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  • Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    On Saturday, 14th October, Conisbrough Castle was the venue for my first talk after the release of my book, Heroines of the Medieval World. In the glorious sunshine, the Castle looked spectacular, the ideal setting for a history talk.

    I grew up just 5 miles from Conisbrough Castle and so, as a child, every summer holiday included a picnic at the castle and a climb to the top of the keep. As a student I volunteered at the castle, helping out at events and giving guided tours to school groups. In those days, the castle was just a shell, with green slime on the walls, but now it has floors inside, a roof to protect it from the elements and visual displays throughout. The Visitor Centre has a small museum with a cartoon strip telling the castle’s story and interactive displays for the kids. Conisbrough Castle’s only claim to fame seemed to be its link to Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, in which it played the part of a Saxon stronghold.

    Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, built by Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne in the late twelfth century. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    However, Conisbrough had been very much a Norman stronghold since the Conquest, given as a prize to one of William the Conquerors’ most loyal followers, William de Warenne, first earl of Warenne and Surrey. My talk took place on the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the day the Castle changed hands. On the morning of the battle, it belonged to Harold II, but by the end of the day Harold had lost the kingdom and his life and Conisbrough was a prize of war.

    Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women – famous, infamous and unknown who broke the mould. Those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. Four of the women in the book had strong connections with Conisbrough Castle, and so it seemed appropriate to hold my first talk and book signing at my ‘home’ castle.

    Roche Abbey, final resting place of Maud Clifford, Countess of Cambridge. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    My talk concentrated on these four women, telling the stories of their lives and explaining their links to this magnificent castle. The first was Isabel de Warenne, great granddaughter of the first Earl of Warenne and Surrey. Isabel was one of the greatest heiresses in England and it was her second husband, Hamelin, who was responsible for building the keep we still see today. The second Heroine was Joan of Bar, neglected wife of the last de Warenne Earl of Surrey. She was followed by Isabel of Castile, who gave birth to her son, Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, within the castle walls and thus became the matriarch of the York dynasty which would rule England under Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. And the last was Maud de Clifford, widow of Richard of Conisbrough, who lived out her life at the castle and was buried at nearby Roche Abbey, and who had family on both sides of the Wars of the Roses.

    The talk was aimed at demonstrating the many links that Conisbrough Castle has to the major events in English medieval history, from the Norman Conquest, to the disastrous reign of Edward II and the civil war which became known as the Wars of the Roses. Conisbrough Castle and its former residents have a rich history and it was a pleasure to bring just a few moments of it to life.

    Attended by over 50 people, the audience was made up of friends, family, readers of my book and blog – historytheinterestingbits.com - and visitors who had called at the Castle because it was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. And they were aged from 3 to 73! I was nervous – the last time I had done a talk was when I used to give tours at this very castle as a student. I had made plenty of notes, but in the end, I never even looked at them. The stories just flowed, from one Medieval Heroine to the next, with the children kept busy counting the number of Heroines, and the number of gruesome deaths!

    However, the audience was lovely. Some had travelled from as far afield as Manchester, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. One lady gave me flowers and another gave me a ‘congratulations’ card from The Swinton Book Lovers Club (from my home town). Several people had brought their copies of ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ for me to sign and many more bought the book on the day – it was a pleasure to sign every single copy.

    I am very grateful to the staff at Conisbrough Castle, who were absolutely wonderful, welcoming guests and encouraging visitors to join the talk, and even offering discounts on Castle entry to anyone who had a copy of my book.

    It was a perfect day.

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Heroines of the Medieval World is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Lodekkas by Stephen Dowle

    By the mid-1970s the FLF Lodekka was well into the second half of its lifespan, but it was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. Alder Valley's Gardner-engined No. 676 (GRX I44D) leaves Reading for Newbury on WEdnesday 18 th February 1976. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    The design problems of double-deck buses were basically two: to keep the height as low as practicable and to maximise seating capacity within the available dimensions. In the early days of the motor bus a full-width cab was placed behind the engine and the passenger-carrying bodywork was simply grafted onto the chassis behind them. This primitive configuration, known as 'normal control', squandered much passenger-carrying, revenue-generating space: in the years before the Second World War it gradually disappeared, to be replaced by a new spatial arrangement known as 'forward control'. In this, a half-width cab was placed alongside the engine, allowing the upper deck to be extended forward over the top of it.

    This optimised the use of space, but the difficulty of headroom remained. Damage to bodywork caused by overhanging branches was the least serious aspect of the problem: almost every bus operator had to contend with low railway bridges, which made it impossible to operate double-deckers on certain routes. This meant using single-deckers at more frequent intervals, with all the associated extra costs. To reduce height a very unsatisfactory alternative layout was developed: the gangway of the upper deck was placed to the offside and recessed into the ceiling of the lower deck. Not only did this imperil the heads of those passengers who were incautious in rising from the seats beneath, but the four-abreast seating of the upper deck was inconvenient for conductor and passengers alike. This, the hated "lowbridge" layout, made such buses, sometimes known as "skittle-alleys", about a foot lower than the standard height.

    The NBC's standard 'leaf green', even when fresh, was not the most beguiling of liveries and always looked dowdy by the time a trip to the paint shop was due. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    It was to address the "lowbridge" problem that the Bristol Lodekka was developed. Bristol Tramways constructed two prototypes, which took to the roads in 1949, one in the company's own operating fleet and the other with the West Yorkshire Road Car Co. The new vehicles great innovation was a re-designed transmission in which the propeller shaft was offset to one side and drove a drop-centre, double reduction rear axle. The lower deck gangway no longer needed to clear the shaft and could pass through the dropped middle section of the axle. The step from the entrance platform to the floor of the lower deck was eliminated (in the early days many passengers came a cropper when attempting to mount this vanished step) and the entire vehicle could be correspondingly lowered. It became possible to provide conventional upper deck seating within "lowbridge" dimensions. The lowbridge bus became obsolete overnight.

    The prototypes (which I know only from photographs) must have been the ugliest buses ever constructed. They had massively wide radiators, a bizarre front bumper, ill-considered window-spacing and their reduced height did not conduce to shapely proportions. The first production vehicles, dubbed the LD-type, appeared in 1953. The body builders, Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, had espoused the 'new look' front (a lamentable fad in post-war bus design) in which the engine, radiator and nearside wing were enclosed within a rounded structure called a cowl. The squat, bulbous lineaments of the bus gave it a faintly toad-like appearance, but in the late 1950s new regulations permitted the construction of 30ft double-deckers, and a facelift of 1962 resulted in an improved frontal treatment. These changes considerably improved the vehicles looks. By the time production ceased in 1968 extended bodywork, which mostly went to Scotland, had made the Lodekka a handsome and imposing bus, able to accommodate 78 passengers. It was also made available with semi-automatic transmission and a larger engine, the 10.45-litre Gardner LX.

    The upper deck interior of an Alder Valley FLF with coach seating. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    My book, Bristol Lodekkas, is a selection from photographs I took during many enjoyable journeys around the country between 1975 and 1980. The Lodekka was clearly nearing the end of its tenure, but as the period opened was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. In Scotland, where well-tried types had tended to be ordered for as long as they were available, the earlier versions were still numerous. I give an account of the motives that led me to take the photographs, and of my long association with the Lodekka as both passenger and professional busman.

    The Lodekka represented the final form of the half-cab, front-engined, double-deck bus that was a familiar feature of the streets for fifty years and an 'iconic' British vehicle recognised the world over. Alas, it required a crew of two and the economics of the modern industry made it obsolete. Bus operators, or their accountants, now demanded vehicles suitable for driver-only operation. The need to place the passenger entrance alongside the cab entailed the rear transverse-engine layout that remains with us to the present day. Mechanically, this configuration is far from satisfactory and I imagine many of today's bus company Chief Engineers must repine for the simple, rugged workhorses (such as the Bristol Lodekka) available to their counterparts forty years ago.

    Stephen Dowle's new book Bristol Lodekkas is available for purchase now.

  • The Merlin EH(AW) 101 by Rich Pittman

    A pre-production EH101 at an early stage of assembly. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil’s Helicopter Town - If Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold!

    If you live In Yeovil Today your lifestyle is never very far away from helicopters and aircraft, with Westland now part of the Leonardo Company, being the local largest employer. A close family bond with aviation in the town that now extends over 100 years with aircraft manufacturing starting in 1915.

    Where it all started

    The Westland aircraft works were built during the First World War due to the need for naval aircraft. The first aircraft to be built, a Short 184 seaplane, left in early January 1916 by horse and cart. The fourth production aircraft built at Westland, took part in the Battle of Jutland. It was piloted by Frederick Rutland from Weymouth ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and the aircraft successfully reported by radio the movements of the German Fleet.

    Over 6000 fixed wing aircraft were built at Yeovil between 1915 and 1955. With the end of the 2nd World war, the large aircraft industry would have to adapt to peacetime needs. The board of Westland aircraft decided that the future would be with a totally different form of flying machine, the helicopter.

    A busy flight shed, filled with pre-production and future EH101s for the Royal Navy. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Several Westland aircraft including the Westland Wapiti in 1927, Westland Dragonfly in 1948, Westland Whirlwind in 1952, Westland Scout in 1960, Westland Sea King in 1969, Westland Lynx in 1971 and the EH (AW) 101 Merlin in 1987 have been built in Yeovil.

    The last few Decades

    During the mid-1980s Westland went through a decline in production. The company needed a partner to help sustain it, until new products could be brought online. At the same time the company was making considerable investment in composite blade technology and design of a replacement for the Sea King.

    Westland entered an agreement with the Italian firm Agusta, collaborating in the design, development and production of a new large helicopter. The two companies amalgamated forming EH Industries, specifically to produce the EH101, a multi-role helicopter designed to meet naval, military utility and civil requirements.

    A view from above. A Merlin HM.2 during an Air2Air photo flight. (Photo: Ian Harding, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent years the Yeovil Westland site has expanded its involvement in commercial helicopter programmes, in particular with the AW Family of new generation helicopters, which comprise the AW139, AW169 and AW189. The AW189 is the first civil aircraft to be built in Yeovil since the mid-1980s, whilst rotor blades and transmission systems are also manufactured for all three members of the AW Family of helicopters in Yeovil.

    The EH (AW) 101 Merlin

    The threat of an attack by Soviet missile submarines was judged as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s. During 1977, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for a new type of helicopter to be developed to counter the issue. Initially the Westland WG-34 was proposed to be the replacement for the WS-61 Sea King. It was planned to be a three engine helicopter of similar proportions to the Sea King, but the WG-34 was to feature more space in the cabin and have a greater range than its predecessor.

    At the same time, the Italian Navy was also considering a successor for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings, which had been manufactured by the Italian company Agusta. Westland and Agusta entered into talks regarding a joint development of a future helicopter.

    G-17-510, in US101 markings, flies over Yeovil. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    After the companies finalised the agreement to work on the project together, a jointly owned company, EH Industries Limited (EHI), was formed for the development and marketing of a new helicopter to potential customers. The EHI-01 emerged as the collaborated design, but a clerical error in retyping hand written notes during early draft stages, renamed the helicopter by accident to EH-101 and the name stood.

    On the 12th of June 1981, the UK government confirmed its participation in the project and initially allocated £20 million for the development of the program. In 1984 a key agreement followed, which was signed by the British and Italian governments. This secured funding the majority of the EH101's development.

    An international marketing survey highlighted a requirement for a 30 seat helicopter. Following the early concept as a naval replacement anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, EHI decided to develop the EH-101 into a multirole platform. As a medium-lift helicopter, the aircraft would be able to meet the demands of utility, government and civilian corporations of the 1990's. An initial 9 pre-production (PP) models were produced to demonstrate these potential configurations to the worldwide market.

    Originally part of a larger order for VVIP replacements in Indonesia, it is unclear what internal configuration was fitter to this AW101 at delivery. 17 January 2017. (The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    The AW101 today combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing to provide a proven platform for long-range Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in certain countries. With a typical range of 750 nm (over 1,300 km) in standard configuration, the AW101 is the most capable SAR helicopter in the world today. Other roles include transportation for Heads of State and VVIP operators; Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO); Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW); Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC); Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM); troop transport; utility support, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC; and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

    My Father started working at Westland in 1980. This brought my family to Yeovil and why I have an interest in aviation and particularly the AW101. It has been fascinating to see the Merlin’s progression from pre production testing right through to today's exports to many foreign Nations.

    The Westland facility with all the sub departments along with the nearby RNAS Yeovilton keep the Town and surrounding area thriving.

    The Merlin EH (AW)101  From Design to Front Line book has been written to look back and celebrate some of the Merlin's history over the last 30 Years.

    Rich Pittman's new book The Merlin EH(AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol From The Post and Press by Maurice Fells

    It’s surprising what fascinating stories can be found in old newspapers. When I say ‘old’ I’m talking about papers which were published 50, 80, 100 years or more ago.

    I’ve been delving through those published in my native Bristol for my latest local history book. It’s amazing that in 1908 the people of Bristol weren’t short for choice when it came to buying a paper. Three were published in the morning and another three in the afternoon. Today the city has just two papers, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Post, formerly Bristol Evening Post. Both roll off the presses overnight and are available in time to be read with the bacon and eggs at the breakfast table.

    I was searching through the papers to find the events and the people that over the last century or so had helped to make Bristol the great city that it is today. However, my book, Bristol from the Post and Press also contains some rather quirky stories like the one about the 17-year old lad who jumped from a plane flying across the city, just for a dare. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale to the local papers and was completely uninjured.

    The Grand Hotel has entertained many politicians, pop stars and captains of industry. (Courtesy of Andrew Gustar under Creative Commons 2.0, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there was the occasion that the Rolling Stones were turned away from the restaurant at the Grand Hotel where the group was staying for a night. The hotel’s head waiter Mr. Dick Court told the Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger that his sweat shirt and jeans were not in keeping with the hotel’s dress code for its restaurant. Mr. Court told him that he could borrow some suitable clothing - a jacket and tie - but the singer was having none of that. With the rest of his group he made off to a restaurant elsewhere in the city. It was a story that the made the front page of the Evening Post.

    My book starts though with a report from the Western Daily Press in 1899 of an investiture held in the centre of the city. Usually these important events are held by the monarch of the day in a royal place. But Queen Victoria decided to make her way to Bristol to confer a knighthood on the Mayor of the city, Cllr Herbert Ashman.

    The Western Daily Press, then a broadsheet, reports the visit in much detail giving its account a whole page. Readers were told everything from descriptions of the dresses of the civic dignitaries on parade to details about the music being played by a military band whilst the crowds waited for the royal procession to arrive.

    The first edition of the Bristol Evening Post. (Photo credit: Trevor Naylor, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the story takes a strange twist when we read that Cllr Ashman was not knighted inside one of Bristol’s grand buildings but on the pavement in the centre of the city – admittedly it was covered by a red carpet. Queen Victoria didn’t even leave her open-top carriage for the ceremony. She borrowed a sword, leant out of the horse-drawn vehicle and commanded the civic leader, who was kneeling, to “arise Sir Herbert Ashman”. After the brief ceremony the Queen made off for her next engagement.

    Unfortunately the paper didn’t explain why the investiture was held in Bristol, or in the open air, or why Her Majesty never left her carriage. The latter may be explained that through her advancing years she was frail.

    A few months before the ceremony Queen Victoria had announced that in future Bristol’s Mayor would be called the Lord Mayor. Cllr. Ashman was the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Bristol.

    Another story that I found fascinating involved Queen Elizabeth II who visited a pub completely unannounced to shelter from the snow.

    Apparently, she was delivering Christmas presents to members of her family in Gloucestershire when her car got caught up in a blizzard. She sought refuge in the Cross Hands Hotel at Old Sodbury on the edge of Bristol. Her Majesty was secretly taken into the landlord’s private quarters where she had a meal and met his children. It meant that none of the customers in the bar were aware of how close they were to the monarch.

     

    Maurice Fells new book Bristol From The Post and Press is available for purchase now.

  • Bradford in 50 Buildings by George Sheeran

    Bradford, a Wool City isn’t it?

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 1 Saltaire Mills, Saltaire, the 1853 building (Bradford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Ask anyone what Bradford made its money from in the nineteenth century and there will be one answer – wool. ‘Wool city’, the capital of the wool industry, the richest city in Yorkshire with a millionaire on every corner, and all based on wool. Yet if this were true, why did William Cudworth, a journalist and historian working in Victorian Bradford, entitle his history of the rise of the industrial city, ‘Worstedopolis’?

    The first thing we need to clear up is the difference between woollen and worsted cloth. Wool yarns are made from short, hairy fibres and woollen cloth derives its strength partly from the tendency of these fibres to entangle and felt together. Those of us who are old enough to remember the woollen blankets of pre-duvet days will know what I mean – ‘The rough male kiss of blankets,’ as Rupert Brook put it.  Worsteds, on the other hand, are made from long-fibre wools which are combed straight before being spun into a strong, fine yarn.

    So what? I hear you say, It’s still wool. Yes it is, but in the early years of the nineteenth century some European and American textile manufacturers began to experiment with a cloth made with cotton warps (the threads that go up and down) and wool worsted wefts (the threads that go across), to produce a strong cloth that became known as ‘Orleans’.  But it had a major drawback. Being made of plant and animal fibres Orleans was difficult to dye, different fibres taking up dye at different rates.

     

     

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 3 Brigella Mills, the Briggs family, spinners of worsted and mohair yarns; manufacturers of umbrella coverings.

    Despite these technical difficulties Bradford manufacturers took up the challenge in the mid-1830s. They solved the dyeing problem, and Bradford was to become a centre of Orleans production. What is more, they were to introduce other animal hairs into the mixture such as Alpaca hair and mohair (the hair of the Angora goat), which replaced woollen wefts, and thus originated a new form of worsted. While fine wool worsteds had formerly been the preserve of the better-off, these new products were cheaper, hard-wearing, could be dyed in a range of colours and had a lustrous finish. Lustre cloths, as Orleans became known, were also ‘boardy’, that is, had a stiffness, and this was a stroke of either genius or luck, because it meant they were an ideal material for laying over crinoline hoops, the crinoline becoming fashionable from the 1850s.

    Between about 1850 and 1870 such lustre cloths became a fashion fabric and production boomed. It is said, for instance, that Saltaire Mills at Saltaire were producing 30,000 yards of alpaca-based lustre cloths a day at the height of their production. Elsewhere in Bradford, fortunes were made and business empires were built on this trade, the ‘Bradford trade’ as it was known, and mills big and small were built for spinning, dyeing and manufacturing lustre cloths. Yet much of this cloth did not have an ounce of wool in it.

    Bradford in 50 Buildings 4 The Wool Exchange, 1864-67 (Bradford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Given this story of success, what could possibly go wrong? Well two things, actually.  Firstly, the crinoline was beginning to pass out of fashion by 1870 and lustre cloth along with it in favour of softer materials. Secondly, a trade recession halted the building of new factories and warehouses as international demand for Bradford goods slackened. The result was that numbers of Bradford firms went out of business; others diversified into linings or men’s suits and trousers, a more stable market; some went into more specialised products – umbrella coverings, for instance, which, because of the long-lasting qualities of the Bradford product, became known as ‘durables’.

    So here’s the secret of Victorian Bradford’s success – fashion and the specialised fabrics that went with it. And when the women’s dress goods market became a quagmire for some, expertise gained in producing mixed fibre worsteds was put to use in other areas. But let’s make no mistake: wool, yarns for export and wool textiles remained a vital part of Victorian Bradford’s economy. The point is it was an economy made up of a diversity of textiles and raw materials. When the town’s Wool Exchange opened in 1867, it became an international trading floor not just for wool, but for other fibres and hairs as well – and the most important such exchange in Britain. William Cudworth then reflected this in the title of his history: not ‘Wool City’, but ‘Worstedopolis’.

    9781445668482

    George Sheeran's new book Bradford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • The Severn Estuary Crossings by Chris Witts

    The Severn Estuary Crossings 1 The long walk across the Severn. (Tim Ryan collection, The Severn Estuary Crossings, Amberley Publishing)

    Many years ago the Severn Estuary, with the second highest tidal range in the world, was a barrier between two nations. Powerful tides made crossing the estuary very difficult even though great engineers like Thomas Telford once spoke of bridging this dangerous river.

    Until the Severn Bridge was opened in 1966 the only way to cross the Severn Estuary was by ferry or railway tunnel. Telford’s plan for a bridge was far too expensive thus the railway tunnel was built. From 1926 until the Severn Bridge opened, the Old Passage Severn Ferry Co. Ltd. Operated from Aust to Beachley. Motorists faced either waiting in a long queue to join the ferry or a tiring 60 mile journey via Gloucester. In 1958 construction began on the new Severn Bridge between Aust and Beachley, with a design that has since been copied on similar bridges throughout the world.

    The Severn Estuary Crossings 3 The Severn Bridge painted white. (The Severn Estuary Crossings, Amberley Publishing)

    As traffic increased it became apparent that a new bridge was needed and in 1966 the Second Severn Crossing was opened, becoming the longest river crossing in Britain.

    Chris Witts in his book has sourced many photographs, both colour and black & white, showing the Aust ferry and the building of both the Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing. His stunning photographs taken recently show what a remarkable feat of engineering both bridges are as they grace the skyline across the Severn Estuary.

    9781445669021

    Chris Witts' new book The Severn Estuary Crossings is available for purchase now.

  • The Natal Campaign - 'Kitchener’s Concentration Camps' by Hugh Rethman

    The Natal Campaign 1 Boer children standing in front of their school at Merebank Concenration Camp. (Author's collection)

    When General Kitchener described the refugee camps for Boer civilians as ‘Concentration Camps’, an enormous PR blunder was commited. Of course he did not know that 40 years later Hitler would use the same words to describe his death camps, a situation which has been exploited to the full by the Boers and Britain’s enemies. For example ‘an entire generation of Afrikaners (Boers) perished in them’ [1]. And ‘the British were the first to dream up this perversity; Hitler only perfected them.’ [2]

    After the Boers were driven out of Natal and had suffered a series of defeats in set piece battles, they adopted guerrilla tactics. This meant that they left their wives and families in the custody of the British. This they were only too happy to do, their commander Gen Louis Botha saying to Gen de Wet, ‘we are only too thankful nowadays to know our wives are under English protection’ [3]. They had left the welfare of the entire non-combatant population of their Republics to the care of the British Army, an enormous humanitarian task.

    The Natal Campaign 2 Hospital at Merebank Concentration Camp. (Author's collection)

    The Army had to act as a welfare agency which not only provided protection, food and shelter for these people, but also provided schools for the children, hospitals for the sick etc, and all this had to be done in wartime conditions with the Boers constantly attacking British supply lines. Epidemics were sweeping the land, killing indiscriminately. Entry to the British camps was voluntary and many of those entering were seriously ill on arrival and apart from anything else introduced further illness [4]. The British army was not immune to the ravages of disease. Over twelve thousand soldiers died and sixty-six thousand were invalided back to Britain. These were fit young men in their prime whereas those entering the camps included the elderly and very young [5].

     

    As happens today, mistakes were made and when these became known a Ladies Committee was formed to investigate the alleged failings, which were promptly corrected by Lord Kitchener. In their report the Ladies, after detailing the faults which they had found in the organization of the camps, went on to report, ‘But in estimating the causes of bad health in the camps it is necessary to put on record the insanitary habits of the people….Their inability to see that what may be criminally dangerous in camp is part of the inadaptability to circumstance which constitutes so marked a characteristic of the people.’  The Commission went on to report, ‘Large numbers of the deaths in the concentration camps have been directly and obviously caused by noxious compounds given by Boer women to their children’ [6]. However it was the epidemics rife in South Africa at that time which was the principal cause of deaths in the camps. These peaked in October, 1901.

    The Natal Campaign 3 Inmates at Merebank Concentration Camp receiving the news that a Peace Accord had been signed. They could easily be a group of people going to the races at Royal Ascot and have no resemblance whatsoever to scenes which greeted the Allied forces when they liberated the Camps in Germany at the end of WW2. (Author's collection)

    Boers also set up Camps to care for their civilians. General Smuts said this about them, ‘I cannot help saying that I had never expected to be a witness of such scenes of misery. The women and children, suffering almost everyone of them from malaria, fever, and other diseases in consequence of privations and bad food, without physicians, without medicines, without any consolation in this world, almost without any clothes, and after hostile raids, without any food at all’ [ 7].

    Mr Keizer was a prominent civil servant in the Transvaal before and during the War being Landrost (Chief Magistrate) of Standerton in the Eastern Transvaal. He was interned when the British overran the district and was placed duly in the concentration camp at Standerton. Because of the respect in which the local Boers held him, the British appointed him head of the camp. A few years after the war he wrote to a colonial friend stating: ‘Why don’t you English demand a commission before it is too late to enquire into all this talk and lies about the camps. If the British were so beastly, why did they put me in charge of the Standerton Camp? – I can assure you there was nothing to complain of there.’ [8].

    9781445664217

    Hugh Rethman's new book The Natal Campaign: A Sacrifice Betrayed is available for purchase now.


    1. Gillings, ‘A Man of his Time’, 77.
    2. Johannesburg Sunday Times. 10.2.2013.
    3. Gen C. de Wet, ‘Three Years War’, 428/429.
    4. C. Martin, ‘The Concentration Camps’, 17.
    5. C. Martin, ‘Ibid’, 15.
    6. C. Martin, ‘Ibid’ 43.
    7. C. Martin, ‘Ibid’ 13/14.
    8. Papers ex Natal Carbineer R.J. Mason.
  • Secret Kendal by Andrew Graham Stables

    Secret Kendal 1 Brigsteer Road with Kendal sign and racecourse in background. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    As I wrote this blog I became aware it was exactly 196 years since the first horse race was held on Kendal Racecourse on 7th August 1821 and I further recognized in my previous book about Penrith, and my future book looking at Teesdale, they all feature redundant racecourses. To the west of Kendal, off Brigsteer Road and below Scout Scar, are the remnants of Kendal Racecourse. The site, originally called Fishers Plain was built by raising a subscription from wealthy locals and after that first race meeting in August, there followed a three day meeting every June.

    The stand out race was the Kendal Gold Cup with a substantial first prize of £50 and the first ever winner was called Miss Syntax, owned by Lord Queensberry.  The last meeting of this first spell was held in 1834 with further meetings held from 1879–82 and offered both ‘flat’ and ‘hurdle’ races over 2 miles. It was also used for different events like the Kendal Steeple Chase, and some racing was held during the First World War, but it was generally abandoned thereafter.

    Secret Kendal 2 Kendal racecourse. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Other uses have included practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry and even the establishment of a small golf course for a short time. Still clearly visible as a raised flat platform, the site can be accessed from a public footpath and other remnants include entrance gates, raised banks for racegoers to stand and rubble from old buildings.

    Penrith racecourse was located off Salkeld Road to the north of the town and was in use from the 1770’s until 1847. The principle races were the Penrith Town Plate, the Cavalry Cup and the Inglewood Hunt 5 Guineas Sweepstake until it was used as practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry. Eventually in 1890 the course was converted into a golf course with the old stand converted to a clubhouse.

     

     

    Secret Kendal 3 The racecourse and public access. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, the racecourse celebrated as the greatest course in the north of England was located at Gatherley Moor, just off the A66 and was regarded as the Newmarket of the north with royalty buying horses and racing in this famous field. Races were held here from at least the 15th century and the area was well renowned for breeding from the local stud farms. George III is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, 'Oh for a gasp of Gatherley air!' with the moor being on his usual route to or from Scotland. Gatherley Moor remained a renowned hunting ground and race course until the 1816 enclosure act. The area is now cultivated land with little evidence of its illustrious past.

    9781445668048

    Andrew Graham Stables' book Secret Kendal is available for purchase now.

  • Classic Trucks by Roy Dodsworth

    Classic Trucks 1 This is a 1927 Thornycroft 2.5-ton truck registered in Somerset. It has a 27 horsepower petrol engine, averages 20–25 mph and returns 6 miles per gallon average. Vehicle purchased by Frederic Robinson Ltd in November 1980, at the time in livery of Irwell St Metal Co. of Ramsbottom. Restored and repainted in the livery of similar Robinsons vehicles at the turn of the century. I took this picture on a visit to the brewery. The registration YC 1176 was issued on 8 November 1927. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    Published in 2017, as the titles suggest this book is about trucks, wagons, lorries or commercials. Each of the four words means the same but varies in regions.

    In the letters pages of Trucks, Wagons, Lorries or Commercials magazines there is regular argument about which is correct. Example the 70+ year old strongly argues that he, sometimes she, was a wagon driver. The 30+ individuals argue that they are truckers! I chose ‘Commercials’ because in my view the word encompasses all four types.

    The vision is that it is a load carrying vehicle and whether you are 9 or 90 I suggest that you all can recall one. Be it the dustbin wagon or drain cleaner. Without any the world could not function.

    To move on there is interest from an early age, Dinky Toys and the like, to senior citizens who take pleasure seeing them, and recalling memories of seeing and driving them.

    40 or 50 years ago driving them was a feat of strength and stamina, no power steering, automatic gearboxes or air conditioning. The driver had to be well wrapped up, strong to turn the wheel, change gear, and used to cold without a heater. The modern truck is equipped with all the latest ‘gismos’ giving the old guys the impression that steering them is all that is required!

    Classic Trucks 2 A 1938 Albion LB40 two-axle rigid, fitted with a petrol engine, it has a flat platform body which is carrying an authentic textile load of bales of rags and skip baskets. In the livery of C. & C. Textiles, Rag Merchants of Barnsley. Note the starting handle secured with a rubber band to the front. Albion Motors were manufacturers of car, truck and buses in Scotstoun, Glasgow, Scotland. They became part of British Leyland and the name was dropped, with later vehicles badged as Leyland. The company now manufacture axles. The registration WE 3735 was issued in Sheffield on 23 January 1939. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    So preserved and restored commercials are part of our heritage and there are thousands of enthusiasts up and down the country who look after them, be it car, truck or bus.

    There are many owners and enthusiast clubs who organise events so that other people can enjoy them. As an added interest there are specialist magazines catering for all matters of interest connected with classic vehicles.

    I attend as many events as I can in the North of England and photograph as many vehicles as I can on the showground. There are still old vehicles earning their keep on daily work, ‘asleep’ somewhere awaiting restoration, or abandoned to their fate.

    I have written lots of articles for club magazines and the commercial press and I am constantly being asked ‘will my truck be in?’

    Early August I attended the Trans Pennine Run 2017, this was the 49th event and over 200 entrants too part. I took over 300 photographs. I then have the task of editing and selecting vehicles for future articles. Having made a selection I have sent them off to club magazines and the monthly specialist magazines. Such articles are keenly awaited by the readers to see ‘if they are in.’

    So over the years I have amassed a collection of almost 20,000 photographs of buses, cars, and trucks, some black and white, pre-digital and digital. They are all categorised on my home computer.

     

    Classic Trucks 3 This is a 1976 Bedford TK horsebox, registered WSG 268R, in Edinburgh; an unusual vehicle, which was new to Scottish & Newcastle Brewery as a Chinese Six brewer’s dray. This means that a two-axle TK had been converted to a three-axle vehicle with twin-steering front two axles – not unusual for brewery delivery vehicles. The vehicle was restored by the present owner, James Leech & Co., with the third axle being removed and the vehicle fitted with a Jennings of Sandbach wooden horsebox. (Classic Trucks, Amberley Publishing)

    A further source, albeit rare, is finding an old album of black and white photographs at such places as antique fairs and flea markets. A recent find by me was an album of 80+ black and white photographs from the 50’s and 60’s. This was on a market stall at Todmorden, West Yorkshire. I paid £30 for them but well worth it for the pleasure they gave to lots of people who had the chance to see them. The ownership was unknown but they created a lot of interest and comment when scanned and published. It is always pleasing to be told ‘my dad drove one of them, or I worked on them for 40 years.’

    Having agreed with Amberley to write a book it was very difficult to make a selection of up to 210 photographs. I spent considerable time preparing a draft which I had to change a couple of times, also some pictures were not suitable for printing making a further reshuffle necessary. Eventually ‘bang on’ all was sent off and the show was on the road. A couple of proofs were read with minor alterations made then the long wait to publishing date. My only thought now the book has been done is that the contents will be appreciated and enjoyed by the reader.

    I now wish to thank all clubs, and event organisers for arranging classic events, also to vehicle owners and restorers for allowing us to enjoy them, and to all at Amberley books for putting the book together and making it happen!

    9781445674407

    Roy Dodsworth's book Classic Trucks is available for purchase now.

  • Photographing Models and Miniatures by Paul Brent Adams

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 2 Lledo RNLI Tyne Class lifeboat. This is a full hull model, and normally sits in a plastic cradle. Depicting such models in the water is more difficult than with waterline models, as the lower hull has to be hidden. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Once upon a time, model photography was hard work, and required some fairly sophisticated and expensive equipment, even for basic shots. This usually meant a 35 mm Single Lens Reflex camera. Today, a small and cheap digital compact camera is capable of producing high quality close-up photographs, without the need for any extra lenses or other special equipment. The cameras are highly automated, so you can leave the technical side of photography: aperture, exposure, etc, to the camera, and concentrate on composing the photographs.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 3 Corgi Aston Martin DB5 posed on a simple grass mat, sold in model shops. Features such as opening doors can be shown both open and closed. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Photographs can be taken against a plain background if you just want to catalogue your collection or sell online; or complete miniature worlds can be created for a more realistic look from a city street, to forests and mountains, or outer space. You can use readymade scenery items, or make your own, often using items that most people would throw away – used tealeaves are very versatile. As a modeller and collector, rather than a photographer, this is the part I enjoy the most – but even non-modellers can produce simple and cheap backgrounds and settings for their models. The photographs show some typical examples.

     

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 1 The Canon PowerShot A490 camera is so clever it can even take a self-portrait, with the aid of a mirror. The result will be a mirror image, but this can be flipped in an image-editing programme so everything is the right way round. The camera screws to the tripod, which is adjustable. The background is a large sheet of Woodland Scenics ReadyGrass grass mat. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    I only bought my first digital camera after my 35 mm film camera died, and I needed a replacement. I soon found how easy it was to use, much easier than a big 35 mm SLR. The most basic cameras may not have the features needed for close-up photography, but my Canon PowerShot A490 certainly does. You need the ability to focus on small items at close range; a socket for a tripod; a self-timer; and a modest zoom range. The small size and light weight of a digital compact also makes it easier to use in a limited space. The only extra equipment needed is a small tripod to hold the camera steady during the long exposure times often required in close-up work. Table-top tripods can be bought in any camera shop, and are not expensive. Get a good sturdy model, which will not tip over, even with the camera angled well down. If you do not have a tripod, just rest the camera on a block of wood.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 8 Even a very simple painted background makes this lion look more at home. A piece of coloured card is finished with streaks and blobs of green and brown paint. It is not intended to be anything specific, and a background such as this requires no painting skill at all. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Most of my working methods would probably appal real photography buffs, but I get the results I want, and have fun doing it. All my photographs are taken indoors, by a window, using natural light. This means I do not have to contend with the wind, or complicated lighting set-ups. With the light usually coming from only one direction, one side of the model is well lit, while the other side may be in shadow. A reflector – a simple piece of stiff white card – is used to bounce light back into the areas in shadow. This makes a surprising difference with many shots. Pressing the shutter can disturb the camera, even when it is mounted on a tripod. Using the self-timer means there is a slight delay between pressing the shutter, and taking the photograph, reducing the chances of camera shake. The A490 has two standard settings, or you can select your own – the two-second setting is fine. If you want your photos to have a 'period' look, the camera settings can be adjusted to take black and white or sepia shots. This suits some subjects more than others.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 14 The roadway is grey card, with the building sitting on a grass mat. The clouds are painted on blue card, using white and grey acrylic paints. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Over the years I have built up a collection of backgrounds and props for model photography. Some of these I have bought in model or toy shops; adapted from old toys or household items; built from kits; or made from odds and ends. One of the best general purpose backgrounds - suitable for most types of models - is a grass mat. Sold in model shops, this is a sheet of paper or plastic, covered with a grass-like material. Some brands do shed their 'grass' very quickly, but the American Woodland Scenics range is very good, and the sheets are available in a range of sizes, and grass shades. A piece of fine green material would be an alternative. Printed backscences are available in model railway shops, in a range of sizes. The ones I use are by the British company Peco. Even if you have no artistic skill you can still paint your own; fluffy white clouds can be dabbed onto a sheet of plain blue card with a sponge; or distant hills streaked on, again with a piece of sponge, using various shades of green. Model trees and loose 'clump foliage' can be bought in model shops, which is easier than making your own. These can help to disguise the transition between the three-dimensional foreground, and a two-dimensional background. One way to give the illusion of great depth to a scene is to place smaller scale models behind the main subject: being smaller they will appear to be further away. These are many simple tricks like this that can be used to make your photographs more realistic.

    At the end of each session, all my equipment has to be packed away in a drawer or cupboard, as I do not have a permanent photographic studio. All the photographs here were taken with this simple set-up. Photography does not need to be complicated and expensive; it can be simple, cheap, and fun.

    9781445662541

    Paul Brent Adams' book Photographing Models and Miniatures is available for purchase now.

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