    A flight led by No. 264's CO, Squadron Leader Philip Hunter, which undertook the first patrol over the Netherlands together with six Spitfires of No. 66 Squadron. Between them they shot down a Junkers Ju.88. (Boulton Paul Defiant, Amberley Publishing)

    The CO of No.264 was careful to explain these tactics to the second Defiant Squadron, No.141, which joined the fight over the Channel on 19th July 1940. A patrol of nine Defiants was attacked by superior numbers of Messerschmidts and was decimated, six of them shot down, another written off and ten aircrew killed. The myth arose that the Defiant was a sitting duck against single seat fighters. The truth is that No.141 did not adopt No.264’s successful tactics, but continued to fly straight and level, and the Germans, who recognised the Defiants, took advantage. Even so the heavily outnumbered Defiants claimed four of the 109s in return.

    Nevertheless the panic button was hit at Fighter Command, and No.264 Squadron who were actually in the air at the time, were ordered back to the ground. No.141 was taken out of the Battle to lick its wounds and re-equip. No.264 eventually re-joined the fight, and had many more successful days of daylight fighting. I have interviewed many Defiant aircrew from No.264, and to many they believed they could hold their own in daytime battles and did not have a bad word to say about the aircraft. It is apparently true that whenever members of the two squadrons met in bars there was trouble, because No.264 blamed No.141 for the Defiants soiled reputation.

    The next myth now arose, that because the Defiants were failures during the day, they were relegated to night fighting. The truth is that, as the nights lengthened during the Autumn of 1940, the Germans increasingly attacked at night in what has been termed the Blitz, the front line was now at night, and the Defiants which had been designed as day or night fighters from the beginning, were the best available. They were faster than the clumsy twin-engined Blenheims, and in the days before radar they had the advantage over single-seaters of two pairs of eyes. In addition their very configuration enabled them to attack unsuspecting German bombers from below, silhouetted against the stars, and their gunners were often able to carefully aim for one engine or the other from very short range.

    Early production Defiants with 'L' serial numbers, that on the right being L7009, which was to be shot down on No. 141 Squadron's sole daylight operation. (Boulton Paul Defiant, Amberley Publishing)

    Seven squadrons of Defiants fought through the Winter of 1940/41, and then through the second Winter of the War, by which time twin engined heavier-armed, radar equipped fighters, like the Beaufighter and Mosquito, were becoming available. At the Wolverhampton factory, Boulton Paul workers would pin newspaper articles about Defiant successes on the noticeboard, with the words ‘Our Work’ scrawled across them.

    Even when they were withdrawn from night fighting the Defiants found new frontline roles. They equipped five air sea rescue squadrons looking for downed airmen all around the coast, and often having to defend themselves over the contested waters of the Channel and the North Sea. One unit of Defiants also equipped the World’s first electronic countermeasures squadron, No.515, jamming and spoofing German radar.

    When even these roles were taken by newer aircraft, the Defiant still had an important role to play as a target tug, towing targets for ground and air gunners in theatres right across the World, from India to the West Indies. The Defiant served right through the War and is rightly revered by the people who built them, men and women.

    At Wolverhampton’s Tettenhall Transport Heritage Centre, which has a display about the Defiant, including a restored cockpit, volunteers still have to defend the aircraft when visitors repeat the myths that beset it. They can now point to Amberley’s illustrated history of the aircraft to back them up.

    Alec Brew's new book Boulton Paul Defiant is available for purchase now.

  • 'Tecton buildings' in Historic England: The Black Country by Andrew Homer

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

    The Black Country is home to a remarkable set of buildings created in the Modernist style by Russian born Berthold Lubetkin and his Tecton group in the 1930s. Historic England: The Black Country includes a whole chapter on the Tecton buildings which form part of Dudley Zoo and Castle. Pictures from the Historic England Archive show the Tecton buildings in their prime having been taken just a few years after they were completed in 1937. One building out of the original thirteen, the Penguin Pool, has not survived as salt water reacted badly with the concrete.

    The iconic front entrance and fully restored 1950’s chair lift. (Author's collection)

    The Tecton group of young architects had been formed in 1932 to explore ‘modern architecture’. The Dudley Zoo commission came about when the third Earl of Dudley, William Humble Eric Ward, formed a partnership with the wealthy Marsh family and Captain Frank Cooper. The Earl of Dudley had a private exotic animal collection and Captain Cooper was a co-owner of the recently closed Oxford Zoo. The group had access to stock for the new zoo and looked for an architect. At the time of its opening in 1937 it was described as ‘the most modern in Europe, a zoo without bars’. The Tecton group had already worked on commissions for London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo. The Penguin Pool at London Zoo completed in 1934 being of particular note.

     

     

     

    The Bear Ravine built into the existing hillside before restoration. (Author's collection)

    The buildings exploited the use of a new building material, pre-stressed concrete reinforced with tensioned steel rods, which enabled the iconic curves and sweeps of the structures to be achieved. The buildings were constructed with the help of a young Danish structural engineer, Ove Arup. Visitors were able to view the animals roaming freely rather than through the bars of a cage. Paradoxically, as far as the animals were concerned, the structures created for them were far from being appropriate environments. Virtually no effort had been expended towards recreating the features of the animal’s natural environment. Indeed, the purpose was to give the maximum number of entrance fee paying customers a view of the animals unrestricted by the bars of a cage.

     

     

     

    The Tecton set of buildings includes two ice-cream kiosks, sadly no longer fit for purpose. (Author's collection)

    Nevertheless, the architectural merits of the Castle Hill site cannot be ignored. The Tecton group designed the buildings to fit in with the natural environment of the hillside below Dudley Castle. This approach is exemplified by the impressive Bear Ravine. Built into an existing ravine the building gave visitors an unrestricted view of the whole enclosure. The building was so badly in need of restoration that it was on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register but to date has been fully restored to its former glory. Twelve of the original Tecton buildings survive but some are still in desperate need of refurbishment.

     

     

     

     

     

    The Queen Mary Ballroom designed to resemble an ocean liner. (Author's collection)

    As well as animal enclosures the Tecton group of buildings include the original entrance consisting of five interlocking curves of concrete, cafés, kiosks, and the Queen Mary Ballroom built to resemble an ocean liner. In 2010 the remaining set of twelve buildings were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List. The good news is that Heritage Lottery funding worth £1.15 million pounds was secured to fund restoration work on some of the buildings. These included the Bear Ravine, the front entrance, Safari shop and one of the kiosks. That the Tecton buildings at Dudley were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch list is testament to their architectural value and extreme rarity.

    Andrew Homer's new book Historic England: The Black Country is available for purchase now.

  • South Devon Railway by Bernard Warr

    This is the third book I have written for Amberley but the first about railways, a subject that is close to my heart. My romance with the South Devon Railway started on a hot summers day in 1965 when I was being driven along the old and winding A38 road in Devon. We came upon Buckfastleigh, much more famous among tourists for Buckfast Abbey than anything to do with railways in those days. My friend and flatmate, Nigel, in whose car we were travelling, pulled into the entrance of the station approach road but found our way barred by a substantial gate, firmly locked and chained. We climbed out to have a look and found a notice attached to the gate telling us that the former railway from Totnes to Ashburton was to be reopened by a private company as a tourist attraction. An appeal for help was made and an address to contact for information was given.

    Buckfastleigh Station in 1965. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    This sounded interesting and I contacted the address to offer my help, deep down expecting to be told that they wanted people who knew something about railways and could be of more use than a humble bank clerk. How wrong I was! They welcomed me with open arms and I was soon a regular attendee at the weekend working parties. On site, a veritable treasure trove of Great Western Steam engines and coaches had been assembled ready for the day when services could recommence. As it turned out, it was to be nearly four years before the first fare paying passenger was carried. The problem being the section of the line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. The Ministry of Transport wanted to keep this strip of land to enable the A38 to be straightened and widened. Because of this the company was only able to run services between Totnes and Buckfastleigh from April 1969.

     

    The very last train from Ashburton on 2 October 1971 was the 3.05pm to London Paddington, loading to eleven carriages, seen here approaching Buckfastleigh in the capable hands of former GWR loco 4588. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In the succeeding years, as the railway prospered, so did Buckfastleigh, enjoying something of an economic renaissance as a result. Meanwhile the Dartmoor town of Ashburton, bereft of the tourist railway, has not participated in similar economic success.

    The last trains to Ashburton ran in 1971 and included enormous through trains from both Swansea and London Paddington and on this day, the line saw more visitors than at any time in its history.

    Shortly afterwards the road contractors moved in, ripped up the track and obliterated the line north of Buckfastleigh. An enormous embankment was built across the Buckfastleigh Station goods yard, removing at a stroke, the many storage sidings it contained.

     

     

     

    The bridge over the River Dart north of Buckfastleigh in 1971, with the station and goods yard in the background, all soon to be obliterated by the widening of the A38 Trunk Road. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    From this low point the company slowly built the new business, establishing a regular train service during the summer months and undertaking maintenance of the track, rolling stock and engines during the winter months. In those early years although the line passed through delightful scenery alongside the River Dart, it was very much a line to nowhere as the new station at Totnes, facilitated by the company, was divided from the town by the river and no one could get on or off!

    At about the time that the last trains to Ashburton ran the company was offered the freehold of the line between Paignton and Kingswear with the ferry across to Dartmouth. This proved to be an enormously successful venture and by 1989 the company decided that the line from Buckfastleigh to Totnes was losing money and could not continue to operate under their control. It was offered up for sale. Fortunately, the volunteers who had been supporting the Buckfastleigh – Totnes line banded together, formed a charitable organisation and negotiated a lease from the company with their first trains running from 1991.

    Copper capped chimney and gleaming brasswork. This picture of Small Prairie 2-6-2T No. 5542 as it passes Hood Bridge Permanent Way cabin says it all! (Image Bernard Miles, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The charitable status helped obtain grant aid to construct a pedestrian footbridge across the River Dart at Totnes which opened in 1993.

    Suddenly the ‘line to nowhere’ had gained a purpose and passenger numbers (and therefore revenue) soared. Over the years, other attractions have been developed; at Buckfastleigh there is the Otter Sanctuary and Butterfly World, whilst at the Totnes end is the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm. All very appealing for the family visit and makes an enjoyable day out. But of course, the real attraction is the Great Western steam engines with copper capped chimneys, gleaming brasswork and the smell of warm oil, burning coal and the steam! Long may it remain so.

    Bernard Warr's new book South Devon Railway is available for purchase now.

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