Lessons in the "History" Category

Time to discuss the time

Two hundred or so years ago every town and city in the UK had a different time. For example, if it was 11.00am in London, in Bristol, which is 200 miles to the west, it would be 10.50am. This is because each had their own time according to a local sundial. Local time had worked for hundreds of years – right across the world in fact!

When the railways started running, a railway timetable was introduced, as trains need to run on a timetable. This meant there could only be one time, from which everything would run from. That time in the UK was Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The time signal for this ran from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, along cables that ran alongside the railway lines to every station in the UK.

Great Victorian Inventions

Today, let’s talk about Victorian inventions. Do you know of any? There were many. Here’s a few of them…

In 1840 the Victorians introduced the first prepaid postal service that used a postal stamp. Letters could be sent anywhere in the UK for one penny using a stamp called the Penny Black. In 1859 a green national standard post box was introduced. Later British post boxes became red.

Category: Inventions / Victorian Inventions / Technology

Hidden London!

Today let’s talk about hidden London. By that I mean parts of London that are hidden away; yet are literally right in front of our eyes when walking around the capital city...

Cabmen’s shelters in London are, to the untrained eye, green sheds. Introduced in 1875, they were used as a refuse for horse drawn cab drivers to eat, drink and take shelter from the weather. Today, just 13 remain. Whilst taxi drivers still use them today, so can you!

Category: London / Secret Places to Visit / Tourism

The Commonwealth

Today, let’s talk about the Commonwealth. (Full name - The Commonwealth of Nations). It is a group of 54 independent Member States, most of whom are former British Empire countries. The exceptions are Rwanda and Mozambique.

Like the British Empire once did, the Commonwealth today spans the world. Ninety four per cent of the Commonwealth is in Africa and Asia. It covers nearly one third of the world and has over 2.1 billion people in it. This is almost a third of the world’s population...

Category: Economic / Trade / The Commonwealth

Trench talk…and how we use it today when speaking

Today, let’s talk about some words that are used in everyday English that originate from the trenches of World War One. Really?

You’d be surprised just how many words there are, for example, bloke, binge drink, wash out, and snapshot. Research has been done by military historian Peter Doyle and Julian Walker, an etymologist, who have analysed thousands of documents from the period to trace how language changed during the period.

Category: Language / English Language / Trench Talk

Why do we dream of a white Christmas?

Why do we dream of a white Christmas? Why do we get Christmas cards with snow on them? The culprit is the writer Charles Dickens. His childhood coincided with a decade of freakishly cold winters. Thus in his writings he describes persistently a Britain smothered in snow on Christmas Day, his inspiration coming from his childhood.

Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white. One of these fell in the winter of 1813-14, when Britain’s last Frost Fair was held on a frozen River Thames in London and Dickens was nearly two years old. The ice around Blackfriars Bridge was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant. So when in 1843, he came to write about the Ghost of Christmas Past, he did so with the spirit of those colder Christmases, with “quick wheels dashing the hoar frost and snow from the darker leaves of the evergreen like spray”. The story is now credited with establishing the Victorian genre of the Christmas story and spurring a revival of the celebration of Christmas in early Victorian England.

Category: Christmas / Charles Dickens / Snow

The link between Bletchley Park and Google

For nearly half a century Bletchley Park, a Victorian manor house near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, lay neglected and unloved; its dilapidated buildings falling into disrepair. By the 90s, its boarded-up huts at its rear were due to be torn down. Yet for more than 50 years the house was shrouded under a veil of secrecy. Only during the last 20 years was its secret finally revealed. It was the place where the codes of the German Enigma machine were broken by a special-purpose codebreaking machine called Colossus.

The secret work at Bletchley Park had, it is believed, shortened the war by up to two years. However, the secrecy came at a cost. Britain lost out to the US in the development of computer technology. So what is the link between Bletchley Park and Google? Simple – there is a desire by some individuals at Google to nurture the past. In fact, Google is helping to spearhead a campaign to save Bletchley Park by restoring it to its former glory. Google has provided the money for the purchase of key papers and is backing the current appeal to restore the derelict block at Bletchley Park.

Category: History / Bletchley Park / Google

Nazis flying saucers – film sparks UFO debate

A new sci-fi film* about the Nazis has reignited a debate in Germany about Hitler’s development of flying saucers. The Finnish sci-fi comedy ‘Iron Sky*’ centres on real life officer Hans Kammler, who was said to have made a significant breakthrough in anti-gravity experiments towards the end of World War Two.

The film relates how, from a secret base built up in Antarctica, the first Nazi spaceships were launched in late 1945 to found the military base Schwartz Sonne – Black Sun – on the dark side of the moon. This base was to be used to build a powerful invasion fleet and return to the earth once the timing was right, in this case 2018.

Category: Nazis / Flying Saucers / Sci-Fi Movie

Why do we dream of a white Christmas?

Why do we dream of a white Christmas? Why do we get Christmas cards with snow on them? The culprit is the writer Charles Dickens. His childhood coincided with a decade of freakishly cold winters. Thus in his writings he describes persistently a Britain smothered in snow on Christmas Day, his inspiration coming from his childhood.

Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white. One of these fell in the winter of 1813-14, when Britain’s last Frost Fair was held on a frozen River Thames in London and Dickens was nearly two years old. The ice around Blackfriars Bridge was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant.

So when in 1843, he came to write about the Ghost of Christmas Past, he did so with the spirit of those colder Christmases, with “quick wheels dashing the hoar frost and snow from the darker leaves of the evergreen like spray”. The story is now credited with establishing the Victorian genre of the Christmas story and spurring a revival of the celebration of Christmas in early Victorian England.

Category: Christmas / Charles Dickens / Snow

Steam train reunites British Schindler with Jewish children he rescued from Nazis

A steam train carrying evacuees from the former Czechoslovakia who escaped the holocaust as children arrived at London's Liverpool Street station on Friday (4th September). They were met by the man who saved their lives. Sir Nicholas Winton, an indefatigable 100-year-old, greeted the passengers who had boarded the train in Prague to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

Now walking with a stick, he shook hands with many of the evacuees as they stepped off the steam train. Twenty-two of the evacuees were part of the original 669 mostly Jewish children he helped to escape from the Nazis ahead of war being declared on 3rd September 1939. The others were the descendants of these children.

The event was organised by Czech Railways who hired the new British steam train Tornado to re-enact the journey. Before the steam train departed on Tuesday from Prague a statue of Sir Nicholas was unveiled at the station. The train then passed through Germany and Holland en-route for England. A band played as "The Winton Train", as it was dubbed, arrived at Liverpool Street. The event drew many people who wanted to meet the man dubbed the British Schindler...