Thursday, 29 April 2010

Roman Building Methods

The Romans built massive structures across the empire. Every area was encouraged to erect public buildings such as temples and basilicas to show how civilised and important the area and its people were.

To erect these structures the Romans relied on human and animal musclepower. Some machines did exist – such as cranes or hoists – but these all had to be powered by humans, mules or oxen.

Stone was cut in quarries. The stone was split by drilling holes into which were put wooden wedges. When the wedges were soaked in water they swelled and split the rock. The stone was then cut into blocks with iron saws.

Because stone is heavy and expensive to transport, most stone was used to make buildings close to the quarry. Only certain types of stone with special qualities was transported more than a few kilometres.

The final shaping of stones was carried out on the building site. Iron saws and chisels were used to make sure that each block was exactly the right shape.

Offcuts and mis-shapen stones were used to build cheaper structures. These were fixed into a wooden frame, then pounded with gravel and sand to form a solid mass. This was then covered over with plaster.

Bricks made from clay were widely used. They were smaller than modern bricks and made by hand in a wooden mould. Each brick was left to dry, then baked in a kiln to make it hard and waterproof.

Both bricks and stone blocks were held together by mortar. This was made by mixing lime with sand and then adding water. When the mortar set it was very hard and glued together the bricks and stones.

When gravel is added to mortar it becomes concrete. The Romans were the first to use concrete. By ad100 many buildings were being built of concrete, then faced with stone so that they looked as if they were made entirely of stone.

Most of the large public buildings put up during the time of the emperors were constructed by slave labour. Thousands of men would work at building sites in Rome and throughout the empire.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts - Ancient Rome by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Rule of the Greek Tyrants

The tyrant Kypselus of Corinth took power with the backing of the hoplites of the citizen army. He proved to be very popular and went about Corinth unarmed and without a bodyguard.

Kypselus used the slogan “Give Justice to Corinth” throughout his rule. His first act to was ensure that all citizens were equal in the law courts. Aristocrats and others all got the same punishments for the same crimes.

The key to the success of Kypselus was probably that he listened to what ordinary citizens wanted and desired. He probably called meetings of the citizens to discuss key decisions.

So popular was Kypselus that when he died his son Periander was immediately installed as the new tyrant of Corinth. When Periander died his son Kypselus II became tyrant.

The city of Sicyon appointed a tyrant in 650bc. The tyrant Orthogoras quickly gained a reputation for being completely honest and impartial, but he impose severe penalties on anyone who broke his laws.

Orthagoras and his descendants ruled as tyrants of Sicyon for more than 100 years. Other tyrants were less successful, being thrown out after just a few years.

The laws of Pittakos, tyrant of the city of Mytilene on Lesbos, were biased against the aristocrats. If an aristocrat committed a crime while drunk he had to suffer double the penalty that would have been given to anyone else.

Pittakos resigned his position as tyrant in about 570bc. He set up a constitution by which the citizens could elect government officials. The new government's first act was to give Pittakos a large, new farm on which to live.

By about the year 500bc most Greek tyrants had either died, resigned or been ousted from power. However tyrants continued to rule in the Greek cities of Sicily and southern Italy.

Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse, invited his rich friend Damocles to a sumptuous banquet, then sat him in a chair with a sword hanging over it. Dionysius said this symbolised the life of luxury and danger led by a tyrant.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts - Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Why is the Saville Row suit so good?

Tucked away behind Regent Street is a short street which has become synonymous with good tailoring: Savile Row. But what exactly is it about this street that makes its products so exclusive?

So firmly associated is Savile Row with the history of quality tailoring that the Japanese word for a three piece business suit is a “sabiro”, an eastern corruption of the street’s name. Yet when the street was first built it was not intended to be for tradesmen, no matter how refined and expert.

Savile Row was laid out in the early 18th century by the 3rd Earl of Burlington whose London home, Burlington House in Picadilly, is now home to the Royal Academy. He named the street in honour of his wife, one of the Savile family who held the titles of Earl of Scarborough. The nearby streets the Earl named after his various other titles - Boyle, Clifford and Cork. As with those streets, Savile Row was built a street of fine town houses for the gentry to have as their London homes.

Among those who lived in the street during this period was the politician and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Perhaps appropriately, given the street’s name, Sheridan’s first big production at Drury Lane theatre was “A Trip to Scarborough”, performed in 1777. Sheridan lived at No.14 Savile Row, where a blue plaque commemorates his tenure, but he managed to die of a sudden attack of brain fever at No.17 in 1816.

It was not long after the death of Sheridan that the fashionable families began to move their London residences to newer houses further west. The old houses in Savile Row then began to fill with tradesmen of the better sort, with tailors early establishing a dominance. The first tailor to rent in the Row was Henry Poole who moved in around 1850 and whose company still remains at No.15. By 1900 the street had become the home to the very best tailors in London. The fitting rooms on the ground floor took over the pubic reception rooms of the old houses, while the servants quarters and bedrooms were given over to workshops for the craftsmen of the tailoring business.

At the heart of a good Savile Row suit is the cutting of the cloth. Once the customer has been measured minutely by the senior cutter of the company and the fabric for the suit carefully chosen, the measurements are transferred to a master pattern. This gives the shape for each panel of fabric to be used in the suit, allowing plenty of extra cloth. At the first fitting the roughly stitched together panels are marked for more careful shaping, though still with plenty of overlap material. The second fitting sees the fabric marked most carefully for the final stitching. At the third fitting, therefore, the suit should be perfect and only slight changes are made, if any.

In recent years, however, the increasingly high cost of renting the premises in the Row have caused a change to emerge in its character. The craftsmen who lovingly fashion each garment to order from the finest fabrics are finding it difficult to justify paying such high rents. Some tailors have amalgamated to keep costs down and others have moved their craftsmen elsewhere and keep only the shopfront in expensive Savile Row.

Also creeping into the Row in increasing numbers are gentlemen’s fashion shops which do not handle bespoke tailoring at all. Indeed they sell off-the-peg suits and clothing of a quality rather lower than that usually associated with the Row. To try to contain the situation the older established tailors have formed a society known as the Companions of Savile Row. Although most of these ‘Companions’ are in Savile Row itself, a few are in nearby St George Street or Piccadilly Arcade. The link between them all is that they meet their own rigorously enforced standards of tailoring and style. If life in the Row is becoming difficult for some tailors, others are determined that the name Savile Row should continue to reflect the very finest in tailoring.


Teashop and Pub Walks in Sussex.

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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Charles II hides up an oak tree

Perhaps the most famous, certainly the most romantic, incident in the life of King Charles II came when he hid in an oak tree to escape the soldiers searching for him after the Battle of Worcester. The event has been commemorated on pub signs up and down the country.

After defeat at the Battle of Worcester, Charles realised he would have to escape form England if he were to be certain of avoiding the execution given to his father. He first rode north with a close friend, Lord Wilmot, passing through Kidderminster to get away from the pursuit after the battle. Charles then rode to Boscobel House, an out of the way  manor house owned by the staunchly Royalist Penderel family.

Charles hoped to find sanctuary there while he organised an escape route. The Penderels, although happy to risk their lives for the young king, were painfully aware that their known Royalist sympathies would mean they could expect their property to be searched before long. They sent Colonel Wilmot off to try to organise a route out of the country, while the king and another fugitive officer, Colonel William Carlis, were put in hiding.

There was no hiding place in Boscobel House which could not be found so the two men were loaded with bread, cheese and beer and led out into a nearby patch of woodland. The Penderels were farming gentry and knew the lands around their home intimately. William Penderel took the two men to a tall oak tree which had been lopped some years earlier and now had a crown of branches and leaves that were all but impenetrable. Scrambling up a ladder the king and Carlis  pushed through the crown to find themselves in the open heart of the tree where it had been cut. There they settled down and the king began to doze.

Soon after noon the soldiers from Cromwell’s army arrived. Troopers moved through the wood diligently probing the thicker bushes with their swords and peering into the tree branches. Even though one soldier looked directly into the oak, he did not notice the fugitives and the search moved on.

With danger seemingly over, the king fell asleep again while Carlis kept watch. Suddenly a new force of soldiers appeared and began a fresh search of the woods. To his horror, Carlis noticed that as he had slept, the king had shifted position and would almost certainly be seen from below. Carlis tried whispering, but soon realised that if he spoke loud enough to wake the king he would be heard by the troopers now almost beneath him. The desperate Carlis leant across and pinched the king hard on the arm. Fortunately the king awoke silently and was able to pull himself back into cover.

The king had many more adventures ahead of him as he travelled secretly through England, trying to get aboard ship in Bristol, Bridport and Charmouth before eventually finding passage to France on board the tiny coal brig, the Surprise, sailing out of Shoreham. When he eventually regained his throne, Charles remembered those who had aided his escape and rewarded them well. The Penderels, for instance, were given a large sum of money invested in a trust which would pay to them and their heirs for ever enough money to ensure a reasonable standard of living. It is still paying out to the Penderels to this day.

This is an extract from What Everyone Needs to Know About British History by Rupert Matthews

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Arms & Armour - The Fall of Rome

Later Roman infantry abandoned armour. By around ad350 the Roman legions preferred to fight by moving quickly around the battlefield instead of forming up in dense formations. They therefore stopped wearing heavy armour and instead relied upon large shields and metal helmets for protection.

Later Roman armies included mercenary archers. Roman commanders found that archers were useful for attacking barbarian tribesmen, but few Romans were skilled at archery. The Romans therefore hired men from other countries to fight as archers in the Roman army.

Roman shields were brightly coloured. Each unit in the Roman army had its own special design of shield. Some were decorated with pictures of eagles, scorpions or dolphins, while others had lightning bolts or spirals. Red, black and yellow were favourite colours.

The eagle was a sacred standard. Each Roman legion had an eagle standard, the aquila, which consisted of a bronze eagle covered in gold leaf and mounted on top of a pole about 3 metre long. The aquila was considered to be sacred to the gods and it was a great humiliation if it were to be captured by the enemy.

Later Roman cavalry had enormous shields. One type of later Roman mounted soldier was the scutari. These men wore no armour, but carried enormous shields with which they were expected to defend themselves and their horses. They would gallop up to the enemy army, throw javelins and then ride off before the enemy could strike back.

I Don’t Believe It!
The first king of Rome and the last emperor both had the same name. Rome was founded in 753bc by Romulus. The last Emperor who abdicated in ad476 was also called Romulus.

This is an extract from 100 Things You Should Know About Arms and Armour by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Weapons in 1939 - Continuity and Change

World War Two opened with a spectacular run of successes for the Axis Powers.  Those victories were the result of a revolution in weapons and tactics that gave the Germans and Japanese a startling battlefield supremacy over their enemies. By the summer of 1942 it looked as if nothing could stop a rapid victory for the Axis.

The armed forces that went to war in 1939 were deceptively similar to those that had ended the last great war of 1918. In many respects the weaponry and supply systems had not changed very much. A majority of the senior commanders had held command at divisional level in the earlier conflict and their views on tactical and strategic questions had been conditioned by their experiences twenty years earlier.

This continuity was more pronounced among the states that had won World War I. They had ended the war with vast amounts of military equipment of all kinds and, with peacetime budgets cut to the minimum, there had been little opportunity or enthusiasm to replace it. Moreover, the victors were inclined to think that they had the key to victory. Those countries that had been defeated were less affected. They were building up their armed forces from scratch with the most modern equipment. Moreover, their commanders were more inclined to be open to new ideas and concepts since the methods they had used in World War I had failed so obviously.

At sea the big-gun battleship was still considered to be the key weapon in achieving and maintaining control of the shipping lanes. Submarines, cruisers, destroyers and other craft were considered useful for attacking merchant ships, undertaking small actions and other secondary roles, but it was the battleship that was seen as the final arbiter of naval power.

A typical example would be the five battleships of the Queen Elizabeth Class of battleships in the British Royal Navy. These ships were built between 1912 and 1916, displacing 35,380 tons when fully loaded. The main armored deck was 5 inches thick, while the turrets had 13-inch armor and the conning tower 11-inch armor. The main weaponry consisted of eight 15-inch guns for use against enemy battleships and eight 6-inch guns for use against other targets. In the early 1930s the ships were modernized to take account of changing ideas on naval warfare. The engines were replaced with more powerful models to give the ships a top speed of 23.5 knots while the 6-inch guns were removed and replaced with ten antiaircraft guns. Otherwise the ships entered World War II as they had left World War I.

On land the combination of artillery and infantry that had dominated the earlier conflict was still relied upon by most armies. The majority of senior commanders envisaged a similar sort of warfare to that of 1918: static defenses would dominate with only limited assaults led by tanks and supported by heavy artillery being possible.

British and French tanks had performed well in 1919 in two key roles. The first was to accompany infantry as they advanced to break through trench and bunker defense lines. The second was to push through any gaps that opened in enemy lines to disrupt advancing reinforcements and hinder the formation of a new defensive line.

A typical infantry support tank was the French Char B1bis. This weighed 32 tons and had armor up to 60mm thick. It was designed to be able to clamber over all manner of field obstructions and defensive works. It had a 47mm gun mounted in a turret plus a huge 75mm howitzer firing directly forward from the hull. Because it was intended to aid infantry attacking fixed defenses it was slow and had a limited range.

The smaller tanks designed to race through gaps in enemy lines was typified by Italy’s Fiat Ansaldo. This tank weighed only 3.2 tons and had armor 15mm thick, which was adequate for stopping bullets but not much else. The two-man crew consisted of a driver and a gunner – the latter having as his weapon a pair of machine guns, a 20mm anti-tank gun or a flamethrower. With a top speed of 28mph and a range of 78 miles the Ansaldo was expected to create mayhem behind enemy lines.

In the air most air forces envisaged undertaking similar missions to those of 1918. Bombing raids would be undertaken in daylight against specific military targets, though more daring advocates of long range bombing suggested attacking weapons factories in enemy towns that lay within range. Because the emphasis was on precision bombing of small targets, the actual weight of bombs to be carried was generally quite low.

The Soviet Ilyushin DB3 can be taken as a typical bomber. It had twin engines developing 960hp each giving it a top speed of 267mph, a range of 1600 miles and a ceiling of 32,000 feet. It could carry 2,200lb of bombs and was protected by three 13mm machine guns.

Italy’s G50 Freccia fighter entered service in 1938 as a low-wing monoplane powered by an 840hp Fiat A74 engine. This gave the machine a top speed of 293mph, a ceiling of 33,000 feet and a range of 620 miles. Nimble and quick the Freccia was much admired at home and abroad. It was armed with twin 12.7mm machine guns.

Hitler, it was said, had “missed the bus” by attacking Poland on 1 September. It was confidently predicted that the Poles would be able to delay the German advance in a series of defensive battles until the winter weather came. By spring of 1940 the British and French would be fully mobilized and would launch an assault into Germany in the west. Faced by a war on two fronts, it was expected, Germany would collapse just as she had done twenty years earlier.

That this did not happen was due to the concept of blitzkrieg, developed and perfected in the 1930s by a small group of younger German officers. Hitler recognized the advantages of the idea and used his power as dictator to impose the doctrine on his older and more senior commanders who recognized only the inherent risks of the new concept.

The key tank in the new battle plan was the Panzer IV manufactured by Krupps. This weapon entered service in 1936 and remained in production through to the closing days of the war with almost 9,000 being produced. There would be considerable variation between the different models of the Panzer IV with different guns, various levels of armor and assorted secondary armament. The models with which Germany went to war were models A to D. These generally had 30mm armor and were armed with a 75mm general cannon plus a 7.92mm machine gun.  The tank could manage 20mph on roads, less cross-country, and had a range of 200 miles.

The lighter and faster Panzer III made by Daimler-Benz was produced in larger numbers. It was equipped with a lighter gun and armor-piercing ammunition. The Panzer III was tackle enemy tanks, artillery and bunkers while the Panzer IV got on with the main fighting.

Perhaps the key features in these German tanks have been often overlooked. They were equipped with a two-way radio and large enough to carry a tank commander whose sole job was to use the radio and command the other crewmembers. In nearly all other tanks the commander also had to man the gun, drive or carry out some other task. The commander was thus not distracted by other tasks in battle and could fight his tank more effectively. The provision of radios allowed the tanks to keep in touch with each other and with other units – crucially with the Luftwaffe.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

War at Sea 1800 - 1815

After 1800 the war at sea was primarily a struggle for supremacy fought between Britain and France. The climactic Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 gave Britain the upper hand, but the war continued as a series of raids, skirmishes and convoy battles as both sides sought allies to help them control the trade routes.   By 1800 Britain had reason to believe that she had achieved a mastery of the seas. In 1797 the Spanish fleet had been badly mauled at the Battle of Cape St Vincent by a British fleet under Admiral Sir John Jervis and Horatio Nelson. Later that year, on 11 October Admiral Adam Duncan had intercepted the main Dutch fleet en route to invade Ireland. Of 11 Dutch ships of the line, nine were captured or sunk. The following year, the French Mediterranean fleet  of 13 ships of the line and 4 frigates escorted a military convoy carrying the French invasion force to Egypt. Admiral Nelson with his 13 ships of the line missed intercepting the convoy, but caught up with the French naval ships in Aboukir Bay near the mouth of the Nile on 1 August. Nelson did not wait to form a plan of battle, but trusted his captains to know his intentions and gave the signal to attack. Four British ships slipped inshore of the anchored French ships while the others attacked from seaward. Caught between two fires, the French fought gallantly but were outgunned. The battle raged late into the night, with the French flagship blowing up when flames reached her magazine. In all two French ships were sunk and nine captured.

Although these actions had knocked out two French allies and destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet, Brtiain was not yet supreme. On paper the French fleet was still impressive and could be a match for the British. However, in reality the French fleet suffered some significant disadvantages. The most important of these was that the dictator, soon to be Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte was a soldier who neither understood the potential of naval warfare to hurt Britain nor was willing to give the French navy the money and men it needed to fight effectively. As a result the French warships spent most of their time in port where their upkeep was cheapest, but where their officers and men failed to get sea or combat experience.

The naval war took a sudden turn in 1801 when Russia formed an armed coalition with the Baltic powers which until this date had been neutral. Since Russia was, at this date, friendly to France, Britain was determined to break up the alliance. A fleet commanded by Sir Hyde Parker with Horatio Nelson as his second in command was sent to the Baltic. On 2 April the British fleet sailed into Copenhagen Harbour and opened fire. At one point the British appeared to be losing and Admiral Parker ordered his ships to retire. Nelson put the telescope to his blind eye and declared that he could not see the signal, and fought on. By dusk, the entire Danish-Norwegian fleet had been destroyed.

In 1805 Napoleon decided to invade Britain. He gathered a vast army at Boulogne, but the unarmed barges that he prepared to transport his men over the Channel would have been helpless victims under the guns of the British Channel Fleet. He therefore ordered Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve to destroy the British fleet. Villeneuve’s plan was to get the assorted French squadrons out of Toulon, Ferrol, Brest and Rochefort and rendezvous them with the Spanish fleet in the West Indies before sailing for the Channel in overwhelming numbers.

In the event, Villeneuve got only half the French fleet to sea and rendezvoused with he Spanish fleet at Cadiz. On 19 October he put to sea and two days later was met by a British fleet under Nelson. The combined Franco-Spanish fleet numbered 33 ships of the line and 7 frigates, while Nelson had 27 ships of the line and 4 frigates.

Nelson had discussed an attack plan with his captains beforehand so, as at the Nile, he attacked without delay. The British fleet formed into two columns to break through the enemy line of battle and produce a disorganized battle in which the British heavy firepower would have an advantage over the Franco-Spanish manoeuvres.

The battle began a little before noon and raged until 4.30pm. By that time 20 French and Spanish ships had been captured and the rest badly damaged – only five ever saw action again. The British lost  no ships, but had 1,587 killed and wounded. Among the dead was Nelson, shot by a sniper’s bullet at the height of the action.

After Trafalgar the British control of the seas was never seriously in question, but the naval war did not end. Frigates and privateers from France and her allies continued to prey on British merchant ships, while the Royal Navy sought to protect them. Some of the most audacious privateers operated out of Calais and Boulogne, capturing merchant ships within sight of the British coast.

The Royal Navy also instituted a blockade of France and her allies stopping all goods that might be of use to the French war effort. This practice of searching neutral merchant ships led to disputes and in 1812 war broke out between Britain and the USA. The Royal Navy diverted over 80 ships to blockade the US Atlantic coast. There were no large naval actions during the war, but some significant single ship actions did take place. Perhaps the most significant of these was the victory of the USS Constitution of 44 guns over the 48 gun HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812. The Constitution later captured a second British frigate, winning for herself the nickname of ‘Old Ironsides’.

This is an extract from the Atlas of the World at War by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Roman Army - Fortified Camps

A legion on campaign was in constant danger of attack. The cover of night would give an enterprising enemy the chance to launch a hit and run raid, perhaps to destroy supplies or chase off horses and mules. It was to guard against such action that the Roman army developed the habit of pitching a fortified camp every evening when on the march.

The first men to arrive at the night's campsite were the engineers who laid out the basic structure of the camp. They used poles planted in the ground to mark the line of the palisade, the position of the gates, the places for the officers’ tents, the legionary tents, the horse lines and other structures. Next came the one man from each group of eight whose task was to pitch a tent and start a cooking fire for his colleagues. The others were put to work on erecting the officers’ tents, digging latrines and, most important of all, erecting the defensive palisade. 

Each legionary carried with him a pick, shovel and two wooden stakes, the essential equipment for constructing a marching camp. Following the lines laid out by the engineers, the legionaries began by stripping off the turf and putting it to one side. They then dug a ditch and piled the earth up on the inside of the ditch until the height from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank was taller than a man could reach with upraised arms. The bottom of the ditch was carefully constructed with a  special square-headed spade. This produced a square-bottomed trench with vertical sides a few inches tall. The flat bottom was too narrow for a man’s foot to be put down flat, making it more difficult for an attacker to get a firm foothold when attempting to climb the defences.

The turf was then replaced along the sloping face of the ditch. The top of the earth bank was crowned by a continuous line of wooden stakes. The stakes had a groove half way up so that they could be lashed together to form a more secure bulwark. A flat walkway ran along the bank behind the wooden palisade. It was here that the sentries patrolled through the night and where the legionaries would mass to repel any attack.

Each gateway was closed by a wooden barricade that served as a serious obstacle in the face of attack, but which could be dragged aside to allow patrols to go out and return. Sometimes an outwork was put in front of the gateway to disrupt any frontal assault and break the momentum of a hostile force attempting to batter down the gateway.

The land in front of the defences was cleared of scrub and undergrowth for some distance so that an approaching enemy would have no cover in which to hide. It was not usual to fell large trees unless the camp was to be occupied for more than two or three nights, but in dense forest there would have been little choice other than to clear even the trees.

In open country it took about three hours to construct a marching camp, though in wooded areas it might have taken much longer. This time spent entrenching would have slowed down the legion’s rate of travel considerably. The military need for the camps must have outweighed the disadvantages of a slower advance.

Although the primary purpose of these marching camps was defensive, they had other advantages. They not only kept the enemy out of the the camp, but also kept the Roman forces inside. This stopped men wandering off to engage in freelance looting and, perhaps, having their throats slit. It also hampered attempts at desertion. Roman soldiers were highly trained and were much respected by other rulers. Several accounts of campaigning mention that kings and generals, both allied to Rome and enemies of Rome, offered generous pay to Roman soldiers who would train their own men in Roman-style fighting.

A final advantage of building the marching camps was the effect it had on enemy morale. The timber palisades and earthworks clearly demonstrated the intention and the ability of the Roman army to venture and establish itself wherever it wanted. When combined with the sight of  rank upon rank of heavily armed infantry marching in unison, the marching camps demonstrated Rome’s clear superiority in military technology over  most of her enemies. More than one ruler chose to make peace almost as soon as the legions entered his territory rather than risk a battle.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Railways in Reading, Berkshire

Although most of Berkshire fell within the territory of the mighty Great Western Railway, the southeastern corner of the county was contested between two other rail companies: The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) and the South Eastern Railway (SER).

First to arrive in the county was the SER, which opened a branch line from Guildford to Reading in 1849. Trains ran out of the SER terminus at Charing Cross direct to Reading, often stopping at numerous stations along the way. From the very start the line was busy and profitable, as it remains today, but that has not stopped much of the line from becoming as lost as so many others in Berkshire.

The rail link from Ash Junction to Reading was built by the Reading, Guildford and Reigate Railway Company, but this company had been created with the close co-operation of the SER and was taken over by the larger company in 1852. After nine years of intense competition with the GWR, which ran trains from Paddington to its own Reading station, the SER came to an arrangement. Both companies agreed to charge identical fares for passengers, and the SER won some concessions on freight traffic. The agreement, and its successors, were to last some 85 years.

The first SER station at Reading was struck by lightning in 1859 and burned to the ground. The second station was opened the following year with a single platform, with two faces, and a large engine shed. In 1896 the engine shed was removed to make way for another two-faced platform. When nationalisation came after World War 2 it was decided to rename the SER Reading station as Reading Southern to avoid confusion with the GWR Reading Station, which became Reading General. The SER goods yard, meanwhile, had expanded in 1899 and again in 1941 to cope with wartime traffic.

Soon after nationalisation a study was undertaken to see what savings could be made now that the various lines were no longer in the hands of competing private companies. The two stations at Reading, situated as they were so close to each other, were an obvious target for economies. It was the SER station that was earmarked for closure. A new platform, 4A, was built at Reading General to handle the trains that ran over the former SER lines. Reading South, as the old station now was, closed on 6 September 1965. Ten years later it was found that platform 4A could not cope with the passenger trains, so a new platform 4B was built.

The goods yard of the old SER line continued in use for some years longer than the passenger station. But freight traffic was also declining. In September 1970 most of the yard was closed down, only a siding dedicated to the huge Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit factory was kept in operation. That, too, closed in April 1979.

Today nothing is left of the old SER station at Reading. All the land has been sold off for office and commercial developments.

This is an extract from Lost Railways of Berkshire by Rupert Matthews