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  • Bristol Omnibus Company by Stephen Dowle

    No. 2957 (977 DAE), a MW5G dating from 1959, was photographed at Lawrence Hill depot on Wednesday 26 March 1975. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The provincial "company" bus undertakings that merged into the Tilling and BET groups included many famous operators with interesting histories, but the Bristol Omnibus Co. was one of the largest and may perhaps be considered the most distinguished. One of the reasons for its eminence was that as well as operating buses it also constructed them, making its name familiar throughout the industry. The operating and construction divisions became separate concerns in 1955, a date which may be taken as the high water mark of the industry's prosperity.  Thus, when I joined the company as a humble conductor in 1970, it had already been in decline for some years.

    The twenty years that followed fell neatly into equal halves. During the first, old ways persisted and the company was still recognisably itself, operating a fleet of mainly Bristol-ECW manufacture. Time-honoured practices survived, the job's management structure was unchanged and many services continued little altered from the earliest days of the motor-bus. The one big upheaval of those early years was conversion to One-Man Operation (OMO) which, by 1980, was essentially complete. In that year the Market Analysis Project was undertaken. This sought to "identify future passenger needs" which, being interpreted, meant identifying loss-making services and getting rid of them. Everything began to change as the industry was slimmed down to make it a more attractive proposition for future privatisation. From 1986 buses would operate for profit, with loss-making services discontinued where the local authorities were unwilling to subsidise them. "Providing a public service" came to be a quaintly old-fashioned concept. When, in 1990, an opportunity arose to leave the job, I went like a flash.

    With FLFs now being withdrawn from the main fleet, No. L8537 (989 EHW) muat have been one of the last LDs to be converted to a driver trainer. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    But still, for students of the industry they were interesting times – though it was seldom possible to approve of the "interesting" developments. As the number of passengers dwindled year by year and fare increases came barely months apart, the company's activities contracted: service frequencies were reduced, the fleet became smaller, buildings were vacated and depots closed.  In the eternal cycle of any fleet, elderly vehicles were retired and, like mushrooms springing up overnight, long lines of their shiny replacements, reeking of fresh paint, appeared in the yard of the company's main depot and Central Repair Works at Lawrence Hill. It was the impending disappearance of the handsome Bristol KSW, a favourite type of mine since boyhood, when I'd been a notebook-carrying "bus spotter" that first prompted me to take a few commemorative photographs. Finding myself suddenly a driver not long afterwards re-ignited my schoolboy interest in the subject. The photographs in this book date from this period – roughly the second half of the 1970s – before the developments mentioned above killed my enthusiasm.

    There was plenty to keep my camera busy. At the beginning of the period covered in the book the last rear-entrance buses in the fleet were being withdrawn, but the coming of OMO implied the disappearance of all traditional front-engined, half-cab buses operated by two-man crews.  As the period closed the company was persuaded of the need for more buses with high seating capacities – which essentially meant double-deckers – and many fewer small single-deckers. For the time being the short-wheelbase REs and their dual-door longer brethren continued to pound the tarmac: it was not foreseen that they would all be gone in a couple of years, well before their time. The LH-type would also disappear, with some examples disposed of after not much more than a year's service.

    Gardner-engined LD No. L8394 (WHY 947) had been new in 1956 and was withdrawn on the last day of 1972. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    On Saturdays, when Lawrence Hill's yard was deserted, I sometimes took my camera to work in search of any photo-worthy behind-the-scenes subject, not neglecting the interesting "works" fleet. In 1977 I transferred to Bristol's bus station – as a depot known as Marlborough Street – where routes and fleet were more varied. Viewed through my customary rose-tinted spectacles, the few years that followed return to me as a time of lost enchantment. Although somewhat reduced since the company's great days, the network of rural services that spread out from Bristol was still substantially intact. Beneath the Cotswold Hills, in the Vale of Berkeley or the Chew Valley, little-frequented routes linked villages to their nearest towns; buses called at roadside shelters half drowned in nettles and cow parsley to pick up farmers' wives, or at lonely crossroads where, at the gates of their cottages, old ladies waited, clutching their shopping bags. With hindsight it should have been obvious that these things were at an end. I am grateful that I was in time to experience them during their final years. They have endured with a kind of super-reality in my memory. I was happy but, of course, didn't realise it at the time.

    My tireless camera sometimes accompanied me if I was due to work some obscure service or there was the promise of an interesting vehicle, such as one of the dwindling number of five-cylinder MWs, an "upgraded" LS-type, or one of the vile early LHs the company had acquired second-hand from another National Bus Company subsidiary, Alder Valley. These, with the photographs taken on company premises and others I took "out of uniform" in my spare time, form the basis of my book. I have tried to provide informative captions, giving more that the bare details of bus, location and date. The introduction gives a more complete account of my association with the company. The book covers the last phase of this distinguished company's long existence, before it changed into something different and was broken up into "operating units" to be sold piecemeal into private ownership.

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

  • Nursing Churchill by Jill Rose

    Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse

    Doris receives her Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing from Miss Ruth Derbyshire, Head of the British Rad Cross and a former Matron of St Mary's Hospital, while the current Matron, Miss Mary Milne, looks. on. (Courtesy of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust Archives, Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    My mother, Doris Miles, was a nurse at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington during the war.  In February 1943, at a critical time in the conflict, the 68-year-old Prime Minister Winston Churchill was stricken with pneumonia. His personal physician Sir Charles Wilson, Dean of St Mary's Hospital Medical School, asked the hospital to send their very best nurse to take care of his illustrious patient. Doris was the recent winner of the prestigious Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing and the daughter of a former Dean who had been once Sir Charles's mentor, so she was the obvious choice.

    I've lived abroad almost all of my adult life, and 'What did you do in the war?' was seldom a topic of conversation on my visits home. It wasn't until 2001 that I discovered that Mum still had in her possession a cache of letters that she had written to her husband Roger (my father-to-be) while he was serving as a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Navy during the war. The correspondence covers her time nursing Churchill, as well as her life in London in the preceding months and immediately afterwards, and forms the core of my book Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse.

    Doris was on night duty, and she and Churchill would talk in the wee hours. On February 23rd she wrote to Roger:

    Been having a long chat with the old boy, he’s been telling me his daily habits, did you know that he stays in bed until 12, sleeps from 3 to 5, never goes anywhere before 5, and never goes to bed before 2. What a man. He also tells me that he hates cigars, and never smokes more than a quarter of one! (Believe that or not). We have also discussed the progress of the war and the Beveridge Report, give me a little time and he’ll get my views on the Rushcliffe Report on Nursing! 

    The signed photography that Winston Churchill gave to Doris, March 1943. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    During the PM's convalescence at Chequers in March, Doris had to cajole him to take his medicine or do his breathing exercises, matching her own strong will against his. At 1 a.m. she wrote,

    'I’m just pushing back hot coffee and biscuits, while waiting for the Patient to finish his whiskey and come and do his exercises before going to bed. There’s going to be trouble over the said exercises I foresee!  As I was away this afternoon he’s only done one lot today, and he will argue – quite rightly – that 1:30 a.m. is not the time to be doing exercises. I wonder who will win – somehow I don’t feel much like arguing tonight'.

    Her letter continues a few hours later: 'Well I won the argument and the exercises were duly performed. As a matter of fact it wasn’t an argument at all, I just said, “you’ve got to do some more exercises”, and he said, “no I won’t, I’m too tired”. So I said no more, and in about five minutes, during which time I did my best to look reproachful, he said, “Oh well, if you want to we’d better do them”. If I wanted to!!  Anyway they were done'.

    Doris and the others in his medical team saw the Prime Minister in a uniquely intimate and vulnerable position. She became very fond of him, despite his many idiosyncrasies. She had been told by Sir Charles at the outset, 'I must warn you, Nurse, the Prime Minister doesn't wear pyjamas', and indeed he didn't, preferring a natty little silk vest which barely covered his bottom,  a velvet jacket with a diamond V on the lapel, and slippers of velvet with 'PM' embroidered on the front.

    Doris and Roger at St. Peter's Church, Vere Street, 8 January 1942. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    As well as the perceptive and amusing descriptions of her time with the ailing Prime Minister, the letters paint a vivid picture of wartime life in a major London hospital. And it's also a poignant love story; Doris and Roger had been married just a few weeks when he went to sea in early 1942, and their relationship grew through their correspondence.

    As I transcribed my mother's letters in 2001, I would ask her about the people and events she had written about, although she was 85 by then and her memory was fading. My father had died of Parkinson's disease in 1990 so there was no one else to ask. There were no letters from Dad, and I wondered what had happened to his replies. Mum couldn't remember when they had disappeared; they must have been cleared out during one of the family's several post-war moves, she said with obvious regret.

    I put the letters away for the next 15 years, and didn't think much more about them until after my mother's death in November 2016, at the age of 100. Re-reading them in the spring of 2017, I was struck again by what a great story this was, and I felt sure that there would be considerable interest in a book.

    Fortunately the editors at Amberley Publishing agreed. I contracted to write an additional 50,000 words about the war, Churchill and my family to put the letters into their historical context.

    My sister still has my mother's old photo albums and quite a lot of parental memorabilia, as well as the original letters. However, once I got started on the book, I realised that there is so much more that I could have and should have asked my parents. I wish I had talked more to Mum about her letters when I first came across them. Dad rarely talked about his wartime experiences, but I think he would have elaborated if only I had shown more interest. When I was a teenager my Granny told me many stories about her eventful life, but I was young and, like all teens, very much wrapped up in my own concerns, so I didn't take much of it in and now only a few tattered, tantalising scraps of memories remain.

    Winston and Clementine Churchill returning to 10 Downing Street, June 1943. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    I had a pretty clear idea in my head of what I needed to write the book. To fill in the details and the gaps in my research I contacted several experts, and I was touched by their enthusiasm for my project and their willingness to share their time and expertise with me. The well-known historian Andrew Roberts wrote a very complimentary endorsement. I sent a copy of the manuscript to Emma Soames, and she contributed a lovely Foreword, way beyond my expectations. I'm so grateful for the generosity of these kind and helpful people.

    Doris writes about colleagues and friends at St Mary's, several of whom remained life-long friends, and I had great pleasure making contact with the children of some of them, including John and David Suchet, and pooling our recollections of our parents.

    I spent hours hunched over my computer digging around in the historical records, and found lots of information about my grandparents and great-grandparents. Not all of my research is directly included in the text, of course. However, all of it has added to the richness of the back-story and I believe my book is the better for it. Everything that I have learned and discovered has greatly enhanced my knowledge of my family, the circumstances into which I was born, and contributed to my personal journey.

    Doris was on duty at St Mary's Hospital during the terrible nights of the Blitz in the Fall of 1940 as the victims of the bombing were brought into the operating theatre. Working alongside her was the handsome Casualty Officer Roger Miles. They fell in love and were married on January 8, 1942.  It was just over a year later that Doris received the fateful summons from Sir Charles Wilson to attend the Prime Minister.

    Nursing Winston Churchill in February and March of 1943 was a defining experience in my mother's long life. She lived to be a hundred years old, and by the end of her life she could remember very little of her past, but she still knew that she had once been Churchill's nurse.

    Jill Rose's new book Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse is available for purchase now.

  • Ham & Petersham Through Time by Paul Howard Lang

    Ferry to Twickenham - The ferry crossing gave access to the nearby Ham House and had existed at this spot from the late seventeenth century. (Ham & Petersham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Ham and Petersham have such a large concentration of historically significant houses that I felt they needed to be better known. This was one of the leading factors that encouraged me to research these areas. There are relatively few books on these parishes compared to other parts of the London borough of Richmond upon Thames.

    Ham House being a National Trust property has a high profile and is well known, but to a certain degree some of the other houses in the vicinity have been overshadowed and their importance, I think, needs to be highlighted.

    Star & Garter Hotel - Stands at the north-east extremity of Petersham, on the boundary with Richmond. (Ham & Petersham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Some extremely distinguished persons resided in both Ham and Petersham, for example Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798) the famous navigator, lived in Petersham at Glen Cottage in River Lane and he was buried in St Peter’s churchyard not that far away from where he lived. Vancouver died tragically young at the age of forty so it is remarkable that he achieved so much in such a relatively short span of time. The house that he lived in ‘The Glen’ dates to the 1670s, so is far older than appearances would indicate. It is very likely that Vancouver wrote his seminal work at this house ‘Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific and Round the World’.

    Another famous name linked to Petersham was that of Charles Dickens who resided at Elm Lodge, and periodically took his friends for various celebrations to the Star and Garter Hotel. No doubt he would have gone for long recreational walks around Petersham, which would have been far more rural at that time than it is now.

    Montrose House, Petersham Road - Named after Caroline Maria, Dowager Duchess of Montrose who resided here from 1836 until her death in 1847, the property actually dates back to the late seventeenth century. (Ham & Petersham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister from 1846-52 and from 1865-66, lived at Pembroke Lodge in Petersham and died at the lodge on the 28th May 1878.

    As regards to Ham, the writer Miss Hesba Stretton, who contributed stories to Dickens’ ‘Household Words’ and to ‘All the Year Round’, lived at the Little House on Ham Common from 1891 until her death in 1911.

    As to more contemporary persons of note, Tommy Steele, the well-known pop star of the late 1950s and early 1960s lived at Montrose House. Many people associate this house with Tommy Steele, but there have been other distinguished residents before his occupancy. The Dowager Duchess of Montrose lived here from 1836-1847, the house being named after her.

    I have also included some rare photographs of the gravestones and memorial slabs of famous dignitaries buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s church. These include the Berry sisters, Agnes and Mary, who were friends with Horace Walpole and another notable person is Theodora Jane Cowper, the cousin of the famous poet William Cowper (1731-1800).

    Hornby & Clarke's Milking Sheds, River Lane. (Ham & Petersham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The book also portrays an unusual plaque in St Andrew’s Church in Ham of the Australian explorer Edward Boradaile (1845-1874) who it is believed perished of starvation whilst trying to reach Port Essington in the Northern Territories. A mountain in Australia was subsequently named after him.

    Some rare photographs never published before are shown in the book, in particular, the view of the back of the cottages in the Petersham Road taken in the 1950s. Also the schoolhouses in Ham Street which date to the 1840s and to my knowledge have not been researched before.

    The book also contains photographs highlighting Petersham’s agricultural past, notably, Walnut Gathering, Petersham with Richmond Bridge in the Distance and Haymaking in Petersham, 1890. There are two nostalgic photographs of Hornby and Clarke’s dairy, one depicting the milking sheds along River Lane, which no longer exist and another showing some of the employees with milking stools and containers. Hornby and Clarke’s dairy was in business from 1870 until 1935 and they grazed their herd on Petersham Meadows.

    I hope this book will show that despite the inevitable changes that the 21st century has brought to Ham and Petersham, both have, fortunately, retained something of their former rural identities and that many of the important houses have survived and have important histories to divulge.

    Paul Howard Lang's new book Ham & Petersham Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Northampton Buses by John Evans

    Northampton buses in Wellingborough Road in the 1960s. (Author's collection, Northampton Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    We hear a lot about classic car and railway preservation. But buses? Not so much. After all, why would anyone dig deep into their pockets to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds and preserve that most humble of transport vehicles, an old bus?

    Yet in recent years there has been a flurry of restorations. Take John Child’s perfectly-restored wartime Daimler, for example, which spent all its working life on the streets of Northampton in the 1940s and 1950s. Eventually No. 129 made its last melancholy journey, along with several others, to a Cambridgeshire scrapyard run by Romany bus breaker Joe Hunt.

    John Child's Daimler No. 129 sleeps away in Joe Hunt's scrapyard, with sister No. 136 behind. Both would escape to live new lives. (c. John Child, Northampton Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    For some reason Joe decided not to cut up these vehicles. So for thirty years they sat in his yard, most of them exposed to the wind and rain, gradually deteriorating and robbed of parts. Old No. 129, however, led a more charmed life, as it had been stored under cover.  It eventually emerged, battered and bruised yet still restorable, to win a place in the heart of Mr. Child. He acquired it in 2000 and with the help of a team in Lincolnshire, lovingly brought it back to life.

    John Child is not alone. One other Northampton bus, No. 146, in much worse condition, was also rescued from Joe’s yard and beautifully restored. Others were bought direct from Northampton Transport in the 1970s by enthusiasts.  And No. 154, a 1947-built training vehicle kept at St. James’s Garage after retirement from everyday service, found its way into preservation when it was used to promote the opening of a new bus station. Yet another Northampton bus, No. 267, was the very last open platform, front engine bus delivered in the UK, and also survives. These were the last buses that needed a conductor and driver.

    Refugees from Hunt's yard reunited; John Child's wonderful wartime Daimler No. 129, restored to pristine condition with the correct adverts on the side, is seen in Northampton with Crossley No. 146. (c. John Child, Northampton Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    With so many old Northampton buses winning the hearts of enthusiasts, it might be thought that the town had one of the more important bus fleets in the country. Not so. But it was one of the more interesting. For a start it was very late making the change to one-man operation (one person these days, of course). Under Deputy Transport Manager Ken Dyer, Northampton Corporation also maintained its buses to a very high standard – by the late 1960s the town had 70 almost identical Daimler vehicles still with conductors and gleaming in pristine vermilion red.

    Recently, a few of them have returned annually to ply the streets of the town, bringing enjoyment to those with long memories and enlightenment to younger passengers. They are as important a part of the town’s transport heritage as the corporation’s old Allchin steam roller, the tram shelters at the White Elephant and Cock Hotel or old photos of Castle station.

    A new life for a Northampton CVG6 - still resplendent in its immaculate Northampton livery, No. 258 has been converted to the Bowland Brewery bus bar. (c. Paul Brookfield, www.flickr.com/photos/lancashire, Northampton Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Look around the town today and deregulation of bus operations has led to a delightful array of companies and liveries. Your bus may be a pink double-decker or a red, white and blue single deck vehicle; it will have a hi-tech destination panel visible a hundred yards away.  But enthusiasts long for the old days, when route 14 meandered all over the town to get to Kenmuir Avenue, on a cold day a piece of cardboard would be shoved down the front of the radiator grill to keep the engine warm and on a hot one the driver would leave the sliding cab door open to stay cool.

    Researching my new book on Northampton Buses for Amberley was very much a labour of love.  I started with old town records, made a nuisance of myself with the very helpful team in Northampton Public Library’s local history team and was given free access to all the photos stored by the Northampton Chronicle and Echo. I also had hours of fun sorting and scanning the dozens of colour pictures I took of Northampton buses in the 1960s. Even now I cannot quite remember why I took so many.

    Meanwhile, I’m off for a pint served from Northampton bus No. 258. Did I mention it has been perfectly restored – as a bus bar?

    John Evans new book Northampton Buses is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh at Work by Malcolm Fife

    Edinburgh owes its existence to the Castle Rock, which could easily be defended. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There have been untold numbers of books on the history of Edinburgh. Few of them, however, have been devote to the City’s economy and industries. My book, ‘Edinburgh at Work’ should go some way to remedy this situation. Its development was very much bound up with the skills of its tradesmen and the enterprises of its merchants. There is evidence that the inhabitants of the region traded with the Romans when they built their fort at Cramond, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.

    In the early Middle Ages a small town grew up in the shadow of the Castle which was perched on a rocky hill. Although Edinburgh had yet to become the official capital of Scotland, its kings often resided in its Castle or at the important abbey of Holyrood. This created a demand for luxury items some of which were manufactured locally by craftsman living in the town. Others, particularly wine from France were imported through the nearby port of Leith. Over the centuries Edinburgh’s merchants built up considerable fortunes. They often acted as an early form of bankers lending out their money for business ventures or the purchase of land.

     

    In the days before steam, watermills were the main source of power for driving industrial machinery. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Towards the end of the 16th century a university was established setting Edinburgh on course to be an important centre of learning. It was also becoming an important legal centre with numerous lawyers among its inhabitants. The thirst for knowledge and the demand for legal documents   gave rise to a flourishing printing industry. The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 were a setback for this as well as the development of the City. The King and his court moved to London taking with it their considerable spending power. The Scottish Parliament, however, remained in Edinburgh which somewhat cushioned the economic blow.

    The 17th century also saw the introduction of new skills such as watchmaking and the manufacture of surgical instruments. One of the first attempts to produce beer on a large scale was undertaken by an Englishman who built a new brewery at Yardheads, Leith. The prosperity of Edinburgh was dealt a further blow with the Act of Union in 1707 with an exodus of numerous members of the aristocracy to England.

    Towards the latter part of the 18th century, the City experienced a period of unprecedented expansion. It broke free of the confines its old town walls with the construction of the New Town. This created work for thousands of stone masons and artisans. Large quarries, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, were opened up on the edge of Edinburgh to supply building material. With many of the well to do now living in spacious houses there was more room for household items such as furniture. Large numbers of women found employment as maids looking after the new residences. Horse drawn coaches began to appear on the streets in increasing numbers. Many were built locally. Such was the reputation of their quality that many were exported overseas.

    Statue of James Young Simpson in West Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh also had a booming textile industry manufacturing woollen goods and high quality linen items. With the Agriculture Revolution taking place in the surrounding countryside numerous former farm labourers made their way to Edinburgh in search of employment. Many were unsuccessful and had to resort to begging.

    The coming of the railways in the mid-19th century had a profound effect on the way Edinburgh developed. Up until that point many of its industries such as paper making were concentrated along the Water of Leith their machinery driven by mill wheels. Coal now became the main source of power and industries now became concentrated next to railway tracks particularly in the vicinity of Haymarket and Gorgie.

    Brewing which had first been practiced by the monks at Holyrood now became one of Edinburgh’s most important economic activities. By 1896 of the ninety nine breweries in Scotland, thirty one were located in Edinburgh. Another more recent industry which Edinburgh became noted for was the manufacture of biscuits. The well-known firm McVitie’s started life in a shop in Rose Street in 1830. Somewhat unusually, the City also became a noted centre for the manufacture of rubber goods including Wellington boots. This was due more to a quirk in the patenting of certain forms of rubber manufacture than to any natural advantages of the location.

     

    The Tennent Caledonian Brewery at Roseburn in the mid-1980s. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh had the distinction of having a higher proportion of professional workers than most other cities in Victorian times. It had risen to become the most important financial centre in Britain outside London. Several banks had their head offices here as did numerous insurance companies. With the growing availability of consumer goods in the 20th century, Edinburgh became an important retail centre serving south east Scotland. Princes Street was home to many well-known department stores some of which were household names. There were also thousands of small shops scattered across the City. In the early 20th century, the manufacture of electrical goods such as refrigerators and radios became increasingly important activity in southern England. Edinburgh was initially slow to adopt these new innovative industries tending to rely on its traditional activities.

    During the Second World War, however, Ferranti established a factory to manufacture gun sights for Spitfires. By the 1960s it had become the City’s largest employer manufacturing radar and missile guidance systems. The long established industries, however, such as brewing and the printing of books at this point in time continued to flourish. The situation changed drastically as the 20th century drew to a close. International competition and the mergers between many long established companies saw the almost total extinction of the important brewing, biscuit and printing industries. Many other once important sources of employment also suffered including food processing and engineering.

    Construction cranes in the centre of Edinburgh at sunset. With a booming financial sector there is a constant demand for new offices. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh, however, successfully adopted to meet these new challenges. The growth of the tourist industry and associated services has more than compensated for the loss of jobs in other sectors with some 30,000 jobs now depending on it.  Edinburgh is the second choice for foreign visitors as a destination to visit after London. It has also become an important destination for cruise ships.

    Another major source of employment is the financial sector which has a long legacy in Edinburgh. It is second only importance to that of London and is of international importance. The Royal Bank of Scotland has its headquarters, close to the airport and new financial institutions are also well represented including Tesco Bank. Digital technology now plays a vital role in financial transactions. Edinburgh has gained a reputation a reputation as a driving force in the evolution of the fintech sector which includes e-commerce and mobile banking.

    By 2017 Edinburgh had over 25,000 people working within the digital sector and the number of software companies number over 100, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in Britain. The City’s overall place as a centre of learning has also continued to grow in importance. A hundred years ago there was only one university. The number has now increased to four. The 82,000 university and college students drawn from numerous countries across the world provide a major stimulus for the local economy with their demand for accommodation and services. In 2017 one survey named Edinburgh the best city in Britain to launch a business. It ranked ahead of London, Bristol and Glasgow because of its ‘speedy internet connections, reasonable office rent and a host of university graduates’.

    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History by Carol McNeill

    The three-masted Lord Gambier, built in Newcastle, was one of the Kirkcaldy whaling ships. (c. Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy harbour has a long and fascinating history, and as a local history researcher and author I’m surprised at myself for taking so long to start tracing its background!

    Its recorded history goes all the way back to the 16th century when James V of Scotland sailed from Kirkcaldy to France with seven ships to collect his French teenage bride, Madeleine de Valois, in 1536. It was also the last place that the Marquis of Montrose saw before he was taken to Edinburgh to be executed for treason in 1650.

    Kirkcaldy captains and seafarers led adventurous and dangerous lives; it seemed to be all in a day’s work to sail to the continent and indeed as far as Russia on trade missions.

    Elise Schulte was one of the huge ships to transport grain in the 1950s to what was then Hutchison's flour mill. (c.Tom Mutch, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    There was also a whaling fleet of several ships which sailed to the Arctic for the lucrative trade in whale oil and meat: an uncomfortable period to read about now but it was of its time, and has to be recorded. It was also a dangerous business for the captains and crew, when the whaling ships became stuck in the polar ice for weeks on end until the spring came. With the extreme conditions and rations fast running out, there was a high mortality rate and no opportunity even to bury the men whose bodies could only be placed overboard on the thick ice.

    But there were easier aspects to research; in particular, the grand houses belonging to ships’ captains and owners which overlooked the harbour – three of which have escaped the developers and have been restored to their former glory with intricate panelling and plasterwork revealed.

    Nairn's canvas factory was built right opposite the harbour. (c. Kirkcaldy Galleries, Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History, Amberley Publishing)

    I had a tremendous stroke of good fortune and unlooked for assistance in writing this book, when I was handed the copy of a memoir with first hand reminiscences of life at Kirkcaldy harbour in the early 18th century. It contained interviews with ship owners and captains and included actual eye witness accounts of John Paul Jones’ American ships threatening Kirkcaldy: The ships were so close to the shore that we could see they were Dutch built, and that those on board were wearing red shirts.  The local minister prayed for the wind to change direction; it did, and the ships were blown off course and away from Fife.  It also recorded the time when a local ship sailed to Russia, probably for the flax trade, which was a fairly regular occurrence. On this occasion however, the captain was met on the quayside and told that since he had left his home port, their two countries were at war, and he and his crew were put under house arrest. The captain had been prepared to give the Russian officers some liquor which he had brought specially from Scotland: but when he was met with this news, he promptly asked the officers for his bottles back!

    Now the only ships which come into our harbour are the long low grain ships servicing the huge flour mill; if it weren’t for that very welcome commerce, no doubt the harbour would now have been completely shut down and remain just a fond memory.

    Carol McNeill's new book Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of South-West Wales by Geoff Brookes

    The selection of places for this book was very hard to make – of course it was. It is such a wonderful part of the country, full of beauty, history and mystery, and there are always discoveries to be made, always hidden pleasures to unearth. Writing this book has given me the perfect excuse to wander around these beautiful and much-loved locations, and also some which I hope are less familiar but equally deserving of your attention. Because wherever you stop, if you pause and look around, you will find a ‘gem’. That is the point of the book: to urge you get out of the car and be a part of the countryside you see around you. It is hard to think of anywhere richer in history and beauty, more appealing than South West Wales. So here’s a gem to get you intrigued.

    The Church of St Brynach. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of South-West Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    Cwm yr Eglwys

    The Royal Charter Storm

    This is a real gem, an enchanting place forever touched by the sea. It is on the eastern side of Dinas Head facing Newport Bay. You need to leave the A487 between Fishguard and Newport and take the signposted road east of Dinas Cross to Cwm yr Eglwys. The narrow road drops down for around a mile and you will see the superb views to your right that are the reason for your journey. You can park easily close to the beach where you will find safe bathing and easy access to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

    It has a very sheltered position and reputedly has its own warmer microclimate. At the end of the nineteenth century it was claimed that no one in Cwm yr Eglwys died under eighty. It is an achingly pretty place and yet carries within it a striking reminder of the brutality of the sea.

     

    The model of a cwm trader, a coastal trading vessel, at the entrance to the churchyard. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of South-West Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    Above the beach and behind the sea wall you can see all that remains of the twelfth-century Church of St Brynach. The rest of it was washed away in the enormous storm of October 1859, a hurricane in which 133 ships were wrecked and ninety were badly damaged. It became known as the ‘Royal Charter Storm’ when the ship The Royal Charterreturning from Australia to Liverpool was wrecked off Anglesey and at least 450 people died. The hurricane ravaged the whole of the west coast and Cwm yr Eglwys did not escape. There had previously been storm damage in 1850 and 1851 but nothing like this. A storm surge 15 feet above normal high water carried away the side wall and roof of St Brynach, ‘together with a wide slice of the churchyard’. A witness interviewed in 1897 remembered that ‘human remains in large quantity’ were exposed as the earth was washed away. She saw the coffins of the vicar’s six dead children exhumed by the waves and carried out to sea. Two ships were lost in the bay and eight bodies were subsequently washed ashore or recovered from the cliffs.

    The ruins stood until 1880 when they were demolished, leaving just the end wall of the chapel you can see. The sea wall was built in 1882 to serve ‘as a rampart resisting the devastating inroads made by the sullen sea’. The churchyard is now an attractive grassed area ideal for picnics, and it is hard to equate what you see now with the terrible devastation the village and the church once suffered.

    You can use the postcode SA42 0SJ to find Cwm yr Eglwys. The sea has never needed any help to find it.

    Geoff Brookes new book 50 Gems of South-West Wales is available for purchase now.

  • National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986 by Michael Hitchen

    Crosville G581, HFM 581D, Wrexham Garage. (National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986, Amberley Publishing)

    In the Summer of 1978 my brother took me on one of our many train trips around the North West, on this occasion to nearby Chester, it was there outside a travel agents in Foregate Street that I caught sight of a Crosville Morris Marina van, painted leaf green with bold white lettering, matching the local bus company. At that moment a lifelong interest was born! Few enthusiasts at the time paid any attention to the non-PSV parts of a bus fleet, but unexplainably I found this, hitherto unknown, part of the fleet fascinating.

    The now long gone, state owned, National Bus Company was at its peak the largest bus company in the world, alongside the well documented and photographed bus and coach, every fleet contained another fleet, known as the ‘Service Fleet’. Here were the company owned vans, Lorries, towing vehicles, trainers and other non-PSV vehicles. Finding information and photographs of these overlooked vehicles was at the time nearly impossible! Some NBC subsidiaries occasionally published details, but this tended to be the exception not the rule. Therefore it was a task of collating details from wherever they could be found, fortunately in the case of my local company ‘Crosville’ it published official fleet lists and included details of such vehicles. Possibly had they not I may have not pursued this interest?

    So what of the books content? Often a former bus, in the form of trainer or converted towing vehicle, for obvious reasons, appealed to the camera of the enthusiast at the time, but not surprisingly commercial vehicles, in a period when every view was limited to that of a roll of film, were often ignored. Never the less I have strived to include a selection of vans, Lorries and even Land Rovers.

    National Welsh E1060, t/p 331 AX, Aberdare Garage, April 1983. (National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986, Amberley Publishing)

    Sadly the organisation that interested me so much became victim of the erstwhile governments’ dogmatic drive to privatise state run assets, with no long term view as to the outcome. The National Bus Company has now not existed for more than 30 years, meaning it been gone longer than it existed in its corporate form. Much contained within will be familiar to many readers, but it is sobering that much can also be viewed as historical information.

    I have compiled this book with a hope to illustrate a cross section of the vehicles used. Over the corporate period, which only lasted 14 years, the 34 subsidiary companies of the NBC must have operated thousands of vehicles, many of which I imagine no photographs now exist at all. We must all thank the photographers that made the effort to capture these humble Service Vehicles!

    It was by sheer coincidence that I had reached a point where my research had grown to the point where I was considering a book, when approached by the publisher! This will be the first time a work has been published dedicated solely to the National Bus Companies Service Vehicles, and I am grateful to the publishers for support a fairly obscure study, and all the individuals who kindly allowed their photos to be included, their generosity has allowed that extra level of detail and depth I wanted to convey.

    Michael Hitchen's new book National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986 is available for purchase now.

  • Preston at Work by Keith Johnson

    The ancient craft of clog making. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If you should stroll along Fishergate on a typical working day you would see window cleaners, street cleaners, traffic wardens, telephone engineers, postal workers, security staff, a busker or two, or a person selling copies of the Big Issue. Enter premises along that highway and you can observe travel agents, waitresses and waiters, bank clerks, shop assistants, hairdressers, barbers, perfumers, newsagents, pharmacists, beauticians, jewellers, estate agents, insurance agents, booksellers, mobile phone providers, greeting card sellers and confectioners all busily doing a day's work. They are all earning a living and are part of Preston's working life.

    Richard Arkwright and John Horrocks developed the cotton trade industry. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Many trades and professions have ancient origins and many more have been created for a modern age. My latest book Preston at Work traces life back to days of yore when Preston was described as an elegant and economical market town remarkable for the gentility of its inhabitants. It is abundantly clear that Preston folk have been at work here and did create, in the Georgian era, a cotton town. The city of Preston is at the very heart of Lancashire and over the last 250 years has been transformed from a market town into a University City, embracing the Industrial Revolution on the way.

    Far-sighted and ambitious speculators built the factories, warehouses and workshops in Preston. Impressive engineering works soon followed, either to serve the cotton trade or to pioneer advancements in other industries. Ideas and inspiration have never been lacking in Preston and we can be proud of what was produced. The engineering skills forged in Victorian days led to knowledge that enabled the town to trade in worldwide markets with products proudly made in Preston; from tramcars to railway engines, from pioneering aircraft to jet planes, from knitting machines to printing presses, and from lorries to motor cars.

    Horrockses Fashion advert, 1955. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston also displayed the desire and determination to produce the essentials of life with factories and production lines for a variety of goods including soap, tobacco, gold thread, chocolates, cigarettes, light bulbs, slippers and even biscuits.

    We can marvel at the achievements of the civil engineers who have been constantly at work making a town into a city for an ever increasing population. The old toll roads have given way to multi lane highways and motorways with links to industrial estates and shopping centres on the outskirts of the city. Within the city centre the factory chimneys and the engineering workshops are fewer now having given way to retail outlets, office blocks and towering apartment blocks for students. Even a port was created here for ships laden with cargo and canals and railways essential to progress were laid.

    Preston remains at the centre of administration for the county and commerce and legislation sustain the employment of many. Solicitors, barristers, lawyers and attorneys still practice in the city as they did generations ago along with their clerical and legal assistants. Money matters are still dealt with in the city with banks and building societies aplenty particularly on Fishergate.

    A reminder of the Gold Thread days on Avenham Road. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Our ever expanding education system not only provides places of learning with teachers and academics, but is also a source of much employment for local folk. Whilst our hospitals and clinics are supported not only by doctors and nurses, but by many care workers too. If we should need to call 999 for the emergencies in our lives we can call on police officers, firefighters and medics to assist us.

    This book also takes a glimpse at the days when there were tea merchants, who shipped and blended their own product; provision dealers, who salted and cured Lancashire hams, reared and fed within a few miles of the town. Bootmakers who could produce a pair of real leather boots throughout by hand, soft and pliable, that clung to the foot like a glove. Tailors, livery coat makers, tinkers, and brawny blacksmiths have all forged a living here too.

    You or your ancestors may have clocked on at Dilworth & Carr, Goss Foster, English Electric, Drydens, Simpson's Gold Thread Works, Horrockses, Courtaulds, Siemens Lamp Works, Tulketh Mill, Atkinsons Vehicles, Sharps Commercials or Beeches Chocolate factory and played a part in their story. You may have been employed at County Hall, or the Town Hall, or by Preston Corporation or been amongst the army of retail workers at the Co-op, Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco and Morrisons and contributed to their tale.

    There are many things we take for granted today such as lighting, heating and fresh water supplies, yet it has not always been the case. This journey through Preston's working life takes us from the cotton trade, through the days from paraffin lamps to electric light bulbs, from steam power to nuclear energy, all of which met with the endurance needed to progress in Preston.

    Royal Mail sorting office, 1935. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston has had down the decades quite a few industrial duos whose names have been etched into the city's history. Dick & Kerr, Dilworth & Carr, Gregson & Monk, Vernon & Carus, Cooper & Tullis, Dorman & Smith, the Atkinson brothers and of course the Horrocks brothers, John & Samuel, who all contributed to the progress of Preston.

    Indeed, since the Georgian days Preston folk have embraced and endured the developments of the industrial age, and been swept along on the tide of change into the world of technology in which we now live. For successive generations the evolving world has brought many differing challenges that would have left our ancestors bewildered and baffled.

    Generations of Preston workers can be rightly proud of their contribution to society and to the way they have confronted the challenges of earning a living willingly. Working for the common good was reflected by Preston born poet Robert Service when he penned the following verse in his poem 'I Believe'.

    It's my belief that every man

    Should do his share of work,

    And in our economic plan

    No citizen should shirk.

    That in return each one should get

    His meed of fold and food,

    And feel that all his toil and sweat

    Is for the common good.

    Preston Dock workers, 1961. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It is apparent that great strides have been made and adversity overcome to accommodate a population that is nowadays over 140,000.  Preston folk have achieved many great things for the benefit of all.  They showed great loyalty to their employers many of whom acquired great riches with their investment in local people. The cotton masters have now gone and the corporate bodies rule the world of work. Yet still there are enterprising individuals who create companies for the benefit of all.

    Hopefully, this peep through the lives of the Preston workers down the years will leave you in admiration for their achievements. No doubt they stuck to their tasks despite the troubles and strife that they faced, thus ensuring we have a thriving enterprising city to dwell within. They took pride in their work for which we can be eternally grateful.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston at Work is available for purchase now.

  • St Albans in 50 Buildings by Kate Morris

    St Peter's Church. (Kari Lungaard, St Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Patronal saint’s day in St Albans – Albantide 2018

    22nd June, the height of midsummer, is the day on which the Feast of St Alban is celebrated, and celebrated it is, in a big way, in the town named for that saint, which grew on the site of the execution of Alban, the first recorded British Christian martyr.

    The Alban Pilgrimage will take place in 2018 on Saturday 23rd June, culminating in a re-enactment of the execution of that citizen of Verulamium on the hill overlooking the Roman city in the 4th century. The spot is outside the West End of the modern cathedral and the drama will be followed by a Festival Eucharist in the church. The procession begins at St Peter’s Church at the northern end of the town and makes its way through the market area to the Cathedral and Abbey Church, which began its life as a shrine to the martyr on the site of his execution.

    This celebration and festival day is truly of national significance for the culture of this island, given the impact of the event on the development of Christianity in Britain. Locally, the procession is a highlight of the community year, with the multitude of twelve feet tall carnival puppets depicting the saint, Roman soldiers, lions, gladiators, horse drawn chariots, played by 300 or so adults and children.

    Rebuilt in the 12th century by the Norman invaders, the abbey was all but destroyed completely in 1539 following Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries. Only the abbey church and the great gateway entrance survived, having been bought by the newly formed Corporation as parish church, school and prison.

    The West End of St Albans Cathedral. (Kari LundgaardSt Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    These buildings form a notable introduction to the story of the medieval and modern city of St Albans which grew over the last one thousand years in South West Hertfordshire, just 20 miles north of London on the old Watling Street. The story is told in my recent book St Albans in 50 Buildings published in February this year. The town has a remarkable number of buildings to illustrate how it developed from being the premier abbey of the land in the Middle Ages, to staging post for packhorse trains and wagons, tourist destination and commuter town. Designated a city by Queen Victoria following the creation of the new Diocese of St Albans in the late nineteenth century, with the Abbey Church as its cathedral, the town had a long and interesting history as a corporate borough with a thriving market throughout the early modern period. With trade and transport at its heart, it hosted not only the Establishment with parish government, but a significant range of dissenting congregations, all of which leave us chapels and meeting houses to remind us of the town’s diverse and wide-ranging history.

    Industrial buildings from the cotton, silk and straw trades as well as printing and other trade premises remain as well as ancient inns and grand eighteenth century town houses, mostly now in commercial occupation, allowing us an insight into the social history of the town, which can truly be said to represent a microcosm of that of the English nation as a whole.

    St Albans in 50 Buildings with a map identifying the location of each of the buildings described, provides not only a good history read, but acts as a guide book for the thousands of tourists and new residents in the town. It also provides a taster for further investigation into the pattern of development of the town and its many more interesting buildings from all periods.

    For information about the Alban Pilgrimage https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/whatson/the-alban-pilgrimage/

    Kate Morris' book St Albans in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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