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.