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  • A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon by Will Adams

    I was delighted to have the chance to contribute a Stratford-upon-Avon volume to Amberley’s ‘A-Z’ series, as the town and I go back a long way.

    ‘Swans of Avon’: the river and its swans and other waterfowl are central to Stratford and the iconography of Shakespeare. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m a ‘Coventry kid’, having lived in that city for the first 19 years of my life, so Stratford was only just down the road. My sister and I were lucky in that our parents were theatre-lovers, and we made frequent visits to the Memorial Theatre during the 1960s. In those days the theatre had a small apron stage, and on either side of the stage projection were a couple of very short rows of diagonally positioned seats, right under the edge of the apron. Because of their unconventional position, I guess they were relatively inexpensive; whatever, my parents, who didn’t have a lot of money to throw around, booked us into these seats, which meant that we were often really in the thick of the action! You had to crane your head up to see, and only got a sort of sideways view, but in battle scenes we were likely to have a cannon or a corpse rolled in front of us, and we were also in the direct line of fire of any of the ‘spitty’ actors of the day.

    Talking of the actors, my mother, then in her late thirties, was quite stage-struck, so she and I often found ourselves part of the gaggle of autograph hunters at the stage door after the performance. One actor we saw frequently, though nameless now, was a regular extra – third spear-carrier from the right and so on – and always went home on a bicycle; he became known to us as ‘the bloke on the bike’. At the other end of the acting scale, I see from my autograph book, which I still have, that in the mid-1960s I obtained signatures from such greats a Judi Dench, Marius Goring, Tony Britton, Diana Rigg, Ian Holm, Eric Porter and David Warner, all appearing with the RSC.

    Attending other events in the town – poetry readings and the like – I see that I also have the autographs of John Betjeman and Donald Pleasence.

    The Birthplace today, heavily restored in 1858 to what it looked like in a drawing of 1769. The 1960s Shakespeare Centre can be seen beyond. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    We travelled to Stratford from Coventry in Dad’s Ford ‘Pop’, and generally managed to get a street parking place in Chapel Street, not far from the theatre – very unlikely these days, I would imagine. The car had no heater, so on the journey home my sister and I in the back had our knees covered by a tartan blanket, and were frequently called upon by Dad to ‘wipe the back window’ with a duster to remove the condensation – no heated rear screen either! The journey was traditionally broken by the purchase of four bags of chips from a fish and chip shop in Warwick – a welcome treat on a cold night!

    Another memory of Stratford in those days was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964, when a large exhibition was mounted on the meadows beside the river. As a souvenir I bought a small china tray bearing the famous portrait of the playwright together with his signature. It’s still on display at home today, some 55 years later – thanks to the application of some glue…

     

     

    The chancel and spire of Holy Trinity Church viewed from the east bank of the Avon. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    In later years, having moved away from Coventry, my wife and I would often have a day out with Mum and Dad in Stratford, enjoying its variety of shops – and tearooms. Sadly, as my parents became less mobile, so these occasional excursions inevitably became less frequent, so it was a great pleasure to have the excuse to re-acquaint myself with the town by researching the book – especially the non-Shakespeare-related aspects. For example, I didn’t know that John Profumo was the town’s MP at the time of the notorious 1963 scandal. The contributions to ‘Bardolotry’ by eccentric romantic novelist Marie Corelli, eminent actor David Garrick and the Flower brewing family produced fascinating insights. I also didn’t know that Stratford had a listed telephone kiosk, and was home to the Royal Label Factory, which produced many of the cast road signs and signposts that were so familiar in the 1960s.

    My wife and I spent a very enjoyable long weekend in June 2018, at the height of that summer’s heat wave, taking photographs for the book and exploring some of the town’s less familiar corners. While the whole placed is steeped in Shakespeare, it is worth bearing in mind that he spent much of his working career in London, and essentially very little is known about him, his life and death, and his family – which is perhaps what makes him so endlessly fascinating to theatre-goers and scholars alike. What is certain (unless you subscribe to the ‘they-were-all-written-by-someone-else’ conspiracy theory school!) is that when he died in 1616 he had written some 37 plays and 150 sonnets – and he was only 52 years old. Quite an output!

    Will Adams' new book A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon is available for purchase now.

  • Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote by Sue Slack

    Light blue silk Cambridge University Women's Suffrage Society banner, which survives at Newham College. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    Every schoolgirl knows that it was Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragettes who gained some women the vote in 1918, or was it?

    Certainly the stories of their daring protests and their challenge to the status quo, at a time when women were not expected to speak in public, has an appeal to modern advocates of girl power.

    In Cambridge the Suffragettes did not disappoint, planting improvised bombs at Great Shelford station and the rugby club, mutilating volumes at St John’s College Library and allegedly daubing Votes for Women on the gates at St John’s College – which later turned out to be an undergraduate prank.

    Suffragette teacher Miriam Pratt, from Norwich, also committed arson in Storey’s Way, burning two houses aided and abetted by Olive Bartels, the local WSPU organiser and chief aide to Emmeline Pankhurst.

    Olive and Grace Roe, the East Anglian WSPU organiser, were members of the Bodyguard who protected Emmeline Pankhurst from police brutality and from capture. The Bodyguard were trained in jiu jitsu and often acted as decoys to allow Mrs Pankhurst to escape dressed in large hats and veils. They also used weapons to protect themselves from increasingly violent treatment and even sexual assault from the police. Hat pins and Indian clubs were sometimes used and barbed wire could be secreted in their bouquets or muffs.

     

     

     

    The Great Pilgrimage, July 1913, reaches Howfield in Buckingham Road, the home of Agnes Ramsey. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the Suffragettes were only ever a small but determined group campaigning for the vote from 1903-14.  The numbers of NUWSS members (Suffragists) far surpassed those of the WSPU locally (around 500 members to about 20 known Suffragettes) and were led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, whose statue (as seen on the book’s cover) was unveiled on Parliament Square in April this year, 100 years since some women got the  vote.

    MiIlicent lived with her husband, Henry at Brookside Cambridge where a blue plaque was at last installed in February this year, to commemorate her contribution to women’s education and to women’s rights in Cambridge at the time. Newnham College, the second female college in Cambridge, was developed with her and her husband’s help along with Henry Sidgewick and others. She also began the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Society despite the untimely death of her husband.

     

     

    'Convicts, lunativs and women' could not vote. This poster shows an educated woman to be a disability, with her academic books the other side of the gate. (By kind permission of the syndics of Camridge University Library, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    The society patiently and determinedly campaigned for the vote for about 40 years until 1928 when all women had the vote at 21, on the same terms as men at last.

    They held meetings, market stalls and marches including the spectacular Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913 which eventually converged on Hyde Park to show the media that the Suffragists were as determined as the Suffragettes to have the vote, but were prepared to suffer six weeks of hardship to prove their non militant point. Newnham and Girton students and tutors marched alongside the beautiful blue banner with the slogan “Better is wisdom than weapons of War” aptly displaying their pacifist ethos. This banner still exists at Newnham College.

    Colourful pageants and plays were also held to illustrate their aims.

    “Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote” is illustrated with previously unseen portraits of local Suffragettes and Suffragists taken from the Palmer Clarke glass negative collection held in the Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library.

    Recently discovered Suffrage posters at the Cambridge University Library are also included as well as modern day photos showing some of the iconic Cambridge scenes associated with women’s suffrage, which are well known to tourists and students down the ages.

    Sue Slack's new book Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote is available for purchase now.

  • Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide by Lorraine Hitchings

    Richard Steiff, father of the teddy bear. (Image courtesy of Steiff GmbH, Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Brimming over with myths and legends about his past, the Teddy Bear it seems, has been a huge part of our lives almost forever. Many people believe they own a Teddy from Victorian times or even earlier but, the truth is, he only entered our lives in 1902 and even then, the first bears (because he was not known as 'Teddy' until later) looked nothing like the cuddly creatures we know and love today. It was all thanks to Germany and to a man named Richard Steiff who became known as the father to the Teddy Bear. His aim was to create a soft toy that children could cuddle, as during those times toys were made of hard stuff like wood and even metal. Even dolls of those times were made of very hard materials.

    The first bears made by Steiff were rather harsh looking and also quite hard to the touch. The truth is, we needed to give him time to evolve.

     

     

    An early American-made teddy bear named Mississppi, who lost an eye sometime in the past. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Those rather magical two words that we know so well 'Teddy Bear' came just a little bit later and for this we have to thank America, or to be a little more accurate to both President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and to a small shop keeper from Brooklyn, New York named Morris Michtom. Without these two people adding their mix to his evolution, who knows, we may not ever have heard of the Teddy Bear.

    Very quickly the Teddy Bears name spread across both sides of the Atlantic and by 1906 many toy companies in the United States began to produce their very own versions of him. Companies like the Ideal Company, Bruin Manufacturing Company (BMC) and the Strauss Manufacturing Co. Inc starting up teddy production.

    It was to be a while, however, before England started making Teddy Bears as many toy manufacturers believed him to be just a fad. However, by the start of the First World War, they were just beginning to realise his importance and English Teddies began to trickle through. The first makers being the London based firm of Farnell (famous for producing the world's Most Famous Bear – Winnie the Pooh). It was this company who, during the Great War, produced what we now call 'Sweetheart Bears' or 'Soldier Bears'. These were tiny teddies that were made especially as soldiers’ mascots and often given by their sweethearts, before leaving to fight abroad. Such was the popularity of these little bears that other companies began to create their own versions.

    The revoluntionary Wendy Boston bears were certainly a new generation of teddy. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    By the end of the First World War many companies, both in England and Europe, were producing Teddy Bears. What really pushed the manufacture in England was the fact that due to German products being banned from the country, we found ourselves somewhat teddy less.

    Between the two world wars manufacturers, both in England and Germany, found it difficult to find materials to make their bears. Steiff looked at many different alternatives to mohair, including would you believe, nettles and wood, eventually coming up with their amazing 'Paper Plush' Teddy.

    It was points like this in history along with the latest fashions that has changed the way the Teddy looks, from his whole body shape, to the colour of his fur coat. During the twenties, for example, ladies made the Teddy Bear a fashion item and because of the vibrant colours of that era, the teddy took on many new and bright colours. A German toy manufacturer named Schuco produced some adorable little teddies in many different colours and many of these bears carried a secret – when their heads were taken off they revealed a lipstick or even a compact. These bears were made so well that today many has survived to tell the tale and they are now extremely popular with collectors around the globe.

    One of the biggest changes in the Teddy Bears lifetime was during the 1950's and 1960's when Health & Safety issues arose. For the first time in his life he was called dirty and unhygienic.

    Ted Hart, a Merrythought bear from 1958, who is still owned and loved by his original owner. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    A new Teddy Bear design had to be found and for this part of his evolution, we have to travel to a small town in Wales called Crickhowell. The lady we have to thank is Wendy Boston. Along with her husband Ken, they produced some of the most iconic (and in my opinion beautiful) teddies of that era.

    Wendy Boston Bears looked very different from any other teddy ever made that is for sure. This was because they were fashioned from completely washable nylon fabric and even the stuffing was fully washable. These bears became famous, not because of their looks but because they could be washed frequently in a washing machine and not only that, but they could be put through a mangle. As well as being fully washable and so termed hygienic, they were also fitted with modern 'safety eyes' whereas older bears had glass eyes fitted on a metal shank which could easily be pulled out of the bears head.

    Wendy Boston Bears sold in their thousands all around the world and many bears have survived to this day and once again sought after by collectors and I would note that, at the moment they come at a very affordable price.

    The Teddy Bear continued his journey, every decade showing up yet another problem for him, but still he carried on. When the Eighties came, of course, his personality shone, when a new age of Teddy Bears hit the scene. Firstly, manufacturers jumped on the collecting band wagon, making Limited Edition Bears. Often these bears were sold out before they even hit the shops. Artist Teddy Bears also hit the market and these bears, took the market by storm.

    No matter how much the Teddy Bear has evolved because in our hearts he is still 'Teddy' our best friend, lifetime companion and keeper of secrets and for me that is all that really matters, but I have to admit, his history is just incredible.

    Lorraine Hitchings' new book Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words by Edward Allhusen

    The greatest invention of all time - Words and where they came from

    If you stop people in the street and ask them to make their choice of the greatest invention of all time they usually say the wheel. But the choices are endless - penicillin, concrete, telephones, petrol engines, sliced bread. Yet one invention is seldom even shortlisted despite all of us using it every day just as you are doing right now. Surely the greatest invention is language but it is seldom considered as people take it for granted. But it certainly is an invention, for no new born child comes equipped with a vocabulary.  All the words in all of the world’s estimated 6912 languages and countless thousands of dialects were invented by man. Samuel Johnson defined 42,773 words in his famous dictionary published in 1755 but now it is believed that there are in excess of 600,000 words in the English language.

    Every single one of them must have been made up by someone, somewhere at some time and for some purpose.

    Every word has a pedigree but for many the mists have rolled in and the history has been lost. But thousands have retained their history and that is what makes etymology so fascinating. For practical purposes conventional histories have to limit their scope to periods of time; areas of the world; particular spheres of science, philosophy or whatever the wordsmith chooses. But words have no such restrictions, leaving them free to leap over boundaries on their journey to the same single destination - your vocabulary, whether it be in your memory, your spell checker or your dictionary.  As they journey through time, cultures, regions and other languages they invariably bring with them a little bit of their ancestry.

    Thousands of words have been purloined from hundreds of other languages and English has always welcomed these immigrants whenever there seemed to be a linguistic gap that needed filling. Before the fifth century Latin was spoken in much of Britain but when the Romans packed up and departed they left behind thousands of words including Domino, Mantelpiece and Refrigerate. The dispossessed Celts bequeathed Butcher, Glass and Lukewarm. The Angles, whose language forms the basis of English, brought many words that have remained unchanged since they stormed ashore, Bishop, Daisy and Earwig among them. Then there were the Vikings whose Norse language contributed hundreds more including Acre, Awkward and Ski.

    In 1066 Norman-French became the language of government and law and, even when English eventually regained the upper hand, many words such as money, jury and tax remained. Knights and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land brought home exotic items and ideas never before seen in the west thus introducing words that originated in China, India and Persia such as Ivory, Oranges, Pyjamas, Satin, Sugar and Shampoo.

    Explorers and travellers returning from the new world with a plethora of previously unseen foods, ideas and items retained the native names including Anorak, Avocado, Barbeque, Hooch, Potato and Tobacco.

    Thousands of new words had to be coined during the industrial revolution to describe recent inventions and discoveries. Many were derived from Greek and Latin such as Anatomy, Bacteria, Factory, Inoculate, Vaccine and Vitamin while others were made up by scientists with a sense of humour such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis which is a disease of the lungs. Many words are made up by joining two others together such as bedridden. Ridden means filled with something unpleasant. So bed is where you go when you are ridden with pneumonoult... etc.

    So we, the English, have appropriated words from all over the globe and it is this willingness to accept incomers that gives it strength since its constant ability to adapt has been the cornerstone of its success. Other languages such as French have been more concerned with purity than progress so, while lovers of the English language tend to sneer at Americanisms and bad usage, spare a thought that maybe you are witnessing the type of change that has strengthened it to the point at which it is now an unstoppable global language.

    Quite the opposite to Cornish that served an area too small to survive as anyone’s first language but thankfully not before it contributed words such as Bludgeon and Puffin to English.

    Mandarin gave us Kowtow and Typhoon. Arabic provided Algebra, Artichoke, Chemistry and Coffee. Spanish produced Alcove, Boot, Castanets and Dagger while Hindi charms us with Bungalow and Chutney. Each of these vies with English for the accolade of being spoken by the most people as their first language. But it is English that is spoken by far more people as a second language and they do this all over the world making it the undisputed language of commerce and government. Over half of everyone living in the EU has English as a first or second language. If only we could charge a royalty as we severe our ties with them!

    After they have arrived words do not necessarily remain unchanged until the end of time. They drift in and out of popularity. Many have already been consigned to the literary scrap heap while others are tottering on the edge of oblivion suffering from lack of use.

    What better way to see how things have changed than to go back 250 years to take a stroll through the pages of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary? Some gems have disappeared from our perception altogether and really ought to be brought back. Surely in uncertain political times we have a need to use snollygoster which means 'A politician concerned more for his personal advancement than for performing the duties for which he or she was appointed'.  How much better that we revive resting gems than slip into a world where pronouncements, even from the higher echelons of the world stage, are reduced to 280 characters and smiley faces? Where will it end? Samuel Johnson, who knew a thing or two, described trumpery as 'something salacious; something of less value than it seems. Falsehood; empty talk. Something of no value; trifles'.

    Edward Allhusen's new book Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words is available for purchase now.

  • Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale by Wendy Buonaventura

    The dancer Maud Allan is all but forgotten today, but she was one of the greatest female celebrities of the early twentieth century. She rose to fame in the role of Salome, the Bibles’ most infamous temptress. “Dancer wears nothing but her jewellery!” and “Dancer sheds clothing and puts on ideas!” reported the gentlemen of the press, beside themselves with excitement.

    This postcard is title 'Miss Maud Allan as "Salome".' Maud made extra money by posing for photographs that were turned into postcards and offered for sale to her fans. Her direct stare would have been considered provocative in her era. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period when female performers in the West were the most socially liberated women of their day. They had replaced the goddesses of mythology, who had once been worshipped for holding the secrets of life, to become the secular goddesses of their age. And so they have remained. Yet dancers, exhibiting their bodies on stage in sensuous movement, also belonged to a demi-monde of independent women who were suspected of leading immoral lives and were no different, in many people’s minds, to prostitutes.

    During the late nineteenth century women in Europe and America began making valiant efforts to climb down from the pedestals of domestic virtue where they had languished during the nineteenth century. Where, they asked themselves, was the satisfaction in being visible symbols of public and private morality? Where was the fun in being virtuous at home while their menfolk went out at night, dining with their male friends and (whisper it) female companions?

    New Women is what the press labelled those pesky females who were looking for the same freedoms that men took for granted. New Women wanted a place in public life and deliverance from clothes that hampered their movement; they wanted access to serious education and they wanted to be able to vote. By the first decade of the twentieth century their demands were beginning to bear fruit and some people were getting jumpy.

    In 1908 a report on the Ladies Page of the Illustrated London News announced that one out of every two men enlisting for the army was rejected as physically unfit, at the same time that women were growing stronger and taller. The idea that women were the cause of men’s increasingly weak condition gained momentum when war broke out in 1914. The question was posed as to how such a disaster could have been set in motion and, soon enough, the search for culprits alighted on the dreaded New Woman. Before long she had seamlessly metamorphosed into War Woman, who was said to find a source of erotic excitement in the death of soldiers at the Front. It was whispered in the press that this kind of woman had caused the war in the first place, with her demands for a freer life.

    Edith La Sylphe, c 1900, shows the distorted female figure that was considered the height of beauty and eroticism at the turn of the last century. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1918, the independent MP Noel Billing decided to do his bit in defence of the realm by leading a campaign against homosexuality and lesbianism, which posed a clear challenge to the status quo. In his privately-funded newspaper The Vigilante Billing claimed that lesbianism was threatening society and sabotaging the war effort. He followed up by giving the go-ahead for a small paragraph, The Cult of the Clitoris, to appear in his newspaper, an obscure little piece that indirectly suggested the celebrated Maud Allan was a lesbian. When Billing’s article appeared, Maud sued for libel. But in the minds of the public she was already damned for embodying the archetypal femme fatale, through her stage Salome.

    The belief that women are naturally dangerous, wild and rapacious, was not born during the nineteenth century. Myth, religion and history are full of alluring women who cast a spell over men and cause their ruin: from Helen of Troy to the Bible’s Delilah. Yet it is not women who offer themselves up as femme fatales; it is society that labels them, and even into the late 20th century gleefully continued to label them.

    In 1963 Britain was on the cusp of a sexual revolution. Ideas about relationships couldn’t have been more different than in Maud Allan’s day when twenty one year old Christine Keeler stepped into the dock at the Old Bailey. Christine was appearing at the Old Bailey as a witness in the trial of her Svengali, Stephen Ward. The unsavoury Ward had encouraged the teenage Christine to have an affair with War Minister Jack Profumo, with the intention of using her to prise information out of him that would be useful to the Soviet Union. At the same time, she became involved with the Russian spy Yevgeny Ivanov. The Old Bailey trial ended with the suicide of Ward, Profumo’s political career in tatters and Christine heading for gaol.

    The Profumo Affair begs the question of why powerful men risk their lives and careers for the dangerous sport of tangling with a femme fatale. To be sure, they don’t see it as dangerous sport and only discover that they have put themselves in danger when they have been seduced, they say, by an irresistible woman. Does the element of self-destruction in human nature or, at the very least, the need to court danger, give certain men at some deep level the need also to be discovered and ruined? Do they assume that their position makes them invulnerable, and relish the risk of it all?

    Whatever the case, belief in the dangerous power of woman the temptress continues to haunt the plotlines of human morality tales. Meanwhile, we see that the idea of the femme fatale is still surprisingly relevant today, when we look at modern women’s attempts to conform to received ideals about their sex that were especially powerful a hundred and fifty years ago. DARK VENUS looks at those ideas in all their strangeness, and at Maud Allan’s life, lived in bold defiance during a crucial period in the history of feminism.

    Wendy Buonaventura's new book Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale is available for purchase now.

  • Caernarfon Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Caernarfon Castle and Slate Quay, c.1880. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The Royal town of Caernarfon overlooks the Menai Straits and the isle of Anglesey. It is a port and holiday resort and is also noted for the substantial monument of Caernarfon Castle, whose construction was undertaken by King Edward I, as part of the English conquest of Gwynedd. It was one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English in Wales. In 1284 the English-style county of Caernarfonshire was established by the Statute of Rhuddlan and in the same year Caernarfon was made a Borough, a county and a market town, and the seat of English government in North Wales. Today Caernarfon is a major tourist centre with its town walls, market and castle, first class attractions.  Travelling to the town has changed greatly since the construction of the A55 ‘Expressway,’ including several tunnels through the sheer rock of the North Wales coastline. In the 1970s when I first began to holiday in this area with my parents and visit my relatives, the journey beyond Llandudno was along a tortuous and winding coast road with 30mph speed limits and a single lane carriageway in many places. Whilst speed limits still apply, the journey takes less time and is of great benefit to those travelling to Holyhead for the Irish ferry.

    Floating Restaurant, Eagle Tower and Pont Yr Aber, Caernarfon, c. 1950. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The town itself has also changed greatly, with many old buildings now beneath the route of the A55. However, the castle remains much as it appeared in my childhood, with the car park along the old Slate Quay still as packed as it always has been! Some childhood memories are now gone – there is no longer a ‘floating restaurant’ along the Slate Quay – once a popular destination for many tourists, and the roundabouts in the market square are gone, to be replaced by an open ‘multi-functional’ space for traffic, pedestrians and the market. The market, however, still remains a popular feature and is a big-draw in the summer months’ tourist season, especially in the fine weather we have experienced recently! However, there have been reports of localised forest fires in inland areas close to Caernarfon (and notably near Bethesda), reminding us of the potential perils associated with the heat and sun.

    Castle Square from Eagle Tower, c. 1910. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling Caernarfon Through Time has brought back many childhood memories of my visits to the area and the times we visited relatives here, or spent our leisure time on holiday along the coast. Some forty years later it is still a popular destination for my children – especially the castle. I hope that the book will evoke some similar memories for the reader, as well as provide an informative and historic record of the way the district has changed over the last century.

    Steven Dickens' book Caernarfon Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Phillimore's Edinburgh by Jan Bondeson

    Reginald Phillimore’s house ‘Rockstowes’ at what is today No. 9 Melbourne Road, North Berwick. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore was born in 1855, one of five children of Dr William Phillimore, the superintendent of a lunatic asylum near Nottingham. He showed promise as an artist already as a schoolboy, winning a Government Art Prize for the painting of a still life group in watercolour, from nature. After a third-class Oxford B.A. in history, he worked as an assistant schoolmaster for many years. A shy, retiring man, he very much disliked the boisterous pupils and their unseemly shenanigans, and wished to be free of his humdrum day job to concentrate on his art, but he could not make a living with pen and brush. The turning point came when three capitalist aunts of his, who had taught school in North Berwick, East Lothian, all died in 1900 and 1901, leaving their house, school and money to Reginald. He decided to move into ‘Rockstowes’, the house formerly occupied by the aunts, with its splendid seaside views. The contrast from the impoverished assistant schoolmaster who hated his job, to the financially independent North Berwick property owner of great expectations, could not have been a greater one.

    Reginald Phillimore with his friend Dr Richardson. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore did not want to live in idleness, and anyway there was a need to accumulate money and provide for his old age. At an early stage after he had come to North Berwick, he began to produce picture postcards from his own drawings. All his early cards had local motives, from North Berwick and its immediate surroundings. The start of the picture postcard boom in Britain coincided with Phillimore’s move to North Berwick, and the quaint East Lothian surroundings must have inspired him to become a full-time postcard artist. From the bay window of his first-floor study at ‘Rockstowes’, he had a good view of the Bass Rock, a steep-sided volcanic rock that is home to many thousand gannets and other sea birds; it inspired several of his early cards. He employed a teenaged North Berwick schoolgirl, Mary Pearson, to do the delicate colouring; since she liked some variation, no two hand-coloured cards are the same. Most of his early picture postcards were conventional in that they depicted a standard view, like the Bass Rock or Tantallon Castle, with brief explanatory text; from the very beginning, they enjoyed good sales locally, since people appreciated that they were of superior aesthetic quality. As he grew more experienced, Reginald invented a style of his own for his picture postcards: there was still a main motive, but often several smaller vignettes as well, and brief explanatory text describing the history of the building, close or street depicted. This proved both a novel and felicitous manner to produce a postcard, and Reginald’s business flourished as a result. He sold his postcards for a halfpenny each to a network of dealers, initially mainly in the Lothians, but with time all over Britain. Between 1904 and 1914, he was one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, admired and collected by many, and easily able to make a living for himself.

    Edinburgh Castle. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Little is known about Reginald’s private life during his North Berwick Edwardian fame and fortune. He kept busy producing his cards, some from his own etchings, others from motives in the Lothians that he personally visited, yet others from old prints he procured in Edinburgh. He more than once went on tour looking for inspiration, and visited Gloucester, Malvern, Bath, Bristol, Exeter and the West Country, producing a series of felicitous cards with various local landmarks. He also visited Manchester, toured Northumberland and Yorkshire, and travelled to most parts of the Scottish lowlands. Since he did not approve of Glasgow, only one of his cards (Cathedral) is from the sprawling Scottish metropolis; nor did he like London particularly, and again just one card (St Paul’s) is from the English capital. The most felicitous of his cards were those from Edinburgh, a city he knew very well, and his many cards from East Lothian. Reginald remained a shy, introverted man during his North Berwick heyday, with a dislike for social pursuits and a fondness for a solitary life in his comfortable Rockstowes studio. The only woman he is known to have befriended was the aforementioned schoolgirl Mary Pearson, who became his housekeeper once she gained adulthood.

    Phillimore’s books about the Bass Rock and Tantallon. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    The Great War came, with its depressing influence on commerce in general and the postcard industry in particular, although Reginald continued to produce postcards throughout the war years. When hostilities ended in 1918, he was 63 years old, but it was not yet time to retire. Since the market for his picture postcards had largely disappeared, he had to conduct an orderly retreat for his postcard company, which once had enjoyed such meteoric success. He sold the occasional painting and etching, but the influx of money was nothing like it had been in pre-war times. He had produced 122 cards from early 1914 until 1919; from the summer of 1919 until the end of his life, he would make only 37 more cards. The market for his postcards continued to decline: town after town on the English mainland was lost, and shop after shop stopped stocking his cards since they were no longer fashionable; yet he remained well represented in Scotland throughout the 1920, particularly in his Edinburgh and East Lothian strongholds.

     

    Reginald Phillimore in his old age. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore’s health, both mental and physical, had always been very good, but in 1936, he suffered a serious stroke, becoming paralysed in the right side of his body and experiencing an impairment of his speech. On sunny days, the loyal Mary Pearson wheeled him about in an invalid chair, and he liked to sit in the small garden to the rear of his house. He is said to have learnt to write, with difficulty, with his left hand, and even to have attempted to copy an old water-colour painting of his; still, this is scant consolation for an artist whose creative power had been broken, for good. As the Bass Rock gleamed in the bright North Berwick sunshine, the shadows grew longer in the Rockstowes geriatric gloom. The memories of a man in his old age are the dreams and hopes of a man in his prime, and as Reginald sat lopsidedly in his armchair in the downstairs parlour, he must have pondered his unhappy days as a schoolmaster, the great inheritance triumph in 1901, the heady Edwardian days as one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, and the slow but steady post-war decline. Reginald Phillimore died on Christmas Eve 1941 and was buried in the family vault at Bridgnorth.

    Jan Bondeson's new book Phillimore's Edinburgh is available for purchase now.

  • Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk by John Ling

    Herringfleet Mill set against a spectacular summer sky. (Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk, Amberley Publishing)

    Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is a follow-up to my previous book for Amberley, Windmills of Norfolk (2015). As its title indicates, the new book includes watermills to reflect the rich diversity of milling in Suffolk over the centuries. Long before the first windmill turned a sail the county already had many water-powered mills, most of which were small and primitive structures using a single pair of millstones. Some watermill sites date back to Saxon times, though the mills themselves have been rebuilt or enlarged numerous times over that period of time.

    Suffolk was one of the first English counties to embrace the newfangled windmill in the late 12th century and many hundreds were built here during the next 700 years. The post mill was the earliest type of corn mill, followed by tower and smock types. Drainage mills or windpumps were primarily used to drain low-lying marshland but could also pump water from wells.

    Woodbridge Tide Mill has become a Living Museum. (Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk, Amberley Publishing)

    This book takes an in-depth look at most of the county’s surviving mills, some of which are still capable of working. Many others have been converted to family homes or holiday accommodation. Several watermills have become hotels or restaurants. The book acknowledges a number of the many mills that sadly no longer exist, including some of the long lost giants. It also traces the rise and fall of traditional windmills and watermills and looks at the reasons behind their decline. Windmills of various types outnumber surviving watermills in Suffolk and this is reflected in the amount of space devoted to each. The book is intended to inform and entertain those already interested in mills and also to introduce newcomers to these ancient machines. It includes histories of all featured mills along with one or more photograph(s) of each. The book includes relevant facts and figures but does not claim to be an exhaustive academic study.

     Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is mainly illustrated with new colour photographs specially taken for this publication. This necessitated several trips around Suffolk and led me to many locations I had not previously visited. Other images have kindly been supplied by various contributors. Information regarding the location of each mill is included to assist those who wish to visit or view them. Almost all of the main featured mills can be seen from the roadside and some are open to the public on at least a part-time basis. The two mills pictured here represent the wind and water varieties and both are in full working order. Herringfleet Mill is still operated by volunteers on open days and Woodbridge Tide Mill is open to the public as a Living Museum.

    John Ling's new book Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is available for purchase now.

  • Women in Medieval England by Lynda Telford

    Prostitutes were often depicted as mermaids, as in this illustration from the Luttrell Psalter. (Courtesy of the British Library, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    Prostitution

    This has always been one of the most misunderstood areas of the lives of women in any era, and women at the centre of the sex industry have endured similar conditions throughout the centuries.

    They have been considered sinful, unclean, the destroyers of happy homes and the carriers of disease – but few of those who used or vilified those women, stopped to consider why they were driven into that way of life, where abuse and contempt bred loss of self-respect, brought danger, and often early death.

    In the medieval period, a woman was defined by her respectability. Whether a pure virgin, or a mature matron, she had certain status, based on that of her family and her prospects as a wife and mother. These were easy to lose. The loss of a husband, the resulting loss of earnings and /or personal dignity, through hardship, could easily lead to desperation, which could entice any woman into the ‘oldest profession’, as a way of keeping body and soul together.

    Once on the slippery slope of becoming a “common woman” she also lost the support and approval of the church, and instead found herself opposed to all that was legal and decent in the society around her.

    Fornication at an amateur level was always present. Any working man might need to ensure that the woman he married could conceive, so he would try her out first. While to him, this was a sensible precaution, as divorce was not possible, it left her open to the charge of promiscuity, or being a “lecherwyte”. If she became pregnant, and she bore the child outside of marriage, she was also a “childwyte” and both these situations incurred fines.

    Casual fornication was not necessarily a problem BEFORE marriage, but adultery after marriage was, and a woman could be severely punished, whereas a man might be able to shrug off its consequences. An active sex life, if not transmuted at some point into respectability within a marriage, could lead to the degradation of being an out–and–out “fallen woman”.

    Springtime Seduction - 'If we were found, we would be dishonoured.' 'But inside you must come, for our love!' Redrawn from Giacomo Jaquerio's fresco at Castella della Manta in Saluzzo. (1418-1430) (Author, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    For those already at that level, the brothel gave the only possible, if variable, protection. As a member of a ‘bawdy house’ a woman at least had a roof over her head, and food to keep her working. That roof might be owned by the local landowner, or even the local abbot, as in the case of the Southwark properties of the Bishop of Winchester. This led to the women working in them being known as “Winchester Geese”. The goose-bumps, sometimes contracted from these women, have come down into present day language, though any woman too obviously diseased would find herself thrown out onto the street to fend for herself, without even the doubtful protection given by the organised brothel.

    Organised they certainly were, with the bawdy-house keeper always on the lookout for new women, fresh from the country, hoping for a better life in the towns. Bath-houses became an innovation, where men could wallow in warm water with the woman of their choice, often with food and drink served to them in situ. These at least had the benefit of ensuring that the clients had been washed, before intercourse was attempted.

     

    Some prostitutes could occasionally find themselves on the RIGHT side of the law, if they proved useful as “testers” in impotence cases. This was the only way a married woman could hope for an annulment, by proving that her husband was incapable of doing his duty, providing her with a sex life and with children. The York Cause Books give many examples of men being examined by a panel of respectable matrons, to decide whether they could achieve an erection. Sometimes a “tester” wasn’t quite so respectable, and in York a local whore named Margery Grey (professionally known as Cherrylips) was used instead. It was possibly believed she would be comfortable exposing herself to strange men, as well as probably being younger and more attractive, and more likely to gain some sexual response.

    The men who failed the test would have their marriages dissolved, and would find it difficult to make another, due to their inability to perform their husbandly duty.

    Some women were tricked, or otherwise forced, into prostitution. The archetypal innocent country girl was a common victim, being offered a living-in place as a servant, only to find that sleeping with strange men formed part of her duty. The landlord could then claim that she owed him money, and she could be imprisoned until she paid it, either in cash (usually impossible) or by selling sex.

    Naughty Nuns - Redrawn from a medieval original in the MS Douce 264, showing disobedient nuns being taken home to their convent in a wheelbarrow, pushed by a naked man. (Author, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    A slightly more unusual “female” whore was John Rykener, a transvestite prostitute caught with a client in the hayloft of an Inn. He was wearing women’s clothing, calling himself Eleanor, and claimed to be an embroideress. All very amusing – but the penalty for sodomy was being burned! John was arrested and turned up in court still dressed as a woman, apparently oblivious to the danger he was in. The judge did not appear to want to exact the full penalty, so charged John with “defrauding his clients of their expectations”. The pretence that any of his clients imagined he was really a female saved his life, and he was merely fined.

    The clergy were not exempt from the prevailing hypocrisy regarding sex. There were even some brothels known to cater exclusively for priests, while nuns, often in convents against their will, could also find opportunities to have a good time. One nunnery near Wakefield in Yorkshire became notorious, and the Bishop had to step in. He was finally convinced of the goodness of the nuns, by the lover of one of them!

    So, despite the official line that all prostitution was a menace to society, many people at all levels not only indulged in it, but made money from it. The only losers, as always, were the women at the bottom of the pile, the prostitutes themselves. Few of them could hope to save enough to start their own business, so the used and abused, cast off when no longer serviceable, remained the dregs of society, often through no fault of their own.

    While Magdalen houses were quite common in Europe, for the rehabilitation of such women, they were less usual in England, and the sex workers were left to live and die in the shadows.

    Lynda Telford's new book Women in Medieval England is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Derbyshire by Mike Appleton

    'Of the High Peak are seven wonders writ.’

    There’s a saying … if you do what you have always done, then you will get what you always got.

    I’m paraphrasing a little but I’m sure the basic premise remains the same: if you stay with what you know then it is almost impossible to experience new horizons.

    Discovering 50 Gems of Derbyshire was a simple feat. The Peak District National Park itself, Britain’s first, covers 555 square miles. It has two distinct areas – the White Peak in the lower southern part of the park featuring its caves and valleys, and the Dark Park; more northern and wilder.

    It reaches into five counties: Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester and more than ten million visitors a year enter its boundaries.

    Then you mix in those areas just outside the Park. Buxton for instance is the self-entitled Gateway to the Peak, whilst down in the South East, Derby is one of the finest cities in the country.

    Choosing gems with such an array on offer was a gift. Here are a sneak preview of five of the treasures the county contains.

    Edale Cross

    Sheltered and inset in the corner of the point where two drystone walls meet is an interesting medieval wayside and boundary cross. It stands on the parish boundary between Hatfield and Edale, next to the ancient moorland track between those two villages. It is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 because of its national importance – yet because of its location it begs the question – just how did it end up there?

    Edale Cross - Just a little wander from the Pennine Way, and well worth the diverson. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Kinder Downfall

    I’ve been lucky to visit Kinder Downfall, the 98 foot waterfall on Kinder, in two differing states – but largely in the same weather! The first was on a damp and dreary day, where the upper part of the fall near the Pennine Way was flowing decently and the lower part clouded in mist. The second was when I viewed it from lower down in more windy times and saw the fall blow back on itself. Both states were pretty impressive after a long walk and in winter ice-climbers take on its majesty too.

    The Downfall on a misty day. This is at the point where it crosses the Pennine Way. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Mam Tor

    Dominating the skyline to the west of Castleton is the ‘shivering mountain’ Mam Tor. It stands at 1,696 feet and is part of the Great Ridge which takes in Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill - one of the finest walks in the Peak.

    Mam Tor summit looking towards the great ridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Eldon Hole

    One of the ‘original’ wonders of the Peak, around half an hour’s walk from Peak Forest. Whilst its depths are the goal of cavers, the open chasm is well worth visiting. It is the largest open pothole in Derbyshire at 110 feet by 20 feet at the surface. It descends some 245 feet under the slopes of Eldon Hill and has some fine formations; Phil Wolstenholme’s attached picture doing it more than justice.

    Stunning formation. (c. Phil Wolstenholme, 50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Ashford-in-the-Water

    Edensor may have been designed as a model village, but Ashford-in-the-Water is an original catwalk star; one of the prettiest in the country. It’s a chocolate box scene with beautiful idyllic houses and buildings alongside a medieval packhorse bridge that is sure to be one of the most photographed in the area!

    A medieval packhorse bridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Mike Appleton's new book 50 Gems of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

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