The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Thursday, 31 December 2015

History never stops: 2015 in review

Prince Andrew named in US under-age sex case.
Australian bush fires.
17 dead in three days of Paris terror, including attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
USAF announces plans to quit Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth.
Severe winds sweep north and west UK.
Two die after being swept out to sea by high waves at Brighton.
Severe snow storms in Scotland.
Lost Beagle 2 lander found on Mars, more than 10 years after it went missing during a landing.
Lorry fire closes channel tunnel.
Stephen Fry marries partner Elliot Spencer.
2.9 earthquake in Winchester.
Worst snow on record hits north-east coast USA. (NY and Boston on lock-down)
Heavy snow hits northern UK.
Manchester airport closed.

  Passed away
Lance Percival
American country music singer-songwriter Little Jimmy Dickens, 94.
US skiers Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19. (Avalanche)
Actor Rod Taylor, 84. (The Time Machine)
Comedy actor Lance Percival, 81.
Film producer Samuel Goldwyn Jnr, 88.
Film actress Anita Ekberg, 83.
Scriptwriter Brian Clemens, 83. (The Avengers, Danger Man, Bergerac)
 Trevor Ward-Davies (Dave Dee etc's Dozy), 70.
"The last Victorian" Ethel Lang, 114.
Coronation Street's Deirdre, Anne Kirkbride, 60.
Soup supremo Ena Baxter, 90.
Former UK Home Secretary Leon Brittan, 75.
Lotte Hass, half of husband and wife diving team Hans and Lotte Hass, 86.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, 90.
Greek singer Demis Roussos, 68.
Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds author, 77
Songwriter Rod McKuen, 81. (Hear him here)
Actress Geraldine McEwan, 82. (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)

TransAsia plane clips bridge and ditches in the sea off Taipei, Taiwan. Twelve dead.
300-plus migrants killed in the Mediterranean as their boats capsize.
Australia signs up for Eurovision Song Contest.
Terror attacks on a Synagogue and a free speech debate in Copenhagen.  Two dead, five wounded.
30 year anniversary of Eastenders marked by 'who killed Lucy' row.
New ichthyosaur fossil found in Doncaster museum.
Australia strips Rolf Harris of titles.

  Across the Rainbow Bridge
Lived long and prospered
New Romantic singer Steve Strange, 55. (heart attack)
Northants cricketer Brian Reynolds, 82.
'Mr Nutella' Michele Ferrero, 89. 
Gigi star Louis Jourdan, 93.
Actor Alan Howard, 77.
Actress Pamela Cundell, 95. (Dad's Army's Mrs Fox)
Russian opposition politician, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, 55, shot dead in Moscow.
Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek's Mr Spock, 83.   

New royal portrait revealed for UK coin obverse.
It's still snowing in Scotland.
Then it's gale force winds.
Solar-powered aircraft - Solar Impulse-2 begins round-the-world trip in Abu Dhabi.
Queues to see Richard III's grave
BBC suspends Jeremy Clarkson after a 'fracas' with a producer. Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu.
Lost grave of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes found in Madrid.
Solar eclipse visible in northern hemisphere.
Richard III reburied in Leicester Cathedral after being discovered in a council car park.
First edition of William Smith's 1815 geological map of mainland UK found at The Geological Society.
Alps crash plane was deliberately downed by its co-pilot. Depression blamed.
Gale force winds last right to the end of the month across UK.

On the other side
Thendara Satisfaction, known as Jagger, 3. Crufts-winning red setter. (Poison)
Tango and Cash actor Robert Z'Dar, 64. "Conan the Barbarian".
10 dead in helicopter crash in Argentina during reality show filming.
Simpsons co-creator and Cheers writer Sam Simon, 59.(cancer)
Discworld author Sir Terry Pratchett, 66. (Alzheimer's disease)
 21 dead after terrorist attack on Tunis museum.
Musician Andy Fraser, (Free: All Right Now) 62.
Shaw Taylor, (Police Five) 90.
Singer-songwriter Jackie Trent, 74.
Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, 91.
150 passengers and crew killed in Germanwings airline crash in French alps.
Andrew Getty, grandson of J Paul Getty, 47. (complications of drug abuse)

2,000 people evacuated because of electrical fire in Holborn, London.
US sailor Louis Jordan, 37, rescued after 66 days lost at sea.
UK election campaigning.
7.8 magnitude earthquake strikes central Nepal
Jockey A P McCoy rides his last race at Sandown.
Runner Paula Radcliffe takes part in her last race at the London Marathon.
National Trust-run Clandon Park House devastated by fire.
Riots in Baltimore, USA.

Through the veil
Cynthia (first wife of John) Lennon, 75.
 World's oldest person, Misao Okawa of Japan, 117.
Keith Harris with Orville
147 dead in terrorist attack on Kenyan university.
World's oldest person Gertrude Weaver, 116. (Days after taking over the title from Misao Okawa.)
Record numbers of refugees die at sea off the Italian coast.
Musician Percy Sledge, 74.
German novelist Gunther Grass, 87.
Actor Nigel Terry, 69.
African American Freddie Gray, 25, fatally injured in police custody.
3,200 plus dead in Nepal earthquake.
Keith Harris (Orville ventriloquist) 67.
Cinematographer of the Lord of the Rings films Andrew Lesnie, 59. (heart attack)
Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, 91.

The Royal baby is a girl: Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.
Tories regain power in shock election result.  Fallout from the polls includes new leaders for three losing parties.
Second earthquake hits Nepal. 7.3 magnitude.
Passenger train derailed in Philadelphia killing at least five people and injuring dozens.
Nine dead and 18 injured in biker shootout in Waco, Texas.
4.2 earthquake hits Kent
Chaos at FIFA as US begins investigation into alleged corruption.
Lots of support for Sepp Blatter, including re-election as President.
3.0 earthquake hits Caernarfon, Wales.
Severe storms blast UK. Heavy rain and gale force winds.

Gone beyond
Motorcycle racer Geoff Duke, 92.
R&B legend Ben E King, 76.
Author Ruth Rendell, 85.
Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown, 71.
Blues guitarist B B King. 89.
'Lifeguard' dog Bilbo, 12. (Newfoundland from Sennen Cove, Cornwall.)
Daredevil athlete Dean Potter, 43. (Parachuting accident.)
Television distributor Michael King, 67. (King World Productions: The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr Phil. )
Star Trek actress Grace Lee Whitney,85.  (Yeoman Rand.)
Grange Hill actor Terry Sue-Patt, 50. (Benny Green)
Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. 86. (Inspiration for the film A Beautiful Mind)

Summer takes a few days to arrive in storm-hit UK. (June 1 is official meteorological start of summer.)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter to stand down - but not till next year.
Alton Towers closes as 16 injured - four seriously - in crash on Smiler ride.
Smiler victim Leah Washington, 17, has her leg amputated.
Robin voted UK national bird.
Chris Evans announced as new Top Gear presenter.
US Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal nationwide
Second Alton Towers victim Vicky Balch, 20, has leg amputated.
"Leap second" added to the world's clocks to bring them back in sync with the earth.

Crossed the Styx
Katherine Chappell, American visual effects editor, 29. (Attacked by lion in game park.)
Actor Richard Johnson, 87. (The Haunting, Julius Caesar, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas)
Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, 55. (complications due to alcoholism)
Band leader James Last, 86.
Cookery writer Marguerite Patten, 99.
Dracula actor Sir Christopher Lee, 93.
Jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, 85.
Fagin actor (You gotta pick a pocket or two) Ron Moody, 91.
Film composer James Horner, 61. A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Titanic. (Plane crash)
Actor Patrick Macnee, 93.  (The Avengers)
Yes bass guitarist Chris Squire, 67.
Actor Edward Burnham, 98. (To Sir with Love, 10 Rillington Place, Doctor Who)
Nine killed in hate-crime shooting at North Carolina church.
Day of terrorism around the world:
 - 38 dead in beach shooting in Tunisia (30 British victims)
 - 25 dead in Kuwait mosque bombing
 - man beheaded in attack on French gas factory

UK's hottest July day on record. (36.7C 98F)
Two dead and two hospitalised by lightning strikes in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
Forth Bridge given Unesco World Heritage Site status
Uncertainty continues over Greece's place in the EU. Several 'last chances' pass without resolution.
Eventually settle for severe austerity plan.
Police in Scotland take three days to find body of man and injured female passenger after a car crash.
(Woman dies four days later in hospital.) 
UK tourists brought home from Tunisia following terrorism threats.
Novak Djokovic beats Roger Federer in Wimbledon final.
Prince William starts work as an East Anglian air ambulance pilot.
Bird flu H7N7 confirmed at Lancashire farm.
Labour Party leadership contest gets heated.
Cyclist Chris Froome is the first Brit to win the Tour de France twice.
Peer Lord Sewel resigns after 'drugs and prostitutes' accusation.
World's oldest panda Jia Jia celebrates her 37th birthday in Hong Kong.

Joined the choir eternal

Cecil the lion, 13. Shot by a US dentist.
'British Schindler' Sir Nicholas Winton, 106.
Irish 'Paddy McGinty's Goat' singer Val Doonican, 88.
Actor Omar Sharif, 83. 
Actor Roger Rees, 71.
Actor Aubrey Morris, 89. 

Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata, 55. (cancer)
American author E. L. Doctorow, 84.
Four missing, feared dead after explosion at a Cheshire mill.
Two dead after shooting at Lafayette, Louisiana, cinema.
Hull schoolgirl Jessica Lawson, 12. (Swimming on a school trip in France)
Racing driver Jules Bianchi, 25. (From injuries sustained in Japanese Grand Prix in October 2014) 
Racing commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan, 97.
Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, 22. (Found in the bath tub)

Part of an aircraft wing found on Reunion Island identified as from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Outcry over Cecil the Lion hunt continues.
Charity Kids Company closes after funding row.
England cricketers regain the Ashes in record-breaking test match run.
Cryptosporidium parasite found in Lancashire water supply.
Massive explosion in Tianjin,China.
Kent and Sussex under water after unseasonal downpour. 
VJ Day - 70 years on.
Terrorist bomb at Bangkok temple.
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras resigns.
Chinese stock market crash worries world markets.
Migrant crisis across Europe as people flee Syria. 

Bought the farm 
Pilot Kevin Whyman, 39. (CarFest air crash)
Wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, 61.

Singer Cilla Black, 72.
The 'Last Dambuster' Les Munro, 96. 
Minder actor George Cole, 90.
The voice of Hitchhiker's Trillian, Susan Sheridan, 68. (Cancer)
Goodnight Mister Tom director Jack Gold, 85
Canine star Uggie, 13. (The Artist)
Actor Stephen Lewis (On the Buses Blakey), 88.
Death toll for Chinese explosion tops 110.
Seven deaths during bull running events in Spain.
Emmerdale actress Kitty McGeever, 44. (Kidney failure)
Batgirl Yvonne Craig, 78.
Eleven dead in jet crash at Shoreham Airshow.
Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward shot dead during a live interview on WDBJ7 TV in Virginia.
TV medium Colin Fry, 53. (cancer)
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, 82. (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat)
Horror film director Wes Craven, 76.
Beaulieu motoring collector Lord Montagu, 88.
Beverley Sister Joy, 91.

Archaeologists discover buried 100+ stone circle at Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith criticised for referring to people without a disability as “normal”.
Queen Elizabeth II becomes UK's longest serving monarch - overtaking Queen Victoria's 63 years, seven months and two days.
UK Parliament rejects assisted dying bill.
Jeremy Corbyn is new Labour leader.
Hungary erects border fence to keep out migrants.
8.3 earthquake hits Chile.
Fifa boss Sepp Blatter faces criminal investigation.
Lunar eclipse meets supermoon.
Is there life on Mars? Nasa says there is water.

Gone the way of all things
Star of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Judy Carne, 76.
Former England and Yorkshire cricket captain Brian Close, 84.
Crane collapse at Mecca mosque kills 107.
Brian Sewell, art critic, 84.
Novelist Jackie Collins, 77.
Legendary baseball player Yogi Berra, 90. 
453 people killed in stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage.
Actor Dean Jones, 84. (Beethoven, Love Bug)
Gen Mario Menendez, military governor of the Falkland Islands during Argentina's occupation in 1982, 85.
Twin Peaks ‘log lady’, actress Catherine Coulson, 72.

Massive sinkhole opens up in St Albans street.
Smoking in cars with children banned in England and Wales.
5p plastic bag tax introduced in England.
Fifa suspends Sepp Blatter.
Fatal crash after driver goes the wrong way up the M1.
Northern Philippines hit by typhoon.
Oscar Pistorius released to house arrest.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits UK.
"Back to the Future" Day. October 21, 2015 was the date Marty traveled to in the film.

7.5 magnitude earthquake kills 370 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Shuffled off this mortal coil
Irish playwright Brian Friel, 86.
Labour Party elder statesman Denis Healey, 98. 
Nine dead in school shooting in Oregon, US.
Two dead after bus hits supermarket in Coventry.
PC Dave Phillips, 34. (Run down by burglary getaway driver)
Antiques Roadshow presenter Hugh Scully, 72.
Former ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe, 79.
95 dead in two explosions in Turkish capital.
Former Tory chancellor Lord Geoffrey Howe, 88.
Labour MP and former minister Michael Meacher, 75.
42 dead in bus and lorry collision near Bordeaux.
One shot dead at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Coronation Street actor Peter Baldwin, 82.
Hollywood actress Maureen O'Hara, 95.
Five killed as whale-watching boat sinks off the coast of western Canada.
16-year-old Bailey Gwynne stabbed at school in Aberdeen.
Happy Days diner owner Al Molinaro, 96.
224 killed in Russian air crash in Sinai.

Egyptian flights cancelled after fears that plane crash was caused by bomb.
World Anti-Doping Agency brands Russia's athletes "cheats".
More than 40 dead in suicide bomb attacks in Beirut.
Magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Japan
Night of horror in Paris as more than 128 die in terrorist attacks.
170 taken hostage in Mali hotel.
The Davis Cup
Russian air crash was a bomb say experts.
Russian warplane shot down by Turkey.
UK flights to Sharm el Sheik stopped until January.
Great Britain wins the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936.

BBC Radio 4 newsreader Peter Donaldson, 70.
Oscar winning screen writer and actor Colin Welland, 81.
Eleven-time champion jockey Pat Eddery, 63.
Motorhead drummer Phil Taylor, 61.
Brothel keeper Cynthia Payne, 82.
Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, 96.
"Alf Garnett" actor Warren Mitchell, 89.
Henry VIII actor Keith Michell, 89. 
Veteran Bollywood actor Saeed Jaffrey, 86.
New Zealand rugby union star Jonah Lomu, 40.
Bless This House actor, Robin Stewart, 69. 

Trackway with 100-plus dinosaur footprints found on the Isle of Skye.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gives 99% of company to charity.
14 killed in terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, California. 
UK begins bombing raids on Syria.
Structural faults close the Forth Road Bridge.
Storm Desmond floods Cumbria and Lancashire.
Cumbrian village Glenridding floods for the second time in five days.
World Climate Summit agrees to limit global temperature increase 2 degrees.
87 killed in attacks on military sites in Burundi.
UK astronaut Tim Peake reaches the International Space Station.
Last round pound coin minted in the UK.
Premiere of the latest Star Wars movie.
UK's last coal mine in Kellingley, North Yorkshire closes.
Glenridding floods for third time in three weeks.
Widespread flooding across the North of England, Wales and Southern Scotland wrecks Christmas Day.
Storm Frank piles on the misery.
300 year old bridge in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire collapses under pressure of rainwater.

Taking harp lessons
Anthony Valentine
Colditz star Anthony Valentine , 76.
Crime author William McIlvanney, 79.
Are You Being Served? (Mr Rumbold) actor Nicholas Smith, 81.  Emmerdale actress Shirley Stelfox, 74.
MASH star Harry Morgan (Col. Potter) 96.
TOWIE's Nanny Pat, 80.
Lord Greville Janner,  87.
Football player, pundit and commentator Jimmy Hill, 87.
Conductor Kurt Masur, 88.
Lost Boys actor Brooke McCarter, 52. (Genetic liver deficiency)
Former England football coach Don Howe, 80.
Motorhead frontman Lemmy, 70. (Cancer)
Specials drummer John Bradbury, 62.
Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, 83.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Star Wars VII - The script changes

When the original Star Wars film was released in 1977 the world was a very different place. For example, it was still considered acceptable to base your essential evil empire on the Nazis. It was also considered allowable to dress your female characters in very skimpy clothes. And when your female characters weren't sitting around in little more than a couple of coconut shells and a string of tinsel, they were designed to be saved by a hunky hero. And only minor characters were any colour besides white.

Many things have changed in the almost 40 years since episode 1 - or rather episode 4 - of the Star Wars saga, and it's an interesting exercise to see what's gone, and what's stayed in the latest episode. (Before I go any further I'd best point out that I will not be including any spoilers in this post. If you still want to see the new movie but haven't yet, reading this won't hurt.)

Time has not been kind to Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker. Han Solo, on the other hand, is still a handsome hunk, but this time the film has plenty of fully-dressed female leading characters who are every bit as good at fighting, and flying and maintaining the Milennium Falcon, as he is. There's also a second hunk in the latest episode, who's black. (I would say African American, except the actor playing him is British!)

The robots look familiar, but have been joined by BB-8, an orange and white mini snowman-looking machine who apparently really exists, thanks to modern computing science. C-3PO now has a red replacement arm, but R2-D2 hasn't altered at all. Oh, and Chewbacca looks as if he's been well groomed.

There's a new, improved Death Star, lots of battle cruisers and fighter craft: only this time they're created through CGI, rather than meticulously hand-drawn, frame by frame. There are silver-coloured (female) Stormtrooper officers, but the baddies still look like Nazis. 

As I said earlier, time has been unkind to Princess (now General) Leia. Her new hairdo is slightly less ridiculous than the old bagel-over-the-ears image, but her obvious botox addiction means her top lip hardly moves, which means she's not the most emotive character in the film, even when she needs to be. On the other hand, Luke Skywalker is allowing every wrinkle to show, but he could do with a decent haircut!

The storyline is recognisable by anyone who saw the first three - 4 to 6, not 1 to 3 - and there are plenty of internal references to keep the purists happy, but basically it's a mostly politically correct update for the 21st century. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


Way way back in the 1840s a young British confectioner by the name of Thomas Smith made a visit to Paris, where he encountered 'bon-bons'.

The closest most people today would recognise as bon-bons are sugared almonds. They were sold in little twists of paper and designed to be eaten at festive times.

Thomas came back to Britain and tried to sell similar sweeties in the UK. In 1847 he launched a line of sugared almonds, wrapped in paper twists that contained a love motto.

 They didn't sell too well, so in the next couple of years Thomas came up with the idea of making them more exciting by including a small explosive mechanism that would make an exciting 'bang' as the sweet was opened, and the Christmas Cracker was born.

Over the next couple of years the shape changed, and in 1850 the sweet disappeared to make way for toys, trinkets and jewellery. By 1860 the cracker as we know it today was more or less in place.
Thomas died in 1880 and his three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry took over the business. They introduced the now traditional paper hat.

The Tom Smith cracker company continued under various royal warrants until 2005, when it was taken over by International Greetings. But crackers bearing the Tom Smith name are still sold throughout the UK.

*Remember The Good Life Christmas special when Margot insisted on shouting 'crack' rather than 'bang' when they pulled the home-made crackers?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

100 years on: the UK's first woman police officer

It's 100 years since the first woman police officer with powers of arrest was sworn in to a UK police force.

Edith Smith signed up at Grantham Police Station and her initial duties were to deal with prostitutes, female witnesses and children.

She was appointed after Grantham's watch committee and town council gave permission and underwent three weeks training in London to prepare her for the post.

Edith (1880 - 1924) wrote many reports about her work, including one in which she explained how she befriended the town's 'bad girls' and visited them in theatres and cinemas to persuade them not to ply their trade.

She said: "I received nothing but courtesy and co-operation from the managements as soon as I made my methods known and they realised I was there to act as a deterrent to their houses being used by prostitutes as a hunting ground and to look after frivolous girls likely to get into mischief.”

She cautioned 100 working girls during her first year in office.

She stayed in post until 1918 and the end of World War 1, then went to be matron of a local nursing home. She died in 1924 of an overdose of morphine.

The centenary was marked by a conference for women police officers, where Home Secretary Theresa May praised Edith's pioneering position as well as the job carried out by women officers today.

Sunday, 29 November 2015


This weekend we were lucky enough to see something in Scarborough that's not always on show. Weather and tide conditions shift the sands on the south bay and once in a while the ribs of a wrecked boat appear for a few days.
No-one is really sure what the boat is. A report by the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre offers some possibilities.

One suggestion is that it could be the remains of the Coupland, which sank in 1861, also leading to the wreck of the town's lifeboat Amelia. But the Coupland is supposed to have foundered on rocks near the spa, and would have been smashed to pieces.

Another theory was that the boat was the Arun, which went down in storms in 1880, but according to historian George Westwood the wreck in the beach isn't big enough to be the Arun. Westwood believes the wreck is the Vivid, which sank while entering the harbour in 1888.

Whatever it is, this weekend was the first time I've ever seen the wreck, in spite of being associated with the town, and a regular visitor, for 50 plus years.  It made my weekend!
(Please excuse the raindrops on the lens!)

Friday, 20 November 2015

Water is Best

Water is Best according to a sweet little marble statue erected near the Abbey by the Bath Temperance Association. The Association was founded in 1836 and preached the evils of drink to the townspeople. The cute girl and her jug were put in place in 1861. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Try a Roman recipe

As I mentioned in my last post we had chance to try authentic Roman food during our trip to the baths in Bath. It was prepared mostly in kebab-style, and the food historian Sally Grainger (you might have seen her on Time Team) cooked it on a huge barbecue.
I tried to follow her chicken recipe last weekend and it came out remarkably well, though I fried it in olive oil, rather than barbecuing. Grilling would also work. 
No quantities, I'm afraid, that was the Roman way. Flavour to taste.


Marinate pieces of chicken in:
mustard, dill, mint, wine, vinegar, olive oil, and  fish sauce*.
Grill, and serve in flatbreads or pitta breads with shredded green salad and a good olive tapenade.

*"Fish sauce" was a ubiquitous Roman ingredient shipped all around the known world in amphorae and used to flavour practically everything they ate. It was like a sloppy Gentleman's Relish and a bit of that mixed into your marinade would be fine. I used two salted anchovies. Don't be too tied down by the rules. Improvise!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Baths in Bath

The hot baths in Bath (Aquae Sulis) was one of the largest and most luxurious leisure sites in the ancient Roman world. The naturally hot spring allowed the bath itself to be bigger than anything it was possible to construct over artificial heat. Romans built constructions called hypocausts to act as underfloor heating in bath houses.

The Sacred Spring
They consist of piles of tile-like bricks that support the floor, but allow the flow of hot air from a furnace to pass underneath. Bath has one that warmed the steam room, but didn't need one to heat the bath itself, because the water comes out of the ground at 46 degrees centigrade - a nice, warm bath!

It flowed up from the ground in an area now known as the sacred spring, then was diverted into the bath itself. As well as the bath there were various other rooms including hot dry rooms, like a modern sauna, steam rooms, places for massage, cold pools to cool off in, and it's likely there were places to buy food and drink as well.

Minerva Sulis - Goddess of the waters
Next door to the baths complex was a temple to the goddess Sulis, a Celtic deity who was celebrated on the site before the Romans arrived. Her identity was joined to the Roman goddess Minerva so the temple was dedicated to one figure representing both. A life-sized statue stood in the temple, but all that remains today is her head.

During our recent trip to Bath we were lucky enough to take part in a Museums at Night Week event where we tried authentic Roman food while sitting around the edge of the baths, which were lit with torches, rather than electricity.

The whole complex had an eerie feel to it as a result, which added enormously to the authenticity.  It's £14 a head to get in, which feels slightly expensive, but it's worth every penny. If you're in the area, do make an effort to go and see it.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Happy Hallowe'en

Specially for Hallowe'en here's some curses for you!  They're at the Roman Baths in Bath and they consist of squares of lead with threats and accusations scratched on them.

Imagine you'd had something stolen, say a cloak or a bathing tunic (the Roman equivalent of a swimming costume), and you suspect you know who has it. There's no formal police force, so what do you do?  You engage a scribe to write the accusation onto one of these squares, including the name of the accused, then you fold it up and throw it into the sacred spring with an offering to the goddess.

The goddess in question at Bath was Minerva Sulis. That's a combination of a Celtic deity - Sulis, the Celtic goddess of healing, and her Roman equivalent Minerva.

Bath has the only naturally thermal spring in the UK. It was recognised as a place of healing from about 1000 - 800 BCE. A Celtic lord called Bladud went traveling and caught leprosy. As a result he was ostracised, but managed to find work as a swine herd. Sadly, pigs are also prone to leprosy and they soon were suffering too.

Then one day Bladud and his pigs passed an area in the valley of the Avon (Afon is, of course, the Celtic word for river) and one of the pigs began wallowing in the warm mud of a spring.  A few days later Bladud noticed that the pig's leprosy sores were clearing up, so he returned and bathed in the spring himself. Following his 'miraculous' recovery he decided the place was holy, and dedicated it to the Celtic goddess Sulis because of its healing power.

Around 900 years later, when the Romans arrived, they adopted the spring and called it Aquae Sulis - the waters of Sulis - and it became a Roman resort.

And it's been a resort and a place to "take the waters" ever since. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Cruck cottage

The little market town of Wirksworth in Derbyshire has a wealth of unusual and old buildings but perhaps one of its most striking now consists of only one wall. It's the end wall of a cottage with Medieval beams that date from the 15th century.

It's called a cruck cottage, because of the shape of the beams. The word comes from Middle English crok(e), from Old Norse krāka, meaning "hook". This is the same stem as crooked, or a shepherd's crook (or cruck) which has a curved handle. 

This type of construction consists of long, generally naturally curved, timber beams that lean inwards and form the ridge of the roof. These posts are then secured by a horizontal beam forming an "A" shape. 

The wall was discovered in 1971 during demolition of two cottages that once stood on the site. It is now the outer wall of the Wirksworth Brewery building.

There are actually several cruck cottages in the area of Derbyshire and Leicestershire and they are relatively easy to spot in older houses.

Sunday, 18 October 2015


Spam fritters
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, as the saying goes, but in a new cafe in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire they're giving it their best shot.  Called The Larder, the cafe is set firmly in the 1940s, with waitresses in hairnets and pinnies, limited menu heavily influenced by Spam, and lots of old items that bring back some powerful memories.

On each table there's a little notebook where customers can write their own memories of the period, or, if they aren't old enough to have lived through the times, to pass on tales from those who did. The owners then produce a regular newsletter featuring some of the best stories.
It's strong stuff (like the tea!) that reduced me to tears after reading some of the memories. And it brought back a few images from my own past, even though I'm too young to have been a war baby. My parents met during the 1940s when Dad was in the navy and Mum was in the WRNS. Their wedding outfits were both still subject to cloth rationing - Dad wore his de-mob suit and Mum's dress was made from a rescued piece of silk. My grandparents (Mum's side) were in the cloth trade and presumably had access to things that others might not have.

Back at The Larder, we dined on Spam fritters, beans and mash, washed down with a pot of builder's tea. Rather than a table number, our order was identified by a photo of the great James Stewart of Harvey and It's a Wonderful Life fame. I think I saw Ronald Colman on another table, and there was definitely a Judy Garland.

And above it all were wonderful, authentic lamp shades made from blown glass, exactly like my grandmother had in her hallway. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Looking towards the Emperor Fountain
A couple of weeks ago I went to Chatsworth. My main intention was to visit the Beyond Limits sculpture exhibition in the grounds, but I had a trip round the house as well.  Here's a potted history. Be warned - it's a long post, even though I've hardly scratched the surface of all this house has experienced!

One of the most powerful women in Elizabethan England (after the Queen) was Elizabeth Talbot, known as Bess of Hardwick. Her four successful marriages also made her one of the richest women of the time.

Husband number two was Sir William Cavendish, a Suffolk lord who benefited immensely from Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. When he married Bess in 1547 she persuaded him to sell off his East Anglian properties and move to her native Derbyshire. That's how the Chatsworth estate was established. Since then the estate has passed through 16 generations of the Cavendish family.

The house that Bess built
Bess's fourth husband was Earl of Shrewsbury George Talbot, who was appointed custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I. As a result Mary was held prisoner at Chatsworth for several periods during her incarceration.

Bess's second son, William, was made her heir and on her death in 1608 he inherited her vast fortune, including land in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Virginia in the USA. He was made Earl of Devonshire in 1618.

During the English Civil War the house changed hands several times but returned to the Cavendish family after the Restoration of the monarch when the third earl -another William - moved back in.

Various Cavendish heirs were involved in significant events, such as the fourth earl (want to guess his name?) being one of the seven noblemen who supported the establishment of William of Orange as king. In exchange ther fourth earl became the First Duke of Devonshire.

Successive dukes made the right political decisions as kings came and went, amassing even more money and power and enabling them to modernise Bess's original Elizabethan building. The fourth duke made changes to Chatsworth park, demolishing the neighbouring village of Edensor (because it was in the way) and employing Lancelot Capability Brown to create the surroundings as they exist today.

In 1774 the fifth duke married Lady Georgiana Spencer, daughter of the 1st Earl Spencer. (Yes, that family which later gave rise to Lady Diana; mother of the current second in line to the UK throne.)

It wasn't just the direct line of dukes and earls who were successful. Henry Cavendish, grandson of the second Duke of Devonshire, was a scientist who first recognised hydrogen as an element.  Much of his library of 12,000 books and papers is now at Chatsworth.

An inhabitant of the sculpture gallery
The sixth duke - yes I know this is getting silly but he was called William - never married, but he spent a lot of time and money extending the house. His changes included the installation of a purpose-built sculpture gallery and the famous Joseph Paxton developments: the massive rock gardens, the impressive Great Conservatory and the spectacular Emperor Fountain. The works were expensive and he was forced to sell off land in Yorkshire to pay for them. On his death in 1858 the house and land passed to William's cousin - William.

William the seventh duke was the clever one of the family. He was made Chancellor of London University at the ripe old age of 28, then Chancellor of Cambridge University, and he founded the Cavendish Laboratory there.

During World War II Chatsworth was used by a girls' boarding school to keep its pupils safe from coastal bombing. In 1949 the house opened to visitors and 105,000 people turned up in the first year. a year later the duke died unexpectedly and 80% death duties forced the family to sell off many of the artworks and to hand over Hardwick Hall - Bess's old home - to the National Trust in lieu of taxes.

The eleventh duke - Andrew! - married Deborah Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters who earned a degree of notoriety for their links to Hitler's Germany.

The current duke is the twelfth, who took over on the death of his father in 2004. The family are keen art and sculpture collectors and their modern pieces sit happily alongside the amassed treasures collected by previous owners.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Scarborough Castle

The seaside town of Scarborough has two bays and they are separated by a prominent, rocky headland. On top of the cliff stand the remains of a castle.  Having grown up near the town that castle has been an iconic image for me for many years, although it is decades since I saw it close up. So on our latest trip to the town we put that right.

The earliest evidence of settlement of the headland dates from the Bronze Age. It probably consisted of a group of small houses, forming a farmstead where livestock could be grazed. It's difficult to say for sure how far the settlement extended because a large part of the cliff has fallen away through coastal erosion over the centuries.

Signal station site
Similarly there is not much of the Roman signal station remaining. A 1920s excavation revealed the base of a square tower standing inside a courtyard. Nearby a well provided the site with water. The beacon was one of a string along the north east coast that enabled Roman legions to stay in contact and warn of potential attacks from the sea.

They eventually came from the North in the form of Viking hordes who arrived in the 10th century. In fact Scarborough was founded in 966 by the Viking Skarde who gave it its original name - Skardeburg.

There was a very early Norman wooden castle on the headland, built by William Le Gros, grand-nephew of William the Conquerer but thta had disappeared by the time of Henry II who rebuilt a stone structure. Richard I ignored the place while he went off on his Crusades, but his brother King John invested a great deal of money in it so he could use Scarborough as a base while he sorted out the northern barons. Other kings, including Henry III and Edward I were also fond of the place and maintained it. Even Richard III spent time there (before losing his horse and his kingdom in Leicestershire)

During the Civil War it was held as a Royalist stronghold by Sir Hugh Cholmley (after he swapped sides), but fell, after a siege, to Parliamentarian troops. In fact the castle changed hands several times between 1642 and 1648, not always as a result of battle, and eventually became a prison run by Cromwell's forces, to house enemies of the Commonwealth.

It was a prison for quite some time and among its inmates was George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), who spent a year there on the orders of Charles II.

In December 1914 a German battle fleet sailed along the Yorkshire coast and staged an attack on Scarborough that killed 19 people. It also caused considerable damage to the town, including to the castle keep and the lighthouse.

In WWII it was rumoured to house a military listening post.  It's an open secret that there's still something similar on the outskirts of the town.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Another romantic bridge

The 13th century Swarkestone Bridge and Causeway, at almost a mile in length, is the longest stone bridge in England. Some historians think that the stone bridge was constructed to replace an earlier wooden one. At one time a chapel and toll house stood on the causeway but there is little sign of them now.

The structure's 17 arches cross the River Trent flood plain between Swarkestone and Stanton-by-Bridge. It is still a significant route for travellers passing from Derby to Melbourne: believe it or not there is a regular bus service across it!

According to local legend the causeway is the work of two local sisters whose fiancés drowned while trying to cross the flood plain in high water. The horrified sisters saw the men swept away by the river and vowed that no-one else would suffer the same fate. They spent the rest of their lives building and maintaining the causeway and bridge and so were penniless when they died.

Listed Grade I and Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Sea defences

As an island nation Britain faces one of its biggest threats from the sea. Its coastline must be protected from the raw power behind the tides. I've already shown you the flood markers at Blakeney and explained how high some of them are. The 1953 marker was above my head. If I'd been standing on Blakeney Quay on January 31, 1953 I'd have drowned - as did 307 people in the UK and another 2,200 around the rest of the North Sea.

On the night of 5 December 2013 sea levels reached even higher than the killer 1953 tidal surge, but this time, thanks to effective sea defences, weather forecasting and communications, no-one died as a direct result of flooding. Of course, flood defences, by their nature, have to be high enough to keep the water at bay, which can result in some huge, blank concrete walls.

Net mending mural
In Sheringham they've got over the ugly problem by using their sea wall as a canvas for artworks depicting the town's history. There are murals and bronze plaques, paintings and poems about the fishing industry and associated trades, wildlife, brave lifeboat rescues, and the town's part in the war effort of the 1940s. Coupled with a sunny stroll along the Esplanade, it's a great way to spend an hour or so.

In case you can't read the small print on the net mending photo - it explains that when the fishing fleet came home, used nets would be laid out on a nearby hill to dry. Then fishermen's wives and daughters would mend them before the boats put out to sea again.

The top photo is a detail from a bronze depiction of a lifeboat rescue on the night of the 1897 flood tide. Sheringham's first purpose-built lifeboat, the Augusta, was launched in 1838. Back then they were still rowed, of course. The volunteers of the RNLI are very brave men and women!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Fairground rides

A Venetian gondola on the 'scenic railway'
Travelling fairs have been a part of English life for centuries. Back in the 19th century, like many other aspects of life, fairs had the industrial revolution makeover and steam driven rides became one of the attractions.

The Thursford Collection is the world's largest collection of steam powered machines, including farm equipment, showman's engines, mechanical organs, and amazing fairground rides. It's all set in a magical world that looks like Christmas all year long.

Of course, the ornate decoration, intense colours and bright lights are all part of the fairground atmosphere, and Thursford emphasises all of that. It talks about the history of travelling fairs and shows off its selection of wooden pillars and carved swags that were made in the great Victorian showman's workshops in Kings Lynn and Burton on Trent. It discusses the families who ran their fairs around the country throughout the showman's season, starting with the Kings Lynn Mart in February, all the way through to the famous Nottingham Goose Fair in October.

Ned and Jane - our Galloper mounts
Each one was the equivalent of a small village, built from scratch at the start of every halt, and then carefully dismantled and packed away a few days later so the fair could move on. There's a first-hand account by 91-year-old John Farrar of the work involved in setting up a ride called the 'scenic railway' that's still in operation at Thursford. It took three days of hard graft, starting Wednesday, to be ready for a 5pm opening on Friday.

We had a go on the 'scenic railway' which is also known as the Venetian Gondola. It's a switchback ride that goes at a stately pace but rises up and slides down two rolling slopes during each rotation - all the while playing the grand, exciting fairground organ music. We also had a go on the Gallopers - the familiar up and down horse figures of the traditional carousel. My photos do neither of them justice.

I was in my element at Thursford, descended as I am from carnies and circus folk. This was my history. But I suspect anyone with a sense of fun would have loved it. There's lots more to Thursford too - and I'll probably tell you more in later posts.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Watering can

We found this interesting object at Binham Priory during our recent Norfolk jaunt. The pot would originally have tapered up to a narrow neck with a thumb-sized opening. The neck doubled as a handle and it would have been possible to submerge the whole thing in water so that it filled up through the tiny holes in the bottom.

Then, by judicious use of the thumb, a gardener would have been able to transport water to the garden and sprinkle it over whichever plants needed it. Thumb over the neck meant that air pressure held the water in the pot, moving the thumb allowed air in and water out. Isn't that clever?

If you look at a large version of the photo you can probably read the label that says it's late medieval:  1400s to 1500s.

Friday, 11 September 2015

One up, one down

This charming little bijou residence stands on the edge of the public car park in Wells-Next-the-Sea in Norfolk. It is the last remaining 'ostler's cottage' and dates from around 1750.  Wells, like many other places on this coast, was once a significant port, and coaches would have stopped here to bring passengers to catch boats to other towns along the coast. (Most notably the Hull-London trade called in here as a half-way stop.) Ostlers were the guys who looked after the coaching horses.

The house is literally one room upstairs and one room downstairs. Facilities such as water pump, wash house and toilet were out in the back yard. A couple of other houses from the row have been knocked together to make a more modern dwelling, but this one remains unchanged. It is now a 'show home' and it's open to view on a few occasions during the summer season. (It was closed when we went, sorry!) It was last occupied in around 1935.

Listed Grade II.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The fiddler and his dog

Round here they tell a tale of a fiddler and his dog who discovered a tunnel under the Guildhall at Blakeney. Everyone warned him that there might be dangers hidden, but he was determined to explore it, and set off, with his dog, playing a merry tune as he went.

All was well for a while, until the music stopped suddenly, and the dog howled. No-one dared go to see what had happened, and neither the fiddler, nor his dog, were ever seen again!

The tale is commemorated in the village sign, which also has a ship to represent the town's former role as an important port. Village signs in Norfolk frequently offer clues to local history and folklore and some are extremely attractive and complex works in wood or iron.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Blakeney Guildhall

Blakeney, on the north Norfolk coast, used to be a major port, but the harbour has been silting up for centuries and is now little more than a creek. However, some remnants of its once international role can still be seen, including the Guildhall. It never was a guildhall, of course, but is actually the remains of a 15th century merchant's house. It once stood two storeys high and what is now visible was a basement store room.

It has some fine vaulting and there is a chute in the outer wall that once provided an outlet for the privy. It must have been a bit smelly, because the tide never came that far in! (Except occasionally when strong winds and spring tides combined. You can see markers on a nearby wall that show quite how far the tide still comes in from time to time!)

It's now in the care of English Heritage and you can see the outside at any time. Inside is open daily at sensible hours.

There are three more plaques above that - but they were too high up to photograph!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

A romantic bridge

The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux (the one played by Errol Flynn in the 1939 movie The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) built this bridge for Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century so she could go hunting in nearby woodland when she visited him.  It remains the longest packhorse bridge in England, with 14 of its original 42 arches still to be seen crossing the River Trent on the edge of the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire. 

It's Grade I listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Thomas Gooding

If you visit Norwich Cathedral you'll find this cheerful chap along the nave wall.
The inscription says:

All you that do this place pass bye
Remember death for you must dye
as you are now even so was I
And as I am so that you be.

Thomas Gooding Here do staye
Waiting for Gods judgement daye

About 400 years ago Thomas was buried in the cathedral standing up - so he'd be able to get up faster on judgement day.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Ancient Britons

Early Roman Britain and the local tribes
When the Romans first arrived in Britain it was already occupied by a number of tribes of ancient Britons.  The Brits tended to be an argumentative bunch and there were frequent local squabbles over land rights and who exactly owned which cattle, but the advent of the Italian invaders offered a new opportunity.

The Britons were fond of a party, and loved showing off to their neighbours by throwing ever more lavish and richer events in an escalating round of oneupmanship.  The Romans were great wine makers and a price was pretty quickly agreed on. Wine was transported in long, clay containers called amphorae, with a capacity of about 20 litres. And you could obtain one from a Roman in exchange for a slave.

Your first option was to get rid of unwanted family, of course. All those useless daughters, weakling sons, spare uncles, grannies and anyone else who didn't contribute to the tribe's upkeep. But once you ran out of relatives you had no option but to declare war on your neighbours.

So with cries of "let's go and beat up the Iceni" the Brits would go off to battle, seize a few potential slaves, then swap them for amphorae of the rich Roman red stuff - and party like it's 9BC.  This all happened at a time archaeologists called LPRIA (Late pre-Roman Iron Age).

It went on for quite a few years, until the Romans got bored and just invaded, to seize their own slaves and keep the wine for themselves.The tribes continued to exist after the Roman invasion and made their own local deals with the new overlords. Although some didn't want to give in.

The Iceni were pretty fed up with it all by that stage and fought hard against the Romans, but they were eventually overcome, in spite of the best efforts of the brave Bodicea (Boudicca, whatever you want to call her).

A note on amphorae

Amphorae were the generic containers of the Roman era and their shape changed over the centuries. At the time of this blurb (LPRIA) the commonest sort was one now known as Dressel 1a (after a Herr Dressel who first identified and classified the various kinds).

They were tall, narrow, had shoulder-like handles, and came to a point at the bottom. The shape allowed them to be stacked on ships with the point slotted into the handle of the one below, and hence they didn't roll around in rough weather. They are often still found in situ in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

This photo (left) is from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) website.

I pinched the top map from Pinterest, so I have no idea where it originally came from. Sorry.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Another sculpture on Salford Quays. This one represents the casual dock workers who were employed on a day by day basis.  It was created by a group of designers from Cheshire who worked with former employees to capture a taste of what the docks were like.

Dockers had to belong to a union in order to be employed and had to turn up daily and compete with others for limited jobs. They were chosen for their strength and speed and if they were taken on, would take home a wage at the end of the day. Those who failed to make the grade went home without money, and their families often went without food and heating as a result.

The sculptures represent union cards and feature pictures of some of the people who earned their living on the docks and helped to design the piece.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bringing history to life: Salford Quays

I recently had to visit Salford for a training course and spent a couple of days walking between hotel and college centre, passing a number of the area's works of art en route.

Of course Salford Quays was once a massive and significant port, although there is very little boat traffic left today. (Modern lifting bridges imply that there is SOME large shipping, but there wasn't enough to make an appearance in the three days I was there.)

The artworks around the water's edge tell part of the tale of the area and the people who lived and worked there.  I rather liked one called Nine Dock, which is in the form of a large number nine, lying on its back so it can serve as seating.  Set into the surface are quotes from residents.

"Everybody going somewhere, everybody doing something. Countless railway lines. Shunting trains going through all the time, and lorries queued up. It was organised chaos." John Baker.

"During the war anyone who had the allotments used to share out what they grew. Oranges and chocolates were thrown from the Manchester liners coming through the canal." Pauline Thompson.

"My father went out one day and saw a man drawing a picture and said "What yer doing mister?" to be told not quite so politely to run away and play. They found out later that the man was L S Lowry." Ann Howarth.

No 9 dock was once the busiest and largest in Salford. It opened in 1905 and was big enough to hold 10 ocean liners.  The sculpture was unveiled in 2010.