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The History Press blog

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    The AZ of Curious Essex


    Author Paul Wreyfod will be at Waterstones, Southend on Saturday 14th September signing copies of his new book, The A-Z of Curious Essex

    ‘Curious’ is perhaps not the first word you would use to label Essex. But ‘curiouser and curiouser’ it becomes when you dig below the surface. Forget the popular image of Essex boy and girl. Come and meet larger-than-life characters, including the one-time fattest man in England, whose waist was wider than the height of an average man. And talking of big, discover the origin of children's favourite Humpty Dumpty. Shocking, creepy and bizarre tales abound if you dig a little deeper. And if you literally look below the surface in Essex - 100ft underground to be precise - you’ll discover one of the most incredible Government ‘secrets’ of all time.

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    The Headington Shark

    Even on a street as famous as the Oxford High, people sometimes get the impression that it’s not that special. Plate glass shop windows, branches the usual coffee shop chains, a few interesting side streets and cafes and some imposing college gateways. Plus lots and lots of people and a constant stream of buses, of course

    But this impression of ordinariness is an illusion produced by the fact that people don’t look up. Maybe they’re afraid of bumping into an irate tourist with a camera, or drifting under one of the aforementioned buses. But the fact is that all the good stuff is up there, beyond the level of human heads and shop window fronts.

    Start at Carfax, and look up. You’ll see the eighteenth century Quarter Boys, freshly painted and polished on St Martin’s Tower, hammers poised to strike the bells four times an hour. Slightly lower, over the café entrance, there’s St Martin himself in a fading fresco, hacking off a section of his cloak to clothe a beggar (the kind of thing that brought sainthood back in the third century). On the north side of Carfax Tower is the ‘Peace Stone’ set high in the wall, announcing ‘Peace was proclaimed in Oxford, June 27 1814’. This is a historical anomaly, as the peace between England and France didn’t last – Napoleon escaped from Elba and resumed the war, and the real peace had to wait until 1815.

    Great Dane, High Street, Oxford

    Now look over the road to 131 High Street and ask yourself why a life size Great Dane in painted bronze should be sitting over the shop doorway. It holds a watch, a pun on ‘watch dog’; but even the family that owns the shop can’t shed light on when exactly the monument appeared, who made it or who the well-trained canine model was. After all, this family has only had tenure of the building for 125 years…

    Now look at the upper storeys  of the building next door to the dog. This is the former Kemp Hall, a sixteenth century edifice that was once part of the university college system, and currently a very good Thai restaurant. The building next door to Kemp Hall is even older – a fourteenth century beauty. Again, you’ll have to look up to appreciate it.

    Anthony Gormley statue above Turl Street

    So, you’ve barely moved from Carfax and already there’s a crick in your neck. But keep on looking up as you travel through the city. Surprisingly few people notice the giant naked man standing on the edge of Blackwell’s art shop on the corner of Broad Street and Turl Street, for example. And what of those three gigantic women adorning the top of the Taylor Institute on St Giles? They are supposed to represent the literary heritage of four European countries, but are said to have been modeled on four beautiful sisters called Ogle who lived on St Giles.

     That’s one of the great things about Oxford. There’s a treasure trove up there ‘hidden in plain view’, and there are countless high and dry landmarks and enigmas off the beaten track too. And, of course, there’s also the iconic famous stuff whose track is so badly beaten that it needs to be taken home and given a restorative cup of tea.

    The Secret History of Oxford

    Paul Sullivan is the author of 'The Secret History of Oxford' a book which offers the reader an off-the-beaten-track tour of the city’s landmarks and streets, lets the flying cats out of the bags, rattles the dragons’ cages and reveals all the skeletons in the city’s cupboards. 

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

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


    Flodden memorial. Image from

    * The 9 September marked the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, between the English and Scots at Branxton in 1513 which left almost 14,000 people, including King James IV, dead but what happened to James IV's body? This pivotal moment in Scottish/English relations is largely unknown to the public and for those (like me) who weren't aware of the details of the battle, History Extra's 60-second guide to the battle is invaluable and George Goodwin describes it in more depth for history enthusiasts


    Dr Dave Wilkinson (left) and Ian Smith (right) in the bones lab at LJMU. Image from


    * Bones found in the 1990s date 'earliest northerner', say archaeologists in Liverpool. Analysis showed that the leg bone, originally found in Cumbria, is more than 10,000 years old. The collections manager, Sabine Skae, from The Dock Museum, added: 'This collection tells an important story of the changing environment and early human activity in Cumbria.'

    Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. Image from

    Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians,  is set to be honoured in a special ceremony in Tamworth Castle Grounds next weekend, marking 1,100 years since the Lady of the Mercians built a fortified settlement or burh in Tamworth. These defences stopped the Vikings from conquering Mercia and imposing Danelaw in 913.


    FWW soldiers 

    * A recent YouGov survey reveals poor standards of WWI knowledge but what can be done? Scott Addington has some suggestions...


    Stonehenge, Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain.  Photograph: Francis Dean/Rex 

    * Stonehenge has been back in the news this week as English Heritage excavations confirm that it was built on a solstice axis. The discovery of manmade ditches along the ancient processional route to Stonehenge is a 'missing piece in the jigsaw' in our understanding of England's greatest prehistoric site, said English Heritage. 

    A proposal to display human remains at Stonehenge has been endorsed by English Heritage governors, despite a druid's legal challenge. Two of the three sets of human remains were excavated more than 50 years ago and the third was uncovered during road improvement works in 2001.

    Robert Peston Goes Shopping … the definitive man-in-suit approach.Photograph: BBC

    * The Guardian asks can Robert Peston and Simon Schama reinvigorate the 'man-in-suit' genre of history programmes? 

    A Tesco store pictured in the 1960s/70s. (c) Tesco

    * Last week we spoke about the rise of the out of town superstore and this week BBC News has answered the question on everybody's lips, just how did Tesco come to dominate supermarket shopping

      Book shelf. Image from


    * Looking for something to do this weekend? Find your local bookstore here and head to their @booksaremybag party! 

    * Five things you didn't know about Wilkie Collins...

    * Reading isn't just for the summer. Here's ten tips to keep up with your holiday reading habits.

    * People have been promising 'a Netflix for books' for a long time now but the Oyster app has done it, offering readers unlimited books for $9.95 a month.

    * Amazon are keen to convert readers to digital and their new Kindle MatchBook service aims to do just that...

    * Most people know the name Rudyard Kipling thanks to The Jungle Book but unseen poems reveal his hidden rebellious side

    * Everyone likes to sound intelligent but more than half of us lie about reading classic novels

    Booker Prize-winning novelists Howard Jacobson and Margaret Atwood are to rewrite two of Shakespeare's plays in modern prose with Jacobson 're-telling' The Merchant of Venice, whilst Atwood tackles The Tempest.


    Anna and Sigmund Freud arriving in Paris in 1938 after escaping from Nazi-occupied Austria. Image from

    * Most people could proably summarise Freud's infamous ideas on psychoanalysis but the impact of his daughter, the only one of his children to follow him into the field is less well-known. 

     Women in North America sorting through collection of dried sphagnum moss (Image courtesy of Prof Ian Rotherham)


    * Delegates to a three-day gathering in Sheffield will hear how the UK's peat bogs and fenlands played a 'hugely important' role during times of conflict but also how they have been overlooked or forgotten.

    I have to say, I was intrigued by (and a little scathing of) this headline when I first saw it but it was a very interesting article!

    The Government's Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. Image from

    * For the first time in the highly secretive Government Communication department's history, a former director of GCHQ is allowed to be interviewed about his time working in the Government Intelligence department


    Elizabeth Taylor.

    * Historical Honey have chosen sixteen disgustingly beautiful movie stars from yesteryear, but who would you add to the list? 

    * Warning! These 1950s movie gimmicks will shock you!


    Dhaqabo Ebba. Image from 

    * An Ethiopian reporter claims to have discovered the world's oldest living man.  Dhaqabo Ebba, a retired farmer in Ethiopia, claims to remember Italy's 1895 invasion clearly which if it were true, would make him 160 years old. 

    Windows and a door from different periods of architecture - from Georgian to modern-day. Image from

    Which era of house do people like best? Whilst most people nowadays would choose something Georgian or Victorian rather than something more modern, it has not always been this way as architectural historian Ellen Leslie explains, 'After World War II, people wanted modernism. Victoriana was synonymous with slums, soot and the kind of "dark satanic mills" described by William Blake'.

    Which period of house style is your favourite?

    The records of the gang members were part of a roll of old charge sheets from the West Midlands Police Museum. Image from

    * The real 'Peaky Blinders': the Mail  shares the true story of the Victorian gang who terrorised the streets of Birmingham and sewed razor blades into their caps to head-butt rivals.

    Tilda Swinton and Quentin Crisp in Orlando. Image from

    * With London Fashion Week starting this weekend, style is a hot topic but are there really rules about what to wear? Clothing can tell you a lot about a person but just how important is it in literature

    * On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11,  it is worth looking back at one world Trade Center being placed back on the New York skyline with the 'Tribute in Light' commemoration from 11 September 2012.

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

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  • 09/14/13--02:30: A curious history of London
  • Buckingham Palace Cbritainonview

    London offered up many ideas when I started to write 'The A-Z of Curious London'.  It seemed there were mountains of material to choose from, a plethora of heinous crimes, murders scandals, ghost stories and bizarre historical events.

    Research taught me things I did not previously know, for example that King Henry VIII had a passion for shoes  (he once ordered more than 60 pairs to last him six months) and how  King's Bench Prison in Southwark was described as ‘the most desirable place of incarceration in London’ in 1828.

    One of my favourite stories is about Edward Jones, the 14 year old who broke into Buckingham Palace, sat on Queen Victoria's throne, rummaged in her private apartments, hid under the sofa, ate food from the kitchen and stole her underwear. Shocking enough if he’d done it once, but ‘Boy Jones’ as he was known to the police, broke in three times. 

    Rag Fair Rosemary Lane artist Thomas Rowlandson from Wikimedia Commons

    Another interesting one looks at the 16th century goings on at ‘Rag Fair’.  An excerpt follows:

    “Picture the scene. Seething masses, a cacophony of noise, raucous vendors, overpowering stench, thieves, vagabonds.  This was Rosemary Lane, commonly called Rag Fair, mentioned in Pope's ‘Dunciad’ as ‘a place near the Tower of London, where old clothes and frippery are sold.’   Much of the clothing sold in this rough Whitechapel market had been stolen, most of the rest were fusty rags. Many who came to the fair in the hope of getting a halfpenny bargain were dressed in tatters. Prostitutes plied their trade at Rag Fair too, sashaying among the crowds carrying baskets of pancakes and dumplings, offering oysters and sex for sale.  

    People also came here to buy old wigs.   Most were sold by Sir Jeffrey Dunstan, (c1759-96), a tiny knock-kneed man who supplied dealers with second-hand wigs.  In those days, it was common to hear sea-faring persons or others exposed to the cold exclaim, "Well, winter's at hand and I must go to Rosemary-lane and have a dip for a wig." This 'dipping for wigs' was nothing more than putting your hand into a large barrel and pulling one up; if you liked it you paid your shilling, if not, you dipped again, and paid sixpence more, and so on.

    In 1753 an observer described the ‘dunghills of old shreds’ offered for sale, but, there was another side to the story.  A newspaper reported that a woman bought a pair of breeches for 7d and found 11 gold guineas and a £30 note hidden in the lining.  What a find, an absolute fortune in those days!”

    The A-Z of Curious London

    Gilly Pickup is a journalist, travel writer and photographer. She was born in Scotland but has lived in London for 25

    years. Her book, 'The A-Z of Curious London' is available to buy now.

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    With Agatha Christie’s birthday coming up on the 15 September, it seems an ideal opportunity for Christie fans to look back over their favourite books. It is also interesting to see how others have been inspired by her work, or indeed what inspired Christie herself as she plotted her murders. Here Raicho Raichev, author of The Riddle of Sphinx Island the latest instalment in the bestselling Antonia Darcy and Major Payne collection, shares his thoughts on the importance of location in Christie’s work, and how that was influenced his own work.


    Burgh Island at Sunset. Image from


    The book has literary origins: it was inspired by Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were NoneIndeed, Riddle was conceived as a kind of homage to that most ghoulishly suspenseful of thriller-cum-whodunnits – which also has the distinction of being one of the earliest detective stories featuring a serial killer.  

    As settings go, a minuscule island that can be traversed in twenty-five minutes, near to civilisation, yet utterly remote, is the ultimate in unsettlingly claustrophobic settings; perfect for murder – especially if it is cut off from the rest of the world by a storm.  Antonia Darcy – a crime writer and amateur sleuth – sees the island’s possibilities at once and she observes, ‘The turbulence of the sea would parallel the turbulence of human emotions. Though this is a terrible cliché, it could still be effective, if properly done.’

    Agatha Christie was born in Torquay and she set a number of her novels in South England. Devon seems to have been a particular favourite. Some of the names she gave to characters in her novels are recognisable as names of streets or villages – the elusive Lady Dittisham in Five Little Pigs, for example, owes her name to Dittisham, across the river from Christie’s Greenway House; Colonel Luscombe, blimpish guardian to devious Elvira Blake, in At Bertram’s Hotel, may have been inspired by Luscombe Road in Paignton. It is a known fact that Agatha made excursions to various parts of Devon, which later featured in her books. Burgh Island seems to have captured her imagination in a very special way as she made it the setting not only for one but for two of her books: And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun, which she wrote in 1941.

    Burgh Island (pronounced ‘Burr’) is situated not so very far from the South Devon coast and it is linked to Bigbury-on-Sea by a wide expanse of sand, which, for twelve hours a day, is shallowly covered by sea. This allows the island to be reached by a very tall contraption with high wheels, perhaps the only sea tractor in the world. I have placed my island further away – three miles off the Devon coast – and I have made it clear that it can be negotiated by boat only. Its original name is de Coverley Island, after the family that owns it, but as it seems to resemble a ‘crouching, smiling kind of Sphinx’, it is popularly known as ‘Sphinx Island’.  It looks sinister enough and so does the house that stands on it. When she sees it for the very first time Antonia is put in mind of a painting by Edward Hopper – ‘that master-blender of loneliness, nostalgia and shadowy foreboding’.

    This is the eighth murder mystery featuring Antonia Darcy and Major Hugh Payne. The husband-and-wife detective duo  have been asked to travel to Sphinx Island so that they could prevent a murder, but they suspect an elaborately staged Murder Weekend, conceived by another crime writer, known to Antonia by name only, at the request of Major Payne’s aunt. Certain aspects of the Sphinx Island set-up remind them of various scenarios already used in detective stories, including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

    Antonia and Hugh become reluctant players in the Murder Game. They believe they know exactly what to expect – but that is before a truly diabolical storm breaks out and a murder is committed for real ... As Major Payne's aunt puts it, ‘What if this is only the beginning? I am sure I am talking rot, but it’s suddenly hit me that this may be only the beginning.’

    A second murder follows soon enough...


    The Riddle of Sphinx Island: An Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Mystery 

    Raicho Raichev was born in Bulgaria but has lived in the UK since 1989. He read English literature at university and is the author of The Riddle of Sphinx Island.  

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    Upper High Street, Stourbridge showing the Jarrah-wood blocks.


    Dudley was connected by tram to various parts of the Black Country including Brierley Hill and Stourbridge. When the Stourbridge line was extended to run along the High Street beyond the town clock, problems arose because of the narrowness of the roadway and the attitude of the local council.

    Owing to opposition from Stourbridge Council, from this point onwards the tramway along the High Street took on a most unusual character. It was double track, with the lines almost in the gutter. In addition the entire road surface was paved with wooden blocks! This was a concession made to lessen the noise made by the trams. There were no stops in this section between the Town Clock and Foster Street. At this point the line to The Lye branched off. Its junction was operationally awkward. Cars bound for The Lye needed to run past Foster Street and then reverse, taking a single right-hand curve into the street. High Street cars ran past this point, where another unusual feature could be seen. Here the street is narrow and there was not room to erect traction poles to support the overhead wires. So, special plates – called rosettes – were attached to points on opposing buildings and span wires were strung across to support the overhead wires. Approaching the junction with New Road on the right, the double track converges into a single line and runs in the centre of the road past, on the left, the Free Library & Art & Technical Institute, Swan Inn and terminates opposite the County Court building.

    Letter shows how many wood blocks were ordered to pave the High Street.

    Almost immediately upon opening there were complaints about the congestion the trams caused in the narrow High Street, shopkeepers said that customers’ carriages could only be left outside their shops for a very short time before a tram would come through and the carriage would have to be moved out of the way; in addition, they had not sufficient time between trams to load or unload their goods. The tramway company, however, also complained that its cars were so delayed by other vehicles standing in the High Street that the service was disorganised. After a few weeks only, the service was temporarily cut back to the Town Clock.

    A close-up of the tramway overhead ‘rosette’.

    The situation had been created by Stourbridge Council. The tramway company had originally intended to lay a single track through the very narrow street. However, Stourbridge UDC  insisted on having a double line with tracks laid against each kerb; also that there should be a twenty-minute service only and that there should not be two tramcars in the High Street between the Clock and Foster Street at one and the same time. In addition, the Council specified that the whole width and length of the street from the Clock onwards should be paved with wooden blocks – and not just any kind of wood either but Jarrah, which was only available as an import from Australia! Of course, this was nonsense as steel tyred tram wheels running on steel tram lines make their own kind of noise, whatever the road is paved with!

    By Tram From Dudley

    Paul Collins is the author of 'By Tram From Dudley'  which takes a route-by-route look at the development, operation and run-down of the tramway system which once linked Dudley to Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Netherton, Cradley Heath, Pensnett, Kingswinford, Wordsley, Kinver, Lye, Wollaston, Old Hill and Blackheath.

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    The AZ of Curious Essex


    Author Paul Wreyfod will be at Waterstones, Chelmsford on Saturday 28th September from 11am - 2pm signing copies of his new book, The A-Z of Curious Essex

    ‘Curious’ is perhaps not the first word you would use to label Essex. But ‘curiouser and curiouser’ it becomes when you dig below the surface. Forget the popular image of Essex boy and girl. Come and meet larger-than-life characters, including the one-time fattest man in England, whose waist was wider than the height of an average man. And talking of big, discover the origin of children's favourite Humpty Dumpty. Shocking, creepy and bizarre tales abound if you dig a little deeper. And if you literally look below the surface in Essex - 100ft underground to be precise - you’ll discover one of the most incredible Government ‘secrets’ of all time.

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    The AZ of Curious Essex


    Author Paul Wreyfod will be at Waterstones, Waterstones, Basildon on Saturday 21st September signing copies of his new book, The A-Z of Curious Essex

    ‘Curious’ is perhaps not the first word you would use to label Essex. But ‘curiouser and curiouser’ it becomes when you dig below the surface. Forget the popular image of Essex boy and girl. Come and meet larger-than-life characters, including the one-time fattest man in England, whose waist was wider than the height of an average man. And talking of big, discover the origin of children's favourite Humpty Dumpty. Shocking, creepy and bizarre tales abound if you dig a little deeper. And if you literally look below the surface in Essex - 100ft underground to be precise - you’ll discover one of the most incredible Government ‘secrets’ of all time.

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  • 09/18/13--04:00: Q&A with Joan Lock
  • Here at The History Press we are big fans of crime fiction and after the success of our first few of Q&A sessions with David Lassman and Terence James and Linda Stratmann we asked Joan Lock to share her thoughts on successful crime fiction writing.

    Joan's latest book Dead Born is the latest installment in the bestselling Inspector Best collection featuring Scotland Yard’s Sergeant Ernest Best. 


    Joan Lock


    Why write crime fiction?

    I am an ex-police officer, the widow of a police officer and a sister of another therefore I know quite a lot about the subject. In addition, I have written a several non-fiction books and radio plays and journalism about crime and the police.

    Where did the inspiration for Dead Born come from?

    Something more prosaic than inspiration led me to the idea.  I was not sure  I had sufficient imagination to write fiction so I set my first attempt Dead Image against the background of a real-life disaster, the Regent’s Park Explosion of 1874. This gave me one real mystery (what caused it?) to which I added a mystery of my own by putting another body alongside those of the unfortunate boatmen who had died in the accident. 

    On the same premise I set the second book, Dead Born, against a huge disaster, the sinking of the saloon steamer the Princess Alice in the Thames in 1878 after being rammed by a Tyne collier. This time, the body count was huge - around 650.  No-one would notice another body – except my detective, Ernest Best, who knew that the young woman had not been on board at the time of the disaster. . . .


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

    Very important. I knew that baby farming went on in Islington and that a great many of the passengers on the ill-fated Princess Alice were from that borough. This gave me the means to get Best on board. He had been undercover in Islington keeping an eye on a suspect baby farmer and, while shadowing a maid whom he thought was en route to dump a body, followed her onto the Princess Alice where he witnessed scenes he would never forget and found the body of a someone whose death he swore to avenge.


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

    Don’t really have a favourite. Changes all the time! I don’t like to have to work too hard to get at the story. I feel it’s the author’s job to tell me what they are on about – possibly because I need a rest after all my research.  You may presume that James Joyce is not on my bedside table.


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

     No to both questions but I do like crime authors such as Kate Atkinson and Harlen Coben whose writing has an individual spark, gives you the feeling that they are savvy about people – and throws in a good story .


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

    Easy and difficult. I chose historical due to my knowledge of Victorian detectives having written non-fiction books about them. But I still have to do a great deal of research to fill in the details. On the plus side intriguing revelations about times past can add great interest to your story - as long as you don’t fall in love with your fascinating facts and allow them to stall your narrative. 

    Modern crime novels (I have written one, Death in Perspective, based around a  house-sit) also have their problems because police procedure changes so much all the time and I do like to get things right.  


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

    I don’t think it applies so much with historicals.  The past is another country and you can’t obtain poisons so easily any more!


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

    Having trained as a nurse and served as a police officer I like to think that I have seen such a wide assortment of humanity, particularly people under stress,  that I don’t have the temptation to fall back on cliché. 

    I do think that all these renegade fictional detectives would not last a minute in the real job which calls for team–work.


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

    Not really. I write as far as my previous brain-storming has taken me, then have another brain-storming session. That usually works. I find flashes of inspiration pop into the front of your head only occasionally and always following a bout of applied concentration (back of head thinking).


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

    Not a whole character. Like most writers I use bits of people – their particular traits and odd habits.  That said, hypocrisy and self deception tend to be particular targets of mine when I recall the kind of people who would say to me, ‘I’m much too soft-hearted to do your job.’     


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

    I have a web site but am just too busy at the moment to get involved in Facebook, twittering or blogging. However, I have contributed to sites run by my publishers and the Crime Writers’ Association. And I am also still very much involved with police social organisations and get a lot of support from their members and their social sites.   


    Finally, what next for Inspector Best?

    In his next Mystery Press paperback, Dead Letters, he has an awful responsibility thrust upon him as he tries to avert the tragedy which threatens to overcome the Annual Police Fete at the Alexandra Palace. 

    Dead Born

    Joan Lock is a retired policewoman and the author of Dead Born. She has been a regular contributor to both the police press and the journal of the Crime Writers’ Association. 

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    Searching a convict’s cell before he is locked up for the night. (Wormwood Scrubs 1889)

    In the 1880s most prisons would begin their day by waking their prisoner’s with a ‘warning bell’ at 6.20 a.m. and a rising bell at 6.30 a.m. when the prison bell – a hand bell rung by the warders or a buzzer – would be sounded, signalling for the warders to assemble and the prisoners to rise. For some, the arrival of the day was greeted with relief.

    At Pentonville one prisoner recalled: ‘the horrible sensation of cold in the morning in those cheerless cells. It was not so much the intensity of the cold, for probably the cold was not so intense, as the abominable feeling of always waking cold and the hopeless and helpless feeling that there was no prospect of going to sleep again, and no possible way of getting warm till the bell rang and you were allowed to get up and put on your clothes.’

    Once the prisoners were up and dressed, the cell doors would then be opened and the prisoners would do their ‘slopping out’ (emptying chamber pots) and attend to their cell chores: rolling away their mattress, folding sheets and ensuring that their tinware ‘brights’ of chamber pot, plate and mug were properly cleaned and burnished to a shine. All cells would be inspected to see that this had been done.

    After chapel and breakfast the prisoners would be set to work. Those sentenced to hard labour were still, at this point, ordered to work the treadwheel. Each of these dreadful devices contained twenty-four steps, set 8ins apart, so the circumference of the cylinder was 16ft. The wheel, under the power of the convicts walking up its ‘steps’, revolved twice in a minute, with a mechanism set to ring a bell on every thirtieth revolution to announce the spell of work was finished. Every man put to labour at the wheel worked fifteen quarter-hour sessions, climbing up to 18,000ft every day.  

    This system was not without its tragedies. Here are two examples. Arthur Simmonds was twenty years old in June 1888, and was serving a sentence of eighteen months with hard labour at Pentonville for stealing a letter. After three days of working six hours (with the official breaks) on the treadwheel, he found that his feet were ‘four or five times their ordinary weight’. He could hardly walk upstairs and could not eat his food. He was removed to hospital, where he died a few days later. At the inquest the doctor gave the cause of death as ‘brain disease’, and the jury therefore returned a verdict ‘in accordance with the medical evidence.’ Others were like sixteen-year-old Albert Trendall, who had been imprisoned at Coldbath Fields for six months in 1885 for an attempted break-in. He simply could not stand facing the wheel day after day, and hanged himself from the gas bracket in his cell.

    To learn more about life in British prisons during the nineteenth century, try Victorian Prisons and Prisoners.

    Neil Storey is an award-winning historian and lecturer specialising in themes that shaped society in the 19th and early 20th centuries, notably crime, medicine and warfare. 

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    The Story of Leeds


    David Thornton will be at Blackwells, Leeds on Friday 20th September from 12 noon onwards signing copies of his new book, The Story of Leeds

    This new history of Leeds covers all the main political, social and economic developments of the city: The Harrying of the North devastated the surrounding area in 1069; the Civil War saw a battle fought in the town itself; cholera and typhus epidemics raged in the nineteenth century; the building of the Middleton Railway in 1758 established the oldest railway in the world; and Richard Oastler, the Factory King, launched the campaign for the Ten Hour Bill in the Leeds Mercury.

    An intriguing look at this great city’s remarkable history. 

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    A History of Cheltenham in 100 Objects


    Steven Blake will be at Courtyard Books, Tarlings Yard on Saturday 21st September from 10:30am - 12:30pm signing copies of his new book, Cheltenham in 100 Objects.

    Compiled by the former Museum and Collections Manager at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, and based on the Museum's rich collections, this new book features 100 objects that each help to tell the fascinating story of Cheltenham and demonstrate the importance of objects in understanding our past. This book will appeal to everyone interested in finding out more about the people, places and past life of Cheltenham through the objects and printed ephemera of times gone by. 

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    Bloody British History Warwick


    Graham Sutherland will be at Warwick Books & Library on Wednesday 25th September from 10:30am - 12:30pm. He will be signing copies of his book, Bloody British History: Warwick. 

    Hundreds of dark and scandalous events have happened in Warwick over the centuries, from the murder of Piers Gaveston, the king’s lover, who was stabbed and then beheaded on Blacklow Hill, to the incredible histories of the Earls of Warwick. The Gunpowder Plot was formed here, and the castle’s horses were stolen afterwards when the plotters made a desperate attempt to escape the King’s wrath. CONTAINING martyrs, murderers and corrupt officials, crimes, ghosts, prize-fighters and eccentrics, you’ll never see the town in the same way again! 

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  • 09/20/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 20/09/13
  • THP Friday digest

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


    Artist's impression of proposed tomb for Richard III


    * The saga of Richard III's burial continues to roll on as a new design for his tomb has been revealed by Leicester Cathedral. The plans include a raised tomb featuring a deeply carved cross laid on an inlaid floor featuring a large white York rose. 


    Europe Plunges into War. FWW animated map

    * These twenty animated historical maps showing the history of the First World War are really useful as an introduction to a very complex topic.

    * The remarkable story of Tommy Keele: the First World War soldier who spent two years of the war as 'First Girl', playing female parts in theatres behind the lines for the entertainment of sex-starved soldiers. 


    Old King Cole, seen here next to a 1p coin, was the smallest printed book in the world (c) National Library of Scotland 

    * A book no bigger than a grain of rice is part of a new exhibition of miniature books at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.


    Professor Foster with his overdue library book. (c) Alan Lewis

    * A university professor has been spared a fine of more than £8,500 after discovering he was in possession of a library book that was forty-seven years overdue.


    Book shelf. Image from

    * The Guardian asks what's the worst book on your bookshelves

    * Rae Earl makes a compelling argument for why she wants her diaries burned after her death

    * A glimpse into the wonderful world of Roald Dahl and his inspirations

    * Publishing Perspectives asks if books should tell you how long it will take to read them.

    * The eighteenth century: when reading became fashionable

    * Joshua Safran shares how a library card changed his life


    Novel novels … Six books that resist generic categories and divert from formal expectations. Image from


    * Just what is the Man Booker Prize

    *  2013: Why this is the best Man Booker shortlist in a decade.  

    *  A map of the settings (both real and imagined) for every Booker prize contender since 1969.

    The Man Booker Prize has extended its criteria and will from next year accept any novels originally published in English by a UK publisher. These changes have caused more than a little consternation and the Bookseller has rounded up some of the media coverage


    1925: Edward Johnston's instructions for the correct proportions of the redesigned Underground bullseye to incorporate the new typeface  Image courtesy London Transport Museum


    * Enjoy a pictorial history of the London Underground and its graphic legacy. There are some really fantastic posters in here; if anyone knows where I can get hold of a print of the 'It's cooler/warmer below' posters, then please let me know!



    * From Regent's Park to the British Museum: a London tour in Tube posters 

    How to dress like a Georgian. Images copyright of Beverley Eikli 2013 ©

     * Everyone likes to look their best and Historical Honey have a post on how to dress like a Georgian showing the (many) layers that Georgian women had to wear. I had no idea that the clothing was so complex! 

    Julia Domna - wife of Severus and mother of Caracalla. Image (c) Antikensammlungen: Richard Stoneman

    * Janet Stephens, the 'hairdo archaeologist' talks about solving the ancient fashion mystery of how exactly these elaborate hairstyles were held together.

    Anne Boleyn and her 'B' necklace. Image from Historical Honey

    * From Elizabeth I's miniature to Anne Boleyn's 'B' necklace, which historical items would you most like to own

    Museum of London: London Street Photography. Image from

    * Museum curation is an essential part of preserving history and heritage and the Museum of London's #AskaCuratorDay answered some very interesting questions.

    East End CAD drawing for York Minster Revealed. Image from

    The Metropolitan Police Historical Vehicle Collection (c) Neil Paterson

    Plans are being considered for the first complete London police museum which would bring together artefacts from the Met's 184 year history which are currently scattered all over London. The pieces could include evidence from Jack the Ripper's murders, death masks, the first truncheons and vintage police cars.

    Community theatre: the Globe on Tour production of Henry VI performed at the site of Towton battlefield. Image from

    * More than just a field: Julian Humphries emphasises the importance of saving Britain's historic battlefields

    English Heritage logo

    * English Heritage and History Extra  are asking whether you are concerned that our heritage is sometimes dumbed down to 'theme park' status ahead of a special public debate which will ask what the future holds for our past. The debate - The Future Care of Our Nation's Heritage - is part of a two-day conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the landmark 1913 Ancient Monuments Act and will bring together leading figures from public life, the heritage sector and academia. Join the debate on twitter here: #debateheritage.

    Sheffield electricity substation

    * The UK's 'brutalist architecture' is celebrated as four post-war buildings get listed status


    Jeff Carney in uniform and the Berlin Wall. Image from 

    * Jeff Carney: the extraordinary story of the lonely US airman turned Stasi spy.


    Idealised depiction of family life in 1700s (c) Getty images


    * You would assume that medicine has moved on since the 1700s, but we are still using fertility statistics that are 300 years old. Perhaps it is time for an update! 

    Image from

    * Buzzfeed shares 19 strange and delightful facts about British history.  

    Terra Nova in 1912. Image from

    * A century after Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated trek to the South Pole, SS Terra Nova, the ship that brought him to Antarctica has been found off the coast of Greenland

    Korean War Veterans along with their family members are seen past the Korean War Veterans Memorial Medals and certificates that were presented to them during the 11th Annual Cultural Day Event and celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice at Parkside Place in Upper Gwynedd on Saturday afternoon. September 14,2013. Photo by Mark C Psoras/The Reporter

    * Sixty years after the Korean War, the veterans were honoured in a ceremony on Saturday afternoon at Parkside Place in Upper Gwynedd. Here 273 Korean War Veterans of Montgomery County received medals commemorating their service from the Korean government. 


    * A stunning collection of street photography from nineteenth-century London from photographer John Thomson.

    Jan Steen, The Morning Toilet, 1663 (Wikimedia Commons)

    * Joanne Bailey muses on the history of beds, marital sex, and adultery... 

    Laser mapping of the interior of the Tower of Pisa. Image from

    * The interior of the Tower of Pisa has been mapped in 3D using a hand-held spring-mounted laser scanner. The people involved in the project are hoping that their work can be used for future projects and conservation work. 

    Image from

    * 19 truly awful Puritan baby names - I can't imagine why Die-Well Sykes isn't still popular today!


    Packing up: Personlised luggage in the luggage room, some of which were made of wood (c) Getty Images 

    * An extremely eerie look at the shipping magnate's forty-bedroom mansion that has been left untouched for over twenty-five years.  


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

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    The six Mitford girls were blessed with beauty, wit and talent, yet they led very distinct, cultural lives and not one sister, except for Diana and Unity, shared the same opinion or ideology. Nancy Mitford was the ultimate tease and her talent for mockery reformed the publishing industry in the 1930s and ‘40s. Indeed, the Mitford girls’ popularity provoked Jessica to label it ‘The Mitford Industry’. As individuals they exploited their attributes to the best of their abilities, and through difficult times they used laughter as their remedy.

    Their life experiences, although sometimes maddening, are a lesson to us all. How would the Mitford girls cope with the pressures and turmoil of modern life? Whether it is Pamela’s guide to throwing a jubilee party, Nancy's guide to fashion or Diana’s tips on how to stay young, this quirky and fact-filled book draws on rare and unpublished interviews and information to answer that question. 

    The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life


    When I finished reading Lyndsy Spence’s The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life, I tried to compile a list of adjectives to describe these intriguing sisters. But the list became too long and unwieldy, since the Mitford girls were an interesting bunch with wildly varying personalities and views.

    Lyndsy Spence does a good job of capturing the ebullient and rather wry tone prevalent amongst the “Bright Young Things” generation. Nancy Mitford is undeniably the sister best known for wit and irony and there are plenty of her laconic pronouncements scattered through the volume. We can also tune into the no-nonsense outlook of Deborah, which comes across even today when she is interviewed in the media as the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. On scanning the contents page, chapters called “Keeping up Appearances”, “Looking the Part” and “The Trivialities of Life” steer the reader to believe that this is a book that looks mainly on the bright side. But what I took away from my reading was that underneath this family’s determinedly maintained veneer of light-heartedness lay many sad experiences and challenging circumstances. Some readers might consider that the Mitford girls, born into privilege, were fortunate. But what emerges from Spence’s book is that disappointment, embarrassment, heartbreak and trouble can occur in anyone’s life, privileged or otherwise.

    So – plenty of human interest, but what the book also offers is a glimpse into social, economic and political history. Joseph Dumas, in his foreword to the book, recalls a sense in the media upon Jessica’s death in 1996 that “the twentieth century could be viewed through the prism of the Mitford family.” Spence’s miscellany illustrates the wildly polarised political views of Jessica and Unity, Diana’s controversial liaison with Oswald Mosley and the social and political ramifications of World War II. On a lighter note, the book also pays tribute to the lost art of letter-writing. The Mitford Guide to Writing letters advocates unusual ways of addressing the recipient – “Dear Squalor” and “Dear Cheerless”, for example.

    Back to those adjectives. How would I describe the Mitford girls, having read their guide to life? The list might include words like:  eccentric, stoical, opinionated, cynical, mischievous, impoverished, and scandalous. Above all, though, whether you like them or not, the Mitford girls are distinctive and unforgettable personalities – as you’ll discover if you read the book. Beautifully produced, with some evocative black and white photographs, this book would make a good gift.


    Book: The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life

    Author: Lyndsy Spence

    Review by Sue Creed


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

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    When we think of the things that affected public opinion during the First World War, the chances are that the first thing to come to mind is atrocity propaganda  or the iconic 'Your country needs you' recruitment postersIn comparison, relatively little is known about the attempts to control the newspaper coverage of the War, nor about the heroic efforts of journalists to frustrate them.

    When I came to writing a biography of the First World War newspaper correspondent Basil Clarke, I found it surprising, for example, that reporters who wanted to report from the Front had to risk being arrested to do so.  Lord Kitchener, the man on those famous recruitment posters, had such a deep loathing for journalists that, when he was appointed Secretary of State for War at the start of the conflict, they were promptly banned from the war zone.

     'Your Country Needs You' sourced from


    Instead, a Press Bureau was established at Charing Cross in London to keep newspapers supplied with war news. Not surprisingly, journalists were less than happy with not being able to report for themselves on what was one of the biggest news stories in history and the bureau became known by reporters as the “Suppress Bureau” for the way it proved better at censoring news than providing it.

    The collective response from journalists was admirably defiant. Many simply ignored the ban and stayed near the Front anyway, sending their stories back to London. Basil Clarke was one of these journalists. He used subterfuge to get to Dunkirk and was one of the last two journalists in the war zone when he was finally forced to return home in January 1915.

    His life in Dunkirk, like the lives of all those journalists who defied the ban, was hard. He spent as much energy avoiding the attention of officialdom as he did looking  for news stories. Also, getting his articles back to his employers at the Daily Mail proved a constant struggle, while it was an existence that was not without danger. According to one of his fellow journalists, Kitchener “talked wildly” about having reporters shot, while another reporter was held under arrest for 10 days and warned that he would be put against a wall and shot if he dared to return to France.

    Despite these difficulties, the three months Clarke spent as what he called a “journalistic outlaw” included some significant achievements. He was the first reporter into Ypres after the German destruction of it in November 1914; wrote a memorable description of the atmosphere in Dunkirk after the Allies finally gained the upper hand in the Battle of the Yser; and his report on the bloody fighting on Christmas Day, 1914, gave a very different account of the day than the stories of the Christmas Truce that have passed into history.


    Sir Basil Clarke


    Eventually, Clarke’s luck ran out. He caught a boat back to England just hours before he was due to be arrested. All the other journalists in Flanders suffered broadly the same fate. But while their defiance was eventually overcome by the Government, in the final months of 1914 Clarke and his colleagues played an important role in ensuring the public had access to independent, if heavily censored, news. And in the long-term, newspapers won the argument about the role journalists should play in war. The Government finally relented following concerns that the only detailed war news the American public was hearing was from the German side and the first accredited reporters arrived in France in April 1915 and stayed there, more or less, for the rest of the War.

    Clarke got the chance to see the other side of war reporting when he became one of these accredited reporters in late 1916. The experience was quite different from that of 1914, as he stayed in a chateau with the other journalists and had a driver to take him to report on stories.

    But though he was as effusive in his praise for the ‘excellent press arrangements’ he enjoyed in 1916 as he had been critical of the decision to ban reporters in 1914, later in life it would be his days as a “journalistic outlaw” that he would look back on with special  nostalgia. “Flanders seems afar now; its worries and discomforts all faded and remote,” he wrote 20 years later. “There remains supreme over all other things, that exulting thing, the quest for which made reporters of us and will continue throughout time to make reporters – that feeling of life lived; life sought out and faced; life hot, strong and undiluted; the Male animal’s conception of romance.”


    From the Frontline: The Extraordinary Life of Sir Basil Clarke By Richard Evans


    From The Front Line: The Extraordinary Life of Sir Basil Clarke, is the first biography of Clarke.  Richard Evans expertly portrays the life and character of this extraordinary man − a man who risked his life so that the public had independent news from the war and who became the father of the UK’s public relations industry. 

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  • 09/24/13--02:41: A Very Unusual Air War
  • Len with Mustang P51b in Duxford, 1943.

    In 1940, from 27th May to 4th June, Allied forces were driven out of mainland Europe and managed to escape back to England during Operation Dynamo, also known as the Dunquerque Evacuation. At this time a young man from Buckinghamshire, who had volunteered for air crew training in September 1939 and had his call-up deferred for three months because of his job, was at last allowed into the ‘receiving wing’ at Babbacombe in Devon. Here started a career which included two tours of active duty as a front line fighter pilot and continued in AFDU as a pilot testing new allied aircraft and captured enemy planes.

    Len Thorne’s interest in aeroplanes was one which lasted his whole life. With him for five minutes during his later years, you would find the conversation turning to aircraft, whatever the foregoing subject. His particular love was the Spitfire, of which he flew most marks, but he had a real respect for the formidable Focke Wulf FW190, the machine he flew from the summer of 1943 and into 1944.  He also enjoyed flying the American Mustang, helping in the programme which saw modifications made to the original aeroplane to make it fit for use by the RAF, creating the air-war winner it became.

    Len Thorne’s logbook dated October 1941

    Friendships were formed quickly during wartime, even though some of them lasted a very short time as pilots were transferred to other squadrons or, sadly, missing or killed in action. The bonds of friendship run through Len’s story and many people, famous or like Len, unknown to the wider world, appear in his narrative. There is also a keen sense of fun which enlivens many of the stories, humour being one of the necessities to keep people sane in times of trouble. Danger ran hand in hand with lighter moments of amusement.

    This is one man’s very personal view of his time in the RAF. Having gained the coveted pilot’s wings on his 21st birthday, Len was known as a ‘safe’ pilot during his time on operations, never a dare-devil. As our father, Len was just a great dad to my sister and me, one who would tell us tales of flying aeroplanes and funny incidents that happened to him. It has only been while editing his story that I have come to realise that quite a lot of what he did was extraordinary, dangerous and worth sharing beyond the family.

    A Very Unusual Air War: From Dunkirk to AFDU - the Diary and Log Book of Test Pilot 

    Find out more about the extraordinary life of test pilot Leonard Thorne. A Very Unusual Air War is available for purchase now, at £16.99

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    Within the third quarter of the 20th century the last of the great armour clad dreadnought battleships of Britain’s navy were taken out of commission and sold out of the service to be broken up in ship breakers yards.  Where Britain as well as many of her European neighbours were concerned, a significant number of these ships had seen action in two World Wars, where their huge and sophisticated guns were used to fire massive projectiles over distances as much as twenty miles.  The march of progress had however hastened the end of these fortresses of steel, for their great size, made battleships vulnerable to attack from carrier based aircraft, and from submarines that utilised the technologies of stealth, and which would develop into underwater missile launching platforms with a fire power that would have appeared impossible in the battleship era.

    The HMS Cornwallis


    The developments that caused the battleships demise during the 20th century make fascinating study.  Arguably however the rapid changes that were instrumental in creating the earlier battleship types of the 19th century, the so called pre-dreadnoughts, are even more interesting to study.  These ships were developed during a period of political “sabre rattling” when Great Britain along with other European powers sought naval dominance and initiated great arms races in response to what often were merely perceived threats from each other.  Accelerating technical, economic, and social changes were rapidly taking place during this period, and the pre-dreadnoughts were the end result of new and exciting ideas and practices in 19th century naval architecture that were developed and in the fifty years or so before the all big gun, steam turbine driven monoliths that historians termed dreadnought made all the worlds navies obsolete.

    That period saw the end of wood as a material for ship construction and the onset of iron and then steel hulls.  A gradually increasing understanding of metallurgy, and improvements in foundry methods allowed effective alloy steel armour to be manufactured, and ordnance was improved to an unimaginable extent, with smooth bore gun installations giving way to huge barbette turret mounted weapons that were operated through complex hydraulic and electrical control systems.  Sails as a motive power were finally dispensed with, and steam power was used, first in simple then in much more complex forms of engine to drive screw propellers.  Boiler installations for steam generation were also improved, allowing higher pressures and greater steam efficiency to be achieved, so that ships could be driven through the seas at much greater speeds.   All this created an immensely powerful capital ship the likes of which had never been seen before, and which ensured that the British Navy of the day remained the most powerful of all the world’s great nations.   

    The Pre-Dreadnought Revolution


    Read more about the turning point in the design of naval warships with Warren Berry's Pre-Dreadnought Revolution: Developing the Bulwarks of Sea Power

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  • 09/27/13--03:00: The Friday Digest 27/09/13
  • THP Friday digest

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

    Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. Image from

    The Royal Albert Hall, Science Museum and many other iconic London institutions are located in 'Albertopolis' in Kensington, a cultural quarter which owes its existence to the vision of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort. His (rather ambitious) dream was to create a permanent home for all of the arts and sciences in the capital focusing on their international importance and his cultural impact cannot be denied. 

    The Zoological Gardens

    * These Victorian news stories are absolutely fascinating, although I'm not sure that I would want a pet wasp or crocodile... 

    blank page, coffee cup 

    * Michael Noll shares seven lessons every writer must learn

    History Today share their expert tips on how to write a good history essay

    Ranicki. Image from

    Publishing Perspectives asks whether the digital era will ever produce as influential a book critic as Marcel Reich-Ranickim, a man once described as 'the greatest literary critic not only in Germany, but in the world.'

    Book shelf. Image from

    Waterstones Oxford Street shares how books get into their store (not really). 

    * An introduction to the 100 best novels ever written is sure to cause controversy; who have the Observer left off the list?

    * The Guardian discusses what happens when your favourite authors become an addiction.  

    * The story of one woman who spent a year reading one book from every nation in the world.

    * Quizzes are always fun and this one has been amusing the office this week: which literary character are you

    * As a writer, not everyone is going to like what you write but Digital Book World  have listed 5 ways for authors to handle bad reviews

    * Who wrote Great Expectations? Who was the genius behind Hamlet? A new survey shows just how few adults are reading the classics.

    * More than 500 independent bookshops have shut in the UK and Ireland since 2005, according to the Booksellers Association but what can bookshops do to lure readers back into their stores


    The long queue for entry to Battersea Power Station in London on Sunday


    Thousands of people have taken the chance to have a look inside Battersea Power Station before its £8bn redevelopment with 5 hour queues lining the river bank of the Thames.


    Niche thrills … An urbexer's view of Battersea Power Station, south London. Photograph: Bradley Garrett

    The strange world of urban exploration; just what is its appeal?

    * Animated maps are having a bit of a 'moment' recently. Last week it was the First World War which featured, this week it's an animated Map of Europe from 1000 AD to the present day.  

    Italian archaeologists have unearthed a 2,600-year-old intact Etruscan tomb that promises to reveal new depths of one of the ancient world’s most fascinating and mysterious cultures. Image (c)  ROSSELLA LORENZI

    Italian archaeologists have unearthed a 2,600-year-old intact Etruscan tomb that promises to reveal new insights into one of the ancient world’s most fascinating and mysterious cultures.


    Artist's impression of proposed tomb for Richard III


    Members of the Richard III Society have withdrawn funding meant for the king's tomb at Leicester Cathedral because they are unhappy with the design. Will Richard III ever be reinterred? 

    * Scientists have found a mummified dog infested with bloodsucking parasites. This provides the first archaeological evidence of bloodsucking parasites in Egypt during the classical era of Roman rule.

    SPECTACULAR Ring with glass centre showing Neptune found in the Havant Roman well. Image from

     The discovery of a sacred Roman well in Portsmouth is 'the most significant archaeological discovery in the area for many years' say archaeologists  


    Historical makeover tool. Images (c) Alamy


    * Looking for something fun to do this afternoon? Why not give yourself a historical makeover?

    Preston Bus Station Image (c) Raymond Knapman

    * Brutalist architecture may not be everyone's cup of tea but it is still a key period of our heritage that needs preserving, so the news that Preston Bus Station has been given Grade II listed status is fantastic.  


    A gold and turquoise ring belonging to Jane Austen has sold for more than £150,000 at an auction in London – more than five times its estimate. Image (c) PA 

    * Good news for Austen fans! Her ring is to stay in the UK after the Jane Austen's House Museum raised the money to compete with US singer Kelly Clarkson.


    token 2. Image from 


    How to tell your beloved that you love her, eighteenth-century style...


    The Muppets 

    * Miss Piggy joins Kermit in Museum of American History as twenty-one puppets created by Jim Henson for The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock have been donated.

    Adelaide Kane and Camille Rutherford as Mary Queen of Scots

    * Mary, Queen of Scots, is to be portrayed on television and film later this year but does she make an interesting protagonist? 

    Charles Emmerson makes the case that, prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Russia was on the cusp of a social revolution, one that would leave the country '[dominating] Europe by the middle of the century, politically as much as economically and financially'. This collection of newsreel clips shows Russia between 1910 and 1913 but do you agree with Emmerson's theory?


    Director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Alex Ruger presents a painting by Vincent van Gogh, entitled 'Sunset at Montmajour' and painted in 1888.

    * Art fanatics are thrilled this week as a new Titian painting has been discovered by an Austrian professor and a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting has been discovered in Norway.  

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

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  • 09/27/13--07:40: Dear Boss letter...
  • Jack the Ripper Dear Boss letter

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