We recently stopped at Alton in Hampshire for another visit. This town is 40 miles south-west of the city of London and close to the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen spent her final years (she also used to visit Alton frequently). We had planned to spend an hour or so here, but stayed much longer, because it felt open for business and welcoming.
Decline of communities
Alton is a thriving market town, which is a rarity, because although politicians bailed out banks with taxpayers’ money, they then allowed them to close down a staggering number of branches, thousands of them, leaving some places without a single branch. This has had devastating consequences and forces people to travel much further from their local communities for basic services – which is not great for the environment.
The closure of local newspapers has also led to a failure of accountability, so that local councils have, with near impunity, raised car parking charges and closed down amenities such as public libraries, buses, youth clubs and toilets, exacerbating the spiral of decline.
By contrast, Alton felt vibrant. It was market day, there was glorious sunshine, and we were looking for a few places associated with Jane Austen and her family, in particular her two naval brothers, Frank and Charles. Continue reading
For many years, we created newsletters that were emailed to subscribers and were also posted on Our Newsletters website page, fifty-three in all. They contained our latest news, as well as features on anything that appealed to us. We were able to stray well beyond the confines of our published books, or perhaps expand on something in those books, and we were also able to include photographs and other illustrations.
Regrettably, we have now stopped producing newsletters, because of the imposition by the European Union of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which places an onerous burden on small businesses.
From now on, keep an eye instead on the different pages of our website, and take a look at this blog. We will continue to add any news in our Latest News page of the website, and any forthcoming talks or interviews will be listed on the Events page.
If you enjoy these newsletters and blog, then you will probably also enjoy our books!
If you are now at a loss for something to read, we would (of course) suggest that you try any of our books that you haven’t read. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary, though 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
Roman archaeology has been one of our long-abiding passions, even an obsession, and as field archaeologists for some three decades, we worked on excavations of several Roman sites in Britain, from rural hovels to villas, towns and fortresses. We even spent our honeymoon on Hadrian’s Wall, and have visited countless other sites throughout the Roman Empire, pored over exhibits in museums and written papers and books on Roman themes. Recently, we were very pleased to be sent a newly published book called Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome by Paul N Pearson (Pen & Sword Military hardback, 2016, ISBN 9781473847033, xxiv prelims, 296 pages, illustrations, maps, appendices, endnotes, bibliography and index).
Before saying anything more, we must declare an interest. In the dim and distant past, Continue reading
The Romans liked to eat well, and some of their choices of food are still regarded as wholesome today, particularly the staples of bread, olives and wine. They also had a liking for pungent fish sauces such as liquamen, muria and – the best-known one – garum. The production of these sauces was a by-product of the fish-processing industry, mainly in Roman settlements along the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal and north Africa, where there was an abundant supply of fish. Fish sauce, especially garum, was so popular that it was exported across the Roman empire as an expensive delicacy. Doubtless in far-flung garrisons on the edges of the empire, many ex-patriot Romans found garum a welcome reminder of home comforts back in Italy.
Raw materials for a Roman meal
Garum was produced on an industrial scale in purpose-built factories. One factory Continue reading
It’s good to talk – isn’t it?
In days long past, while working as archaeologists in London and Surrey, we were regularly asked to give talks, sometimes as the main entertainment or as part of a programme of talks with several speakers. Rather than simply describe our discoveries, we had to illustrate them with 35mm slides, so there was a lot to prepare, especially if we had to take our own projector equipment, such as screen, projector, projector stand and extension leads. The talks were hosted mainly by local and county archaeology societies, most of whose members enjoyed archaeology as a hobby and quite often worked as volunteers on excavations. Because archaeologists were public servants (and therefore poorly paid!), we were expected to give talks as part of the job, usually with no remuneration, but we did enjoy doing them. The most memorable one was to a packed hall somewhere in the City of London, and afterwards they took us off to an old pub, leading us down dark alleyways and pointing out parts of the city that we never knew existed. That was quite magical. Continue reading
Cyprus, a beautiful island in the eastern Mediterranean, is now mainly known as a popular holiday destination. With its pleasant beaches, beautiful mountains and bright sunshine, it is difficult to imagine that this island was once the heart of the sugar industry that supplied western Europe. Before the medieval period, honey was the source of sweet flavouring. The cultivation of sugar cane probably originated on the islands of the south Pacific, gradually spreading to India and China. It slowly expanded westwards, to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, and by the 10th century there is evidence of a sugar industry in Cyprus.
Sugar cane growing in Egypt (left) and before processing
When western armies went on crusade to the Holy Land, they encountered sugar cane for the first time. Gradually, sugar became known in Europe, initially as a medicine. Continue reading
In the early days of archaeology, even before it was generally called ‘archaeology’, antiquarians realised that the earliest humans had no idea of metals, but used stone for tools and weapons. The first metals were those requiring the most simple technology – copper, gold and bronze. Later on, it was discovered how to produce iron. The antiquarians were faced with the problem of how to organise and record their findings and theories, because they were quite literally working with a blank sheet. They ended up using terms like ‘Stone Age’ and ‘Iron Age’, named after the main materials used for tools and weapons.
This was the discovery of prehistory – ‘before history’ – when our ancestors talked with each other but wrote nothing down, Continue reading
ROYAL HISTORICAL SOCIETY
We were recently both honoured to be elected as Fellows of the Royal Historical Society. This prestigious learned society was founded in 1868, and is currently based at University College London. The society’s website is here.
SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF LONDON
We are also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London, which was founded much earlier, in 1707, and is today based at Burlington House in London (next door to the Royal Academy). The Society also owns and manages Kelmscott Manor, the Cotswold retreat of William Morris, which is open to the public from April to October. The Society produces an invaluable fortnightly digest of news from the heritage sector, called Salon, and Continue reading
Probably due to the mechanisation of harvesting cereal crops, the tradition of making straw shapes and figures (‘corn dollies’) largely died out by the early years of the 20th century in Britain. From about the 1960s, the craft was revived, particularly for tourist souvenirs. The term ‘corn’ referred to cereal crops such as wheat, though nowadays corn can also mean ‘corn on the cob’ or maize. Many of the traditional and revived ‘corn dollies’ bore no resemblance to dolls or figures.
A simple corn dolly, made in the 1960s
THE LAST STRAW STANDING
Before the 20th century, local harvest customs were widespread throughout Britain, and although they differed from place to place, various elements were common to most. When the final patch of corn was cut, Continue reading