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  • Die-cast Commercial Vehicles by Paul Brent Adams

    Die-cast toys first appeared a little over a century ago. The first vehicles to be produced were cars, but commercial vehicles soon followed. A fleet of trucks, delivery vans, tankers, service vehicles, and mobile shops. Many of these carried the names and logos of real companies, making them some of the most colourful of all die-cast models. Often a single van or truck casting was produced in several versions, each carrying a different company name or livery.

    The British firm of Lledo produced several horse-drawn vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. This small horse-drawn delivery van was part of a set devoted to Ringtons Tea – the rest of the models were motor vehicles. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Real commercial vehicles seldom receive an annual facelift the way cars do. This means that model trucks and vans do not date as rapidly as model cars, and a successful model can stay in production for long periods, with an occasional change of finish. The large, flat sides of trucks and vans giving plenty of space for colourful liveries. Some were even produced to special order for the companies concerned, as part of various promotions, hence the fact they are called promotionals. Commercial vehicle models soon became a staple of many die-cast ranges.

    While vans and pick-up trucks are often the same size as a normal car, most heavy commercials are much larger. To produce models that are not too large or expensive, manufacturers often make their commercials to a smaller scale than their model cars. Several firms also produced a range of larger and more expensive models, which allowed the heavies to be closer in scale to the cars, although most were still a little smaller. Among the leading British die-cast companies there were the Dinky Supertoys, Corgi Majors, and the Matchbox Major Pack and King Size ranges. At the opposite end of the size range, several lines of small scale models were produced as model railway accessories, such as the Hornby Dublo range, intended to complement Hornby OO model railways; or the Lilliput series, made by Britains, who were best known for their extensive range of toy soldiers. In more recent years, several lines have been devoted exclusively to Big Rigs, comprising a tractor unit and semi-trailer. With these models a limited number of different tractor units can be combined with various types of trailer, to produce a fleet of different models. Open vehicles can also be given an assortment of loads, allowing for even more variety.

    The Models of Yesteryear series by Matchbox was devoted to veteran and vintage vehicles, including this American-built Walker electric van. According to the back of the box, Harrods department store in London had a fleet of 60 for local delivery work in the 1920s. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    As collecting die-casts became an established adult hobby, models began to be produced aimed directly at collectors. With adults, size and price were less of a factor than they were with toys aimed at children. Many of these ‘adult’ models being highly detailed, delicate, and expensive. I still prefer the various toy ranges by companies such as Matchbox. They may lack a few of the refinements of the adult collectable, but they were designed to be played with, and there is an element of fun about them that is lacking in adult models. This is why most of the models in my collection are toys. Plus, they were the types of models I once played with.

    Modern toys are also much more affordable than adult collectables. Although vintage toys in pristine condition can be extremely expensive, as few have survived without a few paint chips, and other signs of use. If you are prepared to accept the odd imperfection, and the lack of a box, even vintage models become more affordable – which explains why most of my older models do have a few chips and scratches, some were even part of my own childhood collection.

     

     

    A pair of steam powered lorries, or wagons, from the Models of Yesteryear series. Launched in 1956, the models grew larger over the years – as these two demonstrate. The 1922 Foden being far larger than the early Sentinel. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    After discovering plastic kits in the 1970s, my die-cast toys spent a couple of decades in a box, usually under the bed, until I again began collecting die-casts in the 1990s. My collection comprises a mix of subjects, including a fair number of commercial vehicles. There are horse-drawn vehicles, a few of which survived on British roads into the 1960s; electric vehicles, used mostly for local delivery work, or inside factories and warehouses; steam power, which had been used on roads since the early nineteenth century, and lasted into the 1930s for heavy haulage; and the usual range of motor vehicles. Everything from motorcycles with a sidebox for goods and tools, to the largest lorry or tanker. There have been several ranges devoted to veteran and vintage models, and to vehicles from the early post-war years – the 1950s and 1960s. Buses and racing cars do not usually count as commercial vehicles, but these often carry advertising for various companies, products, and services, so they can be added to a collection, providing even more colour and variety. There are also a few oddballs that do not fit neatly into one of the usual categories, but these can be among the most interesting models of all. Due to the vast range of models available, most collectors specialise to some extent. Some collect only certain types of model – three-wheelers or delivery vans; a specific period, such as a favourite decade; a particular scale; or a favourite brand, such as Matchbox or Dinky. It is even possible to build a collection around a major company or product type – I tend to have a little of everything.

    One of the more modern types in the Lledo range was the Morris LD150 van from the 1950s. This example carrying colourful period-style advertising for Gibbs SR toothpaste. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Apart from the real vehicles, it is also possible to see the way models have developed over the years. Early die-casts were almost always all-metal, except perhaps for rubber tyres or wheels. From the 1950s onwards plastic parts have been used – plastic allowed models to be given clear windows. Today, most models are a combination of metal and plastic. During the 1950s and 1960s companies offered models with more detail, and more working features, in their efforts to increase sales. From the 1970s toys had fewer working features as manufacturers sought to cut costs. Many of the older companies either disappeared, or changed hands, but there are always new companies appearing, keeping the fleets of die-cast commercial vehicles rolling.

    Paul Brent Adams's new book Die-cast Commercial Vehicles is available for purchase now.

  • Brexit, King Charles I and Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce

    When I look for something in history that is like Brexit, I find the Scottish prayer-book rebellion against Charles I.

    Charles I - poised and withdrawn. Daniel Mytens. (c. Private collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    In summer 1637 the Scots in their thousands rejected the religious liturgy which the king wanted to impose on them. The year before he had introduced new Canons (church law) and now asked his northern kingdom to accept and use a new prayer-book. It was drafted largely by Englishmen under the guidance of Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury. The Scots had not objected to the Canons. They said no to the prayer-book.

    On 28 February 1638 the rebel Scottish leaders produced their manifesto: the National Covenant. It was signed throughout Scotland and is one of the great documents of history. The Covenant proclaimed loyalty to the king but said no to the changes he wanted.

    This was the Brexit moment. A nationalist response to foreign imposition. That was then, this is now. The National Covenant of 1638 was an agreement not only with the other subscribers but with God.

    The prayer-book rebellion was not secession. Scotland was a separate and independent country. It just happened to have the same king as England. The Scots had their own Privy Council, their own parliament, their own laws, their own church (the Kirk). They wanted to keep it that way.

    On the path to war

    It began with a riot in church after the congregation pelted the Dean of Edinburgh, when he started to read from the new prayer-book, with whatever came to hand, including the stools on which they sat (23 July 1637). According to legend the first to attack was Jenny Geddes who rose to her feet yelling ‘Daur ye say Masse in my lug (ear)?’ To Jenny the project seemed ‘Romisch superstition.’ The Bishop of Edinburgh was attacked in the street after the service (but survived).

    The Covenanting movement led to war. First the two Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640, between the Scots and their monarch.

    They were Bishops Wars because the Scots wanted to get rid, not just of the new prayer-book, but of their bishops. In the first Bishops War not a blow was struck. In the second, contrary to the king’s plan, a Scottish army invaded northern England and occupied Newcastle. Incidentally this army was led for a time by the subject of the book I am now writing, James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose.

    More dramatically the Scottish prayer-book rebellion led to the outbreak of civil war in England. There are a hundred twists and turns on the way. But there is no doubt that it was trouble in Scotland that opened the floodgates in England (also in Ireland, the third Stuart kingdom).

    Henriette Marie and Charles I. Engraving by Robert van Voerst, 1634. (c. Rijksmuseum, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast and loose…

    My feeling, when I wrote my biography of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, was that Henrietta Maria would have made a better king than her husband, and it remains my feeling. She certainly did what she could for Charles I and the Stuart family, including literally standing in the line of parliamentary fire. As thing were, could she have prevented the Scottish collapse? It seems unlikely.

    Not that I wish to deny the king’s qualities. He was an admirable person, much more so than some of his predecessors and successors on the throne. He was energetic, high-principled, a devoted family man, aesthetically discerning, a stickler for the law up to a point. His eleven years of personal rule in England (1630-1641), the period when he dispensed with parliaments, were unpopular with many influential people. But they were years of legalistic government.

    Still one cannot deny that Charles I played fast and loose with that delicate animal, the English constitution. He imprisoned a number of the men who refused to pay or assist in the collection of his forced loan of 1628. He imprisoned Members of Parliament after undignified scenes in the House of Commons in the last days of the 1628-1629 parliament. One, Sir John Eliot, died in the Tower.

    Those undignified scenes included physical assault. The Speaker, Sir John Finch, when he tried to adjourn the session by leaving the House, was wrestled and held in his chair by Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine. Finch was held down to allow a protestation to be read (by Sir John Eliot) against royal policy in religion and finance.

    Charles I, at St Margaret's Westminster. (c. Author's collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    The nature of the king

    Scholars have gone almost mad trying to pin down what went wrong in the seventeenth century. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Civil War. It scared the life out of the ruling classes of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and led to the parliamentary system which distinguishes British history.

    In the nineteenth century the Civil War became a romantic dream of cavaliers and roundheads. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Scottish nationalism was reborn and is growing up fast helped by the Brexit vote of 2016. This blog is not the time to explore the history of Ireland but that country above all bears the marks of those struggles four centuries ago.

    On the whole historians agree that the character of Charles I was at the heart of the matter. If he was dealt a difficult hand, he played the wrong cards. However it is hard to challenge the proposal that the king, if perhaps he succeeded as a martyr, was a failure as king.

    The failure of Charles I was not the iron fist of autocracy. His failure was political clumsiness. He could not read minds. He could not, until very late in the day, read situations. He did not judge loyalty well. Unlike his father and his eldest son he could not see that even a king must embrace, from time to time, the art of compromise, perhaps a king most of all. And, far from being his wife’s lapdog, as his enemies proclaimed, it could be said he did not listen to her enough.

    Dominic Pearce's new paperback edition of Henrietta Maria 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.

  • The British Seaside by Stuart Hylton

    I didn’t always like to be beside the seaside

    The beach at Cromer - undated, but the presence of bathing machines further up the beach suggests it may be early twentieth century. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, our stock of childhood memories include visits to the seaside. Hopefully, most of these memories will be happy ones, but the sea was not always the welcoming haunt of the holidaymaker. Going back to Old Testament times, the sea could be seen as the bringer of death and disaster (think Noah), or the home of mysterious gigantic creatures, ready to devour the unwary (as Jonah found out). People would generally only venture away from dry land if driven by the imperatives of earning a living or military conquest.

    The change began around about the eighteenth century, when near-miraculous powers of rejuvenation started to be claimed for the seaside and sea water (and for its cousin, the inland mineral water spring). Before too long, well-to-do people were flocking in considerable numbers to the seaside, to drink and bathe in its water. The cure, as it came to be known, could last for a considerable time and there was only so much sea bathing or brine drinking that even the most assiduous patient could take. Other, hopefully less objectionable, diversions had to be found to fill the time, and it was from these that the seaside resort evolved.

    Bikini girls c. 4 BC - part of a Roman mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    But it was with the coming of the steam ship and, more particularly, the railways, that the seaside began to change from the preserve of the leisured and rich to the holiday haunt of all but the poorest members of society. My book The British Seaside: an illustrated history tells the story of the transformation of the British coastal resort from a number of points of view.

    One sometimes heated debate that has run for centuries has been the appropriate dress (or rather undress) code for sea bathing. Every school of thought has been represented in it, from those who favoured shapeless head to foot canvas garments, to variations on the next to nothing theme (culminating in nothing whatsoever). There was even the bathing machine, a species of garden shed on wheels in which the bather could be rolled into the sea, their modesty intact.

    Given that it is a book about the British seaside, it could not ignore what happens when the weather rules out the beach. Seaside resorts have made several distinctive forms of architecture their own. Notably there was the pier, which started life as a purely functional means of getting arrivals by boat onto land with dry feet, before evolving into an all-singing and dancing palace of varieties.

    A rare photograph of a lady emerging from her bathing machine in about 1893. (Wikimedia Commons, The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    Some individual seaside entertainments also had colourful histories. The “what the butler saw” machine had its origins in a scandalous Victorian society divorce case, in which the key witness was the butler, who apparently observed his employer’s dalliances through the keyhole of the dining room. The roller coaster had its origins in eighteenth century Russia and the first ones did not even have wheels – they were giant sledges, sliding down man-made ice hills to entertain visitors to Czar Catherine II at the Oranienbaum Palace, near St Petersburg.

    Dodgem cars should correctly be referred to as bumper cars (Dodgem being a brand name for one make of them, patented in America in 1920). Some of the early ones were apparently very rickety indeed, liable to fall apart at the gentlest of impacts and with steering that bore only the vaguest relationship to the direction in which you were going.

    Punch and Judy is a much earlier entertainment, appearing as it does in Samuel Pepys’ diary and with links back to Roman times and the Lord of Misrule. It gradually went from being an adult entertainment to one for children, and was softened in the process. The modern health and safety conscious Mister Punch is much less likely to murder the baby or feed it through the sausage machine, or to leave parents to explain his relationship to his mistress, Pretty Polly, to their children.

    But one of the most striking seaside rides was developed in 1904 by Sir Hiram Maxim (inventor of the machine gun). This steam-powered ride (the Captive Flying Machine) was originally intended to give customers the sensation of operating a flying machine (Maxim had recently made a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to construct the real thing). Perhaps wisely, the health and safety authorities of the day rejected some of Maxim’s more adventurous features, leaving him, as he saw it, with a toothless “glorified merry-go-round”. A version of this may still be seen at Blackpool.

    The Palace Pier, Brighton in about 1914. It was built in 1899 to replace the 1827 Chain Pier, destroyed in a storm in 1896. Today it is known just as Brighton Pier. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    The Second World War bought an end to the seaside holiday, as many of the nation’s beaches were barred to the public, mined and covered in tank traps. Instead local authorities were encouraged to make worthy (if not universally successful) efforts to create holidays at home, turning parks, rivers or whatever amenities a town had to offer into makeshift “seaside” resorts. Even Punch and Judy got conscripted, with Hitler replacing the character of the hangman (whom Mister Punch invariably tricked into hanging himself).

    But most of all this is an illustrated history of the seaside, and researching it has been a splendid excuse for visiting many of the country’s resorts, and collecting illustrations – ancient and modern - of their development over more than a hundred years. These pictures, and the thumbnail histories of the resorts that accompany them, form the second half of my book.

    Stuart Hylton's new book The British Seaside: An Illustrated History 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.

  • Dresses and Dressmaking by Pam Inder

    Clara Dare's dress, c. 1868. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians

    In my working life I was a museum curator, looking after collections of ‘applied arts’ – which means furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, textiles, dresses and so on. I soon realised that when we put on an exhibition of ceramics, silver, glass, or furniture the display labels concentrated on where and when the item was made and by whom. With dresses, the information we supplied was largely descriptive – ‘Dress of cotton printed with small pink and green flowers, c.1790’, for example. If we knew anything about where the garment came from it usually related to the wearer – so the label would then be something like ‘Wedding dress of ivory silk worn by Jane Smith when she married John Robinson in September 1863’. Not until the late 19th century when makers began to put labels in their garments did we have any knowledge of the firms or individuals who made the dresses in our collection.

    Yet making a dress of expensive fabric that fits and flatters the wearer, is robust enough to withstand years of wear and conforms to the fashion of the day requires as much skill and knowledge of materials as, say, fine wood carving or glass blowing, particularly as dress patterns as we know them did not come on the market until the 1870s. Prior to that there had been a few books with diagrams that had to be scaled up and adapted to fit, but most dressmakers made their own patterns, either from an old dress that they unpicked or by pinning and draping material on their clients.

     

    Dress of white tambour-embroidered muslin, early 1850s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    I became interested in the women who made our clothes – and given that most of the dresses I was curating were made post-1770, dressmakers were nearly always women. Up to the 1690s those women’s dresses that were not made at home were made by tailors, and tailoring was a guild occupation so tailors were almost invariably men. By the 1690s some women, calling themselves ‘mantua makers’ after a new style of dress that had originated in France in the mid-1670s and become very popular, began to infiltrate the trade, though not without considerable opposition from the tailors who saw half their trade disappearing into the hands of pesky women! However, by 1800, women had a near monopoly of the dressmaking trade.

    I wanted to know more about these people. Who were they, how did they learn their trade, how much did they earn? How did they take over the trade? I soon learnt that it was not the feminist triumph it might at first appear. Dressmakers, particularly in the first half of the 19th century, worked unbelievably long hours, often in wretched conditions, and earned very little. The making up of a dress often cost no more than the price of a single yard of the fabric from which it was made. The trade was oversubscribed – it was one of the few ‘respectable’ occupations for women – so there was intense competition and many businesses went under.

    Back view of Purple dress of ribbed silk, c. 1895. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    It turned out there were not a great many actual records for me to examine. ‘Scissors’ writing in 1895 in a pamphlet entitled ‘Why Dressmaking does not pay’ claimed that Many dressmakers keep no book – in other words, many dressmakers did not keep records - even though by 1895 the law obliged them to do so. However, such records as I found presented a coherent picture and I was able to create a fairly full picture of the development of the trade in the 19th century. For the earlier period much less survives – but it is reasonable to suppose that things did not change radically between the 1780s and the early 1800s.

    I became fascinated by account books. In the 18th and 19th centuries many women kept detailed records of their weekly expenditure, probably so they could account for the money they were given by their husbands and fathers. These not only tell us what individual items cost but also enable us to work out how much these individuals spent on dress in total over the course of a year. One such set of accounts – kept by Eliza Stone of Knighton in Leicestershire in the early 19th century is included in the present work.

    Fashion plate from the Dressmaker and Warehouseman's Gazette showing dresses with kilted trimmings. Undated, but mid-1870s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    No account of the dressmaking trade would be complete without an examination of the actual garments dressmakers made, and this study concentrates on garments in the Leicestershire museums’ collections. These are among the items I used to curate so I know them well and include details and descriptions showing how they were constructed. Because the dresses are nearly all from Leicester and Leicestershire, much of the rest of the book refers to the city and county. This is not as limiting as it might at first sight appear. Leicester was as fashionable as any other county town, it was a wealthy city and much of that wealth came from the manufacture of garments, particularly boots and shoes and knitwear. The county of Leicestershire is a typical English county with its fair share of big houses, stately homes and gentry families. It is also a hunting country and was visited in the winter season by keen huntsman and their families, fashionable people from all over the country, including royalty. A study of dress in the city and county can therefore stand as a study of dress in much of England.

    This is a slim volume and limited in scope. There is much more that could be written about the makers and making of our ancestors’ clothes – and it is hoped that this work will whet the readers’ appetites and encourage them to learn more.

    Pam Inder's new book Dresses and Dressmaking: From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians is available for purchase now.

  • False Economies by S. D. Tucker

    The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time

    Pies in the Sky: Defeating Communism with Chocolate Coins - examining the bizarre use of chocolate coins as a real-life currency in North Korea.

    Life within the Communist hell-hole of North Korea (or DPRK, as it is officially known) is hard. Its economy is, for the most part, centrally planned, condemning most of its people to have to live in poverty. Ever since the days of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founding father who still technically rules the place even though he is dead, North Korea has pursued a policy of juche, or ‘self-reliance’, which is just another way of saying ‘self-imposed economic isolation’.

    The North has failed to publish any official economic data since 1965, which implies that the only people doing well out of the closed command-economy are the military. Because the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is about as open to outside penetration as a nun’s chastity belt, it seems that most people there don’t have a particularly good understanding of the notion of capitalism – which is why attempts have been made over recent years to try and undermine the nightmare dictatorship’s economy via the use of chocolate biscuits.

    Following a disastrous 1990s famine, the DPRK’s top brass have thankfully allowed some limited economic reforms to take place, the most significant being the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in 2002 under the auspices of Kim Jong-il, father of the current chunky little leader, Kim Jong-un. The KIC was a special economic zone in which sealed-off factories operated by 120 South Korean firms employed 50,000 North Korean workers, getting to pay them lower wages than they would back home whilst simultaneously opening up the North to outside influences, or so it was hoped.

    The real motive of the DPRK was to increase their foreign currency reserves; workers’ wages were paid direct to the North’s government, and they then passed back the equivalent sum in North Korean notes to the factory staff – minus some ‘necessary deductions’, naturally. The KIC is currently closed down due to deteriorating relations between North and South, but even whilst open it proved a source of severe controversy because of one particular product its factories were producing … Choco Pies.

    Choco Pies are the Far Eastern equivalent of Wagon Wheels, being two little circles of cake filled with marshmallow and covered over in chocolate, manufactured by a South Korean company called Orion. Such items may seem unremarkable in the mouth of a capitalist, but confectionaries of this kind were like miracles to the Communists of the North, to whom buttered cardboard is doubtless considered a culinary luxury. To the downtrodden workers of the DPRK, the KIC’s factories contained many hitherto unknown wonders such as toilet-paper (and indeed actual toilets) and the Choco Pies were yet another piece of magic from within Aladdin’s Capitalist Cave.

    The South Korean bosses in the KIC factories started paying their workers with free Choco Pies as a non-monetary bonus supplement, hoping to boost morale and increase productivity. The workers seemed pleased with their new bounty, describing them as producing ‘ecstasy’ upon their very tongues, but inspections of the factory workers’ bins revealed something strange – there were no Choco Pie wrappers in them. Why not? Apparently, it was because the workers were taking them home to use as a makeshift currency, deeming them more valuable per unit than many North Korean banknotes were. The chocolate biscuits had become chocolate coins!

    At the height of the craze 120,000 Choco Pies were doled out to the biscuit-hungry plebs each day, with even corrupt soldiers guarding the KIC site demanding their customary bribes in Wagon Wheels instead of banknotes. If you believe the highest estimates, some 2.5 million Choco Pies were being used as coins per month, and trading at a value of £6.40 each, compared to their usual price of 16 pence in South Korea. A more realistic estimate of their value was 25 pence, but this was still 1 per cent of the average weekly wage of £25. So valuable did they become that KIC workers started holding sporting contests and placing massive bets in biscuits.

    This was all quite disturbing to the DPRK authorities because, as well as helping undermine the economy, the mass distribution of Choco Pies was helping undermine the ideological concept of juche as well. If capitalists were so bad, then why were their biscuits so tasty? The phenomenon was dubbed an ‘invasion of the stomach’, and the regime got nervous, remembering the old argument that the Iron Curtain ended up being torn down because the suppressed proletariat of Eastern Europe, jealous of blue Levis, had wanted to get their hands on more Western consumer goods.

    Several measures were adopted by the DPRK Politburo to stem the crisis, with all Choco Pie bonuses being banned in 2014 in favour of wage top-ups of free sausages instead. Another tactic was to spread fake news about the Choco Pies; according to North Korean media, the biscuits had been infected with unspecified ‘weird substances’ by the South, intended to ‘shake our national defence’ or cause illness. In some sense the Choco Pies were really undercover secret agents, which were ‘spying and scheming’ upon behalf of their capitalist masters, hoping to create a situation where ‘the ideology of the people could wither at any moment’. These ‘sweet symbols of capitalism’ were then replaced by the North with cheap forged knock-off versions, a breed of pirated pies which just didn’t taste as nice, thereby undermining the pseudo-currency’s value.

    Alternatively, DPRK officials warned that the Oriental Wagon Wheels contained miniature bombs or highly powerful biological agents which would immediately give you cancer ‘and make your body suffer’ if you so much as touched one. Foreign food, it was said, ‘contains material that is harmful to socialism’, so had to be prodded away into a designated safe area with a long stick. According to one South Korean academic, ‘When North Koreans see high quality consumer goods [like Choco Pies] produced overseas, they begin to understand that their economic system doesn’t really deliver.’ If it can so easily be undermined by generic marshmallow treats, then the North Korean economy really must be in trouble; should all the currency within the DPRK’s Treasury come one day to be made entirely from confectionary, there is a severe danger Fat Boy Kim might just eat it.

    S. D. Tucker's new book False Economies: The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time is available for purchase now.

  • Jurassic Park Collectibles by Kristof Thijs

    Jurassic Park Electronic Command Compound. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Twenty-five years ago Jurassic Park was released in movie theatres. It was an adventure 65 million years in the making that shattered box office records. Its groundbreaking special effects laid the foundation for effects still used today.

    Many companies seized the opportunity to get their names attached to the Jurassic Park franchise. The JP license quickly swept around the world, filling store shelves with toys, apparel, games and much more with the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex logo.

    I've been collecting Jurassic Park merchandise since the movie was released in 1993. I was eleven years old and already had a fascination for dinosaurs. So the first JP toys I got where still to play with. I quickly outgrew that phase, but I couldn't stop getting more items. Eventually I kept them in their packaging because it looked cooler and started putting them on shelves in one of the rooms at my parents' place. I called it my museum where I showcased my Jurassic Park items, dinosaur models and fossils I found at the local quarry.

    In honour of the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, and the anniversary of the start of my collection, I'd like to highlight one item from every Jurassic Park line that was released between 1993 en 2015.

    The Command Compound was one of Kenner's last big toy sets. It was inspired by the visitor centre that can be seen in the film. It came with the iconic Jurassic Park gate that could be 'crashed' open by one of the toy vehicles. Inside there was a talking computer with more then a hundred different phrases.

     

    The Lost World: Jurassic Park Bull T-Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1997 Kenner picked up the JP license again for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While they designed plenty of new figures and dinosaurs, they also reused some of the old 1993 molds. The Bull T-Rex was originally planned for 1993 but the series II toy line, but was eventually scrapped. It came with an escape pod holding a scared action figure. The pod could be shoved down the throat of the Rex and then retrieved through an opening in its stomach.

     

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect Velociraptoryx. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Universal Studios was toying around with the idea for a cartoon called Chaos Effect. It would have featured hybrid dinosaurs roaming freely on Isla Sorna. The cartoon was never produced, but Kenner went ahead with the toy line, although plenty of announced toys were never produced. Most of the hybrids that got released were simple repaints from 1993 and 1997, but a handful were brand new sculpts. The Velocirapteryx was one of them. It was a sleek toy with bold colours and featured a shrieking sound effect. The hybrid was a combination between a Velociraptor and an Archaeopteryx.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park III Animatronic Spinosaurus. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Hasbro ditched the Kenner brand in 2001 for the release of the Jurassic Park III toys. All sculpts were brand new and no longer were designed with action figure / dinosaur scale in mind. The biggest dinosaur, and probably most ambitious, was the Animatronic Spinosaurus. By pushing buttons that were hidden under the soft skin, the Spino's head would move like a real animatronic. The system that controls the movement was not designed with durability in mind. It breaks very easy and therefore it's really hard to find one today that's in mind condition.

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park Dino Showdown Allosaurus Assault. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In between films Hasbro tried to fill the gaps by releasing repaints of their existing dinosaur models. They were often exclusives for a specific store chain in the United States like Toys "R" Us or Target. After many repaints of the same dinosaurs over and over again, Hasbro surprised fans by putting out two models that were not only brand new sculpts, they were also quite revolutionary in the portrayal of dinosaurs. Something that the Jurassic Park franchise is not known for. Two Dino Showdown sets were released: Pachyrhinosaurus Clash and Allosaurus Assault. Each came with a GI Joe action figure from Hasbro's forgotten vault.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Wolrd Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2015 Hasbro once again went back the drawing board for their Jurassic World toy line. Although the film was a massive hit, the toys sadly were not. Many complaint about the quality of the toys. They broke easily and the paint jobs were often sloppy. Initially no action figures were released, except for generic miniature army guys that came with vehicles sets. One of the sets even came with a card board figure. Hasbro tried to make things right with their Dino Hybrid line that reused (parts) of the existing dinosaurs they released in 2015. Their best effort was the Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. Although it looked like the large Indominus Rex from the year before, it was in fact a new sculpt with menacing colours and electronic sound effects.

    Not long after the release of the Dino Hybrid toy line, it was announced that Hasbro lost the Jurassic World license to competitor Mattel. Their toys are now slowly filling up stores, sometimes even sharing shelves with unsold Hasbro Jurassic World toys. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming out soon, I can't wait to see what else Mattel and Universal Studios have in store. I have to fill up that "museum" after all…

    Kristof Thijs' new book Jurassic Park Collectibles is available for purchase now.

  • Great British Gardeners by Vanessa Berridge

    The title page of the original edition of Gerald's Herball, published by Queen Elizabeth I's printer, John Norton, in 1597. (Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    From the Early Plantsmen to the Chelsea Medal Winners

    My late father believed that people liked gardening because it was an aspect of their lives that they could control. I always thought he was wrong, as the vagaries of nature lie well beyond human agency. But the style of gardening in the 1950s and 1960s was to plant bright, long-flowering annuals and serried rows of dahlias. It only recently occurred to me that my father’s gardening wasn’t just influenced by gardening fashion, but that the fashion itself had been created by what he and his contemporaries had endured during the chaos of world war. For them, a garden was somewhere they could take charge. They blasted aphids, slugs and other pests with chemicals (no thoughts then about climate change), and would have hated the loose grasses and textural planting of a later, more informal age.

    This is the underlying theme of Great British Gardeners: From Early Plantsmen to Chelsea Medal Winners. This book follows on from my earlier The Princess’s Garden: Royal Intrigue and the Untold Story of Kew (also published by Amberley) about the political background to the founding of Kew Gardens in 1759. That book put gardening at the heart of eighteenth-century political life, because gardening, whether we realise it or not, is a political act. Gardening styles down the centuries have been influenced by many different factors, such as fluctuations in trade, war, industrial developments and environmental issues.

    Through the lives of twenty-six gardeners, I have explored four centuries of British history, showing what gardens and those who garden them tell us about political, social and economic concerns in each period.

     

    Illustration from Thomas Fairchild's The City Gardener. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    I have started with John Gerard, who, in 1597, published his Herball, or General Historie of Plants, used as a practical handbook into the nineteenth century. A qualified barber-surgeon, Gerard, had a wide knowledge of plants because he used them in his work. He was gardening and botanising during the Elizabethan age which saw a huge expansion in trade and the beginnings of British colonialism. Gerard travelled across northern Europe with merchant companies acquiring plants, and also invested £25 in the Virginia Company, set up to finance an early colonial settlement in America. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and John Donne, and shared their relish for language. That is why, 400 years later, his Herball remains a wonderful living, breathing book. To understand the Elizabethan age, look no further than John Gerard.

    In the eighteenth century lived a nurseryman called Thomas Fairchild. From a humble, rural background, he had little education, but wrote a charming and evocative book about gardening in London. Published in 1722, The City Gardener was aimed at the merchant class, who, enriched by British trade, now had the leisure to garden. He was also the first known hybridiser, dusting the pollen from a wild carnation on to the stigma of a sweet william. He was nervous about tinkering with nature, for it was still regarded as blasphemous even among the supposedly free-thinking members of the Royal Society. It was a century and a half later before the term ‘hybridisation’ was coined and it became an accepted horticultural practice. Next time you buy a tray of annuals from the garden centre, spare a thought for Mr Fairchild.

     

    Venus's Vale at Rousham. (Author's collection, Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    The eighteenth-century English Landscape Movement was a reaction against the French-inspired formalism of the Stuart period. The Whig aristocrats, architects of the Protestant Hanoverian succession, used their estates to symbolise on the ground the political changes in the country, as Britain became a nation and moved towards a constitutional monarchy. William Kent and ‘Capability’ Brown were the two great figures of this movement, smoothing out the landscape for their aristocratic patrons. This new naturalism was intended to evoke the liberties of the British political system as opposed to the rigid autocracy of the French Catholic monarchy.

    Gardening was once a path out of poverty to fame and riches. That was certainly true in the nineteenth century, when Joseph Paxton rose to become one of the country’s leading figures, and the only gardener of my twenty-six to receive a knighthood. He was a landscape designer, an architect, a duke’s confidential friend, a botanical writer, a magazine and newspaper proprietor, an industrialist and railway magnate, a financial speculator, a politician and a visionary. This gardener’s boy was the personification of the Victorian self-made man, and his elaborate, contrived gardens reflected his age’s grand self-confidence.

    Reaction came, as it does: the 1860s saw the birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which stressed the importance of craftwork and socialism, as against factory production and over-weaning capitalism. Again, gardens mirrored what was happening in the country: William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll turned away from the formal parterres packed with industrial quantities of exotic plants needing over-wintering in greenhouses. They chose plants which would flourish naturally in British gardens – alpines for rock gardens and hardy perennials for flowerbeds – anticipating the late twentieth-century gardener Beth Chatto by over a century. Beth Chatto’s principle, ‘the right plant in the right place’, is now an almost universally held gardening motto.

    Gertrude Jekyll at the Deanery, Sonning, home of Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life, c. 1901. (Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    I’ve touched on suburban gardening after the Second World War, with its brief return to Victorian formalism. But horticultural currents continued to flow in the direction established by Robinson and Jekyll, as exemplified by the Chelsea Flower Show. Each year, the show is dominated by gardens designed and planted to raise concerns about climate change, care for the environment, conservation of water, and health. Turn on the News at Six: all these issues will be covered at some point in most bulletins.

    One of the most successful Chelsea designers in recent years, Tom Stuart-Smith, unites in his work many of the themes discussed in the book, as well as hinting at the rich variety in our contemporary culture. His gardens capture the spirit of the past, the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, current environmental thinking, and a sense that a garden is a microcosm of society.

    Vanessa Berridge's new book Great British Gardeners: From the Early Plantsmen to the Chelsea Medal Winners is available for purchase now.

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