Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Local History

  • Lancaster The Postcard Collection by Billy F. K. Howorth

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 2 Within Williamson Park stands the imposing structure of Ashton Memorial, which is one of the largest follies in Britain. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    Shortly after writing my first book A-Z of Lancaster I embarked upon writing Lancaster The Postcard Collection. The idea of presenting a town and its history using only postcards was an interesting and intriguing proposition allowing me to search for the most unusual and interesting illustrations available.

    The Lancaster that we see today is the product of centuries of development, expansion and redevelopment. If you look close enough you can still see signs of Lancaster's glorious past, however, as is the case with many cities, Lancaster unfortunately lost many buildings over the past century or so, and you could argue it is a shadow of its former self.

    Whilst setting about writing my book, I initially came up with a hit list of the places and sites that I wanted to include. No book on Lancaster would be complete without the obligatory images of the castle and Ashton Memorial, but finding images which were more obscure and offered a different insight were the real challenge. Lancaster is a fascinating city with a history stretching back to the Roman Occupation. The town grew in the Middle Ages and by the Georgian Period had a well developed port and was heavily involved in the Slave Trade. All of these periods have added to the fabric of the city and makes it a great place to explore.

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 1 One of the most prominent structures on the Lancaster skyline is the imposing fortress of Lancaster Castle that has stood proudly on Castle Hill for over 900 years. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    I also decided that whilst the town over the past hundred years had developed and grown it would be interesting to contrast this with the reality of living in one of the surrounding villages and how life would have been for the inhabitants. For those who know the local area, Lancaster is located on the River Lune. Further inland the Lune Valley is home to many small, yet important, villages including Caton, Hornby and Wray. If you head the other direction you come across the Lune Estuary villages of Glasson, Cockerham and Thurnham which have a history connected to Morecambe Bay and Fishing.

    In the process of writing my book, I discovered that although many of the buildings in Lancaster still exist, their history and stories seemed to be less well known. Even people who live in the town seemed unaware of the interesting stories behind the facades. This allowed me to pick the sites both popular and less well known as the basis for my narrative. I decided that in order to show off the history of the town to its full potential, it would be best to split the town into rough areas so each chapter would act as a showcase for the sites and buildings within that part of the town. As you go through the book you can explore the sites along the River Lune, around Castle Hill and in Dalton Square and the book acts as a guide offering a potted history into each area.

    Lancaster The Postcard Collection 3 When we take a look at the local landscape in the area, there is one feature that has played a major part in local history – the River Lune. (c. Lancaster The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The final decision on what sites to include and talk about came down to how many postcards I was able to find. For some sites the choice was huge, every aspect and detail was pictured whilst other sites I struggled to even find a couple of images. Unfortunately, there were a few buildings that were not to be found on any original postcards and in order to maintain authenticity I decided not to include these. My aim throughout the process was to tell this history of the town through the most comprehensive display of postcards I could put together.

    I hope that readers of my book will find it both an interesting interpretation of the towns history, and also act as the starting point to look a little further into the history of Lancaster and its buildings.

    9781445668505

    Billy F. K. Howorth's new book Lancaster The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • Whitehaven and Around From Old Photographs by Alan W. Routledge

    When asked by Amberley if I would put together, what would turn out to be my eleventh book based on old photographs of Whitehaven, it took a while to say yes because I felt there was not a lot more to add to the towns’ story. Fortunately, at much the same time I was asked by the Beacon Museum to look at a box of CDs and DVDs and catalogue what was on them. There were about 30 discs with large numbers of images stored on them. A couple had over 4000 images between them of which 3,095 were scanned image from glass plate negatives from the 1920s and 30s. These wonderful images seemed like a gift from the gods and I wasted no time in seeking and getting permission to use them in a new book, for which I am grateful to the Beacon Museum.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 3 Around the Green Market in Whitehaven in the 1930s, with marketeers offering flowers and locally grown fruit and vegetables. (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    I then set about the task of selecting some 250 images from the many images and quickly found life was not going to be simple because a very large proportion of the photographs had been produced in local studios and were of families and family events. Lovely pictures but no answers as to any who, what, when, where and why questions you may have. This reinforces the need to label up your pictures after you take them. I decided to lay out the book in 8 sections, each covering an aspect of life in Whitehaven. These included industries, education, recreation, shops and shopping and the outlaying villages and towns.

    The port of Whitehaven is situated on the west coast of Cumbria, some 50 miles or so from the Scottish Border by road or rail but only 28 by sea across the Solway Firth, the harbour is also the nearest on the mainland to the Isle of Man by a like distance. The Solway Firth is also well known for its magnificent sunsets viewed from the Cumbrian coast.

    Whitehaven itself straddles the St Bees Valley which rises steeply to 300 ft about the town centre. There are several claims that Jonathon Swift stayed at the High Bowling Green Inn directly above the harbour when he was an infant and that he based the tiny Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels on the equally small looking workers on the harbour and ships.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 1 Commercial fishing often resulted in nets being damaged by snagging on rocks or wrecked ships which necessitated a mending session after nearly every trip. (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Whitehaven was to be invaded by enemy troops in a time of war when John Paul Jones led a couple of boatloads of sailors and US Marines in a raid on 23rd April 1778 to set fire to the ships in the harbour. Fortunately for the town the US Marines headed for the nearest pub – The Red Lion in Marlborough Street – returning to their boats having done no significant damage and in a condition described by Jones himself as confused. That was not to be Whitehaven’s last close encounter with the enemy when in 1916 a German U-Boat popped up outside the harbour and in 30 minutes fired 70 high explosive shells into Lowca Tar Works. Again only a little damage was done despite the shells hitting their targets. The damage was enough to close the works for a few days though.

    During WW2 the harbour became the home of the Danish national fishing fleet from where the fishing and sailing skills of the Danes did a great deal to keep up the countries food supply in dark times. After Whitehaven passed into the hands of the Lowther family in the 16th Century it began to trade with Ireland, particularly Dublin and Belfast. Selling salt, coal and manufactured goods and returning with beef, tallow and flax. Trade grew so rapidly that it required a proper quay to provide shelter for the increasing number of boats wanting a berth. The first stone built quay was erected in 1632 and the last major commercial facility – the Queens Dock – was opened in 1875.

    By 1750 Whitehaven was the third most important harbour in England after London and Bristol. By that time trade with Virginia and Maryland had grown to the point where Whitehaven was the biggest importer of tobacco except for Glasgow. The War of American Independence brought that trade to an end leaving only trade with the West Indies as a profitable venture and bringing the Slave Trade to some of the boat owners and merchants.

    Whitehaven & Around FOP 2 Haig Colliery (c. Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The harbour slowly declined leaving only fishing as a commercial activity in the North Harbour today. It has since been delightfully restored and converted to recreational use, with a large marina. The Beacon Museum and a good quantity of artworks around the harbour are there to be enjoyed.

    Deep coal mining continued in Whitehaven until January 1986 when Haig Colliery finally closed. The chemical industry ceased in 2005 bringing an end the manufacture of sulphuric acid and phosphates. The Rum Story on Lowther Street tells the story of sugar, rum and the trade with the West Indies.

    Whitehaven and Around From Old Photographs concentrates on the 20th Century and documents changes, focusing on the 1920s, 30s and 60s. Though I am sure there is much more to learn about this wonderful old town of ours here is what I have found out so far.

    9781445662329

    Alan W. Routledge's book Whitehaven & Around From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Sittingbourne The Postcard Collection by Robert Turcan

    Sittingbourne The Postcard Collection features a collection of vintage postcards and photos dating back to Edwardian times and documents the transformation of the area's industry and history. It includes images of the surrounding villages, wartime photos and some of the paper mill, offering an insight into life from past decades.

    The author Robert Turcan, 66, has lived in the town all of his life and this is his fourteenth book he has had published on local history. His long standing interest in this subject is supported by a growing collection of topographical books and postcards. He also collects antique maps of Kent and Regency bank notes of this county's towns.

    Sittingbourne The Postcard Collection pic Greetings postcard (c. Sittingbourne The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The golden age of postcards was between 1902 and 1918. During this period, it is estimated that some 400 million cards were posted annually. Postcards were an everyday item in their heyday and provide a window into life in the town as it grew following the industrial revolution. When the railway line to London was built in mid Victorian times, the area's population boomed.

    The town's renowned products – bricks, paper and cement – were transported by sailing barges (built nearby) along the Thames. Agriculture played its part in improving prosperity, with fresh produce such as corn, fodder and fruit jams delivered to London. Now lonely and derelict, the wharfs and quays around Milton and Sittingbourne Creeks can be appreciated in their heyday from a group of atmospheric postcards pictured within.

    9781445662282

    Robert Turcan's book Sittingbourne The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

Items 131 to 140 of 154 total

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