Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Amberley Blog

  • St Albans in 50 Buildings by Kate Morris

    St Peter's Church. (Kari Lungaard, St Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Patronal saint’s day in St Albans – Albantide 2018

    22nd June, the height of midsummer, is the day on which the Feast of St Alban is celebrated, and celebrated it is, in a big way, in the town named for that saint, which grew on the site of the execution of Alban, the first recorded British Christian martyr.

    The Alban Pilgrimage will take place in 2018 on Saturday 23rd June, culminating in a re-enactment of the execution of that citizen of Verulamium on the hill overlooking the Roman city in the 4th century. The spot is outside the West End of the modern cathedral and the drama will be followed by a Festival Eucharist in the church. The procession begins at St Peter’s Church at the northern end of the town and makes its way through the market area to the Cathedral and Abbey Church, which began its life as a shrine to the martyr on the site of his execution.

    This celebration and festival day is truly of national significance for the culture of this island, given the impact of the event on the development of Christianity in Britain. Locally, the procession is a highlight of the community year, with the multitude of twelve feet tall carnival puppets depicting the saint, Roman soldiers, lions, gladiators, horse drawn chariots, played by 300 or so adults and children.

    Rebuilt in the 12th century by the Norman invaders, the abbey was all but destroyed completely in 1539 following Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries. Only the abbey church and the great gateway entrance survived, having been bought by the newly formed Corporation as parish church, school and prison.

    The West End of St Albans Cathedral. (Kari LundgaardSt Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    These buildings form a notable introduction to the story of the medieval and modern city of St Albans which grew over the last one thousand years in South West Hertfordshire, just 20 miles north of London on the old Watling Street. The story is told in my recent book St Albans in 50 Buildings published in February this year. The town has a remarkable number of buildings to illustrate how it developed from being the premier abbey of the land in the Middle Ages, to staging post for packhorse trains and wagons, tourist destination and commuter town. Designated a city by Queen Victoria following the creation of the new Diocese of St Albans in the late nineteenth century, with the Abbey Church as its cathedral, the town had a long and interesting history as a corporate borough with a thriving market throughout the early modern period. With trade and transport at its heart, it hosted not only the Establishment with parish government, but a significant range of dissenting congregations, all of which leave us chapels and meeting houses to remind us of the town’s diverse and wide-ranging history.

    Industrial buildings from the cotton, silk and straw trades as well as printing and other trade premises remain as well as ancient inns and grand eighteenth century town houses, mostly now in commercial occupation, allowing us an insight into the social history of the town, which can truly be said to represent a microcosm of that of the English nation as a whole.

    St Albans in 50 Buildings with a map identifying the location of each of the buildings described, provides not only a good history read, but acts as a guide book for the thousands of tourists and new residents in the town. It also provides a taster for further investigation into the pattern of development of the town and its many more interesting buildings from all periods.

    For information about the Alban Pilgrimage https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/whatson/the-alban-pilgrimage/

    Kate Morris' book St Albans in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Merseyside Traction by Doug Birmingham

    On 15 March 2017, at a rarely photographed location, Rail Operations Group, Class 47, No 47815 arrives at Edge Hill Wapping with 5V67 12.17hrs Allerton Depot to Long Marston empty coach stock move. The train consisted of two Class 319 EMU’s No’s 319218 and 219 which were being returned to storage pending possible further use. This image was originally considered for the front cover of the book before the present cover was selected. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I think most people during their lives have wishes, some would call it a bucket list but more often than not they remain just dreams. Occasionally some dreams do happen which fortunately for me some on my bucket list have actually come true, mainly by good fortune rather than preplanned. One of my wishes, has been to publish a book with a selection of my railway images, but approaching any publisher with such a proposal has always been put on the back burner. Consequently, as the years go by, it has remained just a dream. By sheer coincidence and out of the blue on my birthday in 2017, Connor Stait on behalf of Amberley Publishing emailed me asking would I be interested in compiling a book, entitled ‘Merseyside Traction’. At first, I thought this may be a little wind up but in reality it was not, as Connor had viewed my 8A Rail Flickr photographic site and thought I would be the ideal person to compile such a book.

    Connor had agreed that it was up to myself what the contents would be as long it was related to Merseyside. In due course, the formalities were agreed upon, along with providing two previous published book examples to give myself an idea what the layout and format of the book should look like. On viewing these book examples, I knew that I could complete the project given a little time with the brief of a maximum of 180 images and 10,000 words, along with the front and back cover images too. I also had to consider that other authors had published books on a variety of rail related subjects linked to Merseyside, some whose knowledge and experience I would acknowledge well beyond my own.

    Now the hard work began with a completion date set for December 2017. I had to choose the images first and foremost. That was not an easy task, as I have been photographing trains in Merseyside since 1980 with a total of images taken running into five figures! This figure did not include other images I have taken around the UK, let alone the thousands I have taken of preserved steam too. Clearly I had to decide a time spam to cover, as realistically it would take more than one book to cover almost 40 years to give the locality some justice. Having decided to cover a 20 year period from 1998 to 2017 rather than say the last 10 years as example, I wanted to include the variety of motive power and liveries that had operated in Merseyside during that time, as well as the variety of photographic locations too.  Basically I needed to make the book as interesting as possible to attract wide attention as Merseyside is not exactly known as a mecca of railways within the United Kingdom. However, I knew different and maybe this was an opportunity to prove otherwise?

     

    Another image that did not quite make the final cut but still provides a good representation of the contents of the book is GBRf Class 59, No 59003 working 6F27 12.47hrs Liverpool Biomass Terminal to Tuebrook Sidings Biomass were the Class 59 will detach before heading to Drax AES Power Station behind a single Class 66 locomotive. It is seen here on a nice autumn day approaching Edge Lane Junction on the Bootle Branch line. 29 October 2015. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the hard work was only just about to begin with the process of selecting images for the book given the thousands of images to choose from! Why I selected the last 20 years was an easy decision as one of the images I wanted to show, was the last occasion a ‘Peak’ class locomotive hauled a Freightliner train in May 1999 and I was one of the few to record the working(s). I had also established early on, that over that period of time, numerous different locomotive classes had appeared in the area, not forgetting the variety of multiple units along with all the different liveries too. However, what I needed to avoid was the repetition of the ‘much loved’ EMD Class 66’s as that alone would be prevent people looking at the book let alone purchasing one! So a balance had to be met in order to make a fair representation of the motive power operated in Merseyside. Also during the 20 year period I had chosen, many locations and lines had changed, especially with regards to the railway infrastructure, basically out with the old, in with the new. Non-more so than the Liverpool & Manchester line with the introduction (and long over-due) of the overhead electrification. In consequence this allowed me the opportunity of one or two before and after images to be presented in the book.

    While compiling the images for the book, it was only then I realised the extent of the actual Merseyside county boundaries, where I thought a couple of locations were in Cheshire, were actually in Merseyside. However, I also then noted that the ‘Merseytravel’ transport boundary did actually go beyond the county boundary which gave me good reason to include, for example, Rainford which is in Lancashire. I had also noted at least twenty-six locomotive classes had been recorded as well as the appearance of twenty-two classes of multiple units most of which are regular visitors to the area. Merseyside is currently regularly served by seven Train Operating Companies, including Arriva Wales, Arriva North, East Midlands Trains, London Midland (now LNWr), Merseyrail, Trans Pennine Express and Virgin Trains with three Freight Operating Companies operating daily in and out of the area including DB Cargo, Freightliner and GBRF. However, Colas, Direct Rail Services, Network Rail, Rail Operations Group, and West Coast Railways do pass through the area too. So there is much variety to be recorded and that does not include the amount of liveries that have appeared too. It would also beg the question, how many areas around the UK actually provide such variety too? Not many I imagine!

    Passing the closed but now preserved Rainhill Signal Box on the Liverpool and Manchester line, Direct Rail Services Class 37, No 37194 with sister locomotive No 37667 on the rear hauling 1Q14 08.52hrs Derby RTC to Crewe 'Network Rail’ Measurement train. Since this image was taken, this line has now been fully electrified. 17 September 2012. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    In selecting the 185 images which took me 3 months to complete and no easy task either (not including the captions), I then realised how many images that were excluded rather those included, that gave me the feeling that this project had only just began. This is also not forgetting the numerous images taken from 1980 to 1998 which could produce another book or two also? However, I need to wait to see how ‘Merseyside Traction’ is received first and foremost, along with the sales too! Added to this is the thousands of other railway images I’ve taken around the UK including preserved steam, which makes me wonder are there other book projects could be in the offering especially as I enjoyed putting ‘Merseyside Traction’ (Part One??) together.

    Finally, I must thank Connor Stait, Commissioning Editor for considering me for this project and hopefully his faith is rewarded in due course. I also wish to sincerely thank various staff at Amberley Publishing for their time, patience and support. Also to Gordon Edgar whose words of wisdom and encouragement were much appreciated. Now it remains to see how the book is received and hopefully it becomes a popular book, but more importantly, I have done my local area proud? Fingers Cross.

    Doug Birmingham's new book Merseyside Traction is available for purchase now.

  • To Free the Romanovs: Royal Kinship and Betrayal 1917-1919 by Coryne Hall

    Saving the Imperial Jewels

    When revolution came to Russia in 1917 the Romanovs not only had to save themselves. They also possessed a fortune in jewels – and the means to which they went to in order to save them were unorthodox and often surprising.

    By the summer of 1917 the Tsar’s cousin Grand Duke Boris was anxious to retrieve the jewels of his widowed mother Grand Duchess Vladimir. The Grand Duchess was living in the remote Caucasus but her priceless jewels were still in Petrograd.

    Boris and his friend The Honourable ‘Bertie’ Stopford hatched an audacious scheme to save Grand Duchess Vladimir’s jewels from her Petrograd palace on Palace Embankment.

    Stopford, a rather shadowy figure, had some high powered connections. He travelled regularly between London and the continent during the war and although he had no official status as a King’s Messenger or as a member of staff of the British Embassy or Foreign Office, on one occasion is thought to have acted as a personal messenger for Queen Mary. He also delivered personal correspondence from George V to the Tsar in 1916 and is rumoured, although it has never been proved, to have worked for the Secret Intelligence Service. There could not be a better man for the job.

    The Imperial family at the time of the Tercentenary of the dynasty, 1913. Seated: Grand Duchess Olga, Nicholas II, Grand Duchess Anastasia, Tsarevich Alexei, Grand Duchess Tatiana. Behind: Grand Duchess Maria, Empress Alexandra. (Collection of Ian Shapiro, To Free the Romanovs, Amberley Publishing)

    Stopford knew the layout of the rooms in the official part of the Vladimir Palace very well but to get to the Grand Duchess’s safe in her private apartments would not be so easy. Boris told Stopford that there was a secret passage from a side entrance which led directly to his mother’s first floor boudoir. In this Moorish-style room was a concealed door leading to several such passages. From her boudoir it would be easy to reach her dressing room and, nearby, the locked metal safe containing her jewels.

    Instrumental in helping Stopford to gain access was the palace’s loyal caretaker, who ensured that entry to the building would be possible during the night.

    Stopford disguised himself as a workman and made his way into the palace unseen, through the suite of rooms to the safe. Carefully taking the jewellery apart, he wrapped it in newspaper and stuffed it into two rather shabby old Gladstone bags, along with any money he found in the safe. Some of the tiaras, however, were left intact, including the one of linked diamond circles which is often worn by Queen Elizabeth II today.

     

    Now he had to get out of the palace and through streets teeming with soldiers and police. The risk of being stopped and searched was great and he could not implicate the Grand Duchess or her son if he was caught red handed. He could even be shot for looting or theft.   It is not known exactly what Stopford did with the jewels that night but, as his hotel room had already been searched at least once, it is more likely that he used his contacts at the British Embassy to place them temporarily in the chancellery. Then, as the Grand Duchess had been president of the Imperial Academy of Arts, they were lodged with the director before being spirited out of Russia.

    The British Armoured Car Division was withdrawing and, by a strange coincidence, one of the men was called John Stopford.  John’s route took him eastwards via Vladivostok, Japan and America to London; Bertie Stopford left in the opposite direction by ship via Sweden. One of these men took the jewels and deposited them in a London bank vault.

    Queen Olga of Greece. The magnificent jewels of the Tsar’s Russian-born aunt were spirited out of Russia by the Danish Embassy. (Collection of Mark Andersen, To Free the Romanovs, Amberley Publishing)

    The Tsar’s Aunt Queen Olga of Greece enlisted the help of her lady in waiting Madame Baltazzi. One day a Greek student called at the Marble Palace where the Queen was living bringing a package of books. The guards carefully examined the parcel and admitted him. Sometime later he left carrying a box of the same size and shape made by the resourceful lady-in-waiting. It contained Olga’s priceless emeralds and other valuable gems. The guards, having searched him when he came in, saw no need to examine his parcel again. He delivered the jewels straight to the Danish Legation, from where they were sent to Copenhagen.

    Even more ingenious was another of the Tsar’s cousins, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna. She emptied a huge bottle of office ink and inside the empty bottle put the diamond rays of a tiara unstrung from its wire. She then poured paraffin over the diamonds and replaced the ink. A large label all round the bottle obscured its contents and it stood in plain sight on her desk. Other jewels were hidden in home-made paperweights, while used empty cocoa tins were dipped in wax and provided with a wick to simulate a candle. Sometimes these were lit in front of the icons to deceive the servants, who had no idea that priceless jewels were concealed inside. Before leaving Russia Marie sent this concealed jewellery to the Swedish Legation for safekeeping and it eventually reached her in exile.

    As for the jewels of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her daughters, when Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia left Tobolsk in the spring of 1918 some jewels went to Ekaterinburg with them concealed in their clothes, but at least three caches of jewels were left behind.

    One was given to a nun, who hid some in a well and concealed others in a belfry and graves in the cemetery at the Ivanovsky Convent in Tobolsk. When the convent was closed in 1923 an elderly nun was going to throw the gems into the river but was persuaded instead to give them to a local fish merchant. He hid 154 items of jewellery in the basement of his house in two glass jars placed inside a wooden case. These were discovered by Stalin’s secret police in 1933 after the nun was arrested and interrogated. Today these items would be worth over seven million pounds. Two more caches are still missing, including a suitcase given to the priest Alexei Vassiliev, which is said to contain diamonds and ‘crowns’ belonging to the empress and her daughters. The priest died in 1930 and the treasure is believed to be hidden in Tobolsk or Omsk.

    Another casket, given to the tutor Claudia Bittner by her husband Colonel Kobylinsky (to whom it had been given by the Tsar), was later given to Constantine Pechekos. When interrogated in 1934 he said it was hidden in his brother’s house at Omsk, which turned out to be untrue. He then attempted suicide and, again, the treasure was never found.

    Other jewels, and even a stash of tsarist gold, are believed to still remain hidden in the area. So maybe the future will yield up more Romanov treasure.

    Coryne Hall's new book To Free the Romanovs: Royal Kinship and Betrayal 1917-1919 is available for purchase now.

  • Lady M: The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818 by Colin Brown

    Elizabeth, 'Lady M', etching by Braun Clement after John Hoppner. (c. National Portrait Gallery, Lady M: The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818, Amberley Publishing)

    Elizabeth Lamb was sexy, shrewd and presided over a salon for the fashionable Whig set for three decades but in writing her biography I found fresh evidence that Elizabeth Lamb, the Viscountess of Melbourne was as scheming and ruthless as Marquess de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

     She was almost proud of her reputation for intrigue. When she commissioned an artist to do a group portrait of herself and her two closest friends, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and Anne Damer, a sculptor, she arranged it so they were portrayed as the three witches in Macbeth, casting spells on those around her. Not that she regarded herself as a wicked witch, but others did, and today she might be regarded as a monster who would do anything for her ambition to rise to the top of Georgian society.

    She lived by a rule that provided a woman had done her duty in producing an heir for her husband, she should be free to have as many lovers as she liked. Before the age of contraception this led to the birth of many illegitimate offspring but such were the different moral codes before the Victorians, a Georgian man invariably accepted his wife’s infidelities and her children as his own. Lady Melbourne had six surviving children but only the first, Peniston, was by her husband, Peniston Lamb. Her second son, William – who later became Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister – was almost certainly sired by George Wyndham, the third earl of Egremont, Elizabeth’s long-term lover who owned Petworth house in Sussex. Her fourth son, George, was widely assumed to be the result of Elizabeth’s brief sexual encounters with the young, plump Prince of Wales when she visited Eton to see Peniston.

    Elizabeth had been born Elizabeth Milbanke in 1751 in the Yorkshire Dales at Halnaby Hall – now only the stables survive – but she managed to rise from being a squire’s daughter to one of the leading ladies of Georgian society. Her marriage to Peniston was a marriage of convenience for both parties. He wanted the respectability of the Milbanke’s. She wanted Peniston’s fortune – he had inherited £1 million from his father, with two country houses, Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire, and Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, with a comfortable house in Sackville Street, just off Piccadilly.

    Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire - Elizabeth took a keen interest in agriculture. (Author's collection, Lady M: The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818, Amberley Publishing)

    She discovered soon after she had married Peniston while she was pregnant with his son that her husband had taken up with a celebrated courtesan called Sophia Baddeley, whose friend humiliated Elizabeth by writing her kiss and tell memoirs which claimed Peniston had promised Sophia lavish sums of money providing she would only have sex with him. Elizabeth had her revenge by having a string of lovers and spending Peniston’s fortune firstly on a splendid London house – now converted into flats called the Albany, still one of the most prestigious addresses in Piccadilly.

    Georgiana came under Lady Melbourne’s spell, which infuriated Georgiana’s mother, Lady Spencer who repeatedly ordered her daughter to break off her friendship with Lady Melbourne, to no avail. It was almost as though Georgiana was afraid of Lady Melbourne and wrote many letters (now in Lamb archive at the British Library) pleading with Lady Melbourne not to be angry with her. Lady Mary Coke complained the Duchess ‘cannot walk into a room; she must come in with a hop and a jump’. I found that was not Elizabeth’s style. Where the Duchess was gushing and gauche, Elizabeth was calculating, scheming, politically shrewd. Her advice was to prove disastrous for her intimate friend Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, (1757-1806), however.

    Georgiana spent years trying to produce an heir for the Duke and when she did, she then took Lady Melbourne’s lead by taking a couple of lovers. However, where Lady Melbourne insisted on absolute secrecy about her affairs, Georgiana fell pregnant to a rising Whig politician, Charles Grey and she was quickly confronted by the Duke who insisted on her having the child in exile in France to limit the scandal – and the potential problems of inheritance. Unlike Lady Melbourne, she was forced to give up the child, a girl, who was brought up in the country by Grey’s parents.

    York House, Whitehall, as it looked when it was exchanged by the Duke of York with the Melbournes. (Lady M: The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818, Amberley Publishing)

    Elizabeth’s intrigues reached a climax in her middle age when the poet Lord Byron literally stumbled into their lives. The Melbourne’s had done a house swop with the Duke of York and moved from Piccadilly to the Duke’s house in Whitehall, now Dover House, the Scotland Office, jammed between Horse Guards and the Cabinet Office. William Lamb’s wife, Caroline Lamb, was holding dancing parties and had invited the young poet who had burst onto the scene like a pop star with his epic poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage. He had one leg shorter than the other, and tripped on the staircase at Melbourne House. He commented to a friend: ‘It is a bad omen’. He was right. Caroline fell head over heels in love with the dashing poet and for a hot summer in 1812 they became passionate lovers. Caroline’s ‘crime’ in Lady Melbourne’s eyes was not that she had cuckolded her son; it was that she conducted her affair in public. After an earlier affair, she wrote an excoriating letter to her daughter-in-law saying: ‘When one braves the opinion of the World sooner or later they will feel the consequences of it.’

    Lady Caroline Lamb today would be regarded as a wild child, a celebrity starlet, the darling of the gossip columns. Byron tired of Caroline’s attentions – she dressed up as a page to get into his rooms and slashed her wrists at a ball – and tried to drop her. Astonishingly, her mother-in-law set about helping Byron to extricate himself from Caroline’s desperate clutches. And she did so by helping to engineer a marriage between Byron and her niece, Annabella Milbanke. The marriage was a disaster but I found evidence that Lady Melbourne was keen to promote it – even after she discovered that Byron had had an affair with his half-sister, and had a child with her. Byron and Lady Melbourne exchanged rings and letters like lovers. There were claims that she had become Byron’s lover. She was sixty one and he was twenty four. It may seem unlikely but she was such an extraordinary woman, no-one would say it never happened.

    Colin Brown's new book Lady M: The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818 is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Finds from Staffordshire by Teresa Gilmore

    Thor's Cave, Manifold Valley, Staffordshire Moorlands. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Over 13,000 finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) as being found in Staffordshire and this book highlights fifty of those finds and their significance to the county. The majority are in private ownership, but some have been acquired by either the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery or Tamworth Castle. The finds I have selected are a personal choice, with them either having come in to me for recording or are of major significance to the county. More information can be found on each find by searching on the PAS database (www.finds.org.uk/database), using the database record number, often prefixed by WMID or another similar combination of letters. Treasure cases are referred to using both their PAS database record number and a reference number which takes the form of yearTnumber, e.g. 2016T1037.

    The chosen finds come from inside the modern county boundary, not the historic one, but include the unitary authority of Stoke-on-Trent.

    Each of the fifty finds should be considered to be ‘Treasure’, either by the legal definition of Treasure or because they were a ‘treasured’ possession.

    Treasure is legally defined as:

    * Any artefact older than 300 years old, with a precious metal content of greater than 10 per cent;

    * Two or more precious metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Ten or more base metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Two or more items of prehistoric metalwork from the same find-spot, found after 2003;

    * An item found in association with an item of treasure, i.e. a pottery vessel that held a coin hoard;

    * Anything that could be classified under the original Treasure Trove legislation, i.e. less than 300 years old but hidden with intention to recover, with a significant precious metal content.

    To be recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, finds do not have to be classified as ‘Treasure’. Any archaeological find, over 300 years old, is worth a record.

    Letocetum, Wall near Lichfield. The bath house remains are in the foreground, and the mansio is in the background. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    These finds provide tantalising clues about the lives of everyday people in past societies. From cooking pots to brooches; from ear scoops to hair pins; from coins to weights; from axeheads to bridle bits; each one helps complete our archaeological jigsaw puzzle.

    All artefacts recorded have been found by metal detectorists, field walkers or members of the public. The PAS record includes an identification of the artefact and details of where it was found, with a minimum of a six-figure Ordnance Survey (OS) grid reference (100 metre square).

    Knowing where something has come from can change the understanding of an artefact.

    For instance, a Roman coin by itself can be just a stray loss, but being found alongside other coins and artefacts of similar dating might indicate a settlement.

    A selection of different finds types encountered, not to scale. (C. Birmingham Museums Trusst/Portable Antiquities Scheme, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Responsible detecting is promoted, so landowner permission must be sought prior to detecting. All land in England and Wales is owned by someone, whether it is private, Crown or public. Finds are then reported to a local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for recording on the PAS database.

    We advise that metal detectorists adhere to a code of conduct, recognised by the National Council for Metal Detecting and the PAS. This recommends that permission is sought, the Countryside Code followed and that finds are shown to the landowner and reported to the PAS. The code can be found online at https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/ codeofpractice.

    Scotland is not covered by the PAS, due to different landownership laws. There, all archaeological finds found below ground are considered to be Treasure and must be declared. The Scottish version of the PAS is Treasure Trove Scotland, managed by Historic Scotland and based in Edinburgh at the National Museum.

    Generally most archaeological work undertaken in Staffordshire, and the rest of the country, is the result of development, e.g. a new housing estate or road-widening scheme. The National Planning Policy Framework, in particular Planning Policy Statement Five (PPS5) and its predecessor Planning Policy Guidance Sixteen (PPG16), states that prior to any development occurring, where appropriate, an archaeological investigation has to take place.

    This investigation can take many levels: from a desk-based assessment, which makes reference to previous recorded finds, known standing buildings and sites, to assess the potential for archaeological remains; to trial trenches dug through selected features, like Time Team; through to a full-scale excavation, where a large area is opened up, features sampled and dug.

    Tamworth Castle. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    PAS data contributes at the start, at the desk-based assessment level. Each find recorded by the PAS adds another dot to the map, sometimes supplying dating for crop mark or earthwork features in the area. The more dots there are, the more information we have for an area, so the full potential can be assessed and the right approach can be recommended to the client, such as excavation.

    A strength of the PAS is that, through recording these finds, it means that fields and upland areas not under threat of development can be surveyed. These areas would not get investigated by other means.

    When looking through the PAS database, there is a strong bias towards copper alloy and lead artefact types, as opposed to ferrous (iron), lithic (stone) and ceramic (pottery) materials. This is explained by a discrimination feature on most metal detectors, allowing them to tune out ferrous signals and concentrate on those from other metals, such as copper, lead and precious metals. Most ferrous finds tend to be modern. Lithic and ceramic materials are not picked up by the metal detector, but rely on visual scanning methods, such as field walking or good observation.

    Teresa Gilmore's new book 50 Finds from Staffordshire is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Mid Wales by Geoff Brookes

    The Murder of John Price 1826 - Llanafan Fawr, Powys

    I have included Llanafan Fawr in my book 50 Gems of Mid Wales but I have only been able to give it a bare 220 words. But it is insufficient to capture the story of a remarkable dispute between two families, remembered now by a crumbling gravestone.

    Llanafan Fawr church. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    The B4358 sweeps up from Beulah towards Newbridge on Wye and, if you are paying proper attention to the traffic, you might miss the church which stands quietly opposite the Red Lion, the oldest inn in Wales. The Church of St Afan has a long history – and a murderous one. It contains one of the oldest living objects in the country and also a fascinating gravestone.

    The church, built upon an Iron Age mound, is pre-dated by the huge yew tree, estimated to be over 2300 years old. It is a tree that has seen so much drama, so much murder.

    This is such a beautiful and remote place. Hills unchanged, kites circling as they always have. And through the years a community has lived here, where lives have been carved out, away from the rest of us. Jealousies, rivalries, disputes, vendettas – things that the rest of us have known nothing about – have consumed them, defining their lives and their deaths. Old rivalries. Old crimes.

    About thirty metres away from the church door, on the left, you will find it.  An old weathered stone, almost indecipherable now, but unique, carrying both the name of the victim – and his murderer. If you stare at it long enough the inscription will still emerge from the past.

    John Price who was murdered on the Darren Hill in this parish by R. Lewis.

    April 21 1826

    The gravestone. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    The Cambrian newspaper reported the murder a week later. It tells us that John Price was found, ‘his neck twisted till the blood ran out of his ears so that his death must have been occasioned by a dislocation of his vertebrae.’ Suspicions fell upon Rees Lewis, a shepherd and neighbour, who had disappeared. But the Price’s didn’t need evidence. Their suspicions always fell upon the notorious Lewis family.

    This was one of the final acts in a dispute that combined these two families in mutual loathing and which had sparked another notorious murder 42 years previously, when Lewis Lewis killed Thomas Price.

    The Lewis family were, it seems, a lawless bunch, ‘a vicious, wicked set of people.’ Sheep stealing, riotous behaviour and assault run unchecked through their history. David Lewis was transported to Australia for stealing a turkey. His wife Margaret was accused of murdering an illegitimate infant son, fathered in David’s absence. She was acquitted and went on to become the midwife in the parish.

    The Price family weren’t much better. Thomas Price himself was accused of Riot and Assault in July 1784, just before his murder, and others were involved in stealing livestock themselves.

    By 1784 the Lewis family were finding Thomas Price hard to take. They might have been self-confessed villains but they took comfort from the fact that he was worse. They would often find their sheep dead in the fields, laid head to tail, killed by Price and his dog.

    Then, in October 1784 Thomas Price disappeared. A search was organised, one that even involved young Thomas Lewis, but there was no trace of him. The Lewis family, naturally, were accused by Thomas Price’s wife Gwenllian to no avail. Rewards for information were offered but the trail went cold and the Lewis sheep remain untroubled.

    However, in 1788 John Lewis was convicted of sheep stealing and was sentenced to transportation for 14 years. The prospect was horrifying. He was ‘frightened in the highest degree at the accounts from thence and resolved rather to be hanged here, than to be starved there.’ Who can blame him?

    And so he sang.  He told the magistrates everything he knew about the death of Thomas Price four years earlier. He had fallen out with his brother Lewis Lewis and could see no reason to protect either him or his two sons, one also called Lewis and the other, Thomas.

    So Thomas Lewis was arrested. Within a fortnight he too turned King’s Evidence and in so doing condemned both his father and his brother to the gallows.

    Lewis Lewis the Elder had offered sheep to his sons if they would kill Thomas Price. Lewis Lewis the Younger and his pal Evan Davies were eager to take up the offer, though Thomas claimed that he was less enthusiastic and that it was Lewis who made the plans.

    The yew tree, a silent witness to 2,500 years of history. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    In October 1784 the three of them had waylaid Thomas Price. Lewis knocked him to the ground with a stick and then strangled him, whilst Davies thumped him in the stomach. Thomas Lewis said that he just held down his legs. Their indictment would later say that they ‘did not have the fear of God before their eyes but were seduced by the instigation of the devil.’ Well, it happens a lot in Mid Wales, even today.

    Once he was dead, Lewis took Price’s purse and shared with them the contents of 6 shillings. They threw the body into a pool and Lewis hanged Price’s dog with the same cord that had strangled its master.

    Thomas Lewis, already regretting his involvement, joined the search party to throw suspicion away from himself. It was Lewis and Davies who then dragged the body from the first pool and threw it to a deeper one called Varlen Vawr, submerging it with a large boulder. Thomas was the one though who found the body in May 1785, when it bobbed back up to the surface. Together with their father, they put the corpse into a sack and carried it by horse to the home of the Younger Lewis Lewis where they spent all night trying to burn the wet body using wood and turf.

    In the morning they packed up the bones yet unburnt and trampled the fragments and the ashes into the garden. The next night they tried again to burn the troublesome bones, this time at the Elder Lewis Lewis house, again scattering the debris into the garden the next morning. They did indeed stamp upon the skull but the fragments were still recognisable in 1788.

    Evan Davies and the younger Lewis fled once they realised that Thomas was singing in custody. Davies disappeared but Lewis was apprehended in Dolgellau. He was tried and condemned to death. He was reconciled with his brother Thomas and a large crowd witnessed his execution, the first in Brecon for 30 years. It was an occasion of the ‘greatest decorum and solemnity,’ despite his mother turning up to watch, calling out ‘Bydd fawr’n galed Lewis (‘Die hard Lewis’) whilst eating a pie.

    Vendettas have a habit of repeating themselves. In 1826, Rees Lewis strangled John Price with a necktie. He pleaded not guilty but was condemned and, like his relatives before, was hanged at Brecon. The Price family could not miss this opportunity to point a finger at their enemies through the gravestone we can still see. All that passion and hatred, once so real, is now represented by a simple crumbling stone.

    We cannot visit the grave of Lewis Lewis. After his execution his body was displayed in a gibbet near Llanafan Fawr. The family took away his body for secret burial at night during a storm. Unable to release the ankle chains, they cut off his feet and left them behind. A local dog found the feet and took one home to his master.

    Who owned the dog?

    John Price.

    Geoff Brookes new book 50 Gems of Mid Wales is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Jarrow by Paul Perry

    In the Saxon word Gyrwe, long since corrupted into Jarrow, there is considerable historical as well as etymological significance. A translation loosely means marsh or fen, from which we may discern that Jarrow took its name from what we know as the 'slake', a body of water. It is probable this marshland covered a far larger area than it has done in more recent years. Twice it was used as a haven by the Romans who anchored their vessels at the mouth of the River Don, and by King Egfrid who sheltered the whole of his fleet, and afterwards the Viking longboats from two notorious invasions. The local history from these times is fragmentary, but what we do know is, the River Don, in ancient times was not the little waterway we know today, being large enough to accommodate the vessels of invaders. Jarrow also claims the honour of having been a former Roman station and village. This we can ascertain from the Roman inscriptions found during the rebuilding of the church in 1783, and the discovery of two square pavements of Roman stones. The station, allegedly built by Agricola who erected forts from the mouth of the Tyne to the Solway Firth in AD81. In AD681 King Egfrid gave to Abbott Benedict Biscop, a grant of land, upon which to build a monastery at Jarrow, and this was to commence the history of our town.

    Dedication stone at St Paul's Church. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

    The names carved on the stone dedicated to St Paul's church in AD685 and the king and priest whose names are recorded among them have been partially obliterated, over thirteen centuries. The words themselves may still be read on the stone located above the west arch of the tower. Much of the primitive structure of the church still survives, including the oldest example of stained glass in Europe, and is entitled to hold the honour of being one of the oldest buildings in the country. At the time of the churches' dedication when it, together with the monastery rose from the flat marshland, the winding River Don, then a crystal stream rippling past and opening into the swelling Tyne, must have been a matchless scene of tranquil solitude. Meanwhile growing up in the Abbey of St Peter at Wearmouth there was a child called Bede who had been devoted to the service of the Lord and was called by Him to greater things. Bede commenced his education at St Peter's and by the age of twelve was installed with the brothers at the monastery at Jarrow. The child whose whole life was spent within the cloisters and church at Jarrow, grew up to be a man of great knowledge, humility and piety, saint, scholar and a man of science. In his cell was the lamp of English learning which attracted scholars from all parts of England and Europe. Bede's own works are voluminous and varied, mastering all that was known to man. The forty five works he left behind, apart from the various theological pieces included music, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic and medicine. He was a whole encyclopaedia of knowledge. He was a skilled musician, he wrote and spoke Latin, and possessed the rare accomplishments of Greek and Hebrew, and an advocate of the English tongue, then in its infancy. He was the first English historian and his ' Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation' rapidly spread his reputation throughout Christian Europe.

    Bede's Well at Monkton. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

    From this little insignificant monastery on the edge of Christian civilisation, Bede dominated the intellectual brains of Europe for four centuries. His final work, the translation into English 'The Gospel of St John'. This was carried out under painful suffering and ailing health. This great man who toiled for the benefit of the English nation and his fellow brethren died from asthma on 26 May AD735, aged 62. He was buried in a porch at the church he cherished so dearly. Pilgrims flocked from all parts of England and Europe to pay homage at the tomb of the 'Father of English Learning'. Today, Bede's relics remain at Durham cathedral in a sepulchre befitting a man of such great wisdom and knowledge, who gained respect throughout the literary world.

    The names of the abbots of Jarrow, or Donmouth as it was often referred to, are recorded in the book, 'Lives of the Abbots of Jarrow', written after the monastery was plundered in Danish invasions, when the twin monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow were looted, Jarrow so severely it had to be abandoned and lay desolate for some 150 years. The Saxon Chronicle said of the invasions, the heathens ravaged amongst the Northumbrians and pillaged Ecgferths monastery at Donmouth, one of their leaders was slain, and some of their vessels wrecked by a great storm, resulting in severe loss of life. In the eleventh century, the Jarrow monastery was occupied by just a few brothers, when three monks from Durham, having fled from an army of William the Conqueror, sought shelter for themselves and the body of St Cuthbert. Aldwine, Ealfwin and Kinfrid were sent by William Walcher, Bishop of Durham in 1075, to restore the monastery but this was unsuccessful. As the centuries passed, further attempts were made to restore the crumbling cloisters, but by this time had suffered irreparable damage. Its Roman and Saxon ruins have lain undisturbed for centuries.

    Paul Perry's new book A-Z of Jarrow is available for purchase now.

  • Jurassic Park Collectibles by Kristof Thijs

    Jurassic Park Electronic Command Compound. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Twenty-five years ago Jurassic Park was released in movie theatres. It was an adventure 65 million years in the making that shattered box office records. Its groundbreaking special effects laid the foundation for effects still used today.

    Many companies seized the opportunity to get their names attached to the Jurassic Park franchise. The JP license quickly swept around the world, filling store shelves with toys, apparel, games and much more with the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex logo.

    I've been collecting Jurassic Park merchandise since the movie was released in 1993. I was eleven years old and already had a fascination for dinosaurs. So the first JP toys I got where still to play with. I quickly outgrew that phase, but I couldn't stop getting more items. Eventually I kept them in their packaging because it looked cooler and started putting them on shelves in one of the rooms at my parents' place. I called it my museum where I showcased my Jurassic Park items, dinosaur models and fossils I found at the local quarry.

    In honour of the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, and the anniversary of the start of my collection, I'd like to highlight one item from every Jurassic Park line that was released between 1993 en 2015.

    The Command Compound was one of Kenner's last big toy sets. It was inspired by the visitor centre that can be seen in the film. It came with the iconic Jurassic Park gate that could be 'crashed' open by one of the toy vehicles. Inside there was a talking computer with more then a hundred different phrases.

     

    The Lost World: Jurassic Park Bull T-Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1997 Kenner picked up the JP license again for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While they designed plenty of new figures and dinosaurs, they also reused some of the old 1993 molds. The Bull T-Rex was originally planned for 1993 but the series II toy line, but was eventually scrapped. It came with an escape pod holding a scared action figure. The pod could be shoved down the throat of the Rex and then retrieved through an opening in its stomach.

     

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect Velociraptoryx. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Universal Studios was toying around with the idea for a cartoon called Chaos Effect. It would have featured hybrid dinosaurs roaming freely on Isla Sorna. The cartoon was never produced, but Kenner went ahead with the toy line, although plenty of announced toys were never produced. Most of the hybrids that got released were simple repaints from 1993 and 1997, but a handful were brand new sculpts. The Velocirapteryx was one of them. It was a sleek toy with bold colours and featured a shrieking sound effect. The hybrid was a combination between a Velociraptor and an Archaeopteryx.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park III Animatronic Spinosaurus. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Hasbro ditched the Kenner brand in 2001 for the release of the Jurassic Park III toys. All sculpts were brand new and no longer were designed with action figure / dinosaur scale in mind. The biggest dinosaur, and probably most ambitious, was the Animatronic Spinosaurus. By pushing buttons that were hidden under the soft skin, the Spino's head would move like a real animatronic. The system that controls the movement was not designed with durability in mind. It breaks very easy and therefore it's really hard to find one today that's in mind condition.

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park Dino Showdown Allosaurus Assault. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In between films Hasbro tried to fill the gaps by releasing repaints of their existing dinosaur models. They were often exclusives for a specific store chain in the United States like Toys "R" Us or Target. After many repaints of the same dinosaurs over and over again, Hasbro surprised fans by putting out two models that were not only brand new sculpts, they were also quite revolutionary in the portrayal of dinosaurs. Something that the Jurassic Park franchise is not known for. Two Dino Showdown sets were released: Pachyrhinosaurus Clash and Allosaurus Assault. Each came with a GI Joe action figure from Hasbro's forgotten vault.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Wolrd Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2015 Hasbro once again went back the drawing board for their Jurassic World toy line. Although the film was a massive hit, the toys sadly were not. Many complaint about the quality of the toys. They broke easily and the paint jobs were often sloppy. Initially no action figures were released, except for generic miniature army guys that came with vehicles sets. One of the sets even came with a card board figure. Hasbro tried to make things right with their Dino Hybrid line that reused (parts) of the existing dinosaurs they released in 2015. Their best effort was the Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. Although it looked like the large Indominus Rex from the year before, it was in fact a new sculpt with menacing colours and electronic sound effects.

    Not long after the release of the Dino Hybrid toy line, it was announced that Hasbro lost the Jurassic World license to competitor Mattel. Their toys are now slowly filling up stores, sometimes even sharing shelves with unsold Hasbro Jurassic World toys. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming out soon, I can't wait to see what else Mattel and Universal Studios have in store. I have to fill up that "museum" after all…

    Kristof Thijs' new book Jurassic Park Collectibles is available for purchase now.

  • Industries of East Shropshire Through Time by Neil Clarke

    The Area’s Natural Resources

    Modern farming in a former mining landscape: Little Worth with Coalmoor beyond, in the parish of Little Wenlock. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    East Shropshire has been endowed with a variety of natural resources, both below and above ground. In addition to minerals such as coal, iron ore, clay, limestone and building stone, the area possesses rich agricultural land, woodland and water supplies. A wide range of manufacturing industries developed from these resources.

     

    Manufacturing Industries

    A remarkable range of industrial activity has taken place in East Shropshire over many centuries. Artefacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages (possibly made locally) have been found in the area, and it is thought that the Romans used coal in their manufacture of metal and clay products at locations in and around Wroxeter. In the Middle Ages, the local monasteries at Buildwas, Lilleshall, Wenlock and Wombridge granted licences for the mining and quarrying of coal, ironstone and building stone on their estates. The towns that grew up in the area from the medieval period onwards – Wellington, Newport, Shifnal, Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock – developed the manufacture and trade of such items as textiles, leather and metal goods. The granting of market charters and other privileges to these towns recognised their growing status.

    However, from the late sixteenth century, the biggest changes in the area developed on the Coalbrookdale Coalfield. Here, the working of deposits of coal, ironstone and clay laid the foundations of the industries that were to give the area an early lead in the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century.

    At first, most of the coal that was mined on either side of the Ironbridge Gorge was transported down-river to areas where it was used as a domestic and industrial fuel. The coal trade on the Severn continued to expand over the next 250 years, but much of the increased output of the Coalfield was needed to feed the area’s developing iron industry in the form of coke. It was Abraham Darby I who first successfully used coke to smelt iron at Coalbrookdale soon after 1709, and from the middle of the eighteenth century all new blast furnaces were coke-fuelled. The earliest method of making coke was to burn off the coal’s impurities in open heaps, but coking ovens were later introduced. In the 1780s, Archibald Cochrane 9th Earl of Dundonald) established works at Calcutts (Jackfield) and Benthall for the extraction of by-products from coal – coke, tar, pitch and oil. Several local ironmasters built coke and tar kilns based on those of the Earl of Dundonald. Another by-product of this destructive distillation of coal was what became known as town gas, which was made at a number of gasworks in the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    The moulding shop at the Court Works, Madeley, in the 1920s. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The earliest way of making iron was by the direct process of heating ore in a bloomery; however, by the sixteenth century charcoal-fired blast furnaces producing pig iron had been set up at four locations in the area. The introduction of coke as a fuel in the early eighteenth century, with the availability of local supplies of limestone as a flux, led to a rapid expansion of the iron industry, and by 1800 there were some fifteen ironworks with coke-fired furnaces on the Coalbrookdale Coalfield – one of the country’s leading ironmaking areas. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Old Park ironworks was the largest in Shropshire and the second largest in Britain. During the century, local production of pig iron continued to increase, but its proportion of the national output fell from over a quarter of the total in 1800 to about 10 per cent in 1830 and 4 per cent in 1860. By this time, apart from John Onions’ foundry at Broseley, all the East Shropshire ironworks – including furnaces, foundries, forges and rolling mills – were north of the Ironbridge Gorge. Dwindling mineral resources and competition from other areas led to the closure of most of the furnaces by the end of the nineteenth century, with only Madeley Court, Blists Hill and Priorslee, together with some local foundries, surviving into the next century. Heavy engineering and steel-making firms established in the second half of the nineteenth century at New Yard (Wrockwardine Wood) Horsehay, Donnington and Hadley continued to operate until the 1980s.

    Local clays were used in the manufacture of a variety of products from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. There was a concentration of works on the south bank of the River Severn: at Jackfield earthenware and pottery, bricks and tiles, and encaustic tiles were made; Broseley was famous not only for its tobacco smoking pipes but also its bricks and tiles; fine porcelain was made at Caughley and pottery and later drainage pipes at Benthall. North of the river, fine china was made at Coalport; brickworks were built over a wide area, particularly by most of the ironworks owners; drainage pipes were made at Doseley; and sanitary ware was manufactured by the Lilleshall Company at Snedshill (Oakengates).

    The quarries of Wenlock Edge were the last productive source of limestone in the area. In the second half of the twentieth century, the bulk of the limestone was used for aggregates in the construction industry, while some was used for concrete-based products and agricultural lime, and a small amount was used for fluxing purposes and building stone.

    The produce of the land has fostered a range of manufacturing industries. In the past, crop farming provided barley for brewing and hemp for rope-making, while animal farming provided milk for dairy products, skins for leather, wool for textiles and meat for the food industry. Local woodland at one time provided domestic and industrial fuel, as well as timber for building construction, furniture-making and the production of wood naphtha. Streams drove the water wheels of local corn and paper mills, and a supply of water from the River Severn was a critical factor in the siting of both Ironbridge power stations.

     

     Industry Today

    Joseph Sankey bought Hadley Castle Works in 1910 and utilised the buildings of the former tramcar works. Sankey's works specialised in motor vehicle wheels and bodies, and expanded with the burgeoning motor industry. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Today there is possibly a greater variety of industrial activity within East Shropshire than there ever was in the past, but it is of a very different character. Mining and heavy industry have been replaced by a range of light engineering, technical, food and service industries, and this newer industrial activity has been concentrated on industrial estates and business parks. However, a handful of older industries have survived, including Aga cookers at Ketley, GKN Sankey at Hadley, Blockley’s brickworks at New Hadley/Trench Lock, and Leaton quarry at Wrockwardine. Brewing and the making of encaustic tiles at Jackfield have been revived on a modest scale, and soft toy manufacture is still carried on by Merrythought Ltd at Ironbridge. The newspaper and tourist industries also have their roots in the past.

    The largest concentration of industrial estates and business parks is within Telford, where six sites were designated for such use when the New Town area was enlarged in 1968 – Halesfield, Heath Hill, Hortonwood, Stafford Park, Trench Lock and Tweedale. In fact, the first industrial estate had already been laid out at Tweedale and the first factory occupied two years previously (below). Outside Telford, industrial estates and business parks have also sprung up at Bridgnorth, Broseley, Much Wenlock, Newport and Shifnal.

    As well as the different character of modern industrial activity in East Shropshire, few local resources are now used in the manufacturing processes. The movement of goods, whether raw materials or products, has been by road haulage since the 1960s, with the completion of the M54 in 1983 providing a vital link to the national motorway network. The only regular rail-borne traffic in recent years has been that to Ironbridge Power Station, which ended with the closure of the plant in 2015. The potential of the rail freight terminal at Donnington has still to be realised.

    Neil Clarke's new book Industries of East Shropshire Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Chesterfield by Richard Bradley

    The Crooked Spire, Chesterfield's wonky landmark. (Secret Chesterfield, Amberley Publishing)

    My first book, Secret Chesterfield, published February through Amberley, was an accidental conception. It was never one of my life's ambitions to write a book about Chesterfield – it just sort of happened. I had been working on an ongoing survey of Derbyshire folklore and calendar customs, past and present, and had made a list of potential publishers who specialised in local history to approach, Amberley being one of the companies was on my hit list. In 2016 I discovered that Amberley in conjunction with the Historical Association had run a national history book competition – but only saw this after the closing date. I saw by chance that in 2017 the competition was being re-run – this time three days before the deadline. I managed to squeak an entry in in time – but didn’t win.

    However, the unexpected consolation prize was that shortly after the competition deadline I was contacted by Nick Grant of Amberley and asked if I wanted to write a title for them. Err, OK then. Seemed like too good an offer to refuse! Having been sent a list of the local history strands that Amberley published, the one that appealed to me the most by far was the 'Secret’ series one. Chesterfield was mutually agreed on the area to focus on as I had quite a bit of material from my existing research covering the area. Although I hadn't grown up there myself, most of my family comes from the surrounding towns and villages. I didn’t really possess the requisite time, inclination or discipline required to write a comprehensive history of Chesterfield from the founding of the town to the present day, but the 'Secret' series was just up my street, focussing on the history that had fallen through the cracks in the pavements. The worst indictment for 'Secret Chesterfield' would be for a member of the townsfolk to read it from cover to cover and think, 'Well, I knew all that already!' It was a fun challenge hunting out obscure facts and episodes that it seemed most people wouldn’t know about.

    George Stephenson, inventor of straight cucumbers. Oh, and public railways. (Secret Chesterfield, Amberley Publishing)

    I studied History at A Level, but the exalted activities of Louis XIV lavishing his subjects’ money on extending his vanity project palace at Versailles and the tedious ins and outs of British political history of the 1800s had failed to inspire me, and I subsequently received a ‘D’ (there were six of us in my History class; two of my fellow students got results good enough to net themselves a place at the University of Cambridge). On a personal level, the publication of Secret Chesterfield goes some way towards atonement for my rubbish A Level result.

    The visuals were an important part of the project, the 'Secret’ series requiring 100 images to illustrate them. As a non-driver, I passed through Chesterfield on the train most weeks taking my son to visit his grandparents. Throughout the summer and autumn months, as we were picked up at Chesterfield Station I would ask my parents if we could just make a brief detour before driving over to their house in order that I could photograph an ice cream factory/milestone/remains of an oilwell at the back of a garden centre/abandoned churchyard for inclusion in the book. The most surreal moment came when I rang them up en route to meet us and asked if they had a spare cucumber, which I then balanced precariously on the palm of the statue of the town’s illustrious adopted son George Stephenson outside Chesterfield Railway Station, to illustrate his perfectionist zeal for growing immaculately straight cucumbers. This act drew glances from passing commuters which ranged from puzzlement to mild alarm.

    I also enjoyed sourcing the archive images for the book. I have collected postcards on and off for years, so added a few new (old) postcards of Chesterfield to my collection for the purposes of illustrating the book, as the author guidance notes I received from Amberley explained that old postcards are generally OK to use from a copyright point of view. I also sweet-talked various local groups including the Dronfield Heritage Trust, the North East Derbyshire Field Club, and the Chesterfield Astronomical Society (who let me use some wonderful images of their observatory, tucked away down a cul-de-sac in Newbold, being built in the 1950s) into kindly allowing me to use old photos from their collections, which really do add a lot to the book.

    The finished article: town pump Princess Diana well dressing, 2017. (Secret Chesterfield, Amberley Publishing)

    The thread of part of my narrative for a ‘Secret’ history ended up being spoilt rather unexpectedly (and spectacularly) during the course of the writing process. I was including a chapter on ‘Water’ in the book in which I planned to include the Chesterfield well dressings. This practice, of producing a design using natural materials (flower petals, moss, bark, pine cones wool, etc.) in thanks for the gift of water during the summer months, is a well-known phenomenon largely peculiar to Derbyshire. However, it is much more readily associated with the villages of the limestone White Peak areas of the Peak District such as Tideswell, Youlgrave, Buxton and Wirksworth. The fact that Chesterfield had produced dressings since at least 1864 seemed to me a greatly-overlooked fact. However, one of the teams of dressers in 2017 (when I was writing the book) decided to choose an image of Princess Diana as a subject for their well dressing, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death in a Parish car smash as well as the fact that along with Prince Charles she had opened the towns shopping centre development, The Pavements, in 1981. The end result, whilst entirely heartfelt, turned out a little – shall we say – wonky. It was widely shared on the internet, provoking reactions ranging from sarcasm and hilarity to genuine anger – firstly among locals (several of whom commented they never knew Chesterfield made a well dressing, thus vindicating my original line of approach), and then as the story spread like wildfire from citizens of countries around the world. Although the ‘secret’ of the Chesterfield well dressing was now well and truly out, Diana still had to go in the book, it was too good a story to omit.

    How could you earn £10 just from looking in shop windows? Why was the former leader of Chesterfield Council once dressed as a pig and paraded around in a wheelbarrow? Why is a black puddle full of leaves at the back of a garden centre a site of national significance? What was the 19th Century Rector of Staveley’s unusual hobby? How did a troupe of elephants help to bring down an illegal betting ring? Why did the village cross the road? Find out the answers to all these questions, and more, in Secret Chesterfield.

    Richard Bradley's book Secret Chesterfield is available for purchase now.

Items 11 to 20 of 283 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. ...
  7. 29