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    Abberline's report


    August 31st 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the first Jack the Ripper murder and yet still the case remains unsolved.  Whitechapel Real Time aims to portray Victorian society during 1888 in an accurate and engaging way, placing this tragic series of events in a wider context.

    Over the next ten weeks, Peter Thurgood will be placing himself in the shoes of Chief Inspector Abberline to imagine how he would have felt and reacted as the Ripper investigation progressed.

    Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline


    Saturday September 22 1888

    I have been putting every single ounce of energy I can muster into the Annie Chapman investigation, sometimes working from seven in the morning until midnight or even later. Now today is the final day of the inquest into Polly Nichols death; I felt I had to go, even though I knew within my heart that there would be nothing new I was going to learn from this. Sure enough I was right, after sitting through yet another couple of hours of the Coroner droning on and on, he ended up by summing the case up with a verdict of ‘wilful murder committed by some person or persons unknown’.

    Well I could have told him that!


    Sunday September 23 1888

    I got up extra early today and decided to surprise Emma by cooking the breakfast and serving it to her in bed. She has been absolutely marvellous in the way she has had to put up with me over the past few weeks, and I felt she deserved a little luxury for once. After breakfast I put on my best Sunday suit and accompanied my lovely wife to church.


    Monday September 24 1888

    There was the usual deputation of reporters hanging around at the station when I got there this morning, “Any news yet Mr Abberline?” I pushed my way past them, telling them they would be the first to know when we did have any information for them.

    As I was just about to enter my office I heard another voice call out, “Is it true you now have a major suspect in this case sir – a man known as Leather Apron?” I spun round to see who had said this, but I didn’t recognise the man, although by his accent, he sounded Scottish. I turned quickly to an officer standing near me and told him to get them out of here. I then went into my office and slammed the door behind me.

    “How the hell did they get hold of that name?” I shouted at my sergeant. He didn’t know, any more than I did of course. “Don’t give them anything, no names, nothing, until I say so, is that clear?” I shouted. I think I got the message home!

    What they didn’t know was that we had arrested a man named John Pizer some days earlier, who was suspected of being ‘Leather Apron’, but he was soon cleared of any suspicion when it was established that he had cast-iron alibis for the times of both murders. We had decided to keep this from the press as Pizer was a Polish Jew, and we decided it could cause racial tension in the area.


    Thursday September 27 1888

    God help us, I don’t know what they are going to come up with next. It’s bad enough having the press constantly breathing down my neck, but now, to make matter worse, if that is possible, we have some local busy-body named George Lusk, who calls himself a businessman and has set up what can only be described as his own private police force, going under the name of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. 

    Mr Lusk claims that he has received a letter from the murderer, starting with “Dear Boss,” and ending with “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper”

    So we now have a name for our murderer, do we?


    Abberline: The Man who Hunted Jack the Ripper

    Peter Thurgood is the author of Abberline: The Man Who Hunted Jack the Ripper, the first and only biography of Frederick George Abberline, the man who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper. 

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    In early January 1912 Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers – to his delighted surprise – was chosen by Captain Robert Scott as a member of the 5-man party which would attempt to reach the South Pole. Birdie (born in Greenock, near Glasgow, in 1883) wrote home that he was proud to represent Scotland – England was represented by Scott and Dr Edward Wilson, Ireland by Captain Oates (through the Inniskilling regiment) and Wales by Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans. Birdie Bowers went on to be the first Scot to reach the South Pole and to join the ranks of his fellow-countrymen who had played their part in Antarctic exploration.


    South Pole Journey sourced from 

     In 1822 the Jane, a Scottish-owned whaling and sealing ship captained by James Weddell, reached new ‘furthest south’ latitudes in the Antarctic Peninsula region. In the early 1840s Scot James Clark Ross arrived on the other side of the continent with two ships, the Erebus and Terror – the Ross Sea, island and ice-shelf bear his name, while the twin volcanoes on Ross Island were named after his ships, and McMurdo Sound after Archibald McMurdo, a young lieutenant on the expedition. In the 1870s Scottish natural historian and marine zoologist Charles Thomson was chief scientist on the Challenger expedition; after the expedition’s return a young Scottish naturalist, William Speirs Bruce, worked on its records.


    In the early 1890s Bruce travelled to Antarctica with the Dundee Antarctic expedition and by 1900 he was planning his own expedition. He found, however, that he was in competition for funding with a young English naval captain, Robert Scott. Bruce declined the suggestion that he should join forces with Scott and serve as the latter’s second-in-command; in 1902 he left Troon, Ayrshire, on the Scotia, heading for the Antarctic Peninsula, rather than the Ross Sea area, Scott’s planned base. On the Discovery, Scott’s second-in-command was another Scot, Albert Armitage – the ship itself had been custom-designed and built in Dundee. In 1904, after the Discovery had been hemmed in by ice, the Dundee-built whaler the Terra Nova came to his rescue. Although Scott’s name became more widely known than Bruce’s, photographic postcards of the Scottish expedition were widely circulated (one was sent to Bowers’ mother in 1911). The Scottish Oceanographic Laboratory in Edinburgh Bruce founded on his return from Antarctica was visited by both Ernest Shackleton and by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

    Captain Scott sourced from 


    When Shackleton, a member of Scott’s Discovery expedition, needed funds for his 1907-9 Nimrod expedition, William Beardmore, a wealthy Glasgow ship-owner, became his greatest supporter – for whom Shackleton named the immense glacier which led to the Antarctic plateau. Shackleton failed to reach the South Pole itself and in 1910 Scott set out in the trusty Terra Nova (the Discovery was not available) and headed for New Zealand (which reminded Bowers of Scotland) and on to the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound. Meanwhile Amundsen – who had originally been heading for the Arctic in the Fram (designed by Scottish naval architect, Colin Archer) – changed course and sailed south.


    In early 1912 Scott, Bowers and their three companions reached the South Pole, arriving a few weeks after Amundsen and his team, but died on their return journey. In 1914 Shackleton, still keen to make his Antarctic mark, set out in the Endurance with the ultimate aim of crossing the Antarctic continent. This time his main supporter was James Caird, a Dundee jute-importer; his carpenter was Henry ‘Chippy’ McNish from Port Glasgow, a man whose skills would make a major contribution to saving the lives of Shackleton and his crew after the Endurance was frozen in and crushed in the ice.

     Henry 'Birdie' Bowers sourced from

    Birdie Bowers loved Scotland – particularly the Firth of Clyde and the highlands – and was rightly proud to be the first Scot to reach the South Pole and to join the ranks of Scots who played their part in British Antarctic history.


     Birdie Bowers by Anne Strathie


    The biography of Henry 'Birdie' Bowers, written by Anne Strathie, draws on Bowers’ letters, journals and previously neglected material, sheding new light on Bowers and tells the full story of the hardy naval officer who could always lift his companions’ spirits. 

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    The discovery of Elizabeth Stride's body in Dutfield's Yard, from The Pictorial News, 6th October 1888. Image from

    Elizabeth Stride

    The boat sank rapidly, gurgling into the filthy Thames, and Elizabeth struggled madly for safety; and, in the crush, she stumbled, and fell, and the heel of the person in front of her brought the taste of iron to her mouth.

    Or so she said. The Princess Alice disaster, in 1878, was genuine enough; but Elizabeth Stride’s presence on board was a figment of her imagination. Sympathy? Perhaps. She claimed to have lost a husband and an indeterminate number of children to the dark river. The truth was less dramatic, but no more happy.

    Elizabeth Stride had graduated from Gothenburg’s streets to their less-regulated equivalents in London, leaving behind a rather unfortunate early background, and exchanging it for an uncertain future. After marriage in the West End, she arrived, inevitably, in the less-salubrious east. Early attempts to prosper in its hostile commercial environment as the proprietor of a coffee shop gradually lapsed, and, following her husband’s death, Elizabeth was thrown back on her resourcefulness, and her untrustworthy recall. 

    So it was that she found herself in Berner Street in the first minutes of 30 September 1888, spotted here and there by a clutch of generally well-meaning witnesses, dodging the autumn showers. But then she vanished into the shadows of Dutfield’s Yard, later to be detected there by a hawker whose horse had shied away from something lying perfectly still before it, and to the right. He descended from his cart to investigate. By matchlight, the face appeared; by lantern-light, the wound to the throat. Then the familiar hue and cry: the police; the doctor. The madman remained invisible, nowhere to be found.

    Elizabeth’s abdomen had not been defiled in the manner of her predecessors, and immediately minds began to turn on the significance of this rapid de-escalation. They turn, too, to this day, and Elizabeth’s position within the canon of Ripper victims is, some feel, an insecure one. But there is one version of the story which says that the implications of the Ripper’s failure to mutilate Elizabeth had very particular consequences; and, in this version, those consequences would become known an hour later, and less than a mile away.


    Catherine Eddowes, contemporary illustration. Image from


    Catherine Eddowes

    If you had been in Aldgate High Street at half past eight on the evening of 29 September 1888, you would have seen PC Louis Robinson peering down at the figure in the shadows, lying at his feet. A crowd had gathered, but nobody knew her. He took her up, and propped her against the shutters of a shop. She slipped, drunkenly, sideways.

    After a few hours in the cells at Bishopsgate police station, Catherine Eddowes was slightly recovered from her binge and ready to be released. She had studiously avoided telling the police her real name; she took the moralisms of the duty officer in good spirit; she pulled the door to the police station almost to; and she turned left, heading away from Whitechapel. It was one in the morning, on 30 September 1888. A short distance away to the east, Dutfield’s Yard had filled with people.

    Within forty-five minutes, Catherine too would be found dead. Her injuries were a record of somebody’s brutality – again, there was no sign of the perpetrator. 

    A cadre of detectives fanned out from Mitre Square – the scene of Catherine’s demise – and, back in the direction of Whitechapel, two clues were found. A piece of Catherine’s apron had been cut, and the missing portion, stained with blood, was discovered in a doorway. Above it, anti-Semitic graffiti had appeared, unseen by the beat policeman on his previous rotation. Had the killer stopped to chalk his prejudices neatly into his bizarre criminal narrative? Did it seem possible, with the police already out in great numbers after Stride’s murder earlier that morning?

    Perhaps hubris was taking over – but, if so, there followed an unlikely intermission of more than a month. The trail went cold. Was the killer in retirement? Or would he return?

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    The chemical weapons attack in Syria has reminded the world just how horrific the use of poison gas in conflict can be.  Of course the use of gas as a method of mass killing has been around since the First World War. Who could fail to be moved by Wilfrid Owen’s description of the victims ‘drowning’ through the effects in his poem Dulce et Decorum Est.  


    World War I and Syria gas masks

     Yet somehow, amid all the carnage of the Second World War, we were spared a spectre similar to that of the trenches where gas was used on the battlefield by both sides resulting in more than a million casualties.

    But it was a close run thing. And it wasn’t only Hitler and the Nazis that might have unleashed them.

    By the time Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 the Japanese had already used mustard gas against the Chinese in their war which had started in 1937. And few realise that when Britain was facing the prospect of invasion in 1940 Churchill and his military chiefs planned to use mustard gas to repel German forces as they landed on the beaches.

    Later in the conflict, when Britain was again facing another grave threat, that of the V-1 rocket campaign against civilians, Churchill again considered using chemical weapons. In 1944 he wrote: “I want a cold blooded calculation made as to how it would pay us to use poison gas…”


    V1 Rocket Bomb

     While the Germans had developed deadly nerve agents like Tabun, the Allies had stockpiled toxins too and stationed them around the world in case the chemical warfare broke out. A tragic accident in Italy in 1943 showed how close we came when an American ship carrying mustard gas was damaged in a German air raid with 600 casualties.

    US President Barack Obama says that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “red line”.  But there were many in America towards the end of the Second World War who were calling for gas to be used in the Pacific theatre. While President Roosevelt had famously declared that the US would never use chemical weapons in a first strike, the huge losses suffered by US forces taking islands like Iwo Jima led some military chiefs to consider just that as a way to speed up victory over Japan. Public opinion was moving in favour too with newspaper headlines screaming: “We should gas Japan.” 


    Gas Mask Propaganda  


    It’s unclear why Hitler did not use his chemical weapons. Some say that he had an abhorrence of the weapons from his own time as a soldier in the trenches. More likely is that he had judged that the Allies had weapons just as potent as his own, while his own population was also short of gas masks.

    Whatever the reasons the mass use of chemical weapons between 1939-1945 was avoided. Let us hope the same remains true in the years ahead.


    History's Narrowest Escapes


    Find out more about potential historical disasters which were narrowly avoided with History’s Narrowest Escapes by Paul Nero and James Moore

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    Abberline's report


    August 31st 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the first Jack the Ripper murder and yet still the case remains unsolved.  Whitechapel Real Time aims to portray Victorian society during 1888 in an accurate and engaging way, placing this tragic series of events in a wider context.

    Over the next ten weeks, Peter Thurgood will be placing himself in the shoes of Chief Inspector Abberline to imagine how he would have felt and reacted as the Ripper investigation progressed.

    Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline



    Sunday September 30 1888

    It was quite a pleasant day for this time of year, so much so that I decided to walk to the station this morning and take in the autumn sunshine. It’s surprising what a bit of sunshine can do to people, even my leg wasn’t playing up, and I felt happy and relaxed by the time I arrived, and by the looks on the faces of my officers, they felt the same way too.

    What a difference half an hour can make. A messenger arrived from Scotland Yard, telling me to get over to Dutfield’s Yard, Whitechapel, straight away; another woman, presumed to be a prostitute had been found murdered.  

    I took two men with me and got there within twenty minutes, but was surprised to see the usual crowd of onlookers were already there, along with several police officers from another station, who looked like they were searching the yard. 

    “Who’s in charge here?” I demanded to know, but all I got from these morons were blank expressions. “Where is the damn body then?” I shouted, “at least you must know that?” One officer replied in a weak voice that the body had been taken away hours ago, after Doctor Blackwell and Doctor Phillips had finished examining her.

    It took me over half an hour to establish that the body was that of local prostitute, Elizabeth Stride, and that she had been discovered by a local man at approximately one o’clock that morning.

    I was absolutely fuming; it was by now nearly 9 a.m. and from what I could see, I was the first senior detective on the scene and this was eight hours after the poor wretch had been slain. As for the inexperienced officers who were supposed to be searching the yard for clues, I can’t imagine what damage they must have done. I dismissed them immediately and set my men to work, in the hope that it wasn’t too late. Nothing much on the ground in the way of evidence, but for once, quite a number of possible witnesses.

    I was beginning to calm down, and was in the process of talking to one of the members of the social club, which is on the corner of Dutfield’s Yard when I felt a tug on my coat sleeve. I looked around and was surprised to see my sergeant, who, as far as I was concerned, should be hard at work back at the station. “They’ve just found another one sir,” he said. “Another one? I clamoured, “what do you mean, who has and where? 

    The sergeant explained to me that the City of London Police had just contacted him and told him that yet another prostitute had been found murdered on their patch, in Mitre Square.

    I could hardly believe my ears, two in one day, or night, as I was soon to find out. The latest victim’s name was Catherine Eddowes, or Kate, as she was known on the streets. She had been found mutilated at about 1.45 a.m., by a police officer patrolling the square, which comes under their jurisdiction.

    The press would have a field day with this, I could almost feel them breathing down my neck now as I visualised the headlines, ‘Inspector Abberline lies in bed while two more murders are committed’ and questions such as, “Do you think that maybe a younger man should take over the investigation Mr Abberline?”

    I left two men at Dutfield’s Yard, while my sergeant and I made our way over to Mitre Square. As with Dutfield’s Yard, the body had long since been removed from the scene, leaving me feeling not much more than an onlooker.

    I did manage to question PC Watkins, who actually discovered the body. He was not exactly a young man and had many years experience in the force, but he told me that when he first saw the body, he almost fainted, so horrific were her injuries. “Catherine Eddowes”, he said, “was lying on her back in a pool of blood; her throat had been cut open, almost from ear to ear, her clothes were up above her waist, exposing all the lower half of her body. Her stomach had been slashed and ripped open, leaving her intestines and bowels protruding”

    The day however, was far from over, for within a short while Inspector Daniel Halse of the City of London Police arrived on the scene and informed that an important piece of evidence had been found in Goulston Street, Spitalfields.

    The important piece of evidence, he informed me, was a piece of material with bloodstains on it, which had been found lying on the floor, close to the entrance to a block of flats called Wentworth Model Dwellings. The material, he told me, matches exactly the apron that Catherine Eddowes had been wearing when she was found dead in Mitre Square earlier on.

    “And it’s been lying there all night?” I asked. “Oh no” he told me, “it was found just before three this morning”

    Just before three – that is over seven hours ago, and this was the first I had heard of it. What is wrong with these people, don’t they know I am supposed to be in charge of this case?

    I left my sergeant there and hurried over to Goulston Street without delay. Just as I expected, the piece of bloodstained apron was not there, as the PC who had found it, had taken it to Commercial Street Police Station, but I was shown something else, which was a message, written in chalk, on the wall just above where the piece of apron had been found. The message stated, ‘The Jewes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing’

    I thought this rather strange, and definitely not written by the murderer himself, as he would hardly have stopped in the entrance to the flats, thrown down the piece of apron, and started writing on a wall, whilst in all probability, having bloodstains still upon himself.

    My main concern however, was that Wentworth Model Dwellings, not only stood in a largely Jewish locality but was also inhabited almost exclusively by Jews, and within a few short hours would also see the opening of the vast Wentworth Street, and Petticoat Lane markets, which were run almost entirely by Jews.

    There have been a number of attacks on Jews in this area since the Leather Apron scare, and I am sure there will be more if this graffiti is left for everyone to see. The graffiti must be erased from the wall immediately.

     As usual, they all think they know more than me. Well I certainly don’t think so, and I will fight them tooth and nail to get my point across; this is my case and I intend to keep it that way.

    Inspector Halse? What’s he doing here now? I left him at Mitre Square, and now he follows me here and puts his two penneth in. “You are on my territory now Inspector” I shouted at him, “and that if that graffiti is not removed within the next five minutes, it will almost certainly lead to a full scale riot against the Jews, and I promise you that I will hold you personally responsible.

    Sir Charles Warren has just arrived at the scene; thank God for common sense. The graffiti has now been removed!

    I spent the rest of the day running back and forth between Dutfield’s Yard, Mitre Square, and Goulston Street. I finally got home just before 11 p.m. My wife, God bless her, asked if I had had a nice day!


    Thursday October 4 1888

    Mr busybody George Lusk and his Whitechapel Vigilance Committee have been at it again. According to Lusk, we are doing absolutely nothing to apprehend the killer. He has asked none other than the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury himself to put up a reward for the capture of the murderer, whom he is now calling Jack the Ripper.


    Abberline: The Man who Hunted Jack the Ripper

    Peter Thurgood is the author of Abberline: The Man Who Hunted Jack the Ripper, the first and only biography of Frederick George Abberline, the man who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper. 

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  • 10/04/13--05:15: The Friday Digest 04/10/13
  • The Friday Digest brings you the best of the week's history news gathered from the experts:


    * WWI led to ‘ladette culture’ as women turned to drink. It is remembered as a period in which women emerged to play a greater role in society, with more moving into the workplace and finally getting the vote. Now, new research has shed light on another area in which the First World War changed the lives of women.  


    * Such is the popularity of Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of a number of sequels, adaptations, and imitations. There has even been a revival of Sherlock Holmes in modern times. But who does Sherlock Homes belong to? Some 95 years after the last Sherlock Holmes story was published, several parties are locked in a landmark US litigation case.

     * The Samuel Johnson Prize 2013 shortlist has been announced, the overall winner of the £20,000 prize will be announced on 4th November.

    Neville Chamberlain (source:

    * Was Neville Chamberlain really a weak and terrible leader?  Seventy-five years after the Munich Agreement signed with Hitler, the name of Neville Chamberlain, British prime minister at the time, is still synonymous with weakness and appeasement. Is this fair, asks historian Robert Self.

    * Author pleads 'Please don't buy my new novel on Amazon'. Jaime Clarke, a Boston-based author and independent bookstore owner, sends out a public plea for readers to resist buying his new novel from the e-commerce giant.

    * Michael C. Munger,  chairman of political science at Duke University gives10 tips on ‘how to write less badly’.

     Roman skulls found near Liverpool Street station(source:

    * Archaeologists working with London's Crossrail project have uncovered 20 skulls believed to be from the Roman period. It is likely the bones were washed from a nearby burial site along one of London's "lost" rivers - the Walbrook. Since the Crossrail project began, about 10,000 Roman items have been discovered.


    * Women in trousers: fiction's sartorial trailblazers. From Agatha Christie to Bridget Jones women wearing trousers has been a developing story in the world of fiction. Who were the pioneers of the pant?

    The Borgia family crest which is displayed in the Borgia apartments in the Vatican to this day (Source:

     * There is scarcely a member of the Borgia family who does not seem to be cloaked in an aura of iniquity. But were they really so bad?

     Jane Austen and Alexander McCall (Source: Getty images)

    * Crime writer Alexander McCall Smith has become the latest contemporary writer invited to reinterpret the work of Jane Austen for a modern audience.


    * Long relegated to the dusty corners of history, mead - the drink of kings and Vikings - is making a comeback in the US. But what's brewing in this new crop of commercial meaderies - as they are known - is lot more refined from the drink that once decorated tables across medieval Europe.

     Paddington Bear (source:

    * A new exhibition at London's British Library looks at 10 classic children’s books of the 20th Century and how they have been illustrated and re-illustrated across the years.


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  • 10/07/13--02:00: Skopje or scrap!
  • We made it!

    History Press author David Collins enjoyed a holiday with a difference this year, when he teamed up with a convoy of cars driving across Europe to visit orphanages and children’s homes en route to the Balkans.

    David joined a group of other fans who were headed to Macedonia to cheer on Wales in the World Cup Qualifier in Skopje in September. The group represent the charity GOL, who aim to promote a positive image of Welsh football fans abroad and who raise money for worthy causes along the way. They have been active in more than 30 countries since it was set up in 2002, visiting orphanages or children’s home whenever Wales played an away game.

    Cars from North and South Wales drove almost 2,000 miles through 10 countries. The marathon trip took them through the Channel Tunnel, across into Belgium (stopping to visit the First World War graves where one lad had a relative buried), then into Luxembourg, across Germany via Bayern Munich’s ground and through the Bavarian Alps into Austria.

    Their itinerary took them down the spectacular Dalmatian Coast through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, before they took a tiny pit stop in Bosnia. Next up was a night in Albania!! before finally reaching their destination in Skopje, where, despite all that, the Welsh team still lost 2-1! The last leg was a six-hour drive into Serbia, where the group met up with a designated local charity. The cars driven by the troupe were donated to the charity and then the boys headed for a 6 a.m. flight back from Belgrade to Luton.

    David told us ‘this was a fantastic trip and a great way to see sights and countries that I would not otherwise visit. There were laughs, adventures, beers and bewilderment every step of the way.’

    ‘We bought a thirteen-year-old silver, 2.5 litre Ford Mondeo for the trip, which we christened Boris after silver-haired Boris Johnson,’ added David.

    ‘Boris performed heroically on the trip but, even at 125mph on the German autobahns, he was no match for the Ferraris and BMWs who roared past us.’

    ‘Driving conditions in Albania were even more hairy,’ David added. ‘I would not recommend the traffic jams of Tirana to anyone with a nervous disposition! You don’t know nerves until you have driven in Tirana at Rush Hour!’

    Richard Jones, one of the drivers from Penmaenmawr and a veteran of a similar odyssey to Azerbaijan some year ago told THP, ‘the drive was exhausting and exhilarating’ but his fondest memories are of the excitement that was stirred by the children and staff at the orphanages visited along the route. GOL were able to give something to help the children and those who care for them in difficult circumstances in these institutions.

    Tim Hartley, who made the trip from South Wales, said ‘We have always been made very welcome when we visit countries across Europe’ and describes how a trip like this a way of saying thank you to the many friends GOL have made across the continent over the years.

    David finished off with his favourite story form the whole crazy venture: ‘We met up with a local charity rep in Belgrade at the end of a very weary drive across all kinds of lands. He explained that he had been thinking about what to do with the money from selling a car to the scrap and it had crossed his mind that perhaps the most useful would be to buy a cow for a poor family. "This cow can feed them throughout a year so although it sounds idiotic (I admit) I think that would be the most appropriate way to spend that money" he explained to the weary travellers.’

    ‘I don’t mind admitting that moistened a few Welsh eyes and brought home to us just what the trip meant,’ explained David. ‘Think about this next time someone moans to you about all football fans being beer-swilling hooligans.’

    If this story has touched your heart strings, there is still time to donate to GOL, who will keep on working to support under-privileged children wherever Wales play. You can donate at or contact David Collins via The History Press.



    David Collins is a co-author of Never Mind the Bluebirds, The Ultimate Cardiff City Quiz Book. His second book, Never Mind the Bluebirds 2, Another Ultimate Cardiff City Quiz Book will be released this November.

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    The war in Europe was shaped and won for the Allies in the Pacific. In 1941 the Japanese Government was planning to attack America and the British in the Pacific but faced a problem. Russian troops were massed along the boarder with Manchuria where the Imperial Japanese Army was fighting the Chinese. Tokyo felt itself vulnerable to attack at any moment.  The Russians, on the other hand were fighting a life and death battle against the German invaders whose army had advanced to the suburbs of Moscow.To release army formations on both sides of the boarder the Russians and Japanese governments signed a Non Agression Pact which had global implications. The Russian reinforcements, who were mainly Mongolian and accustomed to Siberian weather, made a surprise attack on the German panzers in the depths of the Russia’s winter. The Red Army hurled back the Germans from the suburbs of Moscow and began its long campaign that finally ended in Berlin and victory for the Allies. Meanwhile the Japanese had gained the confidence with the protection of the treaty and the extra troops available to them declared unprovoked war and attacked Pearl Harbour.

    America lacked the understanding of codes in the run up to war, so could not comprehend the importance of the Pact but they proved fast learners. The cracking of the Japanese Purple codes by America and her Allies runs through the campaigns of the Pacific like a golden tread as does the deciphering of the German Enigma in Europe. Purple guided the American commanders to victory in the classic sea battles of Coral Sea, Midway and many other actions in the Pacific.   The domination of signals intelligence by American and Allied forces in both the European and Pacific theatres of war is a true tale of high adventure.  




    Secret documents captured by the American army and not declassified by the U S State Department until recently, form a basis of this book. They tell a true and unique story of how coding and deciphering signals messages enabled American commanders to listen to the authentic voice of the enemy with the resulting high value intelligence. Veteran German cryptographers in Berlin gave the author an insight into how the signals intelligence war operated in Europe with its successes and failures. Confidential papers of the American and Allies intelligence teams added value as an incredible picture emerged of Hitler’s intelligence networks and the way it operated. The book evaluates the way that German Signals intelligence measured up against the Allied networks.            

    There is a twist in the tale, as the war ended the American army and the newly formed CIA did a deal worth millions of dollars with one of their prisoners of war. They rescued Abwehr military intelligence records of espionage networks on the Russian front. These provided the basis for a ready made intelligence agency that was to be used to good effect against the Russian’s in the early stages of the Cold War. The Gehlen Organisation as it was known became a principle German agency and has become a part of the global intelligence community.

    Peter Matthews is the author of SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence. SIGINT is available for purchase as both a book and ebook from The History Press and all good bookstores.

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    Dunkirk 1940 'Whereabouts Unknown'


    Tim Lynch will be at Thames Valley History Festival on Saturday 16th November, from 11am. He will be giving a talk about his book, Dunkirk 1940 'Whereabouts Unknown'. 

    They called it ‘the slaughter of the innocents’. The barely trained and poorly equipped men of the Labour Divisions were never meant to fight, but when the German blitzkreig sliced through the Allied armies in 1940, they were all that stood in the way of the annihilation of the British Expeditionary Force. That summer saw a thousand small acts of heroism, from the officer with multiple wounds who refused to leave his command, to the lone infantryman who held off a German panzer with a single anti-tank gun; refusing to surrender, he died at his post, alone. Based on original research, official reports, diaries and personal accounts, Dunkirk 1940 reveals the crucial and largely forgotten heroism of the amateur soldiers, in particular those of 137th Infantry Brigade, during the chaos and terror of the fall of France. 

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    Great War Fashion at Cheltenham Literature Festival

    You never quite know what's going to catch people's interest about costume history.

    After a year's immersion in WW1 research and an hour's frantic dressing of mannequins for a display of vintage WW1 fashions and uniforms, I stepped onto the stage at Cheltenham Festival to begin my first ever presentation on Great War Fashion, entirely uncertain what would make the (sell-out) audience laugh, sigh or nod-in-agreement.

    I was rather excited.  Mostly because Ian Hislop had been in the Writer's Room (serious crush on him.)  I wish he could have seen me in my gorgeous (original) brown silk dress, lace-up field boots and green ladies trench coat. At least I recognised him.  One year at Cheltenham I shared a taxi with Dan Snow and didn't even know who he was (though I thought he was a nice looking lad).

    So - how to win my audience over?  Underwear always gets a twinkle from the audience, particularly the one-size-fits-everybody drawers.  Then there's a predictable gasp at the sprung steels of the wartime corset.  A glimpse of rustling rust-red petticoats also caused a few people to sit up straight and smile.

    However, what really gives me a thrill, and what really resonates with any audience, is that sense of clothes being a link with the past.  The First World War is passing out of living memory and into history books.  For most of us it's just too late to ask relatives about the very real details of their experiences.  In many cases, clothes and photographs are the only surviving evidence of lost lives.

    WWI silk pyjamas

    Clothes are at once immensely intimate and very, very public.  For some outfits on show at Cheltenham I know the name of their owner, such as nurse Winifred Ingram's blue uniform dress, white apron and starched collar & cuffs.  For most garments we'll never know either the names or histories of their owners.  The flame-retardant factory worker's tunic merely has the pretty embroidered initials "V. B."

    By the end of the hour's presentation I felt I had only dipped my well-shod toes into the subject of wartime fashion, so how wonderful to know I can now share so much more of my passion for the subject in a beautifully designed book.

    In 1915, one fashionista gushed about the glamorous pair of silk pyjamas she'd just purchased.  She said she wished there'd be a Zeppelin raid so she could rush out into the street wearing them.  Thankfully, the threat of Zepp raids has long gone, but I do own the most bewitching pair of peach silk pjs from the war years.  And – who’d’ve thought it - these were the item most women in the audience scrambled to view when the talk was done.

    Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe

    Lucy Adlington runs the delightful History Wardrobe series of costume-in-context presentations which span 200 years of women’s history through fashion and the author of Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe. More from Lucy Adlington can be seen at and on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Soldiers in the Korean War

    I have been conducting oral history and journalistic interviews ever since I was a young student under Raph Samuel at Ruskin College in the late 1960s when I interviewed an old communist who had led the unemployed riots in Birkenhead in 1932. It was an interview that would initiate a life long passion for talking to people. And yet in all the years since I have never conducted an interview of such intensity as I did earlier this year as part of a book about British soldiers in the Korean War. 

    The interview was with a sprightly 85 year old former soldier who had fought in the war. The intention of my book was to tell the story of the ordinary soldier in their own words about what it was like fighting a war where the winters were -40 degrees and the equipment and clothing was, to say the least, inadequate.

    The Korean War had begun in 1950 when the North Koreans invaded the south, driving the South Korean and American forces almost out of the country. America along with United Nations forces fought back driving the North Koreans northwards to the 38th parallel. During the course of the war 100,000 British troops were involved with just over a thousand of them dying. It was the bloodiest conflict British forces have been engaged in since the Second World War and yet it remains almost forgotten. But what is perhaps most astonishing about our involvement is that 70 per cent of those soldiers who served were conscripts, ordinary lads aged 18, 19 years of age, doing their national service.

    Bill Fox, a veteran of the Korean War

    My interview with Bill Fox, took place, like so many of my interviews, sitting in the front room of his Manchester house over a cup of tea. Little did I know how harrowing it would be over the next three hours. Jim had served with the Glosters at the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951 when over 200 British soldiers died, many killed by American napalm bombs. Bill had witnessed at first hand many of his comrades being killed. Another solider I had interviewed had seen his friend  crouching next to him have his head shot off. During the battle Bill had managed to make it down the hillside as the Chinese forces came pouring over the hill. He lay in the dark in a ditch with a couple of others planning to make a bid to escape when it grew dark. But then the dreaded happened. A Chinese soldier was standing over him with a rifle pointing at his head. They were promptly taken prisoner by the Chinese and marched off to a prisoner of war camp. It was a march that took months, during which they had little to eat or drink, were treated harshly and had no facilities to wash. As Bill remembered, he had no idea how long he would be a prisoner. “If I had committed some crime back home and been sent to prison I knew it would be for three months, a year, six years, whatever. But here I had no idea when I would be released.’ In fact it would be two and a half years.

    I doubt if Bill had ever really told his full story to anyone. It’s not the sort of thing you settle down to tell the kids or grandchildren. And anyhow it takes too long. Indeed two other soldiers I wanted to interview about being a prisoner of war had refused, merely saying that they ‘saw terrible, terrible things’ and didn’t want to rake up any memories. But Bill, maybe realizing that he was getting older, was prepared to tell all. As he talked about the prisoner of war camp he became animated, tears rolled down his cheek, and he began to curse heavily.  The tears became even more distressing when he told me how the Ministry of War had written to his parents to tell them that he was missing in action and presumed dead. How they must have grieved, he said. Bill witnessed torture in the camps, was beaten up himself, suffered disease, infestations and was kept alive on the barest quantity of food. Eventually he was released and returned home to his astonished parents in Collyhurst. 

    Although Bill’s story was without doubt the strongest interview of all in the book, others, such as the young lad who had to find and bury the dead, are also harrowing. And when you leave them after the interview all you experience is humility. They were brave young lads who have experienced trauma in a way that most of us (thankfully) never will. Some times it’s a privilege to be an oral historian.

    British Soldiers of the Korean War: In their own Words

    Stephen F. Kelly is the author of British Soldiers of the Korean War: In Their Own Words, which is published by The History Press.

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  • 10/11/13--03:30: The Friday Digest 11/10/13
  • THP Friday digest

    The Friday Digest brings you the best of the week's history news gathered from the experts:

    * As book fans will already be aware, the Cheltenham Literature festival started last Friday and is ongoing with many more exciting events planned for this weekend. I would love to hear Mary Beard's talk; you can't go wrong with learning how to read a Latin love poem!

    * Cheltenham is one of the most popular literature festivals in the country, attracting an extremely diverse crowd, but The Bookseller asks what can literature festivals do for the community

    Great War Fashion at Cheltenham Literature Festival

    * The History Press author 
    Lucy Adlington was at the festival on Monday, giving her first talk about Great War Fashion and the importance of clothing when examining history. You can read her write up of the day here.

    The return of soldiers from the First World war triggered a surge in births Photo: Alamy

    * The Telegraph explains just how the First World War continues to shape Britain today

    * Jeremy Paxman is always a bit of a controversial figure. This week is no exception as he directs his ire towards the commemoration of the First World War, criticising both David Cameron's plans for the centenary commemorations to resemble the diamond jubilee celebration and the 'stupid' practice of using Blackadder to teach students about the war.

    Do you agree with his comments?


    Bucharest, Romania. Photo by Andrei Pandele


    * Andrei Pandele began photographing his home country, Romania, in the 1970s. His stunning photos capture a period of momentous change under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

    Copyright Bridgeman

    * As Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death  aired on BBC Four this week, History Extra asks 'Did people in the Middle Ages really cope better with death than we do?'

    Out of the Shadows: Maps, Posters and Prints by Max Gill. Image from

    * The distinctive alphabet commissioned by the Imperial War Graves Commission for the military headstones of the First World War is etched onto our national conscience, but MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill, the man who designed it, is largely forgotten. This is all set to change with a new exhibition named 'Out of the Shadows: MacDonald Gill' which looks absolutely brilliant


    Jewish refugees after arrival in Sweden. Image (c) The Museum of Danish Resistance 

    * Seventy years ago this month, an extraordinary mass escape happened from Nazi-occupied Denmark with almost the entire Jewish population leaving the country.

    Artist impression of the new Stonehenge cafe and visitor centre. Image (c) English Heritage

    * As English Heritage announce that it is building a £27m visitor centre at Stonehenge, Alison Feeney Hart asks if cafes and gift shops are as important to visitors as the attraction itself

    Galen. Image from

    * This week, Melvyn Bragg and his guests were discussing the Roman physician and medical theorist Galen on BBC Radio 4. Despite being one of the key figures in the history of medicine, not enough people know Galen's name and the extent of his influence.

    Text from James Duport's rules for students (c) Syndics of Cambridge University Library

    * A seventeenth-century guide for freshers at Cambridge University has been made public. Amongst other tips it suggests students dress 'soberly' and advises them to make 'honest' rather than 'scurrilous' friends.

    How much of this advice is relevant to students today?


    The Web of Fear, starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in 1968

    * Classic television fans are rejoicing this week as
    nine missing episodes of the 1960s Doctor Who have been found at a TV station in Nigeria, including most of the classic story 'The Web of Fear'. 

    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street


    Was there a real Sweeney Todd


    Book shelf. Image from

    Why 'the age of Amazon' still needs editors like Max Perkins.

    * Philip Jones at The Bookseller urges publishers to find their 'heart and soul' and emphasises the importance of rediscovering 'the sizzle'. 

    The History Press stand at Frankfurt

    * Publishers from all around the world descended on Frankfurt this week, but
    is the Frankfurt Book Fair still relevant?  

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

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    Lincoln Castle. Image from

    In 1217 England was in chaos. Much of the country was under the control of Prince Louis of France, who had invaded and been offered the crown by the nobles who were disaffected with the late King John. A number of strongholds were holding out in the name of Henry III, John’s young son; Louis was in the process of besieging and subduing them. But little did he know that his plans were about to be wrecked because of one remarkable woman.

    Nicola de la Haye was the hereditary castellan of Lincoln Castle. By 1217 she was in her mid-sixties, considered elderly at that time. She had been powerless to protect the town when the French fell on it in early 1217, but the castle, with its separate defences and garrison, managed to hold out and there was stalemate. Louis arrived, bringing with him siege machinery, reinforcements and threats. Looking at the situation he decided that his personal presence was not required; he delegated command, returned to London and subsequently headed off to Dover, confident of victory. After all, the castle was being commanded by a little old lady. Victory was assured, right?


    The castle was bombarded from the south and east by the siege machinery all through March, April and early May, and during all this time Nicola marshalled her forces and defended the walls. Food became increasingly scarce, hunger and illness common; huge boulders, volleys of smaller stones and burning material were catapulted at the garrison at all hours of the day and night; the confines of the castle precincts would have become claustrophobic. The danger of death or hideous injury from missiles or flying pieces of shattered wall would have been ever-present. Sleep would have been difficult to come by as assaults or fires could have happened at any moment, and the stress must have been unbearable.

    During this time Nicola had no contact with the outside world. She would not have known how much of the rest of the country was under Louis’s control, whether any other castles were still holding out, or whether anyone was going to come to their rescue. She was elderly, her husband and son were dead, and she was on her own with her garrison in a sea of French invaders.

    It would have been very easy for Nicola to look at the haggard faces around her, the injuries and deaths, the gradual destruction of the walls, and to give in and ask the attackers for terms. But she refused to give up. Week by week, month by month, she rallied her troops. Her continuing defiance served three important purposes: it kept the strategically important castle of Lincoln out of enemy hands; it prolonged the siege, which drained more and more of Louis’s resources, meaning he could not deploy them elsewhere; and it gave the royalists, led by the regent William Marshal, the time to muster their forces.

    Nicola’s determination was rewarded on 20 May 1217, when the regent led an army in person to the relief of Lincoln. There was fierce fighting in the narrow streets of the city, the siege machinery was destroyed and the castle liberated. Many of the French and their rebel English allies were captured, and Louis lost half his army. Lincoln turned the tide of the war, the mighty French force stopped in its tracks by one little old lady.


    Further reading:

    * D.A. Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III (Methuen, 1990)

    * J.W.F. Hill, Medieval Lincoln (Cambridge University Press, 1948)

    * Louise Wilkinson, Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire (Boydell, 2007)

    * For a more detailed look at Nicola’s life, see 


    C.B.Hanley mediaeval mysteries


    C.B. Hanley has a PhD in medieval studies from the University of Sheffield and is the author of The Sins of the Father: A Mediaeval Mystery and The Bloody City: A Mediaeval Mystery

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    Gloucestershire in the First World War at Cheltenham Literature festival

    On Tuesday 8th October, The History Press was pleased to sponsor the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. In the morning Robert Dixon, the Chairman of the museum trustees, invited an audience of around 250 to explore the county at war. The museum keeps alive the memory of the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars.

    The audience was taken aback when the experience started with a prominent local musician, Johnny Coppin, who put words to Gloucestershire based war poet Fredrick Harvey. Harvey is widely considered to be one of Gloucestershire’s greatest war poets and has since been dubbed ‘the Laureate of Gloucestershire.’ Harvey formed a close friendship with Ivor Gurney, another famous wartime poet, who wrote hundreds of war poems in his long career as a writer. Harvey spent the rest of his life after the war in Gloucestershire and died there, he was subsequently buried in Minsterworth 

    Robert’s talk was packed with enlightening information and anecdotes. It was particularly interesting to trace the current domination of our local Gloucestershire industries by aviation manufacturers to the spill over of demand in Bristol which had been created by the war. The Gloster Meteor, used during the Second World War and the Korean War, was Britain’s first jet fighter and operational jet aircraft. Gloucestershire’s supremacy in the aircraft production industry has never waned, now Messier-Bugatti-Dowty operates just north of Gloucester and GE Aviation out of Cheltenham, reinforcing a long standing regional supremacy in the industry.

    In the afternoon Robert Dixon, took 45 engrossed historians around key local First World War sites ending up at the museum in Gloucester Docks. Gloucester is linked to the national waterway network by the Severn Estuary. This navigable part of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal is part of the reason why Gloucester became such an important trade hub during medieval times.

    First on the tour was Cheltenham College where several memorial plaques were observed, these plagues where dedicated to old Cheltonians who had died in the war. Robert was particularly keen to point out the history of one old pupil who it is claimed was the first Englishman killed in the First World War. Henry Hadley had been a languages teacher in Berlin when he was shot by German officers just moments before Britain had formally declared war on Germany.

    Rendcomb Airfield was also visited on the tour. Rendcomb Airfield had been an RFC training facility in the War and maintains several First World War buildings including an RFC Flying Hut. In the present day the airfield is perhaps most famous for its Breitling Wingwalkers who grace the skies of Gloucestershire and are seen by some six million spectators every year.

    The History Press was truly honoured to be able to sponsor such an event. Robert Dixon’s talk was informative and moving, reminding those in the audience of the impact of the First World War on Gloucestershire and its subsequent regional legacy. It is vital that these events continue to take place, especially next year when the 100th anniversary of the war will be commemorated nationwide. Dixon’s talk and coach tour reminded us all of how closely we are connected to all those who gave up their lives in the conflict and how much we are still indebted to them.

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    Stafford Gaol

    Stafford’s Gaol has been a grim home for a wide range of miscreants and unfortunates over several centuries. Many prisoners have breathed their last within its walls and others suffered terrible conditions for the extent of their sentences.

    When it comes to the seedier moments in the town's history, many of the stories have a connection with Stafford Gaol. Indeed, a significant number end there, at the end of a hangman's noose. The present building was constructed in 1794, making it one of the oldest prisons in the country in current use. However there had been a permanent court in Stafford since the fourteenth century, with the earliest mention of a gaol found in a document dated 1185.

    Of course punishment and sentencing today is ludicrously lenient compared with those faced by earlier criminals. The list of crimes punished by hanging in a single year included burglary, horse-stealing, house-breaking, counterfeiting, highway robbery, assault and robbery, sheep-stealing, arson, forgery, uttering forged notes (ie passing counterfeit money), stealing cattle, bestiality, rape, attempted murder, and administering arsenic. This amounted to 107 hangings, of which only four were women.

    Not only was the death sentence carried out here - when the scaffold was erected outside the prison it was a hugely popular spectacle attracting thousands every time - but within the walls executioners supplemented their income by meting out a variety of punishments including the flogging post and the crank. 

    Even without punishment life was hard. Fifty to sixty steps per minute were required on the treadmill, grinding corn or moving water for 40 minutes in every hour. Solitary confinement in a darkened cell on a diet of bread and water was meted out to those who failed to reach the standard. And all this after the prisoner was first admitted and clothed in prison attire following the dreaded bath which was akin to being half-drowned in freezing cold water whilst being scrubbed with the stiffest bristled brushes.

    During the nineteenth century significant steps were taken to remedy the dire conditions the prisoners faced. Public hangings were stopped and moved inside the prison walls. Numbers sharing a cell were regulated, their treatment more humane, their diet now approaching the minimum necessary to remain in reasonable health.

    Yet no amount of regulations would stop the crimes perpetrated outside the walls. The stories of some of these macabre events are covered within the pages of Bloody British History: Stafford.

    Bloody British History Stafford

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  • 10/18/13--03:30: The Friday Digest 18/10/13
  • THP Friday digest

    The Friday Digest brings you the best of the week's history news gathered from the experts:

    Wallace Hartley's violin (c)

    * The violin played by Wallace Hartley, the bandmaster of the Titanic, as it sank is to be auctioned tomorrow at 1.00 p.m. and is expected to fetch a record sum. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, the band was called upon to play in order to allay panic and to maintain an atmosphere of calm.  In the final chaos, as the last lifeboats drifted away, someone fancied they heard the hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.  The news quickly spread around the world and the musicians gained fame overnight.  What was actually played in that dreadful moment is a matter of debate, but the image of the band playing the hymn has become legend and will live on.

    The earlier trains of the London Underground


    * The London Underground system has always been a controversial topic but it is undeniably central to London and its history. I imagine this suggestion for a 'chemical lung' and fan-powered ventilation system for tube trains would be as popular today as it was in 1881! 

    According to Transport for London, 30 million litres of water are pumped out of the tube system every day but this infrastructure was not always in place and the underground has suffered many a flood over the years


    Cleopatra by J.W. Waterhouse (1888) 

    * Cleopatra is one of the most well-known historical figures and despite her political power, most of the discussion around her focuses on her appearance. Caroline Lawrence discusses 'ugly Cleopatra' whilst Pop Classics ask 'was Cleopatra beautiful and should we even care?' 


    This red stencil is located in the Peche Merle cave in southern France, which is home to some of the most famous examples of ancient cave art. 

    * For years, researchers have assumed that ancient cave paintings created tens of thousands of years ago were made by men, but an American archaeological anthropologist now believes that the first cave artists may have been mostly women.

    File:Thomas Phillips - Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science - Google Art Project.jpg

    * Did you know that Scottish mathematician and science writer Mary Fairfax Somerville (26 December 1780— 28 November 1872) did not only defy the deep-seated bias against women in science, but was also the very reason the word 'scientist' was coined? 


    The return of soldiers from the First World war triggered a surge in births Photo: Alamy

    * The BBC is to mark the First World War centenary with its biggest TV season to date – 130 programmes spanning 2,500 hours – airing over the four years commemoration. They will be establishing a dedicated website where people will be able to learn how their hometown was affected by the conflict. 

    Hermann Goering, image from

    * As The Atlantic interview the great-niece of Nazi Leader Hermann Goering, they ask how do you cope with evil ancestry?

    *  The funeral service for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke in Italy was halted this week amid angry protests. More than 500 people in the city of Albano Laziale shouted 'murderer' and 'executioner', and clashed with Nazi sympathisers, as his coffin passed.

    * History Today asks 'Is there educational value in visiting the site of atrocities such as the Holocaust?'


    City meat man feeds cats at the beginning of 1939 (c)  Getty Images

    * Nearly everyone is aware of the rationing and scrimping behind the war effort during the Second World War, but I had never heard about
    the massive pet cull until this week!


    Baths at Khenchela


    * The Roman bathhouse in Khenchela that is still in use after 2,000 years


    * She played a struggling bookshop owner in rom-com classic You've Got Mail and now Meg Ryan is returning to the publishing world as she plays the role of a book editor in a new series


    Mohenjodaro was a major centre of the pre-Hindu Indus civilisation, which dates back to 3000 BC. Image from

    * The world's only surviving Bronze Age metropolis in Pakistan is facing ruin as it is being rapidly corroded by salt. Accroding to scientists, it could disappear within 20 years

    Woman reading in Reykjavik. Image from

    * Iceland: the country where 1 in 10 people will publish a book


    David Bowie. Image from

    History Extra reveal the best-dressed Briton in history and it's someone a lot more modern than you might expect...


    Bryan Sykes. Image (c) Channel 4

    * According to DNA evidence,
    the mystery of the yeti has finally been solved with Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University, claiming that it could be a 'prehistoric giant polar bear'. 


    * Susan Higginbotham posts about Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset,  Lady Jane Grey’s great-grandfather.


    The Cheapside Hoard, Museum of London

    * The London Historians' blog reviews 'The Cheapside Hoard, London’s Lost Jewels'.

    The Ringlemere Gold Cup

    *  Ian Richardson, the man responsible for Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, shares his thoughts on 'Finding, studying and sharing the "treasure" beneath our feet'

    Scientist's reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman (Credit: Getty Images)

    Ötzi, Europe’s oldest natural mummy is found to have at least nineteen living relatives in Austria.  


    A puppet from the Thunderbirds (c) Getty Images

    * Can you use children's TV nostalgia to help guess someone's age

    Oscar Wilde

    *  Upon the release of the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine asks what makes a quip, a classic


    Book shelf. Image from

    Language that sounds too contemporary to feature in fiction from the past is surprisingly common, but what are your favourite examples? 

    *  7 unconventional reasons why you absolutely should be reading books

    Publishing Perspectives asks 'Is it time for publishing to call a truce?'

    Finding your next book, or, the discovery problem.

    * As a reader, are you fed up with celebrity biographies

    * By publishing Morrisey's biography, have Penguin Classics really 'sunk in the Ship Canal'


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

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    One of the most lingering images of the sinking of the Titanic, is that of the band playing while all the lifeboats sailed away, regardless of their own safety.  All eight band members perished that night.  Their leader was Wallace Hartley, who had not been famous, but had lived a life of relative obscurity, a life he had devoted to music.

     Not one of the bandsmen on the Titanic survived the sinking. Broadsheet published by Amalgamated Musician's Union. (Musician's Union)


    Wallace Hartley was born into a family of textile operatives in the hill town of Colne in Lancashire, where he spent the first half of his life.  When Wallace was seventeen, his father, who, by this time, was doing well in the insurance business, moved the family to Yorkshire, first to Huddersfield, then Leeds and later Dewsbury, where they resided at the time of the tragedy.

    After their move toYorkshire, Wallace managed to persuade his father to allow him to pursue a musical career.  He played at the Harrogate Kursaal and led the municipal orchestra in Bridlington.  For a time he toured with the Moody-Manners and also the Carl Rosa opera companies.  In Leeds he played at the fashionable Collinson’s Orient Café.  It may have been here that he met Maria Robinson; they planned to marry in the summer of 1912.

    Wallace’s musical career next took him to sea and he joined the Cunard line, sailing first on the Lusitania and then joining her sister ship the Mauretania as bandmaster.  The day before the Titanic was due to sail, Wallace was asked to transfer from the Mauretania and become bandmaster on this fateful voyage.  He reluctantly agreed.

     RMS Titanic


    When the Titanic struck the iceberg, the band was called upon to play in order to allay panic and to maintain an atmosphere of calm.  In the final chaos, as the last lifeboats drifted away, someone fancied they heard the hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.  The news quickly spread around the world and the musicians gained fame overnight.  What was actually played in that dreadful moment is a matter of debate, but the image of the band playing the hymn has become legend and will live on.

    What happened after the great ship sank?  Cable ships were sent out from Halifax, Nova Scotia and over two hundred bodies were recovered from the icy waters of theNorth Atlantic.  Among them was Wallace Hartley.  He was brought back to distraught parents and a heart-broken fiancée, and was given a civic funeral in the town that had given birth to him.  Over twenty thousand people crowded the streets to see this modest but heroic man make his final journey.  Wallace Hartley’s grave is on a hillside in Colne.




    A Hymn for Eternity, The Story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster

    Find out more about the life story of Wallace Hartley and his involvement in the tragedy with A Hymn for Eternity: The Story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster by Yvonne Carroll.


    Now, over a hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic and the recovery of Wallace’s body, the violin he used on that fateful journey will be sold at auction. Estimated to go for £400,000, it is expected to make a world record sum for Titanic memorabilia.

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    Sunderland was at the height of its prosperity during the Edwardian period (1901-10).  In this halcyon decade, Sunderland created a series of Edwardian Baroque buildings that adorn the city like an architectural crown. The Police Station and Magistrates' Court on Gill Bridge Avenue (1905-7) was designed by Sunderland’s pre-eminent architects of the era, William and Thomas Ridley Milburn.  The building has the Baroque flair typical of the period, but as an instrument of justice, many of its features are stern and monumental. 

    Reflecting the optimism of the age, Sunderland was expanding its educational and cultural provision.  The Corporation used money awarded by the Scottish-born industrialist Sir Andrew Carnegie to build branch libraries at Hendon (1908), Monkwearmouth and Kayll Road (1909).  Each was designed in the Baroque style, built of brick with stone embellishment. 

    Business was booming in Edwardian Sunderland and this necessitated a series of purpose-built office blocks.  The architects Henderson & Hall designed two such buildings in Sunniside, inspired by the latest architectural trends.  The Maritime Buildings (1900) were intended for general letting.  Neighbouring Sunniside Chambers was built for the firm of Botterill-Roche (1900-2).  Both buildings are executed in red brick with contrasting bands of golden sandstone. 

     The Dun Cow

    As an industrial boomtown, Sunderland needed to provide recreational sites for its workforce.  One expression of this was the building of opulent public houses.  The Dun Cow (1901-2) is among the finest examples in Sunderland.  Benjamin Simpson designed an eye-catching corner pub that would lure customers into its interiors of sparkling glass and lustrous wood. 

    Sunderland’s most prolific architects of the Edwardian period, W. and T.R. Milburn, designed a series of public and commercial buildings, which to a large extent define Sunderland’s architectural identity.  The pinnacle of Sunderland’s Edwardian Renaissance is the Empire Theatre (1907), a Baroque palace overflowing with sculpture.  Exemplifying the Baroque fusion of architecture and sculpture, the tower is adorned with lions’ heads and festoons of flowers.  The figure of Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, stands at the summit. 

    A century of steady development culminated in the Edwardian period, when Sunderland was crowned with a series of public and commercial buildings.  Law courts, libraries, offices, pubs and theatres were designed in the vigorous Edwardian Baroque style that encapsulated Sunderland’s civic pride.  Together, these buildings represent the core of Sunderland’s architectural legacy. 


    The Architecture of Sunderland, 1700-1914

    Michael Johnson is a Director of Sunderland Heritage Quarter and the co-author of The Architecture of Sunderland, 1700-1914 with Graham Potts, a Senior Lecturer in History at Sunderland University from 1970 to 2000 and a Director of Sunderland Heritage Quarter.

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    The Holden children with their nanny, c.1925.

    Not quite part of the family and more than just an employee, idealised and demonised, the nanny has always had a difficult role in family life. Furthermore, in larger households, there was sometimes hostility towards the nanny from the domestic staff as portrayed recently in an episode of 
    Downton Abbey

    The Leigh family lived in a highly stratified household in the Home Counties with an extensive staff, including nannies, nursery maids and a governess. In the Leigh family’s upstairs/downstairs household, during the interwar years, the servants were at war with the nursery.  The kitchen staff hated the nursery governess’s pretensions so they left the children’s food on a slab at the bottom of the stairs, blowing a whistle to tell the nursery maids when to collect it. The housemaids refused even to clean the nursery, leaving a girl from the village who was a single mother to do the work they rejected.  Relationships between staff inside the nursery could be equally fraught. One nanny was believed to have been forced out of her job by the jealous governess. This departure was traumatic for the child who had adored her nanny but was not allowed to grieve.  Another daughter remembered passing the cottage where a former nanny lived on her daily walk but was never allowed to visit her.

    The Leigh parents were more distant figures for the children. Their mother was seldom in the nursery. So busy was she with her work as a Poor Law Guardian, finding foster homes for parish children, that one of her daughters thought they must be her children too.  The governess had a crush on their father, an explorer, who was often abroad.  When he was at home he liked to visit one of the nannies for company in the evening. This was acceptable because nannies and governesses occupied a position midway between servant and family. But social hierarchies dictated that as father and household head, he was not allowed to have tea with his children in the nursery when the chauffeur’s son was present.  

    ‘An old-fashioned nanny’, Harmsworth Magazine, 1900.

    It was often hard for the older children to manage these kinds of situations even though they considered them normal. It was only the favoured youngest child who seemed largely unaffected. Her nanny stayed with her throughout her childhood and, although the Leigh parents eventually divorced, she grew up feeling loved and secure.

    The Leigh’s domestic tensions and strains were typical of upper and upper-middle- class households in pre-war Britain and could be the cause of much discomfort and heart-break for nannies, parents and children. Yet such stories are rarely remembered. Rather, our image of old-fashioned nannies is focussed on that much rarer bird, the nanny who never left and was always available to the family.  We often think of Mary Poppins as the perfect nanny, cast as the ultimate protector of children in the London Olympics’ opening ceremony. But we should remember that, like nearly all real nannies, both in the past and today, she could not always be there for children. In the end she too had to leave.

    Nanny Knows Best: the History of the British Nanny

    Katherine Holden is the author of Nanny Knows Best: The History of the British Nanny which weaves personal stories viewed through the eyes of nannies, mothers and children into a fascinating cultural history of the iconic British nanny. Katherine Holden goes beyond the myths to discover where our tradition of employing nannies comes from and to explore the ways in which it has and has not changed over the past century.

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  • 10/25/13--03:30: The Friday Digest 25/10/13
  • THP Friday digest

    The Friday Digest brings you the best of the week's history news gathered from the experts:


    * An eighteenth-century tattooed head of an autochthonous Maori tribesman has been discovered perfectly preserved at the University of Birmingham. The head was found alongside four skulls by researchers who were researching a completely different project entirely. In the eighteenth century, heads of Maori tribesman were preserved after their death as it was believed that the soul lives on iin the preserved head. Researchers intend to examine the tattoos which might reveal the community to which the individual belongs.


    Copyright BBC


    * Dan Snow, descendant of the great war prime-minister David Lloyd George, has praised the BBC's upcoming First World War centenary programme due to start in 2014. The programme has scheduled 2,500 hours of television and radio and will feature experts on the subject of the First World War such as Max Hastings, David Reynolds and Rupert Murdoch. Snow claimed 'It's breathtaking. It's an absolutely extraordinary range of coverage from the world's most eminent historians, and will see a fantastic, really important creation of archives and resources that will last for eternity.'


    Mobutu Sese Seko (R) standing with wife in front of his villa in the southeastern French town of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on 1 January 1997 

    The body of Mobutu Sese Soko is to be returned to the Congo, President Joseph Kabila has decided. Mobutu gained power after a coup and ruled the Congo, which he renamed Zaire, for more than thirty years before he was removed from power and exiled.


    Isaac Newton 

    * Four generations of a Lincolnshire family related to Sir Isaac Newton, considered by many to be the 'father of science' have launched an appeal to find more relatives of one of science's greatest figures. The Lincolnshire Age of Scientific Discovery group will oversee the project and aims to hold a reunion for relatives in 2014.


    * Researchers from the University of Buckingham have uncovered the burnt leg of a toad dating back some 7,000 years. This debunks the popular myth that the consumption of frogs legs as a delicacy is a deeply French tradition. 


    Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

    * The Daily Telegraph has collected what it believes to be the most dramatic deaths in the history of fiction. Do you agree?! (Warning, contains spoilers)


    Expert author Christopher Hale's blog exposes Britain's role in the Malayan wars. Hale argues that Britain's tactics in the Malayan conflict were far more ruthless than previously assumed by the press and historians. 


     * Tuesday's The Great British Bake Off had the nation captivated. History Extra has collected a series of Seventeenth-century recipies that give the girls a run for their money!


    Morrissey cover

     * Morrisey made the headlines once again this week when his autobiography was released as a Penguin Classic.

    Lord Kelvin 

    * Lord Kelvin, most commonly known for developing the Kelvin Scale of absolute temperature, struggled with the idea of potentially conflicting beliefs in God and science. Although he eventually reconciled these beliefs, arguments on both side of the debate has never been more fierce than in the modern day.Embedded image permalink

    * One of the earliest photographs of the Taj Mahal taken in 1855 by John Murray.


    etruscan prince

     A tomb cut deep into the rock in Tuscany was discovered last month. Originally thought to be the resting place of a warrior prince, experts now believe that the remains found within are actually that of an Etruscan warrior princess.



    history personal statement photo

    * With University places still oversubscribed and the popularity of history in the ascendance, how exactly can you make a personal statement really portray your passion for the noble art?



    John Yates, alias John Hewitt, Patrick Hines, John Miller and John Roy, was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour in March 1921 for theft of a parcel of clothing

    Notorious criminals of the nineteenth century, it has been revealed, targetted railway stations and snatched watches, liqueur, shoes and luggage.  


    The logo of Amazon Europe Holding Technologies is seen at its entrance in Luxembourg in this picture taken on November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

    *  Publishing industry leaders say that the industry needs to adapt to compete with new industry leaders such as Amazon. 


    * The Folger Shakespeare library in Washington is set to release a series of apps making the largest collection of Shakespeare's works accessible to the online community.



    William Boyd

    Why are Ian Fleming's first edition James Bond novels so pricey?



    Noel Gallagher

    *  Noel Gallagher is the king of controversial statements. He recently caused a stir by admitting that he did not read fiction as he believes it to be a waste of time. Though many might agree with his claim that 'he can't suspend belief in reality.'



    * The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has opened a new exhibition exploring how Nelson's navy became so deeply embedded in British culture and ingrained in the fabric of our nation.


    *  Jersey is a new hotbed of Neanderthal history, scientists believe that Jersey was one of the last places inhabited by Neanderthals.

    * It was almost fifty years ago that the assassination of JFK took place. Twelve rare photos offer a glimpse into the life and death of the thirty-fifth president.

    * Find out exactly what each country leads the world in!

    * How much do you know about Ancient Egypt?


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

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