Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Secret series

  • Secret Ramsgate by Andy Bull

    Pugin and Montefiore: building Jerusalem in Ramsgate

    Two remarkable men with a great deal in common but a key religious difference were building empires at opposite ends of Ramsgate in the 1840s. I explore their stories in my new book, Secret Ramsgate.

    On the West Cliff, Augustus Welby Pugin, best known for designing the interiors to the Palace of Westminster, was creating St Augustine’s church, complete with graveyard, priest’s house, cloister and school room, plus a house for himself, The Grange. His church is his monument and final resting place.

    St Augustine's Church alongside The Grange, Pugin's family home. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On the East Cliff, Sir Moses Montefiore, stockbroker, campaigner, philanthropist and one of the richest men in England, had made his home in East Cliff Lodge. He went on to create alongside it a synagogue, a theological college, and a mausoleum in which he and his wife Judith are buried.

    Both men were drawn to Jerusalem, and both are buried facing east, towards the holy city. Montefiore travelled there often, and constructed a famous Kent-style windmill outside the old city, along with alms-houses, designed and built by Ramsgate craftsmen. After Pugin’s death, his son Edward built St. Augustine’s Monastery in Jerusalem.

    The big difference between these two men – towering figures in Victorian England – was that Pugin was Catholic and Montefiore was Jewish. Yet in a way this difference united them. Both had to fight prejudice and discrimination, both in Ramsgate and in their wider lives.

    They both had foreign roots: Pugin’s father fled France at the time of the revolution, Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy, and both chose Ramsgate to realise their great visions. Both were seeking to re-create Jerusalem in Ramsgate.

    Yet, there is no record that they ever met.

    Today, in Ramsgate, the legacies of these two great men are widely divergent.

    Pugin’s church now houses the Shrine of St Augustine and National Pugin Centre, and is hence the official place to honour the saint’s mission to establish Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. After a period of decline and neglect, Pugin’s creation is carefully nurtured, and his reputation has never been higher. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled the establishment of the visitor centre, a place for education and research, in the original schoolroom. It is visited by pilgrims, Pugin enthusiasts and scholars. His house, The Grange, has been restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday home.

    Ramsgate Synagogue built by Sir Moses Montefiore. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On East Cliff it is a very different story. East Cliff Lodge was badly damaged while occupied by the army during the Second World War, then sold to Ramsgate council in 1952 and demolished in 1954. Only the outbuildings survive today. The extensive grounds are the public George VI park. The synagogue is behind high walls and locked gates, and services are only held there occasionally. The theological college was also demolished.

    Not everyone in Ramsgate approved of what Pugin was doing in Ramsgate. In many ways he was a prophet without honour in his home town. He was a controversial, and sometimes hated figure here, and there were outbreaks of violence directed against him.

    In 1845 a naval man and staunch Anglican, Lieutenant Hutchinson, of The Shrubbery, Vale Square, went into battle against Pugin. He raised £8,000 and commissioned George Gilbert Scott to build a Church of England rival to St Augustine’s Christ Church in Vale Square. The two churches rose simultaneously, almost in sight of each other.

    In November 1850, Ramsgate was swept up in a national crisis known as the Papal Aggression, a reaction to the restoration of a Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Anglicans across the country felt under attack.

    In Ramsgate, there were anti-Catholic posters everywhere, Brewer’s drays trundled around with ‘No Popery’ scrawled on the beer casks they carried, and mobs gathered in the streets. While Pugin was away in London, a gang carrying an effigy of the Pope attempted to march on The Grange. They were turned back by police but Pugin’s wife was ‘much frightened’. Some accounts have his house being pelted with excrement, the gateposts graffitied, and Pugin’s children and servants abused in the street.

    The Montefiore Windmill, Jerusalem, based on the Hereson flourmill on the East Cliff estate. (c. Ralf Roletschek under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Moses and Judith Montefiore moved in to East Cliff Lodge in 1822, having such a hugely successful financier and philanthropist in the town made Ramsgate the centre of the Jewish world, and a focus for the international Jewish community.

    In 1833 Sir Moses built a synagogue, between Honeysuckle Road and Dumpton Park Drive, and close to East Cliff Lodge. After his wife Judith’s death, in 1862, he added a mausoleum, in which she was buried, alongside the synagogue. It is a replica of Rachel’s tomb, which is on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and is a place of pilgrimage for both Jews and Muslims.

    As well as bringing Jerusalem to Ramsgate, the Montefiores also took something of Ramsgate to the Holy Land. The Mishkenot Sha’ananim almshouses they built, in one of the first Jewish neighbourhoods to be established outside the walls of the Old City, used decorative ironwork specially imported from G. S. Culver’s East Kent Metalwork factory in Ramsgate.

    The landmark Montefiore windmill, constructed close by, was based on the Hereson flourmill located on the East Cliff estate. Once shipped to Jaffa, it took forty men and a fleet of camels four months to transport it to Jerusalem. Sir Moses built the mill in order to break the Arab monopoly on flour and to provide work for Jews outside the Old City walls.

    Of East Cliff Lodge, only the Grade II stable yard and Grade II* glass house remain, on the clifftop at the end of Montefiore Avenue.

    Following Sir Moses’s death, on 28 July 1885, thousands lined the streets from East Cliff Lodge to the synagogue. In his will, he left a sum of money to Pugin’s parish of St Augustine.

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Ramsgate is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Leith by Jack Gillon

    Having previously written Leith Through Time (2014) and Leith History Tour (2018) for Amberley, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to delve deeper into Leith’s past and some of the lesser-known aspects of its long and distinguished history with Secret Leith (2019).

    Leith from the Firth of Forth, 1820. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Leith has played a long and prominent role in Scottish history. As the major port serving Edinburgh, it has been the stage on which many significant events in Scottish history have taken place. It was first established on the banks of the Water of Leith, at the point where the river entered the Firth of Forth. The first historical reference to the town dates from 1140, when the harbour and fishing rights were granted to Holyrood Abbey by David I. The early settlement was centred on the area bounded by the Shore, Water Street, Tolbooth Wynd and Broad Wynd. It became Edinburgh’s port in 1329, when King Robert I granted control of the shoreline hamlet to the Burgh of Edinburgh. In the early days it consisted of the two independent settlements of South Leith and North Leith.

    Leith frequently features in the power struggles that took place in Scotland and the battles, landings, and sieges of Leith have had an influence on its development. It was attacked by the Earl of Hertford in 1544 during the Rough Wooing – his mission was to arrange a marriage between the young Mary Queen of Scots and her English cousin, later Edward VI. Three years later, it was pillaged after the defeat of the Scottish army at the Battle of Pinkie. Immediately following this, Mary of Guise, the Roman Catholic Regent of Scotland, moved the seat of government to Leith and the town was fortified.

    The Signal Tower - An important Leith landmark at the corner of the Shore and Tower Street. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    The town expanded significantly during the nineteenth century, associated with railway building and the growth of the docks. Port related industries and warehousing also grew rapidly during this period. This contemporary description paints a vivid portrait of the Port at the time – ‘Leith possesses many productive establishments, such as ship-building and sail-cloth manufactories ... manufactories of glass ... a corn-mill ... many warehouses for wines and spirits ... and there are also other manufacturing establishments besides those for the making of cordage for brewing, distilling, and rectifying spirits, refining sugar, preserving tinned meats, soap and candle manufactories, with several extensive cooperages, iron-foundries, flourmills, tanneries and saw-mills.’

    In 1833, the town was established as an independent Municipal and Parliamentary Burgh with full powers of local government. It expanded as massive warehouses and additional docks were built: the Victoria Dock in 1851, the Albert Dock in 1881 and the Imperial Dock in 1903. After the passing of the Leith Improvement Act in 1880, many of the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings were cleared away.

    In 1920, despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against the merger, it was incorporated into Edinburgh. The 1960s, brought the final days of the old and ancient thoroughfares in the heart of Leith – the Kirkgate, St Andrew Street, Tollbooth Wynd, Bridge Street and many more would disappear in the coming decade. However, the town retains a passionate sense of individuality and its people a proud sense of identity.

    Mary, Queen of Scots landing at Leith. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Many of the stories in the book have been told before by accomplished local historians. However, it is hoped that the book, by using early sources; media reports, contemporary with events; and a mix of old and new images, has uncovered some fresh aspects of the long and distinguished history of the town, even for people that know it well.

    On 20 April 1779 the Leith Mutiny, in front of Leith’s Ship Tavern, a fateful clash between soldiers of a Highland Regiment and Lowland troops, ostensibly on the same side but divided by cultures, left the Shore at Leith strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded.

    In August 1816, Hans Zakaeus, who was known in Scotland as John Sakeouse, a native of Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland, landed at Leith. The curious locals were soon given the opportunity to have a closer look at Sakeouse when he gave a demonstration of his skills with his kayak and harpoon in the Wet Dock at Leith Docks.

    In 1753, it was discovered that a lack of vitamin C was the cause of scurvy amongst sailors. To prevent this it became a legal requirement for sailors on long voyages to receive a measure of lime or lemon juice, as protection against the disease – giving rise to the nickname Limeys for British sailors. In 1868, Lauchlan Rose set up a factory to produce the world's first concentrated bottled fruit juice drink – Rose’s Lime Juice – on Commercial Street in Leith.

    Zeppelin L9, which is identical to the Zeppelin that bombed Leith. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    From an aeronautical viewpoint, I was intrigued to discover that Leith had a short lived airport for flying boats and that some of the earliest aeroplanes in Scotland were manufactured in Leith.

    The First World War resulted in a Zeppelin bomber attack on Leith, on the night of 2 April 1916, bringing the First World War to the home front. It caused considerable damage to property and tragic loss of life. In 1918, Julian the Tank Bank arrived in Leith – a unique and novel fundraising project, which tempted the war-weary public to part with its hard-earned cash to help the War effort by allocating a number of Mark IV tanks to tour the towns and cities of Britain, in a campaign which raised many millions of pounds. The German Kultur Panel on Leith’s Pitt Street depicts the alleged atrocities by the German army in the early years of the First World in Belgium.

    I also took the opportunity to describe in detail the events depicted on the People’s History of Leith Mural. It was painted in 1986 and is an evocative celebration of Leith’s maritime, social and industrial heritage.

    Jack Gillon's new book Secret Leith is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Margate - 'The remarkable secret life of Turner’s Mrs Booth' by Andy Bull

    On the face of it, there aren’t many secrets about J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). His Margate connection is very well-known. The Turner Contemporary gallery, built by the harbour at the very spot where he lodged, makes the link between Turner and Margate very clear and evident. He was sent to school here, and returned many times in later life, painting the sunsets which he called ‘the loveliest in Europe’.

    Turner Contemporary. (c. Bejamin Beker, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet for my book Secret Margate I discovered a very powerful, personal story, concerning the person Turner lived with in Margate: Sophia Caroline Booth.

    Today we know Mrs Booth’s name, and that she was his landlady, but very little else about her. The view from the Turner Contemporary is the one the artist saw from her home, Harbour House, on Bank Side Quay.

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was soon to be widowed for a second time, and twenty years his junior. A relationship developed, which Turner chose to keep secret. Mrs Booth’s story deserves to be better known, and she should be acknowledged not just as a footnote in a great man’s life, but as the remarkable woman she was. Turner and Mrs Booth lived together for eighteen years, for the bulk of them in Margate.

    One small clue in the town hints at a tragic, little-known story about Sophia, and suggests that there is much more to be discovered about her. That clue is on her gravestone in St John the Baptist church at the southern end of Margate High Street.

    Sophia Booth's grave at St John the Baptist. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    While Turner is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, Sophia’s name, almost completely obliterated by time, appears at the very bottom of a gravestone headed by the name of her son, John Pound Booth, ‘The beloved and only son of John and Sophia Caroline Booth, who died June 26th 1832 in the [and here the figure is obliterated by time] year of his age.’

    If that figure were legible, it would record that John Pound Booth was only six when he died, of cholera, which swept the town that year, and may also have infected his mother. His death was not the first tragedy to scar the life of Sophia Booth.

    Sophia was born Sophia Nollte, to parents of German immigrant descent, in Dover 1799. She married her first husband, a nineteen-year-old Margate fisherman called Henry Pound, at St John the Baptist on 3 February 1818 when she was twenty-two. They had two sons, Joseph Henry and Daniel. This marriage was to prove tragically short. In the early hours of 22 March 1821, Henry Pound and his brother set out from Margate harbour in the Queen Galley, a small fishing boat, with five others. Returning that afternoon in rough weather, the boat was caught on the treacherous Margate Sands and broke up. All lives were lost. The tragedy left seven young children fatherless, and the Kentish Gazette published an appeal for charitable donations ‘with a view to alleviating the distress of the surviving relatives which in several respects is very great’.

    Three years later, the widowed Sophia suffered a further tragedy, when her five-year-old son Joseph died. Widowed and again bereaved, Sophia struggled to cope. Little wonder then, that only the next year she married the much older John Booth, who described himself as ‘a gentleman of Margate’. She was twenty-six, he was sixty-three. Within a year they had a son, John Pound Booth, whose tragic end is recorded at the top of the gravestone described above.

    Deeply concerned for his wife’s health, John Booth amended his will, leaving the substantial sum intended for his now-dead son to her, saying that this was ‘in consideration for the bad state of my wife Sophia Caroline Booth’s health and in consequence of the lamented death of my son John Pound Booth’.

    The Shell Lady - Anne Carrington's tribute to Sophie Booth. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was living with her elderly second husband at Harbour House. When Mr Booth died, Sophia was only thirty-four, but already twice widowed and mourning the loss of two sons. Turner was also recently bereaved: still deeply affected by the death, in 1829, of his father William, to whom he was enormously close. William had worked as his son’s studio assistant for thirty years, and Turner suffered bouts of depression following his passing.

    Turner would travel down to Margate on the so-called Husbands’ Boat, used by the men of London at the weekends to join their families who were staying, or living, in the healthier air of Margate.

    He clearly adored Sophia, wrote her love poems and gave her sketches, but did he ever paint her? The Tate has a work described as A Sleeping Woman, perhaps Mrs Booth and some experts believe that the erotic sketches Turner produced in his last twenty years were inspired by his love of Mrs Booth.

    The relationship seems to have suited them both very well. Sophia was financially independent and undemanding, and Turner was almost entirely wrapped up in his art. Sophia seems to have stepped into the emotionally and practically supportive role previously filled by Turner’s father. She died twenty-seven years after the artist, who succumbed to cholera in 1851.

    Sophia does have a public tribute in Margate. At the far end of the harbour wall is a modern sculpture of a shell lady entitled Mrs Booth. The 12 ft bronze was created by Anne Carrington, who says of it: ‘The sculpture is a scaled-up version of the tiny shell lady ornaments which are sold in the souvenir shops on Margate sea front. What I like about this sculpture is its unlikely size and setting as the shell lady is granted all the civic respect of a local hero.’

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Margate is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Evesham by Stan Brotherton

    When writing this book I had two particular ideas in mind. First, I wanted to debunk a handful of long-standing local stories because, well, they have no basis in history (though they’re undeniably a bit of fun). Second, and much more importantly, there is a lot of “hidden history” which I wanted to explore and share.

    Pavement slab in Vine Street (installed in 2011) illustrating the vision of St Mary, plus two handmaidens, as witnessed by the swineherd Eof. (Secret Evesham, Amberley Publishing)

    Perhaps most famously there is the “Legend of Evesham”; which recounts how a local swineherd (named “Eof”) witnessed a miraculous vision of the Virgin Mary. Is that true? It’s difficult to say; not least because it’s more of a philosophical (theological?) question rather than something which history can easily consider.

    Locally the “Legend of Evesham” is incredibly significant. It not only explains how Evesham got its name (“Eof’s ham”) but also why an abbey was founded here. That last point is key because before the abbey there was no town; only scrub and forest. The abbey was founded (700-ish); a town developed around it to serve the monks; then the abbey was dissolved (1540); and the town slowly but surely prospered and grew. This all begs a series of questions: Was there really nothing here before the abbey? Was there a “Roman Evesham”? What was this place called before it became “Evesham”?

    There is also the local legend that Lady Godiva is buried in Evesham. This story, along with other incidents from the town’s long history, is memorialised in a series of “history pavement slabs”. But is Godiva really buried in Evesham? The simple answer is ‘No!’ However, it’s interesting to unravel why folks think she is. The reason? It’s difficult to be certain, but it seems to be a simple matter of careless local scholarship.

    Details of the Eof statue created by Worcester-born sculptor John McKenna. (Secret Evesham, Amberley Publishing)

    Apparently there are secret underground tunnels running all around the town (with many said to run underneath the River Avon). To which any reasonable reader might reply: “Really? Secret tunnels? Under the river? You sure?” There’s certainly no historical or archaeological evidence of any such tunnels. Indeed, there’s a very clear and extensive lack of evidence. This, inevitably, begs the question of how this story began. Perhaps because some of the town’s medieval cellars are pretty big (plus there were large drains). Or because “secret tunnels” are a commonplace romantic staple. Or maybe perhaps because of a certain distrust of the monks; a sly insistence that they must have had secrets (and therefore they must have had “secret tunnels”).

    I am particularly grateful to the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) for allowing me to use photographs of the fourth bell of Gloucester St Nicholas – a bell whose inscription links it undeniably to Evesham and its last “true” abbot, Clement Lichfield. Why is this bell in Gloucester? Almost certainly from the extensive trade in bells and metals which immediately followed the Dissolution. For the modern resident of Evesham, though, there is perhaps an obvious question: “Could we have our bell back, please?”

    Speculative image of Evesham Abbey by Warwick Goble (1862-1943). The abbey tower should sport a spire. (Secret Evesham, Amberley Publishing)

    There’s also the matter of Shakespeare. Evesham is incredibly close to Stratford-upon-Avon (about 15 miles); so did Shakespeare ever visit? There’s no direct evidence that he did; but there is the curious story of the ‘The Fool and the Ice’ which provides a contemporary local incident as possible inspiration to a line in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. There is also a local building known as the “Shakespeare’s Rest”. So, did Shakespeare rest at the “Shakespeare’s Rest”? Erm, well, no. The name was a little bit of Victorian entrepreneurial marketing. While the building itself is a lovely black-and-white Tudor survival; sadly there is no connection with England’s most famous son.

    The book dips into a wide range of mysteries, oddities, curiosities and puzzles. These range from surviving Celtic names, the possibility of an earlier Roman settlement, the foundation of the abbey, the burial of Simon de Montfort, the (tenuous) link with Shakespeare, Victorian curiosities, connections with J.R.R. Tolkien and Harry Potter, and ends with a collection of modern oddities.

    The fourth bell of Gloucester St Nicholas. (c. Churches Conservation Trust, Secret Evesham, Amberley Publishing)

    There is one curious connection which I felt I had to include: in New Jersey (USA) there is also a town called “Evesham”. Near that American town there was an expanse of land set aside as a reservation for the so-called “Brotherton Indians” (they called themselves the “Leni-Lenape”). As someone who bears the surname “Brotherton”, who is Evesham born-and-bred, and who knows that for at least three centuries there have been folks named “Brotherton” in Evesham (England), there is a most intriguing link. There is an official explanation: that the reservation was given its name to connate “brotherliness”. For myself, at least, this seems an unsatisfactory answer. Was there really nothing more to it than that? I have no idea; but hopefully in the future someone will research the question to provide a solid answer.

    The book is peppered with little blue boxes titled “Did You Know?”; sharing little-known snippets of local history ranging from some local rhymes (on history and weather), a rough-and-ready recipe for plum wine (known as “Jerkum”), and the origin of a bell-ringing method called “Evesham Surprise Major”.

    The book is also filled with photographs, plans and figures. There is a conjectural plan of the Anglo-Saxon minster (used with permission from Dr David Cox), a radically speculative Victorian plan of the long-lost Evesham Abbey, my own highly speculative plan of the town’s supposed secret tunnels, and a heavily cleaned-up street plan of Evesham c.1827. There is also a large image of the abbey’s seal; followed on the facing page by a detailed graphical explanation. Perhaps my favourite images are those of the unveiling of the statue of Eof in the Market Place (in 2008).

    In conclusion, this has been a fascinating book to write. When I began planning it, I thought I knew my home town pretty darned well. After all, I had already written a handful of local history books. However, during the process of writing, I found that there was so much more to uncover and question and research. My hope is that the reader’s journey will be the same: finding out that there is so much more to the picturesque English town of Evesham than might, at first, meet the eye. Enjoy!

    Stan Brotherton's new book Secret Evesham is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Rochester by Philip MacDougall

    Another Chapter in the Secret History of the Medway Towns

    A general view of Rochester as seen from the north, with both the castle and cathedral clearly visible. (c. Ewan Cambell MacDougall, Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Strange it must have been in December 1812, when a fleet of twenty-two warships gradually, over a period of a few days, slowly made its way up the River Medway to moor within view of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester. I say strange, because none of those ships were flying British flags, as each flew aloft the ensign of the Imperial Russian navy. As with other episodes in the history of the Medway Towns that I have previously written about in Secret Chatham (2016), Secret Rochester (2019) and soon to be published Secret Gillingham book, this is another little-known local event, but one of great significance.

    So why had the Emperor of all Russias, Tsar Alexander I, sent to Chatham such a powerful battle fleet? Quite simply, Napoleon was poised to march on St Petersburg, the Russian capital and the home of the Imperial fleet. To prevent that fleet being captured, it had been sent out of the country, guided by several ships of the British Royal Navy.

    The Guildhall. (Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester at the time. Suddenly, in their midst was a massive force of 10,000 Russian seamen, of which only a few spoke English. While, maybe, only the officers were usually allowed to go ashore, entertained by some of the wealthy families in the area and given frequent banquets at the Guildhall in Rochester. They must have been a regular sight in their immaculate gold braided uniforms. In particular, local merchants especially profited by their arrival, frequently called on board the Russian ships to open a market for both men and officers. Not that problems didn’t occur. To feed 10,000 men, huge quantities of flour and meat were required, sometimes purchased locally by the Admiralty’s Victualling Board, with supplies for local residents occasionally falling short.

    The nearest I have got to mentioning this fleet in the ‘Secret’ series is in writing about Dr William Burnett, a naval physician who was put in charge of caring for the sick and wounded of the Russian fleet. It was this that led me to find out more about that fleet and why it came to the Medway. One thing I certainly learnt from Burnett and the writings of other naval physicians: it was a fleet not in good health. Scurvy, typhus and smallpox were not uncommon, with extra hospital ships having to be laid on for the care of those in fever.

    In having touched, occasionally, on the presence of that fleet in the Medway, and which returned to St Petersburg in May 1814, it has encouraged me to undertake further research into the background of that fleet. This is something I am currently doing, so expect more from me on this subject in the future. Incidentally, when Secret Gillingham is published, this will represent my sixteenth book on the Medway area and I love to get feedback from my readers.

    Philip MacDougall's new book Secret Rochester is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Sunderland by Marie Gardiner

    Extract from book:

    Cretehawser – The Concrete Boat

    Cretehawser, the concrete boat. (Author's collection, Secret Sunderland, Amberley Publishing)

    If you go down to the riverside at Claxheugh Rock (pronounced ‘Clatchy’ locally) in South Hylton, and the tide is just right, you might see an interesting lump of concrete shaped like a boat sticking up from the water. It may not look like much, but this is an interesting part of Sunderland’s history. You’d be forgiven for wondering if this was an art installation, after all, a concrete boat?

    To understand why, we have to go back in time a little, to the end of the First World War. The war was a huge drain on resources, raw materials had been siphoned off over the four years of conflict meaning that once the world returned to ‘normal’ these materials were scarce, so both here, and in the United States, shipbuilders looked towards a temporary solution: concrete. One of the potential issues with this was that traditional shipbuilders weren’t used to building with concrete, but the government was offering a lucrative programme for those who could fulfil the demand for the new boats, and so a new company was formed.

    A close-up of Cretehawser at low tide. (Author's collection, Secret Sunderland, Amberley Publishing)

    Cretehawser, the name of the tug boat in question, was built by the Wear Concrete Building Company in Southwick, who were part of larger shipbuilders, Swan Hunter. It was launched in 1919, the first of an order of eight tug boats. It was thought and hoped that concrete would be a cheap material to build with, but they actually turned out to be considerably more expensive than their steel counterparts, costing almost 40% more on average to make. As a result, the eight-tug order was reduced by the Ministry of Shipping, and the programme eventually scrapped.

    Some of the concrete tugs that had made it to fruition had short but eventful lives: Creterock crashed into a trawler, Cretecable ran aground, and Creterope was dismantled. So, what of Cretehawser? She ticked along in use as a tug until 1935, after which she was sold for scrap to the South Stockton Shipping Company Ltd. The remains (the ‘hulk’) was sold back to Sunderland, this time to the River Wear Commissioners who moored her in the South Dock to use as an emergency breakwater.

    Cretehawser was hit in an air raid during the Second World War, so she was towed up river to her current spot, near to where she was built. The council considered moving her during a redevelopment of the riverbank, but it was decided she was an important part of Sunderland’s heritage and left as a reminder of our short dabble into concrete boats.

    Marie Gardiner's new book Secret Sunderland is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southampton by Martin Brisland

    In October 1971, Muhammad Ali was in a local supermarket in Hedge End. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Saturday 15th July 2017 was a day to remember. Well it would be if only I could remember it. I know I was in bed having not been awake long. Then a thunderclap pain in the back of my head hit. I recall taking two paracetamol and lying down. It was about six weeks later before I was well enough to realise what had happened. I had had a severe brain haemorrhage which is fatal in 6 out of 10 cases. The main basal artery to the brain was bleeding. No warning signs at all. Out of the blue. I had two operations and spent eleven weeks in hospital. So many thanks to the Neuro unit at Southampton General Hospital and many other medical professionals who gave me a second chance.

     

    I am retired having spent my working life in Further and Higher Education jobs. A lifelong interest in local history led me to becoming a qualified tour guide and being part of See Southampton. When the chance to write the book came my other half was naturally protective and thought it might be too onerous a task but I was determined. It became my recovery project and gave me a real focus so I could spend less time worrying about the after effects of the haemorrhage.

     

    In 2004 a sculpture of the Spitfire was unveiled outside Southampton Airport. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    My main problem was not what to find to put into the book but what to leave out. Being a major port Southampton has so many stories to tell. A lot of the content I knew but the research led me to many other places. The city’s history goes back to a Roman settlement on the bank of The River Itchen. We then had Danes, Vikings, Saxons and Norman leaving their mark. Southampton was the major embarkation point for troops going to fight the Battle of Crecy in 1348, for Henry V’s troops en route to Agincourt in 1415. Later troops passed through on their way to the Boer War in South Africa around 1900, to fight in Flander’s fields in the First World War and in the Second World War with three and a half million Allied troops, including over two million Americans. Locals said they were “Overpaid, oversexed and over here”. A comment possibly justified by the fact that there were around 5,000 births locally fathered by US servicemen. They had money, chewing gum and nylons which obviously had an effect. Late in 1945 Churchill even arranged free passage on the Queen Mary for any local women who wanted to track down the father of their baby. Over half returned – possibly having found out that there was already a wife the other side of the pond. Southampton was also the ‘Home of the Spitfire’ and was therefore a prime enemy bombing target in the Second World War. About 70% of the inner town was destroyed. The post war Brutalist rebuilding was functional but is now tired. In recent years there has been much redevelopment and the place is being reborn. The two main sources of income today are: students with around 40,000 at our two universities; and the Docks with its famous double high tide which allows 550 mainly cruise and container ship movements per year.

     

    The boat that does not float. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Southampton is divided into sections on people, places and stories. One of my personal favourites is the day Muhammed Ali came to town. He was touring England in February 1971 promoting Ovaltine – the only product he ever endorsed. He went to a supermarket, signed tins then gave a press conference in his hotel. Another is the man who for the last 50 years has been building a full size boat in his garden. He is now very elderly, it will never be completed and is in poor repair. Symbolic of human dreams and ambitions that we may never realise but at least we tried.

     

    One of my aims in writing the book was for people to say “I have passed that many times but never knew the story behind it”. So far the feedback has been to that effect. It has led to a double page feature in the local paper, a local TV interview, some lovely reviews and many upcoming talks to local history groups. So once again thank you to the NHS for giving me the chance to be able to write Secret Southampton.

     

    Martin Brisland's new book Secret Southampton is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Hereford by David Phelps

    Seven secrets of Hereford

    The Rothewas Ribbon, a mysterious and now buried ancient discovery. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Rotherwas Ribbon

    It seems likely that Herefordshire was an important pre-Roman settlement area, given the large number of hill-forts. This was confirmed in 2006 when, in preparation for a new road, archaeologists discovered, just to the south of the city, a mysterious Neolithic structure made up of a single layer of stones, fire cracked (heated and then dropped into cold water to shatter, the earliest known example of this practice) and laid in a sinuous series of curves up a hill. They were interspersed with quartz pebbles so that, in sunlight, the ribbon would have glinted like a large white snake and, in the moonlight, it would have glowed as if the nearby river Wye was climbing up the hill.

    Despite the Ribbon’s unique status, Herefordshire Council was determined to go ahead with the road and it was covered by tarmac.

     

     

    The Saxon Wall

    Hereford was a border town and, in the early ninth century, faced dangers from both the Welsh and Viking raiders. Aethelflaed, Alfred the Great’s daughter, set about making Hereford defensible, with strong stone walls behind which the county’s inhabitants could retreat. Over time, as danger seemed less likely, they fell into disrepair, only to be quickly repaired when a new threat appeared. However the original Saxon stone walls can still be seen, behind a block of flats, the only Saxon stone defences currently openly visible in England.

    Hereford Cathedral is still the most substantial building in the city. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Hereford Cathedral

    Hereford is where it is for two reasons. First was its strategic position at a major ford over the river Wye and the second that the Early Church decided that it would be a good place for the centre of a diocese, probably sometime in the middle of the seventh century. The first, wooden, building was burnt down by the Welsh in 1055 and re-built by the Normans in stone. It was enlarged over the following centuries whenever the cathedral came into a bit of money and so is a fascinating mixture of architectural styles.

    It was not always as we see it today, but once had two towers and a spire. Unfortunately, on Easter Monday 1786, the West Tower collapsed and, during a subsequent survey, it was found that the spire on the Central Tower was unsafe and had to be taken down and was never replaced. This was a time when the diocese did not have access to a lot of money and it took many years for a shorter and more modest West Front to be built.

    The Preaching Cross

    Dominicans, called Black Friars from the colour of their robes, arrived in Hereford in 1246, but were not popular with the Bishop or the already established Gray Friars, who saw them as competition. After a certain amount of violence the Dominicans were allowed to build a priory to the north of the City which gradually became a major institution, but suffered the fate of all such religious bodies on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and privatised. It eventually became an almshouse for old soldiers, which might be the model for Chelsea Hospital, on the instigation of that most famous of Herefordians, Nell Gwyn.

    The most substantial reminder of the Dominicans is the Preaching Cross, now tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city in a quiet park, and the only surviving example of a friars’ preaching cross left in England.

    The Black Lion, the oldest pub in Hereford. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    The Black Lion

    Built in 1575, it is the oldest surviving pub of Hereford. Naturally it is also considered the most haunted. Fourteen separate ghosts have been identified. The epicentre of the hauntings is the upstairs Painted Room, which contains Elizabethan depictions of the dangers of breaking the Ten Commandments as well as unexplained footsteps and noises. The story goes that the building was once an orphanage and one of the ghosts is that of a small girl that the pub staff have christened Alice. More threatening is the ghost of a man in a hat, who has been known to tap customers on the shoulder.

    The Market Hall

    Set in the very centre of Hereford, it was described by a visitor in 1642 as the stateliest in the kingdom. Built in 1576 when Hereford had a reputation for fine woodcarving, it had three storeys and was supported by twenty seven walnut pillars. The first floor was for the city magistrates, the top for meeting rooms for the fourteen guilds of the city and the open ground floor provided space for a market. By the middle of the eighteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and the decision was taken to remove the upper floor as a cost saving measure but no one liked the result and, in 1861, the whole building was demolished. Nowadays that would be considered a piece of short sighted vandalism.

    The original Nelson's Column, raised thirty years before they built one in London. (Secret Hereford, Amberley Publishing)

    Nelson’s Column

    When Admiral Nelson visited the city in 1802 the populace regarded him as the most important visitor since Charles I visited in the Civil War. Huge crowds turned out to watch him leave the house in Broad Street where he had been staying. Naturally there was severe shock when news reached the city three years later that he had been killed at the battle of Trafalgar.

    A public subscription raised money to build a memorial in the Castle Green, but unfortunately the money did not run to a statue as was originally planned and the column was surmounted by a simple urn. Still it did mean Hereford had a Nelson’s Column thirty years before the one in London. Until the middle of the nineteenth century a muffled bell peal was rung by the city churches every year to mark the anniversary of Nelson’s death.

    David Phelps's new book Secret Hereford is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southwark and Blackfriars by Kristina Bedford

    It was a great pleasure to spend the summer heatwave of 2018 photographing the ‘highways and by-ways’ of Southwark and Blackfriars for Amberley’s Secret local history Series, and discovering gems which lie behind façades I had casually passed by in the past, such as the massive Universal Testing Machine constructed by David Kirkcaldy in The Grove, Southwark.

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works. (Secret Southwark and Blackfriars, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works relocated to 99 Southwark Street in 1874, southeast of Blackfriars Bridge, where the machine may be viewed today in what is now Kirkcaldy’s Testing Museum.

    This pioneering firm assessed component parts to be used in the construction of London Bridges such Battersea and Hammersmith, the old Wembley Stadium in 1923, and Skylon, a steel “Vertical Feature” built on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which appeared to float above the ground with no perceptible means of support – like the post-war economy, according to a popular joke – dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who deemed it too expensive to re-erect elsewhere. The company’s protocols combined microscopic analysis with robust physical stress-testing, stretching and twisting materials to breaking-point to measure the forces entailed.

    It also contributed to inquisitions into accidents, such as the Tay Bridge disaster of 28 December 1879, when the first rail bridge across the Firth of Tay between Wormit in Fife and the city of Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing from the South during a fierce windstorm, leaving no survivors. David Kirkaldy was himself born in Dundee in 1820, and prior to his migration to Southwark worked for Robert Napier and Sons shipbuilding works between 1843 and 1861.

    A short distance eastward along Southwark Street stand two further examples of mid-Victorian buildings of industry, the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a vibrant arts complex) and the elegantly neo-classical Hop Exchange, both featured in Secret Southwark and Blackfriars.

    Kristina Bedford's new book Secret Southwark and Blackfriars is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Rutland by Daniel J. Codd

    The Development of ‘Secret Rutland’

    The idea for Secret Rutland may be said to have developed from two basic concepts.

    View of Hambleton from Rutland Water. The submerged hamlets of Nether and Middle Hambleton lie to the left. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    From a personal perspective, I have always been fascinated by Rutland Water as a feat of human engineering, although I accept that had I been born a generation or so earlier I might have had quite a different opinion on its at-the-time controversial development. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by a particular story that I heard on a number of occasions while walking the water’s edge: that, when the conditions were right, the bells of a church could be heard tolling beneath the waterline. This was because while developing Rutland Water ‘they had to flood some villages’. Only the latter part of this anecdote is partially true, but I was intrigued by the way that an old folkloric theme – that of the bells of submerged churches still tolling underwater – had become reinvented to fit a modern damming project like Rutland Water.

    The second concept concerned an observation that Rutland as a county warranted books about itself only infrequently. In fact, Rutland in literature seemed to suffer from a predisposition to be included within books on Leicestershire, almost as an afterthought. This seemed a little unfair, although somewhat understandable because between the 1970s and 1990s it was amalgamated into that neighbouring county. Although a small part of England, Rutland appeared so deserving of a book of its own that the idea for Secret Rutland was proposed. The outcome was by no means guaranteed – after all, there are UK towns with larger populations than the whole of Rutland put together! But with so much untapped history and local lore, the opportunity to devote a work wholly to Rutland proved to be viable one.

    Martinsthorpe - deserted scenic, possibly haunted, and somehow symbolic of Rutland. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    County folk proved very forthcoming with snippets of data for the work. One of the great joys of preparing the book was that it provided the opportunity to explore every corner and aspect of England’s smallest county. I had already made a resolution that I would visit every single parish church, large or small, since these are traditionally where a phenomenal amount of local knowledge can be gathered. But particularly enjoyable were the necessary excursions into Rutland’s beautiful open countryside. I was continually amazed how, even in Rutland, one could still find that they were out in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

    As an example, one exploratory walk the reader may find extremely rewarding proved to be the one from Manton to Martinsthorpe. Martinsthorpe is a deserted village so loftily positioned that it provides commanding views of the surrounding countryside, with church spires distantly visible in each direction, and Rutland Water shining like a giant mirror away to the east. Medieval earthworks surround the one remaining house at the spot, the post-medieval Old Hall farm. This is currently deserted, and the explorer will find no company out here apart from the sheep – and possibly the ghost of a civil-war era messenger said to haunt this windswept site. The point is that I found this spot to be classic Rutland – reminiscent of a beautifully tranquil, slightly removed time capsule that might be a metaphor for the county as a whole. This was just one of many rewarding and inspirational jaunts into the heart of Rutland.

    Barrowden's cryptic stone. (Author's collection, Secret Rutland, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, as is always the case, not everything made it into the final work. Many are the poignant memorials to the sons of Rutland lost in the Great War, particularly inside Uppingham’s school and church. In the end just a small handful of these were observed in the finished publication to reflect the county’s sacrifice. But other sombre memorials can today be found within and without all of Rutland’s churches (except Teigh), including for instance the poppy-decorated cross at Market Overton dedicated to Lieutenant Vincent Wing, killed in 1917. The roses in the churchyard here were planted in his honour. Even if it were not the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, these would still be sites worth seeking out, as are the modern stained glass windows at Edith Weston and South Luffenham reflecting Second World War activity in the county. Another story omitted from the finished book concerned the deeds of the Parliamentarian soldier and independent thinker Robert Overton, who died while under house arrest at Seaton in 1678. A brass plaque to his memory can be found at Seaton’s church. And elsewhere in the county, near to the village pond at Barrowden, one cottage has an older stone block incorporated into its wall, which bears a cryptic inscription. This appears to be for the attention of anyone gazing upon coffins being taken into the church, for it tells them that they will themselves inevitably die! These places of interest are reminders that Rutland has yet other secrets not included in Secret Rutland!

    They are also reminders that every parish in Rutland has its own story to tell, naturally, and Secret Rutland could have evolved into an explanation of each village’s development, focusing on halls that no longer stand, the sites of village ponds and wells that have been filled in, who owned the local blacksmith in 1927, where the sheep-washes could be located, and so on. This would undoubtedly also have been an interesting project, although such a then-and-now approach to Rutland had already been touched upon in Amberley’s Through Time series. Nonetheless, to a certain extent, snippets of parish development have been mentioned incidentally throughout the finished publication. Also included in Secret Rutland are many ‘secret’ stories from Rutland’s past that have until now been hidden in the archives, as well as a smattering of local colour in the form of folk-lore. But the main objective of the book is hopefully to highlight to the reader, be they Raddle-folk or tourists, the hidden items of interest that may yet be sought out and observed … that is to say, the evidences of Rutland’s fascinating story which are still there to be seen, even if they take some finding!

    Daniel J. Codd's new book Secret Rutland is available for purchase now.

Items 1 to 10 of 37 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4