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)
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.
Before the invention of the internal combustion engine, nobody knew what to do with the natural petroleum deposits in north America, apart from small-scale use. In the 1840s, western Pennsylvania was a sparsely populated area of forests, farms and creeks, and petroleum was marketed as a curative medicine. Experiments then showed that kerosene (paraffin) could be distilled from petroleum and was suitable for replacing whale oil in lamps. This was such an incredible development in lighting that it led to speculative wells being dug. A further development occurred in 1859 when the first artesian well was successfully drilled at Titusville in Pennsylvania, initially producing 25 barrels (each containing 42 US gallons) of petroleum a day. The news spread like wildfire, and oil mania began.
Petrolia was the overall name given to the region, and in just four years numerous small towns 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
The 2016 summer in Britain has been somewhat indifferent – very few scorching hot days, much cloud and below-average temperatures. Exactly two centuries ago, the weather was far worse. As Jane Austen died in July 1817, her very last full summer in 1816 was a wretched one, and she refers to the rain and the cold in a few of her surviving letters. ‘I begin to think it will never be fine again,’ she lamented in early July. On 1st September 1816 William Holland, the vicar of Over Stowey in Somerset, wrote in his diary: ‘The weather has continued in the same uncertain state that it has done for sometime past. Indeed properly speaking we have had no summer, for we scarce have been a week without [a] fire throughout, I have now this very day a fire in the parlour.’ For much of the year his diary had been a litany of bad weather and dashed hopes. In his rural community, he was keenly aware of the effects of the weather on the crops. The constant rain had delayed the hay harvest considerably, and two weeks earlier he had written: ‘Rainy, windy weather confined William [his son] & I within doors – nay we had a fire tho’ in the midst of August. What will become of the corn I know not, for it does not ripen.’
Flooded and frozen
This exceptional weather was not confined to south-west England, but was felt right across the northern hemisphere. Continue reading