Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Many years ago, I worked for a  famous men's tailoring firm called Austin Reed whose office address was 14 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London. I remember very well how I enjoyed sitting in that funny little square (with so much history of its own) to eat my sandwiches.

Little did I know (or particularly care) about the founder of this company, or indeed, its history.  Now, in my dotage, I'm enjoying researching into this amazing firm which was started in 1853 by Thomas Reed, an ambitious Cornishman who arrived in Reading, Berkshire to open a hat shop. His son, William, expanded the enterprise to include a hosiery outlet and became sole London agent for the "Registered Perfect Fitting Shirt", perhaps we could say that this was an early attempt to develop the later popular off-the-peg shirts. Within twenty years, the business had become Thomas Reed & Son, hosiers and hats, and the family firm was certainly on the way up, as by 1881, they moved into double-fronted premises, at 100, Broad Street Reading (next door to the post office)! 

William's son, Austin Leonard, followed in the family tradition, first  gaining invaluable experience and inspiration from time spent in America, working for the fabulous Wanamaker's departmental store in Philadelphia (the first in the world to use price-tags), and returning to London. The 26-year-old energetic, ambitious Austin persuaded his dad to buy the firm William Stambrook & Son, a leading shirtmaker and hosier in Fenchurch Street, London, and on 7 July 1900, Austin Reed opened for business at 167 Fenchurch Street, London. 

Market research, marketing, fabulous window displays, and great attention in learning exactly what his customers wanted - a maxim so relevant today - brought success and riches beyond anything Austin Reed's great grandfather, Thomas, could have possibly imagined. This is such a great story. but have much reading and research to do, and had better get on with it!  


I'm currently researching the world of magazines, specifically linked to women readers in bygone times.  For writers who enjoy studying the past, one 'magazine' which is considered the very first, was THE LADIES' MERCURY published by John Dunton in 1693.  His first issue was published in London and was a spin-off of the Athenian Mercury which had been the very first periodical published and specifically designed for women in mind.

Dunton's magazine  was designed to appeal to both sexes, but of course, received tremendous interest from male readers, too.   His 
Mercury dealt with all kinds of topics and ideas, such as religion, science, marriage and sex, and lastly 'love' which particularly endeared him and his magazine to females.Marriage was at the forefront of probably every young person's mind in centuries' past and Dunton used this theme continually, knowing this would particularly attract the female of our species.  He began devoting the first Tuesday of each month to this topic only. It would be a few more years before other journals of this nature would appear in London. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I have been looking for this prose poem embellished on a poster, copies of which swept the world fifty years ago.  I think the words are so apt as we emerge from this dreadful global pandemic. With thanks to Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) who discovered these words in Old Saint Paul's churchyard, Baltimore dated 1692.  Reading it again you will find so much common sense that is applicable in today's strained life.

(things desired) 

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. 

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. 

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. 

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. 

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.  Amen.  

Monday, June 22, 2020


Since my latest book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS was launched in the Borough of Brentwood, Essex, England last year, I've enjoyed requests for more historical information from readers - many of them expats living in other Brentwoods around the world.  Did you know that there are numerous  places in America, possibly the most well known are New York and California, and more listed below - all carrying our original Brentwood name; plus colleges, schools and other buildings in Long Island and Texas, oh,  and a few more in Alberta and British Columbia in Canada.  And we mustn't forget the notable Brentwood in Australia.   

Brentwood - Virginia

Brentwood - Tennessee

Brentwood - South Carolina

Brentwood - Pennsylvania

Brentwood - Ohio

Brentwood - North Carolina

Brentwood -   Oregon 

Brentwood - New Hampshire

Brentwood - Missouri

Brentwood - Maryland

Brentwood - Kentucky

Brentwood - Indiana

Brentwood - Georgia

Brentwood - Florida

Brentwood - Massachusetts

Brentwood - Arkansas

Brentwood - Alabama

I'm wondering if local historians in those far off places around the world  are interested in the origin of the Brentwood name which was first recorded  in a Pipe Roll of the Exchequer 1176. Here we find a reference to a character named Reginald "de Bosco Arso" (of the 'burnt wood') within a list of outlaws whose goods had been forfeited to the king (Henry ll). 

We know that the parish of South Weald was a very important part of out area in earlier times and was mentioned in the Domesday Book survey compiled in 1068 at the request of William the Conqueror. Once you begin studying the many local books delving into our history, you will find many fascinating buildings and places of interest.   

At the top of the town in the late 1880s, the residents welcomed Brentwood’s own departmental store, Wilson & Company, which became known throughout the south-east as the ‘The Great Eastern Stores’. 

In September 1909 a devastating fire burned the Wilson building almost to the ground, despite the attendance of several local fire brigades. The famous clock tower collapsed within a few hours and the building was still smouldering five days later. However, there was no loss of life recorded. Rebuilding began in earnest and within a year the store – with a brand new clock tower – was back in business. The 1861-erected Hunter Memorial, which stands in front of the store, cracked due to the heat and the wax models in the window of a dress shop opposite melted. Although the store no longer exists in its original form, the building provides a well-known landmark and is still referred to as Wilson’s Corner. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Vera's special photo reproduced in my book page 90 
So very sad today to hear the news of a great lady's passing. Dame Vera was so very sweet to me when I was researching her early days when she her family had lived in my area.

My book of that year 2014 BARKING & DAGENHAM FROM OLD PHOTOGRAPHS brought me in touch with this very special lady and so many other household names, all of whom showed their kindness in allowing me the use of their precious photographs for my book. Dame Vera made sure that I had safely received her package by giving me a call. She also wrote to me supplying memories of living in Upton Lane in Barking, so close to where I was living in my early days.  She was familiar with St Margaret's church where I was married. 

St Margaret's Church Barking

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


As we enter our thirteenth week of lockdown amid so many problems and worries, it was such a pleasant surprise to receive the latest copy of The Pilgrim magazine setting out the thoughts, actions and interesting articles linked to the Billericay and Little Burstead Team Ministry. Among 
many great pictures in this edition, check out page 6 you can see how our noble editor Sue Shrubb celebrated VE Day at her home shared with husband Jim, who is probably one of the most familiar faces in Billericay, being our supersonic Town Crier who is invariably present at all local major events. 

I enjoyed learning all about "The Cry" that had been prepared for all Town Criers by the Queen's Pageant Master, Bruno Peake. And, with his permission, you can read it for yourselves. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020


My photograph of Ivy Lord used for front cover of the Writing Magazine
Such sadness last week to hear of the passing of one of my best friends, Ivy Lord, known professionally as Elizabeth Lord (aka Maggie Ford).Since I first interviewed our friend on the publication of her first book Stolen Years in 1995 for a national magazine, I have kept in touch with Ivy and her work with so many new manuscripts which, in great regularity, arrived in the bookshops to be eagerly read and enjoyed by her fans. Ivy was a 'people person' particularly meeting writers, and enjoyed being a committee member of Brentwood Writers' Circle; the Romantic Novelists Association and The Society of Women Writers & Journalists. She even started her own writing club - the Billericay Writers' Group - which existed for many years at The Fold, Laindon Road, during the 1980s and encouraged many novice scribes to succeed in their own writing genres. She helped many rookie writers within her own group whom she mentored, aptly named The Ivy League. She was also a welcome speaker at the annual Essex Book Festivals each March. 

Ivy's introduction into the world of writing initially covered short stories for magazines. But she had always wanted to write what she knew best, tales about London's East End, and happily found an agent and several publishers who assisted in the publication of more than thirty novels. They were pleased to produce her special brand of family stories set in the past which brought her numerous overseas readers as well as substantial UK sales. 
Yours truly and Ivy Lord on duty at Billericay School Careers convention

This hardworking author loved history and, alongside her family sagas,  produced several books about famous historical characters. She often took off to countries such  as Canada, India, Egypt, Cuba, and other places, diligently researching and collecting material, while absorbing the local atmosphere and culture. Much of this energetic travelling experience took place when she had already reached her 60s and 70s and her delight in meeting new folk and learning about their lives and times - even at the age of 92 - was so inspirational and a help to other creative writers of all ages. 

Our Ivy with  novelist Martina Cole in 2005 

We will all miss our Ivy and send our warmest thoughts to her lovely close family still based in the Essex countryside.