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The History Press blog

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    File:Bella graffiti.jpg. Graffiti on the Wychbury Obelisk.  Image from

    Watching the many detective series on television it is easy to form the opinion that murderers are always caught. Sadly, that is not the case and one mysterious death in Worcestershire has gone unsolved for sixty years.

    At the height of the Second World War four young boys went into Hagley Woods looking for bird’s eggs, then considered a proper occupation for a young man. But they found more than they expected, a human skull, hidden in the hollow trunk of a wych elm. When the police were alerted they discovered the full skeleton, although the left hand had been buried separately. The pathologist’s examination showed that it was of a female who had been dead about eighteen months and, because of irregularities in the jaw, police were confident they would soon establish her identity.

    But a nationwide trawl of dentists produced no candidates and then things took a more sinister turn. Professor Margaret Murray, then a respected anthropologist, let it be known that this bore all the signs of a black magic execution, the “hand of glory” of an executed person being ritually very powerful and the dead body enclosed in a tree would be unable to haunt its murderers.

    Then the graffiti started appearing, “Who Put Bella Down the Wych Elm?”, first in Birmingham and then at other points in the West Midlands. Still the police seemed no closer to answering that question and, over the next decades, the graffiti artist continued to taunt them.

    In the fifties another line of enquiry opened up. A letter to a local paper claimed that the victim was a German spy, killed by her confederates. The police dismissed this as fanciful but, just in the last few years, as MI5 files have been opened to public scrutiny, evidence of a German spy ring operating in the area has come to light. One of them had a photograph of a well-known actress, Clara Bauerle, whom he claimed had also been trained as a spy because she had worked the music halls of Birmingham in the thirties and spoke English with a pronounced Brummie accent. She was due to have been parachuted into the area at about the time the body in the wych elm had met her fate but there was no official trace of her.

    The graffiti kept appearing, the last time as recent as 1999. Perhaps modern DNA would answer the riddle but, unfortunately, the skeleton has disappeared as mysteriously as it got into the tree in the first place. 

    Worcestershire Folk Tales

    David Phelps has worked as an oral storyteller since 2005, being much inspired by his grandmother’s tales of Worcestershire’s folklore. He is a member of both the Folklore Society and the Society for Storytelling, and his book
    Worcestershire Folk Tales is available to buy at The History Press. 

    Further reading:

    * Is this the Bella in the wych elm?

    * BBC: Murder mystery returns to haunt village

    * Murder, mystery and half a century of suspense

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    Jack the Ripper: The Terrible Legacy


    The Whitechapel Society will be at Waterstones, Croydon on Thursday 6th August, from 6 p.m - 7:30 p.m. They will be giving a talk and signing copies of their new book, Jack the Ripper: The Terrible Legacy

    Jack the Ripper was the slayer of at least five female victims in London's East End, but his legacy left many more victims in its wake than he could have ever imagined. From the Royal Family and the British Government to the London Police and minority groups, the list of ‘other’ victims that were created as a direct result of the Jack the Ripper murders goes on and on.

    Following the success of their first book, the authors from The Whitechapel Society have compiled this ultimate force in Ripper research, in which each group is looked at in detail. The authors are veteran Ripper chroniclers, familiar with the highways and byways of the Ripper road map. They share the principle that in all the plethora of commentaries about the Whitechapel Murderer, there are many categories of victim apart from the five women slain in the streets in the autumn of 1888.

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    Ancient Legends Retold: The Seat Perilous


    June Peters and Bernard Kelly will be telling stories from their book, Ancient Legends Retold: The Seat Perilous, at Emerson College on Saturday 24th August. 

    Around the round table there was always one seat which remained empty. This was the place left for the knight who would one day attain the Grail and restore the land. This mysterious piece of furniture, the Seat Perilous, has been part of Arthurian myth for a 1,000 years. It was the original hot seat – if you sat there and were not the one, you would be consumed by fire.

    These are the untold tales of the knights who went out into the world and the ladies of the lake they found there. This book follows them into an unknown interior where they encounter the Queen of the Wasteland and through her story, return with the greatest prize of all. 

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  • 08/02/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 02/08/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Caligula. Image from 

    * In a fascinating programme this week, Mary Beard attempted to find out more about the emperor Caligula who went down in history as the worst Roman emperor ever: pervert, sadist and probably completely bonkers. But does 'Little Boots' really deserve his bad reputation


    Oven with charcoal beneath and on top of it. Image from


    * If the weather actually cheers up this weekend, why not try experimenting with a Roman oven and making delicious dishes from Parthian chicken to flat breads? 


    Under attack: The French fleet attacks Bembridge in the Isle of Wight in 1945. Image from

    * Many Britons would consider their little island secure, at least since the Norman Conquest, but in fact there have been seventy-three invasions since 1066. Clearly Britain is less of a fortress than many people may have thought.  The Telegraph has listed all of the invasions here and the Mail has some images to illustrate them. I knew that many attacks have come from France over the years but who knew that America also attempted an invasion during the War of Independence

    A lead coffin found inside a stone coffin in the ruins of Grey Friars in Leicester is believed to contain a high-status medieval burial. (c) Universit y of Leicester. Image from

    * The mysterious stone coffin found at the resting place of Richard III has been opened and found to contain ... another coffin, made of lead. It is thought to contain the remains of a medieval knight or one of the friary's founders as archaeologists believe that it was sealed in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, more than 100 years before Richard's hasty burial. 

     Image: Koroglu with stone. Image from

    * Turkish archaeologists have found a stone chest in the 1,350 year old Balatlar Church in Turkey containing a relic which is venerated as an original piece of Jesus' cross. The church was built in AD 660 during the Byzantine era and excavations at the site started in 2009. Ruins of an ancient Roman bath have been found, along with more than 1,000 skeletons. 

    A jug dating back to the time of King David provides insight into the ancient Israelites.  KEY TO DAVID'S CITY/YOUTUBE. Image from

    * An earthenware jug may shed light on biblical history as Douglas Petrovich, ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert has translated the text on it. Rather than being written in the language of the Canaanites, the mysterious language is actually the oldest form of written Hebrew, placing the ancient Israelites in Jerusalem earlier than previously believed. If this is true, then the Old Testament can be read as a historical account of real-life events


    Book shelf. Image from

    * Sex and the novelist- a writer's fascination with sex.

    * Christa Del Giorno muses on death and bookstores as Josh Corman asks what's really killing students' love of reading?

    * Taking a love of all things literary to the next level, a Vancouver-based actress, model and former circus artist Jori Phillips, 21, crafted a dress made entirely out of the pages of a book. I'm not sure how practical it would be (especially in the British climate!) but it definitely is a conversation starter!

    * Earlier this year, an Israeli advertising agency teamed up with Israeli bookstore chain Steimatzky to create a cool ad campaign for books and reading which features readers sleeping next to their favourite literary characters. I think Sherlock Holmes is my favourite!

    * Speaking of favourite literary characters, which Jane Austen character are you? Take this quiz and find out ...

    Tissington Hall in Derbyshire, one of Britain's many stunning stately homes. Image from


    * A combination of rising costs and declining visitor numbers has pushed Britain's stately homes into a crisis. But what can the British public do? 


    Amazon Kindle. Image (c) Daz Smith from


    * Local libraries across the UK are starting to offer e-reader workshops to help people get the most out of their e-reader and also allow people to 'try before they buy' if they are considering investing in one. This sounds fantastic and I will definitely be visiting my local library if they do something similar. 

    * Amazon is waging war against everyone, not just publishing so Chris McVeigh says that publishers need to stop whining about them and just get on with it ...


    Young rockers proudly show off their tattoos. (c) Bob Mazzer. Image from 

    * Photographer Bob Mazzer spent twenty years commuting across London using the Tube, here The Telgrapoh shares a selection of his work which shows stunning images of the Tube and its travellers in the '70s and '80s


    USS Indianapolis in 1945. (c) Naval History and Heritage Command from


    *  When USS Indianapolis was hit by Japanese torpedoes on 30 July 1945, hundreds of crewmen jumped into the water to escape the burning ship. They tried to stay afloat in the shark-filled water until help arrived but despite sending an SOS, no-one had been sent to look for them...

    Famous Peoples Passports: The Kennedys. Photo: Aaron Jackson/AP. Image from

    * For many people (myself included) passport photos are a less than flattering picture and indeed Al Gore quipped 'Airplane travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo.' But as these celebrity passport photos show 'even the brutality of the photo booth cannot dim true glamour'.

    Actress Lois Maxwell reclining on a desk and holding a telephone to her ear. (c) Getty images from

    * After examining how the typewriter played a crucial role in introducing women into the workplace last week, The BBC looks at the era of the sexually charged office where advice like this was commonplace: "Learn his preferences and obey them even if you do not always agree with his ideas or methods. Naturally a man likes to have his wants attended to, who doesn't? Assume that he is always right." So much has changed since then and to modern eyes, this reads more like an out-dated marriage manual than secretarial training!


    This-13-year-old-girl-was-heavily-dosed-with-alcohol-and-coca-leaves-and-left-to-die-Johan-Reinhard. Image from


    * The body of this 13-year-old girl, believed to be an Incan human sacrifice, was entombed near the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina, a site 6,000ft higher than Mont Blanc and has been called one of the best–preserved mummies in the world. The discovery of the 'Incan Ice Maiden' has given scientists detailed information about how the child sacrifices were drugged and intoxicated. Tests show they had consumed alcohol and coca leaves (from which cocaine is extracted) in the months before their deaths. This was perhaps to induce an altered state of consciousness associated by the Incas with religious experience.

    Neolithic halls of the dead found in Herefordshire. Image (c) BBC from

    Two 6,000-year-old Neolithic 'halls of the dead' found in Herefordshire have been called 'the discovery of a lifetime' by archaeologists.

    Titanic on her sea trials

    * A new perspective on the Titanic disaster has been proposed by Atlanticus with the claim that 'passengers are to blame for the death toll' rather than the shipowner or the legal authorities.  Do you agree?


    * The Queen's 'Third World War' speech has been revealed. She was expected to urge Britons to pray and remain united and resolute in the event of the 'madness' of nuclear war, papers from 1983 show.

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

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    ‘The Cause of Much Wickedness, Swearing and Quarreling……..’

    This comment appeared in the Vestry minutes for the small town of Martock in Somerset dated 7 June 1758.  It was a reference to a game played by the local youth, one which was to become popular over most of the county for a century.  The game was ‘fives’, a sort of outdoor squash, but nowadays virtually forgotten except at a few elite educational establishments.

      Simple outdoor ball games had been around for hundreds of years, despite Edward III trying to ban them in 1327.  A hundred years later the inhabitants of Williton were being censured for playing ‘tenez’ against the walls of the church and by the early 18th century, dozens of church walls were being misused for the ‘fives’ game in which two players, or teams, struck a ball against a wall and tried to deal with its return.

    This imposing 'fives wall' survives from the closure of the Crown Inn at South Petherton.

      While church walls might have been ideal for playing fives, the incumbents and churchwardens did not see it as proper and the mounting tally of broken windows and other damage reinforced this view.   Often a ball got lost on the church roof and enterprising young men soon cut footholds in the buttresses to get it back.  One got his skull broken by a fallen tile.

    The height of this 'fives wall' at the Lord Poulett Arms at Hinton St George gives some idea of the demands the game would have made on its players.

      The churches retaliated.  Following the Vestry minute at Martock in 1758, action was taken ‘to dig a ditch across ye fives place’, which cost the coffers 3s 6d.  When quatrefoils were cut away to improve the fives playing surface at Montacute, the vicar had the village cross moved to the playing area and that put a stop to that.

      Unsurprisingly, the church retaliation did not stop the enthusiasm for ‘fives’ for enterprising inn keepers began to provide purpose-built walls, mostly of stone, all tall and impressive, and some provided with finials and other decorations.  There are fine examples in the pub grounds at Hinton-St-George and Stoke-sub-Hamdon.  In one notable game at the former, one player hit a ball that bounced back from the wall and right over the pub at the other end of the gardens.  At least two schools in Somerset had walls.  However, as more sophisticated pastimes took over the enthusiasm for fives waned, leaving just the walls behind as a reminder that it was once highly popular and frequently controversial.

    The A-Z of Curious Somerset contains many more strange stories of mysteries, crimes and eccentrics.

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    The Great Train Robbers’ headquarters were at Leatherslade Farm in Brill and, more importantly, the arrested robbers were taken to the Magistrates Court in Brill to be charged.

    Yes, in 1963 a village, with a population of less than a thousand, had a Magistrates Court. I remember it, but it closed in the 1970s. It is now residential properties like the old Brill Post Office, the old Brill mail sorting office, the Brill butcher and several Brill Pubs.



    Brill Village and Church



    As for Midsomer Murders, the Brill Windmill, well over 350 years old (the village held a party for it when it was 350) appeared in “A Tale of Two Hamlets” as Sarah Proudie’s home.

    In the episode, “Four Funerals and a Wedding”, Brill features significantly. All Saints Church, The Green, The Red Lion (now The Pointer) and Amazing Grace’s converted Methodist Chapel. It was first televised on my birthday and even includes a view of our home.

    You can see and read about Brill in Exploring Midsomer published by The History Press.

    Its back cover features a superb photograph of Brill Windmill at sunset.

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  • 08/09/13--03:57: The Friday Digest 9/8/2013
    Tracing WW1 Heros

    As the 100th anniversary of the First World War approaches, and no doubt grandparents all over are recalling their experiences, there has been renewed interest in tracing your family tree. Handily the BBC has posted a few useful tips for anyone just getting started.



    Dutch artist Niels Meulman, aka Shoe (named for a picture of a shoe he drew aged 11), has been commissioned to paint six pieces of graffiti inspired by the medieval Lindisfarne Gospels. This is to celebrate the return of the book to north-east England.

    The medieval era is often romanticised, so it’s easy to forget about how different the people living back then were from now. This article on the medieval birth of a royal baby really shows this, especially with all the commotion around royal babies lately.

    With ten babies in 14 years, this was a process Elizabeth Woodville would have been very familiar with!


    King Alfred the Great

    Dead bodies seem to be popular this week, with a bid having been submitted to analyse the remains of an unmarked grave to see if they belong to King Alfred the Great. They were removed from St Bartholomew’s Church in Winchester in March, due to the publicity that came with the discovery of Richard III’s remains.



    It’s easy to let your attic get cluttered, but can you really forget about a dead body up there? A 10-year-old German boy has found what appears to be a mummy in his grandmother’s attic. It could be a replica, or it could date back to the trend in mummy unwrapping parties. Only time will tell.

    That’s not the only find in an unexpected place to be found this week though. Byzantine coins and gold have turned up in a mysterious garbage dump, many dating to the fifth-seventh centuries AD.


    The largest hospital in the Middle East

    Speaking of discoveries, on Monday it was announced that a huge building has been discovered in the heart of Jerusalem. It was the largest hospital in the Middle East during the Crusader period and features massive pillars and ceilings as high as 20ft.


    As a culture we can’t seem to get enough of detective fiction

    As a culture we can’t seem to get enough of detective fiction. At The History Press we certainly love it! Could it be a form of comfort – knowing that through the bad the good guy always wins – in a world dominated by vast forces out of our control? Here Ian Sansom examines why.


    Fifty years ago thieves held up a Royal Mail train and made up with some £2.6 million in used bank notes

    Fifty years ago thieves held up a Royal Mail train and made up with some £2.6 million in used bank notes. This interesting article takes a look back at the Great Train Robbery, and some of its key participants. And here a policeman describes the breakthrough in the case.


    The money they would have stolen would be very different to now though, especially if other writers start popping up on our money.


    Do you fancy that you know a lot about Paris? Here are six things you may not know about the Louvre.


    And to finish up, let’s go back to the dinosaurs as this article examines some of the strangest explanations for their extinction.

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    The Scarborough Book of Days

    Robert Woodhouse will be at Waterstones, Scarborough on Saturday 17th August from 11;30 a.m - 1:30 p.m signing copies of his new book, The Scarborough Book of Days

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

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    York Murder & Crime

    Summer Strevens will be at Waterstones, York on Saturday 31st August from 12 p.m onwards signing copies of her new book, York Murder & Crime

    Discover the shadier side of York’s history with this remarkable collection of true-life crimes from across the city. Featuring all factions of the criminal underworld, this macabre selection of tales includes murders, poisonings, poaching, theft and highway robbery and also details the gruesome punishments that awaiting the perpetrators of such crimes. Drawing on a wide variety of historical sources and containing many cases which have never before been published, York Murder & Crime will fascinate everyone interested in true crime and the history of the city. 

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  • 08/12/13--02:30: Cheer up, it never happened!
  • Bad News


    Back in 1993 British newsreader Martyn Lewis caused a measure of controversy when he called for television reporting to feature more ‘good news’ stories. With so much death and destruction around some thought his dream naïve. Yet when it comes to studying history it’s actually well worth reflecting on some of the good news stories from our past. While much historical literature focuses on events and people who have wreaked havoc upon humanity it can be uplifting to look back at the dramatic ways in which we have avoided disaster, sometimes by the skin of our teeth. Often this is down to effort of forgotten heroes who have been given little credit for their actions. But their bravery and quick thinking in ensuring that cataclysmic outcomes were averted should not be overlooked.

    Exactly thirty years ago, for instance, the world was almost engulfed in nuclear war – by mistake. On September 26th, 1983 Soviet early warning missile systems indicated that the Americans had launched an attack with multiple warheads. With just minutes remaining it took the presence of mind of one man, lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov, to make the decision that his multi-million rouble computer system was malfunctioning. Going against protocol he did not recommend an immediate retaliation. The call he made that night, which remained unknown for years, may well have saved the world.


    On February 17, 2013, Petrov was awarded the Dresden for Peace

    Have you ever read about the war between the United States and Great Britain of 1861? Of course not. That’s because, thanks to some deathbed diplomacy by Prince Albert, it never happened. One of his last actions was to tone down the language in a bellicose letter from Lord Palmerston’s government after a British ship had been stopped and boarded by a Union vessel in what became known as the Trent Affair. The two nations subsequently stood back from the brink of war.

    What if Lord Nelson had not defeated Napoleon’s sea power at the Battle of Trafalgar? He almost didn’t, because he very nearly wasn’t there. The famous admiral would be no more than an also ran in a list of Great Britons if it hadn’t been for the heroic actions of humble seaman John Sykes who risked his own life to save his captain in an assault on Cadiz in 1797.

     These are just three examples that show how history could have been very different and probably much worse! 

    History's Narrowest Escapes by James Moore and Paul Nero

    History's Narrowest Escapes
    is a book by James Moore and Paul Nero which features 50 of history's most dramatic narrow escapes. 

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    Dudley Street, c. 1900. Dudley Street at the turn of the twentieth century was a thriving and active hub, with horse-drawn vehicles the predominant form of road transport. The competing trade signs and advertisements on either side of the road include those for hatter A.S. Bastick, the Cavendish restaurant, grocers D. Dickinson, Baker’s shoes, and draper W. Giles. Taylor’s (the watchmakers) and the spires of St Peter’s Collegiate Church can also be seen in the distance. In the 1960s, Dudley Street became the first major thoroughfare to be pedestrianised in Wolverhampton.

    Over the thousand or so years of its existence, Wolverhampton has seen many changes: in the size of its population, in the growth of its area, and in the development of its industries.Wolverhampton has progressed from being a small settlement founded by Lady Wulfruna in 985 A.D., to a thriving and important town of the Industrial Revolution. On passing through Wolverhampton, in 1838, a young author named Charles Dickens was at once fascinated and appalled by the “miles of cinder-paths and blazing furnaces, and roaring steam engines” he encountered. During the twentieth century Wolverhampton was in a state of transition. Like many former British industrial hubs, as the old manufacturing industries died out, the landscape of the town began to change. As Wolverhampton entered the millennium, the town strove to redefine and refashion its identity. Such an enterprise was given added impetus when, in 2001, it was awarded “city” status.

    Over the course of its history, Wolverhampton, like many other towns and cities, has had its detractors. In 2009, the Lonely Planet travel guide proclaimed that it was the fifth worst city in the world in which to live. Wolverhampton and its inhabitants, however, rise above such sneering contempt, which is as unwarranted as it is unnecessary. From a personal point of view, since arriving in Wolverhampton in 2010 I have been nothing but impressed by this warm-hearted, industrious, and hospitable city which continually punches far above its weight.

    In particular I have been impressed with the many faces of Wolverhampton: the agricultural and the industrial, the local shops and the large multinational businesses, the cultural venues and the public houses, and so on. In short, like all of the greatest cities, Wolverhampton is full of contrasts and contradictions, all of which unite to create a place which is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Wolverhampton has the relatively rare distinction of being a place originally founded by a woman. Lady Wulfruna could hardly have dreamed what her settlement was capable of becoming.

    Wolverhampton In Old Photographs

    Heidi McIntosh is the City Archivist for Wolverhampton and has worked at Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies for over ten years. Her book, Wolverhampton In Old Photographs is available now. 

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    In this exclusive extract from The Flaming Cow, renowned composer, Ron Geesin offers an insight into his often fraught collaboration with Pink Floyd and shares his memories of recording Atom Heart Mother, the band's most controversial album.

    Ron Geesin, comfortably installed in the control room at Abbey Road Studios

    Sometime before 2.30 p.m. on 19 Friday June 1970 I pushed my way through diverse doors into Studio Two at EMI Abbey Road Studios. The lithe men were draped over chairs, couches and desks. Compared to my little steaming padded cell of a studio, this was a cathedral complete with a stairway to God, the control room, presided over by the now-famous sound engineer Peter Bown.

    I was not overwhelmed, just nervous. The atmosphere was fairly sparky, if one was clairvoyant enough to see beyond the feigned relaxed postures. I remember much later meeting a schoolteacher acquaintance in the local high street. ‘Hello Ron, you look relaxed and on top of things.’ ‘What? I’ve got this and that going wrong and some bugger’s not paid me for the next thing!’ ‘Ah!’ says he, ‘The Swan Syndrome: appears graceful above the water but paddling furiously below.’

    Here I was, having fetched some musical material from the depths over the last three weeks, not skilled or confident enough to be able to decode it for my friends, not even really knowing what I had conceived at all. Here they were, knackered from too much touring, not able to read music, mine or anyone else’s, and just able to stitch a framework together, into which we were about to enter to force some stuffing and then clad the whole in multifarious material. I was to direct.

    My limited previous experience with musicians had been with the finest soloists from the New Philharmonia Orchestra. The memory of how the initial contact occurred has melted into the mists, but it may well have been through its lead bassoonist, Gwydion Brooke, a proper individual. He was already in his 60s and his father was composer Joseph Holbrooke, a lesser contemporary of Elgar.

    Why did I need these musicians? As part of that survival in the market place, some TV commercial producers and directors wanted ‘real instruments’ while others were happy with my more alternative sounds. Whatever the sound sources, I always wanted to explore new possibilities. This is not ‘experimental’ but ‘progressive-mental’. Edgar Varèse said something like, ‘None of my music is experimental. It may appear different but it leaves me in its fully-formed shape.’ In my case, it meant adventurous writing for small combinations such as flute, clarinet and bassoon, or four trumpets and a double-bass.

    Yes, imagine a Swiss chocolate bar called Noga accompanied by four classical trumpets and a jazz double-bass, bowed and plucked. The recording was in the huge converted cinema of CTS Sound Studio in Bayswater. Four of the New Philharmonia Orchestra trumpet section occupied the higher frequencies. The lower ones were provided by the most gentle but truly awesome Coleridge Goode, a direct neighbour in Elgin Crescent. He was even more awesome because he was a tall and most accomplished West Indian modern jazz bassist living on the top floor while I was a differently accomplished banjo player in a damp basement. This thirty second rhythmic contortion was a microcosmic forerunner of some of the brass writing for Epic. The writing was difficult to interpret. I never forget turning round after the first splintered run through to peer through the control room glass and witness advertising executives sliding down behind a giant sofa and tearing chunks of stuffing out of it with their teeth. But these musicians had plenty of experience with challenging writing and were glad to be in a different environment. They were also some of the best players in the country, took great pride in their work and were very nice with it all. David Mason was one: he did the high, piccolo trumpet, part for the Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields’. So they helped me loosen up while making most useful suggestions and tightening their rhythmic inflections. The final result was excellent. Whether it suited or melted the chocolate bar is not known.

    John Alldis conducts his choir

    The situation in Studio Two, Abbey Road, was different. I had wanted my friendly brass experts for the job, but the EMI executives had their own system – and friends. These were still the days where seasoned controllers, more used to the blast of big bands than the neighing of the new, ruled the stage: the days before Pink Floyd could have anything it wanted. On that Friday afternoon, I was faced with top-end session musicians, booked through the system. These high-class musical labourers waited for instructions, and I waited for them to smile just a little bit, to give off some signal that they might be interested and involved. The whole atmosphere was made worse by my not having put in many dynamic markings, leaving room for individual and group, or section, expression. The dialogue went, ‘What do you think about this little phrase?’ ‘Well, how do you want it?’ This locked into a loop for ten minutes or so. I sweated and spluttered. They sensed blood, ‘We’ll have this young upstart!’ The loop had to be broken and I probably got more aggressive. This was reciprocated, particularly by one of the three horn players who was playing increasingly musically dumb and vocally at war. I moved to strike – and I do mean there was visible movement in my arms – when I had my collar felt, metaphorically. ‘Ron, let’s have a ten minute break,’ was the clicked call from God up the stairs. I had been temporarily rescued from cannibalising a very distant relation of the musical whirl and being marooned on an ocean of parquet flooring.

    What would have happened if John Alldis had not been interested and involved? He and his choir were not due in until late on 21 Sunday, but he had popped in on that first day to hear what the thing was all about. Although mainly a classical choral expert, he was familiar with all best forms of musical work and expression and volunteered to take over the direction. I had climbed the stairs by this time while the brass read its Daily Mirror. And so it was to be: my wishes and notions were translated through John Alldis from my comfortable seat in the haven of Heaven.

    I have always described my career as more ‘chance careering’, indicating by this the acceptance of the unexpected twists and turns of outside elements to make decisions; to direct the next move; but I have two slight regrets now about the situation just described. The first is that I had always seen the brass function in this work to be more pushy and punchy – more like a black jazz feel, Duke Ellington’s, for instance. One of the last considerations of classically-trained conductors is that of ‘hot’ playing – that African-American ability to inflect just ahead of the beat, or phrase across the beat while not actually changing the basic steady tempo. So, in this sense only, John Alldis was not ideal. The other regret is that my good friend Richard Stanley, whom I had invited to take all the photographs, was not there that first day to show you the opening, and potentially catastrophic, atmosphere.

    Ron Geesin

    If John Alldis had not been there, maybe I would have wrecked the whole venture by hitting that horn player, or broken down and cried. This could have been the trigger to fire those brazen beasts into performing like they never had before. As it was, the ‘Great British Compromise’ was being pursued – and I looked forward to my really sensitive and interested friend, Haflidi Hallgrimsson, coming in to play passionate cello, although there is no note on Abbey Road’s recording sheets of his significant contribution.

    All this ethereal electricity moved the lithe men from their positions of casual drapery to nervous twitching, and the caption on several photographs must be, ‘Was it a good idea to let Geesin loose on this piece at all?’ It was probably for want of any better idea that we all continued – and it is only entertainment, after all! The title of my first LP record was A Raise Of Eyebrows, a euphemism for the reaction to complete uproar, so I staggered home in the early evening, leaving the group to add to our collaborative dialogue by copying the opening brass into the ‘Excursion’ (formerly ‘Percussion’) Section L. and adding in more coloured mists, or astral wandering.

    Yes, I did meet Syd Barrett. He floated in on one of the first two days in a long coat and not much more than handshake, spun round a couple of times and magically evaporated.

    We were all back the next afternoon to witness John Alldis riding the brass to a successful destination. A rough mixdown of all the brass sections was then made for me to take away to check for accuracy and usability. Phew, survival!

    The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother

    The Flaming Cow offers a rare insight into the brilliant but often fraught collaboration between Pink Floyd and composer Ron Geesin, the result of which became known as Atom Heart Mother – the Floyd’s first UK number one album. From the time drummer Nick Mason visited Geesin’s damp basement flat in Notting Hill, to the last game of golf between bassist Roger Waters and Geesin, this book is an unflinching account about how one of Pink Floyd’s most celebrated compositions came to life.

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  • 08/16/13--06:00: The Friday Digest 16/08/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Scott Monument in Edinburgh. Photograph: Paul Bagot/Alamy. Image from


    * The Edinburgh Book Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, between 10th and 26th August, with more than 800 authors taking part in 700 events. Edinburgh was listed as the first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004 and with literature at the very heart of the city, there is no more appropriate location to hold a book festival

    To celebrate both the festival and a love of reading, Guardian Books has been asking, why does reading matter to you

    Book shelf. Image from

    * Most of us would describe the library as a peaceful space where silence rules but the Wellcome Library won't be getting much of that since building work kicked off earlier this week. To help drown out the noise, they have put together a library playlist and are asking for your recommendations... 

    * The Huffington Post in Canada has gathered a list of the best books to read in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s And 60s, which books are missing from their list? 

    * 5 depressingly honest titles for classic children's books

    * Literary ice cream - what's your flavour? This was an article that really cheered me up earlier this week, I think Captain Corelli's Mandarin may be my favourite!

    * A rare book dealer explains how the Kindle has turned him off paper books

    * Why authors need to join the PR circus (we promise it is for your benefit!) 

    * Book groups are a fantastic way to discover new books but what happens when you don't have one locally? Enter Mashable Reads, your new social book club...

    * Writer Seth Godin explains why vilifying Amazon makes no sense.  


    Brompton Tube. Images from

    * Got some spare cash? Brompton tube station, which was used as a WWII anti-Luftwaffe command centre is being sold by the Ministry of Defence next month. Apparently, it could be turned into housing above ground so combined with the location (between Harrods and the Victoria and Albert Museum) I imagine this will fetch a pretty penny!

    Severalls Hospital in Colchester. Image Simon Webster/Rex Features from

    * Victorian and Edwardian asylums have always been controversial, for some they provided a refuge but for many others, they were just enforced incarceration for those suffering from stress, postnatal depression and anxiety. But since their closure, many abandoned asylums lie derelict. 

    Author James Scudamore and BBC Radio 4 recently took a look around the empty Severalls Hospital in Colchester, where redevelopment is planned before the doors finally slam shut.

    Da Vinci

     * There is no doubt that Leonardo Da Vinci was a truly remarkable artist and inventor but if there was ever any question about how advanced he was for his time, the answer lies in his anatomical drawings. Despite nearly 500 years of technical and medicinal advancements, these remarkable Renaissance artworks still influence medical artists today and are still used in teaching medicine. 


    * From severed horses legs to fairies, many unconvential weapons have decided Scottish conflicts, but which is the strangest to have been used in battle? 

    Frederick William Frohawk's restoration from Rothschild's 1907 book Extinct Birds. Image from

    * We often hear news about endangered or extinct animals (who can forget the dodo?) but what impact did their deaths have on the ancient landscape

    * Potentially a bit of a morbid question for a Friday afternoon but the BBC discusses how humans are going to become extinct. The Swedish-born director of the institute, Nick Bostrom, says the stakes couldn't be higher. If we get it wrong, this could be humanity's final century.

    Archaeologist working on the flint discovery in north Woolwich. Image from

    Rare evidence that humans lived on the River Thames 9,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists working on the Crossrail project.


    Tale of love and bravery on the Western Front. Victor Brookes with Yvonne Brunel on their honeymoon in Paris Photo: Paul Cooper 


    * The British medic, the US Doughboy and the French post mistress: a tale of love and bravery in the First World War.

    The Entire History of the World—Really, All of It—Distilled Into a Single Gorgeous Chart. Image from

    * If your grasp of world history is as hazy as mine, this 1931 'Histomap' which shows the entire history of the world distilled into a single map/chart is really useful. It was definitely the favourite history link this week in the THP offices!

    A Classicist on Television: Expertise, Collaboration, and Unpredictable Consequences. Image from


    Richard III. Image from

    Bath Abbey. Image from

    * The thousands of bodies underneath Bath Abbey threaten its stability as older burials and graves have left huge voids underneath the floor.  The abbey is lifting every bit of furniture in the place as well as its huge grave ledger stones in an effort to stabilise the ground underneath.

    Hope Diamond. Image from

    * Marilyn Monroe sang that diamonds are a girl's best friend and the Hope Diamond is recognized around the world as a standard of value and perfection. Find out more about this iconic jewel here with podcasts from 'Stuff You missed in History Class' (The Mysterious Hope Diamond, Pt. 1 here and The Mysterious Hope Diamond, Pt. 2 here). 

    Jane Austen. Image from


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

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     Mary as a suffragette, wearing her hunger strike medal. (Author’s collection)

    Mary Sophia Allen, one of the first British policewomen, was an extraordinary and outrageous woman. Born in 1878, she grew up in Bristol where she rebelled against the strictures of middle class life and, at the age of thirty, left home to become a suffragette.

    Mary was jailed three times for smashing windows, went on hunger-strike, and was forcibly fed in Holloway Gaol. The outbreak of the First World War, and the suspension for the duration of the war of suffragist hostilities, left her casting around for a suitable occupation for an independent-minded woman with a penchant for leadership. She was particularly keen to wear a uniform, and was attracted to the new Women Police Service. She soon became its leader, and contributed a great deal to women's policing in Germany, Ireland, and at home, and supplied hundreds of trained women to police munitions factories. Her work was rewarded with an OBE.

    However, the authorities found that Mary wanted more power and influence than they were prepared to give. For many years she fought for her position against the Metropolitan Police, a fight she lost, although she continued to travel the world in her uniform, and was generally accepted abroad as the chief British policewoman, much to the dismay of the police and government authorities at home.           

    Mary had a lifelong obsession with uniforms and masculine authority. She was strongly drawn to dictatorial men, and was proud to have met Hitler and Mussolini. She became a devoted follower of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.

    Mary narrowly escaped internment during the second World War, for her anti-Semitic activities and for the possibility that she was spying for Germany, although this was never proved. Her movements were severely restricted, and her activities were observed.           

    Women adored Mary, and a number of them were eager to fund her increasingly grandiose schemes, including the formation of a Women's Reserve, which was intended to fight Communism and other perceived threats to the British way of life.           

     From Suffragette to Fascist: the Many Lives of Mary Sophia Allen


    Mary Sophia Allen, suffragette, policewoman and fascist, died in a Croydon nursing home at the age of 86. With the help of newly released government papers, and contributions from relatives of her siblings, the story of this eccentric and infuriating woman has at last been told in From Suffragette to Fascist: the many lives of Mary Sophia Allen

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  • 08/19/13--03:00: The English Village Fête
  • Spring follows winter, summer follows spring and with it the English village green comes to life. On May 1st the village Maypole is bedecked with flowers and ribbons, the village children and, occasionally Morris dancers, dance around the pole and the May Queen is crowned. The May tree bursts into blossom, flowers start to bloom, little green shoots of wheat, barley and oats break though the earth, the cuckoo can be heard and the Sun starts to get warmer. But beware, the old English folks have a saying, which is true, “ne'er cast a clout till May be out”. It may be the last month of spring, but don’t put your winter clothes away, it can still be cold in May!

    The English Village Fête. Image by Chris Behan

    May heralds the sound of lawn mowers, cricket on the green and the start of the English village fête season. Whether the village calls it, a fête, a fair, a feast, a festival, a funfair or a fundraiser, the English village fête is an English traditional not a British tradition. The Scots have their Highland Games, throwing tree trunks around and dancing to bag pipes. The Welsh have their eisteddfods with harps, poetry and choirs, but, the English have their fêtes. Real fêtes with games, cake stalls, cream teas, Pimms, raffles, baby shows, dog shows and the biggest home grown onion, or any other allotment grown vegetable, competitions.

    The games played at fêtes are old, traditional and also played throughout the year in village pubs. Nearly all of them test the throwing skills of the player, especially after a pint or two. Typical games include skittles, hoopla, quoits, knur and spell (one game not two) and Aunt Sally. Haddenham in Buckinghamshire, a village which has appeared in “Midsomer Murders” over ten times, has a human fruit machine manned by members of the local Rotary Club. The only one in the English village world, to my knowledge.

    My favourite is Aunt Sally. It is a pub garden game played in Oxfordshire and surrounding counties. The Aunt Sally was originally a figurine head of an old woman with a clay pipe in her mouth, nowadays she is a ball on a short plinth about 4 inches high, known as, the dolly. The dolly is placed on a three-foot high, doglegged metal spike and players throw sticks at the dolly, trying to knock it off without hitting the spike.

    “Midsomer Murders” aficionados will need no reminding that Inspector Barnaby is an excellent, almost professional, Aunt Sally player, judged by his performance in the episode, “Dark Autumn”. Prime Minister, David Cameron, is no mean Aunt Sally stick thrower either, but I suppose he has to be, as most of the villages in his Oxfordshire constituency have an Aunt Sally team in their local pub.

    The village fête has not gone unnoticed in “Midsomer Murders”. In fact, it has been the backdrop to many a Midsomer murder. “A fête worse than death”! Now that’s a good title for a “Midsomer Murders” episode and I don’t mind if the writers use it. I just hope that if they do, they will let me know!

    Exploring Midsomer

    Chris Behan is a chairman of OdgersInterim, part of the UK’s largest Executive Search Company and the author of Exploring Midsomer. His early career was spent as a military radar design engineer, before going into manufacturing and marketing management. He has lived around the ‘Midsomer’ area for 35 years, currently residing in Oxfordshire. 

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    Who Killed William Shakespeare? The Murderer, The Motive, The Means


    Simon Andrew Stirling will celebrate the launch of his new book, Who Killed William Shakespeare? The Murderer, The Motive, The Means at Waterstones, Stratford-on-Avon on Saturday 24th August at 6:00 pm. He will also be signing copies of the book. 

    Who Killed William Shakespeare? examines the means, motive and the opportunity that led to his murder, and explains why Will Shakespeare had to be ‘stopped’. From forensic analysis of his death mask to the hunt for his missing skull, the circumstances of Shakespeare’s death are reconstructed and his life reconsidered in the light of fresh discoveries. What emerges is a portrait of a genius who spoke his mind and was silenced by his greatest literary rival.

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  • 08/21/13--04:00: Q&A with Linda Stratmann
  • Here at The History Press we are big fans of crime fiction and after the success of our first Q&A with Terence and David, two of our historical crime writers, we asked author, Linda Stratmann to share her thoughts on successful crime fiction writing.  Linda's latest book A Case of Doubtful Death is the latest installment in the bestselling Frances Doughty collection featuring Frances Doughty, a young sleuth investigating crimes in the Bayswater area of London. 


    Linda Stratmann


    Why write crime fiction?

    My first published books were non-fiction, but I started writing fiction partly because I was inspired to do so by my membership of a local writers’ group, but also because I wanted to write the kind of historical fiction I felt I wanted to read, something that made me feel I was really there in Victorian London.

    Where did the inspiration for A Case of Doubtful Death come from?

    I was working in an office where we gave secret Santa gifts one Christmas, and someone gave me a copy of Buried Alive by Jan Bondeson. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to centre a book on a fictional waiting mortuary.

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

    The location is crucial. Bayswater is a part of London but it is also a little township with its own personality and concerns. I had already researched it extensively for a previous book, Whiteley’s Folly. It gave me the chance to set my stories amongst a busy working population, rather than the criminal underbelly or the very wealthy. It is a rich environment, with its own life, and a backdrop of characters who all get on with leading their lives as the stories progress.

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

    I read a lot of history and biography as well as fiction, but it would be impossible to choose one favourite book! I tend to read modern fiction rather than historical as I am always cautious about unintentionally coming up with what I think was an original idea but was actually something I read in another writer’s book a long time ago!

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

    The crime fiction authors I admire are those who construct brilliantly crafted plots, for example Ruth Rendell, P D James, Robert Goddard, S.J. Bolton and Jeffrey Deaver. I enjoy thoroughly researched and elegantly written non-fiction by writers such as Lady Antonia Fraser and Helen Rappaport.

    How easy/difficult is to write historic crime fiction?

    I don’t think of it as either easy or difficult since I enjoy it! The research takes time, as I try to make it as accurate as possible, regarding the location, current events, the laws and the general picture of life in that era. I use census returns, old maps, old newspapers, and many other sources. Anyone who writes about a historical period has to love it and really take pleasure in finding out about it.

    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?

    I really doubt that anyone would be inspired to replicate anything I write about. Since I write historical fiction the cases would be solved far more rapidly and easily nowadays with modern forensic techniques.

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

    The characters are very real to me, and as I write them I let them respond and speak in a natural way.

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

    Ah, the legendary writers’ block!  I am often asked about this! The short answer is no. Of course every writer gets a day when things simply aren’t working as well as hoped, and if I am not happy with the quality of my output, I just stop and do something else for a while.

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

    I dedicated The Poisonous Seed to the originals of Chas and Barstie! They knew when I was writing it that I had based two characters on them, and were very amused by the idea. When the book was accepted for publication I asked them if they would prefer it if I made some changes, but they were happy for it to go ahead.

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

    I have my own website and I am also active on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know how useful these have been but I think that nowadays one ignores them at one’s peril.

    Finally, what next for Frances Doughty and you?

    I am putting the finishing touches to An Appetite for Murder, the fourth book to feature Frances Doughty, and have started a major new project for Yale University Press, The Victorian Poisoners. I would love to write lots more Frances Doughty books as I have quite a few plans for her! 

                                          The Poisonous Seed: A Frances Doughty Mystery       The Daughters of Gentlemen: A Frances Doughty Mystery       A Case of Doubtful Death: A Frances Doughty Mystery

    Linda Stratmann is a freelance writer and editor. She has a degree in psychology and a life-long interest in true crime. She is the author of a number of books including The Poisonous Seed, The Daughters of Gentlemen and A Case of Doubtful Death

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    Acting as the historical consultant behind the scenes for the filming of 'Devil's Pass' (originally called the Dyatlov Pass Incident) was a daunting task as there were so many aspects to consider. The year was 1959 and everything had to fit the time and not just 1959, but Soviet Russia in 1959. A major coup was an old military truck that had been procured which looked exactly like the one that took the Dyatlov group from Vizhay to the Forest Workers settlement. Everybody climbed on board and old Russian songs were roared out good naturedly by the group as they set off to meet their unknown fate in the northern Ural mountains. The old driver oblivious to it all as he peered through the windscreen at the snow covered trail ahead, cigarette hanging from his lips.

    My calves were killing me from trudging through the deep snow the previous day. In some places the snow is a metre deep. I had to concentrate though, as I was constantly being asked questions.

    Every one of the actors and actresses looked the part – The two Lithuanian girls playing Zina and Luda were beautiful and looked suitably enigmatic. The actor playing Igor Dyatlov could have passed for his twin brother.

    We finally were ready for the scene everybody was waiting for; the escape from the tent where the nine skiers slash their way out. Everything was silent, snow swirling around us. Everyone was standing watching and the cameras were pointing at the tent  - the director shouted “and action”. The light in the tent went out and the only sound was a knife slicing and tearing through the fabric. The nine skiers, wearing minimal clothing stumbled out of the side of the tent and ran away down the slope screaming in terror. One of them fell in the deep snow, rolling over several times before picking himself up and running after the others, terrified of being left behind. 

    It was deeply moving and frightening to watch because this was what happened on that dark night over fifty years ago. It did not feel like a film, I felt as if I was there on the slopes of the Mountain of the Dead that night in 1959, watching them run away and the question came again to my mind - what had frightened them so much that it caused them to literally run to their deaths?

    Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident 

    Keith McCloskey is the author of 'Mountain of the Dead: The Dylatov Pass Incident' which uses original research carried out in Russia and photographs from the skier's cameras, in an attempt to explain what happened to the nine young people who lost their lives in the mysterious ‘Dyatlov Pass Incident’.

    In January 1959, ten experienced young skiers set out for Mount Otorten in the far north of Russia. While one of the skiers fell ill and returned., the remaining nine lost their way and ended up on another mountain slope known as Kholat Syakhl (or ‘Mountain of the Dead’). On the night of 1 February 1959 something or someone caused the skiers to flee their tent in such terror that they used knives to slash their way out. Search parties were sent out and their bodies were found, some with massive internal injuries but with no external marks on them. The autopsy stated the violent injuries were caused by ‘an unknown compelling force’. The area was sealed off for years by the authorities and the full events of that night remained unexplained.

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  • 08/23/13--03:30: The Friday Digest 23/08/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    The Old War Office. (c) MOD. Image from

    * There are a lot of iconic buildings up for sale at the moment, last week it was Brompton tube station and this week, the former War Office building in Whitehall, where British leaders made plans during the two world wars and the Cold War, is to be sold 'for more than £100m'. 

    A letter from Douglas to Clarence Dover dated Sept 1 1943. Photo: SHAWN RYAN/NEWSTEAM from

    * A collection of touching letters between two brothers in WWII have recently been discovered.  One brother was a pacifist whose Quaker beliefs prevented him fighting in the Second World War, the other signed up took part in the gruelling campaigns to push the Germans out of North Africa and then Italy. Despite their differences, the brothers shared a close bond, as demonstrated by their letters which continued throughout the war up until May 1946. 

    Flag-Map-denmark-puerto. Image (c) Map by andrewfahmy on Reddit

    * 40 maps that will help you make sense of the world. As this article says, maps are a really easy way to bring data to life and I completely agree, I think this flag map of the world is my favourite...

    Houses in Silverlake. Image from

    * The streets of Los Angeles are filled with cars (nearly 2.5 million in fact) but whilst roads are a key part of the LA landscape, not many people know about the historic 'Los Angeles stairs' which connect Silver Lake to the city. This is all about to change thanks to the work of Charles Fleming, an LA Times editor who has spent years researching and mapping the stairways which played a key role in the Oscar winning comedy, The Music Box. It is amazing how much history is hidden in plain sight!

    Family photographs. Image from

    * With the ever-growing popularity of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are, more and more people are delving into their family history to try and find out more about where they came from. BBC History has shared some really useful tips on how to begin your family search, I particularly like the idea of recording family stories, it would be amazing for future generations to hear their history being told by an ancestor.


    Wooden carvings found on the wreck. Image from

    * A 400-year-old-shipwreck found off the coast of Dorset could be the most significant find since the Mary Rose but its identity and how it came to its meet its end remain a mystery. The team behind the project are hoping that the rudder from the Swash Channel Wreck (named after its location) will provide a valuable clue when it is recovered from the sea bed.  

    Excavation of a mosaic at Chedworth Roman Villa (c) National Trust Images/Paul Harris. Image from

    * A new archaeological excavation will take place at Chedworth Roman villa in Gloucestershire, between 19 - 30 August, in an attempt to uncover floor mosaics. These mosaics were last uncovered in the 1960s but records of the dig have not survived and so further work is needed to assess the extent of conservation needed at the site. 


    Germany has intervened in the debate over how to mark the centenary of the First World War, with a call for Britain not to make its commemorations too celebratory. British troops of the 4th East Lancashire Regiment in trenches near Nieuport Bains Photo: Alamy. Image from


    * As the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War draws nearer, Germany has intervened in the debate over how to mark the centenary of the First World War, with a call for Britain not to make its commemorations too celebratory. 

    * A collection of poems, sketches and jokes penned by dozens of wounded soldiers have emerged almost a century after the conflict ended. The works were compiled by a nurse, Sister Doris “Dolly” Derham, using contributions from patients at the Duston War Hospital, a converted asylum on the outskirts of Northampton and this journal reveals WWI veterans at their most reflective - and ribald

    Book shelf. Image from

    The Guardian looks at the lost art of handwriting.

    Why 'big books' are back... 

    BookVibe is the latest book recommendation site which analyses the books your friends are talking about on Twitter and Facebook to help you discover new books to read.

    * An Russian designer has turned Fitzgerald's American classic into a jazz-inspired typography experiment

    Why is self-publishing still being scorned by literary awards?

    * How writers can steal the literary thunder back from celebrity authors...

    Can a 2,500-year-old author still retain the moral copyright on his main character? The many faces of Achilles...

    * Roy Adkins gives you 13 reasons why you wouldn't want to live in Jane Austen's England... 


    Elizabeth Woodville - The White Queen and Elizabeth of York - The White Princess. Image from

    * The reign of the The White Queen is over as the BBC confirms that the show will not be returning for a second series. If the show has sparked an interest in the Plantagenet period, read more about the real story of Elizabeth Woodville here and discover what  happened next for the White Queen and The White Princess here.  

    Richard III. Image (c) Alamy from

    * A judge has warned that the Richard III burial row 'could descend into second War of the Roses' as the debate continues about whether his remains should be buried in York or Leicester. 

    Where do you think Richard III should be buried?


    Yuka mammoth. Image (c) AFP from

    * 'De-extinction' is a topic that has been under discussion for many years, ever since the release of the Jurassic Park film some 20 years ago and some scientists are now seriously considering the possibility of bringing back extinct animals. But can it be done, and if so, what would be the use? (Headline of the week must be awarded to Andy Roast for 'De-extinction: Mammoth prospect, or just woolly?' too, it caused a lot of amusement in the office!)  

    Engraving of slaves from 1821 (c) Getty Images from

    * Can we (and indeed should we) judge people of past eras for 'moral failings'?

    Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort. Image from

    * There was consternation this week as Shropshire 
    Council proposed a bid to build houses directly in the shadow of one of Britain’s best preserved hillforts: Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort in north west Shropshire. 

    Cuthbert Ottaway and his new memorial, covered with an Eton flag. Image from


    * England's first football captain was arguably the greatest sportsman of his - or perhaps any - era. Cuthbert Ottaway lifted the FA Cup as skipper of Oxford University, represented them at five different sports ranging from athletics to real tennis, and once shared a 150-run partnership with WG Grace in the highest level of cricket. His most notable achievement was captaining England in the first ever international football match though.

    With this standard of sporting achievements, you would think that every British sports fan would know his name but Ottaway's remarkable history has remained hidden, until now. 


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

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    Gardiner’s Corner,junction of Whitechapel High Street and Leman Street


    The curlicue gas lamps from the props department and the cubic gallons of dry ice pumped in from beyond the peripheral vision of the camera are fixtures in our retrospective landscape of Jack the Ripper’s East End. However, nineteenth-century Whitechapel’s social environment was notoriously awful, even without its post-Victorian celluloid transmission via the crowded imaginations of set designers. Examples of the personal consequences of poverty and deprivation are easy to find, scattered liberally across contemporary newsprint: hunger, crime, violence, social exclusion, abuse, disease, addiction, despair, madness, premature and accidental death, infanticide, suicide, murder. Despite this, the author Jack London, seeking a glimpse of Whitechapel’s ugly visage a few years after the Ripper had retired (or whatever), found the slums veiled by popular ignorance – the travel agent whom he consulted (on Cheapside) knew how to get him to the Himalayas, but couldn’t direct him to the East End. Whitechapel was a liminal zone. Like the dubious manifestations at a séance, it was visible only to those who already believed in it.

    Two scenes in Whitechapel

    Children were among the most vulnerable members of this luckless community. Unable to pay their own way for the first few years of their life, they were a drain on their parents’ limited resources, tricky to look after, and not guaranteed to repay even adequate infant care by surviving into adulthood. Many grown-ups had their own worries, or thirsts which were impossible to slake, or difficulties engaging effectively in social and commercial intercourse, all of which tended to distract them from the needs of their offspring. At the time of the Ripper’s murders, there existed a weary, disenfranchised adult population, and a younger population whose early experiences must have been characterised by the literal or figurative absence of the attachment figure, and by hardship, and by cruelty.

    These are the psychological breeding-grounds of homicidal behaviour, but it is notable that the Ripper – whose identity is unknown – was not thought by the senior policemen of the time to have emerged from an East End childhood. Two suspects – Kosminski and Klosowski – had spent their formative years in Poland; Ostrog was a Russian; Tumblety an American via Ireland and Canada; Druitt grew up in respectable surroundings in Dorset. If the men who investigated the murders are to be believed, the effect of the social backdrop upon the early emotional development of the killer may have been negligible. Were they right? Or were they simply looking in the wrong places? Perhaps the killer was actually someone a little closer to home…

    Whitechapel Real Time logo

    Experience life in Victorian London during Jack the Ripper's 'Autumn of Terror' with Whitechapel Real Time

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