Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Local History

  • 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.

  • Secret Stafford by Robert Nicholls

    Essex Bridge at Great Haywood, the longest remaining pack horse bridge in the country built by the Earl of Essex to allow Queen Elizabeth I to cross the Trent. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    The writer, Arnold Bennett, says of Stafford: ‘It is England in little, unsung by searchers after the extreme’. However, it has played an important part in the nation’s history and has much to commend it, as many examples in the book bear witness. It is a town people often pass through or by-pass en-route to other places, but my book aims to prove that it worth making the detour to appreciate its hidden gems.

    The central core of Stafford has some pleasant little surprises comprising attractive streets and buildings, a few good tourist sites, and several characterful tea-rooms. It makes for an interesting trip. Parking is plentiful and a walking tour, such as my book offers, is a good choice. Indeed perhaps the biggest ‘secret’ of this book is the town centre itself, unexplored by many.

    A few questions you may ask: Just what is that building outline next to the Parish Church? Where were the town walls? And what is left of them? Is the castle next to the M6 really a Georgian folly? And prepare to be impressed by the largest Elizabethan timber framed house in England.

    Ingestre Church, the design attributed to Christopher Wren, perhaps the only building of his not built for the King. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    Away from the town the surrounding hinterland within the modern-day borough boundaries has its share of surprises too. Aristocratic estates, scenic canals, reminders of past industries and a fair collection of the odd and unusual are all within a 15 mile radius of the town.

    Where will you find the shortest telegraph pole in the world, the longest packhorse bridge in England, a canal built to resemble a lake (or was it ?), and the only church by Sir Christopher Wren outside of London?

    Some of the ‘secrets’ in this book are truly difficult to find without the directions given. The final resting place of the late Patrick, Earl of Lichfield, and a set of medieval glass furnaces reward the patient explorer, whilst another interesting family tomb is almost completely obscured by vegetation. A mile long walk down a muddy track leads to an historic folly that is very ‘far from the madding crowd’.

    Tixall Gatehouse, built to stand in front of Tixall Hall, now long gone. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    In Secret Stafford you’ll discover the answers to these questions, and many more revelations that will surprise you with every turn of the page. Intriguing local connections with famous figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien are also highlighted.

    So it would be a grave mistake to underrate Stafford. It is a place which deserves closer scrutiny.

    I have written local history books since 1985 having produced so far some 16 titles on a variety of topics, mainly concerning North West England. A few years ago I lived for a time just outside the boundaries of the Staffordshire Moorlands, when I researched, wrote and published three titles of a ‘curiosities’ nature in digital form. One of these covered Staffordshire.

    Amberley then offered to publish some of this material. The first of these 50 Gems of Staffordshire was published in late 2017 and Secret Stafford is the second. A further title on the County of Lancashire is to follow. Secret Stafford has required a good deal of extra in-depth research and exploration, but for me this has been a pleasure, as I discovered far more things of historical interest than I had thought existed in the area. I hope that readers will find as much pleasure discovering some of the places it mentions

    Robert Nicholls' new book Secret Stafford is available for purchase now.

  • Aberdeen in 50 Buildings by Jack Gillon

    Marischal College. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen has all the appearance, and is furnished with most of the attributes, of a wealthy metropolis. It has all the public buildings which distinguish a capital. The streets possess the proper degree of regularity and elegance. It has busy crowds, in which the stranger soon loses himself; and its inhabitants, when inspected individually, are found to possess the dignity, the wealth, and the enlightened views, which are never to be found but in towered cities.

    The visitor enters the city by a long, spacious, straight, and regular way, denominated Union Street, which, when completed to the utmost of its designed extent, must turn out decidedly the finest thing of the kind in the kingdom. Previously to the opening of this way in 1811, the town was entered by a series of narrow tortuous streets.

    The most remarkable thing about Aberdeen in the eye of a traveller, is the stone with which it is built. This is a grey granite, of great hardness, found in inexhaustible profusion in the neighbourhood, and of which vast quantities, fashioned into small blocks, are annually exported to London, for the paving of streets. Though not polished, but merely hewn into moderate smoothness, this forms a beautiful wall, of a somewhat sombre colour it is true, but yet strikingly elegant.

    The Music Hall. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen is a flourishing port, and is the seat of a set of active and prosperous merchants. It is the place where commerce first took its rise in Scotland. Having thus got the start by many centuries of every other commercial city, it has maintained all along to the present time a certain degree of advance; it is certain that in no other place is the mercantile science so thoroughly understood, or the commercial character carried to a pitch of such exquisite perfection.

    Aberdeen originally developed around St Katherine’s Hill, a prominence that stood in the middle of the present-day Union Street. The town was given royal burgh status in the twelfth century and the Castlegate, or Marketgate, was the historic heart of the medieval burgh. The harbour was fundamental to Aberdeen’s prosperity and the town’s economic importance.

     

     

    The Sir Duncan Rice Library. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The rapid growth of Aberdeen in the eighteenth century resulted in its expansion beyond the tightly confined medieval streets around the base of St Katherine’s Hill. A number of new streets were formed during this period of planned expansion.

    In 1794, Aberdeen town council requested the engineer Charles Abercrombie to provide plans to rationalise the muddle of old unplanned streets of an increasingly wealthy and self-assured Aberdeen to connect the town to the surrounding countryside.

    Abercrombie’s bold plan proposed a significant Georgian rebuilding of the city with two major new thoroughfares – one running westwards from the Castlegate to the Denburn, and the other north. An Act passed on 14 April 1800 approved the construction of the new streets – the road to the west became Union Street and the road to the north was King Street. These new roads represented major engineering enterprises and set the context of modern Aberdeen. Union Street was a particularly challenging project – the street had to cut through St Katherine’s Hill, required a series of arches and a bridge over the Denburn. The generous scale of Union Street allowed the construction of buildings of substantial size and importance, and established Union Street as Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare. The street was named to commemorate the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801. John Smith (1781–1852), Aberdeen’s City Architect, and Archibald Simpson (1790–1847) were the leading architects involved in this great remodelling of the expanding city.

    The Town House and Tolbooth. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The predominant use of locally quarried grey granite up to the mid-twentieth century is a distinguishing feature of many of the city’s most important buildings, which gives them a distinct glitter in the sun and earned Aberdeen the sobriquet of the ‘Granite City’. The quality of the Aberdeenshire granite was internationally recognised and it was used for buildings around the world. The excavation of granite from the quarry at Rubislaw, which opened in 1740 and closed in 1971, created the biggest man-made hole in Europe.

    Aberdeen is a thriving city which has been synonymous with oil ever since the discovery of North Sea reserves in the 1970s. It has a proud and distinctive identity, a wealth of fine heritage buildings and more recent developments of outstanding quality. This has made the task of selecting fifty buildings to represent the best of the city’s architecture immensely difficult. This book takes the development of this rich and vibrant city as its broad theme, and includes buildings which seem to best represent the city’s long history.

    Jack Gillon's new book Aberdeen in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Southampton by Dave Marden

    The High Street in the 1890s before the tram system was electrified (Author's collection)

    I was pleased to be associated with the Historic England series for which I wrote about my home town of Southampton, a city that really doesn’t sell itself enough and visitors are quite often surprised at what there is to see. A walk around the ancient walls and quiet streets of the old town can reveal many unexpected and interesting things, and for added interest there are guided walks that take you into hidden medieval vaults and chambers.

    Although so much was lost in the wartime bombing, there is still much history to be seen from the Norman, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. In fact, there is far more that could not be incorporated within the confines of the book but I was delighted to include references to Southampton’s working class districts that played such a huge part in its successful transformation from a small and elegant spa town to the great industrial port it became.

    Lower end of St Mary Street in early 1900s (Author's collection)

    The dozens of streets lined with tightly packed terraces, pubs and corner shops were a feature of my childhood and youth, all now gone along with the generations that grew up together, being dispersed to new housing estates on the outskirts of the town. Neighbours and neighbourhoods plucked and uprooted from their tight knit communities with hardly a trace left behind.

    I was also able to mention the bustling thoroughfares of East Street and St Mary Street that were magnets for shoppers and revellers away from the big stores of the High Street. St Mary Street itself could probably merit a book on its own with its Victorian edifices and huge variety of traders from the 1820s until the present day.

    This is the Undercroft Vault and entrance from about the 13th century (not the house above it!) one of many used to store wine and wool below the ancient merchants houses. Regular tours are given. (Author's collection)

    In the hectic hustle of modern times it is relaxing to stroll though the numerous parks in the heart of the city – on a hot summer’s day in the shade of the trees or in crisp winter sunshine dappled from their bare branches. It is always a delight. The Rivers of Itchen and Test provide year round employment and pleasure but the downside is that the huge port development has limited public access to the waterside. The town’s southern shoreline was lost to the docks of the 1840s and the entire West Bay was engulfed in the 1920s. The ancient west walls, which once looked out to sea, now watch over the mammoth West Quay shopping complex.

    The gigantic transatlantic liners may have disappeared after being replaced by air travel in the 1960s but the port now plays host to the even larger and more luxurious cruise ships and the world’s biggest container vessels. If you need a break from history, an afternoon by the sea at Mayflower Park will allow you to view these maritime monsters.

    Despite its huge transformation since the Second World War, Southampton still has lots to offer both locals and visitors alike with its ancient buildings mingling with modern developments. To tread in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, or to see where Jane Austen spent her time in the town are enjoyable experiences and just two of the many pleasures awaiting.

    Dave Marden's new book Historic England: Southampton is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Shropshire by John Shipley

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Shropshire has so many Gems to offer therefore limiting this book to only 50 Gems has proved to be very difficult. The beautiful border county of Shropshire is surely one of the loveliest in the kingdom. A history buff's dream with castles and historic sites galore. The county is also a walkers paradise with an abundance of hills, valleys and picture postcard countryside from north to south, from east to west, hikers are almost spoiled for choice.

    For those not into the more strenuous pastimes there are numerous historic towns to visit such as Shrewsbury and Ludlow with their medieval castles, listed buildings, and narrow streets (called shuts in Shrewsbury), plus a host of welcoming hostelries and restaurants. Not forgetting Bridgnorth with its Severn Valley Railway, the unique Funicular Cliff Railway, and historic buildings.

    Shropshire is a county with not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Ironbridge Gorge (1986), and the Pontcysllte Aqueduct and Canal (2009), not forgetting its very own Lake District around Ellesmere, loads to experience for the discerning visitor. Shropshire has many iconic places: Coalbrookdale with eleven museums to visit, including the incredible Iron Bridge, an area that witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

    Sweeping through the county is the River Severn, Britain's longest river at 220 miles long, winding through five counties on its picturesque journey from mid-Wales to the Bristol Channel. Of course Shropshire not only boasts this river but has many others, a lot of them tributaries of the Severn, each offering lovely valleys and views to amble through, valleys such as the Teme, the Onny and the Corve, with a special mention to the River Clun, the inspiration for the famous piece by A.E. Housman:

     “Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun, Are the quietest places, Under the sun.”

    The iconic Iron Bridge at Ironbridge. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Shropshire is a county where one can walk through history from the ancient Bronze and Iron Ages, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and on up to the present day.

    There are many famous Salopians, heroes and pioneers such as Wolves and England footballer Billy Wright CBE, the first man to win 100 International caps for England, Sir Gordon Richards, 1904-1986, he was the first Jockey to be knighted. Raised in Donnington Wood, the first English flat-race jockey to ride 4,000 winners, and topped the winning jockey list for 26 out of 34 seasons between 1921 and 1954. In all he won a total of 4,870 races, then a world record.

    Shropshire has two world renowned golfers: Sandy Lyle MBE and Ian Woosnam OBE. Sandy was born in Shrewsbury on 9 February 1958, his father, Scotsman Alex Lyle, was professional at Hawkstone Park Golf Club. Sandy won two major championships: the US Masters, and The British Open, plus many other prestigious tournaments as well as representing Europe in the Ryder Cup both as player, 5 times, and as assistant captain to Ian Woosnam.

    Ian Woosnam was born in Oswestry on 2 March 1958, representing Europe in eight Ryder Cups. Woosie won the US Masters in 1991. He started playing golf at Llanymynech Golf Club, representing Shropshire County Boys in an eight-man team which included Sandy Lyle.

    Amongst Shropshire's other famous heroes is Captain Matthew Webb, 1848–1883, the steamship captain and famous swimmer who on 24 August 1875 became the first man to swim the English Channel. Born in Dawley, Shropshire, on 19 January 1848, the eldest of twelve children. He sadly died on 24 July 1883 whilst attempting to swim across the Niagara River directly beneath Niagara Falls.

    Charles Darwin statue, Shrewsbury. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One of Shropshire's most famous sons is Charles Darwin, 1809 – 1882, a man venerated the world over. Charles Darwin was born 12 February 1809 at 'The Mount,' (now known as 'Darwin House'), which is situated in the Frankwell area of Shrewsbury, and was educated at Shrewsbury School. His famous epic five year voyage of discovery aboard H.M.S. Beagle began in December 1831 when aged 22 he signed up as naturalist to the surveying expedition. Over the next twenty plus years Darwin formulated his theories of evolution, delaying their publication until 1859. 'The Origin of Species,' expounding evolution through means of natural selection caused an uproar, splitting the scientific community; the Church of England described his work as heresy. Darwin's theory changed every known view on how the human species evolved. His forward thinking book is one of the most important ever written. His legacy is the basis on which we all live our lives. Each February, Shrewsbury celebrates its most famous son in the annual Darwin Festival.

    Doctor William Penny Brookes, 1809 – 1896, was born in Much Wenlock, and is best known as the man responsible for the re-birth of the Olympic Games. This impressive figure, with trademark long facial whiskers and stern expression began exercise classes in 1850 in response to his concerns for the health of the town's population particularly the local working men. Ten years later this developed into the Wenlock Olympian Society, an organisation that still exists. Dr Brookes vision of the Much Wenlock Olympian Games began in 1861, and included diverse activities such as: putting the stone (today's shot-put), jumping, cricket, quoits, plus races for wheelbarrows, and a penny-farthing bicycle race over a three-mile course. The kids of the town also got to have a go at events which included: history, reading, spelling and, wait for it… knitting! Sadly, Dr Brookes died, aged 87, a few months before the first modern International Olympic Games, which took place in April 1896.

    The ruins of Whiteladies Priory. (50 Gems of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Then we have soldiers: Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India; Admiral John Benbow; Lord Rowland Hill, the Duke of Wellington's right-hand man; Wilfred Owen, the famous World War One poet.

    Shropshire has a host of famous writers: Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) author of the Brother Cadfael stories; Mary Webb; Francis Moore founder of Old Moore's Almanac. Not forgetting Eglantyne Jebb co-founder of Save The Children.

    Many of the world's first are in Shropshire: the first Iron Bridge, opened in 1781, crossing the River Severn; the first 'Skyscraper' Ditherington Flax Mill; the first iron boat, built and launched at Coalbrookdale in 1787, to mention just a few.

    Shropshire has it all from the marvellous Shropshire countryside, hills and valleys, 32 castles, 25 hill forts (the best is Old Oswestry Hill Fort), 2 ancient dykes: Offa's Dyke and Wat's Dyke, stone-circles galore, an abundance of ghosts, and Cosford Aerospace Museum.

    Yes, Shropshire is a great place. Come and see for yourself.

    John Shipley's new book 50 Gems of Shropshire is available for purchase now.

Items 61 to 70 of 160 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. ...
  3. 5
  4. 6
  5. 7
  6. 8
  7. 9
  8. ...
  9. 16