Category Archives: British history

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’

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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

Oranges and Treasure

Hermione treasure ship

During the Seven Years’ War of 1756 to 1763, Philemon Pownoll commanded the Royal Navy sloop Favourite, while his friend Herbert Sawyer was in charge of the frigate Active. Cruising near Cape St Vincent (the south-western tip of Portugal) in May 1762, they spotted, chased and captured the Spanish vessel Hermione, bound from Lima in South America to Cadiz.

Captain Pownoll advert at The Sharpham Trust’s open day

The Hermione was brought into Gibraltar and then given a naval escort to England, where the cargo and ship were valued at Continue reading

London’s Great Beer Flood

London, October 1814 – a time of peace. Britain was no longer at war with France, though the war with the United States of America continued. Nobody realised that in early 1815 Europe would be engulfed by turmoil when Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba, which would culminate in the Battle of Waterloo.

Porter popularity

The Horseshoe Brewery, which was named after the public house next door, lay between Tottenham Court Road, Bainbridge Street, New Street and Great Russell Street. This was almost the unmarked boundary between the upmarket West End of London and the notorious slums of St Giles.

The slum tenements of St Giles, London

This brewery was known for its porter, which had grown out of the custom of Londoners drinking a mix of two or three weak and strong beers. In the 1720s one brewer had produced a blend of three beers that was dark brown, almost black, in colour. This strong beer was so popular with market porters that Continue reading

Reading Matters

For many years, we created newsletters that were emailed to subscribers and were also posted on Our Newsletters website page, fifty-three in all. They contained our latest news, as well as features on anything that appealed to us. We were able to stray well beyond the confines of our published books, or perhaps expand on something in those books, and we were also able to include photographs and other illustrations.

Regrettably, we have now stopped producing newsletters, because of the imposition by the European Union of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which places an onerous burden on small businesses.

From now on, keep an eye instead on the different pages of our website, and take a look at this blog. We will continue to add any news in our Latest News page of the website, and any forthcoming talks or interviews will be listed on the Events page.

If you enjoy these newsletters and blog, then you will probably also enjoy our books!
If you are now at a loss for something to read, we would (of course) suggest that you try any of our books that you haven’t read. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep summary, though Continue reading

Henry Ince and Soldier-Artificers

Early life

The young Henry Ince is shrouded in mystery. Records suggest he was born at Penzance, Cornwall, in 1735 or 1736 and became a nail-maker and miner, but only his mining occupation is certain. For some reason he was in Ireland in 1755 and enlisted in the 2nd Regiment of Foot. He possibly became a Methodist in Ireland, where John Wesley was at that time preaching. The regiment next moved to the Isle of Man and in 1768 to Gibraltar. Ince, now a sergeant, wrote to Wesley lamenting the lack of religion among the soldiers, particularly Methodism. His involvement with Methodism is discussed, along with other details, in an article by Sue Jackson in Gibraltar Heritage Journal 16 (for 2009).

Soldier-artificers

Gibraltar’s defences were being strengthened under the direction of the Chief Engineer, William Green. As the army engineers were officers, the actual work was done by civilians, which Green felt was unsatisfactory. In 1772 he was given permission to form a soldier-artificer company of skilled military workmen, which was a great improvement, and Ince was recruited into the company as a sergeant. One of its first tasks was the construction of the massive King’s Bastion. During the subsequent Great Siege, the soldier-artificers proved invaluable, and decades later the engineers and soldier-artificers were amalgamated into a single unit that eventually became the Royal Engineers.

Tunnel vision

After the sortie, the Spaniards rebuilt their siegeworks, gradually moving closer to the sheer north front of Gibraltar. Because it was difficult to fire at these siegeworks, it was decided to mount guns on top of an outcrop called ‘the Notch’ or ‘the Hook’, about halfway up the cliff face. It would act like a bastion, giving a wide field of fire over the siegeworks. To gain access to this rock platform, they needed to drive a tunnel through the limestone rock.

North front of Gibraltar, facing Spain, with ‘the Notch’ far left (with two later gunports)

and three of Ince’s gunports centre and right

The legend

One story is that Ince, now a sergeant-major, proposed the idea after one bombardment: Continue reading

The Prudential and the Rock

This is the strange story of not one, but two Prudential insurance companies, and why the American firm chose Gibraltar as its symbol and slogan.

The Prudential in England

In 1848 the Prudential or ‘the Pru’ was set up in London and came to concentrate on life insurance and a means of saving for professional people and, later on, for the poorer working classes who would pay weekly amounts to agents. It is now a multinational life insurance and financial services company.

The Prudential in America

In America John Fairfield Dryden lost his father when a young boy. As a result of his experiences, he set up an insurance company at Newark, New Jersey, in 1875, based on the principles and name of the Prudential in London. This new company was called the Prudential Friendly Society and sold industrial insurance to help American working families provide against sickness, accident and death. The company’s history is told in a fascinating book published in 1950 by Doubleday – The Prudential: a story of human security by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler. Its jacket depicts the iconic northern part of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Cover of 1950 book called ‘The Prudential, a story of human security’

by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler

The business struggled, and so in late 1876 Dryden went to London to seek advice on how Continue reading

Gibraltar in America

This is the story of a famous painting by the American artist John Trumbull, which is used on the jacket of the American edition of our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, published in hardback in the United States and Canada by Viking (ISBN 9780735221628), 449 pages long, plus prelims and prologue, maps and other illustrations. It is also available as an e-book and an audio download. It is almost the same as the UK edition, though with a few corrections and amendments and a very striking jacket.

The French connection

The publication coincides with the 240th anniversary of France becoming officially involved with the American Revolution (War of Independence). Never having recovered from the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), France was looking to ways of seeking revenge against Britain. From 1777 she had allowed arms and other equipment to be shipped to the rebels in America, while American privateers were permitted to shelter in French ports. In March 1778, France signed a treaty recognising American independence, and the first hostile act between Britain and France was a frigate action in June 1778, when the French Belle Poule fought the British Arethusa. The following month, Britain declared war on France. It took France almost another year to persuade Spain to join in, leading to the start of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779.

John Trumbull’s finest painting

The UK and American jackets of Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History are very different, but both are based on the work of contemporary American artists. The UK jacket features a painting by John Singleton Copley (see our newsletter 50), while this Viking jacket uses a magnificent painting by John Trumbull.

Born at Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, Trumbull became a soldier at the beginning of the Continue reading

Post Boxes

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

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