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  • 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.

  • Space Oddities by S. D. Tucker

    THE ICEMAN COMETH

    In an extract from his new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe, author SD Tucker remembers the life of Hans Hörbiger - the forgotten Austrian astronomer who claimed that stars didn’t exist, and spied giant ice-cubes floating in space.

    The next time you cast your eyes up towards the Milky Way some clear and cloudless night, take a moment to stop and ask yourself what precisely it is you are seeing. The standard answer is that you are observing a twirling, milky band of light, which stretches out across the heavens in a series of spiral arms, caused by the illumination given out by the innumerable distant suns of our galaxy. In short, you are looking at the stars. The renegade Austrian astronomer Hanns Hörbiger (1860–1931), however, didn’t believe in stars, and in an influential 1913 book, made the rather startling assertion that, far from being the result of starlight, the Milky Way was in fact made entirely out of ice. According to Hörbiger, a series of massive, planet-sized ice-blocks was floating around up there in space, encircling our entire solar-system in an impenetrable white ring. Light from a few actual suns lurking beyond the ice-ring then shone through this frozen barrier, reflecting off its massed ice-crystals, and giving observers on Earth the mere illusion of billions of stars twinkling down at us from the inky blackness. Various other astronomers might well object to this proposal, admitted the Austrian, and even attempt to show off photographs of the Milky Way’s alleged ‘stars’ to prove their case, but he had an easy answer ready to these arguments – all such images were simply fakes. As to any tedious mathematical objections which sceptical astronomers might have made to his proposal, Hörbiger had an even more emphatic response in store: ‘Mathematics,’ he once pronounced, ‘is nothing but lies!’

    Hörbiger could justify this bombastic assertion by pointing back to his successful career as an engineer, during which, one of his most appropriate achievements was to have helped develop new cold-compressors for use in manufacturing artificial ice. In 1894, he had also invented a special kind of low-friction, automatically opening and closing steel disk-valve for use in blast-furnaces - a genuinely helpful invention, without which, various industrial processes, and methods of gas-exchange would simply not have been possible. However, Hörbiger’s invention of this valve was not something he had worked out laboriously at a desk in his workshop, through calculations and technical drawings; instead, it had simply ‘come to him’ whilst on the job. As such, for a qualified engineer, he had little time for mathematics. ‘Instead of trusting me you trust equations!’ he would harangue those who tried to point out to him the various reasons why his ice-ring theory could not be true. ‘How long will you need to learn that mathematics is valueless and deceptive?’

    Hörbiger’s full, entirely maths-less, theory was termed the Welteislehre, or ‘World Ice Theory’ (‘WEL’ for short). Basically, it held that at some distant point in our galaxy’s past there had been a gigantic super-sun, millions of times the size of our own, next to which had orbited a massive planet, many times larger than Jupiter, covered by layers of ice hundreds of miles thick. Eventually, this ice-planet fell into the super-sun, melted, and transformed into jets of super-charged steam, which blew the sun apart, spewing out lumps of rock and fire, which ultimately settled down to become our own current solar-system. Vast clouds of oxygen were also released from the explosion, and reacted with thin layers of hydrogen gases already swirling through space, creating masses of space-water which -space being cold - soon froze into the gigantic ring of interstellar ice-bergs, which now encircled us all. Sometimes, said Hörbiger, one of these ice-blocks breaks away, and floats into the pull of our sun’s gravitational field, falling into it, and creating sun-spots, which are really colossal melting ice-cubes. Occasionally, the Earth happens to be orbiting in the path of one of these falling space-bergs, causing severe hailstorms, before it finally drops into the sun. Our moon is less lucky; being higher up and thus exposed to more ice, it is continually accumulating more and more frozen layers of water on its surface. Eventually, it will get so heavy that it simply falls down to Earth and kills us, claimed Hörbiger. Apparently, such a catastrophe had already happened several times in the past; the Earth used to have other smaller moons, which became so heavy with cosmic ice that they crashed down onto our planet thousands of years ago, destroying Atlantis and making Noah feel glad he had built that Ark. If you thought that the giant ice-berg crashing into the Titanic had been a disaster, implied Hörbiger, then just wait until the giant moon-berg finally collided with SS Planet Earth.

    That’s quite a bold theory, and in order to support it, Hörbiger had to have amassed a huge amount of evidence, didn’t he? No. Much of Hörbiger’s ‘proof’ for his premise amounted to the fact that he had had a few strange dreams or visions which had revealed the ‘truth’ about our frozen universe to him. Just as he had created his Hörbiger-Valve entirely through intuition, so he had created his infamous WEL. As a small child, Hörbiger had owned a telescope. Through this, he liked to look at the moon. He thought its surface looked cold; and, all of a sudden, realised that this simply must be because it was covered with ice. That was Hörbiger’s first revelation. His second came when he had a strange dream in which the Earth became transformed into a giant pendulum, swaying on a luminous string. This apparently revealed to him the secrets of gravitation, showing how ice-bergs in space could be attracted towards the sun. Thirdly, whilst working as an engineer one day in 1894, he witnessed some molten iron falling onto a pile of snow, causing bits of soil beneath to explode under the pressure of the jets of steam, which had been released by the snow suddenly melting. This caused Hörbiger to immediately understand that an ice-planet had once dropped into a super-sun, thus giving birth to our solar-system. Coincidentally (or not), the basic principles of World Ice Theory coincided perfectly with the physical laws relating to water, gas, freezing, and pressure, which Hörbiger had studied and made use of throughout his entire professional life. At last, the WEL was all falling into place; all that now remained was for Hörbiger to write his 1913 book – all 790 pages of it – telling the world about his discovery. Surprisingly, the book had many fans; including, as readers of my own new book can find out, a certain Mr Adolf Hitler …

    9781445662626

    S. D. Tucker's new book Space Oddities: Our Strange Attempts to Explain the Universe is available to purchase now.

  • Doctor Who Memorabilia by Paul Berry

    Doctor Who is not only one of Britain's most famous television programmes, it has also spawned more collectables than any other British TV character. For over 50 years the BBC have been licensing products based on the series, and my new book: Doctor Who Memorabilia takes you through the history of Doctor Who merchandising.

    Doctor Who Memorabilia 1 Authors collection

    I have been collecting Doctor Who Memorabilia myself for around 30 years. I remember first watching the series in the latter days of Tom Baker, and vividly recall sitting through what seemed like endless Saturday afternoon football results waiting for the programme to start. I never actually hid behind the sofa - I couldn't because it was jammed firmly against the wall - but I remember the sense of atmosphere and jeopardy the series excelled at. In these early days I wasn’t obsessed with Doctor Who - there were too many other distractions for a child of the eighties - but I would buy the occasional piece of merchandise, and as our yearly holiday often took us to Blackpool, a trip to the Doctor Who exhibition would be a given.

    I continued watching Doctor Who regularly throughout the eighties, missing the odd episode due to bothersome commitments like cub scouts, or the injustice of another family member wanting to watch The A-Team. Then Doctor Who got temporarily suspended in 1985, and went off the air for a bit. It was during this period when virtually everyone else was tired and jaded about the programme that I started getting seriously interested. I started buying the magazine regularly, and religiously buying the Target books adaptations.  When Doctor Who came back on the air with The Trial of a Time Lord, I was ready to swear fidelity to the series, and other interests such as Star Wars, Marvel comics, and Masters of the Universe quickly fell by the wayside. I would literally buy anything and everything to do with Doctor Who, and in those early days my collection was pretty unfocused; if I saw it, and my pocket money would stretch to it, I would buy it.

    Doctor Who Memorabilia 3 The Amazing World of Doctor Who poster and cards (Typhoo, 1976, Doctor Who Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    My collection grew quickly, and even though the series went off the air in 1989, I had no intention of stopping. There was no realisation at the time that the series would be taking such a long break; a lot of fans assumed there was a new series or movie just waiting on the horizon.

    As we hit the mid-nineties I was still collecting avidly, but found myself starting to drag my heels a bit, no longer buying every video or book the minute it came out. But for a brief period in 1996 my interest in Doctor Who was reenergised, when a TV movie starring Paul Mcgann was broadcast. Sadly, it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t going to be a series, and for the first time many fans, including myself, started to come to the realisation that the series was possibly gone forever. Those latter days of the nineties were my dark period as a collector; I never completely threw in the towel, but got further and further behind with the merchandise, usually waiting for sales, or getting items second-hand. My interest hit the lowest it had ever been, and had there been financial pressures, I think there may have been a temptation to just jump ship and get rid. Thankfully, I never did, and would advise anyone thinking of getting rid of a collection to think hard about it. As a collector you will go through varying levels of excitement and disillusionment over the years. One day you may look at an item and feel tired of it, but you never know when that enthusiasm will be reignited. Better if you can to just put it away ready for the day it will be cherished again. Don’t be one of those collectors - whom I have known a few of over the years - that go through the pointless cycle of selling and rebuying the same item several times.

     

     

    Doctor Who Memorabilia 2 Talking figures (Product Enterprise, Doctor Who Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    My interest in Doctor Who had begun to pick up again in the early noughties, mainly driven by nostalgia, and then, to the surprise of many, it returned to TV in 2005. I was braced, ready for my levels of enthusiasm to hit new heights, and I planned to collect everything. But then I saw the programme and my heart sank. The truth is it took me several years to fully realise it, but it slowly dawned on me that this wasn't my Doctor Who. The series had moved on, and was being made for a totally different audience. Initially I collected the new stuff out of habit, but one day when my disillusionment with the series was so intense, I turned it off. I had to ask myself what was the point. Why was I collecting stuff I didn’t like?

    This is perhaps another lesson of collecting - to have some focus and not just collect for the sake of it. I realised, that while I didn’t like the new version of Doctor Who, I would always have that affection for the old, so the choice became simple - just stick to the collectables from the classic run.

    Doctor Who Memorabilia 4 Doctor Who Doctors bust set (Fine Art Castings, 1985, Doctor Who Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    My book, surprisingly, only covers this classic period, not just out of sour grapes, but because the amount of post-2005 product is so overwhelming, there would barely have been a chance to pay it lip service. As much of the new stuff can still be found on car boot sales, bargain bins, etc, I felt it best to focus on the stuff most fans have nostalgia for, which tends to be the 60's, 70's and 80's, although the book does touch on the nineties and early noughties.

    My book doesn’t cover everything from that period, it is more of a snapshot of its vast merchandising history, but for anyone interested in Doctor Who collectables, I am sure you will find the book a pleasing trip down memory lane.

    9781445665528

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

  • Fire Stations by Billy Reading

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Euston road fire station by HFT Cooper, Grade II listed. 1901

    My interest in fire stations was sparked by a single building. As a student of architecture studying in Bloomsbury, I would wander about looking at buildings and streets, and kept finding myself back at Euston admiring the beautiful purpose-built 1901 fire station there, designed by HFT Cooper for the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council’s Architects Department. I was curious about this building, it is six stories on a prominent corner site, occupying a whole urban block, yet in its arts and crafts modelling and detailing it invokes a trim country cottage. Really it shouldn’t work – the richness of architectural detail – projecting bays, mullioned windows, oriel windows, stone dressings, balconies and asymmetric roof lines. At that scale it could so easily have been a cacophony, but masterfully handled these rich details produce a confident, didactic building – grand and yet modest, bulky but exquisite, definitely urban but still somehow stylistically bucolic. The fire station has to work hard to compete with the mighty St Pancras new church on the other side of the road; built 1819-20 in the Greek revival style, the caryatids, copied from the Erechtheum in Athens are rightly famed. As beautiful as these are, it was Cooper’s fire station that always drew my attention.

    When the time came to choose a post-graduate thesis topic, I knew what I had to do. I was studying building conservation, and here was an opportunity to really research this captivating building, its architect and the socio-economic, cultural and artistic background from which it sprang. That was the plan. However, as I began to think about fire stations, more and more interesting buildings started to come to my attention; in Kensington, Bishopsgate, Bethnal Green, Clerkenwell and Clapham... turns out London is full of eclectic and beautiful fire stations, the work of a talented and progressive group of architects under the London County Council. These architects had worked in the housing branch, responsible for some important housing projects such as the Boundary estate in Shoreditch and the Millbank estate. Following the success of these projects, the team transferred to the fire stations branch.

    Fire Stations 2 A modern fire station in East Grinstead, Sussex A modern fire station in East Grinstead, Sussex

    Two other things cemented my choice of thesis topic – firstly that fire stations as a building type were surprisingly under-researched, secondly, that in the same year the London Fire Brigade had asked the GLA if they could, as an emergency service, negotiate an exemption from Listed Building Controls. This gave my research the opportunity to have practical outcomes – first looking at the history of London’s Fire Brigade stations and the architects that created them, and then looking forward to consider their care and conservation, and critically, their continued use. In the same year I began working with English Heritage, and slowly but surely, what had been a niche research project developed into a specialism, as colleagues shared fire-station casework with me, and I got the opportunity to work with the staff at LFB who care for the buildings. English Heritage reviewed the listings. No exemption was agreed, but Euston fire station was upgraded from grade II to grade II*.

    Ten years later, my expertise has taken me up and down the country, and now I find that where ever I go I’m looking for fire stations. My family are now well drilled to search out and photograph active or redundant fire stations wherever we happen to be!

    Fire Stations 3 A simple structure purpose-built to house the fire engine in Woburn, Bedfordshire, in the 1930s A simple structure purpose-built to house the fire engine in Woburn, Bedfordshire, in the 1930s

    The buildings can be highly elusive – it was only in the Mid C19th that a specific building type emerged. Before that, cart sheds, barns, commercial stables, coaching yards and inns all served as fire stations – or else town halls or other civic buildings provided some space to store the pumps and buckets, leaving little in the way of physical evidence. Whilst the early buildings can be undistinguished, the latter buildings tend to announce themselves as high-points of civic architecture. These, with the characteristic hallmarks of the building type – particularly the practice towers – are generally easier to spot.

    Being asked to put a book together for Amberley, then, was a dream project. I realised that very little original research would be required, as I have been researching the subject for over ten years and so I had most of the resources I needed to hand. My family rallied around the project, and a constant stream of hi-resolution images started coming in of fire stations from places they happened to be... often places I’d never even heard of! The book began to take shape.

    And now, only months later, the book is printed, bound and being distributed. It is wonderful to see the work in print, and particularly to know the stories behind each of the pictures… that my nephew Eddie got to sit in the cab of a fire engine at Crawley, (he is four…) that my mum and her friend got locked behind the fire station gates at Corby, and that Aunty Barbara spent a whole day driving round the valleys of South Wales to get me a shot of the fire station in Blaina! I am extremely grateful to them for all of their efforts, and to Amberley for the opportunity. And although the book is printed, there is still much more to learn on the subject… in England alone there are over 6,000 current and former fire station buildings… easily enough for a second volume! It has been a great honour to work on these captivating, often challenging but always charming buildings, and to regularly meet fire-fighters who are ready to risk their lives for our safety. My book is dedicated to them.

    9781445665825

    Billy Reading's new book Fire Stations is available for purchase now.

  • The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes by Pam Inder

    The Rag Trade 1 ‘Fashions for October’ in Cassell’s Magazine, 1891. The figure on the left wears the sort of tailored costume Adolph Kushner would have helped make. The figure on the right wears the softer sort of garments Mrs Pattinson would have made for Mrs Fenton, and they both wear elaborate hats like the one described in Mrs Fenton’s letter. (c. The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    For much of my working life I was a museum curator working with collections of ‘applied arts’ – ceramics, furniture, silver, costume and textiles, glass, objects d’art. My particular interest was in costume and I became aware that when we exhibited a piece of ceramics or furniture, the label gave details of the maker or decorator – ‘Royal Doulton, decorated by Florence Barlow’, ‘Chippendale chair, made for the Earl of Little-Snoddington-under-the-Wold’ and so on. However, a dress was likely to be described simply as ‘Silk day dress, c. 1835’ or ‘Wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Smith on her marriage to Henry Robinson in January, 1872’ – in other words, we knew virtually nothing about the people who made the garments. As a needlewoman myself, I was aware that the makers of some of the items in our collections were extremely skilled – just as skilled as the furniture makers and potters whose names we knew. I decided to do something about it.

    In 2000 I submitted a thesis to De Montfort University for which I received a PhD. It was entitled ‘English provincial dressmakers in the 19th century’ (and, for those of you who don’t get out enough, it is available through the British Library).

    I’m interested in people: in people’s lives, interests, families, triumphs and tragedies as well as their work. In the course of my research I found some wonderful sources of information about dressmakers. Record Offices up and down the country are stuffed with fascinating documents if only we go and look. With the PhD out of the way I wondered whether some of these resources would make a book – and the result is ‘The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes’, eleven single-chapter biographies of workers in the clothing trades. Here are some tasters:

    The dressmaker and the widow

    ‘Could you send me another bottle of whiskey in a little box like last time and perhaps it would do with cloak so that Mrs P need only have one parcel and a little 6d needle book …’

    Old Mrs Fenton wrote to her dressmaker at regular intervals. She was a widow, a nervous lady who believed herself to be an invalid, and she hated travelling. Even the short distance into Ulverston where she had been born and where her good friend, Mrs Pattinson the dressmaker, lived. It was so much easier to order goods on approval, and Mrs Pattinson was always so obliging about buying her whisky – for medicinal purposes of course – packing it in corset boxes and wrapping it in bundles of clothes. She was sure the carrier never suspected for a moment what he was delivering.

    The Rag Trade 2 Sketches of country folk by William Johnstone White, showing the sort of garments John Evens made for his poorer clients. (c. The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    The smuggling tailor

    John Evens had a flourishing business in the little village of Holbeton in Devon. He was a tailor, making suits and ‘everlasting breeches’ and smockfrocks for his neighbours, as well as bed curtains, tarpaulin covers for their carts, banners for the local pageant – in fact anything they asked him for. He also farmed the family smallholding, tended his orchards of cider apples and acted as ‘parish constable’ – a sort of unpaid policeman. But he had another, much less respectable source of income. John Evens was a ‘venturer’ organising local gangs of smugglers to bring tubs of spirits and parcels of tobacco across the Channel from France. He spent many a night on the clifftops watching for incoming vessels and organising the gangs of men who unloaded them. He borrowed carts from his neighbours and wrapped rags round their wheels and round the horses’ hooves to muffle the sound they would make in the narrow, twisting lanes of south-west Devon. It was young Mr Evens who took orders, delivered goods to buyers – and had his fair share of skirmishes and near misses with the excise men.

    The Rag Trade 3 Ida Allen at the door of her lace shop in the 1930s. (Courtesy of Norman Lambert, The Rag Trade, Amberley Publishing)

    Lacemaker to royalty

    Ida Allen was no stranger to the royals. Princes and princesses visited her little shop in Beer, bought handkerchiefs and veils of Honiton lace and placed orders for more. They sent precious items to her for cleaning and repair and were, it would appear, very happy with the results. What they did not know was that Ida’s house had no water supply. The valuable laces were washed in water from the water butt out back – once the algae and dead leaves were cleaned out. She used lethal combinations of cleaning fluids – neat gin or chlorine bleach and salt. But worst of all, her house was infested by rats, attracted by the rotting meat in the orchard next door in which her neighbour grew the maggots he sold to fishermen.

    Learn more about these 19th century characters and many more in:

    9781445657295

    Pam Inder's new book The Rag Trade: The People Who Made Our Clothes is available for purchase now.

  • Great British Eccentrics by S. D. Tucker

    ONE LORD A-LOONING: John Conrad Russell and the Sad Destruction of the House of Lords

    In an extract from his book Great British Eccentrics, out now in paperback, SD Tucker remembers the life of the strangest-ever member of the House of Lords, John Conrad Russell.

    With Press controversy currently raging over the prospect of the assorted time-servers, sycophants and hangers-on in the House of Lords apparently planning to try and block the will of the people by conspiring to wreck the passage of Article 50, there have been renewed calls of late to abolish the entire Chamber. This would be short-sighted. Instead, why not simply return the Lords back to the way it used to be, when Members inherited their peerages, rather than being political appointees? Quite apart from putting an end to the naked political cronyism which now characterises life in the Upper House, this would also have the entertaining side-effect of allowing some genuine lunatics to don the famous ermine once again; as is well-known, eccentricity runs rife in the blood of the English aristocracy. The maddest Lord of all was surely John Conrad Russell, the 4th Earl Russell. Russell’s father was one of the most famous men of his age, the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. John Conrad Russell, however, had to settle for simply being one of the oddest …

    I suspect there can be few persons outside of politics or the media who have ever actually bothered to buy any copies of Hansard, the official transcripts of sessions which take place in the Commons and the Lords. The exception to this rule was an edition containing a particularly unforgettable speech of Earl Russell’s from 1978, which sold out almost as soon as it was printed. Russell’s rabid rant was nothing if not memorable. Certainly, it pulled no punches, the Earl being quite happy to ask his fellow-Peers ‘What are you? Soulless robots?’ before then going on to accuse them all of being nothing but a bunch of ‘spiritless Papal bum-boys’. ‘Forward, the creative spirit!’ he roared, before providing the country with some very creative solutions to its most pressing problems himself.

    In Westminster-speak, Russell’s speech was technically classified as being a ‘response to an unstarred question’ during a debate that was supposed to be about aiding victims of crime, but which ended up being about much, much more. After all, as Earl Russell explained to a bemused House, there was actually no such thing as crime. If Britain was really the civilised nation it pretended to be, he said, then its police-force should be merged with the Salvation Army immediately, and its officers retrained so that their only function was to make people cups of tea.

    If a man tried to steal anything, then that was his perfect right, Russell made clear, giving the example of someone who might walk into a jeweller’s shop to snatch a bag of diamonds. If such a thing happened, said the Earl, then surely the only truly humane thing for the jeweller to do would be to let him steal them, then give him a second bag as well, for good measure. Prisons, it turned out, should be banned; according to Russell, policemen up and down the land were engaged in a gigantic conspiracy to arrest young men and seduce them in their cells, before then selling them on into lives of gay prostitution in prisons. What way was this to treat the flower of English manhood, he asked? Surely it would be better if the Government just paid them all a fair wage to sit around and do nothing all day in big huts instead of making them become Chief Constables’ rent-boys?

    Earl Russell had some interesting plans for the nation’s schoolgirls, too. At the age of twelve, he said, every girl should be considered a woman, and given a free house. Then, 75 per cent of the nation’s wealth would be donated to the fairer sex, whilst the remaining 25 per cent would be used to protect men from the police in their large communal huts, which the girls could then visit in order to choose their husbands – as many as they liked, the men would have no say in the matter. This, he said, would be the true realisation of ‘Women’s Lib’.

    Explaining that ‘the habit of arresting young people and raping them in gaol is part of a plot which is designed to destroy the human race’, Russell demanded that the nation’s youth be put in charge of everything, and encouraged to play outside all day in the nude instead of being treated as mere ‘indoor products’. As he said, ‘the ancient Greeks fought naked’, and so ‘naked bathing on beaches or in rivers ought to be universal’. School and work were just Establishment conspiracies aimed at forcing adolescents to stay inside all day instead of romping through fields as nature intended; ‘Leisure is the point and working is wrong, being in any case the curse visited by God upon Adam and not to be blessed.’ He approved of bored schoolboys burning down their schools, as it was obvious (to him) that if they were being taught properly by their teachers then the spirit of Sir Isaac Newton would have been reincarnated in one of them by now. Surely we should instead all follow the example of the old cartoon-character ‘Little Audrey’ who, he said, had ‘laughed and laughed because she knew that only God could make a tree’?

    So embarrassing was this episode that a myth has since arisen that it is the only speech ever made in Parliament which was not recorded in Hansard. This is not true, but I think I can explain the misunderstanding; Earl Russell had not finished talking when he was forced to give way to Lord Wells-Pestell, and, seeing as the rest of his speech was not actually spoken in the Lords, Hansard had no business printing it. Russell had planned to end his oration with the surprisingly understated assertion that ‘It may be expected that most people will support these proposals, because they are, after all, in everybody’s own interest.’ In this, as in so much else, I fear he may have been mistaken.

    9781445660325

    S. D. Tuckers new paperback edition of his book Great British Eccentrics is available for purchase now.

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