Category Archives: American history

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History

This 50th issue coincides with the publication on 7th September of our latest book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History. It also coincides with Gibraltar’s National Day on 10th September, which this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, the first time that Gibraltarians were given the choice of retaining their link with Britain or coming under Spanish sovereignty. They decisively chose to remain British. Another key event is that 2017 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Eliott – the Governor of Gibraltar throughout the Great Siege.

In the UK, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is published in hardback (ISBN 9781408708675). It is 449 pages long, plus a prologue, black-and-white and colour plates, and several maps.

“well-researched and briskly written narrative … worthy of the most melodramatic Hollywood blockbuster” (Sunday Times)

E-books and audiobook

It is also available as an e-book in various formats, and there is an unabridged downloadable audiobook produced by Hachette Audio. The narrator is John Telfer, no less – the acclaimed actor Continue reading

Coxheath Camp

We are continuing to work on our new book about the Great Siege of Gibraltar. Generally, publishers specify a word length based on what is felt to be commercially viable and what the authors feel is appropriate. When doing research, we tend to find enough material to fill many volumes, but the trick is to cut it all down to produce something readable. For our Gibraltar siege book, we could easily wander off into countless digressions, leaving no space for the main story, but our newsletters do allow us to indulge in digressions galore – such as Coxheath Camp here.

Gibraltar’s Great Siege was rooted in the American War of Independence. In early 1778 France sided with the rebel colonies and then in July declared war on Britain. The French tried to persuade Spain to unite with them against Britain and even offered to help capture Gibraltar. Eventually, in June 1779, Spain also declared war on Britain, and the Great Siege of Gibraltar began. While all this was going on, Coxheath was turning into an enormous military camp.

Coxheath (marked ‘Cocksheath’) in the centre of this 1783 map of Kent

Early days

Coxheath – sometimes spelled ‘Cocksheath’ – was located just south of the town of Maidstone in Kent, some 30 miles south-east of the City of London. It comprised a stretch of wild heath Continue reading

The Year Without a Summer

The 2016 summer in Britain has been somewhat indifferent – very few scorching hot days, much cloud and below-average temperatures. Exactly two centuries ago, the weather was far worse. As Jane Austen died in July 1817, her very last full summer in 1816 was a wretched one, and she refers to the rain and the cold in a few of her surviving letters. ‘I begin to think it will never be fine again,’ she lamented in early July. On 1st September 1816 William Holland, the vicar of Over Stowey in Somerset, wrote in his diary: ‘The weather has continued in the same uncertain state that it has done for sometime past. Indeed properly speaking we have had no summer, for we scarce have been a week without [a] fire throughout, I have now this very day a fire in the parlour.’ For much of the year his diary had been a litany of bad weather and dashed hopes. In his rural community, he was keenly aware of the effects of the weather on the crops. The constant rain had delayed the hay harvest considerably, and two weeks earlier he had written: ‘Rainy, windy weather confined William [his son] & I within doors – nay we had a fire tho’ in the midst of August. What will become of the corn I know not, for it does not ripen.’

Flooded and frozen

This exceptional weather was not confined to south-west England, but was felt right across the northern hemisphere. Continue reading

A Presidential Duel

Attention is now keenly focused on the presidential election campaign in the United States of America, but over 200 years ago differences of opinion were decided in more traditional ways. On Saturday 11th August 1804, The Times newspaper in London carried the following story:

‘We yesterday received sets of the New York Papers up to the 14th of last month. The intelligence which may be considered of most importance in them respects the death of General Hamilton, who was to have succeeded the present American Ambassador at Paris [Robert Livingston]. He died on the 12th of July, at two in the afternoon, in consequence of a wound received in a duel on the morning of the preceding day. His antagonist was Colonel Burr, who fills the office of Vice-President of the United States. The causes which led to this unhappy catastrophe are not stated in the American newspapers.’

Confusion

The American newspapers also lacked precise information, though there was a great deal of speculation. Continue reading

The Pillars of Hercules

The stretch of water between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is known as the Strait of Gibraltar, separating Spain and Gibraltar from north Africa (Morocco). The southernmost tip of Spain (and of Europe itself) is at the town of Tarifa, and here the African coast is only 10 miles (16 km) away. Gibraltar lies some 15 miles (24 km) north-east of Tarifa, and the African coast is almost 14 miles (22 km) away. Even though the distance to Africa is greater here, the promontories of Calpe (Gibraltar) and Abyla (Ceuta in Africa) were significant in Greek and Roman mythology, as they were believed to be the mythical ‘Pillars of Hercules’.

This picture shows the Strait of Gibraltar, looking westwards. The African coast with the promontory of Ceuta is on the left. Next comes the seaway of the Strait of Gibraltar that opens into the Atlantic. The right-hand half of the picture portrays the coast of Spain, with the distinctive darker outline of the Rock of Gibraltar in front.

Gibraltar StraitThe Pillars of Hercules looking westwards from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic

The myth of the Pillars of Hercules originated with the ancient Greeks and was adopted Continue reading

Inn names in London

London has always been a city through which to travel to other places, as well as a destination in its own right. Nowadays, the airports, railway stations and coach stations are the transport hubs, but when travel relied on horses, coaching inns performed this function. These inns stabled teams of horses so that stagecoaches and mail coaches were provided with fresh animals along their route after travelling around 7–10 miles. They also offered food and drink to travellers. Some visitors used coaching inns as hotels, renting a room for the duration of their stay and taking some meals there. One of the most famous was the Belle Sauvage, also known as the Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill.

An American in London

In 1805 Benjamin Silliman, a 25-year-old American, arrived in England to further his science studies. He had read law at Yale College and then studied chemistry and natural philosophy, and he was destined to become a foremost figure in science. On returning to America, Continue reading

Arlington to Paris Wireless

As we have said in previous newsletters, history has not organised itself very well for 2015, with its surfeit of anniversaries. Amongst them has been the 100th anniversary of the first successful transatlantic wireless telephone call, which took place during World War One – in October 1915 – between the wireless towers at Arlington, Virginia, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Arlington towers, USA

The wireless towers at Arlington, Virginia, in 1916 or 1917 (Library of Congress)

London calling

In 1932, the London writer and journalist Albert Gravely Linney commented that ‘the abodes of the wealthy’ in Chelsea had ‘electric lights, frigidaires, radio gramophones, vacuum cleaners, telephones, Continue reading

Cans and can openers

The quest for preservation

There was a constant search for a successful method of preserving food for those who did not have easy access to fresh supplies, such as on long sea voyages when the diet for most seamen was hard biscuit and salted meat (pork and beef) kept in wooden casks. By the end of the 18th century a method of preserving food in airtight glass bottles had been perfected by the Frenchman Nicolas Appert, and ‘bottling’ fruit is still popular for preserving home-grown produce. Glass was fragile and heavily taxed, and so the search went on for better methods. In the early 19th century, canning was developed as a means of preserving food, but it only became cost-effective after the Napoleonic Wars, using thick tin-plated iron canisters, referred to now as tins or cans – the tinning prevented corrosion (nowadays, cans and canned food tend to be called tins and tinned food in Britain). These were bulk containers, not intended for household use. By the 1840s, the Royal Navy was ever more reliant on canned meat, Continue reading

Retrospective: The War for All the Oceans

Some of the feedback we have received about our latest book, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (Jane Austen’s England in the USA), has expressed surprise that we have also written naval and archaeological books. All our books are described on our website, but we have decided now and again to look back over some earlier books. So as to commemorate the significant events that occurred in America during the War of 1812 (which actually lasted from 1812 to 1815), we are looking here at The War for All the Oceans.

Oceans UK paperback jacket Continue reading

Magna Carta Legacy

The manuscript

Returning to the story of Magna Carta, once King John had sworn the agreement with the barons, the scribes made numerous copies of the charter, probably in the king’s chancery at Windsor castle. This was the government office that created and archived official documents, and it travelled with the king. These copies of Magna Carta were distributed throughout England to inform people what had happened. Four copies have survived, as well as several later versions. In an era long before paper, documents were handwritten with quill pens Continue reading