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  • 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.

  • Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds by Sean Campbell

    Hill-Forts are defensive structures, many of which are built on advantageous higher ground giving a strong position to defend from. During c.700-100BC hill-forts were built in different parts of Britain. The Cotswolds which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was one of them, many of these monuments were constructed here.

    hill-forts-1 Kimsbury Castle: great views from the top of the inner rampart. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    I have had an interest in hill-forts since studying Field Archaeology, as trying to spot Ancient earthworks at these sites is something I really enjoy doing. I began exploring these forts within the Cotswolds in 2009 and since then have been able to see that many of these sites have been looked after for us to enjoy today. At Leckhampton Hill (Leckhampton) for example the defensive remains can be seen on approach to the site and is built upon an area which has great views over distance areas. Other fort sites have been built near to in recent times, such as Windrush Camp (Windrush) which has farmland buildings built around it, its standing earthworks can be seen amongst them.

    hill-forts-2 Leckhampton Hill: the defences, seen from the entrance. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    I enjoy visiting these sites because being over 2000 years old, a lot of historic events would have taken place at these sites, which I find fascinating. Many sites have no clear labelling or signs, but when reached via a map or with directions, you can enjoy the challenge of finding the fort remains and get a perspective of what it would have been like for those inhabiting these sites. Sometimes the challenge of finding forts earthworks can be a challenge, as I found out when I initially went to visit Brackenbury Ditches (North Nibley). The first area I visited I mistook for the fort itself, but it was actually a nearby area that had some rampart looking earthworks. When I checked my routes on the map at a later date I realised that the site was actually further along the hill plateau. From this I learnt the key importance of checking positioning, as well as assessing the authenticity of archaeological remains while on search for a hill-fort.

    hill-forts-3 Sodbury Camp: in between the defences, next to the inner ditch. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    It is not just the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age that some of these sites were inhabited. For example there are some sites that were inhabited before they were forts, for example Crickley Hill (Coberley) was a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Birdlip Camp (Peak Camp) (Cowley) nearby, has also been interpreted to have been a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Other sites were also inhabited after the Iron Age, at Sodbury Camp (Little Sodbury) for example, it is known that it was used as a Camp by the Romans.

    So why not go out and visit one of these standing monuments for yourself? Visible remains of forts defences are a sight to see, the combination of a bank and ditch defence may sound simple, but its design is effective and would have taken a lot of time, resources and effort to achieve. However not every hill-fort will have visible remains today, as a result of the ground being disturbed, ploughing being an example of something that can damage archaeological sites. Each fort whether it is built upon a high dominate ground or a low-lying position has its own individuality and reasons for being built there. Exploring accessible areas’ for yourself will give you an opportunity to make your own interpretation on a site.

    9781445660028

    Sean Campbell's new book Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds is available for purchase now.

  • Whitechapel in 50 Buildings 'History through a Lens' by Louis Berk

    The renowned British photographer, Don McCullin once said of Whitechapel “This district is the most visually fascinating in the whole of London, in fact in the whole of England.” I feel exactly the same way. Even after more than a dozen years photographing in and around the area there are days I feel I have barely scratched the surface.

    whitechapel-in-50-buildings-1 Sundial on the Neuve Eglise now the Jamme Majid mosque in Brick Lane (c. Whitechapel in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The key attraction of Whitechapel to me is the enormous amount of social history contained within its streets and buildings. You can barely walk a hundred yards without finding an architectural gem which links to the impact of immigration, philanthropy and social history. I am not drawn to photographing people. Our lives are but shadows (to echo the sundial of the former Huguenot chapel in Fournier Street) but the buildings have a permanence belying the often powerfully changing circumstances of the people associated with them.

    It was opportune that in Rachel Kolsky, a historian and award-winning London tour guide, I discovered someone whose passion and interest for the back streets of this fragile hinterland (increasingly fragile as the City pushes eastwards) matched mine. The combination of her energy, extensive knowledge and passion for Whitechapel with my attempts to capture the buildings in photographs allowed the idea for this book to become a reality.

    whitechapel-in-50-buildings-2 World class architecture in the heart of Whitechapel: the Idea Store by David Adjaye (c. Whitechapel in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Recent popular television programmes (“Whitechapel”, “Ripper Street”) have brought a resurgence of interest to this area and while these series tend to focus on the notorious late 19th century history of Whitechapel, the area contains buildings that cover a much broader historical period.

    The book spans from the 16th century all the way to the modern day, from the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry to Shoreditch High Street station, the latest gateway to the area. The story associated with each building explains the social history of the area which has seen successive waves of immigration going back more than 400 years.

    Deciding on 50 Buildings out of the many hundreds, if not thousands contained within the area of Whitechapel was not an easy task. Rachel and I agreed very quickly on a number of landmark examples, including the magnificent 17th century Hawksmoor Churches which are at the west and east end of the area but we also wanted to include many of the buildings associated with the different immigrant communities who found refuge here. In turn Whitechapel has been the refuge for Huguenots in the 17th century, Irish and Jewish immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries and more recently the Bangladeshi community in the late 20th century. What is interesting is how each successive wave has not only added new buildings but also modified old buildings to their use.

    whitechapel-in-50-buildings-3 Sandy’s Row Synagogue, a former Huguenot Chapel (c. Whitechapel in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    For example, the Jewish population has often reused former chapels as Synagogues. A fine example is the Sandy’s Row Synagogue which began life as the L’Eglise L’Artillerie formed by the local Huguenot population. After time as a Baptist chapel it then became the ‘Society for Loving Kindness and Truth’, a Dutch-Jewish congregation which moved into the building in 1867. The strength of the Jewish community in the East End endures even today and the Synagogue is still in use.

    whitechapel-in-50-buildings-4 Gwynne House (1934) (c. Whitechapel in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Whitechapel has some great surprises in store for anyone who wanders the back streets. One building Rachel and I agreed on emphatically that had to be included in the book is a magnificent example of 1930s Art Deco, Gwynne House. Landlocked by 18th and 19th century buildings all around it we both think it has a distinctly nautical flavour to the design and reminds us of an ocean liner ploughing its way steadily through the back streets behind the Royal London Hospital (who owned the building until recently, as accommodation for medical staff).

    The architect, Hume Victor Kerr had an interesting life serving as an officer in both world wars of the 20th century. In the interwar years he left his mark on Whitechapel with a number of distinctive buildings in Turner Street, New Road and as far as field as Middlesex Street in Aldgate.

    Nothing stands still in London and central Whitechapel is planned to have a facelift that will make it closer in look and feel to Canary Wharf. No doubt this will lead to casualties amongst some of the least loved buildings in the area. Whatever the future holds for Whitechapel, its buildings will continue to tell its fascinating and important story. May they remain for future generations to discover and enjoy.

    9781445661902

    Louis Berk & Rachel Kolsky's new book Whitechapel in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • The Secrets of London's Squares: Westminster and Bloomsbury by Alan Brooke & David Brandon

    Many cities of the world are famous for their squares. For example: Red Square in Moscow, Times Square in New York, Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City and Tiananmen Square in China. When it comes to London many people, if asked, would name Trafalgar Square or even Leicester Square. The squares (and one might add the parks and gardens) are a defining feature of England’s capital city. ‘Square’ is a generic term for urban open spaces and as we know many are not actually square or even rectangular. Squares are a form of architecture and town planning not exactly unique to the metropolis but never exploited to the full in other cities although it could be said that Bath, Edinburgh and Liverpool all made some use of the concept.

    secrets-of-central-londons-squares-2 The statue of William Shakespeare with fountain at Leicester Square. (Secrets of Central London's Squares, Amberley Publishing)

    Given the hundreds of squares in London we decided to focus on Bloomsbury and Westminster. We also included a handful of what might be called ‘stand alone’ gardens so see this as a bonus!

    Some squares have an abundance of features including statuary, gardens, inscriptions on benches, fountains, gravestones, commemorations and of course many London plane trees, which account for over half of the city’s tree population and are in evidence in many of the squares in this book. It was the unusual, quirky and curious that fascinated us as well as the familiar features of the selected squares.

    Garden squares provide a welcome retreat for people seeking rest and for those who work nearby. However there are many squares off the main streets that are probably less known to the visitor. Of course there are limits to what can be seen in London in a short space of time but some of the squares and gardens in Westminster and Bloomsbury are certainly worth seeking out and do provide many unexpected discoveries as well as a peaceful haven.

    The London Square has to be seen as an evolving historical and architectural phenomenon. Its origin probably lies in the work of Inigo Jones in Covent Garden in 1631-39 on land then owned by the Earls of Bedford and of which very few traces still exist. Despite the Georgian association of some squares many were built in the Victorian period notably between 1840 and 1880, in such districts as Kensington. The grandest squares were largely in estates whose ground landlords were the Russell, Grosvenor, Portman and Cavendish-Bentinck families or their connections.

    secrets-of-central-londons-squares-1 One of many benches with personal inscriptions in Berkeley Square Gardens. (Secrets of Central London's Squares, Amberley Publishing)

    The earlier squares were paved and largely of open access which made them less exclusive. The private enclosed garden in the centre of a square emerged as a conscious attempt to safeguard the existence of at least some open space as London expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and especially the nineteenth century. Even the resulting ‘green’ amenity was only available to a small privileged elite. As the nineteenth century wore on many resented the social privilege of these gated spaces. The closed or private garden squares had few, if any occupants. Those that had open access drew huge numbers of visitors, clearly enjoying, respecting and appreciating the space and the surroundings.

     

    George Orwell felt strongly about the exclusive nature of the squares. ‘…the railings are returning in one London square after another…So the awful denizens of the squares can make use of their treasured keys again, and the children of the poor can be kept out. When the railings round the parks and squares were removed, the object was partly to accumulate scarp iron, but the removal was also felt to be a democratic gesture…The parks were improved out of recognition by being laid open, acquiring a friendly, almost rural look that they had never had before’ (As I Please 1943-45).

    Most squares did their duty in the Second World War and not just in giving up their iron rails. Belgrave Square became a tank park, St James’s Square was dug up and given over to vegetable growing and air raid shelters were built in Soho and Manchester Squares.

    The building of residential squares started to decline in the early twentieth century and many faced demolition. It was the London Squares Act of 1931 that saved many from such a fate. There has been a minor resurgence of squares in the latter part of the twentieth century notably with the expansion of office squares such as Canada Square in Canary Wharf. In more recent years events and organisations such as the London Open Garden Square Weekend and the London Parks and Gardens Trust have added to the interest and upkeep of these places.

    As with much of London the most fascinating aspects are those in the less familiar places. Do seek out both the lesser as well as the better-known squares and gardens – there is much delight to be had and discoveries to be made.

    9781445656649

    Alan Brooke & David Brandon's new book Secrets of Central London's Squares is available for purchase now.

  • Digging deep in the Pennines – The story of stone quarrying by David Johnson

    I can probably trace my interest in and fascination with quarries back to ingrained memories from early childhood when I would spend what seemed like hours gazing out of the window on gloomy winter days across the fields behind our little cottage. Entranced by the red glow from the open doors of a Hoffmann brick kiln, and when my best friend and I (illegally) played in the clay pits during school holidays. Add to that is a life-long love (well, since the age of 10) of being in hills and mountains, and an incurable obsession with peering down holes in the ground. I am drawn to rock, not just the ways in which it was won from the ground in quarries and underground mines, but how different types of stone have been used in buildings and how this all impacts on the landscape. I have also, and not just as a hobby, spent many a day repairing the dry stone walls that are such an iconic and essential feature of the landscape in the Yorkshire Dales where I have lived and worked for over 30 years. Up here it is hard not breathe rock, to feel it, to empathise with it and to become totally enveloped by its effects on life, work and landscape.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 1 Underground quarrymen using hammers and bars to prize away blocks of rock in a now-disused chert quarry in Swaledale. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    My deep interests in the quarrying of limestone, in particular, led to my undertaking a comprehensive field survey of the many hundred lime kilns that are peppered across the Dales and the former county of Westmorland, most now in a ruinous state – if they survive at all. One result of this was my first book for Amberley Publishing (the second, revised edition of Limestone industries of the Yorkshire Dales, October 2010) which has come to be recognised as THE classic work on limestone quarrying and lime burning.

    Quarrying in the Pennines is not just about limestone, though. The diversity of quarry materials – past and present – is a direct reflection of the region’s varied and complex geology, and of the multi-faceted ways in which stone products were such essential ingredients in the days before manmade substitutes started to kill off our traditional industries. For anyone of a certain age, when they were children, lime fired in kilns from limestone quarried in almost every parish, found its way into most aspects of daily life – in textile dyes, carpets, clothes, as whitewash and limewash, as disinfectant, in tanning leather, making soap the age-old way, for mortar, for preventing cereal seed from rotting, for improving the productivity of soil and pasture, for curing cattle disease ... the list is endless.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 2 A massive judd wall built to hold back waste stone in a disused sandstone quarry near Shibden in West Yorkshire. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    Houses and barns were roofed either with slate or flagstones – the thackstones of old – all of which came from quarries across the Dales and the wider Pennines. Dairies and domestic pantries had shelves made of Blue Flag, actually a hard mudstone quarried in Upper Ribblesdale; public buildings across the country had fireplaces and floors finished off in Black Marble (really just polished fossil-rich limestone) from Dentdale and Garsdale; terraced housing, town halls and other public edifices across Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire were built from sandstone rock quarried across the Pennines, each town’s character being partly determined by the type of sandstone used – some smooth and fine grained, others coarser, some light in colour, others deep brown. Chimney pots and sanitary ware were manufactured from fireclay dug from pits and underground workings across the region and, of course, the endless terraced houses of many an industrial town were built with bricks using clays, again of varying colours.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 3 A group of men in a limestone quarry in Ribblesdale in the 1880s proudly displaying the tools of their trade. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    Stone has been quarried in the Pennines since Roman times though it is difficult to pick out either Roman or medieval quarries today: they were not large and many have long since been in-filled or buried in vegetation but they can still be found and recognised by their hummocky and seemingly disorganised nature. Quarrying took off in a major way in the late seventeenth century, and grew apace during the next two hundred years as towns and industrial complexes mushroomed with their never-ending need for building materials and raw products. Until the late nineteenth century quarries were on a small scale compared to today’s giants, and most of the work was done by men reliant on hand tools and sheer graft. Dimension stone – large blocks of stone – were prized out using long iron bars, stone to be crushed was broken up in the quarries by men wielding sledge hammers; access to deep quarry holes was by often rickety ladders called stees while, later on, stone was hauled out by A-frames or steam cranes. It was hard and demanding work, and weather dependant, and accidents were common, but many quarrymen then as now took pride in their work and were loyal to the quarries where they toiled.

    Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines 4 Breaker and filler pushing V-skips full of limestone that they have broken up by hand. They were paid on a piece-work basis – the more skips they filled, the more they got paid. In poor weather they earned nothing. (Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines, Amberley Publishing)

    For this book I have drawn together a collection of historical photographs from across the Yorkshire Pennines which provide the reader with a wide-ranging view of quarries that have long since been abandoned or even in-filled, that quarried a broad range of stone types, and that used simple technology. Many of them are published here for the first time. In addition, I have included photographs I have taken especially for the book showing evidence of old quarries and methods as they are seen today. Each site has been given a grid reference so that the interested reader can visit those sites which are publicly accessible and safe to enter.

    My research interests do not just focus on quarrying and the use of quarry products: I am keenly interested in rural trades in general in the Pennines and Cumbria and my next book is due to be published by Amberley this year. An Improving Prospect? A  history of agricultural change in Cumbria examines the ways in which farming in Cumbria has changed over the centuries since medieval times – the hows, the whys and the by whoms of agriculture.

    9781445653679

    David Johnson's new book Quarrying in the Yorkshire Pennines: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • Lichfield Pubs by Neil Coley

    The British pub is a unique institution. So-called pubs can be found in other countries but they are never quite the same as the real thing. We all have our own opinion as to what makes an ideal pub. Whether it is a venue to meet and chat with our friends or a refuge from the world with a quiet corner, perhaps in front of a roaring fire. It could be a favourite haunt where a great meal can be had or simply somewhere to relax with a packet of crisps and a pint of good ale. There are pubs for all tastes.

    Lichfield Pubs 1 The Bowling Green (Lichfield Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    A city such as Lichfield has many pubs, some of which are so old that their origins are lost in the mists of time. Today about thirty or so public houses can be found in or just outside the city centre. Over the years many more have disappeared. Indeed in the nineteenth century there were over eighty inns, taverns or simple beer houses in the city. Some of these were forced to close by local licensing authorities worried about the number of outlets selling alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was a force to be reckoned with. Others faded out of history for other diverse reasons. Some closed due to simple economics or the poor state of their buildings. One was closed after locals objected to its use as a brothel and another ancient pub reportedly fell down in the middle of the night after building work had been carried out.

    Some of the oldest pubs in Lichfield are ancient coaching inns. Back in the eighteenth century the city of Lichfield stood on the main north/south coaching route and in those days the city would have been incredibly busy with the comings and goings of laden stagecoaches clattering along its cobbled streets. Bird Street was the main coaching inn area of the city with the Swan and the George being the foremost ones. People often broke their journeys in Lichfield and stopped at such places for good meals and beds for the night. Another old coaching inn, the King’s Head, is also situated in Bird Street. It was here in 1705 that the Staffordshire regiment was founded, an army regiment that would subsequently take part in many important conflicts down the centuries.

    Lichfield’s most famous son and the writer of the renowned dictionary, Samuel Johnson, having made his name in London, often returned to his home city. When he visited Lichfield Johnson used to stay at the Three Crowns, which just happened to be next door to his childhood home (now the excellent Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum). Johnson’s love of the Three Crowns’ ale is well documented and indeed up until the early part of the nineteenth century most pubs in the city would have brewed their own beer with Lichfield rivaling nearby Burton as a brewing centre. Sadly the Three Crowns, magnificent in its day, is now no longer with us although the actual building still provides some evidence of its coaching inn past.

    Lichfield Pubs 2 The Bridge Tavern c. 1906 (Lichfield Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    My book Lichfield Pubs examines the history of the existing and the extinct pubs of the city. My main objective in writing it was to produce something that was very informative with historical stories that had never been gathered together in one place before, but also to write something that was readable and, hopefully, fun. It required me to do a great amount of research in the local records’ office where I accessed old newspapers, documents and books. As a result I was able to not only write about the famous people who interacted with the inns and taverns of the city (as well as Johnson there were individuals like the writers George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Farquhar) but also stories about the unsung people of the city.

    Most of the photographs in the book are of city pubs today as well as buildings that are still there but now have a different usage. I was extremely pleased at how the photographs have been reproduced in the book. (I can now, rather grandly, think of myself as not only a published author but as a published photographer!) The book also includes a number of historic photos of Lichfield pubs and I was very pleased to be able to delve into the St Mary’s Heritage Centre’s photographic collection for some wonderful views of bygone Lichfield and the old pubs of the city.

    Pubs are, without doubt, one of the great British inventions and a lot can be learned by studying their history and relevance to their local communities. In Lichfield there are, I believe, some of the most interesting pubs in the country and they are just one of the many reasons to visit this great cathedral city.

    9781445651385

    Neil Coley's new book Lichfield Pubs is available for purchase now.

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