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  • Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time by Mark Turner

    When arriving at the North Cotswolds town of Moreton-in-Marsh as a fresh-faced young policeman in 1981 thoughts of producing a pictorial history of the place were probably far from my mind. Earlier, however, as a youngster raised in the Welsh border town of Monmouth, I had long been fascinated by local history, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I soon found myself thinking as much about Moreton’s historical development as its potential as a place of criminal activity. Fortunately, Moreton-in-Marsh is a low-crime area and I was able to balance the requirements of my job with my enthusiasm for local history!

    Drury's Butcher's Shop, High Street. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    I quickly discovered that relatively little had been written about the place. A few pamphlets and essays had been compiled, certainly, but these were all well out of date, long since out of print, and difficult to obtain. Luckily, an enthusiastic local butcher had collected a few hundred old postcards of Moreton, although these were at that time being stored in the cellar of a farmhouse on the edge of town. I accessed these pictures, copied and indexed them and used them as the basis of a slide show that I then began presenting to local groups and societies. Additionally, when ‘on the beat’ in the town, I often found myself chatting with senior citizens and elderly residents – the conversations invariably turning to memories and photographs of days past. Many of these people kindly loaned or gave me old photographs of Moreton and over some years I amassed an unsurpassed local collection of historic images. To date, this collection amounts to some 1,200 old photographs. The butcher (long-deceased) would no doubt be proud!

    US Tanks, High Street Service Road. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Inevitably, many of the photographs are of cricket and football teams, school pupils and local committees or social gatherings. Valuable though these pictures are, they do not really illustrate the town’s physical appearance. Luckily, there are numerous photographs, too, of Moreton’s streets and buildings and in many cases long-forgotten shops and business premises are shown in their heyday. I have also acquired rare and nostalgic photographs of the local railway station in the steam locomotive era, as well as nineteenth-century images of long-vanished industrial premises, such as Moreton’s rope works and former iron foundry. Particularly unusual are photographs – surreptitiously snapped by a local schoolgirl – of American tanks gathered in the High Street awaiting embarkation to France for D-Day.

    As well as giving occasional presentations of my historic pictures, I have, over the years, gone on to produce a number of books about Gloucestershire, and the Cotswolds in particular. Moreton-in-Marsh is a small town, however, and it seemed likely that my photographic collection would merely remain the basis for talks to local societies. And then I became aware of Amberley’s ‘Through Time’ series of publications and the potential at last for some of my photographs to reach a wider audience. I put forward a proposal, which was positively received, and Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is the end result. The book, which is a beautifully-presented collection of evocative images, has been greeted with enthusiasm and is already selling well. It is likely to be of interest to local residents and visitors alike and, when walking around the town, people will find it a particularly handy guide to Moreton’s ever-changing streets and buildings. Why not get a copy and come and visit this lovely town for yourself?

    Mark Turner's new book Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

    When burials in churches were banned in Scotland.

    Plaque on the site of the monastery. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    One of my favourite parts of Secret Dumfries was a quote from Alf Truckell’s preface to the 1928 edition of McDowall’s History of Dumfries. He gave a colourful and somewhat startling account of events in the year 1607, taken from the town’s Privy Council records: ‘A man tries to strangle a boy with a garter and throws him in the Mill Dam in March: the King’s messenger comes through the town in May, to find the inhabitants dressed in green and armed for the May Play: a couple of Baillie’s sons take up the cry “a Lorebourne”, their fathers repeat it: shots are fired and horses wounded: the Messenger and his men flee: church burials have been outlawed some years before, a family break open the church door with tree-trunks and bury a dead relative within, whereupon another family hurry home, grab a corpse, and bury it, and a third family dig up an uncle and are about to bury him when the Law finally turns up…’

    I was especially intrigued by the references to church burials and how determined people were to defy the law and bury their relatives within the church itself. I had no time to do further research into when and why burials inside churches became illegal.

    I read the extract at the launch of Secret Dumfries and was delighted when someone emailed me a part of an article from a magazine which said The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland outlawed church burials, which it deemed idolatrous, in 1576. Anyone breaking the new rule could be suspended from the church until they repented publicly (did they have to remove the body?) and minsters who allowed the practice would also be suspended.

    St Mary's Church. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    There were other good reasons for discontinuing the burial of bodies within the church. Before the Reformation wealthy and influential people such as the lairds (landed estate owners) were buried inside the church – sometimes beneath the family pew. This reduced the space available for the congregation. Also, bodies were not always interred very deeply and the smell of decomposition would have been unpleasant to say the least. Parishioners sometimes brought their dogs to church and dogs like nothing better than to dig up bones.

    I almost included a paragraph in Secret Dumfries saying this practice of sometimes shallow interment inside churches gave rise to the expression ‘stinking rich’. I’m so glad my word count was at its limit and I didn’t because, according to the website https://www.phrases.org.uk, apparently the expression only came into use in the twentieth century.

    The 1576 act was repeated in 1588, 1631 and in 1643, which is probably a good indication of people’s resistance to it. One rather extreme, and unpleasant, example occurred in 1607 in Durisdeer, near Dumfries. Adam Menzies, laird of Enoch had buried his young son in his family’s aisle of the kirk. Sir James Douglas, a staunch Presbyterian, of Drumlanrig had servants dig up the child’s body and rebury it in a shallow grave away from the church. Adam Menzies and his wife, who had just had another child, were understandably very upset. Despite being attacked by the minister, he reburied his son’s body in the kirk and appealed to the Privy Council. Although he was breaking the law regarding burials inside a church, the Privy Council took his side, allowing his child to remain in the family’s burial aisle.

    As for the family who used tree trunks to break down the door in the Dumfries church and set off a chain reaction as quoted at the start of this article, I was very pleased to learn his identity. According to Maureen M. Meikle in her book, The Scottish People 1490-1625, it was a John Irving who wanted to bury his mother.

    Mary Smith and Keith Kirk's new book Secret Dumfries is available for purchase now.

  • Jarrow at Work by Paul Perry

    People and Industries Through the Years

    Jarrow A.F.C. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There was a time when there was not a town called Jarrow, fields streams and riverbanks were all that existed. Eventually settlements were raised in the area around the banks of the River Don. Without doubt, the most memorable of the early settlements was an order of Benedictine Monks at the monastery at Donmouth as Jarrow was referred to in the 6th century. This was home to the town’s most celebrated resident the Venerable Bede: monk. Scholar, historian and very probably one of the most remarkable men this country has ever produced, who was responsible for writing the oft referred to Northumbrian Chronicles, one of the few learned works to survive from those dark days in the mists of time. Jarrow at this time was a centre of learning, a beacon of light in an otherwise dark age.

    Railway Station Grant Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If all that Jarrow had to offer history was a monk and a book it would still be worthy of note and recognition, but the town had so much more to give. The proximity of mineral resources and water borne transportation gave rise to the period of industrialisation which dominated the life and prosperity of the town from the eighteenth century to recent times. The shipyards, steelworks, coal mines, chemical plants and its connection with the fuel industry, have all in turn contributed towards the growth, wealth and success of the town.

    Amos Butcher Shop, Albert Road. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    When talking of Jarrow, it is not always possible to talk of light and life. No work which ever purports in any way to tell the story of the town can ignore and portray the hardship and privation suffered by its people during the interwar years of the great depression. Subject to a greater rate of unemployment than any other borough in the land, Jarrow came to epitomise the desperate state of affairs endured by so much of industrial Britain during that period.

    Ferry Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing, depression and wars included, lasts forever, and the post war years saw a welcome and marked improvement in the well-being of the town and its people. This improvement took many forms: new schools, public houses, recreational facilities, a state of the art shopping complex, but most importantly the rehousing of thousands of residents to Jarrow’s own garden suburb, Primrose.

    For many years, the Borough of Jarrow had been subject to a programme of ongoing changes and refurbishment, with the construction of a network of ring roads skirting the town, removed the burden of pollution from industrial and constant heavy traffic from the town centre. Together with the introduction of the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1955, the town was once again looking forward to a brighter future. The working base of the town has undergone equally radical alteration. None of the former lucrative heavy industries of old exist. Today many would consider Jarrow as a dormitory town. In strict legal terms, the Borough of Jarrow no longer exists, amalgamated in 1974 with the much larger borough of South Tyneside. Instead, many would consider Jarrow a dormitory town, home to the office and retail personnel of the commercial enterprises of the surrounding area.

    Station Hotel Ellison Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    As the 21st century dawned, there was little or no evidence of any industrial activity in Jarrow, as very few relics of the town survive any more. The shipyards and rolling mills have been replaced with industrial business parks. Although these parks provide employment in the town and contribute heavily towards its ongoing economy, they seem somewhat soulless. No longer do we build ships or even repair them, long gone are the slipways and dry docks which were once the throbbing heart of the town.

    Monkton terrace. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    We must be eternally grateful to the amateur historians of the last two centuries who trawled the streets and shipyards with their cameras taking photographs for future generations to enjoy. Through their eyes, they left us a legacy of images of times past that we must treasure and preserve. Without these images, the history and heritage of the town would be almost impossible to piece together. The history of Jarrow is a vital link with the past, not only for ourselves, but more importantly for future generations. Through the days of triumph and tragedy, the outstanding feature of Jarrow has been its people. Famous writers, singers, local characters and villains have grown up in the town, but it is the ordinary Jarovian possessing a rare mixture of honesty, decency and good humour that has given the town its unique personality. In return all are marked forever by the town and have a genuine affection for it and proud to be called Jarra’ lads and lasses.

    Paul Perry's new book Jarrow at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Westbury Cement Works by Simon Knight

    The chimney standing tall over the partly demolished site. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    When I started covering the demolition of the cement works, I hadn’t originally planned on turning my time spent there into a book. But as the hours spent on site accumulated, I began to realise that there was more to the place than just old, dusty buildings. It was a place that was once alive. It was a place that was important. And it was a place that should be remembered.

    Once I knew that there was to be a book on the horizon, it changed my approach to my visits to the noisy site; where machines slowly tracked around digging, hammering and cutting up the remnants of a once thriving industry. I now had to make sure that I took plenty of still images from both the drone and ground-based camera, rather than just shooting video; I had to record as much as possible. And with thoughts of the book constantly with me during those visits, I would begin to explore the cement works with renewed intrigue.

     

     

    Kiln construction in 1962. (Credit Tarmac Ltd., Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I was given permission to use archive black and white pictures that were taken during the construction of the site. I love taking pictures and I love looking at pictures and I found it truly fascinating trawling through them all. There were pictures taken during the construction of the two huge rotary kilns, the chimneys, the quarry, the entire construction had been documented. Looking back in time at a place that I had become so familiar with only added to my fascination of the works.

    I now also had the perfect excuse to spend more time with something that I am truly passionate about – wildlife. I would spend hours walking over the long since used clay pile in search of butterflies, reptiles and wild flowers. The wildlife that lived at the back of the site lay in juxtaposition with the silence shattering and ground shaking machinery that that operated on a daily basis for eighteen months. Despite the disturbance, life went on for the mammalian, avian and reptilian life that inhabited the cement works. The highlight of my time spent with the wildlife was watching a family of Peregrine falcons. I was in the privileged position to be able to watch the parent birds rear their three chicks whilst I was concealed away in a building that once delivered cement clinker via a conveyor belt. It was dusty (as was the entire place) and uncomfortable, but it was worth every minute.

    Female Peregrine. (Credit: Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I also learned of a far more ancient form of wildlife that once existed at the works. During the excavation of the clay that was used in the cement making process, many prehistoric fossils were unearthed. The fossil rich Kimmeridge clay, present as a sedimentary layer under the works, was a graveyard to many prehistoric marine reptiles from the Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. The most famous of these reptiles was ‘Doris’, an eight metre long pliosaur. Her story would eventually see her end up with a new resting place, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. When I was in the museum photographing Doris, I couldn’t believe that the first visit to the works had led me to this very moment, where I was stood facing the fossilised remains of one of the most ferocious marine predators that ever lived!

     

     

    The life-sized model of Doris displayed in the Bristol Museum. (Credit Simon Knight/Bristol Culture, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    Some of the time spent on site was frustrating and not so enjoyable. There were days when the weather wasn’t cooperative. Wind and rain would ground the drones and made stills photography challenging, sometimes impossible. Probably the most frustrating issue to deal with was when parts of the demolition didn’t go as planned. Occasionally there would be a building or structure that wasn’t prepared to give up its fifty-year grip on the land. This would lead to me being on site for most of the day, when the plan had been for that particular part of the works to be on the ground before the morning was out. During this time all I could do was hang around and wait.

    Of course, from a demolition perspective, the highlight of the entire eighteen months was the works iconic 400ft tall chimney coming down. The landmark that was visible and known for miles around, came crashing to the ground at 7am on 18th September 2016. It was an exciting and nervous morning for my crew of four that had set up cameras and piloted drones to record the memorable event. It was a morning that none of us will forget.

    The fallen chimney. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    This was my first book, and it did feel somewhat strange when I received my copies of it. Here I was, holding a book that had been professionally published – with my name on the front! It was something that I had dreamt about for a long time. I mean, doesn’t everybody want to write a book? But now it had actually happened, it didn’t feel real somehow. I was proud of it, I knew that much, but there was also some trepidation lurking within – how would it be received?

    Something else that was very strange to me was having to do the local press pieces. I never produced the book to get attention. I’m a somewhat shy and quiet person and I am not a huge fan of being on the lens side of the camera, so being interviewed by the local press was a very alien experience to me to say the least!

     

     

    Simon Knight posing for the Wiltshire Times with some of the former cement works employees. (Credit: Siobhan Boyle/Wiltshire Times, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    What was very enjoyable though was the small get together that I organised with Nigel Osman (the cement works site manager) for some of the works former employees to celebrate the launch of the book. It was lovely to meet them, and they had some fond memories of life at the cement works. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years and a good time was had by all. These were the people that I had really produced the book for.

    One employee said something to me that meant more than anything anyone could have said. It struck a chord with me and proved that to some people at least, the book meant something. He said, ‘It’s good that you have taken the time to do the book. This place employed generations of family members, was a good employer and it’s important that it’s remembered’.

    This really did mean a lot to me. This was the reason I produced the book and I now knew that it had been worth the effort.

     

    Simon Knight's new book Westbury Cement Works is available for purchase now.

  • Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote by Sue Slack

    Light blue silk Cambridge University Women's Suffrage Society banner, which survives at Newham College. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    Every schoolgirl knows that it was Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragettes who gained some women the vote in 1918, or was it?

    Certainly the stories of their daring protests and their challenge to the status quo, at a time when women were not expected to speak in public, has an appeal to modern advocates of girl power.

    In Cambridge the Suffragettes did not disappoint, planting improvised bombs at Great Shelford station and the rugby club, mutilating volumes at St John’s College Library and allegedly daubing Votes for Women on the gates at St John’s College – which later turned out to be an undergraduate prank.

    Suffragette teacher Miriam Pratt, from Norwich, also committed arson in Storey’s Way, burning two houses aided and abetted by Olive Bartels, the local WSPU organiser and chief aide to Emmeline Pankhurst.

    Olive and Grace Roe, the East Anglian WSPU organiser, were members of the Bodyguard who protected Emmeline Pankhurst from police brutality and from capture. The Bodyguard were trained in jiu jitsu and often acted as decoys to allow Mrs Pankhurst to escape dressed in large hats and veils. They also used weapons to protect themselves from increasingly violent treatment and even sexual assault from the police. Hat pins and Indian clubs were sometimes used and barbed wire could be secreted in their bouquets or muffs.

     

     

     

    The Great Pilgrimage, July 1913, reaches Howfield in Buckingham Road, the home of Agnes Ramsey. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the Suffragettes were only ever a small but determined group campaigning for the vote from 1903-14.  The numbers of NUWSS members (Suffragists) far surpassed those of the WSPU locally (around 500 members to about 20 known Suffragettes) and were led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, whose statue (as seen on the book’s cover) was unveiled on Parliament Square in April this year, 100 years since some women got the  vote.

    MiIlicent lived with her husband, Henry at Brookside Cambridge where a blue plaque was at last installed in February this year, to commemorate her contribution to women’s education and to women’s rights in Cambridge at the time. Newnham College, the second female college in Cambridge, was developed with her and her husband’s help along with Henry Sidgewick and others. She also began the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Society despite the untimely death of her husband.

     

     

    'Convicts, lunativs and women' could not vote. This poster shows an educated woman to be a disability, with her academic books the other side of the gate. (By kind permission of the syndics of Camridge University Library, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    The society patiently and determinedly campaigned for the vote for about 40 years until 1928 when all women had the vote at 21, on the same terms as men at last.

    They held meetings, market stalls and marches including the spectacular Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913 which eventually converged on Hyde Park to show the media that the Suffragists were as determined as the Suffragettes to have the vote, but were prepared to suffer six weeks of hardship to prove their non militant point. Newnham and Girton students and tutors marched alongside the beautiful blue banner with the slogan “Better is wisdom than weapons of War” aptly displaying their pacifist ethos. This banner still exists at Newnham College.

    Colourful pageants and plays were also held to illustrate their aims.

    “Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote” is illustrated with previously unseen portraits of local Suffragettes and Suffragists taken from the Palmer Clarke glass negative collection held in the Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library.

    Recently discovered Suffrage posters at the Cambridge University Library are also included as well as modern day photos showing some of the iconic Cambridge scenes associated with women’s suffrage, which are well known to tourists and students down the ages.

    Sue Slack's new book Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Preston by Keith Johnson

    An Alphabetical Adventure

    The Preston curlers getting welcome practice in 1933. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Perhaps, like myself, you are fascinated with the history of your town or city that has been shaped by generations of local folk with their vision for the future, or been affected by events nationwide or global. I was delighted when Amberley asked me to compile this A-Z of Preston enabling me to bring together significant, or simply fascinating, features of Preston's past.

    This A-Z guide of Preston, Lancashire, is all about its people, places and past times. It is an opportunity to admire the progress from the days of poverty and pestilence to the city of today. If you glimpse the Index you will soon observe it is not a definitive guide to Preston in an alphabetical or content sense, but a journey from the deep past to the present day, in the place known as 'Proud Preston'.

    The Costume Ball at the Corn Exchange, 1862. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, A could have been for Arkwright or Avenham Park but it is not, although they both get a mention in the script. Likewise, C could have been for the cotton woven into Preston's history, instead that cherished industry is recalled within the letter L and the days of cotton lords, with C in my A-Z simply reserved for curling. Nor is F for Finney because Sir Tom is listed with the Knights, instead F is for the Fazackerleys who were a law unto themselves. Neither is H for Harris, but instead it is for Horology and the keeping of time in our city. R could have been for religion considering the number of churches, but instead I opted for our railways. Nor is Z for the Zoological Gardens that once graced Farringdon Park, but for the Zebra crossings we use every day.

     

     

     

    The clock of St Ignatius. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    This book is not confined to the traditional constraints of an A-Z merely listing everything and everybody from a place or time. It is an attempt to put together various historical elements, tales and anecdotes, being ever aware that many events and tales have been chronicled in my previous books, along with those books published by other local authors whom I much admire. In truth, it is a collection of features that I found fascinating to discover and I hope will entertain you.

    For each letter of the alphabet there were generally many options, but I hope you find the themes chosen as interesting, quirky, or indeed, as compelling as I did. Some of the folk are almost forgotten now, but their endeavours and adventures are well worth recalling. In many cases their achievements have been amazing and enthralling, contributing much to history's rich tapestry.

    There are people who left town to seek fame and fortune, and others who lingered or dwelt here a while and left a large footprint on our streets. Adventurers, historians, illustrators, entrepreneurs, knights, lords, politicians, preachers, lawyers, law makers and law breakers all left their mark and deserve a look into their lives. The footballer, the baseball player, the pugilist and the cyclist all added to the sporting splendour of the town that is now a city.  Many of the people recalled brought forth excitement, energy and enthusiasm and shrugged off disillusion, despair and dread.

     

    George Sharples - a pioneer in Preston. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    There are features about famine and feast, telegrams and telephones, umbrellas and the weather, steam trains and railway tracks, electioneering and rioting, buildings and their clocks, not forgetting those temperance pioneers dubbed the 'Seven Men of Preston' who earned the admiration of many.

    Yes, there are dancing days and nights recalled, trips to the seaside and beyond, a tale of the gold rush days, cinemas and X rated offerings, the days when royalty thought us worthy of a visit to town and the times when novelist Charles Dickens came to town.

    To plot this A-Z path through Preston's history I have taken many twists and turns and I hope you feel that I had a worthwhile and nostalgic journey that is an alphabetic adventure. This historical reflection takes us through centuries of fascination, and loiters a while in the decades of the recent past. Hopefully, the book provides a few more of the missing pieces of the jigsaw of Preston life and makes the picture a little clearly. It is apparent that the day to day achievements of our ancestors left a rich legacy and, after all, we should remember that what we create today will be history tomorrow.

    Keith Johnson's new book A-Z of Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Aldershot by Paul H. Vickers

    What is ‘secret’ about the history of Aldershot? The story of Aldershot’s growth from a small, rural village to the famous ‘home of the British Army’ and a thriving town has been told in various publications, including my previous Amberley titles Aldershot’s Military Heritage, Aldershot Through Time, and Aldershot History Tour. However, within the overall narrative there are many lesser-known stories of people and events which add to the richness of Aldershot’s history and give added insights into the making of the town’s unique character.

    The promontory of Caesar's Camp, seen from Long Bottom. (Secret Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

    The impression is sometimes given that Aldershot’s story only begins with the arrival of the Army in the mid-nineteenth century, but the area has been inhabited since ancient times. Secret Aldershot begins by delving back into early history and looking at some of the mysteries of archaeological sites such as Bat’s Hog Stye and Caesar’s Camp, the medieval village and the great landowning families, and how even tiny Aldershot was not immune from the violence of the English Civil War.

    Some of the stories revealed in the book were genuinely ‘secret’ as the files were highly classified when they were created and have only recently come into the public domain. The plans for defending the garrison against German invasion in World War Two were, of course, a wartime secret. Study of these reveals not only disagreements among generals about what were the priority area for protection but also that work on the defences progressed so slowly that they were unlikely to have been any real obstacle to an advancing invader. Equally classified were details of an underground headquarters into which the command staff would have moved in the event of attack from land or air, and how a Tunnelling Company of Royal Engineers struggled to build this in extremely difficult conditions and against a tight timetable. Moving to the Cold War era, the previously Top Secret 1960s mobilisation plans for Aldershot in the event of a nuclear world war have only recently been declassified and made available at the National Archives, and details are published for the first time in this book.

    Print of 1872 showing Fell's Aldershot railway viaduct. (Secret Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

    There are numerous events which were notorious at the time but have since been forgotten, such as the problems with maintaining law and order for both the civilian and military authorities. Owing to sensational stories in the national press of trouble and vice in Aldershot’s many pubs, beer-halls and cheap music halls, Aldershot gained a reputation for crime, drunkenness and immorality. Notoriously, in 1861 Captain Pilkington Jackson, who was ordered by the Secretary of State for War to report on conditions in Aldershot, said the town was “inhabited principally by Publicans, Brothel Keepers, Prostitutes, Thieves and Receivers of stolen property”, which predictably caused outrage among the local citizens when this was published in the national press. Such was the reputation of Aldershot that into the story came Victorian and Edwardian moralists and campaigners who were determined to reform the town and turn soldiers away from temptation to the paths of virtue.

    The Infirmary Stables, c. 1993. (c. AMM, Secret Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite these early scandals, Aldershot has a great deal to be proud of. It was the site of many pioneering developments. Here the first steps were taken towards military aviation, with the establishment of the Royal Engineers’ Balloon School and experiments not only with balloons but also with man-lifting kites. With the huge numbers of animals used by the nineteenth century Army, important advances were made in early veterinary science and animal welfare, and the veterinary hospital established for the care of Army horses was a “state of the art” facility. There were also some novel innovations which failed, such as John Fell’s experimental military railway of 1872, of which there is now no trace left but for a short time looked as if it could have transformed military transportation.

    Aldershot Town FC, Southern League champions, 1929-30. (c. AMM, Secret Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

    To Aldershot’s various entertainment venues came many performers who went on to become household names, and it is amazing that in a town like Aldershot you could have seen the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, among others. Even in the 1980s, up and coming bands played Aldershot’s West End Centre, including the Stone Roses, Pulp, Primal Scream, Happy Mondays, and many others. In the world of sport, Aldershot has seen many more famous names and sporting events than most towns of its size, with international footballers playing for Aldershot FC in the war years, the great cricketer Don Bradman and the Australian test team playing against the Army in the 1930s, and in 1948 some of the Olympic Games events were held here.

    It was very satisfying and enjoyable to write Secret Aldershot and to tell these forgotten stories, which I hope readers will find interesting, revealing or amusing.

    Paul H. Vickers' new book Secret Aldershot is available for purchase now.

  • Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings by Martyn Taylor

    Debenhams, Charter Square. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    When I was asked to write something about this subject I thought the choice would be challenging, it wasn’t, after all the town I was born into has numerous interesting buildings; many within the medieval grid of what is most probably the oldest purposely laid out town in the country from the 11th Century. But what to start with? Well I chose to commence with Debenhams Store on The Arc, a very modern shopping centre in the town. Controversially futuristic in appearance and not very Bury St Edmunds are just some of the descriptions used by people since it was built and opened in 2009. From there the iconic Abbeygate was probably the most obvious to proceed with, it sums up the power of the Benedictine Abbey that owned and controlled Bury St Edmunds for over 500 years whilst the noble Norman Tower, its counterpart further along, is now the belfry for the Cathedral the last to be finished in the country, a triumph of modern craftsmen. Nearby is the wonderful St Marys Church, the final resting place of Queen Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk the youngest sister of Henry VIII. Her subdued and under-stated tomb surprising to all, considering her status in life at one time, Queen of France. St Mary’s magnificent Angel Roof above one of the longest naves of any parish church in the country must be appreciated for the quality of its medieval workmanship, superlatives abound for what is today the Civic Church of the Town.

    Chapel of the Charnel, Great Churchyard. (Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the book, creating lists is never ideal so I would say to potential readers consider what is within and what is without. Everyone has opinions of what is good architecture, but I have tried to get a balance of the construction of the buildings and their descriptions and some of the stories behind their occupants. The nefarious Arundel Coke who once lived in St Denys on Honey Hill is a case in point. Having lost his wealth in the greedy investment scandal known to history as ‘The South Sea Bubble’ he elicited the help of an assassin to do his dirty work, that of murdering his well-off brother-in-law, Edward Crisp. Unfortunately, it did not go as the script intended, Crisp survived the brutal attack and Coke and his accomplice, John Woodburn, ended up on the gallows.

    Public buildings are well represented, alms Houses, hotels and public houses also. One of these, The Nutshell, is the smallest in the country, as far as I am concerned there are no other contenders! Two buildings not far from each other have unusual names, Goodfellows named after four brave brothers who fought in WWI, three of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice and Notice to Quit Cottages, the origins of which I have yet to fathom out. The Great Churchyard, the scene of the murderous attempt on Edward Crisp’s life is where I finish with the 50th entrant in the book, that of The Charnel House. This consecrated bone depository from 1300 has various plaques on its exterior to The Good, Bad and Unlucky. Bartholomew Gosnold the good founder of Jamestown, Sarah Lloyd for burglarising her employer’s home with her lover and the unlucky Mary Haselton struck down by lightning whilst saying her prayers. For a town so steeped in history Bury St Edmunds punches far above its weight, the many people who come here as tourists and stroll around the beautiful Abbey Gardens are amazed and ask, “Why have we not come here before”? There is no real answer other than to say just keep coming back!

    Martyn Taylor's new book Bury St Edmunds in 50 Buildings is avialable for purchase now.

  • Secret Romsey by Ian Dickerson

    The jam factory chimney. (Courtesy of the Vine family collection, Secret Romsey, Amberley Publishing)

    Romsey is a small market town nestled on the River Test and caught roughly midway between Winchester, Salisbury and Southampton in the South of England. It may be small but it has a lot of history. Sure it’s not as old as nearby Amesbury, which is just twenty five miles or so away and dates back around five thousand years, but with an Abbey that’s been around for over a millennium there’s plenty to tell.

    And therein lies a problem for unsurprisingly in a town this age, there have been plenty of people keen to tell the town’s story, starting perhaps in the eighteenth century with Dr John Latham, who amongst other things prepared for publication seven quarto volumes on the history of Romsey Abbey. Then there’s a local history society that’s been around for over forty years and who have published numerous books on the area and aspects of its history. Was there really room for one more?

    Having lived in the town for nigh on two decades and written a number of books on various subjects I was really hoping there was. I wanted to do something to celebrate a town that my family and I love.

    The research was fun; I dug into the history books and learnt about Ethelflaeda, who used to run the town’s nunnery and stand naked in the River Test in the middle of the night reciting religious chants for hours on end…which was interesting. Then I delved into one of the local history group’s publications called ‘So drunk he must have been to Romsey’ which was a great title for what turned out to be simply a list of pubs that used to be and could still be found in the town. Not really a book, more a catalogue.

    So I picked up another one, The Story of Romsey, which tried to encapsulate three thousand years of history—yes, it started with the history of the area in 1000 BC—in, erm, seventy-six pages. Granted it mentioned the likes of Jane Wadham, a niece of Queen Jane Seymour and Henry VIII’s third wife (in case you were wondering), who was a nun at the Abbey. She married John Foster, a local priest, causing great scandal. I’m sure they’d both be bemused to discover that they both have roads named after them on a new local development, and that you can walk from one to the other in just a couple of minutes. But when trying to tell a story of that scale in just a few pages, well let’s just say it lacked narrative.

    Front page of the Daily Mirror commemorating the death of Florence Nightingale. (Secret Romsey, Amberley Publishing)

    We even went on a tour of the town given by one of the leading lights of the historical society. It was interesting enough but only after the event did I realise what bugged me about it; it was all about the buildings, the river and their respective histories. It wasn’t about the people. We met in the town centre, under a statue of Lord Palmerston, a nineteenth century British Prime Minister who was born and indeed died at Broadlands, a stately home on the outskirts of the town. He didn’t get a single mention in what was quite a lengthy talk.

    I realised that was it; the crux of my book and what was missing from the talk; the secret Romsey was the people and the community. Sure, buildings play a part, after all they don’t just build themselves. But it’s the people who live in them, the people who make them what they are.

    So with renewed focus I set about my work and I discovered more stories about the people of Romsey; poor Mrs Arter, a dung collector in the early 19th century who drowned when she dropped her kettle in a local stream and tried to rescue it; Arthur Gregory who was hauled into court for exceeding the five mile an hour speed limit with a 12 ton steam engine; and more well-known local folk like Florence Nightingale, David Frost and the Rev. W.E Awdry.

    And I spoke to people, many of whom had lived in Romsey all their life. One mentioned the smell of warm strawberry jam that would creep through the town on a summer’s day thanks to the jam factory that was on the main thoroughfare. Another mentioned how the community came together to build a boat for the boy’s brigade and yet another, well, she was the widow of the town’s newspaper editor for many years and boy did she have some stories. And some photos—many of which she was kind enough to let me use in the book.

    I learnt a lot about my home town in writing this book. Hopefully readers will too!

    Ian Dickerson's new book Secret Romsey is available for purchase now.

  • Saltdean From Old Photographs by Douglas d'Enno

    This postcard shows how Saltdean Bay would have looked early in the twentieth century. The only dwellings are the coastguard cottages put up in 1834. Sadly, the sea claimed four young lives here on 4 August 1912. All the boys were members of the Gonville and Caius College Mission, Battersea, and were camped at the time nearby Rottingdean. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m a local author and it has been 33 years since I wrote my comprehensive history of Saltdean. Long out of print, the book is hard to find and can command a high price. Fortunately, I have continued to build up my collection of cuttings, articles and photographs of the area and have presented the finest images from my collection in my new book, Saltdean from Old Photographs. The pictures displayed number some 240 and, despite the title of the book, some carefully selected very recent images have also been included.

    This fascinating volume has been structured to reflect the development of this seaside suburb over the last century, with the emphasis, not unexpectedly, on the inter-war years. In the earlier part of the book, there is a brief pictorial survey of Saltdean as a remote and sometimes forbidding location. This corner of Sussex has been a graveyard of ships down the years while the desolate foreshore was attractive to smugglers. As in more recent times, swimming was enjoyed by occasional visitors although the year 1912 saw the tragic drowning or four young men from a Mission Church in Battersea. Inland, hunting was enjoyed, as was target practice by members of Rudyard Kipling's Rifle Club.

    When resident in Rottinghdean from 1897 to 1902, Rudyard Kipling founded the village rifle club, believing it to be in the national interest that young men should learn to be competent shots. It was established during 'Black Week' in December 1899, when the British Army suffered many casualties in the Second Anglo-Boer War. The club was registered with the National Rifle Association in 1900 and was listed as having fifty-eight members. (Saltdean From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    For centuries, the land was farmed from Rottingdean. Indeed, the handful of buildings in the area other than coastguard dwellings were a couple of stone cottages and three barns, two of which have survived following skilful conversion into a nursery school and a private dwelling respectively.

    One page rightly focuses on the founder of Peacehaven and Saltdean as we know them today, namely Charles Neville. Interesting new information has come to light concerning his family and commercial activities. It was through his entrepreneurial drive that the two buildings for which Saltdean is best known, namely the Lido and Ocean Hotel, came into being. Of course virtually all the residential development in the area was the work of his hand.

    In one section, the spotlight is cast on the war years, when both those buildings were put to good use.

    In the decades which followed, the community now familiar to us gradually developed. A number of dramatic images also depict events in this area, such as the overwhelming snowfall in 1966 and the damage wrought by the Great Gale of 1987.

    Celebrities are also rightly included; among their number were George Robey, Max Wall, Will Fyffe and GH Elliott. A surprising story is the death (almost certainly suicide) in Nutley Avenue of the ex-Duchess of Leinster in the 1930s.

    The book ends on an optimistic note, with the restoration – for the second time – of the downland memorial Harvey's Cross in July of this year. From its beautiful location, much of West Saltdean, with the sea beyond, can be seen.

    Douglas d'Enno's new book Saltdean From Old Photographs is avialable for purchase now.

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