Category Archives: Books and magazines

Green Park Gates

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 They were originally made for the estate that Lord Heathfield purchased in 1789 to the west of London, at Turnham Green, which was then a small rural village.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

Boz in Oz and Exeter

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).

Rural banishment

Dickens never had a good relationship with his parents, mainly because he had to constantly Continue reading

Portsdown Lodge

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.

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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John Singleton Copley

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

Gibraltar Heritage Journal

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

Alton in Hampshire

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.

Curtis Museum

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

Gibraltar Penguins

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

Exeter Penguins

A visit to Agatha Christie

Penguin paperback books, famous across the world and the mainstay of anyone’s reading during the 1950s and 1960s, were conceived in 1934 on Exeter St David’s railway station. This was (and still is) the main station for the city of Exeter and our own local station. While sat in the waiting room recently, we were drawn to the framed picture shown here that commemorates this significant episode. It apparently occurred after Allen Lane, who worked for The Bodley Head publishers in London, had been visiting the bestselling crime novelist Agatha Christie in Devon.

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American Revolution paperback

The Great Siege of Gibraltar was very much part of the American Revolution (also called the American War of Independence). Our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History was published in hardback in the United States in March 2018, and today it is published  as a Penguin paperback. The jacket design is more-or-less the same, with the striking painting by the American artist John Trumbull (you can read more about it here). The Penguin paperback has a lovely quote from the review of our book by Stephen Brumwell in The Wall Street Journal, and yesterday we saw another excellent review in the Military History magazine by James Baresel, in which he says :   “The authors provide superb context regarding the siege, drawing on firsthand accounts and touching on military innovations developed during the protracted campaign. Just as fascinating is their analysis of its political aftermath”  You can read that review in full here.