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Tag Archives: Local History

  • Surrey's Military Heritage by Paul Le Messurier

    Canadian troops riot in Epsom, Surrey in June 1919

    Just over one hundred years ago, the First World War officially came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on the 28 June 1919. The brutally of combat had ended the previous year following the armistice of 11 November 1918. Yet sadly, in the same month that the Treaty was signed, the war would claim one more victim as a result of a tragic incident that would change the lives of a Surrey family forever.

    The grave of Station Sergeant Green in Epsom cemetery. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Following the end of hostilities, repatriation of Commonwealth troops proceeded at a very slow pace leading to frustration, boredom and confusion. By the summer of 1919 there were still over 2,000 Canadian soldiers in Woodcote Park Camp near Epsom in Surrey.

    Trouble had been brewing over a period of time between local men, mostly ex-soldiers, and Canadians in Epsom town centre. One such occurrence took place on the evening of Tuesday 17 June 1919, during which a Canadian soldier was arrested. A group of soldiers attempted to free their colleague but were seen off by the local police who arrested a further soldier for obstruction. The group returned to their camp and word spread about the arrests. At around eleven o’clock that evening, an estimated four to five hundred Canadians left the camp heading for Epsom police station. Armed with iron railings and wooden stakes, they stormed the station.

    After about an hour of fighting, the police were eventually overwhelmed. The Canadians managed to free their two colleagues and returned to the camp. Practically every policeman had been injured during the battle, some worse than others. Station Sergeant Thomas Green, aged 51 and close to retirement, was taken unconscious to the local hospital and died the following morning having suffered a fractured skull.

    The memorial to Station Sergeant Green erected by the Metropolitan Police. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    A scene of devastation met the crowd that gathered around the police station the following morning. Local magistrates issued an order closing all public houses to prevent further trouble and the town was placed out of bounds to all troops at the camp. The Canadian authorities had claimed that the original disturbance started when a Canadian soldier, walking with his wife, was insulted by a group of locals. This explanation was strongly refuted by Epsom Council.

    Station Sergeant Green had been in the police force for 24 years after having served in the Royal Horse Artillery in India. A large number of residents assembled in Epsom town centre for his funeral procession, local shops were closed. Several hundred members of the Metropolitan Police Force were in attendance. He was survived by his wife and two daughters aged 19 and 18.

    A plaque near the site of the riot in Epsom town centre. (Copyright Paul Le Messurier, Surrey's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Seven Canadian soldiers appeared in court charged with manslaughter and riot. The charges against two were dismissed. The remaining five were found guilty of rioting, but not guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to one year in prison. The men were released early, handed over to the Canadian authorities, and returned home in December 1919.

    In August 1929, New Scotland Yard received a telegram from the Chief of Police in Winnipeg. One of the soldiers, who had appeared in court in 1919 on a charge of manslaughter, was in custody for a minor offence and had decided to clear his conscience. He admitted killing Station Sergeant Green by striking him on the head with an iron bar. The telegram read, ‘Am detaining Allan McMaster, who admits being murderer of Police Sergeant Green at Epsom on June Seventeenth Nineteen Nineteen. Do you want him. Wire instructions.’.  New Scotland Yard replied that since the case was closed no further action would be taken. McMaster would take his own life 20 years after the tragic incident in Epsom.

    Station Sergeant Green is still remembered to this day. One hundred years on from his death, memorial events were recently held in Epsom in his honour.

    Paul Le Messurier's book Surrey's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Exeter by Chris Hallam

    The Great Pretender: Perkin Warbeck and Exeter

    Who on Earth was Perkin Warbeck? Perhaps the question “who wasn’t Perkin Warbeck?” would be more appropriate. Perkin Warbeck (1474-99) was pretty much nobody, but he assumed importance in the late 15th century by pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV and one of the two famous “princes in the Tower”. The “princes” (the oldest of whom was in fact, no longer really a prince but the boy King Edward V) famously went missing and were presumably murdered while under the “protection” of their uncle, who became Richard III in 1483 and who was himself overthrown by Henry Tudor in 1485. In 1497, as part of his campaign to become established as ‘King Richard IV,’ Warbeck (1474-1499) led 5,000 men into Exeter in 1497, shortly before being defeated by Henry VII and ultimately captured and executed.

    The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878.

    Much later, in 1674, under Charles II, two skeletons, later established to have been the right age and size to have been the two princes were discovered in the Tower. Although we can probably safely assume it was them, it is unclear if they were murdered and if so, by whom. As beneficiaries, Richard III or Henry VII (or, to be precise, men acting on their orders) are usually seen as the prime suspects.

    Although he was about the right age to have been Prince Richard, Perkin Warbeck’s claim was always weak. Even if Warbeck had been Prince Richard – and we can now say with confidence, that he definitely wasn’t -  his claim to actually be the rightful King Richard IV was dependent on his own brother, young Edward V having somehow died while he, supposedly although not actually the other prince, had lived.

    The fact that Warbeck successfully caused so much trouble for Henry VII for several years tells us two things: first, that Henry VII’s grasp on power must have been very tenuous indeed during the early years of his reign following his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Second, that Perkin Warbeck must have been a very charismatic, persuasive figure in his own right. There were, of course, no cameras, newspapers or TV then and so the identity of a prospective claimant was harder to verify. But with no real evidence to back him up, it must be assumed, Perkin really have had something about him to persuade so many people to support his cause.

    As it is, like Lambert Simnel before him, Perkin Warbeck will always be remembered as a Pretender to the Throne.

    Chris Hallam's book A-Z of Exeter is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Forest of Dean by Mark Turner

    A native of the Welsh border town of Monmouth, I was from an early age aware of the Forest of Dean. Although situated predominantly in the neighbouring English county of Gloucestershire, the forested area spreads into Wales just beyond Staunton village. Undeterred by the county boundary, it creeps on down the slopes towards my childhood home on Monmouth’s Hadnock Road, beside the River Wye. I was no more than six or seven years of age when my parents would take me walking on summer days up through the dense woods towards a hilltop clearing near Staunton. This provided a splendid panorama that my father would proclaim to be ‘the finest view in England’. My mother would then produce sandwiches and a flask of coffee from a wicker basket and we’d enjoy a simple but satisfying picnic. On more than one such occasion we caught sight of a deer wandering nearby and it was common to hear the mewing calls of buzzards circling high above. These were happy days indeed.

    The Long Stone, Staunton. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    A few years later I took to exploring a little deeper into the Forest. Together with a school-friend who, like me, paid scant regard to personal safety, I clambered over and around Staunton’s impressive Buckstone and Suckstone boulders, and then went on to edge precariously over disused railway bridges that crossed the River Wye. On one memorable occasion my chum and I decided to explore the damp and musty interior of a long-disused railway tunnel on the course of the Wye Valley Railway, but retreated hastily on finding the darkness virtually impenetrable. Still later, as a teenager, I was taken into a Forest coal mine near Coleford – this activity reinforcing my impression of the Forest as a somewhat dark and mysterious landscape, full of secret places.

    Within a few years I left Monmouth and its neighbouring Forest area, later settling in the picturesque North Cotswolds, on the other side of Gloucestershire. I never lost my love of the Forest, though, and often returned to explore unfamiliar parts of the district. By this time I’d begun writing books about the county and its folklore, discovering the Forest to be a rich source of material. As a schoolboy I’d occasionally overheard yarns about bears being killed in the Forest, and stories of ghosts and apparitions were far from uncommon. In more recent years numerous people have reported seeing big cats, such as leopards and panthers, in the Forest – some of these sightings being particularly credible. Within the past twenty years, too, a significant wild boar population has colonised the Forest, following escapes and illegal releases.

    Roman Temple remains at Lydney Park. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Subsequently finding that of the many outsiders who knew of the Forest’s existence, few knew much about the place, I decided to set about writing a book on the district. My intention was to produce an accessible history of the Forest of Dean, focussing especially on all the kinds of secret places that had fascinated me since childhood. In the course of my research and exploration of the wooded areas I encountered wild boar on several occasions, although not at close quarters. Apparently there are now around 1,000 of these animals roaming the woods and there is talk of them having to be culled. The big cats are much more elusive, although one doesn’t have to search hard to find someone who claims to have seen one. Indeed, a trusted personal friend of mine saw what he believed to be a panther or leopard on the edge of the Forest a few years ago. On reporting the incident to the local police he was met with shrugged shoulders and an assurance that his was one of many similar reports.  As for bear-killings, however, research revealed that the stories were indeed true – relating to an incident of 1889, when two muzzled and chained performing bears were killed at Ruardean by a mob from Cinderford. Fines followed, as did endless taunts of ‘who killed the bears?’

    The former Lea Bailey Gold Mine, Mitcheldean. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Included among the many lesser-known places described in Secret Forest of Dean are visible reminders of the many different peoples who have occupied the Forest through the centuries. There are Bronze Age standing stones, Iron Age hillforts and numerous signs of the Roman occupation – each of these sites possessing an air of mystery and secrecy. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Forest’s natural resources were being exploited on a grand scale, with coal and iron mines springing up all over the place. Mining was arduous and dangerous work, however, and loss of life was not uncommon. Several memorials to those who died can be seen in the Forest, although these are not always easy to locate.  Secret Forest of Dean will prove useful in this respect, too, describing and pinpointing these monuments. A rail network was created to service these industries, with tramways and railway lines criss-crossing the Forest and running down to the River Severn and River Wye.

    Dilke Railway Bridge, Cinderford. (Secret Forest of Dean, Amberley Publishing)

    Eventually, of course, the coal and minerals became exhausted and one by one the mines closed. The last of the big pits closed in the mid-1960s, almost all of the railways, too, closing over a similar period. Today there is little obvious evidence of these industries, although poignant and curious relics are there to be found by enthusiasts. A number of these old bridges, tunnels and former lines – which are described in Secret Forest of Dean – evoke a real sense of nostalgia and wistfulness. Fortunately, many of the Forest’s former railway track-beds and industrial sites have been imaginatively used to create cycle-ways, viewpoints and nature reserves. Today the district is a popular holiday destination for those wishing to explore the ancient Forest of Dean and neighbouring Wye Valley. Secret Forest of Dean is likely to appeal to holidaymakers and local residents alike. Caution is advised, though – reports of ghosts and apparitions, alien big cat sightings and ‘rampaging’ wild boar continue to circulate in what is undoubtedly a somewhat secret and mysterious part of Gloucestershire!

    Mark Turner's book Secret Forest of Dean is available for purchase now.

  • The Old Ways of Cumbria by Beth & Steve Pipe

    A book for nosey hikers

    Surely every hiker, at some point or another, has pondered about the path they’re treading. Who walked here before? Why is the path here? What’s that building for? It can’t just be me who is a fully paid up member of the nosey hikers club. Over the years we’ve walked thousands of miles and most of those miles involved one or the other of us noticing something of interest, so we decided to delve deeper into some of our favourite routes in Cumbria and put them together in a book.

    'The Cockpit' on Moor Divock. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    In my teens I never for one moment expected I’d ever write a history book. I didn’t enjoy history at school, I couldn’t see its relevance to me, and sitting in a classroom never really worked for me as a method of learning. But now I find that discovering local history gives me the chance to be Sherlock Holmes, piecing together bits of evidence from lots of different places to build a picture of what might have happened in the past.

    The original inspiration for this particular book came from another book; Wainwright’s ‘Old Roads of the Eastern Fells’, a largely forgotten about tome, which describes the history of the old trading and communication routes around the eastern fells of the Lake District. To help us cover the entire county we added a few longer routes of our own to explore – Hadrian’s Wall Path from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway (which we walked in a face melting heatwave), the Roman road from Penrith to Ravenglass (where, despite it being the middle of August, we were pelted with hail) and the Cistercian Way – a once incredibly popular route across the south of Cumbria which is now largely ignored.

    Carlisle Castle. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    But what exactly is a ‘nosey hiker’? Well, for me, it’s someone who has an interest in their surroundings and enjoys learning about who, or what, went before them. We nosey hikers can’t always remember all the exact names and dates when we don’t have a book in front of us, but we do love a good story, and perhaps learning a fascinating factoid that we can impress someone down the pub with later.

    Writing a book like this is an absolute pleasure as it combines many of my favourite things; hiking, researching, poking around a hillside looking for landmarks described in old books and, of course, being nosey.

    We go to a lot of trouble to get our facts straight too – here’s just one example.  In chapter 6 we explore the social routes around Martindale and, as often happens, I get drawn in to a particular nugget, in this case the naming of Chapel-in-the-Hause.  How and why did it get its name? Was there ever really a chapel there? Wainwright says so but can we prove it? There’s a building there but how do we know it was ever a chapel?

    Chapel-in-the-Hause. (The Old Ways of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    I started with a cursory search of the internet (not Wikipedia – but sites like British History Online) to see what they had to say.  Not a lot it seems, the site is described, but not evidenced. Then I notice how lots of sites have pretty much copied word for word what someone else has said. But that still doesn’t give me any proof. Now what? Next up is the local history society (Paterdale Today in this case, who were incredibly helpful). Then it’s time to delve into the library to see what they can turn up; still nothing definitive.

    After that it’s time to think laterally; if there was a church there then surely the Church of England would have a record of it? And, if not them, then perhaps the Quakers, or the Methodists, or the Catholics might know something? Then there were lots of emails, the occasional phone call and a trip down to London to spend time in Lambeth Palace Library to see what else I could find.

    Continuing my alternate line of thinking I even chatted to the nice folks at the Ordinance Survey to learn where they got their place names from and then spent hours poring over old maps to see when the name first appeared.

    Eventually I put everything together and came to a conclusion that I’m happy with. I’m not giving that away here, you’ll have to read the book to find out just what I discovered, plus there are plenty more stories like that in there too; perfect for nosey hikers everywhere.

    Beth & Steve Pipe's book The Old Ways of Cumbria is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Loughborough by Lynne Dyer

    The secret that is the town of Loughborough

    There’s nothing secret about Loughborough, now is there?! Everyone’s heard of it; everyone knows where it is; everyone knows what it’s famous for, and everyone knows who its famous inhabitants are - right? Err, well, possibly not!

    Welcome to Loughborough. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Wherever I get into conversation with people, whether while on holiday, or visiting other towns on day trips, talk often turns to the hometown. Seems not everyone does know that Loughborough is a landlocked market and university town, in the heart of the English Midlands, and that it’s the biggest town in the county of Leicestershire after Leicester itself. Some folk, however, have heard of the town through its university, a high hitter in many university league tables, and having a focus on sport, sports technology, and engineering, as well as other subjects.

    So, I thought this is where a book about secret Loughborough might just come in handy! Of course, with Loughborough itself being, if not a bit of a secret, then at least not very well-known, I found the challenge presented by writing a book about Loughborough’s secrets to be immense, as there was so much to share!

    Somehow, I had to have a starting point, and that turned out to be quite a difficult point to find!! When I began to think what some of Loughborough’s hidden secrets might actually be, I kept coming back to the idea of the hard and the easy quiz questions: if you don’t know the answer then surely the question is hard to answer, but if you do, then the answer is easy. And so it is with secrets: if you know about something then it is not a secret but if you don’t, then it probably is.

    The James Eadie affiliation. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Few of Loughborough’s secrets were actually created to be secrets, or meant to be secrets. Some knowledge about Loughborough’s story may have simply been lost in the passage of time, hence rather than being secrets they are more forgotten. Other secrets may be hidden because we take them for granted, perhaps walking past them every day.

    The question that was useful in helping me to decide what to include in the book was “why”. Of all the ‘W’ questions – ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘why?’, I think ‘why?’ is perhaps the one that requires the most research, but, paradoxically, can also leave many questions unanswered. The other useful question I asked was ‘how?’, which, again, led to some interesting discoveries.

    Following an introduction in which I unearthed some tantalising information about Loughborough, the book is divided into eight chapters that delve more deeply into Loughborough’s history. Firstly, my investigation focuses on some of the pub names that have appeared in the town down the years and what these mean, before revealing evidence of some forgotten brewery affiliations. In this first chapter I also discuss some of the street names in the town, including a group of newer ones which are located and linked to the nearby Beaumanor Hall, which was a ‘Y’ listening station during the Second World War. I reveal evidence of long-gone local iron founders who created physical street signs, like those for Freehold Street and Cobden Street.

    Shakespeare Street, once Loughborough's best-decorated street. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    In the next chapter I pull together some of the town’s history through its association with nature, be that birds like peacocks, ducks and swans; horses like Songster and Sunloch; trees like the horse chestnut on the Ashby Road or the cedar tree on the university campus, or Loughborough’s success in the annual ‘In bloom’ competition.

    One of the key messages I took away from the training I received to become an accredited Leicestershire Tour Guide was to consciously look at buildings for evidence of the history, but more specifically to look up beyond the usually modernised shop fronts when in a town or city. When leading people on guided walks around Loughborough, not only do I encourage people to look up, but also to look down, and indeed to look all around, as there are so many hints and nods to Loughborough’s history that we simply walk past or over every day without giving them a moments thought. In this chapter I delve into the meaning behind some of the plaques found on local buildings, and look at some of the murals and sculptures that adorn the town. Railings, old and new, that exist, practical, yet at the same time beautiful, are fascinating and I try to discover why they have been made and so placed.

    Welcome to Dishley, home of Robert Bakewell. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    Hosiery was a very important industry in Loughborough, so I included a selection of names of hosiery firms in the book. Most have long since left the town, and their buildings been converted for other use: one of these, the factory of I & R Morley, is currently being redeveloped into flats. In addition to hosiery factories, iron founders and brickmakers, engineering and pharmaceutical companies have also been important in the development of the town. Perhaps Loughborough firms whose names are familiar to many include Ladybird Books and Taylors Bellfounders, both of which I include in the book.

    In the chapter on people who have some connection to Loughborough, I’ve highlighted a range of people from across the ages – including Henry VII and Robert Bakewell, John Skevington and Thomas Cook – and from across a range of areas – film and reality television stars and sports stars. In the chapter that follows I discuss groups of people and societies like Chartists and Luddites, and friendly societies like Oddfellows and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, oh, and a visit to the town by Buffalo Bill!

    Totem pole milepost, Woodbrook Way. (Secret Loughborough, Amberley Publishing)

    At the beginning of this post I mentioned the university, and there is much more information in the book, including the history of the site, the history of the university, a bit about its new London campus, and a description of some of Loughborough’s other connections with London, much teased out from hidden clues.

    In the closing chapter I describe the Earl of Moira’s sale, which goes a long way to explain how the Loughborough of today developed. Burleigh Hall is discussed earlier in the book, but Garendon Hall is covered in this final chapter. After investigations into ghosts and fairies, gravestones and milestones, a signpost to the resources and knowledgeable volunteers at the Local and Family History Centre in the public library brings the book to a close.

    The book is peppered throughout with my own photographs of such curious things as street signs, commemorative plaques, drain covers and bricks, as well as the more expected ones of like sculptures, buildings, books and … fairy homes!

    My intention when writing this book was to tell the reader the history of Loughborough through some of its secrets. My consideration of what exactly to include in the book and what to leave out, and my detailed research of so many aspects of Loughborough’s history mean that I have plenty of material to write another couple of volumes in this series! Now I just need readers and if, of those readers, just one exclaims, whilst reading this book: “I didn’t know that!”, then I will have achieved what I set out to do.

    Lynne Dyer's book Secret Loughborough is available for purchase now.

  • Greenwich History Tour by David C. Ramzan

    A changing landscape through the passage of time

    Anyone standing on the south bank of the River Thames at Greenwich Reach will look out upon an area of regeneration and change. The Thames meanders its way eastwards from the Pool of London through Greenwich and beyond towards the English Channel. Looking in either direction you will gaze upon a once active river now devoid of ships, wharves and warehousing which once occupied this vast expanse of waterway and the embankments north and south.

    Lovells Wharf, where coal colliers once distributed their loads, demolished to make way for luxury apartments. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Having been born and raised in Greenwich during the time when the town was still a thriving mercantile and industrial community, as a youngster I lived and grew up close to the Thames when vessels from all around the globe would tie up at the wharves and warehouses situated along our stretch of the river. Merchant seamen from far off countries speaking many different languages, something of a rarity in those days, would frequent the many inns and public houses found nestling between riverside buildings or standing on the corners of streets consisting of row upon row of two up, two down, terraced houses, with no high-rise properties in sight. Within easy access to the river, the wharfs and barges were our adventure playgrounds of the time, where, on many occasions, my friends and I would be chased off by the London River Police patrolling our stretch of the river.

    Since those earlier times my home town has seen continual change and re-development throughout the past fifty years, the once busy riverside industries have now almost all gone, and much of the areas rich local mercantile and industrial history and heritage is gradually fading away.

    The Dome (O2 Arena), situated on Greenwich Marsh, once a centre of boat building, engineering and commercial manufacturing. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the Thames continues to be an important thoroughfare for river traffic, where occasionally tugs can be seen towing barges up and down stream, some of the few remaining working vessels still in operation. It is more likely the craft you will see today are the pleasure boats taking tourists on sightseeing trips with a guide pointing out places of interest along the way or perhaps the new fast, sleek, passenger ferries transporting commuters to their places of work in central London and back again at the working day’s end. Most of the wharfs and warehouses that once stood on the river’s edge are now long gone. A few which survived demolition by developers converted into apartments and offices, the rest flattened to make way for modern new-builds, hotels, restaurants and luxury dwellings.

    The Greenwich Hospital School, now the National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College, the landscape now dominated by London’s new financial centre at Canary wharf. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the most famous of landmarks remain, such as the old Royal Naval College, now the University of Greenwich; the National Maritime Museum, once a school for boy sailors and the Royal Observatory built on the site of a 15th century castle are just some of the main places of interest visited by thousands of tourists annually. Many of the historical landmarks and commercial and industrial buildings, which made the area famous throughout the world, can now only been viewed by way of old photographs printed in local history publications.

    In this modern era, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is also known for its marvels of modern technology and engineering. Such as the Millennium Dome located on the Greenwich Peninsular, the Thames Barrier stretching out across the Thames from New Charlton to Silvertown, and the London Docklands Light Railway running from the south under the river northwards emerging out to the Isle of Dogs and the busy financial centre Canary Wharf. At one time however, it was through astronomical and navigational discoveries, shipbuilding and industrial innovation which made Greenwich, situated directly on the Prime Meridian, predominant in the advancement of scientific technology and pioneering engineering.

    Deptford Creek, the tidal watercourse flowing between Greenwich and Deptford became an important source of power for a succession of mills previously located along the waterway. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    For over a thousand years, the area was the site of a thriving boat and ship building industry, from the construction of small river fishing boats up to the huge oak-built Men-of-War, trading vessels and ships of discovery and exploration, which sailed out across all the seas and oceans around the globe. However, there are few reminders, apart from some information boards positioned along the riverside walkway, of the areas industrious boat and shipbuilding industry which once stretched out from the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, through and around Greenwich and onwards to the Royal Dockyard of Woolwich.

    Greenwich Market entrance on Greenwich Church Street, the formal medieval quarter of Greenwich. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    In my two latest publications, A to Z of Greenwich and Greenwich History Tour, I have endeavoured to guide the reader around my hometown of Greenwich, not only to discover its most well known and most famous landmarks and buildings, but also the less well-known sites and hidden places of historical interest, and importance.

    Through an ever growing interest in local and family history during the past decade, thanks not only to popular historical television productions such as Time Team, Who Do You Think You Are, The Secret History of My Family and A House Through Time, but also through the many excellent local history publications readily available today. There has never been a better time than the present to discover and uncover the fascinating history of the places where you were born, lived or simply just visited, especially in changes which have taken place in the local landscape through the passage of time.

    David C. Ramzan's book Greenwich History Tour along with his previous book A-Z of Greenwich are available for purchase now.

  • Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

    Choosing Fifty Buildings

    The process of choosing the fifty buildings to put into Swindon in Fifty Buildings, was something akin to drawing up a wedding invite list. Y’know – you make a list of all the sisters, uncles, cousins and aunts. Then you realise there’s far too many people and you have to start making choices and thinning out.

    Toothill farmhouse, 1979. (Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    So how to decide what to include in a book that tells aspects of Swindon’s story in its buildings and what to take out?

    Do I draw the list from Swindon’s listed buildings? Hmm – as this blog by Martin Newman on the Swindon Civic Voice website, points out, Swindon has some 659 listed buildings – not to mention fifty-three scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens. It’s easy enough to see how selecting fifty from that would be similar to the wedding list task: herculean. How else?

    I could have taken a good number from Old Town (Old Swindon), everything in the GWR railway village conservation area and beyond: the McArthur Glen Outlet Centre, STEAM Museum, Churchward House et al and have soon got to fifty notable buildings. But as interesting as that might be it wouldn’t make for a balanced book.

    In the end then, after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I opted to go for:

    Geographic spread – Swindon is a large town now and there’s buildings with stories right across it. Thus, I decided to represent as many areas as I reasonably could.

    Different periods of time – Returning to the blog about Swindon’s listed buildings, we learn that it’s a common misapprehension that listed buildings are old.  Not so. A building can be listed after thirty years – or even ten. When the Renault (now Spectrum) building was listed in 2013 it was one of the youngest Listed Buildings in the country and took pride of place on the cover Designation Yearbook. You won’t be at all surprised to know that, the Spectrum Building is indeed included in Swindon in 50 Buildings.

    Different types of buildings – Again, lots of hemming and hawing and decision-making needed. Not too many breweries.  Not too many old farmhouses. Not all of the modern iconic buildings – else would I take out to make room for them?

    Aerial shot of Railway Village. (Courtesy of Martin Parry, Swindon in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    At length I have my list of fifty buildings. Not that it remained unchanged of course. For instance, I hadn’t planned to include the Brunel Centre until, in my research, I came across a review of it by architecture writer, Colin Amory. My eyes alighted on the phrase ‘Swindon has acquired a touch of Milan’ and that piqued my interest. I felt it had to go in after that!

    The buildings in this book then run the gamut from a Palladian Mansion to old farmhouses and the GWR Railway Village conservation area to iconic 1970s and 1980s buildings – with plenty more in between. The GWR and its great locomotive works looms large in much of it and its tentacles reach into even more of it. As is inevitable. For New Swindon exists solely because of the GWR Works and Brunel and Gooch’s decision to build it where they did. But of course, that’s not the whole story of Swindon.

    The fifty buildings in this book then tell stories large and small, wrought in Victorian brick, older stone and 20th century metal.

    Angela Atkinson's book Swindon in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Durham by Michael Richardson

    This collection has been specially selected to complement my other volumes and is arranged in four specific sections: ‘Meet the People’, ‘The Built Environment’, ‘At Work’, and ‘Events and Occasions’.

    There are so many unusual images in this volume that it is impossible for me to pick out a preference; however, I will mention a handful.

    A rare image of Durham’s first professional photographer, Thomas Heaviside (1828–86) of Queen Street (Owengate). (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the first section, ‘Meet the People’, the one portrait that stands out for me is that of Thomas Heaviside – my favourite photographer and Durham’s first professional ‘photographic artist’.

    He is pictured in his whites with a friend, probably taken prior to a cricket match in the 1860s. He was born in Elvet in 1828, son of a schoolmaster. His occupation prior to 1860 was coach trimmer. Around 1861 he was listed as a photographic artist. Many of his photographs still survive and are reproduced in this volume. He was the grandfather of Michael Heaviside Durham Light Infantry, VC, who was born in Gilesgate.

    A brush and wash drawing of Kepier by William Hutchinson, c. 1780. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    In the second section, ‘The Built Environment’, the drawing of Kepier Mill was a great discovery as it was thought that no images existed of it before the fire of 1870. The close-up shot of the old rope bridge crossing the River Wear at Kepier Wood was another; this was taken by William Lambeth (father of Roy). The two early views of the construction of the viaduct (opened 1 April 1857) show the beginning of change to the city with the coming of the railway (although Gilesgate had opened in 1844 as Durham’s first passenger station).

    This is the only known image showing the Kepier Mill intact prior to the fire of 24 September 1870, which destroyed it. The stone archway still survives. To the right of the picture is Kepier Gatehouse, built by Bishop Flambard around 1130. On the extreme right is the seventeenth-century banqueting house belonging to the Heath family, which later became an inn. Only the first-floor arcade survives.

    The Wallace sisters, Eliza and Isabella, are seen outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath in the 1900s. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The third section, ‘At Work’, shows a busy city full of a variety of business premises. There are the Wallace sisters, Elizabeth and Isabella, outside their stocking knitting shop at No. 75 Claypath; and over the road at No. 41 Claypath is the City Picture Frame Works, owned by Thomas Cranson – both taken early 1900s. The beautiful shop frontage and interior of the Home and Colonial Stores at No. 4 Silver Street was taken in the 1900s by another great local photographer, John Edis.

    The final selection is ‘Events and Occasions’. I must say one special new discovery was the watercolour depicting the fire at the Salvin Cotton Mill in Church Street on 7th January 1804. This was captured by the renowned artist Paul Sandby RA (1731–1809), a founder of the Royal Academy. Lost events like the annual horse fair in Old Elvet, Lord George Sanger’s circus visit and the assize judges’ procession are covered. The Durham Miners’ Gala and the Regatta, which still continue to thrive, are also shown.

    A watercolour of Salvin’s steam-powered spinning mill in Church Street, c. 1800. (Lost Durham, Amberley Publishing)

    The mill stood to the left of St Oswald’s Church, behind what is now Anchorage Terrace. The building was built in 1796 and was six storeys high with 365 windows. It lasted only eight years, having been destroyed in the fire of 7 January 1804. Unfortunately, the Salvins hadn’t kept its insurance up to date and it was never rebuilt. Parts of its walls still survive and can be seen from the riverbank footpath.

    The archive continues to grow and it always amazes me as to the quality of images still turning up, especially after being hidden away for years in attics, cupboards and suitcases. I am confident that you will have great interest while perusing these pages and reading about our rich social heritage.

    Michael Richardson's book Lost Durham is available for purchase now.

  • Ruins and Follies of East Anglia by Edward Couzens-Lake

    Time to reboot our imaginations

    Perfection has never been a state of mind or matter that I am either familiar or comfortable with.

    Which is probably why, given the chance to visit somewhere like the Taj Mahal, as magnificently wondrous and perfect a building as you will see anywhere, I’d give it no more than a passing glance before casting a more inquisitive eye around me for any imperfections that lay within its sublime shadow.

    It’s probably because I can relate to flaws or foibles more readily than I can the spotless and supreme. Not least because I am a flawed and far from perfect character myself.

    The very concept of excellence intimidates me.

    Wreck of SS Vina. (c. Julian Dowse (geograph.org.uk), Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    Give me an interesting ruin every day. If it’s one that lives its life in the shadows, then so much the better. Take, as an example, the shipwreck that lies on a sandbank off the tourist magnet that is the beach at Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast. Assorted shapeless lumps of rusting iron are all that remain of the SS Vina, a handsome coaster with pleasing lines that was built in 1894 at the famous Ramage and Ferguson shipyard in Leith, a working vessel that spent its life crossing the North Sea between the ports of East Anglia and their opposite numbers on the far off Baltic Coast.

    It doesn’t look anything like a ship today. Yet its allure to the curious remains, the sense of mystery that surrounds any shipwreck from the Titanic downwards attracting visitors by the thousand, some of whom have, in years gone by, lost their lives for the sake of wandering around something which, in reality, serves absolutely no purpose at all and has no aesthetic value whatsoever.

    Stonehenge it most definitely isn’t. Yet there have been summer days when I have bestrode the endless sands at Brancaster and seen crowds of people out at the site that would do justice to Wiltshire’s most famous landmark.

    Yet explore it we do, that and other sites that are, in many cases, little more than a memory, a gathering of rocks and rubble, iron, brick and the occasional preserved wall or tower. The romance of what was and the invitation to invest in the imagination as you wander around them. Who, for example, has not surveyed the remains of the SS Vina and visualised, in the process, a deck, a bridge, a wheelhouse and foaming waters left in its wake as it plied its trade between Great Yarmouth and the Baltic ports.

    The imagination is a wonderful thing. And it has inspired many other wonderful things.

    Like East Anglia’s remarkable collection of follies.

    Heacham Water Tower. (c. Nige Nudds, Ruins and Follies of East Anglia, Amberley Publishing)

    These too are, in their own way, buildings that have flaws but only in as much as their character and, on occasion, beauty can be seen as their great undoing. To repeatedly eschew architectural formality in favour of flair and flamboyance was, for me, one of the greatest gifts that the Victorians and Edwardians gave us. Take, for example, Redgate water tower that stands on the high ground in-between Hunstanton and Heacham in Norfolk.  The building is described as having ‘four flat angle pilasters on each side’, a pilaster being, in classic architecture, a technique used to give the appearance of a supporting column with ornamentation at the top and a classical plinth at its base.

    We are, might I remind you at this point, not talking about the look of one of the great buildings in Florence, Rome, Athens or Paris, but a water tower designed and built by Hunstanton Urban District Council in 1912 in order to supply water to the nearby village of Heacham. A building that merely had to be functional but is, appearance wise, anything but and one which richly demonstrates the perceived flaw in an architect who wanted to see grace and beauty in something that was otherwise brutally utilitarian.

    A folly is the consequence of a dreamer’s imagination brought to life. I can only admire and respect the architects and builders for their audacity and refusal to conform.

    Ruins and follies. Two features of our landscape that are fuelled by the imagination.

    Let’s not be forever lost in the artificial world of an LCD screen. Switch it off once in a while and retune your imagination to your own unique settings rather than the uniform way of thinking promoted by modern technology.

    Get out and explore. Lose yourself in some of the magnificent buildings that adorn our landscape.

    And rediscover who you really are in the process…

    Edward Couzens-Lake's book Ruins and Follies of East Anglia is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Stamford by Christopher Davies

    When asked to write an A-Z of Stamford, the task seemed restively simple. However, once I gave it some thought, I realised that there were two questions that needed to be addressed before I could start putting pen to paper. The first of these was ‘who am I writing this for’ and, secondly, can I find sufficient material to cover every letter of the alphabet.

    The first question is possibly the most problematic. Serious historians of Stamford (of which there are many) will already be well acquainted with most aspects of its history. So, after much thought, I decided to aim this book at the newcomer to the town and those with a passing interest in local history.

    The Eleanor Cross at Geddington. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    The question of what to include in an A-Z was much more taxing. What I wanted to do was to give an overview of the town’s development within the constraints of the brief from Amberley. Generally speaking, the first half of the alphabet does not tend to cause huge problems. In fact, it would probably be quite easy to fill a book just using the first half of the alphabet. It does mean however, that it is necessary to carefully select those aspects of the town’s history which will be of interest to the casual reader, and present an overview of the town’s history.

    From O onwards however, is a different matter, particularly X, Y and Z. In writing the A-Z of Stamford I was fairly certain of being able to cover most letters of the alphabet. The letter K caused a problem however, and I had to fall back on Klips Hill, which was the earlier name for Barn Hill. The letter X was always going to be a problem, as X does not figure at all in local personal names or place names. However, a flash of inspiration reminded me about the incised X on certain buildings to denote parish boundaries. The six parishes of Stamford were irregular in shape. Reference to Knipe’s map of 1833, for example, shows that St John’s parish was in two parts, separated by All Saints parish; St Michael’s parish was separated by part of St George’s parish. However, for a number of reasons, it was important for people to know in which parish they lived. The answer to this was to place an incised cross on to buildings where two parish boundaries met. Over the years, some 29 such marks have been located in the town, although they are ever in danger from re-building and alterations to buildings. Some years ago, the Lord Burghley public house was completely rebuilt, and it was only intervention from the writer of this blog that ensured that the parish boundary mark on the front of the building was preserved.

    Parish boundary mark. This particular mark is to be found at the entrance to the Theatre Cellar Bar in St George's Square. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    For the letter Q I decided to use the Queen Eleanor’s cross that once stood on Casterton Road. The main reason for this was that it presented the opportunity to re-examine the evidence for where it actually stood.  The 17th century Town Clerk and historian Richard Butcher, seems to have it firmly placed in the area of Clock House on Casterton Road. Later evidence very clearly has it in the area of Foxdales. In 1745, William Stukeley reported that the base of the cross had been discovered half a mile north of Stamford. In 1993, a fragment of Purbeck marble was found in the garden of Stukeley House in Barn Hill (William Stukeley’s home in the 1740s). The appearance of this fragment accorded with the description of the upper shaft of the Stamford Eleanor Cross which Stukeley claimed to have found in 1745 on Anemone Hill, which is the upper part of Casterton Road. It looks therefore as if Butcher was wrong in where he placed the cross in the 17th century. This however leads to an interesting question. Butcher was reporting what he could see; so if what he could see was not the Eleanor Cross, what was it? For illustrative purposes, I had to use the Eleanor Cross at Geddington as my example. Fortunately, it is said to be stylistically for similar to the one that once stood in Stamford.

    I have to confess that Z was something of a cop-out. Search as I might, I could not find anything significant in the town’s history that I could use. However, searching through my stock of newspaper cuttings, I came across a report of Zeppelins circling the town in 1916 and 1917. Not unusual I suspect given the proximity of a Royal Flying Corps base just a mile to the south of the town.

    Writing the book has been an interesting exercise, even for someone who has been involved in Stamford’s local history for over forty years. It has certainly forced me to re-think a number of aspects of the town’s history, and to put myself in the place of someone new to the town or just visiting who wants to know a little about Stamford’s history.

    Christopher Davies's new book A-Z of Stamford is available for purchase now.

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