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  • John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

    What makes a sparkling and successful career? What makes for a life that history will record? How about the brilliant lawyer who becomes Lord Chancellor of England? What about the outstanding academic who become Chancellor of Oxford University? What about the committed cleric who becomes Archbishop of Canterbury? What about the able politician who becomes the adviser of kings? Each one of these would be a highly creditable achievement in anyone’s lifetime but in John Morton they are combined in the lifetime of one man. It is an outstanding achievement. And this is not all, Morton also managed to oversee building and construction projects on a remarkable scale, and finance the publication of a book which contained the first printed music in England.

    The Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury Catherdral, funded by John Morton. (c. Tony Bates under Creative Commons, John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors, Amberley Publishing)

    However, life did not always go his own way. Morton was accused of treason twice – and imprisoned in the Tower of London – from whence he escaped. He lived in penurious exile twice – once for a period of ten years. However, in his mid-sixties he became the chief and most trusted counsellor of a new king – a king with a tenuous claim to the throne but who through Morton’s advice, survived and established a new dynasty.

    Yet this man is unknown to most, and even to students of the period he only gets a cursory glance or an incidental mention. His contribution of over fifty years to his country’s service is barely recognised. His career began at Oxford where his brilliance was rapidly noticed and led to him becoming a member of the court of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. However, in the political turmoil of what is known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’, he lost all when the Yorkists gained power and was forced into exile abroad. Following the death of Henry VI he was summoned back by Edward IV and became one of his most trusted councillors. After his death, Morton was implacably opposed to the usurpation of Richard III and conspired against him throughout his short reign. Called back to England again, he then served Henry VII until his death in 1500. It was through his advice, in his roles as Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, that Henry safely navigated the challenges of his reign. This is a man who deserves to be retrieved from the shadows and credited for his singular role in the politics of the fifteenth century.

    Stuart Bradley's new book John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors is available for purchase now.

  • Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    One of the first things I had to do when planning Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest was to decide which women would be included in the book. I had to decide whether I would include as many as possible, with short biographies (which was pretty much how I had written Heroines of the Medieval World), or to write about fewer women, but with more in-depth biographies.

    Detail of the 'Ælfgyva and a certain cleric' scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. (c. Dennis Jarvis, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    In the end, it was a simple decision, to choose twelve of the more prominent women of the 11th century and dedicate a chapter to each one. Twelve chapters may not seem a lot, but it became evident early on in my research that I would have to include three general chapters, which told the story of the actual events before, during and after the Norman Conquest, and then tell the women’s stories and highlight their place in the wider events of the time.

    And so how to choose who to include?

    Some of the women were quite obvious choices; Harold II’s 20-year relationship with Edith Swanneck and subsequent marriage to Ealdgyth of Mercia were impossible to leave out, as was Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror. And if you were including the wives of two of the contenders, then it would be impossible to leave out the wives of Harald Hardrada, the third contender to the English throne in 1066. He was husband to both Elisiv of Kiev and Thora Thorbergsdottir.

    The stories of these five women formed the backbone of Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, but they were the easiest choices to include.

    Detail of a miniature of Queen Emma before an altar. (c. British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    Deciding to tell the story from the beginning of the 11th century onwards meant that the tale had to start with Emma of Normandy. Emma was the only woman to ever be crowned queen of England, twice; as the wife of, firstly, Æthelred II and, secondly, King Cnut. She was also the mother of two English kings; Harthacnut and the saintly king, Edward the Confessor. Emma’s story was the perfect place to start the story of the Norman Conquest; she was an integral part of the politics and government of the first half of the 11th century.

    A woman who may, at first, to appear to be an anomaly to the story of 1066 is Lady Godiva. Her tale is more fiction and legend than fact, but she serves to demonstrate how history can be shrouded in the mists of these legends. While Lady Godiva almost certainly did not ride through Coventry naked, she did exist and was a powerful benefactor of the church, as well as being the matriarch of the House of Mercia, from which King Harold’s wide, Ealdgyth, came – Godiva was her grandmother.

    Another lady who could not be left out comes towards the end of the 1066 story: St Margaret. As one of the last survivors of the Anglo-Saxon royal house, Margaret, was a great marriage prize. And, although her preference was for a life dedicated to God, she married Malcom III Canmor, king of Scots and it is through her daughter, Edith – later known as Matilda – and her marriage to King Henry I, that the blood of the Saxon royal family once again sat on the English throne.

    The final chapter is dedicated to a mysterious woman known as Ælfgyva. One of only three women to appear in the Bayeux Tapestry, Ælfgyva’s identity remains a mystery, though there are many theories….

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest is available for purchase now.

  • Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' by Heather R. Darsie

    The final stop on the 'Anna, Duchess of Cleves' Blog Tour

    Back in 2012, my interest in Henry VIII and his six wives was awakened, so I began reading any book I could get my hands on about these women. Whenever I read anything about Anna of Cleves, I always felt that her story was somehow incomplete. In summer 2015, I decided to start researching her life and thought I should write a biography about her if I found anything interesting. Needless to say, I think I did.

    Anna of Cleves. After Barthel Bruyn. c.1560s–1570s. (Courtesy of the President and Fellows of St John’s College, Oxford - Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister', Amberley Publishing)

    While completing my BA in German Languages and Literature, I took several courses on German history. These courses familiarised me with the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Charles V, when Anna was alive. I thought more about how in every English language book, she was called ‘Anne of Cleves’. I suspected her given name was Anna, and began plotting the course which my research would take into German sources.

    Having developed research skills while pursuing my Juris Doctorate, I knew I had to go straight to the original sources. I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Cleves in August 2015. He very kindly forwarded my letter to the Swan Castle in Cleves, who sent me a great deal of information and referred me to the proper archives. By Jove, this woman was indeed named Anna, and there was a lot more to her life than what has been believed for hundreds of years.

    Anna’s life and experiences from the German perspective are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. That is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that looking at the German sources helps to make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539.

    It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers.

    Throughout, I refer to Germany, Germans, and the German language. My use of ‘Germany’ refers to German-speaking Central Europe under the Holy Roman Empire. By ‘Germans’, I mean those living in the area that constitutes present-day Germany. I use the term ‘German language’ to describe the various Germanic dialects that were spoken in that area.

    To frame Anna’s life as a German woman, I chose to use the German, non-Anglicised, non-Gallicised names for Anna and her immediate family. I have used the umlaut in German place names as a gentle reminder of the Germanic perspective of the book.

    Heather R. Darsie's new book Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' is available for purchase now.

     

    Blog Tour Direct Links:

    8th April - www.queenanneboleyn.com/2019/04/08/interview-heather-r-darsie-author-anna-duchess-cleves-kings-beloved-sister

    9th April - www.historyofroyalwomen.com/anne-of-cleves/anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister-book-tour-a-new-birthday-for-anna

    10th April - www.sarah-bryson.com/2019/04/10/book-tour-heather-r-darsie

    11th April - www.tudorsdynasty.com/what-was-the-frauenzimmer-guest-post

    12th April - www.melanievtaylor.co.uk/2019/04/12/an-interview-with-heather-darsie-author-of-anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister

    13th April - www.historytheinterestingbits.com/2019/04/13/guest-post-anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-r-darsie

    14th April - www.onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2019/04/14/anna-duchess-of-cleves-blog-tour

    15th April - www.susanhigginbotham.com/posts/guest-post-by-heather-r-darsie-when-anne-met-henry

    16th April - Lil's Vintage World - Review link to come

    17th April - www.authorherstorianparent.blogspot.com/2019/04/jeanne-dalbret-heather-darsies-anna-of.html

    18th April - www.henrytudorsociety.com/2019/04/18/who-were-the-landsknechte

    19th April - www.ladyjanegrey.info/?p=14993

    20th April - www.medievalarchives.com/2019/04/20/anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-darise

    21st April - www.maidensandmanuscripts.com/2019/04/21/my-adventures-with-the-duchess-of-cleves

    22nd April - www.samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-charming-side-of-charles-v.html

    23rd April - www.laurenmackay.co.uk/blog/guest-article-by-heather-darsie

  • Secret Hereford by David Phelps

    Seven secrets of Hereford

    The Rothewas Ribbon, a mysterious and now buried ancient discovery. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Rotherwas Ribbon

    It seems likely that Herefordshire was an important pre-Roman settlement area, given the large number of hill-forts. This was confirmed in 2006 when, in preparation for a new road, archaeologists discovered, just to the south of the city, a mysterious Neolithic structure made up of a single layer of stones, fire cracked (heated and then dropped into cold water to shatter, the earliest known example of this practice) and laid in a sinuous series of curves up a hill. They were interspersed with quartz pebbles so that, in sunlight, the ribbon would have glinted like a large white snake and, in the moonlight, it would have glowed as if the nearby river Wye was climbing up the hill.

    Despite the Ribbon’s unique status, Herefordshire Council was determined to go ahead with the road and it was covered by tarmac.

     

     

    The Saxon Wall

    Hereford was a border town and, in the early ninth century, faced dangers from both the Welsh and Viking raiders. Aethelflaed, Alfred the Great’s daughter, set about making Hereford defensible, with strong stone walls behind which the county’s inhabitants could retreat. Over time, as danger seemed less likely, they fell into disrepair, only to be quickly repaired when a new threat appeared. However the original Saxon stone walls can still be seen, behind a block of flats, the only Saxon stone defences currently openly visible in England.

    Hereford Cathedral is still the most substantial building in the city. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Hereford Cathedral

    Hereford is where it is for two reasons. First was its strategic position at a major ford over the river Wye and the second that the Early Church decided that it would be a good place for the centre of a diocese, probably sometime in the middle of the seventh century. The first, wooden, building was burnt down by the Welsh in 1055 and re-built by the Normans in stone. It was enlarged over the following centuries whenever the cathedral came into a bit of money and so is a fascinating mixture of architectural styles.

    It was not always as we see it today, but once had two towers and a spire. Unfortunately, on Easter Monday 1786, the West Tower collapsed and, during a subsequent survey, it was found that the spire on the Central Tower was unsafe and had to be taken down and was never replaced. This was a time when the diocese did not have access to a lot of money and it took many years for a shorter and more modest West Front to be built.

    The Preaching Cross

    Dominicans, called Black Friars from the colour of their robes, arrived in Hereford in 1246, but were not popular with the Bishop or the already established Gray Friars, who saw them as competition. After a certain amount of violence the Dominicans were allowed to build a priory to the north of the City which gradually became a major institution, but suffered the fate of all such religious bodies on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and privatised. It eventually became an almshouse for old soldiers, which might be the model for Chelsea Hospital, on the instigation of that most famous of Herefordians, Nell Gwyn.

    The most substantial reminder of the Dominicans is the Preaching Cross, now tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city in a quiet park, and the only surviving example of a friars’ preaching cross left in England.

    The Black Lion, the oldest pub in Hereford. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Black Lion

    Built in 1575, it is the oldest surviving pub of Hereford. Naturally it is also considered the most haunted. Fourteen separate ghosts have been identified. The epicentre of the hauntings is the upstairs Painted Room, which contains Elizabethan depictions of the dangers of breaking the Ten Commandments as well as unexplained footsteps and noises. The story goes that the building was once an orphanage and one of the ghosts is that of a small girl that the pub staff have christened Alice. More threatening is the ghost of a man in a hat, who has been known to tap customers on the shoulder.

    The Market Hall

    Set in the very centre of Hereford, it was described by a visitor in 1642 as the stateliest in the kingdom. Built in 1576 when Hereford had a reputation for fine woodcarving, it had three storeys and was supported by twenty seven walnut pillars. The first floor was for the city magistrates, the top for meeting rooms for the fourteen guilds of the city and the open ground floor provided space for a market. By the middle of the eighteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and the decision was taken to remove the upper floor as a cost saving measure but no one liked the result and, in 1861, the whole building was demolished. Nowadays that would be considered a piece of short sighted vandalism.

    The original Nelson's Column, raised thirty years before they built one in London. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Nelson’s Column

    When Admiral Nelson visited the city in 1802 the populace regarded him as the most important visitor since Charles I visited in the Civil War. Huge crowds turned out to watch him leave the house in Broad Street where he had been staying. Naturally there was severe shock when news reached the city three years later that he had been killed at the battle of Trafalgar.

    A public subscription raised money to build a memorial in the Castle Green, but unfortunately the money did not run to a statue as was originally planned and the column was surmounted by a simple urn. Still it did mean Hereford had a Nelson’s Column thirty years before the one in London. Until the middle of the nineteenth century a muffled bell peal was rung by the city churches every year to mark the anniversary of Nelson’s death.

    David Phelps's new book Secret Hereford is available for purchase now.

  • Holiday Trains by Greg Morse

    I’m on a train, a train heading in the wrong direction. It’s heading in the wrong direction because it’s taking me to work. I got on at Swindon with the same faces I see every day – plus a few new ones (who, as all commuters know, have no right to be there – at least not in ‘your’ seat) – and now I’m trying to write to you. I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, and my pen is bouncing all over the page as the wheels bounce over points and joints and goodness knows what. My fellow travellers tuck in to muffins and pastries, sip their lattes, read their papers and prod their phones. It’s February, and it’s quieter this morning as many are joining their children on their half-term holidays. Their absences mean the cloud of yoghurt-breath, BO and flatulence is smaller than on some days, the chances of being trampled or tripped up just a little bit less. These peccadillos matter far more than they should, but it is alas the way of things when using trains to facilitate the daily grind.

    GWR families wait in line at Swindon to board the trains for Trip Week, c. 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Cornwall. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    As my train powers on to Paddington, I start to think about my return this evening, but muse more on the prospect of heading the ‘right way’ in the mornings too. Not to Bath or Bristol, but a little bit further to Weston-Super-Mare – a seaside town, and well known and loved by me since childhood. During that wonderful Whitsun week, there would be endless ice creams on the Grand Pier, endless sandcastles, countless visits to the old Model Railway. There would often be a train ride too – a day trip to Bristol behind a chugging diesel (a Class 33, for those – like me – who like to know such things). How wonderful it all was! But how wonderful too it must have been to have gone to Weston in the days of steam, waiting on the platform with raincoats over suitcases, buckets, spades and all the paraphernalia of the traditional British holiday. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way: when Swindon had a railway works, Weston – along with Tenby, Torquay, St Ives, Weymouth – was a favourite choice during ‘trip week’, during which thousands would down tools and leave the town virtually empty as trains took them away from it all for a short precious while.

    The prized destination for many once the railways had come: Anchor Head, in Weston-Super-Mare, c. 1910. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    Weston’s origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but it was the fashion for sea bathing – sampled by George III at Weymouth in 1789 – that set it on a course away from farming and fishing. Many of the first visitors came by coach from Bath and Bristol in numbers soon sufficient to warrant a hotel, Weston’s first opening in 1810.

    As with Brighton, at first there were objections, local landowners being somewhat wary of this still-new technology; so much so, that when Parliament granted the Bristol & Exeter Railway powers to build a line between those two cities on 19 May 1836, Brunel – the company’s engineer – was obliged to bypass the town some 1½ miles to the south. As work progressed on this important broad gauge route, however, there was a change of heart (although fears about ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ steam engines were such that when the first train arrived in the town on 14 June 1841, it was hauled by a team of horses).

    Brunel’s original station was a small affair in Regent Street, but when the branch was doubled in 1866, a new facility was opened on the other side of the road – conveniently doing away with a decidedly inconvenient level crossing. Though modified for mixed-gauge working in 1875, it was also in this year that powers were acquired to lay a four-mile standard-gauge loop into the town, allowing a Weston stop to be added to certain through services. By the time it opened on 1 March 1884, branches had been built to serve 14 more seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859). The railways were starting to become a key part of the nation’s holiday-making. Holiday Trains explains how that situation developed.

    Greg Morse's new book Holiday Trains is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southwark and Blackfriars by Kristina Bedford

    It was a great pleasure to spend the summer heatwave of 2018 photographing the ‘highways and by-ways’ of Southwark and Blackfriars for Amberley’s Secret local history Series, and discovering gems which lie behind façades I had casually passed by in the past, such as the massive Universal Testing Machine constructed by David Kirkcaldy in The Grove, Southwark.

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works. (Secret Southwark and Blackfriars, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works relocated to 99 Southwark Street in 1874, southeast of Blackfriars Bridge, where the machine may be viewed today in what is now Kirkcaldy’s Testing Museum.

    This pioneering firm assessed component parts to be used in the construction of London Bridges such Battersea and Hammersmith, the old Wembley Stadium in 1923, and Skylon, a steel “Vertical Feature” built on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which appeared to float above the ground with no perceptible means of support – like the post-war economy, according to a popular joke – dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who deemed it too expensive to re-erect elsewhere. The company’s protocols combined microscopic analysis with robust physical stress-testing, stretching and twisting materials to breaking-point to measure the forces entailed.

    It also contributed to inquisitions into accidents, such as the Tay Bridge disaster of 28 December 1879, when the first rail bridge across the Firth of Tay between Wormit in Fife and the city of Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing from the South during a fierce windstorm, leaving no survivors. David Kirkaldy was himself born in Dundee in 1820, and prior to his migration to Southwark worked for Robert Napier and Sons shipbuilding works between 1843 and 1861.

    A short distance eastward along Southwark Street stand two further examples of mid-Victorian buildings of industry, the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a vibrant arts complex) and the elegantly neo-classical Hop Exchange, both featured in Secret Southwark and Blackfriars.

    Kristina Bedford's new book Secret Southwark and Blackfriars is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Horsham by Eddy Greenfield

    A-Z of Horsham is not just another book on Horsham. It is not a bland visitor guide to the town, nor is it a gazetteer of familiar landmarks. Instead, it is a journey of discovery of the people and events behind these landmarks – sometimes shocking, sometimes amusing, but always fascinating (I hope!). I have aimed to dig beneath the surface to find the hidden, long-forgotten and lesser-known aspects of Horsham's long and diverse past. In fact, I was determined that A-Z of Horsham was not going to just re-tell the same old stories about the same old places that can be found in innumerable books you may find on the shelf. I was aiming to write a book that would be of equal interest to those who are already quite familiar with Horsham,  as well as those who know little of its past.

    St Mary the Virgin Church. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    With stories from the prehistoric Horshamosaurus to the spate of earthquakes in 2018, it was of course impossible to produce a definitive history of the town, but a peek at the contents will quickly alert the reader that they will be taken on a journey across many eras and many subjects. Some familiar town landmarks are mentioned, but the book is by no means an A-Z street atlas of what can be found where – the anecdotes about each one is perhaps not what the reader may at first expect. The Anchor Hotel is certainly an historic and prominent building, but the book actually tells the unusual tale of how it was the centre of several marathon feats of human endurance. Similarly, St. Mary's Church is not full of dates and numbers, but draws the reader to notice some of the less obvious features of the building that can be seen such as the twisted spire, grotesque corbel table carvings and even a stuffed owl!

     

    An ornate gatehouse at Christ's Hospital School. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    Christ's Hospital can be found as the entry for E (for Education) and uncovers tales of incidents during the school's construction rather than re-telling the histories of its famous scholars. O covers the Old Town Hall, but you are more likely to learn of a Victorian prank involving a horse cart and paving slabs, or how there almost came to be no town hall at all, rather than the mundane activities that took place within its walls. The former King's Head is the subject of Y, but the reader will actually be introduced to a series of cruel public auctions of seized property held there as opposed to a mere listing of patrons and landlords over the centuries.

    The most difficult thing about writing A-Z of Horsham (aside from trying to get clear photos amongst the crowds – often having to wait a considerable amount of time to quickly snap a photo, and getting many strange looks from passers-by!) was deciding what to write about. Many letters could have had multiple entries, and so it became a matter of deciding what to include in the space provided. As I acknowledge in the introductory chapter, many of the entries are worthy of an entire book in their own right, but I have attempted to give as much detail as possible on each entry. In some ways, this aided in ensuring I kept a strict focus on writing only about the more unusual aspects. I also opted to give over more space to one or two subjects that I personally found particularly interesting, intriguing or shocking and that I had not come across in any other book I have read on Horsham over the years. I hope that I managed to strike the right balance overall.

    The infamous St Leonard's Dragon in Horsham Park. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the many tales readers will come across in the book include the time Billingshurst villagers took matters into their own hands by ducking an abusive husband, how the Horsham town gaoler found himself accused of witchcraft, a smuggler accused of stealing his own horse, a Persian princess buried at St. Mary's Church, infamous prisoners held at the town's gaols, why the local Royal British Legion once had a swastika pennant, how the town struggled against the plague, the corruption that led to Horsham becoming a thoroughly rotten borough, an uprising of the town's poor in the 1830s, why children were forcibly taken under armed guard to Shipley, a plethora of notable visitors and foreign royals who visited Horsham, how Horsham seems to attract abnormally large hailstones, and several tales of the supernatural and UFO sightings.

    There are tales of plague and witchcraft, the famous and the infamous. Spies, internments and prison camps feature in several chapters. Weird weather, zany buildings and paranormal encounters are contrasted with political corruption, royal visits and wartime air raid incidents. With publication coinciding with the very first Horsham Year of Culture, there are stories that will surprise, shock and amuse, I hope that A-Z of Horsham will fascinate and intrigue the reader from start to end and perhaps lead to you start exploring what lies concealed behind the visible façade of this ancient town for yourself. One thing is for sure: once you have finished reading the book, you'll never look at Horsham the same way again!

    Eddy Greenfield's new book A-Z of Horsham is available for purchase now.

  • Norfolk's Military Heritage by Neil R. Storey

    September 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and after  five years of special events, exhibitions and projects to commemorate the First World War this book looks at the long military history of the county of Norfolk from its early fortifications and conflicts between the Iceni and the Roman occupiers right up to the end of the Second World War, hopefully there will be many stories and images that will be new to the reader, even if they have enjoyed studying local military history for many years. That's the enduring grip such a subject has on a historian, there is always something new to discover, even if you think you know a subject well.

    Iron Age fort at Warham, near Wells. (C. John Fielding, Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Norfolk is one of England's largest counties, it still has thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land and has had human settlements since the earliest times, along with their resulting conflicts. Add to this a coastline stretching nearly 100 miles from The Wash to Hopton-on-Sea with a number of natural harbours and navigable waterways and dear old Norfolk has been a target for raids and invasions down the centuries too. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Norfolk people have a natural propensity for standing up for themselves and what they believe is right. Famously, in ancient history the Iceni were led in battle by Queen Boudica in a campaign that almost drove the Roman occupiers out of the British Isles and that fighting spirit remains in the blood, mingled with that of the Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

     

     

    Castle Rising, built more as a symbol of power and status than a fortification, is surrounded by some of the most impressive earthworks in Britain. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    I wanted to show a variety of perspectives of the earliest fortifications, not just those visible at ground level and John Stevens kindly allowed me to use some of his brilliant aerial photographs of Norfolk's remarkable early fortifications such as the Warham 'Ring,' Burgh Castle and Castle Acre, and even took a few more especially for the book. Notably, during our exceptionally dry summer of 2018 the marks of the ancient roads buildings and walls of Venta Icenorum the Roman administrative centre that was established over the old Iceni settlement at Caister St Edmunds, had not been quite so clearly seen for years and having seen many of the old images of the site in black and white from when it was first discovered it was great to see them in colour at last.

    Norfolk people have risen in rebellion on numerous occasions against oppression and to defend their way of life, notably during the Peasant's Revolt in 1381 and Kett's Rebellion of 1549. Ultimately they faced forces that were larger and far better armed than them but rise they did and made their point.

     

    Members of the Norfolk Riflr Volunteers striking camp 1872. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    During the English Civil War despite being predominantly in favour of the Parliamentary cause both Royalists and Parliamentarians made their stands in the county and many Norfolk men joined Regiments that fought in some of the notable actions of the war around the country. Captain Robert Swallow raised the 'Maiden Troop'of Cromwell's Ironside cavalry in Norwich and ultimately Norfolk formed part of the Eastern Association which proved to be the backbone of the Parliamentarian forces by late 1644.

    Norfolk fighting men have demonstrated their steadfastness and courage in battle again and again, notably through two World Wars. Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks summed this up in his special introduction to the volume on The Royal Norfolk Regiment in the Famous Regiments series in which he said:

    'The Royal Norfolk Regiment has always been renowned for its steadfastness and reliability in difficult situations. In fact it is the sort of Regiment which all commanders like to have available in order to plug a difficult gap. This staunchness has been developed over the years, for wherever the fighting was fiercest, climatic conditions most vile and the odds against victory most daunting, the 9th Foot was sure to be there.'

    The unveiling of the Thetford War Memorial by Major General Sir Charles Townshend on 4 December 1921. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    This spirit is also reflected through the service of Norfolk personnel in the Royal Navy, in the Royal Air Force and even among those on the home front through dark times, danger and disaster.  The veterans many of us knew from the First World War are now all gone and sadly those who answered the call on both the home front and on active service during the Second World War are fading away too. I hope, in some small way, this book will encourage new generations to appreciate their experiences and sacrifices and will provide inspiration and a good starting point for future research.

    Norfolk has been the scene of riots, rebellions, sieges and military actions over past centuries and the landscape is dotted with earthworks, defences, moats, fortified manor houses and latterly pillboxes and other fixed defences from the First and the Second World Wars. Some of these are now long gone, others are ruins and some remain remarkable bastions to this day. This book does not attempt to be encyclopaedic but I hope it will highlight some of the most interesting places and inspire a visit to those open to the public. Above all I hope it will introduce the story of our local regiments and our military past to anyone with a budding interest in the subject be they Norfolk born and bred, resident or visitor and deepen their appreciation of Norfolk's rich military heritage.

    Neil R. Storey's new book Norfolk's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Now That's What I Call Preston by Keith Johnson

    My latest book 'Now That's What I Call Preston' covers the period from the dawn of the 1960s to the dawn of 1990, a time that helped to shape the Preston of today.

    Bus stops and shelters dotted around town were the order of the day before the central bus station was built. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period that began in the midst of redevelopment with slum clearance and home building well underway. Social attitudes were changing and great strides were being taken in industry, commerce, education, and the retail trade. It is book of pictures and paragraphs reflecting life in an ever growing town enabling the reader to cherish the memories and moments of those decades.

    To some this nostalgic journey might begin with a recollection of a stroll down Stoneygate as they built high rise apartments upon Avenham, or when the bulldozers moved in to finally demolish the old Town Hall, or perhaps when your mum took you to town to buy vegetables on the covered market, or to visit the butchers' shops on a busy, bustling Orchard Street.

    Tall cranes stand out on the skyline as the Avenham high-rise apartments take shape. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Others might clearly remember those rainy days on the old Ribble Bus station with its leaky corrugated roof, or recall the opening days of the new Central Bus Station on Tithebarn Street that became an award winning monument to Brutalist architecture. Whilst for some the cherished moments might have been on the dance floor of the Top Rank, or the Piper night club. Others may yearn for the days of the steam engines when a smokey, grimy scene greeted you on Preston railway station where trainspotters gathered during school holidays.

    It is true to say that when 1960 dawned it was a time for transformation with old buildings bulldozed into oblivion and new structures soon standing tall. The Victorian Town Hall, the old Ribble bus station, an old church or two, old ale houses, old cinemas and theatres, many a corner shop and endless rows of cobbled streets being swept away in the name of progress.

    Words of the planners talking of high rise apartment, office blocks and sprawling shopping centres filled the air, and then they became a reality. A period when traffic free zones, ring roads and motorways were planned and came to fruition. Whilst the transportation of people and goods came on in leaps and bounds on road and rail.

    Diesel locomotive Class 40 No. 40192 stands on platform 6 next to Butler Street in 1981. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 'swinging sixties' Preston was striving towards a glorious Guild celebration that would reflect the attitude of the positive, proud people of Preston. That event kept the ancient traditions alive with pomp, pageantry and processions and provided a fair share of fun and frolics. Many of us proud to parade the streets in procession, or to just stand and stare.

    The increase in leisure time made the pursuit of pleasure more intense. For some the discotheque took preference over the dance hall and public houses could no longer provide just beer and skittles. Some old and familiar places of entertainment were disappearing, whilst other emerged to fill the void. The sporting scene was changing too, with many inclined to participate rather than merely spectate, and consequently the leisure centre and running track became fashionable. The old cold outdoor baths replaced by heated indoor swimming pools and the plimsolls making way for running shoes.

    Stanier-design steam engine No. 44680, known as a Black 5 and built in 1950 at Horwich. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Taking a peep at the endeavours of the Eighties gives us a chance to recall the transport and the traffic, the markets and their merchandise, the carnivals and the concerts, the road runners and Red Rose radio, cinemas and bingo halls, public houses and pub lunches, and the people on our streets. All helping to create a patchwork quilt of pictorial memories within the pages of the book.

    Perhaps you lived on the umpteenth floor of Moor Lane flats loving the central heating and the panoramic views, or were delighted when you could catch the high speed train to London; or maybe your girlfriend set the trend wearing a mini skirt or maxi coat, or perhaps your flared trousers and moustache were the height of fashion. Did you rush to Bradys to get the latest cassette tapes feeling it was the height of technology, or maybe you spent your working days in one of the many engineering workshops, or found yourself a job in one of the supermarkets that were emerging fast, or perhaps you studied at Preston's very own Polytechnic.

    You maybe thought that the E H Booths cafe was too posh for you with its linen cloths and got your refreshments from a Wimpey Bar, or discovered that the best burgers were at the real McCoy on Church Street and that a bag of chips wrapped in old newspapers was your idea of a tasty treat after a couple of pints of beer.

    No Preston Guild would be complete without the traditional brass bands and they turn out in force. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Yes, those were the days when the Lancashire Evening Post prospered on Friargate and queues would form for the hot off the press Final Edition, or on Saturday you might have eagerly waited for the 'Last Football' to appear with the final scores and match reports, barely an hour after the final whistle had blown. How proud were so many Preston folk when North End journeyed to Wembley for an FA Cup Final, and not so proud as they later plunged the depth of the Football League. Whilst others may have lingering memories of playing on the plastic pitch that replaced the grass as PNE strived to survive, or of playing football on Preston parks in ankle deep mud.

    In conclusion, reflecting on Preston during those thirty years, it was a place populated with people full of pride who left a rich legacy for future generations. A place that learnt lessons from the past to make a brighter future. A place that expanded rapidly yet still retained its parks and places of pleasure, a place that embraced the evolution in industry, retail and education ensuring employment for many. Its people held on to great traditions and saw Preston prosper, remain rightly proud and cherished by its inhabitants young and old alike.

    They say every picture tells a story, if that's the case I hope that along with the script it gives a reflection of life not so long ago and gives a glimpse at the Preston of yesteryear for the generations that followed.

    Keith Johnson's new book Now That's What I Call Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Wolverhampton Through Time by Alec Brew

    It was a single image which inspired me to write this book, a friend’s photograph of a solitary Austin Seven under the railway bridge at Compton sometime in the 1930s. I knew that a modern photograph taken from the same spot at any time, day or night, would show a whole stream of traffic in both directions. Even the bridge is no longer a railway bridge but carries the words Smestow Valley LNR, which does not stand for Long Neglected Railway as you might think, but means Linear Nature Reserve.

    St. Peter's Church from the Marketplace. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    In the end I never actually used this photograph, but chose from my own huge library of images of the City, collected over 30 years of writing about Wolverhampton’s history. What could be easier, I thought, than strolling round with a camera and learning if things had changed over the last century as much as I imagined they had changed? The very first photograph revealed a problem I had not envisaged.

    I decided to start with St. Peter’s Church, the focal point of the City atop the ridge on which it stands, with no high rise buildings allowed to block its dominance. I had an image from 1902 taken from just the other side of Lichfield Street, so I made my way to the same spot, and I couldn’t see the Church! There were too many trees in the way. Have trees recently been allowed to mature in urban churchyards to a degree they never were before?

    Nowadays, as seen above, trees have grown to obscure much of it and the Civic Centre encroaches on the right. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    A photograph featuring just trees did not seem too interesting, despite what it might reveal about ecclesiastical fashion. In the end I found another image of St. Peter’s from the other side, where there were fewer trees. This was a problem I had to resolve many times, and any Wulfrunian to whom I mentioned how annoyingly verdant the City had become, was just as surprised as I had been.

    I had expected to find the changes in the cityscape wrought by the 1960s planners, and their preferred medium of change, brutalist concrete. The beautiful Central Arcade and Queens Arcade replaced by the concrete tunnels of the Mander Shopping Centre. The Victorian High Level Station replaced by what looks like a huge public convenience. The Victorian Retail and Wholesale Markets swept away to make room for the Civic Centre, looking like a huge bunker from Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

    A Tilling Stevens TS6 trolleybus turns down Broad Street on its way to Wednesfield. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, I knew about the destruction wrought by the Ring Road, that wide noose thrown round the centre of Wolverhampton, which had flattened so much of it, and strangled the rest. In many cases it was hard to relate a photograph taken even as late as 1970 with what is there today. Where once there were communities, now there is just traffic.

    The other major change is the disappearance of those huge companies which dominated each area of the City; Goodyears, ECC, Bayliss Jones and Bayliss, The Sunbeam, GWR’s Stafford Road Works, and others. Where once workers walked from their terraced house just round the corner to the factory where their father and grand-father had worked, now there are new semi-detached houses, or offices, or acres of rubble, overgrown with buddleia.

    Broad Street - single-deckers had to be used on this route until the road under the railway bridge was lowered. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite being of an age when I view the World through nostalgia-tinted spectacles, it was not all doom and gloom, I was often pleasantly surprised by what I came to photograph. As I have related the trees were a big revelation, but often old buildings had found new, agreeable uses. Sunbeamland becoming apartments, the Queen’s Building once more becoming the focal point of the City’s transport hub, the Molineux Hotel becoming the City’s Archives, or Butler’s Brewery becoming the University’s Faculty of Architecture, though putting students in a brewery would seem fateful.

    Actually the biggest positive impact on the City has been the monumental growth of the University. When a Polytechnic had followed the fashions of Wolverhampton’s planners and built in fifty shades of hideous.  How ironic that the College of Art had been the ugliest building in the City, and how amusing, now that it has become the Faculty of Art, that the forest of phone aerials on the roof looks so much like a modern art installation. Now the University of Wolverhampton, its new buildings seem in keeping with their surroundings, and thankfully it has found new ways of using old buildings like the Criterion Hotel or the Fox Public House, which has saved them.

    I am sure that anyone who undertakes a similar exercise in depicting their town ‘Through Time’ will have similar takes to tell. While expecting to find ‘change and decay in all around I see’, sometimes you might be pleasantly surprised.

    Alec Brew's new book Wolverhampton Through Time is available for purchase now.

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