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  • Narrow Boats by Tom Chaplin

    The horse tows away a Joey boat with load of rubbish into Farmer's Bridge Top Lock. Note the simple towing mast and crude shape of the boat. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    As my wife and I approach our golden wedding anniversary, we have been reminiscing about our early life, when especially in winter, working narrow boats outnumbered pleasure narrowboats. These wonderful craft, with their floating population, brought their own culture and atmosphere to the canals. Unfortunately, the last of the family-operated long distance vessels stopped trading in 1970.

    The story of the narrow boat goes back to Georgian times when Britain had an agrarian economy and boats were pulled by horses. That soon changed: a horse could just as easily pull a canal boat loaded with 25 tons as a 1-ton cart on roads that often amounted to little more than muddy lanes. Narrow boats were soon moving raw materials and finished goods around the country and the industrial revolution became possible. In time, the horse gave way to steam, then diesel and boats operating in pairs were able to double the tonnage.

    Top cloths are positioned over the planks and side cloths to protect the coal. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Virtually all of the modern steel narrowboats afloat today were built after the end of trading and both their shape and decorations have become increasingly remote from the traditional working boat. Narrow Boats traces how these historic craft evolved, and explores why different companies developed their own design. In those days, boats travelled as far in a working week as pleasure cruisers did in a month. At the centre of these staggering levels of efficiency were the boatman and his family, on whom the reliable, fast deliveries depended. This book gives the background to life aboard these marvellous vessels and the very cramped quarters that formed a permanent home.

    This engraving, first published in 1873, shows a typical horse boat replete with the familiar form of decoration that changed little during the next century. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Victorian reformers campaigned for better conditions and secured acts of parliament to improve matters. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to peer into a mock up boatman’s cabin at a museum and react with horror to the prospect of this being home to a family. In reality of course, some had bow cabins which held an extra bed, and once fitted with engines, the boats usually worked in pairs and this meant two cabins, which doubled the living accommodation. In large families, children sometimes worked and lived aboard a childless or less fecund relative or friend’s boat. During the 19th century, many urban families shared damp, insanitary basements with several others and in this context the narrow boat cabin probably seemed a pretty good option.

    Restored boats, with their stunning painting, are now highly valued and many of today’s pleasure-boats and house-boats attempt (with mixed success!) to reproduce the effect. Narrow Boats takes the reader on a close look at how the boats were painted and has many colour photographs of work by the best, well-known professional painters.

    The lock gates are being opened using the boatman's rope trick. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    During the twentieth century, as industrial processes changed, many of the core cargoes, like coal, were no longer widely required. London docks closed and the end of carrying, which had been predicted for some time, in the event happened quite quickly. Even before this, the boatman’s way of life had become an anachronism and as more and more families moved ashore, it had become difficult to maintain staff levels and recruit new people. Perhaps it is surprising that despite the coming of the motorways, the narrow boat survived so far into the 20th century.

    The castle is an original, painted in 1950. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, in the 1960s, even the smallest load was enough to prevent the Government from shutting a canal on which there was a right of navigation and we have to be thankful to a few dedicated carriers, who despite obstructive authorities, persisted and successfully saved some of our favourite waterways. Unfortunately, the idea persists that our waterways are inappropriate for modern commercial traffic. Yet a boat will reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to lorries. Heavy loads, like aggregates or building materials, could avoid motorway gridlocks and delays, while their removal from our roads would reduce accidents. However, it seems unlikely that the heavy investment needed for this will be forthcoming.

    A recent programme in the current BBC series, Britain Afloat featured narrow boats: this book will help to answer the many questions raised in the film.

    Tom Chaplin's new book Narrow Boats is available for purchase now.

  • Yeovil in 50 Buildings by Bob Osborn

    Millennium Blue Plaque (Supplied by author)

    It is frequently difficult to establish the history of an old building unless there is early documentary evidence. I recently came upon such a case with the building 1&3 Princes Street, Yeovil, Somerset (which features in my book Yeovil in 50 Buildings) on the corner of today’s Westminster Street. Until recently the earliest known occupant of the building was a printer named William Porter around 1830 and a Millennium Blue Plaque was erected on the building to this effect. However, a chance purchase of several old leases on an internet auction site enabled me to uncover much of the unknown earlier history of this building.

    Although there has undoubtedly been a building on this site for centuries, the date of the present building is difficult to ascertain. From one of the leases, dated 1835, the earliest known occupier of the site was a saddler, John Reeks (died pre 1764), and his family during the early eighteenth century. Very little is known of John Reeks the Elder. It is known that in 1716 John Reeks, 'Sadler of Yeovil' took on Jos, son of Samuel Lester, as an apprentice. The Poor Rate of 1729 recorded that John Reeks paid 1½d Poor Rate on property in the Manor of Hendford. At this time 1½d was ‘average’ so unlikely that it would have been such a large building as the present 1&3 Princes Street. Between 1737 and 1739 he served as a Churchwarden at St John's church.

    John Reeks the Younger (1713-1770) was presumably the eldest son of the above John. He was baptised at St John's Church on 31 December 1713. John the Younger attended Pembroke College, Oxford, and matriculated in 1731 aged 18. He was awarded a BA from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1734 aged 21, an MA in 1737-8 aged 24, a Bachelor of Divinity in 1745 aged 32 and a Doctorate of Divinity in 1756 aged 43. He was Rector of Stratford St Anthony cum Hanny, Berkshire, in 1769 but died the following year, aged 57. Although he would probably have inherited his father's property, the saddlery would most likely have been taken on by John Reeks the Elder's younger son Thomas, who was also a saddler. He had presumably served an apprenticeship with his father that worked alongside him and finally assumed the business after his father's death.

    The Reeks family was followed by Samuel Toms (a deed of 1770 notes that a farrier by the name of Samuel Tomes was active at this time). In turn, he was succeeded by a solicitor and banker Samuel Watts the Elder.

    My 1835 lease refers to Samuel Watts the Elder "who erected and built the said messuage or dwellinghouse". Samuel Watts the Elder was born in 1734 and died in 1820, so it is logical to suppose that he had the building constructed around, say 1760.

    Samuel Watts the Elder's son, Joseph Watts, is known to have 'modernised' the building prior to his leaving Yeovil in 1812. Assuming he carried out the alterations around 1810, this would have meant that the building was then some fifty years old and therefore a fashionable facelift would not have been unreasonable. The building was re-fronted by Joseph Watts in the then-fashionable Regency style and had a new low pitch roof with wide eaves at the same time.

    Nos 1 and 3 Princes Street, seen from the High Street. (Yeovil in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil Bank, probably founded around 1810, was a private bank established by Samuel Watts the Elder (when aged about 76) and it is very likely that his bank was located in this building. Certainly, his sons' bank was later located here and it is surely not unreasonable to speculate that the bank of the sons was a continuation of the bank of the father, albeit under different names.

    A reference in the London Gazette in 1812 refers to the bank as Watts Marsh & Co (run by Samuel the Elder's sons, Samuel and Joseph Watts, and Thomas Marsh). In 1815 it was announced that this banking partnership was dissolved by mutual consent under the signatures of Samuel Watts the Younger, Thomas Marsh, Thomas Bullock, and James Glyde. In 1856 a writer referred to Yeovil's third bank as “the Bank of Messrs Samuel (and) Joseph Watts and Cayme." By 1822 (Pigot's Directory) the bank had become Samuel Watts & Co. It would then have gone out of business on 8 November 1823, when Samuel Watts the Younger, scrivener and banker, was declared bankrupt.

    My earliest lease of the property, dated 9 November 1815, was made between Thomas Bullock, Gentleman, James Glyde, Gentleman and Samuel Watts the Younger, Gentleman, (all of Yeovil) of the one part and Markes Lambe, Surgeon of Yeovil, of the other part. James Glyde and Samuel Watts were brothers-in-law (Glyde married Watts' sister Mary) and Thomas Bullock was the brother of Watts' mother, Mary née Bullock.

    From the 1835 indenture it is known that the property was divided by another lessee, Thomas Sydenham - "which said messuage or dwellinghouse hath been lately divided by the said Thomas Sydenham into two Dwellinghouses with front Shops and the same are now or later were in the occupation of the said Thomas Sydenham and his tenant Thomas Hain." It is known that by 1829 the building, or at least the southern half of it, was occupied by William Porter (see above), therefore Sydenham must have divided the property between 1825 (the date of my third lease which only speaks of a single property) and 1829 when Porter was in occupation – which brings us to the known history of the building as described on the Millennium Blue Plaque.

    Bob Osborn's new book Yeovil in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Loughton by Michael Foley

    An old view of the High Road showing the original ornate fountain that was destroyed in a road accident. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    The Loughton Poisoner

    The nineteenth century was a time of rapid development in the use of drugs to treat illness. Unfortunately not all of the new discoveries were well tested or were even abused for profit. I came across a shocking example while writing Secret Loughton.

    Between October 1877 and March 1878 there were thirteen infant deaths in the Loughton area, as well as sixteen other non-fatal illnesses in young infants, due to skin disease or poisoning. This attracted the attention of The Medical Officer of Health.

    At the Epping Petty Sessions May 1878 Henry George King, wholesale chemist of Kingsland Road London was charged with the unlawful killing of Elizabeth Sears in February 1877. He was charged with unlawfully and fraudulently selling Violet Powders with arsenic which was used on the bodies of those of tender years to endanger their health. It was claimed that the powder contained between 28 and 51 % of arsenic which was cheaper than the starch that the powder also contained. King was told to stop selling the powder by the treasury but did not reply until visited by Sargent Roots from Scotland Yard.

    John Nottage a grocer of Loughton had bought a gross of the powders from King for one shilling and nine pence and had thought that it was the purest of powders for use in the nursery. Nottage sold the powders for one penny a packet. He had also sold the powders from other sources in the past with no complaints. When a Mr Deacon complained about the powder he stopped selling them and contacted Mr King. He asked for a warranty as to the powder’s safety and King took some of the packets for testing. Nottage heard no more until someone from the treasury arrived and took all the rest of the powders.

    Emma Grout a grocer of Baldwins Hill Loughton had known King as a chemist for some years; she bought three dozen packets of the powder from him. Mr Bell, the inspectors of nuisances, called on Mrs Grout after complaints from Mrs Martin, Mrs Scars and Mrs Mead. She wrote to King who again took some of the packets for testing.

    Another old view of the High Road with houses on the right where shops now line the street. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    Sarah Mead of Benjamin’s Mead Loughton had a child in January 1877 named William. She had bought the Violet powder at Grout’s shop which had King’s Name and address on it. She used it until March with no ill effects. She then purchased some more which made the child very red and sore where it was used. This then turned into blisters. She called Doctor Fowler and stopped using the powder and the child got better. She then gave the remaining powder to Mr Bell.

    Isabella Martin of Ash Green Loughton had a baby on 21 November 1877. She bought some Violet Powder from Grouts shop and after using it for nine days the baby died. Where she had applied the powder there were a number of black blisters, again Mr Bell took the powder away. Hannah Reid also of Ash Green had been Mrs Martin’s midwife and said that the baby had been healthy when born.

    Elizabeth Sears of Baldwin’s Hill Loughton had one child early in 1877. She used King’s Powder from Grouts and the baby died after a week. She had another baby in February 1878 and bought more of the powder and the second child died at a week old. The baby had been healthy at birth but had died in agony.

    The defendant King said that he was well known in Loughton and that his mother in law lived next door to one of the witnesses. He very much regretted that the powder may have been the cause of the deaths and said that he would have stopped selling it if he had known. The case was adjourned on a number of occasions and during the various hearings expert witnesses were called. Leadenhall Street examined some of King’s Violet Powders and found 25% of the powder consisted of arsenic.

    An old view of Church Hill, which runs between the High Road and the Goldings Hill. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    It seemed that arsenic was sold for ten shillings a ton which was much cheaper than the starch normally used in the powders. Doctor Du Pre from Westminster Hospital also examined the powders and found that some contained up to 51% of arsenic. It was also said that it was very easy to see the difference between arsenic and the normal starch used in the powder. It was also evident from press reports that the adulterated Violet Powder was on sale all over London, not just in Loughton. Some of this was due to King but not all. There were also cases of adulterated powder being sold in Manchester where two chemists were fined but in this case it was Sulphate of lime not arsenic that was used.

    King claimed during the trial that he bought the powder to make the Violet Powders from other chemists and that once he knew that they may be dangerous he tried to stop the sale of them. The trial was moved from Epping Assizes to Essex Assizes and eventually to the Old Bailey and King was placed on bail of £200. The trial eventually ended with King being found not guilty as it was found that the inclusion of arsenic was accidental.

    There were reports of further deaths due to adulterated Violet Powder as late as 1881. This was again due though to Sulphate of lime rather than arsenic. It does seem though that the problems caused by this practice may have caused isolated cases of harm and even death of infants in other areas. In Loughton however the effects were immense with so many cases of death and illness. The publicity over the Loughton cases did however alert other mothers who had lost children to the effects of the powder in other parts of London.

    Michael Foley's new book Secret Loughton is available for purchase now.

  • Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    On Saturday, 14th October, Conisbrough Castle was the venue for my first talk after the release of my book, Heroines of the Medieval World. In the glorious sunshine, the Castle looked spectacular, the ideal setting for a history talk.

    I grew up just 5 miles from Conisbrough Castle and so, as a child, every summer holiday included a picnic at the castle and a climb to the top of the keep. As a student I volunteered at the castle, helping out at events and giving guided tours to school groups. In those days, the castle was just a shell, with green slime on the walls, but now it has floors inside, a roof to protect it from the elements and visual displays throughout. The Visitor Centre has a small museum with a cartoon strip telling the castle’s story and interactive displays for the kids. Conisbrough Castle’s only claim to fame seemed to be its link to Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, in which it played the part of a Saxon stronghold.

    Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, built by Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne in the late twelfth century. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    However, Conisbrough had been very much a Norman stronghold since the Conquest, given as a prize to one of William the Conquerors’ most loyal followers, William de Warenne, first earl of Warenne and Surrey. My talk took place on the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the day the Castle changed hands. On the morning of the battle, it belonged to Harold II, but by the end of the day Harold had lost the kingdom and his life and Conisbrough was a prize of war.

    Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women – famous, infamous and unknown who broke the mould. Those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. Four of the women in the book had strong connections with Conisbrough Castle, and so it seemed appropriate to hold my first talk and book signing at my ‘home’ castle.

    Roche Abbey, final resting place of Maud Clifford, Countess of Cambridge. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    My talk concentrated on these four women, telling the stories of their lives and explaining their links to this magnificent castle. The first was Isabel de Warenne, great granddaughter of the first Earl of Warenne and Surrey. Isabel was one of the greatest heiresses in England and it was her second husband, Hamelin, who was responsible for building the keep we still see today. The second Heroine was Joan of Bar, neglected wife of the last de Warenne Earl of Surrey. She was followed by Isabel of Castile, who gave birth to her son, Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, within the castle walls and thus became the matriarch of the York dynasty which would rule England under Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. And the last was Maud de Clifford, widow of Richard of Conisbrough, who lived out her life at the castle and was buried at nearby Roche Abbey, and who had family on both sides of the Wars of the Roses.

    The talk was aimed at demonstrating the many links that Conisbrough Castle has to the major events in English medieval history, from the Norman Conquest, to the disastrous reign of Edward II and the civil war which became known as the Wars of the Roses. Conisbrough Castle and its former residents have a rich history and it was a pleasure to bring just a few moments of it to life.

    Attended by over 50 people, the audience was made up of friends, family, readers of my book and blog – historytheinterestingbits.com - and visitors who had called at the Castle because it was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. And they were aged from 3 to 73! I was nervous – the last time I had done a talk was when I used to give tours at this very castle as a student. I had made plenty of notes, but in the end, I never even looked at them. The stories just flowed, from one Medieval Heroine to the next, with the children kept busy counting the number of Heroines, and the number of gruesome deaths!

    However, the audience was lovely. Some had travelled from as far afield as Manchester, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. One lady gave me flowers and another gave me a ‘congratulations’ card from The Swinton Book Lovers Club (from my home town). Several people had brought their copies of ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ for me to sign and many more bought the book on the day – it was a pleasure to sign every single copy.

    I am very grateful to the staff at Conisbrough Castle, who were absolutely wonderful, welcoming guests and encouraging visitors to join the talk, and even offering discounts on Castle entry to anyone who had a copy of my book.

    It was a perfect day.

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Heroines of the Medieval World is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Lodekkas by Stephen Dowle

    By the mid-1970s the FLF Lodekka was well into the second half of its lifespan, but it was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. Alder Valley's Gardner-engined No. 676 (GRX I44D) leaves Reading for Newbury on WEdnesday 18 th February 1976. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    The design problems of double-deck buses were basically two: to keep the height as low as practicable and to maximise seating capacity within the available dimensions. In the early days of the motor bus a full-width cab was placed behind the engine and the passenger-carrying bodywork was simply grafted onto the chassis behind them. This primitive configuration, known as 'normal control', squandered much passenger-carrying, revenue-generating space: in the years before the Second World War it gradually disappeared, to be replaced by a new spatial arrangement known as 'forward control'. In this, a half-width cab was placed alongside the engine, allowing the upper deck to be extended forward over the top of it.

    This optimised the use of space, but the difficulty of headroom remained. Damage to bodywork caused by overhanging branches was the least serious aspect of the problem: almost every bus operator had to contend with low railway bridges, which made it impossible to operate double-deckers on certain routes. This meant using single-deckers at more frequent intervals, with all the associated extra costs. To reduce height a very unsatisfactory alternative layout was developed: the gangway of the upper deck was placed to the offside and recessed into the ceiling of the lower deck. Not only did this imperil the heads of those passengers who were incautious in rising from the seats beneath, but the four-abreast seating of the upper deck was inconvenient for conductor and passengers alike. This, the hated "lowbridge" layout, made such buses, sometimes known as "skittle-alleys", about a foot lower than the standard height.

    The NBC's standard 'leaf green', even when fresh, was not the most beguiling of liveries and always looked dowdy by the time a trip to the paint shop was due. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    It was to address the "lowbridge" problem that the Bristol Lodekka was developed. Bristol Tramways constructed two prototypes, which took to the roads in 1949, one in the company's own operating fleet and the other with the West Yorkshire Road Car Co. The new vehicles great innovation was a re-designed transmission in which the propeller shaft was offset to one side and drove a drop-centre, double reduction rear axle. The lower deck gangway no longer needed to clear the shaft and could pass through the dropped middle section of the axle. The step from the entrance platform to the floor of the lower deck was eliminated (in the early days many passengers came a cropper when attempting to mount this vanished step) and the entire vehicle could be correspondingly lowered. It became possible to provide conventional upper deck seating within "lowbridge" dimensions. The lowbridge bus became obsolete overnight.

    The prototypes (which I know only from photographs) must have been the ugliest buses ever constructed. They had massively wide radiators, a bizarre front bumper, ill-considered window-spacing and their reduced height did not conduce to shapely proportions. The first production vehicles, dubbed the LD-type, appeared in 1953. The body builders, Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, had espoused the 'new look' front (a lamentable fad in post-war bus design) in which the engine, radiator and nearside wing were enclosed within a rounded structure called a cowl. The squat, bulbous lineaments of the bus gave it a faintly toad-like appearance, but in the late 1950s new regulations permitted the construction of 30ft double-deckers, and a facelift of 1962 resulted in an improved frontal treatment. These changes considerably improved the vehicles looks. By the time production ceased in 1968 extended bodywork, which mostly went to Scotland, had made the Lodekka a handsome and imposing bus, able to accommodate 78 passengers. It was also made available with semi-automatic transmission and a larger engine, the 10.45-litre Gardner LX.

    The upper deck interior of an Alder Valley FLF with coach seating. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    My book, Bristol Lodekkas, is a selection from photographs I took during many enjoyable journeys around the country between 1975 and 1980. The Lodekka was clearly nearing the end of its tenure, but as the period opened was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. In Scotland, where well-tried types had tended to be ordered for as long as they were available, the earlier versions were still numerous. I give an account of the motives that led me to take the photographs, and of my long association with the Lodekka as both passenger and professional busman.

    The Lodekka represented the final form of the half-cab, front-engined, double-deck bus that was a familiar feature of the streets for fifty years and an 'iconic' British vehicle recognised the world over. Alas, it required a crew of two and the economics of the modern industry made it obsolete. Bus operators, or their accountants, now demanded vehicles suitable for driver-only operation. The need to place the passenger entrance alongside the cab entailed the rear transverse-engine layout that remains with us to the present day. Mechanically, this configuration is far from satisfactory and I imagine many of today's bus company Chief Engineers must repine for the simple, rugged workhorses (such as the Bristol Lodekka) available to their counterparts forty years ago.

    Stephen Dowle's new book Bristol Lodekkas is available for purchase now.

  • The Merlin EH(AW) 101 by Rich Pittman

    A pre-production EH101 at an early stage of assembly. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil’s Helicopter Town - If Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold!

    If you live In Yeovil Today your lifestyle is never very far away from helicopters and aircraft, with Westland now part of the Leonardo Company, being the local largest employer. A close family bond with aviation in the town that now extends over 100 years with aircraft manufacturing starting in 1915.

    Where it all started

    The Westland aircraft works were built during the First World War due to the need for naval aircraft. The first aircraft to be built, a Short 184 seaplane, left in early January 1916 by horse and cart. The fourth production aircraft built at Westland, took part in the Battle of Jutland. It was piloted by Frederick Rutland from Weymouth ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and the aircraft successfully reported by radio the movements of the German Fleet.

    Over 6000 fixed wing aircraft were built at Yeovil between 1915 and 1955. With the end of the 2nd World war, the large aircraft industry would have to adapt to peacetime needs. The board of Westland aircraft decided that the future would be with a totally different form of flying machine, the helicopter.

    A busy flight shed, filled with pre-production and future EH101s for the Royal Navy. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Several Westland aircraft including the Westland Wapiti in 1927, Westland Dragonfly in 1948, Westland Whirlwind in 1952, Westland Scout in 1960, Westland Sea King in 1969, Westland Lynx in 1971 and the EH (AW) 101 Merlin in 1987 have been built in Yeovil.

    The last few Decades

    During the mid-1980s Westland went through a decline in production. The company needed a partner to help sustain it, until new products could be brought online. At the same time the company was making considerable investment in composite blade technology and design of a replacement for the Sea King.

    Westland entered an agreement with the Italian firm Agusta, collaborating in the design, development and production of a new large helicopter. The two companies amalgamated forming EH Industries, specifically to produce the EH101, a multi-role helicopter designed to meet naval, military utility and civil requirements.

    A view from above. A Merlin HM.2 during an Air2Air photo flight. (Photo: Ian Harding, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent years the Yeovil Westland site has expanded its involvement in commercial helicopter programmes, in particular with the AW Family of new generation helicopters, which comprise the AW139, AW169 and AW189. The AW189 is the first civil aircraft to be built in Yeovil since the mid-1980s, whilst rotor blades and transmission systems are also manufactured for all three members of the AW Family of helicopters in Yeovil.

    The EH (AW) 101 Merlin

    The threat of an attack by Soviet missile submarines was judged as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s. During 1977, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for a new type of helicopter to be developed to counter the issue. Initially the Westland WG-34 was proposed to be the replacement for the WS-61 Sea King. It was planned to be a three engine helicopter of similar proportions to the Sea King, but the WG-34 was to feature more space in the cabin and have a greater range than its predecessor.

    At the same time, the Italian Navy was also considering a successor for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings, which had been manufactured by the Italian company Agusta. Westland and Agusta entered into talks regarding a joint development of a future helicopter.

    G-17-510, in US101 markings, flies over Yeovil. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    After the companies finalised the agreement to work on the project together, a jointly owned company, EH Industries Limited (EHI), was formed for the development and marketing of a new helicopter to potential customers. The EHI-01 emerged as the collaborated design, but a clerical error in retyping hand written notes during early draft stages, renamed the helicopter by accident to EH-101 and the name stood.

    On the 12th of June 1981, the UK government confirmed its participation in the project and initially allocated £20 million for the development of the program. In 1984 a key agreement followed, which was signed by the British and Italian governments. This secured funding the majority of the EH101's development.

    An international marketing survey highlighted a requirement for a 30 seat helicopter. Following the early concept as a naval replacement anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, EHI decided to develop the EH-101 into a multirole platform. As a medium-lift helicopter, the aircraft would be able to meet the demands of utility, government and civilian corporations of the 1990's. An initial 9 pre-production (PP) models were produced to demonstrate these potential configurations to the worldwide market.

    Originally part of a larger order for VVIP replacements in Indonesia, it is unclear what internal configuration was fitter to this AW101 at delivery. 17 January 2017. (The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    The AW101 today combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing to provide a proven platform for long-range Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in certain countries. With a typical range of 750 nm (over 1,300 km) in standard configuration, the AW101 is the most capable SAR helicopter in the world today. Other roles include transportation for Heads of State and VVIP operators; Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO); Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW); Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC); Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM); troop transport; utility support, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC; and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

    My Father started working at Westland in 1980. This brought my family to Yeovil and why I have an interest in aviation and particularly the AW101. It has been fascinating to see the Merlin’s progression from pre production testing right through to today's exports to many foreign Nations.

    The Westland facility with all the sub departments along with the nearby RNAS Yeovilton keep the Town and surrounding area thriving.

    The Merlin EH (AW)101  From Design to Front Line book has been written to look back and celebrate some of the Merlin's history over the last 30 Years.

    Rich Pittman's new book The Merlin EH(AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol From The Post and Press by Maurice Fells

    It’s surprising what fascinating stories can be found in old newspapers. When I say ‘old’ I’m talking about papers which were published 50, 80, 100 years or more ago.

    I’ve been delving through those published in my native Bristol for my latest local history book. It’s amazing that in 1908 the people of Bristol weren’t short for choice when it came to buying a paper. Three were published in the morning and another three in the afternoon. Today the city has just two papers, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Post, formerly Bristol Evening Post. Both roll off the presses overnight and are available in time to be read with the bacon and eggs at the breakfast table.

    I was searching through the papers to find the events and the people that over the last century or so had helped to make Bristol the great city that it is today. However, my book, Bristol from the Post and Press also contains some rather quirky stories like the one about the 17-year old lad who jumped from a plane flying across the city, just for a dare. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale to the local papers and was completely uninjured.

    The Grand Hotel has entertained many politicians, pop stars and captains of industry. (Courtesy of Andrew Gustar under Creative Commons 2.0, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there was the occasion that the Rolling Stones were turned away from the restaurant at the Grand Hotel where the group was staying for a night. The hotel’s head waiter Mr. Dick Court told the Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger that his sweat shirt and jeans were not in keeping with the hotel’s dress code for its restaurant. Mr. Court told him that he could borrow some suitable clothing - a jacket and tie - but the singer was having none of that. With the rest of his group he made off to a restaurant elsewhere in the city. It was a story that the made the front page of the Evening Post.

    My book starts though with a report from the Western Daily Press in 1899 of an investiture held in the centre of the city. Usually these important events are held by the monarch of the day in a royal place. But Queen Victoria decided to make her way to Bristol to confer a knighthood on the Mayor of the city, Cllr Herbert Ashman.

    The Western Daily Press, then a broadsheet, reports the visit in much detail giving its account a whole page. Readers were told everything from descriptions of the dresses of the civic dignitaries on parade to details about the music being played by a military band whilst the crowds waited for the royal procession to arrive.

    The first edition of the Bristol Evening Post. (Photo credit: Trevor Naylor, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the story takes a strange twist when we read that Cllr Ashman was not knighted inside one of Bristol’s grand buildings but on the pavement in the centre of the city – admittedly it was covered by a red carpet. Queen Victoria didn’t even leave her open-top carriage for the ceremony. She borrowed a sword, leant out of the horse-drawn vehicle and commanded the civic leader, who was kneeling, to “arise Sir Herbert Ashman”. After the brief ceremony the Queen made off for her next engagement.

    Unfortunately the paper didn’t explain why the investiture was held in Bristol, or in the open air, or why Her Majesty never left her carriage. The latter may be explained that through her advancing years she was frail.

    A few months before the ceremony Queen Victoria had announced that in future Bristol’s Mayor would be called the Lord Mayor. Cllr. Ashman was the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Bristol.

    Another story that I found fascinating involved Queen Elizabeth II who visited a pub completely unannounced to shelter from the snow.

    Apparently, she was delivering Christmas presents to members of her family in Gloucestershire when her car got caught up in a blizzard. She sought refuge in the Cross Hands Hotel at Old Sodbury on the edge of Bristol. Her Majesty was secretly taken into the landlord’s private quarters where she had a meal and met his children. It meant that none of the customers in the bar were aware of how close they were to the monarch.

     

    Maurice Fells new book Bristol From The Post and Press is available for purchase now.

  • Vintage Signs of America by Debra Jane Seltzer

    The Personal Journey Behind the Book

    Vintage Signs of America 1 This sign in Los Angeles, California is an electric sign from 1924 with bulbs and backlit glass letters. Just as this book went to print, this animated sign was restored. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    For more than 15 years, I have been obsessively documenting buildings, signs, and statues for my website, www.RoadsideArchitecture.com. During this quest, I have driven more than 400,000 miles throughout the United States with my pack of crazy Terriers. While my website has grown astronomically over the years to more than 2,400 pages and over 60,000 photos, I am far from done. I still have long lists of things left to shoot. Many things have also changed dramatically, for better or worse, and need to be photographed again.

    Vintage Signs of America 2 This supermarket sign in Okemos, Michigan was built in 1958. Soon after the store closed in the late 1980s, the sign was updated for a Barnes & Noble bookstore. The groceries in the shopping cart were replaced with books. The animated sign continues to be lit at night. The wheels appear to spin and the woman’s legs are lit separately to give the appearance of walking. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    My first love was buildings: Streamline Modern buildings, gas stations, diners, Mid-century Modern architecture, fast food chain restaurants, theatres, bus stations, and buildings shaped like things. This quickly segued into my fascination with fiberglass statues and neon signs. I began taking pictures of these things and organizing them online solely for my own compulsive amusement. Search engines either did not exist yet or I was naively unaware that other people could see what I was doing. Once I realized that people were accessing my pages, I became exceedingly anxious to add more places and information.

    In these early years, I wondered just how many neon signs could be left around the country. Maybe a couple hundred? It couldn’t be that hard to shoot them all. Little did I know that there were thousands of signs and buildings from the 1920s through the 1970s that were worthy of shooting and researching. Despite calloused fingers from countless hours of internet searching, not a day goes by that I don’t find something to add to my to-shoot lists.

    Vintage Signs of America 3 This Dairy Queen sign is located in Hibbing, Minnesota. These five-foot-tall “Little Miss” rooftop signs were developed in 1961. While hundreds of them were made, there are only about seven left on public display. Plastic signs are more vulnerable to weather (hail, wind, and fading from the sun) than neon signs. Many have become brittle over time and fall apart during removal. Plastic signs do not have the status of older neon signs. Therefore, they often disappear not long after a business closes. Most of these Dairy Queen and other fast food signs have been replaced with updated signs with ever-changing logo rebranding. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    My passion for signs was magnified in 2007 when I was tagged to write the features about signs for the Society for Commercial Archeology Journal. I boned up on sign history and leaned heavily on Tod Swormstedt, the founder of the American Sign Museum, for information and clarification. I was surprised to learn how much had NOT been written about signs. Most of the designers of vintage signs had either retired or passed on. Sign shops, when they still existed, had either lost or destroyed their old records. Often, city records and library files have turned up nothing that helps date the signs or credit their manufacturers. However, with enough digging and prodding, sometimes some of the puzzle pieces can be put together.

    For each of the subjects in this book, I exhausted all sources for information. Speaking with owners, former owners, city agencies, and sign shops, sometimes leading to interesting or heart-warming anecdotes. At other times, I was left with nothing more than an educated guess as to when a sign was built.

    Like most people, I was initially attracted to neon signs for their color, animation, unique cute imagery, and variety of font styles. However, over the years, I have become increasingly obsessed with the older electric signs due to their simplicity and rarity. Most of these signs were destroyed when businesses replaced them with neon signs to keep up with the Joneses.

    Vintage Signs of America 4 This 30 foot tall sign in Portland, Oregon was built in 1946. The sign is lit with 754 feet of neon tubing. The Water Heater King’s dancing feet are animated. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    The past 15 years of documentation have been filled with joy and heartbreak. Many buildings were restored or miraculously saved and moved. A good number of signs have been lovingly and faithfully restored to their original condition. However, hundreds of incredible buildings, signs, and statues have been demolished. Sometimes, these signs have disappeared in the dead of the night leaving sign-lovers wondering if they went to the scrap heap or to a good home. Many signs have been disfigured beyond recognition for the new tenant of the space.

    These signs are just beginning to be recognized as works of art and craftsmanship. They are both beautiful and fun. They are important connections to one’s personal history. They are community landmarks and tourist attractions. However, we continue to lose dozens of them every year. The final chapters of this book discuss the various threats that these vintage signs face and what can be done to preserve them. In your haste to see these signs before they disappear, don’t underestimate the importance of praising the shop owner for keeping the sign in place. That small gesture goes a long way.

    9781445669489

    Debra Jane Seltzer's new book Vintage Signs of America is available for purchase now.

  • Bradford in 50 Buildings by George Sheeran

    Bradford, a Wool City isn’t it?

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 1 Saltaire Mills, Saltaire, the 1853 building (Bradford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Ask anyone what Bradford made its money from in the nineteenth century and there will be one answer – wool. ‘Wool city’, the capital of the wool industry, the richest city in Yorkshire with a millionaire on every corner, and all based on wool. Yet if this were true, why did William Cudworth, a journalist and historian working in Victorian Bradford, entitle his history of the rise of the industrial city, ‘Worstedopolis’?

    The first thing we need to clear up is the difference between woollen and worsted cloth. Wool yarns are made from short, hairy fibres and woollen cloth derives its strength partly from the tendency of these fibres to entangle and felt together. Those of us who are old enough to remember the woollen blankets of pre-duvet days will know what I mean – ‘The rough male kiss of blankets,’ as Rupert Brook put it.  Worsteds, on the other hand, are made from long-fibre wools which are combed straight before being spun into a strong, fine yarn.

    So what? I hear you say, It’s still wool. Yes it is, but in the early years of the nineteenth century some European and American textile manufacturers began to experiment with a cloth made with cotton warps (the threads that go up and down) and wool worsted wefts (the threads that go across), to produce a strong cloth that became known as ‘Orleans’.  But it had a major drawback. Being made of plant and animal fibres Orleans was difficult to dye, different fibres taking up dye at different rates.

     

     

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 3 Brigella Mills, the Briggs family, spinners of worsted and mohair yarns; manufacturers of umbrella coverings.

    Despite these technical difficulties Bradford manufacturers took up the challenge in the mid-1830s. They solved the dyeing problem, and Bradford was to become a centre of Orleans production. What is more, they were to introduce other animal hairs into the mixture such as Alpaca hair and mohair (the hair of the Angora goat), which replaced woollen wefts, and thus originated a new form of worsted. While fine wool worsteds had formerly been the preserve of the better-off, these new products were cheaper, hard-wearing, could be dyed in a range of colours and had a lustrous finish. Lustre cloths, as Orleans became known, were also ‘boardy’, that is, had a stiffness, and this was a stroke of either genius or luck, because it meant they were an ideal material for laying over crinoline hoops, the crinoline becoming fashionable from the 1850s.

    Between about 1850 and 1870 such lustre cloths became a fashion fabric and production boomed. It is said, for instance, that Saltaire Mills at Saltaire were producing 30,000 yards of alpaca-based lustre cloths a day at the height of their production. Elsewhere in Bradford, fortunes were made and business empires were built on this trade, the ‘Bradford trade’ as it was known, and mills big and small were built for spinning, dyeing and manufacturing lustre cloths. Yet much of this cloth did not have an ounce of wool in it.

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 4 The Wool Exchange, 1864-67 (Bradford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Given this story of success, what could possibly go wrong? Well two things, actually.  Firstly, the crinoline was beginning to pass out of fashion by 1870 and lustre cloth along with it in favour of softer materials. Secondly, a trade recession halted the building of new factories and warehouses as international demand for Bradford goods slackened. The result was that numbers of Bradford firms went out of business; others diversified into linings or men’s suits and trousers, a more stable market; some went into more specialised products – umbrella coverings, for instance, which, because of the long-lasting qualities of the Bradford product, became known as ‘durables’.

    So here’s the secret of Victorian Bradford’s success – fashion and the specialised fabrics that went with it. And when the women’s dress goods market became a quagmire for some, expertise gained in producing mixed fibre worsteds was put to use in other areas. But let’s make no mistake: wool, yarns for export and wool textiles remained a vital part of Victorian Bradford’s economy. The point is it was an economy made up of a diversity of textiles and raw materials. When the town’s Wool Exchange opened in 1867, it became an international trading floor not just for wool, but for other fibres and hairs as well – and the most important such exchange in Britain. William Cudworth then reflected this in the title of his history: not ‘Wool City’, but ‘Worstedopolis’.

    9781445668482

    George Sheeran's new book Bradford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman by Don Chapman

    As the first book to trace the history of the women’s rights movement through the prism of women’s dress, Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman makes a fascinating curtain-raiser to the celebrations next year to mark the centenary of women gaining the vote.

    Mrs Amelia Bloomer Engraving of Mrs Amelia Bloomer, from the daguerreotype by T. W. Brown. (Water-Cure Journal 12, October 1851, p. 96) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    Women’s trousers, of course, have been everyday wear in the orient for centuries. But by promoting Turkish trousers in her American women’s rights and temperance journal, The Lily, in 1851 Mrs. Amelia Bloomer ignited a firestorm in the west. Central to the shock-horror of the idea was the notion, firmly entrenched in Victorian minds, that man was the dominant species in God’s creation, woman his inferior helpmate. The very thought of the latter adopting trousers was a threat to his authority.

    In an age when no journalist bothered his or her head about plagiarism the story went viral, rapidly crossed the Atlantic and within a few months was titillating and shocking readers in Australia and New Zealand. There was no television or Facebook to publicise what the press christened bloomers, no Twitter to provoke Likes or Dislikes. It was the entertainment industry that went into overdrive. Hack playwrights scribbled farces featuring the costume, Madame Tussauds featured waxworks wearing it, prostitutes and barmaids adopted it to attract customers, and Staffordshire Potteries even produced a figurine of Mrs. Bloomer sporting a cigar.

    I first became interested in what later became known as the rational dress movement — rational being the Victoria buzzword for any idea right-minded people should adopt — in 1971. At the height of the hot pant craze an Oxford Mail reader came to me with his grandparents’ papers relating to the Western Rational Dress Club. It made three stories for the daily column I wrote for the paper, primarily because in 1897 the grandfather, the eminent Victorian geologist, Sydney Savory Buckman, helped organise a rational dress cycle ride from London to Oxford. The date he and his fellow-organiser chose it was blowing a gale and raining in torrents: the last ladies arrived for an 8.30pm dinner at 3.30am the next morning!

    Really I said the subject deserved a book and at last I’ve written it. At its heart it is the story of two unsung heroines of the women’s rights movement, neither of them militant feminists, both of them passionate champions of women’s liberation. The first was Caroline Dexter, an obscure but surprisingly well- connected Nottingham woman. In the autumn of 1851 she toured the length and breadth of Britain drawing audiences of up to 4,000 to her lectures promoting the virtues of trousers, inveighing against constricting corsets and voluminous crinolines.

    Caroline Dexter Caroline Dexter, daguerreotype. (Art in Australia 15 February 1931) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    After she emigrated to Australia in 1854 she declared: ‘I do not trouble myself about what “woman’s rights” may be... I have lamented and fear that I shall still have to lament the… evils resulting from “woman’s wrongs”… Women have a higher destiny than a mere maker of puddings and sewer on of buttons.’

    The craze was comparatively short-lived. Critics blamed its demise on the notorious Bloomer Ball in Hanover Square, London, in the autumn of 1851 when nearly all the few women who turned up were of questionable character and some of the disappointed males resorted to fisticuffs. Or, like Mrs. Dexter, they attributed its decline to the numerous actresses and other cheapjack entertainers who jumped on the bandwagon.

    But male chauvinism persisted and Bloomerism became a stick to beat the growing army of forward-thinking females campaigning for equal rights. Away from the public gaze women taking the water cure continued to wear trousers. In occupations like coal-sorting, fishing and agriculture they remained more serviceable than skirts. As more women took to sport the braver of them realised it improved their mobility whether they were playing tennis, climbing mountains or simply taking a walk.

    The second woman to promote rational dress was Lady Harberton. Sensitive to the ridicule Bloomerism had provoked, in 1880 she launched a campaign for what she called the divided skirt —NOT trousers! She insisted: ‘Women are far too much afraid of what others may say and think. They do not like to go to a theatre or concert alone in case people should think it odd; but if everyone did it there would be nothing odd about it.’

    In 1881 she became president of the Rational Dress Society, which in due course boasted its own quarterly magazine, the Rational Dress Society’s Gazette, edited by Mrs Oscar Wilde. That lasted only six issues and in the 1890s the Society itself fizzled out as a result of the ridicule its members attracted, but thanks to my reader’s grandfather and the publicity the ill-fated cycle ride to Oxford attracted a year later the movement revived, the Rational Dress League came into being and soon had its own journal, the Rational Dress Gazette.

    Lady Harberton Lady Harberton riding in the rational dress costume she didn’t like and replaced. (Lady Cyclist 21 January 1897, courtesy of cycling historian Sheila Hanlon) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    Sydney Buckman’s interest in rational dress was personal. It enabled his wife and four daughters to accompany him and his four sons from their home in Cheltenham on cycling expeditions in search of fossils in the Cotswolds. That work brought few rewards. His far-sighted ideas were too hard for most of the geological establishment to swallow. He earned most of his income from freelance journalism. Hence his enthusiastic promotion of the Western Rational Dress Club, of which Lady Harberton became president.

    She was a surprisingly late convert to cycling, the activity that added a whole new dimension to the women’s rights and rational dress movements. She was already in her fifties when she first took to the wheel in 1895. She rapidly became an energetic cyclist and in October 1898 provoked the case for which her name would go down to history by cycling from London to Ockham in Surrey and demanding lunch at the Hautboy Hotel.

    The landlady refused to serve her in rationals in the coffee room and insisted she eat in the bar. ‘Of course it was physically possible for me to have lunched [there],’ she told Buckman. ‘So one might in a pigsty!’ The Cyclists Touring Club, which had an agreement with the hotel, took up the case and the following May sued the landlady for failing to provide victuals to a traveller. Martha Jane Sprague got backing from The Road, a journal that was worried about the impact the bicycle was having on the horse trade. Its lawyers were a great deal savvier than the CTC’s, arguing that the landlady had not refused to serve Lady H lunch, only done so in a room she did not like.

    Such was the worldwide interest the case excited, it was the only thing most journalists remembered when they came to write her obituary. A pity. She was active in a great many spheres from funeral reform to women’s health and in particular deserves greater recognition for her lifelong interest in the women’s rights movement. She rubbed shoulders with everyone involved from Barbara Bodichon to the Pankhurst family, led one of their deputations to parliament, campaigned tirelessly throughout her adult life for votes for women and, exasperated with the Liberal Establishment’s failure to act, late in life withdrew her backing from every other body and devoted her giving to the Suffragette cause.

    She died in 1911 as a result of her doctors’ failure to diagnose a fracture to her arm that became septic. Had she lived she would have welcomed women taking to trousers in 1914 to aid the war effort. She would have thought it only right the Government should reward them by granting women over 30 the vote in 1918, but one senses she would not have been completely happy until they achieved parity with men ten years later. As for rational dress, the last article she wrote appeared in the vegetarian journal, the Herald of Health, a month after her death championing what she now called the Syrian skirt.

    By a bitter irony Syria is one of the countries where the Taliban and Islamic State are now banning women from wearing trousers, insisting they swap the garments they have worn for centuries for the shapeless abaya.

    9781445669502

    Don Chapman's new book Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman is available for purchase now.

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