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  • Now That's What I Call Preston by Keith Johnson

    My latest book 'Now That's What I Call Preston' covers the period from the dawn of the 1960s to the dawn of 1990, a time that helped to shape the Preston of today.

    Bus stops and shelters dotted around town were the order of the day before the central bus station was built. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period that began in the midst of redevelopment with slum clearance and home building well underway. Social attitudes were changing and great strides were being taken in industry, commerce, education, and the retail trade. It is book of pictures and paragraphs reflecting life in an ever growing town enabling the reader to cherish the memories and moments of those decades.

    To some this nostalgic journey might begin with a recollection of a stroll down Stoneygate as they built high rise apartments upon Avenham, or when the bulldozers moved in to finally demolish the old Town Hall, or perhaps when your mum took you to town to buy vegetables on the covered market, or to visit the butchers' shops on a busy, bustling Orchard Street.

    Tall cranes stand out on the skyline as the Avenham high-rise apartments take shape. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Others might clearly remember those rainy days on the old Ribble Bus station with its leaky corrugated roof, or recall the opening days of the new Central Bus Station on Tithebarn Street that became an award winning monument to Brutalist architecture. Whilst for some the cherished moments might have been on the dance floor of the Top Rank, or the Piper night club. Others may yearn for the days of the steam engines when a smokey, grimy scene greeted you on Preston railway station where trainspotters gathered during school holidays.

    It is true to say that when 1960 dawned it was a time for transformation with old buildings bulldozed into oblivion and new structures soon standing tall. The Victorian Town Hall, the old Ribble bus station, an old church or two, old ale houses, old cinemas and theatres, many a corner shop and endless rows of cobbled streets being swept away in the name of progress.

    Words of the planners talking of high rise apartment, office blocks and sprawling shopping centres filled the air, and then they became a reality. A period when traffic free zones, ring roads and motorways were planned and came to fruition. Whilst the transportation of people and goods came on in leaps and bounds on road and rail.

    Diesel locomotive Class 40 No. 40192 stands on platform 6 next to Butler Street in 1981. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 'swinging sixties' Preston was striving towards a glorious Guild celebration that would reflect the attitude of the positive, proud people of Preston. That event kept the ancient traditions alive with pomp, pageantry and processions and provided a fair share of fun and frolics. Many of us proud to parade the streets in procession, or to just stand and stare.

    The increase in leisure time made the pursuit of pleasure more intense. For some the discotheque took preference over the dance hall and public houses could no longer provide just beer and skittles. Some old and familiar places of entertainment were disappearing, whilst other emerged to fill the void. The sporting scene was changing too, with many inclined to participate rather than merely spectate, and consequently the leisure centre and running track became fashionable. The old cold outdoor baths replaced by heated indoor swimming pools and the plimsolls making way for running shoes.

    Stanier-design steam engine No. 44680, known as a Black 5 and built in 1950 at Horwich. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Taking a peep at the endeavours of the Eighties gives us a chance to recall the transport and the traffic, the markets and their merchandise, the carnivals and the concerts, the road runners and Red Rose radio, cinemas and bingo halls, public houses and pub lunches, and the people on our streets. All helping to create a patchwork quilt of pictorial memories within the pages of the book.

    Perhaps you lived on the umpteenth floor of Moor Lane flats loving the central heating and the panoramic views, or were delighted when you could catch the high speed train to London; or maybe your girlfriend set the trend wearing a mini skirt or maxi coat, or perhaps your flared trousers and moustache were the height of fashion. Did you rush to Bradys to get the latest cassette tapes feeling it was the height of technology, or maybe you spent your working days in one of the many engineering workshops, or found yourself a job in one of the supermarkets that were emerging fast, or perhaps you studied at Preston's very own Polytechnic.

    You maybe thought that the E H Booths cafe was too posh for you with its linen cloths and got your refreshments from a Wimpey Bar, or discovered that the best burgers were at the real McCoy on Church Street and that a bag of chips wrapped in old newspapers was your idea of a tasty treat after a couple of pints of beer.

    No Preston Guild would be complete without the traditional brass bands and they turn out in force. (Now That's What I Call Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Yes, those were the days when the Lancashire Evening Post prospered on Friargate and queues would form for the hot off the press Final Edition, or on Saturday you might have eagerly waited for the 'Last Football' to appear with the final scores and match reports, barely an hour after the final whistle had blown. How proud were so many Preston folk when North End journeyed to Wembley for an FA Cup Final, and not so proud as they later plunged the depth of the Football League. Whilst others may have lingering memories of playing on the plastic pitch that replaced the grass as PNE strived to survive, or of playing football on Preston parks in ankle deep mud.

    In conclusion, reflecting on Preston during those thirty years, it was a place populated with people full of pride who left a rich legacy for future generations. A place that learnt lessons from the past to make a brighter future. A place that expanded rapidly yet still retained its parks and places of pleasure, a place that embraced the evolution in industry, retail and education ensuring employment for many. Its people held on to great traditions and saw Preston prosper, remain rightly proud and cherished by its inhabitants young and old alike.

    They say every picture tells a story, if that's the case I hope that along with the script it gives a reflection of life not so long ago and gives a glimpse at the Preston of yesteryear for the generations that followed.

    Keith Johnson's new book Now That's What I Call Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Wolverhampton Through Time by Alec Brew

    It was a single image which inspired me to write this book, a friend’s photograph of a solitary Austin Seven under the railway bridge at Compton sometime in the 1930s. I knew that a modern photograph taken from the same spot at any time, day or night, would show a whole stream of traffic in both directions. Even the bridge is no longer a railway bridge but carries the words Smestow Valley LNR, which does not stand for Long Neglected Railway as you might think, but means Linear Nature Reserve.

    St. Peter's Church from the Marketplace. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    In the end I never actually used this photograph, but chose from my own huge library of images of the City, collected over 30 years of writing about Wolverhampton’s history. What could be easier, I thought, than strolling round with a camera and learning if things had changed over the last century as much as I imagined they had changed? The very first photograph revealed a problem I had not envisaged.

    I decided to start with St. Peter’s Church, the focal point of the City atop the ridge on which it stands, with no high rise buildings allowed to block its dominance. I had an image from 1902 taken from just the other side of Lichfield Street, so I made my way to the same spot, and I couldn’t see the Church! There were too many trees in the way. Have trees recently been allowed to mature in urban churchyards to a degree they never were before?

    Nowadays, as seen above, trees have grown to obscure much of it and the Civic Centre encroaches on the right. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    A photograph featuring just trees did not seem too interesting, despite what it might reveal about ecclesiastical fashion. In the end I found another image of St. Peter’s from the other side, where there were fewer trees. This was a problem I had to resolve many times, and any Wulfrunian to whom I mentioned how annoyingly verdant the City had become, was just as surprised as I had been.

    I had expected to find the changes in the cityscape wrought by the 1960s planners, and their preferred medium of change, brutalist concrete. The beautiful Central Arcade and Queens Arcade replaced by the concrete tunnels of the Mander Shopping Centre. The Victorian High Level Station replaced by what looks like a huge public convenience. The Victorian Retail and Wholesale Markets swept away to make room for the Civic Centre, looking like a huge bunker from Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

    A Tilling Stevens TS6 trolleybus turns down Broad Street on its way to Wednesfield. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, I knew about the destruction wrought by the Ring Road, that wide noose thrown round the centre of Wolverhampton, which had flattened so much of it, and strangled the rest. In many cases it was hard to relate a photograph taken even as late as 1970 with what is there today. Where once there were communities, now there is just traffic.

    The other major change is the disappearance of those huge companies which dominated each area of the City; Goodyears, ECC, Bayliss Jones and Bayliss, The Sunbeam, GWR’s Stafford Road Works, and others. Where once workers walked from their terraced house just round the corner to the factory where their father and grand-father had worked, now there are new semi-detached houses, or offices, or acres of rubble, overgrown with buddleia.

    Broad Street - single-deckers had to be used on this route until the road under the railway bridge was lowered. (Wolverhampton Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite being of an age when I view the World through nostalgia-tinted spectacles, it was not all doom and gloom, I was often pleasantly surprised by what I came to photograph. As I have related the trees were a big revelation, but often old buildings had found new, agreeable uses. Sunbeamland becoming apartments, the Queen’s Building once more becoming the focal point of the City’s transport hub, the Molineux Hotel becoming the City’s Archives, or Butler’s Brewery becoming the University’s Faculty of Architecture, though putting students in a brewery would seem fateful.

    Actually the biggest positive impact on the City has been the monumental growth of the University. When a Polytechnic had followed the fashions of Wolverhampton’s planners and built in fifty shades of hideous.  How ironic that the College of Art had been the ugliest building in the City, and how amusing, now that it has become the Faculty of Art, that the forest of phone aerials on the roof looks so much like a modern art installation. Now the University of Wolverhampton, its new buildings seem in keeping with their surroundings, and thankfully it has found new ways of using old buildings like the Criterion Hotel or the Fox Public House, which has saved them.

    I am sure that anyone who undertakes a similar exercise in depicting their town ‘Through Time’ will have similar takes to tell. While expecting to find ‘change and decay in all around I see’, sometimes you might be pleasantly surprised.

    Alec Brew's new book Wolverhampton Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Traction by Hugh Llewelyn

    English Electric Class 37/6 No.37 685, later named Loch Arkaig, and No.37 676 Loch Rannoch of West Coast Railway Co. approach Abbey Wood on the Weston super Mare - Manchester Victoria ‘Holy Oakes’ on 26 March 2011. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up in South Wales, I first began to visit Bristol in the very early 60’s because family relations lived there. Later, as a teenager, I travelled ‘over the channel’ to open days at Bristol Bath Road diesel depot or simply to ‘trainspot’ at the end of the platforms of Bristol Temple Meads. Even then, with my very limited knowledge of railway architecture, Temple Meads did indeed strike me as a temple – far more impressive than Neath General, my local main line station! However, I never spotted any meads.

    I moved to Sussex and then London in the early 1970’s, but in 1976 my career resulted in a move to Bristol and I have lived in or around the city ever since. Fortunately near stations on the main line, namely Nailsea and Backwell, Stapleton Road and now Keynsham. Although a busy career and raising a family resulted in quite long periods where the chances to photograph trains were limited, nevertheless I took the opportunity to get out and follow my hobby when I could.

    Preserved but main line registered BR (Swindon) Class 52 ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulic No.D1015 Western Champion running as classmate No.D1005 Western Adventurer pulls away from Temple Meads in a typical cloud of Maybach smoke on the Bristol - Kingswear ‘Dartmouth Arrow’ on 30 August 2008. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Although not presenting the huge choice of traction that London had, nonetheless Bristol offered a good variety of diesel locomotives and multiple units with, of course, the spectacular architecture of Temple Meads as a backdrop. My book is perhaps tilted towards photographs taken there, but in pursuing my hobby I had no thought that my pictures would ever appear in a book and often that was the most convenient place to visit.

    My earliest photographs in this book were taken with a Halina 35X Super (though it wasn’t very ‘super’) but eventually I graduated to various SLR’s and DLSR’s. What I have found most astonishing, however, is that a relatively inexpensive mobile phone can now take photographs of surprising quality and enables snatched photographs at times I do not have my DLSR with me. So there are even one or two photographs in this book taken with my phone – something that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago.

    When Cross Country refurbished their Class 43’s they chose the MTU engine and the Class 43/2 nomenclature. Approaching a public footpath crossing between Nailsea & Backwell and Yatton is Class 43/2 No.43 357 (formerly No.43 157 HMS Penzance and originally Yorkshire Evening Post) in Cross Country’s distinctive livery on a Plymouth-bound service, 18 April 2014. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I moved to Bristol just too late for the diesel-hydraulic era but variety of ‘classic’ diesel-electrics there was aplenty – Class 20, 25, 33, 37, 45, 46, 47, 50 and 56 locomotives and various classes DMU’s. But the era of the HST soon dawned and displaced the Type 4’s on passenger duties whilst second generation DMU’s. Displaced not just the older DMU’s but the loco-hauled cross-country and local passenger services. Freights, on the other hand, fell to the last British-built diesel locomotives – the Class 60’s – and imported Class 59’s, 66’s and 70’s from North America and Class 68’s from Spain. Nonetheless, ‘classic’ diesel locomotives can still be seen on excursions and specials, most notably Class 47’s and the re-engined Class 57 version.

    The Class 159’s were built as BR Regional Railways Class 158’s but converted to the specification of Network South East for Waterloo – Exeter services, replacing coaches hauled by Class 50’s which were becoming increasingly unreliable and unsuited to the service. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Now even the era of the HST is rapidly drawing to a close as the Hitachi Class 800’s are being introduced on more and more services. Although I mourned the loss of loco-hauled expresses to HST’s, now I am mourning the loss of the iconic HST’s to the sleek but rather bland Hitachi’s.

    My book illustrates this changing traction in Bristol and the former county of Avon over the decades and, unfortunately, the loss in variety that has resulted. Luckily, the Avon Valley Railway adds interest to the local scene and a few photographs of diesels on this heritage railway are included.

    Hugh Llewelyn's new book Bristol Traction is available for purchase now.

  • D-Day: The British Beach Landings by John Sadler

    Stan Hollis wins the VC

    Stanley Elton Hollis was born on Teesside in 1912, so he was in his thirties when he landed on Gold Beach with 6th Battalion Green Howards. His battalion had trained hard up by Inverary on Scotland’s hard north-west coast. Reveille on 6th June for the Green Howards was around 02.30 with a decent breakfast for those who had the stomach. Getting down via the nets into the landing craft wasn’t easy; the violent pitching of both vessels and the ungainly weight of kit wasn’t conducive to smoothness. If the motion of the ship was bad, this was much worse and the laden bobbing craft had to cruise around in circles, till like a line of ducks they set off in line abreast, ‘A’ Company on the left and ‘B’ on the right.

    View from the sea; British landing craft comes in. (D-Day: The British Beach Landings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stan identified a German strongpoint dead ahead as they cruised in to land, (in fact it was a railway shelter), and grabbing a Lewis gun he rattled off a full pan of ammo. The gun was stripped of its water cooling jacket and, as he hefted it clear of the bracket, forgetting it would be red hot by now, he badly blistered his hand!

    The plan called for Stan to lead mortar-men and Bren gunners from each platoon to charge ahead and set up at the high water mark, providing smoke and covering fire to get the rest through the belt of mines ahead. On their right a tank brewed up, one of ours obviously and the turret hatch bowled along the sand, a lethal projectile but no-one was hurt.

    Up the beach and onto a low ridge of dunes festooned with thick wire entanglements. Birds were sitting apparently unconcerned on the coils. One wag suggested they had no choice as there wasn’t any room left in the sky. Ahead now was a dense belt of mines. ‘D’ company were first through after their assault engineers had gapped, Stan and the others followed the reassuring lines of white tape. Beyond the minefield lay Meuvaines ridge and Mont Fleury Batteries.

    Troops move up off the beaches. (D-Day: The British Beach Landings, Amberley Publishing)

    Once through the hedge beyond the belt of mines, the Green Howards were fully exposed to the attention of the German defenders dug in on the higher ground. Inch by fire swept inch they crawled forward, Major Lofthouse had spotted the pillbox that was doing most of the damage. Hollis saw it too and stormed forward his Sten chattering, he made it and lobbed a grenade in, killing two defenders and persuading the rest to give.

    He barged ahead, up a shallow communications trench aiming for a larger bunker whose inhabitants went into the bag ‘about eighteen or twenty’. A pretty decent haul and it turned out these were the fire control team for the battery up ahead. It was only 09.30 and they could see enemy bolting from their positions but not that far, falling back behind a sheltering wall and firing. Hollis saw one German crazily loping along the top of the wall. Swapping his Sten for an Enfield rifle, he brought the fellow down first shot but was lightly wounded in the face just after.

    On they went into the village of Crepon. With Lieutenant Patrick now dead, Stan was commanding 16 Platoon and the Major ordered the company to check/clear the several farmhouses lining the approach road. Stan broke and entered one of the silent steadings; it seemed deserted except for one terrified boy, perhaps ten or eleven, the effect of seeing this ferocious, blood garnished veteran bursting in must have been utterly terrifying. As he came out to check the rear an enemy round smacked off the back yard wall, fragments whizzing. Aside from a pair of excited local canines, he could just about make out an enemy gun. His day was far from over.

    Stan Hollis won the VC for his actions, the only one to be awarded on D-day.

    John Sadler's new book D-Day: The British Beach Landings is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol A Portrait 1970-82 by Stephen Dowle

    This book first appeared in September 2016 in a large format edition which enjoyed a brisk sale. It is now re-issued in a more compact size and enlarged by the inclusion of extra photographs, bringing the total to nearly 150. I have tried to supply chatty captions giving personal observations and recollections: accordingly there is quite a strong "authorial voice" which, I hope, provides a more entertaining read than a mere recital of facts.

    The granary and flour mill at Buchanan's Wharf, built in 1884, was converted to flats in 1988. (Bristol A Portrait 1970-82, Amberley Publishing)

    The photographs were taken between 1970 and 1982, when I was between the ages of twenty and thirty-two. Most of my contemporaries were either at the stage known as "sowing your wild oats", or had embarked upon its customary sequel, "settling down". The former mode of living struck me, even at that age, as a waste of one's precious time on Earth, whereas marriage, child-raising and mortgage-repaying were, in my case, to be deferred for some years. Taking photographs was one of my favourite pastimes, at first using a primitive pre-war camera my father had passed on to me when I was about twelve. Once I'd left school and could afford film and processing I began to travel around taking photos of the rapidly disappearing industrial townscapes of the Midlands and Lancashire. Those few who knew of it clearly regarded this as an eccentric occupation and I learned to be evasive about it. The photographs, in the form of 5X3½-inch "enprints" processed through my local branch of Hodders, the chemists, were mostly pretty dreadful. Nevertheless some of my favourite shots were taken in those early days with that first camera, and in recent times, with the aid of a flatbed negative scanner, it has been possible to improve greatly on the originals.

    Britol's pre-war shopping district. (Bristol A Portrait 1970-82, Amberley Publishing)

    In the book's Introduction I relate how, in April 1970, I became a bus conductor and saw the newly flattened ruins of Bristol's Newtown district from the top deck of my bus. To me, still at an age when experience has a hormonally-fuelled intensity and over-heatedness, there was an uncanny beauty in the scene. I had been powerfully subject to nostalgia from an age when, logically speaking, I had not yet anything to be nostalgic about. I can only state that this was so: my surroundings were dear to me and any changes in them, even something as trivial as the felling of a tree or the realignment of a kerb, had the power to distress me. Within days of first seeing Newtown I went back with my camera to roam wretchedly among the weed-choked foundations and shattered pavements, filled with hopeless longing for what had gone and could never again be seen. I had sufficient self-awareness, however, to realise that in this experience pain was intermingled, more or less equally, with a morbid pleasure.

    Although I must have passed by often without taking any notice, I could not remember Newtown when it had been standing. I reached back into my memory but could never quite grasp hold. The most fascinating historical period is always that just beyond the reach of one's own recollections. By this time we, of the post-war baby-boom generation, had become accustomed to the process called "redevelopment". Having limbered up with the rebuilding of areas devastated by wartime bombing, the local authority planning departments – whose principle motive, as with any bureaucracy, is self-perpetuation – turned their attention upon other areas that could be regarded as in need of renewal. All this coincided with a boom in the value of property, a growth in demand for office space and, of course, a great increase in road traffic. Georgian squares and Regency terraces disappeared to make way for roundabouts and dual-carriageways, as working class "inner city" areas were flattened wholesale and their residents rehoused in tower blocks or grim estates at the city's edge. Not only Newtown, but also neighbouring Easton had been razed in the late sixties, and now as the seventies opened the Council flattened all the lower part of Totterdown for a road scheme that was abandoned even as the final demolitions were taking place. There were a number of specific outrages: the University and Royal Infirmary, between them, were allowed to violate the picturesque slopes of Kingsdown; the bombed Castle Street shopping centre was rebuilt, not on the same site, but a few hundred yards to the north in the old streets around Broadmead, which had been largely untouched by the air raids; St James's Square was destroyed for the enlargement of a roundabout. A scheme to construct a shoebox-shaped hotel on the slope of the Avon Gorge just below the Clifton Suspension Bridge, was only narrowly averted.

    Clifton Suspension Bridge. (Bristol A Portrait 1970-82, Amberley Publishing)

    By the time I'd started taking photographs around Bristol, the early redevelopment frenzy had begun to run out of steam and attract public disfavour. It finally ground to a halt quite abruptly around 1975. This left many parts of Bristol in a kind of limbo: large areas had been cleared but not rebuilt; condemned buildings were reprieved and left empty awaiting a decision on their future; whole districts, such as the older, architecturally distinguished part of St Paul's around Brunswick Square, were left to rot – one suspected until such time as further deterioration would leave them beyond saving. Much though I deplored these things I would concede that they were interesting from a photographic point-of-view; there was no shortage of scenes for my camera to record. Many who read the original edition of the book remarked how shabby Bristol looked at the time. It was not my intention to emphasise this squalid aspect of the city: like most people I have a great affection for my native place and would not wish to do it a disservice. It was in the nature of the times and subject-matter that the book should paint a rather unflattering portrait.

    The preparation of the original book fell during an eleven-year exile in East Anglia, when it was difficult for me to keep abreast of developments in Bristol. I have since moved to South Wales and it has become easier to revisit my old haunts, which I now see as if with fresh eyes. My main impression is of a kind of visual sterility. Much that was distinctive about the city has given way to an even spread of ICLEI-sponsored sustainable development, dockside micro-apartments, low-rise Lego-brick offices, fake street furniture, sanitised “heritage” showpieces, pedestrianised shopping centres, bus lanes, wheelchair ramps, fraudulent retro paving, Veolia wheelie-bins, Caffè Nero outlets that were once post offices or police stations, nonsensical "installations" and rubbish sculpture and, everywhere, surveillance cameras. A worrying point is that every British city looks like this now. Everywhere looks like everywhere else. Local, and even national distinctions, become fewer and fewer. The whole world is becoming as bland and homogeneous as a blancmange, one place fairly indistinguishable from any other unless, here and there, by climate or terrain. Eventually there will be nothing to which anyone will feel any particular connection or allegiance. This, I suspect, is the intention.

    Stephen Dowle's new format paperback of Bristol A Portrait 1970-82 is available for purchase now.

  • Women's Experiences in the Holocaust by Agnes Grunwald-Spier

    Why I wrote my three books in my pensioner years

    One morning in Budapest during the autumn of 1944, an unknown official in charge of deporting Hungarian Jews sent back all the women accompanied by children. My Mother, Leona Grunwald, was one of those women and I was a tiny baby in her arms.

    I have no means of knowing who that official was and what his motives were for what he did. I cannot know his name or his fate, but it is chilling to think that but for his actions I might have been murdered before I was aware of life. I would have become one of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust – what lives would they have had and what could those children have achieved?

    Leona and Philipp Grunwald with the author in Budapest, January 1946. (Women's Experiences in the Holocaust, Amberley Publishing)

    My Father, Philipp Grunwald, was taken away by the Hungarian Fascists in 1943 and like all the other Hungarian Jewish men sent to the Russian front had a truly dreadful time. Unlike many, he came back to Budapest in March 1945 and saw me for the first time – I was nine months old. My parents managed to leave Hungary in 1946 and we arrived in England in May 1947. My Father was very embittered and wouldn’t have more children – he said it wasn’t a world to bring children into. In 1955 when his business failed, he committed suicide – I was 10.

    I have lived with these facts all my adult life and knowing the impact of the Holocaust on our lives I tended to avoid the subject. If something came up on the TV I turned it off and I deliberately avoided reading about it. The only time I deviated was during the Eichmann Trial in 1961 when I was 17. I came home from school every day to read the detailed reports in the newspaper. However, I have no recollection of discussing it with my Mother, but we may have done.

     

    This continued until 1995 when Sheffield City Council brought the Anne Frank Exhibition to Sheffield. I volunteered to represent the Jewish community on the committee and as a result of my new contacts heard that an MA in Holocaust Studies was being set up at Sheffield University. After some thought I decided to do it and signed up in September 1996. One of my reasons was my three sons who were then 17, 14 and 11. I wanted them to know my history because it was their’s too and I needed to be able to answer their questions. They appeared to be ordinary Englishmen but, of course, they were not.

    I wrote a dissertation about the rescuer Varian Fry. He was not the stuff of which heroes are traditionally made. Yet he was for many years the only American recognised as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – he chose to involve himself in another continent’s woes. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become embroiled in Europe’s horrors. He was an unassuming man who after the fall of France in June 1940, offered to go to Vichy France, to rescue refugees for the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). He only offered to go if nobody else could be found, and he went because nobody else was found. He was meant to rescue 200 artists and writers on a list produced by the ERC, using visas obtained by President Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor. In the end he probably saved about 4,000 refugees.

    This research left me with a keen interest in the motivation of rescuers and why they took considerable risks to save people they often did not know.

    As George Eliot wrote in the final sentence of Middlemarch:

    For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.[1]

    Edith Erbrich (right) and author, 6 October 2017, in Edith’s flat. (Women's Experiences in the Holocaust, Amberley Publishing)

    I wanted to ensure that some of those in unvisited tombs became well known and their occupants were honoured for their courage – that’s why I wrote my book The Other Schindlers. It was published in 2010 when I was 65 and did remarkably well selling 13,000+ copies world-wide.

    A year or two later I discovered I really missed both the research and the writing. I had done research before and knew I liked it, however I had not expected to enjoy the process of writing so much. So I started looking at the people who had betrayed the Jews – there was no shortage of material. Four years later I had produced a 640 page volume which was published in January 2016 and is now available in paperback in the US.

    I had long thought about women’s experiences in the Holocaust particularly in the light of my mother’s struggles having me during the Holocaust. A new publisher wanted to commission a book and when I suggested this, they were very keen. We agreed that I would use women’s own diaries, letters, memoirs, books and also some interviews. I found some amazing women with remarkable stories. Unfortunately, again I had too much material so some women had to be left out. This book was published in the UK in January 2018 and is now available in the US too.

    I haven’t made my fortune from these books (well not yet) but I didn’t write them for the money. However I received an MBE from the Queen for being a Trustee for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and my work on ‘Holocaust awareness’ in 2016. On 12 January 2018 I received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Sheffield University for my work on the Holocaust and received an Honorary Doctor of Arts from Oxford Brookes University on 22 June 2018. However my real reward is knowing that I am telling people the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust.

    Agnes Grunwald-Spier's new paperback edition of Women's Experiences in the Holocaust is available for purchase now.


    [1]  George Eliot, Middlemarch, (London: Penguin, 1994) p.838.

  • 50 Gems of Lancashire by Robert Nicholls

    Although I was raised in Yorkshire – and traditionally there is no love lost between the two counties – I have grown to love Lancashire. My latest book ‘50 Gems of Lancashire’ celebrates this remarkable county and all it has to offer those who like to explore its treasures, especially those off the beaten track. And contrary to popular belief, Lancashire has far more areas of beautiful countryside that its traditional industrial image would suggest.

    Sambo’s Grave, Sunderland Point. (50 Gems of Lancashire, Amberley Publishing)

    The ‘gems’ is this book are either buildings, structures, locations or landforms that are either rare or unusual architecturally, or associated with a fascinating story which helps bring history vividly to life.

    One such story is that of Sambo, a young slave boy. The site where he is buried at Sunderland Point a few miles away from Lancaster is my favourite spot in the county. I did ponder whether to include this gem in the book. After all, the word ‘Sambo’ has some derogatory associations, despite the fact that the original book portrayed its characters favourably and set the book in India, not Africa. To settle the matter, I consulted some Afro-Caribbean friends, who responded: ‘It is his name, so who has the right to deny him his name or his little place in history?’, and ‘That’s part of my history, it has got to go in the book’. So I see this gem as honouring Sambo and those like him.

    Sambo was a black boy who died in 1736. Sunderland Point was a port for Lancaster, one of the stopping places in the 'triangular trade' whereby goods were taken from Britain to West Africa and traded for slaves, who were then transported to the Caribbean. Ships then returned to Britain carrying goods like cotton and tobacco, and a few slaves such as Sambo. Sadly he died here, reputedly of a broken heart when his Master went off on another trip. More likely he caught one of the diseases of the western world against which he would have had little natural immunity.

     

    The detailed inscription on Sambo’s Grave placed here in 1796. (50 Gems of Lancashire, Amberley Publishing)

    Sambo died in the building now called Upsteps Cottage, and was buried here, in the corner of a field next to a salt marsh, in unconsecrated ground. The grave remained unmarked until 1796 when a local schoolmaster raised some money for the metal memorial that contains his poetic epitaph.

    Another attraction for me about this particular gem is that it is so isolated and it takes some planning and determination to get there. If you are going there by car, you have to be aware that the access road to Sunderland Point is submerged by water twice a day. After that there is still a walk to find the grave, but once there you will be rewarded.

    Nowadays, one of the most enchanting elements is that the grave contains many mementos left in tribute by local school children. So young Sambo, who was once forgotten after his death, is now remembered by the young, and his story inspires them – and us – to more deeply reflect on these aspects of black history.

    Robert Nicholls' new book 50 Gems of Lancashire is available for purchase now.

  • Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want by Russell Routledge

    There have probably been more words penned about Muhammad Ali than any other sporting person in history – and the books still keep coming. Most of them are sitting on my bookshelves at home. Many authors of course recount stories of his former career as a boxer, some about his stand against the Vietnam War. Many remind us of his remarkable character and personality outside of the ring.

    A famous image of Muhammad Ali in his prime aged 25 – though not yet in his prime as a boxer, as history would prove – taken in 1967 by Ira Rosenberg. (Library of Congress, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    The iconic boxer was and will always be a compelling subject. His fights with the boxing and political elite are legendary and his legacy I feel will be one of great inspiration and belief in oneself. Many of the boxing fans I talk to today weren’t even born during Ali’s career, but some still take more than a passing interest in the ex-champion’s life. I find it especially enjoyable when some fans from the younger generation tell me they would have ‘loved to have met Muhammad Ali – the greatest!’

    Nowadays, if that new generation of fans wants to watch the majority of his fights, they can be viewed on YouTube. His bouts – especially with Liston, Foreman and Frazier – have all been well documented. However, some of his lesser-knownbouts are confined to one or two paragraphs in books. This is insufficient to grasp the sometimes historic importance of certain fights, or to convey the turbulent times which surrounded them.

    The best example of this is when Ali first returned to boxing in 1970 and fought top contender Jerry Quarry. For some reason, in historical terms, this bout is recorded as a mere footnote. In reality, at that point in time, the bout was arguably the most highly anticipated big fight involving a returning champion since the ‘Great White Hope’ Jim Jeffries fought Jack Johnson way back in 1910.

    The reason Ali’s first return fight only receives a limited mention is perhaps because he was a (relatively) easy winner. Or maybe it was because his biggest challenges were just around the corner – his fight against undefeated Smokin’ Joe Frazier and the outcome of his battle with the Supreme Court, both happening in 1971. Later, there was so much happening in Ali’s supercharged life that his return bout after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus only served as an introduction to the title-fights that followed.

    I have searched through my extensive selection of books on Ali and at most, authors dedicate a chapter or two to Ali’s comeback fight. Yes, the first Quarry fight can be viewed, but the battle alone doesn’t reveal the highly controversial events surrounding it. Some accounts concentrate on the day before and the day after the bout, while some talk about the fight but only give a short account of the build-up and events afterwards. Movies detailing the life of the former champion fail to give this event the recognition it deserves. (One of the main characters in this story complained in a 2005 interview that one of the major Ali biopics only gave this bout a cursory mention.) There are snippets of information everywhere about the fight and events surrounding it, but no full retrospective account. So, here it is.

    I also hope to give one man the credit he deserves – the accounts I have researched seem to mention him only briefly.

    That’s the man standing opposite Ali in the ring on the night of 26 October 1970 – Jerry Quarry.

    Even leaving out the importance of the fight as the first for the ex-champion after his exiled years, the drama, characters and shenanigans outside of the ring make this an extraordinary story. This fight, which happened almost by accident, was hosted in the unlikeliest of places: Atlanta, Georgia, a city burnt to the ground in the American Civil War and the site of deadly race riots in the early part of the 20th century, but by 1970 the epicentre of the New South and one that had evolved as regards the balance of political power.

    Even before Jerry Quarry set foot in Atlanta, many newshounds and fans around the globe had him cast as a modern-day ‘Great White Hope’. There were also comparisons made between Ali and another once exiled champion, but one from the turn of the century: the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson.

    Ali meets President Jimmy Carter, ex-Governor of Georgia, in 1977 at a White House dinner celebrating the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty. (Library of Congress, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1970, the Ali v Quarry fight was an international event and the press around the globe went to town. For Ali’s comeback, promoters brought all the way to Georgia a fighter regarded by many commentators as the hardest-hitting white fighter since Rocky Marciano. Jerry Quarry was the real deal, and just prior to his arrival in Atlanta the talented fighter from California was rated number one among the world’s elite heavyweight contenders by The Ring magazine. In addition to his number one status, he had been voted the world’s favourite active fighter by readers of Boxing Illustrated for the second year running (1968 and 1969).

    Jerry Quarry was riding high in the boxing world. He had previously made comments to the press about wanting to drop the ‘white hope’ tag, but in taking on the hugely controversial former black king of the ring, Muhammad Ali, the similarities with Jack Johnson and his fights with Great White Hopes Jess Willard and James J. Jeffries ensured that wasn’t going to happen.

    When Ali returned to boxing, he was still years away from the adulation he would eventually attract. Then the fighter evoked intense feelings of love and hate, which ran through the veins of people the world over, especially in America. This was mainly because of his allegiance to the Nation of Islam and his refusal to take part in or support the war that was still raging in Vietnam. His publicly espoused views, combined with his character and personality, made him the most controversial athlete on the planet.

    The fight was headlined with slogans such as ‘The fight nobody else wanted’, ‘The Return of the champ’ and ‘The Battle of Atlanta’ (the original battle of Atlanta having taken place from 22 July 1864 to 2 September 1864, with over 9000 casualties). A hundred years later, in October 1970, another bloody battle took place in Downtown Atlanta – just on the intersection of Courtland Street and Gilmer Street in an old arena called the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.

    The fight attracted mainly African-Americans, who turned up to see the ring rebirth of ‘their’ champion. At the time, Ali’s night in Atlanta was called by some a ‘black awakening’. Many who turned up came from the entertainment world, and some were hugely rich and successful. Their wealth was openly on display as they preened in the international spotlight, draped in expensive furs and jewels. It was a way of saying that Ali, and everything he represented, represented them too – black, beautiful, bold and the best in the business. It was certainly a night of ‘soul-power’ and soul at its most colourful.

    However, this jamboree in Atlanta also attracted some of ‘the best’ from the underbelly of American society; it wasn’t only the rich and famous that turned up, but also crooks, racketeers and gangsters. Big-time boxing always had a reputation for attracting both the famous and infamous in society. They said Sonny Liston once had links to the mob, and even the most famous gangsterof them all, Al Capone, was regularly spotted ringside at the big fights, especially the ones involving his sporting hero, the ‘Manassa Mauler’ Jack Dempsey. At these events, film stars of the day settled into their expensive ringside seats alongside the gangsters.

    Foreman, Frazier, Ali; will there ever be such a rivalry in the heavyweight division again? (Authors collection, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    The fight itself was the climax of a big sporting weekend in Atlanta, and for a few days the cash poured in. The bucketfuls of moolah in town presented a prize opportunity for some villains to win big themselves. All they needed was a plan, and when that plan came to fruition it ended up with some of those bejewelled spectators who sat in the $100 ringside seats being victims of armed robbery. After all the money and diamonds were bagged and carried off into the night, one detective who worked on the case called it possibly ‘the biggest armed robbery in Atlanta’s history up to that point’.

    The year 1970 meant ‘flower power’, black power and peace protests. It was also a time of great disillusionment and anger, and the start of great changes, not just in the social and political world but also in the world of heavyweight boxing. The former champ would return to more than a reshuffled division. It would be one with some new additions – a division some experts said was the strongest in a while. At the beginning of 1970, the heavyweight boxing ratings now included 1968 Olympic heavyweight champion George Foreman, and knockout artist and undefeated ex-marine Mac Foster. Another new face on the scene was Leotis Martin, who caused a huge upset by knocking out the ‘bear’, Sonny Liston, in a pre-Christmas brawl in 1969. Teak-tough brawler Oscar Bonavena was still riding high in the ratings, with former 1964 Olympic Heavyweight champ Smokin’ Joe Frazier recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as world pro champ. Ali’s former sparring partner, Jimmy Ellis, was WBA Heavyweight Champion.

    The sandy-haired Californian slugger Jerry Quarry, who started his pro career back in 1965, also added glamour and power tothe division. Many thought Jerry was a sure bet to be a future champion, despite losing previous title shots to Jimmy Ellis (1968) and Joe Frazier (1969) during Ali’s enforced exile.

    In early 1970, the heavyweight division still included some of Ali’s old opponents, including Sonny Liston, Henry Cooper and George Chuvalo. Cooper was reaching the twilight of his career, with Liston just hanging in there with plans for a 1970 comeback, while George Chuvalo, who also had a controversial win over Quarry, was mooted to take on undefeated heavyweight sensation George Foreman later that year.

    Other new and young heavyweight hopefuls on the horizon were lining up and the one that showed the most promise in the UK was a then 19-year-old blonde Adonis called Joe Bugner (he would turn 20 on 13 March of that year).

    However, at the beginning of 1970, although Ali had been inactive for years, his name was still printed in the respected Ring magazine above all others as the heavyweight champion. The ‘bible of boxing’ would stand by the inactive boxer until the law courts gave a final verdict on his fate, or he permanently retired. So, for many, Ali was still champ, but a champion without an opponent as he was not allowed to fight.

    There was and still is, nothing crazier than boxing politics and at the beginning of 1970, Frazier, Ellis and Ali were recognized by various organizations as world heavyweight boxing champion. So let’s go back to those crazy times and follow the turbulent events, which led all the way to that wild, celebratory and for some, dangerous night of Ali’s return to boxing in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Russell Routledge's book Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want is available for purchase now.

  • Killing Napoleon by Jonathan North

    The Plot to Blow up Bonaparte

    Are horseshoes lucky?

    An image of Napoleon, mounted, dating from the time of the Infernal Machine. He wears the uniform of a consul of France and, oddly, does so whilst directing troops in the field. (Killing Napoleon, Amberley Publishing)

    Not for the royalist plotters who tried to kill Napoleon on Christmas Eve 1800. Three of them, François-Joseph Carbon, Joseph Picot de Limoëlan and Pierre Robinault de Saint-Réjant, had loaded a barrel bomb onto the back of a cart and, hitching it to an old Parisian nag, had brought it into the centre of Paris. Their aim was to detonate the bomb as Napoleon’s coach passed by on the way to the opera. The bomb, dubbed the Infernal Machine, went off in Rue Nicasie, missing Napoleon by seconds but killing a dozen passers-by and wounding scores more. Paris was appalled by this first example of a terrorist atrocity. The press went wild with speculation as to who could be responsible whilst the police began the hunt for the actual perpetrators.

    Forensic science was in its infancy but the police had been astute enough to collect as much of the remains of the horse and cart as they could and transported them to the prefecture for examination. The chief vet of Paris, Jean-Baptiste Huzard, was able to put together a description of the animal and this was circulated amongst the yards and stables that fringed the northern suburbs of the capital. This piqued the curiosity of the blacksmith Jean-Baptiste Legros and he came in to take a look at the horse’s amputated hoof, paying close attention to the horseshoe that was still attached to it. He recognised his handiwork, having tended the horse for five years, and, even more importantly, called on his friend Jean Lambel, a grain merchant, who had recently sold that horse and a cart, and some lentils, to a mysterious stranger. Lambel confirmed the facts and gave a detailed description of a travelling cloth salesman who seemed to know little about cloth or selling and less about horses and carts. A man who, moreover, bore a suspicious scar. Before long the police had located the yard where the bomb had been prepared and the nosey neighbours told them that their suspicion had been triggered by three men locking an empty cart in a shed and the way these well-spoken men had dried out barrels in the forecourt. Following a tip-off that the salesman with the scar was a man called Carbon living in the Rue du Faubourg they mounted a raid on an apartment which instead woke the catty Marguerite Davignon who told the bemused officers that Carbon had moved in with his “sister and lover” at 310 Rue Martin. A second raid on the correct address revealed that Carbon had quit Catherine Vallon’s flat but that he had left behind a blue smock, some gunpowder and a sack of Lambel’s lentils. Before long the fugitive had been tracked down to a convent and was apprehended when the police broke into the nuns’ quarters. The horseshoe had proved unlucky for Carbon. He would now face the guillotine.

    An artist’s impression of the explosion. This is a reasonable attempt at accuracy, although the coach and escort was a little further away than suggested here. (Killing Napoleon, Amberley Publishing)

    His story, and that of the other plotters, and the men tasked with hunting them down, is told in my new book Killing Napoleon. It charts a critical moment in French history just after Napoleon had seized power in the autumn of 1799 and when various factions were manoeuvring to bring him down, or put an end to him altogether. The book focuses on the most dramatic attempt of all, the detonation of a bomb on 24 December 1800 as Napoleon was on his way to see The Creation. It examines the forces which conspired to kill, those men tasked with the deed and the lives of those who were caught up in the atrocity. But it also follows the work of the detectives as they piece together clues, bits of flesh and contradictory information in their attempt to bring those who wanted to kill Napoleon to justice.

    Jonathan North's new book Killing Napoleon is available for purchase now.

  • Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King by Terry Breverton

    Henry VII by C. E. Kempe (1909) at the church of St Mary the Virgin, inside the town walls near Pembroke Castle. (Henry VII, Amberley Publishing)

    With the exhumed Richard III being given a cathedral service and burial, he seems to have assumed heroic status in the eyes of many, a modern myth, or should I now say ‘fake news’ for those with a knowledge of history. However, the newly aroused interest in one of our most devious and cruel monarchs threw the spotlight upon the man who usurped his throne. In fact, only three major lords supported Richard at his demise, two of them created by him. Over thirty other great barons, who had always followed Richard’s brother Edward IV into battle, stayed away from Bosworth or supported Henry. Edward IV’s bodyguard and closest allies came to Henry’s assistance, along with Edward IV’s widow as her brother-in-law Richard had killed her sons. The people who disagree with this sentence are members of the Richard III Society or readers of modern historical fiction.

    As for usurpation, a glance through all English kings from Athelstan onwards will show a history or violence, revolt of fathers against sons, and no obvious royal bloodline or rightful kings. After a series of Germanic then French kings marrying Germanic then French wives, Henry Tudor was the first king with any British blood in him, via his grandfather Owen Tudor. Owen was descended in direct line from Ednyfed Fychan (1170-1246), Seneschal to Llywelyn the Great, via the Tudors of Anglesey who initiated the Owain Glyndwr war of 1400-1415. Much of his success in succeeding against seemingly overwhelming odds was owing to his march through Wales to meet Richard. The whole nation rose in support, believing that Henry was the mab darogan – the son of prophecy – who had come to take England back from the German and French invaders. Indeed, there had been almost continuous rebellion by the British (i.e. Welsh) and in particular the Tudor family, against the English from the time of the defeat of Llywelyn II in 1282. The fight ended with the coronation of the first king of England with British blood.

    Terry Breverton's new paperback edition of Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King is available for purchase now.

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