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The History Press blog

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    L: Magdalene Hall (1793–1822) in about 1808–10. A pen-and-ink sketch from an original miniature by JCD Engelheart. By kind permission of the present owner. R: Sir William Howe De Lancey in the full dress uniform of a colonel on the staff. Painted in 1813 or 1814. Artist and present whereabouts unknown.

    Knowing that many of my friends are desirous to have an account of the distressing scenes I have passed through, and finding the subject too painful to be renewed by writing frequently on these scenes, I have determined to form a short narrative which may be given to those who desire the information. [1]

    I was married in March 1815. At that time Sir William De Lancey held an appointment on the staff in Scotland. Peace appeared established, and I had no apprehension of the trials that awaited me. While we were spending the first week of our marriage at Dunglass, the accounts of the return of Bonaparte from Elba arrived, and Sir William was summoned to London, and soon afterward ordered to join the army at Bruxelles as Adjutant-Quartermaster-General.[2]  I entreated to accompany him, and my happiness in his society continued to increase with every day. I found him everything my affection had imagined, and the esteem and regard testified towards him by all ranks proved to me that I might confide entirely in the sterling worth of his character and principles.

    We withdrew as much as possible from the gaiety then offered us in Bruxelles, where the numerous English families appeared to consider the arrival of the army as the commencement of a series of entertainments. Ten days we passed almost entirely together; Sir William occupied part of the morning with the business of his situation, but was so quick and regular in his method of arranging, that he found time to show me every object of attention at Bruxelles; our evenings were spent in tranquil enjoyment, nothing was known of the advance of the French, and there was no idea of immediate danger.

    On Thursday the 15th of June we had spent a particularly happy morning, my dear husband gave me many interesting anecdotes of his former life, and I traced in every one some trait of his amiable and generous mind; never had I felt so perfectly content, so grateful for the blessing of his love. He was to dine at the Spanish Ambassador’s; it was the first time he had left me to spend an evening away since our marriage. When the hour approached he was most unwilling to go; I laughed at him, insisting on helping to dress him, put on the ribbons and orders he wore, and at last sent him away; he turned back at the door, and looked at me with a smile of happiness and peace. It was the last!

    A short time after a message came from the Duke of Wellington to Sir William. He returned from the dinner and told me that news had been received of the near approach of the French, and that a battle was to be expected immediately, and that he had all the orders and arrangements to write as the army was to leave Bruxelles at daybreak. I entreated to remain in the room with him, promising not to speak. He wrote for several hours without any interruption but the entrance and departure of various messengers who were to take the orders. Every now and then I gave him a cup of green tea, which was the only refreshment he would take, and he rewarded me by a silent look. My feelings during these hours I cannot attempt to describe, but I preserved perfect outward tranquillity. Sir William told me that when he went to the Duke of Wellington he found him in his shirt, dressing for the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, and a Prussian officer stood by him in full dress, to whom he was giving orders in case of an engagement with the French before the main body of the army joined. How many attended the ball that evening, who were stretched on the field of battle so soon after.

    The reveille was beat all night, and the troops actively prepared for their march. I stood with my husband at a window of the house, which overlooked a gate of the city, and saw the whole army go out. Regiment after regiment passed through and melted away in the mist of the morning. At length my husband was summoned. He had ordered everything ready for my removal to Antwerp, thinking Bruxelles too near the probable field of battle, and he charged me to remain as much as possible alone, to hear no reports nor to move till he sent to me. He endeavoured to cheer me by saying he thought the action would be a decisive one in favour of our troops, and that he should see me in a day or two.

    Wellington and his staff at Waterloo, the only picture known to depict the wounded De Lancey  (bottom right). The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman (1824), reproduced by kind permission of The House of Orange Nassau Historic Collections Trust on loan to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

    When he had gone I felt stupefied, and had but one wish, the all that he had desired. I went to Antwerp, and found the hotel there so crowded, that I could only obtain one small room for my maid and myself, and it was at the top of the house. I remained entirely within, and desired my maid not to tell me what she might hear in the hotel respecting the army. On the 18th, however, I could not avoid the conviction that the battle was going on; the anxious faces in the street, the frequent messengers I saw passing by, were sufficient proof that important intelligence was expected, and as I sat at the open window I heard the firing of artillery, like the distant roaring of the sea as I had so often heard it at Dunglass. How the contrast of my former tranquil life there was pressed upon me at that moment!

    I felt little fear respecting my husband, as I persuaded myself his post would be near the Duke of Wellington, and less exposed than in the midst of the battle. He was struck by a cannon-ball as he rode by the Duke’s side; the ball was a spent one, yet the shock was so violent, that he was thrown a considerable distance, and fell with such a force that he rebounded from the ground again. There was no visible contusion, but the internal injury was too great to be surmounted. He was able to speak in a short time after the fall, and when the Duke of Wellington took his hand and asked how he felt, he begged to be taken from the crowd that he might die in peace, and gave a message to me.

    After the battle was concluded, all those whose duty it was to send in returns being killed or wounded, Lady H—, who was at Antwerp, was employed by her husband, General H—, to write the returns as they came in. Knowing I was in Antwerp, she purposely omitted Sir William’s name in the list of the wounded, and a friend of Sir William’s, seeing the return, came to me to tell me he was safe. I was delighted and felt that I could not be grateful enough. I was told then that General and Lady H— desired to see me. I ran to meet them with joy, but being struck by the melancholy expression of their countenances, I thought they had probably lost friends, and checked myself.[3]  General H looked at me and turned to the window, and then suddenly left the room. Lady H−, with great kindness, informed me that Sir William was severely wounded. Having been deceived before, my first impression was that he was killed. I refused to believe the contrary, and became almost distracted with grief; and I entreated to be left alone, and locked myself in. I remained some hours, scarcely conscious of anything but the feeling that I should see my dear husband no more.

    A messenger came from Bruxelles later to say Sir William was better, that hopes were entertained that he might recover, and to desire me to come to him. Lady H – and my maid came to the door to tell me. It was some time before they could make me understand that they had good news to give; then I admitted them, and my feelings changed to an eager desire to be gone. After taking the refreshments Lady H – insisted upon, I ran up and down to hasten the preparations for my departure, until General Mackenzie, who had come to see me, recalled me to myself by a few calm and kind words. He said my friends were doing all they could, that I should have great calls for exertion when I reached Waterloo, and I ought to spare myself beforehand. I sat down and waited patiently, and thought if I could only see my husband alive, even if it were but for a few hours, I should never repine again.

    The journey was dreadful; the roads were filled with waggons, carts, and litters bringing the wounded; with detachments of troops; with crowds of people; it seemed impossible to get on. The people were brutal in the extreme, particularly the Prussian soldiers. I had the greatest difficulty to prevent my servant who was on the box from losing his temper. I spoke to him from the carriage, begging him not to return the abusive language they gave us, and to remember we were unable to oblige them to let us pass. Once a Prussian rode up to the carriage with his sword drawn and refused to let it proceed, and even cut at the servant’s legs. I had kept the blinds down, but I then drew them up, and implored him with my gestures to let us go on. He drew back, and the look of pity on his before fierce countenance proved what effect the appearance of real distress will have on even the most hardened.

    We were a night and two days on the road.[4] 4 General H— had put a bottle of wine and a loaf into the carriage, and upon a few mouthfuls of these we were supported. The horses could never move beyond a footpace, and we were often detained for a long time in the same spot. When we came to the field of battle, which we were obliged to cross, the sight of the dead terrified the horses so much, that it was with great difficulty they were forced on, and frequently they screamed with fright; the sound was a most piercing one, and such as I can never forget. The hovel where Sir William lay was on the further side of Waterloo, near the high road. When I got to the door, the officer, who had rode by the side of my carriage across the field, went in and told Sir William I was there. I heard his voice, clear as usual, say: “Let her come in directly,” and the sound nearly overpowered me. I found him unable to move, or even to turn his head, and suffering at times great pain; but he was perfectly collected and cheerful, and he expressed the greatest comfort at my presence. Nothing could be more wretched than the hovel, it had been plundered and set on fire by the French, and was destitute of everything. The surgical attendance was the very best, and nothing could exceed the kindness of all towards us. It was scarcely possible to procure food or necessaries, but all that could be found was brought to us. My maid proved an excellent nurse, and prepared everything that Sir William ate, but he could take but little. The cottage had two rooms, in one of which we cooked his food, and I had the inexpressible comfort of knowing that he had all that he wished for.

    I passed the greatest part of the ten days his life lasted sitting by him and holding his hand; he could not speak much, but all he said was kind, soothing, and perfectly resigned. He often desired me to go and lie down in the other room; but if I returned in a few moments he forgot to send me away again. I fear he concealed his sufferings out of consideration for me, for sometimes, when I was out of his sight, I heard him groan deeply. The road, which was immediately near the cottage, was the only one by which all the waggons passed; but he did not appear to mind the noise. I think I slept but once during the ten days, and that was when he had fallen into a doze, and I leaned my head on his pillow; when I awoke he was looking at me and said it had done him good to see me sleep.  The first night I was there an officer, hearing I had no blanket, sent me one, and this was of the greatest use to us in fomenting Sir William’s limbs and chest, it relieved the pain; having torn the blanket into pieces, as well as my own petticoat and my maid’s, we were able to continue the fomentations for a considerable time. The surgeons were sometimes so exhausted, that when they came in the evening, they were nearly fainting and unable to speak. I applied the leeches, dressed the blisters, which had been ordered on his breast, and he often said I did it more gently than the surgeons.

    One day we had an alarm that the French were returning; I prepared myself for it, and only prayed that I might die with my husband. Sir William noticed every little circumstance which occurred, and was amused at the ingenuity which I exerted to procure him comforts. An officer, who called to inquire after him, left a card which was directly made into a spoon to feed him. At one time he really appeared better, and said he thought he might recover, and that then it would be the happiest event of his life, for no one could expect him to continue in the army after such an injury as this, and he might retire and live with me.

    Two days before the last, as no hope of saving his life remained, I was told that he could not live more than a very short time as water had formed on his chest. I thought it my duty to tell him; he bore it with the greatest firmness, and resignation to the will of God; but said that it was almost sudden to him as he had felt so much easier for several hours. He said many things at intervals to me respecting my return to England, and the comfort I should have in thinking over the time I had passed with him, and he prayed with me and for me.

    I can scarcely recall the circumstances of the last twenty-four hours. He suffered much at times from oppression of the breath, and the advances of death, though slow, were very visible. He sunk into a lethargy and expired without a struggle. Two of the medical men were in the next room during the last day, and General D— was waiting in a house near; but they did not interrupt us.[5]  When all was over, and I saw my dear husband lying dead, so calm and with such a peaceful expression on his countenance, I felt what a blessed change he had made from this world of trouble and suffering.

    General D— took me with him to Bruxelles. Sir William was buried near Bruxelles, in the same place with many other officers. I wished to have attended, but was advised not to do so. I received the greatest kindness from many whose names I did not know before. As I sat alone on the day of the funeral, reflecting on what had passed, remembered it was three months that very day since my wedding.  

    Lady De Lancey at Waterloo

    Lady De Lancey was the wife of Sir William De Lancey and Lady De Lancey at Waterloo is a story of duty and devotion. This book tells the tragic story of William De Lancey, who became one of the first professional staff officers in the British Army, worked for Wellington throughout the Penisular War, and was his chief-of-staff at the Battle of Waterloo.

    [1] This text is as given in The Illustrated Naval and Military magazine, No 48, Volume VIII, June 1888, pp 414–16. This author has been unable to find a manuscript copy of the original.

    [2] His post was Quartermaster-General and there was not such appointment as ‘Adjutant-Quartermaster-General’. This error may have appeared in the original through an ignorance of the military niceties or may have been introduced when making copies.

    [3] This differs from the ‘Full Narrative’ in which the people she meets are ‘Lady H— and Mr James’.

    [4] In the ‘Full Narrative’ the journey was completed in one day.

    [5] General D— was General Francis Dundas.

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    Workhouse scene


    The recent BBC series Peaky Blinders propelled the grime, violence and criminal activity of Birmingham during the early twentieth century to an avid television audience. With its vivid characters and evocative backgrounds it gave us a glimpse of what our working-class ancestors might have been part of if they lived in the Midlands during that time. Just the simple act of living was a test for those who dwelled within the city and its environs.

    The impact of industry on the people of Birmingham was obvious from the earliest years of industrialisation. As the poet Robert Southey wrote in a letter dated 7 July 1807:

    'My head aches with the multiplicity of infernal noises, and my eyes with the light of infernal fires, … my heart also, at the sight of so many human beings employed in infernal occupations, and looking as if they were never destined for anything better … the devil has certainly fixed upon this spot for his own nursery-garden and hot-house. I cannot pretend to say, what is the consumption here of the two-legged beasts of labour; commerce sends in no returns of its killed and wounded. Neither can I say that the people look sickly, having seen no other complexion in the place than what is composed of oil and dust smoke-dried.'

    The population of Victorian Birmingham grew exponentially throughout the nineteenth century. In 1801 it was just under 74,000; by 1901 this had rocketed to nearly 750,000. Living conditions became increasingly dire if the death rate of its children is any indication. For example between 1851 and 1861, 34,517 infant deaths alone were recorded in Birmingham.  However these deaths are hardly surprising.  A series of articles, Scenes in Slumland were published before 1901 in the Birmingham Daily Gazette by J Cuming Walters. Walters described the appalling conditions in which thousands of people lived:

    'The air is heavy with a sooty smoke and with acid vapours, and here it is that the poor live – and wither away and die. How do they live? Look at the houses, the alleys, the courts, the ill-lit, ill-paved, walled-in squares, with last night's rain still trickling down from the roofs and making pools in the ill-sluiced yards. Look at the begrimed windows, the broken glass, the apertures stopped with yellow paper or filthy rags; glance in at the rooms where large families eat and sleep every day and every night, amid rags and vermin, within dank and mildewed walls from which the blistered paper is drooping, or the bit of discoloration called "paint" is peeling away. Here you can veritably taste the pestilential air, stagnant and mephitic, which finds no outlet in the prison-like houses of the courts; and yet here, where there is breathing space for so few, the many are herded together, and overcrowding is the rule, not the exception. The poor have nowhere else to go.'

    William Marwood, Executioner

    With the rise in population and the ever worsening conditions in the inner city is it any wonder that, for some, criminal activity became the norm? The Victorian era saw a sharp rise in the crime rate with offences going up from roughly 5,000 per year in 1800 to around 20,000 per year in 1840. Living in such dehumanising conditions it was hardly surprising that certain sections of the population lost their moral and social compass but Victorian society, as the nineteenth century progressed, viewed criminality in different ways.

    At the beginning of Victoria's reign criminals were seen as individuals in the lowest sections of the working class who were reluctant to do an honest day's work and who preferred idleness, drink and an easy life. There were also concerns about 'the dangerous classes' who were thought to lurk in the slums waiting for the opportunity to commit acts of violence. In the eyes of the law-abiding Victorian, the problem was a moral one.

    The middle of the century saw the rise of the ‘criminal classes.’ These people were at the very bottom of society and were seen almost as a particular group who were bred to a life of dissolution and dishonesty

    By the end of the century, developments in psychiatry and the popularity of Darwin’s theory of evolution had led to the criminal being identified as an individual suffering from some form of behavioural abnormality that had been either inherited or nurtured by their feckless parents.

    With appalling working and living conditions, acts of criminality, violence and ill health Birmingham truly deserves the epitaph ‘grim'.

    A Grim Almanac of Birmingham

    Karen Evans is the author of 'A Grim Almanac of Birmingham'. Discover 366 gruesome tales from Birmingham’s past. With appalling accidents, frightful crimes and extraordinary deaths, there’s something to surprise even the most hardened reader. Featured here is the man who deliberately swallowed his wooden walking stick, a nineteenth-century horsemeat scandal, a drunken dispute that led to a man being stabbed in the eye with a table fork, and the lightning storm which hit a fog-signalling factory, setting off 43,000 explosions. True accounts of fires, catastrophes, murders, executions and a variety of nasty goings-on in the Birmingham of yesteryear await you within.

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    The Ugly Animals


    Simon Watt will be at the Cheltenham Science Festival (Parabola Arts Centre) on Saturday 6th June from 10:15am - 11:15am. He will be talking about his book, The Ugly Animals: We Can't All be Pandas.  

    Too book tickets click here.  


    Why is it that only the cute and fluffy endangered animals get all the press? Ugly endangered animals need attention too! Join President of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society Simon Watt to explore the brilliant biology and amazing adaptations of the animal kingdom’s most monstrous beasts. How did they evolve to be so ugly? What would be the impact if we lost them for good?

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  • 06/05/15--02:30: The Friday Digest 05/06/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the drivers of the 1980s, secrets to a lasting romance and the illicit trade in antiquities. 

    Image credit: Poster Collection, UK 60, Hoover Institution Archives

    * A lesson of Waterloo

    Image of Jacques-Louis David's painting "Napoleon Crossing the Alps" created using Legos is on display during the "History in Bricks" Lego exhibition recreating former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's life, in Waterloo, Belgium, on May 29, 2015  Read more:

    Napoleon in pieces: the emperor's life in Lego

    Duke Of Wellington Pocket Square

    * Rampley and Co. have created a pocket square featuring the Duke of Wellington to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle Of Waterloo

    Interactive Dunkirk Evacuation Map

    * An interactive map of the evacuation of Dunkirk

    Irma Grese

    * The real 'Beast of Belsen'? Irma Grese and female concentration camp guards

    Siegel's Flamingo Hotel, opened in 1946.

    * The anti-Nazi gangster: 'Bugsy' Siegel and the plot to assassinate Göring.

    Children seen on the cover of the book Besatzungskinder: The children of Allied Soldiers in Austria and Germany

    * The occupation children who were shunned in post-war Germany and Austria.

    Carausius coin with his face on one side and lion on the reverse | © Panairjdde

    * Did Roman Britain have its own emperor?  

    Seized ancient statues in Pakistan, 2012.

    * Trafficking culture: the move by archaeologists and criminologists to combat the illicit trade in antiquities.  

    Lionel and Ellen on their wedding day in July 1936


    * Couples who have been together for over fifty years share the secrets of a lasting romance

    Love letter from Joe DiMaggio to Marilyn Monroe. Mike Coppola / Via Getty Images

    * Fifteen tips for writing an amazing love letter ... 

    The crowd of 50,000 was described as a "sea of khaki" due to the number of military men - many injured - in attendance (c) Getty Images

    * The 1915 FA Cup: remembering the First World War's 'khaki cup final'

    A U.S. Army gun crew in 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France (AP)


    * What if the Allies had lost the First World War?  

    Cardiff's Empire theatre

    How music halls like the Coliseum and theatres like the Empire were the centre of city life

    Australopithecus deyiremeda (c) Laura Dempsey

    * A 'new species' of ancient human has been found in the Afar region of Ethiopia

    Lincoln Memorial – 1920

    * Twenty of the world's most iconic landmarks before they were finished

    Wilson A. Bentley / Via

    * This is what the first photographs of snowflakes looked like ... 


    Concept artwork for River Country. Image © Disney


    * The rise, fall and decay of Disney’s River Country

    Honda 90 Moped, Mare Street, E8. Chris Dorley-Brown

    * Drivers in the 1980s: a look back at London car culture

    A counting of goats and rams in cuneiform script, ancient Ngirsu, Iraq, 2360 BC. (DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images) 

    * Cuneiform: six things you (probably) didn’t know about the world’s oldest writing system

    The beer was brewed in Burton-upon-Trent and has never been opened

    * A 140-year-old bottle of beer brewed for an arctic expedition is to be auctioned after being found in a garage in Shropshire


    The Mary Celeste

    * Was Mary Celeste the unluckiest ship to ever sail the seven seas

    The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

    * The Rolling Stones share an unheard version of Brown Sugar featuring Eric Clapton which was recorded at a party for Keith Richards in 1970


     Alan Rusbridger in 1995. Photograph: The Guardian

    * ‘Farewell, readers’: Alan Rusbridger on leaving the Guardian after two decades at the helm

    Matt Damon stars as Tom Ripley in the Anthony Minghella adaptation

    * It’s been sixty years since the winning murderer Tom Ripley was created, but why does he still fascinate readers?  

    Flickr, Photos By 夏天

    * How crime fiction defies description

    * On writing what I know ... 

    * Six tips on how to fit writing into your life

    Malorie Blackman ~ Click to view larger version

    * Malorie Blackman has urged the next children’s laureate to speak their mind, despite describing her 'surprise' at the 'vitriolic reaction' she had received to some of her own campaigns.

    What would Jane Austen tweet?

    Jane Austen's #truthbomb and seventeen other literary hashtags

    J. Otto Seibold, Mr. Lunch Takes A Plane Ride

    * Mr. Lunch Takes A Plane Ride: the first children's book illustrated using a computer.

    Cover story: Commercial creep

    Commercial creep: how mass market design is influencing literary fiction.

    March 2 1932 Clouds and bubbles fill the sky in artist Georges Lepape’s whimsical cover design for a spring bridal special.

    * Stunning illustrated covers from Vogue

     Brian Dettmer’s book autopsies

    * 'Book autopsies' from Brian Dettmer

    UK Reading 2

    * A study by the National Literacy Trust has shown that in the UK, girls read online, but boys prefer print.


    * A look at the US ebook market in 2014

    Robbed … Sally Hawkins as Susan in the TV adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, which was shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes

    * Analysis of the last fifteen years of winners of six major literary awards by the critically acclaimed author Nicola Griffith has found that a novel is more likely to land a prize if the focus of the narrative is male.  


    How To Be Both

    * Exclusive extracts from the books on the Baileys Prize shortlist

    Ali Smith wins the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

    * Ali Smith won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015 with her book How To Be Both, the story of two parallel narratives involving a teenage girl in the 1960s and a Renaissance artist.  

     "Dust in the sunlight and old leather" Kate Mosse talks to The Pool about the magic of bookshops


    * Kate Mosse on the joy of bookshops.

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    CSM Stanley Hollis VC: D-Day Hero

    Middlesbrough-born Stanley Hollis, the only man to win a VC on D-day, should have been the most famous soldier of World War Two – but his natural modesty got in the way! The superb soldier and leader of men, who was uniquely recommended twice for the VC in blistering actions at Gold Beach, Normandy, on D-Day June 6, 1944, had top writers of the day knocking on his door desperate to tell his story to the world.

    But tough guy Stan sent them all packing, saying “anyone would have done what I did." So, until now Stan's stupendous courage and selfless acts which saved so many lives of his close Green Howards comrades on that momentous day in history became largely forgotten on the national stage for many years.

    At the outbreak of World War Two he joined the 6th Battalion, Green Howards and was sent with many pals to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 as a dispatch rider. Wounded for the first of five times in the war, he survived a hair raising evacuation from Dunkirk. Later, he fought in the Western desert with the famed Eighth Army in the key North African Campaign, once taking out a Tiger tank single handed in a speedy bren gun carrier by slapping a sticky bomb on it.

    Killing more than 100 enemy soldiers during the war, Hollis rose to Company Sergeant Major just before the invasion of Sicily in 1943 where he was recommended for, but did not receive, a Distinguished Conduct Medal at the fierce battle of Primosole Bridge. But it was his actions at Gold beach, the Mont Fleury battery and Crepon on D-Day when he really came into his own.

    CSM Hollis and the battle hardened Green Howards, were hand picked by Monty to be one of the first assault battalions to set foot on the bloody Normandy sands. As his Company took many casualties moving inland from the beaches, Hollis suddenly saw two hidden German pill boxes which had been by-passed. Without hesitating for an instant, Stan rushed forward to the first pill-box, poking his Sten gun through the slit. He climbed on top and put a hand grenade inside. killing most of the enemy within and taking other occupants prisoner. Spotting a second strong point, he attacked that too, taking 25 prisoners. Hearing that two of his men had been left behind trapped in a house he bravely told Major Lofthouse, his CO, "I took them in. I'll try to get them out." Hollis sprang out into the open blazing away with his Bren with bullets spattering the ground all round him, enabling the trapped men to get away. He even got bullets lodged in bones of his feet, which he didn't know about until after the war!

    In September 1944 he was wounded for the fifth time in the conflict and evacuated to England where he was decorated with the VC by King George V1 in October 1944. Returning to North Ormesby, Middelsbrough, he got a job as a lorry driver and married Alice Clixby with whom he had a son Brian, who now lives at Linthorpe and a daughter Pauline, of Redcar. Both burst with pride when talking of their heroic dad. And many a person stopped the family in the street after the war and said 'My husband's come home alive because of what your father did on D-Day.' After the war, he was also a Teesside steelworker and partner in a local motor repair business  before training as a publican and ran the North Ormesby Green Howard pub and later the Holywell View pub at Liverton Mines near Loftus.

    Hollis died in February 1972. His funeral at Acklam Cemetery, Middlesbrough, was attended by two other VC winners, family and many Green Howards and VIPs. Now, Stan is to have a £150,000 memorial built in his honour by the StanleyEHollis Memorial Fund with permission from Middlesbrough Council at Linthorpe, just yards from Middlesbrough's Cenotaph to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, to be opened later this year.

    There can be no greater tribute to a man regarded by military experts as one of the three finest VC winners of all time.


    Mike Morgan is the author of D-Day Hero published by The History Press. D-Day’s only Victoria Cross winner, Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis, was, uniquely, twice recommended for this coveted award on 6 June 1944. 

    Click here for more on D-Day and the 'beginning of the end' of the conflict

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    Normandy: the beaches and German dispositions

    In the early hours of 6 June 1944, 20,000 British and American airborne soldiers descended by parachute and glider in the areas of Ranville and St Mère Église in Normandy. Employing 1,200 transport aircraft and 188 gliders, this was the largest airborne landing executed to that date. It was, however, merely the opening phase of a larger operation, the next stage of which commenced six hours or so later.

    A fleet of 6,000 assorted vessels, ranging from battleships to miniature submarines, delivered getting on for a quarter of a million Allied soldiers onto a sixty-mile stretch of the Normandy coast, extending from the mouth of the River Orne in the east to the coast of the Cotentin Peninsula in the west. Years in the making and codenamed Operation overlord, this was and remains the largest amphibious invasion in history. It began the liberation of German-occupied North West Europe and led ultimately to Allied victory within the year.

    Unsurprisingly, such a momentous event has generated a great deal of interest.  Leaving aside the official histories, which do a creditable job of covering all the angles in detail, the largest category tends to focus on the strategic ‘big picture’ and deals with the Normandy campaign as a whole, up to the breakout after Falaise or the liberation of Paris. Within this treatment, the initial assault usually merits a few pages at best or a few lines at worst. Works in the other category take the opposite tack and concentrate almost exclusively on the events of activities of specific units or arms of service within that narrow time frame. A similar tendency exists in the treatment of the airborne and amphibious elements of the invasion, which are frequently dealt with in virtual isolation and along national lines.

    These approaches are of course perfectly valid, and in sum provide thorough coverage of Operation Overlord from inception to completion. However, the problem with minimising or maximising the initial assault is that it gives a distorted impression of that event and its relevance in the wider context. The casual observer reading two randomly selected works, for example, could be forgiven for forming the view that the Normandy invasion consisted of a twenty-four hour flurry of activity on the beaches, seamlessly followed by three months of massed tank attacks near Caen that went on until the Americans rode to the rescue from the west and closed the Falaise Gap. They would likely not be aware that in reality the initial assault went on for three days, or that the course of events in that period totally shaped the following three-month campaign and arguably what came after.

    Neither would they be aware that the initial assault also highlighted command, doctrinal and organisational shortcomings that were to dog Allied operations for the rest of the war in North-West Europe.

    It took seventy-two hours for the assault force to achieve most of their D-Day objectives, and the end of the period marks the point where the burden began to pass from the assault divisions to follow up formations. By looking at these seventy-two hours again,  a critical eye will be cast on received wisdom regarding the D-Day invasion. The American landings on the Utah beaches, for example, are almost invariably lauded for their low casualties and efficient disembarkation and logistics build-up. Rather less attention has been paid to the performance of the US 4th Infantry Division once ashore, although this was to have serious implications at the time and later. Similarly, much is made of the alleged failure of the British 3rd Infantry Division to seize the city of Caen on 6 June as ordered, but the question of whether or not that objective was realistic or indeed achievable is rarely addressed, if ever.

    On the German side, there has been an unquestioning acceptance that the British airborne lodgement around Ranville could have been swiftly eliminated had the senior commanders not reacted in a sluggish and hesitant manner. The biggest piece of received wisdom, however, relates to the American Omaha landing beaches. Over the years events these have attained near-legendary status as the unparalleled Calvary of D-Day, a perception reinforced recently by the feature film Saving Private Ryan. This has led to a widespread assumption that the beaches assigned to the British and Canadian forces were a pushover in comparison. The Omaha defences are thus automatically assumed to have been formidable, although there is no shortage of evidence to challenge the assumption, and the possibility is rarely considered that there might have been deeper problems among the American assault troops. 


    D-Day, the First 72 Hours


    William F Buckingham is the author of D-Day, the First 72 Hours. The Allied invasion of occupied France began with the delivery of three airborne and six infantry divisions onto a 60-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. Accomplishing this involved over 1,200 transport aircraft, 450 gliders, 325 assorted warships and over 4,000 landing vessels. Operation Overlord, as the invasion was code-named, remains the largest amphibious invasion in history. This books tells the story hour-by-hour as it unfurled on the beaches, as experienced by the Allied troops. D-Day: The First 72 Hours covers the initial attacks made by airborne and special forces until the point where all the beachheads were secured. 

    Click here for more on D-Day and the 'beginning of the end' of the Second World War

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    A map of the subordinate plans of Operation Bodyguard, the 1944 deception in support of the Allied invasion of Normandy (D-Day). Image from

    Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Hesketh was a member of General Eisenhower’s deception unit, Ops B, and was a key figure in Operation Fortitude, the great Allied deception carried out against the Germans to support the Normandy campaign. After the war, Hesketh wrote a book on Fortitude, and in it he asked the question: of all the elements employed to deceive the enemy, from the fake runways and aircraft, to the dummy airborne troops, and the double agents feeding disinformation, which one had the greatest effect? Which part of Fortitude had actually fooled the Germans?

    On examining the German records after the war, and interviewing their commanders, one key piece stood out over all the others: MI5’s Spanish double agent ‘Garbo’ and his message of 9th June 1944 to German intelligence in which he warned that the Normandy landings were a trap meant to divert the best Germans troops away from the Pas-de-Calais. Other factors had helped, Hesketh concluded, not least the other double agents feeding the Germans the story of a fictional build-up of Allied troops around Dover. But it was Garbo’s D+3 message that made Hitler himself give the counter order that stopped the powerful German reserves in France and Belgium from attacking the Allied soldiers struggling to get a toe-hold on the Normandy coastline.

    Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of German high command, said as much himself. When shown the text of Garbo’s message after the war he agreed that it had been the reason why the Führer ordered his crack reserves to stay close to the narrowest part of the Channel.

    ‘There you have your answer,’ he said. ‘If I were writing a history I would say, with ninety-nine per cent certainty, that that message provided the reason for the change of plan.’

    No other double agent or factor within the deception set up had such a dramatic and powerful effect. Garbo - an ordinary-looking yet highly imaginative and complex Spaniard called Juan Pujol - was the single most important part of the success of Fortitude.

    ‘Taking the evidence a a whole,’ Hesketh concluded, ‘the reader will probably agree that GARBO’s report decided the issue.’

    Other double agents working for MI5 played important roles in the success of Fortitude - notably ‘Brutus’ (Roman Czerniawski) and ‘Tricycle’ (Dušan Popov). But Brutus’ loyalties were always first and foremost to Poland, while Tricycle had effectively been taken off Fortitude in the months before D-Day owing to doubts over his cover. Those who were involved at the time were in no doubt that Garbo was the truly indispensable member of the double cross team.

    ‘Garbo was the man who developed into our real star,’ wrote Ewen Montagu, ‘probably out-doing even Tricycle.’

    John Masterman, who ran the XX Committee overseeing the double cross system, agreed. A fan of cricketing analogies, Masterman described Garbo in these terms, comparing him with one of the earlier - and ultimately disappointing - double agents, ‘Snow’: ‘If in the double cross world SNOW was the W.G. Grace of the early period, then GARBO was certainly the Bradman of the later years.’ International cricket was suspended during the war, but Australia’s Donald Bradman was the leading batsman of the day. Today, he is not only regarded as the finest cricketer ever, but possibly the greatest athlete of any sport. Masterman was describing his double agent in the most flattering terms he could think of. The Garbo case, he concluded, was nothing short of ‘the most highly developed example’ of the art of deception.

    And would the invasion of Normandy have succeeded without the deception plan? Could all those thousands of soldiers have managed to fight their way off the beaches and deep into France had Fortitude not been set up to protect them from the best German troops then available in Western Europe?

    Some historians prefer to downplay the importance of Fortitude, yet Allied commanders at the time were convinced that it was pivotal. It was the reason why the deception was carried out in the first place.

    Considering the numbers of German troops available in France and Belgium, and the speed with which the Allies could get men and equipment on shore, the success of Fortitude was not a mere bonus that would help keep casualty rates down, it was crucial to the success of the invasion itself. Deception planners in London had already envisaged a scenario where no deception was carried out, estimating a timetable showing how quickly the Germans would pour men into the invasion area once the assault started. If the enemy correctly assumed that Normandy was it - that there was no second invasion coming in the Pas-de-Calais - and as a result sent the bulk of its forces in to repel the invaders, then by D+25 they would have some thirty-one divisions in Normandy, including nine Panzer divisions. That scale of build-up, Eisenhower and the other Allied commanders knew, was impossible to match. They had the floating Mulberry harbours, which they could use to ship supplies and men into France at a rapid rate. But even with these it would not be enough to bring in enough soldiers and armour to combat such imposing numbers.

    ‘In short,’ historian Stephen Ambrose concluded, ‘if Fortitude did not work, if the Germans pulled their Fifteenth Army away from the Pas-de-Calais and hurled it against Normandy, Overlord would fail.’

    In a conflict involving so many millions of people, in which so many died, it seems frivolous, perhaps, to boil it all down to one or two men, a mere handful whose words and decisions changed the course of history. Other factors could also have had a decisive effect on the success of D-Day - the weather in the Channel over those crucial few days in early June, for example. And others also played their part - not least the soldiers who landed on the beaches, risking their lives to begin the slow process of liberating Europe from the Nazis. And yet the importance not only of the deception operation, but of Garbo’s role in it, seems incontrovertible, as Eisenhower himself later acknowledged to Pujol’s case officer, Tomás Harris.

    ‘You know,’ he told Harris after the war, ‘your work with Mr Pujol most probably amounts to the equivalent of a whole army division. You have saved a lot of lives.’



    Jason Webster is the author of The Spy With 29 Names, published by Chatto & Windus.  For more information visit

    Click here for more on D-Day and the 'beginning of the end' of the Second World War

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    Nazi successes - family cars etc

    Stamps are printed in millions, and they reach every community. Today the pictures on them are usually commemorative, generally uncontroversial and rarely memorable.  During the Second World War these seemingly innocuous little pieces of paper played a far more important role in sending key messages to the people who used them. Political leaders were keen to exploit their capacity to communicate ideas, promote events and play on emotions. Stamps and their accompanying slogan postmarks and propaganda cachets provide fascinating evidence, sometimes disturbingly so, of the aspirations, anxieties and assumptions of Second World War nations - whether they were autonomous, triumphant, enduring defeat, or puppets.

    Welcoming back the Saar    

    In Germany the Nazi regime issued numerous sets of stamps between 1933 and 1945 and the skillfully composed images concentrated entirely on the peace, prosperity and pride Hitler had brought to a nation so humiliated in 1918. Nothing suggestive of a dictatorship was ever hinted at, and until 1943 no stamps reminded users that a war was going on. Some sets deliberately peaceful in their imagery – of pastoral views, children coming home, waving flags, and joyful workers  - celebrated the return of the Saarland, the Sudetenland, Danzig and Alsace-Lorraine after they had been wrenched away by the Treaty of Versailles. Very few issues outside those marking the Nuremberg Rallies hinted at a swastika or a soldier, but numerous sets highlighted welfare achievements such as maternity care and medical advances. Leisure achievements such as new sports stadiums and the Olympic Games, technical achievements such as sports and family cars, and the famous airships, and historic figures  such as the poet Peter Rosegger, the musicians Bach and Mozart, and the medical pioneers Emil von Behring and Robert Koch also featured. Young people were targeted, too, with sets showing handsome Aryan girls and boys busy as members of the Hitler Youth and Labour Corps. The long sets marking Heroes Days in 1943 in 1944 had a jarring effect with their imagery of the fearsome weaponry of modern warfare, but the infantry, tanks, ships and planes advancing on their enemies were meant to be reassuring. As Berlin succumbed the Volksturm (youths and old men drafted into uniform) and Stormtroopers ) were pictured, but by then few were impressed. 

     Berlin Olympics


    As the Germans occupied or browbeat countries across Europe so stamps reflected their new circumstances. France was a primary example. After its defeat in May 1940 the southern part was allowed limited autonomy under Marshal Philippe Petain. He believed France’s moral decay and crippling lack of national confidence since 1918 could only be overcome by an alliance with Germany and emulation of its powerful authoritarian regime, proud united people, and efficient organization. Based in provincial Vichy, his regime sought to ally itself strongly to the Catholic Church, to establish a society devoted to family life and service to the community, and to inculcate national pride by appealing to the alleged virtues of high spots in France’s past, notably the reigns of Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Vichy stamps therefore were replete with the deceptively distinguished features of Petain himself, families hard at work, girls in provincial costumes, and famous figures from the chosen periods. The new enemies, Petain said, were the British, Communists, Jews and French Resistance, all of which the regime sought to rid from its territory.  

    Anti-Bolshevik recruits (France)

    Other nations used stamps differently. In Poland the Nazis ruthlessly destroyed its culture and numerous stamp issues proclaimed a German cultural as well as political mastery of the region. As the Soviet Union reeled under the German invasion its stamps stopped eulogizing Communist ideologies, and inspired national unity through heroic historical battles and popular cultural figures even though they reminded people of Tsarist days. Other issues contained striking action scenes of Heroes of the Soviet Union sacrificing their lives to hold back the Nazi hordes. In the Balkans it was different again.   Here Hitler played off the bitter jealousies between Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to secure their support, and their stamps vividly reflect their moments of glory as the Axis armies swept into Russia, then the numerous charity issues reveal the hideous casualties they suffered, and finally images record the advent of the Communist regimes and the end of monarchies.  In 1941 Hitler carved up the defeated Kingdom of Yugoslavia into its mutually hostile parts of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro.  Each new ‘state’ produced stamps highlighting its religion, culture and past patriots, and it is easy to see the hatreds that led the partisan units to fight each other as much as the Germans and Italians.  

    European Stamp Issues of the Second World War: Images of Triumph, Deceit and Despair

    David Parker is the author of European Stamp Issues of the Second World War: Images of Triumph, Deceit and Despair. Today, European nations still use stamps to commemorate aspects of a nation’s culture, history and achievements. During the Second World War, however, stamps were considered far more important in conveying political and ideological messages about their country’s change in fortunes – whether it was as triumphant occupier, willing or unwilling ally, or oppressed victim. Some issues and overprints contained obvious messages, but many others were skillfully designed and subtle in their intentions. Stamps and their accompanying postmarks offer an absorbing and surprisingly detailed insight into the hopes and fears of nations at this tumultuous time. This remarkable collection examines and interprets the stamps of twenty-two countries across western and eastern Europe.

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    File:Ve Day Celebrations in London, 8 May 1945 HU41808.jpg


    We all have anniversaries. Not necessarily big ones (such as the First World War, which dominated last year and will be commemorated throughout its centenary, but we all have a birthday, or a work anniversary or even ones which celebrate the start of a new relationship. 2015 has been a year to remember on the world stage, with Magna Carta now 800 years old and today seen as a cornerstone of British democracy. The Battle of Waterloo took place 200 years ago, and who knows how the world would be today should the ‘damned close-run thing’ have ended differently.

    How often has someone mentioned that such-and-such an event happened so many years ago and you’ve said ‘You must be kidding.’? Barings Bank collapsed twenty years ago, worth many millions of pounds then, and now many of us have never heard of it. Anniversaries give us a chance to think back to the bad times, whether to mourn those lost during the tragedy at Heysel Stadium in Brussels thirty years ago, or to acknowledge the death of the iconic Winston Churchill (who died in 1965). By fixing a date to a certain event it gives us a reason to stop and remember those lost and in many cases, as many memorials to soldiers of the First World War will remind you, to remember why it happened and what we gained. 

    And so in that way, anniversaries are also a chance to celebrate how far we have come. Parliament, which arguably first met 750 years ago, is now a fact of life, and the last woman hanged in the UK was sixty years ago – not as long ago as some might like to think. Anniversaries give us a chance to look back at the first use of antiseptic (via lint dipped in carbolic acid) 150 years ago and realise how it has evolved into our current medical practices. Did you know that driving tests were only compulsory eighty years ago? We can laugh at our past foolishness, such as at the pictures of those old-fashioned mobile phones, the first call of which was made thirty years ago, but it is always worth remembering that whatever we have now developed from somewhere and our descendants will probably look back on us and have a good laugh too.

    In this way anniversaries need not always be sombre and to mark a tragedy. They are also an opportunity to celebrate our success, be it as personal as a silver wedding anniversary or as (arguably) nationwide as the first episode of EastEnders thirty years ago. But, of course, it can also be bittersweet, such as VE Day (seventy years ago) celebrating the end of the Second World War, which can never be remembered without those lost in it, or the evacuation of Dunkirk five years before that, when little, almost insignificant, ships helped save thousands of Allied soldiers.

    Looking back also gives us a chance to look forward. Thinking back to Waterloo, with Napoleon defeated by a coalition of nations, can give us hope that different nations can put aside their differences and unite for a common cause. And marking the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Red Army seventy years ago means that the horror can never be forgotten, with the hope that it never will happen again. It is often stated that history repeats itself, and so it would be foolish to relive our mistakes by forgetting the experience of all those before.


    Because surely that is the most important role of an anniversary. It is so we do not forget.

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    I have to admit, I never expected to be an historical crime writer. Back when I was 19 or 20 I had visions of writing books that would change the world and bring me the Nobel Prize for Literature. But youth is full of ambition and ideals.

    Back then I believed that if it wasn’t art it wasn’t worth a damn.

    I truly didn’t understand the power of story.

    That came many years later, after I had a pile of unpublished manuscripts around me. I’d seen a few small pieces in print, short stories, and pair of one-act plays staged for no payment. I’d played in bands that went nowhere – music, my other passion. Finally I said the hell with it all and began writing about music. Putting the two things I loved together.

    And within 12 months I was making a living as a writer. I stayed busy, extremely busy, for a long time. I loved what I did. That urge for fiction was buried. I was learning in every way. It was an apprenticeship, a great one. So were the quickie biographies I penned. A month to research and write a 50,000 words book – and this in the time before everything was online. I learned how to (maybe) to it right the first time.

    It was more than 10 years before I surfaced and looked around. During that period my love of history had reawakened, especially the history of my hometown. I bought and read whatever I could find and accumulated a decent little library of books about the place. I’d taken history A-level so I was familiar with English and European history. I’d spent much of that time living in the US and learning more about the past of the country.

    Eventually a book reared up in my head. It wasn’t going to change the world. It wouldn’t win any prizes. It didn’t even get published. But out of that came the first of my published novels, a few years later – and that journey was a tale in itself, one for another time.

    I came to understand that I like using the past to refract the present, that there really is nothing new under the sun. And that, at heart, people don’t really change. Our characters are much the same as they were 100, 200, 700 years ago. Good, venal and all the shades in between.

    Why crime? I’d read crime novels for years, contemporary and historical. Some I liked, many were rubbish. But crime imposes a moral framework on a story. There’s automatically good and bad in there. And, even better, a chances to explore all those shades of grey (far more than 50 of them) that lie in between.

    And historical crime? A period before DNA, often before fingerprints, sometimes before the idea of a police force makes it into a battle of wits. It’s more subtle. Information comes from talk, from intuition, from tracking down clues. It’s very human. In reality it’s great that law and order has all these modern tools. For fiction, though, the chance to reduce it to basics is much more appealing. It’s a chance to take the reader on a journey to another place and time, to make the reading a truly immersive experience. More than that, a chance to show them that the essence of people doesn’t change over the centuries.

    Yes, every period requires something different of the writer. But that, too, is a challenge to be relished. More research, which is a pleasure, and more a sense of diving into a time, coming up a few months later dripping with it. And how bad can that be?

    The Crooked Spire and Dark Briggate Blues by Chris Nickson

    Chris Nickson is the author of The Crooked Spire and Dark Briggate Blues. You can read a Q&A with Chris here as he talks about the challenges of writing, from writer's block to social media ...

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  • 06/12/15--04:00: The Friday Digest 12/06/15
  • THP Friday digest
    This week's update features aggressive cannibalism, the objects bringing the Battle of Waterloo to life and an investigation into Amazon.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 09.09.11

    * Experience the battlefield at Waterloo with a game from the National Army Museum. 

    The battle of Waterloo, 1815 (1816). (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

    * Seven surprising facts about the Napoleonic Wars

    A union flag with regimental number.

    * Bringing the Battle of Waterloo back to life ...  

    The Battle of Waterloo 200th Anniversary

    * Beautiful stamps to commemmorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

    Shot at Dawn memorial


    * Thomas Highgate: the first British soldier executed during the First World War

    Ambulance trains

    * The trains that saved soldiers in the First World War

    French soldiers in trench defending approach to the Rhine 1940

    * The Second World War soldiers that France has forgotten

    This video shows the scale of losses in WWII

    * A video showing the shocking scale of losses in the Second World War

    The tractor and threshing machine on this Gloucestershire farm fall silent for a short time as German POWs take a break from work. (Image rights: Patrick Barrett)

    * The fascinating stories of German POWs in Britain after the Second World War

    Winston Churchill

    Churchill's radio imposter? Solving the mystery of the British Prime Minister's wartime recordings

    Germany's oldest student, 102, gets PhD denied by Nazis

    * A 102-year-old German woman has become the world's oldest person to be awarded a doctorate on Tuesday, almost eighty years after the Nazis prevented her from sitting her final exam

    A Tube map of the London Underground that's far more useful than the 'official' one


    * A Tube map of the London Underground that's far more useful than the 'official' one.

    Photographing Britain's disappearing petrol stations


    * Photographing Britain's disappearing petrol stations ... 

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (the Louvre Museum, Paris)

    * Who was the Mona Lisa

    Cannibalism, Brazil. Engraving by Theodor de Bry for Hans Staden's account of his 1557 captivity.

    * Eating your enemy: aggressive cannibalism in a war zone

    Middleton Little Face ( )

    * The terrifying lesson my father taught me at the age of 10.

    The children gathered together in Greenland. Helene Thiesen is on the far right of this picture, taken in Greenland

    * The Inuit children taken from home for a social experiment

    Watch Newly Discovered Footage of Amelia Earhart, Made Shortly Before She Disappeared

    * Watch newly discovered footage of Amelia Earhart, taken shortly before she disappeared

    Princess Margaret Rose, 1933

    * The traditional clothes of royal children ... 

    The jupe-culotte as seen on a 1911 French postcard

    * Women in trousers: on the way to masculinity?   


    Members of the Amazons football team


    The secret history of women's football.  

    Long exposure times meant people rarely smiled in the early days of photography (iStock / marlenka)


    Why do people in Victorian photographs look so glum

    River Irwell, Salford In 1950 Anthony Greenwood, MP for Rossendale, paid tribute to the River Irwell in the House of Commons, calling it "the hardest working river in the whole of the United Kingdom."

    * The Great British stink: water and sanitation from Victorian Britain to the modern day. Find out more about the system of intercepting sewers, pumping stations and treatment works that cleaned up Victorian London here

    mancini and audrey hepburn (c) The Mancini family

    The history of Henry Mancini's Moon River. 

    The floor plan of the Byzantine church found by Abu Ghosh. Photo by Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority 


    * A Byzantine-era church and roadside station were discovered during works to expand the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.


    Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, London, 1978This playground is on the modernist Churchill Gardens estate designed by Powell and Moya, but clearly built at a later date. Before these postwar playgrounds were built, children would have been playing in the bomb sites left after the war. It’s possible the architects were referencing that in their design.  All captions by Simon Terrill  Photograph: John Donat/RIBA  

    Britain's brutalist playgrounds in pictures


    Peter Paul, 'Bill Wagoner', and Simon Lane, 'Orse'; Christian Cornell, 'The Straw Bear'

    A lore unto themselves: celebrating the merry souls who keep Britain's folkloric tradition alive

    ‘Male robins will peck at rivals’ napes to sever their spinal cords; 10% of all adult robin deaths are robin-on-robin, red-on-red incidents.’ Photograph: Alamy

    * Britain has spoken – and chosen a vicious murdering bully as its national bird.

    The 15 most perfect responses of all time

    * Fifteen of the wittest, most perfect take downs in history

    How to graciously say no to anyone

    * How to graciously say no to anyone ...

    Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Romola Garai filming on location at the Houses of Parliament


    * The first trailer has been released for Suffragette, which stars Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep, and deals with the early struggles of the women’s suffrage movement. 

    JRR Tolkien inscription

    A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, with an inscription in Elvish written by the author, has sold at auction in London for £137,000.

    Christopher Lee, pictured in 1959

    Sir Christopher Lee, known as the master of horror, has died at the age of 93. You can read his obituary here and take a look at his career in pictures here.



    * David Nicholls' Us is to be adapted for the BBC

    Marian Keyes

    * Author Marian Keyes says 'chick lit' as a term needs to go, and she's so right

    Allen County Librarian Megan Bell (left) with Meaghan Good.

    The tale of a true crime book's trip over the Atlantic


    * A new scope: books to revisit Star Wars from perspectives of key characters



    * A look back on Malorie Blackman's reign as children's laureate

    Bonnie Greer

    * Bonnie Greer resigns as Bronte Society president following 'internal feud'

    Fated Paradox

    * Inkitt have launched a free mystery/thriller writing contest called Fated Paradox, 'in order to help authors to get the exposure they deserve'


    Encouraging impulsiveness … Penguin’s Little Black Classics

    * Penguin’s Little Black Classics campaign has won the BMS Marketing Campaign spring season award, topping the adult category.  


    Mr Pullman said: “Amazon has done one good thing, which is to make books available to everyone. But they’ve done it at terrible cost to authors by selling books so cheaply. It gives the impression that books don’t cost very much to create.”

    * Philip Pullman on the 'disaster' of piracy


     TV cook and author Marguerite Patten at home in Brighton. Photograph: Gary Calton

    * Tributes have been paid this week to Marguerite Patten who has died at the age of 99


    * The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation into the way Amazon distributes e-books and its relationship with publishers

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  • 06/13/15--09:00: Manchester Blitz 1940
  • 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of the World War 2 Luftwaffe raids on Manchester, Salford, and Trafford Park. The attacks reached a climax just before Christmas 1940, when on two consecutive nights thousands of incendiary bombs and hundreds of high explosive devices were unleashed on the conurbation. Throughout the raids which continued into 1941 over 800 people were killed, and major buildings wholly or partially destroyed included the Free Trade Hall, the Royal Exchange, the Cathedral, the Victoria Buildings, Salford Royal Infirmary, Manchester United’s ground at Old Trafford, Cross Street Chapel, and Victoria Station.

                There was an uncontainable inferno across the clothing and cotton goods warehouse district of Portland Street, George Street and Piccadilly, with the inflammable textiles helping to spread the flames. Eventually the military had to be called in to dynamite some buildings so as to create fire breaks. Parts of the area were still smouldering over a week later.

    Destruction after Blitz

                What made conditions worse was the fact that during the 22nd December attack many regular fire fighters were still in Liverpool, helping to deal with the Merseyside Blitz. An army of volunteers and part-timers did a fine job in Manchester until reinforcements – some arriving from as far away as Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton – came to the city the following day.

                Preparation for protection from the air raids had been thorough. Many households had a back garden Anderson shelter, or an indoor Morrison design. There were other, more expensive indoor shelters available, and for those unable to afford a domestic version, there were hundreds of communal places of safety, usually underground in converted cellars and disused canal tunnels. The largest of these was a former subterranean canal which ran for over half a mile passing under Deansgate, roughly following the line of Peter Street and Quay Street. Although some anti-social behaviour was noted in a few communal shelters, in general people were well behaved and morale remained high. Some of the better-equipped refuges had organised entertainment such as sing-songs and lectures, and there were even religious services, sale of cups of tea, and small libraries. Originally designed for a short-lived raid of two or three hours, the communal shelters underwent radical enhancement once the length and intensity of the Luftwaffe attacks became apparent.

                Amidst the mayhem of the bombing tales of heroism were legion. Workers who at great risk to themselves climbed to the top of gasholders to kick live incendiaries to the ground before the fires could ignite the highly explosive gas; ARP Wardens and Special Constables who led groups of people to safety whilst the bombs were falling; drivers and motorcyclists who conveyed petrol through the blazing city streets; the women of the WVS who tirelessly ministered to the increasing number of homeless in the Rest Centres – the list is long, and it is small wonder that the leader of the Emergency Committee expressed this view of the Manchester response to the raids: “an epic of fine heroism worthy to rank high in the annals of the city of Manchester”. To borrow Churchill’s phrase: Hitler did his worst, and Mancunians did their best.

                Whilst the bombing took a matter of hours, the rebuilding of the city was to take many years to complete. The Free Trade Hall was restored in time for the 1951 festival of Britain, but it would be seven years later before the Cathedral was at last free from the sound of hammers and saws. The destroyed north-east corner of the Cathedral was completely rebuilt, and now the centre-piece is the Fire Window, a stained glass addition made in 1963. It offers a striking memento of the Blitz. Red, yellow and orange flames appear to climb the glass, and when the sun shines through the effect is stunning. On the altar cloth below the window is the design of a phoenix: an apt symbol of the new Manchester which has risen – which continues to rise – from the ashes of Hitler’s Blitz.


    Blitz Britain Manchester

    Graham Pythian is the author of Blitz Britain Manchester and Salford which will be published in July 2015.

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    King John faces the barons at the sealing of Magna Carta-2


    Back in 1215, Magna Carta was like many a new-born in the Middle Ages: the odds were stacked against its survival. It was a sickly baby with abusive parents. Those who’d conceived it - King John and the barons – abandoned it within three months, and turned to attack each other. The Pope even declared it dead and excommunicated anyone who tried to revive it.

    Magna Carta itself looked ill-equipped for a long and healthy life. Most of its 63 clauses were peppered with feudal jargon - ‘amercement’, ‘trithings’, ‘halberget’, hardly words to echo down the ages. And even when we do stumble on a few lines to make our hearts leap, historians step in and pour cold water on our enthusiasm. Take the most famous of its clauses, no. 39: 'No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions….. except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.’ 

    Stirring stuff. But note, these wonderful privileges applied only to ‘free men.’ In 1215, this was a small, specific group of only one in four of the male population. Women were entirely excluded.  It’s upper class men looking after themselves.

    But what about ‘except by the lawful judgement of his equals’? Trial by jury, surely?  Actually, no. It just refers to a way of settling legal cases in the thirteenth century when it wasn’t clear which court had jurisdiction.

    So where does the true importance of Magna Carta lie? Well, it wasn’t an entirely sickly child. It had a sturdy heart that would help it live on.

    First, the charter showed that even a king must obey the law. Magna Carta doesn’t spell this out. But many of its clauses are examples of this hallowed principle at work. And too there’s another jewel, buried in Clause 39 itself. Forget for a moment its very limited application. A legal treasure was established in principle: arbitrary punishment is wrong.

    But Magna Carta wasn’t finished there. It was – and still is – a living thing.

    It was re-issued many times during the first centuries of its life. Whenever a king faced revolt, or needed to raise cash, he’d be forced to make concessions. And they were often incorporated into a rewritten Magna Carta.

    The most far-reaching change came in 1354 during Edward III’s reign. Clause 39 – which had been limited to a few free men - was expanded to read: ‘no man, of whatever estate or condition he may be’ shall be punished ‘except by due process of law’. And if we accept that in the fourteenth century it was still unthinkable that women would yet be included, then we’re on the way to establishing a universal defence against tyranny.

    Then, in the seventeenth century, Magna Carta took another leap forward – this time almost by accident. During the mighty clash between the English crown and parliament, the opposition needed a weapon of almost biblical importance to combat the king’s claim that he had absolute power given him by God. The great jurist, Sir Edward Coke thought he’d found it in Magna Carta. He believed that trial by jury and habeas corpus had been granted in the original document. We now know he was mistaken. But it didn’t matter. Coke’s commentaries on the Great Charter became the inspiration for those fighting for freedom and justice, not only in England but in the new colonies which were to become the United States of America.

    When in the late eighteenth century the new Americans had won their independence and needed to define the rights of their nation’s citizens, they turned to Magna Carta. The Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states: '…no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law'. Almost a direct quote from the 1354 Magna Carta. And because the Great Charter was the inspiration for America’s founding fathers, it’s been cited no fewer than 900 times in American courts.

    The Great Charter’s influence today has spread to every continent. As the British Empire broke up during more recent times, the newly independent Commonwealth nations founded their legal systems on English common law. Canada, Australia and India, for example, all acknowledge the inspiration of Magna Carta in their constitutions. And perhaps the most surprising places for the Great Charter to turn up are  Germany and Japan– two countries which directly suffered authoritarian governments during the Second World War,  and where Magna Carta is now taught in schools. 

    But the Great Charter’s most potent legacy lies in these three simple syllables: ‘due process’ - the words first used in the 1354 Magna Carta.  Today barely a second goes by but that someone somewhere on earth isn’t using this phrase to challenge their boss when he threatens to fire them, to complain about an over-officious bureaucrat, or to object to a parking fine.

    From defender of the privileges of a handful of English medieval aristocrats, to the world’s watchword of fairness and justice, Magna Carta has lived an extraordinary life.


    Magna Carta in 20 Places

    Derek J. Taylor is the author of Magna Carta in 20 places. For over 800 years, Magna Carta has inspired those prepared to face torture, imprisonment and even death in the fight against tyranny. But the belief that the Great Charter gave us such freedoms as democracy, trial by jury and equality beneath the law has its roots in myth. Back in 1215, when King John was forced to issue Magna Carta, it was regarded as little more than a stalling tactic in the bloody conflict between monarch and barons. Here, Derek Taylor embarks on a mission to uncover the ‘golden thread of truth’ that runs through the story of the Great Charter. On a journey through space and time, he takes us from the palaces and villages of medieval England, through the castles and towns of France and the Middle East, to the United States of the twenty-first century. Along the way, the characters who gave birth to the Charter, and those who later fought in its name, are brought to life at the places where they lived, struggled and died. As he discovers, the real history of Magna Carta is far more engaging, exciting and surprising than any simple fairy tale of good defeating evil. 


    Click here or on the image below to view the Magna Carta trail:

    On the trail of Magna Carta

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    "Magna Carta (British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106) (c) BBritish Library

    The answer, strictly speaking, is - not a lot.

    Back in the early summer of 1215, England was ravaged by civil war. On one side, a group of rebel barons and their mini-armies, and on the other King John, supported by another set of noblemen. The rebels were getting the upper hand, so to play for time the king negotiated a deal with them. The result was Magna Carta, or the Great Charter.

    Later generations have often regarded it as a constitution that gave us fundamental rights such as universal civil liberty and democracy. But the truth is that it did no such thing.

    Most of the document is peppered with feudal jargon - ‘amercement’, ‘trithings’, ‘halberget’ - hardly words to echo down the ages. And anyone looking for some universal, everlasting statement of principle, such as ‘No-one is above the law’, is in for a disappointment. Even when we do stumble on a few lines to make our hearts leap, historians step in and pour cold water on our enthusiasm. Take its most famous words:

    No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions ……. except by the law of the land.’

    Stirring stuff. But note, this wonderful right applied only to ‘free men.’ In 1215, this was a small, privileged group of around one in four of the male population. Most of the rest were serfs, that is near-slaves, tied to serving their local lord. And you’ll notice that it’s freemen not women. The law at this time hardly recognised the existence of this half of the population.  It’s upper class men looking after themselves.

    So, did Magna Carta do nothing to protect what we would call the ‘human rights’ of ordinary English folk? Well, it did decree that royal judges should not fine an unfree peasant so heavily that he lose all his crops and farm tools. A humane act? I'm afraid not. The barons, whose rebellion Magna Carta was designed to buy off, were worried that the king would strip their serfs bare before the barons themselves could milk them dry.

    But that’s not the whole story. We shouldn’t run away with the idea that Magna Carta is somehow a fraud. There are two powerful reasons why this year we’re rightly celebrating the original 1215 Magna Carta.

    The first is because it showed that even a king must obey the law. The Great Charter doesn’t spell this out in so many words. But many of its clauses are examples of how those who govern us are subject to the law just as much as to the rest of us.

    And secondly, although its most famous clause applied only to a privileged minority of men only, it did establish an important principle: that arbitrary punishment without trial is wrong. It was a foundation that could be built on. A hundred and thirty-nine years later, in 1354, Magna Carta was re-written and re-issued. It now stated that 'no man, of whatever estate or condition he may be’ could be punished without 'due process of law.' And if we recognise that the status of women in fourteenth century society made it unthinkable for them yet to be included, we have a fundamental right on its way to being universal.

    So Magna Carta developed and grew over the centuries to become a beacon of justice and freedom from oppression. It helped bring down a king in the great clash between crown and parliament in the seventeenth century. It was cited in the American Bill of Rights. The nineteenth century Chartists battled in its name for a radical reform of England’s political system. It inspired the constitutions of Australia, Canada and India. And today, when someone demands ‘due process’ to complain about some injustice – be it ever so minor - they’re quoting from Magna Carta.

    Not bad for the manifesto of a few thirteenth century noblemen. We ordinary folk have made it our own.


    Magna Carta in 20 Places

    Derek J. Taylor is the author of Magna Carta in 20 places. For over 800 years, Magna Carta has inspired those prepared to face torture, imprisonment and even death in the fight against tyranny. But the belief that the Great Charter gave us such freedoms as democracy, trial by jury and equality beneath the law has its roots in myth. Back in 1215, when King John was forced to issue Magna Carta, it was regarded as little more than a stalling tactic in the bloody conflict between monarch and barons. Here, Derek Taylor embarks on a mission to uncover the ‘golden thread of truth’ that runs through the story of the Great Charter. On a journey through space and time, he takes us from the palaces and villages of medieval England, through the castles and towns of France and the Middle East, to the United States of the twenty-first century. Along the way, the characters who gave birth to the Charter, and those who later fought in its name, are brought to life at the places where they lived, struggled and died. As he discovers, the real history of Magna Carta is far more engaging, exciting and surprising than any simple fairy tale of good defeating evil. 

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  • 06/15/15--00:00: On the trail of Magna Carta
  • Magna Carta key locations

    Back in 1215, Magna Carta, forced out of King John by the barons, was born amid bloodshed, betrayal and some dodgy business deals. But at its heart, the Great Charter appealed to human beings' fundamental sense of fairness and our need to live free from fear. Magna Carta showed for the first time that those who govern us must obey the law, and should not punish us without a proper trial. Over the centuries, it became the watchword of those fighting against tyranny, till in the eighteenth century it leaped onto the world stage to become the foundation of the American Bill of Rights, and later to inspire the constitutions of Canada, Australia and India.

    Magna Carta has been called 'England's greatest export'. Follow this trail to discover its story.

    The Royal Exchange, City of London

    Across the road from the Bank of England stands a great temple of a building. The Royal Exchange is a monument to trade. Go inside up onto the mezzanine floor and look at the huge painting of King John and the barons at the moment Magna Carta was agreed. It was commissioned by the governors of the Exchange to commemorate those hard-won freedoms without which commerce can't flourish. Back in 1215, the decision by the burghers ofLondonto support the barons against the king was a game-changer. It tipped the balance against King John, who was forced to agree to Magna Carta. The city was rewarded by having its privileges written into the Charter.

    Laxton, Nottinghamshire

    Next we head to the extraordinary village of Laxton to discover how, in the days before Magna Carta, a small community could fall victim to a king's wrath. 

    Enquire at the lovely old Dovecote Inn about guided walking tours of the village and its fields. Stuart Rose, whose family have farmed in Laxton for 15 generations, will show you what life was like here back in the time of Magna Carta. Laxton is unique. It's the only place in Europewhere farmers use the same system of organising their work as their forebears did in the Middle Ages. The fields are divided into strips, so each farmer gets a share of the good soil as well as the badly drained land. And if you step inside the Dovecote Inn in October you may be lucky enough to see the Court Leet in session. The farmers have their own legally established court to govern their affairs. King John was Laxton's landlord, and in 1207, he threatened to burn the whole place to the ground unless the villagers got together and paid him the then huge sum of £100. They paid up.

    St Albans, Hertfordshire

    In King John's day, St Albans just north ofLondon, had the biggest church in England. It's still here. Now a massive cathedral, its beautiful nave flanked by long lines of layered stone arches,St Albans has been a place of worship for 1700 years. It was here in 1213 that barons and the clergy first met to discuss their grievances against King John, a meeting that led to rebellion and ultimately to Magna Carta. And it was St Albans' monks who wrote the chronicles that have come down to us describing John's doings. We've learned not to believe everything they said - he didn't actually offer to turn Englandinto a Moslem country in return for military aid from north Africa. But the mud stuck and history has sometimes cast John blacker than he really was.

    Temple Ewell, Kent.

    Next we head south for the Kent coast. In a steep-sided valley just outside Dover lies the charming village of Temple Ewell with its 900 year old church. King John was at odds with the Pope about who should appoint the archbishop of Canterbury, and for six years the Pope shut out the people of England from the protection of the church. But the king turned this terrible action to his own advantage. Pass between the thousand year old yew trees in Temple Ewell's church yard, and inside stand before the altar where King John knelt to turn humiliation into victory. Here in 1213, he submitted to the pope's representative. The pope was so delighted that he became John's staunchest ally. Later he even excommunicated those barons who implemented Magna Carta.

    Runnymede, Surrey

    A few miles west ofLondonlies the most famous place in England associated with Magna Carta, Runnymede, a tranquil meadow on the banks of the River Thames just south of Windsor. Follow the signs from the car park alongside the hedge until you see the eight-columned memorial up a gentle rise to your right. It was near this spot that John met the barons and negotiated the deal that over the centuries has become such a potent symbol of freedom under the law. The memorial itself was build by the subscription of 9,000 American lawyers, a reminder of the power that Magna Carta still exerts today across the world.

    The British Library, London's Euston Road.

    This is a library like none you've ever seen. Inside its lobby, you could imagine you're in a giant hotel in Dallas or Detroit. But don't be fooled, the British Library is home to 150 million books, a figure which is growing at the rate of 3 million a year. And just in case you can’t imagine that, it means an extra 6 miles of shelving every twelve months. There was no single Magna Carta, - at least thirteen copies were made. Two of those that survived are on permanent display here, and during this 800th anniversary year, there's a special exhibition of artefacts associated with the birth and dramatic later history of the Great Charter. Wherever else you go, don't miss this.

    The Wash, Lincolnshire.

    Our next stop is remote and desolate, but still a place of beauty for those who like nature in the raw. This is the Wash, that giant bay on the east coast ofEngland. Here, little more than a year after he'd sealed Magna Carta, King John became violently ill with food poisoning. And as he struggled along the coast, news reached him that his baggage train - loaded with the crown jewels and many other treasures - had been lost in the sucking sands of the Wash. Take the single track road beyond Holbeach St Matthew and you'll soon see what a dangerous place this is when the tide rushes in. King John was dead within 10 days. His treasure has never been found.

    Westminster Hall, The Palace of Westminster, London

    Our final stop is inside the Houses of Parliament. Beneath the shadow of Big Ben stands Westminster Hall, already a hundred years old in the time of King John. Its elegance and scale are a tribute to medieval engineering. Go online to book a guided tour of the Palace, and make sure you stand on the raised platform beneath the huge stained glass window to look down over the Hall. It's here that for 600 years, England's Royal Courts of Justice conducted their business. Magna Carta had decreed that the king's courts should be held in a fixed place. Westminster Hall was chosen, and as the monarch's influence on the outcome of judicial cases diminished, royal justice came to mean independent justice. The Great Charter had shown that the law is more powerful than a king. And the hallowed right derived from Magna Carta - that the law is on the side of ordinary folk - sprang to life right here.



    Magna Carta in 20 Places

    Derek J. Taylor is the author of Magna Carta in 20 places. For over 800 years, Magna Carta has inspired those prepared to face torture, imprisonment and even death in the fight against tyranny. But the belief that the Great Charter gave us such freedoms as democracy, trial by jury and equality beneath the law has its roots in myth. Back in 1215, when King John was forced to issue Magna Carta, it was regarded as little more than a stalling tactic in the bloody conflict between monarch and barons. Here, Derek Taylor embarks on a mission to uncover the ‘golden thread of truth’ that runs through the story of the Great Charter. On a journey through space and time, he takes us from the palaces and villages of medieval England, through the castles and towns of France and the Middle East, to the United States of the twenty-first century. Along the way, the characters who gave birth to the Charter, and those who later fought in its name, are brought to life at the places where they lived, struggled and died. As he discovers, the real history of Magna Carta is far more engaging, exciting and surprising than any simple fairy tale of good defeating evil. 

    Click here or on the image below to view the Magna Carta trail:

    On the trail of Magna Carta

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  • 06/19/15--04:00: The Friday Digest 19/06/15
  • THP Friday digest
    This week's update features the Magna Carta and Waterloo anniversaries, a history of the world in funny puns and how to knit your own Clanger.

    One of only four surviving exemplifications of the 1215 text, Cotton MS. Augustus II. 106, property of the British Library - See more at:

    Magna Carta: the competing forces that cry out for a constitutional convention

    * Is 15 June 1215 the correct date for Magna Carta?  

    * Where does the term 'Magna Carta' come from

    * Six Magna Carta myths explained


    * Magna Carta 'changed the world', David Cameron tells anniversary event, but do you agree?

    L: Magdalene Hall (1793–1822) in about 1808–10. A pen-and-ink sketch from an original miniature by JCD Engelheart. By kind permission of the present owner. R: Sir William Howe De Lancey in the full dress uniform of a colonel on the staff. Painted in 1813 or 1814. Artist and present whereabouts unknown.

    * Lady De Lancey: the abridged story of Waterloo.

    Pen sketch of the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, drawn by J Atkinson


    * Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

    Waterloo Lives: In Their Own Words  In its bicentenary year, the Battle of Waterloo is waiting to be discovered through the National Army Museum's unique Napoleonic archive.


    * Waterloo lives: in their own words ...


    "Waterloo teeth"
    * The dentures made from the teeth of dead soldiers at Waterloo

    Dress worn at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball. Copyright Fashion Museum, Bath.

    * Beautiful dresses worn at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball

    Illustration by Eva Bee

    * Napoleon’s dream died at Waterloo – and so did that of British democrats, do you agree?  

    Woodcut of a woman stoking a furnace or baking bread, 1497. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

    * Medieval women: what was life like for a housewife in the Middle Ages

    Map of Salem Village in 1692 by W.P. Upham, 1866. The tiny village of Salem, Massachusetts spawned one of the most notorious and mysterious miscarriages of justice in American history, the exact cause of which has eluded scholars and statesmen for centuries  Read more:  Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    * An interactive map of the Salem witch trials pinpoints the spread and the source of the hysteria

    The Big Bang theory describes how the Universe began in a rapid expansion about 13.7 billion years ago


    * A history of the world in funny puns ... 

    Stan Winston, the Oscar-winning special effects designer, seen adding some finishing touches to a dinosaur


    * The dinosaurs in the new Jurassic World film have divided the palaeontology world, but why? 


    An Indian air force pilot from Punjab in England (c) Getty Images


    Has India's contribution to the Second World War been ignored?  

    Girls together: Shelia, far left, some of her fellow Wrens and her dog Vicar


    * Love and War in the WRNS, a fresh view of the Second World War, as told through letters

    One of the rooms where prisoners were tortured

    * How two men survived a prison where 12,000 were killed.

    Stephen Wiltshire's drawing of the 2014 exhibition of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London (c) Stephen Wiltshore


    * Drawing what our mouths cannot say.

    Fall, 2015 Photograph: Antonio Parente/John Keane/Flowers Gallery


    Preacher with Bible, 1993 Photograph: Philip Wolmuth/The History Press

    A birds eye view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.   Photo and caption by Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    * The stunning drone photos that will change how you see the world

    Nine enchanting East Yorkshire fairytales from frog princes to wicked witches  Read more:  Follow us: @hulldailymail on Twitter | HullDailyMail on Facebook

    * Nine enchanting East Yorkshire fairytales, from frog princes to wicked witches

    World flags

    Seventeen expressions from other countries that Britain needs to start using right away ...

    * The lasting power of oral traditions.  



    * The difficult relationship of Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher



    * Bloomsbury’s Bill Swainson, Souvenir Press m.d. Ernest Hecht, Nature Publishing Group's Dr Philip Campbell and Paddington creator Michael Bond are among the book industry figures named in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours.   

    Bookshop proposal for literature lovers

    * The Falmouth Bookseller was at the heart of a romance story recently, when book-lover Jason Sandeman-Allen staged a surprise proposal to his girlfriend Stephanie Ashton in the indie bookshop



    Marble figure of Iris from the west pediment of the Parthenon. Greek (Athens), about 438–432 BC. H. 135 cm. British Museum 1816,0610.96

    Agatha Christie sitting at her desk with books piled high. Poison was a favourite weapon in her books. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images


    Mairi Hedderwick’s uncompromising Katie Morag has all her adventures in a skirt, or at the very least a kilt. But not trousers! Illustration: Mairi Hedderwick

    Knit your own Clanger


    cover of shadowshaper by daniel jose older 


    An alternative summer reading list.


    The Penance of Jane Shore by William Blake, c.1780.


    * What inspired that excruciating 'walk of shame' scene in Game of Thrones

    Whither his inner god? Grey retells Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian's perspective

    * A live read-through of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as told by Christian 

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    Ruby's Nite Spot, Leland, Mississippi

    Highway 61, known to those that make the journey south in search of the blues as the ‘blues highway’, never strays far from the banks of the great Mississippi River as it passes  through towns and cities that bear the scars of America’s troubled past. The current out-pouring of protest over the deaths of young African American men at the hands of the police in North St. Louis and the northern cities of New York and Baltimore suggest the presence of deeper routed injustices, which the civil rights gains of the last century failed to heal. Even when black Americans voted with their feet, leaving the ‘Jim Crow’ South in search of a better life in the industrial cities of the North and Midwest, they met new forms of discrimination in terms of where they could live and the jobs they could undertake. The shock for many blues tourists who travel across the States to the visit locations associated with the history of the blues is the revelation that the conditions that gave rise to America’s most important indigenous musical form are still to be found in sleepy rural towns and neighbourhoods hidden under the shadow of elevated Interstates. 

    The account of the journey I took with photographer Richard Brown takes the reader on the thousand mile trip across the United States from Chicago to New Orleans. A journey that starts from the home of Chicago blues in the city’s South and West Side. Neighbourhoods that became the final destination for thousands of African Americans from the Southern States during the Great Migration. A diaspora that brought with it forms of country blues music that would transform into a new urban sound.  A sound that Langston Hughes described in a review of a Memphis Minnie gig at Chicago’s 230 Club, which held the imagery of “muddy old swamps, Mississippi dust and sun, cotton fields, lonesome roads, train whistles in the night, mosquitoes at dawn” and cried 'through the strings on Memphis Minnie’s electric guitar, amplified to machine proportions – a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill.'  [Chicago Defender national edition, 9 January 1943, p.14 ProQuest Historical Newspapers]

    Blues travellers who take the road-trip south break their journey at the same riverside ports described by Mark Twain in Life of the Mississippi, an autobiographical account of his eight-day steamboat journey in the Gold Dust in 1882.   River cities that grew up on the high limestone bluffs like St Louis, the hometown of Jonnie Johnson, Chuck Berry and Peetie Wheatstraw or Memphis, home of Sun Studios and Stax.  Other cities nestle behind the protection of the great Mississippi levees, such as Helena, hometown to KFFA’s, King Biscuit Radio, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Lockwood Jnr., and base for numerous blues guitarists like Robert Johnson and Elmore James.  Across the river from Helena are to be found the lazy Delta towns of Robinsonville and Lula where Son House, Charley Patton and Robert Johnson performed at local plantation parties and juke joints. Another few miles and Clarksdale is reached, for many the capital of the Delta blues, home of the Delta Blues Museum and the Stovall plantation where Muddy Waters grew up.  After Clarksdale, old Highway 61 follows the Mississippi down through miles of cotton fields to Greenville and Leland, the birthplace of Jimmy Reed, then on across a flat Delta landscape of cotton fields stretched between the banks of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, where the monotony is only broken by cedar swamps and bayous and on to Natchez, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg and finally New Orleans.

    Goode Avenue, North St. Louis

    Twain’s observations are pertinent because he wrote at a time when the United States could have taken a different route, as the South was starting to reassert itself after the defeat of the Civil War.  He describes the brief period between African Americans’ newly won liberties prior to renewed subjugation. After passing Memphis, Twain refers to 'getting down to the migrating negro (sic) region' where 'these poor people could never travel when they were slaves; so they make up for their privation now. They stay on a plantation till the desire to travel seizes them; then pack up; hail a steamboat, and clear up.' [Twain, M., Life on the Mississippi, Wordsworth Editions, 2012, p.204]  His observations were made just a few years after the Emancipation Act abolishing slavery and a mere five years after the collapse of the Reconstruction, which wiped out the post-civil war gains made by African Americans.  A failure that ushered in decades of Jim Crow laws and through which slavery was supplanted by an economic system that has been described as one of peonage or forced labour in the South. [See Carper, N. Gordon, Slavery Revisited: Peonage in the South, Pylon, 37:1, 1976, pp.85-99.] Within eight years the South started to pass the laws that would disenfranchise African Americans from their new found civil freedoms.

    In an interview, the African American writer James Baldwin said that 'the Blues and Spirituals are all about tragedy.  It’s the ability to look on things as they are and survive your losses, or even not survive them – to know that your losses are coming.  To know they are coming is the only insurance you have, a faint insurance, that you will survive them.' [Baldwin, James, edited by Standley, Fred L. and Pratt, Louis H., Conversations with James Baldwin, University Press of |Mississippi, 1989, p.22]  Yet, today whilst blues music has found a predominantly white market beyond the communities that gave birth to it, it is the ‘tragedy’ that remains for thousands of African Americans separated from the rest of America in a post-industrial nightmare.

    Areas like East St. Louis, scene of the worst race riot of the twentieth century in 1917 and hometown to blues pianist Peetie Wheatstraw until his death in 1941. Life is still tragic for the residents who have to live in a city where the homicide rate has been recorded at seventeen times the average for the United States and over half of the population lives below the poverty level. On the other side of the Mississippi River in North St Louis, nearly half the residents in neighbourhoods close to Goode Avenue, from which Chuck Berry’s song takes its name, have to survive on an income below the poverty level.  According to the NAACP, African Americans are imprisoned at nearly six times the rates of whites and one in six black men have been incarcerated. [NAACP Criminal Fact Sheet, 15/05/15]. The United States Department of Labor statistics for the last twelve months until April 2015 show that on average for the whole of the United States, African American workers are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers.

    After taking making the road-trip across the States and visiting so many towns and cities that gave birth to the blues, leaves me to consider whether recent events in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore, and the sense of injustice these have given rise to amongst African Americans, shouldn’t be seen in isolation but rather as another manifestation of a wider tragedy.

    Derek Bright is the author of Highway 61 – Crossroads on the Blues Highway. Highway 61 – the legendary Blues Highway and route taken by modern-day blues pilgrims on their journey south into the Mississippi Delta. Littered with iconic place names and immortalised in the songs of the Deep South, the great river road was taken by countless African Americans in search of the promise of work in the northern cities and escape from the legacy of slavery and hardship of the rural south. Highway 61 takes in the work of the early musicologists looking for an authentic delta folk music in the 1930s, the music arising from the struggles of a newly emerging black American proletariat in the 1940s, and the young white musicians who brought their awareness of blues back to the States from England in the 1960s. A heady mix of blues and civil rights unfolds as the reader accompanies the author on a southbound trail from Chicago, known as the ‘blues capital of the world’, to New Orleans, close to Chuck Berry’s fabled ‘gateway from freedom’. For anyone embarking on the journey this is essential reading that ensures the blues pilgrim will get the most from the land where blues began.

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  • 06/25/15--00:00: Q&A with Kim Fleet
  • Kim Fleet

    Kim Fleet is the latest author to join the Mystery Press group. We asked her about inspirations, avoiding cliché and the differences in writing the historical and the contemporary in a time slip novel.

    Why write crime fiction?

    I’ve always been fascinated by crime – I read a lot of true crime – and I’ve always wondered what leads a person to commit a crime, and how the people around them are affected by it. Murder is obviously the most serious crime because there’s no chance of restitution (you can’t bring the victim back to life). What leads a person to commit murder, and how society can be put right again after a murder, is perennially fascinating. The great thing about crime fiction is that there is always a resolution at the end – the culprit is brought to justice and society is able to heal.

    Where did the inspiration for Paternoster come from?

    I’ve written murder mysteries before and decided to try writing a straight crime novel. As an anthropologist I’ve often worked ‘undercover’ (i.e. the people I was studying didn’t know I was there to study them), and I translated that experience to my protagonist, Eden Grey. I was browsing through a book of poisons one day (as you do!) and came across paternoster pea and how it was used in trial by ordeal in the middle ages, and I started to wonder ‘What if it was used in a sinister initiation ceremony?’ I’d heard of the Hellfire Club, did research into it, Georgian brothels, and the history of Cheltenham, and the Georgian and contemporary plot lines emerged and melded together.

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

    I read widely: crime, literary fiction, biographies, true crime, history, short stories and the classics. I was brought up in a house filled with books, and no book was regarded as unsuitable for children. My parents had the attitude, ‘If you can read it, you can read it.’ I was taken to the library every week to choose new books to read, and was allowed to select whatever I wanted, so I tried all sorts of different books and authors.

    My custard book – i.e. the book I turn to if I’m poorly and need a comforting read, is the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell. It’s a children’s book about the highly talented and dysfunctional Bagthorpe family, and their ‘ordinary’ son, Jack. It’s hilarious – it always cheers me up.

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

    In crime fiction, I like Alison Bruce, Kate Ellis and Nicola Upson. My favourite fictional character, though, is Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair. She’s devious, determined and ruthless, yet somehow we cheer her on every step of her scheming way.

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

    I love writing historical fiction, and in Paternoster it was easier to write than the contemporary parts of the book. The character of Rachel Lovett just marched onto the page for me – all I had to do was try to keep up with her. I’ve always loved history, and I read a lot of history books – I think it seeps into my brain and is stored there without my being conscious of it, because when I was writing I seemed to know things that I hadn’t yet researched. When I came to check my facts, it turned out that what I’d made up was right.

    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?

    The problem with including inaccuracies is that an eagle-eyed reader will spot them and tell you you’ve got it wrong! There’s a lot of information out there about how crimes are committed and solved – on the internet, in books, on TV, and if you attend court you’ll hear it all as evidence – so any criminals already have access to that sort of information. Do potential criminals read crime fiction as ‘how to’ manuals?

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

    Reading a lot of crime fiction, I’ve become very aware of the clichés and tried to avoid them in Paternoster. I like crime where we see the detective/sleuth as a whole person with a real life, not just someone in the office or hunting down criminals, and so I gave Eden Grey a boyfriend, friends, hobbies and a life outside her role as private investigator.


    Cheltenham lower highstreet

    How important is location (Cheltenham) in your book? 

    Cheltenham is a beautiful place with buildings that span over 500 years of history, so there’s plenty to explore and research. I liked contrasting the elegant exterior of Regency Cheltenham with a murky underworld. I didn’t want the setting to make the book a ‘cosy crime’ – I wanted a gritty crime in a place that’s known for gentility and refinement.

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

    Certainly there are times when I feel more inspired than others, and times when I write myself into a corner and am not sure how to get out of it. If this happens, I go for a walk, do some gardening, or sew some patchwork, and my brain usually comes up with a solution.

    I coach writers and many of my clients come to me because they’re suffering some form of writer’s block. I encourage them to write every day, and to make writing fun by using colours and shapes. I’ve put lots of writing tips and advice on dealing with writer’s block on my coaching/ mentoring website at:

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

    No, never, though sometimes people think they can see themselves in a character I’ve created. Like most writers, I often base stories on something I’ve observed or overheard, and plunder family stories shamelessly to turn into fiction.

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

    I’ve been using Twitter, Facebook and blogs to let people know about Paternoster and about events I’m doing as an author. I’ve also been taking lots of photos of Cheltenham, and intend to post them on Pinterest. I don’t think you can cover every social media platform as there are so many, so I’ve chosen a handful that work for me and that hopefully give enough variety to be noticed by different groups of readers.

    Finally, what next for Eden Grey?

    I’m currently writing the second book in the series, and this time Eden is investigating some poison pen letters sent to a TV producer who’s making a documentary in Cheltenham. When she finds his murdered body, she decides to hunt down the killer. She soon discovers her dead client is a man with an assumed identity who was trying to conceal a murky past. Meanwhile, her enemy John Hammond is still determined to get revenge on her.

     Paternoster by Kim Fleet

    Kim Fleet is the author of Paternoster, a timeslip novel set in mordern day and regency Cheltenham. 1795: With a thief-taker close on her heels, prostitute Rachel Lovett is forced to leave London and take up residence in a Cheltenham brothel. Greville House seems the perfect place to start her hunt for wealthy clientele but rumours suggest that there is more than just the usual debauchery practised there. Beneath the house, tunnels lead to the sinister Paternoster Club and Rachel must decide how far she is willing to go for the money in their pockets. Today: An undercover officer assumes a new identity when an operation goes terrifyingly wrong. Now known as private investigator Eden Grey, the mysterious death of one of Eden’s clients leads her into a web of corruption, murder and human trafficking, while the discovery of two centuries-old skeletons in the grounds of a wealthy Cheltenham school might be of greater relevance than she realises ...

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  • 06/26/15--05:30: The Friday Digest 26/06/15
  • THP Friday digest
    This week's update features unfinished art, a short history of Breton stripes and Marilyn Monroe as you have never seen her before. 

    Rodrigo Guirao Diaz as Fabrice del Dongo in 2012.


    The ten best fictional characters at Waterloo.


    18 June 1815: French cuirassiers charging a British square during the battle of Waterloo. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


    Peter and Dan Snow answer ten key questions about the Battle of Waterloo.



    The Brontë sisters and the Battle of Waterloo.

    The Field of Waterloo c.1818, by JMW Turner: a sea of mangled bodies. Photograph: Tate Britain


    Has sentimental remembrance met its Waterloo?

    Antietam Dunker’s Church Bodies at the Dunker Church in Antietam, Maryland, September 1862. The battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in US history, and Dunker Church was the focus of Union attacks against the Confederates. In 1921, a storm destroyed the church, but it was rebuilt for the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1962.  Archive photograph by Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress


    The American Civil War then and now.  

    stand watie


    Who was Stand Watie?

    The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes 315 years. 20,528 voyages. Millions of lives


    An interactive map of the history of the Atlantic slave trade

    Images of Hugh David


    The First World War letter that revealed a brutal day at Scapa Flow

    The Shroud of Turin


    How did the Turin Shroud get its image

    Su Xi Rong, 75 in 2008, Shandong province  She was known as the most beautiful woman in the village because of her small, well-formed, bound feet. I saw her again in November 2014. She can no longer walk very far as she has put on a lot of weight, and her small feet cannot support her. Su Xi Rong told me that because of feudal traditions, if you did not bind your feet you would not get married. If she tried to unbind her feet, her grandmother would cut a slice of skin off her toes to punish her.   All photographs and captions: Jo Farrell


    Unbound: the shocking images of China's last 'lotus feet'.

    Among the many art forms Victoria and Albert embraced was photography, which was first becoming popular during the early years of her reign (Credit: Corbis)


    * Victoria and Albert: how a royal love changed culture.  

    Suffragettes taking part in a pageant organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, June 1908

    * 'Soldiers in petticoats': portraits of the suffragettes.


    * The King John paradox.

    Tulip fields in Lisse, Netherlands. Courtesy of Daily Overview. Satellite images copyright DigitalGlobe Inc.

    * Stunning satellite images showing the human impact on Earth

    Westminster Abbey (Photo: Alamy)

    * Ten words you didn't know were derived from 'father'

    Barthman's Sidewalk Clock Photo by Ed Nix on Flickr | Copyright: Creative Commons

    A clock set into the concrete outside a Manhattan jeweller has been telling time underfoot for over a century.

    Marilyn posing outdoors in 1945


    * The treasure trove of rare images showing Marilyn Monroe as you've never seen her before

    What is it about Breton tops?

    * A short history of breton stripes


    Page depicting Constantinople in the Nuremberg Chronicle published in 1493 - See more at:

    A Yorkshireman in Istanbul in 1593.

    National Trust asks public to record seaside sounds

    * The National Trust is asking the public to record the sounds of the UK seaside to create an audio archive.  

    Rusanivka new residential district, Kiev, Ukraine. Date unknown

    * Seeing red: postcards of Soviet-era architecture

    There are fears that the ancient city of Palmyra will be destroyed after it was seized by IS

    * The UK is to adopt the Hague Convention, a major international agreement designed to protect cultural property during military conflict

    This fragment carried a Latin biblical inscription (c) Getty Images

    * The mystery of the Staffordshire Hoard takes centre stage at theatre festival

    Perino del Vaga's Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist (1528-37)

    * Why see an exhibition of unfinished art

    Stonehenge by Tim Daw

    * A new theory that the tallest stone at Stonehenge points towards the midsummer sunset has been observed to be correct, it has been claimed

    Image of two women and two sailors standing in a fountain in Trafalgar Square, London. For decades, our records about this photograph have been sparse. What was the story behind the two women in the Trafalgar Square fountains on VE Day? Determined to find an answer, we turned to social media. EA 65799.

    * The story of the women in the Trafalgar Square fountains on VE Day

    EMILY ROEBLING (1843-1903)

    * Five famous women engineers


    ‘Bookshops open byways that become high roads to new fields of understanding.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian


    * A magical voyage of discovery, available only in bookshops ... 


    Hold your horses ... Photograph: Getty Open Content Program

    * The top ten life lessons from books

    EL James

    * Fifty Shades of Grey: the series that tied publishing up in knots 



    * A survival guide for working in book publishing ... 

    Can publishing use a little mindfulness?

    * Could publishing use a little mindfulness?  



    * The iconic 1960s Coventry Chair has been redesigned as 'we recognise that people have got heavier'.  

    Online retail giant CEO Jeff Bezos. Photo: AFP

    * Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read

    ‘Children are taught not to use simple words such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘small’ or ‘big’ but to always find other more ‘interesting’ words to replace them’ ... primary school children writing in a classroom. Photograph: Alamy

    * Do you agree that 'the national curriculum is damaging children's creative writing'

    Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, a fixture at the Last Night of the Proms, but a work disliked by its composer. Photograph: Dan Chung/Guardian

    * 'Repugnant', 'uninspired' and 'awful' - the musical works hated by their composers.  

    Smells like ... ? Kurt Cobain, inspired by Patrick Süskind’s Perfume for another Nirvana number. Photograph: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

    * Readers recommend: songs about books

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    Signet rings

    Many people wear or own signet rings today. They are expressions of individuality and fashion statements, sometimes they are even family heirlooms. In fact the signet ring used to be an important cultural item of jewellery and has played a surprisingly significant role in history.

    Originally signet rings were emblazoned with a family crest and they would frequently be used to stamp, or sign a document. The metal shapes would leave a permanent mark in any soft wax or even clay and this would be placed onto a variety of legal documents. Some of the most important documents in history have been stamped with a signet ring.  In its day the stamp of a ring was seen as more authentic than a signature.

    Before the days of the internet and other electronic wizardry it was normal for all the most influential people in the world to have these rings and use them to confirm the authenticity of any document. These rings usually look magnificent but they were designed with a very practical purpose in mind.

    Every ring was unique, the markings usually included the family crest but there would always be a significant mark which personally identified the ring holder. Some of the rings were simple monograms or icons which were associated with the most important families.  All rings were reverse engineered to ensure that the design came out properly when they were stamped on a document. Of course, this level of detail also ensured the rings were expensive and very difficult to copy.

    The signet ring was used as long ago as 3500 BC. Records show the people of Mesopotamia used cylindrical seals as marks of authenticity. This is really the origin of the corporate seal which is still used by some companies today. By the time of the ancient Egyptians the seal had become attached to a ring and Pharaohs and other important people of the day would wear them to show their position.

    At the beginning of the Minoan period most rings were formed from soft stones or ivory but by the end of this period they were created from harder stones. The bronze age saw a shift to metal rings and they took on their current day appearance. There was even a period when they were considered an art form and many people had collections of them.

    By the Middle Ages, any person of influence had a signet ring. This included all the nobility and they were used to sign all letters and legal documents. In fact, in the fourteenth century King Edward II decreed that all official documents must be signed with the King’s signet ring. The majority of rings dating from these periods were destroyed when their owner died. This is because they were unique and it avoided any possibility of forged documents appearing after a nobleman’s death. Having a ring during this period marked you as a member of the highest class and above other, common men.

    The nineteenth century saw many rings become more ornate as precious and semi-precious jewels were added to these rings. The best of these rings had the stone set on a rotating bezel which allowed it to be worn facing out or facing into your finger. They are always made of silver or goal.

    Members of the Freemasons still opt to wear a ring which identifies them and their affiliation. These rings are not the same as the original signet rings but do serve a similar purpose. It has become traditionally for many organizations to wear rings; class rings or biker gangs are two prominent examples. In wealth families, the head of the family wears an imposing signet, which he will pass on to his son; the tradition will pass from generation to generation.

    There are still a few people who commission their own signet rings although these will never be used to legally mark a document anymore. There are many more people who wear a signet ring that has been passed down from generation to generation and this will continue for the foreseeable future. These rings are authentic signet rings but the markings are not unique to the current ring bearer.

    Christopher Austin is a fashion blogger and loves sharing his views on latest fashion trends. He also works with where you can find and buy antique silver with your family crest.

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