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.