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  • Scotland Remembered by Michael Meighan

    Scotland's Viking Past

    It is well known that from the 8th to the 15th centuries, Vikings – the name given to Scandinavians – raided, colonised and enslaved much of the islands surrounding the north and west of Scotland as well as Caithness and Sutherland. This included Orkney and Shetland, the Hebrides and the islands of the Clyde Estuary.

    Viking Longship in Shetland - waiting to be burned. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    Very recently, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula a rare Viking burial was discovered in which a warrior was buried in a boat along with his decorated weapons. However, there are few solid remains of Viking Scotland but it is well remembered in place names and in language, particularly of Orkney and Shetland. In Shetland the yearly Up Helly Aa winter festivals commemorate Viking days and end with the ceremonial burning of a Viking Longboat.

    There are records showing that Scandinavians had been raiding along the coasts of the British Isles from the 8th century and that settlements may have begun soon after this. In fact it was resistance to the Vikings that resulted in the joining of tribes to form the kingdom of Alba under Kenneth Macalpin in 843.

    Hogback stones in Govan Old Church. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    Following the sacking of Dumbarton Castle (then Alt Clut) in 878, Govan, now in Glasgow became a major town in their new kingdom – Strathclyde.

    Govan as the centre of the Viking estate is marked by the Govan stones held in Govan Old Parish Church in Glasgow. The most important is a sarcophagus that was found during excavations in 1855. This may contain the remains of Saint Constantine although the carvings are thought to be much later.  The stones are some of Scotland's earliest Christian carvings and include unusual Viking 'Hogback' stones. It is well worth a trip to the Govan Stones visitor centre there. It really is a most beautiful church and new finds continue to be made there and this is helping us re-assess the Scandinavian influence on Scotland

     

    The Battle of Largs 1263

    ‘The Pencil’ marking the Battle of Largs in 1263. (Author's collection, Scotland Remembered, Amberley Publishing)

    While the western seaboard of Scotland had been under Norwegian sovereignty for many years, the Scots had tried to purchase the lands but this had been rebuffed. The Scots then tried to take the lands by force so King Haakon set sail from Norway with a massive fleet to re-assert control.

    On the night of 30 September, 1263, the ships of King Haakon, which were occupying the Firth of Clyde were driven ashore in stormy weather near Largs. On the 2 October a Scottish army commanded by the High Steward of Scotland, Alexander of Dundonald arrived to confront the Vikings. A battle broke out on the beach. After hours of skirmishing the Norwegians were able to re-board their boats, sailing North to Orkney to over-winter.

    It was here that King Haakon took ill and died. His successor Magnus Haakonarson, King of Norway agreed with Alexander III of Scotland in the Treaty of Perth to lease the Viking occupied western shores of Scotland for a yearly sum. This fell through with Norway's civil wars and Scotland simply occupied the west. However, the control of Orkney and Shetland was ceded to Norway, so while the Scandinavian influence diminished in the West of Scotland it was to continue in the Northern Isles and to this day many in the Northern Isles do think of themselves as Scandinavians.

    The Battle of Largs is remembered by 'The Pencil' a tower on Craig Walk on the shore at Largs. The Pencil Walk takes you 2km from Largs to the monument and it is a fine place for a picnic. Each Autumn at the Largs Viking Festival, there is a re-enactment of the battle, held beside The Pencil.

    While you are in Largs you might also like to take the short ferry trip to the delightful island of Cumbrae that is brilliant for both easy walking and cycling.

    Michael Meighan's book Scotland Remembered is available for purchase now.

  • Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

    Choosing Fifty Buildings

    The process of choosing the fifty buildings to put into Swindon in Fifty Buildings, was something akin to drawing up a wedding invite list. Y’know – you make a list of all the sisters, uncles, cousins and aunts. Then you realise there’s far too many people and you have to start making choices and thinning out.

    Toothill farmhouse, 1979. (Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    So how to decide what to include in a book that tells aspects of Swindon’s story in its buildings and what to take out?

    Do I draw the list from Swindon’s listed buildings? Hmm – as this blog by Martin Newman on the Swindon Civic Voice website, points out, Swindon has some 659 listed buildings – not to mention fifty-three scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens. It’s easy enough to see how selecting fifty from that would be similar to the wedding list task: herculean. How else?

    I could have taken a good number from Old Town (Old Swindon), everything in the GWR railway village conservation area and beyond: the McArthur Glen Outlet Centre, STEAM Museum, Churchward House et al and have soon got to fifty notable buildings. But as interesting as that might be it wouldn’t make for a balanced book.

    In the end then, after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I opted to go for:

    Geographic spread – Swindon is a large town now and there’s buildings with stories right across it. Thus, I decided to represent as many areas as I reasonably could.

    Different periods of time – Returning to the blog about Swindon’s listed buildings, we learn that it’s a common misapprehension that listed buildings are old.  Not so. A building can be listed after thirty years – or even ten. When the Renault (now Spectrum) building was listed in 2013 it was one of the youngest Listed Buildings in the country and took pride of place on the cover Designation Yearbook. You won’t be at all surprised to know that, the Spectrum Building is indeed included in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

    Different types of buildings – Again, lots of hemming and hawing and decision-making needed. Not too many breweries.  Not too many old farmhouses. Not all of the modern iconic buildings – else would I take out to make room for them?

    Aerial shot of Railway Village. (Courtesy of Martin Parry, Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    At length I have my list of fifty buildings. Not that it remained unchanged of course. For instance, I hadn’t planned to include the Brunel Centre until, in my research, I came across a review of it by architecture writer, Colin Amory. My eyes alighted on the phrase ‘Swindon has acquired a touch of Milan’ and that piqued my interest. I felt it had to go in after that!

    The buildings in this book then run the gamut from a Palladian Mansion to old farmhouses and the GWR Railway Village conservation area to iconic 1970s and 1980s buildings – with plenty more in between. The GWR and its great locomotive works looms large in much of it and its tentacles reach into even more of it. As is inevitable. For New Swindon exists solely because of the GWR Works and Brunel and Gooch’s decision to build it where they did. But of course, that’s not the whole story of Swindon.

    The fifty buildings in this book then tell stories large and small, wrought in Victorian brick, older stone and 20th century metal.

    Angela Atkinson's book Swindon in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Durham by Michael Richardson

    This collection has been specially selected to complement my other volumes and is arranged in four specific sections: ‘Meet the People’, ‘The Built Environment’, ‘At Work’, and ‘Events and Occasions’.

    There are so many unusual images in this volume that it is impossible for me to pick out a preference; however, I will mention a handful.

    A rare image of Durham’s first professional photographer, Thomas Heaviside (1828–86) of Queen Street (Owengate). (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the first section, ‘Meet the People’, the one portrait that stands out for me is that of Thomas Heaviside – my favourite photographer and Durham’s first professional ‘photographic artist’.

    He is pictured in his whites with a friend, probably taken prior to a cricket match in the 1860s. He was born in Elvet in 1828, son of a schoolmaster. His occupation prior to 1860 was coach trimmer. Around 1861 he was listed as a photographic artist. Many of his photographs still survive and are reproduced in this volume. He was the grandfather of Michael Heaviside Durham Light Infantry, VC, who was born in Gilesgate.

    A brush and wash drawing of Kepier by William Hutchinson, c. 1780. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the second section, ‘The Built Environment’, the drawing of Kepier Mill was a great discovery as it was thought that no images existed of it before the fire of 1870. The close-up shot of the old rope bridge crossing the River Wear at Kepier Wood was another; this was taken by William Lambeth (father of Roy). The two early views of the construction of the viaduct (opened 1 April 1857) show the beginning of change to the city with the coming of the railway (although Gilesgate had opened in 1844 as Durham’s first passenger station).

    This is the only known image showing the Kepier Mill intact prior to the fire of 24 September 1870, which destroyed it. The stone archway still survives. To the right of the picture is Kepier Gatehouse, built by Bishop Flambard around 1130. On the extreme right is the seventeenth-century banqueting house belonging to the Heath family, which later became an inn. Only the first-floor arcade survives.

    The Wallace sisters, Eliza and Isabella, are seen outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath in the 1900s. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The third section, ‘At Work’, shows a busy city full of a variety of business premises. There are the Wallace sisters, Elizabeth and Isabella, outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath; and over the road at No. 41 Claypath is the City Picture Frame Works, owned by Thomas Cranson – both taken early 1900s. The beautiful shop frontage and interior of the Home and Colonial Stores at No. 4 Silver Street was taken in the 1900s by another great local photographer, John Edis.

    The final selection is ‘Events and Occasions’. I must say one special new discovery was the watercolour depicting the fire at the Salvin Cotton Mill in Church Street on 7th January 1804. This was captured by the renowned artist Paul Sandby RA (1731–1809), a founder of the Royal Academy. Lost events like the annual horse fair in Old Elvet, Lord George Sanger’s circus visit and the assize judges’ procession are covered. The Durham Miners’ Gala and the Regatta, which still continue to thrive, are also shown.

    A watercolour of Salvin’s steam-powered spinning mill in Church Street, c. 1800. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The mill stood to the left of St Oswald’s Church, behind what is now Anchorage Terrace. The building was built in 1796 and was six storeys high with 365 windows. It lasted only eight years, having been destroyed in the fire of 7 January 1804. Unfortunately, the Salvins hadn’t kept its insurance up to date and it was never rebuilt. Parts of its walls still survive and can be seen from the riverbank footpath.

    The archive continues to grow and it always amazes me as to the quality of images still turning up, especially after being hidden away for years in attics, cupboards and suitcases. I am confident that you will have great interest while perusing these pages and reading about our rich social heritage.

    Michael Richardson's book Lost Durham is available for purchase now.

  • Ruins and Follies of East Anglia by Edward Couzens-Lake

    Time to reboot our imaginations

    Perfection has never been a state of mind or matter that I am either familiar or comfortable with.

    Which is probably why, given the chance to visit somewhere like the Taj Mahal, as magnificently wondrous and perfect a building as you will see anywhere, I’d give it no more than a passing glance before casting a more inquisitive eye around me for any imperfections that lay within its sublime shadow.

    It’s probably because I can relate to flaws or foibles more readily than I can the spotless and supreme. Not least because I am a flawed and far from perfect character myself.

    The very concept of excellence intimidates me.

    Wreck of SS Vina. (c. Julian Dowse (geograph.org.uk), Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    Give me an interesting ruin every day. If it’s one that lives its life in the shadows, then so much the better. Take, as an example, the shipwreck that lies on a sandbank off the tourist magnet that is the beach at Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast. Assorted shapeless lumps of rusting iron are all that remain of the SS Vina, a handsome coaster with pleasing lines that was built in 1894 at the famous Ramage and Ferguson shipyard in Leith, a working vessel that spent its life crossing the North Sea between the ports of East Anglia and their opposite numbers on the far off Baltic Coast.

    It doesn’t look anything like a ship today. Yet its allure to the curious remains, the sense of mystery that surrounds any shipwreck from the Titanic downwards attracting visitors by the thousand, some of whom have, in years gone by, lost their lives for the sake of wandering around something which, in reality, serves absolutely no purpose at all and has no aesthetic value whatsoever.

    Stonehenge it most definitely isn’t. Yet there have been summer days when I have bestrode the endless sands at Brancaster and seen crowds of people out at the site that would do justice to Wiltshire’s most famous landmark.

    Yet explore it we do, that and other sites that are, in many cases, little more than a memory, a gathering of rocks and rubble, iron, brick and the occasional preserved wall or tower. The romance of what was and the invitation to invest in the imagination as you wander around them. Who, for example, has not surveyed the remains of the SS Vina and visualised, in the process, a deck, a bridge, a wheelhouse and foaming waters left in its wake as it plied its trade between Great Yarmouth and the Baltic ports.

    The imagination is a wonderful thing. And it has inspired many other wonderful things.

    Like East Anglia’s remarkable collection of follies.

    Heacham Water Tower. (c. Nige Nudds, Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    These too are, in their own way, buildings that have flaws but only in as much as their character and, on occasion, beauty can be seen as their great undoing. To repeatedly eschew architectural formality in favour of flair and flamboyance was, for me, one of the greatest gifts that the Victorians and Edwardians gave us. Take, for example, Redgate water tower that stands on the high ground in-between Hunstanton and Heacham in Norfolk.  The building is described as having ‘four flat angle pilasters on each side’, a pilaster being, in classic architecture, a technique used to give the appearance of a supporting column with ornamentation at the top and a classical plinth at its base.

    We are, might I remind you at this point, not talking about the look of one of the great buildings in Florence, Rome, Athens or Paris, but a water tower designed and built by Hunstanton Urban District Council in 1912 in order to supply water to the nearby village of Heacham. A building that merely had to be functional but is, appearance wise, anything but and one which richly demonstrates the perceived flaw in an architect who wanted to see grace and beauty in something that was otherwise brutally utilitarian.

    A folly is the consequence of a dreamer’s imagination brought to life. I can only admire and respect the architects and builders for their audacity and refusal to conform.

    Ruins and follies. Two features of our landscape that are fuelled by the imagination.

    Let’s not be forever lost in the artificial world of an LCD screen. Switch it off once in a while and retune your imagination to your own unique settings rather than the uniform way of thinking promoted by modern technology.

    Get out and explore. Lose yourself in some of the magnificent buildings that adorn our landscape.

    And rediscover who you really are in the process…

    Edward Couzens-Lake's book Ruins and Follies of East Anglia is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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