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  • 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.

  • Dinky Toys by David Busfield

    Dinky Toys were amongst the first metal diecast toys to be produced in Britain. They have become synonymous with these little models, so much so that items from other manufacturers frequently get called Dinky Toys. When I was a young child I, like the majority of my friends, were totally captivated by them.

    When I was approached to write the book on Dinky Toys I was initially a little concerned that I would not be able to write the required 12,000 words that were specified. After a lot of planning I started the writing process and very quickly realised that I could have written an awful lot more.

    Dinky Toys 1 The Dinky Toys Jeep: the version on the left with the solid steering wheel is the earliest. The later version on the right has a domed bonnet. (Dinky Toys, Amberley Publishing)

    The biggest conundrum was what to include in the book and what would have to be left out. With the exception of a few years during World War II, Dinky toys were in production from 1934 to 1979, a period of approximately 40 years. I decided to concentrate on the period of production which coincided with my collecting time as a young boy; this was 1949 to the early 1960s. As a result the pre-war models and the items from the late 1960s and 1970s are covered in the book.

    Dinky Toys were manufactured by Meccano Ltd. in Binns Road, Liverpool and also by Meccano, France in Bourges. As a boy I was never aware of the very nice French range of models and I have concentrated on the British products which came from Binns Road.

    Dinky Toys 2 Four lovely American automobiles from Packard, Cadillac, Hudson and Nash. (Dinky Toys, Amberley Publishing)

    In addition to the actual models I have a sizeable collection of Meccano factory paperwork such as letters, catalogues, price lists, instruction leaflets, factory engineering drawings, dealer information sheets etc. I also have a lot of dealer trade boxes and point-of-sale material. Some of these items fall outside the scope of this book but they are a fascinating collecting area as they help to complete the Dinky story.

    This is not a book for the “rivet counter” who wants to know details of all the different castings or colour scheme variations. There is just not the room in a book of this size to do that. There are a number of internet forums which cater very well for the reader who demands more intricate information.

    My main collecting area as a child was the military vehicles and commercial vehicles, however, I have not concentrated on this, but I have attempted to cover as many areas of the Dinky range as was possible. As an example it is not widely known that Dinky made a very fine doll’s house and a range of suitable furniture in the 1930s. Sadly this was not successful and was quietly discontinued; this interesting area is covered in the book.

    It is a nice touch that the front cover features the lovely Land Rover Mersey Tunnel Police Van. Meccano Ltd. was of course based in Liverpool which makes this choice very appropriate.


    David Busfield's new book Dinky Toys is available for purchase now.

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