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  • Staffordshire Coal Mines by Helen Harwood

    It is no coincidence that the industrial towns in Staffordshire lie on or close to the counties coal fields, notwithstanding the 1974 Local authority reorganisation which saw large areas of South Staffordshire become part of the West Midlands authority.

    Foxfield Colliery. (Staffordshire Coal Mines, Amberley Publishing)

    Prior to the eighteenth century the majority of people worked in agriculture while the making of pottery – coal excavated from surface seams fired the kilns – and iron smelting was carried out on a local hand produced basis. For example, in the sixteenth-century coal from the South Staffs coalfield was used to fire small scale iron forges. However, the large quantities of sulphur produced by coal led to the pig iron being brittle. Lord Paget of Beaudesert built probably the first blast furnace in the Midlands circa 1560 on his Cannock Chase estate fuelled by charcoal, resulting on pressure on the surrounding woodland to meet demand.

    It was Abraham Darby in nearby Shropshire who, in the early eighteenth century created the process of using coke from coal to manufacture iron. The demand for coal grew rapidly as coke reduced the cost of pig and wrought iron so allowing larger blast furnaces to be built.

    Following on from drift mines dug into hillsides vertical “bell pits” reaching some thirty- to- forty -feet down gave access to deeper coal reserves. A narrow shaft about 4ft-6in in diameter led into the seam where miners dug the coal from both sides creating a bell-shape. Meanwhile, sometime earlier in 1698 Thomas Savery developed the first successful steam powered one-horsepower engine. It was used in some mines and branded “The Miner’s Friend”. One was installed in Broad Water colliery, Wednesbury in 1706, but it proved unsuccessful and the mine flooded. However, the majority of pits still relied on waterwheels, windmills and horsepower to keep them relatively dry. Later, in 1712 Newcomes steam engine pumped out water from mine shafts allowing them to be dug deeper. Following on, in the 1770’s James Watt’s engine cut fuel costs enabling mines to become larger and more profitable.

    The Conduit Colliery at Norton Cains. (Staffordshire Coal Mines, Amberley Publishing)

    As the demand for coal grew so did the need to transport it efficiently and the eighteenth century saw the development of Staffordshire’s canal system. The Trent and Mersey – opened 1777 –financed largely by Josiah Wedgwood to move raw materials and finished ware safely followed the valley traversing the North Staffs coalfield. Standing in the way though, was Harecastle Hill near Kidsgrove, however the excavations of Harecastle Tunnel led to the discovery of more coal seams. The introduction of canal transport with the ability to move large quantities of coal lowered the price and demand grew rapidly. In 1836 the Trent and Mersey canal carried 184,500 tons of goods away from the Potteries. Many mine owners like Viscount Dudley Ward financed the building of canals to link with industry, while cutting branch canals to join collieries directly with the network. The Cauldon Canal linked the Cheadle coalfield while the Staffordshire and Worcester and the Dudley canal had links to the local collieries.

    In order to transport the coal from the pithead tramways were laid to the canal wharf with the wagons pulled by horses. Then in 1806 two horse-railways or tramroads were proposed to link the collieries and ironworks around Newcastle-Under-Lyme joining together about a mile south-west of Audley before meeting the Chester canal at Nantwich. The plans never materialised, however in the 1860’s a steam railway built as a branch of the Newcastle to Audley line served the collieries in Apedale. Meanwhile, in 1849 the main Walsall to Lichfield line of the South Staffordshire Railway opened running close to Hammerwich and Uxbridge collieries with a company line linking the Cannock Chase Colliery’s pits to the main line making it more economical to transport coal by rail.

    By the end of the nineteenth century coal mining was growing rapidly to feed the Industrial Revolution. The use of coal doubled between 1800 and 1900 and to be against coal was to be against progress and employment.

    Helen Harwood's new book Staffordshire Coal Mines is available for purchase now.

  • A Gross of Pirates by Terry Breverton

    From Alfhild the Shield Maiden to Afweyne the Big Mouth

    Admiral Sir Henry Morgan. (A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    Why write twelve books about pirates and privateers? It simply stems from writing about famous Welshmen. I knew about the privateer Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, but by chance discovered Black Bart Roberts, hardly known in Britain, but by far the most successful ‘pirate of the Caribbean’, taking more than 400 ships, and known across the Americas. From the career of the teetotal Roberts, who dressed from head to foot in scarlet (the origin of le joli rouge, the Jolly Roger), I learned of the greatest pirate trial of all time…

    Men flocked to join him from surrendered ships – I did not know that forcible impressment and cruelty was endemic upon merchant ships as well as the Royal Navy – to escape their miserable lives. The average lifespan of a sailor in the slave trade was 18 months. Life as a pirate, in an elected democracy with agreed rules aboard ship, better food and freedom, was far more attractive. In Black Bart’s words, ‘a short life and a merry one shall be my motto.’ Pringle calls Roberts ‘possibly the most daring pirate who ever lived’, and upon the death of ‘the Black Pyrate’, there was the greatest pirate trial of all time, with 273 men captured, including 72 black pirates who had the same conditions, share of booty and freedom as their white counterparts.

    Bart’s is a magnificent story, well documented like those of Morgan, who successfully led six expeditions against ‘impregnable’ targets belonging to Spain and altered the course of the history of North America. Every maritime country has its story of privateers like Morgan, who were, of course, pirates to England’s major enemy.

    Blackbeard. (Courtesy of Library of Congress, A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    A review of the book reads: ‘It's no use pretending that these criminals do not evoke admiration - even envy. Part of the appeal is the democratic nature of their activities, characterised as far back as the fourteenth century by Klaus Stortebeker thieving in the Baltic - his crew were called the “Likedeelers”, the equal sharers. Author Terry Breverton has brought together the extraordinary stories of 144 pirates throughout history. They include Norman privateers, Barbary Corsairs, Elizabethan adventurers, Chinese pirates, “'the Brethren of the coast” - and of course the pirates of the Caribbean.’

    It was enjoyable writing the book, to research other pirates over the centuries. Some were brave gentlemen who led by example, like Henry Morgan; others experienced sailors who were voted into office like Roberts; some too kindly for their crews, like Edward England; and many simply unhinged and cruel, like l’Ollonais and Montbars the Destroyer. One of the early pirates, Eustace the Monk, may have been the model for Robin Hood, and the privateer Didrik Pining may have been the first to discover America. Some were female, such as Alfhild, ‘the bloody Lioness’ Jeanne de Clisson, Sayyida and Madame Ching. The latter, incidentally, had her pirate husband murdered and married his lover, their adopted bisexual son.

    Some readers may know that the character and tale of the renegade Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now was inspired by the film Aguire – Wrath of God. Both stories were inspired by Lope de Aguirre (8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561), also known as the ‘Limping Conquistador’, ‘Keeper of the Dead’, ‘El Loco’ (The Madman), who styled himself ‘Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, Prince of Peru, and King of Tierra Firme’. And of course, he’s in the book!

    Terry Breverton's new book A Gross of Pirates is available for purchase now.

  • Steam in the British Coalfields by Mick Pope

    Trainspotter, a description that has somehow become a term of ridicule, conjuring up an image of some bespectacled nerd who is unable to function in normal society and definitely won’t have any dress sense, wife or girlfriend. Funny how this has come about as an interest in railways in general as the second most popular hobby among men in the United Kingdom after angling. I did wear glasses as a young lad and so I was part way there already!

    Joseph climbs away from the screens at Bold Colliery with loaded 21-ton hopper wagons, probably destined for Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. August 1981. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    I must admit that my father was the first to encourage me to take an interest in the model variety of trains, having himself grown up as a collector of the old fashioned clockwork, tinplate Hornby ‘O’ gauge ones. I suspect his encouragement was merely to give legitimacy to him continuing his own passion as I had only a passing interest at that time. Then one day I was rebuffed by a school friend when I asked him what we would do over the coming weekend. After a hushed conversation with another friend he declared that he was going to Chester station to collect train numbers. It seemed a bit pointless to me but I tagged along anyway out of curiosity. I was advised to buy a ‘locoshed book’ published by the Ian Allen company as this contained the number of every locomotive working for British Railways, as it was then, plus the place where they normally were based. I was told that I also needed a notebook and that I should write down the number of every locomotive seen and then underline that number in the locoshed book when I got home. It all seemed a bit boring although it had an element of acquisitiveness that is present in most kids. One day and I was hooked! There was just something about the big powerful machines that seemed alive. I didn’t know what I was looking at in any detail but noted that some locomotives had names, that some were green, most were black and some very special ones were a kind of red and these got a special cheer from the assembled spotters. I needed more information and so bought more detailed pocket sized books with photographs and technical details. I learned fast.

    Warrior with a rake of 16-ton mineral wagons. The snow manages to cover what was normally a very muddy environment! (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    With my friends we travelled further afield. Holidays on the south coast, and with relatives in Somerset, introduced me to new kinds of locomotives. We revived a moribund railway society at our grammar school, really just an excuse to obtain permits from British Railways to visit their locomotive depots, although we frequently ‘bunked’ these places, i.e. sneaked in without permission. Being well over six feet tall at age sixteen I could pass as an adult and, telling that little white lie, was allowed to obtain the required permits.

    Eventually, as with many childhood fads or hobbies, many of my friends gradually dropped out. By this stage I had also developed an interest in photography and, again encouraged by my father, owned a reasonably effective camera rather than the Kodak ‘Instamatic’ used by most of my fellow enthusiasts. By this time British Railways was rapidly disposing of its steam locomotives and collecting their numbers had become a bit pointless, you could never see them all which had been the original aim, and so taking photographs of what was disappearing seemed a sensible thing to do.

    Around this time I got a place at Nottingham University and, as bad luck would have it, this was an area where steam power had already been eliminated. Studies in Nottingham and a girlfriend back home took up most of my time and money. One day in 1968, the year steam locomotives were eliminated on British Railways, I was sat in the Social Science library at the university pondering a life without steam locomotives when I spotted a column of steam moving about in the distance. This puzzled me as it was unlikely that anything had strayed from the last stronghold in the North West. Studying an Ordnance Survey map that evening I guessed that the steam was coming from Clifton Colliery. I checked this out and sure enough they had a small steam locomotive. I knew from my GCE ‘O’ level Geography that there were lots of coal mines around Nottingham and therefore there might be other places with steam power. Further research discovered that there was actually a national society for those interested in industrial locomotives and that they published books recording every location and what could be found there. My studies took a downward turn and I was out and about, ironically photographing not the coalmining locations, few had steam power working by then, but the ironstone quarries in Lincolnshire, Rutland as was, and Northamptonshire.

    Descending from the colliery, a loaded train passes the mangled remains of a recent load that ran away on the steep gradient and derailed. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    Returning home to Liverpool once I graduated – with a very moderate degree – I found that the coal mines of Lancashire were still home to many steam locomotives as were those a little further afield in Cumbria. By the early 1970s my younger brother had also become something of an industrial steam nerd by this time, being handy for the last strongholds in North Wales, and so we went on expeditions together.

    Sadly even this means of satisfying our appetite was diminishing and in 1975 I made my first trip abroad to photograph steam locomotives in East Germany, Poland and, with my wife to be in tow, Spain and Portugal. By the end of the 1980s I had added, with several visits, India, China, South Africa, Turkey and Zimbabwe to the list, photographing both steam trains on the national lines of those countries but also industrial sites. When asked if I had seen the ‘Terracotta Army’ on a trip to China I had to answer ‘No but I did go to the steelworks at Anshan and the forestry line at Langxiang’ [where we taught the local workers how to play musical chairs at a social evening]!

    I had many adventures on these trips, some printable, some not! I also have a cupboard full of negatives and colour slides that I need to transfer into digital format before they fade away. So call me a nerd if you must but I have seen far more of the world than most and don’t regret it one bit. See my photos and judge for yourself!

    Mick Pope's new book Steam in the British Coalfields is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of The Black Country by Andrew Homer

    The Workers’ Institute from Cradley Heath, locally known as the ‘Stute’, and now preserved at the Black Country Living Museum is remarkable not just for its Arts and Crafts style architecture but also for the people and stories associated with the building. Two such people are Mary Reid Macarthur and Thomas Sitch.

    The Cradley Heath lockout

    The Cradley Heath Workers' Institute. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The Workers’ Institute is closely associated with the history of women’s trade unionism and in particular Mary Reid Macarthur. Mary was the daughter of a Glasgow draper and after leaving school worked for her father as a bookkeeper in the family business. She had ambitions to be a journalist and would attend local meetings and write them up for the local paper. One of these meetings was the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union. Once Mary had become exposed to the ideas of trade unionism, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. After becoming secretary of the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union Mary was invited by Margaret Bondfield (who would later become the first woman Cabinet minister) and Gertrude Tuckwell, President of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), to become the Secretary of the WTUL. In 1906 Mary founded the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) which was a general national union for women.

    Emblem of the National Federation of Women Workers. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The emblem of the National Federation of Women Workers, which appeared on both enamel badges and marching banners, symbolised very effectively the aims of the NFWW.

    The clasped hands are a common trade union motif and here the hand on the right clearly belongs to a woman with a lace sleeve representing the aim of unity between female and male trade unionists. This aim was eventually achieved in 1921 when the NFWW merged with the National Union of General Workers. The bundle of sticks running down the centre of the emblem has its origins in the Roman ‘fasces’, a symbol of power. However, Mary Macarthur often used the analogy of the bundle of sticks to represent the strength of the union. Writing in ‘The Woman Worker’ in 1907 she stated that:

    A trade union is like a bundle of sticks. The workers are bound together and have the strength of unity. No employer can do as he likes with them. They have the power of resistance. They can ask for an advance without fear. A worker who is not in a union is like a single stick. She can easily be broken or bent to the will of her employer. She has not the power to resist a reduction in wages. If she is fined she must pay without complaint. She dare not ask for a ‘rise’. If she does, she will be told, ‘Your place is outside the gate: there are plenty to take your place.’ An employer can do without one worker. He cannot do without all his workers.

    The bundle of sticks symbol can be seen displayed on the front of the Workers’ Institute building itself. The motto ‘To fight, to struggle, to right the wrong is taken from Tennyson’s poem ‘Wages’ and represents not just the fight for fair wages but also the poet’s stance on equality for men and women. The ‘wrong’ may also be a reference to sweated labour which frequently involved women such as the ladies engaged in domestic chain making in and around the Cradley Heath area of the Black Country.

    The ‘bundle of sticks’ motif displayed on The Workers' Institute building. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    In the same year Mary Macarthur was instrumental in helping to set up the National Anti-Sweating League along with George Cadbury, J. J. Mallon and others. This organisation put pressure on the Liberal government to do something about the so-called sweated industries. These industries were typified by very low pay, poor working conditions and long hours. Four trade boards were set up to cover chain making, box making, clothing and lace making, the first of which was the Chain Board. President of the Board of Trade at the time of creation was Winston Churchill who had introduced the Trades Boards Act in 1909. In 1910 this was successful in bringing in a minimum wage of 212d an hour for chainmakers who were mainly working from home in small chain shops and were being paid on piecework rates of approximately a 114d an hour. Chainmakers working in the factories were already above this minimum wage but not so the many women chainmakers working up to 55 hours a week from home earning between 4 and 5 shillings.

    The women chainmakers worked at forges either in small chain shops behind the squalid homes in which they lived or else would share a shed with other women from ‘across the blue paved yard’ or ‘fode’. Their homes were often overcrowded, damp and lacking even basic amenities. The rent on these homes would be approximately 4 shillings a week. As well as making chain for up to fifty-five hours per week, producing approximately 5000 links, the women would be looking after babies and younger children who would generally play amongst the sparks and constant noise of hammering in the chain shops. They would be making small link chain, sometimes called ‘hand hammered’ or ‘country work’ chain which was often used in agriculture, mining and by the army. They were at the mercy of an intermediary called the ‘fogger’ who delivered the lengths of iron and then paid for the completed chain. The women had little choice but to accept what little the fogger offered in payment for their hard work.

    Women chainmakers in a Cradley Heath domestic workshop. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    A handful of Black Country chain making companies paid the minimum wage immediately, but most made use of a clause that delayed payment until 17 August 1910. An unfortunate loophole in the law allowed companies to further delay payment for six months if the workers themselves opted out of the minimum wage. This loophole was exploited by the Chain Manufacturers’ Association (CMA), some 30 companies and 150 non-CMA middlemen. The employers came up with a complex worded document which the women were coerced into signing. Many could not read or write and simply did not comprehend what they were doing. Others who refused were threatened with no more work. In the meantime, companies stockpiled chain against the time they could no longer avoid paying the minimum wage. One of the intentions of this was to directly challenge the Trades Boards Act and the authority of the Chain Board to impose a minimum wage.

    The new rate was due to be paid from August 17 but in the event few employers complied with the Chain Board minimum wage. The situation escalated quickly. A meeting of 400 women at Grainger’s Lane School on 21 August effectively marked the start of what was to be a nearly ten-week lockout when they all agreed not to sign the opting out document. Things came to head on the 23 August 1910 when the NFWW insisted through a new agreement that the minimum wage should be paid straight away. This resulted in the chain making companies withdrawing raw materials and effectively putting the women out of work. Strike was now inevitable. The strike was called a lockout but it should be noted that as the women were working from home they were not actually locked out of anywhere. The women chainmakers were not just fighting for the minimum wage either as Mary Macarthur was well aware. The authority of the Trade Boards to address the plight of workers in the sweated industries was also now to be tested on a national stage.

    Mary Macarthur addressing the crowd at Cradley Heath in 1910. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    It was an incredibly brave thing for these women to down tools and go on strike. Although they didn’t earn very much the money was still essential to help put food on the table for their families. Secondly, having put down their hammers there was every chance they would never work again. The one thing that made it possible for so many to down tools, around 800 at the height of the strike, was the provision of a strike fund, the success of which was mainly down to the phenomenal publicity campaign orchestrated by Mary Macarthur. Whilst Mary concentrated mainly on national campaigning equally enthusiastic local organisation was provided by Julia Varley of the NFWW, Thomas Sitch who was General Secretary of the Chainmakers’ and Strikers’ Association and his son Charles Sitch who was the secretary of the hand-hammered chain branch of the NFWW.

    The publicity campaign mounted by Mary Macarthur was truly remarkable. She made use of all the available media at the time to publicise the plight of the women chainmakers. She had a group of the oldest lady chainmakers photographed with some of them wearing chains around their necks. The oldest was Patience Round who was 79 in 1910 and still a full time chainmaker who incredibly lived to be 103. Patience liked to talk about her life and her story appeared in the newspapers of the day. Pictures such as these appeared in the press including The Times together with headlines such as ‘Fetters of Fate’ and ‘Women Slaves of the Forge’. This was a clever move to deliberately make a connection between these women and slavery. However, this was not the first time such a connection had been made. Writing in 1897, Robert Sherard described the appalling conditions the sweated chainmakers of Cradley Heath endured in his book, The White Slaves of England.

    It was in 1910 that French filmmaker Charles Pathé came to England to introduce his Pathé Newsreel service to British cinema audiences. Mary convinced him to come and film a march in Cradley Heath. Not only that, the film included the conditions the women were working and living in. Although silent the manager of Pathé estimated that it could have been seen by up to 10 million people throughout the country. Mary undertook a national lecture tour to expose the chain making companies not paying the minimum wage as supporters of sweated labour. Locally there were regular rallies, marches and meetings to keep the impetus of the strike going.

    Mary Reid Macarthur. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The result of all these publicity efforts was that money poured in to the strike fund. There were collections on street corners and in factories. Poorer people contributed pennies and halfpennies and even the aristocracy and leading business families got involved. Amongst many others, the Countess of Warwick sent £25 with the promise of more if needed and Arthur Chaimberlain, of the influential Birmingham based Chamberlain family, contributed 50 guineas. Also in Birmingham, George Cadbury of the Bournville Quaker Cadbury family, made regular contributions of £10 on a weekly basis. Over the ten weeks of the strike it was hoped to raise £1000. In the event, nearly £4000 was raised, a very considerable amount of.

    A number of factors contributed to ending the strike in the women’s favour. The government, who of course had brought in the minimum wage through the Chain Board, agreed not to place any more contracts for chain with companies not paying the minimum wage. This was a serious issue for the CMA as such contracts, particularly for the army and navy, could be very lucrative. On the 2 September CMA member companies added their names to a list maintained by the Chain Board. This was known as the ‘White List’ and contained the names of companies paying the legal minimum wage. This was the turning point and gradually the names on the White List increased until the strike was finally over on the 22 October after the last remaining company had signed. The chain making women of Cradley Heath had won their minimum wage of 212d per hour, thanks mainly to Mary Macarthur and her unwavering belief in the justice of the cause.

    The strike fund had nearly £1500 pounds left in it when the strike ended. Mary Macarthur could have put that money in NFWW coffers but she didn’t. Instead, Mary proposed that the money be used for the construction of a Workers’ Institute. Not just for chainmakers but for all workers and families of Cradley Heath. It was to be both ‘a centre of social and industrial activity in the district’. Originally built on some wasteland where strike meetings had taken place it is now preserved at the Black Country Living Museum. It was opened in Cradley Heath by the Countess of Dudley on June 10, 1912. A lasting monument to the bravery of the chainmaking women who downed their hammers in 1910 and to Mary Reid Macarthur, their charismatic leader.

    Andrew Homer's new book A-Z of The Black Country is available for purchase now.

  • Locomotives of the Eastern United States by Christopher Esposito

    When I was asked to put together this book for Amberley, I knew it was going to be a challenge. After all, how does one comb through over 10,000 photos of trains and select the best images to present to readers? What lines to pick? What engine models?

    NS ES44DC 7716 leads 13R over the Potomac River as it crosses from Maryland into West Virginia on the H Line. Shepherdstown, WV. Taken on 26 October 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    In this blog post, I’m going to give a behind-the-scenes look at how I arrived at the selection process for the images used in this book.

    The first thing I looked at was variety. Since the topic of the book is locomotives, I wanted to include as many different locomotive types as possible. With the monotony of modern diesel power in the form of EMD SD70 variants and GE GEVO models, this was no easy task. While I did not include EVERY type of engine currently in use, I feel the book presents a realistic look at what is currently used by the major railroads.

    The second criteria I used was scenery. The Eastern region of the United States can range from vast mountain regions around Pennsylvania and Virginia to virtually flat plains of red clay in the Carolinas. In my selections, I used shots I felt captured the flavor of each region:  the quaint countryside dotted with family farms in eastern Pennsylvania, the mountainous and gritty coal country of West Virginia, the dense and populated commuter towns in New Jersey, the urban setting of downtown Atlanta. It was key for me to not just show you, the reader an image of an EMD SD70ACe for instance, but to show it as part of the bigger picture. Too often, rail photographers will focus on the train and ignore the greater surrounding scenery.  By doing that, you tend to lose the feeling of the area in which you are shooting.

    Union Pacific GE AC44CW No. 6588 leads eastbound intermodal No. 234 through Waburn, VA on the ex-N&W main line as a light dusting of snow covers the ground. Taken on 13 March 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    The third condition on my list was consistency. While I did make a few exceptions by including older photographs, I made a conscious decision to use only photographs taken with my current model of camera – the Nikon D4S. The quality of the image produced by the D4S really jumps out at you, and I wanted to use the best quality shots for this publication.

    My final point was to try and include an assortment of railroads that run on the east coast. Due to traffic density, line proximity and fitting in trackside time, the photos used in the book tend to favor the Norfolk Southern railroad. While the black and white scheme used on the NS diesels is nothing to write home about, I feel the settings in which the trains operate make up for the lack of color on the engines.

    I hope as you page through the photos in this book, it gives you a sense of not only the engines in use on today’s railroads, but also a glimpse into the regions of America these trains traverse and the industries they serve.

    Christopher Esposito's new book Locomotives of the Eastern United States is available for purchase now.

  • Royal Dragoon Guards by Anthony Dawson

    The Royal Dragoon Guards are one of the oldest, and most prestigious, regiments in the British Army. Although the modern-day regiment was formed in 1992, its antecedents can trace their history back to the 1660s, representing over 350 years of continuous service.

    The charge of the Inniskillings at Le Cateau. (Royal Dragoon Guards, Amberley Publishing)

    Those regiments which make up the regiment were the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards; 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Dragoon Guards; 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards and the Inniskilling Dragoons. They have a proud lineage – battle honours including Blenheim; Dettingen; Peninsular; Waterloo (where Corporal Penfold of the Inniskillings claimed to have captured a French Eagle); Balaklava (the more successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade) and Mons.

    Amongst those who have served are Robert Baden Powell, the ‘father’ of the Boy Scouts who was the youngest colonel in the British Army when he assumed command of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and Captain Lawrence Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons who took part in Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition in 1912.

    But, after 250 years of independent service, reductions following the Great War in 1922 saw the 4th and 7th Dragoon Guards amalgamated to create a new regiment with its own traditions the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards. The Inniskillings and 5th Dragoon Guards were also amalgamated to become the 5th/6th Dragoons in the same year, and in 1935 gained the accolade 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.

    With such a long history, The Royal Dragoon Guards have amassed one of the finest regimental collections in the country, housed in York Army Museum, in the shadow of the Clifford’s Tower in the centre of York. The museum curates collections not only from the Royal Dragoon Guards but also The Yorkshire Regiment, caring for and celebrating the history and special connection between the people of Yorkshire and the army, serving on every continent on the globe. The service of the Inniskilling Dragoons, together with that of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, is remembered in Ireland at Enniskillen Castle. Both museums are well worth a visit, with knowledgeable and helpful staff, and interesting temporary exhibitions.

    Anthony Dawson's new book Royal Dragoon Guards is available for purchase now.

  • London's Sightseeing Buses by Malcolm Batten

    In 1972 London Transport 'tested the waters' for an open-top tourist service by hiring five 1951 Park Royal-bodied Guy Arab IIIs from East Kent from 17 June. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    As the capital of the United Kingdom, and with a history going back to the Roman times, London has obvious potential for tourism. As long ago as 1851, long before London Transport had come into existence, London hosted the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. In 1951 a new exhibition entitled the Festival of Britain was held on the South Bank of the Thames, between Waterloo Bridge and County Hall to mark one hundred years since the original. Described as ‘A Tonic to the Nation’ and running for six months, the Festival of Britain was a great success, a time for rejoicing after the rigours of war (although rationing was still in force). Over 8 million visitors attended this and also the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea, and almost all used public transport. From 11 May four London Transport RT buses, which had toured Europe the previous year to publicise the event, inaugurated the Circular Tour of London. The fare was 2s6d (12.5p) and the conductor used a public address system.

     

    In 1990 ten of the RCLs were converted to have removeable centre sections on their roofs. RCL2243 passes the Law Courts in Aldwych on 7 July 1991. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Tourism again blossomed with the Coronation in 1953. But after this the tourist market was not a priority, although the sightseeing tour continued each year. In 1967 a ‘London Sightseeing Round Tour’ 20 mile, 2 hour tour was being offered with six journeys a day starting from Victoria. It ran from Good Friday until October at a fare of five shillings (25p) for adults, half price for children. In 1968 this became the more logically sounding ‘Round London Sightseeing Tour’ and the fare had increased to six shillings (30p).

    In 1970 the Round London Sightseeing Tour carried 325,000 passengers. In 1971 the tour operated on a daily basis (except Christmas Day). From 3 April tours ran every hour from 10.00am to 9.00pm, for the first time from two departure points – Piccadilly Circus and Victoria. It was not pre-booked but on a turn up and go basis and the fare was now 50p for adults, 30p for children. Services were operated by Samuelson New Transport Co. Ltd. on behalf of LT.

    Advertising the Round London Sightseeing Tour. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1972 Britain joined the European Communities (European Union from 1993), eventually enabling visa less travel from other member countries. It was also in 1972 that London Transport ‘tested the water’ for an open-top tourist service by hiring five 1951 Guy Arab IIIs from East Kent. East Kent provided the drivers and LT the conductors. Also in 1972 London Transport hired Obsolete Fleet’s preserved former Tilling 1930 AEC Regent ST922 on a daily 45 minute circular route 100 from Horse Guards Parade. This was crewed by LT and sponsored by Johnnie Walker whisky, whose adverts it carried. Both operations were obviously deemed a success, for in 1975 Obsolete Fleet supplied seven open-top former Midland Red D9s to London Transport, painted LT red. These vehicles supplemented LT’s own Daimler Fleetlines, used on the Round London Sightseeing Tour since 1973. In 1974 more than 600,000 passengers were carried.

    In 1978 the D9s were replaced by a batch of seven convertible Daimler Fleetlines bought by London Transport from Bournemouth Corporation, the DMO class. The 1970s and early 1980s were a difficult time for bus operators with supply problems and poor industrial relations within the manufacturing industry. The Sightseeing Tour was not top priority so vehicles were hired from a number of sources to run this, supplementing their own vehicles. The hired vehicles were painted in LT red, but some had no indication of the ownership or function other than a paper ‘on hire to London Transport’ notice.

    Deregulation of coach and express services in 1980 allowed other operators to openly compete with London Transport on sightseeing services, unlike bus routes where LT had a monopoly. These competitors not only directly copied the pattern of tour that LT operated, they also introduced a number of new innovations, including ‘Hop-on, Hop-off’ tours and multilingual taped commentaries. Even so, by 1982, the RLST was generating some £60m to LT’s income.

    Advertising for resturant Planet Hollywood has been applied to RCL2250, seen rounding Marble Arch on 29 March 1996. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    From June 1984 London Regional Transport took over London Transport from the GLC. Then from 1 April 1985 a new wholly owned subsidiary, London Buses Ltd took on the operation of buses.

    In 1986 there was a rethink on sightseeing operations. As tourists regarded the Routemaster as the iconic London bus it was decided that these should be used on the sightseeing tour rather than the latest vehicles or hired buses. Fifty Routemasters were overhauled at Aldenham Works to replace the Metrobuses and hired vehicles on the RLST. They were given original style livery with cream band and gold underlined fleetname. Twenty RMs were converted to open-top, while nineteen retained their roofs for use in winter or inclement weather. The other eleven were RCLs which retained their roofs and regained doors. The route was rebranded as ‘The Original London Transport Sightseeing Tour’ (TOLST), and adult tickets now cost £5.  It was still a non-stop tour, but starting points were now at Victoria, Haymarket, Baker Street and Marble Arch.

    Brigit's Afternoon Tea Bus Tours. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Also in 1986 London Buses made their first attempt at a Hop-on, Hop-off service with Touristlink route T2. Starting on 7 June this was a circular route taking in most of the tourist sites including the Tower of London, British Museum, Madame Tussauds, Kensington and Hyde Park, with an all-day flat fare of £2 (children £1) and a short hop fare of 50p (children 25p).

    In April 1989 London Buses was split into regional operating units, plus London Coaches who ran the sightseeing operation. This was in preparation for eventual privatisation in the 1990s.

    When Privatisation took place, the London Coaches unit was sold in May 1992 to a management buy-out. However the company has changed owner twice since then.

    Of the many companies that joined in the competition from the 1980s, some were to be short-lived, being absorbed by other competitors, while others stayed the course to become major players. In more recent times, new companies have entered the market with varying success. Some of these have created new niche markets such as tours of haunted London or tours with afternoon tea served en-route. A mix of new and second-hand vehicles continue to provide the tours – even some Routemasters can still be found on tour work.

    Malcolm Batten's new book London's Sightseeing Buses is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Rutland by Daniel J. Codd

    The Development of ‘Secret Rutland’

    The idea for Secret Rutland may be said to have developed from two basic concepts.

    View of Hambleton from Rutland Water. The submerged hamlets of Nether and Middle Hambleton lie to the left. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    From a personal perspective, I have always been fascinated by Rutland Water as a feat of human engineering, although I accept that had I been born a generation or so earlier I might have had quite a different opinion on its at-the-time controversial development. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by a particular story that I heard on a number of occasions while walking the water’s edge: that, when the conditions were right, the bells of a church could be heard tolling beneath the waterline. This was because while developing Rutland Water ‘they had to flood some villages’. Only the latter part of this anecdote is partially true, but I was intrigued by the way that an old folkloric theme – that of the bells of submerged churches still tolling underwater – had become reinvented to fit a modern damming project like Rutland Water.

    The second concept concerned an observation that Rutland as a county warranted books about itself only infrequently. In fact, Rutland in literature seemed to suffer from a predisposition to be included within books on Leicestershire, almost as an afterthought. This seemed a little unfair, although somewhat understandable because between the 1970s and 1990s it was amalgamated into that neighbouring county. Although a small part of England, Rutland appeared so deserving of a book of its own that the idea for Secret Rutland was proposed. The outcome was by no means guaranteed – after all, there are UK towns with larger populations than the whole of Rutland put together! But with so much untapped history and local lore, the opportunity to devote a work wholly to Rutland proved to be viable one.

    Martinsthorpe - deserted scenic, possibly haunted, and somehow symbolic of Rutland. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    County folk proved very forthcoming with snippets of data for the work. One of the great joys of preparing the book was that it provided the opportunity to explore every corner and aspect of England’s smallest county. I had already made a resolution that I would visit every single parish church, large or small, since these are traditionally where a phenomenal amount of local knowledge can be gathered. But particularly enjoyable were the necessary excursions into Rutland’s beautiful open countryside. I was continually amazed how, even in Rutland, one could still find that they were out in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

    As an example, one exploratory walk the reader may find extremely rewarding proved to be the one from Manton to Martinsthorpe. Martinsthorpe is a deserted village so loftily positioned that it provides commanding views of the surrounding countryside, with church spires distantly visible in each direction, and Rutland Water shining like a giant mirror away to the east. Medieval earthworks surround the one remaining house at the spot, the post-medieval Old Hall farm. This is currently deserted, and the explorer will find no company out here apart from the sheep – and possibly the ghost of a civil-war era messenger said to haunt this windswept site. The point is that I found this spot to be classic Rutland – reminiscent of a beautifully tranquil, slightly removed time capsule that might be a metaphor for the county as a whole. This was just one of many rewarding and inspirational jaunts into the heart of Rutland.

    Barrowden's cryptic stone. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, as is always the case, not everything made it into the final work. Many are the poignant memorials to the sons of Rutland lost in the Great War, particularly inside Uppingham’s school and church. In the end just a small handful of these were observed in the finished publication to reflect the county’s sacrifice. But other sombre memorials can today be found within and without all of Rutland’s churches (except Teigh), including for instance the poppy-decorated cross at Market Overton dedicated to Lieutenant Vincent Wing, killed in 1917. The roses in the churchyard here were planted in his honour. Even if it were not the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, these would still be sites worth seeking out, as are the modern stained glass windows at Edith Weston and South Luffenham reflecting Second World War activity in the county. Another story omitted from the finished book concerned the deeds of the Parliamentarian soldier and independent thinker Robert Overton, who died while under house arrest at Seaton in 1678. A brass plaque to his memory can be found at Seaton’s church. And elsewhere in the county, near to the village pond at Barrowden, one cottage has an older stone block incorporated into its wall, which bears a cryptic inscription. This appears to be for the attention of anyone gazing upon coffins being taken into the church, for it tells them that they will themselves inevitably die! These places of interest are reminders that Rutland has yet other secrets not included in Secret Rutland!

    They are also reminders that every parish in Rutland has its own story to tell, naturally, and Secret Rutland could have evolved into an explanation of each village’s development, focusing on halls that no longer stand, the sites of village ponds and wells that have been filled in, who owned the local blacksmith in 1927, where the sheep-washes could be located, and so on. This would undoubtedly also have been an interesting project, although such a then-and-now approach to Rutland had already been touched upon in Amberley’s Through Time series. Nonetheless, to a certain extent, snippets of parish development have been mentioned incidentally throughout the finished publication. Also included in Secret Rutland are many ‘secret’ stories from Rutland’s past that have until now been hidden in the archives, as well as a smattering of local colour in the form of folk-lore. But the main objective of the book is hopefully to highlight to the reader, be they Raddle-folk or tourists, the hidden items of interest that may yet be sought out and observed … that is to say, the evidences of Rutland’s fascinating story which are still there to be seen, even if they take some finding!

    Daniel J. Codd's new book Secret Rutland is available for purchase now.

  • Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham by Roger Mason

    My recently-published book is not a technical study of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone Station in London to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. It features thirty-eight fascinating buildings, monuments, historical sites etc that can be seen from the window of a train making the journey. Although the book is not long out some interesting things have since happened.

    Wembley Stadium. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Wembley Stadium

    Wembley Stadium may be termed the jewel in the Football Association’s crown, and there have been advanced plans for it to be sold to Mr Shahid Khan who is the owner of Fulham Football Club. The proposed sale was strongly resisted by some and it was even termed scandalous. Partly due to the controversy and ill-feeling Mr Khan has withdrawn his offer.  The stadium will continue to be owned by the Football Association.

    The stadium has tightened its procedures on checking bags that are brought inside. All items carried by ticket holders and staff will be tightly checked and there may be personal wanding or pat down. Spectators will only be permitted to bring in one bag which must not be bigger than A4 size. Match day purchases will be supplied in sealed plastic bags. They may be brought into the stadium so long as the seal is not broken. The extra security measures are probably necessary but it is very sad.

    The state of Wembley’s pitch has been very heavily criticised in the late autumn of 2018. In fact it has been termed awful. The reason is that it has been over-used. There have been the usual England international football matches, and in addition Tottenham Hotspur have played all their home games there. This is because their new stadium at White Hart Lane is not ready and probably will not be ready before the end of the 2018/19 season. There have been three NFL American Football games in quick succession, and it has been the venue for Anthony Joshua’s successful world heavyweight title boxing defence against Alexander Povetkin. The groundsmen have had and are having a tough job.

    A red Kite. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Red Kites

    Chapter 15 tells the story of these magnificent birds. They are large, having a length slightly more than two feet, and they frequently twist and turn in soaring flight. Their tails are deeply forked, which helps identify them. By 1879 there were none left in England and Scotland, but a handful clung on in mid Wales.

    A joint project by RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) reintroduced them in several areas. The venture succeeded, especially in the Chilterns and breeding pairs have spread out from their places of introduction. A particularly good point to see them is close to the railway line mid way between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. This is the position featured in the book.

    For obvious reasons it is not possible to count the birds, but when the book was written RSPB’s latest estimate for England was 1,860 breeding pairs, plus further juvenile and non-breeding ones. I suspect that this is an under-estimate. I recently drove past the area mentioned and I counted seven soaring overhead. I was on my way to watch Wycombe Wanderers play at Adams Park on the western edge of High Wycombe. There were two more red kites circling the stadium.

    Chapter 12 in the book is about High Wycombe and this includes something about Wycombe Wanderers and Adams Park. In case you are interested Wycombe beat Shrewsbury 3-2 and they have an outside chance of promotion from Division 1 into the Championship.

    Chesterton Windmill. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Chesterton Windmill

    Had I been able to consult Jane Austen she might well have told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book such as this must be in want of a good windmill.  Chesterton Windmill is a particularly fine example and it is located on a bleak hillside three miles short of Leamington Spa.

    During my visit I was puzzled to see that two bunches of flowers had been laid at the foot of the structure. They were fresh and wrapped in cellophane, but there were no cards or other indications of their purpose. They reminded me of the sad tributes sometimes laid at the scene of a fatal road accident. I reconciled myself to not ever knowing the reason why they were there.

    I now feel that I do know the reason and it is a very sad one. A friend who lives a few miles away told me that some years ago there was a murder and that the body was found a short distance from the windmill. It happened in the winter at about the time of year that I made my visit. This must surely be the explanation.

    Roger Mason's new book Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide by Jan-Andrew Henderson

    For much of Edinburgh’s long existence, there was only the Old Town. Perched on a high basalt ridge, it slowly turned from a collection of rude cottages with a fort at the top and arable slopes on either side, to a collection of towering tenements clinging to the ridge.

    The original New Town. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This was the perfect defensive site. Scotland’s history was a turbulent one, so the Old Town never really expanded. It just got more and more crowded. Surrounded by a fortified wall, the greenery disappeared under a rash of tenements, which grew so high they were the tallest in Europe, reaching fifteen stories in some spots. People lived in underground cellars and tunnels, sanitation was non-existent, and the dwellings were rickety fire hazards and living conditions utterly deplorable. By the time the New Town came along, The Royal Mile’s glory days were fading. A huge number of Edinburgh aristocrats and ambitious, well educated innovators had taken off for London, were no longer willing to live in such a dirty, smelly, violent place.

    North of the city, however, were vast swathes of pastoral land. Separated from the Royal Mile only by the pungent expanse of the sewage filled Nor’ Loch, it was too tempting a prize to ignore. Along with Glasgow, Edinburgh was the focal point of the Scottish Enlightenment and still teeming with men of learning. Though the crowded conditions in the Old Town had actually been a perfect cauldron for brilliant ideas and innovation, better living conditions were deemed essential if all those geniuses were to be persuaded to stay. In 1752 a pamphlet called Proposals by Sir Gilbert Minto (1693-1766) argued that a nice new northern development was just the ticket to stop a potential brain drain and bring the cream of Edinburgh society back.

    Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This required more than a new area to inhabit. It called for something to equal, or even surpass, the finest suburbs of London. Nothing parochial. British rather than Scottish, to give a cosmopolitan and classical feel. After all, you couldn’t beat the Greeks and Romans at this sort of thing.

    The man who got the ball rolling properly was Lord Provost George Drummond (1688-1766). His tentative first step was to build a gateway between the Royal Mile and the flat, open lands ripe for development – the North Bridge. Next, Drummond needed a builder with a grand plan. So, in 1766, the city launched a competition to design a New Town for Edinburgh.

    The winner was a little-known architect named James Craig (1739-1795), only 26 at the time. His layout wasn’t exactly earth shattering, merely a simple grid structure of three parallel main streets with a large square at either end. But it was loaded with allegory, (very) roughly mimicking the Union Jack, symbolizing the union of Scotland and England under the reigning king George III (1738-1820).

    Walter Scott Monument. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    But the New Town was also symbolic of the Scottish Enlightenment and its beliefs – that society and its environment could be improved by logical and pragmatic thinking. Though grand in scale, the layout was deliberately functional and uncomplicated, rather than the organic, messy development of most cities.

    A natural reluctance by Edinburgh’s citizens to embrace change meant that it took almost fifty years to finish the first New Town. But the result was stunning and the influx slow and steady.  Ironically, the aristocrats Scotland hoped to entice back avoided the place, since they couldn’t plonk some stately home with a mile long driveway in the middle of such a carefully regulated area. This was no great loss, for it was the wealthy and cultured middle class who were most enthused by the ideals and aspirations of the Scottish Enlightenment. And they loved the place.

    This, to me, is the great irony of the New Town. In my opinion, the truly innovative ideas of the Enlightenment came out of the Old Town. Carried to the New World, they found a receptive audience in the thousand of Scots Irish and Scottish Presbyterians who had relocated there. This irrevocably shaped the ethos and national character of what would become the most powerful country in the world – the USA.

    Naturally, the occupants of the New Town were less radical, happy to keep up the momentum that had started on the Royal Mile. The ‘Scottish School’ of thought argued that we were ultimately creatures of our environment – and what an environment the residents now had. But they had no intention of resting on their laurels. They acquired knowledge like sponges. Considered bettering themselves a necessity. Exuded an unshakeable self confidence that their English counterparts now lacked and their predecessors in the Old Town, brilliant though they might be, had never really known. Along with Glasgow’s more free-wheeling counterparts, they altered the face of the globe by becoming the practical and intellectual backbone of an even greater force than the USA. The British Empire.

    Albert Memorial, Charlotte Square Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    The city of Edinburgh finally had a civilized veneer and projected itself as ‘the Athens of the North’, despite the Old Town being a total cesspit. And that’s the sad part, in a way. For the first time, true public division had arrived. Instead of the rich and poor living cheek by jowl, complimenting each other in the generation of innovative ideas, the haves and have-nots were suddenly segregated by distance and class. Civilization had arrived and Edinburgh embraced the fact that it wasn’t just riding the coat tails of Britain’s bid to take over the globe. It was leading the charge.

    The New Town isn’t simply an architectural masterpiece but a monument to the body of men (and a few convention defying women) who changed the entire world.

    Jan-Andrew Henderson's new book Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide is available for purchase now.

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