Thursday 26 August 2010


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Friday 30 July 2010

First Impressions: Anne Boleyn

by Charlotte Crow,

Howard Brenton’s new play Anne Boleyn, which has just opened at the Globe Theatre directed by John Dove, pays homage to ‘a great English woman who helped change the course of our history’( in Brenton’s words).

Since her execution in 1536 on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and treason, Henry VIII’s second wife has been depicted in history and literature as either heroic victim or villainous vixen. Here she is decidedly the hero, presented as almost single-handedly responsible for pushing through the English Reformation. But Brenton gives us the dichotomy. Boleyn (Amanda Raison) is an almost too foxy lady whose flirtatious interactions with the king (Anthony Howell) sit confusingly at odds with her pious interest in the works of William Tyndale.

The production is set in historic period, yet Raison (who also performs the role of Boleyn in the Globe’s concurrent staging of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII), perhaps deliberately, has a distinctly 21st-century aura; with her brashness she might have strolled in from Tate Modern next door. ‘Do you want to see it? Do you? Do you?’ she provocatively asks the audience -- before pulling her own severed head out of a blood-soaked shoulder bag in the opening scene. Soon after, she remarks of her rival Queen Katherine, ‘I wish that bitch would piss off to a convent’.

The impact of Anne and Henry’s controversial marriage and its bitter legacy is conveyed through a subplot focused on a subsequent monarch’s struggle with religious division. Sixty years after Anne’s death, James I (James Garnon) finds a chest of her relics that inspire him to revisit her story as he wrestles to reconcile the tensions between bishops and puritans in his own time. Though initially distracting this outer layer produces some of the play’s most lively scenes. There is a cleverly staged debate between Church factions, which drives James towards producing his new version of the Bible, for example, and a sharply choreographed dance between the king and his favourite, George Villiers (Ben Deery), that is both funny and poignant.

As with other broad-sweeping history plays, the effort to get across the high drama of a complex subject to audiences who will have varying degrees of insight comes at the expense of intimate character development. Many who see Anne Boleyn may well have had their interest kindled by Hilary Mantel’s engrossing novel Wolf Hall, yet there is no space here to reflect the subtleties of Thomas Cromwell or Jane Rochford. Through no fault of the actors, these remain limited stereotypes, he a Tudor gauleiter, she a misguided busybody.

But Anne Boleyn nevertheless went down a storm with the audience, suggesting that Brenton’s hunch to give this significant historical woman a platform in our times is right on cue.

Anne Boleyn
Until August 21st
Shakespeare's Globe
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside
London SE1 9DT

Thursday 29 July 2010

The UK Memory of the World Register

by Kathryn Hadley,

The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book is one of the first documents to be inscribed on the UK Memory of the World Register. The register, an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage, is part of a UNESCO programme to support and raise awareness of archives. The Account Book records the names of 350 people who received payments from the Peterloo Relief Fund, set up in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre to provide financial assistance to those injured in the massacre and to the dependents of those killed. It also provides details of their injuries and the circumstances in which they were inflicted, with some information on the victims’ backgrounds and characters.

In the words of Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library:

‘The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book is a unique and irreplaceable manuscript.
It provides vivid, first-hand evidence of the Peterloo Massacre. With its
graphic descriptions of the injuries sustained, it captures the shocking nature
of Peterloo, and helps to explain the political impact that the event had in the
immediate aftermath and in subsequent decades. No other single piece of
documentary heritage relating to Peterloo has this effect. We are delighted that
the importance of the Account Book has been recognised through its inclusion on
the UK Memory of the World Register.’

At least fifteen people were killed and more than 400 were injured at St. Peter’s field, Manchester, on August 16th, 1819, when some 60,000 demonstrators were dispersed by a cavalry charge. The demonstration was organised by the Manchester Patriotic Union to petition for parliamentary reform and the repeal of the first of the Corn Laws and was to be addressed by the British radical speaker Henry Hunt.

Nine other documents from across the country and spanning nearly 1,000 years of history are also inscribed on the register. They include the Pont manuscript maps, the earliest surviving topographic and chorographic survey of Scotland dating to between 1583 and 1614, the charter of King William I to the City of London, the oldest document in the archive of the City of London, and a never-released film on David Lloyd George. The film, shot during the last months of the First World War, is thought to be the first feature length biopic of a contemporary living politician.


The Peterloo Relief Fund Account Book (The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester)

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Ceausescu remains exhumed

by Kathryn Hadley,

Last Wednesday, July 21st, forensic scientists in Romania exhumed what are believed to be the remains of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. Samples were taken from the couple’s grave following doubts that they were really buried in the Ghencea military cemetery in west Bucharest.

The couple’s late daughter Zoia Ceausescu had sued the defence ministry in 2005 saying she had doubts that her parents were buried in the cemetery. When she died in 2006 her brother Valentin, the Ceausescu’s only surviving son, and her husband Mircea Oprean pursued the case.

Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-89) became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965; however his government was overthrown during the anti-communist revolution in December 1989. Ceausescu and his wife were executed on December 25th, 1989. They were incidentally the last people to be executed in Romania before the abolition of capital punishment on January 7th, 1990.

According to official reports the DNA tests could take up to six months.

The exhumation is symptomatic of Romania’s struggle to come to terms with its communist past. In Coming to Terms with the Past: Romania Markus Bauer hopes that Romania’s new membership of the European Union will enable it to face down the ghosts of its troubled twentieth-century past.

Thursday 22 July 2010

New henge at Stonehenge

by Kathryn Hadley,

The University of Birmingham announced this morning the discovery of a new henge less than one kilometre away from Stonehenge. The new henge was discovered by a team of archaeologists led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology earlier this week, just two weeks into a three-year study that forms part of the international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. The project aims to map the Stonehenge landscape and to virtually recreate the prehistoric monument and its surroundings using the latest geophysical imaging techniques.

The new henge consists of a circular ditch aligned with Stonehenge, which measures 25 metres (82ft) in diameter (five metres less than Stonehenge). It has two opposed north-east/south-west entrances and surrounds a smaller circle with internal deep pits that are up to one metre in diameter and could have held a free-standing timber structure. It is believed to be contemporaneous to Stonehenge, dating back to the Late Neolithic period between approximately 2,900 and 2,200 BC.

In the words of Professor Vince Gaffney from the University of Birmingham’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, the finding ‘is remarkable’. In an interview with the BBC, he explained that ‘a major ceremonial site of this type or of this significance’ had not been found for over 50 years.

The discovery has raised many new questions about Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape, which archaeologists hope to solve as the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project progresses.

According to Professor Vince Gaffney,

‘it will completely change the way we think about the landscape around
Stonehenge. People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it
was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation. This discovery is
completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its

Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, added:

‘This is just the beginning. We will now map this monument using an array of
technologies that will allow us to view this new discovery, and the landscape
around it, in three dimensions. This marks a new departure for archaeologists
and how they investigate the past.’

Mr Paul Garwood, prehistorian at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham, said:

‘This discovery is of great importance for our understanding of the Stonehenge
landscape in the 3rd millennium BC. Its location, a short distance from
Stonehenge, and the fact that the two monuments were inter-visible, raises
exciting new questions about the complex sacred landscape that existed around
Stonehenge when the sarsen and bluestone monument was constructed.’

Prior to the construction of the iconic monument which survives today, there existed an earlier bluestone structure which was dismantled. In March 2008, archaeologists began, for the first time in 40 years, a new series of excavations at Stonehenge in an effort to throw new light on the origins of this little understood structure. Anthony Johnson reports in Solving Stonehenge.

- The archaeological team on site at Stonehenge (professional images)
From left, archaeologist Eamonn Baldwin, University of Birmingham with archaeological geophysicist Dr Chris Gaffney of University of Bradford with Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Vienna.
- Interpretation: visual representation showing site of ditches (grey), post holes (yellow) and barrow (blue)

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Srebrenica Massacre Remembered

by Kathryn Hadley,

Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, on July 11th, 1995, when the town was attacked by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic. It is estimated that 8,000 Bosniak Muslims, mainly boys and men, were killed by Bosnian Serbs. The victims were initially buried in mass graves, but then dispersed in smaller graves in an effort to cover up the massacre. Over the past few years, forensic experts have exhumed the remains of over 4,500 victims in order to identify them. Last year, during a ceremony to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the massacre, 534 newly identified Bosniak Muslim victims were buried at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery just outside Srebrenica.

Der Spiegel reports on a similar ceremony organised this year to mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre. 775 coffins belonging to the latest victims to have been identified were buried during a service held, once again, at the Potocari memorial. The burial was attended by almost 50,000 people, including European leaders such as the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, and representatives of the European Union. A speech by US President Barack Obama was read out by Charles English, the US ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbian President Boris Tadic also attended the anniversary.

A slideshow of images of the ceremony is available on the website of Der Spiegel.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Wood from Newton's apple tree back from space

by Kathryn Hadley,

The piece of wood engraved with Sir Isaac Newton’s initials from the tree which inspired him to formulate the theory of gravitation was returned, yesterday, to its home at the Royal Society.

The section of wood from the tree from which Newton famously saw the apple fall was taken into space, on May 14th, by the astronaut Piers Sellers on the NASA mission STS 132. Sellers also took with him an image of Sir Isaac Newton, a former president of the Royal Society, as part of the 350th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Society. The piece of wood and the picture spent 12 days in space with Sellers who videoed them floating in the space station.

They are now on display in the Royal Society’s exhibition 'The Royal Society: 350 Years of Science'.


- Piers Sellers presents wood back to Professor Lorna Casselton, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society (Royal Society)
- Piers Sellers holding the tree fragment (Royal Society/ NASA)

Friday 2 July 2010

French Nazi collaborators named and shamed

by Kathryn Hadley,

In February last year, the French council of state, the Conseil d’Etat, recognised for the first time the responsibility of the French Vichy government in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War. Peter Allen reported on Wednesday, June 30th, in the Telegraph and Mail Online that police reports from the time are now due to be digitised and published online. The files dating from 1940 will be made public in 2015, as soon as the 75-year official secrecy order issued by the post-war government expires. Archives from the following four years will subsequently also be made public from 2016 to 2019. Since the liberation of Paris on August 25th, 1944, the documents have been kept in the archives of the Musee des Collections Historiques de la Prefecture de Police in Paris. They include police logs from stations across France, details of fines, arrests and interviews, as well as information passed on to the Nazis.

In the Guardian, Nabila Ramdani explains how the online publication of the names of ‘second world war collaborators’ will force the country to reconsider official versions of the history of the German occupation and the ‘myth of the resistance’ developed in the aftermath of the liberation. ‘If a beloved great uncle was caught slipping some black market camembert to the Bosch in 1940, then the whole world will be able to read about it from 2015’.

It is not that simple, however. Can giving a German soldier a camembert really be defined as an act of collaboration? How indeed does one define collaboration and what crimes did one have to commit to be classified as a collaborator? When times were hard, queues for food were never-ending and people were hungry, can selling cheese on the black market to have a little extra cash really be defined as a crime? The history of occupied France is not black and white and the lines between collaboration and resistance were often blurred. People could, for example, superficially collaborate with the Germans in order to cover up more active acts of resistance against the Nazi regime. On the whole, the majority of the French population primarily sought to survive and carry on with their daily lives as unaffected as possible by the occupation. The publication of archives from the time will, above all, raise many complex questions about historical memory and issues of responsibility.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

The Best of English Football: Can England make it to the World Cup final?

by Kathryn Hadley,

If the English team is eliminated after this afternoon’s match, it will be the first time that England has been eliminated in the first round of the World Cup since 1958. But Fabio Capello still believes that England can make it through to the final. He said yesterday: ‘I'm not crazy when I said my target was reaching the final of the World Cup.’

But even if England does not qualify, the weight and influence of football throughout history is such that English football will live on, no matter what the outcome of this afternoon’s game.

As John Williams, Eric Dunning and Patrick Murphy explain in Football's Fighting Traditions the history of British football hooliganism, if nothing else, dates back over a century to before the First World War. In 1988, in the lead-up to the European Football Championships in West Germany, the authors voiced their concern that English fans would ‘disgrace themselves once again’.

Issues of crowd safety at football matches are also not new. In Football, Fainting and Fatalities John Walton charts problems of crowd safety off the pitch in England in the first half of the twentieth century.

Football has also often been closely linked to politics. In the interwar period, for example, realising the large scale appeal of football as a participant and spectator sport, governments turned to football as a propaganda tool. The game was invested with considerable political significance. In England v Germany 1938: Football as Propaganda, Peter Beck considers how the British government notably used football to project a favourable image of Britain abroad.

In Politics and Football: Arms raised in shame in our June issue, Trevor Fisher charts a notorious example of political interference in the game. In May 1938, with football overshadowed by the spectre of armed conflict, diplomatic protocol resulted in the English team giving a Nazi salute during their visit to Germany.

But there is also a more light-hearted and amusing side to the history of football and there is still hope that the English team will qualify, and maybe even win the World Cup, as it did in 1966. In 1966, however, a few months before England won the World Cup, the FA lost it. Martin Atherton tells the story of the theft and recovery of the Jules Rimet Trophy in England Loses the World Cup.

To read a selection of our best articles about football visit our ‘Football’ Focus Page.

Postcard c.1910 (National Football Museum)

Friday 18 June 2010

70 years ago de Gaulle said 'Non'

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, celebrated with British Prime Minister David Cameron today, June 18th, the 70th anniversary of de Gaulle’s broadcast appeal rallying the French to pursue the fight against Nazi Germany. It is the first time that a French president has travelled to London to mark de Gaulle’s historic ‘appel du 18 juin’.

The full text of de Gaulle's speech:

‘To be sure, we have been submerged, we are submerged, by the enemy’s mechanised forces, on land and in the air.

It is the Germans’ tanks, planes and tactics that have made us fall back, infinitely more than their numbers. It is the Germans’ tanks, planes and tactics that have so taken our leaders by surprise as to bring them tot he point that they have reached today.

But has the last word been said? Must hope vanish? Is the defeat final? No!
Believe me, for I know what I am talking about and I tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that beat us may one day bring us victory.

For France is not alone. She is not alone! She is not alone! She has an immense Empire behind her. She can unite with the British Empire, which commands the sea and which is carrying on with the struggle. Like England, she can make an unlimited use of the vast industries of the United States.

This war is not confined to the unhappy territory of our country. This war has not been decided by the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the faults, all the delays, all the sufferings do not do away with the fact that in the world there are all the means for one day crushing our enemies. Today we are struck down by the mechanised force; in the future we can conquer by greater mechanised force. The fate of the world lies there.

I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call upon the French officers and soldiers who are on British soil or who may be on it, with their arms or without them, I call upon the engineers and the specialised workers in the armaments industry who are or who may be on British soil, to get in contact with me.

Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and shall not go out.’

In our June 2010 issue, Jonathan Fenby goes in-depth to explore the historical background and impact of de Gaulle’s historic speech.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Painting the Armada at the House of Lords

by Kathryn Hadley,

A press reception was organised this morning at the House of Lords to mark the completion of a project begun in January 2008 to recreate six paintings of the Armada tapestries, which were destroyed in the fire at the Palace of Westminster almost 200 years ago. The tapestries were originally commissioned to record one of the greatest episodes of British history; but the story of the tapestries themselves is equally great, and fascinating.

It begins 418 years ago, in 1592, when Lord Howard of Effingham, who had served as Lord High Admiral at the time of the Spanish Armada, commissioned the Dutch naval artist and first seascape painter, Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (1566-1640) to create a series of ten tapestries to commemorate the British victory. The tapestries were woven in Brussels by Francis Spieringx. They cost £1,582, the equivalent of 87 years wages for a workman in 1590. They are believed to have measured 14 feet in height and between 17 and 28 feet in width and were interwoven with gold and silver thread. When they were completed, in 1595, they initially hung in Lord Howard’s Chelsea manor. They were then moved, in 1616, to his new London residence, Arundel House, before being sold to King James I for £1,628.

In the early 1650s, the tapestries were transferred to the Royal Palace of Westminster, where they hung in the then House of Lords Chamber, known as the Parliament Chamber. In 1801, when the Peers moved to the Court of Requests, a larger chamber which suited the need for increased seating after the Act of Union with Ireland, the tapestries followed suit. They hung in the Court of Requests until the fire on October 16th, 1834, in which all ten tapestries perished.

The significance and influence of the tapestries had been considerable. They were mentioned in debate on several occasions and were used as propaganda. In 1798, for example, when concern over a possible French invasion was being debated, they were used to arouse patriotic popular support against the French forces. The artist James Gillray was commissioned to produce images that ‘might rouse all the People to an active Union against that invasion’. In a series of satirical prints entitled Consequences of a successful French Invasion, he depicted a French Admiral ordering his men to destroy the tapestries in the Lords Debating Chamber.

House of Lords Researcher, Julian Dee, whose research formed the basis of the proposal for the recreation of the tapestries, underlined the changing historical significance of the tapestries:

‘These recreated images will tell us something about every generation that has
risen since Elizabethan times. James I displayed them in the Banqueting
Hall to receive the Spanish Ambassador. It has been suggested that in so doing
perhaps he could pursue dialogue with Spain without the appearance of
weakness. By contrast, his son Charles I folded these martial images away
for much of his reign. Cromwell's men had "The Story of '88" displayed in
Parliament so that generations of peers - most notably the Earl of Chatham -
would evoke the memory of the heroes commemorated in the tapestry
borders. When it was said that Napoleon wanted to put the Bayeux Tapestries
on a pre-invasion tour of France, it was suggested the same be done in Britain
for the Armada ones.’

Seven years after the fire, in 1841, during the construction of the New Palace of Westminster, a Fine Arts Commission chaired by Prince Albert was established in order to oversee the production of artwork for the interior of the palace. It was decided that the Prince’s Chamber would be illustrated with subjects from Tudor history and a space was designed to hang six paintings of the original Armada tapestries. The paintings were to be based on a series of engravings of the tapestries created in the 1730s by the artist John Pine. Pine’s engravings were the only surviving record of the tapestries.

However, when Prince Albert died, in 1861, only one of the paintings had been completed. It was not until 1907, that it was proposed, once again, to recreate the Armada tapestries. But once again, the Armada Tapestry proposal failed to be realised. One hundred years later, in 2007, it was proposed, for the third time, that a generous donation by Mark Pigott OBE should be used to recreate in painted format the 16th-century Armada tapestries. Anthony Oakshett, the lead artist on the project, began his work to recreate the tapestries the following year, using Pine’s 18th-century engravings and the only completed painting in the series The English Fleet pursuing the Spanish Fleet against Fowey as his key historical sources.

The result is spectacular. On Monday, June 21st, members of the public will be able to see the paintings on a tour of parliament for the first time. In the autumn, they will be permanently moved to the Prince’s Chamber where they were originally designed to be hung. Try to spot Anthony Oakshett’s depiction of Mark Pigott as a 16th-century nobleman on horseback in the right-hand corner of the last painting in the series!

Images (Palace of Westminster Collection):
- Richard Burchett, The English fleet pursuing the Spanish fleet against Fowey
- James Gillray, Consequences of a successful French Invasion
- Anthony Oakshett, Drake takes De Valdes's galleon; the Lord Admiral pursues the enemy

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The Duel for Europe, 1800-1830

FCO historian Dr Isabelle Tombs introduces the FCO's first online exhibition, 'The Duel for Europe, 1800-1830'.

by Isabelle Tombs,

This online exhibition, mounted by FCO Historians, charts both the personal duel fought between two of Britain’s top politicians and the national duel between Britain and France for supremacy in Europe in the years 1800-1830. Eventually, Britain won a historic victory over Napoleon’s empire. It covers the efforts of the Foreign Secretary and his staff to keep Britain and her Allies together and bring lasting peace to Europe, after a century of war across four continents and Napoleon’s universal threat. Britain was simultaneously seeking to stamp out the transatlantic slave trade.

The exhibition also highlights the personal rivalry between War Secretary Lord Castlereagh and Foreign Secretary George Canning who, in the midst of war, fought a duel on Putney Heath. The two men embodied differing approaches to foreign affairs but both went on to become great Foreign Secretaries - Castlereagh played a key role in ending the Napoleonic Wars and establishing peace for a century, whilst Canning put his imprint on the liberation of Latin America.

Period artefacts, pictures and manuscripts are on show, including a silver-mounted pistol and the major treaties that sealed Britain’s victory.

William Heath, Wellington entering Toulouse (National Army Museum, London).

Views of Bloody Sunday then and now

by Kathryn Hadley

‘Will unsullied evidence ever be obtained on which definitive judgements can be made? Will not the emotiveness of the events preclude such definition? And would the truth be believed by all parties if it was obtained?’

Those were the questions asked by Dr Anthony Seldon about the events of Bloody Sunday in an article published in History Today almost twenty years ago, in November 1991.

Seldon’s article examined the dividing line between history and current affairs and was part of a special supplement entitled ‘Secret History’, which explored the issues raised by a series of ‘secret history’ documentaries being screened at the time on Channel 4. The Channel 4 series aimed to use new evidence and re-interpretation to uncover the ‘historical truth’ about a wide range of controversial historical events in the 20th century. In his introduction to the series, Channel 4’s then controller of factual programmes, John Willis, described the aim of the series: ‘to establish the firm truths underlying the welter of hearsay, propaganda and partial recollection that obscures so much of our knowledge of the past’.

Twenty years later, have Anthony Seldon’s questions not been answered with yesterday’s publication of the long-awaited Saville report? Has the ‘truth’ about the events of Bloody Sunday not been established at last?

There certainly appeared to be no doubt in David Cameron’s mind about the conclusions of Lord Saville’s report as he delivered his speech, yesterday, to the House of Commons: ‘The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong’.

Footage of Cameron’s speech is available on the website of the BBC.


Bernard McGuigan lying dead on Bloody Sunday (Channel 4), published in Secret History (November 1991).

Tuesday 15 June 2010

The Saville report at a glance…

by Kathryn Hadley

A brief background to the report
On Sunday January 30th, 1972, 14 people died when British soldiers opened fire on civil rights protesters in the Bogside district of Derry. The shootings sparked international condemnation. In Dublin a crowd of protesters burnt down the British Embassy. The day after the incident, the then Prime Minister Edward Heath set up a public inquiry under the then Lord Chief Justice Lord Widgery. A report was published within 11 weeks of the shootings.
The report largely absolved the British soldiers, however, and was rejected by the families of victims and criticised for excluding key evidence. It concluded that shots had been fired at the soldiers before they started the firing that led to the casualties; that the soldiers acted as they did because they believed their standing orders justified it; and that although there was no proof that any of the victims had been shot while handling a firearm or bomb, there was a strong suspicion that some had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon.
Twenty-five years after the event, in January 1998, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair eventually established a full enquiry under the auspices of former High Court judge, Lord Saville of Newdigate. Blair’s statement to the House of Commons on January 29th, 1998, and Lord Saville’s opening statement, delivered on April 3rd, 1998, can be found on The Bloody Sunday Inquiry website.
The inquiry began on March 27th, 2000, taking oral statements from the first hundreds of witnesses. A timeline of the key moments in the inquiry is available on the website of The Guardian.

Facts and stats about the Bloody Sunday inquiry
The Bloody Sunday inquiry is the longest and most expensive in British history. It cost almost £195 million and took 12 years to complete.
The inquiry closed in 2004.
It took over four years for the Saville report to be written.
The completed report is 5,000 pages long with a 60 page summary.
In November 2008, it was announced that the publication of the report would be delayed for at least another year.
At the beginning of April 2009, it was announced that the publication of the report would be delayed until after the general election.
It was due to be handed over to Shaun Woodward, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, at the end of March this year and was expected to be made public shortly after.

What is happening today?
The Saville report was delivered to the Guildhall in Derry at 2 o’clock this morning and was made available to the families’ legal teams.
Cameron is expected to announce the official publication of the report later this afternoon in the House of Commons.
Full coverage and regular updates are available on the website of The Guardian.

The website of the Bloody Sunday Trust, a history project based in Derry to commemorate the events of Bloody Sunday and to preserve the memory of its victims, provides useful background information to the report and features a gallery of photographs from the collections of the Museum of Free Derry.

Our Picture Editor, Sheila Corr, was a student at Trinity College, Dublin, at the time. She remembers the shock and outrage across the border.

On February 2nd 1972, three days after the event, and while many of the
funerals took place, a day of national mourning was held throughout the Irish
Republic, and, as a mark of respect for the dead, businesses were closed and
services held. In Dublin, so far largely untouched by ‘The Troubles’,
thousands marched in solemn protest behind symbolic coffins, and later, as night
fell, an angry crowd descended on the British Embassy and burnt it
I watched the procession pass slowly and in silence before
the old Irish Parliament building and Trinity College where I was then a
student, and in Merrion Square, usually an oasis of Georgian tranquility, saw
the embassy blaze unchecked against the dark sky. It was an extraordinary
moment when hatred of Britain raged furiously about me, and for the first and
only time in all the years I’d visited Ireland with my Irish parents, I felt an
uncomfortable need to conceal an English accent.

Friday 11 June 2010

The Mystery of York’s Headless Romans

by Kathryn Hadley,

Has the mystery of York’s headless Romans, which has puzzled archaeologists for over six years, finally been solved? In 2004, York Archaeological Trust excavated 80 burials in York in advance of housing developments. The burials are believed to be part of a large Roman cemetery on the outskirts of the town, dated to between the early 2nd century and late 3rd century.

However, the burials do not fit in with the usual demographics for a Roman cemetery. They are mostly male and the majority are adults. The people also seem to have suffered harsh lifestyles and met violent deaths; nevertheless, they appear to have been carefully buried. There is evidence, for example, that funerary feasting took place at the cemetery. Were these people soldiers, criminals or gladiators? Were they from a group that had unusual religious beliefs or burial practices?

On Monday, June 7th, archaeologists announced the results of the latest forensic tests carried out on more than 80 skeletons. They believe that the individuals may be gladiators and that the site may be the best preserved gladiator graveyard in the world. Scientists discovered a large carnivore bite mark, believed to have been inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear in the context of an arena. They also found some healed and unhealed weapon injuries, possible hammer blows to the head and a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry. The development of much stronger muscles in the right arm is a feature that is notably mentioned in several works of ancient Roman literature in connection with gladiators.

Kurt Hunter Mann, who is leading the research at York Archaeological Trust, explained the different possible theories:

‘There are numerous pieces of evidence that point towards or are consistent with
the interpretation that the skeletons are Roman gladiators, but there is also
other evidence that suggest the individuals could have been soldiers, criminals,
or members of a religious cult […].
‘An alternative interpretation – that
the individuals are soldiers – is potentially undermined by the fact that most
of them have been violently decapitated and that one of them has a large
carnivore bite mark, almost certainly sustained in an arena context […].
‘Another potential interpretation – that they are all criminals – appears to
be undermined by the substantial respect (and grave goods) with which many of
them were buried.’

On Monday, a documentary entitled Gladiators: Back From The Dead, exploring the origins of the skeletons and following the lead theory that they were Roman gladiators will be shown on Channel 4 (9pm). York Archaeological Trust will also launch a website next week presenting all the various theories and asking members of the public to give their own opinions.


Skeleton with displaced skull - York Archaeological Trust

Thursday 10 June 2010

Praise for Pinochet

by Kathryn Hadley,

Chile’s ambassador to Argentina, Miguel Otero, resigned on Tuesday evening, just 48 hours after the Argentine newspaper Clarín published an interview in which he spoke in favour of the military rule of Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006). Otero is a member of Chile’s ruling centre-right National Renewal Party (Renovación Nacional) founded in 1988.

The interview was published in Clarín on Sunday, June 6th. Otero claimed that the majority of the Chilean population was not affected by the dictatorship, did not ‘feel’ the dictatorship, and that, on the contrary, the economic situation and hardship at the time meant that many were relieved when the military took power. He also claimed that human rights abuses were not official policies, but rather the result of excesses committed by some members of the military junta.

‘Le explico una cosa. La mayor parte de Chile no sintió la dictadura. Al
contrario, se sintió aliviada. Porque antes usted no podía comprar nada
importado, tenía que pagar lo que se producía en Chile, caro y malo.’

It is estimated, however, that approximately 3,000 political opponents were killed during the dictatorship and that over 30,000 people were imprisoned or tortured.

Otero’s comments sparked immediate protest and demands that he step down in both Argentina and Chile. On Tuesday, the foreign relations committee of the Chilean Chamber of Deputies voted by six votes to five to ask President Sebastian Pinera to sack him. Pinera, who took office in March, is Chile's first conservative elected president since Pinochet’s resignation 20 years ago.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

First Impressions: Rude Britannia

Charlotte Crow and Sheila Corr, deputy and picture editors at History Today, give their first impressions of Tate Britain's latest exhibition.

Charlotte Crow:

Is there such thing as a British sense of humour? The TV show Britain’s Got Talent has addressed that question in more ways than one. If you have giggled at the contradiction between that programme’s title and anything you might have seen of its content, you will be both amused and impressed by 'Rude Britannia'. Tate Britain’s dynamic celebration of British comic art spans the 17th-century to the present and explores the serious interface between humour and issues of identity (and much else besides) with a fitting lightness of touch.

An inspired move is the involvement of guest curators Gerald Scarfe, Harry Hill, Steve Bell and Viz Magazine who bring celebrity to proceedings (in a good way), as well as their own distinct artistic contributions. For example, in a room devoted to social satire, dominated by an enormous three-dimensional Viz Magazine, that comic’s love-to-hate character Roger Mellie ‘The Man on the Telly’ appears in a parallel storyboard offering facetious commentary to each scene in Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress. To enter a Sitting Room, where visitors can sit comfortably to peruse cartoon and comic books at close quarters, you must go through the bandy legs of a giant William Pitt, Gerald Scarfe’s take on James Gillray’s The Giant Factotum Amusing Himself (1797).

What this exhibition achieves most successfully, in galleries which explore themes ranging from politics, to social satire, the grotesque, the bawdy and the absurd, is the juxtaposition of historic works with contemporary material so that both can be viewed in fresh ways. Hopefully this imaginative presentation will awaken a new generation to the roots of one of Britain’s genuine talents: the art of irreverence.

Sheila Corr:

Vibrant, witty, colourful and often, as it claims, extraordinarily rude, this exhibition celebrates the role of humour in British visual culture from the 17th century to the present day. What a joy to see a major gallery devote space to this subject which allows for the use of plenty of three-dimensional objects and other large pieces such as Cruikshank’s Worship of Bacchus.
Tate curators have been ably assisted by guest contributors who offer their own unique insights into the exhibits. While this is undoubtedly a refreshing view, explanatory captions could provide some helpful historical background, especially in the 'Politics' section where a person’s ‘tab of identity’ (as Low apparently called it) has to carry the whole story behind some of Gillray’s most vitriolic outbursts.
Most of the historical threads are familiar to me, from broadsides of Cromwell through the work of Hogarth and Patch, and the technological advances in printing which took caricature from the popular Macaronis to the mass market in Punch and comic publications of today. But I was also delighted to discover unknown work such as John Collier’s painting The Hypocrite and the mid-19th-century publication The Penny Satirist.

Self evidently though, the loud and vulgar will draw in the greatest crowds and, while surprised yet again with the explicit nature of the earliest examples in 'The Bawdy' section, I was most amused by the time-warp caption labels for McGill’s saucy seaside postcards of the 1950s stating ‘Original postcard attached to Director of Public Prosecution’s index card’.

- James Gillray, The Giant Factotum Amusing Himself (1797)
- Shaun Doyle, and Mally Mallinson, Death to the Fascist Fruit Boys (2010)
- Anonymous, Napoleon chamber pot, early 19th century

Tintoretto on display in Dorset

Our editor Paul Lay comments on a hidden Tintoretto painting, which goes on public dispaly for the first time, today, at the National Trust's Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

by Paul Lay,

If I was forced to choose the ‘greatest painting of all time’ I would plump for Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, which hangs in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, a multitudinous vision of Christ’s death. It is therefore very exciting when a new Tintoretto goes on public display, especially in Britain. Today sees the unveiling of Tintoretto’s Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse at Kingston Lacy, the National Trust property in Dorset. The painting has spent most of the last 30 years in storage but has undergone a major programme of cleaning and restoration. Art historians at the National Trust believe that the painting depicts Apollo, or possibly the god of marriage, Hymen, placing a crown on an unknown figure, probably a poet who is holding a book. Mythical figures surrounding them include the god Hercules and a woman believed to be the intended spouse. However, the identification of other figures is still open to question along with the significance of various objects which would have had a clear meaning to those who saw it when it was painted. These include a die depicting five dots and the presence of a gold box and dish with coins in it.

Alastair Laing, the National Trust’s Curator of Pictures and Sculpture said:

‘This is undoubtedly a work of great significance – Titian, Veronese and
Tintoretto are the three great masters of the mid- to late-16th century in
Venice and to have a painting by Tintoretto in an English house, rather than
still in its original location in Venice, or in an Italian museum, is
‘It is all the more fascinating that we do not yet know who or
where it was painted for, or what the actual subject is.’

The painting was given to the Trust as part of the contents of Kingston Lacy in 1981 but it was in poor condition. Layers of darkened varnish and discoloured paint had caused difficulty in identifying the subject matter of the painting, even whether it was by Tintoretto himself. The cleaning and restoration, undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge, included x-rays and infrared analysis that helped to identify the unquestionable style and brush strokes of Tintoretto. They also revealed original underdrawings that show changes he made to faces, clothing and positioning of subjects in the final version.

The painting probably dates from the 1560s or 1570s from a palazzo in Venice where it was acquired in 1849 by William John Bankes, then owner of Kingston Lacy. It was last known to have been displayed in the dining-room at Kingston Lacy. It is here that it will be reinstated.


National Trust, Tintoretto's Apollo (or Hymen) Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Spouse after cleaning and restoration (NT/Hamilton Kerr Institute)

Monday 7 June 2010

Historypin: Patchwork History

Our deputy editor, Charlotte Crow, reviews a new digital picture archive, Historypin, launched last week.

by Charlotte Crow,

What aims to be ‘the greatest picture story book on Earth’, Historypin, launched in London at the end of last week. The project was created by the social ideas group We Are What We Do in collaboration with Google, the technical and financial facilitator behind a venture that promises to add a new dimension to digital history.

We Are What We Do is an off-shoot of Community Links, a non-profit organisation founded in East London in 2004 to tackle the causes and consequences of social exclusion in fresh and imaginative ways. The aim of this latest project is to stimulate interaction between different generations by seeking positive ways to bring them together: older people by communicating their experiences and stories and younger people by sharing their digital skills.

Historypin is about creating a reason to uncover from attics and garages forgotten old pre-digital photographs of outdoor locations, peopled or not. These can then be scanned and uploaded onto the Historypin website and ‘pinned’ onto Street View via Google Maps along with a date, caption and personal story. Pictures are layered onto modern Street View scenes (the Museum of London launched an App with a similar function for historic stills of the capital on June 2nd) so that users can ‘walk’ down a virtual memory lane exploring how a neighbourhood once looked and gleaning anecdotal details via contributor’s written reminiscences. The idea is to build a vast, random archive of images and human recollections with an interactive dimension. Ideally a young and an old person will have participated jointly in this process and Historypin plans plenty of outreach projects with schools and old people’s homes to get the necessary dialogues going.

Thanks to Google, the capacity for holding material is not an issue. Photographic and local history archives are encouraged to get on board and this may well prove a positive, cost-free way for them to showcase their images (copyright of all material remaining with the owners). Currently the focus is on photographs as the memory pins, though other material such as paintings and drawings can also be tagged. Historypin will develop links with oral history projects with the view to enable audio material to be tagged as well.

With its emphasis on dating and captioning, supervised by a team of moderators, Historypin hopes to increase a broader sense of historical awareness. In airing what commercial archives would consider in many cases to be worthless, mundane pictures, it will help to develop an appreciation for a non-commercial, non-dramatic version of the past that nevertheless can still tell us much.

Yet whatever the potential this endeavour might hold for social and local historians and those wishing to connect with the past, the greater motive of Historypin is to connect people with each other by cultivating curiosity and mutual interest. With a widening divide between young and old in the fast moving digital age and the isolation experienced by many older people in an aging population, this is a positive and worthwhile ambition.

(Trinity Mirror Archive):
- Street party for Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, Children from Methley Street and Radcot Street, London, June 7th, 1977
- Family on holiday in New York City, Peter and Joan Udell with their children Christopher and Jennifer, January 12th, 1969

Friday 4 June 2010

Henry VIII's conservative religious beliefs

by Kathryn Hadley,

A rare medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII goes on display, today, in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Gallery as part of its ‘Treasures of the British Library’ collection. Whilst there still exist numerous medieval obituary rolls, very few prayer rolls survived the Reformation. The prayer roll also features an inscription written by Prince Henry, which is one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession to the throne on April 21st, 1509.

The roll was not discovered until 1858 and many questions about its origin, place of production and illumination remain unanswered. The British Library recently purchased the prayer roll from Sotheby’s for £485,000.

It is believed to have been produced in England in the late 15th century and consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end, measuring four metres when it is fully unrolled. It is illustrated with thirteen illuminations depicting Christ and various saints and their martyrdoms and also contains a two-column text with rubrics in English and prayers in Latin to the Five Holy Wounds of Christ and other related devotions.

The inscription at the top of the second membrane under the central image of Christ’s Passion, believed to have been written by Prince Henry some time prior to 1509 when he presented the roll to William Thomas a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber, reads: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry’.

Henry’s royal badges consisting of the two Tudor roses, the Prince of Wales crowned ostrich feather as well as Katherine of Aragon’s emblem of a sheaf of arrows at the head of the roll are evidence that the roll was once owned and used by Prince Henry. The prayer roll provides fascinating and surprising insights into Henry’s traditional and conservative early religious practices that he would later destroy when he broke with Rome and established himself as head of the Church of England.

Images (British Library):
- Christ crucified, Angels bearing Christ's side wound
Christ is depicted hanging on a Tau-shaped cross and flanked by two angels each holding a small scroll. The vernacular instructions on the left-hand scroll promise general protection, material prosperity and safe childbirth to those who wear the roll on their bodies: “This cros, 15 times moten is the length of our Lord Jhesu Criste, and that day that ye bere it upon you ther shal no evyl spirit have power of yow on londe ne on water, ne with thonder ne litenyng be hurt, ne dye in dedely synne withowte confession, ne fyre be brent, ne water be drowned; and it shal breke your enemys power and encres your worldly goodes, and if a woman be in travell off childe, ley this on her body and she shal be delyverd withowte parel, the childe chrystendom, and the moder purificacyon.”

- The Archangel Michael and the Devil
The first of a series of images of saints, St Michael is depicted here conquering the devil, personified by a dragon-like monster with six heads and a tail ending in another head. The archangel is clothed in a red, feathered garment, relieved with gold. Beneath is a hymn to the saint: “Gaude princeps pietatis. Miles mire probatis ...”

Friday 28 May 2010

First Impressions: Exposed

By Sheila Corr,

‘Snapshot’ started as a term used in firing a gun, which reminds us, together with other familiar photographic terms such as ‘capture’ and ‘taking a shot’, that not all subjects have offered themselves willingly to the camera. Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera opens today, May 28th, at Tate Modern. The museum's fifth exhibition devoted to photography analyses and reflects on this hunt for prey, and explores the nature of intrusion throughout the history of photography, and the viewer’s complicity in the intrusion. Is it acceptable to invade someone’s privacy in this way and if so, when and why? If you look at the results of that invasion, are you too crossing the line?

Contemporary photography is at the centre of 'Exposed', but illuminated by earlier, and often more familiar work. The opening room sets the scene where Walker Evans’ surreptitious close-ups of passengers on the New York subway (taken with the simplest of cameras in the 1930s) are paired with Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads of unaware New Yorkers. The photographic technology of 2000 is certainly much more advanced, but the result is strikingly similar.

The exhibition is divided into five thematic sections: The Unseen Photographer, Celebrity & the Public Gaze, Voyeurism & Desire, Witnessing Violence, and Surveillance. The first of these includes pioneering work by Lewis Hine, which drew attention to the exploitation of child labour in American mines and factories, and Paul Martin’s Victorian London street scenes. They show ordinary people going about their daily life observed by an invisible but highly skilled photographer who often went to elaborate lengths to conceal himself and his camera, in order to catch what Cartier-Bresson (well represented here) called ‘the decisive moment’, the exact second when all the elements needed to create a perfect composition are in place.

The Countess of Castiglione was the first celebrity to manipulate her own image back in the 1860s when she enacted bizarre personal fantasies for the camera. These days, however, fame generally entails relentless pursuit by the paparazzi and even in 1889, the artist Degas was ‘caught’ leaving a pissoir. Less surprising in this section are shots of Garbo trying to shield herself from the public gaze, or Eliabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ‘papped’ by Marcello Geppetti embracing as they sunbathe. Alison Jackson’s ersatz representations of lookalikes posed as the rich and famous in compromising situations, such as Jack Nicholson in road rage, raise questions of the viewer’s role by highlighting the humour.

The later rooms, starting with ‘Voyeurism & Desire’, move into more uncomfortable territory. Brassai’s shots of a seedy thirties Paris are familiar scenes of low life, as are Helmut Newton’s take on the world of fashion, but more dominant here are the reflections of women photographers who turn their critical gaze back on the peeping toms watching strippers and visiting brothels. ‘Witnessing Violence’ takes this questioning further: ‘Does photography allow us to bear witness to a victim’s suffering, or does it anaesthetize us to the horror?’ The horror is dead bodies (Weegee’s New York features strongly), suicides, assassinations, executions and concentration camp atrocities, dating back to the earliest 19th century photographs of conflict by Alexander Gardner and Felice Beato. The answer is ambivalent as war photographers frequently testify.

The intimacy of the photographer’s relationship with his/her subject disappears in the exhibition’s last section ‘Surveillance’, which opens into a much wider, more open exhibition space thus emphasizing that distance. Some of these are random shots taken at a fixed spot by CCTV, intended to record and sometimes incriminate. They often involve no artistic ‘eye’, but are nevertheless an interesting development in the technology and purpose of photography.
Although I like the early aerial views and love Simon Norfolk’s web of wires on Ascension Island, I was less engaged by the detailed recording of the minutiae of time and place while recognising it as an unavoidable conclusion to an exhibition about surreptitious camerawork. These days cameras are turned on us from all sides pretty much wherever we go, leaving our right to privacy an arguable concept. Well and truly exposed.

Walker Evans, Street Scene, New York, 1928
Gelatin silver print
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
©Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera
Until October 3rd

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
Telephone: 020 7887 8888

Thursday 27 May 2010

70 years ago today: Operation Dynamo

by Kathryn Hadley

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk. Following the rapid advance of German troops during the Battle of France, French and British soldiers became trapped in a small pocket around Dunkirk. It is estimated that between May 26th and June 5th, 1940, over 300,000 soldiers were evacuated from Dunkirk to Britain (approximately 200,000 British and 110,000 French).

Memory of the evacuation diverges on both sides of the Channel, however. The 70th anniversary is featured on the front pages of most of today’s British newspapers; it is not covered, however, in the French news. Whereas Dunkirk is viewed in Britain as one of the most significant episodes of the Second World War, in France, the evacuation was on the whole a humiliation, which has been largely forgotten. In May 1940, Operation Dynamo also caused disputes between the French and British generals, when Gort disagreed with Weygand’s plans to organise a counter-attack on Arras.

What happened to the French soldiers who briefly sojourned in Britain and later returned to France? In Dunkirk: Paradise After Hell Rhiannon Looseley uncovers the forgotten history of the evacuation of over 100,000 French soldiers from Dunkirk to Britain.

Another forgotten episode of June 1940 is the sinking of the British ship Lancastria, on June 17th 1940, in the concluding phase of an operation to bring home British troops left in France after Dunkirk. In Dunkirk: For Those in Peril Jonathan Fenby asks why the greatest maritime tragedy ever to affect Britain was hushed up at the time and has remained a virtually untold story for sixty-five years.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Radicals and religious dissenters: London Non-Conformist registers 1694–1921

by Kathryn Hadley

The names and details of half a million UK radicals and religious dissenters covering a period of 225 years have been made available online, today, for the first time. The Non-Conformist church registers include the baptism and marriage registers and burial inscriptions, dating from 1694 to 1921, of both famous British non-conformists such as Daniel Defoe (1659-1731), William Blake (1757-1827) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and 224,000 ordinary men and women. The records form part of the London Historical Records, 1500s to 1900s held at the London Metropolitan Archive.

The records include the names of Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and Congregationalists, for example, who were persecuted by the state because they refused to comply with the Clarendon Code, the doctrine of the established Anglican Church, which remained in effect until 1828. For the most part, the church registers are the only records of these people in existence because they were not recorded by the state until civil registration in 1837.

Some of these non-conformists advanced progressive causes which formed the basis of modern civil liberties and political rights. The Quakers, for example, were the first religious group to denounce slavery. The Methodists were powerful advocates of women’s rights and the Unitarians campaigned for better conditions for factory workers.

The records are the first part of a number of non conformist collections that plans to digitise and publish online. They can be accessed at

William Blake's tombstone in Bunhill Fields cemetary in Islington, which was used as a burial site for non conformists from the late 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. The memorial stone is believed to be situated approximately 20 metres away from the actual spot of Blake's grave, which became lost in the 1960s when gravestones were removed to create a new lawn.

Monday 24 May 2010

Ten Shocking Statistics: Did you know that…

by Kathryn Hadley

- Nearly half (47%) of 18-24 year olds don’t know that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.
- Nearly half (45%) of 18-24 year olds don’t know that Admiral Nelson led Britain to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
- 28% of 18-24 year olds believe that the Battle of Trafalgar was part of the English Civil War.
- 15% believe think that Oliver Cromwell was the leader of British troops at the Battle of Trafalgar.
- One in ten adults in England (i.e. those aged over 18) thinks that the Battle of Trafalgar was fought on the border between England and Scotland.
- More than one in three (33%) adults in England don’t know that Charles Darwin was English.
- One in five thinks that Darwin was Scottish.
- 12% believe that he was American or Canadian.
- 14% of adults in England think that the Vikings first came to England in the 16th century.
- Almost one in five adults in England (17%) don’t know that Thomas Beckett was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral.

These statistics are the results of a survey commissioned by Sing Up, the National Singing Programme, which aims to put singing at the heart of primary school children’s lives. The survey was carried out by the pollster Populus, which interviewed 1,762 adults (over the age of 18) between 23rd and 25th April 2010.

As a result of the findings, Sing Up’s latest campaign, School Trip Singalong, was launched today at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in an attempt to combat these growing gaps in knowledge about British history. Sing Up has partnered with seven of Britain’s leading historical attractions, including the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, Stonehenge, Jorvik Viking Centre, the Eden Project, Chester Zoo, Roman baths and Canterbury Cathedral, to develop specially commissioned songs to help bring historic learning to life. From June 7th, a Sing Up school bus will begin a two-week tour of the country giving pupils the chance to take part in school trip singalongs to some of these attractions.

Friday 21 May 2010

What will become of Gordon Brown? The fates of former British prime ministers

by Kathryn Hadley

In 2007, the former MP and journalist Matthew Parris claimed that ‘no British prime minister in history has ever done anything seriously worthwhile or interesting after leaving Downing Street’. A Guardian editorial in 2008 reasserted Parris’ claim: ‘no British prime minister has ever found significance in a new role. Their best times are always behind them’.

History, however, has proved otherwise, or, in the very least, that the afterlives of British prime ministers are not predetermined in any way. In a new History & Policy paper published on Wednesday and entitled ‘What next for Gordon Brown’, Kevin Theakston (University of Leeds) argues that many British prime minsters have pursued successful careers and done ‘interesting and significant things in the years after they have left Number 10’. Moreover, success or failure as prime minister does not predict what may come afterwards.

There are now four living former prime minsters, including Lady Thatcher, Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. What will Gordon Brown do now that he has joined what Theakston describes as this ‘small and exclusive club of living former prime ministers’? There is no established role for former prime ministers: some completely withdraw from the political scene; others write their memoirs; some retire to their country estates; others fall into debt; some die soon after leaving Downing Street; and others hit the bottle.

A few former prime minsters warned of the dangers of seeking a continuing role in politics and public life. When Baldwin retired in 1937 he is said to have resolved to make no political speeches; Macmillan also advised against ‘hang[ing] around the greenroom after final retirement from the stage’. Other 20th century premiers who largely disappeared from the political scene include Attlee, Eden and Wilson. It seems that as time has moved on fewer former prime ministers have stayed on as MPs or party leaders. According to Theakston, whilst nine 19th century prime ministers had two or more consecutive terms in the office, only four premiers serving entirely in the 20th century managed to hold on to the party leadership after losing a general election and came back to serve for a second term (Baldwin, MacDonald, Churchill and Wilson).

It seems unlikely that Gordon Brown will ever serve a second term; but it may also be unlikely that he ends his days as plain ‘Mr’ Brown. To date, only nine prime ministers did not accept a peerage or knighthood: Henry Pelham (1694-1754), George Grenville (1712-1770), Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), George Canning (1770-1827), William Gladstone (1809-1898), Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923), Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), and Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940). 29 prime ministers became Knights of the Garter and many joined the House of Lords, described by Tony Benn as ‘the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians’.

If Brown withdraws from the political scene, he may still follow in the footsteps of the majority of former 20th century former prime ministers and write his memoirs. Brown has already written several books and may publish other historical or political works. In his post-premiership years, Balfour wrote numerous philosophy essays and Churchill completed his History of the English-Speaking People. Heath published books about his interests in sailing, music and travel before completing his autobiography entitled The Course of my Life (1998) and, following the publication of his Autobiography (1999), John Major wrote a history of cricket, More Than A Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years (2007).

Several prime ministers have made considerable amounts of money through the publication of their memoirs. Tony Blair has negotiated a deal worth £4.6 million for his autobiography (due to be published in September) and, in the 1930s, Lloyd George received £90,000 from the Daily Telegraph for his memoirs (equivalent to about £3 today). However, some prime ministers have struggled financially after leaving Downing Street. Pensions for former prime ministers were only introduced in 1937 at the rate of £2,000 per year (equivalent to over £70,000 today). Both William Pitt the Younger and his father died with huge debts that were paid off by parliament with public funds, King George III lent money to Lord North (1732-1792) and Queen Victoria also lent money to Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848). Attlee lived modestly off his pension, the House of Lords attendance allowance and the money he made from lectures and journalism. He left just £7,295 in his will, the smallest sum left by any former premier in the 20th century.

Lastly, it is to be hoped that Brown’s health will not suffer too much from the stress of his three years in Number 10. Theakston describes the premiership as ‘gruelling and stressful’ and claims that serving prime ministers age at two or three times the normal rate. Seven prime ministers died in office; nine died within two-and-a-half years of leaving Downing Street. The longest-lived prime minister was Callaghan, who died a day before his 93rd birthday in 2005; the shortest-lived was the Duke of Devonshire who died in 1764, aged 44. The average age of ex-premiers on leaving Downing Street is 61 and their average age at death is 73.

The release of Theakston’s paper was accompanied by an article published in the Yorkshire Post.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

First Impressions: Galleries of Modern London

by Paul Lay,

Next Friday (May 28th) sees the opening of the Galleries of Modern London at the Museum of London. It aims to tell the story of the city from its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666 to its current status as the world’s greatest global metropolis. The £20 million it cost to refurbish the gallery has, by and large, been well spent. The Sackler Hall, the gallery’s entrance and hub, is encircled by a 48-metre long digital ribbon called LDN24 created by a group of conceptual artists called The Light Surgeons. It’s the kind of thing that could go terribly wrong. But it succeeds brilliantly. Its focus is a speeded up film of 24 hours in the life of London, which manages to capture its rush, flavour and diversity, eschewing the stereotypical images of smiling policeman and red buses, and replacing them with images of office workers exercising; packed restaurants; traffic jams; bewildered tourists; shoppers. All go about their business against a backdrop rich in history and referenced again and again in the new galleries. An enveloping stream of statistics is emitted on the surrounding LED display. Looking up, as images of the financial powerhouse of the City of London beamed from the screen, I learnt that the highest paid male executive of a FTSE company earned an annual salary of £36 million; his female equivalent gets by on just £4 million. The statistics never cease.

Wealth and poverty are at the heart of London’s story. Perhaps the most memorable new item on display is a mid-18th century cell from the Wellclose debtors prison, originally located near the Tower of London. Its cells lay beneath a public house called the Cock and Neptune which was connected to a courthouse for which the pub’s landlord acted as a gaoler. The damp wooden walls of the cell are covered in the scratched scrawls of the inmates. One reads:

The Cubard’s Empty
To Our Sorrow
But Hope it will
Be Full to Morrow

The wealthy and those curious of their activities, may have made their way to one of the Pleasure Gardens that grew up on London’s outskirts – most notably Vauxhall – during the 18th century and were much imitated elsewhere. Within the circular Pleasure Garden gallery, a new addition, with its filmed backdrop of 18th-century characters, there are figures in costumes that imitate those of the time, created by the likes of London’s leading fahionistas such as the late Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. Masked ladies, acrobats, harlequins and ambassadors cavort as a surprisingly witty commentary unfolds.

Elsewhere in the galleries, old favourites remain, though now with more space in which to be appreciated: the Victorian Walk, with its rich, evocative array of pubs, banks, workshops and tea rooms; the wonderfully ornate Selfridges lift from 1928; Nelson’s sword of honour, emphasising the debt that London’s traders owed to the Royal Navy’s policing of the oceans; and the Lord Mayor’s State Coach, made in 1757 and still used annually in the Lord Mayor’s Show, which gets its own gallery, visible from London Wall.

The largest display of new material comes at the end. Much is made of London radicalism and eccentricity, embodied in characters as different as the ‘Protein Man’, Stanley Green, who until his death in 1993, warned commuters and shoppers of the uncontrollable passions aroused by eating too much protein; and Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, whose courage and deep principal, borne at great personal peril, is symptomatic of London at its best. The same embrace of difference is on display in the collections of fashion and music, in which for the best part of half a century, London has been a world beater with no sign of its energies waning; quite the reverse. Pamphlets, magazines and books from the 1960s onwards abound, just as they do in the galleries dedicated to the 1700s. London’s incontinence of ideas, innovation and communication has been a constant for centuries.

All in all, the gallery succeeds, not so much as an encyclopedic trawl of London’s history, more in summoning up the dissenting, tolerant mentality that is at the heart of London’s cultural and economic success. No city has been so successful and influential for so long. While other European cities such as Paris or Rome or Berlin seem mere shadows of their former greatness, replaced by the vigorous new conurbations of Asia and Latin America, London swaggers on. The Museum of London’s new galleries demonstrate how and why.

Our Reviews Editor, Juliet Gardiner, reviewed the new Galleries of Modern London on BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme on May 27th.

Galleries of Modern London
Museum of London
150 London Wall
London EC2Y 5HN

- The Sackler Hall © Museum of London
- Wellclose Square prison cell, 1750 © Museum of London

Monday 10 May 2010

Wood from the tree that inspired Newton’s theory of gravitation travels into space

by Kathryn Hadley

A piece of wood engraved with Sir Isaac Newton’s initials from the tree which inspired him to formulate the theory of gravitation will travel into space on the next NASA mission STS 132, this Friday May 14th. The sections of wood pictured here are from the tree from which Newton (1643-1727) famously saw the apple fall at some time during 1665 or 1666. The tree still stands in Newton’s former home, Woolsthorpe Manor, in Lincolnshire. The Royal Society, of which Newton was a former president, has entrusted the section of wood to the British-born astronaut Piers Sellers as part of its 350th anniversary celebrations. He will be flying with the larger piece of wood as well as with a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton.

Piers Sellers described the mission:
‘We’re delighted to take this piece of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree to orbit.
While it’s up there, it will be experiencing no gravity, so if it had an apple
on it, the apple wouldn’t fall. I’m pretty sure that Sir Isaac would have loved
to see this, assuming he wasn’t spacesick, as it would have proved his first law
of motion to be correct. After the flight, we will be returning the piece of
tree and a flown picture of Sir Isaac Newton back to The Royal Society.’

The NASA mission will last 12 days. The piece of wood will thereafter be held as a permanent exhibit at the Royal Society.

Earlier this year, the Royal Society made available online, for the first time, the original manuscript of William Stukeley’s biography of Newton. Stukeley was one of the first biographers of Newton and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Saturday 8 May 2010

65th Anniversary of VE Day

by Kathryn Hadley

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The Kremlin has planned the largest parade in history, due to be held in the Red Square tomorrow, with 10,000 troops, 160 military vehicles and 127 aircraft on display. In The Guardian, Luke Harding reports from Russia on how, despite the planned commemorations, the Kremlin has recently been accused of historical revisionism and has failed to recognise some of the horrors of its Stalinist past.

Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp also report in Der Spiegel on how, five decades after his death, Russians are still disputing whether or not Stalin can be a positive role model.

In London, the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund is organising a programme of events in co-operation with Southwark Council and the Imperial War Museum London, this Sunday May 9th. The events will begin at 10.45am with an Act of Remembrance at the Soviet War Memorial in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, adjacent to the Imperial War Museum London. It will be followed, in the afternoon, by an illustrated talk by historian and former diplomat Sir Rodric Braithwaite and a series of films screenings from the IWM archives.

Participants in the Act of Remembrance include British and Russian Second World War veterans, The Lady Soames, the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill and the Russian Ambassador, HE Yury Fedotov.

Members of the public are welcome to participate in all of the events. For further information, visit the website of the Imperial War Museum.
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