Thursday, 31 May 2012

Learning about RAF Bomber Command at War

I don’t recall exactly how old I was, but I was at my secondary school so I suppose I was in my teens. I was up in London with my father for some reason and we had a bit of time to spare. My father said he had something to show me, then led me down Fleet Street to a church.

That church was St Clement Danes, home church to the RAF. Father opened the doors and walked in. I trotted along beside him, glancing around at the flags, silver memorials and magnificent woodwork of the church, but father had no time for such things. He strode past them all and headed toward the pulpit. Just before reaching the pulpit he knelt down, scanning the floor. He seemed to find something. Then he beckoned me over.

“Here it is,” he whispered. “See that.” He was pointing at a small grey slate set into the floor. Only then did I look at the floor. It was a mosaic of similar slates, each carved with a motif or crest.

“Battleaxe Blenheims”, said my father. “That’s what they used to call us.” He was pointing at a slate on which was carved an axe inside a circle with the numbers 105. He stood up. “That’s my old squadron crest. 105 Squadron, the Battleaxe Blenheims”. He glanced around the church. “All those men, all those men. Thank goodness they have something to remind people of their passing.” He looked at me. “Come on, son. Let’s go. I’ll buy you lunch”.

Then he took me to a restaurant off Fleet Street and for the first time he began to tell me about his time with RAF Bomber Command at War. 

from RAF BOMBER COMMAND AT WAR by Rupert Matthews
Buy your copy HERE 


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Roman Executions

Perhaps the most unpleasant of all the events that took place in the Roman arena were the executions of the noxii, prisoners condemned to death by the magistrates. It is not just to modern sensibilities that the gruesome executions appear offensive, some Romans found them fairly repellent. For these were not straightforward public executions by beheading or hanging. Every refinement of cruelty and agony of which the Roman mind was capable was brought to bear on the noxii. And the Roman mind could be most imaginative.

Public executions were nothing unusual in the ancient world. In most societies they continued until just two centuries ago and in some countries continue today. The death penalty has been, and remains in many countries, the ultimate sanction of the state judicial system. For those crimes judged by society to be so terrible that there is no hope of redemption for the guilty person and in those places where the punishment ethic is strong, death is the only appropriate penalty. For some people certain crimes are so awful that the perpetrator must be destroyed and must be seen to be destroyed. Public execution is felt to be the ultimate sanction of society on its most anti-social elements.

For the Romans it became a public spectacle.

 by Rupert Matthews

buy your copy HERE

Saturday, 26 May 2012

NEW BOOK Lambourn Valley Railway

My good friend Charels D'Arvelle has a  new ebook our - THE LAMBOURN VALLEY RAILWAY. This book brings together all 9 of the books about individual stations on this branch line.

A charming history of one of the long closed rural branch lines on the Great Western Railway. The Lambourn Valley was one of the most quintessentially English branch lines in the days of steam.

The Lambourn Valley Railway was born as an independent little railway that ran from Newbury up Berkshire’s scenic Lambourn Valley to Lambourn. On the way it passed through 9 rural stations and ran through beautiful countryside.

In this book we learn when the line was built and why. The impact the railway had on the surrounding area is explained and the type of freight and passengers that used the station are explained. We also learn about the locomotives, rolling stock, directors, staff and equipment of the railway line.

In 1905 the LVR was taken over by the GWR and the entire branch line was upgraded and brought to GWR standards. The line remained open until 1964, but is now closed, the tracks lifted and the stations gone.

This book is a moving and thoughtful evocation of the days of steam.

The Lambourn Valley Railway is part of the Stations of the Great Western Railway collection published by Bretwalda Books

About the Author
Charles D’Arvelle is a railway enthusiast who has a particular fascination with closed branch lines. He has spent many happy hours tracing the locations of closed stations, abanoned sidings and lost railway tracks. He declares it is a great way to get out and explore the British countryside.

You can join the Facebook Page for these books HERE

You can buy the ebook HERE

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A gladiator on horseback

The equites entered the arena mounted on horses, but would dismount after a time if neither man had won. The equites were unusual in that they wore cloaks, perhaps to copy the uniforms of cavalrymen in the army.

from GLADIATORS - ACTION FILES by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Destruction of Montenegro 1916

By the end of 1915, Turkey and Bulgaria had both joined the war on the side of the Central Powers Germany and Austria. However, Germany was still faced by a war on two fronts.

The Austrians were beginning to think that they could not win the war. General Conrad von H√∂ztendorf told his government on 4 January “There is no question of destroying the Russian war machine”.

German commander in chief von Falkenhayn and the Kaiser decided to finish the war in the Balkans first by crushing the tiny mountain kingdom of Montenegro. This would allow the Austrians to concentrate on Russia.

A joint Austrian-Bulgarian offensive was organised. The attack smashed the Montenegrian army in just 9 days. On 17 January Montenegro surrendered to Austria.

From 1000 Facts on World War I by Rupert Matthews. buy your copy HERE

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Bribes in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek cities did not employ many workmen directly. When a large construction job needed doing a contractor would be hired to do the job.

In 430bc the city of Athens decided to build a new temple to their patron goddess Athene (see page 182). The city hired the architect Actinus who not only designed the building but also organised its construction.

Actinus produced a monumental temple of elegant proportions that is famous today as the Parthenon. The cost of such contracts was enormous.

There was a great temptation to offer and accept bribes. Builders were keen to gain valuable contracts and were willing to share the profits with the men whose job it was to award the contracts.

Government officials were not allowed to take bribes and punishments could be severe. However many men elected as officials were fairly poor and might be tempted. A close watch was kept on officials.

Architeles, an Athenian official, was sent a box of food by a politician. Architeles staff thought the gift was of such low value that it was not a bribe., but a purse of gold coins was hidden under the food.

The Athenian admiral Themistocles took a bribe from the government of Euobea to bring the Athenian fleet to help them during the Persian wars (see page 28). He did not tell the Euobeans that this was what he had been ordered to do anyway.

An accusation of corruption was a favourite way to try to discredit a rival politician. Such allegations were difficult to prove, but they often created a climate of suspicion.

Themistocles was put in charge of rebuilding the port of Piraeus in about 485bc. The new port was much admired, but Themistocles was accused of taking bribes and forced to leave Athens.

Judges were often accused of taking bribes to favour one side or another in a court case. Any judge found to have taken a bribe was instantly dismissed.

Priests were sometimes bribed to spoil sacrifices to make it look as if the gods disapproved of certain people or actions. One priest from Delphi who took such a bribe was exiled for life.

from "100 Facts on Ancient Greece" buy your copy HERE

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tyburn Gibbet

In 1783 the infamous Tyburn Gibbet was dismantled and executions thereafter took place at Newgate Prison. It was an exercise in humanity as the notoriously tough criminal laws of England were gradually relaxed.

Tyburn Hill took its name from a narrow stream, the Ty Burn, which ran past it to enter the Thames to the south and is close to where Marble Arch now stands. It was chosen as a place of execution in medieval times because it formed a prominent rise on the main road out of London to the west.

All manner of felons were hanged at Tyburn, except for the nobility. From time immemorial noblemen were granted the privilege of being executed by having their heads chopped off with an axe, this being a quicker and less painful death. The gibbet at Tyburn took the form of a horizontal wooden bean supported by two posts. The unfortunate to be hanged was placed on a cart under the beam, his neck tied to the beam with a stout rope and the cart driven away. Death resulted from slow strangulation, though friends and relatives were allowed to hasten death by pulling on the legs.

Such executions were, of course, public and sometimes attracted large crowds to the open fields around Tyburn. The largest crowds were attracted by highwaymen who had frequently led colourful and glamourous careers before being caught. For a celebrity victim, such as highwayman James Maclean, hanged in 1750, the day of execution was a carefully choreographed spectacle. After being allowed to receive visitors in his cell, several of whom were charged for the privilege, the criminal would be allowed to don his finest clothes for the execution. Several even ordered new suits for their final day.

Loaded on to the back of a cart, the criminal was then driven out of Newgate Prison, which stood on the site of the Old Bailey. The procession of guards and cart proceeded up Holborn and out along Oxford Street. The cart was stopped whenever it passed an inn and the criminal would be allowed a drink, to be paid for by the executioner on the return journey. When the cart reached Tyburn, the assembled crowd would fall silent for the final speech from the scaffold. Some poor men hardly said a word, but Maclean gave forth an impassioned Biblical tirade on the wickedness of men and called on all present to lead honest lives. These speeches were often copied down, printed up on cheap newsheets and sold around London that evening.

Then the execution took place.

In 1783 the decision was taken to dispense with the long journey to Tyburn, with executions being held on a scaffold outside the prison. the move was made to spare the criminal the long journey and to ensure a speedy and well organised execution. Not everyone approved, Dr Johnson for one arguing that the deterrent effect of execution was lessened if the spectacle was over too quickly.

Fortunately most people disagreed and the moves to make justice more merciful continued. Executions were first made swifter in 1788 when the trapdoor, leading to a swiftly broken neck was introduced and in 1865 public executions were ended.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Weapons of War

Arms and armour were used in battles for hundreds of years.

For thousands of years people have used arms and armour when fighting wars. Arms, or hand weapons, are used to attack other people. They are weapons that can be carried by a single person. Armour is used for defence – it is used to stop weapons from causing injury or death. At first arms and armour were very simple, but over the years they changed to become more complex and effective. Sometimes a new type of armour or weapon can have a dramatic impact. At the Battle of Lechfield in 955 the Germans crushed the much larger army of Magyars because they were wearing heavier types of armour and carried new weapons.

from 100 Things You Need to Know about Arms and Armour by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Monday, 14 May 2012

Supercarriers of the Future

The US Navy is currently planning the next generation of supercarriers, dubbed the Ford class after President Gerald Ford. These ships, of which three have been ordered for 2020, will use the basic hull shape of the Nimitz class but will contain a large amount of improved equipment including better radar, catapults and arresting gear, improved engines and a entirely redesigned island structure.

The USA is currently the only country operating supercarriers, but two other navies have similar ships on order. The British Royal Navy has ordered two supercarriers to be named Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales. Each of these ships is to displace 65,000 tons will be 920 feet long and be 128 feet in the beam. They will be capable of 25 knots and will be able to travel about 10,000 miles without refueling.

The aircraft carried by each of the British supercarriers will be 36 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighters and 4 airborne early warning radar aircraft. The Lightning was designed for use on carriers and is a versatile aircraft able to carry out bombing, dog fighting and ground attack missions. In theory each carrier could carry an additional 10 aircraft, and it is expected that these will be helicopter rather than fixed wing.

The arrival of the two carriers will solve a long-standing problem experienced by the Royal Navy. The navy’s existing carriers are a trio of 22,000-ton carriers that had been specifically built in the 1970s to provide anti-submarine patrols across the North Atlantic. In the 1982 Falklands War, however, HMS Invincible had been hurriedly converted to a more conventional carrier role. This had convinced the Royal Navy to convert all three to a multi-task role for which they had not been built. The new carriers will be the first British carriers designed for wide ranging duties since the 1950s.

The French announced in 2008 that they would be ordering a supercarrier similar to the British ships and built by the same consortium. The ship, provisionally named Richelieu, would be slightly larger than the British ships and contain some distinctively French features, such as two command islands. It is expected to carry 32 Rafaele fighters, 3 early warning aircraft and a number of helicopters. However, in 2009 the French government announced a delay to the project due to the economic crisis and the anticipated completion date of 2017 is now in doubt.

from The Historical Atlas of Weapons by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lambourn Station

My good friend Charles D'Arvelle has a new book out.

A fascinating history of one of the long vanished stations on the Great Western Railway. 

Lambourn Station is no more. There is nothing left on the ground to show that this was once the thriving terminus of an independent railway line, later taken over by the Great Western Railway. The station had a coal yard, engine shed, cattle pens, racehorse loading bays and all the necesseties of a line terminus in the days of steam. The line ran from Lambourn down the valley to the Berkshire town of Newbury. Some of the older residents can still remember the trains coming and going, shunting rolling stock and collecting freight as well as passengers.

In this book we learn when Lambourn Station was built and why. The impact the station had on the surrounding area is explained and the type of freight and passengers that used the station are explained.

The book also takes a look at the types of freight - both heavy and light - transported on the Lambourn Valley Railway (LVR).

In 1905 the LVR was taken over by the GWR and the entire branch line was upgraded and brought to GWR standards. The line remained open until 1964, but is now closed, the tracks lifted and the stations gone. How this station was affected is described.

This book is one of the Lambourn Valley Railway series that looks in detail at the stations along that now closed branch line. The Lambourn Valley Railway series is part of the Stations of the Great Western Railway collection published by Bretwalda Books

Buy your KINDLE edition HERE
Buy other ebook versions HERE

About the Author
Charles D’Arvelle is a railway enthusiast who has a particular fascination with closed branch lines. He has spent many happy hours tracing the locations of closed stations, abanoned sidings and lost railway tracks. He declares it is a great way to get out and explore the British countryside.


ISBN    ebook            978-1-907791-83-3
Price    US            $0.99
Price    UK            £0.75p

Double Attractions in Walmer, Kent

St Mary’s Church Walmer was designed by Arthur Blomfield in 1887 to take the pressure off the parish's two other churches, both of which were in origin private chapels and of a suitably small size. The entrance is a three-bay baptistery, into a tall clerestoried nave with narrow aisles either side. The main west window portrays nautical episodes of Christ's life such as the miraculous draught of fishes, preaching from the boat and calming the storm. There are other fine windows and the rood screen is a particularly impressive piece of Victorian Gothic.

After viewing the church continue along St Clare Road to a T-junction. Turn right along  Gram’s Road and so return to Jane’s. 

Jane’s is open Monday to Saturday 10 to 5 year round. It is a baker’s shop with a tea room attached so you can buy bread or cakes to take home if you wish. Kitty’s is open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4.30pm. On Sundays Kitty’s serves a magnificent roast lunch - but you will need to book in advance as it is very popular and tends to get booked up.
Teashop:            Jane’s Tea Room, 323, Dover Rd, Walmer, Deal, Kent  CT14 7NX
  Tel: 01304 365553

Monday, 7 May 2012

Things to see in Tonbridge, Kent

The town of Tonbridge is not included in this drive as a stop here would probably consume too much time for an afternoon. However, it is a charming place so you may care to make this drive a full day which would allow ample time to visit the town.

The town originated as a Roman settlement that was taken over the English when they invaded in the 5th century. This was the highest point that the shallow-draught ships of the day could reach from the sea, which probably accounts for the early prosperity of the place. As ships got larger, Tonbridge lost its seaborne trade but gained it again when the river was canalised this far in the 18th century.

Further trade came to the town because of the bridge here, for many years the first bridge upstream of that at Rochester. The bridge was guarded by an earth and timber fortification built by the English in the 9th century as a bastion against the Vikings. This was replaced by the Normans with a castle, the massive remains of which dominate the centre of the town to this day. The keep and curtain walls are mostly of Norman work, but the huge gatehouse with its massive drum towers was added in the 14th century. The castle remained intact until the 1640s when it was ‘slighted’ by Parliamentarian forces to stop it being used by Royalists.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul is likewise of Norman and medieval date, though unlike the castle it is still intact. In Victorian times the church was much enlarged and restored. Not everyone favours the Victorian work, but at least it saved the building from demolition. Also much rebuilt in Victorian times is Tonbridge School, a public school administered by the Skinners Company of the City of London. The school originated in a trust fund established by merchant Sir Andrew Judd in 1553, but most of the original buildings have not survived.

from Pub and Teashop Drives in Kent by Rupert Matthews
Buy  your copy HERE.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Hersmonceaux, part of The Castle Trail in Sussex

Start at:        The White Dog Inn
Village St, Ewhurst Green, Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5TD
Tel: 01580 830264

End at:        Riverside Cafe Bar,
1, Riverside, Cliffe Bridge, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2RE
Tel: 01273 487888

Ewhurst Green lies between the A28 and A21 south of Hawkhurst and is signposted off both main roads. The White Dog Inn stands in the village centre, just by the church.

From the White Dog, head west, then take the first right to Bodiam where you can visit Bodiam Castle.  (see blog part 1)

From Bodiam head west to High Wigsell. Cross over the B2244 along the lane to Silver Hill. At the A21 turn left through Salehurst. After about 3 miles bear right along the A2100. At Battle turn right along the A271 towards Hailsham. As you pass Boreham Street, turn left to find Herstmonceaux Castle.

This huge brick castle was begun 55 years after Bodiam. The manor of Herst had been in the Herst family, from Monceaux in Normandy from 1066 to 1320 when the male line died out and the heiress married Sir John Fiennes. It was their grandson, Sir Roger Fiennes who demolished the old fortified manor house to build this vast edifice. He was not really interested in having a fortress, but was seeking to build a comfortable home that had an exterior in the style of a traditional nobleman's home. The lack of any serious defence capability is revealed by the large size of the windows and the thinness of the walls. The great house included 12 courtyards, one for each month of the year, 52 staircases, one for each week of the year, and 365 windows, one for each day of the year.

Fiennes was, in fact, a civil servant who had risen high in the service of King Henry VI to reach the rank of Lord Treasurer. No doubt he hoped his new 'castle' would put him into the same social bracket as the noblemen from older families who lived in genuine ancestral castles. He was later given the title of Lord Dacre. A later Dacre spent his family inheritance and in the 1680s was forced to sell up. By 1777 the building was considered old fashioned and was abandoned to fall into ruins. The owner, Robert Hare, built a new home nearby as Herstmonceaux Place - using many of the bricks from the interior walls of the castle but leaving the outside walls intact to serve as a romantic ruin in his park. The castle was restored in the 1930s by the then owner, Sir Paul Latham, and now is home to the Royal Observatory. The gardens, but not the castle, are open throughout the summer.

If you have time, you may care to visit the parish church. This features magnificent 15th century Perpendicular style windows set into a 12th century church.
to be continued

from TEASHOP AND PUB DRIVES IN SUSSEX by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Work statrs on the Didcot Newbury & Southampton Railway

On 26 August 1879 Lady Carnavon performed the ceremonial turning of the first sod in the construction of the Didcot Newbury & Southampton Railway. The ceremony took place in a field next to the London Road at Didcot. It was an inauspicious start as torrential rain fell all day and everyone involved was soaked to the skin. Nevertheless work was underway. Loyd-Lindsay became Chairman of the Board and recruited as his fellow directors W.G. Mount, MP for Newbury and John Walter, the then owner of the Times newspaper. The highly experienced John Fowler was hired as Engineer while Falkiner & Tancred were engaged as the contractors for construction.

With such impressive backers, the DN&SR had little trouble raising money. A total of £300,000 was raised by selling shares and another £98,800 by the sale of a debenture stock paying 5%. Thus equipped with funds, the DN&SR began construction work. The first section to be built was the 17 miles between Didcot and Newbury, the part of the line that lay in Berkshire. Although only a single track was laid down, the roadway, bridges and other features were all built to allow for a double track as it was confidently expected that the railway would one day be so busy as to justify the improvement.

from LOST RAILWAYS OF BERKSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Wednesday, 2 May 2012