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  • Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

    Choosing Fifty Buildings

    The process of choosing the fifty buildings to put into Swindon in Fifty Buildings, was something akin to drawing up a wedding invite list. Y’know – you make a list of all the sisters, uncles, cousins and aunts. Then you realise there’s far too many people and you have to start making choices and thinning out.

    Toothill farmhouse, 1979. (Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    So how to decide what to include in a book that tells aspects of Swindon’s story in its buildings and what to take out?

    Do I draw the list from Swindon’s listed buildings? Hmm – as this blog by Martin Newman on the Swindon Civic Voice website, points out, Swindon has some 659 listed buildings – not to mention fifty-three scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens. It’s easy enough to see how selecting fifty from that would be similar to the wedding list task: herculean. How else?

    I could have taken a good number from Old Town (Old Swindon), everything in the GWR railway village conservation area and beyond: the McArthur Glen Outlet Centre, STEAM Museum, Churchward House et al and have soon got to fifty notable buildings. But as interesting as that might be it wouldn’t make for a balanced book.

    In the end then, after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I opted to go for:

    Geographic spread – Swindon is a large town now and there’s buildings with stories right across it. Thus, I decided to represent as many areas as I reasonably could.

    Different periods of time – Returning to the blog about Swindon’s listed buildings, we learn that it’s a common misapprehension that listed buildings are old.  Not so. A building can be listed after thirty years – or even ten. When the Renault (now Spectrum) building was listed in 2013 it was one of the youngest Listed Buildings in the country and took pride of place on the cover Designation Yearbook. You won’t be at all surprised to know that, the Spectrum Building is indeed included in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

    Different types of buildings – Again, lots of hemming and hawing and decision-making needed. Not too many breweries.  Not too many old farmhouses. Not all of the modern iconic buildings – else would I take out to make room for them?

    Aerial shot of Railway Village. (Courtesy of Martin Parry, Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    At length I have my list of fifty buildings. Not that it remained unchanged of course. For instance, I hadn’t planned to include the Brunel Centre until, in my research, I came across a review of it by architecture writer, Colin Amory. My eyes alighted on the phrase ‘Swindon has acquired a touch of Milan’ and that piqued my interest. I felt it had to go in after that!

    The buildings in this book then run the gamut from a Palladian Mansion to old farmhouses and the GWR Railway Village conservation area to iconic 1970s and 1980s buildings – with plenty more in between. The GWR and its great locomotive works looms large in much of it and its tentacles reach into even more of it. As is inevitable. For New Swindon exists solely because of the GWR Works and Brunel and Gooch’s decision to build it where they did. But of course, that’s not the whole story of Swindon.

    The fifty buildings in this book then tell stories large and small, wrought in Victorian brick, older stone and 20th century metal.

    Angela Atkinson's book Swindon in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Durham by Michael Richardson

    This collection has been specially selected to complement my other volumes and is arranged in four specific sections: ‘Meet the People’, ‘The Built Environment’, ‘At Work’, and ‘Events and Occasions’.

    There are so many unusual images in this volume that it is impossible for me to pick out a preference; however, I will mention a handful.

    A rare image of Durham’s first professional photographer, Thomas Heaviside (1828–86) of Queen Street (Owengate). (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the first section, ‘Meet the People’, the one portrait that stands out for me is that of Thomas Heaviside – my favourite photographer and Durham’s first professional ‘photographic artist’.

    He is pictured in his whites with a friend, probably taken prior to a cricket match in the 1860s. He was born in Elvet in 1828, son of a schoolmaster. His occupation prior to 1860 was coach trimmer. Around 1861 he was listed as a photographic artist. Many of his photographs still survive and are reproduced in this volume. He was the grandfather of Michael Heaviside Durham Light Infantry, VC, who was born in Gilesgate.

    A brush and wash drawing of Kepier by William Hutchinson, c. 1780. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the second section, ‘The Built Environment’, the drawing of Kepier Mill was a great discovery as it was thought that no images existed of it before the fire of 1870. The close-up shot of the old rope bridge crossing the River Wear at Kepier Wood was another; this was taken by William Lambeth (father of Roy). The two early views of the construction of the viaduct (opened 1 April 1857) show the beginning of change to the city with the coming of the railway (although Gilesgate had opened in 1844 as Durham’s first passenger station).

    This is the only known image showing the Kepier Mill intact prior to the fire of 24 September 1870, which destroyed it. The stone archway still survives. To the right of the picture is Kepier Gatehouse, built by Bishop Flambard around 1130. On the extreme right is the seventeenth-century banqueting house belonging to the Heath family, which later became an inn. Only the first-floor arcade survives.

    The Wallace sisters, Eliza and Isabella, are seen outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath in the 1900s. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The third section, ‘At Work’, shows a busy city full of a variety of business premises. There are the Wallace sisters, Elizabeth and Isabella, outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath; and over the road at No. 41 Claypath is the City Picture Frame Works, owned by Thomas Cranson – both taken early 1900s. The beautiful shop frontage and interior of the Home and Colonial Stores at No. 4 Silver Street was taken in the 1900s by another great local photographer, John Edis.

    The final selection is ‘Events and Occasions’. I must say one special new discovery was the watercolour depicting the fire at the Salvin Cotton Mill in Church Street on 7th January 1804. This was captured by the renowned artist Paul Sandby RA (1731–1809), a founder of the Royal Academy. Lost events like the annual horse fair in Old Elvet, Lord George Sanger’s circus visit and the assize judges’ procession are covered. The Durham Miners’ Gala and the Regatta, which still continue to thrive, are also shown.

    A watercolour of Salvin’s steam-powered spinning mill in Church Street, c. 1800. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The mill stood to the left of St Oswald’s Church, behind what is now Anchorage Terrace. The building was built in 1796 and was six storeys high with 365 windows. It lasted only eight years, having been destroyed in the fire of 7 January 1804. Unfortunately, the Salvins hadn’t kept its insurance up to date and it was never rebuilt. Parts of its walls still survive and can be seen from the riverbank footpath.

    The archive continues to grow and it always amazes me as to the quality of images still turning up, especially after being hidden away for years in attics, cupboards and suitcases. I am confident that you will have great interest while perusing these pages and reading about our rich social heritage.

    Michael Richardson's book Lost Durham is available for purchase now.

  • The Austen Girls by Helen Amy

    The Story of Jane & Cassandra Austen, the Closest of Sisters

    The Austen Girls is a joint biography of Jane Austen and her older sister Cassandra. It traces their exceptionally close and mutually sustaining relationship throughout Jane’s life and literary career. Cassandra has always been a rather shadowy figure in the background of her famous sister’s life but, as this book reveals, she was central to Jane’s achievement as a novelist.

    Steventon Rectory, a sketch by Anna Lefroy. (Colouring by the author, The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    Cassandra and Jane, who were the daughters of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra, were born and grew up in their father’s rectory in Steventon in Hampshire. Their deep love for each other was evident very early in their lives. Jane always looked up to and adored her older sister. Cassandra, who adored Jane in return, mothered and protected her. The sisters spent most of their time together as children and developed a secret life of their own.

    When Jane started to write as a young girl Cassandra immediately became involved. Jane read her stories to her sister who expressed her opinion on them and, no doubt, made constructive suggestions. By the age of sixteen Jane had filled three copy-books with the work now known as her Juvenilia. Some of these early pieces were dedicated to Cassandra.

    The sisters had their own private sitting-room at the rectory. It was here that they enjoyed shared pastimes as well as pursuing their separate interests. While Jane wrote, Cassandra, a talented amateur artist, drew and painted water-colour pictures, which included the illustrations for a spoof history of England written by Jane.

    It was in this sitting-room that Jane wrote her first three novels. In two of these – Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice – she drew on her close relationship with Cassandra when she created the Dashwood and Bennet sisters. Jane’s early novels were written to amuse and entertain herself and her family, who enjoyed reading novels aloud together. These novels were first shared with Cassandra who knew the characters from their conception in Jane’s mind until their appearance on the pages of the finished manuscript. These characters were as real to Cassandra as they were to Jane.

    Jane Austen, painted by her sister in 1804. (The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    When Cassandra and Jane were separated, usually when they went to stay with one of their brothers, they kept in touch by letter. There was a continual exchange of letters when they were apart because each wanted to know, in minute detail, what the other was doing.

    The Austen’s, like most families, experienced difficult times. The sisters’ close emotional bond enabled them to support and sustain each other at times of crisis. Jane comforted Cassandra when her fiancé died and, with her sister’s help, she was able to endure her sorrow and carry on with her life. Cassandra similarly supported Jane, when a man she met and fell in love with one summer died before they could meet again.

    The sisters supported each other when in 1801 their father retired and they moved with their parents to Bath. They were both unsettled by being suddenly uprooted from their childhood home and the Hampshire countryside which they both loved. According to her nephew it was the beautiful countryside around Steventon which first inspired Jane to write and she was unhappy about the move. With Cassandra’s help, however, she came to terms with it and made the best of her time in Bath. Nevertheless, she only managed to write a few chapters of an unfinished novel while living there.

    It was not until she moved back to rural Hampshire in 1809 that Jane was able to write again. In her new home, and with her beloved sister by her side, Jane wrote her last three novels. The importance of the emotional stability provided by Cassandra cannot be over-estimated. Cassandra helped to create the peaceful and happy atmosphere Jane needed for her creativity to flourish. Jane was often lost in her imaginary world – a world only Cassandra was allowed to enter.

    Jane was always modest about her achievements and was not confident about her writing ability. She had to be encouraged by Cassandra and others to seek publication and always insisted on remaining anonymous. Jane was also surprised that she made a profit from her writing. Needless to say, Cassandra was immensely proud of her sister’s success and noted when each novel was started, finished and published.

    Chawton Cottage, home of Cassandra and Jane from 1809. (The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    When Jane’s health began to fail at the beginning of 1816 her dependence on Cassandra increased. As her illness – believed to have been either Addison’s Disease, a disorder of the adrenal system, or some kind of lymphoma – progressed, Cassandra hardly left her side. She did all she could to help Jane, including taking her to the spa town of Cheltenham in search of a cure.

    Cassandra accompanied Jane to Winchester a few weeks before she died, so that she could be near her doctor. She nursed Jane devotedly until her death on 18th July 1817, at the age of forty-one. Shortly afterwards Cassandra wrote “I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed – it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

    The Austen Girls traces Cassandra’s life after she lost Jane. Her strong Christian faith and her belief that she would one day be reunited with her sister helped to sustain her. Cassandra did her best to keep Jane’s memory alive for her nephews and nieces. These memories were used in family biographies and memoirs of Jane.

    This book also follows the growth of Jane’s literary reputation and fame following her death. She was never more than a minor novelist during her lifetime. It was not until the 1860s that she was finally recognised as a great writer and readers became curious about her life and works. Sadly, Cassandra did not live to witness this. Jane herself would have been astonished at the worldwide acclaim she has achieved. She would have been the first to acknowledge the vital role played by her sister, whose love, support and belief in her helped to bring this about.

    Helen Amy's book The Austen Girls is available for purchase now.

  • Police in Nazi Germany by Paul Garson

    The Third Reich officially ended with the signing of the unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, only after Nazi Germany had been reduced to a smoldering heap of ashes, its borders breached by the Allies from the west and the Soviet Army from the east. Although Hitler and Goebbels were dead by suicide in the Berlin Fuhrerbunker, his henchmen sought to save their necks. Topping the list was Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, head of the dreaded SS and under its aegis of terror, the Police.

    1925 pre-Nazi era policemen employ the latest portable communications gear in their combat of crime. It is the same year the Schutzstaffel (SS) takes first form, eight years before Hitler takes control of Germany. (Police in Nazi Germany, Amberley Publishing)

    In an attempt to disguise himself, a face known to the whole world as evil incarnate, he had shaved off his mousy moustache and traded in his signature wire-rimmed glasses for an eyepatch. He also stepped out of his black and silver skull adorned uniform for the gray-green uniform and identify of a military policeman, one Sgt. Heinrich Hitzinger, the two sharing a first name. Ironically, policeman Hitzinger had been killed by Himmler’s SS some months earlier for making a comment about the course of the war deemed “defeatist” and thus punishable by summary execution.

    The choice of a police uniform would prove a fatal error as Himmler and his SS contingent fled toward escape. While he had switched into civilian clothes, his escort for some reason had changed from their SS uniforms into those of the Schutzpolizei des Gemeinden, the dreaded Secret Field Police. When attempting to blend in with the displaced persons and refugees clogging the roadways, they encountered a Scottish military checkpoint where their choice of uniforms sealed their fate. The Secret Field Police were listed among war criminal groups targeted for apprehension. In the end, Himmler, the Third Reich’s most ruthless policeman, had been caught by a police uniform.

    While Himmler escaped justice by biting down on an ampule of cyanide, many of his SS comrades escaped completely, taking up new lives in other countries or even in Germany itself. Among them were many of the policemen that had served as the advance guard of Himmler’s murderous campaign of annihilation, who participated in the Holocaust by Bullets that saw mobile bands, the Einsatzgruppen, methodically murdering, “face to face,” over a million men, women and children.

    Other policemen would take part in anti-partisan campaigns, killing anyone perceived to be an “enemy of the state” and taking part in so-called ‘punitive actions’ that saw whole villages decimated, while some also joined front line regular army units battling in most part the Red Army during the later stages of the war.

    Where had these policemen come from? Few were actual Nazi Party members or fanatics, many had previously served on street patrol and traffic duty in German cities and towns, their responsibility to “protect and serve” their fellow citizens. Many had wives and children of their own.

    Customs Police gather for a group photo somewhere in the Rhineland. (Police in Nazi Germany, Amberley Publishing)

    Although Himmler had assimilated the regular German civilian police under the black umbrella of the SS organization, they were not coerced or forced to commit their crimes or punished if they chose to opt out of the mass executions. And yet they pursued their tasks with unwavering dedication. And when it was over, both the war and the Nazi dictatorship, many resumed their pre-Third Reich police duties without facing any form of justice. They blended back into the general population with faces no different than their fellow citizens, a path paved easier by both their own efforts to cover-up their war crime links and safeguard their fellow policemen from prosecution and also by a less than enthusiastic effort by governments, both home and abroad, to “rake up old coals.” The West was more concerned with the growing Cold War with their previous ally the Soviet Union and in fact often sought out Nazi “experts” to join in their war against the spread of Communism.

    When coming face to face with the Police in Nazi Germany, it begs the same questions asked of the Nazi plague itself and its takeover of an entire, highly advanced country? How was it possible? How did ordinary men, in this case, ordinary policemen change their motto from ‘protect and serve’ to ‘hunt down and kill’?

    Was it years of Nazi propaganda hammering home racial hatred and German superiority? Was it an aberrant sense of patriotism, engrained submission to authority and ultra-nationalistic fervor? Was it something deeper found in the primal human capacity for violence and destruction?

    Members of Police Battalion 322 take a break from their mass execution operations in Eastern Europe. (Police in Nazi Germany, Amberley Publishing)

    Who can answer when hearing such words written by a police lieutenant to his wife in October 1941: “I must tell you something else. I took part in a mass killing the day before yesterday. When we shot the Jews brought by the first truck my hand trembled somewhat during the shooting, but one gets used to it. By the tenth truck I was already aiming steadily and shooting accurately at the many women, children, and babies.”

    As an indication of how little justice followed in the wake of millions butchered, one can regard the so-called Einsatzgruppen Trial that began on September 29, 1947. Because of budget constraints, only 22 of the some 3,000 “hands-on killers” were brought to trial in West Germany. The defense lawyers, all former Nazi Party members, amassed 136 days of testimony on behalf of their clients. The prosecution relied only on the killers’ own meticulous, ultimately damning documentation of their murders. While 13 received death sentences, only four were executed. All the other defendants received prison sentences, but by 1958 all had been granted early release by the West German authorities, basically citing the “past was the past, time to move on.”

    To this day, mass graves, small and large, are still being discovered across Eastern Europe and what was once the Soviet Union. The searchers estimate the number killed in each by the number of empty bullet casings, one allowed per victim. However, they do not factor in the testimony of Einsatzgruppe leader Otto Ohlendorf who in court stated: “He told his men never to use infants for target practice nor smash their heads against a tree (as other units had done). He ordered his men to allow the mother to hold her infant to her breast and to aim for her heart. That would avoid screaming and would allow the shooter to kill both mother and infant with one bullet. It saved ammunition.”

    Ohlendorf was one of the four hanged, one small measure of justice.

    Paul Garson's book Police in Nazi Germany is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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