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  • London Rail Freight Since 1985 by Malcolm Batten

    London owes its existence and development to the River Thames. The site was originally chosen as a settlement by the Romans who named it Londinium. The location was chosen as the nearest point to the estuary that the Romans could bridge the river with the technology at their disposal. The building of the first London Bridge then dictated the shape of the emerging settlement. Becoming a barrier to any ships that couldn’t pass under it, which meant that the wharves, warehouses and all other amenities associated with shipping came to be sited along the river to the east of the bridge. For several hundred years after the Romans left, London Bridge remained the only bridge in an expanding London. Other bridges would be added to the west, but it would not be until Tower Bridge opened in 1894 that a bridge was built to the east. This would then remain unique until the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened at Dartford in 1991 – still the only bridge across the river east of Tower Bridge, and all because of the need to provide clearance for shipping.

    Coming off the North London line and passing through Stratford, Class 47 No. 47476 Night Mail heads a Ford 'blue train' returning to Dagenham on 25 March 1999. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    When railways first came to London, each line was built by a different company seeking to link their area to the capital. There was no through service from one side of London to the other, and indeed the railway companies were prevented from entering the central area of the City and West End. The traffic congestion that developed eventually led to the building of the world’s first underground railway, opened in 1863. The Metropolitan Railway ran from Paddington to Farringdon, linking the Great Western Railway’s Paddington station with the Great Northern Railway’s Kings Cross station and passing close to Euston station, built by the London & Birmingham Railway. When the Midland Railway opened their station at St. Pancras, next to Kings Cross, this was also served by the Metropolitan Line. But also significantly, the Great Western made a connection to the Metropolitan at Paddington and this allowed through freight trains to run to Smithfield Market until 1962. The Metropolitan would eventually be joined to the District Railway, opened in 1868, to form a Circle Line linking many of the main line termini.

    Class 60 No. 60025 Joseph Lister prepares to tackle the bank with the Langley-Lindsey return empty tank wagons, also on 19 July 1994. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While this enabled passengers to connect between the lines of different railway companies, albeit with changing trains, what of freight traffic from one line to another? In order to transfer freight traffic from one company to another, the various London railway companies to the north of the Thames made links to the orbital North London Railway which ran from Broad Street station in the east to Richmond in south-west London. The NLR also had a freight line into the east London docks. But when freight needed to cross from north to south London or vice versa, the railways came up against the same problem as the roads – no bridges to the east of London because of the need to provide clearance for shipping. There was a railway tunnel to the east of London Bridge – Brunel’s original Thames tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe opened in 1843 as a foot tunnel. This was converted to a rail tunnel in 1869. This did carry some freight traffic until the early 1960s, but its usefulness was limited by the fact that access on the north bank was from the west. Any freight trains wanting to enter the tunnel would have to reverse in the busy Liverpool Street Station first – not very practical. This tunnel is now used by the very intensive London Overground network and does not carry any freight. Until the 1960s some cross-Thames freights were routed by what is now the Thameslink route from Farringdon to Blackfriars and over the bridge there. But this involved a steep gradient, and the line now carries an intensive passenger service so no freight trains are now routed this way. Most cross-Thames freight (and passenger) traffic was normally routed via Kensington Olympia and the river bridge at Chelsea. This remains the case today, including traffic to and from the Channel Tunnel. When this line is unavailable due to engineering works, trains use the river crossing at Barnes Bridge – even further west.

    Shunting the yard to the west of the station on 25 September 1987 is No. 47376. The towers in the background, the nearer one of which is residential, are a local landmark. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While the one-time mass of transfer freights and trip workings between marshalling yards had long gone, as had the pick-up freights from local goods yards, there was still a reasonable amount of freight to be found in the 1980s and 1990s. This has declined somewhat since. Economic depression, the further losses to road transport and the closure of some sources of traffic have been factors. The regular Ford ‘blue trains’ have ceased with the end of car production at Dagenham, although there is still some rail traffic emanating from there. The Channel Tunnel has not generated the amount of through rail traffic that was at first anticipated. Instead, lorries clog the motorways to Kent to join the tunnel shuttle trains (or ferries) to cross to Europe. However the ever-present building work around London has kept the stone and aggregates traffic busy. The building of Crossrail led to a major rail freight flow, transporting the extracted spoil from the tunnelling site at Westbourne Park to Northfleet, where the spoil was loaded onto ships for land reclamation further downriver. Freightliner traffic from the ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury and the new Thames Gateway port, which opened in November 2013, is another major part of the London freight scene.

    This book takes the freight routes around London geographically, in an anti-clockwise direction, starting in East London north of the Thames and ending in South East London. The varying types of traffic, and the various locomotives and liveries used on these trains are depicted over a period of forty-plus years.

    Malcolm Batten's new book London Rail Freight Since 1985 is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Loss, in environmental terms, is not necessarily a bad thing, but is an inevitable consequence of growth, modernisation, changing demographics and the demands of technology. It is a necessary thing, but needs to be managed, which is why the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act was adopted by the government of Earl Attlee. If one has a legal and statutory framework to work to, change can indeed be managed so that the best of what is already in place – buildings, landscapes, streetscapes – can be protected and the requirements of the modern world fitted round them in such a way as not to devalue them.

    Iron foundries sprang up from the 1780s, closely followed by brass founders, one of whom, Sir John ('Brassy') Smith, established his firm in 1844, later moving it to Cotton Lane and eventually having a nationwide reach. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    There is also the problem of human nature. Loss of the familiar can be traumatic and, whatever the reality of that loss, to look back on it in comparison with what has succeeded it creates nostalgia; the rose-tinted spectacles of times past, re-inforced by well-remembered and loved familiar surroundings. Change inflicted upon ordinary people de haut en bas inevitably causes pain.

    Yet change must come, and we have to endure the loss of the familiar to some extent and very often what replaces it can come to be enjoyed in its turn, softened by the passage of time. Historic buildings, however, are more than just pieces of equipment in which we live, work, buy & sell, or enjoy ourselves. They are very often the product of a creative process which starts with the architect in concert with the person paying the bills and moves through the creators: sculptors, artists, masons, bricklayers, joiners, stuccadori and so on. An architect designed building, however humble or workaday, is as much a work of art as a painting.

    The difference is that a building also has utility and cannot be moved into a gallery to be admired when time-expired. People who seek to make impressive profits from re-development and local politicians hoping to cut a dash, frequently have a problem remembering this. Which is why the 1948 Act gave us listing and subsequent legislation, adding scheduled ancient monuments, conservation areas, world heritage sites and so on.

    Derby is no different to any other medium sized semi-industrial settlement although, thanks to its history, it punches well above its weight in the historical baggage it carries, along with elements of the built environment that reflect that history.

    After four centuries of Roman rule, the original core of Derby at Little Chester was re-fortified by the Danes, who were ultimately evicted from the area in 918, after which modern Derby was founded nearly a mile further down the Derwent.

    The Old Mayor's Parlour, Tenant Street, was the largest fifteenth-century timber-framed town house in England when it was unforgivably demolished by the council in 1947. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    A prosperous county town grew up and from the early 18th century gradually became a leading site for the burgeoning industrial revolution. By 1723 we had England’s first factory in the Silk Mill, soon to re-open as the Museum of Making, an attraction of national standing. Derby was home to two members of the Lunar Society, the intellectual cockpit of the English Enlightenment and their circle included such creative men as Joseph Wright, Joseph Pickford and Peter Burdett – who painted them, built for them and inspired them. Then came Jedidiah Strutt and Thomas Evans with their cotton mills, a series of modernising Improvement Acts and ultimately the Railway age. Which refocused the industrialisation of the City from luxury products to engineering, ushering in an age from which the City, renewed, is only just emerging.

    Thus the 18th century gave us ‘high end’ products: silk, clocks, scientific instruments, fine porcelain, pottery, decorative ironwork, spar ornaments and cement render, whereas the 19th gave Derby heavy and railway engineering, iron and brass founding, narrow tapes, silk trimmings, and brickmaking alongside continuing prestige manufactures.

    The last century saw many of both these decline, especially the heavy industry, although the coming of Rolls-Royce cleverly combined ‘high-end’ products with a new aspect of engineering, the automotive. That, driven by the exigences of conflict, gradually mutated from luxury cars into aerospace. In the present era, aerospace continues, whilst the decline and re-invigoration (through de-nationalisation) of the railways, has revived many aspects of railway engineering, now almost as high-tech as aerospace, along related developments including those related to the digital age, in themselves an element of a totally new industrial revolution.

    All this has led to a continuous growth in population, which itself presents considerable challenges, and has driven environmental loss and renewal just as powerfully as the demands of industrial change. The key to achieving a balance between necessary development, and harmful destruction of historic environments, is to acknowledge the need to provide for quality of life and the retention of an urban environment which remain humane in scale.

    In the early 1970s the DRI was still expanding rapidly, at the expense of the terraced streets to its south. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early 1970s, there was much destruction of historic buildings and environments going on in Derby, but without much in prospect to replace them, leaving only empty spaces, frequently turned into ad hoc car parks.  Come the prosperity ushered in during the 1980s, and the battle then was to get new buildings on these sites of real quality, but this was often a losing battle.

    Today the fight is to get humane scale, good quality, new buildings on the remaining empty land, without resorting to thoroughly inhumane residential tower blocks, much canvassed by business leaders (who do not have to live in them or near them). This concept of living uniformly packed vertically into compact units, goes back to Le Corbusier, a grim Anarcho-syndicalist, who believed that the mass of people should live where they are told to live. His famous Unité d’Habitation was just such a misguided piece of utopianism, wherein people were to be decanted into tiny living spaces in huge brutalist blocks, producing a dystopian nightmare which came to fruition throughout the Soviet Empire, not to mention post war London, Birmingham, Glasgow and other places. Where pleasant municipal semis were discarded as outmoded under this philosophy.

    Miraculously Derby, ever a little behind the times, escaped all that. Only one municipal high rise was built, a mere eleven stories, quite well designed and low-set, barely visible. The worst was the DRI Nurses’ home, 15 storeys and on a hill, demolished in 2017.

    Some losses have been entirely unnecessary, some preventable, others not. Thus, as the reader proceeds through the images assembled here they will be able to make their own judgements. But in the end it is important to stress that for all the lost city on display below there remains in Derby the core of a fine Georgian Market town which, with its later overlays, is still easy to discern and enjoy, aided by the friendly people who inhabit it and the compact size of the City centre still with its Medieval street plan.

    Maxwell Craven's new book Lost Derby is available for purchase now.

  • The F-14 Tomcat by Terry C. Treadwell

    My interest in aviation started when I was in the Royal Air Force and has continued unabated over the years. Some years ago I became the European Correspondent of Naval Aviation News, which is the official aviation magazine of the US Navy, giving me access to a great amount of material regarding American Naval aircraft. This allowed me to write about the various aircraft in the US Navy and I have written a number of books on these subjects. A few years later I also became the European Correspondent for a magazine called ‘Wings of Gold’, a magazine aimed predominantly at the US Navy and Marine Corps aviation, this gave me access to even more material.

    An excellent shot of an F-14 with its wings swept back. (The F-14 Tomcat, Amberley Publishing)

    In the 1930s the Grumman Corporation became the main supplier of aircraft to the US Navy and Marine Corps and the F-14 Tomcat was just one of a series of Grumman aircraft that were acquired by them. Throughout the Second World War the name Grumman became synonymous with US Naval aircraft and acquired the name ‘Ironworks’ because of their aircrafts rugged construction. Almost all the aircraft had ‘cat’ names, like the Wildcat, Hellcat, Tigercat and Bearcat. The Tomcat however was unofficially named (but widely accepted) after Vice-Admiral Thomas (Tom) F. Connolly championed the development of the aircraft for the US Navy at the cost of his fourth star. The full bitter story of this is in my book the F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat was regarded by many as being the most lethal attack aircraft in the world at the time and was involved a number of conflicts.

    An F-14D Tomcat taxiing along the perimeter track at NAS Oceana. (The F-14 Tomcat, Amberley Publishing)
    F-14s being lined up for launch. (The F-14 Tomcat, Amberley Publishing)

    A number of F-14 Tomcats were sold to the Shah of Persia and in the book there are several unique photographs of the aircraft in Iranian colours and markings. However the Shah was deposed just after the delivery of the aircraft leaving the F-14 in Iran with no spares. The result was that within months they had to cannibalise all but two of the aircraft to keep them flying and even they were grounded within six months because of engineering problems.

    The history of naval aviation is extremely interesting, as it shows not only the development of the aircraft but also the aircraft carrier. It all started using converted cargo ships and warships and developed quite rapidly because of conflicts and wars.  The first carrier landings and take-offs were carried out by a civilian pilot, Eugene Ely in 1910 aboard the USS Birmingham. During the war against Mexico, seaplanes were carried aboard the USS Birmingham and were lowered into the water by crane. It was during the battle for Veracruz that a seaplane on patrol became the first American navy aircraft to be hit by gunfire and to sustain battle damage.

    Early aircraft carriers carried a complement of about fifty aircraft, today’s aircraft carriers like the USS George W. Bush, carries ninety-six aircraft and an array of weapons some nuclear. The development of the angled deck and the ski jump (both British innovations), enabled fast jets to be launched within minutes of each other.

    Amberley Publishing have produced a number of books on aircraft, all of which are of an equally high standard and extremely informative to the layperson without being too technical.  As the years progress so will aviation, but with drones becoming more and more sophisticated who knows what the future holds, but then that’s another story.

     

    Terry C. Treadwell's new book The F-14 Tomcat is available for purchase now.

  • South Coast Passenger Vessels by John Megoran

    Growing up in Weymouth in the 1950s and 1960s I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the South Coast coastal excursion paddle steamers. We sailed on them as a family. When I was old enough (and in those days old enough meant from the age of 9) I went on them on my own. They laid up in Weymouth harbour each winter. I cycled past them on my way to school. I got to know some of the captains and crews and watched the progress of their refits. My boyhood dream was to go to sea so that one day I might become captain of one of them but sadly that dream began to look a little thin as my teens wore on and one after another the paddle steamer was sold for scrap leaving a huge void in South Coast cruising.

    Claire, the Hamble-Warsash ferry. (South Coast Passenger Vessels, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast forward fifty years to 2019. Look around the South Coast today. Want a boat ride? You are spoiled for choice. Ok so these vessels are not quite like the paddle steamers of yesterday but they are boats, they go places and they do still get you afloat.

    Mostly they offer shorter cruises of an hour or two in length and can carry between 12 and 250 passengers. Many are based on the principle of an open top deck to get the best of the sun when it is shining with an enclosed saloon below serving drinks and light snacks for when it rains. Most are under the command of Boatmasters, rather than sea-going captains, and have tiny crews of between two and four which make them very economical to operate.

     

     

    Waverley backing out from Swanage. (South Coast Passenger Vessels, Amberley Publishing)

    There are tiny ones like the rowing boats, ferrying eight at a time across the Harbour at Weymouth. There are the bigger launches which enable you to sail past the Portland Harbour Breakwaters, along the River Frome from Wareham or from the beach at Swanage. Sail through the tranquillity and shallowness of Christchurch Harbour on one of them or take a trip from Alum Bay or Yarmouth close up to get stunning views of the Needles. Jump aboard one at Southampton, Portsmouth and Cowes for trips in the Solent. Cross the Hamble River in ferries painted lurid pink. Take a ride across Chichester and Langstone Harbours on a converted lifeboat or a solar powered craft. And what about Brighton Marina from which you can take a short coastal cruise or a tour of the windfarms.

     

     

    Solent Flyer off Southsea. (South Coast Passenger Vessels, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there are the bigger vessels, some of which can carry over 300 passengers on excursions in the Solent, around Poole Harbour, dropping off some of their passengers at Brownsea Island, on to Swanage and Durslton Head. And let’s not forget the Isle of Wight ferries which offer opportunities for all who think that it is the size of ship that matters. For those who like it really big then there are the cross-Channel ferries from Portsmouth or Poole to take you on a day trip to France or the Channel Islands.

    I spent last summer visiting all the current operational South Coast passenger vessels and was astounded and impressed by the sheer quantity and diversity of the boats I found. In an area bounded by Weymouth in the west and Newhaven in the east there are currently well over eighty of them operating with Maritime and Coastguard Agency Passenger Certificates. That’s a lot of boats. That’s a lot of trip options. That’s a lot of boat rides.

    St Clare approaching Portsmouth. (South Coast Passenger Vessels, Amberley Publishing)

    “South Coast Passenger Vessels” is the result of my tour last year and includes details and colour pictures of all of them. Frankly I didn’t know that many of these boats even existed before I started out. Now that I do know I hope that this book alerts you to their existence and encourages you all to find out more about them and to seek them out so that you too can enjoy them and see from the water some of the most spectacular scenery in this beautiful part of Britain. If you get as much pleasure from it as I did last year, you will not be disappointed.

    John Megoran's new book South Coast Passenger Vessels is available for purchase now.

  • 'Aristides de Sousa Mendes' Heroes in the Shadows by Brian Fleming

    Humanitarian Action and Courage in the Second World War

    Aristides de Sousa Mendes (19 July 1885 – 3 April 1954) became the Portuguese Consul General in Bordeaux in 1938. Despite orders from António de Oliveira Salazar’s regime, he continued to issue visas and passports to refugees, including Jews, who were fleeing the Nazis. (Heroes in the Shadows, Amberley Publishing)

    During the course of World War Two a number of diplomats in various parts of Europe used their positions to save thousands of individuals. Of these, Raoul Wallenberg is by far the most famous but there were others whose heroic deeds need to be better known. One interesting example is that of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Under the dictator Salazar, Portugal, like its neighbour Spain, was determined not to become involved in WW2. Sousa Mendes, a lawyer by profession, served in his country’s diplomatic service and took up duty as Consul General in Bordeaux in 1938. The following year, Salazar, anxious not just to remain neutral but to be seen to be so, issued an instruction to his nation’s diplomats that visas were not to be issued to various categories of people. Essentially this covered all refugees who might be seeking access to Portugal. Exemptions could only be granted with sanction from the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon. It is clear that from the very start that Sousa Mendes was uncomfortable with this restrictive approach. He began to make exceptions without prior clearance and put forward, to the authorities, retrospective justification for his actions. The numbers involved were quite small but the situation changed radically in 1940 as French resistance to the Nazi invasion began to collapse. Millions fled south, many to avoid conflict but others, notably the Jews, had far more specific reasons to leave France. Hundreds approached the consulate in Bordeaux seeking assistance.

    The pressure began to tell on the diplomat and he became indisposed in mid-June with what he described subsequently as a breakdown. Clearly he was in a very difficult situation caught between his instructions from Lisbon and his humanitarian instincts. Happily the latter proved decisive. For the next few weeks he began to issue visas to all who needed them. Obviously Salazar’s government could not tolerate such defiance and he was recalled, an instruction he complied with but not in any great hurry. Estimating the numbers he saved is difficult as visas often covered more than the individual holder but included family members such as children. Some have suggested that between him, and his colleague Emile Gissot in Toulouse who followed his lead, 20,000 were saved. Certainly a figure of 10,000 would constitute a conservative estimate. The noted Holocaust scholar, Professor Yehuda Bauer has described the role played by Sousa Mendes as perhaps the largest rescue operation by a single individual during that period. Subsequently the career of Aristides de Sousa Mendes was destroyed on the direct instructions of Salazar. Sadly he lived in relative poverty for the remainder of his life and his actions were airbrushed from history. Eventually the truth began to emerge and a campaign in the US by a group including the diplomat’s son, John Paul, bore fruit in 1986 when seventy members of congress wrote to the then Portuguese Prime Minister asking that the good name of Aristides de Sousa Mendes be restored. Two years later the Portuguese parliament unanimously adopted a motion striking out all charges against Sousa Mendes and marked the decision with a standing ovation. Further recognition has followed in Portugal and in Bordeaux where he made his wonderfully courageous decision.

    Brian Fleming's new book Heroes in the Shadows: Humanitarian Action and Courage in the Second World War is available for purchase now.

  • Now That's What I Call Newport by Jan Preece

    Through Rose Tinted Glasses

    Another mass protest, one more horrific crime, more explosive over-reactive reporting from a media feasting on other people’s misery.

    The Gaer Estate. Named after the Gaer Hill fort it is a sprawling array of characteristic flat-roof houses layered into the hillside. (c. Jan Preece, Now That's What I Call Newport, Amberley Publishing)

    I often wonder how todays’ events will be recorded by the current diarist, the story teller and the historian. How will our lifestyle be seen by the next generation?

    That which I have written to date, for Amberley, has been Historic in flavour, and as far as I can make it, historically accurate. The question of evidence, and its validity, is a subject which the student of History or Archaeology will have drummed into their souls, primary, secondary, subjective, objective; words which will bring dread to the majority of students during their period of initial study into the wonderful and enlightening past.

    Is it written or spoken, is this an original image or has it been digitally manipulated. There are many ways of authenticating the age of an artifact which for the sake of our sanity should perhaps be accepted as a given. So just how far do we allow these guide lines to influence our manuscripts, articles and books?

    The Boys Brigade in High Street, passing some of Newport's best-known shops. (c. Jan Preece, Now That's What I Call Newport, Amberley Publishing)

    Are we technicians? Or are we story tellers. These are the question we must ask. Do we produce reams of stodgy facts or something that skips round a central theme in a light and entertaining manner, conjuring up a deep rooted personal joy brought about through touch stone and reminiscence.

    How does one become an authority or an expert on a subject, when he or she has never experienced life in the period in which they declare their expertise?  In most cases this can only be achieved by the study of other peoples’ experiences, their records, and opinions. Do we then, as writers take this information and add our own opinions, or restrict our story telling to that which we have lived through and have experienced?

    I personally think there is a logic behind the concept that no one can be called an expert in a field which they have never personally known.

    However on the flip side of the coin, one is laid bare to the accusation of Looking at events through Rose Tinted Glasses, when one writes from memory and personal experience.

    Autumn's mists and fog were more severe when industry made its contribution. (c. Jan Preece, Now That's What I Call Newport, Amberley Publishing)

    In my latest book for Amberley Now That's What I Call Newport I look at the ancient borough of Newport, the city of Newport, the port of Newport – call it whatever – if it is your home from birth, or you have spent a significant part of your life here, then you will have memories, good or bad, which will become that ultimate touchstone.

    The 1960s offered massive cultural changes, a refreshing openness, and a more liberal approach to life. These changes came, not from governments or politicians, but from the streets, generated by a new and inspirational adventure in the world of music and other arts.

    While cultural changes swept across the country, changes in the manner in which we lived were fortunately slower to arrive. The terraced street, the factory and the corner shop were still in force, albeit for just one more decade in some cases.

    The home of the ghostly Mr Murenger, keeper of the keys. Be the last one to leave the pub, if you dare. (c. Jan Preece, Now That's What I Call Newport, Amberley Publishing)

    When others eventually decided, on our behalf, to abandon the lifestyles of the previous 200 years, our homes were designated as slums, and our shops became unfit for purpose and were included in local demolitions. Local factories and industries faded from view as the new ways paid little respect to the working man.

    Flats on estates, clinical soulless and boring, rose upwards from the green zones that once allowed cattle and sheep to graze and provided a Sunday venue for the picnic and the seeker of open spaces.

    Newport has endured decades of what I personally consider to be unnecessary change and turmoil. However, the common theme of self-styled entertainment and community action has always been the focus of the Newportonian. Carnivals, fêtes, home-spun music and theatre, great bands and a willingness to be a part of something old, yet good, still prevail.

    In producing this work, I confess that many of my own preferences show through. I hope that those who were also a product of the 1940s will share the belief that the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s were the good years, rich with memories and experience.

    Loving the moment and the characters of yesteryear, loving the town and the personalities of the day, this is a nostalgic look at the period, a work of reference and of pleasure. Now this is what I call Newport!

    Jan Preece's new book Now That's What I Call Newport is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

    Places-People-History

    “I’m really intrigued by this one and have been pretty distracted by it all day.”

    Castlegate. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    The words of a reporter from Aberdeen’s Evening Express on receiving a review copy of A-Z of Aberdeen. Such a positive response from someone fielding innumerable publications straight off the press is heartening for, by its nature, the A-Z is selective and subjective and might have proven to be too personal, too close to me as the author. It appears this has not been the case.

    Aberdeen Grammer School. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling A-Z of Aberdeen I was something of a hostage to fortune, for Aberdeen is a city with a long, long recorded history, and during the last thousand years or so many great lives were lived, and countless notable events occurred. As I explained in the introduction to the book the areas covered were picked because they were of special interest to me or stood out in the context of Aberdeen. In the end one hundred and twenty-five topics were included, many illustrated with photographs, but another volume could easily look quite different. Indeed I had to remove several entries from the original draft due to sheer lack of space.

    As a historian my natural inclination was to head back in time – trawling through out-of-print books or old newspapers for lesser-known anecdotes or detail which will add flourish to the contents. To find curiosities that will stick in the minds of readers.

    William Wallace, Guadian of Scotland. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    I love quirky items such as the story I stumbled across of a natural feature which has disappeared from the city and was known as the Roon O (Round O.) The O was a dip in the landscape formed by boulders scouring away at land during the last ice age in what became the area of Ferryhill. Once a little church was said to have stood upon the Roon O. One night its minister and elders were indulging in a spot of illicit gambling when a great flash of lightning lit up the kirk and Auld Hornie (the Devil) was seen dancing there as church and its sinners were drawn down into hell. Perhaps pause for thought for those residents living in the vicinity of the Roon O today.

    Being a city renowned for its education Aberdeen has been a cradle of many a great intellect – people who influenced politics, science and social thinking not only in Scotland and the UK but across the world. Aberdeen has always been an outward-looking town with its mercantile tradition but also because of its two universities and their strong links with prestigious European seats of learning. Some of the greatest minds who contributed to that remarkable intellectual force of the 18th century. The Scottish Enlightenment, honed their intellects in Aberdeen – such as Thomas Reid who founded the Scottish Philosophical School of Common Sense and the innovative educationalist, George Turnbull.

    Trawlerman in the 1970s. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Several of the cities curiously named places and buildings get mentioned in the book such as the Monkey House and Monkey Brae, the Vennel, Patagonian Court and Froghall. There are tragedies, too, such as the high loss of life from the whaling ship, Oscar, when it sank at the mouth of the harbour. That was a natural calamity but another tragedy that was man-made was the despicable treatment of innocent women and men convicted of witchcraft in the town who were dipped into the harbour from the cran (crane) or partly strangled and burnt.

    Aberdeen being a Scottish city there are the inevitable unicorns – an ancient emblem of the nation. As a former shipbuilding port the odd zulu is included for good measure. Ships carry cargo and maritime trade in and out of Aberdeen has been controlled through the institution of Aberdeen Harbour notably the oldest surviving recorded business in the UK with records stretching back to 1136. The city is also the proud home of the oldest surviving co-operative business, Shore Porters’ Society, dating from 1498.

    Aberdeen rowies. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Ten centuries after Ptolemy of Alexandria recorded a place called Devana by the River Diva (Dee) on his 2nd century globe, the community later known as Aberdeen has flourished as an international city of trade, engineering, fishing, woollens, granite, ideas. A vital servicer of the British empire, the UK centre of oil and gas production while retaining its unique character because of its relative isolation from the central belt of Scotland. This is a place where a distinctive dialect of Scots known as the Doric is spoken.  Doric has its own vocabulary and pronunciation, the result of the many peoples who lived around this part of Scotland from Scots to Scandinavians and perplexes many a visitor to the area.

    Another vital ingredient that demanded inclusion in the book is that culinary delicacy that is quintessentially Aberdeen – the rowie, roll or buttery. The origins of this half bread, half pastry are unknown although some suspect they were produced as an alternative to bread for the city’s fishermen away at sea for days at a time. David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones (once Zowie Bowie), developed a taste for the rowie when he spent part of his childhood in Aberdeen with his city nanny, Marion Skene. Nowadays Duncan makes his own rolls which prompts the expression ‘from Zowie Bowie to Zowie Rowie.’

    This is a real dip into book packed with information but as the reporter quoted at the top commented it isn’t an easy book to put down either.

    Lorna Corall Dey's new book A-Z of Aberdeen is available for purchase now.

  • Spitfire Leader: Robert Bungey DFC by Dennis Newton

    Tragic Battle of Britain Hero

    When you visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra you can find Robert Wilton Bungey’s name low down on Panel 114 in the Commemorative Area. It is shown as ‘BUNGEY R. W.’ under the heading ‘PERSONNEL UNITS’.

    Robert Bungey DFC wearing his 'wings' and his RAF uniform. (c. Dennis Newton & Richard Bungey, Spitfire Leader, Amberley Publishing)

    Ask about him at the entry desk and you will find out that Bob Bungey was in the Royal Australian Air Force, that his service number was 257414, his unit was No.4 Embarkation Depot Adelaide, and that he was a squadron leader. You will learn that he died on 10 June 1943 and you will be informed that his death was ‘accidental’. And that is about all.

    But, that is not all – not by a long shot! There is so much more to Bob Bungey and his story than just that.

    Nothing informs you that Bob Bungey also had another service number, 40042, a Royal Air Force number, and that he was a wing commander who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Robert Bungey's name displayed at the Australian War Memorial. (c. Dennis Newton & Richard Bungey, Spitfire Leader, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing tells you that he was a Fairey Battle light bomber pilot flying operations along the German/French border from the very first month of the Second World War and that he survived the overwhelming German onslaught through France in the desperate days of May and June 1940.

    Nothing tells you that he volunteered to fly fighters and that he was lucky to survive when he had to ditch his shot up Hurricane. Bob Bungey’s name is not only found in the Australian War Memorial, it can also be found on memorials throughout Britain – those commemorating the Battle of Britain - and over the years it has cropped up in many publications.

    Nothing informs you that he was the very first Australian to command the very first Australian Spitfire squadron, No.452 RAAF. Nothing lets you know that this squadron achieved the pinnacle of its achievements under his leadership, and at times he successfully led an entire Spitfire wing on operations over the Continent.

    Spitfire P7973 on display in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra during the 1960s. (c. Dennis Newton & Richard Bungey, Spitfire Leader, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing informs you that he was one of the few pilots who actually flew the Spitfire which is on display in the Australian War Memorial.

    Nothing tells you of his role in the RAF’s fledgling Air/Sea Rescue Service while in command of a ‘front line’ airfield just across the Channel from the enemy, and nothing tells you of his connection with Britain’s Combined Operations Command.

    Nothing reveals the tragic circumstances of his homecoming after more than three years of ‘front line’ service. What happened in Adelaide on 10 June 1943 was not an accident – but what followed afterwards was a miracle.

    None of these things will be revealed when you ask at the desk.

    Now at last, for the very first time, Bob Bungey’s story is finally told in full in Spitfire Leader by myself, Dennis Newton, and Richard Bungey, Bob’s son.

    Dennis Newton and Richard Bungey's new book Spitfire Leader: Robert Bungey DFC, Tragic Battle of Britain Hero is available for purchase now.

  • The Wild East by Ian Hernon

    Gunfights, Massacres and Race Riots Far From America's Frontier

    I love America. I love the sweep of its history and the speed of change. But all great nations are built of myths. As a child of the 1950s, my early years were spent in front of a black and white TV watching Rawhide, The Rifleman, Wells Fargo, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Wagon Train and many, many more. Even at a tender age I knew that the reality wasn’t so black and white. The essential truth is that often terrible things were done for understandable reasons and good things emerged from evil acts. But expanding literacy, the movies and TV skewed the stories towards the Western frontier of romance, leaving behind the tales of the even more violent East during the same period.

    Or at least, that is what I argue in this book: that the scale of violence was far greater east of the Mississippi/Missouri during the period when the West was won, yet the opposite appears true in the popular, and populist, imagination and recollection.

    An 1890s poster advertising a circus bearing the Buffalo Bill name, evidence that by this time the myth-building of the West was in full swing. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    This book has never been intended in any way to denigrate the Western pioneer ethos, rather to help understand the contradictions inherent in attitudes which downplay the historic role of the East as a hotbed of violent struggle. Those contradictions played a part in the election of the ‘outsider’ Donald Trump, an Eastern billionaire who inherited huge wealth but who purported to be on the side of the working man. An outsider, in other words, who was part of the pampered and moneyed elite rather than the political and intellectual elite.

    In April 2016, while Trump was battling Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination and Hilary Clinton was slugging it out with Bernie Saunders on the Democrat side, I travelled through the cowboy states of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. I received nothing but hospitality and easy friendship in poor towns where the pioneer spirit remains the culture of ongoing choice. A 30-year-old bartender in a Billings, Montana, micro-brewery summed up the Wild West appeal of both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat/socialist Bernie Sanders: “They’re outsiders. They have a populist message which goes down well in rural areas where folk feel their voice goes unheard amongst the political elite.” That was a view repeated constantly. Such states in the heart of the “real” America provide answers to those in Britain puzzled by the appeal of the clownish Trump.  America’s “rim” is the Washington-central east coast, the west coast and the southern Bible belt, but the vast tract of the mid-west regards itself as the real soul of America and its people felt disenfranchised.

    There the stereotypes repeated in New York, Los Angeles and London are either simplistic or untrue. The three states I visited have a complicated social history which constantly confounds analysts of the Right. Take Wyoming, for example.  Steeped in conservative cowboy culture, with the Republicans dominating the state senate for 80 years, it is proud of being the first state to grant women the right to vote – suffrage for women aged 21 and over was agreed in 1869, 50 years before Britain, while Montana followed in 1916. The reason, according to a grizzled 71-year-old Vietnam vet, was “folk knew it was unfair, and they did something about it.” The veteran, who fitted the cinematic stereotype of a prospector or mountain man but had been fluent in seven languages as a military interpreter, pointed out that Democrat Nellie Taylor Ross was the country’s first state governor in 1924 and was the first female director of the US Mint, serving from 1933 to 1953. “Mind you,” the veteran added, “it wasn’t until 1952 that Native Americans got the vote.” The truck-stop town of Hardin, Montana, on the edge of the Crow reservation, demonstrated the poverty endemic across former native lands and beyond. Here, and in much of the three states, families have a hardscrabble life far distant from the salons of Washington and New York and the studios of Hollywood. Here poverty has given common cause to old enemies, uniting them in contempt for the Establishment. Respect for common traditions, a strong sense of local community, and a distaste for welfare are other unifying themes. “We believe in work, not welfare,” said a motor mechanic in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, “and if Hilary Clinton had her way we would all either get it or pay for it.” A gambler in Deadwood, South Dakota, said: “These are the last three states left where if you break down on the road, the next car will stop. We help each other out here.” Such self-reliance is a matter of pride – if you don’t believe in big government, you shouldn’t claim the benefits of big government. The same is true of attitudes to the environment – this is the territory of Yellowstone National Park, the Bighorns, the Black Hills – and people want to protect their natural heritage to a degree unheard of in most of the US, and in Britain. Although a cynic might say that they want to save animals so they can shoot them.

    New York's Bowery neighbourhood in Manhattan, a notorious den of gangsters at the turn of the twentieth century and proud home of the Bowery Boys. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    Myths and downright fantasies have deep roots across America. Following the Revolutionary War, the new nation had to create its own history. Hence, the adventurer and all-round dodgy character Christopher Columbus was first popularized by Washington Irving in his 1829 biography, a book constructed almost entirely out of romance rather than history. It spun a fable of an individual who challenged the unknown sea, as Americans confronted the promise of their own wilderness, creating a land free of kings and class prejudice. Captain John Smith’s 1624 account of the Jamestown colony was devoured not because of its description of hardship and colonial greed, but because of his fabled rescue by the Red Indian princess Pocahontas, a legend that has persisted ever since. There is no evidence that the Mayflower’s pilgrim father ever disembarked on any rock, never mind Plymouth Rock, and the first written reference was penned 121 years later. And before they arrived, the Thanksgiving holiday had been widely practiced in Protestant Netherlands.

    And there’s much more. The tale that the young George Washington admitted to his father that he had chopped down a prized cherry tree "I cannot tell a lie" was invented by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his 1806 book, The Life of George Washington: With Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen, and further spread by Mark Twain, the novelist. The politician/planter Patrick Henry is best known for his 1775 speech kick starting the war for independence, saying: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Liberty, or give me Death!" That was written 42 years later by another “historian”, William Wirt. There is also no evidence that Betty Ross sewed the first American flag – which attribution was first made during the 1876 centennial celebrations.  Add into the mix apocryphal exploits of such invented or exaggerated characters as the New England lumberjack Jigger Johnson, the Massachusetts clipper skipper and giant Captain Stormalong, and the Jersey Devil, and we can see that Easterners have no reason to feel superior or to sneer too much at Western mythologies.

    Little Italy in Manhattan, circa 1900. Italian enclaves such as this popped up in numerous cities and saw the steady growth of organised crime centred on Sicilian families. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    At the opening of the 19th century, 94 per cent of Americans lived in rural settings – by 1900 almost half lived in towns or cities. The population had grown 14 times as large, and the economy 70 times. The concentration was still east of the Mississippi/Missouri, and it is no wonder that the real frontier was by then in the battles between burgeoning capitalism and organised labour, between white supremacists and growing racial minorities, between fathers, sons and brothers to a degree not seen since the wars between the states. These are inconvenient truths. Mass strikes and insurrections in the East have been too often ignored in favour of fantasies going back to the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers. Jeremy Brecher wrote: “It is at such times that the veil of stasis is rent and the opposing forces maintain and undermining the existing forms of society revealed.”

    The author Mike Duncan has drawn explicit parallels between ancient Rome before its fall and modern America: “Rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarisation, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct…” and “a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” Robert Harris, the author of a trilogy of novels about the Roman orator Cicero, saw much the same: “Unscrupulous millionaires whipping up the mob to attack the elite and the whole democratic structure crumbling under that pressure…”

    America claims to be a “classless” society, but the momentous upheavals of race, capital and organised labour have been airbrushed out of popular history by vested interests, resulting in a subsequent ignorance of the relatively recent past which leads in turn to aberrations such as misunderstood “populism” and a denigration of hard-won civil and social rights. Trumpism, some might say.

    The docks in New Orleans. A great deal of goods were trafficked through her, making it a key battleground for various organised crime groups. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, The Wild East, Amberley Publishing)

    It was not always so. In 1900 The New York Post argued that the biggest threat to the American Dream was the upsurge in the number of millionaires which were seen as an affront to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Americans dreamt of social justice and looked to government to regulate and control rampant greed, while presidents such as Woodrow Wilson wanted America to be a beacon for democracy across the world. The various “America First” movements corrupted such visions into isolationism, a modern form of nativism and a narrow American identity in the most ethnically-divided nation on earth. Gerard DeGroot pointed to Warren Harding’s campaign to encourage only white immigration, writing: “His supporters complained about fake news and hyphenated Americans. The similarities are hard to ignore.”

    And it is in the success of Donald Trump that we can see an illustration of self-delusion which again goes some way to explain the airbrushing out of popular consciousness of the Wild, Wild East. Many, including Trump’s own sister, have compared the President with the 19th Century huckster impresario P.T. Barnum who grew rich several times over with his freak shows, museums of curiosities, snake oil salesmanship and downright fraud. Both recognised that audiences are less interested in reality than spectacle. Historian David McCullough said that “Barnum was loud, brassy, full of bombast, vulgar, childish, surely just a little crooked – the ultimate, delightful phoney from a delightfully phoney era.” And Ben Macintyre wrote: “The similarities are striking. Both Trump and Barnum exhibit the skills of born salesmen, more concerned with profitable entertainment than strict truth. Barnum said he did not care what people thought of him so long as they talked about him, a principle Trump lives by. Both men became more famous and popular with every fresh gust of notoriety.” Audiences – and voters – can be “willingly deceived” and the taming of the West provides a better, clearer, more simplistic narrative than the long, messy, sordid and brutal industrial and racial warfare which created the world’s most successful capitalist economy.

    For the liberal Left, also, that story can make uncomfortable reading. Impoverished Irish immigrants lynched blacks from lamp-posts, trade unionists did their best to enforce colour bars, and socialist ‘heroes’ took back-handers. But overall, the history of the Eastern half of the nation is a story of heroism, fortitude and stamina which more than matches the pioneer spirit demonstrated on the frontier.

    Ian Hernon's new book The Wild East: Gunfights, Massacres and Race Riots Far From America's Frontier is available for purchase now.

  • East Yorkshire Motor Services by Bernard Warr

    I retired from full-time work about ten years ago. Finding myself with time on my hands I started to look more closely at my extensive negative and slide collection which mostly comprised pictures of buses in the Midlands in the 1950s and 60s and railway subjects from the 1970s onwards.

    I set out to sort and catalogue my collection and by early 2011, I was ready to convert the many thousands of slides and negatives into digital images. To get the quality I wanted I had to resort to a professional scanning organisation and this proved expensive. Nevertheless, I carried on and had about 1000 negatives and slides digitised in this way.

    Showing off the fine lines of the Roe 'Beverley Bar' highbridge bodywork is a further example from the same batch, No. 491 (JAT 459), photographed on 18 August 1962. Note the flap on the destination blinds which allows the conductor to select the direction of travel without having to wind-on the blind. (Author's collection, East Yorkshire Motor Services, Amberley Publishing)

    In an attempt to defray the cost I started selling prints of these images on eBay and for the next couple of years this produced a steady flow of income, although it was quite labour intensive to deal with the packaging, posting, re-ordering etc. What did become apparent was the latent interest in the former Midland Red Bus Co that I had worked for when I left school in 1960. I decided to try and tap into this and write an account of my experiences based on my diary notes and photographic records taken at the time. After about two and a half years of occasional effort I had got the story down and found I had written about 75,000 words which when added to the captions for the 100 or so illustrations grew to nearly 80,000.

    What to do next? I contacted friends in the heritage industry and asked if they would be prepared to read my efforts and give me honest feedback. They all agreed and some passed the book on to other potentially interested readers. The results came back and were very positive. One of the reviewers, himself a notable author on Midland Red subjects with many successful titles to his credit, was very enthusiastic, said he enjoyed it from start to finish and even volunteered to correct my use of the English language and punctuation!

    Emboldened by the responses I was getting I decided to approach some publishers. One liked the story, offered me a contract and an advance of royalties. I signed up two years ago and we agreed that the title would be Midland Red Adventure. Since then nothing much has happened other than they have tried to get me to rewrite the book as a general history of the Company with lots of technical details of the buses. I'm not going to do this because it has already been done very expertly by others so there would be no point.

    After I had sent my 'flyer' about Midland Red Adventure to my selected prospective publishers I was approached by Amberley with a proposition to produce a full colour photo album of Midland Red buses to be called Midland Red in Colour, which was later published June 2018. Amberley have since asked me to do three more books in the same format and the first of these is about East Yorkshire Motor Services, published April 2019.

    In 1933 a new ticketing system was devised in conjunction with a prominent ticket manufacturer. (c. Stuart Warr, East Yorkshire Motor Services, Amberley Publishing)

    As their long-distance coaches visited Birmingham daily I came to know some of the drivers from both Hull and Bridlington depots, so on my teenage holidays to the East Riding, I would look up these friends and ride with them as they went about their daily work. Some of them are featured in the book.

    Another idiosyncrasy was the Willibrew ticket system named after its designers. No rolls of tickets here but plain rectangular tickets with the fares down one side. The conductor would insert the ticket into his ticket machine and slice off the section below the fare he was charging and the removed section was retained in the machine. Balancing the cash must have been a nightmare and some poor clerk would have to analyse hundreds of these ticket stubs each day.

    Looking back on it now, nearly sixty years later, it was a different age. Today it seems almost unimaginable that working men would befriend a teenager and encourage them in their bus enthusiasm hobby, but they did and my life was the richer for it because it led me to start a career in the industry.

    As to the book Midland Red Adventure well who knows?

    Bernard Warr's new book East Yorkshire Motor Services is available for purchase now.

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