Welcome to our blog, ‘Patterns of the Past’. We are historians and archaeologists, and on this blog you can read short features about all sorts of fascinating topics. We write them in the same way as our books, but instead of keeping to a particular theme, we wander wherever we wish. You can read more stories by going to ARCHIVES or CATEGORIES on the right. Do please leave comments (just click on the title of the post, which will bring in the ‘comments box’).
The American edition of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History has just been published in hardback in the United States and Canada by Viking (ISBN 9780735221628), 449 pages long, plus prelims and prologue, maps and other illustrations. It is also available as an e-book and an audio download. It is almost the same as the UK edition, though with a few corrections and amendments and a very striking jacket.
The French connection
The publication coincides with the 240th anniversary of France becoming officially involved with the American Revolution (War of Independence). Never having recovered from the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), France was looking to ways of seeking revenge against Britain. From 1777 she had allowed arms and other equipment to be shipped to the rebels in America, while American privateers were permitted to shelter in French ports. In March 1778, France signed a treaty recognising American independence, and the first hostile act between Britain and France was a frigate action in June 1778, when the French Belle Poule fought the British Arethusa. The following month, Britain declared war on France. It took France almost another year to persuade Spain to join in, leading to the start of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779.
John Trumbull’s finest painting
The UK and American jackets of Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History are very different, but both are based on the work of contemporary American artists. The UK jacket features a painting by John Singleton Copley (see our newsletter 50), while this Viking jacket uses a magnificent painting by John Trumbull.
Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, Trumbull became a soldier at the beginning of the Continue reading
The traditional time for planning holidays was once the period after Christmas, when – in the northern hemisphere – the days are short, dark and cold. If one of the holiday destinations you are considering is Spain, bear in mind that there is much more to the country than ‘sea, sand and sangria’. You do not have to travel far from the coast to find small settlements steeped in history, and the delightful town of San Roque in Andalusia is a good example.
Gibraltar in exile
San Roque is situated on the main coastal highway between the surfing centre of Tarifa (Europe’s most southerly town) and Marbella and Malaga on the Costa del Sol. It is built on a hill a short distance inland from the Bay of Gibraltar, and its key historical significance lies in the relationship with the Rock of Gibraltar. After the British Admiral George Rooke took Gibraltar with an Anglo-Dutch squadron of ships in 1704, many of the existing inhabitants fled to San Roque, which King Philip V of Spain designated ‘Gibraltar in Exile’.
Picturesque San Felipe Street in San Roque
The old quarter of San Roque is an area of buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries that was designated a collection of Listed Historic Buildings in 1975. Continue reading
Two of our books on classical civilisations, Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome and Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece, are published in English, Chinese and Russian. In 2008, Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome was published in Chinese as a substantial paperback (739 pages) by The Commercial Press in Beijing (ISBN 9787100058285). The first Chinese edition of Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece was published in 2010, with 839 pages (ISBN 9787100067348). Recently, we were very pleased to receive hardback copies of both books that The Commercial Press recently published (in 2016), with striking covers (see below). The Rome one (ISBN 9787100114806) has 508 pages, while the Greece one (ISBN 9787100120371) has 594 pages. The publisher’s website is here.
For more about these two books, see our website page here.
When you next post a letter, take a look at the letter box (or post box). We’ve recently been in Gibraltar, where they are instantly recognisable to visitors from Britain, being of cast iron, painted red and bearing a royal cipher. British letter boxes are so traditional that they are commonly depicted on Christmas cards, adorned with seasonal snow and a festive robin or two.
A rare pillar box near Main Street, Gibraltar, of Edward VIII,
who abdicated. The cipher reads ER VIII
French New Year Postcards from the 1920s
Postcards have long been used for sending Christmas and New Year greetings (see our newsletter 43), especially in the heyday of the General Post Office in Britain, when a next-day delivery of letters and postcards was provided (and in some places a same-day delivery). The use of postcards for festive greetings was not confined to Britain, as is shown by this collage of four distinctly French New Year greetings postcards that date to the 1920s, with the words ‘Bonne Année’ – Happy New Year. We wish you all the very best for 2018.
For our final talk of 2017 on our new book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege of British History, we were invited to the Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival, which took place from 16th to 19th November. Because our talk was the very first one, we had no idea in advance what to expect.
The venue for our talk was the beautiful historic Garrison Library, where we have spent many hours doing research. Full of atmosphere, it was the focal point for the festival and provided the ideal setting, because it was originally founded by John Drinkwater. He served as an ensign in the 72nd Manchester Regiment throughout the Great Siege Continue reading
This year, 2017, is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death in July 1817. It is also the bicentenary of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which were published posthumously in December 1817 – some 42 years after she was born.
Death at Winchester
Jane Austen was born in the Hampshire village of Steventon on 16th December 1775, and she lived in various places, such as Southampton and Steventon in Hampshire and Bath in Somerset. When she became seriously ill in April 1817, a physician from Winchester in Hampshire was consulted after the local doctor admitted defeat. Continue reading
One of the projects with which John Drinkwater was involved after the Napoleonic Wars was the construction of the Regent’s Canal through London, which was begun in 1812 and completed in 1820. The Regent’s Canal was part of a grand plan of the architect John Nash to redevelop a large area of central London for the Prince Regent. Prince George, later King George IV, ruled as Prince Regent from 1811 to 1820 when his father, George III, was too incapacitated by mental illness. Like the canal, other parts of this scheme, such as Regent’s Park and Regent’s Street, were named after the Prince.
The canal was designed to link the Paddington section of the Grand Junction Canal, which had opened in 1801, with the River Thames at Limehouse. Unusually for a canal just over 8½ miles long, Continue reading
John Drinkwater was a more lowly officer, but one of the most interesting characters of the siege. He was born at Latchford near Warrington in Lancashire in 1762, and his father was a former naval surgeon who had set up a medical practice at nearby Salford, on the edge of Manchester. It was only natural, therefore, that if he was going to join the army, it was likely to be a local regiment.
John Drinkwater in his captain’s uniform after the siege
American War of Independence
Once the French started helping the American colonies, a new wave of patriotism spread through Britain, with new regiments being recruited by private subscription, including the 72nd Regiment of Foot at Manchester. Drinkwater was a former Manchester Grammar School pupil who joined this regiment as an ensign in 1777. He was 15 years old, with no military experience, Continue reading
For more than 3½ years, from June 1779 to February 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history. We relate this epic tale in our new book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History.
West side of Gibraltar
Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, right on the edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a British military garrison and home to several thousand civilians, a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. Before the siege, life was particularly pleasant Continue reading