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  • Saltdean From Old Photographs by Douglas d'Enno

    This postcard shows how Saltdean Bay would have looked early in the twentieth century. The only dwellings are the coastguard cottages put up in 1834. Sadly, the sea claimed four young lives here on 4 August 1912. All the boys were members of the Gonville and Caius College Mission, Battersea, and were camped at the time nearby Rottingdean. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m a local author and it has been 33 years since I wrote my comprehensive history of Saltdean. Long out of print, the book is hard to find and can command a high price. Fortunately, I have continued to build up my collection of cuttings, articles and photographs of the area and have presented the finest images from my collection in my new book, Saltdean from Old Photographs. The pictures displayed number some 240 and, despite the title of the book, some carefully selected very recent images have also been included.

    This fascinating volume has been structured to reflect the development of this seaside suburb over the last century, with the emphasis, not unexpectedly, on the inter-war years. In the earlier part of the book, there is a brief pictorial survey of Saltdean as a remote and sometimes forbidding location. This corner of Sussex has been a graveyard of ships down the years while the desolate foreshore was attractive to smugglers. As in more recent times, swimming was enjoyed by occasional visitors although the year 1912 saw the tragic drowning or four young men from a Mission Church in Battersea. Inland, hunting was enjoyed, as was target practice by members of Rudyard Kipling's Rifle Club.

    When resident in Rottinghdean from 1897 to 1902, Rudyard Kipling founded the village rifle club, believing it to be in the national interest that young men should learn to be competent shots. It was established during 'Black Week' in December 1899, when the British Army suffered many casualties in the Second Anglo-Boer War. The club was registered with the National Rifle Association in 1900 and was listed as having fifty-eight members. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    For centuries, the land was farmed from Rottingdean. Indeed, the handful of buildings in the area other than coastguard dwellings were a couple of stone cottages and three barns, two of which have survived following skilful conversion into a nursery school and a private dwelling respectively.

    One page rightly focuses on the founder of Peacehaven and Saltdean as we know them today, namely Charles Neville. Interesting new information has come to light concerning his family and commercial activities. It was through his entrepreneurial drive that the two buildings for which Saltdean is best known, namely the Lido and Ocean Hotel, came into being. Of course virtually all the residential development in the area was the work of his hand.

    In one section, the spotlight is cast on the war years, when both those buildings were put to good use.

    In the decades which followed, the community now familiar to us gradually developed. A number of dramatic images also depict events in this area, such as the overwhelming snowfall in 1966 and the damage wrought by the Great Gale of 1987.

    Celebrities are also rightly included; among their number were George Robey, Max Wall, Will Fyffe and GH Elliott. A surprising story is the death (almost certainly suicide) in Nutley Avenue of the ex-Duchess of Leinster in the 1930s.

    The book ends on an optimistic note, with the restoration – for the second time – of the downland memorial Harvey's Cross in July of this year. From its beautiful location, much of West Saltdean, with the sea beyond, can be seen.

    Douglas d'Enno's new book Saltdean From Old Photographs is avialable for purchase now.

  • Die-cast Aircraft by Paul Brent Adams

    German aircraft of the First World War often carried very elaborate personal markings, such as those on this Model Power Fokker D.VII fighter. The artwork is different on each side of the fuselage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    My interest in aviation began in the early 1970s with the 'Biggles' books by Captain W.E. Johns, himself a pilot in the First World War. I soon began building kits of the various aircraft mentioned in the stories. Then came my first efforts at writing, mostly about model aircraft. Once I began collecting diecasts in the 1990s, a few diecast aeroplanes also joined my miniature air fleet.

    People who collect real aircraft have a problem (other than the cost of real aeroplanes) which model enthusiasts do not have to worry about: even a small fighter plane is not going to fit into a normal-sized house. Model aircraft, being much smaller, are far more practical.

    This RAF Hawker Tempest of the Second World War is a partwork model. The code letters on the fuselage side identify the squadron flying the aircraft. The model has a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Model aircraft generally come in two forms: build-it-yourself kits; or complete models, in a variety of materials, including die-cast metal. Die-casts have been made for over a hundred years. Initially, they were mainly all-metal, but since the 1950s plastic has often been used for the smaller details. Plastic is in no way an inferior material to metal: it has allowed models to be given clear canopies and windows, previously these had often been depicted with silver paint.

    Most of the companies making die-cast models have concentrated on road vehicles, but several have also had extensive model aircraft ranges. Early models were all made as toys for children, but in recent years more highly detailed, and therefore expensive, models aimed at adult collectors have been produced by several specialist firms. There have also been several ranges of partwork models, which offer high quality models at very reasonable prices, along with a magazine giving background information on the real aircraft. Models aimed at collectors tend to be made to a limited number of well established scales; while toys are often made to fit inside a standard-sized box, so the scales can vary considerably.

    Corgi Showcase model of a Hawk jet trainer belonging to the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team. The canopy is black, and there is no interior detail. All Showcase models come with a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    There are two ways to look at these models. Aviation enthusiasts are likely to collect examples that show the history and development of the aircraft the models are based on. Others might be more interested in the design of the toys themselves, and the ingenuity of the toy makers. Each company tended to have its own style of model making, which developed over the years.

    Among the British companies, Dinky issued their first aircraft models in 1934, with their last new releases appearing in 1975. In the years just after the Second World War, there were a number of small companies producing die-casts, including aircraft, but most would eventually disappear, unable to compete with the quality of Dinky. Corgi produced a model of the supersonic Concorde in 1969, and a few helicopters in the 1970s, but did not get serious about aircraft models until 1998 when the Aviation Archive series was launched. Matchbox began producing the Skybusters line in 1973, and these are still being produced today. More recently Oxford Diecast have made a growing range of aircraft models. Most European countries have had at least one or two makers of die-casts, and many of these have also produced model aircraft; as have various American firms. There are now a number of companies in the Far East making aircraft. This means that there is a vast range of both new and vintage models to be collected.

    The Douglas DC-3 airliner of the 1930s, from the Corgi Showcase range. All the windows are printed. Larger versions of the DC-3 and its military counterparts are included in the Aviation Archive series. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the easiest ranges to find today are the Matchbox Skybusters, and the Corgi Showcase line. Neither series is expensive, and is a good starting point for a collection. As the models are fairly small, they do not take up a lot of space. These two lines also show the difference between toys, made to be played with; and models, which are intended more for display. Current releases can be found in toy and model shops, while older models can be picked up at collectors' fairs. Unlike the internet, fairs give you a chance to actually examine the models before buying.

    Dating from the 1970s, the Skybusters range comprised a mix of military and civil aircraft, from the Second World War onwards. There were also a few fantasy designs, and these now dominate the range, but a number of more realistic models are still available. The Skybusters are intended as toys, and scales vary. All have a fixed undercarriage, usually with rather over-sized wheels. Propeller driven aircraft and helicopters have revolving propellers or rotors, but there are usually no other working features. The models can be a little chunky, as they need to be sturdy, but every aircraft is recognizable. The colour schemes range from reasonably accurate, to completely fictitious.

    The Matchbox Skybusters series includes both civil and military aircraft. The twin-engined Cessna 402 is on a 1970s style card, while the General Dynamics F-16A fighter is on a 1980s card. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    The Corgi Showcase series includes both vehicles and aircraft, made to a variety of scales. All the aircraft have a display stand, but no undercarriage (unless the real aircraft had a fixed undercarriage). There are no working features, other than the usual revolving propellers and rotors. Canopies and windows are often painted blue, black, or silver, just like in the old days before clear plastic. Colours and markings are highly accurate, and detailed. These are much finer models than the Matchbox Skybusters, but are more delicate. They are display models rather than toys to be played with. Showcase models are smaller than their Aviation Archive counterparts - some aircraft types are available in both ranges so collectors have a choice.

    Over the years both Skybusters and Showcase models have been issued in boxes, usually with a clear plastic window so you can see the contents; or in clear plastic blisters glued to a backing card. Some of the models have also been released in sets.

    Paul Brent Adams' new book Die-cast Aircraft is available for purchase now.

  • Memorials of the Western Front by Marcus van der Meulen

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    Places of Remembrance

    This year marks the centenary of the Armistice, which ended the First World War. In the past four years commemorations of all sorts have taken place. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the observation of the Battle of the Somme centennial at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France, in 2016. And many smaller tributes have taken place across the Western Front. Modest crosses of remembrance have been placed in cemeteries and chapels by relatives coming on a pilgrimage considering those who suffered the horrors of the Great War 1914-1918.

    These commemorations have been an opportunity to revive the awareness, not only to recall the tragedies, but also to maintain the memorials, monuments and cemeteries raised in honour of those who lost their lives. One of these memorials that is currently undergoing renovation work is the Le Touret Memorial, designed by J.R. Truelove, a fine building in the British classical tradition. The entrance gives way to a peristyle and portico’s, providing a dramatic view of over the many tombstones. There are 13,400 British soldiers, their names engraved on the white walls commemorated here, who fell during the early months of the Great War. Driving back home from a short break in Northern France, we passed the site only a few weeks ago.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    I first visited memorials in the region on a family holiday in the 1980s. My parents took my brother and me abroad, crossing the channel by ferry like so many Britons do every year. First stop in France was Arras. This ancient capital of Artois is a lovely historic town with a beautiful square where I as a young boy took one of my first photographs (my brother insisted I would take a picture of him holding something he found lying on the cobblestones). In the background of the image was the top of the Belfry. Like so many buildings it was completely destroyed during the war. My parents preferred to avoid the motorways, moving from town to village taking country roads and encountering that sense of being in a different country. Northern France is different from the North of England, from the Greater Manchester area, and one thing that struck me back then were the Crosses of Remembrance and the Memorials that seemed to be hiding behind every hill and between trees in every field. Cemeteries in the most odd locations, and beautiful classical buildings that inspired a young boy back home to draw architecture.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    The decision made by the British government at the time to build cemeteries and memorials on site, in France and Flanders, and not to repatriate the bodies and remains to the UK, has had far on going implications. Relatives had to cross the channel to visit the graves of their beloved sons, cousins, brothers. The bodies of many thousands and thousands were never found, their names are engraved on the walls of structures that were erected as memorials. People from all over the world, from the UK and Ireland, from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, come here on a pilgrimage, honouring those who suffered and died during the First World War. Some of them leave letters or a tiny cross with a poppy, as personal tokens. The decision to build the memorials here, in France and Flanders, to erect the crosses of remembrance on the place where the officers and men gave their lives, often after a horrible time in the trenches, has forever changed the landscape into a field of remembrance.

    At Le Touret Memorial we stopped the car and went out. There is a strange attraction coming from these memorials and cemeteries. Looking not only as an architect at these beautiful buildings, monuments and sites, but at what they represent. The past years have seen renewed interest in memorials and cemeteries of the Western Front, and many have been renovated. French statues were restored, some repainted, by the local municipalities. The CWGC has done an incredible job renovating and upkeeping of all those Commonwealth memorials and cemeteries. Some of the work still going on, as at Le Touret. the maintenance, of course, of these memorials and cemeteries is not over after we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War on 11 November this year. As we walked along the walls of the memorial, my eyes were strangely attracted by all these names written on it and started looking for that accustomed name. Surely there are others like me. And when that familiar name is found, that person suddenly becomes your A. Butler, your own relative. The memorial becomes what is represents, a shared heritage of a common past. Lest we forget.

    Marcus van der Meulen's new book Memorials of the Western Front: Places of Remembrance is available for purchase now.

  • Sheffield at Work by Melvyn and Joan Jones

    Advertisement showing Vickers' 'contribution to the British naval fleet up to August 1914'. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    People and Industries Through the Years

    What we set out to do was to record employment change over nine centuries, emphasising the combination of continuity and innovation that has characterised the evolution of employment in industry and other occupations in the city. It has been a fascinating journey. Although already familiar with Sheffield’s industrial past, we have been delighted to record the talent, determination and skill of twenty-first century workers, both those pursuing traditional skills in a competitive market and those entrepreneurs engaged in a host of other industries and occupations. We are keen to champion their cause and to celebrate their achievements through this publication.

    Sheffield has been dubbed ‘Steel City’ but it was, and still is, much more than that. Sheffield grew prodigiously during the nineteenth century from an already substantial 91,000 in 1831 to over 400,000 by 1901 as a result of industrial expansion. But for centuries before that it had had a national reputation for its industrial products. Everyone knows the famous line from Chaucer’s The Reeve’s Tale written about the year 1390 about the miller stating that ‘A Scheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose’. A thwitel was a knife and Chaucer obviously believed that mention of a Sheffield knife would be as familiar then as a Cornish pasty is today. Nearly four hundred years later in 1779 Charles Burlington in The Modern Universal Traveller wrote that Sheffield was ‘the most remarkable place in England for cutlerywares’. During the nineteenth century the light steel trades continued to flourish in the town and in the surrounding villages and were joined by a completely new industry, heavy steel making and heavy engineering. This transformed the former mainly rural lower Don valley to the east of the old town. Even though Sheffield lay 80 miles from the sea, in 1910 it was claimed that three firms (John Brown’s, Cammells and Vickers) were capable of ‘turning out a battleship complete’ and on the outbreak of the First World War Sheffield was described as ‘the greatest Armoury the world as ever seen’.

    Charcoal making (detail from a painting by John William Buxton Knight). (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It wasn’t all light and heavy steel trades. In the early 1840s George Bassett started his liquorice sweets business. Later, of course, the firm ‘invented’ Liquorice Allsorts. This came about, apparently, when a ‘rep’ was visiting a customer and an assistant accidentally dropped a tray of samples onto the floor. The customer liked the assortment and so Liquorice Allsorts came into being. In the 1920s the Bertie Bassett trademark was designed and with minor alterations is still being used. The firm is now part of the Maynards Bassetts group. In 1883 one of the best known food product firms was established – Henderson’s Relish, Sheffield’s answer to Worcester Sauce. The firm is still going strong today. In 1895 William Batchelor founded Batchelor Foods. The firm became famous for the production of processed peas (including ‘mushy peas’) and Cup-a-Soup. For a short period between 1908 and 1925 Sheffield had its own car industry. Simplex cars owned by Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse produced luxury cars and motor cycles. One of the few surviving examples can be seen on display in Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield. Perhaps the most unusual product was the disinfectant, Izal, produced for the first time in the 1890s by the iron manufacturing firm, Newton Chambers. It was a by-product of the production of coke for their blast furnaces. Their famous toilet rolls, initially given away to local authorities purchasing large quantities of Izal disinfectant for their new public toilets, were used to advertise the brand. Medicated toilet rolls went on sale to the general public in the 1920s and the firm went on to produce 137 disinfectant products that sold across the world.

    Advertisement for Izal products. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Industrial growth had its negative effects. As early as the 1720s Daniel Defoe in A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain wrote that the streets were narrow and the houses ‘dark and black, occasioned by the continued Smoke of the Forges, which are always at work’. Even more evocative was J. B. Priestley’s comments in his English Journeys in 1933. He said that when he approached the city from the south it ‘looked like the interior of an active volcano’ adding that the smoke was so thick that it appeared the descending streets ‘would end in the steaming bowels of the earth’.

    Yet today Sheffield has the reputation of being the country’s greenest city. It had one of the country’s first green belts (1938) and 39,000 acres of the Peak District National Park lie within its boundaries. As you drive through or walk in the western parts of the borough, you have to shake yourself to realise that you are in a city of more than half a million people. The city also contains nearly 80 ancient woods, two of them covering more than 300 acres. Sheffield is the best wooded city in the country. What is astonishing is that the woods have survived because of their connection with local industry. They are full of charcoal heaths, charcoal before coal being the fuel for iron and steel making, and of the living archaeology (neglected coppice, stored coppice) of formerly worked trees that formed the raw material for the charcoal makers.

    Today Sheffield is a prime example of a post-industrial city. Its two universities attract more than 60,000 students to the city every year; the lower Don valley, described in the 1970s as an industrial wasteland, is now crowded with edge of town shopping, entertainment and sporting destinations. The Heart of the City scheme has also helped to modernise the city centre with its Winter Garden, Millennium Galleries, new hotel and water features.  But manufacturing still continues from large works like Sheffield Forgemasters that supplies forged and cast steel to the engineering, nuclear and petro-chemical industries worldwide and Liberty Steel at Stocksbridge that produces special steels for the aerospace, oil and automotive industries. Another Sheffield engineering firm, SCX Group, has completed the second year of a three-year project to construct a foldaway roof for No.1 Court at Wimbledon which will be ready in 2019. They constructed the retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009. At the other end of the scale individual craftsmen, known locally for centuries as ‘little mesters’, still produce knives and other bespoke products in small workshops. A surprising number of firms continue the centuries-old tradition of manufacturing a wide range of metal products. These include Burgon & Ball who manufacture 50 different patterns of sheep shears and are the most important makers of these shears in the world and Swann-Morton who export surgical blades and scalpels to over 100 countries.

    Melvyn and Joan Jones' new book Sheffield at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail by Andrew Walker

    Type 4 Pioneer at Sheffield. The first of what might be called BR's 'production' Type 4s, the 2,000 hp English Electric Class 40, entered traffic in 1958. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    Discovering the ‘Type 4s’

    There was a time when, as a novice train spotter in the mid-70s, I was not quite able to distinguish between the various types of diesel locomotive found on the BR network. My brother John had recently purchased an Ian Allan ‘Locoshed’ book, the 1976 edition, and we had pored over the lists of numbers, wondering when we might see examples of each particular class of engine. We soon realised that certain classes of locomotive were, at that time, allocated to depots on a regional basis. So for example, to see a Class 26 or 27 one had to go north, to Haymarket or Eastfield, whereas to see a Class 33 one had to go south, to Hither Green or Stewarts Lane. This accounted for the fact that these locomotives never put in an appearance on our regular visits to Leeds, Sheffield or York, our regular spotting haunts then. Early on though, we began to see plenty of Type 4s. We did not know they were Type 4s at that time, as the objective was simply to discover if we’d seen something new and to tick it off in the book. I well recall the time on one of the very first visits to Leeds, when looking at a Class 40 in profile, that I suddenly realised it had an ‘extra’ pair of wheels compared with the similar-looking Class 37s. It may have been on the same day that I saw a Class 45 for the first time and noted that it had the same wheel arrangement as the Class 40, but although superficially similar in appearance, with the three cab windows and the protruding nose, there were some differences – the large body side grilles, a slightly flatter and shallower bonnet.

    No more freight duties for these Type 4s. In the industrial surroundings of the works at Crewe, numerous Class 40s await their final visit to the scrapyard. In this early 1984 view Nos 40115 and 40088 stand in the sidings while in the background are Nos 40065 and 40023. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    If you are interested in something, it doesn’t take long to become knowledgeable about the subject. Those early experiences of trying to figure out what made a ‘45’ different from a ‘46’, and realising that a ‘40’ had more wheels than a ‘37’ seemed to last mere days – and perhaps they did. The nature of the discovery evolved into a more focused process – more like a quest I suppose. Finding out that a Stratford-based Class 47 might appear on a passenger turn at Sheffield led to routine heightened anticipation on visits there. Likewise, it was always a bit of an event when one of the Western Region’s named 47s, perhaps ‘Odin’, or ‘Cyclops’ turned up. The 46s contrived to make themselves slightly more interesting than the 45s, largely because there were fewer of them in service, but then the 45s provided a counter-balance because many of them were named, and that always added a new dimension which the 46s could not offer (with the exception of the mysteriously singular 46026). So it did not seem to take very long to start to mentally categorise the various classes and the individuals therein, to a kind of hierarchy of interest, much of which was based on rarity, actual or perceived. This has probably always been an intrinsic aspect of any ‘spotting’ hobby, whether it be trains or birds. To a Yorkshire-based enthusiast with limited travelling capability, a Western Region 47 from Old Oak Common was always going to rank above say, a Knottingley-based classmate. No doubt if I’d lived in Devon it would have been otherwise.

    Backdrop of Wild Boar Fell. A Carlisle to Leeds service approches the summit of the Settle & Carlisle line at Ais Gill on 17 June 1989. Large logo-liveried Class 47 No. 47597 provides the motive power for this service, which has been strengthened to ten coaches on this occasion. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    The 47s were always up against it, so to speak, in desirability terms. ‘Just another Brush 4’ was an oft-heard remark, understandably so when they outnumbered all other Type 4s by a substantial margin. Not only that, but the 47s did not even offer the differentiation factor that the 40s and Peaks achieved by having a range of headcode panel configurations. Until their conversion to uniform sealed-beam marker lights, the Peaks offered four possibilities in this respect – if one includes the original discs of the Class 44s. The ‘split headcode’ Peaks were perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing, but the two central headcode types, a singular panel or two square-ish adjacent panels, looked nicely balanced.

    An early revelation concerned the Class 40s. Pictures of some of these locomotives in the railway magazines would say, for example, ‘…40013, formerly ‘Andania’…’ and it became apparent that a sizeable contingent of the class had once been named but at some point the nameplates had been removed – every single one of them. Then I spotted the bolt-heads on the side of 40020 at Leeds, and on 40012 at Sheffield, and realised that these marked the spot. I read in several magazines and books that a decision had been made by BR to remove the nameplates, but there was never really a satisfactory explanation, nor was any responsible individual ever identified. I read that the motivation was to do with corporate uniformity, or perhaps that the 40s were no longer seen as top-link motive power and therefore unworthy of carrying names, but these seem very weak arguments. Why not just leave the plates where they were? There were no operational or reputational implications. Not long after finding out about the removal of the Class 40 nameplates, I discovered that the same had been done with the Class 44s. All ten were named shortly after construction, lending the collective nomenclature to the class, but again, someone somewhere in the BR hierarchy deemed it best to remove them en masse. Maybe it’s no big deal, but why do it? What benefits accrued? I would say none, but that’s just my opinion.

    The disappointment at being too late to see the 40s and 44s with their nameplates in situ did not, nevertheless, prevent a great affection building for them. The consolation was in trying to ‘collect the full set’ of named Class 45s, and in the excitement of seeing for the first time one of the 47s with truly gargantuan plates – ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’ and ‘George Jackson Churchward’, their appearance making a day at Sheffield always truly memorable. They were the celebrities of their day.

    Andrew Walker and John Walker's new book Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Exeter by Chris Hallam

    1068 and all that: Exeter, Gytha and the Norman Conquest

    Bayeux Tapestry (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    It is one of the most famous years in English history: 1066.

    Like 1936 and (perhaps) 1483, it was to be a year of three kings. In January, just five days into the year, Edward the Confessor, king of England since 1042, died. Harold Godwinson, a leading Saxon nobleman, succeeded him. The new Harold II had acquired a difficult inheritance, however, as he faced almost immediate attack from another Harold, Harald Hardrada of Norway who he managed to defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. However, as we know, King Harold II fared less well in the Battle of Hastings in October. Harold, in truth, probably wasn’t killed by an arrow in the eye as the famous Bayeux Tapestry appears to show but was certainly killed in battle just as Richard the Lionheart and Richard III would be in later years. His rival, William, Duke of Normandy won and was subsequently crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. Thereafter, England succumbed to a long period of Norman rule which, to some extent, has never ended.

    William the Conqueror (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    The above story is famous and mostly true. Edward the Confessor perhaps deserves more blame than has been traditionally attributed to him, for bequeathing England such chaotic situation in the first place. However, what is most questionable about the above account is the last sentence: William the Conqueror’s subsequent conquest of England, after his victory at Hastings, was in fact, much less smooth than the traditional version of events makes it sound.

    Exeter, in Devon, was one area which fiercely resisted William’s rule. Stirred into insurrection by the presence of Harold’s mother, Gytha, Exeter (then known as Escanceaster by the Saxons) openly revolted, refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to William. Angered, William returned from Normandy to deal with the rebels himself.

    A siege ensued, one of many Exeter would endure in the centuries ahead. Ugly scenes followed as William ordered one of the hostages that had been given to him as a sign of good faith to be publicly blinded. But the Normans suffered heavy losses. After nearly two weeks, Exeter surrendered but only on one condition, William would not punish the populace either physically or financially. William, facing rebellion elsewhere, acquiesced. Gytha, incidentally, seems to have been smuggled out just before the Norman king arrived. England, as a whole, didn’t fully come under Norman control until about 1072.

    The gatehouse of Exeter Castle id the oldest Norman castle building in Britain. (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    What happened to Exeter next? After the siege, the Normans tore down the houses that stood on the hill at the northernmost parts of the walled city and built Rougemont Castle (Red Hill, because of the colour of the volcanic soil), essentially to keep a watchful eye on Exeter’s potentially restless population. Today, 950 years later, not much more than the castle walls remain. But these walls do include the original Norman gatehouse, widely considered to be one of the finest examples of early Norman architecture still visible in the UK. It is certainly the earliest Norman castle building still in existence, predating the more famous White Tower at the Tower of London by about ten years.

    Ironically, as my colleague Tim Isaac points out in our bestselling new book, Secret Exeter, a flaw in the design of the gatehouse essentially made them useless from the outset. It is this very uselessness which has ensured their survival to this day. Lucky for us!

    Tim Isaac and Chris Hallam's new book Secret Exeter is available for purchase now.

  • Altrincham in 50 Buildings by Steven Dickens

    Old Market Place 1904. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham was an easy choice as a ‘50 Buildings’ subject because it is home to many historic locations. These include Dunham Massey Hall and park, established by Hamon (Hamo) de Masci after the Norman invasion. In 1290 the town was granted a Charter as a free Borough and a weekly market was established on what is now called Old Market Place, by Baron Hamon de Masci V. There is now a market hall on Market Street, which has become a new and busy focal point for this bustling market town. Many listed buildings are also included in this volume, predominantly those of Georgian origin around Market Street, which are particularly evocative of their era. Dunham Hall and some structures within the park also feature. The property, now owned and operated by the National Trust, is home to many family treasures of the Earls of Stamford, who were the original occupants of the hall in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras and until the last and Tenth Earl of Stamford died in 1976. The park was established in Norman times as a deer park and for hunting purposes and there are still deer roaming free in its environs to this day.

    The Market Place c. 1905. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Another historic district of Altrincham is Old Market Place, where I have grouped some of its buildings together in order to easier identify its varied history. It has been a vital hub to the town’s administration and function since Altrincham’s foundation as a Borough. The ‘Court Leet’ elected Mayors, kept the peace and regulated markets and fairs until it was abolished in 1886. Old Market Place was also the site of a local court, prison lock-ups, and stocks, all used to keep order. In 1849 a new town hall was constructed next to the Unicorn Hotel (Old Market Tavern). It was an important focal point until new council offices were constructed on Market Street, c. 1900.

    St. Margaret's Church, Dunham Road, showing its spire in 1916. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham has a very distinctive look around Old Market Place, with George Truefitt’s Cheshire ‘black and white’ still emphasising Altrincham’s rural past. The influence of the Earls of Stamford survives throughout the town, both in the buildings they constructed and in the road names they left behind. The town has also been significantly influenced by transport developments, particularly by the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, its infrastructure and the development of industry along its banks. The railway saw similar developments, with the construction of Stamford New Road, now one of the many Conservation Areas around the town. The book also includes other significant landmarks, such as St. Margaret’s parish church and war memorial, the stadium of Altrincham football club and the Garrick theatre, all important elements of the town’s social infrastructure.

    Steven Dickens' new book Altrincham in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • The Fifties Railway by Greg Morse

    No. 7037 Swindon at its namesake depot. It was the last Castle class to be built, though the Works which bore it would also produce the last steam locomotive to be built for British Railways, a Stndard class 9F, which would be releashed to traffic in March 1960. (The Fifties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    A bit Janet and John.

     Just a museum leaflet.

     Little more than a Wiki entry.

    These are just three of the comments I’ve seen aimed at the short summary book like those that form Amberley’s Britain’s Heritage series. And I daresay the writers of those reviews felt themselves to have done a great job in alerting the world to what anyone could ascertain within a few moments of web surfing or bookshop browsing: that books of this type are short, and are intended as naught but a first step in a subject: the alpha, not the omega. As an author of a number of these “tome-ettes”, I think there are two things that need to be said. (Actually there are three, but this is a family blog.) First, just because a short book ‘adds nothing new’, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t add something new. There may not be enough room for footnoted first-hand scholarship, but the broad brush can often paint interesting juxtapositions that might not be made manifest by those authors blessed with more pages to fill. Secondly, there is an implication that no research can possibly have been undertaken. Not so.

    Early BR splendour as ex-LMS 'unrebuilt Scot' No. 46148 The Manchester Regiment takes a Carlisle-Glasgow service past Harthope in July 1953 (with a little help from a 2-6-4T at the rear). (The Fifties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Take my latest book (please – take as many copies as you like to the counter or basket). The Fifties Railway is about 12,000 words long. Like the rest of the Britain’s Heritage series, there’s a list of further reading at the back. All those books were re-read during the writing of it. More than this though – and it’s a technique I used in The Sixties Railway and The Seventies Railway too – are the insights that reading old magazines can evoke. We all know that later research can reveal the falsehoods that are sometimes unwittingly pervaded by contemporaneous journalism, but period periodicals are superb windows on what the world was like then, back before we “knew better”.

    What I want from a book like The Fifties Railway is what I want when I go to a heritage line: a time machine. This is why I will avert my gaze when my steam-hauled special passes its owner’s twenty-first century carriage shed. Glance upon the architect’s pet project and the illusion that I can party like its 1959 is gone forever. With a magazine, I can read what an enthusiast or railway employee might have read when the world was changing, but had not yet changed. The 1950s was a decade of great change on the railway, for it marked the beginning of a truly concerted effort to abolish steam – an effort that came so soon after the erection of so many new steam classes for Britain’s newly nationalised rail industry.

    Thus we can see the real, original, reaction not only to the coming of the Britainnias and 9Fs, but also the appearance of Deltic, the first of the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels and the apparent revolution offered by the diesel multiple units. This is to say nothing of what passengers thought of British Railways new carriages, the reactions to the Harrow & Wealdstone accident of 1952 and how the staff took to General Sir Brian Robertson when he took over at the British Transport Commission. I could go on of course… but I won’t, lest I run the risk of writing a blog that’s longer than the book!

    Greg Morse's new book The Fifties Railway is available for purchase now.

  • The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley by Colin Wilkinson

    One sunny, warm September day I set off to find any traces of the old lead mines in the upper reaches of the River Tees. After climbing through woodland and fields I arrived at the disused mines in need of a break and certainly not ready to work all day digging out lead ore. It’s no wonder that the miners slept close to the mines in uncomfortable workshops during the week and only returned home at the weekend. I had chosen a fine day to climb through the hills; facing the climb to work on a wet, cold, windy morning must have been challenging and perhaps was summed up in a verse from the time.

    The ore’s awaiting in the tubs, the snows upon the fell

    Company folk are sleeping yet but lead is right to sell

    Come my little washer lad, come, let’s away

    We’re bound down to slavery for four pence a day.

    Low Skears Mine near Middleton in Teesdale. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    These lines refer to a washer lad, his job was to separate the lead ore from the rock, or bouse as it was called, which had been brought out of the mine. This involved breaking up the bouse and washing it through troughs of flowing water where the heavy lead deposits would sink ready to be gathered and sent to the smelters.

    Continuing the mining theme but much further downstream and still avoiding poor weather, I chose a bright spring day to look for some remnant of the iron stone mines in the Cleveland Hills. This involved another climb through what is now a tree lined path that was once the route of a rail line up to the mines. Eventually I reached the entrance to the New Venture mine.

    The industrial area at Barnard Castle. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    Later a visit to the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum at Skinningrove brought home the working conditions in the early days of the mines. Protective clothing consisted of a leather cap, a moustache provided a dust filter, candles lit the way through the workings and to keep the rats at bay string was tied around trousers just below the knee.

    In Darlington another museum provides a reminder of the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. The Head of Steam Museum is housed in an old station and displays some early locomotives used on the railway.

    Ayresome Iron Works, Middlesbrough. (c. Beamish Collection, The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    But the history of the Industrial Revolution is not just found in museums. I wanted to use the book to describe the great industrial heritage of the area and illustrate where reminders can be found. For example in Barnard Castle there are still some of the old mills beside the river although they have now been converted into flats.

    Barnard Castle had long been a market town but places that had been little more than hamlets were suddenly transformed into major towns. Middlesbrough is an example, initially it was developed as a port to ship coal then it became the centre of an iron industry when ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills. Soon blast furnaces were lining the banks of the Tees. W. E. Gladstone the Liberal politician who would become Prime Minister visited Middlesbrough in 1862 and spoke of ‘this remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules’.

    Colin Wilkinson's new book The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley is available for purchase now.

    Also by Colin

  • Secret Chepstow by Louise Wyatt

    Chepstow Castle, viewed from Castle Dell. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Chepstow has always caught my eye when travelling through the Wye Valley; it’s quaint, historical and has that olde-worlde market place buzz about it. There are the fantastic remains of Chepstow Castle and all the history that holds but one thing I’ve always done on my travels, and regarding my love of history, is wanting to know about the un-told stories, the local history of a place, the unknown parts of a town – especially one with such a history as Chepstow.

    The one thing I love about writing for Amberley’s Secret series is I get to indulge all of my inquisitiveness! With the help of fabulous resources such as old newspapers, British History Online and old books, it becomes a labour of love searching for all the secret history. Chepstow had many resources thankfully and thus Secret Chepstow was born, my second book for the series.

     

    Looking up from the residential road towards remains of the Neolithic burial chamber, which is typical of a Severn-Cotswold-type chamber, as described by GGAT. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    I deliberately avoided donating too much of the book to the Castle. Whilst it is beyond doubt a magnificent ruin with many famous custodians over time, there are many books available out there; therefore, I stuck to a timeline of the Castle’s history. However, visiting the place and taking photos was very enjoyable.

    My first surprise was discovering Chepstow didn’t actually exist until 1067-71 onwards, when William FitzOsbern, a distant cousin and boyhood friend to William the Conqueror, started the building of Chepstow Castle. The original inhabited areas on that particular geographical location was the suburb of Thornwell, just south of modern-day Chepstow. Within the housing development it is now, are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber, still with stones atop the grass mound. I imagine in Neolithic times it was quite a desolate place, with the marshes down to the Severn estuary. Near to this chamber is the old farmhouse, Grade II listed and now converted into flats. Despite having a wall around it and the car park adjacent, one can only wonder at what the views were like when it was a working farm (it was in its dying throes of a working farm as late as 1956). Thornwell reputedly took its name from the thorn tree that grew by the well near the farmhouse. Archaeological excavations discovered the well in early 2007 and thought to be medieval in origin. Although left in situ, it is now covered by modern buildings. I’m no geographical whizz, but I believe it to be somewhere under the nearby Tesco/Homebase.

    Thornwell Farm House from the Wales Coast Path. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Nearby Bulwark was home to the Silures, a fearsome tribe that ruled the land around this area. They defeated the Romans in AD 52 although were to eventually succumb to Roman power. However, despite looking like just an empty field now, thanks to past excavations we know this area held round timber housing, farms for brewing, bread-making and raising cattle.

    The earliest known Norman Priory built in Wales was that of Chepstow. Now the site of a Tesco car park, the Priory Church remains as St Mary’s. Here lies the tomb of notable residents and historical figures such as Henry Marten, a close friend of Oliver Cromwell, (whom Martens Tower at the Castle is named after). Parliamentarians took Chepstow in 1645 during the Civil War and Cromwell himself is said to have stayed in a nearby house. Although taken by Royalists in 1648, Cromwell retook Chepstow and spent money on reinforcements. After the restoration of the monarch under Charles II, Marten was found guilty of regicide and imprisoned for twenty years to his death in Martens Tower (possibly called Bigods Tower previously).

    Parish records of St Mary's in Chepstow, showing the burial of Kezia Dutheridge. (Kind thanks to St Mary's for loan of the register book, Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Also in St Mary’s is the tomb of Elizabeth Browne who married the Earl of Worcester and became a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn – it is said she helped smear the name of Anne Boleyn during her trial. There is also the glorious tomb of Margaret Cleyton who died in 1627 and had twelve children! A wealthy benefactor who gave much to the town of Chepstow.

    However, to me, the following is what secret history is all about – the simple death register entry of a Kezia Dutheridge (middle line):

    I came upon the name John Dutheridge whilst researching census records on Chepstow Workhouse. I noted how his entry read he was an orphan – not uncommon in a workhouse – and a scholar (so being educated within the workhouse) but was aged only seven. For some reason, I put his name into a simple Google search. To my amazement, a few pages in, his name crops up in an old newspaper report. That lead me to search old newspapers, birth and death registers to build up a picture. And thanks to him growing into a rogue, he left bit of a trail! He spent time in Abergavenny Asylum, Usk Gaol, Monmouth Gaol and regular readmissions to Chepstow Workhouse.

    Part of the graveyard on the north side of St Mary's, with eighteenth-century graves and Church Row cottages in the background. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    A Kezia Dutheridge was on the Workhouse census as giving birth to a son, John, but she passed away the same quarter and year. With a surname like that, I summarised this was the same John I had found (whose census dates added up) and Kezia, aged 24, had died in childbirth. She had a pauper’s grave at St Mary’s, as did John when he died. Thanks to the kind people in St Mary’s at the time, I was able to take a photo of the death register for Kezia. Unfortunately, although Monmouthshire Council state pauper graves are marked with a ‘P’, I failed to find them in the graveyard and no one at the church at the time I was researching knew exactly where they were. But by mentioning the Dutheridges in my book, I hope it highlights the intrigue of local history and local people against a backdrop of warrior kings and rich architecture. They may have had a pauper’s grave but in a graveyard of a church built by a mighty warlord that is thankfully still around after 950 or so years.

    Louise Wyatt's new book Secret Chepstow is available for purchase now.

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