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  • John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire by Alan Spree

    This is a short insight into the story behind the publication of my book, John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire. I am sure that, in common with many others who have written similar books, I later found postcards that I would have liked to have included in the book so I have taken the opportunity to show some of these here.

    The Weir at Gunthorpe. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    In the summer of 1997 I was in Nottingham and was browsing through books in W.H. Smith on Lister Gate when I came across a booklet in the ‘Yesterdays Nottinghamshire’ series entitled ‘Wollaton’ by David Ottewell. As I was born in that area I flicked through it and was surprised to find some postcards with the name J. Spree on them. After some family history research and talking to my father I gathered more information about John Henry Spree, my great grandfather, and started putting notes together along with any images I could find of his postcards. This research brought up childhood memories when my grandfather, Reginald Spree, who bought me my first camera and taught me how to take photos, and then develop and print them in his darkroom, which I now know was set up by his father John Henry Spree. I remember boxes of prints and negatives in a corner of that room which my grandfather referred to on a number of occasions, I now realise that they were the negatives and prints of images taken by my great grandfather. Unfortunately these were destroyed many years later by the American son of my late grandfather’s second wife. He travelled to the UK, without informing the Spree family of her death, to sell the property inherited from my grandfather and disposed of or destroyed items he did not want. As I was working in Germany at the time and my Mother, Father and sister lived in Australia our contact with my grandfather’s second wife had been limited but we were still disappointed that no apparent effort had been made to contact us.

    Parliament Street. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As time moved on and the internet became more readily available I collected more images and then began purchasing the original postcards. This collection I gradually put together as a family history booklet. I was surprised to find during my continuing search for Spree postcards that the Lenton Local History Society had also researched my great grandfather and published an article on him in their magazine the Lenton Times which was then followed up with an article in the Picture Postcard Magazine. Because of the interest generated I decided to try and publish my own book which resulted in the Amberley Publication John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire.

    School of Art Nottingham. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    John Henry Spree published over 1000 postcards, initially in East Sussex and then in the East Midlands. My book contains 220 images taken by John Henry Spree in the period from 1915, when he moved to Nottingham from Hastings, until his death in 1932. I have captioned the images with information on the location and where applicable included historical text researched on the internet.

    I have also included sections on how I identified some Spree postcards which did not have his name on them, a short family history before and after his death and one on how he took, developed, printed and captioned his postcards.

    Lenton Church Crossing in 1884. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Putting the information into a publishable book was a long process with a steep learning curve as this was the first time that I had attempted to do that. Along the way I found some interesting facts and a few points that raised questions that will probably never be answered. At times I wondered if John Henry Spree occasionally travelled with another photographer or he sold or shared his images with others as I found that five images, either identical or obviously taken at the same time, had been duplicated by others and published as postcards. Also on one occasion I found that John Henry Spree used an old photograph of Lenton Church and Crossing, dated many years prior to his move to Nottingham, to make a postcard that he published, this incidentally is not included in the book as it was found after publication.

    The whole process has been very rewarding especially some of the very nice comments on Facebook group websites dedicated to Nottingham where many images of Spree postcards had already been uploaded by members. The administrators of two of these groups have also kindly allowed me to advertise my book on their websites.

    I am now well into the process of publishing two further books, one on Postcards of Hasting and St Leonards between 1900 and 1918, which includes some early postcards from John Henry Spree, and another on the complete range of British produced Military Dinky Toys.

    Alan Spree's new book John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire is available for purchase now.

  • The Rainhill Trials by Anthony Dawson

    Unravelling the myths

    Rocket, Sans Pareil and Novelty as depicted (to the same scale) by the Mechanics' Magazine in October 1829. (The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    As Anthony Coulls has written in the foreword, the story of the Rainhill Trials is rather like the story of Genesis in the Bible. A familiar tale, one that has often been told, but perhaps never as well understood as it should be. So why write a book on Rainhill if the story is so well known? The impetus to write about Rainhill was several fold: the building in 2010 of a more faithful replica of Robert Stephenson’s and Henry Booth’s Rocket (the 1979 replica had many features which were not present on the original locomotive of 1829) and the lessons learned from that; the results of a full-scale re-enactment of the Ranihill Trials in 2002; a gathering of all three replica locomotives at SIM, Manchester in 2005; and continued frustration with the many myths which had accrued around Rainhill. That George Stephenson had built Rocket (and that it was the first railway locomotive) and had conducted industrial sabotage against his former colleague Timothy Hackworth. Walking past the 1928 replica of Novelty (which incorporates the original wheels, parts of the valve gear and one cylinder) on a daily basis aroused interest in Braithwaithe and Ericsson. The return of Rocket to the Newcastle for the first time since the 1850s and Manchester since 1836 gave further incentive to start researching and writing.

    The original Sans Pareil as preserved at Locomotion, the NRM out-station at Shildon, a stone's throw from where she was built in 1829. (c. Lauren Jaye Gradwell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Unravelling many of the myths surrounding Rainhill was akin to jumping down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, not knowing where it would take me. The first port of call were the notebooks of two of the Judges, John Urpeth Rastrick and Nicholas Wood, as well as the minutes of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which organised the Rainhill Trials. Analysis of the notebooks provided similar times for each of the runs by Rocket, Novelty and Sans Pareil as well as showing that Rocket – despite the later claim of Nicholas Wood – didn’t achieve a speed of 29mph. Wood simply got his maths wrong. Whilst it is well-known that both Sans Pareil and Novelty suffered from technical problems, the actual details of these failures was both sketchy and contradictory. Contemporary press reportage, especially by the likes of the oft-quoted Mechanics’ Magazine, was biased against the Stephenson’s, and a vocal champion of the ‘London Engine’ of Braithwaite and Ericsson.  The Stephenson’s (père et fil) and Hackworth were simply ‘not the right sort of people’ for the editor, and readers, of the London-based Mechanics’ Magazine. They were the same London experts who derided George Stephenson’s safety lamp and that he would never cross Chat Moss. Thus, reports from pro- and anti-Stephenson sources were needed to create a balanced picture; so too accounts of Rainhill from France and the USA.  In presenting each locomotive, I endeavoured to remain as neutral as possible, and let the data speak for itself.

    Neither Sans Pareil or Novelty has had much in the way of a detailed study, usually being dismissed as ‘also rans’, with the victory of Rocket being a foregone conclusion. In fact, I could have written this book twice over with the amount of data, and human interest, the research gathered about each of the engines and their builders. Analysis by two of the leading experts on early railway locomotives, Peter Davidson and Dr. John Glithero, showed that of the three contenders Novelty was theoretically brilliant, but hamstrung through never having had running-in trials, hence several mechanical problems only being discovered at Rainhill. Furthermore, the bellows needed to provide the draught for the fire used more energy than the cylinders could deliver!

    The replica certainly confirms John Dixon's observation that Novelty had a 'parlour-like appearance', all polished copper and bress like a new tea-kettle. (c. David Boydell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Sans Pareil was even more controversial: since the 1850s, largely thanks to the bitter writing of Timothy Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, who claimed that the Stephenson’s had deliberately sabotaged his father’s entry. Going through Timothy’s letters at the National Railway Museum showed that Timothy and George were on good terms (far from the bitter enemies the myth would have us believe), but also confirmed the observation that Sans Pareil had a cracked cylinder. Experience from casting cylinders for the replicas of Rocket and Sans Pareil 1979-1980 showed that the cylinder design was poor, using ‘floating cores’ which could shift during casting, leading to a flaw which could not be detected. Sans Pareil’s boiler also leaked, again something traditionally blamed on the Stephenson’s and their Ally, Michael Longridge, who made it. Discussing the matter with an experienced boilersmith suggests that the boiler was damaged either on the road or more likely during its testing to three times it working pressure (Rocket’s boiler underwent the same test and also showed signs of leaking, requiring the addition of stays).  Furthermore, Timothy Hackworth’s frantic efforts to seal up leaky joints in the boiler probably made matters worse. Local pride in Darlington and Shildon would suggest that ‘Hackworth was robbed’ of victory at Rainhill, and that Sans Pareil was as good as Rocket. Once again, analysis by Davidson and Glithero show that Sans Pareil was really the last-gasp of old technology and of the three contenders it was only Rocket – thanks to her revolutionary multi-tubular boiler designed by Henry Booth – that not only stayed the course but was the only locomotive which would have been able to work a regular, time-tabled passenger service between Liverpool and Manchester.

    The 2010 replica of Rocket standing at the historic Liverpool Road Station during her visit to mark the 180th anniversary of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. (c. Matthew Jackson, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Such was the rate of technological development (like phones and other personal devices), Rocket was obsolete within six months; first by further Rocket-type locomotives which sported several improvements from the Rainhill design, but culminating in the delivery of Planet in October 1830: the first mainline express passenger locomotive.

    Rocket only had a brief working life of about two years before being laid up; she was used as the test-bed of a rotary steam engine invented by Lord Dundonald in 1833, and then stored until being sold in 1836 to work on a colliery railway. Out of service again by 1840, Rocket was thankfully preserved, and although missing many of her non-ferrous fittings, was eventually presented to what is now the Science Museum in 1862.

    Sans Pareil, after a far longer working life on the Bolton & Leigh Railway ended her days as a stationary engine in a colliery before she too was given to what is now the Science Museum. You can see her, and the 1979 replica, on display at Locomotion, Shildon. Novelty languished unused until 1833 when she was rebuilt with a multi-tubular boiler and set to work on the St Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway; her original wheels and cylinders passed to John Melling, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Locomotive Superintendent. Four wheels and a cylinder were incorporated in a static replica now on display at SIM, Manchester, and the second cylinder is on display at Rainhill library. With the 190th Anniversary of Rainhill coming next year, it would be fantastic to see all three original contestants reunited.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Rainhill Trials is available for purchase now.

  • Greyfriars Graveyard by Charlotte Golledge

    Greyfriars Graveyard, east wall. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Greyfriars Kirkyard has been described as being the leading burial ground in Scotland. Not only for its place in history but also for those whose final resting place is beneath its turf. These great figures who, although may have been forgotten over the passage of time lent their achievements and successes to the City they called home, contributing to the modern day Edinburgh lived in by a population of over 482,000 people. Within in its walls are forty-four ministers of both Old and New Greyfriars Kirks; forty-one Lord Provosts; thirty-three lawyers and senators of the College of Justice; twenty-six principles and professors of the University of Edinburgh, including two of its founders.  Not to mention numerous doctors, surgeons, solicitors, soldiers, sailors, authors, merchants, artists, architects to name but a few along with families of great fortune and prestige and the more ordinary folk. Collectively they all played their part no matter how big or small in the history of Edinburgh.

    However, it is not these great and ordinary citizens of yesteryear that captivate the visitors to Greyfriars. It is the fantastic monuments the more wealthy citizens left behind. For example, if someone was asked to identify the monument for James Borthwick, most people would not be able to clarify which one it was, especially as his name is no longer visible. With extra information that beside Greyfriars Bobby’s marker it is one of the most photographer mural monuments in Greyfriars, some people would be able to guess which one it is. However if the monument was described by its appearance as a near life size skeleton that appears to be dancing, then apart from a first time visitor who had entered the kirkyard by the lower original entrance then the monument would be instantly identified. This depiction of the King of Terrors instantly draws attention and sets the imagination running. In one hand he holds the book of Destiny and in the other a scythe. There are clues to James Borthwick’s profession in life with the surgical tools that can be seen at either side.

    Flodden Wall, Greyfriars. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    The majority of the symbolism falls into three main themes: mortality; immortality through resurrection and finally the means of salvation. The emblems of mortality are to remind us that death will come to us all. So the time spent in our earthly bodies should be spent well, living a good and moral life before judgement. The most recognisable of these emblems is the death head. There are hundreds throughout the graveyard in different guises: the full face; without a bottom jaw; facing front; partial profile; with cross bones below or behind the skull; the sextons’ tools in place of the bones and the winged skull. There is also the addition of the words Momento Mori which translates as ‘remember that you must die’. There are incorrect theories of what this symbol represents, the most popular being that they are for pirates or plague victims. In the late 1640s plagues began to disappear from the Scottish capital and there are certainly no known pirates buried it its grounds!

    One possible explanation for the use of the skull and cross bones stems from those on medieval monuments when during the times of the crusades, knights or persons of note who died in distant lands and the need for the body to be transported home. Mos Tentonicus was a funerary process that stripped the flesh from the bones that entailed the more hygienic means to transport the bones for proper burial once home. While the skull is pretty self-explanatory the bones being most likely the sword arm that was fighting for God.

    Some symbols of the freemasons. (Greyfriars Graveyard, Amberley Publishing)

    The emblems of immortality are there to remind us of the resurrection and the immortal life of the soul. Again the most numerous of these emblems shows the head. In this instance a head coupled with wings, known as the winged soul. It can be used as a main feature or as multiple decorations along the upper detail of a mural monument, such as can be seen on the monuments along the east wall. The winged soul is commonly depicted as a face, often taking the form of a cherub or angels whose gender is not identified, with feathered wings like that of a bird. This represents the deceased person’s soul leaving the body at death and ascending, the body will then rise and join it on the day of judgement.

    The third theme is that of the moral emblems, these are usually the personification of the moral messages they represent. The use of female forms of the classical Greek or Roman world are typical of the early seventeenth century. These include the seven virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope and Charity. These along with other virtues are there to remind us of how to live a good life.

    Other symbolism includes animals, plants and flowers and, though few in number in Greyfriars, the emblems of trade. All of these are covered in detail in Greyfriars Graveyard and enables the reader to gain the skills to read the monuments and depict what that person, or their family, is trying to say.  Giving clues to the character of the deceased and how they lived their own lives. These skills can be used not only in Greyfriars but other Scottish graveyards and while the carvings may differ in accuracy, depending on the skill of the mason, the meanings are nearly always the same. As George Elliot said ‘Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them’.

    Charlotte Golledge's new book Greyfriars Graveyard is available for purchase now.

  • The Stephenson Railway Legacy by Colin Alexander

    In the words of Captain J. M. Laws, speaking before the Gauge Commission in 1845 “We owe all our railways to the collieries in the North; and the difficulties which their industry overcame taught us to make railways and to make locomotives to work them”. Many of the difficulties of which he spoke were overcome by that legendary son of Northumberland, George Stephenson, and subsequently by his son, Robert.

    The Stephenson Railway Museum, in the former Metro Test Track depot in North Shields, has a unique collection. Its most important exhibit is Billy, used at Killingworth and one of five surviving locomotives that predate Rocket. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up as I did on the banks of the Tyne, it was impossible to escape the influence of the Stephensons. I share my birthplace with Robert. My mother went to the Stephenson Memorial School and I completed my main teaching practice at George Stephenson High School. Stephenson Streets abound on Tyneside, as well as the Stephenson Railway Museum (where visitors can admire the oldest surviving Stephenson locomotive, Billy of 1816), the cottage where George was born and another where they lived during their most formative time.

    While Robert Stephenson himself acknowledged that “the locomotive is not the invention of one man but of a nation of mechanical engineers”, the Stephensons’ biographer Smiles wrote “in no quarter of England have greater changes been wrought by the successive advances made in the practical science of engineering than in the extensive colliery districts of the North, of which Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the centre and the capital”. Among the many pioneers to emanate from that region, George and Robert Stephenson deservedly achieved a worldwide fame beyond all others.

    As early as 1798, George was put in charge of steam power for the first time in the form of a pumping engine at a pit west of Newcastle. This event would change not only George’s life, but would ultimately change the whole world. The first locomotives, by Trevithick, Blenkinsopp and Hedley and others were not entirely successful but in the words of Smiles, through “application, industry and perseverance, (George Stephenson) carried into effect one of the most remarkable but peaceful revolutions”.

    His first locomotive Blucher was financed by colliery owner Lord Ravensworth, who had been impressed by Stephenson’s improvements to his stationary engines. Blucher steamed in 1814, a steady 5mph plodder of a coal-hauler. Although she boasted some refinements compared to earlier engines she shared their vertical motion with its hammer-blow effect on brittle rails. Within fifteen years, the father-and-son team of George and Robert Stephenson would produce the fastest machine yet built, with smooth motion, mechanical efficiency and economy, capable of well over 30mph! Her name was, of course, the Rocket.

    Robert Stephenson's Newcastle factory turned out several 7 foot 1/4 inch gauge locomotives for Brunel's Great Western Railway. Among them was 2-2-2 North Star, a full-sized replica of which is at Swindon's Steam Museum. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    George Stephenson’s fame derived from his willingness to experiment, along with confidence, perseverance and ingenuity that took the world into an exciting new Railway Age. His experiments saved lives too, for he famously invented the Stephenson miners’ safety lamp, predating the more widely-known Davy lamp.

    His greatest achievements were arguably his victories in Parliament, where the uneducated Northumbrian was repeatedly and unfairly abused and ridiculed for his assertions. He faced opposition from powerful land-owners and canal operators who hired hard-hitting advocates to argue against the building of new railways. These vocal adversaries made ludicrous, unfounded assertions, including that in gale force winds it would be impossible for a steam train to move!

    Stephenson’s common sense and determination saw him through, resulting in the building of the world’s first successful steam railway, the Stockton and Darlington, with rails laid at a gauge of 4’8½”. This would of course be adopted as ‘Standard Gauge’ across much of the world. The S&D’s first locomotives were built at the world’s first locomotive factory, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne under the name of Robert Stephenson & Company.

    Back in Egypt, one of Stephenson's more unusual orders was this 1859 contraption for the Pasha of Egypt. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Then followed the building of the world’s first ‘Inter-City’ line, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which would bring George and Robert lasting fame.

    They would also go on to engineer much of Europe’s early railway network, including unprecedented individual feats of engineering in the form of tunnels and bridges.

    George Stephenson died in 1848, aged 67, at his mansion near Chesterfield, a far cry from the family’s one room by the wagonway at Wylam.

    His friend Nicholas Wood described him as “the most extraordinary man of the age, or indeed of any age”.

    Statues were erected in Liverpool, Newcastle, London, Chesterfield and Budapest, demonstrating that his influence extended well beyond these shores.

    Robert Stephenson died in 1859 aged only 56, as the world’s first engineering millionaire.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey and was described as “the greatest engineer of the present century”.

    During his lifetime, Robert Stephenson received many more honours than his father ever did, such was the esteem in which the profession of railway engineering came to be held. These included the Swedish Cross of the Order of St Olaf, the French Legion D’Honneur and like his father before him, Knight of the Order of Leopold for his locomotive improvements that had revolutionised Belgium’s railways. Incidentally, both George and Robert had been offered knighthoods, and both declined.

    RSH No.8136 of 1960 was one of twenty English Electric Type 4s built at Darlington for BR, the rest coming from Vulcan Foundry. Originally numbered D306, No.40106 became a celebrity as the last to retain green livery, taking part in the Rainhill 150th anniversary cavalcade of 1980. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Although there was a great sense of loss over the death of Robert, the company that carried his name went from strength to strength exporting locomotives all over the world.

    The original Stephenson works in Newcastle closed its doors in 1960 after 137 years of production. The name lived on a while longer in the later Stephenson Works in Darlington, which manufactured main-line diesel locomotives for British Railways, but the last one left the works in 1964, marking the end of the most famous name in railway manufacturing history.

    Meanwhile, there is much to be seen of the Stephensons’ legacy today. There are complete railways still in regular use that were engineered by the indomitable father and son. High-speed electric trains hurtle through Kilsby Tunnel daily. Every day, trains cross the High Level, Royal Border, Sankey and Britannia bridges.

    On a broader scale though, surely the Stephensons’ greatest legacy is the railway network that they made practical and popular against all the odds. What was subsequently achieved all over the world in industry and commerce by the coming of the railways is immeasurable.

    At the cutting of the first sod for the construction of the Eden Valley Railway in 1858, Lord Brougham said “To the public at large, to the community, the introduction of the railway has been of the greatest possible advantage, the prime blessing of the time. I take George Stephenson as the main cause of that success”.

    Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book The Stephenson Railway Legacy is available for purchase now.

  • Coventry Pubs by Fred Luckett

    The Woolpack in Spon Street is an early photo from the 1860's, the pub has since been demolished. (Author's collection)

    Drinking in an old English town

    The history of the alcohol trade in Coventry

    Whilst beer, along with agriculture, was being created in the Middle East around 12,000 years ago, Coventry remained a patch of virgin forest in the Arden County until well into the Cristian era. Mercia was settled by Anglo-Saxons from the sixth century onwards, but Coventry itself is thought to have originated with the founding of an abbey under Saint Osburgh in the tenth century. This was destroyed by Cnut's forces in 1016, to be followed by the first definite event in Coventry, the founding of the priory of St Mary by Leofric and Godiva in 1043.

    In Anglo-Saxon society men had the roles that required upper body strength, such as field work and animal husbandry, and women were the head of the domestic household. Brewing was a household pursuit so women were the brewers. These brewers were termed 'alewives' and would have been members of families wealthy enough to have a surplus of grain and hence be able to brew ale over and above that needed for domestic requirements. Such supplies of ale would have been intermittent and hence a temporary ale stake was used to indicate that ale was for sale, rather than a permanent sign.

    The role of the alewife was gradually challenged by the monastic brewery and Coventry always had a plentiful supply of monasteries, with large permanent populations of monks and lay brothers needing a regular and dependable supply of ale.

     

    The Old Windmill in Spon Street, reputedly Coventry's oldest pub. (Author's collection)

    The first permanent retail outlet we learn of in Coventry was the White Cellar, a tavern, in c.1230. A tavern was a premises that sold wine, which would have been a specialist, high-value trade at that time. These early premises were followed by inns and other taverns as travel increased throughout the area.

    Once monastic brewing ceased in Coventry with the Reformation, commercial brewing expanded to supply the market and we begin to see brewing dynasties in Coventry such as the King, Ash and Rawson families, whilst the role of the alewife disappeared, although women were never excluded from brewing. In the eighteenth century we have Mrs. Cave King in Coventry, whilst in the West Midlands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have Julia Hanson, Sarah Hughes, Doris Pardoe, and on to modern-day female brewers. Permanent public houses were created to sell to the urban population no longer able to enjoy monastic, guild or even private hospitality.

     

    Jack Tatlow is drawing beer at the Rainbow in Allesley the 1930's. (Author's collection)

    At this time the regulation of the alcohol trade was in the hands of the corporation. Later the role was given to the magistrates, until very recently when it was given back to the city council. Licensing records begin in 1745, although at this time it is the person who is licensed, there is no mention of the premises. So, when a licensee moved house, his sign was likely to move with him. For example, the Crown in Bayley Lane closed in 1788 when the licensee, Charles Hunt, moved to White Friars Lane. The Crown in White Friars Lane opened immediately. From the mid-eighteenth century to the Second World War the number of public houses wavered between 200 and 250, which means that, with a growing population the ratio of pubs to people has constantly declined.

    During the early nineteenth century the spread of the tied house system, and the growth of large brewers, particularly in the home counties, caused concern over the reduction in competition. The growth in spirit drinking likewise was a problem. So, in 1830 the Beerhouse Act was passed allowing anyone to sell beer on the payment of a 2 guinea fee to the excise. A huge number of beerhouses sprang up, leading to an inevitable reaction. This, allied to the influence of the temperance movement and declining demand, lead to a reduction in the numbers of public houses, taverns, and inns in the city centre. This trend was accelerated by the widespread destruction of the city centre during the blitz, with many licenses moved out to the new suburbs.

    In more recent years many suburban pubs have closed, leading to licences being concentrated around entertainment or local centres.

    Fred Luckett's new book Coventry Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • Paranormal London by Gilly Pickup

    Are you interested in supernatural happenings? If you’re like me and enjoy delving into a good ghost story, then read on…

    The Viaduct Tavern, Newgate Street, ECI. Ghostly orbs in the lounger bar or simply a trick of the light? (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    My new book, Paranormal London, brims over with true tales of eerie encounters, some of which are terrifying enough to the capture the imagination of even the most hardened sceptic. After all there are more uncanny happenings in this city than you can shake a spook at, most of which are guaranteed to make you look at the London you are familiar with, either personally or through written accounts, in a totally different way.

    Let’s face it. Chances of bumping into an apparition in London are high. In fact, this, the world’s greatest city, (well, I think so), simply swirls with spirits. It has to be said that even though these phantoms lack a physical body they certainly don’t lack imagination. So while it’s to be expected that they strut their stuff in houses old and new, they also haunt hospitals, pubs, alleyways, Underground stations and even a bed. Spooky theatres? Yes, of course!  Ghostly hotels? Absolutely. A haunted bank? That too.

     

    Read my book – if you dare - to find out:

    Who was the headless phantom exorcised from the bank vaults?

    Why did a theatre prop cause bone chilling fear?

    Where have two people have been frightened to death – literally?

    Which Royal Park has a tree which harbours a fearsome spirit?

    Which museum’s poltergeist activity includes lots of floating orbs and disembodied voices which have been captured on tape?

    The Heath, where you may meet a phantom woman or a ghostly horseman. (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    Stories in Paranormal London take the reader on a spooktacular journey that covers Hampstead Heath, an ancient London park first documented in 986 when Ethelred the Unready granted one of his servants ‘five hides of land at Hemstede.’ When it comes to paranormal activity, this is a busy place. Compact, frenetic, once-sleazy Soho, oozing trendy bars, smart restaurants and encompassing dynamic, bustling, colourful Chinatown also has its otherworldly side – no wonder when you consider part of the area stands over a plague pit. Aristocratic, elegant Mayfair, named after the annual spring festival held until the 1730s, provides us with tales from one of London’s spectacularly eerie haunted pubs as well as the ongoing mystery of what is surely the capital’s most haunted house. St James, which starts at Piccadilly and includes Green Park, has a couple of seriously scary phantoms that you wouldn’t want to meet, while intellectual Bloomsbury, home of the British Library and Senate House offers a rather more unusual type of paranormal activity….

    The many theatres in Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross are simply awash with mysterious beings and strange goings-on. Marylebone, owned in the 12th century by a brotherhood of warrior monks called the Knights Templar, has its phantoms too including that of a famous actress, while once-bohemian Fitzrovia which lies to the north east of Oxford Circus is where to find a plethora of hospital ghosts. Familiar names all, that trip off the tongue whether you are a local, a visitor, or someone who knows London only from films and books.

    Now all you have to do is get a copy of Paranormal London, sit down, make yourself comfortable and savour these nerve-jangling tales. Make sure you have locked your windows and doors first though. It is as well to remember the London dead far outnumber the living.....

    P.S. Have you ever had an experience that wasn't - shall we say - quite of this world?  Do let me know, if so. www.gillypickup.co.uk

    Gilly Pickup's new book Paranormal London is available for purchase now.

  • Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 by Jason Dickinson

    Although Sheffield Wednesday have recently celebrated their 151st birthday, the story of their first 150 years remains a fascinating account of how this grand old club started life almost 200 years ago, when Wednesday Cricket Club was formed by the ‘little mesters’ of Sheffield, gentlemen who played a prominent role in the manufacturing boom in the town, which was driven mainly by the production of cutlery and steel. The cricket club quickly grew to become one of the best, and most well supported, clubs in the North of England as the town of Sheffield embraced the game, which eventually led to the formation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It was the booming membership of the cricket club that led directly to the formation of a football team as members were keen to stay together in the winter months. Wednesday Football Club was duly formed on 4 September 1867 in the Adelphi Hotel, where the famous Crucible Theatre now stands, and joined the growing band of clubs as the new sport of football gained a foothold on the local sporting scene. The city of Sheffield still boasts the oldest club in world football (Sheffield FC) and the oldest ground (Sandygate, home of Hallam FC).

    Sheffield's Midland Station as the FA Cup is brought back in 1935. (Sheffield Wednesday FC, Amberley Publishing)

    From those early beginnings, Wednesday FC slowly rose to become the prominent club in Sheffield. By the late 1870s it became known nationally after several headline making runs in the FA Cup, reaching the final as a non-league side in 1890. Although they failed to gain election into the newly created Football League in 1888, they were voted in four years later, along with newly formed neighbours Sheffield United. Honours duly followed in league and cup and although Wednesday have now been outside of the Premier League for almost twenty years they remain one of the best supported club’s in the land. A loyal following that followed them during the dark days of the 1970s and early 2010s when the very future of the club was on the line. That passion for the Owls (a nicknamed coined when the club received a gift of a wooden Owl, which was placed under the eves of a stand, and saw the start of a winning run) has been passed down through the generations. From their early years playing on roped off pitches to a move to Olive Grove and then to Owlerton, and remains as fierce now as it did back in those Victorian years when the likes of Heeley and Lockwood Brothers were the club’s main rivals.

    The Official 150th Year History of Sheffield Wednesday was written in a format that is an homage to the seminal work of Richard Sparling, who published ‘The Romance of the Wednesday’ back in 1926 – one of only a handful of football history books published in the pre-war era. Like that tremendous book, the club’s fortunes have been detailed in specific ‘standalone’ chapters. From the early years of the cricket club to over 4,600 games played in the league and from the best players to the managers who’ve led Wednesday through all their up and downs. All the major events of those 150 years are covered in detail with chapters also detailing Wednesday’s exploits in European football and the League Cup, in addition to a detailed look at their much beloved home of almost 120 years, Hillsborough. A chapter detailing derby day meetings with city rivals the Blades are also within the pages, along with stories of Wednesday’s numerous trips to foreign lands and even a chapter full of curious and funny stories that have only added to the rich tapestry of their long history. The book tells the full story of a one of England’s most well-known football teams, with a name that is totally unique in world football.

    Jason Dickinson's new paperback edition of his book Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 is available for purchase now.

  • Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time by Mark Turner

    When arriving at the North Cotswolds town of Moreton-in-Marsh as a fresh-faced young policeman in 1981 thoughts of producing a pictorial history of the place were probably far from my mind. Earlier, however, as a youngster raised in the Welsh border town of Monmouth, I had long been fascinated by local history, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I soon found myself thinking as much about Moreton’s historical development as its potential as a place of criminal activity. Fortunately, Moreton-in-Marsh is a low-crime area and I was able to balance the requirements of my job with my enthusiasm for local history!

    Drury's Butcher's Shop, High Street. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    I quickly discovered that relatively little had been written about the place. A few pamphlets and essays had been compiled, certainly, but these were all well out of date, long since out of print, and difficult to obtain. Luckily, an enthusiastic local butcher had collected a few hundred old postcards of Moreton, although these were at that time being stored in the cellar of a farmhouse on the edge of town. I accessed these pictures, copied and indexed them and used them as the basis of a slide show that I then began presenting to local groups and societies. Additionally, when ‘on the beat’ in the town, I often found myself chatting with senior citizens and elderly residents – the conversations invariably turning to memories and photographs of days past. Many of these people kindly loaned or gave me old photographs of Moreton and over some years I amassed an unsurpassed local collection of historic images. To date, this collection amounts to some 1,200 old photographs. The butcher (long-deceased) would no doubt be proud!

    US Tanks, High Street Service Road. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Inevitably, many of the photographs are of cricket and football teams, school pupils and local committees or social gatherings. Valuable though these pictures are, they do not really illustrate the town’s physical appearance. Luckily, there are numerous photographs, too, of Moreton’s streets and buildings and in many cases long-forgotten shops and business premises are shown in their heyday. I have also acquired rare and nostalgic photographs of the local railway station in the steam locomotive era, as well as nineteenth-century images of long-vanished industrial premises, such as Moreton’s rope works and former iron foundry. Particularly unusual are photographs – surreptitiously snapped by a local schoolgirl – of American tanks gathered in the High Street awaiting embarkation to France for D-Day.

    As well as giving occasional presentations of my historic pictures, I have, over the years, gone on to produce a number of books about Gloucestershire, and the Cotswolds in particular. Moreton-in-Marsh is a small town, however, and it seemed likely that my photographic collection would merely remain the basis for talks to local societies. And then I became aware of Amberley’s ‘Through Time’ series of publications and the potential at last for some of my photographs to reach a wider audience. I put forward a proposal, which was positively received, and Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is the end result. The book, which is a beautifully-presented collection of evocative images, has been greeted with enthusiasm and is already selling well. It is likely to be of interest to local residents and visitors alike and, when walking around the town, people will find it a particularly handy guide to Moreton’s ever-changing streets and buildings. Why not get a copy and come and visit this lovely town for yourself?

    Mark Turner's new book Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

    When burials in churches were banned in Scotland.

    Plaque on the site of the monastery. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    One of my favourite parts of Secret Dumfries was a quote from Alf Truckell’s preface to the 1928 edition of McDowall’s History of Dumfries. He gave a colourful and somewhat startling account of events in the year 1607, taken from the town’s Privy Council records: ‘A man tries to strangle a boy with a garter and throws him in the Mill Dam in March: the King’s messenger comes through the town in May, to find the inhabitants dressed in green and armed for the May Play: a couple of Baillie’s sons take up the cry “a Lorebourne”, their fathers repeat it: shots are fired and horses wounded: the Messenger and his men flee: church burials have been outlawed some years before, a family break open the church door with tree-trunks and bury a dead relative within, whereupon another family hurry home, grab a corpse, and bury it, and a third family dig up an uncle and are about to bury him when the Law finally turns up…’

    I was especially intrigued by the references to church burials and how determined people were to defy the law and bury their relatives within the church itself. I had no time to do further research into when and why burials inside churches became illegal.

    I read the extract at the launch of Secret Dumfries and was delighted when someone emailed me a part of an article from a magazine which said The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland outlawed church burials, which it deemed idolatrous, in 1576. Anyone breaking the new rule could be suspended from the church until they repented publicly (did they have to remove the body?) and minsters who allowed the practice would also be suspended.

    St Mary's Church. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    There were other good reasons for discontinuing the burial of bodies within the church. Before the Reformation wealthy and influential people such as the lairds (landed estate owners) were buried inside the church – sometimes beneath the family pew. This reduced the space available for the congregation. Also, bodies were not always interred very deeply and the smell of decomposition would have been unpleasant to say the least. Parishioners sometimes brought their dogs to church and dogs like nothing better than to dig up bones.

    I almost included a paragraph in Secret Dumfries saying this practice of sometimes shallow interment inside churches gave rise to the expression ‘stinking rich’. I’m so glad my word count was at its limit and I didn’t because, according to the website https://www.phrases.org.uk, apparently the expression only came into use in the twentieth century.

    The 1576 act was repeated in 1588, 1631 and in 1643, which is probably a good indication of people’s resistance to it. One rather extreme, and unpleasant, example occurred in 1607 in Durisdeer, near Dumfries. Adam Menzies, laird of Enoch had buried his young son in his family’s aisle of the kirk. Sir James Douglas, a staunch Presbyterian, of Drumlanrig had servants dig up the child’s body and rebury it in a shallow grave away from the church. Adam Menzies and his wife, who had just had another child, were understandably very upset. Despite being attacked by the minister, he reburied his son’s body in the kirk and appealed to the Privy Council. Although he was breaking the law regarding burials inside a church, the Privy Council took his side, allowing his child to remain in the family’s burial aisle.

    As for the family who used tree trunks to break down the door in the Dumfries church and set off a chain reaction as quoted at the start of this article, I was very pleased to learn his identity. According to Maureen M. Meikle in her book, The Scottish People 1490-1625, it was a John Irving who wanted to bury his mother.

    Mary Smith and Keith Kirk's new book Secret Dumfries is available for purchase now.

  • Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 by Patrick G. Eriksson

    The German surprise attack on the Soviet Union began before dawn on 22 July 1941. Oberleutnant Gűnther Scholz, Staffelkapitän 7/JG 54 recalled this historical day: ‘On 22 June 1941 in the early morning at 03h00 the first intrusion over the Soviet border took place; our target was the airbases near Kowno. I will never forget flying over the border. As far as one could see from our height of approximately 2,000 m in the emerging dawn, to the north and to the south, white and red Very lights were ascending high into the sky and army units on the ground and fliers in the air crossed the border punctually at 03h00.’ Tactical surprise was achieved in massed attacks on Soviet air bases, the exultant pilots claiming 1,489 aircraft destroyed on the ground, 322 in the air as the Russians responded. As always in aerial combat, actual losses (864 ground, 336 air) didn’t match claims made.

    It was a young man’s war. Leutnant Erich Sommavilla, Stab I/JG 53, returns from a mission over Hungary, early 1945. (Erich Sommavilla, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    These were catastrophic losses, and the Russians would continue to suffer grievous losses for a long time, but they never stopped fighting. Often their stubborn resistance, their continued advance towards targets as their bomber formations were shot to ribbons, were seen as stur (pig-headed) and stupid, characteristics typical of Untermenschen as many of the Germans saw them. Many German Jagdflieger were highly experienced, with campaigns from Poland to the Balkans behind them, as well as the sobering defeat of the Battle of Britain. Fighter pilots are aggressive and often ambitious, and the lure of success, high decorations and joining the panoply of propaganda heroes of the Third Reich kept many of them focussed. Their victory claims soon mushroomed and as the Russian campaign went on, the envelope of the top scorers exceeded first 100, then successively 150, 200, 250 and even 300, Hartmann their top ace achieving an incredible 352 claimed successes. The German fighter pilots in the East were thus the top scorers not only of the war, but of all time. This image of Luftwaffe Experten has remained largely entrenched, and their claiming system, with rigid administrative steps leading up to confirmation is seen as being reliable. Somehow, the German aces appear as having been better than anyone else a viewpoint still enjoying credence even today; however, it needs to be seen as the propaganda of a race-obsessed Nazi regime, of great benefit when your air forces are suffering strategic defeat, over an ever-retreating Eastern Front.

    In order to get closer to the truth, this book relies on a core of testimony from 70-odd Luftwaffe fighter pilot veterans who flew Me 109s or Fw 190s, and crewmen of the Me 110 two seater Zerstörer. Recollections of their training period show that it was thorough, unusually included exposure to a wide range of different aircraft types, and was surprisingly accommodating of pilots needing more time for any part of their training. The veterans gave freely of their time, and supplied copies of original documents: flying logbooks, diaries, combat reports, and claims paperwork. Fellow aviation historians were also most generous, one providing the Startkladde 7/JG 51 for September 1943 – April 1944, giving a record of each flight made by all pilots, operational mission or not.

    Tired pilots of III/JG 52 back from a mission, field base Gonstakowka, Terek bridgehead, Caucasus, October 1942. Oberleutnant Rall (Staffelkapitän 8/JG 52; third ranking Luftwaffe ace) second from left, witness Gerd Schindler at right. (Gerd Schindler, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    This enabled some statistical evaluation of the combat record of a single Staffel over several months. One of the pilots figuring prominently in this record was Hauptmann Gűnther Schack, whose diary excerpts provide fascinating reading of the daily life of a top ace (174 victory claims); he was a very modest man who decried all hero worship of Luftwaffe aces. However, his success and high decorations saved his father (a senior cleric opposed to Nazism and resisted joining the Nazi-sponsored Protestant church) from imprisonment or worse. Oberst Hanns Trűbenbach, commanding JG 52, describes his shock upon landing at a frontline airfield, where an NCO proudly showed him a fresh, only partly covered mass grave of Jewish men, woman and children. Later on he tells of intercepting a brand new Russian fighter over the Black Sea, whose test pilot was concentrating on writing up his technical notes, and did not see Trűbenbach until he got really close; however, he had nothing to fear, the German pilot had no intention of shooting such an innocent down. Peter Dűttmann, posted into II/JG 52 in the Kuban in May 1943 gives a detailed account of his first few days at the front, during which several of his Staffel comrades were lost, including his C/O; what an introduction for a greenhorn. Hans Grűnberg, one of the few surviving members of Platzschutzstaffel Pitomnik, the few fighter pilots of JG 3 flying from within the Stalingrad pocket, recalls sitting in his Me 109 and seeing Russian troops overrun his field base as ground crew struggled to warm up the engine enough for take-off; alas he had to flee on foot in the chaos, eventually getting out the pocket on one of the last Ju 52 transporters to leave Gumrak, a small field several miles away. Other Stalingrad veterans remember not being able to fly tight manoeuvres in combat due to a starvation diet. Diary extracts of Hans Strelow, a very young Leutnant in JG 51 were rescued from amongst his effects after his death by Luftwaffe psychologist, Professor Paul Skawran; forced to crash-land after his final combat, Strelow shot himself in the head rather than become a prisoner.

    The thorny issue of the Luftwaffe’s multi-step victory claims procedure, often seen as exemplary due to its extensive paperwork, is in fact rather more complex, having also been subject to human influence as in a simpler system. It changed during the war, for most in approximately August 1942, when claims which equate essentially to probables became the norm. A group of Geschwader Kommodoren give detailed testimony about the system. One emphasised the critical distinction between the terms Luftsieg (cf. complete, witnessed destruction) and Abschuss (enemy aircraft leaves formation, descends obviously damaged). In autumn 1942, the Abschuss concept became basically standard; high claims in the east were acknowledged within a changing and even manipulated system. High eastern scores, can be related to careful use of the Luftwaffe’s favourite bounce tactic, skewed towards enemy fighters; tactical expedience and scoring thus largely replaced strategic application of limited and shrinking aerial assets.

    Patrick G. Eriksson's new book Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 is available for purchase now.

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