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  • Northumberland and Tyneside's War by Neil R. Storey and Fiona Kay

    Both Fiona and I have been captivated by and collected the stories, photographs and memorabilia of our local men and women who ‘did their bit’ since we were kids when we first heard some tales of the Great War from the veterans we knew back then. They would say with some pride that they ‘did their bit’ and would share some stories, usually tales that would bring a laugh or remember their comrades but they very rarely spoke of their own experiences in the conflict. They were men and women of a very different generation that have inspired a lifetime of research. Over the decades since, it is been proved again and again that one strand of research often leads to another and this is certainly true of Northumberland and Tyneside’s War.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 1 Cadre of recuperated soldiers ready to return to front line service with the Northumberland Fusiliers c. 1917. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    When researching our previous book ‘Newcastle Battalions on the Somme’ (Tyne Bridge) for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 we found literally hundreds more first-hand accounts written home in letters from local servicemen and women serving their country between the years 1914 and 1918. The stories we discovered had been published in local newspapers, parish magazines and Regimental journals a hundred years ago, but have not been seen in print since. The public exhibitions and special commemoration events we helped to stage brought forward descendents who shared their family memorabilia and our research at the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland, libraries and archive collections around the county brought more letters, manuscripts and ephemera to light.

    This remarkable body of first–hand material contained so many stories that were so evocative and powerful they had to be shared, not just because they contain accounts of battles, life in the trenches and significant moments in the First World War from a soldier’s point of view but because they also reflect so much of the character, courage, stoicism, modesty and humour unique to true Northern lads. From joining up and through training there was a spirit that never left them through the hell of war. The authentic ‘voice’ of the Geordie can also be found in the wealth of verse and songs they wrote. Some of these letters and verses are particularly poignant because they were written home on the eve of battle and proved to be the very last letters home for some of these men.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 2 One of the Zeppelin bomb craters at Bedlington with a fine turnout of curious locals on the morning of 14 April 1915. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    Our book also includes accounts from the home front such as eye-witness reports of the first Zeppelin raid on Northumberland and stories of the local war hospitals that cared for thousands of returned wounded soldiers throughout the war.  The sterling work of a diverse array of local wartime organisations is also recorded, from the YMCA hostels and huts to ladies committees set up to supply comforts to the troops, hospitals, prisoners of war and the crews of minesweepers. Even the volunteers of the Elswick and Scotswood Bandage Party are not forgotten for they made and despatched 70,523 bandages to hospitals both at home and abroad between January 1916 and January 1919.

    Tyneside and Northumberland’s contribution to the war effort was truly outstanding. The mines of the North East provided the coal to power battleships all over the world and the shipyards along the Tyne built many of those battleships. Thousands of men marched out from those same pits and shipyards to answer their county’s call, indeed volunteers came from all walks of life and no other British city outside London raised more battalions of soldiers for Kitchener’s Army than Newcastle. There were 19 service battalions raised for the Northumberland Fusiliers between the years 1914-15 all bar one of them was raised in Newcastle. The exception was 17th (Service) Battalion (N.E.R. Pioneers) raised by the North Eastern Railway Company in Hull but it should not be forgotten that this battalion also included many men from Tyneside and Northumberland. The Northumberland Fusiliers had a remarkable 52 battalions during the First World War, twenty-nine of which served overseas. This made them the second largest line infantry regiment in the British Army, with only the eighty-eight battalions of the London Regiment to surpass them in greater number.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 3 A fine group of Necastle Munitionettes in their overalls, 1916. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the locally raised ‘New Army’ battalions were the ‘Newcastle Commercials,’ Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish, who faced the hurricane of machine gun fire on the First Day of the Somme in 1916.  No Regiment lost more men than the Northumberland Fusiliers on that fateful day. What is still more remarkable is the fact that just about every active service battalion in the British Army, every Corps, every branch of the Royal Navy (notably the Royal Naval Division) and Royal Marines could find Geordies within its ranks.  Indeed numerous English, Irish and Scottish Regiments can all be found actively recruiting men from Tyneside and Northumberland during the First World War and some of them ended up with Tyneside Companies of their own.

    The soldiers of the North have a long history and reputation for being good fighting men and their county regiment in 1914 was the embodiment of that spirit. The Northumberland Fusiliers finds its roots back in 1674 and was granted the seniority of the Fifth Regiment of Foot in the British Army, a seniority they were always proud of. They richly earned and upheld the Regiment’s traditions and nick-names of the ‘Fighting Fifth’ and the ‘Old and Bold.’ In 1914 Lord Kitchener himself said of them ‘I have often had occasion to thank Heaven that I had the Northumberland Fusiliers at my back. Tell them from me that I have often relied upon the Northumberland Fusiliers in the past and I know that I may need to do so in the future’ and Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks did not mince words in his introduction to history of the Regiment in the Famous Regiments series when he wrote of men from the Northern collieries ‘whom I have always regarded as making the finest infantry in the world.’

    We hope this book will add something original to the canon of works on the county of Northumberland, Tyneside and its people both at home and fighting abroad in the First World War and that the authentic voices of the lads and lasses published herein will speak to our readers with the same resonance that they spoke to us and leave with them the same legacy - they deserve to be Remembered.


    Neil R. Storey and Fiona Kay's new book Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War is available for purchase now.

  • Manchester Ship Canal Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Docks Trafford Wharf Nos 6, 7 and 8 Docks, Salford & Trafford Wharf, c. 1910. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Surviving near bankruptcy and opening in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was founded by Daniel Adamson, who first presented the idea to the Manchester business community in 1882.It was an amazing feat of Victorian engineering. A colossal structure, with huge lock gates and the unique Barton Aqueduct, it was the ‘international super-highway’ of its day. Shipping regularly crossed the Atlantic to Canada and the United States of America, and there were also regular services to Argentina and the Mediterranean in the early days. Vessels brought back to the Port of Manchester cotton, livestock, building materials and foodstuffs for sale on the domestic market. The canal was unlike those built previously, in that it had to be large enough to accommodate the biggest of ocean-going vessels at the time and lead to the foundation of Manchester Liners. These vessels were purpose-built to the exact dimensions of the canal and were sturdy enough to negotiate the worst Atlantic crossings. Manchester Liners headquarters were near the old Number Eight and Nine Docks, at the Port of Manchester, with their vessels a common sight on the canal, until it closed to traffic around 1980. Closure came about due to a combination of the growth in container traffic, for which the canal had not been designed, and long-term economic decline. In the 1960s containerisation on a large scale meant that vessels could no longer negotiate the Ship Canal’s limited lock space and traffic rapidly declined as the 1970s progressed. However, today the canal continues as a working waterway on a limited scale, servicing the industrial complex of Trafford Park and all points along its course, until it reaches the Mersey Estuary at Eastham and the Irish Sea beyond. There has also been talk in recent years of the development of ‘Port Salford’ and the expansion of commercial shipping activity as a result of this. Whether this development takes place remains to be seen.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Barton Oil Terminal Aqueduct c 1930 Barton Oil Terminal and Swing Aqueduct, c. 1940. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The canal is about thirty six miles in length and begins at the Port of Manchester, now the retail, leisure and media complex at Salford Quays. Logistically, negotiating the whole length of the Ship Canal presents many more challenges today than it did when it was still a working-waterway some forty to fifty years ago – unless you are aboard a vessel that is! The canal has some magnificent examples of swing-bridges along its course, but getting close enough to them in order to observe their structure, or attaining the right angle for a photograph, is another matter altogether! Fencing has been ‘strategically’ placed along the canal’s length, particularly true of Barton Aqueduct, where I had to climb onto the structure in order to get the image I wanted. Sometimes I feel that the photographer would benefit from gymnastic training at times like these. Of course the canal is not maintained to the extent that it was when a fully working entity, so access is a little more difficult and care has to be taken.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Irlam Locks Railway Bridge CWS Factory Irlam Irlam Locks, Carrington Power Station, Irlam High Level Railway Viaduct and Former CWS Wharf and Factory Site, Irlam, c. 1894. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Living close to the Manchester Ship Canal, as I do, also has its benefits. Gone is the thick layer of oil that enveloped the surface of the canal some forty years ago. The canal, along with the rest of the Mersey Valley, has undergone an environmental transformation. At Irlam Locks, where there was once a soap-works, there are now swans and herons. All very different from the way I remember it in the 60s and 70s.

    The Barton Oil Terminal and dock, where my father worked, was a hive of activity in this era, benefitting from the oil-boom years of the 1960s. Oil tankers were constantly loading and unloading at the terminal and negotiating the tricky corner and narrowing of the canal, where Barton swing-bridge and aqueduct crossed. It was a 24/7 occupation, although there were many lighter moments, particularly on one New Year’s Eve in the 1970s, when a Polish tanker was being unloaded at the terminal. The captain had laid on a huge spread for the crew and those who were off-loading the tanker, including my dad, could not understand why the captain had brought his bike with him. Everyone was invited aboard to enjoy the festivities while unloading continued and all was going well, until my dad noticed that both the captain and his bike had disappeared. On enquiry it was explained to him that the captain had used his transport in order to cycle into the local town, where he was meeting a young lady. The crew appeared oblivious to their captain’s disappearance and to the fact that his bike had gone AWOL. One can only assume that it was a regular occurrence in every port of call.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - SS Manchester Progress and Tug c 1938 Built 1938 by Blythswood Single screw turbine engine Coal fuel 13 Knots SS Manchester Progress and Tug, c. 1938. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the canal is now much less busy there is still some regular traffic, invoking childhood memories of waiting at Barton swing-bridge for huge ocean going vessels to silently glide past, whilst being carefully manoeuvred by their tugs. For me, compiling Manchester Ship Canal Through Time has brought back many memories like these, and I hope reading the book will produce many memories for you.


    Steven Dickens' new book Manchester Ship Canal Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Lancaster The Postcard Collection by Billy F. K. Howorth

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 2 Within Williamson Park stands the imposing structure of Ashton Memorial, which is one of the largest follies in Britain. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    Shortly after writing my first book A-Z of Lancaster I embarked upon writing Lancaster The Postcard Collection. The idea of presenting a town and its history using only postcards was an interesting and intriguing proposition allowing me to search for the most unusual and interesting illustrations available.

    The Lancaster that we see today is the product of centuries of development, expansion and redevelopment. If you look close enough you can still see signs of Lancaster's glorious past, however, as is the case with many cities, Lancaster unfortunately lost many buildings over the past century or so, and you could argue it is a shadow of its former self.

    Whilst setting about writing my book, I initially came up with a hit list of the places and sites that I wanted to include. No book on Lancaster would be complete without the obligatory images of the castle and Ashton Memorial, but finding images which were more obscure and offered a different insight were the real challenge. Lancaster is a fascinating city with a history stretching back to the Roman Occupation. The town grew in the Middle Ages and by the Georgian Period had a well developed port and was heavily involved in the Slave Trade. All of these periods have added to the fabric of the city and makes it a great place to explore.

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 1 One of the most prominent structures on the Lancaster skyline is the imposing fortress of Lancaster Castle that has stood proudly on Castle Hill for over 900 years. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    I also decided that whilst the town over the past hundred years had developed and grown it would be interesting to contrast this with the reality of living in one of the surrounding villages and how life would have been for the inhabitants. For those who know the local area, Lancaster is located on the River Lune. Further inland the Lune Valley is home to many small, yet important, villages including Caton, Hornby and Wray. If you head the other direction you come across the Lune Estuary villages of Glasson, Cockerham and Thurnham which have a history connected to Morecambe Bay and Fishing.

    In the process of writing my book, I discovered that although many of the buildings in Lancaster still exist, their history and stories seemed to be less well known. Even people who live in the town seemed unaware of the interesting stories behind the facades. This allowed me to pick the sites both popular and less well known as the basis for my narrative. I decided that in order to show off the history of the town to its full potential, it would be best to split the town into rough areas so each chapter would act as a showcase for the sites and buildings within that part of the town. As you go through the book you can explore the sites along the River Lune, around Castle Hill and in Dalton Square and the book acts as a guide offering a potted history into each area.

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 3 When we take a look at the local landscape in the area, there is one feature that has played a major part in local history – the River Lune. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The final decision on what sites to include and talk about came down to how many postcards I was able to find. For some sites the choice was huge, every aspect and detail was pictured whilst other sites I struggled to even find a couple of images. Unfortunately, there were a few buildings that were not to be found on any original postcards and in order to maintain authenticity I decided not to include these. My aim throughout the process was to tell this history of the town through the most comprehensive display of postcards I could put together.

    I hope that readers of my book will find it both an interesting interpretation of the towns history, and also act as the starting point to look a little further into the history of Lancaster and its buildings.


    Billy F. K. Howorth's new book Lancaster The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes by Pam Inder

    The Rag Trade 1 ‘Fashions for October’ in Cassell’s Magazine, 1891. The figure on the left wears the sort of tailored costume Adolph Kushner would have helped make. The figure on the right wears the softer sort of garments Mrs Pattinson would have made for Mrs Fenton, and they both wear elaborate hats like the one described in Mrs Fenton’s letter. (c. The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    For much of my working life I was a museum curator working with collections of ‘applied arts’ – ceramics, furniture, silver, costume and textiles, glass, objects d’art. My particular interest was in costume and I became aware that when we exhibited a piece of ceramics or furniture, the label gave details of the maker or decorator – ‘Royal Doulton, decorated by Florence Barlow’, ‘Chippendale chair, made for the Earl of Little-Snoddington-under-the-Wold’ and so on. However, a dress was likely to be described simply as ‘Silk day dress, c. 1835’ or ‘Wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Smith on her marriage to Henry Robinson in January, 1872’ – in other words, we knew virtually nothing about the people who made the garments. As a needlewoman myself, I was aware that the makers of some of the items in our collections were extremely skilled – just as skilled as the furniture makers and potters whose names we knew. I decided to do something about it.

    In 2000 I submitted a thesis to De Montfort University for which I received a PhD. It was entitled ‘English provincial dressmakers in the 19th century’ (and, for those of you who don’t get out enough, it is available through the British Library).

    I’m interested in people: in people’s lives, interests, families, triumphs and tragedies as well as their work. In the course of my research I found some wonderful sources of information about dressmakers. Record Offices up and down the country are stuffed with fascinating documents if only we go and look. With the PhD out of the way I wondered whether some of these resources would make a book – and the result is ‘The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes’, eleven single-chapter biographies of workers in the clothing trades. Here are some tasters:

    The dressmaker and the widow

    ‘Could you send me another bottle of whiskey in a little box like last time and perhaps it would do with cloak so that Mrs P need only have one parcel and a little 6d needle book …’

    Old Mrs Fenton wrote to her dressmaker at regular intervals. She was a widow, a nervous lady who believed herself to be an invalid, and she hated travelling. Even the short distance into Ulverston where she had been born and where her good friend, Mrs Pattinson the dressmaker, lived. It was so much easier to order goods on approval, and Mrs Pattinson was always so obliging about buying her whisky – for medicinal purposes of course – packing it in corset boxes and wrapping it in bundles of clothes. She was sure the carrier never suspected for a moment what he was delivering.

    The Rag Trade 2 Sketches of country folk by William Johnstone White, showing the sort of garments John Evens made for his poorer clients. (c. The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    The smuggling tailor

    John Evens had a flourishing business in the little village of Holbeton in Devon. He was a tailor, making suits and ‘everlasting breeches’ and smockfrocks for his neighbours, as well as bed curtains, tarpaulin covers for their carts, banners for the local pageant – in fact anything they asked him for. He also farmed the family smallholding, tended his orchards of cider apples and acted as ‘parish constable’ – a sort of unpaid policeman. But he had another, much less respectable source of income. John Evens was a ‘venturer’ organising local gangs of smugglers to bring tubs of spirits and parcels of tobacco across the Channel from France. He spent many a night on the clifftops watching for incoming vessels and organising the gangs of men who unloaded them. He borrowed carts from his neighbours and wrapped rags round their wheels and round the horses’ hooves to muffle the sound they would make in the narrow, twisting lanes of south-west Devon. It was young Mr Evens who took orders, delivered goods to buyers – and had his fair share of skirmishes and near misses with the excise men.

    The Rag Trade 3 Ida Allen at the door of her lace shop in the 1930s. (Courtesy of Norman Lambert, The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    Lacemaker to royalty

    Ida Allen was no stranger to the royals. Princes and princesses visited her little shop in Beer, bought handkerchiefs and veils of Honiton lace and placed orders for more. They sent precious items to her for cleaning and repair and were, it would appear, very happy with the results. What they did not know was that Ida’s house had no water supply. The valuable laces were washed in water from the water butt out back – once the algae and dead leaves were cleaned out. She used lethal combinations of cleaning fluids – neat gin or chlorine bleach and salt. But worst of all, her house was infested by rats, attracted by the rotting meat in the orchard next door in which her neighbour grew the maggots he sold to fishermen.

    Learn more about these 19th century characters and many more in:


    Pam Inder's new book The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes is available for purchase now.

  • Great British Eccentrics by S. D. Tucker

    ONE LORD A-LOONING: John Conrad Russell and the Sad Destruction of the House of Lords

    In an extract from his book Great British Eccentrics, out now in paperback, SD Tucker remembers the life of the strangest-ever member of the House of Lords, John Conrad Russell.

    With Press controversy currently raging over the prospect of the assorted time-servers, sycophants and hangers-on in the House of Lords apparently planning to try and block the will of the people by conspiring to wreck the passage of Article 50, there have been renewed calls of late to abolish the entire Chamber. This would be short-sighted. Instead, why not simply return the Lords back to the way it used to be, when Members inherited their peerages, rather than being political appointees? Quite apart from putting an end to the naked political cronyism which now characterises life in the Upper House, this would also have the entertaining side-effect of allowing some genuine lunatics to don the famous ermine once again; as is well-known, eccentricity runs rife in the blood of the English aristocracy. The maddest Lord of all was surely John Conrad Russell, the 4th Earl Russell. Russell’s father was one of the most famous men of his age, the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. John Conrad Russell, however, had to settle for simply being one of the oddest …

    I suspect there can be few persons outside of politics or the media who have ever actually bothered to buy any copies of Hansard, the official transcripts of sessions which take place in the Commons and the Lords. The exception to this rule was an edition containing a particularly unforgettable speech of Earl Russell’s from 1978, which sold out almost as soon as it was printed. Russell’s rabid rant was nothing if not memorable. Certainly, it pulled no punches, the Earl being quite happy to ask his fellow-Peers ‘What are you? Soulless robots?’ before then going on to accuse them all of being nothing but a bunch of ‘spiritless Papal bum-boys’. ‘Forward, the creative spirit!’ he roared, before providing the country with some very creative solutions to its most pressing problems himself.

    In Westminster-speak, Russell’s speech was technically classified as being a ‘response to an unstarred question’ during a debate that was supposed to be about aiding victims of crime, but which ended up being about much, much more. After all, as Earl Russell explained to a bemused House, there was actually no such thing as crime. If Britain was really the civilised nation it pretended to be, he said, then its police-force should be merged with the Salvation Army immediately, and its officers retrained so that their only function was to make people cups of tea.

    If a man tried to steal anything, then that was his perfect right, Russell made clear, giving the example of someone who might walk into a jeweller’s shop to snatch a bag of diamonds. If such a thing happened, said the Earl, then surely the only truly humane thing for the jeweller to do would be to let him steal them, then give him a second bag as well, for good measure. Prisons, it turned out, should be banned; according to Russell, policemen up and down the land were engaged in a gigantic conspiracy to arrest young men and seduce them in their cells, before then selling them on into lives of gay prostitution in prisons. What way was this to treat the flower of English manhood, he asked? Surely it would be better if the Government just paid them all a fair wage to sit around and do nothing all day in big huts instead of making them become Chief Constables’ rent-boys?

    Earl Russell had some interesting plans for the nation’s schoolgirls, too. At the age of twelve, he said, every girl should be considered a woman, and given a free house. Then, 75 per cent of the nation’s wealth would be donated to the fairer sex, whilst the remaining 25 per cent would be used to protect men from the police in their large communal huts, which the girls could then visit in order to choose their husbands – as many as they liked, the men would have no say in the matter. This, he said, would be the true realisation of ‘Women’s Lib’.

    Explaining that ‘the habit of arresting young people and raping them in gaol is part of a plot which is designed to destroy the human race’, Russell demanded that the nation’s youth be put in charge of everything, and encouraged to play outside all day in the nude instead of being treated as mere ‘indoor products’. As he said, ‘the ancient Greeks fought naked’, and so ‘naked bathing on beaches or in rivers ought to be universal’. School and work were just Establishment conspiracies aimed at forcing adolescents to stay inside all day instead of romping through fields as nature intended; ‘Leisure is the point and working is wrong, being in any case the curse visited by God upon Adam and not to be blessed.’ He approved of bored schoolboys burning down their schools, as it was obvious (to him) that if they were being taught properly by their teachers then the spirit of Sir Isaac Newton would have been reincarnated in one of them by now. Surely we should instead all follow the example of the old cartoon-character ‘Little Audrey’ who, he said, had ‘laughed and laughed because she knew that only God could make a tree’?

    So embarrassing was this episode that a myth has since arisen that it is the only speech ever made in Parliament which was not recorded in Hansard. This is not true, but I think I can explain the misunderstanding; Earl Russell had not finished talking when he was forced to give way to Lord Wells-Pestell, and, seeing as the rest of his speech was not actually spoken in the Lords, Hansard had no business printing it. Russell had planned to end his oration with the surprisingly understated assertion that ‘It may be expected that most people will support these proposals, because they are, after all, in everybody’s own interest.’ In this, as in so much else, I fear he may have been mistaken.


    S. D. Tuckers new paperback edition of his book Great British Eccentrics is available for purchase now.

  • How Australia Became British: Empire and the China Trade by Howard T. Fry


    Whereas from its foundation at the beginning of the 17th century the East India Company had been trading in spices from the East Indies and luxury imports from China, in the latter part of the 18th century changes in the pattern of this trade began to become apparent.  Firstly, the Company had always had great difficulty in finding British exports that were of appeal to the Chinese market, and had therefore been compelled to rely on the export of silver wherewith to pay for their oriental imports. As the company became evermore firmly established in India, the so called ‘Country Trade’ specializing in the marine and jungle products of the East Indies and of the Malay archipelago came to play an increasingly important role in financing the Company’s import trade. But the East India Company, having already been through recent wars with the French, firstly the Seven Years War of 1756-63, and then the wars in India in which Clive’s victories had led to the dissolution of the French East India Company, and foreseeing the likely outbreak of another war with France in the near future, began to take precautionary measures

    The government led by the Younger Pitt rightly foresaw in any such Anglo-French war, Britain’s overseas trade would become a major French target. An increasing part of that trade now consisted of the manufactures of Britain’s industrial revolution, and the British government was hoping that it might prove possible to expand that export trade to the Chinese empire. Two trade missions were therefore sent to China to prepare the way, the first was led by Col. Cathcart, whose ship sailed out of London just as the First Fleet, under the command of Capt. Phillip was approaching Botany Bay. Cathcart’s mission was intended to try to persuade the Chinese Emperor to allow the English East India Company to trade with more ports than Canton. However, this first mission never reached China, Col. Cathcart died at sea off the Malayan archipelago. The second mission, led by Lord Macartney, had been prepared with the utmost care to display a wide range of products of the Industrial Revolution, which it was hoped, might appeal to the Chinese market. This mission did reach China, and Macartney did meet the aged Chinese Emperor, but to no avail, since the Emperor assured Macartney that China lacked nothing and every effort was made by the Chinese to depict this mission as just another ‘tribute mission’ from a vassal state to China.  This English approach was in any case wholly unrealistic, since it was supposed that the inhabitants of the Chinese Empire were mainly prosperous rather than a peasant population as was the case. But the outcome was tragic. The only export that the East India Company could find which was in widespread demand in China, and that was a major product of British India, was opium. Hence this became the major export of the company, though not directly, since it was an illegal import in China, but indirectly through the ‘Country Trade’.

    The Macartney embassy had taken place just a decade after the peace of Versailles (1783) which had brought the American War of Independence to an end. In that war, France, Spain and the Dutch Netherlands had all become involved in the war on the side of the rebellious colonies, but they were all bitterly disappointed at the peace terms that they had been obliged to accept. France gained nothing, Spain failed to recover Gibraltar, while the Dutch found that the Austrian Netherlands had seized their rich trade managing British exports to the European continent, while Austria, for the first time in history had become a major maritime power. The Dutch situation has already been dealt with in Chapter Two, but the bitter disappointment of the three powers made Vergennes, the French foreign minister, very hopeful that he might be able to exploit this feeling of deep disillusion among the peoples of these three countries so as to revive the Triple Alliance of the American War.

    In 1784 Vergennes was in fact showing the extraordinary lengths to which he was prepared to go in order to persuade Spain to join such an alliance, when, in negotiations to adjust the Franco-Spanish frontier, he was willing to give up a portion of the French frontier inhabited by the Basques, who had been on friendly terms with the French for four centuries, and whose territory was rich in timber resources of potential value to the French navy.

    The English East India Company viewed these negotiations with apprehension, realizing that if France was able to revive this Triple Alliance, this would render the South China Sea closed to English East Indiamen in time of War. For if such vessels were damaged by enemy action or stormy weather, they would have no friendly or neutral harbour wherein to seek repairs; the east coast being dominated by the Spanish Philippine archipelago, the south coast by the Dutch East Indies Empire, while the west coast was dominated by France, as a result of the French missionary Bishop Pigneau de Behaine’s work in helping Prince Nguyen Anh  regain the throne in Cochin China (modern South Vietnam), where his family had been the traditional rulers until overthrown by the Tay-son rebellion. The northern coast of the South China Sea was part of the Chinese empire, then in a state of political chaos.

    Hence Sir George Young, who had once served in the Company, but was now a senior naval officer, who had clearly been keeping abreast of the Company’s affairs, prepared his scheme of 1785, which envisaged ships entering the Pacific Ocean by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and then making use of Botany Bay as a refreshment stop in a harbour where ships could carry out repairs. From thence ships could sail north and approach Canton from the south or east. There is good reason to believe that the Company was doing this regularly, soon after Young had prepared his plan, which had specifically recommended the Company to make use of it. That this was quickly becoming the Company’s new route to Canton is confirmed by the fact that when Young asked about the safety of his scheme, it was to the captains of East Indiamen that he turned for support, which was quickly given.

    As commander of the First Fleet it was common sense for Captain Arthur Phillip to question these same commanders of East Indiamen as to the positive and negative characteristics of Botany Bay as a potential site for a convict settlement, and from first-hand experience they would have been able to give him a negative opinion, and to point to the vast superiority of Port Jackson (Modern Sydney Harbour). This would explain the extraordinary speed with which Capt. Phillip was able to decide to abandon Botany Bay and to leave for Port Jackson.

    There is one further point. Though I have not yet been able to trace my relevant research notes, my memory tells me that when the cabinet was meeting to make its final decision on the Botany Bay project, Lord Hawkesbury was told that his presence was required. He was Chairman of the committee of the Privy Council for trade and plantations, and he had also taken the Southern Whale Fishery under his care. The call for his presence is very significant re the plans that were being thought out for the future of Botany Bay and Port Jackson, for he and Eden were the Government’s chief advisers on trading policy, and he was also a vital leader of the Southern Whale Fishery.


    Howard T. Fry's book How Australia Became British: Empire and The China Trade is available for purchase now.

  • Dostoyevsky and the Urban Nightmare by Judith Gunn

    Dostoyevsky’s capacity to map the streets of his beloved St Petersburg, turn by turn, with a visceral realism was what set him apart in the Russian literary landscape. It was his ability to chart his characters’ progress down darkened alleys, through seedy streets and in shabby apartments, which separated his work from the epic stories and rural landscapes described by his contemporaries in Russia, Tolstoy and Turgenev.

    Dostoyevsky 1 Fyodor Dostoyevsky antique print 1899. (Copyright Georgios Kollidas, - Dostoyevsky, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout most of his novels, stories and journals, his reputation was forged by his brilliant social realism. It was his ability to conjure the conditions that the urban population, in an overcrowded St Petersburg, struggled with everyday that made him famous. His first novel Poor Folk, about a poverty-stricken couple, whose love is charted through letters, caught the attention of influential literary critic, Vissarion Belinsky. Belinsky was a radical socialist, keen for change. He proclaimed Dostoyevsky as the cultural representative of the socialist movement. Dostoyevsky was lauded as a great talent, but then, two weeks later, he published The Double. This story was a magical realist novel, still anchored very firmly in the streets, but this time realism was only part of the tale. The Double is about a man who is at first pestered and then defeated by his evil doppelgänger. Magical realism was not to Belinsky’s taste and Dostoyevsky was denounced.

    Dostoyevsky’s depictions of dingy streets and hidden alleyways, are not unlike the later narratives of the mid twentieth-century popular film style, film noir. His protagonists of dubious character live out their crimes and misdemeanours in the chiaroscuro streets of St Petersburg. They foreshadow the flawed protagonists of noir and neo-noir as they shift between self absorption and sheer murder, often to an irredeemable conclusion. Raskolnikov, Myshkin, Underground Man and the Ridiculous Man are the “mechtatel”, the St Petersburg dreamers, who inhabit the streets. They are the noir narrators of the Russian nineteenth century.

    Dostoyevsky 2 Dostoyevsky’s Office, House Museum of Dostoyevsky, Staraya Russia. (Copyright Konstantin Pukhov, - Dostoyevsky, Amberley Publishing)




    “Let me tell you that in these corners live strange people—dreamers. The dreamer—if you want an exact definition—is not a human being, but a creature of an intermediate sort. For the most part he settles in some inaccessible corner, as though hiding from the light of day; once he slips into his corner, he grows to it like a snail…”

    Thus the dreamer or the mechtatel is defined by the nameless narrator in Dostoyevsky’s short story White Nights. This character is a more sensitive, benign version of the dreamer. The Double presaged at a more sinister character and as Dostoyevsky’s stories progress, this figure becomes less of a dreamer and more of a nightmare.

    In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov roams St Petersburg as a disenfranchised student with murder on his mind. In The Idiot, Prince Myshkin comes to St Petersburg, an innocent abroad, but is unable to redeem the damaged characters that inhabit its streets. The Underground Man (Notes from the Underground), like Raskolnikov, is a much darker version of the early dreamer of White Nights, he is a bitter, selfish narrator who hides in his apartment.

    “I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. ”

    Dostoyevsky 3 Monument to Dostoyevsky, Tobolsk, Russia. (Courtesy of Elena Mirage - Dostoyevsky, Amberley Publishing)

    This character is an unreliable narrator. He says he is spiteful and then he claims he is not, but his behaviour is cruel. He lies all the time. He is isolated and bitter, he believes himself to be ill. He haunts the streets and inhabits his dark cellar, offering little to like in his character. The Ridiculous Man (The Dream of a Ridiculous Man), by contrast, offers his own suicide as a form of redemption, and in one of Dostoyevsky’s most mystical narratives, this character travels to another planet, a place of innocence that he corrupts. These mechtatel are the nightmare of St Petersburg’s urban landscape. Their stories are played out in dimly lit streets and darkened alleyways, half lit faces step out of the shadows for the reveal, only for a second, before they disappear to darkness.

    Dostoyevsky was never convinced that human nature was inherently good. The socialist narrative of the time proclaimed the greatness of the human spirit, convinced that if the environment was fair and just, then human nature would overcome its darker temptations, but Dostoyevsky had his doubts. Perhaps it was because he spent four years in a Siberian prison and saw humanity at its worst, or perhaps it was his Christian faith that always drove him back to the idea of original sin, the fall. Whatever the sources of his discontent with human nature, it drove him to describe dissonant characters, whose dark thoughts and terrible deeds make compelling reading.


    Judith Gunn's book Dostoyevsky is available for purchase now.

  • Film and Television Star Cars - The Latest Additions by Paul Brent Adams

    No one I have ever met seems to have any idea what a Star Car is, but as soon as you mention the James Bond Aston Martin or the Batmobile, no further explanation is needed. It is any vehicle, not just a car, used in a film or television programme. The term has been around since at least the 1980s - I first recall seeing it used by Mat Irvine in the pages of the British modelling magazine Scale Models. It has also been used in the titles of several books devoted to the actual screen vehicles.

    Film and Television Star Cars 1 Corgi Junior Lotus Esprit submarine car from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1977. The wheels are hidden in the base.

    I began collecting these models in the 1990s. Apart from a book by Dave Worrall in 1996, which covered only the Corgi James Bond range, I think this is the first book ever devoted entirely to collecting model Star Cars, although diecasts have featured heavily in a number of books on film and TV toys, or on characters such as Batman. It is amazing that it is still possible to find a subject that has not been covered before. As it appeared no one else was going to write a book on Star Cars, I decided it was up to me. Between finishing the book, and publication in November 2016, I have added several more models to my collection, a mixture of older models bought at various fairs for collectors; and current models bought in retail shops, and a local supermarket while doing my grocery shopping. To show just how affordable this hobby can be, none of the models shown here cost more than $10 New Zealand, less than £5. At the opposite extreme, it is possible to spend hundreds of dollars or pounds on a single model.

    The James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured probably the second most famous of all Bond cars, the Lotus Esprit which converts into a submarine.  Corgi did a large version, with pop-out fins and missiles, which was included in Star Cars. This is the smaller Juniors version. It does not have any special features, and the fins are fixed in place. Like the larger version, it runs on concealed wheels. The 007 and gun logo on the nose did not actually appear on the movie car; after all, James Bond is a secret agent.  This slightly play-worn example was picked up at a collectors fair for $10.

    Film and Television Star Cars 2 From a small range of Flintstones models, the Corgi Junior model of Wilma's Coupe, released in 1983, with Wilma Flintstone at the wheel. Again the model runs on concealed wheels.

    From The Flintstones cartoon series of the 1960s, Corgi produced a set of three models in the early 1980s, each driven by one of the main characters: Fred or Wilma Flintstone, or Barney Rubble. All had plastic figures. This is Wilma's Coupe, which runs on four concealed plastic wheels, and again it was about $10.

    Film and Television Star Cars 3 Corgi Junior Chopper Squad Bell Jetranger helicopter with floats. Both the main and tail rotors rotate.

    Next up is a Bell Jetranger helicopter from the Australian TV series Chopper Squad, about a team of surf life savers at an Australian beach. The model has white plastic floats (other versions of the model had a different lower fuselage, with the more common skid undercarriage), and the main rotor blades fold so the model will fit inside its packaging - this is common among diecast helicopter models. There was also a larger version. I am not sure now how much this one cost, perhaps $5.

    Film and Television Star Cars 4 The Hot Wheels mainline toy version of the Aston Martin DB10, built expressly for the Bond film Spectre.

    From the most recent Bond film, Spectre (2015) is the Aston Martin DB10. Hot Wheels have included it in both their main toy line and in the more detailed and higher priced HW Entertainment series. Very few of these Hot Wheels models have any working features, and this applies to the DB10. Oddly, the model is not included in the HW Screen Time series of film and TV models, but is part of the HW Showroom series, although it still comes on a card with the Spectre title in the corner.

    Film and Television Star Cars 5 The 2016 Hot Wheels Yellow Submarine is much smaller than the 1969 Corgi version, but both run on concealed wheels. The model can be found on both long and short cards.

    Yellow Submarine (1968) was an animated film starring The Beatles. Corgi released a regular model of the submarine in 1969, which has been reissued several times with slight differences; but they never did a small Juniors version. In 2016 Hot Wheels finally gave the world a small, Matchbox-sized model of the Yellow Submarine. Like the bigger Corgi model it runs on concealed wheels. This one was included in the HW Screen Time series. This proved a very hard model to find in the shops, but I did manage to get a 2016 model on a long card; and a 2017 short card version from my local supermarket. The only difference in the models seems to be a very slight variation in the shade of yellow used for the lower hull, which is so slight it is only apparent when the models are studied side by side. The main difference lies in the design of the cards. Hot Wheels begin releasing their new models late in the preceding year, which is why I obtained a model dated 2017 in November 2016. These models were both $3 each, the usual Hot Wheels price in NZ. I have seen them at fairs for $10, and $15 for the less common short card version; prices which I refuse to pay for current models.

    Film and Television Star Cars 6 The popularity of video games has seen a number of tie-in models being produced, these Hot Wheels models are for the games Halo and Minecraft.

    I am not a video game player, and know little of the subject, however Hot Wheels have released a number of video game related models over the last few years. It seems logical to count these models as Star Cars, especially as several games have been turned into movies. Hot Wheels clearly share this view, and have included these models in their Screen Time series. The models shown here are for the games Halo and Minecraft, and again cost just $3 each. There is also a separate series of Halo models, on special cards. Other game related models have been the Red Bird and green Minion Pig from Angry Birds; Super Mario Brothers; and various Atari games as part of one of the higher priced premium lines.


    Paul Brent Adams book Film and Television Star Cars is available for purchase now.

  • Steam railways and a new generation by Stuart Hylton

    Not long ago, I was on the platform at Oxford station when an express train, drawn by a steam locomotive, came through at speed. For a moment, all activity on the platform stopped – it was as if we had all been transported back in time. Another moment and it was gone, and all that was left were wisps of steam and the happy smiles on the faces of the travelling public. Surely no piece of our industrial heritage has a warmer place in the nation’s affections than the steam railway engine.

    For no other piece of machinery comes closer to having the attributes of a living, sentient creature. One of the first people to witness a primitive prototype of a railway locomotive was Thomas Grey in 1812, and he certainly saw the kinship between these early ‘walking horses’ and their flesh and blood counterparts:

    The superabundant steam is emitted at each stroke with a noise something similar to the hard breathing or snorting of a horse – the escaping steam representing the breath of his nostrils and the deception altogether aided by the regular motion of the beam.

    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 1 A safety valve, doing its job. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    Small wonder too that another pioneer, Richard Trevithick, the unacknowledged father of the steam locomotive, found the best advertisement for his engine Catch me who can was to offer a speed trial against the finest race horse Newmarket had to offer.

    I belong to a generation whose childhood memories include a railway that was almost entirely driven by steam. The sights, sounds and smells of it are still fresh in my mind and for me a steam engine evokes a whole host of memories. From standing on another platform and enjoying a little childhood frisson of fear, as a Great Western express thundered through on its way to the West Country or Wales, to being my own master of the universe as I created my own little railway world on the sitting room carpet, courtesy of Messrs Hornby and Triang.

    But my generation is growing old and those that follow will not have the same store of memories, on which an attachment to steam can be built. How will they view steam locomotion? Will it just be another historical curiosity, as far removed from their direct experience as the stagecoach or the penny-farthing bicycle? Will they even be remotely interested? Perhaps more to the point, how many of them will be interested enough to put themselves through the lengthy and demanding process of learning to drive or fire a steam locomotive?


    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 2 No. 31806. This U class locomotive started life as something rather different - a K Class tank engine. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    Since retiring from my day job I have devoted part of my time to being part of the education team at the Didcot Railway Centre, home of the Great Western Society. Our main activity is introducing parties of up to a hundred or more school children to the world that the steam railways helped to create. One of the things this brings home to myself and my fellow guides is how far the world has changed in our own lifetimes. We find ourselves having to explain what coal is and, for many of our car-centred young visitors, the very idea of travelling anywhere by rail is a novelty.

    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 3 Gladstone, the first in a class of thirty-six locomotives built for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway from 1882. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    But one thing I have learned from my experience is that heritage railways offer a rich potential for engaging young people’s interest and a way into a variety of areas of the school curriculum. For history, there is the story of the industrial revolution, which could not have happened in the way it did without the railways. It gives an insight into the lives of all classes of the Victorians, from the Royal family to the poorest travellers, enduring the harsh conditions of early third-class journeys. For all of them, the railways changed their lives in a way that no other development, before or since, has done. For more modern history, a staged ‘evacuation’, with the children being assigned to new ‘foster carers’ at the end of the journey, can provide the basis for a wide range of teaching about the home front during the Second World War.

    For the sciences, we have the physics and mechanics of how steam engines work and the dramatic development of that technology, which meant that the main operating principles of the steam locomotive for the next hundred years had been worked out within about a decade of the opening of the first modern railway, in 1830. Then there are the engineering feats of the giants of railway building such as Brunel and the Stephenson’s, which redefined the boundaries of the possible in railway building.

    For those of us who care about the future of steam locomotion, one of our priorities must surely be to help educators to make the most of this rich history, and use it to fire the enthusiasm of a new generation of steam railwaymen.


    Stuart Hylton's book Steam Engines and Steam Railways: A Young Person's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • From Horses to Artics: The Tales Behind the Transport by Nick Corble

    A book on the history of fairground transport? It sounded like the sort of thing that might feature at the end of Have I Got News For You? – I was going to need some convincing. As it turned out, not that much convincing, as my co-author, Allan Ford, is a compelling story-teller, as well as being a fount of knowledge on all things connected with the travelling funfair. The more we spoke, the clearer it became that there was the opportunity to put some of those stories onto paper, and the result is A History of Fairground Transport: From Horses to Artics.

    Once a travelling showman himself, Allan was largely responsible for reviving interest in the Wall of Death motorbike attraction at the turn of the century, when he restored and travelled with a wall after a period when the spectacle had died out in Britain. These days he spends much of his time chronicling the showman’s way of life, as well as building up an impressive collection of fairground memorabilia, while at the same time being active in safeguarding the safety of rides.

    We had worked together before, both on You Can’t Wear Out an Indian Scout: Indians and the Wall of Death, an Amberley title that underwent a re-issue earlier this year, and on canal-related books (a passion we share). Collaboration is not for every author, but in our case it seems to work. My role, as I see it, is to streamline the process of extracting the requisite knowledge and details we need for the book, and project managing the task of getting thoughts onto the page. Allan brings the knowledge (and the treasure trove of material), and his role is to bring this to the table and, with gentle nudging from me, bring it to life.

    A History of Fairground Transport From Horses to Artics pic 1 The earliest form of showman's transport was the simple handcart. (c. A History of Fairground Transport, Amberley Publishing)

    Once we started to investigate the potential of the title, it became clear that there was an opportunity to use transport as a vehicle (as it were!) to tell a number of other parallel stories. Perhaps the most significant of these was the history of funfairs themselves and how they have met the need inherent amongst all human beings for a little light relief from the predictability of their lives. This history goes back nearly a thousand years, to the Charter Fairs established in the 1200s, when a showman’s two legs and his back, and if he was lucky a barrow, were the only the transport available to him as he travelled around from site to site.

    The sorts of people who adopted this way of life, and the conditions in which they operated, in turn provided an insight into a part of history beyond the traditional curriculum of kings, queens, empires and battles. A sense of how the vast majority of the population lived their lives, seen through the prism of the diversions that occasionally lifted them out of those lives, even if for only a brief few days a year.

    A History of Fairground Transport From Horses to Artics pic 2 A belt-driven dynamo, providing the power for illumination. (c. A History of Fairground Transport, Amberley Publishing)

    As showmen were able to afford horses their shows got bigger and they were able to take their families on the road with them. Even this detail revealed a deeper understanding of the world ordinary folk inhabited. Of how towns and villages had grown to a size where they offered a support network of blacksmiths to conduct running repairs and tenant farmers willing to let the horses graze in their fields while the showmen did their thing.

    Then, as now, horses could be reliable one minute and temperamental the next, offering the potential to release catastrophe if they bolted, or even died, unexpectedly. Little wonder then that showmen were early adopters of steam once it came around with buying and ornamenting traction engines, incorporating their sound and fury into the show. Obviating the need for friendly farmers but still locking into the network of blacksmiths for assistance when required.

    The more I learned of the history of fairground transport, the more the adaptability of showmen came to the fore. As industrialisation gathered pace, so demands changed and opportunities for entertainment widened. Showmen had to respond to these changes, whilst at the same time organising themselves to meet the tightening grip of regulation. Forces beyond their control, such as world wars, also brought the need to respond. Showmen proved resourceful in using redundant military equipment as the basis of their attractions, as they needed to harness the potential of petrol and diesel engines.

    This was particularly the case as the world tried to get back to normal after 1945, with most military equipment after the first left on the battlefields. Very quickly however, perhaps the most challenging period on the evolution of the travelling funfair and the transport needed to make it possible began – the clue, after all, is in the name; without transport there is no travelling funfair.

    A History of Fairground Transport From Horses to Artics pic 3 (c. A History of Fairground Transport, Amberley Publishing)

    Changing tastes and the need for ever more inventiveness in the face of a consumer revolution were reflected in showmen’s transport, with old military platforms giving way to converted commercial vehicles and to today’s massive articulated lorries. Throughout all this change however many traditions have survived, including the brotherhood of showmen and their families. One of the parallel stories we were able to tell is how showmen’s accommodation has evolved during history from sleeping in a convenient hedge, through bender tents and converted gypsy caravans to ‘living wagons’ and today’s modern homes on wheels.

    So, what looked on first glance to be a fairly dry subject, turned out to offer a fascinating microcosm of social, technological and history change, all sandwiched in under a hundred pages, many of them graced with lavish illustrations in both colour and black and white. Suitably emboldened, Allan and I are now turning our thoughts to our next project: From Frost Fairs to Funfairs, a history not just of fairground transport, but of the funfair itself.


    Allan Ford & Nick Corble's book A History of Fairground Transport: From Horses to Artics is available to purchase now.

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