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The History Press blog

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  • 11/18/14--01:15: Ypres: The Kit
  • A soldier’s equipment – the rifle is a Lee Metford – it was still in use with Territorial Force soldiers at the beginning of the war. If the webbing kit was properly adjusted the weight was well distributed over the waist and shoulders.

    The British Expeditionary Force that went to war in 1914 was arguably the best equipped and trained force in Europe. The khaki serge uniforms adopted in 1902 and worn by officers and men were the first real example of camouflaged combat clothing. Men wore a soft peaked cap with the regimental cap badge; officer’s headgear from London hatters was of a superior quality. Only the British had adopted webbing load carrying equipment in 1908 and this consisted of a wide belt, left and right ammunition pouches which held seventy-five rounds each, left and right braces, a bayonet frog (leather sheath) and attachment for the entrenching tool handle, an entrenching tool head in web cover, water bottle carrier, small haversack and large pack.

    A mess tin inside a khaki cloth cover was worn attached to one of the packs. Inside the haversack were personal items, knife and when on Active Service, unused portions of the daily ration. Some personal kit was carried in the large pack but was normally kept for carrying the soldier’s greatcoat and or a blanket – in the field the greatcoat or blanket would be used as bedding at night. The full set of 1908 webbing could weigh over 70lb (32kg), however the equipment was well designed and the weight evenly distributed. Due to manufacturing problems, however, pattern ’08 webbing could not be produced in the quantity required. The volunteers of Kitchener’s Army had to make do with leather equipment for load carrying.

    In 1915 Fusilier Victor Packer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers recalled bitterly that a battalion coming out of the line at Ypres could march up to 12 miles (20km) to a base camp:

    You still had in those days, a full pack, 250 rounds of ammunition, water bottle, haversack, rifle, bayonet, and often you carried a bit of something extra as well. We were daft enough to carry souvenirs in those days like nose caps of shells and things or a Uhlan’s helmet, whatever we could get like that we prized, but not long afterwards we threw them over a hedge or somewhere.                                                                                       (from Forgotten Voices of the Great War)

     The Imperial German Army feldgrau – field grey serge uniform was also an effective neutral colour. German soldiers had leather load carrying equipment with a large pack constructed from cow hide with the fur retained on the outside flap to give extra waterproofing. Like all the combatants the Germans later adopted a steel helmet to replace the distinctive spiked helmets – head gear that was much prized as a trophy by British soldiers. Incredibly the French went to war in uniforms that would have been better suited to the Napoleonic Wars – blue tunics and even red trousers and kepis (the distinctive French headgear). Officers armed with pistol and sword went into action in white gloves. Later in the war the French would adopt a blue-grey uniform known as horizon blue – the theory being that a man standing against the sky in a blue uniform would be harder to spot. Like the Germans they retained leather load carrying equipment, but followed the British practice of wearing short ankle boots with cloth puttees wrapped around the calf to give support and keep out dirt and small stones. 

    A sergeant with his load carrying equipment, rifle and bayonet stowed in the training manual positions. In the frontline equipment might be discarded or modified to suit the conditions while officers would make private purchases of clothing, like the waterpro

    Ypres was a medieval town known for its textiles; however, it became infamous during the Great War with trench warfare, poison gas and many thousands of casualties. As the German Army advanced through Belgium, it failed to take the Ypres Salient. On 13 October 1914, German troops entered Ypres. On looting the city, the Germans retreated as the British Expeditionary Force advanced. On 22 November 1914, the Germans commenced a huge artillery barrage killing many civilians. Today the battlefields of Ypres contain the resting place of thousands of German and British soldiers. Battle Story: Ypres explores the first and second battles of Ypres through narrative, eye-witness accounts and images. 

    Find out about the weaponry used at Ypres here

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    Wrexham County Folk Tales


    Fiona Collins will be at Waterstones, Wrexham on Saturday 29th November from 12pm signing copies of her new book, Wrexham County Folk Tales

    The county borough of Wrexham is rich in folklore, with an abundance of tales to capture the wonders of the Welsh landscape and all its denizens, both real and imaginary: animal, human and even superhuman. This collection, which includes both traditional tales – passed down through generations by word of mouth – and archive material, brings to life the local legends, mysteries and stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that make Wales so magical. A speaker of both languages of Wales, the author has collected some unusual material sure to enchant both Welsh and non-Welsh speakers. Beautifully illustrated by local artist Ed Fisher, these tales bring to life the ancient wisdom of Wrexham. 

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  • 11/19/14--01:15: Ypres: Weaponry
  • A British officer inspects a Lewis Light Machine Gun on a ‘Louch Pole’ mounting in a frontline trench. The picture was taken after the Mk I steel helmet had been introduced.

    By 1914 all European armies had a magazine-fed bolt action rifle. The British Army had the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Mk III Rifle more commonly known as the SMLE; it was the standard infantry rifle in the First World War and would be for much of the Second World War. A bolt action weapon that fired a .303 calibre round it weighed 8.62lbs was 44½in. long and had a ten-round magazine. Sights were set out to 2,000 yards. The ‘sword’ bayonet fitted to the SMLE had a formidable 17in. blade; the theory behind this was that it gave a foot soldier sufficient reach to be able to bayonet a mounted soldier. A soldier could actually load eleven rounds if he had one in the breach, or ‘up the spout’, and this gave him a significant advantage over German soldiers whose Gewehr ’98 had a five-round magazine. In the hands of a trained soldier the British Short Magazine Lee Enfield was easily capable of 15rpm (rounds per minute) of accurate fire.

    However in the 1930s, a Small Arms School Corps Warrant Officer managed a rate of 37rpm. Reliable  and extremely accurate, the SMLE is regarded by most authorities as the finest rifle of the First World War. The 7.92mm Gewehr ’98 introduced into service with the Imperial German Army on 5 April 1898 was designed by Paul Mauser and was the standard infantry weapon in the First World War. While the Mauser’s action is superb and there are an estimated 102 million rifles with the model ’98 bolt action worldwide, the rifle suffered, as we have seen, from its inferior magazine. However, the Mauser fired one of the highest velocity rounds of the First World War – the ‘S round’ had a muzzle velocity of 2,882ft per second (fps). In contrast the British .303 round exited the barrel at 2,060fps and the French rounds at 2,060fps. Higher muzzle velocity meant that a soldier could engage distant targets without having to make ballistic adjustments. In other words to hit a target at 700 yards a Lee Enfield round would climb to a height of 10ft from the ground, while a Mauser ‘S round’ reached approximately 6ft.

    The 8mm Lebel Fusil Modèle 1886 with which the French Army entered the war had been the first service rifle to fire smokeless ammunition, although this was its only design distinction. It retained the straight bolt action of the Gras rifle of 1874. The French rifle was modified in 1893 and again five years later, but had one key fault. This was its eight-round tubular magazine derived from the Austrian Kropatschek rifle in which the bullet of one round butted up against the percussion cap of the cartridge case in front. It was slow to load and there was always the risk if the job was rushed that the bullet of one round would hit the percussion cap of the round in front and cause an explosion. The Lebel was replaced during the war by the 1907 Berthier; a more modern design that used the Berthier bolt action and the box magazine feed from the Mannlicher. The box was better than the tube magazine, but French soldiers were equipped with three- round clips in contrast to the five-round clips used by the British and Germans. The rifle was further modified in 1916 to take a five-round box magazine and the resulting weapon was widely used by a number of foreign armies in the inter-war periods.

    Officers were armed with a revolver and sword – both were soon discarded since they made the user an obvious target for snipers. The pistol carried by British officers was often the powerful British Webley .455 revolver, developed by Webley & Son (Webley & Scott Co. since 1897) in the 1870s. The British  Webleys were the first top break revolvers with a two piece frame, which hinges (or breaks) at the forward low end for ejection and loading. The ejector operates automatically when the frame is broken open and all six empty cases are ejected simultaneously from the cylinder. The cartridges then can be inserted by hand. Designers of revolvers in all calibres adopted the top break system, as it made for quick reloading – crucial in a short-range fire fight. Webleys that had been rechambered for the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round had two three-round half-moon clips that further sped up reloading. The first Webley revolver was officially adopted for service in the British Army and Royal Navy in 1887, as a Webley Revolver .455 Mark I. It was a top break, six shoot, double action revolver, chambered for  the .455 British Service cartridge. This cartridge fired a big 265-grain lead bullet, but because it used black powder it had a relatively slow muzzle velocity of 600fps. A smokeless version of this cartridge was later developed but this still had a low velocity since it could also be fired in early revolvers. All Webley revolvers were single/double action or double action only, with a very distinctive barrel shape and frame lock with lock lever on the left side of the frame and V-shaped lock spring on the right side.

    A few years later, the French Army adopted an 8mm revolver the Modele D’Ordonnance (Lebel) 1892 – it was a revolver that would soldier on almost into the twenty-first century and particularly enjoyed a remarkable longevity in service with the French Army. The pistol had a conventional swing out cylinder with the release button on the right, which made it a user-friendly weapon for lefthanded shooters. The revolver has an ingenious system that allows the left-hand side plate to swing forward on a hinge to  expose the mechanism for cleaning. Like many weapons developed in the late nineteenth century the revolver used its own special 8mm ammunition. Though this was a robust and workmanlike weapon many French officers purchased their own self-loading pistols which their regarded as more chic – however this move would have presented ammunition supply problems.

    However, the iconic pistol of the First World War and a much sought after trophy was the Luger self-loading pistol, known in German Army service as the Pistole 08 from its year of adoption. It was named after George Luger, a designer at the Ludwig Löwe small-arms factory in Berlin. The Lugers’ design is based on earlier Hugo Borchard idea, but Luger re-designed the Borchard’s locking system into a much smaller package. The first military Lugers were made in 1900 to a Swiss order. The original calibre was 7.65mm but in 1902 the firm of DWM, along with Luger, by request of the German Navy developed a new round, 9x19mm Luger/Para[bellum], one of the most common pistol cartridges in the world, by re-necking the case of the 7.65mm Luger round and the type was adopted for the German Navy in 1904. The standard pistol had an eight-round box magazine and fired a 9mm Parabellum round with a maximum effective range of 230ft.

    The toggle-joint mechanism was complex, but made the weapon comfortable to fire and therefore more accurate. The pistol had its place in the quick and violent fighting patrols called ‘trench raids’ in which soldiers carried clubs, knuckle dusters and knives that were silent and could be used in trenches in hand-to-hand combat. Only the revolver or self-loading pistol was a useful weapon in these confined spaces. However, the First World War battleground would in many ways be dominated by the machine gun.

    The Short Magazine Lee Enfield in the capable hands of a Rifleman who is demonstrating the correct way in which to load a charger (clip) of five rounds. The magazine held ten rounds and an eleventh could be loaded into the breach.

    The Vickers .303 Medium Machine Gun Mk I entered service in 1912 and soldiered on with the British Army until 1974. It was a Maxim mechanism that had been inverted and improved. With water in the cooling jacket the gun weighed 40lb and the tripod 48.5lb – the total weight was 88.5lb. The Vickers machine gun had a muzzle velocity of 2,440fps, a rate of fire of 450 to 500rpm and fired from a 250-round fabric belt. After the war the introduction of the Mark VIII round added a further 1,000 yards to the 3,600yd maximum range. Using a dial sight that was introduced in 1942 the gun could be used for indirect fire. Its greatest drawback was that the massive weight of fire it delivered was only arrived at with the expenditure of huge amounts of ammunition. Added to this it required considerable amounts of water to keep it cooled during prolonged firing. Ideal in trench warfare where positions remained relatively static for months or even years, it was less useful in manoeuvre warfare where its weight and the problem of keeping it supplied with ammunition became problematic. During the First World War it gained a reputation as the ‘Queen of the battlefield’ particularly when employed by men of the British Machine Gun Corps that had been founded in October 1915. It is a measure of the effectiveness and reliability of the weapon that during the British attack upon High Wood on 24 August 1916 at the Battle of the Somme it is estimated that ten Vickers fired in excess of 1 million rounds over a 12-hour period.

    The opposite number to the Vickers machine gun, the German Maschinengewehr 08 (MG08), was almost a direct copy of the 1884 Maxim Gun and the German Army’s standard machine gun in the First World War. It was produced with a number of variations during the war. The MG08 remained in service until the outbreak of the Second World War in static positions; it was replaced by the MG34. It was withdrawn from frontline service by 1942. The 7.92mm MG08, based on the 1901 model but named after 1908 – its year of adoption, was water cooled by about one gallon of water in a jacket around the barrel. It fired from a 250-round fabric belt and had a cyclic rate of 400rpm, although sustained firing would lead to overheating. The MG08, like the Maxim Gun, operated on the basis of a toggle lock; once cocked and fired it would continue firing rounds until the trigger was released. Its practical range was estimated at some 2,200 yards up to an extreme range of 4,000 yards.

    The French Army’s standard heavy tripod mounted medium machine gun throughout the First World War was the Hotchkiss 8mm M1914 machine gun. Although it was reliable it was also unquestionably heavy at 50lb (23kg) (88lb (40kg) with its mounting). Initially adopted in 1900 a number of models were produced until a gas-operated, air-cooled model was produced in 1914. Although the gun was generally well regarded the Hotchkiss’ twenty-four or thirty-round metal magazine strip, which fired 8mm Lebel rounds, was considered a notable design flaw. This was corrected when a 249-cartridge belt was  introduced in 1915. The gun was still in service in the Second World War and captured weapons were used by the Germans in fixed fortifications on the Atlantic Wall. Even with the increased belt the gun was unable (for obvious reasons) to meet the theoretical cyclic rate of 600rpm, the practical firing capacity being 400rpm. The gun’s maximum effective range was approximately 4,000 yards.

    All infantry rifles were equipped with a bayonet – tracing its origins back to the pike it was said that the bayonet took its name from the French town of Bayonne. There were three basic designs in service in the First World War. The ‘needle’ bayonet mounted on the French Lebel rifle that was prone to  breaking, the knife-bladed or sword bayonet found on the SMLE and Gewehr ’98, and the serrated edged pioneer version used by German combat engineers. The serrated edge made it an effective saw, however since it was said to produce a ragged wound it was held up by the Allies as an example of ‘Hun frightfulness’. Bayonets were used in anger, however many men surrendered simply at the sight of a bayonet. They did have other uses and one British veteran said that they were used primarily for toasting food, poking a brazier, opening ration tins, and scraping mud off clothing, boots and rations. A candle could be secured to the grip with molten wax and the bayonet became an effective candlestick. Bayonets were sometimes ground down and modified as trench knives, with a shorter blade these were handy weapons in the confined space of a trench when a night-time raiding party needed to kill a sentry quickly and quietly.

    Want to read more about the Battle of Ypres? 

    Ypres was a medieval town known for its textiles; however, it became infamous during the Great War with trench warfare, poison gas and many thousands of casualties. As the German Army advanced through Belgium, it failed to take the Ypres Salient. On 13 October 1914, German troops entered Ypres. On looting the city, the Germans retreated as the British Expeditionary Force advanced. On 22 November 1914, the Germans commenced a huge artillery barrage killing many civilians. Today the battlefields of Ypres contain the resting place of thousands of German and British soldiers. Battle Story: Ypres explores the first and second battles of Ypres through narrative, eye-witness accounts and images.

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    Shrewsbury in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s


    David Trumper Shrewsbury will be at  at Waterstones,  Shrewsbury on Saturday 29th November from 2-3pm signing copies of his new book, Shrewsbury in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s: Britain in Old Photographs.  


    The county town of Shropshire underwent great changes in the twenty-five years between 1950 and 1975, when the council’s watchword was ‘down with the old and up with the new’. This book contains over 180 images of Shrewsbury from that time, from the transformation of the town centre to the demolition of the slum dwellings in the 1960s, when whole communities were uprooted. It also maps the growth of the new outer suburbs taking the countryside further away from the town centre. With stunning images from the local press, some fine aerial shots taken by a local land agent and material from an avid collector of Shrewsbury ephemera, it offers a unique look at the town as it developed and modernised after the Second World War, and a fascinating glimpse of an era that is becoming increasingly nostalgic. 

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    The Little Book of Berkshire


    Stuart Hylton will at WHSmith, Broad St, Reading on 22nd November from 2-4pm signing copies of his new book, The Little Book of Berkshire

    The Little Book of Berkshire is an intriguing, fast-paced, fact-packed compendium of places, people and events in the county, from its earliest origins to the present day. Here you can read about the important contributions Berkshire has made to the history of the nation, and meet some of the great men and women, eccentrics and scoundrels with which its history is littered. Packaged in an easily readable ‘dip-in’ format, visitors and locals alike will find something to remind, surprise, amuse and entertain them in this remarkably engaging little book.


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    British West Indies Regiment (Imperial War Museum)

    The near-total exclusion from our history books of black servicemen in the First World War is shameful. One of the few exceptions has been Walter Tull (1888–1918). In recent years he has become the most celebrated black British soldier of the First World War. Books and television documentaries have ensured Tull his place in British history but he did not exist in isolation. With the centenary of the First World War from 2014 to 2018, there are many others who have been overlooked in the history books and should be acknowledged.

    Walter Tull enlisted in December 1914, suffered shell shock, returned to action in the battle of the Somme and was decorated with the 1914-15 star and other British war and victory medals. Commissioned as an officer in 1917, Walter was mentioned in dispatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ at the battle of Piave in Italy in January 1918, but two months later he was killed in No Man’s Land during the second battle of the Somme. In recent years books and television documentaries have ensured Walter his place in British history but he did not exist in isolation. With the centenary of the First World War from 2014 to 2018, there are many others who have been overlooked in the history books and need to be acknowledged.

    After Britain joined the First World War on 4 August 1914, black recruits could be found in all branches of the armed forces. From 1914 black Britons volunteered at recruitment centres and were joined by West Indian colonials. They travelled to the ‘Mother Country’ at their own expense to take part in the fight against the Germans. Their support was needed, and they gave it. Soon after the war started, soldiers from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia and other African colonies were recruited. They helped to defend the borders of their countries which adjoined German territories and later played an important role in the campaigns to remove the Germans from Africa. Throughout the war, 60,000 black South African and 120,000 other Africans also served in uniformed Labour Units.

    No one could have been more loyal to his king and country than the Guyanese merchant seaman Lionel Turpin. He was just 19 years old he enlisted in the British army and was sent out with the No. 32 British Expeditionary Force to the Western Front in Europe. He was in the battles of the Somme and his army service ended in 1919 with two medals, two gas-burnt lungs and a shell wound in his back. Lionel died in 1929 from the after-effects of war-time gassing. Lionel’s story is typical of many black and Asian colonials who came to the aid of the ‘Mother Country’ during the First World War.   

    In 1915 a proposal for a separate West Indian contingent to aid the war effort was approved. Consequently the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was formed as a separate black unit within the British Army. The first recruits sailed from Jamaica to Britain and arrived in October 1915 to train at a camp near Seaford on the Sussex coast. The 3rd battalion arrived in early 1916 in Plymouth while other battalions sailed direct to Egypt, arriving in Alexandria in March 1916. By the war’s end in November 1918, a total of 15,204 black men, representing British Guiana and all the Caribbean colonies, had served in the BWIR. 13,940 had been rejected. Of the total accepted, 10,280 (66%) came from Jamaica. However, the black soldiers of the BWIR received lower pay and allowances than their white compatriots and they were mostly led by white officers and used as non-combatant soldiers in Egypt, Mesopotamia and parts of Europe. For example, in July 1916 the BWIR’s 3rd and 4th battalions were sent to France and Belgium to work as ammunition carriers. The fighting was to be done by the white soldiers. The BWIR spent much of their time at labouring work, such as loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches, but they were not permitted to fight as a battalion.

    By the end of the war the BWIR had lost 185 soldiers (killed or died of wounds). A further 1,071 died of illness and 697 were wounded. In Seaford Cemetery there are more than 300 Commonwealth War Graves and nineteen of the headstones display the crest of the BWIR.

    East End Black Community

    At the end of the First World War, many African and West Indian soldiers who had fought for their ‘Mother Country’ decided to make Britain their home, but in some cities, including the seaports Cardiff and Liverpool, they came under attack. After demobilisation, many ex-servicemen faced unemployment and returning white soldiers resented the presence of black men, especially those who had found employment and married white women. Between January and August 1919, there were anti-black ‘race riots’ in seven towns and cities in Britain. Cardiff’s black population had increased during the war from 700 in 1914 to 3,000 by April 1919. The tensions between the white and black communities exploded into violence in Butetown (aka ‘Tiger Bay’) in June 1919. 2,000 white people attacked shops and houses associated with black citizens. Many were injured. 

    In Liverpool the race riots made a deep impact on future generations of Britain’s oldest black community. By 1919 the numbers had risen to 5,000, mostly working class, but there was fierce competition with poor whites for jobs. In 1919 many black Liverpudlians had their employment terminated at local oil mills and sugar refineries because whites refused to work alongside them. Chased by angry rioters from his home, Charles Wotten, a young black seaman, jumped into Queen’s Dock in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool and drowned. His body was recovered some hours later. At the inquest into his death the Coroner for Liverpool decreed that the cause of Wotten’s death was, indeed, drowning, but added “how he got into the water the evidence is not sufficient to show.” It was a cover up that Liverpool’s black community has never forgotten, or forgiven.

    The brutal and shameful murder of Charles Wotten, who had served his King and country in the First World War, was soon followed by another disgraceful incident. Says Peter Fryer in Staying Power (1984): “...for the entire black community in Britain, the final straw came a month after the riots, when it was decided not to allow any black troops to take part in London’s victory celebrations: the much-trumpeted Peace March on 19 July 1919...For Britain’s black community, 1919 illuminated reality like a flash of lightning.'

    The ultimate sacrifices of black merchant seamen and soldiers during the First World War, the murder of Charles Wotten, and the anti-black riots in British cities during 1919 remained in the consciousness of an entire generation of black Britons and colonials. Thereafter they and their descendants knew what their fate would be if they did not fight for equality and justice. It is a struggle that continued for decades: the 1958 Notting Hill anti-black race riots, the 1981 Brixton and Toxteth uprisings and the tragic murders of Kelso Cochrane (1959) and Stephen Lawrence (1993). It carries on to this day but, in 1918, just a few weeks after the war had ended, it was addressed by John Archer, the former Mayor of Battersea, when he made a speech at the African Progress Union’s Inaugral Meeting: 'Our compatriots from Africa, America and the West Indies have been fighting on the fields of France and Flanders against a foreign foe. The people of this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire...if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough to receive the benefits of the country.' 

    Black Poppies

    Stephen Bourne is the author of Black Poppies, with first-hand accounts and original photographs, Black Poppies is the essential guide to the military and civilian wartime experiences of black men and women, from the trenches to the music halls. It is intended as a companion to Stephen Bourne’s previous books published by The History Press: Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939–45 and The Motherland Calls: Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939–45.

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  • 11/21/14--02:30: The Friday Digest 21/11/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features eighteenth century pick-up lines, Napoleon's hat and how to build a medieval castle.

    Sergeant James Scott

    A startling collection of previously unseen photographs provide a fresh perspective of life and death in the trenches during the First World War.


    Simon Verdegem exposing the floorboards of a French trench (DAVID ROSE)

    * 'In Flanders fields': the largest ever excavation of the former frontline.

    PA Photos/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    * How well do you know the First World War? 

    Soldiers at Stonehenge in WW1

    How the Stonehenge site became the world's largest military training camp during the First World War.  

    Circa 1926: Dancers demonstrate steps from the Charleston

    * What do twerking and the Charleston have in common?


    * Fifty-nine slang phrases from the 1920s that we should start using again

    St Paul: Charlecote church, Warwickshire

    * What did St Paul say about women? 


    Skeleton being excavated in Exning (c) Archaeological Solutions

    Graves containing twenty-one Anglo-Saxon skeletons and jewellery which belonged to 'high status' owners have been uncovered in Suffolk.

    How do you build a medieval castle from scratch?


    * How do you build a medieval castle from scratch?

    The City Gate in Valletta (c) Architecture Project

    The ancient fortress city embracing the modern world

    A romantic view of a much-misunderstood episode


    The cult of Magna Carta is historical nonsense. No wonder Oliver Cromwell called it 'Magna Farta'

    Layered manikin - in 16th Century medical book by Andreas Vesalius


    Andreas Vesalius: the self-publicist whose medical textbooks caused a stir

    The Necessary Qualifications of a Man of Fashion (1823)

    How guys tried to pick up girls in the eighteenth century

    An undated handout picture provided by Osenat auction house on 20 October 2014 shows the hat of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. (c) EPA

    A South Korean collector has paid € 1.9 million ($2.4m; £1.5m) at auction for a hat worn by the French Emperor Napoleon.

    Cecilia Cohen and Abraham Rosenblatt on their wedding day in 1936 (Boris Bennett)

    * Wartime wedding glamour in the East End

    * The war heroes behind The Imitation Game and the heroic efforts to capture and break the German secret codes.



    * The history of the Berlin Wall through maps

    The first John Lewis store on Oxford Street, London 1864. Photograph: John Lewis/PA


    * Stunning vintage photographs of shoppers' favourite, John Lewis.  

    Depiction of daily commutes into London (source: 2011 Census, ONS)


    Twelve data maps that sum up London

    In July 2014, Landsat 8 captured the isolated island of protected forest around New Zealand's Mt. Taranaki in Egmont National Park surrounded by once-forested pasturelands. Experts say this and similar images are key in protecting the world's 'sanctuaries'.


    * NASA reveals images of Earth's last untouched sanctuaries

    Daan Roosegaarde created a glowing bike path in the Netherlands based off of Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night STUDIO ROOSEGAARDE

    A beautiful glowing bike lane modeled after Van Gogh's Starry Night.  

    Le Bris and his glider, Albatros II, photographed by Nadar, 1868


    * A series of firsts in air travel.

    The Knife that Killed Me


    * Violence in teen fiction goes in the dock


    * Book recommendations from The Mitford Society for Christmas ...

    Not for kids … an illustration from the new edition of Grimms’ fairytales. Illustration: © Andrea Dezsö


    * The blood and horror of the Grimm brothers’ fairytales have been restored in a new translation.

    Moby Dick


    * Twenty-one literary temporary tattoos every book lover needs

    Curiouser and curiouser: what we discovered at FutureBook 2014.


    7 West 34th Street in Manhattan Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

    * Amazon has leased a Manhattan building, hinting at retail ambitions

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

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    Cambridgeshire Folk Tales


    Maureen James will be at Cambridge Central Library on Wednesday 26th November from 2-4pm signing copies of her new book, Cambridgeshire Folk Tales

    Modern-day Cambridgeshire is a county of diverse landscapes: from the elegance of the university city and the rural delights of the old county of Huntingdonshire Isle of Ely, each district has its own identity and its own stories. Explore the antics of the inhabitants of the past, including Hereward the Saxon hero; the Fenland giant Tom Hickathrift; the pious Bricstan of Chatteris; the raconteur and skater Chaffe Legge; and Mr Leech, who was carried off by the Devil. You will also discover the hidden history of the area, including how the secret Brotherhood of the Grey Goose Feather helped King Charles I, and what really happened to King John’s treasure. These entertaining tales will delight readers both within Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

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    Beastly Bath


    Kate McDonnell, Gideon Kibbleswhite and Perry Harris will be at The Raven Pub, Bath on Tuesday 2nd December from 5:30pm holding a launch for their new book, Beastly Bath

    They came, they saw, they hated it … Bath is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, go back in time and it was a very different place. In this entertaining, illustrated compendium of caustic quotes, famous visitors of the past – including the likes of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens – queue up to complain of freezing behinds, insulting chairmen, villainous smells, naked bodies, wanton dalliances, hurled dogs and far, far worse ...

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    The Lichfield Book of Days


    Neil Coley will be at No 9 Shop, Lichfield on Thursday 4th December from 6pm holding a launch for his new book, The Lichfield Book of Days

    Taking you through the year day by day, The Lichfield Book of Days contains quirky, eccentric, shocking, amusing and important events and facts from different periods in the history of the cathedral city. Ideal for dipping into, this addictive little book will keep you entertained and informed. Featuring hundreds of snippets of information gleaned from the vaults of Lichfield’s archives and covering the social, political, religious, agricultural, criminal, industrial and sporting history of the region, it will delight residents and visitors alike. 

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    Hampstead & Belsize Park Then & Now


    Dick Wiendling and Marianna Colloms will be at Waterstones, Hampstead on Thursday 11th December signing copies of their new book,  Hampstead & Belsize Park Then & Now


    Hampstead village began growing in the eighteenth century. Large houses were built as country retreats and for some years Hampstead flourished as a spa. As the nineteenth century progressed, streets and houses replaced the fields and hedgerows of Belsize Park and Hampstead, but the Heath was saved as a public open space. Today, Hampstead is a popular destination, its alleys and narrow streets creating a stark contrast with the Georgian mansions and modern properties, which sit side by side. Hampstead Heath attracts thousands of visitors every week, to walk or cycle, to visit Kenwood House, or to enjoy the long-established bank holiday fairs that gave rise to the nickname, ‘’Appy ’Ampstead’. This fascinating book compares original images of the area with modern photographs, highlighting just what has changed – and what has stayed the same – in this beautiful corner of England. 

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  • 11/28/14--02:30: The Friday Digest 28/11/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the First World War's biggest hospital, the mysterious disappearance of a celebrity preacher and the top ten British sweets. 

    Germany sent a telegram to Mexico

    * Six unexpected First World War battlegrounds.

    Why did Malta become one of the First World War's biggest hospitals?

    * Why did Malta become one of the First World War's biggest hospitals?

    A period engraving depicting the Angels of Mons

    * The myth of the Angels of Mons.

    Why was the first German defeat of the First World War in Africa?

    * Why was the first German defeat of the First World War in Africa?

    What was the real story behind the African Queen?


    * What was the real story behind the African Queen?  

    The watercolour painting "Altes Rathaus" which was supposedly painted by Adolf Hitler, is shown at an auction house in Nuremberg, Germany, 20 November 2014


    A watercolour thought to be painted by Adolf Hitler has sold at an auction in Germany for €130,000 (£103,000; $161,000).


    Keith Batey and Mavis Lever 


    * The incredible life of Mavis Batey.


    * A woolly mammoth skeleton was sold to a private collector for £189,000 this week



    A cemetery dating back roughly 1,700 years has been discovered along part of the Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire.

    War hero Edward Norton led a legendary Everest expedition 90 years ago

    * The incredible journey of Edward 'Teddy' Norton on Mount Everest

    Lego factory in the 1940s

    Has the imagination disappeared from Lego?

    Aimee Semple McPherson

    * The mysterious disappearance of a celebrity preacher

    Scrapbook image of the march to Woodhouse Moor courtesy of Leeds Museums

    * Nicola Pullan, Assistant Curator of Social History at Leeds Museums, answers your questions on the Leonora Cohen Suffragette Collection

    Photo of a Nestlé Caramac bar taken by me, James Cram, on 24 March 2006. Released into the public domain.


    * A countdown of the top ten British sweets.

    A dictionary open at the word "Internet", viewed through a lens.

    Why dictionaries still matter

    Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet: doing literally nothing for us  Photo: REX FEATURES


    * A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour reported that men are ‘more turned on by history documentaries than by romance’.

    Russell Crowe in The Water Diviner


    * From Braveheart to The Imitation Game, the tradition of Hollywood playing fast and loose with historical fact is ancient.

    Chris Riddell love letter library 

    * Chris Riddell's love letters to libraries

    Gabe Bergado's avatar image By Gabe Bergado  November 21, 2014 SHARE  TWEET They tend to be more empathetic toward others.   It's not news that reading has countless benefits: Poetry stimulates parts of the brain linked to memory and sparks self-reflection; kids who read the Harry Potter books tend to be better people. But what about people who only read newspapers? Or people who scan Twitter all day? Are those readers' brains different from literary junkies who peruse the pages of 19th century fictional classics?   Short answer: Yes — reading enhances connectivity in the brain. But readers of fiction? They're a special breed.   The study: A 2013 Emory University study looked at the brains of fiction readers. Researchers compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn't read. The brains of the readers — they read Robert Harris' Pompeii over a nine-day period at night — showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn't read.  Specifically, researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.   Source: CaptPiper/Flickr It may sound hooey hooey, but it's true: Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others' emotions.   This is further apparent in a 2013 study that investigated emotional transportation, which is how sensitive people are to others' feelings. Researchers calculated emotional transportation by having participants express how a story they read affected them emotionally on a five-point scale — for example, how the main character's success made them feel, and how sorry they felt for the characters.   In the study, empathy was only apparent in the groups of people who read fiction and who were emotionally transported. Meanwhile, those who were not transported demonstrated a decrease in empathy.    Source: brioso/Flickr

    * Science shows something surprising about people who still read fiction

    Writerly mystique vs. self-exposure - which is better?

    Faking it: when book reviews go bad.

    * Renowned crime fiction writer, P D James has died.

    FT Business Book of the Year Prize


    What if novels were treated like business books?  

    Barbican - i Fagiolini Betrayal competition

    * A fantastic competition from the Barbican for all crime fiction lovers ...

    Harper puts blue sky between it and the rest


    This week HarperCollins US announced that it will offer a selection of bestselling titles to customers of the US low-cost airline JetBlue.


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

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  • 12/02/14--01:00: 1914 Christmas Truce
  • Pictorial proof of the Christmas Day Truce (The Footballer of Loos, by Ed Harris)


    According to the Christmas 1915 edition of War Illustrated there would be nothing like that this year. ‘The Germans at many points,’ it claimed, ‘are anxious to have an informal truce. They have already been calling out beyond their lines 'Christmas coming. No more shoot.' But they are not meeting with a response. Our armies have too many bitter recollections from the twelve months that have passed. Recollections that cannot be effaced. They have read of the treatment of our own soldiers in German prison camps. They have experienced the German poison gas……There will be no stretching out of friendly hands this year. But Christmas will be observed in very marked fashion, and, unless some stern commander orders an advance on this day, things will be reported as quiet along the front.’

    The amount of newspaper coverage afforded the 1914 Christmas Truce came about because it happened over such a wide area and extended period of time. It immediately captured the popular imagination and carried as far as Australia and to the United States. What principally kept it alive was the amount of letters sent to the newspapers rather than editorial comment. The principal reaction was one of amazement. On January 1st 1915 The South Wales Echo reported: ‘When the history of the war is written one of the episodes which chroniclers will seize upon as one of its most surprising features will undoubtedly be the manner in which the foes celebrated Christmas. How they fraternized in each other’s trenches, played football, rode races, held sing songs, and surprisingly adhered to their unofficial truce will certainly go down as one the greatest surprises of a surprising war.’

    Many accounts of the 1914 Christmas Truce, some written long after the event, are confused or contradictory. Described as an agreeable interference and a sentimental aside in the dialogue of war, there was a more serious undercurrent, a belief, albeit a naïve one, that what the men themselves were doing would somehow bring the fighting to an end. Naturalist, journalist, broadcaster and author, Henry Williamson, was an eye-witness to the fraternisation on Christmas Eve. In A Fox Under My Cloak, his alter-ego (Philip Maddison) is tasked with repairing a flooded communications trench when a lighted Christmas tree appears on top of a pole put up in the German lines. Crouching and ready to fling themselves flat, the expected barrage never occurs, instead cheers waft across No Man’s Land from a dim outline of figures on the German parapet. The British platoon commander looked at his watch and confirmed that it was eleven o’clock. By Berlin time, it was midnight. ‘A merry Christmas to everyone!’ he declared, as from the German parapet wafted a rich baritone voice singing Stille Nache! Heilige Nacht – Tranquil Night! Holy Night!

    In a history of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George Laurie, claims that it was he who crossed to the German trenches on Christmas Day armed only with a three-day-old copy of the Daily Telegraph. Eventually others joined him and the two sides exchanged gifts, admired family photographs and talked.

    The Times for January 1, 1915, states that the 6th Gordon Highlanders organised a burial truce with the enemy before the fraternisation began, which included impromptu games of football. A major in the Medical Corps reported that the Germans beat the British 3-2 and Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxons recorded in his diary that the British brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. ‘How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was.  The English officers felt the same way about it.  Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time’. 

    Lieutenant Ian Stewart wrote that he could speak some German, ‘and one of the German officers; some English …Our conversation was no different from that of meeting a friendly opponent at a football match’. One former soldier reminiscing in the 1920s confirmed that ‘footer’ was an inevitable part of the occasion, sometimes using a tin can or a rolled-up sandbag as well as a genuine leather ball. One German Lieutenant wrote: ‘We marked the goals with our caps. Teams were quickly established for a match on the frozen mud, and the Fritz’s beat the Tommies 3-2’. 

    But not all of those in charge of discipline approved. One officer ordered to prepare a more usable pitch by filling in shell holes refused to comply. Some local Frenchwomen were also unimpressed and spat at members of one British battalion the next time they were in town. Another former infantrymen writing of the Christmas Truce in the 1920s recalled that the men who joined them later ‘were inclined to disbelieve us when we spoke of the incident, and no wonder, for as the months rolled by, we who were actually there could hardly realise that it had happened, except for the fact that every little detail stood out well in our memory.’ 


    Ed Harris is the author of The Footballer of Loos: A Story of the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles in the First World War and Walking London Wall. He has spent 35 years in the broadcasting and entertainment industry. In 2000 he took a Masters Degree in Local History at Kingston University. He is Trustee of The Twickenham Museum and chairman of the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society.

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    A century separates us from the beginning of the global conflagration that would become known as the First World War, but there is still so much to learn from the people who were there. How easy is it to write about historical events when researchers allow the writing to be guided by first-hand accounts, which are voices of the past?  What do they have to say to us? 

    Take these poignant examples, drawn from numerous different eyewitness accounts:

    * 'We sailed, but we do not know that we shall reach the states.  War clouds are hovering over Europe. Germany and France have just recalled their big steamers: will England?'


    * 'We now are a cruiser and are slowly being painted grey, and as soon as they got word England was at war all lights were put out and to find your way you light matches.'

    Workers applying dazzle camouflage to HMT Olympic. (Illustrated London News, 1919/ Authors’ Collection) The

    * 'At night the steamer crept along without a light showing. Even her green and red lights were off duty. Her windows were curtained. Her interior halls were dark. One groped to find one’s stateroom at night through gloomy passageways, colliding with shuddering stewards who spoke in whispers.'

    * 'The best moment for sighting U-boats was said to be at night when they lay on the surface recharging their batteries, and theoretically visible two miles away.'

    * 'Everyone at once said "She has struck a mine".'

    The Rohilla breaking apart in the surf. (Authors’ Collection)

    * 'I ran to our cabin to retrieve our life jackets. I cannot say how I dared to retrieve them but I tucked money and jewels into my pockets but in moments like that one doesn’t have time to think.  I remember that on leaving the cabin in the darkest gloom I was forced to move along on all fours until I could find my balance.'

    * 'The pirates had actually fired a torpedo at her at a range of 100 yards, when they could distinctly see a large number of passengers and crew… on board. It was a dastardly thing to do - nothing but murder in cold blood.'

    * 'There were forty nurses on board, and they were all in the water. A good many, I believe, were drowned. I know they brought eight into the mortuary of the hospital.'

     Rescue ships stand by as the Aragon begins to submerge. (Authors’ Collection)

    * 'I wish you could have seen the welcome we got. Whistles blowing, ships coming out to meet us. On one ship was a band and the Welcome Board.'

    These are but a few snippets of people telling their stories of what it was like to travel on the sea in those perilous times. The story of the First World War has been told from many angles, but Into the Danger Zone covers the little explored personal tales of individuals who braved sea crossings in waters infested with hazards, including the area known as the ‘danger zone’. This being the war zone designated by Germany, in which enemy vessels were liable to seizure or destruction. Step aboard the grandest ships of the age that included Lusitania, Olympic, Leviathan, Britannic, Mauretania as well as small, but reliable liners such as Laconia, Falaba, Persia, Cameronia and countless others. Read as the participants traversed the waters where U-boats and other dangers lurked below. Many previously unseen letters and diaries fill the pages from passengers, crew, troops, doctors and nurses. Complementing the text are newly discovered original photos of sinking ships, passport photos and ships’ ephemera.  It is our hope that people gain a new appreciation of the subject and come away with new knowledge.  If so, then we will have done our part to keep the memory of those affected by the First World War alive.  

    Into the Danger Zone by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier

    To find out more about the tales of those who attempted to cross the sea and what was to become their fate, check out Into the Danger Zone by Into the Danger Zone by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier. 

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    Exactly one hundred years ago Agatha Christie – challenged by her sister and inspired by Gaston Leroux, among others – began toying with the idea of writing a detective novel. Conan Doyle, on the other hand, had already offered his adoring public the best of his oeuvre and Sherlock Holmes was an established household name. 1914 was also the year that saw the publication of The Wisdom of Father Brown. It was the second and perhaps the most interesting collection of short stories by G.K. Chesterton in which the unlikeliest amateur detective imaginable investigates some of the most bizarre murders in English detective fiction. 

    It was inevitable that Father Brown should have been compared to Sherlock Holmes and the contrast between the two detectives couldn’t be more striking. Sherlock Holmes is very much the Bohemian Übermensch of Victorian, Edwardian and then Georgian London; he is tall and hawk-like, a master analyst-cum-logician, a boxer, a swordsman, a scientist and, as though that were not enough, an expert disguiser. Holmes’ manner is superior and often disdainful. Father Brown is a dowdy Catholic priest, short and rotund, with an ingenuous moonlike face, comically clumsy, very humble and always apologetic. In The Absence of Mr Glass he is described as ‘the very embodiment of all that is homely and helpless’. Father Brown’s most conspicuous feature – to perpetrate a Chestertonian paradox – is his inconspicuousness. His detective method, as such, appears to be more a matter of (divine?) inspiration than deduction.A Centenary of Clerical Crime

    Father Brown’s main tactic, as he is the first to point out, is empathy – a leap into another’s point of view. He puts himself imaginatively in the minds of the killers, identifying himself with their way of seeing and thinking, with their wants, their desires and, ultimately, with their motive for murder. In doing so, he discovers his own capacity for murder, though distinct from them, he shares their humanity and, in potential at least, their sin. At odd moments, in the course of the stories, Brown can seem as an uncanny figure – a goblin, a horned and Satanic figure caught in a glance in a distant mirror. But even though he ‘doubles’ himself with the killer, he does so entirely in a spirit of humility and charity. 

    Chesterton’s aim in writing the Father Brown stories seems to have been to subvert the widely accepted idea that priests are unworldly innocents who lead a sheltered existence and are ignorant of the ways of the world. Father Brown – whose religion would automatically have marked him down as something of an outsider in early twentieth-century England – is startlingly well-informed about all manner of sins. (In that respect he bears similarity to Christie’s unworldly, village-bound Miss Marple.) Father Brown’s life as a priest, on the other hand, brings into the tales the kind of enigmas that an orthodox detective would not be expected to solve: not just ‘whodunit’, but the ultimate mystery of life and death itself.

    After reading a Father Brown story, it is not so much the solution to the crime one remembers but the fascinating ideas and the entertaining, thought-provoking paradoxes, which inevitably conjure up the spirit of Oscar Wilde. (‘You attacked reason. It is bad theology.’ ‘Nobody could quite decide whether he was a great aristocrat who had taken up Art, or a great artist whom the aristocrats had taken up.’ ‘Dr Hood treated his private book-shelf as if it were a public library.’)

    One also remembers the atmosphere – a claustrophobic walled gardens in which a decapitated corpse is found, an occultist’s sinister tower, a cursed book, an aesthete’s hidden island lost among the fens.

    The Father Brown stories are undoubtedly some of the greatest and most unusual yet written. And, interestingly enough, the cleric-as-crime-buster has recently re-appeared in the shape of dashing Sidney Chambers, the protagonist of James Runcie’s detective novels set in the 1950s, which have also been made into a major TV series called  Grantchester. The fact that the latter are enjoying tremendous popularity with the public shows that the appetite for clerical crime continues unabated in the twenty-first century.

    The Killing of Olga Klimt by R.T. Raichev

    R.T. Raichev is the author of  The Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Mystery series. His latest book is The Killing of Olga Klimt. Olga Klimt knew that there might be a high price to pay for playing with the hearts of powerful men but when jealousy, obsession and deception come into play the stakes are higher than she ever could have anticipated. In this ninth investigation of Antonia Darcy and Major Payne, they are drawn into the most baffling case of murder and intrigue where nothing—not even the identity of the victim– is certain. R.T. Raichev’s post-modern twist on Victorian London and his penchant for composing the most intricate of murder mysteries means that nothing is ever quite what it seems ... 

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  • 12/05/14--03:55: The Friday Digest 05/12/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features advice on how to be decorative whilst ice-skating, art mysteries and assassinations.

    Bishop Robert Grosseteste, 1896 (crop).jpg

    * Robert Grosseteste: the medieval bishop who helped to unweave the rainbow.

    Old Sarum

    Everything you need to know about England's 'hidden medieval city'

    Richard III portrait and skull

    Analysis of DNA from Richard III has thrown up a surprise: evidence of infidelity in his family tree.

    One of a small assemblage of .303 shell cases, manufactured in America, found at a former wartime training trench in Cumbria © George Nash, University of Bristol


    Archaeologists have found bullets and shells at 'enigma' Western Front practice trenches used by First World War soldiers in Cumbria

    The Lochnagar Crater, La Boisselle, Somme, France Picture: Michael St Maur Sheil/Mary Evans Picture Library/Caters News

    * Scarred by war: battlefield landscapes from the First World War, 100 years on

    Soldiers of the 5th London Rifle Brigade with German Saxon regimental troops at Ploegsteert Wood during the Christmas truce of the First World War, December 1914. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)


    Sainsbury’s Christmas truce advert ‘confuses understanding’ of the First World War according to historian and First World War expert Professor Mark Connelly, but what are your thoughts on the advert?

    A photogravure of Miss Theresa Weld in her charming skating costume.

     * How to be decorative while ice-skating: advice from 1917.

    Oldest example of chicken domestication found in China

    * The oldest example of chicken domestication to date has been found in northern China

    An ancient woven reed basket has been exposed during recent storms on the Scottish Island of North Uist

    * A prehistoric reed basket was revealed on the Scottish island of North Uist after recent storms. The basket, about half a metre in length, contains a handful of worked quartz stones, and a handful of diverse animal bones.

    * The first scientific evidence of frankincense being used in Roman burial rites in Britain has been uncovered by a team of archaeological scientists led by the University of Bradford. 

    Women hang washing


    * Is J.B. Priestley to blame for the 'grim up north' stereotype? 

    Marilyn Monroe was pictured by the side of a swimming pool in a photo with the stamp of Bruno Bernard, Globe Photos


    More than thirty photographs of movie star Marilyn Monroe have sold for about £25,000 at auction.

    Huma Qureshi, whose stories are ‘memorable and moving’. Photograph: Alicia Canter/Observer


    * Ten tales that ‘peer into the cracks’ in migrants’ lives and explore the tension between migrants and those they left behind, and their struggle to adapt to new lives.

    demonstrators in Athens with three bodies, shot dead, in the middle of the crowd. A day that changed history: the bodies of unarmed protestors shot by the police and the British army in Athens on 3 December 1944. Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

    * Athens 1944: Britain's dirty secret ... 

    The impressive Palladian Bridge at Prior Park against a backdrop of autumnal morning mist.


    * The history of Bath's famous waters, Prior Park and the 'genius' of Ralph Allen

    Sleeping Lady with Black Vase (background) as seen in Stuart Little (Picture: Sony/Columbia Pictures)


    * How Stuart Little cracked a nine decades old art mystery.

    Tjipetir block (c) Tom Quinn Williams


    * The Tjipetir mystery: why are rubber-like blocks washing up on European beaches?

    Ouija film

    * The game whose eerie allure will never be put to rest ...

    Alexandre Romieu (c) Drouot-Millon

    At a time of international conflict two centuries ago, did Britain assassinate an enemy agent while the world was looking the other way?

    ancient language the bad words

    * A look at the 'bad words' of ancient languages.

    Hugh Willoughby's Arctic expedition.(Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images)

    * Tudors at sea: eight ways to survive a voyage.



    * Just who were the Seven Sisters?

    Tobacco Dock, where tonnes of you-know-what was stored during the 19th century. Photo by Matt From London, in the Londonist Flickr pool.


    A history of tobacco in London.

    The Cavendish Experiment


    * A centre of gravity: how eighteenth century Londoners measured the renowned force

    This September 1943 photo shows British ballet legend Margot Fonteyn during a performance of 'Swan Lake' at the New Theatre, with Australian ballet dancer Robert Helpmann. Photo: Getty Read more at

    * Fifteen iconic ballet photos from history


    Robert Louis Stevenson Photo: Illustrated London News

    * The strange case of Robert Louis Stevenson

    Mother and son? The Mona Lisa; Leonardo da Vinci Photo: ALAMY


    * Was the sitter for the Mona Lisa a Chinese slave?  

    Josephine Butler - portrait.jpg

    * Patron Saint of Prostitutes: the extraordinary Josephine Butler.

    Row of vinyl records (c) Thinkstock

    More than 1 million vinyl records have been sold in the UK so far this year – the first time the milestone has been achieved since 1996.

    A resident's room the day of this death from AIDS at the Bailey-Boushay House.

    * These haunting photographs of the first AIDS hospice centre tell a story of struggle and resilience

    Titus Andronicus.

    * Seventeen Shakespearean insults to unleash in everyday life.

    shakespeare first folio


    * One of Shakespeare’s rare first folios has been discovered in the library at Saint-Omer, near Calais

    PD James


    The late P.D. James's top ten writing tips.

    Poetry Words

    * An interesting look at the top words used in poetry.

    John Hurt will star in Radio 4’s adaptation of War and Peace.

    * Radio 4 are to broadcast a ten-hour adaptation of War and Peace on New Year's Day


    Zoella's first book Girl Online outsells JK Rowling's debut offering.

    * Zoella has broken records this week as her book Girl Online has become the fastest selling debut novel since records began.


    * Love letters to libraries: Michael Morpurgo.

    And here's the man behind the account, Stewart Bain.


    * The story behind Orkney Library's hilarious Twitter account.




    The Strand and the business model that's kept the NYC bookstore up and running despite the threat of Amazon and e-books


    Integrating bookstores into libraries would help both survive, particularly in underserved communities.

    Deborah Emin's theory: integrating libraries and bookstores

    CILIP protests against IWM library 'closure'

    * George Osborne announced a new tax on UK-generated profits for multinationals such as Amazon.


    * Is the e-reading revolution making the book more beautiful? 


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

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  • 12/11/14--09:00: Mr Beccle's Christmas Dinner
  • Christmas, thought Frances Doughty, was a time for memories and reflection. Only a year ago she had shared a meagre dinner in the small parlour above the chemists shop on Westbourne Grove with her father, who did nothing but grumble about the expense, and his assistant, Mr Munson, whom she preferred not to think about.  As Christmas 1880 approached, she was shocked to realise how much had changed. Her father was no more, she was establishing a reputation as a private detective in Bayswater, and Sarah, her trusted companion, was cooking up a nice piece of beef in the basement kitchen of their new apartments, while a pudding that would probably last them a month was boiling in a pan.

    She had not imagined that a client would approach her on Christmas Day, but to her surprise, a hesitant knock at the door announced the arrival of Mr Beccles, an elderly watchmaker with a shop on the Grove. He was wringing his hands in despair, and she quickly invited him in.

    ‘I am sorry to trouble you at this time, but I am afraid it is too distressing!’ exclaimed Mr Beccles.   ‘I had just purchased a nice pie for my Christmas repast, and some bottled fruit, but just as I went to prepare the meal, I found that it had been stolen. I suppose I don’t mind having to make do with bread and cheese, but I am quite distraught at what has happened!’

    Frances was sympathetic. Mr Beccles, she knew, had very few customers nowadays, and mainly subsisted on rents from the rooms he let above his shop. His son and his family who usually invited him for Christmas dinner had gone to Australia only a few months before, so it was all the more upsetting that his solitary feast had been taken.  ‘Do you suspect anyone?’ she asked. ‘Have you seen any suspicious persons about?’

    ‘No, and my tenants are all trustworthy, I am sure,’ he said. ‘Could I trouble you to take a look?’

    There was still an hour before her dinner would be ready and so Frances left the arrangements in Sarah’s capable hands and went to inspect Mr Beccles’ gloomy little parlour. She could see no sign that anyone had forced an entry into the premises, and more surprisingly, there were several clocks on the mantelpiece, which even to her inexpert eye were of some value.  Why had the thief chosen to steal a dinner, and leave items that might have been pawned for a substantial sum?

    Mr Beccles looked so forlorn that Frances, while she considered the problem, suggested that he join herself and Sarah for Christmas dinner, as there was more than enough to feed them all. His face brightened at once, and he accepted the invitation, bringing as a gift a small box of sweetmeats.

    Mr Beccles proved to be a fascinating guest, since he had lived in Bayswater for many years, long before the Grove had become a fashionable shopping promenade, and he was a fount of wonderful stories about events and persons in its past. When dinner was over, he said that he had enjoyed himself so much that he begged Frances not to trouble herself over the matter of his missing pie and fruit.

    ‘I am glad that we were able to cheer him,’ said Frances, as she and Sarah cleared the dishes. ‘He seems to be quite unworried about the theft, now.’

    ‘Oh, as to that,’ said Sarah, ‘I’m not sure there ever was a theft. I saw him in Whiteleys the other day, looking at the pies, and he thought them too big for one person and decided not to buy one. Poor man, I expect he was just lonely.’ 

    The Francis Doughty Series By Linda Stratmann

    The Frances Doughty Mysteries are a series of whodunits set in Victorian Bayswater featuring a young female sleuth. There are currently four stories in the series with the fifth, The Children of Silence, due to be released in April 2015.

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  • 12/12/14--03:55: The Friday Digest 12/12/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the firms who cashed in on the First World War, 'Bethlehem syndrome' and the ten best English railway stations.

    Infantryman surrounded by 'essential' goods. This advert from Punch, printed in December 1915, mocks the number of must-have items sold to soldiers

    How firms cashed in on the First World War

    1918. The Royal Flying Corp football team of No.54 Squadron RAF line up for a team photograph in front of a Sopwith Camel aircraft. © IWM (Q 9944)

    * Football in the First World War.

    Windsor Boys School and Desborough College are dressed in replica WW1 army uniforms for the game

    The Windsor and Maidenhead pupils who have commemorated the First World War Christmas truce with a football match.

    Trench cake includes no eggs and has more familiar cake ingredients replaced with vinegar, milk and margarine Photo: Department for Culture, Media and Sport

    * How to bake a First World War trench cake.

    Christina Broom/Museum of London Grenadier Guards raise a glass at Chelsea Barracks, Christmas Day, 1915

    * Stunning images by Christina Broom, Britain's first female press photographer, show suffragettes, the Grenadier Guards and King Edward

    The river-god Ilissos. Marble statue from the West pediment of the Parthenon, Athens, Greece, 438–432 BC (British Museum 1816,0610.99)

    * Is the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the Hermitage, 'a marble ambassador of a European ideal'?  

    Sussex is notable for having Dicker, The Dicker and Upper Dicker all nearby.

    * Someone has made a map of every rude place name in the UK and there are some brilliant names included! 

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s trainshed at Paddington is one of the wonders of British architecture. The first real cathedral of the railway age, with columns supporting the innovative, ridge-and-furrow glazed roof, it was both decorative and ingeniously functional.  Hidden pipes drained rainwater underneath the concourse floor, while the roof’s iron beams were pierced with geometric shapes to help the cleaners fit the scaffolding necessary to clean this complex structure.

    * Ten great English railway stations.

    Clifton Suspension Bridge under construction

    * Clifton Suspension Bridge: Brunel's bridge marks 150 years since its completion

     Painting depicting the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, the first inter-city railway in the world.

    The Industrial Revolution: why Britain got there first

    Elizabeth Cromwell (1598-1665), Her Highness the Protectoress by Robert Walker


    * Elizabeth: Oliver Cromwell's 'queen'.

    Holy Innocents church in Highnam


    Some of the most 'unique and historic' churches in Gloucestershire have been given an early Christmas present in the form of a share of a £60,000 grant.

    Jane Austen letter

    A previously unseen letter penned by Jane Austen is set to be sold by Torquay Museum.

    A Christmas tree for German soldiers in a temporary hospital in 1871

    * Alison Barnes sets the record straight on who was really responsible for introducing the first Christmas tree

    An ad from a 1925 Sears catalog (Sears)

    Toys are more divided by gender now than they were fifty years ago.  

    800 children's bodies were discovered abandoned in Tuam but what happened to their fathers?

    * What happened to the 'unscathed' fathers of Ireland’s banished children? 

    Strengthening pigments with nikawa (a traditional East Asian consolidant)

    * Bringing a Ming painting back to life.

    Saint Jerome in his Study (detail) by Caravaggio, c.1606

    * Should historians have to adhere to 'a rigorous code of professional practice'?

    The book features water colour paintings of Jersey


    A rare book, written in German about Jersey, that was presented to a Red Cross nurse in 1945 has been returned to the island.


     Albert Einstein with his wife Mileva. Photograph: /Rex Features

    * The Albert Einstein archive has revealed the genius, doubts and loves of the scientist

    Hitler eating at a picnic

    * What did dictators like to eat?

    Santa in a grotto


    * The Xmas factor: what makes a good Santa Claus?

    Bethlehem: ‘a hamlet surrounded by olives and vineyards’. Photograph: Library of Congress

    * Bethlehem syndrome: understanding the little town of 'Brand Holy Land'. 

    Latin Language Makes Comeback Thanks to Pink Floyd and Pope



    * The Latin language is making a comeback thanks to Pink Floyd and Pope Francis.  

    American menace ... Smaug, as performed by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Photograph: Warner Bros

    * The American inspiration behind Tolkien’s death of Smaug is revealed.

    Wit and wisdom ... Oscar Wilde. Photograph: Corbis

    * Declare your genius and complete Oscar Wilde’s epigrams here

    Towering achievements … piles of books. Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

    What does the Guardian bookshop's 2014 bestsellers list tell us about our readers? 

    * J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike detective novels will be turned into a television series for BBC One

    * What the publishing industry learned in 2014

    Massive cutbacks have been proposed at Library of Birmingham under new money-saving plans proposed by Birmingham City Council.


    * Bezos admits making 'billion of dollars of failures' at Amazon

    * How publishers can regain leverage with Amazon ...

    * Hachette  has joined with Gumroad to sell books directly from Twitter


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

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    The Book of the Poppy

    The remembrance poppy has become the defining symbol of reverence for the millions of soldiers who lost their lives in conflict. In the present day the ‘poppy appeal,’ organised by The Royal British Legion, takes place in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday, which occurs on the Sunday nearest to Armistice Day. The poppy appeal raises money for those who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces and have subsequently been affected physically, mentally or economically by war. The history of the poppy as a symbol of respect for the war dead is now almost one hundred years old. Since the appeals inception in 1921, the poppy has become an international symbol of remembrance for those who have given their lives defending their respective countries.

    The history of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance is not as clear cut as has been previously assumed. The first use of the poppy as a metaphor can be traced back to the Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century, rather than the First World War. Although it is commonly assumed that the origin of the poppy as a symbol is derived from the devastation of the First World War, there are several anonymous documents written during the Napoleonic wars which noted that following battle, poppies became abundant on battlefields where soldiers had fallen. These same sources drew the first documented comparison between the blood-red colour of the poppies and the blood spilt during conflict.  Scarlet corn poppy growth is aided by massive disruption in soil and thus the devastation of the natural environment caused by the Napoleonic wars saw fields littered with corpses alongside bright red poppies. In English folk tradition, the poppy has long symbolised sleep and death. Similarly in Holland a common folk belief persists that children should avoid picking poppies as it is believed it will give them cancer. Thus the symbolism of the poppy as a physical commemoration of war dead actually predates the First World War. However it was not until after the First World War when the poppy began to gain the ascendancy as an international symbol of remembrance and charity.

    Perhaps the most famous war poem of all time, In Flanders Fields was written on May 3, 1915 by Canadian born Lieutenant Colonel John McRae following the death of his friend and brother in arms Alexis Helmer. While poppies remain more popular in the United Kingdom and other commonwealth countries, it was an American, Moina Michael, who can be credited with the first charitable poppy sale. Michael had been working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries Office in New York and was so stirred by McRae’s poem that she vowed to pin a poppy to her lapel and swore always to wear one to honour and revere the war dead. Using money she had earned for her work for the YMCA, she purchased twenty-five silk poppies and distributed these to her colleagues. Her efforts did not stop there. Michael continued her effort to have the poppy adopted as a symbol of national remembrance and it was just two years before her dreams were realised and the National American Legion adopted the poppy as the official symbol of remembrance. Thus it appears that the early history of the poppy is deeply rooted in American tradition and is not of European origin.

    The popularity of Michael’s tradition grew exponentially as the tradition crossed the Atlantic. Also present at the same conference was a certain Madame E Guerin. Guerin had travelled from France to attend the American Legion’s conference and saw the sale of poppies as a fantastic way to raise money for those children who had been adversely affected by the Great War in France. Guerin was quick to organise a team of French widows who immediately began making paper poppies on an industrial scale which saw sales in excess of one million by 1921. Following the tremendous success of her poppy sales in the states, Guerin sent a delegation of poppy sellers to London in a bid to popularise the appeal in the United Kingdom. It did not take long for this to happen. Both a founder of the Royal British Legion and a veteran commander of British Forces during the Battle of the Somme and the Hundred Days Offensive, Field Marshall Douglas Haig was enthused by the idea put forward by Guerin’s delegates and subsequently his British Legion adopted it almost immediately. The first ever annual poppy day occurred on November 11th 1921, marking the third anniversary of Armistice Day. The poppy outgrew its North American roots rapidly; it was immediately adopted by Canada and Australia in 1921 and New Zealand in 1922.

    At this time the poppies intended for distribution in the UK were still made in France by French war widows. 1922 saw the opening of a factory in Bermondsey which employed just five disabled ex-military personnel to produce poppies all year round for distribution in the weeks prior to Remembrance Sunday. The very first official poppy appeal of 1921 raised £106,000, today the Royal British Legion aims to make £25 million annually from the sale of poppies and its factory, now located in Richmond, Surrey, employs 50 ex-servicemen all year round in preparation for the annual fundraising campaign. Importantly, the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of charity has seen the poppy transcend its purely metaphorical and commemorative status and has instead become a physical, palpable object providing financial stability for those affected by war.

    The poppy appeal became truly international in nature extraordinarily quickly.  It was one of Guerin’s representatives who helped introduce the appeal to New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand is unique in that it does not hold its annual poppy appeal on Armistice Day, but chooses instead the day before Anzac day. Anzac day is the national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand originally intended to memorialise the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in the Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916. Astonishingly, over 249,000 poppies were sold on New Zealand’s first poppy day and its popularity persists in the present. Today, Anzac day serves as a day of national remembrance for all Australians and New Zealanders who have served in military conflict. The 11th of November in America is called Veterans Day rather than Armistice Day. Interestingly, the tradition has all but died out in the U.S; yellow ribbon and red, blue and white ribbon campaigns have eclipsed the poppy as a physical symbol of remembrance for war dead and war veterans. Today, three million poppies are sent annually to peoples in over 120 different countries across the globe by the Royal British Legion.

    Several variations of the traditional red poppy with its green leaf, red petals and black centre have appeared and represent different approaches to commemorating those who have died in battle. 1933 saw the creation of the first white poppies by the Women’s Co-operative Guild who saw the white poppy as an alternative, representing pacifism and a more genuine desire to end all war. The Royal British Legion refused to affiliate itself with the white poppy as a great number of war veterans saw the initiative as detrimental to the red poppy appeal and believed it undermined the sacrifice of military personnel who had lost their lives in defence of the realm. The white poppy appeal is still active today and is run and administered by the Peace Pledge Union.  Another variation on the traditional red poppy is the purple poppy. The charity ‘Animal Aid’ now sells purple poppies to commemorate animal victims of war across the globe.

    The Book of the Poppy

    The Book of the Poppy
    celebrates the poppy and the memory of sacrifice, in association with and in support of The Royal British Legion. £1 from the sale of this book and 50p from the sale of every ebook will be paid to the Royal British Legion.

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    Scottish Urban Myths and Ancient Legends


    Grace Banks and Sheena Blackhall will be at The Story Telling Centre, Edinburgh on Wednesday 14th January 2015 signing copies of their new book, Scottish Urban Myths and Ancient Legends

    Monsters, lunatics, vampires, werewolves and evil dolls, stones entombing bodies, faces appearing in walls, curses and meetings with the Devil – all this and more are contained within this book of myths and ancient legends. Well-known storytellers Grace Banks and Sheena Blackhall recount a range of intriguing tales from the top to the bottom of Scotland, from ancient times to the present day. Folklore embeds itself in a local community, often to the extent that some people believe all manner of mysteries and take them as fact. Whether they’re stories passed around the school playground, through the Internet, or round a flickering campfire, such legends are everywhere. Scottish Urban Myths and Ancient Legends is a quirky and downright spooky ride into the heart of Celtic folklore. 

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