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  • 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.

  • Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection by Alan Spree

    In 1972, I was asked to go to the Hastings Office of the Department of Environment to do a short course on concrete technology. I had never been to Hastings or St Leonards on Sea so I took the opportunity to have a couple of days there with my wife and son. It was not until 1997, when I began researching my family history, that I realised my direct ancestors had lived in that part of the country. In particular I found out about my great grandfather John Henry Spree who became a postcard publisher in Hastings, St Leonards on Sea and later in Nottingham.

    John Henry Spree 1869 - 1932. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    It would appear that John Henry Spree started producing photographic postcards from around 1904 whilst living in St Leonards on Sea. It was from there that he registered a number of his postcards at the Stationers' Hall in London under the Copyright Acts in force from 1842 to 1912. National Archive records show that in 1910 John Henry Spree registered more of his postcards and in particular ones of a night and day image of St Leonards Pier and Multi View postcards of Crowhurst. The earliest postcards that I have which were taken by my great grandfather are from 1905 and include one of St Georges Church in Crowhurst posted in May 1905 and a series taken after the storm in 1905.

    Probably the most well know postcard publisher in Hastings was Judges. In 1902 Fred Judge purchased an existing photographic business and renamed it Judges Photo Stores. According to my father, John Henry Spree took a job as a photographer at Judges in Hastings where he successfully worked for a number of years. As it is generally accepted that most of the photographs used by Judges Ltd were taken by Fred Judge it could be that John Henry Spree was employed at the previous Judges shop in White Rock run by A E Marriot or he was employed at Judges Ltd in a capacity other than a photographer.

     

     

     

    Hasting & St Leonards First Tram on the front line, taken on the seafront near Bopeep on the 18 December 1906. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    Having previously had a book ‘John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire’ published, and as I had a few postcards taken by him of Hastings and St Leonards on Sea, I decided to put together this book which includes an introduction and a brief summary of the history of Hastings & St Leonards on Sea up to 1900. As a general principle I organised the layout of the book with the images in a geographical sequence starting in the east and then proceeding west through Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.  I then included some postcards of the more prominent outlying areas of Crowhurst, Fairlight Glenn, Hollington and Ore.

    The book covers the years between 1900 -1918, from the turn of the century to the end of the First World War. During this period John Henry Spree published postcards in the Hasting and St Leonards on Sea area. It contains 17 images of the few remaining Spree postcards of the area and many other images from local and national postcard publishers.

    St Leonards. Heavy seas and high gusts of wind on the 27 November 1905 ripped the kiosk, situated at the entrance to the pier, from its foundations and overturned it.. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    In the years covered by this book there were many significant events in Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. For example the White Rock gardens were opened on the 3 September 1904, the inauguration of the tram service in July 1905, the sinking of SS Clara in June 1905, the sea front flooding that followed an exceptionally high tide in November 1905, the S.S. Lugano on fire off Hastings in April 1906, the launching of the Hastings lifeboat in a snowstorm on 25 April 1908, the State Visit of the Lord Mayor of London to Hastings on 28 November 1908, heavy snowfall on 30 December 1908, the opening of the American Palace Pier on the 23 May 1909, the great fire in Waterworks Road on 4 January 1909, proclamation of King George V  on 9 May 1910, severe gales on 12 March 1912 and 22 March 1913 and the declaration of War 5 August 1914. Many of these events are covered in the book.

    Crowhurst St Georges Church This card has a postmark of May 1905. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The majority of the postcards in the book are in colour but due to the infancy of colour cameras many of the early post cards were coloured in by hand from the black and white originals with varying results as the shades chosen by those that did the colouring were not always true to life. Alternatively colouring could be done by the photochrom process for producing colorized images from black and white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates.

    John Henry Spree and family moved to Nottingham in 1915 and became a prolific producer of postcards around Nottingham and the rest of the East Midlands. I am of course proud of my great grandfathers achievements as a postcard publisher. To date I have collected 379 images of them including 123 original postcards that I have been able to purchase. The search goes on.

    I am looking forward to having two more books published by Amberley, ‘British Military Dinky Toys’ and ‘Portsmouth The Postcard Collection’.

    Alan Spree's new book Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of the Peak District by Denis Eardley

    When I started to compile 50 Gems of the Peak District the biggest problem was what to leave out. After some thought, I decided to select gems that were relatively easy to visit for both the private and public transport user of all ages. This somewhat reduced the number of gems I had in mind but there were still far too many for the book. Eventually, after much further deliberation I settled on the number required.

    The Peak National Park was established in 1951 and was the first to be set up in Britain. It is stunningly beautiful and it is visited by people from all over the world. They come to enjoy its glorious ever changing landscapes, enchanting villages, beautiful historic houses, famous attractions and hundreds of traditional events attract visitors time and again. Strikingly beautiful limestone valleys, with magnificent clifftop views, characterise the southern half of the Peak District, with the northern area featuring dramatic gritstone ridges and wild heather covered moorland.

    The 50 Gems in the book have been arranged in groups to enable the reader to explore at their own pace, by visiting just one at a time, or several. The fascinating historical information, legends and other stories will let both the first time and regular visitors to the Peak District take even greater pleasure out of their visits. There is much to see and the book will prove indispensable both to the first time as well as frequent visitors to the Peak District.

    As a sneak preview of the 50 Gems book, I have selected five of my favourites below:

     

    Derbyshire’s Lake District (SK171898)

    Derwent Reservoir. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    The Upper Derwent Valley is often referred to as the ‘Lake District of the Peak’. It is surrounded by magnificent countryside where water and woodland, topped by high moors, predominate. In recent years forestry has become an important factor and the sides of the valley have been clothed in conifers. Not surprisingly, the area has become so popular that over two million people visit each year. At certain times the road up the valley beyond Fairholmes is closed to help protect the environment and a mini-bus service is operated. Disabled Badge holders are exempt from the road closure.

    The valley was a very attractive location for the storage of water, with its long deep sides and narrow points for dam building. All this, combined with a high average rainfall, low population level and heavy demand for water from the industrial towns that surrounded the Peak District, made the case for reservoir construction. The Derwent Valley Water Board was set up in 1899 to supply water to Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester and the Howden and Derwent Reservoirs were constructed.

    At that time the demand for water was satisfied and although plans existed for further reservoirs, no more action was needed. Demand, though, continued to grow and the decision was taken to build one very large reservoir, to be called Ladybower. This entailed the flooding of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent and caused immense unrest. However, the project went ahead and the villagers were moved to new houses at Yorkshire Bridge.

    Ashopton Viaduct was built to carry the Snake Road to Glossop and the Ladybower Viaduct to carry the road from Yorkshire Bridge to the A57.

    The ancient Derwent packhorse bridge, which had a preservation order on it, was painstakingly moved stone by stone and rebuilt at Slippery Stones at the head of Howden Reservoir. The graves in the churchyard were excavated and the bodies reburied at Bamford.

    A few properties built on slightly higher land, including the Shooting Lodge and former Roman Catholic School, survived. Although the majority were demolished and flooded, the church spire was left eerily poking out above the reservoir, when the water level was low, until it was blown up in 1947. The flooding having been completed, the opening ceremony was carried out on 25 September 1945 by King George VI. In order to mark the occasion, a commemorative monument was built close to the dam wall.

     

    Pott Shrigley (SK945792)

    Cottage at Port Shrigley. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    The picturesque Cheshire village of Pott Shrigley is located on the western border of the Peak District, about one mile north from the small town of Bollington. The houses in the centre of the village huddle together close to the top end of two valleys with Holme and Nab woods rising up to the rear. In all directions, there are beautiful trees and fields with flocks of sheep grazing that give the village a distinct rural identity.

    Pott Shrigley has a long and interesting history, which for many years revolved around Shrigley Hall and its estate, farming and later, mineral extraction. Originally built in the fourteenth century by the Downes family, who lived there for 500 years, it was rebuilt on a grander scale in the early nineteenth century by William Turner. In the 1950s it was sold to the Salesians as a Catholic Education Centre and sold again in the 1980s when it was converted into a hotel, which it remains today.

    St. Christopher’s Church is a Grade I listed building, which is thought to have been founded in the late 14th century and completed in its present form by the building of the Downes Chantry Chapel by Geoffrey Downes in the late fifteenth century. Inside the church, there is a fine, fifteenth century barrel roof, an oak altar table that dates back to 1698. The oak box pews were acquired from St James' Church, Gawsworth in the nineteenth century. Another building in the village with an ancient history is the Church of England primary school, which was founded in 1492.

    In the spring, the bluebells along the road up the hill towards Shrigley Hall are an impressive sight and attract large numbers of visitors. The village cricket ground is in a stunning location, which according to the locals, is one of the most beautiful settings in the world.

    One person though refused to move, Miss A. Cotterill of Gwinnett House. She remained there until she died in 1990, at the age of ninety-nine, the waters of the reservoir lapping at the front garden steps. You can easily pick out the house at the side of Ladybower when crossing the discretionary path across the dam wall.

    Food is available at the refreshment kiosk at Fairholmes, Yorkshire Bridge Inn and Ladybower Inn.

     

    Flash Bar (SK032678)

    Flash Bar Store and Tearooms. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    For the tired walker having trekked across the wild windswept moorland and the cyclist toiled to the top of Axe Edge, Flash Bar must seem like an oasis with its smart welcoming café and pub. Situated just outside the village of Flash, on the A53, the stylish café and stores is possibly the highest shop and cafe in England. Opposite, the Traveller's Rest public house has now reopened as the Knight’s Table.

    Flash is surrounded by magnificent moorland scenery, stands at a height of over 1,500 feet above sea level and is claimed to be the highest village in England. It is an isolated place, the main part of which consists of well weathered cottages and a small church, all clustered together seemingly to keep warm on the side of Oliver Hill, together with the New Inn.

    On a sunny day when the sky is clear you can see for miles over the surrounding countryside, and as you walk across the moors, listening to the birds singing and keeping a watch out for wildlife, it is easy to imagine you are in Paradise. At another time, on a different day, the picture may be quite the reverse, when the A53 is blocked by snow. It is often one of the first roads in the country to be closed after heavy snowfall.

    Only a short distance from the village is Three Shires Head, where a bridge crosses the River Dane at a point where the borders of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. Many years ago, illegal prizefights used to take place there, as the police were not allowed to cross county borders, and it was easy for the wrongdoers to flee into another county. For the very same reason, counterfeiters choose the spot for their unlawful trade, ‘flash’ is the name given to the illegal money. The word flash has since become associated with being dishonest, or for goods that are not of genuine quality.

    The village had its own benefit society to support those most in need, the Flash Loyal Union Society, established in 1846, nicknamed the ‘Teapot Club’, presumably because many members saved the money in a teapot. Attendance once a year at an annual feast was compulsory for members when the money was placed in the fund. Feast Day was an important day in the village’s social calendar and when in 1995 the benefit club had to be disbanded due to new Government regulations the event was retained.

    As one visitor who just happened to visit Flash on the day of the village parade recounts, she was astonished to see a procession march all the way to the Traveller’s Rest carrying a large model teapot. Even more so as the marchers also carried banners referring to the teapot and were accompanied by a brass band. On the same day there is a service in the church and also a well dressing and flower festival takes place, and refreshments are provided in the village hall.

     

    Edensor, Chatsworth Park (SK250698)

    Looking down towards Edensor. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    Every year visitors from all over the world pass through Chatsworth Park on their way to visit the house and gardens or to just admire the view. Most only cast a cursory glance over towards the gateway that leads to Edensor, one of the most admired estate villages in the country. It is quite unique in style and provides the first time visitor with an experience they will never forget. Set in a walled enclosure within attractive parkland owned by the Devonshire family, with its fine buildings and majestic looking church the village just waits to be explored.

    Originally, Edensor lay between the river and the road through the Park, when the houses were set out in a straggling line down to the Derwent. This did not appeal to the fourth Duke of Devonshire, who having spent considerable money and effort improving Chatsworth House, redesigning the gardens and building a grand new bridge over the river. He decided to demolish the houses visible from his home and re-house the tenants in the nearby estate villages of Pilsley and Beeley. The Duke died in 1764 prior to the completion of the work and it was the sixth Duke who completed the building of the present village.

    Joseph Paxton, who remodelled and landscaped the gardens at Chatsworth, chose the site for the new ‘Model Village’, but it was John Robertson, a relatively unknown architectural assistant from Derby, who provided the designs. At that time aspiring young architects such as Robertson would prepare a book of house plans as part of their training.

    It is thought that Robertson approached the Duke to show him the plans when he was busy with other matters. After quickly looking through them he could not make up his mind and chose all the different styles in the book, which proved to be a masterstroke. The designs ranged from Norman to Jacobean, Swiss-style to Italian villas. A few of the old houses that were well out of sight of Chatsworth House were left virtually untouched.

    Robertson retained the fourteenth century church, but it only remained for about 30 years after the completion of the village, before it was replaced by a much larger one, built by George Gilbert Scott. The new church with its graceful spire and spacious layout added to the status and importance of the village, which its predecessor had failed to do.

     

    Wetton Mill (SK017561)

    Wetton Mill. (50 Gems of the Peak District, Amberley Publishing)

    Wetton Mill, owned by the National Trust, is a very popular spot with visitors to the Manifold Valley, which lies a short distance to the northwest of Wetton.

    It was originally a water mill for grinding corn but closed in 1857. Situated by the side of the Manifold Way, it has now been converted to create a beautiful picnic spot, cafe and two National Trust Holiday Cottages. There are still some remnants of the old mill to be seen, with a few old limestone buildings, a section of the mill pond now impounded by the river, the millstream and a grindstone. The bridge that gives access to the mill yard was built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1805.

    The tearoom, housed in one of the former grist buildings at the mill, provides welcome refreshment to visitors who come to walk in the valley, or just want to relax and admire the superb countryside. The valley has some of the most spectacular scenery in the Peak District and is rich with wildflowers, butterflies and birds.

    The Leek and Manifold Light Railway used to run through the valley. Lack of sufficient business forced the early closure of the line and it has subsequently been turned into a trail for walkers and cyclists, only two miles of which is not car-free. In total, the trail runs for nine miles from Hulme End Visitor Centre to Waterhouses Old Station car park.

    Surprisingly, the river beds of the Manifold and Hamps that flow through the valley are frequently dry, as the waters soak away into the porous limestone rocks below and only reappear in wet weather. During dry weather, the Manifold disappears at Wetton Mill and re-emerges from its underground journey from a boil hole at Ilam.

    Wetton is a compact little village of limestone cottages that seem to huddle together in an exposed position against the cold at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Winters are now much milder, but some of the older residents still recall the times the village has been cut off from the outside world.

    Denis Eardley's new book 50 Gems of the Peak District is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Cheshire by Paul Hurley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A-Z of Gloucester by Roger Smith

    I have been photographing scenes around Gloucester for more years than I care to remember – street scenes, buildings, statues and blue plaques. Several years ago I started posting articles to Facebook’s ‘Our History – Gloucester’ group. My intention was to enhance the group’s knowledge of the city, including its suburbs, churches, listed buildings and vanished landmarks; the history of these places, how their names have changed, and how they have developed into how they are today.

    Baker's clock with Father Time and figures representing Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    After writing nearly 50 articles, many members of the group were asking whether I was going to turn the articles into a book. With this in mind I submitted a proposal to Amberley Publishing enquiring whether such a book would be of interest. The response was that although my proposal didn’t fit in with their current range of titles, it could fit in with their ‘A-Z of …’ series. After reading through the requirements defined in the A-Z Author Guide I considered it was well within my scope, and more importantly, I already had most of the information to produce such a book. The only proviso, apart from the word and image count, was that there should be at least one entry for every letter of the alphabet.

    The task proved relatively simple for most of the alphabet, but letters X and Z were initially problematical. Then one day a photo appeared in the Facebook group of a policeman on point duty at The Cross, the crossroads in the centre of Gloucester, with the caption that at one time this was the busiest crossroads in England. There could therefore be no better choice than to go for ‘X marks the spot’ as it had earned the sobriquet of the crossroads of England.

    That just left the letter Z. Again, a spot of inspiration came when driving back from Swindon to Gloucester one day. After descending the Cotswold escarpment on the outskirts of the city, one comes to Zoons Court roundabout. The Z problem was solved; now I just needed to research the history of the court.

    Gloucester Cathedral's tower and the cloister garden. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    My brief was that the book should run to 20,000 words and include 100 images. The task was simplified by first producing a detailed synopsis, which stemmed from many years experience working as a technical author where a synopsis defined for the client the envisaged content of the finished document. It also avoided any later dispute where the client suggests that x, y or z should have been included.

    I was aware that there are already a large number of books about Gloucester on the market, many of them nothing more than a collection of photographs with just a single sentence caption. They leave the reader unaware as to the history or significance of what they portray. For example: how many people know that John Stafford Smith, who composed the music for the American national anthem, was born in Gloucester; or that it is the place where the oldest peal of bells in North America were cast; or that it is the place where the world’s first Sunday school was held. To make mine distinguishable from these other books, I determined that my descriptions should run to more than just a single sentence for each topic.

    As I developed my proposal I became more rigorous in what I should or should not include. Here I was guided by the book’s sub-title ‘Places, People, History’. From an initial list of over 100 topics, I selected 66 that I deemed to be of most interest.

    There were certain places that just had to be included: the docks, which was granted port status in 1580 by Queen Elizabeth I, it is the UK's most inland port, and whose old warehouses have provided ideal backgrounds for shooting scenes for many films and period television dramas. ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’ shop which replicates illustrations of the tailor's shop in Beatrix Potter’s story The Tailor of Gloucester, the actual tailor’s shop being in nearby Westgate Street. There is Baker’s Clock, the city’s most-recognisable public clock with figures representing Father Time and people from each country of the British Isles; Bull Lane, Gloucester’s narrowest street; Maverdine Passage, which conceals a medieval merchant’s house with a Georgian frontage that is reputed to be the finest example in Britain of a timber-framed town house. You also have Pinch Belly Alley, which has stones in its walls positioned to stop cattle escaping from the butchers’ quarter into Westgate Street’s upmarket merchants and Kingsholm stadium, known world-wide as the home of Gloucester Rugby, one of England’s top rugby union teams.

    Tall ships in Gloucester Docks during filming of Alice Through the Looking Glass. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    With a history going back 1,500 years, there was plenty of scope for historic entries. You have the Cathedral, which is considered to be one of the seven most beautiful cathedrals in the world, and the only place in England outside Westminster Abbey where a king has been crowned. The New Inn, which is the most complete surviving example of a medieval courtyard inn with galleries in Britain. The Fleece Hotel, one of three major inns in Gloucester that provided lodgings for pilgrims visiting the tomb of Edward II in the cathedral.

    The choice of people to include gave plenty of options. And threw up some surprising choices: Æthelflæd, the daughter of King Alfred the Great; Sir Thomas Bell, largely unknown by most Gloucester residents but was one of the city's largest employers and one of its wealthiest citizens; Bishop Hooper, a Cistercian monk who was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake; Dick Whittington, who went to London to make his fortune, became the greatest merchant in medieval England, and was mayor of London four times; and James ‘Jemmy’ Wood who became nationally known as ‘The Gloucester Miser’, and was known as the richest commoner in His Majesty's dominions.

    Throughout the project I tried to put myself in the place of a first-time visitor to the city who didn’t have the benefit of a tourist guide. Does A-Z of Gloucester achieve this? I believe it does.

    Roger Smith's new book A-Z of Gloucester is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Cornwall by John Husband

    As I was preparing to write my first book, 50 Gems of Cornwall, it seemed deceptively easy to come up with a list of 50 places to include. After all, I have lived in the county all my life and have spent some 40 years photographing and writing articles about it, and there are not many locations I haven’t visited in that time. The biggest challenge turned out to be what not to include, for so many places are well-known tourist resorts and attractions. Eventually I decided not to include such well-known destinations as the Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the many National Trust gardens that are so well known. However, I felt that it was impossible to omit such wonderful spots as St Michael’s Mount, St Ives and Tintagel castle. The editor also allows events to qualify as gems, so Padstow gets a mention with its May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss celebrations which go back to the mists of time, as well as Helston Flora Day a week later. I also included a couple of railway journeys and a bus journey!

    The deserted beach of St George’s, or Looe, Island. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    Cornwall’s tourism figures are currently enjoying a boost from the “Poldark Effect”, with locations such as Charlestown harbour and the so-called “Tin Coast” of West Penwith featuring prominently. Only recently, Charlestown took a delivery of another sailing ship to further enhance the harbour scene and provide a hands-on sailing experience for landlubbers. For those who wish to avoid the crowds and the more popular locations, there are plenty of less well-known gems in the book, and I include a few below.

    Magnolias in full bloom at Caerhays Castle and Spring Gardens. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    You will definitely not be amongst the crowds if you take a boat trip to St Georges, or Looe, Island. The streets of the popular fishing port will be bustling of course, but if you sign up to the boat trip you will be one of eleven people who embark on the 20 minute crossing to land on the island’s deserted beach. After a brief talk from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust wardens, who live on the island, you can spend 2 hours exploring this mile wide paradise once owned by the Atkins sisters, Evelyn and Babs, whose books “We Bought an Island” and “Tales from our Cornish Island” can still be bought in the tractor shed just off the beach. You could also take a train ride to Looe on the Looe valley line, another gem.

    Open top bus on the B3306 between Land’s End and St Ives. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    Come in spring, mid-March say, and you should make a beeline for Caerhays Castle and Spring Gardens, on the south coast near Heligan. The castle was designed by John Nash and is a delight, but the glory of Caerhays are the magnolias which bloom in profusion here in March. The gardens and castle are closed after June, so spring is the only time to come.

    Padstow Mayday flags above the street. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    I had to include my favourite road, the B3306 (and a bit of the A30) from St Ives to Land’s End along the rocky coastal toe of Cornwall. I recently discovered the best way to travel, on the top deck of the open-top Atlantic Coaster bus which runs every hour in summer. You can hop on and off as much as you fancy, just choose a sunny day and get to the bus stop in St Ives or Land’s End early to ensure a seat on top. The A3 route passes Zennor, home of the famous mermaid legend, St Just, Geevor Tin Mining museum, Botallack and the wonderful white sands of Sennen Cove.

    The church of St Enodoc, beloved of Sir John Betjeman. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    Of the many special days in the county, few are as well-known as Padstow’s May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss revels. If you have never been, make a date in your diary (usually May 1st) and get to Padstow by 8 a.m. to see the childrens ‘Osses, when the streets are quieter. They will be much busier by 10 a.m. when the Blue ‘Oss comes out of its stable. Just remember that this event is not laid on for the benefit of the crowds but is deeply embedded in the hearts of all Padstonians, many of whom return home from all over the world on May Day. They would still dance in the streets even if no one came to watch!

    The new high level bridge at Tintagel is almost complete. (50 Gems of Cornwall, Amberley Publishing)

    Just across the Camel estuary from Padstow is a church which was almost buried in the sand until a century and a half ago. The little spire of St Enodoc hides among the dunes by the golf course and was celebrated in verse by Sir John Betjeman, who holidayed nearby and is buried here. Memorials to another famous author can be found at St Juliot’s church near Boscastle, which was surveyed by a young architect from Dorset, Thomas Hardy. Hardy stayed at the rectory and fell in love with the rector’s sister-in-law, Emma. An engraved glass window in the church is by Simon Whistler, son of Laurence Whistler whose engraved windows adorn the church of St Nicholas at Moreton in Dorset.

    Finally, some updates. Of Tintagel Castle, I wrote that a new high-level bridge will be constructed by English Heritage over the winter of 2018 / 19 to take visitors across to the island and avoid the many steps they have to climb presently. Well, the bridge is in place and is almost ready for its opening, but until then the castle is closed. Sadly, I also have to report that one of my gems has closed – the Norman castle at Trematon near Saltash is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and was built by Robert de Montain who also built Launceston castle. It has been leased since 2012 by garden designers who cultivated a rose garden in the grounds and who opened the castle to the public. Alas they have departed and the gardens are closed for 2019 but you can still view the castle from the hill leading up to St Stephens-by-Saltash.

    John Husband's new book 50 Gems of Cornwall is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Ramsgate by Andy Bull

    Pugin and Montefiore: building Jerusalem in Ramsgate

    Two remarkable men with a great deal in common but a key religious difference were building empires at opposite ends of Ramsgate in the 1840s. I explore their stories in my new book, Secret Ramsgate.

    On the West Cliff, Augustus Welby Pugin, best known for designing the interiors to the Palace of Westminster, was creating St Augustine’s church, complete with graveyard, priest’s house, cloister and school room, plus a house for himself, The Grange. His church is his monument and final resting place.

    St Augustine's Church alongside The Grange, Pugin's family home. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On the East Cliff, Sir Moses Montefiore, stockbroker, campaigner, philanthropist and one of the richest men in England, had made his home in East Cliff Lodge. He went on to create alongside it a synagogue, a theological college, and a mausoleum in which he and his wife Judith are buried.

    Both men were drawn to Jerusalem, and both are buried facing east, towards the holy city. Montefiore travelled there often, and constructed a famous Kent-style windmill outside the old city, along with alms-houses, designed and built by Ramsgate craftsmen. After Pugin’s death, his son Edward built St. Augustine’s Monastery in Jerusalem.

    The big difference between these two men – towering figures in Victorian England – was that Pugin was Catholic and Montefiore was Jewish. Yet in a way this difference united them. Both had to fight prejudice and discrimination, both in Ramsgate and in their wider lives.

    They both had foreign roots: Pugin’s father fled France at the time of the revolution, Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy, and both chose Ramsgate to realise their great visions. Both were seeking to re-create Jerusalem in Ramsgate.

    Yet, there is no record that they ever met.

    Today, in Ramsgate, the legacies of these two great men are widely divergent.

    Pugin’s church now houses the Shrine of St Augustine and National Pugin Centre, and is hence the official place to honour the saint’s mission to establish Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. After a period of decline and neglect, Pugin’s creation is carefully nurtured, and his reputation has never been higher. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled the establishment of the visitor centre, a place for education and research, in the original schoolroom. It is visited by pilgrims, Pugin enthusiasts and scholars. His house, The Grange, has been restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday home.

    Ramsgate Synagogue built by Sir Moses Montefiore. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On East Cliff it is a very different story. East Cliff Lodge was badly damaged while occupied by the army during the Second World War, then sold to Ramsgate council in 1952 and demolished in 1954. Only the outbuildings survive today. The extensive grounds are the public George VI park. The synagogue is behind high walls and locked gates, and services are only held there occasionally. The theological college was also demolished.

    Not everyone in Ramsgate approved of what Pugin was doing in Ramsgate. In many ways he was a prophet without honour in his home town. He was a controversial, and sometimes hated figure here, and there were outbreaks of violence directed against him.

    In 1845 a naval man and staunch Anglican, Lieutenant Hutchinson, of The Shrubbery, Vale Square, went into battle against Pugin. He raised £8,000 and commissioned George Gilbert Scott to build a Church of England rival to St Augustine’s Christ Church in Vale Square. The two churches rose simultaneously, almost in sight of each other.

    In November 1850, Ramsgate was swept up in a national crisis known as the Papal Aggression, a reaction to the restoration of a Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Anglicans across the country felt under attack.

    In Ramsgate, there were anti-Catholic posters everywhere, Brewer’s drays trundled around with ‘No Popery’ scrawled on the beer casks they carried, and mobs gathered in the streets. While Pugin was away in London, a gang carrying an effigy of the Pope attempted to march on The Grange. They were turned back by police but Pugin’s wife was ‘much frightened’. Some accounts have his house being pelted with excrement, the gateposts graffitied, and Pugin’s children and servants abused in the street.

    The Montefiore Windmill, Jerusalem, based on the Hereson flourmill on the East Cliff estate. (c. Ralf Roletschek under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Moses and Judith Montefiore moved in to East Cliff Lodge in 1822, having such a hugely successful financier and philanthropist in the town made Ramsgate the centre of the Jewish world, and a focus for the international Jewish community.

    In 1833 Sir Moses built a synagogue, between Honeysuckle Road and Dumpton Park Drive, and close to East Cliff Lodge. After his wife Judith’s death, in 1862, he added a mausoleum, in which she was buried, alongside the synagogue. It is a replica of Rachel’s tomb, which is on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and is a place of pilgrimage for both Jews and Muslims.

    As well as bringing Jerusalem to Ramsgate, the Montefiores also took something of Ramsgate to the Holy Land. The Mishkenot Sha’ananim almshouses they built, in one of the first Jewish neighbourhoods to be established outside the walls of the Old City, used decorative ironwork specially imported from G. S. Culver’s East Kent Metalwork factory in Ramsgate.

    The landmark Montefiore windmill, constructed close by, was based on the Hereson flourmill located on the East Cliff estate. Once shipped to Jaffa, it took forty men and a fleet of camels four months to transport it to Jerusalem. Sir Moses built the mill in order to break the Arab monopoly on flour and to provide work for Jews outside the Old City walls.

    Of East Cliff Lodge, only the Grade II stable yard and Grade II* glass house remain, on the clifftop at the end of Montefiore Avenue.

    Following Sir Moses’s death, on 28 July 1885, thousands lined the streets from East Cliff Lodge to the synagogue. In his will, he left a sum of money to Pugin’s parish of St Augustine.

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Ramsgate is available for purchase now.

  • Illustrated Tales of Shropshire by David Paul

    During the course of my researches for Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, published July 2019, I discovered many interesting and incredible tales, many of which related to the strong sense of duty which prevailed at the time. The Legend of Reverend Carr is certainly worthy of inclusion under this particular category.

    Church of St Michael and All Angels, Woolstanton. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    The tale is told that after leaving his vicarage in Woolstaston, the rector, Reverend Edmund Donald Carr, would lead the Sunday morning service in the little church. Then, after lunch, he would set off to conduct the afternoon service on the other side of the hills at the church in Ratlinghope. This ritual continued for more than ten years, during which time the rector never once missed leading the service. Even in the heavy winter snow, the rector made his weekly journey across the hills, never once losing his way; but walking over The Long Mynd was not without its difficulties, especially when there was low cloud over the tops.

    On a particularly cold winter’s Sunday in 1865, when the ground was covered with a thick carpet of snow – the worst snow for over fifty years – Rev. Carr thought that he might not be able to get over to see his parishioners in Ratlinghope. However, he decided that he would at least attempt to make the journey. After leading the service at Woolstaston his servant saddled two horses and they set off for Ratlinghope. They’d travelled less than a mile when the rector decided to send the servant back to the vicarage, saying that he would continue on foot. It was obvious that the horses couldn’t cope with the deep snow drifts.

    Headstones of Revd Carr and his wife, Elizabeth, in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Struggling on, the rector sometimes found himself up to his thighs in snow, and on more than one occasion he had to crawl on his hands and knees. After de-icing his clothes a few times and taking a number of well-earned rests on the four-mile journey, he did eventually reach the tiny hamlet of Ratlinghope. The few parishioners who attended the service were more than surprised to see him and begged him to stay overnight, but he declined the offer, saying that, apart from anything else, he had to return to lead evensong at Woolstaston Hall. As Rev. Carr was climbing out of the village a great storm blew up, but he continued on his journey, endeavouring to keep to his route. At length he came to a slope that was unfamiliar to him, and, seconds later, he found himself sliding down the side of the Long Batch. Although he tried to break the fall, he was powerless to stop himself from careering into the rocks below. Digging his heals into the snow, he eventually came to a halt just before reaching the rocks. When he did manage to stand up, he realised that he was completely lost, the snow was even deeper than it had been earlier, he was hungry, and it was going very cold as night was drawing in. His plight became even worse when he fell again, losing his hat and gloves.

    Woolstaston Hall today. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As morning approached, he still could not tell where he was. He also realised that during the long night he had become snow-blind. Collecting his remaining energy and senses together, Rev. Carr then heard a flowing stream which he proceeded to follow down and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the stream above Light Spout Hollow, and what the good rector was unaware of was the fact that, rather than proceeding along the path of the stream, he was in fact encircling the waterfall. Then, just when he was thinking that the situation could not become any worse, he actually lost his boots!

    Lying in a deep snowdrift the rector thought that his earthly life was fast drawing to a close, when he heard the sound of children playing in the snow. He managed to raise his head, and was recognised by one of the children. They helped him to a nearby cottage before he was taken to be examined by a doctor. After a long period of recuperation at home, the rector eventually made a full recovery.

    Location: SY6 6JG

    David Paul's new book Illustrated Tales of Shropshire is available for purchase now.

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

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

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

     

     

     

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

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

     

     

     

     

     

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

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

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

  • Nottingham Pubs by Dave Mooney

    The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham advertises itself as the oldest public house in the country, although at least two other pubs in the city have convincing, rival claims. With this in mind, it is obvious that our drinking heritage goes back a long way. When I took up the mantle of writing a book on the subject, I don't think I quite realised how far.

    On reflection, I now feel that the origin of the Nottingham pub can be dated to the early Triassic Period – approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago.

    Bear with me!

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    As any schoolboy knows, at that time, all of the land masses of the world were collected together into one giant super-continent: Pangaea. The area that now forms the United Kingdom was far to the south of its current position and the place that we now call Nottingham was underwater. Over time, sand was deposited – sand which would later form the red sandstone on which the city is built.

    Skip forward to the time of Snot – the hilariously named Saxon chieftain that gave his name to the city. The Saxons realised that the strong, yet soft, sandstone was perfect for hollowing out and making caves. They started digging holes to serve a multitude of purposes – homes, tanneries, and (most importantly from our point of view) maltings. Here, they could dry malt all year round, protected from the elements. According to the early Victorian antiquarian, James Orange; this gave the people of “Snottingham” a distinct, competitive advantage when it came to the beer trade.

    Would you dare to touch the cursed galleon? Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    This was not the only impact that the sandstone had on the history of the city's pubs. It also affected the way that they are physically structured. The aforementioned Trip to Jerusalem, and the adjacent Brewhouse Yard – which used to brew ale for Nottingham Castle – are both cut into the majestic “Castle Rock” on which the ancient fortress is built.

    Elsewhere in the city, more recent pubs, such as The Hand in Heart, are built into man made tunnels. Even when pubs appear conventional on the surface, there is a good chance that there are caves underneath them – often several levels deep – which are used as beer cellars.

    Little wonder that Nottingham has long been referred to as the “city of caves”. The full extent of its subterranean excavations has yet to be mapped.

    With this natural competitive advantage, Nottingham inevitably became famed across the region, and beyond, for the quality of its ale. Look at this, the opening verse from a song found in the Seventeenth Century comedy play, A Jovial Crew:-

    In Nottinghamshire,

    Let 'em boast of their beer,

    With a Hay-down, down, and a down!

    I'll sing in the praise of good Sack:

    Old Sack, and old Sherry,

    Will make your Heart merry,

    Without e'er a Rag to our Back.

    The Hand in Heart - Not as old as it seems. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    When singing in praise of his “good Sack” (fortified wine), it is Nottinghamshire beers that singer compares it to.

    This is not the only time that the qualities of Nottingham ale have been celebrated in song. A century later, a naval officer, by the name of Gunthorpe, composed a paean to the tipple, after receiving a barrel of it as a gift from his brother – the landlord of a pub called The Punch Bowl, in Peck Lane. Gunthorpe had obviously received a classical education and the verses are packed with delightful, tongue twisting allusions to Greek myth. The chorus, by contrast, is perfect for a roaring sing-along and has assured its place as a minor folk standard:-

    Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale,

    No liquor of earth's like Nottingham Ale!

    By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, three local brewing giants had emerged that were to dominate the Nottingham pub trade – Shipstone's, Home Ales, and Kimberley Ales. All three closed in the years surrounding the turn of the millennium, but they have left an indelible imprint on the culture of the city and the surrounding area. A local joke purports to be the shortest story in existence. At just four words long, it plays upon the enervating reputations of the local breweries: “Shipstones Mild; Home, Bitter!”

     A song emerged in the Nottingham folk clubs of the 1970s, which has gone on to live a life of its own in the repertoires of numerous singers across the East Midlands. From what I can make out, the words were originally composed by a local man named “Wokko”. Again the subject is Nottingham ale, and – as with the four word joke – it talks about the less than beneficial effects of the local brew. Set to a rousing medley of patriotic tunes, the lyrics detail the various gastric and cranial problems brought on by drinking Shipstone's Bitter. The chorus mentions Ivor Thirst – the brewery's mascot:-

    Rule Britannia and God bless Ivor Thirst,

    We'll keep drinking Shipstones 'til we burst!

    Following the collapse of the three local titans, a whole crop of new, smaller breweries have emerged – some of these, like Castle Rock, have gained national attention and are well on their way to becoming giants in their own right. With a long-term, nationwide downturn in the fortunes of the pub trade, Nottingham seems to be bucking the trend. Everywhere you look, a new micro-pub, bottle shop, gin bar or hipster, craft ale joint seems to be popping up. They tend to be very different in character to the traditional pubs that the city is famed for, but this is only the latest development in a local preoccupation with a very long history.

    Dave Mooney's new book Nottingham Pubs is available for purchase now.

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