Achtung! Achtung! Nazi Germany’s dystopian experiments with TV and radio

Almost History Series 1, Episode 1


Everywhere you turn, you see the unmistakable face of Adolf Hitler. His voice echoes in your head, broadcast from a thousand loudspeakers. His wild, gesticulating speech is reaching its foam speckled crescendo.

Nazi television is everywhere. Looming over city squares, above the concourse of the railway station, on the factory floor and in every home.

It is George Orwell’s 1984 made real, and it was a dream of visionaries working in Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

In the end, only the small matter of a world war got in the way of the roll-out of a nationwide and unavoidable Nazi television network.

Der Große Bruder sieht dich

In his dystopian classic 1984, George Orwell imagines a surveillance state so complete that the people are never free from the intrusive presence of a telescreen.

The ubiquitous devices are as much cameras as they are screens and they can’t be turned off. Big Brother is not only watching you, but is also speaking, and sometimes shouting, directly to you.

Nazi Germany came close to fulfilling the broadcast side of this idea with a comprehensive network of public loudspeakers and relentless promotion of private ownership of radio sets.

The Nazi regime was acutely aware of the importance of radio to maintain and consolidate its grip on power. Powerful speeches over the airwaves had brought Hitler to prominence and secured his election successes. Once in power, the radio became central to the regime’s propaganda mission.

Joseph Goebbels certainly believed in the power of radio. Shortly after taking power, he addressed radio executives and informed them that radio was ‘the most modern and the most important instrument of mass influence that exists anywhere’.

Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry (the snappily titled Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda) had just one problem to overcome. How could they ensure that every German was able to listen?

One solution had been the development of the Volksempfänger, or People’s Receiver. This mass-produced set was simple yet elegantly designed and brought the radio into the homes of the masses. The cheapest version could be yours for just 35 Reichsmarks, with the cost spread in instalments.

Many new owners were keenly aware that the radio was an instrument of propaganda. The Volksempfänger became irreverently known as die Goebbels-Schnauze or ‘Goebbels’ snout’. But, along with speeches and lectures, the radio brought music and entertainment into the home.

And this was enough to ensure that the People’s Receiver was a success. Over 16 million sets were in use across the country by 1942.

But this wasn’t enough for the Propaganda Ministry.

Affordable radio sets ensured they could be heard at home, but what about when people were outside?

When they were at work in offices and factories?

Or shopping, going out to dinner or just strolling through town?

The People’s Public Address System

The logical next step was a public address system that would carry the most important messages and literally stop Germans in their tracks.

The first stirrings of this came at the beginning of the rollout of cheap radios. When officials realised many still didn’t own sets, Nazi ‘radio wardens’ were enlisted to ‘set up loudspeakers in factories and public places’ and encourage ‘community listening’.

By the end of the 1930s, radio sets were found in cafes, shops, laundries, streets and squares.

It was now almost impossible to escape from the incessant drip feed of propaganda.

As historian Glenn Aylett notes:

‘Even if you were unwilling to tune your radio into the latest speech by Hitler, escape from his rantings, unless you took to a mountain top or a cave, was almost impossible as loudspeakers were in position in almost every public place, turned to a high volume.’

Goebbels was clear about the importance of radio in helping the Nazis come to power and consolidate their rule. He labelled it the ‘Eight Great Power’, following Napoleon labelling newspapers as the ‘Seventh Great Power’.

So, would television become the regime’s ‘Ninth Great Power’?

Nazi TV state

There were ten screens in total.

He counted every telescreen that he came across on his journey home from the office.

There was a set in the break room on his floor and one in the lobby on the way out.

Out on the street, and there were two big displays before he got to the station. A massive screen dominated Victory Over Bolshevism Square and one more loomed over the Ku’damm opposite the Zoo.

There were another two in each of the U-Bahn stations he travelled through, in the ticket halls and platforms. So, that was eight before he had even got to his home in Horst-Wessel-Stadt.

A ninth screen was perched above the entrance arch to the Robert Ley Estate and a tenth in the apartment lobby.

In the half an hour it took him to get home, he’d seen the end of a news report featuring German soldiers marching through another ruined central Asian city.

He wondered how they managed to get smart, clean shaven soldiers for the newsreels. Were they kept in reserve to be rolled out when the battles were won? When he’d been fighting, his comrades didn’t look anything like the figures that strode across the screen.

Half way into his journey there was a pause and then the display faded to black. A piercing siren blasted out followed by the roll of drums. There was either going to be a big announcement or the start of a tedious speech by one of the Golden Pheasants. Or perhaps it would be a big announcement about a speech to be given by one of the Golden Pheasants.

People stopped what they were doing and gathered around the nearest screen. He had a friend who had been reported to the authorities when he didn’t stop to watch an official announcement. He hadn’t seen him since.

The announcer’s voice rang out from loudspeakers attached to lampposts and hidden in the trees.

‘Achtung, achtung!

You’re listening to the Paul Nipkow television station from Berlin.’

On screen, an eagle with wide, outspread wings perched on a laurel-wreathed swastika materialised.  After a few seconds, it faded away, to be replaced by one of the young, hard faced, blonde announcers who somehow managed to be both strikingly beautiful but deeply unattractive.

‘We welcome all German comrades watching across the Greater German Reich with the German greeting, Heil Hitler!’

At these words, the announcer raised her right hand and, automatically, everyone in sight joined in and gave the Nazi salute. He instinctively joined in, clicking his heels in automatic response.

‘And now, the Greater German Broadcasting Corporation presents a special news bulletin’.

The screen faded and the young women was replaced by one of the most familiar faces and voices in Germany. Harry Giese had announced the German capture of Moscow in 1943 and the capitulation of the USSR a year later. Now, he was wheeled out every so often to report the latest military victory.

‘Party Comrades and members of the people’s community. This is the news.

The following is a communication from the Defence Force.

German soldiers have been welcomed as heroes in the now liberated city of Tiflis. The brave men of the Wehrmacht continue in their ceaseless struggle to free the Caucasus of the remnants of Judeo-Bolshevism.’

He soon lost interest. They always reported some kind of victory. He stood watching the rest of the bulletin, but his mind wandered. He only snapped out of his daydream when the drone of words was replaced by a stirring military march.

People started to move again, hurrying to make up the lost time. They strode in time with the music. All Berlin was a barracks now.

Race for the screen

In 1935, Nazi Germany was in a race with Britain and America. It wasn’t a competition to launch the biggest ship or the fastest plane. It was a chance to demonstrate technological superiority by launching the world’s first regular television broadcasts.

Germany won the race, broadcasting a year earlier than the BBC and six years before CBS and NBC in America.

This was a golden chance to bring the Führer closer to the people. By radio, they could hear him. With television, they would also see him.

Television would become the ultimate fulfilment of theFührerprinzip- the leadership principle that made Adolf Hitler the source and focus of all power in Nazi Germany.

One theorist envisaged the power of the new medium over radio:

‘While the loudspeaker may carry the voice of a man over many hundreds of thousands of participants in a rally, the large-screen television will one day make its picture clear and plainly visible to everyone over a distance of hundreds of metres, and thereby deepen the effect of personality even further.’

On the television station’s launch evening, the Third Reich’s director of broadcasting urged his colleagues to work ‘for the final and complete victory of the National Socialist idea!’ With religious reverence, by doing so, they would ‘carry the image of the Führer into all German hearts!’

Now, all they needed was an audience to broadcast to. With few television sets available to the general public, the regime set up a network of television parlours across Greater Berlin.

Up to 40 people gathered around a screen slightly smaller than a piece of A4 paper. An engineer from the post office fiddled with the knobs and dials until the magic of a live moving picture and sound appeared.

It took the 1936 Summer Olympic Games to act as the catalyst for the more widespread adoption of TV. 160,000 people watched live broadcasts and an additional 20 parlours were set up around Berlin.

The scheduling was particular to the Third Reich. Between programmes on cooking, exercise and leisure pursuits were rants about the threat of the spread of Bolshevism and international Jewry.

Large scale events were covered in exhaustive detail. TV cameras shot the Nazi Party Congresses in Nuremberg and the International Hunting Exhibition in 1937 featuring close-up shots of some of the animals felled by the Reich Huntsmaster Hermann Goering.

The audiences were less receptive to these spectacles, preferring sport and light entertainment.

The war interrupted the roll out of television, but it didn’t prevent planning for its use in future propaganda.

When Soviet soldiers captured Berlin, they discovered plans for a television network covering Germany. Cable would connect the Reich’s cities and people would be brought together by screens set up in public spaces.

Under the plans, it would be almost impossible to escape Nazi programmes. Just as radios had been rolled out across the Reich, television would find its place in the home, at work and in public spaces.

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Find out more

  • Television Under the Swastika – Unseen footage from the Third Reich. Directed by Michael Kloft. Germany: Spiegel TV, 1999. TV documentary. (click here)
  • Heins, L. “The ‘experiential community’: early German television and media theory.” Screen 52, no. 1 (2011): 46-62. doi:10.1093/screen/hjq051.
  • Welch, David. The Third Reich: politics and propaganda. London: Routledge, 2006.
  • Ross, Corey. Media and the making of modern Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Reuth, Ralf Georg. Goebbels. London: Constable, 1993.

11 March 1818 | Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is first published



11 MARCH 1818

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is first published in London. First published anonymously, it has never been out of print. It was adapted for the stage as early as 1822 and has become a favourite for depiction in film and television.




The Allusionist 52 | Sanctuary

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The Allusionist Episode 52 – Sanctuary

For the last two weeks, The Allusionist’s Radiotopia stablemate, 99 Percent Invisible, has been looking at Sanctuary Cities.

So, this week, Helen Zaltzman takes a look at the etymology and history of seeking sanctuary. Along the way, she talks to John Jenkins from the University of York and Canon Rosalind Brown and discovers a fed up lion on Durham Cathedral’s front door.

This episode has one of my favourite Allusionist quotes:

John Jenkins:  So you could – and there are occasional examples of people getting out of unwanted marriages by claiming to have killed someone and then fleeing the realm.

Helen Zaltzman: What’s worse: that, or breaking up with someone by text message?

Get the full episode here:




10 March 2017 | Bell makes the first true ‘phone call



10 MARCH 1876


Alexander Graham Bell makes the first bi-directional transmission of clear speech. The first words spoken were “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Mr Watson answered and history was made. The first commercial services would start a year later.




9 March 1932 | Éamon de Valera becomes leader of Ireland


9 MARCH 1932

Éamon de Valera becomes President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. This office would be replaced by the Taoiseach in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. De Valera was instrumental in moving Ireland from British Dominion to a truly independent republic.

Myths & Legends | Thor – Hammer Time


Myths and Legends Episode 62 – Thor: Hammer Time

In November, the latest Marvel Comic-based film featuring the Norse god Thor will be released. In Thor: Ragnarok expect to see our hero smashing his way through a host of enemies.

Far more interestingly, in this episode of the Myths & Legends podcast, you can find out why he should (but almost certainly won’t) be depicted with a huge whetstone sticking out of his forehead.

Loki is up to his usual tricks. The giants of Jötunheimr are plotting. It’s Hammer Time.

Listen now by clicking here!




Hitler’s plan for monster railways across Europe


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In 1941, Adolf Hitler issued orders to Nazi Germany’s railway officials. He wanted them to develop a new type of railway. It was to be bigger, far bigger, than anything that had ever been seen.

Trains the height and width of a suburban house and the length of the Empire State Building would hurtle across the Greater German Reich, from Brest in the west to Bucharest in the east. They would be luxurious, providing unimaginable amenities for travellers.

And, unsurprisingly, they were never built.

Putting the mega into megalomania  

Hitler and his coterie of leading Nazis were not short on ideas for rebuilding Germany and their conquered lands. Their plans had some common threads. They were fans of the gigantic, the superlative and the technologically advanced.

Germany’s capital Berlin would be rebuilt with towering monuments to Nazi victories. Other German cities would be comprehensively redesigned, with Innsbruck becoming a world-class cultural centre and Nuremberg adorned as the sacred party city.

Nothing was too grandiose or impractical for their fervid imaginations.

If Germany needed more land for food, they would resettle the Steppes and drain the Mediterranean.

Raw materials would be stripped from a new belt of colonies seized from defeated powers.

And the Greater German Reich and its satellite dependencies would be drawn together by a comprehensive network of transcontinental autobahn roads and gigantic high-speed trains. From the Atlantic coast to the Urals, the Black Sea to the Baltic, all Europe would be connected.

Germany’s standard gauge of 4 foot 8 1⁄2 inches would be replaced by a monstrous track more than double that width. The three-metre wide Breitspurbahn, or broad gauge railway, would have featured towering, double decker trains topping seven metres – more than double today’s

high speed


These vast carriages, comparable in width and height to a typical suburban semi-detached house, would have stretched for half a kilometre and sped across the Reich at more than 200 km/h.

Where the foxes say goodnight

Otto hadn’t been on one of these ancient, tiny trains for years. The Kleinspurbahn was somewhat oversold as a ‘standard service’, but it felt like stepping back in time.

He had changed trains at Paris’s Gare de l’Est. The Breitspurbahn had rolled into its specially built annex, longer and taller than the old station which Otto had entered to take his connecting service.

Once the Breitspurbahn had been rolled out across the Greater Reich, Otto hadn’t had much need to travel on the historic routes of the former Reichsbahn.

Things move on.

Just like no one took horse-drawn carriages to travel to town once a railway had been laid. No one wanted to travel on an antiquated standard train when they could choose the flying palaces of broad gauge network.

But the Breitspurbahn didn’t reach everywhere, and that is why Otto found himself crawling through northeastern France in an oppressively small carriage.

When he stood, his head almost reached the ceiling. The seats were narrow and covered in mean and worn synthetic fabric.

When he asked about the restaurant car, the ticket inspector laughed and told him that there was a buffet in the middle of the train, but that it was hardly worth the journey.

The final indignity was needing to go to the toilet and finding that the pan flushed straight on to the track.

Otto thought back to the first time he had taken one of Hitler’s new trains.

There had been a huge amount of publicity. He remembered watching the news and seeing Hitler and Goebbels ride the inaugural service. Goebbels had brought the whole family, and the younger children screamed in delight as the train pulled in.

There was something unreal about the size of the engine.

It dwarfed the other trains in the station.

The Breitspurbahn gleamed with its immaculate black and red livery. Everything else looked like a shabby toy in comparison.

A metal eagle had been fixed to the front of the engine, wings outstretched and clasping a golden swastika that shone in the sunlight.

It was a few months before Otto had a chance to ride one of the trains for himself. He’d read all about the luxurious carriages, sumptuous seats and incredible amenities. But reading about them, even seeing photographs, wasn’t the same as experiencing one for yourself.

The first time he travelled, he treated himself to a second class ticket. He had walked past the washbasin, mirror and coat hanger and almost turned around. Surely he was mistaken and this was a first class carriage?

An elderly lady was fussing over her bags. He offered to help and asked whether he had the right compartment. She gladly handed over a suitcase to be placed overhead and confirmed that he was in the right place.

His deeply padded, richly covered seat was enormous. He could stretch out his arms fully and still not touch the next passenger.

But he’d been far too excited to stay in his allocated place for too long. He spent the journey exploring the train’s bar, the lounge, the reading room and the observation car before enjoying a sumptuous meal in the opulent dining car.

It felt as though he was at a fine Berlin hotel. He had to keep looking out of the window to remind himself that he was, in fact, hurtling across the country.

He let his three courses settle whilst sprawled in a comfy seat in the cinema car, letting the latest UFA flick wash over him as he drifted into a contented sleep.

He woke with just a few minutes left before the journey came to an end. He hadn’t even had a chance to try the barbershop or take a dip in the swimming pool.

He was rudely snapped from his memories back into the present when the sleeping man next to him rolled his head and smacked his shoulder. He barely roused and carried on snoring.

The problem with experiencing luxury, Otto thought to himself, is that it makes anything less seem quite intolerable.

Superlatives on wheels 

In the early 1980s, Anton Joachimsthaler unearthed plans for the broad gauge railway that had been stored away and forgotten in the German railway archives.

And these were neither amateur scribblings or aspirational drawings. Instead, Deutsche Reichsbahn officials had produced pages and pages of detailed technical specifications. These covered everything from the tracks and locomotives to passenger amenities and train stations.

The nearest comparison to the proposed comforts of the Breitspurbahnen were the luxury passenger liners that had, in more peaceful times, plied the transatlantic corridor.

In one proposed configuration, 48 first class passengers would enjoy four person compartments that were well over two metres by two metres. In comparison, roughly twelve passengers cram into the same space in the first class carriages of modern European trains.

Second class passengers were to have slightly less space – six people would fit into similar sized compartments.

But what really set the Breitspurbahnen apart were the opportunities to get out of your seat.

Passengers could choose to sink into an armchair in a cosy, lamp-lit and curtained lounge.

Or they could enjoy a drink or three in the sophisticated bar.

More retiring types could find refuge in quiet and comfortable map-lined reading rooms.

Even third class passengers would enjoy considerably greater comforts than most travelling today. They had less space than second class passengers, but would still enjoy use of two living rooms.

Something to eat? 

Passengers were not limited to their carriages in they wanted to stretch their legs or try out some of the Breitspurbahnen’s other amenities.

The designers planned dining carriages for first and second class passengers on a luxurious scale. Their sketches make it appear as though they planned to take the restaurant at Berlin’s fashionable Adlon Hotel and whisk it across the network.

Expensive wood panelling, expansive windows and tables covered in crisp white linens would greet up to 130 diners at any one sitting.

The restaurant car would have been full height with an ornate ceiling almost five metres above. At almost six metres in width and 27 metres long, this room would have truly demonstrated the monstrous scale of the proposed railway.


This being Hitler’s railway, there was to be provision for at least three of the Führer’s obsessions. Kennels were to take care of man’s best friend, up to six motorcars would be conveyed and a 196-seat cinema would help while away the longest of journeys.

Another clear signal that Hitler was personally involved was the provision of a larger non-smoking section than that provided for smokers in the restaurant.

The train would finish up with an observation deck, a hot buffet and refreshment room.

Keeping the Reich moving 

The Breitspurbahnen was not just designed for people. The wide gauge railway would be the backbone of the Reich, vital arteries to transport the raw materials and manufactured goods to support the Nazi empire.

Sketches produced by the Reichsbahn show freight transporters that almost anticipate modern container shipping. Standardised freight trucks would allow quicker loading and unloading. And, with freight trains promising to be up to a mile long, this was crucial.

Intricate designs show how coal and oil would be transported and, just as importantly, how the railway could move tanks, artillery and even aircraft. The Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and Waffen-SS would undoubtedly have been the railways biggest customers.

Überbahnhöfe for the Übermenschen

Gigantic trains would need gigantic stations.

The Nazi mania for gargantuan, if largely unrealised, buildings ensured that they would be integral in plans for all of the main cities of the New Reich.

Berlin’s five kilometre long Avenue of Splendours would be anchored  at both ends by new railway termini.

Visitors arriving at the Südbahnhof would be greeted with a panorama of the capital in its full bombastic, imperial glory. They would be cowed before they even set foot in the city.

Speer recalled that “the architecture and with it the power of the Reich was to overwhelm travellers, literally to slay them”.

The station itself was to have been a confection of superlatives. It would have been three times as wide, long and high as New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Grandiosity was not reserved for the new Berlin. Munich’s 16 platforms would be covered by a dome rising higher than St Paul’s Cathedral in London, but a diameter eight times greater.

Planes, trains and automobiles

For those more familiar with the image of Hitler flying over his empire or speeding in a convoy of gleaming black Mercedes cars, it might seem strange that he was so interested in trains.

They were, however, a vital component of Hitler’s vision for an impregnable land-based empire.

Comprehensive railway and motorway networks would be to the Greater German Reich what the Royal Navy, merchant navy and passenger liners had been to Britain’s empire of the seas.

Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and fellow dreamer, recalls the Führer describing the importance of his planned wide gauge track:

“Hitler had become obsessed with the idea; he decided that it was even more important as a binding force in his empire than the autobahn system.”

The first instructions were issued to the Deutsche Reichsbahn in October 1941. Those ideas would continue to obsess the Führer over three years later as his empire crumbled and his capital city lay in ruins.

Like many of Hitler’s dreams, the Breitspurbahn was grandiose, impractical and probably impossible to realise. Just as Berlin’s marshy ground would have confounded plans for a new capital, practical issues would have derailed plans for the great railway.

Windows were too large to be safe. Carriages were too big to be structurally sound. Bogies, axles and wheels would be placed under unimaginable strain with breakdowns, derailments and accidents the likely outcomes.

The monstrous railway would require monstrous tunnels and bridges which would be a huge challenge to today’s civil engineers and, even if possible, would have been ruinously expensive.

Almost 200 officials and engineers of the Deutsche Reichsbahn were engaged in the project. They undoubtably knew that it would never come to fruition, but their work had one positive consequence. By saving them from service on the eastern front, it probably saved their lives.

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How an attempt to cancel Christmas and a game of football led to an English revolution

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In 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas.n 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas.

People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way with a destructive game of football.

The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt and the second round of the Civil War.


A second descent into hell

On 21 May 1648, 10,000 royalists gathered on moorland outside Maidstone in Kent.

They were just 35 miles or a day’s hard march from a largely undefended London.

A new phase of the English Civil War was about to begin.

The English Civil War is a misleading term for this turbulent period in the middle of the seventeenth century.

With fierce fighting in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the war was not confined to England.

It was neither a civil nor singular conflict. Instead, a series of savage, internecine campaigns marauded across the British Isles for over a decade.

Kent had escaped the worst of the slaughter and spoil. So why were its people inviting ruin by sparking a rebellion against Parliament?

There were, of course, a whole range of grievances.

But the revolt started with an attempt to cancel Christmas in Canterbury.

I saw some shops on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day

It was Christmas Day.

Not that you could tell by looking around. There were none of the garlands, wreaths and boughs that usually marked the season. The Lord Mayor of London had been insulted and jostled when he had ordered the holly and ivy pulled from that city’s conduits and passages. Canterbury’s citizens had been unenthusiastically compliant.

The Mayor looked around the market square and saw that only a dozen shopkeepers and stallholders had heeded his demand to open.

Jesus had turned the merchants from the temple. Now, his true believers wanted them to open for business. It was the only way to dispel the superstition that hung around this pagan day.

It was a shame that many in Canterbury didn’t see it that way. Many still clung to the old ways, to the liberty of carnal and sensual delights that was clearly a sinful indulgence.

There had been grumbles when May Day celebrations were cancelled. The young had missed the unruly and anarchic fun of Shrove Tuesday, although others welcomed the peace.

And it was fair to say that the new celebrations offered in the Directory of Worship had not been universally welcomed. The Puritans had offered a day of fasting on the last Wednesday of each month as a replacement for holy days. It was surly a godlier choice, but trying to promote penance over pancakes was not the quickest way to endear Parliament to the people.

Christmas had been a tougher tradition to tackle. And now, a growing swell of townsfolk braved the cold streets to demonstrate their displeasure at the opening of shops.

Faced with the hostile crowd, the Mayor’s party of civic notables and a guard of pikemen no longer seemed quite as reassuring as when they had set off.

Still, they had work to do.

A trickle of reports had reached Westminster from more rebellious parts. He had seen snippets warning of ‘sundry seditious sermons’ and ‘dangerous speeches that darkly implied threats against the Parliament and a course to be taken with the Roundheads about Christmas’.

So, Parliament had adopted a hardline approach and, as a result, he was now standing in the freezing cold in front of one of the largest crowds he’d ever seen in the city.

The Mayor’s party moved along the street, encouraging shopkeepers to open.

The crowd surged forwards, shouts growing louder and curses flying at the traders and the city officials.

The mayor kept his men back, leaving the stalls and shops to bear the brunt of the crowd’s anger. Goods started to fly over the heads, smashing on to the ground and scattering around.

The crowd had become a mob. People didn’t even bother to pick up valuable spices and textiles. They were trod into the muck, broken, ripped and ruined.

One of the merchants was standing near to his shuttered premises. The Mayor asked him to open up, threatening him with the stocks if he stayed closed.

The crowd surged forwards, shouting support for the shopkeeper and heading straight for the Mayor.

He tried to shout, to order the crowd to move back. As they pressed against him, he lashed out. He was immediately pushed violently to the ground.

He tried to get up, but was trodden down into the muck and dragged by his feet in the gutter. He gasped for air, suffocating in the press of legs. As he flailed about, his robes were ripped.

Somehow, he managed to get to his feet and find his voice. He ordered the crowd to disperse.

It seemed to work. The spell was broken. The crowd receded, rage replaced by dumb insolence. There was quiet again in the broken wreck of the market square.

He felt his back straighten, tilted his face upwards. He was the authority and he would be respected. His tattered, mud splattered robes fluttered in the wind. But he was the Mayor of Canterbury and he would be obeyed.

Just as his confidence was surging back, he saw something out of the corner of his eye.


It couldn’t be.

His heart sank.

From out of a growing crowd, someone had produced two inflated pigs bladders.

It was time for a game of football.

The Plum Pudding Riots

And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day in 1647 in Canterbury, that the people rebelled in the most English way possible – with a game of football followed by a riot.

These were the days when football was unconstrained by pitches and rules. A game could wend its riotous way across a whole town. It usually involved most of the population, whether they wanted to take part of not.

Crowds charged around Canterbury shouting ‘Conquest’. The City’s aldermen were jeered and then, more seriously, chased, beaten and forced back into their houses.

The sporting action was interspersed with nods to a traditional Christmas. Holly bushes were set up in doorways and entertainment offered. The records are silent about what this entertainment was, but it was guaranteed to upset the Puritans.

Not that the crowd cared very much about what the Puritans thought. One of the more uncompromising ministers, Richard Culmer, was pelted with mud.

And that could have been the end of this unruly Canterbury Christmas. The sheriff, mayor and aldermen had been knocked about but suffered no lasting physical damage. Only their pride had been badly bruised.

But that wasn’t enough for the county’s Puritan and Parliamentary leaders.

They were determined to make an example of the ringleaders.

From riot to revolution

They sent their leader, Sir Anthony Welden, an aged and particularly officious Parliamentary commissioner to ‘punish merrymakers who had played football in Canterbury the previous Christmas’.

Sir Anthony had been in favour of dealing with them quickly and violently under martial law. He was overruled and so, in May 1648, he found himself in Maidstone for the Kent Assizes.

Before they could be tried, the rioters had to be indicted by the county’s grand jury. The authorities took no chances, carefully selecting a reliable panel. Even so, the grand jury refused to indict.

Once again, there were rowdy celebrations in the streets of Canterbury. This time, however, the protests developed into something far more worrying for parliament.

Within days, thousands signed a petition calling for king and parliament to reconcile.

Things started to look serious when one of the Queen’s favourites, the Earl of Norwich, landed to lead the rebellion. Sailors aboard Parliamentary ships around the Kent coast mutinied and took the towns of Deal, Walmer and Sandwich. Dover, the key to the kingdom, was besieged.

With Cromwell and the bulk of the New Model Army fighting in Wales, it was left to Thomas Fairfax to cobble together a force to put down the revolt. In the end, the angry farmers and tradesmen that made up the Kent rebels were no match for professional soldiers.

A sharp summer thunderstorm marked the end of the Battle of Maidstone. Rainwater ran down the narrow streets, washing away pools of blood and hopes of a royalist revival.

Sir Anthony was shocked by the rebellion, writing that:

“Never was the fair face of such a faithful county burned of a sudden to so much deformity and ugliness”.

He should have paid more attention to history. Kent was a crucible of rebellion, the home of Wat Tyler, Jack Cade and Thomas Wyatt.

A year later, parliament asserted its authority by executing King Charles. There was no repeat of Kentish rebellion. You can kill a king, it seems. Just don’t cancel Christmas.

25 November 1491 | The Treaty of Granada is signed



25 NOVEMBER 1491

The Treaty of Granada was signed and ratified on November 25, 1491 between Boabdil, the sultan of Granada, and Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Castile, León, Aragon and Sicily. The Capitulation of Granada effectively completed the Christian reconquest of Spain.