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  • Secret Wrexham by John Idris Jones

    John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson (1728-1808). (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    I have already done Secret Chester and found this new work Secret Wrexham is nothing like it, it’s like chalk and cheese. Chester, as we all know, is charm personified. You go back to the Romans, who set its street pattern, and historically it was rich with traders and merchants who occupied its varied locations in the town’s streets, marked by ‘the rows’, making it an unique feature.

    The town of Wrexham has no such rich history. It came alive with the Industrial Revolution; before that, it was a small town with markets; rural and not industrial. The river Clywedog ran through it, and supplied water to the new factories, and to leather works. John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson was the main man who was involved in the industrial works of Wrexham. Buried in an iron coffin, they say. Coal came out of the ground in some 26 sites; some of the pits were huge; four had shafts descending some 2,000 feet. So the miners needed accommodation; Ruabon and particularly Rhos had rows of dwellings where families crowded-in.  In the present economy, some of these sell for a low price. So coal transformed the town of Wrexham. Then iron-ore was mined as well, and the iron-and-steel industry prospered. They say that cannons were created here for the wars 1780-1815. The small town, in a hundred years, was transformed into an industrial hub.

    Bersham colliery. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The strange thing is that ‘Wrexham’ is in two parts.  Firstly there is the town, of some 60,000 folk. Then there is the rest of Wrexham County Borough, which actually has a bigger population.  In Minera there used to be lead works, very bad for your health. In a short walk, out of the town, you enter rich farmland. The most charismatic is the Ceiriog Valley, some 13 miles of it, the road turning and twisting as it follows the trout-rich River Ceiriog.

    Pontcysyllte has the astonishing aqueduct, designed by Telford; it is 336 yards long, a width of four yards and a height of 126 feet. It is still in fine working order, despite its origin in being completed in 1805:  narrow-boats cross it frequently. There are three other spectacular bridges on this part of the Dee.

     

     

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The man who gave his name to Yale University, USA, Elihu Yale, lived in Wrexham; he is buried in the local church.

    Offa’s Dyke runs through the area; built in the late eighth century, to keep the Welsh in order!

    The village of Marford has peculiar architecture; echoes of children’s stories in its pointed-top windows and doors.

    Erbistock has a popular pub/restaurant on the bank of the Dee.  Overton in 1292 received a charter from King Edward 1st. Hanmer, close to the English border, is where Lorna Sage grew up.  She is famous for her book ‘Bad Blood’.

    So, here is a lot to cover; much variety; from the industrial to the agrarian. My book is full of my photographs of Wrexham and I hope I have done justice to an area that is much more than a centre of industry.

    John Idris Jones' new book Secret Wrexham is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: 1970s-1980s by Malcolm Batten

    The first North Weald Bus Rally was held on 31 May 1981. Among the exhibits was London Transport RML2760, whish was already a celebrity vehicle on account of being the final Routemaster. Alongside is the unique rear-engined FRM1, which was built in 1966. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    For transport enthusiasts and historians, anniversaries are always important occasions, and 2018 is no exception. For railway enthusiasts 2018 marks fifty years since the end of main line steam on British Railways with the “15 Guinea Special” on 11 August 1968. Many of the heritage railways will be commemorating this in various ways. Already the Mid-Hants Railway have held a gala for which they brought in another LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 to work with their resident example and recreate this last BR train, which featured a pair of the type.

    The other locomotive that featured on that August day, Britannia No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell has been working some main line trips prior to the expiry of its boiler certificate in March. On Thursday 22 February it ran over its original stamping ground from London to Norwich. Unfortunately it suffered lubrication problems on the outward journey and the return trip was diesel hauled. This had been the last steam locomotive to receive a general overhaul before BR stopped overhauling steam, and was saved for preservation on withdrawal.

    Also from 13 July 1985, London Country took route 313, Potters Bar-Chingford. Seen in Chingford on 11 July 1986, AN323 is a former Strathclyde Leyland Atlantean with Alexander bodywork. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    At the Epping Ongar railway, where I am a volunteer, we will be marking the end of BR steam with a photographic exhibition ‘Barry and after – 50 years since the end of mainline steam’ in our Penny Salon gallery at Ongar throughout August. This will feature the locomotives that were sent to Woodhams scrapyard at Barry, but were not cut up and survived to become the mainstay of the present heritage railways.

    For bus enthusiasts, 2018 marks 60 years since the introduction of the Leyland Atlantean, the first rear engine double deck type to enter production. This will be commemorated at the South Eastern Bus Festival at Detling Showground, near Maidstone on 7 April. Early Atlanteans are well represented in preservation – the first production examples from the two first operators, Wallasey and Glasgow both survive. Local company Maidstone & District were an early convert, taking Leyland Atlanteans from 1959 when they replaced the Hastings trolleybuses. Indeed they bought no front engine half cab double-deckers after 1956, unlike neighbours East Kent, who did not buy any rear engine double-deckers until 1969.

    At first the advantage of the rear engine design was in the increased passenger capacity it offered over the front engine half-cab bus. But from 1966, when one-person operation of double-deckers was legalised they had the advantage of being suitable for such work, with the passengers boarding alongside the driver. By this time other models, such as the Daimler Fleetline and Bristol VR had entered the market.

    Since 1969, some London Routemasters had carried overall advertising liveries. RM1255 is seen on route 8 at Old Ford on 30 March 1975 and is promoting an employment agency. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile London Transport had been introducing production models of the Routemaster, a traditional front-engine half-cab design, although mechanically superior to the Atlantean. They did buy batches of Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines for comparison trials in 1965-6. They also built a solitary rear-engined Routemaster FRM1. But this did not enter volume production, and eventually London Transport chose Fleetlines to succeed Routemasters in the 1970s.

    This brings us to the third significant anniversary – that of the Transport Act 1968. This brought in the National Bus Company, merging the state owned bus companies run by the Transport Holding Company with the formerly private owned BET group. It also created Passenger Transport  Executives to merge the local authority bus fleets in major conurbations – Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands and  Tyneside. As a consequence of this, London Transport lost its country area green buses and Green Line express services to a new NBC fleet, London Country Bus Services from January 1970. The Act also introduced as bus grant scheme, whereby grants were available for the purchase of new vehicles to modernise fleets. As this did not include half-cab vehicles not suited for one-person operation, production of these traditional vehicles came to an end in 1969.

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: 1970s-1980s is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Hayes by Louise Wyatt

    Yeading Meadows, Yeading Nature Reserve - also known as The Greenway to many locals. (Image courtesy of Dudley Miles under Creative Commons 2.0, Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m very grateful to my editor Becky Cousins for the opportunity in the first place, as Secret Hayes is my first traditionally published book. And many thanks to the publishing team for such a fabulous series to write for (I’m on my second book for the series, Secret Chepstow) and for such a professional job for turning my Word document into something so pleasurable. I tried not to dwell on the facts more commonly known – such as George Orwell being a teacher there in the 1930’s – but searched for facts such as finding out just who those fanciful tombs in the local Norman church belonged to.

    I had always imagined myself a fiction writer so delving into the historical non-fiction world was a tad scary, but boy did I enjoy it! I have always been fascinated by uncovering unknown facts, be it at home, holiday or just out and about. Hence why I began my blog after breaking my ankle in 2012, about places I had visited and things I had found out. When I was mobile again, I began blogging about walks I had been on and buildings – sometimes ruinous and sometimes not – that I had stumbled upon. Discovering a pile of rubble in some woods that just so happened to be the remains of an important strategic castle in the twelfth century really fired me up!

    Sketch of Hayes parish in 1874 by Thomas Mills. (Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I had to start with what I knew plenty about – the town I grew up in. Now a busy suburb of London, cut up on all sides by Heathrow, the M4, M40 and so on, I knew it wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, we had such good times – fields to play in, shops nearby but also able to retreat to a quiet place. It was during writing Secret Hayes that I found out just how important those ‘fields to play in’ were; now classified nature reserves with SSSI status they are more than just fields. It is an important snapshot of what was and what is still thriving, to show how the eco-system can survive in such a densely populated area and giving the local people a fabulous piece of breathing space.

    Despite all the housing developments, old and new, there are still pockets of history all around. I had always known there were ‘old buildings’ a bus ride away, but only by researching this book have I been led to understand Hayes has a central conservation area, listed buildings and award-winning open green areas that are remnants of an ancient forest and old farms; amazingly, a couple of farms are still in living memory of residents – development has been quite hard and fast when looking at things via a timeline.

    Comparing ‘then’ and ‘now’ photographs was mind-boggling during research, especially when you know the area well. How the pub that had ‘always just been behind the traffic lights’ was actually the oldest in Hayes, a main coaching inn back in the day and opposite a village-green type pond. All long gone, apart from the pub. Also discovering via research that the area where you grew up probably had higher crime statistics on a one-to-one ratio than modern day was bit of an eye-opener too; the isolation, the difficulty in connecting to main routes, as it seems even the Romans bypassed the little corner of Hayes we know as Yeading. Discovering newspaper articles of the day about dastardly deeds in an area you know was very engrossing!

    The 1086 entry for Hayes, noting 108 households and fifty-nine geld (taxable) units, including meadow, woodland and pasture worth £30. (Professor John Palmer and George slater on opendomesday.org.uk, Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I was extremely fortunate to get my hands on an original book entitled History of Hayes by Thomas Mills, written in 1874. The author signed the inner cover and the book was dedicated to a family member, Sir Charles Mills, who happened to be Lord of Hillingdon at the time. I found it extremely difficult to make the connection between them and time – as well as my word count – was running out! I had noticed whilst researching credible sources I had found online that they constantly had this book in their bibliographies and when I Googled it, there was the only copy available on Amazon. A tad expensive but I just had to have it. Not only did it help give me a fabulous insight to the Hayes of the late 1800’s, it was very special holding a book of that age in my hands. In fact, I was almost too scared to hold it and it is now safely tucked away. Thomas Mills’ detailed sketches and beautiful descriptive language as eye-witness accounts transported me to a Hayes that was the village it always had been, up until the early 1900’s.

    Hayes will probably go on to be continually developed but I’m hoping my book will enable people to realise that beneath their feet is history; that buildings exist in Hayes that have been there when the area was an idyllic backwater – although I do use the term idyllic loosely. Many people were poor, they had farms to work, miles to tread to the nearest market town (in this case, Uxbridge) and Yeading in particular appears to have been a hard place to live, with its farms, then brickfields and isolation. But the area is still remembered fondly by many and if one cares to look closely, pockets of the meadow, woodland and pasture that were mentioned so long ago in the Domesday Book are still there.

    Louise Wyatt's new book Secret Hayes is available for purchase now.

  • Preston History Tour by Keith Johnson

    Wandering and Wondering – A Magical History Mystery Tour

    Fishergate Railway Bridge. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    If you should be considering a visit to Preston in Lancashire in the future why not get a copy of the Preston History Tour and take a route through the historic town.

    Perhaps, like me, you will wander and wonder as you walk around Preston. Perhaps you will ponder with thoughts about the streets, the buildings and the people that passed this way before who were all part of the rich tapestry of life.

    The book takes you on quite a journey on a long and winding road with twists and turns along the way. Always remember that this old market town now a University City endured feast and famine, plague and pestilence, triumph and tragedy, conflicts and confrontation to emerge as 'Proud Preston' a title richly deserved. By reflecting on the images within the book it gives you, the reader, a chance to stand and stare and be nostalgic whilst you are there.

     

    Fishergate and Fishergate Baptist Church. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    This trail begins on Fishergate Hill the seat of County Hall since 1882, then onwards to Fishergate to glimpse the history there. On next to Winckley Square surrounded by fine buildings, some of which date back to the dawn of the 19th century. After wandering around the Square it is but a short walk to the Avenham & Miller Parks by the side of the River Ribble where historical delights await. Leaving the parks by tree lined paths you reach Avenham Walk, created as a gravel path in 1696. Soon Avenham Lane beckons and then a slight detour takes you to Stoneygate where Arkwright House has stood since 1728 and from where you can glimpse a rear view of the Minster church.

    Returning to Avenham Lane and on to Queen Street you will reach London Road a vital artery of the city. Ahead to your left is Stanley Street and a glimpse at New Hall Lane, where cotton mills once abounded, before you step onwards towards Church Street a highway steeped in history. As Church Street turns into Fishergate, Cheapside beckons along with the ancient Market Square where you may choose to linger a while and admire the buildings that surround it. Harris Street, by the side of the Harris Museum, takes you up to the modern day Guild Hall and the Town Hall where civic matters are dealt with on Lancaster Road.

    Miller Park. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Across from the Town Hall is the narrow, winding Crooked Lane, where soup kitchens gave relief to the poor in cotton famine days, and a few more footsteps will bring you to the Preston Bus Station, a structure both praised and criticized, from the top of which you can view Preston in its entirety. Church steeples and towers, high rise apartments and office blocks, modern and historical structures and highways all coming into view.

    Returning to Lancaster Road the Covered Market of 1872 origins then beckons, as do Market St and Orchard St from where you can enter Friargate. A few steps more and you are on Lune Street where the old Corn Exchange and St. George's Chapel await. Next is the Ringway and a stroll towards Friargate Brow that eventually leads to the Adelphi roundabout and the UCLAN campus. From here you can look in awe at the spire of St. Walburge's church and admire the former church of St. Peter's.

    Maret Place. (Preston History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Corporation St will then take you to where the canal once terminated at the rear of the old Corn Exchange and a return to Fishergate and journey's end at Preston Railway Station from where visitors have flocked since 1880. Hopefully, by then you will have embraced the history and the heritage of the city and its folk and like myself learn a little bit more about proud Preston.

    This history trail is intended to give you a glimpse of Preston's past and to recall the endeavours of its people. A chance to wander and wonder where generations past have lived and toiled. The streets and alleyways, buildings and structures, parks and pastimes all left a legacy, although it is the people who made Preston proud.

    In truth, whenever I walk this walk it seems like a magical mystery history tour and I hope it is for you too. Preston History Tour is a pocket sized publication that takes you along the highways and byways and hopefully down memory lane. This is a tour of Preston you can make by donning your walking shoes, or if you prefer, from the comfort of your old armchair as you flick through the pages.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston History Tour is available for purchase now.

  • Defensive Northumberland by Colin Alexander

    A fine stretch of Hadrian's Wall looking west over Hotbank and Crag Lough. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    I was born in Northumberland, at the end of the Roman Wall, and grew up in a coastal village whose clifftops are crowned with evocative mediaeval ruins. Little wonder then, that I shared an interest in local history with my father.

    Northumbrians are very aware that their land has always been frontier territory, a county of contrasts, with Iron Age hill-forts scattered all over the north, and the rich Roman heritage in the south. Dramatic castles and pele towers can be found throughout, making it a fascinating area to explore.

    Before the Roman invasion, what is now southern Scotland and northern England was a land of small-scale skirmishes between rival tribes and clans. For hundreds of years subsequently, the position of the border changed repeatedly, either the cause or the effect of large-scale conflicts. Eventually the Union of England and Scotland made the border an administrative line on the map.

    The ancient St Oswald's Gate at the north-west corner of Bamburgh Castle. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    In addition to border warfare, Northumbrians have, from the time of the Vikings until World War Two, lived with a constant threat from hostile nations across the North Sea. We appreciate the county’s place geographically and historically, acting for centuries as a buffer-zone between Scotland and England, much closer to Edinburgh than far-off Westminster. Two-thousand years of turmoil and threat have left a fascinating legacy on the unique landscape of this remote corner of England, combining hilltop Iron Age settlements and the great Roman infrastructure with many centuries’ worth of later fortifications of all types and sizes. These include humble fortified farm dwellings, massive castles, town walls and Berwick’s incredible Elizabethan ramparts.

    Northumberland’s ancient hill-forts and mediaeval castles were regular destinations for family outings and school trips for as long as I can remember, and with my two sons I have walked the length of its greatest defensive monument – Hadrian’s Wall. I am fortunate that I was able to spend much of my childhood exploring the steep grass banks and ruins of Tynemouth Castle, a place to fire the imagination with its centuries of military history intertwined with a fiery monastic past.

    Berwick ramparts, looking down into one of the positions for cross-firing artillery. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    For purposes of this book, ‘Northumberland’ refers to the historic county as it existed for centuries before 1974 when its populous south-east corner was grafted onto part of County Durham to form the faceless and short-lived political entity of Tyne & Wear.

    This book attempts to show some of the variety in Northumberland’s rich legacy of defensive structures from prehistory to modern times. Tales of Border Reivers, ancient tribes, great battles, sieges, Zeppelin raids bring to life the story of our great fortifications.

    Taking the photographs for the book was an adventure in itself. I spent many happy days walking some of England’s least-frequented landscapes in search of the past. Hills were climbed and the remains of Iron Age settlements photographed. I realised early into the writing that ground-level photography would not do justice to these hill-forts. I contacted a gentleman who had some impressive aerial photos of these locations, seeking his permission to use some of them in the book. He replied that he could do better than that, and took me up in his light aircraft with my camera. A couple of the spectacular results appear in the book. I could easily have filled a book double this size and still not exhausted this topic, and was a little sorry when I was finished, so enjoyable was its making.

    Colin Alexander's new book Defensive Northumberland is available for purchase now.

  • Preston in 50 buildings by Keith Johnson

    A view from the top of Preston Bus Station looking towards Avenham. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent times, it has been announced that three of our historical buildings are about to be renovated and transformed. The former Park Hotel overlooking Miller Park, the old General Post Office building overlooking the Market Place and the old Corn Exchange on Lune Street are being primed for upgrades. It seems that buildings have a life of their own and those in Preston are no exception.

    Preston in 50 Buildings is relevant at a time when the buildings of Preston are currently in the public eye. The history of our buildings is an enthralling one and my book chronicles the events and the people who helped shape the city architecture of today.

    Preston became a city in 2002 over two hundred years after the first cotton mill had been erected in the town. What followed the first cotton mill was two centuries of development that left us with a University City.

    Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, toured the nation in the early 18th Century as a prelude to his three volume travel book, ‘Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27)’ which provided a fascinating first-hand account of the state of the country. Regarding Preston he had this to say - 'Preston is a fine town, but not like Liverpool or Manchester. Here's no manufacture; the town is full of attorneys, proctors, and notaries. The people are gay here and though non the richer for it; it has by that obtained the name of Proud Preston'.

    The old and the new - the Guild Centre Tower. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    He had been particularly impressed by Church Street – then called Churchgate and by Fishergate remarking – 'The great stretch is filled with great houses and is very broad. The house of the present Earl of Derby makes a noble appearance, and in general the houses are very well built. To this town the gentry resort in the winter from many miles around, and there are, during the season, assemblies and balls in the same manner as York.'

    Fine words indeed, but things would certainly change in the centuries ahead as the Preston of today was created. It involved great feats of civil engineering, far sighted architects and people intent on progress.

    The buildings of any town or city define the place more than anything else and Preston is no exception. The sky line is inevitably dominated by the tallest of structures and the main highways through Preston were shaped by the erection of the earliest dwellings and footpaths. It never is a blank canvas for the developer, but one where the existing landscape cannot be ignored.

    The choice of 50 existing buildings is no easy task for we all have those to which we attach fondness or favour. Those selected have been chosen for reasons of social, commercial, historical, political or civil importance, or simply because they are civil engineering feats to admire. Mention is also given in the book to numerous other buildings that in their own way are part of the rich tapestry woven into the soul of our city. 

     

    Stephenson Terrace, built from stone brought from Longridge. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    They all, in their own way, reflect the drive and ambition of people to improve the environment of their day; for Preston folk to linger, dwell or work within. Hopefully, you will appreciate what was no mean achievement to create a city; although with hindsight it probably didn't turn out quite like the town the planners of old foresaw or dreamed about.

    Only a few factory chimneys from the industrial heydays now remain, but those that do hold a significant place in the history of the city. The great name of Horrockses has left a legacy from the time Sam Horrocks built his mansion at Lark Hill through to the construction of Centenary Mill on New Hall Lane, now converted into luxury apartments. The other great monument from the cotton trade, the Tulketh Spinning Mill, has also passed the test of time and still provides employment for many.

    There is the legacy left behind by the dockers of Preston an area now transformed and known as Riversway; and by the tram and omnibus pioneers of Preston Corporation and the fondly remembered Ribble Bus Co; not forgetting the railway pioneers with their bridges across the River Ribble or the later emerging Victorian railway station through which passenger and freight trains still pass each and every day.

    St Walburge's and its spire. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the book is essentially about buildings it does afford the opportunity of walking in the footsteps of Preston folk down the generations, from noble men to common folk, and you will catch a glimpse of their lives on the streets of old as the place developed around them.

    Thankfully many of the homes of grandeur inhabited by genteel folk still remain to allow us to marvel at their architecture. Notable residents of our town past are mentioned, such as Edwin Henry Booth who once dwelt at Avenham Tower; Joseph Livesey whose residence was around the corner on Bank Parade where well cultivated gardens once flourished, and LEP newspaper pioneer George Toulmin who lived nearby on Ribblesdale Place. Down Stoneygate you can still visit the very place where Sir Richard Arkwright developed his revolutionary spinning frame, whilst Winckley Square owed its development to the ambition of William Cross and the Pedder families involvement with Ashton House eventually led to another pasture land becoming a public park.

    The idea of choosing 50 buildings in a town or city is quite thought provoking. Yes, there are many former buildings still recalled with fondness, but it is the great survivors, those of great longevity or local significance that take their place in chronological order within the pages of the book. It is apparent that great architects have been at work here, great planners and far-sighted pioneers have strived to build what in many cases are true monuments to their work.

    The Harris, a place of splendour viewed from the Market Square. (Preston in 50 buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The architects of the 19th century, who inherited a landscape of factory chimneys and windmills, would no doubt look in awe upon the structures that have emerged since the middle of the 20th century. If only they were able to stand on the top floor of the Tithebarn Street bus station they would see not only the church towers and steeples built in their days, but towering skyscraper blocks of apartments, hotels and offices along with temples and domed mosques, a sign of today’s multi-cultural Preston.

    Preston in 50 Buildings explores the history of this rich and vibrant community through a selection of its greatest architectural treasures. From the Grade I - listed Harris Museum to the modern Guild Hall, this unique study celebrates the city’s architectural heritage in a new and accessible way.  The book takes you on a tour of the city’s historic buildings and modern architectural marvels and reveals a little about their construction and creation. The churches, theatres, public houses and cinemas of Preston’s industrial past are examined alongside the innovative buildings of a 21st century city.

     In the pages of the book you can visit some of the oldest, the quaintest, the tallest, the smallest, the busiest, the boldest and the brashest building in the city.  No point dwelling on the buildings that have been and gone, their useful purpose over, but much better we embrace those that remain from long ago, or have appeared on our streets in recent times.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston in 50 buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Shropshire's Military Heritage by John Shipley

    Portrait of an officer of the 53rd Regiment of Foot. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Researching and writing “Shropshire's Military Heritage” has been a marvellous and enlightening experience; it is one heck of a subject. Soldiers from Shropshire have been involved in many historic events that have defined our nation. Particularly men from Shropshire's two main regular regiments of the British Army, the 53rd and the 85th Regiments of Foot. These guys fought alongside Sir Arthur Wellesley, better known later as the Duke of Wellington, one of Great Britain's greatest heroes. Through the perilous terrain of Portugal and Spain as the forces of that evil dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte were pushed from the Iberian Peninsula back to France where they came from, and in doing so, playing an integral part in his downfall.

    Although no Shropshire regiments fought at the famous Battle of Waterloo, the 53rd were subsequently assigned the task of guarding the fallen emperor during his exile on the Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

    Whilst the 53rd were babysitting Napoleon Bonaparte, the 85th were in America, part of the invasion force that sacked the USA's new capital, Washington, and burnt the half-completed White House.

    But of course, Shropshire's military history goes back much further in time than the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars. The history of the county is intrinsically linked with Britain's royalty connections, and of course Shropshire's strategic location on England's border with Wales has frequently resulted in conflict. Many historic Welsh leaders crossed the border to lay siege to Shropshire's numerous border castles. Men such as Prince Llewellyn, Prince Rhys, and probably the most famous of all Owain Glyn Dwr (Owain Glendower), to name just three.

    Regimental medal of merit awarded to Major Aeneas M'Intosh, 85th, for his gallantry at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro and the storming of Badajoz. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Not all conflicts were against the Welsh, Shropshire's rebellious Barons frequently took up arms against unjust and tyrannical kings, in bloody conflicts, such as those against King John, and the Harry Hotspur rebellion that led to the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21st July 1403.

    My search for knowledge inevitably took me to Shropshire's Regimental Museum in Shrewsbury Castle, where I was treated magnificently and allowed to take photographs of the exhibits. My sincere thanks go to Museum Curator Christine Bernáth and her team, their help was much appreciated.

    Shropshire is one of the UK's most beautiful counties with such diverse scenery, from its numerous ranges of high hills, none quite making the status of being classified a mountain, although some come mighty close, fertile valleys and of course Shropshire has its own Lake District around Ellesmere. Check out my next books for Amberley “50 Gems of Shropshire” publication scheduled for later in 2018, and “Secret Shropshire” which follows that.

    Replica unifrom of a soldier of the 53rd during the American Revolutionary War 1755-83. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Moving back to the subject of Shropshire's history and the county's royal connections, we have major historical events, such as the first English Parliament in which commoners were invited to participate, seen as the first steps to democracy. This was at Shrewsbury Abbey and Acton Burnell in 1283 (some claim it was 1285), when King Edward I gathered a parliament together; he needed money for his quest to subjugate the Welsh, and to impeach Prince Daffydd ap Gruffydd, the last independent ruler of Wales. The poor chap suffered the grisly fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered, the first person of noble birth to be executed in this manner. King Richard III also held a “Great Parliament” at Shrewsbury.

    Of course pretty much all of Shropshire's castles have connections to some significant historic event, and Ludlow Castle has seen it fair share. The castle came into the control of Yorkist Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, through marriage, before the commencement of the hostilities that later became known as the Wars of the Roses. He was the father of two kings: Edward IV and Richard III (remember the body in the Leicester car park). Edward IVs eldest son was born in Westminster, but his younger son, was born in Shrewsbury at the Dominican Friary, their names were: Edward, Prince of Wales (later and briefly King Edward V), and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, however history knows these two boys better as the Princes in the Tower. Young Edward was at Ludlow when news of his father's death set off the chain of events that saw his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, accept the throne. Richard III ruled for only two years until he was deposed by the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, crowned King Henry VII following his victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

    Officer's shako plate, 53rd Regiment of Foot, 1844-45. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Ludlow was also where Henry VIIs eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, held court as Lord of the Marches. He also resided in Bewdley at the royal manor of Tickenhill Palace. Prince Arthur Tudor (20 September 1486 - 2 April 1502), subsequently died at Ludlow Castle six months short of his sixteenth birthday. He and his new wife, Catherine of Aragon contracted what was described as “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air” - the sweating sickness, (possibly tuberculosis). Catherine recovered, but her teenage husband didn't. His heart is buried in a silver casket beneath the chancel of St. Laurence Church, Ludlow. The rest of him is buried in Worcester Cathedral. Arthur's tragic death raised King Henry's second son, Henry (later Henry VIII) as heir to the throne. For those of you who like a conspiracy theory there is one surrounding Prince Arthur's death, put forward by Paul Vaughan, as reported in November 2002 in the Worcester News.

    There are absolutely piles of questions with no answers, such as:

    Was Arthur a sickly youth? If he was, did his father King Henry VII, a man with pretty much no real claim to the English throne, favour Arthur's brother, the handsome, lusty, and long of limb brother Henry as his successor to better continue his extremely tenuous royal Tudor dynasty?

    Lock of Napoleon Bonaparte's hair. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Why was Arthur sent back in winter to cold Ludlow where sickness abounded with only one physician? (Wouldn't a royal prince have an entourage of doctors to attend him? And why not keep him in London where the best medical men were?).

    Was Arthur allowed to die, or, was he poisoned? And there's more: Why was his body kept at Ludlow for around three weeks after his death?

    Why didn't the king order his body to be conveyed to London for a state funeral, possibly in Westminster Abbey?

    Why bury Arthur in Worcester Cathedral, part of a remote monastery? Why didn't the king and queen attend their son's funeral? (Only the Earls of Shrewsbury, Kent, and Surrey, plus other lords attended).

    Why didn't Arthur lie in state, to attract pilgrims and therefore revenue to the Cathedral, as was the custom? His body appears to have been buried straight away upon arrival at Worcester Cathedral.

    Why is Arthur's Chantry not as grandly ornate as experts believe it should be, and why is his body not inside it? (His remains are believed to be buried in front of the High Altar).

    I love a good conspiracy, and this is a corker. Of course, it could be a load of something else!

     

    Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shrewsbury Castle. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Here are a couple of other interesting royal connections with Shropshire:

    Bessie Blount, or more correctly Elizabeth Blount, became famous as the mistress of King Henry VIII. Bessie as she was known during her lifetime was born at Kinlet, Shropshire, sometime between 1498, and 1502; her parents were Sir John Blount of Knightley and Kinlet, and Catherine, nee Pershall. Little has been previously recorded of Bessie’s early life, but we do know that she was blessed with a rare beauty, but sadly there is no known portrait of her in existence. The Blount’s manor at Kinlet was near young Prince Arthur, Prince of Wales's court at Tickenhill Manor, Bewdley.

    Bessie Blount travelled to court in spring 1512, becoming a maid-of-honour to King Henry VIIIs Queen, Catherine of Aragon. Bessie learned Latin and French, and played the virginal (a smaller keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family). She also excelled at dancing and singing. The teenage Bessie was described as an eloquent, graceful, blonde haired beauty, with a flawless complexion, and as an accomplished and most interesting person. A couple of years after arriving at court, Bessie caught Henry VIIIs famous roving eye, becoming his mistress around 1514/1515. Thought to be the first of Henry's mistresses, remaining so for around eight years unlike many of his other flings which usually did not last very long, although she was never afforded the title of Maitresse en Tire. Her union with Henry produced a son on the 15th June 1519, whom they named Henry Fitzroy (Henry, Fitz or son of the Roy or king, using the old Norman method of naming a son). He was the only illegitimate child acknowledged by Henry VIII as his own. Henry Fitzroy had the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Earl of Nottingham conferred upon him. Unfortunately for Bessie, Henry moved on to the 'other Boleyn sister’, Mary Boleyn, and subsequently the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. In 1522, Bessie married Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron of Kyme.

    Floral war memorial, 1914-18, in the grounds of Shrewsbury castle. (Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Bessie’s husband Gilbert died in 1530, leaving her extremely well off, and although she was pursued by a number of suitors including Leonard Gray, she chose to marry Edward Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton. Bessie died on 1 January 1540.

    This next royal connection is rather more bizarre:

    Shropshire born, Anthony William Hall (1898–1947), made an audacious claim in 1931 in which he insisted that he was the direct descendant of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, through the royal male line, (although the birth of Hall's ancestor was prior to the marriage between Henry and Anne). This made him the direct descendant of the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.

    Mr Hall, a police inspector in Shropshire, thus attempted to claim the throne of England. He set out details of his claim in an open letter to the then King, George V. William Hall also made many speeches to anyone who would listen, including one in Birmingham, in which he detailed his credentials and how he was the rightful King of England. This audacious man even challenged the King to a duel, with the loser to be beheaded. Hall was arrested numerous times for using "scandalous language," and was arraigned in court, fined and bound over to keep the peace. John Harrison's 1999 novel “Heir Unapparent” used the notion that Anthony Hall was a descendant of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn for its plot.

    KSLI memorial tableau, National Memorial Arboretum NMA, Alrewas, Staffordshire. (Courtesy of the NMA, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Moving on in time, I'd like to mention Shropshire's role in “Operation Sea Lion”, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany's code name for the planned invasion of Great Britain during the Second World War. In 1945 a soldier discovered a 446 page dossier for an invasion in 1940, scuppered of course by the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain. Documents dated 1941 indicate Hitler's continued belief in the invasion of our Sceptred Isle. Hitler's headquarters were outlined for Apley Hall near Bridgnorth, and Ludlow was also mentioned, making these two Shropshire towns the centre of Nazi power in the UK. The dossier resurfaced in 2005 and was sold at auction.

    I'll end this blog as I began, with a note of what happened to Shropshire's two regular regiments. In 1881, the 53rd and the 85th Regiments of Foot amalgamated to form the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, the KSLI, whose soldiers, together with the Shropshire Yeomanry, served with great distinction through the two World Wars, and the Korean War, as well as in other international conflicts. The KSLI became the 3rd Battalion, the Light Infantry Regiment in 1968, and today as part of the Rifles, the KSLI continues to help keep us safe.

    John Shipley's new book Shropshire's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Preston by Keith Johnson

    Preston was a town with plenty of windmills. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Listen! Do you want to know a secret? Secret Preston gives you the opportunity to look into the past of Preston and reflect on events from generations ago besides those in the not too distant past. There is a history of Preston that is hidden from view, or simply not recognised today amidst the hurly burly of modern life.

    The book goes behind the façade of the familiar to explore what lies beneath the historic city we are familiar with. Scratching the surface and delving into the archives to reveal things we are unaware of, or that have simply been forgotten in the mist of time.

    The outfit of a brave doctor visiting the Plague victims. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    In truth for almost 1,000 years Preston was simply a rural market town that developed around the church from where the original settlement grew. It would eventually become something of a significant crossroads with a handy river crossing.

    Preston suffered from famine, plague and warfare, yet grew into a large industrial town, noted for its cotton and engineering industries and with all the trials that created as folk flocked to the important county town.

    All these events helped to shape the Preston that grew into our city. Of course, much of the history of a city often lays beneath centuries of decay and development. Indeed, a dweller of the old town of Preston of centuries ago would simply be lost in our city streets these days.

    Traditions that remain often enthral us and these socially motivated events bound the generations together. What our ancestors taught us is often treasured. Pageantry, parade, custom, folk lore, festivals all leaving a legacy of what they achieved. It is never just about the bricks and mortar, but the buildings themselves help us to understand our ancestors’ hopes and ambitions.

    The chapters bring to life some of the characters of old who walked along these highways and byways before us, leaving behind a trail that fascinates us and helps us to understand what kind of life they enjoyed, or endured.

    Preston Cemetery, the last resting place of many local folk. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Like all cities it is one of changing faces and changing places – our Market Square is a prime example of that. Graveyards and bones, monks and monasteries, alleyways and tunnels, factories and workshops, plagues and poverty, pain and torment, disease and death, famine and feast all provide an insight into the past.

    Within the book there are chapters that remind us of a Market Place steeped in history; the punishments and pastimes of old; the visitations of the plague and the days of lepers; the quacks and their cures; the Grey Friars and the sisters of mercy; the grandest of buildings and structures; the springs and wells that quenched thirst; the days of war when secrecy was paramount and the place where Preston's treasures are stored.

    Likewise, a chance to discover what went before on the site where the present day industrial Red Scar estate now prospers, a chance to look back at the ghastly activity that took place on Gallows Hill where English Martyrs now stands, and to consider why the derelict Miley Tunnel that runs beneath our streets has such a mysterious reputation.

    Preston - the battle ground of 1715 as the rebels attempted to quell the King's forces. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Those Civil War days of the 17th century are also recalled. Days when Royalists and Parliamentarians fought on our streets with dire consequences for many. There is also a timely account of the days over 300 years ago, in 1715 and later, when the battles on Preston soil helped shape the Jacobite Rebellions and the fortunes of those involved. Yes, it is so true that Cavaliers and Roundheads fought here as did those involved in the Jacobite Rebellions. Centuries when conflict raged and cannon fire, bloodshed, barricades and rampaging armies all became part of the rich tapestry of Preston's history.

    Hopefully, like myself, you will delight in a tour of our streets and alleyways back in the nineteenth century town led by Richard Aughton, who recalled his formative years growing up in a place that was developing from pasture land. His anecdotes recalled the people, the places and the reality of his time. He lived amongst the people of Preston and he saw first-hand the endeavours of all, both wealthy and poverty stricken alike.

    Red Scar - the much-loved home of the Cross family for generations. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Curiosity led me to some of the discoveries and my admiration for the historians of old Preston did not waiver, for they left a paper trail that can be clearly followed to unlock secrets of the past. It is often only necessary to simply scratch the surface to uncover parts of our past history, although our treasured archaeologists have dug much deeper for the cause.

    Journey back with me into the secret past of Preston and loiter a while, and maybe marvel at those who lingered in olden days on the streets and fields of Preston past and their achievements. Their past shaped our future and this latest Amberley publication reveals all.

    The dictionary definition of secret includes the terms – concealed, unseen and mysterious – not deliberately, of course, but as a result of the passage of time – hopefully some of the dust of time is blown away in the pages of the publication.

    Keith Johnson's book Secret Preston is available for purchase now.

  • In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs by Melvyn Jones and Michael Bentley

    Views of Rotherham - Clockwise from left to right: Clifton House, High Street, Clifton Park, Doncaster Gate; centre: the war memorial in Clifton Park. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Daniel Defoe writing about Rotherham in the 1720s rather dismissively wrote that there was ‘nothing of note except a fine stone bridge over the Don’. How wrong he was. Even then there was much to record in the town itself and in the surrounding settlements. In the intervening centuries it has only got more and more interesting.

    The Rotherham area has undergone profound change over the last century or so. There has been much demolition and re-building in the town centre. The town has grown outwards in all directions and the surrounding settlements, rural and industrial, have been transformed in many cases. Many working patterns and workplaces have disappeared, means of transport have changed out of all recognition and even how people used their leisure time in the early twentieth century shows some striking differences from today.

    Fortunately, in the latter years of the nineteenth century and during the first half of the twentieth century the town and its surrounding settlements were recorded on camera for posterity. This was done for a variety of reasons. Businesses wanted to record their activities, families wanted to record family events and the family photographic album came into existence. Local newspapers used photographs to record civic and other events taking place in their readership areas and of course, most importantly, the picture postcard came into existence.

    The picture postcard as we know it today came into existence in January 1902. From that date, what was to become until recent times, the standard-sized card – 5 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches - was allowed by the Post Office to have one side entirely devoted to an illustration in the form of a photograph, painting or engraving and the other side divided into two with room for a message on the left and the address on the right. With as many as five deliveries a day from Monday to Saturday and one on Sunday morning, postage costing only a halfpenny, cards posted locally were often being delivered on the same day as they were posted. Picture postcards became the standard way of communicating between places in the days before most people had a telephone. As a result photographic firms rushed to fill the booming market for postcards featuring photographs of local places and people. Everybody sent and received postcards. The Post Office dealt with 866 million postcards through the post in the year 1909 alone.

    Edwardian cyclists outside Wentworth Park. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The early postcards, studio photographs, other family photographs and the commercial photographs tell us so much about our local history. Looking into how the landscape, fashions and local industry changed to name but three obvious areas of interest. But there is so much more. No Street, group, event or subject was too small or obscure not to be recorded on camera. Just two contrasting examples illustrate the point.

    Going on local excursions received a big boost by the production of reasonably priced bicycles in the 1890s following the introduction of the safety cycle in the 1880s and the development of the air-filled tyre in 1888 by John Dunlop to replace the solid tyre. For the first time many ordinary people could get away from the towns and the mining and industrial settlements to the countryside. Cycling clubs grew up everywhere and cycling became a craze. Women for the first time could move from place to place for work and leisure. In 1896 the American writer Susan B. Anthony wrote that ‘the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world’. The photograph of cyclists reproduced here shows a local cycling club posing outside the gates to the park at Wentworth Woodhouse. Notice that all but one of the men and boys is wearing a tie. In Edwardian England you did not dress down to go out cycling, you dressed up!

    Christening of Viscount Milton, 1911. (In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    In complete contrast is a most fascinating group of postcards produced by E. L. Scrivens, the Doncaster-based photographer connected with the christening of Peter, Viscount Milton at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1911. The christening was more like a coronation than a christening. This was because the 7th Earl and Countess Fitzwilliam had four daughters and it was feared that the earldom would go to another branch of the family. The relative who would inherit if there was no son was an uncle who was 70 years old.

    The christening ceremony took place in the private chapel in the mansion at one o’clock on 12 February. The Rotherham Advertiser reported that the scarf presented to the Earl’s ancestor at the Battle of Hastings for his ‘valour and service’ would be wrapped around the baby Peter. 7,000 invitations were sent out to official guests and in addition it was reported that between 50,000 and 100,000 of the general public would also attend. One hundred men from London were sent to erect marquees for thousands of the official guests and 300 waiters came to Wentworth from London by special train. Local tenants, the employees of the hunts that the Earl hunted with, the parishioners of Wentworth and local miners all presented engraved bowls.

    In the afternoon and evening there was a full round of festivities including bands, roundabouts, daylight fireworks and the roasting of an ox to provide beef sandwiches for the public. The event ended with a magnificent fireworks display. It was reputed to be the biggest private firework display for five years. It included portraits of the Earl and Countess, Niagara Falls and a British battleship attacking and sinking the ‘dreadnought’ of a continental power.

    Melvyn Jones and Michael Bentley's new book In & Around Rotherham From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Chorlton Hospital, Nell Lane, c.1900. (Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Writing Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time has made me recognise that my longest-standing memory of Chorlton relates to my time as a student nurse at Trafford General Hospital, in Davyhulme. During my time as a trainee, from 1989-93, what was Trafford School of Nursing became South-West Manchester College of Nursing. The idea behind this was to move away from the traditional focus of nursing towards a style of nurse training which was degree oriented and university based. Project 2000 (the title of our training structure) was an attempt at this, combining practical ward training and college-based academic study in separate units corresponding to medicine, surgery, psychiatry etc. By the late 1990s the training of nurses had moved on to be university-based, with Registered Nurses being awarded degrees by their respective universities.

    Mauldeth House, Mauldeth Road West and South West Manchester College of Nursing, 29 October 1993. (Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    However, during my time as a student nurse our headquarters for the South West Manchester College of Nursing was based at Mauldeth House, Mauldeth Road West, in Chorlton. As I stated in the book, my abiding memory of Mauldeth House was an interview I attended there in May 1989. This was actually for a place on the South Manchester School of Nursing course, based at Withington and Wythenshawe Hospitals. I was offered a place, but eventually accepted an offer from Trafford General Hospital, in Davyhulme, as it was much closer to home for me – I could walk there in five minutes! At the time of writing the book’s captions Mauldeth House had become just another office block, of no particular significance. However, since then, Carillion, its occupiers, have made national headlines for all the wrong reasons!

    I attended Mauldeth House a number of times. The frontage to the building has changed very little at ground level, and we were also familiar with The Southern Hotel public house, across the road from Mauldeth House. During my time as a student I had the opportunity to travel to Sweden, where we observed work in the General Hospital at Kristianstad, as well as experience the country first hand. De-briefing sessions at Mauldeth House always followed these visits. My very first full-time nursing post was also in Chorlton, at the then Alexandra Lodge Nursing Home (now Alexandra Lodge Care Centre), on Wilbraham Road, where I stayed for six months in the mid-1990s, before moving on to another position.

    Alexandra Lodge Care Centre, Wilbraham Road. (Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although this blog has provided the opportunity to remember my days as a student nurse, Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time covers all the main districts of the village and shows how it has changed over the decades. It is now a cosmopolitan suburb of Manchester, popular with the young professional. There are landmarks, such as Southern Cemetery (where many of my ancestors/relatives lie), and the original village centre, based around Chorlton Green, as well as the lych-gate to the original St. Clement’s parish church. I have also tried to balance these inclusions against some more modern changes to Chorlton, with regard to education and transport, for example. I hope that the result will be an informative and pleasant read for the local historian and local resident alike!

    I would like to dedicate this blog to my Brother-in-Law, David Worsley (and family), former Chorlton residents.

    Steven Dickens' new book Chorlton-cum-Hardy Through Time is available for purchase now.

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