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  • 07/02/13--01:30: Secrets from the workhouse
  • Preston main building early 1900s (c) Peter Higginbotham -

    ITV’s new two-part ‘Secrets from the Workhouse’ (concludes Tuesday 2nd July, 9pm) has provoked a new flurry of interest in the institution which, over the years, has generally had a pretty bad press. As someone with a longstanding interest in workhouses (my great-great grandfather died in one) and also a consultant on the programme, it’s interesting to consider whether they were as awful as they’re generally portrayed. 

    You can certainly find plenty of examples to back up such a view. In researching my ‘Grim Almanac of the Workhouse’, I found well documented instances of people committing suicide rather than enter such a place, or killing themselves after a spell inside. Cruelty and abuse towards inmates, when exposed, also received prominent coverage in the newspapers. Violence between inmates, too, was a hazard of workhouse life. For those who left the workhouse, re-establishing a new life could be an uphill struggle, and the stigma of a spell in the workhouse was enormous – something that might never again be spoken of.

    Workhouses were intended to be deterrent places and the monotonous routine of early-to-bed, early-to-rise, up to sixty hours of labour a week for the able-bodied, a diet of plain food, and the separation of family members, certainly achieved that end. Hardship though is always relative and for many people the workhouse provided, if not a lifeline, then a substantial improvement on the conditions they had been experiencing on the outside.

    Over the years, the physical conditions inside workhouse improved enormously. By the end of the nineteenth century, inmates were often provided with books, newspapers, occasional outings to the countryside or seaside, entertainments, weekly rations of snuff, tobacco and tea. The medical care available in workhouse infirmaries improved enormously, particularly after access was opened up to non-inmates. And from 1900, an overhaul of workhouse food – and the publication of an official workhouse cookbook - provided such tempting menu options such as Irish stew, pasties, shepherd’s pie, and roly-poly pudding.

    It is also too easy to make simplistic assumptions about various ‘negative’ aspects of the workhouse system. Workhouse clothing’ (the term ‘uniform’ was never used in official regulations) is often decried as a means by which inmates were deliberately dehumanised. In fact, for paupers turning up at the workhouse gate in rags, providing them with two sets of serviceable clothing (one to wear, and one in the wash) seems a basic human decency. It is also unsurprising that such clothing, bought in bulk, should all follow a similar style. The segregation of inmates, too, can be more complex than might be imagined. The separation of inmates in terms of being of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character, rather than being a moral pronouncement on the individuals concerned, was often something that groups such as married women themselves demanded, not wishing to share accommodation with those they considered disreputable such single mothers or prostitutes.

    As in any institution, inmates were never simply passive pawns of an oppressive system and always found ways to undermine authority, whether it be smuggling alcohol or drugs onto the premises, or arranging liaisons with the opposite sex. A lovely illustration of paupers ‘playing the system’ was provided in the early 1900s at the Steyning workhouse in Sussex. After a female inmate became pregnant, it was clear that the separation between the men’s and women’s quarters was not as secure as it should be. Despite the application of ‘unclimbable’ fencing, men were still caught climbing over the barrier and a female inmate had a second illegitimate child whilst in the care of the workhouse. An inquiry into how male and female inmates were managing to pass messages to one another discovered that they were in fact just using the general postal service. Inmates were allowed to send and receive private letters and the service in those days was so good that a letter posted at 10am could arrive back on the other side of the house by 11.30.

    Part two of ‘Secrets from the Workhouse
    – subtitled ‘New Beginnings’ – continues this theme with several examples of eventual triumph over adversity as we follow more of the stories uncovered by Felcity Kendal, Brian Cox, and Barbara Taylor Bradford.

    The History Press website has a page dedicated to workhouse related print and ebook titles and y
    ou can also find out more about the fascinating and multi-faceted history workhouse by visiting my own website

    Peter Higginbotham lives in West Yorkshire and has been researching the workhouse for more than a decade. As well as publishing a number of books and giving talks on the subject, he regularly contributes to magazines and radio and TV programmes such as Heir Hunters, Coming Home, and Who Do You Think You Are?

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    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The History Press.

    A mural depicting the march that broke through the curfew. Image from,_Belfast,_May_2011_(07).JPG

    On 3 July 1970 at approximately 4:30 pm a mixed patrol of British Army soldiers and RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) pulled up to no.24 Balkan Street, in the Lower Falls in West Belfast. They were acting on a tip off from a ‘concerned resident’ about a stash of weapons hidden in the property. What happened next is widely seen as having changed the course of the infant ‘Troubles’ and alienated Catholic opinion against the British Army.

    The Lower Falls was the bastion of the ‘Official’ IRA.  Army intelligence knew that a sizeable amount of weapons were in the area, and were allegedly being stored in case of another ‘attack’ by Protestants. Once word of the search began to spread through the area tempers started to flare. Many people believed that there was to be a major search operation undertaken. The original search team were stoned, more troops were sent in to quell any disturbance and to protect the patrol, CS gas was used, the rioting intensified, shooting began and by the late evening a full-scale battle was underway with British Army troops coming under sustained fire from a sizeable contingent of Official IRA volunteers and a smaller number of ‘Provisionals’. Three people were killed that night, with a fourth dying in hospital nine days later. People of the area reported aggressive behaviour from the troops, ranging from personal assault to damage to property. The troops themselves received sustained fire from some quarters. The situation was a tinderbox.

    However, perhaps the most controversial aspect of this whole event was the calling of a curfew at 10pm on the Friday evening. The curfew was initiated by General Ian Freeland, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of British forces in Northern Ireland who it appeared, under extreme pressure, instigated it without using the proper diplomatic channels for such an operation. He was later condemned by many parties as having acted illegally.

    The curfew was subsequently lifted on the morning of 5 July. Upwards of 3,000 British troops were involved in the operation which netted a variety of weapons, along with bomb-making equipment and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Hundreds were injured.

    As the dust settled, the recriminations started. The army stated that they had shot and killed two snipers; both branches of the IRA denied their claims. Secret documents from the period show the confusion in security circles, both within the army itself and the Northern Irish government about the status of the curfew. Was it a ‘curfew’? Was it a ‘search operation? Or was it a hastily operated mistake?  In the British parliament questions were raised about the legality of such an order, with many prominent MPs debating the issue. The Irish government also expressed disdain for what they felt was a  dubious decision. However, the ‘curfew’ was subsequently declared legal by a Belfast magistrate, under ‘Common Law’.  

    The events of this historic weekend have been remembered every year since, commemorations, re-enactments and debates have all kept the events of the Falls Curfew alive in the minds of the people of the Falls Road; their belief that justice has not been done for those who died is still as strong now  as it was 43 years ago. As another anniversary of that fateful weekend approaches there are still no answers to their many questions. They believe that it was an illegal operation, committed to robbing them of the means to protect themselves and the lack of an official inquest into the events has also led to  suspicions of a ‘cover up’. Yet, there is no doubt that the situation on the ground was quickly evolving and inflammatory, and one has to ask in what other ways could order have been restored?

    If the Falls Curfew was illegal, ordered as it was without official sanction at the time, then the very least that can be expected is an official inquiry.  It is only with the passing of time that we can begin to reassess what really happened and to step back from the understandably strong emotions of the moment to seek justice and truth for those men, women, children, and soldiers, who will never be able to forget the tragedy of the Falls.

    From Hope to Hatred: the Falls Curfew and Catholic Alienation

    was born in Birmingham of Irish parents, but moved to Drogheda in Ireland when he was five. He grew up in the shadow of the Troubles and was acutely aware of the impact both Catholics and Protestants had on Irish society. Walsh moved back to England in 1991, and completed a history degree. He has dedicated the last four years researching and interviewing those involved in the Falls curfew and has had unprecedented access to the families and to the political parties involved, including Sinn Fein. he is the author of 'From Hope to Hatred: The Falls Curfew and Catholic Alienation'

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  • 07/05/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 05/07/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Image copyright Graham Turner

    * The site where the body of Richard III was found is being re-excavated in an attemot to find out more about the Church of the Greyfriars. Archaeologists are also planning to exhume a 600 year old coffin which is thought to contain the corpse of a medieval knight. 

    Public interest in Richard III remains high and Graham Turner's painting of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth incorporates the latest information from the excavation earlier this year. 

    A rare World War I Richard Verascope stereo camera previously owned by the French Army. Image from

    * A rare World War One Richard Verascope stereo camera previously owned by the French Army was bought at auction last year. The cameras was in pristine condition and included the original leather carrying case and glass slides. For the first time, you can see some extraordinary photographs of the First World War in 3D

    * Later this year Michael Palin will be starring in his first on-screen acting role on over two decades when he appears in a new BBC drama, 'The Wipers Times' which is based on the true story of a satirical newspaper that was produced by troops in the trenches. 

    Lindisfarne Gospels. Image from

    * The 1,300-year-old Lindisfarne Gospels have gone on display in the north-east of England for three months in a major Durham University exhibition, offering audiences a rare chance to view them outside of the British Library. 

    Culture 24 recommend visiting the exhibition whilst it is on and have suggested some other historical and heritage highlights for July-ideal if you are looking for something to do this weekend... 


    Early visualisation of CT scan of a mummy. Image from

    * A museum in Sweden is digitising its mummy collection in 3D to allow visitors to 'unwrap' a mummy to 'find out more about the individual's sex, age, living conditions and beliefs'. I just hope that other museums can follow suit, imagine how brilliant school trips would be!

    Roman shrine at Rutland water. Image from

    * A Roman shrine, thought to date to around 100 AD has been found at Rut
    land Water nature reserve. Archaeologists found a circular stone building and also more than 200 Roman coins, pottery jars, part of a small bronze figurine and deposits of animal bone, probably from the ritual sacrifice of lambs and cattle.

    The 1,800-year-old carved stone head of a possible Roman god found near Bishop Auckland

    * An 1,800-year-old carved stone head of a
    possible Geordie Roman god has been discovered buried in an ancient rubbish dump at Bishop Auckland near County Durham. 

    Old lead works, Middleton Dale. Image from

    * The history and folklore of a 'forgotten village' of the Peak District is to be highlighted in a permanent online archive. Stoney Middleton has been described as 'the most fascinating single village in Derbyshire' by project leader Colin Hall and despite its small size, has over 20 points of interest. 

    Royal Navy bomb disposal team, WWII shells, controlled explosion. Image from

    * In 1941, a number of troops descended on some of the most isolated beauty spots in Britain. To this day, many dangerous remnants are found by members of the public in some of the most idyllic locations across Great Britain. 

    Book shelf. Image from

    5 famous literary hoaxes prove that lies are stranger than fiction...

    * Simon Critchley shares 9 things that Hamlet can teach us.

    * Just why is English spelling so bizarre?  

    * The 7 most popular stories from Publishing Perspectives in 2013 (So Far) 

    * To save the struggling high street, authors are urged to engage with their local bookshops


    A skull found on the banks of a river in rural Australia is believed to date from the 1600s and has challenged the view that Captain Cook was the first white person to set foot on the country’s east coast. Photo: AFP/Getty Images. Image from

    * A skull found in Australia has challenged the view that Captain Cook was the first white person to set foot on the country’s east coast.

    Pompeii: an introduction Mary Beard and best-selling author Robert Harris discuss the enduring appeal of the story of Pompeii.

    * For those who are unable to visit the Pompeii exhibition at The British Museum,
    this recording of a lecture where Mary Beard and best-selling author Robert Harris discuss the enduring appeal of the story of Pompeii should be an interesting alternative. 

    Contested queen: Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) with Henry VIII (Eric Bana) in The Other Boleyn Girl, the 2008 film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel 

     * We have discussed the delicately balanced relationship between accuracy and a good story before on the blog and the focus of 'television history' is an ongoing debate. Do you agree that there is too much focus on the Nazis and the Tudors on television?

    Nalanda University in northern India was an international centre of learning. Image from

    Nalanda University in northern India was a distinguished university long before Oxford, Cambridge or Bologna were first founded and it maintained its scholarly reputation up until its destruction by invaders in 1193. Now, the idea of re-establishing Nalanda as an international centre of learning has been proposed by a group of statesmen and scholars, led by Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning economist. 

    Can Nalanda compete with modern universities? 

    James Buchanan. Image from

    * Was James Buchanan really the worst US president?  

    Mallard Steam Train. Image subject to copyright. Images courtesy Getty Images, Press Association and National Railway Museum. Image from

    * On 3 July 1938, an A4 class locomotive Mallard raced down Stoke Bank at 126mph to set a new steam locomotive world speed record. That record still stands today. To celebrate the anniversary of this remarkable achievement, the National Railway Museum in York arranged for the Mallard to meet its five surviving sister locomotives from the A4 class. 

    It is amazing to think that this record has managed to remain unbroken, despite steam trains being used into the 1960s!

    (Clockwise from left) Notice on Buckingham Palace gate; Prince William's christening; Prince William's signature; gun salute; Archbishop of Canterbury. Image from

    * Finally, as Kate's due date draws ever closer, here's 10 curious things about the royal birth...


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

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    ‘During the Second World War, I worked in an empty building by the Thames. It had been used by the Thames Conservancy Board. When war came, they moved out and I was moved in. I stayed there for most of the war. I never went down to an air raid shelter. I was too busy trying to make people laugh about wartime bread and sausages, instead of crying about them.’ Mabel Lucie Attwell.

    Mabel Lucie Attwell’s postcards tell the story of Britain’s Home Front in a charming and often moving way, they are at times laugh-out-loud funny and at times very poignant. Set in the context of her wartime letters and the Home Front, this book will be loved by Attwell fans old and new.

    Mabel Keeps Calm and Carries On


    I’ve always known Mabel Lucie Atwell as an illustrator of children’s books. There’s a widely held belief that those who write for children should be opinion-formers, since young readers are the future grown-ups in any society. It’s fitting, then, that an artist linked with many children’s classics should also be doing her bit for the war effort during the two major conflicts of the first half of the twentieth century.

    Mabel Keeps Calm and Carries On offers a well-chosen collection of Atwell’s postcards from 1914-1945. There’s also an interesting introduction by Vicki Thomas which gives us some biographical detail and insights into the cultural context in which Atwell worked. One very interesting feature is the insight Vicki Thomas gives into the commercial success of postcards – something that seems almost unbelievable in the age of email and tweet.

    Atwell’s cute style is not to everyone’s taste but inside the velvet glove of sentimentality there’s an iron fist: an insistence on duty, fortitude, everyday courage and deliberate cheerfulness in times of trouble. Her postcards deal with the many and varied challenges of life during a war – the separation, the hard work, rationing and deprivation. But through her winsome child figures, she banishes self-pity and urges her audience to look on the bright side and hope for the best.  To a contemporary eye, some of her depictions of gender and race seem outdated. However, her images are still popular across the world and the values she is promoting remain relevant and worthy. My favourite reassuring caption is on a card from 1941: “Here’s a four leaf clover – Your trouble’s over!”. 

    This beautifully produced book would make a great gift for anyone interested in children’s book illustration, life during the two world wars or media studies. And every book sold contributes to the “Help for Heroes” charity.

    Book: Mabel Keeps Calm and Carries On

    Edited by Vicki Thomas

    Review by: Sue Creed

    Sue Creed is an avid reader who is keen to promote books of all kinds. She has worked in education - at school and university level - for more than 25 years. When she's not reading, she's gardening. 

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    Here at The History Press we are big fans of crime fiction and we jumped at the chance to ask two of our authors some questions about the ins and outs of writing historical crime fiction. From social media to writer's block, David and Terence share the secrets of successful crime fiction writing.  Set in Bath in 1803, their new book, The Regency Detective, is published this month by The Mystery Press (The History Press’s crime fiction imprint) and features Jack Swann, an unofficial consulting detective to the Bow Street Runners in London.

    David Lassman and Terence James at the Cresent in Bath 


    Why write crime fiction?

    DL. It is a genre that has always fascinated me – nurtured no doubt through reading Sherlock Holmes stories from childhood. Dickson Carr’s locked room mysteries also enthral me - hopefully we will write one for Swann in the future.

    TJ. I agree with David. I have always loved the genre and grew up with Sherlock Holmes. There are definite echoes between Holmes and Swann, although being set much earlier our character has less science to rely on – in fact, almost none. In this way then, we experience crimes that need more than fingerprints and DNA to solve them, with Swann leaning more on observation, deduction and intuition.


    Where did the inspiration for The Regency Detective come from?

    DL. The idea was originally developed as a television series. This arose after I had watched a documentary about Life on Mars, in which the writers revealed they created it as production companies always wanted ‘cop shows’. They didn’t want to write a modern-day one, however, and so had looked to what they knew best – the detective shows of the 1970s (most notably The Sweeney). This got me thinking and as I didn’t want to set one in the present day either – and I am involved in the Jane Austen Centre and Jane Austen Festival in Bath – the rest followed naturally.  


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

    DL/TJ. Bath is very important to The Regency Detective – so much so that we see it as one of the main characters and hopefully, by the end of the book, you come to know the city as an old friend. We always believe a good setting is essential for any book, as it can add some much to the story and characters seem to come off the page more alive if set against the backdrop of a great location. Bath has such an illustrious history, stretching all the way back to Roman times and beyond. Apart from the Roman Baths, its real attraction to visitors today is, of course, the incredible Palladian architecture which still exists from the 18th and 19th centuries and which is described in The Regency Detective. So much so that one can literally follow in the footsteps of Swann and his companions.


    In your book a young Jane Austen is mentioned. Will she appear in future books?

    TJ. Yes. She has a brief cameo in this book and there are a number of references to her life and works, but she will interact with the main characters more in future ones. This is one of the things we liked about writing The Regency Detective novel - the melding of historical fact with fiction.


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

    DL. The Magus by John Fowles had a huge and profound impact on my life when I was younger – so much so that I went and lived on a Greek Island for three and an half years. The majority of my reading these days is taken up with non-fiction books that form the research underpinning The Regency Detective. I am currently reading Ladies of the Grand Tour, History of English Education Since 1800 and Classics in Murder. At one time I never really liked reading for research, but over the last few years have developed a passion for it.

    TJ.  I love Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Coming from the world of television and film, I find it a very visual novel. There are so many set piece visual moments – the May dance at Marlot as the novel opens, Angel Clare carrying Tess and the two milk maids through the puddle, and the sunrise at Stonehenge at the close. Hardy was wonderful at visual imagery; he even subtitled Under The Greenwood Tree as 'A Rural Painting of the Dutch School'. I think Tess of the D’urbervilles was well ahead of its time and has been recently rewarded by a very excellent television adaptation.


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

    DL. My early literary heroes were John Fowles and Lawrence Durrell – especially The Alexandria Quartet – but I suppose Austen has to top the list these days. Pride & Prejudice, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, is her most famous book, although in many ways – and perhaps for obvious reasons - I prefer her two Bath-based books, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. We do, in fact, have appearances from a couple of characters from the former in The Regency Detective. As for a favourite fictional character, I think we would have to go back to Sherlock Holmes. Mr Darcy – from Pride & Prejudice – would probably be a close second and in an earlier incarnation of The Regency Detective, Swann was actually called Darcy!

    TJ. I love Austen too but from studying him at school I have always treasured the world of Thomas Hardy. In his novels we find man in the tragic context of nature and we find a poet at work too. In his novels, called collectively ‘The Wessex Tales’, we find massive changes happening to rural communities through the Industrial Revolution; the mechanism of agriculture, the coming of the railways and the migration of rural folk to towns in search of work: all good subjects for drama.


    How easy/difficult is to write historic crime fiction?

    DL. It can be difficult to write historic crime fiction, making sure of historical accuracy and behavioural attitudes while telling a good story and creating believable characters, but I think with Terence and myself it is easier, as we always question what we have written. Would a character have really said a particular word or phrase during that period? Did a particular street exist then or had a specific building been built yet?


    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?

    TJ. I suppose the maxim is that the public want to be entertained and not educated. If you write inaccuracies in your fiction then you are fair game for the critics. It is finely balanced though. In all fiction you run the risk of being copied in real life. In the visual arts like film and television though, I believe the risk is greater than the written word. Anthony Burgess, for example, had no trouble with this in his novel A Clockwork Orange. It was only after Stanley Kubrick’s graphic adaptation that the copy cats re-enacted the horror of the text.


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

    DL. It is to really get inside the character’s heads to ask ‘what would the particular character do in any specific situation? What is it they want, what is their motivation and what are they feeling? We also show drafts to professional contacts we trust, for constructive feedback, and through that there were a couple of characters we made more three-dimensional and rounded. One tip when creating characters, is once you have a list of characteristics; gender, age, occupation etc, reverse them. You can go back to your original list afterwards, but it can be very useful as to what you come up with and some of this can be used to give characters more depth. The pregnant female sheriff Fargo is a great example, as is the happily married, quietly-spoken, gun-less Columbo.     


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

    DL. I have been lucky so far in that for most of the time the words seem to flow easily and having a writing partner really helps. The way Terence and myself work is that we will develop a story to treatment stage – basically writing down what happens chronologically, without including any dialogue or detailed descriptions, and then I will go off and write a draft, putting the flesh on the bones, so to speak. We then come together again, once Terence has read the draft, and go through it page by page to find ways of improving it. Once we have made copious notes, I then use them as a basis to write the next draft and so on. If I ever do find myself stuck, or blocked though, I have learnt to go and do something completely different – a walk or domestic chores – and this seems to relax the mind enough for the words to flow again once I sit back down at the keyboard.


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

    TJ. We wrote a cameo in The Regency Detective for a friend of ours called Martin [Salter]. He is the meeter and greeter at the Jane Austen Centre, in Bath, who stands outside the building in authentic period costume, and in all weathers, welcoming visitors. Through this role, he is now known as the Most Photographed Man in England, due to the amount of photographs taken of him by tourists. He has helped us in various ways during the development of The Regency Detective and so we gave him (or perhaps rather an ancestor of his!) a guest appearance as master of ceremonies in the book – introducing Swann and Mary on their arrival at a charity ball. In real life, however, Martin has undertaken this role during balls held as part of the Jane Austen Festival.


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

    DL. Probably the biggest way social media has helped The Regency Detective is that we are already getting a good response from America, through feedback to different websites and e-newsletters I am involved with, even though it is not due to be available there until September. If an author can utilise social media the world of opportunity really opens up. There does seem to exist a reluctance on many authors’ part to be seen to be activity promoting their book, but I am of the opinion that if I have spent a year or so writing it, I would like as many people as possible to read it. At the end of the day though, I think the social media elements have to be combined with more traditional ways of marketing. I still believe a book event and signing is the most effective way of getting readers to become fans of your work.

    Finally, what next for Jack Swann, the Regency Detective?

    DL/TJ. We are in the process of writing the next book in the series, which revolves around several murders at a girl’s boarding school in Bath that Swann is asked to solve. At the same time, he continues to search for his father’s killers, while investigating his sister’s suitor – the mysterious Lockhart. 

    Thank you David and Terence, we look forward to the next installment! 

    The Regency Detective

    David Lassman 
    is a scriptwriter, author, journalist and lecturer. He has appeared many times on television and radio, including BBC’s The One Show and Radio Four’s The Today Programme. He currently teaches at City of Bath College and runs the Bath Writer’s Workshop. 

    Terence James is a full-time writer and award-wining editor at ITV. Throughout his career he has held various roles on prestigious television programmes such as Man Alive (BBC) and The Avengers (ITV) as well as feature films at Elstree, Pinewood and Shepperton studios.

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    London Underground sign 


    When the Metropolitan Railway opened in January 1863, conveying its first passengers from Paddington to Farringdon beneath London’s streets, it was hailed by The Times as “the great engineering triumph of the day” (though a few years earlier the same newspaper had condemned the plans as “an insult to common sense”).  The Times  particularly commended such “ingenious contrivances” as the gas filled tarpaulin bags on the roofs which provided lighting for the carriages, though since the trains were drawn by steam engines which emitted smoke, steam and sparks into the tunnels it is perhaps surprising that no explosions were recorded. Nor did it bother the writer that the smoky atmosphere in the tunnels sent passengers coughing and spluttering into the streets or, occasionally, to the pharmacist near Euston station who sold glasses of “Metropolitan Mixture” to soothe damaged mouths, throats and lungs. One early passenger described his journey as “my first experience of Hades” and resolved to live a better life.


    A steam train restored to the London Underground

    But the advantages of the new system in transporting passengers swiftly beneath London’s congested streets were too great to be held up by a spot of smoke and over the next century and a half the London Underground evolved to become the world’s most extensive and busiest, used by 3 million passengers each day. Steam of course was replaced by electricity, the first underground electric railway being the City and South London Railway, now the southern part of the Northern Line, running from the City to Stockwell and eventually to Morden. In the early days its little electric locomotives struggled up the incline which ran from beneath the Thames to the heart of the City, lights flickering. Occasionally it didn’t make it and had to reverse to take another run at it, an experience which can have done nothing to calm the nerves of the passengers.

     The earlier trains of the London Underground

    One of the most extraordinary features of the Underground’s history is the extent to which it has been populated by crooks and charlatans. The opening of the first line, the Metropolitan, was held up because money set aside for its construction was embezzled by one Leopold Redpath who was one of the last convicts to be transported to Australia. Whitaker Wright (1845-1904) who began to build the Bakerloo Line, went bankrupt, was sentenced to seven years hard labour for fraud and committed suicide in the law courts.  An American called Charles Yerkes (1837-1905), who had been gaoled in Philadelphia for fraud, was responsible for the electrification of the older lines, the construction of the Piccadilly and Northern Lines and for completing the Bakerloo line. He died in New York in 1905 in his gold bedstead leaving his railway network (and his family and numerous mistresses) on the verge of bankruptcy.  There were heroes as well, like managing director Frank Pick (1878-1941) and architect Charles Holden (1875-1960) who bequeathed an artistic and architectural heritage which is second to none, not to mention Harry Beck (1901-74) the creator of the famous underground map.

    But without the villains (compared with whom Boris is a shrinking violet) we would not have the railway beneath the streets upon which so many of us depend. 

    Underground map


    Find out more about the London Underground in the year of its 150th anniversary with London history specialist, Stephen Halliday's Underground to Everywhere

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  • 07/12/13--02:45: The Orange Walks
  • Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The History Press.

    Orangemen marching in Bangor on 12 July 2010. Image from

    'Northern Ireland is a country that is rich in culture, history and the ‘Craíc’ (Pronounced ‘Crack’…having a good time). Since the ‘
    Good Friday Agreement’ of 1998 which ended thirty years of bloodshed the ‘Craíc’ has been on a continuing upward spiral. Belfast, the capital, now has a young, vibrant population, with a good night life, pleasant restaurants and cinemas and excellent links to the rest of the country. The city centre on any given day is a bustling hive of activity, smiling people and buskers.

    Belfast is also a city of contrasts. History is lived in this city, from the murals commemorating the ‘Troubles’ on the walls of the Falls and Shankill Roads to the yearly commemorations and marches that quite literally bring the city to a standstill. One such march, occurring on or around the 12th July, is the annual Protestant commemoration of the defeat of the Catholic King James by his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange. Various Orange Lodges in Belfast partake in this, and the marches have historically been a source of conflict and aggravation with Catholics for decades.

    The Parades Commission has, every year, the unenviable task of trying to placate both sides. The Protestants argue that they shouldn't be able to march anywhere on the ‘Queens Highway’, the Catholics request that they don’t march through their areas. Considering that the marches mark a Catholic defeat and that many Catholics view them as antagonistic, one could be forgiven for at least understanding their point of view. But it’s not as simple as that.

    Protestants, on the other hand, see the marches as a celebration of their culture, for so long vilified by parts of the Catholic community, and therefore feel their right to march where they want is sacrosanct.  They regard any interference in the routes as an attempt to erode another aspect of their identity. On many occasions in the past fifteen years arguments and debates have mostly led to an increase in street violence, putting Belfast in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons again.

    Who wins? Alas within this arena there are no winners. Everybody is wrong and everybody is right.  History has shown that to be the case down the generations. That is why history is lived every day in this city the ‘Troubles’ have left a long shadow.'


    ANDREW WALSH was born in Birmingham of Irish parents, but moved to Drogheda in Ireland when he was five. He grew up in the shadow of the Troubles and was acutely aware of the impact both Catholics and Protestants had on Irish society. Walsh moved back to England in 1991, and completed a history degree. He has dedicated the last four years researching and interviewing those involved in the Falls curfew and has had unprecedented access to the families and to the political parties involved, including Sinn Fein. he is the author of 'From Hope to Hatred: The Falls Curfew and Catholic Alienation'. For more on the Irish 'Troubles' and the Falls Curfew, please click here

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  • 07/12/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 12/07/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Fred Perry and Andy Murray. Image from (c) Getty images

    * Sport (and tennis in particular) has been top of the news agenda this week after Andy Murray became the first British man to win at Wimbledon in 77 years. Fred Perry was the last man to win the championship in 1936 and his legacy was a troubled one with Perry being deemed an outcast by many. The BBC have compared the two champions and you can even see them playing against each other!

    But in all the excitement of Andy Murray winning after 77 years, many have forgotten that Virginia Wade was the last Briton to win a singles title at Wimbledon on 2 July 1977 after Fred Perry. So what is her legacy?

    * Cricket is another popular summer sport and Mark Bryant looks at how the traditional English game has inspired cartoonists since at least the eighteenth century

    Death Valley's Furnace Creek. Image from (c)

    * The UK is currently in the midst of its own little heatwave, with temperatures set to rise to 32 degrees over the weekend but even these scorching temperatures can't compare to the 'hottest day on earth' which took place 100 years ago. In honour of the good weather, the BBC has a mini quiz on heatwaves- how much do you really  know about the sunshine?  

    The Palace of the Peaks: Derbyshire’s stately Chatsworth House is a model of serenity and its balance of the past and present illustrates why it is so popular with all its visitors. Image from Photo: Lorne Campbell

    * For those people looking for something to do this weekend, there are a few interesting options. The Tower of London has relaunched their historic Line of Kings exhibition, which is believed to be the longest running visitor attraction in the world and features armour, life-sized wooden horses and figures of kings which looks like it is well worth a visit. 

    * Weston Park Museum in Sheffield has a new exhibition which charts the history of colour – from traditional natural sources for dyes and pigments to scientific advances in the creation of synthetic hues. 'Colour Coded' will be running until 26th January which gives you plenty of time to organise a visit. 

    * Chatsworth has been used as a location in many films and television shows including the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice as Mr Darcy's home of Pemberley. Fans of Austen can see
    a fabulous collection of the actual costumes worn by stars of TV and film including the infamous shirt worn by Colin Firth in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice at Belsay Hall this weekend. Fans may also wish to see the 12 ft statue of Mr Darcy in the Serpentine lake in London's Hyde Park - it is certainly striking!

    * Why
     Chatsworth is the ideal standard for stately homes to aspire to...

    Book shelf. Image from

    * 20 famous writers on what inspired their work...

    *  Do you buy books in a bookstore or wait until you get home to order them?

    * Struggling to think of a new book idea? Unsure who to pitch your manuscript to? Literary agents and editors share their wishlists...

    * What exactly is a book?

    * The winner of the Book Illustration Competition was announced this week and here you can see some of the stunning cover designs that were submitted to the competion.

    * Author and new mother, Vicki Murphy, on why writing a book is harder than giving birth.

    Princess Diana and baby William; the Queen with her family; the Queen and Princess Margaret as children; Duchess of Cambridge. Image from

    * The royal baby is due any day now, but should we expect revolution in the nursery? It is always difficult to know what gift to get a new baby but here are some ideas from all around the world.

    Winston Churchill, with his wife Clementine, on tour in the United States during the 1930s. Image from

    * Almost 50 years after his death, Winston Churchill continues to fascinate historians and the public alike but what is it about him that inspires such discussion?

    Face of Mary, Queen of Scots. Image from

    * The face of Mary, Queen of Scots has been brought to life by a team of experts from the University of Dundee. The team have previously worked on projects to reconstruct the faces of Bach, Cleopatra’s sister, Simon of Sudbury and Richard III among others.

    Tap o'Noth Hill fort, Aberdeenshire. Image from (c) Atlas of Hill Forts Project

    * A volunteer army has been drafted to map every ancient hill fort in Britain. Enthusiasts are being asked to identify and record features such as ramparts, ditches and entrances to help to create an online atlas of around 5,000 of these Iron Age monuments.

    Image (c) Ivan McClellan Photography. Image from

    * 7 billion people and you, what's your number? Apparently I was the 5,244,082,298th person to be born on Earth, which is pretty insane! 

    Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, has been mapped for the first time using laser light. Image from (c) Istockphoto

    * Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, has been mapped for the first time using laser light.

     US soldier guards Route 7 as Vietnamese women and school children return home. Image from

    * Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War

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

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    The Crown, Pinner, Middlesex, later the Queen’s Head. (© Mr James Moore and Mr Paul Nero)

    During summer there’s nothing quite like supping on a pint in the uniquely British setting of an historic pub. So it’s a sad fact that so many of the nation’s hostelries are closing and some of our most historically important pubs are now at risk. Across the country 26 pubs are shutting a week according to the latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale. Yet these institutions have often been at the heart of their communities for centuries.

    Unlike churches or stately homes there are rarely concerted campaigns to save our oldest watering holes. However, while pubs are suffering thanks to the hard economic climate and our changing drinking habits, we have to realise that these are more than just businesses. As well as their architectural interest they are buildings rich with stories that provide us with a vital link to the past, whether it’s in the form of momentous national events or local history.

    In the last 1000 years pubs have served all sorts of functions alongside quenching our thirst from being the first playhouses to guesthouses for of our kings and queens on their travels.

    But the contribution of ‘the pub’ to our national heritage is often ignored. For one reason or another we have already lost Southwark’s Tabard, the real life inn where Chaucer placed his pilgrims on the start of their journey in his Canterbury Tales, the White Horse in Ipswich, frequented by writer Charles Dickens and lovingly described in The Pickwick Papers and the Blue Boar in Leicester which was last resting place of Richard III, before the Battle of Bosworth.

    Thankfully you can still visit the George, London’s last galleried pub dating back 500 years and known to Shakespeare, the New Inn at Gloucester where Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen and pubs with a truly ancient heritage like The Bingley Arms near Leeds dating back to 905AD. But for how long will they, and many less well known old pubs, survive?

    In Tudor times there was an inn, alehouse or tavern for every 200 people. Today that figure is more like one for every 1200. One of the problems is that even those who drink in old pubs are often unaware of their history. It’s up to all of us - customers, staff, community groups, local planners and national government - to rally round and make sure we cherish our pubs, especially the really old ones. So this summer, seek out your local historic hostelry, order a drink and wallow in a proud tradition, knowing that you are also helping to preserve a piece of our nation’s story.  

    James Moore is one of the authors of 'Ye Olde Good Inn Guide, A Tudor Traveller’s Guide to the Nation’s Finest Taverns'
    by James Moore and Paul Nero. It is published by the History Press and out now. Visit to find out more about Britain's most historic pubs and hotels.

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    Georgiana Cavendish

    My husband is always falling in love. The women he finds attractive are always my exact opposite: tall, slim, young and exceptionally beautiful. Not, that I am particularly short, fat and ugly, nor am I nearly as old as my husband! He enjoys telling me about his latest passions teasing me into a fit of jealousy (or at least the pretence of it).

    There are times I have challenged him and told him to go and live out his fantasies, start a new family, take up a full time job so he can provide for them and have his liberties severely curtailed. I’m not surprised he makes his excuses and declines my generosity to set him free. ‘It confounds me,’ he says, ‘how some men find time to have a mistress as well as a family, not to mention the cost and the energy. In short: I’m too old.’

    Delving into the world of women who have become the unmarried companions of men (who often have legitimate families as well) is fascinating. It is sometimes romantic: a love match where circumstances have not permitted the couple to marry. Mostly, though, the stories are heartbreaking and it is often the woman who is left bereft not only losing the man she loves but her legal rights regarding inheritance and custody of children. She also becomes a social pariah; to be known to have lived in sin (as it used to be called) meant no respectable household would entertain you.

    Men, on the other hand, seemed to get off lightly by comparison. To take more than one female sexual companion was seen as a sign of virility. Men could treat their wives and lovers abominably in many ways and still keep hold of children from the union, legitimate or otherwise. They often had the right to access their wives’ incomes and fortunes even if it meant the family went without food and shelter. A man could sire as many bastards as he was able, but if his wife played away and got pregnant then she may well have been made to send her child away for adoption.  

    To be fair, there were cases of women who ditched their poor, long-suffering husbands and children to run away with someone they were in love with. These unfortunate men did not try to stop their ex-wives from seeing their children, nor did they try to make their lives a misery. In order to keep a fragment of their former happiness alive, some faithful husbands turned a blind eye to what was happening. Their poor hearts must have bled quietly for years.

    Having been born into the era when men and women may divorce whenever they want and there is no longer the awful stigma attached to illegitimacy it can be difficult to understand how women put up with the conditions they had to endure for centuries. It is easy to become judgemental from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century. However, when the social conditions of the times these women lived in (and some of them were not that long ago) are known then I defy any decent reader to not feel deep compassion and sorrow towards most, if not all, the women who became enthralled by a man who was not married to them.  

     Other Women: The History of the Mistress

    Other Women' is a book by Fiona McDonald. Fiona is a writer and illustrator with a diverse range of interests. She has illustrated 'The Little Book of Genius' by Keith Souter, (THP, 2012) and is the author and illustrator of 'Gentlemen Rogues & Wicked Ladies' (THP, 2012). She lives in Australia.

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  • 07/19/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 19/07/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    The Great Train Robbery

    * It has been nearly 50 years since 'The Great Train Robbery'. The incident would became infamous for being one of the most daring robberies in history. The BBC discovers how the leader of the gang, Bruce Reynolds, became an established author after his arrest.


     Are novels the most interactive media?

    * According to The Guardian's researchers novels are still the most interactive form of media around.


     The Guardian's Literary Clock

    * The Guardian have made a clock made up entirely of quotes. The clock will be showcased at the Edinburgh international books festival.



    The Goodreads infographic

    * When do you give up on a book? A new infographic produced by Goodreads aims to shed light on this.



    Arial photograph of planes

    * At the height of WW2 the Germans dropped were dropping V1 and V2 rockets heavily on France and the UK. The BBC examines how hundreds of staff at RAF Medmenham used grainy images to spot the rockets.



    The world's first calender?

    * Archaeologists in Scotland beleive they have found the world's oldest lunar calender.



    The last copies of the Magna Carta Being brought together

     * The four surviving copies of the Magna Carta will be brought together for the first time in history.



    The lost diary of a PoW recently found

    * After 70 years a family is reunited with the diary of a lost relative who was a PoW in Hong Kong.



    J. K. Rowling officially the author of 'Cuckoo's Calling'

    * J K Rowling's cover has been blown after she was revealed to be the author of a new murder mystery novel 'The Cuckoo's Calling'.

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

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    For many people, their summer holiday is the only chance they get to fit in some reading. Your bag is packed, your passport is ready and you have carefully chosen which books by which authors you are going to pack. But what type of book do you take with you? Both print books and ebooks have their advantages (and disadvantages) but which side of the fence do you come down on?

    Amazon Kindle. Image (c) Daz Smith from


    Books are portable, you can pop them in your handbag, rucksack or beach bag and take them wherever you want. But that's just one or two books. With an e-reader in your bag, that's potentially thousands of books at your disposal at the push of a button. There's also the convenience of ebooks. If you think of a book you'd like to read, on holiday with no book shops in the area, it is available on the device immediately. That said, dropping your book in the pool, or getting sand stuck all over it, is a lot more drastic if it's an ebook on your expensive e-reader..

    Physical books are quite destructible and many of us quite happily scribble notes as we read or fold down corners to mark our place. Although, if you are the kind of person who picks up and puts down a lot of books without much thought, downloading ebooks is a lot less hassle than ordering physical copies and arranging their delivery.

    For a lot of people there is something romantic about books. Because they are physical things they have texture, smell and hold memories, maybe of a childhood holiday. Paper books come at a price, however: the print media costs us about 125,000 trees each year

    If you're not particularly romantic about books, ebooks can be a huge advantage. Ebooks are very often cheaper than physical books, even at release, and if that means you end up buying far too many there's no need to fill your house with bookcases . That said, there is no way of taking all your old ebooks to a car boot, to re-coup some of the cost and when you buy an ebook, that doesn't necessarily mean you own it, in the traditional sense. DRM (Digital Rights Management) can make it complicated or simply impossible to move services – from Kindle to Kobo, for example – or sell or lend your ebooks to other people.

    Not many of us would want to admit it but reading books is often when we come across new words. Any e-readers and tablets now come with dictionaries and if you're reading on a tablet with Wi-Fi or 3G, the whole internet is at your disposal. Dictionaries, bookmarking, the internet are all great tools but being constantly connected – with Facebook notifications popping up every two minutes – can be a distraction, breaking the immersion of a good read.

    With ebooks, people can't see your embarrassing reading choices but seeing someone with the same book – or a favourite book – can start conversations on those boring train journeys…

    When we asked our Twitter followers which they preferred, we were overwhelmed with responses, clearly this is a topic that people are passionate about! One thing definitely bears repeating though, with print and ebooks, it isn’t either or.  You can read a mixture of the two formats, as the majority of our readers do (51.07% of our readers use both print and ebooks) and it is unlikely that one will ever replace the other. Consider this as well, does it really matter which format they use as long as people are reading?

    Join the conversation below and let us know your thoughts...



    Further reading:

    * No I won't use an e-reader

    * Why printed books will never die

    * Books vs. ebooks

    * The advantages of ebooks versus traditional books

    * What is the future of reading?

    * Can ebooks and libraries co-exist?


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    License All rights reserved by hadar.bensimon. Image from

    For many people, those blissful few days when they are on holiday, are the only time that they have for settling down with a good book. But with thousands of books published every month, and the added option of ebook or print books, how on earth do you choose which books to take? 

    One of the easiest places to start is by picking a theme e.g. a particular genre, subject, time period or author. I can’t get enough of the Tudors so a mix of historical fiction and Tudor history books are always a winning combination for me. However, if you are feeling a little contrary, you can always choose books that are the complete opposite of each other; there's nothing like flitting between chick lit and crime thrillers to keep you awake when you’re lying in the sun. By doing this, you will also avoid 'genre burnout' - when reading lots of one type of books make them feel a bit 'same-y'. Take this as a heads-up from someone who once got stuck somewhere with only Clive Cussler books!

    If I can't decide on a genre my local library is always very good at providing recommendations and most will have lists of recommended titles or staff picks, especially at this time of year. It is definitely worth asking library staff about what to read next as they are usually avid readers themselves and will have a good idea of similar books that may interest you. Being in the library also has the added bonus of letting you flick through the book before you commit – a plot may be great but if you don’t like the author’s writing style you’ll never enjoy it. 

    Another benefit of the library is that although people may tell you not to judge a book by its cover, a beautiful design can definitely help you decide between books. If you find one that catches your eye, why not read the first chapter before deciding to read (or not).

    Bestseller and awards lists are a good starting point if you are unsure of where to begin at your library - there is a good chance that at least one book will catch your eye on there.  The Amazon bestseller lists move very quickly and is definitely worth keeping an eye on for upcoming authors and books. There are always lists of '1,000 books to read before you die' and even if this seems a little daunting, it can be a good way to start the ball rolling.

    Or, if you have an ereader, you can browse the free list and be a bit adventurous with something you wouldn’t be confident enough to pay for. The classics are free to download, so you can finally get round to reading Dracula or some other classics that you haven't been brave enough to try yet. 

    Joining a book club is a good way to find new authors and connect with like-minded individuals about books that you are passionate about. Even if there isn't a book group near you, you can find many online with sites such as the Guardian Book blog which has a thriving book club community

    If all else fails, there’s always the traditional (and perhaps most obvious) route. Ask your friends, family and followers for suggestions of their favourite authors and/or series. It is likely that you will share similar interests; some of the best books I have read have been recommendations or gifts.  There are lots of book bloggers and Youtubers online and sites such as Goodreads can help ease people into online book reviews. The breadth of the community means that you can find bloggers who share your specific tastes and I am now stuck with a 'to read' list which doesn't stop growing!

    Online there are many places that are devoted solely to finding your next book and sites such as Bookseer, Just the Right Book, Whichbook and What Should I Read Next throw up some fairly accurate picks. If you keep an open mind, you may jjust find your new favourite book!  


    How do you choose your holiday reading? 


    Further reading:

    * Stylist magazine's pick of books to read in July.

    * The Observer chooses the best holiday reads for 2013

    * The best books to pack this summer

    * Why summer reading is a holiday essential

    THP staff picks for July

    * Summer voyages: Questions of travel. 

    * Andrew Chapman shares his summer picks

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    File:AtomHeartMotherCover.jpeg. Image from

    Atom Heart Mother. Well, where to start? Not one of Pink Floyd's albums that's so familiar to the average person on the street, although far more know THAT cover.

    Lulubelle the Third (as legend has it as her name) became an unwitting star, when cover designer the late Storm Thorgerson and his team at Hipgnosis were tasked with the job of providing a cover image for the album. At the time, the Floyd still had a bit of a reputation as either a psychedelic, or a "space rock", band, the latter something they would tend to strenuously deny (despite songs such as Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun, Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, and later, the album The Dark Side of the Moon). The new album included the eponymous side-long piece which initially went under the titles of Epic, Theme From an Imaginary Western, and The Amazing Pudding.

    Setting out for inspiration, not far from base, the Hipgnosis team drove past a farm and saw Lulubelle gazing into space, happily chewing some grass. The rest, as they say, is history.

    The band clearly liked the cover, the record company absolutely didn't - especially with the lack of band name or album title to spoil the rural idyll. And the complete lack of relevance to the subject matter. Storm told me a couple of years ago with some degree of pleasure about the perverse delight he and the band had at presenting this as the cover of their new collection.

    Whilst a lesser known album in the band's back catalogue it is nonetheless one of the key parts of their development - and in particular, the title track which I'll call the AHM Suite for clarity, as even the band muddied the water in interviews, talking interchangeably about AHM the album and the track without specifying exactly which they were talking about...

    The earlier days of the band saw Syd Barrett as guiding light, but with his departure in early 1968 the band needed to find their new direction and future. With Syd's improvisational influence, longer, experimental tracks replaced some of the more whimsical ditties, and the attraction of a LP-side long track clearly beckoned. Out of a few ingredients, The Amazing Pudding arrived, an early version of AHM Suite (which as noted above was also called Epic, hinting at the band's ambitions with this).

    However, to change this pudding into a properly tasty dish (sorry!) they realised that they would need help. Cue Ron Geesin, a friend of the band members through various circumstances, and someone who they felt could work with them on the title track of their new album, sorting out sheet music, a choir, orchestrations and musicians.

    Clearly though, the temperatures at times were running as high in the studio, as they were that blistering summer that they were working on the piece. As Ron's new book discusses, things didn't go well during the sessions, with a punch-up in Abbey Road Studio Two a very close-run thing. Musically too, there were many issues, not least with the limitations of the recording technology of the time.

    Whilst the band tended to be a bit dismissive of the album after its release, the title track was a key work for them. It paved the way for other epics such as Echoes, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and also the thematically linked albums they released in later years.



    The Flaming Cow is now available as an exclusive ebook in the iBookstore which includes two videos and additional material. To find out more, visit

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  • 07/24/13--07:05: Real Ninja Tricks

    Even today, in our world of forward thinking history documentaries, packed with state of the state CGI and dramatic story telling, the myths of Japan still hold on to the romantic, bound by a thick chain of love of the east. At the pinnacle of this romantic image of Japan is the black clad assassin in the night, the ninja. In the last few years the movement to expose the truth of the ninja has been in full throttle and ninja manuals translated into English are hitting the shelves. From these new translations we have a chance to see real ninja skills for the first time and understand just how amazing the ninja actually were.


    The Paper Net

    If a ninja new that another ninja would sneak in late at night or if someone just feared that they would be targeted, they would make a mosquito net mad of paper and leave a small viewing hole in it. This way the agent sent after them would not know if the man inside was awake or asleep, a true poke in the eye.

     The Paper Net 1

    The Paper net 2


    Three V one

    Ninja, when they had targeted a building for infiltration and destruction, would break into teams of three and target single fighters to bring them down quicker.

     Three V One


    Capture by torch

    Similar to the above and packed with religious overtones is capture and divination by torches. Ninja would use torches filled with gunpowder – which makes a horrible smoke that induces coughing. They would throw between one and three at a target until the man could not move or breath well, then they would move in for the capture. Depending on how many they took to capture him would change the god to which it was dedicated to.


    The break fall sword

    When jumping down from a height, ninja would use the scabbard of their sword to break the fall, helping spread the landing weight. 


    The Break Fall Sword



    Hiding in the mist

    Ninja would use natural mist, call on the gods for mist or if that failed, create their own smoke, it is in here they would hide. 


    Hiding in the Mist



    Throwing fire

    Gunpowder would be packed on to small bamboo tubes, the size of a fist. Then from here, the tube would be placed over a thin stick. The ninja would light the gun powder in teams and then throw them en mass to thatch and food stocks.

    Throwing Fire



    Gunpowder letter

    If the ninja had to carry an important letter that could not get in enemy hands, they would fill it with gunpowder, just in case they had to quickly throw it on the fire, making it explode before it could be pulled out of the fire.


    No sword

    A ninja would infiltrate the enemy, pretending to be one of them, then when he was allowed near the enemy lord, quickly he would snatch the lord’s sword and kill him there and then. 



    No Sword


    Death by fire and blood

    If there was no way out for a ninja, if his house was surrounded and his cover blown, if he did not want his face to be seen by others so that the identity of his lord was kept safe, then he would go out in flames – literally. Filling his futon with gunpowder and sleeping on explosives each night, if they day came that he was surrounded, he would open up his belly with a sword and then incinerate himself in a blaze of glory. 


    Death by Sword and Fire


    Read more on the skills and secrets of ninjas with Antony Cummins 'In Search of the Ninja - The Historical Truth to Ninjutsu'  or go further into the art with his new book, co written with Yoshie Minami, 'Iga and Koka Ninja Skills - The Secret Shinobi Scrolls of Chikamtsu Shigenori'

     Iga and Koka Ninja Skills

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  • 07/26/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 26/07/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Photo: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have emerged from hospital with their newborn son.Here is the first image of the family: #RoyalBaby

    * You would have had to be living under a rock this week if you haven't heard that the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby boy on Monday this week. The couple have decided to name him George Alexander Louis and many guessed his first name, named for his great great grandfather George VI, but what's the significance of Alexander and Louis? It's difficult to know what the future holds for the Cambridge prince (even with TIME's handy guide) but one thing is certain, he isn't an average baby

    The White Queen. Image from

    * The White Queen is nearing its conclusion over on BBC 1 and the BBC has a really interesting interview with Phillipa Gregory about translating history into novels and television and how to move the narrative from the page to onscreen. If you are interested in history, fiction or both, this is well worth a read!

    Office window

    * Many people may feel like they are constantly chained to their desk but this is not a modern phenomenon. Lucy Kellaway investigates the invention of the office and also examines how the typewriter played a crucial role in introducing women into the workplace

    Jane Austen £10 note. Image from


    * Literary lovers are rejoicing this week as Jane Austen has been confirmed as the new face of the Bank of England £10 note, replacing Charles Darwin in either 2016 or 2017. Reactions have been mixed but as massive fans of Jane Austen, we couldn't be more pleased!

    * Looking for literary love in London? Book review website the Omnivore has created a dating feature that matches participants based on answers to questions like 'What are you currently reading?' and 'Which author do you have a crush on?' Who knows, you may be able to find your very own Mr Darcy...


    Book shelf. Image from


     * Why do writers drink? Creativity and alcohol are often linked together but surely the words on the page are there despite and not because of alcohol?

    * Why the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' film is just as good as the novel. Like many others, I had to read this book at school and I really enjoyed it and the film is one of my favourites. Gregory Peck is a fantastic Atticus and the movie is gripping, whether or not you have read the book. Why not read the book or watch the film this weekend? 

    * Are bookless libraries a good thing? 

    * Top tips for authors: the ten rules of submitting to literary magazines

    * The 'Not the Booker prize' is back, and you're a judge...

    * Just what are grown-ups afraid of in YA books

    * The reasons why Amazon should play nice with local bookstores.

    * Could the smell of chocolate help save bookshops on the highstreet? It would definitely help to lure me into a store...


    Medieval Mansion Found at U.K. Construction Site. Image from


    * A medieval mansion has been found at a UK construction site, with no record of it ever existing, at the site in Longforth Farm in Wellington, Somerset 


    Brick-fronted building decorated for an Asian wedding. Image from


    * How many hours does it take to be fluent in English

    The ocean-going canoes. Image from

    * Polynesian navigators have revived a skill that was nearly lost. The revival of ancient skills continues to gather momentum and is of growing importance for the indigenous people of the Pacific. 

    Layout of Fort San Juan excavation site. (Credit: University of Michigan)

    Archaeologists discover the remains of a garrison that predates the earliest English settlements in the US by decades. Established in 1567, Fort San Juan was just one of at least six military installations built by the Spanish across the Appalachian mountain range, stretching from the coast of South Carolina to eastern Tennessee - and is the only one scientists have located so far.

    A British merchant ship sunk by the Nazis has given up a haul of 61 tons of silver, worth about $36 million. Image from


     * $36 million in silver has been recovered from a World War Two shipwreck found about 300 miles off the coast of Ireland, laying deeper than the Titanic at a depth of nearly 3 miles.

    Bourbon-news. Image from

    * Social media is a fairly modern invention, but the nineteenth-century, semi-weekly Bourbon News newspaper from Millersburg, Kentucky with a column called 'Scintillations' has been described as the Facebook of 1883. 

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

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    Thomas Cromwell. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532–1533. Image from 


    Thomas Cromwell, who died by the headsman’s axe on 28 July, 1540, is now nearly a household name. He is the hero of Hilary Mantel’s award winning novels. TV programs, dramas and stage plays with him as the star are in preparation. He features on social networks and blogs. It is quite a transformation for a man who used to be cast as the villain of the Tudor court; and with the anniversary of his death approaching, the question is bound to arise – are we overdoing things, just a bit? So let’s briefly review his legacy.             

    His lord and master, Henry VIII, claimed that he (Henry) held highest authority in England, not the pope. Henry won the argument, in Englandat least, where even many good Catholic people supported him against Rome. It was fine in theory. But how could it be made to happen in practice? Cromwell had the answer – an act of parliament to make the king supreme head of church and state. The result was not just the supremacy of the crown, but the crown in parliament, and parliamentary statute – which is the foundation of the modern democratic state.               

    But, some say, did not Cromwell become the ruthless enforcer of the new regime? Those who think so may be surprised to hear that some of his contemporaries thought he was too soft. One of the charges against him when he was arrested was that he let suspects off when he should have sent them to jail, or worse.               

    Cromwell laid the foundations for the future national Church of England. He could not persuade Henry to become a Lutheran, but soon after his death the Protestant Reformation was established under Edward, and later more enduringly under Elizabeth.               

    Cromwell was also an energetic social reformer. His Poor Law bill included a program of public works for the poor and unemployed, free medical treatment for poor persons too sick to work, and provisions for the elderly and the terminally ill. Then in 1539, after the dissolution of the monasteries, he and his close circle were full of ideas about spending the revenues on worthy causes like education and hospitals. Unfortunately, we had to wait a long time for these plans to bear fruit. The gentry and nobility of parliament rejected much of the Poor Law bill, and Henry used up all the monastic wealth fighting the French and the Scots.               

    Henry dreamed of being king of France, and he spent a fortune in the 1520s and 1540s trying to win a piece of France. But in Cromwell’s time, not a penny went on wars. As John Foxe and others noted approvingly, Cromwell sought peace with all nations, whether Catholic or Protestant, and prosperity and progress at home.               

    Apart from the king, Cromwell was the greatest collector of works of art and the chief patron of artists in his time. He was accomplished in at least five languages. He had a mastery of politics, law, and the great issues of the day like the Reformation. Yet he was a man of humble birth who, so far as we can tell, had no formal education.               

    So maybe we are not getting too carried away after all. Not everyone would agree with all his reformist policies. But few could deny that this was one of the most remarkable characters in an age which had plenty of them.               

    Let’s not make him a saint. (He would have hated that.) But let us not be shy about praising famous men either, especially on 28 July.

    John Schofield is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He holds a PhD in Reformation history, is an expect of Thomas Cromwell and is also the author of 'Cromwell to Cromwell' and 'The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell'

    Click here to read more on 
    Thomas Cromwell, the ‘catholic faith’ and the  ungoodly’ executioner.

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    Portrait of Hannah Greg. National Trust/Quarry Bank Mill Archive

    Born in 1766 Liverpool to a family of linen merchants, Hannah was barely a teenager when her father died.  She inherited his Dissenting faith and a small fortune from him and from her uncle, but she also derived from them and from her mother a commitment to education and welfare, the vocation to help the poor, and an interest  in medicine.

    She acquired at boarding school in London not only a wide education, a love of reading and of the countryside, but also a circle of radical friends, writers, and reformers, who encouraged her to make the most of her abilities.  In Liverpool before her marriage, she shone in the society of the local liberal intelligentsia. As she feared, her freedom to enjoy this life must come to an end when she married; and her first months of marriage to Samuel Greg came as a profound shock. However, taking charge in his family home in King Street, she soon  became a gifted hostess, a strong and intelligent supporter in his business, and a mother, bearing him 13 children.  Though well aware of the iniquity of the slave trade – she had some friends and family who were both implicated in it and others who were campaigners against it - she could not voice her opposition to it while Samuel retained his inherited plantations.

    Quarry Bank Mill. National Trust/Quarry Bank Mill Archive

    Like many Dissenters in Manchester in the 1790s, she felt under attack for her religious and political views, and her support for the Irish added to the climate of suspicion and anxiety which she had to endure. The family decided to spend an increasing amount of time in the country at Quarry Bank, where Hannah could bring up her growing family in a more tranquil environment.   There she wrote her books, (ostensibly for them); and became immersed in the care of the mill workforce.

    She oversaw  the education provided for the apprentice children, believing that the poor would benefit from being able to read and write, to acquire a skill, and to learn lessons from the Bible.  Each of her children spent time teaching apprentices.  Working with Dr Holland, the factory doctor, she also took a compassionate yet practical  interest in sustaining the health of the workforce, dispensing medicine and protecting them against the risk of epidemics.  She helped set up the village infant school, and took the leading role in providing for maternity leave and other welfare measures for the working mothers in the factory community.

    Though frequently suffering from ill-health, she found time to make her home a meeting place for writers, academics, and travellers. She died there in 1828 at the age of 62.

    Several of her children repaid the care and attention she devoted to their upbringing. Bessy, who married the son of her Liverpool friends the Rathbones, became a famous reformer and leader of education, housing and urban reform in that city. Robert, the son who took on the management of the business empire, the estates and even the slave plantation in Dominica, fought for the reform of the franchise, a causes dear to his mother’s heart. He went further, championing the Repeal of the Corn Laws and becoming an MP.  William and Samuel, the youngest sons, started out as brilliant idealists, but setbacks in their business lives tempered their enthusiasm for reform. They are mainly remembered nowadays for their writing.


    A Lady of Cotton 


    David Sekers was the National Trust’s Director of the Regions until retiring in 2001. He has been writing about Quarry Bank, Styal since 1978, specialising in the famous Greg family.  Prior to joining the National Trust as regional director he was museum director at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal. His book, A Lady of Cotton is available now. 

    The Mill, Channel 4's new four-part historical drama, will air on 28 July at 8:00pm. The series is set during rural-industrial England during 1833, the gritty drama follows the workers and unpaid apprentices at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire as they slave away at their 12-hour shifts. But the industrial revolution is changing the landscape of the country beyond recognition and the workers are poised to take their fates into their own hands...

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    L: A portrait of Eliza in Newgate Prison. Her detractors claimed that her attractiveness was the sole reason that so much interest was taken in her case. R: Kate Webster, from an effigy in Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks

    Of the six murderous women featured in Bad Companions, perhaps one feels most sympathy for the servant girl, Eliza Fenning. Not only could she read and write, she was described as young, petite and pretty and she was engaged to be married. She worked as a cook for the Turner family in Chancery Lane, London, and in 1815, she was tried at the Old Bailey charged with attempting to murder them with dumplings laced with arsenic. Her case is especially interesting as a London chemist at the time came forward with evidence that seemed to prove that Eliza was, in fact, innocent and a member of the Turner family was the culprit.

    Eliza protested her innocence to the end, despite the fervent administrations of the Newgate Prison Ordinary, Revd. Horace Cotton.  Sadly, she went to the gallows wearing an embroidered bonnet she had made especially to wear at her wedding and as her broken body hung from the hangman’s rope the merciless hordes that came to watch her die could see that she was wearing her best lilac leather boots. The press coverage of the case was huge and many influential commentators at the time were convinced of her innocence, a view held by Charles Dickens, who, learning of the case some years later, viewed her execution as a miscarriage of justice and a travesty of the law.

    By complete contrast, Kate Webster - hefty, big-hearted and boozy Kate, was liked by everyone but, when cornered and rebuked, she was lethally ill-tempered. When apprehended – after fleeing to Ireland with her young son - she never laid claim to innocence and fully confessed to the murder of her elderly employer, Mrs. Julia Thomas, in Park Road, Richmond. In a rage over petty restrictions and the threat of dismissal, Kate killed the fastidious, church-going Julia, dismembered her body and boiled the parts in the kitchen copper. Carrying the head in a black canvas bag she made a trip to Hammersmith to see some of her former drinking cronies and on the way home she disappeared over Hammersmith Bridge, only to emerge twenty minutes later - without the canvas bag. After boxing up the remaining butchered and boiled parts of her victim she threw them over the parapet of Richmond Bridge; the splash as the heavy box hit the murky waters of the Thames was heard by two witnesses.

    As a result of her crime, Kate was hanged at Wandsworth Gaol on 29th July, 1879. But what became of the head of Mrs Julia Thomas? The case has a rather bizarre denouément; in October 2010, workmen excavating part of the garden belonging to the naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough, unearthed a skull – the site was close to Mrs Thomas’s former house and The Hole in the Wall public house where Kate and friends were regular drinkers. In July, 2011, the West London Coroner, formally identified the skull as that of Julia Thomas and recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

    Bad Companions


    Kate Clarke is a writer and diarist. She recently retired to Hay-on-Wye after teaching in London’s schools for more than twenty-one years. Her book 'Bad Companions' features the cases of six London women, each very different in temperament, age and status, who resorted to murder and is available to buy at The History Press.

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    This cartoon drawn during the Second World War by an unknown serviceman sums up everything about Orford Ness experiments over the years. Note that there is only a single Officer (Flight Lieutenant Quinlan) ordering about a disrespectful Corporal. On the river is the notorious ferry barge, known by its number as ‘Ein Ein Sieben Fünf’. The great hangar that survived until 1987 stands serene, surrounded by unlikely explosions, with a single figure waving forlornly on the roof. (Unknown)

    The Suffolk coast is a land of mysteries and secrets, smugglers and ghosts, myths and legends. The drowned city of Dunwich and the tale of the Merman of Orford, the  terrifying visits of the fierce hound, Black Shuck, and the legend of the Margaret Catchpole  are all just part of this tradition. It inspired the greatest of all ghost-story writers, M.R.James. When painting his Suffolk coastal scenes, Turner could not avoid depicting tempest and shipwreck.  Even Benjamin Britten’s interpretation of George Crabbe’s grim tale of Peter Grimes is threatening, stormy, tragic and mysterious. In 1992, the atmospheric and scholarly writer W.G.Sebald paid a visit of dubious legality to the ruins that still stood on the site of what had for decades been totally out of bounds to the general public. In his famous travel book  Rings of Saturn, he gloomily compounds the atmosphere of threat and sinister mystery, quoting Shelley’s  Ozymandias: ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair’. It is obvious that like most people, he had no idea what he was looking at. He could form no informed opinion of the significance of the place.

    In this context, curiosity over Orford Ness was aroused throughout most of the last century. Who knew what was going on at the  government’s most secret of military research stations? As a location, Orford Ness is  the most remote and obscure corner of the county. It comprises  grazing marshland and an 11-mile stretch of vegetated  shingle, the most  extensive example of this phenomenon in Europe.  In 1913, the War Office purchased its 2,000 acres from local landowner, Mackenzie Clark (father of Kenneth, Lord Clark of Civilisation fame), to set up its  first experimental air  station for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.

    Its attraction was, as they defined it, its ‘privacy’. This privacy served it well to the day it was sold on to the National Trust in 1993. Orford itself is just a large village and communications with the rest of the county are little better than they were in Tudor times, when it was a noted rotten borough, sending two members to parliament. Indeed, since the Ness is now defined primarily as National Nature Reserve, the National Trust’s policy is to avoid advertising it and so restrict visitor numbers as is appropriate for managing its wild life. This just adds to  its unique remote atmosphere.

    For a historian, such a place creates the most exciting of challenges, both rewarding and at times, frustrating. For all but 80 years, Orford Ness was a highly restricted location, governed by the Official Secrets  Act. To this day, many who served there however long ago and in whatever capacity, feel they must abide by its terms. They remain unwilling to accept that they have some obligation to posterity to reveal what they were doing.  For I take the view that activity rightly kept a tight secret for so long, and governed by the restricting principle of ‘need to know’, is ultimately part of our national heritage.

    People ‘ought to know’ so they can understand the debt owed to the people, chiefly, men but women also, who played such a vital part in the successful outcome of the three great world conflicts of the past century. They did so in circumstances that were often inhospitable (the place is indeed remote and the weather can be diabolical) and sometimes dangerous. Moreover, the secrecy surrounding this work was largely  unrecognised and unrewarded. There is no monument to the hundreds of boffins of Orford Ness. This description of a practical scientist with hands on skills was first coined in 1941, to describe an ex-Orford Ness radar expert, Robert Hanbury Brown

    Happily, material is now becoming available from the National Archive at Kew. This includes documents relating to the 18 years from 1953 when the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston , took over the property to test the firing mechanisms of the weapons that constituted Britain’s nuclear deterrent. That it would work, if, as and when required, was due to bomb testing over the Ness. Even more significant were the tests in six great research laboratories to ensure that accidental or premature detonation was impossible. 

    Many research and trials reports however have disappeared, particularly relating to work undertaken during World War II.  I have had to rely on that most uncertain source of information, the remote corner of a long forgotten attic. Another source of information has been the happy willingness of those that have spotted my mistakes or omissions to point them out. Indeed, written and verbal comments from those who served on the Ness, or from their relatives, has been an invaluable and often most rewarding means of ‘getting the story right’.

    Orford Ness Visitor Map. Note the shingle beach, where the bombing range was once located, and the distant Cobra Mist site.It is also easy to appreciate how cut off this experimental station was from the real world, no wonder the local inhabitants  nicknamed it the ‘Island’, it would have been even more appropriate to call it ‘Boffin Island’, as it became in its heyday. (© The National Trust/Orford Ness)

    Acknowledgement too is due to the foresight of the National Trust which from its acquisition of  the property in 1993, adopted a policy of accumulating archive material. This has added enormously to the quality of the information available to me. This is especially the case in respect of early photographs relating to World War I.  Indeed, the whole story of the research undertaken at the Orford Ness station for the Royal Flying Corps is fascinating and important. This and much else, by what might seem almost a conspiracy of silence, has been hitherto widely unappreciated. One of the most puzzling and frustrating discoveries my study has revealed is the lack of awareness by professional historians of the very existence of Orford Ness and certainly of the significance of the work conducted there. Perhaps the most notable example here is
    Professor R.V.Jones, principal research scientist for the RAF during World War II. This omission of any mention of Orford Ness in his autobiography, Most Secret War, is particularly startling in respect of his failure to make any reference to the work at Orford between 1935 and 1937 by Watson Watt’s team in confirming the feasibility of radar. Bawdsey Manor is recognised as the pioneering research station. But it all began at Orford.

    I turn to the last great research – and would-be operational – project  set up at Orford between 1967 and 1973. Cobra Mist was a highly ambitious radar station designed to bounce a long distance signal off the ionosphere and reflect it back to the source of transmission. It was a venture sponsored by the United States and the target was the Soviet Union. It was a gigantic construction, the aerial alone spanning 135 acres. For a host of reasons, it failed to operate satisfactorily and the U.S. Government decided to terminate its operation. Research on the saga of its building and its failure was facilitated by plenty of documentary material at Kew and by the oral archive of many who worked there. One conclusion to be drawn however is that the truth is seldom as it seems. I have some reason to suspect that official sources are not totally to be trusted and that there are aspects to the Cobra Mist episode that are yet to be revealed.  One feature of all work done on the Ness has been ‘the cover story’. The true purpose of projects was obfuscated in a cloak of half-truth and plain dishonesty, with investigative journalists fobbed off. This was never more so than with Cobra Mist. The historian may speculate, but in a case like the Cobra Mist story, the truth of its real purpose has not been fully revealed, nor the real reasons for its summary abandonment, following it apparent failure, properly explained.  Cobra Mystery indeed!

    It is perhaps just another attraction that secrets remain at Orford Ness. And most certainly, there is much more to the place than just the intriguing fascination of unresolved mysteries. The place’s role as part of the heritage coast of Suffolk and its string of international designations as a nature reserve, and the extraordinary display of plant-life growing up through the shingle ridges, quite apart from the ghosts and shadows of the people who worked on cloak and dagger military experiments, all lend weight to an unmatched and fascinating atmosphere. Which all makes it a privilege to have been able to research its history -  and record those bits of it so far revealed.

    Most Secret: The Hidden History of Orford Ness

    Paddy Heazell is the author of Most Secret: The Hidden History of Orford Ness which is available to buy now.

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