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  • Secret Southampton by Martin Brisland

    In October 1971, Muhammad Ali was in a local supermarket in Hedge End. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Saturday 15th July 2017 was a day to remember. Well it would be if only I could remember it. I know I was in bed having not been awake long. Then a thunderclap pain in the back of my head hit. I recall taking two paracetamol and lying down. It was about six weeks later before I was well enough to realise what had happened. I had had a severe brain haemorrhage which is fatal in 6 out of 10 cases. The main basal artery to the brain was bleeding. No warning signs at all. Out of the blue. I had two operations and spent eleven weeks in hospital. So many thanks to the Neuro unit at Southampton General Hospital and many other medical professionals who gave me a second chance.

     

    I am retired having spent my working life in Further and Higher Education jobs. A lifelong interest in local history led me to becoming a qualified tour guide and being part of See Southampton. When the chance to write the book came my other half was naturally protective and thought it might be too onerous a task but I was determined. It became my recovery project and gave me a real focus so I could spend less time worrying about the after effects of the haemorrhage.

     

    In 2004 a sculpture of the Spitfire was unveiled outside Southampton Airport. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    My main problem was not what to find to put into the book but what to leave out. Being a major port Southampton has so many stories to tell. A lot of the content I knew but the research led me to many other places. The city’s history goes back to a Roman settlement on the bank of The River Itchen. We then had Danes, Vikings, Saxons and Norman leaving their mark. Southampton was the major embarkation point for troops going to fight the Battle of Crecy in 1348, for Henry V’s troops en route to Agincourt in 1415. Later troops passed through on their way to the Boer War in South Africa around 1900, to fight in Flander’s fields in the First World War and in the Second World War with three and a half million Allied troops, including over two million Americans. Locals said they were “Overpaid, oversexed and over here”. A comment possibly justified by the fact that there were around 5,000 births locally fathered by US servicemen. They had money, chewing gum and nylons which obviously had an effect. Late in 1945 Churchill even arranged free passage on the Queen Mary for any local women who wanted to track down the father of their baby. Over half returned – possibly having found out that there was already a wife the other side of the pond. Southampton was also the ‘Home of the Spitfire’ and was therefore a prime enemy bombing target in the Second World War. About 70% of the inner town was destroyed. The post war Brutalist rebuilding was functional but is now tired. In recent years there has been much redevelopment and the place is being reborn. The two main sources of income today are: students with around 40,000 at our two universities; and the Docks with its famous double high tide which allows 550 mainly cruise and container ship movements per year.

     

    The boat that does not float. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Southampton is divided into sections on people, places and stories. One of my personal favourites is the day Muhammed Ali came to town. He was touring England in February 1971 promoting Ovaltine – the only product he ever endorsed. He went to a supermarket, signed tins then gave a press conference in his hotel. Another is the man who for the last 50 years has been building a full size boat in his garden. He is now very elderly, it will never be completed and is in poor repair. Symbolic of human dreams and ambitions that we may never realise but at least we tried.

     

    One of my aims in writing the book was for people to say “I have passed that many times but never knew the story behind it”. So far the feedback has been to that effect. It has led to a double page feature in the local paper, a local TV interview, some lovely reviews and many upcoming talks to local history groups. So once again thank you to the NHS for giving me the chance to be able to write Secret Southampton.

     

    Martin Brisland's new book Secret Southampton is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century by Malcolm Batten

    FORTY YEARS LATER

    RTs at Barking garage in 1976. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1969, when I started photographing London buses, the AEC RT type double-decker was a major part of the fleet. First introduced in 1939, only 151 were built before manufacturing ceased in favour of military vehicles. Production restarted after the war and eventually 4,825 would be built, along with 1,631 of the similar looking Leyland RTL type and 500 RTWs – Leylands with 8ft wide bodies rather than 7ft 6in. Between them, these replaced the trams and all the pre-war and wartime buses. Withdrawals started with service cuts in 1958, and the Leylands had all gone by 1970, but there were still some 2,500 red RTs with London Transport in 1971. Nearly 500 green examples had passed to London Country Bus Services when that company was formed in 1970.  However, the last examples were withdrawn on 7 April 1979. Their final route was the 62, worked by Barking garage in east London.

     

     

    RTs lined up again at Barking garage 30.3.19. The nearest RT is one that has been repatriated from Canada. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    It seems fitting that having just completed the final part of my East London Buses trilogy East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, we have just celebrated forty years since the end of these iconic buses – the predecessors of the equally famous Routemasters. On Saturday 30 March an Open Day was held at Barking garage, now owned by Stagecoach East London. Preserved RT types ran over the former 62 route and the erstwhile 23C to the (now demolished) Creekmouth Power Station. There were others on display at the garage and at the Go-Ahead London garage in River Road. Nearly fifty RT types were on display. Some of these had been exported to Canada for sightseeing work after withdrawal and have now been repatriated. At 4.00pm a parade, led by the prototype RT1 ran from Barking garage to the town centre and back. Some buses displayed the same last day blinds that were carried back in 1979.

    It was a fitting tribute to a class that served London so well and the Open Day was well patronised by enthusiasts and the general public. It was particularly poignant for me as I missed the last day forty years ago as I had to work on Saturdays in those days – retirement brings some benefits!

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

  • Britain's Greatest Bridges by Joseph Rogers

    One thing to note about my first Amberley title, Britain's Greatest Bridges, is that it falls short of thoroughly explaining the detailed engineering methods, techniques and construction concepts that naturally apply to some our nation's most important structures. There is a reason for this.

    Generous access for cyclists and pedestrians on the south side of the Severn Bridge makes for a great run between England and Wales. (c. Karen Rogers, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The book stemmed from a love for travel, which for me began in 2010 when school had abruptly finished and life in an exciting and endless world invited me to explore and wander, before the grips of employment took hold. In being unleashed on the British landscape, I sought to truly appreciate what exactly the vast numbers of villages, towns and cities had to offer, and in doing so came across a number of distinct landmarks that made a meaningful impression on the adolescent mind.

    One such feature was bridges. A two night break based at the M5's Gordano Services saw me take an excursion running across the Avonmouth Bridge during a cold and clear evening, which resulted in an experience that forced unrivalled adrenaline through the veins, trapped between the fast flow of traffic and the silent depths of the river below. Shortly afterwards, I was doing the same from England to Wales, taking advantage of the first Severn Bridge's generous walkways and the ability to stand so isolated above the Bristol Channel, whilst being in the thick of a major feat in roadway expansion.

    Over subsequent years, this want to become intimate with such landmarks, particularly those with candid public access, became an addiction of almost a decade thus far and one no doubt to last my entire lifetime. The opportunity to shed light on, and share a liking for, some of Britain's greatest bridges was one pounced upon, not to dissect tension, compression, concrete and iron, but instead to celebrate icons of culture, history and geography by including the patently obvious, but also those whose place might not be fully recognised without some understanding of its place in the local landscape.

    Though part of a larger failure to impose the car on Glasgow, Kingston Bridgenow successfully carries ten lanes of traffic via the M8 motorway over the Clyde. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The Kingston Bridge in Glasgow is a good example of this, seeing coverage in the book for being undeniably brutal when viewing the Clyde in all its glory. Its inception might have been somewhat disastrous and repairs long-lasting, but with the accolade of Europe's busiest bridge and a place in a music video for local band Simple Minds, it became notable enough for inclusion as one of the greatest. Some would say greatest failure, greatest concrete blot on the landscape, or greatest umbrella from the Scottish weather, but nevertheless a great bridge indeed.

    The sheer size of the Humber Bridge alone marks it as one of the greatest structures in Britain, though at one point it stood globally at the forefront of bridge-building. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    Similarly the Humber Bridge, whose construction has been widely celebrated in all formats, was a dead cert for the title, given its feats. As once the longest bridge of its type in the world, much is to be applauded in its design, length, height and technology, especially given its age. But also of interest is its very function, bypassing a route of approximately 50 miles, and linking two sides of the River Humber previously united only under the geographical Humberside banner. Crossing the estuary had been the want of previous civilisations, including the Romans, and doing so by boat became popular over subsequent centuries. It was not until the prominence of the automobile and the industrial advances made by both Kingston-upon-Hull and Grimsby became a factor that the need for a more permanent structure materialised. The bridge's very existence tells swathes about the area's progression and place in British history and this is arguably just as important as the science behind that existence.

    To the book's general audience, the point of celebrating, what are labours of love for engineers and architects, is to instil a sense of awe and pride in simply using or seeing these objects in the wider narrative of Britain's geography. Outlining a brief history and noting obscure facts and trivia might not erect the enthusiasm of those at the forefront of creating and maintaining our treasured spans, but hopefully can perk the interest of the general explorer in appreciating the wider and more subjective feelings that arise from exploring the UK in all its variety. After all, who better to judge the greatness of such structures, than those that use them?

    Joseph Rogers's new book Britain's Greatest Bridges is available for purchase now.

  • Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

    Headlines like this one blared from every newspaper in the U.S. (Author's collection, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    My last two books—A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West, and The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation—were set in the American West of the 19th century.  But I didn’t want to be tagged as just a historian of the Old West, so I decided my next book would involve a 20th century subject. When an editor friend suggested Apollo 11, which of course was the first lunar landing, I didn’t embrace the idea. As a boy I had read a great deal of science fiction, and like many boys followed the U.S. manned space programme and the Space Race with the Soviets, but I wasn’t sure space was the right subject for me, since it involved a lot of science and that subject wasn’t one of my favorites in school. So I lodged the idea in the back of my head and continued to look for my next book subject. But the idea kept sneaking its way into the front of my mind, and at a certain point I realized it might work.

    So I took a look at what had already been published about Apollo 11. There were quite a few books on the entire space program, or parts of it, and several on the entire Apollo programme, but not many on just Apollo 11. Reading science fiction supplied a sense of wonder that I didn’t find in any other kind of reading, and I wanted a book that did that for the “real” SF of the space program. After all, it involved space, and spaceships, and voyaging to another world in our solar system, and it involved great danger—and of course it was tremendously exciting.

    Apollo 11 launches at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from pad A, launch complex 39. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    I didn’t find a book on Apollo 11 that gave me that sense of wonder. Most I read either weren’t well-written, or they didn’t cover the full story, or they let the science and technology—and there’s a LOT of that—overwhelm the story and make it hard to read if you don’t have a degree in astronautics. Many were written by science writers who were familiar with the science involved but didn’t seem to realize that most readers weren’t.

    So I decided to take the subject on. But there were a few other reasons I wanted to write this book.

    Most people living today weren’t alive, or old enough to remember, the first moon landing in July 1969. And this is a thing: if one has lived through a significant historical event, when it permeates your experience through various media, you know it happened. You were there, so to speak. But if it happened before one could remember the event, you’re not absolutely sure it really happened—yes, it’s in history books, but so is medieval history, and who’s sure of what happened back then? Even worse, there are some people who steadfastly refuse to believe that it actually happened. Some of those people just prefer to believe in conspiracies, and are not open to evidence and facts. But for open-minded people, I thought a lively and accurate account of one of the most significant events of the 20th century was needed, and might counter that disturbing anti-science (and anti-fact) strain that is far too prevalent in today’s world.

     

     

    Armstrong during the lunar surface EVA, staning near the LM. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    As I began researching the book, a few more reasons emerged. A simple yet obvious reason is that this is just a great story, and one which works on several levels. It’s one of the great tales of adventure and exploration. It’s also a chronicle of the Space Race, which of course was just the most visible element of the Cold War—and most people today don’t realize how serious that was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the Free World was combatting the intended worldwide domination of totalitarian communism. It also involves some fascinating characters—not only the extraordinarily courageous astronauts and cosmonauts, but others behind the scenes: engineers, flight controllers, designers and planners, and yes, even some rocket scientists, who helped make it happen. Few people knew the stories of these “hidden figures.”

    There’s one more reason, and it’s personal, and it goes back to what I mentioned earlier: the love of a young person—me, specifically, but also, I think, millions of others—for that sense of wonder that we got, or get, from SF, or the “real” SF of manned spaceflight. I tried to transmit that feeling in Shoot for the Moon, especially in the first few paragraphs of Chapter One, which begins, “One Saturday morning in October 1957, a fourteen-year-old boy in the small farming town of Fremont, Iowa, woke up to find the world a different place. . . . .” If that sentence intrigues you, then you might be one of the people I wrote this book for. I hope so.

    James Donovan's new book Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 is available for purchase now.

  • John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

    What makes a sparkling and successful career? What makes for a life that history will record? How about the brilliant lawyer who becomes Lord Chancellor of England? What about the outstanding academic who become Chancellor of Oxford University? What about the committed cleric who becomes Archbishop of Canterbury? What about the able politician who becomes the adviser of kings? Each one of these would be a highly creditable achievement in anyone’s lifetime but in John Morton they are combined in the lifetime of one man. It is an outstanding achievement. And this is not all, Morton also managed to oversee building and construction projects on a remarkable scale, and finance the publication of a book which contained the first printed music in England.

    The Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury Catherdral, funded by John Morton. (c. Tony Bates under Creative Commons, John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors, Amberley Publishing)

    However, life did not always go his own way. Morton was accused of treason twice – and imprisoned in the Tower of London – from whence he escaped. He lived in penurious exile twice – once for a period of ten years. However, in his mid-sixties he became the chief and most trusted counsellor of a new king – a king with a tenuous claim to the throne but who through Morton’s advice, survived and established a new dynasty.

    Yet this man is unknown to most, and even to students of the period he only gets a cursory glance or an incidental mention. His contribution of over fifty years to his country’s service is barely recognised. His career began at Oxford where his brilliance was rapidly noticed and led to him becoming a member of the court of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. However, in the political turmoil of what is known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’, he lost all when the Yorkists gained power and was forced into exile abroad. Following the death of Henry VI he was summoned back by Edward IV and became one of his most trusted councillors. After his death, Morton was implacably opposed to the usurpation of Richard III and conspired against him throughout his short reign. Called back to England again, he then served Henry VII until his death in 1500. It was through his advice, in his roles as Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, that Henry safely navigated the challenges of his reign. This is a man who deserves to be retrieved from the shadows and credited for his singular role in the politics of the fifteenth century.

    Stuart Bradley's new book John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors is available for purchase now.

  • Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    One of the first things I had to do when planning Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest was to decide which women would be included in the book. I had to decide whether I would include as many as possible, with short biographies (which was pretty much how I had written Heroines of the Medieval World), or to write about fewer women, but with more in-depth biographies.

    Detail of the 'Ælfgyva and a certain cleric' scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. (c. Dennis Jarvis, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    In the end, it was a simple decision, to choose twelve of the more prominent women of the 11th century and dedicate a chapter to each one. Twelve chapters may not seem a lot, but it became evident early on in my research that I would have to include three general chapters, which told the story of the actual events before, during and after the Norman Conquest, and then tell the women’s stories and highlight their place in the wider events of the time.

    And so how to choose who to include?

    Some of the women were quite obvious choices; Harold II’s 20-year relationship with Edith Swanneck and subsequent marriage to Ealdgyth of Mercia were impossible to leave out, as was Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror. And if you were including the wives of two of the contenders, then it would be impossible to leave out the wives of Harald Hardrada, the third contender to the English throne in 1066. He was husband to both Elisiv of Kiev and Thora Thorbergsdottir.

    The stories of these five women formed the backbone of Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, but they were the easiest choices to include.

    Detail of a miniature of Queen Emma before an altar. (c. British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    Deciding to tell the story from the beginning of the 11th century onwards meant that the tale had to start with Emma of Normandy. Emma was the only woman to ever be crowned queen of England, twice; as the wife of, firstly, Æthelred II and, secondly, King Cnut. She was also the mother of two English kings; Harthacnut and the saintly king, Edward the Confessor. Emma’s story was the perfect place to start the story of the Norman Conquest; she was an integral part of the politics and government of the first half of the 11th century.

    A woman who may, at first, to appear to be an anomaly to the story of 1066 is Lady Godiva. Her tale is more fiction and legend than fact, but she serves to demonstrate how history can be shrouded in the mists of these legends. While Lady Godiva almost certainly did not ride through Coventry naked, she did exist and was a powerful benefactor of the church, as well as being the matriarch of the House of Mercia, from which King Harold’s wide, Ealdgyth, came – Godiva was her grandmother.

    Another lady who could not be left out comes towards the end of the 1066 story: St Margaret. As one of the last survivors of the Anglo-Saxon royal house, Margaret, was a great marriage prize. And, although her preference was for a life dedicated to God, she married Malcom III Canmor, king of Scots and it is through her daughter, Edith – later known as Matilda – and her marriage to King Henry I, that the blood of the Saxon royal family once again sat on the English throne.

    The final chapter is dedicated to a mysterious woman known as Ælfgyva. One of only three women to appear in the Bayeux Tapestry, Ælfgyva’s identity remains a mystery, though there are many theories….

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest is available for purchase now.

  • Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' by Heather R. Darsie

    The final stop on the 'Anna, Duchess of Cleves' Blog Tour

    Back in 2012, my interest in Henry VIII and his six wives was awakened, so I began reading any book I could get my hands on about these women. Whenever I read anything about Anna of Cleves, I always felt that her story was somehow incomplete. In summer 2015, I decided to start researching her life and thought I should write a biography about her if I found anything interesting. Needless to say, I think I did.

    Anna of Cleves. After Barthel Bruyn. c.1560s–1570s. (Courtesy of the President and Fellows of St John’s College, Oxford - Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister', Amberley Publishing)

    While completing my BA in German Languages and Literature, I took several courses on German history. These courses familiarised me with the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Charles V, when Anna was alive. I thought more about how in every English language book, she was called ‘Anne of Cleves’. I suspected her given name was Anna, and began plotting the course which my research would take into German sources.

    Having developed research skills while pursuing my Juris Doctorate, I knew I had to go straight to the original sources. I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Cleves in August 2015. He very kindly forwarded my letter to the Swan Castle in Cleves, who sent me a great deal of information and referred me to the proper archives. By Jove, this woman was indeed named Anna, and there was a lot more to her life than what has been believed for hundreds of years.

    Anna’s life and experiences from the German perspective are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. That is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that looking at the German sources helps to make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539.

    It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers.

    Throughout, I refer to Germany, Germans, and the German language. My use of ‘Germany’ refers to German-speaking Central Europe under the Holy Roman Empire. By ‘Germans’, I mean those living in the area that constitutes present-day Germany. I use the term ‘German language’ to describe the various Germanic dialects that were spoken in that area.

    To frame Anna’s life as a German woman, I chose to use the German, non-Anglicised, non-Gallicised names for Anna and her immediate family. I have used the umlaut in German place names as a gentle reminder of the Germanic perspective of the book.

    Heather R. Darsie's new book Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' is available for purchase now.

     

    Blog Tour Direct Links:

    8th April - www.queenanneboleyn.com/2019/04/08/interview-heather-r-darsie-author-anna-duchess-cleves-kings-beloved-sister

    9th April - www.historyofroyalwomen.com/anne-of-cleves/anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister-book-tour-a-new-birthday-for-anna

    10th April - www.sarah-bryson.com/2019/04/10/book-tour-heather-r-darsie

    11th April - www.tudorsdynasty.com/what-was-the-frauenzimmer-guest-post

    12th April - www.melanievtaylor.co.uk/2019/04/12/an-interview-with-heather-darsie-author-of-anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister

    13th April - www.historytheinterestingbits.com/2019/04/13/guest-post-anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-r-darsie

    14th April - www.onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2019/04/14/anna-duchess-of-cleves-blog-tour

    15th April - www.susanhigginbotham.com/posts/guest-post-by-heather-r-darsie-when-anne-met-henry

    16th April - Lil's Vintage World - Review link to come

    17th April - www.authorherstorianparent.blogspot.com/2019/04/jeanne-dalbret-heather-darsies-anna-of.html

    18th April - www.henrytudorsociety.com/2019/04/18/who-were-the-landsknechte

    19th April - www.ladyjanegrey.info/?p=14993

    20th April - www.medievalarchives.com/2019/04/20/anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-darise

    21st April - www.maidensandmanuscripts.com/2019/04/21/my-adventures-with-the-duchess-of-cleves

    22nd April - www.samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-charming-side-of-charles-v.html

    23rd April - www.laurenmackay.co.uk/blog/guest-article-by-heather-darsie

  • Secret Hereford by David Phelps

    Seven secrets of Hereford

    The Rothewas Ribbon, a mysterious and now buried ancient discovery. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Rotherwas Ribbon

    It seems likely that Herefordshire was an important pre-Roman settlement area, given the large number of hill-forts. This was confirmed in 2006 when, in preparation for a new road, archaeologists discovered, just to the south of the city, a mysterious Neolithic structure made up of a single layer of stones, fire cracked (heated and then dropped into cold water to shatter, the earliest known example of this practice) and laid in a sinuous series of curves up a hill. They were interspersed with quartz pebbles so that, in sunlight, the ribbon would have glinted like a large white snake and, in the moonlight, it would have glowed as if the nearby river Wye was climbing up the hill.

    Despite the Ribbon’s unique status, Herefordshire Council was determined to go ahead with the road and it was covered by tarmac.

     

     

    The Saxon Wall

    Hereford was a border town and, in the early ninth century, faced dangers from both the Welsh and Viking raiders. Aethelflaed, Alfred the Great’s daughter, set about making Hereford defensible, with strong stone walls behind which the county’s inhabitants could retreat. Over time, as danger seemed less likely, they fell into disrepair, only to be quickly repaired when a new threat appeared. However the original Saxon stone walls can still be seen, behind a block of flats, the only Saxon stone defences currently openly visible in England.

    Hereford Cathedral is still the most substantial building in the city. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Hereford Cathedral

    Hereford is where it is for two reasons. First was its strategic position at a major ford over the river Wye and the second that the Early Church decided that it would be a good place for the centre of a diocese, probably sometime in the middle of the seventh century. The first, wooden, building was burnt down by the Welsh in 1055 and re-built by the Normans in stone. It was enlarged over the following centuries whenever the cathedral came into a bit of money and so is a fascinating mixture of architectural styles.

    It was not always as we see it today, but once had two towers and a spire. Unfortunately, on Easter Monday 1786, the West Tower collapsed and, during a subsequent survey, it was found that the spire on the Central Tower was unsafe and had to be taken down and was never replaced. This was a time when the diocese did not have access to a lot of money and it took many years for a shorter and more modest West Front to be built.

    The Preaching Cross

    Dominicans, called Black Friars from the colour of their robes, arrived in Hereford in 1246, but were not popular with the Bishop or the already established Gray Friars, who saw them as competition. After a certain amount of violence the Dominicans were allowed to build a priory to the north of the City which gradually became a major institution, but suffered the fate of all such religious bodies on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and privatised. It eventually became an almshouse for old soldiers, which might be the model for Chelsea Hospital, on the instigation of that most famous of Herefordians, Nell Gwyn.

    The most substantial reminder of the Dominicans is the Preaching Cross, now tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city in a quiet park, and the only surviving example of a friars’ preaching cross left in England.

    The Black Lion, the oldest pub in Hereford. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Black Lion

    Built in 1575, it is the oldest surviving pub of Hereford. Naturally it is also considered the most haunted. Fourteen separate ghosts have been identified. The epicentre of the hauntings is the upstairs Painted Room, which contains Elizabethan depictions of the dangers of breaking the Ten Commandments as well as unexplained footsteps and noises. The story goes that the building was once an orphanage and one of the ghosts is that of a small girl that the pub staff have christened Alice. More threatening is the ghost of a man in a hat, who has been known to tap customers on the shoulder.

    The Market Hall

    Set in the very centre of Hereford, it was described by a visitor in 1642 as the stateliest in the kingdom. Built in 1576 when Hereford had a reputation for fine woodcarving, it had three storeys and was supported by twenty seven walnut pillars. The first floor was for the city magistrates, the top for meeting rooms for the fourteen guilds of the city and the open ground floor provided space for a market. By the middle of the eighteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and the decision was taken to remove the upper floor as a cost saving measure but no one liked the result and, in 1861, the whole building was demolished. Nowadays that would be considered a piece of short sighted vandalism.

    The original Nelson's Column, raised thirty years before they built one in London. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Nelson’s Column

    When Admiral Nelson visited the city in 1802 the populace regarded him as the most important visitor since Charles I visited in the Civil War. Huge crowds turned out to watch him leave the house in Broad Street where he had been staying. Naturally there was severe shock when news reached the city three years later that he had been killed at the battle of Trafalgar.

    A public subscription raised money to build a memorial in the Castle Green, but unfortunately the money did not run to a statue as was originally planned and the column was surmounted by a simple urn. Still it did mean Hereford had a Nelson’s Column thirty years before the one in London. Until the middle of the nineteenth century a muffled bell peal was rung by the city churches every year to mark the anniversary of Nelson’s death.

    David Phelps's new book Secret Hereford is available for purchase now.

  • Holiday Trains by Greg Morse

    I’m on a train, a train heading in the wrong direction. It’s heading in the wrong direction because it’s taking me to work. I got on at Swindon with the same faces I see every day – plus a few new ones (who, as all commuters know, have no right to be there – at least not in ‘your’ seat) – and now I’m trying to write to you. I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, and my pen is bouncing all over the page as the wheels bounce over points and joints and goodness knows what. My fellow travellers tuck in to muffins and pastries, sip their lattes, read their papers and prod their phones. It’s February, and it’s quieter this morning as many are joining their children on their half-term holidays. Their absences mean the cloud of yoghurt-breath, BO and flatulence is smaller than on some days, the chances of being trampled or tripped up just a little bit less. These peccadillos matter far more than they should, but it is alas the way of things when using trains to facilitate the daily grind.

    GWR families wait in line at Swindon to board the trains for Trip Week, c. 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Cornwall. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    As my train powers on to Paddington, I start to think about my return this evening, but muse more on the prospect of heading the ‘right way’ in the mornings too. Not to Bath or Bristol, but a little bit further to Weston-Super-Mare – a seaside town, and well known and loved by me since childhood. During that wonderful Whitsun week, there would be endless ice creams on the Grand Pier, endless sandcastles, countless visits to the old Model Railway. There would often be a train ride too – a day trip to Bristol behind a chugging diesel (a Class 33, for those – like me – who like to know such things). How wonderful it all was! But how wonderful too it must have been to have gone to Weston in the days of steam, waiting on the platform with raincoats over suitcases, buckets, spades and all the paraphernalia of the traditional British holiday. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way: when Swindon had a railway works, Weston – along with Tenby, Torquay, St Ives, Weymouth – was a favourite choice during ‘trip week’, during which thousands would down tools and leave the town virtually empty as trains took them away from it all for a short precious while.

    The prized destination for many once the railways had come: Anchor Head, in Weston-Super-Mare, c. 1910. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    Weston’s origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but it was the fashion for sea bathing – sampled by George III at Weymouth in 1789 – that set it on a course away from farming and fishing. Many of the first visitors came by coach from Bath and Bristol in numbers soon sufficient to warrant a hotel, Weston’s first opening in 1810.

    As with Brighton, at first there were objections, local landowners being somewhat wary of this still-new technology; so much so, that when Parliament granted the Bristol & Exeter Railway powers to build a line between those two cities on 19 May 1836, Brunel – the company’s engineer – was obliged to bypass the town some 1½ miles to the south. As work progressed on this important broad gauge route, however, there was a change of heart (although fears about ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ steam engines were such that when the first train arrived in the town on 14 June 1841, it was hauled by a team of horses).

    Brunel’s original station was a small affair in Regent Street, but when the branch was doubled in 1866, a new facility was opened on the other side of the road – conveniently doing away with a decidedly inconvenient level crossing. Though modified for mixed-gauge working in 1875, it was also in this year that powers were acquired to lay a four-mile standard-gauge loop into the town, allowing a Weston stop to be added to certain through services. By the time it opened on 1 March 1884, branches had been built to serve 14 more seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859). The railways were starting to become a key part of the nation’s holiday-making. Holiday Trains explains how that situation developed.

    Greg Morse's new book Holiday Trains is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southwark and Blackfriars by Kristina Bedford

    It was a great pleasure to spend the summer heatwave of 2018 photographing the ‘highways and by-ways’ of Southwark and Blackfriars for Amberley’s Secret local history Series, and discovering gems which lie behind façades I had casually passed by in the past, such as the massive Universal Testing Machine constructed by David Kirkcaldy in The Grove, Southwark.

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works. (Secret Southwark and Blackfriars, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works relocated to 99 Southwark Street in 1874, southeast of Blackfriars Bridge, where the machine may be viewed today in what is now Kirkcaldy’s Testing Museum.

    This pioneering firm assessed component parts to be used in the construction of London Bridges such Battersea and Hammersmith, the old Wembley Stadium in 1923, and Skylon, a steel “Vertical Feature” built on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which appeared to float above the ground with no perceptible means of support – like the post-war economy, according to a popular joke – dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who deemed it too expensive to re-erect elsewhere. The company’s protocols combined microscopic analysis with robust physical stress-testing, stretching and twisting materials to breaking-point to measure the forces entailed.

    It also contributed to inquisitions into accidents, such as the Tay Bridge disaster of 28 December 1879, when the first rail bridge across the Firth of Tay between Wormit in Fife and the city of Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing from the South during a fierce windstorm, leaving no survivors. David Kirkaldy was himself born in Dundee in 1820, and prior to his migration to Southwark worked for Robert Napier and Sons shipbuilding works between 1843 and 1861.

    A short distance eastward along Southwark Street stand two further examples of mid-Victorian buildings of industry, the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a vibrant arts complex) and the elegantly neo-classical Hop Exchange, both featured in Secret Southwark and Blackfriars.

    Kristina Bedford's new book Secret Southwark and Blackfriars is available for purchase now.

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