Category Archives: British history

Lancaster and the Slave Trade

Origins

In the 1st century AD, the Romans established a fort at Lancaster, at a point where the river crossing could be defended, and seagoing ships and boats would sail up the river estuary with supplies. A thousand years later, the Domesday Book’s name for the place was ‘Loncastre’, meaning ‘Roman fort on the River Lune’. A bridge may have been built during the Roman occupation, and one has certainly existed since medieval times.

The port

St George’s Quay was developed on the south bank of the River Lune in the mid-18th century, and with access to the open sea, large sailing ships could moor close to the warehouses and load and unload goods.

St George’s Quay with its row of Georgian warehouses

The flourishing port was further boosted by the construction of the Lancaster Canal, Continue reading

Exeter’s Ungodly Murder

The open area round the cathedral at Exeter in Devon is called the Cathedral Close, once the heart of the city. In medieval times it contained streets of houses, the burial ground for the entire city and even churches and chapels. Those living there were closely connected with the church, while the open space was used for recreation by all and sundry, rubbish was dumped, bonfires lit, animals roamed, and games played amidst the grave markers. The Close was not a tranquil place, but a frontier zone between the cathedral and the city.

The murder

In the late 13th century, relations between the cathedral and the city were especially bad. In what appears to have been a flawed election, John Pycot became dean of the cathedral, and so Peter Quinil, the bishop, tried to oust him. Pycot was an Exeter man whose supporters included the mayor, and they singled out Walter de Lechlade as their main opponent on the bishop’s side. As the precentor of the cathedral, Lechlade’s job was to organise the cathedral’s services, but on the night of 10th November 1283, he was murdered in the Cathedral Close. Continue reading

Sad Irons

Before heated irons, laundry and cloth were smoothed with a wooden roller and flat board without any form of heating or by rubbing with glass linen smoothers, polished stones or even hard wood.

Solid irons that were heated in front of fires began to be used in Europe from the 17th century (the technique was employed much earlier in China). They were known as sad irons, ‘sad’ being an old English word for ‘solid’, though the term ‘flat iron’ became more common.

Another type of iron was the box iron that had a hollow body with a hinged lid or sliding door at the back. Heated iron blocks were placed inside, or else charcoal or glowing embers from the fire that were kept alight by ventilation holes in the sides of the box. By the 19th century, flat irons were the most popular implement for smoothing cloth.

Two 19th-century flat irons

Heating a flat iron

Various sizes and weights of flat iron were produced for different types of cloth and garments. 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.

Continue reading

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.

 

World Book Day paperback

The paperback of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is published today in the UK by Abacus – on World Book Day! That’s a very fitting date, especially as the book tells the story of the Great Siege of Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783, an incredible story within world history and the most lethal battle of the American Revolution (the American War of Independence). The paperback is also published to coincide with the 240th anniversary of the start of the Great Siege. It is available in all good bookshops, and the ISBN is 9780349142395. You can find out more information here.

The official launch of the paperback will be at an event at Gibraltar House in London on 1st April. See details here.

Bridge over the River Lune

Lune Aqueduct

On a recent trip to the city of Lancaster in Lancashire, we made a point of visiting the wonderful Lune Aqueduct. The main road bridge over the River Lune is on the north side of Lancaster, and a short walk further north alongside the river brings you to Rennie’s Bridge, better known as the Lune Aqueduct, which carries the canal over the river.

The Lune Aqueduct over the River Lune

The Lune Aqueduct is a fine example of Georgian architecture, largely in its original form and Continue reading

Early Flight

The first attempts at manned hot-air balloon flights took place not long after the ending of the Great Siege of Gibraltar. The Montgolfier brothers (Joseph Michel and Jacques Étienne), established a tradition that persisted with the first spaceflights – sending up animals in the initial experimental flights. In September 1783, a cock, duck and sheep were attached to a hot-air balloon and launched from the Palace of Versailles, near Paris. The animals travelled 2 miles in 8 minutes before landing safely. After that, the way was open for larger balloons carrying people, and the age of flight began. All kinds of enthusiasts started to experiment with both hydrogen and hot-air balloons, and ascents became popular spectacles.

First female balloonists

In June 1784 Madame Thible was the first woman to fly in a balloon, taking off from Lyons in France. A year later (and still less than two years after the first flight by animals), Mrs Letitia Ann Sage became the first woman in Britain to ascend in a balloon.

Letitia Sage, George Biggin and Vincenzo Lunardi
(waving his hat)in the balloon before the ascent in June 1785

 

The original plan had been for Vincenzo Lunardi, George Biggin and Mrs Sage to make the balloon flight on 29 June 1785, but in the event Continue reading

The Gibraltar Stone

Woodbury Common

We recently visited Woodbury Common in east Devon, a huge area of common land that comprises much heathland and is part of the Pebblebed Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). To the south, it is bordered by the seaside towns of Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. We will be giving a talk on ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’ at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, so we thought that it was a real coincidence to discover a Gibraltar Stone on Woodbury Common.

Roy Adkins standing by the Gibraltar Stone at Woodbury Common, holding the US edition of ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’

Continue reading

Printing and Publishing

From hand to steam

Before the mid-15th century, everything was written by hand, including multiple copies of the same work, which meant plenty of opportunities for scribal errors. Then the invention of printing revolutionised book production, because it was quicker, easier and cheaper to produce multiple copies with exactly the same text. Even though printing presses continued to develop, with more efficient designs, they were still powered by hand until the introduction of steam-powered presses in the early 19th century. This revolution increased the number and availability of books and allowed their cost to decrease.

Manually operated printing presses continued in use for specific tasks, but by the late 19th century steam power was dominant. Printers often combined printing services with selling books and stationery, and in an advertisement of 1865, Nall’s Steam Printing Works at Norwich in Norfolk offered ‘Printing by steam power with speed & economy’. The same company also sold books and stationery and ran a subscription library.

Nall’s Steam Printing Works, Norwich

Printing processes

For printing a book by steam, each page was made up with individual metal letters (called ‘type’) Continue reading