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  • Automating the Northern Line by Owen Smithers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • What was Stuart Britain? by Andrea Zuvich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Secret Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

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

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

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

    How long have ladies been using cosmetics?

    Cavemen were communists.

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

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

    The most dangerous substance ever?

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

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

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

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

    Ancient Egyptian strike action

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The necropolis still stands to this day.


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

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

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

    Ghostbusters Collectables pic 1 Matt MacNabb - Age 8 -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • The Victorian Parson by Barry Turner

    On the south side of Waterloo Bridge, not far from the National Theatre, stands the church of St. John. Built early in the reign of Queen Victoria, when this part of London was slum territory, the barn like interior was designed to accommodate up to two thousand worshippers. Though hard to imagine now, the church was often full to over flowing.

    Victorian parson 3 The village choir, in a painting by Robert Webster. (Courtesy of Robert Cutts)

    It may come as another surprise to know that St. John’s was built with taxpayer’s money. It was one of 214 government sponsored churches that went up in areas of burgeoning population and extreme poverty.

    The more cynically minded will immediately spot a class inspired attempt to stifle social unrest in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. And, of course, there is some truth in this. But the religious revival that started with the new churches and a new generation of active and dedicated clergy had more to it than political calculation.

    Traditionally at the heart of the nation’s affairs, the Church was galvanized by Victorian idealism to embark on a mission to civilize a people caught up in the throes of unprecedented technological and social change. It was the Church that led the way in promoting education, decent housing, proper sanitation, personal hygiene and what came to be known as family values.

    I anticipate the howls from those who protest against hypocrisy and double standards by readily conceding that, like all great reforming movements, the Victorian Church had its share of humbugs and villains who hid their nefarious activities under a shawl of piety. I could outstay my welcome by retailing stories of dirty doings at the vicarage. Suffice to say that the worst offenders, like the rector who took lead from the church roof to sell as scrap and the curate who was found guilty of visiting a brothel and being drunk in the pulpit, gained notoriety but were by no means typical.

    Victorian parson 1 Church of St Mary the Virgin, Buty. This church was completely rebuilt during the Victorian era, though a church has existed on the site since AD 971.

    More mainstream was the Rev. William Leigh who opened his home to cholera victims, and William Butler, who renovated slum properties to make them fit to live in.

    And so we come back to family values. The family was central to Church teaching. However imperfect, the family gave life its structure and meaning. Central to this concept was the role of wives and mothers as the conscience of the nation. Seen today, it is all so excruciatingly patronising, but it made sense at the time.

    Prudish and often myopic they may have been, but the clergy had few illusions as to the male capacity for piggish behaviour. They were well aware of commercial sharp practice, of the casualties of industrial expansion and the evils of alcoholism and prostitution which thrived on mass poverty. Limited in the material remedies they could offer, they promoted standards to which all classes might aspire. Feminine virtues were fundamental to their aims.

    I need hardly add that the Victorian ideal is no match for today’s standards. But if it had not been for the Victorian ideal, there might not be any modern standards to live up to.


    Barry Turner's new paperback edition of his book The Victorian Parson is available for purchase now.

  • Glasgow in 50 Buildings – Michael Meighan addresses the image of Glasgow as a city of slums

    Glasgow has a reputation as a city of slums. The reality was far from this popular image. While there were substantial areas of poor housing the creation of fit housing was always to the fore in Glasgow. These are some of the measures taken to alleviate the problem.

    Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, visited Glasgow in 1707 and had declared it ‘The cleanest and beautifullest, and best built city in Britain, London excepted’, by 1807 all this had changed. While there continued to be fine new developments, building in the City was generally uncontrolled, oblivious to sanitary engineering and was outstripping the ability of the fast growing population to be fed and watered.

    Glasgow in 50 Buildings 2 1896 photo by Thomas Annan of Glasgow city centre housing

    The huge industrial expansion in Glasgow aided and abetted by harsh conditions in rural communities attracted Irish immigrants as well as those from the West Highlands. In 1750 the population was 32,000 but had risen to half million by 1870.

    This growing population was housed in poorly designed and hastily constructed buildings that became squalid and overcrowded. This put pressure on the supply of drinking water and foodstuffs. Watercourses and wells became polluted. The city was choking in the thick smog from the vast factories, mills, workshops and foundries.

    In these circumstances disease was rampant and infant mortality high. The period also saw rises in crime, drunkenness and juvenile delinquency. It was a situation if, left to continue, would probably see the city in economic decline and social disaster. This was a time for radical action. One of those who saw the problems and the likely outcomes was John Blackie Jnr. A publisher by trade, he went on to enable huge changes in the city, becoming a respected Lord Provost and churchman.

    It was as a politician that John Blackie made his largest and most long lasting contribution to life in Glasgow. He was elected onto Glasgow Town Council in 1857 becoming Lord Provost in 1863. His major work in this time was the 1866 City Improvement Act which was a major programme of improving life in the squalid poorer areas of the City.

    Glasgow in 50 Buildings 1 City Improvement Trust Buildings, Saltmarket.

    The 1866 Act gave Glasgow Town Council powers to set up a City Improvement Trust. This was to purchase slum property, demolish it and to widen and re-align narrow city centre streets. The areas targeted for slum clearance were mainly round about Glasgow Cross. The idea was to demolish the outdated buildings of the time and encourage private builders to build on the cleared areas.

    However, building on the cleared land was very slow partly caused by the Collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank as well as a recession at the time. At one time the Improvement trust had to cease demolishing properties and found itself Glasgow’s biggest slum landlord.  It wasn’t till the 1890s that building got going again and soon the trust had built 34 tenements containing 1200 homes. By 1913, the Corporation, which took over responsibility for housing from the Trust, had built 2,199 tenement houses in the city.

    Naturally there was no house building during the First World War. Following the War, rather than returning to a 'Land fit for heroes', the soldiers instead returned to unemployment 'the dole' and houses in a declining state.

    In 1919 Government legislation made it compulsory for local authorities to plan housing schemes based on the 'garden city' principles and gave funding to do it. With this funding, Glasgow took this movement to heart and in Mosspark created the first garden suburb with two-thirds of the population housed in cottage type buildings.

    Glasgow in 50 Buildings 3 Houses in the Knightswood estate (Baldric Avenue)

    In Knightswood was created one of Britain's largest such garden areas. From 1923, the City's Direct Labour squad built 6714 houses. At the same time, they catered for almost all denominations and eight churches were built along with shopping centres, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and football pitches. Even a cricket pitch was provided. It was also a 'dry' area, that is, with no public houses. It is still generally the case.

    There was a general move away from stone to brick built and harled construction. The longevity of these buildings is proof of their quality. As part of Glasgow City housing stock they have been brought up to current modern standards on at least two occasions. Ironically, many of those bought under 'Right to buy' show signs of wear and the differences are testimonial to how well councils actually looked after housing stock.

    Even as these garden suburbs were being created, they were becoming too expensive and by 1926 the standard had to be lowered. The differences in density and quality of build can be seen clearly between Knightswood and Upper Knightswood. Again, it was external influences which were preventing the building of the houses 'for heroes'. The depression of the time, not relieved until the Second World War stopped most social housing being built.

    Of course, this was exactly the time houses were needed. Those 'slum' areas that were left had to be dealt with. But with the lack of funds to build, deprivation and the dole brought misery and violence which erupted in the streets, again not to be relieved until stopped by Percy Sillitoe's police and the Second World War.

    It is this inter-war period which created the myth of Glasgow slums. However, in the totality of what was and is Glasgow, the Gorbals and these other areas could not be said to sum up the city. When you take into account the ever-expanding city areas including Kelvingrove, Hillhead and Queen's Park, there were plenty of fine and adequate buildings. When you then include the expanded burghs, taking into account Anniesland, Cathcart, Langside and so on, you would find that in fact, there were very few areas which would be called slums. Even the 85,000 people in the Gorbals and Hutchesontown areas could not be called to account for being slum dwellers. They were living in desperate conditions, but often making the best of it as the city prepared for rebuilding. Knightswood gives an idea of the very real attempts which were made to correct this.


    Michael Meighan's new book Glasgow in 50 Buildings is available now.

  • William Shakespeare and Henry V by Teresa Cole

    One of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays is Henry V. Indeed Henry appears as a main character in three plays, although in the first two his star is undoubtedly eclipsed by the fat knight, Falstaff. Despite the fact that Shakespeare was writing some 180 years after the death of his subject, Henry’s story had never been allowed to fade from the public consciousness, championed first by those who survived him, and later by Tudor kings such as Henry VIII, who saw himself as a similarly heroic figure.

    There were, therefore, many sources available to Shakespeare on which to base his works. Notable among them was the Chronicle of Edward Hall and the collaborative work known as Holinshed’s Chronicles, while the play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, being performed in the late 1580s, has so many points in common with Shakespeare’s own acknowledged work that some have suggested it might have been an early attempt by the bard himself. Given this wealth of material to draw on, it is interesting to consider how much of the story is told in the plays matches what we know as historical fact about this ‘star of England’.

    Henry V 1 The battlefield at Shrewsbury

    Certainly Shakespeare telescoped the timescale within his three plays. We see Henry first as a grown man, Prince Henry, king-in-waiting, consorting with thieves and scoundrels at the time of the Percys’ revolt and the battle of Shrewsbury. In fact at that time Henry was a boy of sixteen, while Hotspur, shown as his contemporary, was a generation older and recently the Prince’s mentor and governor. In spite of this the boy did fight in the battle, not rescuing his father as depicted in the play, but still contributing substantially to the king’s victory, and in the process receiving a severe wound to the face that might easily have ended his career there and then.

    As for the tales of consorting with low-lifes and frequenting the taverns in Eastcheap which make up a large part of the first two plays, there is again some basis for this in the records. Henry, made Prince of Wales immediately after his father’s accession to the throne, spent a large part of his teens actively and dutifully subduing the Glendower rebellion in his principality. There was, however, a period in his early twenties when something of a rift appeared between him and his father, Henry IV, though this seems to have been more of the king’s making than his son’s.

    The Prince had been effectively running the country for some time during the king’s prolonged illness when abruptly he was dismissed and stories began to circulate about his behaviour. Accused of drunken brawling, womanising and even stealing the wages of the Calais garrison while Captain of Calais, Henry himself always flatly denied these stories, claiming that someone was deliberately trying to blacken his name. Certainly he was present in Eastcheap. He had a house there, formerly known as Poulteney Inn, given to him by his father, but the only concrete evidence of brawls names his brothers rather than himself.

    Maybe the strongest evidence for these accusations is the fact that many people commented how much the Prince changed for the better as soon as he became king. Shakespeare’s comment, “The breath no sooner left his father’s body but that his wildness … seemed to die too,” only reflects what people were saying at the time.

    The strangest part of the unruly episodes depicted in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, however, is the naming of the fat knight himself. Though he comes down to us today as Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare originally called him Sir John Oldcastle, and only changed the name under sustained pressure from the descendants of the real Oldcastle, one of whom was chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth I. Why the playwright originally chose that name is puzzling since there seems nothing whatever in common between the historical character and the drunken head of a thieves’ kitchen.

    Henry V 2 Oldcastle escaped from the Tower of London

    Sir John Oldcastle was indeed a friend of Prince Henry, first becoming acquainted with him during the Welsh wars. On marrying an heiress he became Lord Cobham with a seat in the House of Lords, and his notoriety is based not on thieving and drunkenness but on his membership of what was at the time seen as a heretical sect, the Lollards. These predecessors of the Protestant revolution to come, followed the teaching of John Wycliffe, believing that the Catholic Church was corrupt and in need of reform, and far too involved in meddling in state rather than religious matters. Lollard involvement in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 led to the sect being banned, and from 1401 Lollards in England who refused to recant could be burned as heretics.

    In 1413, soon after Henry became king, Oldcastle was arrested, put on trial for his beliefs which he made no attempt to deny, and condemned as a ‘most pernicious and detestable heretic.’ The king, however, intervened and insisted Oldcastle should have 40 days to consider his situation before the death penalty should be carried out. In that time Sir John escaped from the Tower, led a failed plot against Henry, escaped again and then spent four years at large, probably in his own territory of Herefordshire, before being captured and finally put to death in December 1417. At that time Henry was busy at the siege of Rouen so we don’t know whether he would have tried again to save the life of his old friend.

    Of course by the time Shakespeare was writing the Protestant religion held sway in England and it was dangerous to be a Catholic. Oldcastle’s stand against the old church would, by then, have been seen as heroic. When the bard changed the name of his character, therefore, he added a clear disclaimer in the epilogue to Henry IV Part 2. “For Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man.” Some have suggested that the Shakespeare family held secret sympathies with the outlawed Catholic Church, and it is just possible that the name Sir John Oldcastle was chosen deliberately in an attempt to blacken the name of that martyr. If so it seems the playwright did not allow for the determination of high-placed family members to protect the image of their ancestor.


    Teresa Cole's new paperback editon of her book Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King and the Battle of Agincourt is available now.

  • Chaucer's Malyn Ancestors and the 'Towne of Tavernes' by Susan Gardiner

    Anyone wishing to write a screenplay for a film or TV drama to rival Game of Thrones might do well to look towards the lovely Suffolk county town of Ipswich. Suffolk has a reputation for the tranquil beauty of its rural landscape and unspoilt coastline, and of course, for the most famous end-product of its agriculture: beer. If you live in Suffolk, it's difficult not to be aware of the significance that beer and brewing has had in the county's history and culture. Its most famous breweries also have well-known literary connections, from the many writers in the Cobbold family, of the Tolly Cobbold brewery, such as the poet Elizabeth Cobbold (1765-1824) and her son, Richard (1797-1877), the author of The History of Margaret Catchpole, to the descendant of the Greene King brewing dynasty, the novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991). It was not until I started the research for my last book, Secret Ipswich (Amberley, 2015), however, that I realised how closely another great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), was associated with the town, and what a fascinating story it is. The further research that I had to do for my latest book, Ipswich Pubs, made me realise the significance that Chaucer's family had in the life of late-medieval Ipswich. It is a story of violence, theft, and even murder, involving, among many complicated plots and sub-plots, the kidnapping of the poet's father.

    3 Great White Horse The Great White Horse Hotel

    Chaucer's grandfather was Robert Malin le Chaucer, and it's thought the name might have been derived from the occupation of shoemaker, or chausseur. He was also known as Robert the Saddler, so it's possible that he was some kind of maker or seller of leather goods. Some scholars believe that hosiery, cloth and leather goods were often sold in taverns, and the term 'chaucer' referred to those vintners and taverners who did so. Chaucer's family was certainly in the tavern trade for many generations. His grandfather was known as Robert le Taverner and he was, as his name suggests, the owner of several taverns in Ipswich. This was not merely any old town, however, or indeed, any old tavern. Ipswich, we discover, was known as the 'Towne of Tavernes,' a deserved sobriquet, probably resulting from the great demand for accommodation from the thousands of travellers who flocked to its shrine, Our Lady of Grace, which was only third in significance in England (after Canterbury and Walsingham) until its destruction during the Reformation. Ipswich was packed with taverns, inns and beerhouses for centuries and the Malyn family owned several inns and wine shops, mostly around what was known as the 'street of taverns,' which is still called Tavern Street today, although there is not a single pub left now. One of the Malyns' hostelries was simply called The Tavern. It probably stood on the site of the huge building that became the Great White Horse Hotel, later of Pickwick Papers fame.

    2 Site of Malyn tavern The corner of Tavern Street and Dial Lane where the Holly Tavern may have stood

    In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Malyns had significant business interests in the town. Those who decry the state of the twenty-first-century Ipswich town centre might do well to remember that, in the Middle Ages, Tavern Street was at the conjunction of the Flesh Market, the Henne Market or Poultry (Tower Street), close to the Cheese and Fish Markets, and Cook's Row (now Dial Lane) was where all the bakers and cookshops were. Given that animals were butchered on the spot, the smell of the place must have been ripe, to put it mildly. It was a rough, violent time and we know a great deal about this family because, as property-owners, the Malyns were often recorded in the town's taxation records, and as a family that was constantly involved with criminal activity, they appeared in the court records just as frequently.

    In 1338, following a property dispute, a notorious fellow - who appears twice in Ipswich Pubs, committing acts of violence - Roger Bande, walked into the Holly Tavern and, with his sword, almost severed the hand of the owner, Albreda Malyn. She died from the wound he inflicted, but he went unpunished. Bande would get away with worse including murder. The Malyns - whose name may even be a version of the word 'malign' although I think it's more likely to be derived from Magdalen in some form - were little better. In 1344, Albreda's son, William was pardoned by the King "by fine of 300 marks, for all manner of oppressions, conspiracies, maintaining of quarrels, champerties, detaining of the King's wool and money, and taking of wool to foreign parts uncocketed and uncustomed, and of victuals and merchandise to Scotland contrary to the King's command."

    MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA A plaque to Chaucer’s ancestors on the site of one of their wine shops

    The most interesting story of all, however, involved Geoffrey Chaucer's father, John. In 1324 he was abducted at swordpoint by his aunt, Agnes Westhall and the man who was to be her second husband, Geoffrey Stace. The poet was later named after Stace, so there was clearly no long-term resentment, but the court case resulted in a large fine of £250 being imposed on Agnes and she was sent to the Marshalsea prison in London. The motive behind this strange turn of events was, as usual, connected with a property dispute. Agnes wanted to force her nephew into a marriage with her daughter, Joan, to ensure that through John she would get her hands on some of his substantial inheritance, as his father had died. A court case had found in favour of the child and his guardians in the disputed ownership of the Ipswich Vintry Tavern and several other nearby properties. The boy was rescued by his stepfather and stepbrother, and would be brought up in London, where he followed the family trade and became a vintner of some standing in the City of London. The forced marriage to Joan, who may have been twenty years older than John, did not take place, and everything appeared to end amicably.

    It's not known whether Geoffrey Chaucer ever visited his Suffolk relatives, but in The Canterbury Tales, in the prelude to ‘The Merchant's Tale’, he painted a portrait of a merchant, who might easily have been one of his Malyn ancestors, the river Orwell being the site of the port of Ipswich:


    A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,

    In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;

    Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,

    His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.

    His resons he spak ful solempnely,

    Sownynge alwey th'encrees of his wynnyng.

    He wolde the see were kept for any thyng

    Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.


    The early history of the Towne of Tavernes was one of violence, criminality and intrigue. Having written a brief history of many of Ipswich's pubs, inns and taverns, it doesn't appear that things were very different over the centuries that followed. Behind the picturesque - and Ipswich has more than its fair share of wonderful fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings, most of which were inns at some time - lies a picaresque and fascinating story. How sad then that so few of these great inns still exist and that one of the most famous Malyn-owned hostelries, The Tavern, which became the Great White Horse Hotel, has become just another Starbucks' coffee shop.


    Ipswich Pubs by Susan Gardiner is available for purchase now.

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