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    We're not saying that spooky stories are clichéd but they do rely on certain tropes to build the tension and scare their audience. Next time you are reading one of our 'Haunted' books or watching an episode of Jonathan Creek why not see how many of these you can cross off on your way to a full (haunted) house? 


    THP spooky bingo


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    The Central Criminal Court , London, 1907. (Author’s collection

    Why do people enjoy reading true crime books?  Believe it or not, this question has been deemed worthy of scientific research and studies conducted in 2010 by the University of Illinois suggest that the biggest fans of the genre are women, who read about murders in order to avoid becoming a victim, to understand what warning signs to watch for in men and to pick up escape tips and survival strategies should the worst happen. Yet their choice of reading matter may actually compound women’s fear, creating a greater awareness of violent crime and thereby increasing their apprehension.

    In 2012, crime lecturer Judith Yates compared reading true crime books to riding a roller coaster, suggesting that we find both experiences equally titillating and thrilling, albeit slightly scary. She concluded: ‘Crime is real, guttural, and nasty – but perfectly safe when you are curled up in a chair reading’.

    In-depth analysis of customer reviews from an online book store suggests that women tend to select books about serial killers, especially those that feature female victims and closely examine the background and childhood of the perpetrator, whereas men favour accounts of opportunistic murders. Women are more analytical readers and welcome the chance to figure out the perpetrator’s psyche but, regardless of gender, reading about unsolved crimes and having the opportunity to play detective is popular with all true crime fans, who relish the conquest between good and evil, yet have an almost universal desire for resolution and want the perpetrator to get his or her just deserts.

    There are those who suggest that fans of the genre use it as a rehearsal to practice and fine tune their own potential reactions to tragedy. Some believe that we read true crime in the same vicarious and voyeuristic way that we gawp at road accidents, as a way of reassuring ourselves that we are safe, while allowing us to feel compassion for those who aren’t as fortunate. According to author Gary Provost (1991) the essence of true crime is ‘…normal people, who commit abnormal acts’ and readers of the genre constantly question their own potential for such behaviour. Provost theorises that readers view criminals almost as a completely different species and so study criminal behaviour much as they might be interested in learning about any alternative or alien cultures or societies, highlighting the differences and - heaven forbid - recognising any similarities between ‘us and them’.

     In Hot Blood

    Nicola Sly has a Masters Degree in forensic and legal psychology and currently teaches criminology to adult learners. She is the author of twenty-nine historic true-crime books, including regional and national titles. Her latest title, In Hot Blood, is exclusively available to download as an ebook now. The ebook is available on Kindle, Kobo and directly from The History Press.

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    The Little Book of Wiltshire


    Dee La Vardera will be at Devizes Books, Handel House on Saturday 16th November signing copies of her new book, The Little Book of Wiltshire.

    The Little Book of Wiltshire is a repository of intriguing, fascinating, obscure, strange and entertaining facts and trivia about one of England’s most colourful counties. It is an essential to the born and bred Wiltshire folk or anyone who knows and loves the county. Armed with this fascinating tome the reader will have such knowledge of the county, its landscape, people, places, pleasures and pursuits they will be entertained and enthralled and never short of some frivolous fact to enhance conversation or quiz. A remarkably engaging little book, this is essential reading for visitors and locals alike. 

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    Combining the fascinating archive of the first Duchess of Northumberland with the expertise of Jane, the present duchess and the creator of the famous Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle, this gift book contains a collection of wonderful medicinal recipes passed down through generations. The reader will learn the secrets of the poisonous and curative properties of these plants and the more unusual varieties that have been cultivated and planted for centuries, and will discover how ‘to make teethe whyte’ and how ‘to make heare growe’.

    Beautifully illustrated, The Duchess of Northumberland’s Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs is the ideal gift for those with an interest in the wild plants of Britain, and for those with an interest in poisons and potions… The Duchess of Northumberland was responsible for the £35 million restoration of the 12 acres of walled garden at Alnwick Castle, which now includes the largest treehouse in the world and the famous Poison Garden. The Poison Garden remains one of the few places to have obtained permission from the Home Office to grow cannabis, opium poppies and catha edulis for display.

    The Duchess of Northumberland's Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs


    The luxuriant purple cover itself conveys the promise of potions and this delightful little book does not disappoint.

    Drawing as it does on the archives of the present Duchess of Northumberland, creator of the renowned Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle, the Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs is indeed a “distillation of centuries of information” about the properties of plants, packaged in neat excerpts taken from the archives of Alnwick Castle.

    The excerpts are published in what I take to be the original English of their respective ages (spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries) and as such the book does presume a certain familiarity or at least prior interest in remedies of old. The old English is not a hindrance though and the book does include a helpful note on “Apothecaries’ Measures”. For the initiated like myself it would perhaps have been useful to have also included the Roman numerals "iij", for three times, or "ij", for twice, in the same note but in this age of internet search engines that little hitch was quickly overcome! 

    Once my eye had adjusted to the period English and the apothecaries’ measures, I found plenty to entertain me, such as the excerpt “Of Stinkinge Breathe of the Nostrelles”, or the more palatable piece on Giddines “against the swimming Paynes and giddy tourninges of the heade”, for instance. Also delightfully entertaining was the advice on “To Compose a Love Letter”.

    Some of the potions do fall under “revolting”, though, not least the “Oyle of Frogges”, the use for which also remains elusive, which did not bother me though as I have no intention whatsoever of reproducing it!

    Distinctly more appealing is the “Timbale d’Asperges” with its leanings on the widely acclaimed aphrodisiac properties long associated with asparagus. Equally promising is the “Infallible Receipt for a Sore Throat by Dr W. Duncan”. Comprising sea salt, honey of roses, barley water and warm milk it almost sounds like it is worth acquiring a sore throat for, and it is at least thoroughly tried and tested: “In thirty years practice Dr W. Duncan never knew this fail”.

    The pen and (purple) ink illustrations by Oliver Goodson are a charming enhancement to the recipes and I would have liked to have seen a Table of Contents or an index to make it easier to go back and look up the poisons and potions.

    That not withstanding, the Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs is indeed what it claims to be: the ideal gift for those with an interest in wild plants, poisons and potions.


    Book: The Duchess of Northumberland's Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs 

    Author: The Duchess of Northumberland

    Review by Katherine Taylor


    Katherine Taylor is a translator and trained cook who is passionate about seasonal pick-your-own produce, specialising in culinary translation and the reading of recipe books!

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  • 11/01/13--07:00: The Friday Digest 01/11/13
  • * Five storms that shaped history - The current bad weather in the south of the UK prompted a discussion about moments in history shaped by storms. Historian Dan Snow recalls five of the most significant. 1. In 480 BC the emperor of the mighty Persian Empire, Xerxes, led a massive combined force to conquer the troublesome Greeks.

     Storms that have shaped history Source: BBC Cornwall

    *  10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails - Before email, letter-writing guides were best sellers, the faddy self-help books of their day. There are still many things that we can learn from them before pressing "send", says Simon Garfield. 1. Keep it brief, make it simple. This advice first appeared in a Latin tract somewhere between the 4th Century BC and 4th Century AD.


    * The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo - In 1996, a black teenager protected a white man from an angry mob who thought he supported the racist Klu Klux Klan. It was an act of extraordinary courage and kindness - and is still inspiring people today. Keshia Thomas was 18 when the Klu Klux Klan, the white supremacist organisation, held a rally in her home town in Michigan.

     The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo (Source:

    *  Big storms compared: 1987 and 2013 - The storm that battered parts of the UK on Sunday night and the early hours of Monday was one of the most powerful to hit Britain in recent years, with a maximum gust of nearly 100 mph recorded in the Isle of Wight.


    * The 'real books vs. ebooks' debate needs to end Is there any reason to own paper books beside showing off?

    Book V Ebook (SOurce:

    * 11 Words That Will Make You Sound Super Smart - When someone constantly uses the filler word "like," you probably think they don't sound so smart. But have you ever met someone who's babbling "like" after "like," and then suddenly inserts a zinger of a vocabulary word such as "sycophant," which means a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage (or "obsequiously," which means full of or exhibiting servile compliance)?


    Edith Head: costume designer and star of Google Doodle - in pictures - Edith Head was an American costume designer who worked for nearly 50 years in Hollywood and amassed eight Academy Awards. We decided to take a look at some of her classic designs

     The-Edith-Head-Google-doo source:

    * Halloween costumes and trick or treat: an excuse for mischief - Trick or treating is an ostensibly innocent act. Halloween seems to permit behaviour that would otherwise be unacceptable. This is the only time of the year when it is acceptable for children to accept sweets from strangers, and to play pranks on those who do not oblige.


    Roman eagle rises again in London after 2,000 yearsArchaeologists in London have discovered the finest Romano-British sculpture ever unearthed in the capital. The spectacular 65 centimetre tall sculpture of a Roman eagle with a snake in its beak was found at the bottom of an ancient Roman ditch just south of Aldgate station in the eastern part of the City - and will go on show at the Museum of London from Wednesday.

    * Martians Invade New JerseyThe famed radio broadcast of HG Wells' War of the Worlds took place on October 30th, 1938. The headline in The New York Times was 'Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact'.

    The New York Times (

    Vampires and Poltergeists In around 1890, a dead man named Andilaveris was menacing villagers in Messaria, on the Greek island of Kythnos.

    VE Day: This Could Be The Last TimeWhile all the attention is on next year's sober commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War, we are in danger of neglecting a similarly significant anniversary. May 8th, 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the destruction of Hitler's Third Reich, followed on August 15th by VJ Day.

    Jane Austen banknote portrait 'airbrushed', says biographerA Jane Austen biographer has criticised the Bank of England for selecting an "airbrushed" portrait of the author for its new £10 note. Oxford University fellow Dr Paula Byrne said the 1870 image was a "makeover" of an earlier portrait composed by the novelist's sister Cassandra.

    Jane Austin images (Source: The National Portrait Gallery)

    How did ancient Greek music sound?The music of ancient Greece, unheard for thousands of years, is being brought back to life by Armand D'Angour, a musician and tutor in classics at Oxford University. He describes what his research is discovering.


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

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    From 1437, when Richard Woodville, a mere knight, made a shocking match to the widowed  Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, to 1492, when Queen Elizabeth Woodville breathed her last at Bermondsey Abbey, the Woodvilles trod the boards of the great theatre of fifteenth-century history. Their members married into the greatest houses of England, crossed lances with the finest jousters in Europe, patronised the industry that made it possible for you to hold this book today, fought battles at home and abroad, and helped bring down an entire dynasty. Without them, the history of fifteenth-century England would have been very different.

    War of the Roses

    In 1464, Edward IV, England’s most eligible bachelor, made a shocking disclosure to his council: he had married not a foreign princess, but an English commoner: Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with two children. Their marriage would help to rekindle the dynastic struggle that we know as the Wars of the Roses—a struggle that would lead to the death of the last Plantagenet king in battle and that would place a new dynasty, the Tudors, on the throne. The Woodvilles tells the story of the notorious—and much maligned—family that bred one of history’s most unlikely queen consorts.

    Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV


    I first encountered the Woodville family when I began to read historical fiction set during the Wars of the Roses. The portrayal of the Woodvilles was overwhelmingly negative, and I began to ask myself, “Were they really that bad?” Soon I started researching the family, and as I did, I realized how many myths, half-truths, and unsubstantiated stories had collected around the Woodvilles—the tale that Jacquetta Woodville, the matriarch of the family, arranged to have Sir Thomas Cook arrested on trumped-up charges simply because she coveted his tapestry; the story that Elizabeth Woodville orchestrated the murder of the hapless Earl of Desmond; the claim that the Woodvilles ran off with the royal treasury during the crisis that brought Richard III to the throne.  In reality, Cook, who may well have been guilty of concealing a Lancastrian plot against Edward IV, got off relatively lightly; the story for Elizabeth’s complicity in Desmond’s execution rests upon an unlikely sixteenth-century tale that contains glaring historical errors; and the tale of the Woodvilles stealing the treasury is based solely on a rumour that stands up poorly to scrutiny. As I kept seeing these stories regurgitated uncritically, I began to long for a book, geared toward a popular audience, that would set the record straight.

     An artist's impression of the way Jacquette Woodville, the matriarch of the family, would have looked around the time of her second marriage

    But I wanted to do more than that: I wanted to share the stories of the individual members of the large family who followed Elizabeth Woodville to court. There is her mother, Jacquetta, who as the widowed Duchess of Bedford married Richard Woodville, a knight in her husband’s household, and who would later be accused of witchcraft. There is Richard Woodville, whose daughter’s marriage brought him high office and an earldom—and which cost him his head and that of one of his sons. There is Elizabeth herself, the beauty who ensnared a king, and whose royal sons, the Princes in the Tower, are at the centre of one of history’s greatest mysteries. There is Anthony Woodville, the jouster, soldier, and religious pilgrim whose translations were among the first books to be printed in England, and who was destroyed in Richard III’s quest for the throne. And there was Edward Woodville, the gallant young knight who charmed Ferdinand and Isabella and whose sense of loyalty would lead him to fight—and to die—for a cause not his own.

    Too often, these men and women have been lumped together as a stereotyped greedy, social-climbing mass, their individual stories overlooked in favor of lazy generalisations. If through writing this book I have allowed you to see them and the rest of the Woodville family, without whom English history would be so very different, in a fresh light, I will be most satisfied. 

     The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham

    Read more about one of the most notorious families in history with Susan Higginbotham's 'The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family'

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    As Thick As Thieves


    Richard O. Smith will be at WHSmith, Oxford on Saturday 16th November from 11am-2pm, signing copies of his book, As Thick As Thieves: Foolish Felons & Loopy Laws

    Dipping their stolen bucket of opportunity into the well of other people's stuff, only to fall into the well themselves (and get the bucket stuck on their head), this book chronicles the crimes against common sense committed by these dim-witted deviants. Charged with being in possession of an idiotic plan and sentenced to a life term of stupidity, they're reversing the getaway vehicle into a police car and handing over their belt to the custody sergeant with the inevitable consequence of their trousers falling down. As thick as thieves indeed. It's a case (admittedly, a rather easy one) for the police to dial M for Muppet. This is an ideal gift book that will make you laugh out loud. 

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    A Very Unusual Air War: From Dunkirk to AFDU - the Diary and Log Book of Test Pilot


    Gill & Barry Griffin will be at Waterstones, Redditch on Saturday 16th November signing copies of their new book, A Very Unusual Air War: From Dunkirk to AFDU - the Diary and Log Book of Test Pilot.

    The 20-year-old Len Thorne joined the RAF in May 1940. After two hectic tours of operational duty as a fighter pilot (including some desperately dangerous low-level flying at Dunkirk) he was posted to AFDU (Air Fighting Development Unit) and remained there as a test pilot for the rest of the war. He flew both Allied aircraft and captured enemy planes and was a colleague of many of the fighter ‘aces’. Fortunately for us, Len kept an insightful diary, which, set alongside his log book, tells the unique story of a member of the AFDU, tasked with developing operational tactics and testing captured enemy aircraft. Len provides not only an insight into the amazing work done by the test pilots but also into some of the most famous flyers of the RAF, with whom he worked, including Wing Commander Al Deere and Spitfire Aces SL ‘Paddy’ Finucane, Ernie Ryder, and many others. 

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    Friends. But for how long?

    If you thought the Cold War between East and West reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, then think again. 1945 was the year when Europe was the crucible for a Third World War.

    So concerned was the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, that in the spring of that year he ordered his Chiefs of Staff to prepare a plan, ‘Operation Unthinkable’ to attack the Soviet Empire. The top secret plan was so sensitive that only Churchill’s immediate circle of military advisors were privy to the blueprint. The detailed proposal, which may seem fanciful today, sought to claw back East Germany and Poland, which had fallen under Soviet domination. Churchill felt particularly guilty over the fate of the Poles, who had fought valiantly for the Allies during the war but whose future was now dictated by Stalin.  

    If Churchill wanted to act, he knew that time was running out. The United States were about to move vast numbers of their troops and ordnance out to the Far East for the assault on mainland Japan, leaving Western Europe at the mercy of Stalin. Furthermore, demobilisation would start after VE Day and would rapidly reduce the size of the British Army and their capacity for offensive action.

    The Big Three at Yalta

    The plan called for a massive Allied assault on 1 July 1945 by British, American, Polish and German – yes German – forces against the Red Army. They aimed to push them back out of Soviet-occupied East Germany and Poland, give Stalin and bloody nose, and force him to re-consider his domination of East Europe. But the plan was fraught with danger and the Allied force risked being dragged deeper into Soviet territory to face the nightmare of fighting in a Russian winter. The ghosts of Hitler and Napoleon were never far away.

    Eventually in June 1945 Churchill’s military advisors cautioned him against implementing the plan, but it still remained a blueprint for a Third World War. There were numerous flashpoints around Europe, where Allied troops were face-to-face with the Red Army and any of these confrontations could have sparked another world conflict. The Americans had just successfully tested an atomic bomb, and there was now the final temptation of obliterating Soviet centres of population.   

    But Churchill’s political days were numbered. In July 1945 a General Election removed him from office and the plan for ‘Operation Unthinkable’ was but away in the bottom drawer. Churchill, alone amongst Western leaders, appreciated the Soviet threat, and it was only a matter of months before the Americans themselves woke up to the threat from Stalin and consulted the British military about a new war plan. The Cold War was now a reality.

    Operation Unthinkable

    Operation Unthinkable: The Third World War, written by Jonathan Walker, explores Churchill’s chilling plan. Using a wide range of primary sources, he outlines the background and unfolding drama surrounding ‘the war that never was.’

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  • 11/08/13--04:30: The Friday Digest 08/11/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Some thought POWs in Switzerland were cowards who were trying to avoid combat, but the grandfather of one of the POWs set out to change that misperception. (c) CBS News

    The contribution of the US airmen imprisoned in Switzerland during the Second World War has finally been recognised. Many people thought that POWs in Switzerland were cowards who were trying to avoid combat, but the grandson of one of the POWs set out to change that misperception. 

    Nazi "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Berlin, 24 Feb, 1938 (c) Reuters

    * A flat in Munich has revealed a surprising discovery, with 1,500 paintings which have been missing since 1939 being found inside. The flat belonged to Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of four senior Modern Art dealers in Germany who were appointed in 1938  to sell 'degenerate art'  for foreign currency.

    * Just why did Hitler hate modernism and so-called 'degenerate art'?  

    Soldier’s tale: top, Wilfred Willett, seated second from right, paid a terrible price for his courage. Image from 

    * For the centenary of the Great War, there has been a renewed effort to remember the fallen, but do we consider the enduring agony of the First World War survivors


    A memorial at Deopham Green, Norfolk, used by the US Air Force in WW2. Image from

    * And as the very nature of memorials is changing, argues Dr Sam Edwards, how should we remember a war

    Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in Emma (1996): 'The novel is supremely English – in character, landscape, sensibility and wit.' Photograph: Allstar/ Cinetext/ Miramax

    * The Observer has placed Jane Austen's Emma  as number 7 of their 100 best novels. Do you agree that it is the best of Austen's work?

    * 10 traps to avoid when modernising Jane Austen.


    Fine focus … manuscripts by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one of many crime writers to have tackled a real-life mystery. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian 

    * The 10 crime fiction writers who turned actual detective

    * The CWA names Agatha Christie 'best ever' crime author in a poll conducted to celebrate the Association's 60th birthday.

    * Reading over this advert for 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' you can see some very poor predictive skills at work! 

    Albert Camus. Image from

    * The 7 November marked the centenary of Albert Camus’s birth with reissues of books and many events to celebrate the anniversary, but what is it about Camus’s body of work that provides such endless inspiration?

    * Camus's book, The Outsider, is one of a select set of works that generations of disaffected teenagers have turned to as a rite of passage but is there really an 'angst canon' of books that teenagers read?


    Book shelf. Image from

    * Some wonderful pictures of awesome people reading...

    * The inaugural Book Cover Design Awards were launched this month by two of the UK's leading book designers, Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan. The awards aim to celebrate book cover design from a wide range of genres - why not nominate your favourite cover from 2013?

    From Rapunzel to The Little Red Riding HoodBrain Pickings shares beloved children’s classics as minimalist posters.

    10 things to love about brick-and-mortar bookstores

    Digital Book World asks are UK publishers innovating in the ebook era?  

    What is driving UK publishers out of business


    NSA. Image from


    *  Spying, surveillance and snooping have been used by governments since the Romans; the BBC looks at a world history of government spying.  

    NSA files decoded: Edward Snowden's surveillance revelations explained


    Metal detectorist uncovers suspected Roman child coffin. Image from


    Metal detectorist uncovers suspected Roman child coffin which is believed to date from the third century AD.

    Haughmond Abbey (c) Image John Warburton-Lee
    Professor Peter Gaunt shares his favourite historical places including Haughmond Abbey and Prague Castle. 

    * What would Victorian BuzzFeed look like

    Image from

    Eleanor Betts shares her excitement at finding original written confessions by children who were charged with murder in nineteenth-century England


    The team of students, named Pudding Lane Productions, adapted historical maps and engravings from the British Library using software from game developer Crytek. Image from

    * Maps of seventeenth-century London have been brought to life in a new 3D video game designed by a team of students from De Montfort University, Leicester. 

    Richard III's final moments remain unclear

    * How re-enactments could one day help us understand the final moments of Richard III.


    Movember moustaches


    * As men around the world start growing some facial fuzz for 'Movember', History Extra share the top five tashes in historyDon't forget to sponsor The History Press's Movember team HERE.

    mary-beard-smiling-television-classicist. Photograph: Caterina Turroni/BBC/Lion TV

    * Mary Beard asks, why do history?

    Penny for the guy. (c) Getty

    * It may have been Bonfire Night on 5 November, but where have all the guys gone?

    Archaeologists have uncovered the largest and most diverse range of Middle Bronze Age domestic artefacts ever found in East Anglia.


    A chimpanzee (c) Thinkstock

    * Hans Rosling asks: do you know more about the world than a chimpanzee


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

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    Mary Jane Kelly, contemporary sketch. Image from

    Of all the Ripper’s victims, Mary Jane Kelly is the most enigmatic. Her death brought her to the notice of posterity, but her backstory remains shadowy and largely out-of-reach. She herself, having fallen into a relationship with a fishmarket porter named Joseph Barnett, provided a detailed history, full of adventure and sadness. Some aspects of her self-described past now appear to check out, but still a comprehensive and verifiable overview of her background continues to elude researchers.

    The photograph of Mary Jane’s corpse, on her bed, divested of practically everything which made her human, is the last, hideous memento of Jack the Ripper’s murderous fugue. In a break with his previous habits, the Ripper ventured inside to kill, and apparently satisfied himself that he was unlikely to be interrupted that night. Barnett had, indeed, moved out of the squalid room in Millers Court which he had shared with Mary Jane a few weeks earlier, insulted by her return to regular prostitution, leaving her alone. Living upstairs, Elizabeth Prater heard a cry of murder at about four in the morning of 9 November 1888 – but she did nothing about it. Mary Jane’s lifeless body was discovered shortly before eleven.

    One senior policeman, reviewing the case later on, concluded that the abattoir scene in Millers Court had tipped the mind of its creator. Perhaps. It is certainly true to say that nothing on a comparable scale happened again. 

    Jack the Ripper’s true identity died on the blanched lips of Mary Jane Kelly.

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    Great War Fashion opens the woman’s wardrobe in the years before the outbreak of war to explore the real woman behind the stiff, mono-bosomed ideal of the Edwardian Society lady draped in gossamer gowns, and closes it on a new breed of women who have donned trousers and overalls to feed the nation’s guns in munitions factories and who, clad in mourning, have loved and lost a whole generation of men.

    The journey through Great War Fashion is not just about the changing clothes and fashions of the war years, but much more than that – it is a journey into the lives of the women who lived under the shadow of war and were irrevocably changed by it. At times, laugh-out-loud funny and at others, bringing you to tears, Lucy Adlington paints a unique portrait of an inspiring generation of women, brought to life in rare and stunning images.

    Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe


    We all know that, next year, in 2014, we are going to be thinking a great deal about the First World War. We’ll spend a lot of time reflecting on the causes, the battles and the aftermath of that terrible conflict. Lucy Adlington’s Great War Fashion, then, is well timed. It offers a well-researched perspective on women’s contributions during that difficult time, but it also offers an alternative point of view from the standard war history, since it’s more about how life went on beyond the shells and trenches and how it went on for women, in particular. 

    This handsome volume gives fascinating insights into who was wearing what, when, where and why. There’s a central recognition that, as women’s lives changed, so clothes changed too: there was new attire for new roles and tasks. It’s no surprise that Lucy Adlington tackles the assumption of a self-evident link between proper clothes and proper behaviour. Today young women wouldn’t be cowed by the observation that “Her hat’s never on straight” (p22), an accusation levelled at suffragist Ada Chew, as a way of undermining her right to an opinion. However, it would be naive to think that young women today are not still judged by how they look, one way or another. 

    Lucy Adlington has drawn on a whole range of sources for her information: photographs and fashion plates as you might expect, but also diaries, memoirs, novels and advertisements. What’s so engaging is how the author considers so many different aspects of dress during the period. She talks about underwear, overwear, workwear, sportswear, uniform, accessories and high fashion. She shows us what women at the time wore when getting married, when pregnant and when widowed. She discusses the cost of clothes and how best to look after precious garments. Did you know, for example, that a touch of rice water can prevent your summer dress from looking limp? 

    This beautifully presented book is a great treat for the mind but also for the eye. 

    Now I have finished reading it thoroughly, I’m going to pick it up again to spend more time looking at the lovely illustrations. Buy it – you won’t regret it. Buy one for yourself and another one to give away to a friend, sister, daughter or niece. Anyone who reads it will love it. 


    Book: Great War Fashion

    Author: Lucy Adlington

    Review by Sue Creed


    Sue Creed is an avid reader who is keen to promote books of all kinds. She has worked in education - at school and university level - for more than 25 years. When she's not reading, she's gardening

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    At the end of the First World War, when the American president Woodrow Wilson spoke of ‘the war to end all wars’, did the world actually believe it? After the loss of millions upon millions of men, women and children of all nationalities and creeds across the globe, did the world really think it would never happen again? Since then, there have been many more wars and conflicts resulting in poverty, injuries and, of course, many more deaths.

    A few years ago, I had a simple idea: send postcards to those who might share their thoughts with others on loss, remembrance, war and peace. The response was remarkable. Men and women from all walks of life, from the Cabinet, the House of Lords and the senior ranks of the British Army to ex-servicemen, journalists and war widows, felt moved to express their feelings in a few words on those postcards. Some are simple reminiscences; some are more profound. This book will sadden, provoke and inspire.


    …They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
    They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
    They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
    They sleep beyond England’s foam.
    But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
    Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
    To the innermost heart of their own land they
    are known
    As the stars are known to the Night;
    As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
    Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
    As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
    To the end, to the end, they remain.

    For the Fallen by Lawrence Binyon (1869–1943)

    Simon Clegg

    As Hegel once said, “The only thing we learn from History is that we learn nothing from History.” 

    Too often politicians around the globe forget this and create wars and conflicts with the most terrible consequences. Global peace is a worthy goal but sadly unattainable until man learns to control his ambition.

    - Simon Clegg (Chief Executive of Ipswich Town Football Club)

    Dame Vera Lynn DBE

    Vera Lynn travelled to many battle-fronts to entertain the troops and boost the morale of our service personnel during the Second World War. She became known as ‘The Forces Sweetheart’, and brought tears to many eyes with her songs of home and family, such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’. A little-known fact is that she was the first British female artist to top the American charts. In 2010, she released an album of her wartime hits, and this sold over 1,000,000 copies in the United Kingdom alone, thus making her the oldest artist to have a No. 1 hit in the album charts.

    It is good that we have Remembrance Day,
    as it is good we never forget those who gave
    their lives for us and continue to do so.

    - Dame Vera Lynne, DBE‘ (The Forces Sweetheart’)

    Joanna Lumley OBE FRGS 

    Joanna Lumley is an actress, comedienne, model, campaigner and author. Born in Srinagar in the state of Kashmir, her father was Major James Rutherford Lumley, who served in the 6th Ghurkha Rifles. She works for the Ghurkha Justice Campaign and Survival International and is a patron of Tree Aid and PENHA (Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa).

    As the daughter of a professional soldier I know sometimes
    peace can only be won by conflict – peace is the most
    precious flower, growing on the same tree as freedom,
    compassion and loving kindness. If you ever have to choose
    between war and peace, give peace a chance first. Try in
    every way to find a peaceful solution. Keep trying: and when
    all seems lost, try again, and fight for it if you have to.
    “Give Peace a Chance”.

    - Joanna Lumley (OBE FRGS. Actress, model, activist)


    Virginia McKenna won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in 1956 for A Town Like Alice and was Oscar-nominated for her role as Violette Szabo in the film Carve Her Name with Pride. She is best known for her 1966 role as Joy Adamson in the true-life film Born Free, for which she won a Golden Globe. She and her late husband, Bill Travers, who also starred with her in Born Free, became wild animal rights campaigners and fought for the protection of their natural habitat. They set up a conservation area in Kenya, which also became their home. In 2004, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to wildlife and the arts.

    ‘When I think about wars and all that they mean, various thoughts and
    emotions arise. Perhaps one of the strongest is a source of overwhelming
    gratitude to the many extraordinary men and women prepared to risk their
    lives. I do not always feel these sacrifices are justified, as we sometimes seem
    to be involved in wars in remote places for remote reasons. So I feel deeply
    sad about those, as many families lose treasured sons and daughter, husbands
    and brothers in conflicts they do not fully understand or believe are
    warranted. I am against violence of all kinds, and therefore I never lose
    hope that one day guns will be silenced, hatred and distrust will end and
    kindness, respect and love will triumph.’

    - Virginia McKenna (Stage and screen actress and campaigner) 

     Tim Rees- Welsh Guards

    With the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards Tim saw active service in Northern Ireland and the Falklands war of 1982. During peacetime, his duties included battalion photographer, a job that included covering many historical and royal events. His regular ‘bivouak’ for the night when in London was Buckingham Palace! Upon leaving the army, he went to work for the BBC in Cardiff. He was asked to tell his story of the war, and the BBC play Mimosa Boys was the result. He is the author of In Sights: The Story of a Welsh Guardsman.


    It is ordinary men who answer the call. In the field of
    battle, those ordinary men stand up and are forged into
    great men. Many of these great men pay the ultimate
    price. Their only reward is our freedom. It is our duty to
    honour their memory with love for each other.

    - Tim Rees (Welsh Guards)

    All the royalties on sales will go to two charities. The first is Help for Heroes, established in 2007 working for the wounded of the British Armed forces, an astonishingly successful organisation responsible for huge capital projects like the £8.5m Rehabilitation Complex at Headley Court, as well as providing funds to wounded individual members of the armed forces according to need. The second is Action Cancer, providing early detection, counselling and support services and cancer prevention education. They were there for Ray when his wife was diagnosed as terminally ill. This book has been created with love and gratitude.

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    Last month, I drove my eldest son up to York where I left him, with a duvet and minimal cooking skills, to embark upon three years of university education.  We both shed a tear as we said goodbye, and, as I drove back down the A1, I felt the inevitable emotions no doubt experienced by countless parents leaving their children to fend for themselves for the first time.  But a month has already flown by and I am pleased to report he is alive and well.  I can call him, text him, Skype him and if the urge took either of us, it’s a short, two hour train journey up there or back down to London.  There is no real hardship in this separation.  He is safe, warm and studying maths, which, much to my bemusement, he enjoys.   Before I know it, it will be early December and he will be back at home for Christmas, filling our laundry basket, raiding the biscuit tin and lying in bed until the early afternoon.

    From one (small, personal) landmark event to another, when I began to think about the importance of commemorating the centenary of the Great War, I could not help but wonder on how different this scenario may have been one hundred years ago. What if, instead, I was the mother of an 18-year-old son then?  It is likely that instead of depositing him in a cosy, historical city to study calculus, equations and statistics, I would be waving him off at a London railway station where he would be bound for an Army training camp and from there, perhaps, for France, Belgium or another seat of war.  I would have to say goodbye to him, not knowing if I would ever see him again.  The relief of seeing him home on leave would always tainted by the anguish of having to say goodbye again and I would worry incessantly that he was cold, hungry, homesick, or, worst of all, frightened.   I would spend my days waiting for letters and postcards from him, dreading they would suddenly, ominously stop to be replaced instead by the knock of a telegram boy at our front door.  I would have to live daily with the fear that he, my clever, lazy, easy-going, affable, lanky, gentle boy, might be snuffed out by a sniper’s bullet, a hail of machine gun fire or worse.  I would have to accept that I might never know how he died.  And if I did, it might not be the truth.  Perhaps he would return, but be wounded, shaking with shellshock, limbless, blinded, or facially maimed.  Perhaps he might survive the war intact, unharmed and complete. Perhaps he would go on to live a long and happy life. Perhaps.

    Soldier on leave returning home during World War I  © Mary Evans/Robert Hunt Collection/Imperial War Museum

    It is hard to know what my son would have made of the war if he had been an 18 year old then.  He is privately educated, a scholarship boy, but was cynical about the traditional aspects of independent school life.  The OTC was not for him, and he only showed a mild interest in sport in what was an intensely sporty school (though his fondness for fencing may have been a useful transferable skill in 1914).  His extra-curricular activities amounted to philosophy club, maths club and the odd bit part in school drama productions.  Apart from his academic ability, there was nothing to distinguish him at school as ‘officer material’.  What sort of person would he have been had he been born 100 years earlier – in 1895 rather than 1995?  Britain was a different place then and yet, oddly, the voices from that period do not seem so different from our own.  We can, to a certain extent, understand and recognise them, which is why I felt compelled to identify with the wartime mother of a century ago.  But there is also plenty to set us apart and the values and beliefs of society in 1914 can also seem bewilderingly naïve and narrow-minded.  It is a moot point considering how military technology has advanced over the last century, but the notion of hundreds of thousands of civilian men today rushing to volunteer as soldiers ‘for Queen and Country’ without truly questioning whether the cause is just, logical or within their country’s best interests, seems unimaginable.  I can no more envisage my son trooping off to  ‘join the colours’ than I can imagine myself becoming a munitionette. 

    But, one hundred years ago, I think it’s likely my son would have had a very different outlook on life.  He would have been brought up and educated to believe in the might and paternalism of the British Empire and his childhood reading would have included rousing tales of derring-do in the best tradition of Boy’s Own.  His school would have instilled a military discipline in him, and he would have no doubt gone through Officer Training Corps drills with the rest of his peers.  There was less room for individual thought and no place for dissension.  The minority who protested against the war were called ‘peace cranks’ in the press, a name suggestive of a defective eccentricity of thought not suffered by the majority of the population.  In 1914, any principles a middle class, educated man was likely to have would have most likely manifested themselves through a sense of patriotism and duty.  Failing that, my son’s taciturn nature might have meant that he simply resigned himself to the inevitable.   And so I think the most likely scenario is that my firstborn child, with his education and background, would have been granted a commission and would have crossed the Channel as a Lieutenant with his regiment.  98 alumni from my son’s school lost their lives in the Great War.  There was a very strong probability that he could have been among them, killed, quite possibly leading his men in an attack as so many young officers did.  And I, as his mother, would have had to sit at home, knitting comforts, while it all happened.  I can’t even knit. 

    If my son read this today, he would no doubt find it overly dramatic and a tad sentimental.  He might even laugh.  But I make no apologies for some of the clichés emerging from my imagination.  These scenarios were, for hundreds of thousands of mothers, a horrible, stark reality.  No parent wants to outlive their own child but between 1914 and 1918, that is exactly what hundreds of thousands of parents did.   As historians, we juggle around with facts, evidence and retrospection, but what we really want to do is get to the heart of a particular period in the past.  We want to understand what people thought, and how they felt, what they wore, what they wrote, whom they loved and what they feared.  Surely it is the best way to engage other people with history – to get them to immerse themselves in it and to imagine what it would have been like for them?   As publishers, press, television, museums and archives focus activity on commemorating the Great War, the centenary will offer up multi-faceted ways to engage with its history.  There will surely be, something to appeal to everyone. 

    Ettie, Lady Desborough, one of the great Edwardian society hostesses, who famously lost her two elder sons in the First World War © Illustrated London News Ltd Mary Evans

    In the course of researching my book, ‘Great War Britain,’ I trawled a number of society magazines including The Tatler and The Sketch, in which, each week, the rolls of honour listed those officers killed or missing in action.  It makes sobering reading and although the men featured were from society’s elite upper classes, the mournful tally of their deaths is affecting (though no more or less tragic than those from other social classes).  It led me to read further into the lives of some of the families.  I read Nicholas Mosley’s biography of Julian Grenfell, whose mother Ettie, Lady Desborough lost her two elder sons in the war.  I dipped into The Asquiths by Colin Clifford and read how the death of the ex-Prime Minister’s son Raymond affected the family, and Catherine Bailey’s recent book, ‘The Secret Rooms,’ tells of how the future 9th Duke of Rutland was kept safe from harm with a staff position for the course of the war, due to the string-pulling by his well-connected mother, Violet.  These are stories that can be pieced together with the benefit of archives, painstakingly collated and preserved.  For the vast majority of families whose ancestors fought in the Great War, there is little, or no documentary evidence of a life that once was.  But by reading about the experiences that were documented, it gives some sense of the emotional devastation that touched so many families across the nation.  The Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ project aims to ‘bring material from museums, libraries, archives and family collections from across the world together in one place, inspiring people of all ages to explore, reveal and share the life stories of those who served in uniform and worked on the home front.’  By the end of the centenary, they estimate they will have built a digital memorial to 8 million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth who served in the war.  It is a huge task, but one that they hope will help people ‘understand the impact of this global conflict and how it shaped the world we live in today.’ It is a project that addresses the issues of our collective past According to The Guardian this week, ‘New research, published a week before Remembrance Sunday, shows that most British people regret not having done more to record the first world war stories they were told by their families. A YouGov poll of 2,000 people for the autobiography service LifeBook UK found that 64% had had stories about the war related by a parent or grandparent but only 8% had recorded them; 62% of those who had been told stories regretted not having written them down for their children and grandchildren.’  It is down to us – galvanised by that centenary looming on the horizon – to piece together what is left into a meaningful story for future generations.  It is also a valuable lesson, in an increasingly throwaway society, to preserve our own memories for the future.   

    So while remembering the Great War allows us to educate, inform and build a strong picture of our national past, there is, fundamentally, our strong desire to demonstrate correctly a respect for the people who lived, fought and died through the conflict. 

    First Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, as reported on the front page of the Daily Sketch. ©John Frost Newspapers/Mary Evans Picture Library

    This week in the news, the University of London Students’ Union announced they would not be attending the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph in an official capacity.  Their president stated this was a political stance and in no way represented a wish to forget or dishonour the dead.  Not all students at the university agree with their president, and nor do I.  Surely the purpose of Remembrance Sunday is not only to remember those men and women who gave their lives in service to their country, but to also gather together in peace and in harmony.  It is a time, quite simply, to reflect and to remember, not to settle scores or make political statements.     

    Whatever the reasons for war, it is only right and proper that we do not forget those who died fighting it.  My youngest child has just started school this year.  I realise that for her, the Great War will be far more distant in the memory when she gets to secondary school than the Boer War was for me.  Why should we continue to commemorate and still give prominence to an event that is receding further back into history?

    The First World War marked a sea change in centuries of warfare, and a turning point in world history.  For the first time British citizens were called on to participate and to do something that previously had been only the responsibility of career or reserve soldiers.  And they did so in enormous, unprecedented numbers.   This is more than Lord Kitchener’s finger pointing out from that poster.  This was a war with a huge human cost felt in every town and village across the warring nations.  These were men who were clerks, doctors, shopkeepers, factory workers, teachers, farmhands and salesmen - who found themselves in muddy, flooded trenches for days on end, on sinking battleships in the frozen North Sea, men who saw death at first-hand, ordinary people who often carried out extraordinary acts of bravery alongside many who were no doubt, very, very, forgivably petrified.  These were people like us.  One hundred years ago may seem like ancient history to kids of today, but that should not dilute the importance of recognising the huge sacrifice made by an earlier generation.  The centenary will revisit, revive and restore the study and understanding of the Great War to a wider audience and, we hope, create a legacy of knowledge that will ensure it will not be forgotten.

    And if there are still those that need persuading that this is an event that deserves such widespread attention; if they wonder why the carved names on the memorials around Britain and in France or the annual Remembrance Day service is not enough.  If the staggering statistics of the dead and wounded feel increasingly irrelevant with the passage of time, the reasons for the war cloudy and confused, or the four years of programming planned by the BBC verging on overkill, then they might simply think of this. 

    Imagine it is your son marching off to war.  If you are not a parent, imagine it is the person you love most in the world.  Now imagine receiving a telegram one day, informing you in sparse, chilling words, that they have been killed in action.   After the shock, the anguish, the grief and the irreplaceable sense of loss, you might hope for one thing - that his life should be remembered, even after you are gone, and that the circumstances of his death are understood and acknowledged.    

    Letter of condolence written by a scribe from King George V to E. Camells' mother during the first world war. © Mary Evans/Robert Hunt Collection

    Lest we forget, we owe them – and their mothers – this at the very least.    

    All photographs taken from the Mary Evans Picture Library and the Picturing the Great War blog

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    Alice Pugh, Lucy Adlington's great-grandmother

    At 11am on November 11
    th I was sitting at the window of a Victorian farmhouse looking out over a village duckpond.  I wondered how people 95 years ago had felt, hearing of the armistice in 1918.

    I do not want to commemorate war. 

    In 2014 I will not only be mindful of those who engineered the slaughter, those who suffered it and those who patched up the wounded afterwards. In 2014 I will also be commemorating the lives of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times.

    There are six people in this photograph.

    One of them is my great-grandfather.  He fought.  He was gassed.  He came home.  That’s all I know.  Family history reveals even less about my great-grandmother, beyond her slightly harassed expression.  My grandfather is the little chap on the left.  He had memories of Zeppelins that were quickly superseded by his own experiences of war later in the century.

    Unremarkable lives perhaps.  No grand heroic deeds, no political machinations, no pioneering cultural contributions.

    There are some who say we should get 'out of the trenches' and see the Great War as history, not a collection of individual stories, as if there is some grand 'proper' history that should take precedence.  A wide perspective is important of course.  We have a need to analyse and understand how such a catastrophe came to pass; to make sense of how our society and systems have evolved since then.

    However, as we look at the big, bold pattern of history we must acknowledge that the pattern is a weave.  Like any fabric, history is made up of a multitude of threads, some warp, some weft, some embellished, some invisible. The patterns can only be seen as a whole by stepping away from the minutiae, but, in the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, “the material must precede the thesis” - the whole bold pattern cannot be understood unless there is a real appreciation for individual threads.

    We need all the stories - of combatants, conchies and clippies.  Of housewives and members of the House of Lords.  Without these single threads there would be no fabric and no grand pattern. 

    The late 20th century has seen a vital surge in interest in micro history – the focus on the 'small.'  We research history on a community level. We track our own ancestors.  We are also learning to appreciate that those who seem passive in history are still part of it, whether of a racial or cultural minority, or of the gender not usually associated with war.  No housewives went 'over the top', debated in Parliament, or designed weaponry, but their existence is most certainly part of the pattern.  This is not only in relation to the war, as consumers, war-workers, or moral support.  Their everyday experiences were as vital to them as any number of reports of battles and treaties only read about and felt from a distance. 

    Four years of conflict happened to all six people in my family photograph. A century later we reflect on the Great War and its aftermath.  In 2014 I will commemorate the survival of the ordinary in extraordinary times. 

    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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  • 11/13/13--00:30: Q&A with Nicola Sly
  • Nicola Sly

    Nicola Sly has a Masters Degree in forensic and legal psychology and currently teaches criminology to adult learners. She is the author of twenty-nine historic true-crime books, including regional and national titles. Her latest title, In Hot Blood, is available to download as an ebook now. She lives in Cornwall.


    Q. Why write true crime?

    It is a subject that has fascinated me for more than forty years and I truly believe that writers write best about subjects that they find fascinating.


    Q. As a teacher of criminology, how has your job influenced your writing?

    It hasn't at all – they are entirely separate entities. Teaching criminology involves imparting current theories, whereas my books deal with historical crime. 


    Q. ‘In Hot Blood’ is your first direct to ebook title. What are your thoughts on digital publishing and do you think that social media has helped you to market your books / you as an author?

    I appreciate the advantages of digital publishing, particularly as I live in a small cottage and at last count currently own around 2,000 books! I’m also a fan of reading ebooks whenever I’m on holiday, as an e reader is only a fraction of the weight of paper books and takes up a lot less room in a suitcase. I especially love the immediacy of ebooks – no having to travel miles to the shops or interminable waiting for the postman to deliver my order. Yet, If I’m to be completely honest, I personally prefer the feeling of holding a new book in my hands, flicking through the pages to look at the illustrations, catching that unmistakeable ‘new book smell’ and anticipating the pleasure of immersing myself in the story. Not to mention the joy of browsing around a book shop, discovering new authors and rediscovering old favourites…

    Q. This is your 29th book with The History Press. Which case have you come across that you have found the most disturbing?


    I find every single murder case I write about disturbing, since each one involves the loss of a precious human life or lives. That said, one that haunts me more than most is the story of the 1926 murders of an entire family in Bournemouth, which feature in my 2008 book ‘Dorset Murders’. 

    The family comprised Robert Percy Wright, his wife Beatrice and their two little girls, Marjory (3) and Amy Violet (22 months). Through no fault of his own, Robert lost his job and ran up large bills with the local tradesmen while trying to find another one. When he finally got work, despite his foreman describing him as ‘a working machine’, who was willing to tackle any job, no matter how hard or unpleasant, Robert struggled to earn enough money to clear his debts and the Wrights fell deeper and deeper into poverty. Over Christmas 1925, Robert had ‘flu but insisted on cycling to and from his job every day and took only Christmas Day off work. To make matters worse, Amy also had ‘flu and, unable to afford a doctor for her, after working all day Robert stayed awake all night, nursing her around the clock.

    By New Year, 1926, the family were surviving only on milk left on their doorstep by a kindly milkman and in late January, Robert snapped, practically decapitating his wife and daughters with an axe, before cutting his own throat with a razor. Alerted by the milkman, who found the milk he had left the previous day frozen on the doorstep, the police broke into the Wrights’ home and found all four bodies. Two shillings was put aside on the mantelpiece ready to pay the rent but there wasn’t a morsel of food or coal in the freezing cold house and Mr and Mrs Wright had pawned almost everything they owned in order to feed their daughters. 

    This is the one case that makes me wish I had the power to go back in time and change history.

    Q. Your books cover historic cases of murder. Do you think much has changed today in terms of violence and domestic abuse?


    This is a debate that will go on and on. We have such graphic films and television programmes and even computer games nowadays that extreme violence becomes an integral part of our day-to-day lives and we risk becoming immune to its devastation. Yet historically, it was not uncommon for families to ‘hire out’ the bodies of their dead children to other families, so that they might claim insurance pay outs. Neither was it unknown for relatives to charge the general public to view the body of a murder victim.

    My personal belief is that we perceive our world as being more violent today simply because we are constantly exposed to media reports of crime and violence. 

    Q. When writing regional titles, how important is location and how do you go about researching the cases?

    Location is naturally very important, since people want to read about ‘their’ particular area, so I try to write about regions I know well.

    I actually love doing research. When I’m writing about murders, I might initially look on the internet for names and dates but, other than that, I don’t read accounts of cases. The majority of my research involves scrolling through local newspapers on microfiche. 


    Q. Who are your writing influences? Which authors do you admire?

    I don’t think I have any particular writing influences, although I have learned a great deal from my sometime co-author John van der Kiste. I admire any author who can complete a readable book but naturally I have my favourites. I don’t read much fiction and am not a fan of the horror genre as a whole but I have read every single Stephen King book to date on the day of its publication. I find his ability to weave a believable story from the most bizarre plotlines intriguing and am envious of his ability to make his readers suspend their disbelief without question. In my opinion, Ann Rule is the queen of true crime and I try to emulate her meticulous research and her compassionate handling of the cases she writes about. Finally, given that I usually write about murders, the humorous books written by both Roddy Doyle and Brendan O’Carroll (he/she of ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ fame) invariably make me laugh out loud and provide some very welcome light relief. 


    Q. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?

    Only very, very occasionally - if I do, I usually go for a swim.


    Q. Have you ever thought about writing crime fiction?

    I would never say ‘never’, but I think it’s unlikely. I have a couple of excellent plots in my mind but I struggle to write believable dialogue.


    Q. Finally, what can we expect next from you?


    I have nothing in the pipeline at the moment.

    In Hot Blood

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  • 11/15/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 15/11/13
  • The Friday Digest 15/11/13


    * 15 Modern-day uses for poison rings - Poison rings were originally a sinister accessory with just enough room in the space beneath the jewel to hold a little arsenic to sprinkle over the king's lunch. Now poison rings come in peace, but that doesn't mean these deadly accessories have to be purely decorative - there is still a hiding place within them that's begging to be filled.

    Poison Ring (Source: 

     * Kristallnacht 75 years on: How strong is anti-Semitism in Germany? - It's 75 years since the pogroms that became known as Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass. It was the outbreak of mass violence against Jews which was to end in their mass murder. As the anniversary is marked, how strong - or weak - is anti-Semitism in Germany today?

     The Night of Broken Glass (Source: Getty Images)

     * The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board, Tool of the devil, harmless family game—or fascinating glimpse into the non-conscious mind? - In February, 1891, the first few advertisements started appearing in papers: "Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board," boomed a Pittsburgh toy and novelty shop, describing a magical device that answered questions "about the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy" and promised "never-failing amusement and recreation for all the classes," a link "between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial."

     ouija-board-historical-gallery (Source:

     * 56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using - We don't know how these phrases ever fell out of fashion, but we propose bringing them back.

     * Squeezed museums ‘feeling the heat’ - There is a growing gulf between museums in London and elsewhere in the UK that has left some venues struggling to host exhibitions and facing closure, the Museums Association president has said. "We're beginning to go into a different world where the temperature's going right up," David Anderson warned.

     * Lizzie Siddal: Victorian model's tragic story on stage - In 1849, Lizzie Siddal was plucked from obscurity to pose for some of the best-known painters of the Victorian art world. Now her tragic life story is being brought to the stage for the first time. Elizabeth Siddal has been described by one biographer as a "Pre-Raphaelite supermodel".

    Lizzie Siddal posed for Millais' Ophelia (1851-2) in a bath full of water in his studio (Source:

    *  What happened in the rest of the world in 1066? - British people tend to see the world through key dates - 1066, 1815, 1914, 1945 etc. But what was happening in other parts of the world in those fateful years, asks Dr Michael Scott. Last year I was watching the build-up to the London Olympics opening ceremony when a commentator quipped: "This will be a date you will never forget."

    * Only in England: Photographs from a bygone eraBefore his death at the age of 30, photographer Tony Ray-Jones spent the latter half of the 1960s travelling across England trying to capture a disappearing way of life.

    Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr can be seen at the Science Museum, London, until 16 March 2014.

     * Aiming to change the outcome of World War One - Even at moments of remembrance the origins of World War One seem as distant as the fall of Rome. The steps in the doomed diplomatic dance in the summer of 1914 are hopelessly remote to the modern mind.

    * The real Jewish treasures of World War Two - A New York Times headline summed up one view of the missing art story: "Art trove a triumph over Nazism," it announced. I wonder. For art historians, perhaps the sheer survival of these magnificent paintings is enough.

    Menachem Mendel Szpiro, sitting beside his granddaughter - David Mazower's grandmother

     * A Point of View: JFK and the rise of conspiracy theories - With the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination approaching, Will Self wonders if this was when Westerners started to distrust official accounts. 

    * Why is commemoration important? Lucy Adlington shares her thoughts... 12 Nov 2013 10:00:20 At 11am on November 11 th I was sitting at the window of a Victorian farmhouse looking out over a village duckpond. I wondered how people 95 years ago had felt, hearing of the armistice in 1918.

    * Slang and swear words 'helped soldiers survive the First World War' - Canadian soldiers coped with life on the front line during the First World War by developing their own 'trench language', new research suggests. In a study published in War in History, Dr Tim Cook from the Canadian War Museum reveals soldiers swore habitually and renamed objects and events to reduce the terror of war.

    * Please help save our crumbling war memorials - Heritage organisations, including the WMT, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, set up the online database to build up a picture of the state of the nation's monuments following a campaign by The Telegraph.

    * My favourite historical places: Professor Peter Barry - As part of our new weekly series, Professor Peter Barry from Aberystwyth University picks out his favourite historical places to visit. 

    St John’s Church, Chester – photo Alamy

    * 27 Perfect Spots To Curl Up With A Book - Is there really any other place that you'd rather be right now? 


    * Britain's 10 best historic streets - Melanie Backe-Hansen, author of a new book on period streets and squares, picks Britain's 10 finest historic streets.



    * Britain’s first black community - The reign of Elizabeth I saw the beginning of Britain's first black community. It's a fascinating story for modern Britons, writes historian Michael Wood. Walk out of Aldgate Tube and stroll around Whitechapel Road in east London today, and you'll experience the heady sights, smells and sounds of the temples, mosques and curry houses of Brick Lane - so typical of modern multicultural Britain.

    * 16 Rare "Harry Potter" Illustrations From The Books' Artist

     Mary GrandPré / Parker Jordan Fine Art / Via

     * The New Golden Age of Archaeology Is Right Now - This piece is part of Mashable Spotlight, which presents in-depth looks at the people, concepts and issues shaping our digital world. Narrowing her eyes, keen with years of research and experience, Sarah Parcak squints past the dust and sand. 


     Sarah Parcak, Ph.D., zooms in on a satellite image of Egypt. Image: University of Alabama at Birmingham


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

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    Did you know that Winston Churchill narrowly avoided assassination in the Second World War? Or that Prince Albert helped Britain avoid war with the United States in the nineteenth century from his deathbed? In this riveting read, James Moore and Paul Nero reveal fifty of history’s most dramatic narrow escapes.

    From wars that were averted to invasions, revolutions and apocalyptic scenarios that we avoided by the skin of our teeth, History's Narrowest Escapes chronicles such stories as how a Soviet Army colonel stopped the Third World War in 1983, and how Nelson’s heroics at The Battle of Trafalgar might never have happened if it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a humble seaman eight years before. Full of fascinating little-known facts, heroic acts, daring deeds and stories of serendipity, this book reveals how our history could have been very different … and possibly much worse! 

    History’s Narrowest Escapes


    In September 1983 the Third World War broke out when the USSR and the USA unleashed their formidable nuclear arsenals against each other.  Eleven months later, the British Prime Minister was among those assassinated by a terrorist bomb during the Conservative party conference. Over four centuries earlier, in January 1536 to be precise, King Henry VIII was thrown from his horse which then fell on top of him, and he was killed.

    Neither of these three events actually happened, but had it not been for a twist of fate they surely would have come to pass.  This extremely entertaining, informative volume presents fifty chapters on the above three episodes, plus many more close shaves from the 1st century AD to the present day.  The Second World War dominates the first few, as we learn how Britain nearly made peace with Hitler in May 1940 shortly after Neville Chamberlain resigned, how Winston Churchill narrowly avoided assassination less than three years later, how a ship came within an ace of exploding and thus devastating large parts of New York, and how one man was caught in the blast of not one but two atomic bombs in Japan in 1945 yet lived to the age of 93, surviving until 2010.

    As for other events before and since, how was disaster narrowly averted when a nuclear reactor caught fire at Windscale in October 1957?  How did France almost lose two of its iconic treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry and the Eiffel Tower?  How fortunate was Charles Dickens to survive a train crash in which ten people died and fifty were severely injured, and how did Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Abraham Lincoln likewise cheat death at an early age?  How was the American buffalo saved from almost certain extinction when hunting threatened to get out of hand?  How did an anonymous letter foil the gunpowder plot, thus saving King James and the Houses of Parliament?  How has the much-ravaged and much-restored The Last Supper, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest works, survived against the odds?  Finally, were we really quaking in our boots at the end of the last century when the millennium bug threatened to derail life as we had known it, or was it all hype?

    As well as great events and famous people, there are several tales of endurance and endeavour, when risks were taken and succeeded against the odds.  Take the case of Leonid Rogozov, who operated on his own abdomen while on an Antarctic expedition in 1960 – somebody had to.

    History is full of cases where Providence intervened in one way or another.  It could so easily have been otherwise on many an occasion. I read this fascinating book from cover to cover, but it could equally be a good volume to dip into at random.  The text is illustrated throughout, and there is a bibliography for each chapter.


    Book: History's Narrowest Escapes

    Author: James Moore and Paul Nero

    Review by John Van der Kiste

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    The Little Book of Wiltshire


    Dee La Vardera will be at Waterstone, Swindon on Saturday 23rd November signing copies of her new book, The Little Book of Wiltshire.

    The Little Book of Wiltshire is a repository of intriguing, fascinating, obscure, strange and entertaining facts and trivia about one of England’s most colourful counties. It is an essential to the born and bred Wiltshire folk or anyone who knows and loves the county. Armed with this fascinating tome the reader will have such knowledge of the county, its landscape, people, places, pleasures and pursuits they will be entertained and enthralled and never short of some frivolous fact to enhance conversation or quiz. A remarkably engaging little book, this is essential reading for visitors and locals alike. 

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    A moustache is a facial statement that reeks of style, individuality and, in some unfortunate cases, soup. When you grow a moustache you’re not just covering a prominent overbite or bluffing the fact that you can’t afford razor blades, you are making a very public statement about the kind of man you are. As such, it pays to choose wisely. Below is our guide to the common moustache styles and their hidden meanings.

    The Chevron. Style yourself on Thomas Magnum (PI). Try not to look like Ned Flanders 

    The Chevron 

    Like hamburgers, muscle cars and pneumatic cheerleaders drunk on Budweiser, the Chevron is an all-American classic. Grown long to cover the top border of the upper lip, this no-nonsense face wedge is worn thick and wide. The perfect compliment to a medallion-adorned barrel chest and diver’s watch the size of a dustbin lid, the Chevron doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. The Chevron-wearer tells it as he sees it and, yes, he is the kind of man who knows how to handle a woman – which is just like a five iron.


    The Pencil. Style yourself on The Artist formerly known as Prince (now known as Prince again). Try not to look like John Waters

    The Pencil 

    Sometimes known as the moth brow, the Pencil is worn narrow and straight and is styled as if drawn on by a pencil. Closely clipped, it creates a mere accent on the upper lip, leaving a scandalously wide shaven gap between the nose and moustache. Widely recognised as the moustache of choice for drug lords, effeminate assassins and ageing tango instructors claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the Pencil spells out that the wearer has murderous intent – even if it’s only on the dance floor.


    The Walrus. Style yourself on Rudyard Kipling. Try not to look like David Crosby.

    The Walrus 

    Delivering exactly what it says on the tin, the Walrus is characterised by a thick, bushy growth of long whiskers that droop over the mouth to give the wearer the appearance of a docile walrus. Once thought to promote good health by shielding the mouth from germs and particles, this monstrous crumb-catcher has proved remarkably popular with philosophers, empire-builders and statesmen over the years – proving once and for all that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing on a massive scale. The Walrus-wearer has an uncontrollable appetite for life to match his uncontrollable appetite for facial hair, which is why you’ll find Walrus moustaches littering the faces of great men in history, from Mark Twain to Count Otto Von Bismark.

    The Mexican. Style yourself on Cheech Marin. Try not to look like Yosemite Sam 

    The Mexican 

    Sometimes known as the ‘Pancho Villa’ after the crazed Mexican revolutionary of the same name, this monster soup-strainer is worn big, bold and bushy. It’s an unruly growth of hair beginning from the middle of the upper lip and pulled roughly to the sides to provide just enough space to insert the neck of a Tequila bottle. The Mexican is a two-statement moustache. The first of those statements is ‘I don’t own a pair of scissors’; the second is ‘I’m going to raze your village to the ground’.  Accessorise this baby with a two day growth of stubble on the chin.


    The Horseshoe. Style yourself on Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead. Try not to look like Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap.

    The Horseshoe 

    Designed for the real man, the Horseshoe is a full moustache with vertical extensions grown down the sides of the mouth to the jaw line to resemble an upside-down U. The whiskers running along the sides of the mouth are sometimes referred to as the ‘pipes’. The Horseshoe says a million  different things about the wearer and all of them are bad. A perennial favourite of convicts, bikers and off-duty special forces operatives the world over, wearing this moustache makes it clear you’re the kind of man who likes to settle his problems with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a broken pool cue.


    The Handlebar. Style yourself on Jimmy Edwards. Try not to look like Super Mario.

    The Handlebar 

    A classic Handlebar moustache can be worn large or small (the ‘Petit Handlebar’). It is grown bushy and long enough to curl the ends skyward with the aid of styling wax to resemble a set of fruity bicycle handlebars. The Handlebar moustache combines dignity, sophistication and an air of flamboyant rebellion with a set of easy-to-grasp and-twiddle ends for use while announcing evil plans. It’s no surprise that this classic tash is beloved of eccentrics the world over. So if you’re cloning an army of gas-powered super soldiers in an underground laboratory or simply creating a OO gauge replica of the Flying Scotsman in your garden shed, the Handlebar is for you.


    The English. Style yourself on Terry Thomas.Try not to look like Dick Dastardly.

    The English 

    The sun may have set on the British Empire but the moustache that built it lives on. The English is a narrow, divided moustache that begins at the middle of the upper lip with its long whiskers pulled to either side of the centre, and it reeks of blue-blooded class. The areas beyond the corners of the mouth are typically shaved because you’re a cad, you’re a bounder and you probably fly to work in a Spitfire. The English tells the world you inherited this moustache from your father (along with his 400-acre farm in Gloucestershire and his flatulent, ageing Labrador), and by God you look good in it.

    The Toothbrush. Style yourself on Oliver Hardy. Try not to look like Robert Mugabe. 

    The Toothbrush 

    The Toothbrush moustache has a baffling variety of names: the Charlie Chaplin, the 1/3, the Philtrum, the Postage Stamp or the Soul Moustache. It is a thick growth shaved to be about an inch  wide and worn in the centre of the lip. The style is said to have originated in 1920s Germany, as working-class men responded to the flamboyant moustaches of the upper classes with a new brand of clipped, focused lip wear. Unfortunately, one of those working-class men was Adolf Hitler and the moustache – like the Third Reich – would become deeply unpopular after 1945. Nowadays this practical, minimalist tash is not for the faint-hearted. Sported solely by African dictators, psychotic eighties’ synth players and those looking to pick a fight at a Girl Guides’ tea party, it’s best left to the professionals.


    Fu Manchu. Style yourself on Anton LaVey. Try not to look like Ming the Merciles

    Fu Manchu 

    For centuries a closely guarded secret of the mysterious court of the Chinese emperors, it took an exploitative and wildly racist 1923 movie to bring the Fu Manchu to prominence in the west. This infamous moustache is worn thin and straight. Grown downwards past the lips, it extends towards tapered ends which hang low to complete far below the chin. This tash differs from the Horseshoe in its evil elegance and – as it is only grown from the upper lip – because its sides remain enigmatically shaved. The Fu Manchu is an outward expression of a deviant intelligence bent on world domination and the control of men’s minds through bribery, sorcery and lingering inscrutable stares. As such, The Fu Manchu is easier to carry off in a vastly ornate imperial palace or smoky Shanghai opium den than while fighting for a seat on a crowded commuter train into Charing Cross.


    The Dali. Style yourself on Salvador Dali (who else?). Try not to look like a nutter.


    The Dali 

    Salvador Dali lived his life as art, so it was no surprise that his extraordinary facial statement was subsequently named after him. The Dali is more a piece of art than a moustache. Strictly it should be created only from narrow points of hair originating on the lower lip, which are bent or curved steeply upwards on either side of the nose while leaving all other areas around the mouth shaved. Artificial styling aids are a must to defy both gravity and the shackles of convention. This style was just the tip of the iceberg for Dali, and the great Catalan artist even published a book of variations featuring the moustache customised with flowers, horns and bows. The wearer becomes the artist in the creation of a Dali – which is just as well, as a tub of styling wax is around £150,000 cheaper than one of Dali’s paintings.


    A Gentleman's Guide to Beard and Moustache Management

    Chris Martin is the author of A Gentleman's Guide to Beard and Moustache Management, Greenwich Mean Time, Celebrity Tattoos and the Golf Companion, as well as Has Britain Gone Bonkers. He has two children, two cats and has enjoyed an on-off relationship with the Goatee for over twenty years. 

    The History Press Movember team. Day 15


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