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  • A Passion for Public Parks – Why Parks Matter by Paul Rabbitts

    Great British Parks 1 The grand entrance to Birkenhead Park – a fitting monument to the legacy of our great British parks. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    I recently published (2016) ‘Great British Parks: A Celebration’ which very much started out as a straightforward celebration of Great British Parks and followed by in 2017 ‘Parkitecture – Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks

    Parks were born out of the need to improve the quality of people’s lives as the Industrial Revolution took its hold. 100 years later, this was sadly abandoned as we embraced ‘the cost of providing’ rather than the ‘benefits (note the plural) of providing’, only to rediscover this by the end of the twentieth century. Thanks to successive studies and reports, surveys, analysis, continued lobbying, many parks have been rescued from virtual obscurity, primarily funded by the National Lottery, including the wonderful Avenham & Miller parks in Preston, which was restored in 2014 thanks to a grant of over £2.8 million. The irony is perhaps wrapped up in history itself – history tells us that parks are good for us. So is the renaissance really over? In 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund published a report on the condition of parks in the UK called ‘State of UK Public Parks - Research Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund June 2014’ and was followed up by a similar report in 2016. The picture is bleak and none more so apparent with the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, with the recent destruction of its iconic bandstand in June 2017.

    Great British Parks 2 Barran’s Fountain, erected in 1882. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2006 CABE Space highlighted the challenge was to ensure the ‘long-term sustainability of these improvements in the conditions of urban green spaces across the country. In many cases, this required the identification of alternative sources of revenue and capital funding’. Yet funding for public parks and urban green spaces was significantly reduced between 1979 and 2000, losing an estimated £1.3 billion in total. A timely report published in January 2013 by the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (Ifpra) concluded that there was evidence for a range of benefits of urban parks and that there was sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing. Specifically, urban planners should focus on high quality parks in such areas, where the case is currently that parks are scarce and poorly maintained. Given the strong evidence for parks as promoting physical activity and reducing obesity (parkruns are surely the best example of this), more thoughts should be given to how parks are planned and established with good opportunities and amenities for exerting varied kinds of physical activity, such as walking and biking. In 2014, Dr Katy Layton-Jones published her final report for English Heritage on Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces. It referred to the remission of the period of decline for Britain’s parks as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and its successor the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. But it warns of an uncertain future in terms not only of funding and maintenance, but also of ownership, and in some cases, existence. The economic crisis of 2007 marked a change in mood and expectation among many green space professionals. In the 2010-11 financial year, local authorities were forced to implement significant savings. Local authority budget cuts (average 28 per cent over a three-year period, and in some cases up to 90%), brought an abrupt halt to many ambitions for significant capital investment in public green space across the country. The requirement to demonstrate financial sustainability still places considerable economic pressure on local authorities. It is getting worse.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Eaton Park, Norwich - bandstand and pavilions designed by Norwich Park Superintendent Captain Sandys-Winsch. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    So the future of UK public parks in 2016 and beyond is at a crossroads. ‘The State of UK Public Parks 2014 - Renaissance to risk’ and its follow up in 2016 perhaps gives the clearest picture. It reports that maintenance budgets are being reduced, capital is less available for improvements, park facilities are becoming more expensive to use, management and maintenance skills are being lost, and some parks and green spaces may be sold or transferred to others to maintain. This is despite over 2.6 billion estimated visits made to the UK’s parks each year. Over 70% of park managers have recorded increased visitor numbers to their principal parks between 2013-14. Yet 86% of park managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010 and they expect the trend to continue for the next few years. Just as worrying is that 71% of households with children under 10 years of age are concerned that reductions in council budgets could have a negative impact on the condition of their local park. This is already having an impact with a number of local authorities who have already seen the positive result of ‘one-off’ lottery investments, struggling to sustain the quality of the once restored landscape.

    Great Britain has been a nation of park builders since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. J.C. Loudon writing in the Gardener’s Magazine in 1829, campaigned for public parks as ‘Breathing Places’ for towns and cities. 176 years later, The Times (13/11/15) reports that ‘its mad to let Britain’s glorious heritage of urban parks disappear’. Speaking at the Paxton 150 conference in 2015, parks historian David Lambert echoes this. ‘What Paxton and his fellow Victorians thought was bleedin’ obvious – that the health, social and recreational benefits of parks far outweigh the costs of maintaining them.

    Parkitecture 2 Stewart Memorial Fountain, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    To conclude, Great British Parks and Parkitecture really are celebrations of some of the country’s greatest parks and the features within, and both celebrate the successes of both the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund and Green Flag Award and parks across the UK. It also recognises the impact and commitment of local authorities and park management teams who run them. The truth is that if we want parks to remain beautiful, safe, fun, free and managed by people who are answerable to the local population, local authorities are by far the best organisations to run them, and should be funded appropriately or many parks will suffer the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, neglected and left to ruin. Ruskin has been quoted countless times, but there is no better conclusion than:-

    ‘The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares’.

    Or perhaps the more recent quote from David Lambert above, that it’s ‘bleedin’ obvious’.

    9781445665627  9781445656366

    Paul Rabbitts' books Parkitecture: Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks and Great British Parks: A Celebration are both available for purchase now.

  • Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason by Gary Powell

    Death Diary 3 Witnesses give evidence at the coroner's inquest into the death of William Terriss. (Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 26 Dec 1897, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Murder is a fascinating subject; one only has to look at the popularity of the crime genre in both literature and television. All elements of the crime, be it human or scientific, are placed under a microscope by the crime writer for the reader or viewers benefit including: motive, DNA, fingerprints, entomology, ballistics, post mortems, conspiracy theories, bent cops, the list is endless. But murder is real one must never forget the genuine victim, the grieving relatives, friends and associates and of course the offender and the anguish their family will inevitably suffer. As a former detective I have seen how such violence can tear people apart, destroy communities but at the same time bring people together in a common cause as we have recently witnessed in the United Kingdom’s major cities.  As English poet W.H. Auden reminds us:

    Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures,

    So that society must take the place of the victim,

    And on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness;

    It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

    (The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, 1962)

    Death Diary examines over four hundred crimes of murder, terrorism and treason covering a period of some four hundred years. The structure – as the title would suggest – is set in the format of a diary with each day of the year (including a leap year) presenting a specific case or cases in British criminal history. Some of the crimes are high-profile but many have been taken from the pages of British history for the first time and can be among the most disturbing. Often the motive for committing such unimaginably cruel crimes is plain greed alongside: jealousy, hatred, racism, religion and mental suffering. Social conditions can feature as motive – too many children to support and in some cases too many wives. Mental illness often features with many of these violent acts committed by soldiers returning from the First World War and other conflicts during that period in our history. Unable to deal with the horrors they had seen or tasks they had been asked to perform or just simply being unable to cope being back on ‘Civvy Street’ with the responsibilities they never had to face within the disciplined environment they had left behind.

    Death Diary 2 'The Black Museum' showing the murder weapons used by retired Head teacher Rev Selby - 8 Oct 1871. (Illustrated Police News, 1890, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Death Diary also asks questions about how we deal with victims of murder in our ‘self-self’ society and those left behind who in many cases have to rebuild their lives. We often hear on our news bulletins or read in our newspapers of a murderer or terrorist’s human rights being breached– the same murderer or terrorist who failed to show any such compassion towards his victim. Having dealt with many family members of both victim and offender I feel we are – as a society – still indifferent to the enormous pressures people face from the initial identification process through to a judicial system that bends over backwards to protect the rights of a defendant above those of a victim and demonstrates little empathy for the traumatic journey on which they have embarked. The question of re-introducing of capital punishment often surfaces in this country particularly after a horrible crime has been committed such as the murder of a child or a police or prison officer. This strong feeling of seeing justice being administered could be deflected if a sentence of life imprisonment meant life; it is very difficult trying to explain to a bereaved parent that the killer of their child has received a lesser term of imprisonment than an offender who had robbed a bank.

    Statistically, the number of murders in London is at one of its lowest levels since the 1960’s. Even though London’s population has significantly increased and become more diverse, this city is still one of the safest and most tolerant in the world; in many cases our perception of crime is far greater than the crime rate itself. As you read the sometimes harrowing stories which are presented in short, sharp daily bursts, I would just ask that you remember the victims of these crimes, those of future crimes and their families and friends who will bear a sentence far greater than that of the killer.

    9781445665023

    Gary Powell's book Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason is available for purchase now.

  • Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS – The final testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS - Coolens Dries - Karel Goeman (JM) Flemish volunteers in the Sturmbrigade Langemarck. Dries Coolens, fourth from the left, stands with his best friend on his right – Karel Goeman. Coolens would be the only one from the photo to survive the fighting in the Ukraine. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    Our fascination with the Second World War is as strong as ever, and it remains the most popular historical period for authors and readers alike. That fascination has partly been fed by the living reminders of the war that walk around with us every day – the veterans themselves – men and women for whom the war was the defining aspect of their young lives and who played a part, however large or small, in it. But the ranks of veterans are thinning. No-one lives forever and the survivors are now nonagenarians or centenarians.

    For example, over 16 million Americans served in their armed forces during the war, and by 2014 only one million of them were still alive. In ten years that number will be fewer than a hundred thousand. But as one of those self-same US veterans once wrote: No war is really over until the last veteran is dead.”

    If that is the case with the leviathan that is the United States then what of far smaller nations, and their combatants? Flanders – the northern Dutch-speaking half of Belgium – is today one of the most highly developed and densely populated parts of modern Europe. It is a prosperous place, with its own culture and traditions, and this history fuels a deep-seated sense of belonging that nurtures a powerful independence movement that wants to break away from their French-speaking southern neighbours in Walloonia and establish their own country.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 2 Some of the Flemish veterans group in the summer of 2016, from left to right; Theo D’Oosterlinck (sitting), Oswald Van Ooteghem (standing), Lucie Lefever (sitting) and Herman Van Gyseghem (standing). (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    Back in the early summer of 1940, after the victorious Wehrmacht had invaded and occupied Belgium, the Nazis sought to take advantage of both the Flemings nationalism and their strident anti-communism and use it for their own ends. A new military unit was formed by the Waffen-SS – the Nazis own private army – called the Legion Flandern. Thousands of young men volunteered, and began a process that would see Flemish Waffen-SS men fight and die across the Eastern Front in some of the most savage battles of that most savage campaign; the siege of Leningrad, the Volkhov Pocket, Krasny Bor, Narva. The end of the war would find them on the losing side, and many would spend years in Belgian prisons convicted of collaboration. Finally released back into society, most would find it very hard to rebuild their lives, the authorities and their own neighbours often unwilling to accept them and viewing them with suspicion and mistrust.

    Most have never told their story – preferring to look forward rather than back, and get on with their lives; marry, raise and provide for their family and then retire and play with their grandchildren.

    Capturing their memories, recording their voices before it’s too late, is like finding an old treasure map and following it to a treasure trove– a veritable El Dorado of stories and experiences from the war.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 3 Dries Coolens in his nineties at home in his retirement flat in Metzingen, Germany. Coolens’s flat is full of memorabilia from his Waffen-SS service, including the berkenkruis (birch cross) symbol above the wardrobe behind him. The Legion Flandern illustration he is holding is by the celebrated Flemish artist, Frans Van Immerseel. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    One such Oostfronter – the collective name they are known by in Flanders – is Oswald Van Ooteghem. Now a 93-year-old pensioner, back in 1941 he was a bright-eyed 16-year-old from a strongly nationalist family. He was one of the very first to step forward for the Legion, and was joined by others including Albert Olbrechts, Dries Coolens and Theo D’Oosterlinck. Their initial enthusiasm was soon dampened by a chauvinist German training machine that viewed them as inferior, and they were then shuffled off to the grinding trench warfare that was the siege of Leningrad in late 1941, early 1942. Unglamorous though that sector was, neither was it easy, and casualties were high. Battling the bitter cold, the miserable conditions as well as the Red Army, the survivors had their eyes opened to the often-dreadful realities of war. All were wounded at some point – most more than once – and the effect of the war on all of them was profound.

    Olbrechts, invalided back home after severe illness, saw first-hand the brutality of Nazi rule in Belgium as his best friend was shot for helping shot-down British airmen try and escape home. Dries Coolens became a hard-bitten NCO, wounded multiple times, as he somehow survived the likes of the Battle of Narva in the summer of 1944. Van Ooteghem was also wounded in action, and became a war reporter, photographing his comrades and building up a unique record of the Flemish Waffen-SS. New recruits continued to join-up, and not just as infantrymen. Herman Van Gyseghem became a panzer signaller in 1943, and the young Lucie Lefever enlisted as a Red Cross nurse to treat wounded Flemings.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 4 Albert Olbrechts, aged 101 years old, at home in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    As the war came towards its end, a previously-wounded D’Oosterlinck returned to his company to find no-one he knew still survived in the unit, while Van Ooteghem was ordered to lead teenaged Flemish Hitler Youth youngsters into a final, pointless stand. But undoubtedly the worst fate was reserved for Lefever, who was caught up in the Soviet siege of Breslau and then raped by Red Army soldiers.

    This book is built on in-depth interviews with these veterans and others, and gives an insight into their lives, and what the war was like from a human angle. That angle includes the very real horror of the Holocaust and the evils of Nazism. This is the conundrum that sits at the very heart of interviewing the Flemish veterans. These old men and women, so friendly, so polite, often funny and enthralling – may not have been Nazis themselves, but they still fought for a régime that was one of the blackest in all human history, how could that be? It is a tremendously difficult question to answer, and not one I have ever received a satisfactory answer to, however, one author put it very well when he wrote of both sides on the Russian Front - “…there were brave and extraordinary soldiers on both sides, but it is a sad truth of military history that some of the most remarkable warriors have fought for some very shabby causes.”

    9781445666365

    Jonathan Trigg's new book Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS – The final testament of the Oostfronters is available for purchase now.

  • Docker's Daimlers by Richard Townsend

    Docker's Daimlers 1 The 2.5 litre V8 engine designed by Edward Turner with all its plumbing in place. (Nick James, Docker's Daimlers, Amberley Publishing)

    Following a destructive and expensive world war it took Britain the rest of the 1940s and the best part of the fifties to achieve a stable peacetime economy. Daimler’s experiences during this period were somewhat peculiar, though influenced by circumstances which were common to the rest of the motor industry.

    Taking the common background first, the UK economy was harnessed to a single overriding objective which was to restore Sterling to pre-eminence in company with the US Dollar. The UK Treasury embarked on a strategy of promoting exports while conversely suppressing domestic demand for goods, in order to bring in foreign earnings and stimulate international demand for Sterling. The chief tools of this strategy were material licences and purchase tax.

    The supply of vital raw materials to industry was subject to strict state control. For example, for a few years various bicycle components could only be produced with a painted rather than chromium plated finish. More generally steel could only be purchased under licences which required specific levels of export sales. Even for the larger motor manufacturers this presented a challenge because their pre-war experience of exporting was often limited to countries within the British Empire. Those countries were very often themselves recovering from their own wartime experiences and so the market everyone had to aim for was the USA, which was also probably the one market of any size for which the majority of British car output was especially unsuited.

    Docker's Daimlers 2 This DB18 caught mid-restoration shows off the independent front suspension. (Author's collection, Docker's Daimlers, Amberley Publishing)

    Daimler’s larger models had always sold well amongst international nobility but the occasional straight eight limousine was not going to balance the books, and even those exalted customers were having their ranks thinned by the effects of socialist revolution. By the mid-fifties even British Royalty were lured away by Rolls-Royce. Like most British cars, Daimler’s smaller models were too slow or too small to appeal to anything recognisable as an average American which left Daimler reliant on the home market.

    Meanwhile in Britain, domestic demand for electrical goods and cars was deliberately suppressed throughout the forties, fifties and into the sixties. In the case of cars successive UK governments not only artificially inflated prices by means of purchase tax they also imposed rules governing hire purchase finance which mandated minimum deposits and maximum repayment periods. To make a bad situation worse these measures were subject to regular amendment which caused dramatic and unpredictable lurches in demand both up and down.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Compared to the Majestic dashboard, the Major's instrument panel was enlarged to incorporate a tachometer and the instrument and switch surrounds were black rather than chromed. (Author's collection, Docker's Daimlers, Amberley Publishing)

    A further factor to contend with was the supply of bodies. Firms capable of producing pressed steel bodywork were being rapidly brought up by the major manufacturers as they made the transition from chassis based to monocoque bodies. Meanwhile, squeezed by a declining customer base priced out by purchase tax and the loss of cheap skilled labour in a period of full employment, the traditional coachbuilders were shutting down with their industry pretty well extinct by the end of 1959.

    The capital required to ride out these market conditions was such that only large manufacturers or medium sized firms which were part of a larger corporate group could hope to survive. Morgan managed it by staying small enough to live on a niche market they inherited from their deceased rivals. Jaguar almost managed it by trying to grow themselves into an engineering group by acquisition. Daimler was relatively sheltered within the BSA group. Like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Armstrong Siddeley and Alvis they were tolerated as loss making but prestigious figureheads. Daimler were especially fortunate in that BSAs Chairman, Sir Bernard Docker, and his wife, Lady Norah, rather enjoyed having access to a supply of luxurious automobiles which were very often hand built to personal order.

    Docker's Daimlers 4 The length of the DE36 chassis gave coachbuilders, in this case Hooper, scope to create some of the most elegant and well proportioned bodywork ever made. (Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, Docker's Daimlers, Amberley Publishing)

    The appearance of the Docker Daimler became a regular highlight of the Earls Court Motor Show through the early fifties. These show cars, created in the workshops of Daimler’s in-house coachbuilder Hooper, were lavish demonstrations of the coachbuilders and trimmers craft. They undeniably succeeded in bringing immense international publicity to what was a very minor manufacturer. However their close association with the Dockers, for whose personal use they were almost constantly available, meant that many viewed them as little more than the Chairman’s wife’s rather tacky freebie.

    Norah is largely forgotten now but was a household name right from the moment she married Bernard in 1949. He was rich but then so was Norah, having been twice widowed by millionaires, and she openly enjoyed her wealth at a time of socialist governments when the rich were trying to avoid attention. Whether what she lacked was airs or breeding was a matter of opinion and personal taste, either way for most of the fifties there was no avoiding the woman as she appeared in newspapers, magazines, newsreels and on TV. While the publicity was certainly considerable the BSA board became increasingly certain that it wasn’t the sort which could be translated into sales. In 1956 Bernard was ousted from the Chairmanship after a rather messy and very public boardroom revolt.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The conquest Drophead Coupe shared a great deal of its panelwork with the salon. It was only produced with the Mark 1-style front end. (Author's collection, Docker's Daimlers, Amberley Publishing)

    BSA, and thus Daimler, was now headed by Jack Sangster who had joined the board in 1951 when his Triumph motorcycle firm was acquired to augment BSA’s own motorbike interests. Triumph designer Edward Turner was placed in charge of BSA’s motoring division and immediately began adapting his Triumph engine designs to produce a pair of V8 engines of 2.5 and 4.6 litres which were to power a new generation of Daimler cars. The smaller engine was placed in a fibreglass bodied sports car called the SP250 whilst the larger engine was fitted to modified versions of Daimler’s Majestic saloon to produce the Majestic Major saloon and long wheelbase limousine. A plan to use the small V8 in a modified Vauxhall Cresta to produce what would have been the Daimler Dynamic died in the process of BSA selling Daimler off to Jaguar.

    Although Jaguar’s chief purpose in buying Daimler was to acquire extra factory space, Jaguar still had a reputation for being a bit flashy. Beginning with the 2.5 V8, essentially a Mark 2 Jaguar fitted with the small Daimler V8, Jaguar used the Daimler brand to sell cars to customers they could not otherwise reach. As Jaguar built a reputation for design excellence so this badge engineering became less useful and the last Daimler model was sold in 2007.

    9781445663166

    Richard Townsend's new book Docker's Daimlers: Daimler and Lanchester Cars 1945 to 1960 is available for purchase now.

  • Yorkshire Rider Buses by Scott Poole

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 1 5155 was one of five low-height Northern Counties-bodied Leyland Olympians delivered during 1998, looking very smart in the Yorkshire Rider livery. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Scott Poole has taken several years in compiling notes and suitable pictures to bring a pictorial history of Yorkshire Rider buses into print. With help from noted and respected photographer Malcolm King and additional work from David Longbottom, all blended with Scott’s own archive of Yorkshire Bus pictures. It is hoped that this book with a brief history of the company with evoke memories for former employees, locals and bus enthusiasts.

    Yorkshire Rider can kind of trace its roots back to the halcyon days of the former Corporations of Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Leeds, along with Todmorden. There are also many milestones and events which would improve transport around the West Yorkshire area. Huddersfield became the first municipal transport department to run electric trams from 1883. Bradford began operating its famous trolleybuses from June 1911, with the final examples running in late March 1972. Leeds employed many forward-thinking managers, resulting in four reserved tramways, new improved trams and the two 1953 Roe bodied Coronation cars. Halifax brought in the reliable and hardworking AEC regent and Leyland Titan double deckers to cope with the hilly enviros of the area.

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 2 During 1988, Yorkshire Rider was purchased by the management and employees, becoming the first former PTE operation to be sold. MCW Metrobus 7600 illustrates the fact of the new status at Otley. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    As the new rear engine buses arrived the corporations were quite happy to continue with traditional front engine classic designs. But as the mid 1960’s arrived, Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield and Bradford took many examples of the Daimler Fleetline and Leyland Atlantean chassis, with Alexander, Roe, Metro-Cammell and Weymann bodywork, with new brighter or improved liveries.

    However as 1969 arrived the classic British Electric Traction (BET) and Transport Holding Company (THC) were combined to form the National Bus Company (NBC) and by 1972 the traditional liveries gave way for us Yorkshire to the bland poppy red and white livery. West Yorkshire’s main municipal companies were casualties of the 1974 local government act, which saw the creation of the Metropolitan County Council and with it the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (PTE). Following the newly created PTE and NBC, saw much needed integration of the local transport network, with new ideas injected into the crumbling rail network, countywide ticketing, new explorer and day dripper tickets, inter operator co-ordination.

     

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 3 Yorkshire Rider launched a new standard of service within the Halifax and Huddersfield region of the network. Flagship was brought about to improve service reliability, appearance, better customer relations and dedicated driving staff. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    But as ever the dreams were shattered by the 1985 Transport Act or deregulation as it became better known, which saw companies split and new fresh competition rise into the streets of West Yorkshire. This is where the newly created Yorkshire Rider comes in, it was managed by former PTE staff and like every other operator had to bid for services the company wanted to run. Depots, buses and offices were kept or leased for a period of years, older buses were purchased to reduce the short fall of vehicles and a new brighter livery was introduced to the buses in late October 1986.

    Yorkshire Rider took control of the former PTE depots, apart from Middleton in Leeds and Longroyd Bridge in Huddersfield and many of the 992 new PTE buses, apart from fifty plus new Leyland Olympians and MCW Metrobuses because of lease agreement’s. Rider saw of competition in Leeds and Huddersfield, introduced the Flagship standard of service, brought in new Scania and Volvo buses and even purchased the remains of the former West Yorkshire Road Car company in 1989.

    Yorkshire Rider had absorbed the West Yorkshire buses and services into the fleet by March 1990, then it introduced the ‘Building on a great tradition’ former bus company liveries, as a nod to the past. It was in 1988 that Rider became the first of the former PTE’s to be brought out by management and employees, which saw the arrival of fifty new buses in the shape of Leyland Olympians and the final MCW Metrobuses for the company. As mentioned before Yorkshire Rider then turned to Scania for both double and single deck buses with a sprinkling of Volvo saloon chassis too.

    By April 1994, Yorkshire Rider was acquired by the Bristol based Badgerline company, who introduced the badger logo and with an influx of over eighty new midi and full-length saloons in 1994 a new bolder and darker livery, for buses in Leeds and Huddersfield. But this was short lived as from 1995 both Badgerline and Grampian Regional Transport, combined to form the FirstBus company.

    9781445669045

    Scott Poole's new book Yorkshire Rider Buses is available for purchase now.

  • The Real Persuasion: Portrait of a Real-Life Jane Austen Heroine by Peter James Bowman

    The Real Persuasion 2 Katherine1 Katherine Bisshop. Crayon sktech. Castle Goring MSS/PD/100, West Sussex Record Office, Chichester. (The Real Persuasion, Amberley Publishing)

    I first read the typescript diary of Katherine Bisshopp (1791-1871) many years ago in the hope of finding references to the subject of a book I was then working on. I found nothing, but the forthright, colourful, often humorous tone of Katherine’s writing made me want to find out more about her. This proved easy: the kind couple in Worthing who had let me see the diary and the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester had so much material on the Bisshopp family in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the only problem was getting through it all.

    Gradually it dawned on me that Katherine’s life resembled that of Anne Elliot, the heroine of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, to an astonishing degree. And yet Jane Austen did not know Katherine, while the only Austen novel Katherine seems to have read was Mansfield Park. My biography contains splinter chapters that set out the correspondences between fact and fiction, and in the conclusion I reflect on the different but complementary ways in which social history and literature illuminate the way people lived in the past.

    In telling the story of Katherine Bisshopp’s life I have interwoven my own narrative with letters and diary extracts that reflect the way she and other members of her family thought, felt and wrote. After Katherine the most important characters are George Pechell, the dashing, self-confident man she marries many years after her family rejected him, and only after he returns from a long naval service with a fortune in prize money – like Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion; and her sister Harriet, who weds Robert Curzon, a kind but rather limited country squire, has two sons who turn out disobedient, and becomes an invalid whose mysterious ailments come and go without explanation – like Mary Musgrove in the same novel.

    The Real Persuasion 1 Parham Neale Parham Park, Sussex. Engraving by Archelaus Cruse after John Preston Neale. (The Real Persuasion, Amberley Publishing)

    Katherine and George marry in 1826, when she is thirty-five and he thirty-seven. At this point the parallels with Anne Elliot cease since we take our leave of her, as of all Jane Austen heroines, at the point of her marriage. But if we imagine these heroines as real people they would probably have lived on well into the Victorian era. So would Jane Austen herself had she not died aged forty-one exactly two centuries ago in 1817. The continuing stories of Katherine and Harriet therefore allow us to imagine futures for Anne Elliot and Mary Musgrove, for several other characters in Persuasion, and even for other inhabitants of Jane Austen’s Regency world.

    The Pechells’ union is a happy one and produces three children. George becomes an equerry to Queen Adelaide, an MP for Brighton, and later a vice-admiral, and he and his wife relish family life at Castle Goring, their home near Worthing. However, not long after Katherine’s marriage she falls out with Harriet over the partition of their father’s estate and the payment of his debts, and although they patch up the relationship their subsequent letters never regain the warmth of their early exchanges.

    Both women endure severe trials as mothers: Harriet’s elder son Robert, a distinguished Orientalist, grows frosty towards his parents, and her favourite Edward elopes and scandalises the whole family; and Katherine is devastated by her son William’s death in the Crimean War but consoled by her close bond with her two daughters and their husbands. As the years pass the contrasting characters of the two couples change their relative fortunes, with the energetic and resolute Pechells gaining greater status and wealth while the initially far richer but feckless Curzons descend into financial difficulty and discord.

    I hope that the documentary style of my book will allow the reader to feel at home in the world it depicts and closely acquainted with the two sisters and their families.

    9781445659503

    Peter James Bowman's new book The Real Persuasion: Portrait of a Real-Life Jane Austen Heroine is available for purchase now.

  • Aldershot's Military Heritage by Paul H. Vickers

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 1 Grenadier Guards drilling in Blenheim Barracks, North Camp, Aldershot, c.1906. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Aldershot has, for over a hundred and sixty years, been famous as an “Army town”; indeed its name has become synonymous across the country with the Army. Yet now it is a town undergoing considerable change. Not only has the garrison recently been completely rebuilt, but 148 hectares of old Army land has been given over to civilian redevelopment, on which the new Wellesley housing estate is beginning to rise. This massive development will take around 10-12 years to complete, and will transform the character of the old South Camp. So the time is right to evaluate the impact of the Army on Aldershot, the relationship between the military and civilian communities, and whether Aldershot can still claim its proud title of “Home of the British Army”.

    Any modern-day changes are dwarfed by the impact of the Army’s first arrival in Aldershot. Before 1854 Aldershot was a small rural village, with a population of 875 who earned their living from agriculture or essential local trades such as baker, blacksmith and carpenter. To the north west of the village was the huge empty land of Aldershot Heath, ideal for the Army to set up its first permanent training camp. Given added urgency by the Crimean War, soon two camps were built either side of the Basingstoke Canal, and by 1859 some 15,000 soldiers were here. The character of the area changed very quickly, as entrepreneurs were quick to see the potential for businesses serving not only the thousands of troops but also the huge numbers of workers employed on building the Camp. As it became clear that the military were here to stay, the wooden shanties in which these businesses initially operated were replaced by smart new buildings, and a new Aldershot town centre grew up immediately south of the Army Camp and about a mile west of the old Aldershot village.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 2 The Band of the Welsh Guards leads the Regiment’s welcome home parade through Aldershot town for their return from the war in Afghanistan, December 2009. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Since that time the fortunes of the Camp and town have gone hand-in-hand. The Camp reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century, and the burgeoning prosperity of the civilian town was shown by its achieving its Charter in 1922. In the 1960s the Victorian Barracks were swept away as a new Military Town was built for the late twentieth-century Army and Aldershot became the home of the Airborne Forces. However, with the many defence cuts and re-organisations, the overall numbers in the Army have fallen back and so, in turn, has the size of the Aldershot garrison. The 1960s barracks were designed for 10,000 troops, in the twenty-first century numbers are around half that. As a result the garrison has consolidated onto land in the northern part of the old Camp, leaving the southern area to the Wellesley development.

    For the first hundred years of its existence, Aldershot was the country’s largest and most important Army camp, and it sent men to fight in all the major conflicts from the Zulu War to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both the First and Second World Wars, the Aldershot Divisions were the first to be mobilised and in both wars they became the First Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. The pivotal role of Aldershot makes its story of not just local interest but of national importance. Today the numbers may not be what they once were, but Aldershot is the headquarters for the Army’s national Home Command, along with 101 Logistic Brigade and 11 Infantry Brigade. It remains the centre of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, and it is the Army’s “Centre of Sporting Excellence”.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 3 Memorial to the men of Aldershot’s resident 2nd Division who died in the First World War. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Against this background, I was very pleased to be able to write Aldershot’s Military Heritage for Amberley. In this book I have been able to look at the development of the Camp, its role in the nation’s wars, and some of the many colourful characters who have passed through in the last 165 years. Military heritage is visible across Aldershot, in the buildings, monuments and memorials, and in the continuing role that the military plays in the life of the town. This was wonderfully demonstrated recently when the population turned out in huge numbers to line the streets as the veterans of the Parachute Regiment who fought in the Falklands War marched through the town to mark the 35th anniversary of this conflict. In the Wellesley development, the old barracks, battles and notable soldiers are honoured in the names of the roads and buildings, and work is underway to establish a series of Heritage Trails across both the Camp and Town. Truly this is the right time to celebrate Aldershot’s military heritage.

    9781445665900

    Paul H. Vickers new book Aldershot's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Reading by Stuart Hylton

    A-Z of Reading 1 The monument to Henry Zinzan in St Michael's Church, Tilehurst. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    When the publishers said to me “how do you fancy doing a book on the A to Z of Reading’s local history” I knew straight away what I did not want the book to be. Reading is fortunate in having the key points of its local history well documented (perhaps I should put the word ‘fortunate’ in inverted commas, since I wrote part of that body of work). But I would not want this book to be simply those same key points in alphabetical order. I set out instead to find some sidelights into our town’s history that might be of interest, and at least some of which might be new to the reader.

    I tested my approach on the editor with a story about a local fish sauce manufacturer whose product was, in its day, as popular as the Worcestershire variety. It even earned a place in literary posterity by being referred to in Jules Verne’s Around the world in eighty days. Jules Verne obviously swung it with the editor and I was unleashed on the other twenty-five letters of the alphabet.

    It was then that I started to realise what I had taken on. ABC may be all very easy but my deliberations had not taken me as far as XYZ. How much history was associated with them? Z proved to be unexpectedly straightforward. Reading had a noble family of Italian extraction called Zinzani, whose association with royalty went back to the days of Henry VIII. There was even a street named after them and a monument to them in a local church, which solved the problem of illustrating the letter Z, for the publisher wanted copious illustrations.

     

    A-Z of Reading 2 Greyfriars Church, seen here in its derelict pre-Victorian restoration state. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    Y led me to think of the mediaeval Yield Hall (or Guildhall) and the lane which bears its name. The trouble was the original yield hall vanished centuries ago and no image of it appears to exist. The current yield hall lane is by no stretch of the imagination picturesque. This led me to broaden the search to Reading’s peripatetic seats of local government, which over the years have included a derelict church, the remains of a mediaeval abbey, a Victorian complex designed by four different architects over more than a hundred years and a recently-demolished post-war office block. The link with the original Yield Hall was maintained via an early twentieth century photograph of the lane, by then occupied by an iron founder and pioneer motor mechanic.

    A-Z of Reading 3 The Beauclerc Cross, erected in the Forbury Gardens in 1909, 'somewhere near' where Henry I was thought to have been buried. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    But X had me stumped, and the publisher’s stern instruction was that no letter was to be missed. I had to resort to a cheap trick. One of the Kings of England – Henry I – is buried somewhere amid the ruins of Reading Abbey. The trouble is no one knows exactly where. So this conundrum is discussed beneath the caption ‘X marks the spot – but Where’s King Henry?’

    Another constraint was the publisher’s requirement to keep to about 500 words per entry. Some topics were easily contained, like Reading’s Civil War army commander who was so unpopular that his own troops took advantage of a dark night and a dark alley to assault him. He was eventually beaten to death with his own wooden leg by the opposition. But others were much wider in their scope – such as elections. There space did not permit me more than a brief exploration of the elections of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – what I characterised as ‘Reading’s golden age of electoral corruption’.

    Even where the words come together readily, illustrations may be more elusive. Where do you find images to represent Reading at the time of the Domesday Book, for example? But while the format may have been more challenging than it first appeared, I hope the outcome has proved diverting, and will cast a little light on some neglected corners of Reading’s history.

    9781445670362

    Stuart Hylton's new book A - Z of Reading: Places - People - History is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

    Secret Barry Island 1 Late medieval pilgram's ampulla found near Barry. (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    Barry Island - a renowned holiday destination for generations of working class tourists from the late nineteenth century until the present day; they not only came down from the South Wales coalfields but from further away places such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester as well as beyond. With the notion of a holiday becoming the norm for the masses, we see Barry Island’s sweeping sandy beach, Whitmore Bay, in times-gone-by with not an inch of sand visible for the sheer number of people present during the summer months. During the 1960s, a Butlin’s holiday camp was constructed on Nell’s Point, further adding to Barry Island’s fame and popularity as a tourist destination. Despite Barry Island being renowned as a place of leisure, its history from its tourism era is very well known. Secret Barry Island offers something a bit different and answers a need for a book with more substance, one which is concerned with a more distant and elusive history.

    The authors of Secret Barry Island both graduated from Cardiff University after studying archaeology, and have been present on many interesting excavations throughout South Wales. During the course of many years research into our locality, to our surprise, we noticed that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed. Secret Barry Island, which was originally going to be called ‘Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story’, is the first history book to have been written which deals exclusively with Barry Island and began life as a series of articles that were later adapted for a book format.

    Secret Barry Island 2 Roman key handle found in the Barry area. (c. Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a personal connection to the place and also a need for such a book considering how popular this location still is as a place of leisure. It may come as a surprise for some, but we have both been asked on more than one occasion by residents of Barry and beyond…. “Did it [Barry Island] used to be an island then?”

    Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, or were written in a dated style.

    We are also fortunate that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late nineteenth century, antiquarian archaeologists such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen (not related to Barry Island’s late nineteenth century owner Lord John Romilly) took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could for posterity. A good deal of the nineteenth century archaeological material we used was hidden away in various old and musty Victorian journals, and a part of the way in which we approached the book was to soften the primary archaeological material and ‘humanise’ it for a general audience. If anyone has ever read their way through a typical dry archaeological site report, they will understand the need to do this. We wanted to form a narrative which flowed, was free from jargon but most importantly, told a story.

    Secret Barry Island 3 The remains of the old port of Barry (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    With the clear aim of writing the book in a manner which is accessible yet informative, we take the reader deep into the long distant past of Barry Island to elucidate elements to Barry Island’s history that are genuinely not very well known. Secret Barry Island covers a wide range of periods and has something for everyone, from its enigmatic Bronze Age cemetery, its renowned status as a place of medieval pilgrimage through to its post - medieval lonely isolation. It also has its place in Welsh history as a part of the South Wales coast smuggler’s network. The book finally explores Barry Island’s successful reinvention as a place of recreation; one way or another, whether it was in the high medieval period of pilgrimage or the twentieth century, Barry Island has always attracted crowds of people!

    Overall we are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope that the people who buy the book enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors have enjoyed writing this book.

    9781445671918

    Mark and Jonathan Lambert's new book Secret Barry Island is available for purchase now.

  • The Second World War in 100 Facts by Clive Pearson

    I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked me to write a book on the Second World War for their 100 Facts series. I had already completed a manuscript for a book about Britain at war in 1939-45 and so I was able to include points from my research on this as well as from an article published previously about the Soviet Union in this period.

    Quite a lot of the book includes facts about Britain in the war. This was inevitable as Britain had a large part to play in all stages of the war as well as fighting on three continents. This was due, of course, to the fact that Britain had a huge sprawling empire. Added to this, British readers would want to know about how their country participated in the conflict and about the iconic moments such as Dunkirk and D-Day.

    Beyond this I was keen to introduce readers to what I consider to be two forgotten wars. The first ‘forgotten war’ was the British struggle against the Japanese in the Far East. From the film ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ many readers might perhaps be familiar with the idea that there was another war going on there and that life was horrendous for British and Commonwealth prisoners. But how many people know about the epic British march all the way from Burma to India and which ranks as the longest retreat in British military history. Following on this, mainly British and Indian troops managed to turn the situation around by forcing the enemy back from the gates of India and reinvading Burma. Taking the Japanese on in their favourite terrain (the jungle) proved to be crucial. The unsung hero in all this was Major-General Bill Slim who inspired his troops and engineered a winning strategy. He was one of the finest commanders of the war but few know of him. At the time British people were naturally preoccupied with the conflict on their doorstep and it fell to Churchill on VE Day to remind everybody that the war was not over and that the struggle against the Japanese continued.

    The second ‘forgotten war’ was the one between Nazi Germany and Russia in Eastern Europe. Brits generally do not understand how vast and cruel the conflict there was. Perhaps this is because of the secretive nature of the Soviet regime. When the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in 1991 the archives could at last be opened up and historians such as Richard Overy in his book Russia’s War and Catherine Merridale in her work Ivan’s War were able to reveal the true horror of the conflict.

    The immensity of the war was not just due to the size of the theatre of operations but also because the Nazi regime had turned a huge part of its military machine into the project of knocking out and occupying this enormous country. In total four million German and other Axis forces crossed the frontier into the Soviet Union in June 1941. It was to be an ideological war and Hitler gave his armies a free hand to carry out a campaign of barbaric cruelty not experienced in the west. Jews and Communists were to be rounded up and liquidated and the rest of the population were ultimately to be enslaved. Evidence of the horrific treatment endured there is the fact that a large percentage of the millions of Soviet soldiers taken prisoner were simply left to suffer a long lingering death through starvation. Others were used as slave labour. This was a very different story from that of British prisoners and based on the idea that they were fellow Aryans (and therefore received kinder treatment).

    The German invader did not have it all his own way, of course. The winters were terrible with the thermometer at times hitting -400 C leaving hundreds of thousands of ill-prepared German troops literally freezing to death or suffering from frostbite. In addition, Russian forces also committed atrocities on their enemy.

    Unfortunately for Soviet troops their own government was not above meting out horrific cruelty on its own people. An example of this is the ‘penal battalions’ which were composed of political prisoners and criminals who could be driven forward to clear minefields willy-nilly, without protection and without concern for losses. Indeed, the whole Soviet command was less concerned about casualties than with winning the war. No wonder, then, that in every battle fought on the Eastern front, even including Berlin, Soviet losses were always more than the enemy. The total cost of the conflict for the Soviet people was 27 million dead and Belarus lost a third of its population. German losses for the whole war were roughly five million.

    In the end the Fascist powers were defeated because they were out-manned and out-gunned. As pointed out in the book America’s production figures alone dwarfed that of the enemy countries combined. One big surprise is the total inefficiency of German armaments production. For example, only 2200 tanks were produced in 1940 (and plane production was a similar story) and it wasn’t until 1943 after the defeat at Stalingrad that full production really got going by which time it was too late. At the end of the day no matter how fearsome or valiant your soldiers are (and the German and Japanese soldiers were certainly this) it is of relatively little consequence if your enemy has countless manpower available and seemingly endless numbers of planes and tanks to throw at you. To have any chance the Germans and Japanese had to achieve some kind of knock-out blow in the early stages of the war and this they singularly failed to do.

    9781445653532

    Clive Pearson's new book The Second World War in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

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