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  • Surrey's Military Heritage by Paul Le Messurier

    Canadian troops riot in Epsom, Surrey in June 1919

    Just over one hundred years ago, the First World War officially came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on the 28 June 1919. The brutally of combat had ended the previous year following the armistice of 11 November 1918. Yet sadly, in the same month that the Treaty was signed, the war would claim one more victim as a result of a tragic incident that would change the lives of a Surrey family forever.

    The grave of Station Sergeant Green in Epsom cemetery. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Following the end of hostilities, repatriation of Commonwealth troops proceeded at a very slow pace leading to frustration, boredom and confusion. By the summer of 1919 there were still over 2,000 Canadian soldiers in Woodcote Park Camp near Epsom in Surrey.

    Trouble had been brewing over a period of time between local men, mostly ex-soldiers, and Canadians in Epsom town centre. One such occurrence took place on the evening of Tuesday 17 June 1919, during which a Canadian soldier was arrested. A group of soldiers attempted to free their colleague but were seen off by the local police who arrested a further soldier for obstruction. The group returned to their camp and word spread about the arrests. At around eleven o’clock that evening, an estimated four to five hundred Canadians left the camp heading for Epsom police station. Armed with iron railings and wooden stakes, they stormed the station.

    After about an hour of fighting, the police were eventually overwhelmed. The Canadians managed to free their two colleagues and returned to the camp. Practically every policeman had been injured during the battle, some worse than others. Station Sergeant Thomas Green, aged 51 and close to retirement, was taken unconscious to the local hospital and died the following morning having suffered a fractured skull.

    The memorial to Station Sergeant Green erected by the Metropolitan Police. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    A scene of devastation met the crowd that gathered around the police station the following morning. Local magistrates issued an order closing all public houses to prevent further trouble and the town was placed out of bounds to all troops at the camp. The Canadian authorities had claimed that the original disturbance started when a Canadian soldier, walking with his wife, was insulted by a group of locals. This explanation was strongly refuted by Epsom Council.

    Station Sergeant Green had been in the police force for 24 years after having served in the Royal Horse Artillery in India. A large number of residents assembled in Epsom town centre for his funeral procession, local shops were closed. Several hundred members of the Metropolitan Police Force were in attendance. He was survived by his wife and two daughters aged 19 and 18.

    A plaque near the site of the riot in Epsom town centre. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Seven Canadian soldiers appeared in court charged with manslaughter and riot. The charges against two were dismissed. The remaining five were found guilty of rioting, but not guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to one year in prison. The men were released early, handed over to the Canadian authorities, and returned home in December 1919.

    In August 1929, New Scotland Yard received a telegram from the Chief of Police in Winnipeg. One of the soldiers, who had appeared in court in 1919 on a charge of manslaughter, was in custody for a minor offence and had decided to clear his conscience. He admitted killing Station Sergeant Green by striking him on the head with an iron bar. The telegram read, ‘Am detaining Allan McMaster, who admits being murderer of Police Sergeant Green at Epsom on June Seventeenth Nineteen Nineteen. Do you want him. Wire instructions.’.  New Scotland Yard replied that since the case was closed no further action would be taken. McMaster would take his own life 20 years after the tragic incident in Epsom.

    Station Sergeant Green is still remembered to this day. One hundred years on from his death, memorial events were recently held in Epsom in his honour.

    Paul Le Messurier's book Surrey's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press by Ruth Herman

    Why write about old news? Grub Street and the Origins of the British Press

    I’ve always been interested in the news. From my first days in Public Relations to freelancing for the drinks trade press the ways in which events are reported have fascinated me. Later on when I embarked upon an academic career I found myself researching the arcane world of the early newspapers. I found it fascinating and much more serious. Punishment for the wrong copy didn’t simply mean getting your work spiked. It was more likely to be your ear or your cheek that bore the permanent marks of your transgression.

    Hogarth’s Distrest Poet is a depiction of a Grub Street hack’s poverty-stricken living conditions while writing anything that will earn him some money. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    So I’ve just written a book which sets out to give an introduction to the wild, bizarre and dangerous world of early newspapers and other ephemera in Britain. The days are long gone when the print was laboriously set by some apprentice. Speed of publication was measured in days rather than seconds and tweeting was something that only birds did. So you may be wondering why anyone would  study a sheet of newsprint which was destined at best to be tomorrow’s pie-wrapping? Does anybody care that 300 years ago owners lost their dogs and their wives and they put a poultice made from pigeon faeces on their thinning hair. (Yes they did – it’s in the book).

    From what I have just written you can see that, apart from the bird poo, people all those years ago were occupied with many of the same issues. Although printing technology was in its infancy the similarities between yesterday’s Grub Street hack and today’s journalist are clear. Online or in the stocks there is a continuum of news which applies when one set of people reports on what another set of people are doing. Journalists can go from providing readers with the most damaging and salacious stories to pursuing those who are harmful to the public. Celebrity love lives or fraudulent tycoons will excite readers and often it seems that the reporters make no distinction. Because reporting on either could risk prosecution and worse I started to think about the brave souls who set themselves the task of telling the “truth” about the hierarchy. I became fascinated by the way that 21st century reporters will pursue a president in much the same way as their 17th century counterparts attacked a king.

    The Daily Courant. This publication paved the way in the newspaper industry.(Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    This last thought brings up a word which has so much weight in both today’s reporting and the writings of every age that it almost blows a hole in the page. It’s the little but oh so powerful word “Truth”. Truth is such a slippery idea and as everyone knows it is sometimes difficult to pin it down. It is particularly tricky to tie in with its stable mate, fact, a concept which is also notoriously fluid and disturbingly often has little to do with “truth”. We are all aware that the powerful often lie or at least suppress the “Truth” because they can. Who is going to challenge them? This is where the very brave writers and journalists literally risk life and limb to hunt down the falsifiers and the producers of that very old concept “fake news”.

    The purpose of the book was not necessarily to illustrate the negative and dark side of the ephemeral world of the newspaper. I also wanted to show how these fascinating collections of words illustrate how people lived and thought. Would you now believe that a cow could escape from London’s Lincoln Inn Fields to run amok in High Holborn and end up falling off the top floor of an inn? It happened. Or that people thought that a string of metal beads could cure toothache? They did. The pages of these eclectic early news-sheets are a window on sophisticated, witty, clever folk whose knowledge of the world may have been more limited than ours but their zest for life was just as great. They also wanted to know what the Queen was wearing and how our soldiers were doing overseas. They went to the theatre and they went shopping for clothes. Women ran away from their husbands and others had babies. They lost dogs and pet birds. They bought houses and sold all sorts of goods. They even gambled on lotteries and lost money on the new stock market. So they weren’t so different to us. It is by reading these newspapers that you can see that despite not having Facebook or any other social media life carried on. So the book is full of stories and anecdotes which may amuse, delight or puzzle the reader. While I was reading these old new-sheets I certainly felt quite at home with the writers, although they were often guilty of using ten words where five would have done.

    To finish this blog I would like to share with you that it was a treat to research the book and I hope that you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it.

    Ruth Herman's book Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press is available for purchase now.

  • Citroën 2CV by Malcolm Bobbitt

    Different is Everything

    Anyone who has driven a Tin Snail will know this is a car unlike any other. Its corrugated appearance and propensity to lean alarmingly through bends is all part of its abandonment to conventionality. A curious creature that treats pavé and cobbles with contempt as its suspension soaks up rough surfaces, its propulsion is by a feebly powered air-cooled twin-cylinder engine that lays no claim to spirited performance.

    Early 2CVs are recognisable by their corrugated bonnets, as demonstrated by this 1954 example. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    My acquaintance with the Citroën 2CV began in the mid-1950s when, as a nine- or ten year-old, I discovered Paris courtesy of the obligatory school visit. By then, Citroën’s minimalist miracle had been in production for not even a decade but already had become a familiar sight. Even though it was constructed at Citroën’s Slough factory it was seldom seen on this side of the English Channel. British motorists shunned it in favour of Morris Minors, Austin A30s and Standard 8s. Put off by its stark bodywork, headlights on stalks emerging from the corrugated bonnet, the pull-and-push gear lever and a hostile interior with deck chair-like seats simply missed the point when it came to social acceptance.

    The 2CV was therefore quite different to anything I’d seen in my native London, and that includes such eccentricities as Bond Minicars and Reliant Regal three-wheelers. I remember being fascinated at the way the nose-down and canvas-roofed Citroëns scuttled along, and how their loudly chattering motors echoed around the boulevards.

    Few Saharas survive, this example being sold at auction around 2015. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    Memories of Tin Snails shuffling around Paris were reignited when visiting provincial France in later years. By then they’d vastly multiplied in numbers to become commonplace in villages and towns as well as loping along rural roads and emerging from fields. Van versions known as fourgonnettes carried baguettes, barrels of vin rouge as well as taking live animals to market.

    When it came to buying my first car my parents were aghast at learning of my desire to acquire one of those odd-looking French contraptions, which in their opinion had to be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Wouldn’t a proper car be more sensible?

    Enduring seven years of British cars and having flown the nest, a new right-hand drive Citroën Dyane 6 was purchased in March 1974. Costing a little over £800, this 2CV sibling in its posh clothing was the nearest one could get in Britain to a Deux Chevaux. Two weeks after taking delivery of the Tin Snail and comprehending its ethos, together we embarked upon an exploration of Northern France. A short time later the Gallic call was satisfied with a dash across the Channel and southwards past the Loire and Dordogne en route to the Camargue and Provence.

    Fourgonnettes were put to many uses, as illustrated by this 2CV pictured in Lisbon serving as a mobile sweet shop. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    The yearning for a proper Deux Chevaux was fulfilled when I succumbed to an ancient and not entirely reliable left-hand drive model. Compared with the 602cc Dyane, the 1955 425cc 2CV needed a lot of persuading in order to maintain any sort of speed, at best nudging 40mph on the level. Even modest inclines were met with dramatic drops in speed, while steeper hills amassed a tailback of frustrated drivers. Patience is everything when driving an early 2CV: the windscreen wipers are driven by the speedometer cable, which means in wet weather they crawl across the glass at a pace that would leave a tortoise breathless. Instrumentation is confined to a tiny speedo and a volt meter, so in order to know how much petrol there is in the tank it’s necessary to pull up, alight from the car and check the dipstick in the fuel tank aft.

    Though my stable has housed an eclectic array of cars over the decades to include a 1947 Citroën Light Fifteen, the excesses of a 1951 Bentley and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an early 1950s Fiat Topolino, not to mention a 1961 British-built Citroën DS, a CX and a Renault 4, it never felt right without there being a 2CV. I’ve covered vast swathes of Europe in Tin Snails, one of the most memorable expeditions being to the North Cape, Norway’s most northerly point. This was in the late 1970s when the majority of roads were unmade and ferries bridged fiords.

    One of the last examples to be built, this car - a Spécial as denoted by the plastic rather than chrome griller - is in regular use. (Author's collection, Citroën 2CV, Amberley Publishing)

    Citroën 2CV – Different is Everything – is my 32nd motoring book to have been published. My regard for the Tin Snail and the pleasurable and exciting travel various examples have afforded over the decades, and continue so to do, provided the inspiration to impart the history of this remarkable car. Originally designed to offer the most basic motoring to those people who would not have otherwise owned a motor vehicle, its character and personality never changed throughout 41 years of production. It spawned ever so slightly more classy versions such as the aforementioned Dyane, the Ami and the British designed and built Bijou, but under the skin the basic idea of the Deux Chevaux remained faithful to the concept that was born in the mid-1930s.

    Driving even a late model 2CV today is akin to being at the helm of a piece of moving history. Strangers to the car take time to understand the logic of the gear lever that sprouts from the dashboard, but the real mystery for them is the art of maintaining surprisingly high average speeds despite such minimal power. Best of all is watching them come to terms with the car’s exceptional suspension which allows it to list unbelievably when navigating twisting roads. It’s no wonder the Tin Snail induces smiles wherever it goes.

    Malcolm Bobbitt's book Citroën 2CV is available for purchase now.

  • Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East by Malcolm Batten

    London is self-explanatory, but where exactly is the South-East? It all depends on the context. In 1986-8 British Rail decided to regroup the railways from a regional basis to a business-based system. The regional basis had dated from the formation of British Railways in 1948 from the former Great Western Railway, LMS, LNER and Southern Railways. The Eastern, North Eastern, Midland, Southern, Western and Scottish regions had largely reflected the boundaries and working practices of the former companies and had had a degree of autonomy in terms of locomotive design, liveries etc. Now with the withdrawal of the differing pre-nationalisation locos and stock and many of the early non-standard diesel designs new approach was called for based on the core business patterns of the railways. Thus came Inter-City for, as the name implies, inter-city traffic, Regional Railways for local services, RailFreight etc.  But one of the new business units was called Network South East. This took in Greater London and the outer commuting area to London up to about sixty miles each way. Fair enough, but this inevitably included most of what remained of the former Southern Region, much of which was electrified on the third rail system. So for operating convenience as much as anything, Network South East took in the whole of the former Southern Region main line area, as far as Weymouth and Exeter – hardly the geographical south-east! At one time the Southern Railway had continued on to Plymouth and into north Cornwall but this had all been axed under the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

    Network South East was launched at Liverpool Street station on 9 June 1986 when Class 47 No. 47573 was named The London Standard. (Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East, Amberley Publishing)

    Network South East was launched on 9 June 1986 with a number of events – one was the unveiling of a new livery for locomotives and rolling stock at Liverpool Street Station in London. Stations had their seats and lampposts painted red as part of an NSE ‘house style’. A Network Card was introduced giving one third of travel within the area. This however came with restrictions. Thus although NSE stopping trains reached Peterborough you could only get the discount to Huntingdon, the station before Peterborough. This was because Peterborough was also served by Inter-City trains from London. If you wanted to benefit from the discount you would need to alight at Huntingdon and re-book onwards at full fare to Peterborough. Similarly NSE trains reached Exeter, but you could not get NSE discounted fares to there as there were also Inter-City trains from London, albeit by a different route. You could however get NSE discounted fares to Weymouth and Yeovil, for, although these stations were also served by Regional Railways, this was not on a direct competing route from London. Confused?

    While some of the Class 68s carry Chiltern Railways livery, others are in Direct Rail Services colours such as No. 68009 Titan at Marylebone on 23 June 2018. (Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East, Amberley Publishing)

    Shortly after the launch a ‘Network Day’ was held later with a Rover ticket giving unlimited travel in the NSE area for a flat fare. This was very well patronised and inevitably many people decided to travel as far as possible which was just short of Exeter. Rail enthusiasts also tried to maximise loco haulage on this route. I recall standing in the carriage end gangway of a very crowded train all the way to Yeovil!

    My book takes a period from 1969 to 2018 so covers the old BR regional era, the sectorisation era including Network South East, and the post privatisation era. However it only covers loco haulage so the majority of NSE operations with diesel and electric multiple units are not included – other authors have produced albums on this subject for Amberley. I have also decided to take a more restricted geographical boundary of some sixty miles each way from London. During the timescale of the book the specific motive power types of the old regions like the Western Region diesel hydraulics and the Southern Region class 33s were replaced by standard class 60s, 66s, 67s and 70s etc on freight traffic. Few diesel or electric locomotives are now used on passenger services, but where they are, privatisation and the changing of franchises has seen a variety of local liveries come and go.

    Malcolm Batten's book Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Exeter by Chris Hallam

    The Great Pretender: Perkin Warbeck and Exeter

    Who on Earth was Perkin Warbeck? Perhaps the question “who wasn’t Perkin Warbeck?” would be more appropriate. Perkin Warbeck (1474-99) was pretty much nobody, but he assumed importance in the late 15th century by pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV and one of the two famous “princes in the Tower”. The “princes” (the oldest of whom was in fact, no longer really a prince but the boy King Edward V) famously went missing and were presumably murdered while under the “protection” of their uncle, who became Richard III in 1483 and who was himself overthrown by Henry Tudor in 1485. In 1497, as part of his campaign to become established as ‘King Richard IV,’ Warbeck (1474-1499) led 5,000 men into Exeter in 1497, shortly before being defeated by Henry VII and ultimately captured and executed.

    The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878.

    Much later, in 1674, under Charles II, two skeletons, later established to have been the right age and size to have been the two princes were discovered in the Tower. Although we can probably safely assume it was them, it is unclear if they were murdered and if so, by whom. As beneficiaries, Richard III or Henry VII (or, to be precise, men acting on their orders) are usually seen as the prime suspects.

    Although he was about the right age to have been Prince Richard, Perkin Warbeck’s claim was always weak. Even if Warbeck had been Prince Richard – and we can now say with confidence, that he definitely wasn’t -  his claim to actually be the rightful King Richard IV was dependent on his own brother, young Edward V having somehow died while he, supposedly although not actually the other prince, had lived.

    The fact that Warbeck successfully caused so much trouble for Henry VII for several years tells us two things: first, that Henry VII’s grasp on power must have been very tenuous indeed during the early years of his reign following his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Second, that Perkin Warbeck must have been a very charismatic, persuasive figure in his own right. There were, of course, no cameras, newspapers or TV then and so the identity of a prospective claimant was harder to verify. But with no real evidence to back him up, it must be assumed, Perkin really have had something about him to persuade so many people to support his cause.

    As it is, like Lambert Simnel before him, Perkin Warbeck will always be remembered as a Pretender to the Throne.

    Chris Hallam's book A-Z of Exeter is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Forest of Dean by Mark Turner

    A native of the Welsh border town of Monmouth, I was from an early age aware of the Forest of Dean. Although situated predominantly in the neighbouring English county of Gloucestershire, the forested area spreads into Wales just beyond Staunton village. Undeterred by the county boundary, it creeps on down the slopes towards my childhood home on Monmouth’s Hadnock Road, beside the River Wye. I was no more than six or seven years of age when my parents would take me walking on summer days up through the dense woods towards a hilltop clearing near Staunton. This provided a splendid panorama that my father would proclaim to be ‘the finest view in England’. My mother would then produce sandwiches and a flask of coffee from a wicker basket and we’d enjoy a simple but satisfying picnic. On more than one such occasion we caught sight of a deer wandering nearby and it was common to hear the mewing calls of buzzards circling high above. These were happy days indeed.

    The Long Stone, Staunton. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    A few years later I took to exploring a little deeper into the Forest. Together with a school-friend who, like me, paid scant regard to personal safety, I clambered over and around Staunton’s impressive Buckstone and Suckstone boulders, and then went on to edge precariously over disused railway bridges that crossed the River Wye. On one memorable occasion my chum and I decided to explore the damp and musty interior of a long-disused railway tunnel on the course of the Wye Valley Railway, but retreated hastily on finding the darkness virtually impenetrable. Still later, as a teenager, I was taken into a Forest coal mine near Coleford – this activity reinforcing my impression of the Forest as a somewhat dark and mysterious landscape, full of secret places.

    Within a few years I left Monmouth and its neighbouring Forest area, later settling in the picturesque North Cotswolds, on the other side of Gloucestershire. I never lost my love of the Forest, though, and often returned to explore unfamiliar parts of the district. By this time I’d begun writing books about the county and its folklore, discovering the Forest to be a rich source of material. As a schoolboy I’d occasionally overheard yarns about bears being killed in the Forest, and stories of ghosts and apparitions were far from uncommon. In more recent years numerous people have reported seeing big cats, such as leopards and panthers, in the Forest – some of these sightings being particularly credible. Within the past twenty years, too, a significant wild boar population has colonised the Forest, following escapes and illegal releases.

    Roman Temple remains at Lydney Park. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Subsequently finding that of the many outsiders who knew of the Forest’s existence, few knew much about the place, I decided to set about writing a book on the district. My intention was to produce an accessible history of the Forest of Dean, focussing especially on all the kinds of secret places that had fascinated me since childhood. In the course of my research and exploration of the wooded areas I encountered wild boar on several occasions, although not at close quarters. Apparently there are now around 1,000 of these animals roaming the woods and there is talk of them having to be culled. The big cats are much more elusive, although one doesn’t have to search hard to find someone who claims to have seen one. Indeed, a trusted personal friend of mine saw what he believed to be a panther or leopard on the edge of the Forest a few years ago. On reporting the incident to the local police he was met with shrugged shoulders and an assurance that his was one of many similar reports.  As for bear-killings, however, research revealed that the stories were indeed true – relating to an incident of 1889, when two muzzled and chained performing bears were killed at Ruardean by a mob from Cinderford. Fines followed, as did endless taunts of ‘who killed the bears?’

    The former Lea Bailey Gold Mine, Mitcheldean. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Included among the many lesser-known places described in Secret Forest of Dean are visible reminders of the many different peoples who have occupied the Forest through the centuries. There are Bronze Age standing stones, Iron Age hillforts and numerous signs of the Roman occupation – each of these sites possessing an air of mystery and secrecy. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Forest’s natural resources were being exploited on a grand scale, with coal and iron mines springing up all over the place. Mining was arduous and dangerous work, however, and loss of life was not uncommon. Several memorials to those who died can be seen in the Forest, although these are not always easy to locate.  Secret Forest of Dean will prove useful in this respect, too, describing and pinpointing these monuments. A rail network was created to service these industries, with tramways and railway lines criss-crossing the Forest and running down to the River Severn and River Wye.

    Dilke Railway Bridge, Cinderford. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Eventually, of course, the coal and minerals became exhausted and one by one the mines closed. The last of the big pits closed in the mid-1960s, almost all of the railways, too, closing over a similar period. Today there is little obvious evidence of these industries, although poignant and curious relics are there to be found by enthusiasts. A number of these old bridges, tunnels and former lines – which are described in Secret Forest of Dean – evoke a real sense of nostalgia and wistfulness. Fortunately, many of the Forest’s former railway track-beds and industrial sites have been imaginatively used to create cycle-ways, viewpoints and nature reserves. Today the district is a popular holiday destination for those wishing to explore the ancient Forest of Dean and neighbouring Wye Valley. Secret Forest of Dean is likely to appeal to holidaymakers and local residents alike. Caution is advised, though – reports of ghosts and apparitions, alien big cat sightings and ‘rampaging’ wild boar continue to circulate in what is undoubtedly a somewhat secret and mysterious part of Gloucestershire!

    Mark Turner's book Secret Forest of Dean is available for purchase now.

  • The Old Ways of Cumbria by Beth & Steve Pipe

    A book for nosey hikers

    Surely every hiker, at some point or another, has pondered about the path they’re treading. Who walked here before? Why is the path here? What’s that building for? It can’t just be me who is a fully paid up member of the nosey hikers club. Over the years we’ve walked thousands of miles and most of those miles involved one or the other of us noticing something of interest, so we decided to delve deeper into some of our favourite routes in Cumbria and put them together in a book.

    'The Cockpit' on Moor Divock. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    In my teens I never for one moment expected I’d ever write a history book. I didn’t enjoy history at school, I couldn’t see its relevance to me, and sitting in a classroom never really worked for me as a method of learning. But now I find that discovering local history gives me the chance to be Sherlock Holmes, piecing together bits of evidence from lots of different places to build a picture of what might have happened in the past.

    The original inspiration for this particular book came from another book; Wainwright’s ‘Old Roads of the Eastern Fells’, a largely forgotten about tome, which describes the history of the old trading and communication routes around the eastern fells of the Lake District. To help us cover the entire county we added a few longer routes of our own to explore – Hadrian’s Wall Path from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway (which we walked in a face melting heatwave), the Roman road from Penrith to Ravenglass (where, despite it being the middle of August, we were pelted with hail) and the Cistercian Way – a once incredibly popular route across the south of Cumbria which is now largely ignored.

    Carlisle Castle. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    But what exactly is a ‘nosey hiker’? Well, for me, it’s someone who has an interest in their surroundings and enjoys learning about who, or what, went before them. We nosey hikers can’t always remember all the exact names and dates when we don’t have a book in front of us, but we do love a good story, and perhaps learning a fascinating factoid that we can impress someone down the pub with later.

    Writing a book like this is an absolute pleasure as it combines many of my favourite things; hiking, researching, poking around a hillside looking for landmarks described in old books and, of course, being nosey.

    We go to a lot of trouble to get our facts straight too – here’s just one example.  In chapter 6 we explore the social routes around Martindale and, as often happens, I get drawn in to a particular nugget, in this case the naming of Chapel-in-the-Hause.  How and why did it get its name? Was there ever really a chapel there? Wainwright says so but can we prove it? There’s a building there but how do we know it was ever a chapel?

    Chapel-in-the-Hause. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    I started with a cursory search of the internet (not Wikipedia – but sites like British History Online) to see what they had to say.  Not a lot it seems, the site is described, but not evidenced. Then I notice how lots of sites have pretty much copied word for word what someone else has said. But that still doesn’t give me any proof. Now what? Next up is the local history society (Paterdale Today in this case, who were incredibly helpful). Then it’s time to delve into the library to see what they can turn up; still nothing definitive.

    After that it’s time to think laterally; if there was a church there then surely the Church of England would have a record of it? And, if not them, then perhaps the Quakers, or the Methodists, or the Catholics might know something? Then there were lots of emails, the occasional phone call and a trip down to London to spend time in Lambeth Palace Library to see what else I could find.

    Continuing my alternate line of thinking I even chatted to the nice folks at the Ordinance Survey to learn where they got their place names from and then spent hours poring over old maps to see when the name first appeared.

    Eventually I put everything together and came to a conclusion that I’m happy with. I’m not giving that away here, you’ll have to read the book to find out just what I discovered, plus there are plenty more stories like that in there too; perfect for nosey hikers everywhere.

    Beth & Steve Pipe's book The Old Ways of Cumbria is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Loughborough by Lynne Dyer

    The secret that is the town of Loughborough

    There’s nothing secret about Loughborough, now is there?! Everyone’s heard of it; everyone knows where it is; everyone knows what it’s famous for, and everyone knows who its famous inhabitants are - right? Err, well, possibly not!

    Welcome to Loughborough. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Wherever I get into conversation with people, whether while on holiday, or visiting other towns on day trips, talk often turns to the hometown. Seems not everyone does know that Loughborough is a landlocked market and university town, in the heart of the English Midlands, and that it’s the biggest town in the county of Leicestershire after Leicester itself. Some folk, however, have heard of the town through its university, a high hitter in many university league tables, and having a focus on sport, sports technology, and engineering, as well as other subjects.

    So, I thought this is where a book about secret Loughborough might just come in handy! Of course, with Loughborough itself being, if not a bit of a secret, then at least not very well-known, I found the challenge presented by writing a book about Loughborough’s secrets to be immense, as there was so much to share!

    Somehow, I had to have a starting point, and that turned out to be quite a difficult point to find!! When I began to think what some of Loughborough’s hidden secrets might actually be, I kept coming back to the idea of the hard and the easy quiz questions: if you don’t know the answer then surely the question is hard to answer, but if you do, then the answer is easy. And so it is with secrets: if you know about something then it is not a secret but if you don’t, then it probably is.

    The James Eadie affiliation. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Few of Loughborough’s secrets were actually created to be secrets, or meant to be secrets. Some knowledge about Loughborough’s story may have simply been lost in the passage of time, hence rather than being secrets they are more forgotten. Other secrets may be hidden because we take them for granted, perhaps walking past them every day.

    The question that was useful in helping me to decide what to include in the book was “why”. Of all the ‘W’ questions – ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘why?’, I think ‘why?’ is perhaps the one that requires the most research, but, paradoxically, can also leave many questions unanswered. The other useful question I asked was ‘how?’, which, again, led to some interesting discoveries.

    Following an introduction in which I unearthed some tantalising information about Loughborough, the book is divided into eight chapters that delve more deeply into Loughborough’s history. Firstly, my investigation focuses on some of the pub names that have appeared in the town down the years and what these mean, before revealing evidence of some forgotten brewery affiliations. In this first chapter I also discuss some of the street names in the town, including a group of newer ones which are located and linked to the nearby Beaumanor Hall, which was a ‘Y’ listening station during the Second World War. I reveal evidence of long-gone local iron founders who created physical street signs, like those for Freehold Street and Cobden Street.

    Shakespeare Street, once Loughborough's best-decorated street. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    In the next chapter I pull together some of the town’s history through its association with nature, be that birds like peacocks, ducks and swans; horses like Songster and Sunloch; trees like the horse chestnut on the Ashby Road or the cedar tree on the university campus, or Loughborough’s success in the annual ‘In bloom’ competition.

    One of the key messages I took away from the training I received to become an accredited Leicestershire Tour Guide was to consciously look at buildings for evidence of the history, but more specifically to look up beyond the usually modernised shop fronts when in a town or city. When leading people on guided walks around Loughborough, not only do I encourage people to look up, but also to look down, and indeed to look all around, as there are so many hints and nods to Loughborough’s history that we simply walk past or over every day without giving them a moments thought. In this chapter I delve into the meaning behind some of the plaques found on local buildings, and look at some of the murals and sculptures that adorn the town. Railings, old and new, that exist, practical, yet at the same time beautiful, are fascinating and I try to discover why they have been made and so placed.

    Welcome to Dishley, home of Robert Bakewell. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Hosiery was a very important industry in Loughborough, so I included a selection of names of hosiery firms in the book. Most have long since left the town, and their buildings been converted for other use: one of these, the factory of I & R Morley, is currently being redeveloped into flats. In addition to hosiery factories, iron founders and brickmakers, engineering and pharmaceutical companies have also been important in the development of the town. Perhaps Loughborough firms whose names are familiar to many include Ladybird Books and Taylors Bellfounders, both of which I include in the book.

    In the chapter on people who have some connection to Loughborough, I’ve highlighted a range of people from across the ages – including Henry VII and Robert Bakewell, John Skevington and Thomas Cook – and from across a range of areas – film and reality television stars and sports stars. In the chapter that follows I discuss groups of people and societies like Chartists and Luddites, and friendly societies like Oddfellows and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, oh, and a visit to the town by Buffalo Bill!

    Totem pole milepost, Woodbrook Way. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    At the beginning of this post I mentioned the university, and there is much more information in the book, including the history of the site, the history of the university, a bit about its new London campus, and a description of some of Loughborough’s other connections with London, much teased out from hidden clues.

    In the closing chapter I describe the Earl of Moira’s sale, which goes a long way to explain how the Loughborough of today developed. Burleigh Hall is discussed earlier in the book, but Garendon Hall is covered in this final chapter. After investigations into ghosts and fairies, gravestones and milestones, a signpost to the resources and knowledgeable volunteers at the Local and Family History Centre in the public library brings the book to a close.

    The book is peppered throughout with my own photographs of such curious things as street signs, commemorative plaques, drain covers and bricks, as well as the more expected ones of like sculptures, buildings, books and … fairy homes!

    My intention when writing this book was to tell the reader the history of Loughborough through some of its secrets. My consideration of what exactly to include in the book and what to leave out, and my detailed research of so many aspects of Loughborough’s history mean that I have plenty of material to write another couple of volumes in this series! Now I just need readers and if, of those readers, just one exclaims, whilst reading this book: “I didn’t know that!”, then I will have achieved what I set out to do.

    Lynne Dyer's book Secret Loughborough is available for purchase now.

  • Greenwich History Tour by David C. Ramzan

    A changing landscape through the passage of time

    Anyone standing on the south bank of the River Thames at Greenwich Reach will look out upon an area of regeneration and change. The Thames meanders its way eastwards from the Pool of London through Greenwich and beyond towards the English Channel. Looking in either direction you will gaze upon a once active river now devoid of ships, wharves and warehousing which once occupied this vast expanse of waterway and the embankments north and south.

    Lovells Wharf, where coal colliers once distributed their loads, demolished to make way for luxury apartments. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Having been born and raised in Greenwich during the time when the town was still a thriving mercantile and industrial community, as a youngster I lived and grew up close to the Thames when vessels from all around the globe would tie up at the wharves and warehouses situated along our stretch of the river. Merchant seamen from far off countries speaking many different languages, something of a rarity in those days, would frequent the many inns and public houses found nestling between riverside buildings or standing on the corners of streets consisting of row upon row of two up, two down, terraced houses, with no high-rise properties in sight. Within easy access to the river, the wharfs and barges were our adventure playgrounds of the time, where, on many occasions, my friends and I would be chased off by the London River Police patrolling our stretch of the river.

    Since those earlier times my home town has seen continual change and re-development throughout the past fifty years, the once busy riverside industries have now almost all gone, and much of the areas rich local mercantile and industrial history and heritage is gradually fading away.

    The Dome (O2 Arena), situated on Greenwich Marsh, once a centre of boat building, engineering and commercial manufacturing. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the Thames continues to be an important thoroughfare for river traffic, where occasionally tugs can be seen towing barges up and down stream, some of the few remaining working vessels still in operation. It is more likely the craft you will see today are the pleasure boats taking tourists on sightseeing trips with a guide pointing out places of interest along the way or perhaps the new fast, sleek, passenger ferries transporting commuters to their places of work in central London and back again at the working day’s end. Most of the wharfs and warehouses that once stood on the river’s edge are now long gone. A few which survived demolition by developers converted into apartments and offices, the rest flattened to make way for modern new-builds, hotels, restaurants and luxury dwellings.

    The Greenwich Hospital School, now the National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College, the landscape now dominated by London’s new financial centre at Canary wharf. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the most famous of landmarks remain, such as the old Royal Naval College, now the University of Greenwich; the National Maritime Museum, once a school for boy sailors and the Royal Observatory built on the site of a 15th century castle are just some of the main places of interest visited by thousands of tourists annually. Many of the historical landmarks and commercial and industrial buildings, which made the area famous throughout the world, can now only been viewed by way of old photographs printed in local history publications.

    In this modern era, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is also known for its marvels of modern technology and engineering. Such as the Millennium Dome located on the Greenwich Peninsular, the Thames Barrier stretching out across the Thames from New Charlton to Silvertown, and the London Docklands Light Railway running from the south under the river northwards emerging out to the Isle of Dogs and the busy financial centre Canary Wharf. At one time however, it was through astronomical and navigational discoveries, shipbuilding and industrial innovation which made Greenwich, situated directly on the Prime Meridian, predominant in the advancement of scientific technology and pioneering engineering.

    Deptford Creek, the tidal watercourse flowing between Greenwich and Deptford became an important source of power for a succession of mills previously located along the waterway. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    For over a thousand years, the area was the site of a thriving boat and ship building industry, from the construction of small river fishing boats up to the huge oak-built Men-of-War, trading vessels and ships of discovery and exploration, which sailed out across all the seas and oceans around the globe. However, there are few reminders, apart from some information boards positioned along the riverside walkway, of the areas industrious boat and shipbuilding industry which once stretched out from the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, through and around Greenwich and onwards to the Royal Dockyard of Woolwich.

    Greenwich Market entrance on Greenwich Church Street, the formal medieval quarter of Greenwich. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    In my two latest publications, A to Z of Greenwich and Greenwich History Tour, I have endeavoured to guide the reader around my hometown of Greenwich, not only to discover its most well known and most famous landmarks and buildings, but also the less well-known sites and hidden places of historical interest, and importance.

    Through an ever growing interest in local and family history during the past decade, thanks not only to popular historical television productions such as Time Team, Who Do You Think You Are, The Secret History of My Family and A House Through Time, but also through the many excellent local history publications readily available today. There has never been a better time than the present to discover and uncover the fascinating history of the places where you were born, lived or simply just visited, especially in changes which have taken place in the local landscape through the passage of time.

    David C. Ramzan's book Greenwich History Tour along with his previous book A-Z of Greenwich are available for purchase now.

  • Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars by David Welch

    I have been interested in the history of Armstrong Siddeley cars for many years and I was delighted when Amberley invited me to write a book about the marque.  I see it as a pocket primer, there have been much longer and more detailed books in the past but what I have tried to include in my largely non-technical book is the sort of thing I might tell a friend about the marque over a drink in a bar.  I imagined my potential reader as someone who wants to have a potted history of the cars produced by Armstrong Siddeley, or perhaps someone who had a relative who worked for the company and wanted to find out a little more.

    My Hurricane on display at Bamburgh Castle. Although it is by no means pristine help from more mechanically adept friends in the club has helped to return the car to reliable running order. It completed 870 miles in eleven days without missing a beat – deep joy. (Author's collection)

    I am gratified that so many Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club members have purchased the book and with these friends in mind I have used many previously unseen photographs, including a selection from the company photographic archive that is now in the care of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust.

    That is what is in the book, but there is so much more that can never be adequately described in the written word.  I returned from an eleven day motoring holiday in my red 1950 Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane, after taking part in the Armstrong Siddeley centenary celebrations.  Getting to the start at Bamburgh in Northumberland from my home in north London was simple.  Turn left out of the road where the car is garaged and feed onto the A1, proceed on the A1 for 320 miles and then turn right to Bamburgh.  A wonderful day’s driving with the top down – if I could bottle the pleasure I would be a rich man.

    This magnificent 5 litre Siddeley Special Six is back on the road after 30 years of restoration, now just the interior needs to be completed. It was one of four of these rare models, all with different coachwork, on display at Coventry, alongside a vast collection of other cars from almost every year that the company made cars. (Author's collection)

    Highlights of the holiday included meeting descendants of the first owner of my car, meeting a wonderful group of club members from Australia and, at the static show in Coventry that marked the culmination of the event, seeing a Thrupp and Maberly bodied Siddeley Special Six back on the road after a restoration that has taken 30 years so far.  That car would certainly have been in the book if it had been finished in time for me to take some photographs.  There were many other memorable moments that will ‘flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude’.

    Car shows are a great place to meet friends and enthusiasts, but for me there is at least as much pleasure to be gained from the journey to and from events.  I am currently looking forwards to taking my car to the Isle of Wight in September for two more car shows and a few days of gentle touring around the island.

    One unexpected result of the book was an invitation to give a talk about Armstrong Siddeley cars to the Society of Automobile Historians of Britain.

    A 1934 Siddeley Special Six by Burlington. (Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile I must get back to preparing the next issue of Siddeley Times, the journal of the Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust.  It is time consuming researching lesser known aspects of Armstrong Siddeley history, but endlessly fascinating to me and many other enthusiasts.

    When my father brought home a second hand A.S.Whitley to be the family’s everyday car in the late fifties I never imagined that the marque would turn into a lifelong hobby.  If you are contemplating entering the joyous world of classic car motoring then I would urge you to consider getting an Armstrong Siddeley, compared with many other classic cars they are marvellous value for money and the availability of spare parts from the club makes running such a car a surprisingly practical proposition.

    If you are already a member of the classic car fraternity then I wish you many happy miles of trouble free motoring in your chosen car – or cars if you have been deeply bitten by the bug.

    David Welch's book Armstrong Siddeley Motor Cars is available for purchase now.

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