Our new book was published in hardback and e-book on 11th November 2021, called When There Were Birds: The forgotten history of our connections. It is available in all superior bookshops and libraries, as well as online retailers. See our website page for details and reviews.
An audiobook will be available in 2022.
“a marvellously original slice of social history” (Daily Mail, Book of the Week)
“an appealing social history of Britain … [with] a lot of quirky information” (The Independent)
“The facts and folklore of birdlife … are dissected in admirable detail” (The Sunday Times)
Our article ‘Royal George: The Sinking of the Royal Navy’s Greatest Warship’ was published in the summer 2020 issue of the online magazine Quarterdeck. This was the disastrous accidental sinking of the Royal George warship at Spithead, off Portsmouth, in August 1782. As well as the loss of over 900 lives, it was also the loss of the flagship that was about to lead a relief convoy to the besieged Rock of Gibraltar. The delay caused by the sinking and its aftermath almost led to Gibraltar being captured by the French and Spanish, but the garrison of the Rock held out.
It was an important incident for British, American and Gibraltarian history, which we feature in Continue reading →
Excellent news for all you audiobook listeners (or would-be listeners) – Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle was released for the first time as an audiobook on 22nd October, to coincide with the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (and death of Nelson) that took place on 21st October 1805.
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While in London a year or so ago, we went to Green Park to see a pair of huge blue and gold wrought-iron gates, a Grade II* Listed Building. The gates, which once formed a grand entrance to Green Park, are a reminder that visible traces of history can be much more complex than first impressions. They were originally made for the estate that Lord Heathfield purchased in 1789 to the west of London, at Turnham Green, which was then a small rural village. Heathfield House was demolished in 1837, but the name survives locally as Heathfield Terrace – not much to mark the hero of the Great Siege of Gibraltar, who is better known as George Augustus Eliott.
The Turnham Green gates, now at Green Park
The gates were purchased in 1837 by the Duke of Devonshire for the front of nearby Chiswick House, but in 1897 or 1898 they were moved to the front of Devonshire House in Piccadilly, London. Continue reading →
Charles Dickens is a constant favourite. Some weeks ago, we received a copy of Boz in Oz, the wonderfully named annual journal of the New South Wales Dickens Society in Australia (‘Oz’, of course, meaning Australia, while ‘Boz’ was Dickens’s pen-name). What a treat – 86 pages of beautifully presented articles, news, snippets and reviews, illustrated with loads of colour and black-and-white pictures. It is surely worth joining the society for its journal alone. We have an article in it called “Mile End Cottage, Alphington” (pp. 73–5, with footnotes on p. 86).
Dickens never had a good relationship with his parents, mainly because he had to constantly Continue reading →
Jane Austen had two naval brothers, Frank (Francis) and Charles. Frank was born at Steventon in Hampshire in 1774, the sixth Austen child, then came Jane in 1775 and finally Charles in 1779. Both brothers became admirals, but Frank eventually rose to Admiral of the Fleet, the highest rank in the Royal Navy, and he ended up living in Portsdown Lodge.
Being on the north side of Portsdown Hill, Portsdown Lodge was sheltered from the prevailing winds. It had 14 bedrooms, and the estate had farm buildings and several acres of land that extended to the top of the hill, from where Frank could view Portsmouth, its naval base and the Spithead anchorage. Close by was the main route from London to Portsmouth (now the A3). The nearby George Inn, which still survives (shown here), was a coaching inn on this busy route.
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The birthplace of the Anglo-American artist John Singleton Copley was Boston, Massachusetts.Born in 1738 (or possibly 1737) to Irish immigrants, Copley became a successful artist in Boston and New York, but left for England in June 1774, followed by his family a year later, in order to escape the political turmoil on the eve of the American War of Independence.
St John the Baptist Church at Croydon in 1785, where John Singleton Copley was buried
He became one of the foremost artists in London and spent more than five years on the huge Continue reading →
The Gibraltar Heritage Trust has been publishing the Gibraltar Heritage Journal for 25 years. The Trust itself was formed a few years before the journal was launched. Each journal contains a range of articles connected with Gibraltar, and many have a social history theme.
Back numbers can be purchased as print copies or downloads on their website. We have an article in the latest volume, called “The British Salamanders”, an expanded version of a piece we wrote for Folklife Quarterly on a contemporary ballad relating to the Great Siege of Gibraltar. This year, Continue reading →
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 →
We are thrilled to be published by Penguin in the United States, because this is such an iconic brand, the most famous in bookselling. The American editions of Nelson’s Trafalgar, The War for All the Oceans and Jane Austen’s England were all published in hardback by Viking and then in paperback by Penguin. For the jacket of Jane Austen’s England, an embroidered design was used – including an embroidered Penguin motif for the paperback! That was a beautiful touch.
Our latest Penguin paperback is Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, which was published in north America in March (ISBN 9780735221642). Continue reading →