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  • Slavery in Roman Lincolnshire by Antony Lee

    Slavery was an accepted part of the economy in the ancient world. Defeated peoples might expect to have been enslaved by their conquerors, and the desperation of poverty could lead to children being sold to slave traders to provide money for the family, and even give the child an opportunity to avoid starvation. One thing that marks ancient slavery out from the practice in more recent centuries is that it was not restricted to specific races, meaning that slaves in the ancient Roman world came from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Roman slaves were not marked out by a particular costume or physical mark and this makes determining the extent of slavery difficult. The philosopher Seneca (4BC-AD65) commented that the senate once discussed introducing an item of slave dress so that they might be distinguished from free citizens, but it was recognised that this would be dangerous as it would lead to the slaves realizing that they were actually in the majority (On Mercy, 1.24).

    Broxholme slave figure Bound captive figurine from Broxholme, Lincolnshire (Portable Antiquities Scheme DENO-EB7C77) (Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Slavery is an abhorrent practice in any age, and we should make no attempt to excuse it, but the experience of a slave was not universally consistent. The Greek slave living in a wealthy household on the bay of Naples, teaching rhetoric to the family’s children and allowed to earn some money in his spare time clearly had a very different experience of slavery to a Gaul forced to spend a hard and shortened life quarrying stone in a southern Spanish mine. Trying to reconcile these two extremes across the extent of the empire is difficult, though we should not forget that the latter greatly outnumbered the former. A unique aspect of Roman slavery is that manumission was a realistic ambition for some slaves, such as the Greek in the example above. A slave might expect to be freed by his master for faithful service, in his will, or after saving enough money to purchase his freedom. Once released, the former slave (known as a ‘freedman’) would be expected to further the interests of his former owners, and many continued to work in family businesses. Often taking the name of their former master, the freedman did not have the rights of a freeborn citizen, but could rise in the community and gain wealth and status in their own right. Significantly, their children would become full Roman citizens. It has been estimated that, at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, half of the population of Herculaneum were freed slaves or their descendants. In no other society, then or since, have former slaves been permitted to become such an integral part of the society that enslaved them.

    Slavery in Roman Britain is a subject that evokes much interest, and one that I discuss in my new book ‘Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire’. Direct archaeological evidence for slavery in Roman Britain is unsurprisingly slight, but sadly this does not mean that the practice somehow escaped our shores. Indeed, in the pre-Roman Iron Age, the taking of captives as slaves seems to have been a common result of inter-tribal conflict. Literary evidence for slavery exists in the form of a writing tablet from London, dating to c.AD75-125, recording the sale of a female slave (ironically named ‘Fortunata’), and lead curse tablets found at religious sites such as Bath and Uley (Gloucestershire) plead with various deities to punish the people who have wronged the author, si servus si liber - ‘whether slave or free’. Clearly, the economy of both rural and urban sites in Roman Britain was powered, at least in part, by slaves. One fascinating example is the tombstone of a woman called Regina, found at South Shields. She was a freedwoman and the wife of a Syrian man called Barates. Whether or not she was originally his slave is unknown, but she was a Briton of the Catuvellauni tribe of south eastern England, demonstrating that a person could even be a slave within their own country and their own culture.

    St Paul inscription Temple dedication inscription from Lincoln, set up by a freed Imperial slave (The Collection museum, Lincoln) (Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the best pieces of evidence of a slave in Lincoln is a fragmentary inscription excavated at the site of the Roman forum in Lincoln in the 1970s. It formed part of a dedication, recording that a ‘freedman of the emperor(s)’ had rebuilt the town’s temple to the Imperial Cult. A slave owned by the emperor could have had many varied duties across the empire, such as involvement in provincial government or the running of centrally controlled industries such as mineral extraction or coin minting. This freedman, whose name is sadly lost and would doubtless have given us the name of the emperor under whom he gained his freedom, had obviously become wealthy enough to repair a major temple in a large Roman town. Perhaps more importantly, it shows us that he wanted to spend his money in such a way, emulating the custom of public munificence that marked the social aspirations of the middle and upper classes of the time. In other words, rather than showing resentment for his slavery, this freedman was going to great lengths to demonstrate that he was now a successful part of the culture that enslaved him.

    Other evidence of slavery can be found in a series of copper alloy figures, known only from Britain and Germany, of which three are known from Lincolnshire. These naked figures, likely representing males, are bound around the neck, hands and ankles. Their pose – the angle of the legs and the perforations through the centre – suggest that they were originally attached to larger objects. Their function remains unknown, but it seems clear that they represent the misery represented by human slavery. Their silent forms serve to remind us that despite the literary and archaeological evidence we have for ancient slavery in Roman Britain and Lincolnshire, the most important viewpoint of all is the one we cannot obtain – that of the slaves themselves.

    9781445664705

    Antony Lee's new book Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire is available for purchase now.

  • 'Shipwreck Survivors Caught on Camera' - The Wreck of the SS London by Simon Wills

    What motivates an author to write a book? Well, in my case it was an old photograph.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-simons-first-artefact-the-three-surviving-passengers Passengers Davie Main (left), John Munro (seated), and James Wilson (right) went to Australia to work as miners (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    I bought it in a junk shop for a few pounds, simply because I liked it. It’s dated 1866, and shows three very stern-faced Victorian gentlemen staring into the lens. The men in question seem unremarkable, but they were the only passengers to survive the sinking of the SS London in January 1866. The year 2016 therefore marked the 150th anniversary of the ship’s loss.

    This was once a notorious shipwreck, as famous in its day as the Titanic or the Lusitania. The SS London was a luxury liner on only its third trip to Melbourne, transporting British emigrants and carrying Australian citizens back home. When it sank, the initial reaction was incredulity; then two nations fell into mourning.

    I was intrigued by the photograph, but my interest was further piqued by the find of another ‘artefact’ connected with this wreck only a few weeks later. Wedged into an old encyclopedia and acting as a bookmark was a slip of paper carrying the autograph of one John King, an able seaman who escaped the sinking of the SS London. The text accompanying the autograph explains that he was the hero of the shipwreck and ensured the safety of other survivors. Interestingly, he’d been wrecked twice before.

    I now set about researching the loss of the SS London in earnest. It was a difficult task because the wreck received such intense and prolonged media coverage that there were acres of newspaper coverage to wade through. My task was further complicated by the fact that original archive materials that I needed to see were distributed all around the globe – from Australia to Canada to New Zealand to London.

    I am not superstitious, but it would be easy to believe that someone guided me towards finding the many other artefacts that I stumbled upon over the course of a decade. I found a copy of the ship’s original sailing brochure – an almost impossibly rare item and it’s probably the only one left in existence – and I also managed to get hold of contemporary books about the wreck, official reports and even sermons. I was fortunate enough to meet some descendents of one of the survivors as well.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-mug-commemorating-the-ships-loss Lustreware mug produced in 1866 to memorialise the losee of the 'Unfortunate London' (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet two artefacts stand out for me. The first is a ceramic mug bearing a picture of the ship and the legend ‘The Unfortunate London’. This intrigues me because it says so much about the Victorian attitude to death. These days, it would be considered enormously distasteful to produce a commemorative mug after, say, a plane crash or a motorway pile up. But the Victorians regarded death differently. It was important for them to honour and remember significant life events – even tragedies like the sinking of the SS London.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-walter-edwards-model-of-the-london Model of SS London, built by Midshipman Edwards (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    The other artefact that I found, by enormous good luck, was a small model of the SS London made by one of the survivors: fifteen-year-old midshipman, Walter Edwards. It’s more of a diorama than a conventional ship model of the kind we often see in museums. Yet it has a presence and a feeling of movement that I like. I imagine that the making of it was perhaps some kind of ‘therapy’ for poor Walter, who witnessed some appalling scenes as the ship went down. To me it is beautiful, but it also had practical value during my investigation because no contemporary ship-plans for the SS London survive. So the next best thing was a model built by someone who actually worked on the vessel.

    None of the items I’ve managed to find have any real monetary worth. Yet putting them together with contemporary information sources has enabled me to tell the tale of the loss of the SS London. It’s a dramatic tale; a tragedy; but with twists and turns that you wouldn’t believe, and it’s always a very human story. A tale worth telling and I hope those who died would think I had done it justice.

    9781445656540

    Simon Wills new book The Wreck of the SS London is available for purchase now.

  • The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

    I seem to have become celebrated as ‘a historian with a special talent for getting behind the mythology of history’. My work in this direction began as a result of my interest in the case of King Richard III. Later, I also explored the wider mythology which surrounds the Wars of the Roses.

    But the key feature of my initial research into all the legends surrounding King Richard III focused on his claim to the throne. This claim was clearly based upon the allegation that his elder brother, King Edward IV, had committed bigamy, making his sons, the so-called “princes in the Tower”, royal bastards. In a sense, my research into the private life of Edward IV was therefore always inevitable.

    Sir Thomas More Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein (c. Elizabeth Norton & the Amberley Archive, The Boleyns)

    One of the key writers responsible for the mythology which surrounds the reputation of King Richard III was undoubtedly Sir (St.) Thomas More. But he was writing years after the short reign of the king who was killed at the battle of Bosworth. Thomas More himself had only been seven years old when Richard was killed. He can have had no personal memory of that king and his reign, of which he later wrote an account. The source of More’s information was probably Henry VII’s leading politician, Cardinal Morton – making the story as More received it part of the political rewriting of history. But perhaps More was never entirely convinced in respect of the accounts which he had heard, because intriguingly he himself seems to have written various versions of his history of Richard III. Also he never had any of them published during his lifetime. A text of More’s ‘history’ was first published later, by his foster daughter’s son.

    Jane Shore Mistress to Edward IV ‘Jane Shore’, a fantasy image of this imaginary character, engraved by F. Bartolozzi R. A., and published in 1807. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    It is therefore interesting that, although the point has hitherto been overlooked by most writers, in reality Thomas’ More’s account of Richard III is also the key source for some of the ‘facts’ about the private life of Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV which have hitherto been universally accepted as true. For example, Thomas More is the earliest written source for the claim that Edward IV was the lover of ‘Mistress Shore’. Astonishingly, no earlier source exists to suggest that William Shore’s ex-wife was King Edward’s mistress. Incidentally, More refers to her simply as ‘Mistress Shore’. At least he never made the ridiculous claim that ‘Mistress Shore’ bore the first name of Jane! That story was only invented even later, by Jacobean playwrights who wanted to put her as a character on stage, and who therefore needed a first name for her. Unfortunately Mistress Shore’s real first name – Elizabeth – had not been recorded by any of the sources which connected her story with that of Edward IV.

    Lady Eleanor Talbot Eleanor Talbot? A facial reconstruction based on the CF2 skull found at the Norwich Carmel, commissioned by the author from Caroline Erolin, Medical and Forensic Artist, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, in 2015. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    Thomas More is also the key source for the allegation that Edward IV had a relationship with a woman called Elizabeth Lucy. Indeed, More states that Richard III’s claim to the throne was based upon the allegation that Elizabeth Lucy had been his elder brother’s legal wife. In reality, however, contemporary evidence shows very clearly that the woman who was accepted by Parliament as having been the legal wife of King Edward IV was definitely not called Elizabeth Lucy. The woman who really was recognised officially as Edward’s legal wife was Lady Eleanor Talbot (Lady Boteler), the daughter of the first Earl of Shrewsbury. As for ‘Elizabeth Lucy’, although I and a number of previous writers have tried very hard to find some evidence relating to her, the fact is that in reality no such person is ever mentioned anywhere in any fifteenth-century records. Thus it now appears to be the case that the alleged ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ named by Thomas More never really existed. The name was merely a later invention. Probably it was part of the well-recorded policy – explicitly stated by King Henry VII and his government – to ensure that Lady Eleanor Talbot was airbrushed out of history.

    Having shown that Edward IV’s relationship with two of his alleged ‘mistresses’ is highly questionable, my book on his private life then goes on to explore what sexual relationships the king really does seem to have had. It also investigates how many illegitimate children he produced as a result. In order to answer the question of whom the king might have met, when, and where, I have also explored for the first time, detailed contemporary evidence in respect of his movements around the country – and abroad.

    Elizabeth Widville Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey. Copy of a contemporary portrait. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    In reality, Edward IV appears to have been rather uxorious. His reign and his political actions were often clearly based upon the wishes of his bigamous second secret wife, Elizabeth Widville. She was the mother of his two sons, the so-called ‘princes in the Tower’ – who, however, were subsequently declared by parliament to have been royal bastards.

    Other important facts emerge. For example the alleged birth and death dates which are usually published for King Edward IV himself cannot be substantiated!  Also, an appendix introduces the intriguing quest for the mitochondrial DNA of the ‘princes’. With a little help from me, a colleague who was inspired by my earlier discovery of Richard III’s mtDNA has now made remarkable progress on the mtDNA search in respect of the ‘princes’. We agreed to publish the results of his findings as they then were. But one of the outcomes of that publication has already been further progressed! Hopefully it will therefore soon be possible to establish the mtDNA haplogroup to which Edward IV’s sons belonged.

    Further progress on the DNA research is not the only update which has taken place in the very short time since The Private Life of Edward IV was published. I have spotted a couple of small mistakes in my text, and one of my readers has made helpful suggestions about the identity of three medieval place names which I had not been able to identify. The corrections and other updates will be included in later editions of the book. Meanwhile they can be found on my website: https://www.johnashdownhill.com/the-private-life-of-edward-iv/

    9781445652450

    John Ashdown-Hill's new book The Private Life of Edward IV is available for purchase now.

  • Reading in 50 Buildings by Stuart Hylton

    reading-in-50-buildings-1 Christ Church (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    It was only after I had agreed to write the Reading edition of Amberley’s ‘…in fifty buildings’ series that I started to have misgivings. I remembered John Betjeman’s words, that “no town in the south of England hides its attractions more successfully from the visitor”. That was in 1949 and the town had since undergone a further two-thirds of a century of rapid growth and change. Reading is at the heart of the most economically dynamic part of the country, and one of the prices that towns tend to pay for success is the destruction of all traces of the past.

    Never was this more true than in the past sixty years. For a start, we have seen the disappearance of the Victorian town’s three staple industries – beer, biscuits and bulbs – that for more than a century had been Reading’s economic life’s blood. The value of the sites they occupied was one factor in their decision to relocate and, sure enough, developers soon swallowed up their land, sweeping away almost all the built evidence that Simond’s beer, Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits or Sutton’s seeds had ever been produced here.

    reading-in-50-buildings-2 The ruins of Reading Abbey today (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    But development can add to our store of history, as well as take it away. In 1987, as developers were building the Reading Business Park, they started unearthing Bronze Age artefacts. It turned out to be the largest Bronze Age settlement in the south of England, taking our knowledge of the town’s history back to around 1000 B.C. As for more recent evidence of the town’s history, I need not have worried. A gratifying (and surprising) amount of built reminders of the town’s past have survived for us to enjoy - if you know where to look.

    But by now other questions were starting to preoccupy me, such as ‘what criteria should I use to assemble my short list?’ and ‘what is a building’? As for the first question, I ruled out the idea of some sort of beauty contest, of choosing Reading’s fifty most attractive buildings, or of trying to decide which fifty were the most important. Instead, I simply went for fifty that told part of the story of the town, be they architectural gems or eyesores, massive landmarks or humble almshouses. As for ‘what constitutes a building?’, I took it to mean anything that man had built. So, beside the houses, factories, offices, churches and railway stations that you would expect to find in the book, there are canal locks and a pioneering cemetery. One further confession – I cheated a bit on the fifty, as you will find when you reach the final entry.

    reading-in-50-buildings-3 One of the almshouses prior to their development (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    No built evidence of Roman settlement remains, unless you count the nearby ruins of Silchester, so our story begins in the year 979 – and what a story that one entry tells. It starts with a royal murder, with Edward, would-be future King of England murdered by his stepmother. Penance for this act led to the founding of St. Mary’s Minster Church. Prior even to this King Alfred fought the invading Danes for possession of the land on which it stands. The church was used as a lookout for the incoming Dutch forces during the misnamed ‘bloodless revolution’ of 1688, when William of Orange dispossessed James II of the throne. The revolution was misnamed ‘bloodless’ because a decidedly bloody battle was fought around the church and in the streets of Reading to drive out Irish troops loyal to James. Later the church became one of the first buildings in the world (along with several other Reading landmarks) to be immortalised by pioneer photographer William Henry Fox-Talbot, who based his fledgling business in the town.

    Violence seems to be associated with many of the town’s churches. Both St Peter’s in Caversham and St Giles in Southampton Street were partly destroyed by artillery fire, after being used as gun emplacements during the Civil War siege of the town. As for St Laurence’s in Friar Street, it survived the Civil War, only to have its western front blown out by a World War Two German bomber, which nearly killed the creator of Paddington Bear in the process. Greyfriars church saw a different kind of violence. After the reformation under Henry VIII, it was stripped of any useful building materials and the ruins turned into a particularly degrading and brutal prison.

    reading-in-50-buildings-4 Caversham Park (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of local stately home Caversham Park is like a history of England in miniature. Before 1066 it was the property of the elder brother of King Harold. In the centuries after that, it passed through the hands of many of the most powerful men in Britain (a surprising number of whom seemed to meet sticky ends). Kings and Queens visited the house and, for a short period in the thirteenth century, the whole of England was ruled from the Caversham Park estate. There have been several stately homes on the site over a period of about a thousand years, the latest of them designed by the architect better known for London’s Tower Bridge.

    And so the story goes on – a thousand years of history captured in fifty buildings. I have not even got space in this blog to talk about one of the greatest religious centres in the land, with a church the size of Westminster Abbey; a Victorian prison by one of the century’s greatest architects, modelled on the mediaeval Warwick Castle; the school where Jane Austen got part of her education, right through to a brand-new space age railway station costing £895 millions at last count. Far from worrying about finding fifty buildings to include, my challenge turned out to be knowing what to leave out.

    9781445659343

    Stuart Hylton's new book Reading in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Did Harold die at Hastings? by Teresa Cole

    Although it was a turning point in British history we don’t actually know exactly how King Harold died. Two different stories have come down to us. The traditional one, known to every schoolchild probably from that day to this, is that he was fatally struck in the eye by an arrow in the final stages of the battle of Hastings. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings) however, gives an altogether different version.

    This Carmen is probably the earliest account of the events of 1066, a poem in Latin prepared rather hastily in 1067 for presentation to King William on his return to Normandy. The only manuscript copy of the poem disappeared some thirty years after it was written and was only rediscovered in 1856 leading to suspicions that it was a forgery. Now, however, it is generally accepted as authentic and the author is named as Guy, Bishop of Amiens.

    In this version of the story, as the English shield wall is finally weakening and beginning to break up, William himself spots a chance to dispose of his rival once and for all. Getting together a group of knights, he deliberately targets Harold, still in the thick of the fighting, and sets out to hack him to death. Gruesome descriptions are given of how Harold was pierced through with a lance and ‘drenched the earth with a gushing torrent of blood,’ at the same time being beheaded and disembowelled and even having his leg cut off.

    Which of these stories is true, we really don’t know. William of Poitiers, a Norman monk who had previously been a soldier himself, gives an account of the conquest full of detail on everything else, but says nothing at all about how Harold met his end. It has been suggested that he might have found the deliberate ganging up on Harold and the subsequent butchery to be a shameful act, and did not want to tarnish his hero William with such a deed, particularly when the victim was a consecrated king.

    the-norman-conquest-3 The death of Harold seems to cover two alternative versions of this as contained in the different accounts. Most take the figure on the left to be Harold, but the caption covers both. (By special permission of the City of Bayeux, The Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    The other almost contemporary record, the Bayeux Tapestry, is as unclear as usual. The caption, ‘Harold is slain’, is spread over two different deaths. One under the word Harold shows a man clutching an arrow apparently stuck in his eye, while the other has a man cut down by the sword of a horseman. The suggestion that both are Harold in a kind of cartoon sequence, can probably be discounted. In the first picture he is shown with a shield, but in the second this has disappeared and instead he is dropping a battle axe as he falls. It has also been pointed out that if both were intended to be Harold he seems to have had time to change his socks in between.

    Wace, born on Jersey and brought up at Caen in Normandy, wrote his Roman de Rou some hundred years after the event, intending it more as an entertainment than a serious history, but he also has the story of an arrow. He places it, however, towards the start of the battle and has Harold pluck it out and carry on fighting. In fact he flatly declares, ‘I do not indeed know … and have not heard say, who it was that smote down King Harold, nor by what weapon he was wounded.’ This suggests that a century after Hastings neither version of events seemed to be regarded as definitive, at least in Normandy.

    The uncertainty about the mode of death extends even more to the disposal of the body. By the time William finished his pursuit of the fugitives and returned to the battlefield it would probably have been quite dark. In the meantime, as depicted in a whole series of cartoons along the lower frieze of the Tapestry, others had been busy gleaning everything they could from the fallen, leaving the corpses, and no doubt others who were merely wounded, lying naked as they were born. How then was the dead king to be recognised among the pile of bodies?

    There is a story that when women came to claim husbands, fathers and brothers from those left on the battlefield Harold was so disfigured that it was left to his long time mistress Edith Swan-neck to identify the body by some mark known to her alone. Next we hear that Harold’s mother, Gytha, came asking for the body. She is said to have offered his weight in gold in exchange but was flatly refused. Instead we are told William gave the body to one William Malet, telling him to bury it secretly on the seashore and adding that since he had guarded the coast so devotedly in life he could go on guarding it in death.

    A strong tradition, however, claims that, although William refused money for Harold’s body, he did in fact turn it over to Countess Gytha, or at least to two canons from Waltham Abbey who may have supported her claim, and who then brought it back to the abbey and buried it before the high altar. The basis of this claim comes from William of Malmesbury writing in 1125, and he is backed up by Wace in the 1160s, though Wace adds, ‘I do not know who it was that bore him thither, neither do I know who buried him.’ In the abbey grounds today there still stands a memorial to Harold, reputed to mark the site of his grave, and this is certainly the nearest the last consecrated Saxon king has ever come to a gravestone. It is recorded, though, that when on one occasion the grave was excavated it was empty.

    Perhaps that would not be surprising if we were to believe another legend, recorded in a ‘Life of Harold’ also written at Waltham that gives a completely different end to the story. According to this Harold survived the battle of Hastings and in fact lived for many years after.

    This Vita Haroldi or The Life of Harold was among a collection of ancient documents known as the Harley Collection, preserved after the dissolution of the monasteries and eventually sold to the newly founded British Museum in 1753. It appears to be an early fourteenth century copy of an original work from the late twelfth century, written by a secular canon of Waltham Abbey. This in turn claimed to be based on a shorter primary source from someone with direct personal knowledge of the facts alleged.

    The story it tells is quite simply that Harold survived Hastings, that another body was wrongly identified as his, and that he was slowly nursed back to health over a period of two years. He then went abroad to try and raise help to dislodge William, failed in that, became a pilgrim and eventually returned to England to live out his life at Chester as a hermit.

    Hastings, Chester or Waltham? 1066 or sometime between 1090 and 1150? Harold, last Anglo-Saxon King of England died and was buried, but how, when or where we may never know.

    9781445649221

    Teresa Cole's new book The Norman Conquest is available for purchase now.

  • The Servants' Story by Pamela Sambrook

    There were several reasons why I wrote my new book on the servants of Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, the country home of the Dukes of Sutherland. In the early 19th century they were reputed to be the richest non-royal family in England and the largest private landowners in the UK, thanks to their huge land holdings in Scotland. But this is not what attracted me to them. Trentham itself is now only a ruin set in a beautiful landscape and garden, home to a bustling shopping centre. What draws a historian’s interest, however, is the huge family archive which survives in public ownership in the Stafford Record Office. This contains a wide range of records, including a large collection of letters between agents about servants. Surely, I thought, there is enough there to enable research into the people who worked for the family, and in particular enough to let us see them as real individuals, not just caricatures or fictitious representations on television.

    the-servants-story-1 Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, in the mid-ninteenth century, after the rebuildings by Sir Charles Barry. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    I was right! Helped by a good friend of mine, Linda Barton, it has taken the best part of five years to piece together mini biographies of a number of servants. Some of them have their family origins in Staffordshire. One of these was the Penson family, who provided men and women as both indoor and outdoor staff to work for the Sutherlands for at least 200 years. Some of them were highly successful, some had terrible stories to tell. One who experienced both was Mary Penson. She was born in the rural heart of Staffordshire in the hamlet of Standon, a member of the Wrights, another of the long-serving families of Trentham. In 1822 she was just twenty-one when she married Thomas Penson, a quarryman on the estate. In August of the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Frances, who tragically died before she could be baptised. Almost exactly one month later Mary buried her young husband, killed in an accident in the estate quarry. Widowed so young, Mary inevitably fell back on family tradition and went into service. After a couple of years she was set on by the Sutherland family as a children’s nurse, later became the nanny and eventually, in 1847 was taken over by the Duchess of Sutherland as her personal lady’s maid. She became close to the Duchess, accompanying her on her many travels both in the UK and on the continent. It was on one of these journeys that Mary was taken ill. The whole holiday was abandoned, Mary brought back to London, but after a short while the family had to announce that their ‘dear old friend Penson’ was dead. She was buried in the quiet country churchyard at Standon, in a tomb provided by the Sutherlands, for whom she had worked for forty years.

    By contrast many of the Sutherland servants were recruited in London, some from exotic foreign countries. One such was known as Zenon Vantini, described as an Italian, who in 1833 took the post of house steward to the family. No doubt his knowledge of a variety of European countries made him both attractive and useful to the Sutherlands, but the correspondence in the archive shows that he never really fitted into the household. He did not get on with the Duke’s private secretary, a powerful and discreet figure whose letters have a careful, measured tone in great contrast to those of the excited, emotional Vantini. Over a period of ten years they were constantly at war, mainly over the household accounts, usually under the same roof as each other in London or Trentham, sometimes on the family travels through Europe.

    the-servants-story-3 The front entrance to the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood, opened 1841. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    Vantini eventually made his escape from this unfortunate situation in 1841, investing in the newly built Euston hotel, where he installed his wife and eldest daughter as managers while he went north to help set up another huge hotel at the other end of the railway going north-west, the North Euston Hotel at Fleetwood. Although this last was not a success for the Vantini family, Zenon went on to found other hotels, at Folkestone and Paris. He also founded and ran the first refreshment rooms attached to a number of railway stations including Manchester and seems to have been the first to organise an all-in package holiday to Paris and the battlefield of Waterloo, several years before the launch of similar holidays by Thomas Cook.

    the-servants-story-2 Villa dei Mulini, Napoleon's formal house on Elba and the young Vantini's workplace as courier. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    All the time Linda and myself were picking our way carefully through this research we were intrigued by the problem of Vantini’s early life. Where did he learn his skills at running such a sophisticated household to the standards expected by the Sutherlands? There was just one clue, something Vantini had let drop during his stay in Fleetwood – as a young man he had been associated with the household of Napoleon! Neither of us really believed this – he was good at telling jokes was Vantini – but imagine our amazement when, through family history sources, we found this to be true. He was in fact born on Elba, brought up as a page by Napoleon’s sister’s household in Tuscany, and returned to Elba when Napoleon landed as an exile. He became one of the emperor’s couriers, accompanying him on his tours of the island and walking with him along the shore. He even played a part in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. What happened thereafter to the young Vantini, still only in his late teens, is unknown until he turns up in various records in London in 1825.

    Vantini’s career both before and after the Sutherlands is a complex story which I summarise in the Trentham book but which I am now following up in greater detail, to be published later. The story of both him and Mary Penson are just two of a number of narratives of the servants of Trentham which I have included. Individually they are intriguing, heart-wrenching, often frustrating, but together begin to sketch in some of the details of this amazing household.

    9781445654201

    Pamela Sambrook's new book The Servants' Story is available for purchase now.

  • Oxford in 50 Buildings by Andrew Sargent

    When I agreed to write the story of Oxford in 50 Buildings I knew I had accepted a difficult assignment. This is no ordinary town.

    Oxford can be seen as the product of many individual decisions. First being Alfred the Great’s decision to turn this insignificant river crossing settlement with its convent into one of his system of defensive burhs. The individual decisions of many long-forgotten wandering teachers who felt that this would be a good place to earn a living, creating a critical mass that became the university. Then with the young William Morris’s decision to assemble his cars at Cowley rather than in an established manufacturing town.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-2 The Radcliffe Camera from the unusual vantage of the tower of St Mary's Church (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Many of the decisions which have gone to make the Oxford we know are fossilised in bricks (or stone) and mortar. So the story of this complex place can be told using its buildings, though doing that in just fifty buildings is a real challenge. Everyone has their favourites, and the celebrities (such as the Radcliffe Camera) feature in guidebooks and in tourist photos and videos which are then carried all around the world. Some are truly iconic. Others, perhaps less photogenic, played an important part in the story. Which do you include; which do you regretfully have to leave out?

    Oxford is, of course, world famous as a university. But it is also a town where people live and work. In fact, it was a town for centuries before the university began to develop. These two faces of the town share the same space yet have their own priorities and often live separate lives. They have always jostled for prominence – think of the long tradition of town versus gown rivalry. Part of the fun for the writer is to tell both stories as they intertwine.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-1 This seventeenth-century tavern was a a favourite haunt of the Inklings (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    I resisted the temptation to photograph all the venerable colleges with their mellow stonework and leafy gardens; they all have their architectural gems, their place in history and famous alumni. Instead, I limited my choice to those which marked a key moment in the bigger story. For example Merton, the first college, New College, the first to admit undergraduates, or the monastic remains at Worcester. That left space for some of the non-university buildings which have shaped the Oxford story. Some being the fourteenth-century half-timbered merchant’s house on the corner of Ship Street, for example, or the former Cooper’s factory where the world-famous marmalade was made. The Eagle and Child tavern also squeezes in, one of several surviving seventeenth-century inns, but which is elevated into the national consciousness as the favoured drinking hole of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

    It would be easy to fill the selection with medieval or eighteenth-century architecture, but the book needs a good spread over time. The story is brought right up to date with the Saïd Business School and Plant Oxford, the Mini factory at Cowley. But it does not end here. New architecture will continue to write itself into the narrative as society, and with it both the town and university, adapt to an ever-changing world.

    Once the selection was made, even photographing each of the fifty buildings presented its problems. Constant traffic and pedestrians allow only brief opportunities for a well-composed shot, while access to many university buildings is restricted in term time.

    I expect every reader will argue with my final fifty, wanting to include a favourite here and drop another there. Make your own selection, and above all enjoy the wide range of architectural gems which weave the fabric of this remarkable place.

    9781445659879

    Andrew Sargent's new book Oxford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Trevor Ford: The Authorised Biography by Neil Palmer

    It was a March evening in Cardiff City’s 1992/93 season, a season in which the Bluebirds won Promotion out of footballs bottom tier and also added a Welsh Cup under the excellent stewardship of manager Eddie May. I sat in the grandstand at Ninian Park with my father to watch an evening game against Scarborough, (yes following football is not all glamour). The game will always stay in my mind, not for the 1-0 win by the Bluebirds but around 10 minutes after kick off my dad nudged me and pointed out that a couple of rows away sat next to the aisle was Trevor Ford. When he told me the game suddenly lost some of its interest, as I would glance at the match whilst constantly keeping an eye on this grey haired gentleman in a light brown overcoat who was constantly asked for his autograph by a whole array of supporters.

    My mind drifted off to my childhood as the name Trevor Ford will always be synonymous with how my father judged any center forward of worth during the 1960s through to today, Dad tended to do this with singers also claiming “They're not as good as Sinatra”. Well for him no center forward was “As good as Trevor Ford”. The comparison was a little lost on me as I was brought up with the football sticker and Esso coin era of players of the 1960s and 70s and to be honest my only knowledge apart from my fathers cast iron opinion of him being the best was a photo in an old Charles Buchan football book that showed him in a Aston Villa kit that fascinated me as the shirt had a laced up neck.

    trevor-ford-1 Aston Villa squad of 1949. Trevor is in the middle row, second from left. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    However I watched Ford throughout the game and when it ended my father and I made our way out of the stand, which just happened to mean passing Trevor Ford. As we did my father said ‘Hello Trevor” and offered his hand which Trevor then shook. Although I was in my thirties I felt like a child, rooted to the spot on meeting a famous person, as I just nodded in return for Trevor’s smile. All the way home we talked about his career. My dad explained how he was the big star at Cardiff City when my dad was on the ground staff and what a player he was, all of which I had heard many times from dad but to see the man in the flesh seemed too give these stories even more merit.

    Trevor was a player that always stayed in my subconciese, when I started writing sports books I had the honour of interviewing various football players from the 1950s and I would always ask them, for my own curiosity more than anything else ‘What was Trevor Ford like?’. To the public they would always talk affectionately about him, yet anytime he was mentioned in the media he was always referred to as “Fiery Ford” or “Terrible Trevor” which I thought was a little unjust. Even when he passed away the main bulk of any obituary in the newspapers tended to be based on his book “I lead the Attack” rather than the prolific goal stats for his clubs and Wales. And with the upsurge in Welsh football I started to think he was forgotten about by sections of the media as they talked about “greats” like John Charles, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs, Ivor Allchurch and Gareth Bale, all of whom are quite rightly great Welsh footballers but I always felt there was room for one more.

    Unfortunately this was the same when pundits talked about great center forwards. It appeared that the modern generation of media with its seven days a week football, Internet forums and Radio talk shows only went as far back as Gary Lineker and Italia 90. I make no apologies for my continued frustration at this, even at the cost of being called a “Grumpy old git”. It is a title that when it comes to the recognition of “Old” footballers I wear with pride.

    trevor-ford-2 FA Cup, 1951. Sunderland beat Norwich City 3-1. Trevor (airborne, right) is in the thick of the action, as always. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    So with this in mind I started on path of finding out about Trevor Ford in detail with a view for a book .The writer LP Hartley memorably began his novel The Go Between with the words “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” And that has never been truer when you look at a football world in the 1950s, which has now become unrecognizable today.

    Trevor was at the very center of the struggle for players to earn a better deal out of the game. It has been said many times that he was a player who knew his own worth. He knew early on, even in his Swansea Town days that he was the main attraction when it came to putting bums on seats, and football club directors knew it, other wise why would they pay for the very best players to enhance their football clubs. After all nobody said “I can’t wait for Saturday to see the left back play”. Trevor knew as a center forward he had a certain cache that clubs would pay for. Problem was in the eyes of the football authorities everybody got their £20 a week and that was their lot. In truth this was never going to work, nor did it. It insults our intelligence to think that a young 17 year old at Wolverhampton Wanderers would be paid the same £20 per week Wolves and England captain Billy Wright would get or would another 17 year old at Preston North End get the same as Legend Tom Finney. The answer is obviously no. The reality was that your Billy Wrights and Tom Finney’s were, like every other top player given various gifts that would make their stay at a club more confortable. The players knew what was going on and so did the Directors. But it took strong individuals like Trevor to stand up for change in the game whilst others kept silent.

    trevor-ford-3 Greats reunited at the Vetch, Swansea. Trevor and Ivor Allchurch hold up their favourite shirts. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    This resulted in a stronger PFA who were able to negotiate an end to the maximum wage and the ability for players to be in control of their own contracts. Trevor’s subsequence confrontations with authorities tarnished him with the tag of being “trouble” and not one to touch in terms of bringing to a club, yet his goal scoring record sits alongside any of the greats in the game past or present. The most damming of part of his career being his treatment by the Welsh FA with them not taking him to Sweden as part of the Welsh 1958 World cup squad. A decision that saw many Welsh selectors flex their muscles towards Trevor, making sure they taught him a lesson for what they deemed as embarrassing the organization rather than do what was the best thing for the country. It panned out the lack of preparation and amateurish attitude by the Welsh FA in the finals reconfirmed that many of the so-called “selectors” should never have been within 100 yards of running a football team in the first place.

    During the research for the book I was honored too meet Trevor’s son David who gave his support to the project. David’s honesty and enthusiasm to tell his fathers story, warts and all has been a real driving force of the book and I know that he has allowed me too share with you, the reader everything about his father and the Ford family. David allowed me the chance to see Trevor the man whilst numerous ex colleagues allowed me the chance to see Trevor the player and I will always be thankful to them for that.

    So for me the idea of taking just a name from my childhood memories and turning it into a book about what I believe to be one of the most influential footballers the game has produced has been a labour of love and one which I hope you will enjoy through the pages of this book.

    9781445640563

    Neil Palmer's new book Trevor Ford: The Authorised Biography is available for purchase now.

  • Rugby Union Memorabilia by Phil Atkinson

    OBSERVED OR OBTAINED: OLD ‘OVAL’ OFFERINGS & ODDITIES …….

    There were two reasons why I was particularly delighted to be asked by Amberley to write the short introduction to Rugby Union Memorabilia which was published in September. One was that I had long wished to attempt such a volume, the other that it would be the first, and much-needed, such look at the world of collecting the fifteen-a-side game’s wide range of interesting items.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-1 Games between Wales, England & Scotland, home and away, early twentieth century. (c. Tim Auty, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    It is perhaps fitting that it emerged just after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, held in England: an event which underlined the spread and popularity of the sport, with two million fans at the stadia and a global TV audience very many times that. At the same time another rugby record-breaker arose - nearly £200,000 being paid at auction for a 1905 NZ All Black jersey!

    Yet no-one to our knowledge had yet put into print and picture a survey of those jerseys, caps, cups, programmes, prints, photographs, autographs, cards, stamps, badges, medals, trophies, ceramics, books, archived records, ephemera and whatever else might evoke a nostalgia for and encapsulate the development of the game.

    Football of the Association variety, Cricket, Golf and to an extent Tennis have had their sample artefacts and accessories recorded: now the handling code which was allegedly born at Rugby School nearly two centuries back has seen a start on a similar process. The book briefly outlines the field, from Victorian kit and cigarette cards through flimsy first images and programmes and early Lions' and Colonials' tours to the 'merchandise' of the professional era.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-2 (c. Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    With strict word and picture limits the problem – as is so often the case – was more about what to leave out, rather than what to include. My own collection and my connections within and/or due to the Rugby Memorabilia Society, whose ‘Touchlines’ magazine I edit, have helped provide a wide variety of information and illustrations, many not generally available. I have tried to show the novice collector how comparatively easy it is to begin - and indeed, to build up quite a mass of material relatively cheaply in the first place.

    ‘It’s not just programmes’ is one of our regular refrains, and indeed my own fancy has grown from those early reminders of games seen, heard or read about to focus more recently on the easier-to-store cigarette, trade and post cards with a rugby connection, and old rugby prints. Friends swear by their own interests, too, and I have tried, however concisely, to mention their many various sectors as listed above!

    It’s a matter of taste, of course, but another of the ‘anthems’ of ‘us anoraks’ is to dismiss much of the current corporately-produced club and country merchandise as not being true memorabilia. Pre-signed, pre-framed, prepared items cannot produce the same frisson as the actual jersey, say, muddied or washed, from a notable game and player. Some like them signed, some like them not: it’s up to you and, of course, the original owner.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-3 Four Nations jerseys, 1955 and 1959 (c.Bryn Meredith, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    They, especially the older school, often have no concept of the importance placed on ‘their’ items by those of us stricken by the collecting/preserving/recording bug. Recently I helped organise the sale of the memorabilia of the great Bryn Meredith, Newport, Wales and three-times British Lion tourist 1955-1962.

    Marvellous gentleman Bryn, now 86, found it hard to credit that many were prepared to bid and battle for his jerseys, badges, socks(!), balls and other material from his stellar, pre-professional, pre-payments, pre-eBay career. He was particularly amused to learn that the Welsh Rugby Union, bastions of (sh)amateurism and strict expenses in his day, had now paid substantial sums for some of his items!

    rugby-union-memorabilia-4 (c. Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    We in turn were shocked to find that these magnificently-evocative mementoes had been stored somewhat haphazardly in Bryn’s ancient touring suitcase in his garage. It reminded some of our members of their stories of horror or salvation when contents of Clubs, attics and archives have been saved from the skip at the last moment – or, sadly, sometimes not.

    Individual contacts, auctions real or ‘virtual’, collectors’ fairs, dealers there or online, car boot sales, and diligent delving: these are the methods by which your small scalpings may grow into great gatherings of rugby relics.

    Cost? Well, each to his or her own, but more recent material is cheap and there’s always a bargain to be had, if less frequently than of yore. However, at the top end of the market, material from between the wars or particularly pre-WW1 commands a considerable premium. Thus it was that a year ago that a world record for a single rugby item was not just beaten but demolished. The previous high was around £20,000 and indeed, the Cardiff auctioneers entrusted with the item expected only £20k to £40k for it. However, with interest from Down Under as well as premier British sports collector Nigel Wray, owner of Saracens Rugby Club, bidding soared to £180,000 hammer price plus considerable costs before Mr Wray won.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-6 1905 'Originals' record-breaking £180,000 jersey. (c.Rogers Jones Auctions, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    The jersey was an icon from an icon. Dave Gallaher, Irish born captain of the ground-breaking ‘Original’ 1905 All Black tourists to the British Isles, twice lied about his age to assist Britain in conflict: exaggerating it to fight in the Boer war, then ‘reducing’ it to do so on the Western Front in the First World War. There he fell in 1917.

    He had exchanged jerseys with Wales’ skipper Gwyn Nicholls after the epic and controversial 3-0 Welsh win, perhaps the most famous rugby match ever. Nicholls later gave it to a young worker at his laundry business, and decades later that family must have been as amazed as was auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones as the famous black jersey ‘cleaned up’.

    A number of families and clubs have since sought to cash in, without huge success due to the unique circumstances of the ‘Gallaher Garment’. Some of the jerseys ‘liberated’ from Club or family cabinet’s revealed one of the drawbacks of long such display: the faded front which has seen value, as well as dye, leak away.

    So, if you or yours are lucky enough to have, or to find, something old and related to the oval code, hang on to it. Get advice, store it or display it with great care. (Or sell it to me or my fellow members!)

    You can join the Rugby Memorabilia Society via Membership Sec., 21, Coulson Close, Newport NP20 2RQ or go to www.rugby-memorabilia.co.uk

    9781445657493

    Phil Atkinson's new book Rugby Union Memorabilia is available for purchase now.

  • Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs by Mervyn Edwards

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs has recently hit the bookshelves. It is my eighteenth published book, my ninth title for Amberley.

    It occurs to me that the nature of a historian’s remit and his duty to view the past objectively and sometimes dispassionately may not always benefit either him or his readers.

    The thought struck me when I was writing the introduction to my book – and peppering what was intended as a brief historical overview with a few opinions and observations based on thirty-five years of socialising in Newcastle hostelries. Such an exercise probably did my mental health a power of good, whilst offering readers a few interesting perspectives to chew on.

    However, there was no real danger of my book lapsing into a nostalgia fest. With a production such as this, the reader will generate his or her own nostalgia in any case, cooing over the photographs and shedding a tear over long-lost, much-loved pubs.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-1 The Rigger, 5 May 2016. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    For me, it was a matter of particular interest to show how history insists on repeating itself. How the pubs that have survived have gone through cycles of good trade and bad, often dictated by the competence of licensees. How reputations have waxed and waned and how the strategies and advertising blurb of marketing men have been exposed very quickly as gimcrack manoeuvres likely to bring only short-term gain.

    In such circumstances, the conscientious historian sometimes genuflects to the slightly piqued social commentator, lamenting ill-advised and sometimes fatuous changes to the pubs we have loved. The recorder of history stands aloof, viewing these changes in wider context. Other knowledgeable observers, free from such constraints, rage against the machine that brings these changes, destroying our heritage and spitting on our memories.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-2 Old Bull's Head, 2 December 1999. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    The chapter in my book featuring the Rigger pub in Marsh Parade, Newcastle, is a great story seen in terms of why it was opened in 1963 – as the Bandstand – and how this totally landlocked pub adopted a nautical theme, complete with ropes, sails and other maritime bric-a-brac in 1970. The pub has long since found its feet as a music venue, and at this chronological distance, the attempt to give it a seafaring image seems risible. However, other pubs have known radical changes over the years, too, notably the Old Bull’s Head in Lad Lane, which embraced the fad for ersatz Irish pubs in the 1990s. Traditionalists battled vigorously against Allied Domecq’s plans – to no avail. All we had left was the sure-fire certainty that the vogue for Irish theme pubs would soon fade and that normal service would be resumed. It duly did, although the about-turn was sharp and jarring. The pub re-opened, bereft of fake shamrocks and harps but now sporting murals depicting old Newcastle: Queen’s Gardens, Holy Trinity Church and other landmarks.  If this was a sop intended to placate traditionalists still hurting over the mock-Irish dalliance, it didn’t work.  Perhaps it was seen by some as manipulative, even patronising. The pub’s present interior is as most people would remember it from years ago: plain, dimly-lit, cosy and genuinely characterful.

    Some of the more popular pubs in Newcastle have been nurtured over time and have grown slowly and organically. They may have their faults, but there’s integrity about them. Think of the Museum or the George and Dragon. However, it is interesting to consider how some pubs and bars that opened in the last twenty years or so didn’t stand the test of time. One venue in Hassell Street has been re-named several times since it re-opened under the name of the Farrow and Firkin in 1994. So why didn’t it last? Was it the silly name, or were the splintered wooden tables and rustic décor to blame? Who knows? What is for certain is that fashions go in and out like the tide, and the minimalist “alehouse” style interior is once again a la mode at the time of writing. Gatsby’s bar in Ironmarket was another that failed – despite its innovative interior design, complete with blood red upholstering and classy chrome fittings.

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs charts many of these changes, sometimes with a degree of sadness, but always with a view to explaining why it was that history took certain turns. What were the reasons that led to the opening of the Borough Arms Hotel in the 1850s? How did the Museum get its name? Why on earth did the age-old Star in Ironmarket become known as the Superstar? All is revealed in the book.

    9781445658490

    Mervyn Edwards new book Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs is available for purchase now.

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