Attn! Always use a VPN when RSSing!
Your IP adress is . Country:
Your ISP blocks content and issues fines based on your location. Hide your IP address with a VPN!
Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels

Channel Catalog

Channel Description:

The History Press blog

older | 1 | 2 | (Page 3) | 4 | 5 | .... | 38 | newer

    0 0
  • 04/09/13--00:45: Titanic II Gala Dinner
  • Titanic II image from

    After the disastrous demise of Titanic in the deep icy waters of the North Atlantic you would think it might be a bad idea to attempt to replicate the original luxury liner and give her the same name. However,  101 years after the unfortunate vessel sank,  Australian billionaire Professor Clive Palmer is planning to do just that.

    Titanic II  will be built to resemble the original as closely as possible with a few vital exceptions. The stunning and opulent interiors will give first-class passengers the same impression of luxury as those who paid for the 1912 voyage, and the ship will contain an Edwardian-style gymnasium, complete with early twentieth century exercise equipment, Turkish baths and a Swimming bath. There will also be Second and Third Class accommodation and dining rooms, again replicating the original, however, mobile phones, internet and television will not be permitted. Of course, Titanic II will have a full-complement of lifeboats, modern engines and other safety features.

    To publicise his plans for the yet-to-be-built ship, Professor Palmer invited would-be punters to a fantastic gala dinner at the Natural History Museum, London on 2nd March, 2013. The menu, a 12-course dinner, was the same as that served to first-class diners on the night the ship went down and included oysters, king scallop, salmon, steak, lamb, duck, foie gras terrine and Waldorf pudding. Guests included a number of former Heads of State from around the world, representatives of charities, Titanic history societies, and a well-heeled selection of people who might be interested in signing-up for the maiden voyage. Live entertainment and video loops of original Titanic film along with graphics of the proposed ship kept the guests amused.

    What are your thoughts on Titanic II? 

    Further reading:

    * Titanic II

    * Design Boom: the interiors of Titanic II

    * Blue Star Line: Titanic II news

    * Titanic II to be Clive Palmer's 'ship of dreams'

    * THP Titanic books

    * The award winning Titanic Real Time

    0 0
  • 04/12/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 12/04/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    *  This week, on 8th April, Baroness Margaret Thatcher died as a result of a stroke. As one of politics most controversial figures, indifference was never an option and discussion about her rise to power and the impact of her legacy has been dominating the headlines this week. One thing is certain though, she was a woman who massively influenced both the social and cultural life of Great Britain and the world. Russell Brand's article on Thatcher is a really interesting read too, especially for those 'children of Thatcher'.

    * With history, one thing we often forget is the effect that key historical events have on communities. It is much easier to look at a country as a whole when discussing the impact of change but actually we can get a clearer account by looking at communities. Whilst
    local history may be seen as "less important", in this post, Joanna Rickert-Hall argues that history's big stories are "merely a compendium of many little stories or histories".

    Does history start at home or do we need to start with the big stories? Interested in local history? Why not discover more about where you live...

    * The news that 'entire streets' of Roman London have been uncovered in the City has led to the site being dubbed "the Pompeii of the North". Museum of London archaeologists (MOLA) say that it contains the largest collection of small finds ever recovered on a single site in London, (covering a period from the AD 40s to the early 5th Century) and this video explains their remarkable survival

    With the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition on at the moment, this find really couldn't have come at a better time!

    Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has topped a list of teachers' favourite books, compiled by the Times Educational Supplement (TES). There has been some controversy following the choice of books on the list but I think it has managed to encompass the key stages in children's reading.

    Which books would you add or take away?


    * An Auschwitz survivor is using social media to help find his long lost twin brother. Menachem Bodner, born Eli Gottesman, survived Auschwitz as a child and was later adopted, now aged 73, he is trying to trace his twin, Jeno, who he last saw at the concentration camp. The twins (born in Ukraine)  have "matching" camp ID tattoos: A 7733 and A 7734. You can view Menachem's Facebook page and help with the search here. 

    Social media and the Internet often get a bad rap, but used for projects like this, hopefully there will be a happy ending...


    *  We have been having fun going back to basics in the office this week with this browser emulator (who remembers how bad Internet Explorer 2.0 looked?!) It just goes to show how quickly things change. Speaking of updates, with the return of everyone's favourtie advertising executives on television, Mashable are asking, what would the 21st century Mad Men office look like?

    0 0

    That's some catch at Somerset County Cricket Club

    Many people regard cricket as a religion, rather than a sport and the two share many similarities. In the first place, cricket is nearly as old as some religions, with the game thought to have begun in Norman times. Secondly, like religion, it transcends many different cultures and continents with around 120 countries now playing the game. There are even some bizarre annual fixtures (née rituals) in some pretty unlikely locations. Cricket has been played in a volcanic crater, San Carolos Bay in the Falklands, Goodwin Sands at low tide, on the deck of some merchant ships, Base Camp on Mt. Everest and even under the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle- when play was stopped by a whale.

    Cricket is often described as a metaphor for life, bringing with it, tough physical and mental challenges and also the uncanny ability to confound fans and commentators alike with the unlikeliest of results.

    I have been greatly privileged to observe this great game through the lens of being a County Club Chairman and I thought it might be of some service to record the rich tapestry of goings on and events which comprise a year in the life of
    Somerset County Cricket Club. Indeed, this is the title of the book which is to be launched on 27 April 2013. All proceeds from my royalties will be donated to The Clowance Trust, a charity which supports the development of youth cricket in the West Country.


    Somerset County Cricket Club

    Here I have chosen my favourites out  of a series of events which combined to make 2012 another year to remember for Somerset County Cricket Club and all who support it. 

    * Vernon Philander took 5 wickets in an innings in his first two games against Middlesex and Lancashire.

    * The summer of 2012 was the wettest since records began.

    * 5 Somerset batsmen made 50’s against Durham.

    * The Club achieved its highest ever operating profit of £403,000.

    * Craig Kieswetter made 152 whilst Alfonso Thomas and Gemaal Hussain were amongst the wickets against Warwickshire.

    * A supporter wrote in asking whether his false teeth had been handed in after a match. A search was arranged but the result was fruitless.

    * James Hildreth excelled with the bat whilst Marcus Trescothick took 5 catches in an innings against Nottinghamshire.

    * The Club was awarded Provisional Category B Status by the ECB board after a very comprehensive review. This gave us the right to stage England ODIs and T20s. 

    * Marcus Trescothick was back to his best with a classy 123 against Sussex which saw him reach his 50th first class century. 

    * Club legend Brian Rose retired after a highly successful period as the Club’s Director of Cricket.

    * There was the eventual draw with Surrey and the Mankad incident. 

    * No less than seven members of our first XI squad represented England or Ireland at a senior level.

    * Nick Compton blasted his way to 155 * whilst Peter Trego took his 50th Championship wicket of the season. Abdur Rehman finished with match figures of 14/101 against Worcestershire.

    * The year drew to a close on a sad note. Club members Noel Lock and William Rees-Mogg passed away in the same week that ex-England captain, Tony Greig, lost his battle with cancer. No doubt, in the same month, many were born who will play the game and support Somerset with the same passion as those who have gone before them. 

    * We begin our 138th annual campaign as a First class county in April and it can’t come quickly enough. 


    The refurbished Colin Atkinson Pavilion


    A Year in the Life of Somerset County Cricket Club is the story of the highs and lows of county cricket through the eyes of the club's chairman, Andy Nash. This book provides a captivating insight into the daily workings in and around the Club throughout 2012 as it meets numerous challenges and prepares future plans.

    0 0
  • 04/17/13--03:00: What makes someone a legend?
  • What makes someone a legend? 

    Legends, so my dictionary tells me, are plausible stories that neither tellers nor listeners necessarily believe. What a wonderful definition! The quality that makes a legend believable, and also differentiates it from a folk tale, fairytale or myth, is the fact that it has a connection to a historical person or place. 

    A legend grows up around a famous hero or a beautiful woman. Think of King Arthur and Helen of Troy: it is likely that they were real people, but whether Arthur really became king by pulling a sword out of a stone, or whether Helen really was the most beautiful woman in the world, are questions that cannot ever be answered.  Legends constellate around historical personages in much the same way that a pearl forms around a grain of sand, and the process can be seen most clearly if we look at someone whom we know has really lived.

    Sir Francis Drake, most famous for defeating the Spanish Armada, is a well-documented historical figure from Tudor times. We even know what he looked like from his portraits. Out of the facts of this extraordinary – yet real – person’s life, however, a legend has been born.  In Devon, Drake’s birthplace, he is credited with magical powers. They say that when Plymouth was afflicted by drought, Drake rode out on to the moor and struck the ground in a certain place with his whip. A spring of fresh water immediately bubbled up from the spot and, when he galloped back to town, the water flowed after him, so that the townspeople of Plymouth could slake their thirst. The grain of truth at the centre of this pleasing pearl is the fact that Drake commissioned and built an aqueduct for Plymouth, the remains of which can still be seen on Dartmoor today. Legend spins metaphor from the everyday …

    Perhaps this is the key to the attraction of legends: the ‘if only’ of wondering how much of history is story, and where the truth actually lies. I certainly know that, in my twenty-five years as a professional storyteller, the first question I am always asked by children, no matter how fantastical the tale they have just heard, is this: ‘Is that a true story?’

    Hindu legends speak of the ‘Sea of Stories’. It is full of pearl-bearing oysters, each enfolding a grain of truth in legend. Legends feed on the endless human fascination with fame and fortune; they grow out of the fundamental way in which we seek to make sense of our lives and communicate our experiences to others: by making them into stories. Such a story may start as a simple recount: ‘I saw the old woman who lives on the hill when I was out walking today.’ But as the story is passed on from mouth to mouth, it is likely that it will be embroidered a little: ‘My friend saw that old woman who has lived on the hill as long as anyone can remember.’

    And then a little more: ‘The old woman on the hill has been there longer than anyone can remember.’

    And more: ‘The old woman on the hill has been there so long that she has learnt the language of the animals and birds.’

    Until: ‘The legend says that the old woman on the hill can ask the animals any question, and they will answer her.’

    And so, a new legend is born. The process is happening all the time; connecting our modern world – with its endless media intrusions into the lives of the famous – with our earliest ancestors’ attempts to explain their world and honour their heroes and heroines.

    What do you think makes someone a legend? 

      Ancient legends: King Arthur    Ancient legends: Vortigern    Ancient legends: Pryderi    Ancient legends: Robin Hood

    Last year The History Press made a bold decision to commission a series of Ancient Legends Retold from professional storytellers, all of whom have lived and worked with the stories they tell for a long time. Five tellers-turned-writers each chose from their repertoires one of the best-known legends of these islands, and transformed their spoken-word stories into written words.

    The legends retold in the first four books of the series bring to life key figures from the history of these islands, as only a gifted storyteller can. In these new, beautifully designed volumes, you will meet Robin Hood of the Greenwood; Vortigern, who Bede called a "proud tyrant"; Pryderi, hero of the Welsh tales The Four Branches of the Mabinogion; and, of course, King Arthur, his knights and their ladies.

    I hope you will enjoy reading our Ancient Legends Retold as much as we have enjoyed writing them. I hope, too, that the first four books will be followed by many more …


    Fiona Collins is a storyteller who hears the music of the spoken word and respects the traditional wisdom that communicates with us through stories. She tells these rich tales and legends of Britain in both English and Welsh, and Fiona has a long connection with the landscape of Wales and its importance in our mythology.


    Further reading:

    * Wise Geek answers the age old question, what is a legend?

    * The Gild asks 'What makes a legend?'

    * Wiki How gives some interesting advice on how to become a legend

    0 0
  • 04/19/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 19/04/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    Nottingham's Conservative party organiser Graham Smith helped plan Mrs Thatcher's campaign tactics. Image from

    *  This week, on 17th April, Baroness Margaret Thatcher's funeral took place with thousands of people lining the streets to witness her final journey. Whilst no-one can doubt the historical importance of the Thatcher era, how history will judge her is still up for debate. Was she the "saviour of a nation... or wrecker of communities?" 

    This article from the BBC looks at how Thatcher's funeral fits into history, whilst this look at prime minister's funerals from Pitt to Heath provides a crash course in British political history. 


    Justin Bieber. Image from

    * Justin Bieber has caused outrage again this week. His message in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum, said that he hoped the Holocaust victim would have been a fan. It is difficult to decide exactly what this tells us about the singer, but critics have drawn a number of conclusions about his motivation.

    Is he self-centred or just misunderstood?

    George III (Thinkstock) Image from George III (Thinkstock) image from

    Lucy Worsley examines how modern medicine may help us to discover the real reasons behind King George III's erratic behaviour. In her new series Fit To Rule, she argues that despite his illness, George III was a dedicated and diligent king, and won the respect of his politicians. In fact, she suggests that royal health issues can actually strengthen the monarchy, not least by creating sympathy and affection for an afflicted individual.

    The History Press stand at London Book Fair 2013

     This week The History Press was at The London Book Fair with nearly everyone else who works in publishing. For anyone who wasn't lucky enough to go, their library of articles provides more information on some of the biggest publishing news of the past few months.

    Digital was a key focus of this year's fair and this article from the Futurebook blog talks about the new culture needed in the publishing industry to really embrace the 'digital revolution'.

    Books . Image from

    * It's clear that publishing is still a popular industry to work in and whilst there is plenty of advice on how to get into publishing,  information on how to develop your career once you do, is more difficult to get hold of. Publishing Trendsetter has looked at the various career options open to individuals and despite the challenging job market, it seems that growth within a publishing career is possible. 

    Titanic doing her sea trials

    * Sunday marked the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, an event which traumatised the city of Southampton, the port she sailed from, and rendered it nearly mute on the subject for many years afterwards. Few events have captured the public imagination as universally as the Titanic, and The History Press is offering 30% off all Titanic books to commemorate the anniversary. 

    Vienna. Getty images from

    A century ago, one section of Vienna played host to Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Tito, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Stalin. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been a neighbour of one of these men, imagine bumping into Hitler on the stairs!

    Madame Tussaud at the age of 42. Portrait study (1921) by John Theodore Tussaud. Image from

    The woman behind one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions died on April 16th, 1850. Marie Tussaud was eighty-nine and one of the nineteenth century's most successful career women when she died at her London home in Baker Street. Her links with the French Revolution were a complete surprise to me - who knew that she modelled the severed heads of both Marie Antoinette and Robespierre?

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

    0 0

    The Roman frontier of Hadrian’s Wall is an ever-popular destination for both walkers and those interested in the Roman remains. In this guide, the walker is taken on an archaeological adventure to both the well-known sites and the many forgotten places, just as important as the iconic forts and milecastles.  The author provides the walker the opportunity to contribute to the research and leads the walker into understanding the landscape not just as a dramatic piece of scenery but a living vibrant entity. The author offers a living vibrant, complex landscape with added mud!

    Clifford Jones is an archaeologist, lecturer and author. He's had two television appearances with excavations at Muncaster Castle in 2002 (BBC Manchester special) and Gosforth Hall in 2005 (Granada Television programme ‘Viking’) in which he found and excavated a tenth-century Viking hall. He is one of the country’s leading experts on the  Wall.

    Hadrian's Wall: An Archaeological Walking Guide


    Hadrian's Wall is one of the most popular historical sites in the United Kingdom, attracting thousands of visitors every year. While part of it lies in or around towns, and the associated museums are accessible by road, to see much of the wall you have to go on foot. The book contains a wealth of maps, addresses, phone numbers and links to supply all the information needed to complete an end to end walk of the wall in ten days.

    The book starts with an introduction providing a (very) brief history of the wall and some of the theories as to why it was built. It then provides a list of essentials the walker will need, from clothing through to blankets, maps and provisions. This is told in an amusing way, reminding us of the mishaps possible, some of which the writer tells us he has fallen foul to in the past.

    After this we enter the main body of the book which is divided into ten chapters, each being a days walking. They each start with a map, length to be covered and requirements. They then give detailed step by step instructions to the walker, pointing out all relevant sights en route and places to stop to eat and sleep. As well as plenty of pubs!

    Unlike many books of this kind the author sends the walker from Tynemouth in the east to Kirkbride in the west, as he believes this give us a better understanding of the walls nature and by seeing it in a fuller state, to understand its remains and how to spot them in their more degraded state in the west.

    It is written in a very friendly and informal style, and it makes you feel the writer is with you on the journey, providing snippets of information and the occasional anecdote. 
    The book is well illustrated with a number of black and white photographs, and also a series of colour images.

    Reading this book has certainly inspired me to walk Hadrian's wall!


    Book: 'Hadrian's Wall: An Archaeological Walking Guide'

    Author: Clifford Jones

    Review by: Joe Medhurst


    Joe Medhurst is a teacher and historian, he writes articles on history and education for several magazines and websites. His website is:

    0 0
  • 04/26/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 26/04/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    St George slaying the dragon. Image from

    *  Tuesday marked a number of events on the calendar, including St. George's Day which celebrates the life and deeds of England's patron saint. This article from the BBC looks at how much we really know about the man who slayed a dragon. Was he just a mythical martyr?

    History Today goes even further and questions the saint's popularity with the English population of the Middle Ages, arguing that it was Edward I rather than Richard the Lionheart who was responsible for his move from the margins to the mainstream.

    The British Newspaper Archive has a fascinating collection of stories that mention slaying dragons, which may be a good place for new superhero 'Englishman' to begin his training...


    World Book Night 2013 logo

    World Book Night was also on 23rd April with 20,000 volunteers giving away 20 copies of their favourite book with half a million books being handed out. The evening is a celebration of reading and books which encourages passionate volunteers to share their love of reading with their communities.  Interestingly, UNESCO appointed 23 April as the international day of the book as it is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist.

    Margaret Atwood expresses her excitement at being a 'book giver' and ten writers give their reasons for reading. Which book would you give away on World Book Night? If your choice is less than highbrow, Book Trust has 30 suggestion of what to tell a book snob...

    If you're a bookworm, it is easy to think that everyone else is as passionate about reading as you are, but apparently a third of households don't have any books in them. That proportion is growing which is bad news for the book industry, this article looks are reasons why people don't read

    How would you encourage people to pick up a book?


    The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London. Image from

    * On the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death, the inevitable conspiracy theories about his identity resurface. Robert McCrum at The Guardian's frustration is clear as he asks 'Why waste Shakespeare's birthday on conspiracy theories?'

    Image of a librarian in the library at Lambeth Palace. Image from courtesy of Lambeth Palace

    The palace's library at London's Lambeth Palace, which is home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the scene of a major crime that stayed undiscovered for decades. The shocking truth about the stolen books has now come to light after staff were left staggered after a sealed letter (received in 2011) revealed the full extent of the library's losses.


    Books . Image from

    * A new indie film, narrated by Meryl Streep, explores whether books, as we know them, are dead and, if they are, questions if it matters in an always-on digital world. Contributors to the movie include late iconic author Ray Bradbury, Author’s Guild President Scott Turow, founder Jeff Bezos and New Yorker and CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

    An interview with Vivienne Roumani, Director Of The Indie Film, 'Out of Print',  discusses the inspiration behind her movie, if books are really dead, and if so, what’s next.


    * This article from the Futurebook blog reveals the truth about self-publishing vs traditional publishing. It is interesting reading for anyone currently working in the industry. 


    * Ever wondered how the New York Times book reviewing system works? Public editor Margaret Sullivan revealed recently that there is no system at all which has left readers rather disgruntled...

    Lt Pritchard and Pte Elphick were identified by jewellery which carried their initials . Image from


    * The remains of two World War I soldiers who were killed in action in France nearly 100 years ago have been laid to rest at a military cemetery. The men were killed on 15 May 1917, during an enemy attack near Bullecourt. 

    Narration by Lt Col Paul Bates and Sgt Maj Edward Ellershaw - 14 Regiment Royal Artillery.  All images subject to copyright. Slideshow production by Paul Kerley. Publication date 23 April 2013. Image from

    * The Queen celebrated her birthday on 21st April and the occasion was marked with a 62 gun salute from three guns at the Tower of London. These stunning images show the men of 34 Battery, part of 14 Regiment Royal Artillery, as they prepared for the honour of firing the Royal Salute for the Queen's birthday.

    Simon Gronowski, pictured aged nine with his parents, two years before he and his mother were arrested. Image from

    * On 19 April 1943, a train carrying 1,631 Jews set off from a Nazi detention camp in Belgium for the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Resistance fighters stopped the train and one boy who escaped shares his memories of that fateful night


    Jane Austen

    * A new study by Michael Chwe argues that Jane Austen systematically explored the core ideas of game theory in her six novels, roughly 200 years ago. I hadn't heard of game theory before this, but apparently modern game theory is generally dated to 1944 with the publication of von Neumann’s 'Theory of Games and Economic Behavior'. This imagined human interactions as a series of moves and countermoves aimed at maximizing payoff, which sounds interesting (if slightly cynical).

    Literary LA from the LA Times. Credits: Editorial: Carolyn Kellogg, Joy Press, Hector Tobar, David Ulin. Production: Jerome Adamstein, Dianne de Guzman, Cindy Hively. Special assistance: Michael Darling.. Image from

    * The LA Times guide to 'literary LA' 'highlights some literary landmarks, contemporary bookstores and passages from a number of works about L.A. by authors who've called the city home' including man of the hour, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    I would love to see something similar for UK authors, I just wish I had the skills and time to do it!


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

    0 0

           Newcastle City Hall (then)         Newcastle City Hall (now)

     "Newcastle City Hall has no long term future” the headlines from the front page of the local newspaper screamed. This news rocked me to my core, the City Hall being the venue in Newcastle to see live music and comedy. With much trepidation I forced myself to read on. The leader of Newcastle Council went on to say that they planned to build a new venue which would be built next to the Sage on the banks of the River Tyne over the next three years. They felt this would lead to the City Hall taking less bookings, so the plan was to not only sell the City Hall, but the adjacent City Pool which opened at the same time as the City Hall, back in 1927. My thought that this would be a major loss for the city is one shared by the majority of the city’s population. A petition sprang up almost immediately as the fight to save our City Hall started.

    For me personally, the City Hall is synonymous with the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the same level as the Tyne Bridge, St James Park, and Grey’s Monument. Since as long as I can remember I’ve regularly headed for the City Hall excitedly clutching my ticket to see some wonderful shows. It was only a couple of weeks prior seeing this dreadful headline in November 2012 that I had seen Ross Noble bring the house down with laughter in a brilliant show from his sold-out five night run in his hometown. During the summer of 2000, I was up on that very stage, officially graduating from the nearby University of Northumbria, and the venue is still used for graduations, a special day that will live long in the memory of all former students of the city.

    The City Hall celebrated its 85
    th birthday in 2012, and although it struggled in those early years, it has gone from strength to strength with each passing decade, with the explosion of pop music in the 1960s the City Hall was playing to sell-out crowds every night. Acts such as the Rolling Stones and the Kinks played to over 2000 excited Geordies. The Beatles even played at Newcastle City Hall, a total of four times, three times in 1963, and then again in December 1965 during their last ever tour of the UK.

    Since then, The City Hall has never looked back, playing the top acts and regularly selling out. Let’s hope it’s not too late to save the wonderful Grade II Listed Building so the acts of tomorrow can continue to entertain the people of Newcastle for generations to come.

    Sign the petition to save Newcastle City Hall here:


    'Newcastle Then & Now' by Rob Kirkup is now available on The History Press website. 

    0 0

    The Bury Book of Days

    I have always taken the industrial town of Bury for granted, hardly looking beyond the surface of an area that has always been home to me. I didn’t realize just what a colourful and interesting history this region has hidden for so long. Like digging for buried treasure, “digging” into the archives has been an eye-opener for me and many “treasures” have just been waiting to be discovered. The industrial history of this town is rich, true, but there was so much more waiting to be uncovered, such as the rich political, religious, social, agricultural and sporting history of the area, not to mention the criminal history of a town which had for so long seemed insignificant and, dare I say it, even uninteresting. I didn’t know, for instance, that horrific murders had occurred in the area during earlier centuries and that a number of criminals from the town were hung at nearby Manchester.

    I was also surprised to discover that Cromwell’s forces had once besieged the town of Bury, with very bloody consequences. Two of the most important political figures in history also lived in and came from the area, as did two brothers who had strong connections to the author Charles Dickens. A wild and vicious bull once terrorized people in the town and a monster-sized otter frequented the surrounding waterways and eluded the many sportsmen who pursued it for several years. A strange shaped egg, drunken rascals, inventive and talented folk - all have frequented the town I have called home since birth.

    Intelligent animals have also become a part of the history of the area, such as a little terrier which could find its way home across strange country and over many miles. A historic and important railway is also a main feature of the town, but what a history this railway has too, as colourful and exciting as that of the town itself. Famous visitors have been in the town, which also boasts a historic cup-winning football team. Many gems were discovered regarding Bury Football Club with its often incredibly successful past.

    The countryside surrounding Bury is both bleak and beautiful, many of the town buildings are charming and attractive. Most of the mills with their jutting chimneys are long-gone, but the indelible history remains - a history which enriches the enjoyment of this interesting little town of Bury.

    Find out more about Bury's varied history with 'The Bury Book of Days', available now. 

    0 0
  • 05/03/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 03/05/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    : F. Scott Fitzgerald, American Beauty, Gets a Bookplate in the New Yorker, 1925. Image from

    *  The world premiere of The Great Gatsby took place in New York yesterday and public interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald and his work is at an all time high. Now that his handwritten records of his life and career have been made available to fans and scholars online, we can get more of an insight into the mind of the popular author.

    Fitzgerald has long been associated with the idea of being beautiful and damned, and the New Yorker picked up on this theme in a bookplate series in 1925. The Huffington Post goes into more detail on this, isn't the artwork just stunning? 

    Admiral Lord Nelson in the C21st. Image from

    * This week the Telegraph explored how historical figures like Admiral Lord Nelson and Henry VIII would look if they were alive today.  The project 
    was commissioned by history TV channel Yesterday to celebrate its new series, the Secret Life Of... and saw digital artists working closely with history experts. 

    The modern portraits have been causing some controversy but I love them, especially Elizabeth I. Who is your favourite?


    Anne Bronte's corrected grave. Image from

    * Anne Bronte, sister to Charlotte and Emily, has finally had the error on her gravestone corrected - 164 years after her death.  The Bronte Society has installed the new plaque alongside the original, which has deteriorated over the years. Though she is often overlooked in favour of her sisters, 'Anne is now viewed as the most radical of the sisters, writing about tough subjects such as women's need to maintain independence, and how alcoholism can tear a family apart,' said the society's Sally McDonald.

    Loch Croispol Bookshop. Image from

    * Britain's most remote bookshop, located on the northern tip of the Scottish mainland in Durness, Sutherland has gone up for sale. Loch Croispol Bookshop has gained a reputation for stocking difficult to find books and new owners will be in a beautiful, if isolated location. Perhaps you could have a Neolithic house like the ones at Stonehenge?

    The Bookseller blog discusses whether publishers should act to help retailers in physical spaces or whether online commerce is the way to go. Do you buy books in shops or online?

    * According to the Publisher's Association, book sales grew 4% in 2012 thanks to bestsellers such as 'Fifty Shades of Grey'.  The book might not be finished yet, but as more and more people are turning towards digital and e-books, the challenges facing publishers are growing. Philip Jones at The Bookseller feels that judging the pace of digital change will be one of the key challenges facing publishing executives in the months and years to come.


    NOOK Simple Touch™ Image from

    * A number of struggling primary school pupils will be given help towards their reading by a partnership which will bring 1,000 free eReaders into schools. The Evening Standard and Barnes & Noble have partnered up to encourage children in schools with some of the highest illiteracy rates to read books via the eReaders.

    Do you think this is a good idea to help cut illiteracy rates?


    Getty image of Willem Alexander. Image from 

    * On Tuesday 30th April, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated and hand over the sceptre of power to her eldest son, Willem Alexander. He became king in a secular ceremony and this article from the BBC compares a very modern monarchy with the system we have in the UK

    A postcard sent home by a captured WWI soldier has come to light 95 years after it was sent from a German prisoner of war camp. Image from

    *  A postcard from a British soldier who was held at Limburg an der Lahn, a 
    German prisoner of war camp, has come to light 95 years after it was sent.

    Coded WWII letters from John Pryor. Image from

    * For 60 years, mysterious coded letters sent from
    John Pryor (a British prisoner of war) to his family have remained unencrypted but a top mathematician has broken the cipher and unlocked their secrets.

    Spitfires of No. 18 Squadron lined up for the press, May 1939. Image from

    * WWII planes have also been in the news this week, with the Imperial War Museum sharing the special relationship between RAF Duxford and the Spitfire. Work has also started
    to raise a unique World War II aircraft from the floor of the English Channel just off the Kent coast. The Dornier 17 aircraft is the last of its kind, and lies in 50ft of water on the Goodwin Sands. 

    The crypt of the chapel where Geoffrey wrote about Arthur still remains. Image from
    A medieval tome which popularised the story of King Arthur is thought to have been written in a lost Oxford chapel. Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain is believed to have been penned at  St George's chapel, before it was demolished to make way for Oxford Castle.


    Coldstream Guards button. Image via

    * The mystery of the 200 year old British soldier found in the dunes of Holland appears to be solved. The deceased individual has been identified as a member of the Coldstream Guards and is thought to be either Nathaniel Haines or Thomas Taylor.

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

    0 0

    Launceston Castle (The Little Book of Cornwall)


    Although Cornwall is comparatively remote from London, one factor which was generally seen at a major disadvantage in previous centuries, the county can number several ‘firsts’ in various fields.  The first Roman Catholic priest to be martyred in England, was Cuthbert Mayne, a Roman Catholic priest at Probus.  After being declared a traitor, and refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of Queen Elizabeth as head of the church, he was hanged at Launceston in 1577.  At around the same time Sir Walter Raleigh, who had introduced sotweed, the Elizabethan name for tobacco, into England from Virginia, was said to be the first famous person to smoke it in public when he was a guest of the Killigrew family in Falmouth in 1586.  Some claim that the habit had been brought from France to England, although he is the one most widely blamed for leading people astray.

    On a more positive note, in the nineteenth century the Cornish were the first to be told of the great British victory at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.  The news was given to local fishermen, who informed the authorities at Penzance, and the mayor, Thomas Giddy, made an official announcement at the Assembly Rooms at the Union Hotel.  A courier, John Lapenotiere, rode in a post-chaise carriage from Falmouth to London in thirty-eight hours (a journey which normally took one week) to bring the news to King and country.

    In Victorian times Silas Hocking, born at St Stephen-in-Brannel, a Methodist minister and writer, was reputedly the first novelist to have a million-selling book during his lifetime with Her Benny, a story about street children in Liverpool, even though he is little remembered today.  Towards the end of the century Helston-born Bob Fitzsimmons, who emigrated to the United States as a young man, became the first boxer to win three world titles, Middleweight in 1891, Heavyweight in 1897, and Light-Heavyweight in 1903.  In the latter year the engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi stayed in the county when the first transatlantic wireless message was transmitted from Newfoundland to Poldhu.

    Closer to the present day, drummer Roger Taylor was brought up in Truro where he formed his first rock band.  In 1968 he helped to form Smile, which later evolved into Queen, and whose first performance took place at Truro City Hall in June 1970.

    'The Little Book of Cornwall' by John Van der Kiste is available now.

    0 0

    The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players


    Stephen Cooper will be appearing at the  Ex-Servicemen's Club as the guest of the WFA Northants Branch on Thursday 11 July at 7.00 pm.. He will be discussing his book, The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players.

    The Final Whistle plays tribute to the pivotal role rugby played in the Great War by following the poignant stories of fifteen men who played for Rosslyn Park, London. They came from diverse backgrounds, with players from Australia, Ceylon, Wales and South Africa, but they were united by their love of the game and their courage in the face of war. 

    The Final Whistle has been shortlisted for  'Rugby Book of the Year' at The British Sports Book Awards. To view a sample chapter, please click here

    0 0

    The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players


    Stephen Cooper will be appearing at RAF Westernhanger at the War and Peace Revival on Saturday 20 July at 9.30 am.  He will be discussing his book, The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players.

    The Final Whistle plays tribute to the pivotal role rugby played in the Great War by following the poignant stories of fifteen men who played for Rosslyn Park, London. They came from diverse backgrounds, with players from Australia, Ceylon, Wales and South Africa, but they were united by their love of the game and their courage in the face of war. 

    The Final Whistle has been shortlisted for  'Rugby Book of the Year' at The British Sports Book Awards. To view a sample chapter, please click here

    0 0

    The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players


    Stephen Cooper will be appearing at theCobham Day Centre as the guest of the WFA Surrey Branch on Wednesday 16 October at 7.00 pm. He will be discussing his book, The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players.

    The Final Whistle plays tribute to the pivotal role rugby played in the Great War by following the poignant stories of fifteen men who played for Rosslyn Park, London. They came from diverse backgrounds, with players from Australia, Ceylon, Wales and South Africa, but they were united by their love of the game and their courage in the face of war. 

    The Final Whistle has been shortlisted for  'Rugby Book of the Year' at The British Sports Book Awards. To view a sample chapter, please click here

    0 0

    Six players in this Rosslyn Park 1909–10 team would be killed in the Great War. (Club archive)

    Six players in this Rosslyn Park 1909–10 team would be killed in the Great War. (Image from club archive)

    Much recent writing on the Great War has veered between the highest-ranked and the humble: a determined rehabilitation of Haig and his generals at one end, with plain-spoken voices from the ranks at the other, whether individual Tommies who survived to tell their oral history, or whole battalions of ‘Pals’. Even those who could not speak have their say: horses, dogs and other mute beasts burdened by war have filled page, stage and screen of late.

    Lost in all this has been the story of the men arguably most responsible for British obduracy and eventual success – the officers of the line. However, recent published studies are beginning to give due credit again to the achievements of this overlooked group. A distinctive voice is now being heard again.

    Many of these officers were products of the public school system which modern educational politics has often been embarrassed to discuss. Remarkably few were angry poets with strident voices. Professional and university historians perhaps feel too that they have graduated from studying the familiar characters of the GCSE curriculum staple, Journey’s End; in so doing they neglect the many thousands of officers – from subalterns to half-colonels – who quietly led and cared for their men in the field and sustained morale in the face of all that the enemy, horrifying battlefield conditions and uninspired strategists could throw at them. They did so at a tender age, many fresh from public school and the rugby and cricket fields; under fire and frustration they showed maturity beyond their years. These are the boys who won the war.

    Journey’s End
     playwright and Kingston Grammar boy R C Sherriff, who initially resented the exclusion zone created by public schools in early officer recruitment, was later magnanimous with his praise. The testimony of one who was at the Somme and Ypres and won the Military Cross is worth that of many latter day armchair academics. He judged that it was the line officers’ achievement to sustain a fighting force that would soak up punishment for four whole years until the weakened opponent was too exhausted and demoralised to carry on. Ranker Alfred Burrage concurred in his Memoir of Private X: ‘I who was a Private, and a bad one at that, freely own that it was the British subaltern who won the war.’

    Casualties amongst this officer class were notoriously and disproportionately high. Their voices may therefore not be heard through reasoned memoirs or interviews in later life when memory may have dulled, survivor-guilt unsettled or the passage of time brought a more reflective mood; in the surviving wartime letters of these dead leaders, we hear a voice fresh and immediate, free of historical filters. It is often angry, but always conscious of duty and the need to carry on. We must listen carefully to this valuable contemporary record.

    Social class barriers were decisively breached under the common denominator of alternating terror and tedium in trench life. These officers maintained a fine balance between the necessary authority of command and military discipline, and a shared humanity and compassion for their men. They did not all share Wilfred Owen’s presumption to give them a voice in poetry.

    Where they did find their own voice – privately but nonetheless impressively, in the face of censorship and rigid military hierarchy – was in their views on the senior leadership. Many of their criticisms were – aptly – trenchant; nor can they be dismissed as the customary complaining of overworked ‘middle-managers’, or men uncomfortably thrust into unexpected responsibility. Guy du Maurier, who commanded a battalion of Royal Fusiliers at Ypres, was a career soldier who had fought in Burma and killed in the Boer War. Before this war he had found his voice on the London stage: his stage sensation of 1909 – An Englishman’s Home – had alerted the British public to the danger of military unpreparedness and boosted recruiting for the new Territorial Force.

    From his hut at Kemmel he confided to his wife his contempt for the General Staff, the inanity of administrators and rigid military doctrine; the welfare of his men was always top of mind, however weary from incessant admin. So too Lt Col Broadrick of the badly damaged 6th Borders at Gallipoli, who could only write to his mother of his few surviving men’s need for comforts like Woodbines, or the financial security of bereaved families at home. Only when he too was killed did the letters stop. The common humanity and mutual respect of officers and men under fire was poignantly expressed by one East Yorkshires private of his Captain, caught out by a Turkish sniper: ‘he was a Gentleman and made tea for ten of us’.

    The professional du Maurier said of one exemplary subaltern, a gentleman amateur: ‘Absolutely no previous training as a soldier is wanted at this game – only a stout heart – a grip of men and a calm cheerful nature.’ If their relationship to authority – whether House, School, Regiment, King or Country – was one of unquestioning obedience, then these boys also took thoughtful responsibility for the men on their team and felt genuine obligation towards those less privileged than themselves.  Arguably, war exposed them as never before to the lower classes and trench life had a levelling effect. Energetic and youthful, they led enthusiastic games of rugby or football to keep up morale and break down social barriers. Many had flaws and weaknesses – if only from inexperience – which war would magnify and sometimes fatally expose, but they played the game as best they could. There were more Stanhopes than Flashmans.

     The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players

    The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players' was published by The History Press in September 2012.

    Stephen Cooper was born in Birmingham, England. After reading English at Trinity, Cambridge, he worked in advertising and internet marketing in London, Toronto and New York. He now runs a military charity. He first wrote as a travel journalist for the TelegraphExpress and High Life. He has played and coached rugby longer than he can remember. His grandfather fought at the Somme, survived but refused to tell the tale and so inspired a lifelong curiosity and fascination for the Great War.


    The Final Whistle has been shortlisted for  'Rugby Book of the Year' at The British Sports Book Awards. To view a sample chapter, please click here.  


    0 0

    Matthew Boulton

    When, in the 21st century, we congratulate ourselves on the progress of humankind, it’s no bad thing to look back over 200 years to the Enlightenment. This was a time of intellectual discovery, of excitement in new things, of not bothering about intellectual boundaries and whether one knew much about a particular topic, before wading in.

    Matthew Boulton was a giant of the Enlightenment in Britain. A businessman across a range of products from fine silver, to ornaments; mechanical copier of paintings for the not-so-well-off who had pretensions to ape the aristocracy; maker of a huge range of knick-knackery and, perhaps best known as partner and promoter of James Watt in the steam engine business.

    And it didn’t stop there. Yes, Boulton did become a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) as did James Watt but, more engagingly, he was a founder of what came to be known as The Lunar Society, an informal, by invitation, Midlands-based dining club of like-minded men. No more than 14 of them. Good food and copious quantities of fine wine at Boulton’s Soho House on the outskirts of Birminghamoiled the wheels for scientific conversation. No streetlights existed in those days so meetings were held at the time of the full moon so as to assist folk in the journeys home. Hence their unofficial name. No Minutes were kept and the only rule we know about was the tolerance of differences of opinion: whether on science or religion or politics. Members included Dr Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, who was to write On the Origin of Species; Josiah Wedgwood, potter; Joseph Priestley, non-conformist minister and scientist, and others less well known today. Boulton was a jovial and generous host to his Lunar friends, as he was to visitors to his Soho Manufactory, a state-of-the-art complex from which his different products were made (all the larger parts of steam engines were made by a range of other specialist suppliers).

    In his partnership with James Watt it was Boulton who held out for the opportunity to ‘make engines for the whole world’ – a dream achieved in part during his lifetime. Watt’s engine was, at first, only for pumping  - and there was a large market for this in the Cornish copper mines. But Boulton badgered Watt to devise a means of generating rotative power to replace the waterwheels which, until then, had driven the mills in the rapidly growing cotton industry.  He recognised that the men ofLancashirewere ‘steam mill mad’.  Boulton knew that manufacturers in different industries needed role-models in the adoption of steam power, so he set about identifying leaders such as Wedgwood in pottery, Whitbread in brewing, and many others. He even became a partner with Watt and others in a huge steam corn mill project inLondon. Albion Mill was the largest steam corn mill (there had been a few earlier experiments with old common engines) and was a wonderful advertisement. Until it was destroyed by fire – not byLondonmillers who were, understandably, alarmed - but by combustion ignited by sparks from the stones used in milling.

    By the time of Boulton’s death in 1809 Britain’s Industrial Revolution, the first in the world, was well under way.

    0 0
  • 05/10/13--04:30: The Friday Digest 10/05/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    Sir Alex Ferguson. Getty image from

    * This is not strictly history related, but the news that Sir Alex Ferguson is going to retire at the end of the season has shocked many fans. The BBC has gathered up all of Manchester United's wins and losses under Sir Alex Ferguson and 10 things not everyone knows about one of football's most iconic managers.

    In 1989, Pete Molyneux unfurled a controversial banner calling for the Manchester United manager to resign but now he is glad the Scot stuck around and the man who said ta-ra to Sir Alex Ferguson now joins the applause. 

    The site of the excavation, at Oxford Street, was outside the walls of Roman Leicester. Image from

    * The Richard III team made a second Leicester car park find as a 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery has been identified beneath another car park in the city. 

    Since the discovery of his body in February, there has been a lot of discussion about where to bury Richard III and the debate is still raging as campaigners march through York.  

    Stonehenge. Image from Stonehenge. Image from

    * Whilst Michael Gove has been critical of 'Mr. Men' history teaching, public interest in history and heritage is at an all-time high and schools have been essential in maintaining this momentum. English Heritage's bus scheme to fund shool trips to historical sites, should enable even the poorest of school children to visit historical sites.

    Six key heritage projects have been given lottery funding to help preserve sites. The projects include Silverstone motor racing circuit and the former BBC studios at Alexandra Palace in London.

    Book shelf. Image from

    * Reading can be a great way to destress but 'if you are reading novels to make friends, you're doing it wrong' claims author Claire Messud.  According to Messud the "relevant question" isn't whether a character is "a potential friend", but "Is this character alive?"  Do you prefer a likeable protagonist or do you love to hate the narrator?

    Author Jacqueline Wilson has spoken out about the 'sugary pink' of her book covers, as she wonders whether a more neutral book jacket would attract more male readers. Despite the well-worn wisdom of never judging a book by its cover, cover design plays a huge part in the book selection process.

    Book Riot asks why we choose the books that we do and I agree that staying power is a key factor, there is a reason that books like Pride and Prejudice are still popular today...


    Party like it's 1813. Image from

    * Many an Austen fan would like to party like it was 1813, especially if they got to meet their own Mr. Darcy! The BBC has some tips for throwing the perfect Regency ball so Austenites dreams are one step closer to coming true....

    The Globe. Image from


    * Some traditional publishers are struggling to face up to the rocky relationship between print and digital and are finding it difficult to adapt to the fast paced change within the industry.Creativity has to be balanced with profitability and as a result, relationships with authors too can become quite fraught. Perhaps they need some inspiration on balancing their books from the 'first great writer entrepreneur', Shakespeare?  


    General view of Herculaneum with Vesuvius in the background © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Image from

    * Herculaneum always gets forgotten in favour of its neighbouring town of Pompeii but this British Museum blog explores the fascinating history of 'the unknown city'  


    All images courtesy Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) - and subject to copyright. Image from

    * It is amazing how quickly technology changes and a look at the 1953 technology used to climb Everest demonstrates how much things have moved on in only 60 years.  This article explaining how chainmail works is fascinating. It is easy to get into the trap of thinking that  innovation is a modern invention but this blows that theory out of the water!

    These stunning Google Earth photographs show our planet changing over a quarter century and it is so interesting to see how much has changed in 25 years.


    The Belfast men who built Titanic. All images subject to copyright. Images courtesy of Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), National Museums Northern Ireland, Harland and Wolff and Belfast's Linen Hall Library. Image from


    * 'Titanic: By the men who built it' is a stunning and poignant collection of images that emphasises the heroism of the  Belfast men responsible for the building of history's most infamous ship. Titanic's final destination of New York was purchased by Peter Minuit, director of the fledgling Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattes, for trinkets worth an estimated $24 on the morning of May 6th, 1626.

    It would cost a lot more to buy the sland of Manhattan now!


    Elizabeth I portrait found in house clearance sale. Image from


    * Campaigners have called for a public statue of Mary, Queen of Scots to be erected in Scotland after the realisation that there are no official statues of this 'toweringfigure' of Scottish history in the public domain.  A portrait of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I was found in house clearance sale. Unfortunately for most people, it is more likely that they will find spiders rather than treasures in their attics!


    An Edwardian postcard written in code. Image from

    * Can you work out the code on this Edwardian postcard?


    British ammunition wagons move up to the front alongside the Ypres-Menin road, September 1917. Getty Images/Popperfoto. Image from 

    * Thirteen years before the start of the First World War, Britain’s military establishment was warned explicitly that offensive operations in a major conflict in Europe would be unsuccessful and that such a war would end only when one side was exhausted but the man who predicted the Great War was ignored


    Dante's Inferno

    * With the release of Dan Brown's new book, Inferno on Tuesday, Nicholas Lezard presents ten things you need to know about Dante, 'the greatest poet who ever lived'.


    Jethro Tull, and Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull. Image from

    * Could this be the greatest gig line up of all time? History Today asked people to come up with a list of bands named for historical people, places or things and a surprising number of bands were put forward. 


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

    0 0

    Dante's Invention

    Dante Aligheri's Inferno, the famous personal account of the author’s trip through hell to the centre of the earth, is incontrovertibly among the greatest works of fiction ever written. It is also a very early example of historical fiction. Dante enters this genre through the rather modern technique of mingling historical characters with fictional ones. To demonstrate his scope (and to broaden ours to include the entire work, of which Inferno is only the first part of Dante’s fourteenth-century poem Divine Comedy) here is a selection, taken more or less at random, of the people we meet: Ulysses, the Emperor Justinian, the Prophet Mohamed, several popes, the Furies, King Minos, a few Florentine politicians, Homer, selected casual acquaintances of the author, Alexander the Great, the Devil, Julius Caesar, Dante’s best friend’s father and Adam.    

    Quite which of the above you regard as fictional and which real may depend a little bit on your personal beliefs, but you get the idea: it is an impressive range. All those characters – real or imagined – interact inside Dante’s fictional world but what they talk about is real history and real events. And so Dante finds himself in the classic historical novelist’s quandary: for credibility he needs to maintain a feeling of historical accuracy but, to hold the audience, he is tempted to bend the facts.

    Even more important for Dante than dramatic tension is the over-arching message that he wishes his narrative to promote. The exact nature of that message is beyond the scope of this blog but suffice it to say that the bottom line is that the human race should pull itself together and stop being so stupid, greedy and violent. It turns out that you can’t send a message like that without using all the available power of fiction. So Dante, even by the standards of the Middle Ages, does quite a lot of fact bending. Wicked popes become more wicked and political heroes become more heroic. In the fourteenth century, just as in our own times, the exigencies of narrative frequently outweigh the rigours of fact.

    This brings us to
    Dan Brown. In his next novel, Inferno (Doubleday, May 2013), the mega-selling novelist has chosen to weave his plot using references to Dante and his work. He has been derided in the past – possibly as an inevitable consequence of those sales figures – by historians and others who give him no credit for at least bringing historical issues to a wider audience. I, on the other hand, find that my reaction almost wholly positive: I am pleased that Dante, thanks to Brown, will be considered by millions instead of hundreds for a change (at least in the English-speaking world where he has always been under-represented).

    So the great story-teller of Heaven and Hell will soon himself become the object of historical fiction. And, if there is any lapse from total historical accuracy on Mr. Brown’s part, Dante himself will really have no grounds for objecting. It is, after all, just what he did.


    Luca Signorelli, Detail from Dante with Scenes from the Divine Comedy

    James Burge is the author of Dante’s Invention (The History Press, 2010) 

    Further reading:

    * Dan Brown's Inferno  translated in an underground Italian bunker

    * The Nine Circles of Dan Brown: Who Will Be Most Inconvenienced by the Release of Inferno?

    0 0
  • 05/12/13--02:30: Keep calm and carry on?
  • Keep calm and carry on? Image from

    Keep Calm and Carry On?  It’s a slogan we’ve lifted from our wartime  past and adopted for the economic withering we face today. Despite the fact that it appears the poster itself was never actually issued to a Go To It !  Britain back in 1940, it brings alive a familiar past we think we know even as we peer into that historical distance with quizzical eyes.

    Was Britain really braced for Nazi invasion, back then, during that long-ago summer ? The distance of time, the Euro and the pronouncements of  Angela Merkel, all make that prospect now seem almost incredible. Were England’s farmers really thumbing the edges of their scythes and gazing up hopefully at the dusk sky whilst the Miss Marples of that world peeped out from behind lace curtains looking for Nuns in jackboots ? It seems, most evidently, that they were.

    It was only later, after the invasion scare was over, that we learned the Minister responsible for urging the nation to keep calm was actually walking around with his own suicide draught in his pocket. Called his ‘ little bodkin’, Harold  Nicholson had asked his local GP to arrange a little something  he and his wife could take when Hitler’s Fallschirmjager came a-calling.

    A member of that same government, Dr Hugh Dalton, actually went around his own Ministry of Economic Warfare taking an inventory to see how many shotguns and cartridges his staff could muster between them.  Were they really going to crouch down behind ministerial desks and sell their lives dearly as they peppered the Master Race with buckshot ?  Indeed, so they were.

    And yet, even as Britain poured most of its beaches into sandbags and braced itself for the invasion that never came, Whitehall still busied itself, as it always had, with the politics of inter-service rivalry and the business of political favouritism and self-advancement: Hugh Dalton’s early days as head of the newly-created and top secret Special Operations Executive could have been made immeasurably easier if a little of the vitriol expanded on resentment and jealously at his newly-acquired responsibilities had been spent on constructive co-operation in what was then Britain’s hour of desperate need.

    Instead Dalton and SOE were left to find their own path forward despite the implacable dislike of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) , the wilful obstructionism of The Admiralty and the bland, disdainful superiority  of the Foreign Office.

    It was to take more than a poster advocating national unity to help SOE stand on its own two feet. Some things, it seems, never change...

    0 0

    Pritchard-Gordon and Lambert in Cockle Mk II following a canoe of another unit. Note the stylish paddling with ‘feathered’ paddles. Image from Tom Keene's 'Cloak of Enemies'

    History Press author Dr Tom Keene (Cloak Of Enemies) was interviewed by Julia Bradbury on BBC I’s  Countryfile programme last week on the shingle beach at Southsea, Portsmouth.

    It was a fitting location for a story about what became known as The Cockleshell Heroesa daring WW2 raid by canoe deep into the heart of enemy territory: in December 1942 ten Royal Marine volunteers were dropped off by submarine out in the Bay of Biscay. Their mission? To paddle frail, two-man kayaks 100 miles down the river Gironde to Bordeaux in enemy-occupied France. There they were to put limpet bombs on German shipping. Ten men set out but only four made it to the target area and only two of those survived to return home. The rest were either drowned or captured by the Germans and shot.

    They trained in Portsmouth and that’s what brought Julia Bradbury and the BBC Countryfile team to the shingle beach just opposite the Royal Marines Museum at Southsea: “ Julia Bradbury, James Mair and the team were very professional ” commented Tom Keene, an ex-TV Producer himself: “ They’d done their homework and chosen exactly the right place to pitch the story.” Tom was their chosen expert because his book Cloak Of Enemies highlighted not just the raid itself but the confusion and duplication of effort that existed between Combined Operations – the Royal Marines - and the Special Operations Executive – the cloak and dagger agents in France - during the early stages of the war. That confusion resulted in needless tragedy and loss of life - but it also resulted in what was later described by one German officer as “ the outstanding commando raid of the war.”

    Back in the summer of 1942, Royal Marine regular Major ‘Blondie’ Hasler recruited volunteers for his Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment, a small, secret unit of high-spirited ‘Royals’ who answered the call for men who were ‘ indifferent to personal safety’ and ‘free of strong family ties’.

    The RMBPD was a cover name: their real task was to study ways to attack ships in harbour by stealth. Based in Nissen huts on the sea-front a limpet-mine toss from where Julia Bradbury interviewed Tom Keene, the new recruits – most of whom couldn’t swim -  almost drowned on their first day afloat attempting to stay upright in the fragile, canvas-sided canoes that, one day, would take them into battle. Hasler’s office was just around the corner from Canoe Lake where, as a boy, he had first taken to the water; his officers and men were billeted in private houses not half a mile from the seafront. Training with weapons and canoes was carried out in all weathers by day and by night and fitness, above all, was the requirement: the men used to run barefoot up and down the beach where Countryfile were filming. “ In many ways, this place is hallowed ground to the Royal Marines” said Tom Keene: “ It’s where the men trained for what remains the iconic small scale raid of the war. It may not have changed the outcome of that conflict but it did, perhaps, enhance the public’s perception of that Corps once their story became known.”

    Thanks to Countryfile –and to History Press author Tom Keene -  seventy years on, that stirring story is still being told.


    Cloak of Enemies: Churchill's SOE, Enemies at Home and the Cockleshell Heroes

older | 1 | 2 | (Page 3) | 4 | 5 | .... | 38 | newer