Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Local History

  • Strathclyde Traction by Colin J. Howat

    In preparing Strathclyde Traction, I must admit that one of the main problems was the selection process. Going through my collection, I initially narrowed the amount of photographs to approximately 2000, which ultimately had to be narrowed down many times before getting to the required 180 for the book. I would like to have used more but that is for the future.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 3 320321 (GW) at Partick with a Dalmuir-Cumbernauld Service. (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, my whole railway photographic collection has now been saved on computer. Which was completed over a couple of years by scanning all my old black and white and colour slides and negatives.

    Moving on from my earlier book Ayrshire Traction the opportunity was taken to scroll through the archives and as Strathclyde is quite a large area itself, a varied selection of shots were available. There have been many boundary changes within Scotland over the last forty years but it has not really changed the railways. Scotland’s railways overall have expanded and although some line closures have taken place, on the whole there has been a refreshing outlook by both Strathclyde PTE and later Transport Scotland.

    In a wider context compared to other European countries, the UK has been incredibly slow in the electrification process. In Switzerland for example, 90% of their railways are electrified whereas in Scotland only approximately 40% has been done.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 1 Orange livery 314201 (GW) at Glasgow Central with a Glasgow Central-Neilston Service. (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    The Orange livery that came out in the early 1980s was not only applied to the trains but also to the buses and the underground system. The underground trains were affectionately known as the “Clockwork Orange Trains” which was a reference to the film A Clockwork Orange made in 1971 by Warner Brothers and directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Malcolm McDowell.

    Railway photography like most photography has its own special delights and drawbacks. I have been out in all sorts of weather to get the rare shot. I think heavy rain is the railway photographer’s worst nightmare although I have also endured temperatures as low as -20 degrees. I have also encountered some alarming moments. I was once chased by a bull at Mossgiel farm near Mauchline. I have also walked a number of disused railway lines and have had interesting encounters with various animals! I have also met many members of the public some good, some not so good. Most people in my experience usually enter into good banter but there are a few who are not so accommodating. On the whole most people are pleasant but since the 07/07 bombings in London, understandably there has been a distinct downturn in trust from rail staff who are now much more vigilant at all stations with rail enthusiasts and visitors.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 4 380113 (GW0 at Western Gailes with a Glasgow Central-Ayr Service (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I have included in this blog some of the photographs that were not used in Strathclyde Traction but may be used in the future. As well as railway photography, I enjoy many other interests including walking with my two German Shepherds. When I started getting interested in the railway in the 1970s, I used to visit Bogside and Irvine signal boxes. I can remember being welcomed in, the smell of the coal fire and some chat always passed the time of day. Aye those were the days!

    9781445662848

    Colin J. Howat's book Strathclyde Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Reading 1800 to the Present Day by Stuart Hylton

    As you may gather from a book whose first chapter deals with the relationship between the town and the motor car, this is not a conventional local history. Most local histories start by taking you back to the earliest origins of a community (in Reading’s case, somewhere around 600AD). Either that or they are rooted in a particular (and often atypical) period of the communities’ history, such as one or other of the world wars or the Civil War.

    Reading 1800 to the Present Day pic 1 Queen Victoria in about 1893, shortly after her installation as a traffic hazard outside the Town Hall. (c. Reading 1800 to the Present Day, Amberley Publishing)

    Interesting and valid as both approaches are, what Edward I said to the towns guild in 1301, or how the community reacted to wartime rationing, does not necessarily add a lot (at least directly) to our understanding of the place in which we live, work and spend our leisure today.

    Over recent years, Reading’s mainstream local history has become ever more fully documented, through the efforts of myself and others, I was looking for a new way of telling the story – ideally one that might be relevant to a wider audience. What I came up with was more of a companion to modern Reading. Explaining how the town as we know it today came about; the institutions, the services, local landmarks, different means of transport, the economy, the shopping centre; in short, anything that characterises the modern town.

    I then looked in reverse at the history of these institutions to try and establish the point at which they took on a recognisably modern form. Anything preceding that is kept to a brief introductory context. The 1800 date in the title tended to be honoured in the breach – after all, the first hundred years of the motor car in the town since 1800 would have made for rather thin reading. (I had wanted to call the book The making of modern Reading, but the publishers wanted a more “does what it says on the tin” type of title).

    Reading 1800 to the Present Day pic 2 Queen Victoria in 2015, safely pedestrianised. (c. Reading 1800 to the Present Day, Amberley Publishing)

    This approach meant focusing on matters that might not normally be given a great deal of attention in a local history. Hence it goes into some detail about the tortured process by which the M4 motorway was planned and built, what became of the M31, the motorway that never was, and why the town centre roads are overloaded. The origins of the Reading Rock Festival, the towns major claim to international fame. How the town transformed itself from a manufacturing to an office-based economy and some of the architectural horrors that were committed along the way. To the evolution of the university, the police force and the welfare state in Reading, and the post-war transformation of the shopping centre.

    I have tried in each chapter to add a little to the readers’ understanding of why the modern town that they know is as it is – for better or worse. As other towns also find their mainstream local history increasingly well documented, this might be a new direction for inveterate scribblers on the subject, like myself, to pursue.

    9781445648316

    Stuart Hylton's book Reading 1800 to the Present Day is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Portsmouth by Steve Wallis

    I like Portsmouth. I find it a very varied city with lots of character and places to find out about. I admit that I have never lived there, but when I wrote a book on Portsmouth before, I enjoyed the exploring most of all.

    Portsmouth Naval Memorial The Portsmouth Naval Memorial (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    So when Amberley asked if I would like to write a book on ‘Secret Portsmouth’ it seemed a good opportunity to find out more about the city and its history. And indeed that’s how it turned out – let me give you some examples of what caught my attention.

    First of all, something that most people from outside the area find surprising is that Portsmouth is actually an island city. This is only thanks to a narrow channel that separates Portsea Island on which it sits from the mainland – a channel that you can easily travel across without noticing it. But before the modern rail and road bridges, the separation was more obvious. This heightened the way that Portsmouth naturally looked to the sea, and a great deal of its history is bound up with naval and other maritime matters.

    For instance, this was the place from which Admiral Nelson left Britain on the voyage that led to his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, while on the Esplanade there is a collection of memorials set up by returning ships’ crews in the 19th century to commemorate their oversea activities and their lost comrades.

    Southsea Castle Southsea Castle (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    As the home port of the British navy, the place is full of fortifications that defended the town and its dockyards. And it wasn’t just attacks from the sea that was a problem – a series of 19th redbrick forts on the hill above the island were often mocked because their guns pointed away from the sea, but there was a real danger that an enemy force might land elsewhere along the coast and then attack the port from inland.

    Different areas of the city have vastly different characters: - there is the historic town that is now called Old Portsmouth, Spice Island that was outside the town’s walls and whose many pubs illustrate the freedom it had from the regulations of the town, the holiday resort of Southsea with lots of open spaces and the villages and hamlets engulfed by the expanding city where you can sometimes get a glimpse of what they were like when set in open countryside.

     

    Portsmouth Point The viewing area at Portsmouth Point (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there are the unusual places dotted around the city. Places like the road out to the Hayling Island ferry, looking like a small and isolated coastal village but down a road lined with concrete blocks left over from the Second World War. Or the little church at Wymering, hidden among the mainland suburbs, where relatives of Jane Austen are buried.

    I was also fascinated by how Portsmouth had expanded across Portsea and onto the mainland. Marshes were drained and made into parks and there was proper planning that made sure the new suburbs had the facilities they needed – pubs, shops, sports pitches and cemeteries. Among the many rows of 19th and early 20th century terraced houses there are lots of interesting features. Birthplaces of famous people, a church with the font in which Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Charles Dickens were both christened and a ‘Station Road’ that never had a railway station to lead to. And always the military connections – those famous people often had a father in the navy!

    And the stories of peoples’ lives really make a place. Like the riot caused when the locals were denied their rights to walk for free along one of the piers and part of the Esplanade that became known as the ‘Battle of Southsea’, or the doctor, one Arthur Conan Doyle, who didn’t have too many patients so used his spare time to write stories, leading to the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

    In fact, I enjoyed writing this book on Portsmouth so much, I think I might write another!

    9781445655161

    Steve Wallis' new book Secret Portsmouth is available for purchase now.

  • River Thames: From Source to Sea by Steve Wallis

    642466 River Frome CVR.inddFor me, writing about rivers started off in 2013 when I was discussing possible books with my contact at Amberley. He mentioned the ‘From Source to Sea’ series on rivers. I live in Dorchester in Dorset so what came to my mind immediately was the river Frome which flows past the town. This Frome is one of several of that name in this country, and runs entirely within Dorset. It passes lots of historic locations and scenic countryside, so that suited both Amberley and myself, and off I went! There were several surprises on the way to finishing the volume – like trying to work out if the accepted source of the river was really the true one when there were at least two other candidates (I came to the conclusion that the Frome proper only started when all these streams had joined together), and also one or two interesting encounters with flooding!

    9781445648293A year or so later I was getting ‘itchy feet’ to try another river, and spoke again to Amberley. The publisher was now looking for a book on a larger river, and after a bit of thought we decided on the Bristol Avon. This was relatively easy to reach from Dorset, and though quite a long river, it flows within a surprisingly small area – the Bristol Avon is some 75 to 80 miles long, but I worked out that a South Gloucestershire village called Pucklechurch is no more than 15 miles from every point along its looping course. There was even more controversy over the source – two rivers called the Sherston Avon and the Tetbury Avon join to form the Bristol Avon, and each has more than one candidate for its own source. In the end I gave up and tried to describe them all! Thereafter the river runs through some lovely countryside, much of it in the Cotswolds, and some superb towns and villages such as Malmesbury and Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, then the cities of Bath and Bristol. Using the river as a reason to explore all of this was great fun, though I didn’t quite fulfil the requirement of the book’s title, as the Bristol Avon flows into the Severn Estuary, which is not quite the sea!

    the-river-thames-1 Whitish colouration marking the river's occasional course. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    By now I was getting somewhat addicted to following rivers around the place, and Amberley and I agreed that I should have a crack at the Thames. On the face of it this all seemed straightforward – I decided to concentrate on the generally accepted source of the river and not worry too much about an alternative (admittedly one with a good case) that starts up near Cheltenham, and there was no doubt where the river flowed to as it has a sizeable estuary that joins the North Sea. Admittedly there was a couple of hundred miles of river between these two locations, but I could worry about all that later.

    the-river-thames-2 Finally the flowing water appears. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    So in early March 2016 I set off to look at the accepted source up in the Cotswolds. I parked a mile or two away and set off to follow a footpath to the source. Getting closer I started feeling somewhat disconcerted that I could see no river, then came upon the stone set up at the source. Checking my map and reading the inscription on the stone left no doubt that I had found the correct spot, but there was still the not exactly minor issue that I could see no water. There was some softer ground here, though, and the grass looked whiter along the supposed course of the river, so I started following this. I did so for a mile before I found a flowing river, and it was only when I got home and did some reading that I found about the variable flow of water here.

    the-river-thames-6 The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    Anyway, over the next six months I followed the river in a series of daytrips, and once again there were lots of fascinating villages, towns and cities, historic locations and lovely countryside. There were also many pleasant surprises – for instance, I had expected the section in the Cotswolds to be the most scenic, but while the villages there are very picturesque the landscape is relatively flat, it was the part that flows past the Chilterns that I found the most dramatic and attractive. Then there was the realisation that most bridges had a pub by them – all clearly well located to take advantage of thirsty travellers, although the rural crossing with a pub at either end seemed a little excessive! Then there were the discoveries that the river’s rural setting survives well into London, and that south Essex is much hillier than I remembered. On the negative side I got caught in the London rush hour on the Underground and still cannot understand how people are able to go through that every day!

    All in all I am extremely glad that I undertook all this exploration, and while of course I heartily recommend the book to you, I must also admit that there is much more than I was able to include, and so I recommend equally that you go and explore the river for yourself.

    9781445657974

    Steve Wallis' new book River Thames From Source to Sea is available for purchase now.

  • Slavery in Roman Lincolnshire by Antony Lee

    Slavery was an accepted part of the economy in the ancient world. Defeated peoples might expect to have been enslaved by their conquerors, and the desperation of poverty could lead to children being sold to slave traders to provide money for the family, and even give the child an opportunity to avoid starvation. One thing that marks ancient slavery out from the practice in more recent centuries is that it was not restricted to specific races, meaning that slaves in the ancient Roman world came from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Roman slaves were not marked out by a particular costume or physical mark and this makes determining the extent of slavery difficult. The philosopher Seneca (4BC-AD65) commented that the senate once discussed introducing an item of slave dress so that they might be distinguished from free citizens, but it was recognised that this would be dangerous as it would lead to the slaves realizing that they were actually in the majority (On Mercy, 1.24).

    Broxholme slave figure Bound captive figurine from Broxholme, Lincolnshire (Portable Antiquities Scheme DENO-EB7C77) (Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Slavery is an abhorrent practice in any age, and we should make no attempt to excuse it, but the experience of a slave was not universally consistent. The Greek slave living in a wealthy household on the bay of Naples, teaching rhetoric to the family’s children and allowed to earn some money in his spare time clearly had a very different experience of slavery to a Gaul forced to spend a hard and shortened life quarrying stone in a southern Spanish mine. Trying to reconcile these two extremes across the extent of the empire is difficult, though we should not forget that the latter greatly outnumbered the former. A unique aspect of Roman slavery is that manumission was a realistic ambition for some slaves, such as the Greek in the example above. A slave might expect to be freed by his master for faithful service, in his will, or after saving enough money to purchase his freedom. Once released, the former slave (known as a ‘freedman’) would be expected to further the interests of his former owners, and many continued to work in family businesses. Often taking the name of their former master, the freedman did not have the rights of a freeborn citizen, but could rise in the community and gain wealth and status in their own right. Significantly, their children would become full Roman citizens. It has been estimated that, at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, half of the population of Herculaneum were freed slaves or their descendants. In no other society, then or since, have former slaves been permitted to become such an integral part of the society that enslaved them.

    Slavery in Roman Britain is a subject that evokes much interest, and one that I discuss in my new book ‘Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire’. Direct archaeological evidence for slavery in Roman Britain is unsurprisingly slight, but sadly this does not mean that the practice somehow escaped our shores. Indeed, in the pre-Roman Iron Age, the taking of captives as slaves seems to have been a common result of inter-tribal conflict. Literary evidence for slavery exists in the form of a writing tablet from London, dating to c.AD75-125, recording the sale of a female slave (ironically named ‘Fortunata’), and lead curse tablets found at religious sites such as Bath and Uley (Gloucestershire) plead with various deities to punish the people who have wronged the author, si servus si liber - ‘whether slave or free’. Clearly, the economy of both rural and urban sites in Roman Britain was powered, at least in part, by slaves. One fascinating example is the tombstone of a woman called Regina, found at South Shields. She was a freedwoman and the wife of a Syrian man called Barates. Whether or not she was originally his slave is unknown, but she was a Briton of the Catuvellauni tribe of south eastern England, demonstrating that a person could even be a slave within their own country and their own culture.

    St Paul inscription Temple dedication inscription from Lincoln, set up by a freed Imperial slave (The Collection museum, Lincoln) (Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the best pieces of evidence of a slave in Lincoln is a fragmentary inscription excavated at the site of the Roman forum in Lincoln in the 1970s. It formed part of a dedication, recording that a ‘freedman of the emperor(s)’ had rebuilt the town’s temple to the Imperial Cult. A slave owned by the emperor could have had many varied duties across the empire, such as involvement in provincial government or the running of centrally controlled industries such as mineral extraction or coin minting. This freedman, whose name is sadly lost and would doubtless have given us the name of the emperor under whom he gained his freedom, had obviously become wealthy enough to repair a major temple in a large Roman town. Perhaps more importantly, it shows us that he wanted to spend his money in such a way, emulating the custom of public munificence that marked the social aspirations of the middle and upper classes of the time. In other words, rather than showing resentment for his slavery, this freedman was going to great lengths to demonstrate that he was now a successful part of the culture that enslaved him.

    Other evidence of slavery can be found in a series of copper alloy figures, known only from Britain and Germany, of which three are known from Lincolnshire. These naked figures, likely representing males, are bound around the neck, hands and ankles. Their pose – the angle of the legs and the perforations through the centre – suggest that they were originally attached to larger objects. Their function remains unknown, but it seems clear that they represent the misery represented by human slavery. Their silent forms serve to remind us that despite the literary and archaeological evidence we have for ancient slavery in Roman Britain and Lincolnshire, the most important viewpoint of all is the one we cannot obtain – that of the slaves themselves.

    9781445664705

    Antony Lee's new book Treasures of Roman Lincolnshire is available for purchase now.

  • Reading in 50 Buildings by Stuart Hylton

    reading-in-50-buildings-1 Christ Church (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    It was only after I had agreed to write the Reading edition of Amberley’s ‘…in fifty buildings’ series that I started to have misgivings. I remembered John Betjeman’s words, that “no town in the south of England hides its attractions more successfully from the visitor”. That was in 1949 and the town had since undergone a further two-thirds of a century of rapid growth and change. Reading is at the heart of the most economically dynamic part of the country, and one of the prices that towns tend to pay for success is the destruction of all traces of the past.

    Never was this more true than in the past sixty years. For a start, we have seen the disappearance of the Victorian town’s three staple industries – beer, biscuits and bulbs – that for more than a century had been Reading’s economic life’s blood. The value of the sites they occupied was one factor in their decision to relocate and, sure enough, developers soon swallowed up their land, sweeping away almost all the built evidence that Simond’s beer, Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits or Sutton’s seeds had ever been produced here.

    reading-in-50-buildings-2 The ruins of Reading Abbey today (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    But development can add to our store of history, as well as take it away. In 1987, as developers were building the Reading Business Park, they started unearthing Bronze Age artefacts. It turned out to be the largest Bronze Age settlement in the south of England, taking our knowledge of the town’s history back to around 1000 B.C. As for more recent evidence of the town’s history, I need not have worried. A gratifying (and surprising) amount of built reminders of the town’s past have survived for us to enjoy - if you know where to look.

    But by now other questions were starting to preoccupy me, such as ‘what criteria should I use to assemble my short list?’ and ‘what is a building’? As for the first question, I ruled out the idea of some sort of beauty contest, of choosing Reading’s fifty most attractive buildings, or of trying to decide which fifty were the most important. Instead, I simply went for fifty that told part of the story of the town, be they architectural gems or eyesores, massive landmarks or humble almshouses. As for ‘what constitutes a building?’, I took it to mean anything that man had built. So, beside the houses, factories, offices, churches and railway stations that you would expect to find in the book, there are canal locks and a pioneering cemetery. One further confession – I cheated a bit on the fifty, as you will find when you reach the final entry.

    reading-in-50-buildings-3 One of the almshouses prior to their development (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    No built evidence of Roman settlement remains, unless you count the nearby ruins of Silchester, so our story begins in the year 979 – and what a story that one entry tells. It starts with a royal murder, with Edward, would-be future King of England murdered by his stepmother. Penance for this act led to the founding of St. Mary’s Minster Church. Prior even to this King Alfred fought the invading Danes for possession of the land on which it stands. The church was used as a lookout for the incoming Dutch forces during the misnamed ‘bloodless revolution’ of 1688, when William of Orange dispossessed James II of the throne. The revolution was misnamed ‘bloodless’ because a decidedly bloody battle was fought around the church and in the streets of Reading to drive out Irish troops loyal to James. Later the church became one of the first buildings in the world (along with several other Reading landmarks) to be immortalised by pioneer photographer William Henry Fox-Talbot, who based his fledgling business in the town.

    Violence seems to be associated with many of the town’s churches. Both St Peter’s in Caversham and St Giles in Southampton Street were partly destroyed by artillery fire, after being used as gun emplacements during the Civil War siege of the town. As for St Laurence’s in Friar Street, it survived the Civil War, only to have its western front blown out by a World War Two German bomber, which nearly killed the creator of Paddington Bear in the process. Greyfriars church saw a different kind of violence. After the reformation under Henry VIII, it was stripped of any useful building materials and the ruins turned into a particularly degrading and brutal prison.

    reading-in-50-buildings-4 Caversham Park (Reading in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of local stately home Caversham Park is like a history of England in miniature. Before 1066 it was the property of the elder brother of King Harold. In the centuries after that, it passed through the hands of many of the most powerful men in Britain (a surprising number of whom seemed to meet sticky ends). Kings and Queens visited the house and, for a short period in the thirteenth century, the whole of England was ruled from the Caversham Park estate. There have been several stately homes on the site over a period of about a thousand years, the latest of them designed by the architect better known for London’s Tower Bridge.

    And so the story goes on – a thousand years of history captured in fifty buildings. I have not even got space in this blog to talk about one of the greatest religious centres in the land, with a church the size of Westminster Abbey; a Victorian prison by one of the century’s greatest architects, modelled on the mediaeval Warwick Castle; the school where Jane Austen got part of her education, right through to a brand-new space age railway station costing £895 millions at last count. Far from worrying about finding fifty buildings to include, my challenge turned out to be knowing what to leave out.

    9781445659343

    Stuart Hylton's new book Reading in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Oxford in 50 Buildings by Andrew Sargent

    When I agreed to write the story of Oxford in 50 Buildings I knew I had accepted a difficult assignment. This is no ordinary town.

    Oxford can be seen as the product of many individual decisions. First being Alfred the Great’s decision to turn this insignificant river crossing settlement with its convent into one of his system of defensive burhs. The individual decisions of many long-forgotten wandering teachers who felt that this would be a good place to earn a living, creating a critical mass that became the university. Then with the young William Morris’s decision to assemble his cars at Cowley rather than in an established manufacturing town.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-2 The Radcliffe Camera from the unusual vantage of the tower of St Mary's Church (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Many of the decisions which have gone to make the Oxford we know are fossilised in bricks (or stone) and mortar. So the story of this complex place can be told using its buildings, though doing that in just fifty buildings is a real challenge. Everyone has their favourites, and the celebrities (such as the Radcliffe Camera) feature in guidebooks and in tourist photos and videos which are then carried all around the world. Some are truly iconic. Others, perhaps less photogenic, played an important part in the story. Which do you include; which do you regretfully have to leave out?

    Oxford is, of course, world famous as a university. But it is also a town where people live and work. In fact, it was a town for centuries before the university began to develop. These two faces of the town share the same space yet have their own priorities and often live separate lives. They have always jostled for prominence – think of the long tradition of town versus gown rivalry. Part of the fun for the writer is to tell both stories as they intertwine.

    oxford-in-50-buildings-1 This seventeenth-century tavern was a a favourite haunt of the Inklings (c. Oxford in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    I resisted the temptation to photograph all the venerable colleges with their mellow stonework and leafy gardens; they all have their architectural gems, their place in history and famous alumni. Instead, I limited my choice to those which marked a key moment in the bigger story. For example Merton, the first college, New College, the first to admit undergraduates, or the monastic remains at Worcester. That left space for some of the non-university buildings which have shaped the Oxford story. Some being the fourteenth-century half-timbered merchant’s house on the corner of Ship Street, for example, or the former Cooper’s factory where the world-famous marmalade was made. The Eagle and Child tavern also squeezes in, one of several surviving seventeenth-century inns, but which is elevated into the national consciousness as the favoured drinking hole of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein.

    It would be easy to fill the selection with medieval or eighteenth-century architecture, but the book needs a good spread over time. The story is brought right up to date with the Saïd Business School and Plant Oxford, the Mini factory at Cowley. But it does not end here. New architecture will continue to write itself into the narrative as society, and with it both the town and university, adapt to an ever-changing world.

    Once the selection was made, even photographing each of the fifty buildings presented its problems. Constant traffic and pedestrians allow only brief opportunities for a well-composed shot, while access to many university buildings is restricted in term time.

    I expect every reader will argue with my final fifty, wanting to include a favourite here and drop another there. Make your own selection, and above all enjoy the wide range of architectural gems which weave the fabric of this remarkable place.

    9781445659879

    Andrew Sargent's new book Oxford in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs by Mervyn Edwards

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs has recently hit the bookshelves. It is my eighteenth published book, my ninth title for Amberley.

    It occurs to me that the nature of a historian’s remit and his duty to view the past objectively and sometimes dispassionately may not always benefit either him or his readers.

    The thought struck me when I was writing the introduction to my book – and peppering what was intended as a brief historical overview with a few opinions and observations based on thirty-five years of socialising in Newcastle hostelries. Such an exercise probably did my mental health a power of good, whilst offering readers a few interesting perspectives to chew on.

    However, there was no real danger of my book lapsing into a nostalgia fest. With a production such as this, the reader will generate his or her own nostalgia in any case, cooing over the photographs and shedding a tear over long-lost, much-loved pubs.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-1 The Rigger, 5 May 2016. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    For me, it was a matter of particular interest to show how history insists on repeating itself. How the pubs that have survived have gone through cycles of good trade and bad, often dictated by the competence of licensees. How reputations have waxed and waned and how the strategies and advertising blurb of marketing men have been exposed very quickly as gimcrack manoeuvres likely to bring only short-term gain.

    In such circumstances, the conscientious historian sometimes genuflects to the slightly piqued social commentator, lamenting ill-advised and sometimes fatuous changes to the pubs we have loved. The recorder of history stands aloof, viewing these changes in wider context. Other knowledgeable observers, free from such constraints, rage against the machine that brings these changes, destroying our heritage and spitting on our memories.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-2 Old Bull's Head, 2 December 1999. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    The chapter in my book featuring the Rigger pub in Marsh Parade, Newcastle, is a great story seen in terms of why it was opened in 1963 – as the Bandstand – and how this totally landlocked pub adopted a nautical theme, complete with ropes, sails and other maritime bric-a-brac in 1970. The pub has long since found its feet as a music venue, and at this chronological distance, the attempt to give it a seafaring image seems risible. However, other pubs have known radical changes over the years, too, notably the Old Bull’s Head in Lad Lane, which embraced the fad for ersatz Irish pubs in the 1990s. Traditionalists battled vigorously against Allied Domecq’s plans – to no avail. All we had left was the sure-fire certainty that the vogue for Irish theme pubs would soon fade and that normal service would be resumed. It duly did, although the about-turn was sharp and jarring. The pub re-opened, bereft of fake shamrocks and harps but now sporting murals depicting old Newcastle: Queen’s Gardens, Holy Trinity Church and other landmarks.  If this was a sop intended to placate traditionalists still hurting over the mock-Irish dalliance, it didn’t work.  Perhaps it was seen by some as manipulative, even patronising. The pub’s present interior is as most people would remember it from years ago: plain, dimly-lit, cosy and genuinely characterful.

    Some of the more popular pubs in Newcastle have been nurtured over time and have grown slowly and organically. They may have their faults, but there’s integrity about them. Think of the Museum or the George and Dragon. However, it is interesting to consider how some pubs and bars that opened in the last twenty years or so didn’t stand the test of time. One venue in Hassell Street has been re-named several times since it re-opened under the name of the Farrow and Firkin in 1994. So why didn’t it last? Was it the silly name, or were the splintered wooden tables and rustic décor to blame? Who knows? What is for certain is that fashions go in and out like the tide, and the minimalist “alehouse” style interior is once again a la mode at the time of writing. Gatsby’s bar in Ironmarket was another that failed – despite its innovative interior design, complete with blood red upholstering and classy chrome fittings.

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs charts many of these changes, sometimes with a degree of sadness, but always with a view to explaining why it was that history took certain turns. What were the reasons that led to the opening of the Borough Arms Hotel in the 1850s? How did the Museum get its name? Why on earth did the age-old Star in Ironmarket become known as the Superstar? All is revealed in the book.

    9781445658490

    Mervyn Edwards new book Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • The town of Bury St Edmunds by Martyn Taylor

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-1 Interior of the cathedral (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    When I take visitors around the wonderful town I was born into, Bury St Edmunds I am told so often “we never knew about this place before”. My job as a tour guide is to make sure they do and want to come back for more. There is so much on offer for people to enjoy with the undeniable jewel in the crown that of the magnificent Abbey Gardens. Laid out six years before Victoria ascended the throne they follow a design found then in The Royal Botanical Gardens in Brussels.

    However, there had to have been something there before the owner the Marquess of Bristol asked the gardens creator and curator Nathaniel Hodson to lay them out; it was the Great Court of the Abbey. The monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St Edmundsbury were the custodians of the shrine of the first patron saint of England, St Edmund the Martyr who met his death in 869. The motto of Bury as it is simply known by locals is ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’ for it was here in 1214 that twenty-five barons swore an oath to compel King John to agree to Magna Carta. This foundation stone of democracy was acquiesced by John a year later at Runnymede. Looking at the two plaques put up mid-nineteenth century to commemorate this event it is hard to envisage the enormous central tower they are affixed to for all that is left is a flint core.

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-3 King Raedwald's helmet in the British Museum (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    In the Domesday Book it is recorded that between the years 1066 and 1086 a total of 342 houses were built on agricultural land, urban expansion indeed! Abbot Baldwin had started laying out the town in 1065 making Bury a contender for the earliest purposely laid out town in the country. That medieval grid can still be followed today.

    For over 500 hundred years, from the first abbot Uvius in 1020 to the last John Reeve in 1539, the abbey ruled the town. When that fateful day came and Henry’s commissioners came to do their worst it did not take too long for the townspeople to realise that this religious yoke could be loosened forever so they dismantled it piece by piece, stone by stone.  It is said you will not find abbey stone much further than six miles outside the town, the distance a cart would travel back and forth within a day; however, you will find it all over the town.

    a-z-of-bury-st-edmunds-2 Tostock Place (A-Z of Bury St Edmunds, Amberley Publishing)

    The idea of a book using an alphabet format covering the history of the town or parts of it came to me one day, not just the historic core. This way many more locations not previously dealt in books would have the opportunity to be read by people.  So the concept of A-Z of Bury St Edmunds was born, starting with the letter A and finishing where else but Z. The letter X did cause a great deal of head scratching and churning up of the old grey matter but eventually it was solved, whether Dr Johnson would approve I am not sure!

    So what is the content of A-Z of Bury St Edmunds? There is the obligatory number of past pubs, disasters and deaths; nasty and nice people; churches and chapels.  Obviously the pictures enhance the stories, many of them never published before. You could say there is something for everyone in it but I would say that wouldn’t I!

    9781445654164

    Martyn Taylor's new book A-Z of Bury St Edmunds is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Finds from Essex by Ben Paites

    The Portable Antiquities Scheme began in 1997 and operates across England and Wales, promoting the recording of archaeological material found by members of the public onto their free online database (https://finds.org.uk/database). Over 30 Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) operate across the country, ensuring each county is covered. The FLOs visit metal-detecting clubs and host events at museums and other institutions, to allow members of the public to get their finds identified and recorded. Recording them ensures that as many people as possible get the opportunity to see some of the wonderful objects that are uncovered every day.

    One other role the FLOs have is to administer the Treasure Act 1996, by identifying any objects that might be Treasure (https://finds.org.uk/treasure). As a result, the work of the PAS has facilitated the acquisitions of some incredible objects by museums across the country.

    As of October 2016, over 1,200,000 individual objects have been recorded onto the database. This has allowed a great deal of research into the history of England and Wales. From Stone Age tools to Elizabethan jewellery, there have been some incredible discoveries in the past 20 years and not all of them have been treasure. Essex alone has recorded over 20,000 and has one of the highest numbers of Treasure cases per year in the country. 50 Finds from Essex brings together just some of those objects and attempts to unravel the stories they tell, within the historical context in which they were made and used.

    50-finds-from-essex-1 Figure 1: Gold ring found in Uttlesford, possibly showing Odin with a cross (ESS-E396B1). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    The book itself looks at each region within the county, highlighting some of the objects from a wide range of periods. In Uttlesford, there is a wealth of Anglo-Saxon material that is not present in the rest of the county. Objects such as no. 4 (fig. 1), highlight the wealth of some people living in Early Medieval Essex.

    50-finds-from-essex-2 Figure 2: Pilgrim badge of St Hubert (ESS-940232). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

     

    The next chapter examines finds from the Braintree area, including objects almost 10,000 years old. For a region with sites such as Heddingham Castle, there is no surprise that the Medieval finds from the region are also significant. Object no. 12 (fig. 2), shows that pilgrim badges, more commonly made of lead, could also come in highly decorative forms. The possible connection with this particular badge and Anne of Cleves is particularly tantalising.

    50-finds-from-essex-3 Figure 3: Viking sword found in the river Colne (ESS-D45534). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Next stop on the journey around Essex is Colchester and Tendring, a region with rich coastal archaeology and some of the most significant Roman sites in the country. From a Roman brooch produced in Gaul to Medieval figurines with links to a Colchester abbey, the finds from North East Essex reflects Britain’s tumultuous history at a local level. Object no. 20 (fig. 3), a Viking sword found in the river Colne, highlights this more than any other.

    50-finds-from-essex-4 Figure 4: An Iron Age object of uncertain purpose, from Epping Forest District (ESS-472ABA). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Finds from Epping Forest and Harlow have provided a wealth of information about Essex’s most ancient woodland. With some significant Iron Age defensive structures in the area, there is no surprise that several significant objects from that period have been found. This includes some of the earliest currency used in Britain, brought over from continental Europe, as well as enigmatic object no. 23 (fig. 4) that proves to be a mystery to experts across the world.

     

    x-default Figure 5: Elizabethan gold, ruby and diamond pedant, only display in Colchester Castle (ESS-0144A4). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    Brentwood, Basildon and Thurrock are individually rather small districts, but have produced a great deal of finds with several metal detecting clubs in the area. Being so close to the River Thames, the ancient highway into London, the diverse history of the region is reflected in the finds. This region has provided some insight into how coins can be more than just currency, such as a Byzantine coin turned into a pendant. Alongside this are objects that reflect wealth beyond currency, brought through this region for centuries. Object no. 35 (fig. 5) is a gold, ruby and diamond pendant similar to one worn by Elizabeth I, now on display in Colchester Castle.

    50-finds-from-essex-6 Figure 6: Roman metalworker's test piece (ESS-E5CE07). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Central Essex and the area around Chelmsford, the county capital, showcases the great industry that Essex has seen throughout its history. Not only in the form of incredible skilfully produced objects, but also objects that highlight the process of production. Object no. 39 (fig. 6.), though not particularly impressive to look at, shows how Roman craftspeople would practice their designs before producing the mould to cast an object.

     

    50-finds-from-essex-7 Figure 7: A seal matrix depicting a ship (ESS-ED25B6). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    The final region that is examined is Southend, Maldon, Rochford and Castle Point, an area of coastal and estuarine environments, with limited opportunities for detecting due to a large portion being owned by the Ministry of Defence. However, the maritime nature of this region is clearly reflected in the finds from further inland. Objects came to Britain from far and wide during the Bronze Age, as seen in the Burnham on Crouch hoard. As ships allowed for faster travel they became a significant part of the lives of people living in Southern Essex. Object no. 49 (fig. 7.) shows this, as a ship was chosen to be used on a seal matrix.

    50-finds-from-essex-8 Figure 8: Hindu vessels found in the River Colne. (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

    Finally, Object no. 50 (fig. 8) was chosen to highlight the fact that people today continue to leave things that can be discovered in the future. These vessels were rescued from the river Colne in the summer of 2015. Although produced in recent times, they highlight the diversification of Colchester in the modern day. Prior to this, there had been no recorded instance of a Hindu offering in the river. If a member of the public had not spotted them and notified their local FLO, those objects may have been sitting in the river for centuries to come.

    9781445658353

    Ben Paites new book 50 Finds from Essex is available for purchase now.

Items 131 to 140 of 151 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. ...
  3. 12
  4. 13
  5. 14
  6. 15
  7. 16