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  • 50 Gems of the Lothians by Jack Gillon

    The Lothians consist of West Lothian (Linlithgowshire), East Lothian (Haddingtonshire) and Midlothian and Edinburgh (Edinburghshire), which nestle along the south side of the broad estuary of the Forth.

    The strategic location and political and economic importance of the Lothians, with Edinburgh at its centre, have made the region witness to some of the most significant events in Scottish history. This is reflected in the remarkable wealth of architectural heritage spanning thousands of years. The Lothians have been settled since prehistoric times, as reflected in two of the gems in this book – the fortified settlement of Traprain in East Lothian and the sacred site at Cairnpapple Hill in West Lothian. Castles, royal palaces, churches and industrial buildings of national importance abound in the Lothians. 50 Gems of The Lothians explores the places that make the Lothians special and tells the fascinating story of their rich and varied past.

    With this wealth of heritage, the task of selecting fifty places to represent Lothian’s rich architectural legacy has been immensely difficult and not everyone will agree with the selection. However, hopefully it will be of interest, even if your particular favourite has been omitted or you think a particular example is less than worthy of inclusion.

    50 Gems of the Lothians explores the places that make the Lothians special and tell the fascinating story of their rich and varied past. It takes the reader from Edinburgh, with its castle, the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House, to the East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, the birthplace of the Saltire, Traprain Law and the historic Hailes Castle.

    Among the gems of Midlothian are the glorious Rosslyn Chapel, which was the setting for the finale of The Da Vinci Code and described by its author, Dan Brown, as ‘the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth’. This book also explores the highlights of West Lothian including the Bo’ness &Kinneil Railway, Linlithgow Palace (birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots) and the impressive Hopetoun House, near Queensferry.

    Here are just  a few of those gems:

    The Palace of Holyroodhouse. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    The Palace of Holyrood house and Holyrood Abbey

    The abbey was founded in 1128 and was the base of Augustinian monks who were granted the right by a charter of David I to form a new burgh between the abbey and the Netherbow – the Canongate. The Scottish kings made the abbey their main residence when they were visiting the area until James IV started to build a palace.

    Between 1195 and 1230, the original abbey was rebuilt as a substantial building of great importance and splendour, consisting of a choir, transept and an aisled nave. It has been witness to some of the most dramatic moments in Scottish history.

    It was repeatedly burned by English armies and suffered further damage in 1559, during the Reformation. After the Reformation, the nave was used as a parish church. However, in 1570, the choir and transept were in such poor condition that they were demolished.

     

    Hailes Castle. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    Hailes Castle

    The substantial ruins of Hailes Castle are located around 4 miles east of Haddington along a single-track road and hidden away in a peaceful riverside setting on a bend of the River Tyne. The castle has its origins in the early thirteenth century as a fortified tower house for the Earls of Dunbar and is one of Scotland’s oldest castles. It was later held by the Hepburn family and Mary, Queen of Scots was entertained by her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, at Hailes. There are two vaulted pit-prisons and a dovecote in the original tower.

     

     

     

    Athelstaneford Doocot. (50 Gems of the Lothians, Amberley Publishing)

    Athelstaneford

     Athelstaneford, pronounced locally as ‘Elshinthurd’, lies some 3 miles north east of Haddington. It was established by a local landowner as a planned village in the mid-eighteenth century. Low, whitewashed and red-pantiled single-storey cottages stretch along both sides of the wide road. The village is the legendary home of the Scottish Saltire. The story has it that in AD 832 a Pictish army was mustered in the area for a battle with the invading Angles. Before the battle St Andrew appeared in a vision to Óengus II, the leader of the Picts, and predicted their victory. The following day a white cross formed by clouds appeared in a blue sky and the Picts went on to win the battle. The village is also said to take its name from Athelstane, the leader of the Angles, who was killed at a local river crossing by Angus McFergus, the Pict.

    The legend has made Athelstaneford an important site on the Saltire Trail with the National Flag Heritage Centre based in a lectern doocot, which dates from 1583, in the village.

    Doocots (dovecotes) are prominent features in the rural landscape of many parts of Lothian, as estates were relatively small and consisted of rich arable land producing fine agricultural crops, which provided an excellent source of food for the pigeons.

     

    Jack Gillon's book 50 Gems of the Lothians is available for purchase now.

  • Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire by David Paul

    Over the years many stories have been written and recounted concerning the visitation of the Plague, or Black Death, when it was inflicted upon the tiny Derbyshire Peak village of Eyam.  At that time the vicar of Eyam, as is well documented, was Rev. William Mompesson. However, it is the exploits of another of Eyam’s vicars that I have researched and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire. The story relates to a bizarre marriage that took place towards the latter part of the seventeenth century and is recounted as follows:

     

    The Parish Church of St Lawrence, Eyam. (Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    One winter’s day in 1684 the Rector of Eyam, Rev’d Joseph Hunt, had been called to the Miners Arms to perform the office of baptism, as the landlord’s infant son had suddenly taken ill. Having baptised the child the landlord, Mr Matthew Fearns, invited the rector to stay and enjoy a drink or two with some of the village’s miners who were sat in the bar enjoying a well-earned couple of pints at the end of a long week. The rector took the landlord at his word, and enjoyed his hospitality and the company of the miners until he became totally inebriated. Now, it was well-known in the village, especially amongst the miners in the community, that the landlord had a very charming and beautiful daughter, Ann, who, at the tender age of 18, was destined to break many hearts. Before very long Rev’d Hunt was seen entering into flirtatious conversation with the young woman. As is often the case when large quantities of ale are consumed, one thing led to another and, ‘egged on’ by the miners, the rector, enjoying the prevailing mood and one or two drinks too many, agreed to participate in a mock wedding with the publican’s daughter. The miners had little trust in the rector’s promise, so they insisted that he should honour his promise there and then. After imbibing in another glass or two, the rector consented to go ahead with the ceremony. Without further ado, one of the miners produced a Book of Common Prayer and promptly acted as officiant. He read through the whole of the solemn ceremony, with the young girl and the rector performing the roles of bride and groom respectively.

    News of the event quickly spread throughout the neighbourhood, and before very long the unfortunate act of theatre came to the notice of the Bishop of the Diocese. He had no hesitation in commanding the beleaguered rector to legitimise the mock wedding, declaring that he must fulfil in earnest what he had done in jest. Although Hunt was already engaged to another lady from Derby, he duly complied with this edict and legally married Miss Fearns (Furness) on 4th September 1684. This action had unfortunate consequences, as the lady from Derby, who was very wealthy, took out an action for breach of promise against him. Many of Hunt’s subsequent years were occupied in legal proceedings. The legal expenses alone ensured that he lost what little money he had, but the stigma of his actions soon lost him his friends in the village, whilst the reality of his actions meant that he was continually harassed by the officers of the law.

    Desperate to escape from the multitude of pressures which were besetting him, Hunt, together with his new bride, took refuge in the vestry which, supposedly, had been built for the specific purpose of providing him with a place of refuge from his enemies. He dwelt in the vestry, together with his wife and nine children, until his death. In later years he was characterised as being of a very friendly disposition, with young people from the parish visiting him in his abode, where they would sit round the fire telling tales to while away the dreary winter nights.

    Rev’d Joseph Hunt was Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709.  He resided in his makeshift dwelling until his death. There is a tombstone in a corner of the churchyard which records his death and the death of his wife. It simply states that of Rev’d Joseph Hunt, Rector of Eyam, was buried on 16th December 1709 and Ann, his wife, was buried on 18th December 1703.

     

    There are many other strange and incredible stories, garnered from numerous sources across the county, and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire.

    David Paul's book Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

  • Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press by Ruth Herman

    Why write about old news? Grub Street and the Origins of the British Press

    I’ve always been interested in the news. From my first days in Public Relations to freelancing for the drinks trade press the ways in which events are reported have fascinated me. Later on when I embarked upon an academic career I found myself researching the arcane world of the early newspapers. I found it fascinating and much more serious. Punishment for the wrong copy didn’t simply mean getting your work spiked. It was more likely to be your ear or your cheek that bore the permanent marks of your transgression.

    Hogarth’s Distrest Poet is a depiction of a Grub Street hack’s poverty-stricken living conditions while writing anything that will earn him some money. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    So I’ve just written a book which sets out to give an introduction to the wild, bizarre and dangerous world of early newspapers and other ephemera in Britain. The days are long gone when the print was laboriously set by some apprentice. Speed of publication was measured in days rather than seconds and tweeting was something that only birds did. So you may be wondering why anyone would  study a sheet of newsprint which was destined at best to be tomorrow’s pie-wrapping? Does anybody care that 300 years ago owners lost their dogs and their wives and they put a poultice made from pigeon faeces on their thinning hair. (Yes they did – it’s in the book).

    From what I have just written you can see that, apart from the bird poo, people all those years ago were occupied with many of the same issues. Although printing technology was in its infancy the similarities between yesterday’s Grub Street hack and today’s journalist are clear. Online or in the stocks there is a continuum of news which applies when one set of people reports on what another set of people are doing. Journalists can go from providing readers with the most damaging and salacious stories to pursuing those who are harmful to the public. Celebrity love lives or fraudulent tycoons will excite readers and often it seems that the reporters make no distinction. Because reporting on either could risk prosecution and worse I started to think about the brave souls who set themselves the task of telling the “truth” about the hierarchy. I became fascinated by the way that 21st century reporters will pursue a president in much the same way as their 17th century counterparts attacked a king.

    The Daily Courant. This publication paved the way in the newspaper industry.(Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press, Amberley Publishing)

    This last thought brings up a word which has so much weight in both today’s reporting and the writings of every age that it almost blows a hole in the page. It’s the little but oh so powerful word “Truth”. Truth is such a slippery idea and as everyone knows it is sometimes difficult to pin it down. It is particularly tricky to tie in with its stable mate, fact, a concept which is also notoriously fluid and disturbingly often has little to do with “truth”. We are all aware that the powerful often lie or at least suppress the “Truth” because they can. Who is going to challenge them? This is where the very brave writers and journalists literally risk life and limb to hunt down the falsifiers and the producers of that very old concept “fake news”.

    The purpose of the book was not necessarily to illustrate the negative and dark side of the ephemeral world of the newspaper. I also wanted to show how these fascinating collections of words illustrate how people lived and thought. Would you now believe that a cow could escape from London’s Lincoln Inn Fields to run amok in High Holborn and end up falling off the top floor of an inn? It happened. Or that people thought that a string of metal beads could cure toothache? They did. The pages of these eclectic early news-sheets are a window on sophisticated, witty, clever folk whose knowledge of the world may have been more limited than ours but their zest for life was just as great. They also wanted to know what the Queen was wearing and how our soldiers were doing overseas. They went to the theatre and they went shopping for clothes. Women ran away from their husbands and others had babies. They lost dogs and pet birds. They bought houses and sold all sorts of goods. They even gambled on lotteries and lost money on the new stock market. So they weren’t so different to us. It is by reading these newspapers that you can see that despite not having Facebook or any other social media life carried on. So the book is full of stories and anecdotes which may amuse, delight or puzzle the reader. While I was reading these old new-sheets I certainly felt quite at home with the writers, although they were often guilty of using ten words where five would have done.

    To finish this blog I would like to share with you that it was a treat to research the book and I hope that you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it.

    Ruth Herman's book Grub Street: The Origins of the British Press is available for purchase now.

  • The Austen Girls by Helen Amy

    The Story of Jane & Cassandra Austen, the Closest of Sisters

    The Austen Girls is a joint biography of Jane Austen and her older sister Cassandra. It traces their exceptionally close and mutually sustaining relationship throughout Jane’s life and literary career. Cassandra has always been a rather shadowy figure in the background of her famous sister’s life but, as this book reveals, she was central to Jane’s achievement as a novelist.

    Steventon Rectory, a sketch by Anna Lefroy. (Colouring by the author, The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    Cassandra and Jane, who were the daughters of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra, were born and grew up in their father’s rectory in Steventon in Hampshire. Their deep love for each other was evident very early in their lives. Jane always looked up to and adored her older sister. Cassandra, who adored Jane in return, mothered and protected her. The sisters spent most of their time together as children and developed a secret life of their own.

    When Jane started to write as a young girl Cassandra immediately became involved. Jane read her stories to her sister who expressed her opinion on them and, no doubt, made constructive suggestions. By the age of sixteen Jane had filled three copy-books with the work now known as her Juvenilia. Some of these early pieces were dedicated to Cassandra.

    The sisters had their own private sitting-room at the rectory. It was here that they enjoyed shared pastimes as well as pursuing their separate interests. While Jane wrote, Cassandra, a talented amateur artist, drew and painted water-colour pictures, which included the illustrations for a spoof history of England written by Jane.

    It was in this sitting-room that Jane wrote her first three novels. In two of these – Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice – she drew on her close relationship with Cassandra when she created the Dashwood and Bennet sisters. Jane’s early novels were written to amuse and entertain herself and her family, who enjoyed reading novels aloud together. These novels were first shared with Cassandra who knew the characters from their conception in Jane’s mind until their appearance on the pages of the finished manuscript. These characters were as real to Cassandra as they were to Jane.

    Jane Austen, painted by her sister in 1804. (The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    When Cassandra and Jane were separated, usually when they went to stay with one of their brothers, they kept in touch by letter. There was a continual exchange of letters when they were apart because each wanted to know, in minute detail, what the other was doing.

    The Austen’s, like most families, experienced difficult times. The sisters’ close emotional bond enabled them to support and sustain each other at times of crisis. Jane comforted Cassandra when her fiancé died and, with her sister’s help, she was able to endure her sorrow and carry on with her life. Cassandra similarly supported Jane, when a man she met and fell in love with one summer died before they could meet again.

    The sisters supported each other when in 1801 their father retired and they moved with their parents to Bath. They were both unsettled by being suddenly uprooted from their childhood home and the Hampshire countryside which they both loved. According to her nephew it was the beautiful countryside around Steventon which first inspired Jane to write and she was unhappy about the move. With Cassandra’s help, however, she came to terms with it and made the best of her time in Bath. Nevertheless, she only managed to write a few chapters of an unfinished novel while living there.

    It was not until she moved back to rural Hampshire in 1809 that Jane was able to write again. In her new home, and with her beloved sister by her side, Jane wrote her last three novels. The importance of the emotional stability provided by Cassandra cannot be over-estimated. Cassandra helped to create the peaceful and happy atmosphere Jane needed for her creativity to flourish. Jane was often lost in her imaginary world – a world only Cassandra was allowed to enter.

    Jane was always modest about her achievements and was not confident about her writing ability. She had to be encouraged by Cassandra and others to seek publication and always insisted on remaining anonymous. Jane was also surprised that she made a profit from her writing. Needless to say, Cassandra was immensely proud of her sister’s success and noted when each novel was started, finished and published.

    Chawton Cottage, home of Cassandra and Jane from 1809. (The Austen Girls, Amberley Publishing)

    When Jane’s health began to fail at the beginning of 1816 her dependence on Cassandra increased. As her illness – believed to have been either Addison’s Disease, a disorder of the adrenal system, or some kind of lymphoma – progressed, Cassandra hardly left her side. She did all she could to help Jane, including taking her to the spa town of Cheltenham in search of a cure.

    Cassandra accompanied Jane to Winchester a few weeks before she died, so that she could be near her doctor. She nursed Jane devotedly until her death on 18th July 1817, at the age of forty-one. Shortly afterwards Cassandra wrote “I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed – it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

    The Austen Girls traces Cassandra’s life after she lost Jane. Her strong Christian faith and her belief that she would one day be reunited with her sister helped to sustain her. Cassandra did her best to keep Jane’s memory alive for her nephews and nieces. These memories were used in family biographies and memoirs of Jane.

    This book also follows the growth of Jane’s literary reputation and fame following her death. She was never more than a minor novelist during her lifetime. It was not until the 1860s that she was finally recognised as a great writer and readers became curious about her life and works. Sadly, Cassandra did not live to witness this. Jane herself would have been astonished at the worldwide acclaim she has achieved. She would have been the first to acknowledge the vital role played by her sister, whose love, support and belief in her helped to bring this about.

    Helen Amy's book The Austen Girls is available for purchase now.

  • Illustrated Tales of Shropshire by David Paul

    During the course of my researches for Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, published July 2019, I discovered many interesting and incredible tales, many of which related to the strong sense of duty which prevailed at the time. The Legend of Reverend Carr is certainly worthy of inclusion under this particular category.

    Church of St Michael and All Angels, Woolstanton. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    The tale is told that after leaving his vicarage in Woolstaston, the rector, Reverend Edmund Donald Carr, would lead the Sunday morning service in the little church. Then, after lunch, he would set off to conduct the afternoon service on the other side of the hills at the church in Ratlinghope. This ritual continued for more than ten years, during which time the rector never once missed leading the service. Even in the heavy winter snow, the rector made his weekly journey across the hills, never once losing his way; but walking over The Long Mynd was not without its difficulties, especially when there was low cloud over the tops.

    On a particularly cold winter’s Sunday in 1865, when the ground was covered with a thick carpet of snow – the worst snow for over fifty years – Rev. Carr thought that he might not be able to get over to see his parishioners in Ratlinghope. However, he decided that he would at least attempt to make the journey. After leading the service at Woolstaston his servant saddled two horses and they set off for Ratlinghope. They’d travelled less than a mile when the rector decided to send the servant back to the vicarage, saying that he would continue on foot. It was obvious that the horses couldn’t cope with the deep snow drifts.

    Headstones of Revd Carr and his wife, Elizabeth, in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Struggling on, the rector sometimes found himself up to his thighs in snow, and on more than one occasion he had to crawl on his hands and knees. After de-icing his clothes a few times and taking a number of well-earned rests on the four-mile journey, he did eventually reach the tiny hamlet of Ratlinghope. The few parishioners who attended the service were more than surprised to see him and begged him to stay overnight, but he declined the offer, saying that, apart from anything else, he had to return to lead evensong at Woolstaston Hall. As Rev. Carr was climbing out of the village a great storm blew up, but he continued on his journey, endeavouring to keep to his route. At length he came to a slope that was unfamiliar to him, and, seconds later, he found himself sliding down the side of the Long Batch. Although he tried to break the fall, he was powerless to stop himself from careering into the rocks below. Digging his heals into the snow, he eventually came to a halt just before reaching the rocks. When he did manage to stand up, he realised that he was completely lost, the snow was even deeper than it had been earlier, he was hungry, and it was going very cold as night was drawing in. His plight became even worse when he fell again, losing his hat and gloves.

    Woolstaston Hall today. (Illustrated Tales of Shropshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As morning approached, he still could not tell where he was. He also realised that during the long night he had become snow-blind. Collecting his remaining energy and senses together, Rev. Carr then heard a flowing stream which he proceeded to follow down and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the stream above Light Spout Hollow, and what the good rector was unaware of was the fact that, rather than proceeding along the path of the stream, he was in fact encircling the waterfall. Then, just when he was thinking that the situation could not become any worse, he actually lost his boots!

    Lying in a deep snowdrift the rector thought that his earthly life was fast drawing to a close, when he heard the sound of children playing in the snow. He managed to raise his head, and was recognised by one of the children. They helped him to a nearby cottage before he was taken to be examined by a doctor. After a long period of recuperation at home, the rector eventually made a full recovery.

    Location: SY6 6JG

    David Paul's new book Illustrated Tales of Shropshire is available for purchase now.

  • Die-cast Commercial Vehicles by Paul Brent Adams

    Die-cast toys first appeared a little over a century ago. The first vehicles to be produced were cars, but commercial vehicles soon followed. A fleet of trucks, delivery vans, tankers, service vehicles, and mobile shops. Many of these carried the names and logos of real companies, making them some of the most colourful of all die-cast models. Often a single van or truck casting was produced in several versions, each carrying a different company name or livery.

    The British firm of Lledo produced several horse-drawn vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. This small horse-drawn delivery van was part of a set devoted to Ringtons Tea – the rest of the models were motor vehicles. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Real commercial vehicles seldom receive an annual facelift the way cars do. This means that model trucks and vans do not date as rapidly as model cars, and a successful model can stay in production for long periods, with an occasional change of finish. The large, flat sides of trucks and vans giving plenty of space for colourful liveries. Some were even produced to special order for the companies concerned, as part of various promotions, hence the fact they are called promotionals. Commercial vehicle models soon became a staple of many die-cast ranges.

    While vans and pick-up trucks are often the same size as a normal car, most heavy commercials are much larger. To produce models that are not too large or expensive, manufacturers often make their commercials to a smaller scale than their model cars. Several firms also produced a range of larger and more expensive models, which allowed the heavies to be closer in scale to the cars, although most were still a little smaller. Among the leading British die-cast companies there were the Dinky Supertoys, Corgi Majors, and the Matchbox Major Pack and King Size ranges. At the opposite end of the size range, several lines of small scale models were produced as model railway accessories, such as the Hornby Dublo range, intended to complement Hornby OO model railways; or the Lilliput series, made by Britains, who were best known for their extensive range of toy soldiers. In more recent years, several lines have been devoted exclusively to Big Rigs, comprising a tractor unit and semi-trailer. With these models a limited number of different tractor units can be combined with various types of trailer, to produce a fleet of different models. Open vehicles can also be given an assortment of loads, allowing for even more variety.

    The Models of Yesteryear series by Matchbox was devoted to veteran and vintage vehicles, including this American-built Walker electric van. According to the back of the box, Harrods department store in London had a fleet of 60 for local delivery work in the 1920s. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    As collecting die-casts became an established adult hobby, models began to be produced aimed directly at collectors. With adults, size and price were less of a factor than they were with toys aimed at children. Many of these ‘adult’ models being highly detailed, delicate, and expensive. I still prefer the various toy ranges by companies such as Matchbox. They may lack a few of the refinements of the adult collectable, but they were designed to be played with, and there is an element of fun about them that is lacking in adult models. This is why most of the models in my collection are toys. Plus, they were the types of models I once played with.

    Modern toys are also much more affordable than adult collectables. Although vintage toys in pristine condition can be extremely expensive, as few have survived without a few paint chips, and other signs of use. If you are prepared to accept the odd imperfection, and the lack of a box, even vintage models become more affordable – which explains why most of my older models do have a few chips and scratches, some were even part of my own childhood collection.

     

     

    A pair of steam powered lorries, or wagons, from the Models of Yesteryear series. Launched in 1956, the models grew larger over the years – as these two demonstrate. The 1922 Foden being far larger than the early Sentinel. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    After discovering plastic kits in the 1970s, my die-cast toys spent a couple of decades in a box, usually under the bed, until I again began collecting die-casts in the 1990s. My collection comprises a mix of subjects, including a fair number of commercial vehicles. There are horse-drawn vehicles, a few of which survived on British roads into the 1960s; electric vehicles, used mostly for local delivery work, or inside factories and warehouses; steam power, which had been used on roads since the early nineteenth century, and lasted into the 1930s for heavy haulage; and the usual range of motor vehicles. Everything from motorcycles with a sidebox for goods and tools, to the largest lorry or tanker. There have been several ranges devoted to veteran and vintage models, and to vehicles from the early post-war years – the 1950s and 1960s. Buses and racing cars do not usually count as commercial vehicles, but these often carry advertising for various companies, products, and services, so they can be added to a collection, providing even more colour and variety. There are also a few oddballs that do not fit neatly into one of the usual categories, but these can be among the most interesting models of all. Due to the vast range of models available, most collectors specialise to some extent. Some collect only certain types of model – three-wheelers or delivery vans; a specific period, such as a favourite decade; a particular scale; or a favourite brand, such as Matchbox or Dinky. It is even possible to build a collection around a major company or product type – I tend to have a little of everything.

    One of the more modern types in the Lledo range was the Morris LD150 van from the 1950s. This example carrying colourful period-style advertising for Gibbs SR toothpaste. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Apart from the real vehicles, it is also possible to see the way models have developed over the years. Early die-casts were almost always all-metal, except perhaps for rubber tyres or wheels. From the 1950s onwards plastic parts have been used – plastic allowed models to be given clear windows. Today, most models are a combination of metal and plastic. During the 1950s and 1960s companies offered models with more detail, and more working features, in their efforts to increase sales. From the 1970s toys had fewer working features as manufacturers sought to cut costs. Many of the older companies either disappeared, or changed hands, but there are always new companies appearing, keeping the fleets of die-cast commercial vehicles rolling.

    Paul Brent Adams's new book Die-cast Commercial Vehicles is available for purchase now.

  • Nottingham Pubs by Dave Mooney

    The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham advertises itself as the oldest public house in the country, although at least two other pubs in the city have convincing, rival claims. With this in mind, it is obvious that our drinking heritage goes back a long way. When I took up the mantle of writing a book on the subject, I don't think I quite realised how far.

    On reflection, I now feel that the origin of the Nottingham pub can be dated to the early Triassic Period – approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago.

    Bear with me!

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    As any schoolboy knows, at that time, all of the land masses of the world were collected together into one giant super-continent: Pangaea. The area that now forms the United Kingdom was far to the south of its current position and the place that we now call Nottingham was underwater. Over time, sand was deposited – sand which would later form the red sandstone on which the city is built.

    Skip forward to the time of Snot – the hilariously named Saxon chieftain that gave his name to the city. The Saxons realised that the strong, yet soft, sandstone was perfect for hollowing out and making caves. They started digging holes to serve a multitude of purposes – homes, tanneries, and (most importantly from our point of view) maltings. Here, they could dry malt all year round, protected from the elements. According to the early Victorian antiquarian, James Orange; this gave the people of “Snottingham” a distinct, competitive advantage when it came to the beer trade.

    Would you dare to touch the cursed galleon? Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    This was not the only impact that the sandstone had on the history of the city's pubs. It also affected the way that they are physically structured. The aforementioned Trip to Jerusalem, and the adjacent Brewhouse Yard – which used to brew ale for Nottingham Castle – are both cut into the majestic “Castle Rock” on which the ancient fortress is built.

    Elsewhere in the city, more recent pubs, such as The Hand in Heart, are built into man made tunnels. Even when pubs appear conventional on the surface, there is a good chance that there are caves underneath them – often several levels deep – which are used as beer cellars.

    Little wonder that Nottingham has long been referred to as the “city of caves”. The full extent of its subterranean excavations has yet to be mapped.

    With this natural competitive advantage, Nottingham inevitably became famed across the region, and beyond, for the quality of its ale. Look at this, the opening verse from a song found in the Seventeenth Century comedy play, A Jovial Crew:-

    In Nottinghamshire,

    Let 'em boast of their beer,

    With a Hay-down, down, and a down!

    I'll sing in the praise of good Sack:

    Old Sack, and old Sherry,

    Will make your Heart merry,

    Without e'er a Rag to our Back.

    The Hand in Heart - Not as old as it seems. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    When singing in praise of his “good Sack” (fortified wine), it is Nottinghamshire beers that singer compares it to.

    This is not the only time that the qualities of Nottingham ale have been celebrated in song. A century later, a naval officer, by the name of Gunthorpe, composed a paean to the tipple, after receiving a barrel of it as a gift from his brother – the landlord of a pub called The Punch Bowl, in Peck Lane. Gunthorpe had obviously received a classical education and the verses are packed with delightful, tongue twisting allusions to Greek myth. The chorus, by contrast, is perfect for a roaring sing-along and has assured its place as a minor folk standard:-

    Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale,

    No liquor of earth's like Nottingham Ale!

    By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, three local brewing giants had emerged that were to dominate the Nottingham pub trade – Shipstone's, Home Ales, and Kimberley Ales. All three closed in the years surrounding the turn of the millennium, but they have left an indelible imprint on the culture of the city and the surrounding area. A local joke purports to be the shortest story in existence. At just four words long, it plays upon the enervating reputations of the local breweries: “Shipstones Mild; Home, Bitter!”

     A song emerged in the Nottingham folk clubs of the 1970s, which has gone on to live a life of its own in the repertoires of numerous singers across the East Midlands. From what I can make out, the words were originally composed by a local man named “Wokko”. Again the subject is Nottingham ale, and – as with the four word joke – it talks about the less than beneficial effects of the local brew. Set to a rousing medley of patriotic tunes, the lyrics detail the various gastric and cranial problems brought on by drinking Shipstone's Bitter. The chorus mentions Ivor Thirst – the brewery's mascot:-

    Rule Britannia and God bless Ivor Thirst,

    We'll keep drinking Shipstones 'til we burst!

    Following the collapse of the three local titans, a whole crop of new, smaller breweries have emerged – some of these, like Castle Rock, have gained national attention and are well on their way to becoming giants in their own right. With a long-term, nationwide downturn in the fortunes of the pub trade, Nottingham seems to be bucking the trend. Everywhere you look, a new micro-pub, bottle shop, gin bar or hipster, craft ale joint seems to be popping up. They tend to be very different in character to the traditional pubs that the city is famed for, but this is only the latest development in a local preoccupation with a very long history.

    Dave Mooney's new book Nottingham Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • 'Aristides de Sousa Mendes' Heroes in the Shadows by Brian Fleming

    Humanitarian Action and Courage in the Second World War

    Aristides de Sousa Mendes (19 July 1885 – 3 April 1954) became the Portuguese Consul General in Bordeaux in 1938. Despite orders from António de Oliveira Salazar’s regime, he continued to issue visas and passports to refugees, including Jews, who were fleeing the Nazis. (Heroes in the Shadows, Amberley Publishing)

    During the course of World War Two a number of diplomats in various parts of Europe used their positions to save thousands of individuals. Of these, Raoul Wallenberg is by far the most famous but there were others whose heroic deeds need to be better known. One interesting example is that of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Under the dictator Salazar, Portugal, like its neighbour Spain, was determined not to become involved in WW2. Sousa Mendes, a lawyer by profession, served in his country’s diplomatic service and took up duty as Consul General in Bordeaux in 1938. The following year, Salazar, anxious not just to remain neutral but to be seen to be so, issued an instruction to his nation’s diplomats that visas were not to be issued to various categories of people. Essentially this covered all refugees who might be seeking access to Portugal. Exemptions could only be granted with sanction from the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon. It is clear that from the very start that Sousa Mendes was uncomfortable with this restrictive approach. He began to make exceptions without prior clearance and put forward, to the authorities, retrospective justification for his actions. The numbers involved were quite small but the situation changed radically in 1940 as French resistance to the Nazi invasion began to collapse. Millions fled south, many to avoid conflict but others, notably the Jews, had far more specific reasons to leave France. Hundreds approached the consulate in Bordeaux seeking assistance.

    The pressure began to tell on the diplomat and he became indisposed in mid-June with what he described subsequently as a breakdown. Clearly he was in a very difficult situation caught between his instructions from Lisbon and his humanitarian instincts. Happily the latter proved decisive. For the next few weeks he began to issue visas to all who needed them. Obviously Salazar’s government could not tolerate such defiance and he was recalled, an instruction he complied with but not in any great hurry. Estimating the numbers he saved is difficult as visas often covered more than the individual holder but included family members such as children. Some have suggested that between him, and his colleague Emile Gissot in Toulouse who followed his lead, 20,000 were saved. Certainly a figure of 10,000 would constitute a conservative estimate. The noted Holocaust scholar, Professor Yehuda Bauer has described the role played by Sousa Mendes as perhaps the largest rescue operation by a single individual during that period. Subsequently the career of Aristides de Sousa Mendes was destroyed on the direct instructions of Salazar. Sadly he lived in relative poverty for the remainder of his life and his actions were airbrushed from history. Eventually the truth began to emerge and a campaign in the US by a group including the diplomat’s son, John Paul, bore fruit in 1986 when seventy members of congress wrote to the then Portuguese Prime Minister asking that the good name of Aristides de Sousa Mendes be restored. Two years later the Portuguese parliament unanimously adopted a motion striking out all charges against Sousa Mendes and marked the decision with a standing ovation. Further recognition has followed in Portugal and in Bordeaux where he made his wonderfully courageous decision.

    Brian Fleming's new book Heroes in the Shadows: Humanitarian Action and Courage in the Second World War is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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