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The History Press blog

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    Aberdeenshire Folk Tales


    Grace Banks will be at Book and Beans on Thursday 21st November signing copies of her new book, Aberdeenshire Folk Tales

    The folklore of the North East provides a rich tapestry for the tales within; from Celtic and Pictish origins meet witches, selkies, smugglers, fairies, monsters, despicable rogues, riddles and heroes. Tragic events, spellbinding characters, humour, romance and clever minds are bound together by two well-established storytellers living and working in the city and shire of Aberdeen. Some of the tales in this collection are based on historical fact while others are embedded in myth and legend. All the stories are set against the backdrop of this lovely and varied landscape. 

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    Skipping to School: Memoirs of a Liverpool Girlhood, 1937-1948


    Doris Calder will be at Waterstones, Liverpool One on Saturday 23rd November from 2pm onwards, signing copies of her new book Skipping to School: Memoirs of a Liverpool Girlhood, 1937-1948.

    Skipping to School is the true story of a childhood spent in Liverpool before, during and after the Second World War. It recalls the fabric of everyday life on the home front and the impact of war on both family life and the local community.

    At home in Walton, Doris and her friends learned slogans such as ‘Make Do and Mend’, ‘Dig for Victory’ and ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. They collected shell caps from bombs and did swaps for better, shinier ones. They made skipping ropes out of the twisted silk cords of German parachutes. They were excited by the arrival of American soldiers stationed on Aintree Racecourse. And, despite the raids, they laughed and had fun.

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    Benjamin Franklin was already a renowned scientist when he arrived in London on his first diplomatic mission, having coined such terms as ‘battery’, ‘positive/negative’ and ‘charge’ through his work on electricity. While lodging at 36 Craven Street, Franklin conducted many further important experiments and research projects such as:

    * 'Smoothing' water with oil
    * Investigating canal depths and their implication
    * Recording the effects of the Gulf stream
    * Developing an alternative alphabet

    Franklin also invented the following in his Craven Street laboratory, a key room on the Historical Experience at Benjamin Franklin House:

    * An "economical" clock with three wheels to ensure a perpetual 24-hour cycle
    * A popular fireplace draught, the ‘Franklin stove’
    * The glass armonica (or harmonica), for which Mozart and Bach composed
    * Bifocal spectacles (read more here)
    * A new, more effective lightning rod – installed on the dome of St Paul’s cathedral, London

    However, until the Second World War, Franklin’s scientific work was eclipsed by his importance as a statesman and Founding Father. Today however, he is renowned for his innovative and experimental scientific research, which he still found time for in his busy London life. He worked on many different and ideas and designs. He designed a stove that was intended to produce less smoke than other fire places and heat the whole room. He also is the only American to be credited with inventing a musical instrument; his
    Glass Armonica, which was very popular in Europe and inspired both Mozart and Beethoven to compose music for it.

    His most famous, and useful, research was his work on electricity, and his lightning experiment. In the early 18th Century, lightning was widely believed to be sent as a punishment from God. Suggestions however, were being made that lightning was an electrical phenomenon rather than a heavenly one. Franklin came up with a way to test this hypothesis; he proposed a long metal rod pointing into a storm could ‘draw off’ the electricity from the storm.  However, Franklin was not the first to test his theory; he wisely stayed away from these dangerous experiments, which resulted in at least one casualty.

    In 1752, in anticipation of a storm, two French researchers erected an insulated pole in the small village of Marly. They were able to draw sparks from the pole when they touched it with a brass wire. Franklin’s own, later experiment became the more famous. In Philadelphia, Franklin constructed kite with a metal string attached. He flew the kite into a thunder storm, and as the kite was soaked in rain, sparks began to fly from the key and charged a Leyden jar. For Franklin, this was proof of ‘the Sameness of the Electric Matter with that of Lightning’. This experiment has gained a great deal of symbolic significance, and makes up a large part of the traditional Franklin discourse, the great statesman who ‘snatched from heaven the lightning’.

    Benjamin Franklin House is the only remaining residence of Franklin anywhere in the world and is open to the public six days per week on Monday, Wednesday – Sunday.

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  • 11/22/13--06:30: The Friday Digest 22/11/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    JFK and Jackie in the limousine as it makes its way through Dallas. (c) (Walt Cisco/Dallas Morning News)

    * November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, an event which remains one of the defining moments of the twentieth century. Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth inadvertently became an eyewitness to one of the biggest turning points in history and he shares his account of the event with History Extra.

    * ABC Fact Check have shared 10 unusual facts about the JFK assassination whilst History Extra have been asking where you were fifty years ago when you heard that JFK had been assassinated

    * History News Network ask would we still have had 'the sixties' if Kennedy had lived?

    The aftermath of an IRA bomb in Belfast in 1972 (c) Getty Images

    * History Press author Tony Le Tissier featured on BBC's Panorama last night,
    sharing his memories of the NI conflict

    Mrs Chrisman adds that every day, she and her husband find 'wonderful insights' into the Victorian way of life. (c) Mary Studio. Image from

    * Meet Sarah Chrisman, a woman who, for the last four years, has been living a Victorian-era life. She has had mixed reviews regarding her lifestyle choice, especially regarding the wearing of a corset, but Sarah loves it declaring that  ‘A corset is liberating!’  

    This map by Sebastian Munster, published in 1540, was the first to show America as a continent. Image from

    This map by Sebastian Munster, published in 1540, was the first to show America as a continent.


    HMS Ocean sails up the river, past the Thames Barrier. Image (c) Picture: EPA/ANDY RAIN


    * Writing about topics you are unfamiliar with can lead to confusion and in many cases errors. J.D. Davies' article outlines some of his frustrations with recent reporting and 'The Journalist’s Guide To Writing About The Royal Navy' is a good starting point for anyone interested in writing about naval matters. 

    One statue depicts a snake rolled onto itself, a clear symbol of the underworld. The other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in Greek mythology. (c) FRANCESCO D’ANDRIA

    Archaeologists in Turkey have found the guardians of the 'Gate to Hell' - two unique marble statues which once warned of a deadly cave in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, near Pamukkale. One statue depicts a snake rolled onto itself, a clear symbol of the underworld. The other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in Greek mythology


    Jewish manuscript. Image from

    * A rare Jewish manuscript, created for the Oppenheimer banking dynasty, that was found in a garage is expected to fetch £500,000 when it goes to auction. 


    Peter James. Image from

    * Author Peter James claims that if Shakespeare were alive today, he would be a crime fiction writer. Do you agree?

    Image from

    * The intriguing story of the Countess Margaret of Henneberg and her 365 children...


     The Hay copy, with Lincoln's handwritten corrections. Image from
    * The 19 November marked the 150th anniversary of the '
    Gettysburg Address'. Out of the five copies of the address in Abraham Lincoln's handwriting (all a little different), this version named after Col. Alexander Bliss, has been the most reproduced in the 150 years since Lincoln signed and dated it, according to


    10 great meals in literature. Image from

    * The Telegraph shares 10 great meals in literature but which ones have they missed off the list?

    Mavis Batey. Image from 

    * Tributes have been paid to the 'astonishing' work of Mavis Batey, a Bletchley Park codebreaker who has died, aged 92. 

    * Grace Jones, the last Briton born in the 1800s, has died at the age of 113.




    * 'Histagrams' Tumblr imagines history as told through Instagram - the Trojan horse one is probably my favourite, but which is yours? 


    An oil painting depicting Richard III's last stand at the battle of Bosworth has gone on display in Leicester. Image from


    * A painting depicting Richard III at the battle of Bosworth has been brought out of hiding and is on display in Leicester. This is the first time the painting has been on view to the public in many years. 

    For A Long Time They Looked At The River Beneath Them... by EH Shepard. Image from

    * The original Poohsticks drawing from E.H. Shepard is to be sold later this year. The 220mm by 141mm sketch (9in by 5in), entitled For A Long Time They Looked At The River Beneath Them... is expected to fetch more than £50,000 when it is sold on 10 December.

    A boy and his toys in a c1600 illustration © Getty

    * Poohsticks may not be a dangerous game (unless you lose your balance and fall into the water) but these toys and games that killed in Tudor England certainly are!  

    harry potter characters. Image from

    What your favourite 'Harry Potter' character says about you


    * I was lucky enough to attend the Futurebook conference in London yesterday (you can see the highlights of the day by following #fbook13 on Twitter) and as you would expect, there was a lot of talk about the changing nature of publishing and the 'big ideas' and changes that publishers need to make to survive. After reading back over my notes, this piece on the success of Italy's Masterpiece TV Competition for Writers seemed particularly apt, as did this post on combining the television and publishing mindset.  

    Where do you think publishing has to go next? 


    Image from

    * Leena's posts on what readers want from book-centric media are great, definitely go and have a read (Part 1 and Part 2


    Doris Lessing poster

    * British Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing died aged 94 this week. This article from the Spectator blog pays homage to her genius.


    Book shelf. Image from

    The 'big issue' of publishing salaries: survey finds entry-level jobs are the worst 

    The Guardian First Book Prize Shortlist has just been announced this week, with women dominating the selection. 

    Spectator writers pick their books of the year, and they have some really brilliant choices-  keep an eye out for a 'splendidly vivid' book from the History Press too!  

    * Publishing Perspectives asks, what is the key to solving the 'book discoverability problem'?


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

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    Zombie phrenology

    Prior to George A. Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, the word ‘zombie’ was associated with the belief systems of West African communities in the Caribbean. But, according to the chronicles written by medieval monks, British history has seen its share of the walking dead.

    Take William of Newburgh, for example. His Historia Rerum Anglicarum (The History of the Affairs of England), written about 1198, is mostly concerned with the events of the reigns of kings Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Wars, rebellions, epidemics – the usual jolly carnival of the Middle Ages. Then, for no apparent reason, William breaks off from his conventional history to tell his readers a few stories about people who have returned from the grave. 

    One cadaver from Buckinghamshire, we are told, clearly had not left all the desires of the flesh behind: 'having entered the bed where his wife was reposing, he … nearly crushed her by the insupportable weight of his body.'  A man from York fled to another castle, where he died – only to then straying about in a dangerous fashion: 'all men made fast their doors…for fear of meeting and being beaten black and blue by this vagrant monster.' The shambling, disease-bearing corpse was finally despatched when its heart was torn out, and every bit of flesh and bone burned to cinders.

    After giving two Scottish cases – in Melrose and Berwick-upon-Tweed – the venerable William tells us that he knew of 'frequent examples', but to describe them all would be 'beyond measure laborious and troublesome.' 

    We find other instances in the literature of the period. In The Life and Miracles of Saint Modwenna (1118 to 1150) Geoffrey, the abbot of Burton-on-Trent, describes two Derbyshire corpses walking to their native village with their coffins on their backs. They, too, spread disease and attack people before being hacked apart and burned. Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium (Courtier’s Trifles written before 1190), gives us a similar tale from Hereford, while the fourteenth-century Chronicle of Lanercost tells of a 'hideous, gross and tangible' corpse which attacked people around Paisley, and even murdered one man.  Finally, in 1400 an anonymous monk of Byland Abbey in Yorkshire described several local zombiform entities, one of which, a former clergyman, 'struck out one eye of his former mistress.'

    Are any of these tales true? Their monkish authors swore they were, so who are we to argue?

    Further reading:

    * Why do we love zombies?

    * A zombie hunter's guide.

    * Where to ride out the zombie apocalypse.

    * Anti-zombie weapons.

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    As you read this book you will step through a lovely and varied landscape - traversing the forested and mountainous terrain of the River Dee, then across to the rolling, gentler land surrounding the meandering River Don to reach the beautiful but sometimes forbidding Aberdeenshire coastline and so to the silver city of Aberdeen.

    The rich folklore of the Northeast has given rise to tales and ballads of despicable rogues, selkies, smugglers, witches, fairies, monsters and heroes.

    Many of the stories included in this medley are embedded in historical fact, while others emerge from the dim, dark time where only myth and legend remain.

    This book is a patchwork o tales of tragic events, clever minds, humour and romance sewn together by two well-established storytellers living and working in the city and shire of Aberdeen.

    For those who like a challenge, riddles are strewn throughout the book, mostly created by Grace and inspired by her love of nature.

    Over the centuries, stories have been spun to explain a strange phenomenon or an unusual object. One familiar sight locally is the Pictish standing stone, situated at the foot of Bennachie. The carvings upon it have inspired the tale of the Maidenstone, which has been told in countless different ways over the generations and one version is included in this collection.

    Aberdeenshire is well known for its wonderful castles and the murderous, scandalous tales associated with them - many of which you can read in this book, retold by Sheena, who heard them as a child as she travelled on her auntie’s tourist bus up an doon Deeside!

    Sheena and Grace would both like to acknowledge the support and encouragement they received from the traveler, raconteur and balladeer, Stanley Robertson. He gave generously of his wealth of folklore to any, and both the authors have included some of the tales and songs Stanley told within this book.

    Book: Aberdeenshire Folk Tales

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  • 11/20/13--02:13: Churchill's Hidden Years
  • Winston Churchill

    Have you ever wondered what Churchill did in the First World War? Most people recall the Dardanelles. Some ask ‘Wasn’t he a soldier?’ But then they generally get stuck.

    I began to think about this and took a closer look. I was staggered to find both how active he was and how controversial he was. I was even more surprised to find that everything we admire in Churchill the great war leader of 1940 can be found in the more obscure Churchill of 1914-18.

    In that war he learnt the importance (and difficulty) of combined operations; the value of science and technology on the battlefield and at sea; the need for integrated command systems; the necessity of a genuine coalition in war time; the vital role of a very small war cabinet; the need for honest morale-boosting; and the prize of code-breaking. By 1939 all these things were second nature to him. So, what taught him these skills?

    He came to appreciate combined operations from a realisation that Britain’s greatest military strength in 1914 lay in her navy. He wanted to use the navy to clear the Belgian coast and invade Germany via the Baltic –  but his colleagues never allowed it.

    Churchill looked at the useless slaughter on the Western Front and cried ‘Machines, not men’ because  he alone intuitively understood that the future of war lay in tanks and other machines – but the generals did not agree.

    In the councils of war Churchill saw that waging war depended on rapid decisions by a small and powerful group of leaders.

     And he looked with horror as the petty squabbles between the independent French and British operations led to defeats and disasters – he  recognised that only an integrated command system could win the war.

    Then there was the prize of the Admiralty’s breaking the German naval code. So precious was this knowledge that Churchill never even  told his naval commander-in-chief. Only the men and women behind the door of Room 40 knew from where there precious secrets came.

    This, then, was Churchill’s war. It was like an apprenticeship for the even greater struggle to come. But I am left mystified as to why we hear so little about his massive contribution to the First World War and the extent to which that war built Britain’s greatest ever war leader.

    To me the years 1914-18 are ‘Churchill’s hidden years’, for that is how they seem from accounts in most history books.


    'Unsinkable': Churchill and the First World War


    Richard Freeman is the author of  'Unsinkable, Churchill and the First World War' which is available to purchase now.

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    Angel of the North

    A Lightbulb and a Lake


    The first house ever to be lit by electric light was the home of the bulb's inventor, scientist Joseph Swan – and still stands, in a quiet corner of Gateshead. Now a private residence, Underhill still boasts some early light fittings. Here – in the converted conservatory – Swan laboured for years on improvements in photographic plates, and on variations on a vacuum bulb, in which two platinum wires were connected by a strip of carbonised paper. But the imperfect vacuum always caused these bulbs to burn out within seconds – until in 1878 Swan replaced the paper with a strand of an artificial fibre somewhat similar to rayon (essentially creating the world's first artificial fibre, in passing!). By 1879, Swan was ready to show his invention to the world, holding early demonstrations for Newcastle' Literary and Philosophical Society, and in Gateshead Town Hall. The following year, he created a truly stable electric light bulb.


    Six years later, Gateshead was in the grip of an unusually deep and prolonged spell of freezing weather. Mr Elliott, Chief Constable of Gateshead, had the idea of setting up Swan Pond, Sheriff Hill, as an ice rink – with all profits going to the Royal Victoria Infirmary across the river. There was only one problem – Swan Pond was a long way from an electricity source, and January days were short. Anywhere else in the country, this might have proved insurmountable, but in 1886 the banks of the Tyne were a hotbed of engineering innovation. Elliott approached engineering firm Clarke, Chapman and Co for ideas, playing on the good publicity to be gained by involvement. As it happened, young engineer Charles Parsons had just invented the “turbo-dynamo”, a new type of portable generator which was soon to render all others obsolete. On it's own, this wouldn't have done any good – but Elliott also persuaded Joseph Swan to supply the light bulbs. Fitted with wheels and dragged by horse to the pond, the new turbo-dynamo was paired with the incandescent bulb, to provide a spectacle few would have seen before. The idea of skating by electric light was so popular that in three days, Elliott had raised £100 for the hospital – though the rink was too crowded for anyone to actually get much skating done!


    Buy the The Gateshead Book of Days today!

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  • 11/28/13--00:45: Thanksgiving
  • Some rights reserved by Martin Cathrae. Image from

    Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving is one of the most popular holidays in the US. It has a long history, but was not made an official holiday until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national celebration. Its history comes from the story of the Plymouth Colony; protestants who left England behind for life in the ‘New World’ in the 17th Century. They settled in what is now Cape Cod, home to the Wampanoag people for over a thousand years. The Thanksgiving tradition is believed to have been derived from the harvest feast the settlers shared with the Native American people.

    It was a very different feast to the Thanksgiving dinner many enjoy today; many of the supplies and ingredients needed for a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dinner would not have been available to the settlers. Instead they feasted on corn, shellfish and roasted meat. The turkey was added later; an account by a settler mentioning wild turkeys made the bird a popular choice for Thanksgiving dinners. Today, a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dinner features roast turkey with all the trimmings; corn bread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, maple glazed parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions and cranberry sauce.

    Thanksgiving at Benjamin Franklin House, London

    Benjamin Franklin House will be hosting its annual Thanksgiving feast again this year at London’s famed Butcher’s Hall. Tickets are selling fast, so please visit their website for more information. 

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  • 11/27/13--02:30: Lancashire Day
  • There’s nowt wrong wi’ Lancashire. The people are grand, the scenery is champion and the food just the stuff to warm the cockles of anybody’s heart. In fact, the County Palatine has every reason to stand proud and celebrate its history and culture by taking one day a year to let the rest of the country know the land ‘up north’ can compare favourably with anywhere else in Britain.


    In 1996 Lancastrians decided that it was about time they did something to mark the anniversary of the day in 1295 the county sent its representatives down to London to be part of Edward the First’s new Model Parliament. Not that Edward was the kind of monarch to lose sleep over the question of his subjects’ democratic rights. Oh no. The warrior king’s main reason for creating his parliament was to set up a body which would be responsible for collecting more and more taxes to swell his coffers. Military campaigns, such as those against the Welsh and the Scots, were expensive pastimes and Edward expected his remote northern shire to make its full contribution to his costly military campaigns.

    But whatever the historical significance of the 27th November, it is as good a day as any for the good folk of Lancashire to celebrate what their county has to offer. For a start, there is the natural beauty of the area, particularly if you include the ‘real’ Lancashire that existed before the politicians decided to hive off the southern tip of the Lake District. Then there is the fertile soil ‘twixt Ribble and Mersey’ that produced singers, writers, artists and inventors who made an enormous contribution, not just to the county, but to economic and cultural life of the country as a whole.

    England would have remained a much poorer nation had it not been for the roles played by such mighty industrial and commercial cities as Manchester and Liverpool in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Liverpool provided the country’s umbilical cord to trading destinations all over the globe and Manchester bred some of the finest industrialists the world has ever known. In short, had it not been for the powerhouses of certain areas of Lancashire, the Industrial Revolution might never have transformed the country, and the world, the way it went on to do.

    So, all in all, Lancastrians have every right to hold their heads up high. And as the clock strikes 9 on the evening of Lancashire Day they can justifiably celebrate their heritage as they raise a glass to ‘The Queen, Duke of Lancaster.’  

    Find out more about what makes Lancashire special here.

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  • 11/29/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 29/11/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Image from

    * Fifty years after his death, C.S. Lewis' name is to be added to 'Poets' Corner' in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, but does he deserve a place there

    * Because C.S. Lewis died a mere hour before Kennedy was assassinated, his death was lost in the media furore that surrounded the president's death. Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham recalls the day it happened.


     John F Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy descend the stairs of Air Force One in Dallas, 22 November 1963. Image from

    * The myth and reality of John F. Kennedy; the events in Dallas made JFK a myth rather than a man and he is one of history's most malleable figures, revered and reviled in equal measure. 


    Richard III. Image from


    * Tuesday 26 November marked the judicial review regarding the reburial of Richard III with a group of Richard III’s distant relatives campaigning to see the former king reburied in York.  The Richard III Foundation released a statement calling for a stop to the 'unseemly squabbling' and asking the queen to intercede and 'call a halt to these constant arguments'.

    Do you agree?


    Franz Ferdinand shooting on the Welbeck Estate (c) Nottinghamshire County Council


    * Could a hunting accident at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire have delayed or prevented the outbreak of the First World War?

    French newsboy selling the Daily Mail to a Canadian soldier. (c) Associated Newspapers

    * The Daily Mail and the First World War: Adrian Bingham looks back at a time when the newspaper’s belief in its national duty provoked intense debate and copies were burnt in the City of London.

     The records showed around 20,000 dogs helped with the war effort [ALAMY]

    * The 20,000 dogs who helped front line soldiers in the First World War by carrying aid to the wounded, delivering messages, pulling along vital equipment and sniffing out enemy soldiers.


    Collage image (c) Historical Honey. Images used (c) 2013 Horrible Histories


    * The (newly relaunched) Historical Honey site interview Greg Jenner, the historian, writer and historical consultant to the BAFTA-winning Horrible Histories


    Howard Carter opens the coffin of King Tut. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


    * Upon the ninety-first anniversary of the discovery in the Valley of the Kings, here are some very weird and wonderful facts about Tutankhamun and his mummy.

     Roger Casement. Image from

    * In 1911, Roger Casement was knighted for his humanitarian work. A mere five years later, he was hanged for treason at London's Pentonville prison and his naked body was thrown into an open grave, but how did a hero become a traitor?


    An illustration from The Tiger Who Came To Tea 

     * Judith Kerr and the story behind The Tiger Who Came To TeaJudith Kerr's story was told in Imagine... Hitler, the Tiger and Me broadcast on Tuesday 26 November at 22:35 GMT on BBC One and is on BBC iPlayer.

    One of only four surviving exemplifications of the 1215 text, Cotton MS. Augustus II. 106, property of the British Library

    Just why do Americans get so excited about Magna Carta


    Swedish woman finds 2,000-year-old gold ring. The ring is made of Roman gold [Credit: Camilla Lundin]


     * A Swedish woman was amazed when she learnt that the gold ring she stumbled across in a field was 2,000 years old.


    The Queen is shown a model of Concorde at the British Aircraft Corporation works in Filton, Bristol, September 1966. (c) Getty Images/Hulton Archive


    * Jad Adams looks back to a time when passengers embraced the world’s first supersonic airliner - Concorde.

    This nose shaper from 1920. (c) The Quack Doctor

    25 health products you'll be glad you don't see today, including 'ambition pills' and 'nose-shapers' 


    (Manfred Heyde, via Wikimedia Commons)


    * A leaky roof and heavy rains have led to unwanted water in the museum housing the Ara Pacis and subsequent damage to the structure

    Peter was here! Pope Francis and the 'Authenticity' of an Apostle's Relics

    * On Sunday 24 November, Pope Francis displayed the bones of the apostle Peter at a Mass celebrated on the steps of St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. This was a truly momentous occasion: no pope before Francis had ever displayed these relics and no pope has ever officially declared that these human remains held in the Vatican are indeed the bones of the apostle.


    (Peter White/© Australian Museum)


    * Archaeologists digging at a 6,000-year-old site on Papua New Guinea's New Britain Island have discovered a cache of stone tools that were deliberately shaped as phalluses, which they believe were status symbols.


    1885-1966: A sample of the recovered soft-drink bottles. The bottling industry first used applied color labels in 1934.


    * The dredging and cleaning of a spring on the Chassahowitzka River has yielded 'an amazing array of artefacts that basically represent every period of human occupation in Florida', according to archaeologist Michael Arbuthnot.


    A portrait of Margaret Tudor


    Margaret Tudor: Scotland's forgotten queenMargaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and aunt of Elizabeth I, was the first Tudor woman to rule a kingdom and caused scandal with her divorce, but her legacy was the eventual union of England and Scotland.

    "A Short Guide to GREAT BRITAIN", prepared by the Special Service Division, Army Service Forces, U.S. Army and distributed by the War & Navy Departments, Washington D.C. Ref. US Government Printing Office: 1944-O-583845. Booklet distributed to Servicemen serving overseas in the United Kingdom. Image from

    * A guide to Britain in the Second World War for members of the American Expeditionary Forces posted here...


    Frank Smythe headshot. Image from


    * Did Everest pioneer Frank Smythe really 'see George Mallory's body in 1936'


    One of the world’s oldest and largest wine cellars has just been unearthed in Israel. Image from


    * An Israeli wine cellar which predates the Bible has been found, dating to approximately 1700 BC, at a site called Tel Kabri within the ruins of a northern Canaanite city.  

    The Royal Crescent, Bath. Image from

    * An expert's guide to Bath...

    Book shelf. Image from

    * Robert McCrum explains how to choose the 100 best novels

    * 30 awesome book dedications that might be better than the actual book... 

    * Who in fiction are you

    * No, Mike Shatzkin did NOT say that publishing is spiralling down the drain

    * 'Books of the Year 2013' by History Today 

    * David Bowie’s 75 must-read books

    * The history behind the Penguin logo  


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

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    Apparently oblivious to everything but his canvas - Barnett Freedman at work in France 1940.

    ‘Oh, but you should be an artist,’ says a character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, ‘I had one with my squadron during the last war, for weeks – until we went up the line.’  The implication is that war artists were reluctant to put themselves in danger.  In fact, in both wars, artists sought to convey the reality of war and inevitably that meant getting close to it.  In the 1914-1918 war, the artist Paul Nash (who was to be a war artist in both conflicts) was determined to get ‘as near to the real places of action as it was possible to go.’   He was not the exception.  Artists recognised the need to draw the war as truly as possible: Anthony Gross, for example, in 1940, wrote to Eric Kennington declaring that he wanted ‘to get to France by some way or other and paint in and behind the lines there.’     

    Being close to the action however had its problems: artists soon realised that the most intense moments of danger were the most impossible to sketch.  If the shells were flying you kept your head down, and the  sketchbook was temporarily discarded.  Modern warfare also provided a challenge for the artist: tank battles in the desert, for example, took place over huge distances, making their depiction very problematic.

    Then there was the issue of censorship.  For example, the artist Eric Ravilious was reminded on appointment in January 1940 that ‘it will be necessary to submit all your preliminary sketches, as well as finished works, for censorship’.   He had already been vetted by MI5 to ensure that he was a fit and proper person.  Several artists were turned down by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC)  because of their political affiliations.  The purpose of the WAAC was ostensibly to record the war, but also to save the lives of artists who might otherwise be drawn into the fighting.  The memory of the generation cut down in 1914-1918 was still very powerful.     The horrors of the Great War had been exposed by Paul Nash, Nevinson and Eric Kennington among others.  In 1917 Nevinson was told by War Office officials that his Paths of Glory could not be exhibited.  Preferring not to withdraw the picture, Nevinson put a strip of brown paper over the dead bodies and wrote ‘CENSORED’ over it.  Early in the Second World War, Eric Ravilious was refused permission to paint an admiral’s bicycle. 

    It was inevitable that the closer an artist got to sensitive information, the more likely the censors would be to refuse any attempt to let the drawing see the light of day.  For all  that, while artists might have subjects suggested to them, in the main they felt free to draw what they liked.  The resulting work of art, however, might languish in a store somewhere unseen.  Much thought and discussion was given over to what constituted appropriate subject matter for war artists in the 1939-1945 conflict.  It was recognised that it would be different from that of 1914-1918: to begin with, war in that earlier conflict was much more static, while because of the development of the bomber in the 1930s, the Home Front had become a front line too. 

    Richard Seddon, an artist who served in France in 1940, summed up the issue of what to paint: he wanted ‘not to report facts, nor mould opinion’; rather, he sought to paint action – the ‘battle when it began’, not the mundane nature of a soldier’s existence.  He ‘didn’t see soldiers peeling potatoes as war art’.  Later he would experience the true reality of war, struggling to capture the nature of an artillery bombardment on the ship he was sailing in, sketching as the shells fell around him,  but drawing a burned corpse was beyond him.  He had wanted to produce ‘a work of art that would be a silent cry of the human spirit.’  When it came to it, he could not face drawing so painful a subject.

    In the later stages of the second war, during the Italian campaign, the war artist Edward Ardizzone found himself staying with a Guards brigade up in the Apennines.  He had crossed swords with a brigadier who voiced, in a truculent bellow, what the more cantankerous officers thought of those charged with recording the war in paint: ‘What’s an artist doing here?’ he roared.  It was a legitimate question rudely framed.  No doubt he would not have listened to a reasoned argument that, without the 6,000 or so examples of art produced by artists in the 1939-1945 war, our understanding of, and emotional response to, the war would be greatly impoverished.


    The Sketchbook War: Saving the Nation's Artists in World War II

    Richard Knott’s book The Sketchbook War’, published by The History Press, tells the story of nine war artists, including Eric Ravilious and Edward Ardizzone, whose work took them close to the front line in the 1939-1945 war.

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    Never Mind the Gunners: The Ultimate Arsenal FC Quiz Book

    Ahead of its 127th anniversary, the visionaries who founded Arsenal Football Club in December 1886 would surely – were they still alive – be gratified to see their team top of both the Premier League and Champions League Group F in November 2013.

    Of course, neither of those hugely popular money-spinning competitions could have been predicted by the small band of munitions workers who decided that their lives in the Dial Square workshop of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich would be enhanced if they formed a football team for their regular recreation.

    Yet from those humble Victorian beginnings on the banks of the Thames in south-east London a world renowned sporting institution evolved. Via a pivotal move north of the river, the club’s sustained success in the higher echelons of professional football has spawned a rich panoply of unforgettable characters, matches, venues, glorious achievements and milestone events that help define Arsenal fans around the world with a specific cultural identity.

    To a greater or lesser extent, most of those fans absorb and can recite as naturally as breathing key chapters of their club’s history. They revel in expanding and testing their Arsenal knowledge; it’s part of what being a supporter of the Gunners is all about. So too is banter with fans of rival clubs, although in recent seasons Gooners have been taunted by the media cliché: ‘It’s [so many] years now since Arsenal won a major trophy’.

    There are encouraging signs that manager Arsene Wenger’s current squad will soon silence that refrain by lifting silverware; but even in the barren years Gooners are able to point to a catalogue of honours and records – and a galaxy of star players from every decade – that put those of most other clubs squarely in the shade.

    After all, this a club that has won 13 English top-flight championships, 10 FA Cups, two League Cups, two European trophies, 12 Charity/Community Shields and an unsurpassed three domestic ‘doubles’. It’s a club that has contested 31 major cup finals, is currently participating in an unrivalled 88th consecutive season in the top division of English football, and is embarked upon a remarkable 16th successive Champions League campaign.  It’s one whose ‘Invincibles’ went the entire 2003-04 League season unbeaten, and whose famous colours have been worn by no fewer than 818 different players in competitive first-team matches since the 1880s.

    It’s a history that’s touched and continues to touch generations of people across diverse boundaries of age, class, nationality and ethnicity, all bound by a common passion for the Arsenal.

    Buy Never Mind the Gunners: The Ultimate Arsenal FC Quiz Book today!

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    In 1998, while deputy editor of a Staffordshire newspaper, I entered three names in an internet search engine.…Colin Grazier, Tony Fasson and Tommy Brown.

    Nothing came back.

    This weekend, some 15 years later, I will be watching the three men’s heroic actions during WW2 dramatically re-created in front of an audience of up to 50,000 people, including HRH Prince William.

    It will be yet another amazing chapter in an extraordinary story which began on the night of October 30, 1942 when First Lieutenant Tony Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier lost their lives capturing vital codebooks from a sinking German U-boat. They were helped by a young canteen assistant, Tommy Brown, who survived the incident only to die in a house fire while still a teenager.

    The material, which the British destroyer HMS Petard seized, enabled Bletchley Park’s brilliant codebreakers to crack the German’s naval Enigma code, shortening the war by up to two years. But the mission was kept secret for decades after the war ended. Not even the men's families could be told they had paved the way for peace.

    The need for secrecy turned the men into the ultimate unsung war heroes. During my research for The Real Enigma Heroes, I came across old newspaper headlines declaring they had died in an ‘unsuccessful’ action. In reality, they had played a major role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, a battle Churchill described as crucial to the outcome of the Second World War.

    A quote from best-selling international author Robert Harris on the cover of my book sums up their contribution to the war: “Without these three men it might never have been possible to have D-Day in June 1944. It’s hard to think of three individual servicemen who did more to hasten the Allied victory.”

    Britain did not want to tell the world it had broken Enigma, as other nations went on to embrace similar ‘uncrackable’ methods of encrypting sensitive messages. So the men’s actions were not just crucial to the outcome of the Second World War, they continued to benefit the nation in the secret war which followed.

    How fitting then that Grazier, Fasson and Brown will be celebrated in such style at this year’s British Military Tournament. The re-enactment is the show opener and will feature a huge U-boat rising from the floor of Earls Court and projected images of the three heroes’ faces.

     It will be an emotional moment for me as I reflect on the men and the amazing journey they have led me on since I started a newspaper campaign to bring them to public attention.

    I was asked to officially open the restored Hut 8 at Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing and his colleagues broke Enigma. I was also privileged to receive an award on behalf of the heroes from The Celebrity Guild of Great Britain. The book has led to coverage on TV, radio and somewhat surprisingly on the CIA website.  I’ve even clashed with a Hollywood director over the film U-571, which credited American sailors with retrieving the most important Enigma material from a U-boat.

    Author Phil Shanahan outside 'Hut 8' at Bletchley Park

    The story remains a big part of my life today. I give talks in various parts of the country and I’ve named my publicity and copywriting business – Enigma Communications.

    I am proud to have met relatives and close friends of the three men on many memorable occasions. Being made a member of the HMS Petard Association allowed me to get to know many of the servicemen who took part in the attack on the U-599 and glean precious first-hand accounts of the drama. Fourteen of the Petard’s crew, who were on board that fateful night, attended my book launch at Bletchley Park.

     Members of the HMS Petard, who were on board that fateful night

    For me this story has been life-changing. But far more importantly, these courageous men, who helped change the course of the war, have at last received international recognition for what their sacrifice achieved. That would never have been possible without the extraordinary response from the public.

    Newspaper article reporting the unveiling of the monument in honour of the brave men.

    Today a stunning sculpture produced by a world class artist graces St Editha’s Square in Tamworth in their honour. Buildings, streets and beers have also been named after them.

    I just googled the men again. This time there were thousands of search results ...

     The Real Enigma heroes by Phil Shanahan

    To find out more about the story of these three brave servicemen, take a look at 'The Real Enigma Heroes' by Phil Shanahan. 

    For a chance to win tickets to the British Military Tournament and copies of The Real Enigma Heroes, enter our competition. 


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  • 12/05/13--02:00: Snobbery and socialites
  • Mary Ormsby-Gore and Unity Mitford. Photo by Bassano, 1932. (Author’s collection)

    Snobbery is now considered a rather outmoded and amusing social affliction that has been largely replaced by the status of wealth and or celebrity. For most people it’s almost impossible to imagine how much class distinction (or snobbery) used to dictate the social, political and cultural life of the British Empire. Society was strictly divided into nobility, landed gentry, gentry, upper class, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, lower class, upper working class, working class and the newly spawned ‘nouveaux rich’; identification being established by an unbelievably complicate code of practice, largely based on breading history and manifest in everything from which school, club or regiment one had been to or was a member of or served in, to the way one spoke, the words one used and the clothes one wore. For many English, analysis was obsessional and global. Indeed, while it has always been assumed that the Indian class system with its five castes, three-hundred sub castes and ninety thousand local sub-groups had been an integral part of Hindu culture, many modern historians believe it to have been the result of British colonialism.

    For many people such as the Mitfords, their whole existence was completely dominated by the class system. Assured of a position in the upper echelons of society by the fact that they had inherited sufficient land and funds to afford them the mandatory ‘private means’ to avoid the lower orders necessity of ‘working for a living’; they, like many of their ilk spent a great deal of their time reminding the less privileged of their ‘place’ in society; not, as many now like to believe, with the wit and charm with which they ‘teased’ each other, but with quite vicious social bullying. Indeed, the Mitfords’ would have considered any form of social interaction with at least ninety per-cent of the population, as quite impossible.

    Should a working man, or clerk have somehow saved sufficient cash to be able to have afforded a meal at The Savoy, his language (‘do you do ale?’) and dress (a regimental badge on his blazer pocket) would have betrayed him as a member of the lower orders and he would have been either refused service or made to feel so embarrassed or insulted that enjoyment of the meal would have been quite impossible and he would have been ‘obliged’ to leave. In fact, it never seems to occur to those contemporary fans of the Mitfords’ who were bought-up in the sixties, or later, when aristocracy started to be replaced by meritocracy, that they would have been treated with complete distain by both the people they find so fascinating, and their servants; for the latter often developed an even greater degree of snobbery than their masters or mistresses.

    Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford

    David R. Litchfield is the author of Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford - an account of 'the only Englishwoman who came close to being capable of changing the course of the Second World War'.

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  • 12/06/13--03:45: The Friday Digest 06/12/13
  • THP Friday digest


    Nelson Mandela revisiting his prison cell in 1994 (c) Corbis

    * Anti-apartheid icon and South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. Mandela was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was internationally revered for his reconciliatory stance despite being imprisoned for twenty-seven years.

    'Sacred soil' arrives in London from the battlefields of Flanders, ITN

    'Sacred soil' from First World War battlefields arrived in London earlier this week with seventy bags of soil which will be buried at the Wellington Barracks garden, marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.  


    Stack of Christmas letters (c) Alamy

    * Everyone has heard about the Christmas Day football match of 1914, but in a letter home to his sister, wartime medical officer Dr Frederick George Chandler reveals how enemy soldiers united for festive respite in 1914:  'The Christmas truce saw German soldiers sharing a barrel of beer with us British'.


    Abram Games with a model he made to film the TV logo he designed for the BBC


    * On 2 December 1953, the BBC unveiled its first 'television symbol' -  a moving logo to identify a TV channel - nowadays known as an 'ident'. The ident was designed by Abram Games, one of the greatest poster artists of the twentieth century.


    Coprolites exposed at latrine. Each poo is a time capsule to the dawn of the dinosaurs  (c) L. Fiorelli 

    * A giant prehistoric toilet has been unearthed in Argentina. The 240-million-year-old site is the 'world's oldest public toilet' and the first evidence that ancient reptiles shared collective dumping grounds.

    Generations of a family (c) SPL

    * Experiments have shown that 'memories' pass between generations and behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on.


    This picture taken on Oct. 10, 2013 shows a grave protected by plaster after it was found in what appears to have been a mass grave at the Shimao Ruins, the site of a neolithic stone city in Shenmu county, northern China's Shaanxi province. STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


    Archaeologists have uncovered more than eighty skulls of young women who may have been sacrificed 4,000 years ago in China. The skulls were found in a mass grave at the Shimao Ruins, the site of a Neolithic stone city in Shenmu county, northern China's Shaanxi province.


    Relatives of Batang Kali massacre victims. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


    * This week, the appeal court heard how UK governments blocked investigations into the Malaysian massacre cover-up in 1970 and 1990s over police probe into troops killing twenty-four civilians at Batang Kali in 1948. Relatives of the victims who died in the massacre were in court to hear how soldiers of the Scots Guards had admitted murdering the plantation workers.


    An illustration of the disaster in which a train plunged into the water. Picture: Contributed

    * An argument over how many people died in the Tay Bridge disaster has been triggered as work starts on memorials to honour the victims.


    Terry-Thomas. Image from


    *  Rapscallion, rotter and whippersnapper. Take a look at some more insults that time forgot!


    Image from 

    History Today shares their reader recommendations for the history books of 2013.

    PD James. Image from

    * What happened when P.D. James went to Scotland Yard to talk murder with the Met investigators


    Jasper ware portrait plaque of Sir William Hamilton, by Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Bentley, Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, AD 1779

    * Sir William Hamilton and the wreck of the HMS Colossus.  


    Full-page miniature of a menorah surrounded by Temple instruments, from a Hebrew Bible (the 'Duke of Sussex's Catalan Bible) with masorah magna and parva, Spain (Catalonia), 3rd quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 15250, f. 3v


    * Yesterday was the last day of Hanukkah and these stunning medieval manuscripts help to celebrate the 'Festival of Lights'.

    Welsh church uncovers stunning medieval wall paintings. Image from

    * At a Welsh church in Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan, conservators have uncovered some stunning fifteenth-century wall paintings which depict the seven deadly sins. 


    Students visit Birkenau. Image from


    * Lessons of the Holocaust


    Horror: Iby Knill spent six weeks at Auschwitz. Pictured is the famous inscription 'Work makes [you] free' (c) North News and Pictures Limited


    * 'If you live, please tell our story': the Holocaust survivor who fulfilled her promise to a doomed Auschwitz child she met seventy years ago. 


    A World War Two bomber hero is celebrating 70 years of marriage to his wife – who played a vital role in the legendary Dambusters raid. (c) Red Williams


     * A World War Two bomber hero is celebrating seventy years of marriage to his wife – who played a vital role in the legendary Dambusters raid.


    Image copyright: Associated Press

     * How photographs told the story of the Vietnam War.  

    An analysis of this year’s productions suggests that the curtain is falling on many of the long-established features which have characterised the genre. Photo: ALAMY

    * Has the curtain fallen on traditional panto? 


    UK Commonwealth. Image from

    * BBC News asks what would the Union Jack look like if the Scottish bit was removed while 25 BBC viewers share their best ideas...

    Book shelf. Image from

    * J.R.R. Tolkien on fairy tales 

    Why do young readers prefer print books to ebooks? 

    * Who says children's books can't be great literature?

    * Breaking up with books is hard to do 

    * Thanksgiving for fiction's awful celebrations 

    * 'The Mr Men books started when I asked dad "What does a tickle look like?"'  

    * Can you identify all of these book covers?   


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

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    Crypts of London - Malcolm Johnson


    London stank in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Thames, full of sewage, flowed past streets covered in human and animal filth, and smoke from chimneys made the air more putrid. A few Londoners began to be aware that there might be a link between disease, destitution and foul smells, one of which was the smell of death, almost unknown in Britain today. Such a smell inevitably led back to the Anglican burial places which were either crypts full of rotting coffins or graveyards, where bones were dug up after 20 or more years.

    The cataclysmic Great Fire of 1666 had a profound impact on burial provision; in the City of London 86 churches were destroyed along with St Paul’s Cathedral. During the next 30 years Wren, and other architects designed and built St Paul’s Cathedral and 51 replacement churches, and most of these had vaults beneath them. During the next 150 years most of the churches in the City and Westminster had a crypt as spacious as the church above. The clergy, churchwardens and vestries (against the advice of their architects) decided to use these spaces to earn money by interring wealthy parishioners in them, instead of using the space for other purposes such as schools, storage, meeting rooms etc.

    Until the 1830s most people in England were buried in their local church or churchyard – ‘God’s acre’. Each knew their place in death as in life, with the wealthy coffined in the vaults below the building and everyone else buried in the churchyard. Parochial records suggest that an average for intramural interments was between 5 and 8 per cent, and that burial fees represented a high proportion of parish income. 

    In the early 19th century growing concern about the capital’s poor sanitary conditions led to a ban on burials in inner London, so crypts and churchyards were closed. Since 1852 some of these, for various reasons, have been cleared and sold, the bones travelling to cemeteries outside London. Churches such as St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Mary-le-Bow have converted their crypts into restaurants, homeless centres etc. Other churches still have their coffins in situ. Should they now be moved?

     Crypts of London


    Malcolm Johnson is the author of Crypts of London. With rare illustrations throughout, this fascinating study reveals the incredible history hidden beneath the churches of our capital

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  • 11/26/13--05:22: A Black Country Album
  • Press photographer Graham Gough has covered news, show business, society and animals in The Black Country for over 50 years. He has worked for numerous newspapers, most notably the Express and Star. This picture, entitled Street Kids, was taken in January 1958. While driving through a council estate he spotted these two deprived Black Country kids and took this shot of them.Over the years it has proved  very popular and made such a natural picture with the little girl holding her purse and smiling while the boy is crying and has a pop bottle full of milk.There was a great deal of poverty during the 50's but the good  times were  just around the corner when, "you've never had it so good" 60's arrived.


    Dudley was in the grip of race riots at the start of August 1962 after a fight between a Jamaican and a white man, and made national news for a  week. The market place became a battle ground with police and their dogs fighting rioters. There were more than a 100 arrests and many injured, including Deputy Chief Constable Supt J W Hullah and a press photographer from the Daily Sketch. This shot was taken as the police made an arrest much to the surprise of a man looking on.The riots started suddenly and ended just as quickly, like a  tropical rain storm, but leaving in their wake a shocked and shaken town.


    No matter where his keeper went, Koko the Dudley Zoo chimp was not far behind. This chimp was quite remarkable and became like a pet to its keeper, following him everywhere, as you can see from the picture, and became a big attraction at the zoo for many years. On another occasion Koko was taken to the cinema and treated to several cans of beer in the manager's office.Other animal images Graham has taken include: a monkey at the dentist, an elephant making a trunk call, a baby lemur hanging onto to its lunch, dogs watching TV, sheep in a pub and at the baa!, and even a lion living in a house with the family.         



    Lenny Henry is now a big star, not only as a comedian but a very good straight actor appearing in Shakespeare and a hugely successful run in "Fences" at the Duchess Theatre London last summer. But when this picture was taken Lenny was on the threshold of his career. Way back in 1975, at the age of 17, he was appearing in the  Black and White Minstrel Show. This picture was taken at his home in Dudley and although he never painted his face for the show, he did this at Graham's request for a publicity shot. The year before, while still at school, he had been on the TV show New Faces.

    To find out about Graham's book of photographs of the Black Country, click here.

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    Hitler and Unity. (Author’s collection)

    The relationship between Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler continues to fascinate readers even today but how did the paths of a socialite and a world leader happen to cross? 

    For all Adolf Hitler’s obvious lust for power and theatrical political persuasion he was remarkably catholic in his choice of restaurants and, fortunately for Unity Mitford, he was equally remarkable for his unswerving routine and apparent lack of any desire for social status. This resulted in his invariably taking lunch at the Osteria Bavaria and tea at The Carlton Tea Rooms; both Munich establishments, especially the former, noted for their lack of pretension. He also tended to dine with friends rather than senior party members and obviously felt the need for minimal security. So it was that having established his routine, all Unity had to do was dine and take tea in the same restaurants, with sufficient frequency for his curiosity to eventually cause him to invite her to his table. Could it have been as simple as that? Perhaps not quite.

    Having enrolled at Baroness Laroche’s finishing school she was soon introduced to the cream of Munich society, including Erna Hanfstaengl. Erna’s Harvard educated brother, Putzi was a close, personal friend and confidant of Hitler. Extremely well connected socially, in both England and Germany he helped Hitler polish his international image and introduced him to all the ‘right’ people; particularly in Munich. It thus seems highly likely that he would have been influential in gaining an introduction for Unity.

    Unity also had a number of affairs with various ‘storms’ or Hitler’s SS officer adjutants who not only gave her details of their leaders movements but on entering the either restaurant or teashop, would have greeted her and the various friends she often took with her, and doubtless told Hitler who she was and where she came from. So while the Mitford family subsequently gave the impression that Unity’s success in gaining an introduction to the Fuhrer was the result nothing more than patient, romantic determination; it seems to have been planned with considerably more guile and forethought.   


    Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford

    David R. Litchfield is the author of Hitler's Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford - an account of 'the only Englishwoman who came close to being capable of changing the course of the Second World War'.

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  • 12/13/13--02:15: The Friday Digest 13/12/13
  • THP Friday digest


    Picture taken by Roger Fenton, photographer during the Crimean War. Image from


    * Whilst photographs can offer us details about the past, there are also many potential problems of using them: here Elizabeth Miron discusses the perils of using photographs as historical sources

    Seven siblings sit on a wooden fence in L'Anse Saint Jean, Saguenay River, Quebec, Canada. 1938. (Howell Walker/National Geographic)

    * One sunny day in 1938, seven siblings sat upon a split-rail fence as a photographer, Howell Walker, snapped their picture. More than seven decades later, a hunt across the internet identified who they were...


    Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

    * In the week following his death, the majority of the coverage about Nelson Mandela has focused on his legacy but is the symbol of Mandela more powerful than the reality and how should historians consider him?

    Photo by Jon Cardwell

    * Romancing the dark: lamplights of Victorian London.

    A cartoon showing an exploding celluloid bowtie. Image from

    * Exploding toilets and aluminum-laced bread: the 10 most dangerous things in Victorian and Edwardian homes


    Demonic Degas … A detail from Le Lit de Cuivre by Walter Richard Sickert (c1906). Photograph: Tate. Image from


    * Was Walter Sickert Jack the Ripper? Of course not, he was actually Dracula! 

     The return of the painting (c) Rex Features

    * The 9 December marked the century that has passed since the return of the Mona Lisa: the world's most famous missing painting

    Bayeux Tapestry 1067 shows battle of Hastings, 14 October 1066 - Getty Images


    * There has been renewed debate about where the battle of Hastings really took place after Medieval historian Dr Marc Morris claimed that the research that suggests the battle took place on the site of what is now a mini roundabout on the A2100 is 'no more than informed guesswork'.


    We don't read Agatha Christie for dirty realism, but for an instantly recognisable alternative universe, where every mystery has a solution. Photo: Alamy 


    * Poirot without a decent plot really would be a crime!

    Portrait of Jane Austen. Image from 

    * A rare painting of Jane Austen is to be sold at auction. A version of the piece which was commissioned by her nephew in 1869 is being used on the new £10 note from 2017.

    A69M2A Roanoke Colony found abandoned without a trace except Croatoan carved on a tree 1591. ILLUSTRATION BY NORTH WIND PICTURE ARCHIVES/ALAMY

    * Have researchers found the lost colony of Roanoke Island

    JRR Tolkien’s First World War revolver (c) IWM


    * Tolkien's revolver reveals how his time fighting in the trenches influenced his literary creations


    Journey's End at the Duke of York's in 2011. Photo: Tristram Kenton

    * Simon Tait explains the importance of arts funding for the First World War commemorations.


    (Courtesy Patrycja Przadka Giersz)Within an unlooted tomb of the Wari civilization, a pre-Inca culture of Peru, archaeologists found the remains of several of the empire’s queens, accompanied by lavish offerings such as a cup that had been carved out of alabaster and a 1,200-year-old decorated ceramic flask. 

    * The top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2013


    Panorama of the beach at Sperlonga angle; Circeo promontory in the background. Image from

    * The never-ending Odyssey to identify which of these two Italian towns were Odysseus' final destination - this may be an older link but attempts to link modern places and culture to their ancient counterparts is always fascinating! 


    Book shelf. Image from


    * Why does literary fiction have such a problem with happy endings? 

    William McIlvanney and 'tartan noir'.

    The Guardian ask what is your favourite book of 2013?  

    * Everyone has heard of Proust or Dumas but why don't French books sell abroad? 

    * The obituary of Ida Pollock, prolific writer of romantic fiction and the 'other woman’ in Enid Blyton’s marriage.


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

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