Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Amberley Blog

  • Secret Stafford by Robert Nicholls

    Essex Bridge at Great Haywood, the longest remaining pack horse bridge in the country built by the Earl of Essex to allow Queen Elizabeth I to cross the Trent. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    The writer, Arnold Bennett, says of Stafford: ‘It is England in little, unsung by searchers after the extreme’. However, it has played an important part in the nation’s history and has much to commend it, as many examples in the book bear witness. It is a town people often pass through or by-pass en-route to other places, but my book aims to prove that it worth making the detour to appreciate its hidden gems.

    The central core of Stafford has some pleasant little surprises comprising attractive streets and buildings, a few good tourist sites, and several characterful tea-rooms. It makes for an interesting trip. Parking is plentiful and a walking tour, such as my book offers, is a good choice. Indeed perhaps the biggest ‘secret’ of this book is the town centre itself, unexplored by many.

    A few questions you may ask: Just what is that building outline next to the Parish Church? Where were the town walls? And what is left of them? Is the castle next to the M6 really a Georgian folly? And prepare to be impressed by the largest Elizabethan timber framed house in England.

    Ingestre Church, the design attributed to Christopher Wren, perhaps the only building of his not built for the King. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    Away from the town the surrounding hinterland within the modern-day borough boundaries has its share of surprises too. Aristocratic estates, scenic canals, reminders of past industries and a fair collection of the odd and unusual are all within a 15 mile radius of the town.

    Where will you find the shortest telegraph pole in the world, the longest packhorse bridge in England, a canal built to resemble a lake (or was it ?), and the only church by Sir Christopher Wren outside of London?

    Some of the ‘secrets’ in this book are truly difficult to find without the directions given. The final resting place of the late Patrick, Earl of Lichfield, and a set of medieval glass furnaces reward the patient explorer, whilst another interesting family tomb is almost completely obscured by vegetation. A mile long walk down a muddy track leads to an historic folly that is very ‘far from the madding crowd’.

    Tixall Gatehouse, built to stand in front of Tixall Hall, now long gone. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    In Secret Stafford you’ll discover the answers to these questions, and many more revelations that will surprise you with every turn of the page. Intriguing local connections with famous figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien are also highlighted.

    So it would be a grave mistake to underrate Stafford. It is a place which deserves closer scrutiny.

    I have written local history books since 1985 having produced so far some 16 titles on a variety of topics, mainly concerning North West England. A few years ago I lived for a time just outside the boundaries of the Staffordshire Moorlands, when I researched, wrote and published three titles of a ‘curiosities’ nature in digital form. One of these covered Staffordshire.

    Amberley then offered to publish some of this material. The first of these 50 Gems of Staffordshire was published in late 2017 and Secret Stafford is the second. A further title on the County of Lancashire is to follow. Secret Stafford has required a good deal of extra in-depth research and exploration, but for me this has been a pleasure, as I discovered far more things of historical interest than I had thought existed in the area. I hope that readers will find as much pleasure discovering some of the places it mentions

    Robert Nicholls' new book Secret Stafford is available for purchase now.

  • Midland Railway Stations by Allen Jackson

    The Midland Railway was a latecomer to London, so some statement as to power and wealth had to be made. November 2017. (Midland Railway Stations, Amberley Publishing)

    A Journey - Episode 1

    The starting point of the journey is the iconic and recently restored and extended St. Pancras station which sits cheek by jowl with the understated Kings Cross in an area of London that had a reputation for ‘ladies of the night’ in the nineteenth century but which has now expanded its late night seediness to include the peddling of class A drugs. London main line termini have usually attracted negative comment and Waterloo is often held up as a centre for the homeless and rough sleepers.

    St. Pancras though has a new sophistication with a champagne bar that seems a world away from the Burton’s brewery trains that used to enter Midland Railway St. Pancras underground as if the worker’s tipple should be not only not seen but not heard.

    Of course beer was not the only import from the Midlands and the bricks from which the station was built were brought there by train for the first time.

    The Eurostar terminal underlines this new up-market image and ordinary travellers are segregated from the supposed international elite by a glass security fence. This simply seems to echo the past in the 19th century provision of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class waiting rooms except that in modern times the concern is more to do with international terrorism than the class war.

    Leicester, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and London. (Midland Railway Stations, Amberley Publishing)

    We start our journey on the poorer side of the tracks and soon head north through the London borough of Campden and the restored Roundhouse theatre which had been the Midland Railway’s Campden engine sheds bustling with Royal Scot and Jubilee locomotives to haul the crack steam expresses.

    Kentish Town with its large Irish population, founded from the people who built the Midland Railway into the capital also had a steam era engine shed mainly for freight locos. The area has acquired a new gentrification although described as ‘edgy’.

    Cricklewood is the next slice of the metropolis and there were the MR marshalling yards and engine sheds for the freight trains that kept part of London supplied with fuel in the shape of coal and pollution in the shape of smog. The coal trains ran day and night and seemingly ever larger engines would be produced to haul them from the LMS Beyer Garratt to the British Railways 9F 2-10-0 and the windcutter trains of the 1950s.

    Out past Hendon and Edgware and further north and into Hertfordshire now, but still in commuter land, the station of Elstree and Borehamwood is convenient for the film and television studios, a sort of Home Counties Hollywood. It has seen the likes of the original Stars Wars film and the current BBC TV success Strictly Come Dancing.

    North of Radlett station the line is crossed by the M25 motorway and this was the site of Radlett aerodrome and the Handley Page aircraft company who manufactured Cold War nuclear bombers in the shape of the crescent winged Victor of the V force.

    The city of St. Albans had connections with the rival London and North Western Railway, on the West Coast Main Line, it even named one of its Duchess Class Pacific locomotives after the place.

    But the city was also home to the MR at its City station where the former goods yard, where an LMS 4F freight engine shunting coal wagons could be found is now the station’s car park. The station is now part of the Thameslink network.

    To be continued next week via our Amberley Facebook page…..]

    Allen Jackson's new book Midland Railway Stations is available for purchase now.

  • Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose by Markus F. Robinson

    Kapitan Leutnant Hans Rose Propaganda postcard annotated 'Commander of the German Undersea-boat U 53 from Wilhelmshaven to New York'. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    History and “Fake” History - Beware of Secondary Sources

    Winston Churchill wrote ‘history is written by the victors.’ His statement succinctly captures the reality that all history is reported from a given perspective. As readers of history it is important we acknowledge this truism. As writers of history it is even more important we understand and acknowledge our own biases, and we critically assess the work of our colleagues, particularly when we rely on them.

    The other day a German historian I’ve been collaborating with showed me a new book written about shipwrecked seamen. It’s a gorgeous book, beautifully produced, that enumerates vessels attacked and sunk off Ireland. So naturally it includes materials about all the vessels that Hans Rose, at the helm of the U 53, attacked around the Emerald Isle. I checked the index, found the page references for U 53, and proceeded to review them.

    The author performed a huge amount of work to track down each boat sunk off Ireland and then meticulously compile data about the wrecks and their seamen. Mostly it’s pretty raw stuff: dates, boat specifics, number of crewmen rescued and lost, and the occasional exciting account of a rough seas rescue. Not really a page turner, it is more like a scholarly data compendium. Perhaps to make it more readable the author provides “context”, placing each wreck in its historical waters.

    U 53's morning Watch 1917 by Claus Bergen. (c. Rose Family Archives, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    That’s when my blood began to boil. Because at least for Hans Rose, the author appears to be uncritically relying on secondary sources for his filler. So when those secondary sources get it wrong, he unwittingly plays the role of loudspeaker, amplifying the effect of their erroneous description of history.

    It didn’t take long to spot his first error; an account of Hans Rose tracking the British Grand fleet on August 19, 1916. According to the Irish shipwrecks author Hans Rose provided critical intelligence that allowed German Admiral Scheer to determine that the Grand Fleet bearing down upon him was numerically superior, allowing him to break off the encounter and so save the fleet. The facts are exactly the opposite of those regurgitated by that author. In fact, Rose sent Scheer precise Intel about the Grand Fleet’s strength, but the admiral, relying upon a seriously exaggerated portrayal of Grand Fleet strength provided by a Zeppelin chose to withdraw from an encounter where Germany had substantial naval superiority. Rose recalled:

    “The most exciting day was August 19th, 1916. From dawn to late afternoon the boat had made contact with part of the Grand Fleet and continuously sent messages to the German head of the navy. It was one of those rare occasions in which the entire German High Seas fleet, because it was on a Western course near Dogger Bank, could have caught a small segment of the Grand Fleet. Could have - yes - had not the German Airfleet sent erroneous reports about the movements of the enemy.” Continuing, Rose recalled Admiral Scheertold him after the war “Well, Rose, had I only put more trust in your reports than those of the Airfleet!”

    Historians all rely upon secondary sources to provide us with the larger picture. How do we determine which secondary sources and opinion deserve our respect? Obviously a key way is to validate them against primary sources. Another method is to assess the reputation of the reporting historian. Cross-referencing interpretations is a third.

    U 53 Trails a Sailing Ship by Claus Bergen. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    The biography, Der Kapitän - U-boat Ace Hans Rose, (Robinson & Robinson, Amberley Press) chronicles how Rose served Germany with distinction in both World Wars. As captain of the U 53, he became internationally renowned for his unprecedented 1916 round-trip to the United States, more than doubling the longest solo submarine voyage hitherto accomplished. Later his extraordinary choice to send his enemies the coordinates of American sailors adrift at sea demonstrated that Rose would become Germany's fifth most successful U-boat Ace, and her most successful Ace during the convoy period, without sacrificing his sense of chivalry.

    Rose’s remarkable military career included duty at the court of the Ottoman Sultan at the turn of the 20th century, exploits as commander of a destroyer and then command of U 53until the end of WWI.

     

    Contextualizing Rose's WWI achievements, the biography includes a short primer about submarine technology, U-boat operational realities at the start of the Great War, and a discussion of how the introduction of convoys changed the naval battlefield on which Rose fought.

    U 52 in Drydock viewed from below the stern, her rudder, and dual sets of port and starboard diving fins, props, large rounded flutes and aft torpedo-tubes are visible. The port side of the boat's whaleback is prominently discernible. Above deck, her long-range wireless aerials are raised. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    Through the end of WWI, Rose's story is straight forward and gripping, as are his travails during the 1920s. On one occasion, following a confrontation during the occupation of the Ruhr, Rose’s stature as a national hero and his international reputation saved him from a long prison term at the hands of the occupiers.

    Rose’s role during the Nazi era is more complex. Thus, careful emphasis is placed upon a study of the interwar period that saw the occupation of his homeland, economic collapse, and the rise of the totalitarian Nazi regime. His renown made Rose a figure courted by the Nazi party, and caused him to cross paths with Adolf Hitler several times.

    Rose considered himself “a German knight.” After exploring the realities of resistance in a time of police state, the biography documents Rose's courage in facing down the Nazis during the 1930s when he felt he had to. Then, compared to the Gestapo and the SS operating in the same theatres of war, it chronicles his opinion of them and the stark difference in the way Rose conducted himself as a warrior during WWII.

    Between these two great conflagrations and in their aftermaths, Rose and his family shared the trials, tribulations, and very personal disasters faced by the German people as a whole.

    This well researched biography, over a decade in preparation, is designed to satisfy both the general reader and domain experts demanding a rigorous analysis of naval history and the political realities of the German interwar period.

    Markus F. Robinson and Gertrude J. Robinson's new book Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose is available for purchase now.

  • Aberdeen in 50 Buildings by Jack Gillon

    Marischal College. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen has all the appearance, and is furnished with most of the attributes, of a wealthy metropolis. It has all the public buildings which distinguish a capital. The streets possess the proper degree of regularity and elegance. It has busy crowds, in which the stranger soon loses himself; and its inhabitants, when inspected individually, are found to possess the dignity, the wealth, and the enlightened views, which are never to be found but in towered cities.

    The visitor enters the city by a long, spacious, straight, and regular way, denominated Union Street, which, when completed to the utmost of its designed extent, must turn out decidedly the finest thing of the kind in the kingdom. Previously to the opening of this way in 1811, the town was entered by a series of narrow tortuous streets.

    The most remarkable thing about Aberdeen in the eye of a traveller, is the stone with which it is built. This is a grey granite, of great hardness, found in inexhaustible profusion in the neighbourhood, and of which vast quantities, fashioned into small blocks, are annually exported to London, for the paving of streets. Though not polished, but merely hewn into moderate smoothness, this forms a beautiful wall, of a somewhat sombre colour it is true, but yet strikingly elegant.

    The Music Hall. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen is a flourishing port, and is the seat of a set of active and prosperous merchants. It is the place where commerce first took its rise in Scotland. Having thus got the start by many centuries of every other commercial city, it has maintained all along to the present time a certain degree of advance; it is certain that in no other place is the mercantile science so thoroughly understood, or the commercial character carried to a pitch of such exquisite perfection.

    Aberdeen originally developed around St Katherine’s Hill, a prominence that stood in the middle of the present-day Union Street. The town was given royal burgh status in the twelfth century and the Castlegate, or Marketgate, was the historic heart of the medieval burgh. The harbour was fundamental to Aberdeen’s prosperity and the town’s economic importance.

     

     

    The Sir Duncan Rice Library. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The rapid growth of Aberdeen in the eighteenth century resulted in its expansion beyond the tightly confined medieval streets around the base of St Katherine’s Hill. A number of new streets were formed during this period of planned expansion.

    In 1794, Aberdeen town council requested the engineer Charles Abercrombie to provide plans to rationalise the muddle of old unplanned streets of an increasingly wealthy and self-assured Aberdeen to connect the town to the surrounding countryside.

    Abercrombie’s bold plan proposed a significant Georgian rebuilding of the city with two major new thoroughfares – one running westwards from the Castlegate to the Denburn, and the other north. An Act passed on 14 April 1800 approved the construction of the new streets – the road to the west became Union Street and the road to the north was King Street. These new roads represented major engineering enterprises and set the context of modern Aberdeen. Union Street was a particularly challenging project – the street had to cut through St Katherine’s Hill, required a series of arches and a bridge over the Denburn. The generous scale of Union Street allowed the construction of buildings of substantial size and importance, and established Union Street as Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare. The street was named to commemorate the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801. John Smith (1781–1852), Aberdeen’s City Architect, and Archibald Simpson (1790–1847) were the leading architects involved in this great remodelling of the expanding city.

    The Town House and Tolbooth. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The predominant use of locally quarried grey granite up to the mid-twentieth century is a distinguishing feature of many of the city’s most important buildings, which gives them a distinct glitter in the sun and earned Aberdeen the sobriquet of the ‘Granite City’. The quality of the Aberdeenshire granite was internationally recognised and it was used for buildings around the world. The excavation of granite from the quarry at Rubislaw, which opened in 1740 and closed in 1971, created the biggest man-made hole in Europe.

    Aberdeen is a thriving city which has been synonymous with oil ever since the discovery of North Sea reserves in the 1970s. It has a proud and distinctive identity, a wealth of fine heritage buildings and more recent developments of outstanding quality. This has made the task of selecting fifty buildings to represent the best of the city’s architecture immensely difficult. This book takes the development of this rich and vibrant city as its broad theme, and includes buildings which seem to best represent the city’s long history.

    Jack Gillon's new book Aberdeen in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale by Wendy Buonaventura

    The dancer Maud Allan is all but forgotten today, but she was one of the greatest female celebrities of the early twentieth century. She rose to fame in the role of Salome, the Bibles’ most infamous temptress. “Dancer wears nothing but her jewellery!” and “Dancer sheds clothing and puts on ideas!” reported the gentlemen of the press, beside themselves with excitement.

    This postcard is title 'Miss Maud Allan as "Salome".' Maud made extra money by posing for photographs that were turned into postcards and offered for sale to her fans. Her direct stare would have been considered provocative in her era. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period when female performers in the West were the most socially liberated women of their day. They had replaced the goddesses of mythology, who had once been worshipped for holding the secrets of life, to become the secular goddesses of their age. And so they have remained. Yet dancers, exhibiting their bodies on stage in sensuous movement, also belonged to a demi-monde of independent women who were suspected of leading immoral lives and were no different, in many people’s minds, to prostitutes.

    During the late nineteenth century women in Europe and America began making valiant efforts to climb down from the pedestals of domestic virtue where they had languished during the nineteenth century. Where, they asked themselves, was the satisfaction in being visible symbols of public and private morality? Where was the fun in being virtuous at home while their menfolk went out at night, dining with their male friends and (whisper it) female companions?

    New Women is what the press labelled those pesky females who were looking for the same freedoms that men took for granted. New Women wanted a place in public life and deliverance from clothes that hampered their movement; they wanted access to serious education and they wanted to be able to vote. By the first decade of the twentieth century their demands were beginning to bear fruit and some people were getting jumpy.

    In 1908 a report on the Ladies Page of the Illustrated London News announced that one out of every two men enlisting for the army was rejected as physically unfit, at the same time that women were growing stronger and taller. The idea that women were the cause of men’s increasingly weak condition gained momentum when war broke out in 1914. The question was posed as to how such a disaster could have been set in motion and, soon enough, the search for culprits alighted on the dreaded New Woman. Before long she had seamlessly metamorphosed into War Woman, who was said to find a source of erotic excitement in the death of soldiers at the Front. It was whispered in the press that this kind of woman had caused the war in the first place, with her demands for a freer life.

    Edith La Sylphe, c 1900, shows the distorted female figure that was considered the height of beauty and eroticism at the turn of the last century. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1918, the independent MP Noel Billing decided to do his bit in defence of the realm by leading a campaign against homosexuality and lesbianism, which posed a clear challenge to the status quo. In his privately-funded newspaper The Vigilante Billing claimed that lesbianism was threatening society and sabotaging the war effort. He followed up by giving the go-ahead for a small paragraph, The Cult of the Clitoris, to appear in his newspaper, an obscure little piece that indirectly suggested the celebrated Maud Allan was a lesbian. When Billing’s article appeared, Maud sued for libel. But in the minds of the public she was already damned for embodying the archetypal femme fatale, through her stage Salome.

    The belief that women are naturally dangerous, wild and rapacious, was not born during the nineteenth century. Myth, religion and history are full of alluring women who cast a spell over men and cause their ruin: from Helen of Troy to the Bible’s Delilah. Yet it is not women who offer themselves up as femme fatales; it is society that labels them, and even into the late 20th century gleefully continued to label them.

    In 1963 Britain was on the cusp of a sexual revolution. Ideas about relationships couldn’t have been more different than in Maud Allan’s day when twenty one year old Christine Keeler stepped into the dock at the Old Bailey. Christine was appearing at the Old Bailey as a witness in the trial of her Svengali, Stephen Ward. The unsavoury Ward had encouraged the teenage Christine to have an affair with War Minister Jack Profumo, with the intention of using her to prise information out of him that would be useful to the Soviet Union. At the same time, she became involved with the Russian spy Yevgeny Ivanov. The Old Bailey trial ended with the suicide of Ward, Profumo’s political career in tatters and Christine heading for gaol.

    The Profumo Affair begs the question of why powerful men risk their lives and careers for the dangerous sport of tangling with a femme fatale. To be sure, they don’t see it as dangerous sport and only discover that they have put themselves in danger when they have been seduced, they say, by an irresistible woman. Does the element of self-destruction in human nature or, at the very least, the need to court danger, give certain men at some deep level the need also to be discovered and ruined? Do they assume that their position makes them invulnerable, and relish the risk of it all?

    Whatever the case, belief in the dangerous power of woman the temptress continues to haunt the plotlines of human morality tales. Meanwhile, we see that the idea of the femme fatale is still surprisingly relevant today, when we look at modern women’s attempts to conform to received ideals about their sex that were especially powerful a hundred and fifty years ago. DARK VENUS looks at those ideas in all their strangeness, and at Maud Allan’s life, lived in bold defiance during a crucial period in the history of feminism.

    Wendy Buonaventura's new book Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Southampton by Dave Marden

    The High Street in the 1890s before the tram system was electrified (Author's collection)

    I was pleased to be associated with the Historic England series for which I wrote about my home town of Southampton, a city that really doesn’t sell itself enough and visitors are quite often surprised at what there is to see. A walk around the ancient walls and quiet streets of the old town can reveal many unexpected and interesting things, and for added interest there are guided walks that take you into hidden medieval vaults and chambers.

    Although so much was lost in the wartime bombing, there is still much history to be seen from the Norman, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. In fact, there is far more that could not be incorporated within the confines of the book but I was delighted to include references to Southampton’s working class districts that played such a huge part in its successful transformation from a small and elegant spa town to the great industrial port it became.

    Lower end of St Mary Street in early 1900s (Author's collection)

    The dozens of streets lined with tightly packed terraces, pubs and corner shops were a feature of my childhood and youth, all now gone along with the generations that grew up together, being dispersed to new housing estates on the outskirts of the town. Neighbours and neighbourhoods plucked and uprooted from their tight knit communities with hardly a trace left behind.

    I was also able to mention the bustling thoroughfares of East Street and St Mary Street that were magnets for shoppers and revellers away from the big stores of the High Street. St Mary Street itself could probably merit a book on its own with its Victorian edifices and huge variety of traders from the 1820s until the present day.

    This is the Undercroft Vault and entrance from about the 13th century (not the house above it!) one of many used to store wine and wool below the ancient merchants houses. Regular tours are given. (Author's collection)

    In the hectic hustle of modern times it is relaxing to stroll though the numerous parks in the heart of the city – on a hot summer’s day in the shade of the trees or in crisp winter sunshine dappled from their bare branches. It is always a delight. The Rivers of Itchen and Test provide year round employment and pleasure but the downside is that the huge port development has limited public access to the waterside. The town’s southern shoreline was lost to the docks of the 1840s and the entire West Bay was engulfed in the 1920s. The ancient west walls, which once looked out to sea, now watch over the mammoth West Quay shopping complex.

    The gigantic transatlantic liners may have disappeared after being replaced by air travel in the 1960s but the port now plays host to the even larger and more luxurious cruise ships and the world’s biggest container vessels. If you need a break from history, an afternoon by the sea at Mayflower Park will allow you to view these maritime monsters.

    Despite its huge transformation since the Second World War, Southampton still has lots to offer both locals and visitors alike with its ancient buildings mingling with modern developments. To tread in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, or to see where Jane Austen spent her time in the town are enjoyable experiences and just two of the many pleasures awaiting.

    Dave Marden's new book Historic England: Southampton is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Shropshire by John Shipley

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Shropshire has so many Gems to offer therefore limiting this book to only 50 Gems has proved to be very difficult. The beautiful border county of Shropshire is surely one of the loveliest in the kingdom. A history buff's dream with castles and historic sites galore. The county is also a walkers paradise with an abundance of hills, valleys and picture postcard countryside from north to south, from east to west, hikers are almost spoiled for choice.

    For those not into the more strenuous pastimes there are numerous historic towns to visit such as Shrewsbury and Ludlow with their medieval castles, listed buildings, and narrow streets (called shuts in Shrewsbury), plus a host of welcoming hostelries and restaurants. Not forgetting Bridgnorth with its Severn Valley Railway, the unique Funicular Cliff Railway, and historic buildings.

    Shropshire is a county with not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Ironbridge Gorge (1986), and the Pontcysllte Aqueduct and Canal (2009), not forgetting its very own Lake District around Ellesmere, loads to experience for the discerning visitor. Shropshire has many iconic places: Coalbrookdale with eleven museums to visit, including the incredible Iron Bridge, an area that witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

    Sweeping through the county is the River Severn, Britain's longest river at 220 miles long, winding through five counties on its picturesque journey from mid-Wales to the Bristol Channel. Of course Shropshire not only boasts this river but has many others, a lot of them tributaries of the Severn, each offering lovely valleys and views to amble through, valleys such as the Teme, the Onny and the Corve, with a special mention to the River Clun, the inspiration for the famous piece by A.E. Housman:

     “Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun, Are the quietest places, Under the sun.”

    The iconic Iron Bridge at Ironbridge. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Shropshire is a county where one can walk through history from the ancient Bronze and Iron Ages, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and on up to the present day.

    There are many famous Salopians, heroes and pioneers such as Wolves and England footballer Billy Wright CBE, the first man to win 100 International caps for England, Sir Gordon Richards, 1904-1986, he was the first Jockey to be knighted. Raised in Donnington Wood, the first English flat-race jockey to ride 4,000 winners, and topped the winning jockey list for 26 out of 34 seasons between 1921 and 1954. In all he won a total of 4,870 races, then a world record.

    Shropshire has two world renowned golfers: Sandy Lyle MBE and Ian Woosnam OBE. Sandy was born in Shrewsbury on 9 February 1958, his father, Scotsman Alex Lyle, was professional at Hawkstone Park Golf Club. Sandy won two major championships: the US Masters, and The British Open, plus many other prestigious tournaments as well as representing Europe in the Ryder Cup both as player, 5 times, and as assistant captain to Ian Woosnam.

    Ian Woosnam was born in Oswestry on 2 March 1958, representing Europe in eight Ryder Cups. Woosie won the US Masters in 1991. He started playing golf at Llanymynech Golf Club, representing Shropshire County Boys in an eight-man team which included Sandy Lyle.

    Amongst Shropshire's other famous heroes is Captain Matthew Webb, 1848–1883, the steamship captain and famous swimmer who on 24 August 1875 became the first man to swim the English Channel. Born in Dawley, Shropshire, on 19 January 1848, the eldest of twelve children. He sadly died on 24 July 1883 whilst attempting to swim across the Niagara River directly beneath Niagara Falls.

    Charles Darwin statue, Shrewsbury. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One of Shropshire's most famous sons is Charles Darwin, 1809 – 1882, a man venerated the world over. Charles Darwin was born 12 February 1809 at 'The Mount,' (now known as 'Darwin House'), which is situated in the Frankwell area of Shrewsbury, and was educated at Shrewsbury School. His famous epic five year voyage of discovery aboard H.M.S. Beagle began in December 1831 when aged 22 he signed up as naturalist to the surveying expedition. Over the next twenty plus years Darwin formulated his theories of evolution, delaying their publication until 1859. 'The Origin of Species,' expounding evolution through means of natural selection caused an uproar, splitting the scientific community; the Church of England described his work as heresy. Darwin's theory changed every known view on how the human species evolved. His forward thinking book is one of the most important ever written. His legacy is the basis on which we all live our lives. Each February, Shrewsbury celebrates its most famous son in the annual Darwin Festival.

    Doctor William Penny Brookes, 1809 – 1896, was born in Much Wenlock, and is best known as the man responsible for the re-birth of the Olympic Games. This impressive figure, with trademark long facial whiskers and stern expression began exercise classes in 1850 in response to his concerns for the health of the town's population particularly the local working men. Ten years later this developed into the Wenlock Olympian Society, an organisation that still exists. Dr Brookes vision of the Much Wenlock Olympian Games began in 1861, and included diverse activities such as: putting the stone (today's shot-put), jumping, cricket, quoits, plus races for wheelbarrows, and a penny-farthing bicycle race over a three-mile course. The kids of the town also got to have a go at events which included: history, reading, spelling and, wait for it… knitting! Sadly, Dr Brookes died, aged 87, a few months before the first modern International Olympic Games, which took place in April 1896.

    The ruins of Whiteladies Priory. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Then we have soldiers: Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India; Admiral John Benbow; Lord Rowland Hill, the Duke of Wellington's right-hand man; Wilfred Owen, the famous World War One poet.

    Shropshire has a host of famous writers: Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) author of the Brother Cadfael stories; Mary Webb; Francis Moore founder of Old Moore's Almanac. Not forgetting Eglantyne Jebb co-founder of Save The Children.

    Many of the world's first are in Shropshire: the first Iron Bridge, opened in 1781, crossing the River Severn; the first 'Skyscraper' Ditherington Flax Mill; the first iron boat, built and launched at Coalbrookdale in 1787, to mention just a few.

    Shropshire has it all from the marvellous Shropshire countryside, hills and valleys, 32 castles, 25 hill forts (the best is Old Oswestry Hill Fort), 2 ancient dykes: Offa's Dyke and Wat's Dyke, stone-circles galore, an abundance of ghosts, and Cosford Aerospace Museum.

    Yes, Shropshire is a great place. Come and see for yourself.

    John Shipley's new book 50 Gems of Shropshire is available for purchase now.

  • Loughborough in 50 Buildings by Lynne Dyer

    Old Rectory, c. 1228. Close-up of the ancient walls. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Loughborough. When I tell people I live in Loughborough, I am either asked “Where’s that?” or “Do you know Seb Coe / Paula Radcliffe / Liam Tancock / Tanni Grey-Thompson / Steve Backley [substitute here the name of any other sporting personality who may have been an Olympian or para-Olympian, recently]?” However, nobody ever asks me what it’s like to live so far away from the sea.

    It’s clear though, isn’t it, that since hardly anybody has heard of Loughborough, often doesn’t know where it is, and knows little, if anything, of its heritage, that it’s my job to change that. This was my purpose in writing a book entitled Loughborough in 50 Buildings.

    So, what makes Loughborough stand out from other UK towns? What about Loughborough is important – either to its own history and development, or at a national level? How is Loughborough at once different and yet, at the same time, the same as other UK locations? Why write a book about its buildings?

    The cemetery chapels viewed from the Leicester Road entrance. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, an examination of the buildings of Loughborough, however brief, throws up both similarities and differences with other towns, and through a discovery of these buildings, the history and fortunes of the town become apparent. We may not have the listed buildings of, say Stamford (Lincolshire), nor the cathedral of Canterbury (Kent), the Tudor buildings of Stratford nor the suspension bridge of Newport (Monmouthshire), but we do have listed buildings, and a fair few locally listed buildings, not to mention a whole host of non-listed buildings, all of which give Loughborough its uniqueness and really are worth shouting about, and shouting loudly.

    The buildings I have chosen to include in Loughborough in 50 Buildings are a quirky mix of ages and styles, of form and function, and – shock - some of them aren’t actually habitable buildings, but structures of huge significance to the town. A temporal range is included, starting with an Iron Age hill fort and some of Loughborough’s earliest buildings like the Manor House, the Guildhall, the Old Rectory and the Parish Church. Then moving through the Georgian period, to the expansion of the town in Victorian times, and even greater expansion in the 1930s. Today, the town continues to develop and even some 1960s buildings get an entry, with 21st century buildings and structures bringing us bang up to date.

    The messenger factory viewed from Hospital Walk. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Trades of yesteryear are represented in buildings like the Guildhall, the industrial units of Messengers, Morris and Brush, the service industries by the auction mart of Garton and Amatt and the banks of Lloyds and NatWest. The social life of the inhabitants of Loughborough are shown in the Sparrow Hill Theatre, the cinemas and bingo hall, as well as in the Temperance Hall and the town pubs. The educational life of both town and gown is evident from buildings like the Warner School and the university Towers hall of residence.

    The whole life span of Loughborough’s inhabitants can be traced from birth, perhaps at Radmoor House, to death and burial at the town cemetery. This book looks to the future with the impressive initiative to reinstate the Great Central Steam train line from Leicester to Nottingham.

    Loughborough in 50 Buildings is my first published book. Well, actually, it’s the first book I’ve ever written! I am a regular blogger (lynneaboutloughborough – no surprise there then!) and I write short articles for a variety of publications, but never before a full-length book. Was it difficult? In a word, ‘yes’! Finding time to dedicate to researching and writing as well as continuing to do the ‘day job’ and keep up with other interests and commitments, required a lot of planning and dedication, but it resulted in a great sense of satisfaction. Oh, and a good deal of self-doubt! What if I’ve got something wrong? What if people who read it come back to me with queries and questions, with counter-arguments and criticisms? Well, I have told people to do just that! Much of history is about an interpretation of the facts, and some of those facts are simply nowhere to be found, or are well-hidden, or have been superseded by further information coming to light that isn’t yet freely available. If my readers don’t tell me about things they think are wrong, about things where they have more information than I do, then I will never learn, and after all, life is one life-long learning journey.

    So, you may have a number of questions about Loughborough in 50 Buildings to ask me.

    Radmoor House viewed from Radmoor Road with its bay window facing the park. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    What was your favourite building?

    I loved them all – that’s why I wrote about them! But, if I had to chose one, I think it would be Radmoor House. Its position along a residential street that is effectively a dead end (it used to lead through to the main ring road, but now only leads to the College buildings). Its sideways orientation facing a park, but surrounded by a substantial hedge on three sides, means that the full magnitude of the building is not visible from the roadside and one could easily walk past it without giving it a second thought or a second glance. Which is what I used to do when I was a student forty years ago, and which was why I was intrigued enough to investigate its history. And what a history it has!! Lived in by some prominent local industrialists, being a nursing home and the birthplace of many local people, and now a College building, this has to be my favourite.

     

     

    The former Odean, now Beacon Bingo. Hathernware partnered with red brick. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Was there a group of buildings that appealed to you the most?

    Yes, I’d have no hesitation in saying I am absolutely fascinated by the numerous Art Deco buildings we have in Loughborough, all clad in Hathernware, and still as striking today as the day they were erected. This includes the current Odeon, the former Odeon (now a bingo hall), the building formerly associated with the local newspaper press, the Blacksmith’s Arms and a jewellery shop – to name but a few.

    What was most exciting thing about the writing process?

    For me, the most exciting thing about writing was the way everything seemed to be interconnected. The same Loughborough folk popped up in association with several buildings, the same architects designed a number of the buildings, the same builders were involved in erecting several buildings, the same brick manufacturers made the bricks used to build the buildings, and if I mentioned Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company once, then I mentioned it a hundred times. Apart from the local connections, there were moments when I could connect Loughborough to many other places in the UK. What place hasn’t got its connections with the Civil War? What UK church wasn’t renovated in the nineteenth century by Sir George Gilbert Scott? What town or city didn’t suffer from outbreaks of plague and cholera? Even the smallest of locations had a cinema at one time. And what hamlet, town or city hasn’t got a war memorial? Connections with nearby local places are made through architects like Watson Fothergill working in Nottingham and Newark, and the Goddards in Leicester and Kettering, and with larger cities like London in the use of Portland Stone, and the prolific use of polished Scottish granite across the country. And what connects Loughborough to almost the whole of the UK and much of the rest of the world? Taylors Bellfoundry. Hathernware (previously Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company), Ladybird Books and Loughborough University.

    Now that you’ve written one book, would you write another?

    Ah, that would be a ‘yes’! Secret Loughborough is due for publication in 2019!

    Lynne Dyer's new book Loughborough in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings by Mervyn Edwards

    Former Burslem Town Hall, 1994. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It’s a hoary adage that often springs to mind when I consider the buildings of Stoke-on-Trent or indeed any other city. Stoke has a particularly poor building conservation record – which is a stomach-churning but very necessary accusation for me to make, considering the city’s undoubted and abiding reputation for creativity. Like many other areas – though not all – its building stock is a jarring mishmash of just over 190 listed buildings juxtaposed with concrete banana crates, soulless office and residential blocks and some particularly gruesome manifestations of post-war development.

    Part of the problem with Stoke’s architecture in the last sixty years has been the relative lack of originality. When I gaze, glumly, at many new buildings I see a tepid harking back to the past that attempts to give structures a dignity and gravitas. This is perhaps offered as a sop to the traditionalist but fails on two levels. Firstly, it is better to preserve the past rather than copy it. Secondly, we need to be designing exciting, high-quality, visually-challenging buildings that can be our proud legacy to future generations. Stoke is not alone in not having picked up the gauntlet. I never cease to smile when I read Thomas Hardy’s description of the High Street Hall in his 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge (he writes of fictional Dorchester). He scribes:

    “It was Palladian, and, like all architecture erected since the Gothic age, was a compilation rather than a design.”

     

     

    Walkers' Nonsuch factory, 2012. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Truth be told, some of the finest buildings in Stoke-on-Trent ape past architectural styles but are nevertheless a feast for the eye. Burslem Town Hall doffs its cap to several and is one of the city’s most handsome landmarks. However, there are very few post-Thatcher era buildings whose design can be described as being influenced by lateral thinking, eccentricity and daring.

    My book, Stoke-on-Trent in Fifty Buildings (2018) was never intended as a Top Fifty picked in order of merit. It deliberately lists some odd and hopefully annoying choices such as the Walker’s Nonsuch factory in Longton and the Vale Park football ground in Burslem – buildings that are of their time and tell a particular story.

    Port Vale vs Shrewsbury, 2013. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stoke is sometimes too proud and too parochial to learn from other areas, but I am a huge advocate of comparing and contrasting. When you consider what other cities have achieved, could Stoke not be more madcap and more venturesome? Why can't we have shopping malls as architecturally risky as the Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre or the Selfridges building in Birmingham? Or exciting mixed-use development such as the canalside Nottingham One?   Could you imagine something like Blackpool’s famous Comedy Carpet in Market Square, Hanley? And, rising above it, an iconic structure such as the Dublin Spire? At the very least, can’t we have architecture that teaches, that rips up old paradigms and encourages cultural events or public art?

    Instead, Stoke, along with its development partners, comes up with ideas such as the tidy but timid Unity Walk shopping complex in Hanley – which has now been shelved – and pats itself on the back for its ingenuity. Granted, Stoke is not an affluent city, but if it is truly serious about emerging from the shadows of Manchester and Birmingham then it must find the will and the imagination to reject the safe and the mediocre and embrace pioneering design. It might take its cue from one of Staffordshire’s greatest figures, Reginald Mitchell, who remarked:

    “It is not good enough to follow conventional methods of design. It is essential to invent and evolve new methods and new ideas.”

    Mervyn Edwards' new book Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Peterborough by June and Vernon Bull

    West Hall - Longthorpe Tower. (Author's collection)

    Longthorpe Tower and its Mystical murals

    With tales of remarkable characters, unusual events and tucked-away historical buildings, Secret Peterborough will appeal to all those with an interest in the history of this fascinating city.

    Just one, of many examples of our ancient buildings, is Longthorpe Tower and its Mystical murals.

    Longthorpe’s Manor House had a three-storey tower added in 1310 to the fortified house that dates back to 1263. It was a farmhouse for about 500 years from the mid-1400s. The last agricultural occupier of Longthorpe tower and manor house was Hugh Horrell and it was he who found the famous murals (wall paintings) when decorating in 1946. The paintings are said to be the most comprehensive of any domestic medieval building in England (and possibly Europe) and they display a range of biblical, monastic and secular subjects.

     

    Longthorpe Tower taken from the Tower side c.1950s. (Author's collection)

    Many historians and archaeologists believe that Longthorpe Tower represents a unique example of the appearance of the private apartment of a man of means and taste in the early 14th century, and that it gives some indication of the learning and moral ideas of his period.

    The tower section of the manor house was possibly erected by Robert de Thorpe, steward of Peterborough Abbey from 1330, and tenant of the building.

    The paintings are generally dated to c.1330 with the decoration covering all the walls, the window splays and the vault. In the vault are the four Evangelist Symbols and David with his Musicians.

    Mural depicting the seasons. (Author's collection)

    These murals represent the Labours of the Months (e.g. pruning, digging, hawking etc.) along with various birds and animals, the Apostles holding scrolls with the articles of the Creed accompanied by personifications of the Church, a scene involving a hermit, the Seven Ages of Man, the Nativity, the Three Living and the Three Dead, a Wheel of the Five Senses and seated figures of Edward III and Edmund Woodstock.

    There are several other subjects, but the meaning is unclear owing to the loss of the accompanying inscriptions. The reason for the inclusion of Edmund Woodstock (1301–1330), 1st Earl of Kent and half-brother to Edward II, who was sentenced to death for supporting the deposed King Edward II, is ambiguous as he was the most important tenant of nearby Peterborough Abbey (Cathedral). It is generally thought that there may have been some political meaning to his depiction with his nephew, King Edward III. What is known is that the children and widow of the executed Edmund Woodstock were treated as members of Edward III’s Royal Household.

     

    West wall murals St Anthony. (Author's collection)

    All the illustrations combine religious and moral teachings with secular themes - including some unusual representations like the Wheel of the Five Senses. There is a related late 13th-century version at Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome, which depicts a wheel held steady by a King, possibly personifying common sense, with various creatures characterising the senses around its perimeter.

    The West Wall shows St Anthony and the basket maker above, and the philosopher and pupil below.

    Longthorpe Tower was given to the nation by Captain Fitzwilliam under the Ancient Monuments Act 1913. The Tower is presently managed by Vivacity an independent, not-for-profit organisation with charitable status on behalf of Peterborough City Council. The Tower house itself was sold in 1981 along with a single building plot for a bungalow to be built. The remaining agricultural buildings, previously part of Tower Farm and Tower House were sold separately for conversion to private dwellings.

    June and Vernon Bull's new book Secret Peterborough is available for purchase now.

Items 1 to 10 of 326 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. ...
  7. 33