Thursday, 27 December 2012


HMS Beagle set sail on 27 December 1831. On board was Charles Darwin. I wrote his biography 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dead Pope on trial

In 897 Pope Stephen VI had the dead body of a previous Pope called Formosus dug up and put on trial. Not surprisingly the former Pope did not say much in his own defence and he was found guilty . There was not much point in executing him but they threw his body in the River Tiber. I suppose that must be what they call 'a body of evidence'.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Jane Austen

I wrote a brief biography of Jane Austen the great novelist of the early 19th century 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Paris, France

I wrote a brief history of Paris one of the world's greatest cities and scene of several revolutions 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Saturday, 24 November 2012

James Simpson

I wrote a brief biography of James Simpson the great Scottish surgeon who was a pioneer of anaesthetics. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Joseph Lister

I wrote a little history of the surgeon Joseph Lister. He is called the father of antiseptic surgery.  

Women at University

On 17 November 1880 women in Britain were awarded degrees for the first time. Three women were granted Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of London. New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote in 1893. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

George Fox

I wrote a short biography of George Fox the founder of the Quakers. He was a brave man who refused to compromise his principles. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012


I wrote a little history of Belize. Its a small country and many of its people are poor but its developing rapidly. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Musical instruments

Many new musical instruments were invented in the 19th century. The harmonica was invented in the early 19th century. The tuba was also developed in the early 19th century. The accordion was invented in 1821 and the concertina followed in 1829. Also in the early 19th century valves were added to the trumpet and in 1846 Adolphe Sax patented the saxophone. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Leon Trotsky

I wrote a short biography of Leon Trotsky. In the words of the famous song by the Stranglers 'he got an ice pick that made his ears burn'. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Anne Askew

I wrote a short biography of Anne Askew. She was an English Protestant martyr of the 16th century. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


I wrote an article about angels. Whether you believe in angels or not they have played a major part in Western culture, in art and literature. Recently belief in angels has revived and books about them have become popular.  

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fire of London 1666

In 1666 came the Great Fire of London. It began on 2 September in a baker's house in Pudding Lane belonging to Thomas Farynor. It probably began because Farynor had not properly extinguished his ovens after a days baking. The wind fanned the ashes and a fire began.

 At first it did not cause undue alarm. The Lord Mayor of London Thomas Bludworth was awoken and said "Pish! A woman might piss it out!". But the wind caused the flames to spread rapidly. People formed chains with leather buckets and worked hand operated pumps all to no avail. The mayor was advised to use gunpowder to create fire breaks but he was reluctant, fearing the owners of destroyed buildings would sue for compensation. 

The fire continued to spread until the king took charge. He ordered sailors to make firebreaks. At the same time the wind dropped. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Fizzy drinks

Fizzy drinks were invented in 1773 by Joseph Priestley, who discovered how to trap carbon dioxide in water and made carbonated water. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


The Romans founded London about 50 AD. Its name is derived from the Celtic word Londinios, which means the place of the bold one. After they invaded Britain in 43 AD the Romans built a bridge across the Thames. They later decided it was an excellent place to build a port. The water was deep enough for ocean going ships but it was far enough inland to be safe from Germanic raiders. Around 50 AD Roman merchants built a town by the bridge. So London was born. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Monty Python

5 October 1969 was a great day in British history. On that day a new TV programme was broadcast. It was called Monty Python's Flying Circus. The rest as they say is history.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Opium Wars

The Opium Wars were a shameful episode in British history. The Chinese government took action to combat this menace. In 1839 an official called Lin Zexu was sent to Guangzhou to stop the opium smuggling. He commanded the British to hand over their stores of opium. Reluctantly they obeyed. However the British government sent a fleet to blockade Guangzhou and the ports of Ningbo and Tanjin. In 1841 a Chinese official negotiated a treaty. He agreed to give the British Hong Kong and pay what it cost the British to send a fleet to China. However neither side was satisfied with this treaty and the war resumed.

The British sent a second fleet and occupied several ports. This time the Chinese were forced to pay a much larger amount of money. They were also forced to open 5 ports to British merchants (Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Shanghai). British citizens were to answer only to the British authorities if they committed any crime while they were in China. Chinese tariffs on British goods were to be only 5%. Soon afterwards the Chinese were forced to sign similar treaties with other European countries. Unfortunately the Chinese had fallen behind in military technology and they were no match for the European forces.

The first Opium War of 1840-42 was followed by a second conflict. Neither side was satisfied with the treaty of 1842. The Chinese naturally resented the treaty. The British accused Chinese officials of 'dragging their feet' and obstructing trade. Conflict came to a head in 1856 when the Chinese boarded a ship called The Arrow. In 1858 the British sent another fleet to China and the Chinese were forced to sign another treaty. Ten more ports were opened to trade and foreigners were to be allowed to travel around China.

In 1859 British officials returned to ratify the treaty but they were prevented from entering China. However in 1860 the British sent another expedition. This time the British burned the emperor's summer palace. China was forced to open ports in the north to trade and to pay a large sum of money to Britain. 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Friday, 28 September 2012

Shang Dynasty

The Shang dynasty created a highly organised state. Though they ruled only a part of China their cultural influence spread through most of it. Writing was invented in China about 1,500 BC. The earliest evidence of it comes from bones used for fortune telling. Bones were touched with a red-hot piece of bronze so they cracked. The cracks were then interpreted and the predictions were written on them. The form of writing invented during the Shang era remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The Shang were polytheists (they worshipped many gods). The most important god was called Di. During the Shang dynasty the practice of ancestor worship began. Ancestor worship is the belief that the dead can intervene in the affairs of the living. Offerings were made to them to keep them happy. Ancestor worship became part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. The Shang probably invented the Chinese calendar.

Silk was probably first made in China during the Shang era. It was made by 1300 BC. During the Shang era bronze was more widely used. Previously it was only used to make weapons. After 1700 BC bronze vessels were made. However tools such as sickles, ploughs and spades were usually made of wood and stone.

The Shang built the first real cities in China. The first capital at Zhengdou had walls more than 6 kilometres long. (Later the capital was moved to Anyang). The Shang also built palaces and temples. The Shang nobles were very fond of hunting.

During the Shang era slavery was common in China. Prisoners of war were made into slaves. Human sacrifice was still practiced. When a Shang emperor died his servants and slaves either committed suicide or were killed to accompany him into the afterlife. Because of the need to capture slaves warfare was common. After 1200 BC chariots pulled by 2 or 4 horses were used in Chinese warfare. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Prague. Its a very historic city. Fortunately most of its buildings survived the Second World War intact.  

Sunday, 23 September 2012


By the 9th century Sweden had become one kingdom. However Swedish kings had little power. When a king died his eldest son did not necessarily inherit the throne. It might go to a younger son or even to the dead kings brother. However as the centuries passed the kings power slowly increased.

In the 11th century Sweden was converted to Christianity. Afterwards it became a part of Western civilisation. A missionary called Ansgar went to Sweden in 829 but he had little success in converting the Swedes. However a Swedish king, Olof Stokonung, became a Christian in 1008. However it was a long time before all Swedes were converted. Paganism lingered on in Sweden until the end of the 11th century. Nevertheless by the middle of the 12th century Sweden had become a firmly Christian country. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Gdansk in Poland. It was the birthplace of Solidarity and the end of Communism. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012


I wrote a short history of Warsaw. Unfortunately the city was devastated during the Second World War. However it was rebuilt and it is now a vibrant and flourishing city.  

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Torun, Poland

I wrote a history of Torun, Poland. Its a very historic city famous for its Medieval buildings. Today it has a Gingerbread Museum! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I wrote a short history of Cracow in Poland. For centuries it was the capital of Poland and was a centre of trade and Polish culture.  

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Gunpowder Plot

I wrote an article about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It was a conspiracy to blow up parliament and King James I with gunpowder. In England it is commemorated every year on Bonfire night. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ancient China

Chinese civilisation developed independently of others because it was separated from them by deserts and by sheer distance. After 10,000 BC people in China lived by hunting and gathering plants. Then, about 5,000 BC, the Chinese began farming. From about 5,000 BC rice was cultivated in southern China and millet was grown in the north. By 5,000 BC dogs and pigs were domesticated. By 3,000 BC sheep and (in the south) cattle were domesticated. Finally horses were introduced into China between 3,000 and 2,300 BC.

By 5,000 BC Chinese farmers had learned to make pottery. They also made lacquer (a kind of varnish made from the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree). The early Chinese farmers also made baskets and wove cloth (before sheep were domesticated hemp was woven). The Chinese also made ritual objects from jade such as knives, axes and rings. The wheel was invented in China about 2,500 BC.

Saturday, 8 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Mozambique. It is still a very poor country but its economy is growing rapidly. There is every reason to believe that Mozambique will be an African success story in the future.  

Friday, 7 September 2012

18th Century Gardens

The most famous gardener of the 18th century was Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Kent and Bridgeman mixed formal and informal elements in their gardens but Capability Brown adopted a completely informal style. He wanted to 'improve' nature not rework it. Brown sought to remove the 'roughness' of a landscape and perfect it but afterwards it should be almost indistinguishable from a landscape created entirely by nature.

After Brown came the famous gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818). He first became a gardener in 1788 and even within his lifetime a reaction began against the informal landscaping style towards more formal gardens.

Meanwhile in 1725 the Society of Gardeners was founded in England. In London public gardens were created - although you had to pay to view them. However in the 18th century pleasure gardens were still only for the upper class and the middle classes. If poor people had a garden they had to use it for growing herbs or vegetables. They had neither the time nor the money to grow plants for pleasure. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


I wrote a little history of Bhutan a remote mountain kingdom. Its still a poor and overwhelmingly agricultural country but it has great potential. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Early 19th Century Houses

In the early 19th century housing for the poor was often dreadful. Often they lived in 'back-to-backs'. These were houses of three (or sometimes only two) rooms, one of top of the other. The houses were literally back-to-back. The back of one house joined onto the back of another and they only had windows on one side.

The bottom room was used as a living room cum kitchen. The two rooms upstairs were used as bedrooms. The worst homes were cellar dwellings. These were one-room cellars. They were damp and poorly ventilated. The poorest people slept on piles of straw because they could not afford beds.

However conditions gradually improved. In the 1840s local councils passed by-laws banning cellar dwellings. They also banned any new back to backs. The old ones were gradually demolished and replaced over the following decades. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

20th Century Women

During the 20th century women gained equal rights with men. In 1918 women over 30 in Britain were allowed to vote. In 1928 they were allowed to vote at the age of 21 (the same as men). From 1975 it was made illegal in Britain to sack women for becoming pregnant. Also in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. In the late 20th century the number of women in managerial and other highly paid jobs greatly increased.  

Friday, 31 August 2012


In the early 18th century England suffered from gin drinking. It was cheap and it was sold everywhere as you did not need a license to sell it. Many people ruined their health by drinking gin. Yet for many poor people drinking gin was their only comfort. The situation improved after 1751 when a tax was imposed on gin.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Poverty in the 17th Century

At the end of the 17th century a writer estimated that half the population could afford to eat meat every day. In other words about 50% of the people were wealthy of at least reasonably well off. Below them about 30% of the population could afford to eat meat between 2 and 6 times a week. They were 'poor'. The bottom 20% could only eat meat once a week. They were very poor. At least part of the time they had to rely on poor relief.

By an act of 1601 overseers of the poor were appointed by each parish. They had power to force people to pay a local tax to help the poor. Those who could not work such as the old and the disabled would be provided for. The overseers were meant to provide work for the able-bodied poor. Anyone who refused to work was whipped and, after 1610, they could be placed in a house of correction. Pauper's children were sent to local employers to be apprentices.  

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


I wrote a short history of Libya. Its only been a short time since the revolution but there is reason to be hopeful for the country.  

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


Aztec society was divided into classes. At the very top was the emperor. Below him were the nobles and priests. Below them were merchants, craftsmen, peasants and then slaves.

Merchants formed a class of their own. They lived in their own areas of cities and their children usually married the children of other merchants. Merchants who carried out long distance trade were called pochteca.

There were also many craftsmen in Aztec society. Although the Aztecs did not use iron and bronze some craftsmen made jewellery from gold, silver and copper. Other craftsmen made objects of obsidian, jade and semi-precious stones. There were also feather workers who made things like headdresses from feathers.

Monday, 27 August 2012


The great city of Liverpool began as a tidal pool next to the Mersey. It was probably called the lifer pol meaning muddy pool. There may have been a hamlet at Liverpool before the town was founded in the 13th century. It is not mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) but it may have been to small to merit a mention of its own.

King John founded the port of Liverpool in 1207. The English had recently conquered Ireland and John needed another port to send men and supplies across the Irish Sea. John started a weekly market by the pool. In those days there were very few shops so if you wanted to buy or sell goods you had to go to a market. Once a market was up and running at Liverpool craftsmen and tradesmen would come to live in the area. 

Friday, 24 August 2012


Games similar to draughts were played by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The Arabs played a similar game and by about 1100 a form of draughts was being played in France. In the USA draughts is called checkers. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Costa Rica

I wrote a brief history of Costa Rica. Fortunately Costa Rica is a Central American success story. Its a relatively prosperous country and its industries are growing.  


Figs have been grown in the Middle East since prehistoric times. They were mentioned in Sumer (Iraq) as early as 2,500 BC. They were a staple food in Egypt and were later grown by the Greeks and Romans. Figs were probably introduced to China in the 8th century AD. Figs were taken by Spaniards to the Americas in the 16th century. Figs were also introduced to England in the 16th century. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Space Exploration

The first human being in space was a Russian, Yuri Gagarin who was launched on 12 April 1961. He made a single orbit of the Earth and landed the same day.

The first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn on 20 February 1962 in Mercury 6.

The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited the Earth 48 times between 16 and 19 June 1963.

On 18 March 1965 Aleksi Leonov became the first person to walk in space.  

Monday, 13 August 2012

Antarctic Exploration

Captain Cook was the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle. Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911. Richard Peary was the first person to fly across the South Pole in 1929.  

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Model T Ford

On 12 August 1908 the first model T car was made by Henry Ford. The new car was very cheap and made motoring possible for the masses. The secret was mass production, which enabled the new cars to be assembled cheaply.  

Thursday, 9 August 2012

19th century sports

Ice hockey became an organised sport in the 1870s. The International Ice Hockey Federation was formed in 1908.

People have played games with mallets and hoops for centuries but modern croquet began in the 19th century. Similarly games similar to badminton have been played since ancient times. However modern badminton developed in the late 19th century.

At the end of the 19th century bicycling became a popular sport. The safety bicycle went on sale in 1885 and in 1892 John Boyd Dunlop invented pneumatic tyres (much more comfortable than solid rubber ones!) Bicycling clubs became common.

In the 19th century Archery was considered a suitable sport for women. It was considered 'ladylike'. Meanwhile polo is an ancient game. We are not certain where it was invented but it was probably played in Persia about 2,000 years ago. In the 19th century the British learned to play polo in India and they brought it back to Britain. The first polo club in Britain was founded in 1872.

Then in 1896 the Olympic Games were revived. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Great Terror

On 28 July Robespierre the man who sent thousands to their deaths during the French Revolution was guillotined himself.  

Monday, 23 July 2012

China in Space

 The Chinese launched their first manned spacecraft in 2003. In 2008 the first Chinese taikonaut walked in space.  Then in 2012 Liu Yang became the first Chinese woman in space.  

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Sri Lanka

On 21 July 1960 Sirimavo Bandaranaike became prime minister of Sri Lanka. She was the first woman prime minister in the world. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

William Herschel

William Herschel the great astronomer who discovered Uranus was born on 15 November 1738. He also discovered infrared light.  

Saturday, 14 July 2012


On 14 July 1789 the crowd in Paris captured the Bastille. There were only 7 prisoners in the Bastille but it was a symbol of royal power. The Bastille was built in the Middle Ages as a fort to defend Paris but it was later used as a prison. The fall of the Bastille meant the beginning of the end for Louis XVI.  

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis was hanged on 13 July 1955. She was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. I wrote a history of capital punishment in Britain 

Saturday, 7 July 2012


I wrote a brief history of Senegal. Its still a very poor country but the economy is growing steadily and there is reason to be hopeful about the future.  

Thursday, 5 July 2012


I wrote a short history of Panama. Its still a poor country but it is developing rapidly and it has a bright future. 

Monday, 2 July 2012


I wrote a short biography of Nicolaus Copernicus the great 16th century astronomer. He was the genius who realised that the Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun not the other way round.  

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Aztec Daily Life

I wrote a short article about the daily life of the Aztecs. They were a very interesting civilisation despite the horrific practice of human sacrifice. 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tycho Brahe

I wrote a short biography of the great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Although he lived before the invention of the telescope Tycho made accurate measurements of the movements of the planets and plotted the position of stars. His work was very useful to later astronomers like Kepler.  

Henry VIII

Henry VIII was born 28 June 1491. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


I wrote a short biography of the great astronomer Johannes Kepler. He was the genius who realised that planets orbit in ellipses not in circles. (At the time it was a revolutionary idea). He also discovered 3 laws of planetary motion.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012


On 24 June 1314 the Scots won a decisive victory at the battle of Bannockburn. I am surprised the Scots don't have a holiday to celebrate, a Bannockburn Day. It was one of their greatest victories and it assured Scottish independence.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


I wrote about the city of Brighton. It began as a Saxon village and it was turned into a small market town in the early 14th century. Brighton began to boom in the late 18th century when rich people believed that bathing in sea water was good for your health. Today Brighton is still one of Britain's greatest seaside resorts.  

Monday, 18 June 2012

Anglo Saxon Food

Anglo Saxon women ground grain, baked bread and brewed beer. Another Saxon drink was mead, made from fermented honey. (Honey was very important to the Saxons as there was no sugar for sweetening food. Bees were kept in every village). Upper class Anglo Saxons sometimes drank wine. The women cooked in iron cauldrons over open fires or in pottery vessels. They also made butter and cheese. Saxons ate from wooden bowls. There were no forks only knives and wooden spoons. Cups were made from cow horn.

The Anglo Saxons were fond of meat and fish. However meat was a luxury and only the rich could eat it frequently. The ordinary people usually ate a dreary diet of bread, cheese and eggs. They ate not just chickens eggs but eggs from ducks, geese and wild birds. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Place names

Is usually a corruption of burh, which meant a fort of fortified place. Aylesbury was Aegel's burh or burgh. Boarhunt was burh funta the spring by the fort. Narborough in Leicestershire was nor (north) burh.

Was the Danish word for village. Derby was Deor By the deer village. Enderby in Leicestershire was Eindrithi's by.

Are derived from the Saxon word ceaster, which meant a Roman fort or town. Lancaster was Lune ceaster. Chichester was Cissa's ceaster. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Modern Olympic Games

In 1896 the Olympic Games were revived. Wrestling, which had been a popular sport for thousands of years became an Olympic sport in 1904 and the first Olympic Winter Sports were held in 1924.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Captain Cook

I wrote a brief bio of Captain James Cook. Cook was one of the great explorers of the 18th century, known for surveying the coast of New Zealand and claiming New South Wales for Britain. He was also a humane and enlightened man.  

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Monday, 4 June 2012

Ned Kelly

I wrote a brief article about the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly. When he was hanged in 1880 his last words are supposed to have been 'such is life'.  

Sunday, 3 June 2012


In 1952 18% of households in Britain had a car and 6% had a fridge. In Britain tea rationing ended (there were no tea bags in the UK till 1953). In the USA The first sex change operation was performed. Mr Potato Head was invented. 12,000 people died in a London smog.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


I wrote a little history of Nicaragua. It is still a very poor country and underemployment is a serious problem. There is not much reason for optimism.  

Friday, 25 May 2012

Greek Science

The Ancient Greeks were the first scientists. Greek philosophers tried to explain what the world is made of and how it works. Empedocles (c. 494-434 BC) said that the world is made of four elements, earth, fire, water and air. Aristotle (384-322 BC) accepted the theory of the four elements. However he also believed that the Sun, Moon and planets are made of a fifth element and are unchanging. Aristotle also studied zoology and attempted to classify animals.

Aristotle also believed the body was made up of four humours or liquids (corresponding to the four elements). They were phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile. If a person had too much of one humour they fell ill.

Although some of their ideas were wrong the Greeks did make some scientific discoveries. A Greek named Aristarchros believed the Earth revolved around the Sun. Unfortunately his theory was not accepted. However Eratosthenes (c.276-194 BC) calculated the circumference of the Earth. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

First Newspapers

The first newspaper in England was published in 1641. The first American newspaper was printed in 1690.The first newspaper in Canada was printed in 1752. The first Australian newspaper was printed in 1803. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Dark Side of History

I have recently added a number of articles to a section of my website about the dark side of history  

Saturday, 19 May 2012


The word knickers to mean women's underwear was first recorded in Britain in 1881. The word panties was first recorded in the USA in 1908 but it never caught on in Britain.  

Sunday, 6 May 2012

History of Toys

John Spilsbury made the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. He intended to teach geography by cutting maps into pieces but soon people began making jigsaws for entertainment. The Kaleidoscope was invented in 1817.

In the 19th century middle class girls played with wood or porcelain dolls. They also had dolls houses, model shops and skipping ropes. Boys played with toys like marbles and toy soldiers as well as toy trains. (Some toy trains had working engines fuelled by methylated spirits). They also played with toy boats. However poor children had few toys and often had to make their own.

In a well off Victorian family children played with rocking horses and clockwork toys like moving animals. Clockwork trains were also popular. So was the jack-in-the-box.

Simple toys like spinning tops were also popular. So were hoops and games like knucklebones and pick up sticks in which you had to pick up coloured sticks from a pile without disturbing the others.

On Sundays children often played with toys with a religious themes like Noah's arks with wooden animals.

Children also loved magic lantern (slide) shows and puppet shows. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012


According to one story a French chef first made mayonnaise in 1756. However there are many stories about where it comes from. Hollandaise sauce was also first recorded in the mid-18th century. Ketchup began life as a Chinese fish sauce called ke-tsiap. The name was gradually changed to ketchup and in Britain people added other ingredients instead of fish. In the 18th century they began adding tomatoes. Sauces similar to tartar sauce were made in the Middle Ages but 'modern' tartar sauce was first made in the 1800s.

In the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution condiments began to be mass-produced in factories. Tomato ketchup was a best seller and HP sauce was invented at the end of the 19th century. Meanwhile Worcester sauce was invented in Worcester in 1835 by John Lea and William Perrins. Horseradish sauce went on sale in bottles in the USA around 1860. Salad cream was invented in 1914. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Middle Ages

When I was at school I was taught a very biased version of history. In it progress ended with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and began again with Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century, which is nonsense. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012


I wrote a brief history of Nepal. Today Nepal is still a very poor country but it has great potential for tourism and there is reason to be optimistic for its future.  

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dominican Republic

I wrote a little history of Dominican Republic. Its a poor country but its economy is growing quite strongly. In particular tourism is expanding and there is reason to be optimistic about the future of the country.  

Friday, 6 April 2012


Don't forget to read my history of Easter at  

Mary Tudor

I wrote a little article about Queen Mary Tudor who is sometimes called 'Bloody Mary' because she persecuted Protestants  

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tudor Life

You can read all about daily life in Tudor (16th century) life in my article  

Sunday, 25 March 2012


I wrote a little history of Antarctica at  I was going to write its history some years ago but I got cold feet.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I wrote a little history of Kettering in Northamptonshire at 

History of 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.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Board Games

Games similar to draughts were played by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The Arabs played a similar game and by about 1100 a form of draughts was being played in France. In the USA draughts is called checkers.  

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Mary Rose

I wrote a little timeline of events in World history during the time of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's warship, which sank in 1545. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Monday, 12 March 2012


In the early 19th century chocolate Easter eggs were made in France and Germany and from the 1870s they were made in England. Meanwhile in 1847 Fry made the first chocolate bar. However at first there was only dark chocolate. It was not until 1875 that a Swiss named Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate.

Meanwhile the first box of chocolates was made in 1854. In 1868 for the first time a box of chocolates was made in a heart shape for St Valentines Day. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012


The written history of Morocco began about 1,000 BC when a people called the Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon sailed there. The Phoenicians were great traders and they founded trading posts in Morocco. The Phoenicians founded the city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia. Soon Carthage became the dominant power in the region. Meanwhile by about 400 BC the native Berber tribesmen formed the kingdom of Mauritania.

In 146 BC the Romans conquered Carthage and their influence in North Africa gradually grew. Finally in 42 AD the Romans annexed the kingdom of Mauretania. Morocco remained under Roman rule until the 5th century AD.  

Friday, 2 March 2012


I wrote a little history of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. It has been a small market town since the 13th century but it grew much larger in the 19th century.  

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Boston US

Boston was founded in 1630 by English Puritans fleeing religious persecution. On 29 March 1630 a fleet of 11 ships carrying 700 people sailed from England to Massachusetts. They were led by John Winthrop (1588-1649).

At first the people settled at Charlestown, which had been founded the year before. However fresh water was short so most of the new settlers moved across the river to a peninsula called Trimountaine. In 1630 the new settlement was named Boston after Boston in England from which many of the settlers came. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Potatoes and pumpkins

Potatoes are native to South America and they were grown by the native people for thousands of years before Europeans discovered them. The Spaniards took potatoes to Europe in the 16th century and they were first introduced to England in 1586. However at first potatoes were regarded as a strange vegetable and they were not commonly grown in Europe until the 18th century. In the 1840s potatoes in Ireland were afflicted by potato blight and the result was a terrible famine as the people had come to rely on potatoes for their staple food.

Pumpkins are native to central America. The Native Americans used them as a staple food. Pumpkins were adopted as a food by European colonists. Meanwhile Christopher Columbus brought pumpkin seeds to Europe. In Tudor England pumpkins were called pompions. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012


In the 6th century St Petroc, the patron saint of Cornwall, established a monastery at Padstow. In the 10th century it moved to Bodmin. In the 12th century it was changed to an Augustinian priory. The name of the town 'Bodmin' may mean 'house of monks'. Certainly, for centuries the priory dominated the town. Henry VIII closed the priory in 1538 but the monk's fishpond survives as Priory Pond.

However at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Bodmin was the only market town in Cornwall. During the Middle Ages Bodmin was an important market for wool and tin. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

King John and Richard II

Most people know that King John (1199-1216) agreed to the Magna Carta but he was also the first English king to wear a dressing gown. Richard II (1377-1399) was the first English king to use a handkerchief.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday come from the old word shrive, to confess because people confessed their sins before Lent. You were not supposed to eat eggs during Lent so people used them up by making pancakes. Its also why we say 'gave him short shrift'. A shrift was a confession to a priest. You gave a criminal a short time to say a shrift before you hanged him.

Hanging, drawing and quartering

This was the punishment in England for treason. The person was drawn on a hurdle pulled by a horse to the place of execution. They were hanged (strangled by being suspended by a rope) but when they were still alive and sometimes conscious they were cut down. The executioner cut open their stomach and 'drew out' their entrails. Finally the person was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters.

After 1814 the full sentence was no longer carried out. Instead the person was hanged until they were dead and then beheaded. They were not disembowelled. The last case was in 1820. However hanging, drawing and quartering was not formally abolished until 1870.

Saturday, 18 February 2012


Runner beans
Runner beans are native to central America and were grown there long before they were discovered by Europeans in the 16th century. Runner beans were first grown in England in the 17th century.
Spinach is native to Asia. However it was unknown to the Greeks and Romans. It was first grown in Persia. Later it was grown by both the Arabs and the Chinese. The Arabs introduced spinach to southern Europe and by the 14th century it was eaten in England.
Tomatoes are native to South America. The Spaniards came across them in the 16th century. However tomatoes were unknown in England until the end of the 16th century.  


I wrote a brief history of Greece. Its a fascinating country.  

Friday, 17 February 2012


Sydney was founded in 1788 when the first fleet arrived in Australia from England. On 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships set sail from Portsmouth, England. On board were 759 convicts, most of them men with sailors and marines to guard the prisoners. With them they took seeds, farm implements, livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and chickens and 2 years supply of food. The first colonists came ashore at Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. They were commanded by Captain Arthur Philip (1738-1814).

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.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Life in Britain in 1913

I wrote a brief article about life in England in 1913 at  

Shepton Mallet

Shepton Mallet lies just west of a main Roman road, Fosse Way and the Romans settled in the area. However the modern village of Shepton Mallet was founded by the Saxons. They conquered eastern Somerset in the 7th century and founded many villages. Shepton Mallet was once called sceapton malet. Sceap means sheep and tun meant farm, estate of settlement. Obviously it was a place known for sheep. In the 12th century the Malet family were the lords of the manor. In time it became Shepton Mallet.

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Shepton Mallet was only a small village with a population of only about 100. Later in the Middle Ages it grew larger but in the 14th century it probably still had only 400 or 500 inhabitants. However in 1318 Shepton Mallet was granted the right to hold weekly markets so it must have a been a busy little place. In The Square are the remains of the Shambles where butchers sold meat.  

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Christopher Scholes who invented the first practical typewriter was born on this day in 1819. Today he is forgotten by most people, which is a pity as we still use his qwerty lay out on our keyboards.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Ancient Musical Instruments

The Ancient Egyptians played many instruments. They played castanets, drums and bells. They also played stringed instruments like the harp, the lyre (a kind of vertical harp) and the lute. They also played wind instruments like flutes and trumpets. The Egyptians also played a rattle called a sistrum.

The Greeks played stringed instruments like the harp and the lyre. They also played a large lyre called a Kithara. Its strings were plucked with a plectrum. The Greeks also played wind instruments like the syrinx or panpipes, which was made of reeds of different lengths. They also played cymbals.

The Romans had similar musical instruments, the lyre and harp, the trumpet and flutes. The Romans also played the bagpipes and they made organs. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Edinburgh started as a fort. Castle Rock is an easily defended position so from earliest times it was the site of a fort. In the 7th century the English captured this part of Scotland and they called this place Eiden's burgh (burgh is an old word for fort). In the 10th century the Scots re-captured the area. Late in the 11th century Malcolm III built a castle on Castle Rock and a small town grew up nearby. By the early 12th century Edinburgh was a flourishing community.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Monday, 6 February 2012


In England a law of 1531 allowed poisoners to be boiled alive. In 1532 a cook called Richard Roose was boiled alive and in 1542 a woman called Margaret Davy was boiled alive. However the law was repealed in 1547. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

What the Russians did for us

What did the Russians do for us? They gave us the great writers Tolstoy, Chekov and Dovstoyevsky and the composers Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov. Dmitri Mendeleev created the periodic table of elements. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman. Most importantly millions of Russians died fighting the Germans during the Second World War.

Friday, 3 February 2012

English Place Names

Is usually a corruption of burh, which meant a fort of fortified place. Aylesbury was Aegel's burh or burgh. Boarhunt was burh funta the spring by the fort. Narborough in Leicestershire was nor (north) burh.

Was the Danish word for village. Derby was Deor By the deer village. Enderby in Leicestershire was Eindrithi's by.

Are derived from the Saxon word ceaster, which meant a Roman fort or town. Lancaster was Lune ceaster. Chichester was Cissa's ceaster. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

What the Swedes did for us

What did the Swedes do for us? They gave us the great botanist Carl Linnaeus, the astronomer Anders Celcius who invented centigrade temperature measurements and Anders Angstrom a great physicist. (The Angstom unit used to measure microscopic distances is named after him). A Swede named Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.

Let the cat out of the bag

It’s also a myth that the phrase 'let the cat out of the bag' comes because a cat o' nine tails was kept in a bag. The cat o' nine tails was not used in England till the mid-17th century but the phrase is much older. It probably comes because people at market used to sell pigs in bags but sometimes by sleight of hand they would give the customer a bag with a cat in it instead. If you let the cat out of the bag you exposed the deception.

The Upper Crust

It’s a myth that we call the rich the 'upper crust' because in Tudor times they cut the top off a loaf and gave it to the rich. They may have done that sometimes but the phrase was never recorded in the 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th century in England. It was first recorded in the USA in the 19th century. It wasn't used in England till the 20th century. I am afraid that many charming stories about old sayings are myths.


I wrote a little history of Greenland. It only has a small population but its a fascinating country.  

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ancient Surgery

The Egyptians did have some knowledge of anatomy from making mummies. To embalm a dead body they first removed the principal organs, which would otherwise rot.

However Egyptian surgery was limited to such things as treating wounds and broken bones and dealing with boils and abscesses. The Egyptians used clamps, sutures and cauterisation. They had surgical instruments like probes, saws, forceps, scalpels and scissors.

They also knew that honey helped to prevent wounds becoming infected. (It is a natural antiseptic). They also dressed wounds with willow bark, which has the same effect.

The Ancient Greeks bathed wounds with wine. (The alcohol helped to prevent infection).

In the Roman Empire techniques of surgery were dominated by the ideas of Galen. He was interested in anatomy. Unfortunately by his time dissecting human bodies was forbidden. So Galen had to dissect animal bodies including apes. However animal bodies are not the same as human bodies and so some of Galen's ideas were quite wrong. Unfortunately Galen was a very influential writer. For centuries his writings dominated medicine. 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Vacuum cleaners

The vacuum cleaner was invented by Hubert Booth in 1901. His earliest model was petrol driven and was so big it had to be pulled through the streets by a horse. It was parked outside your house and hoses were fed through the windows. The first portable electric vacuum cleaner was invented in 1908. Gradually during the 20th century vacuum cleaners became cheaper and more common. By 1959 about two thirds of British homes had a vacuum cleaner. Then in 1979 James Dyson patented the bagless cyclonic vacuum cleaner. It went on sale in 1993.  

Thursday, 26 January 2012

What the Norwegians did for us

What did the Norwegians do for us? They gave us the artist Edvard Munch and the composer Edvard Greig and the explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole.  

What the Hungarians and Czechs did for us

What did the Hungarians and Czechs do for us? A Hungarian named Biro invented the biro (I used to hate fountain pens at school). A Czech invented the modern contact lens. A Czech playwright invented the word robot. The great writer Franz Kafka was a Czech. Many Czech pilots fought in the Battle of Britain.


On 26 January 1788 the first fleet reached Australia. It was the start of a great nation.  

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

What the Poles did for us

What did the Poles do for us? 10% of the pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain were Polish and the Polish resistance gathered vital info about the German V1 flying bomb. Polish soldiers fought the Nazis in North Africa, Italy and France. The composers Chopin and Paderewski were Poles. So were the great astronomer Copernicus and the scientist Marie Curie. In 1923 a Pole named Leo Gerstenzang invented cotton swabs (cotton buds).

What the Romanians and Bulgarians did for us

What did the Romanians and Bulgarians do for us? A Romanian called Nicolae Paulescu discovered insulin. A Romanian engineer called Henri Coanda played a key role in developing the jet engine. A Bulgarian engineer called Assen Jordanoff played a big part in developing modern aircraft. A Bulgarian scientist called John Atanasoff played a large role in the invention of computers.

Chinese inventions

What did the Chinese do for us? Most people know they invented gunpowder and fireworks. They also invented tea and ice cream. The Chinese also invented silk, porcelain and wallpaper. They also invented the toothbrush and they invented playing cards.

What the Romans did for us

What did the Romans do for us? They introduced celery, cabbages, radishes, carrots, cucumber, broad beans, peas, turnips, lettuce and walnuts into Britain. (Food must have been boring before then!)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

6th Century Plague

In the 6th century AD bubonic plague struck and killed millions. It 543 AD it struck the Byzantine Empire and it soon spread to other parts of Europe. The 6th century plague may have killed 25% of the population. It certainly claimed the lives of millions. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Medieval Towns

In the Middle Ages most people lived in the countryside and made a living from farming. However at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) about 10% of the population of England lived in towns. Moreover trade boomed in the following two centuries and many new towns were founded.

The first thing that would surprise us about those towns would be their small size. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 London had a population of about 18,000. By the 14th century it rose to about 45,000. Other towns were much smaller. York may have had a population of about 13,000 by 1400 but it then fell to about 10,000 by 1500. Most towns had between 2,000 and 5,000 inhabitants.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


I wrote a history of Rotherham in Yorkshire, one of Britain's great steel towns and a major manufacturing centre at  

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

British Television

Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting. TV was suspended during World War II but it began again in 1946. TV first became common in the 1950s. A lot of people bought a TV set to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II and a survey at the end of the that year showed that about one quarter of households had one. By 1959 about two thirds of homes had a TV. By 1964 the figure had reached 90% and TV had become the main form of entertainment - at the expense of cinema, which declined in popularity.

At first there was only one TV channel but between 1955 and 1957 the ITV companies began broadcasting. BBC2 began in 1964 and Channel 4 began in 1982.

In Britain BBC 2 began broadcasting in colour in 1967, BBC 1 followed in 1969. 

Monday, 16 January 2012


A gladiator training school was called a ludus. At its head was the owner and trainer of gladiators, called a lanista. Among types of gladiator were the Thracian, who carried a small round shield called a parma and a retiarius who carried a fishnet and a trident. A murmillo carried a sword and shield similar to those used by Roman soldiers. Other types of gladiator were equites who fought on horseback with lances. British gladiators fought from chariots. They were called essedarii. Gladiators called andabatae fought wearing helmets with no eye holes. As they were blind they had to listen for their opponent!

Gladiators also fought animals such as lions and tigers. Furthermore fights sometimes took place on artifical lakes. Small ships were launched on an artificial lake and sea battles called naumachiae were held on them.  

Friday, 13 January 2012


For centuries Eastbourne was a large village. The people lived by farming or sometimes by fishing. However in 1232 Eastbourne was granted the right to hold markets and fairs. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and they attracted buyers and sellers from far and wide).

At the end of the 16th century Eastbourne was called a market town but it was really a large village. To us it would seem tiny. It probably had a population of less than 1,000.

Little changed in Eastbourne until the late 18th century. At that time people believed that bathing in seawater was good for your health and could cure disease. It became fashionable to stay at the seaside. In 1780 George III's children stayed at Eastbourne. However afterwards Eastbourne only grew slowly. Even in 1851 it had a population of less than 3,500.  

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

20th century newspapers

In the 20th century newspapers became still more common. The Daily Mail was first published in 1896, The Daily Express was first published in 1900 and the Daily Mirror began publication in 1903.

In 1964 The Daily Herald became The Sun and The Daily Star was founded in 1978. Meanwhile The Sunday Telegraph was founded in 1961 and in 1962 The Sunday Times became the first newspaper to publish a Sunday colour supplement. The Mail on Sunday began in 1982. The Independent was first published in 1986. Also in 1986 Today became the first colour newspaper in Britain.  

Monday, 9 January 2012


Medieval furniture was very basic. Even in a rich household chairs were rare. Often only the lord sat on one so he was the 'chairman'. Most people sat on stools or benches. Rich people also had tables and large chests, which doubled up as beds. In Old English a chest was called an ark and a man who made chests was an arkwright, which is where the surname comes from.  

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Durham was founded by a group of monks. A man named St Cuthbert was Bishop of Lindisfarne. St Cuthbert died in 687 and soon people began to claim that miracles happened near his grave (in those days people believed that dead bodies could work miracles). In 698 his body was exhumed and it was found that it had not decayed. As a result a cult began around the body of St Cuthbert and many people came to visit it.

In the 10th century the Vikings raided the coast of England. In 985 the monks who looked after Cuthbert's body decided to move from Lindisfarne to somewhere safer. For 10 years they wandered from place to place until eventually they settled at Durham.

The name Durham means hill on an island. It comes from the old English words dun meaning hill and holmr meaning island. A church was built for the monks. The body of Cuthbert continued to act as a magnet for visitors. Soon a town grew up on the site. It was an ideal site for a town as it was easy to defend and it had a major 'tourist attraction'. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ancient Greek Education

In ancient Greece girls learned skills like weaving from their mothers. Only boys went to school. They started at the age of seven. Boys from a rich family were escorted to school by a slave.

The boys learned reading, writing and arithmetic as well as poetry and music. The Greeks also believed that physical education was very important so boys did dancing and athletics.

Discipline was severe in Ancient Greek schools and children were often beaten.
In Sparta children were treated very harshly. At the age of 7 boys were removed from their families and sent to live in barracks. They were treated severely to turn them into brave soldiers. They were deliberately kept short of food so they would have to steal - teaching them stealth and cunning. They were whipped for any offence.

Spartan girls learned athletics and dancing - so they would become fit and healthy mothers of more soldiers.  

Sunday, 1 January 2012


In 1612 they began growing tobacco in Virginia. The trial of the Pendle Witches in Lancashire took place. Christianity was banned in Japan. On the other hand the first Baptist Church met in England. Meanwhile English sailors reached Thailand.


In 1712 Newcomen began making steam engines to pump water out of coal mines (they weren't used in factories till much later). The German composer Handel moved to London. Sir Hans Sloane, doctor to King George II bought land at Chelsea. Sloane Square is named after him. In France the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born.


In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia but later retreated from Moscow. The USA went to war with Britain. Meanwhile Lousiana became the 18th US state. British prime minister Spencer Perceval was shot (so far he is the only prime minister to be assassinated). Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth.