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Tag Archives: Local History

  • Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham by Roger Mason

    My recently-published book is not a technical study of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone Station in London to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. It features thirty-eight fascinating buildings, monuments, historical sites etc that can be seen from the window of a train making the journey. Although the book is not long out some interesting things have since happened.

    Wembley Stadium. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Wembley Stadium

    Wembley Stadium may be termed the jewel in the Football Association’s crown, and there have been advanced plans for it to be sold to Mr Shahid Khan who is the owner of Fulham Football Club. The proposed sale was strongly resisted by some and it was even termed scandalous. Partly due to the controversy and ill-feeling Mr Khan has withdrawn his offer.  The stadium will continue to be owned by the Football Association.

    The stadium has tightened its procedures on checking bags that are brought inside. All items carried by ticket holders and staff will be tightly checked and there may be personal wanding or pat down. Spectators will only be permitted to bring in one bag which must not be bigger than A4 size. Match day purchases will be supplied in sealed plastic bags. They may be brought into the stadium so long as the seal is not broken. The extra security measures are probably necessary but it is very sad.

    The state of Wembley’s pitch has been very heavily criticised in the late autumn of 2018. In fact it has been termed awful. The reason is that it has been over-used. There have been the usual England international football matches, and in addition Tottenham Hotspur have played all their home games there. This is because their new stadium at White Hart Lane is not ready and probably will not be ready before the end of the 2018/19 season. There have been three NFL American Football games in quick succession, and it has been the venue for Anthony Joshua’s successful world heavyweight title boxing defence against Alexander Povetkin. The groundsmen have had and are having a tough job.

    A red Kite. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Red Kites

    Chapter 15 tells the story of these magnificent birds. They are large, having a length slightly more than two feet, and they frequently twist and turn in soaring flight. Their tails are deeply forked, which helps identify them. By 1879 there were none left in England and Scotland, but a handful clung on in mid Wales.

    A joint project by RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) reintroduced them in several areas. The venture succeeded, especially in the Chilterns and breeding pairs have spread out from their places of introduction. A particularly good point to see them is close to the railway line mid way between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. This is the position featured in the book.

    For obvious reasons it is not possible to count the birds, but when the book was written RSPB’s latest estimate for England was 1,860 breeding pairs, plus further juvenile and non-breeding ones. I suspect that this is an under-estimate. I recently drove past the area mentioned and I counted seven soaring overhead. I was on my way to watch Wycombe Wanderers play at Adams Park on the western edge of High Wycombe. There were two more red kites circling the stadium.

    Chapter 12 in the book is about High Wycombe and this includes something about Wycombe Wanderers and Adams Park. In case you are interested Wycombe beat Shrewsbury 3-2 and they have an outside chance of promotion from Division 1 into the Championship.

    Chesterton Windmill. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Chesterton Windmill

    Had I been able to consult Jane Austen she might well have told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book such as this must be in want of a good windmill.  Chesterton Windmill is a particularly fine example and it is located on a bleak hillside three miles short of Leamington Spa.

    During my visit I was puzzled to see that two bunches of flowers had been laid at the foot of the structure. They were fresh and wrapped in cellophane, but there were no cards or other indications of their purpose. They reminded me of the sad tributes sometimes laid at the scene of a fatal road accident. I reconciled myself to not ever knowing the reason why they were there.

    I now feel that I do know the reason and it is a very sad one. A friend who lives a few miles away told me that some years ago there was a murder and that the body was found a short distance from the windmill. It happened in the winter at about the time of year that I made my visit. This must surely be the explanation.

    Roger Mason's new book Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide by Jan-Andrew Henderson

    For much of Edinburgh’s long existence, there was only the Old Town. Perched on a high basalt ridge, it slowly turned from a collection of rude cottages with a fort at the top and arable slopes on either side, to a collection of towering tenements clinging to the ridge.

    The original New Town. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This was the perfect defensive site. Scotland’s history was a turbulent one, so the Old Town never really expanded. It just got more and more crowded. Surrounded by a fortified wall, the greenery disappeared under a rash of tenements, which grew so high they were the tallest in Europe, reaching fifteen stories in some spots. People lived in underground cellars and tunnels, sanitation was non-existent, and the dwellings were rickety fire hazards and living conditions utterly deplorable. By the time the New Town came along, The Royal Mile’s glory days were fading. A huge number of Edinburgh aristocrats and ambitious, well educated innovators had taken off for London, were no longer willing to live in such a dirty, smelly, violent place.

    North of the city, however, were vast swathes of pastoral land. Separated from the Royal Mile only by the pungent expanse of the sewage filled Nor’ Loch, it was too tempting a prize to ignore. Along with Glasgow, Edinburgh was the focal point of the Scottish Enlightenment and still teeming with men of learning. Though the crowded conditions in the Old Town had actually been a perfect cauldron for brilliant ideas and innovation, better living conditions were deemed essential if all those geniuses were to be persuaded to stay. In 1752 a pamphlet called Proposals by Sir Gilbert Minto (1693-1766) argued that a nice new northern development was just the ticket to stop a potential brain drain and bring the cream of Edinburgh society back.

    Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    This required more than a new area to inhabit. It called for something to equal, or even surpass, the finest suburbs of London. Nothing parochial. British rather than Scottish, to give a cosmopolitan and classical feel. After all, you couldn’t beat the Greeks and Romans at this sort of thing.

    The man who got the ball rolling properly was Lord Provost George Drummond (1688-1766). His tentative first step was to build a gateway between the Royal Mile and the flat, open lands ripe for development – the North Bridge. Next, Drummond needed a builder with a grand plan. So, in 1766, the city launched a competition to design a New Town for Edinburgh.

    The winner was a little-known architect named James Craig (1739-1795), only 26 at the time. His layout wasn’t exactly earth shattering, merely a simple grid structure of three parallel main streets with a large square at either end. But it was loaded with allegory, (very) roughly mimicking the Union Jack, symbolizing the union of Scotland and England under the reigning king George III (1738-1820).

    Walter Scott Monument. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    But the New Town was also symbolic of the Scottish Enlightenment and its beliefs – that society and its environment could be improved by logical and pragmatic thinking. Though grand in scale, the layout was deliberately functional and uncomplicated, rather than the organic, messy development of most cities.

    A natural reluctance by Edinburgh’s citizens to embrace change meant that it took almost fifty years to finish the first New Town. But the result was stunning and the influx slow and steady.  Ironically, the aristocrats Scotland hoped to entice back avoided the place, since they couldn’t plonk some stately home with a mile long driveway in the middle of such a carefully regulated area. This was no great loss, for it was the wealthy and cultured middle class who were most enthused by the ideals and aspirations of the Scottish Enlightenment. And they loved the place.

    This, to me, is the great irony of the New Town. In my opinion, the truly innovative ideas of the Enlightenment came out of the Old Town. Carried to the New World, they found a receptive audience in the thousand of Scots Irish and Scottish Presbyterians who had relocated there. This irrevocably shaped the ethos and national character of what would become the most powerful country in the world – the USA.

    Naturally, the occupants of the New Town were less radical, happy to keep up the momentum that had started on the Royal Mile. The ‘Scottish School’ of thought argued that we were ultimately creatures of our environment – and what an environment the residents now had. But they had no intention of resting on their laurels. They acquired knowledge like sponges. Considered bettering themselves a necessity. Exuded an unshakeable self confidence that their English counterparts now lacked and their predecessors in the Old Town, brilliant though they might be, had never really known. Along with Glasgow’s more free-wheeling counterparts, they altered the face of the globe by becoming the practical and intellectual backbone of an even greater force than the USA. The British Empire.

    Albert Memorial, Charlotte Square Gardens. (Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    The city of Edinburgh finally had a civilized veneer and projected itself as ‘the Athens of the North’, despite the Old Town being a total cesspit. And that’s the sad part, in a way. For the first time, true public division had arrived. Instead of the rich and poor living cheek by jowl, complimenting each other in the generation of innovative ideas, the haves and have-nots were suddenly segregated by distance and class. Civilization had arrived and Edinburgh embraced the fact that it wasn’t just riding the coat tails of Britain’s bid to take over the globe. It was leading the charge.

    The New Town isn’t simply an architectural masterpiece but a monument to the body of men (and a few convention defying women) who changed the entire world.

    Jan-Andrew Henderson's new book Edinburgh New Town: A Comprehensive Guide is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Cambridge by Andrew Sargent

    It is difficult to write something fresh about a place which is as well known and loved as Cambridge. The run of colleges along The Backs are a vital part of our national heritage, and King’s College Chapel is familiar the world over from the televised Christmas Eve broadcast of Carols from King’s.

    Friends asked me to justify offering a new book. The answer is that, while a small slice of the town is a national treasure visited by millions every year, most of its long history passes them by. The focus on the colleges means that much else is hidden in plain sight; more is tucked away and forgotten. I studied and lived in Cambridge for fifteen years, and was aware that even in that time I barely scratched the surface.

    The Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College, originally designed by William Etheridge in 1749, has been rebuilt several times. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Cambridge is probably unique in its approach. It explores the whole town, not just the famous colleges, and it takes in the whole story of Cambridge from its Roman origins to the present day. But it is not just a history: it also looks for the places where events happened, and traces the surviving physical clues to the past – things you can see and touch. It will be as stimulating for Cambridge residents who want to know more about their town as for visitors.

    There was a town here, beside the Cam, a thousand years before the first scholars made it their home. That town continued alongside the growing university, the two becoming increasingly intertwined and their relationship becoming ever more complex. It is easy not to appreciate today, but for much of history Cambridge was a transport hub. It was an important river crossing and the last bridging point before the fens and the sea. It was also the highest navigable point for seagoing vessels, a place where cargoes could be transferred between road and water. The city arms still show three ships riding at anchor beneath a bridge.

    The Saxon tower of St Ben't's Church is the oldest structure in Cambridge. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The Roman conquerors were quick to recognize the strategic importance of this crossing point, and a bridge was soon built. A small settlement sprang up on the bluff overlooking the crossing to service passing travellers, while a suburb grew up on the opposite bank along what is today known as Bridge Street. This settlement – barely a town – appears in itineraries under the name Duroliponte. In the fourth century AD the hilltop town, though not its suburb, was surrounded by a wall; its course is preserved in the street plan.

    Despite this Roman history, the settlement disappeared in the succeeding ‘Dark Ages’ – this was true of most British towns. There was no Cambridge at this date, although archaeology has discovered a lot of rural activity within the area of the modern city boundary. The settlement by the river crossing reappears in the documents in 875 when the Viking army over-wintered there. Notably, this was the first use of the place name Granta Brycge. In other words, someone (perhaps King Offa of Mercia) had built a new (presumably timber) bridge at this important location, and it would be reasonable to imagine a small settlement of entrepreneurs had sprung up around it. From this point onward, the town grew. About 50 years later, Edward the Elder, King of Wessex and son of Alfred the Great, cemented its importance by creating a burh (a fortified place) which became the administrative centre for his new shire. The oldest building in Cambridge, the 11th-century tower of St Bene’t’s church, is a relic of the thriving late Saxon town.

    The earthen motte of the first Norman castle offers wide views over the town. Other castle buildings lay beneath the Shire Hill and car park. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The conquering Normans left their stamp in the form of the castle motte (or mound) which commands the view from the top of Castle Hill. Meanwhile, the Norman town prospered, in common with many market centres across the region. What marked Cambridge out was the annual Stourbridge Fair. Originally granted by King John as a fundraising venture for the leper hospital on Newmarket Road, it developed into the most important fair in England, attracting merchants from across Europe.

    The game-changing date was 1209. Oxford University temporarily suspended itself in protest at an unusually severe outbreak of violence by the townsfolk, and its scholars scattered. Most subsequently returned to Oxford, but a group decided to settle in their quiet fenland haven. At first they were probably unnoticed, but gradually the tensions between the civic and academic communities grew. As the conflict intensified, nobles, and even the King himself, were pressed into service in support of one side or the other. The university gained the upper hand, and it was only in the 19th century that relations began to be normalized.

    The great hall of 1290 and seventeenth-century chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge's first college. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Today the name Cambridge immediately brings to mind the many beautiful and venerable colleges. The early scholars, however, lived simply in rented lodgings. In the 13th century the friars and monks built their own monastic houses in the town where members of their orders could study. The foundation of the first college, Peterhouse, is reckoned from 1284 when Bishop Hugh de Balsham of Ely established a band of scholars in some buildings beside the church of St Peter without Trumpington Gate (now called Little St Mary’s). Even so, it was many years before the small community could afford to erect any new college buildings. Other wealthy and powerful donors followed the Bishop’s lead, resulting in the dramatic remodeling of the town centre which created the Cambridge we know today. A road named Milne Street which ran parallel to the High Street (now St John’s Street-Trinity Street-King’s Parade) was swept away; many houses were bought up and a church was demolished to make way. Unlike today, these first colleges were for graduates only; undergraduates were left to find accommodation around the town. The need to control their unruly behaviour formed part of the drive for students to live in colleges.

    One of the most striking features of Cambridge is the way the countryside seems to wind through the town. It is possible to follow the river from Grantchester to Fen Ditton walking only a couple of short sections on the pavement. This gives the town a unique atmosphere.  Inevitably, it is in part a legacy of the university and colleges’ stubbornness which forced most suburban development to the east of the historic core.

    Today both town and university are growing. The university must add new facilities if it is to maintain its remarkable position as a world leader. As the fields of West Cambridge succumb to these pressures, this flexible town looks towards a new phase in its colourful life.

    Andrew Sargent's new book Secret Cambridge is available for purchase now.

  • County Durham in Photographs by Nathan Atkinson

    Quarry, near Bishopley. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    To some, County Durham conjures images of either Durham itself or small pit villages, but in reality, County Durham offers so much more. The huge variety of subjects and landscapes became apparent when planning what photographs to take for the book. In fact, I have lived in the North East all of my life and there were locations I had never been to! It’s worth mentioning that County Durham has had various boundary changes so an initial challenge with the book is where do I include? Do I go with current County Durham or historic County Durham and then from what year. I settled on ceremonial County Durham so this could take into account neighbouring areas such as Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool.

    Prince of Wales under construction. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    The region has a rich history to be proud of, be it ship building, mining, railways or areas of outstanding beauty, we have it all and it was all of this I wanted to capture. I was eager to show off well known places and some of those less well-known. For example, the road between Teesdale and Weardale passes old mine workings where, in the centre, is a pond with a lone tree (Quarry near Bishopley). I haven’t seen many pictures of this place and happened upon it by looking at some aerial photographs. It’s an out-of-the-way location but brings with it so many viewpoints. I could have quite easily made a book just on this location alone.

    High Force, Teesdale. (County Durham in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    As mentioned above, railways have a strong link to this area and I had the pleasure of taking photographs of a new locomotive being built by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust. Housed in a white-washed building opposite terraced streets, many wouldn’t realise there is a full sized locomotive being built within by a small number of hard workers. To see Prince of Wales up close took my breath away, the amount of effort that had already gone into the project is simply awesome.

    I have always had a love for the outdoors and I was eager to show off the landscapes in the county. Obviously it was necessary to include a picture of High Force. High Force is a waterfall you hear before you see it and can be enjoyed no matter the season or weather. I had to plan the angle of the sun with weather conditions to achieve the photo I wanted. As all landscape photographers will tell you, what the forecast says and what actually happens are too different things. On the morning this picture was taken, the sky was grey and uninspiring. I sat waiting getting gradually colder. I decided to go for a walk instead. After half an hour the clouds diminished resulting in me running all the way back laden with all my equipment to take the shot! Sometimes just getting one decent shot on an outing is pleasing.

    Nathan Atkinson's new book County Durham in Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Leith by Lisa Sibbald

    Places - People - History

    Citadel Caption - The remains of 17th century Leith Citadel. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite having visited Leith on many occasions over several decades, and only living a few miles away in another part of Edinburgh, I never really appreciated Leith’s history until I wrote a small piece for my previous book, A-Z of Edinburgh. I spent a short time walking around parts of Leith and taking photographs, and I knew then that I wanted to write a book about Leith. I spent several months researching the area, taking photographs, and talking to Leithers both online and in person, and I learned so much in the process.

    I was always aware that Leithers were very proud of their heritage and their home, and now I feel I can understand why. There are centuries of history still evident in the very stones and streets – the remains of Leith Citadel date back to the middle of the seventeenth century, and Leith Fort to the late eighteenth century. The street names themselves hark back to a bygone time and Leith’s overseas trading connections – Cadiz Street, Elbe Street, Madeira Street, Timber Bush. Leith’s proud history as a port and docks is all around, from the wonderful Trinity House which was the base of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipbuilders and is now a maritime museum, to the Malmaison Hotel which is in a former sailors’ home, to the Corn Exchange building with its magnificent frieze showing cherubs taking part in sowing, harvesting and transporting the grain which would eventually make its way to Leith. It has survived wars, sieges, bombings, and being amalgamated, against its will, into the city of Edinburgh!

    Swing Bridge Caption - Victoria Swing Bridge built in 1894 to connect the east and west sides of the harbour. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    From the sixteenth century, Leith had been a centre for storage of wine and brandy, and later whisky production and storage. The whisky industry, with its associated trades such as coopering and transporting, employed thousands of people in Leith, and several famous names were created here, including VAT 69 and Highland Queen whiskies, Glayva, Crabbie’s Green Ginger and, unusually, a non-alcoholic drink, Rose’s Lime Juice. Sadly, from there being as many as 100 whisky bonds at the peak of the industry, the last whisky bond closed in 1995, but the buildings still remain, converted into flats or commercial property.

    Shipbuilding was of course another major trade and employer in Leith for many centuries, with the shipyards having built vessels which sailed all over the world. The last Leith shipyard, Henry Robb, closed in 1984 and another great tradition and major employer came to an end.

    Reflections Caption - Reflections of old and new Leith, with modern flats alongside the Malmaison Hotel, situated in the former Sailors' Home of 1885. (c. Authors collection, A-Z of Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    But Leith isn’t all about history. After a decline which saw many sub-standard tenements being demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, property developers began to see its potential for water-front redevelopment. This led to many new properties being built, along with wine bars and expensive restaurants. Old, run-down, historic buildings were repaired and restored, and given new life and a new purpose. This ‘gentrification’ has been, and continues to be, a subject of great debate, as the price of these luxurious new water-front housing developments is far beyond what many long-time Leith residents can afford. The wine bars and restaurants have replaced the pubs and fish and chip shops that had been there for decades. The Shore area in particular has gone from being the haunt of sailors and “ladies of the night” to a place where people arrive from other parts of town or other countries to eat expensive meals and drink expensive wines in Michelin-starred restaurants.

    Despite some of the new developments being given almost a “theme park” image with nautical themes and paraphernalia seemingly randomly dropped in, Leith isn’t just an area looking to its past. Leithers never forget their motto - “Persevere” - and they move forward. There are now many new businesses dealing in design and IT, buildings providing hubs for small businesses, and unique shops and coffee bars serve locals and visitors alike. The area continues to produce writers, artists, and musicians. It remains a vibrant community, proud of its past, but always looking to the future.

    Lisa Sibbald's new book A-Z of Leith is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Richmond & Swaledale by Andrew Graham Stables

    Queen Cartimandua - an Iron Age Soap Opera

    Stanwick Fortifications SE. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Brigantes were an Iron Age tribe who lived throughout the north but mainly inhabited the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham. Their name actually means 'upland people' or 'hill dwellers’, a very appropriate appellation when the Pennines are at the heart of their territory. After the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, the Romans pushed north defeating Caractacus in 51AD and Boudicca in 61AD, but the Queen of the Brigantes chose to collaborate with the Romans. She is even credited with handing the British resistance fighter Caractacus over to the Romans, after he fled north hoping for sanctuary from another indigenous tribe. It should be remembered that Britain was not a nation at this time, but was rather a collection of independent and sometimes hostile tribes, who may have had longer held grievances with their neighbours than the Romans.

    Stanwick Fortifications Sign. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    Just to the north of Richmond are the Stanwick Fortifications, where it is believed the main residence of the Brigantes and their Queen, Cartimandua, was established. By 68AD, York and Catterick were the main northern bases for the Roman invader on the eastern side of the country, Chester being the largest on the west. They protected the main routes north and particularly the Pennine crossing, now known as the A66 or Stainmore Pass. The Catterick fort was situated on the river Swale less than a day’s march (10-12 miles) from the main concentration of Brigantes at Stanwick and excavations at the Stanwick site do show extensive trade with the Romans, demonstrated by pottery and glass objects. This clearly shows there must have been a form of communication and acceptance of the Mediterranean power on the edge of their lands. During excavations at the site hundreds of artefacts were discovered including a money hoard, chariot harnesses, swords and a horse face plate. Some of these are stored and sometimes displayed at the British Museum in London.

    Stanwick Fortifications still visible. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Stanwick site covers a huge area, with the 700 acres of land still clearly defined by the visible and very obvious earthworks, and to put the size of the site into some perspective, the famous Iron Age site of Maiden Castle at Dorchester is a mere 47 acres.

    The historical soap opera that unfolded at this time involved Cartimandua’s husband, who was called Venutius, and it is believed he came from the Carvetti tribe who inhabited Cumbria, maybe as part of a marriage alliance. He was anti-Roman and didn’t agree with his wife’s policies of cooperation with the invaders, which must have led to arguments, as Cartimandua divorced him and instead took his armour bearer as her lover. As you might imagine Venutius was a little upset with this dishonour, so he gathered other disaffected nobles and followers to attack his former wife. The Romans were distracted following the death of Nero and the political turmoil in Rome and Venutius managed to win, taking over the tribe, now hostile to the Roman forces.

    Stanwick Map overmarked to show area. (Author's collection, Secret Richmond & Swaledale, Amberley Publishing)

    By late 69AD the distractions in Rome were resolved and the Romans gathered their forces and very quickly defeated Venutius. There is no further mention in the histories to the fate of Cartimandua, no mention of her death and she seems to have simply fade away from history. This defeat of the Brigantes was the catalyst for the Roman expansion north and they moved from York and Chester, eventually reaching at least as far north as Dundee. This push north only took 10 years and before much longer the Romans established control over the whole of the north of the country.  They eventually fell back to Hadrian’s Wall which became the northern extent of the empire in the 120’s.

    The significance of this lovers tiff is huge, leading to Roman domination for the next 350 years and it all happened in the countryside surrounding Richmond and Swaledale.

    Andrew Graham Stables' new book Secret Richmond & Swaledale is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Bath by Peter Kilby

    I first came to Bath in June of 1966 with my architectural students from the Southampton of College of Art to study first-hand the beauty of this City when, unlike today, all museums were entry free. At midday we had packed lunches on the lawns of Victoria Park in front of John Wood the Younger’s iconic Royal Crescent. At this time the Royal Charter of 1966 was granted for the Bath University of Technology; and work had just finished on the first teaching block, part of what was to become the University of Bath, built on 106 acres of land at Claverton Down. The first degree ceremonies took place in the Bath Assembly Rooms.

    Pedestrianised Abbey Church Yard. (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The ‘A-Z of Bath’ is not a Gazetteer but an overview of interesting places, events and people who have contributed to its rich history. This book therefore is written by an outsider looking in and is a personal perspective seen against a background of history, with subjects in alphabetical order, although the chronology of events is set down in the introduction.

    The name of Jane Austen is inextricably linked with the area following the posthumous publication of her novel ‘Northanger Abbey’ in 1818, a year after her death; which gave a mirror image of the ‘Polite Society’ of Georgian Bath. Ralph Allen, a onetime postmaster of Bath, owned and developed quarries at Combe Down producing the famous honey coloured Bath Stone and granted stone ‘gratis’ for the construction of the Bath Mineral Water Hospital, designed by John Wood the Elder.

    Abbey Church Yard is the epicentre of historic Bath whereas the name suggests a medieval Bath Abbey. The Roman Baths stand nearby from where the alleged healing ‘magical waters’ emerge. The legendary King Bladud had found that warm springs emerging here had cured him of leprosy and a small statue of him is seen on the walls of the King’s Bath as viewed from the Pump Room.

    Aquae Sulis (the Waters of Sulis). (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    Thomas Baldwin rose from humble beginnings to hold the post of City Architect in Bath and was responsible for much of the Georgian architecture. Together with John Wood the Elder and his son John Wood the Younger, they would change the face of Bath forever. The Royal Circus was designed by John Wood the Elder, (and carried out by his son) and he was particularly famous for producing his ‘Map of Bath’ setting out plans for the redevelopment. Both members of the Wood family were not popular with the establishment and had endless opposition to their ground-breaking proposals and ideas. In summary, the Woods developed a scheme of joining five storey terrace houses, in such a way as to achieve an overall palatial effect, which otherwise would not have been individually affordable.

    The coming of the Great Western Railway, from Bristol and onward to London, designed by the brilliant engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened opportunities for ordinary people to travel elsewhere in this country and beyond, and was evidence of the influence of the ‘Industrial Revolution’ of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is recorded that Brunel personally surveyed the route of the railway from Bristol to Bath, travelling by boat on the River Avon accompanied by his solicitor, such was his attention to detail; matched by his confidence when he placed a wager of £1000 that he would be able to travel from Bristol to London in two hours on the new railway.

    John Wood the Elder’s map of 1735, which encapsulates his vision for the future development of Bath. (Reproduced courtesy of Bath Record Office, A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, in the iconic Paragon, were both designed by Thomas Warr Attwood (who was tragically killed later in a building site accident). The Chapel broke the mould of Georgian design and was presented in the neo gothic style for a Methodist Congregation. According to the listing description it was designed ‘to protect residents and visitors from the evils of Bath’s society’.

    Lansdown Crescent, another famous housing scheme, was made famous by its one-time resident the infamous William Beckford. He purchased both numbers 19 and 20 (part of a 20 house development) and in addition a further house in the next road which he interconnected with a bridge. He also built a tower in his garden nearby called Beckford’s Tower, as a retreat and treasury for his immensely valuable art collection, rescued from the forced sale of Fonthill, his former residence, described by Pevsner as ‘the most prodigious romantic folly in England’.

    The name ‘Richard Beau Nash’ epitomises the Georgian Polite Society. As Master of Ceremonies in the Assembly Rooms, he formulated a set of rules as a prerequisite of entry into the social elite and administered by an interview in the Pump Room of the Roman Baths.

    The Pulteney Bridge and Weir from Parade Gardens. (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The Pulteney Bridge, probably the most famous building in Bath including a parade of shops on both sides, which interconnects central Bath with Bathwick on the other side of the River Avon. It was here that immensely rich Pulteney Family tried unsuccessfully to build a new town, which began and never came to fruition. A group of financiers called the ‘Pulteney Association’ did however purchase land, in NY State, USA after the American War of Independence, where a new town called ‘Bath’ was built.

    The medieval Vertue Brothers named Robert and William conceived and made the intricate fan vaulting to the Chancel of the present Abbey, comprising interlocking inverted cones, the crowning feature of today’s Parish Church. Without doubt these two men represent the pinnacle of design and craftsmanship in stone of the entire middle ages and have never been surpassed in absolute excellence.

    Richard I granted Charter No1 to the merchants and tradesmen of Bath giving the right to trade unimpeded, which was a turning point in the towns history, when trade became formalised and the Guildhall recognised as an instrument of local government. The economies of both Bath and its Abbey flourished afterwards in particular with the Wool Trade, immortalised by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Tale in the’ Canterbury Tales’.

    Today Bath Abbey is undergoing significant changes under its ‘Footprint Project’ and we must wait and see the outcome.

    Peter Kilby's new book A-Z of Bath is available for purchase now.

  • King's Lynn From Old Photographs by Robert Pols

    King’s Lynn – Putting Names to the Legacy

    Amy Purdy took a risk when using volatile flash powder to illuminate the gloom of the Clifton House vault. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    My recently-published King’s Lynn from Old Photographs is not the first book to offer an early pictorial record of the town, and I don’t suppose it will be the last. Lynn’s rich past is still evident to any resident or visitor prepared to explore a little further afield than the town-centre shops, and a wealth of photographs has survived from that past. There really is room for a number of books investigating the borough’s heritage through pictures. Any one book, however, needs to have its own identity and character. The writer will, naturally, want it to be a bit different from the others, and when I started to explore the pictorial possibilities for King’s Lynn from Old Photographs, I knew what I wanted that difference to be.

    Books of old photographs routinely comment on what the illustrations show. They also, quite rightly, give credit to those who have allowed images from their collections to be reproduced. There is often, however, something missing: credit is rarely given to the people who took the photographs, and that has always seemed to me a great pity. Often, of course, the photographs (particularly those on postcards) are anonymous. Many, though, can be attributed, and I was anxious, whenever I could, to use attributable photographs in the book. Where possible, I was also keen to say a little about those photographers – about their careers, about the way they marketed themselves, and about the practical problems they faced when they took their cameras away from the studio and out into the field. Clearly the book was not the place for any lengthy discussion of these pioneers and their working lives, but some passing glimpses into their world seemed justified.

     

     

    A Lynn amateur photographer records the genteel custom of taking tea in the garden. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    To strengthen the books attention to those who created its images, I suggested – and Amberley agreed to – chapters devoted specifically to their studio and out-of-studio work. I’m not sure how often one can expect the publisher of an established and successful series to humour authorial whims, but it’s certainly a humouring for which I’m grateful, and I believe it has helped create a distinctive character for the book.

    The focus on photographers has been reinforced in two other ways. One of these is the use of images from a collection of glass negatives by an early Edwardian amateur photographer from the town. His name remains undiscovered, but his pictures allow us to meet his wife and family, show us a privileged way of life, and give an insight into the pleasures of what was, for those who could afford it, a golden age. Since his curiosity also took him beyond house and garden, his pictures make a telling contribution too, to the record of local places and events.

    The second boost comes in the form of words rather than pictures. From 1898 to 1900 James Speight, a young member of a Rugby family of photographers, worked as assistant to Lynn photographer Jasper Wright, and James kept a diary. Some of the entries deal with studio life, but his social life and events in the town are also reflected, and it is these latter aspects of the diary that have been used in the books captions to illuminate such diverse topics as modern traffic, fires as a spectator sport, public interest in the Boer War and the pleasures of dressing up.

     

    No name appears on this postcard of the Bentinck Dock, but the caption’s distinctive handwriting points firmly to ‘The Don’. (King's Lynn From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    In a variety of ways, therefore, I have been able to place some emphasis on King’s Lynn’s photographers, and I am indebted to Amberley for allowing me to indulge this enthusiasm. The final total of attributed images in the book is comfortably over 60 per cent. I’d like to have reached a higher percentage, but many of the illustrations derive from postcards, and a very high proportion of postcards was published anonymously. Indeed, some of the attributed postcards in this book have been rescued from anonymity only by captions in recognisable handwriting.

    The overall result is, I hope, a book that not only provides a snapshot of King’s Lynn in Victorian and Edwardian times (and sometimes a little later), but that also goes some way towards celebrating the men and women who have given us such a varied and vivid view of the town’s past.

    Robert Pols' new book King's Lynn From Old Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Derby, Lowell & Joseph Wright

    Derby has a long-established but little known connection with the American mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, stemming from the Derby family of Francis Boott. He was a market gardener, florist and seedsman with premises in Derby Market Place and a house in Queen Street. He died suddenly in middle life leaving seven children, amongst whom was Kirk Boott (1756-1817). In January 1783, the artist Joseph Wright’s elder brother John decided to accompany his life-long friend Kirk Boott to America too seek their fortune. They proceeded to London, where they appeared to have enjoyed two months enjoying the high life, before Boott took a ship to Boston, but leaving Wright behind. He arrived on 13th June 1783 and shortly afterwards married Mary Love, daughter of the Captain of the ship Rosamund on which he had crossed the Atlantic.

    Why John Wright stayed behind is something of a mystery, but the explanation probably lies in those two months socialising in London. It would now seem that he had been offered a job, and indeed, he became a banker, rising to a partnership in the concern of Messrs. Smith, Wright and Gray, Lombard Street. It is well known that he stayed in touch with Boott, for the latter named his eldest son John Wright Boott (born 1788) after him. Like the Derby Lunar Society luminary John Whitehurst FRS, whom he undoubtedly knew well, John Wright later corresponded with Benjamin Franklin. Indeed, Whitehurst may have arranged an introduction when Wright decided to remain in London. It is possible too that he was able to provide the finance for his friend Boott.

    Joseph Wright: The Indian Widow… (1785). (c. Derby Museums Trust)

    According to Brad Parker, Kirk sent enthusiastic letters back to John Wright and his sister, Mrs. Horrocks, from the time of his arrival, most of which appear to be lost but their contents is to some extent reflected in his journal. It also seems likely that he also sent artefacts in exchange for saleable goods. That some of the earliest letters may have well included the material that inspired Joseph Wright to paint The Indian Widow, completed by 1785, carries more conviction than the suggestions floated by Benedict Nicolson, and concur with his asseveration that some of the detail of the picture – tomahawk, knife, head-dress – may have been painted from life.

    In Boston, Boott established an import/export business, which included introducing the US elite to Derby Porcelain, compass dials (of which the latter could well have been products of Whitehurst’s Derby works) and many other mainly local products. He was naturalized a US citizen in November 1787 becoming very wealthy, leaving at his death in 1817 five sons and four daughters

     The most important outcome of this migration lay in the career of Boott’s third son, Kirk (1790-1837). Whilst the eldest son initially returned to London to run that end of the family business, Kirk II  was sent to England to be educated, going to school in Ashbourne and then Rugby and making numerous visits to family in Derby. After returning to study for three years at Harvard, he went back to Britain to join the army, seeing action in the Peninsula campaign 1812-1814 before getting a peacetime posting at Sheffield Garrison as a Captain in the 85th Regiment.

    He visited Derby frequently at this time, staying at St. Helen’s House with William Strutt, the Wrights, and his aunt, Mrs. John Horrocks. In 1818 he married Anne, a daughter of Alderman Dr. Thomas Haden, physician and protégé of Erasmus Darwin, who had been mayor of Derby in 1811 and 1819. Dr. Haden had been painted by Joseph Wright (as Edwin) when a child (and, as an adult, by Reinagle in 1813), and had been the junior partner and successor of Joseph’s second brother Richard in his medical practice in St. Alkmund’s Church Yard. Kirk Boott himself visited the local textile mills in 1817–18 as the guest of their co-proprietor, Strutt. Once married, however, he resigned his commission and returned to America. Anne and her sister Sarah Haden had been painted as children in 1796 by Joseph Wright, but Mary, Mrs. Francis Boott (née Tunaley of Derby, wife of Kirk Boott II’s elder brother) later had it copied by Wright’s friend John Holland of Ford in 1803 and from that had an engraving made. In 1954 the Ford copy was with Mrs. Robert Haydock of Dedham, Mass. a descendant and her kinsman, David Richardson of Charles River Mass., apparently owned the original.

    From 1821 Boott was co-founder with Francis Cabot Lowell, Nathan Appleton and Patrick T. Jackson of a new settlement at East Chelmsford, of the confluence of the Merrimack and Pawtucket rivers in Massa­chusetts. This was to be a cotton-spinning city, and Boott’s role was to set it up and run it. He had hoped to call it Derby, but the sudden death of Lowell led to its being given his name instead. Lowell himself had been the scion of a patrician family of Boston merchants and he had also visited Britain and originated the idea of a model textile industry in New England to rival Samuel Slater’s Pawtucket Mills, set up a little before using ideas pirated from the Strutts at Belper. Boott, on the other hand, had the support of the Strutts in his enterprise, which was an important difference.

    Kirk Boott of Lowell, unknown artist. (Collections of the Lowell Historical Society, A-Z of Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1824, Boott appointed Rev Theodore Edson as incumbent of his new settlement and personally designed St Anne’s Church, which he based on St. Michael’s, Derby, in which he had been married, whereas the dedication was in honour of his wife. It will come as no surprise that the Edgeworths (offspring and sister of the Lunar Society maverick Irish landowner Richard Lovel Edgeworth, who had extensive American property) kept William Strutt fully informed of Boott’s enter­prise, which appear to have continued to have Strutt’s blessing.

    Like Strutt, too, Boott was a competent architect, designing not only the church but workers’ housing, mills and municipal buildings, some of which survive. In the end, the City of Lowell was a great success.

    Francis, a son of the Boott’s eldest brother, who had returned to London, later married Kirk Boott’s daughter, Eliza Haden Boott, and their daughter Mary married her English cousin Charles Sydenham Haden, thus squaring the Derby circle yet again. One of the entrepreneurs attracted to the new city by Boott was George Washington Whistler, who set up a works to construct railway locomotives there in 1832. His son was the eminient London based impressionist painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, later brother-in-law – and eventually, as with most of his friends, sworn enemy – of Boott’s nephew Sir Francis Seymour Haden, etcher and eminent surgeon. Boott himself was killed in a street accident in 1837, but his legacy – and posterity – continued.

    Exactly how much of Strutt’s own idealism and ingenuity went into Lowell and its extensive mills it is impossible to say, but the Derby intellectual revolution of the 18th century was a fundamental inspi­ration at Lowell and if it should prove to have been international in its consequences no one should be surprised. After all, had not Bostonian Benjamin Franklin been a friend of Darwin’s, a frequent guest of Whitehurst’s and eminence grise of the Lunar Society?

    Whilst Kirk Boott the elder imported and sold the products of William Duesbury’s Derby China factory, the two families seem to have remained in touch, for much later the under-rated William Duesbury III (invariably portrayed as a talentless ne’er-do-well by China enthusiasts) sold his interest in the china works in 1815 in order to set up a white paint factory at Bonsall using a new process of his own devising, omitting the toxic lead element. Indeed, Duesbury was a formidably talented chemist, but ahead of his time by about 150 years. The business at Bonsall failed, after which he went to America, following in the footsteps of his scallywag of an uncle, James Duesbury. Having known Boott from his Derby days, he settled in Lowell almost from its foundation as an industrial chemist working on dyes for the fabrics being manufactured there. He was a convinced Universalist also like Boott and William Strutt a competent architect, designing for his sect a fine chapel in Shattuck Street, Lowell. Once ensconced in the Massachusetts city he also married again – perhaps bigamously, for we do not know the fate of his first family in Derby. He duly fathered more children, before, tragically, doing away with himself for reasons that remain obscure, on 12 December 1845. Apparently, he was by no means the last migrant from Derby to settle at Lowell, the city’s textile mills attracting a significant proportion of their workforce from Derby and its region.

    Needless to say, this and many other well-known and not-so well-known aspects of Derby’s rich heritage are to be found in the pages of An A to Z of Derby.

    Maxwell Craven's new book A-Z of Derby is available for purchase now.

  • John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire by Alan Spree

    This is a short insight into the story behind the publication of my book, John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire. I am sure that, in common with many others who have written similar books, I later found postcards that I would have liked to have included in the book so I have taken the opportunity to show some of these here.

    The Weir at Gunthorpe. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    In the summer of 1997 I was in Nottingham and was browsing through books in W.H. Smith on Lister Gate when I came across a booklet in the ‘Yesterdays Nottinghamshire’ series entitled ‘Wollaton’ by David Ottewell. As I was born in that area I flicked through it and was surprised to find some postcards with the name J. Spree on them. After some family history research and talking to my father I gathered more information about John Henry Spree, my great grandfather, and started putting notes together along with any images I could find of his postcards. This research brought up childhood memories when my grandfather, Reginald Spree, who bought me my first camera and taught me how to take photos, and then develop and print them in his darkroom, which I now know was set up by his father John Henry Spree. I remember boxes of prints and negatives in a corner of that room which my grandfather referred to on a number of occasions, I now realise that they were the negatives and prints of images taken by my great grandfather. Unfortunately these were destroyed many years later by the American son of my late grandfather’s second wife. He travelled to the UK, without informing the Spree family of her death, to sell the property inherited from my grandfather and disposed of or destroyed items he did not want. As I was working in Germany at the time and my Mother, Father and sister lived in Australia our contact with my grandfather’s second wife had been limited but we were still disappointed that no apparent effort had been made to contact us.

    Parliament Street. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As time moved on and the internet became more readily available I collected more images and then began purchasing the original postcards. This collection I gradually put together as a family history booklet. I was surprised to find during my continuing search for Spree postcards that the Lenton Local History Society had also researched my great grandfather and published an article on him in their magazine the Lenton Times which was then followed up with an article in the Picture Postcard Magazine. Because of the interest generated I decided to try and publish my own book which resulted in the Amberley Publication John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire.

    School of Art Nottingham. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    John Henry Spree published over 1000 postcards, initially in East Sussex and then in the East Midlands. My book contains 220 images taken by John Henry Spree in the period from 1915, when he moved to Nottingham from Hastings, until his death in 1932. I have captioned the images with information on the location and where applicable included historical text researched on the internet.

    I have also included sections on how I identified some Spree postcards which did not have his name on them, a short family history before and after his death and one on how he took, developed, printed and captioned his postcards.

    Lenton Church Crossing in 1884. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Putting the information into a publishable book was a long process with a steep learning curve as this was the first time that I had attempted to do that. Along the way I found some interesting facts and a few points that raised questions that will probably never be answered. At times I wondered if John Henry Spree occasionally travelled with another photographer or he sold or shared his images with others as I found that five images, either identical or obviously taken at the same time, had been duplicated by others and published as postcards. Also on one occasion I found that John Henry Spree used an old photograph of Lenton Church and Crossing, dated many years prior to his move to Nottingham, to make a postcard that he published, this incidentally is not included in the book as it was found after publication.

    The whole process has been very rewarding especially some of the very nice comments on Facebook group websites dedicated to Nottingham where many images of Spree postcards had already been uploaded by members. The administrators of two of these groups have also kindly allowed me to advertise my book on their websites.

    I am now well into the process of publishing two further books, one on Postcards of Hasting and St Leonards between 1900 and 1918, which includes some early postcards from John Henry Spree, and another on the complete range of British produced Military Dinky Toys.

    Alan Spree's new book John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire is available for purchase now.

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