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  • Road Rollers by Anthony Coulls

    The classic shape of an Aveling & Porter steam roller evolved in the 1870s; here’s an advert for one from the Land Agents’ Record of March 1896. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It takes a certain kind of madness to preserve a road roller, either steam, diesel or petrol powered. All are heavy and awkward and the amount of time, effort and money expended upon restoration or repairs is not reflected in the value of the machine at the end of the work. Yet it’s still fun, and the roller folk are a particularly sociable type. In recent years, road making demonstrations have taken off and become popular, with all manner of supporting equipment from living vans to tar boilers, lamps and road repair signs. Working demonstrations such as these are immensely popular and as good as any working museum when done well.

    There can be no better depiction of the variety of Aveling rollers over the decades in terms of size and appearance than this picture of a quartet of rollers on the National Traction Engine Trust’s sixtieth anniversary road run from September 2014, led by Dick Blenkinsop’s Aveling-Barford of 1937. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    Restoring a road roller is my blood. In 1966, my father and his friends Trevor Daw, Doug Kempton and Gus Palmer all clubbed together to buy a derelict Ruston & Hornsby steam roller which had worked for Herefordshire County Council. They paid £100 for the compound engine which was lying at the Bransford Bear public house in Worcestershire. It had been bought as a plaything but the idea came to nothing and so it was moved on to the four friends, who called themselves the Arden Steam Group. The Group had connections with the Hockley Heath Steam Association and the Warwickshire Steam Engine Society, so the plan was made to take it home to their county – under its own steam. Over a period of 12 months, the roller was retubed with no power tools and fettled to make it roadworthy to travel to Hockley Heath and in March 1967, the Ruston set sail under its own steam. The journey was filmed by the BBC, sadly the footage no longer exists. The Arden Steam Group continued to work on the engine and painted it grey, probably because that was the cheapest paint that Dad could come by from his employers at the time! Unfortunately as time progressed, the lives of the Group changed too, and so in 1971, three of the partners sold out their shares to Trevor Daw, who then went on to own Ruston 114059 for another 40 years, carrying out a heavy overhaul throughout the 1970s and then rallying it extensively throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The roller is now cared for by the Vickery family in Hertfordshire, joining the other Ruston steam roller in their collection. A regular on the steam rally scene, it will always have a special place in the heart of our family.

    The Advance was the successful later roller made by Wallis & Steevens with a twin cylinder engine for quick reversing. The picture shows the very first of its type at the Onslow Park Rally near Shrewsbury in August 2007. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It was therefore inevitable that I would get involved with rollers, despite there not having been on in the family in my lifetime. The first one came in 1996 when a 1944 Wallis & Steevens diesel roller was rescued from Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, my home town. There had also been an Aveling steam roller in the playground there, but this had been sold in 1993 whilst I was at university. I found a home for the Wallis with a school friend’s farmer father in South Warwickshire, and after a number of days work with my friend Ken Milns, we got it going again over the Easter weekend in 1998. Around ten years later, the roller was borrowed by Trevor Daw, our family friend from the 1960s and he completely rebuilt it in his workshop. The finished article now lives on loan at Beamish Museum in County Durham, but not before we took it back to the park in Leamington in 2013. We had a lot of work to get it going again and also had to apply via the DVLA to get the roller’s original registration number back, a process helped very much by the Road Roller Association. Likewise, drawings, manuals and archives were also sourced via the RRA and the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University where the Wallis and Steevens records are kept.

    Isaac Ball of Wharles ran a fleet of steam rollers, all equipped with the full-length roof as seen here, and mostly made by Burrells. They also built their own living vans, such as the one behind the roller. The road train, including the water cart, was part of the Ball reunion event held in June 2017. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    The diesel and experience gained from its rehabilitation led to a steam roller, and the 15 ton Aveling roller 3315 of 1894 joined the fleet in the summer of 2003. Firstly being stored in West Yorkshire and then finding its way to County Durham where we had made our home. Having stood idle since being taken out of service in the 1950s, it had lost a number of parts, but the boiler was in essence good, and friends assured us that the rest of the machine could be repaired or replaced where fittings were missing – and thus the die was set for a ten year rebuild – or recommissioning as I liked to call it. Skills were learned such as riveting, welding, gas cutting and tubing the boiler. New friends were made in the process and much research undertaken on the engine and others like it as we looked for new parts, spares or information on how it might all fit together. As with any restoration, there were set backs and side roads followed, but with steady fundraising, progress was made. In 2012, the roller lived again, taking its first moves at a party to celebrate the restoration and support given by so many. That said, in 2013, further defects were found in the roller’s transmission and gears. At the time of writing, further long and expensive repairs are being undertaken on the roller with a view to it continuing in steam on the road well past its 125th birthday in 2019. The whole family love it however and the fun and friendship it has brought to us all.

    My Road Rollers book examines the background to these wonderful machines during their working lives and then goes further into the popular appeal and how to get involved. Who knows, you may get smitten as I was?!

    Anthony Coulls's new book Road Rollers as part of our Britain's Heritage Series is available for purchase now.

  • The British Seaside by Stuart Hylton

    I didn’t always like to be beside the seaside

    The beach at Cromer - undated, but the presence of bathing machines further up the beach suggests it may be early twentieth century. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    For most of us, our stock of childhood memories include visits to the seaside. Hopefully, most of these memories will be happy ones, but the sea was not always the welcoming haunt of the holidaymaker. Going back to Old Testament times, the sea could be seen as the bringer of death and disaster (think Noah), or the home of mysterious gigantic creatures, ready to devour the unwary (as Jonah found out). People would generally only venture away from dry land if driven by the imperatives of earning a living or military conquest.

    The change began around about the eighteenth century, when near-miraculous powers of rejuvenation started to be claimed for the seaside and sea water (and for its cousin, the inland mineral water spring). Before too long, well-to-do people were flocking in considerable numbers to the seaside, to drink and bathe in its water. The cure, as it came to be known, could last for a considerable time and there was only so much sea bathing or brine drinking that even the most assiduous patient could take. Other, hopefully less objectionable, diversions had to be found to fill the time, and it was from these that the seaside resort evolved.

    Bikini girls c. 4 BC - part of a Roman mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    But it was with the coming of the steam ship and, more particularly, the railways, that the seaside began to change from the preserve of the leisured and rich to the holiday haunt of all but the poorest members of society. My book The British Seaside: an illustrated history tells the story of the transformation of the British coastal resort from a number of points of view.

    One sometimes heated debate that has run for centuries has been the appropriate dress (or rather undress) code for sea bathing. Every school of thought has been represented in it, from those who favoured shapeless head to foot canvas garments, to variations on the next to nothing theme (culminating in nothing whatsoever). There was even the bathing machine, a species of garden shed on wheels in which the bather could be rolled into the sea, their modesty intact.

    Given that it is a book about the British seaside, it could not ignore what happens when the weather rules out the beach. Seaside resorts have made several distinctive forms of architecture their own. Notably there was the pier, which started life as a purely functional means of getting arrivals by boat onto land with dry feet, before evolving into an all-singing and dancing palace of varieties.

    A rare photograph of a lady emerging from her bathing machine in about 1893. (Wikimedia Commons, The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    Some individual seaside entertainments also had colourful histories. The “what the butler saw” machine had its origins in a scandalous Victorian society divorce case, in which the key witness was the butler, who apparently observed his employer’s dalliances through the keyhole of the dining room. The roller coaster had its origins in eighteenth century Russia and the first ones did not even have wheels – they were giant sledges, sliding down man-made ice hills to entertain visitors to Czar Catherine II at the Oranienbaum Palace, near St Petersburg.

    Dodgem cars should correctly be referred to as bumper cars (Dodgem being a brand name for one make of them, patented in America in 1920). Some of the early ones were apparently very rickety indeed, liable to fall apart at the gentlest of impacts and with steering that bore only the vaguest relationship to the direction in which you were going.

    Punch and Judy is a much earlier entertainment, appearing as it does in Samuel Pepys’ diary and with links back to Roman times and the Lord of Misrule. It gradually went from being an adult entertainment to one for children, and was softened in the process. The modern health and safety conscious Mister Punch is much less likely to murder the baby or feed it through the sausage machine, or to leave parents to explain his relationship to his mistress, Pretty Polly, to their children.

    But one of the most striking seaside rides was developed in 1904 by Sir Hiram Maxim (inventor of the machine gun). This steam-powered ride (the Captive Flying Machine) was originally intended to give customers the sensation of operating a flying machine (Maxim had recently made a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to construct the real thing). Perhaps wisely, the health and safety authorities of the day rejected some of Maxim’s more adventurous features, leaving him, as he saw it, with a toothless “glorified merry-go-round”. A version of this may still be seen at Blackpool.

    The Palace Pier, Brighton in about 1914. It was built in 1899 to replace the 1827 Chain Pier, destroyed in a storm in 1896. Today it is known just as Brighton Pier. (The British Seaside, Amberley Publishing)

    The Second World War bought an end to the seaside holiday, as many of the nation’s beaches were barred to the public, mined and covered in tank traps. Instead local authorities were encouraged to make worthy (if not universally successful) efforts to create holidays at home, turning parks, rivers or whatever amenities a town had to offer into makeshift “seaside” resorts. Even Punch and Judy got conscripted, with Hitler replacing the character of the hangman (whom Mister Punch invariably tricked into hanging himself).

    But most of all this is an illustrated history of the seaside, and researching it has been a splendid excuse for visiting many of the country’s resorts, and collecting illustrations – ancient and modern - of their development over more than a hundred years. These pictures, and the thumbnail histories of the resorts that accompany them, form the second half of my book.

    Stuart Hylton's new book The British Seaside: An Illustrated History is available for purchase now.

  • Star Wars Memorabilia by Paul Berry

    Boba Fett's Slave 1 came with a model of Han Solo in Carbonite. This was different to the version that was later released individually. (Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    Writing a book about Star Wars collectables was a daunting task. The sheer amount of product released since 1977 is overwhelming. In fact were a complete guide ever to be published it would require numerous volumes and within months would be hopelessly out of date. My new book STAR WARS MEMORABILIA doesn’t attempt to be a complete guide.  Narrowing down 40 years of history into 96 pages, it is more of a concise pocket guide to the history of Star Wars collectables. I hope it will appeal to the new collector as well as old died in the wool fans.

    30th Anniversary Collection Darth Revan. (Hasbro, 2007, Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    I make no apologies for the fact that the book is a nostalgia trip, taking a particular focus on the items produced during the 1970's and 1980's. While many of the other Star Wars collectable books in the past concentrate almost solely on the action figures, my book looks at the wider world of Star Wars collecting including many UK produced items which are often overlooked.

    My own association with Star Wars goes back nearly forty years, I was slightly too young to remember the first film coming out, but when the Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 I first became aware of Star Wars and the toys. As a child of that period it was impossible to escape Star Wars, it was the in thing and nearly every kid had at least one of the action figures.

    Jabba the Hutt playset. (Kenner, 1983, Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    I saw Empire at the cinema, and got to see the original film a year or two later in a double bill, but that was it until Return of the Jedi came out. It is easy to forget now that in the early eighties, the films weren't available on video and hadn't yet been shown on TV so in a sense being into Star Wars back then was far more about the toys and the merchandise than it was about the films.

    I was entranced by the Star Wars figures, I can’t quite put into words how exciting it would be to walk into a store and see characters you had never seen before. Everything was a surprise back then as without any internet or information you would have no idea when new figures would appear. The Star Wars displays in those days were vast with rows and rows of figures and boxed items piled to the ceiling. Stores would occasionally get visits from some of the characters, I particularly remember seeing Boba Fett and Darth Vader in my home town of Grimsby.

    The Uliq Qel Droma and Exar Kun comic pack set is the rarest modern Star Wars release. (Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    When Return of the Jedi brought the Star Wars saga to a close in 1983, I don’t remember it being a big deal because the toys still kept going. Little did I know that 1985 would mark the last new figures I would acquire for some time. The following year I was faced with the realisation that there were no new figures and as bargain shops became choked with Star Wars toys at discount prices it became clear that this era of Star Wars was over. Like many I gradually forgot about Star Wars and turned to other things. My old toys were packed away where they remained untouched for the best part of a decade.

    While the Vintage Collection if often seen as the pinnacle of the modern Star Wars range, follow on collector-orientated lines failed to ignite the same interest. (Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1990's marked a slow return of Star Wars to the public consciousness and it was towards the middle of that decade that my own interest began to be aroused. Like many I was caught up in a rush of nostalgia and this just happened to coincide with new figures coming out. As a child, purchases had been limited to pocket money, birthdays and Christmas and those occasions where parents had been nagged into submission, but now in my early twenties and with a disposable income it was like being let loose in a candy store. Despite initially only intending to buy select figures I soon got reeled in hook line and sinker and started getting every one. Little did I realise I'd still be collecting Star Wars 22 years later. Collecting Star Wars it would be fair to say is a slippery slope and can be very addictive. One thing tends to lead to another and the initial intention to just collect the action figures, then turned into getting the 12 inch figures as well, this led to trading cards and then comics and busts, the list goes on. Before you know it you've spawned a monster that quickly outstrips all available space. With the new crop of films from Disney it is fair to say there is no end point to a Star Wars collection, for all we know items will continue to be produced long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil. The answer to this conundrum of course is to try and have some focus and boil down the thousands of products to an area that is both attainable and affordable. This is a problem I have struggled with over the years as my own collection grew into a behemoth but in recent years I have become much more focused on particular areas. Certainly with rising prices and an ever increasing amount of product, it is harder than ever now to keep up with everything than it has been in the past.

    Various Decipher CCG cards. (Star Wars Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    Who knows what Star Wars items will be collectable in the future. Awareness of the collectability of Star Wars has been around since the 1990's and the result is that few of the items produced over the last twenty years have seen such increases in price as those produced during the early days. Many items from the 1990's can still be found easily and cheaply purely because so many stashed extras away thinking they would be an investment. When collecting anything the rule is to buy what you like and gives you enjoyment and if it does turn out to have any investment value then that is a bonus.

    With the multitude of new films on the horizon I remain excited about the future of Star Wars and currently have no intention of stopping collecting. Whether I will continue collecting Star Wars into old age who knows, but given I have been at it for nearly forty years already I see no reason why not.

    Paul Berry's new book Star Wars Memorabilia: An Unofficial Guide to Star Wars Collectables is available for purchase now.

  • The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities by Jan Bondeson

    Lionel on show in Germany aged 17. (The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, Amberley Publishing)

    The Lion Boy was Stephan Bibrowski, born near Warsaw in 1891, with his entire body covered with fine, soft hair about an inch long. His parents and six sisters had no abnormity of the hair whatsoever. As a four-year-old child, Stephan entered the world of show business at a German amusement arcade, the Panoptikum in Berlin, under the artist’s name Lionel the Lion Boy. A certain Professor Minakow examined him in Moscow at the age of five. His face and body were covered with fine blond hair, up to 8 in long on his face and 2-3 in long all over the rest of his body. His dentition consisted of a solitary canine tooth in the lower jaw. It was clear to the professor that this was a genetic disease, namely hypertrichosis congenita lanuginosa [inherited excessive hairiness with lanugo hair]. In 1901, the 10-year-old Lionel was taken to the United States, to join Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. His mother had probably never even seen a lion, but the exhibition posters claimed that the boy’s father had been torn to pieces by an escaped circus lion before her very eyes; this horrid sight had of course ‘marked’ her unborn child in this sinister way. In 1904, Lionel toured large parts of the world with the circus, before returning to Berlin.

    The Fat Boy and his father in 1909. (The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1923, he returned to the United States, having received a good offer from the Coney Island amusement park: the authorities there had agreed to pay him $500 a week for taking up permanent residence at the park during the summer seasons. Lionel spoke five languages, was a well-read and intelligent man, and quite an entertainer. He was something of a body-builder, and sometimes gave demonstrations of his gymnastic and athletic skills during the shows. One ribald newspaper account tells us that he was also something of a ladies’ man: in spite, or perhaps rather because, of his extraordinary hairy face and body, he never had any difficulty getting admirers among the female visitors. After his successful stay in the United States, Lionel went back to Germany; he died from pneumonia at a hospital in Berlin in 1931, being spared the experience of Hitler’s rise to power with a narrow margin.

    The Fat Boy of Peckham flourished from 1902 until 1912, being exhibited for money all over Britain, and even touring Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. His name was Johnny Trunley, and at the age of just five, he was 4 ft tall and weighed 10 stone; he could lift his father, who acted as his manager, off the ground. The London School Board decided that even this monstrous child should be provided with an education, and made sure that a king-sized desk and chair were constructed for him, but the hulking Fat Boy preferred his idle life as a sideshow freak. He also valued his night’s sleep, and more than once there were deplorable scenes as the howling Johnny was dragged out of his terraced Peckham home by a troop of school policemen, only half dressed.

    A French postcard showing Kobelkoff and his family. (The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    The Daily Mail suggested that the London County Council should construct a special tram line to carry the Fat Boy to school, since no motor omnibus would surely hold him. But Johnny’s father took him on tour to the West Country with a travelling sideshow; if the local bumpkins made fun of him, he asked them how much they earned per week. In each town he entered, he was measured for a suit by the local tailor; this was considered as funny the twentieth time as it had been the first. At the height of his career as an Edwardian mega-star of corpulence, Johnny Trunley appeared at Fred Karno’s music hall in London, where he met Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. He turned the scales at 33 stone and was officially proclaimed the heaviest living person in Britain. There was nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with him, just primary obesity that had spiralled out of control.

    In 1912, old Mr Trunley died unexpectedly, and Johnny was without his father and manager. During the Great War, his weight plummeted dramatically, since there was never enough food, and he was very fearful of the air raids and the sinister ‘Zeps’. Johnny Trunley, once the celebrated Fat Boy of Peckham, had become just an ordinary man. He started work as a clockmaker, married and had a son, and lived on until 1944; it is likely that he has descendants alive today.

    Violet and Daisy Hilton as young girls. (The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, Amberley Publishing)

    In this book of amazing oddities, the successor to my popular Cabinet of Medical Curiosities and The Two-Headed Boy, I explore various strange, surprising and bizarre aspects of the history of medicine: Does people’s hair go white after a sudden fright; can the image of the killer be seen in the eyes of a murdered person; does the severed head of a guillotined person maintain some degree of consciousness; did Thomas Parr, the Shropshire Methuselah, really attain the great age of 152 years? Giants, dwarfs and medical freaks are paraded in front of the reader, to say nothing of Nikolai Kobelkoff, the Russian armless and legless wonder, the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and Hans Langseth who boasted a 17½-ft beard. The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, combines a historian’s research skills with a physician’s diagnostic flair, as I explore our timeless fascination with the freakish and bizarre people and events in the colourful history of medicine.

    Jan Bondeson's new book The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities is available for purchase now.

  • Narrow Boats by Tom Chaplin

    The horse tows away a Joey boat with load of rubbish into Farmer's Bridge Top Lock. Note the simple towing mast and crude shape of the boat. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    As my wife and I approach our golden wedding anniversary, we have been reminiscing about our early life, when especially in winter, working narrow boats outnumbered pleasure narrowboats. These wonderful craft, with their floating population, brought their own culture and atmosphere to the canals. Unfortunately, the last of the family-operated long distance vessels stopped trading in 1970.

    The story of the narrow boat goes back to Georgian times when Britain had an agrarian economy and boats were pulled by horses. That soon changed: a horse could just as easily pull a canal boat loaded with 25 tons as a 1-ton cart on roads that often amounted to little more than muddy lanes. Narrow boats were soon moving raw materials and finished goods around the country and the industrial revolution became possible. In time, the horse gave way to steam, then diesel and boats operating in pairs were able to double the tonnage.

    Top cloths are positioned over the planks and side cloths to protect the coal. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Virtually all of the modern steel narrowboats afloat today were built after the end of trading and both their shape and decorations have become increasingly remote from the traditional working boat. Narrow Boats traces how these historic craft evolved, and explores why different companies developed their own design. In those days, boats travelled as far in a working week as pleasure cruisers did in a month. At the centre of these staggering levels of efficiency were the boatman and his family, on whom the reliable, fast deliveries depended. This book gives the background to life aboard these marvellous vessels and the very cramped quarters that formed a permanent home.

    This engraving, first published in 1873, shows a typical horse boat replete with the familiar form of decoration that changed little during the next century. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Victorian reformers campaigned for better conditions and secured acts of parliament to improve matters. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to peer into a mock up boatman’s cabin at a museum and react with horror to the prospect of this being home to a family. In reality of course, some had bow cabins which held an extra bed, and once fitted with engines, the boats usually worked in pairs and this meant two cabins, which doubled the living accommodation. In large families, children sometimes worked and lived aboard a childless or less fecund relative or friend’s boat. During the 19th century, many urban families shared damp, insanitary basements with several others and in this context the narrow boat cabin probably seemed a pretty good option.

    Restored boats, with their stunning painting, are now highly valued and many of today’s pleasure-boats and house-boats attempt (with mixed success!) to reproduce the effect. Narrow Boats takes the reader on a close look at how the boats were painted and has many colour photographs of work by the best, well-known professional painters.

    The lock gates are being opened using the boatman's rope trick. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    During the twentieth century, as industrial processes changed, many of the core cargoes, like coal, were no longer widely required. London docks closed and the end of carrying, which had been predicted for some time, in the event happened quite quickly. Even before this, the boatman’s way of life had become an anachronism and as more and more families moved ashore, it had become difficult to maintain staff levels and recruit new people. Perhaps it is surprising that despite the coming of the motorways, the narrow boat survived so far into the 20th century.

    The castle is an original, painted in 1950. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, in the 1960s, even the smallest load was enough to prevent the Government from shutting a canal on which there was a right of navigation and we have to be thankful to a few dedicated carriers, who despite obstructive authorities, persisted and successfully saved some of our favourite waterways. Unfortunately, the idea persists that our waterways are inappropriate for modern commercial traffic. Yet a boat will reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to lorries. Heavy loads, like aggregates or building materials, could avoid motorway gridlocks and delays, while their removal from our roads would reduce accidents. However, it seems unlikely that the heavy investment needed for this will be forthcoming.

    A recent programme in the current BBC series, Britain Afloat featured narrow boats: this book will help to answer the many questions raised in the film.

    Tom Chaplin's new book Narrow Boats is available for purchase now.

  • Vintage Signs of America by Debra Jane Seltzer

    The Personal Journey Behind the Book

    Vintage Signs of America 1 This sign in Los Angeles, California is an electric sign from 1924 with bulbs and backlit glass letters. Just as this book went to print, this animated sign was restored. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    For more than 15 years, I have been obsessively documenting buildings, signs, and statues for my website, www.RoadsideArchitecture.com. During this quest, I have driven more than 400,000 miles throughout the United States with my pack of crazy Terriers. While my website has grown astronomically over the years to more than 2,400 pages and over 60,000 photos, I am far from done. I still have long lists of things left to shoot. Many things have also changed dramatically, for better or worse, and need to be photographed again.

    Vintage Signs of America 2 This supermarket sign in Okemos, Michigan was built in 1958. Soon after the store closed in the late 1980s, the sign was updated for a Barnes & Noble bookstore. The groceries in the shopping cart were replaced with books. The animated sign continues to be lit at night. The wheels appear to spin and the woman’s legs are lit separately to give the appearance of walking. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    My first love was buildings: Streamline Modern buildings, gas stations, diners, Mid-century Modern architecture, fast food chain restaurants, theatres, bus stations, and buildings shaped like things. This quickly segued into my fascination with fiberglass statues and neon signs. I began taking pictures of these things and organizing them online solely for my own compulsive amusement. Search engines either did not exist yet or I was naively unaware that other people could see what I was doing. Once I realized that people were accessing my pages, I became exceedingly anxious to add more places and information.

    In these early years, I wondered just how many neon signs could be left around the country. Maybe a couple hundred? It couldn’t be that hard to shoot them all. Little did I know that there were thousands of signs and buildings from the 1920s through the 1970s that were worthy of shooting and researching. Despite calloused fingers from countless hours of internet searching, not a day goes by that I don’t find something to add to my to-shoot lists.

    Vintage Signs of America 3 This Dairy Queen sign is located in Hibbing, Minnesota. These five-foot-tall “Little Miss” rooftop signs were developed in 1961. While hundreds of them were made, there are only about seven left on public display. Plastic signs are more vulnerable to weather (hail, wind, and fading from the sun) than neon signs. Many have become brittle over time and fall apart during removal. Plastic signs do not have the status of older neon signs. Therefore, they often disappear not long after a business closes. Most of these Dairy Queen and other fast food signs have been replaced with updated signs with ever-changing logo rebranding. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    My passion for signs was magnified in 2007 when I was tagged to write the features about signs for the Society for Commercial Archeology Journal. I boned up on sign history and leaned heavily on Tod Swormstedt, the founder of the American Sign Museum, for information and clarification. I was surprised to learn how much had NOT been written about signs. Most of the designers of vintage signs had either retired or passed on. Sign shops, when they still existed, had either lost or destroyed their old records. Often, city records and library files have turned up nothing that helps date the signs or credit their manufacturers. However, with enough digging and prodding, sometimes some of the puzzle pieces can be put together.

    For each of the subjects in this book, I exhausted all sources for information. Speaking with owners, former owners, city agencies, and sign shops, sometimes leading to interesting or heart-warming anecdotes. At other times, I was left with nothing more than an educated guess as to when a sign was built.

    Like most people, I was initially attracted to neon signs for their color, animation, unique cute imagery, and variety of font styles. However, over the years, I have become increasingly obsessed with the older electric signs due to their simplicity and rarity. Most of these signs were destroyed when businesses replaced them with neon signs to keep up with the Joneses.

    Vintage Signs of America 4 This 30 foot tall sign in Portland, Oregon was built in 1946. The sign is lit with 754 feet of neon tubing. The Water Heater King’s dancing feet are animated. (Vintage Signs of America, Amberley Publishing)

    The past 15 years of documentation have been filled with joy and heartbreak. Many buildings were restored or miraculously saved and moved. A good number of signs have been lovingly and faithfully restored to their original condition. However, hundreds of incredible buildings, signs, and statues have been demolished. Sometimes, these signs have disappeared in the dead of the night leaving sign-lovers wondering if they went to the scrap heap or to a good home. Many signs have been disfigured beyond recognition for the new tenant of the space.

    These signs are just beginning to be recognized as works of art and craftsmanship. They are both beautiful and fun. They are important connections to one’s personal history. They are community landmarks and tourist attractions. However, we continue to lose dozens of them every year. The final chapters of this book discuss the various threats that these vintage signs face and what can be done to preserve them. In your haste to see these signs before they disappear, don’t underestimate the importance of praising the shop owner for keeping the sign in place. That small gesture goes a long way.

    9781445669489

    Debra Jane Seltzer's new book Vintage Signs of America is available for purchase now.

  • Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman by Don Chapman

    As the first book to trace the history of the women’s rights movement through the prism of women’s dress, Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman makes a fascinating curtain-raiser to the celebrations next year to mark the centenary of women gaining the vote.

    Mrs Amelia Bloomer Engraving of Mrs Amelia Bloomer, from the daguerreotype by T. W. Brown. (Water-Cure Journal 12, October 1851, p. 96) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    Women’s trousers, of course, have been everyday wear in the orient for centuries. But by promoting Turkish trousers in her American women’s rights and temperance journal, The Lily, in 1851 Mrs. Amelia Bloomer ignited a firestorm in the west. Central to the shock-horror of the idea was the notion, firmly entrenched in Victorian minds, that man was the dominant species in God’s creation, woman his inferior helpmate. The very thought of the latter adopting trousers was a threat to his authority.

    In an age when no journalist bothered his or her head about plagiarism the story went viral, rapidly crossed the Atlantic and within a few months was titillating and shocking readers in Australia and New Zealand. There was no television or Facebook to publicise what the press christened bloomers, no Twitter to provoke Likes or Dislikes. It was the entertainment industry that went into overdrive. Hack playwrights scribbled farces featuring the costume, Madame Tussauds featured waxworks wearing it, prostitutes and barmaids adopted it to attract customers, and Staffordshire Potteries even produced a figurine of Mrs. Bloomer sporting a cigar.

    I first became interested in what later became known as the rational dress movement — rational being the Victoria buzzword for any idea right-minded people should adopt — in 1971. At the height of the hot pant craze an Oxford Mail reader came to me with his grandparents’ papers relating to the Western Rational Dress Club. It made three stories for the daily column I wrote for the paper, primarily because in 1897 the grandfather, the eminent Victorian geologist, Sydney Savory Buckman, helped organise a rational dress cycle ride from London to Oxford. The date he and his fellow-organiser chose it was blowing a gale and raining in torrents: the last ladies arrived for an 8.30pm dinner at 3.30am the next morning!

    Really I said the subject deserved a book and at last I’ve written it. At its heart it is the story of two unsung heroines of the women’s rights movement, neither of them militant feminists, both of them passionate champions of women’s liberation. The first was Caroline Dexter, an obscure but surprisingly well- connected Nottingham woman. In the autumn of 1851 she toured the length and breadth of Britain drawing audiences of up to 4,000 to her lectures promoting the virtues of trousers, inveighing against constricting corsets and voluminous crinolines.

    Caroline Dexter Caroline Dexter, daguerreotype. (Art in Australia 15 February 1931) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    After she emigrated to Australia in 1854 she declared: ‘I do not trouble myself about what “woman’s rights” may be... I have lamented and fear that I shall still have to lament the… evils resulting from “woman’s wrongs”… Women have a higher destiny than a mere maker of puddings and sewer on of buttons.’

    The craze was comparatively short-lived. Critics blamed its demise on the notorious Bloomer Ball in Hanover Square, London, in the autumn of 1851 when nearly all the few women who turned up were of questionable character and some of the disappointed males resorted to fisticuffs. Or, like Mrs. Dexter, they attributed its decline to the numerous actresses and other cheapjack entertainers who jumped on the bandwagon.

    But male chauvinism persisted and Bloomerism became a stick to beat the growing army of forward-thinking females campaigning for equal rights. Away from the public gaze women taking the water cure continued to wear trousers. In occupations like coal-sorting, fishing and agriculture they remained more serviceable than skirts. As more women took to sport the braver of them realised it improved their mobility whether they were playing tennis, climbing mountains or simply taking a walk.

    The second woman to promote rational dress was Lady Harberton. Sensitive to the ridicule Bloomerism had provoked, in 1880 she launched a campaign for what she called the divided skirt —NOT trousers! She insisted: ‘Women are far too much afraid of what others may say and think. They do not like to go to a theatre or concert alone in case people should think it odd; but if everyone did it there would be nothing odd about it.’

    In 1881 she became president of the Rational Dress Society, which in due course boasted its own quarterly magazine, the Rational Dress Society’s Gazette, edited by Mrs Oscar Wilde. That lasted only six issues and in the 1890s the Society itself fizzled out as a result of the ridicule its members attracted, but thanks to my reader’s grandfather and the publicity the ill-fated cycle ride to Oxford attracted a year later the movement revived, the Rational Dress League came into being and soon had its own journal, the Rational Dress Gazette.

    Lady Harberton Lady Harberton riding in the rational dress costume she didn’t like and replaced. (Lady Cyclist 21 January 1897, courtesy of cycling historian Sheila Hanlon) (Wearing the Trousers, Amberley Publishing)

    Sydney Buckman’s interest in rational dress was personal. It enabled his wife and four daughters to accompany him and his four sons from their home in Cheltenham on cycling expeditions in search of fossils in the Cotswolds. That work brought few rewards. His far-sighted ideas were too hard for most of the geological establishment to swallow. He earned most of his income from freelance journalism. Hence his enthusiastic promotion of the Western Rational Dress Club, of which Lady Harberton became president.

    She was a surprisingly late convert to cycling, the activity that added a whole new dimension to the women’s rights and rational dress movements. She was already in her fifties when she first took to the wheel in 1895. She rapidly became an energetic cyclist and in October 1898 provoked the case for which her name would go down to history by cycling from London to Ockham in Surrey and demanding lunch at the Hautboy Hotel.

    The landlady refused to serve her in rationals in the coffee room and insisted she eat in the bar. ‘Of course it was physically possible for me to have lunched [there],’ she told Buckman. ‘So one might in a pigsty!’ The Cyclists Touring Club, which had an agreement with the hotel, took up the case and the following May sued the landlady for failing to provide victuals to a traveller. Martha Jane Sprague got backing from The Road, a journal that was worried about the impact the bicycle was having on the horse trade. Its lawyers were a great deal savvier than the CTC’s, arguing that the landlady had not refused to serve Lady H lunch, only done so in a room she did not like.

    Such was the worldwide interest the case excited, it was the only thing most journalists remembered when they came to write her obituary. A pity. She was active in a great many spheres from funeral reform to women’s health and in particular deserves greater recognition for her lifelong interest in the women’s rights movement. She rubbed shoulders with everyone involved from Barbara Bodichon to the Pankhurst family, led one of their deputations to parliament, campaigned tirelessly throughout her adult life for votes for women and, exasperated with the Liberal Establishment’s failure to act, late in life withdrew her backing from every other body and devoted her giving to the Suffragette cause.

    She died in 1911 as a result of her doctors’ failure to diagnose a fracture to her arm that became septic. Had she lived she would have welcomed women taking to trousers in 1914 to aid the war effort. She would have thought it only right the Government should reward them by granting women over 30 the vote in 1918, but one senses she would not have been completely happy until they achieved parity with men ten years later. As for rational dress, the last article she wrote appeared in the vegetarian journal, the Herald of Health, a month after her death championing what she now called the Syrian skirt.

    By a bitter irony Syria is one of the countries where the Taliban and Islamic State are now banning women from wearing trousers, insisting they swap the garments they have worn for centuries for the shapeless abaya.

    9781445669502

    Don Chapman's new book Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman is available for purchase now.

  • Photographing Models and Miniatures by Paul Brent Adams

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 2 Lledo RNLI Tyne Class lifeboat. This is a full hull model, and normally sits in a plastic cradle. Depicting such models in the water is more difficult than with waterline models, as the lower hull has to be hidden. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Once upon a time, model photography was hard work, and required some fairly sophisticated and expensive equipment, even for basic shots. This usually meant a 35 mm Single Lens Reflex camera. Today, a small and cheap digital compact camera is capable of producing high quality close-up photographs, without the need for any extra lenses or other special equipment. The cameras are highly automated, so you can leave the technical side of photography: aperture, exposure, etc, to the camera, and concentrate on composing the photographs.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 3 Corgi Aston Martin DB5 posed on a simple grass mat, sold in model shops. Features such as opening doors can be shown both open and closed. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Photographs can be taken against a plain background if you just want to catalogue your collection or sell online; or complete miniature worlds can be created for a more realistic look from a city street, to forests and mountains, or outer space. You can use readymade scenery items, or make your own, often using items that most people would throw away – used tealeaves are very versatile. As a modeller and collector, rather than a photographer, this is the part I enjoy the most – but even non-modellers can produce simple and cheap backgrounds and settings for their models. The photographs show some typical examples.

     

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 1 The Canon PowerShot A490 camera is so clever it can even take a self-portrait, with the aid of a mirror. The result will be a mirror image, but this can be flipped in an image-editing programme so everything is the right way round. The camera screws to the tripod, which is adjustable. The background is a large sheet of Woodland Scenics ReadyGrass grass mat. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    I only bought my first digital camera after my 35 mm film camera died, and I needed a replacement. I soon found how easy it was to use, much easier than a big 35 mm SLR. The most basic cameras may not have the features needed for close-up photography, but my Canon PowerShot A490 certainly does. You need the ability to focus on small items at close range; a socket for a tripod; a self-timer; and a modest zoom range. The small size and light weight of a digital compact also makes it easier to use in a limited space. The only extra equipment needed is a small tripod to hold the camera steady during the long exposure times often required in close-up work. Table-top tripods can be bought in any camera shop, and are not expensive. Get a good sturdy model, which will not tip over, even with the camera angled well down. If you do not have a tripod, just rest the camera on a block of wood.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 8 Even a very simple painted background makes this lion look more at home. A piece of coloured card is finished with streaks and blobs of green and brown paint. It is not intended to be anything specific, and a background such as this requires no painting skill at all. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Most of my working methods would probably appal real photography buffs, but I get the results I want, and have fun doing it. All my photographs are taken indoors, by a window, using natural light. This means I do not have to contend with the wind, or complicated lighting set-ups. With the light usually coming from only one direction, one side of the model is well lit, while the other side may be in shadow. A reflector – a simple piece of stiff white card – is used to bounce light back into the areas in shadow. This makes a surprising difference with many shots. Pressing the shutter can disturb the camera, even when it is mounted on a tripod. Using the self-timer means there is a slight delay between pressing the shutter, and taking the photograph, reducing the chances of camera shake. The A490 has two standard settings, or you can select your own – the two-second setting is fine. If you want your photos to have a 'period' look, the camera settings can be adjusted to take black and white or sepia shots. This suits some subjects more than others.

    Photographing Models and Miniatures 14 The roadway is grey card, with the building sitting on a grass mat. The clouds are painted on blue card, using white and grey acrylic paints. (Photographing Models and Miniatures, Amberley Publishing)

    Over the years I have built up a collection of backgrounds and props for model photography. Some of these I have bought in model or toy shops; adapted from old toys or household items; built from kits; or made from odds and ends. One of the best general purpose backgrounds - suitable for most types of models - is a grass mat. Sold in model shops, this is a sheet of paper or plastic, covered with a grass-like material. Some brands do shed their 'grass' very quickly, but the American Woodland Scenics range is very good, and the sheets are available in a range of sizes, and grass shades. A piece of fine green material would be an alternative. Printed backscences are available in model railway shops, in a range of sizes. The ones I use are by the British company Peco. Even if you have no artistic skill you can still paint your own; fluffy white clouds can be dabbed onto a sheet of plain blue card with a sponge; or distant hills streaked on, again with a piece of sponge, using various shades of green. Model trees and loose 'clump foliage' can be bought in model shops, which is easier than making your own. These can help to disguise the transition between the three-dimensional foreground, and a two-dimensional background. One way to give the illusion of great depth to a scene is to place smaller scale models behind the main subject: being smaller they will appear to be further away. These are many simple tricks like this that can be used to make your photographs more realistic.

    At the end of each session, all my equipment has to be packed away in a drawer or cupboard, as I do not have a permanent photographic studio. All the photographs here were taken with this simple set-up. Photography does not need to be complicated and expensive; it can be simple, cheap, and fun.

    9781445662541

    Paul Brent Adams' book Photographing Models and Miniatures is available for purchase now.

  • A Passion for Public Parks – Why Parks Matter by Paul Rabbitts

    Great British Parks 1 The grand entrance to Birkenhead Park – a fitting monument to the legacy of our great British parks. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    I recently published (2016) ‘Great British Parks: A Celebration’ which very much started out as a straightforward celebration of Great British Parks and followed by in 2017 ‘Parkitecture – Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks

    Parks were born out of the need to improve the quality of people’s lives as the Industrial Revolution took its hold. 100 years later, this was sadly abandoned as we embraced ‘the cost of providing’ rather than the ‘benefits (note the plural) of providing’, only to rediscover this by the end of the twentieth century. Thanks to successive studies and reports, surveys, analysis, continued lobbying, many parks have been rescued from virtual obscurity, primarily funded by the National Lottery, including the wonderful Avenham & Miller parks in Preston, which was restored in 2014 thanks to a grant of over £2.8 million. The irony is perhaps wrapped up in history itself – history tells us that parks are good for us. So is the renaissance really over? In 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund published a report on the condition of parks in the UK called ‘State of UK Public Parks - Research Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund June 2014’ and was followed up by a similar report in 2016. The picture is bleak and none more so apparent with the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, with the recent destruction of its iconic bandstand in June 2017.

    Great British Parks 2 Barran’s Fountain, erected in 1882. (Great British Parks, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2006 CABE Space highlighted the challenge was to ensure the ‘long-term sustainability of these improvements in the conditions of urban green spaces across the country. In many cases, this required the identification of alternative sources of revenue and capital funding’. Yet funding for public parks and urban green spaces was significantly reduced between 1979 and 2000, losing an estimated £1.3 billion in total. A timely report published in January 2013 by the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (Ifpra) concluded that there was evidence for a range of benefits of urban parks and that there was sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing. Specifically, urban planners should focus on high quality parks in such areas, where the case is currently that parks are scarce and poorly maintained. Given the strong evidence for parks as promoting physical activity and reducing obesity (parkruns are surely the best example of this), more thoughts should be given to how parks are planned and established with good opportunities and amenities for exerting varied kinds of physical activity, such as walking and biking. In 2014, Dr Katy Layton-Jones published her final report for English Heritage on Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces. It referred to the remission of the period of decline for Britain’s parks as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and its successor the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. But it warns of an uncertain future in terms not only of funding and maintenance, but also of ownership, and in some cases, existence. The economic crisis of 2007 marked a change in mood and expectation among many green space professionals. In the 2010-11 financial year, local authorities were forced to implement significant savings. Local authority budget cuts (average 28 per cent over a three-year period, and in some cases up to 90%), brought an abrupt halt to many ambitions for significant capital investment in public green space across the country. The requirement to demonstrate financial sustainability still places considerable economic pressure on local authorities. It is getting worse.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Eaton Park, Norwich - bandstand and pavilions designed by Norwich Park Superintendent Captain Sandys-Winsch. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    So the future of UK public parks in 2016 and beyond is at a crossroads. ‘The State of UK Public Parks 2014 - Renaissance to risk’ and its follow up in 2016 perhaps gives the clearest picture. It reports that maintenance budgets are being reduced, capital is less available for improvements, park facilities are becoming more expensive to use, management and maintenance skills are being lost, and some parks and green spaces may be sold or transferred to others to maintain. This is despite over 2.6 billion estimated visits made to the UK’s parks each year. Over 70% of park managers have recorded increased visitor numbers to their principal parks between 2013-14. Yet 86% of park managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010 and they expect the trend to continue for the next few years. Just as worrying is that 71% of households with children under 10 years of age are concerned that reductions in council budgets could have a negative impact on the condition of their local park. This is already having an impact with a number of local authorities who have already seen the positive result of ‘one-off’ lottery investments, struggling to sustain the quality of the once restored landscape.

    Great Britain has been a nation of park builders since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. J.C. Loudon writing in the Gardener’s Magazine in 1829, campaigned for public parks as ‘Breathing Places’ for towns and cities. 176 years later, The Times (13/11/15) reports that ‘its mad to let Britain’s glorious heritage of urban parks disappear’. Speaking at the Paxton 150 conference in 2015, parks historian David Lambert echoes this. ‘What Paxton and his fellow Victorians thought was bleedin’ obvious – that the health, social and recreational benefits of parks far outweigh the costs of maintaining them.

    Parkitecture 2 Stewart Memorial Fountain, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. (Parkitecture, Amberley Publishing)

    To conclude, Great British Parks and Parkitecture really are celebrations of some of the country’s greatest parks and the features within, and both celebrate the successes of both the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund and Green Flag Award and parks across the UK. It also recognises the impact and commitment of local authorities and park management teams who run them. The truth is that if we want parks to remain beautiful, safe, fun, free and managed by people who are answerable to the local population, local authorities are by far the best organisations to run them, and should be funded appropriately or many parks will suffer the fate of Ryelands Park in Lancaster, neglected and left to ruin. Ruskin has been quoted countless times, but there is no better conclusion than:-

    ‘The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares’.

    Or perhaps the more recent quote from David Lambert above, that it’s ‘bleedin’ obvious’.

    9781445665627  9781445656366

    Paul Rabbitts' books Parkitecture: Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks and Great British Parks: A Celebration are both available for purchase now.

  • The Kitchen Garden by Caroline Ikin

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Fruit trees were trained up the kitchen garden walls in espaliered shapes, allowing for even ripening and ease of picking. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    When visiting historic gardens I’m always drawn to the walls.  A high brick wall – too high to look over, and with no openings to peer through – offers a tantalising clue to what lies beyond: the kitchen garden. What was once the bustling hub of the working garden is now often left derelict, grassed over, converted to a private swimming pool, or used as a car park.  But the walls remain, sometimes with the skeleton of a glasshouse clinging to them, or an ancient fruit tree still struggling up their bricks. These walls were built to last, their brick faces absorbing the light of the sun to ripen the fruit trained upon them in espaliered shapes, their stone copings sheltering delicate blossoms from rain, their solidity offering protection from wind and frost, and from predators - both animal and human.

    The gardeners who worked within the walls would have worked their way up over the years, from garden boy to positions of greater responsibility, developing specialisms in the cultivation of glasshouse fruit, growing cut flowers for the house, forcing rhubarb and chicory, creating hot beds and cold frames, sowing, germinating, watering, pruning, harvesting, and keeping pests and diseases at bay. Kitchen gardening was a job that afforded little time off. The garden bell rang at 6am, and until 6pm, the workers would be kept busy under the watchful eye of the head gardener.  But the plants did not stop growing at the end of the working day, and the glasshouse boilers had to be kept stoked, and the vents adjusted to maintain the exact temperature required for the peaches, grapes, or figs to flourish.  Pests - whether aphids attacking the vines, wasps gorging on the plums, slugs grazing on lettuce, or mice penetrating the apple store - were active at all hours, and gardeners had to keep a steady vigil. The bothy was often built into the garden walls, positioned behind the glasshouse range on the north-facing side, not taking up valuable growing space, but benefitting from the heat penetrating through the wall. Here, the unmarried gardeners would sleep, wash, and eat their meals; what little spare time they had was taken up with reading garden books and journals for those ambitious to scale the career ladder.  A head gardener could marry, and was given a house and garden of his own.

    The Kitchen Garden 2 Pineapples were notoriously difficult to grow, which made them all the more valued at the table in an age of horticultural one-upmanship. (The Kitchen Garden, Amberley Publishing).

    The kitchen garden was also the perfect showcase for innovation, particularly in the nineteenth century, when industrialisation had revealed the possibilities of mechanisation, and spurred invention to new levels. The growing consumer culture rewarded novelty and ostentation, both of which could be amply satisfied through fruit and veg. The production of cast iron and cylinder glass allowed hothouses to reach new dimensions, and these horticultural havens housed exotic orchids, as well as tropical nectarines.  The favourable growing conditions created under glass, with reliable boilers providing controllable heating systems, gave gardeners the means to cultivate out-of-season fruit, and impress with unusual cultivars from exotic climes. The dinner table would be graced with a centrepiece of fruit and flowers, all produced by the skill and patience of the kitchen gardener, at which guests would express their admiration, and conceal their envy.  The ultimate prize was the home-grown pineapple - a fruit notoriously difficult to cultivate, and requiring specific conditions at each stage of its growth. This special fruit was tended personally by the head gardener, and if his expertise was not up to the task, enterprising businesses offered pineapples for hire by the day.

    The Kitchen Garden 4 The Victorians invented many labour-saving gadgets for use in the garden, not all of which have stood the test of time.

    The Victorian confidence in scientific understanding was also on show in the kitchen garden.  Now that processes, such as photosynthesis and soil nutrition had been explained, gardeners were able to apply the knowledge of modern science to their growing methods, adapting their green-fingered traditions to incorporate artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides, producing bumper crops of perfect fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  There was a tool for every job, with new-fangled, labour-saving gadgets stored in the tool shed alongside the spades, rakes and hoes, whose utilitarian design has lasted unbettered through the centuries.

    So, next time you follow the ivy up to the top of the garden wall, let your imagination fill with the sights, sounds, and smells of what went on beyond the protection of the bricks and mortar.  Taste the delicate peaches, hear the rumbling of the wheelbarrow, and watch the garden boy as he wipes his boots before entering the glasshouse with his watering can. The walls of the kitchen garden enclose an astonishing story.

    9781445668840

    Caroline Ikin's new book The Kitchen Garden is available for purchase now.

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