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
Many surviving thatched buildings are made of cob, which was a cheap material for constructing walls. There is an old West Country saying: ‘all cob needs is a good hat and a good pair of boots’.
The hat is the thatch, while the boots refer to the foundations. The phrase is still used by some builders today and can be traced back in magazines to at least 1837, but is probably as old as Continue reading
This advert for ‘Daisy Powders’ dates back only to 1952, when it was being marketed as a cure-all for everything, from the terrors of ‘faceache’ to chills, influenza, lumbago and sleeplessness. It feels much like the quack medicines of two centuries ago. No doubt Covid-19 would be added to the list of ailments if ‘Daisy Powders and Tablets’ were still available.
It sounds just like the medicine practised in Jane Austen’s time, which you can read about in our book Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, or in Nelson’s Navy, which we describe in Jack Tar.
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.
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
Earlier in the year, we were enjoying a lengthy bout of sunny weather in Britain, with predictions of the summer turning into a prolonged heatwave, like the memorable year of 1976. Record-breaking temperatures are often reported with triumph by newspapers, as if this is a good thing. Then later on came the inevitable floods and high winds, leading to much misery.
Sunshine and showers in Devon in the summer of 2019
Such changeable weather is duly attributed to climate change, and yet the evidence for 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.
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