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  • The Great Scuttle by David Meara

    The End of the German High Seas Fleet

    Witnessing History

    One hundred years ago last summer an extraordinary and dramatic event took place, a coda to the end of the First World War. The scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, on 21st June 1919, Midsummer’s Day was the greatest single loss of shipping in maritime history, 74 capital ships scuttled, of which 52 went to the bottom.

    A panorama of the surrender of the German fleet on 21 November 1918, showing HMS Cardiff leading the German battlecruisers, flanked by HMS Lion and HMS Queen Elizabeth. (The Great Scuttle, Amberley Publishing)

    In spite of the drama and magnitude of the event, it is not as well known as it should be, certainly not in England. Partly because it happened after the First World War had ended, partly because of reporting restrictions at the time, partly because it was, publicly at least, something of an embarrassment to the Admiralty and the British Government, and partly because the Orkney Islands seem to be a long way away. Indeed I have discovered that some people are surprisingly vague about where the Orkney Islands are!

    So it seemed to me that the one hundredth anniversary year was a chance to remind ourselves of this dramatic postscript to the First World War. My personal interest in this subject stems from the fact that my mother and my uncle were witnesses of the event, because they were members of a party of school children from Stromness Academy who were being given a summer treat. A trip around the interned German Fleet on board the boat the Flying Kestrel: and right in the middle of their outing the scuttling began. Big ships turning turtle all around them, German sailors taking to the boats, English sailors shooting at them, the sea foaming and boiling, panic and pandemonium everywhere. It was an experience they never forgot, and my uncle’s diary account of the experience gave me the idea of writing an eye-witness account of the events of that day to mark the 100th anniversary.

    The story of the Great Scuttle is really a drama in three acts:-

    Act I)       The Surrender of the High Seas Fleet at the end of November 1918.

    Act II)     The Scuttling itself, after 7 months of internment in Scapa Flow.

    Act III)    The subsequent salvaging of some of the ships during the inter-war years.

     

    The Flying Kestrel, a tug used to take water and supplies to the British fleet. (Orkney Photographic Archive, The Great Scuttle, Amberley Publishing)

    Act I

    Under the terms of the Armistice of 11th November 1918 the German High Seas Fleet was to be interned in an allied port pending its disposal – and because no-one else wanted it, Admiral Wemyss suggested Scapa Flow.

    On 21st November 1918 under “Operation ZZ” the entire Grand Fleet, plus Allies, put to sea, 370 ships and 90,000 men, to rendezvous with the German Fleet off May Island in the Firth of Forth, flying as many white ensigns as possible. One immense line of ships dividing into two lines, meeting the German Fleet in line ahead, 9 battleships, 5 battle cruisers, 7 light cruisers, and 49 destroyers – under the command of Admiral Ludwig von Reuter in the Battleship Friedrich Der Grosse. The British light cruiser Cardiff led the German ships between the two allied lines, which then reversed course to escort the Germans to the Forth.  The whole operation was conducted in silence. At about 11.00 am Beatty gave the order that the German flag would be lowered at sunset and not hoisted again without permission. The entire event was carefully choreographed to demonstrate the power and might of the victorious British and Allied Navies, and the humiliation of the Germans. The British could hardly believe that the German Naval Command would submit so meekly, and so the prevailing mood was one of disgust and sadness.

    The ships were then inspected to ensure they were completely disarmed, and then over the next few days groups of ships were escorted northwards by the 1st Battle Squadron to their internment in Scapa Flow.

    Von Reuter decided early on in the internment that he would not let his ships fall into enemy hands unless ordered to by his own government, and so began making plans for scuttling but kept them secret, only telling his commanding officers. Vice Admiral Sir Sydney Freemantle, officer Commanding 1st Battle Squadron, didn’t keep von Reuter informed about the negotiations, and in fact took his ships out on torpedo exercises in the Pentland Firth on 21st June because of the good weather. So the fates conspired to present von Reuter with the perfect moment to scuttle his fleet and redeem his country’s honour. For the Stromness schoolchildren, the morning dawned fine and bright, and they prepared for their treat blissfully unaware of the tensions, humiliations and confusions of the previous seven months. It was going to be a day to remember.

     

    German destroyers ashore on the island of Flara. (Author's collection, The Great Scuttle, Amberley Publishing)

    Act II

    Leslie Thorpe, my uncle, twelve years old at the time, wrote a detailed account of the day afterwards in his diary and in a letter to his father. He takes up the story:-

    “Went down to see the German Fleet. Everyone came to school about 9.45 am and we marched to the Flying Kestrel, which was at the New Pier.” The Flying Kestrel was a tug from Liverpool, used to supply water and general stores to the British ships in Scapa Flow.

    The Stromness Senior School classes were being taken on the trip, leaving behind the Infants, and they marched down to the pier in class order, between two and three hundred children in all. Leslie Thorpe goes on:-

    The Kestrel was quite big enough to hold us, and we had liberty to go almost all over her. We had the Red Ensign at the stern, the Union Jack at the bow, and the pennant with the ship’s name at the fore-mast-head. We passed through the hurdles” (the anti-submarine defences) “and the first German ship we came to was the SMS Baden. She is a battleship, having two masts, and two funnels close together, two big guns aft, and two forward. The next was the battlecruiser König Albert. The battlecruisers all have very pointed sterns, and their names are at the stern instead of at the bow.

    The next ships were the battle cruisers Kaiserin, Derfflinger, Hindenburg, Von der Tann, Moltke and Seydlitz. I never noticed the Kaiser or the Karlsruhe. Perhaps I wasn’t looking when we passed them.” The central section of my book continues the narrative of the scuttling, largely using eye-witness accounts, which vividly bring to life the events of the 21st June 1919, and the impact it had on those who watched the drama unfold.

    At the end of that extraordinary day there must have been many excited children being coaxed to bed. Admiral von Reuter, after a game of piquet with his flag lieutenant in his cabin aboard the British flagship, HMS Revenge, now a prisoner of war, settled down in his bunk. The next day he and the rest of the German sailors were taken south to prisoner-of-war camps in England.

     

    The battlecruiser SMS Hindenburg has by this stage settled on the bottom, with only her masts, funnels and the upper part of her superstructure showing. (Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive, The Great Scuttle, Amberley Publishing)

    Act III

    This extraordinary drama was played out over the years leading up to the start of the Second World War, when through the efforts of Ernest Cox, a scrap metal merchant from the Isle of Sheppey, and his successors, all of the destroyers and many of the bigger vessels were salvaged, using pioneering techniques and sheer dogged hard graft and determination.

    Seven wrecks still remain at the bottom of the Flow, now scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. They have become a top diving destination, bringing in a substantial boost to the local economy. Those wrecks and the German graves at Lyness Naval Cemetery on the Island of Hoy remain as mute testimony to the events of that day in 1919.

    The events of the 21st June 1919 were never forgotten by those who witnessed them. When interviewed for a magazine article in her 85th year one of the schoolchildren, Peggy Gibson said:-

    “I still think about it. It was really remarkable, and not something anyone could easily forget, seeing those great ships first listing, then sinking, with a great roar of steam escaping, and the German sailors jumping into the water.”

    One hundred years on, there are no witnesses to the scuttling still alive. But, through the memories and records they left behind, the drama, chaos and terror of that fateful day can be vividly recreated for later generations for whom the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet is simply part of distant history. Young Leslie Thorpe called his outing on the Flying Kestrel with his sister and schoolmates “a most thrilling experience”, and in a PS to his long letter to his father describing their adventures, added:-

    “Don’t you think I’d better write a book about the scuttling of the German Fleet!”

    Over the succeeding years a number of accounts have indeed been written, and one hundred years later my own account of that one momentous day, Saturday 21st June 1919, fulfils that young boy’s aspiration, and tells this dramatic story afresh, through the eyes of those who saw it happen. As the young Leslie Thorpe said to his sister Winnie at the time: they were indeed “witnessing history.”

    David Meara's book The Great Scuttle: The End of the German High Seas Fleet is available for purchase now.

  • Ruins and Follies of East Anglia by Edward Couzens-Lake

    Time to reboot our imaginations

    Perfection has never been a state of mind or matter that I am either familiar or comfortable with.

    Which is probably why, given the chance to visit somewhere like the Taj Mahal, as magnificently wondrous and perfect a building as you will see anywhere, I’d give it no more than a passing glance before casting a more inquisitive eye around me for any imperfections that lay within its sublime shadow.

    It’s probably because I can relate to flaws or foibles more readily than I can the spotless and supreme. Not least because I am a flawed and far from perfect character myself.

    The very concept of excellence intimidates me.

    Wreck of SS Vina. (c. Julian Dowse (geograph.org.uk), Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    Give me an interesting ruin every day. If it’s one that lives its life in the shadows, then so much the better. Take, as an example, the shipwreck that lies on a sandbank off the tourist magnet that is the beach at Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast. Assorted shapeless lumps of rusting iron are all that remain of the SS Vina, a handsome coaster with pleasing lines that was built in 1894 at the famous Ramage and Ferguson shipyard in Leith, a working vessel that spent its life crossing the North Sea between the ports of East Anglia and their opposite numbers on the far off Baltic Coast.

    It doesn’t look anything like a ship today. Yet its allure to the curious remains, the sense of mystery that surrounds any shipwreck from the Titanic downwards attracting visitors by the thousand, some of whom have, in years gone by, lost their lives for the sake of wandering around something which, in reality, serves absolutely no purpose at all and has no aesthetic value whatsoever.

    Stonehenge it most definitely isn’t. Yet there have been summer days when I have bestrode the endless sands at Brancaster and seen crowds of people out at the site that would do justice to Wiltshire’s most famous landmark.

    Yet explore it we do, that and other sites that are, in many cases, little more than a memory, a gathering of rocks and rubble, iron, brick and the occasional preserved wall or tower. The romance of what was and the invitation to invest in the imagination as you wander around them. Who, for example, has not surveyed the remains of the SS Vina and visualised, in the process, a deck, a bridge, a wheelhouse and foaming waters left in its wake as it plied its trade between Great Yarmouth and the Baltic ports.

    The imagination is a wonderful thing. And it has inspired many other wonderful things.

    Like East Anglia’s remarkable collection of follies.

    Heacham Water Tower. (c. Nige Nudds, Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    These too are, in their own way, buildings that have flaws but only in as much as their character and, on occasion, beauty can be seen as their great undoing. To repeatedly eschew architectural formality in favour of flair and flamboyance was, for me, one of the greatest gifts that the Victorians and Edwardians gave us. Take, for example, Redgate water tower that stands on the high ground in-between Hunstanton and Heacham in Norfolk.  The building is described as having ‘four flat angle pilasters on each side’, a pilaster being, in classic architecture, a technique used to give the appearance of a supporting column with ornamentation at the top and a classical plinth at its base.

    We are, might I remind you at this point, not talking about the look of one of the great buildings in Florence, Rome, Athens or Paris, but a water tower designed and built by Hunstanton Urban District Council in 1912 in order to supply water to the nearby village of Heacham. A building that merely had to be functional but is, appearance wise, anything but and one which richly demonstrates the perceived flaw in an architect who wanted to see grace and beauty in something that was otherwise brutally utilitarian.

    A folly is the consequence of a dreamer’s imagination brought to life. I can only admire and respect the architects and builders for their audacity and refusal to conform.

    Ruins and follies. Two features of our landscape that are fuelled by the imagination.

    Let’s not be forever lost in the artificial world of an LCD screen. Switch it off once in a while and retune your imagination to your own unique settings rather than the uniform way of thinking promoted by modern technology.

    Get out and explore. Lose yourself in some of the magnificent buildings that adorn our landscape.

    And rediscover who you really are in the process…

    Edward Couzens-Lake's book Ruins and Follies of East Anglia is available for purchase now.

  • Trains Around Peterborough by John Jackson

    I was only a few years old when I first visited Peterborough. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it was the city’s prominence at an important railway crossroads that was to blame. When I look back, I suppose my love affair with the city started at the end of the 1950’s. That enthusiasm for the city has never gone away.

    My father had encouraged me to share his passion for the steam locomotive. Today that passion extends far beyond these shores to most things transport related around the world.

    But Peterborough has been in my blood for over half a century. Some of my earliest memories involve the long, but exciting, train journey to visit my aunt and uncle who were then living just outside Hull, then in Yorkshire’s East Riding. The journey from our family home in Northampton meant a change of trains, and stations, in the city of Peterborough.

    The sign commemorating Mallard’s world record. (Trains Around Peterborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Our journey included the stretch of track just north of Peterborough where Gresley’s A4 Pacific Mallard reached a speed of 126 miles per hour. That 1938 achievement between the villages of Little Bytham and Essendine still stands to this day. It is marked by an appropriate sign that can be seen by the eagle-eyed observer passing at a hundred miles per hour!

    In my earliest travelling days, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, steam locos still held sway although diesel power was starting to make its presence felt around Peterborough on the East Coast Main Line and beyond.

    The line from Northampton to Peterborough, our line, was to fall victim to the ‘Beeching Axe’ a few years later. In common with many other lines in the area, passenger services were withdrawn as the UK rail network was cut back by around a third. The lines westwards from Peterborough towards Market Harborough and Rugby were also victims to this pruning.

    Nevertheless, Peterborough remains an important railway crossroads, and its diversity of both passenger and freight traffic, continues to draw today’s enthusiasts to the station and surrounding areas.

    Of course, much else has changed in those fifty or so years. The East Coast Main Line has been electrified, our railways have passed into private ownership, and Felixstowe has emerged as the UK’s largest container port. Much of this container traffic reaches its customers by crossing East Anglia and passing through Peterborough station. It is featured here but its worth mentioning that more examples can be found in my earlier Amberley Publication, ‘East Anglia Traction’.

    One of Hitachi’s new Azuma trains passing through Peterborough. (Trains Around Peterborough, Amberley Publishing)

    More recently, we have seen the passenger operator of intercity services on the East Coast Main Line, Virgin East Coast, surrender its franchise. This has left these services in the hands of LNER, owned by the Department for Transport, at a time when the line is seeing significant changes to the type of trains provided.

    My book, ‘Trains around Peterborough’, takes a look at the rail traffic found in the area in the years leading up to these changes, together with a comparison with the scene around the time of rail privatisation a quarter of a century ago.

    By the time this book appears, the word ‘Azuma’ will probably have passed into common usage. The LNER launch publicity is already on display at their principal stations, including Peterborough, where they are advertising an Azuma journey into London’s Kings Cross station in just fifty-one minutes. These Azumas, the word means ‘east’ in Japanese, are built by Hitachi and use Japanese bullet train technology. They are replacing the class 91 loco and mark 4 coaching stock that has operated the route since electrification in the mid 1980’s.

    But Peterborough offers the rail enthusiast so much more than just these new Azumas. Spending time on the stations platforms offers the chance to witness passing passenger services from up to six different operators to and from most compass points around the city. The three main freight operating companies, DB Cargo, Freightliner and GB Railfreight, also provide a variety of freight types through the area, alongside more unusual offerings of just about any type of loco and train seen on the network today.

    I hope you have the chance to share this journey through the pages of this publication.

    John Jackson's book Trains Around Peterborough is available for purchase now.

  • Coaches In and Around Brighton by Simon Stanford

    From the motorised charabancs of the nineteen twenties to the luxury coaches we see on our roads today, coaches will always be with us to serve the travelling public, conveying passengers to destinations far and wide. Excursions, sightseeing, holidays all give fulfilment and enjoyment to many, passengers, driver and enthusiasts alike. Some will recall their holidays by coach, express travel or childhood school trips, we can all remember travelling by coach at some time in our lives.

    The enthusiast, whilst some people regard coaches as a means of getting from A to B, coaches and buses have a huge following and bring pleasure to a great many people. Rallies and shows take place up and down the country each year drawing in the crowds with cameras at the ready, Museums exhibit examples from the past for us to admire and relive history, or bring back memories. We see restored and preserved buses and coaches brought back to their former glory to enjoy once again. I once owned a former Southdown coach, in her heyday a tour coach, a hobby bringing pleasure to many.

    A typical Brighton coaching scene. Unique coaches Bedford Duple, immaculately turned out when photographed by Stuart Little in 1976 on Marine Parade, Brighton. Goodwood races is the excursion on offer for intending passengers. (Coaches In and Around Brighton, Amberley Publishing)

    I wrote Coaches in and around Brighton to recall my lifelong passion for coaches in the seaside resort of Brighton where I was born and grew up. The book recalls those years from the sixties to the nineties when I remember accompanying my father, a coach driver all of his life for local Brighton firm ‘Campings’, with fond memories of Brighton’s Maderia drive on a weekend. Coaches all lined up with destination boards leant up against the sides of the coach advertising that days excursion, a remarkable sight, one that is rarely seen today if at all. Regular passengers arriving for an afternoon trip to an array of destinations for a few shillings with that essential tea stop. Staff transport for factory workers, horse race meetings, privately hired coaches and tours formed the Brighton coaching scene as I knew it. Booking kiosks adjacent to the palace pier where bookings could be made well in advance for a programme of planned trips throughout the season traditionally starting around Easter.

    For the book I selected photographs, some with the help of wonderful fellow enthusiasts to replicate this period as a youngster and to mark this era that reached a peak in what I refer to as traditional coaching and of course to bring back some memories in pictorial form. The photographs will also remind us what Brighton has to offer in stunning architecture and scenery. For around 30 some years Brighton hosted the British coach rally held on Maderia drive, an event I attended for countless years as did others and coach operators, many returning each year had this opportunity to show off their new coaches for the forthcoming season or to enter an older coach needless to say in immaculate condition, prizes to be won too.

    I would regularly watch visiting coaches arrive on mass, often two or three from the same operator dropping off their passengers eager to enjoy a day at the seaside. Many of these firms are no longer around, Bexleyheath transport, Venture, Grey Green, Wallace Arnold to name but a few. Local Brighton names like Alpha, Unique, Campings and Southdown are all but memories.

    Such is the coaching industry that many dedicate a lifetime to it, long service awards issued to a great deal of workers over the years. Generations commonly running the family coach business; with sons and daughters following in their father’s footsteps. I for one have completed forty years in a variety of roles; I refer to that phrase used in the book ‘It’s in the blood’ rings true.

    Looking forward, we still have coaches, coach trips as popular as ever just different from the heyday I remembered but the camera keeps clicking away and who knows material for Coaches in and around volume 2 is plentiful.

    Simon Stanford's book Coaches In and Around Brighton is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Stamford by Christopher Davies

    When asked to write an A-Z of Stamford, the task seemed restively simple. However, once I gave it some thought, I realised that there were two questions that needed to be addressed before I could start putting pen to paper. The first of these was ‘who am I writing this for’ and, secondly, can I find sufficient material to cover every letter of the alphabet.

    The first question is possibly the most problematic. Serious historians of Stamford (of which there are many) will already be well acquainted with most aspects of its history. So, after much thought, I decided to aim this book at the newcomer to the town and those with a passing interest in local history.

    The Eleanor Cross at Geddington. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    The question of what to include in an A-Z was much more taxing. What I wanted to do was to give an overview of the town’s development within the constraints of the brief from Amberley. Generally speaking, the first half of the alphabet does not tend to cause huge problems. In fact, it would probably be quite easy to fill a book just using the first half of the alphabet. It does mean however, that it is necessary to carefully select those aspects of the town’s history which will be of interest to the casual reader, and present an overview of the town’s history.

    From O onwards however, is a different matter, particularly X, Y and Z. In writing the A-Z of Stamford I was fairly certain of being able to cover most letters of the alphabet. The letter K caused a problem however, and I had to fall back on Klips Hill, which was the earlier name for Barn Hill. The letter X was always going to be a problem, as X does not figure at all in local personal names or place names. However, a flash of inspiration reminded me about the incised X on certain buildings to denote parish boundaries. The six parishes of Stamford were irregular in shape. Reference to Knipe’s map of 1833, for example, shows that St John’s parish was in two parts, separated by All Saints parish; St Michael’s parish was separated by part of St George’s parish. However, for a number of reasons, it was important for people to know in which parish they lived. The answer to this was to place an incised cross on to buildings where two parish boundaries met. Over the years, some 29 such marks have been located in the town, although they are ever in danger from re-building and alterations to buildings. Some years ago, the Lord Burghley public house was completely rebuilt, and it was only intervention from the writer of this blog that ensured that the parish boundary mark on the front of the building was preserved.

    Parish boundary mark. This particular mark is to be found at the entrance to the Theatre Cellar Bar in St George's Square. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    For the letter Q I decided to use the Queen Eleanor’s cross that once stood on Casterton Road. The main reason for this was that it presented the opportunity to re-examine the evidence for where it actually stood.  The 17th century Town Clerk and historian Richard Butcher, seems to have it firmly placed in the area of Clock House on Casterton Road. Later evidence very clearly has it in the area of Foxdales. In 1745, William Stukeley reported that the base of the cross had been discovered half a mile north of Stamford. In 1993, a fragment of Purbeck marble was found in the garden of Stukeley House in Barn Hill (William Stukeley’s home in the 1740s). The appearance of this fragment accorded with the description of the upper shaft of the Stamford Eleanor Cross which Stukeley claimed to have found in 1745 on Anemone Hill, which is the upper part of Casterton Road. It looks therefore as if Butcher was wrong in where he placed the cross in the 17th century. This however leads to an interesting question. Butcher was reporting what he could see; so if what he could see was not the Eleanor Cross, what was it? For illustrative purposes, I had to use the Eleanor Cross at Geddington as my example. Fortunately, it is said to be stylistically for similar to the one that once stood in Stamford.

    I have to confess that Z was something of a cop-out. Search as I might, I could not find anything significant in the town’s history that I could use. However, searching through my stock of newspaper cuttings, I came across a report of Zeppelins circling the town in 1916 and 1917. Not unusual I suspect given the proximity of a Royal Flying Corps base just a mile to the south of the town.

    Writing the book has been an interesting exercise, even for someone who has been involved in Stamford’s local history for over forty years. It has certainly forced me to re-think a number of aspects of the town’s history, and to put myself in the place of someone new to the town or just visiting who wants to know a little about Stamford’s history.

    Christopher Davies's new book A-Z of Stamford is available for purchase now.

  • Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection by Alan Spree

    In 1972, I was asked to go to the Hastings Office of the Department of Environment to do a short course on concrete technology. I had never been to Hastings or St Leonards on Sea so I took the opportunity to have a couple of days there with my wife and son. It was not until 1997, when I began researching my family history, that I realised my direct ancestors had lived in that part of the country. In particular I found out about my great grandfather John Henry Spree who became a postcard publisher in Hastings, St Leonards on Sea and later in Nottingham.

    John Henry Spree 1869 - 1932. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    It would appear that John Henry Spree started producing photographic postcards from around 1904 whilst living in St Leonards on Sea. It was from there that he registered a number of his postcards at the Stationers' Hall in London under the Copyright Acts in force from 1842 to 1912. National Archive records show that in 1910 John Henry Spree registered more of his postcards and in particular ones of a night and day image of St Leonards Pier and Multi View postcards of Crowhurst. The earliest postcards that I have which were taken by my great grandfather are from 1905 and include one of St Georges Church in Crowhurst posted in May 1905 and a series taken after the storm in 1905.

    Probably the most well know postcard publisher in Hastings was Judges. In 1902 Fred Judge purchased an existing photographic business and renamed it Judges Photo Stores. According to my father, John Henry Spree took a job as a photographer at Judges in Hastings where he successfully worked for a number of years. As it is generally accepted that most of the photographs used by Judges Ltd were taken by Fred Judge it could be that John Henry Spree was employed at the previous Judges shop in White Rock run by A E Marriot or he was employed at Judges Ltd in a capacity other than a photographer.

     

     

     

    Hasting & St Leonards First Tram on the front line, taken on the seafront near Bopeep on the 18 December 1906. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    Having previously had a book ‘John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire’ published, and as I had a few postcards taken by him of Hastings and St Leonards on Sea, I decided to put together this book which includes an introduction and a brief summary of the history of Hastings & St Leonards on Sea up to 1900. As a general principle I organised the layout of the book with the images in a geographical sequence starting in the east and then proceeding west through Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.  I then included some postcards of the more prominent outlying areas of Crowhurst, Fairlight Glenn, Hollington and Ore.

    The book covers the years between 1900 -1918, from the turn of the century to the end of the First World War. During this period John Henry Spree published postcards in the Hasting and St Leonards on Sea area. It contains 17 images of the few remaining Spree postcards of the area and many other images from local and national postcard publishers.

    St Leonards. Heavy seas and high gusts of wind on the 27 November 1905 ripped the kiosk, situated at the entrance to the pier, from its foundations and overturned it.. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    In the years covered by this book there were many significant events in Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. For example the White Rock gardens were opened on the 3 September 1904, the inauguration of the tram service in July 1905, the sinking of SS Clara in June 1905, the sea front flooding that followed an exceptionally high tide in November 1905, the S.S. Lugano on fire off Hastings in April 1906, the launching of the Hastings lifeboat in a snowstorm on 25 April 1908, the State Visit of the Lord Mayor of London to Hastings on 28 November 1908, heavy snowfall on 30 December 1908, the opening of the American Palace Pier on the 23 May 1909, the great fire in Waterworks Road on 4 January 1909, proclamation of King George V  on 9 May 1910, severe gales on 12 March 1912 and 22 March 1913 and the declaration of War 5 August 1914. Many of these events are covered in the book.

    Crowhurst St Georges Church This card has a postmark of May 1905. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The majority of the postcards in the book are in colour but due to the infancy of colour cameras many of the early post cards were coloured in by hand from the black and white originals with varying results as the shades chosen by those that did the colouring were not always true to life. Alternatively colouring could be done by the photochrom process for producing colorized images from black and white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates.

    John Henry Spree and family moved to Nottingham in 1915 and became a prolific producer of postcards around Nottingham and the rest of the East Midlands. I am of course proud of my great grandfathers achievements as a postcard publisher. To date I have collected 379 images of them including 123 original postcards that I have been able to purchase. The search goes on.

    I am looking forward to having two more books published by Amberley, ‘British Military Dinky Toys’ and ‘Portsmouth The Postcard Collection’.

    Alan Spree's new book Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • West of England Emergency Service Vehicles by Dave Boulter

    I have always had a strong interest in all three emergency services as well as the RNLI. I served for almost 30 years as a police officer, retiring at the end of 1996 as a chief superintendent (divisional commander) with the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP), my early police service being ten years with Somerset & Bath which amalgamated to become Avon & Somerset Constabulary. After eight years serving in uniform and plain clothes in Weston-super-Mare, followed by two years as a detective sergeant on the Regional Crime Squad, I transferred in 1978 to become a detective inspector with the MDP.

    Wiltshire's air ambulance is Helimed 22, registration G-WLTS, a Bell 429 with a top speed of 178 mph. (West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, Amberley Publishing)

    My retirement present at the end of 1996 from MDP colleagues was a decent camera and it was then that I made the decision to record the street view of emergency service vehicles in use in London and Bristol so that a record of the vehicles mainly captured on the move in their working environment could exist for any grandchildren I might eventually have. (They now total seven with very little interest at this stage of their lives in their grandfather’s archive!)

    I do stress it has never been to impose on anyone’s grief, dignity or privacy, my photographic interest being confined to the vehicles themselves. The only licence I did give myself was to broaden the term ‘vehicle’ to include police and ambulance helicopters, marine police vessels, mounted and dog sections. Undercover and plain clothes department vehicles are not subject of my photographic interest, security considerations and the safety of the officers involved being paramount.

     

     

    The other very strict rules I have are:

    1. To ask permission where possible to photograph even in a public street although I accept this is often not practical given my style of photography.
    2. Never to use flash photography, not even at night. It is vital drivers are not distracted.
    3. To be as discreet as possible so as not to become a nuisance to anybody.
    4. To be mindful of my own personal security, especially at my age carrying photographic equipment.
    5. As often as circumstances allow thanking the emergency crews regardless of which service they represent for the work they do. I have always found this simple, heartfelt gesture greatly appreciated by them.
    MAN aerial ladder platform appliances. (West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, Amberley Publishing)

    Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now as it was never my intention to write a book in those early days, merely to keep a video and 35mm still print record. Successive house moves resulted in loss, damage and destruction to parts of my collection, subsequently not aided in my early computer days by programmes crashing and material disappearing for evermore. Then the digital era arrived and presented all manner of opportunity for the non-professional like me to experiment with basic tasks such as cropping the image. Unfortunately my endeavours ruined many a good shot as I was to later find them unsuitable for a publisher’s technical requirements! However, if you love a subject you persist, undaunted by failures from the past or what could have been if only more care had been taken by me with the original material. But we all learn - and as the years advance the rule holds just as good in my 70s as it did when I was a younger man.

    Thus, with the encouragement and advice from my commissioning editor, Connor Stait - to whom I will always be grateful - I persisted, embarking on a very steep learning curve involving much burning of the midnight oil. As a result, and thanks to my wife Margaret’s help behind the camera, London’s Emergency Service Vehicles and West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, published in 2017 and 2019 respectively, enable a record to be exist thereby allowing future generations to look back on the current scene. With pride in helping others, particularly the younger generation, have a greater appreciation of their emergency services in these modern times, I regard my books as the “The Future History, Today.”

     

    Dave Boulter's new book West of England Emergency Service Vehicles and previous book London's Emergency Service Vehicles are available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of the Peak District by Denis Eardley

    When I started to compile 50 Gems of the Peak District the biggest problem was what to leave out. After some thought, I decided to select gems that were relatively easy to visit for both the private and public transport user of all ages. This somewhat reduced the number of gems I had in mind but there were still far too many for the book. Eventually, after much further deliberation I settled on the number required.

    The Peak National Park was established in 1951 and was the first to be set up in Britain. It is stunningly beautiful and it is visited by people from all over the world. They come to enjoy its glorious ever changing landscapes, enchanting villages, beautiful historic houses, famous attractions and hundreds of traditional events attract visitors time and again. Strikingly beautiful limestone valleys, with magnificent clifftop views, characterise the southern half of the Peak District, with the northern area featuring dramatic gritstone ridges and wild heather covered moorland.

    The 50 Gems in the book have been arranged in groups to enable the reader to explore at their own pace, by visiting just one at a time, or several. The fascinating historical information, legends and other stories will let both the first time and regular visitors to the Peak District take even greater pleasure out of their visits. There is much to see and the book will prove indispensable both to the first time as well as frequent visitors to the Peak District.

    As a sneak preview of the 50 Gems book, I have selected five of my favourites below:

     

    Derbyshire’s Lake District (SK171898)

    Derwent Reservoir. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    The Upper Derwent Valley is often referred to as the ‘Lake District of the Peak’. It is surrounded by magnificent countryside where water and woodland, topped by high moors, predominate. In recent years forestry has become an important factor and the sides of the valley have been clothed in conifers. Not surprisingly, the area has become so popular that over two million people visit each year. At certain times the road up the valley beyond Fairholmes is closed to help protect the environment and a mini-bus service is operated. Disabled Badge holders are exempt from the road closure.

    The valley was a very attractive location for the storage of water, with its long deep sides and narrow points for dam building. All this, combined with a high average rainfall, low population level and heavy demand for water from the industrial towns that surrounded the Peak District, made the case for reservoir construction. The Derwent Valley Water Board was set up in 1899 to supply water to Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester and the Howden and Derwent Reservoirs were constructed.

    At that time the demand for water was satisfied and although plans existed for further reservoirs, no more action was needed. Demand, though, continued to grow and the decision was taken to build one very large reservoir, to be called Ladybower. This entailed the flooding of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent and caused immense unrest. However, the project went ahead and the villagers were moved to new houses at Yorkshire Bridge.

    Ashopton Viaduct was built to carry the Snake Road to Glossop and the Ladybower Viaduct to carry the road from Yorkshire Bridge to the A57.

    The ancient Derwent packhorse bridge, which had a preservation order on it, was painstakingly moved stone by stone and rebuilt at Slippery Stones at the head of Howden Reservoir. The graves in the churchyard were excavated and the bodies reburied at Bamford.

    A few properties built on slightly higher land, including the Shooting Lodge and former Roman Catholic School, survived. Although the majority were demolished and flooded, the church spire was left eerily poking out above the reservoir, when the water level was low, until it was blown up in 1947. The flooding having been completed, the opening ceremony was carried out on 25 September 1945 by King George VI. In order to mark the occasion, a commemorative monument was built close to the dam wall.

     

    Pott Shrigley (SK945792)

    Cottage at Port Shrigley. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    The picturesque Cheshire village of Pott Shrigley is located on the western border of the Peak District, about one mile north from the small town of Bollington. The houses in the centre of the village huddle together close to the top end of two valleys with Holme and Nab woods rising up to the rear. In all directions, there are beautiful trees and fields with flocks of sheep grazing that give the village a distinct rural identity.

    Pott Shrigley has a long and interesting history, which for many years revolved around Shrigley Hall and its estate, farming and later, mineral extraction. Originally built in the fourteenth century by the Downes family, who lived there for 500 years, it was rebuilt on a grander scale in the early nineteenth century by William Turner. In the 1950s it was sold to the Salesians as a Catholic Education Centre and sold again in the 1980s when it was converted into a hotel, which it remains today.

    St. Christopher’s Church is a Grade I listed building, which is thought to have been founded in the late 14th century and completed in its present form by the building of the Downes Chantry Chapel by Geoffrey Downes in the late fifteenth century. Inside the church, there is a fine, fifteenth century barrel roof, an oak altar table that dates back to 1698. The oak box pews were acquired from St James' Church, Gawsworth in the nineteenth century. Another building in the village with an ancient history is the Church of England primary school, which was founded in 1492.

    In the spring, the bluebells along the road up the hill towards Shrigley Hall are an impressive sight and attract large numbers of visitors. The village cricket ground is in a stunning location, which according to the locals, is one of the most beautiful settings in the world.

    One person though refused to move, Miss A. Cotterill of Gwinnett House. She remained there until she died in 1990, at the age of ninety-nine, the waters of the reservoir lapping at the front garden steps. You can easily pick out the house at the side of Ladybower when crossing the discretionary path across the dam wall.

    Food is available at the refreshment kiosk at Fairholmes, Yorkshire Bridge Inn and Ladybower Inn.

     

    Flash Bar (SK032678)

    Flash Bar Store and Tearooms. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    For the tired walker having trekked across the wild windswept moorland and the cyclist toiled to the top of Axe Edge, Flash Bar must seem like an oasis with its smart welcoming café and pub. Situated just outside the village of Flash, on the A53, the stylish café and stores is possibly the highest shop and cafe in England. Opposite, the Traveller's Rest public house has now reopened as the Knight’s Table.

    Flash is surrounded by magnificent moorland scenery, stands at a height of over 1,500 feet above sea level and is claimed to be the highest village in England. It is an isolated place, the main part of which consists of well weathered cottages and a small church, all clustered together seemingly to keep warm on the side of Oliver Hill, together with the New Inn.

    On a sunny day when the sky is clear you can see for miles over the surrounding countryside, and as you walk across the moors, listening to the birds singing and keeping a watch out for wildlife, it is easy to imagine you are in Paradise. At another time, on a different day, the picture may be quite the reverse, when the A53 is blocked by snow. It is often one of the first roads in the country to be closed after heavy snowfall.

    Only a short distance from the village is Three Shires Head, where a bridge crosses the River Dane at a point where the borders of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. Many years ago, illegal prizefights used to take place there, as the police were not allowed to cross county borders, and it was easy for the wrongdoers to flee into another county. For the very same reason, counterfeiters choose the spot for their unlawful trade, ‘flash’ is the name given to the illegal money. The word flash has since become associated with being dishonest, or for goods that are not of genuine quality.

    The village had its own benefit society to support those most in need, the Flash Loyal Union Society, established in 1846, nicknamed the ‘Teapot Club’, presumably because many members saved the money in a teapot. Attendance once a year at an annual feast was compulsory for members when the money was placed in the fund. Feast Day was an important day in the village’s social calendar and when in 1995 the benefit club had to be disbanded due to new Government regulations the event was retained.

    As one visitor who just happened to visit Flash on the day of the village parade recounts, she was astonished to see a procession march all the way to the Traveller’s Rest carrying a large model teapot. Even more so as the marchers also carried banners referring to the teapot and were accompanied by a brass band. On the same day there is a service in the church and also a well dressing and flower festival takes place, and refreshments are provided in the village hall.

     

    Edensor, Chatsworth Park (SK250698)

    Looking down towards Edensor. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    Every year visitors from all over the world pass through Chatsworth Park on their way to visit the house and gardens or to just admire the view. Most only cast a cursory glance over towards the gateway that leads to Edensor, one of the most admired estate villages in the country. It is quite unique in style and provides the first time visitor with an experience they will never forget. Set in a walled enclosure within attractive parkland owned by the Devonshire family, with its fine buildings and majestic looking church the village just waits to be explored.

    Originally, Edensor lay between the river and the road through the Park, when the houses were set out in a straggling line down to the Derwent. This did not appeal to the fourth Duke of Devonshire, who having spent considerable money and effort improving Chatsworth House, redesigning the gardens and building a grand new bridge over the river. He decided to demolish the houses visible from his home and re-house the tenants in the nearby estate villages of Pilsley and Beeley. The Duke died in 1764 prior to the completion of the work and it was the sixth Duke who completed the building of the present village.

    Joseph Paxton, who remodelled and landscaped the gardens at Chatsworth, chose the site for the new ‘Model Village’, but it was John Robertson, a relatively unknown architectural assistant from Derby, who provided the designs. At that time aspiring young architects such as Robertson would prepare a book of house plans as part of their training.

    It is thought that Robertson approached the Duke to show him the plans when he was busy with other matters. After quickly looking through them he could not make up his mind and chose all the different styles in the book, which proved to be a masterstroke. The designs ranged from Norman to Jacobean, Swiss-style to Italian villas. A few of the old houses that were well out of sight of Chatsworth House were left virtually untouched.

    Robertson retained the fourteenth century church, but it only remained for about 30 years after the completion of the village, before it was replaced by a much larger one, built by George Gilbert Scott. The new church with its graceful spire and spacious layout added to the status and importance of the village, which its predecessor had failed to do.

     

    Wetton Mill (SK017561)

    Wetton Mill. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    Wetton Mill, owned by the National Trust, is a very popular spot with visitors to the Manifold Valley, which lies a short distance to the northwest of Wetton.

    It was originally a water mill for grinding corn but closed in 1857. Situated by the side of the Manifold Way, it has now been converted to create a beautiful picnic spot, cafe and two National Trust Holiday Cottages. There are still some remnants of the old mill to be seen, with a few old limestone buildings, a section of the mill pond now impounded by the river, the millstream and a grindstone. The bridge that gives access to the mill yard was built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1805.

    The tearoom, housed in one of the former grist buildings at the mill, provides welcome refreshment to visitors who come to walk in the valley, or just want to relax and admire the superb countryside. The valley has some of the most spectacular scenery in the Peak District and is rich with wildflowers, butterflies and birds.

    The Leek and Manifold Light Railway used to run through the valley. Lack of sufficient business forced the early closure of the line and it has subsequently been turned into a trail for walkers and cyclists, only two miles of which is not car-free. In total, the trail runs for nine miles from Hulme End Visitor Centre to Waterhouses Old Station car park.

    Surprisingly, the river beds of the Manifold and Hamps that flow through the valley are frequently dry, as the waters soak away into the porous limestone rocks below and only reappear in wet weather. During dry weather, the Manifold disappears at Wetton Mill and re-emerges from its underground journey from a boil hole at Ilam.

    Wetton is a compact little village of limestone cottages that seem to huddle together in an exposed position against the cold at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Winters are now much milder, but some of the older residents still recall the times the village has been cut off from the outside world.

    Denis Eardley's new book 50 Gems of the Peak District is available for purchase now.

  • Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile by Julie Sarpy

    Who was Joanna of Flanders and how did I stumble upon her?

    Joanna of Flanders, Countess de Montfort and Duchess of Brittany, abruptly vanished from public life after 1343 amidst the Breton Wars of Succession during the Hundred Years’ War.  As wife of the late Duke John de Montfort, Joanna’s rightful place was in Brittany as regent of the duchy for their five-year-old son and heir John of Brittany.  Despite her fame for the defense of Hennebont in 1342 during her husband’s imprisonment, she along with her children had accompanied Edward III of England to Britain in February 1343 and seemingly never departed.  She resided in England in Tickell Castle, Yorkshire, in comfortable obscurity until her death around 1374.  What happened to her and why?  Her extended absence should have provoked more suspicion, but it did not.  Nevertheless, as one delves deeper into her story the answers to those two questions belie the core complexities of medieval social structures, the care of the vulnerable, and the custody of women.

    Titled Jeanne la Flamande. From a miniature in a Froissart manuscript in the Royal Library. Handcoloured copperplate drawn and engraved by Leopold Massard from "French Costumes from King Clovis to Our Days," Massard, Mifliez, Paris, 1834. (Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, Amberley Publishing)

    My new book Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile seeks to uncover the mysterious circumstances of Joanna of Flanders’ untimely sequester in England.  For certain, Edward III orchestrated her relocation from London to Yorkshire in the summer of 1344. He likely engineered her indefinite detention, following the untimely death of her husband in September 1345 to prevent Joanna’s interference with his plans for conquering Brittany.  Joanna of Flanders’ conservatorship stands out for its rariety, a non-judicial fiduciary guardianship of an adult foreign-born noblewoman and widow with no English dower. Joanna’s case offers modern historical scholarship a window into the medieval cosmology of incompetency and legal jurisdiction and a chance to reappraise when protection becomes forced incarceration. Even if Joanna were mad, her indefinite confinement without adjudication was illegal.

    I would have to say that the mystery of Joanna of Flanders drew me to her.  I have always been fascinated by Fourteenth-Century England. What can I say? Plague and warfare are my passions. I can’t get enough of reading about the Black Death and particularly the Edwardian Phase of the Hundred Years War. I came across Joanna of Flanders doing some research on medieval captivity and confinement. I read a passage about her success at Hennebont and her presumed madness, against the backdrop of the late Middle Ages I was hooked.  Her story intrinsically intrigued and compelled me to learn more.

    Although the basis for Joanna of Flanders’ detention through royal prerogative wardship was invalid, her confinement was not out of bounds. In fact, the constraint of aristocratic women during the Middle Ages was not atypical.   As patriarchy was the cornerstone of medieval society, medieval women were subject to the protection and custody of fathers and lords until marriage and their husbands after that.  Thus it was not extraordinary for these men to periodically confine them, but social arrangements were more complex and hardly one-dimensional.   Despite the advantages of station and rank, medieval noblewomen remained sexual and reproductive pawns of men where their power was tethered to the female life cycle.  This manifest itself most blatantly in the system of feudal land tenure that sought to protect widows, wards, the incompetent, and anyone else considered incapable in administrating their estates.

    Joanna of Flanders and Hennebont defenders joyously greeting the English ships, most likely the expeditionary forces under Sir Walter de Mauny, by Jean de Wavrin. (Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, Amberley Publishing)

    Historic scholarship on Joanna of Flanders is limited. Undoubtedly, chronicler Jean Froissart shaped initial impressions and took a favorable view of Joanna. From his privileged position as scholar and historiographer to Queen Philippa and King Edward III, he observed and recorded events first-hand.  He professed Joanna to have the “heart of a lion” and he alluded stated that she orchestrated her husband’s expedient acclamation as Duke of Brittany in late May 1341.  Froissart contended that she returned France to fight for Brittany and frequently traveled back forth, although no corroborating evidence exists.

    Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile is divided into two parts, with the first devoted to introducing Joanna of Flanders, her family and the mechanics of feudal protection worked. Particularly during the Breton Civil War and the Hundred Years’ War.  Besides warfare, the classical and medieval cosmologies of religion, medicine, women, and the law shaped the realities of Joanna’s life. Accordingly, the book’s first half draws attention to the politics of madness and the use of insanity as a political tool from its earliest legal foundations in Jewish and Roman law to its application in feudal society as custodia and garde.

    In its second half this study analyzes the consequences of Joanna of Flanders’ confinement.  The omission of Joanna of Flanders competency determination is the lynchpin for Joanna’s unlawful detention.  Comparative analysis of other noblewomen’s custody, in wardship and as political hostages, reveals Joanna’s confinement to be even more strange, not for the confinement itself, but for its lack of justification.  All guardianships were adjudicated and administrated publicly; Joanna’s was not.  As historian Gerda Lerner stated, “We can best express the complexity of women’s various levels of dependency and freedom by comparing each woman with her brother and considering how the sister’s and brother’s lives and opportunities would differ.”  Joanna’s life took place against the backdrop of Hundred Years’ War and the political interests and machinations of kings of England and France and all of Europe irreparably shaped her life.

    Julie Sarpy's new book Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Cheshire by Paul Hurley

    Most of Cheshire is flat, hence the name ‘the Cheshire Plain’, but in Disley and Macclesfield, featured at the beginning of this book, the land is far from flat, and the Cheshire Plain gives way to the Cheshire Peak District as the road passes through the windswept moor on the way to Buxton. This is an affluent part of the county, and of the country for that matter: Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury have been given the sobriquet ‘Cheshire’s Golden Triangle’. Villages and towns in the area, such as Mottram St Andrew and Knutsford, slip off the tongues of wealthy celebrities and football stars.

    Besston Castle. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire is not only a panorama of bewitching beauty today, but it also drifts through the history of Britain like a golden thread. One of Prince Charles’s titles is Earl of Chester because down the ages Chester has been a very important city. It was once called Deva by the Romans who settled there and fortified it, and there were the battles with the Welsh who attacked it from across the border. It is Britain’s only remaining walled city in which the walls are intact, and they make a very pleasant walk for the many tourists who seek its antiquity. The same can be said for the ancient Rows, where there are shops on two levels dating from as far back as the eleventh century in some cases. Sailing ships once came up from the River Mersey to moor on what is now the famous Roodee. Racehorses have replaced ships at this popular destination; the oldest racecourse in Britain. Then there is Knutsford, home to the famous author Elizabeth Gaskell and a town with the sole right to append the prefix ‘royal’ to the name of its May Day celebrations; Lower Peover, where Generals Patton and Eisenhower planned D-Day; and Cheshire can certainly hold its own in the chocolate-box village stakes, with so many worthy of a visit that there are too many to mention here.

    Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire once reached out and encompassed Birkenhead and every town on the west side of the Mersey. Nowadays most of the Wirral comes under Merseyside. Most of Cheshire’s losses were to Greater Manchester: Stockport, Hazel Grove, Altrincham, Sale and Stalybridge have been dragged away to become part of the great conurbation. Cheshire has gained Widnes and Warrington though, and Disley is still in the county.

    This book looks at the county as it was after the changes that came in 1974, when the centre of the county moved from Bostock and when so many pretty Cheshire villages became part of two of Britain’s biggest cities. Older residents still refer to their address as Cheshire, as in Stockport or Birkenhead, and not their correct title of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The River Mersey formed a natural separation for Liverpool and Cheshire, but far-flung Cheshire villages like Dukinfield, Hyde and Romiley suddenly moved into Greater Manchester. But Cheshire can still be enjoyed as it is now – a special place and a great area to live.

    Paul Hurley's new book Historic England: Cheshire is available for purchase now.

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