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Tag Archives: Local History

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

    Secret Barry Island 1 Late medieval pilgram's ampulla found near Barry. (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    Barry Island - a renowned holiday destination for generations of working class tourists from the late nineteenth century until the present day; they not only came down from the South Wales coalfields but from further away places such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester as well as beyond. With the notion of a holiday becoming the norm for the masses, we see Barry Island’s sweeping sandy beach, Whitmore Bay, in times-gone-by with not an inch of sand visible for the sheer number of people present during the summer months. During the 1960s, a Butlin’s holiday camp was constructed on Nell’s Point, further adding to Barry Island’s fame and popularity as a tourist destination. Despite Barry Island being renowned as a place of leisure, its history from its tourism era is very well known. Secret Barry Island offers something a bit different and answers a need for a book with more substance, one which is concerned with a more distant and elusive history.

    The authors of Secret Barry Island both graduated from Cardiff University after studying archaeology, and have been present on many interesting excavations throughout South Wales. During the course of many years research into our locality, to our surprise, we noticed that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed. Secret Barry Island, which was originally going to be called ‘Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story’, is the first history book to have been written which deals exclusively with Barry Island and began life as a series of articles that were later adapted for a book format.

    Secret Barry Island 2 Roman key handle found in the Barry area. (c. Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a personal connection to the place and also a need for such a book considering how popular this location still is as a place of leisure. It may come as a surprise for some, but we have both been asked on more than one occasion by residents of Barry and beyond…. “Did it [Barry Island] used to be an island then?”

    Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, or were written in a dated style.

    We are also fortunate that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late nineteenth century, antiquarian archaeologists such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen (not related to Barry Island’s late nineteenth century owner Lord John Romilly) took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could for posterity. A good deal of the nineteenth century archaeological material we used was hidden away in various old and musty Victorian journals, and a part of the way in which we approached the book was to soften the primary archaeological material and ‘humanise’ it for a general audience. If anyone has ever read their way through a typical dry archaeological site report, they will understand the need to do this. We wanted to form a narrative which flowed, was free from jargon but most importantly, told a story.

    Secret Barry Island 3 The remains of the old port of Barry (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    With the clear aim of writing the book in a manner which is accessible yet informative, we take the reader deep into the long distant past of Barry Island to elucidate elements to Barry Island’s history that are genuinely not very well known. Secret Barry Island covers a wide range of periods and has something for everyone, from its enigmatic Bronze Age cemetery, its renowned status as a place of medieval pilgrimage through to its post - medieval lonely isolation. It also has its place in Welsh history as a part of the South Wales coast smuggler’s network. The book finally explores Barry Island’s successful reinvention as a place of recreation; one way or another, whether it was in the high medieval period of pilgrimage or the twentieth century, Barry Island has always attracted crowds of people!

    Overall we are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope that the people who buy the book enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors have enjoyed writing this book.

    9781445671918

    Mark and Jonathan Lambert's new book Secret Barry Island is available for purchase now.

  • More Somerset Tales by Jack William Sweet

    In the Introduction to my latest book More Somerset Tales - Shocking and Surprising, I have quoted from Somerset Ways - a guide book published by The Great Western Railway Company over a century ago, which declares that:

    'Somerset is Home.

    For it is here in Somerset that the longest journeys end, and the greatest wanderers come to rest at last.  The land of peace and stillness.

    There is no call of homing like that which comes from the land 'twixt Mendip and the Western Sea. For this country, above all others, has kept the spirit men call homeliness, the spirit of warmth and welcoming.  Not a cottage in the whole of the great span but invites the wanderer in, nor a rick nor hedge for the roofless ones but seems kindlier than the shelters of other lands.

    Three things one finds here: an oldness, a kindness, and a wisdom: things in part of the countryside, in part in the dwellers in it. Things most plain to see in the slow West Country courtesy, the natural gentleness which seems a heritage of all those born in sight of Glastons Tor. Kind folk they are, with the kindest accent of any of our race. One feels that the folk here do not change; to-day they are the same at heart as when they, of all England gave Alfred shelter, not because he was King, though they were loyal people, but because he was homeless and alone.'

    More Somerset Tales 1 Beneath this peaceful Somerset scene lurked shocking, surprising and strange events. (More Somerset Tales, Amberley Publishing)

    However, there is another Somerset to be found beneath this idyllic description, and More Somerset Tales, which follows Somerset Tales - Shocking and Surprising - published by Amberley in 2011 – brings to life true events, often shocking, doubtless surprising, and occasionally downright strange.

    For example, there is the brutal, but unsolved murder of young Betty Trump (no relation to Donald T) in the remote Blackdown Hills village of Buckland St Mary in 1823, and the use of witchcraft to seek to prove the guilt of the suspected murderer.

    The vicious murder of an elderly shopkeeper, and the near death beating of his wife by two thugs, whose robbery only netted them a loaf of bread, some tobacco, and 8s. 6d., at the quiet village of Nempnett Thrubwell in 1851.

    A farmer is left for dead in a robbery near Wedmore, late on an April evening in 1845, and some 34 years later in 1879, two lads, seemingly acting out the roles of highway men, shoot a local businessman at Milborne Port, thankfully without causing serious injury.

    In the air, a novice balloonist flies across the Bristol Channel, panics, jumps out near Weston-super-Mare, and drowns. Late in 1945, four crew, and 22 military passengers on their way to India die when a converted Liberator bomber of RAF Transport Command crashes in the Blackdown Hills near Castle Neroche, but two soldiers who should have been on the plane escape death by arriving late and missing the flight.

    Gales, blizzards, and floods caused havoc and death, and people lose their lives in boating accidents off the Somerset coast, and drown in pleasant Somerset rivers.

    SONY DSC The ‘prodigious eel’ emerged from its lair in the River Yeo to eat the farmers’ hay. (More Somerset Tales, Amberley Publishing)

    A strange beast emerges from the River Yeo, near Yeovil, and the river becomes an open sewer in the 1870s.

    At Bedminster in 1827, a novice keeper enters a sleeping lion's cage to wake it up, and suffers the consequences - death, and is almost eaten.

    Following a nation-wide hunt in 1896, two dangerous London villains are traced to Bath, and, following a fight, are arrested for the robbery and murder of an elderly recluse in Muswell Hill. A two and a half hours 'bare-knuckle' prize fight for a golden sovereign near the Kennet and Avon Canal results in the death of one of the contestants.

    In 1835, two members of a notorious Bath criminal gang escape from the prison van taking them to Portsmouth for transportation to Australia, and are never recaptured.

    A train crash at Yeovil Pen Mill Station in 1913 is recalled with graphic contemporary photographs.

    These are some of the shocking, surprising and strange stories and events which have happened, and which I have brought to light, in this beautiful county – the Land of Summer between Mendip and the Western Sea.

    9781445664514

    Jack William Sweet's new book More Somerset Tales is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Pubs by James MacVeigh

    ‘There is nothing which has been contrived by Man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’  Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    Bristol Pubs 1 Like King Street where it stands, the Llandoger Trow pub is distinctive and quirky, both architecturally and in the richness of its history. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Why would anyone decide to write a book about pubs? Although they are so mundane and ordinary that often we don’t notice them, except perhaps to name them as landmarks when we are giving directions to a stranger, I personally agree with the opinion of the formidable intellect quoted above, compiler of the first English dictionary. Or to put it another way:A public house is more than a building with people inside it, that description could include a factory or office block, railway station, church or prison. When beer, cider and spirits are added to the mix, the public house takes on a human dynamic that is different from all of the above, and can turn into a place almost of magic.’ Okay, that is an unashamed quote from Bristol Pubs, and you may consider it over-the-top. Is it, though?  Human beings are continually redesigning the towns and cities in which they have chosen to dwell, nowadays with smaller buildings generally pulled down in favour of larger ones, in an ebb and flow of urban demolition and renewal that takes away everything in its path. Or rather, almost everything. Have you ever noticed which type of buildings that are generally left behind by this inexorable march of progress? Churches, certainly, for one, are often repositories of the past, and crammed with articles of historic interest, and, besides, they have a spiritual aspect to them that may say, Hands off! – Even in this materialistic age. What other buildings, though, are almost invariably left intact, as though they too are sacred places of worship? You already know the answer to that one. Pubs! True, a modern boozer may be flattened in the name of progress, but you will often see an ancient hostelry, dwarfed by sky scraping office blocks, yet still as busy and popular as it was in centuries past. Let the entrepreneurs, architects, and builders lay claim to anything with some antiquity to it, and it usually creates uproar in the local community. This is something we must be thankful for, otherwise we in Bristol would be without the rambling, higgledy-piggledy Llandoger Trow in King Street and its near neighbours, the Old Duke, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, and the King William Ale House.

    Bristol Pubs 2 What is unique about the Angel is that the cellar beneath it was used as a holding prison for offenders, a fact now commemorated by a brass plaque over the entrance from the courtyard. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Sadly, there are always exceptions to rules, and acts of civic vandalism still take place in our city. The birthplace of the Bristol boy poet, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1780), on the other side of Redcliffe Way, has recently been renovated after decades of neglect, and is once again in use as a themed café, Chattertons.  All well and good; as the co-author of a musical about him I would be the last person to argue with such a laudable event. In recent publicity material the City Council described Chatterton’s house as ‘the only surviving mid-18th Century house in the area.’ Not so. The Bell Inn public house, tucked out of sight and out of mind behind the magnificent St. Mary Redcliffe church was built only one year after the poet’s birthplace, in 1750. Its bow windows are the earliest example of this feature in Bristol, and its bar still retains its original stone flags, yet the historic building has not only been allowed to fall into disrepair approaching dereliction, efforts have even been made to accelerate the process of destruction, by leaving the windows wide open so that the wind and rain can enter to finally finish it off. This cannot be mere neglect. As one who is more sceptical than most when it comes to accepting conspiracy theories, I am nevertheless convinced that the City Council has some fiendish plan, perhaps in partnership with private enterprise, in which this lovely old inn is finally demolished to make way for an architectural monstrosity.

    9781445661681

    James MacVeigh's new book Bristol Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • East End Jewish Cemeteries by Louis Berk

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 001 Cover _P2M1320-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    An Oasis in Whitechapel

     

    I am a secondary school teacher, and since 2004, I have worked at a school in Brady Street, in the heart of Whitechapel. I did not realise until I was looking out of a second story window one day that my school adjoins one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the UK.

    Brady Street cemetery was founded in 1761, and closed almost 100 years later in 1858 when the grounds became full-up.

    Having no connection to the cemetery, I thought it unlikely I would ever see inside. Then, one day, as I was in school, I heard the sounds of activity as groundsmen were carrying out maintenance, and they kindly allowed me to take a look around.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 006 Late Summer 02 L1025403-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    The Idea

    Once inside the walls it was as though I had been transported to a forest, as I was surrounded by trees, shrubs and at one point, an inquisitive fox that trotted past me down a path. An idea formed in my mind: it would be wonderful to capture this hidden oasis in photographs, as a record of an interesting environment, and to make it visible to others.

    I was fortunate that when I approached the owners of the cemetery, The United Synagogue of Great Britain, they readily agreed to my request. They even made it possible for me to have access to the cemetery whenever I wanted.

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 003a_DoublePage P0Q0930-Edit (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Early Mornings and Late Evenings

    Undertaking a long-term project right next door to where I worked allowed me to photograph very early in the morning. During the winter months, this was before and during dawn, and also at sunset.

    In the summer it allowed me to capture the sometimes delicate early morning sunlight before the day became bleached out with too much sun.

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 055 Winter 18 Scan-120211-0007_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Waiting for snow

    I began the project in July 2011, with the objective of recording a year in the life of the cemetery. By the same time in 2012, I had a lot of material to work with, but I was missing one important element: snow. The winters at the start of this decade were surprisingly mild, and I had to wait until 2013 for a reasonable covering.

    This was no real hardship, as I enjoyed my time alone in the quiet solitude of the cemetery, and continued to visit and take photographs. I also chose to work mainly with medium format film cameras. This requires considerably more concentration than working with digital cameras. It is a slow and careful process. This entirely matched the ambience of my surroundings.

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 102 Alderney Road 06 10 Scan-120908-0005-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    Alderney Road

    At the end of the second year I showed my work to the owners, who asked me if I would also photograph in Alderney Road Cemetery, in nearby Stepney Green. This is an even older cemetery than Brady Street, established in 1696, very close to the time that Jews began to settle in the UK.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    East End Jewish Cemeteries 002 Frontpiece _1040603-Edit_s (East End Jewish Cemeteries, Amberley Publishing)

    East End Jewish Cemeteries: Brady Street and Alderney Road

    In 2016, I approached Amberley Books with a number of ideas for titles, and they were immediately enthusiastic about a book containing my photographs of Brady Street and Alderney Road.

    The book contains 96 pages, mostly filled with photographs, and also an introduction to the cemetery by the recognised authority on its history, Rachel Kolsky, who is an award winning London Blue Badge guide and author.

    9781445662909

    Louis Berk's new book East End Jewish Cemeteries is available for purchase now.

  • Brighton From Old Photographs by Christopher Horlock

    Brighton From Old Photographs The Royal Pavilion 1846 one of the earliest photographs taken in Brighton The Royal Pavilion 1846 one of the earliest photographs taken in Brighton (c. Phillipe Garner, Brighton From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Another book of old Brighton photographs? There have been so many over recent years (and I’ve written seven of them!) it might seem there really isn’t the need for another.

    What’s different about this new book is it contains a large number of really old photographs of the town, some dating to the 1840s. I doubt if any other seaside resort has pictures from this decade. Even the nation’s capital, London, doesn’t have a significant number of views from this period.

    To put the earliest photograph in the book into context, Brighton’s most famous resident and patron, George IV, died in 1830. Just sixteen years later, we get our first photograph of Brighton – taken in 1846 - and it’s fitting that it’s a view of the Royal Pavilion, George’s seaside residence in the town. He was succeeded by his brother, William IV, another monarch to take a liking to Brighton, whose reign ended in 1837. Queen Victoria, William’s niece, then became monarch, but she found Brighton people repellent, and the cost of maintaining the Pavilion a real burden, and so sold the building off, in 1850, to the town’s Commissioners - the group responsible for administering local government then. The price was £53000, but this didn’t include any of the furniture, fixtures, and fittings, which she had removed. Over 140 van-loads of items were taken away, leaving the place a shell. One observer said the place, ‘looked like it had been plundered by Cossacks.’ Even tiny items, like plant pots and gardening tools were sold off. The job of restoring the Pavilion to its former glory took many decades.

    Brighton From Old Photographs The seafront 1863 This animated 1863 view looks east before the West Pier was built, with plenty of period fashions to be seen. (Brighton From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The Pavilion estate, with its stabling (now Brighton’s Dome concert hall), and riding school (the Corn Exchange) form the first section of the book. There follow sections everyone will be expecting, featuring views of the beaches and promenade area, the piers (three of them), plus the main seafront roads and their hotels. I was pleased to put in a section on theatres and early cinemas, which often get neglected, and there are sections on the Old Town area (including the famous Brighton Lanes), the oldest streets - East Street, West Street and North Street – and also a large section on trade and industry. This last one will surprise some readers, as Brighton is not really known as an industrial town. Yet its North Laine area contained many factories, foundries and workshops, while at Brighton Station, a huge area became one of Britain’s major locomotive building centres, employing, in Victorian times, some 2000 people, making railway engines from scratch, turning out one a month. The book ends at the period of the First World War, with views of the Royal Pavilion being used a military hospital, so goes full circle.

    I’m always being asked where all the old photographs I have come from. It’s a long story! In 1968, my brother bought a ‘proper’ 35mm camera, and, loaded with film (36 pictures worth), we went out early one summer evening to try it out. We walked around central Brighton, taking photographs of things we noticed had changed recently, or had just been built. Why we chose to do this, I’ve never worked out. I’m not sure we really knew what we were doing. We took the old Hippodrome variety theatre, recently converted into a bingo hall, the new Brighton Square in the Lanes, plus views of the Palace Pier, and seafront. We took others, over succeeding years, including the huge American Express complex going up, one street down from where we lived. In 1972, the book ‘Victorian and Edwardian Brighton from Old Photographs’ came out, which really was the first collection of old photographs to be published. I found it a total revelation. I contacted the author, James Gray, and visited him many times over a twenty-year period, at first just to buy photographs off him, to go with all those modern day views we had been taking. I bought other photographs at collector’s fairs and other places, copied some out of old magazines, guidebooks, etc. etc. In time, as my own collection built up, I would swap pictures with Jim, having had copies made for him, he’d give me spares he had, and I would take any modern day views he needed, of buildings about to be demolished in Brighton.

    Brighton From Old Photographs Brighton's Chain Pier opened in 1823 destroyed by storm in 1896 Chain Pier opened in 1823 destroyed by storm in 1896. (Brighton From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Surprisingly, our collections were, and are, very different. Jim’s was mainly topographical - streets, housing, buildings, etc., with Hove, Portslade, Falmer, Woodingdean, Rottingdean, plus all of ‘Greater Brighton’ included, entirely in photographic form, no old drawings, engravings or prints. Mine would be exclusively Brighton, nowhere else, and included drawings and prints, interiors too, which Jim wasn’t keen on, plus ephemera, tickets, letters, advertising material, and theatre programmes.

    Jim put me in touch with other historians and collectors, including Antony Dale, founder of the Regency Society of Brighton and Hove ( I supplied all the pictures for his last book), and Philippe Garner, a photographic expert of Sotheby’s, London, who has a really unique collection of original Brighton photographs - no copies or postcard views - dating from the 1840s. Some of his pictures appear in the book. Other views come from postcard collectors I know, notably Robert Jeeves, who has the best set of Brighton cards there is, and Peter Booth, who has a very fine collection too, with many unusual views.

    That’s only part of the story. I don’t know really how many I have now, but it must be getting on for 20000. At present, about half that number has been digitalized and ‘photoshopped,’ if faded or damaged - an ongoing situation at the moment.

    As my collection spans all periods of Brighton’s history, right up to the present day (I still take photographs of what’s changing), there could easily be a follow-up book, with more photographs continuing from the First World War, through the 1920s and 1930s (when Brighton reached the peak of its appeal), ending with the start of the Second World War. We’ll see!

    9781445669403

    Christopher Horlock's new book Brighton From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Secret High Wycombe by Eddie Brazil

    One of the pleasures of writing local history is, of course, the research. Yet, even the hardest bitten historian who thinks he has uncovered all that his local area can conceal will sometimes unearth gems and nuggets of the past which will pleasantly raise the eyebrows and bring about a little surprised shake of the head. Such as it was for myself during the writing of my latest book for Amberley Secret High Wycombe.

    Anglophile American writer, Bill Bryson, once observed that it was impossible to go no more than a mile in Britain without coming across something interesting, fascinating and worthy of losing an hour for. He could well have been describing my own home turf of south Buckinghamshire.

    LE MAJOR DE HAVILLAND VERS 1925 Geoffrey de Haviland, designer of the Mosquito. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    For example, within a five mile radius of where I am writing there can be found:- The site of a Roman villa, three Iron Age hill forts, the Hell fire caves, the ruins of an 11th century Leper hospital, a 12th century castle which was besieged during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. The Village which gave its name to the American state of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the military academy which was later moved to Sandhurst, the former home of Victorian statesman, Benjamin Disralli. The home of Geoffrey de Haviland, designer of the Mosquito fighter bomber, the headquarters of Bomber command, where the plan to destroy the Ruhr dams was conceived. And the private school where American band leader, Glen Miller performed his last concert.

    If one expanded the area by another ten miles it would include the house where Mary Shelly wrote part of her novel, Frankenstein. The Quaker meeting house which was constructed from timbers taken from the Pilgrims Fathers ship, Mayflower. And the stately home where the exiled Bourbon King Louis XV111, accepted the crown of the restored throne of France.

    Yet, it is perhaps those seemingly insignificant people, places and historical associations which we probably pass by everyday without giving a second thought which prove to be the most poignant and arresting. Sadly, many of these forgotten secret pieces of local history are to be found in churchyards dotted across the country. And it would seem appropriate that the peace and tranquillity of a remote graveyard bathed in summer sunshine and lulled by the sound of birdsong, is the most fitting backdrop to such history.

    Just a mile from my home in the churchyard of St Margaret’s, in the village of Tyler’s Green, there is the last resting place of Arthur Whitten Brown. In June, 1919, together with his co- pilot, John Alcock, he made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They also carried some mail which made it the first transatlantic air mail flight. Both were knighted by King George V.

    Secret High Wycombe 2 Sir William Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania and city of Philadelphia. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    A short distance from Tyler’s Green, in the churchyard of All Saints, Penn one can find, not only, the graves of the family of William Penn; he of Pennsylvania fame, but also the last resting place of 1950s, Soviet spy, Donald MacLean, and the grave of David Blakeley. He was murdered outside a London pub in 1953 by Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ellis lies in an unmarked grave at nearby Amersham.

    Perhaps the most poignant churchyard grave relates to a story which is the most heartfelt.

    Lady Georgiana Curzon, was the eldest daughter of the 5th Earl Howe, who lived at Penn House in the village of Penn Street just outside High Wycombe. In 1934, just 24, she met Roger Bushell, a dashing RAF pilot who’s Spitfire was shot down in France in 1940. He escaped from three prisoner of war camps before being recaptured and, while in hiding sent vital information back to Britain through coded letters, including information about the development of V-bomb rockets.

    They fell deeply in love. However, her father, unimpressed by Bushell's social standing did not approve. Consequently, Georgiana was forced to marry the son of a motor racing friend of Earl Howe.

    Despite losing her, Roger Bushell told other prisoners that "Georgie" was his true love whom he would one day marry. Sadly, they were never to meet again. Bushell was the mastermind behind the daring, Tom, Dick and Harry Tunnels escape from the POW camp, Sagan, in Poland. Tragically he was captured, and along with 50 other escapees, murdered by the Gestapo in 1944. The story was told in the film, The Great Escape, in which Richard Attenborough played the part of Bushell.

    Secret High Wycombe 3 Penn parish church. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    Lady Georgina could never accept that Bushell was dead. Every year for years she placed an, In Memoriam, in The Times on his birthday ending with the words "Love is Immortal" and signed "Georgie". She ended her days in a home for the mentally ill and on her gravestone in Holy Trinity, Penn Street are two lines of poetry by Tennyson:

    "Oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still."

    Stories and histories such as these are the strength of Amberley’s Secret series. It is a strength which is ironic. For it is secret history for those who wouldn’t necessary have the time or inclination to delve in to an area’s past, let alone the wider national picture.

    It is history in easily digested bite size chunks. They are books which give the reader a new perspective on their communities, opening eyes and minds to the triumphs, achievements and calamities of their home turf. Perhaps it also instils in one a sense of civic pride.

    “I come from the town where this happened”, could be the cry.

    And yet, stories, events and histories such as these abound throughout our country. What we need is a new series, The secret county guides. There are thousands of readers waiting to discover their shire.

    9781445665306

    Eddie Brazil's new book Secret High Wycombe is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Cumbria by Beth & Steve Pipe

    50 Gems of Cumbria 1 Bishop of Barf. The two bright white rocks are just about impossible to miss among the deep green hillside of Barf. (50 Gems of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m pretty sure that when I tell most people that Steve and I write books, they envisage us wafting around the countryside on lovely sunny days before returning to our mansion to scratch out a few words before dinner.  Well, it’s not really like that – and this book was particularly not like that.

    First of all we had to agree which 50 Gems we were going to include.  Now, we both passionately love Cumbria and its many hidden away corners so this in itself was no mean feat.  Lists were drawn up, argued over, re drawn up, researched, drawn up again and then finally agreed on.  We know we’ll never keep everyone happy with the 50 we’ve chosen because we know there are so many others we could also have included – perhaps the next book could be “50 More Gems of Cumbria – the ones we couldn’t quite agree on”

    We then set about the task of revisiting them all several times to get the right photos, researching and double checking all of our facts and deciding how best to organise them in the book.  Some gems were easy to research whereas others were more problematic. Take the Bishop of Barf for example; I spent days sending dozens of emails and making lots of bizarre phone calls trying to establish who currently paints it.  It’s a huge white rock half way up an inaccessible hillside which is resplendently white – someone, somewhere, knows who paints it but no-one is letting on.  On the bright side my enquiries did enable me to prove Wikipedia wrong and that always makes me happy.

     

     

    50 Gems of Cumbria 2 Grasmere from Loughrigg Terrace. (50 Gems of Cumbria, Amberley Publishing)

    On top of all that research we were hampered with a run of bad luck on the health front – during the course of the year I had two bad falls resulting in two nights in hospital, two concussions (one of them severe), two broken bones, a two inch cut on my head and a few resulting problems with my short term memory.  Not to be outdone Steve damaged his right knee and spent 6 months of the year on crutches.  One of the finest sights to be seen in the county occurred on a crisp and frosty November morning – Steve headed up to Loughrigg Terrace on crutches while I slithered my way around the lake and into to the village with one arm still in a sling. (The result being the rather lovely photo to the right, which is at the top of page 48 in the book)

    Hopefully we’ve included some of your favourites as well as inspired you to seek out corners you perhaps haven’t previously explored. For us the book represents 50 of our favourite places to visit and, as I flick through it, I remember all the fun and adventures we had putting it together.  Writing books may not be as idyllic as many people imagine – but it is a lot of fun, and an absolute privilege to live in and explore this breathtaking county.

    9781445663968

    Beth & Steve Pipe's new book 50 Gems of Cumbria is available for purchase now.

  • Hanwell and Southall Through Time by Paul Howard Lang

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Manor House, Southall The war memorial was unveiled in 1922 and stands proudly near the Manor House. Hanwell has no similar war memorial but there is a small memorial in Churchfields Park commemorating the scouts who died in the First World War. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    My job from 1982 until my retirement in 2014 was Hospital Librarian at St Bernard’s Hospital where I had dealt with many enquiries concerning the history of this establishment and had built up a store of knowledge in regard to this subject. I also collect postcards relating not only to the hospital but also to other buildings and scenes around the area. St Bernard’s is a large psychiatric hospital in West London, and although technically situated in Southall, it is only just over the border (the Brent River being the boundary) thus it is sited nearer to Hanwell than to the town centre of Southall.

    The former asylum, known as the Middlesex County Asylum dates back to 1831, so a relatively early asylum. It was designed by the architect William Anderson and built by William Cubitt. The Rev. Norris, the hospital chaplain, started to write a history of the asylum, but sadly died before it was published, and only his notes remain. Therefore I felt compelled to try and put this right, and include some historical facts about the asylum in my book.

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Farm House, Dormers Wells The drive leading to Dormers Wells Farm can be seen in this Edwardian view. The farm consisted of the farm buildings themselves, Dormers Wells House and Dormers Wells Cottage. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    I further felt that there were many buildings of interest in Hanwell and Southall that should be better known, for example the Manor House in Southall, which dates back to the 16th century. I have given talks to various historical societies on the history of St Bernard’s and other aspects of Ealing’s history. My talk on ‘Ealing’s Private Asylums’ led me to research the Southall Park Asylum and also Featherstone Hall. Another talk I gave was on ‘The Great Fires of Ealing’ and this inspired me to research the 1914 fire at Endacott’s store in King Street, Southall. I have also detailed the fire at Southall Park Asylum in the book.

    I thought Dormers Wells, originally known as Dormoteswell, was possibly not an area greatly known to the public, and was delighted to source two images that show the rural nature of this area, notably the Farm House and a view of Dormers Wells Lane.

    I think there are some rare images in the book that have never been published before, for example the picture of William Vincent Taylor’s shop in the Norwood Road, also the image showing the Rev. Broadbelt outside the King’s Hall, Southall and the picture of the grocers in Norwood Green, to name but a few.

    Hanwell & Southall Through Time Maypole Margarine Works An aerial view of the margarine works, clearly showing its good transport links and the unspoilt rural surrounds. The factory opened in 1895 and closed in 1929. It was owned by Otto Monsted Ltd, a firm of Danish origin. Note, however, the British flag flying above the works. (c. Hanwell and Southall Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Other buildings of interest featured in the book include the Maypole Margarine Works, the largest margarine factory in Europe at the time, which opened in 1895 and closed in 1929. Also the almshouses in North Road, Southall, which were commissioned by William Welch Deloitte, who founded the famous accountancy firm.

    The most remarkable contrast in the whole book in my opinion, is the view of Leggett’s Forge, which in the book is under the heading The Broadway, Southall ll. It is difficult to equate the modern view with the tranquil scene of the old forge, at all. Equally incredible is the Hanwell scene of the Boston Road. The older scene reminds one of an image straight from the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel, and in contrast the modern view shows how the urban sprawl has entirely spoilt the countryside.

    9781445654942

    Paul Howard Lang's new book Hanwell and Southall Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Conwy by John Barden Davies

    A-Z of Conwy 1 The suspension bridge, designed to blend with the architecture of the castle. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    I have been fascinated by the town of Conwy since I was very young, having been brought up in the nearby town of Colwyn Bay. My parents often took me to Conwy for the afternoon either in the car or for the twenty-minute bus ride. Even from that young age as I explored the castle, looked at the fishing boats on the quay, from where my mother bought fresh fish just landed off the boats, I somehow sensed that Conwy was different from the neighbouring towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. Now I would say that Conwy is not just different, it is unique. It was always a treat to go to Conwy Fair when the little town was packed with people, and to listen with amazement to the banter going on between the stallholders and their customers. Since the middle of the twentieth century, I have watched with interest the changes in the town. I remember on one of our afternoon trips to Conwy standing on the suspension bridge and looking across the gap in the middle of the new bridge, just before it was completed.  Later, when I became more interested in history, I liked to read the books by local author and historian Norman Tucker, which included a definitive history of my home town of Colwyn Bay as well as many historical novels. His favourite historical period was the English Civil War and its impact on North Wales. One of his best books was ‘Castle of Care’ which told the story of Conwy in the Civil War.  In later years, he wrote a definitive history of Conwy, ‘Conwy and its Story’.  He and his wife were friends of my parents and my mother typed the manuscript for that book. In those days, of course, it was by mechanical typewriter. After reading the book, I became even more interested in Conwy. Little did I realise at the time that I would write two books about Conwy.

    A-Z of Conwy 2 The anchor commemorating the saving of 400 lives by the trawler Kilravock's crew. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    After I retired, I found that I had time to write. My first book, ‘North Wales Coast Tourism and Transport’ reflected a lifelong interest in public transport and tourism and I told the story of the how transport systems on the North Wales coast developed hand in hand with tourism.  Three years after that book was published, I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked if I would write a book about Conwy in their Through Time series.  I already had a collection of old pictures and was able to obtain some more and also to take my own photographs in the town. By the end of the summer of 2014, the task was complete and the book was published in the autumn. The following year, I started to write again only this time about the inland resort of Betws-y-Coed. I was fortunate in already knowing that community well as I once lived there and so know many people who were able to help. This was published in the autumn of 2015.

     

    A-Z of Conwy 3 St Mary's Church, on the site of the twelfth-century Aberconwy Abbey. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    By the spring of 2016, my thoughts turned to yet another book. I approached Amberley and we discussed many options of what form my next book would take. We eventually agreed that I should write a book in their new A to Z series about Conwy, but what else could I say about the town?  Whereas the Through Time series describes a comparison of locations in the past and the present, the A to Z series tells one continuous story of people and places, as well as looking to the future.  I have often said to myself, “If the walls of the castle could talk, they would have many an interesting story to tell,” but of course they cannot talk and never shall, but people can talk. While preparing this book, I met many people. It was interesting to chat to the retired fishermen on the Quay who have many an interesting story to tell and are so willing to share their stories. This is living history, not just a dusty past. Almost every building in the town is listed, and has its own story of people who were associated with it. I soon found plenty to write about and plenty of places to photograph and was given much help and support by the people of Conwy.

    A-Z of Conwy 4 Plas Mawr as seen from High Street. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    Conwy is a small town where (almost) everybody knows everybody. The town is mercifully free from the major development of chain stores and most of its shops, pubs and cafes are independently owned, where the staff know their customers which leads to a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  I like Conwy early in the morning before it gets crowded, when there is time to buy things in the small shops and have a cup of coffee and a chat. It sounds idyllic, but a walk around the town in the quiet early morning gives time to ponder on the town’s past, which was often violent during the English-Welsh wars and the Civil Wars. It is miraculous that so much has survived and in past centuries, as much of the town was burned down more than once.

    The future of Conwy hangs on a delicate thread. Its popularity with tourists from all over the world increases from year to year and the tourists provide employment for many people in the town. However, there is always the danger that over development could kill the very atmosphere that draws people to Conwy.  The town’s history in the past two hundred years has been about setting a balance and many a battle has been fought between the townspeople and those trying to overdevelop the town. Conwy is often accused of dwelling on its past, but it is the old buildings and the stories around them that draw in visitors. Up to now, common sense has generally prevailed, and although the town is not a museum, but a place where people live and work, it is important to remember it is the old buildings and old stories that attract people to this unique town.

    9781445664392

    John Barden Davies new book A-Z of Conwy is available for purchase now.

  • Manchester Ship Canal Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Docks Trafford Wharf Nos 6, 7 and 8 Docks, Salford & Trafford Wharf, c. 1910. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Surviving near bankruptcy and opening in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was founded by Daniel Adamson, who first presented the idea to the Manchester business community in 1882.It was an amazing feat of Victorian engineering. A colossal structure, with huge lock gates and the unique Barton Aqueduct, it was the ‘international super-highway’ of its day. Shipping regularly crossed the Atlantic to Canada and the United States of America, and there were also regular services to Argentina and the Mediterranean in the early days. Vessels brought back to the Port of Manchester cotton, livestock, building materials and foodstuffs for sale on the domestic market. The canal was unlike those built previously, in that it had to be large enough to accommodate the biggest of ocean-going vessels at the time and lead to the foundation of Manchester Liners. These vessels were purpose-built to the exact dimensions of the canal and were sturdy enough to negotiate the worst Atlantic crossings. Manchester Liners headquarters were near the old Number Eight and Nine Docks, at the Port of Manchester, with their vessels a common sight on the canal, until it closed to traffic around 1980. Closure came about due to a combination of the growth in container traffic, for which the canal had not been designed, and long-term economic decline. In the 1960s containerisation on a large scale meant that vessels could no longer negotiate the Ship Canal’s limited lock space and traffic rapidly declined as the 1970s progressed. However, today the canal continues as a working waterway on a limited scale, servicing the industrial complex of Trafford Park and all points along its course, until it reaches the Mersey Estuary at Eastham and the Irish Sea beyond. There has also been talk in recent years of the development of ‘Port Salford’ and the expansion of commercial shipping activity as a result of this. Whether this development takes place remains to be seen.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Barton Oil Terminal Aqueduct c 1930 Barton Oil Terminal and Swing Aqueduct, c. 1940. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The canal is about thirty six miles in length and begins at the Port of Manchester, now the retail, leisure and media complex at Salford Quays. Logistically, negotiating the whole length of the Ship Canal presents many more challenges today than it did when it was still a working-waterway some forty to fifty years ago – unless you are aboard a vessel that is! The canal has some magnificent examples of swing-bridges along its course, but getting close enough to them in order to observe their structure, or attaining the right angle for a photograph, is another matter altogether! Fencing has been ‘strategically’ placed along the canal’s length, particularly true of Barton Aqueduct, where I had to climb onto the structure in order to get the image I wanted. Sometimes I feel that the photographer would benefit from gymnastic training at times like these. Of course the canal is not maintained to the extent that it was when a fully working entity, so access is a little more difficult and care has to be taken.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Irlam Locks Railway Bridge CWS Factory Irlam Irlam Locks, Carrington Power Station, Irlam High Level Railway Viaduct and Former CWS Wharf and Factory Site, Irlam, c. 1894. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Living close to the Manchester Ship Canal, as I do, also has its benefits. Gone is the thick layer of oil that enveloped the surface of the canal some forty years ago. The canal, along with the rest of the Mersey Valley, has undergone an environmental transformation. At Irlam Locks, where there was once a soap-works, there are now swans and herons. All very different from the way I remember it in the 60s and 70s.

    The Barton Oil Terminal and dock, where my father worked, was a hive of activity in this era, benefitting from the oil-boom years of the 1960s. Oil tankers were constantly loading and unloading at the terminal and negotiating the tricky corner and narrowing of the canal, where Barton swing-bridge and aqueduct crossed. It was a 24/7 occupation, although there were many lighter moments, particularly on one New Year’s Eve in the 1970s, when a Polish tanker was being unloaded at the terminal. The captain had laid on a huge spread for the crew and those who were off-loading the tanker, including my dad, could not understand why the captain had brought his bike with him. Everyone was invited aboard to enjoy the festivities while unloading continued and all was going well, until my dad noticed that both the captain and his bike had disappeared. On enquiry it was explained to him that the captain had used his transport in order to cycle into the local town, where he was meeting a young lady. The crew appeared oblivious to their captain’s disappearance and to the fact that his bike had gone AWOL. One can only assume that it was a regular occurrence in every port of call.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - SS Manchester Progress and Tug c 1938 Built 1938 by Blythswood Single screw turbine engine Coal fuel 13 Knots SS Manchester Progress and Tug, c. 1938. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the canal is now much less busy there is still some regular traffic, invoking childhood memories of waiting at Barton swing-bridge for huge ocean going vessels to silently glide past, whilst being carefully manoeuvred by their tugs. For me, compiling Manchester Ship Canal Through Time has brought back many memories like these, and I hope reading the book will produce many memories for you.

    9781445639727

    Steven Dickens' new book Manchester Ship Canal Through Time is available for purchase now.

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