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  • Abandoned Villages by Stephen Fisk

    Some of the farmhouses at Cosmeston. The nearest building on the right is a bakery, and on the left there is a round pigsty, which is sometimes occupied by a pig. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

    I retired in 2003. Having worked as a clinical psychologist I left with no plans at all for the future, but reasonably confident that new interests and activities would soon begin to come along. One of my biggest interests since then has been the abandoned villages of Britain.

    An early inspiration was Richard Muir's wonderful book The Lost Villages of Britain. Before long I was exploring the sites of villages not far from my home in South Wales. Cosmeston, the only deserted medieval village that has been reconstructed; Kenfig, the castle and town built by the Anglo-Normans as part of their attempt to conquer this part of Wales, but almost completely covered by sand during huge storms in the fifteenth century.

    Top o' th' Knoll in Haslingden Grane. For about fifty years from the 1830s, Top o' th' Knoll was the home of Andrew Scholes, otherwise known as Owd Andrey - a man of many talents. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Over the next few years I enjoyed trips to all parts of Britain. In Sussex, for example, I went to Tide Mills and Lowfield Heath. Tide Mills got its name as it was close to a flour mill driven by tidal power. The mill closed in 1883, but the village survived until the early part of World War Two. Lowfield Heath, on the main road from London to Brighton, lost its attractions after the development of Gatwick airport very close to it. By 1974 everyone had moved away and it was turned into a trading estate (but luckily one of my favourite churches was allowed to remain standing).

    Another trip took me to Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Local history expert Alan Crosby was kind enough to meet me at Haslingden Grane and show me around the valley. Many fascinating ruins survive, the most splendid being Top o' th' Knoll, the home of Andrew Scholes. Andrew Scholes, otherwise known as Owd Andrey, was a poet and violinist, but remembered above all for building a cart inside his house and then finding it was just too big to get out of the door.

    On the same trip I visited three reservoirs close to Rochdale. In the Cowm valley life became increasingly difficult after the reservoir was constructed and the last residents moved out in 1950. Both Watergove and Greenbooth reservoirs have textile mills and small villages submerged beneath them.

    Croick church in Strathcarron, where the people of Glencalvie stayed for a few days before departing. On the left you can see the east window, where messages were scratched to record their plight. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

    A longer and very memorable trip took me around much of Scotland. I saw several places near the sea where in various ways shifting sand led to villages being abandoned; the remains of villages close to mining and industrial enterprises that were gradually deserted after those enterprises came to an end; and in the far north of Scotland the empty sites of communities where people were evicted during the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century.

    After a while I began to think about publishing the results of my travels and research. A book or website were the options. I decided to develop a website, the Abandoned Communities website, and I am very glad I made that choice. A website makes it much easier for readers to get in touch, and I have many people to thank for telling me about abandoned villages I did not know about; people who lived in abandoned villages or their descendants who have given me information and photographs of life in their village while it still existed; and even one or two people who have explained the meaning of local words or have offered to read or interpret old documents that I was having trouble with. Having said that, I am now very grateful to Amberley for giving me a chance to produce a book as well.

    Stephen Fisk's new book Abandoned Villages is available for purchase now.

  • Space Exploration by Carolyn Collins Petersen

    The Earth as seen from the Moon during the Apollo 8 mission, the first human mission to circle the Moon. Taken Christmas Eve, 1968. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    What does it take to build a space-faring society? That's the question I wanted to answer in my book "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future". When the editors at Amberley first approached me about doing a history of space exploration, I looked at just what sort of story I could tell in 110,000 or so words. I did a lot of thinking about just how one goes about telling the story of such a major evolutionary step in human history.

    Space exploration is not just a means to space-age technology. It changes the societies involved in ways they didn't quite expect. Of course, it's a historical topic and a fascinating one at that.

    However, the process of creating spacecraft, devising the technologies to support them, to keep humans alive in space, and do it over and over again, involves education, technological advancement, new legal codes, expanded social movements, artistic endeavours, political rivalries, and a good bit of "crystal ball-gazing" into what the future of exploration can be. Eventually, I decided all those were part of the answer to that important question about building our space-faring society.

     

    In "Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future", readers can explore the many facets of space exploration that answer that question.

    ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is photographed during a spacewalk in January 2017. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    Certainly, any of us who were alive (even as tiny children) in the heyday of the space race (in the 1960s), can recall the headlong rush to the Moon undertaken by the United States and the then-Soviet Union. That competition shaped the world in ways we are still learning.

    Today, more than 75 countries have space agencies and institutes. A handful have actual access to space and that is expected to change rapidly.

    But the space race didn't start with those two countries. If you want to get picky about it, the rockets that lofted men to the Moon trace their lineage back many centuries, to the early Chinese who invented "fire arrows" and shot them at enemies across great distances. In one sense, space flight and exploration have been with us almost since pre-history.

    Another way to look at the history of space exploration is to trace it from the beginnings of flight, which also began with the Chinese, was dreamed about and sketched obsessively by Da Vinci, and eventually achieved by the Montgolfiers, the Wrights and many others. The great rise of flying machines led as surely to spaceflight as the creation of V-2 rockets by Germany and the adoption of flaming arrows by the Mongols.

    NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks through a window in the Cupola of the ISS. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, particularly readers born well after the start of the Space Age, all this is very ancient history. Humanity is now into its second 50 years of spaceflight. New generations now grow up always knowing that there are astronauts in a space station, or cosmonauts launching from Russia, or scientists creating experiments that will soon fly in space or rovers on Mars or spacecraft hurrying out of the solar system. Even more intriguing, most kids today are told that they are of the generation that will land on Mars and perhaps settle the Red Planet. For them, space exploration is a given. It's something "we" have always done and some of them expect to do as part of their careers. To be honest, it was something I expected to do myself, as a child of the 60s seeing the first men land on the Moon.

    In large part, I wrote this book for all the generations that have lived with spaceflight all their lives. Unless one is a space flight enthusiast, most people know what encompasses space exploration, but don't always see the many strands of its history. I often think of the people who have grown up with iPads and smartphones, with access to computers and the Internet and have never known anything different.

    They have a vastly different outlook than their great-grandparents, who -- after World War II -- thought the invention of TV was the cat's pajamas. People alive today have access to the many "new" technologies engendered by space exploration: satellite communications, high-speed airliners, medical instruments and procedures, and so on.

    Mars missions will someday take humans to the Red Planet. The artist's concept shows what a future science team might be doing there, and some of its vehicles and work modules. (Courtesy NASA, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future, Amberley Publishing)

    I daresay, the future will see the kids of those born with iPhones or smart tablets in their hands happily accepting communications implants or other "bionic" enhancements to their bodies. What do they know of the activities that led to those phones and computers and instantaneous communication capabilities? What science did people do to create space exploration? What laws were written? How did the space industries grow and thrive? What will they do in the future? In large part, that's what this book is about -- the giant leap to space that also spurred new generations of technologies that we take for granted today. For people of my parents' generation, the idea of an orbiting space station was merely a trick of science fiction storytelling. For me and the generations after me, science fiction has come to life. And, for the early 20th century dreams of space flight, science fiction was one way they could further their dreams.

    All those topics are part of the story of space exploration. It's a cultural shift that may have begun with two countries but has spread throughout the world, with more than 75 countries working toward their place in space.

    Now, to be honest, a proper history would be much longer than any one book can contain. So, this book moves along smartly -- giving readers a broad look at all aspects of space exploration. It's my hope that any reader, no matter what level of interest they have in the topic, will come away with a deeper appreciation of space exploration and what it has achieved for humanity. It has shaped societies, cultures, and individuals around the globe. And, in the future, it will very likely herald new strains of humans born and bred in space for deep-space living and exploration. It may have been a small step for a man in 1969, but today, it remains a HUGE step for humankind.

    Carolyn Collins Petersen's book Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future is available for purchase now.

  • Frost Fair to Funfairs by Allan Ford and Nick Corble

    Fair – Enough?

    The stocks and pillory awaited those sentenced at the Piepowed Court. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    In an age when most of us are saturated with entertainment options, with many of them focused on staying inside and/or staring at a screen of some kind, it’s perhaps not surprising that the future of the funfair is once again being put into question. Once again? Well, this is a familiar situation for the showmen who dedicate their lives to operating the travelling fair, and one which they have overcome on more than one occasion in the past, as Frost Fairs to Funfairs goes to show.

    Subtitled ‘A History of the English Fair’, Frost Fairs to Fun Fairs tells of how the travelling fair has evolved over the centuries, with showmen attracted to wherever large crowds gathered, especially if those crowds contained people with money in their pockets. Unsurprisingly perhaps, things could get a little out of hand, especially when alcohol, and possibly the odd charlatan, were added in the mix. The book highlights a number of occasions when those in authority felt compelled to cut back the number of days a fair could operate, or even axe them completely, such as happened with the famous Bartholomew Fair in London.

    Dating back to 1123, the Bartholomew Fair was notorious for its food, fortune tellers, gambling dens, bear baiting and cock fights, and a lot more, especially once the sun went down and night took over from day. The unsavoury reputation the fair gained led to it being cut back from fourteen days to three by the end of the seventeenth century, but the dark side of the fair lingered, leading the City of London Corporation to eventually close it down altogether in 1855, under pressure from the London City Mission.

     

     

    Sunny Boy Number 2, owned by Marshall & Sons, seen pulling the loads. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    This perception of the fair as a den of iniquity that needed to be stopped has been a recurring theme over the centuries. Not least in the latter part of the last century when going to the fair became an activity that required keeping your wits about you with the haunt of threatening teenagers, and certainly not somewhere you’d take the family. During the 1950s and ‘60s, it was widely believed that television would ‘do for’ the fair, in much the same way that the same is thought of the internet today.

    The sense of the fair being something outmoded and out of step with the times was strangely reminiscent of the mood towards the end of the previous century. When Britain was busy industrialising and people were moving out of the small towns and villages and where the fair traditionally visited once or twice a year into large metropolises. Music halls, lantern shows and travelling exhibitions, often involving large menageries of animals, were more suited to these large concentrations of people making the fair seem out of date. A sense summed up in the wording of the 1871 Fairs Act, which stated that ‘fairs are unnecessary, are the cause of grievous immorality, and are very injurious to the inhabitants of towns where they are held.’ It didn’t help that the ‘ground’ where fairs had traditionally been held, often since medieval times, were often sited on valuable building land.

    A set of Steam-driven Gallopers, restored by the Late John Carter. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet the fair did survive, and on both occasions, towards the end of the nineteenth century, and later when it looked like television would finish the fair off. It did so because the showmen for whom the fair was the only way of life they knew, proved extremely adaptable and resilient, not least by being entrepreneurial and innovative in their attitude to new technology. In the nineteenth century, this was through the adoption of steam, which allowed for a step-change in the scale and wonder possible in attractions, with the great steam revival of the 1970s onwards doing the same in current memory.

    These days the fair continues to face real challenges but it has been by embracing computerised rides and new technologies such as LED lighting and lasers, that it has adapted. So those who may think its days are numbered in the face of the rise of the computer, mobile phone and Netflix, might want to remember the famous aphorism attributed to Mark Twain, that reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated.

     

    Rides get ever more sensational, such as this Meteorite and Danter's Air ride at St Giles, Oxford. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    As Frost Fairs to Funfairs shows, it is a mistake to think of the funfair as a single entity. It has in fact evolved to meet the demands and constraints of its time, driven in no small part by the resourcefulness of showmen and their families. These days the use of token systems mean there is less scope for issues over cash and health and safety is paramount, with the use of CCTV now commonplace. The attractions of the fair are spreading into other fields of entertainment as well, such as Grand Prix, May Balls and even weddings.

    Whilst fairs may have changed considerably in what they provide, and where they provide it, showmen continue to be attracted to where people gather and are in the mood for a diversion or two, and so long as that demand continues, it’s reasonable to expect the fair will still be there to meet it.

    Allan Ford and Nick Corble's book Frost Fairs to Funfairs is available for purchase now.

  • The Tudor Dynasty by Terry Breverton

    Non-fiction writing is all about fascination – learning intriguing facts and delving to find what is true, misguided or simply wrong. It’s a voyage of discovery but where you have to divest preconceived notions and query everything as you go along. The problem with historical non-fiction is that much material has been hidden, or hijacked with a predictable slant to sell historical fiction books. As a former management consultant I was almost always called in when there were major problems, and then faced the board with unpalatable facts about how they had been running their companies. What I’m trying to say is that you had to go into a company with no preconceived notions, and come up with something acceptable in order to be paid. The way to achieve that was to feed board members with one’s findings as the research progressed, and they could individually say at the final presentation that they agreed with you, as that was what they had been thinking all along. The process saved their faces and ensured full payment for the consultancy was a foregone conclusion.

    The same process applies to writing historical non-fiction – you have to take the reader along with you – following the same research path as yourself. In my book ‘Richard III – the King in the Car Park’, it was pointless decrying his recent cathedral burial until the end of the book, where hopefully all those who are not convinced Ricardians would agree with myself, and with just about every current history academic and writer. I sometimes wonder why people write historical novels – the facts are far, far more interesting and even entertaining.  The Tudors for instance – WOW! What a story. An unknown Welshman, later known as Owen Tudor, impoverished because his father and uncles fought in the Owain Glyndŵr war of 1400-1415, secretly married Henry V’s young widow. He was imprisoned, but one son, Edmond, Earl of Richmond, died fighting for his step-brother Richard II in the so-called Wars of the Roses. Another son, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, rescued Henry, the son of Edmond, born after his father’s death.  Jasper then was the only peer to fight throughout the civil wars, from the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 to Stoke Field in 1487.

    Jasper’s life was spent fighting and escaping, and his father Owen Tudor was executed after being captured at Jasper’s defeat at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Jasper managed to secure his nephew Henry from captivity and they escaped to Brittany and then France, but their lives in exile were at constant threat from Edward IV and then Richard III trying to have them killed. The Tudors’ choice was to either die or try and take the throne of England. With massive unrest against Richard III, their small army landed in Pembroke and swelled in numbers, supported by nearly all of Edward IV’s closest followers. They knew that Richard III had killed his brother’s sons and Edward’s closest friend Hastings, and hardly any lords now followed Richard into battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry’s victory led to general peace across the land and a period of prosperity for the nation. I wrote ‘Everything You Wanted to Know about the Tudors but were Afraid to Ask’, detailing interesting facts about the new dynasty, England’s greatest. My trilogy of books upon the Tudors includes the first biographies of ‘Jasper Tudor – Dynasty Maker’ and ‘Owen Tudor – Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty’. In between them I wrote ‘Henry VII – the Maligned Tudor King.’ They were enjoyable to research and write, and I hope that readers will be informed as well as entertained by them.

      

    Terry Breverton's books Richard III: The King in the Car Park, Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty, Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker, Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask are all available for purchase now.

  • The Natal Campaign - 'Humanitarian aid from Africa to Britain' and 'Slavery' by Hugh Rethman

    The Natal Campaign - map Seige of Ladysmith (The Natal Campaign: A Sacrifice Betrayed, Amberley Publishing)

    Humanitarian aid from Africa to Britain

    Did you know that there was a time when Africa donated financial humanitarian aid to Britain?

    At the beginning of 1900 Ladysmith was besieged and the relieving British and Colonial force was struggling to break the siege. Aware of the suffering being inflicted on the Army and the residents of Natal by the invaders, the black people, without being asked, collected money to help. Included among the donations was one from the Amangwane people, whose land lay close to the Free State. They donated the sum of £359 [1], which today would be worth more than one hundred times that amount.

    However the importance lies not in the amounts given, but in the concern, kindness and support displayed.

    Slavery

    Long before President Abe Lincoln made his famous address at Gettysburg, British settlers in Natal sent a petition to the British parliament which stated.

    British administration at Port Natal would be ‘…. a powerful aid towards abolishing the East African slave trade’ and ‘a colony based upon sound principals of political and social liberty, guaranteed to all denominations of men, and properly guarded against abuse and licence…. will lead to a profitable investment of money, and obtain for free laborers of all classes and colors ample remuneration, with the prospect of steadily bettering their conditions.’

    Extract from this petition, dated 22 March 1838, by the Merchants of Port Natal to the House of Commons requesting that Britain establish an administration at Port Natal.

    The full text of the petition is to be found in Appendix 4 of ‘The Natal Campaign, A Sacrifice Betrayed’ by Hugh Rethman also in ‘The Natal Papers ed. John Centlivres Chase, R. Godlonton, Grahamstown, 1845.

    9781445664217

    Hugh Rethman's new book The Natal Campaign: A Sacrifice Betrayed is available for purchase now.


    [1] The Natal Campaign, A Sacrifice Betrayed by Hugh Rethman pp 311/312 and UKNA, CO179/212.

  • Secret Greenwich by David C. Ramzan Book Signing

    Author of Secret Greenwich with James Rose of the Plume of Feathers Greenwich.

    A Sign of the Times - Secret Greenwich book signing at the Plume of Feathers Greenwich

    On 5th November I carried out a book signing of my publication Secret Greenwich at the Plume of Feathers, Greenwich, a 17th century public house that features in the book. The licensee’s, Sue Rose and her son James, publicised the book signing during the previous week, placing leaflets and posters throughout the bars. On my arrival in the afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to find the Plume, as the public house is referred to locally, extremely busy. Although I must admit they were not all there specifically for my book signing, as the Plume serves an excellent selection of home cooked cuisine. Also many arriving during the afternoon after a stroll in the park or along the river path then heading for the historic hostelry for a light lunch or a splendid Sunday roast.

    Whitefield’s Mount, reputedly the burial place of Cornish Rebels, and the last army of Celts to march upon London.

    I settled myself into a cosy corner of the bar where I put out a display of books and posters on the table, then handed out ‘Did You Know’ fact sheets containing brief but fascinating historical points of interest about Greenwich, a sample of narrative from within the book. Soon after setting up I had my pen out signing copies of Secret Greenwich, the first books sold to invited friends and acquaintances, shortly followed by many locals coming over to my table throughout the evening to buy a copy. Recalling times gone by and how the landscape of Greenwich has changed, new modern structures gradually surrounded many of the town’s historic and celebrated buildings.

    The Plume of Feathers, Greenwich’s earliest existing public house.

    Two of my friends, retiring to Cornwall a few years ago, travelled up from the West Country for the book signing, although they were also spending a long weekend with their son and daughter who both still live locally, the expatriate couple revisiting the place where they first met, the Plume of Feathers. After reminiscing about their first encounter which led to a long happy marriage, our conversation turned to an historic link between Cornwall and Greenwich, an account featuring in my book. Of the time when Cornish rebels marched upon London in 1497 to come up against the awaiting forces of Henry VII, after which an estimated two-thousand Celts were killed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge, their corpses rumoured to have been buried under Whitefield’s Mount on nearby Blackheath.

    The Plume of Feathers, situated to the east of the Meridian Line on the one time main highway through Greenwich, a countryside style pub in a suburban setting, was an ideal location for my book signing. The atmospheric hostelry is frequented not only by many long-standing local residents, but also by others recently moving to Greenwich and Blackheath, along with visitors and tourists who come across the Plume while exploring the quiet secluded back roads away from the busy town centre. Many of those at the book signing, although aware of the royal riverside town’s distinguished history, were unaware of many secret places, tales and buildings from Greenwich’s past, and hopefully those at the book signing who were kind enough to purchase a copy will discover more fascinating facts and interesting anecdotes contained within the pages of Secret Greenwich.

    David C. Ramzan's book Secret Greenwich is available for purchase now.

  • Canals, Docks and Routes in Salford by Paul Hindle

    Amberley first contacted me to see if I would write Bolton Through Time for them. Although I live just inside the Bolton boundary I’m not really a Boltonian, and soon Bolton Camera Club did an excellent job with that book.

    Instead, as Chairman of the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Society I suggested that I could write a Through Time book about the canal. So in 2013 I set to work, using the Society’s own photographic archives for the ‘then’ photos, before going out to take the ‘now’ photos, largely done on foot, walking the whole canal towpath which runs from Salford (not Manchester!) to both Bolton and Bury. In the process I noticed that I was walking rather oddly, and eventually I was rushed to Salford hospital for a brain operation!

    The Entrance to the Canal. Both views taken from the Princes Bridge. The left picture was taken in 1905 when Princes Bridge was being rebuilt. It shows the river towpath crossing the canal entrance over the curved 'Bloody Bridge'; the lower lock gates of Lock 1 are open. The right picture, after restoration, shows the entrance to the Margaret Fletcher Tunnel under the Inner Relief Road, leading to the new lock. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Several of the ‘now’ photos have already become redundant, due to various redevelopment schemes. For example the entrance to the canal from the River Irwell (shown on pages 8 and 9) has been transformed. Princes Bridge has gone and been replaced by a new lower footbridge, and the walls and roof of the first part of the entrance tunnel have been removed. The Ordsall Chord now spans the river at this point, with its new railway lines linking Victoria and Piccadilly stations. On pages 13 and 14 there is a new housing development alongside the canal, rather than the ‘urban desert’ seen in the book. On page 19 the water tower has gone. Prestolee Locks (seen on pages 44-46) have been excavated to about half their depth, making them much more visible. The Fire & Rescue training centre mentioned on page 75 has now been built, keeping the line of the canal clear. All that in just four years!

    Prestolee Locks. Two views of the canal basin and the lower locks; the stonework has been partly dismantled. Two branch canals lead off to the left serving a quarry, tramway and vitriol works. Overall the 6 locks raise the canal 64 feet in just 200 yards to the summit level. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    A year later Amberley asked me to take on Salford Through Time. Although I had worked at Salford University for 30 years I didn’t really know much of Salford well, and, as it is a large city, the biggest problem was which parts to include. Eventually I came up with the idea of three linear routes through the parts of Salford I knew best. The first went from Exchange Station, along Chapel Street to the Crescent (passing the University), then on to Broad Street and Eccles Old Road. The second route was a tour around Broughton and Kersal. The third route gave me another chance to follow the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal just as far as Agecroft, using mainly a different set of photos. This time I had to obtain most of the ‘then’ photos from the very helpful Salford Local History Library. Again already several of the ‘now’ photos are redundant, starting with the office block on the front cover (and page 17) which has already gone.

    Exchange Station. The railway line linking Salford and Manchester Victoria stations was opened in 1844, but Victoria became so congested that Manchester Exchange station was opened by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1884. It was named Manchester Exchange despiten most of it being in Salford. Manchester Cathedral is on the right, and a wide approach ramp led across the River Irwell to the station. A second approach led down to Chapel Street. (Salford Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Another request from Amberley came in 2017 and I suggested Salford Quays Through Time. The Quays is a development of the former Manchester Docks that were in fact in Salford. Once again I went back to the Salford Local History Library, and I hit the first problem, which was that many of the photos did not say which dock they were showing, and half were undated. There are only so many photos you can show of a dock area, so I decided to widen the scope of the book to include the local areas of Ordsall and part of Weaste, which were developed alongside the docks.

    Dock 9. The left picture, taken in the 1930s from the Grain Elevator, shows a very busy Dock 9 with numerous ships and barges. The right picture shows the same view today, taken from a lower viewpoint. To the left there is the low-rise housing of Anchorage Quay and Grain Wharf, with the Lowry beyond. The basin is spanned by the relaocated railway swing bridge. The part of the dock in the foreground is now called the Erie Basin, which is continuously aerated. To the right is a row of high-rise buildings. (Salford Quays Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The changes throughout the area in recent years have been massive. In Ordsall the area was largely made up of terraced housing which has been largely replaced by modern housing. The road network has been drastically altered. The only surviving features are the medieval Ordsall Hall, Ordsall Park, four churches and the main roads. In the Quays only the outline of the four docks remains, and even that has been altered by closing off three of the four docks from the river, and creating new canals and basins. So in both Ordsall and the Quays getting matching ‘then’ and now’ photos was very difficult. I found Ordsall a fascinating area, notably the surviving Barracks area of terraced housing, including St Ignatius Church and the Salford Lads Club. A final section took me to the peaceful Weaste Cemetery where several famous folk are buried.

    Paul Hindle's books Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Salford Through Time and Salford Quays Through Time are available for purchase now.

  • Secret Whitechapel by Louis Berk and Rachel Kolsky

    Mile End mural at No. 31 Mile End Road, E1. (Courtesy of artist Mychael Barratt, commissioned by T. V. Edwards, Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    Revealing the secrets of four centuries of history in Whitechapel

    In 2016 Amberley published our first joint collaboration, Whitechapel in 50 Buildings which has proven to be a very popular title. At the time we were also asked by Amberley to create a similar title for their ‘Secret’ series of books and Secret Whitechapel is the result.

    Whitechapel in 50 Buildings celebrated buildings that proclaimed from the exterior their age, history or purpose. Secret Whitechapel encourages readers to look up and down, discovering stories not immediately evident to the passer-by.

    Edward VIIth statue on Whitechapel Waste with the Royal London Hospital in the background (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of Whitechapel is not always emblazoned on walls but there are often other clues to its fascinating past – they just need interpreting. When passing the Royal London Hospital, you might notice the distinctively shaped windows of the top floor. What do they mean? You can pass by a shopfront on Whitechapel Road without knowing it contained a peep show connected to one of the most moving human stories in English history. Within this book, doors, windows, pavements and even drainpipes – among other items – all have a hidden story to tell.

    ‘Light is my glory’: The ornate but largely unnoticed bas relief on the former Captain Montefiore secondary school, a typical Victorian building created by the School Board of London. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Whitechapel continues to captivate people from all over the Britain – indeed the world. Many have passed through on their journeys, either living or working there. Within this small area, you discover a microcosm of London’s social history and those who strove for change including the Dancing Academy on New Street that hosted missionary meetings that led to an international philanthropic movement. One of the most popular songs of the twentieth century was created in a modest recording studio on Osborn Street and shopfronts and ghost signs are reminders of both past businesses and those now in fourth-generation family ownership.

    The surprisingly rural feel of the workers cottages in Belle Vue Place between Whitechapel and Mile End. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    It would be impossible to reveal all the secrets within Whitechapel in one single volume. Indeed, as we wrote this book we continued to discover more wonderful stories that for reasons of space we had to omit. If we had to sum up this collection of special places, we chose to concentrate on the minutiae and truly hidden meanings in buildings and locations. There is a vicarious delight in knowing you are following in the footsteps of famous men and women in history, or finding spaces that, even in Whitechapel, are so ‘off the beaten track’ they appear almost rural.

    There is no doubt that Whitechapel is going through an important transition as the thirst for space pushes outwards from the nearby City of London. Central Whitechapel is likely to go through dramatic changes during the rest of this decade as Crossrail arrives and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets commences its vision for a new twenty first century civic centre for its borough. There may yet be time to savour some of the back roads and surprisingly tranquil spaces shown in this book and we hope it will both inform and fulfil its role as a guide to secrets in the area.

    Louis Berk & Rachel Kolsky's book Secret Whitechapel is available for purchase now.

  • Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West by Gordon Napier

    Politics and Witchcraft

    The Burney Relief, an ancient Babylonian artefact in the Britsh Museum featuring a femlae deity, often identified as Lilith. Lilith was remembered in medieval Jewish lore as a demon who prayed on sleeping men who caused epilepsy in children. She is flanked by owls, creatures with a long association with witchcraft. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    A story with overtones of Satanism and witchcraft made the news late in 2016, possibly influencing the result of that year’s US presidential election. The email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was hacked, and 58,660 of his emails were published on Wikileaks. In one of these, Podesta was forwarded one Marina Abramavić’s invitation to a ‘Spirit Cooking Dinner’, by his lobbyist brother Tony. Abramović, a performance artist who cultivates a witch-like persona, has previously posed covered in snakes or holding a severed goat’s head, and has scratched pentagrams into her belly as part of earlier works. (The goat is evocative of Baphomet, the ‘sabbatic’ idol envisaged by 19th century occultist Eliphas Levi, which also bears a pentagram on its brow). ‘Spirit Cooking’ originally referred to Abramović’s 1990s performance pieces involving the slopping of blood around a chamber and over anthropoid figurines, as well as the writing of messages and painting of symbols onto walls. One such message in blood invited the observer to take a sharp knife and ‘cut deeply into the middle finger of your left hand. Eat the pain’. In one photo, an inverted pentagram and ‘666’ (the biblical number of the beast) feature. In a 2013 Reddit AMA, when asked about the place of the occult in contemporary art, Abramović said: ‘If you are doing the occult magic in the context of art, or in an art gallery, then it is art. If you are doing it in a different context, in spiritual circles or in a private house... then it is not art.’

    Cats were often identified as witches' familiars, and were the subject of various superstitions. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    Interest in magic endures, in the West, and there is at least an ironical pretence of belief in the supernatural. Performance art evocative of macabre ritualism still provokes disquiet (even though the artist in question denies being a Satanist). The Podesta revelations potentially damaged the credibility of the Democrat campaign, opening it to attacks from opponents. Partisans of the Republican candidate, meanwhile, half-jokingly claimed to have used internet ‘meme magic’ to secure Trump’s victory. The cartoon frog character Pepe had been co-opted by right-wing meme-makers, and the more esoteric-minded noticed correlations with the obscure Egyptian frog god kek, who became their totem. Modern witches of Leftist leaning, loath to accept the electoral outcome, have in turn sought to cast co-ordinated spells, including an appeal to infernal demons, ‘to bind Trump and all who abet him’.

    In times when magic was taken seriously by governments, such activity as #MagicalResistance would have been treated as treasonous. In antiquity and into the Tudor era it was regarded as criminal even to cast horoscopes to determine how long a ruler might live. Since ancient times plotters have turned to magicians to aid their political causes. Magical doings were part of the harem conspiracy against the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III; spells being cast to incapacitate the harem guards, and to render the intended target more vulnerable. The plot succeeded in killing Ramesses (d. 1155 BC), but not in installing the son of the secondary wife who had been at the heart of the conspiracy. The convicted plotters duly faced gruesome deaths.

    Witches dancing with demons, illustration from the Compendium Maleficarum, a witch-hunting manual by Francesco Maria Guazzo (1608). (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    During the reign of Henry VI of England, the Duchess of Gloucester and her associate, Margery Jourdeymayne, known as the Witch of Eye, were among those convicted of a similarly sorcerous plot against the king’s life. The Witch of Eye, in 1441, became one of few convicted witches to be burned at the stake in England. (Most English witches were hanged, and that mostly in a later period. The element of treason determined the sentence in this case). In 1590, James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) oversaw a hunt for witches who were said to meet with the devil at the churchyard in North Berwick, plotting and casting spells against James’ life. James’ cousin the Earl of Bothwell came to be linked to the plot. The witches were said to have conjured storms in an attempt to sink James’s ship while he was sailing abroad, and also to have sought to get hold of intimate items of the king’s clothing to use in harmful enchantments. That James survived indicated his favoured state, for if the ‘detestable slaves of the devil’ were plotting against the life of a sovereign then it could only enhance the target’s pious reputation. James himself interrogated some of the suspected witches. The king took such an interest in witchcraft that he added his own ‘Demonologie’ to the genre of witch hunting manuals. This inspired Shakespeare to write the play ‘Macbeth’, wherein the eponymous warlord consults with witches who prophecy (equivocatingly) that he will become king of Scotland, prompting Macbeth to usurp the throne. The theme of a ruler or warrior consulting witches about his fate is familiar both from classical literature and the Bible, echoing Sextus Pompey’s meeting with Erichtho, and Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor. These witches offered illicit- but irresistible- supernatural insight regarding political and military affairs.

    Illustration accompanying a pamphlet titled 'Newes from Scotland' (15910), describing the Berwick witches and their supposed plot against King James VI. The witches are here shown listening to a sermon given by the devil, and a shipwreck caused by their black magic is also shown. (Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West, Amberley Publishing)

    Most historical cases of witchcraft were not tied to the world of politics. Allegations of witchcraft were, however, sometimes used to remove political undesirables, and to discredit factions associated with them. Royal ladies to come under such suspicion included Jaquetta of Luxembourg and Anne Boleyn. They also included Agnes Bernauer, whose real crime seems to have been marrying above her station into the ruling house of Bavaria. Her father-in-law, during her husband’s absence, had her seized, convicted, and drowned in the Danube. In France, supposed treasonous plots involving sorcery were uncovered, from time to time, throughout the Middle-Ages and beyond. Allegations of unholy worship helped King Philip IV to demonise and destroy the Knights Templar. Some of these accusations helped to formulate the notion of the witches’ Sabbath. During the Affaire des Poisons, a later scandal, during the reign of Louis XIV, the royal mistress the Marquise de Montespin, was suspected of using poison to remove a rival for the king’s affections, and was also found to be associating with La Voisin, a society fortune-teller and notorious poisoner, who presided at black masses. The authorities lost interest in prosecuting witchcraft as the eighteenth century dawned. The ‘age of reason’, however, also saw such societies as the Hellfire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood, which may have involved mock occultism in dark places. Major political players were involved in such societies, which provided an opportunity for networking and possibly blackmail.

    Modern witchcraft, or Wicca, emerged in the mid 20th century. It is not a clandestine cult involving the great and powerful, but rather a nature religion focussed on worship of its principle deities, the horned god and the mother goddess. It owes much to the writings of the likes of Jules Michelet and Margaret Murray, who saw historical witchcraft as the survival of an ancient fertility cult. ‘The Old Religion’ was supposed to stand against the Christian/patriarchal order that prevailed by the sixteenth and seventeenth century, when historical witch hunting reached its peak. Various branches of modern witchcraft were politicised in the 1970s, when causes such as feminism and environmentalism were pushed by activists. The legacy of this politicization is indicated by the spell-casting campaign targeting President Trump- who ironically had already been turned into the frog by his own fans.

    Gordon Napier's book Maleficium: Witchcraft and Witch-hunting in the West is available for purchase now.

  • Donald Trump in 100 Facts by Ruth Ann Monti

    100 Non-Alternative Facts About Donald Trump

    Here’s a bittersweet irony: my book Donald Trump in 100 Facts was released in the UK on January 15, the day the US honors the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is the only black American to be so honored—the other two are Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and they have to share a day for their birthday observations!

    Just days ago, Trump was reported to have used one or another similar insults to describe Haiti and African nations in general. Rest assured, this made many Americans shudder, including more than a few who voted for him.

    My book on Trump, written somewhat tongue-in-cheek in line with the rest of the 100 Facts series, was an attempt on my part to identify actual facts about the man. I didn’t research rumors or suppositions that had yet to be proven. Rather, I looked for items that I hoped would provide more solid insights into the man outside of his tweets and reported outbursts from within the walls of the Oval Office. After all, we were advised throughout 2017 that we shouldn’t take what Trump tweets or says too seriously.

    That left out words from Trump’s own mouth although I did look at a few of his books to note where he seemed to go out of his way to mislead. The most egregious, I think, comes from his first book (and I might add, a “yoog” best-seller) The Art of the Deal, in which he repeated the family fabrication created by Fred Trump Sr. during the Second World War that the Trumps, who hail from Germany, were Swedes. (Fred worried how his Jewish tenants would react if they were to learn of his father’s German roots, as I discuss in Fact #19.)

    Later, Donald participated in a documentary of his father’s hometown, Kings of Kallstadt (discussed in Fact #16), which introduces viewers to a cousin who serves as the family historian. By then, of course, Trump was no longer hiding his ancestry and his daughter had converted to Judaism upon her marriage to billionaire boy Jared Kushner.

    Is Trump a racist? I honestly believe that he is. That said, I also believe that most people harbor some racism inside, whether it’s racial, ethnic, even geographic. I certainly know I struggle with this and I was not raised in a particularly racist environment. I’ve worked my entire adult life to catch myself when I realize I saw, heard, or read something that set off internal alarms. I believe most of us, including most Americans, conscientiously work to correct these near-instincts. I say “near,” because racism is learned: at school, at home, on the job, while looking for a job.

    Certainly there are circles of “deplorables” who encourage racism and insist it is an instinct, even a protective one. I reject that notion. If we are indeed the creation of a God, higher power, or cosmic conception, we are meant to be better than this. We are meant to evolve intellectually as well as physically.

    Donald Trump has not done so. He explicitly rejects any attempt at self-improvement, believing he is already as close to perfect as one can get. (He may even believe he is perfect!) There is no off switch on The Donald, or an internal editorial board. He “tells it like it is,” people said early in the Presidential campaign. Which we learned, means he ignored whatever self-restraint he once had and let loose the demons most Americans were working to contain.

    The more I researched and uncovered, the more alarmed I became and I was already pretty high-strung over the concept of President Trump. I even made a conscientious attempt to identify a certain number of “positive” facts and fell short of my goal. There just aren’t many such instances to report on the man. For example, I recalled hearing back in the 1980s that Trump had paid for medical treatment for a young AIDS patient, Ryan White. Upon researching this, I found several interviews with White’s mother denying this and a concurring rumour that Trump also offered his private jet to speed White to whatever treatment center he needed to access (Fact #54). I ended up writing about how Trump was sympathetic to AIDS patients at a time when much of the nation was thrown into hysterics—certainly a positive fact—but I wonder how open-hearted he would be today if HIV/AIDS had emerged in, say, 2015. In 2014, he tweeted this gem:

    How unlike Dr King he is, who traveled far and wide to lead marches, speak out, and risk arrest (and he was arrested many times). It’s OK to do the right thing but be prepared to suffer the consequences. I, for one, am thankful for King’s sacrifice, along with countless others like Medgar Evers, Rev. George Lee, Herbert Lee, Rev. Bruce Klunder, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and far too many more.

    I am truly worried for my country. I can only hope as President Lincoln for the day that “fellow-countrymen…when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

    Ruth Ann Monti's new book Donald Trump in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

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