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  • 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.

  • Peebles History Tour by Liz Hanson

    Two Doctors-One Town

    The small market town of Peebles in the Scottish Borders was home to two extraordinary medical doctors, born a century apart and whose experiences of the Royal Burgh vastly differed. Both men studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, were unflinchingly devoted to their individual career paths and both remembered for their legacies, but there the similarities end. Mungo Park, born in 1771 only practised in Peebles for 2 years before pursuing his passion, that of exploration of West Africa; in contrast, Dr Clement Bryce Gunn served the town for almost 50 years from 1885.

    Their stories not only demonstrate dedication to their chosen callings but reflect the social history and attitudes of the two eras.

    Home of Mungo Park. (Peebles History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Mungo Park was the seventh of 13 children born at Foulshiels near Selkirk where his parents were tenant farmers. His father believed in good education and Mungo was a studious child, tending to keep his own counsel, and particularly keen on walking in the local hills to study flowers. When he was 14, he was apprenticed to the surgery of Dr Anderson in Selkirk where he gained experience of making medicines and the way of life of a country doctor, the latter not particularly appealing to him but he went on to finish his medical degree by 1791. His brother-in-law, James Dickson, was studying botanical science in London and put Mungo in touch with Sir Joseph Banks who offered patronage as an assistant surgeon on an East India Company ship travelling to Sumatra, whose main trading export was pepper. Apart from undertaking his medical duties, he found time to record and sketch specimens of fish and plants to present to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip proved to be the catalyst determining Mungo’s future.

    Little was known in Europe at this time about the topography of West Africa although there was a huge demand for African slaves as well as trade in ivory and gold. The African Association was founded in 1788 in London, with the purpose of discovering more about the interior of Africa, particularly ’the big river’ (The Niger) recorded by early pioneers. Several explorers had been recruited but had either died there or returned early but Mungo Park came back from Sumatra at an opportune time, hungry for more adventure and in 1795, aged 23, he sailed from Portsmouth, bound for Gambia. Over the next 2 ½ years he gradually travelled deeper into Africa, encountering hostility from the slave-traders, suspicious of his motives but generally being welcomed as long as he complied with local customs, particularly that of showing respect to the rulers of each kingdom by presenting gifts in return for permission to pass through their land. Mungo demonstrated remarkable courage and fortitude as the journey was fraught with dangers – whether to be attacked by bandits or wild animals, intense heat, shortage of water, theft, extortion and sickness. He did reach the Niger but was captured by Moors and kept prisoner, during which time he was also suffering from fever (probably malaria). Although he managed to get away from his captors, he was weak and impoverished and eventually collapsed. The Mandingo people provided a hut and cared for him during the next few months of the rainy season by which time he was strong enough to travel back to the Gambia, along with a caravan of 35 slaves.

    Mungo Park's surgery. (Peebles History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Mungo arrived in Britain in December 1797 and shortly afterwards returned to Selkirk to write an account of his experiences. ‘Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa, performed in 1795, 1796 and 1797’ was published 2 years later. Meantime he married Alison Anderson, daughter of the Selkirk doctor with whom he was apprentice and their first child born in 1800. Mungo realised he could not earn sufficient money from his book and reluctantly went back to the medical profession by opening up an apothecary and surgery in Peebles in 1801 in a humble building on the High Street, described by William Chambers as ‘a miserable den’. Despite all the rigours of the African expedition, Mungo Park intensely disliked trudging out into the wilds of the Peeblesshire countryside to do his calls, although he was apparently a caring and compassionate doctor who, like Clement Gunn later, gave his services to the poor for free. He joined the Tweeddale Yeomanry, the volunteer cavalry formed during the Napoleonic Wars. His heart was set on African exploration however and in 1803 he was called to London to discuss a further visit on behalf of the British Government who were vying with the French to secure trade links. He came back to Peebles with a Moroccan man-Sidi Ombark Bouby- whom he hired to teach him Arabic, and who must have been a novelty to the locals who nicknamed him Ombark the Moor! He closed his Peebles practice in May 1804. Before departing for London he met up with his friend Walter Scott and whilst they were riding out on the Yarrow hills, Mungo’s horse stumbled and nearly threw him, an event which Scott perceived as a bad portent but to which came the reply from the doctor ‘Freits (omens) follow those who look for them’.

    Mungo left his pregnant wife in September1804 to join the British Military transport taking personnel to Senegal to curtail French colonisation in West Africa but was frustrated by continual delays, particularly because his inland journey needed to be undertaken in the dry season. Eventually the ‘Crescent’ sailed from Portsmouth on 31st January 1805 stopping at Cape Verde Islands to buy mules, then at the Goree Garrison for men of the Royal African Corps before beginning to sail up the Gambia River. The party encountered problems from the start; attacks by crocodiles and swarms of bees, dysentery and malaria, which all resulted in sickness and deaths. The stock of provisions was frequently stolen, local chiefs exploited them by extortion and throughout it all, there were storms, gales and torrential rain. After 115 days, only 12 of the original 45 men remained, and the survivors were weak or ill. Mungo’s determination to discover the course of the Niger caused him to behave like ‘a man possessed’ and this drive pushed him to overcome logic and common sense. Miraculously they did reach the river with 9 men but the carpenters who had been hired to build a boat in which to travel down it had all died, although they managed to procure a canoe. By this time, the 4 remaining men were in a desperate mental and physical state and protocol had gone out the window. Mungo did not seek permission from the chief of the Tuareg, downstream from Timbuktu, a disrespectful omission which merited attack from the shore. He frantically fired back, killing many natives. It is thought that the canoe finally hit rocks causing Mungo to drown. His contribution to the scientific world was significant through his chronicles and drawings but his reputation was tarnished by the second, fatal expedition. There is no doubt that his ‘calling’ was exploration rather than medicine.

    Clement Bryce Gunn, conversely, dedicated his life to that of a country doctor in Peebles, practicing there for almost 50 years. Born in Edinburgh in 1860, he and his 5 siblings were brought up by his mother who was widowed at the age of 33. All were studious and their lives revolved around learning, apart from Sundays which were devoted to church, with strictly no studying allowed; social life as we know it was virtually non-existent so this dimension of life had to be learned from scratch once starting work after University. Whilst attending Heriot’s School, however, there were annual excursions, the one in 1871 being to Peebles, the town in which he would play such an important role in the future. The family lived in Edinburgh’s New Town and Clement Gunn frequently encountered Robert Louis Stevenson who resided nearby, but who was yet to make a name for himself and was thought of as a rather eccentric and lazy youth, nick-named ‘’The Pirate’.

    'Lindores' - home and surgery of Dr Clement Gunn. (Peebles History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    During 1879, when Clement was studying Pathology, Physiology and Materia Medica in the run up to sitting the Second Professional Examination, he was asked to do a locum position for a general practitioner in Northumberland, a role that was permitted then, despite not being fully-qualified. He had to deal with conditions not previously encountered, commonly maternity cases but also an outbreak of scarlet fever, most visits being done on horseback-another new experience for this urban-raised man. These locum positions left him debilitated with exhaustion and he missed the following academic term, recuperating at the manse at Stitchill, where his eldest brother George was minister. Returning to Edinburgh for the winter term, he divided his time between university lectures, house-surgeon work in the eye department of the Royal Infirmary, administrative duties in the surgical department and Practical Dispensing in the Cowgate as well as voluntary work for the University Missionary Association; travelling between these locations involved an enormous amount of walking!

    Clement qualified in Medicine in 1882 and spent a relaxing few weeks in Stitchill before securing a general practice assistantship in Newport-on Tay in Fife where he worked very hard and was responsible for all the night calls, most of which were again done on horseback. He also learnt how to make plasters from sheep skins and prepared ointments in the kitchen, where the basic pot of lard was heated on the range. Throughout his writings, his spirituality is apparent, frequently commenting on the beauty of a night-time starlit sky, a sunset or the view to Northern peaks from the autumn-tinted woodland on the shore of the River Tay. He met his future wife when they were ice-skating on the local Lindores Loch and became engaged in 1885.

    By this time he had been in Newburgh for 3 ½ years and was looking for a vacancy to open his own practice. Peebles, which only had two doctors, was the location of choice and in October 1885, he arrived by train and booked into rooms at the top of the Old Town. Once the brass plate had been put up, he eagerly awaited the knock on the door…. but it was 6 weeks before the first patient called. In the event, she couldn’t afford to pay the fee, a situation Dr Gunn would experience often. His compassionate, selfless disposition and deep religious beliefs however, resulted in sympathy for the poor and throughout his tenure he treated the residents of the local poorhouse for free. He quickly realised the correlation between poverty and disease and demonstrated gratitude for his ‘privileged’ circumstances by giving as much as he could to the impoverished and was touched by the charitable attitude the sick-poor took to caring for each other. He was delighted when a Queen’s Nurse was appointed in Peebles and summarises his thoughts in his book ’Leaves From The Life of a Country Doctor’ :- ‘’We doctors are greatly indebted to these nurses for much valuable help and observation: and the poor have a greatly improved chance of recovery owing to their skilful, efficient and devoted nursing. It is borne in upon me that unless one is animated by the spirit of Christ, one cannot be successful either as a doctor or as a nurse. One must have spiritual insight if one is to approach the poor, the sick, the destitute and the fallen. Upheld by this inner vision, one can find courage, inspiration and determination to fight disease…not otherwise.’’ He lived and worked by this sentiment throughout his life.

    Celtic cross at grave of Dr Gunn. (Peebles History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    The Cross Kirk, once a Trinitarian monastery, had been utilised as the Parish Church since The Reformation in 1560 but required such extensive repairs that the Town Council had decided to build a new one at the foot of Peebles High Street. This had opened in 1784 but the design was aesthetically displeasing, as well as having frightful draughts, and the replacement was under construction when Dr Gunn came to the town. He was a devout Christian and church played a big part in his life; by the time he died, he had written about each Parish in Peeblesshire - ‘Books of The Church Series’- and was been responsible for the restoration of the Cross Kirk, now a tranquil sanctuary under the care of Environment Scotland. The proclamation of his marriage to Margaret Cameron was the first to be made in the new Parish Church after it opened in 1887.

    A country doctor was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and as Clement’s practice became established, the workload was onerous, frequently entailing long and arduous journeys in the pony and trap to remote dwellings. He records that one January he was called out on 16 nights, battling through atrocious weather, once making a round trip of 55 miles to see 4 patients; on this occasion he empathises with Mungo Park’s hatred of Peeblesshire weather! However, Clement Gunn embraced rural life and somehow found time to give talks to the local community, including some on natural history to the girls employed in the wool mills and first-aid lectures for the general population. He was appointed vice-president of the Burns Club and organised quizzes and competitions about his poetry in the schools. He was passionate about local history, particularly ecclesiastical and studied the Parish Records whenever he could. He conceived the idea of having Wardens of Neidpath Castle and of the Cross Kirk, the ceremonies of which took place during Beltane Week, the ancient annual festival. He was nominated as the first one and held the position at Cross Kirk from 1930 until his death in 1933.

    At the turn of the century, war broke out in South Africa between the Boers and the British. Dr Gunn treated the families of the deployed men without charge and also ran evening classes in stretcher-bearing. Subsequently, he commemorated the lost soldiers in a large wooden plaque, inscribed with brass letters, all of which he did with his own hands. This is displayed today in the Ex-Servicemens’ Club in the town. He was Surgeon-captain of the Royal Scots, in which capacity he was presented to King Edward VII at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. During the Great War, he was medical officer to 100 German POWs who were used to fell timber from Dawyck woods, as well as being in charge of the War Memorial Hospital on Tweed Green and attending the TB patients in the Sanitorium up Manor Valley. In 1925, he published Books of Remembrance for Peebles, West Linton and Tweeddale in tribute to all the local men who lost their lives in the war.

    Dr Clement Gunn’s dedication to the Peebles community, both medically and socially is inspirational and unprecedented. This devout, kindly man always acted with humility and was driven by his deep care and understanding of the human condition. His work was recognised by the town in 1922 when he was given the Freedom of the Royal Burgh of Peebles. The beloved doctor is commemorated by plaques in the Parish Church and Cross Kirk and he is buried in St. Andrews cemetery.

    Liz Hanson's book Peebles History Tour is available for purchase now.

  • Sheffield at Work by Melvyn and Joan Jones

    Advertisement showing Vickers' 'contribution to the British naval fleet up to August 1914'. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    People and Industries Through the Years

    What we set out to do was to record employment change over nine centuries, emphasising the combination of continuity and innovation that has characterised the evolution of employment in industry and other occupations in the city. It has been a fascinating journey. Although already familiar with Sheffield’s industrial past, we have been delighted to record the talent, determination and skill of twenty-first century workers, both those pursuing traditional skills in a competitive market and those entrepreneurs engaged in a host of other industries and occupations. We are keen to champion their cause and to celebrate their achievements through this publication.

    Sheffield has been dubbed ‘Steel City’ but it was, and still is, much more than that. Sheffield grew prodigiously during the nineteenth century from an already substantial 91,000 in 1831 to over 400,000 by 1901 as a result of industrial expansion. But for centuries before that it had had a national reputation for its industrial products. Everyone knows the famous line from Chaucer’s The Reeve’s Tale written about the year 1390 about the miller stating that ‘A Scheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose’. A thwitel was a knife and Chaucer obviously believed that mention of a Sheffield knife would be as familiar then as a Cornish pasty is today. Nearly four hundred years later in 1779 Charles Burlington in The Modern Universal Traveller wrote that Sheffield was ‘the most remarkable place in England for cutlerywares’. During the nineteenth century the light steel trades continued to flourish in the town and in the surrounding villages and were joined by a completely new industry, heavy steel making and heavy engineering. This transformed the former mainly rural lower Don valley to the east of the old town. Even though Sheffield lay 80 miles from the sea, in 1910 it was claimed that three firms (John Brown’s, Cammells and Vickers) were capable of ‘turning out a battleship complete’ and on the outbreak of the First World War Sheffield was described as ‘the greatest Armoury the world as ever seen’.

    Charcoal making (detail from a painting by John William Buxton Knight). (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It wasn’t all light and heavy steel trades. In the early 1840s George Bassett started his liquorice sweets business. Later, of course, the firm ‘invented’ Liquorice Allsorts. This came about, apparently, when a ‘rep’ was visiting a customer and an assistant accidentally dropped a tray of samples onto the floor. The customer liked the assortment and so Liquorice Allsorts came into being. In the 1920s the Bertie Bassett trademark was designed and with minor alterations is still being used. The firm is now part of the Maynards Bassetts group. In 1883 one of the best known food product firms was established – Henderson’s Relish, Sheffield’s answer to Worcester Sauce. The firm is still going strong today. In 1895 William Batchelor founded Batchelor Foods. The firm became famous for the production of processed peas (including ‘mushy peas’) and Cup-a-Soup. For a short period between 1908 and 1925 Sheffield had its own car industry. Simplex cars owned by Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse produced luxury cars and motor cycles. One of the few surviving examples can be seen on display in Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield. Perhaps the most unusual product was the disinfectant, Izal, produced for the first time in the 1890s by the iron manufacturing firm, Newton Chambers. It was a by-product of the production of coke for their blast furnaces. Their famous toilet rolls, initially given away to local authorities purchasing large quantities of Izal disinfectant for their new public toilets, were used to advertise the brand. Medicated toilet rolls went on sale to the general public in the 1920s and the firm went on to produce 137 disinfectant products that sold across the world.

    Advertisement for Izal products. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Industrial growth had its negative effects. As early as the 1720s Daniel Defoe in A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain wrote that the streets were narrow and the houses ‘dark and black, occasioned by the continued Smoke of the Forges, which are always at work’. Even more evocative was J. B. Priestley’s comments in his English Journeys in 1933. He said that when he approached the city from the south it ‘looked like the interior of an active volcano’ adding that the smoke was so thick that it appeared the descending streets ‘would end in the steaming bowels of the earth’.

    Yet today Sheffield has the reputation of being the country’s greenest city. It had one of the country’s first green belts (1938) and 39,000 acres of the Peak District National Park lie within its boundaries. As you drive through or walk in the western parts of the borough, you have to shake yourself to realise that you are in a city of more than half a million people. The city also contains nearly 80 ancient woods, two of them covering more than 300 acres. Sheffield is the best wooded city in the country. What is astonishing is that the woods have survived because of their connection with local industry. They are full of charcoal heaths, charcoal before coal being the fuel for iron and steel making, and of the living archaeology (neglected coppice, stored coppice) of formerly worked trees that formed the raw material for the charcoal makers.

    Today Sheffield is a prime example of a post-industrial city. Its two universities attract more than 60,000 students to the city every year; the lower Don valley, described in the 1970s as an industrial wasteland, is now crowded with edge of town shopping, entertainment and sporting destinations. The Heart of the City scheme has also helped to modernise the city centre with its Winter Garden, Millennium Galleries, new hotel and water features.  But manufacturing still continues from large works like Sheffield Forgemasters that supplies forged and cast steel to the engineering, nuclear and petro-chemical industries worldwide and Liberty Steel at Stocksbridge that produces special steels for the aerospace, oil and automotive industries. Another Sheffield engineering firm, SCX Group, has completed the second year of a three-year project to construct a foldaway roof for No.1 Court at Wimbledon which will be ready in 2019. They constructed the retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009. At the other end of the scale individual craftsmen, known locally for centuries as ‘little mesters’, still produce knives and other bespoke products in small workshops. A surprising number of firms continue the centuries-old tradition of manufacturing a wide range of metal products. These include Burgon & Ball who manufacture 50 different patterns of sheep shears and are the most important makers of these shears in the world and Swann-Morton who export surgical blades and scalpels to over 100 countries.

    Melvyn and Joan Jones' new book Sheffield at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Exeter by Chris Hallam

    1068 and all that: Exeter, Gytha and the Norman Conquest

    Bayeux Tapestry (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    It is one of the most famous years in English history: 1066.

    Like 1936 and (perhaps) 1483, it was to be a year of three kings. In January, just five days into the year, Edward the Confessor, king of England since 1042, died. Harold Godwinson, a leading Saxon nobleman, succeeded him. The new Harold II had acquired a difficult inheritance, however, as he faced almost immediate attack from another Harold, Harald Hardrada of Norway who he managed to defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. However, as we know, King Harold II fared less well in the Battle of Hastings in October. Harold, in truth, probably wasn’t killed by an arrow in the eye as the famous Bayeux Tapestry appears to show but was certainly killed in battle just as Richard the Lionheart and Richard III would be in later years. His rival, William, Duke of Normandy won and was subsequently crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. Thereafter, England succumbed to a long period of Norman rule which, to some extent, has never ended.

    William the Conqueror (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    The above story is famous and mostly true. Edward the Confessor perhaps deserves more blame than has been traditionally attributed to him, for bequeathing England such chaotic situation in the first place. However, what is most questionable about the above account is the last sentence: William the Conqueror’s subsequent conquest of England, after his victory at Hastings, was in fact, much less smooth than the traditional version of events makes it sound.

    Exeter, in Devon, was one area which fiercely resisted William’s rule. Stirred into insurrection by the presence of Harold’s mother, Gytha, Exeter (then known as Escanceaster by the Saxons) openly revolted, refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to William. Angered, William returned from Normandy to deal with the rebels himself.

    A siege ensued, one of many Exeter would endure in the centuries ahead. Ugly scenes followed as William ordered one of the hostages that had been given to him as a sign of good faith to be publicly blinded. But the Normans suffered heavy losses. After nearly two weeks, Exeter surrendered but only on one condition, William would not punish the populace either physically or financially. William, facing rebellion elsewhere, acquiesced. Gytha, incidentally, seems to have been smuggled out just before the Norman king arrived. England, as a whole, didn’t fully come under Norman control until about 1072.

    The gatehouse of Exeter Castle id the oldest Norman castle building in Britain. (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    What happened to Exeter next? After the siege, the Normans tore down the houses that stood on the hill at the northernmost parts of the walled city and built Rougemont Castle (Red Hill, because of the colour of the volcanic soil), essentially to keep a watchful eye on Exeter’s potentially restless population. Today, 950 years later, not much more than the castle walls remain. But these walls do include the original Norman gatehouse, widely considered to be one of the finest examples of early Norman architecture still visible in the UK. It is certainly the earliest Norman castle building still in existence, predating the more famous White Tower at the Tower of London by about ten years.

    Ironically, as my colleague Tim Isaac points out in our bestselling new book, Secret Exeter, a flaw in the design of the gatehouse essentially made them useless from the outset. It is this very uselessness which has ensured their survival to this day. Lucky for us!

    Tim Isaac and Chris Hallam's new book Secret Exeter is available for purchase now.

  • Altrincham in 50 Buildings by Steven Dickens

    Old Market Place 1904. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham was an easy choice as a ‘50 Buildings’ subject because it is home to many historic locations. These include Dunham Massey Hall and park, established by Hamon (Hamo) de Masci after the Norman invasion. In 1290 the town was granted a Charter as a free Borough and a weekly market was established on what is now called Old Market Place, by Baron Hamon de Masci V. There is now a market hall on Market Street, which has become a new and busy focal point for this bustling market town. Many listed buildings are also included in this volume, predominantly those of Georgian origin around Market Street, which are particularly evocative of their era. Dunham Hall and some structures within the park also feature. The property, now owned and operated by the National Trust, is home to many family treasures of the Earls of Stamford, who were the original occupants of the hall in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras and until the last and Tenth Earl of Stamford died in 1976. The park was established in Norman times as a deer park and for hunting purposes and there are still deer roaming free in its environs to this day.

    The Market Place c. 1905. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Another historic district of Altrincham is Old Market Place, where I have grouped some of its buildings together in order to easier identify its varied history. It has been a vital hub to the town’s administration and function since Altrincham’s foundation as a Borough. The ‘Court Leet’ elected Mayors, kept the peace and regulated markets and fairs until it was abolished in 1886. Old Market Place was also the site of a local court, prison lock-ups, and stocks, all used to keep order. In 1849 a new town hall was constructed next to the Unicorn Hotel (Old Market Tavern). It was an important focal point until new council offices were constructed on Market Street, c. 1900.

    St. Margaret's Church, Dunham Road, showing its spire in 1916. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham has a very distinctive look around Old Market Place, with George Truefitt’s Cheshire ‘black and white’ still emphasising Altrincham’s rural past. The influence of the Earls of Stamford survives throughout the town, both in the buildings they constructed and in the road names they left behind. The town has also been significantly influenced by transport developments, particularly by the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, its infrastructure and the development of industry along its banks. The railway saw similar developments, with the construction of Stamford New Road, now one of the many Conservation Areas around the town. The book also includes other significant landmarks, such as St. Margaret’s parish church and war memorial, the stadium of Altrincham football club and the Garrick theatre, all important elements of the town’s social infrastructure.

    Steven Dickens' new book Altrincham in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley by Colin Wilkinson

    One sunny, warm September day I set off to find any traces of the old lead mines in the upper reaches of the River Tees. After climbing through woodland and fields I arrived at the disused mines in need of a break and certainly not ready to work all day digging out lead ore. It’s no wonder that the miners slept close to the mines in uncomfortable workshops during the week and only returned home at the weekend. I had chosen a fine day to climb through the hills; facing the climb to work on a wet, cold, windy morning must have been challenging and perhaps was summed up in a verse from the time.

    The ore’s awaiting in the tubs, the snows upon the fell

    Company folk are sleeping yet but lead is right to sell

    Come my little washer lad, come, let’s away

    We’re bound down to slavery for four pence a day.

    Low Skears Mine near Middleton in Teesdale. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    These lines refer to a washer lad, his job was to separate the lead ore from the rock, or bouse as it was called, which had been brought out of the mine. This involved breaking up the bouse and washing it through troughs of flowing water where the heavy lead deposits would sink ready to be gathered and sent to the smelters.

    Continuing the mining theme but much further downstream and still avoiding poor weather, I chose a bright spring day to look for some remnant of the iron stone mines in the Cleveland Hills. This involved another climb through what is now a tree lined path that was once the route of a rail line up to the mines. Eventually I reached the entrance to the New Venture mine.

    The industrial area at Barnard Castle. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    Later a visit to the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum at Skinningrove brought home the working conditions in the early days of the mines. Protective clothing consisted of a leather cap, a moustache provided a dust filter, candles lit the way through the workings and to keep the rats at bay string was tied around trousers just below the knee.

    In Darlington another museum provides a reminder of the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. The Head of Steam Museum is housed in an old station and displays some early locomotives used on the railway.

    Ayresome Iron Works, Middlesbrough. (c. Beamish Collection, The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    But the history of the Industrial Revolution is not just found in museums. I wanted to use the book to describe the great industrial heritage of the area and illustrate where reminders can be found. For example in Barnard Castle there are still some of the old mills beside the river although they have now been converted into flats.

    Barnard Castle had long been a market town but places that had been little more than hamlets were suddenly transformed into major towns. Middlesbrough is an example, initially it was developed as a port to ship coal then it became the centre of an iron industry when ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills. Soon blast furnaces were lining the banks of the Tees. W. E. Gladstone the Liberal politician who would become Prime Minister visited Middlesbrough in 1862 and spoke of ‘this remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules’.

    Colin Wilkinson's new book The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley is available for purchase now.

    Also by Colin

  • Secret Chepstow by Louise Wyatt

    Chepstow Castle, viewed from Castle Dell. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Chepstow has always caught my eye when travelling through the Wye Valley; it’s quaint, historical and has that olde-worlde market place buzz about it. There are the fantastic remains of Chepstow Castle and all the history that holds but one thing I’ve always done on my travels, and regarding my love of history, is wanting to know about the un-told stories, the local history of a place, the unknown parts of a town – especially one with such a history as Chepstow.

    The one thing I love about writing for Amberley’s Secret series is I get to indulge all of my inquisitiveness! With the help of fabulous resources such as old newspapers, British History Online and old books, it becomes a labour of love searching for all the secret history. Chepstow had many resources thankfully and thus Secret Chepstow was born, my second book for the series.

     

    Looking up from the residential road towards remains of the Neolithic burial chamber, which is typical of a Severn-Cotswold-type chamber, as described by GGAT. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    I deliberately avoided donating too much of the book to the Castle. Whilst it is beyond doubt a magnificent ruin with many famous custodians over time, there are many books available out there; therefore, I stuck to a timeline of the Castle’s history. However, visiting the place and taking photos was very enjoyable.

    My first surprise was discovering Chepstow didn’t actually exist until 1067-71 onwards, when William FitzOsbern, a distant cousin and boyhood friend to William the Conqueror, started the building of Chepstow Castle. The original inhabited areas on that particular geographical location was the suburb of Thornwell, just south of modern-day Chepstow. Within the housing development it is now, are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber, still with stones atop the grass mound. I imagine in Neolithic times it was quite a desolate place, with the marshes down to the Severn estuary. Near to this chamber is the old farmhouse, Grade II listed and now converted into flats. Despite having a wall around it and the car park adjacent, one can only wonder at what the views were like when it was a working farm (it was in its dying throes of a working farm as late as 1956). Thornwell reputedly took its name from the thorn tree that grew by the well near the farmhouse. Archaeological excavations discovered the well in early 2007 and thought to be medieval in origin. Although left in situ, it is now covered by modern buildings. I’m no geographical whizz, but I believe it to be somewhere under the nearby Tesco/Homebase.

    Thornwell Farm House from the Wales Coast Path. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Nearby Bulwark was home to the Silures, a fearsome tribe that ruled the land around this area. They defeated the Romans in AD 52 although were to eventually succumb to Roman power. However, despite looking like just an empty field now, thanks to past excavations we know this area held round timber housing, farms for brewing, bread-making and raising cattle.

    The earliest known Norman Priory built in Wales was that of Chepstow. Now the site of a Tesco car park, the Priory Church remains as St Mary’s. Here lies the tomb of notable residents and historical figures such as Henry Marten, a close friend of Oliver Cromwell, (whom Martens Tower at the Castle is named after). Parliamentarians took Chepstow in 1645 during the Civil War and Cromwell himself is said to have stayed in a nearby house. Although taken by Royalists in 1648, Cromwell retook Chepstow and spent money on reinforcements. After the restoration of the monarch under Charles II, Marten was found guilty of regicide and imprisoned for twenty years to his death in Martens Tower (possibly called Bigods Tower previously).

    Parish records of St Mary's in Chepstow, showing the burial of Kezia Dutheridge. (Kind thanks to St Mary's for loan of the register book, Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    Also in St Mary’s is the tomb of Elizabeth Browne who married the Earl of Worcester and became a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn – it is said she helped smear the name of Anne Boleyn during her trial. There is also the glorious tomb of Margaret Cleyton who died in 1627 and had twelve children! A wealthy benefactor who gave much to the town of Chepstow.

    However, to me, the following is what secret history is all about – the simple death register entry of a Kezia Dutheridge (middle line):

    I came upon the name John Dutheridge whilst researching census records on Chepstow Workhouse. I noted how his entry read he was an orphan – not uncommon in a workhouse – and a scholar (so being educated within the workhouse) but was aged only seven. For some reason, I put his name into a simple Google search. To my amazement, a few pages in, his name crops up in an old newspaper report. That lead me to search old newspapers, birth and death registers to build up a picture. And thanks to him growing into a rogue, he left bit of a trail! He spent time in Abergavenny Asylum, Usk Gaol, Monmouth Gaol and regular readmissions to Chepstow Workhouse.

    Part of the graveyard on the north side of St Mary's, with eighteenth-century graves and Church Row cottages in the background. (Secret Chepstow, Amberley Publishing)

    A Kezia Dutheridge was on the Workhouse census as giving birth to a son, John, but she passed away the same quarter and year. With a surname like that, I summarised this was the same John I had found (whose census dates added up) and Kezia, aged 24, had died in childbirth. She had a pauper’s grave at St Mary’s, as did John when he died. Thanks to the kind people in St Mary’s at the time, I was able to take a photo of the death register for Kezia. Unfortunately, although Monmouthshire Council state pauper graves are marked with a ‘P’, I failed to find them in the graveyard and no one at the church at the time I was researching knew exactly where they were. But by mentioning the Dutheridges in my book, I hope it highlights the intrigue of local history and local people against a backdrop of warrior kings and rich architecture. They may have had a pauper’s grave but in a graveyard of a church built by a mighty warlord that is thankfully still around after 950 or so years.

    Louise Wyatt's new book Secret Chepstow is available for purchase now.

  • The Bravest Little Street in England by Karen Cliff, Trafford Local Studies and The First World War Volunteers

    The view of a volunteer by Richard Nelson

    The original telegram from George V, 1919. (c. George Cogswell, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    Chapel Street has long signified the fighting spirit of the ordinary residents of Altrincham. It is regarded locally as a shining example of what can be achieved by such people in times of the nation's greatest need. Many families in the area have strong memories passed on by word of mouth about the individuals who lived in the street and they share pride in its achievement in sending so many men to fight in the First World War. After the conclusion of the fighting a group of residents formed a committee to commemorate those who had served in the conflict, many of whom were of Irish descent. In 1919 this committee succeeded in erecting a street shrine, the Chapel Street Memorial, at the end of the street.

    In 2014 a decision was made by Trafford Local Studies to research for a book that would chronicle the lives of as many of the individuals on the memorial as could be located and document them in the social context and history of the street. The big question was how to go about producing a book which would do the subject justice.

    Celebrations on Chapel Street on 5 April 1919. The Chapel Street Roll of Honour is visible on the right of the image. (c. Trafford Council, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    The work force was already in place. An advertisement in July 2013 for volunteers to work on a First World War research project produced a small team with wide and varied experience and expertise. Local Studies staff set us to work on extracting information about the war from resources in the collection, primarily newspapers and local council minute books. Each item was recorded on record cards and transferred to a database.

    It soon became obvious that there was a vast amount of material to consider. Labouring through the newspapers produced hundreds of references to Chapel Street from the war years and more from the pre-war and post war years. This research had to be done in short bursts as each edition contained so much information and the small print was hard to read. It took over four years to extract the data and additional material was still emerging up to the final stages of producing the book.

    The reward was that the names on the memorial became real people as so many interesting stories about the residents were discovered, especially from the reports of the Petty Sessions. The street contained large families and several lodging houses and were full of colourful characters. Cases of drunkenness, fighting, domestic violence, poaching, and theft, highlighted the extreme poverty in which many residents lived. Some were sad stories, others were amusing, as the case of two of the soldiers who, when they were boys, stole a horse, cart and harness, intending to go to Macclesfield to look for rags and bones.

    Private Harry Johnson. (c. Harry Johnson, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    One volunteer used his expertise to record the history and the development of Chapel Street from the earliest evidence to its demolition. Reports and minutes for the local Board of Health provided much detail about housing conditions. Other volunteers used family history programmes and other search engines to research individual lives. The records of birth, marriage and death, parish records, the censuses, the 1939 Register, street directories, army service records, electoral rolls and absent voters' lists were our main sources. Contact with surviving family members produced more information.

    Voluntary work already undertaken to locate and document the lives of Trafford men who had been awarded medals for gallantry had given me experience of interpreting First World War military records. I used this to develop a spreadsheet to record key facts on each soldier so that some statistical analysis could be undertaken once the research had been completed. This work formed the basis of one of the chapters of the book.

    Some information was located by pure serendipity. It was proving difficult to identify Harry Johnson. Elimination of Cheshire Regiment soldiers of that name had narrowed the field down to one, but there was no conclusive proof. A chance discovery on Facebook of a slide-show of images of the street, with a comment by a friend that her grandfather, Harry Johnson, had lived in Chapel Street, provided the evidence. Her relatives provided a picture of Harry, an honourable discharge certificate, medals and family stories. The medals and certificate confirmed him as the soldier suspected, his obituary was located and it was now possible to write a much less speculative piece about him.

    The Altrincham Boer War Memorial. (c. Trafford Council, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    During the course of the research there were discoveries which surprised all who worked on the project. These included evidence that the street had a lengthy history of being an important source of recruits to the British armed services which predated the Boer War. Strong proof was located that the memorial did not include the names of all the men from the street who had taken part in the conflict. More will be revealed by reading the book.

    The project was expertly managed to ensure consistency. Regular monthly meetings determined the direction of the project and kept us all on track. Folders were created for storing the evidence for each soldier on the memorial. Standardised templates were completed by the team to ensure that all available evidence was collated. These were scrutinised two or three times by different researchers to check the evidence and fill in any gaps. Guidance on style and use of terms, accompanied by model examples, was produced to assist volunteers in writing up the soldiers in a standard format. The resulting biographies were checked to ensure that there was evidence for each conclusion drawn and checked again for consistency in language and format. As each soldier was completed his details were transferred to the fledgling book which rapidly started to grow. Photographs were chosen from the fine Local Studies collection, captions produced and additional chapters written and inserted and, hey presto, the book was completed!

    The writing of “The Bravest Little Street in England” has been a most rewarding experience and a fine example of how, with expert direction, volunteers can work together effectively to meet the rigours of publication.

    Karen Cliff, Trafford Local Studies and The First World War Volunteers new book The Bravest Little Street in England is available for purchase now.

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