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  • Lost Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Loss, in environmental terms, is not necessarily a bad thing, but is an inevitable consequence of growth, modernisation, changing demographics and the demands of technology. It is a necessary thing, but needs to be managed, which is why the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act was adopted by the government of Earl Attlee. If one has a legal and statutory framework to work to, change can indeed be managed so that the best of what is already in place – buildings, landscapes, streetscapes – can be protected and the requirements of the modern world fitted round them in such a way as not to devalue them.

    Iron foundries sprang up from the 1780s, closely followed by brass founders, one of whom, Sir John ('Brassy') Smith, established his firm in 1844, later moving it to Cotton Lane and eventually having a nationwide reach. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    There is also the problem of human nature. Loss of the familiar can be traumatic and, whatever the reality of that loss, to look back on it in comparison with what has succeeded it creates nostalgia; the rose-tinted spectacles of times past, re-inforced by well-remembered and loved familiar surroundings. Change inflicted upon ordinary people de haut en bas inevitably causes pain.

    Yet change must come, and we have to endure the loss of the familiar to some extent and very often what replaces it can come to be enjoyed in its turn, softened by the passage of time. Historic buildings, however, are more than just pieces of equipment in which we live, work, buy & sell, or enjoy ourselves. They are very often the product of a creative process which starts with the architect in concert with the person paying the bills and moves through the creators: sculptors, artists, masons, bricklayers, joiners, stuccadori and so on. An architect designed building, however humble or workaday, is as much a work of art as a painting.

    The difference is that a building also has utility and cannot be moved into a gallery to be admired when time-expired. People who seek to make impressive profits from re-development and local politicians hoping to cut a dash, frequently have a problem remembering this. Which is why the 1948 Act gave us listing and subsequent legislation, adding scheduled ancient monuments, conservation areas, world heritage sites and so on.

    Derby is no different to any other medium sized semi-industrial settlement although, thanks to its history, it punches well above its weight in the historical baggage it carries, along with elements of the built environment that reflect that history.

    After four centuries of Roman rule, the original core of Derby at Little Chester was re-fortified by the Danes, who were ultimately evicted from the area in 918, after which modern Derby was founded nearly a mile further down the Derwent.

    The Old Mayor's Parlour, Tenant Street, was the largest fifteenth-century timber-framed town house in England when it was unforgivably demolished by the council in 1947. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    A prosperous county town grew up and from the early 18th century gradually became a leading site for the burgeoning industrial revolution. By 1723 we had England’s first factory in the Silk Mill, soon to re-open as the Museum of Making, an attraction of national standing. Derby was home to two members of the Lunar Society, the intellectual cockpit of the English Enlightenment and their circle included such creative men as Joseph Wright, Joseph Pickford and Peter Burdett – who painted them, built for them and inspired them. Then came Jedidiah Strutt and Thomas Evans with their cotton mills, a series of modernising Improvement Acts and ultimately the Railway age. Which refocused the industrialisation of the City from luxury products to engineering, ushering in an age from which the City, renewed, is only just emerging.

    Thus the 18th century gave us ‘high end’ products: silk, clocks, scientific instruments, fine porcelain, pottery, decorative ironwork, spar ornaments and cement render, whereas the 19th gave Derby heavy and railway engineering, iron and brass founding, narrow tapes, silk trimmings, and brickmaking alongside continuing prestige manufactures.

    The last century saw many of both these decline, especially the heavy industry, although the coming of Rolls-Royce cleverly combined ‘high-end’ products with a new aspect of engineering, the automotive. That, driven by the exigences of conflict, gradually mutated from luxury cars into aerospace. In the present era, aerospace continues, whilst the decline and re-invigoration (through de-nationalisation) of the railways, has revived many aspects of railway engineering, now almost as high-tech as aerospace, along related developments including those related to the digital age, in themselves an element of a totally new industrial revolution.

    All this has led to a continuous growth in population, which itself presents considerable challenges, and has driven environmental loss and renewal just as powerfully as the demands of industrial change. The key to achieving a balance between necessary development, and harmful destruction of historic environments, is to acknowledge the need to provide for quality of life and the retention of an urban environment which remain humane in scale.

    In the early 1970s the DRI was still expanding rapidly, at the expense of the terraced streets to its south. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early 1970s, there was much destruction of historic buildings and environments going on in Derby, but without much in prospect to replace them, leaving only empty spaces, frequently turned into ad hoc car parks.  Come the prosperity ushered in during the 1980s, and the battle then was to get new buildings on these sites of real quality, but this was often a losing battle.

    Today the fight is to get humane scale, good quality, new buildings on the remaining empty land, without resorting to thoroughly inhumane residential tower blocks, much canvassed by business leaders (who do not have to live in them or near them). This concept of living uniformly packed vertically into compact units, goes back to Le Corbusier, a grim Anarcho-syndicalist, who believed that the mass of people should live where they are told to live. His famous Unité d’Habitation was just such a misguided piece of utopianism, wherein people were to be decanted into tiny living spaces in huge brutalist blocks, producing a dystopian nightmare which came to fruition throughout the Soviet Empire, not to mention post war London, Birmingham, Glasgow and other places. Where pleasant municipal semis were discarded as outmoded under this philosophy.

    Miraculously Derby, ever a little behind the times, escaped all that. Only one municipal high rise was built, a mere eleven stories, quite well designed and low-set, barely visible. The worst was the DRI Nurses’ home, 15 storeys and on a hill, demolished in 2017.

    Some losses have been entirely unnecessary, some preventable, others not. Thus, as the reader proceeds through the images assembled here they will be able to make their own judgements. But in the end it is important to stress that for all the lost city on display below there remains in Derby the core of a fine Georgian Market town which, with its later overlays, is still easy to discern and enjoy, aided by the friendly people who inhabit it and the compact size of the City centre still with its Medieval street plan.

    Maxwell Craven's new book Lost Derby is available for purchase now.

  • Britain's Greatest Bridges by Joseph Rogers

    One thing to note about my first Amberley title, Britain's Greatest Bridges, is that it falls short of thoroughly explaining the detailed engineering methods, techniques and construction concepts that naturally apply to some our nation's most important structures. There is a reason for this.

    Generous access for cyclists and pedestrians on the south side of the Severn Bridge makes for a great run between England and Wales. (c. Karen Rogers, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The book stemmed from a love for travel, which for me began in 2010 when school had abruptly finished and life in an exciting and endless world invited me to explore and wander, before the grips of employment took hold. In being unleashed on the British landscape, I sought to truly appreciate what exactly the vast numbers of villages, towns and cities had to offer, and in doing so came across a number of distinct landmarks that made a meaningful impression on the adolescent mind.

    One such feature was bridges. A two night break based at the M5's Gordano Services saw me take an excursion running across the Avonmouth Bridge during a cold and clear evening, which resulted in an experience that forced unrivalled adrenaline through the veins, trapped between the fast flow of traffic and the silent depths of the river below. Shortly afterwards, I was doing the same from England to Wales, taking advantage of the first Severn Bridge's generous walkways and the ability to stand so isolated above the Bristol Channel, whilst being in the thick of a major feat in roadway expansion.

    Over subsequent years, this want to become intimate with such landmarks, particularly those with candid public access, became an addiction of almost a decade thus far and one no doubt to last my entire lifetime. The opportunity to shed light on, and share a liking for, some of Britain's greatest bridges was one pounced upon, not to dissect tension, compression, concrete and iron, but instead to celebrate icons of culture, history and geography by including the patently obvious, but also those whose place might not be fully recognised without some understanding of its place in the local landscape.

    Though part of a larger failure to impose the car on Glasgow, Kingston Bridgenow successfully carries ten lanes of traffic via the M8 motorway over the Clyde. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The Kingston Bridge in Glasgow is a good example of this, seeing coverage in the book for being undeniably brutal when viewing the Clyde in all its glory. Its inception might have been somewhat disastrous and repairs long-lasting, but with the accolade of Europe's busiest bridge and a place in a music video for local band Simple Minds, it became notable enough for inclusion as one of the greatest. Some would say greatest failure, greatest concrete blot on the landscape, or greatest umbrella from the Scottish weather, but nevertheless a great bridge indeed.

    The sheer size of the Humber Bridge alone marks it as one of the greatest structures in Britain, though at one point it stood globally at the forefront of bridge-building. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    Similarly the Humber Bridge, whose construction has been widely celebrated in all formats, was a dead cert for the title, given its feats. As once the longest bridge of its type in the world, much is to be applauded in its design, length, height and technology, especially given its age. But also of interest is its very function, bypassing a route of approximately 50 miles, and linking two sides of the River Humber previously united only under the geographical Humberside banner. Crossing the estuary had been the want of previous civilisations, including the Romans, and doing so by boat became popular over subsequent centuries. It was not until the prominence of the automobile and the industrial advances made by both Kingston-upon-Hull and Grimsby became a factor that the need for a more permanent structure materialised. The bridge's very existence tells swathes about the area's progression and place in British history and this is arguably just as important as the science behind that existence.

    To the book's general audience, the point of celebrating, what are labours of love for engineers and architects, is to instil a sense of awe and pride in simply using or seeing these objects in the wider narrative of Britain's geography. Outlining a brief history and noting obscure facts and trivia might not erect the enthusiasm of those at the forefront of creating and maintaining our treasured spans, but hopefully can perk the interest of the general explorer in appreciating the wider and more subjective feelings that arise from exploring the UK in all its variety. After all, who better to judge the greatness of such structures, than those that use them?

    Joseph Rogers's new book Britain's Greatest Bridges is available for purchase now.

  • Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings by Martyn Taylor

    Debenhams, Charter Square. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was asked to write something about this subject I thought the choice would be challenging, it wasn’t, after all the town I was born into has numerous interesting buildings; many within the medieval grid of what is most probably the oldest purposely laid out town in the country from the 11th Century. But what to start with? Well I chose to commence with Debenhams Store on The Arc, a very modern shopping centre in the town. Controversially futuristic in appearance and not very Bury St Edmunds are just some of the descriptions used by people since it was built and opened in 2009. From there the iconic Abbeygate was probably the most obvious to proceed with, it sums up the power of the Benedictine Abbey that owned and controlled Bury St Edmunds for over 500 years whilst the noble Norman Tower, its counterpart further along, is now the belfry for the Cathedral the last to be finished in the country, a triumph of modern craftsmen. Nearby is the wonderful St Marys Church, the final resting place of Queen Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk the youngest sister of Henry VIII. Her subdued and under-stated tomb surprising to all, considering her status in life at one time, Queen of France. St Mary’s magnificent Angel Roof above one of the longest naves of any parish church in the country must be appreciated for the quality of its medieval workmanship, superlatives abound for what is today the Civic Church of the Town.

    Chapel of the Charnel, Great Churchyard. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the book, creating lists is never ideal so I would say to potential readers consider what is within and what is without. Everyone has opinions of what is good architecture, but I have tried to get a balance of the construction of the buildings and their descriptions and some of the stories behind their occupants. The nefarious Arundel Coke who once lived in St Denys on Honey Hill is a case in point. Having lost his wealth in the greedy investment scandal known to history as ‘The South Sea Bubble’ he elicited the help of an assassin to do his dirty work, that of murdering his well-off brother-in-law, Edward Crisp. Unfortunately, it did not go as the script intended, Crisp survived the brutal attack and Coke and his accomplice, John Woodburn, ended up on the gallows.

    Public buildings are well represented, alms Houses, hotels and public houses also. One of these, The Nutshell, is the smallest in the country, as far as I am concerned there are no other contenders! Two buildings not far from each other have unusual names, Goodfellows named after four brave brothers who fought in WWI, three of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice and Notice to Quit Cottages, the origins of which I have yet to fathom out. The Great Churchyard, the scene of the murderous attempt on Edward Crisp’s life is where I finish with the 50th entrant in the book, that of The Charnel House. This consecrated bone depository from 1300 has various plaques on its exterior to The Good, Bad and Unlucky. Bartholomew Gosnold the good founder of Jamestown, Sarah Lloyd for burglarising her employer’s home with her lover and the unlucky Mary Haselton struck down by lightning whilst saying her prayers. For a town so steeped in history Bury St Edmunds punches far above its weight, the many people who come here as tourists and stroll around the beautiful Abbey Gardens are amazed and ask, “Why have we not come here before”? There is no real answer other than to say just keep coming back!

    Martyn Taylor's new book Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings is avialable 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.

  • Aberdeen in 50 Buildings by Jack Gillon

    Marischal College. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen has all the appearance, and is furnished with most of the attributes, of a wealthy metropolis. It has all the public buildings which distinguish a capital. The streets possess the proper degree of regularity and elegance. It has busy crowds, in which the stranger soon loses himself; and its inhabitants, when inspected individually, are found to possess the dignity, the wealth, and the enlightened views, which are never to be found but in towered cities.

    The visitor enters the city by a long, spacious, straight, and regular way, denominated Union Street, which, when completed to the utmost of its designed extent, must turn out decidedly the finest thing of the kind in the kingdom. Previously to the opening of this way in 1811, the town was entered by a series of narrow tortuous streets.

    The most remarkable thing about Aberdeen in the eye of a traveller, is the stone with which it is built. This is a grey granite, of great hardness, found in inexhaustible profusion in the neighbourhood, and of which vast quantities, fashioned into small blocks, are annually exported to London, for the paving of streets. Though not polished, but merely hewn into moderate smoothness, this forms a beautiful wall, of a somewhat sombre colour it is true, but yet strikingly elegant.

    The Music Hall. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen is a flourishing port, and is the seat of a set of active and prosperous merchants. It is the place where commerce first took its rise in Scotland. Having thus got the start by many centuries of every other commercial city, it has maintained all along to the present time a certain degree of advance; it is certain that in no other place is the mercantile science so thoroughly understood, or the commercial character carried to a pitch of such exquisite perfection.

    Aberdeen originally developed around St Katherine’s Hill, a prominence that stood in the middle of the present-day Union Street. The town was given royal burgh status in the twelfth century and the Castlegate, or Marketgate, was the historic heart of the medieval burgh. The harbour was fundamental to Aberdeen’s prosperity and the town’s economic importance.

     

     

    The Sir Duncan Rice Library. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The rapid growth of Aberdeen in the eighteenth century resulted in its expansion beyond the tightly confined medieval streets around the base of St Katherine’s Hill. A number of new streets were formed during this period of planned expansion.

    In 1794, Aberdeen town council requested the engineer Charles Abercrombie to provide plans to rationalise the muddle of old unplanned streets of an increasingly wealthy and self-assured Aberdeen to connect the town to the surrounding countryside.

    Abercrombie’s bold plan proposed a significant Georgian rebuilding of the city with two major new thoroughfares – one running westwards from the Castlegate to the Denburn, and the other north. An Act passed on 14 April 1800 approved the construction of the new streets – the road to the west became Union Street and the road to the north was King Street. These new roads represented major engineering enterprises and set the context of modern Aberdeen. Union Street was a particularly challenging project – the street had to cut through St Katherine’s Hill, required a series of arches and a bridge over the Denburn. The generous scale of Union Street allowed the construction of buildings of substantial size and importance, and established Union Street as Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare. The street was named to commemorate the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801. John Smith (1781–1852), Aberdeen’s City Architect, and Archibald Simpson (1790–1847) were the leading architects involved in this great remodelling of the expanding city.

    The Town House and Tolbooth. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The predominant use of locally quarried grey granite up to the mid-twentieth century is a distinguishing feature of many of the city’s most important buildings, which gives them a distinct glitter in the sun and earned Aberdeen the sobriquet of the ‘Granite City’. The quality of the Aberdeenshire granite was internationally recognised and it was used for buildings around the world. The excavation of granite from the quarry at Rubislaw, which opened in 1740 and closed in 1971, created the biggest man-made hole in Europe.

    Aberdeen is a thriving city which has been synonymous with oil ever since the discovery of North Sea reserves in the 1970s. It has a proud and distinctive identity, a wealth of fine heritage buildings and more recent developments of outstanding quality. This has made the task of selecting fifty buildings to represent the best of the city’s architecture immensely difficult. This book takes the development of this rich and vibrant city as its broad theme, and includes buildings which seem to best represent the city’s long history.

    Jack Gillon's new book Aberdeen in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Loughborough in 50 Buildings by Lynne Dyer

    Old Rectory, c. 1228. Close-up of the ancient walls. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Loughborough. When I tell people I live in Loughborough, I am either asked “Where’s that?” or “Do you know Seb Coe / Paula Radcliffe / Liam Tancock / Tanni Grey-Thompson / Steve Backley [substitute here the name of any other sporting personality who may have been an Olympian or para-Olympian, recently]?” However, nobody ever asks me what it’s like to live so far away from the sea.

    It’s clear though, isn’t it, that since hardly anybody has heard of Loughborough, often doesn’t know where it is, and knows little, if anything, of its heritage, that it’s my job to change that. This was my purpose in writing a book entitled Loughborough in 50 Buildings.

    So, what makes Loughborough stand out from other UK towns? What about Loughborough is important – either to its own history and development, or at a national level? How is Loughborough at once different and yet, at the same time, the same as other UK locations? Why write a book about its buildings?

    The cemetery chapels viewed from the Leicester Road entrance. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, an examination of the buildings of Loughborough, however brief, throws up both similarities and differences with other towns, and through a discovery of these buildings, the history and fortunes of the town become apparent. We may not have the listed buildings of, say Stamford (Lincolshire), nor the cathedral of Canterbury (Kent), the Tudor buildings of Stratford nor the suspension bridge of Newport (Monmouthshire), but we do have listed buildings, and a fair few locally listed buildings, not to mention a whole host of non-listed buildings, all of which give Loughborough its uniqueness and really are worth shouting about, and shouting loudly.

    The buildings I have chosen to include in Loughborough in 50 Buildings are a quirky mix of ages and styles, of form and function, and – shock - some of them aren’t actually habitable buildings, but structures of huge significance to the town. A temporal range is included, starting with an Iron Age hill fort and some of Loughborough’s earliest buildings like the Manor House, the Guildhall, the Old Rectory and the Parish Church. Then moving through the Georgian period, to the expansion of the town in Victorian times, and even greater expansion in the 1930s. Today, the town continues to develop and even some 1960s buildings get an entry, with 21st century buildings and structures bringing us bang up to date.

    The messenger factory viewed from Hospital Walk. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Trades of yesteryear are represented in buildings like the Guildhall, the industrial units of Messengers, Morris and Brush, the service industries by the auction mart of Garton and Amatt and the banks of Lloyds and NatWest. The social life of the inhabitants of Loughborough are shown in the Sparrow Hill Theatre, the cinemas and bingo hall, as well as in the Temperance Hall and the town pubs. The educational life of both town and gown is evident from buildings like the Warner School and the university Towers hall of residence.

    The whole life span of Loughborough’s inhabitants can be traced from birth, perhaps at Radmoor House, to death and burial at the town cemetery. This book looks to the future with the impressive initiative to reinstate the Great Central Steam train line from Leicester to Nottingham.

    Loughborough in 50 Buildings is my first published book. Well, actually, it’s the first book I’ve ever written! I am a regular blogger (lynneaboutloughborough – no surprise there then!) and I write short articles for a variety of publications, but never before a full-length book. Was it difficult? In a word, ‘yes’! Finding time to dedicate to researching and writing as well as continuing to do the ‘day job’ and keep up with other interests and commitments, required a lot of planning and dedication, but it resulted in a great sense of satisfaction. Oh, and a good deal of self-doubt! What if I’ve got something wrong? What if people who read it come back to me with queries and questions, with counter-arguments and criticisms? Well, I have told people to do just that! Much of history is about an interpretation of the facts, and some of those facts are simply nowhere to be found, or are well-hidden, or have been superseded by further information coming to light that isn’t yet freely available. If my readers don’t tell me about things they think are wrong, about things where they have more information than I do, then I will never learn, and after all, life is one life-long learning journey.

    So, you may have a number of questions about Loughborough in 50 Buildings to ask me.

    Radmoor House viewed from Radmoor Road with its bay window facing the park. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    What was your favourite building?

    I loved them all – that’s why I wrote about them! But, if I had to chose one, I think it would be Radmoor House. Its position along a residential street that is effectively a dead end (it used to lead through to the main ring road, but now only leads to the College buildings). Its sideways orientation facing a park, but surrounded by a substantial hedge on three sides, means that the full magnitude of the building is not visible from the roadside and one could easily walk past it without giving it a second thought or a second glance. Which is what I used to do when I was a student forty years ago, and which was why I was intrigued enough to investigate its history. And what a history it has!! Lived in by some prominent local industrialists, being a nursing home and the birthplace of many local people, and now a College building, this has to be my favourite.

     

     

    The former Odean, now Beacon Bingo. Hathernware partnered with red brick. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Was there a group of buildings that appealed to you the most?

    Yes, I’d have no hesitation in saying I am absolutely fascinated by the numerous Art Deco buildings we have in Loughborough, all clad in Hathernware, and still as striking today as the day they were erected. This includes the current Odeon, the former Odeon (now a bingo hall), the building formerly associated with the local newspaper press, the Blacksmith’s Arms and a jewellery shop – to name but a few.

    What was most exciting thing about the writing process?

    For me, the most exciting thing about writing was the way everything seemed to be interconnected. The same Loughborough folk popped up in association with several buildings, the same architects designed a number of the buildings, the same builders were involved in erecting several buildings, the same brick manufacturers made the bricks used to build the buildings, and if I mentioned Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company once, then I mentioned it a hundred times. Apart from the local connections, there were moments when I could connect Loughborough to many other places in the UK. What place hasn’t got its connections with the Civil War? What UK church wasn’t renovated in the nineteenth century by Sir George Gilbert Scott? What town or city didn’t suffer from outbreaks of plague and cholera? Even the smallest of locations had a cinema at one time. And what hamlet, town or city hasn’t got a war memorial? Connections with nearby local places are made through architects like Watson Fothergill working in Nottingham and Newark, and the Goddards in Leicester and Kettering, and with larger cities like London in the use of Portland Stone, and the prolific use of polished Scottish granite across the country. And what connects Loughborough to almost the whole of the UK and much of the rest of the world? Taylors Bellfoundry. Hathernware (previously Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company), Ladybird Books and Loughborough University.

    Now that you’ve written one book, would you write another?

    Ah, that would be a ‘yes’! Secret Loughborough is due for publication in 2019!

    Lynne Dyer's new book Loughborough in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings by Mervyn Edwards

    Former Burslem Town Hall, 1994. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It’s a hoary adage that often springs to mind when I consider the buildings of Stoke-on-Trent or indeed any other city. Stoke has a particularly poor building conservation record – which is a stomach-churning but very necessary accusation for me to make, considering the city’s undoubted and abiding reputation for creativity. Like many other areas – though not all – its building stock is a jarring mishmash of just over 190 listed buildings juxtaposed with concrete banana crates, soulless office and residential blocks and some particularly gruesome manifestations of post-war development.

    Part of the problem with Stoke’s architecture in the last sixty years has been the relative lack of originality. When I gaze, glumly, at many new buildings I see a tepid harking back to the past that attempts to give structures a dignity and gravitas. This is perhaps offered as a sop to the traditionalist but fails on two levels. Firstly, it is better to preserve the past rather than copy it. Secondly, we need to be designing exciting, high-quality, visually-challenging buildings that can be our proud legacy to future generations. Stoke is not alone in not having picked up the gauntlet. I never cease to smile when I read Thomas Hardy’s description of the High Street Hall in his 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge (he writes of fictional Dorchester). He scribes:

    “It was Palladian, and, like all architecture erected since the Gothic age, was a compilation rather than a design.”

     

     

    Walkers' Nonsuch factory, 2012. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Truth be told, some of the finest buildings in Stoke-on-Trent ape past architectural styles but are nevertheless a feast for the eye. Burslem Town Hall doffs its cap to several and is one of the city’s most handsome landmarks. However, there are very few post-Thatcher era buildings whose design can be described as being influenced by lateral thinking, eccentricity and daring.

    My book, Stoke-on-Trent in Fifty Buildings (2018) was never intended as a Top Fifty picked in order of merit. It deliberately lists some odd and hopefully annoying choices such as the Walker’s Nonsuch factory in Longton and the Vale Park football ground in Burslem – buildings that are of their time and tell a particular story.

    Port Vale vs Shrewsbury, 2013. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stoke is sometimes too proud and too parochial to learn from other areas, but I am a huge advocate of comparing and contrasting. When you consider what other cities have achieved, could Stoke not be more madcap and more venturesome? Why can't we have shopping malls as architecturally risky as the Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre or the Selfridges building in Birmingham? Or exciting mixed-use development such as the canalside Nottingham One?   Could you imagine something like Blackpool’s famous Comedy Carpet in Market Square, Hanley? And, rising above it, an iconic structure such as the Dublin Spire? At the very least, can’t we have architecture that teaches, that rips up old paradigms and encourages cultural events or public art?

    Instead, Stoke, along with its development partners, comes up with ideas such as the tidy but timid Unity Walk shopping complex in Hanley – which has now been shelved – and pats itself on the back for its ingenuity. Granted, Stoke is not an affluent city, but if it is truly serious about emerging from the shadows of Manchester and Birmingham then it must find the will and the imagination to reject the safe and the mediocre and embrace pioneering design. It might take its cue from one of Staffordshire’s greatest figures, Reginald Mitchell, who remarked:

    “It is not good enough to follow conventional methods of design. It is essential to invent and evolve new methods and new ideas.”

    Mervyn Edwards' new book Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Bell Rock Lighthouse by Michael A. W. Strachan

    More than Stevenson and Rennie

    Historians now debate whether Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) or John Rennie (1761-1821) deserve the credit for the engineering behind the Bell Rock. While Rennie was Chief Engineer, Stevenson’s ingenuity on the reef arguable allowed him to construct from his own plan. (National Galleries Scotland, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was first approached by my Amberley editor regarding the possibility of writing a book about the Bell Rock Lighthouse my almost immediate answer was absolutely not. In my view there had been enough books written about the Bell Rock, most of which were nothing more than edited versions of Robert Stevenson’s 1824 Account of the Building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. What new information was there still left to find? In the end I was persuaded to write the book by one of the Bell’s many enthusiastic fans: a person from Dundee who had tried to convince me of its superior status among lighthouses.

    The Bell Rock was built 12 miles off the coast of Arbroath between 1807-10. The light was first exhibited from 1st February 1811. (Taken from Stevenson's Account of the Building of the Bell Rock, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Amberley Publishing)

    The Bell Rock, long seen as the lighthouse that made the name of the Stevenson Engineers, was built between 1807-10 to mark the deadly Inchcape Reef. As one might expect from the wealth of material published regarding the construction of the tower, it was not only seen as a monumental feat of engineering in its own time, but one which continues to draw appreciation and admiration today. To tame the Inchcape Reef, Stevenson and his men would need to build a solid stone tower on a rock which was submerged 12-feet under water at the high water and barely exposed during low-tide. At the outset of the construction it was expected it would take seven summers to build, but thanks to Stevenson’s ingenuity on the reef it was completed in less than four summers with the light first being exhibited on the 1st February 1811.

    The Bell Rock was manned by a chain of light-keepers from 1811 until it was finally automated in 1988. (Courtesy of Signal Tower Museum, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite this impressive record, if I was going to write a book about the Bell Rock it was not going to focus solely on the construction: Robert Stevenson wrote that book in 1824 and the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust has made that meticulous text available online. In more recent times authors have studied the construction while questioning whom the credit should go for masterminding the tower: although Robert Stevenson’s name is most associated with the Bell, it is not disputed that he was but an assistant to the project’s chief engineer John Rennie. While history has favoured Stevenson, in the last ten years or so Rennie’s vital improvements to Stevenson’s plans are becoming more emphasised and recognised, particularly following Professor Paxton’s 2011 publication Dynasty of Engineers: one of many works published in that year to mark the Bell’s bicentenary. But if I wanted my book to do anything, it was to show that the history of the Bell Rock lighthouse spans more than 4 years: it is more than just Stevenson and Rennie!

    This new book is different for it purposely goes beyond Stevenson and Rennie to explore the wider history of the Bell Rock, charting how things have changed in the tower through time to the present day. Yes, Stevenson and Rennie have an important part in the book, but they are contained to only two chapters. The majority of the book instead focusses on another aspect of the Bell which in my view draws just as much interest and admiration from pharologists and novices alike: what was it like to live and work on the Bell Rock? The story of how the keepers’ lived on this lonely tower for over 175 years, marooned for six-week periods 12 miles off the Angus coast, is just as fascinating as the over-documented story of construction. The book allows readers to chronologically drop in on the lighthouse during certain periods to see how, in many cases, situations had improved from the previous chapters while in other cases see how persistent challenges remained in what was considered to be Scotland’s worst light to man.

    The interest in the Bell Rock led to the old Signal Tower in Arbroath being refurbished into a museum which tells the history of the lighthouse. (Bell Rock Lighthouse, Amberley Publishing)

    It is acknowledged in the book that the job of light-keeping, particularly on the Bell, could be mundane: like at every other lighthouse there were long periods at the rock where very little changed and where the exact same vigils in the lightroom were carried out night-in and night-out. Such periods were, though, punctuated by the arrival of the engineers in their efforts to update and modernise the station. The more recent engineering challenges have been tackled by non-Stevensons and have been largely overlooked and ignored by pharologists and historians. Among those featured in the book are the four main ‘punctuations’ of the 20th Century: David A. Stevenson’s 1902 improvements; the Bell Rock adaptions for war; Hyslop’s 1963/4 modernization; and the Northern Lighthouse Board’s 1987/8 modifications for automation. While none of the above may match the gargantuan challenge and achievements of Stevenson and Rennie, they are important steps by the direct successors of those two men in the making of a modern and functional lighthouse. These engineering projects are just as fascinating a read and just as important to the history of the tower than those overseen by Robert Stevenson in the century before.

    Mr John Boath (left), last principal light-keeper of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, was interviewed by the author (right) for the book telling of his experience on the Bell. Pictured at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse (Photo: Ian Cowe, Bell Rock Lighthouse, Amberley Publishing)

    The book is illustrated with 100 images which have largely been taken from the extensive collection of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh as well as from other institutions and private collections, with many historical internal views of the tower. Some of these images have never-before been published which should be of interest to fans of the Bell Rock, and fans of lighthouses in general. The images represent the best collation of Bell Rock images in a single publication on the subject, while the approach to chronicle the full history of the lighthouse represents a welcome break from the traditional and well-trodden focus of that lights prestigious past.

    Michael A. W. Strachan's new book Bell Rock Lighthouse: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • Preston in 50 buildings by Keith Johnson

    A view from the top of Preston Bus Station looking towards Avenham. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent times, it has been announced that three of our historical buildings are about to be renovated and transformed. The former Park Hotel overlooking Miller Park, the old General Post Office building overlooking the Market Place and the old Corn Exchange on Lune Street are being primed for upgrades. It seems that buildings have a life of their own and those in Preston are no exception.

    Preston in 50 Buildings is relevant at a time when the buildings of Preston are currently in the public eye. The history of our buildings is an enthralling one and my book chronicles the events and the people who helped shape the city architecture of today.

    Preston became a city in 2002 over two hundred years after the first cotton mill had been erected in the town. What followed the first cotton mill was two centuries of development that left us with a University City.

    Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, toured the nation in the early 18th Century as a prelude to his three volume travel book, ‘Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27)’ which provided a fascinating first-hand account of the state of the country. Regarding Preston he had this to say - 'Preston is a fine town, but not like Liverpool or Manchester. Here's no manufacture; the town is full of attorneys, proctors, and notaries. The people are gay here and though non the richer for it; it has by that obtained the name of Proud Preston'.

    The old and the new - the Guild Centre Tower. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    He had been particularly impressed by Church Street – then called Churchgate and by Fishergate remarking – 'The great stretch is filled with great houses and is very broad. The house of the present Earl of Derby makes a noble appearance, and in general the houses are very well built. To this town the gentry resort in the winter from many miles around, and there are, during the season, assemblies and balls in the same manner as York.'

    Fine words indeed, but things would certainly change in the centuries ahead as the Preston of today was created. It involved great feats of civil engineering, far sighted architects and people intent on progress.

    The buildings of any town or city define the place more than anything else and Preston is no exception. The sky line is inevitably dominated by the tallest of structures and the main highways through Preston were shaped by the erection of the earliest dwellings and footpaths. It never is a blank canvas for the developer, but one where the existing landscape cannot be ignored.

    The choice of 50 existing buildings is no easy task for we all have those to which we attach fondness or favour. Those selected have been chosen for reasons of social, commercial, historical, political or civil importance, or simply because they are civil engineering feats to admire. Mention is also given in the book to numerous other buildings that in their own way are part of the rich tapestry woven into the soul of our city. 

     

    Stephenson Terrace, built from stone brought from Longridge. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    They all, in their own way, reflect the drive and ambition of people to improve the environment of their day; for Preston folk to linger, dwell or work within. Hopefully, you will appreciate what was no mean achievement to create a city; although with hindsight it probably didn't turn out quite like the town the planners of old foresaw or dreamed about.

    Only a few factory chimneys from the industrial heydays now remain, but those that do hold a significant place in the history of the city. The great name of Horrockses has left a legacy from the time Sam Horrocks built his mansion at Lark Hill through to the construction of Centenary Mill on New Hall Lane, now converted into luxury apartments. The other great monument from the cotton trade, the Tulketh Spinning Mill, has also passed the test of time and still provides employment for many.

    There is the legacy left behind by the dockers of Preston an area now transformed and known as Riversway; and by the tram and omnibus pioneers of Preston Corporation and the fondly remembered Ribble Bus Co; not forgetting the railway pioneers with their bridges across the River Ribble or the later emerging Victorian railway station through which passenger and freight trains still pass each and every day.

    St Walburge's and its spire. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the book is essentially about buildings it does afford the opportunity of walking in the footsteps of Preston folk down the generations, from noble men to common folk, and you will catch a glimpse of their lives on the streets of old as the place developed around them.

    Thankfully many of the homes of grandeur inhabited by genteel folk still remain to allow us to marvel at their architecture. Notable residents of our town past are mentioned, such as Edwin Henry Booth who once dwelt at Avenham Tower; Joseph Livesey whose residence was around the corner on Bank Parade where well cultivated gardens once flourished, and LEP newspaper pioneer George Toulmin who lived nearby on Ribblesdale Place. Down Stoneygate you can still visit the very place where Sir Richard Arkwright developed his revolutionary spinning frame, whilst Winckley Square owed its development to the ambition of William Cross and the Pedder families involvement with Ashton House eventually led to another pasture land becoming a public park.

    The idea of choosing 50 buildings in a town or city is quite thought provoking. Yes, there are many former buildings still recalled with fondness, but it is the great survivors, those of great longevity or local significance that take their place in chronological order within the pages of the book. It is apparent that great architects have been at work here, great planners and far-sighted pioneers have strived to build what in many cases are true monuments to their work.

    The Harris, a place of splendour viewed from the Market Square. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The architects of the 19th century, who inherited a landscape of factory chimneys and windmills, would no doubt look in awe upon the structures that have emerged since the middle of the 20th century. If only they were able to stand on the top floor of the Tithebarn Street bus station they would see not only the church towers and steeples built in their days, but towering skyscraper blocks of apartments, hotels and offices along with temples and domed mosques, a sign of today’s multi-cultural Preston.

    Preston in 50 Buildings explores the history of this rich and vibrant community through a selection of its greatest architectural treasures. From the Grade I - listed Harris Museum to the modern Guild Hall, this unique study celebrates the city’s architectural heritage in a new and accessible way.  The book takes you on a tour of the city’s historic buildings and modern architectural marvels and reveals a little about their construction and creation. The churches, theatres, public houses and cinemas of Preston’s industrial past are examined alongside the innovative buildings of a 21st century city.

     In the pages of the book you can visit some of the oldest, the quaintest, the tallest, the smallest, the busiest, the boldest and the brashest building in the city.  No point dwelling on the buildings that have been and gone, their useful purpose over, but much better we embrace those that remain from long ago, or have appeared on our streets in recent times.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston in 50 buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Dundee in 50 Buildings by Brian King

    St Salvador’s Church, Dundee

    St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the benefits of writing a book like Dundee in 50 Buildings book is that it literally makes you look again at buildings that you may have known all your life and notice details that you had not previously seen. Another is that it gives you a reason to visit places that you may have heard of but have never visited. In my case St Salvador’s Church was one such building. The church is situated in a different area of Dundee to the one in which I had grown up and, before researching the book, I had never had cause to visit it.

    St Salvador’s is the result of a mission to the Hilltown area of Dundee launched in 1855 by Bishop Alexander Penrose Forbes and Reverend James Nicholson of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Building on the site at Maxwelltown was undertaken in stages between 1858 and 1874. The first structure to be erected was the building that today is the Maxwell Centre but which originally comprised a school with a temporary church above. The church itself was built in two stages with the nave being constructed in 1867-8 and the chancel and Lady Altar in 1874.

    The Nave of St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The man behind this building was one of the most important ecclesiastical architects of the Victorian era, George Frederick Bodley. Bodley was born in Hull in 1827 and in 1845 became a pupil of the foremost figure in the Gothic revival movement Sir George Gilbert Scott, to whom he was related by marriage. Like many of his contemporaries, Bodley was concerned not just with the structure of his buildings but with their furnishings and decoration, helping to revive the mediaeval use of colour in his church interiors.

    For the poor millworkers who occupied the Hilltown area at the time the church was built, walking into St Salvador’s must have been the amazing, uplifting experience that Bodley intended it to be. They were greeted by a dazzling display of colour and artwork that contrasted sharply with the grim realities of their daily lives in Victorian Dundee. The building is still capable of provoking such a reaction in the twenty first century.

    The Nave of St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

     

    The walls and ceiling are decorated throughout with stencil painting designed by Bodley. Originally in watercolour this was replaced in oil paint in 1936 and restored in 1972. The nave is mainly decorated in a light green colour designed to direct the eye towards the chancel. The chancel arch in contrast is chiefly a deep red colour. The painted and gilded iron chancel screen was designed by Bodley as was the beautifully painted panelled reredos which fills the whole of the east wall.  The central panels of the reredos depict the crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary and St John at the foot of the Cross. The surrounding panels show the Apostles and the Archangels. Above is a fresco of the Annunciation.

    Other notable features of the church include the highly decorated organ which was restored in 1997.The stained-glass windows show various saints and are the work of the renowned English firm of Burlison and Grylls, except for that in the rose window in the west gable of the Lady Chapel which was transferred from the similar window in the temporary church next door.

    The organ at St Salvador's Church. (Dundee in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    St Salvador’s Church remains an active place of worship in the Scottish Episcopal Church today. As well as the standard service times, the church is regularly open to visitors and has participated in Doors Open days in recent years. Much has changed about the Hilltown area in the century and more since St Salvador’s Church was built, but the area is still a deprived one and the church opens its doors to those in need each Sunday afternoon, providing food, drink, friendship and advice. Impressive as the building is, the fact that the church is still fulfilling its original mission is perhaps even more so.

    Visiting St Slavador’s for myself has not only given me an interest in seeing more of Bodley’s work elsewhere but also a determination when visiting other towns and cities to seek out more of the fascinating buildings that are not necessarily part of the tourist trail. Based on my own experience of writing one, I think that buying the local “in 50 Buildings” book would be a good place to start.

    Brian King's new book Dundee in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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