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The History Press blog

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    'Genius' is a word that is bandied about a lot these days. Some people, who were at one time proclaimed to be stars in their particular walk of life, would nowadays be referred to as super-stars or even mega-stars. Similarly, people who would once have been called ‘talented’ after making some modest contribution to art or knowledge will these days be accorded the title of ‘genius.’

    This is a step too far, in my opinion. A genius is a unique character. To be a genius requires far more than merely being intelligent, or attaining a certain rating in an intelligence test. It is having the ability not merely to push back frontiers, but to create new ones that no one else believed to be possible. It is the ability to conceptualise the previously inconceivable and express it in terms comprehensible to lesser brains. It is still a level to which most of us can only aspire but these 7 tips will help you to develop your confidence and teach you 'how to shine'. 






    1. First of all, forget that IQ nonsense...

    That’s right – forget it! Don’t for a minute allow yourself to be brow-beaten by a high scoring IQ puzzle-solver. Don’t imagine that their score means anything in the real world. No, none of it matters. Your own IQ is a total irrelevance. What we are talking about here is how to make the best of yourself to win arguments, get your point across, make good decisions and appear to know what you are talking about. Generally, to be more confident in life. And you can learn to do all this by understanding a bit about how the mind works, developing strategies to apply and use in arguments, and how to use basic knowledge to hold your own in any discussion. Confidence may be one of the issues that you have, especially in social settings. Your confidence can be built up if you equip yourself with techniques to ‘shine.’


    2. You can lose an argument before you open your mouth so think before you speak.

    That is perfectly true. You may expect to lose and may even tend to avoid arguments and discussions because of your poor history in arguments or debates. Politicians tend to be brilliant arguers. They don’t lose; they win arguments, even when they should lose. They know how to argue or debate. And you can do this as well. It is a matter of knowing some simple techniques.

    Politicians do not all enter the world with innate tough skins, bulldog tenacity and hyper-intelligence but put simply, they don’t answer the question asked of them. It is as simple as that. They will go off on a little diatribe during which they will refer to the political credo of their party, then they will eventually give a round-about answer that more or less answers the question, but which no one notices because they have diverted you from the original and you are either left marvelling at their intelligence or cursing their audacity.

    The political answer is only one of several manoeuvres that you need to spot and understand. If you can see what other people are doing in a debate, then you can understand and apply the appropriate measures that can undermine their arguments. Arm yourself with, say, half a dozen of these little techniques and your confidence in such matters may soar.


    3. Understand how people make decisions

    I am sure you will have marvelled at the wisdom of some people. And at the same time cringed and cursed the incompetence and rank stupidity of others. Decision-making is a fascinating study in itself. Whether it is a world leader making an unbelievably important and far-reaching decision, a top banker deciding how to handle his bank’s finances or a general ordering a hazardous mission, all of them think that they are making a balanced, biasfree decision. Yet they probably are not. When it comes down to it, a decision may seem multi-faceted, complex and based on massive data, yet ultimately it will be stripped of all of these  complexities and data to become a simple final choice one way or the other. If you can understand basic decision-making you may make life a bit easier for yourself.


    4. Cultivate a sense of humour and consider telling the odd joke

    Well, don’t you envy those joke-tellers? It really is a useful thing to be able to do. Especially if you can drop in a quick-witted quip or an appropriate anecdote that isn’t going to bore everyone or make them cringe. I don’t mean that you have to aim at doing a stand-up routine suitable for the Comedy Club, but you can learn ways of delivering a good wheeze to get them chuckling.


    5. Cultivate your memory

    There is nothing worse than having to excuse yourself for not remembering someone, forgetting their name or what they do. People will recognise you, recall your name and oddities, so why can’t you? Well of course you can. It is lazy not to and it is arrogant to think that you don’t need to. If you want to shine, lick that memory into shape. As we shall see, it is not that difficult.


    6. Know thyself

    All of this is working towards better awareness of yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses and your  emotional tendencies. If you can understand yourself better then you can interact with others more effectively. And if you can understand other people then you are on your way to the most useful type of communication with them. This is what life is about.


    7. Have a basic knowledge of absolutely everything

    That might sound a tall order, but really it is not difficult to pick up the rudiments of anything. You may shy away from some areas in the belief that you know nothing about a subject. Take mathematics as an example. Many people struggle with elementary mental arithmetic and positively shudder at the mention of anything as rarefied as trigonometry or differential calculus. But you don’t need to be a maths whiz to get by. Everyone can learn a few basic mental arithmetic techniques to shine. And if you just brush up on a few facts then you will be surprised at how well you can hold your own at dinner parties. Three facts are generally all you will ever need, it's true: if you just know about three facts on a subject,  then you can, by dropping them into a conversation, or expounding on them, really appear to know your onions – or your physics, Latin or mathematics. So, you may not be a genius, but you can still shine.


    The Little Book of Genius 


    These tips are extracted from The Little Book of Genius by Dr. Keith Souter. Keith is a retired GP and the author of twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction. 

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    Physick Book frontispiece. An early photograph of a painting depicting the Ambler children

    ‘23 old forks & spoons, 3 ornaments.  1 old recipe book’. This was what was written on the customs declaration of a parcel I received from my Aunt Diana in Canada.  It doesn’t sound much and yet is part of a story that has completely captivated my imagination and taken over a large part of my life for the last year or so and eventually led to the publication of our book ‘Lavender Water and Snail Syrup’.

    If you like detective stories and have a slightly obsessive nature, beware the lure of family history research.  If you take the parcel I describe and combine it with some other tangible evidence in the form of a beautiful old portrait rediscovered, several old houses, a collection of wooden boxes containing glass photographic plates – you have the basis of an obsession.  The story has many layers and leads in several directions but it all comes back to my ancestor Elizabeth Ambler and her ‘old recipe book’.  This collection of cures and remedies was compiled in the period between 1712 and 1766 and contains nearly one hundred pages of ‘receipts’ used on a daily basis by my family in the eighteenth century and passed down through the family to me.

    I was sent the parcel at a time when I was unaware of how the story would unfold… valuable family silver and an old book; a country house near Oxford that my grandmother Mollie left at the age of 13; an archive and small museum at that house (now part of a large school); an old photograph of a large portrait of three children suddenly rediscovered in an auctioneer’s catalogue… I could not have predicted then how enchanted I would become with my discoveries.  I am fortunate to be the custodian of the book and this good fortune has many aspects.  To find out about the people in the story and to piece together aspects of their lives has been an adventure; feeling a connection with them through this process has been of great value to me.  On one hand there are the tangible pieces of evidence, the objects, houses and pictures: on the other hand there is the story hidden within these and the creative process of discovery.

    To have been able to share this in publishing the book has been so rewarding.  Working with Marilyn Yurdan, who has added her enthusiasm and knowledge to the project, has all been part of the creative process.  My daughter Laura Lillie has illustrated the multitude of ingredients used in the making of the cures and remedies, illuminating and enriching our book. 

    I see the book as a celebration of Elizabeth Ambler and her life.  To be a custodian of some treasured family heirlooms is one thing but to be able to share the story contained within these objects is so much more than that.  The book launch party we had at Holton Park in July was visible evidence of this:  a group of 90 people, many also descendants  of Elizabeth Ambler, many interested in our Georgian ancestors, many intrigued to know more about our book Lavender Water and Snail Syrup. 

    Lavender Water & Snail Syrup: Miss Ambler's Household Book of Georgian Cures and Remedies

    Elizabeth Ambler started compiling her household book of cures in the early eighteenth century, including in it treatments which were much older and had been passed down to her. These intriguing remedies include Sir Walter Raleigh’s Receipt against Plague, Viper Broth, Snail Milk Water and Tobacco for the Eyes, as well as Ginger Bread and Apricot Ratafia. 

    Mrs Ambler’s book of cures is exceptional in that has been handed down through her female descendants over nearly three centuries. Set against the backdrop of the family’s country houses, silverware and lavish portraits, this book is much more than just a collection of curiosities; it offers a fascinating insight into the sickness and health of our Georgian ancestors, and into what really went on in their kitchens.

    Nicola Lillie is a descendant of Elizabeth Ambler and owner of the book of cures. Now based in Cornwall, she works as an artist and interior designer. Her  book Lavender Water and Snail Syrup is available now. 

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  • 08/29/13--01:15: Winchelsea at War
  •  Winchelsea Strandgate image from

    Picturesque Winchelsea, which claims to be the smallest town in England, sits on top of a hill overlooking marshes near Rye, East Sussex. It is the epitome of tranquillity, bypassed by the main road and, it seems, by centuries. But it has claim, leaving aside the WWII blitz, of being the most war-ravaged town in Britain.

    On 15 March 1360 it was the scene of unimaginable horrors. Up to 2,000 French foot soldiers, bowmen, sailors and mercenaries fell upon the townspeople, many of whom took refuge in the stone church. They were butchered. No mercy was shown. The young women were raped before they were killed ‘or exposed to even more hideous atrocities’. And the scenes of brutality were repeated along the coastline of England’s south-east. They were reciprocated many times by English forces on the other side of the Channel. The bloodletting was relentless in what later became known, inaccurately, as the Hundred Years’ War.

    Winchelsea was on the ‘invasion front’. Although Hastings, Rye, Folkestone, Rottingdean and the Isle of Wight were all ravaged, it suffered no less than seven attacks.

    The original ancient town lies under Rye Bay, having been swamped by storms in the thirteenth century. The new Winchelsea, rebuilt on a steep peninsula by Edward 1, was an important port, a popular embarkation point for the royal family, and one of the chain of Cinque Ports.  The French regarded them as legitimate targets.

    In 1360 Winchelsea’s  defences were in a sorry state. Two years earlier the town was reported to have been partially ‘waste and uninhabited’ due to pestilence. Able-bodied men who had survived the Black Death were either with Edward in France as part of the Cinque Ports support fleet, or deployed at the mouth of the Thames following faulty intelligence that London was the main French target.

    Camber Castle Image from

    The French walked up the hill to the town, meeting little resistance. Popular tradition has it that the inhabitants were surprised while at mass. That is unlikely given that warning bells had been rung across southern England. More likely is that the few fit defenders used the thick, crenellated walls of St Giles as a defensive position.

    The defenders were hopelessly outnumbered. In accordance with the custom of medieval warfare, men, women and children were butchered and the church torched. The invaders looted in a leisurely fashion, burning several ships in the harbour. They were in no hurry to leave. That allowed time for the Abbot of Battle, Hamo of Offingham, to gather around 300 horsemen from the county levies for a counter-attack.

    The booty-laden French were in no mood for a real battle. They began to withdraw under bow-fire, their stragglers surrounded and killed.  Most of the reported 300 casualties fell while trying to board their ships.

    The revenge taken on the French was poor consolation for Winchelsea. Three years later, despite the efforts of men returned from military service overseas, 409 properties were reported to be still in ruins. The ships burnt in the harbour were another hammer-blow to a community that relied on maritime trade.

    There were French further attacks in 1366, 1377, and 1418, but the worst devastation was caused by a Casillian raid in 1388 which all but wiped out the town. It was partially rebuilt but its trade importance fell and the sea receded, leaving it the land-locked backwater it is today.

    Fortress Britain: All the Invasions and Incursions since 1066

    Fortress Britain by Ian Hernon, is a wonderful account of all the attempted invasions of Britain. It meticulously details over seventy raids, incursions and skirmishes. Ian Hernon brings his journalistic flair to bear in this dramatic narrative of the survival of an island race over 900 years – sometimes, surprisingly, against the odds.

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

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

    Winston Churchill

    Winston Churchill: a revered leader and Prime Minister. However, a university academic has questioned the accepted view that Winston Churchill's WWII speeches inspired the nation at a time of crisis. Professor Richard Toye used government documents, surveys and diaries to look at how the public received Churchill's speeches at home and around the world.


    On the topic of great leaders and another man who made his name with speeches: Martin Luther King. To mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, BBC Radio 4 asked notable figures to record a recital of the celebrated text.


    The photography of the First and Second World Wars are often black and white images packed with memories and emotion. A group of artists have shone new light on the memories of each era by taking classic photographs and adding colour to them.


    Following on fromt the war theme... The Inverclyde Council's War Musuem is set to digitise its original collection of First World War images. The 300 posters, created during the First World War and immediately afterwards, will be available to view online thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £51,300. The posters show the vast range of messages being promoted in the lead up and during the conflict, from recruitment posters urging men to join up to promotional posters calling for people to help fund the fighting through war bonds.


    There's no better way to beat an awkward silence than small-talk. Whether it is about the weather, a favourite pet or plans for the evening - small talk is the must-have tool for any new encounter. The History Hive website have listed their top 8 historically themed snippets of small talk with a few very surprising facts!


    "Are you feeling lucky, punk?". All of the great films have a line (or two!) that define them. These lines are often regailed by adoring fans. The Mail Online has researched the history of these famous lines and discovered some surprising history.

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

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    Who says Gloucester sees a tall

    Fair-fashioned shape of stone arise,

    That changes with the changing skies

    From joy to gloom funereal,

    Then quick again to joy;

                                                                               -Ivor Gurney The Old City- Gloucester. (July 1917 War’s Embers)


    Gloucester Cathedral

    In 1917 the 27 year old Ivor Gurney was ‘at rest’ with his battalion, the 2/5th Glosters, at Buire au Bois north of the Somme. Having suffered terrible conditions fighting on the Somme near Vermand, the Glosters were about to be sent north to join the 3rd battle of Ypres. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ever-present horrors of war, Gurney’s thoughts in 1917 were back in his native Gloucestershire drawing on the image of his beloved ‘Peter’s Abbey’, as he called Gloucester Cathedral, that ‘fair-fashioned shape of stone’ rising above the Severn meadows and providing Gurney with peaceful memories and a sense of identity. Ninety six years later, on August 31st 2013, a celebration of the life of Ivor Gurney will take place in Gloucester Cathedral in Gurney’s ‘Old City’ –  his talents have not been forgotten but my book Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire suggests that we may need to recognise more fully the intensity of his relationship with Gloucestershire.

    Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) is known as both a talented composer and a First World War poet, whose down-to-earth observations present the perspective of the common soldier, but he also wrote vividly and movingly about his native Gloucestershire, the place in which he grew up and which nurtured his creativity. When I first discovered Gurney’s poetry it was not his depiction of war that attracted me. What drew me to this poet with a startling leap of recognition was the clarity and distinctiveness of his images of Gloucestershire places that I knew in a similar way – ‘soft winter’s mornings of kind innocence’ on Cooper’s Hill (That Centre of Old); ‘the orchis, trefoil, harebells’ nodding all day ‘high above Gloucester and the Severn Plain’ (Crickley Hill); the Cathedral ‘like any ship over green peaceful seas’ (Ship over Meadows).

    Crickley Hill from Barrow Wake

    As I read and researched more, I realised that the key to understanding Gurney is to recognise that, first and foremost, Gurney is a poet of Gloucestershire. His poems engage directly with the places around him, using local names, recognising geographical features and providing first-hand observations recorded at all times and seasons.  More significantly, it is clear that Gurney drew on all his senses – sight, sound smell, touch – and needed to be there, preferably moving fast through the landscape, to gain the glorious rush of inspiration that led to poetic and musical creation. In a poem such as Old Thought, Gurney is not describing a view or a feature of the landscape, he is pouring out the experience of being there walking and running along the high Cotswold edge on Crickley or Cooper’s Hill. Gurney’s poem is filled with a natural exuberance and uprising of joy aroused by the movement in outdoors. ‘O up in height, O snatcht up, O swiftly going’ – the arrangement of the words forces us to breathe faster like a runner on the steep hillside - ‘breathing is loving’ the poet tells us.  As Gurney himself wrote in a letter to his trusted friend, Marion Scott - “Minsterworth orchards, Cranham, Crickley and Framilode Reach. They do not merely mean intensely to me … they are me”.

    Suddenly we can see the huge significance of Gurney’s absence in the WW1 trenches of Belgium and Northern France. In a sense, as he told us himself in a poem called While I Write, it was being away from Gloucestershire amid the terror and confusion of war that crystallised out for him his calling as a poet. ‘War told me truth, I have Severn’s right of maker,/ As of Cotswold: war told me: I was elect, I was born fit / To praise the three hundred feet depth of every acre / Between Tewkesbury and Stroudway, Side and Wales Gate’. He drew on his Gloucestershire places as a form of release from the stresses of war. In a poem called That Centre of Old he recounts how –‘ in the still small space at the strafe end’ ie when the guns stopped, he, the frightened young soldier, conjured up images of Cooper’s Hill to save him from the noise and terror of war. He saw glimpses of Gloucestershire in a river bend (All things said Severn’ Crucifix Corner) or a hill shoulder (the low ridge of Laventie looked like Wainlodes’ Laventie Ridge). He called on memory to take him back to the calm of Crickley (‘If only this fear would leave me, I could dream of Crickley Hill’ Crickley Hill) or to let him see the soaring lines of the cathedral (‘like a ship over peaceful green seas’ The Ship).


    Ivor Gurney's Gloucestershire (Rawling 2011)  ‘Between Tewkesbury and Stroudway, Side and Wales Gate’


    In the post-war years 1918-22, Gurney found it difficult to hang on to his creativity and his identity as the traumas of re-entering civilian life were added to the stresses arising from his increasingly severe mental condition. In 1922, he was committed to the City of London Mental Asylum, Dartford where he remained incarcerated until his death in 1937.He didn’t stop writing about Gloucestershire but he had to rely on memory and gradually his memory faded. After 1926 the writing of poetry and music ground to a halt as, in the poet’s own words, he found memory ‘sliding content down to drugged sleep’ Memory. Some of his most bitter poetry of this period expresses ‘place absence’. ‘There is a coppice on Cotswold’s edge the winds love; / It blasts so, and from below there one sees move / Tree branches like water darkling – and I write thus / At the year’s end, in nine Hell-depths, with such memories’ (The Coppice).

    Ivor Gurney died in 1937 in the City of London Mental Asylum at Dartford, Kent, far away from the hills and meadows of Gloucestershire and believing that his music and poetry had been forgotten. The tragedy of Ivor Gurney was to belong to this place so fully and then to be wrenched away from it so completely. 


    Ivor Gurney's Gloucestershire: Exploring Poetry and Place

    The Memorial Festival in Gloucester Cathedral on August 31
    st is one important step to ensuring that Gurney’s genius is widely celebrated and that he is given full recognition as the poet of Gloucestershire.

    Eleanor Rawling is a geographer, literary researcher and walker. Having been born and brought up in Gloucestershire, she has a passion for its landscapes and places. Her book, Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire; exploring poetry and place is available now. 

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  • 09/01/13--02:00: What makes a book a classic?
  • Great Expectations by daveoratox, on Flickr. Image here:

    I have a shelf full of books that I call my ‘worthy shelf.’ They range from Charles Dickens to H.G Wells, Jane Austen to J.D. Salinger, some, admittedly, remaining unopened, purchased in a haze of self- importance and good intentions. There is one thing they all have in common. They are the books lauded in must-read lists, the ones met with cries of, “Oh, you simply must read it!” They are pored over by frazzled university students and met with distaste by bored school children. They are the classics.

    Elizabeth Bennet. Sherlock Holmes. Heathcliff. I’ve heard of them, you’ve heard of them. The man down the road who hasn’t opened a book since he left school forty years ago has heard of them. Be it in a film adaptation or a warbling Kate Bush song, these names have been bandied around popular culture so much, that they are more familiar to us than our own Prime Minister (David who?) But what is it about them that causes generation after generation to fall in love with them? What magic do they possess that has so immortalised them in education and culture?  

    The term ‘classic’ is vague, though it is generally agreed that a classic is from an era not of our own. It is interesting to consider that the books that are being produced today will be treasured by many, hundreds of years later. Time moves swiftly on. Our new will one day be someone’s old, our ever-so-modern way of thinking and living will be considered a curious relic, our customs quaint. Of course, amongst the thousands of books being published every year, a mere handful will survive the test of time. An instant bestseller today might be forgotten in ten years and a critically reviled author might be the newest J.R.R Tolkien. Some of the most famous books today were barely noticed in their time.

    One thing that is most striking about the classics is how relevant they feel to our lives today. There are themes in them that are as applicable today as they were when they were written all those years ago. While we may never experience being shipped off to an awful school by our unloving relatives, we do understand feeling trapped and powerless by a situation we cannot control. We may not have been assaulted by a pimp, but I think we all remember how alienating and confusing our teen years were. There is something about these books that are truly timeless, they could be set in the Roaring Twenties or a modern day London council estate and they still wouldn’t lose their meaning. Indeed, it is getting increasingly popular to take a classic novel and place it in today’s society – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for example, in which the story of Pride and Prejudice is transported to 21st century California and narrated by our heroine in a series of short video blogs. This has been watched over a million times on Youtube, proving the enduring popularity of a story that is two hundred years old.

    Woman meets man. Woman dislikes man. Man falls in love with woman. Woman eventually falls in love with man. It doesn’t sound like a rollicking read yet it has set the template for almost every romance that has followed it. Sometimes it is the deceptively simple storylines that are the cleverest and most effective. Of course, a strong plot is nothing without memorable characters. In fact, a weak plot can be lifted by terrific characters while an excellent story can be let down by characters who are passive and bland. A happy marriage of the two is what will make a book stand out from the rabble and launch it into classic territory.

    Talent never fades and every generation has a story to tell. We may not be able to predict what will be famous in a hundred years but we can make it our duty to discover the gems amongst the rubbish. Keep reading the classics but do not forget to look around at what is being published now. Who knows, you may find your own personal classic to pass on.

    Which books would you recommend to future generations?

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    Buck's Row Mary Ann Nichols body is discovered. Image from

    Conventionally understood to be the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Ann Nichols was a native of London who had spent a good deal of the 1880s on the drift. Her marriage, to a man named William Nichols, had apparently foundered after the birth of their sixth child: William’s head had been irreversibly turned by a neighbour called Rosetta; Mary Ann was laying the roots of an inescapable addiction to alcohol. She embarked on a dismal tour of the capital’s workhouses and infirmaries; she surrendered herself to the elements, sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square; and, finally, when she had squandered her last shot at rehabilitation, she gravitated, as so many unanchored people would, to the East End. Prostitution was her last recourse.

    By 31 August 1888, she was homeless and without the money to pay for a bed in a lodging house – indeed, she claimed to have earned and then drunk away the fourpence fee several times over that day. At half past two in the morning, an acquaintance encountered her, drunk and staggering in the darkness at the junction of Osborn Street and Whitechapel Road. This would be the last time that Mary Ann was knowingly seen alive by anyone other than her killer.

    At 3:45 am, two men, walking west along Buck’s Row, saw what they thought might have been an abandoned tarpaulin lying on the footpath. Closer inspection showed that it was the body of a woman, her throat cut, pooled in blood. Only when her body was stripped in the primitive local mortuary were the horrible incisions to Mary Ann’s abdomen discovered. Her intestines, uncontained by the abdominal wall, threatened to push through the gaps. This unusual degree of brutality rendered her murder notable, an abstract alternative to the city’s run-of-the-mill domestic homicides. But, in a pattern which would be repeated with unhappy frequency over the following two and a half months, no sign of the killer was to be found.

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    The unique landscape of the British countryside has been replicated in literature by writers from William Shakespeare to J. K. Rowling. Indeed, last year the British Library curated an exhibition that explored literature inspired by spaces and places around the British Isles, from Penny Lane to Platform 9 ¾. Clearly, an author's surroundings can be one of the most powerful sources of inspiration.

    Like many authors, Tolkien drew ideas for the places and character names in his fictional world of Middle earth from his life and the places where he lived and visited, but where exactly were these locations? Probably the first place in this list must be the little hamlet of Sarehole on the edge of Birmingham, where he lived from 1896–1900 from the ages of 4 to 8. This was a very happy time for Tolkien and in a 1966 interview in the Oxford Mail, quoted by John Ezard in the Guardian in 1991, he said that he based the Hobbits on the village people and children from Sarehole.

    Sarehole Mill and mill pond.  Left image A 1905 postcard showing the view of Sarehole Mill from the Wake Green Road - which is how JRR Tolkien would have seen it from his front door. Image from Right image from

    The place that dominated the view from the front of 5 Gracewell Cottages where he lived was Sarehole Mill and its millpond.
    A large brick-built mill with a tall chimney that sounds very much like Sarehole Mill appears in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam sees a vision of Hobbiton where the old mill has been pulled down and a large brick-built mill with chimney has replaced it. Tolkien's fondness for Sarehole and its mill is clear; 'It was a kind of lost paradise, there was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill. I always knew it would go - and it did.'

    In the chapter in the third part of The Lord of the Rings, ‘The Scouring of the Shire’, when Sam and the other Hobbits return to the Shire, Sam’s vision had come true with a large mill replacing the old mill of Hobbiton.

    Across the fields behind Gracewell Cottages stood what Tolkien called ‘a wonderful dell with flowers’ (John Ezard, the Guardian, 1991); this today is called Moseley Bog and was once the main mill storage pool for  Sarehole Mill, having been drained in the 1850s. This atmospheric wooded area may well have been the inspiration for The Old Forest and Fangorn in The Lord of the Rings. Furthermore Moseley Bog acted as the inspiration for Midgewater Marshes in The Lord of the Rings, which the Hobbits cross and in the process get bitten by midges, as today there are many small pools and springs where midges still breed and bite visitors in the summer and early autumn months.

    When Tolkien was living at Sarehole, he would have walked back to his Suffield grandparents’ house in Ashfield Road, King’s Heath, and would have walked up Green Hill Road in Moseley – there is a place called Green Hill Country in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s Suffield grandparents later moved to Cotton Lane, Moseley, and in memory of this, he named one of the families in The Lord of the Rings Cotton: Farmer Cotton and his daughter Rose Cotton who married Sam Gamgee.

    The 'Two Towers'. L: Perrott's Folly, R: Edgbaston Waterworks Tower. Images from

    The area that Tolkien was living in when he moved to the Edgbaston/Ladywood border area, was a land of towers and chimneys, some on the skyline and others at the end of the road..  At the end of Stirling Road stands the Edgbaston Waterworks with its wonderful Italianate-style chimney, partly designed by the famous architect John H. Chamberlain. A little further away stands the beautiful eighteenth-century brick-built tower known as Perrott’s Folly, which stands 96 ft tall, and inside there is a spiral staircase of 139 steps that links a small room on each floor. The two towers in Edgbaston are locally believed to be Minas Morgul and Minus Tirith, two of the towers in The Lord of the Rings, the second book of which is entitled The Two Towers.

    The University of Birmingham clock tower. (Courtesy of Kirsty Nicol)

    Another tower that Tolkien would have seen being built during his time living in Edgbaston was at the University of Birmingham. This was the 315 ft-tall Chamberlain Tower or ‘Old Joe’ as it is affectionately called after Joseph Chamberlain, the founder of the university. At night, the tower has four large illuminated clock faces, which can be seen from many parts of Birmingham and look like eyes looking at you, like the Eye of Sauron looking out from Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.

    File:Radcliffe Camera, Oxford - Oct 2006.jpg


    Oxford also played a part in Tolkien’s fictional world, and he said that the Ratcliffe Camera looked like Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Númenor. The college dining halls that Tolkien dined in as a student and later as a professor would also re-emerge in his later books. With the dais platform at one end of the hall for the college professors’ high table and the students seated on forms (benches) and eating off long boards (trestle tables), they were reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon feasting halls, which were where this type of dining hall had its origins.

    Cheddar Gorge. Image from

    While on their honeymoon in Clevedon, north Somerset, in March 1916, Tolkien and his wife Edith went on a day-trip to see Cheddar Gorge and visit the caves which re-emerged as the Glittering Caves in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien revisited the caves just before writing this passage in the book in 1940 and was somewhat surprised to find how commercialised the caves had become since his first visit almost thirty years before. 


    The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany

    Robert S. Blackham is a member of the Birmingham Tolkien Strategy Group and vice chair of The Shire Country Park Friends, a park named to commemorate J.R.R. Tolkien’s childhood connections with the area in Birmingham. The author gives talks and lectures about Tolkien in and around Birmingham and Oxford, and has made a large number of TV and Radio appearances in connection with this. He is also the author of The J.R.R. Tolkien Miscellany

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    Ely: The Hidden History



















    David Barraclough and Kate Morrison will be at giving a talk at Toppings Bookshop, Ely on Wednesday 4th September 2013 from 7:30 pm. They will also be signing copies of their new book Ely: The Hidden History. 

    Ely is an incredible city steeped in myth and legend and dominated by the Norman Cathedral, a masterpiece of medieval architecture. There have been many books written about the Isle, but Ely: A Hidden History is the first to use the latest archaeological discoveries to tell the story of the settlement of the Isle from its earliest beginnings through to the seventeenth century. 

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    The Cotswold Way: An Archaeological Walking Guide



    Tim Copeland will be at Courtyard Books, Bishops Cleeve on Saturday 7th September from 10 am - 12 noon signing copies of his new book, The Cotswold Way: An Archaeological Walking Guide

    The Cotswold Way crosses some of the most densely populated and varied landscapes from the each period of the past. The route also has some nationally important archaeological sites along, behind and in front of it. This book introduces the serious trail walker or the local ‘single-stretch’ day rambler to the types of archaeological monuments along the Cotswold Way route. It then follows each of the six sections of the route describing the individual sites and their background along the trail. For those who wish to explore the Cotswold plateau behind the route there will be recommended archaeological walks, and for each type of walker the ‘archaeological’ panoramas in front of the Cotswold Escarpment are identified and explained. 

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    The Story of Bradford


    Alan Hall will be at Waterstones, Bradford on Saturday 7th September from 12 - 2pm signing copies of his new book, The Story of Bradford

    The Story of Bradford traces the city’s history from earliest times to the present, concluding with comments on the issues, challenges and opportunities that the 21st century will present. The departure of the German wool merchants in 1914 and the tragedy that befell the Bradford Pals at the Somme had a serious effect not just on the city but further afield, while the achievements of the great nineteenth-century wool barons are contrasted with the condition of the working-class and industrial unrest. The challenge in the new millennium is for Bradford to use its considerable assets - including the architectural development and heritage - to shine as a prosperous and self-confident community.

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    The Roman province of Africa was one of richest in the Empire and as a result has some of the most spectacular remains. "The Cities of Roman Africa" examines the development of urban space and cultural life in this province from the beginnings of Roman rule in the second century BC to the fall of the province of Africa to the Vandals in AD 439.

    In this engaging and strikingly illustrated new book, Gareth Sears considers the incorporation of Roman culture into Africa, and its use by African populations and, in particular, their elites. The author also explores the persistence of pre-Roman cultures, and how these factors affected the evolution of the cities, intellectual life and even entertainment under the Republic and Empire.

    Dr Gareth Sears is a lecturer in Roman History at the University of Birmingham. He is a specialist on Roman North Africa, and has co-directed archaeological work at the city of Cyrene in Libya for the Cyrenaica Archaeological Project.

     The Cities of Roman Africa by Gareth Sears


    Gareth Sears presents here a fascinating and well researched analysis into the development of a little understood, but extremely important and wealthy, part of the Roman Empire. He traces its development, culture and Romanization from the beginnings of Roman rule in the second century BC to the fall of the province of Africa to the Vandals in AD 439.

    The book is divided up by time periods, starting with the Numidian and Punic/Phoenician civilisations that existed in Africa before Roman rule. This is an excellent way to start and gives a good overview of the situation before Roman rule, but as there is not much evidence from this period, there is little he can really say.

    He moves on in the second chapter to look at urbanisation and governance for the first two centuries of Roman rule. The creation of new colonies and cities and the growth of many of the existing Punic and Mauretanian cities, and how they started to adapt and Romanise.

    The next chapter is on the traditional religious life and impact of roman beliefs, which, while well presented is again limited by lack of evidence. 

    Chapter 4, the flourishing of African Urbanism, was for me the most interesting part. Here he shows the development in the golden age of Rome, the second century. This period showed a slight increase in the size of the provinces, but also a massive building project, especially of entertainment facilities, a trend which continued into the Severan period as shown in the following chapter. 

    Chapter five, the Severan revolution, is extremely interesting and detailed due to more evidence. As Septimus Severus was from Africa there was an amazing level of development and building in this period and the major cities built all the 'Roman' buildings, forum, baths, amphitheatres, etc.

    The next chapter on the third century, was far too short, this is interesting as it is an important time, but he should have said more. Unlike the rest of the empire Africa showed a lack of damage during this crisis and continued to grow and develop, I feel he should have explained the reasons for this more fully and its impact on the rest of the empire. 

    The final chapter is on the late Roman City, continuity and Cristianisation. This basically shows how, like in most of the empire the building shifted from monuments and civic structures to churches, and the complexity of the early Christian church with all its schisms and sects. This is a complex and interesting period, which could easily be a book in its own, but I think it was very clearly and concisely explained, providing all the relevant points, but without get bogged down in details.

    The conclusion, simply entitled Roman Africa, provided a good summary and shows what they were like, why and how they developed and Romanised, this has a bit more conjecture, as the evidence obviously can't tell us everything, but is well done

    I would say the author provides a very good analysis of the cities and development of the regions. The book is well illustrated with lots of maps, photos, plans; although a lack of reconstructions. I personally feel I learnt a lot about the development of Roman Africa, for example the importance of entertainment; and how it was the only part of the empire that continued to develop when the rest of the empire was collapsing.

    On the negative side he doesn't tell us much about the smaller towns and countryside, and it is a very academic work, thus a bit dry for the layman, but for those with a basic knowledge of the Roman world it is well worth the read. My main gripe is how little he says about the people and cultures. I wouldn't say I went away from reading this with an understanding of the people or what made them different from those on the north of the Mediterranean, although, as the author himself points out, this is difficult to do with the available archaeological evidence. 


    Gareth Sears is a specialist on Roman North Africa and the late Roman period and a member of the Cyrenaica Archaeological project, an international mission for the study of the Roman city of Cyrene in Libya.


    Book: 'The Cities of Roman Africa'

    Author: Gareth Sears

    Review by: Joe Medhurst


    Joe Medhurst is a teacher and historian, he writes articles on history and education for several magazines and websites. His website is:

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    The Story of Durham



    Douglas Pocock will be at Waterstones, Durham on Saturday 7th September from 1-3pm signing copies of his new book, The Story of Durham

    The Story of Durham traces the evolution of a city that medieval writers likened to Jerusalem, which Ruskin termed one of the wonders of the world, and which Pevsner, more modestly, called one of the architectural experiences of Europe. Beautifully illustrated, this popular history by a leading academic will delight residents and visitors alike. 

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    John McDermott: It's not all Black & White





















    John McDermott will be at Waterstones, Grimsby on Sunday 8th September from 12 noon onwards. He will be signing copies of his new book, John McDermott: It's not all Black & White

    When John McDermott received the annual PFA Merit Award, in recognition of his record-breaking career at Grimsby Town, he joined an elite group of footballers made up of the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Pelé and George Best. He played an incredible 754 games overall for the Mariners and is one of only seventeen players in the history of English football to play more than 600 Football League matches for the same.

    Now McDermott is lifting the lid for the first time on the career that made him one of the most respected defenders in the Football League for two decades and secured him legendary status among the fans at Blundell Park. 

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  • 09/06/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 06/09/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    * As the anniversary of the start of the First World War draws nearer, media focus on the impact the war had on both civilians and soldiers is intensifying and the Telegraph  is just one newspaper that is collecting your First World War memories.  Thanks to years of history lessons at school, many people know about the state of Europe in the build up to war and perhaps even the countries who were first involved, but not many people know the name of the man who started the First World War: Gavrilo Princip, the teenage assassin. 

    Emilia Fox and Ben Chaplin (Trademark Productions Limited 2013, Photographer: Helen Sloan)

    * Next week on BBC TV there’s an interesting looking film about The Wipers Times. This is based on the true story of Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson who discovered a printing press in the bombed-out ruins of Ypres in 1916 and used it to create a satirical newspaper to raise the spirits of the soldiers in the trenches. But where did Roberts, Person et al get their ideas for content from? George Simmers has a few ideas... 


    Cannock Chase. Image from

    A model of a First World War battle site, which was built by German prisoners of war, is to be excavated and reburied. The mock battlefield was constructed at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire under the supervision of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. The site was used to train soldiers ahead of the final push in the 'Great War' and thousands of soldiers are believed to have used this and other similar training camps. 


    Library roof gardens at Birmingham Library. Image from

    * The £189m Library of Birmingham, which houses a collection of one million books, was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai on Tuesday 3 September and the Bookseller has taken a look inside. The opening of the library has been met with near widespread approval but others are asking whether the £189m price tag is justified.

    Personally, I can't wait to visit and spend an hour (or two) wandering around the new library, but what do you think?

    17th January 1927: City workers in Woodford, London are warned their journeys to work may be hindered by the winter conditions (c) Getty images from

    * This eerie collection of photographs of London's winters from the early twentieth century is sure to send a chill down your spine. Included are images of the 'Great Smog' of 1952 and many of the other, long and drawn-out winters of the 1900s. 

    clock findlater's corner. Picture: Stephen May from

    * The clock at Findlater's Corner is a common sight to many Londoners but what is the story behind the place where time has truly stopped

    Book shelf. Image from

    * Futurebook asks publishers, how do you make money when everything else is going free?

    * 7 top business tips from Breaking Bad's Walter White

    * Sam Missingham can't help but love Amazon's first UK TV ad, which simply has 52 seconds of children sharing exactly what they love about reading. 

    * A reader shares a charming photo diary of two months spent living in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on Paris’s Left Bank.

    * Classic books in 140 characters



    Flodden memorial. Image from


     * The Battle of Flodden between the English and Scots at Branxton on 9 September 1513 left almost 14,000 people, including King James IV, dead and now excavation work to find the remains of thousands of bodies buried on the Flodden battlefield in Northumberland has begun. History Extra interviewed the excavation director Chris Burgess, who confirmed that there are currently no plans to exhume any remains. Instead the team will inform English Heritage of their location, to allow the burials to be declared war graves or protected from further intrusion.

    Sir David Frost with former US President Richard Nixon (c) AP. Image from

    * Sir David Frost, the broadcaster and writer, died earlier this week, at the age of 74. His career spanned journalism, comedy writing and daytime television presenting, including The Frost Report but he is best known for his revealing interviews with former US President Richard Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. If you haven't seen the film Frost/Nixon then definitely do watch it, even if you aren't  interested in politics, it is absolutely fascinating!



    * I always enjoy reading the Historical Honey blog and their 'September issues' of modern magazines reimagined with historical figures really made me laugh - who wouldn't want advice on how to powder their wig from Marie Antoinette?! 


    A boat neck sweater made of warm wool and woven in diamond twill was a dominating fashion trend among reindeer hunters 1,700 years ago, according to researchers who have investigated an extremely well preserved Iron Age tunic found two years ago under melting snow in Norway. Image from


    A boat neck sweater made of warm wool and woven in diamond twill was a dominating fashion trend among reindeer hunters 1,700 years ago, according to researchers who have investigated an extremely well preserved Iron Age tunic found two years ago under melting snow in Norway. Announced last March, the finding has been detailed in the current issue of the journal Antiquity


    Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Julia Margaret Cameron lived next door to the poet laureate on the Isle of Wight. It took three years of pleading before Cameron convinced Tennyson (who jokingly referred to her models as 'victims') to sit for his portrait. Image (c) Julia Margaret Cameron/The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

    * Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer who became known for her portraits of Victorian celebrities and now the Metropolitan Museum in New York is hosting 'Julia Margaret Cameron,' a small, striking show which displays a number of her photographs. 

    Said to be one of the finest Elizabethan halls in London, Middle Temple Hall (part of Middle Temple, one of the capital's four Inns of Court) survived the fire due to a change of wind direction. Two later fires in 1677 and 1678 destroyed much of the Temple but the hall - where the first performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was recorded in 1602 - emerged unscathed. Picture: Alamy. Image from

    The Great Fire of London destroyed over 400 acres of London, including 13,200 houses and 87 of 109 churches between 2 September and 5 September 1666, but surprisingly not all buildings were destroyed. Here, the Telegraph  shares 10 buildings that survived the Great Fire of London

    Cable vision advertised in shop window. Image from

    Local TV may be coming to a screen near you soon - but not for the first time, as the UK already has a rich history of local television. Social historian Joe Moran asks if viewers really wanted to watch pub darts and barber shop singers?

    Winston Churchill. Image from

    * Was Winston Churchill really commenting on arts funding? How Twitter twists history to suit modern agendas.  

    Appin murder cairn. (c) Euan Nelson/Geograph

    * Historians and forensic scientists have re-examined the Appin murder of 1752 using modern techniques as part of a cold case review. The case has always been controversial and despite James Stewart being convicted and hung for the shooting and killing of Colin Campbell in an Argyll wood, others have been suspected of being the killer, including Stewart's son Donald and foster son Ailean Breac.


    Asda supermarket in 1970s


    * How the first out-of-town superstore changed the UK forever

    Lava lamps. Image from

    * Marking 50 years of a 60s icon: the humble lava lamp.

    Third-century China got around the ancient world. They even made it to the Roman Empire, and wrote down their thoughts on these strange foreigners in the Weilüe, a third-century C.E. account of the interactions between the two nations. Here's what China had to say about their imperial neighbors!

    * An account of the interactions between third-century China and the Roman Empire in the 'Weilüe'.


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

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    2013 is the 1000th anniversary of Swein Forkbeard’s invasion of England and 2016 will commemorate the millennial anniversary of his son Cnut’s victory at Assandun, the decisive event in a fraught year of battles which propelled the young Danish prince to kingship.

    These stirring events took place at the end of a protracted period of Viking attacks on Aethelred II’s England; the culmination of aggressive incursions stretching back to the days of Alfred the Great, when much of England fell under Danish control. Whereas the incomers of the 9th century sought land to settle and to consolidate territorial gains, Viking raiding armies of Aethelred’s time were intent on exacting payment from the English to finance their military ambitions - that is, until 1013, when outright conquest and regime change became their goal.

    Swein Forkbeard’s ferocious onslaught on England would have tested the mettle of any medieval king. That Aethelred struggled in the face of such a determined assault is, in retrospect, hardly surprising. English resistance had been worn down after a decade of almost continuous fighting. Scandinavian warbands - sometimes led by Swein in person, at other times by surrogates like the rapacious warlord Tostig – wrought devastation across southern England and East Anglia. As a result, and at odds with the usual ‘unready’ paradigm of his reign, Aethelred and his council presided over an ambitious and far reaching militarisation programme. The English were for a time better armed and protected than ever before, but dissension within the nobility and a mutinous fleet led to military collapse.  

    Churchmen viewed these events as God’s judgement on the king and his people. That Aethelred had blood on his hands there is no doubt - but no more so than any other medieval ruler. His ambitious and enigmatic son Edmund, known by the ‘sobriquet’ Ironside, gave ‘hard knocks’ to both Dane and Englishman alike – yet despite suffering defeat at Assandun in 1016, his energetic campaign against Cnut cast him in a heroic mould.

    Other than Edmund, few English commanders emerge from the annals of the time with credit. Those that do include the bravely stubborn ealdorman Byrhtnoth, killed at Maldon in 991, and the ‘valiant’ East Anglian Ulfcytel who fell at Assandun. Other Englishmen, like the much maligned Eadric of Mercia, and the ill-fated Uhtred of Northumbria sometimes sided with the raiders; treachery is a recurring theme throughout the period – the concept of nationhood can have barely existed.


    An Onslaught of Spears: The Danish Conquest of England


    'An Onslaught of Spears' by Jeffery James is out now. Linking the Danish invasion to the Norman conquest that took place just fifty years laterlater and challenging the myth of of Aethelred 'the unready,' Jeffrey James's military history of this turbulent period reveals the true nature of England's armies and her kings.

    Linking the Danish invasion to the Norman conquest that took place just fifty years later and challenging the myth of Aethelred ‘the Unready’, Jeffrey James’s military history of this turbulent period reveals the true nature of England’s armies and her kings. - See more at:
    Linking the Danish invasion to the Norman conquest that took place just fifty years later and challenging the myth of Aethelred ‘the Unready’, Jeffrey James’s military history of this turbulent period reveals the true nature of England’s armies and her kings - See more at:
    Linking the Danish invasion to the Norman conquest that took place just fifty years later and challenging the myth of Aethelred ‘the Unready’, Jeffrey James’s military history of this turbulent period reveals the true nature of England’s armies and her kings - See more at:

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    Abberline's report


    August 31st 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the first Jack the Ripper murder and yet still the case remains unsolved.  Whitechapel Real Time aims to portray Victorian society during 1888 in an accurate and engaging way, placing this tragic series of events in a wider context.

    Over the next ten weeks, Peter Thurgood will be placing himself in the shoes of Chief Inspector Abberline to imagine how he would have felt and reacted as the Ripper investigation progressed.

    Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline


    Saturday September 1 1888

    Not a bloody hansom anywhere when you want one, and my left leg had started to play up again, it’s the varicose vein, always seems to flare up during warm weather. I am only 45 years old for God’s sake, and there I was limping along like an old man.

    Still ended up getting to H Division by 7.45 am, not as early as I wanted but at least it would give me some time to read up on what notes they had before making my way to the poor lass’ inquest. The desk sergeant showed me where my office was and I immediately took relief in sitting down and thumbing through the more detailed notes on the murder that were on my desk, not that there was too much to go on, just general reports from the officers who were first on the scene when the body was discovered just a matter of hours earlier.

    Ripped, slashed, cut, blood, words that repeated themselves time after time in the reports but still didn’t tell me much. Well it wouldn’t be long before I was at the inquest and hopefully finding out more.

    As I opened the door to leave my office a small group of officers had lined up to meet me, some of them didn’t look much older than boys straight of school, but they had apparently all been handpicked as a part of my team, so let’s just hope they can do their job. I quickly introduced myself “Haven’t got time for briefings or anything else at the moment” I told them, “just use your initiative until I get back, I have to be at the Whitechapel Working Lad's Institute, in 15 minutes, where the Inquest into Polly Nichols’ death is being held, err, can someone call me a hansom?”

    I arrived at the Whitechapel Working Lad's Institute with minutes to spare, only to find that the inquest had now been adjourned until Monday, September 3rd. I don’t understand these people, they have a corpse, and I understand they have a post-mortem account, what more do they want in order to do their job?


    Sunday September 2 1888

    I had set up an early briefing meeting with my team at the station this morning as we really needed to get cracking on this case before any potential witnesses forgot exactly what they had seen or what times they had seen anything. I was up early but no eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and tea, as was usual for Sunday breakfast, for Emma wasn’t very happy with me, to say the least. In all the years we had known each other, this was the first time I had ever let her down and not accompanied her to church, but what was I supposed to do, church could wait, but witnesses memories can’t?

    Seems that my new team are not so young and inexperienced as I first thought. By the time I arrived at the station they were all there and ready with their evidence. Not that it was exactly illuminating; we had the mutilated body of a prostitute, detailed notes of her injuries, and when and where she had been found, but not one single suggestion or clue as to a possible suspect.


    Monday September 3 1888

    I attended the Polly Nichols inquest. Detective Inspector Spratling from Bethnal Green was called, as well as Dr Llewellyn, who had made the initial examination of Nichol’s body on the night of her death. There was also a number of local people, all of whose statements I had already read, and knew almost by heart.

    Thursday September 6 1888

    Polly Nichols funeral was held today; I did not attend.

    Friday September 7 1888

    By this time, I had already come to the conclusion that the first two murders, of Elizabeth Smith and Martha Tabram were completely separate incidents and were not connected in any way to the Nichols murder, which I now suspected to be a one off murder.

    The press however, had different ideas, and started turning out headlines describing an ongoing series of murders. One newspaper even suggested a single killer was the culprit of all three murders, with a headline, ‘Maniac Killer at large’

    I felt like paying one particular newspaper a visit and warning them about publishing stories based upon nothing more than their imagination. I would think it over during the weekend.


    Saturday September 8 1888

    Another early morning hammering on the door of my home, 6.45 a.m. to be precise. Another prostitute, Annie Chapman, had been found murdered, just before 6:00 a.m. in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.

    I was at the scene by 7.30 a.m. along with the usual crowds of siteseers, and for some reason unbeknown to me at the time, several other detectives and officers from other stations. It was already daylight and from what I could see, several of my team were still engaged in searching the yard, although by this time, the body had already been examined by Doctor George Bagster Phillips, whom it seems sent for an ambulance and reinforcements from the Commercial Street Police Station; He also notified Scotland Yard, which accounts for all the unknown police officers on the scene. Chapman’s body was then taken to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary Mortuary in Eagle Street off of Old Montague Street.

    I must say that I was very proud of the way my team are handling this case and in particular, the search of the yard. They have come up with two clues, which I thought could be vital to the case; the first is a bloodstained envelope, which was found in the corner of the yard, with the crest of the Sussex Regiment embossed upon the front. The second is a leather apron, which was found near a water tap, in the yard.

    It looks like my persistence with the team is starting to pay off, no more cock-ups like the bloodstains that were removed from the scene in the Polly Nichols case. I did find something myself, which was two brightly polished farthings, two brass rings, and some other coins. I didn’t take too much notice of it at first, until I found out that where I found them, all neatly laid out by the way, was exactly where the body had been lying at her feet in fact.

    This latest edition to the murder list definitely ruled out paying an angry visit to the newspaper office. Within hours of the news getting out we had reporters almost besieging the station and demanding action. One of them practically screamed at me, “If you are the detective you claim to be Mr Abberline, why have you not come up with one single suspect yet?” he demanded to know.

    I am usually a very placid man but on this occasion I could feel my blood boiling and I pushed my way through the throng of reporters and stuck my face so close to his that our noses actually touched, “You obviously don’t come from this neck of woods” I growled at him, “for if you did you would know a bit about this neighbourhood, about the poorly lit little back streets and alleys, about the back to back living conditions of these people who sometimes live up to twelve in one room, and about these poor unfortunate women, who often have to sleep standing, slumped across a length of rope”

    I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I spoke to him, I could see his lips trembling as he fumbled in his mind for what his answer would be, he then flicked his head back in a defiant gesture and asked what the hell that was to do with my poor detective work?

    I’m sorry to say that I lunged at him, and would have punched him on the jaw, had two of my detectives not reached me in time and pulled me away from him. “These people” I shouted, don’t trust us, they don’t trust anyone, and you know why that is? It’s because of people like you, making up idiotic scare stories in your newspapers, now if you don’t mind I am going to get on with my work, trying to catch this killer, and I suggest you go back to your office and get on with your work, which is supposed to be reporting the truth”

    As the days dragged on, the pressure upon me seemed to increase from all sides. Even Chief Inspector Donald Swanson from Scotland Yard started asking me when I was going to present the public with a major suspect. Don’t they understand? I am not a conjurer; I can only produce a suspect when and if we have major evidence against someone. I had my men doing house-to-house searches and questioning literally dozens of witnesses, and possible suspects.

    If anything could go wrong, it did, even my own team’s notes. I had distinctly told the officer who was with me when I found the coins to make a note of it, and he did, but instead of writing it down as I had told him, he noted them as ‘assorted coins and brass rings close to the body of the deceased’. This wasn’t evidence any more, it was just a simple find, in a yard! 

    Abberline: The Man who Hunted Jack the Ripper

    Peter Thurgood is the author of Abberline: The Man Who Hunted Jack the Ripper, the first and only biography of Frederick George Abberline, the man who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper. 

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    The Victorian Servants of Weddington Castle. Image from

    In 1891 it was estimated that, country-wide, more than a million – that is, one in three women between the ages of fifteen and twenty – were in domestic service; kitchen maids and maids-of-all work (sometimes referred to as ‘slaveys’) were paid between £6 and £12 a year. ‘Tweenies’, maids who helped other domestics, moving between floors as and when they were needed, were paid even less. There was a tax on indoor male servants – and their wages were considerably higher – so only the wealthy could afford to employ them. Women servants were cheap and generally more easily dominated and kept in their place. However, the close proximity of mistress and maids – interdependent yet still strangers under one roof – often led to squabbles and petulance – especially if the mistress’s expectations were too high and the maid was overworked and probably feeling alienated and homesick.

    Despite the potential for violent outbursts only a comparatively small number of murders were committed by servants, pushed to the limit of their endurance by the drudgery of menial work, extremely long hours and meagre pay – that, and harsh treatment at the hands of their employers, sometimes led to retaliation and, in some cases, to murder.

    The mistreatment of servants was commonplace, and young maids were especially vulnerable to being sexually exploited. Once hired, they found themselves in households in which a strict and unbreachable hierarchy below stairs ensured that they stayed on the lowest rung of that society. In 1740 Mary Branch and her mother were executed for beating a servant girl to death and, on the gallows, she admitted that she had considered all servants as ‘slaves, vagabonds and thieves’.

    In addition to severe chastisement in their place of work, tragically, many young women in domestic service were severely punished by the law, sometimes with their lives, for giving birth to illegitimate babies. Very often, in sheer desperation, they disposed of these new-borns in privies, ditches and on dung-heaps – and when found out, were tried by male judges and jurors. Although some were treated mercifully, others were hanged for their actions.

    The briefest study of court records, the Newgate Calendar, contemporary newspaper reports or similar publications clearly illustrates the extent of the violence regularly meted out, not only to servants but also to women and children, by fathers, husbands and lovers. The ineffectual, amateur and largely unaccountable law enforcers, who were open to bribery and corruption; the ducking and diving to dodge the law in order to make some sort of living, one way or another; illiteracy, which made recordkeeping random and incomplete; the frequency of premature death of women in childbirth, and the high mortality rate amongst infants – all these factors helped to mask and conceal criminal activity, even murder.

    Newgate Prison just before it was demolished

    The alternative to a life of domestic drudgery for many women, ranging in age from those in early pubescence to those well past middle-age, was prostitution, especially for those females raised in institutions and without family support. Some were unable to find husbands to support them, whilst others may have been unwilling to become a chattel for life. Domestic service was a precarious living, as girls could be sacked immediately for breaking house rules or committing some other misdemeanour. Once employed, young women would arrive with their boxes, containing their work clothes and undergarments, possibly a Bible and perhaps a few personal mementos of their lives before entering service. If a maid displeased her mistress, her box might well be retained after dismissal – possibly to make up a deficit from real or imagined thieving. However, without a box and a ‘character’, a written recommendation or reference, it was extremely difficult to find another position.

    Without the prospect of further employment some servants chose to become prostitutes; others, whilst still  in domestic employment, would sometimes offer themselves in return for trinkets and small gifts – these were known as ‘dolly mops’. A few cases have been recorded of a client frequenting a brothel only to be confronted by either his cook, his children’s nanny – she had ample opportunity to attract admirers whilst pushing infants in perambulators through London’s parks and pleasure gardens – or a parlour maid, supplementing her meagre wages with a little ‘dolly mopping’ on the side. The mutual embarrassment can be imagined.

    The number of prostitutes working in London in the nineteenth century was estimated at many thousands but, by its and it was therefore impossible to arrive at a true figure. With so many prostitutes at work in the city, perspective clients could purchase catalogues listing the women – and their specialities – available for hire, in Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies and other similar publications. Those at the top of the pile, sometimes referred to as either ‘gay’ women or ‘unfortunates’, paraded in their brightly coloured clothing – but without hats – around the theatres along the Strand, Haymarket, and Covent Garden; the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were also extremely popular for business. But many more, women who were perhaps less appealing, were reduced to standing on murky street corners and wandering the dark alleys between the squalid tenements in the poorer districts of the city, plying their trade as best they could, and, as often as not, vulnerable to violent attack.

    According to a report written in 1899 by The National Vigilance Association, entitled Inquiries Concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, many young girls fell victim to agencies falsely luring them – including many from Germany – with the promise of domestic employment, only to find themselves forced to work in one of the city’s many brothels – such as Mrs Harris’s establishment in Great Tichfield Street, in Central London. Especially targeted were the droves of young, naïve girls coming into London from the countryside, or from abroad; they were frequently preyed upon by procurers employed by the brothel keepers. In 1731, Mother Needham, notorious for trafficking young country girls into prostitution, had been put in a pillory at the corner of St James Street and Park Place and pelted with rocks and other missiles for a period of two days, after which she died of her injuries.

    The report also published lists of names and addresses of bonafide householders throughout London who were offering work for domestic servants. Christians of every persuasion attempted to address the problem. Midnight Mission Meetings were arranged in premises in the Strand to coincide with prostitutes leaving the theatres, music halls and taverns at midnight. In return for giving up their way of life, they were offered light refreshments, some intensive sermonising and a twelve-month rehabilitation in a Lock Asylum, learning to perfect their needlework and housewifery skills. It was noted by an observer at one of these meetings that this option was seldom met with any enthusiasm.

    Many similar charitable schemes were launched in London to rescue these girls. The Female Servants’ Home Society was one of many; also The Female Aid Society, established in 1836. It provided three ‘safe’ houses and, with a certain sanctimonious censure, graded the rescued women in the following manner: one in New Ormond Street, Bedford Row, catering for ‘young, friendless servants of good character’; a second house in Southampton Row for ‘respectable servants out of a place’; and thirdly, a house in White Lion Street for ‘the fallen’. It was estimated that The Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants also helped to protect some 8,000 ‘slaveys’ by vetting households offering work.

    And of course, from 1840 until shortly before his death in 1898, William Gladstone and others like him were making nightly forays through the city streets, gathering up ‘fallen women’ in an attempt to save them from degradation and disease.


    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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    Stepney Then & Now


    Sam Patterson (Bird) will be at Brick Lane Bookshop on Thursday 12th September from 7pm onwards signing copies of her new book, Stepney Then & Now

    Stepney is an area with many well-known associations and images from the poverty-stricken slums of the late nineteenth century to the iconic borough it became for architecture during the Festival of Britain. Stepney also had to soak up heavy bomb damage during the Blitz and sent her children away to safety in the Second World War. For those left behind they faced their own war. Among Stepney’s rich history there was the classical confrontation between Mosley’s fascists and the socialist left at the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, and the earlier dramatic ‘Siege of Sidney Street’ when Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill rooted out an anarchist cell. Here is Stepney as it was then compared to how we see it today.

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    In Sights: The Story of a Welsh Guardsman


    Tim Rees will be at Waterstones, Cardiff on Saturday 14th September signing copies of his new book, In Sights: The Story of a Welsh Guardsman

    In Sights is one man's journey from boyhood to manhood, ultimately finding himself in the theatre of war. It is a journey littered with colourful anecdotes that offer insight into male bonding. Few paths have included such diverse experience. From military training in the Guards Depot to Trooping the Colour, from academic failure to intelligence work in Northern Ireland; from helping Rudolf Hess out of an ambulance to being tasked with taking the Queen's portrait. He even trod on Lady Diana's toes! Tim Rees colours every experience with profound and often idiosyncratic observations that offer the reader a taste of the sometimes humorous, often arduous and, on too many occasions, brutal reality. 











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