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  • Lichfield Pubs by Neil Coley

    The British pub is a unique institution. So-called pubs can be found in other countries but they are never quite the same as the real thing. We all have our own opinion as to what makes an ideal pub. Whether it is a venue to meet and chat with our friends or a refuge from the world with a quiet corner, perhaps in front of a roaring fire. It could be a favourite haunt where a great meal can be had or simply somewhere to relax with a packet of crisps and a pint of good ale. There are pubs for all tastes.

    Lichfield Pubs 1 The Bowling Green (Lichfield Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    A city such as Lichfield has many pubs, some of which are so old that their origins are lost in the mists of time. Today about thirty or so public houses can be found in or just outside the city centre. Over the years many more have disappeared. Indeed in the nineteenth century there were over eighty inns, taverns or simple beer houses in the city. Some of these were forced to close by local licensing authorities worried about the number of outlets selling alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was a force to be reckoned with. Others faded out of history for other diverse reasons. Some closed due to simple economics or the poor state of their buildings. One was closed after locals objected to its use as a brothel and another ancient pub reportedly fell down in the middle of the night after building work had been carried out.

    Some of the oldest pubs in Lichfield are ancient coaching inns. Back in the eighteenth century the city of Lichfield stood on the main north/south coaching route and in those days the city would have been incredibly busy with the comings and goings of laden stagecoaches clattering along its cobbled streets. Bird Street was the main coaching inn area of the city with the Swan and the George being the foremost ones. People often broke their journeys in Lichfield and stopped at such places for good meals and beds for the night. Another old coaching inn, the King’s Head, is also situated in Bird Street. It was here in 1705 that the Staffordshire regiment was founded, an army regiment that would subsequently take part in many important conflicts down the centuries.

    Lichfield’s most famous son and the writer of the renowned dictionary, Samuel Johnson, having made his name in London, often returned to his home city. When he visited Lichfield Johnson used to stay at the Three Crowns, which just happened to be next door to his childhood home (now the excellent Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum). Johnson’s love of the Three Crowns’ ale is well documented and indeed up until the early part of the nineteenth century most pubs in the city would have brewed their own beer with Lichfield rivaling nearby Burton as a brewing centre. Sadly the Three Crowns, magnificent in its day, is now no longer with us although the actual building still provides some evidence of its coaching inn past.

    Lichfield Pubs 2 The Bridge Tavern c. 1906 (Lichfield Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    My book Lichfield Pubs examines the history of the existing and the extinct pubs of the city. My main objective in writing it was to produce something that was very informative with historical stories that had never been gathered together in one place before, but also to write something that was readable and, hopefully, fun. It required me to do a great amount of research in the local records’ office where I accessed old newspapers, documents and books. As a result I was able to not only write about the famous people who interacted with the inns and taverns of the city (as well as Johnson there were individuals like the writers George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Farquhar) but also stories about the unsung people of the city.

    Most of the photographs in the book are of city pubs today as well as buildings that are still there but now have a different usage. I was extremely pleased at how the photographs have been reproduced in the book. (I can now, rather grandly, think of myself as not only a published author but as a published photographer!) The book also includes a number of historic photos of Lichfield pubs and I was very pleased to be able to delve into the St Mary’s Heritage Centre’s photographic collection for some wonderful views of bygone Lichfield and the old pubs of the city.

    Pubs are, without doubt, one of the great British inventions and a lot can be learned by studying their history and relevance to their local communities. In Lichfield there are, I believe, some of the most interesting pubs in the country and they are just one of the many reasons to visit this great cathedral city.


    Neil Coley's new book Lichfield Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • A History of St Mawes Sailing Club by Nigel Sharp

    I was born and brought up in St Mawes and, although I lived “up country” for thirty-five years, St Mawes was always “home”. It was probably inevitable that would I move back one day and I eventually did so in 2007.

    A History of St Mawes 1 Taken at the Marieholm/18 Footer Championship in 2011. (Photo by Graham Pinkney, A History of St Mawes Sailing Club, Amberley Publishing)

    I have been a member of St Mawes Sailing Club since 1955 when I was less than a year old (and my five siblings also joined at similar ages) and so it seemed natural to get involved with the running of the club almost as soon as I moved back to St Mawes. Initially I was Sailing Secretary (while also becoming the rather grandly-named Chairman of the Refurbishment Committee around the same time) and in 2011 I became Commodore. In doing so I was very much following in the family footsteps as my father was the first post-war Commodore and my brother was Commodore in the 1970s – neither for very long, however, and I am pleased to say that I am now the longest serving Commodore in my family!

    A History of St Mawes 2 In 2006 Classic Sailing and StMSC organised the first Pilot Cutter Review, a sereis of weekend races adn social events. (Photo by Nigel Sharp, A History of St Mawes Sailing Club, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2010 I ended my career in the boatbuilding industry and started out as a freelance marine writer/photographer, and so I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked me to compile and write this picture-based book, A History of St Mawes Sailing Club. The process was extremely enjoyable and satisfying, and I inevitably learnt a lot about the club. There was a fair bit I was unable to find out, however, as there seem to be periods in the history of the club (especially the early days) when very little is known. The book seems to have been well received by many of our club members which is obviously very pleasing but also a little surprising. “Well, I knew all that already” was the sort of response I half expected from some of the old stalwarts (by which I mean the old stalwarts who didn't move away for most of their adult lives, as I did). On the contrary, several have told me that they have learnt a lot from reading the book.

    But of my three books now published by Amberley, the one that gives me the most satisfaction is Troubled Waters: Leisure Boating and the Second World War. The reason for this is that I started researching it about four years ago, with no idea if it would ever come to anything, if I would ever actually write it, and if anyone would ever publish it. I put an enormous amount of time and effort into it and the whole experience made me think much more than ever before about the horrors of war and, in particular, how lucky my generation has been to be able to choose to avoid it completely. Somehow that thought is particularly poignant (not that this is relevant to my book – in fact it’s even the wrong war) the 1st of July 2016 which is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in which 19,240 British soldiers were killed just on that first day.


    Nigel Sharp's new book A History of St Mawes Sailing Club is available for purchase now.

  • Dolls' Houses: A History and Collector's Guide by Moi Ali

    As a kid, I longed for a dolls’ house. Growing up in a one-parent family, money was tight and my dream of owning one had to wait several decades – until my forties, to be precise. Some might find it strange to hear of an adult buying a toy, but most collectors of dolls’ houses and miniatures don’t regard dolls’ houses as playthings, but as historic or artistic miniature buildings containing authentically-styled, scaled and period furnishings. In fact, the very first dolls’ houses were also aimed at adults.

    Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria commissioned the Munich Baby House, the first recorded dolls’ house, in 1557. A “baby” house was not a house for babies or children, nor even a baby or small house. This one was a four storey miniaturised version of one of his grand ducal residences. With a garden, stable, barn and dairy, it was positively palatial. Sadly it was destroyed by fire in 1674.

    Doll House 1 This modern German dolls' house looks very different to the early Bavarian 'baby' houses of the sixteenth century. (Doll's Houses, Amberley Publishing)

    The world’s earliest surviving dolls’ house is on display in Bavaria. Dating to 1611, it is in the German National Museum in Nuremburg. Other early dolls’ houses are also in that museum, including the Stromer House, dating to 1639, and two later 17th century houses, the Kress House and the Baumler House. In the UK, a Nuremburg house dating to 1673 can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London.

    Exquisite replica houses commissioned from the finest craftsmen were proudly displayed in the grand mansions of Germany, Holland and Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries. These bijou buildings contained fine furnishings, paintings, porcelain, silverwares and everything else that could be found in a stately home at that time. These baby houses served an educational purpose, teaching aristocratic girls the basics of running a grand house and keeping servants.

    Dutch baby houses were not what we would recognise today as dolls’ houses. They were effectively cabinets containing furnished miniature rooms, and are referred to as cabinet houses for that reason. Early Dutch houses can be seen in Utrecht (Petronella de la Court’s cabinet house of around 1670); and in Amsterdam, Petronella Dunois’ 1676 house.

    Doll House 2 Made for the daughter of merchant George Henry Loxdale of Kingsland House, Aigburth, Liverpool, this dolls' house is believed to be a copy of the family home. (Doll's Houses, Amberley Publishing)

    Early British dolls’ houses were also in cabinet form, although by the 18th century, we adopted the German taste for a more architectural style of dolls’ house. The earliest surviving British house, Ann Sharp’s Baby House of around 1695, is privately-owned and in the form of a cupboard rather than a house.

    Some say that these early miniature buildings were called baby houses because they were baby or small versions of big houses. Others take the view that as dolls were known at that time as babies, a house for dolls would be known as a baby house.

    Dolls’ houses enjoyed their heyday during the Victorian era. Mass production meant that instead of having to employ a skilled carpenter to produce a bespoke miniature building, families could walk into a toy shop and buy a more affordable machine-made dolls’ house. Hamley’s iconic Regent Street toy shop opened in 1881, and all big towns and cities would have a toy store of some sort.

    Dolls’ houses could also be purchased mail order, using the relatively new postal service. A newspaper advert from 1888 advertised Dimple Villa, “A real doll’s house for one shilling”. Postage and carriage for this flat-pack house would set you back another 4d!

    The manufacturer of Dimple Villa, London-based Hinde’s, had a range of popular shilling toys. Its shilling dolls’ house was advertised as a “quite wonderful toy for the money”, being “a most attractive double fronted residence” with “imitation red brick and stone facings, bay windows, green Venetian blinds.” We think of Victorian dolls’ houses as a taste of nostalgia, but to the Victorians these houses were bang up-to-date. The shilling house had “interior decoration all in the modern style. Dados, bright wallpapers &c.”

    The popularity of dolls’ houses created a market for affordable miniature furniture, furnishings and other items. Many were made by small family businesses in Britain and Germany, and may have been produced as a cottage industry using exploited child labour. Home-made items were also incorporated, some crafted by doting parents and others by the girls who owned the dolls’ houses. The average Victorian twelve-year-old girl was quite an accomplished needlewoman, well able to sew a small pair of curtains, make bedding and create a little tapestry rug.

    Doll House 3 Made in the Edwardian era, this English painted wooden dolls' house reflects the architectural style of a typical middle-class Edwardian home. (Doll's Houses, Amberley Publishing)

    The mother of all dolls’ houses is Queen Mary’s, created for her by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924. It has electricity, running water and functioning lifts. It contains Doulton and Wedgwood porcelain; oil paintings by respected artists; crystal chandeliers and marble-topped gilt wood tables; and a library of original books by prominent authors including Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and Sir James Barrie. (Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw refused to write miniature books for the Queen.) Each tiny book has a bookplate drawn by E.H. Shepherd, illustrator of Winnie the Pooh.

    Well into the 20th century, mass production did not lead to the extinction of home-made dolls’ houses. Fathers and grandfathers continued to make bespoke little (and not so little) houses for their daughters and granddaughters – and still make them, to this day, in sheds and garages across the land.

    Some of these home-made dolls’ houses tell a story of social history. A modernist dolls’ house in the Jewish Museum, London, was made by the son of an East End furniture maker for his daughter. Based on an actual house in Angmering-on-Sea, it demonstrates the aspirations of a Jewish community growing up in cramped housing in London’s East End. During the interwar period they started to build new communities in the suburbs, which offered more space and better housing.

    The Art Deco house of the 1930s was striking for its angular departure from the traditional, fussy Victorian and Edwardian styles. Streamlined houses in white, with the air of ocean liners, typified the era. The clean lines synonymous with Deco were reflected in mass-produced miniature houses such as the Number 53 by Tri-ang.

    Doll House 4 Internationally renowned miniaturist model-makers Mulvaney and Rogers made this room box, the French Room, for A World in Miniature Museum in Carlisle. this is a copy of one of the rooms at the Palace of Versailles near Paris. (Doll's Houses, Amberley Publishing)

    From the 1930s to the 1960s, there was a trend for home-built houses – not scratch-built, but models constructed at home using either commercially-available plans from leading companies such as Hobbies, or dolls’ house kits. Hobbies also sold components such as doors and windows, which could be incorporated into home-made houses for a more professional finish. Up until the 1960s, dolls’ houses were made from wood, sometimes with tin components such as windows.

    By the 1960s and ‘70s, plastic was being widely used in dolls’ house production, and by the 1980s, MDF too – although quality dolls’ houses have always been constructed from wood, and timber continues to be used today.

    In the 1980s, dolls’ house collecting (antique, vintage and new) became an increasingly popular adult pursuit. So when I bought my first one in the late 1990s, I was following a growing trend that continues today.

    032433 Dolls' Houses CVR.indd

    Moi Ali's new book Dolls' Houses: A History and Collector's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • 25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales by Mike Appleton

    Pint and A Walk...

    A long walk and the beacon of a pub goes hand in hand to many of us. Ideas are formed in Inns, conversations become firm plans and locals become friends. It’s also good to put something back into the communities we walk around.

    This book features pubs that cater specifically for walkers and have historical and cultural importance - with a detailed walk and suggested route to get those tastebuds going.

    Choosing twenty-five of what I considered to be the best was a hard job … well, someone had to do it. I met locals, landlords and real characters. I was told stories of ghosts, snow drifts, shootouts and quirks. To get on my list they had to be walker friendly; but that’s not a surprise in an area famed for its countryside. They also had to have character and, naturally, a damn good walk nearby. They also needed to be able to tolerate a very wet and muddy author following said rambles.

    I used many of the pubs from my own travels in the Dales over the last three decades. Several were very familiar. The Wheatsheaf in Ingleton has been the end point of many a walk and caving trip. The George & Dragon in Dent stems from my time as a child in the village hearing my dad sneak out of our friend’s cottage while I pretended to be asleep. Others came as recommendations such as the Fountaine in Linton and The Farmers Arms in Muker, and several were just the result of when preparation meets opportunity – serendipity.


    Five of the Best

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 5 No smoking, unless it’s from this.

    1) The New Inn, Clapham

    This grade II pub was traditionally a place for cavers to meet and share stories. It is next door to the Cave Rescue Organisation in the Dales village of Clapham. It has been revamped to attract people who aren't just cavers – a dwindling number these days!

    Originally, this pub was a farmhouse in the early 1700s but was covered into a coaching inn around 1745. In 1807, an extra floor was added to make it four storeys. The new decor aims to bring this out, being fresh inside and bright without removing some of the original features such as large tables where people would gather to swap those caving stories.

    The proof is in the eating… or drinking and suffice to say the menu is top class as is the beer.

    The suggested walk takes you past Ingleborough Cave, Gaping Gill and on to Ingleborough.


    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 1 Lots of walking to be had from Muker – Kisdon is a superb choice.

    2) The Farmers Arms, Muker

    “Remember when pubs used to be real pubs? Places where people would go to unwind and socialise with friends, drink good beer and eat hearty wholesome food … ”

    The marketing from The Farmers Arms in Muker couldn’t ring more true. This is a gem of pub in a beautiful Dales village. Darren and Emily Abbey took over the establishment in 2010 and have made it into a real destination for Dales walkers, whilst maintaining its history and atmosphere. They incorporated the walk from Keld, over Kisdon Hill, to the pub on their wedding day in 2008, well before they had the opportunity to take ownership.

    Muker in Old Norse means ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’ and it will be clear if you follow the suggested walk – to Kisdon Falls – why that is apt. The Norse settled here as it is near the River Swale - a perfect spot to establish crop growing. Originally, it had a chapel of ease in 1580 (restored in 1891) which was rebuilt and a graveyard consecrated. The tower, nave and chancel all date from this period. The village shop was built in 1680 and used to be the vicarage.

    The suggested walk takes you to Kisdon Falls.


    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 2 The George & Dragon is effectively the marker point for two roads out of the village.

    3) The George And Dragon, Dent

    Walk through Dent and you’re transported back to the Dales and country life how it used to be.

    The small village with its cobbled narrow streets and the smell of coal and wood fires, give a reflection on what remote Yorkshire Dales life would have been like many years ago. It’s this charm that makes it a very popular destination for visitors and walkers.

    More importantly, it has a great pub in the George and Dragon. Much of my ‘Dalean’ life has focused around this pub, situated between two roads in the middle of the village. As a child I would visit Dent with my father whose friend owned Ivy Cottage at the back of the Dragon. As I went to bed in an evening, tired from walking up Flintergill – a gorge nearby – or walking the River Dee, he would sneak out the front door with his mate John and have a few beers in the pub. I would wake the next morning none the wiser, only realising in my later years what had caused my dad’s thick head; the local brew in the George.

    Local ale is still the key and the main reason the pub is an important stop on an walker’s trip. The grade II listed George is the tap house for the Dent Brewery and source of many a hangover over the last few years! It is brewed just up the road in Cowgill and is internationally recognised. Originally, the idea was for the staple Dent beer to be sold at the Sun Inn in Dent, but as word spread so did demand and the brewery was at capacity. Now, it makes around six real ales - including my favourite, the blonde Golden Fleece. Ramsbottom is good too as is Kamikaze. The latter is exactly how it sounds. Say goodbye to any feeling in your body if you drink more than four!

    Originally, the pub stands on the site of Dent’s marketplace where a market cross and stocks would have been housed. It has a distinctive V shape because it is at a intersection with two roads coming narrowly to one point. It began life as a mill building, some two storeys high, but a third tier was added in the early 1800s. The beer was brewed in a local shop opposite wth the water taken from a fountain which was the village’s only source at one time. Now that fountain is a memorial to Adam Sedgwick (22 March 1785) one of the founders of modern geology.

    The suggested walk takes you up flintergill.


    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 3 The original Woolpack from Emmerdale.

    4) The Falcon Inn, Arncliffe

    Quirks abound in this fantastic pub based in the tranquil and sheltered Arncliffe - but this isn’t a gimmicky venue to be shunned - it is a pilgrimage all walkers should make!

    The Falcon was the original Woolpack in long running soap Emmerdale until filming relocated to Esholt in 1976. The ITV programme shot their outside scenes around the village - no doubt because it reflected Yorkshire life perfectly. The pub for instance is ivy clad with mullioned bay windows poking out where they can to enhance its look. The village follows a similar theme in effect making it an ideal film set.

    But it’s the way it serves its beer is the real treat here and well worth the journey. Whilst other beers are available, the ale of choice, Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, is served in the time honoured traditional way … from a jug. It is decanted from the cask in the back room and then poured from that jug, when ordered, into your glass. It gives the ale a chance to breathe and certainly brings out its flavour at room temperature.

    The suggested walk takes you to Malham... and more pubs!

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 4 The upside-down protest.

    5) The Black Bull, Reeth

    Classed as the unofficial capital of Swaledale, Reeth is a charming village in the north east.

    The Black Bull dates from 1680 and is the village’s oldest pub. You’ll notice it because the sign above the front entrance is upside down in an apparent two-fingered salute to National Park officials. Previous landlord Bob Sykes attempted to tidy up the exterior of the pub by removing its render to expose the original 250-year-old walls and to comply with English Tourist Board accommodation grading requirements. He was also worried about it being a danger to the public because the the existing facia was crumbling so much.

    The Park felt differently though and threatened legal action if it wasn’t replaced. They said it would have had some kind of render years ago and wanted it to be keeping with the original format. Upset at this, someone local turned the sign upside down in protest at the attitude of park officials - and although it has moved from its original spot, it is still that way round.

    The Black Bull won’t be to everyone’s tastes but is a true local pub!

    The suggested walks takes you along the river!


    Mike Appleton's new book 25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales is available for purchase now.

  • Automating the Northern Line by Owen Smithers

    This book begins with a potted history of the construction of the Northern Line and its various stages of expansion I hope you will find as absorbing as I did.

    The book features thirty-two years of signalling experience from boy to man, experiences like so many others who I was later to befriend, and eventually worked with so many in the last twenty or so years until the author's departure. Whilst each signal box operated in the same fashion, all had their own peculiarities – no two were the same. This is what made the work interesting.

    Automating the Northern Line 1 Morden Signal Box, 1955. The furthest drum sets up a train's platform number, the other the train's destination. (Automating the Northern Line)

    It was unfortunate that the general public in the period of 1958 to 1970 had to suffer mainly due to unforeseen circumstances. Unknown to them control staff suffered even more in their attempts to correct situations they were not responsible for.

    The attempts to relate the operating experiences of twenty-six signal boxes do not include the two on the Northern & City line, which operated between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. Learning and retaining the working knowledge of the whole of the Northern Line and its variety of operations was interesting. It will give the reader some idea of how, first as a signalman, then as relief signalman, it was all taken in. Now having retained all this knowledge, it was put to use when experiencing the break up of individual controlled areas a piece at a time which were transferred into a new control area, with restricted working conditions for eleven years. Whilst the first attempts of automation were making an appearance over the whole line none of us had ever experienced this type of push button operation, but we learnt with the help of our background knowledge. The complications were unimaginable since work was begun piece meal here and there along the line making the operation of passing information on to those signal boxes still manned stressful. As the work continued it was to create vast gaps between control areas that taxed operators to the limit. In 1969 the whole control operation was moved once more overnight into a new building that was just as stressful and complicated. It was made even more difficult since it was to be a while until the northern end of both branches were completed and added to our control. The room was also shared with the Victoria Line that also became our responsibility as the line was being constructed.

    Automating the Northern Line 2 Colindale during an early shift, with myself at the controls, 1956. (Automating the Northern Line)

    Working with long standing friends who were either formal signalmen from closed signal boxes or the lines relief signalmen, was to create a great team of work mates. Over the years we were joined by others from other Lines who moulded in making up what I always felt was a great family. You realise what a bond it was to become when the line was experiencing difficulties. It was during these moments when everyone banded together completing tasks to help as though they were thoughts already in your own head – it was uncanny.

    Obtaining an invitation to visit the very new control centre in 2015 was an eye opener that caused all the memories of what we all went through previously flooding my head and now to discover complete silence in the whole room. With all signals as we knew it having all been removed, a feat beyond our imagination during the 50's and 60's. The whole line now really is very automatic in its operations. The technicalities are all in the book relating as to how everything is now set up.

    Automating the Northern Line 3 Camden Town Kennington desk, 1970. (Automating the Northern Line)

    The hundred or so photographs taken should clearly illustrate to the reader what it was like operating areas during a very busy service, plus those many infrequent moments when things were not as they should be.

    This work is dedicated to all the men involved in working during the complete and final automation on the Northern Line and those unnamed who followed.


    Owen Smithers new book Automating the Northern Line is available for purchase now.

  • What was Stuart Britain? by Andrea Zuvich

    Stuart Britain was a remarkable period in British history – a period which followed fast upon the heels of the ever-popular Tudor dynasty. There is sometimes confusion over the time period and geographical region “Stuart Britain” encompasses. This confusion invariably leads to irrational offense being taken by some who think Scotland is being slighted by what they perceive to be the disregard of the events and people who made up the whole Stewart dynasty. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

    To clarify, although the Stewart (Stuart) family reigned over Scotland since 1371, Stuart Britain, by contrast, refers specifically to the time period in which that family ruled over both Scotland and England (Ireland and Wales). This period began from the death of the last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became King James I of England until 1714, when his great-great-granddaughter Queen Anne died. Had James remained in Scotland to rule over the Three Kingdoms, this period would naturally have had more of a focus on Scotland. He chose to move his family (his wife, Anna of Denmark and their children Henry Frederick, Elizabeth, and Charles) to England, and therefore the focus rests more on England since that was the base from which the Stuarts reigned.

    Stuart Britain 1 The execution of King Charles I on 30 January 1649, outside the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace, sent shockwaves throughout both the kingdoms of Stuart Britain and Europe. (Courtesy of the British Library Flickr)

    The Stuarts who ruled from 1603 to 1714 remain a truly controversial dynasty, not least because their reigns witnessed some very historic events. James I’s reign included the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, for example, and the death of his eldest son and heir, Henry Frederick in 1612. As a result of the latter circumstance, his surviving son, Charles, became Charles I upon James’s death in 1625, and Charles’s reputation is usually that of either a tyrant or martyr – though as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The bloody English Civil Wars, which began during his reign in 1642 (there were three civil wars, ending finally in 1651) led to his public execution in 1649.

    This major event was followed by the Interregnum and Cromwellian Protectorate, which in turn was followed by the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 with King Charles II, who has become more famous for his love life than for the politics of his reign – the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London of 1666 occurred during his time. Although Charles II had numerous offspring with his many mistresses, he and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, had such trouble in bringing their children to term that by the time of his death in 1685 there was no heir. Charles’s brother, James Duke of York, ascended the throne as King James II – but the political landscape was such that several factors led to his exile and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ which saw the Dutchman William III of Orange successfully invade Britain and reign with his Stuart wife, Mary II, until her death in 1694, at which point he ruled alone until his death in 1702.

    It was this diarchy of William and Mary which has arguably proved most controversial. James II and his wife Mary of Modena had a legitimate male heir, and to this day, there are those (the Jacobites) who maintain that James and his son’s line were illegally taken from them because of their religion: James, you see, was a devout Catholic, and William a staunch Protestant (a Calvinist, in fact). Rulers had lost their thrones in the past, certainly, but that a sovereign and his legitimate descendants could be stripped from the line of succession because of their religion was extraordinary.

    Stuart Britain 2 The Queen's House, Greenwich, was designed by Inigo Jones for Anne od Denmark and completed in 1636 for her daughter-in-law, Henrietta Maria. (Author's collection)

    Royal family drama aside, great changes occurred during the seventeenth century, in particular during the 1640s, when radical new political and religious ideologies spread – resulting in the formation of new groups such as the Quakers, the Diggers, the Levellers, and more. Rightly or wrongly, some people questioned the authority of the monarch, parliament fought for more power by reducing that of the sovereign. The power held by parliament increased substantially during the Stuart period, ultimately creating a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign’s powers were greatly diminished.

    It was during the era of Stuart Britain that some of the greatest names in literature flourished, including Shakespeare, Donne, and Dryden. Brilliant architecture was also created during this time, designed by the talented Inigo Jones (Banqueting House, the Queen’s House, etc) and Christopher Wren (St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Old Royal Naval College, etc). Art reached heights of sublime majesty and beauty with the works of Rubens, van Dyck, and Verrio, among others. Music transitioned from the late Renaissance into Baroque, which peaked in the latter half of the period with Henry Purcell.

    Stuart Britain has something for every history lover. So come join me and learn about A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain!


    Andrea Zuvich's new book A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain is available for purchase now.

  • The Beauty of Her Age 'Yolande Duvernay' by Jenifer Roberts

    The Beauty of Her Age 1 church Cambridge The church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge. (© John Hagger)

    The Catholic church of our Lady and the English Martyrs is a major landmark in the city of Cambridge. Completed in 1890 when it was known as the pro-cathedral because of its size, the church was built at the sole expense of a Frenchwoman, Mrs Yolande Lyne Stephens.

    Countless scandals in Victorian England involved sex; others involved money; and the juiciest scandals involved both sex and money. Of these, the story of Yolande Lyne Stephens, the ballerina who became the richest woman in England, is perhaps the most extraordinary.

    Born in poverty in Paris in 1812, Yolande Duvernay entered the School of Dance when she was six years old. Under the control of a powerful stage mother, she was sold for sex when she reached puberty, and after the revolution of July 1830 toppled the Bourbon monarchy, she became the mistress of a new director of the Paris Opéra.

    The Beauty of Her Age 2 Yolande by Princess Victoria Yolande Duvernay in ballet costume, painted ‘from recollection’ by Princess Victoria, 5 April 1837. (© Royal Collection Trust, The Beauty of Her Age, Amberley Publishing)

    Described as ‘the most ravishing woman you could wish to see … with charming eyes, an adorably turned leg, and a figure of perfect elegance’, she became a star of the Opéra at the age of nineteen. She conquered London too, appearing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, and soon became the favourite dancer of Princess Victoria.

    In 1837, her favours were bought by the sole heir to the largest industrial fortune in England, an unassuming young man who paid the equivalent of £1.5 million in today’s money for the privilege of keeping her as his mistress. This was scandalous enough – but society was scandalised still further when she trapped him into marriage a few years later. It was acceptable – if improper – to keep a mistress with a sexual history; to marry her was social disaster.

    There is a rumour in Cambridge, still prevalent today, that Yolande’s husband made his money by the invention of moveable eyes for dolls. The legend had its roots in the words ‘Dolls’ eyes for idols’, a catchphrase used by Protestants in the city offended at the building of a large Catholic church. The words referred to the manufacture of glass, the source of the Lyne Stephens fortune, and the legend became enshrined in literature when E. M. Forster’s novel The Longest Journey was published in 1907.

    The Beauty of Her Age 4 Yolande by Carolus-Duran Yolande Lyne Stephens, painted by Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, spring 1888. (© private collection, The Beauty of Her Age, Amberley Publishing)

    Like many such rumours, the story has no basis in fact. Yolande’s husband never worked for a living and had no interest in inventing anything. He was a cultured but indolent man who enjoyed spending money; his activities were restricted to hunting, shooting, building grand houses and buying expensive works of art, a lifestyle subsidised by a fortune made in Portugal.

    The wealth had been accumulated by his one of his grandfather’s cousins, the illegitimate son of a schoolmaster and a Cornish servant girl. William Stephens was sent to Portugal as a boy, survived the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1755, and scraped a living during the next fourteen years burning lime to provide mortar for rebuilding the city. In 1769 he was asked by the Marquis of Pombal, first minister and virtual dictator of Portugal, to reopen a derelict glass factory in the village of Marinha Grande, ninety miles north of Lisbon.

    William was given ownership of the factory, together with 15,000 acres of land, and Pombal granted him a number of important – and lucrative – privileges: exemption from all domestic taxes; a monopoly of glass supply in Portugal and its colonies; freedom to set his own prices; and free use of fuel from the royal pine forest.

    Pombal fell from power when the king died in 1777, succeeded on the throne by his eldest daughter, Maria I, who loathed the minister and all his policies. In order to retain his privileges, William set out to woo the new queen. He charmed her so successfully that she not only renewed his privileges, she also made two visits to the glassworks – the second of which lasted for three days.

    The Beauty of Her Age 3 Marinha Grande house William Stephens’s house in Marinha Grande, Portugal. (© Câmara Municipal da Marinha Grande)

    Maria was an absolute monarch, ruling by divine right. Yet she was happy to sleep for two nights in the house of an Englishman, a man who was not only low-born and illegitimate, but also a Protestant, a heretic in the eyes of the Portuguese. As William’s sister wrote a few days after the visit: ‘My brother has attained what nobody else in the Kingdom can boast of, the honour of entertaining the Royal Family and all the Court for three days, and given universal satisfaction to everybody from the Queen down to the scullions and stable boys.’

    These royal visits added prestige to the factory and ensured that William retained his privileges for almost forty years. This enabled him to accumulate one of the largest industrial fortunes in Europe. After he died unmarried and childless, his massive wealth was bequeathed to a cousin in London, Charles Lyne, who added the name Stephens to his own and became the richest commoner in England.

    Charles Lyne Stephens died in 1851, followed nine years later by his only son, Yolande’s husband, who bequeathed her a life interest in the entire fortune. This gave her three stately homes in England and Paris, and an income of almost £7 million a year in today’s values. With an excess of income over expenditure, she soon built up a fortune of her own, allowing her to subsidise the Catholic diocese of Northampton, building churches and chapels and a new bishop’s house.

    In Cambridge, for the pleasure of ‘indulging my own taste and fancy,’ she paid for the entire cost of the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, together with its adjacent rectory. She paid for the furniture and furnishings in both buildings and selected the design of every detail, including the shape and size of the altar rails, the style and decoration of vestments for the clergy, and the rugs laid on the floors of the rectory.

    To give some credence to the legend, it would be nice to think that William Stephens made glass eyes for dolls in his factory in Portugal. But sadly not.


    Jenifer Roberts new book The Beauty of Her Age is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

    Secret Aberdeen 1 Suffragette Helen Fraser campaigning in the 1908 Kincardineshire by-election (courtesy of Aberdeenshire Libraries)

    Secret Aberdeen belongs to Amberley Publishing's series on UK towns and cities which tantalises readers with some rare historical delicacies.

    I did not compile the information for this book under any misconception I was revealing actual secrets but with the intention of bringing to the forefront of public attention people and incidents long forgotten which deserve a higher profile in the story of this city.

    The story of Aberdeen could be told in innumerable ways for its history stretches back so far and episodes from its past are so many and varied that interpreting them is surely infinite. It is the oldest corporation in Scotland; its Royal Charter was bestowed by King William the Lion in the twelfth century and it became a thriving trading port with the Continent but what you will find in Secret Aberdeen are snapshots of more recent chapters of the city's life which reflect something of the character of its people and the influence it has had on the wider world since the 18th century.

    There are no intentional links between the sections of the book but more observant readers will detect them for in a small city there are inevitable confluences of occurrences and personalities.

    Secret Aberdeen 3 Jopp, wine and spirit merchants. James Jopp was the Lord Provost who presented Dr Johnson with the freedom of the town in August 1773. (Secret Aberdeen)

    William Cadenhead's The Book of Bon-Accord is a wonderful resource for all sorts of nuggets that are available for anyone interested in history but for today's reader his language can be a barrier and so all the better for translation into a more familiar idiom. What he has to say about something as simple as supplying a city with water became the starting point in our story before it veered into howffs and bars, long gone and faded from public memory, that were once lively and raucous escapes from gruelling work and bleak, pitiful homes for a few short hours – where fortunes were made and lost and drinking tastes changed by century from French wines to whisky, the juice o' the barley. Hard drinking and dry humour; the timberman who drowned while negotiating his dangerous cargo down river from the forests of Deeside to the consternation of the local publican who claimed he'd never known him pass that way without dropping in for a drink.

    We find out that the oil and gas capital of Europe enjoyed an earlier gas boom (not always terribly safe), in the nineteenth century, which began privately in a small way before being bought by the council and finally nationalised as part of British Gas. Then there was Stinky Miller's, notorious in Aberdeen, it was a very successful off-shoot of Aberdeen's town gas.

    There is a chapter which picks out some of the many industries in Aberdeen which contributed specialist machinery and expertise to the British Empire including ones involved in the development of processing chocolate and coffee, which you might think about while you nibble on that chocolate bar and sip on your latte. If Aberdeen does not strike you as having been an industrial town then think again, its influence has been immense. 'Most dams start in Aberdeen' claimed an advertisement for the engineering company J. M. Henderson and that sentiment might have applied to so much more.

    Secret Aberdeen 4 Little-known lithograph of a demostration on the Boradhill in 1832 (courtesy of Aberdeen City Libraries)

    Of all the 100 illustrations in the book, selected for their rarity, that which excited me most was one I had never come across before, a coloured lithograph of a pro-reform demonstration on the eve of the Great Reform Act of 1832, on the Broad Hill at Aberdeen beach. It is not only a fine illustration but an important record of an event little-known and I am glad to have managed to include it in a section on popular agitation which takes in Chartism, the Suffragette movement as well as featuring the first publication of documents relating to the Aberdeen Parliament.

    Dr Mary Esslemont, Professor Dugald Baird and Lord John Boyd Orr lived, worked and contributed enormously to health in Aberdeen, Scotland, Britain and across the world. Aberdeen was at the forefront of women's and children's health provision and in the expansion of family planning services offering free contraception and advice and it was in Aberdeen that life-saving cervical smear tests began. Aberdeen was also where experiments were carried out providing free school milk to young impoverished children before being taken up by the rest of the UK – one of the earliest influences of John Boyd Orr whose input into the wartime diet resulted in a population healthier at the end of the war than at the start. He went on to become the first Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and a major figure in the battle to alleviate world hunger.

    There is no space to write about the heroes who risked their lives to save the ancient Mither Kirk with its largest carillon of bells in Europe when fire broke out in 1874 – but it's all in Secret Aberdeen.


    Lorna Corall Dey's new book Secret Aberdeen is available for purchase now.

  • Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

    If there is an area of history I excel at it has to be “the obscure”. I can find it a little frustrating at times that the same old stories get trotted out again and again. I regularly peruse bookshops and often think, “oh great ANOTHER book on the Tudors” and that’s not the only topic that gets trotted out almost monthly. Yet there are literally thousands of interesting tales of long forgotten warriors, crazy rulers or plans that went tragically (sometimes comically) wrong.

    With the books I‘ve written so far I have tried to slip in some of these obscure gems in at various points.  I would have been remise not to have discussed the crusades in my book Deus Vult a  Concise History of the Crusades but even then I managed to get in the fact that one positive spin off of this bloody chapter of history was the introduction of the wheelbarrow to Europe.

    However with my new book Forgotten History I have really been able to cut loose and share my love of forgotten history. Split between four (rough) eras, I am able to throw out obscure, and I hope fascinating, stories from the dawn of mankind right up to the 1980s. If these titles wet your appetite then you have a similar mind to mine and rest assured, I tell all in the book:-

    How long have ladies been using cosmetics?

    Cavemen were communists.

    The biggest loser in history was Ala ad-Din Muhammed II Shah of the Khwarazmian Empire.

    The Battle of Portland, the decisive victory that both sides won…

    The most dangerous substance ever?

    How Tsar Paul I is a bit like a cheap sandwich…

    How many times has the US Air Force dropped nuclear bombs on Spain?

    All of these are genuine moments in history and proves the point that makes me love history - “truth is stranger than fiction” (Mark Twain).

    I will leave you with one example from the book. You would think that industrial action was perhaps an invention of the industrial revolution? Well not in the case of these plucky Ancient Egyptian artisans:-

    Ancient Egyptian strike action

    Ptolemaic Temple at Deir el-Medina (II) Deir el-Medina: the results of the first recorded strike action. (Courtesy of the Institute of the Ancient World)

    Going on strike, you would presume, is closely linked to the history of industrialisation and the formation of trade unions. Wrong! While it was of course the industrialisation of economies that led to better organised work forces, the idea of putting down tools because of a dispute goes back a very long way indeed.

    The very first strike recorded in history started in 1152 BC, on 14 November. This was during the reign of Rameses III in ancient Egypt.

    It is a common misconception, largely created by Biblical stories that much of the work on ancient Egyptian monuments was carried out by slaves. While the Egyptians did indeed have slaves, they were by no means the main workforce. Craftsmen, builders and haulers were paid men who took pride in their work – this is evidenced by the quality of the structures, many of which have stood for more than 3,000 years.

    In November 1152 BC, trouble was brewing during the construction of a royal necropolis – a group of tombs/crypts – at Deir el-Medina. The workers felt they were being underpaid and that their wages were in arrears, so they organised a mass walkout, halting construction.

    The response was very interesting: you might assume that pharaohs would bring out the whips or cut the heads off the ring leaders of the strike, but after discussion the artisans’ wages were paid – in fact, their wages were actually increased – and the workers returned to finish the job.

    The necropolis still stands to this day.


    Jem Duducu's new book Forgotten History is available for purchase now.

  • Ghostbusters Collectables - 'How I got Started' by Matt MacNabb

    My first memories of Ghostbusters were that of sheer terror. I was four years old and my parents had taken us to the movie theater to see the original 1984 film. It was like nothing I'd seen before, and while most don't consider it a scary movie, I certainly did. I was stricken with fear by everything from Slimer, the green ghost, to the twin terror dogs. The film left me with nightmares and awful feelings, at least for a time.

    Ghostbusters Collectables pic 1 Matt MacNabb - Age 8 -

    By the time that The Real Ghostbusters cartoon debuted on television I was far more receptive to the adventures of the ghost-hunting quartet. I was seven years old when the show debuted and quickly became a rabid Ghostbusters fan. I began collecting the toys and started dressing up like a Ghostbuster on an almost daily basis.

    I can still remember buying my first Ghostbusters toy. My mother took me to our local Target store (they weren't Super yet back then) and I headed to the back of the store, in search of new toys. I had gotten birthday money from my grandma and it was burning a hole in my pocket, as usual. That day I purchased the first wave Kenner The Real Ghostbusters Peter Venkman action figure... and I was hooked. The other Ghostbusters, ghosts and the Ecto-1 vehicle would soon follow at Christmas time and for the next four years my obsession didn't wane.

    Ghostbusters Collectables pic 4 The Real Ghostbusters Kid's Uniform (Ghostbusters Collectables)

    If it was Halloween I was a Ghostbuster. If I was going anywhere, I had my trusty plastic PKE meter with me, just in case. I started my own Jr. Ghostbusters business, complete with business cards, so that I could offer my services to the local neighborhood. My grandmother sewed me a very authentic looking Ghostbusters costume (and another when Ghostbusters II was released!), and I would don that daily, complete with full proton pack and other gear, to do patrols of the local streets, assuring that no ghost would go unnoticed. You can imagine that I was wildly unpopular...and you'd be correct. I am what you would qualify as an obsessive weirdo.

    You will see fans enjoying cosplay nowadays at comic book conventions, where they're adored, revered and fawned over. If you see people dressing up like Ghostbusters you may even want to take a picture with them. That was certainly not the case when I was growing up. The other kids were far past the fad and into crushes and sports, but I stood strong, against ridicule and mockery. It wasn’t trendy and it wasn't cool, but that never deterred me one bit.

    Ghostbusters Collectables pic 3 The Real Ghostbusters Ecto-1 Vehicle (Ghostbusters Collectables)

    When my wife and I began collecting toys on a full-time basis in 1997 it also wasn't cool. In fact, when someone would see our house and our collections they would leave wide-eyed and confused. It just wasn't something your average person understood or participated in. There were certainly Hot Wheels and Barbie collectors in those days, but what we did was a rarity. Now if I show pictures of our extensive toy collections we get praise, adoration and expressions of envy.

    Oh, how the world has changed. One thing that hasn't changed over the years is my love and passion not just for the Ghostbusters franchise, but for the toys and merchandise, as well. I wrote Ghostbusters Collectables as an expression of that passion and I hope above all that comes through in the pages. Dan Aykroyd, who needs no introduction, was generous and kind enough to provide a foreword and even answer a few collections about the Ghostbusters toys that he himself owns, which I have incorporated into the book, as well.


    Matt MacNabb's new book Ghostbusters Collectables is available for purchase now.

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