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The History Press blog

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    ‘Trench art’ is folk art of the war, reusing as it did the bullets, shell cases, copper drive bands, fragments of aircraft, pieces of wood and other detritus of war in order to manufacture objects as souvenirs. Trench art was sometimes made by soldiers in the frontline, but more often manufactured in the rear areas where there was more access to tools and equipment. Typical soldier items include decorated shell cases, letter openers, matchbox folds, lighters, tanks and field caps.

    Trench art is commonly encountered; but in putting together our book Remembering Tommy – which places Great War artefacts in historic settings in order to tell the story of the average soldier in wartime – we wanted it to have a period feel, to look like something freshly manufactured. In order to achieve that we (or more appropriately, the person with the skills in this area, CF) had to replicate the methods used.

    This meant filling a period shell case with lead, and carefully punching out the outline of a regimental badge – in this case, of the Cameronians, a regiment that appears here and there in officer’s dugouts and family homes throughout the book. It was hard – and unpleasant work – but it demonstrated just how difficult and physically demanding working with shell brass was, 100 years ago this year. As will all our work on the book, creating an original piece in keeping with the period required dedication, research – and a steady hand.


    Peter Doyle is a military historian and geologist, specialising in military terrain. He is a familiar face as television expert on documentaries, including WW1 Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig, Battlefield Detectives and The Great Escape: Revealed on Channel 5. He is Visiting Professor at University College London and is co-secretary of the All Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which is actively supporting the British government’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War.

    He has co-written Beneath Flanders Fields: The Underground War 1914-18 and Grasping Gallipoli , as well as Battle Story: Gallipoli 1915 , Battle Story: Loos 1915Trench Talk: Words of the First World War and Remembering Tommy: The British Soldier in the First World War

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    In the trenches (Image: Chris Foster)

    Remembering Tommy, our exploration of the life of the British soldier in the Great War – a story told with historic artefacts in appropriate settings – required our trench scenes to be as accurate as possible. But to get that appropriate period feel, accurately reconstructed trenches were essential.

    We were delighted to have gained access to the trenches owned and operated by Taff Gillingham’s Khaki Devil, a company devoted to providing accurate advice, settings and equipment to film, TV and theatre companies. These trenches had appeared in productions as diverse as The Somme, Defeat to Victory (2006), Downton Abbey (2012) and Private Peaceful (2012), and we were grateful for the opportunity to take temporary occupancy of them too.

    Working in the confined spaces, we set up the trench scenes so that they looked occupied, though with only ‘hints’ of soldiers. Photographs were to be taken as if the soldiers were just ‘in the next fire bay’.

    Maconochie stew: Chris Foster at work (Image: Peter Doyle)


    Getting the right feel also meant working to provide appropriate physical settings, and this meant creating objects to original specifications to support the historic ones. Fortunately one of us, Chris, was skilled enough to build such artefacts from scratch (for which the other of us, Peter, was suitably relieved!)

    Chris Foster’s grenade box (Images: Chris Foster & Peter Doyle)

     Setting up Chris Foster’s grenade box in its correct setting (Image: Chris Foster)




    Peter Doyle is a military historian and geologist, specialising in military terrain. He is a familiar face as television expert on documentaries, including WW1 Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig, Battlefield Detectives and The Great Escape: Revealed on Channel 5. He is Visiting Professor at University College London and is co-secretary of the All Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which is actively supporting the British government’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War.

    He has co-written Beneath Flanders Fields: The Underground War 1914-18 and Grasping Gallipoli , as well as Battle Story: Gallipoli 1915 , Battle Story: Loos 1915Trench Talk: Words of the First World War and Remembering Tommy: The British Soldier in the First World War

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  • 11/11/14--02:00: Setting Tommy
  • Peter Doyle ‘seeking recruits’ (Image: Chris Foster)


    ‘Great care has been taken with the settings and constructing relevant backgrounds. For example, there is one full-page picture of a rifle leaning against a door, the door and the building are of the correct period and the weapon has its webbing sling and cloth mud cover over the breech. The soldier on leave has gone inside and left some of the memory of the trenches on the doorstep’ 

    Review, Stand To!, June 2014


    This review, by Bob Wyatt of the Western Front Association, taps directly into the ethos of Remembering Tommy, a book that sets out to present, through the collaboration of artist and writer, a means of understanding the life of the Great War soldier through original artefacts and historic settings.

    Avoiding ‘noise’ from twenty-first century Britain, we selected a street seemingly stuck in a time-warp for our recruitment poster (modern shoppers stopping in amazement).

     Putting together a ‘parcel for the front’ at Mr Straw’s House, Worksop (Image: Chris Foster)

    We gained permission and assistance from the National Trust to use ‘Mr Straw’s House’ in Worksop as the location of a middle class officer’s family home, and tip-toed about, carefully mingling wartime relics with those already present.

    The Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson gave us a superb opportunity to reconstruct a soldier’s kit inspection in their superb barrack block.

     ‘Kit inspection’ at Fort Nelson (Image: Peter Doyle)

    Beamish Living History Museum in County Durham, set in 1913 and so rich in appropriate settings gave us unparalleled access behind the scenes and in public areas; our time there, as at all sites, was exhausting, but rewarding.


    ‘Leaving for the Front’ at Beamish (Images: Chris Foster)



    Peter Doyle is a military historian and geologist, specialising in military terrain. He is a familiar face as television expert on documentaries, including WW1 Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig, Battlefield Detectives and The Great Escape: Revealed on Channel 5. He is Visiting Professor at University College London and is co-secretary of the All Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which is actively supporting the British government’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War.

    He has co-written Beneath Flanders Fields: The Underground War 1914-18 and Grasping Gallipoli , as well as Battle Story: Gallipoli 1915 , Battle Story: Loos 1915Trench Talk: Words of the First World War and Remembering Tommy: The British Soldier in the First World War

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  • 11/11/14--02:00: Great War Tommy Remembered
  • Remembering Tommy has been our most ambitious project to date. Our commitment to writing this book meant that our collaboration – between artist and writer – sought to dig deeply into the very essence of what it would have been like to serve as a soldier during the Great War.  

    We knew that the book had to have an approach that would link people with their ancestors, with those men whose faces stare out, benignly, from the numerous cabinet photographs left as echoes of the war in family albums and drawers. We also knew that for many people it was a struggle to place their relatives into the settings that are so commonly discussed in history books and documentaries. And with so many wanting to know the simple things of a soldier’s life – what did he eat, where did he sleep, how did he wash – we accepted the challenge to try and paint a picture of ‘Tommy’s Life’ that would allow people to plot the life of the average British soldier of the Great War.

    We set out to detail an average soldier’s journey, from recruitment to the return home. We took our inspiration in part from the magnificent wartime soldier cartoons of Pte Fergus McKain – so rich in detail, so accurate in presentation – in part from the writings of the average man in the trenches. We wanted our images to be in colour, as a counterbalance to the magnificent but seemingly far-removed black and white images of the day. We wanted to provide a richness of detail that would reward readers who returned to examine the book time-after-time, and who sought to place their own relatives in the same settings.

    Picking appropriate wartime settings – most of them of historic importance – we used artefacts to tell the story for us. The only people present are in shadow, or represented as hints. The hand clutching a Webley revolver at Zero Hour could be the hand of any officer of the day; the recruits in shadow representative of any soldier who ‘joined up’ in 1914-15. We wanted people to make up their own minds, to populate the images with their own families and forebears without the intrusion of modern faces in early twentieth century settings. 

    Fortunately, it’s an approach that seems to have resonated with our reviewers. And with a project like this that is so close to our hearts, that is all the more gratifying.

    ‘Peter Doyle and Chris Foster chart the experiences of average soldiers from the moment they enlisted through their service in the trenches right up until their homecoming. Remembering Tommy is a book to take time over and then treasure’

    Amazon, October 2013

    ‘…there is a curious emptiness, an absence of people in the scenario photographs, provoking the feeling that someone has just left the space. Where is the soldier who has left his rifle in position? Who is drinking the tea at the table? Perhaps it is an invitation to read ourselves into these spaces.’

    Amazon, November 2013

    ‘I cannot imagine anyone with an interest in the Great War NOT being delighted with Remembering Tommy. Its coverage is obviously so wide-ranging and its presentation so rich and varied’

    Amazon, May 2014



    Peter Doyle is a military historian and geologist, specialising in military terrain. He is a familiar face as television expert on documentaries, including WW1 Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig, Battlefield Detectives and The Great Escape: Revealed on Channel 5. He is Visiting Professor at University College London and is co-secretary of the All Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which is actively supporting the British government’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War.

    He has co-written Beneath Flanders Fields: The Underground War 1914-18 and Grasping Gallipoli , as well as Battle Story: Gallipoli 1915 , Battle Story: Loos 1915Trench Talk: Words of the First World War and Remembering Tommy: The British Soldier in the First World War

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  • 12/13/14--01:01: Christmas 1914
  • Tommies bringing in mistletoe

    There are two facts about Christmas 1914 that are known by all and will probably be so another 100 years from now. One is that everybody believed the Great War would be over by then and festive peace would be celebrated around the home fires, and the other is that extraordinary truce, with the football kickabouts and shared sweets, Schnapps and cigarettes with ‘our friend the enemy’ Fritz in no-man’s-land.

    The truth, of course, is rather different: any realistic hopes of an early end to the war had dissipated almost within days of its outbreak. The British Expeditionary Force’s first significant taste of action at the Battle of Mons had seen it inflict heavy casualties on the enemy but fail to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal and eventually retreat over two weeks to almost the outskirts of Paris. A straightforward tactical retreat executed in good order, the top brass explained. To the British press, however, yet to be properly reminded that truth is the first casualty of war, it was a humiliating and bitter disaster; a bravely fought disaster, granted, but a disaster for all that.

    When our troops again came face to face with the German First Army, at the River Marne east of Paris,it was still only early September. This time, however, the French, whose tactical withdrawal at Mons had unwittingly helped to put the British forces in an impossible position, were everything an ally should be in their fierce defence of their capital, and the Kaiser’s hopes of a swift victory on the Western Front came to nothing. Instead, his army retreated to the north east, the British and French pursued it and both sides then showed they had learned lessons from the way they had been conducting themselves to date by digging deep trenches and settling in for the long, long haul. Any brave talk of victory by Christmas – and in truth, both sides had at first been dreaming that dream – soon foundered in the mud of Flanders.

    Trench warfare was not unknown in military history, but it was not what the British public had foreseen; they were far more familiar with the concept of fast-moving, fluid battle lines, and while the retreat from Mons was the last thing they wanted to see in the way of fluidity, at least they understood the scenario. Trench warfare? Idle men peeping over the parapet and eyeballing the equally indolent and inactive enemy? To some armchair generals back at home by their firesides there was almost something comical about it. We can see, then, that it had been determined some months before the event that Christmas 1914 would not be a peacetime celebration; and developments leading immediately up to it, that December, saw such an escalation in hostilities that any hopes of a happier New Year were now equally forlorn.

    Already the newspapers were dominated by war news, and tributes to bewildering numbers of young men who were losing their lives on the other side of the English Channel. This was particularly disorienting and distressing in the local weekly press, whose pages hitherto had rarely been sullied by troubles any more disturbing than the police court sequels to fights outside the Dog and Duck on Saturday nights.

    December, however, was the month when ‘Over There’ became ‘Over Here’, and that was a backward step by no means everybody had reckoned with. It started in the middle of the month and swiftly escalated; a bag of what looked to be rusty rivets was dropped on Southend; on the 15th the first Zeppelin was sighted off the east coast – and as these had long been supposed to pose Germany’s main threat from the air, were such an outlandish proposition possible at all, that seemed an ominous sign; not nearly so ominous, however, as the events of the following morning, when German battleships were left free to bombard the north-east coastal towns of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, killing well over 100 defenceless men, women and children. At the same time, one of their flotillas was sowing mines off Filey which accounted for hundreds more lives before they were cleared. There were clearly questions to be faced by the British Grand Fleet, questions rarely if ever asked in living memory as our ships ‘Ruled the Waves’.

    The action quickened considerably in the last days leading up to Christmas. On 21 December a German seaplane, as distinct from an airship, dropped two bombs just off Dover Harbour, and three days later one landed on the town itself, breaking a lot of windows and blowing a gardener out of a holly tree. It was the first airborne bomb to land on British soil, and although its end result was almost comical, like something out of the latest Keystone Cops film, its implications were not, with the engineering might of the Ruhr gearing up for the battle ahead.

    The first Zeppelin raid came on 19 January 1915, but airships as a fighting force were quickly made obsolete by fast-advancing technology, as were those aircraft that dealt the earliest blows of the war. On both sides of the Channel, hostility was the very fertile mother of invention. And then came Christmas Day, that time of sharing pictures of wives and girlfriends with the foe and exchanging verses of ‘Silent Night’ one with another; up to a point. It was also the day of Britain’s first air raid on Germany, where seaplanes did what they were able in stormy skies over Cuxhaven. The enemy were doing likewise over London Docks and the Medway towns, while those mines planted in the North Sea nine days earlier were blowing ships out of the water with distressing loss of life. Even on the Western Front, all was far from quiet in most areas: men were still fighting and dying; in some trenches, the enemy was passive, so the other side stayed passive, too; there was ‘gardening’ to be done on no-man’s–land, burying bodies, clearing weapons and debris, and spasmodic local arrangements were made for this to be carried out by both sides without fear of aggression. Anything over and above this was the exception; so exceptional, in fact, that it is still recalled with awe to this day. The other fact everyone knows about it is that it never happened again.

    The aim of this book, as its title suggests, is to give a rounded account of life in Britain at or around Christmas 1914, by far the strangest Christmas everyone who lived through it had ever known. Apart from the conflict, and the toll it was taking on families’ menfolk and morale, there were so many other life-changing developments to take in and digest: the sudden need for women in the workplace, quiet towns that had been transformed into part of the war machine by creating arms and weapons, young men who had not enlisted for whatever reason being constantly harried to do so, the patriotic need for a recently volatile workforce to buckle down, the wounded soldiers in the streets and parks, the refugees from Belgium and elsewhere who were now a part of our local communities, with all the civic responsibilities that implied.

    On New Year’s Day the editor of a small West Country weekly newspaper wrote:

    'A stranger and duller sort of Christmas could hardly be imagined … The awful anxieties and grief of war touched the whole country very closely, and in our district there was little of the usual festivities and jollity. There were no attractions beyond the local variety theatres, and whatever Christmas parties there were were quiet, while the town was in the evenings completely deserted. The weather was, on the whole, wet and dreary … There were few visitors this year, and no engagements to interest them, while the customary list of football matches dwindled down to one or two games …'

    Yet in other ways, life went on. As the above report hints, the music halls were still churning out their songs and their jokes, although at first the singers were wrapping themselves in the red, white and blue and the humour was taking on a spiky, we shall overcome feel. Soon enough, it would be back to normal with the cheek and the chutzpah. There were still personalities to read about in the papers, even if it was only footballers taking up arms or leading ladies knitting socks for sailors. America was sending over, if not its men, then engaging songs as diverse as ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now’ and ‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’. And yes, outside the Dog and Duck, Saturday night drunks were still punching one another on the nose.

    We cannot begin to recognise a good deal of what our countrymen were going through then: the dread of the telegraph boy clicking the gate latch and knocking on the door, the previously unheard-of fear of destruction from the air, the stark fact that nobody had a new 1915 calendar saying ‘This is the second year of the First World War, 1914–18, which Britain won at great cost’. Uncertainty can be a devastating enemy. Yet what we can see is a sense of commitment and community which we now regard as essentially British, even if, to some of us, it does not seem quite so much a part of our national character 100 years on in 2014. It was this, as much as the bombs and heavy artillery, maybe even as much as the Americans and Russians, that saw us through both this world war and the next one.

    In 1918, while German society fell apart in hunger, discontent and near-revolution, our ancestors not only held firm but redoubled their efforts on the Home Front. Men turned their backs on safe jobs to enlist, often well above (and in some cases, below) conventional military age, and the community as a whole set aside conflicts over industrial relations, universal suffrage or the rights and wrongs of the war to put their shoulders together to the wheel.

    That, however, was nearly four years down the line. Christmas 1914 had challenges of its own, and some small compensations and comforts, too. Glimpsing it now we visit another world; but one in which, because of the Great War’s continuing influence on all that came after it, we can still trace far-off foreshadowings of our lives today.

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    Transport and supply on the Western Front 

    Much has been written on the exploits of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front but there is little mention of the supply infrastructure, and for four years the BEF had to be supplied with all its needs from ammunition to animal feed.

    With the majority of the supplies being shipped to the French channel ports an intricate network of depots, railway lines, canals and road transport links were established which ensured and efficient and effective distribution chain.

    An enormous labour force was needed to work the supply chain, and both the Army Service Corps and Royal Engineers had their numbers greatly increased to cope with demand – numbers that included men with motor and rail transport experience.

    The railways at home were not only trying to run an ordinary service but also cope with a terrific increase in military traffic, and they found themselves under a great strain with a large percentage of the staff having ‘joined up’ which made it difficult for the railway companies to maintain their services and standards for which they were famed before the war. Although the railways at home were struggling, the ports and British run transport systems on the Western Front were at crisis point by the end of 1916. More roads and railways were needed, and with it men, especially railwaymen. The obvious source was the railways at home, but the situation was so urgent that railwaymen already serving with the BEF in the infantry or artillery were encouraged to transfer to the Royal Engineers.

    Labour was also needed to build new roads and railway lines, or replace existing routes damaged or destroyed by enemy action, labour which was found within the British and Chinese labour units; prisoners of war were also used.

    Many repair and maintenance depots were established in the north eastern corner of France and in Belgium manned by experienced mechanics and engineers, but it wasn’t always possible for transport to get to a depot for repairs so mobile units were established for light railways and road transport, there were even mobile units for the maintenance of artillery pieces.

    Don’t be mistaken in thinking that it was only men who carried out work described here. Women were found dealing with such things as the mail, clerical work, even carpentry and motorcycle dispatch riders.

    Two women of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps dispatch riders. This is an unusual photo as few exist of female motorcyclists on the Western Front. Those in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps were drivers, clerical workers, or on household duties. Some were waitresses at general headquarters. These two certainly look as if they are enjoying their job.

    A busy, muddy road near Pilkem in 1917. The troops are marching to their destination, heavily laden, their eyes looking down, picking their way. Officers in their cars squeeze past, with limbers and lorries ahead. An ambulance and limbers are attempting to proceed in the opposite direction. Some of the soldiers are making their way up the bank to their posts. Some sappers are busy digging by a tent, which is probably a medical post for below an ambulance is patiently waiting. Many of the men here would not return.














    Troops, horses, equipment, mail, medical personnel and supplies, ammunition, food, fodder, mechanical spares, petrol, huts, coal, timber, stone were all transported around the area by road, rail and canal. Troops on leave would be trained to the ports, and the wounded would be taken to the many hospitals dotted along the French coast or inland at Rouenbefore, if they were successfully treated, taking a ferry trip back home to ‘Blighty’.

    It is difficult to explain here the variety of work carried out, but briefly if it was available at home it had to be available for the BEF in Flanders. Those who carried out the work, be they military or civilian, did so much to ensure the eventual success of the BEF they deserve not to be overlooked or forgotten.


    Sandra Gittins is a railway and First World War historian, researcher and writer who has been consulted for a number of documentaries, including those by the BBC with Dan Snow. She is the author of Between the Coast and the Western Front: Transportation and Supply Behind the Trenches, she has previously written The Great Western Railway in the First World War for The History Press. She frequently gives talks on her subjects and also enjoys photography. She lives in Devon.

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  • 12/19/14--03:55: The Friday Digest 19/12/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features a digital atlas of the Roman empire, the First World War nurses who put on a pantomime and the intoxicating history of festive spices. 

    This advertisement for Grey’s cigarettes, published in 1917, captured the 'excitement' of a 'stirrup St Quentin 1914'. - See more at:

     * Commercial advertising as propaganda in the First World War

    Women’s War Work in maintaining the industries & export trade of the United Kingdom

    * Changing lives: gender expectations and roles during and after the First World War


    Oh, yes they did!’ How First World War nurses put on a pantomime in the midst of the horrors of war ... 

    Newspaper cutting

    * The Hartlepool bombardment and how it unfolded on 16 December 1914

    Arthur Shelby


    * We need to talk about Arthur Shelby ...  

    Sgt Kitching made the brooch, pictured, for his girlfriend Lizzie Hunter, who he married after the conflict

    * The First World War soldier who made a brooch for his sweetheart out of his thigh bone - that's one gift we hope we won't be getting under the tree this Christmas!  


    Visitors looking at Pablo Picasso's Guernica in Reina Sofia National Art Museum (Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia). © Getty Images. Photographer: Bruce Yuanyue Bi

    * Eighty moments that shaped the world

    Field markings near Wattisham

    A metal detectorist has discovered a possible Bronze Age burial site while browsing on Google Maps.

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the Citi Money Gallery.

    * What colour were Dorothy’s shoes? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as monetary allegory

     “The Sleeping Beauty”, 1873-94 by Edward Burne-Jones. Photograph: AKG-images


    * How fairy tales grew up

    Rilke’s Bayon, Cambodia, 2007.


    * Beautiful dark twisted fantasies: the world's most ancient trees in pictures

    Medieval Tube map


     * This medieval Tube map reveals a fascinating side to London

    * A digital atlas of the Roman Empire.

    Yes, you're a quidnunc. Q-U-I-D-N-U-N-C.

    * Eleven classy insults with classical Greek and Latin roots.

    The twin Memnon colossi show Amenhotep III seated. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP


    * Archaeologists have unveiled a restored statue of Amenhotep III that was toppled in an earthquake more than 3,000 years ago at Egypt’s temple city of Luxor.

    Image from

    Why is the study of kings and queens still relevant in our less than deferential age?

    Birmingham in 1732


    * Made in Birmingham: the self-deprecating nature of Brummies.

    Christmas display at Buckingam Palace (c) David Telford


    * The surprisingly recent Buckingham Palace tradition: the Christmas tree which appears beneath the famous royal balcony in the forecourt of the palace.   

    Spices and other aromatics have been a driving force in human history. Wikimedia Commons

    * Out of your noggin? Festive spices and their intoxicating history

    Men ... You’ll stumble on something witty occasionally. Photograph: Allstar/BBC

    * Jane Austen in quotes: thirty tips for a successful life

    Man floating in Dead Sea while reading, under an umbrella


    Umbrellas have been around for more than 3,000 years but can they be improved? 

    supporting a career in heritage

    * Supporting a career in heritage


    The interior of the new, redesigned Liverpool public library Photo: Tony Smith/Alamy

    * Haven’t finished reading that bestseller? You’re not alone ... 

    * Thirsty? Go to a library, not a coffee shop

    Suggested by klavdijak22 Creative Commons / Flickr: rayseinefotos


    * Fifty-one of the most beautiful sentences in literature

    Top row, from left: Rivka Galchen, Mohsin Hamid, Zoë Heller, Anna Holmes and Leslie Jamison. Middle row: Adam Kirsch, Thomas Mallon, Ayana Mathis, Daniel Mendelsohn and Pankaj Mishra. Bottom row: Benjamin Moser, James Parker, Francine Prose, Dana Stevens and Cheryl Strayed. Credit Illustrations by R. Kikuo Johnson


    * The Bookseller  and The New York Times have recommended their books of the year, but which ones would you add to the list? 

    * Do you agree with Jeff Bezos that 'books are too expensive'?

    * Google are 'experimenting with a buy button' that would allow browsers to shop directly through the search engine, without having to visit a retailer's own website


    * Will 2015 be the year of being brave in publishing? 


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

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  • 12/22/14--02:30: Christmas drinks
  • If you are hosting a party over the festive period, you may need some drink inspiration. These cocktail recipes from the Second World War are sure to get the party started!


    Christmas drinks

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    Christmas day – once you’ve read out the jokes from your crackers, do the family run out of things to talk about? This year, you can dazzle them with some fascinating facts. They come from my Little Book of Berkshire, but they are guaranteed to enthral even the even the farthest-flung relative. To add to the excitement, they are in no order whatsoever ...

    Slough’s car industry (what do you mean ‘what car industry?’) gave us one of the fastest and one of the slowest cars ever seen on our roads. The Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 was built in the town. So too was the Citroen Bijou – basically a Citroen 2CV with a heavy glassfibre body, said to be capable of about 45 m.p.h. on a good day (a 0-60 figure was obtainable only by pushing it off a tall building).

    The Little Book of Berkshire

    Berkshire’s first recorded football match took place in 1598 at North Moreton. It was rather uninhibited. One of the participants, a priest called Ould Gunter, was said to have murdered two of the opposition with a dagger – marking your opponent really meant something in those days. As far as we know, he did not even get shown a red card for it.

    One of the alleged inspirations for Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, was said to be a man called Jarman, landlord of the Ostrich Inn, Colnbrook. He would get his more affluent guests drunk, tuck them up in his best blue room, then tip them from their beds, through a trapdoor into a vat of boiling water. He was hanged for fifteen counts of murder by this means, though he boasted that the real number was around sixty.

    The Little Book of Berkshire

    Celebrity ghost-spotters can do no better than to visit Windsor Castle. Among the many aristocratic ghosts encountered there over the years are Elizabeth I, George III, Charles I (reunited with his head after death) and Queen Victoria. Henry VIII is said to walk the battlements, disappearing through a solid wall where a door used to be.

    The commonly named Bloodless Revolution of 1688, when William of Orange drove the unpopular James II out of the country, was anything but bloodless in Reading. A pitched battle was fought in the streets of the town, between William’s Dutch troops and Irish mercenaries hired by James. The locals even joined in, firing on the Irish from the upper storeys of their houses. About fifty-three of the Irish were killed in the battle.

    That’s quite enough excitement for one Christmas. Perhaps you’d better go and have a lie-down in a darkened room.

    The Little Book of Berkshire

    Stuart Hylton is the author of The Little Book of Berkshire. He has twenty books to his credit on subjects as diverse as motoring, the Home Front in the Second World War, the 1950s, battles and nostalgia. He was born in Windsor and now lives in Reading, Berkshire.

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  • 12/31/14--03:30: The history of Hogmanay
  • Hogmana, hoguemennay, hagmenay, hug-me-nay, huigmanay, hagmonick, hangmanay, huggeranohni, hog ma nae; these are some of the configurations used over the past 450 years for that mysterious word we now agree to spell as ‘Hogmanay’. But where does it come from, and what does it mean, with its embodiment of the spirit of the Caledonian New Year’s Eve, when the Scots celebrate with whisky, music, dancing and good cheer, and the rest of the world is very welcome to join in, if it pleases?



    Today we agree to call the last day of the Scottish year ‘Hogmanay’, whose evening is celebrated in a very particular and distinctive way. Towards midnight, people with the will and the stamina gather together in homes, hotels, hostelries and halls; and outdoors in streets, parks, towns and cities – in the present case of Edinburgh in crowds of close to 100,000 individuals. There may be a ceilidh dance, a street concert – or, for those at home, a ‘TV special’. Then come ‘the Bells’ – the universal term for the moment of transition between the Old Year and the New – and members of crowds link arms to sing Auld Lang Syne, or at least the song’s first verse and chorus, then repeat the chorus with increasing rapidity until it becomes a wild chant. Drams may be taken, to top up the drink that has already been consumed, and New Year’s Day will be spent, by some at least, recovering from Hogmanay excess.

    Hogmanay nowadays is a highlight of a holiday period which begins at Christmas and continues through as far as 4 January, depending on where the weekends fall, though shops and supermarkets are kept open most of the time. But, in many parts of Scotland, people in their sixties and beyond will tell you that, when they were children, New Year alone was the time for midwinter celebration – with widespread first-footing, baking and special meals – and that Christmas was hardly recognised. This is not surprising, first because Christmas only became an official public holiday in Scotland in 1958, and second because it was banned as a festival by the Reformed Church in 1560. Despite the defiance of individuals and communities, and the relative laxity of the clergy in some places, it never recovered the vitality it had before it was proscribed. The contemporary Scottish Christmas is essentially the Victorian version – with the tree, the cards and the wrapped presents – but, before the Reformation, Christmas was generally called Yule, which was also the name for a more extended period, a time of sometimes wild celebration which could last from several days before the feast of Christmas itself until well into January, when people would carouse, start fires, make special foods, and ramble the streets in disguise, to the alarm of more sober citizens.

    After the banning of Christmas, many of the Yule customs connected to it were shifted into the New Year period, a time when seasonal celebrations were still relatively tolerated by the authorities. So, in Scotland, New Year became a melting pot for activities that had previously extended over a period of a couple of weeks or more, during which Hogmanay – Oidhche Challuinn in Gaelic – was just one pivotal point among a whole range of festivities.

    The history of Hogmanay is an interesting one and I want to look at the rich and varied ways in which Midwinter is still celebrated in Scotland, as well as going back in time to show what, in the past, was an enormous variety of activity, rom Guising and New Year’s Day sports, to divination and flaming tar barrels. Many different voices can be heard. Some speak in open disapproval, condemning practices they see as heathen or Popish; others report without comment; and there are those who openly celebrate customs which are a part of the lives of their own communities. Clergymen, antiquarians, lexicographers, folklorists, travellers, journalists, storytellers, singers and songwriters: what fine talk they would make at a Hogmanay gathering – if only they could be gathered together – exchanging old tales and personal reminiscences; and occasionally, to add spice to the rich black bun of conversation, disputing among themselves, as Presbyterian strictness at the one extreme wrangled with hedonistic devil-maycare at the other.

    The Little Book of Hogmanay

    Bob Pegg is the author of The Little Book of Hogmanay- a feast of information exploring the history, folklore, tales, customs, food, drink and celebrations of Hogmanay, from its pagan roots to its pagan present. Whether you need a user’s guide or an anthology of entertainment, The Little Book of Hogmanay will tell you all you ever wanted to know about Scotland’s most widely, and wildly, celebrated festival.

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  • 01/01/15--03:00: New Year's resolutions
  • blank page, coffee cup

    January is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new so it is fitting that the majority of people use the dawning of a new year as both  a moment to reflect over the year gone by and an opportunity to make changes. 

    A new month offers the perfect opportunity to look forward across the year and answer the question ‘How can we keep up our momentum this year in the things that we do?’ There were many significant anniversaries last year and January provides an ideal opportunity to look back at both what you have achieved so far but also to provide the momentum and impetus for the changes that you still want or need to take place. If you have a date to work towards, your motivation and willpower remains on a high and clearly, using special dates and anniversaries can be a powerful motivational tool and can provide the push that is needed to complete your goals. 

    30 days may feel like a long time to give up chocolate but maybe it's just the right length of time to start that book you've been meaning to write, or maybe you have some old photos hidden away that need sorting through? The new year is the perfect time to knuckle down and add some flesh to the bones of that project you have been working on (or putting off!).

    When starting a new project, structure and planning is essential but not very exciting. The difficulty can arise when trying to maintain enthusiasm beyond the first flush of interest, and so we asked our authors how they maintain their enthusiasm when researching and writing their books. We have condensed their experience into 12 top tips on staying motivated and maintaining momentum which are perfect for getting you started on that project that you have been avoiding. 

    Plus, if you do fall off the wagon with your resolutions,  console yourself with the thought that you are not alone. Richard Wiseman, a well-known psychologist,  discovered that 52% of people making New Year's resolutions were confident they'd stick it out. Yet only 12% did. So why bother? New Year's resolutions are ‘a triumph of hope over experience’  and a way of assessing how far you have come.

    If all else fails just remind yourself that giving up stuff for a month, probably won’t do you much good anyway…  

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    Manorialism word cloud

    As we discussed in our last blog 'Manorialism - where did it all begin?' lordship titles originate from the Roman occupation of Britain, about 39AD.


    Roman Law

    Roman law of property was extremely simple.  If you were in control and/or in possession of a piece of property you owned it.  This was the same for rights as physical property as they made not distinction.

    Legal rights were created through a practice being used and enforced over a considerable period of time.  This created a custom or legal right.  This was known as custom law. 


    Saxon/Danish Law

    With the Roman withdrawal in the fourth century, the Saxons claimed Britain as theirs.  They were not as sophisticated a race as the Romans and it is believed, but cannot be categorically proved, that the Saxons merely adopted the Roman law.  Historians refer back to this period as being Saxon or Danelaw.


    Norman Law

    After the Norman Conquest a new land legal system was introduced using much of the existing British/Saxon system.  The principle change was that the Crown owned all property and land in England.  Crown land required no proof of ownership but where the Crown wished land to be managed by a lord a grant would be issued subject to the Crown remaining the only true owner.  In return for the grants of land the Crown would require a service or sum in tax.

    The grant would be written into a deed and therein proof of ownership was identified.  Prior to this time and even after it lords would swap or convey lordships/manors with a ceremony on the edge of the manor.  A twig or turf from the manor being handed to the new lord as a symbol that the transaction had taken place.  This practice was still seen as late as the thirteenth century.

    Lordships and manors regularly changed hands and a conveyance was drawn up in writing confirming the transactions.  With the conveyance the deeds that already existed proving ownership were passed to the recipient.  The one relinquishing title would keep a copy of the deeds and conveyance to prove he was no longer liable for the taxes and fealty.  In addition a record was made in the manorial court to confirm the transaction had occurred and the new lord appointed.  This system of land management was called copyhold.

    Each transaction involved three legal entities; the physical land, rights against the land, the lordship (responsibility to collect taxes and fealty).  If the land and/or rights against the land were conveyed away from the lordship then this was defined at subinfeudation.  The lord conveying the parts would become an overlord and stand between the lord who owned the land and the Crown.


    Modern Law

    This section will be divided by the various acts of Parliament that changed the law affecting the rights (incorporeal property) pertaining to a manorial lordship (including the right to the titles).


    Statute of Merton 1235

    This enabled occupiers of manors/lordships to gain good title.  The statute limited actions for recovery of land by writ to 70 years.  This also included the rights that came with a lordship.


    Statute of Westminster 1275

    Defines the date of living memory (also time immemorial or legal memory) as 3 September 1189 (the date of the coronation of King Richard I).  Lordships and manorial rights could therefore be claimed if deeds dated back to this date.


    Statute of Quia Emptores 1290

    A lordship could no longer be created from an existing one.  The only exception to this is where a lord leaves only daughters and then the lordship may be split into moieties (portions) of the original lordship.


    Abolition of Tenures Act 1660

    Convert the fealty/service that some lords had to pay into taxes.  The lordship titles were not affected by the act.


    Conveyancing Act 1881

    Enabled the lordship and land rights to be assumed to be conveyed if the land of the manor was.  This could not be assumed before this date and each of the three elements had to be listed separately.  This was removed with the Law of Property Act 1922.


    Law of Property Acts 1922/5

    Abolished copyhold title and converted it into freehold.  All manorial rights relating to the land and the lordships were disconnected from the physical land in preparation for land registration.  Land rights and lordships could no longer be assumed to be attached to the physical land and also must be conveyed by a separate deed to the physical land.


    Limitations Act 1939

    This Act removed a limitation period for recovery of any rights relating to a manor/lordship for rights owned by anyone except the Crown.


    Statute Law Repeals Act 1986

    This Act removed a limitation period for recovery of any rights relating to a manor/lordship for rights owned by anyone except the Crown.


    Land Registration Act 2002

    This closed the manorial lordship register maintained by the HM Land Registry in 2003 and manorial rights 2013.

    The result of the legislation above means a set of deeds are required back to 1189 (or a later Crown grant) to prove ownership of a lordship.  This means that nearly all lordships cannot be proved to any particular owner.

    Lordship titles as legal entities have been created by the existence of the lordship and the owner of the lordship (and their spouse) being referred to as lord and lady.  Like the other manorial rights they can be dealt with separately to all other manorial rights.  This means that a set of lordship titles can be traded like any other property.


    To find out how Manorial Counsel Limited have researched the law to identify a way around the issues created by the current manorial law please visit our website at

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    Some of the biggest challenges that crop up when making lifestyle changes, however big or small, are related to motivation (or the lack thereof!) and maintaining your momentum can be one of the most difficult things to do. We asked our authors for their tips and they provided 12 top tips, to keep you motivated and on track with your goals. 

    1. Turn off the internet and avoid social networks. Facebook and Twitter are not your friend.

    2. Just start writing. The hardest part is getting started but you can’t edit what isn't there, so get something down on paper or on screen.

    3. Discipline is key. Think about your aims and write goals to reflect them.

    4. Practice makes perfect. Like any skill, writing needs to be done regularly to see any kind of improvement. Writing every day helps to keep you focused and ensures that you don’t stray from your objectives (see above)

    5. Stop writing when you are not quite through with what you want to say. Apparently Ernest Hemingway used this technique which he outlines in ‘A Moveable Feast’; 'I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it'

    6. Enjoy what you are writing about. If you are genuinely passionate about your subject, it will show in your writing and it will be more engaging for your readers.

    7.Share your research with an interested audience and get some feedback. Whether it is positive or critical, it will help to refine your writing and improve your book.

    8. Working to a schedule with firm deadlines helps you focus; it is amazing how much easier it is to write when your deadline is looming!

    9. Being professional makes all the difference. Don’t just sit in your pyjamas to write, however tempting it may be, as your prose could end up as slovenly as your clothes…

    10. Saying that, flexibility is key. If a chapter isn't working, try focusing on another one to shake off that mental block. Doing other exciting things can also help shake you out of a creative stupor; and a visit to a key location can get those creative juices flowing!

    11. Have a genuine desire to share stories and remember history.

    12. Perhaps most importantly, reward yourself with good food and drink. Our authors suggest coffee, cookies or hot chocolate with a Flake…

    Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter and share your tips for getting, and staying motivated.

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  • 01/07/15--11:00: Jazz and Dark Briggate Blues
  • Jazz. To some it’s beautiful, to others it’s a dirty word...


    To some it’s beautiful, to others it’s a dirty word. For Dan Markham, the main character in Dark Briggate Blues, it’s the staff of life.

    He discovered the music in the late 1940s, thanks to an American PFC he met in Germany while performing his National Service, and it was love at first listen.

    The angular piano of Thelonious Monk, the haunted voice of Billie Holiday, the kick of the Basie Band on “One O’Clock Jump,” the smoothness of Ella Fitzgerald; all the facets of the music resonate deep inside him.

    In 1954, when the book is set, it was music that few in England knew. Even fewer cared. The country had its own jazz stars, like Ken Colyer, but their music looked back to the New Orleans birth of jazz with Dixieland or Trad Jazz (as it was often known). The newer stuff was simply for the strange. It was difficult to find. Nowhere in Leeds would have stocked more than a disc or two; for anything worthwhile, mail order from Dobell’s in London was the only way to buy. It was slow and it was expensive.

    One thing Leeds did have, though, was a jazz club. The Studio 20 of Dark Briggate Blues did exist, in a cellar – and let’s face it, all the best music clubs are in cellars – at 20, New Briggate. It was run by a jazz aficionado called Bob Barclay and open seven nights a week. Some well-known names, like singer George Melly, did make appearances. Musicians who worked in the pit orchestras at City Varieties or the Grand, and others from local dance bands would have come to jam once their paying gigs were done for the evening.

    In New York, jazz had been a staple of nightlife since the days of the speakeasies in the 1920s. The Cotton Club in Harlem had sophistication (and was, incidentally, owned by some born in Leeds, the gangster Owney Madden), which the clubs along 52nd Street in midtown Manhattan had style an ambience.

    From photos of the place, Studio 20 had none of those things. No special lighting, no bandstand. No one in evening dress. It was simply a very provincial English jazz club, a place not only for faithful listeners, but for a jazz community, where the musical outsiders could feel at home. And in his love of jazz, Markham is an outsider.

    So many, certainly in the mainstream, thought it was nothing more than noise, much the way they’d view rock’n’roll just a short time after this. It was never going to bother the pops charts, which had only begun two years before. And it was unlikely to be played on the Home Service, although they’d develop a taste for a few morsels of trad jazz. If you wanted jazz, or blues, on the radio, you had to find a Voice of America broadcast.

    The music is vital to the book. It’s vital to Dan Markham. It defines him more than anything else. He enjoys his job, but work comes and goes. A case is a case; when it’s over, it’s time to move on to the next one. But jazz is always there in his life. It’s the constant. It’s home.

    And Studio 20 is home away from home.


    Dan’s music:

    * Miles Davis – Round Midnight

    * Ella Fitzgerald – Blues In The Night

    * Bud Powell – Un Poco Loco

    * Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump

    * Billy Eckstine – Stormy Monday

    * Charlie Parker – Donna Lee

    * Sarah Vaughan – Someone To Watch Over Me

    * Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk

    * Duke Ellington – Prelude To A Kiss

    * Tubby Hayes – Round About Midnight

    * Ella Fitzgerald – Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me

    * Coleman Hawkins – Body And Soul

    * Dexter Gordon – A Night In Tunisia

    * Lester Young – A Foggy Day In London Town

    * George Shearing – How High The Moon

    * Art Tatum – I Got Rhythm

    * Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child

    * Thelonious Monk – Round About Midnight

    The list is available to play on Spotify here and is also available on YouTube here.

    Dark Briggate Blues: A Dan Markham Mystery by Chris Nickson

    Chris Nickson is the author of Dark Briggate Blues, which is set in Leeds 1954. When Joanna Hart came into his office, enquiry agent Dan Markham thought it would be an easy case. All the blonde with red lips and swinging hips wanted was to know if her husband was unfaithful. But when the man is killed, Markham’s involvement makes him suspect number one. As the evidence piles against him, he realises someone has set him up. In a deadly game, Markham has to battle to keep his client and himself alive. All he can rely on are his wits and the rusty skills he acquired during his National Service in military intelligence. But can he hope to be any match against a killer who has spies on every corner of Leeds and a reach that goes all the way to Whitehall?

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    Bloody British History: Suffolk


    Robert Leader will be at Waterstones, Bury St Edmunds on Saturday 17th January 15 signing copies of his new book, Bloody British History: Suffolk

    Suffolk has one of the most amazing histories of any British county. Betrayals, conspiracies and invasions have left their mark on this eastern frontier. Discover how vicious power struggles between the Danes and the Vikings shaped the history of not just the county, but the United Kingdom as a whole. Read of the troublesome Bigod dynasty, the Suffolk city under the sea and the strange story of the thousands of burnt corpses that washed up on the county’s beaches during the Second World War. 

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  • 01/09/15--05:00: The Friday Digest 09/01/15
  • THP Friday digest

    Happy new year from The History Press! This week's update features the beautiful and mysterious Lady of Elche, the 'unkillable soldier' who fought in three major conflicts and some 2015 digital publishing predictions. 



    2014: the year in archaeology 

    The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem.


    * The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem.

    Caistor Collage ©D. A. Edwards, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk


    * Six sites that help us better understand Roman entertainment.


    Constance Wilde in Heidelberg in 1896

    * The sudden death of the wife of Oscar Wilde at the tender age of 40 has long been a mystery but private family letters have unearthed medical evidence which point towards the likely cause of her death

    The mysterious Lady of Elche

    * The beautiful and mysterious Lady of Elche.


    5000 medieval coins - photo from Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club 

    Over 5,000 medieval coins were discovered on a farm in Buckinghamshire last month, thought to be one of the largest hoards of Anglo Saxon coins ever found in Britain. 

    The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem

     * If you knew you were unexpectedly leaving your home for the very last time, what would you take with you?

    De Wiart

    * Adrian Carton de Wiart: the unkillable, one-eyed, one-handed war hero who fought in three major conflicts across six decades

    Bernard Jordan served in the Royal Navy

    D-Day veteran 'escapee' Bernard Jordan has died at the age of 90

    Evacuation was voluntary, but the fear of bombing, the closure of many urban schools and the organised transportation of school groups helped persuade families to send their children away to live with strangers. The schoolchildren in this photograph assembled at Myrdle School in Stepney at 5am on 1 September 1939. The adults accompanying them are wearing arm bands, which identify them as volunteer marshals. D 1939A


    * The evacuated children of the Second World War

    Presley, mutton-chopped and fuller-faced, sings into a handheld microphone. A golden lei is draped around his neck, and he wears a high-collared white jumpsuit resplendent with red, blue, and gold bangles. Presley in Aloha from Hawaii, broadcast live via satellite on January 14, 1973. The singer himself came up with his famous outfit's eagle motif, as "something that would say 'America' to the world."

    * The King at 80: why America couldn't let Elvis go ... 

    Creative Review Your Life On Earth

    Your life on Earth: how you and the world have changed since you were born

    Ugly Animals

    * We can't all be pandas! Meet the world's ugliest endangered animals and the campaign to save them ... 



    * Famous self-portrait paintings turned into selfies

    Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. Flickr: alpharich / Creative Commons

    Sixteen gorgeous locations from Pride And Prejudice that you can actually visit

    Which Classic Literary Heroine Are You?

    * Which literary heroine are you?


    The Bennets take the country air in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but is this the classic read for you? Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex


    Which classic book would be perfect for you?  


    All the joy has been sapped out of English GCSE. Photograph: George Blonsky/Alamy

    * 'I love books so why do I hate studying English GCSE?' 

     A Year of Books

    Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has set up a book club on the social networking site, which attracted more than 120,000 likes in three days.


    Kate Saunders, who has won the Costa Children's Book Award for Five Children on the Western Front


    * Kate Saunders's son Felix committed suicide in 2012. A year later she began to write Five Children on the Western Front, a children's book about the First World War.


    E-reader and books. When you include 'digital audio books, book apps and digital academic textbooks, and we see a sector broadening not wilting'. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian 

    Do you agree with Philip Jones that ebooks are champions of the printed word?  


    Your 2015 digital publishing predictions and questions for Seth Godin and Mary Ann Naples

    James Patterson

    World Book Day launches inaugural award with £50,000 donation from bestselling author James Patterson.


    Best of 2014

    A ranking of the best literary moments of 2014.


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

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    Lady Butler's stirring, late-Victorian depiction of one of the epic events of the battle - the charge of the Scots Greys.


    The two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo rapidly approaches, a battle that has probably had more written about it than any other in history and yet it seems that the more we study this battle, the less we actually understand it. This conundrum  has arisen due to many factors and has caused us to grow up with a very distorted version of the battle and of the whole campaign.

    History it is often said is written by the victors, it therefore becomes very complicated when four countries claim the victory!

    The British rapidly claimed the lion’s share of the victory and early reports which praised equally the Prussian effort, quickly changed into a claim that although the Prussians had started to arrive, the British had won the battle before they broke out of Plancenoit, hence had won it alone.

    The Prussians were soon to recognise this downgrading of their involvement and were soon making counter claims regarding Wellington’s slow reactions to the news of invasion, his failure to support the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny and that Wellington would have lost without Prussian intervention because it was they who had broken through the French lines to ensure victory.

    The Dutch/Belgians (the Kingdom of the Netherlands incorporating both countries at this time) received a poor press from the British and were roundly accused of being cowards and many being secretly in league with the French. However in their defence, they pointed to the fact that it was their troops who had staunchly held Quatre Bras long enough for Wellington’s forces to deploy there, that they initially had more troops in Hougoumont defending that vital farmhouse than there were British troops, and that their troops were vital in defeating one of the attacks of the French Imperial Guard which signalled the end of the battle.

    But the waters were further muddied by both opposing parties in France. The Royalists sought to besmirch Napoleon’s reputation, with every failing of the entire campaign being assigned to him personally, whereas Napoleon and his supporters sought to absolve him of any blame, blaming every failing on his poor marshals.

    It can therefore be readily understood that throughout Europe different versions of the Waterloo campaign were heard, indeed even today many Germans believe that Waterloo was a German victory and that Wellington has usurped their rightful laurels.

    But beyond the claims and counter claims of these various factions a new and very powerful influence also began to work upon the history of the campaign. The Battle of Waterloo led to a veritable explosion of material in both the press and in popular literature. Because of improved literacy levels huge numbers of both officers and rankers wrote home with their version of the battle which merely fuelled an increased appetite for even more. Soon anthologies of these accounts were in print, such as The Battle of Waterloo By a Near Observer, which ran through no less than 10 editions in three years. The field of Waterloo soon became a place of pilgrimage and as the relics of war soon sold out, locals found a good living as tour guides. But such guides, with no real knowledge of the struggle, gave a very distorted and confused version of events which in turn distorted the story sent home by the numerous visitors.

    Amongst this avalanche of visitors were numerous artists, poets and novelists, who all penned their own versions, amongst the most illustrious visitors were Turner, Southey, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

    But the man who undoubtedly exerted the greatest influence by far, unfortunately mostly detrimental, to the understanding of Waterloo is undoubtedly Victor Hugo. Hugo stayed on the battlefield and visited every corner of it and recorded all of the stories and myths propagated by the locals in a section of his great work Les Miserables. Unfortunately, such a successful and well read book has therefore had a devastating effect on the public imagination and many of his statements have now become part of the official narrative of the battle. The French wounded being mercilessly tossed into the well of Hougoumont, the dreadful chasm which the French cavalry fell into during their great charges, the final stand of the Old Guard, are all myths perpetrated by him and now believed by millions.

    But it is now high time that the history of this battle is corrected and rewritten with all of the new information that has been uncovered over the last decade. Almost unbelievably, over 500 eyewitness accounts of the battle have been published or translated for the first time into English in the last ten years and the information gleaned has altered our understanding of many aspects of the battle, sometimes very radically. It is therefore hoped that when the media pick up the story, as they surely will for a short period in June 2015, they do not simply regurgitate the tired old discredited story, but embrace the new evidence to re-educate the masses and help generate a resurgence in popular interest in one of the most fascinating periods in history.

     Waterloo in 100 Objects

    Gareth Glover is a fifty four year old ex Royal Navy officer who has studied the Waterloo campaign for nearly forty years. He is now acknowledged as the foremost authority on Waterloo material held within the British archives and has published over forty books of previously unpublished or very rare soldiers’ memoirs. He has recently published his critically acclaimed revised history of the Waterloo campaign, entitled Waterloo, Myth and Reality and The History Press will publish his sumptuously illustrated book Waterloo in 100 Objects in April 2015.

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    Today, property and cultural heritage protection is paramount, meaning that the mere idea of ripping down a building of historical significance isn't a fathomable possibility. That landlords would tear down houses, politicians bulldoze gothic-spired churches or army officials blitz beautiful buildings isn't something that threatens the architecture of today.

    Yet throughout history we see patterns of buildings subject to the whims of irrational landowners or the destruction of war - with no protection in place to assure their reconstruction. Across the globe our lands are littered with the remnants and memories of ravaged buildings. But where exactly are these buildings we're now missing? And why were they torn down?

    Shakespeare’s Home in Stratford

    Shakespeare’s home in Stratford

    The well documented and visited birthplace of Shakespeare plays stage to an influx of thousands of foreign and domestic visitors each year. As the most notable wordsmith in history, it’s little wonder that tourists find this small middle-England town of interest.

    Yet very little is written, or even said, of the house which Shakespeare owned during his adult life; the home in which he eventually retired and died in 1616.

    New Place was purchased by Shakespeare for the sum of £60 back in 1597, and housed his wife and children before he eventually retired there in 1610. After his regrettable death and the subsequent passing of his wife Anne, the house moved into several different hands before eventually becoming the property of Reverend Francis Gastrell. Gastrell quickly tired of the number of visitors stopping outside to gawk at the house where Shakespeare lived, and after a few squabbles with local townsfolk, tore the place down in 1759.

    As very is little known about how the house would have looked at the time, the space has been left empty, and those who visit the site are required to envision “the forms of things unknown” via the power of imagination. (More details about New Place can be seen here).

    The Library of Alexandria


    The library of Alexandria

    From what we are able to understand today, The Library of Alexandria was built to be the greatest collection of knowledge in the ancient world; a place where our great thinkers gathered to study, to wander in the gardens and to peruse the stacks of papyrus scrolls that lined the walls of the reading rooms. 

    The damage inflicted upon this elaborate structure is still considered symbolic for the burning of public knowledge, and has gone down in history as a tragedy for modern historians who have lost the chance to explore the reading list of our ancestors.

    The precise details of how this historic building fell are blurry; popular theories tend to point the finger at Julius Caesar, the army of Amr ibn al ‘Aas and Emperor Theodosius separately. All we do know is that the building was wiped out by fire, and the scrolls which were salvaged eventually suffered subsequent damage in their various new homes.

    Nowadays a new library exists in its space in Egypt, in memory of the building we’re missing.


    King Minos’ labyrinth

    As children we’re told tales of Ancient Greece, and most often the nightmare-inducing tale of the infamous Minotaur kept by King Minos of Crete. As the legend tells it, King Minos kept this half man, half bull creature inside a complex set of corridors known at the labyrinth, where the beast would capture and feast on the King’s victims. The Minotaur was eventually slayed by cunning Prince Theseus.

    Although the story we’re told is fictitious, King Minos and his palace did actually exist. The Palace of Knossos has been excavated by archaeologists many times, who believe that perhaps the complex and haphazard structure of the palace provided inspiration for the mythical labyrinth.

    Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed – potentially by a fire – and rebuilt on a grander, yet smaller, scale in 1700BCE. Though what’s left of this palace today is just remnants of the magnificent building it once was, visitors can still explore this legendary structure – nearby the popular town of Malia. (More information about the Palace of Knossos and its current state can be read here).




    As far as cities which underwent brutal bombings during WW2 go, Dresden takes the crown. Thousands of explosives blitzed this beautiful baroque town, rendering it a mass of crumbled brick and mortar.

    Yet not all of Dresden’s buildings suffered from the plights of war. In a town brimming with baroque architecture, the sole gothic inspired church – the Sophienkirche – managed to survive relatively unscathed, with minimal, reparable damages to the building’s structure.

    Yet in 1962, the words of one architecturally-insensitive politician brought the Sophienkirche crashing down, after he commented ‘a socialist city does not need gothic churches’.

    The Postplatz area in which the Sophienkirche stood is now a rather unattractive 1990s office building – and no traces of the great, twin-spired church survive.


    Hollie Mantle is a travel writer who has just moved back to London after three years of writing and teaching in Japan. 

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    Northumberland Folk Tales


    Malcolm Green will be at Waterstones, Hexham on Saturday 31st January signing copies of his new book, Northumberland Folk Tales


    These folk tales reflect the wild and secret character of between two countries and two worlds. The book other magical characters such as the Netherwitton worm who guards a secret well and the Hedley Kow that plays audacious tricks on humans. Accompanying these, there is the sound of human feet; saints seek refuge, ancient kings fight for land and salvation, and border folk pit themselves against one another with both wit and sword. Illustrated with thirty beautiful and evocative drawings by Rachel Edwards, this panoply of characters, together with ghosts, witches and the land itself, is brought to life by professional storyteller Malcolm Green. 

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    Dark Briggate Blues


    Chris Nickson will be at Waterstones, Leeds on 6th February from 6.30pm launching his new book,Dark Briggate Blues: A Dan Markham Mystery

    Leeds, 1954: When Joanna Hart came into his office, enquiry agent Dan Markham thought it would be an easy case. All the blonde with red lips and swinging hips wanted was to know if her husband was unfaithful. But when the man is killed, Markham’s involvement makes him suspect number one. As the evidence piles against him, he realises someone has set him up. In a deadly game, Markham has to battle to keep his client and himself alive. All he can rely on are his wits and the rusty skills he acquired during his National Service in military intelligence. But can he hope to be any match against a killer who has spies on every corner of Leeds and a reach that goes all the way to Whitehall? 

    Music is an essential part of the book. It’s vital to Dan Markham. It defines him more than anything else. He enjoys his job, but work comes and goes. A case is a case; when it’s over, it’s time to move on to the next one. But jazz is always there in his life. It’s the constant. It’s home. Click here to see more about jazz and Dark Briggate Blues

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