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
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
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
This year, 2017, is the 300th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Eliott, who was governor of Gibraltar throughout the Great Siege (1779 to 1783). Lieutenant-General Eliott had a long military career and was eventually honoured with the title of Lord Heathfield. During the Great Siege, he had overall control of Gibraltar, both the military garrison and the civilian inhabitants, and his strategic skill is credited with the successful defence of the Rock. He is still commemorated on Gibraltar today, but elsewhere he is a largely forgotten hero.
Eliott commemorated on Gibraltar stamps, issued in 1967
on the 250th anniversary of his birth
Gibraltar is famed for its philately, issuing beautiful postage stamps to celebrate aspects of life on the Rock. In 1967, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Eliott, commemorative stamps were issued. One shows him holding the Gibraltar key; one has his portrait on a map of Europe; Continue reading
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
Theme parks, offering a variety of complicated fairground rides, have done much to eclipse the popularity of travelling funfairs. Yet the one advantage of fairs is that they do travel, taking their rides to places far and wide. Compared to the attractions at a static theme park, the roundabout (also known as a carousel or merry-go-round) may seem tame, but it has a long history, and primitive roundabouts were one of the first types of travelling fairground rides to appear. The earliest examples were not much more than horizontal wheels with seats, powered by men who stood within the rim of the wheel and pushed on the spokes while walking round and round. Eventually, like small mills and similar machinery, roundabouts were powered by a horse turning another wheel connected to the roundabout by a belt.
The roundabout from ‘The Costume of Great Britain’ by William Henry Pyne published in 1805
Dobbies and gallopers
Dobbies (singular: dobby) were roundabouts that had wooden horses hanging by a single pole from the roof. There was no floor to the roundabout, and no mechanism to make the horses rise and fall. Originally designed for use by children, Continue reading
Over the centuries, many ships have foundered in bad weather off Cape Trafalgar on the rocky southern coast of Spain, where in 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought. In this same area during World War One, HMS Britannia was hit by a torpedo fired from a German submarine.
Built in Portsmouth, HMS Britannia was launched in December 1904 as a battleship of over 16,000 tons, with four 12-inch guns, four 9.2-inch guns and ten 6-inch guns, and was completed in 1906. That same year saw HMS Dreadnought enter service, a new type of battleship Continue reading
Simnel cakes have a long history. The 1799 edition of Johnson’s Dictionary gives the simple definition of ‘simnel’ as ‘A kind of sweet bread or cake’, but one of the earliest mentions is in the short poem by Robert Herrick, first published in 1648:
A Ceremonie in Glocester
I’le to thee a Simnel bring,
‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering:
So that when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou‘lt give me.
The reference is to Mothering Sunday, which is traditionally the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Mid-Lent Sunday, Continue reading