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.