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  • Historic England: Cheshire by Paul Hurley

    Most of Cheshire is flat, hence the name ‘the Cheshire Plain’, but in Disley and Macclesfield, featured at the beginning of this book, the land is far from flat, and the Cheshire Plain gives way to the Cheshire Peak District as the road passes through the windswept moor on the way to Buxton. This is an affluent part of the county, and of the country for that matter: Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury have been given the sobriquet ‘Cheshire’s Golden Triangle’. Villages and towns in the area, such as Mottram St Andrew and Knutsford, slip off the tongues of wealthy celebrities and football stars.

    Besston Castle. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire is not only a panorama of bewitching beauty today, but it also drifts through the history of Britain like a golden thread. One of Prince Charles’s titles is Earl of Chester because down the ages Chester has been a very important city. It was once called Deva by the Romans who settled there and fortified it, and there were the battles with the Welsh who attacked it from across the border. It is Britain’s only remaining walled city in which the walls are intact, and they make a very pleasant walk for the many tourists who seek its antiquity. The same can be said for the ancient Rows, where there are shops on two levels dating from as far back as the eleventh century in some cases. Sailing ships once came up from the River Mersey to moor on what is now the famous Roodee. Racehorses have replaced ships at this popular destination; the oldest racecourse in Britain. Then there is Knutsford, home to the famous author Elizabeth Gaskell and a town with the sole right to append the prefix ‘royal’ to the name of its May Day celebrations; Lower Peover, where Generals Patton and Eisenhower planned D-Day; and Cheshire can certainly hold its own in the chocolate-box village stakes, with so many worthy of a visit that there are too many to mention here.

    Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire once reached out and encompassed Birkenhead and every town on the west side of the Mersey. Nowadays most of the Wirral comes under Merseyside. Most of Cheshire’s losses were to Greater Manchester: Stockport, Hazel Grove, Altrincham, Sale and Stalybridge have been dragged away to become part of the great conurbation. Cheshire has gained Widnes and Warrington though, and Disley is still in the county.

    This book looks at the county as it was after the changes that came in 1974, when the centre of the county moved from Bostock and when so many pretty Cheshire villages became part of two of Britain’s biggest cities. Older residents still refer to their address as Cheshire, as in Stockport or Birkenhead, and not their correct title of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The River Mersey formed a natural separation for Liverpool and Cheshire, but far-flung Cheshire villages like Dukinfield, Hyde and Romiley suddenly moved into Greater Manchester. But Cheshire can still be enjoyed as it is now – a special place and a great area to live.

    Paul Hurley's new book Historic England: Cheshire is available for purchase now.

  • 'Tecton buildings' in Historic England: The Black Country by Andrew Homer

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

    The Black Country is home to a remarkable set of buildings created in the Modernist style by Russian born Berthold Lubetkin and his Tecton group in the 1930s. Historic England: The Black Country includes a whole chapter on the Tecton buildings which form part of Dudley Zoo and Castle. Pictures from the Historic England Archive show the Tecton buildings in their prime having been taken just a few years after they were completed in 1937. One building out of the original thirteen, the Penguin Pool, has not survived as salt water reacted badly with the concrete.

    The iconic front entrance and fully restored 1950’s chair lift. (Author's collection)

    The Tecton group of young architects had been formed in 1932 to explore ‘modern architecture’. The Dudley Zoo commission came about when the third Earl of Dudley, William Humble Eric Ward, formed a partnership with the wealthy Marsh family and Captain Frank Cooper. The Earl of Dudley had a private exotic animal collection and Captain Cooper was a co-owner of the recently closed Oxford Zoo. The group had access to stock for the new zoo and looked for an architect. At the time of its opening in 1937 it was described as ‘the most modern in Europe, a zoo without bars’. The Tecton group had already worked on commissions for London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo. The Penguin Pool at London Zoo completed in 1934 being of particular note.

     

     

     

    The Bear Ravine built into the existing hillside before restoration. (Author's collection)

    The buildings exploited the use of a new building material, pre-stressed concrete reinforced with tensioned steel rods, which enabled the iconic curves and sweeps of the structures to be achieved. The buildings were constructed with the help of a young Danish structural engineer, Ove Arup. Visitors were able to view the animals roaming freely rather than through the bars of a cage. Paradoxically, as far as the animals were concerned, the structures created for them were far from being appropriate environments. Virtually no effort had been expended towards recreating the features of the animal’s natural environment. Indeed, the purpose was to give the maximum number of entrance fee paying customers a view of the animals unrestricted by the bars of a cage.

     

     

     

    The Tecton set of buildings includes two ice-cream kiosks, sadly no longer fit for purpose. (Author's collection)

    Nevertheless, the architectural merits of the Castle Hill site cannot be ignored. The Tecton group designed the buildings to fit in with the natural environment of the hillside below Dudley Castle. This approach is exemplified by the impressive Bear Ravine. Built into an existing ravine the building gave visitors an unrestricted view of the whole enclosure. The building was so badly in need of restoration that it was on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register but to date has been fully restored to its former glory. Twelve of the original Tecton buildings survive but some are still in desperate need of refurbishment.

     

     

     

     

     

    The Queen Mary Ballroom designed to resemble an ocean liner. (Author's collection)

    As well as animal enclosures the Tecton group of buildings include the original entrance consisting of five interlocking curves of concrete, cafés, kiosks, and the Queen Mary Ballroom built to resemble an ocean liner. In 2010 the remaining set of twelve buildings were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List. The good news is that Heritage Lottery funding worth £1.15 million pounds was secured to fund restoration work on some of the buildings. These included the Bear Ravine, the front entrance, Safari shop and one of the kiosks. That the Tecton buildings at Dudley were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch list is testament to their architectural value and extreme rarity.

    Andrew Homer's new book Historic England: The Black Country is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Sussex by Kevin Newman

    It was a great honour to be asked by Amberley and Historic England to write the latest book in this series, and the second of three (so far) on Sussex. There are many different ways that writers can approach writing about the history and heritage of Sussex, and I think I’ve tackled most of them. The chronological route is logical and aids understanding of each era but provides problems with themes such as industry or literature which traverse different eras. It also questions as to how and when you divide up the past. Taking a random approach, as previous Argus Editor Mike Gilson urged me to embrace for the Super Sussex newspaper supplements I wrote for them, was scary at first but then liberating. Then there is the approach my history organisation, All-Inclusive History uses for writing and workshops, which I’ve christened ‘twistory’. This is where one aspect of a historic event is the connecting link to another, so you are taken on a ‘related ride’ rather like the Great Glass Elevator in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, rather than the monorail approach chronological progression presents. Ricocheting across themes and time throws up logical patterns and questions we don’t always think of when approaching the past in a more traditional and (some would say) sensible fashion.

    Herstmonceux Castle. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    Then we have the route we take in putting together Historic England: Sussex. This method - approaching the past through its images and observing themes through categorization also is a valid and interesting approach. Thanks to the Historic England and Britain From Above image databases in partnership with us for Amberley Publishing, we here are offered a new perspective on our county. The databases in tandem allows us to explore Sussex anew through the combination of different themes. We get to compare and contrast, challenge and query, and it is my privilege and honour as a Sussex author and tour guide to take readers in this book on a visual tour through the images of this wonderful part of Historic England. It was interesting that the images that were provided for the book’s sequel, Historic England: Brighton and Hove, provoked an almost totally different approach and thus set of chapter headings.

    Apart from Chapter 1, ‘Landmarks and Scenery’, each chapter of Historic England: Sussex takes you on a journey of sites on that theme from the west to the east of the county, rather than in chronological order. The idea is that readers can use the book to hopefully plan trips out.  As Sussex was the Kingdom of the South Saxons, there is no better route to travel than that taken by our premier Saxons Aelle, Cissa, Wlencing and Cymen – westwards. If you should try to recreate this, please try to avoid the mass killings and especially the large-scale slaughter at Pevensey. But do tell me if you find where the lost Saxon battle of Mercredesburn was.

    The Esplanade, Worthing. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    What types of images are in the book? You will find photos, sketches, plans, diagrams and pictures. Not all of these make interesting analysis and reading, so the challenge was to select images that made a coherent chapter each time on a theme and provoked the reader to want to explore the Historic England archives further. This was no problem with images such as diagrams recreating monks at work in Battle Abbey, intriguing images such as Morris Dancers mid-air in Chichester (my favourite), or the most mysterious – Victorians at Pevensey Castle ‘In search of the monument of Adrian G (undiscovered).’ No amount of (metaphorical) digging could help me find out who Adrian G was, what or where his monument was, and if it was ever found.  If you know the answers, please enlighten me! I also got to mention my favourite place in the world, Chichester Harbour, of which Bosham and Chidham are the places I am at my happiest. What more can an author ask for?

    South Street and the Pier, Worthing. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    The book also makes you realise how many fantastic Sussex buildings are much missed, whether Worthing’s 1830s Town Hall, Ardenrun Place, Eridge Castle, Roberts Marine Mansions in Bexhill or the lofty Leyswood. The site of the school where the unruly Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison once taught on Worthing Seafront has since been demolished not once but twice. It also highlights thankfully the amazing job of organisations such as Historic England today, without whom we wouldn’t have the Clergy House, Alfriston (the National Trust’s first ever building purchased in 1897), Hurstmonceux and Bodiam Castles.

    Writing it was not without its challenges, however. Not only did Adrian G’s monument remain undiscovered by me also but road name changes meant that tracking down what had happened to Devonshire Terrace involved engaging my erstwhile Hastings researcher, the Penfold to my Dangermouse, the Rowley to my Greg Heffley, Terry Loftus – so thanks, Tegs!  The cricket ground there is now the Priory Meadow shopping centre. An image listed as ‘Rye’ had me panicking when I corrected it to Church Street, Steyning but then discovered that the Brotherhood Hall in the photo I believed it to be was two floors taller in other later pictures (Steyning Grammar School who owned it enlarged it thankfully a few years later, so I was right!). Overall, I’m proud of this first of my two books in this series and especially that a chapter in the book on education has a first attempt at a much-needed book on some of Sussex’s amazing schools over the centuries. Some of the images in it are incredible too, especially of the staff of North End Road School, East Grinstead, who seem a formidable family.

    Victoria Gardens, St Leonards, Hastings. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    As somewhere that has been a kingdom in its own right, a gateway to England, battlefield, agricultural breadbasket and livestock larder, it is no surprise that Sussex has a large archive of historical documents, diagrams and pictures we can explore here. In more recent centuries it has been escape route on the way to exile for Charles II, aristocratic adventure ground, playboy’s playground and real estate for royalty. It offered havens to heathseekers, a stomping ground for smugglers, and a destination for daytrippers. Today it provides a paradise for painters and photographers, rural retreats, spiritual refreshment for ramblers, and still even seclusion by the seaside. I was delighted to be asked to select images to highlight all of this as my parents always encouraged me to get out on my bike discovering my (then) hometown of Brighton, and then always took us out and about in the car exploring every backstreet and village lane we could. This means that I hope the book encourages existing residents and visitors alike to explore and escape the traditional tourist hotspots.

    Quayside, Chichester District. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    From Charles II’s escape through Sussex we have the George and Dragon pub in Houghton, and I particularly loved the images of our now lost St Leonards pier, which graces our front cover of the book. Being Sussex it was essential to capture not only the beauty of the coastline but also its harbours and those who work in them. This is where our ‘Work and Industry’ chapter came into its own, showing fisherfolk, boatbuilders, locomotive works, labourers and even medics in the Great War at Great Dixter. Thanks to Nathaniel Lloyd, the prolific Edwardian photographer and owner of Great Dixter, a large chunk of the Sussex images in the archive are of the era just before the First World War and of the terrible years of 1914-18, when the impact of that horrendous conflict impacted on the deepest of Sussex’s villages. Even Great Dixter became a hospital for the wounded who faced shelling, flame throwers, gas and bayonetting.

    Today Sussex is peaceful and still largely rural, although its urbanisation still is a work in progress as green fields turn concrete grey and bleak with business parks. Thankfully the still-recent creation of the South Downs National Park has guaranteed a green spine throughout the county, protecting Kipling’s ‘blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs’ equally beloved by him and our other great Sussex patriot, our adopted Belloc. Being blessed with the nation’s 13th National Park means Sussex must always look backwards as it moves forwards, but then, that is what Sussex has always done best. It is what we do in the book too, which I hope you enjoy and if you would like an illustrated talk on the book, or a motorised tour of a selection of its locations, please email info@allinclusivehistory.org or call 07504 863867.  As after all, as Flora Poste says in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons “Sussex, when all was said and done, was not like other counties.”  That is true of the Sussex represented by the earliest images in our archive, and is still true today.

    Kevin Newman's new book Historic England: Sussex is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Worcestershire by Stan Brotherton

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

    Worcester Road, South of the Unicorn Inn, Great Malvern. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    Historic England holds an extraordinary archive of images, both historical and new, of England’s amazing architectural heritage. This particular book represents a small and select slice from that remarkable collection. The trick for this book was working out a way to gather together a representative mix of photographs (say 50/50 in colour and black-and-white) from right across the county and across a range of interests. Where was I to start?

    As it turned out, it was exceptionally easy to start. I simply started trawling through the online archive of Historic England – https://archive.historicengland.org.uk – and noting all those images I thought particularly interesting. The next steps, however, were more time-consuming and intensive.

    Having assembled a collection of images, the next step was to analyse them by location. I wanted a good spread of images from right around the county; from the Cotswold Edge, Bredon Hill, the Malverns, the Vale of Evesham, the industrial northern edge of the county, the county town Worcester, and anywhere in between. Next was an analysis by type of location: that is, by city, industrial town, market town, and village. I paid particular attention to ensuring that every Worcestershire town was represented (typically many times): Worcester, Droitwich Spa, Evesham, Stourport on Severn, Kidderminster, Bromsgrove, Redditch, Malvern (Great, Little, Link and Barnards Green), Pershore, Bewdley, Tenbury, Upton on Severn, Alvechurch and Broadway.

    St Nicholas's Church, Church Lane, Dormston. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    As a separate exercise, I asked friends and relations what they considered to be the most notable and interesting places to visit in Worcestershire. Examples included the Elgar Birthplace Museum, Hartlebury Castle, Evesham’s Almonry, Harvington Hall, Morgan cars, Witley Court, Shelsley Walsh, and the Bull at Inkberrow (an inspiration for the pub in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers).

    There were also some images which I particularly wanted to include. I wanted to have an image of Lechmere House (Hanley Castle) so that I could talk about the local inspiration for some of P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful stories. I also wanted a street scene from Great Malvern so that I could mention C.S. Lewis being inspired by a Malvern lamppost (shining through the falling snow) to write that iconic scene in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” which introduced Narnia. Additionally, I wanted to have an image of Dormston because I could then write how J.R.R. Tolkien would visit the area to visit his aunt Jane Neave (who lived in a farm known locally as “Bag End”).

    Pump Rooms, Tenbury Wells. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cross-checking these lists identified a handful of gaps – so it was back to the Historic England archive to find new images. On a couple of occasions there were no handy images available from the archive so I hunted out alternative sources (including the web, personal collection, friends and family).

    I now had an interesting and wide-ranging assembly of images. What, however, did they have in common? And how were they different? In other words, how could these images best be grouped?

    How about geographically, by area and place? However, with this approach there’s a risk that the reader will simply hunt out their own area of interest (for me it would be my home town of Evesham) and not worry so much about the rest.

    How about chronologically? That might work, but the end result would probably seem radically incoherent. After all, it might give the impression that the early days of Worcestershire were concerned solely with church-building, with later years specialising in country houses, and with later centuries focussed on industry. While that might indeed be true of the surviving architecture, it’s not true of the centuries themselves. After all, in every age there has been religion, business, wealth, village life, and more.

    Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blesses Mary the Virgin, Worcester. (c. Historic England Archive - Aerofilms Collection, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    How about functionally? This doesn’t work cleanly because old buildings often have complex histories. A church might have since become offices (e.g. St Mary’s, Wythall) or been declared redundant (e.g. St George’s, Redditch). In a similar fashion, a country house might now be a tourist attraction (e.g. Witley Court) or a hotel (e.g. Farncombe) or a school (e.g. Pull Court) or just a ruin (e.g. Old Hewell Grange).

    The approach finally adopted was to loosely organise the images by theme with chapters on abbeys, village life, agriculture, churches, country houses, industry, and street scenes. Within each chapter the images could be further sorted chronologically (not exactly, but broadly). This meant for the first chapter (on abbeys) I could start with Worcester Cathedral (founded c.680) and conclude with Mucknell Abbey (moved to Stoulton in 2007). Interestingly, this approach left with me a stump of images which did not easily fit into any particular category – such as the Tenbury Pump Rooms, the Lickey Monument, and Treasure Island Amusement Park. How to cope with them? The answer was to create a whole new category called “The Surprising, Special and Curious”!

    Broadway Tower, Middle Hill, Broadway. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Worcestershire, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of the first image seemed obvious. The book is about Worcestershire, so we start with Worcester’s most iconic building – the Cathedral. The last was a bit trickier, but to me the answer also seemed rather obvious – Broadway Tower. After all, as the caption to that final image says: “It is, perhaps, the perfect place to end our current exploration. After all, from here, on a clear day, you can see all of historic Worcestershire.”

    Having sourced sufficient images and sorted out the organisation of the book, there remained one final job. To write the captions! The series brief stated that each caption should be a maximum of 50-60 words each in length. So for each of the final 150 images I ideally needed to write something which was interesting, informative, entertaining, and concise. For some places, this was wonderfully straightforward and I could write up a “potted history” (e.g. for Salters Hall). For other places, it was a trickier business and required a solid amount of research and consideration.

    There then followed the ongoing recursive process of thinking, researching, writing, reviewing, swapping out images, sourcing new images, and thinking again. After multiple revisions and re‑workings, I finally found myself with a completed manuscript and a looming deadline. Hopefully the reader will find the book an informative and entertaining read. As stated in the introduction, the aim of the book is “… to showcase this singular, wonderful and fascinating county. Hopefully the reader will be inspired to discover new places, or rediscover old ones.”

    Stan Brotherton's new book Historic England: Worcestershire is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Southampton by Dave Marden

    The High Street in the 1890s before the tram system was electrified (Author's collection)

    I was pleased to be associated with the Historic England series for which I wrote about my home town of Southampton, a city that really doesn’t sell itself enough and visitors are quite often surprised at what there is to see. A walk around the ancient walls and quiet streets of the old town can reveal many unexpected and interesting things, and for added interest there are guided walks that take you into hidden medieval vaults and chambers.

    Although so much was lost in the wartime bombing, there is still much history to be seen from the Norman, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. In fact, there is far more that could not be incorporated within the confines of the book but I was delighted to include references to Southampton’s working class districts that played such a huge part in its successful transformation from a small and elegant spa town to the great industrial port it became.

    Lower end of St Mary Street in early 1900s (Author's collection)

    The dozens of streets lined with tightly packed terraces, pubs and corner shops were a feature of my childhood and youth, all now gone along with the generations that grew up together, being dispersed to new housing estates on the outskirts of the town. Neighbours and neighbourhoods plucked and uprooted from their tight knit communities with hardly a trace left behind.

    I was also able to mention the bustling thoroughfares of East Street and St Mary Street that were magnets for shoppers and revellers away from the big stores of the High Street. St Mary Street itself could probably merit a book on its own with its Victorian edifices and huge variety of traders from the 1820s until the present day.

    This is the Undercroft Vault and entrance from about the 13th century (not the house above it!) one of many used to store wine and wool below the ancient merchants houses. Regular tours are given. (Author's collection)

    In the hectic hustle of modern times it is relaxing to stroll though the numerous parks in the heart of the city – on a hot summer’s day in the shade of the trees or in crisp winter sunshine dappled from their bare branches. It is always a delight. The Rivers of Itchen and Test provide year round employment and pleasure but the downside is that the huge port development has limited public access to the waterside. The town’s southern shoreline was lost to the docks of the 1840s and the entire West Bay was engulfed in the 1920s. The ancient west walls, which once looked out to sea, now watch over the mammoth West Quay shopping complex.

    The gigantic transatlantic liners may have disappeared after being replaced by air travel in the 1960s but the port now plays host to the even larger and more luxurious cruise ships and the world’s biggest container vessels. If you need a break from history, an afternoon by the sea at Mayflower Park will allow you to view these maritime monsters.

    Despite its huge transformation since the Second World War, Southampton still has lots to offer both locals and visitors alike with its ancient buildings mingling with modern developments. To tread in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, or to see where Jane Austen spent her time in the town are enjoyable experiences and just two of the many pleasures awaiting.

    Dave Marden's new book Historic England: Southampton is available for purchase now.

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