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Avoncliff: The Secret History of an Industrial Hamlet in War and Peace

by Nick McCamley


232 pages, 235mm x 156mm
Publication date: 16 July 2018
ISBN: 978 0 9928554 99

PRICE:  £12.50


Avoncliff is a Wiltshire hamlet situated at a narrow point along the valley of the Bristol Avon between Bradford-on-Avon and Bath. It has no church, chapel or school although it does boast an ancient pub and a railway halt; it also lies on the course of the Kennet & Avon Canal which crosses the Avon here by a monumental acqueduct.

What Avoncliff possesses in abundance is evidence of a long and varied industrial past. In the author's own words: 'The Avon has swept along the industrial detritus of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the whole of England and deposited key elements of each upon its banks'.

Its extensive underground quarries played a vital role during the Second World War both as an armaments factory and as a repository for many of the greatest treasures of the nation's museums and art galleries.

In addition to this remarkable story, Nick McCamley presents the history of the Kennet & Avon Canal, the Wilts, Somerset & Weymouth (later Great Western) Railway, and the Bradford Union Workhouse (later transformed into a strife-ridden country-house hotel before becoming the wartime headquarters of the British Museum). He also gives the detailed histories of the hamlet's two woollen mills (one of which in the 1950s became a somewhat surreal chemical works extracting chlorophyll from stinging nettle leaves),and of the Victorian and later waterworks pumphouses that struggled to provide Bradford-on-Avon with potable water. Further chapters deal with the history of the Cross Guns public house and with the various breweries, large and small, in Bradford-on-Avon (including an account of the financial shenanagins that brought about the fall of Spencer's brewery), and with the complex array of surviving Second World War anti-invasion defence structures in and around Avoncliff, which was situated at a point where several important defence lines met.

About the author:

Born in Bradford-on-Avon in November 1950, educated in the physical sciences at Bath Technical School, the historical sciences at Trowbridge College and the social sciences at Nottingham University, Nick McCamley, according to his own testimony, entered the adult world totally devoid of all ambition or direction in life. After his marriage to Vicky in 1973 he established himself as a restorer of clocks and antique electric telegraph instruments while also publishing a monthly advertising magazine to meet the needs of collectors of railway antiquities. Passionately interested in industrial archaeology and underground engineering, in 1984 he acquired the immensely sophisticated, eighty-acre, Second World War underground ammunition depot at Monkton Farleigh – by then abandoned and heavily vandalized – which became the subject of an arduous ten-year restoration project. Subsequently, he was engaged in programming the air traffic control radar simulators at Bailbrook College in Bath, which in the 1990s was the world’s foremost ATC training centre. Currently, he is a director of a small publishing company although much of his time is occupied with writing, research and lecturing on a wide range of subjects based broadly upon military history and industrial archaeology.
Nick McCamley is the author of a number of books on the more unusual aspects of Britain’s wartime history, including the widely acclaimed Secret Underground Cities, Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers, Second World War Secret Bunkers, and The Fauld Disaster. He is widely acknowledged as the primary authority on Britain’s subterranean wartime heritage.