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Books on Worcestershire & the Black Country


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by Richard Hayman

Paperback, 272 pages, 242 x 171 mm
Over 120 colour & 20 black & white illustrations
ISBN 978-1-906663-66-7  £15.00

The Severn is one of Britain’s great rivers. It has remained a powerful force of nature despite all our efforts to domesticate it and it demands public resources and millions of pounds worth of flood defences to contain.

The Severn has also been a prominent factor in the nation’s history and has a rich heritage that remains under-appreciated. It was on an island in the Severn in 1016 that Cnut and Edmund settled their competing claims to the throne of England, and it was at the Severn that the English formally recognised Llywelyn ap Gruffudd as the Prince of Wales. From the Iron Age to the Second World War, regimes have built fortresses and other defences to ensure their control over the Severn and, throughout the Civil Wars, Royalists and Parliamentarians fought bitterly for possession of it. Other rivers have tidal bores, but none as remarkable as that of the Severn, from which bore-surfing has grown into a global sport.

This book explores the many ways in which the river has become part of our culture, including eating its fish, navigating it, mythologizing it and drowning in it. It is about when and why the river mattered, and why it still matters.

Chronicles of the Worcestershire Home Guard                     

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                                                                                                                by Mick Wilks

Paperback, 368 pages, over 140 black and white photographs, maps and drawings
ISBN 1 978 906663 87 2    £12.95

This book chronicles the story of the Home Guard (initially the Local Defence Volunteers) in Worcestershire from its formation in May 1940 to its disbandment in December 1945, as well as its re-creation in the 1950s. It tells of the gradual equipping of the force, its initial and subsequent roles, its increasing professionalism (and associated burgeoning administration), the move from an ethos of volunteering to one of enforced participation backed up by fines for non-attendance, the structure and organization, the characters of some of the officers and men, the establishment of the Auxiliary Units, the increasing role played by women, the training and exercises that its members had to undergo, and of false alarms, incidents and accidents.
It is the result of years of work, involving both interviewing former Home Guards and trawling through mounds of Home Guard paperwork, including some records no longer available for inspection.
This is the fourth book that Mick Wilks has written about Worcestershire and the Second World War. The first, The Mercian Maquis, co-authored with Bernard Lowry, dealt with the secret Auxiliary Units established to operate behind German lines should an advance be made from the Severn Estuary towards the centre of UK manufacturing in the Midlands. This book includes some additional information on those units. The second, The Defence of Worcestershire and the southern approaches to Birmingham in World War II, covered the defence plans for the county in preparation for an expected invasion. The third, 20th Century Defences in Britain; the West Midlands, co-authored with Colin Jones and Bernard Lowry, included many details concerning Worcestershire, notably the development of radar.

Blackpole Munitions Factory Worcester

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by Colin Jones

96 pages, with over 20 colour and 40 mono photographs and maps

ISBN 9781910839133     £10

Blackpole Munitions Factory – or Government Cartridge Factory No. 3 to give its proper title – was built between August 1916 and February 1917 in which month it also started manufacturing cartridges. The two types it produced were mainly the .303 calibre for British rifles and machine guns, and subsequently 7.62mm calibre for the Russian army’s standard rifle. Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, production of this cartridge was stopped in December 1917 and a return made to producing .303 ammunition. The factory’s equipment was mothballed after the First World War was ended, the main building being used as a barracks by a specially raised defence force at a time of potential unrest in 1921 when fear of revolution rippled through the land. The site was then acquired by Cadbury’s to make wooden chocolate boxes and packing cases, with a caveat that the government could reacquire the site should it need to recommence production of cartridges given another national emergency.
    With the advent of the Second World War the government duly took control of the site once more, initially earmarking it as Small Arms Ammunition Factory No. 5 before redesignating it as Royal Ordnance Factory No. 20. This time the factory made cartridge components only, as bungalows had been built near where the bullets had been filled in the First World War and the site was no longer as isolated as it had once been should there have been an explosion of propellant. The factory again made cases for the .303 bullet, this time along with cases for the 9mm sten gun bullet. After the war the site was once more used by Cadbury’s before Hygena kitchens occupied it for a while and then becoming a more diversified trading estate.
    But this is more than a story of a factory site and its products – it is also of the people who worked making munitions and who maintained the buildings. Unfortunately little information survives for those who worked here during the First World War, but for the Second World War records and interviews with some of the workers provide a feel of factory life and conditions, of the social life outside work and of conditions in the specially built Malvern Hall Hostel that provided accommodation for many workers. For some workers it was quite a wrench from home life now many miles away, for others, once they had settled in, it gave a sense of freedom from the strictures of their earlier life.
    Colin Jones and Mick Wilks first met when recording modern defence sites first for the national Defence of Britain Project and then the Defence of Worcestershire Project. This led to the publication of 20th Century Defences of Britian, the West Midlands area written in conjunction with Bernard Lowry, The Mercian Maquis, a history of Auxilliary Units in Herefordshire and Worcestershire written by Mick Wilks and Bernard Lowry, and The Defence of Worcestershire and the Southern Approaches to Birmingham by Mick Wilks, who has also written The Chronicles of the Worcestershire Home Guard.

Poems and Paintings of the Malvern Hills      

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edited by Jonathan Lumby

Paperback, 96 pages, 26 illustrations
Price £10    ISBN 9781906663841

A meadowsweetness of high summer days:
Clovering bees, time-honeyed bells, the lark’s top C.
Hills where each sound, like larksong, passes into light,
And light is music all but seen.
                                                                        Cecil Day-Lewis

Ever since Will Langland dreamed his dream by a stream in the hills ‘in a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne’, poets and painters have found inspiration in the Malverns. This new anthology (edited by Jonathan Lumby) includes poems by William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Radclyffe Hall, John Masefield, A.E. Housman, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, W.H. Auden and many others, evocatively illustrated by depictions of the Malverns by J.M.W. Turner, H.H. Lines, Paul Nash, Dame Laura Knight and Gilly Hancock.

A ripple of land; such little hills, the sky
Can stoop to tenderly and the wheatfields climb ...
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What is it about these modest hills of the borderlands that prompts such a richness of lyrical and dramatic responses? Perhaps the poems and paintings themselves give the best kind of answer to that question – and may inspire us to walk the hills ourselves, in search of whatever it is.

The Story of Worcester

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by Pat Hughes & Annette Leech

Paperback, 320 pages, 140 colour and 90 black and white illustrations
ISBN 978 1 906663 57 5       £15

Here are gathered many tales of the city and its inhabitants over the centuries: events and personalities from visiting monarchs to food riots, from a friar who was found up to no good in the Cardinal’s Hat, to crowds flocking to see an amazing learned dog who could ‘read, write and keep accounts’. Trades and tradesmen, crime and punishment, building and rebuilding, the pattern of the streets and the ever present great River Severn, the ebb and flow of generations of Worcester families and the arrival and departure of many visitors, welcome and unwelcome: the city seems to appear before our very eyes. Whether caught up on the fringes of the Wars of the Roses or besieged in the Civil War, Worcester keeps going – and growing, as its traditional trades are joined by the arrival of newer industries.
      The story tells of both the rich and the poor, city officials and felons condemned to transportation, the idle and the industrious. After years of research, historians Pat Hughes and Annette Leech have many tales to tell, from early experiments with wind and wave power to the flourishing of Happy George and Hallelujah Lily, all gleaned from their extensive research among the city’s archives, and illustrated with a wealth of photographs, paintings, drawings and plans. This is history brought to life through the words and deeds of those long gone, and provides an inspiration to look for the past in Worcester’s ancient street names, its mediaeval and later buildings, and even in its parks and open spaces.

The Hanleys: A history of Hanley Castle and Hanley Swan

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by Malcolm Fare

Paperback    £10    978 1 906663 37 7

Much of the information for this book has come from interviews with older residents of the villages and research into family and local history. By using photographs of family members and local life, this book provides a strong visual record of the Hanleys.

Story of Norton Barracks

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by Stan Jobson

Paperback, 112 pages, 65 black and white photos
ISBN 978 1 906663 92 6       £7.50

This is the story of both the buildings that formed Norton Barracks and of the soldiers and other personnel who were based there as members of staff or who passed through as they underwent training. Stan Jobson has spent much time in the Regimental Archives unearthing both photographs and personal recollections of time spent at the barracks. The result is a tale of British Military history in microcosm, but often seen from a personal viewpoint of hard training, military structures, playful pranks, sporting achievements, patriotic surges, post D-Day traumas and both keen and reluctant National Servicemen. There is also an appendix which gives the background to the names of the streets which now criss-cross much of the site of the barracks, names which are largely associated with the battle honours of the Worcestershire Regiment.

On retiring from a service career in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Stan Jobson joined the American IT company Electronic Data Systems where he worked as an Information Systems Project Manager, primarily for the MOD. Having had an interest in military and aviation history for many years he gained his MA in British First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham, graduating in December 2007. For the past three years he has been researching the history of the barracks at the request of the Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire).

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Bredon Hill: A Guide to its Archaeology, History, Folklore & Villages
by Brian Hoggard                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Paperback, 100 pages with 58 b&w photos and maps  ISBN: 978 1 906663 18 6    £4.95  

In this book, Brian Hoggard cleverly weaves archaeological fact and documented historical evidence together with folklore of both ancient and recent origin to provide an account of Bredon Hill. The hill is an isolated outlier of the Cotswold escarpment whilst the river system and main road network has also served to sever it from the surrounding countryside, helping to give it an atmosphere all its own.
    The hill abounds in ancient sites, has interesting geological features, is surrounded by Cotswold stone churches that contain a variety of intriguing carvings, and by villages of stone and thatch. With continual settlement from the Iron Age, and probably the Neolithic, with a range of folklore and customs, this is a tremendous area to explore, and this book is an invaluable aid to that exploration.
    This 2009 edition includes five new walks on and near Bredon Hill.

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ches of the Black Country

by Tim Bridges

Paperback, 160 pages with over 150 black and white photographs  ISBN: 978 1906663 04 9  £12.95

This book explores Anglican churches in the Black Country and shows a wide variety of architectural styles in the region. Many Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular churches are present, and so are Georgian, Commissioners’, Victorian, Arts and Crafts and modern buildings — an eclectic mix enriched by restorations and rebuilds. An introductory chapter sets the scene of church development in the Black Country. This is followed by a gazetteer which describes each church — its architectural development, fittings, glass, memorials and much besides. Using elements of Black Country history, Tim Bridges brings out the special character of each settlement and its church. Tim Bridges is also the author of Churches of Worcestershire. He lectures widely on church architecture and history. Following many years on the staff of Worcester City Museums, he now works for the Victorian Society. He is also a trustee of the Worcestershire and Dudley Historic Churches Trust, which along the Staffordshire Historic Churches Trust will benefit financially from the sale of each copy of this book.