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The History Press blog

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    For my new series of historical mystery novels I chose 1903, the start of the twentieth century. Queen Victoria was no more, the Prince of Pleasure, Edward VII, was on the throne, the Boer War had ended, and industry was constantly changing ordinary lives: the telephone, the motor car, the underground railway, electricity. All these were being developed in ways that affected almost everyone. A comparison could perhaps be made with the internet, the mobile telephone and the i-Pad in our contemporary lives.

    I think if Dickens had been alive today, he would have headed the crime best seller list. He specialised in focusing on the character failings which so often are at the heart of murder and other crimes and the massive changes that fuelled the pulsating heart of the huge city that was London. But crime novels can be successfully set in small, constricted communities where flaws in relationships can fester and grow in ways that may lead to explosive situations.

    For the first in my new series I was captivated by the idea of a story set, not in tumultuous London but in the country, in a large, aristocratic household, involving both upstairs and downstairs. When I started writing, I had no idea that Downton Abbey was in the making, a TV series supplied not only with a stately home at the start of the twentieth century but also, like my story, with an American heiress! The idea of a huge stately home, with an inherited tradition that could constrict worse than a whalebone corset, immense maintenance costs, and a staff that would be enough today to run a supermarket store, I found supremely enticing. And what about the primogeniture that ensured title, estate and monies were passed to the eldest son, with a tradition of professions for the junior ones to follow? What tensions must have existed in such a family and its establishment! But I didn’t want my heroine to be the heiress who had traded her fortune for a title, instead she was to be an American girl but one who was broke but resourceful.

    The aristocratic stately home was only one tiny segment of English life at that time. As I came to the end of writing Deadly Inheritance this, I knew that in Ursula Grandison, my broke American girl, I had a heroine who could face the challenge of supporting herself with no connections or qualifications in London. A challenge that would obviously involve the position of single women at the start of the twentieth century, the legal constraints faced by married women, and the fight for equality, a fight that would include campaigning for the vote. The private investigator who had appeared in the first book would play a part; working together informally, he and my heroine would solve more murders. Now A Fatal Freedom is nearly finished and I’m enjoying looking at ideas for Ursula Grandison’s next challenge.  


    Deadly Inheritance


    Janet Laurence is the author of numerous books, including Deadly Inheritance. She was the Writer in Residence and Visiting Fellow at Jane Franklin College at the University of Tasmania in 2002 and has also run the Crime Writing Course at each of the Bristol-based CrimeFest conventions to date.

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    World War I will. Image from

    It has recently been announced that 26,000 fallen Scottish soldiers’ wishes will soon be available to read online by the National Records of Scotland. The Wills belonging to many First World War soldiers have been digitised and are to be released to the public as a way to 'mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One', according to the BBC.

    During the First World War, wills that were being processed by the military authorities were sent to the Commissary Office in Edinburgh, according to newsnetscotland. They were to be preserved in the National Records of Scotland. It is only now that these records have been made available to the public via the internet. It just proves how crucial it is to create your own will to ensure your estate is processed as per your wishes once you die. Use a trusted organisation such as Saga which will insure that your wishes are carried out exactly how you want them to be.

    It is thought that by releasing the wills online it will help to increase public knowledge of the First World War and make people more aware of the brave soldiers who fought in it. The soldiers were from across the whole of Scotland and each of them battled in World War One. In the BBC’s article it noted that within the 26,000 wills that will become available online, 2,584 of these are from the Gordon Highlanders. They will include privates Alexander Craig and John Wood from Portlethen, Aberdeenshire.

    These two men were originally a part of two fishing families however, they both joined the army in 1914. The BBC have said that John Wood served in the Gordon Highlanders 1/5th Battalion and Alexander Craig served in the 1/7th battalion. Unfortunately, both men were killed in 1916. Craig died at the age of 25 while Wood passed away at the young age of 18.

    Scottish communities are set to gather together to remember the sacrifices made during the First World War throughout 2014. By having the 26,000 wills available online, people can learn more about the soldiers. It may even help some people to learn more about their relatives who fought in the war.

    Jonathan Carter is a historian who has particular interest in British military history. He graduated from University of London with a degree in History and Politics. 

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  • 05/09/14--03:00: The Friday Digest 09/05/14
  • THP Friday digest
    This week's update features a poltergeist called Donald, the ten biggest misconceptions about the First World War and Phineas Gage, neuroscience’s most famous patient. 

     The Queen at the Cenotaph in London

    * The Royal family’s First World War commemoration events have been announced this week with all senior members of the Royal Family taking part in remembrance activities.  

    A recruitment poster for the 5th Regiment Royal Highlanders of Canada, in Montreal, 1914. (Library of Congress)

    Why is Canada botching the commemoration of the centenary of the First Word War? 

    The statue depicts a Black Watch sergeant in uniform

    A statue of a Black Watch soldier has been unveiled at Ypres in Belgium to mark the centenary of the First World War. The statue honours the 8,960 Black Watch officers and soldiers killed and more than 20,000 who were wounded.

    Bronze Lusitania medal, by Karl Goetz (1916,0707.9), obverse

    The sinking of the Lusitania: medals used as war propaganda.  


    A view of Flanders Field in Belgium - what used to be a forest. It's the result of countless artillery strikes by German and British heavy guns.

    * The ten biggest misconceptions about the First World War.  

    Foot race in London

    * Tuesday 6 May marked sixty years since British athlete Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes but eighteenth-century runners are reported to have got there first. Why are they not recognised?

    Gino Bartali is congratulated by Costante Girardengo after winning the eleventh stage of the Tour de France

    * Gino Bartali: The cyclist who saved Jews in wartime Italy.  

    271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

    * 271 years before Pantone, an artist mixed and described every colour imaginable in an 800-page book.

    Mozart manuscript expected to auction for £500k


    * A Mozart manuscript which was smuggled out of Nazi Germany by a Jewish refugee will be auctioned in London by Sotheby's on 20 May, where it is expected to fetch somewhere between £300,000 and £500,000.

    Cabinet-card portrait of Gage shown holding the tamping iron which injured him.


    * The curious case of Phineas Gage, neuroscience’s most famous patient.  

    Natural History Museum

    The Natural History Museum's Central Hall is to be renamed following a £5 million donation from philanthropists Sir Michael and Lady Hintze, the biggest single donation the museum has received in its 133-year history. 

    Composite of images from Titanic films: From right to left - A Night to Remember film poster (1958), Atlantic (1929), still from the ITV Titanic drama (2012), still from SOS Titanic (1979), still from so-called 'Nazi Titanic' (1943)


    Five Titanic myths spread by films.

    c1475, Richard III (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


    * Five places Richard III may have wanted to be buried (and none of them are Leicester)

    This Morning 020514 Poltergeists

    * 'I was haunted by a poltergeist called Donald': one of the most terrifying, incredible and mysterious hauntings in British history.  


    The curious notations at the margins of this 1504 copy of Homer's Odyssey have finally been identified.


    The curious notations in the margins of a 1504 copy of Homer's Odyssey have finally been interpreted.

    People holding mobile phones in front of the Twitter logo (27 September 2013)

    * Amazon launches shopping via Twitter using the hashtag #amazonbasketUsers will still need to go on Amazon to pay and complete the purchase but this represents a huge step forward with how social media is being used by businesses. 

    Richard Charkin's Dont's for Publishers

    * Nine 'don’ts' for publishers: the 2014 edition.

    shelfie poll 

    * How do you organise your home library? This proved to be a bit of a controversial question here in the office, but alphabetically by author seems to be the winner ...

    American actresses Jean Parker, Joan Bennett (1910 - 1990), Spring Byington (1886 - 1971), Frances Dee (1909 - 2004), and Katharine Hepburn (1907 - 2003) sew in character on set as the March women in a still from an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's book 'Little Women' directed by George Cukor, 1933. (Photo by RKO Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Images) | RKO Pictures via Getty Images


    * Thirteen essential lessons Little Women can teach you about living well.

    * The nine best made-up languages from books

    Best antiquity books of all time (clockwise from top left): Homer, The Last Days of Socrates, Pindar, The Politics by Aristotle


    * The fifteen best classics books of all time but which texts would you add to the list?  


    * Absurd Urban Dictionary definitions of famous authors.

    Will Self

    * Will Self claims the novel is dead (this time it's for real) but do you agree?

    Baldur Bjarnason

    Bridging the gap: Baldur Bjarnason explains why publishing's future is at risk.

    Ivan Goncharov


    * Ten overlooked novels: how many have you read?

    You're all me, me, me … Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in Farewell My Lovely (aka Murder, My Sweet), adapted from Chandler's novel. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

    * Why is first person narrative so popular in detective novels? 

      Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?

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    If you asked anyone in the late 1990's if a new transatlantic liner would be built, they would have most likely said no. By the late 1990's, the famed yet ageing QE2 was the most famous ship in the world, and the last of the great transatlantic liners. The jet aircraft had well and truly taken over as the main form of transport across the Atlantic and as popular as QE2 was, it was unlikely that anyone would have the will or the funds to build a new transatlantic ocean liner to replace her. 

    This situation changed dramatically in April 1998 when Cunard Line was sold to the giant and wealthy Carnival Corporation. Based in Miami, Carnival went about recreating Cunard with refits for QE2 and Caronia, as well as announcing a very exciting new project.  Code named 'Project Queen Mary' during her construction, the new ship entered service in 2004 as the worlds longest, largest, widest, tallest and most expensive ocean liner ever built. Named Queen Mary 2 (QM2 for short) by HM. The Queen, the ship became an instant hit. She completed her first direct transatlantic crossing in April 2004; and took the honour of flagship of the Cunard Line. 

    On 9 May, 2014 the ship officially celebrated her tenth birthday with a grand celebration in Southampton. Here she was met by Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth for a dramatic 'three Queens' event. The unique occasion to see the three Cunard ships together attracted thousands of onlookers.

    Over the past ten years, QM2 has become a household name. Every bit as famous as her illustrious predecessors, today she is one of the worlds most loved ships. 

    Early in her career she attracted media attention, when she was used as a hotel ship during the Athens Olympic Games. Here she played host to former president George H, W. Bush; as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair!

    The following year, the ship became the centre of attention when she was used to transport the first US. copy of 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' to New York. The book was carried aboard the ship in a steamer trunk and was kept under lock and key for the whole journey. 

    In 2007, QM2 went world cruising. This involved a number of maiden calls including an epic arrival in Sydney, Australia. Here she met QE2 in an event arranged to commemorate the original 'Queens' - which first met in Sydney during WWII. 

    No one could have expected the turn out - millions of people descended on Sydney Harbour to see the ships. The event brought the city to a standstill and to this day 'Sydneysiders' still talk about it. 

    More recently, QM2 has pioneered a number of unique itineraries including a circumnavigation of New Zealand and Australia; cruises which sold out within minutes of going on sale. Such is the popularity of QM2

    In her tenth year she is celebrated as one of the greatest ocean liners ever built. The ship, which was recently refurbished, attracts repeat guests, dignitaries, celebrities, royalty as well as first time cruisers. 

    With an expected service life of at least forty years, QM2 has a long future ahead of her. We would encourage everyone who loves ships and the sea to experience this grand liner - the 'new' last transatlantic liner in service.


    QM2: A Photographic Journey


    In QM2: A Photographic Journey, the authors, Chris Frame and Rachelle Cross, enthusiastically record the modern features and timeless elegance that makes the QM2 a true successor to the Cunard legacy. With a foreword by Commodore R.W. Warwick (QM2’s first master), insights from Commodore Bernard Warner into the running of the ship, and an afterword by Commodore Rynd, this book provides the reader with a perfect souvenir of the Cunard Line flagship.

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  • 05/10/14--03:30: Growing up in the 1940s
  • Berwick Coates

    I don't remember the 1930s much.  The 1930s to me, looking back, were summers, quiet streets, games in the garden, men wearing baggy grey trousers, green fourpenny bus tickets (which could take you for miles), Brunswick gramophone records, and picnics with cucumber sandwiches.

    I quite enjoyed most of that.  I quite enjoyed my first primary school too.  So far so good.

    I even enjoyed the outbreak of war, because they came to build some air raid shelters in the playground; that meant extending the summer holidays by another three weeks.  That was fine by me.

    Then it began to get a mite difficult.  For a start, my father joined the Army, although as a married man in his thirties – with a family – he was not obliged to.  So my mother was on her own.

    Then there was the small matter of the Blitz.  Each morning my mother sent me off to school, not knowing whether a maverick German bomber would be coming over on his way back home, anxious to jettison his bombs to make the plane lighter.  At night, for several months, we trooped down to the air raid shelter in the garden.  I don't remember being frightened, but then we were not bombed out.  Our side made much more noise than the German bombs, because the anti-aircraft guns on the local common kicked up such a racket.

    What interested me was the collection I was able to make of jagged bits of shrapnel lying in the gutters after the air raids.  My prize piece was a complete bomb cap.  I kept it all in a shoe box in my mother`s wardrobe, until she got fed up with all the rust and threw it out.

    Nevertheless, the Blitz was having an effect.  Kids started leaving my school, until, out of a class of thirty, numbers were down to ten.  It was then that my mother decided that I would have to go too.  I fetched up in North Devon.

    Ask any survivor of evacuation about arriving in his new ‘home’, and you will be told not about the things that were there, but about the things that were not there.

    What did you not have?  No Mum, no Dad, no brothers or sisters (families were often broken up).  No relations, no school friends, no neighbours.  No garden, no shed, no pets, no den, no secret places.  Nothing.   You arrived with what you carried round inside yourself.

    I was unhappy.  My mother took me away, and I went somewhere else, admittedly better.  I came home in the middle of the war.  By the time I was eight, I had been to five different primary schools.

    My salvation was the eleven plus, a place in a grammar school.  My life opened up.  I could cope with the rest of the 1940s – austerity, continued rationing, bomb damage, and my parents separating.  Thanks to grammar school (and an exceptional mother), I was on my way.

    Starkeye & Co

    Berwick Coates is the author of Starkeye & Co and attended Kingston Grammar School and read History at Cambridge. Since then he has been an army officer, author, artist, lecturer, careers adviser, games coach, and teacher of History, English, Latin and Swahili.  He has also published two historical novels (The Last Conquest and The Last Viking, both with Simon and Schuster), and nine other works of non-fiction.

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    Linda Stratmann

    Crimefest in Bristol has everything a good crimewriting festival should have, great guests, a choice of panels with something to suit everyone, enthusiastic delegates, wonderful hotel and a friendly atmosphere.

    Appearing on a writers’ panel can sound daunting.  I recall my first ever panel when I was very nervous, aware that I had just a short while in which the best I could hope for was not to say something embarrassing. It is often very hard to talk about how one writes, to try and explain a process that happens subconsciously. Did I decide to write in a particular style or is that just what flows out? Do I plan what kind of material I will or will not include in my stories or do my choices just feel appropriate?  It all went by very rapidly, helped by other very knowledgeable panelists and a skilled moderator.  Later I wondered - did I over-prepare - make detailed lists of possible replies to questions, which I then forgot to look at?  Probably!

    Nowadays I know that Crimefest panels are relaxed and fun. In 2014 I will be taking part in ‘It’s Not All Downton Abbey’ at 10.10am on Friday 16 May, about writing historical crime fiction.

    The two big questions about historical writing are: how do writers research and is there a place for modern perspectives and sensibilities in our novels?   I love research – finding out interesting facts about a subject that fascinates me is a real pleasure, and I will talk about the sources I use, and how my beginnings as a true crime writer have influenced my fiction.

    The second question has made me think about my characters and how truly Victorian they are. Does the fact that a character holds an opinion we find unpalatable nowadays make him or her a bad person or just a person of their time?  What does the reader feel about such a character? I hope to find out!

    Victorians had no concept of expressions being pc or non-pc, and some of their blunt descriptions would be thought offensive today when they were not believed to be so at the time. How should writers of historical fiction deal with this issue?  My feeling is that as far as possible my characters should be Victorians and not modern people in costume, and the language I use should reflect this. In context, it should not cause offence.

    In thinking about the panel I have realised that there is one modern perspective I do bring to my books, and that is the exploration of the inner life of my characters who are often conflicted by the demands of a society that dictated how they should behave, think and feel.

    This year I am especially thrilled to be awarded a place in the spotlight, at 12.30 on Friday, when I will be given the opportunity to talk about the location of my murder mysteries and how I have made 1880s Bayswater into a Victorian Midsomer, a place where anything and everything can happen.

     Check back here after CrimeFest for an upadte from Linda on how everything went and videos of Linda's spotlight segment. 


    An Appetite for Murder by Linda Stratmann


    The latest addition to Linda's Frances Doughty series, An Appetite for Murder, is available now from The Mystery Press!

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    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The History Press. 


    52nd Division Christmas card. Image courtesy of Scotland at War


    The British Council has just announced the results of a poll as part of their report Remember the World as well as the War. Not surprisingly, the findings showed that fewer than half of UK residents knew, despite the clue in the word 'world', that the First World War was fought in other theatres away from the Western Front. I say not surprisingly, because in Scotland the executive agency of the Scottish Government – Education Scotland - whose remit is the provision of support and resources for learning and teaching, has decided that their webpages dedicated to the impact of the Great War to Scotland focuses only on Scotland’s contribution to the Western Front and the home front.

    An example of the content is a PowerPoint file listing the Scottish Divisions of the First World War. A welcome addition to any educational website you would hope. The problem with this file is that it only lists three out of the four front-line Scottish Divisions which fought in the First World War – the 9th (Scottish), 15th (Scottish) and 51st (Highland) Divisions. There is no mention of the 52nd (Lowland) Division! No mention of the thousands of Territorial soldiers from south of the Forth and Clyde serving in the Royal Scots, Royal Scots Fusiliers, King's Own Scottish Borderers, Scottish Rifles, Highland Light Infantry and the kilted men of Renfrewshire serving in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

    The Education Scotland web pages specifically look at three battles which involved the 9th, 15th and 51st Divisions but did not include the 52nd Division. The fact that the Lowlanders spent most of the war in the Middle-East and not the Western Front should not excuse their absence for a document which purports to be a list of 'The Scottish Divisions of the First World War'.

    Scotland’s bloodiest battle of the First World War was Loos. The eager young Scots who rushed to the colours in the autumn of 1914 to join the New Army 9th and 15th Divisions were cut down in their thousands on 25 September 1915. What the Education Scotland website doesn’t mention is that since June 1915 the first units of the 52nd (Lowland) Division had been in Gallipoli. On 12 July 1915 the two Territorial battalions of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which recruited throughout the border counties of Scotland, suffered horrendous casualties. When Education Scotland describes how the whole of Scotland suffered after Loos, it neglects to mention the Border counties (particularly those which now make up the Scottish Borders Council area) had already been through that grief two months before, after the attack on Achi Baba Nullah had cost the two KOSB Territorial battalions nearly 400 dead.

    The 52nd Division doesn’t deserve to be left out of Education Scotland’s web content. Gallipoli should not be left to the Antipodeans to remember; there were thousands of Scots there too, in the Lowland Division and in the Lowland and Highland Mounted Brigades.   

    After Gallipoli the 52nd (Lowland) Division moved to Egypt and served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force; defending the Suez Canal and then advancing into Palestine. In December 1917 three brigades of the Division did such a good job of capturing Turkish positions around Jaffa that they were commemorated by stone memorials at the locations where they each crossed the River Auja.

    By the spring of 1918 the Lowlanders had been in the Middle East for three years but their presence was required on the Western Front for the final battles of the First World War. Here then is the opportunity for Education Scotland to include the 52nd Division in their PowerPoint – the Lowland Division was moved to France, fighting along with the three other Scottish Divisions. Unfortunately this opportunity has been ignored by Education Scotland. After Loos, Somme and Arras, where the Scottish divisions on the Western Front suffered heavy casualties for little gain, there is no place for the victories of 1918 in the List of Key Battles. The year 1918 does get a brief mention on page 6 in another Education Scotland download but once again it focuses on early battles where Scottish divisions took heavy casualties. The victories of the British Army in the final 100 days, which the Lowland Division, and the three other Scottish Divisions all took part in, doesn’t fit with the idea of the Scottish soldier as victim and not victor; so the 52nd are still ignored.

    The First World War is a mammoth topic to cover in just a few web pages, so some content will have to be left out; but the omission of the 52nd (Lowland) Division from the Education Scotland website is a disgraceful slight by a government department on the South of Scotland. The latest poll shows the general public currently have a blinkered view of the First World War  focused on France and Flanders, so it is vitally important that those tasked with educating Scotland’s youth about their history do not ignore those who didn’t go over the top to their deaths at Loos, Somme or Arras.


    By @ScotlandsGW100  a Twitter account set up to monitor and publicise the First World War Centenary Commemoration activities in Scotland. It is not affiliated to any organisation and is not a  supporter of the Scottish Government’s laissez-faire attitude to the centenary. 

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  • 05/15/14--03:00: Janet Laurence at Crimefest
  • Janet Laurence


    It’s now just under a week to go to Crimefest. This is always a highspot in my calendar. Four days of catching up with old crime writing friends and making new ones, with all the delicious agony of deciding which panels to attend – always the ones you really want to go to are on at the same time.

    And then I’m conducting one-to-one assessments of the first three thousand words of an unpublished crime novel plus synopsis from some of the hopeful new crime novelists who have signed up for the Crime Writing Day. I’m in the middle of reading their submissions and making the assessments. I need also to catch up with the four authors on the CrimeFest panel I’m moderating: The Unprofessionals: When Your Character Isn’t Qualified to Solve Crimes. This is a subject I’m well acquainted with since I am now into a third crime series using an unprofessional sleuth. It should be a no holds barred panel with Frances Brody, Nev Fountain, Kate Griffin and David Thorne. They all sound delightful writers.

    So it will be a busy four days. However, for a time it looked as though I wasn’t going to get there.  Three weeks ago I was about to embark on the denouement of my current novel, A Fatal Freedom, for The Mystery Press, featuring American Ursula Grandison involved in Edwardian London. Then disaster struck. A careless step in my kitchen left me on the floor in agony with a fractured hip. Three hours later I was in Yeovil General Hospital being given a new one. I got a friend to bring in my laptop and hoped to work after I came round from the anaesthetic. Not a chance, mind fogged, ceaseless round of exercises, incidents. Back home after a week or so, same thing.

    However,  I can now manage well enough to be driven up to Bristol and CrimeFest. My great friend, fellow writer Susan Moody (do catch her crime novels for Severn House) is coming over from France and we shall have a great time.

    CrimeFest is a writer’s paradise. Run with low key but great efficiency by Myles Allfrey, Donna Moore and Adrian Muller, and taking place in the stylish and comfortable Marriott Hotel, the atmosphere is wonderfully welcoming. There will be just under 150 writers and some 200 fans, publishers, agents, and so on. Everyone mixes happily. For new crime writers, and those hoping to become crime writers, CrimeFest is a must. It offers exposure, discussion, contacts, and a veritable cornucopia of wise words from established writers. I remember last year sitting entranced while Robert Goddard spoke about how he writes his amazingly twisty and involving best sellers. And to Lee Child talking about Jack Reacher.

    This year there is a crime writing day with M R Hall and William Ryan providing a workshop on Constructing Character and Plot, preceded by a session on How to Self Publish in ebook and print; and one on Agents and Editors with top literary agencies DHH and Darley Anderson and publishers Quercus and Headline.

    Personally I’m very much looking forward to catching up with some old friends such as Simon Brett, this year’s Diamond Dagger recipient; Ruth Dudley Edwards, an historian and biographer who also writes a scintillating series of crime novels ripping off the establishment; and Andrew Taylor, who produces  compelling historical crime.

    My other task at CrimeFest will be to announce the CWA International Dagger Short List on Friday evening. I’m the Chairman of the Judging Panel and this year some sixty books translated from fourteen different languages have been submitted for the award. They have made interesting reading.

    It will be a fun-packed four days and I’m so delighted a fractured hip is not making me miss it.  And then it will be back home to finish A Fatal Freedom.

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  • 05/16/14--03:00: The Friday Digest 16/05/14
  • THP Friday digest
    This week's update features pets trained for the trenches, England's fight for democracy and a forty-year-old mystery. 

    British troops cross the Somme during WW1 in late 1916


    * The Imperial War Museum's 'Lives of the First World War' digital memorial has gone live. The memorial remembers the millions of people from Britain and the Commonwealth who served in the First World War and 4.5 million British army members are already included in the project.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Richardson trained pets for the front line at the British War Dogs School

    * Pets trained for the trenches and children raising funds: how the home front helped to win the First World War

    Gerald Granston (right) on the deck of the St Louis

    * On 13 May 1939, more than 900 Jews fled Germany aboard a luxury cruise liner, the SS St Louis. They had hoped to reach Cuba and then travel to the US — but were turned away in Havana and forced to return to Europe.

    Members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in their barracks (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

    * Why did ordinary people commit atrocities in the Holocaust? 

    Winston Churchill showing off gives his famous v-sign as he opens new RAAF headquarters in Croydon[GETTY]

    * During the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill feared the opening of a new front in the Falklands and sent about 1,000 soldiers to protect the islands and ensure Britain would not have to retake them.



    * Pompeii, Hollywood's newest historical blockbuster, has been mocked for its credibility and accuracy. But despite the liberties it takes with the plot, it turns out that the veggie supper is accurate.


    A replica of the Santa Maria, the flagship of the Italian explorer's 1492 expedition (c) Alamy


    * A US underwater investigator has said he believes he has found the wreck of the Santa Maria, the flagship of Christopher Columbus's first voyage.

    The Battle of Lewes was fought on 14 May 1264 and pitted the King against Simon de Montfort (c) Lewes Town Council

    * Was the Battle of Lewes England's first fight for democracy?

    The Reykjavik Confessions

    * Six suspects, two murders and a forty-year-old mystery: the Reykjavik Confessions.

    Damage caused at Guineys on Talbot Street which seemed to be the centre of the blast.  (Irish Photo Archive)

    * The Dublin-Monaghan bombings: survivors share their story forty years on

    Palace of Versailles - France and its gardens

    * Unique perspectives of European cities and towns.  I could spend all day on something like this, it is fascinating to get a bird's-eye view of places like the Palace of Versailles.


    Caroline Sanderson discuss all things Jane Austen with Wendy Jones on 'Interesting Conversations' below. - See more at:

    * Caroline Sanderson discuss all things Jane Austen with Wendy Jones on 'Interesting Conversations'



    Tear bottle


    *  A fascinating podcast on the historical use of 'tear bottles' in the mourning rituals of Romans, Greeks and Victorians.

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.


    * James Dever, Military Technical Advisor for the Godzilla movie, explains how to take down Godzilla in real life.  

    Credit: Symphony999 via Wikimedia Commons


     * Virginity, chastity and purity: defining women past and present

    Captain Eric Brown meeting guests


    * Former Royal Navy Captain Eric Brown, the last surviving pilot to have flown the first Allied jet, opened Gloucestershire's Jet Age Museum.



    * Proofreaders – the good, the bad and the criminal ... 


    From Goodreads to Jellybooks, what are your favourite book-recommendation platforms?

    Book shelf. Image from


    * Gabrielle Zevin asks why we lie about our favourite books.  


    Linda Stratmann and Janet Laurence share their preparations for Crimefest


    * Linda Stratmann and Janet Laurence share their preparations for Crimefest.

    Slow squeeze? … workers organise packages for shipment inside's distribution warehouse in Fernley, Nevada. Photograph: Macduff Everton/Corbis

    * Publisher Hachette has accused of deliberately delaying sending its books with the news causing quite the outcry.

    Outspoken MP Margaret Hodge has said customers should not use Amazon after it emerged that the company paid £4.2 million in tax last year, even though it sold goods worth more than £4.3 billion.

    * Ebooks may be the future but can we ever change the DNA of a reader?

      Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?

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    Scottish Independence: Yes or No


    Alan Cochrane and George Kerevan will be at Waterstones Sauchiehall St, Glasgow on Thursday 5th June from 6-7:30pm  having a debate and signing copies of their new book, Scottish Independence: Yes or No

    In September 2014, a referendum will be held in Scotland to decide whether or not Scotland should become independent and cease to be part of the United Kingdom. In this book, two of the nation’s leading political commentators will address both sides of this historic debate. George Kerevan will put forward the case for voting Yes, and Alan Cochrane will make the case for voting No. In this volume, the first title in this Great Debate series, the authors will present the distinctive arguments for both sides, fully preparing you to make up your own mind on a decision that will shape the future of Scotland and of Great Britain. 

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    Giffords Circus


    Giffords Circus will be at Jaffe and Neal Bookshop & Café on Friday 6th June from 11am-12pm, signing copies their new book, Giffords Circus: the First Ten Years

    Each summer a small and glamorous part of the 1930s comes back to life, recreating magic from an era long past. Evoking a tradition common in the English countryside before the arrival of radio, cinema and television, since 2000 Giffords Circus has delighted fans from far and wide with good old-fashioned entertainment, complete with acrobats, jugglers, horses, magic, puppeteers, dancers and comedy. Lavishly illustrated with a wealth of stunning colour photographs, Giffords Circus goes behind the scenes at the not-so-big top, to show how the magic and mystery are created. 

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    Giffords Circus


    Giffords Circus will be at Woodstock Bookshop on Tuesday 3rd June from 11am, signing copies their new book, Giffords Circus: the First Ten Years

    Each summer a small and glamorous part of the 1930s comes back to life, recreating magic from an era long past. Evoking a tradition common in the English countryside before the arrival of radio, cinema and television, since 2000 Giffords Circus has delighted fans from far and wide with good old-fashioned entertainment, complete with acrobats, jugglers, horses, magic, puppeteers, dancers and comedy. Lavishly illustrated with a wealth of stunning colour photographs, Giffords Circus goes behind the scenes at the not-so-big top, to show how the magic and mystery are created. 

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    Giffords Circus


    Giffords Circus will be at Waterstones, Cheltenham on Friday 30th May from 11am-2pm. As well as the circus they will be signing copies their new book, Giffords Circus: the First Ten Years

    Each summer a small and glamorous part of the 1930s comes back to life, recreating magic from an era long past. Evoking a tradition common in the English countryside before the arrival of radio, cinema and television, since 2000 Giffords Circus has delighted fans from far and wide with good old-fashioned entertainment, complete with acrobats, jugglers, horses, magic, puppeteers, dancers and comedy. Lavishly illustrated with a wealth of stunning colour photographs, Giffords Circus goes behind the scenes at the not-so-big top, to show how the magic and mystery are created. 

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    D-Day Hero


    Mike Morgan will be at  at Guisborough Bookshop on Saturday 31st May from 11am-1pm signing copies of his book, D-Day Hero: CSM Stanley Hollis VC

    D-Day’s only Victoria Cross winner, Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis, was, uniquely, twice recommended for this coveted award on 6 June 1944. A tough Teesside, working-class rebel, Hollis was no model soldier; earlier in the war he was forever being ‘busted’ for various misdemeanours. However, few soldiers saw more close-quarter action than Stanley Hollis, who killed over 100 enemy soldiers in combat during the Second World War, serving at Dunkirk, in the Western Desert and in Sicily. It was on D-Day that Hollis created history with his inimitable brand of raw courage, being involved in two blistering VC actions. On Gold Beach he single-handedly stormed a hidden German pillbox, saving his company from certain death. Later that day, he saved the lives of two more comrades, trapped by heavy enemy gunfire. He was undoubtedly a D-Day hero. 

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    Bloody British History Norwich


    Mark Mower will be at at Jarrold’s, Norwich on Tuesday 3rd June in the evening, giving a talk about his new book, Bloody British History Norwich.

    This book contains the amazing and dramatic history of Norwich. Beginning with the all-out Viking assault on the city and roaring through to the falling bombs of the Blitz, hundreds of years of incredible history are crammed into this volume. You’ll never look at the city in the same way again!

    • DANISH DEATH! Vikings sack and burn the city.
    • MEDIEVAL MURDER MYSTERIES! The dead body of a young boy was found on a heath – but was it a case of ritual child murder?
    • DREADFUL DISEASES! Revealing the terrible time when ONE THIRD of Norwich’s residents caught the Black Death!
    • VICTORIAN HORRORS! in1851, Body parts began to appear across the city – but who had left them, and why?

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    Our Land at War


    Nick Bosanquet will be at Waterstones, Trafalgar Square on Monday 9th June from 7-9pm celebrating the launch of his new book, Our Land at War: Britain's Key First World War Sites

    The First World War was a human catastrophe but it also saw a dynamic development of new weapons and a new kind of war; between the lions and the donkeys came the managers – and the workers - who transformed a nation into a war machine in forty-eight months. Our Land at War takes you on a journey to the key places that witnessed this war effort and those at all levels of society who brought about the change. The war created a new world of vast hutted camps and a new kind of transport system that even involved a lighted barrage across the Channel. From Aldershot – the home of the British Army - to the War Office in Whitehall, from Scapa Flow to Yarmouth, this is Britain’s war mapped for the first time. Nick Bosanquet uncovers where this national revolution took place, exploring Britain's Great War heritage and helping you to locate the hidden history of war at the end of your street. 

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    Haunted North Cornwall


    Michael Williams will be at Waterstones, Truro on Saturday 14th June from 11am-12pm signing copies of his book, Haunted North Cornwall

    Steeped in legend and mystery, the dramatic coastline of North Cornwall is riddled with stories of hauntings throughout history. The eerie wilds of Bodmin Moor, the haunted historic castles and of course the spirited, rugged coastline all have terrifying tales to tell. Michael Williams has been at the heart of some incredible investigations, and shares here some of the most chilling accounts of hauntings. Including previously unpublished accounts of ghostly activity, this is a treasure trove of original material and re-examined cases. It unravels stories which will send a shiver down the spine of anyone interested in the rarely advertised scary side of North Cornwall. 

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    The summer sun arrived just in time for Crimefest. As my taxi drew up outside the Bristol Marriott Hotel, all over College Green people were enjoying the warm weather, lounging on the grass eating lunch. I could tell it was going to be a great weekend and it was.


    I wasn't even wearing my name badge when a lady came up to me and said ‘You're Linda Stratmann aren't you? I love your books!’  That was such a wonderful thing to be greeted with! Soon afterwards I bumped into Lizzie Hayes and learned that the photo of my latest book launch is to be on the cover of the next issue of Mystery People.


    Crimefest is about so many things; catching up with friends, meeting new people, gathering useful information, all the great guests and panels, the fun social events, and the wonderful atmosphere that is always generated by so many creative people in the same place at the same time. While I was there a book plot that had been lurking unformed in my mind suddenly blossomed and came together in spectacular fashion. Above all Crimefest is a friendly festival, where writers and readers meet and have a good time.

     Linda Stratmann with Maureen Jennings and Thomas Craig, who plays Inspector Brackenreid in the Murdoch Mysteries

    I was involved in two events, a panel on historical crime writing and a solo spotlight session, which I entitled Victorian Midsomer, Inventing a Community. In this I was talking about how the idea of Victorian Bayswater as a kind of Midsomer, a place where everything happens, occurred to me and how I have created a thriving community with its own characters, societies and organisations which interact to produce a rich background for my plots.  At the end of the talk, one of the audience revealed that he was Douglas Watkinson one of the originators of Midsomer Murders, which caused me a moment of alarm until he reassured me that I had understood the concept of the show.


    The panel, Not All Downton – the British Perspective - was moderated with great skill by Patrick Easter and the other panellists were Imogen Robertson, Andrew Martin and Dolores Gordon-Smith. One of the really fun things about doing this panel was that we knew each other and so there was a lot of friendly interaction. All of us enjoy taking that time machine into the past and making it live for the reader. What came across was that we all enjoy writing about our chosen periods and there is real pleasure in the search for fascinating facts. It’s easy of course to be distracted in the process of research and travel down an unintended avenue, but sometimes as Imogen said that can lead to unexpected gems one would never otherwise have found, and in my case I often make a note of discoveries which many years later I get the chance to revisit and explore.


    My other highlights in a weekend of highlights – listening to Simon Brett’s hugely witty pastiches; meeting Maureen Jennings who writes the Murdoch Mysteries and Thomas Craig who plays Inspector Brackenreid, my team coming second in the pub quiz, meeting Rachel the publicist from the History Press and generating lots of ideas, and sampling Icelandic schnapps.


    Here’s to next year!

     An Appetite for Murder by Linda Stratmann

     Linda's crime fiction series featuring Victorian sleuth, Frances Doughty is available from The History Press, the latest enstalement, An Appetite for Murder is out now!

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    It sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale – the story of a poor cabinet-maker’s young daughter who  discovered an important and massive fossil at Lyme Regis, Dorset. Mary Anning (1799–1847) unearthed the first complete fossilised skeleton of a ‘fish lizard’ or Ichthyosaurus, when she was about 12 years old. However, Mary’s life was no fairy tale, but a struggle against near-impossible odds, although the mystery surrounding some of her life does imbue her story with a certain mythical quality.


    Mary Anning fossiling on the foreshore in the 1830s, an affectionate watercolour by her old friend Henry De La Beche, who enjoyed caricaturing those he knew. (Reproduced with permission of Roderick Gordon and Diana Harman)


    In Lyme Regis Mary’s future path was set when she was still a girl, and she followed it throughout her life, finding a sequence of some of the earliest palaeontological specimens in the world. For Lyme is situated on an exceptionally fossiliferous coastline, where fossils – the remains or traces of animals and plants preserved by natural processes – were, and still are, to be found in abundance, and often of enormous size. But at that time few people knew what these strange bones and objects were or how they had come to be there. In her twenties Mary discovered the first complete British Plesiosaurus giganteus (1823/4), which became the type specimen (that is, it set the definitions for its category for future reference in identifying further finds). She then found the first British example of the strange winged pterosaur, named Pteradactylus macronyx (1828) (renamed Dimorphodon macronyx), and then the new species Plesiosaurus macrocephalus (1828). That was followed by a strange new genus of fossil fish, Squaloraja (1829), another type specimen. There was much more. She was among the first to realise that the small fossils named coprolites found in abundance on the foreshore were actually the fossilised faeces of prehistoric ‘monsters’.

    The huge marine ‘lizards’ were contemporary with dinosaurs, although some of this story happened before dinosaurs were found, identified as such and so named. Those professionals who study fossil animals and plants, the palaeontologists, have documented the finds, and it is for such scholars to analyse and explain the specimens in detail. While I am drawn to the diversity and beauty of the geological features of our planet, my interest in Mary Anning is as a woman: an exceptional woman, trapped in the stratified society of the first half of the nineteenth century.

    Her achievements were remarkable by any standards, but especially so because she was born and bred in lowly circumstances from which there was little chance of escape. Mary was lower class, female, uneducated, unmarried and a dissenter – one who did not belong to the established Church of England. Lyme Regis was a remote place, its inhabitants socially hampered by the barrier of a strong Dorset accent. This impoverished spinster had to earn her own living, and it was to be in an unusual – and dangerous – way: by finding, excavating and then selling fossils both to casual seaside visitors and to important collectors and museums in Britain and Europe. Any one of her ‘handicaps’ could have been enough to scupper her chances; however, even though she was not properly recognised – as a socially well-placed man would have been – she did succeed to a large degree.

    In spite of every disadvantage, Mary’s curiosity, intelligence and industry shone through to such an extent that her story is inexorably welded to the history of fossils found around Lyme Regis, mainly, although not exclusively, of the Jurassic Period, 200 to 145 million years ago. Researching her discoveries was vital to my understanding of Mary; learning something of her subject and giving rein to my interest helped me to appreciate what fired her enthusiasm and determination. I hope the information gathered here to tell her story will similarly inspire the reader to look further, in acknowledgement of her great accomplishments.

    Mary Anning was generous in sharing her hands-on knowledge gained from everyday experience on the foreshore with the eminent gentlemen scholars who came to visit her. Inevitably, they were not always so generous in giving her the credit she deserved, and she became somewhat bitter as they took freely of her work, discoveries and ideas and presented them as their own, seemingly without a second thought, while she continued to live a hard life all her days.

    The flying reptile Dimorphodon macronyx; it frightened and mesmerised all who saw it. With this important, still rare, discovery, Mary’s fame spread far and wide. (Originalpainting by John

    As a child, my box of treasures already contained a Native American Indian arrowhead I had picked up in a freshly ploughed field, a small chip of ‘1,000-year-old’ Pueblo pottery purchased at a museum with funds from my piggy-bank, and the minute nest of a humming-bird. To add to my collection of oddities, on the foreshore of Lake Ontario I found a stone with what looked like a shell in it. I now know it to be an impression of a common Pecten shell. I showed the fossil to my father, who was building a stone fireplace. The 6-year-old girl was thrilled when he promptly put it in pride of place above the keystone, where it has remained ever since.

    What draws us to fossils? Perhaps it is the jewel-like quality of, say, an ammonite, or perhaps the intriguing orderliness and stark exposition of the skeletal organisation of animals, huge or tiny. Even a child senses that fossils, with the intricate beauty of nature’s symmetry, are gifts from another world. And who can resist a science that casts up evocative words like ‘coeval’, ‘antediluvian’, ‘primeval’ and ‘primordial’? Or a science that reveals the previously unknown, spectacularly enormous, terrifying and once-living creatures, some the stuff of nightmares?

    Mary Anning can be listed among those extraordinary Englishwomen who have defied the constraints of their time and place – women like writer Freya Stark (1893– 1993), a Victorian who travelled adventurously by camel in Arabia, or naturalist Marianne North (1830–90), who fearlessly explored the wilderness areas of every continent in the late nineteenth century, painting hundreds of native flora. Mary was unique, but she was also an example of the indomitable amateur who gets on and makes things happen, a type of person still occasionally encountered. In Mary Anning’s case, the ‘amateur’ soon became the consummate professional. 

    Jurassic Mary


    Patricia Pierce is the author of Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters which brings to life the extraordinary, little-known story of this determined and pioneering woman. 

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    The locomotive that is the most significant ‘symbol’ of the Earl of Dudley’s railway system is Agenoria – built by Foster Rastrick in Stourbridge for the opening of the first stretch of railway in 1829. Now to be found at the York Railway Museum. (Ned Williams)

    In the nineteenth century a sprawling railway network was built for the Earl of Dudley to link his collieries with the canal system and his own iron-works at Brierley Hill in the southern part of Staffordshire – an area which has become known as The Black Country. The railway is usually known as 'The Earl of Dudley’s Railway' or sometimes, to cause confusion, it is called the Pensnett Railway.

    The existence of this railway may lead you to imagine an ermine-robed member of the aristocracy busily playing with his 'toy train-set', neatly laid out on the lawns of his estate, but really it’s not quite like that.

    Just prior to the birth of the Industrial Revolution Britain was undergoing great changes in many areas of life. As important as the Industrial Revolution was, the great re-distribution of land in the eighteenth century engineered by the Enclosure Acts was equally significant. The acts relating to the parts of South Staffordshire that are relevant to this story not only awarded a great deal of land to the Ward family – the Earls of Dudley – but they also gave him all sorts of rights, particularly mineral rights and rights in matters of transport and infrastructure. Some members of the land-owning aristocracy took little interest in such things, but the Ward family embraced the Industrial Revolution and used the rights acquired through the Enclosure Acts to become entrepreneurial in this new world of steam, coal and iron, of turnpike roads, canals and railways.

    Of course, the important thing is that they did not do all this with their own hands – it was undertaken on their behalf by 'agents'. The enterprises might carry his Lordship’s name but the real vision, zeal and interest in the 'new technology' of the day had to come from his Lordships’ subordinates.

    In the case of the Earl of Dudley’s Railway it is rather frustrating to think that his Lordship probably had little to do with it. This is a pity as it was quite a pioneering achievement when the first stretch of line was opened in 1829. The locomotive, Agenoria, hauled coal trucks full of 'passengers' from Pensnett to a canal basin a few miles away in a well-attended carnival-like event. Surely the Earl of Dudley should have broken a bottle of champagne over the engine’s lofty chimney but his is conspicuous by his absence in the reports of the event. He didn’t even own the engine! (The engine still exists today and can be found in the National Railway Museum in York.)

    Another problem is that the 'Earl of Dudley' is not one person. During the life of the railway, from 1829 to the 1980s, there were several men who took the title. Even the title has a complicated history in which the Earldom ceases and is later re-created! After the Second World War, the coal and iron industries were nationalised and thus the Earl of Dudley no longer owned such enterprises.

    Despite all this remoteness from the ownership of his railway, the network did have a unique existence as a result of belonging to the Earls of Dudley. It was a 'private' railway in every sense. It was not built as result of the normal legislation that governed the authorisation, construction of operation of Britain’s public railway system. It could be argued that the railway existed without any legal status at all – so perhaps it was to be likened to someone’s “train set” laid out within the boundaries (more or less) of one’s own estates. Perhaps today such a line could not exist!

    The Earl of Dudley’s Railway did cross public roads, occasionally traversed other peoples’ property, and did have physical connections – 'junctions' – with the growing nineteenth century 'public' railway system, but it did so seemingly only on the whim of his Lordship, or the wheeling and dealing of his agent. What a pity that we have no record of the Earl himself donning over-alls and playing trains by leaping onto the footplate of one of the line’s many engines and puffing off to inspect his canals or ironworks!

    However this forty mile long railway network did come close to seeming like being part of the Earl’s personal property in two ways. Firstly in the names of the engines, and secondly in the way the railway became a passenger carrying railway once a year from 1928 until 1938 to convey empoyees at the Round Oak Steel Works, known to everyone as 'The Earl’s', to the annual fetes held in the grounds of Himley Hall.

    The locomotives on the Earl of Dudley’s Railway generally carried names of members of the Ward family. Sometimes simply, Winston, Jeremy or Billy, or sometimes something more titular like Lady Patricia or Lady Morvyth. Did the engines and their namesakes ever come face to face? What we do know is that when the engines were scrapped in the 1960s no one suggested giving the nameplates to relevant members of the family! Other locomotives carried the names of royalty. 

    As made clear above, the fact that the railway ran along the side of the Earl of Dudley’s’ estate at Himley Hall was possibly an annoying reminder to his Lordship of the proximity of his industrial enterprises, but for ten years it enjoyed the privilege of bringing his workforce to the estate to enjoy the annual fete, held in August. The railway had to borrow coaches form the Great Western Railway to provide such a service, and the passengers were not really provided with proper stations where they could board of leave the trains. Over bridges on the system provided very little clearance for passage of trains and it must have been a great fear that a fete-going passenger might be de-capitated even though temporary bars were bolted across the windows.

    People who later provided reminiscences of these trains on the Earl of Dudley’s Railway often describe how close they came to encounters with the members of the Ward family at these pre-war fetes but never once do they mention a member of the Earl’s family actually travelling with them on his railway.

    How strange that the Earls of Dudley owned a life-size railway – something that many would envy – but never enjoyed 'playing trains'.

    Ned Williams, Brunel and the Earl of Dudley's Railway book 

    Ned Williams is the author of The Earl of Dudley’s Railway, available now. The Earl of Dudley’s Railway, also known as The Pensnett Railway, was nearly 40 miles of track stretching in all directions from The Earl’s Iron Works (later a steel works) at Round Oak, just outside Brierley Hill. This book invites you to explore the railway, its locomotives and rolling stock and a little about the men who worked on the line. 

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