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  • Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham by Roger Mason

    My recently-published book is not a technical study of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone Station in London to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. It features thirty-eight fascinating buildings, monuments, historical sites etc that can be seen from the window of a train making the journey. Although the book is not long out some interesting things have since happened.

    Wembley Stadium. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Wembley Stadium

    Wembley Stadium may be termed the jewel in the Football Association’s crown, and there have been advanced plans for it to be sold to Mr Shahid Khan who is the owner of Fulham Football Club. The proposed sale was strongly resisted by some and it was even termed scandalous. Partly due to the controversy and ill-feeling Mr Khan has withdrawn his offer.  The stadium will continue to be owned by the Football Association.

    The stadium has tightened its procedures on checking bags that are brought inside. All items carried by ticket holders and staff will be tightly checked and there may be personal wanding or pat down. Spectators will only be permitted to bring in one bag which must not be bigger than A4 size. Match day purchases will be supplied in sealed plastic bags. They may be brought into the stadium so long as the seal is not broken. The extra security measures are probably necessary but it is very sad.

    The state of Wembley’s pitch has been very heavily criticised in the late autumn of 2018. In fact it has been termed awful. The reason is that it has been over-used. There have been the usual England international football matches, and in addition Tottenham Hotspur have played all their home games there. This is because their new stadium at White Hart Lane is not ready and probably will not be ready before the end of the 2018/19 season. There have been three NFL American Football games in quick succession, and it has been the venue for Anthony Joshua’s successful world heavyweight title boxing defence against Alexander Povetkin. The groundsmen have had and are having a tough job.

    A red Kite. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Red Kites

    Chapter 15 tells the story of these magnificent birds. They are large, having a length slightly more than two feet, and they frequently twist and turn in soaring flight. Their tails are deeply forked, which helps identify them. By 1879 there were none left in England and Scotland, but a handful clung on in mid Wales.

    A joint project by RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) reintroduced them in several areas. The venture succeeded, especially in the Chilterns and breeding pairs have spread out from their places of introduction. A particularly good point to see them is close to the railway line mid way between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. This is the position featured in the book.

    For obvious reasons it is not possible to count the birds, but when the book was written RSPB’s latest estimate for England was 1,860 breeding pairs, plus further juvenile and non-breeding ones. I suspect that this is an under-estimate. I recently drove past the area mentioned and I counted seven soaring overhead. I was on my way to watch Wycombe Wanderers play at Adams Park on the western edge of High Wycombe. There were two more red kites circling the stadium.

    Chapter 12 in the book is about High Wycombe and this includes something about Wycombe Wanderers and Adams Park. In case you are interested Wycombe beat Shrewsbury 3-2 and they have an outside chance of promotion from Division 1 into the Championship.

    Chesterton Windmill. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Chesterton Windmill

    Had I been able to consult Jane Austen she might well have told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book such as this must be in want of a good windmill.  Chesterton Windmill is a particularly fine example and it is located on a bleak hillside three miles short of Leamington Spa.

    During my visit I was puzzled to see that two bunches of flowers had been laid at the foot of the structure. They were fresh and wrapped in cellophane, but there were no cards or other indications of their purpose. They reminded me of the sad tributes sometimes laid at the scene of a fatal road accident. I reconciled myself to not ever knowing the reason why they were there.

    I now feel that I do know the reason and it is a very sad one. A friend who lives a few miles away told me that some years ago there was a murder and that the body was found a short distance from the windmill. It happened in the winter at about the time of year that I made my visit. This must surely be the explanation.

    Roger Mason's new book Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide by Jan-Andrew Henderson

    For much of Edinburgh’s long existence, there was only the Old Town. Perched on a high basalt ridge, it slowly turned from a collection of rude cottages with a fort at the top and arable slopes on either side, to a collection of towering tenements clinging to the ridge.

    The original New Town. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This was the perfect defensive site. Scotland’s history was a turbulent one, so the Old Town never really expanded. It just got more and more crowded. Surrounded by a fortified wall, the greenery disappeared under a rash of tenements, which grew so high they were the tallest in Europe, reaching fifteen stories in some spots. People lived in underground cellars and tunnels, sanitation was non-existent, and the dwellings were rickety fire hazards and living conditions utterly deplorable. By the time the New Town came along, The Royal Mile’s glory days were fading. A huge number of Edinburgh aristocrats and ambitious, well educated innovators had taken off for London, were no longer willing to live in such a dirty, smelly, violent place.

    North of the city, however, were vast swathes of pastoral land. Separated from the Royal Mile only by the pungent expanse of the sewage filled Nor’ Loch, it was too tempting a prize to ignore. Along with Glasgow, Edinburgh was the focal point of the Scottish Enlightenment and still teeming with men of learning. Though the crowded conditions in the Old Town had actually been a perfect cauldron for brilliant ideas and innovation, better living conditions were deemed essential if all those geniuses were to be persuaded to stay. In 1752 a pamphlet called Proposals by Sir Gilbert Minto (1693-1766) argued that a nice new northern development was just the ticket to stop a potential brain drain and bring the cream of Edinburgh society back.

    Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This required more than a new area to inhabit. It called for something to equal, or even surpass, the finest suburbs of London. Nothing parochial. British rather than Scottish, to give a cosmopolitan and classical feel. After all, you couldn’t beat the Greeks and Romans at this sort of thing.

    The man who got the ball rolling properly was Lord Provost George Drummond (1688-1766). His tentative first step was to build a gateway between the Royal Mile and the flat, open lands ripe for development – the North Bridge. Next, Drummond needed a builder with a grand plan. So, in 1766, the city launched a competition to design a New Town for Edinburgh.

    The winner was a little-known architect named James Craig (1739-1795), only 26 at the time. His layout wasn’t exactly earth shattering, merely a simple grid structure of three parallel main streets with a large square at either end. But it was loaded with allegory, (very) roughly mimicking the Union Jack, symbolizing the union of Scotland and England under the reigning king George III (1738-1820).

    Walter Scott Monument. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    But the New Town was also symbolic of the Scottish Enlightenment and its beliefs – that society and its environment could be improved by logical and pragmatic thinking. Though grand in scale, the layout was deliberately functional and uncomplicated, rather than the organic, messy development of most cities.

    A natural reluctance by Edinburgh’s citizens to embrace change meant that it took almost fifty years to finish the first New Town. But the result was stunning and the influx slow and steady.  Ironically, the aristocrats Scotland hoped to entice back avoided the place, since they couldn’t plonk some stately home with a mile long driveway in the middle of such a carefully regulated area. This was no great loss, for it was the wealthy and cultured middle class who were most enthused by the ideals and aspirations of the Scottish Enlightenment. And they loved the place.

    This, to me, is the great irony of the New Town. In my opinion, the truly innovative ideas of the Enlightenment came out of the Old Town. Carried to the New World, they found a receptive audience in the thousand of Scots Irish and Scottish Presbyterians who had relocated there. This irrevocably shaped the ethos and national character of what would become the most powerful country in the world – the USA.

    Naturally, the occupants of the New Town were less radical, happy to keep up the momentum that had started on the Royal Mile. The ‘Scottish School’ of thought argued that we were ultimately creatures of our environment – and what an environment the residents now had. But they had no intention of resting on their laurels. They acquired knowledge like sponges. Considered bettering themselves a necessity. Exuded an unshakeable self confidence that their English counterparts now lacked and their predecessors in the Old Town, brilliant though they might be, had never really known. Along with Glasgow’s more free-wheeling counterparts, they altered the face of the globe by becoming the practical and intellectual backbone of an even greater force than the USA. The British Empire.

    Albert Memorial, Charlotte Square Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    The city of Edinburgh finally had a civilized veneer and projected itself as ‘the Athens of the North’, despite the Old Town being a total cesspit. And that’s the sad part, in a way. For the first time, true public division had arrived. Instead of the rich and poor living cheek by jowl, complimenting each other in the generation of innovative ideas, the haves and have-nots were suddenly segregated by distance and class. Civilization had arrived and Edinburgh embraced the fact that it wasn’t just riding the coat tails of Britain’s bid to take over the globe. It was leading the charge.

    The New Town isn’t simply an architectural masterpiece but a monument to the body of men (and a few convention defying women) who changed the entire world.

    Jan-Andrew Henderson's new book Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide is available for purchase now.

  • US Air Force Bases in the UK by Paul Bingley

    When it was suggested that I write a book about US Air Force bases in the UK, I jumped at the chance. After all, as the chairman of a museum dedicated to one base in particular, I knew I had a solid foundation on which to build. Shortly afterwards, though, I began to wonder if I had the tools for the job.

    The 'Stars and Stripes' are raised at RAF Burtonwood on 22 October 1943. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    My first task was to determine exactly how many US Air Force (USAF) bases there had been. This was no easy task, especially considering that the USAF and its antecedents – the US Army Air Corps and US Army Air Forces – had been in the UK since 1942. After some time, I concluded that there had been approximately 186 airfields used by the Americans at one time or another. This was not counting those that were allocated to them by the British and never actually used (probably another 40 or so); nor their support and non-flying facilities, which numbered around 300. Even a lengthy USAF report compiled in 1985 failed to fully determine the actual number of wartime American installations in the UK. So how to write about such a huge, undefined subject with a limited word count? My foundations were looking decidedly weak.

    With so many disused bases around the country, it would have been easy just to list each one and give a brief description of its current condition. However, for a reader with scant knowledge of the story behind the USAF’s presence in the UK, it would have failed to answer two very important questions: why was a particular airfield given over to the Americans, and why was it built where it was?

    A Douglas C-54 Skymaster lifts off from RAF Prestwick loaded with wounded GIs bound for the US. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    The most logical way of answering these questions was to build a chronological picture of airfield construction and use. Starting with the earliest American air force arrivals (but always bearing in mind those airfields that are still in use with today’s USAF), I began compiling a timeline of events running from January 1939 to the present day. Using this as the basis for a narrative, I then decided to ‘thread’ the story of present-day USAF facilities throughout, whilst highlighting other wartime airfields that had either continued to be used by the USAF post-war, or had particularly interesting back stories, i.e. emergency and advanced landing grounds, and those built by the Americans themselves.

    It must be said that my research was the easy part. Having a passion for a subject that I had a basic knowledge of meant that I knew roughly where to look. Putting it into words, however, was much more difficult. Using the timeline as my guide, I quickly realised that the restricted word count would mean that I could only focus on a limited number of bases. As a result, I decided to select 50 airfields and other facilities, including those still in use today. But this presented me with another challenge.

    The scale of RAF Burtonwood can be seen from this aerial image taken in August 1945. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the writing process, I was mindful of those who share my passion. Like me, many enthusiasts are devoted to particular airfields (in my case, the former RAF Ridgewell). I soon realised that by not touching on over 100 other American bases, I was risking the wrath of many in the airfield history community. Unfortunately, it was something that could not be helped, so I added a caveat to the preface and concentrated on the wider picture. Again, writing a limited number of words on such a sizeable subject was the most hindering aspect.

    Next, came the images. I already possessed a large collection of historical photographs, but I required some up-to-date shots of the bases as they are today. Thankfully, a very good friend and airfield aficionado came to the rescue. Richard E. Flagg has been on a mission to photograph airfields all over the UK. Moderator of various Facebook groups and content creator of the website, ukairfields.org.uk, Richard owns a fantastic library that he kindly gave me access to. The bulk of the images used in US Air Force Bases in the UK came through the lens of Richard.

    An F-15 Strike Eagle of the 48th FW ('Liberty Wing') outside its Hardened Aircraft Shelter at Lakenheath. (Richard E. Flagg, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, I began seeking a foreword written by someone highly regarded in the field of military history. I had given a small amount of assistance to the Battle of Britain historian, James Holland, for his most recent book, Big Week. To say I was overjoyed when he agreed to write my foreword is an understatement.

    Shortly after US Air Force Bases in the UK was released, I was invited to attend a book-signing event at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. This was a huge moment for me, having been a volunteer tour guide in its AirSpace gallery for over five years. To see my book on the gift shop’s shelf (rather appropriately, below James Holland’s Big Week) was certainly a proud moment. But to sign it for other enthusiasts was the most humbling experience. Needless to say, when someone asked me if ‘their’ airfield was included, I was greeted with a look of despondency when I announced that it wasn’t. I guess this is the life of a writer – risking reputations to help educate others. One thing’s for sure, though – I now know I have the tools to build on something special.

    Paul Bingley's new book US Air Force Bases in the UK is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Cambridge by Andrew Sargent

    It is difficult to write something fresh about a place which is as well known and loved as Cambridge. The run of colleges along The Backs are a vital part of our national heritage, and King’s College Chapel is familiar the world over from the televised Christmas Eve broadcast of Carols from King’s.

    Friends asked me to justify offering a new book. The answer is that, while a small slice of the town is a national treasure visited by millions every year, most of its long history passes them by. The focus on the colleges means that much else is hidden in plain sight; more is tucked away and forgotten. I studied and lived in Cambridge for fifteen years, and was aware that even in that time I barely scratched the surface.

    The Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College, originally designed by William Etheridge in 1749, has been rebuilt several times. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Cambridge is probably unique in its approach. It explores the whole town, not just the famous colleges, and it takes in the whole story of Cambridge from its Roman origins to the present day. But it is not just a history: it also looks for the places where events happened, and traces the surviving physical clues to the past – things you can see and touch. It will be as stimulating for Cambridge residents who want to know more about their town as for visitors.

    There was a town here, beside the Cam, a thousand years before the first scholars made it their home. That town continued alongside the growing university, the two becoming increasingly intertwined and their relationship becoming ever more complex. It is easy not to appreciate today, but for much of history Cambridge was a transport hub. It was an important river crossing and the last bridging point before the fens and the sea. It was also the highest navigable point for seagoing vessels, a place where cargoes could be transferred between road and water. The city arms still show three ships riding at anchor beneath a bridge.

    The Saxon tower of St Ben't's Church is the oldest structure in Cambridge. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The Roman conquerors were quick to recognize the strategic importance of this crossing point, and a bridge was soon built. A small settlement sprang up on the bluff overlooking the crossing to service passing travellers, while a suburb grew up on the opposite bank along what is today known as Bridge Street. This settlement – barely a town – appears in itineraries under the name Duroliponte. In the fourth century AD the hilltop town, though not its suburb, was surrounded by a wall; its course is preserved in the street plan.

    Despite this Roman history, the settlement disappeared in the succeeding ‘Dark Ages’ – this was true of most British towns. There was no Cambridge at this date, although archaeology has discovered a lot of rural activity within the area of the modern city boundary. The settlement by the river crossing reappears in the documents in 875 when the Viking army over-wintered there. Notably, this was the first use of the place name Granta Brycge. In other words, someone (perhaps King Offa of Mercia) had built a new (presumably timber) bridge at this important location, and it would be reasonable to imagine a small settlement of entrepreneurs had sprung up around it. From this point onward, the town grew. About 50 years later, Edward the Elder, King of Wessex and son of Alfred the Great, cemented its importance by creating a burh (a fortified place) which became the administrative centre for his new shire. The oldest building in Cambridge, the 11th-century tower of St Bene’t’s church, is a relic of the thriving late Saxon town.

    The earthen motte of the first Norman castle offers wide views over the town. Other castle buildings lay beneath the Shire Hill and car park. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The conquering Normans left their stamp in the form of the castle motte (or mound) which commands the view from the top of Castle Hill. Meanwhile, the Norman town prospered, in common with many market centres across the region. What marked Cambridge out was the annual Stourbridge Fair. Originally granted by King John as a fundraising venture for the leper hospital on Newmarket Road, it developed into the most important fair in England, attracting merchants from across Europe.

    The game-changing date was 1209. Oxford University temporarily suspended itself in protest at an unusually severe outbreak of violence by the townsfolk, and its scholars scattered. Most subsequently returned to Oxford, but a group decided to settle in their quiet fenland haven. At first they were probably unnoticed, but gradually the tensions between the civic and academic communities grew. As the conflict intensified, nobles, and even the King himself, were pressed into service in support of one side or the other. The university gained the upper hand, and it was only in the 19th century that relations began to be normalized.

    The great hall of 1290 and seventeenth-century chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge's first college. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Today the name Cambridge immediately brings to mind the many beautiful and venerable colleges. The early scholars, however, lived simply in rented lodgings. In the 13th century the friars and monks built their own monastic houses in the town where members of their orders could study. The foundation of the first college, Peterhouse, is reckoned from 1284 when Bishop Hugh de Balsham of Ely established a band of scholars in some buildings beside the church of St Peter without Trumpington Gate (now called Little St Mary’s). Even so, it was many years before the small community could afford to erect any new college buildings. Other wealthy and powerful donors followed the Bishop’s lead, resulting in the dramatic remodeling of the town centre which created the Cambridge we know today. A road named Milne Street which ran parallel to the High Street (now St John’s Street-Trinity Street-King’s Parade) was swept away; many houses were bought up and a church was demolished to make way. Unlike today, these first colleges were for graduates only; undergraduates were left to find accommodation around the town. The need to control their unruly behaviour formed part of the drive for students to live in colleges.

    One of the most striking features of Cambridge is the way the countryside seems to wind through the town. It is possible to follow the river from Grantchester to Fen Ditton walking only a couple of short sections on the pavement. This gives the town a unique atmosphere.  Inevitably, it is in part a legacy of the university and colleges’ stubbornness which forced most suburban development to the east of the historic core.

    Today both town and university are growing. The university must add new facilities if it is to maintain its remarkable position as a world leader. As the fields of West Cambridge succumb to these pressures, this flexible town looks towards a new phase in its colourful life.

    Andrew Sargent's new book Secret Cambridge is available for purchase now.

  • Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    When my mate David, now exiled in France, made me custodian of his collection of railway photos from the early 1980s it sparked the idea of compiling a book recalling our teenage years, misspent bunking BR diesel depots.

    Unidentified Class 31/1 on 31 July 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Wishing to include as much variety as possible I decided the book would encompass two decades, from 1970 to 1989. In 1970 I was six years old and my Dad was taking me to ‘watch the trains’. On these trips I can clearly remember seeing Clayton Type 1s dumped at the back of Tyne Yard.

    It wasn’t until 1978, aged fourteen, that I was allowed to go independently to Newcastle Central station. The cost of a return from Tynemouth and a platform ticket was less than 10p.  I quickly made friends with other ‘platform-enders’, forming lifelong friendships. Forty years later, we still go on rail-tours and to preserved diesel galas together.

    The west end of Central station provided a tantalising glimpse across the Tyne to Gateshead depot. A walk across Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge led us via the old NER Greenesfield Works to the shed foreman's office door where we made the mistake of knocking and asking permission to look around. Having been chased off, next time we knew better and just sneaked in up the bank beside the King Edward VII Bridge and through a hole in the fence, to the sidings known as the ‘ash-heaps’.

    We soon progressed to travelling, usually with the excellent £2.60 weekly Northumbrian Ranger ticket. We mostly ‘bashed’ Deltics between Berwick and York but always made time to visit Carlisle’s Kingmoor shed. On all but one occasion we were flatly refused entry by the ‘gadgie’ in the office so we’d trudge back over the bridge, forced to view the locos across the main line from rusty sidings which often contained withdrawn locomotives awaiting disposal. They led to one of our favourite vantage points, the Waverley route bridge and its view of the secondary shed in the marshalling yard.

    The exterior of Inverness shed featured these bodly striped doors, outside which No. 27203 is stabled on 27 March 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    We began to travel further afield in our quest for diesel exotica, and found Scottish shed foremen far more amenable to scruffy youths wandering about than their Gateshead and Kingmoor counterparts.

    The Ian Allan Locoshed books became indispensable, providing directions through the dodgiest parts of Britain's towns and cities to depots. My friend Tim and I, then aged 12 and 14 respectively, had been taken by his parents to Glasgow for the day. The grown-ups set off shopping, leaving us kids to visit Eastfield shed. Like many depots it was surrounded by run-down estates and we soon became aware we were being followed. Turning, I saw a boy about our age, but looking much ‘harder’ than us (not difficult), accompanied by a much older lad who looked even scarier. What caught our eye was that one wielded a half-brick while the other carried a bike chain. We ran as fast as we could but Tim’s legs could not carry him fast enough. I made it to the security gates of The Metal Box factory and got the guards there to rescue Tim. Our assailants scarpered but not before robbing Tim of what little cash he was carrying.

    One of the less numerous first-generation DMU types was the Class 100, built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The police were called and soon we found ourselves in a scene from “Rab C Nesbitt”, riding the tenement streets in a ‘jam sandwich’ squad car on the lookout for the baddies. Our description of the older of the two matched that of one of their most wanted, and soon enough we spotted them. He and his younger sidekick were hauled into the back seat and the former was literally sat on by the arresting officer for the journey to the ‘nick’, six of us jammed into a five-seater car! Their pockets were emptied, the contents given to us and we were sent on our way. A tidy profit was made and nothing was said to my friend’s parents.

    On another occasion, having used Merseyrail under the river to get to the sheds in Birkenhead, I lost my ticket and had no cash, and had no means of boarding a train back to Liverpool. Imagine the look on the ticket vendor’s face when I asked where the nearest bridge was, thinking I could simply walk back over the river. I now know that it is approximately a 25-mile walk to the bridge at Runcorn. Fortunately he took pity and let me fare-dodge back under the Mersey.

    With her headcode panel intact in 1982, Class 81 electric locomotive No. 81007 is captured at the buffer-stops outside Kingmoor. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Whole weekends would be planned around shed-bunks. Just after my sixteenth birthday six of us travelled overnight from Newcastle to London. Three of us travelled in style behind Deltic 55012 CREPELLO to York then 55009 ALYCIDON the rest of the way to the capital, arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning. The other three lads were not so well-off so they met us at Victoria off the overnight National Express coach.

    We visited Clapham Junction, Selhurst and Hither Green with their Class 73 electro-diesels.  Then followed the trainspotters’ mecca of Stratford to see the last remaining Class 31/0s. The North London line took us to Willesden where AC electrics awaited, then trudged down the road to Old Oak Common to see Class 50s. Our trip was concluded with more Deltic haulage behind 55014 THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON’S REGIMENT overnight from King’s Cross, with diversions via Lincoln and the Leamside line, while our mates suffered another night on the M1 and A1. We all got home early next morning, tired, filthy and happy.

    If the varied contents of BR’s sheds were not interesting enough, it was even more exciting to visit the workshops of British Railways Engineering Ltd, normally accessible only on open days. Dad came up trumps, taking me to open days at Doncaster in 1978 and Crewe in 1979.  These events introduced me to the unforgettable smell of the paint-shops and the fascinating sight of locomotives being built, overhauled or scrapped.

    My only visit to Laira was on an open day, on 25 April 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The most memorable open day was the “Deltic D-Day” at Doncaster, in February 1982. Thousands of enthusiasts converged on the town to pay their last respects to the survivors of the class, all having been withdrawn from service and several having already been cut up.

    Open days were fine but their very legitimacy meant they weren’t a patch on blagging our way into a location where we shouldn't be!

    Perils associated with shed visits were unlit inspection pits, oily puddles, tripping hazards and moving trains. Southern Region depots offered a 750vDC third rail as an additional danger, but we are all still here. It is difficult to imagine in today’s era of health and safety that enthusiasts were ever allowed to access such facilities!

    In this book I have assembled a collection of photographs that show the widest possible variety of traction in the principal depots and works all over the network, along with many of the lesser installations.

    Colin Alexander's new book Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase.

  • Survivors of Beeching by John Jackson

    It seems like only yesterday that I was lying on the carpet at my best friend’s house. Dave lived ‘seven doors down’ and had the superior Hornby double 0 gauge model railway layout. As school chums, we spent many a happy hour playing trains there.

    The view from the train as it approaches St. Ives. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    On more than one occasion I distinctly remember our two dads having the audacity to invade our space and enter our playroom. I recall their conversations on how this man Beeching would have a lasting effect on their lives, not to mention ours.

    My Dad was explaining that the railway lines east of Northampton would soon be no more. These were the very lines that I had taken for granted were there to take us home to see my Nan who lived not far from Haverhill on the Essex and Suffolk county border.

    David’s Dad had responded in a ‘tit for tat’ sort of way by explaining that this would also ruin their family holidays to Hunstanton in particular.

    In those days, when car ownership was not a given, I didn’t appreciate that there would have been similar discussions going on across the land as the country came to terms with the Beeching Act or the Beeching ‘Axe’, as it would become known in the annals of twentieth century history.

    How could I be expected to understand the economic necessities of a radical review of our railways?

    Fast forward a quarter of a century and adulthood had made me realise just what the ‘before’ and ‘after’ railway map looked like once the substantial cull of lines, stations and services had been fully implemented.

    The remote outpost of Altnabreac on Scotland’s Far North Line. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    Most childhood weekends had been spent watching the variety of steam locomotives heading up and down the West Coast Main Line. These steam locos were ousted by the rapid introduction of diesel engines followed by the northward march of the line’s electrification. Worse, Roade station, ‘our’ station had become just one of the station closure casualties. There would be no more spotting from the platforms at this strategic point where the Northampton loop split from the main line.

    In time I would, of course, get things in perspective and come to terms with the post Beeching railway map. My goal to travel on all the passenger lines in the country would be that much easier to achieve and there would be considerably less stations to visit.

    But there would still be challenges. The remote station of Rannoch may be on the West Highland Railway Line but, oddly, its road access is from much further east. The B846, a no through road, runs for about fifteen miles from the isolated village of Kinloch Rannoch, itself a similar distance from the main A9. This makes Rannoch around thirty four miles from the comparative civilisation of the Central Highlands. Yes, Rannoch is most certainly ‘a survivor’.

    My seventh title for Amberley, ‘Survivors of Beeching’, is a recognition that many lines were saved for today’s rail travellers to enjoy. The line from Cambridge to Sudbury is gone and Haverhill station has been consigned to railway history. That said, my wife and I continue to enjoy travelling on the lines that have survived. From the branch from St. Erth to St. Ives in Cornwall to Scotland’s Far North line to Wick and Thurso, the lines featured in my book are examples of what today’s railway network still has to offer.

    John Jackson's new book Survivors of Beeching is available for purchase now.

  • County Durham in Photographs by Nathan Atkinson

    Quarry, near Bishopley. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    To some, County Durham conjures images of either Durham itself or small pit villages, but in reality, County Durham offers so much more. The huge variety of subjects and landscapes became apparent when planning what photographs to take for the book. In fact, I have lived in the North East all of my life and there were locations I had never been to! It’s worth mentioning that County Durham has had various boundary changes so an initial challenge with the book is where do I include? Do I go with current County Durham or historic County Durham and then from what year. I settled on ceremonial County Durham so this could take into account neighbouring areas such as Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool.

    Prince of Wales under construction. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The region has a rich history to be proud of, be it ship building, mining, railways or areas of outstanding beauty, we have it all and it was all of this I wanted to capture. I was eager to show off well known places and some of those less well-known. For example, the road between Teesdale and Weardale passes old mine workings where, in the centre, is a pond with a lone tree (Quarry near Bishopley). I haven’t seen many pictures of this place and happened upon it by looking at some aerial photographs. It’s an out-of-the-way location but brings with it so many viewpoints. I could have quite easily made a book just on this location alone.

    High Force, Teesdale. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    As mentioned above, railways have a strong link to this area and I had the pleasure of taking photographs of a new locomotive being built by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust. Housed in a white-washed building opposite terraced streets, many wouldn’t realise there is a full sized locomotive being built within by a small number of hard workers. To see Prince of Wales up close took my breath away, the amount of effort that had already gone into the project is simply awesome.

    I have always had a love for the outdoors and I was eager to show off the landscapes in the county. Obviously it was necessary to include a picture of High Force. High Force is a waterfall you hear before you see it and can be enjoyed no matter the season or weather. I had to plan the angle of the sun with weather conditions to achieve the photo I wanted. As all landscape photographers will tell you, what the forecast says and what actually happens are too different things. On the morning this picture was taken, the sky was grey and uninspiring. I sat waiting getting gradually colder. I decided to go for a walk instead. After half an hour the clouds diminished resulting in me running all the way back laden with all my equipment to take the shot! Sometimes just getting one decent shot on an outing is pleasing.

    Nathan Atkinson's new book County Durham in Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • North Korea in 100 Facts by Ruth Ann Monti

    What’s next for Kim Jong-un?

    As I write this on New Year’s Night 2019, firecrackers are exploding uncomfortably close to my home near Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix isn’t all that far from Los Angeles, which I understand is now within reach of North Korea’s intercontinental missiles.

    It’s a little comforting that it’s less certain if such a missile weighed down by an actual warhead can actually reach LA, much less Phoenix.

    Earlier yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared in his New Year’s speech that international sanctions must be lifted before he gives up his arsenal. For now, North Korea can still scare the crap out of Angelinos by attaching a bunch of Roman candles to a missile.

    What happened to the Trump-Kim love fest?

     Last year, Kim and US President Donald Trump met in an historic, if vague, summit to pledge mutual cooperation in averting nuclear war. I say vague because while both sides stated what they want, neither indicated what he would actually do to achieve “denuclearization.”

    Kim flattered the old man with courtesies like being the first to arrive at the summit and stressing his love and concern for his countrymen—even as he imprisons about one percent of them, including descendants of political prisoners, as I discuss in Fact # 66 in my book North Korea in 100 Facts. Trump openly admired the adulation Kim enjoys from his people, failing to recognize—or simply ignoring—the consequences North Koreans face if they refuse to venerate the Supreme Leader.

    Kim did take encouraging steps after the summit. He returned the remains of several US soldiers killed in the Korean War. He dismantled at least part of the country’s nuclear testing facility, as I point out in Fact #100. But since I wrote that last fact, there have been reports that the decommissioned site was merely too old to be of much use to test newer warfare technologies.

    More concerning are satellite images that show an awful lot of construction in another remote region in North Korea that could well be a new testing site. We just don’t know, and the summit certainly did not list specific steps for North Korea to follow. But it has been well over a year since North Korea tested any nuclear device or delivery warhead.

    Kim’s 2019 New Years address left out the silly propaganda about hitting the US with a “nuclear sword of justice” or turning Seoul into “a sea of fire” as The New York Times reported on 1 January 2019. And since meeting Kim, Trump has ceased calling him names like “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to deliver “fire and fury” to North Korea.

    As I completed the book five months ago, I realized the reasonably short timeframe between submitting my manuscript and its publication would be eons in the world in which President Trump presides. The major foreign policy advisors at his side during the summit are gone, replaced by a former Fox news presenter and Iraq war hawks.

    Between his short attention span and the distracting investigations into his 2016 campaign, Trump simply stopped minding the situation. His new advisors have different ideas, and new points of view that he may or may not understand or follow, regardless of what he tweets out. Some things just can’t be broken down into a baseball cap slogan.

    In the meantime, he hasn’t noticed that Kim is showing signs that he wants to break up with him.

    Will Kim and Trump get back together?

    There’s no question that there will be another Trump-Kim summit in 2019. Trump needs another one to take public attention off of the myriad investigations, which I summarized during their relative infancy in my 2018 book Donald Trump in 100 Facts.

    What Trump will say/demand is difficult to predict. John Bolton, the current National Security Advisor and Iraq war draftsman has historically attacked Presidents, including those under whom he served, for compromising on demands for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear stockpile. Political negotiation and compromise aren’t in his vocabulary. If he has Trump’s ear the day of the next summit, the stalemate will simply continue.

    Bolton calls for the so-called “Libya model,” in which the leader turned over his nuclear arsenal. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world remembers of the US attack on Qaddafi’s residences and the dictator’s subsequent assassination by political enemies. No doubt Kim recalls this, too.

    Bolton claims Kim hasn’t lived up to the Singapore deal. But how does one live up to a deliberately opaque deal? Kim can, rightly, point to closing his existing test site and returning soldiers’ remains. In the meantime, sanctions remain on North Korea, which infuriates him. It doesn’t take much cleverness for Kim to position himself as the party that did something, anything, since the summit.

    When Kim and Trump do meet again, Kim will probably be better prepared. He doesn’t seem to have problems paying attention to details, he’s consistent, and he’s steadfastly kept the same four basic demands:

    1. End the US-South Korean military exercises (something Trump has said he wants to do anyway)
    2. Get the US dismantle its long-range missile capabilities
    3. End sanctions against North Korea
    4. Finalize the treaty to end the Korean War

    North Korea will not begin denuclearization until these demands are met.

    The US won’t agree to the third point until North Korea dismantles its entire nuclear stockpile.

    Kim says he’s ready to meet Trump anywhere, anytime. Trump tweeted out the same, adding he “looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!” He should be careful. Kim has the advantage of being backed by a subservient, near-powerless populace (many are starving as I discuss in Fact # 41), while Trump’s democracy is reasserting itself. Kim is determined; Trump is distracted. At this moment, it seems Kim has the upper hand.

    Ruth Ann Monti's new book North Korea in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Leith by Lisa Sibbald

    Places - People - History

    Citadel Caption - The remains of 17th century Leith Citadel. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite having visited Leith on many occasions over several decades, and only living a few miles away in another part of Edinburgh, I never really appreciated Leith’s history until I wrote a small piece for my previous book, A-Z of Edinburgh. I spent a short time walking around parts of Leith and taking photographs, and I knew then that I wanted to write a book about Leith. I spent several months researching the area, taking photographs, and talking to Leithers both online and in person, and I learned so much in the process.

    I was always aware that Leithers were very proud of their heritage and their home, and now I feel I can understand why. There are centuries of history still evident in the very stones and streets – the remains of Leith Citadel date back to the middle of the seventeenth century, and Leith Fort to the late eighteenth century. The street names themselves hark back to a bygone time and Leith’s overseas trading connections – Cadiz Street, Elbe Street, Madeira Street, Timber Bush. Leith’s proud history as a port and docks is all around, from the wonderful Trinity House which was the base of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipbuilders and is now a maritime museum, to the Malmaison Hotel which is in a former sailors’ home, to the Corn Exchange building with its magnificent frieze showing cherubs taking part in sowing, harvesting and transporting the grain which would eventually make its way to Leith. It has survived wars, sieges, bombings, and being amalgamated, against its will, into the city of Edinburgh!

    Swing Bridge Caption - Victoria Swing Bridge built in 1894 to connect the east and west sides of the harbour. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    From the sixteenth century, Leith had been a centre for storage of wine and brandy, and later whisky production and storage. The whisky industry, with its associated trades such as coopering and transporting, employed thousands of people in Leith, and several famous names were created here, including VAT 69 and Highland Queen whiskies, Glayva, Crabbie’s Green Ginger and, unusually, a non-alcoholic drink, Rose’s Lime Juice. Sadly, from there being as many as 100 whisky bonds at the peak of the industry, the last whisky bond closed in 1995, but the buildings still remain, converted into flats or commercial property.

    Shipbuilding was of course another major trade and employer in Leith for many centuries, with the shipyards having built vessels which sailed all over the world. The last Leith shipyard, Henry Robb, closed in 1984 and another great tradition and major employer came to an end.

    Reflections Caption - Reflections of old and new Leith, with modern flats alongside the Malmaison Hotel, situated in the former Sailors' Home of 1885. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    But Leith isn’t all about history. After a decline which saw many sub-standard tenements being demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, property developers began to see its potential for water-front redevelopment. This led to many new properties being built, along with wine bars and expensive restaurants. Old, run-down, historic buildings were repaired and restored, and given new life and a new purpose. This ‘gentrification’ has been, and continues to be, a subject of great debate, as the price of these luxurious new water-front housing developments is far beyond what many long-time Leith residents can afford. The wine bars and restaurants have replaced the pubs and fish and chip shops that had been there for decades. The Shore area in particular has gone from being the haunt of sailors and “ladies of the night” to a place where people arrive from other parts of town or other countries to eat expensive meals and drink expensive wines in Michelin-starred restaurants.

    Despite some of the new developments being given almost a “theme park” image with nautical themes and paraphernalia seemingly randomly dropped in, Leith isn’t just an area looking to its past. Leithers never forget their motto - “Persevere” - and they move forward. There are now many new businesses dealing in design and IT, buildings providing hubs for small businesses, and unique shops and coffee bars serve locals and visitors alike. The area continues to produce writers, artists, and musicians. It remains a vibrant community, proud of its past, but always looking to the future.

    Lisa Sibbald's new book A-Z of Leith is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Richmond & Swaledale by Andrew Graham Stables

    Queen Cartimandua - an Iron Age Soap Opera

    Stanwick Fortifications SE. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Brigantes were an Iron Age tribe who lived throughout the north but mainly inhabited the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham. Their name actually means 'upland people' or 'hill dwellers’, a very appropriate appellation when the Pennines are at the heart of their territory. After the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, the Romans pushed north defeating Caractacus in 51AD and Boudicca in 61AD, but the Queen of the Brigantes chose to collaborate with the Romans. She is even credited with handing the British resistance fighter Caractacus over to the Romans, after he fled north hoping for sanctuary from another indigenous tribe. It should be remembered that Britain was not a nation at this time, but was rather a collection of independent and sometimes hostile tribes, who may have had longer held grievances with their neighbours than the Romans.

    Stanwick Fortifications Sign. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    Just to the north of Richmond are the Stanwick Fortifications, where it is believed the main residence of the Brigantes and their Queen, Cartimandua, was established. By 68AD, York and Catterick were the main northern bases for the Roman invader on the eastern side of the country, Chester being the largest on the west. They protected the main routes north and particularly the Pennine crossing, now known as the A66 or Stainmore Pass. The Catterick fort was situated on the river Swale less than a day’s march (10-12 miles) from the main concentration of Brigantes at Stanwick and excavations at the Stanwick site do show extensive trade with the Romans, demonstrated by pottery and glass objects. This clearly shows there must have been a form of communication and acceptance of the Mediterranean power on the edge of their lands. During excavations at the site hundreds of artefacts were discovered including a money hoard, chariot harnesses, swords and a horse face plate. Some of these are stored and sometimes displayed at the British Museum in London.

    Stanwick Fortifications still visible. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Stanwick site covers a huge area, with the 700 acres of land still clearly defined by the visible and very obvious earthworks, and to put the size of the site into some perspective, the famous Iron Age site of Maiden Castle at Dorchester is a mere 47 acres.

    The historical soap opera that unfolded at this time involved Cartimandua’s husband, who was called Venutius, and it is believed he came from the Carvetti tribe who inhabited Cumbria, maybe as part of a marriage alliance. He was anti-Roman and didn’t agree with his wife’s policies of cooperation with the invaders, which must have led to arguments, as Cartimandua divorced him and instead took his armour bearer as her lover. As you might imagine Venutius was a little upset with this dishonour, so he gathered other disaffected nobles and followers to attack his former wife. The Romans were distracted following the death of Nero and the political turmoil in Rome and Venutius managed to win, taking over the tribe, now hostile to the Roman forces.

    Stanwick Map overmarked to show area. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    By late 69AD the distractions in Rome were resolved and the Romans gathered their forces and very quickly defeated Venutius. There is no further mention in the histories to the fate of Cartimandua, no mention of her death and she seems to have simply fade away from history. This defeat of the Brigantes was the catalyst for the Roman expansion north and they moved from York and Chester, eventually reaching at least as far north as Dundee. This push north only took 10 years and before much longer the Romans established control over the whole of the north of the country.  They eventually fell back to Hadrian’s Wall which became the northern extent of the empire in the 120’s.

    The significance of this lovers tiff is huge, leading to Roman domination for the next 350 years and it all happened in the countryside surrounding Richmond and Swaledale.

    Andrew Graham Stables' new book Secret Richmond & Swaledale is available for purchase now.

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