Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Britain's Heritage Series

  • Narrow Boats by Tom Chaplin

    The horse tows away a Joey boat with load of rubbish into Farmer's Bridge Top Lock. Note the simple towing mast and crude shape of the boat. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    As my wife and I approach our golden wedding anniversary, we have been reminiscing about our early life, when especially in winter, working narrow boats outnumbered pleasure narrowboats. These wonderful craft, with their floating population, brought their own culture and atmosphere to the canals. Unfortunately, the last of the family-operated long distance vessels stopped trading in 1970.

    The story of the narrow boat goes back to Georgian times when Britain had an agrarian economy and boats were pulled by horses. That soon changed: a horse could just as easily pull a canal boat loaded with 25 tons as a 1-ton cart on roads that often amounted to little more than muddy lanes. Narrow boats were soon moving raw materials and finished goods around the country and the industrial revolution became possible. In time, the horse gave way to steam, then diesel and boats operating in pairs were able to double the tonnage.

    Top cloths are positioned over the planks and side cloths to protect the coal. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Virtually all of the modern steel narrowboats afloat today were built after the end of trading and both their shape and decorations have become increasingly remote from the traditional working boat. Narrow Boats traces how these historic craft evolved, and explores why different companies developed their own design. In those days, boats travelled as far in a working week as pleasure cruisers did in a month. At the centre of these staggering levels of efficiency were the boatman and his family, on whom the reliable, fast deliveries depended. This book gives the background to life aboard these marvellous vessels and the very cramped quarters that formed a permanent home.

    This engraving, first published in 1873, shows a typical horse boat replete with the familiar form of decoration that changed little during the next century. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Victorian reformers campaigned for better conditions and secured acts of parliament to improve matters. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to peer into a mock up boatman’s cabin at a museum and react with horror to the prospect of this being home to a family. In reality of course, some had bow cabins which held an extra bed, and once fitted with engines, the boats usually worked in pairs and this meant two cabins, which doubled the living accommodation. In large families, children sometimes worked and lived aboard a childless or less fecund relative or friend’s boat. During the 19th century, many urban families shared damp, insanitary basements with several others and in this context the narrow boat cabin probably seemed a pretty good option.

    Restored boats, with their stunning painting, are now highly valued and many of today’s pleasure-boats and house-boats attempt (with mixed success!) to reproduce the effect. Narrow Boats takes the reader on a close look at how the boats were painted and has many colour photographs of work by the best, well-known professional painters.

    The lock gates are being opened using the boatman's rope trick. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    During the twentieth century, as industrial processes changed, many of the core cargoes, like coal, were no longer widely required. London docks closed and the end of carrying, which had been predicted for some time, in the event happened quite quickly. Even before this, the boatman’s way of life had become an anachronism and as more and more families moved ashore, it had become difficult to maintain staff levels and recruit new people. Perhaps it is surprising that despite the coming of the motorways, the narrow boat survived so far into the 20th century.

    The castle is an original, painted in 1950. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, in the 1960s, even the smallest load was enough to prevent the Government from shutting a canal on which there was a right of navigation and we have to be thankful to a few dedicated carriers, who despite obstructive authorities, persisted and successfully saved some of our favourite waterways. Unfortunately, the idea persists that our waterways are inappropriate for modern commercial traffic. Yet a boat will reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to lorries. Heavy loads, like aggregates or building materials, could avoid motorway gridlocks and delays, while their removal from our roads would reduce accidents. However, it seems unlikely that the heavy investment needed for this will be forthcoming.

    A recent programme in the current BBC series, Britain Afloat featured narrow boats: this book will help to answer the many questions raised in the film.

    Tom Chaplin's new book Narrow Boats is available for purchase now.

  • The Kitchen Garden by Caroline Ikin

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Fruit trees were trained up the kitchen garden walls in espaliered shapes, allowing for even ripening and ease of picking. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    When visiting historic gardens I’m always drawn to the walls.  A high brick wall – too high to look over, and with no openings to peer through – offers a tantalising clue to what lies beyond: the kitchen garden. What was once the bustling hub of the working garden is now often left derelict, grassed over, converted to a private swimming pool, or used as a car park.  But the walls remain, sometimes with the skeleton of a glasshouse clinging to them, or an ancient fruit tree still struggling up their bricks. These walls were built to last, their brick faces absorbing the light of the sun to ripen the fruit trained upon them in espaliered shapes, their stone copings sheltering delicate blossoms from rain, their solidity offering protection from wind and frost, and from predators - both animal and human.

    The gardeners who worked within the walls would have worked their way up over the years, from garden boy to positions of greater responsibility, developing specialisms in the cultivation of glasshouse fruit, growing cut flowers for the house, forcing rhubarb and chicory, creating hot beds and cold frames, sowing, germinating, watering, pruning, harvesting, and keeping pests and diseases at bay. Kitchen gardening was a job that afforded little time off. The garden bell rang at 6am, and until 6pm, the workers would be kept busy under the watchful eye of the head gardener.  But the plants did not stop growing at the end of the working day, and the glasshouse boilers had to be kept stoked, and the vents adjusted to maintain the exact temperature required for the peaches, grapes, or figs to flourish.  Pests - whether aphids attacking the vines, wasps gorging on the plums, slugs grazing on lettuce, or mice penetrating the apple store - were active at all hours, and gardeners had to keep a steady vigil. The bothy was often built into the garden walls, positioned behind the glasshouse range on the north-facing side, not taking up valuable growing space, but benefitting from the heat penetrating through the wall. Here, the unmarried gardeners would sleep, wash, and eat their meals; what little spare time they had was taken up with reading garden books and journals for those ambitious to scale the career ladder.  A head gardener could marry, and was given a house and garden of his own.

    The Kitchen Garden 2 Pineapples were notoriously difficult to grow, which made them all the more valued at the table in an age of horticultural one-upmanship. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    The kitchen garden was also the perfect showcase for innovation, particularly in the nineteenth century, when industrialisation had revealed the possibilities of mechanisation, and spurred invention to new levels. The growing consumer culture rewarded novelty and ostentation, both of which could be amply satisfied through fruit and veg. The production of cast iron and cylinder glass allowed hothouses to reach new dimensions, and these horticultural havens housed exotic orchids, as well as tropical nectarines.  The favourable growing conditions created under glass, with reliable boilers providing controllable heating systems, gave gardeners the means to cultivate out-of-season fruit, and impress with unusual cultivars from exotic climes. The dinner table would be graced with a centrepiece of fruit and flowers, all produced by the skill and patience of the kitchen gardener, at which guests would express their admiration, and conceal their envy.  The ultimate prize was the home-grown pineapple - a fruit notoriously difficult to cultivate, and requiring specific conditions at each stage of its growth. This special fruit was tended personally by the head gardener, and if his expertise was not up to the task, enterprising businesses offered pineapples for hire by the day.

    The Kitchen Garden 4 The Victorians invented many labour-saving gadgets for use in the garden, not all of which have stood the test of time.

    The Victorian confidence in scientific understanding was also on show in the kitchen garden.  Now that processes, such as photosynthesis and soil nutrition had been explained, gardeners were able to apply the knowledge of modern science to their growing methods, adapting their green-fingered traditions to incorporate artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides, producing bumper crops of perfect fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  There was a tool for every job, with new-fangled, labour-saving gadgets stored in the tool shed alongside the spades, rakes and hoes, whose utilitarian design has lasted unbettered through the centuries.

    So, next time you follow the ivy up to the top of the garden wall, let your imagination fill with the sights, sounds, and smells of what went on beyond the protection of the bricks and mortar.  Taste the delicate peaches, hear the rumbling of the wheelbarrow, and watch the garden boy as he wipes his boots before entering the glasshouse with his watering can. The walls of the kitchen garden enclose an astonishing story.

    9781445668840

    Caroline Ikin's new book The Kitchen Garden is available for purchase now.

  • Fire Stations by Billy Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445665825

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

  • The Sixties Railway by Greg Morse

    For the public at large, ‘the Sixties’ were all about the pill, Profumo, the Beatles, the Summer of Love, student unrest, LSD and Vietnam. Though the railway was an inherent part of that society, its own list would probably include Beeching, line closures, electrification, modernisation, Inter-City and the end of steam.

    The Sixties Railway 1 Delivered to BR in 1959 and put into service on the Western and London Midland Regions over the next two years, the Blue Pullmans - though luxurious and beautiful - were also prone to poor riding at speed. (The Sixties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    These are the markers of history, and The Sixties Railway takes a look at them all. But what was it actually like to be a passenger back then? Maybe you’d be a commuter, squeezed into a fusty carriage, bumping over the points into Liverpool Street. Maybe you’d find yourself travelling from Paddington to Bristol on the beautiful Blue Pullman, enjoying bacon and eggs as Berks became Wilts. Imagine instead catching a train from London to Glasgow. It’s a crisp January morning in 1960 and you step out of a black cab onto the cold surface of Drummond Street. You walk beneath the Doric Arch, so beloved of John Betjeman, cross the courtyard and enter the cathedral-like Great Hall. The place is packed, but once you made your way to the platforms, a smoky gloominess falls like a pall.

    On the platform, young boys note the numbers of the great locomotives – the ‘Coronations’, the ‘Scots’, the ‘Princess Royals’. You board your maroon Mark I, and make your way down the corridor, hoping for an empty compartment. Your luck’s in – at least for now – and you settle yourself, dropping the blind, turning up the heat, opening the toplight a touch. You feel warm and comfortable as you sit back in the soft, inviting upholstery.

    Departure time comes and you hear the guard’s whistle blow. The engine breathes low and the climb up Camden Bank begins...

    The Sixties Railway 2 Modernisation could mean destruction. From some, this was typified by the demolition of the Doric Arch at Euston from the end of 1961. (The Sixties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Within two years, the Doric Arch had been demolished; within ten steam had gone from Euston – from everywhere – and electrification meant you could travel in smooth, sleek silence from the capital to Manchester and the north-west.

    To some – like John Betjeman – the new Euston that went with the New Railway was a cold place that seemed to ignore passengers. To others – like BR itself – it was the flagship station on a flagship modern main line.

    Pulling up in a cab in 1969, you’d find yourself below ground, seeking the escalators to raise you from the exhaust fumes of the basement to the bright, airy concourse above. Your next stop is the shiny Travel Centre for a ticket, after which you glance up at the huge departures board, before heading for the Sprig Buffet. Sitting at a table, you sip at a coffee, light up another Embassy and meditate on the sculpture of Britannia that used to be in the old Great Hall. Does it make you sad? Or do you think she looks more at home here against the rich green felt?

    On the platform, boys still survey the scene, though the older ones recall the majesty of steam and can’t feel impressed by the rhythmless electrics that now hold court.

    You show your ticket and head down the concrete slope to the platform. Stepping into open-plan comfort, you find a window seat and settle down to your newspaper.

    Departure time comes and you hear the guard’s whistle blow. The locomotive wails into life and the train sails up Camden Bank. It feels like flying...

    9781445665764

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

  • Dinky Toys by David Busfield

    Dinky Toys were amongst the first metal diecast toys to be produced in Britain. They have become synonymous with these little models, so much so that items from other manufacturers frequently get called Dinky Toys. When I was a young child I, like the majority of my friends, were totally captivated by them.

    When I was approached to write the book on Dinky Toys I was initially a little concerned that I would not be able to write the required 12,000 words that were specified. After a lot of planning I started the writing process and very quickly realised that I could have written an awful lot more.

    Dinky Toys 1 The Dinky Toys Jeep: the version on the left with the solid steering wheel is the earliest. The later version on the right has a domed bonnet. (Dinky Toys, Amberley Publishing)

    The biggest conundrum was what to include in the book and what would have to be left out. With the exception of a few years during World War II, Dinky toys were in production from 1934 to 1979, a period of approximately 40 years. I decided to concentrate on the period of production which coincided with my collecting time as a young boy; this was 1949 to the early 1960s. As a result the pre-war models and the items from the late 1960s and 1970s are covered in the book.

    Dinky Toys were manufactured by Meccano Ltd. in Binns Road, Liverpool and also by Meccano, France in Bourges. As a boy I was never aware of the very nice French range of models and I have concentrated on the British products which came from Binns Road.

    Dinky Toys 2 Four lovely American automobiles from Packard, Cadillac, Hudson and Nash. (Dinky Toys, Amberley Publishing)

    In addition to the actual models I have a sizeable collection of Meccano factory paperwork such as letters, catalogues, price lists, instruction leaflets, factory engineering drawings, dealer information sheets etc. I also have a lot of dealer trade boxes and point-of-sale material. Some of these items fall outside the scope of this book but they are a fascinating collecting area as they help to complete the Dinky story.

    This is not a book for the “rivet counter” who wants to know details of all the different castings or colour scheme variations. There is just not the room in a book of this size to do that. There are a number of internet forums which cater very well for the reader who demands more intricate information.

    My main collecting area as a child was the military vehicles and commercial vehicles, however, I have not concentrated on this, but I have attempted to cover as many areas of the Dinky range as was possible. As an example it is not widely known that Dinky made a very fine doll’s house and a range of suitable furniture in the 1930s. Sadly this was not successful and was quietly discontinued; this interesting area is covered in the book.

    It is a nice touch that the front cover features the lovely Land Rover Mersey Tunnel Police Van. Meccano Ltd. was of course based in Liverpool which makes this choice very appropriate.

    9781445665801

    David Busfield's new book Dinky Toys is available for purchase now.

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