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Tag Archives: Local History

  • Secret Kendal by Andrew Graham Stables

    Secret Kendal 1 Brigsteer Road with Kendal sign and racecourse in background. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    As I wrote this blog I became aware it was exactly 196 years since the first horse race was held on Kendal Racecourse on 7th August 1821 and I further recognized in my previous book about Penrith, and my future book looking at Teesdale, they all feature redundant racecourses. To the west of Kendal, off Brigsteer Road and below Scout Scar, are the remnants of Kendal Racecourse. The site, originally called Fishers Plain was built by raising a subscription from wealthy locals and after that first race meeting in August, there followed a three day meeting every June.

    The stand out race was the Kendal Gold Cup with a substantial first prize of £50 and the first ever winner was called Miss Syntax, owned by Lord Queensberry.  The last meeting of this first spell was held in 1834 with further meetings held from 1879–82 and offered both ‘flat’ and ‘hurdle’ races over 2 miles. It was also used for different events like the Kendal Steeple Chase, and some racing was held during the First World War, but it was generally abandoned thereafter.

    Secret Kendal 2 Kendal racecourse. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Other uses have included practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry and even the establishment of a small golf course for a short time. Still clearly visible as a raised flat platform, the site can be accessed from a public footpath and other remnants include entrance gates, raised banks for racegoers to stand and rubble from old buildings.

    Penrith racecourse was located off Salkeld Road to the north of the town and was in use from the 1770’s until 1847. The principle races were the Penrith Town Plate, the Cavalry Cup and the Inglewood Hunt 5 Guineas Sweepstake until it was used as practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry. Eventually in 1890 the course was converted into a golf course with the old stand converted to a clubhouse.

     

     

    Secret Kendal 3 The racecourse and public access. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, the racecourse celebrated as the greatest course in the north of England was located at Gatherley Moor, just off the A66 and was regarded as the Newmarket of the north with royalty buying horses and racing in this famous field. Races were held here from at least the 15th century and the area was well renowned for breeding from the local stud farms. George III is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, 'Oh for a gasp of Gatherley air!' with the moor being on his usual route to or from Scotland. Gatherley Moor remained a renowned hunting ground and race course until the 1816 enclosure act. The area is now cultivated land with little evidence of its illustrious past.

    9781445668048

    Andrew Graham Stables' book Secret Kendal is available for purchase now.

  • Cornwall in Photographs by Gabriel Fuchs

    Cornwall in Photographs - Golitha Falls Golitha Falls on Bodmin Moor. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    So what’s so special about Cornwall? Few places in Europe are as awe-inspiring. It is an ancient Celtic land and as such has inspired tales and legends ever since. It has a dramatic nature with treacherous cliffs, sandy beaches, and mysterious moors. It was a gateway to the rest of the world when the English ruled the waves, and a mining centre during the Industrial Revolution, which very much lay the foundation of what we now call western modernity. Today it is the sum of its history, with a foot left in what it used to be.

    Cornwall is indeed a peculiar place on the far south-western fringes of Great Britain. It has a relatively small population of around 550,000 and it has only one officially designated city, Truro. Yet, Cornwall has the largest collection of plant species in the British Isles and its coasts boast more varieties of fish than anywhere else in the UK.

    Cornwall in Photographs - Polperro Polperro. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Cornwall is also one of only two royal duchies in England. The Duchy of Cornwall was created in 1337 and its purpose is to provide an income to the heir apparent to the throne. As such, Cornwall can be regarded as the mother of all trust funds.

    Considered to be one of the six Celtic nations, Cornwall offers a culture that remains somewhat different from the rest of England. Being out in a corner of Great Britain and with a distinct geography, Cornwall possesses a combination of a rough coastline, barren moors, and plenty of gardens in between. All of these factors make Cornwall distinctly different not only from the rest of the UK, but from the rest of the world.

    Cornwall in Photographs - Porthcothan Sunset at Porthcothan. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Furthermore, the weather is changeable even by British standards and it is perfectly possible to have pouring rain, clear blue sky, and then pouring rain again, all within an hour. This means that forecasting the weather is actually not much of a problem; just look out the window. A Cornish weather forecast is rarely more precise than what you see with your own eyes.

    No matter what the weather, having the longest coastline in Great Britain, Cornwall tends to be windy. As the wind usually comes from the Atlantic in the west, it is striking to see how trees are leaning to the east, being pushed by these winds. If one gets lost in Cornwall it is possible to navigate just by looking at the trees.

    Cornwal in Photographs - Lands End Land's End. (Cornwall in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Given its harsh and unique nature, Cornwall remains an inspiration for painters and writers alike. Many tales and legends have taken place in Cornwall, including the mystical King Arthur and the sunken country of Lyonesse from where Tristan came. There are also a great deal of crime stories in Cornwall, which is ironic given that there are no prisons – the last one closed in 1922.

    The combination of a splendidly desolate landscape, a rich fauna, some magnificent beaches, and trees leaning to the east – this prohibiting anyone from getting really lost – attracts tourists of all kinds. There are the families, the hikers, the sea-sport enthusiasts, the birdwatchers, the photographers, the artists and the writers. All are kept at an even pace, thanks to the narrow and winding roads that rarely allow anyone to get anywhere too quickly.

    The photos in this book represent a bit of everything that Cornwall has to offer in terms of nature, activities, and beauty. Not all photos are sunny and with a blue sky because it does rain in Cornwall too. However, few things can be as moody and impressive as a good rainstorm when the waves come crushing in on desolate rocks. This combination of sun, rain, and wind is, to many, what really makes Cornwall stand out. And stand out it does!

    9781445671246

    Gabriel Fuchs' new book Cornwall in Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection by Frank Beattie

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 1 A fine example of a postcard just before the introduction of the divided back. The producer wanted to maximise the impact of the picture, leaving little space for a message. (Author's collection)

    The influence of postcards on our culture should not be underestimated. They are part of our social history.

    The phrase ‘wish you were here’ is a common enough expression that grew out of sending postcards home from holiday.

    Most people now associate postcards with holidays, but it wasn’t always like that. Britain’s first postcards were produced in 1870 by the Post Office, not that we would recognise them as postcards today. They were plain card; one side was for the address and the other for a quick message. Britain simply adopted a scheme that had been launched in Austria a year before.

    Of course, it could be argued that the Romans invented the postcard as something very similar was used to send messages home from places like Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall.

    European countries soon adopted the idea of putting an illustration on them. For some reason Britain was rather slow to come to this way of thinking and did not approve such things being produced by private businesses until 1894.

    The popularity of the postcards started to gather pace. Postcards were cheaper to send than a letter and with several deliveries a day in some cities and towns a postcard could be delivered the same day that it was posted.

    At the start of the 20th century most postcard illustrations were simply photographs of streets. Some postcards were published commemorating events in the South African war or royal events.

    The brake on further development was that the picture and the message had to be on the same side and the bigger the picture, the less space for a message.

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 2 Postcard producers wanted to best impact on the postcard rack, so many pictures taken in black and white were painted in colour. The artist did not always get it right, as in this case. Kilmarnock trams were green! (Author's collection)

    Then in 1902 the Post Office relaxed the regulations and allowed what became known as the ‘divided back’ postcard. That’s the style of postcard we know today with the message and address on one side and a picture on the other. The UK was again showing initiative and was the first country to adopt this style of postcard.

    During the next decade the use of postcards exploded, and they quickly became the standard medium for short messages.

    The First World War changed everything, as did the increasing use of the phone. Postcards never quite recovered the high popularity of the first decade of the 20th century. Their use changed from sending informative messages to sending greetings. In the last quarter of 20th century they became more of an advertising or art item.

    There is also a lot more to postcards than just the photo. Postal historians take great delight in studying the stamps and the postmarks on postcards. They have just as much validity as the stamps and postmarks on covers (envelopes).

    The messages written on postcards can also be interesting, some carry urgent family news such as: ‘Little Mary was born today. She and her mum are doing well.’

    The imprint on postcards can tell us about local postcard producers. Whatever way we look at them, postcards are little snapshots of daily life taken over the last 120 years or so from villages, towns and cities across the country.

    9781445670348

    Frank Beattie's new book Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • Aldershot's Military Heritage by Paul H. Vickers

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 1 Grenadier Guards drilling in Blenheim Barracks, North Camp, Aldershot, c.1906. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Aldershot has, for over a hundred and sixty years, been famous as an “Army town”; indeed its name has become synonymous across the country with the Army. Yet now it is a town undergoing considerable change. Not only has the garrison recently been completely rebuilt, but 148 hectares of old Army land has been given over to civilian redevelopment, on which the new Wellesley housing estate is beginning to rise. This massive development will take around 10-12 years to complete, and will transform the character of the old South Camp. So the time is right to evaluate the impact of the Army on Aldershot, the relationship between the military and civilian communities, and whether Aldershot can still claim its proud title of “Home of the British Army”.

    Any modern-day changes are dwarfed by the impact of the Army’s first arrival in Aldershot. Before 1854 Aldershot was a small rural village, with a population of 875 who earned their living from agriculture or essential local trades such as baker, blacksmith and carpenter. To the north west of the village was the huge empty land of Aldershot Heath, ideal for the Army to set up its first permanent training camp. Given added urgency by the Crimean War, soon two camps were built either side of the Basingstoke Canal, and by 1859 some 15,000 soldiers were here. The character of the area changed very quickly, as entrepreneurs were quick to see the potential for businesses serving not only the thousands of troops but also the huge numbers of workers employed on building the Camp. As it became clear that the military were here to stay, the wooden shanties in which these businesses initially operated were replaced by smart new buildings, and a new Aldershot town centre grew up immediately south of the Army Camp and about a mile west of the old Aldershot village.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 2 The Band of the Welsh Guards leads the Regiment’s welcome home parade through Aldershot town for their return from the war in Afghanistan, December 2009. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Since that time the fortunes of the Camp and town have gone hand-in-hand. The Camp reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century, and the burgeoning prosperity of the civilian town was shown by its achieving its Charter in 1922. In the 1960s the Victorian Barracks were swept away as a new Military Town was built for the late twentieth-century Army and Aldershot became the home of the Airborne Forces. However, with the many defence cuts and re-organisations, the overall numbers in the Army have fallen back and so, in turn, has the size of the Aldershot garrison. The 1960s barracks were designed for 10,000 troops, in the twenty-first century numbers are around half that. As a result the garrison has consolidated onto land in the northern part of the old Camp, leaving the southern area to the Wellesley development.

    For the first hundred years of its existence, Aldershot was the country’s largest and most important Army camp, and it sent men to fight in all the major conflicts from the Zulu War to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both the First and Second World Wars, the Aldershot Divisions were the first to be mobilised and in both wars they became the First Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. The pivotal role of Aldershot makes its story of not just local interest but of national importance. Today the numbers may not be what they once were, but Aldershot is the headquarters for the Army’s national Home Command, along with 101 Logistic Brigade and 11 Infantry Brigade. It remains the centre of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, and it is the Army’s “Centre of Sporting Excellence”.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 3 Memorial to the men of Aldershot’s resident 2nd Division who died in the First World War. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Against this background, I was very pleased to be able to write Aldershot’s Military Heritage for Amberley. In this book I have been able to look at the development of the Camp, its role in the nation’s wars, and some of the many colourful characters who have passed through in the last 165 years. Military heritage is visible across Aldershot, in the buildings, monuments and memorials, and in the continuing role that the military plays in the life of the town. This was wonderfully demonstrated recently when the population turned out in huge numbers to line the streets as the veterans of the Parachute Regiment who fought in the Falklands War marched through the town to mark the 35th anniversary of this conflict. In the Wellesley development, the old barracks, battles and notable soldiers are honoured in the names of the roads and buildings, and work is underway to establish a series of Heritage Trails across both the Camp and Town. Truly this is the right time to celebrate Aldershot’s military heritage.

    9781445665900

    Paul H. Vickers new book Aldershot's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Reading by Stuart Hylton

    A-Z of Reading 1 The monument to Henry Zinzan in St Michael's Church, Tilehurst. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    When the publishers said to me “how do you fancy doing a book on the A to Z of Reading’s local history” I knew straight away what I did not want the book to be. Reading is fortunate in having the key points of its local history well documented (perhaps I should put the word ‘fortunate’ in inverted commas, since I wrote part of that body of work). But I would not want this book to be simply those same key points in alphabetical order. I set out instead to find some sidelights into our town’s history that might be of interest, and at least some of which might be new to the reader.

    I tested my approach on the editor with a story about a local fish sauce manufacturer whose product was, in its day, as popular as the Worcestershire variety. It even earned a place in literary posterity by being referred to in Jules Verne’s Around the world in eighty days. Jules Verne obviously swung it with the editor and I was unleashed on the other twenty-five letters of the alphabet.

    It was then that I started to realise what I had taken on. ABC may be all very easy but my deliberations had not taken me as far as XYZ. How much history was associated with them? Z proved to be unexpectedly straightforward. Reading had a noble family of Italian extraction called Zinzani, whose association with royalty went back to the days of Henry VIII. There was even a street named after them and a monument to them in a local church, which solved the problem of illustrating the letter Z, for the publisher wanted copious illustrations.

     

    A-Z of Reading 2 Greyfriars Church, seen here in its derelict pre-Victorian restoration state. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    Y led me to think of the mediaeval Yield Hall (or Guildhall) and the lane which bears its name. The trouble was the original yield hall vanished centuries ago and no image of it appears to exist. The current yield hall lane is by no stretch of the imagination picturesque. This led me to broaden the search to Reading’s peripatetic seats of local government, which over the years have included a derelict church, the remains of a mediaeval abbey, a Victorian complex designed by four different architects over more than a hundred years and a recently-demolished post-war office block. The link with the original Yield Hall was maintained via an early twentieth century photograph of the lane, by then occupied by an iron founder and pioneer motor mechanic.

    A-Z of Reading 3 The Beauclerc Cross, erected in the Forbury Gardens in 1909, 'somewhere near' where Henry I was thought to have been buried. (A-Z of Reading, Amberley Publishing)

    But X had me stumped, and the publisher’s stern instruction was that no letter was to be missed. I had to resort to a cheap trick. One of the Kings of England – Henry I – is buried somewhere amid the ruins of Reading Abbey. The trouble is no one knows exactly where. So this conundrum is discussed beneath the caption ‘X marks the spot – but Where’s King Henry?’

    Another constraint was the publisher’s requirement to keep to about 500 words per entry. Some topics were easily contained, like Reading’s Civil War army commander who was so unpopular that his own troops took advantage of a dark night and a dark alley to assault him. He was eventually beaten to death with his own wooden leg by the opposition. But others were much wider in their scope – such as elections. There space did not permit me more than a brief exploration of the elections of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – what I characterised as ‘Reading’s golden age of electoral corruption’.

    Even where the words come together readily, illustrations may be more elusive. Where do you find images to represent Reading at the time of the Domesday Book, for example? But while the format may have been more challenging than it first appeared, I hope the outcome has proved diverting, and will cast a little light on some neglected corners of Reading’s history.

    9781445670362

    Stuart Hylton's new book A - Z of Reading: Places - People - History is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445671918

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

  • More Somerset Tales by Jack William Sweet

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

    'Somerset is Home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445664514

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

  • Bristol Pubs by James MacVeigh

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445661681

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

  • East End Jewish Cemeteries by Louis Berk

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

    An Oasis in Whitechapel

     

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

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

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

     

     

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

    The Idea

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

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

     

     

     

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

    Early Mornings and Late Evenings

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

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

     

     

     

     

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

    Waiting for snow

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

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

     

     

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

    Alderney Road

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

     

     

     

     

     

     

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

    East End Jewish Cemeteries: Brady Street and Alderney Road

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

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

    9781445662909

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

  • Brighton From Old Photographs by Christopher Horlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445669403

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

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