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  • The Tudor Dynasty by Terry Breverton

    Non-fiction writing is all about fascination – learning intriguing facts and delving to find what is true, misguided or simply wrong. It’s a voyage of discovery but where you have to divest preconceived notions and query everything as you go along. The problem with historical non-fiction is that much material has been hidden, or hijacked with a predictable slant to sell historical fiction books. As a former management consultant I was almost always called in when there were major problems, and then faced the board with unpalatable facts about how they had been running their companies. What I’m trying to say is that you had to go into a company with no preconceived notions, and come up with something acceptable in order to be paid. The way to achieve that was to feed board members with one’s findings as the research progressed, and they could individually say at the final presentation that they agreed with you, as that was what they had been thinking all along. The process saved their faces and ensured full payment for the consultancy was a foregone conclusion.

    The same process applies to writing historical non-fiction – you have to take the reader along with you – following the same research path as yourself. In my book ‘Richard III – the King in the Car Park’, it was pointless decrying his recent cathedral burial until the end of the book, where hopefully all those who are not convinced Ricardians would agree with myself, and with just about every current history academic and writer. I sometimes wonder why people write historical novels – the facts are far, far more interesting and even entertaining.  The Tudors for instance – WOW! What a story. An unknown Welshman, later known as Owen Tudor, impoverished because his father and uncles fought in the Owain Glyndŵr war of 1400-1415, secretly married Henry V’s young widow. He was imprisoned, but one son, Edmond, Earl of Richmond, died fighting for his step-brother Richard II in the so-called Wars of the Roses. Another son, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, rescued Henry, the son of Edmond, born after his father’s death.  Jasper then was the only peer to fight throughout the civil wars, from the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 to Stoke Field in 1487.

    Jasper’s life was spent fighting and escaping, and his father Owen Tudor was executed after being captured at Jasper’s defeat at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Jasper managed to secure his nephew Henry from captivity and they escaped to Brittany and then France, but their lives in exile were at constant threat from Edward IV and then Richard III trying to have them killed. The Tudors’ choice was to either die or try and take the throne of England. With massive unrest against Richard III, their small army landed in Pembroke and swelled in numbers, supported by nearly all of Edward IV’s closest followers. They knew that Richard III had killed his brother’s sons and Edward’s closest friend Hastings, and hardly any lords now followed Richard into battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry’s victory led to general peace across the land and a period of prosperity for the nation. I wrote ‘Everything You Wanted to Know about the Tudors but were Afraid to Ask’, detailing interesting facts about the new dynasty, England’s greatest. My trilogy of books upon the Tudors includes the first biographies of ‘Jasper Tudor – Dynasty Maker’ and ‘Owen Tudor – Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty’. In between them I wrote ‘Henry VII – the Maligned Tudor King.’ They were enjoyable to research and write, and I hope that readers will be informed as well as entertained by them.

      

    Terry Breverton's books Richard III: The King in the Car Park, Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty, Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker, Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask are all available for purchase now.

  • The Natal Campaign - 'Humanitarian aid from Africa to Britain' and 'Slavery' by Hugh Rethman

    The Natal Campaign - map Seige of Ladysmith (The Natal Campaign: A Sacrifice Betrayed, Amberley Publishing)

    Humanitarian aid from Africa to Britain

    Did you know that there was a time when Africa donated financial humanitarian aid to Britain?

    At the beginning of 1900 Ladysmith was besieged and the relieving British and Colonial force was struggling to break the siege. Aware of the suffering being inflicted on the Army and the residents of Natal by the invaders, the black people, without being asked, collected money to help. Included among the donations was one from the Amangwane people, whose land lay close to the Free State. They donated the sum of £359 [1], which today would be worth more than one hundred times that amount.

    However the importance lies not in the amounts given, but in the concern, kindness and support displayed.

    Slavery

    Long before President Abe Lincoln made his famous address at Gettysburg, British settlers in Natal sent a petition to the British parliament which stated.

    British administration at Port Natal would be ‘…. a powerful aid towards abolishing the East African slave trade’ and ‘a colony based upon sound principals of political and social liberty, guaranteed to all denominations of men, and properly guarded against abuse and licence…. will lead to a profitable investment of money, and obtain for free laborers of all classes and colors ample remuneration, with the prospect of steadily bettering their conditions.’

    Extract from this petition, dated 22 March 1838, by the Merchants of Port Natal to the House of Commons requesting that Britain establish an administration at Port Natal.

    The full text of the petition is to be found in Appendix 4 of ‘The Natal Campaign, A Sacrifice Betrayed’ by Hugh Rethman also in ‘The Natal Papers ed. John Centlivres Chase, R. Godlonton, Grahamstown, 1845.

    9781445664217

    Hugh Rethman's new book The Natal Campaign: A Sacrifice Betrayed is available for purchase now.


    [1] The Natal Campaign, A Sacrifice Betrayed by Hugh Rethman pp 311/312 and UKNA, CO179/212.

  • Secret Greenwich by David C. Ramzan Book Signing

    Author of Secret Greenwich with James Rose of the Plume of Feathers Greenwich.

    A Sign of the Times - Secret Greenwich book signing at the Plume of Feathers Greenwich

    On 5th November I carried out a book signing of my publication Secret Greenwich at the Plume of Feathers, Greenwich, a 17th century public house that features in the book. The licensee’s, Sue Rose and her son James, publicised the book signing during the previous week, placing leaflets and posters throughout the bars. On my arrival in the afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to find the Plume, as the public house is referred to locally, extremely busy. Although I must admit they were not all there specifically for my book signing, as the Plume serves an excellent selection of home cooked cuisine. Also many arriving during the afternoon after a stroll in the park or along the river path then heading for the historic hostelry for a light lunch or a splendid Sunday roast.

    Whitefield’s Mount, reputedly the burial place of Cornish Rebels, and the last army of Celts to march upon London.

    I settled myself into a cosy corner of the bar where I put out a display of books and posters on the table, then handed out ‘Did You Know’ fact sheets containing brief but fascinating historical points of interest about Greenwich, a sample of narrative from within the book. Soon after setting up I had my pen out signing copies of Secret Greenwich, the first books sold to invited friends and acquaintances, shortly followed by many locals coming over to my table throughout the evening to buy a copy. Recalling times gone by and how the landscape of Greenwich has changed, new modern structures gradually surrounded many of the town’s historic and celebrated buildings.

    The Plume of Feathers, Greenwich’s earliest existing public house.

    Two of my friends, retiring to Cornwall a few years ago, travelled up from the West Country for the book signing, although they were also spending a long weekend with their son and daughter who both still live locally, the expatriate couple revisiting the place where they first met, the Plume of Feathers. After reminiscing about their first encounter which led to a long happy marriage, our conversation turned to an historic link between Cornwall and Greenwich, an account featuring in my book. Of the time when Cornish rebels marched upon London in 1497 to come up against the awaiting forces of Henry VII, after which an estimated two-thousand Celts were killed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge, their corpses rumoured to have been buried under Whitefield’s Mount on nearby Blackheath.

    The Plume of Feathers, situated to the east of the Meridian Line on the one time main highway through Greenwich, a countryside style pub in a suburban setting, was an ideal location for my book signing. The atmospheric hostelry is frequented not only by many long-standing local residents, but also by others recently moving to Greenwich and Blackheath, along with visitors and tourists who come across the Plume while exploring the quiet secluded back roads away from the busy town centre. Many of those at the book signing, although aware of the royal riverside town’s distinguished history, were unaware of many secret places, tales and buildings from Greenwich’s past, and hopefully those at the book signing who were kind enough to purchase a copy will discover more fascinating facts and interesting anecdotes contained within the pages of Secret Greenwich.

    David C. Ramzan's book Secret Greenwich is available for purchase now.

  • Canals, Docks and Routes in Salford by Paul Hindle

    Amberley first contacted me to see if I would write Bolton Through Time for them. Although I live just inside the Bolton boundary I’m not really a Boltonian, and soon Bolton Camera Club did an excellent job with that book.

    Instead, as Chairman of the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Society I suggested that I could write a Through Time book about the canal. So in 2013 I set to work, using the Society’s own photographic archives for the ‘then’ photos, before going out to take the ‘now’ photos, largely done on foot, walking the whole canal towpath which runs from Salford (not Manchester!) to both Bolton and Bury. In the process I noticed that I was walking rather oddly, and eventually I was rushed to Salford hospital for a brain operation!

    The Entrance to the Canal. Both views taken from the Princes Bridge. The left picture was taken in 1905 when Princes Bridge was being rebuilt. It shows the river towpath crossing the canal entrance over the curved 'Bloody Bridge'; the lower lock gates of Lock 1 are open. The right picture, after restoration, shows the entrance to the Margaret Fletcher Tunnel under the Inner Relief Road, leading to the new lock. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Several of the ‘now’ photos have already become redundant, due to various redevelopment schemes. For example the entrance to the canal from the River Irwell (shown on pages 8 and 9) has been transformed. Princes Bridge has gone and been replaced by a new lower footbridge, and the walls and roof of the first part of the entrance tunnel have been removed. The Ordsall Chord now spans the river at this point, with its new railway lines linking Victoria and Piccadilly stations. On pages 13 and 14 there is a new housing development alongside the canal, rather than the ‘urban desert’ seen in the book. On page 19 the water tower has gone. Prestolee Locks (seen on pages 44-46) have been excavated to about half their depth, making them much more visible. The Fire & Rescue training centre mentioned on page 75 has now been built, keeping the line of the canal clear. All that in just four years!

    Prestolee Locks. Two views of the canal basin and the lower locks; the stonework has been partly dismantled. Two branch canals lead off to the left serving a quarry, tramway and vitriol works. Overall the 6 locks raise the canal 64 feet in just 200 yards to the summit level. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    A year later Amberley asked me to take on Salford Through Time. Although I had worked at Salford University for 30 years I didn’t really know much of Salford well, and, as it is a large city, the biggest problem was which parts to include. Eventually I came up with the idea of three linear routes through the parts of Salford I knew best. The first went from Exchange Station, along Chapel Street to the Crescent (passing the University), then on to Broad Street and Eccles Old Road. The second route was a tour around Broughton and Kersal. The third route gave me another chance to follow the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal just as far as Agecroft, using mainly a different set of photos. This time I had to obtain most of the ‘then’ photos from the very helpful Salford Local History Library. Again already several of the ‘now’ photos are redundant, starting with the office block on the front cover (and page 17) which has already gone.

    Exchange Station. The railway line linking Salford and Manchester Victoria stations was opened in 1844, but Victoria became so congested that Manchester Exchange station was opened by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1884. It was named Manchester Exchange despiten most of it being in Salford. Manchester Cathedral is on the right, and a wide approach ramp led across the River Irwell to the station. A second approach led down to Chapel Street. (Salford Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Another request from Amberley came in 2017 and I suggested Salford Quays Through Time. The Quays is a development of the former Manchester Docks that were in fact in Salford. Once again I went back to the Salford Local History Library, and I hit the first problem, which was that many of the photos did not say which dock they were showing, and half were undated. There are only so many photos you can show of a dock area, so I decided to widen the scope of the book to include the local areas of Ordsall and part of Weaste, which were developed alongside the docks.

    Dock 9. The left picture, taken in the 1930s from the Grain Elevator, shows a very busy Dock 9 with numerous ships and barges. The right picture shows the same view today, taken from a lower viewpoint. To the left there is the low-rise housing of Anchorage Quay and Grain Wharf, with the Lowry beyond. The basin is spanned by the relaocated railway swing bridge. The part of the dock in the foreground is now called the Erie Basin, which is continuously aerated. To the right is a row of high-rise buildings. (Salford Quays Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The changes throughout the area in recent years have been massive. In Ordsall the area was largely made up of terraced housing which has been largely replaced by modern housing. The road network has been drastically altered. The only surviving features are the medieval Ordsall Hall, Ordsall Park, four churches and the main roads. In the Quays only the outline of the four docks remains, and even that has been altered by closing off three of the four docks from the river, and creating new canals and basins. So in both Ordsall and the Quays getting matching ‘then’ and now’ photos was very difficult. I found Ordsall a fascinating area, notably the surviving Barracks area of terraced housing, including St Ignatius Church and the Salford Lads Club. A final section took me to the peaceful Weaste Cemetery where several famous folk are buried.

    Paul Hindle's books Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Salford Through Time and Salford Quays Through Time are available for purchase now.

  • Secret Whitechapel by Louis Berk and Rachel Kolsky

    Mile End mural at No. 31 Mile End Road, E1. (Courtesy of artist Mychael Barratt, commissioned by T. V. Edwards, Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    Revealing the secrets of four centuries of history in Whitechapel

    In 2016 Amberley published our first joint collaboration, Whitechapel in 50 Buildings which has proven to be a very popular title. At the time we were also asked by Amberley to create a similar title for their ‘Secret’ series of books and Secret Whitechapel is the result.

    Whitechapel in 50 Buildings celebrated buildings that proclaimed from the exterior their age, history or purpose. Secret Whitechapel encourages readers to look up and down, discovering stories not immediately evident to the passer-by.

    Edward VIIth statue on Whitechapel Waste with the Royal London Hospital in the background (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of Whitechapel is not always emblazoned on walls but there are often other clues to its fascinating past – they just need interpreting. When passing the Royal London Hospital, you might notice the distinctively shaped windows of the top floor. What do they mean? You can pass by a shopfront on Whitechapel Road without knowing it contained a peep show connected to one of the most moving human stories in English history. Within this book, doors, windows, pavements and even drainpipes – among other items – all have a hidden story to tell.

    ‘Light is my glory’: The ornate but largely unnoticed bas relief on the former Captain Montefiore secondary school, a typical Victorian building created by the School Board of London. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Whitechapel continues to captivate people from all over the Britain – indeed the world. Many have passed through on their journeys, either living or working there. Within this small area, you discover a microcosm of London’s social history and those who strove for change including the Dancing Academy on New Street that hosted missionary meetings that led to an international philanthropic movement. One of the most popular songs of the twentieth century was created in a modest recording studio on Osborn Street and shopfronts and ghost signs are reminders of both past businesses and those now in fourth-generation family ownership.

    The surprisingly rural feel of the workers cottages in Belle Vue Place between Whitechapel and Mile End. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    It would be impossible to reveal all the secrets within Whitechapel in one single volume. Indeed, as we wrote this book we continued to discover more wonderful stories that for reasons of space we had to omit. If we had to sum up this collection of special places, we chose to concentrate on the minutiae and truly hidden meanings in buildings and locations. There is a vicarious delight in knowing you are following in the footsteps of famous men and women in history, or finding spaces that, even in Whitechapel, are so ‘off the beaten track’ they appear almost rural.

    There is no doubt that Whitechapel is going through an important transition as the thirst for space pushes outwards from the nearby City of London. Central Whitechapel is likely to go through dramatic changes during the rest of this decade as Crossrail arrives and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets commences its vision for a new twenty first century civic centre for its borough. There may yet be time to savour some of the back roads and surprisingly tranquil spaces shown in this book and we hope it will both inform and fulfil its role as a guide to secrets in the area.

    Louis Berk & Rachel Kolsky's book Secret Whitechapel is available for purchase now.

  • Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West by Gordon Napier

    Politics and Witchcraft

    The Burney Relief, an ancient Babylonian artefact in the Britsh Museum featuring a femlae deity, often identified as Lilith. Lilith was remembered in medieval Jewish lore as a demon who prayed on sleeping men who caused epilepsy in children. She is flanked by owls, creatures with a long association with witchcraft. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    A story with overtones of Satanism and witchcraft made the news late in 2016, possibly influencing the result of that year’s US presidential election. The email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was hacked, and 58,660 of his emails were published on Wikileaks. In one of these, Podesta was forwarded one Marina Abramavić’s invitation to a ‘Spirit Cooking Dinner’, by his lobbyist brother Tony. Abramović, a performance artist who cultivates a witch-like persona, has previously posed covered in snakes or holding a severed goat’s head, and has scratched pentagrams into her belly as part of earlier works. (The goat is evocative of Baphomet, the ‘sabbatic’ idol envisaged by 19th century occultist Eliphas Levi, which also bears a pentagram on its brow). ‘Spirit Cooking’ originally referred to Abramović’s 1990s performance pieces involving the slopping of blood around a chamber and over anthropoid figurines, as well as the writing of messages and painting of symbols onto walls. One such message in blood invited the observer to take a sharp knife and ‘cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand. Eat the pain’. In one photo, an inverted pentagram and ‘666’ (the biblical number of the beast) feature. In a 2013 Reddit AMA, when asked about the place of the occult in contemporary art, Abramović said: ‘If you are doing the occult magic in the context of art, or in an art gallery, then it is art. If you are doing it in a different context, in spiritual circles or in a private house... then it is not art.’

    Cats were often identified as witches' familiars, and were the subject of various superstitions. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    Interest in magic endures, in the West, and there is at least an ironical pretence of belief in the supernatural. Performance art evocative of macabre ritualism still provokes disquiet (even though the artist in question denies being a Satanist). The Podesta revelations potentially damaged the credibility of the Democrat campaign, opening it to attacks from opponents. Partisans of the Republican candidate, meanwhile, half-jokingly claimed to have used internet ‘meme magic’ to secure Trump’s victory. The cartoon frog character Pepe had been co-opted by right-wing meme-makers, and the more esoteric-minded noticed correlations with the obscure Egyptian frog god kek, who became their totem. Modern witches of Leftist leaning, loath to accept the electoral outcome, have in turn sought to cast co-ordinated spells, including an appeal to infernal demons, ‘to bind Trump and all who abet him’.

    In times when magic was taken seriously by governments, such activity as #MagicalResistance would have been treated as treasonous. In antiquity and into the Tudor era it was regarded as criminal even to cast horoscopes to determine how long a ruler might live. Since ancient times plotters have turned to magicians to aid their political causes. Magical doings were part of the harem conspiracy against the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III; spells being cast to incapacitate the harem guards, and to render the intended target more vulnerable. The plot succeeded in killing Ramesses (d. 1155 BC), but not in installing the son of the secondary wife who had been at the heart of the conspiracy. The convicted plotters duly faced gruesome deaths.

    Witches dancing with demons, illustration from the Compendium Maleficarum, a witch-hunting manual by Francesco Maria Guazzo (1608). (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    During the reign of Henry VI of England, the Duchess of Gloucester and her associate, Margery Jourdeymayne, known as the Witch of Eye, were among those convicted of a similarly sorcerous plot against the king’s life. The Witch of Eye, in 1441, became one of few convicted witches to be burned at the stake in England. (Most English witches were hanged, and that mostly in a later period. The element of treason determined the sentence in this case). In 1590, James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) oversaw a hunt for witches who were said to meet with the devil at the churchyard in North Berwick, plotting and casting spells against James’ life. James’ cousin the Earl of Bothwell came to be linked to the plot. The witches were said to have conjured storms in an attempt to sink James’s ship while he was sailing abroad, and also to have sought to get hold of intimate items of the king’s clothing to use in harmful enchantments. That James survived indicated his favoured state, for if the ‘detestable slaves of the devil’ were plotting against the life of a sovereign then it could only enhance the target’s pious reputation. James himself interrogated some of the suspected witches. The king took such an interest in witchcraft that he added his own ‘Demonologie’ to the genre of witch hunting manuals. This inspired Shakespeare to write the play ‘Macbeth’, wherein the eponymous warlord consults with witches who prophecy (equivocatingly) that he will become king of Scotland, prompting Macbeth to usurp the throne. The theme of a ruler or warrior consulting witches about his fate is familiar both from classical literature and the Bible, echoing Sextus Pompey’s meeting with Erichtho, and Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor. These witches offered illicit- but irresistible- supernatural insight regarding political and military affairs.

    Illustration accompanying a pamphlet titled 'Newes from Scotland' (15910), describing the Berwick witches and their supposed plot against King James VI. The witches are here shown listening to a sermon given by the devil, and a shipwreck caused by their black magic is also shown. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    Most historical cases of witchcraft were not tied to the world of politics. Allegations of witchcraft were, however, sometimes used to remove political undesirables, and to discredit factions associated with them. Royal ladies to come under such suspicion included Jaquetta of Luxembourg and Anne Boleyn. They also included Agnes Bernauer, whose real crime seems to have been marrying above her station into the ruling house of Bavaria. Her father-in-law, during her husband’s absence, had her seized, convicted, and drowned in the Danube. In France, supposed treasonous plots involving sorcery were uncovered, from time to time, throughout the Middle-Ages and beyond. Allegations of unholy worship helped King Philip IV to demonise and destroy the Knights Templar. Some of these accusations helped to formulate the notion of the witches’ Sabbath. During the Affaire des Poisons, a later scandal, during the reign of Louis XIV, the royal mistress the Marquise de Montespin, was suspected of using poison to remove a rival for the king’s affections, and was also found to be associating with La Voisin, a society fortune-teller and notorious poisoner, who presided at black masses. The authorities lost interest in prosecuting witchcraft as the eighteenth century dawned. The ‘age of reason’, however, also saw such societies as the Hellfire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood, which may have involved mock occultism in dark places. Major political players were involved in such societies, which provided an opportunity for networking and possibly blackmail.

    Modern witchcraft, or Wicca, emerged in the mid 20th century. It is not a clandestine cult involving the great and powerful, but rather a nature religion focussed on worship of its principle deities, the horned god and the mother goddess. It owes much to the writings of the likes of Jules Michelet and Margaret Murray, who saw historical witchcraft as the survival of an ancient fertility cult. ‘The Old Religion’ was supposed to stand against the Christian/patriarchal order that prevailed by the sixteenth and seventeenth century, when historical witch hunting reached its peak. Various branches of modern witchcraft were politicised in the 1970s, when causes such as feminism and environmentalism were pushed by activists. The legacy of this politicization is indicated by the spell-casting campaign targeting President Trump- who ironically had already been turned into the frog by his own fans.

    Gordon Napier's book Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West is available for purchase now.

  • Donald Trump in 100 Facts by Ruth Ann Monti

    100 Non-Alternative Facts About Donald Trump

    Here’s a bittersweet irony: my book Donald Trump in 100 Facts was released in the UK on January 15, the day the US honors the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is the only black American to be so honored—the other two are Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and they have to share a day for their birthday observations!

    Just days ago, Trump was reported to have used one or another similar insults to describe Haiti and African nations in general. Rest assured, this made many Americans shudder, including more than a few who voted for him.

    My book on Trump, written somewhat tongue-in-cheek in line with the rest of the 100 Facts series, was an attempt on my part to identify actual facts about the man. I didn’t research rumors or suppositions that had yet to be proven. Rather, I looked for items that I hoped would provide more solid insights into the man outside of his tweets and reported outbursts from within the walls of the Oval Office. After all, we were advised throughout 2017 that we shouldn’t take what Trump tweets or says too seriously.

    That left out words from Trump’s own mouth although I did look at a few of his books to note where he seemed to go out of his way to mislead. The most egregious, I think, comes from his first book (and I might add, a “yoog” best-seller) The Art of the Deal, in which he repeated the family fabrication created by Fred Trump Sr. during the Second World War that the Trumps, who hail from Germany, were Swedes. (Fred worried how his Jewish tenants would react if they were to learn of his father’s German roots, as I discuss in Fact #19.)

    Later, Donald participated in a documentary of his father’s hometown, Kings of Kallstadt (discussed in Fact #16), which introduces viewers to a cousin who serves as the family historian. By then, of course, Trump was no longer hiding his ancestry and his daughter had converted to Judaism upon her marriage to billionaire boy Jared Kushner.

    Is Trump a racist? I honestly believe that he is. That said, I also believe that most people harbor some racism inside, whether it’s racial, ethnic, even geographic. I certainly know I struggle with this and I was not raised in a particularly racist environment. I’ve worked my entire adult life to catch myself when I realize I saw, heard, or read something that set off internal alarms. I believe most of us, including most Americans, conscientiously work to correct these near-instincts. I say “near,” because racism is learned: at school, at home, on the job, while looking for a job.

    Certainly there are circles of “deplorables” who encourage racism and insist it is an instinct, even a protective one. I reject that notion. If we are indeed the creation of a God, higher power, or cosmic conception, we are meant to be better than this. We are meant to evolve intellectually as well as physically.

    Donald Trump has not done so. He explicitly rejects any attempt at self-improvement, believing he is already as close to perfect as one can get. (He may even believe he is perfect!) There is no off switch on The Donald, or an internal editorial board. He “tells it like it is,” people said early in the Presidential campaign. Which we learned, means he ignored whatever self-restraint he once had and let loose the demons most Americans were working to contain.

    The more I researched and uncovered, the more alarmed I became and I was already pretty high-strung over the concept of President Trump. I even made a conscientious attempt to identify a certain number of “positive” facts and fell short of my goal. There just aren’t many such instances to report on the man. For example, I recalled hearing back in the 1980s that Trump had paid for medical treatment for a young AIDS patient, Ryan White. Upon researching this, I found several interviews with White’s mother denying this and a concurring rumour that Trump also offered his private jet to speed White to whatever treatment center he needed to access (Fact #54). I ended up writing about how Trump was sympathetic to AIDS patients at a time when much of the nation was thrown into hysterics—certainly a positive fact—but I wonder how open-hearted he would be today if HIV/AIDS had emerged in, say, 2015. In 2014, he tweeted this gem:

    How unlike Dr King he is, who traveled far and wide to lead marches, speak out, and risk arrest (and he was arrested many times). It’s OK to do the right thing but be prepared to suffer the consequences. I, for one, am thankful for King’s sacrifice, along with countless others like Medgar Evers, Rev. George Lee, Herbert Lee, Rev. Bruce Klunder, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and far too many more.

    I am truly worried for my country. I can only hope as President Lincoln for the day that “fellow-countrymen…when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

    Ruth Ann Monti's new book Donald Trump in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Chester by John Idris Jones

    Godstall Lane had a hermit. Gerald of Wales wrote that this man was Hnry V of the Holy Roman Empire. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Before I forget, may I first put in a good word for Editor Jenny Stephens. She has been a star for my work on Secret Chester. It is the first time I have done this format, and there were many tricky moments. However, Jenny sailed through and put the book together in admirable form.  She juggled the images and the text in a way which brings out the pictures; some larger, some smaller; and also a good word for the printers; some of the pictures I was doubtful about, but the printers have done a sterling job, bringing out some details I could not see on the originals. The picture of Godstall Lane on page 7 for instance; very dark in the original but a great deal less so when printed. The paper is excellent quality and does good justice to the images; they are printed much better than I expected.

    Gee gees dates back to the first recorded horse race at Chester in 1539. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, there are lots of books on Chester, some of them with archive pictures, but I am hoping there is only one like mine. With new pictures and short explanatory text, it’s reliable and accurate but not academic. The mixture looks good to me; some history, some contemporary; some quirky things, like ‘gee-gees’ being derived from a Mr Gee who started the racecourse in c1550. Then to various things about the Romans, and King Arthur, who seems to have spent some time in Chester. I have put in lots of pictures of houses. They are so attractive with their half-timbering and carvings and have odd things like John Lennon’s grandmother being born in one.

    It is an outstanding place; packed with good details. The French restaurant Chez Jules used to be the Fire Station, and you can see the bays.

    Chez Jules restaurant in Northgate Street. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Not many know that the design side is misleading. Most of the half-timbering, Tudor-style, is fairly new; Victorian; designed in 1850-1890. I have dedicated the book to five architects; such good fortune to have them there at the same time. They really were outstanding designers and without them the city would be a pale shadow of what it is now. The buildings have survived time; some from the very early centuries are still fresh and good-looking.

    I think this combination of quality pictures of a decent size, with illustrative text, is a good commercial idea. I think people, tourists especially, will buy it; it is a souvenir of a visit perhaps. Very good news that genuine paper books are coming back and e-based material is in decline. On holiday in Spain last week I noticed fewer kindles around the pool and more books.

    I sincerely wish Amberley Publishing all success. They are taking a chance in a difficult marketplace. They are producing decent books of good quality content and material. I would like to mention Alan Murphy as well; as commissioning editor, he has excellent judgement and looks to the future in a very positive way.

    John Idris Jones' book Secret Chester is available for purchase now.

  • Working on the Victorian Railway by Anthony Dawson

    A mid-Victorian photograph of an LNWR locomotive crew, giving a good impression of the clothing and working conditions of early loco crews. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Driving and firing, locomotives like Planet or Lion on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was not too dissimilar from a BR ‘Standard’ or even Flying Scotsman. In fact, ever since Richard Trevithick had invented the first self-propelled steam engine on rails in 1803 the basics haven’t changed.

    Firstly, the fireman is responsible for the safe management of the boiler: he has to make sure there is sufficient water in the boiler, and that there is always enough steam. Early locomotives were remarkable efficient, Planet only requiring 18lbs (about 8kg) of coke per mile; Lion uses about double the amount. Unlike Flying Scotsman which has something called an injector (invented by the Frenchman Henri Giffard in 1851) to put water back in the boiler, Planet and Lion had to rely on pumps which only worked when the engine was moving. This made it particularly important that the boiler was re-filled towards the end of the working day as there was no means of getting water back into the boiler when the engine had stopped working. As an aside, there is absolutely no primary evidence whatsoever that these early engines were run up to a buffer-stop, oil liberally poured over the rails and the engine set running in order to get the pumps to work. Whilst Lion still has two pumps, the 1992-built replica of Planet has both a pump and an injector. In order to ascertain how much water is in the boiler, a thick glass tube called a gauge class is fixed to the back of the firebox, straddling the water line. Valves at the top and bottom control admission of steam (top) and water (bottom) and there is also a drain so that the gauge might be ‘blown through’ to get rid of any blockages which could cause a dangerous false reading.

    Cross-section of a typical 1840s locomotive. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The boiler had to be kept full in order to keep the top of the firebox covered with water; early fireboxes were usually made from iron but from the mid-1830s onwards they were made from copper. Copper melts at about 1,000ºC, whilst the fire in the firebox can be as much as 1,500! The firebox must be surrounded with water – and free from any scale which acts as a good insulator – in order to stop it from overheating and melting. If it does overheat, the fusible plug (a bronze bush with a lead core screwed into the top of the firebox) melts: the lead running out, jetting hot water and steam into the firebox as an early warning system to tell the crew to put the pumps on (and take the fire out if safe to do so).

    The foorplate and controls of Planet. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In order to drive Planet, there are a pair of polished steel levers on the left hand side of the footplate. These drive the valves which admit or exhaust steam from the cylinders. Because these handles are directly connected to the valves, it means the engine can be driven ‘on the levers’ with the driver setting the valve timing by hand to get the locomotive moving. But this would be very tiring for a thirty-mile trip to Liverpool. So to get the locomotive to run on its own, the valves are worked via an eccentric on the driving axle. An eccentric works like a crank, turning rotary motion (round and round) into reciprocating motion (backwards and forwards). On Planet, the eccentrics were sandwiched between a pair of collars and are free to move laterally (side to side) between a pair of ‘driving dogs’ clamped to the crank axle. These ‘driving dogs’ are set 90º apart, providing fore- and back-gear. Each dog corresponds with a slot in the collar, into which it engages as appropriate. A pedal on the footplate shifts the eccentrics to the left or right so that the driver can select the direction of travel. Fastened to the eccentrics are ‘eccentric rods’. These pass to the front of the engine and work a rocking shaft. The eccentric rods end in a drop-hook called a ‘gab’ which can be locked or unlocked from the rocking shat. With the hooks unlocked, the valves can be worked by hand; with them locked in place, the valves are worked by the eccentrics. It all sounds very complicated, but it is in fact quite simple – when you know how!

    A id-Victorian photograph of a Furness Railway Bury-type locomotive of the 1840s. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    If starting, and getting the engine moving was one problem, then stopping it was quite another. For a start, there were no brakes on the engine, merely a hand-brake on the tender (the parking brake) which could be used in emergencies. Guards, sitting on the roofs of the carriages each controlled a hand brake, and if the driver wanted the train brakes putting on, he blew his whistle three times in quick succession. If he wanted them off, three times in longer beats. In order to slow down and stop the engine, it has to be put into reverse.  This often conjures up images of Casey Jones, throwing his engine into reverse, the wheels spinning round backwards, sparks flying. But nothing could be further from reality – it’s really quite gentle. The driver closes the regulator, shutting off steam to the pistons and the locomotive slows down, still moving forward under its own momentum. At about 5mph he can release his foot pedal, shifting the eccentrics over, putting the engine into reverse. After a revolution of the wheel (so the ‘driving dog’ engages into its slot on the eccentric cheek) reverse is engaged and the regulator slowly opened, putting steam back into the cylinders, but in reverse. So instead of pushing the engine forward, the pressure of the steam in the cylinders – because the engine is still going forward – cushions the piston, acting as a brake, bringing the engine slowly to a halt, and, with practice and skill, can be used to keep the engine stationary. Even though the replica Planet is fitted with a modern air-brake system, many drivers prefer to stop her 1830s style.

    Planet with a mixed train (first- and second-class) standing in front of the 1830 Railway Warehouse at Liverpool Road Station, now part of the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. (Photo: Matthew Jackson, Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Enginemen of the 1830s were a hardy lot: neither Planet nor Lion have cabs, and only an ornamental railing to stop you falling over the side. On a bright summer’s day, chuffing along at about 20mph can be very pleasant indeed, but in the cold, wet, or wind it can be a harrowing experience.  Nor were the crews allowed to sit down to take a breather (at least officially); they were to stand up at all times and keep a sharp look-out. A billy can of hot tea could be kept warm by standing it close to the firebox and food kept in one of the lockers on the tender. Relief of another kind was a different matter entirely: there were no toilets at any of the stations so many enginemen must have, in emergencies relieved themselves onto their coal or over the side – in fact the Leeds & Selby Railway passed an order preventing enginemen ‘making water over the side of their engines’. They couldn’t even sit down and have a sandwich at the station: the Lancashire & Yorkshire prohibited loco crews from using any public bench or seat or refreshment room – presumably because they didn’t want dirty footprints all over.

    Drawing from practical experience of operating the replica Planet locomotive, Working on the Victorian Railway explores how drivers and firemen of the 1830s and 1840s were trained – or not! – their pay, working conditions and responsibilities and shows how there is very little difference between the first mainline express steam locomotive, Planet of 1830 and the most recent, Tornado (2008).

    Anthony Dawson's new book Working on the Victorian Railway is available for purchase now.

  • Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain by Bernard O'Connor

    Most people have no idea that in the 1930s and early-1940s there was what has been called a ‘spy-psychosis’ or ‘Fifth Column neurosis’ in Britain. Many of the most popular films were spy thrillers. The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Night Train to Munich (1940) were all box-office hits.

    Films released in 1939 included Spy for a Day, The Spy in Black, Spies of the Air and Traitor Spy. Beloved familiar characters of the time such as Inspector Hornleigh got in on the act by capturing spies on an express train in Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (1940). Cottage to Let (1941) included fifth columnists and secret inventions. In low-budget comedies, Arthur Askey and George Formby would foil the plots of swarms of German spies as well as unmask quislings and traitors, and everything would turn out nice again. All these films reinforced the Government-endorsed message that not only did careless talk cost lives; anyone could be a spy and a traitor.(1)

    Camp 020, Latchmere House near Richmond, where 480 enemy personnel were interrogated during the war, including most of the saboteurs sent to Britain. (Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    There were rumours of Nazi agents disguised as nuns operating from a disused London Underground station. The population was encouraged to report any suspicious activity, especially by foreigners, to the police. Lt General Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides, claimed to be able to identify German agents from the way they walked, but only from behind. General Sir Walter Kirke, Head of the Home Forces, claimed that ‘the gentlemen who are the best behaved and the most sleek are the stinkers who are doing the work and we cannot be too sure of anybody.’(2) There was a fear that enemy agents were using carrier pigeons to send their messages.

    In January 1939, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) issued an ultimatum to the British government to withdraw all their troops from Ireland or they would launch a sabotage campaign against Britain. When their ultimatum was ignored, the IRA started attacking targets in London and other major British cities.

    What was not realised at the time was that the Nazis were providing financial and technical support to the IRA, promising them independence for Ireland in return for helping their plans for a British invasion. German saboteurs were involved in the campaign with their bomb attacks being attributed to the IRA. These attacks continued throughout 1939 and after war broke out in September, the Security Forces started finding evidence of Nazi involvement. The British Government began to be seriously worried that the Nazis were supporting the IRA and planning to sabotage important military, industrial and communication targets before invading Britain.

    Waterpiplines leading to HEP station at Fort William. Target for James Walsh, Irish agent. (Courtesy of Martin Briscoe, Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    The Government initiated a widespread counter-sabotage programme. You may well have read books or watched films about the sabotage attacks undertaken by British or British-trained agents in enemy-occupied Europe; how they destroyed aeroplanes, trucks and trains with plastic explosives; how they blew up canal lock gates, railway lines, electricity power stations, bridges, viaducts, aqueducts and tunnels; how they sank ships with limpet bombs and halted production at mines, engineering works and factories; how they brought down pylons, telegraph poles and cut cables with strategically placed and often cleverly camouflaged explosive devices. But where are the stories of the IRA’s sabotage attacks? Where are the stories of the German-trained agents infiltrated into Britain to attack important targets? Where are the documentaries? Where are the films?

    I researched Station 17, Brickendonbury Manor, the requisitioned country house outside Hertford, Hertfordshire, where overseas ‘students’ were trained as secret agents for my book Churchill’s School for Saboteurs. Later the house was used to provide agents with specialist courses in industrial sabotage before being infiltrated to undertake attacks on targets across Europe. Before researching sabotage in Poland and Italy, I got waylaid by writing an account of the women involved in deception schemes during the war.

    I spent several years poring over and transcribing secret agents’ personnel files and mission papers from the National Archives in Kew, downloading files from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s website, trawling the Internet for details, reading biographies, autobiographies, newspapers, history books and journals, and writing numerous accounts of top-secret sabotage operations during the Second World War. I discovered that the IRA and the Nazis made numerous attempts to sabotage targets in Britain and that the British Intelligence Services made concerted efforts to stop them. This book provides a detailed account of their successes and failures.

    Ronnie Reed, ZIGZAG's case officer in front of the transformer house at de Havilland Factory, camouflaged to look as if it has been sabotaged. (TNA KV 2/458, Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    I have to acknowledge the research done by Rupert Allason, Mary Berbier, John Bowyer-Bell, Giles Colchester, Terry Crowdy, T. Ryle Dwyer, Bryce Evans, Lalislas Farago, Thomas Hennessey, Mark Hull, John Humphries, Tommy Jonason, David Johnson, Ben Macintyre, John Masterman, David O’Donoghue, Eunan O’Haplin, Simon Olsson, Terence O’Reilly, Adrian O’Sullivan, Frank Owen, Günther Peis, Lee Richards, Mike Scoble, Adrian Searle, Claire Thomas, Des Turner and Charles Wighton.

    The staff at the National Archives in Kew and the CIA online archives need especial thanks for generating a searchable catalogue and allowing many of the documents I found to be downloaded. The staff of the Lancashire Archives also helped provide access to their files. Steven Kippax, Phil Tomaselli, Stephen Tyas and fellow members of the Special Operations Executive Yahoo user group have been particularly helpful in providing files and answering my many queries.

    Martin Briscoe kindly provided photographs of the Fort Willliam hydroelectric power station, Mal Durbin the photograph of Cray Reservoir and David Howard the photograph of 35 Crespigny Road. I acknowledge with gratitude a number of websites on which I found other illustrations.

    Trying to provide a detailed account of what were considered at the time to be top secret activities over a six-year period has been a challenge, based as it is on often redacted transcripts of interviews, memoranda and correspondence. There may be gaps; there may be errors, but this book is more the work of an archaeologist than a historian. It is an attempt to piece together bits of information so that they tell a human story, one which I hope will not only give you fascinating details about little-known aspects of British wartime history but also an insight into the mind-set of the people involved in the British and German Intelligence Services, the saboteurs and the counter-saboteurs.

    Bernard O'Connor's new book Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow Up Britain is available for purchase now.


    1. http://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A87786102
    2. TNA INF 1/264-8

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