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  • More Somerset Tales by Jack William Sweet

    In the Introduction to my latest book More Somerset Tales - Shocking and Surprising, I have quoted from Somerset Ways - a guide book published by The Great Western Railway Company over a century ago, which declares that:

    'Somerset is Home.

    For it is here in Somerset that the longest journeys end, and the greatest wanderers come to rest at last.  The land of peace and stillness.

    There is no call of homing like that which comes from the land 'twixt Mendip and the Western Sea. For this country, above all others, has kept the spirit men call homeliness, the spirit of warmth and welcoming.  Not a cottage in the whole of the great span but invites the wanderer in, nor a rick nor hedge for the roofless ones but seems kindlier than the shelters of other lands.

    Three things one finds here: an oldness, a kindness, and a wisdom: things in part of the countryside, in part in the dwellers in it. Things most plain to see in the slow West Country courtesy, the natural gentleness which seems a heritage of all those born in sight of Glastons Tor. Kind folk they are, with the kindest accent of any of our race. One feels that the folk here do not change; to-day they are the same at heart as when they, of all England gave Alfred shelter, not because he was King, though they were loyal people, but because he was homeless and alone.'

    More Somerset Tales 1 Beneath this peaceful Somerset scene lurked shocking, surprising and strange events. (More Somerset Tales, Amberley Publishing)

    However, there is another Somerset to be found beneath this idyllic description, and More Somerset Tales, which follows Somerset Tales - Shocking and Surprising - published by Amberley in 2011 – brings to life true events, often shocking, doubtless surprising, and occasionally downright strange.

    For example, there is the brutal, but unsolved murder of young Betty Trump (no relation to Donald T) in the remote Blackdown Hills village of Buckland St Mary in 1823, and the use of witchcraft to seek to prove the guilt of the suspected murderer.

    The vicious murder of an elderly shopkeeper, and the near death beating of his wife by two thugs, whose robbery only netted them a loaf of bread, some tobacco, and 8s. 6d., at the quiet village of Nempnett Thrubwell in 1851.

    A farmer is left for dead in a robbery near Wedmore, late on an April evening in 1845, and some 34 years later in 1879, two lads, seemingly acting out the roles of highway men, shoot a local businessman at Milborne Port, thankfully without causing serious injury.

    In the air, a novice balloonist flies across the Bristol Channel, panics, jumps out near Weston-super-Mare, and drowns. Late in 1945, four crew, and 22 military passengers on their way to India die when a converted Liberator bomber of RAF Transport Command crashes in the Blackdown Hills near Castle Neroche, but two soldiers who should have been on the plane escape death by arriving late and missing the flight.

    Gales, blizzards, and floods caused havoc and death, and people lose their lives in boating accidents off the Somerset coast, and drown in pleasant Somerset rivers.

    SONY DSC The ‘prodigious eel’ emerged from its lair in the River Yeo to eat the farmers’ hay. (More Somerset Tales, Amberley Publishing)

    A strange beast emerges from the River Yeo, near Yeovil, and the river becomes an open sewer in the 1870s.

    At Bedminster in 1827, a novice keeper enters a sleeping lion's cage to wake it up, and suffers the consequences - death, and is almost eaten.

    Following a nation-wide hunt in 1896, two dangerous London villains are traced to Bath, and, following a fight, are arrested for the robbery and murder of an elderly recluse in Muswell Hill. A two and a half hours 'bare-knuckle' prize fight for a golden sovereign near the Kennet and Avon Canal results in the death of one of the contestants.

    In 1835, two members of a notorious Bath criminal gang escape from the prison van taking them to Portsmouth for transportation to Australia, and are never recaptured.

    A train crash at Yeovil Pen Mill Station in 1913 is recalled with graphic contemporary photographs.

    These are some of the shocking, surprising and strange stories and events which have happened, and which I have brought to light, in this beautiful county – the Land of Summer between Mendip and the Western Sea.

    9781445664514

    Jack William Sweet's new book More Somerset Tales is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41 by Christopher Othen

    FSA/8b09000/8b098008b09878a.tif Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, the Elect of Zion, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and his pet dog, Bull, pictured in 1934. (LoC, Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41, Amberley Publishing)

    In the autumn of 1935 Addis Ababa was getting nervous. The Italians were just over the border building an army. A minor clash earlier in the year had escalated into threats, and military action. Now, Mussolini’s men were preparing to invade.

    Some of the Ethiopian capital’s inhabitants were worried by something closer to home: foreigners. Addis Ababa was crawling with them, and the notoriously xenophobic Ethiopians weren’t happy about it.

    Every time they looked out their windows they saw a globalist parade: cine-cameramen, diplomats, arms dealers, foreign journalists (including a skinny Latvian ex-circus ringmaster with a monocle, and Harun al-Rashid Bey, a shaven-headed Muslim convert whose parents knew him as Wilhelm Hintersatz), a Greek claimant to the Bourbon throne, two mysterious Japanese men in horn-rimmed glasses, who spent their time playing table tennis, an aging British foxhunter who claimed to be an expert in trench warfare, a pair of Czechoslovak explorers who seemed unaware of the Italian threat, and a black South African representing - according to British writer Evelyn Waugh - ‘another world league for the abolition of, I think, the white races’.

    When the war finally began, many of the most dubious characters would flee, be deported, or get pushed out. But others would stay to fight for Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, against the invading Fascists.

    It was a battle between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosives, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a crazy gang of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight, and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.

    Ethiopia’s new foreign friends included Americans posing as fake French counts, Fascist Belgian dogs of war, an African-American pilot duo known as the Black Eagle and the Brown Condor (they hated each other), a Cuban veteran of three failed far-right coups, an Austrian Nazi doctor, Swedish soldiers who preferred fighting communism, and an alcoholic English dropout.

    The international powers backing Haile Selassie were equally disreputable. Hitler supported Selassie as part of a plot to grab back the Rhineland, and Japanese secret societies pushed a penniless Tokyo princess into marriage with an Ethiopian prince. Together, this bizarre foreign legion tried to save Ethiopia from Fascism. It would not end well.

    Lost Lions of Judah Major Auguste Dothée Belgian adviser Major Auguste Dothée (centre) with fellow Belgians and Ethiopian Imperial Guard officers, 1935. (Martin Rikli Photographs, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41, Amberley Publishing)

    Some mercenaries preferred to fight each other. The Brown Condor tried to stab the Black Eagle in a hotel lobby. The Turks and the Belgians preferred to undermine each other out on the battlefield, throwing around accusations of incompetence and cowardice. When a Belgian died of natural causes, everyone assumed he had been poisoned. A coup in Japan took out many pro-Ethiopia voices, and Hitler began to worry he had chosen the wrong dictator to support. Disillusioned Ethiopians wondered if their foreigners were secretly working for the other side.

    While the mercenaries squabbled, Ethiopia died. What started as picturesque exoticism for jaded journalists (barefoot soldiers, despot warlords, cave-dwelling priests) soon degenerated into the abattoir of modern warfare (gas attacks, terror bombing, tortured prisoners). Tens of thousands died.

    There were mercenaries who genuinely believed in the emperor’s cause. Czech Adolf Parlesák was in the front lines when the Italians rolled in, and spent his days dodging bullets and bombs. Cuban Alejandro Del Valle had to run for his life when the Ethiopian front lines broke early in 1936. The Russian émigré Feodor Konovalov found himself talking tactics with a warlord, as Fascist shells smashed apart the mountainside around them.

    When Ethiopian troops failed to stop the Italians at the Battle of Maychew, even the most dedicated mercenary knew it was all over. The Belgians took the first train out of Addis Ababa. The Brown Condor wasn’t far behind. A few stayed on to the end. Swedish soldiers tried to organise a last ditch defence of the capital; Del Valle continued the fight in the south-west; the American pilot Hilaire Du Berrier hung on in the capital, dodging Italian patrols.

    Haile Selassie’s mercenaries would go on to stranger adventures, weirder causes, and early deaths for some. As they scattered from Shanghai to Prague, and occupied Brussels to the Eastern Front, they would always remember the Ethiopian emperor, and their efforts to keep the Fascist boot off the neck of the last independent nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    9781445659831

    Christopher Othen's new book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41 is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 by Malcolm Fife

    In the late 1960’s I was interested in aviation, and I purchased a camera to record my visits to airports and air shows. Not long after, I decided I did not wish to restrict myself to photographing a single subject, and I began to build up a collection of colour slides on shipping. Leith Docks, on the northern edge of Edinburgh, was just a 30 minute bus ride from where I lived, and I began to make frequent visits there. In those days security was almost non-existent, and one was free to walk almost anywhere. Health and safety regulations were not rigidly applied like today, and it was possible to stand close to cranes unloading cargoes from the holds of ships. There was, however, no way of knowing what ships were in the port in advance, and every visit would be one of hopeful expectation. Sometimes it would end in disappointment, with an absence of vessels, but generally there was almost something of interest to be seen.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Grain Warehouse Standing at the heart of Leith Docks is the large grain warehouse built in 1934 and extended in 1958. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    At the heart of the port of Leith was the large grain warehouse, constructed in 1934. Standing 150 feet tall, it dominated the skyline. There was often a continuous stream of trucks racing through the docks to collect their consignment of grain, which was loaded onto them by chutes. Large numbers of pigeons often flocked around the base of the warehouse to feed on any grain that may have been spilt. During the early twentieth century, imported grain was one of the main commodities handled by Leith Docks.

    Standing to the east of the grain warehouse on the northern edge of the Edinburgh Dock was the Scottish Agricultural Industries fertiliser plant. It was a major employer in the area, with a workforce numbering over 300. The building itself was a long featureless concrete structure, with a tall chimney at one end, which spewed out white smoke. The plant imported most of its raw materials, which included sulphur from France and the Netherlands, and potash from Germany and Spain. They were unloaded at the bulk handling quay at Imperial Dock. It was one of the busiest parts of the harbour, with the cranes often continuously at work. Coal for power stations was also discharged there. In the late 1970s some of it came from as far away as China, which was particularly unusual for that time, when little trade was conducted with that country. Coal was also exported from Leith Docks, but the amount had declined considerably from previous decades, as many mines had, by this time, closed in the Lothians.  Another bulk item that was imported in considerable quantity was that of timber. For many centuries, southern Scotland had been short of wood for the construction of buildings, and this was a long established trade. Leith had been the main port for Edinburgh since the twelfth century.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Merchant Ship Greek flagged Lendoudis Evangelos at the Riverside Quay. It was operated by Evaland Shipping of Piraeus. Built in 1961, this was a typical design for a merchant ship of that era with the superstructure in the centre of the ship. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the Middle Ages, ships tied up alongside wooden wharfs on the banks of the Water of Leith. There was a broad expanse of sand, which lay between the harbour and the sea. Merchant ships had to negotiate a narrow channel, carved out by the River running into the Firth of Forth. Despite this natural handicap, Leith in time became one of Scotland’s major ports. Due to its strategic importance, it was also frequently fought over, and the town was burnt on a number of occasions. One of the first improvements to the harbour was a wooden pier extending out to sea, which was later replaced by a stone example in the eighteenth century. As trade expanded and hostilities declined, numerous other improvements were undertaken.

    The first docks were constructed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Over the next hundred years they were followed by larger examples, which were situated further out to sea. The final and largest one was Imperial Dock, built between 1897 and 1904. Around thirty years later, in an effort to encourage further growth, a large expanse of sea was enclosed by the building of the West Breakwater. This was followed by the construction of a lock gate at the entrance to the docks in the late 1960s, which made the whole complex no longer dependent on the tides. Large passenger ships could now dock at Leith instead of having to anchor in the Firth of Forth. At that time the cruise industry was in its infancy, and only a handful of vessels called at the height of summer. Around the same time, a container crane was erected at Leith. It was hoped that this may be the first of many, with the large expanse of water now enclosed by the West Breakwater being developed to handle the newly introduced containers.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Oil Tanker Although Leith saw frequent movements by oil tankers in the 1970s, most sailed past the port and docked at Grangemouth, where there was a large oil refinery. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 1970s a number of feeder services operated from Leith Docks, but it was Grangemouth that was destined to become the main container port on the east coast of Scotland. A totally unexpected stimulus to the fortunes of Leith Docks came with the discovery of North Sea Oil at the end of the 1960s. A motley collection of ships assembled here to exploit this resource. Many initially came from the Gulf of Mexico where there was a long established offshore industry. Throughout the 1970s they were gradually replaced by vessels built to withstand the more extreme conditions of the North Sea. They could often be found in the Albert and Edinburgh Docks, which often included several diving support ships.

    In time, every piece of available land on the edge of the quays was occupied by pipes, destined for the seabed. Leith was the hub for the construction of the network of undersea pipelines. Pipes were delivered here on board large cargo ships, to be treated with special protective coating. Once this was completed, they were loaded on to offshore support vessels, to be taken out to sea to their final destination. In contrast to the brightly painted ships that served the offshore energy fields were the N.A.T.O. warships that frequently visited Leith Docks in the 1970s. They were often open to the public at weekends as a goodwill gesture.

    I still visit Leith Docks occasionally, but it has undergone great changes over the last forty years. Cargo ships are now few and far between, with coal no longer being imported, as the power stations that were fuelled by this mineral have closed. The offshore oil industry is now in its twilight years, although vessels associated with it still operate from Leith Docks. The former Henry Robb shipbuilding yard has long since disappeared, replaced by the Ocean terminal shopping centre. On a more positive note, Leith has become a major destination for cruise ships, which bring thousands of tourists to visit Edinburgh each year.

    9781445662565

    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Pubs by James MacVeigh

    ‘There is nothing which has been contrived by Man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’  Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    Bristol Pubs 1 Like King Street where it stands, the Llandoger Trow pub is distinctive and quirky, both architecturally and in the richness of its history. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Why would anyone decide to write a book about pubs? Although they are so mundane and ordinary that often we don’t notice them, except perhaps to name them as landmarks when we are giving directions to a stranger, I personally agree with the opinion of the formidable intellect quoted above, compiler of the first English dictionary. Or to put it another way:A public house is more than a building with people inside it, that description could include a factory or office block, railway station, church or prison. When beer, cider and spirits are added to the mix, the public house takes on a human dynamic that is different from all of the above, and can turn into a place almost of magic.’ Okay, that is an unashamed quote from Bristol Pubs, and you may consider it over-the-top. Is it, though?  Human beings are continually redesigning the towns and cities in which they have chosen to dwell, nowadays with smaller buildings generally pulled down in favour of larger ones, in an ebb and flow of urban demolition and renewal that takes away everything in its path. Or rather, almost everything. Have you ever noticed which type of buildings that are generally left behind by this inexorable march of progress? Churches, certainly, for one, are often repositories of the past, and crammed with articles of historic interest, and, besides, they have a spiritual aspect to them that may say, Hands off! – Even in this materialistic age. What other buildings, though, are almost invariably left intact, as though they too are sacred places of worship? You already know the answer to that one. Pubs! True, a modern boozer may be flattened in the name of progress, but you will often see an ancient hostelry, dwarfed by sky scraping office blocks, yet still as busy and popular as it was in centuries past. Let the entrepreneurs, architects, and builders lay claim to anything with some antiquity to it, and it usually creates uproar in the local community. This is something we must be thankful for, otherwise we in Bristol would be without the rambling, higgledy-piggledy Llandoger Trow in King Street and its near neighbours, the Old Duke, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, and the King William Ale House.

    Bristol Pubs 2 What is unique about the Angel is that the cellar beneath it was used as a holding prison for offenders, a fact now commemorated by a brass plaque over the entrance from the courtyard. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Sadly, there are always exceptions to rules, and acts of civic vandalism still take place in our city. The birthplace of the Bristol boy poet, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1780), on the other side of Redcliffe Way, has recently been renovated after decades of neglect, and is once again in use as a themed café, Chattertons.  All well and good; as the co-author of a musical about him I would be the last person to argue with such a laudable event. In recent publicity material the City Council described Chatterton’s house as ‘the only surviving mid-18th Century house in the area.’ Not so. The Bell Inn public house, tucked out of sight and out of mind behind the magnificent St. Mary Redcliffe church was built only one year after the poet’s birthplace, in 1750. Its bow windows are the earliest example of this feature in Bristol, and its bar still retains its original stone flags, yet the historic building has not only been allowed to fall into disrepair approaching dereliction, efforts have even been made to accelerate the process of destruction, by leaving the windows wide open so that the wind and rain can enter to finally finish it off. This cannot be mere neglect. As one who is more sceptical than most when it comes to accepting conspiracy theories, I am nevertheless convinced that the City Council has some fiendish plan, perhaps in partnership with private enterprise, in which this lovely old inn is finally demolished to make way for an architectural monstrosity.

    9781445661681

    James MacVeigh's new book Bristol Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • East End Jewish Cemeteries by Louis Berk

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 001 Cover _P2M1320-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    An Oasis in Whitechapel

     

    I am a secondary school teacher, and since 2004, I have worked at a school in Brady Street, in the heart of Whitechapel. I did not realise until I was looking out of a second story window one day that my school adjoins one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the UK.

    Brady Street cemetery was founded in 1761, and closed almost 100 years later in 1858 when the grounds became full-up.

    Having no connection to the cemetery, I thought it unlikely I would ever see inside. Then, one day, as I was in school, I heard the sounds of activity as groundsmen were carrying out maintenance, and they kindly allowed me to take a look around.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 006 Late Summer 02 L1025403-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    The Idea

    Once inside the walls it was as though I had been transported to a forest, as I was surrounded by trees, shrubs and at one point, an inquisitive fox that trotted past me down a path. An idea formed in my mind: it would be wonderful to capture this hidden oasis in photographs, as a record of an interesting environment, and to make it visible to others.

    I was fortunate that when I approached the owners of the cemetery, The United Synagogue of Great Britain, they readily agreed to my request. They even made it possible for me to have access to the cemetery whenever I wanted.

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 003a_DoublePage P0Q0930-Edit (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Early Mornings and Late Evenings

    Undertaking a long-term project right next door to where I worked allowed me to photograph very early in the morning. During the winter months, this was before and during dawn, and also at sunset.

    In the summer it allowed me to capture the sometimes delicate early morning sunlight before the day became bleached out with too much sun.

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 055 Winter 18 Scan-120211-0007_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Waiting for snow

    I began the project in July 2011, with the objective of recording a year in the life of the cemetery. By the same time in 2012, I had a lot of material to work with, but I was missing one important element: snow. The winters at the start of this decade were surprisingly mild, and I had to wait until 2013 for a reasonable covering.

    This was no real hardship, as I enjoyed my time alone in the quiet solitude of the cemetery, and continued to visit and take photographs. I also chose to work mainly with medium format film cameras. This requires considerably more concentration than working with digital cameras. It is a slow and careful process. This entirely matched the ambience of my surroundings.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 102 Alderney Road 06 10 Scan-120908-0005-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Alderney Road

    At the end of the second year I showed my work to the owners, who asked me if I would also photograph in Alderney Road Cemetery, in nearby Stepney Green. This is an even older cemetery than Brady Street, established in 1696, very close to the time that Jews began to settle in the UK.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 002 Frontpiece _1040603-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    East End Jewish Cemeteries: Brady Street and Alderney Road

    In 2016, I approached Amberley Books with a number of ideas for titles, and they were immediately enthusiastic about a book containing my photographs of Brady Street and Alderney Road.

    The book contains 96 pages, mostly filled with photographs, and also an introduction to the cemetery by the recognised authority on its history, Rachel Kolsky, who is an award winning London Blue Badge guide and author.

    9781445662909

    Louis Berk's new book East End Jewish Cemeteries is available for purchase now.

  • Planet Locomotive - A Fireman’s Life for me by Anthony Dawson

    Planet Locomotive 1 The 1992-built replica Planet coupled to the original ‘Manchester & Birmingham’ first-class coach, 5 January 2016. (c. The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The life and day-to-day tasks of a locomotive fireman has not changed since Richard Trevithick invented his self-propelled kettle in 1803. As a Railway Volunteer at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester – on part of the site of the Liverpool Road terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, opened in 1830 –  I have the privilege to work with the replica Planet locomotive. The replica was built by the Friends of the Museum between 1986 and 1992. The original Planet, built by Robert Stephenson & Co. in Newcastle was delivered only thirteen months after Stephenson and Booth’s prize-winning Rainhill Trials entry, Rocket. Planet incorporates all the features of a ‘mature’ steam locomotive, features which would not really change for the next 140 years: a multi-tubular boiler (adopted by Henry Booth from a French design by Marc Séguin) with a smokebox at one end containing the blast pipe (invention of Mr Trevithick) with a separate firebox within the boiler shell at the opposite end. Over forty Planet locomotives – or the 0-4-0 Samson derivatives – were built by Stephenson & Co for use at home and abroad: the first locomotives to run in Germany and Austria were Planets. The titular member of the class was the first locomotive to run between Liverpool and Manchester in an hour and also hauled the first load of American cotton into ‘Cottonopolis.’

    In order to prepare Planet, driver and fireman will probably have been up since 06.00 and get to the Museum in order to sign in at 08.00. They don’t leave until around 17.00. Before the fire is lit, the most important task is to ensure the boiler is full. The gauge glasses are de-isolated by moving the top and bottom levers to a vertical position and the water level should rise in the glass. If it doesn’t there’s a blockage. The drain is briefly opened to wash out any detritus. Satisfied that the boiler is full, with ¾ of a glass showing, any leaks have to be checked. The fireman has to check if wash-out plugs and mud-hole doors are leaking; then inspects the interior of the firebox to make sure that the tubes (which run the length of the boiler and carry the hot gasses) are not leaking, and nor are the stays which support the inner firebox or any of the seams. The firebars should be clean and free from clinker. Satisfied that it is safe to light up, welsh steam coal (the original Planets burned coke in the 1830s) is scattered across the grate. Next broken pieces of dry timber are built up on top of this bed, and finally a bucket of oily rags is doused with diesel; a handful of rags is placed on the shovel and set alight - matches or a cigarette lighter  (or tinder box and flint in the 1830s) are essential tools of the trade for a fireman. Young visitors to the Museum are often confused about coal and also because to them, a fireman is someone who puts a fire out rather than being a travelling pyromaniac with a shovel who starts the fire.

    Planet Locomotive 2 Old meets new: the 1992-built replica of Planet side by side with the sole surviving original Liverpool & Manchester Railway locomotive, Lion of 1838. They are photographed near Water Street Bridge. (Paul Dore, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Planet can now be shunted over the inspection pit, so that the driver (the only person trusted to do so) can inspect the motion underneath and lubricate it. Whilst this is going on, the fireman sporadically checks his fire, and when the wood is starting to burn through, rounds of coal can be put on. Whilst steam is being raised – full pressure usually takes two and a half hours – the engine is cleaned. When sufficient pressure is raised, the fireman can test the injector –a vital piece of equipment, which injects water back into the boiler to replace that which as been boiled into steam. It was invented in 1852 by a Frenchman, Hénri Giffard, for his steam-powered Zeppelin. Before the invention of the injector, water could only be pumped into the boiler when the engine was moving using an axle-driven force pump. Satisfied that everything is OK, one by one the train crew take it in shifts to wash and brush up and put on their ‘whites.’ We are frequently asked by the public ‘Would they have worn white then?’ or ‘I bet that’s hard to keep clean.’ The answer is ‘yes’, the enginemen of the 1830s did wear white, or at least unbleached, un-dyed cloth. Why? Because it was cheap and easily boil-washed.

    Before Planet can pull her first service train, a test run is made to ensure that the locomotive and train are in full working order. Throughout the day the fireman has one essential job: the safe management of the boiler. He has to regularly check that there is sufficient water in the boiler, so that the tubes and the top of the firebox (called the crown) are to kept covered with water. If the crown is uncovered, then the firebox might start to collapse. A special lead plug called a ‘fusible plug’ will melt (lead has a lower melting point than the steel firebox) and this lets steam and water into the firebox, alerting the crew to the dangerously low water level. Putting coal on the fire is done ‘little and often’ to keep the steam pressure just below ‘blowing off point’ so that the safety valves do not lift. ‘Blowing off’ can waste two to three gallons of water a minute, yet back in the 1830s a fireman was thought not to be doing his job properly if the engine wasn’t blowing off all the time! The fireman has to check the colour of the smoke from the chimney to make sure there is enough air for the coal to burn properly. No smoke suggests there is too much air; black not enough; light grey just enough. Planet has no cab or any protection whatsoever from the elements: on a nice summer’s day it can be very pleasant indeed, but when it’s cold, or wet, it can be a truly horrible, miserable experience.

    Planet Locomotive 3 Robert Stephenson’s patent locomotive of 1834; the carrying-wheels behind the firebox made the locomotive more stable at high speed (around 30 mph) than the Planet type. (Author’s Collection, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    At the end of the day, the fire is allowed to gradually burn down, but not too much as there needs to be sufficient boiler pressure to go forward to disposal and to operate the injectors to refill the boiler until the injector knocks off. In the 1830s there had to be enough pressure to shunt the engine up down, working the axle-driven water pump to get water into the boiler. At disposal, the fireman and trainee rake out the fire: one in the cab, using the fire irons to riddle the fire through the firebars into the ash-pan, whilst the other rakes out the ash pan on the ballast. Engines in the 1830 had no ash pan, which was often the cause of line-side fires. A hose pipe is used to dampen down the hot ashes and to reduce the dust. With the fire out and boiler full,  Planet can be shunted back into the shed ready for her next turn of duty. It’s probably around 16.30. Now its time to complete the running log, note any faults, get washed, do any washing up, sign out and head to the pub.

    9781445661889

    Anthony Dawson's book The Liverpool & Manchester Railway is available for purchase now.

  • The Hooligans Are Still Among Us by Michael Layton

    The Hooligans Are Still Among Us 1 British Transport Police officers, outside Arsenal tube station, 1980s. (Tony Thompson, The Hooligans Are Still Among Us, Amberley Publishing)

    The scourge of football-related violence has been with us since the 1960s, and came to the fore during the 70s and 80s, before the use of CCTV and other pro-active measures started the fight back by police and the authorities. The so-called ‘beautiful game’ has served to enrich the way of life for many generations in the UK and abroad, but for a relatively small, but significant, mindless minority football provides a platform for organised acts of mindless violence at its extreme, whilst spontaneous incidents of disorder, often fuelled by alcohol, remain a reality.

    ‘The Hooligans Are Still Among Us’ was released on the 15 May 2017, co-written with Bill Rogerson. It seeks to provide readers with a resume of those early years, using recollections from retired police officers, before examining in some detail the risks that such violent individuals pose whilst travelling on the rail networks, and at, and around stadiums in the UK during the 2015/2016 season.

    The authors draw on material, much of it ‘open source’, which clearly indicates that, whilst we have not returned fully to the ‘bad old days’ of the 80s, the problem of football hooliganism still exists to this day. As police tactics have been honed over the years through better use of intelligence, legislation and technology so too have the tactics of determined hooligans. One has only to look at ‘social media’ to see how readily material of an anti-social nature can be found.

    This latest book also explores problems in the sport relating to sectarianism and racial abuse in the UK, as well as the impact that ‘travelling’ English supporters have at international ‘away’ games. Sometimes, ‘more sinned against’ than being ‘sinners’ themselves, the historical reputation of English supporters often goes before them, sometimes leading to violence and confrontation, as groups vie for supremacy.

    The Hooligans Are Still Among Us 2 Monitoring football traffic at Wembley Park Station in 2014. (British Transport Police Media Centre, The Hooligans Are Still Among Us, Amberley Publishing)

    This behaviour is vividly described in accounts of violence by eye-witnesses at the European Championships in France in June 2016, and, in particular, at the Old Port in Marseilles on the 11 June 2016. It is clear that, to the ‘combatants’, status is everything, and reinforcing their position in the ‘hooligans hierarchy’, all important.

    After a review of the history of some of the UK’s better-known hooligan ‘firms’, the book moves on to look at some of the latest measures that the police are taking, and also takes an academic view on one of the ways forward, where such issues as ‘fan engagement’ are highlighted.

    There is no doubt that history plays a huge part in the mind-set of hooligans and ‘local derbies’, and high-profile tournaments always feature highly in their planning.

    As some of the older hooligan elements have taken a ‘back-seat’, there are some indications that ‘youth groups’ are filling that vacuum, particularly at non-league football games, where there are normally no police in attendance, or there is a lack of effective stewarding and CCTV.

    As former police officers, Bill and I have no desire whatsoever to vilify the many thousands of decent football supporters who travel to games each week, or indeed to glorify the actions of those who seek attention from the media through their perverse actions.

    Without doubt however, this is a problem that remains in our society, so much so in fact that less than two years ago the British Transport Police put tackling football hooliganism at the very heart of their operational priorities – indeed it was second only to tackling terrorism.

    The irony of this directive will not be lost on many, as we witness the recent terrorist attacks in the UK, and without doubt, as the police seek to balance finite resources, the challenges to tackle football related violence will become even more demanding.

    To some extent, ‘The Hooligans Are Still Among Us’ acts as a sequel to ‘Tracking The Hooligans’, which was also published by Amberley in 2016. Whilst it is specific by way of its reference to football violence on the UK rail network, nevertheless, the principles of research remain the same.

    I refer to a statement made by the BTP Chief Constable Mr Gay in 1972, which remains with me to this day: “On an average Saturday, some thirty trains carried police escorts of between two to eight officers. They sometimes reached their destination with their uniforms spoiled with spittle, and other filth, burnt with cigarette ends, or slashed….”

    This is how it was, and often still is, for the very thin blue line of officers who have to deal with such issues week in, week out, whether on transport networks, or in city centres and stadiums.

    This is the sort of behaviour that innocent members of the public still have to endure on a regular basis – in short, ‘The Hooligans Are Still Among Us’.

     

    9781445665887

    Michael Layton and Bill Rogerson's new book The Hooligans Are Still Among Us is available for purchase now.

  • The Kitchen Garden by Caroline Ikin

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Fruit trees were trained up the kitchen garden walls in espaliered shapes, allowing for even ripening and ease of picking. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    When visiting historic gardens I’m always drawn to the walls.  A high brick wall – too high to look over, and with no openings to peer through – offers a tantalising clue to what lies beyond: the kitchen garden. What was once the bustling hub of the working garden is now often left derelict, grassed over, converted to a private swimming pool, or used as a car park.  But the walls remain, sometimes with the skeleton of a glasshouse clinging to them, or an ancient fruit tree still struggling up their bricks. These walls were built to last, their brick faces absorbing the light of the sun to ripen the fruit trained upon them in espaliered shapes, their stone copings sheltering delicate blossoms from rain, their solidity offering protection from wind and frost, and from predators - both animal and human.

    The gardeners who worked within the walls would have worked their way up over the years, from garden boy to positions of greater responsibility, developing specialisms in the cultivation of glasshouse fruit, growing cut flowers for the house, forcing rhubarb and chicory, creating hot beds and cold frames, sowing, germinating, watering, pruning, harvesting, and keeping pests and diseases at bay. Kitchen gardening was a job that afforded little time off. The garden bell rang at 6am, and until 6pm, the workers would be kept busy under the watchful eye of the head gardener.  But the plants did not stop growing at the end of the working day, and the glasshouse boilers had to be kept stoked, and the vents adjusted to maintain the exact temperature required for the peaches, grapes, or figs to flourish.  Pests - whether aphids attacking the vines, wasps gorging on the plums, slugs grazing on lettuce, or mice penetrating the apple store - were active at all hours, and gardeners had to keep a steady vigil. The bothy was often built into the garden walls, positioned behind the glasshouse range on the north-facing side, not taking up valuable growing space, but benefitting from the heat penetrating through the wall. Here, the unmarried gardeners would sleep, wash, and eat their meals; what little spare time they had was taken up with reading garden books and journals for those ambitious to scale the career ladder.  A head gardener could marry, and was given a house and garden of his own.

    The Kitchen Garden 2 Pineapples were notoriously difficult to grow, which made them all the more valued at the table in an age of horticultural one-upmanship. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    The kitchen garden was also the perfect showcase for innovation, particularly in the nineteenth century, when industrialisation had revealed the possibilities of mechanisation, and spurred invention to new levels. The growing consumer culture rewarded novelty and ostentation, both of which could be amply satisfied through fruit and veg. The production of cast iron and cylinder glass allowed hothouses to reach new dimensions, and these horticultural havens housed exotic orchids, as well as tropical nectarines.  The favourable growing conditions created under glass, with reliable boilers providing controllable heating systems, gave gardeners the means to cultivate out-of-season fruit, and impress with unusual cultivars from exotic climes. The dinner table would be graced with a centrepiece of fruit and flowers, all produced by the skill and patience of the kitchen gardener, at which guests would express their admiration, and conceal their envy.  The ultimate prize was the home-grown pineapple - a fruit notoriously difficult to cultivate, and requiring specific conditions at each stage of its growth. This special fruit was tended personally by the head gardener, and if his expertise was not up to the task, enterprising businesses offered pineapples for hire by the day.

    The Kitchen Garden 4 The Victorians invented many labour-saving gadgets for use in the garden, not all of which have stood the test of time.

    The Victorian confidence in scientific understanding was also on show in the kitchen garden.  Now that processes, such as photosynthesis and soil nutrition had been explained, gardeners were able to apply the knowledge of modern science to their growing methods, adapting their green-fingered traditions to incorporate artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides, producing bumper crops of perfect fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  There was a tool for every job, with new-fangled, labour-saving gadgets stored in the tool shed alongside the spades, rakes and hoes, whose utilitarian design has lasted unbettered through the centuries.

    So, next time you follow the ivy up to the top of the garden wall, let your imagination fill with the sights, sounds, and smells of what went on beyond the protection of the bricks and mortar.  Taste the delicate peaches, hear the rumbling of the wheelbarrow, and watch the garden boy as he wipes his boots before entering the glasshouse with his watering can. The walls of the kitchen garden enclose an astonishing story.

    9781445668840

    Caroline Ikin's new book The Kitchen Garden is available for purchase now.

  • Space Oddities by S. D. Tucker

    THE ICEMAN COMETH

    In an extract from his new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe, author SD Tucker remembers the life of Hans Hörbiger - the forgotten Austrian astronomer who claimed that stars didn’t exist, and spied giant ice-cubes floating in space.

    The next time you cast your eyes up towards the Milky Way some clear and cloudless night, take a moment to stop and ask yourself what precisely it is you are seeing. The standard answer is that you are observing a twirling, milky band of light, which stretches out across the heavens in a series of spiral arms, caused by the illumination given out by the innumerable distant suns of our galaxy. In short, you are looking at the stars. The renegade Austrian astronomer Hanns Hörbiger (1860–1931), however, didn’t believe in stars, and in an influential 1913 book, made the rather startling assertion that, far from being the result of starlight, the Milky Way was in fact made entirely out of ice. According to Hörbiger, a series of massive, planet-sized ice-blocks was floating around up there in space, encircling our entire solar-system in an impenetrable white ring. Light from a few actual suns lurking beyond the ice-ring then shone through this frozen barrier, reflecting off its massed ice-crystals, and giving observers on Earth the mere illusion of billions of stars twinkling down at us from the inky blackness. Various other astronomers might well object to this proposal, admitted the Austrian, and even attempt to show off photographs of the Milky Way’s alleged ‘stars’ to prove their case, but he had an easy answer ready to these arguments – all such images were simply fakes. As to any tedious mathematical objections which sceptical astronomers might have made to his proposal, Hörbiger had an even more emphatic response in store: ‘Mathematics,’ he once pronounced, ‘is nothing but lies!’

    Hörbiger could justify this bombastic assertion by pointing back to his successful career as an engineer, during which, one of his most appropriate achievements was to have helped develop new cold-compressors for use in manufacturing artificial ice. In 1894, he had also invented a special kind of low-friction, automatically opening and closing steel disk-valve for use in blast-furnaces - a genuinely helpful invention, without which, various industrial processes, and methods of gas-exchange would simply not have been possible. However, Hörbiger’s invention of this valve was not something he had worked out laboriously at a desk in his workshop, through calculations and technical drawings; instead, it had simply ‘come to him’ whilst on the job. As such, for a qualified engineer, he had little time for mathematics. ‘Instead of trusting me you trust equations!’ he would harangue those who tried to point out to him the various reasons why his ice-ring theory could not be true. ‘How long will you need to learn that mathematics is valueless and deceptive?’

    Hörbiger’s full, entirely maths-less, theory was termed the Welteislehre, or ‘World Ice Theory’ (‘WEL’ for short). Basically, it held that at some distant point in our galaxy’s past there had been a gigantic super-sun, millions of times the size of our own, next to which had orbited a massive planet, many times larger than Jupiter, covered by layers of ice hundreds of miles thick. Eventually, this ice-planet fell into the super-sun, melted, and transformed into jets of super-charged steam, which blew the sun apart, spewing out lumps of rock and fire, which ultimately settled down to become our own current solar-system. Vast clouds of oxygen were also released from the explosion, and reacted with thin layers of hydrogen gases already swirling through space, creating masses of space-water which -space being cold - soon froze into the gigantic ring of interstellar ice-bergs, which now encircled us all. Sometimes, said Hörbiger, one of these ice-blocks breaks away, and floats into the pull of our sun’s gravitational field, falling into it, and creating sun-spots, which are really colossal melting ice-cubes. Occasionally, the Earth happens to be orbiting in the path of one of these falling space-bergs, causing severe hailstorms, before it finally drops into the sun. Our moon is less lucky; being higher up and thus exposed to more ice, it is continually accumulating more and more frozen layers of water on its surface. Eventually, it will get so heavy that it simply falls down to Earth and kills us, claimed Hörbiger. Apparently, such a catastrophe had already happened several times in the past; the Earth used to have other smaller moons, which became so heavy with cosmic ice that they crashed down onto our planet thousands of years ago, destroying Atlantis and making Noah feel glad he had built that Ark. If you thought that the giant ice-berg crashing into the Titanic had been a disaster, implied Hörbiger, then just wait until the giant moon-berg finally collided with SS Planet Earth.

    That’s quite a bold theory, and in order to support it, Hörbiger had to have amassed a huge amount of evidence, didn’t he? No. Much of Hörbiger’s ‘proof’ for his premise amounted to the fact that he had had a few strange dreams or visions which had revealed the ‘truth’ about our frozen universe to him. Just as he had created his Hörbiger-Valve entirely through intuition, so he had created his infamous WEL. As a small child, Hörbiger had owned a telescope. Through this, he liked to look at the moon. He thought its surface looked cold; and, all of a sudden, realised that this simply must be because it was covered with ice. That was Hörbiger’s first revelation. His second came when he had a strange dream in which the Earth became transformed into a giant pendulum, swaying on a luminous string. This apparently revealed to him the secrets of gravitation, showing how ice-bergs in space could be attracted towards the sun. Thirdly, whilst working as an engineer one day in 1894, he witnessed some molten iron falling onto a pile of snow, causing bits of soil beneath to explode under the pressure of the jets of steam, which had been released by the snow suddenly melting. This caused Hörbiger to immediately understand that an ice-planet had once dropped into a super-sun, thus giving birth to our solar-system. Coincidentally (or not), the basic principles of World Ice Theory coincided perfectly with the physical laws relating to water, gas, freezing, and pressure, which Hörbiger had studied and made use of throughout his entire professional life. At last, the WEL was all falling into place; all that now remained was for Hörbiger to write his 1913 book – all 790 pages of it – telling the world about his discovery. Surprisingly, the book had many fans; including, as readers of my own new book can find out, a certain Mr Adolf Hitler …

    9781445662626

    S. D. Tucker's new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe is available to purchase now.

  • The Early Railways of Manchester by Anthony Dawson

    The Early Railways of Manchester 1 Map of Manchester's railways c.1855 (Andy Mason, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    The construction of the controversial Ordsall Chord in Manchester, enabling through-running between Piccadilly Station and Victoria, is the result of how the first railways came to Manchester in the 1830s and 1840s. It is rather ironic that, whilst the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was the world’s first inter-city passenger railway, its taciturn reluctance to work with other companies left Manchester with several isolated mainline stations.

    Manchester’s first mainline passenger station was built at Liverpool Road (now the home of the Museum of Science & Industry) by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company. In fact it was Manchester’s only railway station until 1838, when, what is now Salford Central (for the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Railway), and the now defunct Oldham Road station (Manchester & Leeds Railway) were opened. But none of these stations were connected by rail: they were built by fiercely independent railway companies, who viewed any form of connection or through-running as a challenge to their traffic, revenue, and status.

    The Early Railways of Manchester 3 Victoria Station c.1890; the original 1844 building on the left. The other ranges date from the 1860s expansion (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Next on the scene was the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester, and the Manchester & Birmingham companies, who opened a joint station, which today is Manchester Piccadilly – one of the busiest railway stations in Britain, with trains arriving or departing every eight seconds. The Sheffield company, as early as 1836, had wanted to form a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester, enabling trains to run all the way from Liverpool to Sheffield via Manchester, and vice versa. A logical move, but the Liverpool & Manchester Company was opposed, fearing lost revenue, and blocked the move. The Liverpool & Manchester Company was also opposed to the building of a junction and line from Ordsall Lane (on the Liverpool & Manchester) to Manchester Victoria Station. The Manchester & Leeds Railway had found their Oldham Road station too out of the way, and in a far from salubrious area, and so built a new station at Hunt’s Bank, close to Manchester Cathedral, and Chetham’s College. Naturally, the Church Authorities were not happy with this new interloper. Victoria was to be approached by an inclined plane, and trains were to be worked in and out via winding engines at the Summit at Miles Platting, where locomotives were coupled on to continue their journey to Leeds. The Manchester & Leeds had already raised the question of a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester in 1835, which had been flatly refused. Three years later, the idea resurfaced, to enable trains to work through from Liverpool to Leeds, and an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1839. But then the Liverpool & Manchester got ‘cold feet’, and instead promoted a rival line, running along Whitworth Street, to join with the Sheffield people at London Road. This would become the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway, opened in 1848. Meanwhile, the northern link to Victoria had stalled. The Liverpool & Manchester refused to act, fearing loss of traffic. The Manchester & Leeds replied by threatening to build a rival line all the way to Liverpool, and a canal and warehouses to enable transhipment of goods from the quays, and wharfs on New Quay Street (near to Liverpool Road Station) to their new station at Victoria. Even the Manchester public were losing patience with the petty territorialism of the Liverpool & Manchester Company, its dilatoriness over the link to Victoria generating much bad publicity. Victoria station opened in May 1844, but the linking line from the Liverpool & Manchester mainline was not finally complete until several months later. There was, in the words of the Manchester Guardian, now ‘one continuous line of Railway Communication across the country from Hull to Liverpool, and the Irish Channel.’ Once the Manchester South Junction line opened, there was the possibility of trains – or at least traffic – being able to run from Liverpool to Sheffield, Liverpool to Leeds, and via the Grand Junction (which joined the Liverpool & Manchester at Newton) to Birmingham, and thence London, all via Manchester, linking the great industrial centres to the major ports.

    The Early Railways of Manchester 2 Galloway's unsuccessful locomotive Manchester - 'the first built in Manchester'. (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    By the middle of the 1840s, Manchester’s railway scene had developed from a single, isolated station at London Road, to one that is recognisable today, centred on London Road/Piccadilly, Victoria, Salford Central. What there wasn’t was any connection between the two principal stations at London Road and Victoria; whilst the two were rail connected via the junction at Ordsall Lane, trains had to reverse to enter either station.  This problem was partially overcome with the opening of the ‘Windsor Link’ in the 1980s, but the lack of through-running from Piccadilly to Victoria, a product of the fierce rivalry between these early railway companies from over 170 years ago, will only be finally solved in December 2017.

    9781445665184

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Manchester is available for purchase now.

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