Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Social History

  • Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide by Lorraine Hitchings

    Richard Steiff, father of the teddy bear. (Image courtesy of Steiff GmbH, Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Brimming over with myths and legends about his past, the Teddy Bear it seems, has been a huge part of our lives almost forever. Many people believe they own a Teddy from Victorian times or even earlier but, the truth is, he only entered our lives in 1902 and even then, the first bears (because he was not known as 'Teddy' until later) looked nothing like the cuddly creatures we know and love today. It was all thanks to Germany and to a man named Richard Steiff who became known as the father to the Teddy Bear. His aim was to create a soft toy that children could cuddle, as during those times toys were made of hard stuff like wood and even metal. Even dolls of those times were made of very hard materials.

    The first bears made by Steiff were rather harsh looking and also quite hard to the touch. The truth is, we needed to give him time to evolve.

     

     

    An early American-made teddy bear named Mississppi, who lost an eye sometime in the past. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    Those rather magical two words that we know so well 'Teddy Bear' came just a little bit later and for this we have to thank America, or to be a little more accurate to both President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and to a small shop keeper from Brooklyn, New York named Morris Michtom. Without these two people adding their mix to his evolution, who knows, we may not ever have heard of the Teddy Bear.

    Very quickly the Teddy Bears name spread across both sides of the Atlantic and by 1906 many toy companies in the United States began to produce their very own versions of him. Companies like the Ideal Company, Bruin Manufacturing Company (BMC) and the Strauss Manufacturing Co. Inc starting up teddy production.

    It was to be a while, however, before England started making Teddy Bears as many toy manufacturers believed him to be just a fad. However, by the start of the First World War, they were just beginning to realise his importance and English Teddies began to trickle through. The first makers being the London based firm of Farnell (famous for producing the world's Most Famous Bear – Winnie the Pooh). It was this company who, during the Great War, produced what we now call 'Sweetheart Bears' or 'Soldier Bears'. These were tiny teddies that were made especially as soldiers’ mascots and often given by their sweethearts, before leaving to fight abroad. Such was the popularity of these little bears that other companies began to create their own versions.

    The revoluntionary Wendy Boston bears were certainly a new generation of teddy. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    By the end of the First World War many companies, both in England and Europe, were producing Teddy Bears. What really pushed the manufacture in England was the fact that due to German products being banned from the country, we found ourselves somewhat teddy less.

    Between the two world wars manufacturers, both in England and Germany, found it difficult to find materials to make their bears. Steiff looked at many different alternatives to mohair, including would you believe, nettles and wood, eventually coming up with their amazing 'Paper Plush' Teddy.

    It was points like this in history along with the latest fashions that has changed the way the Teddy looks, from his whole body shape, to the colour of his fur coat. During the twenties, for example, ladies made the Teddy Bear a fashion item and because of the vibrant colours of that era, the teddy took on many new and bright colours. A German toy manufacturer named Schuco produced some adorable little teddies in many different colours and many of these bears carried a secret – when their heads were taken off they revealed a lipstick or even a compact. These bears were made so well that today many has survived to tell the tale and they are now extremely popular with collectors around the globe.

    One of the biggest changes in the Teddy Bears lifetime was during the 1950's and 1960's when Health & Safety issues arose. For the first time in his life he was called dirty and unhygienic.

    Ted Hart, a Merrythought bear from 1958, who is still owned and loved by his original owner. (Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide, Amberley Publishing)

    A new Teddy Bear design had to be found and for this part of his evolution, we have to travel to a small town in Wales called Crickhowell. The lady we have to thank is Wendy Boston. Along with her husband Ken, they produced some of the most iconic (and in my opinion beautiful) teddies of that era.

    Wendy Boston Bears looked very different from any other teddy ever made that is for sure. This was because they were fashioned from completely washable nylon fabric and even the stuffing was fully washable. These bears became famous, not because of their looks but because they could be washed frequently in a washing machine and not only that, but they could be put through a mangle. As well as being fully washable and so termed hygienic, they were also fitted with modern 'safety eyes' whereas older bears had glass eyes fitted on a metal shank which could easily be pulled out of the bears head.

    Wendy Boston Bears sold in their thousands all around the world and many bears have survived to this day and once again sought after by collectors and I would note that, at the moment they come at a very affordable price.

    The Teddy Bear continued his journey, every decade showing up yet another problem for him, but still he carried on. When the Eighties came, of course, his personality shone, when a new age of Teddy Bears hit the scene. Firstly, manufacturers jumped on the collecting band wagon, making Limited Edition Bears. Often these bears were sold out before they even hit the shops. Artist Teddy Bears also hit the market and these bears, took the market by storm.

    No matter how much the Teddy Bear has evolved because in our hearts he is still 'Teddy' our best friend, lifetime companion and keeper of secrets and for me that is all that really matters, but I have to admit, his history is just incredible.

    Lorraine Hitchings' new book Teddy Bears: A History and Collector's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History by S. D. Tucker

    THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The Quack Discipline of ‘Zone Therapy’

    In an extract from his new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, out now in paperback, SD Tucker examines the bizarre ‘medical’ advice that combing your hands and squeezing your fingers can cure all ailments known to man.

    Albert Ankers's 1879 painting Der Quacksalber illustrated perfectly the origins of the word 'Quack'; namely, an old Dutch term for someone hawking dubious medicines. (Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the most comical pseudo-medical fads of all time was something called either ‘Zone Therapy’ or ‘Zonotherapy’, depending on how fancy your local quack wished to sound. This involved splitting the body up into ten different vertical zones, and claiming that symptoms in one area of the body could be diagnosed and then resolved by applying pressure to other, corresponding, zones, as everything was connected beneath the skin by nerves. Most of these nerve-networks seemed to terminate in one or other of the fingers or toes.

    This was curious, as anatomists had never managed to actually see these particular nerve-networks before, when cutting up human bodies for analysis. The Zone Therapists conveniently replied that this was because they were invisible.

    Invented around 1909 by Dr William H. Fitzgerald (1872–1942), the chief physician and senior ear, nose and throat surgeon at St Francis Hospital in Connecticut, the fake discipline first came to the attention of the wider world thanks to an article written for Everybody’s Magazine in 1915 entitled ‘To Stop That Toothache, Squeeze Your Toe!’ by the man who would become Fitzgerald’s long-time partner in such nonsense, Dr Edwin F. Bowers (b.1871).

    Unfortunately, whilst Dr Fitzgerald was a real, genuine surgeon, well-educated and well-travelled and with medical certificates spilling out of his ears, nose and throat, ‘Dr’ Bowers was not. An investigation carried out into Bowers by American medical authorities in 1929 revealed that the man had not so much as attended medical college for even a single day’s worth of instruction.

    Simply gripping a comb tightly in your hand in the fashion illustrated above would be enough to ensure an entirely painless childbirth for any woman. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    There’s One Born Every Minute

    Having established himself as Zonotherapy’s chief propagandist, Bowers set to work collaborating on a book with Dr Fitzgerald, 1917’s Zone Therapy: Or, Relieving Pain at Home, whose introduction jauntily promised it would advance medical knowledge far beyond geneticists’ recent discovery of ‘the evil possibilities in marrying one’s cousin’. The basic idea was that, when your eyes were hurting, say, you would look up in a Zonotherapy book which other part of your body secretly corresponded to these organs, and then apply pressure to this area to put a stop to the pain.

    In this case, the nerves within the first and second fingers of the human hand corresponded to the eyes, so the best remedy was to tie elastic bands around them, or encircle them tightly with little wire-springs until they turned blue. If neither of these items were to hand, you could always try attaching clothes-pegs to them instead – this is not a joke, this was Bowers and Fitzgerald’s actual advice, and they provided S&M-style photographs of people transformed into human washing-lines to prove it.

    The book was marketed primarily as a practical means for dispelling pain when it erupted around the home, away from your doctor with his reassuring stores of opium – even if the pain arose from as serious a thing as childbirth. In order to achieve a painless birth, all the expectant Zonotherapy-loving mother had to do was sit there with a metal comb in each hand, gripping onto them and thereby numbing her nerves whilst she pushed away merrily.

    Doing this, said the authors, would result in a new mother laughing and joking her way through the complete non-trauma of pushing a live infant out through her genitals. One new mother told her Zonotherapist that ‘she did not experience any pain whatever’ using this method, and ‘could not believe the child was born’. ‘This is not so bad,’ she laughed happily, no doubt wanting to drop out another immediately, just for fun.

    Fitzgerald claimed to have performed several successful minor operations without anaesthetic, rendering the whole procedure painless simply by applying constant pressure to his patients’ fingers prior to applying the knife, a discovery he initially termed ‘Pressure Anaesthesia’. Sceptics were invited to let practitioners squeeze the nerves in their hands, then close their eyes and see if they could feel it when pins were jabbed into their flesh.

    Apparently, they said they couldn’t; one daring fellow kept his lids open and let his Zonotherapist attach a hook into his eyeball without feeling so much as a scratch. The keen quack then ‘put several pins into his face’ before calling the man’s wife into the room to show her what he had done. The wife did not seem pleased.

    About as Much Use as a Comb to a Bald Man

    Deafness, meanwhile, could be treated by clamping a clothes-peg around your third toe or poking at your teeth with a cotton-bud, thus enabling you to hear nearby people laughing at you. You could also try combing deaf people’s hands, or solve an earache by fastening a clothes-peg ‘for five minutes or thereabouts’ on the tip of your ring-finger.

    Headaches were dispelled by sucking your thumb and pressing it hard into the roof of your mouth, thus allowing you to ‘push the headache out through the top of the head’. Alternatively, you could ‘attack’ your migraine by shoving your fingers up your nose. If your friends’ heads felt all fuzzy, you could even invade their nasal orifices for them, although it was wise to inform them of your intentions first.

    If you were going bald, meanwhile, you had to sit there ‘rubbing the fingernails of both hands briskly one against the other in a lateral motion for three or four minutes at a time, at intervals throughout the day’ until your hair re-sprouted, thus making you glad you had already invested in a metal comb for your pregnant wife upon the Zonotherapists’ wise advice.

    Those disposed to stomach-ache were advised to ‘arm yourself with a wire-hair brush and a metal comb’ every time they boarded public transport. Then, rather than vomiting over their fellow passengers, they could simply ‘get busy with the comb and brush – not on your head – but on your hands’, thus dispelling travel-sickness, indigestion and ‘distension from gas’. The sight of you obsessively combing your bare hands until you farted might still make people want to sit far away from you, however, in which case it was recommended, for no apparent reason, that you just eat some salted popcorn instead.

    If your baby had a tummy-ache, you could pursue similar methods. Rather than beating your crying infant ‘up and down the room’ with your slippers until it either shuts up or dies, why not just comb the baby until it goes peacefully to sleep?

    Submitting to Zone Therapy treatment may have cured your pain, but it could severely injure your dignity. (William H. Fitzgerald & Edwin F. Bowers, Zone Therapy; Or, Relieving Pain At Home, Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History, Amberley Publishing)

    Dentally Disturbed

    Even sharp needles could be banished from dentistry via sensible use of Zone Therapy. Instead of having cocaine injected into your mouth to numb the pain, it was much simpler to just sit there with elastic bands wrapped around your fingers. As the fingers and teeth were intimately connected, this meant you would surely feel no pain whilst lying back and relaxing within the dentist’s chair. However, because for some unknown reason (presumably related to the differing level of quasi-hypnotic suggestibility of individual patients) Zonotherapy only worked for 65 per cent of the time, the authors of Zone Therapy were careful to advise that, sometimes, the numbing needle did work best after all.

    Not only pain, but actual disease, could be cured by the Zonotherapists, or so they said. Whooping cough was banished simply by pressing a hidden bodily button located somewhere at the back of the throat. Cancer, appendicitis, goitre, even polio, all could be beaten off, at least temporarily, with naught but clothes-pegs and combs. One woman given Fitzgerald’s treatment went so far as to simply wee a bothersome tumour out from between her legs one day, causing it to make ‘a happy exit’ down the drain.

    There was no end to the wonders Zone Therapy could perform. Attending a dinner-party one evening, Dr Fitzgerald met a female opera-singer who complained that her voice was in terminal decline. Eager to help, the surgeon asked if he could fondle her feet in front of the other guests. As he did so, Fitzgerald discovered a calloused area on the big toe of her right foot. He squeezed it for a bit, then told her to sing. Amazingly, ‘Not only was she able to exactly reach the notes she had been missing, but she was able to reach two notes higher than she had ever done before.’ Dr Fitzgerald must have had a grip like a vice! If only his brain had been in such good working order too …

    S. D. Tucker's new book Quacks! Dodgy Doctors and Foolish Fads Throughout History is available for purchase now.

  • Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words by Edward Allhusen

    The greatest invention of all time - Words and where they came from

    If you stop people in the street and ask them to make their choice of the greatest invention of all time they usually say the wheel. But the choices are endless - penicillin, concrete, telephones, petrol engines, sliced bread. Yet one invention is seldom even shortlisted despite all of us using it every day just as you are doing right now. Surely the greatest invention is language but it is seldom considered as people take it for granted. But it certainly is an invention, for no new born child comes equipped with a vocabulary.  All the words in all of the world’s estimated 6912 languages and countless thousands of dialects were invented by man. Samuel Johnson defined 42,773 words in his famous dictionary published in 1755 but now it is believed that there are in excess of 600,000 words in the English language.

    Every single one of them must have been made up by someone, somewhere at some time and for some purpose.

    Every word has a pedigree but for many the mists have rolled in and the history has been lost. But thousands have retained their history and that is what makes etymology so fascinating. For practical purposes conventional histories have to limit their scope to periods of time; areas of the world; particular spheres of science, philosophy or whatever the wordsmith chooses. But words have no such restrictions, leaving them free to leap over boundaries on their journey to the same single destination - your vocabulary, whether it be in your memory, your spell checker or your dictionary.  As they journey through time, cultures, regions and other languages they invariably bring with them a little bit of their ancestry.

    Thousands of words have been purloined from hundreds of other languages and English has always welcomed these immigrants whenever there seemed to be a linguistic gap that needed filling. Before the fifth century Latin was spoken in much of Britain but when the Romans packed up and departed they left behind thousands of words including Domino, Mantelpiece and Refrigerate. The dispossessed Celts bequeathed Butcher, Glass and Lukewarm. The Angles, whose language forms the basis of English, brought many words that have remained unchanged since they stormed ashore, Bishop, Daisy and Earwig among them. Then there were the Vikings whose Norse language contributed hundreds more including Acre, Awkward and Ski.

    In 1066 Norman-French became the language of government and law and, even when English eventually regained the upper hand, many words such as money, jury and tax remained. Knights and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land brought home exotic items and ideas never before seen in the west thus introducing words that originated in China, India and Persia such as Ivory, Oranges, Pyjamas, Satin, Sugar and Shampoo.

    Explorers and travellers returning from the new world with a plethora of previously unseen foods, ideas and items retained the native names including Anorak, Avocado, Barbeque, Hooch, Potato and Tobacco.

    Thousands of new words had to be coined during the industrial revolution to describe recent inventions and discoveries. Many were derived from Greek and Latin such as Anatomy, Bacteria, Factory, Inoculate, Vaccine and Vitamin while others were made up by scientists with a sense of humour such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis which is a disease of the lungs. Many words are made up by joining two others together such as bedridden. Ridden means filled with something unpleasant. So bed is where you go when you are ridden with pneumonoult... etc.

    So we, the English, have appropriated words from all over the globe and it is this willingness to accept incomers that gives it strength since its constant ability to adapt has been the cornerstone of its success. Other languages such as French have been more concerned with purity than progress so, while lovers of the English language tend to sneer at Americanisms and bad usage, spare a thought that maybe you are witnessing the type of change that has strengthened it to the point at which it is now an unstoppable global language.

    Quite the opposite to Cornish that served an area too small to survive as anyone’s first language but thankfully not before it contributed words such as Bludgeon and Puffin to English.

    Mandarin gave us Kowtow and Typhoon. Arabic provided Algebra, Artichoke, Chemistry and Coffee. Spanish produced Alcove, Boot, Castanets and Dagger while Hindi charms us with Bungalow and Chutney. Each of these vies with English for the accolade of being spoken by the most people as their first language. But it is English that is spoken by far more people as a second language and they do this all over the world making it the undisputed language of commerce and government. Over half of everyone living in the EU has English as a first or second language. If only we could charge a royalty as we severe our ties with them!

    After they have arrived words do not necessarily remain unchanged until the end of time. They drift in and out of popularity. Many have already been consigned to the literary scrap heap while others are tottering on the edge of oblivion suffering from lack of use.

    What better way to see how things have changed than to go back 250 years to take a stroll through the pages of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary? Some gems have disappeared from our perception altogether and really ought to be brought back. Surely in uncertain political times we have a need to use snollygoster which means 'A politician concerned more for his personal advancement than for performing the duties for which he or she was appointed'.  How much better that we revive resting gems than slip into a world where pronouncements, even from the higher echelons of the world stage, are reduced to 280 characters and smiley faces? Where will it end? Samuel Johnson, who knew a thing or two, described trumpery as 'something salacious; something of less value than it seems. Falsehood; empty talk. Something of no value; trifles'.

    Edward Allhusen's new book Betrumped: The Surprising History of 3000 Long-Lost, Exotic and Endangered Words is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

Items 1 to 10 of 14 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2