Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Amberley Blog

  • Cornish Traction by Stephen Heginbotham

    Number 45059 (formerly D88) Royal Engineer stands at the blocks at Platform 2 in Penzance station after arrival with the Down Cornishman on Monday 21 February 1977. Penzance Station has changed little in the intervening years since this iconic picture was taken. But the type of traction regularly in use throughout Cornwall certainly has changed. (Cornish Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, after nearly forty years of getting up at 04:50, or sometimes earlier, and arriving home at any time around midnight off a late shift or being called out in the middle of the night, I thought retirement might bring some rest and leisurely days, but alas dear reader, that appears to not be the case.  Compiling and writing a book of any size or layout, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is not something that throws itself together overnight.

    However, when the subject is close to my heart and beliefs, the task at hand becomes so much easier.

    I have a lifelong interest in all things transport, including many years studying railway accidents and incidents that have led to the signalling systems and rules we use today.

    I have also been very fortunate to work in an industry which is both my hobby and my career, and for the most part it has been an absolute pleasure to go to work every day, even though that meant thirty-eight years of unsociable shifts, early starts and late finishes, though a quarter century of working in Cornwall and Devon as both Signalman and Supervisor was a privilege.

    I do feel though that changes in recent years within the industry have fragmented the ‘big family’ that was once BR.

    Born in an age of steam, I well remember the transition from steam to diesel and electric and was fortunate enough to see steam to its demise in August 1968, Stockport Edgeley (9B) being one of the very last steam sheds.  As a child I watched named trains, with named locos, thunder past my school, and at weekends or school holidays I watched the Woodhead Electrics at Reddish, the trolleybuses in Manchester, or Pacific’s on the West Coast or Crewe, making the journey there by either steam train or pre-war bus.

    Ironically, travel seemed easier in those distant days from our past, several decades ago. Aside from there being more trains to more locations, the lack of restriction of travelling alone in one’s younger days did not impinge on the more adventurous of us that struck out to locations that could only be dreamed of now by anyone of a similar age. I say ironically, because unlike today, with our modern communications, when one left home for an adventure in the 1960s, even as a twelve or thirteen-year-old, you had little chance of contacting your parents unless you used a public phone box, and assuming home actually possessed a telephone.

    An HST power car from set 253001 is connected up to the mains in Ponsandane Yard at Penzance during the HST crew training period in Cornwall. Friday 3 November 1978. Ironically, this livery has been reprised recently in a nostalgic nod to a train that helped save both BR and express services to and from the West Country. (Cornish Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    This collection of photographs depicts many of the traction types that were seen in their daily duties around the West Country during the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, at the time, they were common traction types and not thought of as anything unusual, but, like all things in everyday life, complacency creeps in and one just never thinks that this status quo of things is one day not going to be there. I can recall the same feelings about seeing Black-Fives, 8Fs, and WD locos in the 1960s, and just sitting waiting for a Jubilee, or Royal Scot, or Patriot, or Britannia, to name but a few. To be fair, when the ‘Peaks’ arrived along with the English Electrics (class 40) and names started to appear on some of them, they became nearly as exciting to ‘cop’ as a steamer. Of course, in those days, the names were as interesting as the locomotives, and the management of the time put a great deal of thought into the naming process. This generally still applied in the 1980s and it was only when privatisation got a grip did we start to see names that were both dubious and uninteresting, much like the monotonous and boring liveries that assault our senses daily.

    Whilst I accept that modernisation was desperately needed throughout the network, it has not happened everywhere and it is very much a post-code lottery of investment in technology and innovation, and many routes are still in the pre-BR era of rolling stock, signalling and infrastructure. At least the era covered by this book shows some variety of livery as opposed to BR corporate blue and the yet to come liveries of the private sector, but it is more about remembering the variety of traction still around in in the West Country during that period, and with it sometimes the audible cacophony accompaniment.

    People used to vilify BR, for its service, but having worked for BR, I can tell you that the service delivery shortfalls of BR pales into insignificance when compared to the abysmal service of the shambolic British railway we have today. In my day working as a Signalman and later as a Signalling Inspector and MOM, I can assure you that cancelling a train was a very last resort.  In general, the duty of all railway staff in those BR days was that the service will run if at all possible. It was considered a disservice to the public not to run a service and if a service was run late. Drivers and Signalmen in particular took pride in trying to get services back on time where possible.

    The photos in this book are not arranged in any particular order, so dates and locations are randomly arranged to try and keep the reader interested. David in particular, being a Cornishman, spent many days, weeks, months and years photographing trains within the Duchy.

    So, having said all that, here is my third book on Cornwall’s Railways.  After much tapping of keys, extensive research, photo preparation and hundreds of hours writing and compiling the book, I hope you find it enjoyable, and that there aren’t too many mistakes.

    Stephen Heginbotham's new book Cornish Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Swindon by Angela Atkinson

    The GWR hooter still in situ on what is now the McArthur Glen Outlet Village. (Secret Swindon, Amberley Publishing)

    The sprawling urban conurbation that is modern Swindon began life as an Anglo-Saxon defensible settlement atop a limestone hill. Old Swindon, known today as Old Town, grew into a sleepy market town. The chances are it would have stayed that way were it not for the Industrial Revolution.

    The subsequent acceleration in Swindon’s growth began 1810 with the construction of the Wilts & Berks Canal. The real transformative factor though came between 1841 and 1842 with the historic decision by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Daniel Gooch to establish their Great Western Railway works a short distance from Old Swindon. This led to the birth of another town: New Swindon.

    The town’s connections to London and the South West made it possible for many later industries to come to the town. Over the decades, Swindon’s engineering and manufacturing associations have run the gamut, from BMW to Honda, and Garrard record decks to Triumph lingerie – though they are all gone now.

    Today’s Swindon is a surprising, multi-, multi-cultural creative and cultural hotspot that is home to artists and writers of every genre and calibre. In Secret Swindon, I take a sideways look at all this and more.

    The story of how I got to writing this book has its roots twenty years ago this year, for 2018 is the silver anniversary of my move to Swindon.

     

     

    A new life in Swindon

    Before moving to Swindon I’d visited the place several times and found it to be a perfectly pleasant place. So, when the opportunity arrived to relocate I arrived with no negative perceptions. In fact, the converse was true for I left behind an area devastated by the wholesale pit closures of the 1980s.

    We had poor transport connections, no work, no prospects, no nothing.  Well – slag heaps, emphysema and mass unemployment. We had that.

    So, I came to Swindon. Within days I found work. Actual proper, full-time work. This one thing was little short of a miracle. You can’t know how magical that one thing was. Let alone the rest.

    I bought a house in West Swindon – a fifteen-minute walk from Shaw Ridge leisure park. Here we (my then 12-year-old daughter and I) found:

    • A swimming pool
    • An ice rink
    • A bowling alley
    • A cinema and oh joy of joys to a pre-teen daughter in the 1990s – a Pizza Hut

    I felt I’d pitched up in the land of milk and honey.

    So that’s my arrival in Swindon. I settle into full-time employment and building a life. I’m content with where I’m living, I like it well enough, it becomes home.

    But the real love affair with Swindon doesn’t begin then. Oh no. To get to the igniting of that flickering fire of fondness into a truly, madly, deeply red-hot love we have to fast forward about sixteen years to when I’m in my early 50s and compulsory early retirement comes my way.

    Fast forward another year and I began a joint English Honours degree at the University of the West of England.

    Becoming a Born again Swindonian

    Fast forward two more years. I’m now approaching the end of my second year at university and selecting modules for my final year. A travel writing module called “Moving Words’ piques my interest. A conversation with the module leader sparks a classic light-bulb moment and my Swindon blog, Born again Swindonian was… well born.

    As I progressed with what largely started as a means to an end, I learnt more and more about the area and all it has to offer – that’s when I truly fell in love with the place.

    It’s now around five years and 600 posts since I started blogging as Born again Swindonian. I’m still at it because there’s so much to tell.

    Late last year (2017) someone left a message on my blog. That someone was a commissioning editor for Amberley books. Would I be interested in writing Secret Swindon?

    Hell yes!

    Which brings us bang up to date and me a published author with Secret Swindon. Wow!

     

    Angela Atkinson's new book Secret Swindon is available for purchase now.

  • Caernarfon Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Caernarfon Castle and Slate Quay, c.1880. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The Royal town of Caernarfon overlooks the Menai Straits and the isle of Anglesey. It is a port and holiday resort and is also noted for the substantial monument of Caernarfon Castle, whose construction was undertaken by King Edward I, as part of the English conquest of Gwynedd. It was one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English in Wales. In 1284 the English-style county of Caernarfonshire was established by the Statute of Rhuddlan and in the same year Caernarfon was made a Borough, a county and a market town, and the seat of English government in North Wales. Today Caernarfon is a major tourist centre with its town walls, market and castle, first class attractions.  Travelling to the town has changed greatly since the construction of the A55 ‘Expressway,’ including several tunnels through the sheer rock of the North Wales coastline. In the 1970s when I first began to holiday in this area with my parents and visit my relatives, the journey beyond Llandudno was along a tortuous and winding coast road with 30mph speed limits and a single lane carriageway in many places. Whilst speed limits still apply, the journey takes less time and is of great benefit to those travelling to Holyhead for the Irish ferry.

    Floating Restaurant, Eagle Tower and Pont Yr Aber, Caernarfon, c. 1950. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The town itself has also changed greatly, with many old buildings now beneath the route of the A55. However, the castle remains much as it appeared in my childhood, with the car park along the old Slate Quay still as packed as it always has been! Some childhood memories are now gone – there is no longer a ‘floating restaurant’ along the Slate Quay – once a popular destination for many tourists, and the roundabouts in the market square are gone, to be replaced by an open ‘multi-functional’ space for traffic, pedestrians and the market. The market, however, still remains a popular feature and is a big-draw in the summer months’ tourist season, especially in the fine weather we have experienced recently! However, there have been reports of localised forest fires in inland areas close to Caernarfon (and notably near Bethesda), reminding us of the potential perils associated with the heat and sun.

    Castle Square from Eagle Tower, c. 1910. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling Caernarfon Through Time has brought back many childhood memories of my visits to the area and the times we visited relatives here, or spent our leisure time on holiday along the coast. Some forty years later it is still a popular destination for my children – especially the castle. I hope that the book will evoke some similar memories for the reader, as well as provide an informative and historic record of the way the district has changed over the last century.

    Steven Dickens' book Caernarfon Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Oldham Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Oldham Town Hall, Yorkshire Street, c. 1910. (Oldham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although I live in Flixton, which is on the opposite side of Manchester to the town of Oldham, it is impossible to remain outside for long in the hot evenings of June and July, without Oldham immediately being brought to mind. For many evenings – if the wind was in the right direction – we could smell the acrid smoke produced by the raging peat fires on Saddleworth Moor. Looking towards Manchester it was impossible not to notice what looked like an orange/greyish mist in the direction of the Pennines. Which was the smoke produced by the moorland fires that took over three weeks to be completely put out. I know from personal experience that the terrain in this area is wild and – particularly in winter – desolate. In the 1980s I was employed at the archaeological site of Castleshaw Roman fort (and ‘fortlet’), close to Saddleworth Moor, by the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit. Snow-fall can make the area impassable at times. However, in clear weather and in the summer months there are some spectacular views looking towards Oldham and Manchester.

    The Ornamental Lake, Alexandra Park, Oldham 1907. (Oldham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Oldham Through Time shows how the former mill town has changed over the last one hundred years. Its Victorian Metropolitan origins are still self-evident, even in the twenty first century. The green expanse of Alexandra Park is a classic example of its time, constructed as it was by the unemployed mill workers of Oldham, during the economic downturn and cotton famine caused by the American Civil War. In clear weather there are some spectacular views from the park of the Pennines and the surrounding environs. In more recent times, and since the arrival of the Metrolink tram system, Oldham has undergone an economic revival and the historic Tommyfield Market remains a vibrant hub, with the possibility of further development of the town centre.  Oldham’s civic buildings have been rejuvenated and invigorated by their adaptation for alternative uses – the former town hall, now a cinema complex, being a prime example of this. The town of Oldham, despite being on the edge of the vast Metropolitan sprawl of Manchester, has managed to retain its own character and has resisted being incorporated without trace by its larger neighbour. I have attempted in Oldham Through Time to exemplify elements of the town’s uniqueness and hope that the reader will appreciate the result.

    Steven Dickens' new book Oldham Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799 by Jonathan North

    Admiral Nelson by Leonardo Guzzardi, an unusual portrait of how Nelson might have appeared in late 1799. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    Nelson and his Crimes

    We live in an age when figures from the past are being called to account for sins against the morals of today. Last summer, on the other side of the Atlantic, there was a wave of anger directed at statues of Confederate generals. A spate of demolition from Maryland to North Carolina saw marble memorials to yesterday’s men bite the dust, or, perhaps more accurately, saw them turned to dust. Over here, with a capital in which Cromwell still stands opposite a bust of Charles Stuart (glowering over a doorway to the parish church of the House of Commons), there has been little appetite to move against the nation’s stone idols. Nevertheless, in August 2017, an indignant broadside by Afua Hirsch in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/22/toppling-statues-nelsons-column-should-be-next-slavery) asked us to question the commemoration of one particular British hero: Horatio Nelson. It pointed out the admiral had been an advocate of slave owners’ interests, and so, beneath an illustration of a Baghdad-style toppling of Nelson’s column, suggested we should cleanse the nation of memorials to this white supremacist. It was a challenge she repeated in her recent Channel 4 documentary on the same theme but, before these hints launched a fleet of revisionist bulldozers, Nelson’s admirers manoeuvred to the admiral’s support, defending the man they see as “a fundamental icon of British national identity. Inspirational leadership, duty – and humanity”.

    Both these extremes are misleading. The admirers of the admirable admiral ignore anything which seems critical, whilst the bold claims of Hirsch impose an anachronistic orthodoxy on a man incapable of understanding her sensitivities. However, of the two, Hirsch’s is the greater disservice to history. For by pushing her own agenda, she draws attention away from the one area where Nelson really should be held to account: the atrocities he helped carry out against the Neapolitan republicans in the summer of 1799.

    Sir William Hamilton had arrived in Naples in 1764 and, for the next 25 years, his time was divided between entertaining British Visitors and collecting Ancient artefacts. The French Revolution and the wars that followed placed a new and complex burden on his scholarly shoulders. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    When I began my new book on this subject, Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799, for Amberley, I did not set out to sully Nelson’s reputation. I was aware of his qualities, as most historians should be. He was a dynamic, aggressive commander, exactly the kind of man needed when your aim is to destroy the enemy’s fleet. And he excelled at it, again and again. However, my focus was on his conduct away from the fighting, more particularly when he became involved in the brutal suppression of a revolution in Naples in 1799. And the more I looked into this episode, the more horrified I became. For me, Nelson’s wrongs have nothing to do with white supremacy, a failing true of most Georgians, but rather revolve around his war crime which saw the betrayal of thousands of surrendering Italian revolutionaries.

    Nelson arrived in Neapolitan waters in the autumn of 1798 following his destruction of Napoleon’s fleet at Aboukir off the coast of Egypt. In Naples he was swamped by an adoring coterie of fans who declared that the battered hero was their saviour. Each had their reasons for doing so. The British envoy, Sir William Hamilton, enjoyed the reflected glory and dubbed Nelson immortal. His wife, Emma Hamilton, was already a little in love with Nelson, and wanted him to support her friends, the king and queen of Naples, in their struggle against the rampaging armies of revolutionary France. Ferdinand IV of Naples, that Bourbon sex-pest in silk, hoped that Nelson’s presence would keep the French, then plundering Rome, at bay. His wife, the arch Maria Carolina of Austria, hoped for more. She wanted Nelson to persuade the king and his ministers to take the war northwards, and thus perhaps enable her cowardly husband to be proclaimed king of a united Italy.

    So it began. Nelson’s crime was preceded by a tragedy and a farce. The shambolic kingdom of Naples hoped to surprise a France shaken by the loss of her fleet and her Bonaparte, then stuck in Egypt, and so Maria Carolina sent her opera buffa of an army northwards to the Eternal City. It quickly ran into trouble in the shortest of campaigns and scurried home. The royals took Nelson’s ship for Sicily and the surprised French proclaimed a liberal republic in their stead. This new republic was governed by a remarkable set of scholars and reformers, men and women, who set about abolishing feudalism and dragging Naples into the modern age. However, their noble, revolutionary efforts were cut short by a royalist counter-attack in which Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, a warrior cleric leading a horde of bloodthirsty pilgrims, swept up to the gates of the capital. Trapped by this Holy Army of cut-throats and cannibals, the republicans agreed to surrender Naples on condition they be allowed to leave for France. Ruffo, seeing that this would spare the capital further bloodshed, agreed and granted them generous terms. Just as they were about to troop out and board ships taking them into exile, Nelson sailed in from Palermo. He lured the republicans out into the harbour on the pretext they could now depart, then tore up the act of surrender, and promptly handed thousands of unfortunates over to a merciless court. The betrayed republicans were subjected to the full force and barbarity of royal justice in the market places of Naples in that summer of 1799.

    King Ferinard IV of Naples and Queen Maria Carolina. The king had married his Austrain consort, sister to Marie Antoinette, in 1768. His interests were largely restricted to eating and hunting but the queen was an energetic politician, sworn to fight a French revolution that had killed her sister. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    The royal family were again grateful, raising Nelson up to be Duke of Bronte, and Emma Hamilton, basking in reflected glory, completed her journey from Duke Street to a duke’s bed. Even so, the exultation in having placed Ferdinand back on his throne was of short duration and such a victory could not win many friends. The Loyal Opposition back home was even moved to condemn this bloody series of events and naval officers looked askance at the admiral’s vindictiveness. Southey, an early biographer of the admiral, would agree for he too lambasted Nelson for the betrayal of the Neapolitan republicans, calling it “a deplorable transaction, a stain on the memory of Nelson and upon the honour of England”.

    This series of unpleasant events forms the basis for my book on Nelson at Naples. I place much of the blame for the bloodshed on Nelson as he had the authority to make possible this royalist vendetta and, despite the subsequent Victorian smoothing of Nelson’s record, it is clear that Nelson had innocent blood on his hands. I have no doubt that I shall be dubbed a revisionist historian for attacking Nelson so directly, and for questioning his wider legacy. But, in my defence, there is nothing revisionist about my handling of this episode. The truth is that Italian historians have been accusing him of a betrayal ever after the Neapolitan hangman finished his bloody work. And, for a time, many of their British peers advanced similar critiques, although this was more muted whenever the empire felt it preferred heroes.

    A View of Naples in 1800 by Johann Ziegler. (Nelson at Naples, Amberley Publishing)

    That imperial triumphalism heaped on Nelson wiped away not only this stain on Nelson’s memory but what was the sordid life of the naval hero following his victory for the Bourbons. The butchery in Naples was followed by insubordination, infatuation and a fair amount of dissipation before a bitter though diamond-encrusted Nelson limped home with the Hamiltons. Only a hero’s death at Trafalgar saved his reputation.

    Trafalgar and a state funeral for his pickled corpse were followed by heroic biographies which paved the way for the erection of that immutable column so beloved of pigeons and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Nelson’s column overshadows the admiral’s crimes at Naples, and a monument is no replacement for nuanced debate. But perhaps, rather than demolishing it, and replicating the fate of Dublin’s Nelson’s Pillar, we should see it as a prompt for further enquiry. A starting point on a historical journey.

    Afua Hirsch may not agree, but, even after reading about Nelson’s bloody rampage in Naples in 1799, my view is that Nelson’s column should continue to sit in Trafalgar Square. There it can remind us that heroes and history are never black and white.

    Jonathan North's new book Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799 is available for purchase now.

  • New Holland Tractors by Jonathan Whitlam

    Built at the factory in Basildon, the Series 60/M Series also used new engines built in he same facility. In the 8360 model the PowerStar 7.5 litre engine was rated at 135 hp. (New Holland Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    New Holland tractors have only existed since around 1996 – that’s just 22 years! So perhaps it seems strange to have written a book about these machines when they are still such a new kid on the block so to speak?

    Of course, the history of the New Holland name in connection to farm machinery goes back a lot, lot further but they never built tractors. The firm had its roots in 1895 in Pennsylvania in the USA with farm machinery becoming the main product from 1940. That all changed when the Ford Motor Company bought the New Holland firm off its then parent Sperry Rand in the middle of the 1980s and the business then merged with the Ford tractor operations to form Ford New Holland. Now with an integrated range of tractors, combine harvesters and other farm implements, the new firm could take on the giants such as John Deere on a more level playing field than previously.

    The T7.290 is the other Heavy Duty member of the T7 range with 290 hp available in the same chassis as the bigger 315 model. (New Holland Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    However, Ford were only really interested in making their tractor division more attractive to a potential buyer as they continued retrenching their global operations. This resulted in Ford New Holland being sold to Fiat in 1991 and eventually to the creation of CNH in 1999 following Fiat also purchasing Case IH. The New Holland name began to appear on tractors as well as machinery in 1996 and eventually both the Ford and Fiat brands would be replaced by New Holland. At the same time the DNA of both tractor ranges were absorbed into one and the tractors still bearing the New Holland name and blue colour scheme today are directly descended from that union, as well as benefiting from Case IH, Versatile, Steiger and Steyr input along the way!

    New Holland tractors are extremely popular and used by farmers around the world and are built in several key factories including those in France, Italy, Britain and the USA. Their story is one of consolidation and evolution as well as invention and progression. It is only fitting that this new tractor brand is celebrated in the same way as the other big names in tractor building, and at the end of the day, the Ford and Fiat lineage of the brand can be traced back over a hundred years, so perhaps New Holland is not quite the new kid on the block as it may seem!

    Jonathan Whitlam's new book New Holland Tractors is available for purchase now.

  • Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses by Michael Berry

    Trolleybus No. 541 prepares to leave John William Street for Ridings, where it would climb Woodhouse Hill. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    A World away!

    In the far off days of the Huddersfield Trolley era, the “boom” wasn’t just the pole sticking out at the top of the bus – the whole industry was “booming”!

    Cars were a limited luxury few could afford – or needed for that matter. Some trolley services in the more populated parts of the boroughs had something like a 7 minute frequency at peak times.

    While the Corporation took care of the day to day working duties, firms like Hanson and Baddeleys of Holmfirth took the families on their holidays. It may not have been the tropics, but before the M62, a day trip to Blackpool on a Hanson coach was still a marathon. I remember as a young lad on one of these trips where the typical Hanson driver said with a wry grin when arriving at the seaside resort, “The bus leaves at 5, if thas not on it, I aint waitin”. Imagine saying that to the travelling public today!

    Huddersfield continued to buy Seddon vehicles for its single-deck fleet. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    But on the other hand, Hanson were a World away from the strict disciplinarian set out by the Corporation. While most of the Baddeley fleet were immaculate,  the  Hanson  fleet  (especially  service  buses)  were  notoriously shabby,  and  often  reeked  of  diesel,  but  all  that  said,  these  were  brilliant times. If you wanted a Hanson bus, more often than not, you just stuck out your hand. Bus stops were more of a passing trend than a necessity to some of the Hanson drivers, some just seemed to stop anywhere.

    With all this, not only the buses were lost, but a whole way of life went with them. My Grandma and Grandad lived in Cowrakes near Lindley, and on the dawning of the motorbuses (trolleys never went up Cowrakes), when going to Huddersfield, my Grandmother would shout “Fred the bus is in!” I never knew what that meant as it was just parked at the side of the road.

    These Regent V-looking buses were in fact 1949/50 Regal rebuilds by Roe in 1960-2. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    With the onset of the motorcar, people no longer talked, they separated themselves and the change was made. Again thinking of my Grandmother once in Huddersfield market, she stopped and talked to this other lady about eggs (my Grandfather kept a hen run in Cowrakes and sold eggs locally), “Grandma who was that” I remember saying, “no idea love” were the three words back. These were times when people talked and the buses brought them together, be it workers or families, youngsters gave up their seats for adults (not by choice admitted!), men stood to let the ladies sit, and a good old natter with a neighbour (or even a stranger) made the trip seem so much shorter.

    As with all changes the car has become a public “necessity” with families relying more on cars and less on buses. Less people on the buses means higher fares and on it goes. The bus industry was once Government backed for all to use but de-regulation and private enterprise are just two of the reasons that have played a big part in how public transport operates today. At Keighley Museum, (as in so many other Museum orientated venues), we try to re-create a past where buses were a once big part of everyday life. We celebrate a touch of history, no different to places like the Railway Museum at York, or the Maritime Museum. The Bus and Coach industry was just as much an integral part of public life as any other form of transport.

    Although a more pictorial than written history of the town’s buses, the book is written in an effort to try to show not only the changes to its transport system, but the structure of the town itself through the years.

    My thanks go to all the staff at Amberley, and John Hinchcliffe for the help in the production of this book.

    Michael Berry's new book Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses is available for purchase now.

  • Zealots by Oliver Thomson

    How a Group of Scottish Conspirators unleashed half a Century of War in Britain

    The entrance to Dunfermline Palace in Fife where ironically Charles I was born within a few miles of the men who were to initiate his downfall. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    When I first thought of this book a couple of years ago I was going to call it Scottish Jihad, for Islamic Jihads were all in the news and I was curious to see how religious fanatics in 17th century Britain compared with those in Al Qaeda. The key difference was that AQ jihadists were mainly indoctrinated to accept the likelihood of a swift death, whereas the rebellious Scots in 1639 had to face the probability of torture and an unpleasant form of execution.

    Thus the Scottish Presbyterians who felt so strongly about getting rid of bishops were actually tasking a slightly bigger risk than the present day jihadists.

    Nor could we describe the Scots as radicalised or even indoctrinated for they were for the most part comfortably off ordinary men and women made angry by a dictatorial religious regime dictated from Canterbury. Both sides in the argument were of course Christian and Protestant, so the war they were starting was to be the most serious between two branches of Protestantism and to modern eyes the religious differences might seem quite petty.

    Charles I. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    What makes it all the more significant is that it was this grouping of Scots Presbyterians who fired the first shots in what became the English Civil War or the Wars of Three Kingdoms. While much is made of the grievances of the English Parliament against the stubborn Charles I, none of the so-called Roundheads took up arms against the king till well after the Scots had done so first. It was these piously angry Scots who, by sending an army over the Border into England, demonstrated that the king’s troops were far from invincible. A gap of more than three years during which the Scots had taken huge risks, humiliated the royal army and made it much easier for the parliamentarians to start recruiting an army of their own.

    Having spent some time researching the psychology of the horrendous religious wars after the Reformation, the Catholic against Protestant wars in France, Holland and Germany, I was still interested in how this compared with 21st century jihads and the tragic fact that religious differences should lead to so much violence.

    It was after this that I was on a short walking holiday on the magnificent Fife coastal path that I began to notice how many of the main conspirators who had organised the two Bishops Wars were actually based in Fife and lived so close to each other. So I researched this further. The small Fife ports, particularly Crail, had been heavily involved in transporting ambitious young Fifers across the North Sea to fight as mercenaries in Germany during the Thirty Years War. Many of these men had been remarkably successful, especially the Leslie family which had produced a field marshal, a general and half a dozen colonels, all of them now ready to return home since the Thirty Years War was drawing to a close.

    The Battle of Bothwell Bridge. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile the senior member of the Leslie clan, John Earl of Rothes, based in what is now Glenrothes, was taking the lead in a plot to start a rebellion against the religious policies of Charles I. He was thus perfectly placed for recruiting his own relations to form an army and bring in their other ex-colleagues, many of them Fifers, from Germany. The Earl also had a team of extremely able church ministers working with congregations along the Fife coast, all keen to start a rebellion and all well able to motivate the local population. Thus in 1639 Fife had a combination of military muscle, aristocratic support, fanatical churchmen and money that could not be matched anywhere else in Britain. It was thus the Fife Conspiracy that launched Scotland into a series of nine wars and England into three.

    Once the Scottish religious rebellion, the two Bishops Wars, had created the spark for the English Civil War, the affair south of the border became for a time more political than religious. But for the Scots it was still religious which accounts for the fact that in 1648 they changed sides from Roundhead to Royalist with disastrous results. The overall cost in lives for Scotland is reckoned as about 60,000, not counting plague deaths resulting from troop concentrations and harvest trashing. While I was looking at the casualties I accidentally found one that became quite personal. In 1679 Charles II sent an army to crush the Scottish Covenanters in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on the Clyde. It was a rout and the survivors were marched to Edinburgh from which several hundred were to be transported to the colonies as indentured labour. Their prison ship the Crown of London was hit by a storm off the Orkneys and to avoid prisoners surviving the captain locked them in the hold. Only a few did survive and of those only four avoided recapture. One of those four seems almost certainly to have been an ancestor of my wife, hence the dedication of this book. It’s a small world.

    Oliver Thomson's new book Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Luton and Secret Bedford by Paul Adams

    Mossman Hearse – The Victorian hearse at Stockwood Park from the Luton Mossman collection, driven by Dracula in 1968. (Author's collection, Secret Luton, Amberley Publishing)

    Writing a local history book would appear to be a reasonably straightforward task. If you know your area and your subject then the book almost writes itself. For the two titles that I have contributed to Amberley’s ‘Secret Towns’ series – Secret Luton which appeared in 2017 and Secret Bedford which is published July 2018 – I found that things were not that easy.

    This was entirely due to the fact that from the outset I made a rod for my own back, something that was intentional, but ultimately was to make better books of each. In both cases I decided that if the reader already knew about it then it wasn’t a secret and the fact would either be ignored or only mentioned briefly in passing. For Luton this meant dismissing the town’s famous hat industry and ‘The Hatters’ themselves (Luton Town FC), and giving no place to either Vauxhall cars or Luton Airport (sorry Lorraine Chase).  In Bedford, noted eighteenth-century prison reformer John Howard and the earlier Puritan preacher John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, are conspicuous by their absence, as are the town’s indigenous brick making and lace industries.

    The Grand Theatre in the former Waller Street - now a lost building. (C. Old Photos of Luton FB group, Secret Luton, Amberley Publishing)

    Both Secret Luton and Secret Bedford demonstrate an eclectic undercurrent of local history that is decidedly off the beaten track. I also felt that it was important to explore the connections with subjects that have personally interested me for a long time, namely true crime, film making, music and ghosts! I also wanted each book to be practical, which is why both end with a guided walk around the town centre pointing out locations, buildings and other features of interest.

    George Mossman (1908-1993) from Caddington on the outskirts of Luton is one of the un-sung heroes of the British film industry. His collection of horse-drawn coaches and carriages, the finest in the country, was donated to Luton Museum in the early 1990s and is on display at the Stockwood Park Discovery Centre. If you watch any British period film from the 1950s and 1960s, the chances are that the coaches in it were supplied by the Mossman Company, and in many cases George Mossman himself plays the coachman. Horror fans who take a trip to Stockwood Park can see in person several vehicles used by the famous Hammer Films including the Victorian hearse driven by Christopher Lee in the 1968 Dracula Has Risen From the Grave as well as coaches used in 1958’s Dracula, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter from 1974. Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who was also filmed around Luton in the early 1970s, while Bedford’s film and television connections include 1965’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and the comedy classic, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, which was filmed in numerous locations in and around the town.

     

     

    The giant airship R101 photographed at its mooring mast at Cardington, Bedford. On 5 October 1930 it crashed in France with the loss of forty-eight lives. (Secret Bedford, Amberley Publishing)

    Although urban development has taken place in Bedford through the years, the layout of its main streets and many historic buildings remains the same. The noted architect Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), creator of the iconic Natural History Museum in London, designed the town’s Shire Hall, while another architect Francis Penrose (1817-1903), who held the same position as Surveyor of the Fabric of St Paul’s Cathedral once occupied by Sir Christopher Wren, also worked here. When researching Luton’s architectural history, it became clear that many fine buildings from the town’s past have been lost. One such casualty is the old Grand Theatre which was officially opened in 1898 by the Edwardian beauty Lillie Langtry, former mistress of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

    The mysterious world of the paranormal is both well represented in both towns. The first ‘official’ investigation into a haunted house in 1947 involved Luton Council which was requested to lower the rates of a building alleged to be haunted by the ghost of Dick Turpin! In the 1970s, the daughter of the famous Scottish materialisation medium Helen Duncan (1897-1956) also lived in Luton and ran a Spiritualist centre in the town. Bedford has strong connections with another medium, the Victorian William Stainton Moses (1839-92), but its most interesting ghost story is one that connects the flamboyant psychical researcher Harry Price, the investigator of the famous Borley Rectory, with the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and the ill-fated R101 airship which left Cardington on the outskirts of Bedford on 4 October 1930 never to return.

    Hardingstone Grave – The grave of the unknown victim of the ‘Blazing Car Murder’. (Author's collection, Secret Bedford, Amberley Publishing)

    Bedford’s Corn Exchange is intimately associated with the wartime concerts of Glenn Miller. The American bandleader was based in the town and left nearby Twinwood Farm on 15 December 1944 never to be seen again. There is also a proud history of music making – the BBC Symphony Orchestra was based here during the Second World War – and British premieres of major orchestral works by composers such as Stravinsky and Shostakovich were given in wartime broadcasts by Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Henry Wood. Nearer to our own times, the popular violinist Nigel Kennedy gave his first profession performance with the Luton Symphony Orchestra in 1984, while the town was a major centre for the development of punk music and culture in the mid-1970s.

    Where true crime is concerned, Bedford Prison’s status up until the 1960s as a hanging prison brought several notorious murderers both to the town and the gallows. They include the 1961 ‘A6 killer’ James Hanratty and the earlier perpetrator of the 1930 ‘Blazing Car Murder’ Alfred Arthur Rouse whose victim has to this day never been identified. In 1944, the Luton Sack Murder gripped the town when an unidentified body was retrieved by factory workers from the River Lea. This proved to be Irene Manton whose husband ‘Bertie’ Manton escaped the hangman but died in Bedford Prison in 1947. The Sack Murder involved the celebrated London pathologist Professor Keith Simpson whose celebrated cases include the murders at Rillington Place and ‘Acid Bath’ killer, John Haigh.

    These are just a few of the facts and figures which go to make up the secret history of these two seemingly unassuming Bedfordshire towns.

     

     

    Paul Adams' books Secret Luton and Secret Bedford are available for purchase now.

  • Road Rollers by Anthony Coulls

    The classic shape of an Aveling & Porter steam roller evolved in the 1870s; here’s an advert for one from the Land Agents’ Record of March 1896. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It takes a certain kind of madness to preserve a road roller, either steam, diesel or petrol powered. All are heavy and awkward and the amount of time, effort and money expended upon restoration or repairs is not reflected in the value of the machine at the end of the work. Yet it’s still fun, and the roller folk are a particularly sociable type. In recent years, road making demonstrations have taken off and become popular, with all manner of supporting equipment from living vans to tar boilers, lamps and road repair signs. Working demonstrations such as these are immensely popular and as good as any working museum when done well.

    There can be no better depiction of the variety of Aveling rollers over the decades in terms of size and appearance than this picture of a quartet of rollers on the National Traction Engine Trust’s sixtieth anniversary road run from September 2014, led by Dick Blenkinsop’s Aveling-Barford of 1937. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    Restoring a road roller is my blood. In 1966, my father and his friends Trevor Daw, Doug Kempton and Gus Palmer all clubbed together to buy a derelict Ruston & Hornsby steam roller which had worked for Herefordshire County Council. They paid £100 for the compound engine which was lying at the Bransford Bear public house in Worcestershire. It had been bought as a plaything but the idea came to nothing and so it was moved on to the four friends, who called themselves the Arden Steam Group. The Group had connections with the Hockley Heath Steam Association and the Warwickshire Steam Engine Society, so the plan was made to take it home to their county – under its own steam. Over a period of 12 months, the roller was retubed with no power tools and fettled to make it roadworthy to travel to Hockley Heath and in March 1967, the Ruston set sail under its own steam. The journey was filmed by the BBC, sadly the footage no longer exists. The Arden Steam Group continued to work on the engine and painted it grey, probably because that was the cheapest paint that Dad could come by from his employers at the time! Unfortunately as time progressed, the lives of the Group changed too, and so in 1971, three of the partners sold out their shares to Trevor Daw, who then went on to own Ruston 114059 for another 40 years, carrying out a heavy overhaul throughout the 1970s and then rallying it extensively throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The roller is now cared for by the Vickery family in Hertfordshire, joining the other Ruston steam roller in their collection. A regular on the steam rally scene, it will always have a special place in the heart of our family.

    The Advance was the successful later roller made by Wallis & Steevens with a twin cylinder engine for quick reversing. The picture shows the very first of its type at the Onslow Park Rally near Shrewsbury in August 2007. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It was therefore inevitable that I would get involved with rollers, despite there not having been on in the family in my lifetime. The first one came in 1996 when a 1944 Wallis & Steevens diesel roller was rescued from Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, my home town. There had also been an Aveling steam roller in the playground there, but this had been sold in 1993 whilst I was at university. I found a home for the Wallis with a school friend’s farmer father in South Warwickshire, and after a number of days work with my friend Ken Milns, we got it going again over the Easter weekend in 1998. Around ten years later, the roller was borrowed by Trevor Daw, our family friend from the 1960s and he completely rebuilt it in his workshop. The finished article now lives on loan at Beamish Museum in County Durham, but not before we took it back to the park in Leamington in 2013. We had a lot of work to get it going again and also had to apply via the DVLA to get the roller’s original registration number back, a process helped very much by the Road Roller Association. Likewise, drawings, manuals and archives were also sourced via the RRA and the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University where the Wallis and Steevens records are kept.

    Isaac Ball of Wharles ran a fleet of steam rollers, all equipped with the full-length roof as seen here, and mostly made by Burrells. They also built their own living vans, such as the one behind the roller. The road train, including the water cart, was part of the Ball reunion event held in June 2017. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    The diesel and experience gained from its rehabilitation led to a steam roller, and the 15 ton Aveling roller 3315 of 1894 joined the fleet in the summer of 2003. Firstly being stored in West Yorkshire and then finding its way to County Durham where we had made our home. Having stood idle since being taken out of service in the 1950s, it had lost a number of parts, but the boiler was in essence good, and friends assured us that the rest of the machine could be repaired or replaced where fittings were missing – and thus the die was set for a ten year rebuild – or recommissioning as I liked to call it. Skills were learned such as riveting, welding, gas cutting and tubing the boiler. New friends were made in the process and much research undertaken on the engine and others like it as we looked for new parts, spares or information on how it might all fit together. As with any restoration, there were set backs and side roads followed, but with steady fundraising, progress was made. In 2012, the roller lived again, taking its first moves at a party to celebrate the restoration and support given by so many. That said, in 2013, further defects were found in the roller’s transmission and gears. At the time of writing, further long and expensive repairs are being undertaken on the roller with a view to it continuing in steam on the road well past its 125th birthday in 2019. The whole family love it however and the fun and friendship it has brought to us all.

    My Road Rollers book examines the background to these wonderful machines during their working lives and then goes further into the popular appeal and how to get involved. Who knows, you may get smitten as I was?!

    Anthony Coulls's new book Road Rollers as part of our Britain's Heritage Series is available for purchase now.

Items 11 to 20 of 325 total

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