Friday, 29 January 2010

Digging up Lenin and Mussolini on iPhone

Digging up Lenin
David Crossland reports in Der Spiegel on plans in Berlin to dig up the giant statue of Lenin that was famously torn down in 1991. The statue will be displayed alongside 100 other disgraced statues in a new museum in the Spandau Citadel, a Renaissance fortress in the Spandau district of Berlin, due to open in 2013.
In Makers of the Twentieth Century: Lenin, D.A. Longley questions the usual criteria by which Lenin’s legacy and influence are judged.

Mussolini on iPhone
The iMussolini is an iPhone application released on January 21st which enables users to download the full text of over 100 speeches by Benito Mussolini. It has become a bestseller in Italy on the Italian version of iTunes. Its success has also stirred considerable controversy. Read the article in Spiegel Online.
In The Dead Duce John Foot tells the story of the death and posthumous life of Mussolini and the continuing power of the cult of his body over the Italian imagination.
In Coming to Terms with Fascism in Italy R.J.B. Bosworth describes how Italians of both the left and the right have used memories of Mussolini’s long dictatorship to underpin their own versions of history and politics.

Renovation of Christ the Redeemer
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports on the recent announcement of a 2.7 million euro project to restore the statue of the Christo redemptor in Rio de Janeiro. The construction of the statue took nine years from 1922 to 1931. It was inaugurated on October 12th, 1931. In 2007, the statue was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Staffordshire Hoard E-newsletter
At the beginning on the week, Staffordshire County Council announced the launch of an E-newsletter produced by the Staffordshire Hoard partnership with all the latest updates on fundraising efforts, events and research into the Anglo-Saxon treasure. It is possible to view the newsletter online and to subscribe to it.

The extraordinary story of the owner of the world’s largest poster collection
On the website of The Times, Suzanne Glass shares the story of her grandfather Hans Sachs, who was both Einstein’s dentist and the owner of the world’s largest poster collection in Germany prior to the Second World War. His collection was stolen from him on Kristallnacht, in 1938, and he was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. When he wife successfully secured his release, the couple emigrated to the US. He was later told that his collection had been used by Soviet soldiers to wrap sausage meat. However, in 1970, some of the posters were rediscovered in the basement of the Museum for German History. Despite the family’s fight to reclaim the collection, the posters remain, to this day, in the museum.
In The Battle for Art in the 1930s David Elliott looks at how Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler used culture to their own ends and how the ramifications of this has continued to the present.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

First archive centre to combine university and local authority records

New Hull History Centre

The Hull History Centre opened to the public yesterday, January 25th. It is the result of a joint project between the University of Hull and Hull City Council to combine their archives into one purpose-built centre. The project was mostly funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Bringing together material held by Hull City Archives, Hull Local Studies Library and Hull University Archives, the centre is the first in the country to combine university and local authority archives.
The centre notably holds the city’s 13th-century Royal Charter, records relating to the port and docks of Hull, to local and national politics and pressure groups such as Liberty, as well as family and local history archives and over 100,000 photographs, illustrations, maps and newspapers. Other highlights of the collection include the hand-written poems of Philip Larkin (1922-1985), who was the librarian of the University of Hull for thirty years, letters to his parents, his duffle-coat and glasses, as well as documents relating to the pioneering aviator Amy Johnson (1903-1941), who was born in Kingston upon Hull, and to the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who was also a native of Kingston upon Hull.

Hull History Centre
Worship Street
Hull HU2 8BG
Telephone: 01482 317500

Mona Lisa Mystery: Was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa a disguised self-portrait?
According to an article by Murray Wardrop in The Telegraph, researchers from Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage have recently reached an agreement with French cultural authorities to exhume the remains of Leonardo da Vinci in effort to uncover the true identity of the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel of Saint-Hubert at Amboise Castle in the Loire valley. Scientists wish to study the artist’s skull in order to recreate his face and compare it to the Mona Lisa.

State parliamentarians in Germany to be checked for Stasi affiliation
Last Thursday, January 21st, the parliament for the German state of Brandenburg passed a law requiring that all state parliamentarians be checked for past affiliation with the Stasi. Brandenburg was the last of the five former communist states to do so. The ruling comes after a series of revelations that several members of the state parliament newly elected last September had collaborated with the East German secret police prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Read the article published on Spiegel Online.

Monday, 25 January 2010

First Impressions: The Real Van Gogh

by Kathryn Hadley

‘The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters’ opened this weekend at the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition focuses on Van Gogh’s correspondence to provide an insight into his ideas about art, nature and literature and the way he defined himself as an artist and human being. It features over 35 original letters, on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and around 65 paintings and 30 drawings that express the principal themes found in the correspondence. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) wrote mostly to his younger brother Theo (1857-1891), who was an art-dealer and supported Vincent both emotionally and financially throughout his life and career. Other letters are addressed to his sister Willemien and to fellow artists, including the Dutch painter Anthon van Rappard and Paul Gauguin. Many are illustrated with small detailed sketches which Van Gogh used to show a work in progress. The first major Van Gogh exhibition in London for over 40 years, ‘The Real Van Gogh’ provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a misunderstood and misrepresented artist. The diversity and versatility of his works is striking; the breadth of his talent, which was only recognised after his death, is stunning.

Vincent van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert in the southern Netherlands in 1853. His father Theodorus van Gogh was a Protestant pastor of the Dutch reformed Church. Vincent began work, in 1869, for Goupie & Cie a firm of art-dealers in The Hague. He was thereafter transferred to London and then to Paris. His employment was, however, terminated in 1876 and the following year he travelled to Amsterdam to study theology. In 1879, he began working as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium. Van Gogh’s career as an artist did not begin until 1880, when he was 27. During his relatively short ten-year artistic career he produced, nonetheless, over 800 paintings and 1,200 drawings. In the last 70 days of his life, he completed more than 70 works. On July 27th, 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He died two days later.

Van Gogh is most famous for his colourful depictions of still lives and landscapes using rhythmic and swinging brush strokes; however, the majority of his paintings were in black and white. He only used colour during the last four years of his career after he moved to Paris in February 1886. The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Van Gogh’s Dutch landscapes, which he painted, at the beginning of his career, in black and white and shades of brown. For Van Gogh one of the key duties of an artist was to study and depict nature. He wrote in a letter to Theo in July 1882: ‘the duty of the painter is to study nature in depth and to use all his intelligence, to put his feelings into his work so that it becomes comprehensible to others’.

Van Gogh’s art was rooted in nature, and he returned to nature during the last years of his career, with his depictions of the seasons and landscapes of Provence that are most typically associated with him. From Dutch landscapes, however, he moved on to depict figures and the farm labourers and local weavers of the rural community of Nuenen, where he lived between 1883 and 1885. Once again, the majority of his works were in black and white and, following criticism of his multi-figure composition The Potato Eaters (1885), he worked almost exclusively on a series of black chalk drawings of labourers during the summer of 1885.

Van Gogh became a colourist when he moved to Paris in February 1886. Based on his studies of Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and Adolphe Monticelli (1824-1886), he developed a theory of contrasting complementary colours (red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet), which he perfected in a series of flower and fruit still lives. In the summer of 1887, he produced Two Cut Sunflowers, one of his earliest depictions of sunflowers. Van Gogh’s paintings became even more colourful when he moved to Arles in Provence two years later. He worked on a series of canvases based on complementary colours and increasingly came to view colour as a means to convey feeling and visual energy rather than reality.

A second secret and often underestimated facet of Van Gogh’s work is the influence of Japanese art. Van Gogh’s fascination with Japanese woodblock prints also developed following his move to Paris, where japonisme, the taste for all things Japanese, was very fashionable at the end of the 19th century. Vincent and his brother began a collection of Japanese woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and he later informed Theo that ‘all my work is based to some extent on Japanese art’. This Japanese influence is striking in the series of paintings and drawings that Van Gogh completed in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Rhone delta, in particular Two Crabs (January 1889).

More could have been made of the artist’s letters upon which the exhibition is supposedly based; they are not translated and are often sidelined in small glass cases beside the paintings and drawings. Some aspects of Van Gogh’s career and correspondence also lack explanation: how, for example, did he meet the artists to whom he wrote so many letters? What response did his letters receive from both his brother and fellow artists? Although Van Gogh's gift for writing letters is somewhat obscured, the breadth of his talent as an artist shines nonetheless: he drew and he painted, in both colour and black and white, he painted landscapes, portraits and still lives, and was strongly influenced by Japanese art.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters
Until April 18th

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Telephone: 020 7300 8000


- Vincent van Gogh, Pollard Willow, July 1882 (Christie's Images Limited)

- Vincent van Gogh, Reaper, July-August 1885 (Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands)

- Vincent van Gogh, Two Crabs, January 1889 (Private collection)

Friday, 22 January 2010

Störtebeker’s Stolen Skull

by Kathryn Hadley,

A skull believed to have belonged to the legendary 14th-century buccaneer Klaus Störtebeker and a life-size wax model of the pirate have disappeared from Hamburg history museum. The museum officially announced the theft in a press release on Wednesday January 20th. The skull went missing on January 9th and the police have since been investigating the theft, albeit without success. The museum has offered a reward of up to several thousand euros for any information leading to the skull’s recovery.

The story of Störtebeker’s life has been the subject of many myths and legends. He was the leader of the Victual Brothers, a group of privateers initially recruited by the Dukes of Mecklenburg to fight against the forces of Queen Margaret of Denmark, which had besieged Stockholm in the battle for Scandinavian supremacy. The name ‘victual’ is derived from the Latin term for provisions, victualia, and is thus a direct reference to the first mission of the group, which was to bring relief to the besieged town.

Klaus Störtebeker is believed to have been executed on an island in the Elbe River on October 20th, 1400, along with 30 other pirates. His skull was discovered in Hamburg, in 1878, at a time when the city was rapidly expanding and many large warehouses were being built for the shipping industry. The skull had been on display in the museum since 1922.

Spiegel Online also reported on the theft.

Störtebeker’s skull (Hamburgmuseum)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Chamberlain’s 1938 plane ticket to Munich sold for over £9,000

by Kathryn Hadley

Two weeks ago today, we reported on the upcoming auction of Neville Chamberlain’s British Airways plane ticket to Munich. He flew out on September 29th, 1938, at 8.30am. The following day, Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The ticket was auctioned by Mullock’s on Tuesday January 19th. It was expected to fetch between £5,000 and £7,000.

The final selling price was considerably higher than expected. The ticket sold for £9,280. Richard Westwood-Brookes from Mullock’s Auctioneers was unable to tell me the name of the buyer, but confirmed this morning that he was a private individual. It is also believed that the British buyer purchased the ticket with the view to donating it to a British museum. More to follow…

Above is a photograph of the ticket and the envelope belonging to George William Denny MBE, one of the founders of British Airways, inside which it was recently discovered.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Eadgyth: the oldest remains of an English princess

by Kathryn Hadley

The University of Bristol announced today, January 20th, the recent discovery of the remains of the Saxon Princess Eadgyth, possibly the oldest member of the English royal family whose remains have survived. They were excavated from beneath an elaborate 16th-century monument bearing her name in Magdeburg Cathedral as part of a wider research project into the cathedral.

Eadgyth of Wessex was born in 910. She was the daughter of Edward the Elder, King of Wessex from 900 to 924, and his second wife Aelfflaed and was the granddaughter of Alfred the Great. She was given in marriage to Otto I by her step-brother Athelstan, who was king of Wessex from 929 to 939. Following his victory at the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937, Athelstan later became one of the first kings of a unified England comprising various Saxon and Celtic kingdoms. Otto I, also known as Otto the Great, succeeded his father Henry I as King of Germany in 936. He founded the Ottonian dynasty in Germany and, in 962, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

Eadgyth bore Otto at least two children before her death in 946, aged 36. The direct descendants of Otto and Eadgyth ruled Germany until 1254. Eadgyth was initially buried at the Monastery of Mauritius in Magdeburg. Her remains may thereafter have been transferred to Magdeburg Cathedral, but it was believed that the 16th-century tomb was most likely a cenotaph.

However, recent excavations of the tomb at Magdeburg Cathedral, directed by Professor Harald Meller and Dr Veit Dresely of the Landesmuseum fur Vorgeschichte in Saxony Anhalt, revealed a lead coffin bearing Eadgyth's name and recording the transfer of her remains in 1510. Inside the coffin, lay a female skeleton wrapped in silk, aged between 30 and 40.

Small samples from the tomb have been brought back to the University of Bristol for further analysis. A research group from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology will measure the strontium and oxygen isotopes in the teeth and bone fragments in the hope that they will reveal where Eadgyth grew up and confirm the identity of the corpse.

Professor Mark Horton from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology explained:

‘We know that Saxon royalty moved around quite a lot, and we hope to match the
isotope results with known locations around Wessex and Mercia, where she could
have spent her childhood. If we can prove this truly is Eadgyth, this will be
one of the most exciting historical discoveries in recent years’.

The findings will be announced at a conference entitled ‘Princess Eadgyth of Wessex and her World’ organised by the Centre of Medieval Studies at the University of Bristol this afternoon. Speakers will also present the current project to analyse the remains and place the discovery in the context of late ninth-century Mercia and Wessex.

Eadgyth is believed to be the oldest member of the English royal family whose remains have survived. The tomb of her brother Athelstan still exists in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, but is believed to be empty. Her sister Adiva was married to an unknown European ruler; the location of her tomb remains a mystery. However, with the recent discovery of Eadgyth's remains, 500 years after they were transferred to Magdeburg Cathedral, who knows what lies beneath Athelstan's tomb in Malmesbury Abbey?

For further information on Anglo-Saxon Britain, visit our Anglo-Saxon Britain focus page.

Images (Landesamt fur Denkmalpflege und Archaologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Juraj Liptak):

- the contents of the coffin

- excavation beneath the tomb

- inscription on the side of the sarcophagus, dated 1510

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Was the discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb a thief?

Was the discoverer of Tutankamun’s tomb a thief?
Matthias Schulz reports in Der Spiegel Online on the power struggles that followed the British explorer Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun as he sought to send as much of the treasure as possible to England and the United States.
In Tutankhamun’s Last Guardian Desmond Zwar explores the career of the man who claimed to have spent seven years living in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, guarding it while Howard carter examined its content.

Europeans may have visited Hawaii two centuries before Captain Cook landed in 1778
In the Los Angeles Times, Alana Semuels reports on an amateur historian’s fight to prove that the Hawaiian Islands were visited two centuries before Captain Cook landed in 1778. Rick Rogers is convinced that Spanish and Dutch ships landed in Hawaii in the 16th and 17th centuries and that these early European contacts had a profound impact on Hawaiian culture.

Church of England’s historic bishops’ palaces in danger
Many of the residences of the bishops of the Church of England risk being sold to developers and could be turned into hotels, apartments or museums, according to a report by Martin Beckford in The Telegraph. The residences have belonged to the Church for centuries and many are listed as heritage properties or historic palaces, but they are costly to maintain. There currently exists a policy of reviewing the residences when the incumbent bishop turns 62 to check their condition and determine whether they still provide value for money. Of the 30 properties which have been reviewed so far, six have been judged unsuitable, including Rose Castle in Carlisle and Hartlebury Castle in Worcester. A further eight houses are due to be inspected this year.

The Vatican helped Jews and ‘provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way’ during the Second World War
Following accusations that the wartime Pope Pius XII failed to speak out against the Holocaust, Pope Benedict XVI defended the actions of the Vatican during the Second World War on a recent visit to Rome’s main synagogue.
Read the article on the website of the BBC.
Could Britain have done more to prevent the Holocaust?
In Britain and the Holocaust: A Critique William D. Rubinstein takes issue with the argument that Britain could have done more to prevent the Holocaust.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The true story of Newton’s falling apple

by Kathryn Hadley

Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was allegedly inspired for his theory of gravitation from seeing a falling apple in his garden. In his 1752 biography of Newton entitled Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life the antiquary and scientist William Stukeley (1687-1765) recalled Newton’s telling of the apple-tree story:

‘After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank tea,
under the shade of some apple trees… he told me, he was just in the same
situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It
was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood. Why
should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to

Today, for the first time, the Royal Society has made available online the original manuscript of Stukeley’s biography in a ‘turning the pages format’ ( The online publication forms part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations this year.

Stukeley was one of the first biographers of Isaac Newton. He lived in London for a decade, from 1717, where he befriended Newton and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He collected Newton’s reflections on his own life, but also gathered material about his childhood from residents of the King’s School in Grantham where he went to school.

Stukeley’s biography is just one of seven manuscripts to be published online to mark the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary. Other manuscripts from the Royal Society’s archive are also now available in an interactive format, including a 1789 description of an iron bridge design by Thomas Paine and John Locke’s contribution to one of the earliest American state constitution documents in the fundamental constitutions of Carolina from 1681.

Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society edited by Bill Bryson, a new book charting the story of science and the Royal Society from 1660 to the present, is also published today.

Further information about this year’s 350th anniversary events is available on the website of the Royal Society

In Genius Eclipsed: The Fate of Robert Boyle Michael Hunter explains why, within half a century of his death, the natural philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle was almost forgotten, overshadowed by his contemporary Isaac Newton.

Images (the Royal Society):

- title page from William Stukeley's 1752 work Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life
- extract from William Stukeley's 1752 work Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life, the first time the famous story of Newton and the apple was written down
- portrait of Isaac Newton by Charles Jervas, 18th century

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Struggles for Poland: this weekend at the Imperial War Museum London

by Kathryn Hadley

This weekend, the Imperial War Museum London is organising a series of free film screenings of episodes from the 1980s television documentary series The Struggles for Poland. All nine episodes, which chart the history of Poland in the twentieth century, from the birth of the Polish state, to the German occupation during the Second World War and the period of communist rule, will be screened in the museum’s cinema across the coming two weekends as part of Polska! Year. Members of the production team – Martin Smith, Wanda Koscia and Neil Ascherson - will be attending the screenings this Sunday January 17th.

Polska! Year is a joint initiative of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs designed to strengthen cultural relationships between Great Britain and Poland. It was launched last spring and comprises over 200 projects which present works of Polish artists to the British public.

For further information, visit

Here are the details of the timings and dates of the individual screenings.

The Struggles for Poland: Once Upon a Time, 1900–1923
January 16th, 10.30am

From the ashes of the First World War, a new Polish state is born. (Director Martin Smith. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: A False Dawn, 1923–1939
January 16th, 12.00pm

Undaunted by near bankruptcy, hostile neighbours and a divided population, Poland reaches for greatness. The country becomes a flashpoint at the start of the Second World War. (Director Boleslaw Sulik. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: A Different World, 1919–1943
January 16th, 2.00pm

Prior to the Holocaust Poland’s 3 million Jews made up 10 per cent of the population. (Director Raye Farr. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: Occupation, 1939–1945
January 16th, 3.30pm

The experiences of Polish men, women and children during the period of German occupation. (Director Dai Vaughan. 52mins)

The Struggles for Poland: Friends and Neighbours, 1939–1945
January 17th, 10.30am

The fate of the Polish Army and State during the Second World War. (Director Martin Smith. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: Bright Days of Tomorrow, 1945–1956
January 17th, 12.00pm

The establishment of Communist rule in post-war Poland. (Director Boleslaw Sulik. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: Sweepers of Squares, 1956–1970
January 17th, 2.00pm
Riots in the streets. Russian tanks encircle Warsaw. Hungary 1956. Czechoslovakia 1968. A workers’ revolt brings changes. (Director Paul Robinson. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: In This Life, 1900–1979
January 17th, 3.30pm

The Roman Catholic Church in Poland, and the moral and political dilemmas that have shaped it. (Director Boleslaw Sulik. 52mins)

The Struggles for Poland: The Workers’ State, 1970 –1980
January 23rd, 10.30am

Under Communist supervision, Poland becomes an industrial society. The birth of Solidarity brings great changes. (Director Dai Vaughan. 52mins)
The Struggles for Poland: A Different World, 1919–1943
January 23rd, 12.00pm

The Struggles for Poland: Occupation, 1939–1945
January 23rd, 2.00pm
The Struggles for Poland: Friends and Neighbours, 1939–1945
January 23rd, 3.30pm

Imperial War Museum London
Lambeth Road
London SE1 6HZ
Telephone: 020 7416 5000

The holiday resort built among the ruins of a former communist gulag in Romania

by Kathryn Hadley

Under the leadership of the Stalinist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1901-1965), the Danube-Black Sea Canal was one of the most notorious forced labour sites. Gheorghiu-Dej was in office as the Romanian Communist Party first secretary from both 1945 to 1954 and then 1955 to 1965. The village of Periprava, on the Danube Delta, 19 miles from the place where the northern branch of the Danube empties into the Black Sea and against the old border with the Soviet Union, existed as a communist gulag until 1977. It is estimated that over 100 unidentified bodies of some of the prisoners who died in the camp are buried in the village cemetery. 42 prisoners are believed to have died during the winter of 1959/60 alone.

A tourist resort has now been built on the site of the former gulag by a French entrepreneur, Sylvain Remetter. Guests sleep in the four-star ‘Last Border’ Hotel, which previously housed the office of the commandant of the Periprava Labour and Prison Camp. The first tourist arrived in October.

Remetter allegedly plans to build a small museum in remembrance of the hundreds of prisoners who died in the camp. There is currently no memorial to the dead, however, other than a white cross with no inscription in the cemetery.

Walter Mayr reports in Der Spiegel.
In Coming to Terms with the Past: Romania, Markus Bauer considers how Romania’s new membership of the European Union, in 2007, would enable it to face down the ghosts of its troubled twentieth-century past.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Oscar Kirk tweets and human zoos

Oscar Kirk tweets
On January 1st, the Museum of London Docklands published, on its website, the first transcribed entry from the diary of Oscar Kirk, which he kept whilst he was employed as a messenger boy in London’s docks from January to July 1919. The first entry dates back to Wednesday January 1st, 1919. Until July, the museum will publish each of Kirk’s diary entries on a daily basis.
Oscar Kirk was born in Poplar, London, close to the West India docks in 1904. He started to work in the West and East India Docks ferrying messages and mail between different docks and Port of London Authority offices in 1918, when he was 14. He later became a Clerical Assistant in the West India Dock and took part in the General Strike in 1926. When he retired in 1968, he was a Senior Foreman at the North Quay Warehouse (where the Museum of London Docklands is now housed). Oscar Kirk died in 1980.
His diary for the first half of 1919 has survived and is currently on display in the Sainsbury's Study Centre at the museum. Alongside his daily diary entries, Oscar Kirk also kept a record of the books he read and listed the items that made up his uniform for work.
Further information is available on the website of the Museum of London Docklands. It is also possible to follow each of the daily diary entries on Twitter.

Human zoos
We reported, yesterday, on the recent apology by Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, for the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in 19th century Chile. The remains of five members of the Kawesqar Indian tribe from Tierra del Fuego, who were transported to Europe to be exhibited in human zoos, were returned to Chile on Tuesday January 12th. An article in Der Spiegel provides further information on the human zoos that flourished in Europe at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th and features pictures of the five members of the tribe.

China’s first memorial to the Cultural Revolution
Jane Macartney reports in The Times on the recent decision in China to preserve a cemetery filled with bodies of Red Guards who were killed during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The Chinese government granted the cemetery the status of a ‘cultural relic’ and issued an order to protect it. The graveyard is situated in Chongquing, a major city in central western China, and contains 131 tombstones, under which 537 bodies are buried. At least 40 per cent of the dead are believed to be Red Guards. It is the only officially sanctioned memorial in China to those who died during Mao’s leadership.

- Oscar Kirk diary cover, 1919 (Museum of London Docklands)
- Oscar Kirk diary extract, 1919 (Museum of London Docklands)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Churchill mania in France

New translation of Churchill’s memoirs is bestseller in France
Churchill is known in France as ‘Le Vieux Lion’. The Times’ Paris correspondent Charles Bremner reports on what he describes as the recent ‘Churchill boom’ in France.

Women of Steel recognised
Kathleen Roberts, aged 88, Kit Sollitt, 90, Ruby Gascoigne, 87, and 88 year-old Dorothy Slingsby travelled to London, today, to be granted official recognition for their work in the foundries and steel mills of South Yorkshire during the Second World War. Their recognition is the result of a campaign led by the Sheffield Star newspaper. The Sheffield Telegraph and The Times report.

Chile apologises for mistreatment of indigenous people
The BBC reports on President Michelle Bachelet’s recent apology for the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in 19th century Chile. In 1881, German explorers captured a group of 11 tribespeople and shipped them to Europe to be exhibited in European cities as curiosities.

The first map in Chinese to show the Americas
The 400-year-old Matteo Ricci World Map depicts China at the centre of the world and is the first map in Chinese to show the Americas. The map was created, in 1602, by the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610). It went on display for the first time in North America yesterday, January 12th, at the Library of Congress in Washington. It will be exhibited until April 10th before travelling to the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota. Read the article published on the website of The Guardian or the press release published by the Library of Congress.

Hunt for £15 million worth of sunken treasure on the bed of the Mediterranean
The Italian liner Ancona sunk between Sicily and Sardinia on November 7th, 1915, after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. The ship is believed to have been transporting 12 trunks of gold and a shipment of silver bars, intended to purchase arms for Italy. The US company Odyssey Marine Exploration is currently seeking to recover the treasure from the seabed, but some Italian officials are battling for the preservation of the vessel. According to a report in The Guardian, lawyers in the US have recently taken action in the US courts so that neither the Italian government nor Odyssey could take any initiative without first giving 45 days notice to the other party.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

88 years in the history of HMS Victory

by Kathryn Hadley

HMS Victory was moved to Number 2 Dock, His Majesty’s Dockyard Portsmouth, 88 years ago today, on January 12th, 1922, amid fears for her continued survival and following a national appeal led by the Society for Nautical Research. Preservation work began soon after in an effort to restore the ship to her 1805 appearance.

HMS Victory was launched at Chatham Dockyard in 1765 and was commissioned in 1778. The ship continued in active service for the following 34 years and was the flagship of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

HMS Victory was retired from frontline duty in 1812. Following a warrant from Thomas Hardy (1769-1839), Flag Captain to Nelson and commander of Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar, to save the ship from disposal, Victory was moored in Portsmouth Harbour.

The ship remained at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour for the next 110 years, where she was notably fitted up as a Naval School of Telegraphy and Signal School. The school operated from 1889 to 1906, when it was transferred to Chatham Royal Naval Barracks.

HMS Victory is still in commission as the flagship of the Second Sea Lord in his role as Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy's Home Command. She is the oldest commissioned warship in the world, although the USS Constitution launched 32 years later, in 1797, is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat.

In Nelson, Trafalgar and the Meaning of Victory Andrew Lambert explains why Nelson’s life and death should never be forgotten.

- HMS Victory in circa 1922 (Royal Naval Museum)
- HMS Victory today (Portsmouth Historic Dockyard)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Blake's etchings rediscovered

by Kathryn Hadley

Tate Britain announced today, January 11th, its recent acquisition of eight hand-coloured etchings by William Blake (1757-1827) for Tate Collection. Following the artist's death in 1827, they were inherited by Blake’s widow Catherine, who later gave them to a gentleman named Frederick Tatham. Their ownership was then a mystery until they were discovered inside a railway timetable in a box of second-hand books purchased at a local book sale in the 1970s. The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, sold them for £441,000.

The works, which depict striking scenes of physical drama, are individual prints of some of the images that Blake reproduced from his series of illuminated books. Six of the etchings are from his major work The First Book of Urizen (1794), one is from the mythological poem The Book of Thel (1789), and one is from his revolutionary prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93).

The etchings are each finished in pen and ink and were hand-coloured by laying tempera on watercolour. They feature pencil inscriptions of numbers as well as stitch holes, which suggests that they were bound together at some point as a longer numbered series of prints. Twenty-three of these prints, reproduced from Blake’s illuminated books as separate plates, were notably brought together in a volume for the artist’s friend Ozias Humphrey, known today as Copy A of the Small Book of Designs, which is currently held at the British Museum. A further eleven prints were known to exist before the discovery of this set of eight images, one of which was already in Tate Collection.

The eight etchings are due to go on display at Tate Britain in July 2010.

- William Blake, The First Book of Urizen, Plate 11 Small Book of Designs, Copy B (1796/ c.1818)
- William Blake, The First Book of Urizen, Plate 7 Small Book of Designs, Copy B (1796/c.1818 )

Friday, 8 January 2010

Walking through history: Chelsea then and now

by Kathryn Hadley

We begin the New Year with ‘Walking through history’, a new series devoted to the history of various areas across London. Over the coming few months, we will embark on several walking tours to uncover the secrets of both the capital’s landmarks and lesser known areas. In the first of the series, house-historian Melanie Backe-Hansen took me on a walk around Chelsea. From Sloane Square, down Lower Sloane Street and Royal Hospital Road, and onto Chelsea Embankment, she explained the area’s history from Anglo-Saxon times to the present.

It is difficult to imagine that what is now one of London’s most exclusive and fashionable areas began as a small rural community almost 1,500 years ago. It is believed that there existed a village on the river bank, which boasted a small church on the site of what is now known as Chelsea Old Church, since Anglo-Saxon times. The church was recorded in the Domesday Book in the 11th century, as well as in a papal taxation document around 1290. Chelsea developed extensively in the 16th century when it increasingly attracted members of the nobility and aristocracy and wealthy landowners began to build country estates and mansions on the banks of the river. There followed a second phase of major development in the 18th century overseen by Sir Hans Sloane.

Two of Chelsea’s most famous residents were Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and Henry VIII (1491-1547). Sir Thomas More lived in Chelsea for over twenty years and had a significant impact on the area’s first phase of development. In 1520, he built his house, Beaufort House, slightly set back from the river where Beaufort Street is today. He was active in the local church and, in 1528, he notably rebuilt the chapel of Chelsea Old Church, known at the time as St Lukes, in his name. (St Lukes was renamed Chelsea Old Church when the new St Lukes was built on today’s Sydney Street in 1824).

It is believed that Henry VIII decided to move to Chelsea following visits to Thomas More. Chelsea was already a popular home for a number of notable families and, around 1510, Henry VIII moved to his Old Manor House, located behind the Old Church. The house was originally owned by Sir Reginald Bray in the late 15th century, who passed it down to his nephew Sir Edmund Lord Bray. In 1510, Sir Edmund Lord Bray surrendered it to Sir William Sandys, who then exchanged the house with the king for a property in Hampshire. In the 1540s, Henry VIII began the building of his New Manor House, also known as Chelsea Palace, approximately where 19-26 Cheyne Walk is today. The New Manor House was designed as a wedding present for Catherine Parr. It was the home of Elizabeth I when she was a child and its last royal resident was Anne Cleves, who died in 1557. After the English Civil War, the house was taken over by the state and was then sold to Charles Cheyne in 1660. In 1742, it was bought by Sir Hans Sloane, who lived in it until his death in 1753. The house was demolished in 1755.

Henry VIII was also the first to use the Kings Road. Until the 16th century, the road was a rural dirt track which ran along the south side of Chelsea Common and was used primarily by farmers and gardeners. When Henry VIII moved to Chelsea it became the king’s private road, which he used to travel to his Manor House by the Thames. In the 17th century, Charles II made it his private road from Whitehall to Hampton Court to avoid using the Fulham Road. George III is also believed to have used the road to travel to Kew Palace. In 1830, the Kings Road was eventually made public and was thereafter developed as a residential area. Houses and grand squares began to be built on the site of former nursery gardens and open fields. The residential squares along Kings Road are unique in London because they are mostly three-sided, with the fourth side being the Kings Road. Towards the end of the 19th century, after the building of the Chelsea Embankment in 1874, the centre of Chelsea life gradually shifted from the riverside to the Kings Road. In the 1960s, it became a centre for shopping and the heart of the London fashion scene and the last remnants of Chelsea village life completely moved away from the riverside.

Another Chelsea landmark is the Royal Hospital, built in the 17th century. In December 1681, Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the construction of the Royal Hospital and commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design the buildings. The hospital was modelled on the Invalides in Paris and was built on the site of a former theological college founded by James I. The college was unsuccessful, receiving neither the support of the Catholic Church nor the Church of England, and only a few of the original planned buildings were constructed. It was closed during the Civil War. The building of the Royal Hospital began in 1682. However, due to funding difficulties, the work was not completed until 1692. The first pensioners were admitted in February 1692.

Our tour ends on Sloane Square at the heart of Chelsea and the crossroads of Kings Road and Sloane Street. The square is named after Sir Hans Sloane, who was Lord of the Manor in 1712. Sir Hans Sloane was largely responsible for the development of Cheyne Walk when, in 1717, he leased lands in what was originally Henry VIII’s ‘Great Garden’ for building. Despite its name, Sloane Square was largely designed by the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806) as the central feature of his 89-acre Hans Town development, built at the end of the 1770s. The area was redeveloped in the 1870s-1890s and none of the original buildings remain. The Royal Court Theatre was built in 1871 and Sloane Square station opened in 1868.

Peter Jones department store dates from the same period when it began as a drapery store on Marlborough Road (now Draycott Avenue). The store gradually expanded and within five years it was relocated to the Kings Road. By the 1880s, it had further expanded to another 26 stores on the Kings Road and was rebuilt as one large single store on the corner of Sloane Square. The building was one of the first of its kind to be lit by electricity and the floors above the store were designed as quarters for the staff with facilities such as a library, piano and billiard tables. By the time of Peter Jones’ death in 1905, the store employed over 300 staff and sold everything from linoleum to squirrels and flamingos. The following year Peter Jones was purchased by John Lewis. It was rebuilt in the 1930s in its current glass and metal style known as ‘curtain wall’ and is now a Grade II listed building.

- Beaufort House in 1708
- the Royal Hospital in the 1750s
- Cheyne Walk
- Peter Jones in 1910

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Death of the only official survivor of both atomic bombings in Japan

Death of the only official survivor of both atomic bombings in Japan
Tsutomu Yamaguchi died on Monday January 4th, aged 93. In March last year, he was formally recognised by the Japanese government as a hibakusha, the only radiation survivor of both the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Read the article by Richard Lloyd Parry on the website of The Times or the article by Mark McDonald in The New York Times. An obituary was also published on the website of The Telegraph.
In Truman and the Bomb Alonzo Hamby explores the dilemmas that influenced Truman’s decision to drop the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Auction of Chamberlain’s 1938 plane ticket to Munich
Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet Hitler at 8.30am on September 29th, 1938, on a British Airways flight. The following day, Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain’s plane ticket was recently discovered amongst the papers of George William Denny MBE, one of the founders of British Airways. It is due to be auctioned by Mullock’s in Ludlow, Shropshire, on January 19th and is expected to fetch up to £7,000. Further information is available on the website of Mullock's Auctioneers.

Bologna’s historic canals due to resurface

Bologna’s network of canals, which developed between the 12th and 16th centuries, has been buried beneath the city’s streets for over 50 years. On Tuesday, the Mayor of Bologna announced plans to uncover and restore the medieval canals. Read the article on the Italian news website

A short history of snow
On the website of The Guardian, Charlie English considers how we have reacted to snow over the course of history and in different regions across the world.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The identification of 'The Man Who Never Was'

Identification of the ‘Man Who Never Was’
As the Allies prepared to invade Sicily in 1943, they sought to dupe the Germans into thinking that the attack would be carried out elsewhere. As part of a plot named ‘Operation Mincemeat’, a body carrying fake secret documents suggesting that the invasion would be staged in Greece was dumped into the sea to be discovered by the Axis forces. The true identity of the body has, however, been a source of confusion ever since. Professor Denis Smyth from Toronto University, whose book Operation Mincemeat: Death, Deception and the Mediterranean D-Day is due to be published later this year, claims to have solved the mystery. Read the article published on the website of The Telegraph.

Soldiers re-create historic march from the Scottish borders to London
One hundred soldiers from Number Seven Company, Coldstream Guards, embarked on a march, today, from Coldstream to London to commemorate General George Monck’s march to parliament along the same route 350 years ago during the English Civil War. Heraldscotland reports.
In The Honour of General Monck Mark Stoyle uncovers the juvenile delinquency of the man who saved the Stuart monarchy and brought back Charles II.

Leo Tolstoy: the forgotten genius?
With the upcoming release of The Last Station, a new drama about Leo Tolstoy’s final days, to mark the centenary of the author’s death, Luke Harding comments in The Guardian on the memory of Leo Tolstoy in Russia.
Blog Directory