Category Archives: British history

John Drinkwater and Nelson

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

The Great Siege: A Quick Summary

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

George Augustus Eliott 300 years

First-class heroes

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

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History

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

Travelling Roundabouts

People power

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

HMS Britannia

Cape Trafalgar

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.

Cape Trafalgar

 

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

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:

To Dianeme.

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

Coxheath Camp

We are continuing to work on our new book about the Great Siege of Gibraltar. Generally, publishers specify a word length based on what is felt to be commercially viable and what the authors feel is appropriate. When doing research, we tend to find enough material to fill many volumes, but the trick is to cut it all down to produce something readable. For our Gibraltar siege book, we could easily wander off into countless digressions, leaving no space for the main story, but our newsletters do allow us to indulge in digressions galore – such as Coxheath Camp here.

Gibraltar’s Great Siege was rooted in the American War of Independence. In early 1778 France sided with the rebel colonies and then in July declared war on Britain. The French tried to persuade Spain to unite with them against Britain and even offered to help capture Gibraltar. Eventually, in June 1779, Spain also declared war on Britain, and the Great Siege of Gibraltar began. While all this was going on, Coxheath was turning into an enormous military camp.

Coxheath (marked ‘Cocksheath’) in the centre of this 1783 map of Kent

Early days

Coxheath – sometimes spelled ‘Cocksheath’ – was located just south of the town of Maidstone in Kent, some 30 miles south-east of the City of London. It comprised a stretch of wild heath Continue reading

Coin Holder of History

Decimal coinage has been the legal currency in Britain for 45 years, since 1971, based on pounds and pennies (with 100 pennies equivalent to one pound), so that a price of £1.05P means one pound and five pennies. There are still plenty of people who remember a pre-decimalisation time when £.s.d. was the abbreviation for money – pounds, shillings and pence. Of those three letters, only the £ sign (an embellished form of ‘L’) remains in use.

Roman roots

The letters L.s.d. developed from Roman times when gold was the basis of coinage, along with silver. The ‘L’ or ‘£’ originated from the Latin word libra (plural librae), meaning a pound in weight (not librum as it is at times incorrectly written). The ‘s’ came from the Latin word solidus (plural solidi), which was a type of late Roman gold coin. The ‘d’ came from the Latin word denarius (plural denarii), which was a Roman silver coin (see the picture). The value of these Roman coins depended on the amount of gold and silver they contained, and when coins were debased, their relative values changed.

A denarius of Hadrian who was Roman emperor AD 117–138

With the fall of the Roman Empire in western Europe, the use and minting of coins were disrupted. With gold in short supply, Continue reading

Christmas Bells

CHRISTMAS BELLS

Images and customs

One of the perennial symbols of Christmas and New Year are church bells. Images of bells appear in Christmas card designs and as Christmas decorations, and the sound of bells forms part of many television and radio programmes (and, of course, advertising). For centuries, bells were sounded to welcome in Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and in 1824 the Gentleman’s Magazine reported the ringing of Christmas bells in Yorkshire:

‘Christmas-eve is, in Yorkshire, celebrated in a peculiar manner. At eight o’clock in the evening, the bells greet “old father Christmas” with a merry peal, the children parade the streets with drums, trumpets, bells, or perhaps, in their absence, with the poker and shovel, taken from their humble cottage fire; the Yule candle is lighted.’

This custom was probably thought worth noting because it was different to the practice of Continue reading