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  • Cornwall in Photographs by Gabriel Fuchs

    Cornwall in Photographs - Golitha Falls Golitha Falls on Bodmin Moor. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    So what’s so special about Cornwall? Few places in Europe are as awe-inspiring. It is an ancient Celtic land and as such has inspired tales and legends ever since. It has a dramatic nature with treacherous cliffs, sandy beaches, and mysterious moors. It was a gateway to the rest of the world when the English ruled the waves, and a mining centre during the Industrial Revolution, which very much lay the foundation of what we now call western modernity. Today it is the sum of its history, with a foot left in what it used to be.

    Cornwall is indeed a peculiar place on the far south-western fringes of Great Britain. It has a relatively small population of around 550,000 and it has only one officially designated city, Truro. Yet, Cornwall has the largest collection of plant species in the British Isles and its coasts boast more varieties of fish than anywhere else in the UK.

    Cornwall in Photographs - Polperro Polperro. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Cornwall is also one of only two royal duchies in England. The Duchy of Cornwall was created in 1337 and its purpose is to provide an income to the heir apparent to the throne. As such, Cornwall can be regarded as the mother of all trust funds.

    Considered to be one of the six Celtic nations, Cornwall offers a culture that remains somewhat different from the rest of England. Being out in a corner of Great Britain and with a distinct geography, Cornwall possesses a combination of a rough coastline, barren moors, and plenty of gardens in between. All of these factors make Cornwall distinctly different not only from the rest of the UK, but from the rest of the world.

    Cornwall in Photographs - Porthcothan Sunset at Porthcothan. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Furthermore, the weather is changeable even by British standards and it is perfectly possible to have pouring rain, clear blue sky, and then pouring rain again, all within an hour. This means that forecasting the weather is actually not much of a problem; just look out the window. A Cornish weather forecast is rarely more precise than what you see with your own eyes.

    No matter what the weather, having the longest coastline in Great Britain, Cornwall tends to be windy. As the wind usually comes from the Atlantic in the west, it is striking to see how trees are leaning to the east, being pushed by these winds. If one gets lost in Cornwall it is possible to navigate just by looking at the trees.

    Cornwal in Photographs - Lands End Land's End. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Given its harsh and unique nature, Cornwall remains an inspiration for painters and writers alike. Many tales and legends have taken place in Cornwall, including the mystical King Arthur and the sunken country of Lyonesse from where Tristan came. There are also a great deal of crime stories in Cornwall, which is ironic given that there are no prisons – the last one closed in 1922.

    The combination of a splendidly desolate landscape, a rich fauna, some magnificent beaches, and trees leaning to the east – this prohibiting anyone from getting really lost – attracts tourists of all kinds. There are the families, the hikers, the sea-sport enthusiasts, the birdwatchers, the photographers, the artists and the writers. All are kept at an even pace, thanks to the narrow and winding roads that rarely allow anyone to get anywhere too quickly.

    The photos in this book represent a bit of everything that Cornwall has to offer in terms of nature, activities, and beauty. Not all photos are sunny and with a blue sky because it does rain in Cornwall too. However, few things can be as moody and impressive as a good rainstorm when the waves come crushing in on desolate rocks. This combination of sun, rain, and wind is, to many, what really makes Cornwall stand out. And stand out it does!

    9781445671246

    Gabriel Fuchs' new book Cornwall in Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Classic Trucks by Roy Dodsworth

    Classic Trucks 1 This is a 1927 Thornycroft 2.5-ton truck registered in Somerset. It has a 27 horsepower petrol engine, averages 20–25 mph and returns 6 miles per gallon average. Vehicle purchased by Frederic Robinson Ltd in November 1980, at the time in livery of Irwell St Metal Co. of Ramsbottom. Restored and repainted in the livery of similar Robinsons vehicles at the turn of the century. I took this picture on a visit to the brewery. The registration YC 1176 was issued on 8 November 1927. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    Published in 2017, as the titles suggest this book is about trucks, wagons, lorries or commercials. Each of the four words means the same but varies in regions.

    In the letters pages of Trucks, Wagons, Lorries or Commercials magazines there is regular argument about which is correct. Example the 70+ year old strongly argues that he, sometimes she, was a wagon driver. The 30+ individuals argue that they are truckers! I chose ‘Commercials’ because in my view the word encompasses all four types.

    The vision is that it is a load carrying vehicle and whether you are 9 or 90 I suggest that you all can recall one. Be it the dustbin wagon or drain cleaner. Without any the world could not function.

    To move on there is interest from an early age, Dinky Toys and the like, to senior citizens who take pleasure seeing them, and recalling memories of seeing and driving them.

    40 or 50 years ago driving them was a feat of strength and stamina, no power steering, automatic gearboxes or air conditioning. The driver had to be well wrapped up, strong to turn the wheel, change gear, and used to cold without a heater. The modern truck is equipped with all the latest ‘gismos’ giving the old guys the impression that steering them is all that is required!

    Classic Trucks 2 A 1938 Albion LB40 two-axle rigid, fitted with a petrol engine, it has a flat platform body which is carrying an authentic textile load of bales of rags and skip baskets. In the livery of C. & C. Textiles, Rag Merchants of Barnsley. Note the starting handle secured with a rubber band to the front. Albion Motors were manufacturers of car, truck and buses in Scotstoun, Glasgow, Scotland. They became part of British Leyland and the name was dropped, with later vehicles badged as Leyland. The company now manufacture axles. The registration WE 3735 was issued in Sheffield on 23 January 1939. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    So preserved and restored commercials are part of our heritage and there are thousands of enthusiasts up and down the country who look after them, be it car, truck or bus.

    There are many owners and enthusiast clubs who organise events so that other people can enjoy them. As an added interest there are specialist magazines catering for all matters of interest connected with classic vehicles.

    I attend as many events as I can in the North of England and photograph as many vehicles as I can on the showground. There are still old vehicles earning their keep on daily work, ‘asleep’ somewhere awaiting restoration, or abandoned to their fate.

    I have written lots of articles for club magazines and the commercial press and I am constantly being asked ‘will my truck be in?’

    Early August I attended the Trans Pennine Run 2017, this was the 49th event and over 200 entrants too part. I took over 300 photographs. I then have the task of editing and selecting vehicles for future articles. Having made a selection I have sent them off to club magazines and the monthly specialist magazines. Such articles are keenly awaited by the readers to see ‘if they are in.’

    So over the years I have amassed a collection of almost 20,000 photographs of buses, cars, and trucks, some black and white, pre-digital and digital. They are all categorised on my home computer.

     

    Classic Trucks 3 This is a 1976 Bedford TK horsebox, registered WSG 268R, in Edinburgh; an unusual vehicle, which was new to Scottish & Newcastle Brewery as a Chinese Six brewer’s dray. This means that a two-axle TK had been converted to a three-axle vehicle with twin-steering front two axles – not unusual for brewery delivery vehicles. The vehicle was restored by the present owner, James Leech & Co., with the third axle being removed and the vehicle fitted with a Jennings of Sandbach wooden horsebox. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    A further source, albeit rare, is finding an old album of black and white photographs at such places as antique fairs and flea markets. A recent find by me was an album of 80+ black and white photographs from the 50’s and 60’s. This was on a market stall at Todmorden, West Yorkshire. I paid £30 for them but well worth it for the pleasure they gave to lots of people who had the chance to see them. The ownership was unknown but they created a lot of interest and comment when scanned and published. It is always pleasing to be told ‘my dad drove one of them, or I worked on them for 40 years.’

    Having agreed with Amberley to write a book it was very difficult to make a selection of up to 210 photographs. I spent considerable time preparing a draft which I had to change a couple of times, also some pictures were not suitable for printing making a further reshuffle necessary. Eventually ‘bang on’ all was sent off and the show was on the road. A couple of proofs were read with minor alterations made then the long wait to publishing date. My only thought now the book has been done is that the contents will be appreciated and enjoyed by the reader.

    I now wish to thank all clubs, and event organisers for arranging classic events, also to vehicle owners and restorers for allowing us to enjoy them, and to all at Amberley books for putting the book together and making it happen!

    9781445674407

    Roy Dodsworth's book Classic Trucks is available for purchase now.

  • Who Betrayed the Jews? The realities of Nazi persecution in the Holocaust by Agnes Grunwald-Spier

    Who Betrayed the Jews 1 Author’s mother (far right) with her parents, Rosa and Armin Klein, and sisters, 1932. The photograph was taken to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. (Author’s collection, Who Betrayed the Jews? The realities of Nazi persecution in the Holocaust, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was writing about Holocaust Rescuers I was overwhelmed by the courage and generosity of spirit of the rescuers. However, there was one person who really shocked me and that was a Belgian traitor called Prosper de Zitter who betrayed members of the resistance and allied airmen trying to get home. I wondered how he could deliberately lead someone into a Gestapo trap knowing he was leading them to their probable death. I began to ponder the meaning of betrayal and treachery.

    I thought about my maternal grandfather, Armin Klein, who refused to leave Hungary. He asked my Mother: ‘Why should I leave my native land?’ He had a misplaced faith that his native land would be safe. The answer which only came later – was that ‘you are a Jew and you will die in Auschwitz in 1944 without even a chance to know your fate and say goodbye to your family. You will die around the time your first grandchild is born – the birth you were so excited about.’ Armin was sitting on a bus in Budapest in mid-1944 when it was stopped and all the Jews were taken off and sent to Auschwitz, where he is believed to have died almost immediately.

    Who Betrayed the Jews 2 Valuables from Berlin in sacks found in Merkers Salt mine. (USHMM, Who Betrayed the Jews? The realities of Nazi persecution in the Holocaust, Amberley Publishing)

    As I, that first grandchild, investigated the field I was shocked by what I found. I have lived with the Holocaust all my life, 73 years, but I was unaware of the economic aspects of the Holocaust. An exhibition organized by the Leipzig City Museum in 2009 was entitled “‘Aryanization’ in Leipzig. Driven out. Robbed. Murdered”. How true that was because the Jews were robbed before they were killed. The variety of ways devised by the Nazis to do this were numerous and innovative.

    This book is not intended to be, nor can it be, a comprehensive narrative of the Holocaust. It’s almost a scrapbook of the Holocaust. Its intention is to give readers an insight into the horrors of the Holocaust – by looking at the different forms of betrayal that took place – how the noose was tightened round the neck of the poor trapped Jews. The physical and economic strangulation took place over the years and finally those that survived to get to the camps were de-personalized and starved, tortured and worked to death.

     

    Who Betrayed the Jews 3 Offenbach book depot. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem, Who Betrayed the Jews? The realities of Nazi persecution in the Holocaust, Amberley Publishing)

    There is no shortage of information and I was snowed under with it all. However some people even, at this late stage chose not to divulge their stories, which is sad because if not recorded they will be lost – less ammunition against the Holocaust deniers. Some stories I received were very brief – from child survivors who knew very little. A lifetime’s tragedy in half a sentence – and no one else left to ask. My friend Renée Fink from America told me ‘My parents were hiding in Holland and were betrayed’. The only information she had was that they were living on a boat on the Loosdrechtse Plasse in 1942. Their names were Edit and Fritz Laser and they had come to Holland from Germany in 1933. 1 Fritz was born in Königsberg on 30 May 1896 and Edit in Breslau on 15 July 1911. Edith was sent to Auschwitz via Westerbork where she was killed on 19 May 1943 aged 32. Fritz died on 31 March 1944 but the town where he died is not known.2 Fortunately they were farsighted and brave enough to hand their precious daughter over to the Dutch Underground. ‘I was placed with a Catholic family of eight children (I made the ninth).  They took me for the duration of the war, sharing what little they had with me and endangering every one of them each and every day for hiding me.  I loved them all and wanted to stay.  And you know I’m sure they would have continued to make a home for me.’3

    I am not an academic. I am at 73 one of the youngest Holocaust survivors. I embarked on this book because I am horrified by what I see around me today – those that deny the Holocaust ever happened or those that denigrate what it actually was; those who have no idea of the intricacies of its conception or implementation. I was first awoken to this detail in the 1990s by my dear mentor, Professor Aubrey Newman, who spoke at a conference about men in suits looking at plans for the crematoria and calculating the throughput to be processed per day. Not counting boxes of baked beans or packets of rice, but gassed Jews whose bodies were to be burnt leaving only the ashes of whole communities. This book is meant for those that compare the Holocaust to relatively trivial events, which bear no comparison – because no other genocide bears comparison.

    9781445671185

    Agnes Grunwald-Spier's new book Who Betrayed the Jews? The realities of Nazi persecution in the Holocaust is available for purchase now.


     

    1 Renée Fink, e mails to author 3 and 4 January 2013.

    2 Dutch Jewish records, accessed 24 March 2014, http://www.joodsmonument.nl/person/473082/en?lang=en

    3 Renee Fink, e mail to author, 23 March 2014.

  • Photographing Models and Miniatures by Paul Brent Adams

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 2 Lledo RNLI Tyne Class lifeboat. This is a full hull model, and normally sits in a plastic cradle. Depicting such models in the water is more difficult than with waterline models, as the lower hull has to be hidden. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Once upon a time, model photography was hard work, and required some fairly sophisticated and expensive equipment, even for basic shots. This usually meant a 35 mm Single Lens Reflex camera. Today, a small and cheap digital compact camera is capable of producing high quality close-up photographs, without the need for any extra lenses or other special equipment. The cameras are highly automated, so you can leave the technical side of photography: aperture, exposure, etc, to the camera, and concentrate on composing the photographs.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 3 Corgi Aston Martin DB5 posed on a simple grass mat, sold in model shops. Features such as opening doors can be shown both open and closed. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Photographs can be taken against a plain background if you just want to catalogue your collection or sell online; or complete miniature worlds can be created for a more realistic look from a city street, to forests and mountains, or outer space. You can use readymade scenery items, or make your own, often using items that most people would throw away – used tealeaves are very versatile. As a modeller and collector, rather than a photographer, this is the part I enjoy the most – but even non-modellers can produce simple and cheap backgrounds and settings for their models. The photographs show some typical examples.

     

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 1 The Canon PowerShot A490 camera is so clever it can even take a self-portrait, with the aid of a mirror. The result will be a mirror image, but this can be flipped in an image-editing programme so everything is the right way round. The camera screws to the tripod, which is adjustable. The background is a large sheet of Woodland Scenics ReadyGrass grass mat. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    I only bought my first digital camera after my 35 mm film camera died, and I needed a replacement. I soon found how easy it was to use, much easier than a big 35 mm SLR. The most basic cameras may not have the features needed for close-up photography, but my Canon PowerShot A490 certainly does. You need the ability to focus on small items at close range; a socket for a tripod; a self-timer; and a modest zoom range. The small size and light weight of a digital compact also makes it easier to use in a limited space. The only extra equipment needed is a small tripod to hold the camera steady during the long exposure times often required in close-up work. Table-top tripods can be bought in any camera shop, and are not expensive. Get a good sturdy model, which will not tip over, even with the camera angled well down. If you do not have a tripod, just rest the camera on a block of wood.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 8 Even a very simple painted background makes this lion look more at home. A piece of coloured card is finished with streaks and blobs of green and brown paint. It is not intended to be anything specific, and a background such as this requires no painting skill at all. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Most of my working methods would probably appal real photography buffs, but I get the results I want, and have fun doing it. All my photographs are taken indoors, by a window, using natural light. This means I do not have to contend with the wind, or complicated lighting set-ups. With the light usually coming from only one direction, one side of the model is well lit, while the other side may be in shadow. A reflector – a simple piece of stiff white card – is used to bounce light back into the areas in shadow. This makes a surprising difference with many shots. Pressing the shutter can disturb the camera, even when it is mounted on a tripod. Using the self-timer means there is a slight delay between pressing the shutter, and taking the photograph, reducing the chances of camera shake. The A490 has two standard settings, or you can select your own – the two-second setting is fine. If you want your photos to have a 'period' look, the camera settings can be adjusted to take black and white or sepia shots. This suits some subjects more than others.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 14 The roadway is grey card, with the building sitting on a grass mat. The clouds are painted on blue card, using white and grey acrylic paints. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Over the years I have built up a collection of backgrounds and props for model photography. Some of these I have bought in model or toy shops; adapted from old toys or household items; built from kits; or made from odds and ends. One of the best general purpose backgrounds - suitable for most types of models - is a grass mat. Sold in model shops, this is a sheet of paper or plastic, covered with a grass-like material. Some brands do shed their 'grass' very quickly, but the American Woodland Scenics range is very good, and the sheets are available in a range of sizes, and grass shades. A piece of fine green material would be an alternative. Printed backscences are available in model railway shops, in a range of sizes. The ones I use are by the British company Peco. Even if you have no artistic skill you can still paint your own; fluffy white clouds can be dabbed onto a sheet of plain blue card with a sponge; or distant hills streaked on, again with a piece of sponge, using various shades of green. Model trees and loose 'clump foliage' can be bought in model shops, which is easier than making your own. These can help to disguise the transition between the three-dimensional foreground, and a two-dimensional background. One way to give the illusion of great depth to a scene is to place smaller scale models behind the main subject: being smaller they will appear to be further away. These are many simple tricks like this that can be used to make your photographs more realistic.

    At the end of each session, all my equipment has to be packed away in a drawer or cupboard, as I do not have a permanent photographic studio. All the photographs here were taken with this simple set-up. Photography does not need to be complicated and expensive; it can be simple, cheap, and fun.

    9781445662541

    Paul Brent Adams' book Photographing Models and Miniatures is available for purchase now.

  • Diesels at Doncaster by Andrew Walker

    Diesels at Doncaster 1 Numerous freight flows cross the East Coast Main Line at Doncaster, and prior to the contraction of the coal industry, a significant proportion of this traffic looked very much like this – a somewhat grubby No. 31321 grinds across from up fast to the Sheffield lines with a mixed consist of loaded 16- and 21-ton wagons in 1982. (Diesels at Doncaster, Amberley Publishing)

    How long is thirty-five years? Is it a long time or a short time? If you are a teenager then it probably seems like an age. You associate it with old people. If however you are an old person, or even a middle-aged person, it may not seem that long. I am a middle-aged person. I used to think thirty-five years was an enormous length of time, but now I don’t think like that. I accept that it is quite a long time, but I base my view on the perception that thirty-five years can seem to pass quite quickly. I think if you can vividly remember things that happened thirty-five years ago, then that, among other things, is what makes it seem to be a fairly short period.

    I am focusing on this particular passage of time here because as I write in 2017 it is thirty-five years since the Deltics were withdrawn from main line service in 1982. To we ‘fifty-somethings’ this seems absurd. How can it be so long ago? It’s half a lifetime, more or less.

    Let’s go back to 1982 and consider what thirty-five years felt like then. First and foremost, the Deltics themselves had not been around for anything like that length of time. Ignoring the prototype, ‘Deltic’, for a moment, the production locomotives had clocked up a mere twenty-one years in service.

    I think these days we’d probably consider a twenty-one year old locomotive to have many years of work ahead of it. Standing on the platform at Doncaster on New Year’s Eve 1981 though, as I did when photographing the Deltics at the very end of their careers, I distinctly recall thinking, ‘well, it’s all over, but after all, they are old and worn out’. They seemed like old machines then. I was only 19 myself. They were older than me, so they seemed legitimate candidates for retirement.

    Diesels at Doncaster 2 This was the penultimate train that would be hauled by Deltic No. 55021 Argyll & Sutherland Highlander. Here it pauses at platform 1 with a mail service from Edinburgh in the early hours of 31 December 1981. After a turnround at King’s Cross, No. 55021 worked a service back to York on New Year’s Day 1982 and was then withdrawn. (Diesels at Doncaster, Amberley Publishing)

    The era in which they had carried two-tone green livery and numbers prefixed with a ‘D’ was a mere sixteen or so years previously, but to me it might as well have been ancient history…and as for the days when the pale blue prototype was in service, well, that was too far back to compute.

    If one had turned back the clock thirty-five years from 1982, one would arrive at 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War. As Van Morrison might say, ‘in the days before rock and roll’… and in fact not only that, but ‘in the days before British Rail’. I guess that kind of puts the time span in perspective. The years that have now passed since the retirement of the Deltics – those three and a half decades – would safely contain the post-war steam era, the BR Modernisation Plan, the careers of a panoply of pilot scheme diesels, and the entire duration of the Woodhead electrification, the latter only twenty-seven years or so (at least counting from the opening of the ‘new’ tunnel in 1954). Thirty-five years is perhaps a long time after all. But those years since 1982 have flown by. Memories of the Deltics at Doncaster are still fresh.

    In my book ‘Diesels at Doncaster’ there is an image of Deltic No. 55021 ‘Argyll & Sutherland Highlander’ on a freezing platform 8 on the night of 31st December 1981. When I look at that picture, taken three and a half decades ago, I can still feel the chill, hear the hum of the Napier engines and smell the exhaust fumes. It seems like yesterday.

    9781445667942

    Andrew Walker and John Walker's book Diesels at Doncaster is available for purchase now.

  • The First Atlantic Liner: Brunel's Great Western Steamship by Helen Doe

    Researching Brunel’s first ship, the Great Western, has raised some intriguing images. Her launch was quite a spectacle. Built in Bristol and mostly fitted out in Bristol, it carried great hopes of a new era in transatlantic commerce. This extract from the book describes the launch and the generous quantities of Madeira with which she was baptised by Mrs Miles and by Lieutenant Claxton, the secretary of the Great Western Steamship Company.

    The First Atlantic Liner 1 Launch of the Great Western. (Denis Griffiths, The First Atlantic Liner: Brunel’s Great Western Steamship, Amberley Publishing)

    A ship launch was always a big celebration and attracted large crowds, some curious, some supportive and some just hoping for excitement and the possibility of a mishap and this was a hotly anticipated day. As usual the Bristol Mercury was there and devoted many column inches to the ship they nicknamed ‘The great leviathan of the deep’, a name later used at the launch of the Great Eastern.  By eight o’clock crowds had already congregated, every spot, every ship, every rooftop, that could command a view was occupied. On the water were the ships the Saint George and Clifton, both East Indiamen, the Stedfast and other West Indiamen, the Benladi and Torridge steamers.  The ship began launching at 10:00 and as she moved Mrs Miles, the wife of the local MP, ‘dashed a decanter of Madeira and named it the Great Western, at the same time Claxton broke a six-gallon bottle, also of Madeira, on the figurehead of Neptune repeating the name. The ship launched fully without incident and the crowds took in its magnificence as it floated on the waters looming over all other vessels. It was 236 feet long and 58 feet wide and its registered tonnage was 1,340 tons. Apart from her size, she looked much like any other wooden ship at this stage, as the funnel and paddlewheels would be fitted in London. It was well decorated and the figurehead against which Claxton had dashed so much Madeira, was a demi figure of Neptune, with a gilded trident, and on each side were imitation bronze dolphins and other mouldings were also gilded.

    The ship went on to cross the Atlantic for 18 years and cut the journey time from an unpredictable period of months at sea to a reliable two week passage. The book looks at the experience from the crew and the passenger perspective. While the ship was fitted out with every possible luxury for the time and was aimed at superior class passengers, lady travellers were challenged.

    The First Atlantic Liner 2 Saloon of the Great Western. (Brunel Institute, SS Great Britain Trust, The First Atlantic Liner: Brunel’s Great Western Steamship, Amberley Publishing)

    Cabins were small and passages narrow while the prevailing ladies fashion was forever wider and voluminous skirts supported by an extensive number of petticoats. In 1829 a Liverpool newspaper complained about the trend, but the accession of the young clothes loving Queen Victoria continued the fashion. An estimate is that the average dress in 1855 required some of thirty yards of material while the petticoats brought the total to 100 yards. Queen Victoria was very fond of voluminous skirts as they accentuated a narrow waist. For those who were also larger than average getting dressed was a trial. Mrs. Figg, who was clearly a stout party, complained about the difficulty of getting in and out of the berths, as she had to have the upper one in sharing with Mrs Brown. ‘I’m obligated to dress in bed, afore I leave it and nobody that hasn’t tried to put on their clothes lying down can tell what a task it is’ Lacing her stays behind her back and pulling on her stockings were all great trials and to do so ‘While you are rolling about from side to side is no laughing matter. Yesterday I fastened the pillow to my bustler by mistake.’

    Modern travellers can sympathise with Mrs Figg.

    9781445667201

    Helen Doe's book The First Atlantic Liner: Brunel’s Great Western Steamship is available for purchase now.

  • Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection by Frank Beattie

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 1 A fine example of a postcard just before the introduction of the divided back. The producer wanted to maximise the impact of the picture, leaving little space for a message. (Author's collection)

    The influence of postcards on our culture should not be underestimated. They are part of our social history.

    The phrase ‘wish you were here’ is a common enough expression that grew out of sending postcards home from holiday.

    Most people now associate postcards with holidays, but it wasn’t always like that. Britain’s first postcards were produced in 1870 by the Post Office, not that we would recognise them as postcards today. They were plain card; one side was for the address and the other for a quick message. Britain simply adopted a scheme that had been launched in Austria a year before.

    Of course, it could be argued that the Romans invented the postcard as something very similar was used to send messages home from places like Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall.

    European countries soon adopted the idea of putting an illustration on them. For some reason Britain was rather slow to come to this way of thinking and did not approve such things being produced by private businesses until 1894.

    The popularity of the postcards started to gather pace. Postcards were cheaper to send than a letter and with several deliveries a day in some cities and towns a postcard could be delivered the same day that it was posted.

    At the start of the 20th century most postcard illustrations were simply photographs of streets. Some postcards were published commemorating events in the South African war or royal events.

    The brake on further development was that the picture and the message had to be on the same side and the bigger the picture, the less space for a message.

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 2 Postcard producers wanted to best impact on the postcard rack, so many pictures taken in black and white were painted in colour. The artist did not always get it right, as in this case. Kilmarnock trams were green! (Author's collection)

    Then in 1902 the Post Office relaxed the regulations and allowed what became known as the ‘divided back’ postcard. That’s the style of postcard we know today with the message and address on one side and a picture on the other. The UK was again showing initiative and was the first country to adopt this style of postcard.

    During the next decade the use of postcards exploded, and they quickly became the standard medium for short messages.

    The First World War changed everything, as did the increasing use of the phone. Postcards never quite recovered the high popularity of the first decade of the 20th century. Their use changed from sending informative messages to sending greetings. In the last quarter of 20th century they became more of an advertising or art item.

    There is also a lot more to postcards than just the photo. Postal historians take great delight in studying the stamps and the postmarks on postcards. They have just as much validity as the stamps and postmarks on covers (envelopes).

    The messages written on postcards can also be interesting, some carry urgent family news such as: ‘Little Mary was born today. She and her mum are doing well.’

    The imprint on postcards can tell us about local postcard producers. Whatever way we look at them, postcards are little snapshots of daily life taken over the last 120 years or so from villages, towns and cities across the country.

    9781445670348

    Frank Beattie's new book Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • A Passion for Public Parks – Why Parks Matter by Paul Rabbitts

    Great British Parks 1 The grand entrance to Birkenhead Park – a fitting monument to the legacy of our great British parks. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    I recently published (2016) ‘Great British Parks: A Celebration’ which very much started out as a straightforward celebration of Great British Parks and followed by in 2017 ‘Parkitecture – Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks

    Parks were born out of the need to improve the quality of people’s lives as the Industrial Revolution took its hold. 100 years later, this was sadly abandoned as we embraced ‘the cost of providing’ rather than the ‘benefits (note the plural) of providing’, only to rediscover this by the end of the twentieth century. Thanks to successive studies and reports, surveys, analysis, continued lobbying, many parks have been rescued from virtual obscurity, primarily funded by the National Lottery, including the wonderful Avenham & Miller parks in Preston, which was restored in 2014 thanks to a grant of over £2.8 million. The irony is perhaps wrapped up in history itself – history tells us that parks are good for us. So is the renaissance really over? In 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund published a report on the condition of parks in the UK called ‘State of UK Public Parks - Research Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund June 2014’ and was followed up by a similar report in 2016. The picture is bleak and none more so apparent with the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, with the recent destruction of its iconic bandstand in June 2017.

    Great British Parks 2 Barran’s Fountain, erected in 1882. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2006 CABE Space highlighted the challenge was to ensure the ‘long-term sustainability of these improvements in the conditions of urban green spaces across the country. In many cases, this required the identification of alternative sources of revenue and capital funding’. Yet funding for public parks and urban green spaces was significantly reduced between 1979 and 2000, losing an estimated £1.3 billion in total. A timely report published in January 2013 by the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (Ifpra) concluded that there was evidence for a range of benefits of urban parks and that there was sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing. Specifically, urban planners should focus on high quality parks in such areas, where the case is currently that parks are scarce and poorly maintained. Given the strong evidence for parks as promoting physical activity and reducing obesity (parkruns are surely the best example of this), more thoughts should be given to how parks are planned and established with good opportunities and amenities for exerting varied kinds of physical activity, such as walking and biking. In 2014, Dr Katy Layton-Jones published her final report for English Heritage on Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces. It referred to the remission of the period of decline for Britain’s parks as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and its successor the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. But it warns of an uncertain future in terms not only of funding and maintenance, but also of ownership, and in some cases, existence. The economic crisis of 2007 marked a change in mood and expectation among many green space professionals. In the 2010-11 financial year, local authorities were forced to implement significant savings. Local authority budget cuts (average 28 per cent over a three-year period, and in some cases up to 90%), brought an abrupt halt to many ambitions for significant capital investment in public green space across the country. The requirement to demonstrate financial sustainability still places considerable economic pressure on local authorities. It is getting worse.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Eaton Park, Norwich - bandstand and pavilions designed by Norwich Park Superintendent Captain Sandys-Winsch. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    So the future of UK public parks in 2016 and beyond is at a crossroads. ‘The State of UK Public Parks 2014 - Renaissance to risk’ and its follow up in 2016 perhaps gives the clearest picture. It reports that maintenance budgets are being reduced, capital is less available for improvements, park facilities are becoming more expensive to use, management and maintenance skills are being lost, and some parks and green spaces may be sold or transferred to others to maintain. This is despite over 2.6 billion estimated visits made to the UK’s parks each year. Over 70% of park managers have recorded increased visitor numbers to their principal parks between 2013-14. Yet 86% of park managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010 and they expect the trend to continue for the next few years. Just as worrying is that 71% of households with children under 10 years of age are concerned that reductions in council budgets could have a negative impact on the condition of their local park. This is already having an impact with a number of local authorities who have already seen the positive result of ‘one-off’ lottery investments, struggling to sustain the quality of the once restored landscape.

    Great Britain has been a nation of park builders since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. J.C. Loudon writing in the Gardener’s Magazine in 1829, campaigned for public parks as ‘Breathing Places’ for towns and cities. 176 years later, The Times (13/11/15) reports that ‘its mad to let Britain’s glorious heritage of urban parks disappear’. Speaking at the Paxton 150 conference in 2015, parks historian David Lambert echoes this. ‘What Paxton and his fellow Victorians thought was bleedin’ obvious – that the health, social and recreational benefits of parks far outweigh the costs of maintaining them.

    Parkitecture 2 Stewart Memorial Fountain, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    To conclude, Great British Parks and Parkitecture really are celebrations of some of the country’s greatest parks and the features within, and both celebrate the successes of both the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund and Green Flag Award and parks across the UK. It also recognises the impact and commitment of local authorities and park management teams who run them. The truth is that if we want parks to remain beautiful, safe, fun, free and managed by people who are answerable to the local population, local authorities are by far the best organisations to run them, and should be funded appropriately or many parks will suffer the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, neglected and left to ruin. Ruskin has been quoted countless times, but there is no better conclusion than:-

    ‘The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares’.

    Or perhaps the more recent quote from David Lambert above, that it’s ‘bleedin’ obvious’.

    9781445665627  9781445656366

    Paul Rabbitts' books Parkitecture: Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks and Great British Parks: A Celebration are both available for purchase now.

  • Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason by Gary Powell

    Death Diary 3 Witnesses give evidence at the coroner's inquest into the death of William Terriss. (Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 26 Dec 1897, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Murder is a fascinating subject; one only has to look at the popularity of the crime genre in both literature and television. All elements of the crime, be it human or scientific, are placed under a microscope by the crime writer for the reader or viewers benefit including: motive, DNA, fingerprints, entomology, ballistics, post mortems, conspiracy theories, bent cops, the list is endless. But murder is real one must never forget the genuine victim, the grieving relatives, friends and associates and of course the offender and the anguish their family will inevitably suffer. As a former detective I have seen how such violence can tear people apart, destroy communities but at the same time bring people together in a common cause as we have recently witnessed in the United Kingdom’s major cities.  As English poet W.H. Auden reminds us:

    Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures,

    So that society must take the place of the victim,

    And on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness;

    It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

    (The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, 1962)

    Death Diary examines over four hundred crimes of murder, terrorism and treason covering a period of some four hundred years. The structure – as the title would suggest – is set in the format of a diary with each day of the year (including a leap year) presenting a specific case or cases in British criminal history. Some of the crimes are high-profile but many have been taken from the pages of British history for the first time and can be among the most disturbing. Often the motive for committing such unimaginably cruel crimes is plain greed alongside: jealousy, hatred, racism, religion and mental suffering. Social conditions can feature as motive – too many children to support and in some cases too many wives. Mental illness often features with many of these violent acts committed by soldiers returning from the First World War and other conflicts during that period in our history. Unable to deal with the horrors they had seen or tasks they had been asked to perform or just simply being unable to cope being back on ‘Civvy Street’ with the responsibilities they never had to face within the disciplined environment they had left behind.

    Death Diary 2 'The Black Museum' showing the murder weapons used by retired Head teacher Rev Selby - 8 Oct 1871. (Illustrated Police News, 1890, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Death Diary also asks questions about how we deal with victims of murder in our ‘self-self’ society and those left behind who in many cases have to rebuild their lives. We often hear on our news bulletins or read in our newspapers of a murderer or terrorist’s human rights being breached– the same murderer or terrorist who failed to show any such compassion towards his victim. Having dealt with many family members of both victim and offender I feel we are – as a society – still indifferent to the enormous pressures people face from the initial identification process through to a judicial system that bends over backwards to protect the rights of a defendant above those of a victim and demonstrates little empathy for the traumatic journey on which they have embarked. The question of re-introducing of capital punishment often surfaces in this country particularly after a horrible crime has been committed such as the murder of a child or a police or prison officer. This strong feeling of seeing justice being administered could be deflected if a sentence of life imprisonment meant life; it is very difficult trying to explain to a bereaved parent that the killer of their child has received a lesser term of imprisonment than an offender who had robbed a bank.

    Statistically, the number of murders in London is at one of its lowest levels since the 1960’s. Even though London’s population has significantly increased and become more diverse, this city is still one of the safest and most tolerant in the world; in many cases our perception of crime is far greater than the crime rate itself. As you read the sometimes harrowing stories which are presented in short, sharp daily bursts, I would just ask that you remember the victims of these crimes, those of future crimes and their families and friends who will bear a sentence far greater than that of the killer.

    9781445665023

    Gary Powell's book Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason is available for purchase now.

  • Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS – The final testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS - Coolens Dries - Karel Goeman (JM) Flemish volunteers in the Sturmbrigade Langemarck. Dries Coolens, fourth from the left, stands with his best friend on his right – Karel Goeman. Coolens would be the only one from the photo to survive the fighting in the Ukraine. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    Our fascination with the Second World War is as strong as ever, and it remains the most popular historical period for authors and readers alike. That fascination has partly been fed by the living reminders of the war that walk around with us every day – the veterans themselves – men and women for whom the war was the defining aspect of their young lives and who played a part, however large or small, in it. But the ranks of veterans are thinning. No-one lives forever and the survivors are now nonagenarians or centenarians.

    For example, over 16 million Americans served in their armed forces during the war, and by 2014 only one million of them were still alive. In ten years that number will be fewer than a hundred thousand. But as one of those self-same US veterans once wrote: No war is really over until the last veteran is dead.”

    If that is the case with the leviathan that is the United States then what of far smaller nations, and their combatants? Flanders – the northern Dutch-speaking half of Belgium – is today one of the most highly developed and densely populated parts of modern Europe. It is a prosperous place, with its own culture and traditions, and this history fuels a deep-seated sense of belonging that nurtures a powerful independence movement that wants to break away from their French-speaking southern neighbours in Walloonia and establish their own country.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 2 Some of the Flemish veterans group in the summer of 2016, from left to right; Theo D’Oosterlinck (sitting), Oswald Van Ooteghem (standing), Lucie Lefever (sitting) and Herman Van Gyseghem (standing). (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    Back in the early summer of 1940, after the victorious Wehrmacht had invaded and occupied Belgium, the Nazis sought to take advantage of both the Flemings nationalism and their strident anti-communism and use it for their own ends. A new military unit was formed by the Waffen-SS – the Nazis own private army – called the Legion Flandern. Thousands of young men volunteered, and began a process that would see Flemish Waffen-SS men fight and die across the Eastern Front in some of the most savage battles of that most savage campaign; the siege of Leningrad, the Volkhov Pocket, Krasny Bor, Narva. The end of the war would find them on the losing side, and many would spend years in Belgian prisons convicted of collaboration. Finally released back into society, most would find it very hard to rebuild their lives, the authorities and their own neighbours often unwilling to accept them and viewing them with suspicion and mistrust.

    Most have never told their story – preferring to look forward rather than back, and get on with their lives; marry, raise and provide for their family and then retire and play with their grandchildren.

    Capturing their memories, recording their voices before it’s too late, is like finding an old treasure map and following it to a treasure trove– a veritable El Dorado of stories and experiences from the war.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 3 Dries Coolens in his nineties at home in his retirement flat in Metzingen, Germany. Coolens’s flat is full of memorabilia from his Waffen-SS service, including the berkenkruis (birch cross) symbol above the wardrobe behind him. The Legion Flandern illustration he is holding is by the celebrated Flemish artist, Frans Van Immerseel. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    One such Oostfronter – the collective name they are known by in Flanders – is Oswald Van Ooteghem. Now a 93-year-old pensioner, back in 1941 he was a bright-eyed 16-year-old from a strongly nationalist family. He was one of the very first to step forward for the Legion, and was joined by others including Albert Olbrechts, Dries Coolens and Theo D’Oosterlinck. Their initial enthusiasm was soon dampened by a chauvinist German training machine that viewed them as inferior, and they were then shuffled off to the grinding trench warfare that was the siege of Leningrad in late 1941, early 1942. Unglamorous though that sector was, neither was it easy, and casualties were high. Battling the bitter cold, the miserable conditions as well as the Red Army, the survivors had their eyes opened to the often-dreadful realities of war. All were wounded at some point – most more than once – and the effect of the war on all of them was profound.

    Olbrechts, invalided back home after severe illness, saw first-hand the brutality of Nazi rule in Belgium as his best friend was shot for helping shot-down British airmen try and escape home. Dries Coolens became a hard-bitten NCO, wounded multiple times, as he somehow survived the likes of the Battle of Narva in the summer of 1944. Van Ooteghem was also wounded in action, and became a war reporter, photographing his comrades and building up a unique record of the Flemish Waffen-SS. New recruits continued to join-up, and not just as infantrymen. Herman Van Gyseghem became a panzer signaller in 1943, and the young Lucie Lefever enlisted as a Red Cross nurse to treat wounded Flemings.

    Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS 4 Albert Olbrechts, aged 101 years old, at home in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Author's collection, Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS, Amberley Publishing)

    As the war came towards its end, a previously-wounded D’Oosterlinck returned to his company to find no-one he knew still survived in the unit, while Van Ooteghem was ordered to lead teenaged Flemish Hitler Youth youngsters into a final, pointless stand. But undoubtedly the worst fate was reserved for Lefever, who was caught up in the Soviet siege of Breslau and then raped by Red Army soldiers.

    This book is built on in-depth interviews with these veterans and others, and gives an insight into their lives, and what the war was like from a human angle. That angle includes the very real horror of the Holocaust and the evils of Nazism. This is the conundrum that sits at the very heart of interviewing the Flemish veterans. These old men and women, so friendly, so polite, often funny and enthralling – may not have been Nazis themselves, but they still fought for a régime that was one of the blackest in all human history, how could that be? It is a tremendously difficult question to answer, and not one I have ever received a satisfactory answer to, however, one author put it very well when he wrote of both sides on the Russian Front - “…there were brave and extraordinary soldiers on both sides, but it is a sad truth of military history that some of the most remarkable warriors have fought for some very shabby causes.”

    9781445666365

    Jonathan Trigg's new book Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS – The final testament of the Oostfronters is available for purchase now.

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