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  • Bradford in 50 Buildings by George Sheeran

    Bradford, a Wool City isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445668482

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

  • East End Jewish Cemeteries by Louis Berk

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 001 Cover _P2M1320-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    An Oasis in Whitechapel

     

    I am a secondary school teacher, and since 2004, I have worked at a school in Brady Street, in the heart of Whitechapel. I did not realise until I was looking out of a second story window one day that my school adjoins one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the UK.

    Brady Street cemetery was founded in 1761, and closed almost 100 years later in 1858 when the grounds became full-up.

    Having no connection to the cemetery, I thought it unlikely I would ever see inside. Then, one day, as I was in school, I heard the sounds of activity as groundsmen were carrying out maintenance, and they kindly allowed me to take a look around.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 006 Late Summer 02 L1025403-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    The Idea

    Once inside the walls it was as though I had been transported to a forest, as I was surrounded by trees, shrubs and at one point, an inquisitive fox that trotted past me down a path. An idea formed in my mind: it would be wonderful to capture this hidden oasis in photographs, as a record of an interesting environment, and to make it visible to others.

    I was fortunate that when I approached the owners of the cemetery, The United Synagogue of Great Britain, they readily agreed to my request. They even made it possible for me to have access to the cemetery whenever I wanted.

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 003a_DoublePage P0Q0930-Edit (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Early Mornings and Late Evenings

    Undertaking a long-term project right next door to where I worked allowed me to photograph very early in the morning. During the winter months, this was before and during dawn, and also at sunset.

    In the summer it allowed me to capture the sometimes delicate early morning sunlight before the day became bleached out with too much sun.

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 055 Winter 18 Scan-120211-0007_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Waiting for snow

    I began the project in July 2011, with the objective of recording a year in the life of the cemetery. By the same time in 2012, I had a lot of material to work with, but I was missing one important element: snow. The winters at the start of this decade were surprisingly mild, and I had to wait until 2013 for a reasonable covering.

    This was no real hardship, as I enjoyed my time alone in the quiet solitude of the cemetery, and continued to visit and take photographs. I also chose to work mainly with medium format film cameras. This requires considerably more concentration than working with digital cameras. It is a slow and careful process. This entirely matched the ambience of my surroundings.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 102 Alderney Road 06 10 Scan-120908-0005-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Alderney Road

    At the end of the second year I showed my work to the owners, who asked me if I would also photograph in Alderney Road Cemetery, in nearby Stepney Green. This is an even older cemetery than Brady Street, established in 1696, very close to the time that Jews began to settle in the UK.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 002 Frontpiece _1040603-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    East End Jewish Cemeteries: Brady Street and Alderney Road

    In 2016, I approached Amberley Books with a number of ideas for titles, and they were immediately enthusiastic about a book containing my photographs of Brady Street and Alderney Road.

    The book contains 96 pages, mostly filled with photographs, and also an introduction to the cemetery by the recognised authority on its history, Rachel Kolsky, who is an award winning London Blue Badge guide and author.

    9781445662909

    Louis Berk's new book East End Jewish Cemeteries is available for purchase now.

  • Fire Stations by Billy Reading

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Euston road fire station by HFT Cooper, Grade II listed. 1901

    My interest in fire stations was sparked by a single building. As a student of architecture studying in Bloomsbury, I would wander about looking at buildings and streets, and kept finding myself back at Euston admiring the beautiful purpose-built 1901 fire station there, designed by HFT Cooper for the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council’s Architects Department. I was curious about this building, it is six stories on a prominent corner site, occupying a whole urban block, yet in its arts and crafts modelling and detailing it invokes a trim country cottage. Really it shouldn’t work – the richness of architectural detail – projecting bays, mullioned windows, oriel windows, stone dressings, balconies and asymmetric roof lines. At that scale it could so easily have been a cacophony, but masterfully handled these rich details produce a confident, didactic building – grand and yet modest, bulky but exquisite, definitely urban but still somehow stylistically bucolic. The fire station has to work hard to compete with the mighty St Pancras new church on the other side of the road; built 1819-20 in the Greek revival style, the caryatids, copied from the Erechtheum in Athens are rightly famed. As beautiful as these are, it was Cooper’s fire station that always drew my attention.

    When the time came to choose a post-graduate thesis topic, I knew what I had to do. I was studying building conservation, and here was an opportunity to really research this captivating building, its architect and the socio-economic, cultural and artistic background from which it sprang. That was the plan. However, as I began to think about fire stations, more and more interesting buildings started to come to my attention; in Kensington, Bishopsgate, Bethnal Green, Clerkenwell and Clapham... turns out London is full of eclectic and beautiful fire stations, the work of a talented and progressive group of architects under the London County Council. These architects had worked in the housing branch, responsible for some important housing projects such as the Boundary estate in Shoreditch and the Millbank estate. Following the success of these projects, the team transferred to the fire stations branch.

    Fire Stations 2 A modern fire station in East Grinstead, Sussex A modern fire station in East Grinstead, Sussex

    Two other things cemented my choice of thesis topic – firstly that fire stations as a building type were surprisingly under-researched, secondly, that in the same year the London Fire Brigade had asked the GLA if they could, as an emergency service, negotiate an exemption from Listed Building Controls. This gave my research the opportunity to have practical outcomes – first looking at the history of London’s Fire Brigade stations and the architects that created them, and then looking forward to consider their care and conservation, and critically, their continued use. In the same year I began working with English Heritage, and slowly but surely, what had been a niche research project developed into a specialism, as colleagues shared fire-station casework with me, and I got the opportunity to work with the staff at LFB who care for the buildings. English Heritage reviewed the listings. No exemption was agreed, but Euston fire station was upgraded from grade II to grade II*.

    Ten years later, my expertise has taken me up and down the country, and now I find that where ever I go I’m looking for fire stations. My family are now well drilled to search out and photograph active or redundant fire stations wherever we happen to be!

    Fire Stations 3 A simple structure purpose-built to house the fire engine in Woburn, Bedfordshire, in the 1930s A simple structure purpose-built to house the fire engine in Woburn, Bedfordshire, in the 1930s

    The buildings can be highly elusive – it was only in the Mid C19th that a specific building type emerged. Before that, cart sheds, barns, commercial stables, coaching yards and inns all served as fire stations – or else town halls or other civic buildings provided some space to store the pumps and buckets, leaving little in the way of physical evidence. Whilst the early buildings can be undistinguished, the latter buildings tend to announce themselves as high-points of civic architecture. These, with the characteristic hallmarks of the building type – particularly the practice towers – are generally easier to spot.

    Being asked to put a book together for Amberley, then, was a dream project. I realised that very little original research would be required, as I have been researching the subject for over ten years and so I had most of the resources I needed to hand. My family rallied around the project, and a constant stream of hi-resolution images started coming in of fire stations from places they happened to be... often places I’d never even heard of! The book began to take shape.

    And now, only months later, the book is printed, bound and being distributed. It is wonderful to see the work in print, and particularly to know the stories behind each of the pictures… that my nephew Eddie got to sit in the cab of a fire engine at Crawley, (he is four…) that my mum and her friend got locked behind the fire station gates at Corby, and that Aunty Barbara spent a whole day driving round the valleys of South Wales to get me a shot of the fire station in Blaina! I am extremely grateful to them for all of their efforts, and to Amberley for the opportunity. And although the book is printed, there is still much more to learn on the subject… in England alone there are over 6,000 current and former fire station buildings… easily enough for a second volume! It has been a great honour to work on these captivating, often challenging but always charming buildings, and to regularly meet fire-fighters who are ready to risk their lives for our safety. My book is dedicated to them.

    9781445665825

    Billy Reading's new book Fire Stations is available for purchase now.

  • Reading in 50 Buildings by Stuart Hylton

    reading-in-50-buildings-1 Christ Church (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    It was only after I had agreed to write the Reading edition of Amberley’s ‘…in fifty buildings’ series that I started to have misgivings. I remembered John Betjeman’s words, that “no town in the south of England hides its attractions more successfully from the visitor”. That was in 1949 and the town had since undergone a further two-thirds of a century of rapid growth and change. Reading is at the heart of the most economically dynamic part of the country, and one of the prices that towns tend to pay for success is the destruction of all traces of the past.

    Never was this more true than in the past sixty years. For a start, we have seen the disappearance of the Victorian town’s three staple industries – beer, biscuits and bulbs – that for more than a century had been Reading’s economic life’s blood. The value of the sites they occupied was one factor in their decision to relocate and, sure enough, developers soon swallowed up their land, sweeping away almost all the built evidence that Simond’s beer, Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits or Sutton’s seeds had ever been produced here.

    reading-in-50-buildings-2 The ruins of Reading Abbey today (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    But development can add to our store of history, as well as take it away. In 1987, as developers were building the Reading Business Park, they started unearthing Bronze Age artefacts. It turned out to be the largest Bronze Age settlement in the south of England, taking our knowledge of the town’s history back to around 1000 B.C. As for more recent evidence of the town’s history, I need not have worried. A gratifying (and surprising) amount of built reminders of the town’s past have survived for us to enjoy - if you know where to look.

    But by now other questions were starting to preoccupy me, such as ‘what criteria should I use to assemble my short list?’ and ‘what is a building’? As for the first question, I ruled out the idea of some sort of beauty contest, of choosing Reading’s fifty most attractive buildings, or of trying to decide which fifty were the most important. Instead, I simply went for fifty that told part of the story of the town, be they architectural gems or eyesores, massive landmarks or humble almshouses. As for ‘what constitutes a building?’, I took it to mean anything that man had built. So, beside the houses, factories, offices, churches and railway stations that you would expect to find in the book, there are canal locks and a pioneering cemetery. One further confession – I cheated a bit on the fifty, as you will find when you reach the final entry.

    reading-in-50-buildings-3 One of the almshouses prior to their development (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    No built evidence of Roman settlement remains, unless you count the nearby ruins of Silchester, so our story begins in the year 979 – and what a story that one entry tells. It starts with a royal murder, with Edward, would-be future King of England murdered by his stepmother. Penance for this act led to the founding of St. Mary’s Minster Church. Prior even to this King Alfred fought the invading Danes for possession of the land on which it stands. The church was used as a lookout for the incoming Dutch forces during the misnamed ‘bloodless revolution’ of 1688, when William of Orange dispossessed James II of the throne. The revolution was misnamed ‘bloodless’ because a decidedly bloody battle was fought around the church and in the streets of Reading to drive out Irish troops loyal to James. Later the church became one of the first buildings in the world (along with several other Reading landmarks) to be immortalised by pioneer photographer William Henry Fox-Talbot, who based his fledgling business in the town.

    Violence seems to be associated with many of the town’s churches. Both St Peter’s in Caversham and St Giles in Southampton Street were partly destroyed by artillery fire, after being used as gun emplacements during the Civil War siege of the town. As for St Laurence’s in Friar Street, it survived the Civil War, only to have its western front blown out by a World War Two German bomber, which nearly killed the creator of Paddington Bear in the process. Greyfriars church saw a different kind of violence. After the reformation under Henry VIII, it was stripped of any useful building materials and the ruins turned into a particularly degrading and brutal prison.

    reading-in-50-buildings-4 Caversham Park (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of local stately home Caversham Park is like a history of England in miniature. Before 1066 it was the property of the elder brother of King Harold. In the centuries after that, it passed through the hands of many of the most powerful men in Britain (a surprising number of whom seemed to meet sticky ends). Kings and Queens visited the house and, for a short period in the thirteenth century, the whole of England was ruled from the Caversham Park estate. There have been several stately homes on the site over a period of about a thousand years, the latest of them designed by the architect better known for London’s Tower Bridge.

    And so the story goes on – a thousand years of history captured in fifty buildings. I have not even got space in this blog to talk about one of the greatest religious centres in the land, with a church the size of Westminster Abbey; a Victorian prison by one of the century’s greatest architects, modelled on the mediaeval Warwick Castle; the school where Jane Austen got part of her education, right through to a brand-new space age railway station costing £895 millions at last count. Far from worrying about finding fifty buildings to include, my challenge turned out to be knowing what to leave out.

    9781445659343

    Stuart Hylton's new book Reading in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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