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  • Secret Wrexham by John Idris Jones

    John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson (1728-1808). (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    I have already done Secret Chester and found this new work Secret Wrexham is nothing like it, it’s like chalk and cheese. Chester, as we all know, is charm personified. You go back to the Romans, who set its street pattern, and historically it was rich with traders and merchants who occupied its varied locations in the town’s streets, marked by ‘the rows’, making it an unique feature.

    The town of Wrexham has no such rich history. It came alive with the Industrial Revolution; before that, it was a small town with markets; rural and not industrial. The river Clywedog ran through it, and supplied water to the new factories, and to leather works. John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson was the main man who was involved in the industrial works of Wrexham. Buried in an iron coffin, they say. Coal came out of the ground in some 26 sites; some of the pits were huge; four had shafts descending some 2,000 feet. So the miners needed accommodation; Ruabon and particularly Rhos had rows of dwellings where families crowded-in.  In the present economy, some of these sell for a low price. So coal transformed the town of Wrexham. Then iron-ore was mined as well, and the iron-and-steel industry prospered. They say that cannons were created here for the wars 1780-1815. The small town, in a hundred years, was transformed into an industrial hub.

    Bersham colliery. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The strange thing is that ‘Wrexham’ is in two parts.  Firstly there is the town, of some 60,000 folk. Then there is the rest of Wrexham County Borough, which actually has a bigger population.  In Minera there used to be lead works, very bad for your health. In a short walk, out of the town, you enter rich farmland. The most charismatic is the Ceiriog Valley, some 13 miles of it, the road turning and twisting as it follows the trout-rich River Ceiriog.

    Pontcysyllte has the astonishing aqueduct, designed by Telford; it is 336 yards long, a width of four yards and a height of 126 feet. It is still in fine working order, despite its origin in being completed in 1805:  narrow-boats cross it frequently. There are three other spectacular bridges on this part of the Dee.

     

     

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The man who gave his name to Yale University, USA, Elihu Yale, lived in Wrexham; he is buried in the local church.

    Offa’s Dyke runs through the area; built in the late eighth century, to keep the Welsh in order!

    The village of Marford has peculiar architecture; echoes of children’s stories in its pointed-top windows and doors.

    Erbistock has a popular pub/restaurant on the bank of the Dee.  Overton in 1292 received a charter from King Edward 1st. Hanmer, close to the English border, is where Lorna Sage grew up.  She is famous for her book ‘Bad Blood’.

    So, here is a lot to cover; much variety; from the industrial to the agrarian. My book is full of my photographs of Wrexham and I hope I have done justice to an area that is much more than a centre of industry.

    John Idris Jones' new book Secret Wrexham is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Hayes by Louise Wyatt

    Yeading Meadows, Yeading Nature Reserve - also known as The Greenway to many locals. (Image courtesy of Dudley Miles under Creative Commons 2.0, Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m very grateful to my editor Becky Cousins for the opportunity in the first place, as Secret Hayes is my first traditionally published book. And many thanks to the publishing team for such a fabulous series to write for (I’m on my second book for the series, Secret Chepstow) and for such a professional job for turning my Word document into something so pleasurable. I tried not to dwell on the facts more commonly known – such as George Orwell being a teacher there in the 1930’s – but searched for facts such as finding out just who those fanciful tombs in the local Norman church belonged to.

    I had always imagined myself a fiction writer so delving into the historical non-fiction world was a tad scary, but boy did I enjoy it! I have always been fascinated by uncovering unknown facts, be it at home, holiday or just out and about. Hence why I began my blog after breaking my ankle in 2012, about places I had visited and things I had found out. When I was mobile again, I began blogging about walks I had been on and buildings – sometimes ruinous and sometimes not – that I had stumbled upon. Discovering a pile of rubble in some woods that just so happened to be the remains of an important strategic castle in the twelfth century really fired me up!

    Sketch of Hayes parish in 1874 by Thomas Mills. (Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I had to start with what I knew plenty about – the town I grew up in. Now a busy suburb of London, cut up on all sides by Heathrow, the M4, M40 and so on, I knew it wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, we had such good times – fields to play in, shops nearby but also able to retreat to a quiet place. It was during writing Secret Hayes that I found out just how important those ‘fields to play in’ were; now classified nature reserves with SSSI status they are more than just fields. It is an important snapshot of what was and what is still thriving, to show how the eco-system can survive in such a densely populated area and giving the local people a fabulous piece of breathing space.

    Despite all the housing developments, old and new, there are still pockets of history all around. I had always known there were ‘old buildings’ a bus ride away, but only by researching this book have I been led to understand Hayes has a central conservation area, listed buildings and award-winning open green areas that are remnants of an ancient forest and old farms; amazingly, a couple of farms are still in living memory of residents – development has been quite hard and fast when looking at things via a timeline.

    Comparing ‘then’ and ‘now’ photographs was mind-boggling during research, especially when you know the area well. How the pub that had ‘always just been behind the traffic lights’ was actually the oldest in Hayes, a main coaching inn back in the day and opposite a village-green type pond. All long gone, apart from the pub. Also discovering via research that the area where you grew up probably had higher crime statistics on a one-to-one ratio than modern day was bit of an eye-opener too; the isolation, the difficulty in connecting to main routes, as it seems even the Romans bypassed the little corner of Hayes we know as Yeading. Discovering newspaper articles of the day about dastardly deeds in an area you know was very engrossing!

    The 1086 entry for Hayes, noting 108 households and fifty-nine geld (taxable) units, including meadow, woodland and pasture worth £30. (Professor John Palmer and George slater on opendomesday.org.uk, Secret Hayes, Amberley Publishing)

    I was extremely fortunate to get my hands on an original book entitled History of Hayes by Thomas Mills, written in 1874. The author signed the inner cover and the book was dedicated to a family member, Sir Charles Mills, who happened to be Lord of Hillingdon at the time. I found it extremely difficult to make the connection between them and time – as well as my word count – was running out! I had noticed whilst researching credible sources I had found online that they constantly had this book in their bibliographies and when I Googled it, there was the only copy available on Amazon. A tad expensive but I just had to have it. Not only did it help give me a fabulous insight to the Hayes of the late 1800’s, it was very special holding a book of that age in my hands. In fact, I was almost too scared to hold it and it is now safely tucked away. Thomas Mills’ detailed sketches and beautiful descriptive language as eye-witness accounts transported me to a Hayes that was the village it always had been, up until the early 1900’s.

    Hayes will probably go on to be continually developed but I’m hoping my book will enable people to realise that beneath their feet is history; that buildings exist in Hayes that have been there when the area was an idyllic backwater – although I do use the term idyllic loosely. Many people were poor, they had farms to work, miles to tread to the nearest market town (in this case, Uxbridge) and Yeading in particular appears to have been a hard place to live, with its farms, then brickfields and isolation. But the area is still remembered fondly by many and if one cares to look closely, pockets of the meadow, woodland and pasture that were mentioned so long ago in the Domesday Book are still there.

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

  • Secret Preston by Keith Johnson

    Preston was a town with plenty of windmills. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Listen! Do you want to know a secret? Secret Preston gives you the opportunity to look into the past of Preston and reflect on events from generations ago besides those in the not too distant past. There is a history of Preston that is hidden from view, or simply not recognised today amidst the hurly burly of modern life.

    The book goes behind the façade of the familiar to explore what lies beneath the historic city we are familiar with. Scratching the surface and delving into the archives to reveal things we are unaware of, or that have simply been forgotten in the mist of time.

    The outfit of a brave doctor visiting the Plague victims. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    In truth for almost 1,000 years Preston was simply a rural market town that developed around the church from where the original settlement grew. It would eventually become something of a significant crossroads with a handy river crossing.

    Preston suffered from famine, plague and warfare, yet grew into a large industrial town, noted for its cotton and engineering industries and with all the trials that created as folk flocked to the important county town.

    All these events helped to shape the Preston that grew into our city. Of course, much of the history of a city often lays beneath centuries of decay and development. Indeed, a dweller of the old town of Preston of centuries ago would simply be lost in our city streets these days.

    Traditions that remain often enthral us and these socially motivated events bound the generations together. What our ancestors taught us is often treasured. Pageantry, parade, custom, folk lore, festivals all leaving a legacy of what they achieved. It is never just about the bricks and mortar, but the buildings themselves help us to understand our ancestors’ hopes and ambitions.

    The chapters bring to life some of the characters of old who walked along these highways and byways before us, leaving behind a trail that fascinates us and helps us to understand what kind of life they enjoyed, or endured.

    Preston Cemetery, the last resting place of many local folk. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Like all cities it is one of changing faces and changing places – our Market Square is a prime example of that. Graveyards and bones, monks and monasteries, alleyways and tunnels, factories and workshops, plagues and poverty, pain and torment, disease and death, famine and feast all provide an insight into the past.

    Within the book there are chapters that remind us of a Market Place steeped in history; the punishments and pastimes of old; the visitations of the plague and the days of lepers; the quacks and their cures; the Grey Friars and the sisters of mercy; the grandest of buildings and structures; the springs and wells that quenched thirst; the days of war when secrecy was paramount and the place where Preston's treasures are stored.

    Likewise, a chance to discover what went before on the site where the present day industrial Red Scar estate now prospers, a chance to look back at the ghastly activity that took place on Gallows Hill where English Martyrs now stands, and to consider why the derelict Miley Tunnel that runs beneath our streets has such a mysterious reputation.

    Preston - the battle ground of 1715 as the rebels attempted to quell the King's forces. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Those Civil War days of the 17th century are also recalled. Days when Royalists and Parliamentarians fought on our streets with dire consequences for many. There is also a timely account of the days over 300 years ago, in 1715 and later, when the battles on Preston soil helped shape the Jacobite Rebellions and the fortunes of those involved. Yes, it is so true that Cavaliers and Roundheads fought here as did those involved in the Jacobite Rebellions. Centuries when conflict raged and cannon fire, bloodshed, barricades and rampaging armies all became part of the rich tapestry of Preston's history.

    Hopefully, like myself, you will delight in a tour of our streets and alleyways back in the nineteenth century town led by Richard Aughton, who recalled his formative years growing up in a place that was developing from pasture land. His anecdotes recalled the people, the places and the reality of his time. He lived amongst the people of Preston and he saw first-hand the endeavours of all, both wealthy and poverty stricken alike.

    Red Scar - the much-loved home of the Cross family for generations. (Secret Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Curiosity led me to some of the discoveries and my admiration for the historians of old Preston did not waiver, for they left a paper trail that can be clearly followed to unlock secrets of the past. It is often only necessary to simply scratch the surface to uncover parts of our past history, although our treasured archaeologists have dug much deeper for the cause.

    Journey back with me into the secret past of Preston and loiter a while, and maybe marvel at those who lingered in olden days on the streets and fields of Preston past and their achievements. Their past shaped our future and this latest Amberley publication reveals all.

    The dictionary definition of secret includes the terms – concealed, unseen and mysterious – not deliberately, of course, but as a result of the passage of time – hopefully some of the dust of time is blown away in the pages of the publication.

    Keith Johnson's book Secret Preston is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Aldeburgh to Southwold by Terry Philpot

    By 1910, what was left of All Saints Church, Dunwich, was in danger of toppling into the sea, as it did twelve years later. (Courtesy of Michael Rouse, Secret Aldeburgh to Southwold, Amberley Publishing)

    Suffolk, particularly Southwold to Aldeburgh, still retains a beguiling, largely unspoiled remoteness. The flat landscape is dotted with farms, the big sky illuminates the littleness of life, and the ruined abbey and castle bespeak a rich past.

    In traversing this landscape, I confess to a personal connection, which has enhanced the pleasure of writing this book. The novelist Maggie Hemingway was born in Orford but moved to New Zealand when she was a small child and later settled in Deal in Kent. Yet, when she crossed the Stour at Manningtree on the train, she would say, ‘Now I’m home.’ My attachment is more distant, but nonetheless deeply felt. My paternal great-grandfather moved to London in the 1860s, leaving behind the ghosts of generations who had lived in the part of the county that is the subject of this book. The names of the villages through which I have often passed are redolent of family births, marriages, burials and places of earning a living (or sometimes not). My great-great-grandparents were married at Wenhaston in the church of the great doom painting, though they could never have seen it for at that time it was still hidden beneath Edward VI’s Protestant plaster. I have been coming to this area for forty years and whenever I cross the Essex-Suffolk border I still experience something of Maggie Hemingway’s sense of homecoming.

    The Martello Tower, Slaughden. (Courtesy of D. Kirkham, Landmark Trust, Secret Aldeburgh to Southwold, Amberley Publishing)

    So far as people are concerned, I have attempted to write of the subject’s association with the town or village, rather than offer a potted biography of their lives.

    Alas, in some cases, there is nothing to say as I could trace no more than a birthplace – like that of the great documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings (Walberswick) and the Victorian photographer Robert Howlett (Theberton). While P. D. James had a home in Southwold and also set some of her books in the county, she wrote an entertaining and charming memoir, Time to be in Earnest, but this tells very little about her Suffolk life, other than that she entertained family and friends and was a regular communicant at St Edmund’s Church. (Her fellow crime writer, Ruth Rendell, lived in Babergh, which is outside the geographical scope of my remit.)

     

     

    Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh. (Courtesy of Colin Huggins, Secret Aldeburgh to Southwold, Amberley Publishing)

    With two necessary exceptions, I have drawn a line by writing about only those who are dead. Ronald Blythe, happily still writing at ninety-three, is inextricable from what I call the Aldeburgh Festival Circle. A later friend of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (she met them in 1971, only five years before the composer’s death) was the then young but accomplished novelist Susan Hill.

    Fortunately, the biographies of buildings and places are (usually) far less well-hidden than those of people, but there were many discoveries there too – even in an area already well mapped.

    The reader or visitor asks: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Whether events, buildings or people are familiar or obscured I have attempted to answer those questions and, in so doing, reveal their secrets.

    Terry Philpot's new book Secret Aldeburgh to Southwold is avialable for purchase now.

  • Secret Whitechapel by Louis Berk and Rachel Kolsky

    Mile End mural at No. 31 Mile End Road, E1. (Courtesy of artist Mychael Barratt, commissioned by T. V. Edwards, Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    Revealing the secrets of four centuries of history in Whitechapel

    In 2016 Amberley published our first joint collaboration, Whitechapel in 50 Buildings which has proven to be a very popular title. At the time we were also asked by Amberley to create a similar title for their ‘Secret’ series of books and Secret Whitechapel is the result.

    Whitechapel in 50 Buildings celebrated buildings that proclaimed from the exterior their age, history or purpose. Secret Whitechapel encourages readers to look up and down, discovering stories not immediately evident to the passer-by.

    Edward VIIth statue on Whitechapel Waste with the Royal London Hospital in the background (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    The story of Whitechapel is not always emblazoned on walls but there are often other clues to its fascinating past – they just need interpreting. When passing the Royal London Hospital, you might notice the distinctively shaped windows of the top floor. What do they mean? You can pass by a shopfront on Whitechapel Road without knowing it contained a peep show connected to one of the most moving human stories in English history. Within this book, doors, windows, pavements and even drainpipes – among other items – all have a hidden story to tell.

    ‘Light is my glory’: The ornate but largely unnoticed bas relief on the former Captain Montefiore secondary school, a typical Victorian building created by the School Board of London. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Whitechapel continues to captivate people from all over the Britain – indeed the world. Many have passed through on their journeys, either living or working there. Within this small area, you discover a microcosm of London’s social history and those who strove for change including the Dancing Academy on New Street that hosted missionary meetings that led to an international philanthropic movement. One of the most popular songs of the twentieth century was created in a modest recording studio on Osborn Street and shopfronts and ghost signs are reminders of both past businesses and those now in fourth-generation family ownership.

    The surprisingly rural feel of the workers cottages in Belle Vue Place between Whitechapel and Mile End. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

    It would be impossible to reveal all the secrets within Whitechapel in one single volume. Indeed, as we wrote this book we continued to discover more wonderful stories that for reasons of space we had to omit. If we had to sum up this collection of special places, we chose to concentrate on the minutiae and truly hidden meanings in buildings and locations. There is a vicarious delight in knowing you are following in the footsteps of famous men and women in history, or finding spaces that, even in Whitechapel, are so ‘off the beaten track’ they appear almost rural.

    There is no doubt that Whitechapel is going through an important transition as the thirst for space pushes outwards from the nearby City of London. Central Whitechapel is likely to go through dramatic changes during the rest of this decade as Crossrail arrives and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets commences its vision for a new twenty first century civic centre for its borough. There may yet be time to savour some of the back roads and surprisingly tranquil spaces shown in this book and we hope it will both inform and fulfil its role as a guide to secrets in the area.

    Louis Berk & Rachel Kolsky's book Secret Whitechapel is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Chester by John Idris Jones

    Godstall Lane had a hermit. Gerald of Wales wrote that this man was Hnry V of the Holy Roman Empire. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Before I forget, may I first put in a good word for Editor Jenny Stephens. She has been a star for my work on Secret Chester. It is the first time I have done this format, and there were many tricky moments. However, Jenny sailed through and put the book together in admirable form.  She juggled the images and the text in a way which brings out the pictures; some larger, some smaller; and also a good word for the printers; some of the pictures I was doubtful about, but the printers have done a sterling job, bringing out some details I could not see on the originals. The picture of Godstall Lane on page 7 for instance; very dark in the original but a great deal less so when printed. The paper is excellent quality and does good justice to the images; they are printed much better than I expected.

    Gee gees dates back to the first recorded horse race at Chester in 1539. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, there are lots of books on Chester, some of them with archive pictures, but I am hoping there is only one like mine. With new pictures and short explanatory text, it’s reliable and accurate but not academic. The mixture looks good to me; some history, some contemporary; some quirky things, like ‘gee-gees’ being derived from a Mr Gee who started the racecourse in c1550. Then to various things about the Romans, and King Arthur, who seems to have spent some time in Chester. I have put in lots of pictures of houses. They are so attractive with their half-timbering and carvings and have odd things like John Lennon’s grandmother being born in one.

    It is an outstanding place; packed with good details. The French restaurant Chez Jules used to be the Fire Station, and you can see the bays.

    Chez Jules restaurant in Northgate Street. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Not many know that the design side is misleading. Most of the half-timbering, Tudor-style, is fairly new; Victorian; designed in 1850-1890. I have dedicated the book to five architects; such good fortune to have them there at the same time. They really were outstanding designers and without them the city would be a pale shadow of what it is now. The buildings have survived time; some from the very early centuries are still fresh and good-looking.

    I think this combination of quality pictures of a decent size, with illustrative text, is a good commercial idea. I think people, tourists especially, will buy it; it is a souvenir of a visit perhaps. Very good news that genuine paper books are coming back and e-based material is in decline. On holiday in Spain last week I noticed fewer kindles around the pool and more books.

    I sincerely wish Amberley Publishing all success. They are taking a chance in a difficult marketplace. They are producing decent books of good quality content and material. I would like to mention Alan Murphy as well; as commissioning editor, he has excellent judgement and looks to the future in a very positive way.

    John Idris Jones' book Secret Chester is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Greenwich by David Ramzan

    The Enderby's of Greenwich Marsh

    Whaler Samuel Enderby by William John Huggins (1781-1845), after engraver C. Rosenberg. (Author collection)

    Having produced several books for Amberley Publishing over a period of many years, a majority concentrating on the history and heritage of my place of birth Greenwich, in Southeast London, I was asked to compose a blog for the Amberley website. Not sure of what type of subject to write about, I took a look through other posted blogs, all of which made fascinating reading, describing how to photograph models, a writer’s passion for public parks and another documenting the history of Brunel’s steamship the Great Western, an account which gave me an idea for my own blog.

    The Great Western was the sister ship of the Great Eastern, constructed opposite Greenwich on the north shore of the River Thames at Millwall. It was the largest steamship ever built up to that time. The vessel later became the first to successfully lay telegraph cable, which was made at the subsea cable works in Greenwich, from Britain to America. However my interest is not in the ‘Great Babe’, the name Brunel affectionately gave his ship, but at the works at Enderby Wharf Greenwich where the subsea telegraph cable was fabricated and manufactured. The site, developed commercially by a family of whalers, sealers and Atlantic explorers, was acquired by Samuel Enderby II in the early 1800s. His sons, Samuel, Charles and George, expanded their business interests through the manufacturing of rope and canvas to supply the family’s fleet of whalers operating in the subantarctic and Antarctic, several berthed on the Thames off Greenwich Marsh. At its peak the company owned or leased sixty-eight ships, one of which, the Amelia, sailed west around Cape Horn in 1789 to become the first whaler to carry out whaling in the Southern Ocean. The Enderby’s built a house on the river’s edge during the mid 19th century, which had an unusual octagonal room with a glass ceiling and a large bay window giving a panoramic eastwards view of vessels sailing up and down the Thames.

    Enderby House, centre right, from Enderby Wharf, with the cable winding gear to the right of the image, prior to demolition of the site buildings to the rear. (Author collection)

    Although commercial whaling is now a subject of intense ethical and moral debate, between the early 17th and mid-20th century, the hunting of whales for their oil, meat and bone was a respected and highly profitable industry. The Enderby’s became London’s largest whaling company, funding several pioneering expeditions into the Southern Ocean which led to the discovery of the Bellany Islands and the establishment of the Enderby Settlement at Port Ross in the north-east of the Auckland Islands. At one time only whalers and sealers ventured as far south as Antarctica, only the men of those ships ever having set foot on its vast and desolate ice sheets, and no one had ever seen the Antarctic mainland up until as late as 1820.

    So well noted were the Enderby’s that the company and one of its whalers, the Samuel Enderby, feature in the novel Moby Dick, written by American author Herman Melville. The whaler Amelia is also mentioned in a chapter of the contemporary publication The Far Side of the World by Patrick O’Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars, where the ship is taken as a prize by the American ship USS Norfolk.

    The Enderby family originated from Bermondsey, South London, trading in leather tanning, and were supporters of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. Their patronage of Cromwell and funding of his new model army earned them huge favour with the Parliamentarians, resulting in the family being granted forfeited lands in Ireland, which the Enderby’s later sold to finance an oil trading business with Russia and in founding their whaling and sealing enterprises. After many years of successful trading, the money invested in the unproductive Enderby Settlement in the South Atlantic eventually brought about the company’s financial ruin, and the family business was liquidated in 1854.

    Painting of Enderby House and Enderby Wharf mid 1800s by David C Ramzan. (Author collection)

    The site at Greenwich, along with Enderby House, was sold on to submarine cable makers Glass, Elliott & Co, supplying telegraph communication cables laid down below various stretches of water in the North Sea and Mediterranean. Glass, Elliott & Co later merged with the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, to become known as Telcon, the manufacturers of that first transatlantic telegraph cable successfully laid by the Great Eastern.

    Enderby House, which retained the name of the whaling family, continued to be used as company offices up until the early 2000s, when much of Greenwich Marsh came under redevelopment and regeneration. The northern stretch of the site, including the Grade II listed Enderby House and Enderby Wharf, then owned by Alcatel-Lucent, was sold off to developers. While negotiations continued over the redevelopment of the works and wharf, where a proposed cruise liner terminal and hotel were planned to be built, Enderby House, where Major General Gordon, son of Elizabeth Gordon, nee Enderby, daughter of Samuel Enderby junior, was entertained the day before leaving for the Sudan, soon fell into a state of disrepair. Local campaigners fighting to save the celebrated property, which has important links to the historic industries and technological innovations associated with Greenwich Marsh, made various proposals to ensure the iconic house has a sustainable and productive future, initiatives which include use as a visitor centre, museum, cafe and bar. As large areas of Greenwich Marsh, now known as Greenwich Peninsular, come under redevelopment and regeneration, apartments, offices and hotels replacing industrial buildings and wharfs of the industrialised landscape, very few original properties have survived from a period of advancements in technological manufacturing and engineering during the late 18th to late 20th century. Enderby House, one of the most important historic structures still standing, although in a perilous condition, alongside Enderby Wharf, are the only surviving reminder of the important role Greenwich Marsh played in not only the development of global telecommunications but also in the early years of Britain’s whaling industry.

    Artistic impression of Enderby House during the mid 1800s. (Author collection)

    Incidentally, in 2010, the bones of a huge North Atlantic right whale were uncovered in the mud off the Greenwich foreshore, believed to have either beached itself or having been caught and brought to shore from the Thames estuary. The remains we said to be the size of the white whale as described in Moby Dick, its bones dating to the early 19th century, a period when half of the Britain’s whalers gathered on the Thames off Greenwich, including many Enderby company ships.

    David Ramzan's new book Secret Greenwich is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Loughton by Michael Foley

    An old view of the High Road showing the original ornate fountain that was destroyed in a road accident. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    The Loughton Poisoner

    The nineteenth century was a time of rapid development in the use of drugs to treat illness. Unfortunately not all of the new discoveries were well tested or were even abused for profit. I came across a shocking example while writing Secret Loughton.

    Between October 1877 and March 1878 there were thirteen infant deaths in the Loughton area, as well as sixteen other non-fatal illnesses in young infants, due to skin disease or poisoning. This attracted the attention of The Medical Officer of Health.

    At the Epping Petty Sessions May 1878 Henry George King, wholesale chemist of Kingsland Road London was charged with the unlawful killing of Elizabeth Sears in February 1877. He was charged with unlawfully and fraudulently selling Violet Powders with arsenic which was used on the bodies of those of tender years to endanger their health. It was claimed that the powder contained between 28 and 51 % of arsenic which was cheaper than the starch that the powder also contained. King was told to stop selling the powder by the treasury but did not reply until visited by Sargent Roots from Scotland Yard.

    John Nottage a grocer of Loughton had bought a gross of the powders from King for one shilling and nine pence and had thought that it was the purest of powders for use in the nursery. Nottage sold the powders for one penny a packet. He had also sold the powders from other sources in the past with no complaints. When a Mr Deacon complained about the powder he stopped selling them and contacted Mr King. He asked for a warranty as to the powder’s safety and King took some of the packets for testing. Nottage heard no more until someone from the treasury arrived and took all the rest of the powders.

    Emma Grout a grocer of Baldwins Hill Loughton had known King as a chemist for some years; she bought three dozen packets of the powder from him. Mr Bell, the inspectors of nuisances, called on Mrs Grout after complaints from Mrs Martin, Mrs Scars and Mrs Mead. She wrote to King who again took some of the packets for testing.

    Another old view of the High Road with houses on the right where shops now line the street. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    Sarah Mead of Benjamin’s Mead Loughton had a child in January 1877 named William. She had bought the Violet powder at Grout’s shop which had King’s Name and address on it. She used it until March with no ill effects. She then purchased some more which made the child very red and sore where it was used. This then turned into blisters. She called Doctor Fowler and stopped using the powder and the child got better. She then gave the remaining powder to Mr Bell.

    Isabella Martin of Ash Green Loughton had a baby on 21 November 1877. She bought some Violet Powder from Grouts shop and after using it for nine days the baby died. Where she had applied the powder there were a number of black blisters, again Mr Bell took the powder away. Hannah Reid also of Ash Green had been Mrs Martin’s midwife and said that the baby had been healthy when born.

    Elizabeth Sears of Baldwin’s Hill Loughton had one child early in 1877. She used King’s Powder from Grouts and the baby died after a week. She had another baby in February 1878 and bought more of the powder and the second child died at a week old. The baby had been healthy at birth but had died in agony.

    The defendant King said that he was well known in Loughton and that his mother in law lived next door to one of the witnesses. He very much regretted that the powder may have been the cause of the deaths and said that he would have stopped selling it if he had known. The case was adjourned on a number of occasions and during the various hearings expert witnesses were called. Leadenhall Street examined some of King’s Violet Powders and found 25% of the powder consisted of arsenic.

    An old view of Church Hill, which runs between the High Road and the Goldings Hill. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    It seemed that arsenic was sold for ten shillings a ton which was much cheaper than the starch normally used in the powders. Doctor Du Pre from Westminster Hospital also examined the powders and found that some contained up to 51% of arsenic. It was also said that it was very easy to see the difference between arsenic and the normal starch used in the powder. It was also evident from press reports that the adulterated Violet Powder was on sale all over London, not just in Loughton. Some of this was due to King but not all. There were also cases of adulterated powder being sold in Manchester where two chemists were fined but in this case it was Sulphate of lime not arsenic that was used.

    King claimed during the trial that he bought the powder to make the Violet Powders from other chemists and that once he knew that they may be dangerous he tried to stop the sale of them. The trial was moved from Epping Assizes to Essex Assizes and eventually to the Old Bailey and King was placed on bail of £200. The trial eventually ended with King being found not guilty as it was found that the inclusion of arsenic was accidental.

    There were reports of further deaths due to adulterated Violet Powder as late as 1881. This was again due though to Sulphate of lime rather than arsenic. It does seem though that the problems caused by this practice may have caused isolated cases of harm and even death of infants in other areas. In Loughton however the effects were immense with so many cases of death and illness. The publicity over the Loughton cases did however alert other mothers who had lost children to the effects of the powder in other parts of London.

    Michael Foley's new book Secret Loughton is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Kendal by Andrew Graham Stables

    Secret Kendal 1 Brigsteer Road with Kendal sign and racecourse in background. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    As I wrote this blog I became aware it was exactly 196 years since the first horse race was held on Kendal Racecourse on 7th August 1821 and I further recognized in my previous book about Penrith, and my future book looking at Teesdale, they all feature redundant racecourses. To the west of Kendal, off Brigsteer Road and below Scout Scar, are the remnants of Kendal Racecourse. The site, originally called Fishers Plain was built by raising a subscription from wealthy locals and after that first race meeting in August, there followed a three day meeting every June.

    The stand out race was the Kendal Gold Cup with a substantial first prize of £50 and the first ever winner was called Miss Syntax, owned by Lord Queensberry.  The last meeting of this first spell was held in 1834 with further meetings held from 1879–82 and offered both ‘flat’ and ‘hurdle’ races over 2 miles. It was also used for different events like the Kendal Steeple Chase, and some racing was held during the First World War, but it was generally abandoned thereafter.

    Secret Kendal 2 Kendal racecourse. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Other uses have included practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry and even the establishment of a small golf course for a short time. Still clearly visible as a raised flat platform, the site can be accessed from a public footpath and other remnants include entrance gates, raised banks for racegoers to stand and rubble from old buildings.

    Penrith racecourse was located off Salkeld Road to the north of the town and was in use from the 1770’s until 1847. The principle races were the Penrith Town Plate, the Cavalry Cup and the Inglewood Hunt 5 Guineas Sweepstake until it was used as practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry. Eventually in 1890 the course was converted into a golf course with the old stand converted to a clubhouse.

     

     

    Secret Kendal 3 The racecourse and public access. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, the racecourse celebrated as the greatest course in the north of England was located at Gatherley Moor, just off the A66 and was regarded as the Newmarket of the north with royalty buying horses and racing in this famous field. Races were held here from at least the 15th century and the area was well renowned for breeding from the local stud farms. George III is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, 'Oh for a gasp of Gatherley air!' with the moor being on his usual route to or from Scotland. Gatherley Moor remained a renowned hunting ground and race course until the 1816 enclosure act. The area is now cultivated land with little evidence of its illustrious past.

    9781445668048

    Andrew Graham Stables' book Secret Kendal is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

    Secret Barry Island 1 Late medieval pilgram's ampulla found near Barry. (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    Barry Island - a renowned holiday destination for generations of working class tourists from the late nineteenth century until the present day; they not only came down from the South Wales coalfields but from further away places such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester as well as beyond. With the notion of a holiday becoming the norm for the masses, we see Barry Island’s sweeping sandy beach, Whitmore Bay, in times-gone-by with not an inch of sand visible for the sheer number of people present during the summer months. During the 1960s, a Butlin’s holiday camp was constructed on Nell’s Point, further adding to Barry Island’s fame and popularity as a tourist destination. Despite Barry Island being renowned as a place of leisure, its history from its tourism era is very well known. Secret Barry Island offers something a bit different and answers a need for a book with more substance, one which is concerned with a more distant and elusive history.

    The authors of Secret Barry Island both graduated from Cardiff University after studying archaeology, and have been present on many interesting excavations throughout South Wales. During the course of many years research into our locality, to our surprise, we noticed that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed. Secret Barry Island, which was originally going to be called ‘Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story’, is the first history book to have been written which deals exclusively with Barry Island and began life as a series of articles that were later adapted for a book format.

    Secret Barry Island 2 Roman key handle found in the Barry area. (c. Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a personal connection to the place and also a need for such a book considering how popular this location still is as a place of leisure. It may come as a surprise for some, but we have both been asked on more than one occasion by residents of Barry and beyond…. “Did it [Barry Island] used to be an island then?”

    Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, or were written in a dated style.

    We are also fortunate that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late nineteenth century, antiquarian archaeologists such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen (not related to Barry Island’s late nineteenth century owner Lord John Romilly) took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could for posterity. A good deal of the nineteenth century archaeological material we used was hidden away in various old and musty Victorian journals, and a part of the way in which we approached the book was to soften the primary archaeological material and ‘humanise’ it for a general audience. If anyone has ever read their way through a typical dry archaeological site report, they will understand the need to do this. We wanted to form a narrative which flowed, was free from jargon but most importantly, told a story.

    Secret Barry Island 3 The remains of the old port of Barry (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    With the clear aim of writing the book in a manner which is accessible yet informative, we take the reader deep into the long distant past of Barry Island to elucidate elements to Barry Island’s history that are genuinely not very well known. Secret Barry Island covers a wide range of periods and has something for everyone, from its enigmatic Bronze Age cemetery, its renowned status as a place of medieval pilgrimage through to its post - medieval lonely isolation. It also has its place in Welsh history as a part of the South Wales coast smuggler’s network. The book finally explores Barry Island’s successful reinvention as a place of recreation; one way or another, whether it was in the high medieval period of pilgrimage or the twentieth century, Barry Island has always attracted crowds of people!

    Overall we are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope that the people who buy the book enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors have enjoyed writing this book.

    9781445671918

    Mark and Jonathan Lambert's new book Secret Barry Island is available for purchase now.

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