Thursday, 29 December 2011


I wrote a little history of Jordan at  

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Drowning as exectution

Although drowning is an obvious method of killing people it was seldom used as a method of execution. The Roman writer Tacitus said that the Germanic peoples drowned cowards in fens under piles of sticks. The Anglo-Saxons also sometimes used drowning as a punishment. In the Middle Ages drowning was sometimes used to punish murder. In England in the 13th century it was enacted that anybody who committed murder on the king's ships would be tied to their victims body and thrown into the sea to drown.

In Portsmouth at that time male murderers were burned but female murderers were tied to a post in the harbour and left to drown when the tide came in.

Drowning was occasionally used in Europe through the following centuries. It was revived in the French Revolution in Nantes by a man named Jean Baptiste Carrier as a convenient way of killing large numbers of people. They were loaded into vessels with trapdoors, which were then sunk. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011


The city of Portsmouth started about 1180 when a merchant called Jean De Gisors founded a little town in South-West corner of Portsea Island. Jean De Gisors was a merchant who owned a fleet of ships. He was also a landowner who owned land on Portsea Island. In the Southwest of the island was a small inlet from the sea called the Camber. It was a sheltered place for ships to land and De Gisors decided it was an ideal place to start a town.

De Gisors divided up the land into plots for building houses and he started a market. Craftsmen and merchants came to live in the new settlement. In 1185 a parish church was built (later it became Portsmouth Cathedral).
In 1194 the king gave Portsmouth a charter. (A document granting the townspeople certain rights).

By the early 13th century Portsmouth was described as 'one of our most important ports'. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Yeovil, Somerset

Yeovil was founded in the 8th century after the Saxons conquered this part of Somerset. What does the name Yeovil Mean? It is believed to be a corruption of the Celtic word Gifl, meaning forked river.

In time the village of Yeovil grew into a little town. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) it was a flourishing community though it would seem tiny to us with a population of not more than 1,000. Yeovil or Givle, as it was then known, had a weekly market.  

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


Saxon and Vikings wore simple leather boots and shoes but in the 12th century rich people began to wear shoes with long pointed toes. (However only the upper class wore them. Ordinary people had shoes with round toes). However at the end of the 15th century long toes went out of fashion and the wealthy began to wear shoes with square or round toes.

In the Middle Ages peasants wore wooden clogs for working in muddy conditions. In the towns people wore wooden platforms called pattens under their shoes. (They had straps to hold them on). Some pattens were several inches thick.

In the Middle Ages shoe makers were called cordwainers. The word is derived from cordovan the name for leather from Cordova in Spain.  

Sunday, 18 December 2011


Bridgwater began as a Saxon village in Somerset. At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Bridgwater probably had a population of about 160, which made it a fairly large village. At that time Bridgwater had a watermill where grain was ground to flour to make bread for the villagers.

William the Conqueror gave the village and the nearby bridge to one of his followers, Walter of Douai. It became known as the Bridge of Walter and in time Bridgewater. So the bridge gave the town its name.

In 1200 King John granted Bridgwater a charter. (A document giving the inhabitants certain rights including the right to hold a market). Once the market was up and running craftsmen and merchants came to live In Bridgwater and it grew into a town.  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Robert Boyle

I wrote a little biography of the 17th century chemist Robert Boyle at  

History of Christmas

You can read all about the history of Christmas at Most of our modern Christmas customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas crackers are Victorian.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Taunton in Somerset

Taunton was a fortified settlement called a burgh. In the late 9th century Alfred the Great created a network of fortified towns across his kingdom. They were called burghs (from which our word borough is derived). The burgh of Taunton would have been surrounded by a ditch and rampart with a wooden palisade on top. By the 10th century Taunton had a mint. It also had a market, which was held on The Parade.  

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Saxon Society

Kinship (family ties) were very important in Saxon society. If you were killed your relatives would avenge you. If one of your relatives was killed you were expected to avenge them. However the law did provide an alternative. If you killed or injured somebody you could pay them or their family compensation. The money paid was called wergild and it varied according to a persons rank. The wergild for killing a thane was much more than that for killing a churl. Thralls or slaves had no wergild. If the wergild was not paid the relatives were entitled to seek revenge.

At first Saxon society was relatively free. There were some slaves but the basis of society was the free peasant. However in time Saxon churls began to lose their freedom. They became increasingly dependent on their Lords and under their control.  

Sunday, 11 December 2011

My Website's Birthday

Today my website is 10 years old. It was switched on 11 December 2001. It started as a free website with about half a dozen articles. It now has nearly 1,000. When it started I was pleased when it got more than 1,000 hits in a month. Last month, November 2011 it got 463,000 hits. I am quite proud of it. Special thanks to Mr Peter Monger, Mrs Wendy Pyatt and Mrs Vanessa Wood and all others who helped make it possible.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


The Romans made panes of glass. Yet for hundreds of years after they left Britain (in the 5th century AD) people did not have glass windows. They did not have them again in England until about 1180. They were a luxury in the Middle Ages and only well off people could afford them. Glass windows became more common in the 16th century but they were not universal until the late 17th century. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011


I wrote a brief history of the town of Congleton in Cheshire. Its sometimes called Bear Town.  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Glasgow was probably founded in the 6th century when St Mungo built a church at place called Glas Gu. (It means green place). A fishing settlement at the green place eventually grew into a small town. Glasgow was given a bishop in 1115, indicating it was a fairly important settlement by that time.
The church in Glasgow was replaced by a cathedral in 1136. The cathedral burned in 1172 but it was rebuilt. Then in the years 1175-78 (the exact date is not known) the king gave Glasgow a charter. (A charter was a document granting the townspeople certain rights).

In the Middle Ages Glasgow had a weekly market. From 1190 it also had a fair, which was held each July. In the Middle Ages a fair was like a market but it was held only once a year and people would come from a wide area to buy and sell at one. In Glasgow there were many craftsmen. There were butchers and bakers.
There were also skinners, tanners and glovers (leather glove makers) in Glasgow as well as fullers (men who cleaned and thickened wool by pounding it in a mixture of water and clay) and dyers. There were also many fishermen in Glasgow.

Medieval Glasgow probably had a population of about 1,500. That seems very small to us but in the Middle Ages towns were much smaller than they are today. Even so in the Middle Ages Glasgow was not one of Scotland's larger or more important towns. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Desserts History

In the Middle Ages rich people ate desserts like preserved fruits, jelly and wafers made from batter. Furthermore the Italians have been eating panettone since at least the 15th century but its origins are lost in legend.
The Romans knew that eggs could be used for binding. However custard, as we know it was invented in the Middle Ages.

However in the Middle Ages most puddings were meat based. Rice pudding was known but until the 19th century it was regarded as a medicine. It was supposed to be good for digestive ailments.

The Tudors were also fond of desserts (if they could afford them). The rich ate preserved fruit, gingerbread, sugared almonds and jelly. However in the 16th century sugar was very expensive so most people used honey to sweeten their food.

Marzipan was popular in England from the 15th century. Marzipan is a paste made of almonds and sugar. The Tudors used marzipan to make edible sculptures of animals, castles, trees and people called subtleties.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Perth Australia

Perth was founded in 1829 largely because the British feared the French would establish a colony in Western Australia.

In 1827 Captain James Stirling (1791-1865) sailed to the Swan River in his ship HMS Success. Stirling believed the area would be ideal for a settlement. He persuaded the British government to found a colony there, independent of the colony in New South Wales.

Perth was named after the birthplace of Sir George Murray who was British Secretary of State for the Colonies when the city was founded in 1829. (However Murray was not actually born in the town of Perth. He was born in Perthshire).
However this colony was not to be manned by convicts. Instead the government would sell land cheaply to private citizens. (Ignoring the Indigenous Australians who lived there). 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tudor Christmas

The earliest recorded collection of Christmas carols dates from 1521 published by Wynken de Worde and includes The Boars Head Carol. Carol means a dance with a song and carols flourished throughout Tudor times as a way to celebrate and to spread the message of the nativity.
Other Christmas carols the Tudors would have been familiar with include The Coventry Carol, While Shepherds Watched, The First Nowell, Angels from the Realms of Glory, Ding Dong Merrily on High ( French in origin), In Dulci Jubilo, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Wassail carols, of which there are many, were also popular and most areas of the country have there own version. 

Christmas was the greatest festival celebrated by the Tudors. Advent was a time of fasting; Christmas Eve was particularly strictly kept with no meat, cheese or eggs. Celebrations began on Christmas Day when 3 masses were said and the genealogy of Christ was sung while everyone held lighted tapers. 

The whole 12 days of Christmas was celebrated, (25th December - 6th January) but not every day was celebrated equally. All work stopped except looking after animals, spinning was even banned as this was the most common occupation for women and flowers were placed around the spinning wheels. People would visit friends and it was seen as very much a community celebration. Work re-started on Plough Monday the first Monday after 12th night.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Worthing began as a Saxon village. It may have been called Worth or Wurtha ingas which means the settlement (belonging to) the people of Worth or Wurtha. Whatever the origin of its name for centuries Worthing was just an agricultural hamlet. However in the 18th century its fortunes changed.

In the 18th century people believed that bathing in sea water could heal you from many diseases. In the late 18th century visiting the seaside became fashionable among the rich. Many new seaside resorts grew up such as Brighton and Bognor Regis.

Worthing began to develop after 1798 when Princess Amelia came. Where members of the royal family went other wealthy people were bound to follow. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Kingston Upon Hull

The town of Hull was founded late in the 12th century. The monks of Meaux Abbey needed a port where the wool from their estates could be exported. They chose a place at the junction of the rivers Hull and Humber to build a quay. The exact year Hull was founded is not known but it was first mentioned in 1193. It was called Wyke on Hull.

In 1293 the King acquired Hull. It was renamed Kingston (kings town) on Hull. The king wanted a port in Northeast England through which he could supply his army when fighting the Scots. The king set about enlarging Hull. He gave Hull the right to hold 2 weekly markets and an annual fair lasting for 30 days. The king also established a mint in Hull about 1300. The same year he built an exchange where merchants could buy and sell goods. 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

19th Century Public Health

In the 19th century public parks were laid out in many towns. Before the industrial revolution parks were not necessary as towns were very small and anybody could easily walk out into the countryside. As towns and cities grew much larger they provided a very useful place for fresh air and exercise. Local councils also began to take responsibility for collecting refuse. Manchester council took that responsibility as early as 1845. Also in the 19th century hospitals were founded in towns and cities across Britain.

Another source of ill health in the early 19th century was overcrowding. At that time houses for poor people were often built back-to-back. They were literally joined one to another with the back of one house joining the back of another. Fortunately in the 1840s town councils banned the building of new back-to-backs. In the late 19th century living standards rose steadily and ordinary people began to live in houses with more rooms. Less overcrowding was an important factor in making people healthier.  

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Exeter was the centre of a rebellion in Southwest England in 1068. The Normans lay siege to Exeter for 18 days but they were unable to capture it. Eventually the people of Exeter agreed to submit to William the Conqueror. In return he swore an oath that he would not harm the town. However he built a castle to make sure the townspeople behaved themselves in future. Exeter castle was built on a hill known as red hill (rouge mont in Norman French) because of its red rock. The castle became known as Rougemont castle.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The beginning of the Welfare State in Britain

Life was hard for the working class at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1900 surveys showed that between 15% and 20% of the population were living at subsistence (bare survival) level. Worse between 8% and 10% of the population were living below subsistence level.

In 1906 a Liberal government was elected and they introduced a number of reforms. From 1906 local councils were allowed to provide free school meals. In 1907 school medical inspections began.

In 1908 an act limited miners to working an 8 hour day.

In 1909 the Trade Boards Act set up trade boards who fixed minimum wages in certain very low paid trades. Also in 1909 an Act set up labour exchanges to help the unemployed find work.

In 1908 an Old Age Pensions Act gave small pensions to people over 70. The pensions were hardly generous but they were a start. From 1925 pensions were paid to men over 65 and women over 60. Widows were also given pensions. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


The city of Melbourne in Australia was founded in 1835. In that year a group of Tasmanian businessmen formed the Port Phillip Association to found a settlement on Port Phillip Bay. Acting on their behalf John Batman (1801-1839) bought land from the local Indigenous Australians, the Dutigalla clan. However the indigenous people had no concept to owning or selling land and did not really understand the deal.

Nevertheless Batman and others then settled on the north bank of the Yarra River. A man named John Pascoe Fawkner AKA Little Johnny Fawkner (1792-1869) led another group, which settled on the south bank shortly afterwards.

 At first the settlement was named Bearbass. However it was renamed after British prime minister William Lamb, Lord Melbourne (1779-1848). 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Father Christmas

Father Christmas and Santa Claus were originally two different figures. In England Father Christmas was a man dressed in green (representing the return of Spring) who was supposed is supposed to visit families and feast with them at Christmas. (He did not bring gifts). 

However in the 19th century in England Father Christmas merged with the Dutch Santa Claus. He is supposed to be based on St Nicholas a Christian bishop who lived in Turkey in the 4th century AD. According to tradition St Nicholas gave generous gifts to the poor. St Nicholas had a feast day on 6 December.  On that day it was traditional to give gifts or to give to charity to remember the saint's generosity. 

Saturday, 19 November 2011


Coventry began as a Saxon village. It was called Coffantree, which means the tree belonging to Coffa. Trees were often used as meeting places. In this case a settlement grew up around the tree and it eventually became called Coventry.

Lady Godiva certainly existed (she is mentioned in documents of the time) but whether her famous naked ride through Coventry took place it is impossible to say. According to the story her husband Leofric was taxing the people of Coventry heavily and Godiva begged him to remove the tax. He jokingly said he would lift the tax if she rode through the town naked. Godiva did so! The story was first written down by Roger of Wendover (died 1236) and it may be true. However Peeping Tom is a much later addition to the story of Lady Godiva. He was not mentioned until the 17th century. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Olympic Games

In Ancient Greece athletic competitions were held during religious festivals in every Greek city. However the Olympic Games began in Olympia in 776 BC in honour of Zeus, the chief god and people came from all over Greece and the Greek colonies to take part in them. Wars stopped to allow everyone to take part.

Athletes competed in boxing, wrestling, running, horseracing, chariot racing and the pentathlon (five athletic events). Winners were not given medals. Instead they were given a crown of leaves.

Women were not allowed to take part in the games. They were not even allowed to watch. (If they were caught watching they were executed by being thrown off a cliff).  

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Famous Sydneysiders

I wrote a list of famous people from Sydney. Its remarkable how many of them there are.  

Monday, 14 November 2011


Manchester began when a wooden fort was built by the Roman army on a plateau about 1 mile south of the present cathedral about 80 AD. The Romans called it Mamuciam (breast shaped hill) probably because the plateau resembled a breast. The fort was rebuilt in stone about 200 AD. Soon a civilian settlement grew up around the fort. 

However in 407 AD the Roman army left Britain and the civilian settlement disappeared. The stone fort at Manchester fell into ruins.

In 7th century the Saxons created a new village at Manchester but it was tiny. The Saxons called any Roman town or fort a ceaster. They called the old fort at Manchester Mamm ceaster. The village nearby took its name from the fort. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

History of Christmas

You can read all about the history of Christmas on my website Most of our 'traditonal' Christmas is Victorian (They invented Christmas cards and Christmas crackers). Our image of Santa Claus also comes from the 19th century. But of course Christmas has been a celebration for much longer.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Child labour in the 19th century

The industrial revolution created a huge demand for female and child labour. Children had always done some work but at least before the 19th century they worked in their own homes with their parents or on land nearby. Children's work was largely seasonal so they did have some time to play. When children worked in textile factories they often worked for more than 12 hours a day.

In the early 19th century parliament passed laws to curtail child labour. However they all proved to be unenforceable. The first effective law was passed in 1833. It was effective because for the first time factory inspectors were appointed to make sure the law was being obeyed. The new law banned children under 9 from working in textile factories. It said that children aged 9 to 13 must not work for more than 12 hours a day or 48 hours a week. Children aged 13 to 18 must not work for more than 69 hours a week. Furthermore nobody under 18 was allowed to work at night (from 8.30 pm to 5.30 am). Children aged 9 to 13 were to be given 2 hours education a day. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011


I wrote a short history of Middlesbrough. It is a great British success story. In 1829 it was a little hamlet but a new town began and it grew at breakneck speed. Middlesbrough became a centre of the iron and steel industry.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Unemployment in Britain

In Britain during the 20th century as in other Industrial countries unemployment varied. In the years 1900-1914 the economy was stable and unemployment was quite low. However during the 1920s there was mass unemployment. For most of the decade it hovered between 10% and 12%. 

Then, in the early 1930s, the economy was struck by depression. In the 1920s traditional British industries like coal mining were already declining because of foreign competition. The economic downturn, of course made things far worse. By the start of 1933 unemployment among insured workers was 22.8%.

However unemployment fell substantially in 1933, 1934 and 1935. By January 1936 it stood at 13.9%. Unemployment continued to fall and by 1938 it was around 10%.  

Monday, 7 November 2011

Homes in the Middle Ages

Peasants homes were simple wooden huts. They had wooden frames filled in with wattle and daub (strips of wood woven together and covered in a 'plaster' of animal hair and clay). However in some parts of the country huts were made of stone. Peasants huts were either whitewashed or painted in bright colours.

The poorest people lived in one-room huts. Slightly better off peasants lived in huts with one or two rooms. There were no panes of glass in the windows only wooden shutters, which were closed at night. The floors were of hard earth sometimes covered in straw for warmth.

In the middle of a peasant's hut was a fire used for cooking and heating. There was no chimney. Any furniture was very basic. Chairs were very expensive and no peasant could afford one. Instead they sat on benches or stools. They would have a simple wooden table and chests for storing clothes and other valuables. Tools and pottery vessels were hung on hooks. The peasants slept on straw and they did not have pillows. Instead they rested their heads on wooden logs. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Clapham began as a Saxon village called Clopp ham. It became a fashionable village for the rich to live in during the late 17th century. During the late 18th century and early 19th century it was home to many members of an Evangelical group called The Clapham Sect. Clapham became part of London in the 19th century.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The first newspapers

Newspapers began circulating in the 17th century. The first newspaper in England was printed in 1641. (However the word newspaper was not recorded until 1670). The first successful daily newspaper in Britain was printed in 1702. Then in 1730 a newspaper called The Daily Advertiser began publishing stock exchange quotations.

The first American newspaper was printed in 1690. It was called Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick. The first newspaper in Canada was the Halifax Gazette in 1752. The first daily American newspaper was published in 1783.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Henry Cavendish

I wrote a brief history of Henry Cavendish. He was one of the greatest scientists of the 18th century. Although brilliant he was a very introverted man and had little contact with other people. He was also very rich. In his late 60s Cavendish measured the density of the Earth. It shows that you can still achieve great things when you are old.  

Monday, 31 October 2011


I wrote a little history of Littlehampton in Sussex. Like most seaside resorts it only really grew in the 19th century  once it became fashionable for the well off to spend time at the seaside. I do remember going there as a child and it is still flourishing.  

Friday, 28 October 2011

Greek Myths

I wrote a dictionary of Greek mythology. Its a fascinating subject full of bizarre stories. I remember many of them from school.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Sydney was named after Thomas Townshend - Lord Sydney (1733-1800). He became British Secretary of State in 1783 and recommended the British establish a colony in Australia.   

Saturday, 22 October 2011


Sugar cane first grew in Polynesia. It spread to India then to Persia. The Arabs grew sugar cane and at the end of the 11th century the Crusaders brought sugar to Europe. (Although in the Middle Ages sugar was a rare luxury and honey was far more commonly used to sweeten food). At the end of the 15th century sugar cane was taken to the New World. Sugar was first made from sugar beet in the 18th century. A German chemist called Andreas Marggraf was the first person to make sugar from beet in 1747. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Sydney Opera House

On 21 October 1973 Queen Elizabeth officially opened Sydney Opera House. The opera house is, of course an icon of Sydney and indeed of Australia.  

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Saxon and Vikings wore simple leather boots and shoes but in the 12th century rich people began to wear shoes with long pointed toes. (However only the upper class wore them. Ordinary people had shoes with round toes). However at the end of the 15th century long toes went out of fashion and the wealthy began to wear shoes with square or round toes.

In the Middle Ages peasants wore wooden clogs for working in muddy conditions. In the towns people wore wooden platforms called pattens under their shoes. (They had straps to hold them on). Some pattens were several inches thick.
In the Middle Ages shoe makers were called cordwainers. The word is derived from cordovan the name for leather from Cordova in Spain.

In the 16th century some people had deliberate cuts in their shoes called slashes. Sometimes they were slip on shoes but sometimes they were tied with latches. Early Tudor shoes did not have heel. However at the end of the 16th century women began to wear shoes with heels. 

Friday, 7 October 2011


At first chocolate was a drink. However by 1674 people in England were eating chocolate lozenges. The first chocolate factory in America opened in 1765. In 1795 steam engines were used to grind cocoa beans for the first time. That made the mass production of chocolate possible. The first chocolate bars were made in 1847 but milk chocolate was not invented until 1875. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Cleaning Carpets

In the 19th century housework became easier although it was still hard work. Carpets were mass-produced in Britain from the mid-19th century and they became much cheaper. However cleaning carpets was no easy task in the 19th century. You had to hang up the carpet and beat it with a carpet beater (a handle and large flat paddle, usually made of cane). The carpet sweeper was invented in 1876. Which made it far easier to clean rugs and carpets. Also to clean carpets people sprinkled them with dry tea leaves then brushed them up.

Meanwhile in 1860 Fredrick Walton invented linoleum, which was a cheap and easy to clean floor covering. People cleaned their houses with salt and vinegar. Meanwhile in 1876 Susan Hibbard patented the feather duster. Then in 1893 Thomas Stewart invented a mop with a replaceable head that clamped onto the handle. That made it easier to have a clean mop.  

Monday, 3 October 2011

19th century poverty

At the end of the 19th century more than 25% of the population was living at or below subsistence level. Surveys indicated that around 10% were very poor and could not afford even basic necessities such as enough nourishing food. Between 15% and 20% had just enough money to live on (provided they did not lose their job or have to take time off work through illness).

If you had no income at all you had to enter the workhouse. The workhouses were feared and hated by the poor. They were meant to be as unpleasant as possible to deter poor people from asking the state for help. In workhouses you could not wear your own clothes. You had to wear a uniform. Husbands and wives were separated and children were separated from their parents. Inmates had to do hard, unpleasant work such as breaking stones or pulling apart old rope. There were also many strict rules. However in the late 19th century workhouses gradually became a little bit more humane. See  

Sunday, 2 October 2011

King John

I wrote a little biography of King John at He was not a successful king although he did found Liverpool. John also founded a dockyard at Portsmouth although it proved to be only a temporary one. Incidentally John did not sign the Magna Carta, he sealed it.  

Thursday, 29 September 2011

18th Century Drinks

New drinks were invented in the 18th century. Vermouth was invented in Italy in the 18th century. Guinness was first brewed in Dublin in 1759. Bourbon whiskey was first distilled in 1789.

In the 18th century tea became cheaper and huge amounts were imported from China. The British became a nation of tea drinkers.

Carbonated water the first fizzy drink was invented in 1772 by Joseph Priestley, who discovered how to trap carbon dioxide in water.  

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


The Romans liked condiments and they made many sauces for their food. One of the most common was a fish sauce called liquamen. The Romans also grew mustard and they introduced it into the parts of Europe they conquered. They also made mint sauce.

In the Middle Ages mustard was a popular condiment in Europe. At first English mustard consisted of coarse powder and it was not very strong. However in 1720 a Mrs Clements of Durham began making a much smoother mustard powder. When mixed with water to make paste it was very hot but it proved to be popular and Durham became a centre of the mustard industry. (For centuries mustard was used as a medicine as well as a food).


Monday, 26 September 2011


Recently oil was discovered off the coast of Cambodia. That country suffered terribly under the tyrant Pol Pot but it is recovering and hopefully oil and tourism will boost the economy. Cambodia does have a long and fascinating history. I wrote about it at I also wrote a timeline of Cambodia at

Saturday, 24 September 2011

24 September

On 24 September 1960 the first nuclear powered carrier the USS Enterprise was launched. On this day in 1852 the world’s first powered and controlled flight took place when Jules Henri Giffard flew a hydrogen filled airship powered by a steam engine. If you were born today you share your birthday with F Scott Fitzgerald. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Meanwhile in Britain during the Second World War women sometimes used the silk from parachutes to make knickers.

Then in 1949 an American tennis player named Gertrude Moran or Gussie Moran (1923-) caused a sensation when she appeared at Wimbledon wearing frilly knickers. She was called Gorgeous Gussie and it was very daring in 1949!  

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Historical Life Expectancy

I get tired of reading this nonsense: In the past 9 out of 10 people died before the age of 40. Historians think life expectancy was about 35 years in the Middle Ages. However that does not mean that people dropped dead when they reached 35!  Average life expectancy at birth was around 35 but many of the people born died in childhood. We don't know exactly what percentage died but probably about 25% of people died before they were 5 years old and as many as 40% died before they reached adulthood. However if you could survive childhood and your teenage years you had a good chance of living to your 50s or your early 60s and even in the Middle Ages some people  lived to 70 or 80.  

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


I have written a history of London at It was said that the story of York is the story of England but I would say that was true of London. Its history very much reflects the history of the whole country.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Adelaide and Brisbane

I wrote a little history of Adelaide at and a very brief history of Brisbane at

Friday, 22 July 2011


In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries new condiments were invented. Pesto sauce was invented in 16th century Italy. Furthermore new sauces were invented in the 17th century including bechamel and chasseur. Chutney comes from India. It was first exported to England in the 17th century. Soy sauce, which was invented in China reached Europe in the 17th century and by the mid-18th century it was popular in Britain.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tea and coffee adulteration

In the past tea was adulterated with leaves from other plants including trees like ash and beech although laws were passed to prevent it. Coffee was sometimes adulterated with sheep dung. Chalk was added to flour and water was added to milk. 

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Tea was introduced into England in the mid-17th century but at first it wasn't popular. It was made popular by a Portuguese woman named Catherine of Braganza. She married Charles II in Portsmouth in 1662. She wanted a cup of tea but nobody had any. Fortunately there was a Portuguese ship in Portsmouth Harbour with tea leaves. So they were able to make her a cup of tea.  

Monday, 20 June 2011

Wimbledon 1949

In 1949 American tennis player Gertrude Moran known as Gorgeous Gussie created a stir at Wimbledon when she appeared in frilly panties (very daring in 1949) 

Monday, 16 May 2011


Many new kinds of sweets were introduced in the 20th century. Dairy Milk was introduced in 1905. Toblerone followed it in 1908. Later came Flake (1920), Fruit and Nut (1921), Milky Way (1923 in the USA 1935 in Britain), Crunchie (1929), Snickers and Freddo (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltesers and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937). Later came Polo mints (1948), Bounty (1951), Munchies (1957), Picnic and Galaxy (1958), Caramac (1959), Topic (1962) Toffee Crisp (1963), Twix (1967), Curly wurly (1971), Yorkie, Double Decker and Lion Bar (1976) and Wispa (1983). Amazin Raisin bars went on sale in 1971 but they stopped making them in 1978.  

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Modern Cosmetics

a man named Maurice Levy invented lipstick  in push up sticks in tubes in 1915.  Mascara was invented in 1913 by  a man named T L Williams. The film director D.W. Griffith invented false eyelashes in 1916. Women have dyed their nails for centuries but modern nail varnish was invented in 1917.  Meanwhile modern lip gloss was invented in 1930 and went on sale in 1932. For centuries it was fashionable for women to have pale skin (tanned skin meant you worked outside so you must be poor, pale skin was a status symbol) but from the 1920s tans became popular.  

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Charles Darwin

On this day in 1882 Charles Darwin died If you were born today you share your birthday with actors Dudley Moore and Jayne Mansfield

Friday, 15 April 2011

15 April 1793

On this day in 1793 the Bank of England issued the first £5 notes. On this day in 1912 the Titanic sank. If you were born today you share your birthday with Antarctic explorer James Clark Ross, writer Henry James and blues singer Bessie Smith. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011


The word drawers was invented because underwear was drawn on. Where does the word knickers come from? It comes from a novel called History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker, supposedly a Dutchman living in New York (it was actually written by Washington Irving). In Britain the illustrations for the book showed a Dutchman wearing long, loose fitting garments on his lower body. When men wore loose trousers for sport they were sometimes called knickerbockers. However womens underwear were soon called knickerbockers too. In the late 19th century the word was shortened to knickers. Read more at my history of women's underwear

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Today we don't regard sugar as a spice but in the Middle Ages and Tudor times it was seen as one. Sugar cane first grew in Polynesia. It spread to India then to Persia. (Sugar was used in Ayurvedic medicine in India). The Arabs grew sugar cane and at the end of the 11th century the Crusaders brought sugar to Europe. (Although in the Middle Ages sugar was a rare luxury and honey was far more commonly used to sweeten food). At the end of the 15th century sugar cane was taken to the New World. Sugar was first made from sugar beet in the 18th century. A German chemist called Andreas Marggraf was the first person to make sugar from beet in 1747.