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  • Mrs Janet Taylor — 19th Century Pioneer of Sea Navigation by John S. Croucher

    On 4 February 1870 the Durham County Advertiser included the following short obituary:

     At the vicarage, St Helen’s Auckland, at the house of her brother-in- law, 21st ult,. Mrs Janet Taylor, fourth daughter of the late Rev Peter lonn, vicar of Sately in this county. She was the authoresss of several books on Navigation and Astronomy and a few years ago a pension was granted to her for her services by the Government.

    mistress-of-science-1 Mariner’s Calculator replica. (Authors’ collection, c. Mistress of Science, Amberley Publishing)

    In a few short lines were concentrated the barest of outlines of the career of an extraordinary woman, who in the very male world of sea navigation made a distinct mark. Others wrote of her in a few tributes, dotted over the years: that she was a ‘competent astronomer’, that her books were ‘of the best’ of their kind, that she was an instructor ‘without equal in her day’ and that her ‘Nautical Academy’ was ‘much patronised’ by naval and merchant seamen. Her youngest brother wrote simply that she was ‘the Great Gun of our family’.

    I knew that Janet Taylor was an interesting relative — my great-great-great-great aunt. I am descended from her eldest brother William, and like Janet, I am a mathematician and teacher. I was intrigued by my super-talented ‘aunt’, and the mathematical ‘gene’ that connected us. Just how extraordinary she was I was determined to uncover. What started as a journey of curiosity resulted in a determination to tell her story, to fill in a unique, and missing, piece in the history of sea navigation.

    After the death of her mother when she was just seven years old, Janet gained a scholarship at the precociously young age of nine, to attend Queen Charlotte’s school in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, where the other girls were all aged over 14. Her life thereafter took her into the heart of maritime London.

    mistress-of-science-2 Janet Taylor Octant detail inscribed ‘Mrs Janet Taylor & Co’ – detail of image shown in 18. (Authors’ collection; photo by Bec Lorrimer, c. Mistress of Science, Amberley Publishing)

    Her father, the curate of the church of St Mary and St Stephen and schoolmaster of the Free Grammar School at Wolsingham, inspired her in the wonders of navigation. She became a prodigious author of nautical treatises and textbooks, born of a fascination in particular in measuring longitude by the lunar distance method. She conducted her own Nautical Academy in Minories in the east end of the City, not far from the Tower of London; she was a sub-agent for Admiralty charts; ran a manufacturing business for nautical instruments, many of which she designed herself; and embarked on the business of compass adjusting at the height of the controversies generated by magnetic deviation and distortions on iron ships.

    Through her scientific work Janet established a respectful correspondence with those in the highest positions in the maritime community: men like the head of the Admiralty’s Hydrographic Office, Captain, later Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, and Professor Sir George Biddell Airy, the Astronomer Royal. Where they were hesitant at first in their engagement with Mrs Taylor, she clearly won their support and respect.

    mistress-of-science-3 Janet Taylor binnacle. (Authors’ collection; photo by Bec Lorrimer, c. Mistress of Science, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1835, in consideration of ‘services she has extended to seamen’, through her Lunar Tables, the Admiralty awarded her £100 ‘from scientific funds’, a ‘handsome pecuniary award’. She was similarly honoured by the two other members of the ‘big three’ of the 19th century maritime world in Britain: the Elder Brethren of Trinity House  and the East India Company. She also received international recognition for her contributions: gold medals from the King of Holland and King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia; and, by 1844, a medal from the Pope. Then in 1860 her contributions to navigation were acknowledged by her own country when she was awarded a civil list pension of £50 per year, ‘In consideration of her benevolent labours among the seafaring population of London’.

    Like women of her time, she had many children, eight of her own and three step-children, but it was her contributions to science and to navigation that are to be remembered. So little of her story has so far been told and there is so much more to know.

    Ten days after her death in 1870, an obituary published in The Athenaeum concluded by saying: “Perhaps some surviving relative or friend may be able to throw light on the life and labours of one who was as extraordinary from her acquirements of knowledge as from her social reticence.”

    And so, some 150 years after her passing, I am that relative – seeking to introduce my brilliant, great-great-great-great aunt to a wider public to give her the proper recognition she deserves. Over the past decade my labours in uncovering my aunt’s story, a journey in which my wife Rosalind also enthusiastically joined, has resulted in a biography, in the hope that, in a small way, Janet Taylor’s story may now be seen in the light it deserves: the story of an extraordinary pioneer of sea navigation.


    John S. Croucher & Rosalind F. Croucher's new book Mistress of Science is available for purchase now.

  • Blue Light Models 'How I got started' by Adrian Levano

    Nowadays I usually come out to most people as a ‘toy car collector’. Time was that I might have hidden the fact away from new acquaintances, at least until I was sure they could handle it – and until I was fairly sure they thought I was, in all other respects, normal! Belonging to a collectors club helps in many ways, you realise there are plenty of intelligent people out there with the same hobby – and interacting with the members in my role as editor of the club magazine has led me to explore areas of the model world about which I previously knew very little.

    blue-light-models-1 Dinky Toys nos 250 and 259. (c. Blue Light Models, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m told that I could identify real cars before I could pronounce the names. I’ve always been a ‘collector’ of toy cars, and since the age of about eight or nine have kept them in their boxes. Admittedly they were taken out and played with, so most from those early days show some signs of that use. There have been times over the years when the collecting was ‘on hold’ but I hardly ever disposed of any toys, and still they keep accumulating as I find new areas of interest.

    It was probably a move to the South-East of England in the 1980s that was the biggest boost. I found myself in close proximity to several collectors’ toy fairs, one of which was in the town where I lived. I do find such fairs are the best way of adding to the collection, although internet auctions are good if you know your subject.

    With one exception, I have always avoided the temptation to try to get everything of a particular series. It’s the last few that are always the most difficult to get and which cost a lot more. There is always something different to add a new flavour to the collection – for example it’s only in the last year or two that I have taken any real interest in tinplate toys. They have a distinct charm which had eluded me previously. Perhaps with age and experience I can now put toys into a social and historical context which gives a new dimension to my hobby.

    blue-light-models-2 Budgie produced the Wolseley in two scales; here we have both police versions and the smaller one again as a fire car. (c. Blue Light Models, Amberley Publishing)

    I have to admit that I’m not a specialist on emergency services – I have all sorts, in all scales and materials. In many ways that probably equipped me better for this project than collectors who specialise in only one particular aspect. A lot of British collectors seem to prefer home-grown products, and I think the same applies in other countries. For me it’s the more unusual the better.

    When I was young we made regular family trips to Germany and other European countries, and that was a major influence in widening my horizons about what was around – remember that was long before the internet, so the toys and models I brought back from my travels were things hardly seen in England.

    In this book I try to give an overview of model emergency services vehicles over the decades, across the world, and some advice about how to buy, store and care for a collection. Of course, most toy and model manufacturers have produced a far wider range than just ‘blue light’ models, so in a way it’s also a brief history and overview of model vehicles in general.

    blue-light-models-3 From a range of detailed fire vehicles aimed at the North American marker are a REO Speedwagon pumper and a Mack L pumper - both in 1:50 scale. (c. Blue Light Models, Amberley Publishing)

    In fact the title is a rather Anglo-centric as emergency services vehicles in other countries can have other colours of flashing lights such as red or orange. Although it’s written from the point of view of a British collector, I have tried to cover as wide a spread of interests as possible, and have included modern toys available at ‘pocket money’ prices through to the rarer collectibles.

    I wouldn’t like your readers to think that toys and models are my whole life! At times I just shut the door to the collection room (yes, it does have its own room complete with small photo studio) and try to engage with the real world. For example, I’m an amateur musician and play keyboards. It’s odd how things overlap though; of the musicians I’ve worked with in recent years, at least two spring to mind as serious model enthusiasts, one is a leading expert on plastic toy soldiers, the other makes the most amazing model railway locomotives and rolling stock from scratch and also edits a model railway club magazine.

    I’m a keen, if very amateur gardener, and also hope to get back to more travelling soon. My favourite city to visit is Istanbul, but as fate would have it, Turkey adds very little to my model collection – so going there is a real holiday from my everyday world in every sense.


    Adrian Levano's new book Blue Light Models is available for purchase now.

  • Derby in 50 Buildings by Gerry Van Tonder

    In the Christian calendar between 100 and 200 AD, the occupation forces of Roman Britain established a military revictualling military and trading station, Derventio, at a ford across the Derwent.

    Two centuries after the demise of Rome’s hold over the Britons, Saxon invaders levelled Derventio, forcefully asserting their authority over the settlement’s erstwhile owners. The defensive site, named Northworthige by the Saxons and bounded by the Derwent and several streams, witnessed the growth of primitive industries.

    In 597, the monk Augustine arrived in England, sent by the Papacy on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. As pagan worship yielded to the new religion, church buildings started to appear throughout England, typically basic structures made of wood. In the centre of Northworthige, St Werburgh’s was constructed, providing a focal market point for traders and farmers to conduct their business.

    In the ninth century, the much-feared Viking coastal raiders moved inland, and in 874, this warring wave of plunder and pillage overwhelmed Northworthige. Forty years later, the female warrior, Ethelfleda, gathered a strong enough Saxon army to drive the Danes from the village. Less than three decades thereafter, however, the Danes re-claimed their ownership, but this time compromise was the order of the day as Dane and Saxon elected to live together under one common law. Exercising their political majority, the Danes renamed the village Derby: the ‘town on the water’.

    The Norman invasion of 1066 and the death in battle of the Saxon King Harold, brought Saxon rule to an abrupt end. The agricultural town of Derby started weaving its own cloth and grinding its own corn in small mills. A corn market was established close to the St James’s monastery conglomeration of church and agricultural buildings.

    derby-in-50-buildings-1 The old and the new - 5 metres and hundreds of years of history separate St Werburgh's from her modern red-brick neighbour. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    As disputes grew over taxes and agricultural excise duties, central control manifested itself in the courts of assizes, responsible for civil and criminal jurisdiction. The assizes were held initially in the County Hall at St Mary’s Gate. By the middle of the fifteenth century, merchants and traders established their guild in the Town Hall, transforming its function towards that of a borough corporation.

    Agriculture and allied markets continued to fuel Derby’s expansion, and by the 1700s, the town boasted large residences in Full Street, the Corn Market and the Morledge. A post office and banks serviced the economy, while shopkeepers catered for the new wealth. The growth demanded significant improvements in the transport infrastructure. Turnpike roads were constructed and tollhouses sprang up to collect revenue from the road users. Coach inns proliferated, and bull-baiting, wild beast shows, theatres and fairs were held, as the town’s 1750 population of 7,000 centred their lives on the Market Place.

    The late 1830s would have a major and lasting impact on Derby: the railway had arrived.

    Iron and engineering works sprang up to cope with the demands of this revolutionary and efficient method of transport. New mills were built and the manufacture of Derby Crown china revived. New streets were laid and existing ones widened. The Market Place expanded, and gradually, Derby started losing much of its historic appearance.

    Typically, however, the increase in wealth had an undesired by product: the poor; members of the Derby community who gained no benefit from industrial prosperity. Legislation was promulgated to address the issue, but a major provision to qualify for aid, was for the poverty-stricken to move into the new Workhouse on Osmaston Road.

    The most profound event in the future economic strength of Derby, occurred in 1906 when Rolls Royce commenced the manufacture of that icon of luxury motoring: the Rolls Royce. The company’s factories and offices spread from Osmaston Road to other parts of the city, an expansion accelerated by their highly successful venture into aero-engines. The company would evolve into becoming the single largest contributor to the town’s future wealth and economic security, something that is reflected in many of Derby’s buildings.

    Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of the project was that of discovery. After having lived in Derby for more than sixteen years, I quickly found that I knew very little about the city that I now called home. I believe we are all guilty – to a lesser or greater extent – of going about our business without taking in our surrounds.

    derby-in-50-buildings-2 The 1601 St Werburgh's clock tower abuts the newer church. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Arguably, the greatest and most exciting revelation was the interior of the ancient St Werburgh’s Church on Cheapside. Surprisingly, I was given a key at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery (an enormous key at that) and told to go across the road and help myself – the church is generally not open to the public. After a struggle with the idiosyncrasies of a very large, very old door, I stumbled into darkness, my senses assailed by the smell of antiquity. I eventually found a few lights, which helped little, a gazed in awe at my surrounds.

    Founded in the seventh century, St Werburgh’s was the first Christian church in Derby, less than 100 years after the first Christian missionary, Augustine, had arrived in England. The building would have been a crude, thatched wicker and daub structure.

    Saint Werburgh, who died in AD700 was, at the end of her life, senior abbess of the kingdom of Mercia. The daughter of King Wulfhere and Queen Ermenhilda of Mercia, she took the unconventional step to become a nun, and although her father wished her to marry, he eventually relented and gave his permission for her to enter Ely Abbey. The Church Calendar now celebrates Feast Day annually on 7 February, to commemorate the day of her death.

    The church was rebuilt towards the close of the seventeenth century, with the 1601 tower being retained. Staffordshire-born lexicographer, poet and biographer, Dr Samuel Johnson married Elizabeth Porter (nee Jervis) in the church in 1735.

    derby-in-50-buildings-3 Highly ornate reredos and stained-glass window in the east side of the chanel. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Rebuilding work on the rest of the church commenced in 1893. Designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield in the Gothic Revival style, ‘Rough Rock’ sandstone for the construction came from the nearby Coxbench quarry.

    In 1990, the building was declared redundant and the inside of the building converted to commercial use. For a brief period, the church was used as a shopping mall, comprising small stalls. The venture never really took off, and access to the building is now restricted. With the church and its cemetery no longer in use, the headstones have been propped up against the outside walls of the building.

    Today St Werburgh’s, its tower refurbished in 2004, owes the fact that it is still standing to its Grade II-listed status. Volunteers from the Churches Conservation Trust look after the tower and original chancel, keeping in a good state of repair the 1708 reredos with its ornate panels and Queen Anne’s Coat of Arms overhead, as well as the stained-glass window and a monument to Sarah Elizabeth Winyates who died in 1828. This 1832 neo-classical figure of a woman in mourning is by prolific English sculptor, Sir Francis Chantrey, commissioned at a cost of £600.


    Gerry Van Tonder's book Derby in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • A look at the Transport Police by Michael Layton

    I retired from the British Transport Police in 2011 and whilst I had no intention of severing my links with the police service little did I realize at that point how close and fulfilling those relationships would continue to be.

    In 2013, somewhat by accident, I started writing and since then have been fortunate enough to have worked closely with a number of former colleagues, in both the British Transport Police, and West Midlands Police, which has resulted in a number of books being accepted for publication.

    In particular both the British Transport Police History Group, and the West Midlands Police Museum Group, has played a crucial role in supporting these ventures and I remain indebted to those individuals who make these two voluntary groups the vibrant bodies that they are today.

    9781445651804Tracking the Hooligans was co-written with former BTP Assistant Chief Constable Alan Pacey and was published in January 2016 by Amberley. It details more than forty years of football violence on the UKs rail networks, London Underground, and on ferries when BTP still had jurisdiction. The activities of hooligan elements attached to nearly one hundred football clubs is covered with detailed comment from nearly fifty retired BTP officers who tell it ‘how it was’ particularly in the dark years of the 70s and 80s.

    In 1972 the then BTP Chief Constable Mr Gay commented “On an average Saturday some thirty trains carried police escorts of between two to eight officers. They sometimes reached their destination with their uniforms soiled with spittle, and other filth, burnt with cigarette ends, or slashed…” This is how it was, and often still is, for a very thin blue line of officers and the book is a testament to their routine bravery.

    Due to recent problems with football hooligans the current Chief Constable has made combatting the problem the forces second highest priority after terrorism.




    9781445655475Police Dog Heroes co-written with BTPHG stalwart Bill Rogerson MBE details the intriguing history of the British Transport Police Dog Section, the oldest in the country, from its inception in 1908 through to modern day policing, and will be published in May 2016 by Amberley. It is packed with recollections from retired BTP officers, many of them dog handlers, two of whom are now in their nineties. One of the most poignant is that of retired officer PC Dave Coleman who tells the remarkable story of his explosives search dog ‘Vinnie’ and their search of Russell Square Tube Station following the terrible events of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in 2005. ‘Vinnie’ was subsequently awarded a PDSA Gold medal for his actions which was presented at a special investiture ceremony by HRH Princess Alexandra. New accounts of public order incidents, including football violence, are recounted as are cases of tracking by dogs who simply would not give up. Whilst these were working dogs, they also in many cases became part of the officer’s families and their passing was mourned in the same manner.





    9781445657875Birmingham’s Front Line – True Police Stories details my account of life in the West Midlands Police CID in the 70s and 80s, predominantly working in Birmingham City Centre. It will be published in 2016 by Amberley and details crimes of violence, robbery, murder and public order during the ‘hey days’ of skinheads, mods, rockers and bikers – and of course football hooligans. It also provides an insight into the days of ‘cottaging’ and the activities of so called ‘rent boys’ offering sex and operating in and around New Street Station. Once again previously unpublished accounts are included by former BTP officers that clearly illustrate how local police and those working with a railway environment, in the main worked closely together.

    They say that within everyone there is at least one book and I would encourage anyone who has stories in their heads to make that step and to start writing. Whilst clearly it is extremely challenging it is also exciting, and hugely satisfying.





    About the Author:

    Michael Layton reached the rank of Chief Superintendent before serving with the Sovereign Bases Police in Cyprus, eventually returning to the British Transport Police. He was awarded the Queens Police Medal for distinguished police service. He has written several books on the subject of policing the rail network and football violence.

    Michael Layton's new books Tracking the Hooligans: The History of Football Violence on the UK Rail Network, Police Dog Heroes and Birmingham’s Front Line are available for purchase now.

  • British Paddle Steamers by John Megoran

    My first recollection of being on a paddle steamer is backing out from the Pleasure Pier at Weymouth in 1956 aged five aboard what I came to know well later as our local paddle steamer Consul. It was a sunny afternoon. We were sitting as a family on the buoyant apparatus at the aft end of the promenade deck. There was a wonderful smell of salty sea air combined with Acriflex, a yellowy cream which mothers then spread on their children’s skin to ward off the burning characteristics of the sun.

    British Paddle Steamers 1 Author aged 14, on the bridge of the 'Princess Elizabeth' at Weymouth (Author's collection)

    That started off for me a love affair with paddle steamers which was fostered also by their then seemingly permanent presence in my home harbour of Weymouth. Not only did we go on the Consul in the summer but also other paddle steamers like the Embassy, Monarch and Princess Elizabeth came to lay up in the Backwater in the winter where they sat quietly, their boilers empty of water, their machinery greased up, their deck seats piled high under winter tarpaulins and their brass handrails bandaged with protective rag to stop them corroding.

    Then there was the excitement of spring. Crew would be aboard them. The covers came off and scraping and painting began until the final touch of the handrails which had weathered down to a dull grey received their new coat of paint turning them into shiny sparkling silver. Finally, joy of joys, a whiff of first smoke came out from their previously cold funnels broadcasting the knowledge that the season was about to begin.

    I avidly collected the timetables of all the then operators around the country pouring over what the steamers did, where they sailed and how long it took. Fortunately Dad was a keen amateur sailor and the house was filled with Admiralty charts which helped me to work out the routes, where they could go and the hazards and sandbanks to be avoided along the way.

    British Paddle Steamers 2 The other is of the 'Consul' backing out from Bournemouth Pier (Author's collection)

    It seemed to my childhood self that these paddle steamers had been there forever and would remain ever more a wondrous delight to be permanently enjoyed. There was disappointment when Monarch was withdrawn in 1960 but that was balanced by the optimism of the arrival of Princess Elizabeth in a new life at Torquay, Bournemouth and then Weymouth. The railway paddle steamer Sandown turned up for a refit in 1962 and the Bristol Channel flyer Bristol Queen in 1963. Goodness what a massive paddler she was compared with Consul.

    Gradually I got to know some of the captains including Harry Defrates and Stanley Woods who were very kind to me, encouraged my interest and put me on the wheel for the first time aged fourteen. When Capt Woods was booked to bring the Clyde paddler Jeanie Deans round to the Thames he invited me along for the ride which most conveniently fitted into my school autumn half term holiday.

    Then it slowly started to dawn. As the sixties wore on these lovely paddle steamers were on the way out. One after the other they were withdrawn and sent off to the scrap yards. In September 1966, the last regular south coast excursion paddle steamer, Embassy made her last trip and was towed away to Belgium to meet her end the following May. My childhood dream of going to sea and spending my life working aboard these lovely paddle steamers was beginning to look a bit empty.

    However, never say die. Never give up. By a roundabout and not entirely planned process I ended up running and driving the lovely little paddle steamer Kingswear Castle for much of my adult life. Looking back now I just can’t understand how I got so lucky.


    John Megoran's new book British Paddle Steamers is available for purchase now.

  • Operation Big - The Dirty Secret by Colin Brown

    Researching my book, Operation Big – The Race to Stop Hitler’s A-Bomb, forced me to revise my view of the biggest event of the 20th Century – the dropping of the nuclear bomb of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

    I had been brought up to believe that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan to force Emperor Hirohito into surrender and end the Second World War. I began to revise my views when I read R V Jones’s highly-readable memoir, Most Secret War, and this line used on the back cover of Operation Big: ‘We ourselves were almost awestruck, not so much at the power of the Bomb, for this we had expected, but because the Americans had used it with so little notice.’

    R V Jones said that British intelligence knew the Japanese were putting out feelers for surrender when the Americans dropped the first of two nuclear bombs on them. I dug deeper into the American archives – many can be accessed online - and found a more disturbing story at the core of Operation Big and the Alsos Mission led by Colonel Boris T Pash to capture the leading nuclear scientists in the Third Reich in the dying days of the war.

    That is why I called the last chapter ‘The Dirty Secret’. It became glaringly obvious as I delved into the archives – the Pash papers at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University in California with the help of my researcher Dr Camilla Lindan, R V Jones’s papers held at the Churchill Archives at Churchill College Cambridge and the Cabinet papers of Sir Winston Churchill in the National Archives in Kew - that there was more to the Alsos Mission than the capture of Hitler’s nuclear scientists.

    Operation Big 1 Farm Hall as drawn by Erich Bagge while he was a ‘guest’ at Farm Hall.

    The fact that they were airlifted by MI6 to Farm Hall in Godmanchester, a beautiful bucolic slice of England by the water meadows of Cambridgeshire – Rupert Brooke wrote his elegiac poem The Old Vicarage about Granchester Meadows a few miles away – was always going to make the headlines. But the underlying story was more sinister. Facts kept nagging away: I discovered Sam Goudsmit, the scientific head of the Alsos Mission reported back to Washington as early as November 1944 that Hitler’s physicists had not built an atomic bomb.

    In Pash’s memoir, The Alsos Mission, backed by his archives at the Hoover Institute, Pash recalled the breakthrough came when they seized documents in Strasbourg and Goudsmit shouted: ‘We’ve got it!’

    ‘I know we have it,’ said Pash. ‘But do they?’

    Goudsmit’s eyes were wide with excitement. ‘No, no!’ he said. ‘That’s it. They don’t.’

    Pash recorded: ‘It was our Strasbourg operation which disclosed that it was unlikely that the Nazis could unleash an atom bomb in the near future. Thus Alsos exploded the Nazi super-weapon myth that had so alarmed Allied leaders. The fact that a German atom bomb was not an immediate threat was probably the most significant single piece of military intelligence developed throughout the war.’

    Pash claimed Alsos had “exploded the biggest intelligence bombshell of the war” in November 1944 – a full seven months before the German scientists arrived in Godmanchester. But if so, why I wondered did Pash and his team of US intelligence officers and soldiers in Jeeps – they were accused of operating as if they were in the “Wild West” - continue the hunt for the ten German scientists across the Rhine, into Germany and all the way to Heisenberg’s hideaway in the Bavarian Alps?

    Operation Big 5 Colonel Boris T. Pash (right) on Operation Big in Hechingen with Sergeant Holt (middle) and Corporal Brown (left).

    It is true Pash and Goudsmit had to be certain that they were right, that there was no Nazi A-bomb, but there was a bigger picture emerging that was exercising their chiefs back in Washington, led by the uncompromising General Leslie Groves, the Army engineer who headed the construction of Manhattan Project, the massive industrial effort to build the world’s first nuclear bombs.

    Groves operated on the principle that if the US could do it, so could the Germans. But he was also determined to stop the German physicists falling into Soviet hands. His biggest fear – now that the threat of a Nazi bomb could be discounted – was that the Soviets would gain the know-how from the Germans that had been achieved by the Americans over the past three years of hard work in the laboratories of the Manhattan Project.

    Groves in his own memoir, Now It Can be Told, makes clear he ordered the bombing of Auergesellschaft Works in Oranienburg 15 miles north of Berlin on 15 March 1945 to stop uranium ore being seized by the Russians because it was in the sector allocated to the Soviet Union at the Yalta conference of the Big Three. And it was not just the Russians Groves opposed. Groves did not trust the British, and particularly distrusted the French because their lead physicist in Paris, Joliot-Curie was a Communist. ‘Joliot convinced me that nothing that might be of interest to the Russians should ever be allowed to fall into French hands.’

    Operation Big 6 The Alsos team dismantling the German atomic pile at Haigerloch – portly Lieutenant Commander Eric Welsh stands on the rim handing out graphite blocks. Wing Commander Rupert Cecil is in the foreground.

    Against that background, the focus of the Alsos Mission and its conclusion – Operation Big – switched from Hitler and the Nazi threat to combatting the Russian threat. By the time Hitler’s Uranverein (Uranium Club) arrived at their five-star country house hotel in Godmanchester, Groves and the chiefs in Washington were preparing for the Cold War, and what they could do to regain some of the influence they had surrendered to the Soviet advance across Europe as Josef Stalin’s Red Army swept into Germany from the East, making huge territorial gains which would be described by Churchill as the “Iron Curtain”.

    In the Truman administration at the White House, the bomb was seen as the answer. Truman was completely unapologetic about his decision taken after the Potsdam conference with Churchill and Stalin in 1945 where he had been informed that the “Trinity” test of the new weapon had been a success. Truman convened a secret meeting of his top advisers – Byrnes, Secretary of State, Stimson, Secretary of War, Eisenhower and Marshall. ‘I asked General Marshall what it would cost in lives to land on the Tokyo plain and other places in Japan. It was his opinion that such an invasion would cost at a minimum one quarter of a million casualties, and might cost as much as a million, on the American side alone, with an equal number of the enemy…Dropping the bombs ended the war, saved lives and gave free nations a chance to face the facts.’ (Letter 12 January 1953 Truman to Professor James L Cate).

    Operation Big 3 The drawing room at Farm Hall where the scientists heard the news about the detonation at Hiroshima.

    But Truman was being “economical with the actualite” as the late Tory defence minister Alan Clark said in a different context. The truth is Truman, in addition to ending the war against Japan, also wanted to demonstrate to the Russians that America had become the first truly great super power because it possessed a bomb capable of destruction on a hitherto unimaginable scale. He did not know that thanks to Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet agent embedded in the Manhatten Project, Josef Stalin knew more than he did about the nuclear bomb.


    Colin Brown's new paperback version of his book Operation Big: The Race to Stop Hitler's A-Bomb is available now.

  • Andrea Doria and Other Recent Liner Disasters by William H. Miller

    This year, 2016, is the 60th year of the Andrea Doria sinking.   That number prompted this book, Andrea Doria & Other Recent Liner Disasters, another look back. In addition, I have selected some other passenger ship disasters, but not all. Many liners finish their days at the scrap yard, reduced to rubble, but some have had tragic, very sad endings. This is a record, beginning in 1942, of some of those passenger ship disasters.

    Andrea 1 Andrea Doria departing Genoa (ALF Collection, Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    The sinking of the Andrea Doria remains one of the most famous maritime disasters of the 20th century. Myself, I well remember the television newscasts and newspaper headlines on the morning of 26th July. The Doria had been rammed the night before by another liner, Sweden's Stockholm. It all seemed too sad, tragic, almost incomprehensible. Even I was in disbelief. How could the Andrea Doria sink? Perhaps, it was all a mistake. Still a schoolboy but already a devoted follower and observer of the great liners, I was puzzled. I asked a special favor of my father:  Would he take me by car a day later, the 27th, from Hoboken to the cliffs of nearby Weehawken to make absolutely sure that the Andrea Doria had not arrived. She was due at Pier 84, at the foot of West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan and just across from Weehawken, on the morning of the 26th. Soon after we arrived, I looked across, even in the fading light of a summer's evening, and the berth at Pier 84 was indeed empty. The Andrea Doria had not arrived as scheduled. Yes, she had sunk – the news reports were correct. Some thirteen New York City blocks north, the smallish, all-white Stockholm was in port. She had returned after having made an 11:30 am departure two days before, on Wednesday, the 25th.  She was again at Swedish American Line's terminal, Pier 97 at the foot of West 57th Street. She had not been due back in New York harbor for another month, until late August. The Stockholm was never one of the big, more imposing Atlantic liners – she was actually more of a passenger-cargo ship. But she seemed especially small on that July evening. Like a bad child, she almost seemed to be hiding, in disgrace, fearing punishment. To most, she was already the villain, the less important, little ship that sank the very important flagship of the entire Italian merchant marine and one of the post-Second World War's era finest new ocean liners.

    Newspapers and television followed-up for at least a week with further reports, recollections from survivors, tales from heroic rescue ships like the legendary Ile de France and the freighter Cape Ann. Rather quickly, Life magazine even rushed out an issue about salvaging the Andrea Doria. Could she be dragged to shore by a huge chains? Could she be systematically pumped-out and slowly float to the surface? Or in deeper imagination, could she be filled with the likes of thousands of ping pong balls and be refloated? In fact, the Italians wanted nothing of salvage. In deepening silence, the Company – both in New York and at its Genoa headquarters – slipped into total retreat on the subject of the Andrea Doria. Almost immediately, it was announced instead that a bigger, more luxurious replacement would be built – dubbed the "super Andrea Doria" by one newspaper – and would be in service in less than four years. The Italians focused on the positive, the future, the continuing of its famed trans-Atlantic liner service.

    Andrea 2 The Stockholm is on the left in this view from the harbor in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Albert Wilhelmi Collection, Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    The Stockholm went into its own kind of hiding. After landing her passengers, survivors and most of crew, she was towed stern-first by Moran tugs from Pier 97, south along the Hudson and over to the bottom end of the Brooklyn waterfront, to the Bethlehem Steel shipyard at 56th Street. Placed immediately into dry dock, the Stockholm would need serious surgery: four months of repairs and the replacement of her raked, ice-strengthened bow. Tucked in an inner floating dock, the Stockholm was not easily seen (or photographed) from, say, a passing ship or Staten Island ferry.

    In the summer of 1988, I arrived in Genoa and had a short stay before heading off on two Mediterranean cruises, both on Italian liners, by the way – the Achille Lauro and the Ausonia. While in a Genoa hotel, I came across a newspaper. A headline read "Death Ship Arrives". A small, all-white passenger ship had arrived and was to be converted and made over as a contemporary cruise ship. Then over forty years old, it was the former Stockholm. The "villain" in 1956 was now an Italian ship.

    Andrea 3 A view of the badly damaged Stockholm. (Moran Towing & Transportation Co., Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    In April 2001, I traveled to the Caribbean, to Montego Bay on Jamaica, to board a rather special cruise. It included three days in otherwise remote Cuba:  two days in Havana and a day at a beach resort called the Isle of Youth. The ship was the specially chartered Valtur Prima, the former Stockholm. She had been, however, so completely rebuilt that there was very little trace of her earlier Scandinavian heritage. I searched all through the passenger areas. While using the ship's tenders, however, we would pass the knife-like bow. Upon looking closely, the slightly raised but very faint lettering was visible – it spelled Stockholm.

    Five years later, in 2006, I was a board member of the Ocean Liner Museum, an on-going project then based at Lower Manhattan's South Street Seaport Museum. Along with a permanent exhibit, we offered periodic lectures and programs.   We decided to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking of the Andrea Doria. There was a half-day exhibit of memorabilia, artifacts and photos of the Italian liner as well as a series of talks. John Moyer talked of his various salvage efforts, others spoke about the Italian Line and its ships, and still others recalled personal memories of the tragedy. One lady traveled from New Jersey and spoke, often with high emotion. She was a teenager in 1956 and was sent by her family to begin a new life by living with relatives in America. Her parents brought her to Naples and where she boarded the Andrea Doria. She shared a four-berth room in tourist class and was looked after by the three older ladies sharing the same room. On the night of 25th July, she was suddenly awakened and told to hurry – the three ladies would take her to the lifeboats up on Boat Deck. She described the great commotion, the sense of the unknown but fear as well and the crowds of frantic passengers on stairwells and in corridors. She was guided to a lifeboat, but then was deeply embarrassed. She was wearing only pajamas and slippers, but in front of a Catholic priest, who was joining the same lifeboat. That, she told us, was more upsetting than the drama unfolding with the ship itself.   The ship already had a great list as she was herded into a lifeboat and then, in the dark of night, went off to a rescue ship, the liner Ile de France. Seeing the ship sink the following morning was "horrifying". Later met by relatives at New York's Pier 88, she never forgot the Andrea Doria, that night and the sinking. Nightmares haunted her for years. To that morning in 2006, she was never again able to board another ship, not even a harbor ferryboat.


    William H. Miller's new book Andrea Doria and Other Recent Liner Disasters is available for purchase now.

  • A look at The A-Z of Victorian Crime by M W Oldridge

    Eliza Adkins couldn’t go on listening to the distressed cries of her child for another minute. Put yourself in her shoes. Homeless, friendless, without recourse to money and unemployable so long as little Zadock needed her. Forty-two years on the planet – possibly more – had finally brought her to the Loughborough Union Workhouse, and now she was separated from her son by an iron grid. His screams for her floated through the unbridgeable space between them. She seized him when she could, and they fled for the Leicestershire countryside.

    On 30 July 1865, Zadock’s body was found at the bottom of a well, drowned, with nothing but wild gooseberries in his stomach – an improvised last meal. This was only one of countless stories of Victorian crime in which the driving forces seemed to relate to prevailing social conditions, the circumscribed role of women, poverty and unconquerable despair. In retrospect, Eliza’s life sentence might be recognised as a merciful alternative to execution (the last executions in the UK were less than a hundred years away, and public executions were done away with on the British mainland in 1868), but we might still be appalled and outraged by the inability of the social institutions of Victorian Britain to alleviate suffering and to manage risk.

    Of course, there were others who did not fall into the category of the destitute and the despondent. Some, like Percy Lefroy Mapleton, selfishly preferred a daring but brutal crime to the quotidian rigours of work; some, like William Palmer (who was as workshy as Mapleton, in truth), seemed almost robotic in their manner, fixating on a modus operandi and pursuing it – quite literally – ad nauseam. Poisons were everywhere, not least in Palmer’s case, and their victims were distributed throughout society, from Thomas Ball, the obnoxious labourer whose death was caused (perhaps) by an accidental dose of arsenic-based insecticide, to James Maybrick, the no-less-objectionable cotton merchant who died with the contents of a small pharmacy in his insides.

    Along the way, crimes of diverse and sometimes unfamiliar descriptions kept the police – a social fixture by the middle of the century, but broadly unknown in its first quarter – on their toes. Terrorism became a problem, especially in the 1880s, and some of the finest men available to the Metropolitan Police, in London, were instrumental in attempts to blunt its often indiscriminate edge. The decade closed with more innovation: the shock and horror of the Whitechapel Murders, in which Jack the Ripper, whoever he was, defeated all attempts to ensure justice for the random, unfortunate victims of his unprecedented violence.

    As the nineteenth century went on, the law attempted to evolve, better reflecting the desperate situations of some of those whose actions deviated from the norm. Dealing with the case of Daniel M’Naghten, doctors and alienists helped to codify the legal implications of madness (not that these were greeted with enthusiasm by the Queen, who was too often the target of the murderous misjudgements of individuals who had become estranged from reality). There are signs of compassion in addition to the doctrinaire dispassion, but some groups – children, in particular – were always vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment by those with power over them. The demise of Reginald Channell Cancellor, a lad of fourteen who was stuck on his four times table, is only one sad example of this phenomenon at work.

    Our perception of Victorian society is affected as greatly by our understanding of its criminal underbelly as it is by its legacy of high culture – its literary fiction, its art, its drama. In The A-Z of Victorian Crime, we have attempted to illuminate some darkened corners, looking again at some familiar cases, and exploring some which may be less familiar. The reader is invited to follow us back there, among the ghosts of the past, and to make themselves ready to be appalled, horrified and saddened in equal measure.


    M W Oldridge and co- authors Neil Bell, Kate Clarke and Trevor Bond's new book The A-Z of Victorian Crime is available for purchase now.

  • Digging deep in the Pennines – The story of stone quarrying by David Johnson

    I can probably trace my interest in and fascination with quarries back to ingrained memories from early childhood when I would spend what seemed like hours gazing out of the window on gloomy winter days across the fields behind our little cottage. Entranced by the red glow from the open doors of a Hoffmann brick kiln, and when my best friend and I (illegally) played in the clay pits during school holidays. Add to that is a life-long love (well, since the age of 10) of being in hills and mountains, and an incurable obsession with peering down holes in the ground. I am drawn to rock, not just the ways in which it was won from the ground in quarries and underground mines, but how different types of stone have been used in buildings and how this all impacts on the landscape. I have also, and not just as a hobby, spent many a day repairing the dry stone walls that are such an iconic and essential feature of the landscape in the Yorkshire Dales where I have lived and worked for over 30 years. Up here it is hard not breathe rock, to feel it, to empathise with it and to become totally enveloped by its effects on life, work and landscape.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 1 Underground quarrymen using hammers and bars to prize away blocks of rock in a now-disused chert quarry in Swaledale. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    My deep interests in the quarrying of limestone, in particular, led to my undertaking a comprehensive field survey of the many hundred lime kilns that are peppered across the Dales and the former county of Westmorland, most now in a ruinous state – if they survive at all. One result of this was my first book for Amberley Publishing (the second, revised edition of Limestone industries of the Yorkshire Dales, October 2010) which has come to be recognised as THE classic work on limestone quarrying and lime burning.

    Quarrying in the Pennines is not just about limestone, though. The diversity of quarry materials – past and present – is a direct reflection of the region’s varied and complex geology, and of the multi-faceted ways in which stone products were such essential ingredients in the days before manmade substitutes started to kill off our traditional industries. For anyone of a certain age, when they were children, lime fired in kilns from limestone quarried in almost every parish, found its way into most aspects of daily life – in textile dyes, carpets, clothes, as whitewash and limewash, as disinfectant, in tanning leather, making soap the age-old way, for mortar, for preventing cereal seed from rotting, for improving the productivity of soil and pasture, for curing cattle disease ... the list is endless.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 2 A massive judd wall built to hold back waste stone in a disused sandstone quarry near Shibden in West Yorkshire. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    Houses and barns were roofed either with slate or flagstones – the thackstones of old – all of which came from quarries across the Dales and the wider Pennines. Dairies and domestic pantries had shelves made of Blue Flag, actually a hard mudstone quarried in Upper Ribblesdale; public buildings across the country had fireplaces and floors finished off in Black Marble (really just polished fossil-rich limestone) from Dentdale and Garsdale; terraced housing, town halls and other public edifices across Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire were built from sandstone rock quarried across the Pennines, each town’s character being partly determined by the type of sandstone used – some smooth and fine grained, others coarser, some light in colour, others deep brown. Chimney pots and sanitary ware were manufactured from fireclay dug from pits and underground workings across the region and, of course, the endless terraced houses of many an industrial town were built with bricks using clays, again of varying colours.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 3 A group of men in a limestone quarry in Ribblesdale in the 1880s proudly displaying the tools of their trade. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    Stone has been quarried in the Pennines since Roman times though it is difficult to pick out either Roman or medieval quarries today: they were not large and many have long since been in-filled or buried in vegetation but they can still be found and recognised by their hummocky and seemingly disorganised nature. Quarrying took off in a major way in the late seventeenth century, and grew apace during the next two hundred years as towns and industrial complexes mushroomed with their never-ending need for building materials and raw products. Until the late nineteenth century quarries were on a small scale compared to today’s giants, and most of the work was done by men reliant on hand tools and sheer graft. Dimension stone – large blocks of stone – were prized out using long iron bars, stone to be crushed was broken up in the quarries by men wielding sledge hammers; access to deep quarry holes was by often rickety ladders called stees while, later on, stone was hauled out by A-frames or steam cranes. It was hard and demanding work, and weather dependant, and accidents were common, but many quarrymen then as now took pride in their work and were loyal to the quarries where they toiled.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 4 Breaker and filler pushing V-skips full of limestone that they have broken up by hand. They were paid on a piece-work basis – the more skips they filled, the more they got paid. In poor weather they earned nothing. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    For this book I have drawn together a collection of historical photographs from across the Yorkshire Pennines which provide the reader with a wide-ranging view of quarries that have long since been abandoned or even in-filled, that quarried a broad range of stone types, and that used simple technology. Many of them are published here for the first time. In addition, I have included photographs I have taken especially for the book showing evidence of old quarries and methods as they are seen today. Each site has been given a grid reference so that the interested reader can visit those sites which are publicly accessible and safe to enter.

    My research interests do not just focus on quarrying and the use of quarry products: I am keenly interested in rural trades in general in the Pennines and Cumbria and my next book is due to be published by Amberley this year. An Improving Prospect? A  history of agricultural change in Cumbria examines the ways in which farming in Cumbria has changed over the centuries since medieval times – the hows, the whys and the by whoms of agriculture.


    David Johnson's new book Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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