Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Social History

  • Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale by Wendy Buonaventura

    The dancer Maud Allan is all but forgotten today, but she was one of the greatest female celebrities of the early twentieth century. She rose to fame in the role of Salome, the Bibles’ most infamous temptress. “Dancer wears nothing but her jewellery!” and “Dancer sheds clothing and puts on ideas!” reported the gentlemen of the press, beside themselves with excitement.

    This postcard is title 'Miss Maud Allan as "Salome".' Maud made extra money by posing for photographs that were turned into postcards and offered for sale to her fans. Her direct stare would have been considered provocative in her era. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a period when female performers in the West were the most socially liberated women of their day. They had replaced the goddesses of mythology, who had once been worshipped for holding the secrets of life, to become the secular goddesses of their age. And so they have remained. Yet dancers, exhibiting their bodies on stage in sensuous movement, also belonged to a demi-monde of independent women who were suspected of leading immoral lives and were no different, in many people’s minds, to prostitutes.

    During the late nineteenth century women in Europe and America began making valiant efforts to climb down from the pedestals of domestic virtue where they had languished during the nineteenth century. Where, they asked themselves, was the satisfaction in being visible symbols of public and private morality? Where was the fun in being virtuous at home while their menfolk went out at night, dining with their male friends and (whisper it) female companions?

    New Women is what the press labelled those pesky females who were looking for the same freedoms that men took for granted. New Women wanted a place in public life and deliverance from clothes that hampered their movement; they wanted access to serious education and they wanted to be able to vote. By the first decade of the twentieth century their demands were beginning to bear fruit and some people were getting jumpy.

    In 1908 a report on the Ladies Page of the Illustrated London News announced that one out of every two men enlisting for the army was rejected as physically unfit, at the same time that women were growing stronger and taller. The idea that women were the cause of men’s increasingly weak condition gained momentum when war broke out in 1914. The question was posed as to how such a disaster could have been set in motion and, soon enough, the search for culprits alighted on the dreaded New Woman. Before long she had seamlessly metamorphosed into War Woman, who was said to find a source of erotic excitement in the death of soldiers at the Front. It was whispered in the press that this kind of woman had caused the war in the first place, with her demands for a freer life.

    Edith La Sylphe, c 1900, shows the distorted female figure that was considered the height of beauty and eroticism at the turn of the last century. (Dark Venus, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1918, the independent MP Noel Billing decided to do his bit in defence of the realm by leading a campaign against homosexuality and lesbianism, which posed a clear challenge to the status quo. In his privately-funded newspaper The Vigilante Billing claimed that lesbianism was threatening society and sabotaging the war effort. He followed up by giving the go-ahead for a small paragraph, The Cult of the Clitoris, to appear in his newspaper, an obscure little piece that indirectly suggested the celebrated Maud Allan was a lesbian. When Billing’s article appeared, Maud sued for libel. But in the minds of the public she was already damned for embodying the archetypal femme fatale, through her stage Salome.

    The belief that women are naturally dangerous, wild and rapacious, was not born during the nineteenth century. Myth, religion and history are full of alluring women who cast a spell over men and cause their ruin: from Helen of Troy to the Bible’s Delilah. Yet it is not women who offer themselves up as femme fatales; it is society that labels them, and even into the late 20th century gleefully continued to label them.

    In 1963 Britain was on the cusp of a sexual revolution. Ideas about relationships couldn’t have been more different than in Maud Allan’s day when twenty one year old Christine Keeler stepped into the dock at the Old Bailey. Christine was appearing at the Old Bailey as a witness in the trial of her Svengali, Stephen Ward. The unsavoury Ward had encouraged the teenage Christine to have an affair with War Minister Jack Profumo, with the intention of using her to prise information out of him that would be useful to the Soviet Union. At the same time, she became involved with the Russian spy Yevgeny Ivanov. The Old Bailey trial ended with the suicide of Ward, Profumo’s political career in tatters and Christine heading for gaol.

    The Profumo Affair begs the question of why powerful men risk their lives and careers for the dangerous sport of tangling with a femme fatale. To be sure, they don’t see it as dangerous sport and only discover that they have put themselves in danger when they have been seduced, they say, by an irresistible woman. Does the element of self-destruction in human nature or, at the very least, the need to court danger, give certain men at some deep level the need also to be discovered and ruined? Do they assume that their position makes them invulnerable, and relish the risk of it all?

    Whatever the case, belief in the dangerous power of woman the temptress continues to haunt the plotlines of human morality tales. Meanwhile, we see that the idea of the femme fatale is still surprisingly relevant today, when we look at modern women’s attempts to conform to received ideals about their sex that were especially powerful a hundred and fifty years ago. DARK VENUS looks at those ideas in all their strangeness, and at Maud Allan’s life, lived in bold defiance during a crucial period in the history of feminism.

    Wendy Buonaventura's new book Dark Venus: Maud Allan and the Myth of the Femme Fatale is available for purchase now.

  • Women in Medieval England by Lynda Telford

    Prostitutes were often depicted as mermaids, as in this illustration from the Luttrell Psalter. (Courtesy of the British Library, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    Prostitution

    This has always been one of the most misunderstood areas of the lives of women in any era, and women at the centre of the sex industry have endured similar conditions throughout the centuries.

    They have been considered sinful, unclean, the destroyers of happy homes and the carriers of disease – but few of those who used or vilified those women, stopped to consider why they were driven into that way of life, where abuse and contempt bred loss of self-respect, brought danger, and often early death.

    In the medieval period, a woman was defined by her respectability. Whether a pure virgin, or a mature matron, she had certain status, based on that of her family and her prospects as a wife and mother. These were easy to lose. The loss of a husband, the resulting loss of earnings and /or personal dignity, through hardship, could easily lead to desperation, which could entice any woman into the ‘oldest profession’, as a way of keeping body and soul together.

    Once on the slippery slope of becoming a “common woman” she also lost the support and approval of the church, and instead found herself opposed to all that was legal and decent in the society around her.

    Fornication at an amateur level was always present. Any working man might need to ensure that the woman he married could conceive, so he would try her out first. While to him, this was a sensible precaution, as divorce was not possible, it left her open to the charge of promiscuity, or being a “lecherwyte”. If she became pregnant, and she bore the child outside of marriage, she was also a “childwyte” and both these situations incurred fines.

    Casual fornication was not necessarily a problem BEFORE marriage, but adultery after marriage was, and a woman could be severely punished, whereas a man might be able to shrug off its consequences. An active sex life, if not transmuted at some point into respectability within a marriage, could lead to the degradation of being an out–and–out “fallen woman”.

    Springtime Seduction - 'If we were found, we would be dishonoured.' 'But inside you must come, for our love!' Redrawn from Giacomo Jaquerio's fresco at Castella della Manta in Saluzzo. (1418-1430) (Author, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    For those already at that level, the brothel gave the only possible, if variable, protection. As a member of a ‘bawdy house’ a woman at least had a roof over her head, and food to keep her working. That roof might be owned by the local landowner, or even the local abbot, as in the case of the Southwark properties of the Bishop of Winchester. This led to the women working in them being known as “Winchester Geese”. The goose-bumps, sometimes contracted from these women, have come down into present day language, though any woman too obviously diseased would find herself thrown out onto the street to fend for herself, without even the doubtful protection given by the organised brothel.

    Organised they certainly were, with the bawdy-house keeper always on the lookout for new women, fresh from the country, hoping for a better life in the towns. Bath-houses became an innovation, where men could wallow in warm water with the woman of their choice, often with food and drink served to them in situ. These at least had the benefit of ensuring that the clients had been washed, before intercourse was attempted.

     

    Some prostitutes could occasionally find themselves on the RIGHT side of the law, if they proved useful as “testers” in impotence cases. This was the only way a married woman could hope for an annulment, by proving that her husband was incapable of doing his duty, providing her with a sex life and with children. The York Cause Books give many examples of men being examined by a panel of respectable matrons, to decide whether they could achieve an erection. Sometimes a “tester” wasn’t quite so respectable, and in York a local whore named Margery Grey (professionally known as Cherrylips) was used instead. It was possibly believed she would be comfortable exposing herself to strange men, as well as probably being younger and more attractive, and more likely to gain some sexual response.

    The men who failed the test would have their marriages dissolved, and would find it difficult to make another, due to their inability to perform their husbandly duty.

    Some women were tricked, or otherwise forced, into prostitution. The archetypal innocent country girl was a common victim, being offered a living-in place as a servant, only to find that sleeping with strange men formed part of her duty. The landlord could then claim that she owed him money, and she could be imprisoned until she paid it, either in cash (usually impossible) or by selling sex.

    Naughty Nuns - Redrawn from a medieval original in the MS Douce 264, showing disobedient nuns being taken home to their convent in a wheelbarrow, pushed by a naked man. (Author, Women in Medieval England, Amberley Publishing)

    A slightly more unusual “female” whore was John Rykener, a transvestite prostitute caught with a client in the hayloft of an Inn. He was wearing women’s clothing, calling himself Eleanor, and claimed to be an embroideress. All very amusing – but the penalty for sodomy was being burned! John was arrested and turned up in court still dressed as a woman, apparently oblivious to the danger he was in. The judge did not appear to want to exact the full penalty, so charged John with “defrauding his clients of their expectations”. The pretence that any of his clients imagined he was really a female saved his life, and he was merely fined.

    The clergy were not exempt from the prevailing hypocrisy regarding sex. There were even some brothels known to cater exclusively for priests, while nuns, often in convents against their will, could also find opportunities to have a good time. One nunnery near Wakefield in Yorkshire became notorious, and the Bishop had to step in. He was finally convinced of the goodness of the nuns, by the lover of one of them!

    So, despite the official line that all prostitution was a menace to society, many people at all levels not only indulged in it, but made money from it. The only losers, as always, were the women at the bottom of the pile, the prostitutes themselves. Few of them could hope to save enough to start their own business, so the used and abused, cast off when no longer serviceable, remained the dregs of society, often through no fault of their own.

    While Magdalen houses were quite common in Europe, for the rehabilitation of such women, they were less usual in England, and the sex workers were left to live and die in the shadows.

    Lynda Telford's new book Women in Medieval England is available for purchase now.

  • Dresses and Dressmaking by Pam Inder

    Clara Dare's dress, c. 1868. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians

    In my working life I was a museum curator, looking after collections of ‘applied arts’ – which means furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, textiles, dresses and so on. I soon realised that when we put on an exhibition of ceramics, silver, glass, or furniture the display labels concentrated on where and when the item was made and by whom. With dresses, the information we supplied was largely descriptive – ‘Dress of cotton printed with small pink and green flowers, c.1790’, for example. If we knew anything about where the garment came from it usually related to the wearer – so the label would then be something like ‘Wedding dress of ivory silk worn by Jane Smith when she married John Robinson in September 1863’. Not until the late 19th century when makers began to put labels in their garments did we have any knowledge of the firms or individuals who made the dresses in our collection.

    Yet making a dress of expensive fabric that fits and flatters the wearer, is robust enough to withstand years of wear and conforms to the fashion of the day requires as much skill and knowledge of materials as, say, fine wood carving or glass blowing, particularly as dress patterns as we know them did not come on the market until the 1870s. Prior to that there had been a few books with diagrams that had to be scaled up and adapted to fit, but most dressmakers made their own patterns, either from an old dress that they unpicked or by pinning and draping material on their clients.

     

    Dress of white tambour-embroidered muslin, early 1850s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    I became interested in the women who made our clothes – and given that most of the dresses I was curating were made post-1770, dressmakers were nearly always women. Up to the 1690s those women’s dresses that were not made at home were made by tailors, and tailoring was a guild occupation so tailors were almost invariably men. By the 1690s some women, calling themselves ‘mantua makers’ after a new style of dress that had originated in France in the mid-1670s and become very popular, began to infiltrate the trade, though not without considerable opposition from the tailors who saw half their trade disappearing into the hands of pesky women! However, by 1800, women had a near monopoly of the dressmaking trade.

    I wanted to know more about these people. Who were they, how did they learn their trade, how much did they earn? How did they take over the trade? I soon learnt that it was not the feminist triumph it might at first appear. Dressmakers, particularly in the first half of the 19th century, worked unbelievably long hours, often in wretched conditions, and earned very little. The making up of a dress often cost no more than the price of a single yard of the fabric from which it was made. The trade was oversubscribed – it was one of the few ‘respectable’ occupations for women – so there was intense competition and many businesses went under.

    Back view of Purple dress of ribbed silk, c. 1895. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    It turned out there were not a great many actual records for me to examine. ‘Scissors’ writing in 1895 in a pamphlet entitled ‘Why Dressmaking does not pay’ claimed that Many dressmakers keep no book – in other words, many dressmakers did not keep records - even though by 1895 the law obliged them to do so. However, such records as I found presented a coherent picture and I was able to create a fairly full picture of the development of the trade in the 19th century. For the earlier period much less survives – but it is reasonable to suppose that things did not change radically between the 1780s and the early 1800s.

    I became fascinated by account books. In the 18th and 19th centuries many women kept detailed records of their weekly expenditure, probably so they could account for the money they were given by their husbands and fathers. These not only tell us what individual items cost but also enable us to work out how much these individuals spent on dress in total over the course of a year. One such set of accounts – kept by Eliza Stone of Knighton in Leicestershire in the early 19th century is included in the present work.

    Fashion plate from the Dressmaker and Warehouseman's Gazette showing dresses with kilted trimmings. Undated, but mid-1870s. (Dresses and Dressmaking, Amberley Publishing)

    No account of the dressmaking trade would be complete without an examination of the actual garments dressmakers made, and this study concentrates on garments in the Leicestershire museums’ collections. These are among the items I used to curate so I know them well and include details and descriptions showing how they were constructed. Because the dresses are nearly all from Leicester and Leicestershire, much of the rest of the book refers to the city and county. This is not as limiting as it might at first sight appear. Leicester was as fashionable as any other county town, it was a wealthy city and much of that wealth came from the manufacture of garments, particularly boots and shoes and knitwear. The county of Leicestershire is a typical English county with its fair share of big houses, stately homes and gentry families. It is also a hunting country and was visited in the winter season by keen huntsman and their families, fashionable people from all over the country, including royalty. A study of dress in the city and county can therefore stand as a study of dress in much of England.

    This is a slim volume and limited in scope. There is much more that could be written about the makers and making of our ancestors’ clothes – and it is hoped that this work will whet the readers’ appetites and encourage them to learn more.

    Pam Inder's new book Dresses and Dressmaking: From the Late Georgians to the Edwardians is available for purchase now.

  • False Economies by S. D. Tucker

    The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time

    Pies in the Sky: Defeating Communism with Chocolate Coins - examining the bizarre use of chocolate coins as a real-life currency in North Korea.

    Life within the Communist hell-hole of North Korea (or DPRK, as it is officially known) is hard. Its economy is, for the most part, centrally planned, condemning most of its people to have to live in poverty. Ever since the days of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founding father who still technically rules the place even though he is dead, North Korea has pursued a policy of juche, or ‘self-reliance’, which is just another way of saying ‘self-imposed economic isolation’.

    The North has failed to publish any official economic data since 1965, which implies that the only people doing well out of the closed command-economy are the military. Because the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is about as open to outside penetration as a nun’s chastity belt, it seems that most people there don’t have a particularly good understanding of the notion of capitalism – which is why attempts have been made over recent years to try and undermine the nightmare dictatorship’s economy via the use of chocolate biscuits.

    Following a disastrous 1990s famine, the DPRK’s top brass have thankfully allowed some limited economic reforms to take place, the most significant being the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in 2002 under the auspices of Kim Jong-il, father of the current chunky little leader, Kim Jong-un. The KIC was a special economic zone in which sealed-off factories operated by 120 South Korean firms employed 50,000 North Korean workers, getting to pay them lower wages than they would back home whilst simultaneously opening up the North to outside influences, or so it was hoped.

    The real motive of the DPRK was to increase their foreign currency reserves; workers’ wages were paid direct to the North’s government, and they then passed back the equivalent sum in North Korean notes to the factory staff – minus some ‘necessary deductions’, naturally. The KIC is currently closed down due to deteriorating relations between North and South, but even whilst open it proved a source of severe controversy because of one particular product its factories were producing … Choco Pies.

    Choco Pies are the Far Eastern equivalent of Wagon Wheels, being two little circles of cake filled with marshmallow and covered over in chocolate, manufactured by a South Korean company called Orion. Such items may seem unremarkable in the mouth of a capitalist, but confectionaries of this kind were like miracles to the Communists of the North, to whom buttered cardboard is doubtless considered a culinary luxury. To the downtrodden workers of the DPRK, the KIC’s factories contained many hitherto unknown wonders such as toilet-paper (and indeed actual toilets) and the Choco Pies were yet another piece of magic from within Aladdin’s Capitalist Cave.

    The South Korean bosses in the KIC factories started paying their workers with free Choco Pies as a non-monetary bonus supplement, hoping to boost morale and increase productivity. The workers seemed pleased with their new bounty, describing them as producing ‘ecstasy’ upon their very tongues, but inspections of the factory workers’ bins revealed something strange – there were no Choco Pie wrappers in them. Why not? Apparently, it was because the workers were taking them home to use as a makeshift currency, deeming them more valuable per unit than many North Korean banknotes were. The chocolate biscuits had become chocolate coins!

    At the height of the craze 120,000 Choco Pies were doled out to the biscuit-hungry plebs each day, with even corrupt soldiers guarding the KIC site demanding their customary bribes in Wagon Wheels instead of banknotes. If you believe the highest estimates, some 2.5 million Choco Pies were being used as coins per month, and trading at a value of £6.40 each, compared to their usual price of 16 pence in South Korea. A more realistic estimate of their value was 25 pence, but this was still 1 per cent of the average weekly wage of £25. So valuable did they become that KIC workers started holding sporting contests and placing massive bets in biscuits.

    This was all quite disturbing to the DPRK authorities because, as well as helping undermine the economy, the mass distribution of Choco Pies was helping undermine the ideological concept of juche as well. If capitalists were so bad, then why were their biscuits so tasty? The phenomenon was dubbed an ‘invasion of the stomach’, and the regime got nervous, remembering the old argument that the Iron Curtain ended up being torn down because the suppressed proletariat of Eastern Europe, jealous of blue Levis, had wanted to get their hands on more Western consumer goods.

    Several measures were adopted by the DPRK Politburo to stem the crisis, with all Choco Pie bonuses being banned in 2014 in favour of wage top-ups of free sausages instead. Another tactic was to spread fake news about the Choco Pies; according to North Korean media, the biscuits had been infected with unspecified ‘weird substances’ by the South, intended to ‘shake our national defence’ or cause illness. In some sense the Choco Pies were really undercover secret agents, which were ‘spying and scheming’ upon behalf of their capitalist masters, hoping to create a situation where ‘the ideology of the people could wither at any moment’. These ‘sweet symbols of capitalism’ were then replaced by the North with cheap forged knock-off versions, a breed of pirated pies which just didn’t taste as nice, thereby undermining the pseudo-currency’s value.

    Alternatively, DPRK officials warned that the Oriental Wagon Wheels contained miniature bombs or highly powerful biological agents which would immediately give you cancer ‘and make your body suffer’ if you so much as touched one. Foreign food, it was said, ‘contains material that is harmful to socialism’, so had to be prodded away into a designated safe area with a long stick. According to one South Korean academic, ‘When North Koreans see high quality consumer goods [like Choco Pies] produced overseas, they begin to understand that their economic system doesn’t really deliver.’ If it can so easily be undermined by generic marshmallow treats, then the North Korean economy really must be in trouble; should all the currency within the DPRK’s Treasury come one day to be made entirely from confectionary, there is a severe danger Fat Boy Kim might just eat it.

    S. D. Tucker's new book False Economies: The Strangest, Least Successful and Most Audacious Financial Follies, Plans and Crazes of All Time is available for purchase now.

  • Jurassic Park Collectibles by Kristof Thijs

    Jurassic Park Electronic Command Compound. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Twenty-five years ago Jurassic Park was released in movie theatres. It was an adventure 65 million years in the making that shattered box office records. Its groundbreaking special effects laid the foundation for effects still used today.

    Many companies seized the opportunity to get their names attached to the Jurassic Park franchise. The JP license quickly swept around the world, filling store shelves with toys, apparel, games and much more with the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex logo.

    I've been collecting Jurassic Park merchandise since the movie was released in 1993. I was eleven years old and already had a fascination for dinosaurs. So the first JP toys I got where still to play with. I quickly outgrew that phase, but I couldn't stop getting more items. Eventually I kept them in their packaging because it looked cooler and started putting them on shelves in one of the rooms at my parents' place. I called it my museum where I showcased my Jurassic Park items, dinosaur models and fossils I found at the local quarry.

    In honour of the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, and the anniversary of the start of my collection, I'd like to highlight one item from every Jurassic Park line that was released between 1993 en 2015.

    The Command Compound was one of Kenner's last big toy sets. It was inspired by the visitor centre that can be seen in the film. It came with the iconic Jurassic Park gate that could be 'crashed' open by one of the toy vehicles. Inside there was a talking computer with more then a hundred different phrases.

     

    The Lost World: Jurassic Park Bull T-Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1997 Kenner picked up the JP license again for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While they designed plenty of new figures and dinosaurs, they also reused some of the old 1993 molds. The Bull T-Rex was originally planned for 1993 but the series II toy line, but was eventually scrapped. It came with an escape pod holding a scared action figure. The pod could be shoved down the throat of the Rex and then retrieved through an opening in its stomach.

     

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect Velociraptoryx. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Universal Studios was toying around with the idea for a cartoon called Chaos Effect. It would have featured hybrid dinosaurs roaming freely on Isla Sorna. The cartoon was never produced, but Kenner went ahead with the toy line, although plenty of announced toys were never produced. Most of the hybrids that got released were simple repaints from 1993 and 1997, but a handful were brand new sculpts. The Velocirapteryx was one of them. It was a sleek toy with bold colours and featured a shrieking sound effect. The hybrid was a combination between a Velociraptor and an Archaeopteryx.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park III Animatronic Spinosaurus. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Hasbro ditched the Kenner brand in 2001 for the release of the Jurassic Park III toys. All sculpts were brand new and no longer were designed with action figure / dinosaur scale in mind. The biggest dinosaur, and probably most ambitious, was the Animatronic Spinosaurus. By pushing buttons that were hidden under the soft skin, the Spino's head would move like a real animatronic. The system that controls the movement was not designed with durability in mind. It breaks very easy and therefore it's really hard to find one today that's in mind condition.

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park Dino Showdown Allosaurus Assault. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In between films Hasbro tried to fill the gaps by releasing repaints of their existing dinosaur models. They were often exclusives for a specific store chain in the United States like Toys "R" Us or Target. After many repaints of the same dinosaurs over and over again, Hasbro surprised fans by putting out two models that were not only brand new sculpts, they were also quite revolutionary in the portrayal of dinosaurs. Something that the Jurassic Park franchise is not known for. Two Dino Showdown sets were released: Pachyrhinosaurus Clash and Allosaurus Assault. Each came with a GI Joe action figure from Hasbro's forgotten vault.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Wolrd Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2015 Hasbro once again went back the drawing board for their Jurassic World toy line. Although the film was a massive hit, the toys sadly were not. Many complaint about the quality of the toys. They broke easily and the paint jobs were often sloppy. Initially no action figures were released, except for generic miniature army guys that came with vehicles sets. One of the sets even came with a card board figure. Hasbro tried to make things right with their Dino Hybrid line that reused (parts) of the existing dinosaurs they released in 2015. Their best effort was the Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. Although it looked like the large Indominus Rex from the year before, it was in fact a new sculpt with menacing colours and electronic sound effects.

    Not long after the release of the Dino Hybrid toy line, it was announced that Hasbro lost the Jurassic World license to competitor Mattel. Their toys are now slowly filling up stores, sometimes even sharing shelves with unsold Hasbro Jurassic World toys. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming out soon, I can't wait to see what else Mattel and Universal Studios have in store. I have to fill up that "museum" after all…

    Kristof Thijs' new book Jurassic Park Collectibles is available for purchase now.

  • Great British Gardeners by Vanessa Berridge

    The title page of the original edition of Gerald's Herball, published by Queen Elizabeth I's printer, John Norton, in 1597. (Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    From the Early Plantsmen to the Chelsea Medal Winners

    My late father believed that people liked gardening because it was an aspect of their lives that they could control. I always thought he was wrong, as the vagaries of nature lie well beyond human agency. But the style of gardening in the 1950s and 1960s was to plant bright, long-flowering annuals and serried rows of dahlias. It only recently occurred to me that my father’s gardening wasn’t just influenced by gardening fashion, but that the fashion itself had been created by what he and his contemporaries had endured during the chaos of world war. For them, a garden was somewhere they could take charge. They blasted aphids, slugs and other pests with chemicals (no thoughts then about climate change), and would have hated the loose grasses and textural planting of a later, more informal age.

    This is the underlying theme of Great British Gardeners: From Early Plantsmen to Chelsea Medal Winners. This book follows on from my earlier The Princess’s Garden: Royal Intrigue and the Untold Story of Kew (also published by Amberley) about the political background to the founding of Kew Gardens in 1759. That book put gardening at the heart of eighteenth-century political life, because gardening, whether we realise it or not, is a political act. Gardening styles down the centuries have been influenced by many different factors, such as fluctuations in trade, war, industrial developments and environmental issues.

    Through the lives of twenty-six gardeners, I have explored four centuries of British history, showing what gardens and those who garden them tell us about political, social and economic concerns in each period.

     

    Illustration from Thomas Fairchild's The City Gardener. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    I have started with John Gerard, who, in 1597, published his Herball, or General Historie of Plants, used as a practical handbook into the nineteenth century. A qualified barber-surgeon, Gerard, had a wide knowledge of plants because he used them in his work. He was gardening and botanising during the Elizabethan age which saw a huge expansion in trade and the beginnings of British colonialism. Gerard travelled across northern Europe with merchant companies acquiring plants, and also invested £25 in the Virginia Company, set up to finance an early colonial settlement in America. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and John Donne, and shared their relish for language. That is why, 400 years later, his Herball remains a wonderful living, breathing book. To understand the Elizabethan age, look no further than John Gerard.

    In the eighteenth century lived a nurseryman called Thomas Fairchild. From a humble, rural background, he had little education, but wrote a charming and evocative book about gardening in London. Published in 1722, The City Gardener was aimed at the merchant class, who, enriched by British trade, now had the leisure to garden. He was also the first known hybridiser, dusting the pollen from a wild carnation on to the stigma of a sweet william. He was nervous about tinkering with nature, for it was still regarded as blasphemous even among the supposedly free-thinking members of the Royal Society. It was a century and a half later before the term ‘hybridisation’ was coined and it became an accepted horticultural practice. Next time you buy a tray of annuals from the garden centre, spare a thought for Mr Fairchild.

     

    Venus's Vale at Rousham. (Author's collection, Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    The eighteenth-century English Landscape Movement was a reaction against the French-inspired formalism of the Stuart period. The Whig aristocrats, architects of the Protestant Hanoverian succession, used their estates to symbolise on the ground the political changes in the country, as Britain became a nation and moved towards a constitutional monarchy. William Kent and ‘Capability’ Brown were the two great figures of this movement, smoothing out the landscape for their aristocratic patrons. This new naturalism was intended to evoke the liberties of the British political system as opposed to the rigid autocracy of the French Catholic monarchy.

    Gardening was once a path out of poverty to fame and riches. That was certainly true in the nineteenth century, when Joseph Paxton rose to become one of the country’s leading figures, and the only gardener of my twenty-six to receive a knighthood. He was a landscape designer, an architect, a duke’s confidential friend, a botanical writer, a magazine and newspaper proprietor, an industrialist and railway magnate, a financial speculator, a politician and a visionary. This gardener’s boy was the personification of the Victorian self-made man, and his elaborate, contrived gardens reflected his age’s grand self-confidence.

    Reaction came, as it does: the 1860s saw the birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which stressed the importance of craftwork and socialism, as against factory production and over-weaning capitalism. Again, gardens mirrored what was happening in the country: William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll turned away from the formal parterres packed with industrial quantities of exotic plants needing over-wintering in greenhouses. They chose plants which would flourish naturally in British gardens – alpines for rock gardens and hardy perennials for flowerbeds – anticipating the late twentieth-century gardener Beth Chatto by over a century. Beth Chatto’s principle, ‘the right plant in the right place’, is now an almost universally held gardening motto.

    Gertrude Jekyll at the Deanery, Sonning, home of Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life, c. 1901. (Great British Gardeners, Amberley Publishing)

    I’ve touched on suburban gardening after the Second World War, with its brief return to Victorian formalism. But horticultural currents continued to flow in the direction established by Robinson and Jekyll, as exemplified by the Chelsea Flower Show. Each year, the show is dominated by gardens designed and planted to raise concerns about climate change, care for the environment, conservation of water, and health. Turn on the News at Six: all these issues will be covered at some point in most bulletins.

    One of the most successful Chelsea designers in recent years, Tom Stuart-Smith, unites in his work many of the themes discussed in the book, as well as hinting at the rich variety in our contemporary culture. His gardens capture the spirit of the past, the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, current environmental thinking, and a sense that a garden is a microcosm of society.

    Vanessa Berridge's new book Great British Gardeners: From the Early Plantsmen to the Chelsea Medal Winners is available for purchase now.

  • Abandoned Villages by Stephen Fisk

    Some of the farmhouses at Cosmeston. The nearest building on the right is a bakery, and on the left there is a round pigsty, which is sometimes occupied by a pig. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

    I retired in 2003. Having worked as a clinical psychologist I left with no plans at all for the future, but reasonably confident that new interests and activities would soon begin to come along. One of my biggest interests since then has been the abandoned villages of Britain.

    An early inspiration was Richard Muir's wonderful book The Lost Villages of Britain. Before long I was exploring the sites of villages not far from my home in South Wales. Cosmeston, the only deserted medieval village that has been reconstructed; Kenfig, the castle and town built by the Anglo-Normans as part of their attempt to conquer this part of Wales, but almost completely covered by sand during huge storms in the fifteenth century.

    Top o' th' Knoll in Haslingden Grane. For about fifty years from the 1830s, Top o' th' Knoll was the home of Andrew Scholes, otherwise known as Owd Andrey - a man of many talents. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Over the next few years I enjoyed trips to all parts of Britain. In Sussex, for example, I went to Tide Mills and Lowfield Heath. Tide Mills got its name as it was close to a flour mill driven by tidal power. The mill closed in 1883, but the village survived until the early part of World War Two. Lowfield Heath, on the main road from London to Brighton, lost its attractions after the development of Gatwick airport very close to it. By 1974 everyone had moved away and it was turned into a trading estate (but luckily one of my favourite churches was allowed to remain standing).

    Another trip took me to Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Local history expert Alan Crosby was kind enough to meet me at Haslingden Grane and show me around the valley. Many fascinating ruins survive, the most splendid being Top o' th' Knoll, the home of Andrew Scholes. Andrew Scholes, otherwise known as Owd Andrey, was a poet and violinist, but remembered above all for building a cart inside his house and then finding it was just too big to get out of the door.

    On the same trip I visited three reservoirs close to Rochdale. In the Cowm valley life became increasingly difficult after the reservoir was constructed and the last residents moved out in 1950. Both Watergove and Greenbooth reservoirs have textile mills and small villages submerged beneath them.

    Croick church in Strathcarron, where the people of Glencalvie stayed for a few days before departing. On the left you can see the east window, where messages were scratched to record their plight. (Abandoned Villages, Amberley Publishing)

    A longer and very memorable trip took me around much of Scotland. I saw several places near the sea where in various ways shifting sand led to villages being abandoned; the remains of villages close to mining and industrial enterprises that were gradually deserted after those enterprises came to an end; and in the far north of Scotland the empty sites of communities where people were evicted during the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century.

    After a while I began to think about publishing the results of my travels and research. A book or website were the options. I decided to develop a website, the Abandoned Communities website, and I am very glad I made that choice. A website makes it much easier for readers to get in touch, and I have many people to thank for telling me about abandoned villages I did not know about; people who lived in abandoned villages or their descendants who have given me information and photographs of life in their village while it still existed; and even one or two people who have explained the meaning of local words or have offered to read or interpret old documents that I was having trouble with. Having said that, I am now very grateful to Amberley for giving me a chance to produce a book as well.

    Stephen Fisk's new book Abandoned Villages is available for purchase now.

  • Frost Fair to Funfairs by Allan Ford and Nick Corble

    Fair – Enough?

    The stocks and pillory awaited those sentenced at the Piepowed Court. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    In an age when most of us are saturated with entertainment options, with many of them focused on staying inside and/or staring at a screen of some kind, it’s perhaps not surprising that the future of the funfair is once again being put into question. Once again? Well, this is a familiar situation for the showmen who dedicate their lives to operating the travelling fair, and one which they have overcome on more than one occasion in the past, as Frost Fairs to Funfairs goes to show.

    Subtitled ‘A History of the English Fair’, Frost Fairs to Fun Fairs tells of how the travelling fair has evolved over the centuries, with showmen attracted to wherever large crowds gathered, especially if those crowds contained people with money in their pockets. Unsurprisingly perhaps, things could get a little out of hand, especially when alcohol, and possibly the odd charlatan, were added in the mix. The book highlights a number of occasions when those in authority felt compelled to cut back the number of days a fair could operate, or even axe them completely, such as happened with the famous Bartholomew Fair in London.

    Dating back to 1123, the Bartholomew Fair was notorious for its food, fortune tellers, gambling dens, bear baiting and cock fights, and a lot more, especially once the sun went down and night took over from day. The unsavoury reputation the fair gained led to it being cut back from fourteen days to three by the end of the seventeenth century, but the dark side of the fair lingered, leading the City of London Corporation to eventually close it down altogether in 1855, under pressure from the London City Mission.

     

     

    Sunny Boy Number 2, owned by Marshall & Sons, seen pulling the loads. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    This perception of the fair as a den of iniquity that needed to be stopped has been a recurring theme over the centuries. Not least in the latter part of the last century when going to the fair became an activity that required keeping your wits about you with the haunt of threatening teenagers, and certainly not somewhere you’d take the family. During the 1950s and ‘60s, it was widely believed that television would ‘do for’ the fair, in much the same way that the same is thought of the internet today.

    The sense of the fair being something outmoded and out of step with the times was strangely reminiscent of the mood towards the end of the previous century. When Britain was busy industrialising and people were moving out of the small towns and villages and where the fair traditionally visited once or twice a year into large metropolises. Music halls, lantern shows and travelling exhibitions, often involving large menageries of animals, were more suited to these large concentrations of people making the fair seem out of date. A sense summed up in the wording of the 1871 Fairs Act, which stated that ‘fairs are unnecessary, are the cause of grievous immorality, and are very injurious to the inhabitants of towns where they are held.’ It didn’t help that the ‘ground’ where fairs had traditionally been held, often since medieval times, were often sited on valuable building land.

    A set of Steam-driven Gallopers, restored by the Late John Carter. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet the fair did survive, and on both occasions, towards the end of the nineteenth century, and later when it looked like television would finish the fair off. It did so because the showmen for whom the fair was the only way of life they knew, proved extremely adaptable and resilient, not least by being entrepreneurial and innovative in their attitude to new technology. In the nineteenth century, this was through the adoption of steam, which allowed for a step-change in the scale and wonder possible in attractions, with the great steam revival of the 1970s onwards doing the same in current memory.

    These days the fair continues to face real challenges but it has been by embracing computerised rides and new technologies such as LED lighting and lasers, that it has adapted. So those who may think its days are numbered in the face of the rise of the computer, mobile phone and Netflix, might want to remember the famous aphorism attributed to Mark Twain, that reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated.

     

    Rides get ever more sensational, such as this Meteorite and Danter's Air ride at St Giles, Oxford. (Frost Fairs to Funfairs: A History of the English Fair, Amberley Publishing)

    As Frost Fairs to Funfairs shows, it is a mistake to think of the funfair as a single entity. It has in fact evolved to meet the demands and constraints of its time, driven in no small part by the resourcefulness of showmen and their families. These days the use of token systems mean there is less scope for issues over cash and health and safety is paramount, with the use of CCTV now commonplace. The attractions of the fair are spreading into other fields of entertainment as well, such as Grand Prix, May Balls and even weddings.

    Whilst fairs may have changed considerably in what they provide, and where they provide it, showmen continue to be attracted to where people gather and are in the mood for a diversion or two, and so long as that demand continues, it’s reasonable to expect the fair will still be there to meet it.

    Allan Ford and Nick Corble's book Frost Fairs to Funfairs is available for purchase now.

  • The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England by Marcus van der Meulen

    An early Tudor lectern, typical for the period. (The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England, Amberley Publishing)

    When I started researching the brass eagle lecterns of England, to my surprise there was no book about this fixture that is so omnipresent in the Anglican High church. There are books and publications about memorials, monumental brasses, organs and of course many about the English cathedrals. But about the lecterns that adorn so many these cathedrals, or college chapels in Oxford and Cambridge, there was nothing.

    Churches have been a passion for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the UK, my parents would take me to cathedrals and village churches. But it didn’t take long before the roles were reversed and I planned the trips and excursions.  A young lad using his parents as personal chauffeurs, to explore the churches of the Peak district and the Yorkshire moors. During summer holidays, my Batsford Books were my companion as I traveled the country ticking off the English Cathedrals.

    The early sixteenth-century eagle lactern once in Pugin's Cathedral of St Chad, Birmingham. (The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England, Amberley Publishing)

    A few years ago I was asked by Julian Litten FSA to give a talk at a symposium about brass. The passion for churches I had as a kid has matured and I have grown to become an expert of the ecclesiastical interior. Professionally I study the adaptation of underused or disused churches for reactivation, to put it simply: adaptive reuse. A special concern is how the interiors of these buildings can be saved when no longer in use as a house of worship. In the spare time I have been researching the pre-Reformation church interior, or perhaps more correctly the pre-counterreformation church interior in modern day Belgium. So I was asked to give a talk about the brass eagle lecterns in medieval Belgium.

    When giving a talk, it is most interesting to connect your topic to the location where you give the presentation, in this case King’s Lynn. As it happens, there are two brass eagle lecterns of the pre-Reformation period in this medieval port. Reading about these lecterns revealed some interesting facts and stimulated me to do some more research. There are the articles by Charles C. Oman, a remarkable man, but re-reading his first article – Medieval Brass Lecterns in England, Archaeological Journal, 1930 - I soon realized recent research had progressed on several points. First, there is the material, brass. The industrial revolution had changed the production of objects such as the lectern on a scale hardly imaginable today. Not only an industrial production in masses, also in ways producing the material itself. The production of brass had changed only marginally from the twelfth-century onwards, until the process of production was completely transformed in the early nineteenth-century. So I thought about looking at all pre-industrial brass eagle lecterns in England, as Oman had done before, and work from there.

    In Christian iconography a bird picking its breast is called a pelican and is a symbol for Christ's sacrifice. (The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England, Amberley Publishing)

    I started drawing a map, cataloging the locations, and drafting a chronological list. That helped revealing some interesting understandings of the lectern. First, the clear division between pre- and post-Reformation. Only a dozen were made after the English Reformation, mostly in the years before and after the Commonwealth, and predominantly for college chapels and cathedrals. Both at Canterbury and Lincoln, the lectern was quite literally a restoration; the replacement for the brass eagle lectern destroyed during the Civil War. These lecterns were all made in England, either in London or in the English capital of brass, Bristol.

    For the pre-Reformation lecterns, the list revealed a very different stance. These were mostly, but not exclusively, located in the eastern counties, in parish churches in towns and even villages. Often these lecterns were engraved, in Latin, revealing the names of benefactors. Especially the large number of early modern lecterns, those made between 1470 and 1540, were remarkable. Hardly surprising Charles Oman had devoted an article to this group of lecterns, which he argues were made in England. His arguments, however, can no longer be supported. Combining insights I developed a thesis about the origin of these brass eagle lecterns, possibly over-identifying with these beautiful objects.

    The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England is the result of these researches. With this book I hope to interest people for their religious heritage, the stories behind fixtures and fittings that can reveal so much of the history of our community.

    Marcus van der Meulen's new book The Brass Eagle Lecterns of England is available for purchase now.

  • Bond Vehicle Collectibles by Paul Brent Adams

    A pair of Corgi Aston Martin DB5 models, with working ejector seats. Over the years this model has been produced in both gold and silver. (Bond Vehicle Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    The Bond films have always been great fun - especially all the super-spy gadgets and exotic cars. Many of these cars are available as diecast models, and you can own as many Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Rolls-Royces as you want, even on a very modest budget. I began collecting film and television related models over twenty years ago, but never set out to specialise in Bond. It is just that there are so many Bond models - literally hundreds - which anyone with an interest in film and TV models is going to end up with at least a few examples. I now have close to two hundred, which is actually rather a modest total, and the collection is still being added to. With each new film there are new releases, and an occasional new model of a vehicle from one of the older films. When I wrote my first book, Film and Television Star Cars - Collecting the Diecast Models, I had intended to include a chapter on Bond models, but the subject was simply too vast. Mr Bond needed a whole book all to himself. Actually there was a previous book on Bond models, The James Bond Diecasts of Corgi, by Dave Worrall, published in 1996. This was the first diecast book I ever bought, as a novice collector. It is very detailed, but only covers Corgi, and appeared just before Corgi and others unleashed a flood of new models.

    In his first film, Dr No (1962), Bond drove a Sunbeam Alpine. The James Bond Car Collection model is set in a detailed diorama, with a printed backdrop. (Bond Vehicle Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Diecast models based on the vehicles used in films and television shows have been produced in large numbers since the 1960s, although the first examples appeared as long ago as the 1930s. They are known as Star Cars, or Character Cars. The most popular single character has been James Bond - there have been diecasts, plastic toys, plastic kits, slot cars, and remote controlled models made. The first James Bond diecast appeared in 1965: the classic, gadget-packed Aston Martin DB5 from the film Goldfinger. This was released by the British firm Corgi, and apart from a brief break in the 1980s, they have been producing Bond models ever since. Corgi would eventually produce several versions of the DB5 in various sizes, most with an array of spy gadgets - including a working ejector seat - which must have been tremendous fun for any small boy or girl (it is still tremendous fun for all ages). Corgi, and others, have produced models for all the twenty-four films made by Eon Productions, and the cartoon series James Bond Jr, but not the two non-Eon films (the 1967 version of Casino Royale with David Niven; and Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery).

    A classic villain car, the Rolls-Royce Phantom III driven by Oddjob in Goldfinger (1964). This is another model from the James Bond Car Collection. (Bond Vehicle Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Most of these models tend to be of the 'glamour cars' such as the various Aston Martins, the Lotus Esprit submarine car, and the BMWs from the Pierce Brosnan era. There have been fewer models of the less exotic types, but you can still find a couple of trucks, several taxis, an electric milk float, and even the double-decker bus Bond drove in Live and Let Die. There are also a few boats and planes. By far the best source for the less common types was the James Bond Car Collection, a fortnightly partwork published by Eaglemoss that ran for over a hundred issues. Each model came in a clear plastic display case, and was set in a small diorama, depicting a scene from the film it appeared in. Most came with figures, which really helped to bring the models alive. The accompanying magazine also provided a great deal of useful information on the more obscure Bond vehicles.

    From the Real Toy Action City series: the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, seen at the beginning of Moonraker (1979). The real SCA uses an early version of the Boeing 747, but the model is based on a later production aircraft. (Bond Vehicle Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Apart from the many vehicles driven by Bond himself, or his allies, there are also a number of 'villain cars' - vehicles used by Spectre and other unfriendly types. Again, these range from the exotic to the mundane. Numerous types were included in the James Bond Car Collection, while Corgi, Hot Wheels, and others have also produced several examples. There have been a number of multi-vehicle sets - some are general Bond sets with a selection of vehicles from various films, others focus on just one film. Corgi were especially fond of these sets; as was the American firm Johnny Lightning, which at one time produced a range of small scale models. Apart from all the regular models there have been a number of special issues: anniversary models in special boxes; Limited Editions of which only a fixed number are produced; and gold-plated models - actually gold chrome - although these are certainly not how the vehicles appeared on screen.

    Corgi Aston Martin V12 Vanquish from Die Another Day (2002), in gold chrome. The black plastic interior has also been detailed with gold paint. This anniversary model is a Limited Edition, only 12,000 of this version were produced. (Bond Vehicle Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In some cases there are no official Bond models available of a particular vehicle, boat or plane. In order to fill these gaps in a collection it may be necessary to use a non-Bond model, which may not be in exactly the right colours or markings to depict the film vehicle. You will either have to live with this, or leave the gap unfilled until someone does produce an official Bond version. Some collectors even modify an existing model so that it matches the screen version. Plastic kits are another way of filling gaps. Some types have been modelled several times, often in different scales, while others have been modelled only once. This makes it impossible to build up a full collection of Bond vehicles to a single scale - the model you want may only have been produced to the 'wrong' scale for your collection. Again, you will either have to live with this or leave some annoying gaps in your collection. I would rather have the model.

    Paul Brent Adams' new book Bond Vehicle Collectibles is available for purchase now.

Items 1 to 10 of 11 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2