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A Postcard view of Motherwell which shows the Town Hall with its domed tower - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Motherwell sits on the eastern slopes of the long and winding River Clyde across from Hamilton. Surrounded by coalfields it expanded greatly in the late 19th century with the invention and development of steel-making and its associated technologies and engineering thanks to companies of the Colvilles Group started by David Colville and Sons, and other firms such as Stewarts & Lloyds. The modern Steelopolis opened its first modern purpose built Theatre, the New Century Theatre, in 1901.

Right - A Postcard view of Motherwell which shows the Town Hall with its domed tower - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

From the town have come many artistes in theatre entertainment including, most notably, Sir Alexander Gibson orchestral maestro, conductor and director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and founder of Scottish Opera. His musical artistry and conducting can be enjoyed on many recordings including this one on YouTube.

Also singer Robert Wilson who was principal tenor of D`Oyley Carte before starting his own international career - whose singing can be enjoyed here, baritone Bill McCue, and opera singer Linda Ormiston. In variety theatre, the entertainer and producer George Clarkson, based in Motherwell, recalls there were some 60 Music Halls within easy travelling of the town which could keep an artiste employed for about three years before repeating. From neighbouring Cleland has come entertainer Jack Radcliffe and from Bellshill the popular singer Sheena Easton.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

 

The Victoria Theatre, Watson Street at the corner of Hamilton Street, Motherwell

Later - The Music Hall

A Motherwell Times advertisement of Miss Deering and Company appearing in the Music Hall in June 1885 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Known briefly as the Victoria Theatre the small Hall in Watson Street opened in April 1871, providing “thrilling drama” and “deeds of daring.” In October 1872 the newly formed Motherwell Music Hall Company Ltd, owned by W. S. Thomson of Park Street in the town, engaged Robert McKean as manager, before his move to Glasgow Music Halls including the Royal Alexandra and the Britannia. The building was reconstructed and enhanced by the addition of galleries on three sides in January 1873, when the name changed to the Music Hall. It performed the function of a town hall, with concerts, meetings and soirees. In the 1880s the Theatre was also a venue for the Motherwell Choral Union and for the town`s formative amateur dramatic society.

Touring variety artistes, concert parties, acrobats and pantomime packed the House as did companies such as Bernard`s and Vestris Minstrels, America`s Miss Deering and her Dramatic Company and the nationwide Hamilton`s Panoramas, accompanied by vocalists and orchestra.

Right - A Motherwell Times advertisement of Miss Deering and Company appearing in the Music Hall in June 1885 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

It continued until 1887 when the newly opened Motherwell Town Hall at the top of Hamilton Road (see image below) became the focal point for visiting drama companies, variety revues, pioneering films (complete with variety company) and town concerts.

During the 1870s the Music Hall was managed by Ernest Sheldon, who also managed the Music Hall, Wishaw, which worked in conjunction with the newer venue in Motherwell. As a ballad tenor he toured with the Livermore Minstrels later in the 1880s and then became general manager of the Palace Theatre, Aberdeen on behalf of the Livermore Brothers.

In the 1880s a leading supporter, promoter and eventual lessee of the Music Hall was Matthew MacMillan, billposter advertising contractor. His concert entertainments included a record number of nineteen turns on one evening in April 1885, the largest number known in the hall. Born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, he developed his new business in advertising, and settled in Motherwell to bring up his young family.

On the family moving to Greenock his son, William B. MacMillan, grew the business further, merging with the largest theatrical advertisers and billposters D. S. Allen & Sons Ltd. W. B. MacMillan, also very active in entertainments and now the Provost of Greenock, decided upon building a major Theatre.

 

An early postcard view of the exterior of Motherwell Town Hall where Arthur Lloyd appeared on 20th September 1895 in “Two Hours Fun” The World Renowned Comedian, Vocalist, Author and Composer, before going to Shotts and then West Calder the following week - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Thwarted after several attempts in Greenock he considered Motherwell as its location but decided upon his father`s Bridgeton, and in 1911 opened the impressive Olympia Theatre of Varieties at Bridgeton Cross.

Left - An early postcard view of the exterior of Motherwell Town Hall where Arthur Lloyd appeared on 20th September 1895 in “Two Hours Fun” The World Renowned Comedian, Vocalist, Author and Composer, before going to Shotts and then West Calder the following week - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Caledonian Theatre, Scott Street, Motherwell

Fred Bolton ran the wooden Caledonian Theatre, a Geggie staged and open on every lawful day, in Scott Street on vacant ground - used often by showground travellers and circuses, between Coursington Street and Albert Street - from 31 August 1896 and into 1897, and again in 1898. His first drama was “Escaped from Portland, or Convict 99” followed that week by “The Shaughraim” and the Glasgow tale of “Wee Curly”. Other favourite presentations included “Burke & Hare” and “Rob Roy.”

When the owner Mr Bolton applied for a supply of gas the directors of Motherwell Gas Company granted it on condition the bill be paid every Friday. Accordingly, their young gas meter and collector was deputed to collect the account weekly, and while the actors were rehearsing their pieces he was busy under the stage adding up!

In a different era, 1966/67, the Arts Council of Great Britain agreed funding for housing the arts, including a scheme at Motherwell to construct a concert hall and small theatre in the new Civic Centre, to be open in 1969.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The New Century Theatre, 165 Windmillhill Street, Motherwell

Later - The Motherwell Theatre / Rex Cinema / Big Apple Nightclub

A Tinted Postcard of Motherwell`s New Century Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - A Tinted Postcard of Motherwell`s New Century Theatre - Courtesy Graeme Smith

A Tinted postcard of Motherwell`s Windmillhill Street showing the New Century Theatre centre-right - Courtesy Graeme Smith.This was the first of seven new Theatres in Scotland brought into existence through R. C. Buchanan`s development companies. It (and soon three others of the seven) were designed by Lanarkshire`s most distinguished architect Alexander Cullen, based in Hamilton.

Right - A Tinted postcard of Motherwell`s Windmillhill Street showing the New Century Theatre centre-right - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Cullen was appointed in early 1900 by the promoter and chairman, Major Robert Howard also from Hamilton; but Howard found it difficult to assemble a funding group for the New Century Theatre until contact was made with R. C. Buchanan of Glasgow. A feature about R. C. Buchanan, and his colleagues who now embarked on developing new Theatres for local shareholder companies, can be read here at Glasgow`s Grand Theatre.

 

Motherwell's New Century Theatre - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' of August 30th 1901.

Above - Motherwell's New Century Theatre - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' of August 30th 1901. The accompanying text to this image reads:- 'This building is in course of completion, and is intended to be opened early next season. The house is divided into pit, stalls, dress circle, and gallery, and each section has two staircases. The seating capacity is for about 1,300 persons. There are no pillars in the auditorium. The whole constructional work of the dress circle and gallery is of steel and concrete, and is therefore fireproof. The seating is so arranged that an uninterrupted view can be had of the stage. The lighting will be by electric light. The architect is Mr. Alexander Cullen, F.R.I.B.A., of Hamilton, N.B. The illustration is taken from the perspective exhibited at the Royal Scotch Academy this year.'

Alexander Cullen, architect of the New Century Theatre Motherwell and of other Theatres - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Robert Howard who had a wine and spirit business in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow was granted Dean of Guild permission at Motherwell to build his new Theatre including a dress circle and gallery to accommodate a total of 1,500 people. The stage opening planned was 26 feet, with eight dressing rooms under it. He planned to lease it to the manager of the Theatre Royal, Coatbridge.

A Plan of Motherwell's New Century Theatre - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' of August 30th 1901. Left - Alexander Cullen, architect of the New Century Theatre Motherwell and of other Theatres - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Theatre opened in late December 1901 with a pantomime Robinson Crusoe, followed in January by The Belle of New York. Its red sandstone exterior had carvings of Comedy and Tragedy, and its Louis XIV style auditorium had two cantilevered tiers. Above the proscenium arch was displayed the motto “To wake the soul by tender touch of art”. The stalls and circle foyer had a brilliant white marble floor and statues of torch-bearing females at the foot of the stairways. The stage was 50 feet deep by 33 feet wide, (now with 10 dressing rooms underneath) and the drop-scene was painted by William Glover. An idea of its interior can be gained by viewing the auditorium of the next Theatre to be constructed by the developers and architect Alexander Cullen, namely the Falkirk Grand Theatre which opened in 1903.

Right - A Plan of Motherwell's New Century Theatre - From 'The Building News and Engineering Journal' of August 30th 1901.

Robert C Buchanan from a cartoon in The Bailie Magazine - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The New Century staged plays, melodramas, musicals, pantomime, and concerts and was a venue for political rallies and lectures. But the town later tired of too many melodramas, engaged by Buchanan, visiting such a well appointed Theatre.

Left - Robert C. Buchanan from a cartoon in The Bailie Magazine - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

After a first film season in June 1913 internal adjustments and reseating took place to change the building to a full-time cinema (and patrons were invited to suggest a new name for the building). Pictures stayed after August 1913 with considerable reduction in ticket prices. When it became a picture house de-luxe a frequent orchestra playing favourite selections was Madame Firth`s Orchestra. From this point drama companies reverted to the Town Hall.

Impresario E. H. Bostock, from his group headquarters beside his Hippodrome in New City Road, Glasgow, bought the New Century Theatre with entry in Spring 1917 as part of his Bostock Circuit, selling on in the late 1920s.

From 1913 to early 1930 known now as the Motherwell Theatre it was a cinema, leased in the 1920s to Walter W. Thomson formerly of the Empire. Hires were made for live entertainment and revues after its management changed in 1930. Its bill of fare that year included the top-liner Tommy Lorne and his revue “Laughs” for a fortnight, which was touring Moss Empires and other Theatres throughout Britain. It now resumed the name New Century Theatre dedicated to live entertainment, variety twice nightly, revues and also, over several years, long seasons of repertory led by Walter A. Chapman`s Northern Repertory Company, with a change of play midway through each week. For a short time in 1931 it was leased by Henry Maitles of Glasgow`s Princes Theatre, Gorbals, for variety including the one and only Tommy Morgan.

 

Walter A Chapman`s Northern Repertory Company of 1932 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - Walter A Chapman`s Northern Repertory Company of 1932 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

George Urie Scott bought over the business after Bostock and in August 1936 the newly built Rex Cinema opened, headed by Scott. Designed by cinema architect Charles McNair, the auditorium and stage was demolished and completely rebuilt and extended. The spacious new super-cinema seated 2,000 including 700 in the circle, and was programmed by ABC. An excellent photograph of the Theatre as the Rex cinema and its position in the town can be seen here.

A Google StreetView Image showing the approximate location of the former New Century Theatre today - Click to Interact.It closed in 1976, becoming an amusement arcade and then the Big Apple Nightclub, before being demolished in 1995 to make way for a supermarket. Further photographs of it can be seen in the Scottish Cinema website here.

Right - A Google StreetView Image showing the approximate location of the former New Century Theatre today - Click to Interact.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Empire Electric Theatre, Camp Street, Motherwell

Later - The Empire Theatre

A Motherwell Empire Pantomime Poster from the 1950s - Courtesy Bob Bain.The Empire, accommodating 900 patrons in total in the stalls (and a balcony which was soon added) was formally opened by Provost Park on Monday 30th January 1911 as a combined Picture House and Variety Theatre, with the Motherwell Town Band providing musical selections before the programme. Owned and operated by John Edward Atkinson, it provided cine-variety and was also licensed to stage plays. When he opened the Electric Theatre in Falkirk`s Silver Row in 1910, Atkinson also had venues at Pontypridd, Keighley and Swindon.

Right - A Motherwell Empire Pantomime Poster from the 1950s - Courtesy Bob Bain.

A Motherwell Empire Variety Playbill from 1947 - Courtesy Bob Bain.In 1915 Walter W. Thomson, who also had venues in Glasgow, purchased the building and retained the staff including manager Frank Cunliffe, who in 1930 was succeeded by his widow Mrs May Cunliffe. Its music director was Haydn P. Halstead who later became music director of top Theatres in Glasgow and then Aberdeen, orchestrating “I Belong to Glasgow” with Will Fyffe. (Halstead`s father taught organ at the Glasgow College of Music – now known as the Royal Conservatoire.)

Left - A Motherwell Empire Variety Playbill from 1947 - Courtesy Bob Bain.

The Empire gave up films for live theatre in 1917, with films only brought back for summer seasons. It presented comedy plays, variety, pantomime (produced by Arthur Simmons and others), and musicals; and was a venue for drama festivals, concerts, and political meetings. It also staged school shows. In 1937 and 1938 with the opposition now from new large cinemas the Empire trimmed its days of opening to Fridays and Saturdays and holiday seasons. In the 1940s new variety stars included comedians Jimmy Nicol, Johnny Victory, and also Clarke and Murray in piano and song.

During World War II a young pupil at the town`s Dalziel High School was in great demand as a pianist in and around Motherwell. This was Alec Gibson, the future Sir Alexander Gibson, who after gaining his diploma from the Royal College of Organists in 1943, age 17, and his National Service in the band of the Royal Corps Signals, where he was also solo pianist at their summer seaside classical concerts, would become musical director of Sadler`s Wells before driving the Scottish National Orchestra to international fame, and for good measure founding and directing Scottish Opera to the same level.

Motherwell`s Sir Alexander Gibson at the SNO`s Last Night of the Proms in Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, with thanks to the Gibson family .

Above - Motherwell`s Sir Alexander Gibson at the SNO`s Last Night of the Proms in Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, with thanks to the Gibson Family.

As a lad he played piano at Burns Suppers, Miners` Welfare entertainments, weddings, charity concerts and music festivals - often in the Empire Theatre either supplementing the small orchestra, or as a soloist, or as arranger and accompanist for singers. Dalziel High School frequently staged Gilbert & Sullivan productions in the Empire where between rehearsals he would play modern melodies and jazz to the delight of his fellow pupils!

In the 1940s until close to its end the Theatre was operated by Arthur Simmons (previously connected to the Pavilion), now for Motherwell Empire Ltd. In September 1944 with the war approaching its end, and the government looking to improving civic life in peacetime, a locally-based Repertory Players Company was encouraged by Arthur Simmons, and active for a number of years. The Glasgow Unity Players also presented their new dramas.

With the growing impact of television there was talk in the 1950s of Motherwell Town Council forming a Civic Theatre in association with the Empire.

The Empire Theatre closed in 1958 and was converted to a garage and tyre depot, before demolition in the 1960s. A photograph of it awaiting demolition can be seen here.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Alhambra Theatre, 12 Barrie Street, at Brandon Street, Motherwell

Later - The Motherwell Cinema / New Cinema

A Motherwell Alhambra Theatre advertisement for the 1st November 1912 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.This new building just off Brandon Street and opposite the entrance to Melville Drive, opened on Monday 14th April 1912 in front of an audience which included the town`s Provost and Magistrates, and after music from Motherwell Town Band. The sole proprietor J. Hall Nichol “sumptuously” fitted out the new Variety and Picture House including crimson velvet tip up seats in the stalls, and upholstered in leather in the pit. It accommodated some 750 people in total including the balcony. The drop scenes were of Scottish scenery, the orchestra led by Mr Johnstone of Hamilton, and the manager was Harry Kimm of London, who went on to manage other cine-variety venues in Stenhousemuir and Falkirk.

Right - A Motherwell Alhambra Theatre advertisement for the 1st November 1912 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Motherwell Alhambra and Blantyre Olympia advert 1912 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Hall Nicol also built and opened the Olympia Variety Theatre, accommodating 1,500 persons, in nearby Blantyre in January 1912. He sold the Alhambra at the end of the year to the Motherwell Cinema House Co. And the building was renamed as the Motherwell Cinema.

Left - Motherwell Alhambra and Blantyre Olympia advert 1912 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1924 it was bought and run by Polish-born Mrs Catherine Anne Guberman. A decade later in 1934, following a fire, she rebuilt it as the New Cinema in Art Deco style and extended to house 1,050 people. Mrs Guberman, who had been granted a licence to stage plays, continued to own it into the mid 1950s, when it ceased business. A photograph of it in Art Deco can be seen here.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

About John Hall Nicol

A Photo of J Hall Nicol  - Courtesy Graeme SmithJohn Hall Nicol was a building contractor in Hamilton and operator of a nearby quarry. He was also building many of the new houses and villas in the expanding burgh of Motherwell, and gave evidence to a House of Commons inquiry into the need for improvements in housing construction. In the 1920s he also became business manager in Scotland for his famous fellow Hamiltonian, Sir Harry Lauder.

Right - A Photo of J. Hall Nicol - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Lauder and Nicol formed the Scotsman Car Company Ltd in 1921 which built in Wigton Street, Glasgow a range of three 4-cylinder Scotsman cars, funded by Sir Harry. Designed by Nicol, all had water-cooled proprietary power units. The first two had side-valve engines, but the 14/40, known as the Flying Scotsman, had a 2.3 litre overhead cam Sage engine, and selling for £550.  They all had the same chassis, with Meadows 4-speed gearboxes, and the radiator was shaped like a thistle. They were displayed at the Scottish Motor Exhibition of 1922 in the Kelvin Hall but were not put into general production. (A few years later an Edinburgh company took up the Scotsman name and thistle radiator but likewise did not go into large production.)

A Motherwell Harry Lauder Tit Bits advert from 22nd November 1923 - Courtesy Graeme Smith. A year later J. Hall Nicol, with Lauder`s permission, wrote and produced a three act musical play based on the idioms of Sir Harry`s melodies and sketches. This was “Oor Ain Folk” which appeared in a number of Theatres for many weeks. The citizens of Motherwell saw it in 1924 at the Empire Theatre as his former Alhambra was now a cinema.

Left - A Motherwell Harry Lauder Tit Bits advert from 22nd November 1923 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Most likely one of his last major projects started in 1927 when Nicol designed, built and owned the immense red-freestoned Central Hotel in Dundee at the corner of Ward Street and Court House Square. Complete with 108 bedrooms and modelled on American lines it was opened by the city`s Lord Provost in April 1928. However the Depression put paid to any commercial prospects and the hotel was soon converted to be the city`s Telephone Exchange. Today it is offices for the adjacent law Courts and businesses. His advertising of the time declared the extent of his career including – “Two hundred villas, 600 tenements, five Theatres and three hotels have arisen in this country, according to his planning, and under his personal supervision, while he has designed for London Syndicates Theatres and Picture Houses in Brussels, Antwerp, Paris and Petrograd, Rio de Janeiro, and Odessa; and for an American Syndicate, 800 homes in different parts of Canada.”

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

 

The Pavilion Picture House, Brandon Street, Motherwell

Later - The Gaumont Cinema / Majestic Ballroom

Opened in 1913 the Pavilion cine-variety Theatre was managed by the Simmons family and comfortably seated 1,200 in stalls and balcony, had four dressing rooms and a proscenium stage 30 feet wide, 20 feet high and 20 feet deep. There would be four high class variety acts at each showing. “As to the orchestra, this will be under the able direction of Mr Hal R. Parker, L.R.A.M., and a distinct feature will be made of the music. A beautiful Winckelmann grand piano has been installed as an orchestral item.”

Designed in Frank Lloyd Wright style by prolific cinema architect Albert V. Gardner this was the second venue – after Bellshill — in what would become the Ormiston Circuit of 22 Cinemas and Theatres in and around Lanarkshire owned and controlled by Motherwell lawyer, Thomas Ormiston. Tom Ormiston, himself a comedy entertainer at charity concerts, became one of the leaders of the British Film Industry, a director of the Gaumont group, and also a Member of Parliament.

In 1928 the Pavilion was renamed Gaumont. In 1959 it became the Majestic Ballroom and was demolished in 1966 after a fire a few years earlier. Motherwell`s Pavilion is illustrated here, as is the mighty Odeon built close to it in later decades.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Odeon Cinema, Brandon Street, Motherwell

The palatial and moderne Odeon, seating 1,700, opened in Brandon Street in 1938, as part of the expanding Odeon group, and complete with a fully fitted stage. Its stage was well used in the 1940s with war-time variety shows on Sundays arranged by George Clarkson, featuring George Elrick and others. It was converted to bingo in 1975 and twenty years later demolished.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

The Motherwell Civic Theatre, Windmillhill Street, Motherwell

Motherwell' Concert Hall and Theatre

A Photograph showing the Exterior of the Motherwell Theatre and Concert Hall - Courtesy Graeme Smith

Above - A Photograph showing the Exterior of the Motherwell Theatre and Concert Hall - Courtesy Graeme Smith

As a successor to the stylish Town Hall created in 1887, the Burgh of Motherwell & Wishaw Council built the modern Civic Centre in Windmillhill Street in the late 1960s, which continues today with Lanarkshire Council offices, municipal chambers, and the Civic Theatre (officially opened in 1970) seating 400, and with an adjacent public Hall accommodating over 1,000 people, hosting functions and concerts.

In 2011 the entertainment complex was substantially refurbished at a cost of £6m and is promoted as Motherwell Concert Hall and Theatre. It continues to be a busy venue for amateur companies, touring productions, and pantomime.

More about the Motherwell Concert Hall and Theatre can be seen here. And news of What`s On here.

The 2011 building contractors McLaughlin & Harvey provide an excellent series of photographs of the rejuvenated Theatre and its facilities, under a rather misleading title of Motherwell Concert Hall, and can be viewed here (with a gallery of illustrations available.)

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in July 2016.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

Major Robert Howard

Promoter and Chairman of the New Century Theatre, Motherwell

A Photo of Robert Howard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Appointing good architects, in this case Alex Cullen for the New Century Theatre and other Theatres, was natural to the Howard family. His grandfather, also Robert Howard, was an architect and builder in the city of Cork and his uncle was Henry Howard who migrated to the USA and became Louisiana`s most famed architect.

Right - A Photo of Robert Howard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Robert James Howard grew up in Glasgow where his father Charles Howard had moved to from Cork to become a wine and spirits wholesaler and publican. While having a career in the Army, and later becoming a Colonel, Robert succeeded his father as head of the family business in 1894 then known as Howard Bros which changed to become the Scottish Vintners Company operating numerous public houses in Glasgow and Lanarkshire including Hamilton and Motherwell.

Robert Howard was a patron of the Glasgow Ulster Association (as was Lord Pirrie, Sir Thomas Lipton and others). He and his wife Maggie Howard, a cousin, fell heir to family property in Dungannon, County Tyrone, where he became a JP and chairman of Tyrone County Council before his passing in 1939.

The above article was written for this site by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion by him in September 2016.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: