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The History Press blog

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    Death in Disguise: The Amazing True Story of the Chelsea Murders


    Gary Powell will at the London Guildhall Library on Thursday 12th February from 6-8pm giving a talk and signing copies of his book, Death in Disguise: The Amazing True Story of the Chelsea Murders

    Victorian Chelsea was a thriving commercial and residential development, known for its grand houses and pleasant garden squares. Violent crime was unheard of in this leafy suburb. The double murder of an elderly man of God and his faithful housekeeper in two ferocious, bloody attacks in May of 1870 therefore shook the residents of Chelsea to the core. This volume examines the extraordinary case, one which could have leapt straight from the pen of Agatha Christie herself: the solving of the crime relied on the discovery of a packing box dripping with blood, and the capture of a mysterious French nephew.

    Compiled by a former detective, it looks at the facts: no direct evidence to place the suspect at either of the crime scenes; no weapon recovered; no motive substantiated. It lets you, the reader, decide: would you, on the evidence presented, have sent the same man to the gallows?

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    The Dublin King


    John Ashdown-Hill will be at Dublin Cathedral on Thursday 12th February launching his new book, The Dublin King: The True Story of Edward Earl of Warwick, Lambert Simnel and the 'Princes in the Tower'


    A year after Richard III’s death, a boy claiming to be a Yorkist prince appeared as if from nowhere, claiming to be Richard III’s heir and the rightful King of England. In 1487, in a unique ceremony, this boy was crowned in Dublin Cathedral, despite the Tudor government insisting that his real name was Lambert Simnel and that he was a mere pretender to the throne. Now, in The Dublin King, author and historian John Ashdown-Hill questions that official view. Using new discoveries, little-known evidence and insight, he seeks the truth behind the 500-year-old story of the boy-king crowned in Dublin. He also presents a link between Lambert Simnel’s story and that of George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Richard III. On the way, the book sheds new light on the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, before raising the possibility of using DNA to clarify the identity of key characters in the story and their relationships. 

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    In 1954 the Second World War had been over for nine years. But in England you’d hardly have known it. The final phase of rationing only ended halfway through the year. In so many cities the damage of wartime bombing was still brutally evident. The war remained one of the constant topics of conversation. Every male over a certain age had fought in it. For some it was still the high point of their lives.

    And, of course, there were many more who hadn’t come home when peace was declared.

    In 1945, possibly remembering the failed promises of 1918, Labour had been elected to power in a landslide victory and created the Welfare State. But they’d lost to the Tories and now – finally - there was a huge wave of house building for all those young families. More and more old slums were being demolished. We were making the transition from the Britain of a distant past and putting our feet very tentatively into the present.

    With the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, television had become part of the public consciousness. Employment was good and people had disposable income, possibly the first generation where that was the case en masse. And they spent it on things for their new houses, labour-saving devices. And motor cars to explore their green and pleasant land at leisure, even though public transport was still the way for most people.

    The real social revolution was still a decade away. There was the first stirring of youth culture with the Teddy Boys and their distinctive Edwardian dress (along with mutterings about juvenile delinquency and cosh boys, as some called them). But Britain didn’t have teenagers yet. Skiffle was starting to surface, thanks to Lonnie Donegan’s spots with Ken Colyer, but it would take a few years before it became a craze. Elvis had only just made his first commercial recordings for Sun Records. Rock’n’roll was the future for the young, but no one here had heard it yet.

    There was still National Service for young men, two years of uniform and discipline. British forces were scattered around the globe, some of them fighting (Korea had only ended the year before). They were boys when they left and men when they returned. As a boy you dressed as a boy. As a man you dressed like your father. That was the way of the world, and a job for life was still a plum to be sought.

    It was, in almost every way, a black and white world.

    The war cast a long shadow through life. Comics had soldiers beating the Jerries, the sense of make do and mend was still part of the everyday. The consumer society was starting, but it would take another generation for it to become the be all and end all.

    More people listened to the radio for entertainment than watched television. People read newspapers avidly. Holidays were almost invariably in Britain. Going abroad seemed like an adventure for the privileged, daring few. It was another, alien world on foreign shores and people didn’t want it – yet. We’d gladly huddled our shoulders into a smaller world. The Empire might be rapidly slipping away, but so many remembered when pink covered the map and were loath to accept the change. After all, we’d beaten the Germans…

    One thing it wasn’t was a classless society. The old order still presided, and would continue to do so for another 10 years at least.

    This is Dan Markham’s world. Out in the provinces, away from the centre of power, where in many ways little had changed since the start of the century. But as he discovers, things are beginning to move.


    Dark Briggate Blues by Chris Nickson

    This is the world of Dan Markham from new book ' Dark Briggate Blues'. Out in the provinces, away from the centre of power, where in many ways little had changed since the start of the century. But as he discovers, things are beginning to move.

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  • 01/16/15--03:25: The Friday Digest 16/01/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features Napoleon's letter of surrender from Waterloo, the legacy of Magna Carta and the seven deadly sins. 

    An image of an ancient letter written in black ink on yellow paper


    * Napoleon's letter of surrender from Waterloo is to go on public view at Windsor Castle later this month.

    A coloured etching of the battle of Waterloo (c) Getty Images

    * Upon the bicentenary of Waterloo, a search is being launched for Britons whose ancestors fought at the battle.

    Ruggero Settimo

    * 'The Sicilian Uprising' of 12 January 1848 marked the start of 'a year of European revolutions'.


    * 'Think only this': war poets witnessing a century of war at the British Library.

    John Fould's 1919-1921 composition A World Requiem designed to be a musical memorial for the dead.


    * Reframing First World War poetry

    Poster campaign against IWM library cuts

    * The poster campaign against the Imperial War Museum library cuts.  

    Celebrating 100 years of Ladybird books


    * Celebrating 100 years of Ladybird books

    German soldiers question Jews after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. In October 1940, the Germans began to concentrate Poland's population of over 3 million Jews into overcrowded ghettos. In the largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease and starvation, even before the Nazis began their massive deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe -- took place from April 19 until May 16 1943, and began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. It ended when the poorly-armed and supplied resistance was crushed by German troops. #  OFF/AFP/Getty Images


     * Heartbreaking images from the Holocaust

    Gunner Wilfrid Cove's two daughters in a photograph taken from his breast pocket (Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library)

    * History's most powerful and poignant letters and diary entries


    An edition of Murphy's translation of Mein Kampf, signed by Hitler


    * Why did my grandfather translate Mein Kampf

    The Magna Carta and its Legacy

    Magna Carta and its legacy.


    King John presenting a church, painted c.1250-59 by Matthew Paris in his Historia Anglorum


    *Attempts to rehabilitate ‘Bad’ King John always come up against a major stumbling block: the verdicts of his contemporaries

    Quintus Antonius Balbus (c. 82-83 BC)


    * Bankers' bonuses, Roman style ...  

    English Lottery 1566 Scroll.

    * The Italian roots of the lottery

    The execution of Robespierre


    * Robespierre and the 'Terror'.  

    The signs, such as this one in Leicester, were phased out after billboard technology was developed in the 1960s

    England's ghost signs: are old-fashioned painted adverts making a comeback

    Library of Birmingham

    * Birmingham: a city with no memory.

    The Cattle Market 1916 by Lionel Townsend Crawshaw (1864-1949)

    * Three centuries of Doncaster's history is to go on show with the opening of the 'Delightful Donny' display from 17 January.

     Eindhoven’s typeface can be seen all over the city. Photograph: Stuart Forster/Rex

    * The subliminal power of city fonts.

    Minack Theatre, Cornwall, England.

    * Amazing photographs of beautiful theatres from around the world

    Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, from whose point of view the story is told. ‘I can’t imagine there ever being another job like it, where you’re in every scene, pretty much,' he says. PHOTO: Giles Keyte

    * Wolf Hall: a look at Thomas Cromwell on screen and behind the scenes of the BBC production.  

    Sir Jack Hayward


    * Tributes have been made to Sir Jack Hayward, who has died at the age of 91, for his role in rescuing the SS Great Britain.  

    English murder mysteries that have baffled detectives

    * Five grisly unsolved English murders: from the skeleton of a woman in a hollowed-out tree to an unidentified torso in the River Severn. 

    Date: May 1911 Location: Tupelo, Mississippi Inez Johnson (9 years old) and Lily, her cousin (7 years old), both regularly worked as spoolers.


    * Thirty shocking photographs of child labour between 1908 and 1916.  

    bowie hair 2

    * Fifty years of David Bowie's changing hairstyles in one mesmerising GIF.  

    (via New York Public Library)

    * The questions librarians answered before the Internet

    Valor Ecclesiasticus illuminated heading, catalogue reference: E 344/22 f2 (top)

    * Illustrating history with the National Archives ...



    * Women having a terrible time at parties in Western art history.

    Winston Churchill by Amit Shimoni

    * Illustrator Amit Shimoni has re-imagined world leaders as hipsters and they're brilliant

    Lily Cole in The Last Days of Troy

    * The first episode of The Last Days of Troy, Simon Armitage's dramatisation of Homer's Iliad

    Great War Britain London: Remembering 1914-18

    * The best non-fiction books about London to read in January

    'V' Is for Very The rise of the shortest possible abbreviation and what it means for the future of English


    'V' Is for Very: the rise of the shortest possible abbreviation and what it means for the future of the English language


    Literature's finest anti-heroines



    * Which is the worst of the seven deadly sins? 

    * Women and leadership in publishing.

    Jaws by Peter Benchley  This design by Tom Lenartowicz may not have even been used, but when I spotted it on the Internet, I thought it was just perfect – witty, clean, inventive and shows how you can reimagine a classic.


    * Cover story: what was your favourite book jacket of 2014?

    21 Books To Read Before They Hit The Big Screen In 2015

    * Twenty-one books to read before they hit the big screen in 2015



    * Stylist magazine share their best new book releases of 2015

    <br><strong><a href="" target="_blank">The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian</a> </br></strong>By Sherman Alexie. A coming-of-age novel (illustrated by Ellen Forney) illuminates family
and heritage through
young Arnold Spirit,
torn between his life on
a reservation and his
largely white high school. The specifics are sharply drawn, but this novel, with its themes of self-discovery, speaks to young readers everywhere.

    * Time have gathered together their 100 best young-adult books of all time, but what would you add to the list?  


    * Is Canelo really a new hope for the publishing industry?  



    Five trade publishing predictions and the shape of things to come in 2015 for publishing. 


    Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle Content

    * Amazon says it's 'healthy to give publishers and authors, choice but do you agree?  


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

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  • 01/19/15--09:00: Q&A with Chris Nickson
  • Chris Nickson, author of Dark Briggate Blues

    Why write crime fiction?

    Crime fiction offers a good moral framework for a story, although it’s rarely just black and white. But it does offer a battlefield for the eternal struggle between good and evil, and in crime fiction the parameters are pretty much laid out. That’s not to say everything’s set. The pleasure comes in tweaking that a little.

    Where did the inspiration for Dark Briggate Blues come from?

    I’d been re-reading people like Chandler and Ross MacDonald, the real noir authors, and wondered why there’d been so little like that in this country. In part because we didn’t have similar types of violence, and no real gun crime to speak of. I also thought back to an old TV series called Public Eye, about a down-at-heel enquiry agent. I have a passion for 1950s jazz, especially Thelonious Monk, and learned about Studio 20, which existed in the ‘50s in Leeds. Ultimately it came down to wondering what 1950s English provincial noir might be like.

    How important is location (i.e. Leeds) in your book? 

    Location is incredibly important. This is my eighth book set in Leeds, and it’s always seemed like a character in my novels, as much as any person. I love the city, in all its periods, I feel I can know it in a way I’ll never know anywhere else I’ve lived. In some ways, every book I write is a love letter to Leeds. There’s quite a bit of me in this book, in small ways. Dan’s office is where my father had a business office for several years. His flat is in the building where I spent the first year of my life. Carla’s flat is one I lived in for a few months in the 1970s. And a house he visits is on the same street where I grew up. With this book I’m close enough to the present to be able to do that.


    What is your favourite book/What do you enjoy reading?

    I’m not sure I have a single favourite book. There are many I go back to regularly – John Lawton, Joanne Harris, early Louis de Bernières, Michael Ondaatje – and each give me different things. But I do read a lot of crime fiction; John Sandford is always good, and Elmore Leonard, it’s like cream. Typically I’ll read at least a couple of books a week – they know me well at the local library!


    Do you have a favourite author? Do you have a favourite fictional character?

    As above, a number of writers I’ll go back to regularly. As to a favourite character? No, I don’t think I do. Some stick in the mind more than others, but that’s as far as I’d go.

    How easy/difficult is it to write historical crime fiction?

    In some ways it’s easier, because there’s less technology to deal with. It’s a battle of wits, intellect, and energy, and that’s what I prefer. The difficulty, and the pleasure, is in the research. I’m a history buff, especially a Leeds history buff, so that part is a joy, and I have a good library of books on Leeds, and well as history in general. I try to make the book immersive, so the reader doesn’t just have the sense of the time, but also the sounds and smells. Doing that, and making the era come alive with small touches is the real challenge.


    Do you agree with David Baldacci that it is your responsibility as the author to write inaccuracies into your fiction, so that potential criminals do not replicate crimes?

    No, I’d disagree strongly. The roots of most crimes are gain or passion. My job as a writer is to make everything as alive and real as possible. Throwing in inaccuracies and falsehoods seems like a calculated betrayal.


    How do you avoid your characters becoming clichéd (e.g. the femme fatale, the jaded detective)?

    I think if you make a character three-dimensional, then they can’t be clichéd. But in Dark Briggate Blues I did deliberately try to avoid the detective stereotype. Markham’s single, but he’s not a drinker. He has his big passion – jazz – and indulges it. More than that, he’s young, still with energy and hope. He has a girlfriend, someone who’s out of the ordinary. And even Joanna Hart twists the femme fatale stereotype a little, I think, once the reader gets to know her. The joy for a writer is in the tweaking things away from the expected.

    Do you ever suffer from writers’ block? If so, how do you cope with it?

    Touch wood, I’ve never suffered from it. That might be due to a background in music journalism where there’s no time to be blocked. You have to get the words down on deadline and they have to be pretty good the first time. As an apprenticeship, that’s served me well. I write every single day of the year, and why not? I’m doing something I love, something I’ve always wanted to do.

    Have you ever based characters on people you know (e.g. an old enemy as the villain)?

    No, I’ve never done that, tempting as it might be sometimes. I’d only see the real person’s face instead, and the character would take on their mannerisms, and not be himself any more.

    How has social media helped you to market your book/you as an author?

    I’m a big fan of social media. I’m very active on Twitter and Facebook, and on the latter I have a personal page and author page. I try to engage people rather than just advertise my work. That seems a much better strategy, and I’ve made good friends online. It’s a way to build a community. I have a website and blog at least once a week, usually pieces of fiction related to Leeds. Adding content like that keeps people coming back.


    Finally, what next for Dan Markham?

    I’ve made a start on a new Dan Markham book, although it’s set in 1967. Why such a long gap? The setting feels right for the story. By then Dan is 38, still loving jazz, but a new generation has come along. Not just the Beatles, but the veneration of youth and he’s learning that he’s a man out of time. His passion for music, which used to be seem defiant to the mainstream, is now old hat. But it’s all just taking shape. And the world has become a slightly more violent place about him; he has to deal with that, too.


    Dark Briggate Blues By Chris Nickson

    Chris Nickson is the author of Dark Briggate Blues (2015) and The Crooked Spire (2013).

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    Remarkable events in Lichfield

    The Lichfield Book of Days takes a day-by-day look at what has happened in the city through the centuries. For each of the 366 days of the year an informative, humorous, tragic or sometimes downright strange occurrence in Lichfield has been documented. Books, letters of the famous and old newspapers have all yielded up fascinating facts about events that have taken place in the ancient City of Lichfield. Some of the entries go far back into the past, whilst others are more recent.

    For example the reader is transported to 672 AD, the year that St Chad died. He was, to all intents and purposes, the founder of the City and had arrived in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia to help establish the ‘new’ religion of Christianity, building his first church close to where Lichfield Cathedral now stands.

    In a more up-to-date event, in 2011, a new road was named after the young soldier tragically shot by an IRA gunman at the City’s railway station, twenty years before. The opening ceremony of Robert Davies Walk was attended by the soldier’s parents as well as many local dignitaries. 

    Many royal visits have taken place in the City over the years. December 25th 1397 saw King Richard II and his wife Queen Anne staying in a specially built house in Cathedral Close. Over the following twelve festive days the royal party feasted on 2000 oxen and 200 barrels of wine. Less than two years later the same King was kept prisoner in the City after being captured during the uprising led by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke.

    Other royal visitors noted in the book have included Elizabeth I, George IV, Victoria and Albert as well as the present Queen.

    In the ‘strange’ category Lichfield has been the scene of ghostly apparitions; the discovery of secret rooms; flying saucers appearing over the city and the very odd decision of the Regal cinema to show the film White Christmas in August 1955!

    Perhaps the best way to gauge the fortitude and determination of Lichfield’s inhabitants in the past is to read about how they reacted during the crisis years of the two world wars of the twentieth century. The long lists of First World War casualties published in the Lichfield Mercury, mostly young men from the local area, tug at the heartstrings even now; and the ways in which local people prepared themselves for the fight against Nazi Germany, at the start of the Second World War in September 1939, are truly inspiring.

    The Lichfield Book of Days

    Neil Coley is the author of 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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  • 01/23/15--03:25: The Friday Digest 23/01/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the 'Park of Monsters', bestiality in a time of smallpox and 'Kindle brain'.

    Ethel Lang

    * Ethel Lang, the last Victorian and Britain's oldest person, has died at the age of 114

    Much of what our society holds important was shaped in the nineteenth century – including some of our attitudes ...


    The idea of distant Victorian fathers with too much stiff upper lip to express love for their children was largely created by later generations


    * According to a new study, Victorian fathers were the original 'new men' rather than the distant and severe image that we tend to associate with them

    Mourners file past the flag-draped coffin of Sir Winston Churchill  Photo: Hulton/Getty


    * Was the death of Winston Churchill really the day that the British Empire died?  

    * Nine things you probably didn’t know about Winston Churchill

    The mystery of the 132-year-old Winchester rifle found propped against a national park tree

    * The mystery of the 132-year-old Winchester rifle found propped against a tree

    Shopping basket


    The 'shopping basket' through the ages

    WW1 website - A soldier who lost his arms in World War One learns from a child at Chailey Heritage Craft School to write with his feet SUS-141218-112248001

    * How youngsters helped the First World War wounded at Chailey Heritage.  

    Zeppelin L3, which 100 years ago released 10 high-explosive and incendiary bombs over East Anglia, causing the world’s first air raid casualties

    The Zeppelin: a terrifying new threat in the sky


    * From Zeppelins to barrel bombs: have things really changed?  

    The Halifax bomber at the bottom of a Norweigan Fjord Photo:

    A Second World War Halifax bomber lost in a raid to sink the Tirpitz has been found largely intact at the bottom of a fjord near Trondheim in Norway

    A US combat cameraman, featured in Night Will Fall. Photograph: Richard Blanshard/Channel 4

    * The Holocaust film, overseen by Alfred Hitchcock, that was too shocking to show.

    Women await liberation from Ravensbrück in March 1945. Photograph: Keystone-France/Getty Images


    * Hitler's war on women: the story of Ravensbrück concentration camp

    A Red Army doctor with a group of survivors at the gate to Auschwitz, shortly after the camp's liberation in January 1945. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images


    * Why Vladimir Putin should be at the Auschwitz memorial ceremony

    London in 1927, in colour


    * The historic video footage that shows how little – or much – our cities have changed through the years.  

    Pasaia, Guipuzcoa, circa 1950


    * Costa del concrete: the Mediterranean coastline then and now – in pictures

     Modern analysis has shown the true extent of Angkor, the most extensive urban settlement of pre-industrial times. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images


    What the collapse of ancient capitals can teach us about the cities of today

    An aerial view of St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, Argyll and Bute. The site was abandoned in 1980. Photograph: Alamy


    * The extraordinary ruins of St Peter's seminary, near Glasgow.  

    Photo: Pavlo Boyko/Creative Commons


    * The 'Park of Monsters' at Bomarzo in Italy

    London 2026 AD: This Is All In The air, by Montague B Black, 1926.


    The 1926 painting that foresaw how London would look today



    * Here's where you should live in London based on your personality type.

    Young graphic designers and artists are finding their way into hand-painted signs. Signwriting enthusiast Sam Roberts explains: ‘This is a generation that has grown up with computers at the heart of their work and who are seeking to engage with the physical processes that go into producing letter forms’ Photograph: Tristan Kerr

     * The revival of the hand-painted sign

    cross-sections of the scroll

    For the first time, words have been read from a burnt, rolled-up scroll buried by Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 thanks to an X-ray technique.

    The not unattractive Mark Rylance as a brooding Thomas Cromwell in the BBC Two adaptation of Wolf Hall


    * Big, bad wolf: why have we fallen for Thomas Cromwell

    John Gillray, 'The Cow-Pock', 1802. Welcome Library, London


    * Bestiality in a time of smallpox.  

    A pharaoh cop? A conservator said a gap between face and beard could now be seen on the mask of King Tutankhamun. Photograph: Mohamed El-Dakhakhny/AP

    * The beard on Tutankhamun's burial mask beard has been glued back on with epoxy after it was knocked during cleaning, say staff at Cairo museum

    Husband and Wife, Sunday Morning, Detroit, 1950. Photograph by Gordon Parks, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Gordon Parks Foundation


    * The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presents unseen photographs by Gordon Parks of black Americans during segregation

    Hazel Bryan and Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock, Arkansas, September 1957. Photograph by Will Counts/Indiana University Archives

    * Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan: what happened to the two girls in the most famous photo of the Civil Rights Era

    The Gunpowder Plot conspirators. Ambrose Rookwood, of Staningfield, was one of the chief financiers

    * 'Bloody Suffolk’ and the man at the heart of the Gunpowder Plot

    Edgar Wallace in 1914

    * King Kong author Edgar Wallace's links to the Birmingham Post


    Dark Briggate Blues, Chris Nickson, Inspector Tom Harper novels, Books, Authors, Yorkshire, Leeds, Literature


    * Jazz and murder in 1950s Leeds ... 


    1910 The Gibson Girl

    From 'Gibson Girls' to bootylicious: how the 'ideal' female body shape has changed over the past 100 years.

    Wendy Whitelaw, 1981, New York City

    * Revisiting Arthur Elgort’s most iconic fashion photos.

    Henrietta as Minerva holding a painting of Monsieur, by Antoine Mathieu [Source: Wikipedia]

    Deception, heartbreak and hostility: the short life of Charles II’s sister, Minette.

    WO 345 paper index card in Polyester and one without


    * The National Archives share some insights into protecting their collection

    Image via Shutterstock


    The UK ebook market in 2014

    * Paper is back: why 'real' books are on the rebound

    * Neuroscience has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen.


    Ten words we should all be using more often

    Twenty-four things no one tells you about publishing.

    * Ten words we should all be using more often

    Paper sculpture of Whisky Galore (c) Chris Scott


    A fascinating interview with the 'book sculptor', an anonymous artist who makes delicate sculptures from old books


    Brattle Book Shop


    * Ten beautiful bookshops that will stop you in your tracks


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

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    Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18


    Dr Kathryn Hughes will be at Saltaire Bookshop on Sunday 25th February from 7.00pm signing copies of her new book, Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18.    

    The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Bradford offers an intimate portrayal of the city and its people living in the shadow of the 'war to end all wars'. A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it describes local reaction to the outbreak of war; the increasingly difficult job of recruiting; the changing face of industry and related unrest; the growing demands on hospitals in the area; the impact of war on women and children left at home; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the city and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more.

    The Great War story of Bradford is told through the stories of those who were there and is vividly illustrated with evocative images. 

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    Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18


    Dr Kathryn Hughes will be at Bradford Local Studies Library on Saturday 21st February from 11.30am holding a launch for her new book, Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18.    

    The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Bradford offers an intimate portrayal of the city and its people living in the shadow of the 'war to end all wars'. A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it describes local reaction to the outbreak of war; the increasingly difficult job of recruiting; the changing face of industry and related unrest; the growing demands on hospitals in the area; the impact of war on women and children left at home; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the city and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more.

    The Great War story of Bradford is told through the stories of those who were there and is vividly illustrated with evocative images. 

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    Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18


    Dr Kathryn Hughes will be at Waterstones, Bradford on Wednesday 11th February from 5.30pm giving a talk and signing copies of her new book, Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18.  

    The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Bradford offers an intimate portrayal of the city and its people living in the shadow of the 'war to end all wars'. A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it describes local reaction to the outbreak of war; the increasingly difficult job of recruiting; the changing face of industry and related unrest; the growing demands on hospitals in the area; the impact of war on women and children left at home; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the city and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more.

    The Great War story of Bradford is told through the stories of those who were there and is vividly illustrated with evocative images. 

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    Darlington in 100 Dates


    Chris Lloyd will be at Darlington Library on Saturday 21st February from 2pm holding a launch for his new book, Darlington in 100 Dates

    Experience 100 key dates that shaped Darlington’s history, highlighted its people’s genius (or silliness) and embraced the unexpected. Featuring an amazing mix of social, criminal and sporting events, this book reveals a past that will fascinate, delight and surprise residents and visitors alike. 

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    Darlington in 100 Dates


    Chris Lloyd will be at Waterstones, Darlington on Saturday 21st February from 12-2pm signing copies of his new book, Darlington in 100 Dates

    Experience 100 key dates that shaped Darlington’s history, highlighted its people’s genius (or silliness) and embraced the unexpected. Featuring an amazing mix of social, criminal and sporting events, this book reveals a past that will fascinate, delight and surprise residents and visitors alike. 

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    William and Rosalie Schiff reunited in Kraków shortly after the war with two relatives.

    In the summer of 1942 the SS has its first death camps up and running. It’s time to empty the Polish ghettos of every Jew who cannot be used as a work slave. In the Schiff family, William has his job, Dorothy is a licensed pharmacist, and Bronek is a healthy young male ripe for exploitation. Bertha and Michael have no excuse and William can’t protect his parents from soldiers waving pistols.

    ‘When they came into the apartment to take them, I said, ‘Either we all go or nobody goes.’ The four Germans just laughed and pushed me into a corner. Mom told me to take care of my brother and sister. I slipped her what little money I had. Then the soldiers marched them to the train. Mom said she’d get in touch with me as soon as they settled into their new life and new jobs in the Ukraine. Those are the last words I heard her say. ‘I’ll contact you as soon as I can.’ Dad just cried and hung on her arm.’

    The deportations go on all week. On the final day William stands beside his girlfriend while armed men take her family. This, the 7 June 1942, is the worst day of Rosalie’s life.

    ‘The Germans came pounding on the door of this nightmare room,’ she says. ‘My baby brother was hanging on my legs because the shouting scared him. He asked me why he couldn’t stay. I told him: “Honey, you don’t have permission.”’ In the middle of the room Helena Baum holds a small suitcase containing socks and underwear for the youngsters. She wears a coat with gold coin buttons that will end up in Berlin with other loot from the dead. Still weak from her mastectomy, she ignores as long as possible the shouts of two steel-helmeted Waffen SS infantrymen. She has a covenant to arrange with William. We heard a rifle outside the door – loud – and a woman shrieking in the street because the Germans just shot her son. Rose’s Mom didn’t even blink. She said, ‘William, you know I like you, but I can’t leave my daughter here with you unless you promise me you’ll marry her. There has to be a proper wedding with a rabbi and someone from City Hall. And you have to give me your word you won’t touch her until after the ceremony.’ I said, ‘Sure, Mrs Baum, I give you my word.’ She said, ‘All right, then, Rose, you can stay.’ Then the Germans grabbed her and pushed her out the door with the kids.’

    In the next raid on the ghetto, William’s brother Bronek is caught walking the streets without his ID and deported. So is Zofi, the shy 15-year-old cousin who always begged William to sing at family functions. For safety’s sake, Rosalie moves into William’s apartment. ‘She slept with my sister and I slept in the front room. Ten days later we got married the way her Mom wanted. We didn’t have any nice linen so strangers raised a rag up over our heads in this same apartment. The rabbi said what he said. We said what we had to say. That was it – man and wife. I was 23. Rose was 19. Somebody found a half-bottle of wine so I drank a toast and broke the glass. We were all wondering how we were going to stay alive.’ Rosalie would prefer not to say her vows in old borrowed clothes, but is grateful for the presence of the rabbi from her father’s synagogue.

    ‘He did his best to cheer everybody up. He said, ‘O, our friend Baum’s little daughter is getting married! How can I marry such a baby?’ My grandmother Sarah and William’s sister were the only other people I knew in the room. I found my grandmother wandering the streets after the Germans took the aunt she lived with, the one who owned the dress shop and loved fancy hats. Sarah was a sweet old lady, in shock and very confused. She had been hiding in alleys and doorways while the soldiers killed people. This is the woman who sang me to sleep with old lullabies every night when I was a baby. She was a very devout person who never put a crumb in her mouth without first saying a blessing. After the wedding, I hid her in the attic above the apartment. The Germans kept raiding and killing and I wanted to make sure they didn’t get her. She was the only family I had left. When we thought danger was coming I would tell her to lie flat on the floor in a corner and not move or cough. Then I would cover her with newspapers. That sounds stupid, I’m sure, but I couldn’t think of anything better. The last time I saw her she told me she didn’t want me to save her any more. She said she was old already and her sore foot hurt a lot and she was tired of being hungry. I went out and begged for a slice of bread so she could eat something. A slice of bread was like a million dollars and it took me hours to find one. When I came back with the food she was gone. For two days I literally could not speak. I was an orphan now and completely in shock from all the chaos around us. William helped me get a hold of myself. He knew the Germans would get me next if I didn’t.’

    During the June terror in the ghetto, 300 Jews are shot dead and 6,000 shipped east to the Belzec death camp. All are offloaded, gassed with carbon monoxide and cremated. Among them are Sarah, Helena, Lucy, Henry, Bertha, Michael, Bronek and Zofi. In Kraków, people continue to believe their deported relatives are safe. William wholeheartedly believes his parents have been sent to the Ukraine to begin new jobs in war factories. ‘That’s what the Germans told us. Nobody thought they’d murder everyone. Even after they put us through three years of hell and made us live in the ghetto it was still inconceivable. But the day they took Rose’s family I saw soldiers shoving children onto a transport train. One of them kicked a little girl so hard he could have broken her back. That gave me a real bad feeling. So almost three years after the invasion my eyes finally started to open. It was way too late to do anything then.’

    In July William gets a letter from the dead. A gentile woman delivers a folded piece of paper to the main ghetto gate, something Zofi passed to her at Belzec. William stands by the gate absorbing his cousin’s girlish handwriting. She says that when Bronek stepped down from the boxcar the SS guards motioned him into the group of men selected to live. Bronek didn’t read the situation correctly and assumed that the men in this group were about to be shot. When the guards weren’t looking, he snuck back into the mass of people chosen for death. A verbatim translation: ‘He thought they took him to shoot, so he smuggled himself into the fire.’

    William stares at the blue-black calligraphy on paper blazing white in the sun. In the loopy script the word ‘fire’ stands out starkly. Tucking the letter into his jacket pocket he hurries back to the  partment to check on his wife. Whatever this fire might be he knows it took a miracle to keep her out of it. Rosalie is still amazed by her good luck.

    ‘I was in Peace Square waiting in a long line the day before they took my family. I was going to beg for some little job to save my neck. The Germans had just made their final announcement: get a stamp on your card or else. I was standing there and out of nowhere a man walked up in a tailored tan suit and matching hat. He looked at me and said, ‘You are much too pretty to be in this line.’ He walked me to the front of the line and told a soldier to give me a work permit. The soldier stamped my card without saying a word. Then the man smiled and walked away. I didn’t have time to thank him or even think to beg him to do the same thing for my Mom and sister. Who had ever heard of Oskar Schindler back then? May his name be blessed.’

    This is an extract from Even to the Edge of Doom by William and Rosalie Schiff and Craig Hanley

    Even to the edge of doom

    In 1943 William and Rosalie Schiff, newly married in the Krakow Ghetto, were focibly separated and sent on individual journeys through a 'surreal maze of hate'.  Saved by the legendary Oscar Schindler, they were reunited at the Plaszow work camp, where they were at the mercy of the bestial SS commandant Amon Goth (played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List).  When Rosalie was shipped out for a work detail at another camp, William stowed away on a train, desperate to catch up with her; but the train took him to the notorious Auschwitz death camp instead.  By turns riveting, harrowing and moving, Even to the Edge of Doom tells the story of two young people who stayed alive against the odds to find one another again.

    William and Rosalie Schiff lived in Dallas, Texas and devoted themselves full time to teaching people the dangers of prejudice and hate until their deaths in 2010 (William) and 2014 (Rosalie).  Craig Hanley is a graduate of Harvard University and is a professional writer and journalist.

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    The Grimsby Book of Days


    Lucy Wood will be at Waterstones, Grimsby on Saturday 14th February from 1.00pm signing copies of her new book, The Grimsby Book of Days

    Taking you through the year day by day, The Grimsby Book of Days contains quirky, eccentric, shocking, amusing and important events and facts from different periods in the history of the town. 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 Grimsby’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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    Sunderland Skyline

    Present day Sunderland owes its size and importance to a period of spectacular growth during the Industrial Revolution involving industries such as iron and steel, pottery and glass making and, most particularly, ship building. Until the late sixteenth century Sunderland consisted of just thirty households with six fishing cobles and was less important than neighbouring settlements at Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth where a monastery had been founded in A.D. 674.

    The initial impetus for growth was provided by construction of ten salt pans with a workforce of three hundred during 1589 but a more significant long term development was represented by coal exports. Workable pits at Lambton, Lumley and Harraton were largely accountable for coal exports reaching an annual total of 80,000 tons by 1642. The coal trade continued to grow during the late eighteenth century and increasingly the coal was carried by ships built in local yards.

    Ancillary trades such as sail and rope-making accelerated the spread of industrial premises across the river to the townships of Monkwearmouth and Southwick and this resulted in construction of an iron bridge across the Wear between 1793 and 1796. By the mid nineteenth century Sunderland had become Britain’s leading producer of wooden ships with more than sixty yards constructing vessels ranging from colliers to clippers.

    By 1900 Sunderland’s shipyards employed more than 20,000 men which represented two fifths of the town’s male workforce. Another industry to flourish was rope making which was mainly run by the firm of Webster and Grimshaw while glass making, started in 1839 by James Hartley, saw about one third of Britain’s glassware produced on Wearside in the later part of the nineteenth century. It was a similar story with the brewing industry where the company founded by Cuthbert Vaux expanded to become the second largest local brewery in the country.

    By 1901 the population of Sunderland had reached 145,500 and further expansion during the twentieth century saw the borough boundaries altered to include outlying districts such as Fulwell, Herrington and Ryhope. However, this period also saw serious economic decline which brought about the demise of major industries. Rope making ended in 1986 and the closure of the last Wearside shipyard, North East Shipbuilders Ltd., followed two years later. Coal exports ended with the closure of Wearmouth Colliery in 1993. In some respects the most poignant feature of this industrial decline was the closure of Vaux brewery in 2002.

    Yet the final decades of the twentieth century also brought impressive examples of Sunderland’s recent regeneration. The most dramatic example of the area’s revival was the opening of the Nissan car plant during 1985 and the first car, a Bluebird saloon, rolled out of the factory on 8th July of the following year. The National Glass Centre was opened at Monkwearmouth in October 1998 at a cost of £17 million (and was refurbished over a six month period in 2013 at a further cost of £2.3 million).

    It was announced on 14th February 1992 that Sunderland was to be granted city status and in the same year the local polytechnic was designated as a university. Some five years later, on 31stJuly 1997 Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light was officially opened. With a capacity of 42,000 seats this fine sporting venue had been completed on the site of the former Wearmouth Colliery at a cost of £24 million and in April 2008 a £20million Aquatic Centre was completed on adjacent ground.

    The closing day of Sunderland’s 25th International Airshow, 28th July 2013, began with a party at Cliffe Park, a fitting way to celebrate the city’s re-emergence as a major cultural and industrial location.

    Sunderland in 100 Dates by Robert Woodhouse

    Robert Woodhouse is the author of 'Sunderland in 100 Dates'. 
    Experience 100 key dates that shaped Sunderland’s history, highlighted its people’s genius (or stupidity) and embraced the unexpected. Featuring an amazing mix of social, criminal and sporting events, this book reveals a past that will fascinate, delight and even shock both residents and visitors of the city.

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    Four lions prowled the city centre

    It’s the stuff of a Hollywood film script… lions escape from a circus ring and cause havoc in a town centre. But this is exactly what happened in Grimsby on March 7, 1991.

    Not one, but four of the ferocious beasts were on the loose and brought the town centre to a standstill.

    They broke free during a performance at the visiting Chipperfield’s Circus. It was about 7.40pm when their cage, temporarily housed in Burgess Street, was sabotaged.

    This act of vandalism allowed the beasts to roam the streets for more than an hour before they were caught and returned. During the evening of terror, Grimsby father Michael Strandt was mauled. He needed 24 stitches after a lion pounced on him and sunk its teeth into his neck. Mr Strandt had been dashing to the aid of his wife and young daughter who were caught up in the scenes of chaos. He owes his life to heroic policeman Ron Harrison, who rammed the animal with his patrol car.

    A special 6am edition of the then Grimsby Evening Telegraph brought the shocking news to the town with the headline: "Terror as four lions flee big top – man mauled in circus break-out."

    "The next thing, this lion was pounding after me. It leaped up to me, grabbing the top of my shoulder, and pulled me down," Mr Strandt told the newspaper shortly after his ordeal. "I thought I was never going to get up. I rolled into a ball to try to protect myself."

    Circus staff were also widely praised for the way they handled the break-out, and one red-nosed clown was hailed a hero after he chased after one of the lions.

    "The clown, complete with red nose, big feet and ridiculous costume trapped one of the lions in an alley at the Victoria Street bus station," the Telegraph reported.

    The clown had earlier rushed into the nearby Grimsby Police Station to alert the force about what had happened.

    The police sergeant, Stewart Bellamy, blocked the passage with his car, and the clown used the chair and stick to ward off the lion before some gates were shut to trap the animal - captured in a powerful photograph taken by a photographer from the local paper.

    "I thought that was it, we had the lion. But then the clown informed me there were three more on the loose! The reaction of people nearby was total disbelief and they would not take notice of what we were telling them. They were putting themselves in great danger," Sgt. Bellamy said at the time.

    Eyewitnesses in the big top told how the circus turned into a "horror movie".

    Gordon Contegiacomo was 18 and sitting in one of the back rows with his brother.

    "It was just chaotic. The lions were first on but they came straight back out again after they had gone off," he said. "I saw a guy in blue overalls come running back in the ring like a bat out of hell. We were lucky to get out quite quickly."

    Lynne Stead, of Haven Avenue, Grimsby, was sitting at the ringside with her son Paul.

    "The lions had been performing but did not seem to want to play," she said. "Music came on after the performance and I looked round to see people stampeding from the back. Someone shouted the lions are on the loose. I grabbed Paul and got him out."

    One of the lions was captured after being trapped in the Grimsby Cleethorpes Transport bus depot, now operated by Stagecoach. Brian Doyle, a club steward for Grimsby Cleethorpes Transport, told the Telegraph there were around 30 staff in the building at the time.

    He said: "It just kept roaring and roaring. It was obviously on the defensive and nobody was sure how it was going to react. I've seen a lot happen on GCT property, but never a lion."

    Despite the escape – and further protests by activists – the show went on the next night as normal as scores of families refused to let the drama stop their evening out.

    Michelle Hurst, now deputy editor of the newspaper, was a reporter at the time of the incident.

    Here she recalls her experience: “I just couldn’t believe the words I was hearing - lions escaping! “It’s the stuff of films. The stuff of comedies… but this was no comedy.

    “That said, when I was asked if I could work that night to write reports for an early morning edition, I jumped at the chance. It was, after all, the stuff of journalists’ dreams.

    “And though I’ve worked many nights since, the one I will always remember the most is when lions roamed around Grimsby town centre.

    “I was dispatched to the scene alongside another reporter. I remember the darkness. Whether the street lights were not as powerful then, or whether it was a cloudy night masking the moon, I don’t know, but it was difficult to make things out – and, thinking back, I think that was a good thing!

    “For while the other reporter went off in one direction, and I was trying to find people near to the bus station.

    “That was where one red-nosed clown was hailed a hero after chasing one of the lions.

    “I saw the clown and then I saw what he was following – a dark shadow that I can only believe was one of the lions, slowly ambling along totally unaware of the chaos and terror it was causing! And then it was gone … into the bus station.

    “Of course, in those days, mobile phones didn’t exist so the full extent of what happened only became clear when all staff had reconvened in the office after the lions were caught and we began writing articles for the special edition.

    “It was a night of high drama – certainly one I was thrilled as a journalist to be involved in – although looking back I still can’t quite believe it!”

    The Grimsby Book of Days

    Lucy Wood is the author of 'The Grimsby Book of Days'. Taking you through the year day by day, The Grimsby Book of Days contains quirky, eccentric, shocking, amusing and important events and facts from different periods in the history of the town. 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 Grimsby’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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  • 01/30/15--06:00: The Friday Digest 30/01/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Tudor gluttony and Churchill's funeral. 

    Aerial view of Auschwitz-Birkenau

    * 27 January marked Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A short history of Auschwitz , the largest mass murder site in human history.


    Danuta Bogdaniuk-Bogucka (Reuters)


     * Survivors sit for beautiful portraits to commemorate the anniversary


    Watchtower at Auschwitz


    The Guardian's view on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

    Holocaust survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch Photo: THOM ATKINSON


    On the 70th anniversary, Auschwitz survivors warn of new crimes

    'I thought anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. Naïve really' ...  


    Joseph Mengele. The photos on the left and in the centre show Mengele in 1938, the picture on the right was taken in 1956 (c) Alamy


    Dr Josef Mengele and the twins of Auschwitz


    Voices of Auschwitz (c) CNN


    Voices of Auschwitz.


    Franciszek Jaźwiecki, a Polish artist and political prisoner at Auschwitz, made portraits of fellow prisoners.


    Franciszek Jaźwiecki and Auschwitz's forbidden art


    The Guards Remember 1958

    * The Scots Guards remember Waterloo in 1958, 143 years after Napoleon was defeated

    Magna Carta: Lasers help reveal clues behind King John's lost treasure


    * Legend has it that crown jewels, gold and money were lost in the medieval mud of the fens in 1216. Now clues about the disappearance of 'King John's treasure' have been unearthed in a 'game changing' archaeological survey, according to historian and archaeologist Ben Robinson.

    De Montfort at the Battle of Evesham

    * Simon de Montfort and the turning point for democracy that gets overlooked


    Richard III bones

    * A 2,000-signature petition has called for Richard III's bones to be taken to a Catholic chapel and given a Catholic ceremony before his reinterment on 26 March.

    The line of the canal is indicated by rushes extending into the distance with a tidal creek in the foreground


    * Rediscovered: the forgotten canal built in Dorset 180 years ago to transport clay to Poole harbour.  



    * Do 'bite-sized' history textbooks 'dumb down' the subject?

    Visible Speech notation in one of Bell’s notebooks. Library of Congress

    * Deafness, 'visible speech' and Alexander Graham Bell.  

    Christian Davies, born Christian ‘Kit’ Cavanagh


    * Ten women who 'became men' to get ahead

    One of the buildings listed is 30 Cannon Street (formerly Credit Lyonnais) London, the first building to be fully clad in double-skinned panels of glass-fibre reinforced concrete (c) James O Davies

    * The post-war office buildings added to the National Heritage List for England.  

    Bruce Davidson, Brooklyn Gang, NYC, 1959 Photograph: Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

    * Teenage dreams: quiffs, kisses and the cults of youth in pictures.  

    Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell. Photograph: Giles Keyte/BBC/Company Productions Ltd


    * Cromwell the fixers’ fixer: a role model for our times

    Damian Lewis stars as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall Photo: Company Productions Ltd


    Henry VIII's diet: lobster, porpoise and custard (on fast days).  

    Wolf Hall. (BBC/Company Productions Ltd)

    ‘What did a Tudor coffin look like?’: the weird and wonderful world of a Wolf Hall adviser.

    The Fascinating Life of Winston Churchill. (c) Open University

    * The fascinating life of Winston Churchill

    Throngs of mourners line pavements to view Churchill’s funeral, some sleeping overnight to get a good vantage point. Photograph: Joe Scherschel/National Geographic/Getty Images

    Winston Churchill's funeral – in pictures.


    Lincoln Perkins (in the middle of the image) carried Churchill's coffin with seven other men

    * ‘We nearly dropped Churchill’s coffin.’

    Gone Girl


    * Why Gone Girl, why not Gone Woman

    What’s In A Name? (c) Massachusetts Institute of Business

    * What’s in a name? How to christen a literary character.  

    Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. Photograph: Warner Br/Everett /Rex

    From Gatsby to Darcy: the top 10 liars in fiction

    H is for Hawk wins Costa Book of the Year

    H is for Hawk wins Costa Book of the Year 2014

    Yule Bookshelf Designer: Claudia Bignoli

    * Thirty-three creative bookshelf designs

    15 Inspiring Quotes By Writers We Lost In 2014

    * Fifteen inspiring quotes by writers we lost in 2014

     Choose or chuck? … A hand taking Charles Dickens's Great Expectations from a bookshelf. Photograph: CBW /Alamy

    * Three thousand reasons to choose your reading carefully ...

    * Foyles is to expand into the West Midlands for the first time, by opening a store at the new Grand Central Birmingham station.

    Robert Harris, Costa Book Awards


    There has been an outpouring of support in the trade for Robert Harris's public call for a dedicated BBC TV books programme. Harris has claimed that there’s plenty the corporation could do to make a popular literary programme on TV but do you agree? 

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

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  • 01/30/15--09:00: Chichester in the 1960s
  • Eastgate Square around 1960 

    ‘If you can remember the 1960s you weren’t there” runs a well-known maxim. Whether you were there or not, it was a decade irredeemably associated with permissive attitudes and the ripping out of the hearts of so many towns and cities in the name of modernisation, often as a result of dodgy dealings between developers and corrupt councillors. It was also a time of great political turmoil.

    Then, as now, Chichester was regarded as a near-perfect market town with its ancient streets radiating out from its market cross in the shadow its cathedral. It was small (population only 20,000 in 1961) sleepy and took so long to get to from London that its growth had been retarded. It seemed as though the era of 1960s modernism would pass it by. Indeed today’s first time visitors to the city, seeing its streets of well-maintained Georgian buildings and neat parks and gardens, might get the impression that the 1960s had passed Chichester by, but they would be wrong.

    Chichester was faced with the same challenges as other places as a result of the received needs to bow to the supremacy of  the omnipotent motor car and sweep away whole streets of alleged ‘slums’ and replace them with modern housing. The blueprint for Chichester’s modernisation had actually been set down in the Sharp Report of 1949 which proposed, inter alia, the demolition of 700 ‘slums’ and the creation of an inner ring road and car parks, changes that were supported by some councillors, but feared by others. The seeds of modernism had been sown - they had just taken a long time to sprout!

    It was the wholesale demolition of the east side of Somerstown in 1964, when 171 late Georgian artisans’ cottages were needlessly destroyed, that caused outrage, outrage expressed in the national press by no less a personage than Sir Laurence Olivier. Following further losses and the building of the first section of the ring road the brakes were applied, and in 1968 Chichester was chosen as a study in conservation along with Bath, Chester and York, as a result of which it became one of the first conservation areas in the country. The sixties was a time when architecture got a bad reputation and some Chichester developments reflected this,but on the other hand it acquired some new buildings which enhanced the city – the Festival Theatre and the Chapel of the Ascension being two good examples.The Festival Theatre, Chichester

    Conservation did not mean that Chichester suddenly became preserved in aspic - far from it. Whilst all this was going on it was enhancing its reputation as a centre for the arts with the opening of the Chichester Festival Theatre, with the aforementioned Sir Laurence Olivier as its director, and to cater for its slowly-growing population new housing estates were being built along with two new schools to cater for their young.

    For the young, sixties popular culture manifested itself  in Chichester in many coffee bars, youth clubs and organised dances at which ‘big names’ from the pop world would sometimes appear. The most famous such visit though was in 1967 when some of the Rolling Stones were charged at the County Court with possessing ‘interesting substances’ found during a police raid on a house in West Wittering. The local girls’ schools emptied out as their pupils went to stand and scream outside the court. More genteel youthful pursuits were offered by Scout groups, Guide companies and the St John Ambulance Brigade, but everybody let their hair down on Gala Day and at Slow Fair.

    Throughout the 1960s the fortunes of  Chichester were overseen by Chichester City Council which was made up of people who lived and worked in the city and therefore cared deeply about it, something that the next decade was to bring to an end under the 1974 local government reorganisation.

    For Chichester the 1960s provided a period of challenge, conservation and culture - and a stimulating time to have been brought up there.

    Chichester in the 1960s by Alan H.J. Green

    Alan H. J. Green is the author of Chichester in the 1960s. Chichester is the archetypal Georgian town with its streets of elegant buildings gathered closely around its ancient cathedral. It usually appears to today’s first-time visitor that the city has been largely untouched by the hand of time – particularly the destructive hand that guided the 1960s.However, this is not the case: in the 1960s Chichester faced the same challenges as all historic towns, and much was lost – but the brakes were applied in good time and it became one of the first conservation areas in the country. This book, the first of its kind, looks at how the Chichester fared in that turbulent decade, how it gained in its status as a city of culture with a new theatre and museum and how it expanded to meet the demands of its growing populace. Historical research blends with personal anecdote to produce a heartfelt portrait of the decade.


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    The Magna Carta (originally known as the Charter of Liberties) of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin, using standard abbreviations of the period, authenticated with the Great Seal of King John. The original wax seal was lost over the centuries.[1] This document is held at the British Library and is identified as "British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106".[2]

    ‘[Magna Carta is] the Bible of the English Constitution.’ - William Pitt the Elder, British Prime Minister, 1766–68 

    ‘The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history.  It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the Middle Ages. It was written in Magna Charta.’ - US president Franklin D. Roosevelt

    ‘We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.’ - Winston Churchill

    ‘The remaining copies of that charter may have faded, but its principles shine as brightly as ever, and they paved the way for the democracy, the equality, the respect and the laws that make Britain, Britain.’ - David Cameron


    Every generation has its own view of Magna Carta; every politician a different interpretation. Hardly a year goes by without Magna Carta being held up as a great beacon of freedom from oppression: the great charter of liberties; freedom, justice and equality for all.

    But Magna Carta wasn’t written as a document enshrining justice for all. Rather, it was very much a document of its time, one which reflects the concerns of a specific group of thirteenth-century noblemen.

    Let’s look at it more carefully. The most famous clause is probably clause 40: ‘No free man shall be seized or imprisoned […] except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.’ This might sound like it is enshrining equality for all under the law, but we need to take account of the fact that ‘free men’ were only a small proportion of the people of England at the time: the barons themselves, plus the knights and the free peasantry – those men who owned some land and had the right to buy and sell it, rather than those tied to the land who made up the majority of the population. The barons who devised this clause had been influenced by the fate of one of their own, William de Braose: he had risen high in John’s favour and then fallen from it, his lands stripped from him at the king’s whim, his wife and son captured and starved at John’s order, and he himself exiled and hunted to destruction. The barons knew that if this could happen to one who stood so high in the king’s favour, it could happen to them.

    And of couse, ‘no free man’ specifically excluded women; they were not to have equality under the law. Indeed, far from it: one of the lesser-known clauses of Magna Carta is clause 54: ‘No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.’ This means that theoretically a woman could be an eyewitness to the murder of her parents, but the suspect could not be apprehended at her word, because her word was not enough: a woman’s testimony was not considered equal to that of a man. The barons may also have had a specific case in mind here, but if so, nobody has yet succeeded in identifying it.

    Other clauses of Magna Carta reflect very specific concerns of the barons at the time, and make almost no sense when read in isolation today. The demand for the removal of fish-weirs on the Thames (clause 33) doesn’t get much publicity, but the weirs hampered trade (and therefore the creation of more wealth) by obstructing river craft carrying goods. Equally, the removal from office of the named men in clause 50 makes more sense when you realise how irritated the barons were that ‘foreigners’ – i.e. people who had arrived in England a bit more recently than their own Norman ancestors – were taking all the best jobs.

    One of the final clauses in the document, clause 61, stipulates that a council of twenty-five barons would be chosen to ensure that the demands set out in the charter were kept by the king. This has often been seen as an early attempt to introduce parlimentary democracy, but again, it was more to do with the self-interest of the barons who devised the demands in the first place. They would elect the twenty-five from among their own number, to serve their own interests.

    So, was Magna Carta useless? Did she, as comedian Tony Hancock once famously asked, die in vain? In short, no. The charter was not the great symbol of ‘freedom for all from tyranny’ that it was later made out to be, but it served two very useful purposes. Firstly, it put forward the principal that a king should rule according to an agreed set of laws, and not by whim alone. The problem with hereditary monarchy is that bad kings come along as often as good ones, so it is useful to have some legal restraints on arbitrary dictatorship. And secondly, as the years went by Magna Carta was reissued by later kings to demonstrate that they ruled in consulation with their subjects (or some of them, anyway); each reissuing of the document meant a reinterpretation for a new audience, so although Magna Carta did not set out to provide justice for all, it ended up symbolising that point almost by default.

    The full text of the Magna Carta is available on the British Library website here

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    Reg in front of Boeing 707 00-SJG in 1965 – the same aircraft he was hijacked in.

    My grandfather, Reginald Levy, led, as he himself expressed, an exciting and glamorous life but also one of hardships and great stress. More than once he was confronted with difficult to imagine extreme life and death situations. His job as a pilot, especially before technology improved more dramatically in the last couple of decades was invariably dangerous at times, whether due to technical malfunctions, weather, or as he so often repeated, human error. Nevertheless, two major contexts and events stand out from his tale, notably that of his role as a Bomber Command pilot during World War Two, and the hijacking of his plane in 1972.

    Although the events during the war saw him fly over enemy territory for many hours, at the mercy of fighter aircraft, flak and other perils, the hijacking proved perhaps the more distressing of experiences and with much longer lasting repercussions. Reginald was able to deal with the events in a calm manner, thanks to, and he said so himself, his training in the US in the early 1940s, as well as his experiences during the war. The hijacking however, left Reg un-perplexed as to the outcome. He was very much aware of the possibility that he and his wife would not make it out alive.

    An interesting element that appears in Reg's autobiography, is the notion of tolerance and neutrality. Only a few years separate his bombing and then helping the city of Berlin survive through the Airlift, an action that exemplifies this very idea. But as readers will note, the theme of neutrality and the danger of political sympathies is central to the story of the 1972 hijacking. Reg was a highly tolerant individual, and was cordial with everyone, no matter what their colour, religion or creed. The hijacking in 1972 dragged him quite literally into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some newspapers made allegations at the time that Reg had been chosen on purpose by the hijackers, yet as he expressed, 'I am British and despite my Jewish background, had no connections whatsoever with Israel.' Although in later years Reg was invited to Israel met, and in some cases befriended, famed individuals such as Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan and Ehud Barak amongst others, he explains and stresses the point that 'I had absolutely no political sympathies with either side and only strove to do all I could to get my passengers and crew out of the aeroplane'. His anger at the hijackers was not directed towards their demands nor their goal in achieving this, but at the fact that his command of the aircraft had been threatened and that his passengers were being put in danger. Had the scenario been different and the hijackers been from elsewhere, his reaction would have been identical. He could after all understand and 'feel sympathy for the obvious devotion and courage he [the hijacker] was showing for his cause', yet would not have hesitated shooting the terrorist in order to help rescue his passengers. What this demonstrates is that Reg prioritised above all else his duty towards his passengers, crew and employers. 

    With 'no wish to be embroiled in the bitter battle that was going on between the state of Israel and the Arabs', Reg stood precariously on the front line of a conflict which had started several decades beforehand and which continues today to divide opinions, states and people. Nevertheless, I believe Reg stood his ground and refused to be pulled into this rapid sinkhole of political entanglements and chaos, something from which there is perhaps a lesson to be learnt. 

    Captain Reginald Levy DFC passed away in 2010. Extensive obituaries were run in all the broadsheets outlining his extraordinary flying career.
     From Night Falk to HiJack: It's a Small World is Reginald's autobiography, it has been prepared for publication by his grandson Alex. 

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