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  • Meet the Great British Eccentrics by Steven Tucker

    To celebrate the publication of his new book Great British Eccentrics, author SD Tucker provides some edited highlights from the lives of three of Britain’s most lovable lunatics ...

    That Magnificent Madman with his Flying Machine

    Charles Waterton, the Squire of Walton Hall in Yorkshire, was a prominent nineteenth-century naturalist who developed the strange belief that he could fly. He even manufactured himself a pair of home-made wings, but found there was one thing which prevented him using them properly; his legs. No matter how “symmetrically formed”, said Waterton, a man’s legs were “inconveniently long and heavy” for an “atmospheric trip” and kept on bringing him back down to ground. He could have chopped them off, but this would have proved inconvenient in other ways; another solution would be to float them on some kind of artificial cloud, but he never worked out how to make one. As a result, when he jumped off a platform to test his wings out, he plummeted straight down to earth like a stone.

    Maybe the Squire had simply enjoyed an uncharacteristically heavy meal that day; for, such was the light nature of his diet, he claimed to be able to float down from heights quite naturally, due to his belly being full of wind and air. For example, when cutting off a rotten tree-branch one day, Waterton’s ladder slipped, causing him to suffer a 12 foot drop to the ground. However, in his own words: “I had just presence of mind, in the act of falling, to forcibly restrain my breath, and from fasting, being meagrely supplied within, when I reached the ground I may say with truth that I literally bounced upon my feet in an instant. My transit from high to low merely produced a stiffness in my neck and right leg the following day. Had I been full of beef at the time, I assuredly should have fared worse.” Yet another benefit of going on a diet!

    The Mad Hatter of Newton Burgoland

    Had you visited the small Leicestershire village of Newton Burgoland during the 1850s or 1860s, then you may well have encountered a very strange gentleman named William Lole, who was happy to welcome visitors into his own personal secret garden. Here sat a large tub, acting as a pulpit, and next to it stood a home-made gallows, from which dangled a stuffed effigy of the Pope. Lole viewed the Pope as evil and, whenever he had managed to lure enough visitors into his garden, would climb into his tub and begin to deliver what was called by one witness “a long rambling tirade”, telling his visitors that the Vicar of Rome was really the Anti-Christ.

    Just as strange as Lole’s garden was his appearance. He owned at least twenty special symbolic hats, each bearing various mottoes he felt were of the utmost importance to humanity. It appears these hats were shaped like the objects they were meant to symbolise – so, when wearing a hat entitled ‘Bee-Hive of Industry’, he presumably walked around with a fake bee-hive on his head. Lole’s ‘Patent Tea-Pot’ hat must have looked the strangest, being, I suppose, short and stout, and coming complete with a handle and a spout. It seems that, when wearing this particular item, Lole wished to pour out the sweet tea of social justice into the world; its motto was ‘To draw out the flavour of the tea best – Union and Goodwill’. I wonder how much goodwill he would encounter if he tried on such antics today, though?

    The Nutty Professor

    Probably the most eccentric scientist in British history was Sir Francis Galton, a half-cousin of Charles Darwin whose interests included statistics, anthropology, currency reform, the best way of flashing signals to Martians, inherited lunacy amongst cats and the fluctuating weight of British noblemen. As an experiment intended to illustrate how easy it was to convince yourself to believe in falsehoods, he decided to see if it was possible to convince himself that a puppet of Mr Punch was in fact God. By sheer force of will, Galton eventually managed to convince himself that Mr Punch did indeed possess divine powers, feeling it impossible to look upon his hook-nosed and red-cheeked face without feeling a mixture of awe and reverence.

    Every bit as bizarre were some of his many weird and wonderful inventions, like the so-called ‘Gumption-Reviver’, which dropped water onto his head to maintain alertness during periods of study. By placing pressure-gauges under the legs of chairs at dinner-parties, meanwhile, he aimed to record scientifically how much his guests fancied each other, his theory being that, the more each male leaned towards each female at the table, the more suitable marriage-partners they were. Best of all was a special hat Galton invented to prevent the wearer’s brain overheating during periods of strenuous thought. Claiming to have once ‘sprained’ his own brain whilst studying Mathematics at Cambridge, Galton was determined that his head should never again become too warm through over-use, leading to cerebral malfunction. To this end, he devised a special ‘ventilating hat’, whose top featured a valve which opened and closed whenever a rubber-bulb dangling down from its brim was squeezed, thus preventing disaster. The fact that this aim could have been achieved rather more easily by simply not wearing a hat at all seems never to have occurred to Sir Francis ...


    Great British Eccentrics by SD Tucker is available now from Amberley, and features dozens of strange tales about dozens of equally strange people.

  • Malting and Malthouses in Kent by James Preston

    When I have mentioned that I have been looking for malthouses the general reaction has been a blank look. Malt as a material is no longer understood. It has no relevance to generations that were not fed cod liver oil and malt or Virol! It might as a word appear on malt vinegar labels but has no meaning for most people. Even its connection with beer is not recognised. Beer emerges from a brewery, with a flavour of hops which is recognised in Kent because of the number of oast houses, but the fact that beer is made of malt and water is not understood by many. I have to explain that malt is made from barley which is germinated before being kilned to whatever degree is desired for the type of beer being produced. I then have to go on to describe the type of building used in the process, and what features would distinguish a malthouse from a hop oast.

    This is part of the reason that I wanted to put this information into book form, to make accessible for the first time for Kent what had happened to a once widespread industry that had disappeared from view. Another reason for publishing is that over the years I had accumulated a mass of miscellaneous notes relating to a wide number of malthouses, had photographs of most of the extant buildings, and it seemed appropriate to share my knowledge.

    Malting pic 1 Moving grain from the store to the steep using a traditional barrow. (Whitbread plc)

    The malting process in Kent was floor malting in which barley was soaked for a couple of days before being spread over a floor to germinate and sprout, being turned all the while to promote even growth and to prevent matting. Once the sprouts had reached roughly half an inch the green malt was kilned to stop growth and help convert the starch to sugars. The process determined the type of building utilised. This was usually long and with low ceilings to help with temperature control, with a kiln block at the opposite end to the soaking steep. The length of the building allowed the grain to be moved towards the kiln as it was turned on the floor. Early malthouses looked very similar to oasts, but had one distinguishing feature, other than the low ceilings, which was the very small usually shuttered windows which were also an aid in keeping temperature adjusted. Early kilns for making pale malt would, like oasts, have employed wooden slatted kilning floors covered with horse hair mats over open fire baskets. Later nineteenth century malthouses such as at Hadlow or Gravesend (now flats), Faversham (Tesco) and St Stephens, Canterbury (Barrett’s car sales) which can been clearly identified by their scale, utilised wire mesh kilning floors which allowed higher temperatures for dark malt.

    Malting pic 2 Perry Street Oast, 2011

    For those researching malthouses there are pre nineteenth century references in leases, marriage settlements and legal documents which give sparse information, usually the parish, name of owner, and sometimes, of the occupier. Locations are vague such as to the north of the London road. Identifying the locations in the field is difficult to impossible. As illustrated by the photographs in the book redundant malthouses were often converted into dwellings and have lost all features such as kilns. In nineteenth century newspaper sales advertisements for malthouses it was often stressed that they were suitable for conversion into cottages. Unfortunately many, particularly later eighteenth century and nineteenth century malthouses stood in urban areas, became valuable redevelopment sites, and have been demolished.

    The book is not intended to be a compendium of all that is known about malthouses in Kent. There were one or two malthouses in almost every parish over the centuries, and their enumeration would be tedious. The book sets out to describe the floor malting process as utilised in Kent (as distinct from pneumatic malting which is currently employed in Norfolk and elsewhere) and the buildings employed, and to try to explain the decline and disappearance of the industry from Kent. It also lists and illustrates those malthouses which remain, showing a progression in building form.

    I hope those with an interest in Kent’s industrial history will find the book a useful guide to this neglected area of our past and will use it to visit some of the sites. I have to caution though that access to the inside of buildings is only possible at Faversham at Tescos, Canterbury if buying a car and at Hythe, and even in these places most features have been removed.


    James Preston's Malting and Malthouses in Kent is available for purchase now.

  • James Brindley and the Duke of Bridgewater by Victoria Owens

    2016 will see the tercentenary of the birth of James Brindley, the eighteenth-century canal engineer whom Thomas Carlyle once described as a ‘transcendent human beaver’ and whose fame first derived from his association with Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater. Documentation of their dealings is sparse. Fortunately, a few accounts books for the Duke’s Estates survive, as do four of the thin paper-covered notebooks in which James Brindley kept his accounts, records of site visits and day-to-day memoranda. These materials, together with Canal Company minutes books, occasional letters to newspapers and the probate inventory of James Brindley’s estate, have been the major sources for my book, although it is fair to say that the record of events that they provide has many gaps and unexplained silences.

    Brindley's record of visits to Worsley reproduced by courtesy of the Institutuion of Civil Engineers Brindley's record of visits to Worsley reproduced by courtesy of the Institutuion of Civil Engineers

    A certain amount of the story is well-known. Although the two men came from radically different backgrounds, both showed their inclination to stubborn independence at an early age. In 1733 when he was seventeen, Brindley, eldest son of a small landowner and heir to the family farm, apprenticed himself to a drunken millwright of Macclesfield named Abraham Bennett. Having succeeded to the title of Duke of Bridgewater at the age of fourteen, one of Francis Egerton’s earliest action was to bring a suit in chancery against his mother and his detested step-father Sir Richard Lyttelton, on the grounds that they had mis-appropriated the estate of his late father, Scrope, the 1st Duke.

    By the early 1750s, the two of them were following paths proper to their respective callings. The young Duke made his grand tour in the company of his tutor Robert Wood, scholarly author of a best-selling travel book entitled The Ruins of Palmyra, who may have been somewhat nonplussed by the fascination which the locks, docks and bridges of the seventeenth-century Canal du Midi held for his charge. Brindley, meanwhile, in the English midlands divided his time between designing a silk mill in Congleton, a corn mill in Leek and a drainage scheme for a notoriously flood-prone colliery near Manchester, aptly known as Wet Earth Pit.

    The Duke came home from his travels in 1755. He settled in London and amused himself by gambling, riding in races, and falling in love with beautiful Elizabeth Gunning, daughter of an impoverished Irish peer. Shortly after they got engaged, malicious gossip alleged that Elizabeth’s sister Maria, the Countess of Coventry, was pursuing an affaire. When the scrupulous young Duke of Bridgewater suggested that Elizabeth might distance herself from her adored sister, Elizabeth was understandably appalled and ended her engagement.

    The Duke retreated to his Lancashire home of Worsley, where he sought solace in planning a canal to convey the coal from his mines to its market. In March 1759, he obtained an Act of Parliament authorising him to cut from Worsley Mill to Salford and three months later, in June 1759, his agent John Gilbert noted expenditure of 9s on levelling staves – graduated rods used to gauge differences in the height of ground –and 7s 6d for the estate employee who had been despatched to Derby to buy a spirit level.

    Worsley Old Hall now a welcoming pub May 2015 (2) Worsley Old Hall now a welcoming pub May 2015

    Gilbert certainly knew of Brindley’s mill-work, and how it called for a useful combination of the skills of joiner, mason, blacksmith, surveyor, besides an understanding of the behaviour of water as a source of motive power. Although the exact circumstances in which he introduced Brindley to the Duke’s canal venture are unknown, whatever conversation may have passed between them had the result that from July 1759 on, Brindley was a regular visitor to the site and recorded the time he spent ‘at Worsley Hall’ in his Notebook. When Sir Joseph Banks came to Worsley in 1767, he observed in his Journal that Brindley ‘was recommended to the duke by Mr Gilbert who found him in Staffordshire, where he was only famous for being the Best Millwright in the Countrey.’ Brindley, he added, was ‘a man of no education, but of extremely strong natural parts.’

    The ‘no education’ remark calls for some clarification. While Brindley’s surviving manuscript notebooks give the lie to the tradition that he was illiterate, it is not unfair to say that he was never on entirely easy terms with the written language. Neither, for that matter, was the Duke, who detested writing letters and was always reluctant to commit anything to paper. Although we have no indication of what these two taciturn men made of one another, the consequences of their meeting were immense. Not only did Brindley make short work of ironing out any problems that the canal’s construction may have encountered in its early stages, but his involvement in the venture had the effect of encouraging the Duke to think in ever more ambitious terms. Before long, he applied for a new Act of Parliament which, rather than follow the unadventurous option of building only as far as Salford, would authorise him to take his canal into the heart of Manchester, crossing the River Irwell upon a navigable aqueduct.

    James Brindley's Bible - a gift from the Duke  Image  courtesy of Dominic Winter auctioneers James Brindley's Bible - a gift from the Duke Image courtesy of Dominic Winter auctioneers

    Stories about Brindley’s skill in enabling the uncomprehending members of parliament to grasp what form the structure would take have passed into engineering folklore. To give the bemused Parliamentarians an idea of what it would look like, for instance, he allegedly carved a small-scale replica from a Cheshire cheese. To demonstrate how he proposed to ensure that the canal should be water-tight, he provided himself with a trough of wet clay and a jug of water, and gave a practical demonstration on the floor of the House of how to work up clay puddle. Even when building had begun, people still could not believe that the bridge could actually carry a canal over a river, and the battle to win hearts and minds continued. One infamous tale claims that the Duke rashly took an unnamed ‘Gentleman of Eminence’ on a site inspection in the hope that he might give the enterprise his blessing and spare its promoters some word of encouragement. On his departure, the grand visitor scathingly observed that although he had often heard of castles in the air, he had never before seen where one was to be erected.

    By this time, Brindley, Gilbert and the Duke were all based at Worsley Old Hall. Perseverance in the face of the nay-sayers’ scorn drew them into increasing if unlikely intimacy. It was not precisely friendship, but more the reluctant fellow-feeling of cross-grained allies bound on the same course. Gilbert - always the Duke’s loyal man – and the independent Brindley were, perhaps predictably, prone to quarrel. There were setbacks, notably when the bridge threatened to collapse shortly before completion. On this occasion, folklore maintains that Brindley had a total breakdown and only John Gilbert’s prompt action in redistributing the weight between the arch and the abutments saved the day. In the absence of documentary evidence, it is hard to know how much trust to place upon this version of events.

    What is clear is that whatever misadventures attended its building, on 17 July 1761 the Barton Aqueduct opened to traffic and swiftly became a source of fairground thrill to the visitors who came to view it. Earnest clergymen took the dare of walking across it, all of thirty nine feet above the river Irwell. The poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld celebrated it in couplets, remarking how

    The traveller with pleasing wonder sees

    The white sail gleaming thro’ the dusky trees;

    And views the alter’d landscape with surprise,

    And doubts the magic scenes which round him rise.

    Meanwhile in the sober prose of his Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles round Manchester, her brother John Aikin promised that travellers to Barton upon Irwell would be ‘gratified with the extraordinary sight, never before beheld in this country, of one vessel sailing over the top of another.’ Both the Duke and Brindley included it in their portraits, each man enshrining its completion as the defining achievements of his life.

    The illustration on my book’s cover shows an engraving made around 1860 by Percival Skelton. His depiction of the aqueduct against a background of the mills of Victorian Manchester may not have much geographical precision, but perhaps his artistic licence is justified. In his picture, the aqueduct together with the smoke from their chimneys, serves as a sign of the city’s prosperity – the emblem of all that the combined endeavours of the Duke and Brindley had brought about.

    Sir Edward Leader-Williams' swing bridge Barton-upon-Irwell May 2015 Sir Edward Leader-Williams' swing bridge Barton-upon-Irwell May 2015

    With the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s much of the old Barton Aqueduct was demolished. In its place Sir Edward Leader Williams’ Barton Swing Bridge would carry the venerable Bridgewater Canal over the vast new waterway – an instance of progress quite literally shouldering history aside. Nevertheless, affection for the old bridge was strong and at the behest of local people, a fragment of the dismantled structure was reassembled and set in a wall at the side of the road as a memento of the work of Brindley and the Duke. Men of immense ambition, the story of the way in which they nurtured the canal network and with it, a new industrial age straddles the realms of engineering history and engineering myth. I’ve enormously enjoyed writing about them; I hope you’ll enjoy reading my book.


    Victoria's book James Brindley and the Duke of Bridgewater is available for purchase now

  • Agincourt - October 1415: The Long March by W. B. Bartlett

    The English army set out for Calais. No doubt there was much grumbling in the ranks. Thousands had been invalided home through the effects of dysentery and the expedition would have to survive on the rations it could carry with it and those that they could obtain from the lands through which they passed. Enough food was carried to last the men for eight days which was how long it was expected to complete the march if it was unimpeded. This turned out to be a hopelessly optimistic assumption.

    To add to the dangers, it was now very likely that a French army was waiting to intercept the English force. Even early on during the march there were skirmishes between French and English forces though these were minor. Henry managed to negotiate passage past several important local towns, Arques and Eu. There was no time for a siege so the English had to do what they could to negotiate their way past these places unimpeded.

    They had one specific target in mind, a crossing of the River Somme at Blanchetaque. This was a crucial destination, a ford which had been forced successfully by the invading armies of Edward III during his Crecy campaign over half a century before to his great glory; it was an action that resonated in recent English history. If Henry V could get across here then there was every chance of making it to Calais and then England without a fight.

    Then disturbing news came in. A Frenchman was captured and interviewed. He told the English that an army lay ready and waiting for them at Blanchetaque. It has taken up a strong defensive position to block the way ahead. Henry pondered on the news, realising that a powerful army opposing him here could lead to disaster. Eventually he decided on his move: another way across the Somme must be sought.

    So the English army diverted inland, moving along the southern bank of the Somme seeking in vain for a way over. Each mile they moved away from the coast was a mile further from Calais. Each day that passed extinguished another day’s rations. There was only a very limited supply of provisions easily available from the areas through which the army journeyed and it was no position to involve itself in a fight. Morale began to plummet and petty pilfering broke out. In one incident that deeply disturbed the pious English king a church was robbed. The offending archer was discovered and promptly hanged as an example to his comrades.

    But then, a glimmer of hope. The army was thinking that it would have to make its way to the very source of the Somme before they could cross it. However, spies came in with the news that a crossing had at last been found. The French had taken steps to damage it beyond repair but had failed to do so. The army crossed gingerly over, just in time for French cavalry rode up to impede them but in insufficient numbers to successfully do so.

    The English army advanced towards Calais once more, the Duke of York in the lead. His men reached the village of Blagny where a small river was traversed. They climbed the hill that hid the way ahead from them. As they crested it, they drew up their horses in a state of shock. Before them they saw a huge army barring the way. Many of the men had hoped desperately to reach Calais without a fight. It was now clear that this was unlikely to happen. Few can have had any hope that the result would be in their favour.

    This must have been a blow to King Henry. His march across France had been a huge gamble and it is probable that he did not want to provoke a fight. The outcome of medieval battles was uncertain and defeat could destroy not only his claims to the throne of France but also his powerbase in England. He was young and inexperienced and, although he had fought in battle before, never in a position where the stakes were so high. The days ahead would provide the sternest test he was ever likely to face and the outcome of the battle that loomed would determine his place in history.


    W.B. Bartlett's book Agincourt is available for purchase now

  • Evesham, for battle it was none by Darren Baker

    The battle of Evesham, which was fought under a dark, rainless cloud 750 years ago, truly changed everything. It put an end to England’s fledgling constitutional monarchy and wiped out the Montfortian leadership that had imposed it upon the king. The years of strife and uncertainty ushered in by the reforming Provisions of Oxford of 1258 culminated in a slaughter of the nobility on this field not seen since the Norman Conquest. In its own time Evesham was lamented not as a battle of any sort, only murder, and the particularly gruesome mutilation of Simon de Montfort’s body when it was over makes recalling it with any fanfare a rather dubious prospect. But the English are nothing if not inured to harsh experience, so the festivities will go on.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 Greenhill

    The basic facts are these: in May 1265 Montfort led his caretaker court to Gloucester to try and appease his disaffected partner in the new government Gilbert de Clare, not realizing that Clare had already put a plan of betrayal in motion. It called for the landing of royalist exiles, making allies of the Marcher insurgents, and organizing the escape of the king’s son Edward. Within a month they had Montfort, with Henry III still at his side, on the run. Their last hope was to cross the River Avon at the vale of Evesham and link up with reinforcements coming in from the north, but Edward cut them off at Greenhill. Montfort led a desperate charge to break through, but outnumbered and exhausted, they were beaten back, hemmed in, and massacred.

    That date of 4 August 1265 started off with Montfort anxious to get his troops moving, but Henry insisted on having breakfast and attending Mass at the Evesham abbey church. Montfort had always been deferential to Henry’s personal needs and agreed to a halt despite knowing that Edward was shadowing their movements. This raises the question of why Montfort simply didn’t leave the king behind and continue on their way.

    The easiest answer is Henry was his surety. If he lost the king and his son, it would be only a matter of time before they reclaimed the government under their terms, much the way they did in 1263 after Montfort first swept into power. Only this time there would be no arbitration, rather retribution. Setting the king loose would also deprive them of their feudal advantage. Whoever marched into battle against the king was the rebel, so in this case Edward and Clare. Simon, however, was keen not to advertise Henry’s presence, lest Edward’s men snatched him in the course of the battle, and had him accoutered without any emblem distinguishing his royal rank.

    It was said at the time that he did this because he knew they were doomed and wished the king to die with them. A higher explanation might be that this was the Simon de Montfort imbued with the idea of justice for all that heralded in the reform movement. His army consisted mostly of peasants and freeholders, men trying to eke out a living in that difficult age, who saw hope for a better life under the Provisions. They would have known about them because, unlike Magna Carta, they were written and proclaimed in English, the first instance of a political initiative aimed directly at the people. If they had to put their lives on the line for better government, it was only fair the king should do the same.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 Looking down from Greenhill

    An equally intriguing question is what if any last words passed between Simon and Henry on that fateful morning. Their history went back three and a half decades when Simon, born and raised in France, stepped ashore and brazenly asked Henry to grant his tenuous claim to the earldom of Leicester. Each man was pious, shrewd, and very conscious of his place in the world, and they became great friends until court politics and family squabbles drove a gulf between them. They had always meant the other well, but all the troubles had now made them seem more like an old married couple whose relationship had soured for good. As they rode off together to meet Edward’s army, they probably had nothing more to say to each other.

    Late research has revealed that before the battle Edward assembled a hit squad to find Montfort and kill him. Legend credits Roger Mortimer with delivering the actual death blow for no other reason than the two men were feuding (about what has never been made clear) and he got Simon’s head from among the spoils. On the other hand, a contemporary source says he was felled by an unnamed knight who later met a ridiculous end by drowning at the court of Edward’s sister in Scotland.

    No doubt Simon got special attention one way or another, but we can safely assume that Edward did in fact order his men to kill whoever they got their hands on. That was no incentive for medieval warriors who counted on collecting ransoms from the prisoners they took, but he had a greater prize, their land and property. Admirers of the chivalric Edward who loved tournaments and King Arthur will find this disreputable action disturbing and may hope that it was thrust upon him by the likes of Clare and Mortimer. Remembering the earlier reforming spirit in Edward, when he joined his uncle Simon in the showdown with Henry over control of Parliament in 1260, an argument can be made that his order mirrored Simon’s opinion about justice for all, namely that knights would have to take the same chances as ordinary foot soldiers. Hm, wishful thinking.

    However it came to pass, the slaughter was horrific, with Simon, his son Henry, and top lieutenants Hugh Despenser and Peter de Montfort among those cut down. Just like at Lewes, Edward got into the killing and carried it all the way into the church. He was sadly mistaken if he hoped to find his father alive in there. In all probability, Henry had been behind Montfort with a bodyguard of young knights consisting of Simon’s son Guy and the younger Peter de Montfort. The fact that all three were wounded suggests that they were each a stroke or two away from death when Henry cried out in the din of battle that he was the king. His attackers verified that was indeed the case and, unsure about the identity of the knights with him, chose to play it safe and take them prisoner. The survival of Guy de Montfort would go on to haunt Edward for many a day.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 The battle in medieval rendering

    In a contemporary source, Henry is made to look like a cowering fool as Edward’s men move in on him. ‘Don’t hit me,’ he supposedly keeps crying out, ‘I’m Henry your king, I’m too old to fight.’ This seems to reflect the need to want to see the king in such a pathetic state, as the mere shadow of his former self. That would pave the way for the Edward of later legend, the great warrior who saved his father from the clutches of that other great warrior Simon de Montfort. The problem is it doesn’t square with the description of Henry at Lewes the previous year, when he had two horses killed from under him and had to be forced off the field by his attendants. It was his brother Richard who did the cowering then, in a nearby windmill, this after Edward cost them the battle by going off on a murderous joyride after it began.

    The act of disinheritance that followed Evesham may have been the lure that enabled Edward to build up a large army in so short a time span, but the decision was ultimately Henry’s and he may have decided to go that course whatever his son might think. Certainly his actions in the run-up to Lewes show rebellion had hardened him, made him determined not to put up with it anymore as he had done on no less than four occasions (1227, 33, 38, 58). When the perennially grumpy Clare occupied London after a spat with Edward, it took the intervention of the papal legate to save him from the king’s wrath.

    Evesham - Microsoft Word - Document5 The fabled Battlewell

    The last major question about the events at Evesham goes to the climax itself, the mutilation of Montfort’s body. It’s the one feature that anyone coming into contact with the battle for the first time is guaranteed to take away from it. Even if it was the hit squad’s work, it seems unlikely that Edward had anything to do with it. His later reign demonstrated that he was quite capable of committing such atrocities, but he had to know that his uncle King Louis of France, for one, would be aghast at the disgraceful treatment of a man who had once been his good friend. He was astute enough to know, moreover, that it would leave him with a blood feud with the Montfort family, whose political reach stretched from France to the Holy Land. That would explain his later attempts to make amends, at least with money. Alas, there was no buying his way out of this one and Guy de Montfort exacted a brutal revenge that destroyed any hope of reconciliation between the families.

    The other consequence to be expected from chopping up Montfort on the field was making a martyr out of him. It was the last thing Henry needed for clamping down on the disinherited rebels, and he was forced to outlaw any talk about miracles to be had at Battlewell, the spring that supposedly arose on the spot where his adversary fell. He was probably justified in being angry at Simon for all he had put him through, though. After all, he was the lone magnate who refused to be cowed into accepting an emasculated form of the Provisions. Had Simon fell in line with the others, there wouldn’t have been any war or the nightmare of Evesham. It’s possible the evolution of government begun by Magna Carta in 1215 would have stayed the same course without Simon’s almost fanatical need to impose the Provisions that he swore an oath to uphold at that solemn ceremony in Oxford in 1258. Just like Henry and Edward.

    Evesham - 9781445645742

    Darren Baker's With All For All: The Life of Simon de Montfort is available for purchase now.

  • Looking at the Women of Ancient Roman by Iain Ferris

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Lifesize bronze statue of Victory from the Capitolium, Brescia, Northern Italy

    Today's visitors to the archaeological museums of Rome will see many statues of the imperial and elite women of ancient Rome and of Roman goddesses on display and numerous other kinds of Roman objects such as reliefs, tombstones, coins, and mosaics adorned with images of women of many sorts. Some of these images were intended to be taken at face value by their ancient, contemporary viewers, but others were imbued with more subtle and nuanced meanings depending on their original context of display.

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Statue of the empress Sabina in the guise of Ceres

    In my latest book for Amberley Publishing The Mirror of Venus: Women in Roman Art I attempt to make sense of this plethora of images of women and to explain their original meaning and significance in what was a male-dominated society and a highly visual culture. As well as looking at such images in Rome itself I also examine their occurrence in provincial contexts in places like Roman Britain.

    Particular attention is paid to analysing the images of the Roman imperial women and the elite women who often emulated their portrayals, to consideration of the significance of imagery on funerary monuments, and to the investigation of the remarkable phenomenon of the portrayal of working women from Rome, Ostia and Pompeii and elsewhere in the Roman world and of barbarian women.

    Rome - Microsoft Word - Document2 Mummy-portrait of a Romanised woman from Hawara, Fayum, Egypt (Photo copyright of the Trustees of the British Museum)

    I also look at the widespread use of images of goddesses, common personifications such as Victory, and mythological women such as the war-like Amazons in various contexts, including their appearances on major civic monuments in Rome. Finally, I try to come to grips with the concept of the Roman male gaze and its relationship to male power in Roman society and how this may have impacted on the reception of the many sexualised or erotic images discussed in the book.

    My book is intended to counteract the old cliché that the vast majority of women in the ancient world could be classified either as goddesses, whores, wives, or slaves and to illustrate the multiplicity of positive and sometimes complex identities revealed by a careful analysis of images of Roman women.

    Rome - 9781445633725

    Iain Ferris' The Mirror of Venus is available for purchase now.

  • Oxford Pubs by Dave Richardson

    I have written books before but unlike some of the authors in Amberley’s Pubs series, I’m not a local historian. But it really was a no-brainer when Amberley approached me to write the volume about Oxford, as I knew most of the pubs already and the history of some is well documented.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 Angel & Greyhound Pub

    I decided from the outset that I wanted to give a flavour of what these pubs are like today, to act as a guide book as well as a historical record. So I have included only a few which are no longer with us – the Golden Cross, now Pizza Express; the Roebuck, now Wagamama; and the Swindlestock Tavern, which closed over three centuries ago. I also tell the stories of the Angel and the Greyhound coaching inns, both on High Street, whose names live on at the Angel and Greyhound pub in St Clement’s.

    Oxford Pubs - Microsoft Word - Document4 The Mad Hatter Cocktail Bar

    Research was long and arduous, but someone had to do it.

    I ventured into pubs I had never been in before despite living in Oxford for 35 years, including the Mad Hatter cocktail bar which is a bizarre place where, in true Alice in Wonderland style, you have to answer a question before they let you in. Beware the tea served from ornate teapots, though -- it tasted like a boozy cocktail to me!

    I took most of the external photographs myself, while a professional photographer friend, Phil Gammon, took most of the internal shots. The pubs chosen for their interesting interiors include the Bear, Chequers, King’s Arms, Turf Tavern, White Horse, Old Bookbinders, Rose & Crown, Victoria, and Angel and Greyhound. For archive photographs I went to the Oxford Mail/Oxford Times archives where the librarian, Chris McDowell, was particularly helpful, providing many photographs from the 1950s onwards.

    I’m pleased with the many stories I unearthed about Oxford’s pubs, so I hope you enjoy reading the book. For example, where’s the Oxford pub with a witch’s broomstick plastered up behind a wall? Where did Shakespeare used to stay, possibly fathering an illegitimate child with the landlady? Which pub has a ceiling painted to resemble the Sistine Chapel in Rome? And which pub was a sixteenth century brothel? You’ll have to read the book to find out…..

    Oxford Pubs - 9781445647289

    Dave Richardson's Oxford Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • An essential guide to faking it in WW2 Britain by Megan Westley

    It’s generally accepted that life in wartime Britain was tough. Civilians on the ‘Home Front’ were faced with a multitude of regulations and restrictions to follow, governing their diets, wardrobes and workplaces. But beyond these well-known rules were many others that came into force only between 1939 and 1945. Some were social, and could instantly mark you out as insider or outcast, whereas others were legal and carried heavy fines (or worse) for non-compliance.

    So, let’s imagine you’ve somehow taken a wrong turn and travelled to wartime Britain. What shouldn’t you do?

    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1Help yourself: Spotted a tin of Spam lying in a bombed-out shop? Even if it looks like nobody’s coming back for it, leave it where it is. Helping yourself to things isn’t a cheeky win; it’s looting. Any form of looting carried a severe sentence. Technically, those found guilty could face the death penalty. Regardless of this, the opportunities offered up by the blitz were too great for many to resist. Some thieves kitted themselves out in an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s uniform in order to walk into damaged houses and shops unchallenged.



    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 The smiling faces of this couple, bombed out of their house in Coventry, show that the spirit of Britain was not easily broken. (Image courtesy of

    Bring down the mood: So you’re having a rotten war and think the Germans may win? Keep it to yourself. Defeatist talk caused extreme contempt and could lead to a conviction for weakening national defence. Despite this enforced optimism, householders in their thousands tuned in to the broadcasts of ‘Lord Haw Haw’, an Irishman based in Germany who spoke to the British public with the aim of damaging their morale. Though his communications were upsetting, many listened in the hope of gleaning valuable news about their loved ones overseas.


    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 A shopkeeper is seen stamping a ration book, having weighed out all the items. (Amberley Archive)

    Waste money: If you’d like to avoid making friends with the ‘squander bug’, be sure to spend your money wisely. The War Savings Campaign encouraged householders to invest any spare cash in a fund for the war effort. It was seen as unpatriotic to waste money or keep it stuffed under your mattress when the country was in need. The squander bug was a nasty, swastika-emblazoned character who boasted “Go on! Keep your wallet stuffed with notes! I’ll help you squander them!”


    Step off a moving bus: Black and white films show people hopping on and off moving buses as a matter of course. But if you want to be a good civilian, you’d better not do it at night. London Transport released a number of advertisements warning of the dangers associated with getting around in the extreme darkness of the blackout. Every good campaign needs a character, and theirs was Billy Brown, a man ‘much too sensible and knowing to jump down off a bus that’s going.’


    Britain - Microsoft Word - Document1 (Amberley Archive)

    Talk too much: If, by any chance, you should come across some interesting information, do remember to ‘keep it dark’. The ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign was rolled out in 1940, warning the public about potential spies in their midst. The Ministry of Information even screened films showing how the smallest piece of leaked information could result in loss of life. Keeping secrets wasn’t just a social nicety: in 1944, a Civil servant was sentenced to three months in prison on two charges ‘arising out of careless talk’.

    Find out more about negotiating everyday life in Home Front Britain in Living on the Home Front by Megan Westley.

    Britain - 9781445645278

    Megan Westley's new paperback edition of Living on the Home Front is available for purchase now.

  • What We Did Before Selfies by Robert Hallmann

    Celebrities do it. Politicians do it. Tourists, travellers and friends do it. People even do it with sticks at arm’s length in some very dangerous situations.

    They take their own photographs - selfies.

    What we did not do before the proliferation of image catching devices was to then share our efforts with all the world and her aunt.

    We did have self-timers, where the camera was placed on a tripod or somewhere else secure and then after pressing the button we joined the group of friends or family before the delayed moment of exposure. I never owned a self-timer; I never felt that self-important. But I did experiment.

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    1) Germany, 1950s:

    A small printing company’s party in a private house. I had been asked to bring my camera, which was a simple Agfa box similar to the Kodak Brownie. That camera had been my father’s and while the house burnt down under phosphor grenade attack in 1945 the camera survived the inferno in the cellar, almost intact. It has two levers – exposure and time exposure.

    The flash available before flash bulbs was a small sachet of magnesium powder, somewhat resembling a tea bag with a strip of paper attached to it, about a foot long. This could be hung up, well away from flammable material – my favourite support was a broom handle balanced on tall furniture or a door. I had told the company of typesetters, printers, bookbinders and office staff, including the boss’s wife to huddle together as it was difficult to gauge exactly the area that would be included. Of course, to some of my colleagues this was great fun when the light had to go out before I set fire to the hanging strip of paper and opened the shutter before piling onto the heap of celebrants myself (far left).

    Most people’s attention is expectantly focused on that burning strip of paper. Somehow my boss managed to avoid the crush, but of course one of our group chanced his luck with the nearest lady in the darkness, a fact he found difficult to live down once the 60 x 90 mm evidence was developed and printed.

    Magnesium powder burning in air produces a brilliant-white light, hence its use in photography. The downside is the flammability. I ruined a perfectly good friendship once when I had placed the flash powder sachet too close to the curtains at a girlfriend’s home…

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    2) Dublin 1960-61:

    Commuting between my lodgings and my place of work in Dublin I passed a very boring end-of-terrace edifice, which I decided needed some artistic embellishment. A double exposure was needed.

    My landlady was not best pleased. Well, what self-respecting house-owner would not be surprised to find someone hopping to the bathroom on one leg, the other foot dripping red paint that looked like blood? I’d painted the sole of my foot and pressed my footprint on a large sheet of black card and photographed it. Then, without winding the film on, I went out with my camera and photographed the bland wall in question onto the same peace of film. It’s perhaps not perfectly placed, but of course this was long before Photoshop. But does a foot count as a ‘selfie’?

    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic

    3 & 3a) Reflections in Essex, late 1960s:

    As a special experimental background I had covered a wall in metallic foil, but of course it will never reflect with the clarity of a mirror. That was the point. Distortions were very acceptable and if Pablo Picasso could do it, one could at least try. Among the experimental results were a self-portrait with an abstract dimension, and even one where I turned myself into a pair of very humdrum trolls with rather odd-shaped cameras. Oh, my beloved Kowa 66.


    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic4) Cumbria shadow, 1970s

    Never have I felt so alone and been so far removed from any other human being as on Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, one 1st of November. And I loved it, even while carrying a cumbersome camera case with me. It was time to leave. The sun was sinking, but when I saw this giant shadow bestriding the snow scape beside me, following me about, I had to record it, even gave a wave to another snow-capped top. I trust that’s Great Gable in the background?





    Microsoft Word - Londoners - What we did before Selfies post pic5) London reflection, June 1977

    Balancing on tiptoe on the kerb of Savile Row, I caught my reflection in a doorway of a gentlemen’s outfitters, while trying out a new 35 mm camera. My London selfie. Did I actually frequent the premises? Not on my income.

    London was rich in reflections. Every shop window would reflect something of the street scenes about it. You were never alone. Along the large glass panes your twin would follow you everywhere at a sideways glance. You and the thousands of others. Photographing the window displays, the shops and the shoppers in juxta-position was great fun. I often pretended to photograph something particular while including Londoners, too.

    As an antidote to crowds, an escape to quiet places like Scafell Pike out of season offered a kind of balance.

    Selfies - 9781445645629

    Robert Hallmann's Londoners Street Scenes of the Capital 1960-1989 is available for purchase now.

  • The Year of Four England Cricket Captains 1988 by Neil Robinson

    When Adam Lyth took the field for England at the start of this year’s final Ashes Test match at the Oval in August, his presence served as a potent reminder of how much has changed in England’s cricket team over the past quarter of a century. Lyth, who made his Test debut against New Zealand back in May, has struggled to establish his place in the national team; despite scoring a century in only his second Test, he later found runs against Australia harder to come by and his record of 86 runs at an average of 12.28 in the first four Ashes Tests led cricket fans and commentators alike to question whether Lyth was indeed the right man to open England’s innings alongside captain Alastair Cook.

    Nevertheless, Lyth retained his place, and even one more failure at the Oval did not completely rule out a place for him in England’s party to take on Pakistan in the Middle East this autumn. Lyth is not the only batsman to have benefitted from the England selectors’ new-found sense of patience in recent times. His opening partner and team captain Alastair Cook endured a prolonged barren run of nineteen Test matches without a century beginning with the first Test of the 2013 Ashes and ending only in the final Test in the West Indies this spring. The experienced Ian Bell’s record of 692 runs at under 19 from his last 23 Tests also makes for less than impressive reading.

    Yet both Cook and Bell, as well as Lyth, have retained their places throughout these periods of poor form and under-achievement. The willingness of the team’s management to support struggling players is something that few England cricketers of earlier generations would have experienced themselves. There are countless examples of England selectors’ patience stretching about as far as a dried out elastic band – take Graeme Hick being dropped in 1993 after averaging 57 from his previous four Tests – but few years in the history of English cricket have seen the selectorial axe come down with more crushing frequency than 1988.

    A season that began with such promise – a 3-0 whitewash of the West Indies in the Texaco Trophy series, followed by a creditable draw in the first Test – descended into chaos after Mike Gatting lost the captaincy following a trumped-up tabloid scandal. A total of 28 players gained Test caps that summer, with no fewer than 33 being called up to the England squad across six Tests and four one-day internationals. There were, in some cases, circumstances which mitigated the selectors’ decisions: in axing Gatting they acted under obligation to the Test and County Cricket Board, which had announced a crackdown on player indiscipline that spring.

    There were injuries too, most famously the bruised foot that prevented Chris Cowdrey from leading England for a second match and forced England to appoint their fourth captain of the summer, Graham Gooch. But most of the selectors’ decisions are harder to account for. In the third Test at Old Trafford, David Gower made 34 of England’s meagre second innings total of 93; not his most significant innings perhaps, but more than twice the number of runs made by any of his team-mates. Chairman of Selectors Peter May suggested Gower should be dropped for the next match. Thanks to the persuasive persistence of Chris Cowdrey Gower survived, but one match later when Allan Lamb’s torn calf muscle left him as England’s sole experienced middle-order batsman, May still insisted Gower be dropped.

    Then there was Chris Broad. Broad had scored three centuries in seven Tests overseas the previous winter, while also accumulating fines and censure for on-field petulance. Two Tests into the summer, he was dropped amid accusations that he had muttered – to himself, but captured by TV cameras – his displeasure at an lbw decision, and that he never made runs in England. By the fifth Test at the Oval, England’s accomplished and experienced batting order, which even the West Indies had respected a few weeks earlier, had been decimated, and Gooch led out a team which included four batsmen sharing two Test caps between them.

    England’s inevitable defeat – 4-0 in the series – was greeted by much soul-searching within English cricket. Was the defeat down to the pitches in county cricket? The balls? The excess of overseas players? But staring English cricket in the face was the fact that you are unlikely to succeed against the finest team in the world when fielding your second and third eleven. Selectors, journalists and fans alike had fallen into the trap of thinking that somehow a magic combination of eleven players could be found to take on the West Indies and win. It might even have been possible, had they stuck with the same team they began the series with.

    Twenty-seven years later, English cricket has developed a very different culture. Questions may be raised when a player like Adam Lyth struggles to make runs over the course of a series, but not over one or two matches. The need for a young player to be given time to establish himself, and for an experienced one to battle through poor form without being consigned to the outer darkness of county cricket has been generally accepted. The sort of frenzy that could lead to four captains and three entire teams being picked in one summer is now unthinkable. England fans might yearn for a Gower or a Gatting today; the players themselves probably wish they had played their cricket twenty-seven years later.

    Cricket - 9781445637587

    Neil Robinson's Long Shot Summer The Year of Four England Cricket Captains 1988 is available for purchase now.

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