Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Local History

  • Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire by David Paul

    Over the years many stories have been written and recounted concerning the visitation of the Plague, or Black Death, when it was inflicted upon the tiny Derbyshire Peak village of Eyam.  At that time the vicar of Eyam, as is well documented, was Rev. William Mompesson. However, it is the exploits of another of Eyam’s vicars that I have researched and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire. The story relates to a bizarre marriage that took place towards the latter part of the seventeenth century and is recounted as follows:

     

    The Parish Church of St Lawrence, Eyam. (Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One winter’s day in 1684 the Rector of Eyam, Rev’d Joseph Hunt, had been called to the Miners Arms to perform the office of baptism, as the landlord’s infant son had suddenly taken ill. Having baptised the child the landlord, Mr Matthew Fearns, invited the rector to stay and enjoy a drink or two with some of the village’s miners who were sat in the bar enjoying a well-earned couple of pints at the end of a long week. The rector took the landlord at his word, and enjoyed his hospitality and the company of the miners until he became totally inebriated. Now, it was well-known in the village, especially amongst the miners in the community, that the landlord had a very charming and beautiful daughter, Ann, who, at the tender age of 18, was destined to break many hearts. Before very long Rev’d Hunt was seen entering into flirtatious conversation with the young woman. As is often the case when large quantities of ale are consumed, one thing led to another and, ‘egged on’ by the miners, the rector, enjoying the prevailing mood and one or two drinks too many, agreed to participate in a mock wedding with the publican’s daughter. The miners had little trust in the rector’s promise, so they insisted that he should honour his promise there and then. After imbibing in another glass or two, the rector consented to go ahead with the ceremony. Without further ado, one of the miners produced a Book of Common Prayer and promptly acted as officiant. He read through the whole of the solemn ceremony, with the young girl and the rector performing the roles of bride and groom respectively.

    News of the event quickly spread throughout the neighbourhood, and before very long the unfortunate act of theatre came to the notice of the Bishop of the Diocese. He had no hesitation in commanding the beleaguered rector to legitimise the mock wedding, declaring that he must fulfil in earnest what he had done in jest. Although Hunt was already engaged to another lady from Derby, he duly complied with this edict and legally married Miss Fearns (Furness) on 4th September 1684. This action had unfortunate consequences, as the lady from Derby, who was very wealthy, took out an action for breach of promise against him. Many of Hunt’s subsequent years were occupied in legal proceedings. The legal expenses alone ensured that he lost what little money he had, but the stigma of his actions soon lost him his friends in the village, whilst the reality of his actions meant that he was continually harassed by the officers of the law.

    Desperate to escape from the multitude of pressures which were besetting him, Hunt, together with his new bride, took refuge in the vestry which, supposedly, had been built for the specific purpose of providing him with a place of refuge from his enemies. He dwelt in the vestry, together with his wife and nine children, until his death. In later years he was characterised as being of a very friendly disposition, with young people from the parish visiting him in his abode, where they would sit round the fire telling tales to while away the dreary winter nights.

    Rev’d Joseph Hunt was Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709.  He resided in his makeshift dwelling until his death. There is a tombstone in a corner of the churchyard which records his death and the death of his wife. It simply states that of Rev’d Joseph Hunt, Rector of Eyam, was buried on 16th December 1709 and Ann, his wife, was buried on 18th December 1703.

     

    There are many other strange and incredible stories, garnered from numerous sources across the county, and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire.

    David Paul's book Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Broadstairs by Andy Bull

    The untold story of the lady who inspired David Copperfield’s aunt, Betsy Trotwood.

    Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical story of David Copperfield has proved a timeless classic, and is gaining new admirers through Armando Iannucci’s 2019 film version.

    Aunt Betsy chasing donkeys off the green in an illustration for the American edition of David Copperfield. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    A central character in the story is David’s eccentric aunt, Betsy Trotwood. A key comic scene in both book and film is that in which she chases donkeys off the green in front of her home.

    Aunt Betsy was based on a formidable lady Dickens came to know during his annual summer stays at Broadstairs. That lady was Mary Pearson Strong and, while her connection with the character is well known in the town and where her former home houses the Dickens Museum, I discovered a fascinating untold story about Miss Strong while researching my new book, Secret Broadstairs.

    It involves a long-forgotten legacy which means that Mary, who was a hugely public-spirited character and did a great deal to help the people of Broadstairs, is still benefiting the town’s children and elderly today, 165 years after her death.

    Here is the story I uncovered.

    Mary Pearson Strong’s home, now the Dickens Museum. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    Mary Pearson Strong was a member of the wealthy Strong’s brewing family from Hampshire. She had a sister, Ann, and while Mary remained single – like her fictional counterpart – Ann married Stephen Nuckell in 1799.

    Stephen owned the cottage in which Miss Strong lived, and several adjoining buildings in what was then called Nuckell’s Place. He also owned the land running down to the cliff edge, which is now an enclosed garden. It was from this spot that Betsy (and Miss Strong) tried to ban donkeys.

    Stephen Nuckell was a prominent figure in Broadstairs, running Nuckell’s Library and the town’s Assembly Rooms, which stood at the western end of Nuckell’s Place (now Victoria Parade) where the Charles Dickens Inn is today. Mary, Ann and Stephen share a tomb in St Peter’s churchyard.

    The green from which Mary Pearson Strong chased donkeys. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen Nuckell’s death, in 1834, coincided with a change in the law regarding provision for the poor. The occupants of the town’s workhouse, in the High Street in the St Peter’s area of town, were moved to another facility at nearby Minster-in-Thanet, and the building put up for sale. It was bought by Stephen’s widow and named Nuckell’s Almshouse in his memory. In 1838 she paid £700 for the building and a further £100 converting it from what had been a grim and forbidding place into pleasant homes for ten poor, elderly widows.

    This pattern of charitable giving continued in the wills of Mary Pearson Strong and Ann, in which they both endowed charitable institutions that still exist in Broadstairs to this day.

    Delving into documents including a Board of Education report on endowments for the years 1853 to 1894, I discovered the details.

    Nuckell’s Almshouse, which still benefits from a bequest by Mary Pearson Strong. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    When Ann died, in 1843, her will left instructions that, upon her sister Mary Pearson Strong’s death, the sum of £5,000 should be invested and the income used to support or establish three schools in Broadstairs: an infants’, a girls’ and a boys’ school. The money was expressly to be used ‘for the purpose of educating the children of the poor in religious and useful knowledge ... and towards the clothing [of] such children of the said schools’, and to help them become ‘good and profitable servants and labourers’.

    Ann left it up to the vicar of St Peter’s, John Hodgson, to decide exactly where and how the money should be spent. He divided the income in equal proportions among the six schools built during his incumbency in the parish of St. Peter.

    When Mary Pearson Strong died, in 1855, her will left money for the improvement of St Peter’s Church and ‘for the benefit of the Girls’ School at St. Peter’s ... and of the inmates or any of them in Nuckell’s Almshouse’. Shortly afterwards, in 1858, Nuckell’s Almshouse was radically rebuilt, creating the grand Palladian-style Grade II-listed building to be seen today, with its niche holding a sculpture of a mother and children, representing Charity.

    The inscription on Mary Pearson Strong’s grave, urging charity. (Secret Broadstairs, Amberley Publishing)

    John Wood, clerk to the trustees of Nuckell’s Almshouse, confirms: ‘Together with a few others, Nuckell’s Almshouse benefits from a small charity of Mary Pearson Strong. I understand that Miss Strong also paid for a girls’ school to be added to St. Peter’s Infants school in the village ... Nuckell’s Almshouse still houses “poor” people. The building is now arranged in six self-contained flats – one two-bedroomed and five with one bedroom. The residents help towards the upkeep of the premises by paying a weekly maintenance contribution.’

    Charities in the names of Mary Pearson Strong and Nuckell’s Almshouse still exist. The charitable object of the Mary Pearson Strong endowment, as the current Charity Commission listing makes clear, is little changed. It is to provide: ‘Almshouses for poor persons of good character who are members of the Church of England and who have resided in the Isle of Thanet for not less than seven years ... with preference to persons who have so resided in the ancient parish of St Peter.’ It is linked with the Nuckell’s Almshouse charity.

    Mary’s inscription on the family tomb in St Peter’s churchyard reads: ‘Give alms of such things as ye have’. Ann’s inscription records that she died ‘bequeathing large sums to pious and charitable uses in this parish. Founder of Nuckell’s Almshouse’. Inflation has eaten away at Mary Pearson Strong’s endowment and, says Mr Wood, the charity now receives just £19 per year from this source.

    Andy Bull's book Secret Broadstairs is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Glasgow by Michael Meighan

    On Glasgow's Dear Green Place

    Since long before Glasgow's George Square became our main civic centre, Glasgow Green has been a place for rallies, concerts, rowing regattas, athletics, football, and even soapbox races. It was here too that the Glasgow Fair was held after being moved from the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral in the 1800's. A stone also commemorates the place where, in 1765, James Watt was said to have come up with his ideas for a condenser for the steam engine so starting the age of steam.

    The River Clyde at Glasgow Green. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

    As a child, I was taken by the hand by my father round the People's Palace. The Palace at that time, like many museums, was a dusty mausoleum of stuffy old artefacts locked up in glass cases. The museum now reflects Glasgow's social and industrial past in interactive and very interesting exhibits - Glasgow in wartime, the cinema, Red Clydeside and fashion.

    The Winter Gardens with their extensively glazed panels and foliage draped paths make this a delight to walk or sit in. I wonder what the air quality might have been like when it was built. While it is set in the expansive Glasgow Green it would still have been in the middle of one of Glasgow's busiest and dirtiest areas. Now though, 100 years after its opening, the Palace was given a new lease of life with a £1.2 million refurbishment and this gives us the space for the new café. With a redeveloped Green and against the backdrop of the Doge's Palace and with the newly restored Doulton Fountain, it is a joy to visit.

    The People's Palace and the Doulton Fountain. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

    There can hardly be a Glaswegian who doesn't know about Templeton's carpet factory on the Green. James Templeton, its founder, was a Highlander from Campbeltown in Argyll, who along with many thousands of his ilk, left the poverty of the Highlands to find fame and fortune in Glasgow.

    By the time he was 27 James had set up a business in Paisley making shawls and with William Quiglay worked on a patent for the machinery for 'a new and improved mode of manufacturing silk, woollen, cotton and linen fabrics'. Buying out Quiglay he was joined by his brothers-in-law and moved to King Street in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow to expand his business. Production started in 1839 and by 1851 the company was employing 400 people. By the start of the First World War it was reputed to be the biggest carpet manufacturer in the United Kingdom. By the 1950s it was Glasgow's biggest employer with 7000 workers in this and other mills in the area.

    Templeton Building modelled on the 'Doge's Palace' in Venice. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

    It is said that the nearby residents in Monteith Row, which was then a very desirable area objected to Templeton's building plans for a new factory a number of times so he was forced to come up with a dramatic design which would guarantee acceptance. He recruited architect William Leiper who emulated the Doge's Palace in Venice to produce what must be one of the most unusual industrial buildings in Europe. Leiper is also known for Glasgow's Gothic Dowanhill Church, now home of the Cottier Theatre. The design of the factory also guaranteed its listing and survival as a business centre. Its opening in 1889 was tinged with sadness as soon after a freak gust of wind combined with alleged bad building work caused a partial collapse of a the main facade killing 29 workers. It was rebuilt and re-opened in 1891.

    At the end of the 1960s, the Guthrie Corporation, a rubber plantation owner, was looking for a foothold in the British flooring market. They succeeded with a takeover of Templeton's in 1969. Guthrie was ambitious and in 1980 they acquired a £1.5M stake in Stoddards. It subsequently closed down the Templeton factory and transferred production to the Stoddard mill in Elderslie.

    Following a takeover and then closure of Templeton, the redundant building was re-opened as a business centre in the 1980's with architect James Anderson winning the Regeneration of Scotland Design Awards. It now also houses a popular micro brewery, restaurant and bar, West On The Green. Highly recommended.

    West on the Green in the Templeton Building. (Author's collection, A-Z of Glasgow, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the area round Glasgow was sacked by Vikings from their Kingdom of Dublin in the ninth century, it was generally of little interest to invaders. For much of its early years it was simply a fishing village on a crossroads. Even Prince Charles didn’t bother. The Green at Christmas 1745, on his way back from an abortive attempt at invading England, his army camped on what is now part of Glasgow Green, Flesher’s Haugh. Charlie demanded that the city ‘donate’ £15,000 to his campaign as well as provisions, clothing and footwear.

    Glasgow had been doing rather well under the existing regime, and the Provost wrote back saying that as his citizens didn’t support the cause, he couldn’t help. He was actually more afraid of the reaction in the area than he was of the Jacobite army. A smaller contribution than asked for was given even as the citizens prepared to defend Glasgow against attack.

    While Charlie dined well with supporters his army made do with camping on the Green, some of them round the church of St Andrew's in the Square, just off the Green.

    Michael Meighan's book A-Z of Glasgow is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Dover by Jeff Howe

    Dover’s Quite Alright

    Dover holds a particular fascination for me. I don’t really know why, I don’t live there.  It’s just another run-down seaside town, suffering still from the effects of war-time bomb and shell damage, and population stagnation. Since then various economic impetuses have caused many buildings of monumental style and importance to be demolished; as recently as the 1990s, concrete pilings for ‘The White Cliffs Experience’, a new type of interactive visitor centre, were knowingly driven through part of a Roman fort. But to quote Jim Cairns, Mayor of Dover during WWII, “Dover’s quite alright…we are all very busy doing our jobs… we have our problems”, and Alderman Cairns’s words probably ring as true today as they did in 1942. Dover’s hustle and bustle is as busy as that of any other Kentish coastal town. So what makes this such an interesting place?

    Advert for 'The Magic Flute' featuring Esme Atherden and her future husband, Walter Hyde, 1899. (c. The Era, Secret Dover, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, there is the Iron Age hill fort that is the site of Dover Castle, the Bronze Age boat discovered during a road building project, and the Western Heights which has the largest system of 19th century fortifications in this country. But for me it’s the little things about Dover that make it such a fascinating place. For example, the Flat Earth Society was founded here in 1956. Also, there was once a defensive military canal where today container trucks thunders along the town’s main road, much shorter, but with the same purpose of defending against Napoleon’s hoards, just like the impressive Royal Military Canal at Hythe just along the coast.

    More recently, Walter Hyde, the prolific Wagnerian tenor of the early 20th century sang at Dover Town Hall in 1904 and 05. He also married a local girl, Emma Atherden from the Pier District, an area now non-existent and once referred to as a slum. This was by the Western Docks and largely inhabited by mariners and their families, full of tumble-down houses, pubs and churches, where folk lived cheek-by-jowl.

    The effects of the flame barrage at Studland Bay, Dorset, 1940. (c. Flame Over Britain, Secret Dover, Amberley Publishing)

    In a February 1957 broadcast of The Goon Show Moriarty gives Neddie Seagoon the deeds to the English Channel with a proviso that Neddie insures it against fire. Luckily, Moriarty and Grytpype-Thynne also happen to be wandering insurance agents, and they sold Neddie a policy with a £48,000 payout should the Channel catch light, for just 18 shillings. I always wondered if The Goon Show had any idea that there was such a plan to set light to the Channel just 17 years earlier. In ‘Secret Dover’ you will find a photograph of the 1940 anti-invasion flame barrage. This consisted of a set of large oil tanks and a pump house secreted in a ditch on the Western Heights, their purpose was to set light to the surf had a German invasion force arrived. This would have been used in conjunction with other fixed defences, such as the ubiquitous pillboxes and wire entanglements on the beach to repel the invaders. I think this is a textbook case of fact being stranger than fiction! I found the photo of Dover’s flame barrage tanks on Facebook, posted by a Dover resident who watched them being removed in 1991. And I’m convinced that there are secreted in people’s lofts in Dover and every other town in this country, shoeboxes of old photos waiting to see the light of day again, and these will amaze us with once familiar vistas.

    The music-hall comedian Harold Montague who played the Promenade Pier in 1905.

    These more esoteric odds and ends form the basis of ‘Secret Dover’. 22,000 words about the harbour; the blitz; Matron Louisa Stewart, stalwart of the military hospital during the Great War; Harold Montague who sang his new song, “When Maud Put Her New Bathing Costume On” in the Promenade Pier Pavilion around 1905; roof repairs to the Castle’s keep, and much more.

    I’ve been picking old Dover apart for approaching 30 years, and I think ‘Secret Dover’ is a culmination of my favourite bits, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop now. I mean, think about it; who else is going to uncover the intricacies of Maximillian Ball’s 18th century ‘Britannia Coffee House’, decipher Jatt Church’s last will and testament (he was Clerk of the Cheque of Dover Harbour, and died in 1808) and get to grips with Archcliffe Fort? After nearly three decades there’s still much to fascinate.

    I think Jimmy Cairns had a point.  Dover is quite alright.

    Jeff Howe's book Secret Dover is available for purchase now.

  • Scotland Remembered by Michael Meighan

    Scotland's Viking Past

    It is well known that from the 8th to the 15th centuries, Vikings – the name given to Scandinavians – raided, colonised and enslaved much of the islands surrounding the north and west of Scotland as well as Caithness and Sutherland. This included Orkney and Shetland, the Hebrides and the islands of the Clyde Estuary.

    Viking Longship in Shetland - waiting to be burned. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    Very recently, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula a rare Viking burial was discovered in which a warrior was buried in a boat along with his decorated weapons. However, there are few solid remains of Viking Scotland but it is well remembered in place names and in language, particularly of Orkney and Shetland. In Shetland the yearly Up Helly Aa winter festivals commemorate Viking days and end with the ceremonial burning of a Viking Longboat.

    There are records showing that Scandinavians had been raiding along the coasts of the British Isles from the 8th century and that settlements may have begun soon after this. In fact it was resistance to the Vikings that resulted in the joining of tribes to form the kingdom of Alba under Kenneth Macalpin in 843.

    Hogback stones in Govan Old Church. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    Following the sacking of Dumbarton Castle (then Alt Clut) in 878, Govan, now in Glasgow became a major town in their new kingdom – Strathclyde.

    Govan as the centre of the Viking estate is marked by the Govan stones held in Govan Old Parish Church in Glasgow. The most important is a sarcophagus that was found during excavations in 1855. This may contain the remains of Saint Constantine although the carvings are thought to be much later.  The stones are some of Scotland's earliest Christian carvings and include unusual Viking 'Hogback' stones. It is well worth a trip to the Govan Stones visitor centre there. It really is a most beautiful church and new finds continue to be made there and this is helping us re-assess the Scandinavian influence on Scotland

     

    The Battle of Largs 1263

    ‘The Pencil’ marking the Battle of Largs in 1263. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    While the western seaboard of Scotland had been under Norwegian sovereignty for many years, the Scots had tried to purchase the lands but this had been rebuffed. The Scots then tried to take the lands by force so King Haakon set sail from Norway with a massive fleet to re-assert control.

    On the night of 30 September, 1263, the ships of King Haakon, which were occupying the Firth of Clyde were driven ashore in stormy weather near Largs. On the 2 October a Scottish army commanded by the High Steward of Scotland, Alexander of Dundonald arrived to confront the Vikings. A battle broke out on the beach. After hours of skirmishing the Norwegians were able to re-board their boats, sailing North to Orkney to over-winter.

    It was here that King Haakon took ill and died. His successor Magnus Haakonarson, King of Norway agreed with Alexander III of Scotland in the Treaty of Perth to lease the Viking occupied western shores of Scotland for a yearly sum. This fell through with Norway's civil wars and Scotland simply occupied the west. However, the control of Orkney and Shetland was ceded to Norway, so while the Scandinavian influence diminished in the West of Scotland it was to continue in the Northern Isles and to this day many in the Northern Isles do think of themselves as Scandinavians.

    The Battle of Largs is remembered by 'The Pencil' a tower on Craig Walk on the shore at Largs. The Pencil Walk takes you 2km from Largs to the monument and it is a fine place for a picnic. Each Autumn at the Largs Viking Festival, there is a re-enactment of the battle, held beside The Pencil.

    While you are in Largs you might also like to take the short ferry trip to the delightful island of Cumbrae that is brilliant for both easy walking and cycling.

    Michael Meighan's book Scotland Remembered 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.

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