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  • 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.

  • A History of St Mawes Sailing Club by Nigel Sharp

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    032433 Dolls' Houses CVR.indd

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

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